Tuesday, October 31, 2006

My 'lurker's' a nice person really!

Apologies to the nice lady in British Columbia whom I've offended on two fronts: first, for describing her as a lurker, and second for linking her lurking to the fact that my leapfrog email seems to have become fair game for bulk mailing scammers in the last few weeks.

On the second front - mea culpa. It clearly is merely a coincidence that her interest in this blog happened to coincide with the spam business. But I'm a tad surprised she took offence to the term 'lurker'.

For me, it just means someone who reads blogs but doesn't contribute to them by leaving comments etc. It's not pejorative, and given that hardly anyone feedsback on this blog, there's a whole lot of lurking going on.

So, happy lurking everyone!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Right....just a few things

1. Is this blog simply too boring to comment on? Loads of people visit it; some stay a surprisingly long time - or return quite frequently - yet I hardly ever get any comments. Am I flogging a dead horse?

2. Why does someone in a medical lab in Burnaby, British Columbia feel the need to lurk on here on a daily basis......and why have I had loads of spam sent to my account since you started lurking?

3. I've been flicking through the latest issue of Communicators which seems to be doing a fairly blatant job of pushing CiB's communication awards by highlighting the benefits of communication awards for comms outputs.

Now, I've been known to be a curmudgeon when it comes to the CiB awards in the past - but actually, I have nothing against people gaining recognition for a job well done - in fact, I urge you all to enter the awards, at least several times over. However, I would like to raise two points: first, CiB is far too reliant on the income the awards provide to be in any way objective on the true value they have within the internal communications (nay, communications) industry. And, second, I urge the judges to only award glittering prizes where the entry provides context beyond the shiny output. Magazines, intranets and the like can look wonderful, be beautifully written and appear the peak of professionalism. But unless they achieve a clear purpose, and that purpose is directly a part of driving an organisation's success, they're mere print on paper or words on a screen. Prettiness, great writing or the best use of a comma in a built up area bear no relation to business success - and isn't that what business communication should be all about?

4. I know my entries are full of typos - but I'm not a proof reader!

The Missing Link

I was congratualted last week for winning 'The Missing Link' - which more than a few people may think is about right! But if, as directed in the latest issue of Communicators, you want to read about my exploits on the BBC's 'Weakest Link', you'll need to scroll down the blog a fair bit, or look in the arhive at June 2006.

And by the way, the tortoise referred to at the end of the show has actually become two rather sweet rabbits - Billy Buns and Milly Buns..........the Shanahan family's current buns..... (I'll get my coat).

Office imitating art?

The Turner Prize: is it art? Discuss.

Okay, it sounds like one of those questions for getting into Oxbridge (not quite 'how much of the world's water is contained in a cow?'), but every year, the contest-cum-exhibition held at Tate Britain manages to raise the hackles both of those who see art as a Turner hung on the wall - and those who see just as much 'art' in an unmade bed.

Now I've often thought that communication is more art than science and this year, Phil Collins (no, not him) has made that concept flesh in the form of Shady Lane Productions.

In short, Collins has built a fully functioning office in one of the Tate's galleries in London and has staffed it with researchers. Their job is to find subjects for Collins' next artwork - a video piece looking at the impact of reality TV on people who feel the medium has ruined their life.

The 'office' has windows opening into the gallery so the gawping public can check out what's going on inside and listen in as the researchers (all being paid for their time) go about their daily work of tracking down potential sdubjects for the forthcoming video installation. Joe and Jessica public can also interact with those inside the office by knocking at a hatch and having a chat - though largely the visitors have been a tad too timid to make that connection - maybe we just like looking at our art, rather than engaging it in dialogue.

But surely that's where the art comes in? After a few weeks, the office staff have settled into the roles, patterns and relationships we see in any office. The novelty's worn off, and, supposedly, they're no longer acting up for their audience. A functioning office - no matter where it's situated - is not art in itself - and the artifice here can only be in the dialogue with the viewing public that lifts the uber-reality into something beyond realism.

Undoubtedly this is a very clever installation. Is it art - or a massive piss take? I'm undecided, but impressed that Collins has not only come up with the concept, but has got away with it too.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Off to fly my own kite instead of somebody else's

I'm not usually a great fan of Melcrum and its tactic of making you think you're part of a community when you're just buying their heavily hyped and nut-squeezingly expensive product. But I do tap into the free stuff - and this made me chuckle.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Vainer than Vayner?

Hurrah for UBS - or at least for the company mole who pricked the pomposity of possibly the most narcissistic of the Generation Y currently hitting the job market.

Yep, we all know about Aleksey - the media is almost as full of him as he is of himself.

But doesn't his gargantuan self-love and lack of self-awareness not reflect many of the youth we see coming through our doors - not looking for a job - but expecting one to land in their lap?

I interviewed some graduates recently for a graduate trainee post. All had amazing CVs with achievement certificates scrolling from ceiling to floor and tales of internship with the bluest of blue chips and pinnacles of media professionalism......yet they were applying for a ground floor job in a PR agency in Buckinghamshire.

On paper, they all looked great - shame we don't work that way. One guy ranted at me because I cut his interview short. He hadn't prepped for it, knew nothing about the company or what it did, and seemed to think his life was going to be one long round of parties (not 'til you make AD matey!). Another girl with staight As at A level and a predicted 2.1 for her degree couldn't string a sentence together - not great in a people business. One, who claimed a spell on the Guardian may well have been telling the truth - she certainly couldn't spell; had a vocab less than my 12 year old; and had read deeply and widely.....in chick lit.

We struggled to get a final four - none of the candidates could write a decent basic news release and none had much of a clue about face-to-face or even phone to phone communication technique. What was more worrying was we didn't sense they had much energy or appetite to learn.

When the final four came in for a day of testing and interacting with this client's team, we reached a place of clarity - none of our four would get the job. The reason? They couldn't take criticism, however useful or constructive it was. These precious pearls had emerged into the job market wrapped in the cotton wool of continuous praise and reward. I see the same thing happening at school with my kids - certificates for walking to school, for handing in hoework on time and for doing work of the expected standard. What was the expected minimum a generation ago is now cause for celebration. So, when these 20-somethings were pulled up on their poor performance for a final interview, they had no coping strategy. It was alien territory. No-one was saying either 'well done' or 'there, there, don't worry....and enjoy your lower attainment achievement'. Far from it, the boss I was helping recruit with said: 'that's not good enough - how can you make it better?'. Stars on paper fell swiftly from the sky.

Maybe we were particularly unlucky. I don't know. I do know that the particular company concerned has turned to the other end of the spectrum and has recruited two PRs heading into silver surfdom. They know they have to be nimble and learn a few new tricks to keep up with the Generation X-Zs, but they've got the humility and a bit of life history to draw on to make it happen.

Monday, October 16, 2006

AOL Saga - part the nth

Ok, so it was the usual AOL Help failure situation today.

I went to log on this morning and there was no connection to the internet via my router. So I went through the routine of closing everything down, unplugging everything - even blowing on the leads - and then starting up again. Result? Nada!

So, as this is a fairly regular recurrence, I've got a stash of AOL help pages offering differing options to reboot the router; reset my AOL connection; restore factory settings; purge my PC of demons etc - the usual kind of stuff. I tried tham all. resyukt? Still an ominous red light on the router, and no connection to the world.

This called for desperate measures......a call to AOL Technical support.

The first guy was Irish - after 10 minutes of getting to the point I'd already reached myself....the phone call cut off. Now, I didn't break the connection....so who did?

So, it was on to call number 2. This time I hit an Indian call centre and got 'Keith' - why the hell don't these guys just use their own names - you're fooling no-one peeps!

Keith had a strong acent, which didn't help matters, and also seemed to fail to grasp the fact that I'd already done everything he suggested. After about 20 minutes, and complete failure to reset the router, the phone mysteriously went dead again. Hmmmm.

So, one final call. By this time, I was convinced that the fault lay with the line, not the pc or router. So, after hanging on for another five minutes listening to dodgy Pink Floyd, I got through to an Irish guy again. I poured out my tale of frustration - and he let me ramble on - only to tell me that my call had been wrongly routed to billing.....and that he'd have to transfer me to one of his technical support colleagues.

After five minutes hanging on, I gave up in disgust and went out to a client.

Funny enough, I switched on the machine when I returned a couple of hours later - it worked perfectly first time, seemingly desopite, rather than inspite of any AOL intervention.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

A new career?

Right, I saw this cartoon and it made me laugh........so now I'm off to reinvent myself and make £££millions!!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Czech please!

If you see one thing at the theatre this year (and that's about all I'll see), you could do far worse than Tom Stoppard's excellent 'RocknRoll' at London's Duke of York's theatre.

I saw the play on Saturday evening and, despite having possibly the worst seat in the house (far stage right in the second row of the Royal Circle), I sat mesmerised by the content, performances and atmosphere that conjured up both Czechoslovakia and the Cambridge University set from 1968 to the early '90s.

The play is high on intellectual content and it takes stamina to stay the course as Jan's life unfolds against the panorama of increasingly repressive Prague on one hand, and the slow diminishment of Cambridge Don Max Morrow's hard line commitment to communism.

Max demonstrates how easy it is to be an intellectual communist in Cambridge, while Jan's slide from philosophy lecturer to prison and parasite balances Max's idealism with the reality of being the square peg in the totalitarian round holes.

David Calder is superb as Max and operates in high falutin' company, as Sinead Cusack and Rufus Sewall, as Morrow's wife Eleanor (and then daughter, Esme) and her Czech mate Jan, deliver performances of supreme quality.

Stoppard's handling of the complexities of communist idealism v reality coupled with intellectual versus cultural dissidence is incredibly adept - bolstered no doubt by Trevor Nunn's deft production. And it's a production literally underscored by the music of the title.

At one level, the play's something of an homage to Syd Barrett and the music of the Floyd, Stones and Grateful Dead - as well as Prague's own Plastic People - drives the action relentlessly to its life-affirming denouement.

The coruscating riffs are well timed to provide a change of pace from a dense script - but frankly the play flew by and I left the theatre entirely sated.....and ready for a late supper washed down with a large beer - Czech of course.

Consigned to history

So, that's an episode of my life that I can now consign to history.

For four months I had to sit on the knowledge that I'd won the Weakest Link and stew horribly about the how the edited version of my efforts would emerge.

Then, last Friday, the show was finally aired and I watched it with Jac and the kids, with the DVD recording dowstairs and a back-up VHS whirring away upstairs.

Overall, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. I looked balder and jowlier than I'd hoped - but that's a result of being 42 not 22. I had a cold when the programme was recorded back in June, and I sounded quite hoarse which, seeing as I really don't like my voice anyway - hardly helped.

I also pulled weird facial expressions when I answered questions - so it's definitely a career as a keyboard warrior not a TV personality for me in the future.

But....I won.

I've been a media wannabe for ever, and here I actually surpassed expectations and landed a prize. Okay, so it's a daytime TV quiz where the prize fund is definitely secondary to the banter with Anne Robinson. But I did it, and came away with a cheque.

Now there's absolutely no mystique or chance to rest on one's laurels after the event. The show's finance administrator wrote out my cheque while dispensing everyone's travel expenses. There's no trophy to take away or celebratory drink with Anne and the crew. It's a quick wrap, and I found myself on my own in the Pinewood film studios' car park.

It was a beautiful sunny evening. I rang home and my heart absolutely soared as I told Jac my good news and she relayed it to the kids. Rory's squeal of delight down the phone made it all so worthwhile.

Last Friday evening was nice: big hugs from Laura-Beth and Sophie; a couple of congratulatory texts, a few emails and phone calls - and a very nice bottle of Dom Perignon Vintage 1996 that we'd been saving for a while.

So, I've had my Warhol 15 minutes and now it's back to grim reality.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Funny old week. Stress levels have been quite high with work deadlines flying around and the dreaded 11+ finally coming around. Rory was calm, which is great, far calmer than his parents! Part two is next week - thankfully after Wednesday it can all be forgotten.

Yesterday was a huge flurry of calls and emails as projects came to completion.....which has left a quiet day today...too quiet.

There's stuff I should be doing around book keeping, around research for CiB and around subbing a long and complicated magazine article. But I can't get down to things. The reason? My appearance on the Weakest Link this evening.

Four months after filming the show, transmission has finally come round. I know how the show pans out and how far I get in it - but I'm still nervous. The crew filmed us for the best part of three hours - plenty of time to hang myself even when the show's edited to a shade under 45 minutes.

The filming's a bit of a blur now - but I'm sure I made a bit of a prat of myself (but isn't that the essence of the show?). I'm intrigued to see how all our contributions will be edited and am sufficiently vain to be curious as to how I'll look on telly - not great, I expect.

As a young journalist, I had a news editor who tripped out the cliche: "You've a great face for radio" ......... and followed it up with the barbed "and a great voice for print!".

Okay, so over the last couple of decades I've had a few forays into radio, but my screen presence is limited to one Granada regional documentary made in 1985! These days, I'm very happy to hide behind my keyboard - which makes tonight's Warhol moment feel rather excruciating at the moment.

Anyway, just under six hours to go....and counting.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Shrinking world

Just how much electronic communication has become the norm - and has totally revolutionaised the way we work - struck home on Friday.

I was working on two projects during a slightly elongated working day, both of which had originated in London.

With the movement of the key players involved, one guy was responding to questions via Blackberry from Prague. We worked just as swiftly as if he'd been in his London office, despite the fact he spent most of his day travelling.

When the other project started, both key players were also in London, but now the content provider's on the east coast of the US and the project co-ordinator is in Australia. The 15 hour timespan between us is a bit of a stretch but we can link up by phone or internet chat - and can collaborate on the documentation in real time. E-mail is now just so accepted as a working communication currency that none of us thinks twice about shooting messages around the world - and we work far more efficiently than losing thousands of hours each year stuck outside radio contact on planes travelling to meetings.

I started in communication 20 years ago - it truly was a different world.