Can the media ever learn how to behave in the face of a juicy story? The recent tragic events behind two Australian DJs playing a prank on nurses looking after the Duchess of Cambridge suggests not.
The two DJs having made belated apologies say that they never thought they would be taken seriously. When they telephoned King Edward VII Hospital to ask personal questions about the Kate’s health they expected to be exposed within 30 seconds. Nevertheless, when they managed to get through to a nurse looking after the Duchess they didn’t stop, they persisted with the hoax, presumably knowing that they had gone too far.
As if that wasn’t damage enough, the management of the radio station was happy to broadcast the encounter and publish it on their website. This action alone suggests that journalistic greed for ratings and listeners blinded them to the impropriety of their actions.
It is for others to judge the actions of the DJs and the radio station. Suffice it to say that this episode drove a dedicated nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, to kill herself despite her obviously innocent mistake.
To expect the media to change would be asking too much. As the internet and social media place greater pressures on the profitability of newsprint, radio and television so the desperation for a sensational story or a scoop increases.
Does that mean, as the Leveson Inquiry would suggest, that we should legislate to control the media? We would say, vehemently, no.
Legislation to control the media is used far too easily in too many parts of the world. In Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is trying to stifle Grupo Clarín, a newspaper group critical of her presidency, through legislation. In Sri Lanka newspapers are humbled by the patronage (or removal) of government advertising. In Turkey journalists are routinely locked up in what Reporters without Frontiers has described as judicial harassment of Turkey’s media.
In more liberal countries modern society has become increasingly prepared to use legislation to do what society and the marketplace should be doing. The media will always find a way around laws and regulations especially when they think it will make them a quick profit in their profitless world.
Instead, when they go too far, we the people should be ready to intervene. By refusing to listen to their radio stations or to stop buying their newspapers we can punish the media much more effectively.
Social media brought the News of the World to its knees because of the actions of a small minority of journalists which may have included senior managers (tragic on the hundreds of others who did nothing wrong). Advertisers withdrew their advertising from 2Day FM, the Australian radio station at the heart of the tragic Duchess of Cambridge prank. Others will follow.
It requires society to flex its muscles rather than wait for government to legislate; whether that is through the withdrawal of advertising, social media exposure, refusal to listen to, watch or buy their product. Then, and only then, will the media take notice.
Generalisations are fine up to a point. They play a role in helping us to communicate broad ideas and concepts when precision is not needed.
For example, ‘At peak periods aircraft land at Heathrow every ninety seconds’. This generalisation doesn’t tell us when those peak periods are, nor does it spell out that there can be huge variations in timings across those peak periods. As a general rule, though, it helps us to get a picture in our minds of the volume of traffic going in to Heathrow.
How we then perceive that individually is another matter. An air traffic controller working at O’Hare International airport in Chicago, which has the second largest number of movements annually, would not find that especially high (Heathrow ranks 13th in such annual movements). Someone working at Bournemouth Airport would find the figure quite staggering (they manage around one every three minutes). Someone who knows nothing about the travel industry might wonder at how it was possible to land an aircraft and get it off the runway in such a short period of time before the next one arrives.
Nevertheless, such a generalisation helps us to interpret a lot of things about Heathrow from our perspectives.
Generalisations are often linked to statistics; ‘the average manager gets paid this amount’, ‘the speed of cars on that stretch of motorway is this’, ‘the hotel trade has a staff turnover of around 60% annually’ etc.
When generalisations become linked to groups of people then they can start to be dangerous. ‘All bankers are corrupt’, ‘all business owners are greedy’, ‘all politicians are in it for themselves’ all display one thing in common; a negative generalisation of a group of people. Of course you could have, ‘all nurses are angels’, all pilots are clever’, ‘all social workers are caring’.
In both sets of cases the generalisation is wrong. Not all bankers are corrupt nor business owners greedy; nevertheless the generalisation targets a group and encourages a negative perception which leads to distrust, suspicion and, in some cases, violence. Equally, not all nurses are angels, pilots that clever or social workers caring; and yet it encourages us to think favourably of such groups, to trust them and to act kindly towards them.
It is such generalisations that the media love to play to such effect. A good generalisation followed by a request for examples of ‘where you have been fiddled by a banker’ (for example) provides a rich seam of stories that allow the media to reinforce the generalisation and turn it into a scoop. Almost every example used by the media will be negative because positive stories don’t sell newspapers; they don’t play on your prejudices.
So next time you hear or read a generalisation just give it some thought before you get stuck in with your own lurid examples to back up the story. One day that generalisation could be about you and your kind.
Meanwhile, did you spot the deliberate omission in this blog? If you did then you will have spotted how prejudices can creep in to any story
Communications is a complex business. For some people it is not something they spend too much time worrying about. They plod through life communicating without any real concern about the impact of their communications.
Others, however, need to be more careful if they are to be taken seriously.
A well known polling agency undertakes a monthly opinion poll of business leaders. They ask important questions about perceptions, opinions and views. As with all polling the result of the survey is only as good as the accuracy of the questions being asked.
The most recent poll conducted this month was asking questions about the likely impact on stakeholders. The problem was that they didn’t define stakeholders, nor did they make it clear in the question which stakeholders they were asking about.
Stakeholders, if you have looked at our paper on ‘Identifying Stakeholders’, come in all sorts of shapes and sizes both internal and external.
A stakeholder can be a primary stakeholder without whom the company could not survive. A good example of an external stakeholder might be a customer. An internal stakeholder might well be your employees.
Or you might be more concerned with secondary stakeholders who can have huge influences on your business. The banks would rate government and its agencies such as the Financial Services Ombudsman to be very important secondary stakeholders at the present time.
When considering your stakeholders it is possible to group them into large groups, such as ‘Suppliers’. But suppliers can cover a multitude of different people who interact with your organisation in different ways. Suppliers could be contractors or consultants who work closely with part of the company; or they could be suppliers of the materials needed to conduct your business. In the latter case it could be as broad as electricity companies providing power through to stationary suppliers providing your photocopying paper.
In each case the relationship has subtle differences. So when the survey of business leaders asked whether they thought a particular action was good for stakeholders or not, it left a lot to be desired.
If they meant that the action was good for the directors, senior executives and shareholders of the company then the answer was an unambiguous yes. If the stakeholders concerned were the customers and suppliers then the answer was an unequivocal NO!
So which stakeholders did they mean? They didn’t say. Which means that the whole survey was open to dispute. As the saying goes, rubbish in, rubbish out.
In the 1960s Professor Albert Mehrabian published research that gave us a formula relating to the communication of feelings and attitudes.
In this formula he suggested that 7% of the message is in the words that are spoken; 33% is in the way the words are said and 55% is in the facial expression.
If we assume that this is correct then when we communicate by telephone we lose 55% of the way we communicate those feelings and attitudes. That means that we have to compensate in other ways.
One way to compensate is to bring a lot more tone and colour into your voice whilst choosing your words more carefully. Changing the volume of your voice helps. Take the recent conversation with a telesales person.
The conversation started off much as normal. She identified the ‘problem’ that I was having and then proceeded to tell me how they could resolve my ‘problem’. At first my responses were kept to explaining to her that I did not see my perceived problem as a problem. She persisted.
Moving smoothly into phase two I pointed out to her that I did NOT (slightly louder voice) want to buy their product. She moved smoothly into a more emotive set of words, including ‘don’t you care’, ‘have you thought about the benefits’ and ‘your life will be revolutionised’.
In turn I explained that I ‘cared greatly about the amount of my time she was wasting’, the ‘benefit that would be derived if she left me in peace’ and that my ‘life had already seen enough revolutions!’
By this point her voice had taken on a slightly whining tone, ‘won’t you at least talk to our adviser about how we can help you’. And when my reply was a firm and ever so slightly louder ‘NO’. She moved to the final phase, the ‘hurt’ tone in her voice accompanied by the words ‘so I take it you are not interested then?’ and dropped the connection.
The moral of the story is that when you next hold a telephone conversation remember to use your voice and choice of words carefully to express your feelings and attitudes. The person at the other end of the line won’t be able to see the facial expressions which would have communicated exactly how you felt.
There has been talk in the news recently about the widespread use of bad grammar and bad English.
At present I am spending a lot of time travelling a lot by train to various clients and three incidents started me wondering.
The first incident occurred a few weeks ago when I saw an advert on a railway station for the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. The strap line said ‘I am Giulietta. And I am such stuff as dreams are made on’.
At first I was horrified by the poor grammar. Then I realised that it was a quote from Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest (Act 4, Scene 1). Here is the full quote for your enjoyment.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
It raised the question; whose grammar should we be following? The Victorian grammar which purists regard so highly or that of Shakespeare of earlier times?
On another train journey I sat opposite a young, bestudded, overweight, scruffy, self professed DJ. His loud and continuous telephone conversation was filled with ‘f….ing’ this and that as he expressed his displeasure over various matters.
When he wanted to express pleasure or surprise the favourite word was ‘awesome’. The base of his conversation was mundane and unsurprising; indeed the only surprise was the chatter about his time at ‘uni’ (perhaps to reassure the other people in the carriage).
His lack of any extensive vocabulary and use of a limited number of simplistic words to describe his emotions typifies the way in which our language base is shrinking.
The third incident involves another young person. I was reviewing a document she had written which contained a series of bullet points. Her grammar was impeccable. The first word of each bullet point started with a lower case character. I had to point out to her that, although she was grammatically correct, current convention dictated that she should use upper case characters.
These three incidents left me thinking. Where should we place the base point for good grammar? Are we more expressive if we have a wide vocabulary from which to enrich our language? How far should we sacrifice good grammar for clarity of message?
Communication evolves as the environment dictates. But (ouch this will have the purists howling!) how far should we go in adapting and changing our language to the current short attention span of the internet generation?
I wonder what Shakespeare would have thought.
Just before going away on holiday several people asked me about LinkedIn and the best way to get started. Having returned refreshed and reinvigorated, here are some simple and quick tips that should help.
1. Always remember, whatever you put up onto the internet is, ultimately, publicly available. So don’t post up anything you don’t want others to see. Therefore your LinkedIn profile needs to be carefully thought through
2. In the professional headline try to be a little more adventurous than just putting your job title. Tell people what it is you are or you do. Remember this tag line appears when people do a search for you
3. Under summary there are two tried and tested options. The first is to put a short ‘profile’ of yourself. The sort of thing that you would put at the top of a CV which says what you are (and by inference what you want your next job to be). That’s good for job hunters. If on the other hand you want a larger description of yourself and your career then write a script which is in the first person (I am a . . .) and which gives the most important parts of your career. If you are promoting your company as well then make sure that you weave its features into the story
4. Under specialities I recommend putting single words or short phrases. These are the ‘keywords’ which describe your skills and expertise
5. The section marked experience is designed to give the reader a work history. A lot of people don’t fill this section and are missing a trick. It’s a bit like a CV, but perhaps you don’t put in quite as much detail. Give them a short description of your job and then some bullet points with the highlights, especially achievements and awards
6. Under education it seems pointless to me to put all your educational details down, just higher qualifications such as a Degree, Masters or Doctorate
7. If you have a website then don’t forget to put the link in under ‘Additional information’. Also your Twitter account, but I recommend not putting interests because this is a bit too personal for a business style profile
8. Likewise under ‘Personal Information’ I don’t recommend filling in items such as marital status, birthday and telephone number. Under address put your public email address and that will help people to contact you if they need to do so
9. Once you have filled in the profile (oh yes, a photograph is a good idea, but don’t make it quirky) then start adding connections. There is a very serious point here. Be clear about why you have a LinkedIn profile and the nature of your audience. Family and friends are better accommodated on a Facebook account, leaving LinkedIn to your professional connections. I always suggest that you start with immediate work colleagues/ex colleagues. Then move on to your contact list and finally that pile of business cards you have been hanging on to. Hopefully you will get people contacting you, and asking them to join their ‘professional network’ – that just means they want to connect with you. If you know them and they are of the right calibre for you then do so. If you don’t know them, or they don’t fit your professional category then don’t be afraid to refuse
10. And finally. LinkedIn has a rich seam of Groups. Go to the top menu bar, then to ‘Groups’ and then ‘Groups Directory’ and you will find a massive list of groups. Search for your professional interest groups and join a small number. Although you can ask to join, the host can refuse (but not very often). You will then be privy to a rich seam of professional information, thoughts, discussions and debates.
There is a lot more to LinkedIn, which is probably why it is one of the most well known and liked of the business networking sites, but this should get you started.
I found this little gem in the Arthur D Little* corporate magazine ‘Prism’ for the ‘Second Semester 2009’.
“Regain customers’ trust through individualized communication
Retaining existing customers and enhancing revenue streams from relationships with them will gain importance relative to acquiring new customers. Regaining customer trust drives this shift. In order to establish lasting, trust-based customer relationships, companies will pay growing attention to a number of customer interaction aspects.
First, they will acquire more meaningful customer insights and use these to provide customers with sufficient and individualized product and service information. Second companies will use the complete array of communication tools and media available to them (including chat, mobile self-service applications, remote services for B2C) to communicate with customers in a more direct, less mediated and far more individualized fashion. They will seek to bind customers by establishing points of interaction at all stages of the customer lifecycle.”
It took me a few moments to work out what they were on about, but having applied KISS (Keep It Short & Simple) I came up with:
“Growing existing customer accounts is as important as getting new customers. How you do it matters and here are three thoughts. 1. Personalise your product or service. 2. Talk to them directly using all the modern methods. 3. And keep on talking.”
Or to put it even more succinctly – “It pays to talk to your customers”.
* Arthur D Little describe themselves as a ‘Global management consultancy specializing in strategy and operations management, serving major corporations and organizations worldwide’.
Recently I saw a suggestion that offering training budgets might be used as part of a rewards scheme.
Personally I can see quite a lot of problems with this idea. .
We know that training can be a huge motivator because it shows willingness on the part of the company to invest in the individual. Also it is a sign that the company is investing in the individual’s future with the company (important after change and/or redundancy programmes).
So there is merit in the idea. However, training can also be a serious de-motivator if it is offered and then not followed through.
With this in mind here are some questions I think you would need to resolve before taking the suggestion further:
- Do you have the backing and support of your senior executives? Without this you could find the programme being cut for financial reasons once promises have been made. Then the programme could become a de-motivator
- Do you have a sustainable budget. Training for reward could be a lot more expensive than required training for doing the job. This is because employees are going to be looking for extra value courses
- How do you differentiate training ‘needed’ to do the job and training for reward? You would have to do a ‘training needs analysis’ first. This should determine what additional skills are required for the employee to do their job
- But that raises a further problem. Should you ensure that all ‘needs’ training is done first before giving ‘rewards’ training? If not how do you balance the two? And how will your senior executives feel about that imbalance?
- Then there is the whole question of the value of reward. Reward, by its very nature should be scaled to the size and value of the original employee contribution. So does that mean you would have a sliding scale of training rewards? And what if the reward you offer is insufficient for the type of training they would like to take? Will you then end up with a de-motivated employee?
- There is the further concern; and that is the effect on other employees who do not receive the reward training. There is a lot of research around that shows that people in a team who do not receive training whilst others do can become jealous and disruptive within the team.
One solution is to introduce training credits. In consultation with HR these could be handed out by managers at key times (such as appraisals). One credit has a fixed value, but more than one credit is needed to obtain any training. That allows all employees to accrue credits and go for small or big training options (i.e. small training options could be internal training) over a period of time to suit their needs. I saw this happening in one company but do not know how successful it was.
Suffice it to say, any such scheme would have to be very carefully thought through before being implemented.
I just knew it was a mistake to say that British Airways management were winning the argument (blog 27 February).
As I was writing that blog, Times transport correspondent Philip Pank was interviewing (anonymously) a BA Cabin crew member who supported strike action.
The article is interesting on two counts. It is one of a small number of articles in mainstream newspapers which has presented the case for Heathrow based cabin crew going on strike.
It is largely sympathetic in its style and it points out one or two nasty BA management practices. Perhaps the most worrying of these are the ‘management threats to sack anyone who speaks to the media’. Inevitably this article demonstrates the futility of such threats and it does leave the reader with the feeling that bully boy tactics are being applied. If that feeling took hold with the public then it would change the nature of public opinion quite quickly.
Which brings me on to the second point of interest. Despite the sympathetic nature of the article, the majority of the comments posted are very unsympathetic (almost abusive) towards the cabin crew. Any union official reading the online comments would realise the depths of the PR disaster the cabin crew are facing.
This one article will not change public opinion, but it will make the reader more questioning of some of the BA management motives.
Careful management of the media coverage of the impending strike can and will win support for BA. Using old fashioned tactics such as stifling debate and threatening staff simply leaves the impression that they have something to hide.
The full article can be found at
In the dying days of 2009 I will look at one or two stories that have made the headlines and help us to understand crisis management.
This story is not yet concluded, but is one of the most amazing to hit the media in the final days of this year.
It all started with a news report that Tiger Woods had crashed his car outside his home on 27th November. An incredibly private person, the media had always been prevented from intruding into his private life and stories about him and his family were few and far between.