Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Anne-Marie Kruk

Anne-Marie Kruk has Something on the Brain and insists we should be talking about it. She's working hard to break down barriers, shift preconceptions and get more people talking openly about it. She says a lot of harm is done by people feeling uncomfortable about it, being coy, brushing the issue under the carpet and avoiding discussing it directly. This is exactly how misconceptions about it are perpetuated she says. And what is this elephant in the room? Epilepsy.

"There are so many assumptions made about epilepsy - that sufferers can't ever drive to name just one. That it is totally incapacitating so impossible to live a normal life if you have it, to name another. This is so unhelpful and can be a real block to ordinary people being included in activities - even disadvantaging them in the jobs market. These misconceptions can stop epilepsy sufferers leading fulfilled lives and that's such a shame.

"It's a simple step forward, but I really think that by starting to speak out about epilepsy, some of the stigma and misconceptions around the condition will disappear." Anne-Marie has started a campaign aimed at doing just this: Something on the Brain - speaking out about epilepsy. "We want to get people talking about epilepsy, connecting with new people and sharing their own experiences with the condition. In particular we want to take this message onto the streets, into schools and universities etc, so we have a chance to make a real impact on lives that are still forming. The aim is not only to change the way people think of epilepsy, but be a friend to those with epilepsy too." Given she is targeting the next generation, it's no surprise her awareness raising campaign focusses on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest as well as a website. 

"We also want to re-write the checklist of what to do when someone has a seizure, because the list of first-aid pointers we've all grown up with just isn't that helpful - eg making sure the individual doesn't swallow their tongue. It's now known to be a physical impossibility to swallow your own tongue!"

In the nicest possible way, Anne-Marie ambushed me into a photo-opportunity when we met, thrusting an inflatable microphone (the symbol of her campaign) into my hand and snapping me to add to her online photo-board"My hope is to get the microphone pictured everywhere with people from around the world, and start an epilepsy awareness revolution!" she enthuses.

You know, seeing her passion about the subject this week, and the wonderful creativity she is putting in to her campaign, I believe she will.

If you would like to have your picture taken with Anne-Marie's inflatable mike, appear on her photo-board and do your bit to raise awareness of the truth about epilepsy, you can drop her an email.
Law firm branding: look how far we've come! Lucy Burton's feature (The Age of Marketing) in the current edition of The Lawyer magazine sparked a lot of discussion in the marketplace. At least half a dozen people brought it up in conversation spontaneously as we went about our normal business this week. The Lawyer does have a knack for writing the features that everyone else talks about... If you haven't had the chance to get to read beyond the headlines and get to the detail of the piece, do make time to have another, more thorough read. The "Colour Me Legal" wheel particularly caught my eye, showing the distribution of Top 50 law firm branding across the colour spectrum and the number of firms clustered in the blue zone (11 firms, discounting those favouring turquoise) and the black (9 firms).

Takes me back to the earliest days of law firm marketing, when the first brochures appeared after the Law Society restrictions on marketing were relaxed in 1987. (Yes I've been around that long - you're too kind saying I don't look old enough!) Satirical cartoonist Ken Pyne drew this wonderful cartoon for The Times (above left) depicting the new dialogue emerging between design agencies and law firms. As you'll see the colour palette of choice in those days shows how lawyers simply weren't ready to step on to the colour wheel at all: "dependable grey", "solid grey", "honest grey", "long and established grey" preferred over "untrustworthy and bent cerise". There really were a lot of grey brochures around in those days! As I say, in 25 years we've come a long way...
The other most talked about story was of course the revelation that two love-hungry American ladies in London have compiled a list of Barrister "Hotties". Thankfully amid cries of "would we put up with this if it were about women?" There is a serious point there, but it didn't stop the legal masses (and most of the Kysen team too it has to be said) chortling into our cappuccinos. It wasn't long before Telegraph journalist (and Kysen friend) Patrick Sawer picked the story up and ran a marathon with it.

My beef with the ranking though is that it's hardly definitive. For example how can these ladies have missed the heartthrob QC who sent one jury member so a-quiver during one of the top murder trials in recent years that she sent him a love note... which of course had to be declared to the judge as she could hardly be considered independent, given her emotional proclivities. The jury had to be disbanded and a new one sworn in. Our QC was more than a little embarrassed and of course he was ribbed mercilessly by his fellow members. I won't name him as he has clearly worked hard to keep himself off the Hotties list.  Just think how many others have done the same. Remember, in the world of PR, sometimes the busiest jobs are keeping people out of the news.   

Monday, 8 July 2013

Richard Waller

From Wallace & Gromit to Saudi Royalty: Richard Waller's life at TLT is certainly varied. As regular readers of this blog will know, I caught up with our friends at TLT last week in Bristol at the firm's charity auction marking the start of Nick Park's "Gromit Unleashed" campaign to raise money for Bristol's Children's Hospital. This week I met Richard in London, where he is running the high profile case against Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a nephew of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in London's main commercial court in the Rolls Building, famous for hearing so many disputes between the world's super-rich. Did you know (all you litigators will...) that last year more that 60 percent of all cases in our commercial courts involved a former Oligarch or super-wealthy Eastern European Businessman? This year seems to be the turn of the Middle Eastern Very-High-Net-Worths. 

The story behind the law suit is highly exotic: the spat is over a luxury plane (worth 120m pounds owned by the prince. It has a jacuzzi. You get the picture.) and the value of Richard's client's close business relationship and personal friendship with the buyer, none other than former Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi. Mrs Sharab claims her go-between role was essential to the negotiations and is claiming the 10m pound consultancy fee she says she was promised, but never received. A particular coup for TLT is that Richard's case is apparently the first time that a member of a Saudi Royal Family has been cross-examined by a British QC. And what a grilling he was given! Headlines such as "Billionaire Saudi Prince branded capricious in court" have sped round the world. The court reports have been full of how evasive the Prince has been to Clive Freedman QC's questions. Judgment is yet to be handed down and of course we have no idea what Judge Peter Smith will decide, but it certainly gives a client a good feeling to see their opponent so reduced in the witness box. At the very least Mrs Sharab knows her legal team have done a good job!

But what I wanted to know was Richard's view of why so many overseas business men and women are choosing the London courts to fight their battles. 

"First and foremost overseas litigants recognise the English courts to be incorruptible and to provide fair and balanced justice.  London lawyers have built a first class reputation for handling large and complex litigation with innovative pricing arrangements.The UK legal system is one of the best in the world. Some would say the best. In an age where the other cornerstones of our democracy have been so badly damaged, not least the reputations of our political system and the journalistic profession, we should be very proud that our legal system is so revered and respected."

Well said Richard. Let's hope Chris Grayling is reflecting on just this as he reconsiders the Government's attacks on Legal Aid
Good to have both Sophie and Adele back in the office after their Glasto galavant. Weren't they lucky with the weather! Their wellies hardly got an outing. And Adele came back a decidedly sun-kissed shade. If you know her, you'll appreciate our surprise. What I wanted to know though, was whether the Rolling Stones lived up to expectation. What was their performance like? "Energetic!" was the definitive reply. 

Our Adele has strong views on how jibes about how old the group looked have been allowed to circulate freely. Age discrimination, surely! As Adele said, if the comments were anti-women or anti-gay, people wouldn't stand for them so why is laughing at oldies acceptable?

I enjoyed The Stone's performance, and the rest of Glasto on TV from the comfort of my home sofa. Now that does have something to do with age! :)
Perfectly timed for Independence Day this week, Covent Garden has welcomed two new major US brands to the neighbourhood. Two classic American restaurant chains opened their first UK stores this week, Shake Shack in the piazza and Five Guys on the corner of our street, Long Acre. Queues have been snaking around the block all week. Well, we do like to be the first with the trends in this part of town you know... 

A little (blue) bird told me @saysitstraight is planning to review them for us as soon as the queues die down! We'll post the link here as soon as she does. Thanks Nicky!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Ronke Phillips

Thankfully there are some reporters giving the now rather battle-weary journalist profession a good name. ITV News Senior Correspondent Ronke Phillips is definitely one of those. I first met Ronke at the Amnesty Media Awards in 2012 when she won a prize for unearthing the awful truth behind the Torso In the Thames story and her shock revelation that ritual killings are taking place in our very own Capital. I saw her again at this year's Awards as she stepped onto the stage a second time, winning for her coverage of the ritual killing of another child, Kristy Bamu. As I have said before, after all the press-bashing we have seen throughout the Leveson Inquiry, which quite rightly hauled the media to account for some shockingly murky practices, it is nice to be reminded that some journalists' motives are quite heroic. 

I was keen to know what motivates Ronke to work to such a high standard, sufficient to win an Amnesty Award two years running. She takes a degree of personal risk zoning in on such difficult stories and I was interested to know why she would take this risk, rather than going for an easier life. In particular I was keen to get to the bottom of how journalists like Ronke are wired, in contrast to their more cynical counterparts. 

"It may sound like a bit of a cliche, but I am a news junkie and I also strongly believe in giving a voice to those who, for whatever reason, are unable to speak up for themselves. 

For me journalism has never been about just covering the day to day agenda. I'm interested in the stories behind the headlines, the human angle. These days there is less money and time for this type of journalism but if you put up a good fight for the stories you believe in, you  will get the backing to cover ones that matter. I can be like a ferret when I get wind of a worthwhile story. Tenacity is often the best policy!

The "Torso In the Thames" story became an obsession for me for various reasons.  He was a defenceless child and like me he was Nigerian. It was the most despicable crime imaginable and I believe it is important he is not forgotten. The story behind my nomination for this year's Amnesty Award was also the murder of a child. Kristy Bamu was killed by members of his own family because they believed he was possessed by demons. 

Both stories were difficult to cover emotionally. It is never easy dealing with the murder of a child. Both suffered very brutal, very violent deaths. The details could really traumatise you if you allowed them to. Interestingly I have never felt I was in any real physical or personal danger.  I am Nigerian so that country and its people are familiar to me. Kinshasa was a different story. The remnants of the war are still very evident and although the people were friendly generally, there is still quite a lot of tension and hostility toward outsiders. We had a few tense moments; crowds attracted by the camera voicing their disapproval loudly and angrily. Thankfully we had a brilliant minder who managed to calm things down." 

I was also keen to know about the support Ronke gets from ITV News, and whether the Amnesty Media Awards can help in enabling journalists to get story ideas approved and funded.

"Being recognised by such a prestigious organisation like Amnesty is incredible. It 'validates' me as a journalist and hopefully means my ideas are given a little more credibility but ultimately pieces are commissioned because they are solid, worthwhile, interesting stories which need to be told." 

As our conversation draws to a close, her parting line is: "As for being a hero... I wish!"

Ronke, you may say that, but others would disagree!
Had fun visiting Gromit in Bristol this week. You will have seen that Nick Park's Gromit Unleashed charity campaign to raise funds for the new extension to Bristol's Children's Hospital made national TV news this week, as 80 Gromit statues were moved into position in and around the city. 

TLT have sponsored one of the statues, painted by children's illustrator Hannah Cumming. And this week they held a charity auction at their offices to raise further funds for the hospital, timed to coincide with the "unleashing" of the Gromits. It was a lovely opportunity to catch up with some old friends in the TLT team and make some new ones. Nice to get reacquainted with Bristol too. One of my favourite cities. 

If you'd like to contribute to The Children's Hospital fund, you can make a donation here.
The Lawyer Awards was a glitzy affair this week. Those of you who know me well will appreciate the sacrifice I had to make, putting on my glad rags and spending an evening partying. But I took one for the team. 

I was in fact the very delighted guest of Lawyers On Demand, one of the event's sponsors. These guys are exceptionally good company so the evening was particularly fun. Never shy of breaking the mold, they decided that sponsoring an award would be (unquote) "boring" so decided instead to sponsor some balloons. Of course! Balloons were tied to the back of every single dining chair, all emblazoned with the LOD logo. As guests entered the Grosvenor House grand ballroom, they were invited to pop their balloon before they took their seats, to see if they had won a prize. With mini iPads among the surprises, this got everyone very excited even before they sat down! Talk about differentiating your brand and proving you do things differently! Nicely done LOD! =)

The evening continued to sparkle from there. Lovely to catch up with so many old friends, all shortlisted for market-leading work - Mayer Brown's litigation team for their work on the groundbreaking NewCap Re caseSipara, shortlisted as Boutique Firm of the Year; Ben Rose of Hickman & Rose, shortlisted for Client Partner of the Year; Lindsay Scott of Matrix, her set shortlisted for Chambers of the Year; also Kysen alumni Fred Banning, now at Pinsent Masons who were shortlisted for several awards, and Sonia Malhotra now at Taylor Wessing - I got a real glow from watching her join her colleagues on stage to collect the big prize of the night: Law Firm of the Year.

Lots to celebrate! And that, we certainly did. =)