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, 31 December 2011

december 2011 word cloud

Here's a word cloud of my posts from December 2011...

Friday, 30 December 2011

the recruitment mistake agency heads will make in 2012

There are too many young people chasing too few job vacancies in the UK.  It’s been that way for a few years, but youth unemployment is currently running at its highest rate since comparable records began almost 20 years ago, with more than one million 16 to 24 year olds out of work in the UK.

For any business with vacancies to fill this is, quite simply, a buyers’ market.  And while, broadly speaking, this can be a good thing, like so many things in life it doesn’t take much to make a mess of a golden opportunity.

A few weeks ago I met with one of the UK’s more successful and respected PR practitioners (no names, after all I didn’t ask their permission to refer to them in public).  Our conversation turned to the issue of attracting and retaining new people into the PR sector.

My companion expressed the belief that PR agencies should be restricting their recruitment to graduates from top universities, and only those with good degrees in solid academic subjects, and who have impressive A level results too.

Buyer’s market, you see.  Why bother hiring kids who don’t have degrees, or who have degrees in flaky subjects from tier-two institutions, when there are Oxbridge graduates desperate for work too?


Well, because intelligence and ability come in all shapes and sizes for one thing.

Not to mention that we’ve probably all met someone with a first class degree from Oxford or Cambridge who also happened, bizarrely, to be catastrophically stupid and lacking in any sense of instinctive intelligence.

Why else?

PR agencies, in the main, have teams.  The best teams are made up of people with different outlooks, backgrounds and skills.  The points of conflict, debate and interaction in such teams don’t just keep everyone on their toes but can lead to excellent results, well-structured campaigns and a more interesting working environment.

But what about the impact on the agencies who decide to fill their ranks with as many Oxbridge graduates as they can?  Surely this is a canny move on their part.  Cheap excellent new hires who, a few years ago, would probably not have considered working in PR.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, if this is how your agency has generally recruited then chances are nothing will go wrong.  Nothing that hasn’t already, anyway.

But if you are about to turn your back on the way you have traditionally recruited then you might want to ask yourself how you got to where you are now without such shining stars.  Where will it lead you?  What will your agency look like in a few years?  Will you have a shiny new company culture (mono-culture even) based on the über achievers club?  Is that what you always hoped for?

What of the AEs and SAEs currently in the PR sector with degrees from universities like Bournemouth, or no degree at all?  In this brave new world they wouldn’t have stood a chance.  But they can’t be all that bad, surely?

I have a problem (actually it's more of a chip on my shoulder) about this narcissistic outlook that says you should only hire “the best” now they are available.  There are bigger forces in play, frankly.

One of them is the mess the current government is making of higher education.  By stifling university funding and allowing institutions a free hand to increase their fees, the government has to all intents and purposes made going to study for a degree considerably more expensive at the stroke of a ministerial pen.

Fees of £9,000 per year at a time when (see above) youth unemployment rates are disgustingly high, is making some of the brightest and best turn their backs on university education.  And who the hell can blame them?  The prospect of graduating with £30,000+ debts and a dearth of job opportunities must be very dispiriting to say the least.

In fact, I’d question whether any student choosing to go to university under such circumstances is in their right mind at all.  OK, of course I wouldn’t.  But you get my point, I’m sure.  If not, it’s something to do with the wisdom of judging books by their covers.

Going to university is a good thing.  Of course it is.  But it’s not right for everyone and it’s not always the right option.  Even while there many students simply don’t make the most of it.  It’s an experience that should broaden your mind, not just your book collection.

There are young people who could, quite easily, do fabulously well at any one of the UK’s top universities choosing not to bother at all.  Should we rule them out?  What do we value most – their potential or their pieces of paper?

Whichever way I look at it, I cannot help but think that the idea of only hiring Oxbridge graduates and eschewing all other candidates is a very bad idea indeed.  The kind that will eventually come back to bite you in the arse.  Well, here’s hoping.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

an idiots guide to dinner and the euro

Picture the scene, if you will.

You and a group of friends agree you will go out to dinner somewhere nice – let’s assume it’s to celebrate something. There are 27 of you in total.

In advance, you agree that because the bill will fairly hefty you’ll split it equally between all 27.

The big night arrives and you all meet at the restaurant, where everyone has an aperitif of the same value. Everyone has a starter course and a main course and all are roughly equal in value.

So far so good.

But then some of your group decide they want dessert and coffee, possibly dessert wine or a liqueur too. This causes concern and the group begins to fragment. There are 17 people who want the extra food and drink, 10 who don’t.

Of the 10 who don’t, some are now saying they are concerned that if the dinner doesn’t end soon they’ll miss the last train home. Others are refusing to put in an equal share of the bill – as previously agreed – because they haven’t had the extra food and drink.

So, what to do…?

Those who want to catch the last train home have two basic choices – leave now while some of their friends are finishing their dessert course and catch the train, or stay and find an alternative method of transport. They probably can’t impose their will on the others and deny them their crème brulee though. But nor should they stay and feel resentful.

The division of the bill is a tricky one too. You may well feel that by being asked to pay an equal sum but having consumed less, you are subsidising those of your friends who ate and drank more. But by reneging on the prior arrangement you risk being seen as mean. You may not get invited out again.

In the end one person refuses to pay an equal amount and leaves early in order to get the train, while everyone else stays behind.

Next time the group plans to go out together it is decided that despite the previous spat there’s no reason to exclude the grumpy and impatient friend. But no one is going to feel well disposed if that person starts out saying they won’t put in an equal amount this time, yet still wants to have an equal say in where to go and what to eat.

I think we all know how we’d feel about that one person.

And I don’t think we’d call it bulldog spirit.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

why i deleted my google+ account

I was one of the first… fact.  I got my invite to join Google+ the day after it went live – a long time before the flood gates opened.

I very quickly got into the swing of it and found it useful and enjoyable. As it should be.

I also found that within a few days I was connected with a very high caliber of people from the creative industries whose opinions, observations and thoughts I was keen to share in.

It didn’t last long though.

I grew bored quickly of the goofing around some people indulged in, but that’s their choice. After all, just because I’d decided I’d use G+ more seriously than Twitter doesn’t mean everyone else should.

Then the echo chamber started.

People I knew via Twitter as well as on G+ were sharing all the same content in both places, with no objective other than to amplify their own social media echo. Unsurprisingly, their behaviour was applauded in both worlds by the same cabal of their followers.

Frankly, I just didn’t get it.  If you’ve shown off about something on twitter and your subset of friends and acolytes have jumped up and down whooping, hollering and sharing, why is the very same thing happening on G+, I wondered? After all, you’re clearly just patting each other’s backs, not really reading any of the stuff each other are sharing and looking like complete plonkers in front of the rest of us.

I got a tired of the territorialism I experienced too.

Then there was the wave of people I’ve never heard of adding me to circles even though there is nothing I was ever likely to say or share that would be of value to them and vice versa.

So, I wouldn’t add these people back.

I am not and never will be a social media numbers whore. I know too many of those. I rate them all pretty much the same.

That got worse, of course, once G+ became publicly available.

I forget the actual trigger but one day a combination of all of the above led me to conclude that I wanted out. So I deleted my account.

Now I read that the first person to have more than one million circles on G+ is Britney Spears.

I don’t think I ever felt more vindicated.

Monday, 12 December 2011

why i’ve fallen out of love with google

You and I have been together for a long time now, since 1998 in fact. I know that doesn’t quite make me a bona fide early adopter. And since I first looked to you to provide me with the answers to questions that plagued me, many others have followed in my footsteps. But even though you had only been available for about a year or so back then, compared with all the others I’d gone searching with – Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, even Alta Vista – you were…. different.

Things just seemed to click between us. You were there whenever I needed you and I soon forgot about the others. You never let me down. Things were simple. I asked, you answered. You never pretended to be something you weren’t.

Times change though. Indeed, times have changed. After a while it became clear that you wanted more, you needed more. I can’t blame you for that. It’s only natural.

I discovered that some people were using you for email. I was in no hurry to join in. But in the end I did. It was important to you, and that was enough for me to give it a go.

There were Documents, allegedly. I never paid much attention to them to be honest. It felt odd, too unusual. Out of character, even. I am not one who fears change, but it’s the little changes that allow one to read another’s motivation and behaviour and I detected a change in you that I hadn’t expected.

Maybe that’s why I ignored these Documents that so many people had begun to talk about so freely. I wanted to retain my grin of ignorant bliss for as long as possible.

There were other things too. But where it really started to go wrong for me was when you started asking everyone to Wave.

By and large, we didn’t want to. A few did – I was one of them. But it soon felt more like drowning than waving.

You then started to create a Buzz. It was starting to become embarrassing. You were becoming involved in everything. It felt like random, out of control behaviour. As though you didn’t know what you wanted anymore.

Throughout, I remained loyal, faithful and true. You were my search engine. Nothing was going to change that. Not even when someone asked me if I fancied having a Bing. Yes I was tempted. But I stayed resolute.

In my mind’s eye you were still young, fresh, challenging.

But your obsession with doing more and doing it with more and more people had by now taken such a grip on you that, if I’m honest with myself, you had changed beyond comparison with how you were when we first met.

Sharing. It was like a virus.

You called it GooglePlus and it was your desperate attempt to create your own social life, having so resolutely missed the boat when others created theirs.

You wanted people to share with you. You wanted people to share with each other. Where would it end, I wondered. Frictionless sharing, that’s where. Good lord… is this really what you have become?

Nothing and no one can take from me the memories of those early days. Back in 1998, colleagues scoffed at my boyish enthusiasm for you. But they soon succumbed to your charms. I felt vindicated. And a little smug. I was on the side of an up-and-coming challenger. It felt good. I felt good.

But times move on and people change. You are now a dominant force. No longer a plucky challenger with coquettish ways and winning performance to get you through. You don’t listen like you used to. You make assumptions about what you can get away with.

I want to tell you that it isn’t you, it’s me. Thing is… it is you.

But even so, I can’t quit you – as the line goes from Brokeback Mountain. You are everywhere I look. I am reflected in your Chrome. And even as I write, somewhere a courier is bringing me my first Android-powered smartphone.

I searched for the phone online.  I.... Googled it.  For all your fancy ways, underneath it all, you are still my search engine.  Nothing can change that.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

The meaning of Christmas, and of PR

I went to see my youngest son’s school Christmas play recently. Twice. It was very enjoyable and he got a kick out of my being there such that I would have sat through anything he asked me to.

As I sat looking at the scenery my mind wandered inexplicably to a question both my children have asked me from time-to-time. What is it, they have asked, that I do for a living. It’s a question that I’ve often struggled to answer in terms they understand. And as I sat there, I asked myself…. what would Jesus do?

No, I didn’t. Of course I didn’t. But I did find myself wondering if I could take the elements of the nativity and use them to create an explanation of what I do for a living.

Let’s consider the main characters.

The inn-keeper
I’ve played the “no room at the inn” card when denying journalists access to my clients in times of crisis control and damage limitation. So he fits.

The angel Gabriel
If the angel of the Lord had come down and confronted a journalist the exchange would have gone something like this.

Angel: “I bring great news for you and all mankind!”
Journo: “If you have a press release you can email it to me and I may read it later, but please don’t call to ask me if I’ve received it.”

So the angel Gabriel fits the bill.

The shepherds
They watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground. I haven’t done a great deal of sitting on the ground during my time in PR, but I have frequently felt like I was watching my flock. Although herding cats is a description that feels more apt.

Either way, I look out for my clients’ reputations, and I look out for the best interests of the people I manage. So grab your crooks fellas… you’ve made the cut.

King Herod
Well, let’s face it…. we’ve all got a few client-from-hell stories to tell. You’re in, your majesty.

Three Wise Men
Trying to make sense of events that go on around them, they fit perfectly.

The holy family themselves is where I struggle. So I’m leaving them out – for now at least.

Were I to then take all the above elements and weave them into an explanation of what PR is, it might go a little like this.

I try to tell people important news, not my news. But news from someone else – I’m like a messenger. When I’m not doing that I’m protecting my clients from anyone who is trying to say bad things about them. And sometimes, like the inn-keeper, I have to be a bit stern and say no.

I often feel like one of the wise men, as I understand the bigger picture (Balthazar, probably, because he’s the only one of the wise men who ended up with his own animated TV show in the 1960s and 70s).  And I work in an industry so full of arrogance and ego that you’d be forgiven for thinking every other person believes they’ve been cast in the role of son of God.

Or daughter. No gender bias here, folk.

As descriptions of my job go, it’s far from perfect. But it beats the one my eldest son came up with at school when he was seven. Asked what his dad’s job is, he said “he visits people in their offices and they have to give him money.”

Saturday, 3 December 2011

november 2011 word cloud

My summary, in world cloud format, of my blog posts in November 2011. There were only a couple of them!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

last night i dreamt...

Last night I had a very strange dream. It wasn’t exactly disturbing, at least not in the way people usually use that word in connection with the nocturnal wanderings of their minds. But it did disturb my sleep.

I was in a house that was a combination of several places I’ve lived in. That’s a fairly common dream motif for me. In one of the rooms my father (who died in January of this year) was sitting at a table talking about my mother – who died in 1997.

I don’t recall anything he said. But I remember wishing he would stop talking. The other thing I remember was that he had no ear lobes.

I left that room and walked into another. In this room stood a wardrobe that belonged to my mother before she was married. This is a real wardrobe, I had it collected from my parents’ house in 2002 and had it shipped to mine. Back to the dream, where the wardrobe was the only thing in this particular room – a room that resonated to the sound of a low-buzzing.

On closer inspection, the whole inside of the wardrobe was a hornets’ nest. Which was a cause for concern as I was then struck by the realisation there was something important in there that I needed to get to.

What could it all mean….?

Answers on a postcard please, to the following address:
Sean Is Clearly Bonkers
PO Box 999
Etc etc etc….

(or leave a comment)

Saturday, 5 November 2011

why cameron could learn from papandreou

Two weeks ago there was a rebellion by some Conservative MPs against David Cameron in a vote in the House of Commons.

The vote concerned a motion that called for referendum on whether the UK should exit the European Union, renegotiate the terms of its membership, or leave things as they are. The motion was put before the House by David Nuttall, a Conservative MP. There was also an e-petition on the matter, which gathered the support of over 100,000 UK citizens.

David Cameron called upon all his MPs to vote against it, and the Tory party whips went into action - cajoling and coercing Members to do just that.

When 81 Tory MPs voted counter to the wishes of their leader (two others abstained) this was the biggest ever rebellion by Conservatives in the House of Commons over the thorny issue of the UK's relationship with the EU.

The motion was still comfortably defeated though, by 483 votes to 111. That outcome was never in any doubt. Had the unthinkable happened, and the motion had been passed, the result would not have been binding on the government anyway.

The only significant outcome there could ever reasonably have been was the one that happened - a number of Tories voted with their conscience as opposed to toeing the line. Some stated they were voting in accordance with the wishes of their constituents. 

By making such a big deal out of insisting his MPs did as he told them, Cameron ended up suffering from the biggest rebellion etc etc etc.

What was he thinking? He should have publicly said that he was happy to see all MPs vote however they saw fit - safe in the knowledge nothing bad could ever happen. But instead of being big enough to relinquish control he allowed himself to appear defeated in a fight that mattered far less than the issue of whether the Prime Minister has the full backing of all of his party.

Meanwhile, this week in Greece saw Prime Minister Papandreou accept a Franco-German orchestrated bailout, only to turn round and say he wanted the Greek people to be able to vote in a referendum on whether they were happy with its terms. The French were not happy (plus ca change, mon ami). Likewise, the Germans were less than tickled.

Ultimately, Papandreou's call for a referendum has been shelved.

So what? How likely is it that he ever thought it would come off? 

Maybe something else was behind this move. Perhaps, knowing he was returning home to ask the people of Greece to swallow a very bitter pill that had been designed by France and Germany, and would see years of hardship and austerity, Papandreou sought a way of deflecting the bad news. 

Under the circumstances, he has managed to underline the fact that there was nothing further he could have done. Even when he wanted to use democratic means to enable the Greek people to feel they had a say, that their opinons might be heard, the dark hand of Europe's pay-masters was seen to be shutting him up.

Well played George.

Everyone suspects your domestic political career won't last much longer. But once you're looking for something new to keep yourself busy, you should consider a visit to Downing Street where a bloke called Dave could really do with someone explaining to him how politics really works.

David Nuttall's motion was a massive red herring anyway. The UK cannot unilaterally renegotiate the terms of its EU membership and there is absolutely no motivation for the EU to agree to any new terms the UK puts forward. Withdrawing from the EU is crazy talk - we all know that. So the only viable option from the three contained within the motion was the one where everything stays the same.

Further reading:
EU referendum: Rebels lose vote in Commons
Papandreou scraps Greek referendum as open warfare erupts in his party

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

october 2011 word cloud

This is the third month that I've done a round up of what I've written in wordcloud format.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

recalling a humbling evening

On this day last year I visited a firework display in the grounds of a local hospice.

It caused me to reflect on life and death, a theme I've visited more than once on this blog. Also on the things you should be grateful for.

You'll find it here:

Thursday, 27 October 2011

the countdown to a federal europe has begun

The European single market has been a good thing. It has enabled the free flow of labour across the continent (well, most of it), which has brought about innumerable economic and social benefits.

The European single currency, aka the Euro, has of late revealed itself as a flawed project.

A great deal of attention has been focussed on some of its more obvious problems:
  • the collapse of the Greek economy
  • the size of the bailouts required by Athens
  • the threat of economic contagion (hello Italy, sorry... maybe I mean goodbye Italy)
  • the growing influence of Germany, blah, blah, blah.....

But there is one thing that has been happening behind the scenes which I cannot help but feel is being allowed to go unnoticed.

By most measures, the Euro is in a mess.

Yet one of the long-lasting consequences of this will be the increasing influence of the European Central Bank.  In effect, a completely undemocratic institution will soon be making decisions that will impact very directly on the everyday lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people in Europe.

How has this come about? Chiefly because of a collective failure on the part of the major European leaders. A failure to get to the heart of the Euro crisis, to take difficult/unpopular decisions and see them through to the end. Instead they have fallen into one of the old and familiar habits of the bureaucratic mind - allowing institutional influence a freer hand to deal with problems which existing instituions have already failed to deal with effectively.

I can't think of many other walks of life when failure to deliver X means you have carte blanche to press on with X + 1.

Only in high finance.

Only in European politics.

Well, I'm only a simple soul, clearly. I'm sure there are very good reasons for this.

But as someone who has always been a supporter of the European project (although not of political and fiscal union) to see the gradual shift of democratically-elected powers from Europe's capitals to the institution of Europe itself does little to bolster my sense of bon homie.

I'm not sure it's for me to say whether there ought to be a federal Europe or not. I am sure there are excellent arguments both for and against. But should that day come, I would hope that it is something that the citizens of Europe's many and varied nations get the chance to have their say on and not something that slips in unannounced while we are all distracted.

pr is dead - long live pr

When I hear - as I'm sure we all have - that social media has irrevocably changed the way in which people communicate with each other, and will therefore change the way in which brands (and their intermediaries) attempt to communicate with people, I reserve the right to remain sensibly sceptical.

Back in 2002 or so, I encountered a question in almost every client meeting I had, whether with existing or prospective clients.

"Do you do online PR?" I was asked.

Frankly, this question threw me into a spin - no PR pun intended. I would return to my desk and sit there reflecting on this question, or more to the point on my complete lack of a coherent answer to it. I felt like a latter-day Rip van Winkle that had woken up after a long nap only to find there'd been an unexpected shift of paradigm. The (PR) world had moved on without me.

You see, the problem was I didn't even know what online PR was. Admittedly I wasn't, back then, the grey-haired PR aficionado I am now. But I was no newbie either. And I had been the news editor of the UK's foremost online news site. So, I felt if anyone ought to know what online PR was, and be all over it, it should be me.

But I wasn't. And that troubled me. 

One of the nice(r) things about being a little older though, is you start to notice when things heralded as new are, in fact, a rehash of something that has gone before. 

This brings me back to the issue of why I didn't understand what online PR was? Because it never existed. In much the same way that social media has not and will not change the way people communicate - except, of course, at a fairly mechanical level.

I don't know which was invented first - the fork or the spoon. But I wouldn't be surprised if one of those implements was heralded as changing people's relationship with food by some visionary or other. Sure, you scoop with one and, err, fork with the other. But the fundamentals remain utterly unchanged. You are eating. Transporting food into your mouth. Chopsticks will also do the job.

Back to PR. This is only my view, admittedly, but surely PR is the art of story telling - stories can be fact or fiction; if you don't agree with me, ask yourself why some documentaries are more compelling than others, why some biographies are more gripping.

Story telling only works if you have something interesting to say and someone who wants to hear it. You can sit round the campfire, you can put it on a CD, you can go on stage and use performance art, you can make a movie or a one-act play, you can write a novel or even make a documentary. It is still, at some level, a story - words and images crafted to convey information in an interesting way.

I don't doubt there are better and more sophisticated PR practitioners that will knock holes in my viewpoint with effortless ease. But I stand by the principle that if you can't get the basics right - what's my story and who do I want to tell it to - it doesn't matter which medium you select for telling it.

Friday, 21 October 2011

in praise of the front page corpse shot

The Roman poet Horace said: "pale death beats equally at the poor man's gate and at the palaces of kings."

And so it goes today, as it did more than 2,000 years ago when those words were written.

I was reminded of those words yesterday, upon hearing of the death of Muammar "Colonel" Gaddafi. A man who's lowly start in life belied what was to come in later years - as he installed himself as the self-styled brother leader of Libya; autocratic king in all but name.

Like most tyrants, he got the end he probably deserved. Found cowering in a drainage tunnel, he was dragged out, beaten and shot. His corpse was dragged through the street for all to see. But not, from what I've read, hung upside down outside a petrol station, as the Italians did when they fell out of love with Mussolini in 1945.

It is said that it's not enough for justice to be done. It must be seen to be done. That's a viewpoint I have a great deal of sympathy with. But while I'm not a proponent of censorship per se, I do think that there needs to be some judgement exercised when it comes to broadcasting the image of a blood-stained corpse across the world via the mass media.

My colleague Julian Moore summed up one of the things that bothers me about the image of the dead Gaddafi, which currently adorns many of the UK national papers' front pages: "Kids need to be brought up not thinking that violence is an acceptable part of everyday life. This doesn't help do that."

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

a tweet before bedtime

Like a lot of people I've grown to know online, and even count as friends, I have more than a passing interest in the tools available for blogging, tweeting and generally carrying on like a good netizen.

I've discussed Klout before. It's interesting. A little addictive perhaps. But pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Peerindex is much of a muchness (I love that expression, in case you were wondering).

Attempting to measure a person's online significance, influence, or (heaven forbid) capital by virtue of something as monodimensional as how many followers they have is clearly nonsense. The algorithms behind the likes of Klout, Peerindex et al are more sophisticated I grant you, but not massively.

I've become quite interested in Crowdbooster recently. I like the reports you get showing how your tweets were interacted with. It is quite simply, interesting. Nothing more, nothing less.  I'm unlikely to change my behaviour in lieu of it.

I noticed just the other day that Crowdbooster also offers recommendations for the best time for me to tweet. It turns out I ought to tweet at 10am, 3pm and 5pm. To what end is not entirely clear. What to say in those perfectly-timed mini-missives... anyone's guess.

I sincerely hope no one is taking this advice too literally.

Content remains crucial. Have something to say. Know who you want to say it to. Then figure out when to say it.

10am, 3pm, bleak o'clock.... whatever. It doesn't matter what you tweet if you're saying the wrong thing.

Twas ever thus.

And it it doesn't just apply online.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

if the menopause doesn’t get me, the cancer surely will

This is the second of two pieces I wrote on 8 October 2011 on the subject of searching online for health-related information and coming face-to-face with the issue of trust. This was the first one: "snake oil, bone-shakers and witch-doctors 2.0"

Spurred on by my recent search for food information and the number of hokey websites I found myself looking at, I decided to go one step further and investigate some online diagnosis sites.

Once again, it is nigh on impossible to tell the voice you can trust from the ones that ought to be denied access to the internet altogether. And of the majority, which sit between those two extreme points, there is no easy way of knowing who is well-intentioned but essentially wrong on too many counts, and who is being deliberately misleading in order to promote their own beliefs.

I decided to spend a little time filling in some online forms, answering questions about my health, so I could see for myself what kind of information might be presented to someone entering into this sort of activity genuinely.

With a mind to some everyday aches and pains (the kind I imagine we all suffer from occasionally) I answered all the questions accurately and honestly. Well, mostly – I lied about my gender on one site. We’ll come on to that shortly.

It might be worth pointing out that my family doctor, a charming and thorough man, recently insisted I had a full set of blood tests and an ECG. Everything came back normal, and his assessment was that I am in very good shape for a man of my age. In fact, my lung capacity and strength is that of someone 20 years my junior, he said. Perhaps that’s from all the practice I have of blowing my own trumpet.

So what of the time I spent with Doctor Interwebz? What was the diagnosis from that?

Well, I have always believed that when it comes to any form of self-diagnosis all roads lead to cancer. These beliefs were not shattered by this weekend’s activities. In three parts of my body I am – allegedly – exhibiting symptoms that could indicate cancer.

In addition to which, I learned I need an urgent medical assessment of my cardio-vascular functions.

But my favourite diagnosis by far was the one that told me I was experiencing symptoms that indicate the onset of the menopause.

It’s hard not to laugh, which is why I did indeed laugh. But there is a serious point buried in here.

When it comes to online information, the issue of trust – it seems to me – is as valid today as it has ever been.

In some ways, I take comfort from the fact that little really changes when it comes to human nature. Some folk like to be scared, while others are happy to lead you astray.

It’s a jungle out there people – stay safe.

And for goodness sake, if you really are concerned about your health don’t go anywhere near the internet. Go and see a real doctor.

A footnote: I decided against including links to any of the sites I visited. Trust me, it's for your own good. Added to which I don't think they deserve the traffic.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

snake oil, bone-shakers and witch-doctors 2.0

This is the first of two pieces on the subject of using the internet to find reliable information regarding things connected with health.

Over the weekend I was searching online for information about which foods are a good source of different kinds of vitamins and minerals. Not for myself, but for one of my kids.

It was, I thought initially, a pretty straightforward thing to look for online.

But what happened next enabled me to see the internet in all its naked glory.

My first encounter with the internet was 20 years ago and these days I am rarely offline, except when I am asleep – much to the occasional chagrin of those around me.

Consequently I consider myself to be pretty savvy when it comes to using the internet. A digital native, if you will. I am well versed in finding what I want online and quickly navigating my way through the many pools of information therein, some deep and some not so.

But the food search episode was quite the revelation. Pretty much all the results returned by Google (which has been my weapon of choice for searching since 1998 and is likely to remain as such for the foreseeable) were from websites that looked at best questionable as sources of information and at worst downright misleading.

How, I asked myself, am I supposed to be able to tell in whom I should place my trust?

I trawled through page after page, site after site, and came to the conclusion that I couldn’t figure that one out. So I ignored them all, preferring to remain in blissful ignorance.

This, I realised, is what it must be like to be unfamiliar with the internet and to trust in the validity of all the search results Google delivers you.

One of the most enduring changes the internet has brought about is the democratisation of publishing. Anyone with an opinion, a computer and an internet connection can publish those opinions and, potentially, gather around them an audience of believing readers.

This is a good thing.  And also a not-so-good thing.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

september 2011 word cloud

Last month, I published a word cloud showing the words I'd used in August.

I thought I'd do the same for September.

Simple as that.

Friday, 30 September 2011

new songs from my band the subtitles

I joined The Subtitles as vocalist and rhythm guitarist late last year.  A few months ago we started writing our own material.

We picked two songs that we liked, worked on them and then recorded them a few weeks ago. After some refining and mixing, they are now finished. I hope.  :)

The links below should take you to them.  If not, leave a comment to let me know - or email me, or @-reply me on twitter. 

I would really appreciate some feedback on them.  They are yet to go on the band website but soon will.

Hopefully, we'll get some gigs sorted out soon so we can try these (and others) out on a live audience.

Thanks in advance - I really appreciate you taking the time.

The songs:

Falling - click here

Walk Away - click here

Added on 1 October:

I got some great feedback from people who kindly listened to the songs and shared their thoughts. I am really grateful, as are the other guys in the band.

This is some of what was said.  But I'd love to hear some more opinions.

  • Wow
  • Sounds great
  • Impressed
  • Awesome stuff
  • Both very good
  • instrumental section in Walk Away is too long - loses a bit of momentum, I thought it was the outro
  • Both *might* benefit from some vocal harmonies on the choruses
  • Seriously am now humming Walk Away
  • Your drummer's style is very musical rather than "technical" if that makes sense - suits your material well

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

telling stories, human nature and social media

Since the very dawn of time itself mankind has told stories.

Ok, maybe not since the dawn of time perhaps "since the evolution of language" would have been more accurate. But that didn't sound very story-like.

Someone once told me that all the stories we are familiar with are in fact based on just a handful of original story ideas that came into being eons ago.

That could be true.

Certainly many cultures have a rich story-telling tradition. Viking sagas, the Aboriginal Dreamtime stories, Greek myths, the Tales of 1,001 Nights - frankly there's loads.

Stories don't just come in that more obvious narrative format either. Cave paintings, totem poles, the adornments on boomerangs - graphical story-telling is a strong part of human history.

We've come a long way from sitting round the fire recounting our ancestors' tales of derring-do or painting on cave walls. But stories are still a fundamental part of who we are as individuals, as nations and also in relation to how brands identify themselves.

The approach taken by advertisers and marketers just a generation or two ago looks naive by our sophisticated 21st century standards. It was, with some exceptions, "here's our product - buy it."

And while that approach still exists - and of course the motivation of generating sales is still hugely valid - consumers tend now to switch off to a lot of that stuff. We're all so accustomed to being marketed to that maybe we've started to become immune.

Whether you call it PR, communications, marcomms, or whatever, those who ply their trade in the same sector as I are in the business of telling stories. Stories that will resonate with our clients' target audiences and give them a sense of affinity with a particular brand.

This can be seen being played out in the digital space even more clearly, where the time between brand execution and customer feedback grows ever shorter.

But much like the crazy preacher-man berating the passing crowds at Oxford Circus I passed this morning, there's a danger we end up trying to tell our stories to people who simply aren't interested.

Again, the online world has made this trap ever more easy to fall into.

The fundamentals of story-telling – much like the fundamentals of human nature, in my opinion – remain:
  • Get the story right
  • Know who it is that you want to tell your story to
  • Be sure you're talking when (and where) they will listen.
  • And who knows, maybe even ask them to share their stories with you too

We haven't really come such a long way at all, in this story-teller's opinion.

Although at least we're not still writing on walls.


Yes Facebook, I'm looking at you.

Friday, 23 September 2011

i don’t want you but i need you

Smokey Robinson said it best when he sang I don’t want you but I need you.

As one of the most gifted song-writers in the popular music genre, this observation of what it’s like to be in love with someone you know is bad for you is beautifully crafted.

It also kinda sums up most people’s relationship status with Facebook.

I can’t think of an example of another organisation with such a vast following of people who are so quick to voice their dislike of the service.

And therein lies Facebook’s problem. Timelines and profile tweaks aside, it needs to do something about the toxic relationship it has with its users, many of whom are only sticking around because their friends are too.

It’s like a massive Mexican stand-offIf the day ever comes when enough people finally walk away from Facebook it could start a craze.

So far there hasn’t been a viable alternative to lure people away. For all the fuss, hype and expectation, GooglePlus won’t do it.  And there simply isn’t anyone else with the size and reach to be a realistic threat to Facebook.

That’s not much of a business model though, is it? Our customers are stuck with us and we are stuck with the fact they don’t like us.

If I was gambling man, I’d be looking at Renren as a possible longer-term Facebook rival. But that’s probably a topic for another day.

In the meantime, Facebook has to do something to stem the tide of discontent and griping.

Will Timeline be enough to do this?

No, of course not. But if it forms part of a coherent strategy to start putting people at the heart of the Facebook experience, giving them something to like – in the real sense of the word, not a silly fake Facebook like – then maybe it could be on to something.

Now, why not treat yourself to Smokey Robinson & The Miracles singing You Really Got a Hold on Me – the video and audio quality isn’t the best, but it’s worth it. Your soul will thank you.

Monday, 5 September 2011

give us your thoughts - dan purvis set to music

A few weeks ago I recorded a phone interview that I did with Dan Purvis (Global Director of PR at Meltwater Group, he's also a former colleague of mine at Octopus Communications and a friend).

I cut up part of the interview and dropped extracts into a dance track I had composed a few weeks prior to that.

It's called "Give Us Your Thoughts" and Dan & I hope you enjoy it..!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

august 2011 word cloud

For no reason other than it piqued my curiosity, I pasted all the copy I’ve written and published on my site during August 2011 into Wordle to see what it would look like as a word cloud.

I didn’t include any of the comments readers kindly left, nor my responses to those comments.

I haven't included this piece either. That seemed like a daft idea!

Of the almost 5,000 words published, there are 250 represented below.

I wonder what this says about me or the things I write about.

August 2011 - don't run with scissors word cloud

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

the time has come to spam journos with video

Am I missing something?

A fully-functioning synapse or two? Or the point, perhaps.

I just read a piece on TheRealPRMoment about research from press release distribution company RealWire, which states "news releases including video content achieve three times more coverage than releases without multimedia content."

It goes on.... "For those releases with editorial or blog coverage, the average number of pieces was 17.1 for the releases with video content. This was almost three times the figure for the sample without video content of 6.2 and four-and-a-half times more than the distribution industry average of 3.8 pieces."

Drawing a comparison with the last such survey, the story tells us "Adam Parker, RealWire’s chief executive, attributed the lack of adoption of video to (among other things) the barriers that existed such as the prohibitive cost of some distribution services."

Bit of a so-far-so-obvious, you may be thinking.

Here's the thing I'm struggling with.

This is the same Adam Parker and the same RealWire behind the (always struck me implausibly-named) "An Inconvenient PR Truth" campaign, which put forward a bill of rights (frankly, I've never known whether to laugh or weep at that, and I still can't make my mind up) regarding the manner in which PR people send information to journalists.

Let me break it down for you.

It's a campaign that proposes 10 so-called rights intended to make PR people treat bloggers and journalists with more respect and, at its heart, stop spamming them with unwanted press releases and other forms of contact.

For the avoidance of any doubt, I dislike the campaign. I wrote about it here.

I've never claimed to be possessed of super-human intelligence, and what I'm now struggling with is that on one hand RealWire/Adam Parker (wearing the Inconvenient Truth hat) have advised me (and the rest of the PR industry) to tread carefully. On the other hand, the one that's promoting distribution services via a news item about a piece of research, I'm now being advised to use video in press releases.

Too many people in PR can recount stories of journalists becoming quite irrationally upset just because there was a jpg or a pdf attached to an email.

Step forward if you're brave enough to start punting video at people.

I'll be the one eating popcorn and watching what happens.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

brits behaving badly

I'm about to make a comparison between the riots and looting of early August and the way Brits behave in cafes.

I know, I know... extreme. How long before Godwin's Law is invoked?

This is one of my pet hates, and I'm witnessing it as I write this piece.

I'm in the M&S cafe in Reading. Don't judge me! The only independent coffee house I've tried in Reading was bloody awful.

Plus, my youngest son (sat next to me scoffing an enormous cookie) likes it here.

Back to the pet hate. It was relatively quiet when we arrived. Since then, it's got busier. There's a longish queue and empty tables are fewer in number than they were.

I've watched about six groups of people walk in, bypass the queue, find a table, deposit themselves and their bags at said table, and send one person off to join the queue.

I've also watched several people leave the queue with their trays piled high, often with children in tow, struggle to find somewhere to sit.

"I'm sorry," the table-baggers say. "Someone is sitting here."

What I hear though is, "up yours you loser."

It's a bit of a leap, I admit, from here to looting. But what I'm witnessing is a lack of consideration for others.

Sadly, I think it's endemic.

I don't know what it is about this country, my home, but good manners are becoming as rare as hens' teeth. And it just fosters an attitude of looking after number one, and not giving a toss about anyone else.

It's a shame. A real shame.

We can all call for looters to be locked up for years, that's easy.

But what's much harder, is to look at ourselves and consider how we might lead by example in the little things we do every day.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, 19 August 2011

the double-dip risk of risk-avoidance

It may have been three years since it hit hard, but the global financial downturn / GFC / credit crunch still casts a long shadow over Western economies.

Talk of a double-dip recession has been less prominent of late, but could it be that any cause for optimism is somewhat premature? Sadly I think it may.

An awful lot of people I know have been adversely affected financially since 2008. Belt-tightening has, for many, become the new normal. This shift in attitude goes hand-in-hand with a more cautious and risk-averse outlook. An outlook mirrored in the global finance markets.

Banks became more hesitant where lending is concerned. This sparked the oft-mentioned credit crunch.

Are we about to see recent history repeat itself?

Here's why I think we are. Or at least why it is a possibility.

The world's major stock markets have been in decline for the last few weeks - a decline which has lately gathered momentum.

As investors look around for alternatives (less risky alternatives) to the volatile stock markets, they turn to some familiar safe harbours. In particular, gold (prices are at record highs) and government bonds from the UK and USA. These too have seen trading prices hit levels not seen for decades.

This performs two functions.

First, as capital flows to governments or is exchanged for gold, there is less of it available generally.

Second, as the price of government bonds rises the yields they offer falls.

That in itself is not bad news for the governments concerned as the cost of servicing their debts levels will fall as a result.

But it is this first point that ought to set alarm bells ringing.

Banks will, simply speaking, have less money available. In fact, typical interbank borrowings have started to fall from six month to three month terms.

Less capital circulating ever faster. Something has to give.

That something is most likely going to be business lending.

Business lending is the lifeblood of all developed economies and it is still on its knees recovering from the winding it received in the post-2008 fallout.

Business confidence too is far from the healthiest it's ever been. The prospect of struggling to lend from the primary markets will cause some to pull in their horns.

Investment in people, premises, R&D, you name it, could all come under threat. As if it wasn't already in many instances.

Will there be a second wave of financial turmoil? I have no idea.

Is it likely? Yes, sadly it is.

This is one of those occasions when I really hope I will be proven wrong.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

why four years for the facebook rioters is not a good thing

Two young men in north west England have been sentenced to four years in prison, each, for content posted on Facebook that was deemed to be inciting people to riot.

Some of you may be thinking this is a good thing.

But it's not good.  It's far from good.

That's the average. You don’t need to be a statistician to appreciate that means some get sentences that are far more lenient.

It has to be possible that at the same time one of those men was using Facebook to attempt to encourage people to engage in acts of criminal destruction (in one case the proposed target was a McDonald's restaurant) somewhere in the UK a woman was being raped.

Should her attacker be arrested, convicted and sent to prison in accordance with the existing typical sentencing loads, that rapist will be released back into society before someone who invited people to a riot that never took place.

This cannot, to any reasonable person, be a good thing.

I do not advocate leniency in the sentencing of people who have sought to perpetrate civil disorder, theft and destruction. Far from it.

The events that took place around 8/9 August 2011, when the rioting and looting reached its apex, were shocking and appalling. Those that broke the law must be brought to book and suffer the consequences.

However, the government has been on the back-foot from the outset and even now is seeking to position itself as in control of things by virtue of a succession of reactionary statements driven by fear. Now, it would appear, the judiciary is caught up in that fear too.

So much for the separation of powers.

Crack down on rioters and looters by all means. That can only be a good thing. Furthermore, investigating options for coping with the way in which people will choose to use social media, mobile phones and other messaging technologies is a good thing too.

Sending someone down for a failed attempt at inciting a riot – whether they do it on Facebook, Twitter, SMS, a phone call, a fax, or even a carrier pigeon – is also a good thing.

But a situation where rapists face lighter prison sentences than a couple of idiots in Cheshire whose clumsy attempts to look big on Facebook would be more at home on a site called egg-on-your-face-book is not a good thing.

It is a bad thing.