Morgan – a suitable case for treatment

October 18, 2013

What price reputation?

News of the ‘divorce’ between the Morgan Car Company and its eponymous former MD and brand champion Charles Morgan, shocked and disappointed the automotive world in equal measure this week.

A bland and largely uninformative statement announcing the departure of Charles, the third generation Morgan to steer the legendary car company, was contrasted by comments from Morgan himself about his intention to overturn the decision, and a Twitter profile set up by Morgan employees:

As with any separation, the story will be complicated, messy and may never be fully told, or at least not until someone writes their book. While money talks, share ownership has the shout – just watch any episode of Dragons’ Den, and a pound to a penny the bean counters have decided that the business will be commercially better off without Mr Morgan. But in the meantime they’ve left the brand’s reputation at risk.

Accountants don’t much care for PR, reputation, brand value, call it what you will. You can count the volume of parts in the stock room, the number of manufactured units leaving the factory gate and the positive or negative effect that and a few other things have on cash flow. While possibly and begrudgingly accepting that ‘goodwill’ might have an invisible net asset value, it’s an easy one to overlook, and besides: ‘This will soon blow over and everyone will forget what all the fuss was about….’

Or will they?

There are others better placed to talk about the history of Morgan, but surely what its customers like, why they pay handsomely and wait so patiently for their cars to be built, is that everything is so different. Different from the cut and thrust of the modern disposable nature of consumerism, yet nostalgically familiar and yes, old fashioned. Values that also include knowing that members of the family whose name appears on the badge are still running things.

So if the top man is suddenly and unceremoniously removed, what does that say about those who made such a decision, and the future of that badge?

While it might be difficult for an accountant to attribute increased orders in the sales ledger to reputation, it’ll be a lot easier to pin point the moment when sales started to decline.

The Morgan Car Company is about people not spreadsheets. The people who run it, work for it and buy its cars. It needs to talk to its audience and explain what’s going on – and quickly.

Think about your avatar

April 2, 2013

The whole social media thing evolved at such a phenomenal rate that typically when most people joined the rush to be on Facebook or Twitter they simply scrabbled around and grabbed any old image for their avatar.

Bish, bash, bosh and with little thought to strategy, it was up there for all the world to see where probably it remains to this day.

But whether you’re online as an individual, a company or brand, we’d venture to suggest that the image you choose needs a bit more consideration.

As has been commented on ad nauseam elsewhere, if you’re online you should have a strategy….or at least have given some thought as to why you’re Tweeting, on Facebook or whatever platform you’ve chosen.

For strategy, read: who, what, where, when, and most importantly – why!  Oh yes, and how?

Who do you want to communicate with?

What do you want to talk about?

Where will you be doing it – at home, work, on the move?

When and how often?

Why do you want to?

How – what tools are you going to use – laptop, desk top, iPad, smartphone, TweetDeck, HootSuite?

Which brings us back to the image or avatar.  Your avatar should be – as the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) puts it – a ‘visible manifestation of an abstract concept’.

Some Top Tips

1. As a company or brand, using your logo as it appears in the corporate identity manual seems the obvious answer – but isn’t that just a bit too corporate and obvious?  It also completely misses the point behind social media which is about engaging with your audience and joining them in conversation on the same level, not preaching to them in the authoritative manner of yore.  If you do use a logo, at least come up with a creative interpretation to help communicate the brand’s personality.

2. Your avatar should be an expression of who you are or what your company is about.  It should also be distinctive and instantly recognisable, especially as your online reputation will be associated with the visual icon you select.

3. If you choose to use a head and shoulders shot, make sure it’s clear and recognisable as you or associated in some way to what you’re writing about.  And under any circumstances, do not use a cut out from your best mate’s stag do or hen party!

4. Use the same avatar to link your profile on different channels – this will aid recognition so your friends and followers can easily find you.

Here are a couple of examples worth checking out from Twitter:

Richard Branson gets trotted out as the exemplar of ‘best practice’ for so many aspects of business, and no change here. He is the embodiment of Virgin, so no surprise he chooses an image of himself over the brand logo: @RichardBranson   @RichardBranson
 Mipaa  @MajorGav

@mipaa does use its logo, or at least part of it and creatively.

Blogger @MajorGav employs a distinctive avatar that visually communicates his subject area.

 @ButlerSherborn  @SYMotorUK

Estate agents @ButlerSherborn took the lime leaf from its identity which stands out well from the crowd.

SsangYong @SYMotorUK utilises the badge on the front of one its cars, while the colour combination is both distinctive and memorable.

5. If you’re considering refreshing your avatar or even changing it to reflect a particular initiative, season or campaign, give this careful thought.  Aim for evolution rather than a complete change to retain some identifiable element to aid recognition.  Alternatively, use an evolved image temporarily and return to the master avatar in due course.

6. If you are ever tempted to apply a Twibbon in support of a particular cause, do make sure you remove it afterwards. It doesn’t look good to still be sporting a Remembrance Day poppy on your avatar weeks after the event!

For more tips on ‘Creating a Better Professional Online Profile’, click here:

We are where we are – deal with it

February 15, 2013

New image 2013

OnStrategy consultancy launched to deliver real world advice

Whether we are on the brink of a triple dip recession or not is irrelevant.

No amount of navel gazing, wishful thinking for how things ‘could have/might have/should have’ been or indeed ‘once used to be’ will make things any different.  We are where we are and it’s not going to change any time soon.

Smaller budgets, reduced resources, greater demands for more from less are the new vernacular of business, sales, marketing and frankly anyone trying to cope financially.  Whether talking about your domestic housekeeping, a Government Department or an organisation’s marketing and PR budget, the language is much the same.

But whatever the current financial landscape there’s still a job to be done.  So could smart thinking be the way forward?

Of course the answer is yes; but where’s this thinking going to come from.  ‘Bright young things’ have bright, young – and largely unproven ideas and suggestions, which was all well and good in the Silicon Valley-esq and Nike ‘Just Do It’ way of the late 1990s and early Noughties, but…

Well exactly: there’s a but.  That was then and this is now.

Maybe the time has come to invest in some real world experience. Experience that will deliver a pragmatic, risk reduced way forward and one that needn’t cost a banker’s bonus especially if you buy it in by the day rather than add it to the payroll.

With this in mind, welcome to OnStrategy – the consultancy solution from LawsonClarke.

And the difference is?

It’s pure consultancy that’s delivered simply

  1. Meet – the first meeting is free
  2. Tell us your problem, discuss openly and honestly
  3. We’ll apply our lifetime experience gleaned from many years of brand engagement to come up with some pragmatic solution options, all to a pre-agreed scope, scale and cost.

What for?

  • Strategic thinking
  • Reputation auditing
  • Review of issues/crisis management
  • ‘What if’ scoping
  • Review of resources, internal and external
  • Recommendation of solutions

Simple.  End of.

If you’re a client business, we promise not to sell you anything else.  If you’re an agency, we’ll happily work alongside you to the best of our combined ability for the good of your client.

Real world advice.  Drawing on our intuition and born out of 40 years brand/marketing/PR management experience, and over 30 years creating and running our own successful business.

Call us.  The initial meeting is free.

Tel:     +44 (0)1285 658844


Transparency on-line – there is no hiding place

March 19, 2010

Nestlé faces Facebook crisis over Greenpeace rainforest claims

Like it or not, warts and all, your reputation is now on-line for all to see. The critical points are:

i. Are you keeping an eye on it?

ii. Are you listening to what’s being said?

iii. Is someone sufficiently senior and competent engaging with your audience and responding appropriately?

Read PR Week’s report on the current Nestlé situation:

PR moves up the food chain

March 17, 2010
After years of being the ‘poor relation’ of the marketing mix, PR is coming of age.

This article by Gideon Spanier appeared in The London Evening Standard on Monday 15 March, 2010

Who does a CEO call first in crisis? The PR men

The recession has been brutal for most of the marketing industry but few sectors have performed better than public relations.

Last week Tim Bell, chairman of PR and advertising group Chime Communications, unveiled an impressive 15% jump in annual profits at his PR division which includes the firms Bell Pottinger and Good Relations. Lord Bell says Chime is capitalising on a long-term trend — the growing importance of PR for both corporations and high-profile individuals.

A decade ago, the first person a CEO might call when facing a major decision or crisis was his lawyer or financial adviser. Now it’s a top PR.

“The world of communications has changed,” says Bell, a founder of Saatchi & Saatchi and Margaret Thatcher‘s PR guru. “Now communications companies are invited to the top table at the first meeting. Look at the Greek Government [during its current economic crisis]. The first thing they did was tender for a PR company.” He adds dryly: “You could argue they should have started by doing something with the economy rather than find a PR agency.”

Top advisers such as Brunswick‘s Alan Parker, Finsbury’s Roland Rudd, and Matthew Freud of Freud Communications are hardly known outside the City, Whitehall and the media. Indeed they strive to stay in the shadows. But they can earn as much as a FTSE chief executive. Latest accounts show Rudd earned £2.9 million.

These external PRs do more than handle publicity and manage the financial calendar, with crisis management thrown in as required. They have top-level contacts that the client’s in-house PR can rarely hope to match. And increasingly, they are looking beyond PR — to offer strategic direction and political advice in the mould of a management consultancy such as McKinsey.

“PR has certainly moved up the food chain in the last five years,” says Danny Rogers, editor of PR Week. “Reputation is your biggest asset in the modern world.” The internet and 24-hour news have made it more important for a CEO to “know who the custodian of their reputation is”, he adds. “Media and public scrutiny of corporations, brands and individuals has increased. Your reputation can be destroyed so quickly now because it is so global.”

The dramatic safety recall of Toyota cars and the allegations surrounding England footballer John Terry‘s love life are two recent examples of how fast reputations can fall — for a business or an individual.

Many PR firms are privately owned and don’t disclose much financial detail but stock market-listed Chime’s past results give an indication of how demand from clients has grown. Between 2004 and 2009, profits from PR rose in successive years by 24%, 24%, 9%, 30% and 15%. Turnover almost doubled to £67 million — albeit with some help from acquisitions.

Historically, most of Chime’s revenues came from the UK but international clients are becoming more important. Bigger players have also seen growth in global PR. WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell, who controls a string of PR agencies including Hill & Knowlton, Ogilvy, Burson-Marsteller and Finsbury, told the recent FT Digital Media conference that when his team conducted an internal review of the past five years, it found that the PR division was among the best performers and “has shown consistent growth” with annual turnover of £796 million — although profits did slip in 2009.

Sorrell argues that investors should rate PR more highly as a revenue source, particularly as he believes it will have a growing role on social networking websites where “the invasion of that [space] by commercial messages” such as brand advertising “is not necessarily a good thing”.

No PR firm has been immune to the recession, of course, as clients cut budgets. In the City, a dearth of takeover deals has meant lower fees and redundancies. But Rogers, who is about to publish PR Week’s annual survey that tracks spend across the industry, believes that revenues were roughly flat last year. If that proves to be the case, it would be a decent performance considering advertising fell 12%.

Sorrell has suggested that part of the reason that PR has thrived is because it is relatively cheap for clients compared to, say, buying an ad campaign.

A PR firm’s basic retainer looks relatively modest — typically between £5000 and £25,000 a month, depending on the amount of work, with major clients paying £50,000 or more. Crisis management costs extra.

City PRs have tried to follow the same model as bankers and brokers — by offering lower retainers but then charging higher rates and “success fees” during a takeover or fundraising. But despite their growing influence, they do not charge the same as bankers, who might earn 0.5% of a mega-deal.

“One of the big challenges for a lot of PR people is that they still struggle to charge for they value they bring,” argues Rogers.

Surveying the PR industry, it’s notable how at many firms power remains in the hands of the founders, even if they have sold out to bigger conglomerates.

Some insiders complain that it is difficult for lower-ranking staff to join the “partnership” — the handful at the top who share the bulk of the profits.

“We are on the brink of a wave of start-ups,” predicts Rogers. “Good talent is getting ready to break away.” New agencies are likely to focus heavily on digital, handling internet search engines and social networking, as well as PR.

Whatever happens, reputation matters. So we can be sure there will be plenty of work for the PR industry.

The LawsonClarke blog brand-daq – March

March 3, 2010

Which brands are up, down or resting on their laurels.

This entirely subjective view will be updated periodically.


Skoda – it’s ‘Superb’

So it might be based on a Volkswagen, but you’ve got to admire the transformation that is Skoda.

In 1997 I wrote a piece for The Independent in which I spoke about the steps the company was taking to return to its once proud roots of engineering excellence.  See:

At that time Skoda was just starting its recovery from being the laughing stock of the motor industry, but it was surely going to be a long haul.  13 years later, and having consistently developed and honed its products back to its DNA – affordability and reliability – Skoda has a range of cars that people are proud to drive.

The Superb, its latest offering, might sound a tad immodest even in a marketing-led world rife with hyperbole, yet it is a name the press has had no difficulty endorsing.  Auto Express says: “Superb by name and nature, Skoda’s range-topper goes straight to the top of the class”, while this review from The Observer is also not untypical:

Brand recovery takes time, patience and a consistent approach, and Skoda is a textbook example others would do well to emulate.


Lloyds Bank – the most complained about financial group

A good reputation is all about trust, and you’d have thought that ‘the banks’ – by which I mean the high street brands we mostly have to engage with – would understand that establishing and maintaining trust is essential to the success of their businesses.  Patently not. (

Once upon a time, we held our bank manager in high esteem, and were proud to save our hard-earned within the vaults of his once trusted branch.  But then things started to go wrong.  Customers became accounts; bank staff skipped the more personalised approach to customer service and no longer knew us by name.  We were bracketed into socio economic groups and ‘sold’ credit cards and insurance policies.  There was little attempt to understand our individual needs, and anyway, why make the effort?  They changed jobs every 18 months and disappeared off to ‘regional office’, and not long afterwards their branches began to close.  That solid, stone-built edifice on the corner of the high street – once an icon of trust – became a Loch Fyne restaurant.

Then there were the dubious bank charges.  And when we called to discuss these and other matters relating to our money, our enquiry was ‘off-shored’ to a call centre in Mumbai, Middlesbrough or wherever.

So are we really surprised to hear that Lloyds Banking Group, created from one of the most trusted names in the high street, has clocked up debts of £24billion (Management Today)?

The saying “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves” seems to have a hollow ring to it.  If the banks can’t look after its customers and their modest sums of money, what hope for the taxpayers’ billions….?