Thursday, September 28, 2006

Who will draw a crowd?

CiB is currently planning its 2007 annual conference. It will be held at a great venue in a buzzing city. That city's Newcastle - and the problem is that it's 250 miles away from CiB's London heartland - and not quite the coastal draw of a Brighton or Bournemouth.

So far, the conference looks solid enough - but it lacks sparkle. It hasn't as yet got the 'wow' speaker that will either make our largely southern-based membership hop on the train to the frozen north east, or make those communication (plus HR, change and general leadership) folk based in the north think that this is a conference they can't afford to miss.

We need a headline speaker: someone different from the normal run of case studies and consultants who will both attract new blood to the conference, and make those who do attend really sit up and learn something. The problem is that CiB is firmly focused on internal communication - and there are very few, if any, widely known and respected IC gurus out there. It may be worth looking to the US, Australia or Canada and coaxing someone in from over there - but cost remains an issue. Otherwise, it's a case of taking a new angle and attracting perhaps a leadership speaker from the UK and beefing up other parts of the agenda. But either way, we need to do something to make the most of the opportunity Newcastle offers.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Conundrum within an enigma

Later this week I'll take part in the latest Council meeting of Communicators in Business - the largest organisation representing business communicators in the UK and Ireland. Then, in a couple of week's time, I'll chair a meeting on membership: how we can attract communicators to, and retain communicators within an organisation where membership has remained in the very low four figures for as long as I can remember.

CiB has a perception problem: too many people within the organisational communications world see the organisation as being run by publications agency folk for publication agency folk. It's a perception that's frankly not helped by the fact that the current President, immediate past president and vice president are all....publications agency folk. But there lies the conundrum.

I'm getting to know all these people reasonably well and thery're both darned good at what they do and forward-thinking in terms of CiB. They're also the ones with the energy to take a front seat in managing CiB. They've already firmed up the organisation's niche by asserting that it's an organisation focused on internal communication. Additionally, they've launched development work built around providing an offering that will attract communicators at all levels - from new entries to the boardroom.

But there's the danger of Catch 22 setting in: at present, the vast bulk of CiB's membership is at the newbie-through-junior-to-craft level. There's still a backbone of journalists and designers who've come through the traditional print route to work in employee comms. How these people can make the step change to creating an organisation that can become a thought-leader across the wider realms of internal communications is quite a challenge.

Allied to this, too few corporate people or new thinkers are prepared to get involved in the active side of CiB. Unless people who've come to internal comms from a different background are prepared to step up to the plate and make an active difference within CiB, it'll stay the same. And if it stays the same, those very people it needs will never be attracted.

Third, the organisational comms world is changing - perhaps faster than CiB's thinking. The barriers between internal and external communication are breaking down rapidly - more and more organisations I work with have one communications team working on issues first, and segmenting the audiences later. Grabbing the high ground on internal comms is absolutely right now - but it's not an end point, and CiB will have to find a way to ensure its thinking will evolve as organisational comms changes.

I'm not sure how far we'll move on Wednesday - my experience is that these large Council sessions rarely bring searing light to any issue. However, I'm more hopeful of what will emerge from the Membership group - slightly younger than the CiB average, with more corporate experience and largely working across external and internal comms.

However, what's abundantly clear to me is that CiB must change - thankfully it's clear to those running the organisation too. But, I've a nagging doubt about whether the right change will happen with sufficient speed to make a difference.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Weakest Link

My episode of the Weakest Link will finally air on BBC2 at 5.15pm on Friday October 6th. So, if you want to see me fail to outwit Annie in the banter stakes and be rude to a priest in a wheelchair, do tune in!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


This is not a blog that gets thousands of hits every day - for that, I suppose, I'd have to be writing about sex or celebrity....or probably both. But I'm always intrigued by where the people who do land on the site each day come from - and why.

Sometimes it's quite easy to use the stats provided by my tracker to unearth who's surfed in from where and why.

Recently I've been researching and writing material on the Apollo 1 fire - I've been talking to a few astronauts and others involved around the Cape and Houston at the time and, by looking at both the location of those viewing the blog, and also where they've been referred from, it's clear to see they were checking out the writer who, in turn, was checking out their opinions and memories. So, a nice circle completed there.

I've just started on a project now about Chuck Yeager as next year's the 60th anniversary of his flight in the X-1 rocket plane that first broke through the sound barrier in level flight (actually he was climbing at the time, making the feat even more memorable). I'm starting to contact people involved in the X-plane project, and hope they'll stop by to check out progress via this blog.

As for other visitors, some get referred from where I appear in other people's blogs - I've noticed quite a few people jumping over from Ron Shewchuck's pages and from one or two of the other PR blogs. And, for a brief moment when I was picked up by Shel Holz and Neville Hobson, a few people came in on the back of their podcast. Well, I hope I can reciprocate as there's little value in any kind of social media community where contributors merely drone along alone.

By far the biggest category of visitor is those who surf in off a google search or something similar, spend a few seconds realising that this is very much a niche site, and move right along. Well, thank you for visiting, and I'm sorry this isn't your cup of tea!

But those that really intrigue me are the lurkers, who arrive in from points unknown; spend a long time working through the pages - and sometimes even email links on to other people. Who are you guys from the Philippines, Slovakia and the US - or even who was it from London who spent almost an hour on the site a couple of days ago? Did you find what you were looking for and was it any use?

I'm curiously curious about you silent types!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Intranets killing the art of corporate communication

When you've built the monster, you've got to feed it. Nothing going on today? Tough, the intranet needs feeding.

More than any other electronic communication tool, intranets are becoming the Frankenstein's Monsters of corporate communication.

We spend £ thousands building the darned things - too often as apanaceaa for every communication woe. We employ specialist editorial and technical staff to make the things run and we measure our success on how many hits each page gains.

Yet they take away our ability to managecorporatee communication as they all too often become the consuming black hole, sucking in far too much communication resource and delivering too little in return. Intranets are just one tool in our communication kit - but how many organisations are making them the sole employee communication tool (or worse still, consider the fact that they have an intranet to equate with them being a communicating organisation).

There's an interesting debate going on over at the IABC's communication commons on this.
Check out I've had my say of course.

I'm sufficiently old-school to see corporate communication as an art. Played delicately and with panache, it involves and engages - and enables the right business outcomes. The professional communicator is the coach and motivator as well as deliverer of a mix of media.

We've spent 30 years stating that one size does not fit all - but isn't that what creeping intranetism delivers?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Changing the nature....

I'm just back from a break in Ireland - the same great people, green hills, heather covered moors and long deserted beaches that have kept me captivated since I was a kid.

But there's a subtle change about Ireland, and one that's not totally for the good.

The Celtic tiger's on the charge: the country has never been more wealthy or more confident. Instead of old vans and clapped out volvos, the roads around Dublin and Co. Wicklow (where we stayed) were full of new 4x4s and sleek sports cars. Village high streets now boast Italian brasseries, designer boutiques and trendy dellies. Clearly the new Ireland's a great place to live if you can capitalise on the boom.

What's most apparent is the new class of service workers brought in to fill the breach as Ireland's upwardly mobile have moved....upwards.

From the airport car hire desk to the hotel reception and dining room, in every restaurant and nearly every shop we met the new grafters of the Irish economy - largeely young, probably very well educated....and eastern European to a man and woman.

As young Irish folk have taken the new jobs in management and the burdgeoning finance, insurance and other high-powered service industries that are feeding the tiger, their places in the slightly less well paid service sectors are being taken by a wave of new immigrants from the Baltic Republics, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

After centuries of net emigration, Ireland's seeing its first wave of net immigration and the impact is startling. The eager new imigrants are bringing great efficiency to most roles they touch. But what's not there - at least not yet - is the special Irish warmth that has characterised the nation for so long.

I'll give you an example. A while ago, Jac and I flew into Shannon and made our way to the Dromoland Castle hotel. We were met at the door by Michael, a young lad who took our bags, told us about the hotel, showed us into the lounge and chatted away as if we were old friends. Within five minutes of arriving, we felt at home. Over the next few days we were probably 'upsold' on more than a few occasions, buying the extra round of sandwiches, being nudged up the wine list and ordering that extra pint of Guinness - but it never felt like upselling because everyone in the service chain took an interest, and had a natural way with the people they were serving.

Last Friday night we got back to Dublin airport after a week in a hotel in Co. Wicklow where everyone was efficient, but where there had been no warmth to the service - a disappointment as we'd stayed in the same hotel several times in the past.

We checked in our bags and headed to the food hall to find half of it closed off, and two of the food service area unmanned - and this at peak time on a Friday evening. People were milling around looking for tables while others snaked through the service area in the queue to the one staffed food service outlet.

Jac and I had the three kids with us and it was infuriating to see so many tables with chairs staked on them at a really busy time for travelling. Jac asked the one person clearing tables if she could sit at one of the tables with stacked chairs. 'No' was the curt and eastern-European accented reply. 'Hang on,' Jac replied. 'You've closed off more than half the seating area and have people queuing out the door. There are five of us, and no free tables in the area you have open.' 'Not my problem' came the reply.

Now, was she having a bad day? Did she hate her job? Was she hugely overqualified and underpaid for the task she was being paid to do? I don't know and I don't care. However, she was the sole representative of the food court at Dublin Airport out on the floor dealing with customers. So it was her problem.

But it sums up Ireland's current teething problems. It's easy for the likes of me to be won over by charm and the feeling that someone's genuinely out to help me. But when I'm faced with an army of indifference and a distancing from the old culture of natural good service, it gets my back up - big time.

It's high time that Ireland became less insular and I truly welcome the influx of bright young people from other countries. But it's smug, complacent and potentially dangerous for the Irish to put new immigrants into key customer service roles without engaging those incomers into the culture of warmth, friendliness and genuine helpfulness that previously was a byword for Ireland.

For the first time, I found Ireland losing its Irishness.