Info overload

This morning I listened to the Today programme, read two national newspapers, two trade magazines, about 20 overnight emails, three blogs, a business proposal, some social media research, dozens of tweets and a few pages of a chapter on building duck ponds from my duck book. All before I got to the office.

We truly live in an Information Age and the daily risk of drowning in the stuff, losing focus and not being able to pick the wheat of ideas and insights from the chaff.

I was asked by one of my team,  in an internal company online q&a, what the essential traits of a PR professional are.

I offered these three;

Listening – the ability to listen as well as talk and offer an informed point of view

Creativity – innovative thinking with real business or other impact

Curiosity – an interest in the world around us, an enquiring and analytical mind.

In an information overload age, the curiosity bit is more essential than ever but so is the analytics.

I thought back to yesterday. I probably consumed the same, including the epic horrors of news from court cases, Oxford, Syria and beyond.

But the three most enjoyable experiences at work yesterday were in person, face to face. Lunch with a digital rising star with a music PR background, meeting one of our most awarded and fearless investigative journalists, meeting a pioneer of newspapers moving into the digital space who had reinvented himself as a niche content creator.

Amid all the digital and other media and information we consume, in our admirable curiosity, it is important we create space for talking and listening the people. The art of conversation.

Keep Calm…?

Based on over thirty years observing and working in elections, including sitting nervously in campaign war rooms waiting for election results to come in,  and more years than is good for me in communications and campaigning, here for what it is worth is my early take on last night’s results

UKIP benefited from the classic mid term blues and absence of the LibDems as the protest vote vehicle. Whist they remain an issue for both Tories and Labour in terms of their disaffected voters, they are not a Parliamentary electoral force, not least because of our voting system. They wont win a single seat, but will screw with Tory, and some Labour, heads in close run seats. They will increasingly focus on immigration to cement in those disaffected voters. But Farage will melt down in the intense glare of media and political scrutiny in a general election campaign where people will be voting for him against the other main party leaders, not for a local representative to manage the street lights in Lower Bogwallup. Many currently disaffected Tories who may have a “give ‘em a bloody nose” flutter in a local mid term election will not want to see Miliband in No10 and will vote Tory again.

The Tories have not done as badly as they could have given the economy. But UKIP related panic is already opening up the schism that damages the Tories most – on Europe.

Labour did not do as well as they should have. Ed M is still not connecting with the entire core vote or the winnable middle as Blair did. Neither has he established a clear and distinct policy platform as Blair did and we all had handily printed on our “pledge cards”, or convinced that he is a statesman and leader.

The Lib-Dems are pretty screwed.

Likely outcome of the next election is either a Lib-Lab coalition or Lib-Tory coalition.

But given yesterday’s blog on pundits, I am only 50% likely to be right!

Pundits, manifesto’s and avoiding the bullshit

Interesting item on The Today Programme this morning – an on an Election Day preceded by a volume of polls and predictions – with Nate Silver, the renowned (for being right) US political pundit.

 His basic thesis is that a lot of punditry is near worthless and the more credible and persuasive a pundit sounds, the more we should be sceptical. He pointed to a track record of UK punditry on everything from politics and elections to economic predictions, and that fifty per cent were wrong. So tossing a coin would be just as effective. He talked of “foxes” and “hedgehogs” in punditry, the former ferreting through many scraps of info and the latter just coming out with one big, newsworthy, prediction, often wrong but making for better copy and soundbites.

 Newsworthy but shallow is something Eric Hobsbawm addresses in his last book, Fractured Times. He writes about manifestos, great declarations of principles, policies or intentions, which he contrasts with what he saw as the many vapid “have a nice day” mission statements of today. He highlights The Communist Manifesto, but also Vivienne Westwood’s  art manifesto, as examples of great, thought through and often beautifully written works, more about inspiring collective action than generating headlines.

Of course what drives the more effective of our punditry today is technology and advances in data analysis. I met an entrepreneur this week who has created an app that lets you scan in clothing and can tell you where you can buy it. Some of the better research firms are driven by more effective technology as well as a more engaged way of digging below the surface of day to day fluctuations in public opinion.

 A few weeks ago our Science of Engagement planning tool, created by my excellent London based strategic planning team, working  with neuroscientists, anthropologists and psychologists, was named PR Product of the Year in the Sabre Awards. Briefly – and to do it full justice check it out at – it breaks how we engage with a brand or issue or idea into nearly forty measurable “drivers of engagement”. It is the “science” that sits alongside the creative “art” in my business.

 Another thing Silver urges us to reject are pundits who try to bedazzle us with jargon and overcomplicate things to impress us with their supposed credibility. I was pleased yesterday to sponsor CorpComms Magazine’s digital communications conference. Considering the amount of technical detail and algorithms, not to mention jargon and bullshit, around digital and social media commentary, it was refreshingly bullshit-free and focussed not on the shiny, but the solid. My key takeaway, and the guiding principle of my firm’s approach to digital, was: don’t talk social media strategy, talk social media strategy + content creation strategy + measurement and evaluation strategy, all driven by overall business or campaign strategy.

 Another nice moment of my week – other than the ducks if you follow me on Twitter – was hosting a talk, in aid of Comic Relief, by the brilliant and lovely Sasha Wilkins a.k.a LibertyLondonGirl. Sasha is one of our most influential fashion, food and lifestyle bloggers, a true entrepreneur and social media genius. She briefly explained her mastery of the technology, but focussed mainly on the beauty of her art, the highly visual and engaging way she showcases brands and ideas through creative content, across a range of social media channels.



 All in all it has been an inspiring week. And it’s only Thursday morning.