Archive for July, 2010

A whinge

Often information comes your way that provides an interesting juxtaposition. So on the same day that the Law Society reported that small businesses have to wait for 71 days on average for invoices to be paid, a survey from Unum claimed that yer average UK employee could survive for only four weeks without full pay. Only around a quarter of those surveyed thought they’d get through for longer without having to seek help.

Now this is interesting, because assuming that accountants were represented in the Unum survey, it would appear that they believe it is OK to impose conditions on small business owners way beyond what they themselves would find tolerable. Ask any small business owner what is their biggest challenge and they’ll tell you it’s getting paid. It’s clearly time for the Government to stop ‘encouraging’ prompt payment of bills and start enforcing it.

The failure of the Church

My sons have been educated in a Catholic school out of respect for the beliefs of their mother and I have always accepted that such beliefs must be accommodated in their upbringing even though I do not share them. However, I continue to be astonished at the failure of the Catholic church to deal with the issue of child abuse by priests. If you want to look up the history of the Church’s absolutely breathtaking mishandling of this issue, then go for your life.

Forgive the sprinkling of apostrophes but the latest attempt by the Church to try to defuse the issue is a ‘clarification’ of the ‘procedures’ to deal with the ‘worst cases’ of ‘abuse’ that it has issued with a concurrent clarification that treats the attempted ordination of women priests on the same basis.

We can all form our own opinions on the thinking behind the Church’s attempts to bury the way that priests have habitually raped, abused, assaulted and threatened children over many years but their betrayal of children continues in their refusal to see this as anything much more than a procedural issue. Even so, speaking solely from a public relations point of view, I am amazed that anybody within the Church thinks this is an acceptable course of action. They have lost their moral authority but is there nobody within the Church capable of suggesting that when you are in a hole, you should stop digging?

How climate change scepticism works

Some interesting thoughts from Media Lens on how the media distort attitudes to climate change here

God – the greatest PR man of them all

It seems that anybody’s image can be made over for some people, so long as they claim to have God on their side. According to this article in the New York Times, the Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz is being held up as an exemplar of redemption by Christians in the US.

Berkowitz terrorised New York for over a year from 1976 to 1977, killing 6 people. He claimed variously that he had been commanded to do so by a demon that had possessed his neighbour’s dog and that he was a member of a Satanic cult that had carried out some of the killings. You might argue that the belief in demons and his subsequent belief in God are connected and that the people lauding his redemption should be wary.

But, as is the modern way, a church is hosting a blog for him to pontificate on everything from homosexuality to his fellow inmates’ hip-hop. So, you might also argue that he lost the right to pontificate in public about other people’s taste in music and partners at the time he was busy murdering innocent people. But then sometimes it seems all is allowable if you claim you have God on your side.

World Cup – the PR winners and losers are…

Loser – Ashley Cole

Given the turmoil in the England camp, it seems harsh to pick on an individual …. so who better than Ashley Cole? It’s true that he was one of the better performers in the England squad, but then he has to go and ruin it all by allegedly texting a friend that he hates England and its people. What is so baffling about him is that he is clearly surrounded by highly paid agents and advisors as well as an entourage of friends but nobody seems to be asking him whether he really thinks it’s a good idea that his autobiography should feature the infamous passage about feeling sick at only being offered a contract worth £55,000 a week or that he should text women he’s picked up in nightclubs to ask for pictures of their body parts or that his reaction to being dumped by the nation’s sweetheart should be a trip to the local nightclub to pick them up in the first place.

Winner – Bavaria Brewery

Dutch brewers Bavaria (I don’t know why either) couldn’t believe their luck when FIFA went bananas about their publicity stunt of sending 36 orange-mini-skirted blonde women into a match. FIFA worked with the local police to arrest the women before somebody pointed out that it was giving the company the sort of PR the official sponsors Budweiser could only dream of. Maybe the call came from Budweiser.

Losers – France

At least England just stuck to blaming the team. France went into a collective meltdown as the French squad under Raymond Domenech made complete arses of themselves. President Sarkozy made a public statement and sports minister Roselyne Bachelot  said: ‘I told the players they had tarnished the image of France. It is a morale disaster for French football.  I told them they could no longer be heroes for our children. They have destroyed the dreams of their countrymen, their friends and supporters. The government has to intervene as the reputation of France is at stake.’


Winner – Paul the Octopus

Or rather the Oberhausen Sea Life Aquarium who have a real life draw on their hands now that their psychic octopus is world famous. It’s such a great story it’s a shame to point out it’s a load of nonsense.

Winner – South Africa. Oh, what the hell. The whole of Africa

Before the tournament, many people appeared to be predicting that there would be problems with infrastructure, crime and organization. They were all wrong and the tournament has been a great success with no more problems than any other. The atmosphere appears to have been superb and the event inclusive for a whole continent.

Winner and Loser – David Beckham

Although it was never entirely clear what exactly he was doing there, Goldenballs spent far more time on camera than any member of the coaching team with the exception of Fabio Capello. Beckham has now found himself associated with the England World Cup bid debacle and the England actual World Cup debacle. Brand Beckham appears to be untarnished by these associations, but for how long?

Losers – The FA

Clearly unable to do anything right, in the space of a few weeks the FA managed to lose yet another Chief Executive and Chairman in acrimonious and embarrassing circumstances, fouled up its own bid for the 2018 World Cup (before roping in David Beckham as the face of the bid in the apparent hope that people would forget about it all because he looks good in a suit), offered a very generous new contract to a manager before he had proved he was worth it, lost a lucrative sponsorship deal with Nationwide and was dubbed ‘unfit for purpose’ by former sports minister Richard Caborn. Is anything likely to change? Given its track record and its ongoing refusal to implement the recommendations of the Burns Report, not likely.

Winner – Football

While previous World Cups have often been marred by fan violence and unsporting behavior from the teams, this one seems to have been played out in the right spirit on and off the field, even allowing for the involvement of France.

Losers – The makers of the Jubulani ball

There have been more misplaced passes in this World Cup than any of the previous four tournaments, causing some commentators to complain that the Jubulani ball very nearly ruined the tournament. Even Craig Johnston who set up Adidas’s research lab in Germany has written to Sepp Blatter to complain that “football is all about texture, flavour and colour. That has been taken away by a ball sanctioned by who? Fifa and its sponsors. They may have been rewarded by making tens of millions of dollars profit, but the result is they have removed the art and craft from the game. If a sponsor came into your office before the World Cup and said: ‘We are going to give you a new, perfectly round match ball, the players won’t like it at all, there will be more mistakes made than in any other World Cup, there will be fewer goals scored, fewer passes completed, less control by players and roughly 70% of shots on goal will go wide or way over the crossbar.’ What would you say to them?”

Winner – The makers of goal line technology

 Ahead of the World Cup, FIFA President Sepp Blatter had claimed that he wouldn’t introduce technology to major football games while he was in charge. That all changed when Frank Lampard’s goal was missed by the officials in the game against Germany. Although technology would not have changed the outcome of that game, it was clear that it might well do at a crucial point in another. On past form Sepp Blatter may try to bury the issue once the World Cup is a memory, but it’s inevitable it will happen one day.

Shhh. Not in front of the dog

New research proves that dogs and horses understand quite a bit about what we are saying to them.

What is Adam Crozier for?

The famous journalist James Cameron once wrote that each day as he sat at his typewriter he thought: ‘Today is the day they are going to find me out.’ He needn’t have worried, not just because he was a talented writer but also because apparently we all feel that way a lot of the time.

One person who I’ve always felt had more need than most to feel that way is Adam Crozier. He is one of the many people I’ve picked up as an irritant like a hedgehog acquires fleas. I first became aware of him in 2000 when he joined the FA as Chief Executive (a friend of mine knew him slightly). Since then I’ve followed his career with growing incredulity. His CV runs something like this:

1995 Joint CEO Saatchi and Saatchi – Joined in the wake of the departure of the eponymous brothers overseeing a period of turmoil for the agency.

2000 CEO Football Association – Oversaw the Wembley debacle, the National Football Centre Debacle and the reorganisation of the FA that has been oh so progressive for the game in this country.

2003 CEO Royal Mail – Did actually return a profit in one of the years he was in charge but only by ignoring Ofcom targets. Sold off hundreds of Post Offices, alienating customers as he did, returned the business to losses, presided over two major strikes.

2010 CEO ITV – We’ve yet to see. But I think given the state of the advertising market and Crozier’s own propensity to wind up his own staff, it might not end well.

Now you could argue that each of those jobs represented a poisoned chalice to some degree or other, but you could also argue that this is what happens when your going rate is £3million a year or whatever. You could also argue that not one of those organisations was in a stronger position post Crozier than it was pre. And you’d be right about that. No question.

So why does he keep getting hired? Maybe it’s because in each case he actually made things better than they might otherwise have been? Maybe because he doesn’t mind being the figurehead for difficult changes? Maybe because he’s got that look that people seem to find so appealing in our politicians nowadays? Or maybe he just comes across in the right way?

A glimpse behind the curtain

Now, of course, we are supposed to feel as if we are somehow set apart from our fellow Man. That is a given in most Barnum statements. What other people get up to and how they think is a mystery. Now and then though you get a glimpse behind the curtain.

I had one yesterday in Waterstone’s. There were two sections that took up a hefty chunk of the store’s shelf space, one labelled Dark Fantasy the other Dark Romance. Vampires of course. But not creepy Count Orlock vampires. Modern, sexy, gothic, misunderstood succubi and incubi; all brooding looks, fangs, cleavage and six packs. Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyer vampires.

It all means something of course. Blood, death, sex, eternal life, outsiderdom, and whatever. And it’s interesting that it is primarily aimed at young women (although watching the news the other day, I was surprised to see so many older women lined up outside the premiere of the new Twilight film moaning that Robert Pattinson hadn’t turned up. Some of them were of an age that makes you wonder if they might need to have a bit of a rethink.)    

Somebody in Waterstones is clearly a bit fed up about it all. There is a table in front of the Dark displays with a pile of books under a sign proclaiming ‘There’s More to Books than Vampires.’

Crises of Capitalism

Why we should all regret the end of BSF

The decision by the Government to put an end to the Building Schools for the Future Programme is something that concerns me greatly. It has become more and more apparent to me over the years that we are profoundly affected by our circumstances and the things that surround us. ‘I am I plus my surroundings’ as the philosopher Jorge Ortega Y Gasset put it. BSF was about replacing the school buildings we had been lumbered with after the War – most of us of a certain age will recall prefabs and Portakabins – and creating school environments that reflected something contemporary and important.

What is possibly more worrying is the new emphasis on Free Schools, which Michael Gove has been championing for some time based on a Swedish model. (I had cause to write about this some time ago for a Swedish client and am aware that the Swedish example is not ideal.) Such schools do not demonstrably increase standards but they do increase elitism and they do encourage the dissemination of dangerous and stupid ideas such as creationism, especially when, as Gove does, you think that the people who run them should have more control over the curriculum.

There is already a precedent here. The Labour Government actively championed the Academy system which encouraged autonomous control of the curriculum. Tony Blair himself personally endorsed The Kings Academy in Middlesbrough which taught pupils of the dangers of ‘moral relativism’ and that the literal Genesis account of the creation was just as valid a scientific explanation for the origins of the world as anything else. I can only see free schools taking us further in the same direction given the interest religious groups have already shown in running hundreds of free schools.

We are in danger of exchanging a programme that was to deliver a progressive education infrastructure for one that will encourage a growing number of young people to discard science, intellectual rigour, open mindedness, tolerance and The Enlightenment for a belief in the fairies at the bottom of the garden. If you want to see where this might lead, you only have to look at America and the number of people there who believe the world is 6000 years old, women were made from the rib of man, that the world is going to end in the next fifty years and that when it does that will be a good thing.

July 2010

Desk Jockey