Despite the media’s obsession with doom and gloom, there is still plenty to feel optimistic about
I’m not a big fan of human suffering and horror as entertainment. Even that feel-good triumph Slumdog Millionaire had me looking away from the screen.
Yet clearly lots of us like nothing more than to be scared witless. Fear certainly sells newspapers, since today’s front pages invariably lead with doom and despair headlines whether it’s the latest ponzi scheme or the collapse of our entire ecosystem.
When Digby Jones addressed a Commons Committee last month he, metaphorically, took a swing at “Robert Pestonitis”, recounting the story of the Harrogate picture framer whose only decent bit of trade recently occurred when Barack Obama and Jonathan Ross knocked economic catastrophe off the front pages.
The fact that the recent, not half bad, official sales figures attracted next to no attention, except from the cynical experts eager to pan or bin them, clearly illustrates which spin button the media prefer to press. They should take a tip from the headline of the new anti-litter campaign in Australia – “Don’t be tossers”.
There has never been a shortage of business failures to report, but it is part of the corporate journey, not real news. Companies have always and will always go bust. It is nature’s cull of the commercially incompetent, the lazy and greedy, and the bang unlucky. Whether it is food, fashion, furniture or DIY it is easy to see that many retail sectors are overcrowded and a bit of thinning out is no bad thing.
I wrote about the record-breaking Damien Hirst Sale at Sotheby’s last October. Well, that record breaker has been dominoed by the blockbuster of all sales last month when the Yves St Laurent auction by Christie’s in Paris beat every previous record out of sight with receipts of almost US$600 million. Credit crunch? Mais non.
Is that a fluke? Were all the buyers failed bankers blowing their guaranteed bonuses? I think not. They were consumers, rich ones for sure, but their imagination was ignited by spectacular theatre and ballsy marketing.
Christie’s boldly rented the vast Art Nouveau expanse of the Grand Palais in Paris for a reputed£1m to display the French icon’s lifetime collection of paintings, objects and furniture. They even recreated Yves St Laurent’s spectacular apartment to show off the works, generating mega-publicity with rock concert-style emotion and professional enthusiasm. Perhaps there is a message there for us retailers.
If by chance you missed the opportunity to bag a bargain in Paris then don’t miss the many other opportunities. Our customers still need to eat, to be clothed and have a comfortable sofa to recline on to zap Robert Peston from our TV screens.
Why not cancel the daily newspaper, buy the Beano instead, cheer ourselves up and be at the forefront of the resistance to talking down the nation, the economy and the high street?
Remember the good news: Sotheby’s and Damien Hirst, Christie’s and Yves St Laurent, and Hollywood, where we practically swept the board at the recent Oscars ceremony. There is some read-across to retail there, if only we can break out of the box and discover it. Keep smiling – it helps.
Lord Kirkham is chairman of DFS