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.

Best tools for IC measurement?

A member of the Melcrum IC Hub has raised the question of what are the best measurement tools for IC - and that's the kind of question that both gets me interested and makes me grind my teeth.

In investing 'best of breed' in a tool, we start focusing on the drill being more important than the hole in the wall.

As far as I'm concerned, the best measurement tool is the one that works for you to let you know how successful you have been in using communicating to achieve your stated business outcome.

Effective IC measurement has to be about measuring outcomes, not outputs. Therefore it's a matter of selecting the right horse for your particular course. Define the business objective, what success will look like and how communication will enable that success - the particular measurement tool will drop out of process.

The other key to me is to make measurement an ongoing process, not a series of disconnected events. That way it becomes 'the way we do things round here' and will be far more easily incorporated into strategy development, performance management and the like.

Too often we use measurement to justify what we're doing rather than to really support the business.
I will, of course, be talking more about this on my 'Output to Outcome' course, delivered through CiB in London on April 28th - and all for a very reasonable price!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Email glitches

I'm suffering from email glitches at the moment - not least for mail sent directly from this site which either takes an age to arrive or disappears altogether.

So, if you've sent me anything in recent days, please try again, direct to me at:


Mark S

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pardon me while I twitter

I set up a Twitter account last October....and promptly forgot about it. But this week I've had a number of emails from people telling me they're following me....very nice, if I'd had something to Twitter about. And why did people suddenly pick up on me now?

I'm not sure I 'get' Twitter, or will be bothered/sufficiently disciplined to use it to any degree - but I do seem to be following a couple of dozen Twitterers now, and I suppose this will give me something else to do in between lumps of work and academic stuff.

If you want to follow my ramblings, look out for LeapfrogMark.

I predict though that Twitter will be a pretty short-lived phenomenon - hugely popular now....but for how long.?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tips on team briefing - go for a virtuous circle not the classic cascade

I've just responded to a question about Team Briefing on the Melcrum Communicators network...But instead of forwarding my response to the individual who first raised the point, I stupidly hit reply, so my top of head thoughts have hit the inboxes of the whole network of my communication could be embarrassing if I've dropped some real rubbish in there!

But on re-reading my post, I think it pretty much stands up. So here's the Leapfrog view of Team Briefing.

The key danger of team briefing is that it becomes simply a one-way, top down vehicle, and if that's the case, it'll quickly lose any value it might have. Therefore, the key to getting it right is to make it a 'virtuous circle' - a dialogue where communication can work up and down in equal measure, and it's seen to be acted on.

To create any virtuous communication circle, you need to state clear objectives for each crank of the wheel; provide metrics to ensure you know those objectives are met and to be able to take the learning each time you crank the process wheel so that you can tweak it where necessary for best effect.

Other than that pretty general stuff, my experience is:

1. Make sure the need is there - is there a demand for this kind of regular two way communication? (I hope so!)

2. Ensure this is the best tool for the job - will this be an addition to your communication toolbox or a replacement for something else? If you're replacing another mechanism, are you sure you're making an improvement?

3. Get senior leadership actively supportive and engaged in the process first - if they are lukewarm, line management will probably be stone cold.

4. What gets measured gets done - work with HR to ensure line management are measured on their briefing performance and that it becomes part of their performance contract.

5. What gets rewarded gets done well - equally, work with HR to build effective communication into everyone's performance contract.

6. Provide the skills first, and the process will follow. Rather than impose a process on your line management community, provide briefing skills training to them as a start point, and use such workshops to introduce a 'skeleton' process of how it could work to them - and let them help you refine it. It helps greatly with ownership for people to feel they've got some skin in the game in creating the tool.

7. Ensure people feel safe to contribute - briefing training shouldn't just be for managers - but managers can be your best trainers in working with their teams to ensure they are active contributors to the process - not passive receivers of information.

8. Keep your information simple and focused - it has to help people at all levels in the organisation to do their job - NOT simply be a soapbox for senior management.

9. Ensure the process is flexible - not every team has the chance to get together at the same time to share information. Focus more on getting information out regularly so that it's part of a process, not merely disconnected events. Then give line managers the freedom to share that information with their teams by a particular date, but in the way that works best for that team.

10. Give line managers the skill to interpret information so that it can be presented to their teams in a manner that's directly relevant for them - but ensure they don't go 'off message' or denigrate/dilute the key messages of the communication. The key is that one size doesn't fit all.

11. Make the feedback process easy and active - on line often works best.

12. Ensure feedback is not only acted on, but seen to be acted on - in the virtuous circle, it should become pat of the next (or next but one) crank of the wheel.

13. Remember that while most people want to hear most news from their direct managers and discuss it with their peers, there are times they want to hear direct from the top - or at least from a more senior person. So don't see this as the 'catch all' communication process - use it where it will be most effective, but make it part of the mix.

14. Celebrate successes and reward good behaviour - actively seek comment on key messages and make the process fun - recognise effective contribution and even reward good behaviours in the dialogue - this can help make it a circle rather than a one-way cascade.

15. Make it easy to comply - be flexible and ensure people see the benefits they're getting by being better informed quicker and more a part of the organisational community rather than this being another pointless business chore.

16. Keep the element of surprise in - get managers along to meetings further up or down the cascade: get ordinary staff members in with the CEO to talk through points directly - get senior people on the phone after a cascade to check people's understanding.

17. As IC, your role has to be to police the cascade - not just quantitatively in terms of how many briefings happened by when, but qualitatively in terms of what people are taking away from the meetings and how they're using the discussions in their jobs.

18. Don't overdo things - neither over-engineer the process nor use it more often than needs be.
And of course, none of this even begins to address some of the other issues that should come into the mix such as using team briefing for problems solving; having lateral conversations and the like. Actually, there's quite a lot to this old face to face process!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It's a small, small world

Haven't blogged much recently - but that's because finally I'm working more than talking about working. We're a very long way from being out of the woods yet, but work signs in the last couple of weeks have been far more positive than in 2009's first couple of months.

Anyway, yesterday I was involved in some training for mewbie BBC journalists, and was much cheered by their enthusiasm, their grasp of what was important in the news agenda and their ability to understand what motivates their viewers, listeners and, increasingly, on-line communities. They were young, raw and eager - and I'm hugely encouraged if they represent the future of BBC News.

The oddest thing was being recognised by one of the trainees - a PR exec-turned-BBC newshound who had set up some very successful interviews for me only a month or two ago. It's a small world indeed.

And then today I interviewed my last corporate boss. It's nine years since I left that job and today probably exorcised more than a few demons. The best part of a decade makes a lot of difference: she was charming, I was on best behaviour and we parted with a good interview in the bag.

Life's moved on, and while my past matters, my future matters more.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Straplines that last...but not as nature intended

Half a dozen times every day someone googles 'Tense, nervous headache?' and Nothing works faster than Anadin' and ends up on this site. They're probably sadly disappointed since they get directed to my discussion of the last day of the final Ashes test in 2005.

While Anadin may well have derived from anodyne (originally a necklace given to children to soothe the pain of teething back in the 18th century) 'nothing works faster than Anadin' was of those iconic slogans that I'd expect to turn up in an episode of Mad Men .

But check into it and what does it mean? Well, my family always read it as Nothing works faster than Anadin.....and therefore it was rubbish and we bought Disprin instead.

In fact, we corrupted the slogan to: 'Tense nervous headache? Take nothing, because nothing works faster than Anadin.'

We so often accept advertising slogans without question when they're either meaningless: 'Daz washes whiter' - whiter than what? Whiter than stomping your clothes in a muddy field or sloshing them round in the toilet bowl? Or simply vacuous - 'committed to quality' - what? Poor quality? Bad quality? Quality needs some kind of supporting statement - a comparison or superlative aspect to bring any kind of meaning to it.

I know from past experience as Nationwide Building Society's chief marketing copywriter back in the late '80s that such sloganising is difficult. We don't have the benefit of hindsight or a level of objectivity to step out of the business and look back in - especially when copy's being written in-house. Though I'm still proud, for some unknown reason, of my strapline: 'A loan for all reasons' which graced the leaflet dump bin in branches years after I left the building society.

Anyway, it always makes me chuckle when a seemingly innocuous slogan comes back to bite the business it promotes. Not long ago, Nat West was hitting us in seemingly every ad break with 'There is another way' .

Another way to bank? Brilliant! Unfortunately, due to its ownership, 'another way' now means doing business with the seemingly reckless RBS Group, tarnished by its execrable recent performance and the arrogance of Fred the Shed.....not another way that too many people are likely to be interested in at the mo'.

Credit to Nat West - they've swiftly sashayed into 'Helpful Banking' with a stream of new ads selling us the message that they're not really selling to us...hmmm.

Anyway, there are many more ad slogans with unintended consequences - I'm sure I'll think of a few more to share in the future.