Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Talking and Listening - The Sound of Music

The near ubiquitous presence of Peppa Pig, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Dora the Explorer in my house made me sceptical about introducing my kids to Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. Why would they be interested in two near 50-year-old films with no cartoon graphics or special effects to speak of? I was amazed during half-term when they chose to watch one or the other every day, with modern-day DVDs being left untouched.

It led me to think about all the smart new tools we use as public sector communication professionals nowadays. Which of them will stand the test of time to become classics? And which will go as quickly as they came? It's hard to believe that VHS tapes and music CDs have been and practically gone within my lifetime. I've only owned a smartphone for two years but can now barely begin to think about life without Twitter. I know many others feel the same about Facebook. I think we'll still be using these resources, or their offspring, for many moons to come.

On the "disappearing" list, I'm putting dozens of social media apps which will come and go. And some of the very foundations of PR and marketing - press releases, local newspapers, and traditional paid-for advertising. It has long been the case that we need to target our campaigns better. Now, thanks to new media, we have the technical resources to do that. I future, I think we'll be doing better at targeting our messages at specific communities. Let's face it, we've never really known how many people have seen our piece in the paper, or heard our radio ad.

Finally, I think new media will eventually bring us back to some sadly forgotten arts that would save us a lot of bother - actually talking and listening to people. It's a theme of the Francis report in the NHS. If we listen more, to our customers and our staff, we will reduce failure and provide better services. Social media can provide us with new and effective ways of having those conversations, but they can only supplement the best way to find out what someone really thinks - a cup of tea and a chat. Now that's what I call the Sound of Music.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Conspiring against a generation

Less than six months after those amazing Olympics ended, the reputation of top level sport is at its lowest ebb. Sport collectively is in desperate need of a sustained PR plan to restore our faith in what used to be a noble cause.
There is no greater advocate of sport than myself. I’ve played, coached, refereed and volunteered for over 30 years. I’ve spent literally hours daydreaming about one of my kids scoring in the World Cup final, or winning at Wimbledon. Yet, after the drug revelations of recent months, twinned with Europol’s latest pronouncements about match-fixing in football, even I’m questioning whether it’s something I want my girls involved in.
For me, sport has always been about the glory. I remember those triumphant moments when Brian Kilcline and Dave Beasant lifted the FA Cup above their heads every bit as fondly as Keith Houchen’s diving header and Lawrie Sanchez’s flicked winner*. Can I really advocate my youngsters pursuing a path where their dreams could be dashed by a bookies’ bung, or because (I hope) they say ‘No’ to a doctor’s needle.
Sport needs a credible plan to show us that what we are watching, cheering, living, is the real deal. Governing bodies needs to work collectively to address the sins they are all suffering. They need to demonstrably throw serious resources at rooting out these evils, show us their efforts are working, and let us believe again that our heroes are genuine.
Coming from Sheffield, I spent much of last summer thinking how great it would be if one of my daughters could follow in Jessica Ennis’ footsteps. Sadly, I don’t want them to now. I’ve still got enough belief in me (maybe misplaced) that, in a skill sport, ability and endless practice can overcome the medicine bottle. But pure speed or power sports like athletics, cycling and swimming? I’m just not sure what I believe any more.
*Youngsters among you should consult the stories of the 1987 and 1988 FA Cup finals.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Horsemeat - it's our own fault

I only need to go to the bottom of my road for a reminder that the blame for this horsemeat scandal is ours. Sure, there is some industrial scale malpractice going on. But it's only possible because of our collective laziness and misplaced priorities.

At the bottom of my road is a parade of around 20 shops. Three of them are Chinese takeaways; three pizza takeaways; two Indian takeaways; a fish, chip and kebab shop; a fast food diner; a jacket potato takeaway; and a clothes shop and art gallery.

Our nation's inability and unwillingness to cook for itself, our dependence on microwave and takeaway dinners is coming home to roost. I don't accept the 'busy lifestyle' argument. My parents both worked full-time and had three kids in six years but I can barely recall eating a takeaway, except fish and chips maybe once a year, until I left home. They always found time to cook for us.

There are those who argue that microwave dinners and junk food are cheaper than fruit and veg. I have a little sympathy for this view. Except that I, like most of us, have some warped priorities here. When I was a student, I gave myself a weekly budget of £30 for food shopping but would think nothing of spending the same amount on alcohol on a night out, two or three times a week. While we're happy to pay £3 for a pint at the pub, or £7 for a pack of fags, but balk at paying more than pence for our frozen burgers and sausages, we're all to blame.

The answers, of course, are to cook our own dinners from fresh, and be prepared to prioritise buying decent ingredients over less vital spending, as nutritionists have pointed out for years. But those things aren't in the British culture any more, are they? If we can't think of ourselves, then maybe the focus should be on our offspring. My kids are all vegetarian, so I haven't had the moral dilemma about whether 'value' or 'economy' burgers are good enough for them, even if I'd take my own chances with them.

The problem is, horsemeat is probably only the tip of the iceberg. Who knows what else is in our processed food? To be honest, I inkling I'd rather not.