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.

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.

Monday, 15 August 2011

crackdowns, kneejerks, and forest fires

Last week's wave of social unrest and wide-scale criminality in the UK has opened up the issue of how social media is used to a more mainstream audience than it has previously. Was it part of the problem? Was it part of the solution?

I expressed my opinion on this on twitter:

My point being that a forest fire spreads quickly via the trees. The trees aren't wooden arsonists, merely fuel being somewhat opportunistically used by the fire.

I read on Friday that the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail company had "temporarily interrupted" the service from the following mobile phone companies - Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. This was done to disrupt a protest which had been planned in the wake of a fatal shooting on 3 July of a man called Charles Hill by the BART police.

"On Thursday, BART police Lieutenant Andy Alkire told the local Bay City News agency that while it was unusual to block mobile services, it was 'a great tool to utilise for this specific purpose.'

"Linton Johnson, BART's spokesman, told the local KTVU television channel that BART 'didn't try to shut down the protest. They simply turned off the cell service so it couldn't become viral. It really is just a cost-benefit analysis of where your freedom of speech begins to threaten the public safety.'"

Fair enough. Up to a point. But I can't be the only person who thinks that a train company shouldn't be deciding on where the line is drawn. Can I?

In the early 1990s, when I was a freelance writer and editor, I interviewed a lawyer for a piece I was writing. We talked about how the legal profession was adapting to meet the needs of its clients. The lawyer told me that the fax machine had changed people's perceptions of how quickly decisions were made – a client sends you a fax that requires a detailed and careful response. But because they know it only took seconds for you to receive it, they expect that response in a similar timeframe.

Jeez. Just think what havoc email and IM must have wrought.

The law (in it's broadest sense) has always lagged behind innovation.

Cliché alert…. technology is moving so quickly that legislation cannot possibly keep pace.

But surely that's ok. To an extent.

Wherever you are reading this (I have readers on every continent bar Antarctica you know! <smiles, waves>) don't we all want to live in a society where the laws are carefully considered and brought into being following the proper consultation and evaluation of their efficacy and how they might be enforced?

Kneejerk reactions can be the downfall of many a well-intentioned action – whether in the personal or professional sphere. Some have greater consequences than others. It could be a damaged personal relationship, a badly-managed crisis, or even a calamitous piece of legislation.

While it would be foolish to completely dismiss the role of social media in bringing people together around a cause, a one-size-fits-all reaction will do more harm than good.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

after the london riots, why david cameron needs to lead the clean-up

David Cameron is right.

That’s not something I ever thought I’d write, let alone a viewpoint I’d ever share in public.

I have not had a right-wing epiphany though.

In the speech given on 10 August, the Prime Minister spoke with forceful authority on the causes of the appalling scenes of rioting, looting and criminal destruction visited upon the UK.

Clearly he is a man who wants us to know he is not only going to be tough on crime, but tough on the causes of crime too.

“For me, the root cause of this mindless selfishness is the same thing that I have spoken about for years,” Mr Cameron said.

And I agree with him on that point. I have often regaled people with my opinion that the UK has lost its sense of civic pride and civic duty over the last three or four decades.

He went on, as politicians often do: “It is a complete lack of responsibility in parts of our society. People allowed to feel that the world owes them something, that their rights outweigh their responsibilities and that their actions do not have consequences.”

On this point, David Cameron and I speak with a single voice.

However, I do feel he is being somewhat selective with scope of his argument.

When I heard the Prime Minister speak these words the first thing that sprang to mind was this:

And this:
And especially this:

It also brought to mind this:
The rioting, looting, and arson that the UK, and in particular London, has witnessed in recent days cannot be excused. The wanton destruction, criminal damage, lawlessness, and violence are all things that defy legitimisation.

Homes have been destroyed. Livelihoods ruined. Some people have lost everything they owned and worked for. Some have lost their lives.

I look around and wonder what on earth has happened to my country.

And I ask myself who the hell is actually in charge.

Is it a callous minority, hell-bent on helping themselves to whatever’s available while no one is looking, and doing their best to conceal their illegal and immoral behaviour?

Or is it a callous minority, hell-bent on helping themselves to whatever’s available while no one is looking, and doing their best to conceal their illegal and immoral behaviour?

In his speech David Cameron also said: “Well, they (referring to the ‘actions’ in the above quote) do have consequences. We need to have a clearer code of values and standards that we expect people to live by and stronger penalties if they cross the line. Restoring a stronger sense of responsibility across our society, in every town, in every street, in every estate is something I’m determined to do.”

Once again, Mr Cameron, you and I occupy common ground.

But – without wishing for one second to sound like an apologist for scum – this code of values and standards needs to embraced by everyone.

I do not want to live in a country where seemingly ordinary people wreak havoc because of greed, avarice, a lack of respect for their fellow human beings and a disregard for the safety and wellbeing of anyone and everyone around them.

Similarly, I do not want to live in a country where politicians steal from the public purse, where newspapers hack into the phones of dead teenagers, where corrupt police officers are being bribed by journalists to supply information and turn a blind eye.

Anyone in a position of authority and leadership will find out, if they weren’t already aware, that respect is earned – it doesn’t come with your job title, or your accent, or your grey hairs and wrinkles.

Leaders are respected most when they are leading from the front. After all, if you’re not out front you’re plainly not the one doing the leading.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

social media fud and no comment 2.0

It's one of the most worn-out things for someone like me to say but some clients are so gripped by the fear of what might go wrong with their social media strategy that very little can actually go right.

However, I'm fortunate enough to work with clients who, in the main, are not only excited about the potential of digital comms but they get it. I guess that may have led to a certain amount of complacency on my part – I'd started assuming that everyone was enlightened in the ways of social media.

A conversation in the office this morning with a colleague made me realise how off-the-mark this assumption of mine is. It also brought to mind challenging conversations I'd had with clients about regular-grade PR, never mind the digital flavour.

Have I, I then asked myself, stopped thinking about things from the perspective of those who live and work outside the comms and media bubble?

Is there still a job of education to be done?

Or could it be that some people (by which I mean businesses, organisations and the individuals that work in them) will never get to grips with external comms?

The most common objection I have heard from comms-deniers generally goes a little like this, and if you work in PR I reckon you’ll have heard a rendition of this one at some time:

"We don't want to talk about X because it isn’t one of the things that we sell/offer/promote."

PR person's typical response:

"I understand, but you asked us to raise your profile, and you have said you want to be a thought-leader. So you need to have opinions on a wide range of subjects, not just your own products but your industry."

Like most PR folk, I've been involved in running clients' twitter streams to varying degrees, and it is here that some of this reluctance keeps cropping up frequently.

"We should really only be tweeting about our company and products," is one comment I’ve seen recently.

Face, meet palm. Palm, meet face. I've a feeling you two will be spending a lot of time together.

I have some sympathy with the paranoia of being quoted out of context, or being asked questions you can’t answer, that leads some clients to stay entrenched in their comfort zone. There is that whole you can't unring a bell thing about once you’ve said something to a journalist it's hard to take it back.

But this outlook is very destructive when it comes to social media engagement.

There, look… I said it – engagement. That word gets over-used for a reason.

There is no value to either party in simply pumping out a one-way, mono-dimensional stream of tweets.

Your followers will grow bored of you. They come to resent your lack of willingness to enter into a dialogue, or impart any wisdom. They will switch off, not just from your tweets but from your brand too.

Net result – more harm than good.

That’s not to say every corporate tweet needs to be hugely informal, or irreverent. Far from it. It's important to reflect your brand values as well as inject some personality into things.

Ultimately people will be drawn to those brands that offer them something of value. On the high street that may take the form of sale-prices, in the case of a call to register a complaint you want someone who listens and then takes ownership of your problem, and online that’s most likely going to be content that you find interesting and of value.

When I was a boy, my mother used to say to me "if you haven't got anything good to say, don't say anything." To this day I get called taciturn. But maybe, all kidding aside, this isn't such a terrible piece of advice for brands taking their first steps online.

Think about what it is you hope to achieve, what it is about the brands you admire in the digital space that you like, and try to bring some of that good stuff together in a way that will work for you and the people you want to engage with.

Find something good to say.  Otherwise, maybe we need to head off down another well-trod PR path, that of the dreaded "no comment."

Almost never a good idea in the face of a direct question, I have an inkling that no comment 2.0 might start weaving its way into social media advice some brands need for their own good.

Monday, 8 August 2011

lunching with the dead, baying for the rope and the wisdom of the crowd

When I was a young man death was my living.

Determined, as I was back then, to eschew a traditional career and focus instead on becoming a professional musician, I took a seemingly endless array of dead-end jobs to pay my way and fund my musical endeavours.

And so it was that I ended up in the late 1980s with one of the most dead-end of dead-end jobs… working in a funeral parlour in Manchester’s Moss Side district.

Unlike some of my colleagues there, I could never bring myself to eat my lunchtime sandwich in the mortician’s workshop, with the recently-departed in various stages of preparation for company. No, I am not exaggerating – that really is how some people spent their break, lunching with the dead.

The business of other people’s loss and grief paid for my leisure time.

Despite what may sound like a disrespectful lunchtime ritual, the people I worked with back then never showed anything other than a complete duty of care to the bereaved and the departed, and they had a highly-tuned sense of the importance of life.

Last week the BBC and many other UK news outlets reported on a website set up by the government designed to give citizens an opportunity to influence future legislation.

It’s a very laudable aim, to attempt to engage the public with politics – let them feel their views will be listened to. But as someone much wiser than me once said, be careful what you wish for.

The site isn’t especially new. But the headline writers’ interest was piqued by the prevalence of pro death penalty petitions on the site. As many as 40 different petitions in total, all worded slightly differently but all asking for the restoration of capital punishment.

I shan’t argue that a truly civilised society doesn’t have the death penalty. For me, this is a personal viewpoint.

From those that want all crimes of murder to be met with a death sentence, to those who only want it applied to child murderers and those who kill police officers. Some call for parliament to conduct a thorough investigation into the possible restoration of the death penalty (it was revoked as the punishment for murder in 1965 and for all other offences in 1998) and others simply said hanging should be brought back.


Small word when said in passing. But stop and think about what it actually involves.

It’s quite grotesque.

Certain acts of murder do seem to cry out at us as being particularly brutal and unforgiving, whether it’s tortured rape victims, children or scores of innocents caught up in an act of unspeakable barbarity.

It’s not easy to argue against a certain kind of logic that says someone like Anders Breivik, who murdered almost 80 people in Norway on 22 July this year, should be put to death. He is beyond doubt the perpetrator of a terrible act. His guilt or innocence cannot be open to debate, although there are – of course – arguments about his state of mind. Although, from a purely personal perspective, anyone who does what that man did is clearly not in their right mind but I’m not at all sure that ought to be much of a defence.

Whether it’s the gas chamber, a lethal injection or at the end of a rope, the job of administering the death penalty is hardly likely fall to those who clamour for its return. Which, of course, makes it so much easier to adopt a black and white view of these things.

The overwhelming majority of those of us who live in the West don’t have to deal with life and death in a very hands-on way. Thankfully violence, and murder in particular, are statistically rare – long may it stay that way.

That you are here (wherever that may be), reading these words that I wrote one Friday evening in England is a remarkable mix of fate and factors beyond the ken of this simple man. As truly awful as some people’s acts may be I do not feel I have the right to decide who lives and who dies, and frankly I don’t feel you do either.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

protectionism, ponies, and the hargreaves review

The industrial revolution is one of the most written-about periods in modern history, and as we are all fully aware it brought about many significant societal and economic changes.

On a micro level, mechanisation was bad news if you were an unskilled worker, or someone with very niche skills, such as a hand-weaver or some other one-trick pony. On the other hand, it was good news if you were an actual pony that was put out to pasture rather than spend its days hundreds of metres underground pulling cartfuls of coal.

There are winners and losers whenever there is a significant period of change. Recent announcements by Foxconn that increasing mechanisation in the factories where it produces the iPhone and other consumer electronic devices bear witness to this. Machine operators may find they no longer have a job. But some will have the opportunity to retrain in higher-value skills.

The urge to stop the tide of change can sometimes feel overwhelming. It is human nature to prefer the status quo – better the devil you know, and all that.

The displaced agricultural workers of the 17th and 18th Century didn’t have the luxury of hiring in lobbying groups. But in the face of seismic economic shifts in the 21st Century it is possible to see the same fears, concerns and protectionist attitudes in play.

Today’s announcement by the UK Business Secretary, Vince Cable, that the government is adopting the Hargreaves Review of Copyright and Intellectual Property is one such significant change.

One of Professor Hargreaves’ most compelling arguments (I heard him speak at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum) was that copyright and IP legal frameworks must perform two functions in harmony – protect the rights holder, and be a tool for economic development.

A rigid application of the current interpretation of UK copyright law, as laid down by the High Court in late 2010, would – in all likelihood – prevent a business like Google being created in the UK.

The case in question came about after Meltwater (a client I represent) and the PRCA were taken to the High Court by the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA), which seeks to collect unregulated licence fees on behalf of its owners – eight newspaper-publishing conglomerates.

Citing its belief that sending someone a URL from a newspaper (or similar) website is breaching copyright law, the NLA is effectively stifling the sharing of information and ideas online. Not only is this contrary to one of the fundamental building blocks of internet culture, it is an example of potentially dangerous protectionism.

The publishing sector has no choice but to react to and deal with the dominance of online media consumption. It is already hard to remember the time when we all got our breaking news updates from the TV news or the daily papers. That tide is unlikely to turn.

Rather than seek to use out-dated legislation to protect its interests, the newspaper industry would be better served evolving its business models and revenue streams to fit in with the way people want to consume information.

The Hargreaves Review is an excellent opportunity for the government and interested parties from industry to come together to create a copyright and IP framework in the UK that leads by example to the rest of the world. Innovation, creativity and flexibility are the cornerstones of economic growth and sustainable prosperity.

I for one hope that in years to come we will look back on this as the moment when the UK stepped up its game and became a true leader in the global digital economy.

Some further reading: