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Spider brooch

Spiders and other (un)intentional symbols

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Spiders and other (un)intentional symbols

Our Senior Consultant, Nina Doehmel-Macdonald looks at how Lady Hale’s spider brooch stole the headlines after the Supreme Court ruled Boris Johnson’s prorogation as unlawful last week...

Lady Hale’s diamond encrusted, flesh-eating, camel spider brooch – a true highlight of last week’s political shenanigans. A fashion statement? Certainly, she couldn’t have looked chicer. But what else was behind her bold choice?

As soon as the two minute verdict came to an end, journalists the country over got to work musing over its significance – with pieces appearing in all our online daily outlets within moments, as well as on VogueCNN and Tatler. The Daily Mail’s Andrew Pierce (whose piece focused on Lady Hale’s stint as a ‘barmaid’, not so much on the fact that she graduated top of her class whilst at Cambridge) also chipped in and coverage rumbled on into last weekend.

Was the brooch a symbol of the ‘tangled web’ of the political ruling (thank you Anne Louise Avery) or was it a feminist statement (apparently, in Ancient Egypt, spiders were often linked with goddess Neith, the spinner and weaver of destiny), as many others claimed?

Regardless, the brooch certainly had an impact, as so many other political statements have had before it – intended or not. ‘Spider’ trended instantly on Tuesday – and over on Google, searches for ‘spider brooch’ peaked 12noon that day. A dedicated Twitter feed appeared. On eBay Balcony Shirts started selling Hale spider T-shirts for just a tenner. Within 48hrs the 6,500 units sold out – with 30% of all proceed going to Shelter, raising £18,000. Talk about ticking all the boxes. (Amusingly, Balcony Shirts is based in Uxbridge, which is of course, Johnson’s constituency…)

This led me back to thinking about how switched on we PRs must always be to capitalise on these kinds of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moments, and how much you can gain if you get it right. We often spend hours, sometimes days selling what we know is a strong story, only for something* to happen and for it to all go south. The next few days are often spent repackaging it, finding new exclusive angles, peddling it out to the trade press etc. It can be a disheartening process, particularly for those of us who are, perhaps, more of a control freak than we’d care to admit.

However, sometimes, the PR stars align – just as it did for Balcony Shirts last week - and the perfect opportunity presents itself. In these moments, all PRs need to do is to act quickly and swiftly. Social media has, of course, made this much easier and simpler, allowing PRs to jump on the ‘bandwagon’ within seconds.

Yet, to go back to the political significance of it all - of course, Lady Hale isn’t the first to use such an accessory to make a statement. Madeleine Albright, another famed brooch wearer, has spoken about how her choice of accessory is often reflective of her mood and what she wishes to convey at a given time.

Then there also the more accidental political symbols – remember Ed Miliband’s two kitchens or James Brokenshire’s two ovens, John "Two Jags" Prescott? And what about Melania Trump’s controversial Zara jacket? These small, overlooked pop-cultural symbols go on to cause an unbelievable headache for the teams surrounding the individuals. Days of battling hashtags, denying claims and responding to countless media enquiries often follow. On the other hand, these occurrences can create money–can’t-buy opportunities for us PRs. You can, quite simply, never be too alert or too careful.

It’s our job as PRs to be aware of every opportunity, every angle, every outfit choice and instantly calculate how it could be interpreted or misread (…see Kendall Jenner’s infamous Pepsi advert or Jonny Depp’s Dior Sauvage campaign), or what can be gained – to make sure either the message you want to communicate is actually the one that ends up being communicated, or your client is getting a return on their investment in a way they’d never have imagined possible.

*at the moment read this as: Boris does anything. At all.

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