Why our phones are no longer mobile

Mark Wall Telephone

Living in Somerset is great. 

The wide open spaces induce calm. The relatively sparse population builds friendship and community.  But communication can be tricky.  So some kind of phone is essential.

In the old days, buying a phone was easy.  Well, not easy but at least linear.  You contacted the post office (younger readers may well need the assistance of google at this point) or the post privatisation British Telecoms, and requested a line.  Then you waited.  And waited.  And after some considerable time a man (it was always a man) came round, did some drilling and tutting, drank copious amounts of tea (it was always tea, we didn’t have coffee in those days), and eventually deposited a strange thing with a dial on it on the hall table (again, always the hall table).  You were allocated a number and off you went.  You had a phone. Some people shared a line with other families and it was always a bit embarrassing when you wanted to make a phone call and overheard the other family talking on their phone about their haemorrhoids or something as sensitive.

Then the mobile was invented. 

Of course, no one calls it a mobile anymore because all phones are mobile.  It is as unnecessary as saying you have bought a new mobile car, or boarded a flying plane.  My kids think I’m making it up when I say that when I was young phones were tied to the wall and you always had to have a supply of 2p pieces whenever you went out.

These days the process is quicker but fraught with tension.  I must have spent hours gently perusing the numerous phone shops along Bridge Street and East Street looking at deals.  But do I need more minutes and less data?  Or do I need a camera that competes favourably with Hubble and enough storage space to run NASA.  How many G’s do I need?  4 or 5?  Why do I need to protect my screen?  And don’t get me started on cases….

Then there’s the apps.  Weather, news, shopping I can sort of see.  But it’s all gone too far now.  You can get apps that tell you where you parked your car, how to pop a pimple (with plenty of visuals), how to ghost hunt and when you are likely to run out of toilet paper.  I’m not wild/weird/odd/brave (delete as appropriate) enough to have any of these but I do now have an app that puts my central heating on when I’m out and another that tells me when to go to sleep and then reports in the morning on how well I slept.

They are powerful and clever, truly inspirational pieces of tech.  But do they make us happier?  Well, yes probably.  I now have more knowledge in my pocket that you could find in the main library in Paul Street.  And better pictures.  I have more music at my fingertips than the entire stock at Our Price.

So I guess I should put up with the confusion.  Maybe a phone buying app?  There’s a thought…

Why elephants make for good politicians.


I am reading – about a year after everyone else – the George Lakoff book about framing: “Don’t think of an Elephant”.

His opening point is that if you tell a group of people not to think of an elephant, the first thing they do is…think of an elephant.  It is almost impossible not to.  The very mention of the word conjures up an image that we are stuck with for the rest of the conversation.  This is called framing.

Political campaigners understand how powerful this is.  Why does Theresa May keep going on about “strong and stable”?  She knows she will be mocked, but even when people are mocking her they are saying the very words, the very issues, that she wants the election to be fought on.  So we take the mickey out of her for saying “strong and stable” and allow the framing of the whole debate to be led by her.  Clever.

It would be even better if the words had a visual resonance.  If she said “strong as a (insert very strong thing here” and “stable as a (insert very stable thing here)” then the pictures are planted in our brains and are even harder to get out.  A sober ox perhaps?  No perhaps not.

This is why the republicans always talked about “ObamaCare” and not the real name “Affordable Health Care”.  Same bill; very different image.

So when we communicate, whether it’s to advertise a product or promote a campaign, we need to think about framing.  If we are talking to a staff group about the need for economies we need to emphasise the opportunities this will bring and the competitive edge it will give us.  So we talk about becoming lean and fit; fighting above our weight; getting back to our core values.  We don’t talk about cuts, or closures or losses.

The actual policy still needs to be right of course.  Much as it pains me to say it, the greatest PR in the world cannot cover up a rubbish plan.  But a good plan can be enhanced and a weak one mitigated if we get the communications right.

So the next time you plan a communication, think about how you want to frame the debate.  Do that before you say anything.  Afterwards, it may be too late.

Admit it, you still have an elephant in your mind.

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.

The Play’s the thing…


This blog post first appeared in the Somerset County Gazette.

It is play season in my daughters’ school.

I don’t mean that the kids are just playing all day now that SATS are done. Perish the thought.

And I don’t mean that the educational establishment has given up the long battle and finally agreed that Minecraft does in fact count as an exam subject and so can happily fill the school day.

No, it is time for the thespians to emerge; for speech to be enunciated in a slightly forced way as if speaking a new language for the very first time; for makeup and cross dressing to be brought firmly, fairly and non-judgementally into the mainstream.

It is the year 6 play.

We have had months of rehearsing, long evenings of line learning, and the CD on constant repeat so that the same songs rattle round my head as if a careless neurosurgeon had lost his iPad with the setting on “Disney songs”.

Finally, Aladdin was performed this week.

And very good it was too. The jokes were hardly Jimmy Carr (no bad thing) but generated a guffaw or two. The story was well known but still dramatic. The action was fast moving, and performed without a safety net. Everyone remembered their lines, and no one froze. Some songs were genuinely moving, and voices shockingly good. The crowds cheered and clapped and paid their £2.50 without a word of complaint.

A few of the parents got involved too spending happy hours setting up lighting, running long leads, plugging things in and shouting “one two” into mikes as if the whole experience had robbed us of the ability to count any higher.

What did I learn?

Well, the small parts are the ones that really make the play. The principles do a great job, but it is perhaps the actor with one line, or just one action to bring props in at the right moment that impress me. These are the things that make it all professional and slick.

Teachers do give up their time freely to direct, act, sew, paint, coach and support. Not a big surprise to many I guess, but in my day I’m pretty sure they were all down the pub by 4.

And much as I may mock, an ensemble piece of theatre does bring out the community spirit in us all.

What I didn’t learn is how in fact to find a genie. The lamps in our house are all suddenly well-polished, but no puff of smoke and no wish in sight. But I’ll keep trying: the show must go on.

What is customer engagement?


Customer engagement is a common phrase these days.  Used by lots of people in many contexts, it is in danger of becoming one of those phrases that can mean just about anything!  Like strategy.  Or love!

So, here is my take on what it is, why it’s important and how you do it.

In short, if you know what your customers (users, funders, commissioners, stakeholders, etc.) think about you, your product or service and your future ideas, you will be more successful.  It really is as simple as that.  This is not reactive, it is not about abdicating responsibility for having ideas, but checking that you are trying to solve a problem that does actually exist, and in a way that the people who might use it think is sensible.

And engaging allows you to do this. 

Engaging is not telling, not broadcasting, and not advertising.  It is a conversation or discussion which aims at understanding the views of your audience.  Using open questions and easy access platforms, you can gain insight into people’s views about what you do.

So start by working out who the people are and how to get to them!  Easier said than done, but make sure that you are targeting the influencers as much as possible, the people whose views will have resonance with others.  And remember to communicate in a way they want to be communicated with, not in the way that you feel comfortable with.  Social media is vital, but only if your audience use it.  I was working with a client recently and talking about all the whizzy modern ways we could send out information to her staff.  Then she reminded me that her home helps did not have offices, computers or any real social media knowledge.  So in this case a newsletter sent out with the payslips was the best plan. 

Then give good content.  Talk about what you are doing, and be frank about what you do not know. Much as it pains me to say it, people can see through PR.  If you tell them your plans and ask for their help, most people are happy to give it.

Respecting individuals means incentivising.  Why should people give you their time and opinions?  One consultation I am involved in at present pays people a small amount in recognition of their efforts.  Sometimes a free offer, or sample might work.  At the very least, make sure they realise that you are grateful, and crucially that you WILL act on what they told you.  There is nothing worse than giving your opinion and having it ignored.

Questionnaires, one to one interviews, formal market research, focus groups, insight interviews, open forums online…there are many options.

The key thing is to do it.  Try, fail, learn and try again.  And getting expert help is crucial.

Engagement works, and the only real failure is not doing it at all.


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.Continue reading