Thursday, October 25, 2007

One size doesn't fit all

I really enjoy delivering training. Actually, I enjoy the whole process of assessing a need; building a programme that addresses that need and then working through that programme with people who will really benefit from it.

It's something I do from time to time in house with clients, and also through CiB. In fact, the next O2O course is set to run on November 21. Of course CiB is a not for profit - its courses are, in the main excellent, but they're inexpensive: generally coming in at under £300 per delegate for the day. The downside is that I don't earn a lot from those days - but I think they give me a certain civic sense of having put something back in to my profession.

But sometimes I'm a wee bit gobsmacked when I see what other providers charge.....especially when I'm left wondering how much they're tailoring the offering - or not - for their local audiences. Marc Wright from Simply Communicate dropped me a note recently inviting me to take part in the Advanced Writing and Editing Seminar he's running in conjunction with one of the chaps from Ragan. On the surface it looks a good deal - a tad under £1,200 for a two day workshop delivered by two participants.

But two things struck me. First: Marc informed me that 'Written communication is pretty lackluster at 90 percent of companies ....' - okay, a sweeping statement, but do I want to go on a writing course in London where the provider can't spell lacklustre? It smacks of a bit of lazy marketing: taking an American promo piece and just cutting and pasting it in.

Second: Marc informed me that this was the course for me if......

  • You’re new to corporate communications; this seminar will give you the tools to succeed
  • You’re a veteran communicator; AWE will give you new ideas, recharge your batteries, fix some bad habits and get you out of a rut
  • You’re struggling with communication of any kind; AWE is the place to get some real answers!

So, it's something for everyone......which, from my experience, means a poor compromise for anyone. I've got 20 years plus in the business, and don't want to be spending my time going slowly over the basics with rookie writers. And if I was a newbie, I'd want to work with my peers, not the seasoned to cynicals looking to recharge their batteries.

The best training I've had has always been bespoke or tailored for a particular audience. O2O is definitely for experienced professionals and if any newbies came my way I'd point them to something more basic. Courses like AWE leave me cold: I get the feeling that they're about cramming as many delegates in as possible to maximise the return. With comms training, one size doesn't fit all and heightens the risk of pleasing no-one.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Great idea - shame about the old news

Ragan sent me my first daily headlines today - whoopee - a daily round-up of all that's hip and happening in IC. The one that caught my eye was the new research giving the lowdown on the state of IC in the UK. Only one problem: the research is six months old and was first presented at the CiB Annual Conference in May.

So Ragan guys - many congrats on getting your daily headlines out......but you may have shot yourselves in the foot just a tad with your breaking news that's six months old.

We do have the CiB IC Index survey for inhouse IC professionals about to close....maybe some of Ragan's readers would like to contribute? There are just a few days left..... and I'm sure we can share the results with Ragan rather sooner after they're published than today's first effort.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Do a few things well

I've had no new work in for the last two days. Now, normally that would be a fairly usual state of affairs, but work has been non-stop since June, and it's actually nice to have time to lift my eyes from the screen now and again without the expectation of another phone call, meeting or even a vital email just around the corner.

Project juggling has been fun but tiring over the past few months, and has reinforced my underlying communication philosophy: whatever comms challenge you're faced with, the best response is to do a few things well.

In recent weeks, I've had requests around projects for new newsletters, blogs, websites, assemblies and even a picnic lunch. Most have been very well-meaning attempts to move an agenda forward, but most haven't been thought through. The emphasis has been on the event rather than on what it's trying to achieve.

So, in each case, I've gone back to the client with pretty similar advice:

  • Think audience
  • Keep it simple
  • Keep it focused
  • Use the comms tools that people already use; and
  • If you have to bring in a new tool, make sure it's one that your audience is happy to use.
  • The middle of a project is no time for grandstanding, and the most important communication isn't necessarily a knee-jerk response to those who shout loudest.
  • The communicator shouldn't be seen as the face of the communication - that has to come from the people who will bring whatever policy, change or advance to the business as their everyday role. As soon as we communicators are perceived as the 'voice', the message is already one step removed from the reality of the audience.
  • Whatever you do, make it easy to comply with the process - and ensure it delivers the right action for you. We don't communicate just to be heard.
  • Finally, don't do too much. Assess the outcome you want to achieve - and do a few things well to ensure you achieve it.

Funnily enough, the less can definitely be more message seems to have got through...perhaps that's why the phone hasn't rung today?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Several steps away from the board; working for HR or Corporate Comms....but the budgets are getting bigger

CiB are running a survey to gauge where in house communicators sit in terms of seniority, budgetary control and to look at the kind of work they're involved in. The survey's also looking at the relationship between CEOs and IC.

I've had a look at the early results, and while it's too early to draw too many conclusions, the function still seems largely split between Corp Comms and HR control; no-one so far is operating at board level, and there are a fair few loan IC-ers out there.

What's encouraging is that there seems to be more budget for IC than a few years ago and, most encouragingly, more budget as a proportional spend when compared with external comms.

The survey's set to run for a wee while yet, so if you haven't had a chance to complete it, why not give it a five minute whirl now?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Riding on the vomit comet

...If it wasn't for those pesky kids.

Among too many alpha males and females, domesticity plays second fiddle to earning the big bucks. I was delighted to step off that particular roundabout in 2000, but our lives since then have been a bit of a precarious balance of work and childcare as both Jac and I have shaped our careers to fit in with the needs of three kids. Sometimes, it doesn't take too much to throw everything awry.

My day somewhat imploded today with a call mid morning informing me that Laura-Beth my wonderful 13 year old daughter had thrown up on arriving at school and again shortly before the call. In such situations there's only one thing to do: drop everything, grab a bucket and head up to Aylesbury to collect number one daughter.

Now it's fair to say she looked both pale and slightly green when I collected her, and I was truly fearful for the seats in my car (newish to me, only a year old and with posh leather upholstery), but we made it home without any stomachery pyrotechnics - though L-B was not exactly talkative en route!

L-B has installed herself for the day in front of the TV - though my bright orange B&Q bucket has been called into action once or twice over the past few hours.

My visit to Northampton to the accountant has been postponed, and I had to pull out of a meeting at CiB's HQ which is a drag....and the odd phone call has been accompanied by some strange noises off....the sound of a teenager retching doesn't help a lot with telephone interviewing.

Hopefully it's just a bug, and one she doesn't pass on to the rest of Clan Shanahan. This weekend is a biggie in our year - birthdays for Rory and Jac, so more riders on the vomit comet are NOT what's required.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Beep little Sputnik, beep

For many, the space race began 50 years ago today. Okay, so purists may point much further back to Goddard, Tsiolkovsky and the like, and the Germans certainly launched a V2 well beyond the limits of space back in 1944. But history was made on the flat steppe of Tyuratam on October 4 1957 with the successful launch of Sputnik 1 - the world's first artificial satellite.

While the Soviets saw the launch - masterminded by the Chief Designer, Sergei Koralev - of the R7 carrying the 83kg nitrogen-filled sphere and its successful deployment in orbit as a scientific triumph, initially it was regarded as a side-of-the-desk project in the race to outdo American efforts to design and deploy nuclear ICBMs.

Putting a satellite into orbit warranted a front page piece in Pravda celebrating the Soviet success in this International Geophysical Year - but it was downpage and that first media coverage was actually quite understated. Clearly, the Moscow regime hadn't anticipated the impact that the beep beep beep from space would cause....

Across the rest of the world, Sputnik created a furore. For 22 days, millions tuned into the craft's signature radio signal. Red terror heightened across the capitalist world. If the Soviets could launch a satellite to fly directly over the US, they could certainly land nuclear missiles on Washington, London, New York and Paris.

Of course the Americans had to get into the Space Race quickly, and much to the consternation of their premier rocket designer, Werner Van Braun, the Navy's Vanguard rocket was chosen as the vehicle to deliver America's response to the Soviet threat (though not before Koralev's team had launched a dog into space on Sputnik 2). In December, the Vanguard rocket launched from the pad in Florida amid a blaze of TV lights and with the eyes of the world firmly fixed on it. It was all so different from the total secrecy surrounding Soviet launches - which remained secret until proven successful.

America's first satellite launcher reached the giddy heights of 17 inches, before crashing back to the pad in flames. It wasn't until 1958 that the US finally joined the Space Race with Explorer 1.

'57 was a bad year for American space endeavour, but a massive leap forward for space exploration. It will always be associated with Koralev's beeping sphere.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Getting the balance right

I came home buzzing last night following a two hour discussion at uni around who is driving globalisaton - and whether globalisation exists at all. What was the role of the state? Are they in thrall to multi national corporations? Is the north endemically bad for the south? Is it all the fault of US consumers? My group spans Asia, Africa, Europe and North America and the debate was lively. I was even sufficiently charged up to volunteer to open next week's seminar on the impact of the Bretton Woods Conference. Seeing as last week I'd never even heard of Bretton Woods, there's clearly something clicking in about the new MA work. I really enjoy it: it's what I want to do.

So it was hard this morning returning to the mundanity of work. Now none of my projects is mundane in itself, but there's a certain familiarity with corporate comms after 20 years in the business. The same issues arise and while the challenges are always a little different, there's a lot of repetition in what I do.

At the moment I'm being urged to stay involved in one project that I know I can't commit sufficient time to - and I've already knocked back an offer of some interesting work that time simply won't allow me to take on. One of my magazines is picking up speed - and that's always fun as it comes to life, while three other projects are all on the stove somewhere, and the trick is to keep them all cooking by keeping the clients active and the projects moving to a conclusion.

That's easier said than done and it's too easy then to fall into the trap of taking on too much new stuff to fill the perceived gaps. These days I'd rather keep pushing to ensure those already on the go reach their natural conclusion, and work to bring on one or two more a little further down the line. There's been too much famine or feast in this kitchen over the past few years. Now, with a chunk of time to hold for study for the MA, it's essential that there's always enough bubbling - and nothing boiling over.

Ok, well I think I've stretched that analogy well beyond its natural life....