Category Archives: The Crazy World in which we Live

Hacking and the Future of the Media

During the MP’s expenses scandal the media, and the printed media in particular, delighted in exposing various claims for porn movies, the costs of second homes and the cleaning of ponds. The public’s view of politicians was at an all time low. How dare they treat tax payers money in this way? Especially during a recession when everyone was finding it hard to make ends meet.

Now those same politicians, even some of the discredited ones who still hold office, are baying for the blood of the media as the phone hacking saga continues with shocking new daily revelations. The former editor of the News of The World has just been arrested by appointment – a process that certainly takes the fun out of the traditional dawn raid where doors are smashed aside with bright red enforcers. And of course there will be an inquiry and undoubtedly there will be some new regulations as a result.

I know many journalists and all of them are honest and equally horrified by what has been going on. In our internet and social media soaked world where there is information overload, sometimes I think that it would be good for journalists to be a little more investigative. Ask a few more questions rather than simply rewriting the hundreds of press releases they receive everyday. But if investigation crosses the line into illegal behaviour then that’s not the type of investigative journalism I want to see.

My concern is what the regulatory outcome of all of this will be. The MP’s expenses scandal reminds us that as well as reporting current events, that the press provides a sort of regulation of politicians on behalf of the public. On the whole MPs will be terrified that any indiscretion comes out in print and scuppers their hopes of re-election.

If the media becomes more heavily regulated then the freedoms they currently have to report potential wrong doings in the corridors of power might be eroded or curtailed. We have to punish those responsible for hacking the phones of victims of terrible crimes. But once that is done let the honest journalists carry on their work, otherwise we might find our politicians even less accountable to those they are meant to serve than they are now.

What a big Elephant in the room!

elephant in the room

Management “buzz phrases” are getting worse. You know the sort of phrase I mean don’t you?

“We need to touch base offline in order to think outside the box so that we can pick off some low hanging fruit and take a blue-sky approach.” If you go onto the Internet and try Googling “management jargon” or “consultant speak” you can find whole websites devoted to translating these often-preposterous phrases. I am sure you have come across many yourselves, either in your own companies or at conferences, or when dealing with consultants.

So now that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet (sorry that one slipped in under the radar), let me tell you about this new phrase. I first heard it at a recent conference. The speaker was addressing an issue about underwriting that we have faced in the industry for many years and he described the issue as, “elephant in the room”.

I thought that this was a very strange turn of phrase. Funny thing is though for a phrase I had never heard before it suddenly seemed to turn up everywhere I looked. On the very same day as the conference, whilst travelling back to Edinburgh I read an article in the paper and low and behold here was another “elephant in the room” – this time in the context of the airline industry. The following day I heard a politician talking about an elephant in their room (The Elephant in the Commons?), and then in a presentation from a group of visiting consultants – there it was again.

The problem was that on none of the occasions I heard this phrase did any of the people using it ever actually explain what it meant. In exasperation I resorted to Google and found out that an elephant in the room is a way of describing a huge problem that everyone knows exists but pretends to ignore rather than trying to solve it.

Now it had been explained to me I suppose it made a sort of sense – but why not just call it “our big problem”? Inventing a witty and meaningless phrase to describe an issue almost reduces it to a figure of fun, which makes it even easier to ignore than before.

This method of communication is spreading. You see it in job adverts for ridiculous sounding positions, in pamphlets from local Government, and in letters from just about any organisation. We need to resist this nonsense.

There’s only one way to fight back. Let’s start by taking a helicopter view of the current paradigm, have a brain dump of ideas by thinking off the page, perhaps with a little river jumping until we all have our ducks in a row about how to finesse the paradigm to allow us to ascend to the optimal outcome.

ScotRail’s poor service is like a comedy sketch

As a result of working in marketing I can’t help but look at other company’s campaigns. I also take a keen interest in the customer service offered by my competitors and by those who are providing a service and product to me as an individual.

Sometimes all I can do is ask myself, “Why?”

Scotrail's poor service

For example did the marketing department genuinely think that the “More Than Freeman” campaign was a good idea, or did their ad agency win a £10 bet made in the pub before the pitch. Is the Go Compare Opera Singer meant to make people dive for the mute button, or compel people to stick their foot through the TV set in anger?

And are some of the things that ScotRail get up to as a result of unrivaled incompetence, or are they genuinely trying very hard to deliberately wind up their customers? Here is an example of ScotRail’s poor service.

There I was waiting for the busiest of the day’s trains from Edinburgh to Musselburgh (final destination North Berwick), and I was dismayed to see a puny two carriage train trundle onto a platform already overflowing with more than enough people to fill the usual four carriage unit.

The passengers half heartedly start to squeeze into the smaller train, whilst the cyclists look on in resigned despair. The guard then comes on in a surprisingly friendly (for ScotRail) voice to encourage us to, “Move down inside the coaches and let everyone on.”

Cue a bit more determined shuffling and I find my face getting very close to the armpit of the guy shoehorned in next to me on my left and the ponytail of the girl crammed in on my right.

Still friendly, but now a bit more insistent the guard then says, “Everyone, I really need you to try and move further into the train to let as many passengers as possible on board.” He obviously meant business so we all took a deeper breath and sucked in our abs and acted like sardines.

This still wasn’t enough for him. “Ladies and Gentlemen. Now there is not enough room for me. If I can’t get on board then, by law this train can’t go anywhere, so please squeeze up a little more so that I can get in.”

As I could not see anything but ponytail and armpit I wondered whether this guard was as fat as the Go Compare Opera Singer, but duly did as requested and found another inch of in-breathe.

All then seemed fine. The guard was successfully aboard. Now perhaps we could be on our way? There then followed one of those long periods ScotRail are famous for where nothing happens and no one tells you anything. After a good 10 minutes of increasingly sweaty confinement, the guard came back on the tannoy a little less cheerful than before to announce, “The train is now over laden, and I need to ask some of you to get off the train to make it lighter.”

Scotrail's poor service

Having already obliged by compacting themselves into an already tiny space most seemed unwilling, or more likely, unable to comply.

The guard’s final announcement would have made everyone laugh out loud if they had been able to exhale enough to do so. “Ladies and Gentlemen the train is so overcrowded that we have decided that it will now only go direct to North Berwick and will not stop at Musselburgh, Wallyford, Prestonpans, Longniddry and Drem. If you want to travel to one of these destinations please remove yourself from the train immediately.”

This was followed by quite painful and rather personal scenes as the passengers disentangled themselves from the contortions they had already been subjected to.

So were ScotRail rehearsing for a slot on next year’s Comic Relief. Or were they doing a live run through of an new ScotRail Comedy Sketch Show? There’s no point writing to their customer service department to ask. All you ever get from them are insincere stock answers and a £5 voucher as compensation for them failing to meet their 7 day complaint response service level agreement.

As genuine compensation for my inconvenience, I would like the Chief Executive of ScotRail to be forced to watch 48 hours of non-stop Go Compare Opera Singer with the mute and channel switches out of reach.

I am More Than Fuming-man. Thank you for listening!

Doom Gloom and Happy New Year

I always thought that the new year was a good time to take stock, restate ambitions and look forward to the future with a positive and energetic attitude.

Having looked at the tabloid (and even the quality) media, not to mention the main TV News channels, all I see is a bleak doom and gloom parade of negativity obviously designed to veer me off my positive and energetic track into a cul-de-sac of depression and hopelessness.

First up is the VAT rise. The wrong tax at the wrong time or the right tax at the right time depending upon which side of the House you are sitting.

Train fare increases  – without a corresponding increase in service quality. The prospect of going back to work and becoming infected with flu by virus ridden co-workers. The further threat of disease and plagues of vermin from the piles of rubbish uncollected for over a month because refuse collection operatives wouldn’t venture out in snow. Hordes of feral NEETS and NEDS laying siege to housing estates. And on top of that it is going to snow again and the whole country will doubtless grind to a halt because the UK is so badly prepared for winter weather.

So I think it is time to bin the newspapers and turn off the TV and get back to reality. Yes things are quite tough at the moment, but this shouldn’t deter us from having ambitions, taking stock, and moving forward on our goals.

Let’s all have a great 2011 – despite what the bloody media are saying!