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.