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 www.webershandwick.co.uk – 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.

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