DAM PR BLOG
Of Lichtenstein and the art of commerce….and down and outs. And the legacy of Orwell. By David Andrews
Two billion pounds. It’s hard to assimilate those kinds of numbers. Close up to the magisterial works that defined the pop art era, I found myself increasingly distracted by the sheer vastness of the wealth that now dominates the premiere division of the world’s art market, and how remote it has become from the lives and values of all save the occasional oligarch or oil rich Arab dynasties.
I thought of Rothko, teetering at the top of his ladder back in the late 40s/early 1950s, clasping a palette and brush in a battered demob suit, despairing as to whether anyone would ever buy the masterpieces he toiled over, day in and day out.
He did not live to enjoy the success, committing suicide long before he became arguably the world’s most expensive painter. Had he been alive today, he too would perhaps have wondered at the craftiness of the dealer and collector networks which maintain these stratospherically high prices.
It is all commerce, I thought, great art, reduced ultimately to commerce. But its value to us is the aesthetic, and if we can separate the aesthetic from the glitz and glamour of the high art market, then perhaps the value is universal. Perhaps.
…so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’
There was a guy, wiry, hyper – South American – who tended bar in Long Island. A run down, paint peeling, one horse joint just south of the Hamptons. It was late October, 1984. Back in the miasma of time.
I was working in the States. The days were getting shorter, the leaves turning. It was getting cold. The local bar flies joshed with the barman. They called him Chilly. I assumed this was because he came from, well, Chile.
But I was wrong. He was Chilly because he kept saying, ‘…man, I am SO chilly….damn if it ain’t cold up here…really chilly..’
I can still hear the plaintive shiver in his voice. I think Chilly, and his fixed, incessantly beaming grin, was probably an illegal alien, but, working in a country of around 260 million people, he probably thought he had a good chance of getting away with it. After all, millions of South Americans slip through the borders and take the kind of jobs most Americans do not want to do. Chilly, I recall with some clarity, earned five bucks an hour back then. We argued one night (Mexican beers were involved…) about the relative wealth of America vs the rest of the world.
‘Man, c’MON!! This is a rich country man. They can afford to pay me more’n five bucks an hour!
He probably had a point. Read more >>
I don’t quite understand the French. I don’t just mean the language, at which I remain terrible. Rather, I mean their working hours, or indeed lack of them. Going to the shops at lunchtime in the hope of picking up a nice baguette, or a snack in mid afternoon, is hopeless. Because the shops are closed. Likewise on Mondays. You are more likely to see a hippo on a bicycle than an open patisserie on this vital day at the start of the week. Wednesdays also appear to be an excuse for a day off. And Sunday? Forget it. Hitler famously dismissed ‘Englanders’ as a nation of shopkeepers. That is as may be, but at least we are usually able to open them on most days of the week.
Read more >>
The quote on the jacket of this guide to the ‘social media’ phenomenon is by Alan Sugar, or Lord Sugar as he prefers to be known these days. ‘Social media has,’ says the wily old fox, ‘become an invaluable tool in my PR armoury….’ Not that he needs it, one would imagine. Social media (SM), is an irritating term, one that has been hijacked by public relations’ practitioners who feel their reach with the standard press release route to promote client interests has been exhausted. This book wrings just about every conceivable aspect out of utilizing the likes of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to promote client interests, but to be honest, it’s not rocket science and much of it is rehashed ‘how to’ stuff we have read a million times before. Yes, Twitter is very handy, and yes, lots of journalists communicate via constant tweeting etc. But that does not mean they are going to be interested in the story the pr firm has worked up for its client(s). It always comes down to the way you tell ‘em – the method of delivery is pretty much academic. Some of the ‘how to’ content here borders on the puerile. One chapter devotes a good deal of space to identifying ‘relevant media influencers on Twitter’ (yuk!). Get involved, it says – ‘the viral effect of Twitter and social media in general will help you discover the people most relevant to you…’ Really? Who’d have thought it.
As a former national newspaper journalist, I know only too well how the media is bombarded by endless amounts of pr related ‘news’. Much of it is drivel, masquerading as news, and with the advent of social media I feel for those toiling in newsrooms being bombarded by endless tweets and Facebook badgering. As online communications become increasingly refined and sophisticated, it is only a matter of time before Twitter et al are themselves pushed to one side, to be replaced by some dazzlingly fast alternative means of communication. Perhaps holograms beamed into the journalists inbox? One thing which does not change however is the fact that it is by and large journalists who create and report upon the news – the pr function is – if we are lucky – useful to a degree, but the best writers will be aware that most pr-driven agendas are for the benefit of clients. With increasingly sophisticated delivery channels, over worked and under paid journalists and others at the sharp end of the reporting business will have to look ever more carefully at the endless waves of ‘information’ coming their way.
Parts of Share This offer cogent insights into the 21 st century communications business, but unfortunately there is far too much propensity for gobbledygook and that ghastly pr/marketing double speak that seems to have taken root in our language.
A Review by David Andrews. David Andrews is director of DAM PR, a financial public relations consultancy based in Brighton
There’s a lot of sighing going on out there. Big sighs. Little sighs. And the barely discernible, whispered sigh. The sigh of despair.
Did I hear the chap who runs Mykonos, the little Greek taverna at the bottom of my street, mournfully deliver one of the latter the other day?
He looked forlorn. Possibly a little haunted. Standing outside the restaurant, looking in at the empty tables. It was lunchtime.
While competition in the restaurant trade down here is tough, I rarely see anyone tucking into a kofta in Mykonos. Back in the day it was the go to place. No longer.
As sure as the drachma will return to his homeland, my money is on an early exit for the taverna. A metaphor, perhaps, for the state of the proprietor’s home country: lots of things on the menu, but struggling to raise any interest.
We are, I know, all Greek-ed out.
You don’t have to watch the news to get an idea of how tough it is. Shops closing left, right and centre. Workers being laid off. Crisis piling on top of crisis. It’s no wonder the far right is taking hold in Greece. The conditions we are currently experiencing were an ideal breeding ground for Nazi ideology. Likewise with Franco in Spain and the lardy one, Mussolini, in Italy. The country’s in a mess, the economy has gone to pot –let’s get heavy, throw our weight around.
Even better, let’s get our factories mass producing military hardware and create a full employment economy. And go to war! Cue high fives all round.
Except the world has changed and it is not that simple any more. Real crises call for real solutions. The exasperation with Brussels, exasperation with the intransigence of politicians in countries now on their knees because nothing was done to enforce tax collections and properly run exports and imports when it mattered, is now evident everywhere I go.
Sometimes that exasperation turns nasty – I have witnessed several incidents in recent months in public places where I suspect the stresses of daily life have played a major part. The muttering and swearing builder in Tesco Express, vainly counting out pennies for a pack of ten fags, looking embarrassed and saying he didn’t know how the family was going to get through to pay day. The pensioner in the bank, shaking his head and asking anyone who would listen why he can’t afford his electricity bills any more. The dazed, tired looking woman in the local garage wondering how she is going to pay for her ancient Corsa to get through the Mot.
Masses of unemployed kids roaming the shopping malls up and down the country, looking bored and angry. And who can blame them? There is no work, and they feel cheated.
When will it all end? Will it end?
The short answer is yes. And of course any Conservative politician will tell you that they inherited a mess, that Labour allowed us to get fat off the back of an economy propped up debt. And to an extent that is correct.
We did overspend. We did over borrow.
Lecturing at the University of Sussex recently, on the MA Journalism course (yes, students are getting younger), I referred to an old front page story of mine – from 1999 – which warned on the fact that Northern Rock’s 125 per cent mortgage deals were flying off the shelf so fast they could not keep up with demand.
But the bank kept lending. Often to homebuyers in their early 20s who used the additional money above the mortgage to furnish their homes – and even that was on the never never.
Now multiply this scenario thousands of times, hundreds of thousands of times, and you have a recipe for catastrophe. The bank, in common with many others, lent money it did not have. It depended on other banks within the system playing the same game. Sooner or later the money was going to run out. Game over.
I wrote that story 13 years ago. It took a further 8 years for the money to properly run out, but when it did, boy did we know about it.
But, rather than keep picking over the disastrous errors of the past, let us look to the positives of the future. And remember that every generation goes through several painful economic cycles, some worse than others.
Economies do recover. Eventually. As Vince Cable keeps saying, we need to manufacture and export goods that people want. Germany does it, so do the French.
We do it too. But just not enough of it, although some of our companies are doing incredibly well. Look at Rolls Royce. It’s British, and actually makes things. And lots of other countries want the things it makes.
Last year the company quietly generated £7.8 billion of our GDP. It employs 22,000 people in the UK, almost the same again overseas, and 85 per cent of its sales are in exports. Profit in 2011 was £1 billion. And not an investment fund manager or paper pusher in sight. The company’s order book now stands at £62 billion — nearly four times the value of RBS. What’s not to like?
There are many other success stories out there. Our coach, train and boat manufacturers, like our carmakers, continue to do well. So do our IT and hi-tech industries. The UK has always been at the technological forefront in aviation, motor and sea faring hardware. We punch above our weight. But we need to get back to those golden times when order books were bulging and it was hard to find enough skilled labour to do the job.
The fly in the ointment, and the real impediment to recovery is, by and large, the banks. Not lending to smaller firms, which need capital investment to grow, is putting the brakes on the wider economy, and until the banks free up more money – and God knows they make enough of it – then progress will be slower.
It would also be good to see more investment in our film and television industry. I’m a fan of the French cop drama Braquo. It’s sexy, cool, shot in Paris, with a good sized budget – and it is all home made.
It makes the likes of Spooks – which we pay for courtesy of our TV license fee – look like it was made in Jeremy Paxman’s backyard.
A bit of Gallic know how goes a long way. But I still wouldn’t want to be on the same plane as Gerard Depardieu.
C David Andrews June 2012
February 29th 2012
By David Andrews
I wonder if journalists read the same economic forecasts? The Daily Express was in bullish mood the other day. BRITAIN SET TO BOUNCE BACK AT LAST, crowed its front page. Ahhhhh, excellent. It has been a long, gloomy winter….but spring does tend to bring out the more optimistic side of our leader writers. A few crocuses peeking out, lighter evenings, a new series of Mad Men, all of a sudden we are not going to Hell in a handcart.
Growth, growth and more growth is on the agenda, reckons the paper, as manufacturing orders start to flow once more, more 95 per cent mortgages appear on the scene, and banks succumb to intense government pressure to do what they are supposed to do and open up credit streams for businesses.
But what’s this? Far more grouchy editorial at the Daily Telegraph. Forget spring. Many challenges lay ahead before we can safely say we have turned the corner, snaps the broadsheet.
By David Andrews
A well dressed bloke approached as I was walking to the office in Hove the other day. He beamed engagingly at me, and, momentarily off guard in the bright winter sunshine, I beamed back. I thought we must know each other. How are you, he said, in a strong eastern European accent.
I’m doing pretty good, I said, you? I am ok, he answered, the smile getting ever bigger. I was wondering if you had any spare change?
Eh, I said, taken aback, thinking, oh no Andrews, done it again, fallen for the oldest one in the book. Because you never, ever engage in eye contact with any dudes asking for money in the street. Not if you don’t want to have to process that haunting look, the slip of desperation and the jag, the whimper of pleading. And anyway, when you get asked several times a day well, life’s too short.
What struck me was that this appeared to be a new class of beggar. Mostly the guys, for it is more often than not men, look like they are desperate for the next fix, the next six pack of 10 per cent plus cider.
But this guy could have been on his way to church sporting his Sunday best.
And, as 2012 stretches before us – Happy New Year, by the way – I reckon we are going to see more shape shifting on our streets, as money gets tighter and tighter.
By David Andrews
I like the way Americans have cute terms for just about everything. ‘Disengagement’ is the latest pseudo socio-economic term to emerge from the US for people alienated from their boring jobs.
I used to disengage spectacularly. At school – especially during chemistry – and I also have been known to disengage in certain employment situations. But as I now run my own show it is harder to do this and still believe one has put in a good day’s work.
The notion of ‘disengagement’ at work is perplexing Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Steven Kramer, a researcher, who have recently co-authored “The Progress Principle.”
Having dipped into it, I have to say it does not seem to be rocket science. If people are not motivated in their work environment, they will be unhappy and disengage. Productivity will collapse, and you have a problem. Do we need a Harvard professor to tell us that?
Ping, ping, ping……that’s the sound of my Credit Crunch Ometer (CCO) working overtime. It has been going ballistic these past couple of weeks – because everywhere I go I see people splashing the cash.
Loads of it.
And, despite all those po-faced sub editors delighting in the bad news headlines which their bosses know will sell more newspapers, my CCO is telling me things are not as bad as our (tabloid) press would have us believe.
London, where I seem to find myself more and more these days, looks to be on a roll. It is hard to get a table in decent restaurants, the shops are heaving – check out Oxford Street next time you are in town – and public transport is so rammed it is starting to look more and more like Tokyo, which has a lot more people.
Neither is it only the fancy joints which are doing so well. My CCO was pinging off the scale in the City the other day, where modest Square Mile pizza and pasta style diners were doing a roaring trade, and stores like House of Fraser looked mobbed.
AM I alone in being struck by the grim irony of the recent announcement that 80,000 plus people prefer to claim State benefits rather than work – because they are obese. Or have drug issues. Or alcohol related problems.
Government sources have revealed that thousands of people have been on incapacity benefit for more than a decade for what many of us may consider to be minor ailments, along with the hooch and happy puff and pill issues.
Stress has accounted, we are told, for payouts to 6,740 people- a further 1,360 could not make the trip to the workplace – because of diarrhoea.