Talking yourself into trouble

Careless talk is still wreaking havoc with reputations, careers and profits 70 years after Government propaganda posters warned our grandparents that ‘Careless talk costs lives’.

Opening mouth and inserting foot is not exclusively the tendency of UKIP, and  to prove the point two Labour MPs and a prominent Tory this week have managed to talk themselves into the deepest do-da,

Everyone in public life – and that means not just politicians but anyone in a position of responsibility ­- is vulnerable.

First it was veteran Labour MP Austin Mitchell’s turn to put himself in the stocks. His statement that Labour would win the election in Grimsby even if it selected a raving alcoholic sex paedophile as its candidate would have been mildly amusing to a private audience of friends. It was reckless in front of an Independent on Sunday reporter.

Much more serious  were the boasts of two apparently impeccable elder statesmen. A few minutes’ careless talk in front of strangers was long enough for Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind  to destroy the reputations they had spent a lifetime building.  All it took to bring them down was a simple sting operation by Channel 4 and the Telegraph, who secretly filmed them boasting how much  influence they could wield if a mythical Chinese company paid them enough,

It’s 24 years since Gerald Ratner nearly obliterated  his own jewellery company by describing some of its products as total crap, but his speech to the Institute of Directors lives on as a terrible warning to anyone daft enough not to realise how badly their remarks might be taken in a different context.

And as if the traditional media were not dangerous enough, the modern phenomenon of social media is a forest full of elephant traps in which the mildest politically incorrect comment can provoke torrents of abuse. Not just politicians, but corporate leaders need to think very carefully about what they are about to say if they want to avoid the wrath of Twitter’s thought police.

You do not have to say anything, but as any TV cop will tell you as he locks you in handcuffs, anything you do say may be given in evidence.

The moral is simple: engage brain before opening mouth.

- GARETH WEEKES, Deep South Media.

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Does your firm have a social media policy?

by Ron Wain, Joint Managing Director, Deep South Media

Well, what would you do?

This is your call, given that you’re the boss.

A tough one, for sure, because one of your staff has just posted a YouTube video rant against “apologetic” Muslims in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

There is a clear reputational issue for your business because some viewers may well have been offended by the language used, including a reference to “kuffars” (non-believers).

This was a dilemma faced this month by international law firm Clifford Chance, a Magic Circle player, following the controversial posting by Aysh Chaundhry, a junior trainee.

Appealing directly to fellow Muslims, he said: “Freedom of speech is a value upon which they [the West] are attacking you.”

It must be stressed that the video did not incite violence, which is illegal, but the religious subject matter catapulted the name of Clifford Chance into the unwelcome media spotlight.

Of course, freedom of speech is everything, poignantly symbolised by the rallying slogan of Je suis Charlie in the wake of the French atrocities.

Yet this has to be weighed up against the reputational damage an employee may do to your business if he or she takes to social media channels to express controversial opinions, even if it is in their own time.

Mr Chaundhry has apologised; this may well be an example where passion has clouded judgement.

However, there is more to this episode than a mea culpa.

Law firms and other companies in the professional services sector, such as accountancies and property agencies, should have a written policy in place regarding the use of social media.

One which makes it unequivocally clear that any private postings are not the views of the company; that any postings which have a negative impact on the brand could be met with disciplinary procedures.

Far from ideal, of course, but social media has blurred the hitherto private boundaries between the living room and the office desk.

What is galling for Clifford Chance is that the digital footprint of this unwarranted problem will remain for years to come.

The same applies to Mr Chaundhry.

Meanwhile, you better check your social media policy so you know what to do if an employee, however valued, goes off on one on social media.

If the posting does attract unwelcome media attention, we are just a phone call away to help you, ethically and sensitively, with any reputational ramifications.

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How PR supports social value

Just what do we mean by the phrase ‘social value’ when it comes to PR campaigns?

Under the Public Services (Social Value) Act, public bodies in England and Wales are mandated to consider how the services they commission and procure can improve the wider economic, social and environmental well-being of their areas of operation.

In a nutshell, the Act requires them to look beyond the traditional return on investment they expect to see from a contract and look at the collective benefit it can bring to a community.

Public sector tenders are increasingly inviting bidders to show how they would deliver social value under the Act.

We took a moment, outside the statutory definition, to sense check a more general approach to social value in the context of the work we do every day for clients, whether public, private or third sector.

Underpinning our thinking is the idea that PR is most effective when it moves away from solely products, features and service announcements to answer the ‘so what?’ question. That means explaining what the product, feature or service actually enables someone to do and for what reason.

Call it ‘social value’ or ‘so what?’, our work is all about integrating PR in a seamless way that helps to articulate the benefit a client brings to its customers and communities.

Let’s take it as read that our clients create jobs and provide, in their different ways, a measurable return on investment by achieving organisational objectives. What wider benefit do they bring? Here are just a few examples of the value our clients deliver:-

- Finding people jobs through expert recruitment advice

- Educating thousands of children on their journey through school

- Holidays and respite care for children with life-threatening illnesses

- Millions of bus journeys for urban residents

- Safe, clean water supplies to hundreds of thousands of homes

- Helping entrepreneurs turn commercial ideas into viable businesses

- Homes for people on low income who might otherwise struggle to find accommodation

- A more sustainable environment through renewable energy development

- Peace of mind when planning for a retirement income

- A more enjoyable experience of care homes

- A stronger collective voice when representing the needs of small business to government

- Transporting precious cargo by sea ensuring, among other benefits, that overseas fruit growers can access European markets

- Sustainable waste management

- Saving the jobs of people whose employers have gone into administration

- Helping people get a fair price for land and property at auction

- Providing location data for companies and organisations with an interest in land and property

We could cite many more examples and believe all our PR clients deliver wider value than is shown in just the numbers on a balance sheet.

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Why it’s time to help our entrepreneurs

Going into business in 2015? Help is on hand from WSX Enterprise

A dramatic rise in the number of people setting up their own businesses has prompted one of our clients, a leading not-for-profit support company, to strengthen its range of help.

Rising self-employment prompts WSX Enterprise to strengthen busi

WSX Enterprise, which has offices in Poole and Fareham, has responded to the growing trend with a senior marketing hire and more online support tools aimed directly at entrepreneurs.

The expansion reflects the latest official labour market statistics showing that 4.5 million people – nearly one in seven of the working population – are now self-employed. The figure is up by nearly a quarter of a million in just over a year. Forty three per cent of those going it alone are aged 50 or older and 32% are women.

The entrepreneurial trend has been confirmed in our home patch by StartUp Britain using data from Companies House. During 2014, the numbers of new companies formed were as follows: Bournemouth – 5,169; Portsmouth – 5,988; Southampton – 5,020; Weymouth – 321; and Salisbury – 1,421.

Richard Burn, pictured, newly appointed Marketing Coordinator at WSX Enterprise, said: “The rise in entrepreneurs demands an increase in business support from organisations such as us.  Being your own boss gives you much more freedom but we know from experience that start-ups need lots of ongoing help if they are to survive and thrive. With the changes to our website we are making it easier for budding business owners to find the information they need.”

As well as making its website www.wsxenterprise.co.uk easier to navigate and more mobile-friendly, WSX Enterprise has introduced a new online booking system for training and networking events.

Other new resources include video presentations, e-learning guides, webinars and pointers to help with issues such as managing HMRC tax requirements and boosting website optimisation.

Richard Burn added: “The new website complements our wider portfolio of services including start-up loans, business mentoring and sector-specific projects. We are building a trusted, practical and professional support system that will enable entrepreneurs to hone their ideas and go on to prosper, so creating an onward stimulus for employment and economic growth.”

For an example of a start-up helped by WSX Enterprise, check out this story from the Portsmouth daily, The News. It includes a video interview with Duncan Willis who is turning his puppet-making hobby into a viable business. We’ve also posted a news release about Duncan.

See also #business #entrepreneurs @wsxenterprise @StartupBritain @CFEntrepreneurs @portsmouthnews

WSX Enterprise, along with its associate companies, works across the south of England. It aims to be the natural place to go for businesses wishing to succeed in the future economy. It works independently and in partnership with other like-minded operators. Services range from start-up support through general business advice to specialist support in skills, innovation and sustainability. It has an exemplary track record in delivering publicly funded services to the highest standards of customer service and cost effectiveness.  With the support of its parent company, Southern Enterprise Alliance, it is developing innovative services in its own right and with partners. For more information, contact 01329 223242 or visit www.wsxenterprise.co.uk.

For more information on the latest labour market figures released by the Office for National Statistics, visit www.ons.gov.uk.

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Staying brave in the face of terror

There are few sounds more chilling than gunfire.

Many of us had shocking glimpses of today’s terrorist atrocity in Paris  through instant video footage, including the distressing sight of a helpless policeman executed in the street.

At the time of writing, the two Kalashnikov killers are at large, having been seen on camera fleeing in a hijacked car, their depraved work done for the time being.

Make no mistake, they, or killers like them, will strike again. Here, there, anywhere. Time and time again. Without warning, without conscience. Their rationale for murder, children and adults alike, is beyond our comprehension, beyond our morality, beyond reality.

This is about no-holds-barred terrorism, through the conduit of religious fundamentalism, but nebulous – and all the more frightening for it. You never know who will be next.

At least 12 people were killed, and at least 10 others injured, when the masked gunmen opened fire on staff in the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, the newspaper firebombed four years ago for publishing a satirical cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

Fate spared the life of editor-in-chief, Gerard Biard; he was in London. ”‘I don’t understand how people can attack a newspaper with heavy weapons,” he said. “A newspaper is not a weapon of war.”

Actually, a newspaper is a weapon and  the pen is often mightier than the sword.

Ill-doers, criminals, dictators, the morally bankrupt, fanatics from all quarters, fear being burned by the acid of truth. For them, an open democratic media is a threat to their power base, to their operations, to their very existence.

With that in mind, we should all stand shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity with France, Canada, Pakistan, Australia  and other countries where loved ones have been violently taken from us, including here in Britain.

That should include not giving the oxygen of publicity – online or  in print – to deadly fundamentalists whose interests are inimical to democratic societies.

From governments we need reassurance that the intelligence services are not short of resources in thwarting attacks.

And  may journalists across the free world have the courage to keep on unmasking abuses and exposing terror. Their pens must not be stayed by fear  but be moved by our hopes for a safer future.

- RON WAIN, Deep South Media.

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Banishing battery life anxiety

We’ve just helped a client launch a mobile phone charger that works on wireless technology.

SupaPowa® enables you to recharge the battery power of your handheld device on-the-go, wherever you are, and without having to plug it into a mains socket.

The product has been developed by QiConnect, the UK’s first wireless charging experts, based at The Portsmouth Technopole. The launch was held at Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower.

The technology is based on two coils: a transmitter and a receiver. An alternating current is passed through the transmitter coil, generating a magnetic field. This in turn induces a voltage in the receiver coil which can be used to power a mobile device or charge a battery.

The technology is already a reality in such devices as electric toothbrushes and surgically implanted devices, like artificial hearts.

Karen Murray, SupaPowa®’s business manager, said: “Battery life anxiety is a very real phenomenon. You can see your smartphone draining, especially if browsing on the internet, but you have no way of charging it up unless you connect to the mains power.

“And if you are away from home, stuck in traffic, or late for that vital appointment or pick-up, this can be extremely stressful.

“We’ve created some game-changing products that not only meet this challenge but could make traditional chargers redundant.

“Once you have wireless charging you’ll wonder how you lived without it.”

SupaPowa® is a registered trademark of QiConnect.

For more information, read the press release.

 

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Regions of lies and mistrust

The editor of the Eastern Daily Press, Nigel Pickover, said this week that the police regularly lied to his journalists.

He told a Society of Editors conference in Southampton: “We are made to feel like the enemy when really we are on the same side.”

Nottingham Post editor Mike Sassi said his paper now had “no relationship whatsoever” with the Nottinghamshire force, according to Hold The Front Page.  

Colette Paul, chief constable of Bedfordshire who also addressed the conference, called for “good strong, honest, robust relationships.” She added: “We need to show the public what we do and how we do it.”

She was dead right, but it’s not happening. You would have thought that establishing a bond of mutual trust with the public would be a top priority for any chief constable. Is this achievable with a hostile local media? I doubt it.

I was tempted to write that relations between the police and media are at an all-time low, but in truth they have been dire for years.

I have an idyllic memory of a duty sergeant in a little west country town allowing reporters to look at the station log book to see if we could find anything of interest. That was 35 years ago and this admittedly risky practice ended when my paper reported that officers were being investigated for allegedly possessing stolen meat.

Since then in most counties reporters have been expected to route their questions through press officers based at HQ. Some of these are brilliant and others utterly obstructive.

A level of mutual suspicion between journalists and police officers is inevitable. There is no escaping the fact that there is corruption in both professions, but most of this has involved national journalists and Metropolitan police. The regional media and county police forces are relatively untainted.

So why are relations between the police and media outside London so bad? Could police training be anything to do with it?

Who is giving provincial Chief Constables and their senior teams their media training? If it is being provided nationally without strong input from people with regional expertise then that would explain why so many police forces seem to be misreading the situation so badly.

There are as many trustworthy  local journalists as there are honest police officers. Without in any way compromising their independence and integrity, they ought to be able to find a way of working together.

GARETH WEEKES, Deep South Media.

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Deep South Media client makes international noise with Emmy award

by Ron Wain, Joint Managing Director, Deep South Media

Deep South Media (DSM) client Bang Post Production has been making a loud noise in the USA – scooping a coveted Emmy award for sound quality brilliance.

Bang was launched in 2006 by Paul McFadden and Doug Sinclair, the husband of DSM director and designer Kay Sinclair.

The duo first worked on the sound for the BBC revival of Dr Who and since then the company has enjoyed success after success, including winning a BAFTA in 2012 for its work on the prime time series Sherlock.

Nominated for two awards at this year’s technical or ‘craft’ Emmys, Bang faced stiff competition from big-budget American shows including Fargo, Mob City and American Horror Story.

The boys were understandably ecstatic when they scooped the gong for outstanding sound editing for a mini-series, movie or special (Sherlock).

Doug, from Christchurch in Dorset, flew to Los Angeles to attend the glitzy ceremony and upon winning said it was a “great day” for the company.

The Emmy is now displayed alongside the firm’s Bafta at Bang’s Cardiff-based studio.

Bang Post Production is currently working on Glue for Channel 4, Set Fire to the Stars starring Elijah Wood and Jack to a King – the Swansea City FC story, with a number of other projects lined up.

Working with Bang isn’t DSM’s only experience of ‘celebrity’. DSM director Ron Wain and his family recently starred with other families in a national TV advert for Center Parcs – the advert on YouTube alone attracted 1.7m hits to date, with the soundtrack Best Day of My Life, by the American Authors, receiving 34m hits on the online channel as it soared up the UK charts.

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Communication challenges for Tesco amid accounting mess

by Ron Wain, Joint Managing Director, Deep South Media

Prescient words, for sure.

Mike Dennis, an analyst at investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald, pulled no punches in his report on beleaguered grocer Tesco back in June.

Explaining how the retailer was losing market share to discount rivals and the luxury end, he wrote: “”It seems Tesco is stuck in the middle and investors could be questioning management’s strategy.”

Now, four months on, Uncle Tom Cobley and all is questioning that strategy after it emerged that Britain’s largest supermarket overstated forecast profits by a staggering £250m.

In short, this FTSE mainstay, profit warnings ringing in its boardroom ears, has apparently tried to recognise revenue too early on. A bit like counting your chickens before they’ve hatched.

Hence the accounting scandal which has gripped the mainstream media as well as the financial press.

After all, it is not everyday four senior executives of such a large company are asked to stand aside pending an investigation.

Meanwhile, Tesco staff across the country having to put up with quips from paying customers: “I’d better check my receipt to make sure the figures add up.”

Few people without a financial interest in Tesco will shed tears for a giant which made a group trading annual profit of £3.3bn, even if there was a 6% fall.

Or that the share price, at £4.88 back in October 2007, dipped below £1.93 at one point this September.

However, for the corporate affairs communications team at Tesco, the company’s fall from stock market grace will be challenging in every aspect.

Something rotten is smelt by the media and, in this fevered climate, new twists and turns should be anticipated in the same way that the embattled Co-op discovered when the blinding spotlight was turned on its own corporate affairs.

The advisors at Tesco will need to deliver clear, unambiguous messages that address problems head-on, however uncomfortable the reading may be.

A start has been made with a trading statement on September 22nd, which included this quote from Dave Lewis, Group Chief Executive Officer: “We have uncovered a serious issue and have responded accordingly.

“The Chairman and I have acted quickly to establish a comprehensive independent investigation. The Board, my colleagues, our customers and I expect Tesco to operate with integrity and transparency and we will take decisive action as the results of the investigation become clear.”

Integrity and transparency – the cornerstones of any well-run business.

Not to deliver on these fundamentals would play into the hands of a media that rightly turns stones over to see what lays underneath in the dark.

Or, in this case, picks up goods from the supermarket shelves to see if the consumer – us, the public – has been sold something long past its sell-by date.

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A bad day at the seaside

When called by BBC Radio 4 to defend an astonishing piece of invective, headlined ‘Tories should turn their backs on Clacton’, Times columnist Matthew Parris began by pointing out he hadn’t written the headline.

But here was a headline that if anything underplayed the insult to Clacton-on-Sea and the toe-curlingly offensive manner in which the former Tory MP set about the poor people who live there.

“Shops tell you so much,” he wrote after a visit. “Lycra is the textile of choice and I saw not a single woman under 70 in a skirt, still less a dress . . . in Holland & Barrett the ‘Serious Mass Muscle gainer’ came in bucket-sized black plastic tubs at the checkout for the  impulse purchaser.

“There are ten tattoo parlours and no Waterstones  . . . Its voters are going nowhere and it’s rather sad, and there’s nothing more to say. This is Britain on crutches. This is tracksuit-and-trainers Britain, tattoo-parlour Britain, all-our-yesterdays Britain.”

What this torrent of metropolitan snobbery and condescension was leading up to was that Clacton is about to elect Britain’s first UKIP Member of Parliament. There is nothing the Tories can do to stop this and they shouldn’t try because they would have to swing so far to the eurosceptic right that they would lose the support of people in more modern, optimistic places with an eye to the future, like Cambridge.

This is a fair point, although there are plenty who will say it is a recipe for political suicide. But Matthew Parris, whose column can be brilliant, destroyed his own case by the manner in which he made it. And for me, at least, he has wrecked his reputation as as one of our most intelligent and fair-minded commentators.

If you wonder why so many Scots, Welsh and northerners revile the London elite, call them snobs and yearn to get away from them, look no further than Saturday’s Times.

- GARETH WEEKES

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