A photo for June 2014

I know, I know … this is a terrible shot. But that’s not important. I took this from the balcony of The Brook, a live music venue in Southampton, last June. I’d managed to score two tickets to see Johnny Marr and his band at one of the two small-venue ‘warm up gigs’ they were doing before they embarked on the festival circuit.

I took my eldest son with me. It was his first ever gig. Johnny Marr has been a hero and an inspiration to me since 1983, so seeing him live was a really big deal. Taking my eldest son with me made it even more special.

At the gig, someone I’d never met before recognised me from Twitter and came up to say hello. The day after, this photo got Retweeted by Johnny’s drummer Jack Mitchell. It was a great night and produced some excellent memories.

Johnny Marr 6 June 2013

Why and how I’m raising money for the Brain Tumour Charity and how you can help

In May 2013, a good friend of mine – Matt Morton – lost his fight with cancer. He was just 43, and even though he had been diagnosed with a brain tumour for a couple of years his death was felt very deeply by all who were close to him.

I got to know Matt through music. I was invited to join a covers band as rhythm guitarist – Matt was the lead guitarist. I hadn’t played in a band for over a decade, but was made to feel very welcome and Matt was no small part of that. He was one of the most genuine and friendly people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

I wanted to do something to mark his passing and to raise money in his name.

matt
Mat Morton

 

I ruled out things like a 10k run or a parachute jump in favour of something I felt was more fitting, more personal … a night of live music featuring some of the people that played in bands with Matt.

And so, with the help of some fantastic people (including Matt’s widow Helen, and Adam Vickers & Justin Chilvers who also played in a band with Matt) on 26 July there will be a gig night in Matt’s memory, at which three (maybe even four) musical acts will perform, and there will be raffles, auctions and bespoke plectrums you can buy.

mfest
Plectrums will be on sale

The money we raise will be split between St Barnabas House, who looked after Matt and his family so well, and the Brain Tumour Charity, who do fantastic work in this sector.

If you can get along to the 3Bs bar in central Reading on 26 July, I’d love you to join us.

But if you can’t, please consider making a donation instead – any amount large or small will be gratefully received.

Here’s the link – http://www.eventbrite.com/e/mattfest-2014-tickets-11672622127

UPDATE: we raised more than £1,600 on the night, far more than we hoped for.

A photo for May 2014

I didn’t take this photo. It was taken decades before I was born, and shows my mother as a young woman. She’s seated on the far left of the picture. I don’t know who the other women in the photo are. I’ve chosen this as my photo for May, because 3 May would have been her birthday, and is also the anniversary of her death. I wrote this piece about her a couple of years ago.

Bella & work friends: 1940s

The end of social

I dislike predictions. But I’m going to make one… there will be no more big social networks. We’ve reached, and passed, a tipping point.

Why?

Because they’re all being strangled at birth by over-eager PR and marketing people, who – for all their impressive-sounding job titles and amazeballs CVs – seem to have completely forgotten all the basics of social.

Twitter and Facebook dominate the social landscape for most of us*. Similarly, they dominate the marketing spend of those brands that advertise on social media.

There’s a clear cause-and-effect thing going on here … first came the platform, then came millions of regular users, then (and only then) came the marketing and PR people.

That’s the way it works. The logic is pretty robust and if you felt like it, you could template it and see that it applies in many other walks of life.

Something has been lost, or forgotten, though.

Because now, when a new social platform launches, before most people have even created an account or downloaded an app there’s a slew of ill-conceived blog pieces and articles from marcomms people all treading the same tired old ground … ‘what brands should do on X…’

Almost none of them say “what brands should do is back off for a while, see if this thing gathers momentum, whether or not people will naturally gravitate to it, and if so what their behaviour can tell us about how we should use this platform – if at all.”

David Meyer wrote a piece on Gigaom which hits the nail on the head as far as the recent launch of Jelly was concerned… “Goodbye for now, Jelly – it’s not you it’s the marketers.”

And he’s right!

I’ve been an active and enthusiastic user of social media since before that term became common parlance – dig around in the archives of the Scotsman and the FT and you might even find me quoted in articles as far back as 2006 on how businesses could use social media for research and recruitment.

But it pains me when I see people in my sphere of work forever caught up in the Emperor’s new clothes outlook.

It really wouldn’t kill any of you to slow down a little, ask a few questions, be intellectually curious and maybe even a little sceptical.

From a purely pragmatic perspective, if we choose to ignore the old recipe for success, which turned the likes of Facebook and Twitter into the enormous beasts they are, we’re doing ourselves and our clients a disservice and we’ll eventually be over-taken by events – or smarter thinkers.

Your clients are – or should be – paying you for your consultancy. So be a consultant. If they just wanted to spend time in the company of someone to jump up and down on the spot shrieking excitedly, they’d get a job at a soft-play centre.

 

* – Europe, North America, the Antipodes, etc… ‘the West’ as it’s sometimes called.

The Millennials are coming – who cares

Unless you’ve been studiously avoiding them, you will almost certainly have come across articles quoting HR consultants, futurologists and even PR folk, on the rise of the Millennial.

Hot on the heels of previous generations, I have read, Millennials have very different outlooks and wants when it comes to the business of work. Consequently, the received wisdom tells us, working practices are going to have to change.

Sure they are.

Just not any time soon.

If, like me, you fall into the Generation X category you may still coming to terms with the recent news that (here in the UK, at least) you might have to wait until you’re almost 70 before you receive you retire.

So, I’m left pondering the following question… if 20 year old Millennials (for whom the workplace *must* be changed or else) will still have to wait until they are in their 50s before Gen X-ers are no longer above them in the workplace hierarchy (or are at least sharing the workplace with them), who are we kidding that the world has to start beating to the Millennial drum?

This is one of those occasions when the phrase “all in it together” might actually apply truthfully.

We need to stop polarising the issues. All of them. It’s not helping anything.

What we really need, now and in the future, is a more flexible outlook to work, personal life, success, fulfillment and more besides.

Whether it’s adjusting to the (constant) influx of a younger generation of workers, making sure we retain the knowledge and skills of an ageing workforce, or doing something to genuinely address issues like gender inequality, we all need to drop the me-opia and start empathising with others in pursuit of real, lasting improvements.

See things differently
See things differently

Stoptober – just make it stop

Encouraging people to look after their health is a good thing. Eat less fat and sugar, take more exercise, don’t drink too much alcohol and don’t smoke – all good, solid advice dished out in large helpings by doctors the length and breadth of the country.

In the UK, the NHS is running a month-long ‘stop smoking’ campaign in October. It’s called Stoptober.

While making my way through the centre of Reading on Sunday 21 September, I witnessed the local launch of Stoptober.

It was dismal. And that’s the kindest word I can find for it.

The town’s two MPs were there, as were five or six journalists and photographers, and at maybe 10 organisers/helpers. At 11am there were kick-off speeches from one of the organisers and the two MPs. What else happens at 11am on Sunday in Reading? The shops open. If you want to experience the centre of one of the UK’s largest towns at its absolute quietest, get there around 11am on a Sunday. Parking’s a breeze and shopping’s an absolute joy because there’s hardly anyone there.

What’s that, there’s hardly anyone there? Yes, hardly anyone there.

Just to recap then – two MPs, a marquee, a PA system, loads of balloons, a dozen or so people handing out balloons and leaflets, all being paid for via the public purse, but hardly anyone there.

I saw (nay, I *counted*) three members of the public standing and listening to the launch of Stoptober in Reading.

Dismal.

Why on earth coincide a launch of a month-long, publicly-funded anti-smoking campaign with one of the quietest times in the shopping week?

I can only presume the answer to that is something like “because you don’t know what you’re doing.”

If that sounds harsh, it’s meant to be harsh.

Smoking and related illnesses are a blight on the UK. In addition to the misery they cause, there’s also the cost to the health service to consider. To squander the opportunity to make a big and positive launch for such a campaign, and thereby waste the money being spent on that launch, demonstrates a lack of professionalism and accountability.

After the lacklustre speeches had finished I went on my way, only to be stopped by one of the leaflet ‘n’ balloon folk. “Do you know anyone who smokes?” she asked me, almost apologetically. I just shook my head and kept walking.

Targetting is also beyond the grasp of the gang of spend thrifts who decided on this launch, it would appear.

I don’t doubt the supine local press will find positive things to say about the launch, grateful as they are for real events to cover. But they shouldn’t. They should ignore the MPs’ speeches and the colourful balloons and they question the manner in which the money was spent on this event and how its effectiveness will be measured.

You could argue, and many people do, that if people want to smoke let them smoke, plus taxes on tobacco raise huge sums of money for the government.

I might or indeed I might not agree with that viewpoint. That’s not my point here. Once the decision has been taken to embark on a publicly-funded anti-smoking campaign paid for by smokers and non-smokers alike there is a responsibility to ensure that money is spent properly.

Not wasted, which it clearly was this morning.

Stoptober
Stoptober: make it stop

 

If you want information on stopping smoking, click here for the Stoptober website.

 

Syria: many shades of black

What follows is merely one man’s opinion – mine.

I find it desperately sad that the situation in Syria has been reduced to a series polarised caricatures. Good vs bad is such an appealing way to look at the world, and consequently we are presented with Assad vs democracy as one example, and (here in the UK) military intervention vs inaction as another.

I’m opposed to military action, as things stand. I’ve heard too many arguments from Syrians calling for the west to stay out of this, and I’m not at all convinced military intervention won’t actually make things worse. Much of that is, I freely admit, based on seeing the devastation left in the wake of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve also heard just enough voices of doubt on the origins of the recent chemical attack to make me think we need to work the evidence, and the associated intelligence, far harder before committing to acts of war.

I freely acknowledge it is entirely possible that my position on not intervening militarily may change. But any attack by the West is almost guaranteed to claim the lives of yet more innocent Syrians, and risks handing the Assad regime a substantial propaganda advantage.

But choosing not to intervene militarily should not become synonymous with doing nothing at all. I fear that’s precisely the line our current government will take, though.

Instead, I would like to see the UK now at the forefront of a vigorous non-violent interventionist strategy – freezing the financial assets of Assad and his associates, applying real pressure to stem the flow of arms into Syria from neighbouring countries, doing deals to circumvent the existing circles of international influence, whatever it takes.

Having decided we aren’t sending in bullets and bombs, now is precisely the time for the UK to redouble its efforts to end the war in Syria.

It isn’t good enough to claim a diplomatic solution is unrealistic. Ultimately there will be a diplomatic solution – history teaches us that every conflict resolves itself eventually and all wars end with ceasefires, treaties and negotiations.

There will be a ceasefire. There will be a diplomatic solution. This is inevitable.

So why not, Mr Cameron, be the person who pushes the hardest to see that happen sooner rather than later, rather than someone who opted to launch cruise missiles, or do nothing?

Don’t get engaged … be engaging

The word engage has been taken hostage by the social media marketing community, and I am probably as guilty as the digital comms person of bandying that word around just a little too much.

I’ve written countless blog pieces, opinion articles and PR plans in which I extol the virtues of a three-step plan to social media nirvana .. listen, analyse and engage.

When you were a child did you ever say a word over and over and over again until it sounded like meaningless nonsense? I’m fairly sure I wasn’t the only one to do that. But if you’ve never done it, give it a try.

So it is with words that get hijacked – they can begin to lose their meaning.

I was reflecting on this in the wake of Facebook’s most recent set of changes, which are designed to give users of the service more control over what shows up in their News Feed. At the moment the News Feed is an all-in-one repository, but users will soon be able to filter different types of content into separate feeds. A little like the way you might sort your emails into folders.

There are two points of interest for businesses using Facebook as part of their marketing mix. The first is that from now on they will be able to use bigger images and video in the advertisements they place in the Facebook News Feed.

The second is that their potential audience has now been given the tools to automatically siphon advertising into a separate feed which they can ignore completely for as long as they like.

Which brings us back to the E-word.

Brands have been trying hard to engage with people via social media for years. Facebook just shifted the goalposts.

Want to be seen, listened to, remembered for your Facebook marketing? Well, you’ll have to be that much more interesting, memorable and shareable.

It’s not a revolutionary concept. But if it stems the flow of lazy thinking that lurks behind too many companies’ attitudes toward social media marketing, that’s not a bad thing.

Stop trying to have a conversation with me about the things that matter most to you but least to me. Instead, show me something that holds my attention, that reflects well on you without your products being the hero of the hour, and which makes me want to spend my money with you rather than your competitors.

Be engaging.

The war for digital hearts and minds

There’s been a bit of a turf war going on in the advertising/marketing/PR world for several years now, and it’s not really showing any signs of resolving itself.

It’s the war for digital hearts and minds and it’s being fought across all the major social media networks. From the familiar landscapes of Twitter and Facebook, through to the newer territories of Microsoft’s Socl, the revitalised MySpace and on into Pintererst, Instagram and beyond.

In business communications circles, everyone acts like they have the right to own social media: advertising agencies, marketing consultancies and PR firms. And it doesn’t stop there – there are digital creative agencies, interactive marketing houses and tech-based SEO companies. All claiming they have the secret sauce that will help a brand cover itself in digital glory.

But it’s the PR world that has the strongest claim, in my opinion.

Before you pull a muscle shouting “he would say that, wouldn’t he” let me explain why I think that.

One of the key functions of the PR industry is to intercede with the media on behalf of its clients. The media is changing, indeed has already changed, due to the impact of the internet and social media. The PR industry is changing with it.

Circulation figures for all newspapers are lower, as are advertising revenues from their print-based activities. The BBC, the Financial Times and the Guardian are just three of the UK’s major broadcast and print names that are investing heavily in their digital output. Some titles, including Newsweek, have turned their backs on print altogether.

This move to more digital-friendly output from mainstream news providers is more than a passing phase. The traditional reliance on the written word has decreased as video and graphics are increasingly sought out by readers and viewers, and this is a tide that is unlikely to turn any time soon. As a result, the PR industry has had to learn how to craft its clients’ messages and brand stories into formats that meet the needs of these changed media requirements.

But my reasons go deeper than simply the ability to update story formats.

Despite the many different views on what constitutes successful social media engagement, there is perhaps one aspect that everyone agrees on, and that is that social media requires a more discursive approach to corporate communications. The audience you reach via Facebook, for example, is not receptive to one-way communications, they will expect brands to listen as much (more, even) than they talk.

Get that bit wrong, and the rest of whatever it is you’re up to won’t matter a jot.

This is why, in my opinion, if any of the marketing disciplines can claim any form of ownership of social media outreach, it has to be PR.

PR is the only branch, if I can call it that, of the marketing tree, and I realise I probably can’t call it that, where conversation is one of the fundamental building blocks of the whole discipline.

In the event of a crisis that has dragged you into the media spotlight, who is it that businesses turn to for help? It’s not the ad agency. It’s not the web designer. It’s not the marketing consultant. It’s the PR people.

Why..? PR people have no magic powers, after all. Well, it’s because the PR world knows how to listen, how and when to talk, how to avoid making things worse by lying, and how to think on its feet.

Nowhere are those traits more welcome than in the world of social media.

This piece was first published on the Nexus Communications website. You can find it here.

 

 

The King is Hacked, Long Live the King

So, the Burger King Twitter account was somehow hacked into on Monday (18 February). Did you see it? Were you aware? Do you even care?

There was certainly a great deal of brouhaha in the immediate aftermath, almost exclusively from people who work in the marketing, PR and social media sectors.

In short, someone took over the official Burger King Twitter account, changed the BK logo to a McDonalds’ logo and started tweeting nonsense. Some of it said that Burger King had been sold to McDonalds, most of it wasn’t funny and was filled with grammatical errors.

You can read more about it here.

The decision was eventually taken by Burger King – once they had regained control of it – to suspend the account. Presumably to clear out all the nefarious tweets, check they weren’t following any undesirables, and to send someone from their digital marketing team to sit on the naughty step and think about what had happened. At the time of publishing this piece, the Burger King account had reappeared.

But amid the sound and fury that gripped my Twitter stream on Monday afternoon, I couldn’t help but wonder does any of this actually matter?

“Will sales of Burger King food fall because of the hack?” asked one person I follow on Twitter.

I think it was a genuine question. The answer, quite obviously, is no. The quality of the food sold by Burger King is not affected in any way, directly or indirectly, by what happens on Twitter.

I retorted by saying in the event that sales of Burger King food don’t fall thanks to this very public social media problem, should we all conclude that social media is utterly pointless?

Well, of course the answer to that one is also no.

What this alludes to though is the question of how one assesses the value of – and ROI from – social media. And the chances are that sales of your core products is not the right metric.

Research commissioned by Nexus Communications last year into the grocery shopping habits of UK households’ primary shoppers, found that a staggeringly low two per cent cited social media as having influence over the choices they make.

Social media is not the place to promote your products and push your messages onto people. It’s where people will expect to find you listening, talking, answering their questions, and generally being a bit more human than you are elsewhere – like on your website.

People will come to your Facebook page to participate in competitions and take advantage of offers and vouchers – no one with the Facebook account needs to pay full price with the likes of Domino’s Pizza, for example.

But if you’re not measuring the pull-through from offers and competitions, if you’re not tracking the offline redemption of online vouchers, how can you know what’s working and what isn’t?

In short, if you’re measuring the wrong thing – no matter what it is – you’re measuring the wrong thing.

I’m not privy to the ins and outs of what Burger King’s social media KPIs might be, but I’d be surprised if burger sales is one of the main ones.

Right, I’m off in search of a Whopper. Who’s with me?

(This piece was first published on the Nexus Communications website. You used to be able to find it here. You can’t any more as someone has moved it.)