Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NAME THAT "NAME" BRAND

Thought I might offer up a quiz (sorry no prizes) that caught my eye.

Clearly, becoming the “name” brand in any industry sector is a dream for many companies.

Many organisations crave to be the generic name such as Hoover. As a young hack, many a senior reporter or sub editor would issue reminders that people vacuum, not Hoover when it comes to filing copy. But, few of us talk about vacuuming carpets, do we?

In the PR sector, lots of clients want their name in lights right now, if not quicker. The realists – I include my clients here – appreciate that some things take time to be nurtured and developed.

This short quiz – taken from Shortlist magazine www.shortlist.com – was brought to my attention recently, so can you guess what terms have now taken over the name of the following?

1. Adhesive Tape
2. Inline Skate
3. Stand–up Personal Watercraft
4. Ballpoint Pen
5. MP3 Player
6. Correction Fluid
7. Mobile Building
8. Public Address System
9. Artificial Grass

Here are the answers:

1. Adhesive Tape - Sellotape
2. Inline Skate - Rollerblade
3. Stand–up Personal Watercraft - Jet Ski
4. Ballpoint Pen - Biro
5. MP3 Player - iPod
6. Correction Fluid - Tipp-Ex
7. Mobile Building - Portakabin
8. Public Address System - Tannoy
9. Artificial Grass - Astroturf

No 2 puzzled me but I got there in the end. How many did you get - and do you have any other examples?

Friday, November 05, 2010

SIZE MATTERS

I must have got the short genes in my family.

Both my brothers are tall – over five feet 10 – and my eldest sons are tall. One is just under and the other just over six feet.

In my stocking soles I’m 5 feet 7 inches, and nothing I can do about it. My wife is taller than me. I’ve always wanted to be taller. It would certainly help when the last-minute gig goer barges into the crowd to stand right in front of me, all 8 feet 10 inches of him, or so it seems. And big guys get served quicker at a busy bar.

But this week I’ve read and listened with interest to a couple of discussions on whether big in PR is better than small. http://quietnewsday.co.uk/ and http://www.prmoment.com/403/Who-does-better-pr-big-pr-agencies-or-small-agencies.aspx

At the end of the day, I don’t think there can be a winner in the size stakes. That’s because there are excellent small PR companies (like Mike Ritchie Media) and equally top-class larger PR agencies, too many to mention. Doubtless, too, there will be some smaller PR companies and some bigger ones who are not considered to be ticking all the right boxes, but that’s a subjective matter and not one for me to focus on.

I recognise that some major organisations will have demands that can only be met by the manpower available in a company employing a lot of staff although I provided comprehensive PR support for a leading Scottish housebuilder for over a decade to that company’s satisfaction.

The clients who have entrusted their PR needs to me like the fact that after I turn up at the pitch or discussion and if I win the account, then I deal with it personally. I may bring in additional bodies – photographers or event managers and the like – on some projects and campaigns, but the client consistently and exclusively deals with me. It’s the only way a smaller business like mine can ensure the best possible, effective communications’ service.

To my mind, the bigger agencies have one major in-house advantage and that is the ability to have a lot of people bringing ideas to a particular campaign or project. But, I have to say, that I am indebted to be able to tap into the expertise of many fellow PR practitioners when I need advice or confirmation that what I was proposing for a client was OK or needed refinement. Often this help is just a phone call or a cup of coffee away.

The bigger PR outfits also enjoy bigger budgets to offer corporate entertainment to movers and shakers but, once again, I am often sanctioned to buy a journalist a lunch in the course of my duties. So it’s a question of scale rather than size.

So I don’t think big versus small is a clear-cut issue at all. In another area altogether, I use a local one-man band car mechanic in preference to any of the big garages. I’d rather buy a newspaper from a street vendor than a multiple chain newsagents. I prefer quiet neighbourhood bars to brash and noisy city centre pubs. I like smaller gig venues such as Barrowland to the SECC.

So big versus small is not the be all and end all. I try to offer a mature, appropriate, cost-effective quality service and I’m sure, in fact, I know, that those bigger company PR teams strive to do the same.

We’re all different, and that’s a good thing, don’t you think? It gives those in the market for our services greater choice – and that’s healthy.

Friday, October 29, 2010

DIFFICULTY WITH DATES (Not the romantic kind)

I wonder if other people suffer or share my real, daily struggle to quickly recall what date it is.

Of course, birthdays, Christmas, Boxing Day and January 1 are easy to remember but I’m writing this on October 28, or is it the 29th? Have checked on the top, right-hand corner of my laptop screen and it is the 28th.

Having worked in newspapers for over 25 years, you’d think I’d be right up to date, as it were, with such a thing. But, no, I’m hopeless.

While I can easily access the date – by looking under any newspaper’s masthead, on my computer or mobile phone – it is often a momentary puzzle for me.

And lately, I find I’m checking the time more and more on my mobile instead of one of the two very nice watches I own.

I’m not alone it would seem.

This item http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11634105 caught my attention and I do check the time on my mobile more than I refer to my watch.

I also admit that checking the date via that tiny little box on the screen of one of my two watches has been a rare event for me. In fact, it would be pointless as I can’t remember setting the correct date on it – ever.

As information sources constantly change, memorising or recognising telephone numbers seems to be a thing of the past, too, I’d suggest. Today, it’s so easy to link to phone numbers via speed buttons etc or the first initial of a name that I barely remember – or know – anyone’s number with a few exceptions.

If you have a comment on this, I’d pleased to receive it, any day/date, any time.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A BIG ASK - AAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!

The English language is suffering from a real mangling nowadays. This saddens and worries me.

Stupid phrases, meaningless responses and a general sloppiness in many sectors are all combining to muck it all up.

A big ask – I ask you? Isn’t that just one of the most horrible and totally wrong utterances imaginable? It’s a crime against the language, that’s what I think. I loathe it. It’s horrible and ugly and doesn’t mean anything.

The last time I consulted a dictionary, I noticed that “ask” is a verb and definitely not a noun. You ask someone a question, you ask for information. A verb – easy to understand, you would think.

Hard on its heels to make me cringe is the equally execrable term – big up to so-and-so. What? Up is an adverb, has been since I was a lad and will be when I no longer have the energy to rant.

It’s another crime and, no, I don’t want to pop a chill pill (hideous) as I move seamlessly on to more expressions that make me shudder or worse.

I confess – not “fess up” – to being a pedant when it comes to language and grammar but I reckon it’s easy for people who use these expressions to sort themselves out.

Hold tight.

A raft of ideas – I hate this, especially when the “raft” then has its ideas “rolled out.” Awful, isn’t it?

“Absolutely” could be my reply but that word is used sickeningly often today. Big culprits are at-the-scene TV reporters when linking to studio-based presenters who have a asked question such as: “I imagine the atmosphere is tense there with 10 dead?”

Reporter: “Absolutely.” I pray someone, sometime will say, instead, to such an inquiry: “yes, obviously” or “that’s right” or “got it in one.”

If I didn’t abhor this description, I would say a lot of people today need to experience a “learning curve” – usually steep for added dramatic effect – to get them back to simple statements that mean what they say.

Now that’s what I’d call “joined up thinking/ planning/action” if only I didn’t include “joined up something-or-other” in my pet hates. Does it really mean anything: not to me it doesn’t.

Here’s another one to bother and baffle. “Not fit for purpose” – just say “no use, useless, inappropriate…” anything but jargon that serves no purpose.

OK, I hear you say it’s time to “Draw a line under this” – groan and groan again. If I “draw a line under” something, a word or a phrase, for example, then this means I want to be drawn to it, to remember it – not forget it.

And in business, while I am always happy to be given notice of something or be briefed on an issue, please don’t say to me: “I thought I’d give you a heads up.” It’s on my sin list and so is “no brainer,” a useless saying, overused and also unwanted in my book.

So, if people can be persuaded to get rid of all these rank awful phrases, I’ll be contented, pleased, gratified – but don’t dare call me “a happy bunny.” Crikey, that’s really duff.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this. Am I stuck in the grammar glory days of the past, or do I have a point? Let me know one way or another, if you wish.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Non-circumlocutory, oral communication...what?

“….non-circumlocutory, oral communication dispensed by an orator who has no predilection for verbiage and is far from prolix or magniloquent in manner…”

These weighty words – I had to look up three of them in the dictionary – feature in a very clever advert by legal firm Macroberts – http:// www.macroberts.com

The company follows them with the comment “Straight–talking” and emphasises in the ad that they offer straight-to-the-point business law.

I’m all for plain speaking so the ad appeals to me. I came across it as I ploughed through an insurance policy following another water leak episode in my bathroom where floorboards had to be ripped up to trace the source of the problem. The policy is, you’ll not be surprised to learn, classically confusing. It sucks the will to read on, each sentence a barrier, each paragraph formed to sap all energy.

Even in day-to-day business, people speak or write in needlessly, long- winded ways that really grate. The Plain English Campaign http:// www.plainenglish.co.uk/ and fine bloggers such as Marian Dougan at http:// wordstogoodeffect.wordpress.com/ write in interesting ways - and most eloquently - about words and language, subjects that intrigue me.

I liked this list from the folks at the Plain English Campaign. They say the words in brackets are just as – or even more – effective and I homologate. Sorry, that means I agree.

additional (extra)

advise (tell) 

commence (start)

forward (send)

in excess of (more than) 

in respect of (for) 

in the event of (if) 

on request (if you ask) 

particulars (details)

per annum (a year) 

persons (people) 

prior to (before)

purchase (buy) 

regarding (about) 

terminate (end)

whilst (while)

I’m keen to learn any examples people my have of gobbledygook or drivel, as some might suggest.

Friday, August 13, 2010

PERFECT PITCH - PLAIN SPEAKING

“I don’t know how to write, but I can tell you fluently what I do, what my product does.

“My spelling is atrocious. My grammar equally poor, but I am a confident and competent speaker who can communicate most effectively. Writing for me is a chore, although I have a sound technological brain.

“I have an eye for a solid business idea, one that’s interested some large companies already. I haven’t got a clue how to engage effectively with consumers, business or the public at large.

“I really need someone who can make my product, my idea visible to business, consumers and the media at large, both specialist and general outlets.

“I have no idea how costly, problematic, feasible this might be – so do you think you can work with me and help me by doing what you clearly have done, successfully, for a range of clients to date with a PR campaign?

“I think this is an important way forward for my company.”

I have paraphrased this hour-long conversation with a prospective client, obviously. I was so gratified by his beguiling approach on behalf of his company and his associates. Here was someone, needing PR support and positive media attention while admitting with a smile he knew little or nothing about how to pursue it. A company in his network circle had recommended that he chat with me. I was delighted to do so.

This isn’t a blog about me and my company and what it does, or is capable of doing. Nor a criticism of previous pitches I’ve attended. It is about the refreshing attitude of this company MD for whom a proposal is ready. It may come to nothing.

However, the big point, for me, is that this man was candid, said his expertise lay elsewhere and he wanted to buy in a specific form of help. He issued no demands and listened closely to what I had to say, the suggestions I put forward, the involvement he could expect from my company. I answered his questions openly and in detail.

It was a great discussion, which led on to a chat about many different subjects. Nothing has been decided. I have submitted a proposal. It was just a hugely refreshing way to talk about working together – possibly.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

WHAT MUSIC HAVE YOU BEEN BUYING?

I made a resolution for 2010 and I have to report I’m failing dismally.

Back in bleak mid winter when snow lay on the ground for weeks and the central heating was on round the clock, I declared that I would buy fewer CDs this year and concentrate, instead, on listening more to the music already in my collection.

Well, it’s partly true because I have trawled the shelves to listen again to some excellent sounds I’d not heard for years and years. Those that spring most quickly to mind include “Exile on Main Street” by The Stones, now re-released in some super-duper format, Rory Gallagher live, most of Gillian Welch (with no new release in sight), Ron Sexsmith (very under-rated) early Willard Grant Conspiracy, Lucinda Williams, Clem Snide, James McMurtry, The Black Keys, Nick Cave, loads of Neil Young – “On The Beach” in particular – and Steve Earle and dark Springsteen through Nebraska and Tom Joad plus a whole lot more such as The Smiths, Morrissey, Sam Baker and The Felice Brothers.

But, despite that resolution, I’ve added considerably to my collection, too, and I blame Mark Oliver Everett without a shadow of a doubt. And that’s because I am a very latecomer to the wonderful world of Eels. Don’t know why I didn’t pay him more attention as I thought “Novocaine For The Soul” was brilliant when I first heard it. But, I’ve made up for lost time and now have most of the Eels’ collection and, for good measure, I read his captivating autobiography, “Things The Grandchildren Should Know” in one sitting on a return rail journey between Glasgow and Dundee.

I thought not reading the review sections in magazines such as Uncut or tuning less often into internet music sites might curb the urge to buy but, clearly, that’s not been the case. I’m happily admitting failure.

As I write, I can think of quite a few CDs I’d want. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve bought so far this year – and I’d love to hear what you’ve been buying, too. Might give me some ideas, oh, no.

Eels - End Times

Eels - Daisies of the Galaxy

Bonnie "Prince" Billy - The Wonder Show of the World

Mary Gauthier - The Foundling

Primal Scream - Dirty Hits

Bob Dylan - Tell Tale Signs

Dave Rawlings Machine - A Friend Of A Friend

Johnny Cash - Ain't No Grave

Guy Clarke - Old No 1 / Texas Cookin'

Queens of the Stone Age - Songs For The Deaf

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads

Friday, June 25, 2010

Keep It Clean and Tidy

There is so much available to read as social media continues to expand but, unfortunately, a lot of it is riddled and marred by bad spelling and poor grammar.

To me, rightly or otherwise, such factors indicate a sloppiness and a questionable attitude to detail, particularly in the world of business.

But when I re-read the words in my second paragraph I realise that it is a somewhat harsh attitude, unforgiving and set in stone. Maybe I need to lighten up. Yes?

I am always annoyed if I find I have sent an email or draft News Release or letter to a client – or anyone for that matter – with a typo in it. And it does happen. In texts, too, I’ve slipped up.

Thankfully, I'm not a serial offender but I'm hard on myself when mistakes occur. They look so bad. Sometimes my head is about three or four words ahead of my fingers so typos and misplaced words do up crop – see that?

Among the worst offenders, I've found, are those who submit, speculatively, requests for positions in my company or work placements. Their CVs can be riddled with errors and some even manage to spell my name wrong - or should that be wrongly? For good measure, some even muck up their own email addresses, or end with a chirpy (and I’m not kidding): “Hope to here from you in due coarse.”

There are errors galore on the social media sites I read and, no doubt, it’s down to people wanting to respond quickly to something or other. That, I suppose, is understandable. However, nothing wrong with checking a message before sending it, is there?

One fellow PR person I know wrote a single sentence Tweet recently that couldn’t have had more blunders in it if she’d tried. Two spelling mistakes, an inaccurate hotel name and the classic “it’s” misused – and all in 140 characters.

Like others, I find computer spell checks fairly ineffective so I open my dictionary frequently. A by-product of this is that you come across words you’ve never seen before and maybe will never have the opportunity to use.

Simple spelling errors and grammatical mistakes aside – they’re not life-threatening, after all and none of us is perfect – I also have a problem with swear words in Tweets or on Facebook and the likes, even the words with ** in them, as if that makes them less offensive.

I’m no prude. Having worked in national newspaper newsrooms for 25 years or more, the language used could make a building site labourer blush, and that’s just from the women.

On TV, too, swearing is commonplace and I don’t mean just on the sports’ pitches. Comedians have been swearing their way through gags for years and the good ones – Billy Connolly, for example – make it almost an art form, which doesn’t appeal to one and all, necessarily.

Most of those guilty of swearing, it must be said, are those hiding behind anonymity, but it has been sneaking in to other business forums as well.

As social media is a way of starting conversations, dialogue, finding advocates for businesses, foul language really has no place, in my book. No-one in their right mind would submit a proposal, for example, littered with four-letter words of the sweary kind.

In a public forum, in print and online and for all the world to see, I think swearing is a no-no and most folk, it has to be said, keep it clean.

Am I being pedantic and too fussy, too squeaky clean and prudish, out-of-touch or spot-on? Let me know – and no swearing, if you please.

And, of course, fingers are now crossed that there are no spelling mistakes, literals or words missed out in this bolg. I have chequed.

Friday, May 21, 2010

MISSING - PHONE NUMBERS

In these days of straightforward communication at all levels, why do so many people omit good, old-fashioned telephone numbers – office or mobile – from their emails?

Equally, why do some websites hide contact telephone numbers away as if they are an embarrassment to them? Phone calls are great ways to clarify matters, clear up any written misunderstandings, discuss issues fluently, or keep in touch. For me, it’s still a natural way to connect and to do business in addition to email, and other helpful social media activity.

I really don’t understand why phone numbers are banished from online appearances. Modern day communication is as straightforward, allegedly, as it’s ever been. Those PR practitioners among us want to communicate, discuss, share, connect, converse, inform, entertain, interest - that’s our business.

So when organisations – and, astonishingly some major media outlets are guilty of this – fail to provide simple phone contact details, an unnecessary difficulty arises. A PR chum, keen to target leading blogs, told me some didn’t even have email addresses – one-way communication only, it would seem.

That’s when a simple telephone number comes into its own, to play a key role. I joke with friends and clients that I’m “going over the wire, Steve McQueen-style and avoiding the Twitter/Facebook spotlights” by making direct contact on the phone. Think I’ll be booted out of the social media club for that confession?

Making telephone contact is essential in business, and in life, generally. Another bugbear is voice mail messages when no return numbers are left. Or numbers are left, but rattled off really, really, really quickly as if the caller was fleeing a blazing building.

I love social media and the speed of Internet services as they make life a whole lot easier for us all. But, telephone numbers should still be in the contact mix.

Friday, May 14, 2010

CONSIDERING CONSIDERATION

Recently I blogged about good manners and my view that they matter in business. The feedback was quite astonishing.

Around a hundred people from all over the world including India, the USA, Greece, Australia, Europe, England and Scotland responded when I posted my thoughts on the LinkedIn website http://www.linkedin.com

Most agreed that being polite, taking the trouble to respond to emails or voicemails, acknowledging receipt of important documents such as proposals was not difficult and, indeed, was an important element of conducting business seriously in a well-mannered, courteous way.

It was an issue that even made it in to the pages of a national Sunday http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/business/Michelle-Rodger-Manners-maketh-man.6168474.jp newspaper, where I was quoted. The reaction from that was encouraging as well.

It’s clear that good manners to many people do count for a lot, an awful lot. Just take a look at Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn where individuals gleefully reply and respond, suggest and refer, help and inform. In the main, these sites highlight first-class, heart-warming Net-iquette.

So I’d like now to see this extended into a further business arena – the networking event. And you can blame (only kidding) Cordelia Ditton of http://www.voicebusinesstraining.co.uk as she encouraged this rant.

Her latest blog http://talkaboutspeaking.com/networking-tip-how-to-move-on-without-feeling-you-are-giving-offence is very useful on how to extricate yourself from being stuck in one spot at a networking event. For me, however, that’s not been a real problem but, nevertheless I found reading Dilly’s blog useful, as always. It’s one of the best blogs on my radar.

My biggest bugbear at networking events comes when I am happily engaged and talking with one or more people, listening, exchanging views and offering suggestions to one another.

Then someone else barges in flourishing a business card before launching into the dire “all about me” spiel. Very annoying, hugely boring. I would never dream of being so discourteous. Networking is about meeting different people and, to my mind, the listening part is crucial. I don’t expect anyone wants to hear about PR in detail, the services my company offers or any other info in glorious Technicolour. They prefer, as I do, a brief overall summary that encourages questions or, even better, presents an opportunity for a follow-up, one-to-one conversation at a future date.

But the individual, who breezes into conversations and focuses on his or her business, what he or she can do for you and so on, doesn’t talk with anyone – he or she talks at you. He/she seems to think I, and others in the gathering, need to know in gruesome, long-winded detail all about him or her, what they do and why they are so damn good at it. I don’t. Sorry. To me, such people appear extremely desperate for attention, new business, who knows? It’s easy to walk away from them.

This has happened to me over the years. Usually, I escape with the words “I’ll leave you to it” or “I think we’ve chatted before” – not, perhaps, very profound or well considered or worth copying. But it has worked for me.

Such gatherings are a chance for low-key business conversations, a time to meet others in a range of businesses, to fit faces to names of companies I’ve heard about, to build possible relationships. And at some events, I have met people I have come to admire, like and even to do business with.

Rant over.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

PEPPA PIG AND POLITICS

I’ll be voting on Thursday. I always vote, it is important.

I have voted for two political parties over the years, one consistently and the other, when I was possibly an angrier and younger man, on the one occasion only.

I’ll keep their identities private. Voting is personal and is based on a great many things for me.

The current General Election campaign has been wholly uninspiring and the attempt to put personalities before policies has not captured my imagination. The TV debates were dull, dreary and puerile.

Neither am I impressed – ever, it should be noted – by the endorsements from celebrities, sports stars or anyone else in the public eye. The exact opposite is the case, actually.

I’m underwhelmed when Richard “I don’t believe it” Wilson or comic Eddie Izzard tell me they’re voting Labour. Big Deal.

Actors Michael Caine and Gary “Take That” Barlow are backing the Conservatives. So what?

The Lib Dems have Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe and fellow thespian, Colin Firth on their side. Really, hold me back.

An election highlight so far was when I learned that Channel Five stopped cartoon character star, Peppa Pig from playing any part in a Labour press conference. Would that have helped secure the vote of morning TV “Milkshake” viewers like me, I wonder? I watch it with my three-year-old son, Adam before he heads off to nursery, I should explain.

Conversely, I won’t stop watching someone like Eddie Izzard if his vote was different to mine – he’ll still be funny regardless of his political preferences and, similarly, Gary Barlow’s music will continue to do nothing for me, no matter who he votes for.

I’m not for a minute suggesting there’s something wrong or unpleasant with celebrity backing it’s just that I doubt if it has any real influence. Pointless in my case and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Just a thought. Maybe it would be better if the “stars” urged everyone to actually cast their votes, to get down to the polling station, to exercise their rights. That might have an impact, you never know.

Monday, April 26, 2010

MUSIC FOR THE MASSES

Online backing for Tina Turner’s song “The Best” pushed the 1980s recording into the UK Top Ten at the weekend.

It’s a song favoured by Rangers’ football fans. Supporters of their Old Firm rivals, Celtic were pushing online for “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the Gerry and The Pacemakers’ hit from 19-oatcake.

Both are good songs but it got me thinking as to how – and why – do fans target particular tunes and make them their own unofficial club anthems. I support Scottish Cup finalists, Dundee United and their fans, the Arabs, love songs by John Paul Young and Daniel Boone – yes, that’s right, John Paul Young and Daniel Boone. No not tracks from United fan, Ricky Ross and his band Deacon Blue but John Paul Young and Daniel Boone.

Who are they, you may well ask?

It turns out that John Paul Young is an Australian pop singer-songwriter who had a 1978 worldwide hit with "Love Is in the Air" while Daniel Boone was a one-hit wonder with the 1972 single "Beautiful Sunday."

You’ll agree neither is a household name, like Tina Turner, but their songs are belted out great style by the Tannadice faithful. I have failed to find out just why, out of millions and squillions of pop songs, the tangerine and black clad United fans picked these tunes.

The lyrics have no obvious sporting references nor are they adulterated rudely or controversially, as has happened with other terracing offerings. The words have not been altered, unlike, for example, those in “Knees Up Mother Brown” which have been amended to “Who Ate All The Pies?” which many fans direct at seemingly overweight players performing in front of them. Other popular tunes have been crudely changed and I certainly won’t repeat them here.

Having joined in the United singing many a time, I do like these two songs for what they are, jolly singalongs. “Love Is In The Air” even appeared on the playlist during our wedding festivities. Well, it did suit the occasion.

Don't know if John Paul and Daniel are aware of their popularity among the United support. Maybe they'll pick up on it online - or via this blog offering.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

BECAUSE IT'S TIME, I'LL LEARN ONLINE

With great anticipation I will be attending a social media for business course next week. I will be a rookie.

OK, I Tweet and Facebook, I’ve got my Google Alerts, I blog and I have used social media for clients and their PR, and so on. And I have attended various seminars that have been hugely interesting but, equally, baffling. Not, I must add, because the speakers weren’t good, far from it.

But, clearly, I am nowhere near an expert and that makes learning more essential. After all, I struggle to put links into my blog text properly (hopefully this effort will prove me wrong.)

On the web, there is wall-to-wall expertise, mostly free, too. Some of the information is riveting, some too geeky for me, but it all goes to show that social media/digital media, call it what you will, isn’t going away in a hurry.

The thing I really like about Twitter, for example, is the willingness of clued-up people to share their tips or, the pitfalls, the etiquette and the dos and don’ts. I am way behind when it comes to guidance and reference points.

Already, I have been grateful to the likes of Craig McGill at www.contently-managed.com and Michelle Rodger at www.brazenuk.com for many snippets of invaluable instruction and help selflessly supplied. Indeed, all of those I follow on Twitter amaze me with the links they readily and gleefully put up.

Some day, I hope to be equally informative and helpful to anyone logging on to my blog or following me on Twitter or elsewhere. At the moment, however, through lack of knowledge, I wouldn’t feel confident to advise anyone too closely.

So, in the interests of making a start, I am pleased to reveal that next week’s course is organised by Glasgow Opportunities GO Group http://www.go.uk.com whose personnel were hugely efficient in arranging for a 50 per cent fee reduction.

The day-long event is being led by Kyle MacRae http://blethermedia.com/ whose reputation is deservedly very high in this field.

I just hope I don’t end up wearing the dunce cap with a capital “D” at the end of it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

NEW AND TRADITIONAL: BOTH, PLEASE

IT’S intriguing looking at and digesting discussions about the future of the print media when new/social/digital media is flourishing and exciting.

From the age of about twelve, all I ever wanted to be was a newspaper reporter and that was my job continuously for almost 30 years, even though the loathsome crook, Robert Maxwell did make me swither for a while.

In the most recent past I’ve been running my own PR business and a fair bit of time involves dealing with newspaper and magazine journalists, plus the broadcast side of the business.

Never a day goes by when I don’t read a couple of newspapers, although nowadays, my first scan of the morning news is either on the radio, TV or online. That I read a newspaper maybe later in the morning doesn’t bother me: it’s a natural merging of new ways to get up-to-date news and the traditional. During the MPs’ expenses scandal, I have to say I devoured the story in the Daily Telegraph and got more from its coverage that any other news outlet. Of course, I greedily scoured online sources for updates and latest revelations as well.

I’m embracing social/digital media because I definitely recognise its merits, not least its speed and ability to reach huge audiences, which is a bonus for a PR practitioner. Getting my head round some of the possibilities has taken worthwhile time and effort, but it is hugely interesting, if daunting as well.

I like newspapers, magazines and books to read at the breakfast table, in a coffee shop, on a train or plane journey. In bed, too, but I usually only manage a couple of pages before I crash out – so a book lasts me ages.

For those reasons, I don’t think newspapers etc will become extinct, blown away by the social media whirlwind as there are plenty of readers who think like me.

So it was heartening to read today the view of Brian McNair, Professor of Journalism & Communication at the University of Strathclyde, particularly when he wrote about reading “in the kitchen at breakfast, in bed at night and in the bath, books are organic and unobtrusive. Much easier to use than the lightest laptop, and much less bother.”

And he continued: “I could go on about the pleasures of print, but I don’t want to pretend that I don’t love online technology too. With the Internet I can do things that print never allowed. It is, without doubt, the biggest leap in communication technology since the invention of print.”

You can read Brian’s full article on the allmediascotland.com website here http://www.allmediascotland.com/press_news/24880/the-allure-of-print-brian-mcnair-writes

I share his views and I admire many individuals, such as Craig McGill www.contently-managed.com who are storming into the social media world with great gusto allied to a fearsome determination to make sense and purpose out of it all.

I’m a mild-mannered guy and I reckon there’s a place for both the new media in all its forms and, hopefully, a re-vitalised traditional newspaper scene.

Friday, February 19, 2010

GOOD MANNERS MATTER

Good manners have always been important to me so I hope you don’t mind me sharing that. No, well, I thank you (see what I mean?)

I abhor bad manners, lack of courtesy and those who are less than polite – whether it’s keeping a department store door open for someone who breezes past without so much as a “thanks” to children who don’t seem to be able to master simple phrases such as “please” and “thank you.”

This brings me to politeness and manners in business – they do matter, and I like to think I have them. They are vital. But, in the opening two months of this year, I’m detecting a sad slide, however, despite modern communications available to all.

Here are two examples: at the start of December I undertook a copywriting job for a publishing company. One of the businesses I had to contact during the project indicated, in our conversations, that it was interested in PR support and media relations and asked if I could make follow-up contact in January, which I duly did, as I promised I would.

When I got in touch via email, as requested, I asked the gentleman I had interviewed previously if he would like to consider a meeting to discuss his company’s needs for possible PR, generally. No response. No simple acknowledgement was forthcoming so after seven days, extremely politely, I emailed again. Several weeks later, I have heard nothing.

Yes, of course, I could telephone but I was specifically asked not to do so and to use email instead as it was “more convenient” given the nature of the business. Not convenient enough, it would appear, to say “no thanks” or “we’ve gone off the idea or “we’re waiting to sort out budgets” – an acknowledgement or a knock-back, it wouldn’t matter. Some form of feedback was all I sought.

In another case, I was invited to visit a company to discuss PR and media relations. At the end of a very positive meeting, I suggested – and its company representatives agreed – that I should submit an outline strategy, flesh out some of the matters we had discussed and submit costings based on a range of commitment scenarios.

I emailed them to say I had enjoyed the discussions, meeting them and so on – as I usually do after a first meeting - and attached a summarised proposal. Four weeks on there has been no feedback, no acknowledgement that they have even received my document. Phone-call follow-ups have yielded the usual trite “we’ll pass on your message” or “so-and-so has been very busy” to “leave your mobile number” etc. Pathetic.

I’ve not been seeking decisions, agreements or confirmed deals. I only want to know that my communication, which I have taken the time to prepare, refine and finalise, has actually been seen by someone I was dealing directly with.

Thankfully, and to end on a positive note, good manners do exist. This week I met with a charming MD with a view to creating website text for his company. Again, I was asked about PR support, media relations, social media opportunities and more. When I was on the train home, up popped a message on my Blackberry to say - and he beat me to it - that he had found the meeting extremely instructive and interesting and could I, in the first instance, give him a costing for the copywriting work the following day.

This I did – and he replied one hour later to say go-ahead. Now that was efficient and business-like, simple good manners, neither difficult nor challenging. Not all decisions, obviously, can be made instantly. But, if I am spending time plus effort to communicate and keep potential clients informed, the least I expect is the same level of courtesy. And with email, text or whatever, it’s never been easier.

To refuse to respond, answer, or acknowledge is arrogant, ignorant and totally unacceptable behaviour in my book. To repeat: business manners do matter.

That feels better: please forgive the rant. I’m sure I’m not alone, am I?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

TO WEAR A TIE – OR (K)NOT?


I have a business problem at the moment. Thankfully, it’s not causing sleepless nights, but it lingers nonetheless.

I’m talking about dress codes, or lack of them, if you like - and not for shopping at Tesco, barefoot or in nightwear, I hasten to add.

No. For most of my working life a simple formula existed: work = wearing a suit and a tie, or trousers and a jacket and a tie. No wriggle room.

From my earliest days as a young hack, it was drummed into me to wear a shirt and tie for all eventualities. I did so until I left a newspaper editorial floor for the final time back in 1996 and I followed that advice faithfully as I started out in my own PR business thereafter. I never thought twice about it; it was as natural as putting on your socks or cleaning your teeth at bedtime.

But the sartorial world in business terms, and I’m concentrating on men as I am one, has undergone a massive shake up. Ties are now optional and that’s been confusing me for a while.

Ties are still OK, open neck shirts are not frowned upon, either, these days. Think Alan Sugar (tie) or Richard Branson (no tie.) Some guys happily toddle off to work in jeans and polo shirts and, I suppose, if you work indoors, don’t meet anyone other than your colleagues, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Dressing appropriately for a particular professional, business environment is sensible. Some might say that it adds a touch of gravitas. Newsreaders like Jon Snow look good in ties and I reckon if he opted for an open neck shirt in the TV studio, it might just look out of place. So-called football TV pundits can leave the ties at home alongside any original thoughts, insights or points of view.

That said, I think that how people dress is entirely a matter for them, and I’m not one to judge given my uncertainly in this matter. For example, the Top Gear team on BBC TV recently got a dressing down in a survey for being less than Top Men when it came to their on-air threads. Jumping in and out of souped-up toys hardly calls for a neat, dark blue or black, all-wool two-piece, from Savile Row, or Ralph Slaters, which is my emporium of choice, does it?

So:

Do I wear a tie at all times on business, as I was brainwashed to do?

Do I never wear one, regardless of the business appointments?

Or do I wear one selectively? That is: a “yes” when meeting lawyers who are clients, for example, but, a hey man, “no” when dealing with music festival promoters and organisers or other creative/artistic types? I don’t imagine the legal eagles would really mind, either.

My general rule of thumb is, therefore, this. If I am not sure, I wear a tie – and I prefer a white shirt with a self-coloured one in the main, not being a fan of patterned or striped ties. After all, as I said once jokingly in an interview with a business newspaper: “I’ve never been refused entry anywhere for wearing a tie.” I can always remove it if I feel I’m over-dressed in comparison to those I’m meeting for the first time.

This happened when I went to see potential clients in London a few years back during a heat wave. In my suit, shirt and tie I was uncomfortably hot – those greeting me at their Tower Bridge offices looked as if they were heading for a beach barbeque with not a pair of trousers in sight, only garish shorts.

Before the pitch began, my tie was off, so was my jacket with great relief – and I got the contract, which actually involved meeting lots of people wearing ties, so I wore one, too.

This week, in a very unscientific poll conducted on a Glasgow-Edinburgh train, I noted that about half the chaps in suits were wearing ties, the other half, including myself, were not. Very inconclusive.

But, I’m bending to the view that the tie-wearers did look sharper, keener and smarter, even though some of the tie and shirt combos were of the “dress in the dark” variety.

As I don’t have a mirror that talks back, I asked my darling wife, Maggie her opinion. After a moment’s consideration she said I looked smart and dashing with or without a tie, a pleasing compliment I must say.

So, with apologies, this is a blog with no conclusion, or answer to my initial question. It’s personal, isn’t it? Any comments would be, as always, most welcome.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?

I don’t know Carlo Strenger but in my book he’s been talking a lot of sense in a straightforward, easy-to-understand manner lately. I would even say I take great comfort in what he’s been saying.

Essentially, he reckons that a “midlife crisis” is unlikely for most folks although “midlife change” is inevitable, but not in a dramatic, potentially harmful way.

That’s because Carlo, a psychoanalyst, psychologist and associate professor at Israel’s Tel Aviv University, reckons middle-aged workers of today are more laid back than the young thrusters making their way in business.

And there was a section from the Harvard Business Review quoted in many newspapers that I particularly liked pointing out there was a trend for big companies to “rely on outside consultants (and this) was particularly good news for mature, independent professionals.” Woo-hoo, if that’s an appropriate response from a mature, independent professional.

No, I’m acutely aware since I set up in business that an older head, my own, has helped me considerably, to stay calm and to play to my strengths. At one time I was, yes, honestly, a young buck, who was eager to learn but had difficulty sometimes listening to the learned. I didn’t know everything and the older pros who took time to help, guide and calm me down knew that – their patience and know-how and willingness to share was unbelievably beneficial and they asked nothing in return.

Eventually, I did learn to listen, absorb and make use of the knowledge offered. It paid off.

Today, conversely, I’m listening intently and appreciatively to the young entrepreneurs and business people at the cutting edge of digital, social, whatever media you want to call it, and they are really good instructors as I reckon I’m learning steadily and surely. And they enjoy sharing what they’ve learned, too. The mix of the experienced and youthful exuberance is vital, I suggest.

Anyway, back to Carlo. The Daily Telegraph summed up his words perfectly by reporting: “The midlife crisis is being replaced with a graceful ‘midlife transition’ as increased life expectancy and good job prospects take the sting out of ageing.” That’s good to know.

And the paper’s coverage of Carlo’s findings goes on: “…an increasingly confident and resilient generation are embarking on productive ‘second lives’ as they reach 50, aware that they still have 30 good years ahead of them.”

I’m over 50, a father to a three-year-old son – and 31-year-old and 28-year-old sons – this is very good to know, indeed.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

COLLECTORS’ ITEMS - Part Two

NEW stamps featuring ten classic British album covers are out now and this blog offered its own alternatives last week to those officially selected.

Paul and Duncan - thank you, gentlemen - also contributed their very interesting suggestions and, as both chaps know a thing or two about music, I was intrigued by their choices. Some on their lists were on my original one, too, but left out as I was only allowing myself ten.

This week, again in no particular order, here are ten album covers from across the Atlantic that could grace stamps, I would suggest. Again, if anyone wants to send in nominations, that would be great. Anyway, here goes:

Harvest Moon – Neil Young
Transformer – Lou Reed
Nebraska – Springsteen
Blood on the Tracks – Dylan
Car Wheels On A Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams
Dixie Chicken – Little Feat
Copperhead Road – Steve Earle
Hot Rats – Frank Zappa
Brighter Than Creation’s Dark – Drive-by Truckers
Surf’s Up – The Beach Boys

Thursday, January 07, 2010

COLLECTORS' ITEMS

NEW stamps featuring ten classic British album covers are out now – Led Zeppelin IV, Ziggy Stardust, Let it Bleed, Screamadelica, Tubular Bells and London Calling are among the selection.

The stamp issue, we’re told, “explores some of the most potent graphic images of modern times, many of which have provided a visual soundtrack to people’s lives. Many of the most significant graphic designers of the last 40 years are represented by this selection of ten iconic album covers.”

Some of the choices are interesting – Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” cover has been ignored in favour of “The Division Bell” and Zeppelin’s more distinguished I and II covers lose out to IV. The Stones’ “Let It Bleed” would have been one of my choices, too, however.

But, in no particular order, here are ten British album covers I have selected as an alternative:

Hats – The Blue Nile
Solid Air – John Martyn
Led Zeppelin II – Led Zeppelin
Turning Point – John Mayall
Meat Is Murder – The Smiths
Hunky Dory – David Bowie
Thick As A Brick – Jethro Tull
Argus – Wishbone Ash
Paranoid – Black Sabbath
New Boots and Panties – Ian Dury and The Blockheads.

What would you choose? I’d be really interested to find out. British only, please; will do a US follow-up on my next blog.