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.

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


Why the red bus?

December 18, 2012


 LawsonClarke Avatar

LawsonClarke avatar

We frequently get asked why we have a London bus as our Twitter and Facebook avatar.

The answer is quite simple.  We own one, in fact the very one in the photograph – Routemaster RML 2352.

That inevitably results in the next incredulous question: “What on earth do you want a bus for?” to which the answer isn’t nearly so straight forward.

The short answer lies somewhere amongst the following:

 CUV 352C doing what it did best, Marble Arch late 90s

CUV 352C doing what it did best, Marble Arch late ‘90s

  • It’s a design icon and top 10 British design classic
  • An automotive engineering masterpiece
  • A fascinating 50 year time capsule of London life since the ‘Swinging Sixties’
  • Nostalgia – like many others I used to travel home on double deckers after school and commuted on Routemasters when working in London
  • As advertising manager at Peugeot we advertised on them
 Top 10 British Design classic

Top 10 British design classic

  • They make people smile

Admittedly it’s also slightly eccentric but we cope with that!

The long answer is not only longer and involves a number of people to thank – or blame! – but probably only of interest to classic vehicle enthusiasts, so feel free to jump off here!

The story starts on the Guild of Motoring Writers’ diamond jubilee celebration classic car run to Northern Spain in September 2004.  After several days touring – we were in a 1973 Triumph TR6, a celebration dinner was held in the Centro del Vina Villa Lucia Cena in the Rioja region.  After a fair quantity of the wine cellar’s contents had been sampled, the conversation turned to what vehicle we might bring on the next Guild Classic.  On asking the rally planner Steve Brown of European Rallies Ltd (ERL) if we could have a route with a 14ft 6ins height clearance, he picked up the challenge and said “you buy it, I’ll plan it.”

Shortly afterwards, motoring journalist Brian Laban wrote a piece in the Daily Telegraph in which he compared driving a Routemaster with the Volvo VLW Wright Eclipse Gemini – Transport for London’s (TfL) then new generation ‘low-floor’ double-decker, and the now infamous Mercedes Citaro Bendi-Bus at the Millbrook Proving Ground.  In it he commented on how “astonishingly easy” the Routemaster was to drive while also providing details of where you could buy one as TfL was selling off its remaining stock of these iconic buses.  Read his piece here:

Somewhat bizarrely – it must have been fate! – a few days later I found myself sitting next to Brian on a table hosted by Andrew Didlick, PR director of Peugeot UK at the annual Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) dinner.  Poor man was quizzed ruthlessly, but he patiently answered my questions and confirmed just how easy it was to drive.

 Routemaster Technical Data

Technical detail

Contact was made with Steve Newman of Ensign Bus, the company charged with handling the disposal of buses as each route had its Routemaster fleet de-commissioned and replaced with new vehicles.

Several visits to Ensign at Purfleet, conversations with Steve and online research narrowed the search to our preferred model, an RML.  At 30ft the ‘Routemaster Long’ is 2ft 7ins longer than the standard RM and more pleasing aesthetically than its shorter cousin.  The RML seats 72 people, eight more than the RM and is instantly recognisable from the side by its additional small centre windows on both decks.  We also wanted one powered by either a Scania or Cummins engine, the other option being an Iveco which we had been warned off for various reasons, not least because it didn’t sound like a Routemaster! (The Routemaster fleet was re-engined during the early 1990s as the original AEC units needed replacing).


Not in great shape

We eventually found RML2352 languishing in a yard packed with old buses.  It was in less than perfect condition, but it appeared as though it wouldn’t take too much TLC to get it roadworthy and apart from a gearbox failure (!) on the day we were due to collect it, took delivery the following week – 18 July 2005. Less than a year later and with the promised height clearance, we took part in the 2006 Guild Classic to Ypres in Belgium.

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Journos and PRs set off for the gala dinner  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Arriving in Calais

Journos and PRs set off for the gala dinner

Fill ‘er up Jean   Claude!

Today RML2352 is as they say in classic bus vernacular ‘in preservation’.  Classed as an historic vehicle, it benefits from being free to tax and is insured complete with roadside breakdown cover for a relatively modest annual premium.  This restricts it to carrying just eight passengers, but can be driven on a car licence!

 Annual MOT test  All aboard for the LawsonClarke Christmas lunch
Annual MOT test      All aboard for the LawsonClarke            Christmas lunch

More information about the Routemaster:

The Bus We Loved by Travis Elborough:

Routemaster Association:


Social media* made easy

May 10, 2011

*Aka Online PR

There’s a lot of hype surrounding social media, and for many people, still much confusion.

To help get you started and ensure you get the most out of it, here are a few thoughts and ‘top tips’.

What is it?

Social media – or Online PR – is simply about having a conversation on line.  Both speaking and listening.

Many dismiss it – and especially Facebook as being just for kids, but collectively it is now a highly regarded form of business communication.

The key advance over traditional media communication is that it provides the opportunity for a two-way discussion with your stakeholders, not a one-way broadcast.  Traditionally PRs wrote press releases and spoke to journalists, but now journalists and their readers – your customers, are online, too.

The blogger has also arrived on the scene.  These can be journalists, politicians, opinion formers and pundits, or simply enthusiastic private individuals who write about things that interest them, become authoritative in their chosen subject, and because of what they are saying attract an audience.

The channels?  Many and various but primarily Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube and LinkedIn.

Double click on diagram to expand

Social media is not digital marketing

Social media isn’t about trying to sell you anything.  There isn’t an online shopping basket or PayPal page.  It is all about conversation, reputation and hearing what people think.  Imagine dropping into the pub for a drink or having friends round for a meal.  It’s not long before someone is recommending or deriding a product or service.  Reputations are made or lost based on third party endorsement.  So just ask yourself the question: do you know what’s being said about you, your product or brand online?  And if not, don’t you think you ought to be finding out by listening in?

Much of this relationship building work is what has been achieved by traditional PR for years.  The key difference is that now you can listen and converse directly and immediately.

So what’s the big deal?

Change happens, and arguably as in the case of social media, it now happens extraordinarily quickly.  Getting used to new ideas and new ways of doing things is just part of everyday life.

How did we cope before e-mail?  What business operates without the internet, and who doesn’t use a Blackberry or smart phone?  All have arrived and impacted on life in just a few years.

The way we communicate and do business evolves, and social media is just another new way of talking to your stakeholders, albeit in a very open and potentially global way.

Keep it simple

There are numerous computer tools and smart phone applications (apps) available to help, but to get going, we would recommend using Twitter, possibly Facebook and setting up a blog; YouTube if you can create or have access to relevant video footage, and LinkedIn is useful for professional networking.

Generation Y cut its teeth absorbing significant amounts of information from multiple sources – more so than any previous generation.  There’s less time for in-depth reading and attention levels are diminishing.  The 140 character tweet, images, video clips and web links are now the order of the day.  Short and punchy: just like a good newspaper headline.


As with any other business investment decision, you’ll need to think about a few things first.  This will obviously vary if you are representing a company or organisation, or just engaging as an individual:

  • Why are you going online?
  • What do you want to achieve?  Set some objectives
  • Agree who will be the ‘champion’ or spokesperson
  • What are you going to talk about?
  • What do you want to measure, and how often?

Start slowly

Dip a toe in.  Set up profiles, then watch, listen and learn.  You’ll soon feel ready to join in.

Starting to Tweet

Engage when you feel ready.  As with many things, the more you put into it the more you’ll get out.

Use it to network, to conduct research and find out what people think. It’s also valuable for accessing news, from topics of global importance to what’s happening in your neck of the woods, geographically or professionally.  You can search for any topic.

Trust your instincts

If you understand the basic principles of media communication you’ll be fine.

The same rules apply as for writing a press release.  News is still the number one reason for engaging, so be concise, keep the language simple, direct and to the point, and avoid overt advertising puffs.  If writing corporately, avoid personal views and opinions unless expressed as a statement from the company.

Check what you’re saying

Check spelling and grammar and keep it clean and legal!  The law applies to online just as it does to printed media.

Generate traffic

Make sure you include links to – and from your website, blog, online press office and all social media locations so there’s a virtuous circle. Add hyperlinks to the sign-off of your e-mails, and include the addresses on promotional literature, signage etc.

Double click on diagram to expand


You can measure your engagement in a variety of ways, and thereby validate the investment.  This can include:

  • Number of hits directed to your website
  • Number of followers on Twitter
  • Number of Facebook fans or ‘likes’
  • Number of customer complaints intercepted and satisfied, especially if you have turned a negative tweeter to a positive advocate
  • Number of YouTube viewings
  • Number of new bloggers writing positively – qualitative measures are also invaluable

What does it cost?

Here’s the good news – it’s free!  Well it is if you do it yourself.  If you employ a consultant to advise or manage it for you, expect to pay for their time, and only you can put a value on that and decide.

Getting help

Online PR – as with traditional PR, is fundamentally about reputation and relationship management, so a PR consultancy with social media experience or a specialist social media agency is where to head for, not a website designer or online marketing agency.

Just grasp the nettle – Don’t be afraid, you’ll soon be a natural!

Need to know more?

Follow us on Twitter, check out our website or mail Jeremy Clarke at

©LawsonClarke Ltd

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….?