I might be something of a communications geek, but I adore the challenges and excitement of communication. Humankind is, as far as we know, the species with the most highly developed sense of communication and language and so, to me, communication is part of the very essence of being human.
I am interested in the whole range of communications from technological developments such as blogs and Twitter, to corporate communications and foreign languages.
Learning a foreign language enables us to communicate with fellow human beings in other countries and from other backgrounds and cultures. The teaching of foreign languages has always interested me, though not being a teacher, I can only speak from the perspective of a learner.
The world has changed a great deal since I studied German. Back then it was not uncommon to pick up scientific journals – I also studied chemistry – in which research papers were published in German, French or Russian, with only a brief English abstract, if you were lucky. I remember once ‘deciphering’ a pharmaceutical paper that was published in Danish. Today, almost all such papers would be published in English.
Although, I no longer use my German in the working environment, I still value its use when I visit Germany as I gain so much more, I believe, than if I relied on the English spoken by the locals. And as I socialise with a number of Germans, it is so useful to be able to speak German. We often have great debates about the finer nuances between the two languages. I remember a recent discussion in German about the difference between ‘naughty’ and ‘nasty’ in English. My German friend was intrigued by the difference between ‘You naughty girl’ said to someone of six years of age and someone of 42!
What has always concerned me about foreign language teaching in the UK is the way it has typically focused on one or two languages. In countries which do not have English as a mother tongue, it goes without saying that the first foreign language you teach should be English, as the lingua franca for most of the world’s business community.
For the UK, however, the decision is much more difficult. For historical, cultural and geographical reasons, the first choice of foreign language here has been French, German or Spanish, with Russian and Mandarin coming in a distant second place.
But in reality the needs of our population is not to learn a language in great detail. I know plenty about the use of the extended attribute in scientific German. What I believe would be better for students is to learn half a dozen languages more superficially.
Not only will this increase the chance that, when visiting a foreign country, you have some basic grasp of the local language but, from a commercial point of view, future business people will be able to at least understand some of the deliberations taking place around them.
I am convinced that the general reliance on English has not stood the UK economy in good stead when it comes to exporting to overseas markets.
Obviously, there will always be a need for some students to study one or two languages in depth, in order that they can become translators or journalist or whatever, but what I’d like to see is that the first two years of language teaching, as a minimum, focuses on basic salutations in languages including Welsh, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian and Spanish.
In fact, it doesn’t really matter which languages they are, the key is that we empower people to have a better understanding of their fellow human beings, wherever on the globe they are.
Posted at 9:56am on 24th May 2013
by Ray Collins, European & Political Analyst, Nicosia, Cyprus
It is said that a week in politics is a long time - for the people of Cyprus today, 24 hours is a lifetime. Overnight Cypriots were told to find €5.8 billion or the country goes bankrupt.
The Euro Group's Plan A was to take the money directly out of everybody's bank accounts. Banks immediately closed (for 11 days now and not likely to open until Thursday) and we turned into a 'cash only' economy. No bank transfers, no credit card transactions and with very little available cash. People took to the streets and the Parliament said NO to the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund.
The 24-hour news media circus dissects every loose comment from EU finance ministers and experts tie themselves in knots to explain the situation. The politicians are forced to depend on their political principles - if they have any - and call on us all to be calm and responsible.
Talk around the Cypriot dinner table and in the coffee shops is no longer about the Cyprus problem with the Turkish invasion of 1974, or how to manage the local football team, but is now all about 'Bail-in's, haircuts, bank guarantees and bank levies. We also have now a new race of people on the island - The Troikans - young civil servants from Brussels with their smart clothes and sharp tongues that tell us how to run our lives as decreed by the ECB, European Commission and the IMF.
The concepts of solidarity and confidence in institutions are in very short supply as the rich with more than €100,000 are screaming and the poor and unemployed embarrassingly queue up for food parcels.
The tension between the North and South of Europe is now palpable with the growing rift between East and West not far behind. The feeling of being part of the European Community is now shot by a disastrous policy decision to suggest that people's bank deposits are no longer protected; making laws overnight and there being no evidence of any communications policy to explain the actions agreed upon.
The rest of Europe may now feel relieved that little Cyprus is no longer the first news item, but spare a thought for the Cypriots and all those living on the island as the economic meltdown continues and our banks are still closed!
This writer just received an SMS message that the Co-op Bank in Tseriou Avenue has got some money in the cash machine, so the dog gets a walk and then we may join my 16-year-old son demonstrating outside the Parliament to tell the world that "Enough is enough. It's my future you are playing with."
Ray's website is http://policomm.info
Posted at 9:59am on 26th March 2013
News this week that YouTube now has over 1 billion users a month is another milestone in the remorseless growth of social media. In the autumn, Facebook hit the 1 billion users a month mark and this week Twitter celebrated its seventh birthday, with 200 million active users and 400 million tweets a day.
All this sounds incredible, but really it’s not surprising, as these networks are very addictive. I never thought I would say it but, for me, life without social media is now unthinkable.
Social media in all its forms is rapidly becoming today’s most accessed communication platform. News often breaks on Twitter, for example, minutes if not hours before it reaches traditional media and stories spread around the world in seconds.
Of course, with 400 million tweets a day, there’s bound to be a lot of trivia – from what you’ve had for dinner to what your pet has done – and I’m sure many of us get exasperated about the sheer volume of tweets, which it is almost impossible to keep up with. However, for organisations, it is still a fast and effective way to reach an interested audience.
Facebook offers the scope for greater depth and interaction and allows businesses to create a more personalised and accessible resource for customers and potential customers to refer to. Posting well-made videos on YouTube on the other hand is an effective way to engage your target audience and entertain them. A video can often have much more impact than a photo.
Sometimes I think to myself why do I need (and use) all these social networks? But, like most people I am sure, I tend to use them in different ways. I check my tweets for what’s happening in the world, I go on Facebook to “talk” to family and friends and get the latest news from organisations I support, and I use YouTube for listening to music and for entertainment (which often then involves seeing adverts and videos made by organisations).
With audiences now in the billions, only an ostrich would ignore the communication potential of social networks. Now where’s that dancing pony video again?
Posted at 2:49pm on 22nd March 2013
The horsemeat scandal has given all self-respecting commentators an excuse to put pen to paper, usually with one or two horsey puns thrown in for good measure.
But, as I want to address the importance of reputation, maybe I am best leaving out the jokes. I wouldn’t like to ruin my reputation.
Much of the debate about this horsemeat scandal has focussed, quite rightly, on the issue of food safety, especially given the fact that the banned human drug phenylbutazone, commonly referred to as bute, has been found in horsemeat destined for the human food chain.
From a public relations perspective, there will be currently dozens, if not hundreds, of PR managers in food companies, trying to put into action everything they have rehearsed about crisis management.
Both Morrisons and The Co-operative have so far been the most visible food retailers on the news, with a recent Channel Four News interview with Peter Marks, Chief Executive at The Co-operative Group , giving his organisation the opportunity to publicly reaffirm its commitment to providing unadulterated food, the very reason the Co-operative Movement was established in the first place.
But crisis management is only one aspect of managing reputation. Once a crisis hits, all hands are needed on deck to deal with the media (and public) onslaught that can follow. Especially now, with our 24 hour rolling news, PR managers will be kept on their toes with requests for information, press statements and interviews.
But during a crisis, one eye needs always to be kept looking to the future. Sometimes in the middle of a crisis it is hard to imagine that the media frenzy will die down again, but inevitably it will.
Organisations, ideally with input from their marketing and PR professionals, have to establish their route out of the crisis and put strategies and policies in place that can build their trust and reputation again.
This horsemeat scandal has hit reputations hard. Consumers are rightly worried that they can no longer trust the information provided by retailers and manufacturers on their food packaging. If horsemeat can be passed off as beef, or pork end up in beef meatballs, who is to say that we can trust the list of ingredients on any other product?
The food industry now has the perfect opportunity to massively simplify both their supply chain and their products themselves as one way to rebuild confidence. Retailers and manufacturers need to know where all the ingredients in food products come from and consumers should be able to easily read, and understand, the ingredients contained in the products.
The highly processed and complex formulation of many foodstuffs these days has resulted in consumers having to put their trust in the retailer. The simplification of products, so that they contain fewer ingredients, combined with better labelling of where products actually come from, rather than just where the product was ‘assembled’ , could be a useful strategy in rebuilding consumer confidence.
But such fundamental change is not easily embraced by complex large businesses. The likely focus for any rebuilding of public confidence is surely going to be testing. A rigorous regime of food testing – with the results published – is likely to pay dividends in terms of reputation and trust. Trust is built slowly by the aggregation of years of positive experiences and if the food industry and government get behind transparent testing, consumers are likely to once again be confident in their food.
Although there has been a reported 30% increase in sales in butchers’ shops around the country, the predominance of the supermarkets means that consumers will increasingly move back to them as trust in their products increases. However, supermarkets and food producers will now need to operate for a prolonged period with no further issues or scandals in order for the trust-o-meter to rise.
Honesty has always been a key element in a business’s reputation, and openness and greater transparency about the food they sell will help supermarkets win back the hearts and minds of consumers.
Posted at 2:54pm on 18th February 2013
Towards the end of last year we were working with a farmer in Tasmania who was keen to use an eye-catching logo we had developed to show that the paper they use is both recycled and can be recycled again.
Over the Christmas and New Year break we heard about the wildfires affecting much of Tasmania and were, of course, concerned for the farmer, as well as the other inhabitants of the island.
Thanks to the power of email we were able to find out really quickly that all is well 'down under', though water pumps and a kayak are ready should the fires get too close for comfort.
The farmer in Tasmania will be using the logo on a new range of lavender products they are developing.
At the farm, called Campo de Flori, they are now in the process of finalising their products and their website will be up and running soon. In the meantime, they have a Facebook page which contains their latest news.
It is a relief to hear that the wildfires have not reached the farm, even though they have been raging all around, and the lavender and bees are still unaffected. It must be a very stressful time for the farmers there, at such a crucial stage of their production cycle, so we wish them luck.
The irony that we are in touch with a farmer 11,000 miles away because we both share an interest in the environment and sustainability, and we are now talking about the possible effects of global warming, is not lost on us.
Latest news reports indicate wildfires are now posing serious problems in New South Wales too. Surely, it is now time for us all to take more serious note of environmental issues.
Posted at 12:44pm on 8th January 2013
I'm sure I'm not the only one who likes to watch the odd repeat of Fawlty Towers - the series never seems to lose its appeal.
I recently saw (once again) the well known episode Communication Problems, which revolves around a demanding lady who is hard of hearing and refuses to turn her hearing aid on and waste the battery, a forgetful Major, the Spanish waiter Manuel, whose grasp of English is of course very limited, and a win on the horses that Basil wants to keep secret from Sybil.
As well as being hilarious, the confusion which results all boils down - as the title suggests - to communication problems. It is stating the obvious I know, but when it is demonstrated in a classic comedy, it is always worth highlighting by those of us in PR that communications is a two way process. It requires a message to be transmitted clearly and received and understood. Without both sides of the equation, it is likely to fail.
Often in business, people wax lyrical about their industry, company or product, but with little regard for the audience they are communicating too. What turns you on can just as easily turn someone else off. Working at Ethos, a large part of my job is about bringing both sides together to ensure the communication process is effective and that the right message reaches the right people. Sounds simple - but as Fawlty Towers ably demonstrates, communication is never easy!
Now, what did you expect to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window?!
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Posted at 12:05pm on 22nd November 2012
Within an hour or so of an article appearing in The Telegraph last week saying that The Guardian is 'seriously discussing' an end to its printed edition, Guardian columnist Roy Greenslade had blogged to say 'that The Guardian isn't about to do any such thing'. But in the same week, US-based news magazine Newsweek announced it will be shelving the print edition from the end of 2012. So, in all this, is there something that might mark the beginning of the end of paper newspapers and news magazines?
Ever since the advent of broadband, websites of all type have been developing apace. Where once you had to wait for ages for dial up to download an image, most of us now have easy access to news, photos and even videos in a matter of seconds.
The media has been grappling with the business challenges thrown up by online news dissemination. Even for those of us in PR we have seen how online publishing has changed the way we do our job.
For example, we can now upload and distribute press releases and high resolution photos via our own website and social media channels long before a print publication can turn the story into tomorrow's 'chip paper'.
Newspapers have kept hold of their paper versions for longer than many technical trade journals, which were amongst the first publications to go 'online only'. In fact, many of them have never been paper versions, they started their published existence as online publications.
Fundamentally, I suppose it does not matter to the reader how they get their news. However, for those that work at the printing presses, they will, no doubt, see it very differently.
The move to digital publishing is inevitable. Only Luddites are going to smash up the PCs, tablets and smart phones in a vain hope to save the presses.
As consumers we are going to have to come to terms with the slow disappearance of newsstands, or at least in the way they look now. Who knows, maybe we will pop into the newsagents of the future to grab a 'chip' containing an overnight digest of world news but even that would be a type of physical 'newspaper'. More likely we will just view it online, but the real challenge in this format is the increasing assumption that news is free.
And here The Guardian and others have made a rod for their own back. For the past few years their content has been paid for in the physical paper and free on their website. How will consumers find the prospect of a paywall on a website that was previously free?
Maybe newspaper publishers will find a half way house, by maybe just printing on profitable days so that readers buy a once or twice weekly round-up of analysis and opinion and get the news delivered online for free.
But surely this type of model is just repeating the whole process over again. In another few years, the newspapers will probably feel obliged to offer the analysis part for free. At that stage surely the print version will die.
As I look at my desk with its piles of paper, mostly magazines and newsprint, I feel a slight sadness at the prospect of no printed news. But then my desk also has a PC, tablet and smart phone on it. And I am no Luddite.
Image courtesy of Naypong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Posted at 2:39pm on 23rd October 2012
It occurred to me last week, as I doggedly tried to force my Facebook log in details into my Twitter sign in page, just what a nightmare it is these days with all the passwords and log in details we need to remember.
I suppose, from a personal point of view, it's not too bad, as I tend to have one or two sets of details that I use regularly. However, once I include all the client accounts that we now manage at Ethos public relations - from Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn and website back offices - it mushrooms into dozens. No wonder it gets confusing!
In fact, if I add in all the log in details I use for my utility bills and other online services, as well as my PC, phone and email, I worked out that I use at least 40 sets of sign in details on a regular basis!
So, as I broke into a cold sweat last week thinking someone had changed our Facebook details without me knowing, or that I was losing it completely, I suppose I shouldn't have worried too much - with all those combinations to run through, it's not surprising I get them wrong sometimes.
Now what are the sign in details needed for me to upload this blog? (If you're reading this, I must have remembered!)
Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net
Posted at 3:59pm on 17th September 2012
It was sad to hear about the recent death of Lord Morris of Manchester, the prominent disability rights campaigner and former Minister for the Disabled.
Without Alf Morris’s determination to see legislation put in place to give disabled people the rights they deserve, this country would be a very different place today.
Everything from discrimination law to access to buildings, as far as it concerns disabled people, can be traced back in some way to the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act that Lord Morris steered through Parliament just over 40 years ago. This was the first legislation in the world to recognise and give rights to people with disabilities. I am sure I am not alone in being profoundly grateful for the pioneering work he did.
Lord Morris was also a lifelong supporter of the Co-operative Movement, serving as a Co-operative MP as well as a Labour one, and this commitment was recognised in 1995 when he became Co-operative Congress President.
As the London Paralympics approaches, we’re set to see the biggest celebration of “disabled” ability ever in this country, and I for one hope the games will show just what disabled people can achieve when given the right support and opportunities.
Disabled people are often wrongly perceived as not being able to contribute their fair share to society and the economy, and are sometimes portrayed as being solely dependent on the state or other people. I think this is mainly an image created by certain sections of the media, as I know from personal experience, and from working with charities and other disabled people, what a huge contribution disabled people can make if given the chance.
Thanks Alf for giving disabled people the opportunity to shine and I’m sure we will all be just as inspired by the Paralympians in a few weeks time as we were by the Olympians in the last couple of weeks (if not more so!).
Image courtesy of www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Posted at 9:27am on 16th August 2012
For the duration of my career in public relations (albeit short) I have always aimed to build good relationships with journalists.
A couple of the team from Ethos public relations recently attended a very insightful networking event with Stephanie McGovern from BBC Breakfast, who talked about how to catch her attention when emailing across story ideas and, conversely, what not to email her about.
Having a journalism degree and experiencing first hand life in a busy newsroom myself, I know that it is common knowledge that journalists can sometimes become frustrated with some PR professionals, but I think it’s safe to say that the frustration often comes from us PR people too.
Working in communications is very rewarding, and there’s nothing better than seeing your client’s name in the paper or a magazine, knowing that you’ve worked hard to get it there.
However on a number of occasions, I have found myself unfortunately snubbed by a seemingly nice journalist and their team of sub-editors. For example on one recent occasion, I pitched a great case study on behalf of a client, and the journalist happily confirmed they would use it that week. Needless to say it was not all as it seemed, and I discovered whilst reading the printed article a few days later, that my client had not been mentioned once!
It is very frustrating when all your hard work seems to have gone to waste, and even more frustrating, as someone who is a big supporter of traditional journalism, to know that this is actually quite commonplace in the newsroom.
I know that journalists are sent hundreds of press releases a day, and particularly at smaller local papers where reporters are few, they may not have the time or the resources to go out there and find a story the good old fashioned way. It’s much easier to just grab a decent press release from your inbox, add your own by-line, then hand it to the editor to go in tomorrow’s paper. I’m not saying this is what all journalists do now, far from it.
I guess what I’m saying is that if a journalist is going to use a press release written by someone else, at least credit them or the client they are representing. We are, in a way, doing journalists a favour and saving them a lot of time by essentially handing them a story on a plate, at least give us something in return!
The British press are enduring a tough time at the moment, and this is why I think it is important that the media really step up their game.
I have had the privilege of being taught by, and working with, some fantastic journalists who are an absolute credit to the industry – it is these people that we rely on to keep doing what they are doing and to show us, and the public, that ‘decent’ journalism is in safe hands.
Posted at 3:13pm on 20th July 2012