Guerilla warfare... guerilla pr

Further to my earlier posting on this – I feel I should point out that in the communications war Hezbollah is winning with the most basic PR tactics. De Speigel is clear on this point… read on…

Hezbollah isn't particularly obliging in its dealings with foreign journalists. Instead of doing pro-active public relations work, the Lebanese militia is concentrating on a simple strategy: Let the images speak for themselves.

The scene is grotesque. More than two dozen journalists stand in the midst of devastated buildings, crowded around a Hezbollah press spokesperson. Cameramen shoot some final footage of bombed-out buildings and TV reporters wear shrapnel-protection vests -- to convey a sense of danger to viewers. A Scandinavian journalist wears stylish flip flops as she walks through the destroyed city -- where glass shards and debris sometimes lie piled up several feet high in the streets.
We've reached the end of a tour, organized by Hezbollah, through the almost entirely devastated neighborhood of Haret Hreik in southern Beirut. We're back by the collapsed highway bridge that cuts the neighborhood into two halves. Hussein Nabulsi, one of Hezbollah's press spokesmen, announces that we will meet here again tomorrow at the same time.
"I would kindly ask the CNN team to be on time tomorrow," he says. "You've been late the last three times already."
Even if a certain sense of routine has developed after two weeks of de facto war - Hezbollah is hardly pro-active in its relations with the foreign press, represented in Beirut by dozens of foreign reporters. There's no real method to be discerned behind the militia's public relations work. While some camera teams that tried to film in Dahieyeh on their own were immediately pressured to leave the neighborhood - a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut - and escorted north by men on motor scooters, other journalists were able to move as freely as they like. The journalist's ID issued by the Lebanese Interior Ministry is scrupulously checked at some street crossings - at others, however, reporters are waved through before documents can even be produced.
And even if reporters have been led repeatedly through Dahieyeh during the past days, the tours seem somewhat improvised. Just as in southern Lebanon, there are no pictures of Hezbollah militants or positions - just endless images showing the horrors suffered by the civilian population. The pictures that scream at pedestrians from the front pages of the Arab newspapers in the mornings are so brutal and upsetting they don't require any extra spin. Let the images speak for themselves, let the refugees tell their stories - that seems to be Hezbollah's strategy.
Of course it's strange that one of the two sides in this conflict is virtually invisible, while the other lets its public relations machine - which has been developed and perfected for years - feed journalists pre-packaged nuggets of information that can go directly into print. Indeed, preventing journalists from wandering freely through Dahieyeh is likely part of the strategy. After all, the neighborhood is a militant stronghold and the possibility of informants is very much on Hezbollah's mind.
The ground beneath the southern suburbs of Beirut is almost certainly riddled with tunnel systems and bunkers where Hezbollah seeks shelter. Rumors that spies are using lasers or homing devices to mark these potential targets for the Israeli air force abound. Hezbollah is said to have arrested 140 alleged spies so far.
Before Hussein Nabulsi dismisses the group of journalists for today, the TV reporters get a propaganda classic for their cameras after all. A truck painted in loud colors drives by with combative slogans and anti-Israeli songs thundering from its PA system. No one is there to hear these slogans and songs apart from the reporters. No one lives in these streets anymore.

When I was a journalist this was always the case – show us what is happening and we will report it. Honesty, probity and eye-witness reports show us the reality – we, the reader, the consumer(?) can make a decision. Will it change anything – I hope so. I hope so…


Boys will be boys. Not according to the media

Now I’m back! I’ve just spent three days and nights in a wood in North Yorkshire with three teenagers – my son and his two mates Richey and Newport.
This wasn’t a social experiment, although it turned out to be one in away. I was covered in mud, ditch water, blood, and other bodily fluids by the end of the exercise but what impressed me most was the boys and their attitude.
This is a generation brought up on iPods, DS, MSN, text messaging and shoot-‘em-up video games. However, as soon as they set up camp – no tents, just a tarpaulin and ground sheet – it was so much Lord of Flies more Lord of the Manor.
The trio dug there own fire pit and proceeded to live off the fat of the land – catching rabbits they had snared themselves or fish they caught in the streams and ponds. All this without help from me. They slept under the stars and left all their hi-tech childhood at home – they couldn’t even get a signal for their mobile phones.
All this at a time when the British media seems to be obsessed by the disillusion of the nation’s youth. The Daily Mail, true to type, never misses an opportunity to dis the kids with articles like Children ‘fear playing outdoors’ and even the BBC has had to resort to a top ten tips for keeping the kids busy in the summer holidays 10 ways to survive the holidays with children. A quick search of the web carries hundreds of articles harking back to a golden age of childhood and complaining that modern kids are being deprived of a “proper childhood”. And this is not just the usual suspects – even The Guardian has a pop at them.
My experience with three 15-year-olds, enjoying a Ray Mears experience, is that these lads are more together than I ever was at their age. Moreover, bereft of all the mod cons they fell back to home-made entertainment – conversation, playing cards, fishing and just messing around.
Forget the popular press – the Kids Are Alright!


PR nonsense and the horrors Lebanon

I did wonder how long it would take – but it seems I was more optimistic than most on how the PR industry would deal with the horrors of Lebanon. I understand that every crisis offers an opportunity but Alan Caruba, I think, has crossed a line with the following press release:

War poses PR problems says Public relations Expert

South Orange, NJ – “Doing public relations in times when the nation’s attention is focused on the war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon requires careful judgment and sensitivity,” says Alan Caruba, a veteran public relations counselor.

Event-related PR and publicity “must go on no matter what is occurring,” says Caruba, “but some PR campaigns should probably be delayed and rescheduled rather than compete for the public’s attention.”

While life may seem normal in America, the issue for public relations professionals is how much attention is being directed to the war “and right now events in Lebanon dominate the news cycle 24/7. It is virtually the only story and has pushed news out of Iraq off the front page along with other major issues such as immigration reform.”

“Lebanon is a news tsunami and public relations programs requiring national outreach and attention need to be cognizant of its impact,” says Caruba.

For those who have a business-related interest in the outcome of the current conflict, however, the opposite applies. “Any entities whose interests are going to be directly affected by the way events unfold in Lebanon and the Middle East need to be maintaining an pro-active PR program to insure those interests are protected, reassuring investors and the business news media.”

This advice has been borne out in the way corporations, financial services, and other elements of the business community have been providing analysis to the news media relative to their enterprises. The stock market has been a good indicator of the success of this effort.

“For anyone who has a dog in this fight,” says Caruba, “public relations is going to be a key factor in how events are being perceived.” This is a time, he says, when public affairs PR is going to demonstrate the important role it plays in shaping public opinion.

In September, Merril Press will publish “Right Answers: Short Takes on Big Issues”, a collection of commentaries excerpted from his weekly column from 2003 through 2005. Caruba’s writings are widely read on news and opinion Internet sites, disseminated on many blogs, and often published in the mainstream press.

Back to me again! What’s going on? Sure people are dying (whichever side you are on – and I side with no one here other than the innocents who don’t deserve to be bombed). But I do wonder that people can spot an opportunity at times like this.

“For anyone who has a dog in this fight,” says Caruba, “public relations is going to be a key factor in how events are being perceived.”

I’m sorry! But this is an event you cannot spin - and why would you? Commercially and, from a brand point of view, stay far away. Hezbollah have their agenda – the destruction of Israel - and Israel, has their’s ie protecting their people and putting down people who threaten that and... the destruction of Hezbollah. To address it as a PR exercise is nonsense. PR does play a part but it should only be one wrench in the toolbox of negotiation, where it will ultimately end (I hope!) in a more appropriate press release.

PS – I’m not Jewish or an Arab. Although, curiously, I’ve been asked by both tribes whether I am - dark swarthy, looks help inform every prejudice. By the way my background is Irish, via Liverpool – which, given what is happening in Lebanon, is another story that we might learn from.


Why bother blogging anyway?

I have to put my hand up on this one! I'm not a techie or geek. I use the web to read the news and buy stuff, and inspite of the fact of running a pure play dotcom at the height of the boom and bust of the internet back in the 1990s, I just see the web as a means of getting things done.
Professionally I now advise a range of organisations on their communications - eveything from PR to web design to old fashioned direct marketing.
However, increasingly I am being asked by many clients and friends about blogging and how it can help them communicate better with customers and potential customers.
Now, I think I am fairly well informed on most matters but I considered blogs just another fad. Having had my fingers - and wallet - badly burned in the last internet frenzy I was sceptical about blogs as much as I am about Web 2.0 (more of that later).
However, having researched the whole issue of blogs over the past six months and how clever organisations are using them the scales have fallen from my eyes. As a professional hack I am naturally cynical. I always ask what's the angle? Or what's in it for me?
Now after looking at how individuals and some smart businesses are harnessing the blogosphere - Stormhoek, English Cut - I have been converted. So much so that I decided to start my own blog. This is not wholly for altruistic reasons, as if anyone gives a fig what I think.
My main point is how can I look any client in the eye and tell them to develop their own blog if I don't have one myself. Hence these rambling thoughts.
My company will shortly launch it's own blog (look out for later postings) which my business partner, the creativity guru, Andy Green (no relation), myself and other members of our team will use to talk about our business and the good things we do.
I accept I am a blog novice and I hope you do too and will forgive me if I trample over any blogging etiquette at least in the early days.
All comments welcome.