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, 8 May 2011

go ugly early

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is uncomfortable.  The killing of Osama Bin Laden prompted this revelation from the man-of-the-cloth’s man-of-the-cloth.  But more particularly, he was referring to certain inconsistencies in the story regarding that killing; at first the White House told the world Bin Laden was armed, then that he was unarmed.

Dr Williams’ reaction to this, as quoted by the BBC, was: "I think the killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling because it doesn't look as if justice is seen to be done.  In those circumstances I think it's also true that the different versions of events that have emerged in recent days have not done a great deal to help.”

Getting to the heart of the matter quickly and being able to determine, often amid a great deal of confusion, the right course of action, is not easy and it’s not something everyone can do.  It’s a rare chance for someone in PR to tell the top brass to sit quietly and pay attention.

I can’t be the only person who has always thought the White House and the Pentagon would be stuffed to the rafters with the keenest minds in the comms world.

It’s easy to understand the difficulties in getting reliable information out of a combat zone.  Life-or-death split-second decisions don’t leave much scope for a thorough assessment of a situation before events start to take over, and in the aftermath it can take time to gather information, hear the accounts of the military personnel that were involved and so on.

Which is why the later version of the story released by the White House is the one we should, probably, put more faith in.

But it begs a question – why release the story at all before verifiable information had been received?

There was a lot said in the aftermath of Bin Laden’s demise about Twitter having broken the news.  A friend of mine said something to this effect… I may have read about Bin Laden’s death first on Twitter but I went to the TV news for verification.

After all, how many fake deaths have been ‘announced’ in 140 characters or less?

The title of this piece, go ugly early, is a phrase relayed to me by someone I know who was in the US Army in Afghanistan, as part of the comms team.  He was alluding to a principle that applies in crisis comms generally… get the story out first – before anyone else does – and stay in control of the message.

However unreliable the millions of sources on Twitter may be, its capacity for dissemination remains.  One of the consequences is that for someone in my line of work, whether in Windsor or the White House, you have to assume that someone somewhere knows something and if you don’t go ugly early they might. 

Saturday, 7 May 2011

loneliness and the late night vocalist

I've never really written much about my band, The Subtitles, on here.

We rehearse most Tuesday evenings between 9pm and 11:30pm.

Each night driving back from rehearsing - in recent weeks anyway - I've passed a woman who always arrests my attention.

I often seem to encounter a red traffic light at a particular junction. And she is always there.

She is what, when I was a boy, would have been called a tramp. Although there's something about her that makes me think she isn't actually homeless in the classic meaning of that word.

But home is more than just bricks and mortar, a roof over your head.

Probably in her mid-to-late 60s, painfully thin, with very long straggly grey hair and bedraggled clothes, she looks to be about six feet tall. And almost not-of-this-time. Or even this world.

On each of the occasions I've seen her she has been scrutinising the houses for sale displayed in an estate agent's shop windows.

She seems as fascinated by them as I have become by her.

Agitatedly rushing from one window to the other, she looks intently at the houses advertised and seems to be comparing the details of each as she stalks the shop front.

Why is she doing this? What is her story? I am filled with an urge to leave my car, get out and talk to her. Who knows, maybe one day I will. But I haven't yet.

The most I've seen her carrying is a bag of shopping, bought at a near-by late-night convenience store. Which is the main reason I think she lives somewhere, has a roof over her head, bricks and mortar that surround her.

But is that her 'home' I wonder.

Is it a place where she is surrounded by love and warmth, a sanctuary from the obstacles life has put in her path? Does it contain family, or a loved-one? Memories of what was. Regrets over what was not. Is she lonely? Or maybe just alone.

Does she look at the houses for sale and wonder about the lives people lead when they make them their home?

Then, inevitably, the traffic lights change. And I continue my journey home.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

bonfire of the profanities

Swearing. It’s not big, it’s not clever, and it’s not funny. That’s what I was always told anyway.

Plainly two out of three of those are open to debate. We’ve all heard people use uncouth language in ways that were both clever and funny. In some cases, hilariously funny.

By and large though those occasions have probably involved listening to a friend regaling a group of mates with a funny story, or maybe while watching a stand-up comedian deliver their set.

It’s rare (although it can happen) that a complete stranger swearing in public will be anything like as funny.  Often it can be embarrassing.  And if there are small children or seniors within earshot it can be very uncomfortable.

We all know this. It’s not news. And while you’re welcome to disagree with me I’m most likely going to dismiss you as some sort of gauche moron. But that’s as much to do with me as it is with you.

Anyway... back to swearing, everything’s different online though, isn’t it?

No, not really.

Maybe it’s because my first encounter with the internet was 20 years ago that for me the distinctions between the virtual and 3D worlds are more subtle.

Maybe not. Frankly I don’t care. Let’s face it, neither do you.

Most of the people I’ve encountered on twitter over the last couple of years are unlikely to be the kind of person to start dropping the f-bomb should they be invited around to someone’s house for dinner, let’s say.

So why is it, I sometimes wonder, so many people (and more often than not it’s blokes) think it’s ok to swear online in a manner that is not attempting to be either clever or funny?  What’s their motivation?

I can only assume they are trying to look big.

They end up though looking immature, sounding offensive and losing credibility in front of people who can only form opinions of them based on what they see on screen.

So, next time you feel like telling your 450 followers that all the people in the supermarket checkout queue you're standing in are c-words, remember we’re all nodding in the kind of agreement you perhaps weren’t banking on.