Blog

Ideas and opinions from the world of PR

November 20, 2017
Small Man Media

Rating The John Lewis Christmas Adverts 2013-17

You always expect the John Lewis Christmas advert to make a big impression whenever it surfaces, which is what the latest one, ‘Moz The Monster’ did a wee while back. However, the furore that surrounds the 2017 effort is less to do with the quality of the actual advert, a so-so affair with a decent soundtrack and a mixed message, and more to do with the fact that it is apparently a bit of a rip-off.

Author Chris Riddell, you see, is absolutely adamant that it bears a great many similarities with Mr Underbed, the monster star of his 1986 book of the same name – same fur, same bulbous nose, same habit of lurking under a young boy’s bed. He’s also adamant that he will be pursuing no legal action against John Lewis – he’s just popping up in every available media channel he can find saying that he has been ripped off.

Anyway, potential plagiarism aside, how does the new advert fare against years gone by? Let’s have a look back and see…

2013: THE BEAR AND THE HARE, accompanied by Lily Allen covering Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know.

Remember when this advert was ‘enough’? There’s no way this 2013 guff-bomb would cut it now, with its dodgy Watership Down-level animation, and perfunctory story arc (basically, Bear isn’t impressed by Christmas tree, then sees the tree with all the lights turned on, gets all impressed and goes to enjoy Christmas with animal friends who, under normal circumstances, he should be eating).

As for the music, ‘Lily Allen covering Keane’ is like a perfect storm of wet blanket drivelling, the ghastly icing on an already appalling Christmas cake. Rubbish music, story so simplistic it’s barely there at all – quite frankly, this will not do. Cartoons about grumpy bears WILL. NOT. DO.

Cuddliness of advert: 2/10

Dreariness of soundtrack: 8/10

2014: MONTY THE PENGUIN, accompanied by Tom Odell covering John Lennon’s Real Love.

From here on in, it was live action and clever CGI all the way, with all of the ‘cute’ amps resolutely turned up to 11. 2014 saw the arrival of a ‘pet’ penguin, actually only a toy penguin but THAT DOESN’T MEAN THAT HE’S NOT REAL TO ONE LITTLE BOY!

Monty The Penguin was actually tolerably cute, with an amusing waddling star and a charming kiss-off: Basically, the kid gets another, apparently female toy penguin for Christmas, meaning a) Monty gets a life partner with whom he can make baby penguins and b) children throughout the land immediately start bothering their parents for a toy penguin. Fair enough really, that’s how commerce works.

My only observation to this story would be that penguins are the only other species on Earth other than humans, who use sex for personal advancement. Seriously, it’s true. Lady penguins trade sex with horny males, for pebbles and stones, which they use to make their nests. FASCINATING FACT.

Cuddliness of advert: 7/10

Dreariness of soundtrack: 4/10

2015: MAN ON THE MOON, accompanied by Aurora Aksnes covering Oasis’s Half The World Away.

Also known as ‘The Year It All Went Wrong’. Seriously, what WERE John Lewis thinking of here? You remember this – the macabre tale of a freakish evil fairytale pensioner exiled to live on the moon, and the horrible little girl with a telescope, spying on his every move as he lives out his final days in lunar solitude?

It was an advert that warmed no cockles at all, merely posed lots of uncomfortable questions. What horrific crime has the old man committed to lead to his planetary banishment? And why does the girl send him a telescope for Christmas, so that he can watch her watching him? Just how self-centred can one child be?

Absolutely horrific, like finding out that one of your Christmas Day pigs in blankets is a human finger.

Cuddliness of advert: 0/10

Dreariness of soundtrack: 9/10

2016: BUSTER THE BOXER, accompanied by Vaults covering Randy Crawford’s One Day I’ll Fly Away.

You can’t accuse John Lewis of not learning by their mistakes. After 2015’s debacle, they went back to basics, which in their case means ‘adorable animals doing human stuff’. In a nutshell: Couple set up a big trampoline for their daughter so that when she wakes up on Christmas day, it’s ready and waiting for her, but before she gets a chance to use it, loads of woodland creatures – pretty much everything you see in the 2013 debacle, apart from a bear, basically – pile onto it for a bounce-off.

The whole industry was looking to John for a strong, sure-footed showing after the previous year’s trauma, and all it took was some bouncing foxes and badgers to deliver. Good music too. Result, lads.

Cuddliness of advert: 9/10

Dreariness of soundtrack: 1/10

2017: MOZ THE MONSTER, accompanied by Elbow covering The Beatles’ Golden Slumbers

An advert that poses more questions than it answers, and not just, ‘So is this a rip-off of a 1980s children’s book then?’ Because it’s not readily apparent what the advert is, y’know, TRYING TO SAY. Kid has a monster living under his bed, parents buy him a night-light from John Lewis, the monster vanishes. Must be a done deal, right?

But the thing is, by the end of the advert, the nipper and the monster are best mates. They’re having a right load of laughs together. He shouldn’t WANT the monster to go. And yet his parents give him his fancy lamp and that’s exactly what happens. What’s the message here? John Lewis has presents so good, they’ll make you sack off your mates? John Lewis: The go-to store for parents who don’t really pay attention to what’s happening in their kids’ lives?

The bit when Moz farts is funny though.

Cuddliness of advert: 5/10

Dreariness of soundtrack: 4/10

Weird fact to finish: Did you know that every John Lewis Christmas ad is precisely 2 minutes and 11 seconds in length? Well, now you do.

This blog was composed by Small Man Media’s Writer Monkey Pete Cashmore. For Christmas this year, Pete hopes to receive ‘just a load of posh cheese, really’.

Writer Monkey Pete gets into the festive spirit
Writer Monkey Pete gets into the festive spirit

November 9, 2017
Small Man Media

The Small Man Media Friday Not Popmaster Three Is The Magic Number Quiz

Happy Friday!

Every Friday is happy at Small Man Media, because indeed every single day at Small Man Media is happy, so why should Fridays be any different? We did have an unhappy day once, in 2014, but that was due to a blocked toilet and so we had a good excuse.

The happiest point in our already happy days comes when we get to play Popmaster. For those who don’t know it – which is probably three of you, tops – Popmaster is the fiendishly difficult pop music quiz on Ken Bruce’s Radio 2 morning show, and every day at 10.30am, half the nation clusters around their radio to listen to it.

Ken Bruce with Bruno Mars, who is rubbish and so has nothing to do with our brilliant quiz
Ken Bruce with Bruno Mars, who is rubbish and so has nothing to do with our brilliant quiz

We’re no different here at Small Man Media. We are, not to blow our own trumpets, flaming MAGNIFICENT at Popmaster. Make no mistake, we’re much better than you are. Yes we are. Just leave it, yeah?

So, for a bit of fun on Friday, we have decided to set you, our loyal subscriber base, a pop quiz that is LOOSELY BASED ON POPMASTER BUT ABSOLUTELY NOT A POPMASTER QUIZ IN ANY WAY for your enjoyment. We’re calling it that in case BBC2’s lawyers are a little bit trigger-happy. And there’s a theme to it! Every question is united by the common number of THREE, to tie in with the number of words in ‘Small Man Media’. Small, Man and Media, see? Three words.

This is an actual quiz with actual prizes, we just don’t happen to know what the prizes are yet. If you think you know them, tweet our Writer Monkey Pete to let him know that you believe you have all ten, and he will do the rest. Ladies and gentlemen, LET THERE BE POP!

QUESTIONS

1. ‘Three is the magic number!’ De La Soul once sang. Well, rapped, technically. But what are the hip-hop pseudonyms of the three members of De La Soul?

2. What was the name of Oui 3‘s biggest UK hit, which charted in 1993?

3. Which song garnered an Oscar nomination for its place on the Rocky III soundtrack?

Warning: You will not find the answer to the question on this poster
Warning: You will not find the answer to the question on this poster

4. Name all three members of 1980s popsters The Thompson Twins.

5.Here is a band with the word ‘Three’ in their name. Who are they?

We don't know who they are, but we respect their fashion sense
We don’t know who they are, but we respect their fashion sense

6. London band Alabama 3 did the theme music for a classic HBO TV series. Name both the series AND the song.

7. Which  song, which has been the subject of versions by Fats Domino, Doris Day, Nat King Cole, Smashing Pumpkins and Norah Jones among many others, contains these lyrics: “You find a cozy place, fireplace, cozy room / A little nest that nests where the roses bloom / Just Molly and me, and the baby makes three”?

8. Here is an all-male band with three members, who had the word ‘Three’ in their name. They also had two UK Top 10 hits with an all-girl three-piece in the 1980s. Name the all-male band AND the all-female band AND the two hits.

Who are you? And who did you collaborate with on two Top 10 hits? ANSWER! ANSWER NOW!
Who are you? And who did you collaborate with on two Top 10 hits? ANSWER! ANSWER NOW!

9. On March 3rd 2003 – or 3/3/03 – a Russian duo were at number 3 of the UK singles charts. Name the duo and the song.

10 (TEN POINT BONUS QUESTION). The following are the titles of albums considered to have been acts of ‘career suicide’ by the groups who released them. Name the bands.

a) Spirit Of Eden (1988)

b) Beauty Stab (1983)

c) Metal Machine Music (1975)

And there it is! Ten fiendishly difficult pop questions to test your musical knowledge or, as is more likely, your ability to scroll through Wikipedia pages at top speed.

If you think you have the answers to all 10 questions, tweet our Writer Monkey Pete Cashmore and say “OI! CASHMORE! I HAVE THE ANSWERS TO YOUR QUIZ SO GIVE ME THE PRIZE, YEAH?” and he might well send you some free stuff. FRIDAY, BABY!

Writer Monkey Pete ponders a particularly tough question
Writer Monkey Pete ponders a particularly tough question

November 2, 2017
Small Man Media

Small Man Media going the extra miles

There is a belief, widely held by those who have no actual experience of the industry, that the PR life is all about first class travel, all-expenses jaunts to foreign climes, dining on gubbins like snail porridge in the finest restaurants in the world, and hob-nobbing with the great and good.

And it’s right! That’s exactly what it’s like. It’s non-stop glamour and glitz, and nowhere is this more true than at Small Man Media, your one-stop shop for insight into the jet-setting high life. It’s 9.48am here at the office, for example, and we’ve already polished off two tins of beluga caviar. ON TOAST, FOR BREAKFAST! ON A THURSDAY!

In our office, we eat this for breakfast EVERY DAY
In our office, we eat this for breakfast EVERY DAY

It has been another crazy week of transglobal pootling (pootling, it’s a word, look it up, don’t ask ME to do all the work) for the team, because as the saying goes, ‘When the world is your oyster, pop a bit of tabasco sauce on it and eat it.’ We think it’s something like that anyway. On Sunday, for example, Dynamite Dan was off to London for the latest in the Sheaffer Sunday Matinees series of concerts by celebrated pianist Lucy Parham. Taking place in the gob-smackingly swish St John’s Smith Square venue and featuring the acting chops of Alex Jennings and Patricia ‘Miranda Hart’s TV mom’ Hodge, the concert told the story of the romantic life of the composer Frederic Chopin. Said young Daniel: “My young eyes and ears have never known such grandiosity and wonder! I left for London an uncultured boy, but I return a man with music indelibly etched into my very soul!”

We don’t know why he talks like that, he supports West Bromwich Albion.

The venue for Sheaffer Sunday Matinees - it's dead swish!
The venue for Sheaffer Sunday Matinees – it’s dead plush!

The very next day, it was Head Honcho Ben‘s turn to throw a knapsack across his back and head to the capital, specifically The Black Heart in Camden, to meet all of the shortlisted acts in Firestone’s 2017 Battle Of The Bands contest. Six acts have made it through into the round of voting, and one of them, of course, will go onto bag themselves studio time and amp equipment courtesy of Orange Amplification, not to mention the kudos of being recognised as one of the UK’s very toppermost unsigned acts.

The exact identities of the chosen six will be revealed in due course, but the boss man reported back with the news that the shortlist is an intriguing mix of rockers, rappers, pure pop artistes and one band who are happy to admit they they are in their late forties. “I believe I may have discovered The Next Big Thing,” said Ben, and he wasn’t referring to the venue’s lunch buffet.

Firestone's 2017 Battle Of The Band finalists
Firestone’s 2017 Battle Of The Band finalists

Not to be outdone by the chaps’ London larks – their ‘capital FUNishment’ if you like!!! – Big Enchilada Rachel was herself racking up the travel miles on Tuesday, as she gadded off to Manchester for the second Manchester Stationery Show at Victoria Warehouse, Old Trafford. The very finest stationery manufacturers packed the venue with examples of their latest wares, and so Small Man just had to be there, because we are to stationery PR what Donald Trump is to ownership of tiny ickle Tyrannosurus hands.

Manchester Stationery Show's fancy-Dan entrance display
Manchester Stationery Show’s fancy-Dan entrance display, looking all arresting

Said Rachel: “I always love attending exhibitions, not only to have a break away from the desk, but I always find it a great way to see what’s going on with new design trends, how companies present  themselves and what designs are used on exhibition stands.” Which we reckon is code for ‘I get given lots of free drinks and stuff’.

All of which goes to show that when it comes to miles travelled in order to further the Small Man cause, an average week sees us LITERALLY (by which we mean FIGURATIVELY) going to the Moon and back. And we would not have it any other way.

This blog was brought to you by the Small Man Media Writer Monkey, Pete Cashmore. This week Pete won £11 on a pub quiz machine in Stafford. It is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to him in his life. 

Writer Monkey Pete, overjoyed by his quiz machine win
Writer Monkey Pete, overjoyed by his quiz machine win

October 26, 2017
Small Man Media

A Small Man Media Guide To PR Mistakes

Here at Small Man Media, we like to think that we don’t just offer a service to our clients – we offer a service to THE WORLD. Because we’re nice like that.

Our newest member of the team is… Well, it’s me actually. Pete Cashmore: Writer Monkey. Before I joined the Small Man ensemble, I was a journalist. In fact, I technically still am one, as long as there are still publications fool enough to pay me. I have written for national newspapers, local newspapers, men’s magazines, women’s magazines, music magazines, style magazines, tennis magazines, luxury watch magazines and even the Easyjet in-flight magazine.

Over the course of my glittering(ish) career, I have, understandably, worked with many, many PR organisations, and have formed pretty firm opinions on what makes for good PR, and what makes for PR PR (the first ‘PR’ standing for ‘Pretty Risible’).

And so, with these in mind, I present to you now, Five Things That PRs Really Should Not Do.

1. SEND YOU A REALLY JAUNTY AND FAMILIAR EMAIL THAT IS REALLY OBVIOUSLY COPIED AND PASTED AND THEN TYPE YOUR NAME IN, BUT IN A DIFFERENT FONT

You know the kind of thing I mean. “Hi there pete cashmore. Hope you’re having a great Friday! How about this great weather! I hope it holds for the weekend pete cashmore!” It’s a sure-fire way to make a journalist feel like a faceless nobody languishing on an endless mailing list, when we are delicate flowers who like to feel that we are special.

Do not use this, it is not your friend
Do not use this, it is not your friend

2. ATTEMPT TO PIGGYBACK A MAJOR ONGOING ASPECT OF THE NEWS AGENDA IN AN INCREDIBLY SPURIOUS WAY

You know the kind of thing I mean (again). “Cristiano Ronaldo has been in the news this week after picking up the Ballon D’Or award – but did you know that Cristiano is also a big fan of black pudding? Well, next week is National Black Pudding Week and… Wait, come back! We hadn’t finished!”

Black pudding, preferred dinner of Cristiano Ronaldo. Or not.
Black pudding, preferred dinner of Cristiano Ronaldo. Or not.

There’s actually a serious point to this, and how it can all go horribly wrong. At least one UK PR firm, unbelievably, attempted PR pitches with the news hook being the Grenfell Tower disaster, and as a direct result, lost their client. The pitfalls may sometimes be glaringly obvious – people still fall into them.

3. TELL THE JOURNALIST HOW YOU SEE THEIR ARTICLE ‘WORKING’

Ah, bless ’em. It’s always difficult when you have a wonderful in-your-mind’s-eye image of how a page should look, with all its lovely coverage and branding and enthusiastic messages, but at the end of the day, it’s the magazine writers and designers and editors who make the decisions. As a PR, you can be guide, ideas generator-and-profferer and facilitator, but never, EVER, a dictator. Because dictators are bad.

A popular dictator, waving at you
A popular dictator, waving at you

I remember once, one PR person for A Very Popular Games Console Football Game That Shall Remain Nameless, started one of his emails with the phrase ‘Okay, here’s how the piece is going to look….’ Needless to say, he was not correct.

4. TAKE A GOOD LONG HARD LOOK IN THE MIRROR AND ASK YOURSELF: WOULD THE PUBLICATION TO WHOM I AM PITCHING REALLY FEATURE MY CLIENT?

A classic bugbear of commissioning editors everywhere – being pitched an article that would never, in a month of squillion Sundays, feature in their publication. It’s an infinitesimal waste of their time, it vaguely suggests that you haven’t actually familiarised yourself with the publication whose editorial needs you purport to understand, and above all, it’s a waste of YOUR time. And what is time? It’s MONEY baby!

A clever visual representation of the 'time is money' concept
A clever visual representation of the ‘time is money’ concept

5. CHECK THAT YOU HAVE ACTUALLY SPELLED THE JOURNALIST’S NAME CORRECTLY

“Dear Paul Cashmole, did you know that next week is National Black Pudding Week?” DELETE. DELETE AND NEVER COME BACK.

This could happen to your email if you're not careful
This could happen to your email if you’re not careful

Pete Cashmore is (as he has already pointed out) Small Man Media’s Writer Monkey. He also makes a very fine seafood risotto, with cajun spices.

Writer Monkey Pete throws another tantrum
Writer Monkey Pete throws another tantrum

 

October 19, 2017
Small Man Media

Small Man Media: Masters Of Pop

You have 10 seconds in which to name three Top 40 hits by INXS starting… NOW!

The more observant among you will notice that we have started this week’s blogstravaganza with the final prize round from the Radio 2 pop quiz Popmaster, as featured on the Ken Bruce morning show. Answers at the bottom of the blog, by the way.

Popmaster is something of a cult of all cults. On any given day you will find it trending on Twitter, as workplaces all around the country grind briefly to a halt so that employees can play against the radio. Here at Small Man Media, we are no different – at around about 10.30, we momentarily stop writing, tweeting, blogging and ideas generating, and join in the fun. Why are we talking about this? Because it is literally THE ONLY TIME THAT SMALL MAN MEDIA EVER STOPS WORKING.

Ken Bruce: A giant among men, a master of pop
Ken Bruce: A giant among men, a master of pop

Christmas is thundering towards us, of course, and so it’s not so much a case of ‘noses to the gridstone’ in our office as, ‘why don’t we have grindstones surgically implanted into our noses so that our noses can be attached to the grindstone all the time?’ The office stockroom currently looks like a Santa’s grotto of delights, stuffed to the rafters as it is with festively fantastic things from the likes of Sheaffer, AT Cross, Mustard, Artline and Bridgestone, and quite frankly, if we do not find good homes for every last item by the time the first snows fall, we will not be celebrating Christmas. Those pigs in blankets we can’t wait to tuck into? They will be going in the bin.

Pigs in blankets: Mankind's greatest creation
Pigs in blankets: Mankind’s greatest creation

One of the gift ideas that is getting us very excited is Mustard’s range of T-Rex highlighter pens, which as the name suggests is a number of highlighter pens that happen to be shaped like the king of the dinosaurs, the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

This got us all thinking, in the office, as to what our favourite dinosaur would be. The conclusions make for fascinating reading for anyone who has ever wondered to themselves: What would be the favourite dinosaurs of the people who work at the West Midlands’ toppermost PR agency? And they are:

Head Honcho Ben: “The pterodactyl. Because it flies. It’s that simple.”

Big Enchilada Rach: “The tyrannosaurus. I like his little hands.”

Demolition Man Dan: “The stegosaurus. They look quite scary but they’re not, they’re herbivores, you know.”

Mother Superior Michelle: “The brontosaurus, because he [Michelle seems to think all brontosauruses are male] has a big long neck.”

Writer Monkey Pete: “The ankylosaurus, because its spiked club tail could be used to repel predators, and also because they are the best bit of Jurassic World.”

Mustard's T-Rex highlighter pen: It's dead ace
Mustard’s T-Rex highlighter pen: It’s dead ace

But it’s not all dinosaur discussions and gratuitous sausage wastage here at SMM. We are thundering towards the crucial cut-off point of the Firestone Battle Of The Bands competition for 2017, and we are frankly beside ourselves with excitement. The closing date is THIS VERY SUNDAY, as in October 22, as in two days after this blog drops, which is a roundabout way of saying that any musical acts out there who fancy taking a big step towards superstardom, and a bumper prize of two grands’ worth of Orange Amplification Equipment and another £1,500 worth of studio time, can still get involved at battleofthebands.firestone.eu

And with that, we bid you all the very finest of British weekends. May all your puddings be Yorkshire.

Oh, and you could have had Suicide Blonde, Never Tear Us Apart, The Devil Inside, Need You Tonight, Mystify…

This blog was composed by Small Man Media’s Writer Monkey Pete Cashmore, who this week has managed to get into a Twitter spat with former X Factor winner Steve Brookstein, go viral to the tune of 114,000 impressions with a tweet about James Corden being a berk, and get trolled by Celebrity Big Brother loser Samantha Brick, if anybody remembers her. Which they definitely don’t.

Writer Monkey Pete, seen here hard at work even though it was his lunch hour
Writer Monkey Pete, seen here hard at work even though it was his lunch hour