Labour-party politician David Lammy has become a one-man PR campaign wrapped in a new business brief, wrapped in a movement. Despite the eye rolls in political circles I, for one, have been hanging on every single one of Lammy’s 140 characters as he’s systematically worked through his rolodex of resentments these last few months.
If we suspend questions about his position in the fragmented Labour landscape, what we’re left with is a politician getting back to the roots of what most of us long for in our halls of power. He unearths causes he feels need a voice; he’s passionate; he doesn’t give a toss what anyone thinks of him and takes on any of the celebrated Twitterati who choose to challenge his thinking. From the Windrush scandal to Grenfell, from knife-crime to cocaine, this guy has a locker full of grievances and I get the feeling it’s not even nearly empty.
So far, so obvious: a politician who champions causes. But here’s where he’s different: Lammy has used social media to make politics personal and built an image for himself that’s usually reserved for nostalgic political throwbacks. Unlike most of the bland broadcasts coming out of the feeds of his peers in Parliament, Lammy has not only ensured his syntax is clear and unequivocal, but he tweets with speed. He keeps pace with debate, taking down his detractors with passion and reason. As his Twitter profile states, he’s made “telling it like it is” as artful as it gets.
And as I’ve watched his reputation recently grow in value, I was particularly struck by last week’s criticism of Oxford University’s record on diversity. The reason I was struck was not because I went to Oxford (sorry mum), but because I think this could mark a moment of societal inflection our industry desperately needs to be part of and prepared for.
Oxford University is one of the many remaining bastions of olde worlde Britain, and despite its meagre efforts to update its image, is still very much steeped in yesteryear. These latest figures haven’t helped. And while the likes of Fraser Nelson and Toby Young might want to have Lammy believe otherwise, Oxford is about as right-on as a prime minister putting his penis in a dead pig’s mouth.
In the wake of the results it’s fair to say Oxford was definitely not prepared for what came next. The media statement rather flimsily declared it has “work to do” while its social media manager took Lammy on, labelling his criticism “bitter”. It all escalated pretty fast. But rather than retreat to its safe space in society, is it not time that one of us picked up this new-business brief and got Oxford University to update and turn its reputation around? The brief pretty much writes itself. I can see an exciting opportunity for an agency with the balls to knock at Oxford’s door and guide it in to a new era.
The diversity divide
But hold on a sec. Whilst I bask in the golden light of my gender’s #MeToo moment, I think there’s something more that this news story represents for our industry. At the end of last year, Sir John Parker, head of the review of ethnic diversity in boardrooms, published a report saying that every FTSE 100 company should have one non-white director by 2021. Not unlike the Davies review, which recommended in 2011 that FTSE companies needed to double the proportion of women in boardrooms by 25% in 2015, could Parker’s paper be the precursor to a movement which creates the equality society needs?
This year, some seven years after the Davies review, we enjoyed the Gender Pay Gap legislation, causing many agencies to respond with specific offers of counsel and crisis interventions. But what about diversity? In the same way Unilever, Ocado and even Channel 5 earnt massive reputational brownie points for their gender pay-gap results, who will be the brands leading the way on diversity? It strikes me that the issue of diversity may well be starting with Oxford University, but it won’t be long before Britain’s boardrooms get rightly hit with the same level of scrutiny, legislative compliance and exposure. And why the hell not?
So, for every client asking what the next #MeToo going to be, I’d take an educated guess that as long as there’s not another Ice Bucket Challenge in 2018, it should be diversity. And whilst our clients start to mobilise, let’s do the same and get our industry fit for purpose.
Written by Lottë Jones, creative director at PR firm Teneo Blue Rubicon
If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our twice weekly event and subscriber alerts.
Currently, every new subscriber will receive three of our favourite reports about the public relations sector.