' "A merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. "A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year!" '
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
I’m a huge fan of Charles Dickens’s work and regular visitors to the Ethos public relations website may have noticed the story on our home page a couple of months ago about my involvement with the Dickens Journals Online project. As part of next year’s Dickens bicentenary celebrations, the project is putting online a weekly journal edited by Charles Dickens in the 19th century.
I have been helping to edit the errors from the journals which resulted when they were scanned onto computer. It is hoped that, by the 200th anniversary of Dickens’s birth on 7 February 2012, over 1,000 magazines will have been completed and, with well over 800 now done, there’s every chance of achieving this. Dickens Journals Online is an open access project which will be launched in March 2012 and will provide a valuable educational and historical resource.
Of course, Christmas is the time of year most associated with Dickens. In fact, Dickens is often credited with inventing the modern Christmas – the domestic celebrations, the charitable acts and the perennial “white Christmas”. Without Dickens, Christmas wouldn’t be what it is today and I’m sure it will be hard to escape the Dickens films, TV adaptations and musicals over the festive period.
In the days of tweets, texts and blogs, reading Dickens can sometimes seem daunting, but many of his most famous stories are very accessible. A Christmas Carol is a great place to start with its seasonal blend of comedy, pathos and the supernatural. Nobody characterises the breadth and depth of human nature better than Dickens and A Christmas Carol is full of joy and sadness and all the emotions in between.
So when you’re munching on your turkey this Christmas, don’t be a Scrooge – think of all the Tiny Tim’s out there and spread a little happiness…
Posted at 2:25pm on 21st December 2011
by John Walding, Honorary Secretary, CIPR North West Group
In an industry where many organisations value the importance of local coverage, our BBC Local Radio stations provide an important and vital platform for people to promote our events, our expertise and our successes, something that could change under the proposed changes to Local Radio outlined in Mark Thompson's 'Delivering Quality First'.
Nearly 400 jobs are set to go in local broadcasting across England as part of the BBC's plan to reduce its budget by 20% over the next five years. 280 of the posts under threat are from BBC Local Radio across England, with potentially almost a quarter of the workforce under threat at BBC Radio Manchester. There will also be a move towards stations sharing some afternoon, evening and weekend programmes - with one pan-England programme from 19:00 until 22:00.
Local Radio is being asked to find savings of 12% (10% after re-investment). The BBC as a whole has been tasked with making savings of between 16-20% – so Local Radio has been relatively protected. However this does feel higher because the cost of buildings and technology which are required to broadcast in 40 locations and means that the cuts inevitably fall on the people who make the programmes.
Love it or loathe it our BBC Local Radio Stations provide vital information on what is going on and an opportunity to tune in and listen at length to the people, issues and events that affect and shape our localities. It provides us as communicators with an unrivalled local channel with which to speak in our local community. Without it we will find the local broadcast landscape an even more challenging place in which to be heard.
When our regions face challenging times be it weather, riots, or times of great tragedy it’s often our local BBC station we turn to give us up to date news and analysis of what is going on. It is hard to see how commercial radio can devote the same time and resource to this, and the BBC stations will retain the ability to stay local when people depend on them most.
Local radio has also been the training ground for a whole host of our broadcasting talent, many who have gone on to become household names after cutting their teeth reporting on the people and issues affecting our regions. Will it still be the same post cuts?
We realise that the BBC is facing some tough challenges in responding to the impact on its budgets but it is vital that we ensure that local radio is left in a position to deliver the quality of programming that our regions deserve. We can all make our voices heard by taking part in the current consultation into the BBC’s Delivering Quality First proposals which runs until 21 December.
All too often we have watched as cuts have changed the nature of our local news and programming. Let's make our voices heard to help safeguard the potential threat to yet another.
Posted at 3:26pm on 13th December 2011
Finally, my 14 year old Pioneer CD player has given up the ghost. I am a bit of a gadget geek, but I’ve never been too fussed about my music system as I mostly listen to music in the background.
I can’t even really remember buying this ‘hi-fi’ system but as I was taking it out of the cabinet to consign it to the municipal electrical recycling skip, I noticed on the back a small plate with the words ‘Made in the UK’.
Now, I must confess that I do try and support products made in the UK, although that is becoming increasingly difficult. I don’t do it for any nationalistic or xenophobic reasons, purely from the point of view that if I buy stuff made here, I am more likely to be helping to keep jobs in the UK.
Don’t get me wrong, it isn't always made in the UK for me. I am more than happy to buy products from elsewhere in the world – pasta has to come from Italy and paella rice needs to come from Spain – but I am never (knowingly) going to buy apples imported from China, for example.
I think it is important that key manufacturing skills are kept in the UK. Until recently, I thought that the exodus of manufacturing to the Far East was driven by consumers demanding cheaper and cheaper products, but when looking around for a new CD player – yes I know that it now has to include a docking station and DAB radio (told you I liked gadgets) – products made in China can be as expensive as those made in Europe.
I am assuming that there are two possible reasons for this. Firstly, that some companies manufacture their products cheaply in China and sell at a high price to maximise their profits, without thinking through the knock-on effects on local communities in this country, or that China (and other countries) now have the skills that are sadly lacking in the UK so can justify the higher prices, as we can’t make the things here.
Obviously there are some important exceptions to this, with very high end audio manufacturers still making excellent products in the UK, along with quality British made shoes, and clothing for example. Made in the UK still adorns by shoes and belt and cutlery.
Current Government policy (or rhetoric) is fully behind UK manufacturing, but I have yet to hear any broader discussion from them about the importance of consumers (and businesses) buying British. Clearly, in a free global market, and especially within the EU, there are issues about promoting one country over another, but surely consumers should spend in a way which keeps a large proportion of their money in the local economy?
As a Europhile, my default position is to purchase European products if I can’t find a suitable British one. So, I will soon be buying a Loewe Soundbox.
UK manufacturing’s loss is Germany’s economic gain.
Posted at 5:01pm on 29th November 2011
As a PR agency, one of the things we have to consider when working with clients is the value of their brand. Although many people think of brands as big names such as The Co-operative, Persil or Staples – every single business is a brand.
The perception of a company’s brand is extremely important because, if the public respect or get excited about the brand, then they are more inclined to come back – which usually results in increased sales, profit and awareness. Therefore it is essential that the heritage and trustworthiness of a brand is intact and defended.
The News of the World, Tiger Woods and BP are examples of brands that have suffered terrible damage to their reputations and may never be viewed in the same light again.
As a football fan, I was interested to read recently about the decision of Newcastle United owner, Mike Ashley, to rename the stadium of his football team. He has changed the St James’ Park name to the Sports Direct Arena – after the company he owns.
The owner already had a fractious relationship with the Newcastle fans and many of them now think he has just gone too far – dismissing the heritage of the club’s illustrious past. But has the renaming of the stadium damaged the Newcastle United brand like many suggest?
Mr Ashley says he has renamed the stadium so that potential new sponsors can see the potential of having a big and atmospheric stadium emblazoned with their name and branding. But if Newcastle fans are so up in arms about this, then are they going to be anymore accepting of any other brand? To them it is, and forever will be, St James’ Park.
Other football clubs have rebranded and the renaming of their stadiums seems to have worked – for example, Etihad Stadium, Reebok Stadium, Emirates Stadium. But the problem to me is when the sponsor’s contract comes to an end.
York City, who now play at Bootham Crescent (their original name), signed a deal with Nestlé that saw their stadium rebranded as the KitKat Crescent. And AFC Bournemouth renamed their stadium (Dean Court) the Fitness First Stadium – and now that that contract has ended it is now called Seward Stadium after rights were sold to the Seward Motor Group. How long until their stadium name changes again?
Mr Ashley says that renaming the stadium will bring in £10 million a year which will enable them to build a better team. But if the renaming damages the brand, isolates the fans and causes them to not attend matches, then what is the point of having a good team playing in a half empty stadium?
Posted at 11:46am on 22nd November 2011
by Chris Morley, Northern & Midlands Organiser, National Union of Journalists
Local newspapers are not dead but they are being killed by remote and irresponsible owners who care nothing for them but as a source of ready cash. The damage is being compounded by the air of defeatism being generated by often timid editors (with a few honourable exceptions) who refuse to challenge the bean counters to protect their own titles.
The fact is that the public has been conditioned to believe circulations are inevitably falling due to once-loyal readers switching to on-line news and other fancy new distractions. The old line is trotted out that young people are not reading newspapers and older readers are being lost due to life’s attrition.
No doubt some consumer tastes have changed to some extent. But let’s get real: younger people have never typically bought newspapers and aren’t we all supposed to be living longer in any case?
The true situation is that newspaper titles changed hands from the old family owners who saw their titles as giving them a virtuous and prestigious place in the community to a small band of corporate giants totally divorced from the consumers they are trying to reach. The new breed of owners consistently starved their local newspapers of investment because circulation income was only a small part of their earnings. So long as the advertisers kept on coming back, the money still came rolling in they thought.
And to wow the City, the profits rose higher not through new income streams or winning new customers but by cutting back, on staff and on quality. This happened in the boom times and so when things turned tougher the answer was to cut more to keep profit margins of 25-30 per cent going. And in this respect I charge the newspaper companies with sabotaging their own titles. They have done this by culling the most experienced journalists and circulation staff who had the best knowledge of what worked in retaining and winning more readers - but were the most expensive in wages.
Of course, if newspapers were just another commodity all this would be sad but just part of market economics. However, they are a lot more than that. They are part of our democratic fabric: scrutinising the powerful, standing up for the minorities and giving a voice to the ordinary citizen. Newspapers have been highly successful in fulfilling this role in our democracy for a couple of hundred years but the new media seen as taking on this task - local blogs and community websites etc - currently often lack the resources, professionalism or objective nature to make them influential, although there are some notable exceptions. And of course, so far, they have real problems in being able to generate the revenue and profits to become sustainable.
All this may just be academic if everything else was standing still. But it isn’t and the 600 journalist jobs under the axe out of the 2,000 posts the BBC has earmarked to go will only make the crisis in journalism – and therefore our democracy – that much more acute.
The cutting has to stop and as a society we have to learn to cherish quality – and pay for it.
Posted at 10:12am on 7th November 2011
This weekend I paid one of my quadannual visits to a large supermarket. Although I usually shop locally in small stores, I have to drive to a larger store every now and again to pick up those things that aren’t available in a convenience store. It was probably all of the talk last week of Apple Day and our work with Co-operatives UK on cider co-ops for the workplace that got me wanting to do some preserving.
Having made some very tasty, if unusual, vanilla apple jelly recently, I thought I’d try some different flavourings this weekend. Which brings me back to my trip to the supermarket. Having perused the aisles for inspiration I bought a number of spices that I thought worth a try.
Piling all the goods on the supermarket conveyor belt, it became obvious that I had bought rather more than just a few spices for apple jelly, but then I give in to the stack end promotions as much as the next man.
As one of the spices was scanned, the checkout operator asked me what it was. I am sure many of us will recognise the situation where you are asked what a particular product is for or worse, ‘is this a nectarine, sir,’ when it is clearly a peach, but I guess it would be hard to know all the varieties and products in a store.
When asked why I love to cook, my answer is always because I am so keen on eating. And because I like eating I like to eat quality food and try new things, rather than consuming the usually bland processed foods on offer.
Being asked what a particular spice tastes of made me wonder whether supermarkets should do more to ensure checkout operators know more about the products they sell, I mean scan.
I’ve always been a firm believer in the power of education not only to make our leisure time more pleasurable but being informed and kept in the loop at work should mean our working lives become more fulfilling too. Maybe food shops could have staff information days where they cook, taste and drink together, all in the name of getting to know the product offering better.
What a ‘super’ market it would be if everyone there really loved their food and were inspired to pass that on to their customers.
Maybe then I’d go more than three or four times a year.
Posted at 11:51am on 24th October 2011
Well, today is my very last day as PR Account Executive at Ethos public relations, as I leave for pastures new, and I just wanted to say a big thank you and goodbye!
During the two years I have spent here at Ethos public relations, I have learned a lot from working with the team and particularly from working closely alongside my director, Debbie Kelly, on a number of consumer, business and housing accounts.
What have I learned? To be honest and up-front with journalists, to check and double check everything we send out on behalf of our clients; and that creative brain-storming can often be more effective after work and sitting at a bar!
I have also learned a lot about ethical business principles and picked up a fair few fair trade recipes from our fair trade in house lunches! My teamwork experience has been strengthened but I have also gained a lot more confidence after being allowed to do my own thing.
So, adieu, it’s been a great experience. And although I do feel sad to be leaving my colleagues and clients, I am looking forward to starting a new chapter and progressing my career.
So wish me luck! And if you would like to stay in touch, please contact me via LinkedIn.
Thanks again Ethos public relations!
Bye for now…
Posted at 9:41am on 30th September 2011
As you may already know, I spent a week recently as volunteer crew on a 76 foot gaff-rigged ketch, as part of our Community Day policy, which allows everyone at Ethos public relations time off to volunteer in the community whilst still being paid.
I know for the non-sailors amongst you gaff-rigged and ketch might not be words you are familiar with, so let me explain a little bit more about the fantastic work done on board. Oakmere GMC is a sail training ship which provides a unique environment for up to a dozen young people. On each voyage, young people can experience challenge, adventure and self-discovery while learning to work together.
My role as crew was to help foster a sense of teamwork, to support the young people and to help build their confidence. The overall philosophy on board is to help the young people learn new skills, acquire a knowledge of ‘old fashioned’ sailing and, importantly, to have a lot of fun.
The boat was built some 25 years ago with significant financial contributions from the Greater Manchester councils, along with major sponsorship from North West companies. It was, until recently, called the Greater Manchester Challenge, for that very reason. It is managed by a registered charity and crewed by both paid staff and volunteers (like me!) and aims to create a 'microcosm of society' afloat.
But could a project as ambitious as building a boat like the Oakmere GMC happen today?
Well, thanks to various funding streams, the capital expense could probably still be covered, but with a serious decline in manufacturing in the UK, I doubt local companies would still be able to offer the services, products and skills needed to build it. For example, only 25 years ago Gardner in Manchester made the diesel engine for Oakmere GMC, but that company ceased production in the 1990s. I’m glad to say that, fortunately, the engine is still going strong!
However, at a time when we need to rebuild confidence in a number of English cities and encourage self-esteem amongst many young people, projects such as Oakmere GMC have never been more important. I believe government, businesses and communities should be doing all they can to make sure such projects remain viable in future, from construction through to sailing.
Posted at 2:06pm on 25th August 2011
Now, the programme may not be for the fainthearted but I find it to be good fun and the production values in this series seem to be great - and luckily the idiosyncratic, typically British one-liners remind you not to take all the horror too seriously.
I’ve digressed a little from the PR angle that you would expect from one of my blogs but the quote uttered by Danes, a central character in this series, possibly reflects a widely held view about certain aspects of the public relations industry. Of course, I’d not agree - and the whole ethos behind Ethos public relations is to deal with clients and the media in a way that certainly wouldn’t see us siding with the devil. We call this ethical public relations.
To me the term ethical public relations isn’t an oxymoron and doesn’t mean that we only deal with ‘ethical’ businesses, but rather underlines the way we want to maintain ethical behaviours between us, our clients and suppliers. We’ve been doing it now for over 13 years, so it must be working.
We subscribe to, and agree with, the National Union of Journalist’s code of conducts for both journalists and PR professionals, designed to maintain the highest ethical standards in journalism. Newspapers are facing a challenging time at present with more of us reading our news on the internet. The rise of amateur journalism on blogs and other social media is another challenge for those of us who believe in fair and accurate reporting of news, as the author may not subscribe to the same levels of journalistic integrity. Until recently, the public would have trusted what they read in their national newspaper much more than a blog (whoops, like this one!).
Adopting the highest ethical standards isn’t just good for businesses like ours, but I am convinced it can also be a way to engender trust amongst readers. Keeping readers (and subscribers) is going to become even more challenging for newspapers and news websites in the future and a clear ethical approach to news gathering, and its reporting, is an important way that news providers can demonstrate the value of their content and so retain reader loyalty.
Posted at 8:55am on 27th July 2011
by Bob Giuliano, President, PR for Business Inc.
Building strong relationships with trade magazine editors is a public relations priority around the world, but nowhere more so than in the U.S.
The reason? U.S. trade editors generally wield greater control and operate with more editorial independence than most trade editors in other countries and regions. This observation is based on Public Relations For Business, Inc.’s interactions with literally hundreds of trade editors worldwide...
Accordingly, it is critical to understand U.S. trade editors’ needs and meet their editorial requirements. Keep in mind that a portion of U.S-based trade publications have an international readership. Cultivating strong relationships with U.S. editors can generate favorable publicity for your company’s product or service offerings not only in North America, but throughout the world.
Based on our success in generating publicity in the trade media, here are a few ideas on how to win the respect of U.S. editors and, consequently, achieve optimum coverage for your clients in their publications. The following points are broadly applicable to editors worldwide but they have special relevance in the U.S:
- Follow editorial guidelines. This may seem too basic to mention, but it is often overlooked in publicity ventures. Example: Many U.S. publications prohibit mentioning specific products by name in feature articles. If that’s the case, you can usually include generic product descriptions. By taking the trouble to discover, and comply with, a publication’s editorial guidelines, you have already begun to demonstrate your knowledge of that market and your respect for the editor.
- Avoid empty self-promotion. It is the PR professional’s job to promote the products, services and expertise of the client. However, if that promotion is content-empty - i.e., if it is self-serving but does not provide information that will benefit a publication’s readership - the editor will, quite properly, reject it. Provide specific, useful information. Do not use superlatives or make claims that cannot be supported. Instead, cite noteworthy product or service features and link these features directly to customer benefits. Keep the business needs of the publication’s readers foremost in mind. And always remember: editors love quantitative data.
- Always send photos. Photos attract the interest of editors and readers alike. They boost your client’s chance of coverage and potentially increase the column space devoted to your client. Ideally, the photos should be action shots showing your client’s product or service in use. Although editors may decide to write their own photo captions, it helps to provide a brief caption or other identifying information with each photo. Include publication-ready photos not only with press releases, but also in press kits, feature articles and other submissions. This is a basic so valuable, and so often overlooked, that it bears repetition: always send photos.
- Reach out to U.S. editors. Communicate directly with editors by phone or email, and if possible arrange meetings at conferences or trade fairs. Ask your PR professional to review the editorial calendars of relevant U.S. publications and identify upcoming issues of particular interest. Propose feature stories that fit editorial schedules, themes and requirements.
- Make it easy for editors, and readers, to reach you. Remember to include contact information and email addresses in the credit lines of articles. In general, do all you can to help things go smoothly. Editors will appreciate your respect for their busy schedules and challenging jobs. Which leads us to…
- Additional editorial guidelines. Most U.S. editors follow the Associated Press Stylebook for grammar, punctuation, word usage and restrictions. For example, The AP Stylebook frowns on the use of trademarks (™) “unless the trademark name is essential to the story.” For that reason, U.S. trade editors generally prohibit the use of trademarks in their media venues. Do not challenge U.S. trade editors on this or other matters of journalistic style.
- Write about what’s new. This is a journalistic rule as old as the hills and as fresh as today’s newspaper, web site or blog. Editors are always on the lookout for news - but news doesn’t necessarily have to be earthshaking. A new component for an existing product or an emerging trend in an established industry both qualify as news that might merit a press release or a story proposal to an editor.
By successfully adapting your PR message to the audience, you can earn the status of a preferred and trusted information source for U.S. publications.
Bob Giuliano is a former U.S. trade magazine editor.
Posted at 9:33am on 4th July 2011
I was aghast when I read recently that only 14% of employers encourage volunteering and 13% actually forbid it! And these are the same companies, I assume, that the Government is relying on to help lead us out of the economic crisis and support the Big Society!
At Ethos public relations, although we have always encouraged our employees to volunteer – and some do, for example as a school governor or helping out at a disabled sailing charity – in recent months we’ve taken steps to proactively encourage all staff to volunteer during working hours.
To do this, we have introduced a ‘community days and sabbaticals’ policy, in order to encourage our people to engage with the community. The policy sets out the paid time that employees are entitled to for working with recognised community groups.
Of course requests for community days have to take into the account the needs of the business, but our aim is to only refuse time off in exceptional circumstances.
Although it is early days for our new policy, one person has already booked community days in the summer and others are thinking about what they can do. I’m sure the policy isn’t perfect, and will be refined over the months and years to come, but it’s a start, and something that is at the heart of our business ethos.
The issue for us isn’t about making time for volunteering available (that’s now clearly laid out in the policy) but about encouraging our dedicated, hard working staff to take time off to volunteer. Because of this, I can fully appreciate the findings of the IFF research which show that, regardless of support from employers, less than 10% of staff volunteer during working hours. This needs to change for all companies and at Ethos we’re determined to make it happen.
The issue of volunteering was high up on the agenda at our staff conference last year and we will be reviewing progress at our next conference in the autumn, but for now I’d encourage my colleagues to step away from the office and their PCs for a while to help others in the community.
Posted at 2:05pm on 9th June 2011
Long before the McNulty Report was published at the tail end of last week, I already thought that some train tickets were too expensive whilst others were too cheap. Sat on the pretty empty 14.35 from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston, the media coverage of the report had focussed on how Sir Roy identified that: “The current structure does not do some of the important things that a pricing structure should do ... it appears that some fares are set below the level which passengers would be prepared to pay.”
In general, prices should reflect the real cost of offering a service. Call me old fashioned, but running a train service should be a public service and should be priced so that the public can afford it. And affordability is not the same as ‘as cheap as possible’. On the Virgin Trains’ service to Manchester tickets seem to range from £17 single to London to £139.50, if bought on the day. Now no one can tell me that the service can be run efficiently, sustainably and safely for less than twenty pounds. Especially not if as few tickets were sold as was the case on my 14.35 service. Some consumers are just getting the service too cheaply. But why should this matter, ‘everyone likes a bargain’ and first come, first served means these low prices are not open to all. But to address Sir Roy’s concerns about the relative costs of UK train fares compared to European counterparts, everyone should be paying a fare that better reflects the cost of the service.
But the essence of public service to my mind is that it should be there when you need it. Booking (and paying) in advance might make sense on a holiday flight to the Alps or on a hand built sofa in shocking pink. But the basis of our train services is that it is a ‘turn up and go service’, and this is enshrined in the franchise agreements with train operating companies. Train travel isn’t just another consumer product. For many people train travel is a ‘must have’ not a leisure experience. The current pricing structure penalises small business like ours that need to go with little warning to a client meeting or, arguably worse, to those people who need to go and visit friends or family that are taken ill or befallen some other mishap.
McNulty has brought many issues to the fore in his report, none more important to my mind than that of price. Not only do we need a debate on high prices, but we need to think about low prices too and adequately funding our services. We need a real debate about paying adequately for our services (and as an aside, I think that goes far beyond the price of train tickets, to Fairtrade commodities and to funding our health service or council services).
Sir Roy McNulty has said it in a 320 page report but my summary is a little bit shorter. It is just not sustainable to pay too little for things.
Posted at 2:19pm on 23rd May 2011
by Emma White, Manchester Gateway Marketing Manager, New York
Why, you might ask, am I based in New York? Firstly, let me explain how I came to be out here in the first place. I work for Visit Manchester, the tourist board for the Manchester city-region and have done now for six years! In 2009 Manchester held onto its position as the most popular destination in the UK for international visitors, just behind London and Edinburgh. North America is one of the most important markets for the city-region as it delivers a large number of these international visitors, for both business and leisure every year.
In order to really tap into this market, the decision was made to have somebody based ‘on-territory’, as we call it - and guess what – I was the lucky person. That’s right, not only do I get to promote the greatest city in Britain, but I get to live in the city that never sleeps – New York!
Now I bet you’re wondering what do I actually do out here and let me tell you, it’s a real mix of activity. My main objective is to increase the number of visitors from the US and Canada and to do this I focus on the travel trade, the media and leisure and business tourism marketing. For instance over the last year I have delivered successful consumer campaigns with Orbitz and Travelocity and have met with key decision makers at numerous travel tradeshows across the country.
Being based on-territory; I have developed great relationships with airlines, tour operators, travel agents, journalists, meeting planners and many more - no two days are ever the same! Last year saw the launch of the new American Airlines (AA) route from JFK to Manchester. To promote this new route I worked with AA on a co-op consumer marketing campaign. The campaign promoted a time-sensitive ‘bonus miles’ offer and generated over 2,350 bookings within the four-week campaign – a great success.
Time has moved quickly and I have now been out here for four years and have developed a good understanding of the American market – this does also mean that I have started using some American words such as store, bathroom and elevator! For now my time continues in New York, but I know that when I do return to the UK, I will of course choose Manchester as my base, as this is where my heart is.
Posted at 1:58pm on 18th May 2011
More than a quarter of the world's population are expected to be watching the event, 8,000 journalists have descended on London, millions of Americans are expected to set their alarm for 4am and our economy is set to receive a huge boost with retailers alone looking to generate an extra £480 million.
I am quoting these facts to all of those royal wedding party poopers out there. I don’t care if you don’t like the royal family, I don’t care if you think it’s a waste of money and I don’t care if you are going out of your way to avoid it.
There are very few occasions these days when I feel proud to be British (or English or European or whatever it is we are supposed to be) but I know that on Friday I will be settling down on the couch with my brew and my bacon butty and will be glued to the set for several hours.
I will probably cry (but I cry at adverts so that’s not a big deal) and as I join my family and friends for our post wedding garden party complete with bunting, cucumber sandwiches and champagne I will be toasting Wills & Kate and thanking them not just for an extra day off but for showing brand GB in its best possible light.
If any other event or brand can take on what will be the biggest TV audience in the history of the world then I will eat my union flag t-shirt. But until then – Rule Britannia!
Posted at 3:05pm on 26th April 2011
by Allan Beswick, BBC Broadcaster
MediaCityUK is almost upon us, there is no turning back, we’ve sold where we are and where we’re going is almost ready. Soon we’ll be rubbing shoulders with students from Salford University and various odds and sods from London.
The students will be fine, I work from six in the morning until nine, so the chances of bumping into any of them will be less than slim but all those southerners is a bit of a worry. They’ll need mollycoddling, the poor dears.
Imagine going into a shop and not being snarled at but greeted with a smile, travelling to work on the surface of the Earth rather then scrabbling around in its bowels and the money. They’ll have tenners coming out of their ears after selling their fifth share in a semi-condemned, hovel of a flat south of the river and buying a four bed-roomed whole house in Didsbury. And God alone knows what they’ll make of grass and trees and drinking water that hasn’t been peed umpteen times. I’m not sure they’ll cope. Anti-depressant pill sales are already through the roof but I’m coppering up to buy a few shares anyway.
What the place is like, MediaCityUK, I can’t tell because I’ve not been. Some of my colleagues have and they reckon it’s smashing, all clean and nice and glass and lifts and carpets, there’s even going to be a 24 hour canteen - unless the Daily Mail gets on its high horse and starts being crabby about it.
And there’s a tram stop right outside the door, although stop has been more operative than is desirable quite a lot of the time; the operators seem to be having trouble with the traffic lights, or the bendy bit of track, or a shilling for the meter or something but hey there’s a plethora of bike sheds.
It’s going to be brilliant, the BBC in the sticks where it belongs, employing people from round here, thousands of jobs, thousands of theatre seats, meals out, shoes, bottles of disinfectant, thousands of everything that man needs to stay alive in the modern world. And best of all: a huge centre of expertise contributing to the entertainment and information business in a centre that is second to none.
Personally I can’t wait. I’m still not going on one of the tours organised for current staff, simply because from October this year I’ll be going there everyday so I’m saving it up. BBC Radio Manchester is scheduled to move on 8 October. An excellent date, that’s the day Warrington Wolves will win the Superleague Grand Final and it’s my birthday – happy birthday Beswick
Posted at 10:03am on 13th April 2011
This Sunday is the day when we are required to return our completed census forms.
You may have noticed a bit of resentment from some people who are not happy at being forced to fill in the form and provide personal details - if they repeatedly refuse to fill it in they will get fined.
I don’t not see why so many people have such an issue with it. I think that anyone who has a problem must have something to hide.
When we log on to Facebook, for example, we often reveal many more details – where we are at an exact time (Facebook Places), phone numbers and address (Info page), and so on. Also, when we sign up for a store card we give away personal details without thinking twice about it.
It just doesn’t add up and I don’t see what all the fuss is about!
I wonder if the only reason people are being so awkward is because they are being asked to do something for nothing – and if that is the case then that is a truly worrying indictment of today’s society!
In the census they ask questions like ‘Who usually lives here?’, ‘What is your ethnic group?’ and ‘Were you actively looking for any kind of paid work during the last four weeks?’ – hardly the most intrusive of questions!
The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which run the census in England and Wales, has removed contentious questions on income, sexual orientation or the nature of any disability while the religion question is completely voluntary. Quite a lot has been done to the census to make it palatable for people – yet there are some who still complain. I suppose that is one of our favourite pastimes though!
The fact that the data collected is invaluable and allows local and central government, businesses and voluntary groups to plan their service provision; that it will remain confidential for 100 years; and that it will not be shared with other bodies - seems to be ignored. There is no chance of the data being linked to the ‘tax people’, the police or even the immigration authorities so I don’t really see what people’s issues are.
On a slightly different point I feel that the ONS have also done a good public relations job. They did their best to allay people’s fears about the survey by putting across a simple and reassuring message. Also at a time when people are losing jobs left, right and centre it is smart they mentioned the fact more than 35,000 jobs have been created for the duration of the exercise.
Additionally, their logo is clean and colourful, while their website is as simple and as useful as it can be considering how much information needs to be on it!
While some may argue that the census is very intrusive and that people will not take it seriously - and with the ‘missing question’ issue and the involvement of an arms manufacturer (Lockheed Martin) adding ammunition to detractors – I feel that people should stop picking at little things and just get on with it.
My last word is reserved for the ONS communications team. They will be rushed off their feet in the next few weeks and I hope their hard work pays off. And I really hope that the Jedi population has dwindled – I never was a Star Wars fan!
The Office for National Statistics – may the force be with you!
Posted at 9:52am on 24th March 2011
by Hazel Blears MP, Salford and Eccles
In December last year Civil Society Minister Nick Hurd spoke at a TimeBank event and then ‘tweeted’ to congratulate them on their 10th Anniversary, praising the organisation for “trying to counter cynicism on Big Society.”
TimeBank is an organisation that facilitates volunteering – since its launch in 2000 over 300,000 people have been encouraged and inspired into volunteering and generating change in their community.
Like most people I’m still a little vague on what exactly the ‘Big Society’ is, but in an article in the Observer last month David Cameron stated that one of its main aims is “encouraging volunteering and social action so people contribute more to their community.”
TimeBank obviously fits the Prime Minister’s criteria. Logic would therefore dictate that the Government would be providing the support to organisations such as TimeBank to enable them to encourage the volunteering and social action that David Cameron describes as his “passion.” Unfortunately logic rarely informs this Government.
Last week the Office for Civil Society informed TimeBank that they would no longer be receiving their funding as one of the Government’s strategic partners, which works out at about 25% of their budget. This is a real kick in the teeth for the TimeBank staff and the 2,000 volunteers that they help each week, but is typical of a Government that pursues short term headlines with little regard for long term commitment. TimeBank are now being forced to cut their programmes, and they are not alone.
The Government does not seem to understand that voluntary organisations and charities do not operate in a vacuum. Support structures and financial assistance are essential. The absence of any strategic vision to provide a practical and coherent policy backbone for this agenda is staggering. It has become a mish-mash of announcements, re-announcements, re-branding and political positioning by a Government desperate to demonstrate that they have a ‘big idea.’
In June last year I set the Government three tests on this agenda – whether their policies are fair to all communities, whether they create a proper framework for organisations to operate within, and whether the necessary funding is available. So far their report card reads ‘F’, ‘F’, ‘F.’
This year alone we’ve seen Liverpool Council withdraw from their role as a ‘Big Society Vanguard,’ we’ve had Dame Elisabeth Hoodless tell the Prime Minister that his spending cuts are “destroying” the UK’s volunteer army, and we’ve been told that there is a £3billion shortfall facing the voluntary sector – hardly the utopian picture that David Cameron paints.
The irony is that many of the policies on this agenda cross party boundaries and would gain popular support if they were properly structured and supported. However Cameroons such as Nick Boles are making governing by “chaos” a virtue – it’s a chaos that might make sense to the policy wonks in Westminster but one that is destroying the voluntary sector and leaving our communities to fend for themselves.
Incidentally, Nick Hurd has just deleted his TimeBank tweet – I’d argue that rewriting the past is more Big Brother than ‘Big Society’ but I’m sure he’d just call me a cynic!
Posted at 3:50pm on 16th March 2011
If there is any time to consider the issue of the public perception of Fairtrade, then now, the last day of Fairtrade Fortnight, is as good a time as any.
The general public, and consumers in particular, have been increasingly backing the concept of Fairtrade and this year’s announcement of £1bn annual sales in the UK is testament to this. But at the same time there are occasional reports such as last year’s from the Institute of Economic Affairs that claimed Fairtrade reflected Western sensibilities rather than the needs of farmers.
Now, I have to declare an interest. Back in the early 90s when I worked in corporate social policy I identified the emerging issue of trade with the ‘Third World’ amongst members of a retail consumer-owned co-operative (now part of www.co-operative.coop). Remember this was just a few years after the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989 which had a serious impact on exporting countries. After consultation with campaigners and charities, including Oxfam, the Co-op became the first UK retailer to stock Fairtrade ground coffee brand, Cafédirect. Now, I’d call it impressive that some 20 years later and from a modest start of 20 shops in the South East of England sales have topped £1000 million.
The figures are impressive and as you may have read in my colleague Shaun’s blog, this is likely to grow as the Co-operative aims to bring Fairtrade products fully into the mainstream. In addition, we have seen retailers increasing their ranges of these products and retailers such as Aldi bringing in a Fairtrade range for the first time this year. And long may this trend continue.
But what the critics of Fairtrade seem not to understand is that buying these products is only part of a wider issue about trade injustice. The word Fairtrade is, in essence, just a brand to help consumers understand what they are buying and to have confidence in the standards on which the trade is judged. But that in no way should denigrate the term. A strong and coherent brand is one many organisations strive to achieve and helps to define what the consumer can expect from the product. But the brand is never the complete story.
When I think back to the pre-Fairtrade days, one of the main things I did was to write a ‘Third World Policy’, which expressly discussed Fairtrade as a step in the right direction, but one that, without wider pressure on the World Trade Organisation (and others), could only help a small proportion of the world’s farmers.
Much work is undertaken on the issue of trade justice, and Fairtrade Fortnight is just one small, but highly public, part of this. Whether the time is now right for a more high profile campaign on tariff barriers is up for debate, but in the meanwhile, I for one, am proud of what has been achieved.
Now, let’s keep insisting on Fairtrade for the rest of the year.
Posted at 12:02pm on 13th March 2011
It’s Fairtrade Fortnight time again and it’s amazing to think how far Fairtrade has come in the last twenty years or so. However, Fairtrade is still a small proportion of international trade, and for many producers in the developing world the financial rewards for their hard work are low. Farmers are often forced to live on a pittance with little in the way of health services, schooling for their children or basic amenities.
Fairtrade is a way of giving back more to those at the start of the production chain. Often with commodities such as coffee or tea, it’s the middle men who make the most profit, not to mention the supermarkets, so while we’re paying high prices, the farmers only see a fraction of that money.
However the good news is that, according to the Fairtrade Foundation, sales of Fairtrade certified products have been growing at an average of 40% a year for the last five years. In 2009 Fairtrade retail sales in the UK were worth almost £800 million, and 22% of ground coffee sales in the UK, for example, are now Fairtrade.
At Ethos public relations, we buy Fairtrade coffee and tea for our office and every year we have a Fairtrade banquet. This means all of us preparing a dish from Fairtrade ingredients and bringing it into the office to share with our colleagues. This year our banquet is on 11 March and we’re all looking forward to a delicious meal. For me personally, I also try to buy Fairtrade as often as I can – and I’m just wondering who’s going to get me my first piece of Fairtrade and Fairmined gold…!
At Ethos public relations, we’d encourage everyone to choose Fairtrade whenever they can – it might be a little bit more expensive, but I think it’s important to stop and think about where the money is going and about fairly rewarding the hours of toil by farmers around the world to produce the goods we demand. We all expect a fair wage for a fair day’s work in Britain, so why shouldn’t farmers in developing countries be entitled to this too?
Finally, it’s great news that, in its Ethical Operating Plan on 18 February, the Co-operative Group, which leads the way on Fairtrade amongst UK supermarkets, will now aim that “if a primary commodity from the developing world can be Fairtrade, it will be Fairtrade by 2013”. This is a significant new commitment which will ensure that many more communities benefit from Fairtrade and a step which I hope all other UK retailers will follow.
Fairtrade Fortnight takes place from 28 February to 13 March and this year’s theme is “Show off your label”.
Posted at 10:27am on 24th February 2011
It’s a hard act to follow, being the next blogger after our Inside Housing guest, Tom Lloyd, but I’m not one to dodge a challenge and would like to pick up on Tom’s points about Twitter and look at another side of the social networking phenomenon.
No-one can deny, Twitter is now a fantastic way for the media to engage with their readers - it enables conversation and is a great form of immediate communication.
At Ethos public relations we have two Twitter pages - @EthosPR and @Bitesizehousing. We all regularly tweet on @EthosPR and I post links to all our housing clients’ press releases and what's going on in the world of housing news on @Bitesizehousing.
I would characterise Twitter as being a sort of community notice board. You pin up your thoughts and if it’s of interest, someone will get in touch. But when it comes to sharing opinions, I’m not so sure it is always the best channel of communication.
Although Twitter enables greater interaction and communication – I think it is safe to say that it has the potential to land you in very hot water. We have seen quite a few sportsmen and celebrities hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons by putting their foot right in it on Twitter.
Footballer Darren Bent verbally attacked Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy via Twitter, accusing him of disrupting his proposed transfer to Sunderland.
Former Liverpool FC player Ryan Babel posted a photo on Twitter of referee Howard Webb wearing a Manchester United shirt. Unhappy with the way the match was handled Babel went on to mock his ability as a referee. As a consequence of his Tweet he became the first footballer to be charged with improper conduct for posting on a social networking site and fined £1000 by the Football Association. Being an avid Liverpool supporter myself, I found his spontaneous remark rather amusing and the consequences quite severe, however I doubt a Manchester United supporter would share my views!
It’s not just our sportsmen who can have problems, we have seen Courtney Love slapped with the first-ever Twitter defamation lawsuit, following a series of ‘destructive’ posts about fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir.
And we can’t forget Paul Chambers, last year when heavy snowfall threatened to scupper his travel plans, he decided to vent his frustrations on Twitter - threatening to blow up Doncaster’s Robin Hood airport in a joke, which I probably think was posted to amuse his friends. Unfortunately for Mr Chambers, the police didn't see the funny side.
So I will leave you with a few tweeting thoughts…. those 140 characters and a quick hit of the ‘Tweet’ button can have severe consequences….. especially when mixed with poor judgement and a lack of control. I always think before I tweet, (goody two shoes, I know!) so perhaps rather than reaching for your keyboard - a drink at your local with non-work buddies would be a safer option for venting your frustration.
Posted at 2:25pm on 10th February 2011