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!