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, 28 July 2012

why the uk health service is not america's concern

Following the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, the world’s media was awash with reaction and opinion. Not all of it glowing. A fair few overseas commentators seemed to find the NHS section of the evening somewhat troubling.

For those that don’t know, the NHS is our National Health Service, set up in the wake of WWII, state-owned and funded by taxes.

Many US Republicans (and some Democrats too) point at our NHS when arguing against many of President Obama’s planned health reforms. A lot of what I read today was woefully inaccurate at best, and rantingly offensive at worst.

Our health service *is* free at the point of delivery. There is no ‘gaming’ it. We do have a private health sector, which is thriving. So, if you have the money you can choose to pay rather than use the NHS. You get treated by the same doctors, sometimes in the same hospitals. But you get treated sooner.

All emergency treatment is via the NHS – from heart attacks through to car accidents, shootings, stabbings etc.

The use by people in the US of the term “socialized” health care means nothing to us. That simply is not what it is, not what it feels like.  It is a hollow ideologue’s term to defend their distaste for providing health care for all members of society.

It is my belief that the true test of a society is how it regards the less fortunate and those in need of help. But I keep that opinion to myself. I would never stoop so low as to lecture people in the US, for example, on what their health system lacks – because I don’t live there.

The UK’s NHS is far from perfect. The waiting lists are too long. There is too much emphasis on measuring the wrong aspects of patient treatment and not enough on actual patient care. Some hospital governing bodies (it’s done regionally) have run out of money. The quality of care you get is often due to how much the people you are treated by actually care about what they are doing.

My father died in early 2011 and was treated very badly in hospital during the last week of his life. My mother’s cancer wasn’t diagnosed, despite many warning signs, until it had advanced to the point where it was declared inoperable. My oldest son was left with a ruptured appendix for almost two weeks before one particular doctor realised what was going on – he dodged a one-in-a-thousand bullet.

Most people in the UK know someone that’s had a bad experience at the hands of the NHS.

Most of us also know someone who received life-saving treatment, or life-changing care at the hands of the NHS.

It’s always fascinating to read what people overseas think of our country. But, mostly, you are all speaking from positions of varying ignorance. The opinions I value most are from those who caveat their comments by declaring themselves onlookers, not behaving like experts.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

what the olympic sponsors could learn from beckham and adidas

Adidas pulled off a fantastic PR stunt yesterday at the Westfield Stratford shopping centre (that’s ‘mall’ to my colonial friends).

They installed a photobooth and encouraged people to step inside, whereupon… from the O to the M to golden-balls G – there’s David Beckham waiting for them.

Brilliant work. Inspired. You want warm and fuzzy brand association – there you are. You want to be seen as well connected – help yourself. You want people to think your brand is cool – you got it.

So how come the other big ticket sponsor brands haven't also done something interesting, different, entertaining..?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not for one minute suggesting that anyone in their right mind would want to see Ronald McDonald emerging from the darkness and coming toward them, least of all while they’re in a confined space.

Yet, unless I’ve missed something, there appears to be a dearth of other Olympi-brands dusting off their creative mojos and winning the hearts and minds of the public.

There’s really no excuse in 2012 – it would be as cheap as chips (which you can only buy from McDonalds, unless they are served with fish as part of an authentic fish ‘n’ chips experience) to knock out a whole rash of Facebook competitions and games, or do some cool London stuff via Foursquare, maybe linked to previous London Olympics.  Plus all the big brands have so much corporate sponsorship going on that they have more than enough potential strings to pull for a spot of A-list celebrity endorsement action.
Something. Anything. Anyone..?

It really wouldn’t be hard for these big brands to create campaigns or one-off stunts that demonstrate they’ve actually been listening to their customers through all the Facebook groups etc they have.

It makes me wonder what the point of it all is (having a brand presence on Facebook, I mean) if you can’t then take everything you’ve learned about interacting with your customers via a meaningful two-way dialogue and put it to good use throughout all your PR, advertising, marketing and comms activities.

I think that might be worth setting aside for another post.

Footnote: list of the London 2012 Olympic sponsors, partners and supporters here.

Friday, 13 July 2012

o2 and the social media handbrake turn

Did O2 get it right on twitter in the wake of their network outage problems?


And yes.

This may be one of the biggest clich├ęs in PR and comms, but it gets to the heart of a very important consideration – what are you trying to achieve, and what does success look like?

When I and thousands of other O2 users found we couldn’t make calls or send texts, we turned to twitter to see what else we could learn about the problem… was it happening to anyone else, was there an explanation, and so on.  The O2 support page seemed to go offline around the same time, possibly due to being swamped by enquiries.

Twitter was soon a-buzz with tweets from disgruntled O2 customers.

There wasn’t a great deal of information coming out of O2 and the grumbles began to grow in volume and intensity. The O2 twitter account seemed to go a bit quiet at that point too.

By Thursday, O2 seemed to be more in control of itself, if not of the glitch that had caused the outage, and the company’s twitter stream was soon alive with responses to customers.

O2 is one of the few brands I follow and interact with on twitter. Not just because I’m a customer, although that is ultimately the explanation, but also because I’ve always thought they got the balance of interaction and broadcast right. There was a human touch to the O2 account but it never overpowered the O2 brand.

But in my opinion the wheels came off on Thursday.

If you check out Karen Webber’s excellent piece about the outage on NewsReach you’ll see what is probably the most famous tweet from O2 in response to an abusive customer’s tweet. It was inspired. Genuinely funny.

That whoever was staffing the twitter account was given the freedom to do that is a masterstoke.

However, I also got the impression that the huge positive sentiment that tweet elicited from the wider audience prompted someone at O2 to declare “do more tweets like that, I think we’ve found our way out.”

For a while it seemed that O2’s motivation on twitter was no longer to inform or engage with customers, but to demonstrate how achingly funny the brand could be – how irreverent and not-at-all-how-you-expected it was capable of being.

For me, that joke wore thin pretty quickly.

It was clever though.

Social media is a fickle environment. The speed with which people get enthused and subsequently bored is staggering at times. So, why not take advantage of that..?  Which is what O2 did.

By engaging in a spot of banter, attempting to shock us all a little by responding to remarks about anal sex with people’s mothers for example, the brand was executing the perfect social media handbrake turn.

O2 outage..? What O2 outage..?? Look over here - they’re being funny about tweeting first and fellating in hell later, and joining in with jokes about pigeons.

Did O2 get it right? I think that depends entirely on what we think they were trying to achieve. If it was reassuring customers (and don’t forget some of them rely on O2 for their business) that the problem had been identified and was being put right, I don’t think so. If it was turning the tide of negative tweets, then yes.

They could have posted some animated cat gifs, that would probably have had the same effect in terms of getting the angry mob to put down the pitchforks and torches.

Personally, I think there was too much emphasis on trying to be clever and funny, and not enough on acknowledging the problem.

Footnote: can you see sour grapes here? If you feel like trawling through my twitter stream you’ll find a tweet from me to O2 stating that despite being inconvenienced by the outage, I wasn’t feeling at all aggrieved. There are no sour grapes.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

a torch, a procession and a glimmer of excitement

If you follow me on twitter you may have seen me occasionally expressing disappointment in the way certain aspects of the London Olympics are being handled.

Mostly, I find it distasteful that the corporate sponsors of the event have such a stranglehold on things. From the removal of beverages that aren't owned by Coca-Cola from swathes of London while the games take place, to the last minute decision to re-route the torch procession to avoid St James's Park (the football ground in Newcastle upon Tyne) because there were advertising boards bearing the names and logos of businesses that weren't official Olympic sponsors.

There are restrictions in place regarding non-sponsors being able to advertise on billboards during the games that mean LOCOG (the committee in charge of organising the London games) has had to buy up loads of advertising space in order to control what appears. I have no idea how much that has cost, nor how that is funded, but surely even the most ardent fan of the Olympics can't possibly think that is a right and proper way for things to be done.

The torch itself doesn't exactly sit well with me either.

When did the torch first become part of the Olympic paraphernalia...?

At the Berlin games of 1936. Yes, that's right the year Hitler tried to use the Olympics as a massive Nazi propaganda vehicle. The torch fitted in with the love of ceremony the Third Reich's architects had.

I remember the Olympics as an exciting sporting spectacle that had us all glued to our TVs when I was a boy. Sporting excellence was all that seemed to matter. It doesn't feel like that any more.

Athletes are no longer the plucky amateurs they once were, either. And is it me, or are police officers starting to look younger these days..?

The sight of the Olympic torch being borne around the UK (and, bizarrely, Ireland too - it's a different country) by a cross section of the population, or wounded service personnel, or ordinary people who have done extraordinary things, is one thing. But when celebrities started getting involved, the whole thing started to look like a circus.

In a couple of days' time, the Olympic torch passes close to my house. My youngest son, having been learning about the Olympics at school recently, is very excited and wants to see it.

So I'll take him.

And I'll hope that some of the wonder and excitement rubs off on me too. Because, for all that I think the excesses of commercialisation have tainted the Olympics, well... it's still the Olympics, right?