Twitstorm in a teacup… a timeline of events surrounding the John Lewis/St David’s free-lease claim

Firstly, apologies for the lengthiness of this post!

In the interests of transparency though (and to save me typing this out several times), I thought I should write this post to clear up exactly what happened yesterday with regards to the St David’s/John Lewis claim made in an earlier post – feel free to leave a comment with any questions if anything is unclear though.

On Sunday, I photographed and chatted with Harriet, owner of the New York Deli as part of my Cardiff Arcades Photography Project. It’s worth noting at this point, that the point of this blog is to get to know the people behind the arcades, raise awareness and to take some great photographs. It has never been about sticking one to the man, or slagging off St David’s (nor do I hope it will be – I want to be positive, not negative.)

Here’s a timeline of events:

Sunday morning: Photoshoot with Harriet who claims that St David’s 2 had given John Lewis a 20 year rent free lease on their store, with no commitment to stay once this initial period had lapsed. She claimed this was because St David’s had promised John Lewis that 75% of the retail units in St David’s would be filled by the date of its opening, and when it looked likely that this would not happen, to keep John Lewis there they offered them this deal.

Sunday evening: The post goes up online.

Monday morning: The post is getting a fair amount of hits when the Twittersphere starts to latch on to the “20 year” claim, and I start getting lots of hits, retweets and questions.

Monday mid-morning: Hannah Waldram from The Guardian Cardiff says she will be looking into the claims made with the St David’s partnership, John Lewis and the council.

Monday afternoon: I receive an email from a representative of St David’s saying that comments in the article are inaccurate and asking me to amend the piece. Initially I worry that I’m going to face a lot of hassle, or legal action, so announce on Twitter that I’m going to take the post down. After receiving messages of support I decide to keep the post up but to include parts of the email in the post explaining the position of St David’s. I keep Harriet’s original claims there as I feel it’s important that she’s allowed to have her opinion voiced (she had mentioned that she finds it hard to get press about this in the local media).

Monday afternoon: Moments after posting extracts from the email, I receive a second email from the PR firm demanding that I remove the extracts as it should have been considered confidential. Again, worried by the tone of the email, I start to panic and immediately take out the email, despite being confused that nothing that was said in it appeared to be particularly revelatory, and, to my mind, showed them in a better light than asking me to remove it outright and change to “vehemently deny these claims.”

Monday evening: Lucy, a trainee journalist at CJS tells me that John Lewis will be issuing a press statement in reference to the comments made.

Monday evening: Lucy forwards on the press statement to me, which reads as follows:

John Lewis made a major commitment to Cardiff when we opened our first shop in Wales, investing £35m in fitting out the shop and creating 780 jobs. While we are unable to disclose the financial details of the lease, we can confirm that we took the shop on normal commercial terms, but with a 250 year lease.

Tuesday morning: I receive an email from John Lewis PR telling me that the publicity that the article has generated can only be a good thing for the arcades project, and they’d love to disclose more information but due to legal binding between them and St David’s, they are unable to reveal any of the lease details. This approach I find to be much more friendly, and explanatory, and leaves me feeling satisfied that John Lewis, at least, is happy with the position in the blogpost.

Tuesday afternoon: Hannah Waldram posts a great article on The Guardian Cardiff explaining the positions of arcade owners, St David’s, John Lewis and Cardiff Council. Oddly, I find a quote very similar to the email I was asked to retract.

Tuesday afternoon: I reveal on Twitter to a couple of people that I felt the tone of the St David’s email was aggressive and had scared me. Shortly after I miss a phone call from the PR suggesting that we had got off on the wrong foot and suggesting we meet for coffee to discuss potentially helping out with the project.

In the end, I honestly believe something positive has come out of it. Yes, I was scared by the original and subsequent email that I received yesterday. I’ve heard horror stories in the past about bloggers being smashed by corporations, so I was wary. I’m a journalist, I work in the media, so I’m used to PRs asking me to amend stories and so on, but in relation to my blog, it is just me, there are no lawyers to back me up if something goes wrong.

It’s important to consider that the tone of an email, as is the tone of a blog, hard to judge, and I think in this instance, some rushed emails and panicky phone calls led to me interpreting the tone as aggressive, whether that was meant or otherwise.

It’ll be incredibly interesting to find out what happens next, I’ll be sure to keep you informed!

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9 thoughts on “Twitstorm in a teacup… a timeline of events surrounding the John Lewis/St David’s free-lease claim

  1. Completely agree, it’s great to be positive about how far Cardiff has come in the last 3 years and St David’s 2 has a lot to do with that. Who would have thought we would ever get a Jo Malone 🙂 Just pleased you are blogging about the arcades as they had become a forgotten treasure and it is good to give them some media attention as there are so many fab unique little shops in them.

    • Yes, as a whole St David’s must bring in a lot of extra traffic – it would be nice if more were done to advertise the other fantastic shopping opportunities in Cardiff though, once those people were here.

      From what I understand, the arcade owners have tried to get the council to put up more signage but have found it difficult. So I’m glad that my blog is helping, even if just a little bit!

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Twitstorm in a teacup… a timeline of events surrounding the John Lewis/St David’s free-lease claim « Cardiff Arcades Project -- Topsy.com

  3. Bravo to you for holding your ground! I’d have been a lot more confrontational with John Lewis PR, but I can appreciate that the purpose of this blog is to show the positive side of the Arcades, and not to throw slings and arrows at St Davids.

    Your pictures so far have been outstanding, by the way! I hope you get floods of support from the more progressive Arcade businesses. 🙂

    • What do you mean you would have been a lot more confrontational with John Lewis PR – what would you have said?

      John Lewis were actually pretty helpful, if they have a non-disclosure agreement with St David’s, there’s not much anyone (including John Lewis) can do about that…

      Be interested to hear what you would have done though?

      • Honestly, I’m sure you handled the situation better than I would have. Hopefully you cooler head will pay off for you. It sounds like after a night’s sleep, John Lewis PR realised that stamping over a blogger trying to support local business isn’t any way to practice good Public Relations.

  4. Hi Amy,

    Well worth explaining a little more what went on behind the scenes I think – and I think this is valuable in the deabte over how bloggers and PRs work together – incidentally this is a topic we’ll be exploring at one of our up and coming bloggers meet ups so I hope we can use this as an example.

    The comments from Harriett (two ‘tt’s) were bound to cause some interest and I’m glad Guardian Cardiff could look further to see if these claims are substantiated, but worth remembering even though it’s a blog it doesn’t mean some of the statements you include might not be potentially defamatory if you don’t check them out first – I’m glad we could help quickly find out more of the story in this case – but this is a piece of journalism after all.

    I, too, remember being asked to take posts down when I ran BournvilleVillage.com and I think how bloggers respond to this request and how we ‘update’ articles correctly and in a ways which is transparent to the reader is another topic worth exploring at the Cardiff bloggers meet ups.

    Best of wishes,

    Hannah

    • Thankyou Hannah,

      I thought it valuable too – I’ve had so many people asking me what happened that I thought I should just lay it out for all to see.

      Whoops, didn’t realise about Harriett’s name, I will change those references now.

      You’re right about the possibility of defamatory comments. I guess I just didn’t engage my journalistic brain correctly when publishing piece, because, in my naievty I still see it as “my” project – but I know differently now!

      I think in the end though, this is going to have a positive outcome, but I’ll keep the site updated with any further developments as they happen.

      Thanks again,

      Amy

  5. Pingback: Bloggers vs PRS: a few top tips for keeping everything friendly and making sure there’s something in it for readers « Amy Davies

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