Serial Novel “The Sorrows” - March 5

It’s a shame to learn you didn’t get the TikTok account for the UK.

Was it a proper pitch? A proper dog and pony show? Or just a credentials presentation to set up another PR agency within the WPP Group to win the account? Just another insider cluster fuck?

TikTok certainly needs a lot of help. I know Rishi is looking to ban its use by government officials in the UK. Especially with the EU and US already moving in that direction.

Who can blame them? A spy app on everyone’s phones answerable to the Chinese Communist Party is a little problematic.

Of course for TikTok the issue is billions of advertising dollars they’re going to miss out on. If those communists thought religion was the opiate of the masses, they haven’t seen the glory of advertising.

Is Scott Allison still looking after TikTok’s PR in the US? Wasn’t his firm acquired by MDC Partners who were then bought out by Steve Ballmer’s private equity Stagwell Group? It’s just one gang bang after the other.

TikTok’s CEO could use better PR advice though. Shou Chew tried the charm offensive. When that failed he turned aggressive with a series of exclusive interviews in the Washington Post. Which played straight into Facebook’s, sorry, Meta’s hands.

Shou spent a week in the halls of Congress trying to convince lawmakers that the company isn’t run by Chinese government lackeys, propagandists or spies. Every senator remained unconvinced.

He’s being prepared for his first major congressional hearing next month before the House Energy and Commerce Committee where he’ll be grilled relentlessly. He’ll go down in flames.

This is despite TikTok’s US PR company pulling out all the tricks of the trade - wining and dining lawmakers, political donations to both sides of the aisle, starting a TikTok foundation supposedly dedicated to free speech, vetting their operations by US government agencies, opening up the algorithm for a US code reviews, adding layers of US government oversight. No doubt they’re planning a few anti-censorship campaigns.

It’s all for nothing. You know why? Shou looks Chinese. Yes, he’s from Singapore. Yes, he received an MBA from Harvard Business School. But that’s not enough. Especially when he speaks with a clipped Asian accent. He’s going to get fried alive at those hearings.

TikTok US needs to replace him with an all-American CEO. Someone from central casting, a young Ronald Reagan with blonde hair and a deep voice. Six feet tall, proud, strong, determined. Who speaks with a reassuring American accent, vaguely Midwestern, perhaps slightly Upper Midwestern.

Maybe it’s best you didn’t win the TikTok account. The CEO being such an amateur doesn’t bode well. Is it me or is every CEO boneheaded these days. Present company excluded, of course.

Maybe it’s their age or their absurd stock allocations? Maybe it’s all the lawyers. Maybe it’s just not possible for one human being to be across so many strands of a modern, global enterprise stumbling into the future.

But you’d think the CEOs of publicly listed corporations would give more attention to their public profiles, to how their corporations are perceived. All the stock allocations in the world will come to nothing if the stock is worthless.

Any value any stock may have is the story that the likes of you and I fashion into reality. Do you ever feel guilty about all those stories we made up for BP? All those stories denying climate change, denying responsibility? All that doubt we sowed?

Plausible deniability aside, we never actually produced the original reports, did we? Who wrote the line repeated by every chief executive of every oil company? The get-out-jail line?

‘Currently, the scientific evidence is inconclusive as to whether human activities are having a significant effect on the global climate.’

It’s a great line. Even if it contradicted their own research. Went against their own scientists who were confirming how serious a threat the oil industry was to the climate.

Remember how shocked we were when we first saw the campaigns from America in the early 1990s? When we saw how they identified two groups most susceptible to the messaging? Older, lesser educated males from larger households who aren’t typically information seekers, and younger, low-income women who could be targeted with adverts that likened talking about climate change to a hysterical doom-spouting cartoon donkey. Blunt force trauma, eh.

All those campaigns to make climate change a non-issue. Jerry Taylor from the Cato Institute, grey hair swept back, strong jawline appearing on television, insisting the science of climate change was uncertain and there was no need to act. Recruiting the same scientists who downplayed the dangers of cigarette smoking with one dubious research report after the other.

It’s a miracle you still have the BP account. But then you know where the bodies are buried, where the skeletons lurk. I noticed a job had come up as a senior account director on Team Energy at Ogilvy. Working with data, strategy, influence, and creative and production team to deliver best in class campaigns and content. All the usual capabilities requirements including, and I quote, ‘managing client expectations when having to charge more for additional work in a manner which does not expose the agency to financial risk.’

On the plus side, there’s up to £25 per month towards physical or online exercise class membership, and life assurance of four times the salary if you die on the job. All for channeling tens of millions of pounds of billings into WPP’s coffers. Is it any wonder I left.

In your last email you asked whether I’d caught up with my stepson, seen my grandson? Sadly I’m still persona non grata. I texted him a few weeks ago to open a conversation. Do you know what he texted back?

‘I don’t speak to murderers!!’

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