Are you ok?

February 20th, 2017

PrintFebruary 2nd was Time to talk day, when the charity Time to change, encourages the nation to reach out to each other and take a moment to check in and make sure everyone is ok.

Don’t worry if you missed it – you can take the time to reach out today too.

This can be as simple as asking “are you ok?” although as one wise person pointed out to me there’s a world of difference between someone hastily assuring you that they’re “just fine” and people really being in a good state of mind.  It isn’t just about asking the question it is also about really hearing the answer.

At the moment too many people with mental health problems feel undermined and worthless.

It’s perfectly acceptable to have the flu (especially man flu!).  If you break your leg you’ll get everyone’s sympathy.

All too often people find it embarrassing and shameful to tell their colleagues and their manager that they can’t cope with the anxiety from stress in the work or that they have been diagnosed with depression.  Yet one in four people will face this situation, every year.  90 percent of those who are in that situation feel stigmatised.  If there’s a team around you at the moment, the likelihood is one of them is suffering right now.  Do you know who it is and can you speak to them about it because it might really help?

MediaCom’s Inclusion network’s event on Feb 2 was about mental health and overcoming the stigma surrounding it.   The inspirational speakers included Jonny Benjamin MBE and Neil Laybourn.

Benjamin and Laybourn are award winning mental health campaigners who give talks at schools, colleges and workplaces throughout the UK.  Their journey together began in January 2008 when Neil talked Jonny out of taking his own life.  Neil was on his way to work as usual, hurrying across Waterloo Bridge with hundreds of other commuters.  He suddenly spotted someone, a complete stranger, perched on the edge.  Most people were ignoring this and striding past, headphones on, head down, ignoring everyone, as you do on a London commute.  Perhaps Neil behaved differently because he’s not a real Londoner – he’d only just started commuting in from Hertfordshire.  Perhaps he behaved differently because he’s more of a hero than most.   Neil stopped and asked Jonny if he was ok.  Jonny was far from ok – he was contemplating jumping into the Thames. Jonny had just been diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression and was extremely unwell.  He thought that he could hear the voice of the devil and that he was the subject of a real life Truman Show.  Neil’s interaction saved his life but the two were soon separated when the police intervened and took Jonny away to be sectioned.   As Jonny recovered he set out to find the man that had saved his life, and their story was filmed in a Channel 4 documentary Find Mike (actually Neil, but that’s part of the story).

Hearing their story emphasises the importance that looking out for each other has in the workplace.  Work is a community as well as a job.  We care about each other, and taking a few seconds to show this can make a massive difference to someone who might be in trouble mentally and can’t find the words or the way to reach out to you.

Time to Change’s work has shown that people do not get the help that they deserve and need and are often left feeling isolated, ashamed and worthless.  We take pride in being involved in their campaign to get everyone to open up to mental health: to talk about it and to listen to each other.

Jonny said mindfulness and resilience techniques had really helped him.  If it’s you that’s feeling anxious and stressed then one positive step is to explore this too.

Let’s find more time to talk.  Techniques and workplace pledges are at


Britain Decoded

February 13th, 2017

Final_Banner_Britain_Decoded“We divided ourselves among caste, creed, culture and countries but what is undivided remains most valuable: a mere smile and the love.”
― Santosh Kalwar

Britain is divided.  There’s no question about it.  Brexit pitted family members against each other and the closeness of the vote has torn an even wider chasm in politics.  Emotions are running high in Westminster, in sitting rooms and in clubs, coffee shops and bars.

The world is divided.  The US presidential verdict was as polarising as Brexit.  Thanks to iHeart radio I was interviewed by some local radio stations across the USA from Miami to Salt Lake City.  The interviews were during the week following the Trump election.  My topic was about The Glass Wall book and empowering women at work. The tone of the interviews varied very widely as you might guess.  In one locale I was waiting to go on air live and could hear the previous phone in.  The caller said she’d called in to: “thank the Lord for Donald Trump”.  She repeatedly thanked the Lord, and repeatedly explained her many reasons for doing so.  On the other side of the divide I have one American friend who’s taking Prozac as a result of the election, and who says that she’d swap our referendum result for her presidential election result at the drop of a hat.

MediaCom’s Real World Insight’s latest report on the state of the nation: Britain Decoded quantifies, and diagnoses the fragmentation of our nation.  For a start nearly half of us put our regional or local identity above Britishness.  Big cities are important for identity – many Londoners would put that first.  But, inevitably perhaps, someone from Yorkshire, wherever they live now, identifies first as being from Yorkshire.

There’s an opportunity for brands here.  People are open to and will respond positively to regional or hyper local messaging.  This trend has been talked about, but has been cost inefficient for most of this century so far.  Now, with opportunities in digital for localised out of home, mobile and regional newsbrands, that barrier to closeness has dissolved.  Not many brands are focussing on this, and there is a significant competitive advantage to be had if you get it right and you’re the only brand in the sector which is bothering to do so.

Most Brits agree community is a good thing. We like to be part of a community.  There’s good ancestral reasons for this.  Your stone age ancestors were much more likely to survive the winter if they were safe in the village and not wandering alone risking being lunch to the local sabre tooth tiger.

The meaning of community is divided too however.

It can be physical – the local coffee shop or farmers market, or of course the pub.

Your community might be a community of interest.  One of the great benefits of social networks is the ability to find people with shared experiences or passions who don’t live anywhere near you.  This is relatively new as a mainstream trend powered by Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat.

Your community might be only where you hear exactly the same opinion as your own.  Exacerbated by current politics and economics.  Strong newsbrands have historically been the vehicles for such communities.

Overall there’s a role for brands to bring together communities and remind us of our essential humanity.  In 2017 they can go against the divisions and help remind us of what brings Britons together.


Public trust is in crisis

February 3rd, 2017

publicGovernment, business and media have all lost the confidence of the UK population in a dramatic fall in the last year.  There is an unprecedented feeling in the UK that life is not as fair as it used to be. Only one in nine of the UK population think that the system still works.

The annual Edelman Trust Survey calls this a crisis.  Trust in media sources has fallen spectacularly.  This held up for a long time because people trusted the medium that they were closest to.  So if you were a Sun reader you trusted that paper, but thought that the Guardian was biased and vice versa.  Now less than a quarter of Brits say they trust the media in any respect.

In every challenge there is opportunity.  The most trusted UK institution is now business – limping in at just 33%.  Sitting in the Edelman analysis are clear guidelines for how businesses and brands could conduct themselves in order to win in the trust stakes.

Don’t talk down to your customers.  In “Tell the truth, honesty is your most powerful marketing tool”, published in 2012, I predicted the death of spin: “in five years we will look back at the art of spin as an anachronism”.  Well my timeline was wrong, but where meaningless spin isn’t dead, it should now be finished off for good.

Edelman shows that the most credible spokespeople for businesses are independent experts or people like yourself.

Faced with a choice people pick spontaneity over rehearsed polished speeches, bluntness over politeness and personal stories over data.  Trust in advertising is no stronger than trust in social media.  Given that consumer cynicism is at its height now, every consumer interaction is loaded with meaning.

Any service brand needs to consider the whole customer experience.  Marketing can make the brand more memorable in a really good way.  A failure to deliver can make it more memorable than that in a very bad way.

One of the most powerful mechanisms to drive trust is congruence.  People love congruence.  Many powerful stories work on the basis that eventually the truth will out, that covering up deep motivations ends badly, from Macbeth to Gilderoy Lockheart in Harry Potter.  The winners of reality TV shows are normally those who arrive as the most congruent – their appearance matches their behaviour.  The first impressions are also the last impressions.  They don’t have to be particularly likeable.  We like that they are not fake.

So marketing, advertising and media experts have a clear path to follow in 2017.  The best route for the brands under their influence is congruence.  The media execution needs to be congruent with the advertising.  Any brand promising warmth and friendliness in its values must surely deliver this in friendly media channels – the need for a social strategy is paramount.  Brand advocacy will drive congruence too – consumers don’t just want to take the advertising at face value they will need recommendations online and offline (ie down the pub or at the school gate etc).  Local behaviour needs to be aligned with national or global brand behaviour.  All the employees need to be brand ambassadors.  Which means that how you look after them is as important as the production values of the advertising.  Walking the walk as well as talking the talk is more crucial in 2017 than ever.





Fake news, back to the bad old days

January 27th, 2017

fake“The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals the largest-ever drop in trust across the institutions of government, business, media and NGOs. Trust in media (43 percent) fell precipitously and is at all-time lows in 17 countries”

Fake news sells.

It’s a cliché that most people don’t read past the headline of any story.  One of the consequences of the current business model online where views drives income is that anything that grabs attention for a few seconds is going to make that publisher money.

So you get stories written, and headlines generated, to drive income.  Of course you do.  In many cases the drive for views is overriding the necessity for facts to be remotely involved in the story.

Recently Facebook have announced that they are taking measures to counter the spread of fake news.  New whistle blowing features are being rolled out where you can flag a story you think might be false.  They’ve also announced that they aren’t just leaving it up to readers or to the algorithm.  They are going to work with independent fact checkers.  This is a big change for an organisation that insists that it is a tech company not a media owner.

Fake news that was widely believed includes the story about the Pope endorsing Trump for president.  Or the story about fraudulent ballots being found in a warehouse in Ohio intended to be counted along with real votes for Clinton.

As real life stories, particularly in the realm of politics, have become more bizarre, it has become harder to tell the fake ones apart.

I read recently that many fake news stories can be traced to a small town in Macedonia where teenagers are writing them to generate cash.  Hard to fact check… easy, so easy to believe… impossible to disprove.

Does fake news matter?

Fact checking is a relatively recent thing.  For most of the previous millennium news did not go through editorial independent checks, there was no New Yorker, Washington Post or BBC to check the facts and look for a second or third source and if you were unlucky enough to be the victim of fake news then it was down to the courts to intervene, and that often meant you didn’t get justice.

In his Histories of Social Media, author and consultant Jonathan Salem Baskin predicted the current state of affairs and fake news.  He pointed out that social media was nothing new.  For most of history news was spread by word of mouth alone, and the truth was often just what was most believable.  Many of his stories are grim.

Take the Salem Witch events in 17th century where the accusations of two children were believed and led to the eventual execution of 20 people.

Or the Blood Libel which contributed to widespread anti-Semitism and pogroms.

When any publisher allows a story to circulate because it drives views and shares and does not check the facts it takes us a step closer to those bad old days.

It is incumbent on all publishers, whether media owners or tech companies, to take responsibility for the spread of fake news.  Facebook is to be congratulated for its move towards editorial fact checking. Twitter Co founder Biz Stone is installing a Trust button on new start up Jelly. Those publishers that call themselves premium news sources must now prove that they too can sort the wheat from the chaff, the fake news from the facts, the truthiness from the truth to stop the history of social media becoming the future for us all.



Could CES be better?

January 20th, 2017

cesWhat struck your imagination at CES, the much anticipated trade show for leading edge developments this year?


Our head of digital Sarah Treliving felt that overall whilst there’s lots of products on show that do cool stuff at the show, only a very few of them feel like they’ve been designed for a current or urgent consumer problem.


Aside from many many more ways to use Amazon’s Alexa there seemed many fine gadgets on display to play with.  Otherwise tech developments for healthcare or security needs received attention.


Products that caught my eye in the reports included: A clothes folding robot (might be nice).  A TV that disappears (not an immediate requirement).  A strap that turns your finger into a phone (hmm).  The development of 3d printers for body parts (will be immensely important).  Robot doctors and connected hearing aids (will be revolutionary where needed).  Jeans that connect to your smartphone and vibrate to give you directions might seem trivial, but could actually really be useful for vulnerable people who don’t want to publicise that they don’t know where they’re going (eg young women on their way to a club late at night).  Of course there’s still lots of news about smart fridges.


One commentator said this about CES overall: “Silicon Valley innovation seems to be focussed on one problem which is ‘what my mother is no longer doing for me…. There’s a culture of rich twenty-something young men imaging a world that the rest of us might not want to live in”.


Dr Jack Stilgoe, from UCL, went on to critique developers for putting too much of a focus on how to get the laundry sorted or food delivered and not enough on real problems.  The truth is that predicting the future is not a precise business and that most of our lives are shaped by old tech still.  There needs to be a balance. A balance between hanging on to the old and putting off change.  Some people said that whilst CES was exciting they had to sit in an old fashioned queue to try the VR tech and that the vending machines were so old school that they didn’t work.  Not that impressive for a conference that holds the promise of solving real problems in the world.


If more women were involved with the business of CES then would this help address the balance?  After all the lion’s share of overall consumer purchasing decisions is made by women.

As my book The Glass Wall points out there’s plenty of statistical proof that businesses do better with more women at senior levels.

“There were precious few women at the conference, I’d say less than 5% of attendees and I was stared at non-stop”, said one of the few women attendees at CES 2017.


Sounds like old school Glass Walls are abundant in this conference that is meant to be future facing.