With last week’s events in our hometown still raw in the mind, it seemed fitting and respectful to begin this month’s newsletter with a tribute to the tragedy, or more accurately those affected by it, the people who worked tirelessly to help others during the chaos, and the reaction to what happened.
As we all know by now, on Monday 22nd May, an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena ended in bloodshed after a suicide bomber detonated a device in the venue foyer, killing 22 innocent- and predominantly young- attendees, and injuring scores more. The world looked on as reports began to come in about this nightmare, and a city stood in shock.
Let me begin with what’s most important here- from the bottom of my heart, and all of us at Smoking Gun, we cannot express how sorry we are to anyone directly or indirectly affected by the explosion. Martyn Hett, a fellow PR man who was known to the agency for many years, was amongst those that never made it home, and words fail me on that front. Our role is not to get caught up in politics or religion, but please understand that whilst we will never understand the extent of the damage done, we stand with you all, now and forever.
Having been a proud Manchester resident for decades, choosing not just to set up an agency here but also raise a family, this struck a particularly powerful chord. As it did with every other resident of the U.K.’s finest metropolis, including every member of staff here at Smoking Gun. The following day was a confused time where crisis mode was initiated, despite this atrocity having nothing to do with our clients. It’s vital to show sensitivity, empathy and compassion at times like this.
As many of our PR colleagues in other firms will have done, we immediately notified the brands we work for that soft news making activity would need to be postponed, with journalists across the world- not least here in Manchester itself- preoccupied trying to sort fact from conjecture, and rumour from evidence. This wasn’t easy, given social media immediately sprang into life in its own well-meaning, but frequently inaccurate way. One look at the number of tweets urging people to give blood is enough to prove this; in actual fact banks were crying out for Type O Negative, not an influx of people trying to do the right thing but in the end, unfortunately it ended up actually taking up valuable resources.
As per usual, this horrific situation again showed how powerful a force for good the press can be. We must take this opportunity to take our hats off to the Manchester Evening News, which showed itself worthy of the ‘Biggest Regional In The U.K.’ title by reporting with dignity, balance, and a desire to keep readers informed of what was actually going on. The tone felt right and the service essential as people searched for loved ones that may have been caught up in the violence, and, in the days that followed, a series of police incidents risked causing further panic.
National newspapers combined live blogs, video content, public quotes and Twitter sentiment with rolling news stories to fill the inevitable void as the investigation began into what exactly had gone on, and how something like this could have happened. Sadly, not all corners of the industry did the same, with The Sun managing to outrage Mancunians- and many other people globally- leading to calls for the paper to be banned outright in the Greater Manchester area. Meanwhile, Katie Hopkins’ time at LBC radio came to an end after she tried to use the attack to cause more controversy and spread hatred.
The biggest commendations must go to the emergency services, though, which responded by pulling off-duty staff back onto the front line, and the incredible gestures shown by our fellow Mancs. #Roomforanight began trending almost instantly as city centre flats were opened to those stranded, local private hire company Street Cars ferried people around for free, and nearby restaurants delivered water and food to the site in a tear-inducing display of solidarity.
But then, this is Manchester, and nobody should expect anything less.
Walking through St. Anne’s Square now and the vision is enough to make anyone want to break down and cry- both at the horror of this event and the reassurance that most people do care about other people. The public realm is awash with tributes, wreaths, balloons, and cards. Similarly, in the Northern Quarter a new batch of street art is now marking the spirit of the city- No Fear Here, reads the most poignant. A clear sign that, whilst the flowers will eventually be removed, and life will return to normality, for most at least, it will be impossible to forget that Monday night in May, but easy to remember a week where a city came together to show the rest of the world that love and unity will always triumph.