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.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

up in smoke

It’s the time of year when firework displays are commonplace in the UK, as part of the traditional 5th November celebration of the evisceration of a group of 17th Century Catholics.

So this evening I went to a firework display.

In the grounds of a hospice.

The smell of hotdogs, the sounds of excited children and crying babies, and the sky – alive with explosions of bejewelled gunpowder.

Cheek-by-jowl with people in the latter stages of terminal cancer.

For many of those there, it was their first ever firework display.

For others, their last.

It gave me pause for thought.

Like a lot of people I can, when so inclined, list my problems, worries and regrets until the cows come home. Things I’ve done and wished I hadn’t. Things I somehow haven’t got round to doing.

Bridges I’ve burned. Troubles I’ve caused.

It wasn't my first ever firework display and, unless fate has something in store for me, it won’t be my last.

It seems trite to say things like count your blessings. Or it’s never too late.

But there is more than a grain of authenticity in that outlook.

Staring at a burned bridge won't get you back where you came from.

The fireworks were impressive.

The evening was humbling.

Photo courtesy of

Saturday, 9 October 2010

life and death

Most of us are conceived in the heat of the moment. The result of an impassioned tryst between our parents. And regardless of at what point you think life actually begins, it starts in a heartbeat.

For most of us living in the First World, the most likely cause of death will be age-related, or an ailment brought on by lifestyle choices.

But that’s not always the way.

I found myself reflecting on this just the other day. My morning commute to work is a drive of around 45 minutes which on this particular day involved driving past the scene of a road traffic accident.

Two police cars. One fire engine. A car. A woman sitting on the crash-barrier at the side of the road with the most desolate look on her face. Pools of blood covered hastily by absorbent cloths. And a body. Hidden beneath a dark tarpaulin.

The face of the woman, presumably the driver of the car that had collided with the now lifeless individual, stayed with me all day.

As did the thought of the friends and family of the person who lost their life in that scene. Who that person was I am unlikely to ever know.

But it is likely their day started like most people’s. A rush to get ready for work. Coffee perhaps. Maybe breakfast. A quick goodbye kiss for their husband or wife, and children perhaps… “see you later,” someone no doubt said.

As I sat at my desk just a short while after passing the accident site, I thought of those left behind. Their day had started, they would be on their way to work, to school, to wherever their morning was taking them. Blissfully unaware that life had changed irrevocably.

Few of us know when the end is coming and have the bitter-sweet opportunity to say our farewells, make our peace with the world.

Take nothing for granted.

It starts in a heartbeat.

It ends that way too.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

ho ho no

What does Christmas mean to you?

Family? Turkey (no not the country)? Time off work? Mince pies? Mistletoe? Booze?

The list goes on.

How about… 25 September? No…? Really? Of all the things that Christmas means to you, 25 September isn’t one of them?

Me neither.

Or at least that was the case until recently – 25 September to be precise – when I was in Tesco.

There I was gamely pushing my trolley round the store, the epitome of the happy shopper, when I encountered not one but two whole aisles of Christmassy-looking stuff.

I did a double-take and inwardly corrected myself for having wrongly identified some predominantly red, green and white boxes and vaguely bauble-shaped banners as something to do with Christmas. An easy mistake to make, I told myself. But a mistake nonetheless.

However, the closer I got the more bauble-like the banner advertising seemed and there, on the seemingly generic red, green and white packaging there appeared to be a jolly-looking fat bloke with a white beard, accompanied by the occasional sprig of holly.

What the fa-la-la-la-laa, I asked myself, and went to inspect.

Yes… Christmas has come early. Three months ahead of schedule, to be exact. Making Halloween and Guy Fawkes look like the laggardly slackers of the calendar they clearly are. I mean, where are they? Nowhere to be seen, that’s where.

Now I’m sure a lot of you will instinctively reach for the “Christmas has been ruined by over-commercialisation” line. And while I’m broadly in agreement with you, I am starting to think there may be more to this than meets the eye, some of which could actually be advantageous.

The silver-lining in all of this for me, from a purely selfish perspective, is that it can only mean I’ll be getting my birthday presents around the end of October instead of waiting until the end January as I’ve always had to do in the past. Assuming, as I am, that the supermarket behemoth has finally grown tired of dominating the retail skyline and has decided to rewrite the calendar.

Easter will, I imagine, quite possibly arrive in February, meaning the Easter Bunny may be in peril of incurring a frost-bitten tail. And other annual events will have to be rearranged too, no doubt.

Mothers Day, Fathers Day – who knows where they might end up. Your wedding anniversary – anyone’s guess.

I know where I hope they stick Valentine’s Day, but I doubt they will – apart from anything else, where I’ve got in mind for it actually has nothing to do with the calendar at all.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

punch drunk in london

Ever punched a random stranger in the face? Unprovoked?

I have.

This happened to me while travelling on the Tube from Piccadilly Circus to Paddington a while ago.

Before you even bother asking, yes I had been drinking. But not to excess.

So, there I was on the Bakerloo Line northbound at about 7pm. It was – not surprisingly – quite full, so I was standing up. I often do. And I was not the only one – there were loads of people stood all around me, hanging on to the handrails and studiously avoiding eye-contact.

I let go of the overhead handrail at one point to check my watch.

The train lurched.

I lurched with it.

So I quickly reached for the handrail.

The thing is while many car wing mirrors state that “objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear” nowhere on the London Underground network have I seen anything point out that objects in mid-lurch may be harder to grab hold of than you might imagine.

Nor have I seen anything that says faces attached to random strangers may be easier to punch than you would ideally like them to be.

My hand shot out, fingers still curled in what might loosely be called a fist.

Picture the scene.... the dead-weight of my hand, heading toward the handrail at considerable speed, when the train lurched causing the man standing next to me to involuntarily lean in toward me putting himself in what I’ve come to think of as the line of fire.

Whereupon my hand connected with his face in an uppercut that would have made my old boxing coach shed a tear of pride.

Poor bloke. His head snapped back. And for a split second the no-eye-contact-please-we’re-British people standing all around looked up in unison to see what was going on.

I was aghast. Which is not a word I get to use very often. So here it comes again. Aghast, I tell you.

Not least because he was a bit bigger than me and I would have thoroughly disliked him returning the gesture.

Something, or someone, in my head took over. I stepped closer and slapped his face repeatedly where I’d just hit him, saying something to him like “that was a shock, you’ll be all right.”

I can’t help but think the rather obvious smell of an earlier encounter in the pub may have helped carry me through. That and the shedloads of front I was now displaying.

We pulled in at Baker Street station, the doors opened and off he got. Looking somewhat bemused.

I’ve told this story countless times since it happened and the above is a mostly faithful retelling of the event, it’s at most 10 percent fiction (I wonder, should that be a comma or a semi-colon in that sentence?).

Every time I’ve told it I’ve had the same reaction to the tale – a mix of incredulity and laughter.

I’ve often wondered if the bepunched man ever told, or even still tells, the story. How different must it sound from his perspective.

“Some drunken idiot hit me in the face.”

And I wonder did anyone laugh when he told them.

Monday, 28 June 2010

video: it's not a serious pr tool is it..?

Everyone likes a good video, don’t they? I know I do.

In PR terms (check out my subtle segue from the potentially interesting topic of watching movies to the potentially duller topic of PR) there are differing opinions of the medium’s efficacy. The jury, to use an already exhausted metaphor, is still out.

Combined with the power of social media to attract an audience though, and in the right hands, video can be a useful addition to the PR practitioner’s toolkit.

One of the best examples of video and social media in action that I’ve seen in recent months comes courtesy of the Las Vegas based entrepreneur, internet marketer and force-of-nature that is Maren Kate Donovan, at

Back in April (yes, it really has taken me that long to write this) Maren Kate posted a video on her site that took the form of an appeal to Herman Miller, the purveyor of fine office chairs and other related bits and pieces.

The appeal...? “I want Herman Miller to send me a several thousand dollar chair for free, in return I’ll blab about its greatness (assuming it is great) everywhere!” MK explains on her site.

The thing that caught my attention, and still has me thinking about what all this means, is that Herman Miller responded!

I contacted Maren Kate and asked for a bit more detail.

She told me: “I was hoping to get them to send me a chair and to see how long it took a major brand to get back to someone who 'reached out' to them via social media. So it was an experiment of types as well as an excuse for me to get rid of my old chair. The wider strategy: which is soon going to be a full-fledged video review site (name pending) is to get traffic by reviewing other people's stuff for free, so you will get the benefits of having a site where lots of people go (ads, etc.) and you will get a deluge of free stuff because opposed to popular opinion companies are DYING for you to try out their stuff online.”

Herman Miller have said they’d like Maren Kate to review one of their new chairs later in the year (that’s autumn if you’re in the UK and fall if you’re in the US).

It’s not a strategy that would work for just anyone. Maren Kate has built up a huge following and not insignificant personal brand equity through years of hard work.

But it does point to the extent to which major corporations are willing to incorporate social media into their communications strategies and the potential results if people like me, in PR and communications, can help them find the right channels.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

a letter to the truth fairy

A lot of rubbish has been spouted in recent weeks about so-called PR spam, ie the business of PR agencies and their ilk emailing press releases to journalists, en masse.

Most recently, a site calling itself An Inconvenient PR Truth has hopped on this rickety old bandwagon.

I can be quite an opinionated and confrontational chap at times so I thought I'd wade in with a few convenient ripostes.

Context – I've been in the PR industry for about 10 years. Before that I was a journalist blah, blah, blah... you can read that over there under the "About Me" heading over there. --->

I've done the inbox-under-siege-by-hundreds-of-press-releases-per-day thing. I'm also old enough to have had hundreds of press releases delivered every day in the mail (you know, snail mail) every day – in sacks. Actual sacks. On one occasion a room full of sacks of letters from readers. OK, they're not press releases but they were equally unsolicited.

I didn't view it as spam or anything approximating it. Was I missing something? It all came with the territory. If you've worked in a busy newsroom you ought to know that.

I have a real problem with the "Bill of Rights" on An Inconvenient PR Truth. I'll pick out a few things I particularly dislike about it.

Right 1 – Permission required
Press releases should only be sent to Recipients who have given express or implied permission. Implied permission meaning the recipient has stated publicly that they are happy to receive press releases.
The very act of becoming a journalist carries an implication that you are aware of the existence of things like PR companies and press releases. So there's your basic principle of implied permission. Everything after that is merely degrees of irritation.

Right 4 – Read publication first
Before any correspondence is entered into, the PR person will have first researched the Recipient's subject focus and read the publication or articles they write or publish to ensure that the content is relevant.
Hard to argue against. But good luck with enforcing that one.

Right 6 – Types of release

A Recipient has the right to receive press releases about 'types' of stories that they are likely to be interested in and not announcements of any kind just because of an industry categorisation.
I foresee an increase in the sale of crystal balls.

Right 7 – Telephone calling

After receiving a press release the Recipient should not expect a follow up call from the sender. Acts of such kind only waste time and have no bearing on whether a press release is used for a news story.
The first sentence implies that journalists read every email they receive. Which is not only a whopping great lie but it seems to undermine the whole "PR spam" point of view. As in... if it's spam why are you reading it?

That second sentence is also just plain wrong. I can think of too many examples to list here of journalists who, after being called, were able to put previously emailed press releases to good use. As news stories. And then called / emailed asking for follow up info for subsequent stories.

Right 8 – Succinct headlines
A Recipient has the right to receive press releases with succinctly written headlines so a decision of interest can be made quickly.
Define succinct. Something tells me this here Bill of Rights wasn't put together by someone with a keen legal mind.

This whole PR vs journo thing is a jaded, even out-dated, take on things. It would carry more weight, however, if there wasn't such an appetite among journalists for press releases and other PR-generated content with which to fill space. As a colleague pointed out earlier today, there are plenty of publications that don't feed themselves.

Standards could certainly be higher on both sides of the fence. But surely that's true of most trades and professions.

Maybe the PR industry should up the quality threshold when dealing with journos.

Don't know how to ask a probing question? Can't structure an interview? Get facts wrong even after you've been spoon-fed them? No idea how to use commas? Do you think second-sourcing might mean putting more ketchup on your chips? Have you ever agreed to come to a briefing and then didn't show up without letting someone know you've changed your mind? Then you're off the list – no interviews, briefings, press releases, photography, lunches, trips, etc etc.

How does that sound?

I agree there's plenty of room for improving some of the practices that go on around press releases and how they are issued and followed up. But it would require a lot of cooperation from the PR industry, media list/distribution companies and journalists.

I shan't be holding my breath.

Friday, 15 January 2010

signs of the times

Nothing new here. Feel free to move along.

I got to thinking recently (and not for the first time) about the smoking ban in the UK.

This was prompted by something I’d heard on that curate’s egg of a radio station, BBC Radio 4.

The programme in question reported that in spite of what is often thought of as a European-wide, EU-derived ban on smoking in public places, it is still OK to smoke in public in Belgium. Oh the irony of being able to spark up in a bar just around the corner from the EU parliament.

The same item went on to describe how the owners of two bars in Berlin had gone to court to attempt to over-turn the smoking ban on the grounds it had damaged their business.

They won!

They now have the legal right to have a separate smoking room in their bars – with the proviso that no food may be served there.

This seems like a welcome outbreak of common sense to me. I wonder if we’ll see the same thing in the UK. Somehow I doubt it.

At various times in my life I have been a smoker and a non-smoker. I’ve never felt that I needed government intervention where that choice was concerned. Like the overwhelming majority of people who have smoked in this country, I knew the ins and outs of the health implications before I chose to start.

I think it’s a very good idea for separate spaces in pubs and bars for those who wish to smoke and those who do not. Then people can make choices. By and large, most people are capable of making choices.

But where the UK smoking ban and I really fall out was the requirement for all buildings members of the public may occasionally enter to display the same no smoking sign. Just to remind us that the law that had banned smoking in public buildings in the UK applied to public buildings in the UK.

Never before had I wished I owned a business that printed signs, but the government spent millions of taxpayers’ money printing these ridiculous signs and one can only assume that someone somewhere with a sign making business did very well out of it.

What next though? If we need a sign on every public building to say smoking is against the law, how about one that says breaking & entering is against the law? You know, for the avoidance of any doubt – just in case potential burglars might need reminding.

Then we could all get a t-shirt printed that has something written on it like “NO MURDERING – killing people, such as the wearer of this garment, is against the law.”

Sound absurd? No more so though, surely, than the epidemic of no smoking signs.