Monthly Archives: December 2007

Last Christmas, I gave you my heart

colu_a-4949_nl.jpgThis Christmas, I’m a bit stuck for a present.

I’m now starting to feel Christmassy.  It began this morning, when David Brain posted about The Two Ronnies.  I watched the Four Candles sketch, then the Mastermind one, then Swear Box, Hieroglyphics, Crossed Lines, Opticians…and before I knew it, I’d built myself a Christmas special.  Brilliant stuff.

Then I decided to wrap up all the presents, which I always enjoy.  I used to enjoy it more when we lived in the UK, purely due to the fact that French wrapping paper is of exceptionally poor quality.  It simply can’t withstand the moderately sharp corners of a box of Lego (don’t worry, the little guy doesn’t real the blog) and is semi-transparent.  Still, nice to get it all done and pressies tucked under the tree (which is currently sitting on top of a three-foot high table on account of the puppies).

Then – would you believe it – the chimney sweep turned up!  How Christmassy is that?  It was like Mary Poppins.

So I’m getting in the spirit of things.  The kids will be home from their last day at school in a little while, having met Pere Noel this afternoon (played by our village mayor) so they’ll be very excited.  It’s great to have a long weekend before Christmas day so we can get out and about a bit.  Lots of the local towns round this way are putting on special Christmas markets and I plan to get well stocked up on some lovely French grub and fantastic wine ready for an indulgent few days.

It’s been a funny old year 2007 – good, interesting, I’ve learnt a lot – and I’ve lined up a few very interesting challenges for 2008, but more of those later.  I’m excited though.

I hope you and yours have a great Christmas break and wish you all a healthy and happy New Year.

The whiff of nostalgia

rt081.jpgI caught it in that dark little alley off Memory Lane as I was travelling back home from the UK last weekend.  And it caused me to pick up a copy of, in its own words, “the legendary Christmas issue” of the Radio Times. 

I’ve got to agree with the hyperbole.  The double festive season edition of the Radio Times used to be an absolutely essential part of the whole Christmas thing when I was growing up.  And I don’t see why it still shouldn’t play a part now we’re living in France.  It’s not like we don’t get English telly or ‘owt.  Though I wouldn’t normally buy a TV listings magazine.  All the listings I need are on the old Sky thingy…and I only watch about three shows a week as it is.

Radio Times is all different these days of course.  Get this kids, when I was a youngster we only had three different channels on the box!  And as it was published by the BBC, The Radio Times only carried listings for two of them.  You had to buy another magazine – the TV Times – to know what was being screened on ITV.  Not that we did of course.  We were a BBC family.  We wouldn’t dirty our hands (or eyeballs) with ITV.  I still don’t, as a rule.

But since 1991, when TV channel listings were deregulated and all manner of listings magazines sprung up, the Radio Times has listed commercial channels alongside BBC ones.  Though I’ve always suspected that it gives BBC programmes more favourable ratings.  “EastEnders – chirpy Cockney types make the best of their lot.  Uplifting quality drama” – “Coronation Street – grim northerners moan into their cloudy brown beer.  Dour”.

In this year’s legendary Christmas double issue of the Radio Times, each day’s listing takes up 10 full pages of the magazine!  With all the channels listed, each day represents more than two months of viewing pleasure.  And that’s just TV – radio gets another couple of pages tucked up the back.

I haven’t got stuck into it yet though.  Oh no, planning my Christmas viewing is not to be rushed at…it’s something to be done one evening, when the kids are in bed, with a large cognac in one hand and my very best highlighter pen in the other.

Ego boost

Have you done that QDOS thing yet?  A few people have mentioned it.  It calculates your online presence.  Initially, all you can do is enter your name and postcode and it gives you a score.  This’ll likely be a few hundred…which looks a bit rubbish when you can see 50 Cent there at the top of the board with a score of more than 10,000.

But when you apply to register – and are accepted - you build your profile by adding details around your online presence, so any URLs, blogs, Flickr pages etc etc, and your score increases.  Your presence is split into four elements: Popularity, Impact, Activity and Individuality. 

I added my details and my score went up to 4,420, which found me sandwiched between Seb Coe and Demi Moore.  I haven’t decided whether I’m happy with that or not (though I’ve heard he goes like the clappers for four minutes and then it’s all over).    A few more points would’ve seen me stuck between Catherine Zeta Jones and Terry Wogan which, frankly, is even more confusing.

But I still wasn’t happy. 

And then it struck me. When you enter your URLs and blogs and that there’s no check on whether they’re really yours or not.  So I added a few more…like google.com, microsoft.com, scobelizer.com, bbc.co.uk.  Before you know it, I’m at 9,839 points, in 12th place overall and just behind P Diddy! 

And I feel great.

About-face book

u.jpgWhen Bite PR, as PRWeek put it back in October, “became the envy of trendy consumer tech agencies everywhere [by] scooping up the Facebook UK brief” I bet in all their excitement the team never suspected that one of the first things they’d be handling would be the fallout from the Facebook founder’s humiliating apology over a dodgy advertising system.  Though perhaps they’re not having to do very much at all…as we all know, when stuff like this happens with our big American clients, it’s generally time to stick to the prepared statements and say nothing else.  I’ve always found that enormously rewarding.

In fact, with all the current chat about Facebook having jumped the shark, I’m not sure that other agencies would be that envious right now.  My gutfeel is that Facebook’s crested the hill and is starting a chilly descent.  I reckon Zuckerberg knows it too, so he’s grabbed the cash from Microsoft and the rich Asian fella while he can…$300m isn’t a bad return for a few years’ work in anyone’s book.  Hopefully Bite has negotiated a long notice period.

I bet the guys at LinkedIn – the client that Bite (rather arrogantly in my eyes) thought wouldn’t mind being serviced by the same agency as Facebook but which (rather predictably) decided that it did – are chuckling away though.

One thing I chuckled away at this morning is Kara Swisher’s decoding of Zuckerberg’s apology on her excellent BoomTown blog.

Kids’ telly of a morning

This post started from one place and ended up in another.  I love that.

shreddies_knitted200.jpgAs a father of a couple of young children – mine are five and three – I’m something of an aficionado of morning kids’ telly, particularly the Milkshake! segment on Channel Five.  Some great programmes (all highly educational, I might add…sort of) and nice cheery presenters.  My favourite is Jen, the young upstart threatening the established trio of Naomi, Kemi and Beth (I see they’ve kept Jen’s song off the album).  But I digress.

Being a commercial channel, Five carries advertisements and of course we’re well into Christmas stuff now.  Having said that, one of my current favourites is the ad for Shreddies…the “knitted by nanas” one which, as you might have guessed, explains that each and every Shreddie is knitted by a lovely kind nana.  I like it so much that I was prompted this morning to visit the website, www.knittedbynanas.com

It’s been very well done.  There’s a bit of loading to deal with, but it kept me distracted for about 20 minutes which can’t be bad.  My favourite is the games area.  Nana vs. Robots didn’t grab me too much, the Skip Challenge appeared a little dull initially but the changing pace of the rope added to the challenge, Teabag Fling was compelling but ultimately frustrating (you get your power sorted and then screw up the angle!) and Slipper Slide is a joy.  It’s definitely worth a look.

Now to the other place.  While I was thinking about the ads, I recalled one which, frankly, disturbs me.  It’s that animatronic pony called Butterscotch.  That thing freaks me out.  “Don’t worry,” Thea tells me, “it’s not real.  It’s got batteries in its tummy.”

Looking around for a Butterscotch clip I was chuffed to find that I’m not the only one who finds Butterscotch a bit weird.  David Letterman does too…and you can see a very amusing video here.

“Take that, you lousy nag.”

POOP

cio3.jpgThat’s People Opposed to Open Plan.  It’s a movement I’ve started.

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of open plan offices.  As far as I can tell, they’re simply a way of packing more people into limited and very expensive office space.  It also drives the culture of “presenteeism” that I’ve mentioned before.

OK, so you might say that open plan offices encourage more collaborative working amongst employees, that they foster more communication and improve a company’s culture.  But what you really mean is that they allow people to muck around, flirt and gossip.  Anything, in fact, other than do their job.  Which, being honest, I’ve been more in favour of than against during my career (I’m talking myself out of my argument here, aren’t I?).  Yes, it’s true.  I’ve always quite liked office distractions.  Hell, I even married one of ‘em!

But with my serious head on, Aunt Sally, I’ve always felt that open plan hinders rather than helps productivity.  But I’m like King Canute against the tide of open plan office solutions.  Until now, that is.

Reading this week’s Economist last night, I find a comrade in the battle against workplaces without walls.  It’s only Jim Goodnight, co-founder and boss of SAS, the world’s biggest privately-owned software company.  And what a brilliant name too!  The only other Goodnight I know is Britt Ekland’s character in The Man with the Golden Gun.

(Pause while Mark finds video clip of Britt Ekland in Get Carter.  But can’t.)

In his profile, Jim says: “You are so much more productive in your own office than when you are being distracted by the people either side.”  Right on, Jim.

And how about this for a knock-on effect of Jim’s decision to give almost everyone of his employees their own office?  All that additional wallspace needs filling, so Jim started buying pieces of art and the company now boasts a collection of more than 5,000 pieces!  What a smart cookie.

SAS is clearly a company that treats its people very well indeed.  For me, it’s partly a function of being a company that has remained privately-owned, some of the advantages of which Jim sums up rather neatly:  “We don’t have to deal with Sarbanes-Oxley or minority shareholders suing us every time we turn around, or 25-year-old Wall Street analysts telling us how to run our business.”  Rock on, Jim.

Anyway.  Who else wants to join me in POOP?

Annual report 2.0ish

Tim Dyson, CEO of the Next Fifteen Group and therefore my old boss, points to something that he believes to be a world’s first; a company annual report that is also a blog.  It’s for his own company, of course.  I’ll always take a look at the Next Fifteen annual report as (a) I think, somewhere, I still own some shares (though they’re well underwater, wherever they are) (b) I know for a fact that my mum owns some shares and (c) I’m always keen to see how much Dyson gets paid.

I’m not totally convinced about how innovative the social media annual report is…it’s rather like an online annual report (which the company’s done before) with a bit of blogging literally added onto the side.  I mean, it’s not like you can comment on the chairman’s statement or other specific parts of the annual report itself (now wouldn’t that be cool…”so Tim, why did David Dewhurst get a performance related bonus but you didn’t?  What did he do that was so much better..?”)

But I’m happy to agree with Dyson when he says that more and more companies will be producing their annual reports in this way.  That hand on the front page is a bit odd though…I thought it might be some fancy biometric jobby and now my screen’s covered in sticky hand-prints.

A couple of years ago I had a chat with one of the members of the Egg plc PR team about – as I saw it – a new PR discipline which I rather cunningly called “consumer financial”.  The premise was that, as millions of individuals now own shares and are increasingly involved in managing their own share portfolios, quoted companies needed specific communications activities geared towards this audience.  Sure, they’d need all the standard financial info and regulatory announcements, but the tone and approach would be very different to those communications, say, pushed to institutional investors in the City.  While the numbers clearly matter very much to members of the “consumer financial” audience, they’re also, I believe, more inclined to want to understand the culture and ethics of the company in which they have invested.  I see the Next Fifteen annual report/blog mash-up as fitting right into this category.

As I said though, the blogging bit seems a little added on to me.  There are posts from key directors in the Next Fifteen Group, such as Dyson himself, “Social media – the new big thing in PR” (hmm…) Grant Currie of Inferno (a good mate of mine) and Aedhmar Hynes of Text 100.  They’ve kick-started the conversation by commenting on each other’s posts and roping in a few clients, but you can’t blame them for that (in fact Hynes’ post – about virtual worlds, natch – has two comments, one from Cisco, a client, and the other from a bloke called Tony Hynes.  No relation, I’m presuming…or is it?)

What’ll be interesting for me is how well they manage to keep the blog element of the report alive.  Neither Dyson or Hynes have exactly been the most prolific bloggers, and Currie’s contributions to the Inferno blog have been, ummm, sporadic.

Still, credit to them.  I do think it’s original and more companies will do something similar.  Of course, it would have been really cool if Next Fifteen itself had a digital team as part of the group that could’ve developed the social media annual report concept; I could have seen that leading to a load of new business.  But it doesn’t, so used a company called CGI Squared instead.

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