Julian Henry

December 3, 2007

Henry’s House is a recent PR firm owned by Editorial Intelligence’s Julian Henry and ‘pop svengali’ Simon Fuller the man who ‘gave us’ the Spice Girls. The ‘shite they shovel’ — as they say in PR — include effervescent S Club 7 and the chemicals diluted with water called ‘Tango’, or is that the other way around. The firm says it tries to keep a balance between showbiz and ‘brand clients,’ although Henry says that the methods behind selling unwanted stars and unwanted products are much the same.

“People relate to talent and consumer brands in similar ways; the most successful celebrities are marketed as brands… The needs of a celebrity will be different to that of a brand, but the principles for the communication work tend to be the same.”
But people are forced to relate — one cannot escape this muzak of the madhouse.

Its current client list is a depressing array of jaded showbiz wonders such as Johnny Vaughan, Jamie Theakston, Pop Idol’s Will Young and Gareth Gates and Annie Lennox together with ‘consumer brand clients’ like Orange (you try selling that in Northern Ireland), Absolut Vodka, The Face and FHM. They say they have an overall turnover of £2.5 million, others put it at £1.2m— that’s PR for you.

This casual dehumanisation is reflected in terms such as “entertainment properties” (that’s the stars — old time pop managers used to call them ‘the meat’). No the soul is not much in evidence here — it is the beep of the cash register that is music to Henry’s ears.

They say “Since launching in 1999 we have become one of the UK’s top performing PR agencies” but who would believe such inveterate hucksters? They have no qualms about working with Coca-Cola, or the huge combines, Sony, BMG and others, but rather like Smashy and Nicey: “The company has an environmental programme, supports sustainable working practices and donates 10% of its profits to charity.”

Think of even the basic logistics of producing a can of Coke: the whole process, starting at digging out and smelting the bauxite in some mine in Australia, the rolling processes to the manufacture of the can, its design and printing of its label, making and filling it with the actual gunk and finally getting it to the shops and then a refrigerated machine turned on 24/7. A team of researchers from the Cardiff Business School said it took 319 days. Most of which was storage and transport. The journey of one single container ship can involve a hundred people: the logistics planners, insurance brokers, dockers, haulage drivers, warehouse workers, customs officers and so on. For what?

Henry’s environmental programme

What kind of environment have Henry’s House created? Most of their claims to fame-building come across as being thin and incestuously related: They did PR for Virgin and Big Brother then — “We arranged for Goldie Lookin’ Chain to pose at our Virgin Mobile kebab van to raise awareness of the Virgin Mobile customer only gigs.” They have “represented Will Young since the beginning of his career” and “We have promoted two series of the award winning TV show Pop Idol to UK TV audiences”. “We launched Johnny Vaughan’s breakfast show for Capital FM”: how many cheeky chapie, bright and breezy chatathons can the air waves sustain.

Their own PR is an patent fabrication of their worthiness. Their site argues that: “We made the Schweppes ‘You Know Who’ advertising campaign famous by generating over £800k worth of press coverage,” although that particular campaign has been going since the 70s.

They argue: “We are specialists in media relations and well connected at all levels through print, broadcast and online media channels.” And that’s the problem with all this slurry — its much the same process as feeding battery chickens each other and their own shit, and as entertaining to watch. The need for PR gibberish: ‘Guerilla PR strategies,’ ‘Design of ambient matter,’ ‘Advertiser funded programming’, ‘Product placement’, is just a way of ignoring the outcome.

ICA commercial opportunity

Henry has gone to the lengths of demonstrating his own brand cultural ignorance in the newspapers:

“What is it with these modern artists? There was a time — around 130 years ago I guess — when painters such as Vincent van Gogh would wander the streets unrepresented by commercial agents and PR people, and as a result their work would stand or fall on its artistic merit.”

Not quite — Vincent’s brother Theo was a well connected art dealer who tried everything. They didn’t sell because he met people like Henry who prefer to sell cultural shite and don’t give two French Connection UK’s about art. What further evidence of cultural ignorance and wilful blindness could we want other than the fact that he is a member of the ICA council — if there was no money in it none of these people would hang around the art world, just like in van Gogh’s day. Tedious as it is (with its predictable puffs) his article does give some insight into the notion that he knows PR is a parasitical con:

“Most of the major PR agencies in the UK construct their business around writing strategies, drawing up Q&As, drafting positioning statements, scripting advertorials, collating briefing packs, printing press kits and countless other bits of waffle that underpin our daily trade. This rationalising process gets charged to the clients, who in most cases seem happy to pay for it as they have been told that these are necessary building blocks in the construction of the great PR event.”

Everyone knows PR people know what they are doing is heinous. But one thing eats away at Henry — people’s response to the stinking effluent he pumps out, it seems they avoid him like the beggars in the street.

“The only annoying thing is when journalists have a pre-conceived notion that a PR man is the devil, and we are not worthy of sitting at the same table as them. There are fewer narrow-minded journalists now, but it is annoying when some people do not seem to realise that we have anything valid to contribute to a news story or debate.”

No — the devil had all the good tunes. This is one of the guys who represents Victoria Beckham. People just see his work as minor part of a supply chain of utterly superfluous, ultimately meaningless, degrading, deceitful, sad, soulless, exploitative pollution which is ruining the cultural environment. But he wants to be loved. Someone should strap him down and play every contestant from Pop Idol for the rest of his life (drip fed on Tango and Coke) and then just before he expires remove the headphones and ask — ‘do you see what we’re on about now?’ Who knows it might encourage a momentary change of heart. Or is that already a new game show?

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