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.

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.