Sunday, December 31, 2006

End of Year

So I suppose this is my end of year review part two....and it's funny to think that in parts of the world it's already 2007, while we still have six and a half hours of the old year to fritter away.

And that's exactly what we're doing chez Shanahan. It's a dark and stormy night here - so no prospect of first footing it around Risborough. The rabbits are safely tucked up for the night and there's a bottle of wine open and I'm merely doodling while my elder two children cook us an end of year supper.

This is the year when I became father to a teenager. L-B's currently making her own breadcrumbs while my 11 year old, Rory, is squeezing the living daylights out of several cloves of garlic. We're promised home-made chicken kievs with a side dish of risotto bianco con pesto in the next hour or two. I hope this is the start of things to come and I'm impressed and delighted that both the elder two like cooking.

Sophie has disappeared to the other end of the house - she's up to something....I'm just not sure what!

So goodbye to 2006 and all that. it has been a year when I've got far more involved in CiB and also the BBC's public accountability setup. I've stuck with rugby coaching after a couple of wobbles ....and even managed to win the Weakest Link and get selected for Mastermind in 2007.

Work has, frankly, been a bit of a coast and I've got to up the game in '07 - and really push into travel and history writing which both proved fun but ultimately not very productive this year.

With glass of Chablis in hand I wish good cheer to:

everyone who put some work Leapfrog's way in '06;
the guys who have restorted my faith in internal comms with some excellent entries to the awards I've been judging this last week;
Tom Jones for being a very gracious astronaut and encouraging in his review of my first effort in space programme writing;
the BBC Weakest Link crew;
two very kind Mastermind researchers;
a great family (who should, always, be first);
Oxford RFC;
Walt Cunningham for being the only Apollo astronaut I'm on emailing terms with;
Chuck Yeager for being gracious - if suspicious; and
Wycombe Wanderers for an amazing football adventure.

And I'll leave the dregs to:

Those wankers using Leapfrog's email address to spam in vain;
The double wanker who reversed into my front fence;
communicators who enter poor work into awards schemes;
communication dinosaurs who still believe the medium is all that matters;
Blair and Bush......great foreign policy guys.

Good luck, God bless, and may your feet go with you.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The write spirit

Today's the first quiet day after a week of frantic festive (and working) activity - but I'm rubbish at sitting around, so spent the last couple of hours judging entries for a business writing competition.

The winning entry is great - a serious subject tackled with a light touch and obvious flair. The result was a lot of practical information communicated very effectively - and supported by a strong and relevantly-humorous design.

There were several other strong entries in the category - and some complete and utter dross - all the more embarrassing as I know at least a couple of the writers.

I'm a workaday writer, but crikey, maybe I should be entering some of these competitions. I was judging entries on content, style, spelling and grammar, relevance to their audience and overall impact. 25 per cent of the entries in the category failed even to get half marks - who on earth thought these tired and cliche-ridden pieces were worth an accolade?

Perhaps we need a new category for the worst business features of the year?

Bah humbug....!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The magic of christmas

It's dark here, it has been foggy for a week apart from today - when it was merely gloomy.

While it has been foggy, the temperature has also been below freezing which has created some amazing spiders' webs on the trees in the garden.

I've been up on Bledlow Ridge where the fog and ice has created a really etherial atmosphere. Today ice was fallling like snow from the trees turning the road white beneath them on an otherwise dank day.

So, all in all, not very Christmassy - apart from Sophie. She's wandering the house today with sleigh bells tied in her hair and is excited as only a six year old can be at the thought of Santa visiting Princes Risborough.

This morning she wa giving her take on a few favourite Christmas Carols - including the new lyric: 'Ding dong merrily on high, the ding dong birds are singing gloooooooooooria, Susanah is a country'. Not quite the words I remember....

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A collective voice for internal communication in the UK

Tomorrow I'll be attending the last CiB Council meeting of the year, and it's set to be an important one as we discuss the direction the organisation must take if it's to break out of its circling pattern and emerge as the voice of internal communication in the UK.

Last month I chaired a meeting to look at membership and what the organisation must do to move from 1100 members (or thereabouts) to being a truly attractive proposition to anyone working in or around organisational communication who has a foothold in IC.

At the moment there are a number of organisations operating in the UK with a finger in the IC pie. They range from the commercial end - the likes of Melcrum, ASPIC and Simply Communicate, to IABC which operates in a very similar space to CiB and to everyone from CiM, through CiPR, the Work Foundation and IVCA who all want to own a little bit of the space.

Through its heritage, geographical reach in the UK and Ireland and through aspiration, CiB is well placed to take the IC high ground. Yet it has barriers to overcome to get there. The perception is that it's an agency organisation focused on craft skills. There's certainly not enough substance in the organisation to attract - and more so, to retain - senior communicators, and it's still too close to its roots in catering solely to those who have come into IC from external journalism.

CiB is still best known for its awards at regional and national level, and the majority of these still recognise excellence in media rather than in the enabling of organisational success.

But things are changing. At my meeting we focused on some 'must haves' for CiB to be credible as the IC expert organisation. First, we need to formalise accreditation. IABC has its 'ABC' accreditation - but it's a small organisation in the UK and lacks focus as to its clear purpose. CiB needs to build on its former certificate and diploma accreditation to offer an industry-supported qualification recognising proficiency (capability based) and then excellence in internal communication.

We need to recognise that the IC world has moved on - being able to write and edit does not necessarily make you a good internal communicator. Any accreditation will have to embrace the strategic end of communication - focusing on the 'why' before even considering the 'how'. We also need to be more savvy towards the impact of social media and recognise that communicating organisations are those where everyone is empowered as a communicator - not just those wearing the IC hat. We need to recognise too that IC has stepped out of its 'message manager' box too and that to be effective, it has to be wound through the organisation's people agenda and be a full player in financial and operational success.

We also saw a great need to build up a research base in IC. At present, CiB talks a good game, but too little is formally evidenced - that must change.

Third, we saw great value in creating new and powerful networks of communicators across communities of interest.

Our strength in this is that CiB is a 'not for profit'. The likes of Melcrum, Ragan and similar organisations do an excellent job in creating opportunities for communicators to come together - but their motive is profit. Fair play to them, but there's always the feeling that when you respond to a Melcrum e-mail, they see it as an opportunity to gain revenue. As a not for profit member organisation, CiB can be different - more independent; no axes to grind and no shareholders to please.

Turning round many decades of being an organisation for 'industrial editors' isn't easy - the perception battle is the biggest one to win. And doing it on volunteer goodwill and tiny budgets doesn't help. But the aspiration is there and momentum is building. Tomorrow's could be a very interesting meeting.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Fractured thoughts

It has been a fractured start to the week - quite literally - following on from something of a broken end to last week.

Chez Leapfrog looks none too festive at the moment, largely down to the fact that most of our Christmas decorations were caught up in the leak that has ruined several crates of my stuff in a storage depot.

We've been asked to leave the soggy, damp or water damaged goods in the lock-up until an insurance assessor has taken a look. Unfortunately that means I can't root through our stuff and see what's salvageable.

I know I've lost a ton of CDs, loads of copies of work from the last 12 years, hundreds of magazines that I've contributed to over the years and what could prove to be some important business records such as bank statements and financial records. But the only stuff that really matters to me are some family photos and the flippin' Christmas decorations - I guess just about everything else is replaceable, apart from the memories of 20 years' of family life.

Anyway, family life took a little lurch to the left yesterday as Rory attempted to stop a marauding Witney U11 forward with his collar bone. Unfortunately said forward was head down and driving through a ruck and unsurprisingly Rory came off worst.

So, instead of spending yesterday afternoon listening to Sophie singing at St. Mary's Christingle service, Rory and I were admiring the walls of A&E at the JR in Oxford for two and a half hours. Then it was back to the fracture clinic for another visit this morning.

A fractured clavicle is one of those really annoying injuries: painful, but little they can do other than stick one's arm in a sling.

It's, in every sense, a tough break at this time of year....but as I reminded Rory, a fracture's for Christmas, not for life.....!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Sergei Pavlovich Korolev

40 years ago, the key player in the Soviet Union's race into space died. Sergei Pavlovich Korolev - the Chief Designer - was brought back from the gulag to mastermind the Soviets' mastery of transcontinental and, ultimately, space rocketry. Working in conditions far more primitive than Von Braun and his German/American counterparts in the US, Korolev achieved massive success, launching Sputnik and following with Yuri Gagarin's first-ever earth orbit.

Balancing his desire to reach out to the moon and the planets with the expediency required to create rockets that could deliver the Soviet nuclear arsenal, Korolev also continually had to pull rabbits out of a hat for Khruschev to ensure the perception that the USSR led the space race.

Little was known of him until after his death. There's still not a huge amount written about him and his achievements in English. I'm no rocket scientist, and I haven't got an 'ology' to my name - but I need to learn as much as I can about Korolev (Koralyev) and his achievements over the next five weeks. I'm relishing the challenge - and if anyone can suggest good source material, please let me know.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tidal flow

Reviewing my business across 2006, it's clear that this year has been 'tidal'. Work has come in waves, sometimes making it hard to stay on my feet, and occasionally requiring a supporting hand from my associates to ensure Leapfrog rode a few of the bigger and more energetic waves.

But for every wave, there was also a period of backwash where we were able to keep paddling, but were very reliant on another wave coming over the horizon.

At the moment there's a wave building. Last week I was just about packing up for Christmas, but two projects have emerged this week, starting small, but with prospects of something bigger to fall out of them, and another has refused to die - needing some additional, and well reimbursed, work before finally heading from front of mind to top of archive.

The start of 2007 will be about filling those periods between the waves, and to that end, I've had two great meetings with complementary businesses in the last five days. Each does something different from what I offer, but both cross into Leapfrog's area - and both are looking for the kind of support I offer. So, fingers crossed for calmer water in the coming months.

Friday, December 08, 2006

History ends up in a watery grave

I've just been up to my storage unit to pull out some old work from my 'archive' (ok stack of crates of old client work).

When I arrived, I unlocked the door, swung it open and was greeted by a strong small of mould.

At first, nothing appeared out of the ordinary - I haven't visited the unit for months, and the crates seemed much as they'd always been.....until I got halfway down the stack. The outsdide of the crates were wet.

I unstacked them, and found that the last four each had about four inches of water sitting in them - all my stored examples of work, years of bank statements, some of my company records - never mind hundreds of CDs and all our Christmas decorations were either sitting in water, or heavily water damaged.

Our unit is on the corner of the storage centre, and it appears that water has been dripping in through a gutter seam and has slowly filled my crates - which are now awash with mouldy foul-smelling water!

How does one quantify lost work? And how can a loss adjustor assess it?

I guess I'll find out all these things over the next week or so.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What goes around comes around

Something over a decade ago, a large industrial client approached me to produce a guide to writing newsletters. The European end of this global business was made up of many constituent businesses and each was spawning its own communications - at that time, paper newsletters of all hues, all styles and vastly variable quality. The European corporate centre didn't want to stymie communication, but wanted to bring some coherance and consistency....and most of all wanted to demonstrate that there was much more to communication than the latest 'tick the box' project newsletter. So, what emerged a few weeks later was not a guide to writing newsletters, but a guide looking at needs, audiences and outcomes first - and then moving on to the 'how' later.

When I first set up my business website, an 'essay' version of the guide became one of my toolkit offerings. The emphasis had moved a little towards change communications, but the essential message remained the same.

This morning, another client contacted me asking if I still had a copy of the original guide (one of her colleagues had moved from client A to client B and they'd got talking etc. etc....) as she's facing that same proliferation of newsletters from all parts of her organisation. Some are electronic and others on paper - but it sounds like it's more 'tick the box' stuff.

I'm about five computers on from writing the original guide, and am not sure if I even have a copy. If I do, it's in a lock-up with the rest of the Leapfrog archive. But I was able to point her to what's on my website. If you're interested, but too lazy to hit the link, it's reproduced below. It probably needs updating now, but the sentiment remains.

So you want a new newsletter?

You’ve been given the job of communicating a major change, and your boss has suggested producing a newsletter. So what do you do next? Leapfrog’s advice?...........................

Now, let’s start again. You’ve been given the job of communicating major change. So what are the essentials you need to consider before you even reach a point where you decide on your communication mechanisms?

First of all, consider Why you are communicating What’s the need for the work you’ve been asked to do? Write down a few paragraphs of background to articulate this need and to provide the communication context.

Okay, you’ve got a general need, and the next thing to consider is who you are communicating with. Who are your stakeholders – and what’s the impact of what you want to say going to be on them?

Right from the start it’s important to realise that communication is successful only if it creates the right impact on your audiences, prompting them into the action you want them to take.
And what are those actions? Well, they’ll be based on your objectives. What do you want to achieve as a specific result of this communication?

Again, write them down – and try to limit them to three or four things that are achievable – world peace is a bit ambitious for the average communication campaign. The key is to link them directly to your organisation’s stated business objectives.

Objectives lead directly into success factors. What will success look and feel like if you get this communication right? To drag communication kicking and screaming away from accusations of being nebulous and distant from the business perspective, these factors much be quantifiable – and thus measurable.

So we know who we’re talking to and why – and what it will look and feel like if our communication is a success. Now it’s time to look at what needs to be communicated – your key messages. Step into your audiences’ shoes to focus on what they need to know – not necessarily what your boss wants to say - to achieve your objectives.

Look at prioritisation so that you focus your maximum effort on winning the awareness, understanding, buy-in and commitment from your prime influencers. Don’t waste your time on those who are easy to reach but do little to forward your cause.

It’s only at this point that you consider how you might reach your audience.

Make sure you’re aware of their preferences for receiving information and how they choose to share it.

Look at what already exists within your organisation and look for opportunities to tie into existing channels and mechanisms and share the load with other communication colleagues.

Define clearly the role of management through the line and, indeed of employees in any communication exercise. You may manage the communication channels, but your role is primarily to facilitate communication, not to own every piece of the jigsaw.

Normally at Leapfrog, we draw up a matrix with you at this stage, mapping kinds of messages against potential mechanisms to draw out what’s most effective for each.

You never know, the answer may even include a newsletter – though this is most likely to be a supporting rather than a primary communication tool.

The bottom line is that your communication will be far more effective if you’re prepared to invest time in planning it properly first. Then it’s a case of learning from what you do, and applying what you’ve learned next time round to ensure you get ever closer to your audiences’ needs – while directly supporting your business’ strategy.

copyright Mark Shanahan 2006

Monday, December 04, 2006


Most hits to this blog come from the UK and the US. I've got some regular Canadian visitors, and pick up the usual smattering from Russia, India, most of Western Europe and the far East.

There's a clear language barrier between English-centric blogs and Spanish-centric ones. I've had hardly any hits from Spain or Latin America - we seem to be operating in two parallel blogospheres, with fewer cross-overs than we should have.

I'm intrigued to know how organisational communication is managed in the Hispanic world - is it broadly similar to the Anglo Saxon models or is it more personal, more 'family' and more about individual relationships - the characteristics I've come across most in doing business in Southern Europe?

I'm intrigued too by my quiet visitors. Someone on a science park in Sittingbourne, Kent has become a regular and lengthy visitor. Thank you for your interest, and I hope you've found something useful.

I'm a quiet lurker on a number of other blogs too - perhaps I should be a bit more vocal on them, encouraging greater di- tri- and more-alogues across our screens and keyboards.

Keeping momentum

There are just two apples left on our tree; the skies are grey and though it's not cold, winter's finally beginning to bite. That generally means a slow-down workwise for a few weeks as our clients turn their attention to Christmas. That didn't happen last year when we had to get a proposal in on December 23rd - and I'd rather like it to stay a bit busy through to the festive period this year to ensure we finish in the black - dispelling the last memories of Leapfrog's awful 2005.

2006 has definitely been a recovery year, and it's finishing with some interesting projects. This morning I've been working on core communication documentation for a new start-up. They're all experienced people with time spent working in some top names and the job now is to make their new-start consultancy stand out from the crowd. It's challenging because there are ever more consultancies looking to support almost every area of the business cycle. All offer similar services and, in the end, it comes down to the client/consultant chemistry as to whether business relationships will be built.

That chemistry is so hard to get across on paper. I can play up their services; what they've done before and what they claim is different from the rest. But until you try it, you never know if it's for real - or merely words on a page. So, in effect, I've been crafting some elaborate calling cards today: whether they're substantial will be proven only once the 'callers' are invited in by their prospective clients.

Friday, December 01, 2006

What a hoot!

I'm going to be on the next series of the BBC quiz show Mastermind - recording either at the end of January or the end of March - specialist subjects so far being a football club and a soviet rocket scientist......third one to be selected, but I somehow doubt I'll get that far. Nice to know that I'm good enough to get on - but I doubt I'll get very far. Still, it's worth seeing how far knowledge a mile wide and an inch deep can get a person - even a serial wannabe!