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Good and Bad PR: Never dip your cox in the river, while Heathrow Express and Pizza Express win April Fool’s Day PR prize

Well, we survived it. In most cases I mean April Fool’s Day, but for others I mean the Easter Weekend.

Hold my hand and come walk with me through a week’s worth of hits and misses from the world of public relations.

People with ‘proper’ diabetes are pumped about new technology

As regular sufferers of this column will know, I have diabetes. I am always keen to stress. I have the “proper one” where the pancreas has stopped working, and I must inject insulin several times a day.

Type 1 is not to be mistaken with the other one which is lovingly known as “the chonky one” in all the Type 1 support groups that I am in.

Anyway, putting diabetic rivalry to one side for a moment, the Type 1 community rejoiced this week as it was announced that the NHS will start to roll out the deployment of what is being labelled as “artificial pancreas” technology.

The media quite rightly loved the story, it will be a literal life-saver to many of us.

The sting in the tail is that it is likely to take up to five years to get all of Team Diabetes onboarded. Also, those of us who are currently managing their blood-sugars to a certain strong level won’t qualify for the new tech at all. It is a double-edged sword.

Technically I won’t qualify for the pump, dear reader, because my blood sugars are under such fantastic control (no really, starting to go blind in one eye tends to up one’s focus on getting it right) but if I let up a bit, hey presto, sorted. What an odd world we live in.

I had zero eggs this Easter by the way.

Vaping? Your heart just isn’t in it!

Many people have ditched the cancer sticks and have jumped over to vaping because of the perceived comparative health benefits. Up until this point there have been very few credible scientific studies into the impact of vaping on the body. That has just changed and, as the global media reported this week, vaping isn’t looking so good.

If smoking knackers your lungs, it is being reported that vaping knackers your heart. Dr Yakubu Bene-Alhasan from US healthcare company MedStar Health carried out the research across 175K adults.

3,200 of those who took part had heart failure during the tests, and those who vaped were a fifth more likely to see their heart go kaput than those who had never vaped.

I would like to think that one of the reasons why so many of the global media ran the story is because vapes have, until very recently, carried the kinds of marketing that appeals to kids and young adults, and it is important that we get kids to realise the downside to the little puffy light-saber lookalikes.

The other aspect that I like about this story seeing the light of day is that the companies that own the -vape brands also own the cigarette brands and, as we all know, they have powerful lobbying arms. Team Science gets a double Good PR nod for successfully getting the story out there.

Beards and bangers bring on a good week for Army

The British Army has a tough time on the PR front. They do amazing things but 99% of them are confidential or difficult to translate into stories that us civvies will understand.

Every now and again there is also the occasional unwarranted poke from clueless bean counters that they are spending too much money. I fear that this sometimes means our gun-toting, nation defenders don’t PR a lot of the good things they do because of the concern about the potential media backlash. I digress.

This week they had a double whammy of great PR. The first related to beards. The Army is the last of the three services to let their teams grow beards. The media wrote it up and beard management brands celebrated.

All my Action Man figures from back in the day had beards, or at least a level of stubble, so it is good to get the real-life-action-men up to the same standard as the plastic counterparts.

The second great PR story for the Army relates to an area of the UK that is usually associated with toughness: Scotland.

Residents from the country that once repelled countless attacks from Roman’s, Vikings and various London-based, power-crazy kings have complained that the cannon that is fired every day at Edinburgh Castle is, checks notes, too loud.

So loud in fact that the locals want it stopped. The Army was forced to send in their own noise-pollution teams and found it was, shock horror for a cannon, a bit loud.

Under civvy noise pollution rules it should have stopped, and Easter Sunday was due to be the last time that it was to be fired. Bang, the end of a 160-year-old tradition that was invented to help the maritime community set their watches to 1pm when out in nearby waters.

Hang on though, an unlikely hero has stepped in. Tory defence secretary Grant Shapps rode in and announced that the cannon would continue to be fired under his watch. As we all know, that watch could not be for much longer, but we salute him for protecting an ancient tradition.

Never dip your cox in the river

As I predicted in 2023, 2024 is going to be the year of scandal for the UK water industry. It is all bubbling along nicely and exactly as I thought it would.

After the worldwide outcry from the amount of elite triathlon athletes who fell ill after swimming in our waters you would think the water companies would have learnt their lesson. Nope. Another global write up about the shit state of our waters has happened. This time courtesy of the Oxford and Cambridge rowing race.

Thames Water were forced to issue a warning that whoever won this year’s races should not carry out the usual tradition of throwing their cox into the River Thames. This was because Team Science found that there were very high levels of e-coli, and this would be a problem if swimmers swallowed the water or had open cuts, etc.

Oxford lost the race this year and word soon spread that several of the rowers had fallen ill on the lead up to the race and the water was the chief suspect.

Thames Water issued a statement blaming the high levels of rainfall in recent times, which is a fair enough comment. These stories are just getting more frequent though and, as much as the water companies blame a lack of investment on not being allowed to increase prices, we don’t see how dividend payments to shareholders can carry on, and neither does OFWAT who are calling for deeper investigations. This story will continue to flow, and we can expect to see calls for the re-nationalisation of our water pipes to only get louder.

Heathrow Express and Pizza Express win April Fool’s Day

April Fool’s has dwindled as a brand-activation in recent years. It reached a point where only the global brands had a proper go at it, so I was delighted to see someone trying to have a giggle this year.

Heathrow Express, Pizza Express and them lovely folk at The PR Network combined to win this year’s best April Fool’s story for this column. They announced a spoof pizza carriage on some of its Paddington to Heathrow Airport trains and the media loved it.

There was no need to mind the coverage gap as the story got written up and mentioned across the board and it was nice to see a brand trying to have a bit of fun, something that is needed across the UK right now.

Great PR by all involved.

Got it right or wrong, I don’t really care but do please let me know. Thanks to everyone who got in touch to share stories for this week’s column.

Written by Andy Barr, owner of 10 Yetis Digital. Seen any good or bad PR lately? Abuse and contradictory points welcomed over on The Twitter @10Yetis or on email

Thanks to Meltwater, Good and Bad PR's data and insights supplier.

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