I’ve never really liked the police. With a few exceptions I have found most of the individual police officers I’ve encountered to be troublingly unpleasant people. I’m told that’s what happens when your job puts you in regular contact with the worst aspects of human nature. And I have a lot of sympathy for that. It is a difficult and dangerous job, and I do
You can’t teach creativity. That’s what I hear. I’ve heard it a lot, too. Well, relatively speaking. It tends to be the reaction some people have to the idea of creativity training or workshops. To an extent, it’s hard to argue with the outlook that says you’re either born creative or you’re not. Picasso was born with an innate desire to create – to challenge
I have a great many things to be thankful for. One of them is my job. Too many people have no job, or a job they find hateful and demeaning. In October of this year (which was still 2012 when I wrote this) I became the head of digital at a PR consultancy that until my arrival had taken a fairly measured approach to digital
In 1992, I went to Canada and the USA. I spent three or so weeks travelling around, on my own, visiting friends and family. It was the first time I’d flown. Before we’d even taken off things started to get interesting. The plane was delayed and while we were all sat there, on the tarmac of Manchester Airport, waiting for clearance, the pilot made an
Dear Tesco, what is the point of this? I’m referring to the pic of two baby spinach leaves with a speech bubble asking “what am I like?” At first glance, and maybe because I lived in Manchester for a time, when I see “what am I like” in my head I hear an annoying voice going “what am I like, eh? I’m just dead mad
In the early part of summer 2012, I had the good fortune to be commissioned by the Victoria Business Improvement District’s magazine “inSW1″ to interview Hugh Milroy, Chief Executive of the charity Veteran’s Aid. The magazine is now out, and so I have taken the liberty of publishing my version of the article here. Beware… this is a lengthy article. Dr Hugh Milroy leans back
Two things happened in London in the space of 24 hours that, once again, had me – and plenty of others – musing on the role of Twitter as a channel for breaking news. On Thursday 26 April, there was an incident on the Bakerloo line of the London Underground (that’s the brown one). I learned about it first thanks to twitter. But here’s what
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I’ve never really liked the police. With a few exceptions I have found most of the individual police officers I’ve encountered to be troublingly unpleasant people.
I’m told that’s what happens when your job puts you in regular contact with the worst aspects of human nature. And I have a lot of sympathy for that. It is a difficult and dangerous job, and I do have respect for the men and women that uphold law and order and keep our streets safe (try not to laugh if you live somewhere where the streets aren’t exactly safe).
But it’s hard to find that sympathy and respect as I write this.
A few days ago I was told of a friend of a friend who was physically assaulted by her husband and another male member of his family. When they arrived the police claimed insufficient evidence, no one was arrested and the victim more or less told not to make things worse for herself in the future.
Last night the police were in action outside my house. And once again they didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory.
Around midnight (Saturday night/Sunday morning), on hearing raised voices and what might have been some sort of struggle, I looked out of my window to see several police cars, and about six or so police officers.
Two of them had one of my next door neighbours, a man in his mid/late 20s, handcuffed and were dragging him away from the house toward one of the cars. He was wearing only a towel, and apart from the visible stress and upset anyone might display, he was being as cooperative as could be expected.
The main focus of his attention was his house. From where his female partner, a petite and slightly-built woman in her early 20s was emerging.
There were several police officers on her driveway all shouting instructions at her.
But the most conspicuous of all of these was the one in full body armour stood at the edge of my driveway pointing his gun directly at her face (one of those assault rifle things you may have seen UK police bearing at airports).
He was shouting “walk toward me, walk toward me.” She did. Whereupon she was handcuffed.
I don’t even want to think about what that must have felt like for her.
But I do wonder what it felt like for him. All six-feet-and-something of him. In lots of protective clothing. Pointing a loaded weapon at the face of a clearly terrified young woman wearing her pyjamas and dressing gown.
However, her focus was also mainly on the house.
Why…? Because she has two very young children.
Five or six big burly coppers, some with guns. One small, young woman in her nightwear, terrified and fretting about her children.
If they felt like they were doing their jobs and therefore had to conduct their operations in that matter, they’re in the wrong job.
In the end, she wasn’t arrested.
The police are forever moaning that they don’t get the support of the public.
When you actually encounter them up close and personal, in the line of duty, there’s not often a great deal you feel you want to support.
I don’t want to be policed by the sort of people who will turn a blind eye to a victim of domestic violence, or who can’t deploy sufficient discretion to know that they don’t need to point their guns at people just because can. They choose to.
The complaints procedure has always been laughable. I’m about to find out for myself just how laughable.
But I better make sure my tyres aren’t bald and that I always drive within the speed limit; I expect I’ll be on someone’s radar before too long.
This is a dark day (updated Monday 7 January 2013).
Child Benefit is no longer be available to households where one person earns more than £60,000 per year, and will be clawed back via increased income tax from those earning between £50,000 and £60,000.
Before you react with the “but the wealthy don’t need it” line, keep reading.
The depiction of those earning above a certain amount as not needing the additional financial support of Child Benefit is a gross over-simplification that suits no one except those wedded to a particular kind of pernicious ideology.
It’s the thin end of the wedge and the introduction of flawed logic into a complex and complicated set of issues, challenges and solutions.
All things being equal, someone earning £50,000 could indeed be considered to be doing pretty well, and it’s certainly a lot more than the official average salary currently earned in the UK. But you can’t take things out of their proper context, analyse them and still – in my opinion – hold a well-reasoned debate.
Here are just a few reasons why dumbing the issue of Child Benefit down to this kind of black and white level makes a mockery of any attempt to make the provision of benefits in this country fairer.
Direct and indirect taxes are higher now for most households than they have been in years. From the cost of gas and electricity through to the cost of petrol and diesel at the pump, from food inflation to the increased cost of train tickets, the bald facts are that there are a lot of demands on household incomes.
If you are earning close to £50,000 per year – maybe as a senior police officer – you now face a disincentive to work harder, as any earned overtime will compromise your family’s Child Benefit. Perhaps more importantly it will throw you into the circle of hell that is dealing with Her Britannic Majesty’s Revenue & Customs department, a branch of the UK government not famed for efficiency and simplified processes.
The same could be true for a whole host of other people who find themselves doing well as a result of working hard and encountering that awful Catch 22 where working hard, earning more and advancing yourself and your family starts to count against you.
I put it to you this approach to rationalising benefit provision actually stunts productive growth at the individual level.
Then there is the assumption which underpins the whole argument, and that is that household income is always shared equitably within the family.
I’m quite certain we all know families where one parent works and the other stays at home. I’m also fairly sure I’m not the only person who knows someone who has to rely upon handouts from their working partner, handouts which are given begrudgingly and which are frequently barely enough to cover the household essentials.
I’m not sure why I’m dressing this up in prissy language. After all, this is my blog – I can say what I like.
What I’m talking about are men who keep their residual income to themselves, only giving their wives and partners the bare minimum. And I’m talking about high earners.
This is not fair and reasonable. The addition of Child Benefit into such households can be a real life-line to those women who are living like relative paupers in their own homes.
Removing Child Benefit, then, is also not fair or reasonable, and unless you are about to advocate the State getting involved in the way people manage their personal financial affairs, I’m not sure what one does about such things.
Another piece of context it doesn’t hurt to bear in mind is that were still suffering from an economic collapse which was built, at least partially, on an excess of mortgage debt.
Lenders were eschewing the old checks and balances, and issuing mortgages based on self-certification, multiples of 5x income, and in some cases 120% of the value of the property.
Net result…. plenty of people who have well paid jobs had actually mortgaged themselves to the promise of an endlessly affluent but fictitious tomorrow. When the bubble burst, as they all do eventually, that brighter future turned into millstone around many people’s necks.
So what, you may be thinking. That’s their bad luck. If you genuinely believe that, from some sort of libertarian point of view, fair enough… you are entitled to your opinion, just as I’m entitled to disagree with it. If, however, you are thinking “so what” because of some sort of latent jealousy or general dislike of your fellow man, have a word with yourself.
I haven’t even touched upon how costly and complicated the approach taken to changing Child Benefit will be. The figures quoted by the government to explain and justify these changes are all assumptions and estimates based on mathematical models. Also, the government has failed to find enough high earners to withdraw Child Benefit from in order to make their fictitious numbers work.
The whole thing is a mess.
“But Sean something must be done,” people say to me. “There’s no money, just a huge deficit, the government has to cut back somewhere and we’re all in this together.”
This is an outlook that gets short shrift from me.
There’s money for nuclear missiles. But not for libraries and not for universal Child Benefit or benefits for the disabled, in addition unemployment rates among the young are shamefully high.
We’re not all in this together, that’s one of the most facile pieces of polit-crap that’s been pedaled in recent years.
The deficit has increased, not decreased, after almost three years of the Coalition government. Why..? Because they are hell bent on squeezing the economy until the pips squeak. They have done next-to-nothing to promote genuine sustainable growth and job creation.
I know there have been initiatives to support start-ups, especially in the tech sector, but these are not a meaningful attempt to promote wide-scale job creation. Start-ups need skilled people and don’t tend to recruit from the ranks of the unemployed.
Removing Child Benefit is just another attempt by a government under siege, and which has no intellectual capital, to find policies that play well to the Daily Mail’s headline writers.
In the wake of World War II our health and welfare systems were seen as the cornerstones of building a better society. Has it worked without exception? No of course not, after all nothing’s perfect.
But the provision of universal benefits is an indication of the kind of country we live in, and the removal of such things says just as much about the kind of society we want to build.
Or should I say dismantle?
Happy New Year.
2012 was, for me, actually a pretty good year on reflection. In many ways it was a healing year. I got to spend a lot more time in the company of my children, I went on my first family holiday since 2008 (and I had a jolly nice time too), I cut loose some deadwood, made some fantastic new friends, wrote some songs and even started a new job.
I know not everyone will have as much to feel thankful for as I currently do. I hope I don’t come across as smug. I don’t feel smug. I feel blessed.
All of which is by-the-by, as this is really just preamble. The main event can be found below… a word cloud produced by putting all the blog posts I wrote in 2012 into Wordle.
You can’t teach creativity. That’s what I hear. I’ve heard it a lot, too. Well, relatively speaking. It tends to be the reaction some people have to the idea of creativity training or workshops.
To an extent, it’s hard to argue with the outlook that says you’re either born creative or you’re not. Picasso was born with an innate desire to create – to challenge the accepted ways of doing things and to push the creative boundaries.
He didn’t learn that in a workshop held in a medium-sized conference room in a hotel adjacent to an urban ring-road.
So, there you have it. Creativity… it’s either in your genes or it’s not. And if not, tough… you can’t learn it.
That outlook’s nonsense though, isn’t it?
I came to that stunning realisation after a conversation I had recently with a friend about the importance of collaborating with like-minded people. Some of her comments brought to mind a remark made in an interview I read with the guitarist Johnny Marr, who said something like “if you really want to open up your creative side you need to surround yourself with creative people.”
It may be true that we are all born with different talents and abilities, and that there is no substitute for natural ability. But it’s also true that it’s important to create an environment in which creativity flourishes.
It’s also remarkably easy to create an environment – particularly a working environment – in which creativity has no chance of flourishing.
So, while it might be true that you can’t teach the people in your agency to become creative geniuses from scratch, you can certainly achieve a great deal in terms of challenging existing working practices and fostering a culture where it’s ok to be creative, and to have ideas… even really bad ones.
I’d take a really bad idea over no idea at all any day. You can improve on a bad idea and make it a great one.
But those people who put hierarchy before ability, who put their own cosy self-interests before that of the client, the agency or the team… there’s not a lot you can do with them unless you challenge them.
Just how challenging you need to be in such cases depends on how entrenched their attitudes are and how willing – or otherwise – they are to accept that change can be a good thing.
Data, data, data.
In PR circles data has become the new black.
Or the new designer drug, depending on which kind of overt cynicism you want to go with.
There has never been a better time to use data as part of a comms strategy, this much is self-evident. After all, who in PR doesn’t get approached from the purveyors of fine analytics tools on a regular basis?
From Radian6 to Brandwatch, from SDL SM2 to Meltwater, and well beyond… there are literally hundreds – possibly thousands – of monitoring tools out there that will track and report back on mentions of you, your clients, their competitors, market trends, hot topics, etc.
I read a post by Danny Whatmough at EML Wildfire in which he talks about this very topic. It’s a good piece that stresses the importance of evidence-based strategies for PR and marketing.
It made me think about some of the challenges I’ve witnessed and experienced in my PR career when it came to PR people using data.
The single biggest problem, or so it has always seemed to me, is the preponderance of data-intolerant people working in PR. I’m not talking about the stereotypical fluffy bunny syndrome. But simply that a lot of smart people in PR are not comfortable around raw numerical data.
There is little to be gained from having an agency-wide desire to do more data-based stuff if the people entrusted with bringing that to life couldn’t be trusted to count time in a marching band (yes, I know that’s a rubbish analogy but I couldn’t think of another one).
For decades now, the education system in the UK (well, England & Wales) has encouraged pupils to choose between arts and sciences at the age of 14/15. We can hope this divisiveness will be less prominent in the future, but that’s not going to affect the make up of our account teams any time soon.
So, here is my advice – given as someone who has run their own PR agency and as someone who has lectured in PR at a university in London.
Start firing those people in your agency who are rubbish at maths.
No, wait… I don’t mean that.
But audit their data-related skills and abilities. Do it methodically and without emotion – this isn’t pass or fail, this is about working out how you can help your people perform better.
Nurture those who have an aptitude for data, help them become better at it.
As for those who find numbers utterly baffling, provide them with coping mechanisms… ways to break it all down and make sense of it. Perhaps you’d never let them loose on a major piece of research. But you’d certainly want them to feel able to understand it, critique it and explain it. Wouldn’t you?
So… go forth and multiply your data-aware account teams.