Contrary to popular opinion PR practitioners are not always spawn of the devil spin masters or air-headed bimbos, a la Siobhan Sharpe from Twenty Twelve. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that it’s refreshing to see a brand doing ‘the right thing’ and getting the communications right. I’m referring, of course, to M&S’s decision to invite Seb White, a boy with Down’s Syndrome, to be a model.

Rather than being a horribly manipulative exercise by M&S to tap into the post-Paralympics zeitgeist, it happened organically. Seb’s mum Caroline posted on M&S’s Facebook page asking why the company’s adverts didn’t have a bit more diversity. After getting tons of Likes and messages of support, Seb was invited to model for M&S’s Christmas magazine.

Seb White M&S model

“Say hello to Seb White” – Source: M&S

M&S has rightly been praised for the move. Retailers should sit up and take notice. In a week, where Waitrose’s Twitter campaign “#Waitrosereasons” back-fired, it highlights the importance of authenticity and likeability in modern marketing communications.

Yes, the important word there is ‘likeable’. I’m currently reading Rohit Bhargava’s excellent book, Likeonomics (plug: review on my personal blog coming soon) and the M&S really strikes home as being an excellent example of why a brand’s likability is so important today.

The main point that Likeonomics makes is that more likeable people and companies are more successful. OK, risk of sarcastic award for stating the obvious there, but Likeonomics explores the reasons why likability matters.

Likeonomics Book Cover - Version 3

One of Bhargava’s arguments is that Marketing is now the bad guy. Essentially, there’s a believability crisis caused by decades of corporate speak and consumer protection, which has back-fired to such an extent that people are intrinsically wary of what they’re told. Combine this with the advent of social media and brands are now constantly on the back-foot.

Bhargarva argues that to become believable – brands need to earn trust and part of this is genuine engagement with customers. M&S has done this here in spades and overcome anti-corporate sentiment. Yes, the timing was fortuitous, but M&S can be praised for responding via social media in the right way, following up properly and not making a hash of communicating it.

I’ll be writing more about Likeonomics and why it’s relevant to the PR industry in future blog-posts, but if you want to get ahead of me, why not buy the book!

During the week I read all my news online. At weekends, I indulge myself reading a selection of Sunday papers, turning every crinkly page and relishing every minute of intellectual infusion.

This weekend I saw something on a Style shopping page that I had to have. No delayed gratification for me when it comes to THE dress I want; conspicuous consumption rules and I want it NOW! I had the description, the price, the retail chain and the sub-brand. I immediately went to my PC – not a moment to waste to get this item, I need it for an event in two weeks’ time and they might sell out.

But no – my hopes are dashed! The retailer web site was no help, in fact it infuriated me. The product wasn’t listed even though it had been published in The Sunday Times. I couldn’t get into the brand section – the connection didn’t load. The selection of items didn’t load – it was stuck on the first of five pages. I couldn’t even find the product searching through the retailer’s home page, or Google images.

This is a classic example of where a stunning result from the PR team (congrats!) is thoroughly let down as the different parts of the retailer’s marketing campaigns are not joined up. Shame on you, M&S. That dress, being featured in a major national Sunday paper, should have been so easily found and if it was, M&S would have had £150 from me.

It’s too late now. I’ve turned right off M&S and I can’t bear to look at the web site anymore; I’ve wasted too much time on it today (secretly, I still want the emerald green maxidress).

Maybe I’ll see you at the CIPR Awards dinner? I might be wearing emerald green or I might be wearing something black.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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