Monday, December 21, 2009

Summing up my 2009

The pace of work is dying down as we head into Christmas - I'm still chasing some case study material, but some of those I need to speak to have already clocked off for the festive season and won't be seen again at the end of a business phone line 'til 2010.

Like many, I'll be very glad when 2009 is over. Too many people have been far too euphemistic when describing this year's business performance. I won't: for me, right up to November, 2009 was pretty disastrous. My fee income dropped by almost half; projects that were slated never happened and others were slimmed down considerably from their original scope.

My business is now almost 10 years old but by about July, it was on life-support. I was offered, and very nearly accepted, a full-time role, but couldn't quite bring myself to throw in the towel. I'm glad I didn't. the 'role' became a project that kick-started some other activity, and while September-October were still pretty grim, the first signs of recovery reappeared in November and have carried on into this month. Clients I hadn't heard from all year reappeared, and the kind of projects that simply weren't happening in the first half of the year have just started to be talked about again.

The pipeline for January isn't great - but clients are making the right noises about some new projects, and I've had a couple of interesting conversations this month about potential link-ups with other small businesses in the New Year.

2010 has to be better than 2009 - quite simply for this micro-business because it couldn't get any worse!

So what have I learned in 2009? First, never again will I turn down any work. Since I started Leapfrog in 2000, I've had the luxury of being able to pick and choose the projects I've worked on. For much of the time, work has come to me and even when the pipeline has looked particularly thin, something's always turned up. Often I've been able to pass work on to associates or bring them in to work on projects under the Leapfrog banner.

At the start of 2009 I turned down a couple of projects I didn't feel were quite right for me on the expectation that I was about to start on a large piece of change work. That change work didn't come off, and the clients for the other pieces sourced the work elsewhere. Work for the next six months was either linear or non-existent. I filled the gap with working hard on my MA - and that resulted in a Distinction - but that should have been secondary to keeping my business going, not some kind of a justification for turning down work.

Second, for all the hype around social media, much of my best work has been around face-to-face communication. The lesson for me is that social media gives us new tools to get people talking, but they replace neither the existing communication toolkit nor the outcome-delivering-content we should be focused on.

I've worked with a couple of organisations battling to stay afloat this year. What has worked for them is having a clear set of values and beliefs; strong leadership and an ability to listen, learn and respond quickly. Some of the new social media tools have helped widen the involvement of the organisations in riding out the economic storm. But nothing has replaced the benefit that comes from a Board director putting the miles in on the motorway network to get around their branches and offices and spend high quality time with their people, talking through the issues the business faces and coming up with ways forward that everyone can own.

Social media will grow and evolve. It may well become a crucial part of the communications mix for many - but it's not a panacea.

My final lesson this year has been finding out who my friends are - the clients, suppliers and fellow independents who've been prepared to help keep me in business this year - and the few who've been oblivious to the plight of microbusinesses. On the plus side, I'm heartily grateful to my accountant for delaying his invoice; to my book keeper for dropping her fee; to the agency which paid ahead of terms and to fellow freelancers who put leads my way. I've less time for the couple of corporates which moved their payment terms out to 60+ days - and were still late paying; to the largeish agency which suddenly adopted a 'pay-when-paid' policy (after agreeing to my T&Cs) and still won't pay and to the other agencies that just stopped talking - I can think of three that haven't even been bothered to reply to emails for the last six months. I know times are tough for everyone, but for communication businesses to stop communicating is a pretty poor show.

It has pained me that I haven't been able to put out work to other people this year, and it has pained me more to see good people disappear from our industry. I hope 2010 will be better for us all.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Bit manic, no panic

Last week I was contemplating a gentle glide into Christmas. How wrong I was: more magazine stuff has come my way than expected; I've delivered a strategic summary on a firm's three year plan and worked on the first tranche of case studies for another. I now have 230 pages of technical copy to edit by Wednesday plus a training session to deliver - and then more case study work to come. Oh, and my first internal PhD conference to poster-present at on Thursday.

Sorry, no time for Christmas at the moment.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Today, I am the Master....

Yesterday I got my MA result - I got a Distinction, the highest award possible. I was absolutely delighted - I still am - a mite surprised, and very proud that the last two years of hard work have produced a personal achievement way ahead of anything I've done academically before.

We celebrated last night with a bottle of champagne - not the greatest idea on top of my incipient cold. Today I'm trying to write, with gaps in the information, a quiet hammering in my head and regular sniffs holding me back a bit.

Now my challenge is to work my new Master of Arts in International Relations into my day job. The two years to date at Brunel have opened up my horizons - I hope the formal qualification will open up some new opportunities too.

Monday, November 16, 2009

There are a thousand meanings for 'yes': a lesson in cultural awareness

I've had a meeting blown out through what amounts to a classic cultural disconnect.

At the moment I'm doing a small piece of work for a company with an AsiaPac office. We had a meeting and a follow-up telecon last week at which I specified a few actions that needed to happen on the client side to move the project along. At the meeting, everyone agreed with the proposed actions, we divvied them up and set a touch point for today to check in on progress.

The AsiaPac guys seemed enthusiastic, made all the right noises and nodded their heads vigorously when actions came their way. Their English was excellent......and I assumed they understood what was needed of them.

Lesson 1: never assume

The alarm bells rang just a little on Friday when the follow-up telecon became a repeat of the previous meeting. instead of moving the conversation on, we seemed to be covering the same ground. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to this week's meeting where we'd be able to share the results of everyone's actions. Except the meeting has been postponed - and no actions have actually taken place.

Apparently, the AsiaPac guys hadn't really understood what I and their EMEA colleagues were asking them to do. But to have said so in the meeting would have been a huge loss of face. So every time they were asked to support an action or to let us know whether they understood or agreed with what we were asking them to do, they just smiled and said yes. Clearly, we hadn't made our case well - but our colleagues were too polite to point this out.

My EMEA contact who cancelled the meeting today told me that after the meeting and on the flight back, his AsiaPac colleagues had got into an argument over what was required of them: there were two distinct camps with opposing views and neither was prepared to back down. The result was, that when they were back at base, they did nothing. It's culturally not in their make-up to ask for help - especially from another office, and actually more acceptable to put their collective heads in the sand and wait for resolution.

Lesson 2: patience pays off

Picking up on what had most probably been happening, my EMEA colleague has spent several long telephone calls over the weekend taking his colleagues through the plan again, checking their understanding at every point; getting them to play back exactly what their role is and setting a revised deadline for action. Without being rude, he hasn't accepted the 'yes' responses at face value, but has continued to question, check understanding and build confidence. I've learned a lot from him in a short space of time.

Just because it's a western company, we can't impose a western outlook on employees with very different cultural values and working practices.

Our next call is for a few days' time: I'm going to be much more tuned-in to the nuances behind every 'yes' this time round.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Will the market change forever?

Apparently the first green shoots are appearing in the UK: house prices are inching up, unemployment has peaked and the demand for talent is beginning to increase. But I have to say I haven't felt the uplift yet in organisational communications. I'm sure it will happen, but I suspect what will emerge is a leaner, more professional model where more of the key work is handled in-house. The impact on the food chain that feeds off the big organisations will be marked. I suspect many businesses will be fighting for survival. Strangely, I don't think that's a bad thing.

In the boom years, I noticed a new breed emerging in my specialism: internal communication. Many great managers moved into senior in-house IC roles. But what they were great at doing was managing. What it meant for me and people of my ilk was that we had a say in developing these organisations' communications strategies, and once the comms strategy was in place, these managers were content to outsource much of the delivery of that strategy to external partners. The demand on in-house folk grew which meant the function grew too - as did the amount of work pushed out into the food chain.

An awful lot of 'communication' happened in a lot of organisations - some great, some pretty dire....and a lot that really was 'nice to have' rather than necessary. Every new project had a team and a campaign around it; every little initiative fought for share of mind......and those of us on the delivery side did very well thank you very much.

The last 15 months has been very different. First the hatches were battened down and nothing happened. Then organisations realised they needed to communicate their way through the financial crisis and called on their in-house teams to up their game...but cut the cost.

The result has been a fundamental shake-out in internal communication. For the first time in a decade or more, in-house teams have been asked to 'do the do' rather than relying on external expertise to deliver the goods. The poor performers have been found out and moved out of key roles, while those we always knew were good have shone - taking on the end-to-end process from helping to shape the business strategy to feeding the media channels directly. Sure, external people have been involved, but fewer; and doing only the things that really can't be done by the in-house team. Frankly it's something I'm also seeing in IT, in HR, in fact across all the centralised functions.

Those teams who do have the skills have really proved their worth - and there's a direct correlation with the organisations who are riding out the recession best. Look at an organisation where employees are engaged; where the brand is secure; where the direction is well planned and where leadership is clear and you'll undoubtedly find some great internal communication. Meanwhile managers who've been content only to manage have found IC a very tough place, and many have left their organisations.

The interesting part is that some have joined the ranks of agencies, consultants, micro-businesses and freelancers battling for an overall smaller pot of good IC work. As a pool of talent we're currently swollen. The high quality performers are there, but there are a lot of 'me too' practitioners around as well. And with a squeeze on budgets from within our client organisations, coupled with many new entrants prepared to work for less, there's a growing tendency for clients to commission solely on price rather than insisting on the right fit/best quality/optimal solution that we were getting to back in 06/07.

In some ways (he says through gritted teeth), this isn't a bad thing. Some consultancies and agencies were certainly charging ridiculous rates a couple of years ago - there were similarities to the worst excesses of management consultancy days when consultancies were happy to sell us our own watches so we could tell the time. So a euphemistic 'price correction' is probably overdue. However, the squeeze is rippling through the food chain to a point where there's a real danger that 'low bidding' wars will pull down the standards across IC and lead to some very good practitioners moving out of organisational communication, and some very poor work being delivered. This threatens to damage the already fragile reputation IC has built up in recent years.

Actually, I'm already seeing some move back in-house when the opportunities arise. There is a demand for highly skilled senior practitioners who can talk to the top team in their language and deliver the goods in a way that's truly engaging to their stakeholders. But I'm also seeing long-standing independents moving on completely - I now know a teacher, a trainee lawyer and a property developer who were all very solid IC pros less than two years ago.

So what kind of market will we see in 2010 and 2011? Increasingly, in-house teams will be more senior, better skilled but also leaner. They'll have to get to grips with Web 2.0 and release their tight grip on 'owning' communication since the emerging tools will democratise communication across organisations more than ever before. There will be a greater need for compliance driven from the centre, but also a greater need to really upskill line management to be communication leaders. We've all talked about it for a long time. Now it must happen.

Where in-house teams are staffed by skilled practitioners, they simply won't be allowed to grow big budgets any more. So there will be a greater focus on identifying what will drive the organisation forward and building communication into those drivers . A lot of the unnecessary stuff has disappeared already. It won't be back for a while.

There will still be a demand for external services, but it will be more focused on specific skills (social media; line management coaching; the comms end of cloud computing are just three areas where externals should be sharpening their skills) with less general demand for the extra pairs of hands. As external suppliers, we'll also have to deal increasingly with Procurement teams rather than the direct client. Initially this may drive down cost further, but longer-term should actually up the game for supplier who will have to justify costs through the value we create much more comprehensively.

A world-wide financial crisis has placed IC centre stage: a key resource for helping to ride out the storm. As a function, IC has been battered too, though the harshest effects have probably been on suppliers who've become too dependent on the bigger organisations for too long.

We'll never return to pre-2008 days, and if externals want to thrive in the upturn, we need to be as lean, as focused and as able to identify and deliver value as any of the upskilled internal teams we'll be supporting. It's going to be positively Darwinian out there.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Calling experts in procurement, net reps and the world of paralegals

I'm getting caught up in researching the next issue of Badenoch & Clark's Connections at the moment, with a slew of articles to be written.

Today (and tomorrow) I'm looking into the future of paralegals in the UK; a piece exploring the role of the Procurement function in business today, and a piece on how seriously employers take net reps both when it comes to hiring new staff, and also performance managing their existing staff. A nice varied bunch then, and I'd love some good input.

So if you have a view, post a comment or contact me at

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Germany calling...or calling Germany

I'm researching two Continental-Europe focused magazine features at the moment - one a business profile of the German city of Frankfurt, and the second a focus on the prospects for financial services as an employment sector across Europe.

Of course the nature of the beast now, both with recession still biting and so much information electronically 'on tap', is to research and write the pieces from wet and windy Buckinghamshire. But what will really bring them to life is talking to some credible figures on the inside to get some primary source information, opinion and comment. I'll be googling and doing an information trawl over the next day or two - but if anyone has any good ideas or wants to participate, please do get in touch.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Will the last one out please switch off the lights?

I got my first expression of interest in the O/O Assessment this morning which is great. But what was far more salutary was the fact that out of all the people I emailed with an outline of the service, a shade under half bounced back - or elicited a response that the person I'd mailed no longer worked for the organisation I'd sent the information to.

None of my 'targets' was a totally cold call: these were organisations I'd worked with before or people I at least knew through the CiB/IABC/Melcrum networks. While I'm sure some people have simply moved on from one organisation to another, it seems that IC has contracted pretty drastically in 2009.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Stop, think and focus

Over the past year I've sen most organisations batten down the hatches on organisational communication, pulling what work they are doing back in-house and focusing only on getting through the day to day challenges. It has been tough all round: many teams have dealt with significant redundancy programmes in their organisation while themselves being cut to the bone. Other challenges I've seen have included managing the communication agenda of leadership teams that have become more directive and less inclusive - and the consequent difficulties in maintaining employee engagement. And every organisation I've worked with has faced the daily challenge of having to do more with less to reach targets that are ever more difficult to attain.

In some notable cases - and to their great credit - the in-house teams have thrived, taking on work they would normally have outsourced, and rediscovering the skills and passions that initially drew them into organisational communication. But, a year and more down the line, everyone's tired and many communicators are running close to empty.

In any recession - and I've been through the last three (arguably four) - employee communication is an easy cost-cutting target. Leaders make the right noises about communication and engagement being a massive priority, but then cut back on budget and resourcing anyway. It's tough for the team stuck in the middle of the maelstrom to keep on delivering, and doubly tough to remain focused and objective on whether what they're producing is delivering the outcome the business actually needs. The issue is not just to deal with today's challenges, but to ensure that the organisation is in the right shape to met the different challenges it will face when the upturn kicks in.

And here's the dilemma many organisations are facing: at the moment, calling on external consultancy support simply isn't an option - it's seen as too costly and wasteful - and against the spirit of the organisation in managing costs and preserving internal roles. However, now is exactly the time when organisational communication teams could benefit most from a fresh, experienced pair of eyes to assess how their communications are performing and how well aligned they are with the needs of the business.

Over the summer, I worked for two organisations on quick diagnostic projects - the aim was to stop, think and focus. It was about making small course corrections rather than reinventing the communication wheel. The object in both cases was to look at the business strategy; do a deep dive into what was being done in terms of communication (through desk research and 1:1 interviews with key communication influencers) and to feedback through a highly interactive senior workshop. The feedback session became the basis for an action plan where senior leaders took responsibility for the necessary aspects of course correction.

The sessions were really effective. As an outsider, I could give objective feedback, pulling no punches, and detail where communication was and wasn't working - and why. Once issues were out in the open, the internal teams worked at developing solutions that could be delivered inside the organisation - not by pricey external consultants.

I refined the process over the course of the two projects and now am confident that it's works and is replicable and scalable. One project was for a sizable business and the other for a division of an organisation. In both cases, the key was identifying actions that could be acted on by the existing in-house team within their budget using existing resources. In both cases, I worked on the available budget my clients had - it was well below what I would have charged in the good times, but I knew i could still make the figures work for me - and deliver something very beneficial for the client.

Talking to a couple of Leapfrog Associates last week, we began calling the proto-service 'Austerity Consultancy' - somehow it fits the times.....but isn't the most saleable name. Now I'm driven in my communication makeup by a focus on outcomes over outputs, and realised that this is what this service is all about. So, austerity consultancy has become O/O Assessment - a process to ensure your communication outputs and planned business outcomes are aligned.

My mantra on business communication is only to invest time in those things that will actually drive the business forward - it's about understanding the impact of what you do and being able to measure that impact. And in this economic downturn, it's about doing a few things well.

If you're interested in finding out whether O/O Assessment could work for you, give me a call or drop me an email. It's low-cost, low risk and could really re energise your team to focus on what really matters to your might even save you a few ££ along the way.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sod's law

In the midst of mailing out details of a new Leapfrog service the Yahoo mail server has crashed...once again.

When it comes to technology, I'm NOT having a good week!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Is the new blood coming through?

I was talking to someone at CiB this morning about a training course I'm planning to run next month and then again in January. To be honest, the bookings are slow and if they don't pick up we may combine the two days into one in the New Year.

I've worked with several training providers over the past two years and all are saying the same: bookings are down and some events simply aren't running.

What struck me most is that CiB had to postpone its Communications Foundation course in September - a very good offering aimed at those new to the industry. The implication was that there simply wasn't a lot of new blood coming through this year.

For me, that's a real worry. If IC is to climb the business agenda, organisations need to maintain their talent pipeline. Of course that can be tough in an economic downturn, but it hardly helps businesses prepare for the upturn if they're neither recruiting new talent nor developing those at junior levels. I know what my experience was in my early career when my employer was not prepared to invest in me: I walked to an organisation that was (Nationwide!).
Frankly, organisations who are just battening down the hatches now and cutting back on the 'nice to haves' (Yuk!!) of development and communication can probably kiss their top comms talent goodbye as soon as business conditions start to improve.

While my mantra on employee communication at the moment is to concentrate on doing a few things well, organisations should not lose focus on developing their own people - not least their communicators.

In this case, my next course isn't too relevent as it's about going freelance, but there's a lot of good training, at more reasonable cost than ever, to be had out there. It's massively short-term thinking for organisations to slash development budgets. Surely this is the time for training providers and employers to come together to define and deliver 'product' that meets the needs of both sides?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Are your comms outputs aligned with your business strategy?

I'm looking to pilot a new employee communication business service and need the help of one or two organisations in return for more than a 50% reduction on my normal (already cost-effective!) fee.

Over the summer I conducted a couple of 'quick diagnostic' projects where I went into an organisation, assessed the way they communicated with staff, and produced a report to help them move their employee comms agenda forward. In one case, my involvement with the business was just four days. In the other case, eight.

I have to admit that what has emerged as the O/O Report process started off as an off-the-cuff activity. however, it quickly evolved as it went along and I've spent the last couple of months tightening it up into an eminently repeatable process.

I'd now like to offer it to other organisations. But to build up some positive word-of-mouth for it, I'd like to get one or two endorsers - and will be happy to take these organisations through the process at less for less than half of my normal daily rate. All I'm asking in return is that if you're happy with the service, you'll be prepared to provide a testimonial.

I'm fully aware that budgets are really tight at the moment and most organisations have next to nothing to spend on external consultancy. Fair enough: this piece of work is all about focusing your communication activity on those areas that will deliver the best outcomes for delivering your business strategy. I'd wager that in every organisation it will identify cost savings that will absolutely dwarf any money you spend on Leapfrog.
In terms of how O/O works, it's about a close look at:
  • your business strategy

  • your employee communication strategy/rules/channels/media/tools

  • how you involve your people

  • key influencers and their part in the communication process

  • senior team involvement
  • This is a very interactive, intensive process and the key output is your O/O Review and follow-up action plan.

The USP of the service is that it's a quick but deep external insight with all planned actions tailored to your particular size and style of business. Essentially it's all about bringing a highly-experienced fresh pair of eyes to your organisational communication challenge and finding a way forward that you can act on quickly, easily and without additional cost.

Interested in finding out more? Contact

Leadership 2.0 - reassuringly back to basics

Speaking at Melcrum's recent SCM Summit in London, 'Undercover Boss' Stephen Martin presented his 10 10 Tips for communicating to employees during and after the recession. Now apart from the 'to' employees rather than 'with' them, I was very taken with what he was proposing:

His top 10 are reassuringly straight-forward and common sense. They're about creating as many opportunities for conversations as possible; about involving people in getting their business out of recession rather than imposing change on them; about narrowing the us-and-them' gap between management and the workforce, and using front line supervision as your communication bridge and keeping on communicating whatever challenges CEOs face.

The interesting part is that there's no mention of Web 2.0. Martin may have had the tools at the back of his mind when he came up with his top 10, but they weren't the key to effective communication.

It's great to hear about the new tools and techniques for improving organisational communication, but too much of the online conversations among communicators is an endless debate on how we can justify these tools rather than a concentration on the fundamentals. The new tools are great - but are useless if we don't get the basics right. Let's not allow them to become the Emperor's new clothes.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Nick Griffin and the power of free speech

I've got a lot of time for the BBC. Auntie Beeb gets a lot of stick from all sorts of quarters, but by playing the impartiality card last night on Question Time, the broadcaster showed how the power of free speech was a force to expose the hypocrisy of bigots.

Nasty Nick Griffin, the oleaginous leader of the vile and odious race-based British National Party took his place on the panel of the venerable political Q&A. The show has been attacked today for:

a) allowing Griffin his hour in the zeitgeist; and
b) focusing all but one of the questions on his party and beliefs

Hundreds of people protested about Griffin being allowed on the programme, but I'm glad he got to sit there, slightly sweaty and with the mild panic of a man who's realised he's naked in a room full of strangers. To deny Griffin the chance to be questioned by the voting public would have been shameful. If we stop a right wing politician, do we then do the same to the left? Where do you draw the line...and wouldn't that line get ever closer to the centre?

No, I was glad to see Griffin exposed for the petty, small-minded, narcissistic, racist, outdated and outmoded individual he is. He fared badly. Bonnie Greer ran rings around him. The politicians of the three main parties should have too, but were too busy being on message and party-politicking to kick at the easy targets Griffin provided. Oh for a Tony Benn or a Michael Heseltine to focus in their laser-guided barbs. Griffin would have been mince-meat.

Huhne did ok for the liberals, the Conservative speaker was an obvious choice but not a strong one, and Straw for Labour was weak, muddled and dissembling.

Within minutes, Griffin was toast - but burnt far more harshly by the audience than by his fellow panelists. However, Griffin was made to look a fourth-rate politician by a second rate crop of political opponents.

As for the questions, well those who say they were too BNP-biased miss the point of the programme. I was in the audience for QT when it last came to Oxford - and an almost equally obnoxious 'politician' George Galloway was on the platform. We were all asked to submit a question beforehand and the producers chose the best to pitch at the panel. The questions reflect the mood, and subject choice of the audience. Speaking to someone at QT producers Mentorn today he acknowledged that all but a very few of the questions submitted last night were aimed at Griffin. QT is a case where the audience decides the direction the programme will go.

Griffin earned his place through his party's performance at the European Elections. It was nothing more than a protest vote in an election that very few in the UK felt mattered to them. The BNP's success will not be repeated at the UK elections in 2010. He may feel that all publicity is good publicity, but last night's exposure has made many more people aware of who Griffin really is and what he stands for. I'm with the guy who said he'd like to give loathsome Nick a one-way ticket to the South Pole.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Soundtrack to my day

Busy editing website copy for a client this morning - a task I simply can't do in silence. So, my working soundtrack so far this morning has been:

I've enjoyed all three, but the Manics stand out. I think it's a really underrated album - possibly a dark horse for album of the year?

Anyway, back to work - but what to play to keep the (working) tempo up 'til lunch?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Perception is reality

I commented on Rachel Allen's blog recently on how the perception of a 'communications consultant' is different from being simply a business or change consultant. I've been called all three on projects in recent years, and while my role has been largely the same - and the actions I've taken have been around improving communication within and beyond those organisations - my standing, and indeed my remuneration has been higher when I've kept communication out of the title.

I did a project a few months ago where I was asked to improve communication: the assumption was I'd clean up the intranet and probably launch a new ezine. Actually, the conversations within the business proved far more interesting and soon evolved into recasting the style of leadership from one of command and control (probably necessary in a start-up) to something more collaborative and inclusive. It demanded a huge change in communication - not in the use of formal tools, but in the way management operated. The demand was for more openness, more inclusion in decision making or simply explanation when harder leadership was called for.

It was an interesting experience, and all the more interesting when the leaders forgot I was there with a 'communication' hat on, and started talking to me quite simply about how they could improve decision making in the business and move the mindset from a public service ethos to something much more commercial. They may well change some of the formal tools, but by parking 'communication' as a transactional experience, we delved more deeply into the real drivers of engagement and business evolution.

Communication is at the core of this, but by positioning ourselves as the 'communication professionals' we still tend to be marginalised: given the task of finding the best way to package the message once the decision's been made. It's easy to get wrapped up in the tools of communication - especially in how business should embrace social media. There's a danger in this in that the tool becomes the raison d'etre. Chopping the c word out of the conversation can actually drive to the heart of the issue far more quickly and effectively - and enable us to demonstrate our expertise.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

All about balance

Having had a quiet September when I slowly slipped into my PhD study, work has really taken off this month, with new projects, leads about projects...and even a few old projects that won't go away. I'm dying to really spend some time digging into the research, but haven't got time because I'm too busy earning some money to enable me to get cracking on the research.

In the end it'll all be down to balance - making up for a tough business year means work has to be the priority - and there's now finally some good stuff out there. University will have to come second for the moment, with my concentration on getting the compulsory stuff out of the way this side of Christmas so that I can get to the meat of the study in 2010.

The head has to rule the heart on this one.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

And the wait goes on...

I'm supposed to be putting together a briefing pack on a client's strategy this week and was promised the strategy document for first thing still hasn't arrived. But there's no such thing as a day wasted here. So after tweaking a couple of other copywriting projects, I've been sorting out the collected detritus of the last nine years of Leapfrog and chucking out accumulated notes, background documents, drafts, flat plans, proofs and the rest. In fact I took a car load of recycling to the dump this lunchtime.

It turns out I've written for or edited around 40 different print titles over the last decade. Some have been one-offs or campaign specific, while others have had a far longer life. 3M's Impressions and Europa, Forte's Forte First, Barclays' Catalyst and G-Force, Diageo's Guinness Globe and CMS Cameron McKenna's Solve all won awards. But the weird thing is that only Solve is still going - and having been taken over by an external agency, only one issue has been published this year.

There's definitely a gathering pace within organisations from print to electronic for employee communication, and a move away from the traditional format to more social-media-driven platforms. But I've never been able to read a good intranet in the bath and I still like the space and pace of a print publication. I'm actually all for keeping the traditional employee or client print publication - as long as there's a demand from the audience for it. Communication works for me if it's supported by the right horse for the right course. But magazines are something I've always personally felt comfortable with. I really like work that blends magazine writing into an organisation's corporate communication strategy. It's different from straight journalism and demands a greater knowledge of, and feel for, the business of the client company.

I'm in the market for a new magazine writing/editing opportunity. So, if the strategy document doesn't come through in the next half hour or so, I might just start putting a few feelers out.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Thoughts on the jailing of my former RE teacher

This is meant to be my business blog, but sometimes things happen that transcend the spurious barrier between business and the rest of our lives and are simply too important not to comment on. I have an example today. Earlier this morning I was alerted to the fact that my old RE teacher from 30 years ago was jailed for eight years last Friday for sexual offences against young boys.

The reports of Fr. David Pearce OSB's jailing range from the Sun's typically Rotweillerish 'Devil in a Dog Collar' approach to the Independent's somewhat more considered and rounded report....although it too opts for the rather lurid headline.

Reading the reports immediately took me back to St. Benedict's where I spent seven pretty good years between 1975 and 1982. Pearce arrived on the teaching staff about a year after my arrival as a pupil. He'd previously been Maurice Pearce and had been an army dentist before studying for the priesthood. If my recollection's right, he'd been a pupil at St. Benedict's back in the 1950s.

While the press reports point to his charm and guile, and several commenters on the Sun article point to his wisdom and humility, that's not the man I remember. My recollection is of a 'Cheshire Cat' - a beaming wide, white-tooth-filled smile that was rarely reflected in his eyes; a vanity that expressed itself in naked favouritism towards those who indulged him, and a slightly cruel sarcasm reserved for those who, I think, saw through his insincerity.

He could turn on the charm for parents and teachers alike, and as one of the school's monastic community, was respected by all the adults around him - perhaps respecting the monastic robes more than the man within. But there was something strangely malevolent about Pearce's personality. This morning I realised that this was not just hindsight talking: as pupils, we'd quickly built up a folklore around this new teaching priest. Very early in his time at the school he'd earned the nickname 'Gay Dave', and it was pretty much an unwritten rule among us boys to be wary of him. He did invite boys for tea and toast in his teaching room, though my recollection was that this was small groups, not individuals. Clearly he was smarter than we thought at hiding the nastiest side of his character.

I was never subject to any physical abuse from Pearce, although have occasion to remember the only time I was ever called alone to his room (all senior teachers had a private study). By that time I was about 16 and had a streak of belligerence that would have put any teacher off trying anything on. I'd written a pretty childish essay attacking the hypocrisy of the Catholic church. He awarded me 0% and tore the piece up in front of me. I guess there's something deeply ironic in there somewhere....!

It would be easy to say that my memory of St. Benedict's is now tainted. To find out that there was a predatory paedophile at the school during my time as a pupil is quite shocking, though in hindsight, the pieces fit. If anyone on the staff at the time fitted the profile, it was Pearce. Yet somehow, in an era when corporal punishment was the norm; when total obedience to whatever a teacher ordered was simply the way the school operated and when, perhaps, we as boys were simply more tolerant of a harsher educational regime, it was clearly easier for the bad apples to exploit the system. As far as I know, no-one in my circle was abused by Pearce - but then again, I can't be sure.

Pearce's offences were not deemed to be on the most serious end of the paedophile scale, yet one wonders if this man who led a totally duplicitous life for 30 years or more has actually revealed the full extent of his crimes. I simply don't buy the theory that he committed only 10 offences over three decades, and I suspect there are many more former pupils still too ashamed to come forward.

I never liked him; I'm glad he has been judged for his crimes and I hope he dies in prison. It is just such an awful shame that he was allowed to get away with so much for so long. It is all the more shameful that the monastic community protected him and still seems reluctant to condemn him.

Yet my school years were not tainted. I received a superb education at St. Benedict's, benefiting from teachers who had all the right passions, opening the world of English literature and history to me particularly and infusing me with a love of education that has never died.

Pearce is a deeply flawed individual; there are undoubted flaws in the way the Catholic church operates; and there were many aspects of the education system in the late '70s that would never be tolerated today. Thankfully, the vast majority of us thrived. It's just so appalling that a few suffered at the hands of this evil individual who exploited all the advantages of being a teaching monk so vindictively.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

If this is globalisation...

...then I don't think I like it. Check out this Whopper of a Burger King promo. Very expensive, high production values and a surface balance. But is it not also extremely patronising - and is it even anywhere close to the best example of American culture to impose on the rest of the world? Just another demonstration of how globalisation actually seems to be the imposition of Ameri-centric neoliberalism whether it's suitable or not.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The new business drive starts here

I'm using today's lunch break to deliver my MA Dissertation to university - the final piece in the MA jigsaw that will bring two years of International Relations study to an end.

Of course, the studying doesn't now stop: far from it. I'm starting a PhD pretty much immediately investigating the relationship between NASA and the media during the US/Soviet space I know what I'm doing with my life for the next four years or so.

What it means is that I need to get my working life in stricter order too. It has been a bit ad hoc over the last year and now I need to get a rather more disciplined balance between work and study. Doing a PhD in a niche nerdy field is's not the stuff they hand out big scholarships for, so I'll be funding most of the research myself. That means earning decent sums, which means planning my work time a bit more carefully. That's generally anathema for a freelancer, but is going to be necessity for me.

I've decided that I'm not going to pitch for any more consultancy work that's going to take more than a couple of days a week or where the project's for more than three months. I will take on short, sharp, discrete projects - and actually think that's where I bring most value anyway.

What I will look for is more regular writing work. One of my regular magazines shrank from four to three issues this year and was planned to shrink further to two next year. Now I've learned that it is 'on hold', and plans to revive it look more than a bit iffy. I'm not too badly affected as I've got a mix of writing for print and for the web on for the moment that's going to keep me pretty busy in the short-term, and a number of training days planned in too that will at least pay the mortgage. But it would be great to get one more steasy, regular piece, preferably a b2b magazine where I can really play to my strengths. Now the MA work is out of the way, I can get back in the game a tad more seriously and interest editors and comms managers in what I have to offer.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New issue of 'Connections' now online

I've just noticed that one of the publications I enjoy writing most is now up on line. It's produced for Badenoch & Clark - a major recruitment business, and I write most of the content. I think I like it particularly as it covers issues relating to people in business rather than being too overt a marketing tool. Key to this is having a range of contributors to interview, the very large majority being beyond the business. It's a bit more of a subtle approach than continually trumpeting how good the business is. Anyway, you can check it out here.

One point worthy of note is that it has reached issue 10 - and has continued right through the recession. In fact, the circulation for this issue is higher than ever at 38,000. It's great to see the client has kept faith with marketing/communication and seen the benefit of the publication.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Going Freelance course: November 17th, MK

I'll be running my session on going freelance again on November 17th in Milton Keynes. It's aimed at anyone with the urge for semi-detachment from the corporate world and is being offered through CiB. Here's their blurb for the event.

Introduction to freelancing: pitfalls and possibilities for communicators thinking of taking an independent route

Thinking of going it alone as a freelance communication professional? Whether you've always dreamed of being your own boss...or your current bosses are helping you grasp the opportunity, there's much to consider before you take the plunge. Experienced freelance communicator Mark Shanahan, who set up his business in a downturn almost a decade ago, will take you through all the necessary steps you'll need to take to get up and running.

This interactive session will enable you to consider whether you're the right kind of person to thrive outside the in-house environment; walk you through the options on how to trade; look at the practicalities from office accommodation through tax to finance and family and give you the insight you'll need to avoid the common pitfalls that afflict too many first-time freelancers.

Outline for the day:
10am-10.30: Introduction: why it makes sense to consider freelancing including who's who and aspirations for the day

10.30-12.00: what you need to do before you take the plunge: researching your market,your unique selling point, building your networks, finance, kit, office accommodation, family support, freelance temperament, structuring your business

12.00–13.00: networking lunch - share your plans and build your network13.00–14.00: implications of being freelance, pricing structures, billing, tax, pension/insurance/expenses, winning business, terms & conditions, personal development

14.00-15.00: Common pitfalls – cashflow, changing relationships - in-house to supplier, isolation

15.00-15.30: Making it happen - your action plan Round-up and close

All sessions will be interactive and the aim is to make this as much of a working conversation as possible: it won't be chalk and talk!
Location: Milton Keynes

Cost: £315 plus VAT

About the tutor: Mark Shanahan began his career with a three year stint on Which? magazine, before joining the PR department at Nationwide Building Society in 1989. He subsequently held communication management roles at Barclays Bank and the Forte Hotel Group and has been a director of Leapfrog Corporate Communications for the past nine years. During that time he has worked on major change programmes within Diageo and Orange and has also worked with a wide range of private and public service communication clients, including Aviva, the BBC, Northamptonshire County Council, UBM and United Utilities.

To sign up or find out more details, click here

Monday, September 07, 2009

Internal comms = internal journalism? Never!

Had a good conversation this morning with a former colleague who is struggling to convince her new employers that internal communication is not internal journalism. I've always been of the opinion that anyone who thinks that internal comms is about journalism is in the wrong job.

My take is that with my journalist hat on, I know I can go in, get the information I need, write to the angle I want to pursue and get out quick knowing I don't have to speak to those people again. Internal comms is very different - we become the mouthpiece for the organisation with a view to building engagement - therefore there's no opportunity for, or benefit in, stitching people up, and the angle is determined by/with the subject, not the writer. Therefore I'd always say the keys for any internal comms professional to a good internal business feature are:

* Agree the desired outcome
* Know the business context
* Put yourself in the reader's shoes
* Don't editorialise
* Make sure the interviewee voice(s) comes through strongly
* Understand where the piece fits in the overall comms plan
* Ensure the reader has a clear route to find out more.

In the end it's not about us sounding good as writers: it's about achieving a business aim. Being able to craft a fantastic piece is actually secondary to it being fit for purpose as a tool to move the business forward.

IP address 84.65.211

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Back in the saddle

I got back yesterday lunchtime from two and a bit weeks in the US. Having not slept for over 30 hours, I finally crashed just before 9pm last night....and was consequently wide awake at 4.30am this morning! I didn't think it was supposed to work that way coming west to east??

Anyway, so far this morning I've sorted out some banking, responded to a few business emails and re-read some dissertation material. My disso's due in at the end of this month, and while it is in draft and I've already revised parts, it's going to take up more or less all non-working hours over the next few weeks.

No major panics on the work front while I've been away - and indeed a couple of new opportunities to mull over now I've returned.

Jac's now up too - could this be the new way of working - 5-6am on a Saturday morning?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Could be a long week

It's just over a week now 'til I go on holiday, but the pace of work shows no sign of slackening off. Two magazines are still on the boil, with a corporate presentation and a web site review now in the mix as well. One slightly longer-term project is all but finished, but one that's been bubbling on a low heat for much of 2009 is now beginning to sizzle. Whereas I really didn't want to get involved in it this side of my holiday, it now looks as though it's going to demand at least a couple of days input from me before I head for the US. Added to that are a couple of update meetings and a new business meeting, plus a whole bunch of stuff to cover for university.

I have to say, it's all good.....and I'd only be moaning if I wasn't busy!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Dog days

Florence and the Machine are currently belting out 'The Dog days are over' as my working soundtrack - but here's it's a battle against August's dog days, trying to get a number of projects finished, while most of the rest of the working world seems to be at the beach!

July has probably been my most profitable month this year (though that's not saying much!!) but a number of projects are carrying over into August. Now the fun and games revolves around catching people either before they've headed for the airport or just as they come back - and in neither case are too many prioritising taking calls from journos or signing off copy! Still 'tis all good fun.

The one annoyance - and no time of year is any better or worse than another - is those people who promise to call...and don't; or promise to be at the end of a line...and aren't. Life's hard when you're a low priority!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

And the Tweet goes on

I'm a little behind the times, but found Anu's comments 'Twitter may what?' very interesting. Shame they didn't spark more debate.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Twitter while you work

Interesting: I've both been asked to write about Twitter recently and to advise an organisation on the benefits (or otherwise) of using it as part of their communication strategy. The business thinking of using it is still getting to grips with its intranet which has become a rather vast and rather unmanaged repository for lost documents (Sharepoint gone wrong!), and I'm minded to tell them to concentrate on getting that particular platform in order first before latching on to this year's 'must have communication accessory'.

Some organisations are clearly making the most of Twitter - Virgin Media's experience appears good - a great collaborative tool internally, and a way top build advocacy externally, but I still wonder if it has legs as a business application in the long-run. A year ago we were all talking about how Facebook would revolutionise the world and only a year or two before that blogging was the only place to be. In the end these are tools, not solutions in themselves. We need to engage with ever wider, ever more layered audiences, so a social media strategy is a must. But pick a few things and do them well: and be prepared to back the new runner each year - be flexible enough to change horses.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Normality strikes

Working at 10pm on a Sunday night - normality in my business world is striking back! Perhaps I'm a green shoot?

Friday, July 10, 2009

How Twitter will change the way we live

Worth looking at Steven Johnson's piece on the Twitter phenomenon from this week's Time - thanks to Scott Neilson for sharing it......on Facebook.

All power to a tool that's opening up and extending the conversation - but let's make sure we listen as well as tweet.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Email bounceback

I seem to have a sporadic problem with emails sent to me from this site - a couple of people have reported bounceback in the last couple of days, and I've just done a test to myself which appears to have disappeared into the ether!

So, if you have an all-consuming desire to send me an email, please send it direct to

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Who's using social media best for resourcing?

I'm on the hunt for examples of organisations who are using social media really well as a core part of their resourcing strategy - not just the ones who post on job boards or have a corporate blog, but those who have built a resourcing strategy that's actively delivered - at least in part - through a web 2.0 platform.

Loads of organisations are dipping their toes...and some appear to be drowning. Indeed, one wonders if the HR community should be tweeting, blogging and all the rest about their business at all?

I'm after some case studies - so if you have any ideas, please shout.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Two ears, two thumbs, eight other fingers

Over the past year, the more events - especially presentations - I've been to, the more I've noticed the bloggers and tweeters in my midst. And how rapidly they're propelling themselves from the back of the room towards the front.

Now initially, I thought blogging conference presentations was a great idea - a fantastic way to spread the speakers' words to a far wider audience. Twitter seemed a very good option too: capturing that nugget of great thought and sending it into the twittersphere. But now I'm not so sure.

Thinking about it, how is it possible to really listen and learn while trying to keep up a running commentary? Isn't there a danger that you simply reflect at the most superficial level rather than really locking onto the nuances of what any speaker has to say. It struck me most recently when I had a blogger and three different Twitterers feeding back on the same presentation. All had a lot to say, but little of their opinion actually converged. I didn't get much sense of the speaker - just what these people had to say...and that was less than useful.

Equally, last week I was in on an event where lots of people were blogging away. When it came to questions at the end, none of these people had anything to ask. Had they really been listening properly? What's the point of a live event if there's no live interaction?

I guess I'd rather people listened, digested and then fed back.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

One small step

I've been formally offered a place at Brunel to study for a PhD, beginning in October. The letter arrived this morning, and I've been grinning ever since. At this stage though, the PhD work remains an elusive dream, just out of reach, as there's no funding attached to this offer. That comes separately....I hope. I've applied for an Isambard Research Scholarship which is a competitive process so there's no guarantee that my application will actually attract funding.

So, while my feet are firmly in the clouds this morning, I need to wait 'til mid August to find out whether I've secured sufficient wonga to take up the place this year.

Whatever happens, the funding won't be enough to enable me to give up this corporate comms lark yet. If all goes to plan, I'll be working three days a week and studying two long days and probably two evenings a week. In fact it won't be too much different from now - some weeks I'll be working six days plus, and others will be dominated by research. I'm really up for the challenge, and I think it'll help both sides of my career.

Anyway, one project interview already done today and three more people to tap into. I'd better crack on.

Monday, June 22, 2009

No smoke...

It'll definitely be a lively week this week. I'm planning a workshop for one client - and still completing the research that will sit at the heart of the exercise, while also picking up speed on the latest issue of one of my regular publications. So I'm here and keenly researching information at the moment.......but am working against a VERY strong desire to get back into bed.

Yesterday was busy and I flopped into bed dog-tired just after midnight. Then, at 1.25am all hell broke loose as our two very loud, very piercing smoke alarms burst into life. (More than) momentarily confused, I raced downstairs thinking the burglar alarm had gone off. Only when I saw that all the lights were green did I realise that we might have a fire and that I should probably be escorting the kids from the house and ringing the fire brigade. Anyway, weirdly, shutting the kitchen door immediately stopped the alarm. There was no smoke, no smell, no blown fuses and all seemed ok.

For the next half hour, Jac and I checked every device in the kitchen, office and living rooms to try and figure out what had happened - with no enlightening result. So it was back to bed with a mystery on my mind. Jac was soon sound asleep again. Me, the worrier, lay there tense, waiting for the alarm to go off again. I finally drifted off some time after daybreak......only to be jolted into Monday by the 6.45 sound of the Today programme.

The coffeemaker's on overtime this morning.

Monday, June 15, 2009

It's what you say, not what it looks like...or is it?

Had a good old healthy ding-dong with a client this morning over how to structure a presentation. He's from the school of 'let's get all our charts together and weave a story around them'.

I come from the opposite school. For me, a good presentation is built on a good story. I like to work with the client to find out what outcome they want to achieve: who they're speaking to, what they want to say - and what they want people to hear. Most of all, it's about what they want their audience to do as a result of sitting through their presentation.

My preference is to script the presentation first and then find the right imagery to add power and amplification to the key messages. As a consequence, if an image, a chart or a sea of bullets aren't adding anything, they don't go in.
Far too often speakers put all the emphasis on making the slides look pretty rather than on what they actually have to communicate. And far too often the result is death by PowerPoint and a lost message.

So my client today sent me half a dozen PowerPoint presentations with the missive: 'Pull the key points out of each of these and weave them together into a coherent order...' - which frankly gave me pain through to my teeth.

So we backed and forthed over a few emails and a phone call and, like in all good business relationships, reached a compromise. We've now talked through the story and agreed the key points to communicate. I've got a sense of the audience and how the piece has to play with them - but I'm still expected to incorporate about 30 PowerPoint charts. I reckon people will absorb two or three, but that we'll need to use about seven images in total to underscore the messages.

Now we'll have a bit of an iterative process as I open with seven, he expects 30 and we'll each haggle our way to somewhere in between.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

For inspiration: Meet the British

Looking for a bit of inspiration for a creative way to present a fairly staid finance business, I came across a great little programme that aired on BBC 4 last night. Essentially a collation of 'Ministry of Informatiojn'-type films made to 'sell' Britain overseas from the 40s to about 1980, 'Meet the British' is an absolute gem.

Not sure it has given me the inspiration I need, but the research has been fun...

Monday, June 01, 2009

The heat is on

Spent most of this morning working through a fairly dense narrative document. Absorbing work and now, a good few hours on, I realise just how hot it is in here. In climatology terms, today is the first day of summer, and for once it's living up to expectations - I think I'm actually going to have to turn the aircon machine on....on June 1st! Last year I used it only once all summer.....

Working is falling into a more normal pattern now, with fairly full weeks and a bit of a pipeline building. All good after a dire first third of the year. Anyway, I must stop dripping on my keyboard (yuk!!).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bedtime in my Blackberry

Is our life divided into work and non-work portions and does modern communication mean that we can never switch off from the office? It's an interesting thought and one Lucie Mitchell picks up on the latest HR Zone's Editor's Blog. A recent survey showed more than half of all respondents working on their laptops or crackberries not just at home in the evenings, but in bed. Now frankly I've got to draw the line somewhere, and that line's firmly drawn at the foot of our stairs.

I'm as prone as the rest of us to read and send emails late on a Sunday night - but I do so from the office PC....which just happens to be in a room off the back of the house. But nothing is so important that I'd even contemplate a bit of keyboard action while propped up on my pillows!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tweets from Birmingham

I wondered if anyone would be tweeting from the CiB conference - and lo and behold, Jill Wedge @jillwedge is....and there are other updates on the CiB website.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Press pause

An odd day today. I'd initially expected to be working on a new contract this week, but it's all taken a bit longer than any of us would have hoped to come together. It'll get there soon, but it has meant a rather re-arranged week.

Anyway, the void was supposed to be filled today by an urgent copywriting piece. "It'll definitely be with you Thursday, and you'll need to turn it round straightaway," said the client, "as the website needs to be signed off by end of play Friday."

So, I've sat here through the morning; done my admin; twittered and frittered a bit, drunk three cups of coffee and played email ping pong with the client. Apparently the brief went to the US office yesterday and they're having 'further thoughts about the overall concept'. So, I don't expect I'll be bashing out any copy any time soon on that particular piece! The question now is can I charge them for the time they insisted I put aside on their behalf? Probably....but I won't as I like working with them.

It's a shame I didn't find out a bit sooner, as I'd almost certainly have bagged a late place at CiB's annual conference taking place in Birmingham. While I wasn't exactly grabbed by this year's agenda, it would have been good for a bit of networking and to check the IC pulse.

This is the last year that CiB is combining its conference with its awards shenanigans - definitely something I've argued for over a number of year - and I suspect next year's conference will be all the better for not being merely the pre-event for a boozy awards night.

Anyway, bills to pay, paper to file and more emails to ping and pong. Better get back to it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Really pleased....

...with the latest issue of Connections, the magazine I write large chunks of for Badenoch & Clark.

The paper version of issue 9 is now on the streets, though its electronic sibling won't be posted on the web site for a wee while yet.

The design has undergone a major revamp and now feels all grown-up....much more in line with the content which is probably significantly more serious (though in a positive way) than when the magazine first launched a couple of years back.

Most of my work at the moment is away from magazine writing, so it's nice to see something tangible popping through the letterbox, showing my kids that there is sometimes an end result to what I do!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

World economics today....explained with the handy use of cows

Thanks to my mate Nicky in Thailand for this very simple, but effective insight into the last 200 years of economic modelling...


You have 2 cows.
You give one to your neighbour.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and gives you some milk.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and sells you some milk.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away...

You have two cows.
You sell one and buy a bull.
Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows.
You sell them and retire on the income.

You have two giraffes.
The government requires you to take harmonica lessons

You have two cows.
You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows.
Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why the cow has dropped dead.

You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.
The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more.
You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you with nine cows.
No balance sheet provided with the release.
The public then buys your bull.

You have two cows.
You go on strike, organise a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.

You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called 'Cowkimon' and market it worldwide.

You have two cows.
You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.

You have two cows, but you don't know where they are.
You decide to have lunch.

You have two cows.
You count them and learn you have five cows.
You count them again and learn you have 42 cows
You count them again and learn you have 2 cows.
You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.

You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you.
You charge the owners for storing them.

You have two cows.
You have 300 people milking them.
You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity.
You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.

You have two cows.
You worship them.

You have two cows.
Both are mad.

Everyone thinks you have lots of cows.
You tell them that you have none.
No one believes you, so they bomb the **** out of you and invade your country.
You still have no cows, but at least now you are part of Democracy....

You have two cows.
Business seems pretty good.
You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.

You have two cows.
The one on the left looks very attractive.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

If only all jobs paid like this....

Ok, so it's on the other side of the world.....but for A$130,000 per hour, I'd relocate! (It's nearly £64,000 per hour, by the way.)

Internal Communications Manager
Company: Talent2
Location: Sydney Metro, NSW - Australia
Rate: A$130,000 (per hour)
Description: This is your chance to be at the forefront of developing a comprehensive internal communications program for this highly respected financial services organisation. Reporting to the HR Director, you will be pivotal in the development and delivery of...

So what's internal communication for?

There's been an interesting debate among Melcrum's linkedin corporate communicators, to which I've pitched in my tuppence worth, arguing what internal communication is actually for. It was picked up, in a bouquet of flowery language on Melcrum's blog stating that the camps are split between strategy and engagement.....hmm, don't they roll into the same bag of business tricks?

Anyway, the debate's worth repeating. So, minus identities to protect the innocent, here's how it has played out so far. My contribution's number 15.

What’s the aim of Internal Communications?

The person setting the question writes:

I've been running a poll here on LinkedIn, asking "What's the single most important aim of corporate Internal Communications?" And the responses to date have been:

1. I think it depends on who's asking the question. I might be a wee bit cynical, but I think the aim of internal communication for senior management is to exchange actions for words and pretty images, clever events and funky videos. I'm sure that internal communicators have far loftier aims, but for me it's not engagement (too ill defined as a concept and to do with the job rather than the organisation in any case). So I think I agree with you - communicating strategy would get my vote.

2. With respect, I think you're missing the point. It has to be productivity (or if you allow me to change your limited list of options ... I'd have productivity, quality and reduction in corporate risk and resulting losses as my answer! Not as snappy, admittedly). If comms cannot prove impact on the bottom line ... it becomes irrelevant as a function. In so many businesses IC is toothless, fluffy and cannot demonstrate its worth. Why strategy? ... to improve productivity, quality and reduce corporate risk and resulting losses . Why engagement? ... to improve p, q and re c l; why inform? to ... etc

3. But , what if the strategy was not to increase productivity, but to say increase market share? If IC is aligning all comms to increase productivity, then surely the internal comms team would not be meeting business aims...

4. I first became an Internal Communications Manager in 1988 and despite its various reincarnations since then I still think it's fundamentally about developing integrated, mutually supportive comms channels with the aim of helping employees embrace management messages and management embrace employees' feedback. You can't achieve this without obtaining input from all the key stakeholders and considering the context (cultural and operational) for the communications - the platform for all of this is the strategy. Oh yes, and I was 10 in 1988, honest.

5. I'm yet to come across a business that wants to increase market share, that does not need a focus on productivity. Take your point though ... meeting broader strategic aims could be the conclusion. IC could be very important in reducing productivity ... take the global car industry! I am trying to agree with myself and you at the same time!

6. being able to communicate mutually exclusive propositions, is some say, at the heart of being a good communicator ;-)

7. For me, IC and employee engagement strategy and solutions should build and strengthen the company brand from within; increasing engagement, productivity and profit and reducing employee turnover. Not much to ask of us is it?

8. I think the answer is that there isn't a single most important reason... I tend to tell people that there are five main reasons: - Making people stay and feel great about staying - Getting people to work harder on the right things - Getting people to say the right things about you - Getting people to support and see through change - Keeping to the law. Within all these is implicit that we're there to help a business or organisation succeed... I bet I've missed off something important...!

9. True, though I think we could safely put all of those in the engagement bucket though Liam. It is of course an artificial exercise - in real life there's never a single reason for anything. I still think it's interesting to think of the engagement/productivity/strategy axis though and which point is really the most important in the triad.

10. I don't think you can put them all in the 'engagement bucket' - working better? sticking within the law? embracing change? Sounds like you have a wide definition of engagement? Unless you mean that communications at work has no value unless it happens within the context of an engaged workforce? I'm not sure if you can imply any conflict or polarity between productivity/strategy/or engagement - that would only be possible if there was any exclusivity between the concepts, which there clearly isn't.

11. There's not a conflict between the points but a synergy with focus on one as opposed to another.Thus, in this conversation I think we seeing different focus on either HR and people centric comms or on business strategy centric comms. These are different approaches, though obviously in the real world an enterprise embraces both, so there should not, at least ideally, be a conflict here at all.

12. This is a critical conversation. Defining a mandate & mission goes a long way towards making sure that we are making valuable contributions to our organizations. My two cents: Internal communications' 'aim' is to support the strategic objectives of your business. IC does this by effectively managing the tools and talent needed to create a clear line of signt between business objectives and individuals' day to day work. That can be done by executive messaging, creating opportunities to communicate, managing and facilitating conversations in the organization, and promoting the techniques and tools that can make everyone more effective communicators.

13. Day to day in any organisation many decisions are taken, many milestones achieved, some successes, some failures too are faced. The job of IC is to bring to focus all of these and give it a perspective or backgrounder. In large organisations, senior management is unable to engage with everyone on a one-on-one basis and that’s where IC pitches in. According to some surveys, an engaged employee tends to stick more to the organisation as s/he feels that s/he is important to the company and that’s why the company is trying to explain and share information with them. Intra-employee communication, again in very large/geographically spread out organisations, is according to me a very very important role of IC. Also, in these types of organisations, information tends to get bundled in silos, here again IC plays a role by sharing experiences, which lead to learning. So broadly speaking I’d say Internal Communications rests on these 4 pillars – inform (top down, peer to peer), share/engage (peer to peer, management to employees), retain (sense of belonging) and learn (from experiences of others).

14. I tend to agree that Internal Communications is about performance improvement and implicit in that is the notion that employees need to be linked to corporate goals and objectives. If we, as communicators, are able to link each employee to the corporate vision - the rest takes care of itself. Nicky

15. For me, it's about enabling the organisation to do what it does better. IC is not an end in itself, and nor is engagement.

16. Mark - you are spot on. Engagement is simply the means to acheive the organizational goals. It's a critical one I grant you as human performance improvement is something akin to nirvana for businesses. When companies practise effective internal communications they financially outperform those that don't with 29.5% increase in market value and 50% higher shareholder returns. The aim of communications should be to support the organization in acheiving its goals.

17. Earlier this week I attended a very interesting debate in Brussels, with Dr. Liisa Välikangas (Helsinki School of Economics) and Dr. Charles-Hampden-Turner (University of Cambridge) about creativity and innovation. From this debate came the view to consider an organisation as a flow of ideas, rather than people. This view, however, causes a conflict of Managers ruling vs. Ideas ruling. People tend to think that they own ideas, but Liisa Välikangas points out that ideas own us. Ideas can divide or bring people together. In todays economic downturn, the flow of ideas to foster innovation is more important than ever to achieve economic upturn. Democratic Innovation, where everyone has the right to innovate and come with ideas, is more important than ever. Therefore, I would say that the aim of today's Internal Communications is to FACILITATE THE FLOW OF IDEAS, while making sure that corporate messages and values do not form an obstacle to this. "We should not tidy up knowledge and innovative ideas, we should pass on!", Dr. Charles Hampden-Turner added in the debate quite rightly.

18. The aim of internal communication is to ensure all noses are pointed in the same direction at all times. This should be organised in such a manner that a sharp turn to left, right or any other direction can be done swiftly.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Training course: Introduction to Freelancing

I'm running a new training course for CiB on May 14th covering the pitfalls and possibilities for communicators thinking of taking an independent route.

Here's some of the blurb:

Whether you've always dreamed of being your own boss...or your current bosses are helping you grasp the opportunity, there's much to consider before you take the plunge. Experienced freelance communicator Mark Shanahan, who set up his business in a downturn almost a decade ago, will take you through all the necessary steps you'll need to take to get up and running.

This interactive session will enable you to consider whether you're the right kind of person to thrive outside the in-house environment; walk you through the options on how to trade; look at the practicalities from office accommodation through tax to finance and family and give you the insight you'll need to avoid the common pitfalls that afflict too many first-time freelancers.

Outline for the day:

10am-10.30: Introduction: why it makes sense to consider freelancing including who's who and aspirations for the day
10.30-12.00: what you need to do before you take the plunge: researching your market,your unique selling point, building your networks, finance, kit, office accommodation, family support, freelance temperament, structuring your business
12.00–13.00: networking lunch - share your plans and build your network
13.00–14.00: implications of being freelance, pricing structures, billing, tax, pension/insurance/expenses, winning business, terms & conditions, personal development
14.00-15.00: Common pitfalls – cashflow, changing relationships - in-house to supplier, isolation
15.00-15.30: Making it happen - your action plan
Round-up and close

All sessions will be interactive and the aim is to make this as much of a working conversation as possible: it won't be chalk and talk!

Location: Milton Keynes

Communication re-emerges

As ever, when work kicks in there's little time to blog - and the pre and post Easter period has seen work kick in with a vengeance.

There seems to have been an awakening across industry that communication won't happen if people aren't making it happen, and that they can't make it happen if their budgetary hands are firmly lashed together.

As well as some pretty full-on deadline-driven research and writing this week, I've also had more enquiries in the past 10 days than in the previous three months combined and for the first time this year I'm having to knock back some work.

While we're still some way from the upturn, the better organisations are realising that they have to start getting their ducks in a line to be competitive once the cycle turns and economic recovery begins. That means engaging with their now lean, core teams and focusing on where they want to be in six and 12 months' time. The corporate paralysis is ending, and that's bringing about more opportunities for micro-businesses like mine to get back on board with clients again.

Too often organisations focus all their communication energy in a downturn on saying 'no' and on those losing their positions. It can create a hugely negative environment. Some of my work now is on focusing one business on what it can do- even on a hugely reduced income - and the steps it can take to keep its key people motivated. The top team are perfectly aware that if they treat their people badly, the ones they can't afford to lose will walk as soon as they can. By treating them well in a tough environment, they're investing in their future loyalty.

The market's still fragile, but the opportunities are there to be grabbed.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

If e-newsletters could talk....

I certainly hope they wouldn't sound like this - but I know too many that do.........none of mine of course!!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Making comms integral to business strategy

I've got a '10 top tips' piece in this month's Communicators magazine from CiB that bears repeating here:

10 top tips on making internal communication integral to business strategy

Internal communicators have a tough job in tough times – helping to engage people across the organisation in getting the job done, often against a backdrop of shrinking budgets, job cuts and everyone being asked to do more with less.

Many communicators haven’t experienced a recession before, and aren’t clear on how to bring the best value to the businesses they serve. But by focusing on business outcomes rather than communication outputs, they can demonstrate real value to their organisation – both in keeping engagement high, and in preparing for the upturn.

Here are my ten top tips on making communication integral to business strategy:

1. Understand key business drivers Make sure you understand where your organisation is heading; why it has chosen a particular direction and how it plans to get there. That way you can tailor communication to provide direct support for the strategy.

2. Understand the people drivers Know what makes people get up for work and keep coming back and make sure you know how communication can keep them engaged.

3. Recognise that there’s only one business strategy Your communication plan must be a recognised part of that strategy. If you’re operating in parallel, there’s far more room for a disconnect.

4. Internal Communication is part of the business planning process Long gone are the days when a decision is made and then we communicate it. Make sure you and your team have a voice at the business planning table.

5. Create a compelling narrative Work with your senior team to create – and regularly update – an honest, open storyline that explains where the business is; its key challenges and how everyone can play a part in delivering successful outcomes. This should underpin all communication activity.

6. Plan, prioritise and be decisive They key to effective internal communication in a downturn is doing a few things well. Focus on what’s essential and be ruthless in ditching the ‘nice to haves’.

7. Set objectives, success criteria roles and responsibilities The object is to move the business forward – work out how communication will do that; and how you’ll know you’ve achieved your aims.

8. Think impact, not output Internal communication is about helping people achieve business goals. So find the way to achieve that goal most effectively rather than automatically opting for the ‘prestige’ communication tools.

9. Empower others Effective internal communication is the responsibility of everyone in an organisation – it’s not just down to the comms team. But give people the skills and tools to play an active and positive part and make it easy for them to comply with the process.

10. Be an objective expert Be seen as the fount of communication expertise that will improve your organisation’s fortunes. Keep in close and direct contact with key leaders and influencers at all levels. Don’t be submissive or subversive and work on influencing the influencers.

Mark Shanahan is a director of Leapfrog Corporate Communication which bridges the gap between strategic consultancies and tactical communication agencies. He will be leading the CiB ‘From Output to Outcome’ training course in London on April 28th. Full details are available at

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

National Positive Thinking Week

Did you know it's National Positive Thinking Week? Nope, me neither. In fact it strikes me rather more as 'let's make a rather naff website and boost my top line sales week'.

Anyway, I'm sure she's a lovely woman, and looks a bit like Lesley Ash before the trout lips..... But (smack on wrist) that's not very positive!

The sun's shining here, work's looking up and the G20 are going to make it all better........

Positive thoughts.....positive thoughts....positive thoughts

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Heart's gone out of local radio

I'm busily chasing up interviewees for a number of magazine features today, bracketed by a few already planned interviews on subjects as diverse as upskilling accountants to evolving the bonus culture.

My normal way of working is to have the radio on in the background (actually it's a download of the Killers' Day and Age right now), and more often than not it's tuned to BBC 6Music.

However, even the Beeb's trendy-for-40-somethings format can wear after a while, so I flick between half a dozen other stations depending on my mood - and how hard I'm having to concentrate on my work.

But I won't be tuning into 102.6FM anymore, since Fox became Heart - and the likes of Toby Anstiss tried to pretend he was broadcasting from Cowley rather than Heart's parent in London.

Okay, Fox wasn't great, but for most of its 20 year history it was a truly local station for those of us living in and around Oxford. When I was involved with Oxford United I worked with the station on a number of occasions and was very pleased to see local news presenters like Alex Forrest learn the ropes in the newsroom before moving onto regional, and now national TV.

But Fox bit the dust the other week to be rolled into Charles Allen's Global Radio. Now I've worked for Charles before when he was CEO of our parent company, Granada. He's a decent bloke, but his driving passion is not radio. It's about hitting bottom line predictions - and if the best way to do that is by cutting costs in his radio empire to the bone, that's what he'll do, never mind the impact on the listening public.

So now from Plymouth to the Pennines, truly local radio is being replaced by the same bland pseudo-national audio blancmange. Martin Kelner presents a pretty neat summary of the current situation in today's Media Guardian. Allen's not the only big bad wolf in the homogenisation of local commercial radio, but he's doing a pretty good job of ripping the heart out. What local commercial radio needed to thrive in these economically troubled times was ingenuity, creativity and, I believe, individuality. But that's hardly a bean counter's forte.