Maori bites dog


In 1806, when William Pitt the Younger was prime minister and Boris Johnson’s phone number wasn’t publicly available on the internet, the Māori people of New Zealand discovered Britain. Here Richard Stone, the founder of technical PR agency Stone Junction explains why he thinks this is such a great news story.

In May, New Zealand celebrated the anniversary of the event, which is named Moehanga Day after the Māori man who travelled to the UK and discovered it.  The Guardian described the day as a “tongue-in-cheek nod to [New Zealand’s] former colonial power”.

I think it’s a great example of a man bites dog story. Just in case you don’t know, the phrase man bites dog describes how an unusual, infrequent event — such as a man biting a dog — is more likely to be reported as news than an ordinary, everyday occurrence with similar consequences, such as a dog biting a man.  

It’s a brilliant piece of soft news, using the cliched paradigm of ‘creating a national day’, in a way which makes itself much more coverable by upending our expectations. Again, just in case you don’t know, us PRs mean ‘news that has been generated to meet an objective’ when we say soft news. It often coincides with, but isn’t the same as, the older journalistic definition of soft news as ‘human interest’.

As natives of a former colonial power, people in Britain tend to expect their own country to be the one doing the discovering and other countries to be passively discovered. However, the fluid thinking provided by a more modern interpretation of history tells us that ‘discovering’ could be better described as ‘invading’ in most cases.

This story gently begins to re-position the colonial history of the United Kingdom in a more objective light, something which last year’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations and events made clear is much needed.

Looking at the story only as part of a PR campaign, it’s difficult not to admire the creativity involved. When a piece of news is manufactured in this way, with no raw material other than creativity, it brilliantly takes an objective, in this case highlighting the structural racism inherent in our language and history and turns it into coverage.

The technical PR lesson

As a PR person working in technical PR for scientific, engineering and technology companies, I wish I had issues as emotive as this one to play with. Sometimes though, we have to make do with what we have.

I’ve seen the ‘creating a national day’ paradigm used well and emotively by manufacturing companies before though. British manufacturer Sandblasters, which happens to be geographically close to Stone Junction but is otherwise unrelated, once gave its whole team the day off to celebrate St George’s Day.

The story generated national coverage, including the piece above on BBC Online and print media in The Sun and The Mirror. Did the company just use a planned maintenance day of shut down as a reason for giving everyone extra holiday? I can’t be certain, but I think it’s likely.

Either way, it’s another great use of the ‘creating a national day’ paradigm and it didn’t even require a text to Boris Johnson.

Richard Stone is the managing director of Stone Junction. He doesn’t do the PR for Sandblasters, New Zealand or Boris Johnson and never has. He does love a good chat about PR though. If you do as well, call him on +44 (0) 1785 225416 or email richards@stonejunction.co.uk.

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