Politicians Learning To Be Nice

It’s true.

As this Tweet from Kate Forbes MSP explains, the Scottish Parliament recently held an event titled ‘Respectful Dialogue In Politics’.
















And I think all those who attended deserve credit. The truth is, despite the easy jokes about what a shock it is that MSPs would even contemplate treating each other with respect – this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Our parliament at Holyrood is the envy of countries all over the world because of its openness and atmosphere. And we’re lucky – so many of our elected representatives believe passionately in equality, fairness, trust and, of course, respect.

What we see on television and read about in newspapers is only a fraction of what goes on in the building at the bottom of the Royal Mile, and an even smaller slice of what the people involved get up to across the rest of their working lives.

So why does politics sometimes get a reputation as being ‘nasty’? And why, sometimes, do good people who know better find themselves drawn into situations where they resort to…well, let’s just call it ‘less respectful dialogue’?

I believe it all comes down to stress. It’s easy to speak in a respectful manner when you’ve got all the time you need. It’s tougher when you have to be extremely succinct. Tougher still when before you’ve even explained yourself someone else is going to argue. And nigh impossible when you might get heckled and interrupted. And remember before MSPs get to stand in the chamber and have those exchanges with their political opponents, they’ve probably had years climbing the ranks and dealing with competitors within their own party. It’s easy to see how some bad habits and ‘siege tactics’ might develop.

Then we have the media. Much of what the Scottish Parliament does is deathly boring. It might be important, in the long run, but for a media which has put resources into covering the parliament that’s no use. It needs stories and action every single day. And the easiest way to get that? Rows.

And politicians fall into the trap of giving them that, even when there’s no need.

A classic example came in the summer when former SNP leader, former First Minister and former MP Alex Salmond announced the launch of his show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Newspapers and TV news outlets sought comment from Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives. And of course, they gave the newspapers the comment and the criticism they wanted.

Why? There’s no need. The guy is no longer involved in politics. I’m sure he’ll be back but right now, politically, he’s nowhere. There’s no reason to comment and no reason to say anything other than ‘we wish him well’. What difference does it make to those parties whether a guy that used to represent the other lot does a comedy show at the Fringe? Slagging him off, as they did, just smacks of bitterness.

I don’t blame the media for asking for a quote, of course. But they should have asked an arts critic for comment and left it at that.

But what we have of course is ‘politics as entertainment’ and characters and caricatures built up as versions of themselves to be taken apart.

Spend some time at the Scottish Parliament and you’ll be amazed at the unity within the place. The amount on which all parties agree. The work they do and matters discussed that never make the headlines. The gentle, quiet, chipping away at old laws and bureaucracy and new legislation that goes in its place.

Of course, they don’t always get it right and it’s right that passionate, fierce, angry debate is encouraged and reported on.

But you can do all that and still remain respectful. And the majority of our parliamentarians do.

Maybe it’s time the media recognised that and gave them some space to get on with it.



10 Classic Paisley Town Centre Shops

With the 2021 City of Culture bid in and various efforts gathering pace bringing a buzz back to the town centre, let’s look back on some of my favourite shops from Paisley’s past. Could we take inspiration from some of them and kick start a retail renaissance?

10 – Jeans For Sale
An early tenant of the Paisley Centre, this was part of a nationwide chain that sold jeans (obviously) and jackets. Joe Bloggs, Benzini, NAF NAF and maybe even Kappa were all the rage. A small selection of mix tapes from raves could be found near the tills.

9 – Temptations
I never set foot in it but this was a women’s clothes shop just past the New Street cut off at the top end of the high street. When I was 13, one of my school friends got a Saturday job here and I thought she was terribly grown up and sophisticated. She was. I wasn’t, and various attempts at romance were rejected. Hope life is treating you well Gillian.

8 – Stereo One
I’d have lived in here in the early 90s if I could have. Completely ignored the downstairs bit and went straight upstairs to the dance/rave/techno section where I’d spend ages browsing the import only 12 inch vinyl like I new what I was doing and then walk out with a KLF CD single.

7 – Pitcher’s Sports
The building is now a dilapidated shell down Moss Street but for generations this was an essential visit. I got swimming trunks, darts, footballs and trainers from here and always enjoyed a good look round. They had printing hear too and could personalise tracksuits with your name on the back. Suffered greatly as some bloke from Ayrshire expanded his own sports retail chain. Sadly missed.

6- Rub A Dub Records
Now located in Glasgow’s Howard Street round from the St Enoch Centre it’s a little known fact that this top notch dance music and equipment retailer started out in Glen Street in Paisley. Its famous Native American logo and deliberate avoidance of all things commercial told you this was a serious music store.

 5 – John Menzies
Originally at the top of New Street, this well known retailer made a smart move into the former Woolworth’s store on the High Street in the late 80s, before selling up to WH Smith about 10 years later. The high street store was fantastic was a large music and games department upstairs. A sign of how things change – WH Smith has had the upstairs section closed for at least 15 years and now accommodates the post office too. Menzies saw the decline of retail and were well ahead of the game. Their distribution vans still pull up everyday delivering the goods that WH Smith try to sell. Now that’s smart.

4 – Tandy
You’d find this electrical components retailer in the pre-revamp Piazza. It’s where I bought my first audio mixer as my mobile DJ career began and my Dad bought the parts for the speakers he built me. Microphones, disco lights, soldering irons…you could get it all. The closest thing we have today would be Maplin. Maybe they’d consider opening in Paisley?

3 – Q96 FM
Not a shop of course but the premises they occupied at 26 Lady Lane gave me one of the best experiences of my life. It’s where my career in paid employment began, reading news and sports bulletins at weekends and progressing to full-time employment. Under-resourced, under marketed and probably never fully appreciated until long after they’d sold up and left town as a young boy growing up on the outskirts of Paisley being able to access a 24 hour local radio station was a dream. Struggled to gain local businesses as advertisers through the various recessions but with the Paisley Daily Express long ago shutting their office, surely there’s a place for a local media producer? There’s various interest in a potential community licence and as a vehicle for bringing the whole town together, it may well find a place.

2 – McDougall Brothers Books
Hard to believe that for a while, in the early 90s, Paisley supported 2 full-on book stores. McDougalls on Moss Street which I think is now a food shop aimed at the Polish community, was joined for a while by Hatchards just up the road. The competition was short-lived and I think damaged both. Older generations than mine remember McDougall’s very fondly and even as a 9 year old picking up the latest Roald Dahl it always felt like a good, reliable shop with staff that cared. Greatly missed.

1 – Wimpy
More recently Burger King and then an embarrassing empty space for what seemed like an eternity this is surely a prime retail spot on the high street. Just up from Paisley Cross and smack in the middle as you walk up from the railway station. I had birthday parties in here, met early girlfriends, persuaded my Mum to take us in for tea if were were dragged in on an after school shopping trip…and you always need a place to get a good burger. BK took things up a gear by opening the basement for a while but a slow decline began and for reason’s I’m unable to fathom but that McDonald’s no doubt agree with, operators of multi national fast food premises seem unable to make it work in Paisley in the current climate. What was Wimpy is now the HQ of the Paisley 2021 bid team, I’d like to see it thrive again…maybe as the site of a new community media venture one day?

It’s All About The Experience

There’s irrefutable evidence that the unique ‘experience’ is what we all want these days.

A recent article about Barrhead Travel’s expansion highlighted the demand for customised holiday experiences, rather than simply cheap flights and hotels.

I’ve just spent a small fortune in the M+Ms store at Leicester Square, buying gifts for the family. I’d mentioned after my last trip to London that there was an amazing 4 storey building devoted to the tiny little sweets and mentioned some of the merchandise it sold. This turned into a full blown discussion about the madness of it all, but after I showed my Mum some YouTube clips from other visitors she was quickly won over and insisted I brought her something back from my next trip! And then there’s my kids…my nephews etc etc!

Round the corner in Covent Garden, ice cream giant Magnum has a pop up shop where you can ‘make your own Magnum’ and then eat it in the cafe area. At every stage in the process, there are opportunities to take and share pictures of you ‘experiencing’ Magnum on social media. It’s like the ‘Build A Bear’ workshop for adults!

Smart brands are going to great lengths to unlock there’s ‘experience’ opportunities.









It could be expanding a range of merchandise, bringing products to life, turning them into characters, or letting people in on the creative process…how are these products made? Can customers ‘have a go’ at making their own?

Break down your customer journey and your manufacturing process and look for opportunities to let people in and turn it into an attraction.

Perhaps radio cou

ld turn weekly playlist meetings or music research into an event, which as well as gathering useful focus group, market research data, also serves as a powerful marketing activity.

Choose selected listeners who’ve downloaded your app, send them push notifications and invite them along to the ‘Playlist Night’. Put on some food and drink, show them round, explain how you choose what songs get played, let them hear the latest releases and canvas their views.

Many stations I listen to have white label ‘dating’ apps. Why not turn the ‘playlist night’ into a ‘music testing/speed dating’ event. You could charge a modest admission fee for that and you’d be giving a desirable audience a unique experience they’ll tell their friends about, thus marketing your station.

And if you think ‘nice idea but no-one will ever do it’ – think again. Some station already is because I’ve just overheard a woman raving about the whole experience to her friend on the tube. It’s the first time in years I’ve overheard someone talking enthusiastically about something involving a radio station.

Much is made of the digital revolution. But ‘digital’ alone is 1s and 0s and boring as hell. Digital that works is expressing the physical in a digital space. Enjoying a unique real life experience and keeping a permanent digital record that we carry with us everywhere we go and expressing how that physical experience has made us feel, in the digital realm.

Think about how you can unlock the unique experiences associated with your business.

Union Jack Radio Advert At Scotland Game

If the object of advertising is to raise awareness and get yourself talked about, then mission accomplished for the team at Union Jack Radio.

Their pitchside digital display ad during tonight’s Men’s World Cup Qualifier at Hampden has put a radio station few had heard of previously right at the heart of the conversation – look at this:

So what’s happened…don’t they understand?!

You might argue ‘Why the fuss?, Why shouldn’t Scotland embrace the Union Flag and enjoy a radio station that plays the best British music?’

A valid argument perhaps but it’s about context. And in the context of football, especially the Scotland national team, playing at home, at Hampden, the Union Flag doesn’t really figure. And for once, it’s not a debate about independence or remaining part of the union, the flag itself just doesn’t figure, regardless of political beliefs.

My personal belief (and that’s all – I’ve no knowledge of this particular situation) is that an advertising agency bought some space, probably part of a blanket campaign to involve promoting Union Jack Radio at ALL the home nations’ World Cup qualifiers. They haven’t thought, haven’t realised, just had an opportunity and threw their logo at it.

What they do next is the important bit.

Because cheeky advertising is bang on the brand values for Union Jack Radio (and its better known sister station Jack FM.) Tongue in cheek is what they do, and with this pitch side advertising at Hampden, they might have inadvertently stumbled into something that could truly connect and go viral.

So, if they’re smart, they’ll respond to some of these Tweets from incensed Scotland fans. Maybe reference the score. Some Scottish bands. Opt out of their jukebox for a bit and hire a well known Scottish personality to host some programmes for them. Or – and I believe the technology would allow for this – change their advert in the 2nd half to reference the slagging they’re currently taking on Twitter.

It’s easy to get reach and awareness these days. True engagement is harder, and to get Scottish football fans to scan their digital radios for a new station and actually give it a listen, is nigh impossible.

But if Union Jack follows up what many believe to be a mistake with something clever and utilise real-time, then they could still win some new fans before the final whistle blows.

The key is the follow up. Trolling Scotland fans and making them angry doesn’t constitute marketing ‘genius’ although I’ll bet some self-appointed PR ‘guru’ writes a blog in the morning suggesting it does. No, reach and getting talked about is the easy part. For this particular piece of advertising to have any value, Union Jack Radio needs us to listen.

The Problem With Half-Baked Blogs

Last week, a friend mentioned a business I hadn’t heard of before.

And the first thing I did?

Looked up their website.

Of course it was perfectly slick and visually impressive but what about the people behind this business? Were they everything they claimed to be? Could I trust them? What were they really like? Were they busy and doing well, do they know what they’re talking about or was it all just bluster? Is the business run by local people that know this area or is it a big organisation down south that’s been able to get to the top of the Google rankings?

The website itself couldn’t give me all the answers, so I looked deeper.

And this is something I do on almost every website of every business I look at – I clicked on the page titled ‘Blog’.

It’s there I often get better insight into what things are really like. And if the page is ‘half-baked’ – e.g. says simply ‘coming soon’ or there’s one post from April 2012, another from July 2014 and nothing since, then for me it can set alarm bells ringing.

Of course there’s often a very good reason why a blog can be half-baked, for example the business owner is too busy getting on with work to sit down and write one and there have been times I’ve been in that position myself.

So, if you’ve got a ‘Blog’ page on your website, ask yourself if you really are committed to it. Do you want to keep it? Are you prepared to update it – at least once a month? If you’re not, take it down, because a half-baked blog makes you look bad.

A good blog can be a highly effective and low cost form of marketing. It can explain who you are and what you do, attract the right sort of customer, educate them a little in terms of how you like to do business, and, crucially, bring in enquiries while you’re busy working.

Many business owners I know like to use ‘ghost writing’ blogging services in conjunction with their own efforts. This means the ghost writing service might create 2-3 posts a week, while the business owner might manage one a month. It saves time and gets content published but I always worry about the loss of the authentic voice. As a customer, I like to know that what I’m reading some straight from the mind of the business owner and I do think audiences can spot a fraud.

Of course there are good and bad blogging services and a good one should be able to understand what you would be saying and how you’d say it if you were writing every post yourself, and so audiences couldn’t tell the difference. Whatever you decide, I think it’s important to do at least SOME of the blogging yourself.

Many of us have been sold this myth that a blog post someone has to be equivalent in length to an essay. It doesn’t! Some of the best blogs I read are extremely short. A nice rule of thumb is one thought = one blog. And if you can do that in a couple of sentences…well done!

The key is to add value. To give your audience something useful, interesting, humorous…get it right and you’ll start enjoying the writing and, I hope, see some interesting new opportunities emerging for your business.

When leaders are let down

Ruth Davidson’s quite rightly getting a lot of criticism for her decision to allow 2 Conservative Party councillors suspended after offensive comments on social media to remain in her party.

You can read the full story here.

What interests me most is the justification Ruth gives for allowing them back in to their positions.

She talks about ‘giving them the opportunity to change’, about their determination to change and how they have undergone some diversity training and signed up for some further personal development work to ensure they build a genuine, better understanding of the people their original remarks were aimed at.

All very admirable and who am I to doubt any of their intentions – I do not know these people.

However, I know politics and the media and how these things will play out and be interpreted. I know leadership.

And leadership is about much more than how you deal with these 2 individuals who’ve screwed up. It’s about the message you send to everyone else, about what you will and will not stand for and about the real and serious consequences when you are let down. It’s about your own personal values and people are judging Ruth right now on how she’s dealing with this pair. It tells us something about her. Or at least about her approach to leadership in this role.

There is almost always a way back..and so there should be. Forgiveness, and second – and sometimes third – chances are important.

But there has to be change first. Sometimes punishment too. There needs to be a spell in the wilderness, there should be loss of status, time for reflection, maybe even a degree of suffering. Particularly, when you are only in that position in the first place because a party has put its weight behind you, and the electorate have put their faith in you at the ballot box.

It’s very admirable that the 2 individuals involved in this situation have expressed a genuine desire to change. They should be given that chance and left to get on with it.

But they should have been kicked right out of their positions and the party that put them there.

And when they feel ready to come back, they should be welcome to apply through the proper channels. Apply for membership, stand for selection, stand as candidates and, as ever, let the people decide.

Having read her quote in the article above, it seems to me that in her treatment of these 2 councillors, Ruth Davidson has simply followed a process.

Personal Space

The DJ David Mueller who sued Taylor Swift claiming she got him the sack had his case thrown out last week.

And now a jury has found in favour of Swift’s countersuit that the radio host subjected her to a sexual assault, grabbing her bum while she posed for photos with fans at a meet and greet.

Amidst the discussion and coverage, much of which has been accurate and helpful and some of which hasn’t, an interesting piece of evidence from Taylor’s mother Andrea has perhaps been overlooked.

Here’s part of what she said during her testimony:

‘One of the things I think that stuck with me [about that night] was that [Taylor] couldn’t believe that after the incident, after he grabbed her, that she thanked him for being there.
She said thank you. It was destroying her that she said that after someone did that to her. It made me question why I taught her to be so polite in that moment.’

Here’s a woman, at work, behaving like the professional she is, appreciating the fans and industry representatives who’ve helped her achieve the success she has enjoyed, the complete antithesis of the stereotypical ‘pop star diva’ throwing a strop over the mineral water not being the correct temperature, suffering a gross invasion of her personal space, a sexual assault and still ending up fighting that instinct that she owes him something.

And then Taylor and her mother had the issue of how to deal with the matter. In testimony, Andrea said they didn’t want publicity. Taylor didn’t want this issue to define her and predicted a myriad of internet memes about ‘Taylor Swift’s Ass’ – you only need to look at Google Trends and a glance through Twitter to see their fears were well founded.

This should not be framed by anyone as an entertainment story and it’s only due to the vagaries of the US legal system (and the actions of Mueller, the perpetrator who had the gall to raise the original action) that this entire case was heard in a civil court rather than a criminal one.

I’ve heard it said that men who commit these sorts of offences towards women do so out of a sense of entitlement. And this – doing it and then trying to violate her again by suing when his actions led to the loss of his job – seems a powerful example of exactly what they mean.

But maybe it also gives those of us who need it some further insight into how it must feel for women on the receiving end of this. From being grabbed, to wolf whistles, revenge porn, inappropriate comments on Linkedin and all the rest…if someone of Taylor Swift’s stature has to fight an instinct that says ‘thank you’ for attending the meet and greet…how much harder and more confusing must it be for others? And maybe we should all be more supportive of those who do call this behaviour out for what it is.

Can Town Centre Drone Racing Save Your High Street?

If you haven’t seen ‘Drone Racing League’ on Sky Sports, take a look at this:

Now let’s play with the idea a little and see if there’s a way of adapting this emerging sport into a family friendly large scale event in high streets and town centres all over the country.

There’s a million reasons NOT to do it and many problems to overcome but imagine crowds lining either side of a pedestrianised street, video screens showing feeds straight from the drones as they race up and down and in and out of empty shop buildings (which for the purposes of the event become a positive asset rather than a hindrance).

Think of the sponsorship potential – individual races, the course, various stunts and obstacles, disused premises – all present opportunities for branding and sales.

And think about the signal it sends out. The energy and enthusiasm it starts to have people associate with your town centre? When was the last time something genuinely exciting happened in your high street? People throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK and beyond are currently clamouring for opportunities either to race drones or to watch, and they’re having to go to large out of town sites to do it. That could change.

No surprise it’s already happening in America.

But now in the UK various drone racing groups are being formed and despite what you might read in the media, many drone enthusiasts are responsible and abide by the rules. They’d welcome the opportunity to show off what they can do and discuss their hobby in more detail. If you’re a forward thinking local authority looking for that ‘wow factor’ and something different, why not bring them right into the heart of one of your greatest assets, before the shopping centres start doing it.

What about the tourism potential for some of Scotland’s islands? Imagine a drone racing grand prix taking in Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae, Skye and Arran?

‘Endeavour’ or ‘Try’?












What do you do?

In ‘Plain English’ and ‘Kill The Jargon’ sections of my training we take on corporate-speak.

It’s easy to rant and insist every last example should be eliminated but can it really.

The ‘endeavour vs try’ debate is an interesting one.

My 5 year old son ‘tries’.

A Scottish Government quango, utilities company or major employer..really, should organisations like this be ‘trying’?

Or is it OK for them to endeavour?

When you’re thinking about style guides, tone and use of language on your website and social media, don’t let ‘Plain English’ become a vague aspiration. Think about what it’s going to mean to you in practice, day in, day out. And live it.

Could your organisation say ‘we’ll try’ instead of ‘we’ll endeavour’?

And what would the effect be if it did?

I can tell you. If you took ‘Plain English’ to that degree, pretty soon you’d start changing your company culture.

And that would be no bad thing. It’s going to have to change soon anyway.

Crisis Comms: The Holding Statement

Ask a PR, social media or ‘comms person’ what’s the first thing they should do in a crisis and many will cite the ‘holding statement’ as an example of good practice.

And it is.

For about 20 minutes.

It was never intended to be anything more than that.

As the hours tick by, the number of casualties goes up and details emerge it is incumbent upon you, and whoever it is you represent, to go much further.

Not because it’s ‘good PR’ or ‘right for the business’ but simply because it is morally the right thing to do.

HR, legal and the tired old ex hack who takes a consultancy fee but spends half his time on the golf course might turn pale at the thought of this; but in a crisis, doing and saying what’s morally right matters the most.

That holding statement buys you a bit of time, and nothing more.

In a crisis, your job is not to issue a statement and lock things down.

Your job is to deal with questions. There will be many and they will be emotionally charged.

You should put someone up. Face an interview. You don’t need to answer the questions or get into detail if you’re unable to right now but you should stand there and take them and treat the situation with the respect it deserves.

People need to see the effect this is having on you. They need to be able to ask questions and make points and it will benefit you if you take these questions, craft responses and come back with updates and answers. It is not a time to hide. And you must not let the legal team, HR or ‘crisis protocol’ stop you from demonstrating your ultimate loyalty, which is to your fellow human beings.

Too often I see businesses and agencies representing them changing from friendly and social to defensive, cold and corporate, hiding behind bland statements issued and then updated once in 12 hours.

You were my friend yesterday.

You need to be my friend again today. More than ever.