Thursday, December 29, 2011

TOP ALBUMS And GIGS OF 2011

It’s okay to cheat on my own blog, yes?

It’s end of year review time. I have to say I love the music-related “best ofs” that appear on so many outlets, off and online.

So – and here’s the cheating part – my top ten CDs of the year include two I don’t have in my collection but whose tracks I’ve listened to a lot thanks to the Internet. The “cheating” selections are Tom Waits’ “Bad As Me” and the Israel Nash Gripka offering “Barn Doors And Concrete Floors.”

Each of these albums is rewarding and hugely satisfying.


Tom Waits – Bad As Me

Gillian Welch – The Harrow and The Harvest

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo

The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

Dave Alvin – Eleven Eleven

Richmond Fontaine – The High Country

Israel Nash Gripka – Barn Doors And Concrete Floors

Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire

Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive

Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know

Bubbling under Wilco with “The Whole Love,” Jonathan Wilson’s “Gentle Spirit” and, surprised myself with this one, the Elbow offering “Build A Rocket Boys.”

No cheating, however, when it comes to my top gigs of 2011 as I did attend them all, enjoying the glorious music while enduring the crowd talkers, grotty loos, venues where starting times are state secrets, and the antiseptic air of the all-seated, posh places.

If all these acts had been playing a second night, I’d have gone again, happily.

GIGS

Gillian Welch/David Rawlings, The Armadillo
“Each and every one of their 22 songs was a highly polished, meaningful gem, delivered with poise, passion and delicious contentment.”

Israel Nash Gripka, Stereo
“A sweaty, barnstorming gig, bang on the money if you like roots rock hewn from musical goldmines where The Stones, Son Volt, Ryan Adams and even Crosby Stills and Nash have dug successfully.”

Band of Heathens, Classic Grand
“…utterly compelling as the Texans played song after song in an unfussy, but gripping manner.”

John Grant, St Andrew in the Square
“…an emotional, heart-warming performance with shards of black humour slicing through his sadness.”

Phosphorescent, Stereo
“ a band that blends the robust and the tender, and makes its audience smile all the way through, a real trick of the trade.”
David Olney/Sergio Webb, Laurie’s Bar
“…a magic gig that lasted over two hours. Another two would have had us equally entranced.”

Richmond Fontaine, Stereo
Gleefully and mercilessly intent on setting song moods to manic mode in many cases, RF retain an endearing ability to be rockers, hushed raconteurs and first-class Americana roots’ exponents.

Steve Earle, The Academy
“Leaving an Earle gig is always a bit of a wrench…never do you come away other than satisfied – and gratified that you get a masterclass each time.”

Giant Sand, 02 ABC2
“A shortage of great tracks is not a problem for dust-blown Gelb who can deliver them in any manner he chooses..”

Wilco, The Royal Concert Hall
“….truly on fire offering up a joyous mixture of wailing wig outs and dreamy, heartfelt mellowness.”

All live review snippets penned by me and available in full on the excellent americana-uk website.

HAPPY NEW YEAR.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Simpsons, Primal Scream and Theresa May

Do any of you remember the scene in The Simpsons where Bart is trying to train – hugely unsuccessfully – his dog, Santa’s Little Helper?

We see inside the pooch’s brain via screen bubbles and what man’s best friend is seeing or thinking is something like: “Blah, blah, good dog. Blah, blah, sit…..” Well, I confess, that’s the effect the political party conferences have on me.

The platform speakers’ speeches may well have been buffed and tweaked, re-worked and sleeked-up but the oily polemic has little or no impact on me. And when the leaders receive their so-contrived and well-rehearsed ovations I shake my head and cringe.

These are embarrassing occasions. As bad as Dad dancers at weddings. Earnest delegates nod sagely, some just nod off, others gravely take notes and try to ignore the TV cameras as they pan around the hall while upfront, centre stage, their leader is rattling on about this policy or that while sticking the knife into their opponents’ ideas. A real turn-off.

However, I actually tuned in by accident to Home Secretary, Theresa May’s speech. I was at the gym on the cross-trainer and had forgotten my iPod with the new Wilco and Laura Marling CDs on it, so stuck the headphones into the BBC channel as Coronation Street, speedway racing and some teen-angst drama were on the other screens, plus poor rap stars on MTV.

But I was in for a shock because it was so bad it was actually funny. The content, at times, was absurd, infantile. “The only cause of a crime is a criminal,” said May. No, really? Rain can you make you wet, you might want to know.

Then on human rights she said an illegal immigrant avoided deportation because of a pet cat. It made me mull over what headlines the tabloids would conjure up for that revelation but I’ll keep them to myself. Later it was revealed to be a totally inaccurate tale so that made Ms May’s oh-so-earnest delivery and assertion that she was “not making this up” an even bigger hoot. This was live telly at its most hilarious, if unintentionally.

As she shuffled off to the Primal Scream track “Rocks” she was about to get Bobby Gillespie and his merry band annoyed. They were none too chuffed with her song choice. http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/oct/05/primal-scream-theresa-may-rocks?newsfeed=true

So what is the point of these political conferences, all of them, other than a jamboree for drinkies and a catch-up with chums you don’t see from one year to another? Surely, no-one is deluded by these stage-managed pantomimes or convinced that those reading from their tele-prompters have an ounce of sincerity other than to please and appeal to the party faithful attending?

Maybe the political commentators – and I am not one, I admit – would dismiss me as a lightweight in these matters and fair enough. But that doesn’t change my view that such gatherings – good as they might be for the local economy of wherever they are held – are no more than contrived, set-piece events where a lot of hot air is about all that’s delivered.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

AND TODAY'S "IN" WORD IS........

ro·bust Adjective

1. (of a person, animal, or plant) Strong and healthy; vigorous.

2. (of an object) Sturdy in construction.

Is it just me or is robust the “in” word at the moment?

A lot of people like it and are using it. Whether it’s up-against-it police chiefs in the aftermath of the riots in London, politicians defending their policies or banks and bankers trying to avoid a shake-up, robust is in demand.

It’s not a word I dislike, the opposite in fact and one I have used selectively in my role as a PR – but hearing it every day grates.

Some of the coaches at the World Cup Rugby, or Rugby World Cup even, have used the word, too. To me, that’s a sport that involves being robust at all times.

I wonder how words suddenly slip into fashion?

“Devastated” is very popular and has been for many years, as I can recall from my days as a tabloid journalist intruding in private grief. Sports stars, victims of crime, people involved in tragedies all used, and still do use, this one word response.

Transparency and accountability are high in the usage charts, too, alongside credible, incentivise, leverage, tangible, keynote and synergy. They crop up all the time. They are words of the moment. The loathsome “tasked” is another, sadly. I hate it when nouns are suddenly sullied by those who use them as verbs.

“Quite rightly” – OK that’s two words – is a phrase I’m fed up hearing, especially when spouted by a politician who has been challenged on some issue or other and is trying to give the impression of even-handedness while dismissing the criticism. Staying with politicians. The way they dismiss a question by declaring in an answer: “A more important question is…” Blooming cheek. Anyway, I’ve strayed from the topic slightly.

Visceral* and venal**, whose meanings I always need to look up in the dictionary, have been on my radar for some time. Music, book and film critics like, no, love them in their reviews. But they just came from nowhere, it seems to me.

I don’t know if any experts can pinpoint or explain why some words suddenly escape from the anonymity of the dictionary pages and become so popular. And does it work in reverse? What will replace today’s liking of robust? That’s anyone’s guess – what do you think it might be?

* felt in or as if in the internal organs of the body: a deep inward feeling.

** capable of being bought or obtained for money or other valuable consideration.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

NIGHTMARE NETWORKING - BLEEDING EARS ALERT

The business world is a real mix of people.

And nowhere is this more evident than at networking events. All types of business folk come to these gatherings for a fair number of reasons but meeting new people, making contacts, possibly forming relationships and winning business further down the line would be near the top of the list for most people.

One of my earliest network nightmares was at an evening event, a sit-down meal with speakers, who turned out to be informative and helpful. That’s more than could be said for the chap sitting on my right-hand side whose company supplied drain cleaning products. On and on he went about this solution and that detergent, the types of jobs his firm had undertaken, the problems encountered, the clients who caused him grief. “Excuse me, I’m eating,” I should have said. If someone could have magically flushed him away along with his pile of leaflets and their pie charts I would have been grateful.

On another occasion, I got stuck with the droner – rattling on interminably about his company after thrusting his business card down my throat within seconds of meeting me. Then, when someone else joined us, he did the same again – a double dose of boredom. At least I knew he wasn’t making me a special case.

Another event, another shudder. A woman asked me about my line of work. I started to talk but she, after examining my lapel badge, cut me off by saying that PR was a waste of time, no way would she ever, ever speak to the media because one newspaper had misquoted one of her friends and got her name wrong. Fair enough. Despite that, I asked what she did (a professional expert on everything, seemingly) and, 25 minutes later, my ears were bleeding. Taxi!

On the other hand, I’ve met some people who are excellent at network events as they share a conversation and are quick to introduce you to others they know. Heather Alexander at Clearsight Consulting definitely comes into this category - http://www.clearsight-consulting.com/

But, you live and learn and nowadays my experience at networking events is different. I go with a relaxed attitude, accepting that people are there for a shared purpose and that works for me.

I’ve also learned from reading generous online tips provided by the likes of Jackie Cameron of Cameron Consulting whose thoughts actually prompted this post.

http://www.facebook.com/Speakupforyourself

On the Glasgow Business Network group page on LinkedIn there’s a harder-hitting discussion under way, equally interesting and relevant. http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Why-do-you-network-2226692.S.68244307?qid=d9166a43-54bd-4f4b-88f7-1cdd0098ec9c&trk=group_most_popular-0-b-ttl&goback=.gmp_2226692

No networking event or business gathering is the same for two people. How could it be? I like meeting new people and I find the follow-up contact, such as the “good to meet you” email, often brings about another 1-2-1 meeting and that can been good for business. Networking does not provide instant solutions nor immediate new business in my book.

You will, I hope, note that this post hasn’t been written po-faced. So if we meet at an event, I promise I won’t thrust a business card at you instantly, I won’t bore you with a lengthy diatribe about what I do and how wonderful I am at doing it. Instead, it would be good to have a chat and see what happens. OK?

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

MIDSUMMER MERRY MADNESS

This is a post that my darling wife is unlikely to read.

My annual rant, you see, about C-mastime has begun at the end of a glorious sunny period. Normally, this type of complaint from me kicks in late in September or early October when all the ho-ho-ho, hoo-hah relentlessly gets under way.

But I didn’t start this, honest.

Famous big stores in London – I refuse to give them a free plug – are to blame for this moan. They have, incredibly, launched their festive season with more than 140 days still to go to December 25. It’s not real. November 25 is time enough, just about, I would suggest.

It’s bizarre and worrying. I pity the shop staff who may have to listen to C- word related songs by Slade, Wizzard and others before they’ve possibly even been on a Costa sunshine holiday or the next series of X Factor has started.

Crikey, we’re in the middle of the schools’ summer holiday here in Scotland, for goodness sake.

If you read the so-called explanations in this article

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/just-149-days-left-to-go-christmas-comes-early-to-harrods-2327918.html then I think we are doomed to year-round festive frolics.

I used to feel hugely dispirited on returning from an annual overseas holiday in September. I’d pop into our local supermarket to stock up with essentials only to be confronted inside the front entrance with outsize tins of biscuits and C-cards. Tinsel time was already trying to wear away my suntan.

C-time has officially gone commercially bonkers…for longer and longer each year.

You know you can’t possibly be able to have a good time unless you’re spending loads on needless presents most can ill-afford to buy, forking out on over-priced, mass produced traditional turkey dinners in a conveyor belt of “sittings” in hotels and clubs, or boozing till you drop for the sake of it. Well, that’s the advertising message I get and do my utmost to resist and ignore.

One feeble idea that these stores are catering for overseas visitors wanting to stock up on “British” decorations for their homes is laughable. Presumably these visitors can’t order such much needed gems over the Internet?

One senior executive at one of the two London outlets involved in this madness, no doubt rubbing her hands together gleefully and with a smile wider than Santa’s, says she can see a time when: “… we offer a capsule Christmas collection throughout the year.” This is a fancy, snake-oiled, marketing-tongued way of saying all-year round, which is not a pleasing thought to me.

In the run-up to the festive season we are increasingly brow beaten to consider spending our very hard-earned cash, mostly on rubbish (apart from C-pudding and mince pies, I must confess.) Now, the commercial brains behind the big stores and chains would love us to spend more on C-time for months in advance. Take your sunglasses off and buy the fake snow spray, they enthuse.

But I refuse to join in. It’s crackers, and I don’t mean the kind with corny jokes inside.

Friday, July 15, 2011

TALK SPORT

The BBC TV commentary team on duty at Wimbledon this year was criticised by some viewers for talking too much or “over talking,” as a Beeb statement put it.

From what I caught of it all, John McEnroe’s comments are always worth listening to, but Greg Rusedski talks utter drivel. “If he wins this point, he’ll hold his serve.” What? That other non-Wimbledon champion, Tim Henman was OK without being insightful, despite being paid a packet.

The problem with former players packing in their sport and heading for the commentary box is not confined to tennis. Rugby has that whingeing, carping Brian I-can’t-see-anyone-but-England-on-this-pitch Moore: dreadful.

In golf, there is the waffling and woeful, Wayne Grady: “All these golfers look the same to me,” he said after mixing up a player’s name in this week’s coverage of The Open. Handy for a so-called “commentator,” isn’t it? Another out-on-the-course-faceless-one ventured into Ed Milliband territory with the same reply but only twice in a row: “Yes the wind has dropped. It was windier earlier, but it has dropped now.”

We’re in the close season but football, with its wall to wall coverage, is the biggest sinner. Does anyone remember Match of the Day dullard Alan Shearer saying anything remotely interesting? Great player, grim pundit.

And Mark Lawrenson? His raised eyebrows and so-called sardonic wit never register with me at any rate. Andy Townshend on ITV is about as useful as a Grand Prix driver with no sense of direction. Ex-players can be good on the box: Graeme Souness and Martin O’Neill spring to mind.

Former sports stars are able to make the transition – jockey, Willie Carson knows his stuff and Steve Cram in athletics, too, although both have voices that grate.

While some of the former players on Radio Scotland’s football coverage could do with a course in grammar, obviously. But there’s an entertaining buzz about what they have to say - and they don’t make the mistake of taking themselves too seriously.

How programme producers go about picking the pundits is a mystery. But surely they could revamp the criteria and start looking for people with sparkle, insight and an ability not to state the blooming obvious.

Anyone get on your nerves when you're watching televised sport or listening to the action on the radio? Get it off your chest, let me know.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

FESTIVAL DREAM - QUEUE FOR TICKETS OR COVER YOUR EARS?

IT’S the middle of summer, allegedly, and the music festival season is in full swing. As I won’t be attending any, I’m using my blog slot this week to compile my own dream festival line up.

There are some notable and superb exceptions from my musical collection like Dylan, Springsteen, Cash, Zeppelin, Sam Baker, Mary Gauthier, The Handsome Family and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, for example. But they can always play a fringe festival.

It’s a fun flick through my CD racks – and it would be equally enjoyable to see your picks.

Neil Young

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WxIkHpnVtE&feature=related

Gillian Welch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FM8ui2ByUI

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqFPqEwY6to&feature=related

Steve Earle

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyD5qVbGhbo&feature=related

Morrissey

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmbcPONXRHQ

Richmond Fontaine

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChGak4-qNxI&feature=related

Eels

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_1cNtZ1h4o

Rory Gallagher

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxiEMpcI83E

Lucinda Williams

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kx1ffuDoy6I

Four Tet

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWBDzHqXZqk&feature=related

The National

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEZJ_sjG7II&feature=relmfu

James McMurtry & The Heartless Bastards

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcBWlblRDjg&feature=fvwrel

Pet Shop Boys

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g47JEcwpMyY

Cat Power

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhUC3yjM6vU&feature=fvwrel

SUPERGROUP

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Gzglg7WDmQ

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A BIZARRE BUSINESS - THIS WEEK I'LL BE AN ASTRONAUT

I have encountered many different things since setting up in business in the late 90s – the good, the bad, the hugely gratifying and the downright impossible.

The praise of people is always welcome and heartening. Complaints, justified or otherwise, have to be dealt with. The demands need to be put in context and the expectations matched to reality. I like the mix and doing my best for clients who invest so much in me.

I’ve learned that keeping a level head is essential. Listening to sage advice is very important. I believe in good manners in business (as this blog has mentioned before) at all times and dealing with people respectfully.

And in the main I have been fortunate with clients from the public and private sectors who have been a pleasure to work with, to socialise with.

However, I’ve just experienced a business world first. Without naming any names, let me explain. But I do think this bizarre.

At two meetings at the tail end of last year, I was invited to discuss PR support activity with a company for a series of events it was planning. Before the second, I submitted a detailed proposal that included costs. The company said it was pleased with the advice I had given, the suggestions offered and that the proposal was “excellent” and suited in every way. A contract was prepared but not signed as no starting date had been finalised.

Then the first proposed event was postponed so any work I had to do was, rightly, delayed and the company said it would be “in touch.” Busy with other clients, I did not think this was unduly remarkable.

But, when I checked the date for the second planned event on the original list I had been given, it was obvious a fair chunk of activity was quickly required to ensure the strategy agreed could be carried out to the client’s advantage.

I contacted the company several times and heard nothing in return. I didn’t want to badger them and as the day of the proposed second event was getting closer and closer, I had increasing concerns that any worthwhile PR support activity could be achieved.

Then out of the blue, a new “PR” company announced its arrival via a social media platform.

One of its listed clients, its only client actually, was the company I’d been speaking with – and that’s because those behind the new “PR” outfit were those in the company I’d been talking to.

I did smile even though this was a surprise development, bizarre even. I wasn’t aware those involved with the company who had sought my assistance had any expertise in PR: that’s why I was being hired, I reckoned. Silly me.

If those involved – and on their website they rattle on about PR/Marketing but focus their words on marketing mainly – believe they can undertake an efficient and effective PR campaign for their business and their events, then good luck to them. How they can help meet the PR needs of any other client they manage to secure must be open to question.

What’s happened is a bit like me saying: “This week I’m going to become a photographer, a web designer, or an accountant, no wait, an astronaut.” If I did, nobody in their right mind would hire me, would they?

Of course, there’s been no communication from the company, even out of courtesy, to say we won’t be working together. An associate suggested I should write and ask them if my services are definitely no longer required, just to be awkward. But I haven’t and, frankly, don’t want to waste any more time on them.

I would never wish to work for an outfit so blatantly – it would appear – at odds with my own standards and straightforward approach.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

DYLAN - ONE NAME, MANY TUNES

I readily admit that I was a fairly late convert to the words and music of Bob Dylan.

Pop and then prog rock dominated my early listening days, but I am glad I caught up with his Bob-ness. He is an unforgettable star.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwSZvHqf9qM

I have only seen him live twice – both times in Glasgow. First time at the SECC was simply dire. I don’t remember the date, but I recall the gig with a shudder. Spot the tune was the popular game in the crowd that night.

Second time was on June 24 (significant number that) 2004 at Barrowland. This proved to be one of my favourite concerts of all time: I got goosebumps even reading the reviews. It was an immense performance buoyed by a boisterous crowd loving every minute of it, whether in the sing-a-longs or in the hushed moments. We were there – and we swear we saw Dylan smile.

As it’s Dylan’s 70th birthday next week, and there will be lots written and said about him, I thought I’d have a daft, no prize Bob quiz – and the answers are dead easy.

What are your top five Dylan tracks? Well, maybe not so easy as he’s written about a squillion of them. My top five change all the time – but I’ll start it off, and in no particular order.

Stuck Inside of Memphis With The Memphis Blues Again

Tom Thumb Blues

Not Dark Yet

Hard Rain

Forever Young

OK – let’s make it 10.

Shelter From The Storm

Masters of War

Like A Rolling Stone

Mississppi

Blowin In the Wind

OK 15.

You’re A Big Girl Now; I Believe In You; Don’t Think Twice – no, that’s plenty. Going to listen to lots of them now.

Please let me know your favourites – no simple task, I know.

Monday, May 16, 2011

STARTING OVER - A DAD AGAIN IN MY FIFTIES

This is the first blog post I have devoted to the subject of my becoming a Dad again in my 50s – but since my little boy, Adam is five this week, I reckon it would be OK to share some thoughts with you.

I’ll start off by saying that I love caring for him. The sleeplessness, the tantrums, the current spate of back-chat: none of this ever gets in the way of my love for this child, matched, of course, by my love for my darling wife, Maggie and my elder sons, Steven, 32 and Martin, 29. I’m a lucky man.

Adam is funny, chatty, bright, inquisitive, inventive, daring, quick and keen to learn, re-assuring, anxious to undertake tasks, as well as mischievous, messy, dogged with a fiery temper, and a very loud voice. A great mix in other words that prevents me, in the main, from reading a book, watching a film or listening to more than one CD track at a time when he’s around. I don’t mind.

Within minutes of his birth, I took off my T-shirt and laid him against my chest, looked at him and told him he was coming into a good family, that we would love him to bits and that he had two cracking big brothers who’d look out for him, too.

It was, as John Lennon sang, just like starting over. No it was starting all over again. I had seen two boys grow into fine, independent men.

But now I was reading the what the hell-do-we-do-next help books as much as first-time mum, Maggie. The dramas, the worries, the desire to keep him safe and happy that applied with Steven and Martin were back in action again with Adam. It’s an instinctive thing.

Stages of his infancy – like learning to walk – brought back great memories of things that my older boys did that had faded over the years as they grew and developed to be replaced by more up-to-date memories.

I’m not sure if I’m a different kind of Dad this time round, although maturity must be a positive thing. I might be a little more patient, but I suppose that’s debatable. My working life is different now compared to the 80s so I probably spend more time in Adam’s company. I play tennis, work out at the gym and go to live music gigs but I am more of a home bird now than I was when in my 20s.

Naturally, I do worry from time to time about the age gap between Adam and me, but I like to think I’m young at heart. I also worry more this time round that I am helping him as best as I possibly can – but when I look at my older sons, I reckon the evidence is that I’m doing alright.

I love all the changes and twists and turns he delivers. Adam is hugely quizzical and also matter of fact. When bathing him one night, he looked up to declare: “I love my Mum from here to the moon, but I don’t like you so much.”

Out on a bike ride last week he was advising me how to brake when going downhill without falling off. “I don’t want you to get hurt, Dad. Have you got any plasters?” Then he became annoyed with the litter dropped in the park. When the rain came on, he said: “Who ordered that?”

No two walks to the park are ever the same. One day we’ll be looking for golden statues, the next we’re counting the number of cats we see. These are things that have transformed my life, and maybe because of my age, they really lock in to my brain to be cherished.

An acquaintance in the same age bracket as me, also shares my experience as a Dad in his 50s again. He summed up his thoughts, when asked what it was like looking after a pre-school child one more time, as follows: “well, it takes me a little longer to get up off the floor after playing with the toys than it did when I was a parent in my 20s.” That’s true.

But, doing this all over again does keep me young and smiling a lot. Thanks, Adam.

Friday, March 18, 2011

CHURNING OUT THE WORDS

I’ve been following the conversations and reading a range of articles on the issue of “churnalism” – and I am struggling to work out what the fuss is all about.

I run my own PR business and I am a former print journalist and when I started out in newspapers in the early 70s, PRs, as we know them today, were as rare as a news editor saying ‘thanks, well done” on a big story. Times have changed in PR, though I don’t know if news editors today are any more praiseworthy when it comes to the staff they have left.

Is the media becoming “a pawn” of the PR industry has been one question raised. My answer to that is: “We wish.”

The Media Standards Trust charity and its new website – good coverage of its launch was created by its PR team, incidentally – examines “news” of print and broadcast outlets, and measures up how much the information slavishly follows news releases from PR companies.

You can check the results for yourself http://churnalism.com/

In my experience, rarely – if ever – do newspapers or radio outlets or TV stations run a News Release word for word. The News Release can form the basis of news or feature copy for the media outlet concerned if and when editorial executives decide that the content is interesting enough for their readers/viewers. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s no secret that media outfits have slashed the size of their editorial teams. As a result, there are fewer journalists in house to drum up the ideas to fill the daily news, features, specialist schedules that in turn fill the following day’s papers or the evening news bulletins. PR companies can provide information, suggestions and opportunities for the Press to take a look at, develop or, as often happens, reject.

But PRs are not in control of the media, well, I’m not and never will be. Or want to be for that matter. As I say to hopeful clients, I have a measure of influence but no final control. After all, the best PR fed story in the world will vanish if a major disaster strikes or last-minute advert is needed for a page.

No journalist today - be they staff on a tabloid or a broadsheet or in a news agency - would be in their right mind to shovel News Releases into a paper or broadcast programme without all the usual, necessary checks being made. At times, the News Release submitted can even be tweaked, twisted and torn apart to suit a particular newspaper’s editorial agenda. We’ve all been there, but, thankfully, not that often.

http://www.prmoment.com/585/by-copying-press-releases-word-for-word-are-churnalists-journalists-destroying-the-authority-of-news.aspx

So any notion that journalists today are in any way sloppy and happy to grab a News Release with both hands, slap a by-line on it and submit it to their editorial superiors is fanciful in the extreme. Doesn’t sound like any of the fine journalists I know and deal with on a regular basis. In fact, that insults the good journos working flat out in news rooms where empty chairs outnumber the occupied.

On the other hand, there is nothing devious, cheap or nasty about PRs offering ideas to journalists, or supplying images because a media outlet doesn’t have resources to take one for themselves. But that’s a far cry from leading the Press agenda. I see my efforts as a PR of being only part of it and, yes, if my clients have a positive, profile-raising outcome, I reckon I’ve done my job pretty well.

Neither is the so-called lack of investigative journalism – being replaced by churnalism, some claim – the fault of the PR industry. The MPs’ expenses scandal was a big, full-on exemplary piece of investigative journalism, so that weakens that argument in some ways, doesn’t it.

To my mind, PRs and journalists benefit from each other’s existence. The journalist who gets the case study for a feature in time to meet a deadline because a PR has set something up is grateful, and so is the PR for a positive outcome. By the same token, the journalist who can’t persuade a PR to be more revelatory in some circumstances will be displeased. The PR whose briefing is distorted will also be far from chuffed.

The journalist getting, for example, the “big jobs boost story” is happy, the PR acting on behalf of the jobs’ boosting organisation is equally content. And the readers/viewers will be interested in new jobs. This is a simplistic example, I admit, but it does show the mutual benefits to both the Press and PR camps.

If you agree, I’d be pleased to hear from you. If you don’t, I’d like to hear what you think, too.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

HOWLERS ON THE RADIO

I will be making every effort to catch this BBC radio programme on Monday, March 7 http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/news/gobbledygook-on-the-bbc.html

It’s the day the Plain English Campaign – http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/ – holds its annual awards so I’m keenly anticipating gobbledygook howlers with the guilty named and shamed and suitably humiliated.

I am looking forward to hearing of one example from the NHS that took 229 words to define a hospital bed. Made or unmade, I don’t know.

I’ve blogged before on my love of plain English and I reckon I visit the Plain English Campaign’s excellent website regularly. I’ve often thought it would be great to work for them.

It can be amusing to berate those who drivel for a living and it is certainly infuriating to come up against buzzwords in business and elsewhere that mean absolutely nothing.

But news reports this week from the coroner’s inquest into the July 7 bomb attacks in London said that baffling jargon could costs lives as it caused confusion among emergency service personnel.

Do you have any idea what “a conference demountable unit from the management resource unit” is? Me neither.

It is a mobile control room – so why not say that?

This bureaucratic bluster prompted one MP to suggest that jargon is “often used by people who have been trained, rather than taught to think.”

Now that’s worrying, isn’t it?

For 30 years, the Campaign has proved to be one of the most powerful grass-roots movements in the UK. Its website is a delight and I suggest you try the grammar quiz – I got three wrong so my Dad would have been horrified.

It also has interesting comments including one from former Prime Minister Thatcher, who said: “Some people think that flowery language and complicated writing is a sign of intellectual strength. They are wrong.”

This is the only time I have ever agreed with her.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

SUITS YOU, SIR

I like to wear a suit for business, I enjoy wearing a dinner suit for black tie functions as it brings out the Al Pacino in me and I love wearing a charcoal grey linen suit that was hand-made for me in Dubai as a gift from my darling wife, Maggie.

Suits are great and chic: Mad Men, Reservoir Dogs, The Blues Brothers, Men In Black fine examples of looking good.

I wouldn’t dream of seeing clients without wearing a suit or meet potential new ones casually dressed. I suppose it’s because I’ve always had to be smartly dressed for work – first of all in my days as a journalist when the first Chief Reporter I worked with would regularly say: ”Dress as if you were about to interview the Lord Provost” – and latterly in PR.

The reason for this sartorial discussion follows on from a BBC News website item that posed the question “Are Suits On The Way Out?” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12418046.

According to the report “a recent poll of 2,000 British workers by online bank First Direct found that only one in 10 employees wears a suit every day, more than a third of staff opt for jeans and only 18 per cent regularly wear a tie.”

It didn’t say what kind of jobs these people, men presumably, had. But, I suspect the majority would have been office workers of some kind: bankers, estate agents, financial advisers, lawyers, journalists and PR-types. Maybe not teachers, social workers or other professionals who can be more casually dressed, I would argue. And that doesn’t mean that the suits are more professional, it’s just that they operate in a different sphere, some might say a less arduous one but that’s a discussion not for this blog.

All in all, it’s down to workplace rules and regulations, or individual choice, if that’s permitted. I’m fairly relaxed about what people are wearing when they meet me, I have to say.

Doctors in jeans, no problem. Open-neck shirts for the chap behind the Post Office counter, absolutely fine. It actually reminds me of an appointment I had in London a few years ago with a PR company who were looking for some support in Scotland.

Suited and booted I headed south from a grey Glasgow into a scorching summer’s day in the capital. When I arrived at the firm’s offices near Tower Bridge, I was greeted by a young chap in a t-shirt, sandals, beach shorts and a brightly-coloured shirt. The only thing missing was the surf board.

“Crikey, Mike, are you not melting dressed like that?” he kindly asked. I was. My tie was loosened and jacket removed pronto.

When I worked in daily newspapers, Sundays were the Press’ equivalent of “dress down Friday.” Some executives turned up in hugely unappealing garb. One newsdesk man favoured tartan trousers that would have been more appropriate on a soldier on guard duty at Edinburgh Castle. Another reserved Sundays for sickeningly, garish shirts that you only wear to win a bet.

On weekdays in their suits, shirts and ties they looked more normal, though I use that term loosely.

In an earlier blog, I discussed my confusion over whether or not to wear a tie and today I mostly don’t. I put on a suit for business every day, but can’t remember the last time I wore a tie. A sharp suit and a neat shirt is a stylish combo, I reckon.

For me, wearing a suit for business is as natural as Superman with his underpants over his blue tights. Not sure about the colour co-ordination, mind you.

Any thoughts from either of the sexes on whether the suit deserves to be hung up in the wardrobe of history or if it still looks as good as I think it does?

Your views would be very welcome and interesting.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Buzz Lightyear Says Buzz Off Buzzwords

Toy Story star Buzz Lightyear’s favourite saying is: “to infinity and beyond.”

And, to my mind, that’s where the list of business buzzwords and phrases featured here should go as well, leaving our world of written and verbal communication a more straightforward, clear-cut, plain speaking place.

It was a LinkedIn topic http://jbianchi777.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/20-business-buzzwords-you-want-to-kill/ that eventually yielded a list of words and phrases that deserve to be binned.

Although many examples nominated came from our friends in the USA, many are familiar here, sadly.

So the Twaddle Top Twenty, with comments in quotation marks from Jim Bianchi in Detroit who instigated all this, is:

1. At the end of the day – “At the end of the day, it’s night. So what?”

2. Solutions / solution provider – “Everything is a solution, not a product or service. They’ve even turned solutions into a verb – solutioning?”

3. Low hanging fruit – “Can’t we just saying ‘quick wins’? And why don’t we ever talk about the ‘high hanging fruit?’”

4. Moving/going forward – “Shorthand for: whatever I say after this, don’t ever let it happen again!”

5. Leverage – “Bizspeak for ‘we’re really going to put the screws to someone now.’ And the someone may be you.”

6. Out of / outside the box – “Out of the box and into the garbage!”

7. Value add / value added / added value – “If you add up all the value adds, you’ll get 110 percent.”

8. Thought leader / leadership – “Or is it that you just thought you were a leader?”

9. Synergy / synergize – “Derives from the words synthetic – imitation – and energy, so we’re talking about fake energy?”

10. Cutting / leading edge – “Unless you’re talking about saws or airplanes, forget the edge.”

11. Circle back – “Consultant speak for what a group does after they put things in buckets, did deep dives in the fishbowl, performed a wash up and got on the same bus.”

12. Reach out – “Can’t we just say contact or call?”

13. Talk / meet offline – “Means I want you to stop talking now and will rip you a new one later, when there are no witnesses around!”

14. Granular / granularity – “Unless we’re talking about sand or sugar, let’s just say examine closely. Next we’ll be looking at the atomic level.”

15. Bandwidth – “Hijacked from the IT world, let’s send bandwidth back where it belongs, cyberspace!”

16. Utilize – “Like many verbs ending in -ize (especially those fabricated from adding -ize to a noun to try to make it a verb), could be said in a clearer, simpler way … in this case, use.”

17. Incentivize – see Utilize above.

18. Best of breed / best in class / world class – “Best of breed – yuck! Let’s leave the animal husbandry terms out of this!”

19. It is what it is – “Of course it is, otherwise it would be what it isn’t, which it clearly is not … is it?”

20. Engagement / engage – “Unless we’re talking about an impending wedding, engagement causes my enragement!”

I’m not sure what the comment to No 13 means and, of course, No 16 and No 17 would relate to –ise here.

And, for heaven’s sake, “boil the ocean”; “tick the box”; “no brainer”; “raft of ideas” didn’t make it. Oh, well.

And just in – “oppositionism” from an eminent Scottish journalist and “productise” from someone in business.

It would appear that there’s no end in sight to word mangling, as I pointed out to a national newspaper through its Letters’ Page.
http://www.heraldscotland.com:80/comment/herald-letters/letters-saturday-22-january-2011-1.1081279?46162

I think the English language should be protected from abuse, misuse and the downright useless, who should watch what they say and, importantly, how they say it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

BOIL THE OCEAN - TICK ANY BOXES?

I have been amused, bemused and hugely entertained by a LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/ discussion that has focused on “buzzwords” or, more precisely, the “buzzwords” that should be erased, wiped out, eradicated, binned, dumped, banned, buried – for ever.

Like the word “buzzword” itself, as one contributor suggested prompting no argument from me. When a BBC2 Newsnight presenter used the expression “bigging up” one night last week, I knew that my time in the doldrums as far as blogging was concerned needed to end.

Apologies for being pedantic, but the “buzzwords” topic should really have been about ridding the world – pronto – of annoying and meaningless phrases or terms that people in business, mainly, have latched on to and use, remorselessly, thinking they sound authoritative, smart or contemporary.

Or, maybe, like bonus-winning bankers, they think they are hoodwinking us with their snake-oil jargon, the nest of vipers that they are.

That aside the LinkedIn conversation, started by Jim Bianchi, who heads his own PR company in the Detroit area, has been enlightening and informative. http://jbianchi777.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/20-business-buzzwords-you-want-to-kill/

Loads of us want this gobbledygook to end, the gibberish that clouds reality – words stuck together that mean little or nothing.

Even in the world of hiring new staff, the latest buzzwords and phrases are causing confusion leading to demands for plain talking from applicants.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/classified/jobs/chi-linkedin-job-cliches-010311,0,82925.story

While, many of the examples responding to Jim Bianchi’s question were US- centric, we will recognise many and, worse, will be reminded of people who use them as naturally as they stare at their iPhone/Blackberry when you’re in their company.

One of the first to bob up was a belter - boil the ocean. Brilliant. What does it mean? I had no idea until some helpful US contributor suggested: "….if a member of the corporate pantheon suggests you are trying to ‘boil the ocean,’ he or she thinks you are doing something incredibly inefficiently.” Is that the same as “you’re making a mess of it?”

My tuppence worth included “raft of ideas” and the really annoying "ticking all the rihgt boxes" but this guy, Tim Trout - http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/tim-trout/18/21b/a46had - had me in fits with this example he had come across.

“We are a full-spectrum consumer-focused solutions provider. Our teams are experienced in transitioning processes and systems to supply the platform your organisation and customers need. Our iterative product-development methodologies expedite the evolution of next-generation functionality. We can enhance your existing business and portal strategies or collaborate across disciplines to create new and exciting iterative change.” As Tim put it, “…a cool twenty or more for the price of one.” Utterly gruesome and shocking that some people are dim enough to fall or be impressed by such verbiage – or mince, to be more precise.

Action plan; 
at the end of the day; bells and whistles; best practice; blamestorming; 
blue sky thinking; goal-oriented; fit for purpose; moving the goal posts; 
multi-tasking; on the same page; open door policy; parachute in; tasked; touch base; transparency and value-added. A catalogue of the meaningless spouted by the vacuous, I suggest.

Not forgetting, of course, “thought showers” instead of “brainstorming.” To think someone, somewhere had enough time to sit and create this dross.

Any other examples? I’d love to hear about them. Or versionise, as I heard someone utter during a Radio Scotland interview recently.