01823 271508 or 07909 993278
mark@markwall.co.uk

Business

JCBs in the basement??

This blog post first appeared in the Somerset County Gazette.

We are in the middle of building chaos at Chez Wall. Not that anything has actually started yet…no brick has actually been purchased, no sod literally cut. But I am juggling the demands of planners, building regulators, surveyors, CAD operators, mortgage providers and various craftspeople in an attempt to get it all done at some point before I retire.

The children are being helpful by telling me how they want their new rooms decorated, and planning a time capsule that we can put beneath the extension. This will allow their grandchildren to see what life was like in the early 21st century and marvel at the references to strictly come X factor, 5SOS and the fact that life is, these days, apparently all about that bass.

Much as I complain, I recognise that we are lucky in Somerset to have the options of building stuff.   In London, where I lived for the first 35 years of my life, there is now officially no room. You cannot build up as the planners won’t let you, and you cannot build out as you’d be in your neighbours lounge.

So people have started building down. There is a real trend in building new rooms in the basement. Homeowners (I guess at the wealthier end of the spectrum) who have been refused planning permission for a traditional above ground extension are instead hiring companies to dig out the foundations under their house; creating new vast rooms underground where gyms, swimming pools, granny flats and the like can be safely inserted.

They do this using JCB diggers; they dig down as they go, making the space and kicking out the soil behind them.

But when they’re done, you have a problem. It is very difficult to get a JCB out of what is now in effect a deep hole. In fact, it costs more to do this than actually buy a new JCB. So they don’t bother. The JCB is buried as part of the new foundations and the builder gets a new toy for their trouble.

Dozens of houses across London now have a JCB digger buried beneath their basement.

This fascinates me. In centuries to come archaeologists will dig down and find these magical buried monsters. They will no doubt assume that we worshipped the creatures, or maybe that they were a servile species kept in the cellar until their usefulness was over or perhaps that we were attacked by them and these are the remains of the vanquished.

Either way, it’ll no doubt be the subject of many a TV documentary. And of course presents a significant challenge to me and the girls as we try to make our Taunton based capsule half as interesting…..

When the Robots take over

This article first appeared in the Somerset County Gazette on 4th September 2014.

I travel a lot for work, and stay in a lot of hotels. This used to be fun, but to be frank the novelty soon wears off. Hanging around on your own in a town a long way from home is not a great night.

But I find ways to cope: I have my little routines, and the hotels I stay in get to know them. So whenever I am in the guest house in the midlands that has become a second home, the team know that beyond a “good morning” I prefer to be taciturn in the morning. I read my paper; I work through a plate of meat the size of Durham (hospitable lot in the midlands) and drink gallons of tea. I don’t talk.

Until recently. I was at breakfast, contemplating the day ahead and perusing the latest transfer news when I noticed a middle aged man sitting at a table near me. He was smiling in that way people do when they want to initiate conversation; a sort of half embarrassed and overly polite grimace grin.

I smiled back wanly and carried on reading. But he didn’t give up and after a few more extravagant smiles he coughed and said “anything good in the paper?”

This is not easy to ignore. I sighed internally, gave up on ever finding out if Spurs were planning to sign an unknown Swedish centre back and made some vague comment about football.

He told me his story: weather bad the previous night, decided to stay at the pub, heading home today. But with a tedious inevitability we moved onto a slightly more challenging agenda.

“The military – they are years ahead of us you know. Everything we have, they have really advanced versions. Their technology is so powerful, really frightening. We’ll never find out but they have robots and stuff that can do just about anything.”

So far so good. Interesting enough, if a little Hunger Games for my liking, but certainly not threatening. He leaned in closer. For a horrible moment I thought he was going to nick my bacon.

He whispered conspiratorially: “The thing is, after a while they are going to realise they are more powerful than us, aren’t they?” It took me a moment to understand what he meant.

“The robots will realise that we need saving from ourselves and they’ll take over. To stop us killing the planet and each other. Stands to reason. We programme them to help us and automate our lives, make us safer, but they’ll take over. Where will we be then?”

I nodded, trying to create a respectful yet authoritative distance between us. After an acceptable delay of about 30 seconds I looked at my watch, made my apologies muttering something about meetings and headed off.

I walked to the car laughing. Robots? Taking over? I activated the car’s auto start. Realising they know more than us? I switched on the sat nav. Changing things to keep us safe? The car’s speed and distance limiter kicked in, making sure I couldn’t hit anyone. Automated decision making? The blue tooth chose a track I liked. Technology taking over? The cameras showed me the space behind as I reversed and the automatic handbrake released itself. It’ll never happen?

Honestly, the things people believe.

Top ten tips for a PR campaign

Ten Top Tips for a PR campaign (part one)

There are so many ways to launch a PR campaign. And I would guess that most fail. So, here are my ten top tips (there are always ten, don’t ask why, it is just the way life is…) for a decent campaign.

  1. Have an end game. You would never invest cash without having a clear sight of what you want to achieve. So why oh why oh why do people spend time effort and real cash on media marketing and PR campaigns without having any idea what they want to get out of it. It can be anything; more referrals, more business, increased press coverage, people recognising you in the street. Doesn’t matter what (well…..), but do some thinking.
  2. Be innovative. Don’t use the same old methods that everyone else has already done. Challenge every assumption, think of weird ways to get attention, ways that will cause a double take in your audience. Talking of which…
  3. Know your audience. Throwing stuff at a crowd doesn’t work; giving one person something individually does. So segment, segment and segment again. The tighter your defined audience, the better your chances of connecting.
  4. Don’t say too much. People will only remember 2 or 3 things you say. So make sure they are the right 2 or 3 things. Journalists only read the first paragraph of your press release and customers only skim your leaflet. If you have 2 or 3 killer facts that you refer to again and again, then you have a chance of getting through.
  5. Stories not statistics. People like stories, they don’t enjoy facts. So think about the story you want to tell – your narrative – and tell it. Where we were, where we are now and crucially where you’re going. And why your audience need to know this and be involved.

So that’s 1 – 5 out of the way, 6 – 10 will follow soon.  Watch this space.

Albert knows best?

This article first appeared in the Somerset County Gazette.

 

I have recently acquired a new car. I can’t really say I bought it as it still belongs to the leasing company. But it feels like mine. We have christened him Albert.

As with all new cars, Albert assumes I am stupid. He automatically controls the lights and the wipers; sorts out my speed, tells me if I am too close to the car in front and actually brakes for me if he feels I am not taking his warnings seriously enough. He decides on my route, and beeps, very annoyed, if I get too close to anything that might hurt me. When I am foolish enough to try to reverse Albert immediately produces a screen giving a clear camera view of what is behind, with red lines on the screen that I mustn’t cross. What he seems to prefer is that I press a series of buttons so he can park without my intervention. It is quite scary to let go of the wheel and hand over control, but to be fair he does a far better job than me.

In a way this sums up many people’s parenting style. Our job is to keep the kids away from harm, to make sure they don’t get too close to danger; to plan out their route; make sure they can see clearly; not let them do anything stupid or too risky; to protect them from the elements and themselves and do as much for them as we can. Because to be blunt, we are better at it, having had far more practice. We’ve got the experience and a techy car; but our kids have no experience and the equivalent of an 8 year old Cortina

And so we very easily become the automated drivers of their lives.

But of course as they get older things change. Our children are now far better at many things than we are. They want to make their own decisions; take their own risks; try new things out; choose their own routes; sort out their own speed; park for themselves. This is tricky stuff and of course they will get some things wrong, but just as we did at their age, they will become better people as they learn from their mistakes.

The clincher is that I am not sure Albert trusts me: there will always be a bit of competition and irritation as he thinks he knows best, whereas I want to practice and become a better driver.

Hmm. I think I’ll turn the auto park off for a bit.

Writing Press Releases (order, order!)

With introductions out of the way, (see below) we can move on to the second part of our look at what makes good press releases.

Like news stories, good press releases tend to adopt a standard journalistic structure, widely known as the ‘inverted pyramid’.

Essentially, this means thinking of what you’re writing as fitting into a triangle where the bigger, wider part is at the top and the point is at the bottom. (more…)