The most stationary of all stationery items, scissors hate to be hurried. I learned this as a child. You did too, probably. Don't run with scissors. A clear and simple instruction. Pencils, glue, staples... no problem. For them, like us, it's a finite existence. Time is short so don't dilly dally. But don't run with scissors.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

lost and found

I lost something recently. It doesn’t matter what. It doesn’t matter when. Not for the purposes of this post anyway.

At some point or other we all lose something that’s important to us – it’s one of those certainties of modern life... we have stuff and sometimes we lose it.

When I lost it (the thing I referred to above) my immediate reaction was one of mild shock and slight disbelief. Those feelings were quickly followed by a sense of outrage – who had taken it? Outrage is a cousin of accusation and they like to hang out together. And so it goes with me; one visits, they both show up.

Ruling out things like leaving mobile phones in taxis (which I’ve done twice and on both occasions got the phone back) most of us generally lose things in familiar settings, whether it’s around the house or in the workplace. This is a no-shit-Sherlock observation. People lose things most often in the places where they spend the most time.

Another truism is that the things we lose around the house, at work, or anywhere else we class as familiar, are frequently found again later. Fear not, I’m not about to go down the route of “why do you find things in the last place you end up looking?” OK, I can’t resist... Because 1) if you found them in the first place you looked then technically they weren’t ever lost, and 2) if you keep looking after you’ve found them (thereby making the place of discovery something other than the last place you looked) you probably need professional help.

Anyway, back to the finding bit. I hope I’m not the only person who goes through the cycle of outrage and accusatory thoughts upon finding something is lost. But if I am, this is the pattern I often follow. Thing is lost (or misplaced). I figure out it must be someone else’s fault – either some light-fingered ne’er-do-well half-inched it, or else someone moved it.

Eventually I’ll find whatever it is I’m looking for and realise that there’s no one else to blame but me. Who misplaced it/moved it? Usually me.

It’s not always as easy as it should be to accept that I’m the one guilty of a casual misplacing of something that time and circumstance will eventually make crucial.

I don’t suppose it’s something I’ll ever be able to stop doing – one is, after all, only flesh and blood.

But I’m trying to be more careful with the things I care about, the things I ought to know are crucial to my life. And I’m learning to look at myself first when I can’t find something I’m looking for.

Monday, 18 May 2009

why my kids don't need a twitter account

I dislike personal attacks on people and I really hope the following doesn’t read like one. But I’ve had an “enough is enough” moment.

I recently read an interesting article on the Marketing Donut (a site/blog I have contributed a couple of articles to – just to declare my interests properly). Written by
Kate Horstead and entitled “Can Twitter help your business?” it might not break any new ground but it’s a decent little exploration of the topic and appears to be based mainly on an interview with Nikki Pilkington.

I’m following both Kate & Nikki on Twitter – if you’re not already maybe you should too.

So what put the stick up my backside? Well... there was a comment from Penny Power, the founder of
Ecademy, which I found so misguided and misleading that I had to blog about it just to get it out of my system.

As I already said, I dislike personal attacks, but Penny is the head of a business networking association which has been around since 1998, so I figure she can cope with someone disagreeing with her.

The thing I took issue with is the following statement from the comment Penny left: “I certainly tell everyone I meet to create their Twitter name before thier real name goes. I have registered my children for the future too.”

And in case you’re wondering the spelling mistake (thier) is copied from the original – not created by yours truly for effect or done out of sloppiness. There are other typos there too if you want to go looking for them, and maybe you should – she’s writing a book after all, so presumably wants readers.

Cutting to the chase, this advice misses the point of Twitter and everything else in the social media oeuvre. So much so, that at first I thought it had to be a joke.

Who will benefit if we all do as Penny recommends and register our children’s names as Twitter accounts? And why stop with your existing children, why not register a few spares covering all the names you might pick for the kids you haven’t had yet.

Now, here’s a thing. Any account not updated for six months is classed by Twitter as inactive (I have learned from a quick squint at the Ts&Cs).

So if I register @corneliusfleming today (in case I have a son in the future I hate so much I name him after my father) the account could be gone before Badly Named Boy can even say Twitter. Thereby making the whole exercise a complete waste of time.

Maybe I’ll have to ghost Tweet for him, to ensure that doesn’t happen. Great! Just what we all need on Twitter, an army of parents ghost Tweeting on behalf of their kids. Can’t wait!

As far as I can see, no one benefits from such behaviour. Maybe as a parent one gets a warm satisfied feeling that no one else can use the name they happen to share with your three-year old. But that’s about it.

Who loses? We all do. Twitter is a community; its value is in the networks that develop within the community – individuals and organisations interacting, sharing knowledge and insight. Twitter may one day be nothing more than a footnote in the pages of online history. But there will be connections made today on Twitter that become sustainable and mutually beneficial.

The more it is jumped on as an opportunistic bandwagon by people with little to contribute the sooner Twitter’s demise will be brought about; the cool kids will leave once the dorks arrive en masse – we’ve seen it all before, I’m sure.

I’ve got kids (two sons I’m tremendously proud of) but I don’t see much business benefit to me or anyone else in them having Twitter accounts that they may or may not use in the future. I also fail to see how my sandbagging accounts like this assists me or anyone else in terms of networking. It’s not social (if it’s anything it’s anti-social) and it’s as far from community-minded as it gets.

I’m sorry Penny, but as someone who until recently ran a small business, I expect more awareness and better advice from the head of a business networking association. I can forgive Business Link for being full of windbags, civil service dead wood and the general walking wounded that comprise the sub-genre of retired banking execs, but Ecademy has to aim higher.

There’s more I could say, and in fact did say in a response I wrote to her comment on the Marketing Donut but at the time of writing this, that response hadn’t appeared.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

in case you were wondering...

Case studies are an important part of many companies' marketing activities. If you’re not providing your prospects with case studies to show your past successes, chances are your competitors are. So write some!

If you’re not a competent or confident writer find someone who is. There are plenty of freelance copywriters and journalists around that you can commission to write for you.

But whether you outsource or go down the DIY route, there are a few things worth remembering.

The job of the case study is to tell the story of how you have helped your customer overcome whatever business problem they have been battling with. Whether you’ve provided a CRM system that allows them to capture leads which can be followed up, or your emarketing expertise has generated a 70% boost to their pipeline, the important thing is how their business has benefitted.

You care passionately about what you do and how you do it. And so you should. But no one else will care as much – they want to know what’s in it for them.
So show them.

If I'm writing about a client's customer I always stress to my client that their customer needs to be fully briefed about the process. Nothing is going to scupper your case study quite as effectively as the customer getting cold feet about being involved and that usually only happens if they don’t understand the process and/or what’s expected of them.

OK, that’s not strictly true – there is something that will derail it faster... an unhappy customer. Sadly I can recall several occasions when my scheduled phone interview with the customer turned into me doing a tea and sympathy routine while they ranted along the lines of “trust me, if I told you just how awful it’s been you wouldn’t want my comments to ever appear in writing.”

How long a case study needs to be is a moot point. I used to manage the UK case study programme for Microsoft's Business Solutions division. The typical case study length was 1,800 words. Sadly for some stories that was a bit of a stretch.

However, in recent months I have been writing shorter case studies for another client - around 500 words.

Keeping your word count down is a great way to make you focus on what matters in your story, whereas prescribing 1,800 words as the minimum can lead you to pad something out when the fact is some customer stories may be great but they don't always have the legs for a long write-up. If you have strict rules on word length you end up ignoring some potential stories.
By combining longer & shorter case studies with brief testimonials and customer win stories, you can end up with an impressive body of customer evidence.

You could even add video to your portfolio of customer evidence too. It can have a much bigger impact than the written word, but there’s no getting away from the marked difference in cost. One video case study could cost you the same as 100 written ones – maybe more.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

can we fix it?

I’m sure I’m not the only person who came down with Barack Obama fatigue last week, although it’s deeply unfashionable to admit such a thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I think he is very impressive and there is something reassuring about knowing there’s an intellectual in charge of the US. Of course, he’s got a loooong way to go before he’s as funny as the last guy. But that’s not such a bad thing, I guess.

During the G20 palaver there was a great deal of attention paid not just to what was said, but to the way in which Obama says things. For me, the fatigue began to take its toll thanks to the seemingly never-ending stream of pundits on Radio 4 talking about him. How is he different, why is he different, etc etc.

One thing’s for sure, I don’t need to hear another reprise of his famous “Yes We Can” speech. My oldest son was the right age to get into Bob The Builder a few years ago. Let me tell you, I’ve heard the phrase “yes we can” so often it just doesn’t do it for me anymore.

Mind you, part of me would like to know what things would be like if the new US administration was left in the hands of a claymation builder with a gang of talking steam rollers, cement mixers, cranes and so on. At least they could have played an active part in rebuilding those bits of the world the Bush administration had broken.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

g20, fundamentalism and quizzes in manchester

Most people would like to make a difference to the world they live in – hopefully for the better.

Take the G20 protestors for example; people who believe passionately that their actions are going to help build a better world.

Past anti-globalisation protestors will have had the same ambition, even if some of them have achieved little more than drumming up business for glazing companies and helping Plod earn a bit of overtime.

I have always thought of myself as “aware” in terms of the environment, global poverty, third world debt, animal welfare and so on. I’ve been fortunate enough on occasion to find myself in a position to put my money where my mouth is, like in 2005 when I turned the company I was running Carbon Neutral. But that wasn’t the end just part of the means, as it were. I’m no saint. I don’t think of myself as a role model.

Some years ago I earned my crust compiling quizzes and puzzles for the Manchester Evening News. During this time I remember meeting an earnest young man who was what we would have referred to back then as a Crusty. He was an in-yer-face animal rights and environmental campaigner. When he found out I was writing for a newspaper he spent a good 20 minutes in full flow telling me what kind of stories I ought to be writing. I let the storm blow itself out and then pointed out I was the quizzes and puzzles guy.

He looked at me blankly before saying that one week I should just hand in a piece saying how big business was ruining the lot of the common man (or something along those lines). I retorted that the readers of the double page spread I was filling were looking forward to the brain-teasers I set them every Saturday, and that if I followed his advice I’d get fired and someone else would file the copy in my place.

Unblinking he said that at least I’d have done the right thing.

What a knob. He confirmed the deep-seated mistrust I had (and still have) for fundamentalists, no matter what their calling.

A couple of years ago one of my neighbours had a bomb placed under his car by anti-vivisectionists. Literally hundreds of primary school kids walk past that house twice a day. It makes me shudder to think of what might have happened.

Going back to the story I was telling, I’m not sure how losing my job at the Manchester Evening News would have helped anyone, except maybe the person that would have replaced me. I feel much the same about the ritual vandalism and intimidation that sometimes accompany single-issue protestors.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

roy castle and the art of delegation

If you’re old enough to remember when Record Breakers was hosted by Roy Castle on the BBC, you might also remember the song he used to close the show with and its assertion that “dedication’s what you need.”

According to Roy, it was what you needed if you wanted to “be the best” and also to “beat the rest.”

Without doubt it is good advice, the kind that will see you well in life. But given a slight twist it becomes what I think is a great piece of advice for anyone wanting to run, grow and develop a successful team or business. Rather than “dedication” though in this case delegation’s what you need.

What am I on about..?

Well, this is my point – most people get promoted because they’ve done well in the job they were doing. Maybe this has happened to you. Almost without fail, someone new comes in to fill the space you vacated and it’s likely you could be managing them. At first it’s bound to be hard resisting the urge to micro-manage them; after all, until recently you were doing that job. And what’s more you were doing it bloody well.

Otherwise you wouldn’t have been promoted, would you..?

But if you are going to grow as a manager you have to focus on what your new role and responsibilities entail and, just as importantly, you have to let the newbie do their job unencumbered by your interfering, otherwise they’ll have a frustrating time feeling like they never get out of the starting blocks.

When I was a senior reporter on the IT trade newspaper Computing, I had the opportunity to interview Joe McNally – the man who brought Compaq to the UK and grew it into a £1 billion operation over the course of something like 15 years. That was in the days when Compaq was a serious player in the business IT market, not some strange left-over brand name HP sticks on some of its consumer goodies.

I asked one of the most obvious questions you could possibly ask such a man – how did he do it, what was the secret of his success. He told me that he had always tried to surround himself with the most talented people possible, and to give them the freedom to not only do their job but to exploit any new opportunities that arose.

On the surface that might sound obvious but those are brave sentiments – they must be, because in the 20-odd years I’ve been in the workforce I’ve rarely encountered them.

So hat’s off to Roy Castle, because dedication is a great thing to aspire to. But the true art of delegation, the kind I think Joe McNally was talking about, that’s not to be under-estimated either.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

o2 - see what you can do...

O2 cut me off this morning. Not me personally, my iPhone – I couldn’t make calls or send texts. After several attempts I finally got through to someone at O2 customer service who was able to explain the problem.

It transpires that for reasons best known to them, someone at O2 decided that rather than collect the payment for my bill via direct debit, they would cancel the direct debit, not ask for payment and suspend my service.

The woman at O2 I spoke to was a bit bemused by all of this. “I can see from here that we haven’t tried to take the payment,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Quick as flash, she sorted everything out – phone working fine and as a grovelling apology (sorry, I mean goodwill gesture) she credited my account with £10.

As pissed off as I was that they’d dropped the ball and I ended up not being able to use my phone, I couldn’t fault the way my problem was fixed.

I recently interviewed a WStore customer who – on the subject of customer service – said that he cares less about mistakes than he does about the way mistakes are dealt with. And don’t we all.

Well done O2!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

i robot

Branded merchandise. We’ve all had some at one time or another – crappy pens, the occasional t-shirt, the odd uninspiring laptop bag.

At WStore we’ve been thinking about getting some branded merchandise done, so one of my team – Deb – has been getting some product samples in for us to review.

There haven’t been any t-shirts, but there have been plenty of crappy pens and some utterly uninspiring bags. In fact, we were starting to lose faith in the whole thing until one day this metallic little chap arrived unceremoniously in a Jiffy bag.

He’s a USB stick in the guise of a robot.

Isn’t he great..?

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

power to the people

I’m on a bit of a mission at WStore to produce some new customer evidence material. You know, case studies and the like.

So, I’ve been asking some of the sales guys for suggestions of customers to call, and I’ve been doing some interviews. Thankfully they’re going pretty well. It’s not as dumb as it might sound to say that so far everyone’s been very positive. You’d think that no one would put a customer forward to be a case study/reference if they weren’t happy – completely happy. But you’d be wrong.

A few years ago I had the good fortune to write a lot of case studies for a large and well-known software company (yes, THAT software company – I know, I know... not bad, eh..?). Anyway, a sizeable minority of the customers I called (and they were recommended to me as good case study candidates) refused to have anything to do with the process, frequently coming out with statements like: given the experiences I’ve had recently I don’t think you’d want me to put my thoughts on the record.

Fair enough.

Back to WStore, and in particular the conversation I had this morning with a very frank and very happy customer contact. Clearly, this isn’t the time or place for me to say who – but you’ve probably heard of them.

One comment he made really stuck out. “Systems can always go wrong, and they often do. It’s how the people within an organisation sort out those situations that give you the measure of a place.”

Of course, he’s dead right. It’s not new or particularly ground-breaking but it’s worth remembering plus it was a positive message that resurrected my morning – I’d spent the thick end of an hour sitting in a traffic jam on the A322 on the way into work. Still, as frustrating as the hold-up was, at least I wasn’t the poor soul the ambulance was attending to.

Again, back to this morning’s call. The chap I interviewed said a lot of very positive things about the service he’d experienced from WStore – answering queries, pre-empting problems, dealing with returns, whatever... he made it clear that the reason WStore is now his preferred supplier is because of the people he deals with.

As good as this is when you’re on the receiving end of all this positive feedback, I think there’s actually more to be learned from it if you’re at the other end of the service spectrum. If you piss people off, if you annoy them, if you fail to deliver on your promises, you will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

i came face-to-face with an actual movie star yesterday

This is me and the little yellow chap with me is the star of Smile – an animated short, created by Chris Mais. It’s won loads of awards and if you haven’t seen it you really ought to.
It was created, in part, using technology from Oxford Metrics Group plc – a PR client of mine that I’ve been working with for the last few years.

Chris is a great guy and was one of the judges on the
Vicon Film Festival which me and my colleague Hayley Roberts dreamt up and worked on in 2007.

There’s more info about
Smile here.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

an open and shut case?

It’s hard to like Microsoft. Unless you’re Steve Ballmer of course. Which – let’s face it – you’re not, are you?

Around 2003-2005 I did quite a lot of work for Microsoft UK including managing the case study programme for the Business Solutions (now Dynamics) division. I also developed and ran a series of initiatives aimed at providing PR services to Gold & Certified partners. During the time I was doing all this I met many Microsofties who found it hard to like their employer. Those former Microsoft employees I’ve met feel even cooler about the whole thing.

What prompts me to make this staggering observation..?

I just read an article on CRN UK entitled
Government shifts position on open source, which reports that a recent “nine point action plan” published by the UK government is going to “accelerate the pace of open source adoption in the (UK) public sector.” The BBC also ran the story.

As I read it I felt myself groan.

I’m sure there are plenty of good reasons for businesses and public sector bodies to use open source software. Personally speaking, I’ve never experienced any of them in the workplace but I’m sure they must exist. I’m often told that security is one of the key reasons to go down the open source path. That, and the oft-repeated claim that it’s more cost effective.

I’m not convinced by the cost argument. At the enterprise level, open source applications don’t tend to run out-of-the-box. Therefore they require installation, maintenance, and so on – and there are costs in all of that. But the word “free” has hung around in the open source debate for many years now and it casts a very long shadow.

I should probably stress I’m not a Microsoft fanboy. Like a lot of people I’ve had a few problems with Microsoft products. For example, I’ve had issues with Outlook not starting properly in the past but in truth that’s about as bad as it’s ever got for me. Microsoft certainly works its people very hard; there are lots of on-site facilities and you could easily stay there from early morning to late into the night. It is a lively and interesting place to visit but I’ve found some of the people who work there to be anything but.

So why the groan?

Microsoft gets bashed a lot in the UK tech press. When I was at The Register we did more than our fair share of that bashing. It wasn’t always deserved.

But it’s hard to ignore the fact that Microsoft spends literally millions of £s year-in, year-out in the UK. It invests a lot of time and money into its resellers and partners in terms of training, support materials, marketing funds, and so on. It spends money in the media on adverts/banners and the like. And it has a range of charity support / sponsorship initiatives in place.

I’m not saying we should doff our caps to Ballmer’s crew, nor that there aren’t any reasons to adopt open source software in specific instances. I just can’t help but think the posturing that goes on in the “open source = good, Microsoft=bad” approach isn’t looking at the whole picture and isn’t really helping anyone, least of all the customers who – when all is said and done – generally just want something that works.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

begin at the beginning

For the most part, I’ve stayed away from blogging. So in many ways I’m a late-comer to this particular party, a newbie even. But I’m no stranger to writing, publishing, the internet, etc – after all, I was the news editor at The Register for a couple of years (1998-2000).

Then I started working in tech-PR.

Figuring that there’s a limited market for the online musings of a PR man, I decided to leave blogging well alone. I was also keen not to fall into the trap that many other bloggers have fallen into; you start off OK and all full of enthusiasm, but over time you get bored or distracted and the blog starts to look a bit tired.

So why decide to start blogging now? What’s behind the sudden change of heart?

Since July 2008 I’ve become increasingly involved in the marketing for a former PR client of mine – an online reseller of IT and business equipment called
WStore . So much so, that I’m now the head of marketing for WStore UK.

Conversations with colleagues at WStore recently have prompted a debate about how a company like this can benefit from tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and from blogging. In an attempt to find out I’ve decided to do something that I’ve never really been inclined toward (join in..!).

Consequently, I’m on Twitter now too....

Also LinkedIn...

I’ve stayed off Facebook though. I’m still not convinced it can (or should) be used by businesses. It also blurs the line between personal and professional which, in my opinion, can cause more grief than anyone needs.

How will this blog help? At the moment I don’t know! But I hope that a spot of active participation will get me closer to answering the question. If nothing else, it will give me an opportunity to write again.