Miranda Leslau PR

PR in Black and White

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Miranda Leslau PR - PR in Black and White

The Business of Charity – From Donation Bucket to Ice Bucket and Beyond…

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Charity is big business.  According to Third Sector magazine, global charitable giving could be worth $146 billion dollars by 2030.  But where does all that money go?

As many people know, my primary purpose on this Planet is to help others and give back.  It was ever thus.  From the time PR doyenne Lynne Franks interviewed me at her kitchen table (after I wrote to her for a job in 1995) I have always stated that what I want to do in life is ‘make a difference’.  I got the job, to boot.

With the above in mind, I would like to think that during my 20-something years working in the sphere of international comms, I have achieved this on many levels.   Whether it is helping an aspirational entrepreneur launch a new business, teaching some very bright and hungry students about the truth behind the façade of PR to working with numerous charities, celebrities and corporates with a heart around the Globe, this is and always has been my mission. 

I would like to go to my grave knowing that my hard work was not in vain and that my expertise, passion and knowledge didn’t go un-noticed or respected.  The reason for sharing this blast about me is that most of the people I know who work in the Third Sector, AKA Charity, are (also) passionate about what they do.  They do it because they care and also because they want to make a difference in the world.  They will often take nominal salaries because they believe in what they do.

Back in the day, the Charity Bucket was a viable way of fundraising. Fearful volunteers wearing sashes would look at you longingly on the street or at an event, hoping that you would open your purse or wallet and donate.  Today’s equivalent is the viral ALS ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ that is gracing all of our social media timelines and inboxes on a daily basis.  And please let me clearly state here that I am NOT against people doing this challenge.  I am simply examining the wider context and the questions and day-to-day challenges that the Business of Charity throws up.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a fantastic and I repeat fantastic viral social media campaign and I will talk about this as a separate blog in due course.  The founders (one of whom I believe tragically drowned recently) should receive (posthumous) awards for coming up with this simple yet brilliant campaign idea.  The sensation created by the Ice Bucket Challenge (correctly done with iced water being poured over the head whilst feet are also immersed in iced water) is supposed to mimic the feeling experienced by Cancer patients when they receive Chemotherapy.  Monies are then donated to the ALS Charity, supporting a disease that affects 450,000 people around the world.       

And whilst I fully appreciate that the ALS disease is yet another awful waste of life and one that needs a cure (along with hundreds of other diseases) I question whether people around the world should be wasting water when millions of children struggle to walk to clean water sources on a daily basis?  I myself had never heard of ALS prior to seeing the videos and whilst I won’t actually do this challenge (for many reasons) I will regularly support all manner of causes, both with time and/or funds.  For clarification, when I refer to ‘clean water’ I also mean the toilet water that some people are using as many children around the world only have access to water that is the sanitary equivalent of toilet water as drinking water, FYI. 

Another thing to consider is funding and where money goes within any particular organisation and spend per capita.  I was actually surprised to see that ALS is funded with annual resources of $24 million (1).  Out of this $24 million, 27% goes to research and labour costs, ie salaries, total approximately $12.5 million (Source: healthimpactnews.com).  There must be some overlap here before you shout that I can’t do my sums.  In simple terms over half of the monies raised around the world go into company salaries.  Good job for a relatively ‘niche’ Charity, if such a term exists.  From an awareness perspective, ALS is way ahead and leading the Charity Pack.

I am actually surprised by this information.  I work with numerous amazing charities such as Arms Around The Child, many of whom would welcome such a high relative spend of funds per head.  This is not a direct criticism of ALS per se as this is the case with MANY charities, but mainly referenced for Joe Public awareness, before people jump on a bandwagon, when they don’t know the destination or whom the driver is.  And of course, we all need money to survive.  I am not questioning this.  I am merely questioning how much the Public knows when they donate to a cause.

By way of a complementary example of organisations where high percentages of monies go directly to the target audience, Arms Around The Child (2) is committed to helping some of the 17.8 million street kids and orphans afflicted by AIDS and HIV.  In 2012/2013, Arms Around The Child was instrumental in getting the US government to adjust their HIV/AIDS global budget in order to put three million people on HIV/AIDS treatment.  Subsequently, three million lives have been saved.

Unrestricted funding per annum breaks down into 30:60:10 whereby 30 per cent of monies go towards overheads, business costs and salaries, 60 per cent goes to direct care and 10 per cent is raised from fundraising.  Based on these figures, every precious penny counts towards saving lives for Arms Around The Child.  Even though the immense and absolutely relevant subject of AIDS and HIV has reached The White House, money coming through the fundraising funnel doesn’t reflect the scale and need for monies required to conquer the global plight of the ever-increasing number of orphans affected by AIDS and HIV.

It is because I have experienced working with many passionate and tenacious organisations (and the one I cite is one example of many) I know what is achievable on relatively limited budgets as well as the impactful work these limited funds support.  Basic arithmetic shows that dollar per head, ALS is storming ahead in terms of financial support per capita (as well as fat cat Director salaries).  And whilst we all have the choice of how we allocate our time and/or money, what now, post-Ice Bucket Challenge?  How can organisations like Arms Around The Child (as an example) compete with this initiative moving forward, or do they have to keep raising the ‘Bucket Bar’?

And talking of Bars, whoever is managing this ALS campaign should consider approaching bars, clubs and chains like Ocean Club to create an alternative ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’.  For the hundreds of people splashing the cash (literally and metaphorically) during the day and night, host organisations and their clientele might consider donating a percentage of the contents of each ‘Ice Bucket’ to a nominated charity of choice (not necessarily ALS).  Well, if I was looking after ALS’s PR, this would be my creative suggestion.  If someone reading this blog wants to pick it up and run with the Bucket (I mean Ball) please do so.  And I will donate my fee to a split of charities, including ALS. 

Thousands of pounds, dollars and euros are spent each Summer at Pool Parties to reserve poolside beds and spray each other with Champagne.  Surely there must be some element of opportunity here for these organisations to be seen as making a difference in the world (rather than taking)?  Or am I just old and over-zealous in my view of philanthropy?  I never said ‘don’t have a great time’ – anyone who knows my life story will know I am far from ‘bah humbug’ (apart from at Xmas when I hibernate).  I am just wondering what happens when we really get bored of seeing ALS challenges on our timeline or run out of nominees.  And what this means for other Charities trying to source funding from a similar global pool of donors?  How far do Charities have to (safely and responsibly) push this Campaign Bucket without creating chaos?   

I want the world to be a better place.  I may be idealistic in this sense, cynically so but the art of giving is always on my Bucket List.  I don’t want any innocent child or adult to not have choices or opportunities for a better life or any life at all.  But I also believe that we should be responsible with our actions and our choices.  So I ask all of you to consider your actions prior to giving to any Charity – either financially and/or with your time.  Not because ALS or any other Cause isn’t worthy.  Moreover because every action has a reaction.  Work with charities that tick your boxes.  If you don’t care whether money goes into Directors’ pockets rather than to the people that need it, no issue.  But never forget that every Charity is a Business.  If Third Sector’s prediction is anything to go by, $146 billion could fill one hell of a lot of Buckets.

(1)http://www.alsa.org/about-us/financial-information.html

(2) http://armsaroundthechild.org/

 

From Fabulous to Absolutely Awful

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Seeing JLo looking amazing on the red carpet at the VMA’s last night (and Amber Rose looking questionably so) got me thinking about my lifelong love of fashion or, moreover, glamour.  Along with millions of others, I love JLo and Kylie but what differentiates ‘Fashion Fabulous’ from ‘Fatal Faux Pas’?  JLo, Liz Hurley and Kylie are older women who haven’t messed around with themselves too much and still look ‘Absolutely Fabulous’.  My late mother was an in-house model back in the day when such things existed.  And even when she died, aged 70, her boyfriend thought she was 45’ish and she could pull it off, no problem.  With no enhancement, cellulite or Botox (‘hooray’ say my genes (and jeans). 

The thing about fashion it that you should find and embrace the look that suits you and not just buy pieces that will make you look ridiculous, whatever fashion bloggers say or to look ‘A La Mode’.  Leave that to Apple Pie – see ‘When Harry Met Sally’ if you don’t know what Apple Pie à la mode is.  From Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel and Elizabeth Taylor to modern day icons (including JLo and Kylie, for example) they all create(d) their own looks that are (still) copied today, both within Haute Couture and on the High Street.  Going back to Amber Rose, with her body shape, she could have looked fantastic, wearing the right outfit for her shape.  ‘Wow’ over ‘Boo’.

Over the years, I have worked in fashion, celebrity and travel PR and up until fairly recently, fashion magazines would have baulked at the idea of High Street names advertising within their precious pages.  Today, the High Street blurs with Bespoke as the ‘A’ listers capitalise on personalised High Street brands, lending their names to what undoubtedly become huge financial successes and fantastic ways to engage with an extended target audience.

Just because a crop-top looks great on Rihanna it doesn’t mean we all need to wear one.  Particularly when some of us will look more ‘Little Britain’ than ‘Little Waisted’.  And this is where fashion becomes dangerous.  A lot of women don’t wear what they should and particularly some of those who actually work in the fashion industry.  I call this a ‘Crime of Fashion’ rather than ‘Passion’.  I love seeing my friends look wonderful.  I celebrate the beauty of fellow women.  I generally don’t feel jealous or want to copy anyone else and I can name and shame at least three other women that copy my clothes and makeup.  I find this most bizarre as we are all unique creatures with our own Goddess-like gifts.

Whilst some women worry about what men think of their bodies, normally a man will focus on your assets rather than the bad bits you notice yourself.  If you have great boobs, work them; if you have a small waist, ditto and so forth.  I don’t think I have ever asked anyone if my bum looks big in an outfit.  Booty is a girl’s best friend and whilst every woman is born a different shape, we should all consider embracing the ‘Wow’ factor rather than a simple fashion statement for fashion’s sake.  Some women look great in clothes and others just look great naked.  I won’t say which category I fall into but ideally we want to feel and look great in both states. 

Some photos posted on social media really should be banned or reported.  It is as if some women don’t have any friends to tell them what they actually look like in the mirror or as if they have woken up after having a schizophrenic attack.  This isn’t an attack on women, it’s a public plea.  If women want to have more confidence and ‘look good naked (and by default, dressed)’ as the positively hopeful Gok Wan asks, they need to dress to their shape and define their own version of style.  And it doesn’t matter if you are a size 20 or a size 0, it’s about finding what works for you.

French women have a knack of doing this from birth.  It is as if they come out of the womb with a Style Guide.  Simple outfits can look stunning, even if ‘les femmes françaises’ are just wearing jeans and a tee.  They mix up their wardrobe into Staples and Specials.  I myself am quite happy to mix up Primark (I love Primark) with an Italian Designer but I always focus on a few specific items that give me a ‘finished’ and high impact look.  And when I travel I love a bit of a capsule wardrobe.  It’s taken some years to refine but when you travel a lot it becomes a necessity rather than a wish.

I recently went to an evening function in London and I went all over Spain and the UK to find a dress that I liked and that fitted properly.  I was going out of my mind and probably would have spent way over the odds to find something suitable.  Being a lady who is rather blessed in the chest department and whose bottom half doesn’t fit the top, it is never easy finding clothes without looking like a stuffed Xmas turkey or a bin liner.

By chance, I went into some dodgy shopping Mall in Hammersmith and happened to find the most stunning dress for £30.  Yes, £30.  So I bought it in two colours: navy blue and emerald green.  I wore the navy version for the party and paired it with amazing iridescent silver shoes and a stunning blue, silver and diamante ‘box’ clutch.  The outfit was a winner and, as it was stretchy, the boobs and butt both clung in the right places.  I hadn’t spent a lot but I felt like a million dollars.  And that, my friends, is Fashion at its best.

And whilst I would never risk of calling myself a Fashionista, I do have a good eye (just one, mind you) and can always find a bargain.  I can pick out clothes for F&F that they often think would never work and I just ‘know’.  My good eye is like radar when I walk into a shop.  Imagine Arnie in heels à la ‘Terminator’.  I scan the room and zone in on the items that I want to look at.  I never procrastinate or go back to a shop.  If I don’t love something there and then, I never will (ditto the men I go out with, LOL).  And I rarely go shopping with other people.  This is a ‘Lone Wolf’ kind of task for me, one that requires utmost concentration and no white noise from the rest of the world.  I take my craft very seriously. 

And so to the lesson of this blog and some fashion commandments.  Please have the confidence to wear what you should wear not what you think you should wear.  Celebs get it wrong sometimes too and hideously so…just look on some Instagram accounts, Lord save us – ‘shoot the stylist’, I say.  And talking of Instagram, I have banned myself from temptation as some of the accounts I follow are becoming like an addiction to temptation.  FYI.

The heart of fashion lies in confidence and an ability to find a style that flatters and makes you feel great.  Whilst JLo, Kylie and the like may have 24/7 Stylists, Hairdressers, Makeup Artists and PT’s, this is their JOB: they are paid to look wonderful and showcase the epitome of beauty and fashion.  Women should minimise their need to feel envy or deny themselves their own level of Fashion Pride.  Be inspired by the wonderful modern-day resources available to see what is ‘Hot or Not’ but don’t get called into ‘Fashion Prison’ where you will be held until you see sense. 

Hopefully I won’t be in Fashion Prison any time soon.  I pray that my good eye and genes grant me Fashion Freedom for many years to come…Fabulous over Awful any day of the week.  Absolutely.

The Mini Hotel Inspector

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When I was a little girl I would drag my mother into hotels and particularly their WC’s to see what they were like.  I don’t think my quirk was a toilet fetish (sorry, pervs) but I linked the status of the loo to the establishment overall.  Even now I do the same.  If the bog ain’t up to scratch, quite frankly, the hotel or restaurant can ‘bog off’.

I remember pulling my mother into the toilet of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (aged 11 or so) and it got the thumbs up because of the red plush carpet on the wall.  Over the years I have stayed in hundreds of hotels.  As a former celebrity and travel PR, much of my life was lived out of a suitcase and as a person who genuinely loves to travel (and who also is a complete perfectionist) my quest continues to this day.

I would actually love to own a boutique hotel.  I adore hotels and the associations therein.  For me, indulgence is a fluffy bathrobe, all my senses overwhelmed, decent room service, surrounded by magazines, books, newspapers and crap TV.  All on a massive comfy bed (with a delectable beau perhaps!).  My hotel would be unforgettable though.  One with a difference and hopefully I wouldn’t make the same mistakes made by others.  If you asked me what makes a great hotel or indeed restaurant, the most important factor is attention to detail.  ‘The devil’s in the detail’ is one of my favourite expressions and whilst you may not care if you have designer toiletries when you get in from work and just want to crash, you DO care and notice if the mattress is comfortable and the linen is decent.  I would actually offer both.

So in light of the above, the Premier Inn strategy works as a functional and reliable source of somewhere to stay for work or pleasure, whilst hopefully keeping costs down.  Rooms are clean, beds are decent and bathrooms are usually a reasonable size.  But a functional hotel doesn’t give you an ‘experience’.  For me, a hotel is as much about the fantasy that accompanies that stay, whether it be of a lustful or restful nature.  It gets my pulse racing, regardless.

I have stayed at five and six star hotels over the years and very few have impressed me.  The ‘famed’ Burj in Dubai couldn’t accommodate my dietary requirements when I went for tea.  What that means in real terms is that they couldn’t be bothered.  Which is where this piece started.  I would never go back.  Ditto Dubai as a destination.  As with any job, role or position in life, if you don’t care, you might as well not be there in the first place.

When hotels make that extra effort, you appreciate these little touches.  At The Ritz Carlton in Vienna (swoon) where my half Viennese best friend nearly blew up the hotel, they prepared home-made gluten-free bread for me.  I felt special and loved.  The bread was delicious (and it wasn’t poisoned, despite my friend’s antics).  I don’t think many chefs actually taste some of the GF bread they give guests.  Most of it tastes like chalk or rubber (not that I regularly chew on either).

The suites at The Chedi in Oman are impressive.  I nearly set fire to the room with all the candles burning for ‘me, myself and I’.  I did feel a bit of a knob on my own in a ‘romance’ suite with a 10 foot sunken slate bath filled with rose petals and lemon water but it was still glorious: from the smell of the room to the quality of the spa treatments, it was like taking part in a little slice of Heaven.  I also changed shower rooms depending on my mood (there were separate ‘His and Hers’ rainfall showers). 

In London, The Café Royal hits the spot every time.  Even popping in for a coffee at the café, you feel part of history, staring up at the photos of some of the truly good and great that have frequented this genuine London landmark.  Not only are the WC’s great (I still check, like some weirdo and wish I could sign off the loo checks on the wall) but the food is wonderful and the staff attentive.  Everyone can be a movie star at Café Royal.

One of the main problems with a lot of hotels is quality of staff (or lack of) and rubbish food.  I have told many a Central London hotel that they could be increasing their turnover by at least 30 per cent if they kept their guests dining in-house.  I love a bit of room service (and I mean in the traditional sense, wink) but I usually end up at Whole Foods, M&S, Da Mario in SW7 or Maroush because a lot of (London) hotel food is expensive and crap.

A good menu is not difficult to create and it doesn’t have to cost over the odds.  Simple fayre usually works well for business travellers and leisure guests from overseas should sample a showcase of local cuisine rather than go away thinking that British or xx cuisine is poor.  I sometimes wonder who designs hotel menus and whether any thought is put into the ‘why’ behind choices.

And now we come back to my greatest obsession: hotel bathrooms.  I am big on bathrooms (and toilets, clearly) and some hotels will try and cram a tiny creaky shower in the corner of the room, built for garden gnomes (I am not anti-gnome).  Some bathrooms are clearly designed by men, without being sexist in any shape or form, but with no regard for space and enough of the same for all of a lady’s essential toiletries and makeup.  Ditto lighting for makeup – if the lighting isn’t right, your face may end up looking like Neil in ‘The Inbetweeners’ with his fake tan (in the first film).  And why are hairdryers always only five volts even if the machine states 1600V?  Are there mice running on a wheel to power them?

And now to another obsession: hotel windows.  I won’t stay anywhere that doesn’t have a window that opens.  I feel locked in and could actually smash a wall…so airport hotels and mid-town Vegas don’t work for me.  Plus airco turns me into an advert for the ‘Tunes’ throat sweets (who remembers this ad?) with sinus pain.  In Kilburn, NW London, there is a hotel whose windows don’t open but I think this is more to do with insurance and local crime rates rather than jumpers from a tower block. 

Bottom line, hotels need to regularly up their game.  There is always a new investment project or flashier reception being built and recouping costs on a hotel is no laughing matter.  Who cares if there is gold leaf on the ceiling (as per a few hotels I have been to).  We aren’t going to lick it off are we?  What guests want is never rocket science but different travellers have varied requirements.  Management need to put themselves in their guests’ slippers and maybe even visit the toilets on occasion. 

Perhaps I will get a hotel in the future, one offering a spa, gym and Sunday BBQ’s by the pool for non-residents.  I know the name, can visualise it all and know that I would build a loyal customer base, probably mainly from my mates wanting to be fed!  You can guarantee three things.  Staff will be well trained (in the host country language); toilets will be the epitome of bathroom porn and food will be excellent, offering local and seasonal produce, tailored to the guest. 

The Grown-Up Hotel Inspector has a lot to live up to.     

Be More Dog.

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I shouldn’t be here.  Not really.  When I consider the number of times that I should have genuinely died, I shouldn’t be typing at all.  It clearly wasn’t my time.  And life is all about timing.  I’m not a cat person.  I am a dog person.  I don’t know how many lives dogs are supposed to have.  But I must have more than the average cat.

 

1.The first time I should have suffered grievous injury (or worse, that I can remember) I was aged about two.  We were at a Safari Park and I didn’t like the lion clawing our tyres.  So I got out the car and told the lion off, apparently.  I told him or her that he or she was a ‘naughty lion’.  My mother must have required oxygen at this point.  I suspect the said lion needed much therapy.

 

2.As a wee tot, I would only wear, eat or engage with anything that was ‘custard colour’, after my hero, Dougal, from ‘The Magic Roundabout’.  Even my dad had to spray paint his VW Camper Van custard colour.  I was a strong-minded little bugger, even then.

 

I was wearing custard colour socks in a terribly grandiose Parisian banker’s house, aged five or so.  The marble staircase went from top to bottom of the very tall home.  You can see where this is going…and yes, I slipped and fell all the way down the staircase.  Apparently, my mother needed a tranquilizer.  I just got up and skipped about.  I rolled down five flights of stairs unscathed.  I wear slippers these days.

 

3 and 4.I must have loved the floor as my next two near escapes were on pavement.  Head first.  And I have the scars to prove it.  I’m not sure if I was made of rubber but I bounced up again.  War wounds added to the drama of course.  My mother’s heart must have been suffering somewhat by the time I reached eight or nine.  Scrambled my brains all this bouncing around, I am sure.

 

5.When I was 19 I lived in Israel before I went to University.  I would have stayed in Israel, done the Army and Uni but mother wouldn’t let me.  So, I made the most of my adventure time.  On a few of my days off I went to Dahab in Egypt, as most people did, back in the day.  And I caught dysentery as most people also did.  But unfortunately for me, a local Arabian witch doctor decided that he wanted to ‘take the devil out of my body’ and performed a ritual on me.  In Dahab, surrounded by candles and Capri Sun (the drink, not a three quarter length stylish sun).  I haven’t drunk a Capri Sun since.  He actually took a bite out of my forehead.  I screamed so loud, I think they could have heard me in Jordan.  I had a scar on my forehead for months.  Everyone on Kibbutz thought it was highly amusing when I returned to Israel. 

 

6.In 1996 (I think) I went to Mauritius on a Tatler shoot with Tamara Mellon (Jimmy Choo) and Tania Bryer.  To launch a new hotel there.  The very dramatic and moody French photographer decided that he wanted to shoot on a remote island stroke circle of sand somewhere in The Indian Ocean that no one had ever heard of.  Whilst the girls hurried back to the Touessrok Hotel in a taxi post-shoot, once they were landside, yours truly and the said photographer went the scenic route.  By boat.  As an avid seawoman, I thought this would add colour to my trip – wind in the hair and all that.

 

Alas, the wind almost ripped my head off, taking on the form of a gale.  Swathed in wet towels to keep me weighted down, the boat was rocking at 90 degree angles.  The coastguard apparently lost us.  At least I would have gone in style.  In Mauritius.  On a Tatler shoot.  Dahhhling.  We got to shore eventually.  I arrived looking almost as glamorous as the women eating their lettuce leaves at dinner.  Not.

 

7.I worked at Miss World in The Seychelles in 1997.  Awful place.  Full of witch doctors and freaky rain forests.  We kept on getting lost going from one side of the island to the other.  There was only one road.  It is one of the strangest places I have visited.  Whilst walking on the beach, a coconut fell from a tree.  Probably an inch from my ‘rubber’ head.  Literally, an inch away.  Once again, my headstone would have been classy.  “Miranda Leslau.  Died at Miss World in The Seychelles”.   At a glance people might have thought I won Miss World.  HAHA.

 

8.It was a giraffe the next time.  In Port Elizabeth, South Africa, on safari.  This grumpy giraffe decided he didn’t like us lot on the jeep and tried to swipe us off a number of times.  You know when you are in trouble with a giraffe as they spread their impressive legs, steady themselves, sway their head from side to side in preparation and then take a swipe.  It’s a bit of a game to them.  It was a close call.  Twice.

 

9.You lot already know about 7/7.  I predicted what would happen at Liverpool Street and told the Police to clear the area the night before.  They didn’t take any notice of course.  And I should have been on that Piccadilly Line train.

 

10.I was pretty ill over the years.  In and out of hospital.  I walked into The Wellington c.2005 and the consultant thought I had 48 hours to live.  They hooked me up to a drip and gave me the wrong meds.  Or indeed the wrong dosage.  I just lay there very still, counting and actually saw the white light.  This is what I do to this day when stressed.  I count.  I do the same when planes start getting bumpy.  I was sure that if I counted for long enough it would just pass and I would come out the other end of the tunnel, alive.

 

11.My most scary brush with death was when I was drugged in a Marbella nightclub.  Roofied.  Me and a colleague at the same time.  It was the scariest experience of my life.  I must have lost about five hours.  I was robbed and found crying in the middle of the street.  I have no idea how or why I did this but I drove home.  I remember seeing the central reservation before my eyes.  I have no idea how I got home.  I even had the presence of mind to remove my heels and put on flip flops.  I wasn’t drunk, the feeling was way different to being drunk.  It was the strangest experience of my life and one I never wish to revisit.  There are some evil people out there.

 

And so we come to modern day me.  You notice how I didn’t even mention the dreaded C.  Nah.  It begins with C.  Like custard colour.  Dougal wouldn’t let that happen to his greatest fan.  Be.  More.  Dog.  Eleven lives and counting.  There’s a lot of life left in this old dog.

 

 

 

The Public Relations of War and Being The Ultimate Agent Provocateur

shalom

The night before 7/7, I was in Liverpool Street with a dear friend who was then No2 at British Transport Police.  I vividly remember standing on the corner of the street opposite the Station, taking money out of the cash point and telling her she needed to clear the area.  That something very bad was going to happen.  Liverpool Street and London were in danger.  The following day, I cancelled my taxi to catch the tube into Central London to lecture in PR at Boston University British Programmes.  I should have been on one of those trains.  When the world speaks of ‘terrorists’, these are the terrorists we should speak of: the ones who proactively plot to kill and whom I refer to in this piece as ‘the global enemy’.  The factions that infiltrate reasonable communities and intentionally and cruelly destroy people, places and damage the Human Spirit.  The Public Relations of War reminds us that words and images should be used carefully and that we should think before we act.

When I was a 20-something Travel PR, the company I worked for was appointed to represent the then war-torn Serbia.  There was much debate about this decision and over time we were challenged on many levels.  From death threats to some very heated journalist debates, Serbia was seen as the aggressor and should not be supported.  Our stance then and my own stance is and was the same: tourism can heal.  Today, who talks of Serbia as a country of terrorists or one that is hated or banning Serbs from shops or services?  The War in Serbia versus the West stays firmly placed in the recesses of our mind.

Serbia is a beautiful country, as is its neighbour Montenegro, with whom we also worked.  Its hard-working people are intelligent, funny, talented and understand sarcasm in the ‘British’ way.   I had done a promotional shoot with Claudia Schiffer for Hello! and !Hola! magazines some years before to promote Montenegrin tourism.  I was overwhelmed by this very small country’s multitude of gems.  Montenegrin tourism is thriving today.  Tourism has greatly contributed to healing the memories of war in The Balkans.

And so fast forward to 2014.  August 2014, to be precise.  I watch with horror as another very beautiful country, brimming with resources and gifts and one that I love (and have lived in) is at ‘war’.  The country I speak of is Israel.    Yet this is different.  Tourism, the natural healer, as has been the case after attacks in Thailand, NYC, Serbia and The Egyptian Riviera of Sharm El Sheik etc, is not enough for what is happening in Israel and Gaza unless the tide of ‘The Public Relations of War’ starts to turn (and fast).  Whilst people from all religious and cultural backgrounds: Christian, Muslim, Jew, Atheist, Buddhist all may have visited Israel to pay homage to what they believe in or want to see and experience, tourism is not a solution, not yet anyway.  So what is ‘The Public Relations of War’?

I went to see a leading Jewry movement in the UK about Israel’s PR many years ago.  I told them Israel had a PR problem.  I recommended that they have (at least) some media training as the representatives on-screen for the world to engage with, came across as arrogant, pushy and aggressive (even if they weren’t).  Their Palestinian or Arab World counterparts (any representative, not the ‘global enemy’ to whom I refer) however, always came across as softly spoken, demonstrating intelligence and empathy.  My recommendations were spurned and dismissed.  This was a problem in itself.  Not admitting there was a problem.  Lesson one.

Unfortunately, the ‘global enemy’ that the world currently faces, knows that Israel has a PR problem.  ‘They’, the global enemy (and please respect my use of language here) happens to be quite brilliant at PR and when I say PR I mean influencing publics to buy into a product, service or way of thinking.  Not only is their collective view of Life/Death different to the rest of us eg they are willing (or forced) to blow up their own flesh for the cause, they do not care how many people die or suffer, albeit Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Brits or Americans, as prime examples.  Whilst always keeping Israel by their side, as ‘bad cop’ in this scenario.

Some highly intelligent people are currently naming and shaming Israel as terrorists.  Yes, I agree, Israel should not be ‘intentionally’ bombing or harming anyone: no one should.  Note the inclusion of the word ‘intentionally’.  The global enemy deliberately hides essential weapons and armaments under locations where children and individuals are made vulnerable.  They then use bully tactics to coerce or force people to remain in these locations so that they are ‘intentionally’ wounded or killed.  So when Israel reactively fires a rocket, the images that result show Israel to be the aggressor.  These images spark emotion, fury and demonstrations and secondly, latent or untapped level of hatred towards Jews and Israel.  If Israel did not have its ‘Iron Dome’ the world might not weep for those fallen.  And the death count would be much higher.  The same images might not provoke the same levels of emotion or seeming global rage against an enemy we all face.

Whilst I don’t want to get too deep into the Politics of The Middle East, that very, very few actually understand and shouldn’t even start to discuss unless they have lived or breathed that very existence, my piece refers to how the public relations of war is actually fuelling the power and intent of the global enemy.  Israel is capable of potentially helping save the world from destruction but they might never be thanked.  Israel would just want the job done and would not worry about the thanks.  Just safety and protection for their citizens and Jews being safe around the world.    

When and if Israel weakens the global enemy, such an achievement should be celebrated the world over.  But I doubt this would happen.  Not in the near future anyway.  Israel will continue to have a PR problem.  Even without the global enemy.  What the latter have achieved, quite spectacularly, is to well up fear and hatred within the very nations that shouldn’t be fearing or hating Israel.  The bout of unprecedented Anti-Semitism currently apparent on TV screens and social media feeds chills me to the bone.  The irony is that should the world fall into the dangerous hands of the global enemy, they will take down all the Anti-Semites and Arab nations too.  Israel will come last.  They are a useful bad guy to have on board who makes the global aggressor look like the victim and the good guy.  This war has nothing to do with Palestinian/Israeli borders.  The Arab nations are, ‘un-technically speaking’, crapping themselves.  They back Israel and the world should think about this and take note.  These are nations that have been at war with their neighbour (Israel).  They also know what the global enemy is capable of and wishes for.  These Arab nations fear for their own lives, families and natural gas/oil supplies.  This is not rocket science.

The PR Of War also infiltrates at different levels, to the voice of the people.  People who don’t know better: who want to believe in SOMETHING.  Who want an opinion and to belong, whatever the consequences.  Social Media is a PR dream for the global enemy.  Being the ultimate Agent Provocateur that my late father taught me about many moons ago, Twitter and Facebook is fuelling a fire that is gaining way too much blue (and white) heat.  The media divisions in the UK between left and right used to have more of this power – the impact of news splits into those who want to be told what to think and those who don’t care.  Today, we all want to have our say.  And we can.

With fewer national leaders to believe in and respect however, the ‘people’ create a voice of support for he who shouts the loudest.  In this case, it is the shout of the global enemy.  It is dangerous white noise.   The shout of the same people who blew up towers in the US capital and who, at the time, shocked the world without precedent and quite exceptionally.  The global enemy relished in every second of TV coverage, as well as the panic and misery that this dreadful and intentional war crime inflicted on the rest of the world. 

Yet Israel is still seen as the warlord and terrorist in many people’s eyes.  This is The PR of War.  And this is what all of us need to understand and prevent.  Not for the sake of Israel.  But for the sake of our children and our children’s children, whether they be in Madras, Mexico, Munich or Madrid.  The words and images we post, say, type and threaten will actually dictate how this war ends.  Israel is a very small piece of the poisoned jigsaw puzzle.  Like the Israeli’s I went to see all those years ago, I urge all of you to THINK before you dictate how The Public Relations of THIS War ends.  And please G-d when this dies down, do visit Israel.  It is a truly spellbinding and wonderful country.  I wish the healing of tourism was the answer, as it was with Serbia.  Shalom.  Peace, my friends.