#AskGalloway (but not if it’ll piss him off)

If there was one thing I would EVER advise a business or public figure, it’s that ‘Ask’ hashtags are usually a monumentally bad idea. There are exceptions, of course – if you’re one of the few celebrities or business who are universally admired.

I’m thinking of Olympic heroes like Jess Ennis, or an easily-lovable business like innocent drinks, who have a great twitter team and very few critics in general. Anyone else, no. Just don’t do it because it will not end well.

It’s a particularly bad idea, however, if you’re a controversial politician who clearly has no clue about how social media works. Enter (possibly on all fours and purring) George Galloway MP. But it’s okay – George had a strategy.

Yep. George decided to run an #AskGalloway hashtag on Twitter but, when the inevitable happened and the whole of Twitter began to take the piss (as they always do, no matter who you might be), Georgie just did a Cheggers and started blocking. Everyone. But he replied to some of them first. Throughout the course of the evening, he didn’t answer one serious question (save, possibly, to comment that Louise Mensch ‘marches to a different drum’). He did, however, manage to tick off the following:

Threaten legal action:


Casual namecalling:


Stigmatisation of mental illness:



A mix of casual namecalling and mental health stigmatisation:

Carstairs Tsar

Trivialising alcoholism:


Resorting to ‘I’ve got more followers than you LOL’:

oops 941


male organ

And whatever the hell this is:

Altar boy

Assuming he means ‘Altar boy’, I can’t even begin to guess what form of derogation this might be.

But the one that really pissed me off was this one:

Texan speaks

And this one:

Even Texans

As some of you might know, the person I love most on this planet is a Texan. She’s tolerant, liberal and intellectual. And I’m not just saying that. She has the highest moral values of anyone I’ve ever known. And so naturally, I wanted him to expand on exactly what he meant:

My tweet

…At which point, he promptly blocked me.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should also point out that I took part in the widespread hijack of the hashtag with a few comedy tweets, none of which were offensive. They’re here: Tweet / Tweet / Tweet / Tweet – but I wasn’t blocked until I tweeted and challenged for him to explain his prejudice, as above. I’m also not in any way interested in politics, so I’m not some Tory smear campaigner or whatever. They’re all idiots in my view.

So, anyway. I wasn’t sure if his ‘Texan’ tweet constituted racism at first. Having thought about it a little, I don’t think it does – the term ‘race’ doesn’t relate to a person’s nationality or home state, it’s more their physical attributes. However, it’s my opinion that George Galloway’s comment was xenophobic and bigoted. Not to mention the other pretty outrageous statements he made.

When you consider that Emily Thornberry was forced to resign following a tweet that contained an image of a house adorned in England flags, along with the caption ‘Image from #Rochester”, how is it acceptable for Galloway, an MP for the so-called ‘Respect Party’, to post such a range of bigoted statements publicly and expect not to be challenged about it?

peace, justice & equality (Unless you're alcoholic, mentally ill or from Texas)

peace, justice & equality
(Unless you’re alcoholic, mentally ill or from Texas)

He may argue that it was his interpretation of fact (despite the fact that the lady he replied to was in fact a native of Carlisle and now lives in Washington State), but he must then apply the same logic to all his other tweets, which I think would be difficult. Alter boy [sic]? Broadmoor?

It’s therefore clear to me that ‘A Texan speaks’ was intended as a derogatory remark, and I want to know why he would think that’s the case.

Luckily, George is hosting some kind of public meeting this Saturday about 20 miles from where I live. I’m thinking I might show up and ask him – respectfully, of course – to explain his responses tonight, in particular the one about Texan people.

I might even offer him some free social media advice – although it’ll mostly consist of the words ‘Just’ and ‘don’t’.

tl/dr: George Galloway is a bigoted dick who doesn’t know the first thing about social media.

I’m losing my head (get your money out)

When it comes to writing blog posts, I feel pretty lucky – usually, writing them comes quite easily to me. The fact that I’ve deleted and rewritten this first sentence about a dozen times tells me that this isn’t a usual kind of blog post.

Another way in which I know I’m lucky is that I got to meet one of the kindest, most loving people this world has ever seen. Even better, I was raised by her.


Brenda. 15 March 1951 – 7 February 2014

Yes, I’m aware that everyone feels they have the ‘best mum in the world’, but I’m not just talking about that. Everyone who knew Brenda loved her. Everyone she met knew instantly that she was one of the nicest, most genuine people they’d ever encountered. I’ve been told that a lot since she died.

For over 20 years, she fostered children who needed help. I’ve lost count of how many kids came through our house over the years, but every last one of them ended up loving her. Considering, in some cases, their scepticism towards adults and authority in general, that’s no easy feat, but it’s one she achieved – just by being Brenda. In fact, several of them still refer to her as ‘mum’ – one of them even changed her surname by deed poll. Brenda was a doting grandmother to twelve children, all of whom adored her. In fact, telling my kids that I was taking them to see her for the last time was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. My oldest daughter (aged 8 at the time) wrote this for her. Reading it now still breaks my heart. It’s the first time I’ve ever shared it.

Maddy’s final goodbye

In 2008, mum was diagnosed with lymphoma. For over 5 years, she fought to keep it at bay. In November 2013 it became extremeley aggressive, and in January 2014 she also developed leukaemia.

Mum with my kids – January 2014

On 7 February 2014, I lost my mum to cancer.

On 7 February 2015, I’ll lose my hair to help fight it.

My head’s getting the bic treatment no matter how much I raise. If I hit the £500 target, I’ll get everything waxed (besides my butt & nuts – I’m trying to raise money for charity, not scare the daylights out of some poor beauty therapist). If I hit £1000, I’ll shave off both my eyebrows. How much you donate depends on how stupid you want me to end up looking. It’s your call.

Now, as trivial as a shaved noggin sounds, it carries risks. I’m 36 years old. My maternal grandfather was bald by the time he hit his thirties. My dad became a slaphead in his mid-twenties. My younger brother went ‘full Goodhew’ 5 years ago. When I give myself the Walter White treatment, there’s a good chance it’ll never grow back. If it does, the grey flecks on my temples will likely take hold elsewhere and I’ll look like a less-refined Philip Schofield.

Me. With hair. For now…

That’s not to mention the fact that almost my entire body will be getting waxed. According to many ladies I’ve spoken to, that’s some kind of big deal. Apparently, it hurts a bit.

Whatever happens, it’ll be worth it. The money I raise will be split equally between Cancer Research UK and Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. Most importantly, it’ll be donated in memory of the most remarkable person I’ll ever know, and I’d be humbled if you’d help me to honour her.

Please – give whatever you can. Head to http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Finch

I’ll probably never ask you for money ever again. Unless my boiler packs in.


*Update* – We’ve hit the original £500 target, so the waxing will happen. Joy.

I’ve increased the donation page target to £1000 to see if we can’t liberate my eyebrows. If by some miracle we hit £1500, I’ll shave off ONE eyebrow and leave the other one intact. Whoever tips it over the £1500 mark gets to choose which eyebrow goes and which one stays…

Me, the man I’ve never met, and the woman she’s become.

As you can see from the amount of posts I’ve made on here, it’s not very often that I feel compelled to write a blog post. This weekend, however, something happened to do just that.

I’ve been passionate about DJing for a long time. As a kid, I would do as most kids did and indulge in a little bit of analogue piracy – taping my favourite songs from the radio. The difference with me was that, once I had a few new tracks, I’d transfer them to a new tape, interspersing them with links and segues to create my very own radio show. It was called Lynx FM (despite not yet hitting puberty, I had an extensive and inexplicable deodorant collection, of which I was very proud) and it made me a radio presenter. Obviously, it was all in my head, but I didn’t care. I listened back to that tape and MY GOD, I WAS ON THE RADIO. It was exhilarating, and I was hooked.

Fast forward a few years. I’m 17 and and I’m not on the radio, I’m working at a LaserQuest in the local bowling alley. We hosted kids’ parties and, more often than not, bairns would emerge from the arena in tears thanks to the sound effects in there – heartbeats, heavy breathing, footsteps – all the things that set your adrenaline going, but aren’t ideal for a group of people for whom the LaserQuest packs came down to their shins. My solution was the Spice Girls. I brought in my Discman, wired it into the sound system and suddenly, kids were ‘killing’ each other to the glorious sounds of Wannabe. When the company closed the LaserQuest, they had to think of something that would keep me at the SuperBowl. In 1997, I did my first ever Christmas campaign as a DJ. But I wanted more. I wanted radio.

Once, around that time, I went into a proper radio studio. I heard that Radio Aire wanted a voiceover artist to record some new jingles and sponsorship adverts. This was it – my opportunity to get on the radio. I would ROCK IT and get a presenting job. I remember it vividly – the script was ‘Turn your week into the weekend with Bacardi Breezer and Radio Aire.’ I also remember how horrendously nervous I was, and how terrible I sounded on the recordings. The producer in charge of hiring for that project, Cam, politely hinted that I might not get the gig. And that was the end of my career in radio.

Fast forward to today. I’m 36 (I think), and I’ve got a radio show. It’s on the internet and about 5 people listen to it every week. One of them is my fiancée and the others are mostly other people from the station, listening to make sure I don’t say the F word on air. But God, I love doing it. And I’m still DJing. It’s mostly been weddings and whatnot for the last 8 years, but this weekend I’ll be breaking back into the club scene (parp).

During that time, I’ve been many things. I’ve fitted car alarms, I’ve been a graphic designer and a school IT technician. I’ve overseen the building of Land Rovers and sold mobile phones 4 u. I’ve handled complaints to Chief Executives and I’ve sent the odd amusing tweet. But none of that – NONE of it – makes me feel like I do when I’m on the radio. And I’ve got (mostly) one person to thank for that.

If you’ve ever listened to my show, you’ll find it oddly ironic that I’ve always been pretty fussy about who I listen to on the radio. Growing up, there’s only ever been a few presenters that I’ve truly loved listening to – Caesar the Geezer, Chris Moyles, Alex Pepper and Simon Hirst. All of these presenters have kept my love for radio alive, but none more so than Hirsty. Over the years, his passion for radio and for his listeners has inspired me – not only to the point where I ended up with my own show, but also in my own radio personality, which is heavily influenced by both Hirsty and Moyles.

The bottom line is that if it wasn’t for Hirsty, I wouldn’t be a radio presenter, and I certainly wouldn’t be the presenter that I am. I’ve never met him, but I’ve always kind of felt like I’ve known him, as I expect many people have. He’s always been like an old pal for thousands – but for me, he’s also been a true inspiration. And I have no doubt that’s what she’ll continue to be.

This weekend, the irreplaceable Simon Hirst was suddenly replaced. In a profoundly heartfelt interview with Stephen Nolan on Radio 5 Live, Stephanie Hirst introduced herself to the world.

The revelation was a shock – but not really so much in the sense that you might think. The most shocking thing for me was that this poor woman has felt obliged to physically represent herself as a man for so long; that she’s spent the last 30 years of her life hiding herself from the world. The interview was candid, to the point where it moved me to tears. She described it as having someone poking her in the arm, over and over, from the moment she awoke to the moment she fell asleep. I’m a normal bloke with normal worries – money, work, kids, an ex with an axe to grind – and I often have trouble nodding off at night because of it all. But it simply pales in comparison to the private torment that Stephanie must have endured over all these years. I can’t even begin to fathom how she’s coped.

Although I don’t feel like I’ve adequately emphasised my sadness at how hard it must have been for her to manage the situation in which she’s found herself to date (and I’m not sure that I ever could), I really don’t feel as though that’s where the emphasis should be. My overwhelming sadness for Simon is replaced with heartfelt joy for Stephanie – the fact that she can now be who she’s always been, without having the curtains drawn. That she can wear what she wants and look the way she’s always felt is an inspiration in itself. In a world which frequently demonstrates its lack of compassion and understanding, I’m humbled by the courage that she’s shown this weekend, and I’m more in awe of her now than I ever was of him.

The only thing left to do now is get her back on the radio, where she so obviously belongs. It’ll be the same old Hirsty – perhaps with a slightly different voice and a pair of boobs – but she’s still the same witty, hilarious and loveable person that’s been on our radios for the last 20-some years. And if she’s not on our radios for the next 20-some once she’s ready to make a return, there’s something very wrong.

You’ve been an inspiration to me and countless others for years, and I see no reason why that shouldn’t continue.

Thank you and welcome to the world, Stephanie Nicola Hirst.

US Airways: Not a virgin airline?

Today, Twitter exploded as US Airways, refusing to be beaten by a marketing strapline, went one better than Virgin Atlantic’s ‘Flying in the face of ordinary’ campaign…


It’s a normal day in Tempe, Arizona. You’re sitting in your office, just doing your job – replying to people on Twitter for @USAirways. Life is good.

Then you get an email. It’s from that bloke in the office – you know, THAT bloke who always cuts it pretty fine when it comes to office humour, sending NSFW stuff to everyone because bollocks to management, yay!

You open the email. It’s a joke about finding that lost 777. Sigh. There’s a link to a picture on Twitter, but for some reason it’s not blue. Just a quick peek. Won’t hurt. You ctrl+c the link, paste it into the browser and hit go. A plane has crashed into a naked woman’s junk. Hilarious. You tut at that bloke, wondering how the hell he’s still got a job. A quick trip to the water cooler and a chat with that girl you like from accounts, and then it’s back to work. People to help, tweets to send.

Someone’s unhappy with the service she’s received. Her name is Elle. You should help her. You follow the process as usual – tell her that feedback is welcome and drop her a link where she can leave her comments. Just paste it on in there – it’s the link you’ve been giving people all day, so it’s still on your clipboard. Right?



I censored this. It wasn’t pretty.

According to USA Today, US Airways has blamed someone else, “…The image was initially posted to our Twitter feed by another user. We captured the tweet to flag it as inappropriate. Unfortunately the image was inadvertently included in a response to a customer”

We’ll ignore the thing about ‘another user’ posting it to their Twitter feed, as we all know that’s not possible in the literal sense – if someone tweeted it to @USAirways, it obviously wouldn’t appear in their feed. Whatever – the bottom line here is that someone didn’t check their copy/paste text before tweeting from a corporate account. It’s that simple.

Doing social media for a brand is risky business – one of the riskiest, in fact. You have to keep your wits about you, without fail, every second, or there’s a good chance things could turn very ugly, very quickly. There have been plenty of examples of social media staffers dropping the ball, mainly sending a tweet from their personal account, only to find that they’re logged in as the brand. Chrysler once alienated a whole city, while Vodafone alienated half of the species (Sorry, red team – couldn’t resist).

Although I’m sure there have been other copy/paste disasters, I can’t think of one right now. But that doesn’t really matter, because every social media fail to date pales in comparison to this one.

The problem is, these kinds of errors are so easy to make – catastrophe is only ever a mouse-click away. So here are five rules that I made for myself to never, ever break:

  • If you log in to the brand’s social account, do what you need to do and then log out. Now.
  • Don’t log in to the brand account on your phone. If you really have to, then do so on a different app – have one app for personal Twitter, one app for work Twitter, and never the twain shall meet.
  • The chances are, you’ve got more connected devices than you can shake a stick at. Use them. Don’t look at crap on your work computer.
  • When you tweet from your personal account, check that’s what you’re doing. It takes less than a second to glance at the screen.
  • Never EVER trust copy & paste. Always test the link before posting.

Luckily, following these rules has helped prevent me from causing one of these monumental cock-ups. But that could change in an instant at any time. That’s always with me and, if you have access to a brand’s social page, it should always be with you too.

Paddy Power’s taking the Pistorious

I’m lucky enough to work for a company that’s always been pretty forward-thinking about PR and social media. Because of this, I have a certain admiration* for other businesses when they really get that stuff right.

The latest Three campaign – #SingItKitty – has me fuming, simply because they did it and we didn’t. It’s genius – catchy, infectious and the kind of thing you feel compelled to share. Then there are the players who are great at social media; from the whimsical brilliance of Innocent Drinks to the sassy awesomeness of my colleagues over at Tesco Mobile. And then there are the ones that gain their notoriety by sailing close to the wind. Like Paddy Power.

To date, I’ve liked pretty much every stunt that Paddy Power have pulled. Most recently, they crashed the red carpet at The Brits with Daft Punk impersonators, decked out in Paddy Power Y-Fronts. It had all the traits of a great PR campaign – bonkers enough to make people talk about it as part of their ‘did you watch The Brits last night?’ conversations at work the next day, but not stupid enough to prompt a ‘wtf?!’

In 2012, they flipped the middle finger at one thing that frustrated PR people at almost every brand in the UK (including me. ‘North Greenwich Arena’?! Ugh). In the run up to London 2012, I remember reading a brief on what non-sponsors could and couldn’t say. We jokingly referred to the event as ‘The O word’ around the office. Paddy Power? Not one shit was given. They found a way around it and pulled off a brilliant trick:

The Paddy Power billboard at London Bridge Station

Also in 2012, they hired a skywriting team to post ‘Sky Tweets’ above Medinah, Illinois, where the Ryder Cup was in full swing. The messages, such as ‘Tiger loves a bit of rough’, had me giggling at my desk. They ventured up to that ‘line’ I’ve spoke of in previous posts, but stopped short of crossing into outrage territory.

This week, if I worked at Paddy Power, I’d wish I was in outrage territory. They’ve sailed right through that town and out the other side:


For some unknown reason, they thought it’d be a good idea to take bets on the outcome of Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial, with a refund if he’s found not guilty. Not only that, but they’ve also chosen to promote this decision far and wide, using both print and social. And, just for good measure, they decided to poke fun at the double-amputee’s disability, incorporating the line ‘if he walks’ into their copy.

Hang on, WHAT?

Confession: Personally, I’m not offended by it. I don’t find it funny and I consider it to be in bad taste, but I’m pretty thick-skinned and laid back, so stuff like this doesn’t really upset me. Unfortunately for Paddy Power, not everyone feels the same way.

There are people out there who do find it genuinely offensive and upsetting. Then, of course, there are the professionally-offended – those who occupy social media, looking for a bandwagon to leap on, just for shits & giggles. Admittedly, some people think this campaign is hilarious. But they’re generally the same people who are amused by many of the news stories that the rest of us find disturbing, like the Madeleine McCann disappearance – the professionally-offensive.

For the most part, though, the People’s Republic of Cyberspace thinks that it’s an idiotic idea, and this is the point at which I get confused. From a PR perspective, I’m baffled as to how a group of people sat down at Paddy Power HQ and talked this proposal over, without a single one of them stopping to consider that this was one of the stupidest ideas ever conceived. HOW?

I’m not a betting man – my gambling expertise begins and ends with a few (not so lucky) Lucky Dips on the lottery – so I’m certainly no expert on wagers. Looking at various websites, though, I can see that it’s possible to bet on almost anything these days. It’s far from being limited to sport; you can place a bet that Tom Hiddlestone will be the next James Bond, that Zuckerburg will be succeeded by his first-born child, or that Julian Assange will leave the Ecuadorian Embassy using a jet pack. I’m not even joking.

It seems that people will bet on anything and, with that in mind, I can kind of understand why they’re offering odds on the outcome of the trial. They’re a business after all, and a gambling business at that; an industry which isn’t exactly known as the hub of moral responsibility. What I don’t understand is their choice to publicise it. This is the kind of bet that they should’ve kept a dirty little secret, visible only to those who know how to explore the obscure depths of their website.

For whatever reason, right or wrong, they chose to offer odds on something that would likely appeal to gamblers. But, given that the wider audience would consider it to be way off-key, there was absolutely no right reason to serve that wager up to the general public – it should’ve been obvious that it’d cause an outrage.

Since the scandal broke, a petition has been set up, urging Paddy Power to cease bets on the trial and make a donation to a women’s charity. Started it around midday on 2 March, it’s gathered over 118,500 signatures at the time of writing – after 60 hours. That’s almost 2000 signatures per hour, and that’s the kind of public opinion that no PR campaign ever wants to attract.

I’m starting to wonder if Paddy Power thinks ‘PR’ stands for ‘Public Reactions’.

Amazingly, Paddy Power appear to have have remained utterly silent on social media about the whole thing, even apparently blocking a twitter account which supports abuse victims. In my view, ignoring the problem is the worst thing they could possibly do. They need to wake up, smell the outrage that’s relentlessly unfolding over them, and fix it. They’ve already tainted all the great work that they’ve pulled off in the last few years, and they need to act fast to avoid tainting their reputation as a business, possibly forever.


The ASA ruled that the advert was offensive and ordered Paddy Power to remove it. Obviously.

tl;dr – Paddy Power have offered a refund on the Oscar Pistorius verdict ‘if he walks’. Now they’re getting trampled by the internet, and definitely ending their run of great PR stunts.

The Shed – where the tools live, apparently

We’ve all been there: someone says something you disagree with, you tell them they’re talking bollocks. Perfectly acceptable – unless you’re a business saying it to customers. That’s not okay.

On Friday, customer Helen Forsythe visited The Shed and left what she considered to be an honest review on their Facebook page. She said that the cakes looked so delicious, she wanted to try them all, but that she was prevented from doing so because she felt that the cakes weren’t adequately protected from being ‘breathed on, (or worse)’ by customers.

Luckily, The Shed avoided a social media disaster by replying: “We’re sorry that’s how you feel, Helen, although we do think that our cakes are suitably shielded from the public, so that everyone can enjoy them as they’re meant to be enjoyed. If you take a look at this photograph, you can see that it’s pretty difficult for the cakes to be affected by passing customers, but we’re always open to suggestions on how we can improve.” – along with a picture of some pretty well-shielded cakes. And that was the end of that. Feedback was gracefully received, gently disagreed with and even respectfully disproved as an overreaction with the evidence of a simple photograph. The story ends, life goes on and The Shed continues as it always has done.

Except that’s not really what happened. Here’s the actual reply:


Oh dear. Ohhhhh dear.

And it didn’t stop there. As I write this, the story’s spreading across Twitter and Facebook. I expect both of the people on Google+ have seen it by now, too. People are (mostly) in agreement that it’s the worst possible way to respond, yet The Shed continues to retaliate. They’re poking fun at the review by posting pictures of their ‘hygienically prepared’ cakes, despite the preparation never being drawn into question. They’re even citing UK defamation law (incorrectly) – I’m not sure if this is a genuine threat of litigation but if it is, they really wouldn’t get very far:

shedlegal‘You have to be more responsible for your comments’, said the pot to the kettle.

Basically, right now, they’re using their social media channels to commit commercial suicide. Sound familiar? It should – remember Amy’s Baking Company?

Some people say that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Sure – before this all started, I’d never heard of The Shed. Now, because of this, I have.

But on the ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ theory, I disagree. I’ve also now seen The Shed’s official hygiene rating, as published by the Food Standards Agency, because people are posting it as a direct result of the way in which they’ve handled this review.

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 21.59.48

And there’s your knockout punch. Helen’s review probably wouldn’t have put me off buying cake from The Shed if I ever visited Bath, and I suspect the same could be said of most people – not least because most of us wouldn’t have even seen the review. It would’ve made almost no difference to their business, had they handled it properly in the first place. Their attitude towards customers would prompt me to hesitate, though – would I take my kids into a place where ‘All the family is welcome’ according to their social pages, but where they’re happy to yell ‘bollocks’ in the face of an unhappy customer? Not for a gold pig. And their ‘Zero – URGENT IMPROVEMENT NECESSARY’ food hygiene rating would stop me dead in my tracks. That’s an official rating from an official government agency.

I should specify at this point that I’ve never been in The Shed. In fact, I’ve never been to Bath (I’ve been in the bath, though, before someone starts). I don’t know Helen. I have no involvement in this story other than that of an outside observer. I don’t know how much of what Helen’s said is true. But that’s not even important any more.

To clarify, this blog post isn’t about The Shed’s cake display, or their hygiene standards as a food vendor. It’s about their use of social media as a member of the service industry. My rating on that? Also ‘Zero – URGENT IMPROVEMENT NECESSARY’.

TL;DR – Cake shop gets bad review on Facebook, posts worse than bad reply.


19 February:
Despite the story spiralling on Twitter, The Shed originally remained steadfast in their seemingly unshakeable mentality of ‘bollocks to you all’. Inevitably, it spilled out of social media and into mainstream media. BBC Radio Bristol was the first outlet I spotted, asking Helen if they could interview her on Breakfast the following day (You can listen to a clip HERE). It seems that’s when The Shed finally realised they were getting into a sticky situation.

Naturally, I wasn’t the only person blogging about this. Nigel Morgan, of Morgan PR (he’s commented on this post, prior to this update), also wrote a post which said – essentially – the same as I’ve said here; that it was a PR disaster (Yay me, I concluded the same as an actual PR pro!). He was even quite sceptical of their social veracity in general – pointing out that their twitter following kind of looked, well, more ‘shop-bought’ than ‘home-made’. Anyway, I wrote my blog post to keep my hands out of mischief, but for Nigel, it’s his business. As such – quite rightly – he used his post to encourage businesses to contact him before ‘going nuclear’ on social media. As it turns out, that’s exactly what The Shed eventually did.

Since then, things have slowly improved. But I mean slowly. At first, their approach seemed conflicted – a bizarre mix of humility and arrogance that combined about as well as oil and water. Tweeting about learning a lesson, but then RTing tweets from others, in which Helen was labelled a ‘silly woman’ left me baffled as to what their strategy actually was. And then came this pearler:

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 23.45.17

Sorry – what?! I’m not sure which pop-up book of PR this came from, but it’s not one that I’ve ever read.

In any case, this morning (60 hours after Nigel was retained), The Shed finally posted an apology to Helen Forsyth. In my opinion, that was 48 hours too late.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 00.47.36

I’ve never owned or operated a PR firm. I’ve never studied PR on any level. I’m not a qualified PR professional. Clearly, Nigel ticks some – perhaps all – of these boxes. I’m not sure how heavily-involved he’s been in the social media activity since the morning of Monday 17 February, and far be it from me to be telling PR experts how to manage a crisis such as this but, for what it’s worth, here’s what I would’ve done:

Apologise: The apology to Helen should’ve been the first thing to come out of The Shed after Monday morning’s radio show, followed by a series of sincere ‘we got our response wrong and we’re sorry’ replies to anyone who mentioned the episode.

Nothing else: That’s it. Say you’re sorry and then get back to business as usual – maybe toning down on proactive comms for a few days until the dust has settled. Distance yourself from the thing you got wrong in the first place. Stop talking about the thing. Don’t even refer to the thing unless you’re reactively apologising to people about it, or even gently mocking yourself about it.

Most importantly, be humble: For God’s sake, definitely no bragging about busiest ever days, no RTing those speaking out in support of you about the thing, and no getting drawn back into the argument about the thing. Not ever.

25 February:
I honestly thought that my previous update would be the last one on this post. But then things took another turn, once again leaving me gobsmacked at The Shed’s attitude towards social media.

Whilst writing the previous update, I noticed a comment on The Shed’s ‘apology’ post to Helen Forsyth. The comment went on and on about how people should think before abusing small independent businesses in social media. It was posted by Janet Stansfield (who is presumably so impassioned on the subject because she herself runs a small, independent ‘design your own jewellery’ business in Newcastle), and I felt compelled to reply to it.


I was particularly careful to ensure that my reply was balanced and fair, while conveying my views clearly.  They were that, although a business owner is indeed entitled to rebut criticism of their business, they must do so in a way which isn’t offensive. I pointed out that only one party in the original exchange had been ‘openly abused’, and it wasn’t The Shed. I gave my opinion that, from a PR and social media perspective, they handled it incorrectly, and that their ‘rebuttal’ to Helen’s criticism had caused them far more problems than the criticism itself ever would have. My reply was essentially a very brief summary of this blog post.

As I type this update, I’m kicking myself for not capturing a screenshot of my comment, because it seems that The Shed have learnt nothing about good social media practice from this experience – or from their newly-recruited ‘PR expert’. They deleted it.

When I discovered this on 24 February, I commented again – this time taking a screenshot:


They deleted that one, too. And then they banned me from posting on their page. But that’s not all…

Helen Forsyth – the very subject of their ‘heartfelt apology’, who ‘will always be welcome at The Shed’, isn’t welcome to comment on their Facebook page. They’ve banned her, too.

I should point out that Helen wasn’t banned at the time the ‘apology’ was posted, as I saw a comment on it from her, acknowledging the post.

Perhaps this development wouldn’t be so astounding, had The Shed still been in charge of their own social media channels. But, as I mentioned in the previous update, they’re now under the ‘expert’ guidance of their PR consultant, Nigel Morgan.  Ever willing to give the benefit of the doubt, I tweeted Nigel and The Shed three times (count them – one, two, three) to seek clarification on who was deleting fair, balanced comments from their Facebook page. All three tweets were, apparently, deliberately ignored.

Now, in my update on 19 February, I talked about Nigel’s PR pedigree, and my lack thereof. I was kind to him, despite my having reservations about some of his methods. Well, here’s the thing: I don’t care who you are, or how long you’ve managed to keep a PR consultancy afloat. If you advocate the censorship of your critics for no good reason, you’re doing PR wrong. You’re no expert.

From a PR perspective, forcefully suppressing fair and reasonable criticism doesn’t work in your favour – ever. Morgan PR’s ‘about’ section on Facebook says, ‘We help businesses understand how to use public relations and social media to promote their business.’ – Er, not like that, you don’t.

As I mentioned before, Nigel has commented on this blog post, taking issue with the fact that I referenced a government agency’s published findings on The Shed’s hygiene. As he seems to promote a policy of deleting things from the internet, here’s his comment for posterity. Y’know – just in case:

Entertaining! My own blog on this brought the opportunity to work with The Shed and I would take issue with is the Food Standards Agency Rating – I saw this and dismissed it understanding how those ratings work.

As a new business (they started in November) they start with a zero as there is nothing to rate but are given help and guidance etc so it will be the score they get in the near future that matters! This stops new premises trading on an old premises’ rating.

Easy mistake to make to think it reflects the actual standards – real zeros tend to be closed!

Hang on a second. Firstly, two months is plenty of time to be getting your hygiene act together if you’re serving food to the public. Secondly, am I supposed to believe that when Gordon Ramsey or Marco Pierre White first open up a posh-nosh restaurant, the council rocks up and gives it a zero rating because it’s a ‘new business’? I suspect not.

Oh, but wait. Two days after leaving his comment here, the tune had changed – in an interview for a Bath Chronicle story two days later, Nigel was blaming the floods. Okay then.

Which is true? Or are they both verses from the bad PR bible of half-truths? Well, I’ve just submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to Bath & North East Somerset council, so we’ll soon see.

Lloyds Pharmacy fancies my mum…

There are updates to this story – Lloyds are innocent. I’ve left the original post unamended for posterity, with updates at the bottom…

Meet Brenda:


Although I realise mine is a somewhat biased view, I’m pretty certain that Brenda here is the best mum who ever walked the planet.

And she’s the bravest person I know. This is the last photograph of her with her own hair. As she sat on that same stool, her head was shaved before the effects of chemotherapy took it from her.

But it seems that she has an admirer…

In the beginning…

A few weeks ago, my dad (also pictured – he doesn’t have cancer, he’s just bald) visited our local Lloyds Pharmacy to buy some things for my mum, including a bottle of own-brand Ginseng capsules. Because he had a lot on his mind (and because he was standing in a ‘reputable’ pharmacy), my dad never thought to check the expiry date on the bottle. Luckily, because she’s neutropenic as a result of her chemo, my mum *did* check it before taking the first one, just a few days later. The capsules were out of date by a few weeks. For those who don’t know (I was with you until last week), neutropenia is a condition whereby your immune system is basically ‘offline’. The common cold or a mild stomach bug can prove to be fatal, and consuming anything that’s past its expiry date is a big no-no.

After kicking himself, my dad trundled the (full) bottle of Ginseng caps back up to the same branch of Lloyds where he bought it. Because he didn’t have a receipt, they refused to help him in any way – obviously Ginseng fraud is a major concern these days and the branch staff figured that Lloyds simply couldn’t take the £4 hit that a refund or replacement might cause.

Bad medicine?

On Monday 14 October, Dad completed the ‘contact us‘ form on their website, outlining his unhappiness that he’d been made to feel like he was trying to pull the wool over their eyes, as well as the fact that he’d been sold out of date products in the first place. He filled in the optional field which asked for a phone number. That, it seems, was a mistake…

An admirer calls…

On Tuesday, 15 October, just before midday, my parents’ home phone rang (yes, they still have one of those – they’re in their 60’s) and my dad answered. According to him, a man in a call centre environment spoke to him and was quite abrupt. The conversation went roughly like this:

Caller: “Is Brenda there?”

Dad: “Who’s calling?”

Caller: “I need to speak to Brenda”

Dad: “Okay, but who are you?”

Caller: “Jonathan”

Dad: “Jonathan from where?”

Jonathan: “Are you going to let me talk to Brenda?”

Dad: “Not until you tell me what you want”

Jonathan: “Put Brenda on the phone”

Dad: *click*

Immediately, the phone rings again…

Jonathan: “Can I talk to Brenda?”

Dad: “Why do you want to talk to Brenda?”

Jonathan: “I want to stick my cock in her” *click*

Really, Jonathan? REALLY? She’s MARRIED, FFS. Get your own woman.

In an uncharacteristic moment of technological genius, my dad dialled 1471, which gave the number 02476 709090. He called it back, and someone answered, “Good afternoon, Lloyds Pharmacy…” Whoa.

He explained to them what had just happened, and a manager promised to look into it. Shortly afterwards, the manager called back. She said that there was no record of any calls being made to my parents’ house, and that they’d listened to some call recordings and found no evidence of abuse. Despite this, she offered to send them a £25 gift voucher – a little odd if there was ‘no evidence’, no? Anyway, that was that. Nothing more we could do, really. Until…

The admirer can’t let go…

Tonight, just before 8pm, the house phone rang again. My dad answered it to hear a now familiar voice say, “I’m closer than you think.” Needless to say, my parents are pretty terrified and have involved the police.

I’m not terrified in the slightest, I’m just angry. I’ve gone back to where it all began – the ‘contact us’ form, and added some feedback of my own. I hope Jonathan sees it:

lloyds comment

Having previously worked in the CEO’s complaints team before I joined the social media massive, I’m fully aware that customers aren’t always sweetness and light. And let’s face it, that’s even less likely when you’re dealing with a complaint, right from the off. I’ve no doubt my dad was pretty stand-offish when ‘Jonathan’ first called and demanded to talk to mum; he can be like that. But rude? No. Aggressive? No. Even if he had been, isn’t that the type of customer that complaints staff are paid to deal with? My advice to you, ‘Jonathan’, is this: Go find a job that you’re actually capable of doing (probably one that doesn’t involve much walking, just in case I ever get my hands on you).

So what happens next…?

Police: Like I said, the Five-O are now involved. My parents called them about 20 minutes after today’s threatening call. They said an officer would be over within 24 hours, he was there in less than an hour. They’ll pass it to West Midlands Police, who will visit Lloyds’ HQ in Coventry tomorrow. Impressed so far.

Me: As some of you know, I don’t take kindly to people badmouthing my mum and this time, I’m on the warpath. I’ve tweeted about it, posted it on Facebook and now I’m writing this. Tomorrow, I’m getting in touch with the press and hitting Lloyds with a Subject Access Request.

Others: A friend with a rather popular blog (one with more than two posts on it *cough* must blog more *cough*) has been in touch and offered to spread the word a little further. And, well, you know how social media can be…

Lloyds Pharmacy: To their credit, Lloyds’ Social Media Manager (Jo) has already contacted me on Facebook and asked me to email her, promising to investigate the issue personally. I have to admit, I’m very impressed – it was midnight when she got in touch. Even though they have a bad apple somewhere in that building, it certainly looks like their social media team are getting it right – and that’s something I can appreciate. Obvs.

Let’s see what, if anything, Jo can deliver.


Thursday 17 October

Firstly, an edit note – I got the day of the first call wrong – it happened on Tuesday 15 October, not Sunday 13 October. Don’t blame me – I don’t sleep much. I’ve changed the text in the original post to reflect this update.

This afternoon, I received a call from Victoria, who heads up customer service across the whole of Lloyds Pharmacy. She had good news and bad news. The bad news came first: there was still no trace of a call originating from their building to my parents’ house, other than the legit one from the first manager who investigated.

The good news is that I have absolutely no doubt about Victoria’s shock at this, or about the sincerity of her promise to do whatever she can to find out what’s happened. She offered to get in the car and drive up to visit my parents, and she’s keen to also involve the police from their side. She did mention that it could be someone calling from elsewhere but presenting their number for caller ID. Although I know this is possible, I have to say that I think it’s unlikely; the fact that the call came just one day after the ‘Contact Us’ form was sent is a little too coincidental. Despite suggesting this theory, she wasn’t dismissive of what I feel is the most likely scenario, and accepted that the call could indeed have originated from within Lloyds. Investigations continue…

In short, Lloyds Pharmacy as a business is falling over itself to help us, and I don’t think it’s just to save face. Reputation aside, no business wants a dangerously incompetent moron like ‘Jonathan’ having access to their complaints data – I got the feeling that Victoria was particularly keen to find him and remove him, if that’s going to be possible. I can’t say I blame her.

Oh, and our friend ‘Jonathan’ has called again, today at 16.25. Seems like his enthusiasm’s waning – my dad said he couldn’t speak to mum, so he just hung up. The pathetic little moose knuckle.

January 2014

It has now been established that the call did NOT originate from Lloyds. The investigating police officer told us that something happened which neither he or his colleagues have ever seen before; it seems that the call from Lloyds, which yielded their number, came in at the EXACT split-second in which dad hung up on the obscene caller. This meant that no call-waiting was triggered, but the phone didn’t ring.

I want to say here – a huge thank you to Lloyds Pharmacy for the effort they put into investigating this, and for their uninhibited cooperation with the police. And also – I’m truly, genuinely sorry for the negative attention that this brought to your door – you handled it superbly, both publicly and behind closed doors. Mum’s really ill at the moment, but once things are calmer, I’ll figure out a way to put the £25 voucher to charitable use.

The police continue to investigate. At the moment, they’re looking into a ‘cash for gold’ type business, based in London. We’re waiting to see what happens next.