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.




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.


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.


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.


Live Interviews Are Getting Tougher

What the usual pundits forgot to mention in their rush to slag off Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn for failing to remember the facts in those horrendous election campaign interviews they gave, was what this tells us about live interviews in the digital age.

Radio presenters and producers like the folk you’ll encounter at LBC, talkSport, BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Scotland and so on are now being judged on how they perform on social media.

It might not be a formal ‘more hits = more pay’ but it’s a metric that’s given serious consideration.

All those clips of James O’Brien on Facebook will have an influence on his ratings and his position at the station. He wants success on the radio and he also wants success on social media.

And so when programme teams are preparing for interviews, I believe they are now going looking for the social media ‘moment’.

It’s routine now that the majority of radio interviews will be filmed. The cameras will be recording as soon as you enter the studio and they’ll keep going during any breaks in the programme. Mics down and red light off? Everything you say as you begin to relax in the presenter’s company is still being recorded and can be used against you!

Live radio interviews now require you to contend with a presenter who has set out from the beginning to break you. To find the moment you’re going to fall apart. Where you’ll go off message (or fail to communicate ANY message) and deliver that viral social media sensation they want so much.

Of course, Abbott and Corbyn deserved all they got for failing to put forward even the basic numbers. The questions they were asked weren’t even challenging. But it’s important you understand that live radio presenters are going out looking for those moments.

Don’t become a victim. The best approach is to practice. Practice with someone who truly understands the modern media environment and if you are more experienced at giving broadcast interviews recognise that the environment has changed. ‘Busking it’ is a dangerous game these days.

As well as our media training workshops and on demand training videos, we offer private 1-1 interview practice sessions in person, on the phone or via Skype. We can go through the questions you’re likely to be asked, I’ll help you craft answers and show you where all the pitfalls are. To find out more call 0808 133 1353 or use the ‘Contact‘ page.

It’s easy to laugh when others mess up. It’s much smarter to learn from what’s happened to them.



When To Sack The Boss

Lots of discussion this week about Sunderland FC manager David Moyes and his appalling comments towards a journalist doing her job in a post match interview.

And the same old ‘experts’ popping up on the phone-ins and social media with their take on what should happen as a result.

In my opinion, it’s perfectly straightforward and for me, it’s got little to do with what’s ‘sexism’ and what’s ‘banter’ and what ‘goes with the territory’ and everything to do with the law of the land and basic human decency.

I would sack David Moyes for what he said the other day because it’s a completely unacceptable way to behave.

He’s done the right thing by apologising and I don’t doubt his sincerity.

But the organisation has to move to protect its reputation and to send a signal to everyone else. It has to be seen to do the right thing, particularly given its position in the community and importance of those relationships.

Moyes made a terrible mistake and comments like that hint at a particular attitude which takes time to change. He shouldn’t be condemned or ostracised for good but in my opinion should be sacked for gross misconduct and take some time out of football to reflect and change.

Media relations, PR, crisis management…call it what you want all has its place but deciding what you stand for and acting upon it is far more important.



Teaching Digital

You’ll have seen the usual suspects yakking about Skyscanner getting sold to China and ‘where’s Scotland’s next billion pound tech company going to come from?’

If we’ve to have any chance of achieving our country’s digital ambitions…how about we stop schools from teaching children that digital is bad?

That’s right…not only are some schools failing to teach the essential digital skills for the 21st century workplace, they’re actively giving young people the impression that digital is bad.

Our Scottish Schools Radio project aims to give every school in Scotland access to their own live streaming internet radio channel and a package of digital journalism resources to help them find the balance between fun and self expression and reflecting the work that goes on in schools and the community around them.

Already we’ve heard some brilliant examples of work from the pupils, as they produce their programmes with just the right amount of support and encouragement from enthusiastic teachers who, like so many of us, passionately believe in the relevance and importance of digital skills in the classroom.

Where it causes extreme frustration is when teachers are, for example, unable to upload the MP3 audio files to our Dropbox folder because DROPBOX IS BLOCKED. They then turn to their email and attempt to send the files that way but can’t because…SENDING AN MP3 VIA EMAIL IS BLOCKED.



You and I know these networks aren’t really blocked.

You and I know that by ‘blocked’, what they mean is ‘come and ask permission and we’ll set it up for you.’


Make it clear to local authority staff that they can make use of those channels, they just need permission, and then give the IT folks a rocket up the backside so they start giving that permission.

There’s a world of difference between ‘this site can’t be accessed right now, dial 412 and we’ll sort it out’ and ‘this site is blocked’.

Stop treating teachers like criminals because they want to use technology in education.

Stop putting education professionals with the best intentions of the pupils at heart in positions where they look like fools because they can’t get a bloody email to work.

And stop pupils leaving at the end of the day thinking that this so called ‘place of education’ is hopelessly irrelevant.

‘But why would a teacher want to send an MP3 via email?’ some will no doubt ask.

‘Why would a teacher want to use Dropbox in a classroom, show something on YouTube, or bring up Skyscanner?’

If you have to ask, you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a school as far as I’m concerned.

It’s perfectly possible to be safe, secure, compliant and still use essential digital technologies.

And if you can’t figure that out, you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an IT Department.


Christine And The Queens


‘I want to be one with the desire, rather than simply being desired.’

The words of French singer songwriter Héloïse Letissier who you may have seen recently on Graham Norton’s TV show or perhaps the BBC coverage of Glastonbury.

Here’s the video for her track ‘Tilted’ which has got a lot of people noticing her.

Her recent TV exposure and live performances have led to all sorts of comparisons and labels (Michael Jackson, Madonna, ‘pansexual’) but most encouraging is the fact her UK tour sold out in less than a week. Here we have an artist that music fans up and down the country have been waiting for.

As a dancer Christine has few equals. The choreography is outstanding, there’s an energy and a quiet confidence to the whole thing and the production of the track, (which she wrote and produced…yes, the beats and bass you hear were laid down by Christine herself using actual software and her ears. Just as men and women can use Microsoft Word to type they can also use ProTools and FL Studio to make music…who’d have thought it?!) has propelled her album to No.1 in Belgium, 6 in the UK, 2 in France and 3 in Ireland.

That sell out UK tour will be preceded by what’s almost certainly going to be a sell out US tour boosted by a critically acclaimed performance at SXSW earlier this year.

So to Christine and what she stands for.

First and foremost, great tunes, smart lyrics, a world class performance and a deep love of pop music.

But there’s more.

In an age where feminism has never had a higher profile yet where women have never been more exploited it’s inevitable Christine will attract interest because she’s doing it differently.

Early interviews and commentary makes reference to the ‘queer’ movement, Wikipedia claims Héloïse identifies as ‘pansexual’ although my French isn’t what it was and I can’t translate this clip in its entirely I think what she’s saying is that she doesn’t believe in labels or reducing sexuality to a single word.

For me, Christine represents being yourself and going at it with passion.

She’s driven, talented and doing it all on her own terms.

I admire the fact she sings a proportion of her lyrics in French – it sounds brilliant, and the bursts of cover versions she uses in her performances (Chaka Khan ‘I Feel For You’, Technotronic ‘Pump Up The Jam’) tells me her love of pop music transcends what’s ‘cool’.

Any artist who defies categorisation will face challenges.

MTV wasn’t sure what to do with Michael Jackson at the release of ‘Thriller’, hence the guitar solo in ‘Beat It’.

Christine doesn’t have (yet) today’s slick band of super producers queuing up to write for her. That’s fine but it means there’s perhaps a slight lack of depth to her set and maybe some justifiable accusations of filler material. Although it’s still relatively early in Christine’s career so that will likely change.

And she’ll struggle to make the major radio station playlists. For reference, she received considerably fewer plays on UK radio in the last 30 days than Huey Lewis And The News although BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music are supportive and she’s had spot plays on various Capital network stations.

Social media then is her friend and it’s fuelling considerable interest. That sold out UK tour (which wraps up in my hometown of Glasgow in November!) will likely be followed by a return visit at larger venues, her physical performances will ensure healthy TV interest and magazines and blogs will dissect much of what she says and stands for.

All of that – along with her talent, confidence and individuality – will lead, as it always does to Christine receiving what she says she isn’t in this for, that is ‘to be desired’.

There will be interest, opportunities, pressure and inevitably criticism.

For me, there’s nothing worse than someone who doesn’t like labels being labelled as the person for people who don’t like labels.

Let’s just let her be and enjoy what she creates.

And I hope she keeps dancing.


Women: Equality But Still A Commodity

Read this story about the weather presenter who’s colleague handed her a cardigan live on air because he thought her dress was too revealing.

Notice at the end of the post, which she says is her ‘explanation’ of what happened and to clear up any confusion, she includes links to some of the mainstream media coverage of the incident.

Much of that media coverage was along the lines of, ‘what right does a male co-presenter have to tell a female colleague what to wear?’ but it also sparked an online discussion about whether or not her dress was too revealing for a weather presenter.

All this equals clicks and page views and traction. And for the presenter herself, it meant interview requests, increased attention and a higher profile. She seems to be OK with that, given her decision to post links to the news coverage the episode received.

The cumulative effect of all this is yet more media coverage of a woman based on what she wears, and how she looks and nothing about her ability to do the job. The media knows this kind of story generates strong feelings, sparks debate and will be one of their ‘most clicked’ stories. That’s why they all run it.

There’s a terrible risk that debates about equality and the position of women at work get reduced to polarised debates which still involve images of the woman being widely shared and comment being passed on her looks. That’s not equality. It’s certainly not news.

No, it’s the position of women in society being used as clickbait and I can’t be the only one that doesn’t like it.

Same for the coverage last week about the high heels at work, and last year about Charlotte Proudman and the bloke on Linkedin. (No fault of their own, but the manner in which the media covered it).

Here’s the thing: men and women will interact at work. Sometimes it will be banter, sometimes it will be an innocent mistake, sometimes a serious mistake, sometimes a publicity stunt, sometimes abuse.

The trick is to get better at establishing which of these it is and being honest about your motivation for publishing the story.

And if you’re serious about addressing gender imbalance in society, how about the media using its resources and clout and exposing the worst offenders. The managers that bully men and women into not taking their full paternity allowance. The gang masters that traffic women (and sometimes young girls) into this country and force them to work in the sex industry to pay off family debt, and the bosses of firms that hire sales execs ‘cos she’s got a cute ass’.

The media could find and expose these people right now. But they don’t, because it would involve telling stories about men, with grainy pictures to accompany them.

And how many clicks would that be worth?


Facebook Instant Articles

More and more businesses like to see themselves as ‘content creators’.

Few act like it.

If you’re serious about your content business, you’ll set things up to publish material as Facebook Instant Articles and Google’s AMP service.

Why? Because your audience will appreciate getting the content they want, on the platform they enjoy it the most, at lightning fast speeds.

Once you’ve experienced Instant Articles as a user, you become frustrated and intolerant at businesses not using it, because their stuff takes longer to load. The experience just isn’t so good.

After a period where Instant Articles were only available to select partners, Facebook has now rolled out Instant Articles to everyone with a business page. There’s a step by step process which it walks you through. If you want to keep things simple with basic design you can, but if you want to fully customise and brand it all up you can do that too.

Setting my blog up to auto post Instant Articles and AMP took almost a full day, but I had very little knowledge of what I was doing. There was a lot of trial and error and a lot of false starts before I realised that my WordPress blog could use the handy plug-in which makes things very simple.

I reckon now I could set it up from scratch in a little over an hour.

The point is, if me on my own can set it all up, and I know other very small business owners who’ve done the same, then what is stopping some of these bigger businesses?

If you’re serious about the content creation business, prove it.

And if you need help setting up your site to public Facebook Instant Articles, please get in touch by sending a message on Facebook or by visiting the contact form on my website and I’ll see what I can do.