The immobile world of mobile network providers

We all look to the nine circles of hell when drawing comparisons with experiences we take a disliking to and, I have to say, I considered that very association after my recent foray into the deeply dark world of mobile phone upgrades.

However, when I thought it through, following my second, 30-minute wait for an O2 advisor to speak to me, via telephone, ‘O2 Live Chat’ and Twitter, it was Dante’s volume Purgatorio that crept into the fore.

Through neither channel were my cries for help answered and I remain hovering in limbo somewhere between mobile phone network and handset choices.

But, upon reflection, don’t we all end up in limbo every time we come to upgrade our mobile phones, due to the fact that mobile phone providers are actually immobile?

During those ever-increasing contractual months, I dream of that divine day when my mobile phone bill will be reduced and that exorbitant new handset cost will disappear. And each year I somehow reach the vanishing point only to find that I am back to where I started all those months ago.

Yes, the handsets get shinier but the offer on the table renders no additional value and the nauseous feeling that comes with inertia sets in.

It’s a paradox: we move forward, yet we stay in the same place. But those phone networks keep getting richer.

So, what is to be done? Well, one might opt for a change in mobile network but the tariffs are so inflexible – immobile if you will. Or take up the gauntlet set down by the customer service agent and hunt out a tariff that the provider will then match.

Where with other industries, the voice of the customer is now what drives business; making the customer do the work is, once again, demonstrable of mobile phone network providers taking and not giving back; living in the past and failing to evolve to meet the customers’ needs, choosing, instead, to serve their own.

Dante wrote in Purgatorio: “This mountain is so formed that it is always wearisome when one begins the ascent, but becomes easier the higher one climbs.”

Maybe it’s time for us to push ourselves to climb and force a different view.

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Review: Damien Hirst, Tate Modern

Lullaby, the Seasons (2002): Damien Hirst

Someone once told me a great story about Damien Hirst. Having been at a party, the man himself had been working the room, asking guests to put their hands in his pocket and guess what was in there. The mischievous artist later revealed to his audience that it was in fact his penis, threaded through a hole in the lining of his pocket, that they had been touching.

Love him or hate him, he certainly engages the tongues of the chattering classes.

As I arrived at the entrance of the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall for the preview of Hirst’s retrospective, a small group of protestors, from an artists’ community that went by the name Magma, were decrying self-promotion in the art world.

The 18th century painter Sir Joshua Reynolds courted the upper classes, painting the ‘celebrities’ of the period; the Dadaists provoked society through controversial stunts and messaging; and the Abstract Expressionists became immortalised by Life magazine in 1951 as ‘the irascibles’ due to how they conducted themselves publicly.

In different ways, all are acts of self-promotion yet some of these artists and movements have been cited by the Magma group as inspiring their own work: confuses the issue, rather, in terms of their cause and what the group hoped to achieve whilst standing outside a globally renowned institution where one of the most important exhibitions of 2012 is being staged, the subject of which being one of the most talked about artists of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Cynicism, and, indeed, Magma, aside, the Damien Hirst retrospective is impactful, just as Hirst, himself, has been.

However, in terms of his art, Hirst has made himself a victim of his own personal PR machine as, like a badly decorated hall, original beauty and taste have been plastered over many times by layers of poor imitations and altered falsehoods, leaving the onlooker confused as to what, exactly, Hirst is: artist, businessman or spokesperson?

What the exhibition at the Tate Modern does is hit the reset button, shedding the layers and stripping the artist back to what he started out as: a Conceptual artist and enfant terrible of the YBA set.

The fourteen rooms house key pieces such as ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’, ‘Lullaby, the Seasons’ and his early spin paintings.

All of the pieces, over the years, have been enthusiastically intellectualised when considered in relation to the themes of life, death, love, wealth, science etc. and their respective titles. But what struck me about the exhibition, more than anything, is Hirst’s attention to detail: a level of OCD I have simply never borne witness to.

Sympathy in White Major - Absolution II (2006): Damien Hirst

Butterflies individually, and painstakingly, laid out on giant canvases, in perfect symmetry, designed, successfully, to look like stained glass; cabinets of medical instruments so perfectly arranged, and polished, they appear sharp on the eye; and spot paintings where the beauty was created by the simplicity in the vivid colours and immaculate finish.

Based on his recent work, however, one cannot help questioning the personal involvement Hirst has with any given piece, past or present.

A vast majority of the pieces on display in this exhibition are early works, created in the late eighties and nineties, an exciting time to be an artist in the UK as the industry became a more democratised space, free from the constraints of patronage and stuffy institutions.

‘Artists no longer needed to wait around for someone to discover them’, explains Tate’s Head of Collections, Ann Gallagher, ‘they could find a space and exhibit themselves.’

These self-produced exhibitions, including, most famously, the three-part Freeze show organised by Hirst himself, served as fantastic platforms for him and his contemporaries to stand on, making them visible to gallery owners Jay Joplin and Charles Saatchi, both of whom nurtured the artists, providing a foot up to the next level.

But it wasn’t just about the exhibitions, the YBAs used media channels to talk about their work and posture on their political views. As Minimalist artists Donald Judd and Robert Morris had written extensively about their own work and the work of their contemporaries, providing a context for the conceptual nature of the art being produced in the sixties and seventies, the YBAs were using the media to identify themselves as a new wave of celebrity and proffer quasi-cryptic soundbites about their own work.

Self-promotion was not only important for generating a buzz around the artists, the issue I believe Magma were so set against, but it was also a way of communicating a message and democratising their work, a message, which in Hirst’s case, I believe became confused and convoluted somewhere in the nineties.

What this exhibition at the Tate Modern has done, is to distil the vast body of work, both ‘original’ and mass-produced, to form a snapshot, representing, as close as is possible, what Hirst really is about.

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Review: Brand Anarchy

Brand Anarchy: a book that takes the urban sprawl of our current media landscape, flattens it to its foundations and reconstructs it, explaining how and why each structure looks and stands in the way it does.

Authors Steve Earl and Stephen Waddington draw on their combined forty years’ experience in the media and communications sector, to take the reader on a crashing joyride through the past present and future of public relations, pointing out important landmarks and sharing insights alluding to the industry’s evolving architecture.

Ten chapters, broken down into index-note-style headings, make quick referencing easy, whilst the informal language, injections of wit and cynical undertones, make the reading experience more pleasurable, unlike some of the more didactic offerings of the same genre.

Avoiding industry clichés, Brand Anarchy doesn’t focus solely on what digital has to offer, instead demonstrating the importance of an integrated media and hinting at where the print and broadcast industries are heading.

Additional weight is added with influencers from the media world, including Alastair Campbell, Greg Dyke and Francis Ingham, providing commentary, alongside carefully selected industry case studies that serve to shine a spotlight on good and bad practice.

One of the key problems for a book like this, in a fast changing world, is the danger it becomes out of date and irrelevant when it is finally published. In the case of Brand Anarchy, Earl and Waddington have future proofed the content, by not merely focussing on what is happening now, but, in addition, extrapolating and analysing major industry trends, past and present, to illustrate, for the reader, a theoretical future.

As Waddington explained: ‘We locked down the majority of the content for Brand Anarchy in September 2011.

‘We tried insofar as possible to write about trends rather than specific situations and technologies so that the book had a reasonable shelf life.’

Whether an industry professional or someone with an interest in the media world, Brand Anarchy is certainly a great addition to the book shelf.

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Chance is the name of the game: Alighiero Boetti at Tate Modern

Twin concepts: Shaman/Showman

As I walk through the archway to room two of the Alighiero Boetti exhibition at Tate Modern, above which are two signs, flashing alternately; one the word ‘PING’, the other ‘PONG’, curator, Mark Godfrey is standing, discussing the piece Shaman/Showman: ‘Despite an artist potentially being seen as both, Boetti believed the terms to be incompatible.’

These pieces offer an interesting juxtaposition; the first representing a logical pairing of words, ‘ping’ and ‘pong’, whilst the words in the title of the second, in Boetti’s view, playfully contradict one another – a concept he took further when he changed his name to Alighiero e Boetti in the late 1960s, to conceptually, and somewhat facetiously, represent himself as a pair of twins.

Boetti liked games. He used a variety of playful methods to explore systems and the idea of order and disorder, depicted by sequences within grids and chequerboards, demonstrable in his works Contest of Harmony and Invention and Chequerboard.

Having parted ways with the Arte Povera movement, of which he was instrumental in establishing, Boetti opted for his own direction, drawing on themes of chance, order and disorder and, as well as indulging his interest in the socio-political issues of Afghanistan, also exploring the function of linguistic and numeric systems – all, often, carried out in a slightly waggish manner.

In his postal works, he plays with the idea of chance by sending series of postcards, telegrams and letters through the mailing system, with a selection of constants and variables representative of mathematical sequencing.

Sequencing: La Mole Antonelliana

In changing pre-determined variables, such as the three stamps used in every possible sequence on six telegrams, as seen in Postal Work (Permutation), or the starting destination and image on a series of seven postcards in La Mole Antonelliana, chance creeps in with the variable postal service and the post marks it generates.

The postal works are also demonstrable of Boetti’s views on how artists should work. Godfrey explains: ‘Boetti believes that the artists’ work should not be about efficiency, but should explore the ideas of inefficiency and wastage.’

This is ironic as despite the methods in his work exploring these ideas, he was hugely efficient when it came to the volume of work produced, although it should be noted that Boetti handed over many of his concepts to be completed by others.

Such is the case in his biro works, where a group of students created a series of biro on canvas pieces, each taking responsibility for an individual panel. The works often had a coded message created with whited-out comma symbols in the horizontal plane, aligned with the vertical running alphabet down the left hand panel.

Each student had a different style of crosshatching on the panel so, again, the idea of chance comes into play, in terms of the look of the finished piece, but in addition the idea of using what is generally available, and cheap, around you, a hangover from Boetti’s Arte Povera days, comes through in the work – the ubiquitous biro is used instead of expensive, specialist paints, for example.

Despite the pleasure these somewhat eccentric and, often, self indulgent pieces bring, and which allow Boetti to be the showman, one must not be diverted from taking a good look at his series Mappa and his piece Classifying the Thousand Longest Rivers in the World, that, for me, are the most important elements of this show.

In Mappa, we find a collection of world maps, hand-embroidered by exiled Afghanistan women, that had the aim, as Godfrey puts it, of: ‘Putting the image of the world into the world.’ This comes as the ultimate extension of Boetti’s idea of using what was around him to create, symbolised in the maps by the flag of each country being embroidered into the space the country occupied on the map at the time it was created.

This process was repeated many times between 1971 and 1994, the year of Boetti’s premature death, and each of the maps represent the changing face of the world over this period. Wars and civil wars, as well as battles for independence, are all represented, categorised by the date of completion, making each map in the series a, visually, historical document.

Again, Boetti allowed chance to creep in as much of the work was left to Italian researchers and the Afghanistan women, removing the control of the artist’s hand, that of the shaman, from the process.

In the pink: Mappa, 1979

One charming story that resulted from this came about when a map, completed in 1979, was returned with a pink sea – a colour of thread that was in good supply at the time. The women, living in a landlocked country and unfamiliar with the image of the world map, hadn’t understood the space to be representative of the oceans. Boetti liked this chance factor so much that he allowed freedom of choice for the colour of the water in future map works.

For Classifying the Thousand Longest Rivers in the World, Boetti did exactly what the title suggests. However, as with many of his other works, there is still a degree of chance involved, with the subjectivity of where one should measure a river from and to, at which point in the rise and fall of water levels and at which point at its width.

The project took many years to complete but the processes were documented thoroughly by his first wife, Anne Marie Sauzeau.

Seminal: Classifying the Thousand Longest Rivers in the World

As the Mappa series is an important categorisation of the changing face of the world over a 23 year period, as well as piece of art, Classifying the Thousand Longest Rivers in the World has become a seminal work, now used by scientists and researchers as a point of reference.

The playful charm of Boetti’s exploration of chance and order has been put aside, allowing a more serious sense of expression of these ideas to come through, making these pieces, in my view, stand above the works in the other rooms.

Saying that, the exhibition is certainly worth exploring as, each time you view his work, those chance encounters that make Boetti worth a second, third and even fourth look will become increasingly evident, creating a new experience and appreciation of his work each time you view it.

Louis Pasteur, a man who certainly knew the importance of chance, once said: ‘Chance favours the prepared mind.’ In this case, chance is well worth the risk.

Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan, Tate Modern, SE1 (020 7887 8752) until May 27.

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Review: Picasso and Modern British Art (Tate Britain)

Pablo Picasso - The Three Dancers (1925)

Influence is a complicated affair. Impossible to measure with any great sense of accuracy or meaning yet it is as ubiquitous as oxygen. We spend our lives being influenced, often without noticing that it is even happening.

The exhibition currently showing at the Tate has been carefully hung from the idea of influence, specifically, how Picasso influenced seven British artists throughout the twentieth century, and, more broadly, the effect he had on the British art scene.

Work by British artists Duncan Grant, Wyndham Lewis, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland and David Hockney (interestingly all men) is juxtaposed with selected works by Picasso to illustrate the impact he had on Modern art in the UK.

I have to say though, I’m not sure that a compare-and-contrast approach has done anything for my national pride.

In the first instance, the works of Grant, Lewis and Nicholson are at best ‘influenced’ by Picasso’s influencer, Cézanne. At worst, what they offer are poor imitations of the great Spaniard’s work, appearing seemingly outmoded and somewhat regressive when juxtaposed with the works of Picasso.

The problem is that these British artists simply didn’t understand the work of Picasso to be influenced by it. As is quoted in the exhibition itself, Wyndham Lewis pompously dismissed Picasso as repressing the modern movement, saying: ‘the exquisite and accomplished, but discouraged, sentimental and inactive, personality of Picasso.’

Picasso had an additional influence that fed into his work and goes some way to explaining why the work of the three Brits in question blanches when placed alongside that of the Spanish master.

In 1903, a book entitled: Elementary Treatise on the Geometry of Four Dimensions, was written, by French mathematician, Esprit Jouffret. The work was introduced to Picasso by friend and mathematician, Maurice Princet, a man who would affectionately become known as ‘the father of cubism’.

It was this work, and further discussion around it, along with other developments within the science world, such as the breakthrough of Einstein’s special theory of relativity, that would lead Picasso to reach somewhat higher and transcend anything else being created at that time, and in that vein.

Euclidean geometry was to be abandoned for the now much talked of non-Euclidean forms, breaking from basic geometric figures, demonstrable within other works in the exhibition, and shifting the balance towards his Cubist activity, arguably commencing with, the sadly absent, Les Demoiselles D’Avignon, in 1907.

This is the missing link, where influence became lost in translation for Grant, Lewis and Nicholson.

Pablo Picasso - Nude Woman in a Red Armchair (1932)

Interspersed between the earlier rooms, relief comes in the form of those devoted purely to Picasso’s work, which include the vivid and sensual Nude Woman in a Red Armchair and the enigmatic Man with a Clarinet, amongst others.

These spaces (six in total), serve to tell the story of Picasso’s influence, more broadly, on the British art scene. Whilst informative and interesting, it is somewhat disappointing to read how poorly judged he was by British critics and collectors alike.

It would seem that it wasn’t until Guernica was exhibited in the UK, in October 1938, alongside some related studies, that Picasso made an indelible mark. This landmark is observed by its own space in the exhibition but sadly only offers a half-size photograph of the original work.

What is interesting is seeing first-hand the speed at which Guernica had been created, with very little difference being shown between the smaller studies of the painting’s various scenes and the final work.

Graham Sutherland - Crucifixion (1946)

Following on from this comes a room looking at the work of Graham Sutherland, as influenced by Picasso’s later works such as Guernica. Whilst there is a good deal of expression in paintings such as Crucifixion, when up against a titan like Guernica, sadly it’s another case of simply being outclassed for the Brits on display.

The case for Henry Moore and Francis Bacon is somewhat more cheerful, however.

The room devoted to Moore and Picasso is well put together. Coming through the arch, instantly one is presented with the former’s Reclining Figure and the latter’s The Source, side by side. It was great to see a Brit holding his own against the Spaniard.

Picasso’s ‘African’ period had a huge impact on the adoption of ‘primitive’ form prevalent in the work of Moore. Despite Picasso’s work being mainly paintings, one felt as though the substantially sensual curves could be grabbed right from the canvas, which sat well in a room of eroticised, sculpted figures. The comparison worked, for the first, and in my view only, time to enhance the work of the two artists.

Francis Bacon - Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (c.1944)

In the case of Francis Bacon, as he had destroyed most of his early work, having felt that he had ‘arrived’ when Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion had been completed, we have less history to compare.

Interestingly, his journey to get there was one that had heavily drawn on the influence of Picasso, demonstrable in the few paintings on display that survived his pre-1944, artistic cleansing.

The effect of influence, for both Moore and Bacon, is clear and enhances the viewing experience in the context of the exhibition.

In the case of Moore, it is the complementary nature in which the two artists’ work shares the space, the symbiotic relationship.

For Bacon, his journey is clear, in reference to Picasso’s work, and, more than that, he has evolved his work to become something else altogether, but always with a nod to what he saw when first viewing Picasso’s Dinard paintings at the Paul Rosenberg gallery in Paris, during the late Twenties.

Gertrude Stein was once quoted as saying: ‘Picasso once remarked I do not care who it is that has or does influence me as long as it is not myself.’

So, my final thought is that you could do much worse than go to see this exhibition, even if it’s just to let a little of the Picasso magic rub off on you.

Picasso & Modern British Art, Tate Britain, SW1 (020 7887 8888) until July 15.

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Social media let down by poor customer service at Fulham’s Sands End pub

Daily, I read various case studies where the powers of social media and customer service combined fall far short of the superhero status they have the potential to achieve.

As general customer service skills have been around for a good deal longer, I have often been inclined to believe that it is the villainous misuse of social media that acts as the rather dastardly Kryptonite, destroying the combination of, what should be, a harmonious duo.

However, before Christmas, I found myself in a situation that left me awaiting an heroic rescue by Customer Service but, instead, it was Social Media that pulled the Y-fronts over the tights and swooped in to save this consumer in distress.

Having been bounced from unreserved table to unreserved table by a waiter who seemed keen on amateur dramatics at my Fulham local, the Sands End (yet another gastro pub that rides high on its own good opinion of itself, based on reviews written circa 2007/2008), my friend and I were left not a smidge hacked off.

At the final request for us to move, we were perched on a table in the far corner, which actually was reserved for 8.30pm, but being the last table left available, and due to the fact we were planning to leave before then, we had decided to take it. However, at 8.05pm we were asked to move, yet again.

There was nothing polite in the way we were ‘handled’ and so I decided to speak with the manager before leaving.

This was met with smug indifference initially and, less than a minute later, following an attempted discussion, finished with the statement: ‘If you don’t like it, you can leave.’

At this point, I figured nothing was going to get through to the staff in the Sands End, it was a lost cause and so I resolved upon social media to try to make my point, something I have only ever done once before in a situation such as this.

A tweet went out and a rapid response came back from a wide selection of local bloggers and tweeters, all of whom knew the pub well and were interested in what had happened.

In addition, I was contacted by the pub’s PR representative, Claire Strickett of Gerber PR. Now this was quite a thing, an area I am, of course, familiar with. In my mind she handled everything brilliantly; quickly and efficiently listening to my story and getting in touch with the owners, who promptly contacted me.

Enter Customer Service.

The call I received from the owner a day later was interesting to say the least: an apology wrapped up in the disclaimer that he had not yet spoken to his team to hear their side of the story.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but, as a customer, if one has a bad experience, all one wants is a sympathetic ear and a gesture that quickens the healing process.

He then proceeded to tell me that after Christmas, I would hear from him when he had got to the bottom of the situation.

Having heard nothing up until Wednesday of last week, I emailed said owner to find out what his investigations had turned up.

On Sunday, staggeringly, an additional four days later, I received an email and this is what it said:

Apologies for not having responded earlier but I have been away travelling from county to county on an endless family excursion.

I mentioned I would have a chat with Andrew and the other member of staff about the other night’s incidents, which I did before Christmas. As you might expect their account was a variation to your own, aspects of which I have taken into account. However it was generally considered that in the future we look at situations like this from a customers point of view and on reflection both staff members feel that had they handled things differently the outcome would probably have been less contentious. It was a valuable meeting.

Anyway, I can assure you that not only has this gone some way to tightening staff/customer interaction, but also has helped in addressing procedural issues which played a large part in the upset of the evening.

Well, no surprise in the differing accounts part. What I did find incredible, however, was the fact that I was expected to rejoice in the happy occasion that, in a burst of genius, <cue divine light and angelic voices> the team decided, in a meeting, to ‘look at situations like this from a customer’s point of view’,  suggesting that this wasn’t how they operated prior to the events in question.

The fact my friend and I had been inconvenienced in order that these changes might take place without any offer of even the smallest gesture of compensation, such as furnishing us with a drink, for example, instead leaving us with the rewarding notion that we ‘helped in addressing procedural issues’, is merely the equivalent of providing us with a complementary sour taste in our mouths.

So, we have an epic customer service FAIL here, split into two parts, but I am determined that social media will have its final swipe at victory in this battle, which is why I have chosen to write this blog post.

The funny this is, that I had intended to write a post regardless but I was waiting to see what the final outcome might be as I had hoped to provide an account where both customer service and social media worked together to positive effect. Quel dommage.

If you are ever in need of a drink when in the heart of Fulham, I would recommend the Hurlingham on the Wandsworth Bridge Road or the Rose on Harwood Terrace as rather good drinking holes.

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Ego and the idiot: the modern opinion piece.

When I read the over-saturation of opinion pieces littering the pages of the media, written by a superiority of didacts who have such high opinions of themselves that they regularly plaster 1,000 words of condescending, cynical and, quite frankly, joyless, copy into an email and fire it off to an editor to be published, more often than not, the end result is a rise in my blood pressure.

Sunday’s piece on the Guardian’s site, written by Charlie Brooker, telling us all what he thinks we should ‘stop doing immediately’ was no exception.

Basically, in his words, Brooker has decided to set ‘New Year’s resolutions for everyone in the world except me.’ His reason? Quite simply that we have been doing the things on the list for too long.

Brooker believes that thinking for ourselves is so 2011 and instead, we should all defer to his better judgement on matters of taste.

Apparently, we all ‘pretend’ that cupcakes are brilliant, find Lady Gaga and Beyoncé ‘endlessly fascinating’ and watch too many ‘pretentious’ super hero movies, all whilst, being impressed by variations on the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ theme.

Now, I’m not a humourless sort. I enjoy a bit of cynical banter as much as the next, it’s ‘our thing’ as a generation after all, but there is a time and a place for this, the pub with your mates for example.

When I pick up a newspaper or magazine, or skim through news sites, however, I want something more than self-serving narcissists who clearly love nothing more than to be given the space to pontificate their views to a ready-made audience through a written diatribe, which provides no educational value whatsoever, other than a depressing glimpse into the mind of one particularly egotistical human being.

So, in response to the piece, here is my plea to all editors for a New Year’s resolution they might want to consider: humour and wit are great in opinion pieces when a degree of wisdom is also proffered. But please be sure, when considering writing those hefty cheques to these barely somebodies, that good value is offered beyond the mere name written in the byline. Quality should not be sacrificed for a modicum of celebrity.

A happy, prosperous and free-thinking New Year to you all…

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Graduate schemes: are PR agency bosses failing graduates?

The ever-resourceful, and thoroughly good chap!, Ben Cotton, has once again compiled his well-researched and really rather helpful list of PR graduate schemes to give the future talent of the PR industry a much-needed foot up.

Most of us have been there. As the elation of graduating plummets with the last mortarboard, one finds one’s self finally having to think about what those glorious years have really been about.

It’s a rude awakening, a crashing great splash of cold water to the face that leaves one gurgling, trying to catch one’s breath ready for the next round.

So, it is always with great disappointment that I find so few opportunities for graduates to get involved in these schemes, with only thirteen appearing on the list this year.

When I worked at PRWeek, many an agency boss would enthusiastically talk to me about investing in the future of PR, telling me how important young talent is, especially as digital media became more ubiquitous.

So, to my question: where are you all when it comes to putting your money where your mouth is?

I know some of you might respond to this with the word ‘intern’. But how many of those interns experience the sort of structured programme that a graduate scheme will provide? How many of those interns will be paid, in order that anyone with talent can participate?

Having spoken to many young people working at PR agencies in the past, they all too often seem to be swimming against a tide of tasks way beyond their experience, lacking vital support.

Investment in the future of the industry is about nurturing talent, not throwing young graduates at a department and hoping that it just, magically, works.

I have a feeling that there may be some agencies who have not yet updated Ben’s list, which seems like a missed opportunity when trying to ensure you cast your net far and wide.

For the rest, I feel this is an important industry issue and one that I, for one, would be interested in hearing your views on. And I’m sure there are many graduates out there who would like to hear something of their future, which currently, one can only imagine, feels particularly unstable.

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‘Targeting’ journalists on LinkedIn as a comms professional

Death of Actaeon: Titian

On Wednesday I spoke at the Social Media Academy #LinkedInConf on the subject of ‘Targeting Journalists on LinkedIn’, so I thought I would share some of my thoughts, and some additional points that came out of the discussion, here.

Firstly, when I heard the title, I thought: ‘Cripes, targeting journalists’? The very idea, for me, conjures images of Titian’s Death of Actaeon: the hunter and the hunted, if you will.

To be clear, this really is not necessary.

You see, the first error made, in many cases, by communications professionals is that media relations is still being positioned at the centre of campaigns.

It seems rather odd to me, considering all of the talk about the importance and impact of social media, and the fact that there are free-to-use, readymade channels to go direct to one’s target audience, journalists are still positioned on pedestals, such as they are.

So, as a radical idea, I propose, instead of targeting journalists on LinkedIn, why not create decent content and take your message directly to the audience you want it to reach, via social media channels?

Surely this provides more certainty and the proof is in the results.

Now, I’m not being a traitor to those who work in journalism, I know, first-hand, how hard journalists work. I merely want to encourage PR professionals to save themselves the effort of hammering phones trying to sell hacks ideas they don’t need, wasting everyone’s time, and, instead, turn their attentions to claiming the social media space to improve and secure the industry.

I will now step down from my soapbox and twist the direction of this post along a more positive vector.

Before the event, I spoke to many journalists, from those working online only, through trade publications, to the national newspaper hacks.

I asked them all if they used LinkedIn and, if so, how?

The responses were, of course, mixed, but really mostly amounted to a permutation of: ‘online CV’.

Having held a discussion with the delegates of the #LinkedInConf, there seems to be some confusion on how to use the platform successfully from the PR side as well.

What I would say is that there needs to be additional reasons for journalists to use LinkedIn, by way of groups and forums, where they can go to pick up titbits of news and find tools to help them do what they do best.

When I threw out to my Twitter feed, on several occasions prior to the event, the question: ‘Does anyone have any interesting examples of where they’ve used LinkedIn effectively?’, I was met with silence.

This is a rare thing when I ask PR professionals a question on my Twitter feed to hear nothing back so I assume that there was very little out there to share, but do correct me if I’m wrong and share your thoughts below.

What was rather positive came from the journalist’s answers, where some of them came back to me explaining that their editors were keen to explore the platform further, or that they had been discussing with colleagues how they might use it.

So, in conclusion, journalists are certainly on LinkedIn ready and waiting to be shown the way. They are also keen to use it in many cases so my advice to PR professionals is that it is a medium well worth another look, if you aren’t using it already.

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Twitter celebrates ‘top tweeters’ at #TwitterDinner, but what places a tweeter on top?

Celebrated: top tweeters

Last night, as I skimmed through my feed, a nightly ritual before drifting off to Bedfordshire, I noticed a handful of celebrities were waxing lyrical about the ‘top tweeters’ #TwitterDinner they had just attended, hosted by Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo, and General Manager, Tony Wang.

‘Top tweeters’ (TTs) I thought, what does this actually mean?

So, I had a wee skim through the profiles of the chosen few who were invited to the event to try and understand the rationale of what the organisers at Twitter deem to be a TT.

I have to say, I’m disappointed. One of the first things I noticed was that TT Jimmy Carr, so far as I could tell, hasn’t actually tweeted anyone with an ‘@ reply’, instead broadcasting endless, self-promoting tweets. <yawns>

As we all know, the social networking platform is anything but being about the numbers so he surely wasn’t just invited solely for his 1.5 million followers, was he Twitter? Not a TT in my view.

Then there is Mr Stephen Fry, the national treasure and linguistics expert/export who, along with Jonathan Ross, put the site on the map for the rest of the celebrity world to find and plunder for what it could get – not intentionally, of course, but there you go.

However, his has been a volatile relationship with Twitter, extricating himself when somebody says something he dislikes, temporarily playing with his ball elsewhere and, when he misses the success it has brought him, reclaiming his place at the top of the premiership.

Again, for me, not a great example of a TT, despite his staggering, near 3.5 million followers.

As regards those remaining; Philip Schofield, Sarah Brown, Richard Bacon, Davina McCall, Charlie Brooker et al, there is nothing noteworthy about the way they use Twitter. They might not limit themselves to 140-character, self-promotional ads, as other celebs do, but they don’t really do anything out of the ordinary either.

This isn’t a criticism of these individuals, merely an observation that makes me question their TT monicker, as bestowed on them by Twitter.

However, there is one person who, for me, does live up to his TT status. In fact, I might go as far as to say that he was my top tweeter of this year – and he has the lowest follower count of those on the guest list.

Paul Lewis, the Guardian’s Special Projects Reporter, provided an actual public service, greater than many of those expected to provide public services, in terms of communication, during the UK riots this year.

Whilst news channels, such as BBC News 24 and Sky News, were broadcasting repetitious reports on the violence and vandalism that shook the major cities across the UK, he was at the heart of it, using Twitter as his main channel to communicate real-time, breaking news, helping those in the areas avoid any trouble.

My bet is that many of those in attendance last night had no idea who he was when they arrived at the swanky dinner, he is Davina McCall’s most recent follow, but his use of the communication channel has been for a greater good.

That, in my mind, makes a top tweeter and more people like Paul Lewis should be celebrated at events like the #TwitterDinner to demonstrate what the platform can achieve, rather than continuing to base the site’s success on a popularity contest and the glitterati who, let’s face it, have enough channels to promote themselves and their wares.

Posted in Celebrity, Digital, Social Media, social networking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments