Posted by & filed under Politics.

It’s not us, it’s you – one of the things the Scottish independence referendum conclusively proved is that, when offered a real choice, people will engage with politics. For years politicians bemoaned voter apathy in a way that clearly implied it was the voter at fault – in recent years they are beginning to understand that they’ve become detached from the electorate, not the other way round.

For my own part, as a former Liberal Democrat staffer, member, and voter, I can’t see a way forward for party politics. Society has changed so much around the whole system that, rather like public phone boxes in the age of the mobile phone, party politics is becoming obsolete.

The information revolution has made us more opportunistic, less tribal, more informed but increasingly transitory in our interests, and dare I say it we are ever more intrinsically self-centered than we ever were.

The likes of Peter Mandelson used to highly controversially commoditise parties and talk about “products” with features and benefits. It isn’t controversial any more – voters are more and more treating politics like, yes, mobile phones. If a party doesn’t have the features I want, if it won’t benefit me immediately and clearly, I’m not getting it.

I don’t believe our national body politic will be truly healed now until party politics has been dismantled. I would love to see fixed term parliaments of two to three years predominantly formed of Independents who group around issues, mixed with a healthy diet of referenda.

We are reaching a point over the next two decades where we fundamentally don’t need or want political parties any more. The way political parties communicate with voters is a disaster. Too many politicians, particularly on a national level, have been conditioned to behave in extremely bizarre ways. If someone spoke to you in the street the way politicians speak to interviewers in the media you’d back away from them muttering that you don’t have any change on you, sorry. Political parties are well on the way to being an obsolete technology.

A Parliament of Independents will likely never happen in my lifetime, despite the excellent efforts of the likes of the Independent Network. We still like to move in herds, comforted that our behaviour is not too distant from that our of peers. We still like to affiliate to a brand – so the herd of voters will continue to split.

One, ever decreasing, group in the herd will continue to align to parties on polling day depending on who they feel closest to at the time. This will make the results of elections increasingly difficult to predict, and may see a gradual fragmentation of parliament into smaller groups of many parties making coalition a permanent state of affairs.

The other group in the herd will comfortably stay away from the polls, confident that their peers are doing the same, giving them validation for their actions.

How many of those voters are truly apathetic is difficult to know. How many care deeply about our nation, but simply don’t see an option on the ballot paper relevant to them? How many in England and Wales wish for the sort of moment Scotland has just experienced where they can actually go out and demonstrate that they will engage when given a real choice?

I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows. Perhaps this should be liberating, but right now I’m unsettled by the fact that I have absolutely no idea who I will vote for in May 2015.

We are living in a political vacuum – and history shows us how dangerous that can be. Our celebrity obsessed culture loves a big personality. The broken party political model can be – temporarily – propped up by celebrity leaders. Boris Johnson as PM at some point seems an inevitability. But who comes after him? How do we restore a system where good people, civic minded, lead our country? And how do we give those who currently don’t speak about these worries a voice?

I have far more questions than answers – the only thing I know for sure is that the option I’m looking for almost certainly doesn’t come in yellow, blue, red, green, or purple.

Posted by & filed under theatre.

For the Mercury’s recent production of the Scottish play, we hadn’t budgeted for a promotional video, but a stunning audio recording of our three witches came my way and it felt like we immediately had to get it out there.

Our production of Macbeth was staged in contemporary dress and set in an eastern European aesthetic, with echoes of the troubles in Ukraine. One of the reasons that I like this video is that it took me just three hours to create, including taking the photos in the Mercury’s Studio Theatre with the truly delightful cast. Quick, simple and we know from the feedback – effective!

Going into the theatrecraft a little more, director Daniel Buckroyd also wrote a great piece for Exeunt Magazine off the back of his work on Macbeth, on the importance of textual investigation.

Ferry leaflet

Posted by & filed under Froth and frippery.

On holiday in Castellebate, we chanced on a Ferry to Amalfi. It doesn’t appear on Tripadvisor (or on the web at all much!) so here is a bit more information for fellow holiday-goers to this lovely village in southern Italy.

The Travelmar ferry runs once a day in Summer. In 2014 the ferry runs from 5 June to 31 August.

We parked our car in the car park in the centre of San Marco and walked down the pedestrianised street (the only one!) directly to the port.

It leaves Agropoli at 8.30am, and calls at the port of San Marco, a couple of miles down the coast from Santa Maria di Castellebate, where we boarded it. It arrives at and leaves San Marco at around 8.45am.

From San Marco, the ferry travels directly to Amalfi. The journey time is 1 hour and 15 minutes, and the cost is €15 each way.

A Travelmar representative arrives at San Marco at 8.15am to sell tickets at a desk by the harbour.  We paid €30 return each. After buying tickets, it is a short walk along the harbour to where the ferry docks.

Once in Amalfi, we used a CityTours bus to travel to Positano, then another ferry to return from Positano to Amalfi.  The Travelmar staff at the Amalfi end speak excellent English.

The ferry departs Amalfi at 5pm from the same pier that it arrived at, and again takes 1hr 15 minutes to return to San Marco at 6.15pm.

The Travelmar website link is above, and their phone number is 089 872950.

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

The Mercury Theatre Colchester’s latest in-house production is now in rehearsal. It’s the UK premiere of a comedy of songs and stories all about the heroes of any family – the grandparents!

As ever it was a joy to work with Swainson Productions on the video trailer for You Can Always Hand Them Back, and Kate and Paul did a cracking job allowing the cameras in on day 3 of rehearsals. There’s lovely music in the show from Peter Skellern.

The RIBA Terrace

Posted by & filed under Communications.

Sitting on the terrace of the RIBA restaurant (above) on a warm summer day a few years ago, I was asked “who are your professional role models?”. I was floored, not least because I have only two – and one of them was asking the question.

I first thought of writing this blog on International Women’s day, as both of my mentors, coaches, role models – call them what you will – happen to be women who have achieved great success in their chosen fields.

Janice Maiman is Senior Vice President of Communications, Media, News & Professional Pathways at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Dr Mairi Mclean is a former chief executive of Waveney District Council and Northampton Borough Council respectively, and is now a full-time management development consultant – it was Mairi who asked me to ‘out’ my role models. I fear I dodged the question at the time!

Janice was a senior manager on a joint venture I worked on, and Mairi was employed as a management coach by a previous employer. It’s true to say that Janice and Mairi are both North Stars – a guide or reference point by which I try to navigate my own career.

If you don’t have challenging moments in a management career, you’re not doing it right. It’s impossible to please everyone all the time, and as a pleaser, that displeases me no end. Both Mairi and Janice have supported me through challenging moments – some experiences they passed on intentionally, sometimes they coached me to reach important conclusions alone, and frequently they instructed me on how to be a better manager just by being themselves.

Mairi is unparalleled in understanding how a business functions holistically. Janice has an amazing knack for building a shared vision and keeping everyone striving towards it. Both deliver insights by valuing people, truly understanding their nuances, and managing with complete integrity. Through this they achieve respect and great loyalty.

So here’s to mentors. The Americans have a  Thank Your Mentor Day – a marvellous idea which the UK should adopt. And to Janice and Mairi, a huge thank you!

Posted by & filed under Communications, Online, theatre.

As of 1st May I’m taking up the role of Director of Communications and Audience Services at one of our most vibrant regional theatres, the Mercury Theatre in Colchester. My time there could not have got off to a more exciting start.

Last night was opening night for The Hired Man, and the Colchester debut of the theatre’s new Artistic Director, Daniel Buckroyd. The show was received with a rapturous standing ovation – richly deserved. There was a real buzz on Twitter after the performance, which is thrilling to see. I’ve captured some of the highlights here, plus a short video introduction to the show.

If you can, come and see it! Well worth traveling to see.


Posted by & filed under Communications, Online.

Vine, the new six-second video service promoted by Twitter, is causing a buzz across the socialmediasphere. What has it got that its predecessors lacked?

vine_logo_lrg

Bear with me here. There have been many attempts to update Jerome McCarthy’s ‘Four Ps’ of marketing – product, price, promotion and place.  The Seven C’s compass model is a particular favourite, and not just because it was ‘born’ the same year I was – 1981 – but because it is focused on the consumer rather than the product.

Vine has been making a big splash in the last 48 hours. Using the Vine app you can record a video of up to six seconds in length, which is then published in an instagram-style app timeline, and/or to Facebook and Twitter. It looks set to be a runaway success.

When examining that success, the seventh C is really key – circumstances. These are the uncontrollable external factors which can decide whether or not a product launch is a success.

Using the four points on a compass there are:

  • National and international circumstances
  • Social and cultural circumstances
  • Economic circumstances
  • Weather

It’s only because the compass is pointing due south – to a change in social and cultural circumstances in recent years – that Vine can succeed.

I can say that with some certainty because the idea behind Vine isn’t new, and it isn’t original. There have been at least two services which look and work an awful lot like Vine which have launched and disappeared since 2008.

Seesmic

Launched in 2008, it was billed as the “Twitter of video” – it quickly faded into obscurity after amassing about 20,000 users. Which just goes to show in the world of digital, how quickly a ship with 20,000 passengers can sink.

Perhaps the biggest single lesson of Seesmic is that there was no point being the “Twitter of video”, the only successful strategy was to be the “video in Twitter” – that’s certainly what Vine is banking on.

12seconds.tv

12seconds.tv launched in 2008 and was billed as – you guessed it – “Twitter for video”. As you’ve probably guessed, it was a video sharing service for videos up to 12 seconds in length.

12seconds.tv was a haven for geeks. It saw little growth in the two years of its existence. Interestingly – they tried to break into the twitter ecosystem, but were rebuffed. At the time it folded, its founder said:

“I don’t really see the growth in Twitter that we were seeing. I don’t see it as an explosive growth opportunity right now for a third-party application builder. In any ecosystem, eventually there are going to be winners and losers. I think that’s going to shake out more and more as time goes by”
Read more at http://venturebeat.com/2010/10/04/12seconds-tv-shuts-down-with-tightening-twitter-ecosystem/#Ieod1hie3Hm1bjuL.99

Due south

Coming back to the compass, neither Seesmic nor 12seconds.tv had the right social and cultural circumstances in which to launch.

  • Self-shoot video was the preserve of geeks – few people were using the video on their smartphone, if it had one. If, indeed they had a smartphone.
  • Social sharing and content creation was still in its infancy. Facebook, with its ever more complex privacy controls, was extremely well established but it was something of a walled garden and heavily biased towards written status updates and photos.
  • The explosion of twitter, with its alien 140-character limit, was only just beginning. Truncated communication was a novelty, not a norm.
  • Twitter postcards – media embedded in tweets viewable without the need to install any viewer software – hadn’t been invented.

Riding on Twitter’s coattails has already done a lot for Vine, with mainstream media paying immediate attention. The Guardian are already soliciting six-second album reviews. So one of the other C’s will be critical to the success of Vine – convenience. The barrier to entry for viewing is non-existant, so long as you have the latest Twitter app installed or are viewing via the Twitter website. The barrier for creating videos is relatively low, but Vine functionality needs to be integrated directly into the Twitter mobile apps to guarantee uptake.

Once that happens, the age of six-second story-telling will be well and truly upon us.

Posted by & filed under Communications.

If membership of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations isn’t compulsory for PR professionals, does the Institute serve any purpose at all? Some think not. In this post I’m going to stand up for the CIPR.

Not for the first time I had a lively conversation with Brent Martin, an acquaintance and London-based criminal lawyer, on the subject of Public Relations. Brent is never short of an informed opinion, and he is well worth following on Twitter.

These tweets caught my eye:

Im sick to death of PR bullshit in corporate coms. Plus they call themselves "a profession" & have a "Chartered Institute of PR" #delusional
@zeitgeistlondon
Brent A. Martin
Its an utter lie to suggest you belong to a "profession" if membership of your "professional body" is entirely optional. More PR bullshit.
@zeitgeistlondon
Brent A. Martin

Headlines are the stock trade of PR professionals, and I was initially inclined to file those tweets under the headline ‘LAWYER: WORLD WOULD BE BETTER PLACE IF MORE PEOPLE WERE LIKE LAWYERS’, but alas that is a terrible headline and so I must write a blog post instead.

Brent’s beef in this case may not even be with a PR professional. His complaint was that a price hike of something he buys or uses had been misrepresented as a ‘simplification’ in price.  Pricing is more often the realm of sales and marketing, but let’s not kick the can down the corridor to marketing just yet.

There are good PRs and there are bad PRs just as there are good and bad lawyers. A good PR would argue that in a social world, where a savvy and price-sensitive audience are connected directly to each other as well as to your business,  trying to obscure or spin a price hike through the use of a lazy euphemism is at the very least bad PR, and as such bad for business.

Whether it is sensible business practice and good PR or not Brent would argue, I think, that any attempt to communicate a price rise as something positive is immoral.

Brent, and many others, believe that PR people should be held accountable to a professional code of practice and ethics which precludes them from wilfully misguiding an audience.Indeed, I know Brent isn’t alone:

@ @ re: Damn those compsulory "professional bodies", I could not agree more.
@AlarmBell
Luca Alessandra

I’ve got good news – the CIPR holds its members accountable to just such a code of conduct.The first two clauses of the first principle are that members must:

a) maintain the highest standards of professional endeavour, integrity, confidentiality, financial propriety and personal conduct;

b) deal honestly and fairly in business with employers, employees, clients, fellow professionals, other professions and the public;

The code of conduct for CIPR members is well aligned with the times – it binds members to the sort of behaviours Brent, and society at large, wants to see from the PR profession. So it’s perhaps a little short-termist to attack an organisation which shares your goals and exists to bring about the kind of professional standards you want to see.

Is a non-compulsory professional body worth anything?

 

The sticking point is compulsion. As a lawyer, Brent is required to be a member of the Law Society, which brings with it a hefty annual membership fee. Brent believes that as membership of CIPR isn’t compulsory for PR professionals, it’s a ‘bullshit’ institution. I couldn’t disagree more.

The CIPR Code of Conduct has power without statutory underpinning.

  • Personal loss. If I break the CIPR code of conduct, and a CIPR-facilitated attempt at conciliation fails, I can be stripped of my membership, directed to refund my client’s fees, and to refund the institute its costs.
  • Employer backing. Many employers specify that CIPR Membership is a requirement to be employed in a senior PR role. Loss of the membership could have serious consequences.

    Other professional bodies have attracted de facto compulsory status through widespread employer recognition – CIPR is heading in the right direction in this regard.

  • Market forces and reputation. As a CIPR member, I stand out as an experienced professional in my field – this is invaluable.   Being disciplined by the CIPR would make me less employable.
  • SEO. Hardly trivial in a digital economy. A disciplinary case against me would result in negative search engine results associated with my name, which for any PR is a killer.

There are also practical problems with compulsion – not least the population to which compulsion would apply. A doctor practices in a surgery. A barrister practices in a court of law. A PR person can practice anywhere. PR could even be said to be a fundamental part of human nature.  Brent was doing some indirect PR for the Law Association, by attacking CIPR. Does that make him a PR practitioner? Clearly not. But where do you draw the line? Agencies only? Agencies plus full-time in house? Agencies plus in-house including digital? Excluding digital? Including or excluding social media? And what do you mean by social media? If you post to a Linkedin group once a week does that make you a digital PR?

The CIPR is a force for good. It’s shining a spotlight on good PR practice, and holding its members to the highest professional standards. Would it like to be a compulsory body? Perhaps it would. Should it pack up and go home until it is compulsory? Absolutely not. The CIPR is changing the communications industry for the better. That’s something we should all celebrate – even lawyers.