Can Herbie ever ride again or is VW on the road to nowhere?


By Cliff Moore, Account Director, Deep South Media

The dust has begun to settle on the biggest scandal in the history of the car industry, although its ramifications will last for years.

Volkswagen’s reputation is in tatters, its share price has driven off a cliff, former chief executive Martin Winterkorn is facing possible prosecution in Germany and the future of diesel-powered vehicles worldwide is now under the microscope.

The German car giant admitted cheating emissions tests in the USA during a major drive to sell ‘low emissions’ diesel cars.  It confirmed around 11 million cars across the globe had in fact been fitted with a ‘defeat device’ designed to manipulate test results.

When the story got out VW bosses quickly realised they were behind the wheel of a wreck on the road to nowhere.

They admitted the firm had ‘broken the trust of our customers and the public’, which was the right thing to say, and sort of blamed a handful of rogue engineers, which wasn’t.

Blaming employees is absolutely not best practice – companies must accept collective responsibility, whatever the consequences.

It has left consumers – that’s you or me, possibly with a Veedub sitting in the garage – wondering if we can believe the environmental credentials of any car manufacturers.

Such is the climate of doubt created by major corporate scandals like this that it leaves us less trusting in general.

And what if you were a small business owner with a dark secret – something so serious that it would threaten the existence of your company should it get out?

Naturally it would be on a smaller scale than VW’s, but do you have a plan of action for when this damaging secret becomes public knowledge? And why do you even have a secret in the first place?

If the corporate might of VW can’t keep a scandal quiet what chance would you have?

Your absolute best chance is to be totally ethical and not harbour anything that might compromise you one day. And if it’s too late for that, then start to put things right as soon as you possibly can.

My advice, should anyone ask me, would be to keep your business clean and wholesome and grow it organically. Resist the temptation to make a fast buck, and look after your customers well.

Above all create a prevailing ethical climate within your business that would render anything remotely fraudulent or dishonest as utterly impossible.

And what if something terrible does happen? Do you have a communications team ready to step in at a moment’s notice to handle media relations?

Appointing experts in their field is a basic requirement to ensure your company is presented honestly, ethically and in the best possible light.

Your reputation is at stake and, like VW’s, can be trashed in a moment. Make sure you have the tools, and by that I mean a good media relations company, to protect your good name.

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The dying art of communication

By Ron Wain, Joint Managing Director, Deep South Media

His was the voice of medical authority in an NHS hospital corridor, not far from the dying rooms where you and I have a future appointment.

A weary doctor, who has seen it all so many times.

“Sorry. There is nothing I can do to hasten your mother’s death.”

My mother, 78, in agony, the razor-sharp fingers of terminal cancer playing their violent tune on her emaciated, once-proud body.

Her brown eyes filled with rage, desperation: “Look at me, son. If I was a dog, they would put me down.”

Helpless, bewildered, engulfed in grief, I could only nod in pity, silently questioning the Hippocratic Oath that physicians swear by.

Of that Oath, written by Hippocrates, the father of medicine in Ancient Greece, this: “I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan…”

Which takes us to the Assisted Dying Bill, rejected in a conscience vote by a two-to-one majority in the packed House of Commons on Friday just gone.

There were excellent media relations campaigns from opponents and backers alike, with their arguments backed by evidenced figures.

In essence, doctors would have been allowed to prescribe a lethal dose of medicine to the terminally ill in England and Wales, aged 18 or over, who ask for it and who are deemed to have up to six months left to live.

They would have had to have “voluntary, clear, settled and an informed wish” to end his or her life.

Critics of the Bill successfully argued on legal, religious and moral grounds, citing potential abuse by greedy inheritors putting pressure on the vulnerable to end their lives. They said it encouraged a state-sanctioned culture of suicides.

Campaigners countered with the right to self-determination, saying we should be able to act under own free will, that there will be protocol safeguards in place to prevent subtle or blatant coercion.

Both sides brought their views to the fore, either directly to the media or through press offices and pressure groups at various religious and secular organisations. Regional newspapers canvassed the opinions of local MPs.

Perhaps the way you feel about assisted dying depends on experience?

My hero mum, Joan Wain née Burn, who left rural Northumberland for the bright lights of London at just 17, slipped into a coma for three days before she passed away peacefully in my arms, in a gently-lit side room to the soul-stirring sounds of the John Rutter hymn For the Beauty of the Earth.

But not before she awoke briefly to say three words, the last ones, delivered straight from the heart, a sacred place that not even invidious cancer dare breach.

“I love you.”

Words spoken with the spine-tingling heft of an ancient lineage where courage and endurance reside.

A mother of three, and a grandmother to eight, Joan had done her final selfless act in those three words – she was transferring her inner strength to the next generation, a passing of the baton.

But for her, tormented by unbearable pain, the Hippocratic Oath, despite the best of intentions, had rung hollow.

Yes, the Macmillan nurse said my mum had the “best death” she had seen in a year because compassion is love in action; you have to put your own heartbreak aside to ensure the final journey of a loved one is the best it can be.

However, my mum would have preferred the choice to exit the theatre of life at her choosing because the last few weeks of her “colourful” life were physical torture.

Indeed, my beloved father, Richard, who had an degenerative illness, darkly joked long before his death from a stroke at 74 about joining the “Texan gun club”. He would have, had the law been in place, with medication replacing a revolver. Sadly, he died alone.

Both parents wanted to pass over with dignity in the manner of their choosing, at their own hand, in a time and place which would offer them succour.

Of course, this is a highly emotive issue.

There is no right or wrong answer to the subject of assisted dying.

For communicators on this and on any subject, however straight-forward or complex, it is only right to ensure that we support our assertions with facts and figures.

Those for and against assisted dying did just that.

But facts and figures can never convey the wretchedness of the end where terminal illness is in the driving seat and the patient a helpless, frightened passenger.

Me? When the time comes, I would like the comfort of knowing I can say goodbyes to the people who fill my heart and soul with love, that my hands are on that driving wheel.

Joan Wain with Ron Wain* Ron is pictured with his mum, Joan Wain, a few years ago.

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Life imitating art

by Ron Wain, Joint Managing Director, Deep South Media

You and I are no different.

We are both trying to get by in this lovely-ugly thing called Life.

There are mouths to feed, bills to pay, relationships to be nurtured, money to be made or lost, happiness to be kept or, if elusive, obtained.

Part of what motivates us to roll, creak or bounce out of bed, to crack on with the world we share with seven billion others, is our sense of self worth.

Self worth is a bedrock for you and me.

But it can sometimes buckle under sudden, extreme forces.

Each time there is a tremor, a shift in the tectonic plates of our fragile lives, we can but hope that the experience makes us stronger.

There will always be trials and tribulations, though. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. To think otherwise is tantamount to a delusional state.

Indeed, in any business with reputational self-worth, it is always best to be professionally disposed against the workings of chance.

To expect the unexpected in the certain knowledge that Bad Will Happen.

It is not a question of if, but when.

There are organisations which, either wilfully or through ignorance, assume the default position of Nothing Bad Will Happen Because, As The Boss, I Have 156 Other Priorities And How Can I Justify The Expenditure On Emergency Planning And Media Training When There Are So Many Other Financial Demands!

These are the entities in danger of becoming a cropper, being hung out to dry on social media and savaged by an ever-vigilant, information-ravenous media.

Good bosses, by way of contrast, accept the ground will sometimes sway beneath their feet, because they are pragmatic, because they understand the game, because they have mettle.

Take, for example, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the veteran chairman of Swiss food giant Nestlé. He is responsible for 340,000 staff, 2,000-plus brands and nearly 450 factories.

Talking to Deirdre Hipwell, a rising star on The Times’ formidable business reporting team, Mr Brabeck-Letmathe stated that criticism, including the “less justified”, helps improve the company.

“You can neither get angry nor annoyed. This is a part you have to handle. And it is my conviction that every time somebody criticises us, it is worthwhile to have a close look, because I am not pretending that we are perfect…so let’s check and if there is a need to do something different, then let’s rectify it.”

You can bet your Maggi two-minute noodles that Nestlé has plans for every contingency, ones that have been repeatedly tested and fine-honed.

Of course, Nestlé brings in sales of almost £60 billion, so it can afford to invest in such detail.

Yet the cost of incident planning, including how to communicate effectively with customers, staff, suppliers and the media, is not sky-high – it is affordable.

Here at Deep South Media, staffed by 11 professionally-qualified news journalists, we provide enlightened companies and organisations with exactly this, backed up with white-heat media interview training.

You can either be a Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, grasping the nettle, or you can allow your reputation to be eviscerated because you thought that the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune only belonged in a Shakespeare play about a deranged Danish prince ranting to a skull, his self-worth shredded.


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Are we losing our square eyes?


Cliff 2By Cliff Moore, Account Director, Deep South Media

The author and journalist Edward Lucas was arguing the other day that because television – or the Devil’s Box as he dubbed it – was no longer ‘the centre of cultural life’ there was no justification for the continuation of the TV licence fee.

He made persuasive points, as one would expect from a senior editor at The Economist, and I almost found myself believing him.

Whether or not the BBC deserves to keep the fee will probably be debated until the white dot at the centre of the screen disappears – and I can see both sides of this argument.

The BBC is a British institution and must be preserved, but it is flabby, wasteful with public money and an easy target for the Government over its perceived bias so obviously reform is needed.

However, what was more interesting was the line that Mr Lucas, who was writing in a respected national newspaper, had never owned a TV and nor had his parents (his father was an Oxford don) when he was growing up.

Therefore he would have been excluded from a great deal of social interaction when younger as the previous night’s TV (along with the weather) was generally the hottest topic of conversation back in the 1970s.

In the days before the interweb was invented, TV, radio and newspapers were generally our only sources of information and popular culture – and to restrict yourself to missing out on a third of that was to really keep yourself in the dark.

And that, be it for better or worse, must surely have shaped the future adult that Edward Lucas was to become. He would have had a significant lack of reference points from the likes of Blue Peter, Horizon or even On The Buses (to name but three at random) – but would an increased amount of erudite knowledge make him a better person?


But, given that so many people have learned so much from TV, I can’t really believe that its existence has been anything other than a good thing.

But what of today?

I have instant access to hundreds of channels, but probably watch 10 on a regular basis. What do I learn? That watching TV costs me considerably more than it has ever done and without sport I’d probably be left with Ripper Street, Mock The Week and Only Connect as my only viewing habits.

The many and various ways of watching programmes and receiving information that are available now have certainly negated television’s influence and it is a damn sight easier to be TV-free and still keep up with life than it was in the 1970s.

But, in so many households, TV remains the dominant centre of cultural and social life – otherwise why are we buying them in ever-increasing sizes?

My daughter often prefers to watch on her iPad, others do on a phone, but traditionalists such as me will stick with a large screen, even if I do opt to decide what to watch and when.

Pass me the remote…

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Keep your comments to yourself


By Cliff Moore, Account Director, Deep South Media

Cliff 2It was a good point well made… that people who comment on stories on newspaper websites do not represent the views of the majority.

Step forward and take a bow Kevin Ward, editor of regional daily the South Wales Argus, who has hit out at the intolerance and bigotry often contained within such comments.

Even citing his own newspaper as an example, Kevin rails in his Editor’s Chair column against the dismal diatribes posted by the generally anonymous contributors who hide behind pseudonyms to peddle their vicious views.

He is exactly right in his suggestion that we should not use the internet ‘as a barometer of public opinion’.

It is probably precisely the opposite.

The internet is inhabited by all sorts of nasties, trolls, nutcases with personal agendas, nutcases with impersonal agendas, crazies, weirdos, idiots, fools, misfits, the simple minded, halfwits, blockheads, clods, the depraved, bigots, racists, perverts (I could go on)….

And that leaves, cowering somewhere in the corner hoping not to be spotted, the right-minded members of society, the man on the Clapham omnibus, the reasonable, the humane, the helpful…

These are the people in the vast majority. The others, the minority, simple shout the loudest in airing their often obnoxious opinions

There is little chance, therefore, that any internet forum – be it on a newspaper website or elsewhere – will remain sensible.

In an ideal world, comments would be supportive and helpful, perhaps bulking out the initial story with extra information, observations and constructive criticism.

And, occasionally, they can inject a welcome dose of humour.

However, while comments on articles may routinely begin in a sane manner it is highly likely they soon will be hijacked and taken over by the splenetic keyboard warriors.

And these trolls don’t care about the sensitivity of the stories upon which they leave their vile views – deaths and tragedies are just as prone to infiltration as any other subject.

It brings back memories of a previous incarnation of mine at a daily newspaper office where one of my tasks was to redact comments from the website to publish in the paper.

What a struggle it was. The vile, the idiotic, the libellous and the racist comments had to be rejected. Then those who had plainly misunderstood the story and whose comments were therefore plain wrong would have to go.

Then comments completely unconnected with the original article would go down the pan, followed by contributors using comedy names such as Hugh Jarse (but much worse, believe me) biting the dust.

Finally those whose previous online behaviour had led them to be banned by the paper would try and worm their way back in with a new ID and email address and would have to be filtered out.

Some days that didn’t leave a lot.

And it does make me wonder, even in this social media age of fast-moving and increasing immediacy, whether it is worth bothering with comments from readers on any stories at all.

Newspapers tolerate them because they offer some sort of connection with readers.

They also can be a handy tool (along with Facebook and Twitter) for beleaguered newsdesks to garner information on fast-developing stories (such as identity of crash victims).

However, for my part, I would rather just read and digest the article and move on to the next one. I don’t really care what anyone else thinks about it.



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A lorra, lorra coverage for our Cilla’s demise


By Cliff Moore, Account Director, Deep South Media

Cliff 2The incredible outpouring of grief following the death of Cilla Black wouldn’t have been greater if it had been a member of the royal family who had passed away.

The demise of our Cilla at her home on the Costa del Sol even pushed the Calais migrant crisis off the top of news bulletins and front pages – and must have been a godsend for news editors on a slow news Sunday.

It was interesting to see how the story developed – from a simple Spanish police report about the death of ‘British national Priscilla White, aged 72’ that surfaced on Sunday lunchtime to umpteen pages in all of Monday’s red tops and blanket TV coverage.

A couple of ‘rent a quotes’ were quickly established before the likes of Bruce Forsyth were contacted – then the news organisations quickly found themselves overwhelmed with tributes from the likes of Gloria Hunniford, Lionel Blair, Barbara Windsor, Ringo Starr, Des O’Connor and Sir Cliff Richard before the holy grail of Liverpudlian tributes was achieved from Sir Paul McCartney.

For once, unlike the ‘professional’ tributes, darling, on the death of a celebrity, they all seemed pretty genuine and heartfelt – perhaps because Cilla’s 50-year showbiz career saw her rise from humble hatcheck girl origins to become the Queen of cheesy Saturday TV, remaining one of the people (as far as one could see from afar).

She did, of course, have the patronage of The Beatles, the management of Brian Epstein and the reliable support of loyal husband Bobby Willis to make absolutely the best of her singing talents, but her TV career surely was down to her infectious personality.

Once the initial story of her death had calmed slightly, those reporters despatched to stand outside her Estepona house were finding more than just the neighbour prepared to say what a lorra laughs it had been living next door to Cilla.

More stories emerged about her arthritis, her deafness, that she was going blind, that she wanted to be reunited with Bobby – whose death from cancer in 1999 from which she never really recovered – and, according to one ‘childhood friend’ that she was willing herself to die.

It is inevitable, given that she was once the highest-paid woman on British TV, had 19 top 40 hits and will be forever associated with the Swinging Sixties and the Fab Four, that interest will go on. And on.

And the coverage will be lapped up – or the tabloids will have judged it pretty badly and they rarely do – until beyond her funeral and subsequent memorial service.

But we won’t be sure it is a ‘big’ story until one of those people with too much time on their hands than is safe has complained to the Samira Ahmed-fronted BBC’s Newswatch programme that far too much airtime was devoted to Cilla’s death and shouldn’t the Corporation be concentrating on ‘real’ news instead.

As someone who regularly and pointlessly shouts abuse at the television when these pompous idiots claim their 15 seconds of unwarranted fame to spout their ridiculous theories, I am longing for that moment.

Cilla was big news. Fact.

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Words of wisdom


Cliff 2By Cliff Moore, Account Director, Deep South Media

I was at a talk by Guardian columnist Tim Dowling the other day – at the Larmer Tree Festival, since you ask, where he had previously been performing as the banjo player in the excellent bluegrass, folk and country band Police Dog Hogan.

He spoke about his work as a columnist for the newspaper Saturday edition’s Weekend Magazine in which he chronicles the ups and downs of family life.

It’s not exactly a sideways look at life, more a look at a sideways life as American Tim regales readers with tales of DIY disasters, dying dogs, complicated children and interesting relationship situations.

He jazzes it up, of course, and somewhat glories in his misfortune (a smug ‘where did it all go right’ column about a perfect life of course wouldn’t last five minutes), but it always makes for an interesting weekend diversion – and seeing him in the flesh has enhanced future reading.

However, I digress. One of the things Tim mentioned – and I don’t think I’m writing out of turn here as it came up in an open forum – that he is also contracted to provide 55,000 words a year for Guardian 2, the paper’s feature-led second section.

That set me thinking about words. Here at Deep South Media they are our lifeblood – along with strong images following the appearance of award-winning photographer Paul Collins as Head of Visual here – and the DSM team of professionally-qualified journalists works with them all day, every day.

Now, 55,000 words sounds like a huge amount – this blog has 469 and has taken me at least 10 minutes (as you can probably tell) – but at a little more than a thousand a week, 55,000 is not that many compared to what is churned out in this office.

DSM’s crew of galley slaves typing away furiously at red hot laptops generates enough power to light up a small town by churning out words of wisdom on behalf of many and varied clients.

However, the numbers game is not what it is all about. Quality, not quantity is the issue. Readers will be disinclined to read 3,000 words about the latest news from Company X even more so than media outlets would consider publishing them.

As my colleague Ron Wain adroitly pointed out in his most recent blog, we live in a fast-moving world. And it’s one in which people simply don’t have time to read properly (actually, they do; they pretend otherwise to make themselves appear more interesting).

Nevertheless, the mantra remains – grab ’em (the reader that is) with some brilliantly-crafted words and hold ’em for as long as possible until they drift off. Getting the message across quickly is paramount.

So, brevity – and a decent picture – is the key to success.

And, since neither seems present here, I’ll take my leave.



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Why respect matters

by Ron Wain, Joint Managing Director, Deep South Media

You and I, we work in an culture of increasing immediacy.

Of real-time responses.

Where information can be shared with a global audience in seconds.

Where we berate ourselves if an email is not replied to within 24 hours, 12 hours, 60 minutes, often much less.

Where we become anxious if we don’t stand attendant on the wi-fi devices which hum with a productive connectivity unthinkable a few years ago.

In this arms race to hyper-efficiency, in the zoom-zoom-zoom of the digital superhighway, it can be easy to forget our manners before we hit ‘Send’ on the next email.

Which is why each email should be written as if we are addressing the recipient in person, including starting the message with a simple ‘Hi’ or ‘Good morning’ and ending with ‘thank you’ or ‘kind regards’.

Courtesy, you see, implies respect – and respect and respectful behaviour are foundations of good business.

Which is why the 11 news professionals here at Deep South Media will always be unfailingly courteous in all forms of communications, to clients, the media, suppliers and visitors.

But why the reflection on the R word?

I’ve just returned from a leavers’ assembly, which my wife Jenny and I watched through hot tears of mixed emotion from 16 years’ worth of daily school runs and involvement.

It was our third and youngest child to have gone through the primary school years, when the ground rules of how to behave in society are instilled.

Our 11-year-old daughter and her classmates stood up and summed up what gives their school its own particular spirit.

Their words rang out loud and true in the hall: “Respect”, “well behaved”, “smiling faces”, “inclusion”, “optimistic”, “team work”, “positivity”, “effort”, “thoughtfulness”, “kindness”, “equality”, “nature”, “responsibility”, “democracy”, “effort” and “heart”.

In the grown-up world you and I inhabit, where cynicism pervades, this was a joyful reconnection to what we were and should be.

These attributes should guide our typing hands, so we don’t fall prey to the abruptness that blights our digital age.

Indeed, if you don’t know your Rs from your elbow, the losers will be your company’s bottom line and your own sense of worth.

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Opening a box of memories

We recently met a group of primary schoolchildren who were talking about memories with residents at a dementia care home.

The pupils have been following an arts project reflecting on their lives so far before they move to secondary school.

They each filled up a ‘memory box’ containing toys, photos and drawings associated with school trips and events.

On a visit to Linden House in Lymington, Hampshire, the pupils talked through the various items in their boxes with residents.

Mandy Stevens, Activities Organiser at Linden House, said: “This was the first time we have welcomed such young children in as a whole group. After the visit, residents were coming up to me and saying how much they enjoyed it.”

For more information, read the full press release.

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Home from home


By Cliff Moore, Account Director, Deep South MediaCliff 2

Back in the dim and distant past there was a theory.

You should realise I’m talking about a time when the only fonts the public had heard of were made of stone, at the back of churches and filled with holy water.

It was a time when word processors were ladies with fast fingers who sat in typing pools.

And a time when the epitome of computer games was Pong.

This theory was that the fast-advancing charge of new technology would change everyone’s working life to such an extent we would end up with more leisure time than we knew what to do with.

Alas, the theory proved somewhat flawed.

Technology did, indeed, change our working lives – but it the ‘efficiency’ it increased put so many people out of work that everyone else had to work twice as hard to keep up.

So much for more free time and flexible working.

But there are, once again, 40 years later, signs on the horizon that different changes may be afoot.

I read of London-based agency M&C Saatchi deciding to get rid of most of its desks and computers for what The Times described as ‘free range’ working on laptops and smartphones.

This is following the model used by conglomerates such as Facebook and Google – and, indeed, here at Deep South Media.

Flexibility is the key, desks are so yesterday and the likes of superfast broadband (yes, I know it’s not everywhere) and phones that have more capability than most of us can imagine enable such working.

The natural next stage in the process is working from home and while there are occupations that preclude this (Red Arrows pilot, beach lifeguard, ticket man at Fulham Broadway Station, for instance) many workers may be able to take advantage.

A survey (yes, another one) reveals that UK ‘remote’ working has increased over the past three years by 37 per cent and that nearly two-thirds of human resources bosses thought such an arrangement would boost productivity.

It is a truism to say a happy worker puts in more effort and if happiness can be achieved by allowing home working then it surely is a no-brainer to facilitate this state of affairs.

I am, of course, writing this in the office…

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