Ollie’s Top Five things to do in New York (that aren’t in the guidebook)


Ok, so this isn’t exactly a PR blog, but I’m always being asked about what I recommend people do when in New York, so I thought I would write a post about it.

I’m a big fan and regular visitor to New York (and hope to spend time working out there one day), and as such, friends, colleagues and comrades often ask me for advice on the best places to go and visit. I often repeat, and type the same thing over and over again. So here are my thoughts on what you should definitely make time to do.

I have to warn you though, it does include quite a few bars and some pub crawls. I’m a big fan of bars and pubs and I love to visit as many as possible whenever I go somewhere. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a crazy alcoholic, I just find something wonderful about bars and pubs – their unique, the people you meet, the atmosphere, every bar is different, and every bar has something new to offer (obviously, I’m not talking about British chain pubs here, no Weatherspoons or All Bars Ones allowed…). New York has a huge variety and some of the best bars and pubs in the world – even more so than London, and London has plenty of smashing examples.

So if you care for a beer, and enjoy the variety of drinking establishments on offer, this list is for you. That said, it’s not all bars, so hopefully there is some useful information that will get you away from Times Square and all the other tourists.

1: McSorleys (East 7th street, just off 3rd Ave) My favourite pub in the whole world. It’s amazing. Go. Do it. It has been there since the 1850’s, and may well not have changed since, but hopefully the sawdust on the floor is reasonably fresh. If you find yourself a table (the waiters will usually assist with this) you’ll probably have to share it, and you’ll soon be hearing stories about the history of the place (Harry Houdini’s hand cuffs are still there) over a home brewed beer – there are only two choices here, Light Beer or Dark Beer… It is wonderful and I always make time for a visit.

McSorley’s Old Ale House, 15 East 7th Street, Manhattan, New York. Photograph taken July 22, 2010.

2: Take in a view: All the guide books suggest one of the tall buildings, so here is a word of advice from someone who has been up all of them. If you’ve only got time for one tall building experience, my personal preference would be to take in the view at the Top of the Rock! (The Rockefeller building). It has shorter queues than the Empire State building, you get to see the Empire State building and you get both uptown and downtown Manhattan. The One World Trade Centre (the new one) is taller, but the views (in my opinion) aren’t as good – from the Rock you get a great view of Central Park and Uptown Manhattan, which isn’t as good up the One World Trade Centre. The viewing platform at the Top of the Rock is outside too.

2014-06-08 11.46.53

3: Pub Crawl around the East Village. My favourite place to pub crawl. There must be 700 pubs, all within a few metres of each other. Dive bars, music bars, cocktail bars, sports bar… Lively, fun and a tad ridiculous… Try and take in “Old Ottos Shrunken Head” – which is a particular favourite: great cocktails, plus Puffer Fish lamp shades, that are worth the visit alone. Please Don’t Tell, is a great little speakeasy too – you enter through a telephone box in a hotdog shop (just make sure that you stop for a hotdog, as they are smashing!!). Crocodile Lounge is also great, mainly for the concept of a free slice of pizza with every drink (free pizza, what’s not to like…). I could go on for days about bars in the East Village. But I won’t.

4: All you can eat Ribs and all you can drink Beer!!! If you’re in New York on a Sunday, Brother Jimmy’s BBQ (my favourite one is on 77th and 2nd) does All you can eat Ribs (really good ribs) and all you can drink beer (Bud/Bud lite/Coors etc). For two hours’ chomp on some properly tasty ribs and plenty of sports, and friendly and fun staff…

5: On my latest visit a few weeks ago, I checked out the Tenement Museum: It was recommended years ago, so I thought I’d take a look, and it is well worth a visit. It is a fascinating look at what life was like in a turn of the century in a tenement building, untouched since the 1930’s. It tells some stories of what it was like to live in New York and uses the history of actual families that lived in the building. Meticulously researched and fascinating. Get yourself there.

Other good stuff that is also in the guide book and definitely worth checking out.

The Highline is always worth a romantic walk along. Formally a railway above the Meatpacking and Chelsea districts, it is now a pleasant park/green area, in a city that lacks green areas. Stroll along and marvel in how reclaiming a bit of old industry that would have been pulled down is now a lovely little park (there is also a bar half way along…)

If it’s your first time in New York, you should visit Times Square, just for a look. If you do, and get thirsty then don’t stop at one of the hundreds of terrible mock Irish pubs that charge 10 bucks a beer. Instead head into Jimmy’s Corner (44th Street, just off 7th Ave), right in the heart of Times Square and run by a former boxing trainer Jimmy Glen. Cue plenty of boxing memorabilia and photos, a great atmosphere with locals and only a smattering of tourists, and to top it all, you can still get a beer for 3 bucks!! Jimmy’s is Awesome.

If you want to get good views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis island, but don’t want to pay for a boat trip or get off on either island, just take the FREE Staten Island ferry that goes past both. You can then stop for a pint on Staten Island (there is a bar a few minutes away from the ferry port), or just get another ferry back to Manhattan…

New York is fabulous city, and great to just wonder around aimlessly. Any other ideas of the must see things in New York? Especially the less obvious ideas, that aren’t always found in the guidebooks (and any suggestions for decent bars and pubs are always welcome…)





Blog post – a few things I learnt in 2015

Here we are in 2016, and further progress into the second decade of my PR career. Every year, just after the festive break I start to look forward to the new challenges, I’m always struck by how I really have no idea how the year is going to pan out. It’s one of the things I continue to love about Public Relations – every day, and most definitely every year, is very very different. It’s a bit of a cliché, but I don’t think there is an industry out there with the variety we have, and especially one that has been through quite as much as change in the recent years! as we have (and still is).

That said, before I start to look forward and think about how I hope 2016 is going to shape up, I thought I should take a quick (if a bit late…) look back at 2015, and what I learnt during a busy and exciting year.

  • Don’t run two events on the same day – it’s stressful

I did it. It was hard. Event Management isn’t really my area of expertise, but a client requested it: A conference for 200 in the morning, and staff update event in the afternoon for 800.

I’ve previously blogged about the need to say no to clients, so next time it gets suggested I’m going to suggest a different course of action and spare myself a few sleepless nights!

  • We still have a problem with terrible practice

Back in 2014 I had a bit of a rant about some of the practices still within our industry. I despaired at how journalists are still complaining about getting spammed by PR people, particular junior PR pros calling up a few minutes after sending a press release to check if it has been received, without any research or understanding about relevance to that journalist or publication (I don’t blame the juniors for this, I blame those instructing and teaching them).

And now in 2015, we have the story that a campaign by a PR agency used a ‘real life’ case study who was less ‘real life’ and more ‘a member of the PR agency running the campaign’. As I cover in the post, we’ve all called in favours with friends and families to add credibility to a story, and I don’t doubt that this case study was a user of the product, but she was a member of agency running the campaign. She was, in all intents and purposes, an employee of the firm, and you wouldn’t use an employee of an organisation as a real life case study without disclosing it, so why use the agency staff??

It’s just another example of a practice that taints the whole industry and why we get confused with the dark arts and shadowy figures.

We will not be taken seriously as an industry unless we stamp this sort of thing out and show that we are a professional and trusted profession.

  • Blackberry is going nowhere (I hope)

I’ve covered my love of all things Blackberry in previous posts, and 2015 is the year of the turnaround I hope!

As a quick recap, I remain one of the few Blackberry fans that I actually know in person. And for good reason. Give me a physical keyboard and battery that lasts longer than a few hours any day of the week. And this year has seen two new BB’s hit the market – The Passport, my phone of choice and slightly odd looking, but has completely replaced my IPad, and I now do most of my work on it. It is brilliant. Before you ask, I had a year with an IPhone 4s (when that was the newest IPhone), and while the apps and games are great, it is no comparison in terms of productivity and getting work done than my (then) G10 and hugely inferior to my Passport.

More recently we had the Blackberry Priv launched, better spec than the IPhone 6, a slide out physical keyboard, plus it runs the Android OS, so no need to side load all those apps (one of the criticism of BB10 was the lack of apps, expect you could actually run most Android Apps on it as long as you knew what you were doing)

3rd Quarter growth results are promising, so I’m hoping for more from my little friend and – fingers crossed – a Passport 2 in 2016!!

  • We are still needed…

Our industry continues to change at pace but the skills and experiences we bring to the table is as vital as ever. Especially if you send a text to a journalist calling her a ‘mad witch’

Anyway, PRWeek did a good review of 2015’s six big corporate crisis’ here:

What is of particular interest is how some of them (Thomas Cook and Talk Talk for instance) took a hit for how they responded to crisis as much as the actual crisis – showing once again the importance of being prepared for a crisis and responding quickly and honestly. Although Ashleigh Madison was screwed either way.

  • I was right about paywalls!

I’m a still bit disappointed that I wasn’t blogging back in 2013 when I predicted that The Sun’s paywall wouldn’t last. November saw The Sun bring its paywall down and I wasn’t surprised, why would readers pay for The Sun’s celebrity gossip (a key draw) when it can get it for free from sites such as the Daily Mail?

The Times (News UK’s other paywall) remains behind a wall and News UK claim they have no plans to drop it, but I wonder how long it will last. Will enough readers keep paying for the Times content to keep it viable? Maybe, but could 2016 see the paywall experiment come to its natural conclusion?? (I promise no ‘I told you so…’ posts…)

  • Vinyl does sound better

Not really a PR realisation, but this year my parents sold the family home in Wiltshire and retired to Cornwall. While sorting through 30 years of junk in the loft I came across their old vinyl record collection. Originally I had planned to bring it back to London to flog to some hipsters, but once I was home I thought I would listen to a few, and maybe copy to digital (there were a couple of classics).


However, once a reasonably priced record player was purchased, a realised that vinyl does actually sound better. I know I now sound like a hipster, but there is a richer, more real sound, than you get on CD or digital. So I’m sold, and have even been known to poke my nose into a few charity shops to see what I can pick up on the cheap…



The PR implications of Captain Philips

*SPOILER ALERT* this post discusses the film Captain Philips including the end, so if you’ve not seen it and don’t want to know how it ends then you probably shouldn’t read on.

The other evening I watched Captain Philips – the Tom Hanks film about the Maersk container ship that was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009 – and in a geeky PR moment I started to think about the PR implications of the film. Firstly, for Maersk if the media got wind that one of their containers was being hijacked, and then about the consequences of allowing their brand to be used in the subsequent film adaption of said hijacking.

As the event took place back in 2009, it was probably too long ago for useful analysis of their response (I found an interesting piece though, link below), but I did wonder about the decision of Maersk to so openly use their name and brand in the film.

Admittedly the story ends happily (no one (apart from hijackers) dies, and the ship is released) it is still a negative link to Maersk. We all know the old adage “there is no such thing a bad publicity” is cobblers, but does the positive brand awareness of appearing in a Hollywood film (and a Tom Hanks one at that) out-weigh the association with hijacking?

I hadn’t come across Maersk before watching Captain Philips – although I don’t work in the shipping industry so why would I – and the brand awareness must have sky rocketed, but I will forever associate them with the Somali hijacking, and surely so will most people?

I expect their core customers will already be well aware of the 2009 incident and it would have been major news back in 2009, so it’s not like there will be any additional reputational damage from their key audience, it is just that everyone else will now recognise the brand as the ship that got hijacked.

That said, the film does reinforce the successful nature of the rescue and positive end result, so maybe it is not such a big deal.

For more information on the hijacking: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maersk_Alabama_hijacking

And for the crisis communications lessons learnt from one of the advisors to Maersk: http://www.prsa.org/Intelligence/TheStrategist/Articles/view/10380/1084/Navigating_the_High_Seas_What_Somali_Pirates_Taugh#.VKgGuiusVtQ

Marathon training!

So not strictly about PR, but I thought I would briefly share an observation about marathon training. In a few weeks time I will be attempting the Edinburgh Marathon and have been training in and around North London for the past few months and I’ve noticed something. I’ve noticed that runners don’t acknowledge each other. Not a nod, smile, or even a wink of encouragement. I guess that is just part of the way in London, like the silence on the tube, or the strange looks when you try and start a conversation with a stranger on the bus.

On marathon day everyone is supportive and encouraging. Why not during training and other runs?

Anyway, I just think it’s a shame.

I’m running the Edinburgh Marathon for the Campaign against the Arms Trade (http://www.caat.org.uk/) on the 25th May. If you fancy sponsoring me, here’s the LINK