Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I could have been a contender

So the realities of combining a busy work period with MA studies well and truly kicked in yesterday - alongside the slightly strange diversion of finally having my Mastermind show aired. I could have been a contender, in fact I was, but the chance for glory withered quickly as I rather mucked up my specialist subject: SP Koralev.

For the millions who didn't see it, if they had been handing out medals, I just missed bronze......sounds good 'til you realise each heat is a four horse race! Actually, if I'd have been on the heat shown last week, I would have finished second. But this time round, the standard was higher; I messed up two pronunciations on my specialist subject, and missed a couple of gifts on the general knowledge round. But that's what the pressure of sitting in the black chair under the spotlight does: realistically, I should have scored 21. My final score was 17. It was academic anyway as the lady who won romped home with 26 points. Still, my mum was proud, and rang me after last night's show to say I looked nice on the telly!

I only just made it home to see the show. My morning had been spent trying to advance projects on three fronts, while I attended my first lecture as an MA student as my globalisation module kicked in.

Work was frustrating. I'm about to hand my main summer project back in house - the original 15 days consultancy has been 23 so far but progress has been painful. We've made strides in some parts of the project, but mere shuffles in others. Too many meetings and not enough action, but this phase is finally coming to a close. It has the potential to be successful - but not if the client continues to rely on external consultants to deliver the outcomes. That won't happen: it has to be owned in-house.

While I've just finished one of my regular publications, the other is proving very slow this time round. It's not the client's highest priority, so isn't getting the push yet from in-house. It will - but occasions like yesterday when I had a telecon booked and interviewees from within the client didn't call are the bane of a small business' life. I was more narked about the fact that hanging around for the call that never came almost made me late for uni - and I was certainly too late to pick up my car parking permit, so I had to park miles away.

My first session at Brunel was an eye-opener. My course mates on this module come from Saudi Arabia, China, the US, Pakistan, the Ukraine, Russia, Japan, Poland, Nigeria, Ghana and Sheffield. It's fantastic to have such a global mix, though it's clear that there may be some difficulties in language and ways of working. How ironic that in starting to study globalisation together, we're not on a level playing field - though I suspect the intellectual high ground in our class may not reside in the G8.

My own concern is just how theoretical the course will be. I've spent 20 years in the applied world, and just getting my head around the language of theory is challenging.

Anyway, a busy day all round and I slept soundly last night. Too much work to do today to stop and think, before an evening flight to Dublin for the first of two trips this week....I suspect I'll be reading a lot about globalisation in the airport lounge....!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I blame it all on Anne Robinson

This week marks the start of a new way of working for me. More than 22 years after graduating, I'm starting on an MA in International Relations at Brunel University.

On Monday, I spent several hours with my tutor and some of my new colleagues. Those I've met so far are from China, the US, Iraq and the Caribbean - a suitably international mix in a very ethnically diverse university. Yesterday, the pro vice chancellor informed us that the university's 15,000-strong student body encompassed 112 nationalities.

As I worked my way through a seemingly endless round of queues to enrol as a student and get all my necessary permissions and paraphernalia yesterday, I talked to students from Iran, Turkey, China, Nigeria, Ghana, the US and Finland. Barring about three others spotted on the horizon, all had something in common - they're so young.

The majority of people enrolling yesterday were post-grads, but most had come straight from completing their undergraduate studies - so were mid-20s at the oldest. And there was a fair sprinkling of fresh-faced late teens embarking on their undergraduate careers - something I did a generation ago back in 1982......it's simply so last century.

So there's me: 43 years old and 22 years out of academic rigour. It's going to be a tough transition from my normal world of corporate comms and journalism to the gilded plateau where theory outweighs application.

So why am I doing it? Blame Anne Robinson, blame the BBC - I might even blame my kids.

I've always thought I was reasonably bright, but a woolly thinker. However, I've always had a head for facts and a pragmatic means of linking information. This led to me shouting a lot at TV quiz shows and ultimately to appearing on and indeed winning Anne Robinson's BBC quiz - the Weakest Link.

And that's where I peaked...and that's probably where I should have left things. But I didn't. Three drivers marked my next moves: first, to write seriously about stuff I enjoy; second, to indulge my TV-wannabeness and third, to find an outlet for my schoolboyesque fascination with the Space Race.

One and three started to come together - but it took two to provide a temporary purpose. I decided to start researching historical narrative pieces on some of the key anniversaries of the space programme, with the view of getting some pieces published and earning a little bit of money. I've had some small successes but not enough to put all the corporate comms stuff on hold. But this time last year, driver number two took over.

I applied for Mastermind and was selected as a contender for the 2007 series. That meant structuring my research on a particular topic - SP Koralev in my case, for two minutes in the famous black leather chair. The result of my labours will be on TV next week and, I'm sure, mark the end of my life on TV.

The show was recorded in March and its conclusion meant I no longer had compelling reason to read and study the history and politics of the cold war that had so absorbed me for the previous few months.

But it got me thinking that maybe I could expand my very narrow focus and put what little knowledge I have and the lot of interest behind it to good use. So, I came along to a Brunel open day, spent three hours chatting to tutors about everything from Khruschev's drinking habits to the Baltimore Orioles. That led to submitting an application form which, to my surprise, led to an offer.

Now, that offer is real, and I spent the early part of this morning reading an introduction to the competing theories of International Relations. It's a long time since I've dealt in theories, and it's really going to be a stretch this term to absorb what's a new field for me and to structure my own thoughts coherently around it. And, unlike most of my colleagues on the course, I'm doing it part time, while still attempting to work for up to 30 hours a week.

The new way of working - at least 'til Christmas - sees me in college on a Monday and Friday with most work squeezed into Tues-Thurs. It also sees a reading hour in the morning and evening every day - discipline that doesn't come naturally.

I have to say I'm daunted but excited too. Where it will lead to...well, I'm leaving that open. But I still reckon Anne Robinson has a lot to answer for.

Friday, September 14, 2007

In-house in IC - make your views known

The CiB IC Index survey is now live. If you're an IC practitioner, working in-house, make sure you complete it so that we can establish the latest trends in terms of earnings, budget and responsibilities for the current crop of IC professionals.

The survey's also looking for your views on your boss as a communicator - and on how the rest of your organisation views you.

So, grab a coffee and your mouse and get clicking here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Do you do, or do you manage?

I've been developing some survey material for CiB this month looking at trends in internal comms - and particularly who's currently involved in-house.

One of the questions fascinating me is around whether today's in-house communicators are actually doing the communicating or managing others to do it for them.

The trend across the board in organisations is to slim down and focus on core business. That means organisations employing fewer, more skilled people directly who are involved in the heart of the business, and outsourcing non core services to specialist suppliers.

I'm beginning to see this more and more in IC where the traditional in-house agency is being slimmed to one or two professionals. They haven't the time to plan, craft, disseminate and measure the impact of the corporate message day to day, so are becoming more and more reliant on 3rd party support to make IC happen. It's great for people like me - but does it mean that in-house communicators will merely become managers of the word, unskilled in actually bringing it to life?

Call me old-school, but I believe great craft communication skills should be the start point for any corporate communication manager. It's not enough to be able to sweat suppliers and bring comms in on budget each year. That way, blandness, dumbing down and poor communication lies.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see if this particular perceived trend is borne out in the survey findings.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Small boy, big blazer

Something of a rite of passage in the Shanahan household this week as Rory moved up to senior school. Money's now being bet on whether he'll grow into his new blazer before he wears it out - and the tie has already slipped down the shirt front, with the top button open after just two days as an upper school boy.
Sophie moved into the juniors at PRPS, meaning my Generation Ys are now at three different schools, providing the usual logistical nightmares when it comes to mornings, school events and non-overlapping-holidays. Of course, L_B didn't make the pre-school photo shoot. She's a teenager and had an extra day's holiday. So at 8am was still fast asleep. All credit to her though, she's first out most mornings and moved yesterday from six weeks of total laziness to being first up and dressed in the house.
So, with the most tenuous of links, my task today is to write about Generation Ys going into the workforce - those Millennials, born after 1980 who have graduated in the 21st century.
Quite different from my generation, they've grown up without first hand knowledge of the Cold War, Vietnam, the Falklands - and have virtually no knowledge of life before the Internet.
Few have ever known failure - though many have collected certificates for lower attainment success. Umbillically joined to their phones and lap tops they're truly the first electronic generation - networked to hundreds and used to living life vicariously.
Pampered by parents, protected from criticism by an education system built on praise, and most likely to have seen death and destruction only on PS2, the world of work can come as a rude awakening to a generation who've had to make few decisions for themselves. But they're our future - no, they're now.........and make a fun subject to write about on a Friday.

Monday, September 03, 2007

En France, il pleut

Well, in the middle of the Charente Maritime, where our rather lovely farmhouse was surrounded by acres and acres of cognac vines, maize and droopy sunflower fields, it absolutely persisted down for the first week of my holiday.

It's the first time for quite a few years that we've had a proper fortnight away with the family - and thank god the sun came out for the second week! Actually, when I managed to avoid the emails and the odd client call on the mobile (12 out of 14 days), it was a lovely relaxing break. The towns of Cognac, Saintes, La Rochelle and St. Jean D'Angely were walked the length and breadth of. We ate well from Aulnay to Ile de Re (especially in L'Escapade in La Flotte) and discovered just how much tax Gordan Brown has put on wine and beer when buying copious amounts of both liquid at 3 euros and less from the local branches of Intermarche and Leclerc.

Anyway, today was back to reality - more projects than I can shake a Gallic stick at; the approach of the start of my MA and the inevitable round of payment chasing from clients who owe me rather more than I have in the bank at present. Ah, the swift journey back to reality!