Questions For Oxfam

This morning I have put the questions below to OXFAM’s media team and I shall publish their response here when I receive it.

1) OXFAM is a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). What if anything did the other members of that organisation know about the allegations concerning the work of some members of OXFAM’s team in Haiti, and allegations concerning the wider OXFAM operation, such as the shops in the UK as reported today?

2) OXFAM says it issued a press statement in September 2011 concerning the original Haiti allegations. Where is this statement and what did it say?

RESPONSE: Link to 2011 press statement.

3) OXFAM says it was given advice in 2011 that it would be counterproductive given the situation in Haiti at the time to report the allegations to the police. With the passage of time, the situation in Haiti has improved and OXFAM has apologised for what went on. Therefor, what steps have they taken to report these historical allegations to the police now?

4) OXFAM has apologised several times and its Deputy Chief Executive has resigned, stating that she takes ‘full responsibility’ for what happened. What, specifically, are they apologising for? What, specific responsibility is she taking? The organisation has apologised ‘to supporters, and the people of Britain and Haiti’ for a ‘moral failure’ ‘appalling behaviour of some staff’ and the organisation’s failure to deal with it properly. You can’t go to the police and accuse someone of ‘behaving appallingly’, they need to know specifically what you think happened. When you’re 7 years old, you can’t go to your parents and say ‘I’ve been really bad’ and expect to make amends, you have to tell them exactly what you did. And I’m still waiting for this detail from Oxfam.

5) Answering these questions would in no way compromise the investigation organised by the UK charity regulator. It is more than capable of finding and evaluating evidence and reaching conclusions on its own and OXFAM answering the questions above, to the public, now, will have no impact on that investigation and I would not accept OXFAM using this situation as a reason not to answer the questions.

6) These allegations involve a very small number of OXFAM staff and workers world-wide. It is a tragedy that so much hard work and commitment and so many people are now distressed and let down because of a tiny proportion of colleagues. Not to mention those on the receiving end of this behaviour. It’s easy to dismiss this (as was the case at the BBC, News of the World, Catholic Church and other organisations where things have gone wrong) as the actions of ‘a few bad people’. In my view, things like this are more likely to happen where these is a pervading sense of entitlement and there is evidence of that throughout the wider organisation and in other areas of the sector in general. Anytime where you have individuals, or in this case a charity, considering itself to be ‘a brand’ you are in dangerous territory in my opinion.

7) OXFAM should consider outsourcing its existing work to other charity partners and concentrating on getting its own house in order. They cannot and should not even attempt to ‘control’ or ‘manage’ this crisis. New procedures are all very well but they had existing procedures which clearly haven’t worked. It’s not for OXFAM to decide what happens next with this. They need to stop what they’re doing and fix things. That should probably begin with a meeting with the relevant authorities in Britain and Haiti. OXFAM does and has done some tremendous work but it has no divine right to exist. The world would carry on just fine without OXFAM and the leadership of the organisation need to understand that and take what steps are necessary to involve other organisations in their work, while they deal with this situation.

8) When someone resigns, taking full responsibility for what happened, why are they being thanked on their way out the door? Are they being thanked for their service, or thanked for taking responsibility? And if they’re being thanked for ‘taking’ responsibility, then with whom did the responsibility lie originally? It doesn’t automatically follow that the individual who ‘takes’ responsibility was ultimately responsible. OXFAM needs to provide some clarity around this.

New Skills PR Professionals Might Consider

I’m not saying you need all of these, or even any of them, but I’m often asked ‘what’s next’ and what smart public relations and communications professionals can do to make themselves more useful to their organisations. Here are a few suggestions.

1) Learn To Code
It’s not enough to have a static message anymore, you should consider building interactive digital assets. They can seriously enhance a story and make it much harder to ignore you. Check for an example. It’s as simple as data exported from an EXCEL spreadsheet, displayed in an engaging way and with a nice interface for users to input their data. It’s not the most advanced piece of code you’ll ever encounter but that’s the point – if an organisation had that ability within its communications team there would be no need to outsource to a software developer. A bit of ‘coding awareness’, your confidence would grow and you’d see opportunities to take drab press releases and turn them into multimedia attractions. There was a time when a skill such as ‘typing’ was the domain of a few specialists, now it’s something we all expect to do. I think the same will be true of coding in a few years.

2) Become A Drone Pilot
You know video is where it’s at and think of the possibilities if you were able to take to the skies to get your footage! Hiring in outside help is expensive and means everything has to be planned in advance. You’re beholden to someone else’s availability. So why not learn? A decent drone can be yours for around £1,000, follow the safety guidelines and acceptable use and you can build up some practice, before undergoing more formal training and then seeking certification for commercial drone flying. This has the potential to turn into a nice sideline business of your own.

3) Analyse Data
It amazes me the number of organisations where communications and PR teams DON’T have access to website data analytics. You don’t need to know Google Analytics inside out but I think everyone in our field should have a grasp of the basics. Where do website visitors come from, which social media channel is the most effective in terms of your business objectives (not just the number of visitors) what do they do on your site, the pages that work, and those that don’t. That allows you to make informed decisions about what to change and goes some of the way to solving the issue around ‘how do we measure the success of our PR work?’. Get to grips with Google analytics ‘Goals’ and set up filters to keep the data pure. Lots of free training is available for this and it’s nowhere near as daunting as it looks.

4) Leadership
When I started my career, the accountants always ended up running the place. That’s starting to change. Smart organisations recognise the communications revolution and the need to adapt. That means a change in culture – becoming more transparent, sorting out their ethics and starting to engage their staff. That’s where you come in. There’s an opportunity for communications professionals to get right to the top. Are leaders born or bred? I’ll leave that to the experts but I know what a 12 week course of management training did for my confidence back in 2003 – even if you don’t end up an MD or CEO it’ll take you forward in other ways. Better still if you can get your employer to pay for the training. Get in the bosses’s face when they’re talking about succession planning.

5) Presenting
If you can back up confident presentation skills with substance you’re in a great position. Sometimes you’ll be pitching to external clients and stakeholders, sometimes it’s your own team or another department…the fact is standing up and talking – explaining, convincing, persuading – is becoming a daily part of our working lives. I meet people all the time who tell me they’re either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at presenting as though somehow once you’ve done it a few times your abilities are set in stone. It’s not like that at all. Take control, get some practice and feedback and start presenting with confidence. Want to improve your presentation skills – you can.

6) IT/Computer Literacy Skills
My Dad is amazing at DIY. And I’m abysmal. I watched him doing some work in my house once and realised that where I’d always thought he was blessed with some sort of incredible skill and talent in this area he actually isn’t. Instead, he’s got a solid understanding, a tonne of experience but above all an attitude that when he encounters a new problem, he’ll find a way round it. He expects to be able to solve the problem. Sometimes it involves trial and error. Sometimes he’ll look up the answer in a book or on the internet. Sometimes he’ll ask someone more experienced and skilled than himself. There’s no innate gift. Whereas when I try a DIY job I lose my mind at the slightest issue and never recover. It’s the same for some people with IT and computer literacy. What do you do if you can’t hear yourself on Skype? How do you set up Dropbox to allow someone else to send you files? Do you know how to turn on ‘screen mirroring’ on your laptop? There’s a myriad of things of course and I’m not for a minute suggesting you go behind the IT department’s back and start changing settings without permission. Instead, get a grip on the basics and an understanding of their world. There are some things you WON’T be able to do and if your IT colleagues recognise you as someone that’s made an effort to understand them, it’ll hold you in good stead. And being able to quickly use your phone and laptop to their full potential will make your life much easier and you’ll be more effective and confident in your role.

7) Practice Mindfulness
Us humans were never designed to live in towns and cities let alone carry mobile phones around with us all day. Work, rest and play have all changed dramatically in the last few years and since the economic collapse of 2008 we’ve all probably felt an increase in pressure to some degree. It’s probably not going away anytime soon and the one constant is change. It seems that change is constantly relentless and some pretty smart people are predicting even greater ‘digital disruption’ lies ahead, impacting every business and organisation significantly in the next few years. Driverless cars anyone?! We’ve all got a responsibility to look after our health and wellbeing and it’s great that some of the stigma around mental health is now being overcome. It improves our lives and makes us more effective – why wouldn’t you want to embrace it! ‘Mindfulness’ is the current term that we hear a lot but you might find value in particular books, yoga, meditation, or where appropriate some form of counselling. Think about your mental health but also learn to understand everyone else you meet will have their own world view and their own way of working. There are some great practitioners working in this field – Connie McLaughlin for example is doing some outstanding work with people to lead teams.




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.



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.

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?

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.

How does your business speak?

When I discuss this issue with clients, we often turn to social media, press releases, media interviews etc and sometimes they’ll pull out brand guidelines or ‘tone of voice’ documents which they’ve developed.

All of these can be useful and have their place.

But what if we take the question literally…how does the business actually speak? How do the staff speak to each other? How do managers speak to their team?

I’ve just sent off a complaint email to a major high street retailer after hearing a manager haranguing a colleague – in front of customers – at one of its stores in Glasgow.

It was a disgraceful display of aggression and unprofessionalism and if the member of staff is subjected to this regularly then I’d suggest that amounts to bullying. Needless to say I left the store without buying my magazine and won’t return until my complaint is resolved.

One incident, involving one member of staff, has tarnished that brand, perhaps irreparably, in my eyes.

The way we speak says a great deal about our attitudes and values. How we treat people. How we see ourselves. And when we get it wrong – when the stress and pressure of the job is too much and spills over and we start snapping and barking at colleagues – we undo all the carefully thought through good work around social media, websites and PR campaigns.

And I’ve realised I’ve been guilty of this too. Last year, as many of you know, my wife Emma Baker joined our business full-time to lead on our corporate video and live event streaming activity. At a recent event, while setting up the equipment and with a tight deadline, I snapped at her while looking for a microphone in a way I never would have spoken to a client or other colleague. It was nothing like what I’ve just witnessed at that particular store, but it wasn’t good enough.

Let’s all endeavour to think about our tone and how we speak to each other. And if stress and pressure is causing us to behave in a way we know is less than our best, then we should take steps to deal with the underlying cause rather than taking it out on a colleague.

What song does Lucie Jones’ Eurovision entry remind me of?

Watching Eurovision last night I was struck by how many of the songs sound like other recent hits.

Several of the dance flavoured tracks seemed to borrow inspiration from Calvin Harris and our own Lucie Jones did a great job with ‘Never Give Up On You’ but I wonder if the chorus might sound a little close to ‘Mysterious Times’ by Sash. Take a listen.







Lucie Jones


Ed Sheeran recently amended the writing credits for his hit ‘Shape Of You’ to include two of the writers behind TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’.

You can hear the similarities between the 2 tracks below:

Might there be a case then for the Blessid Union of Souls to suggest that Starley’s current hit ‘Call On Me’ takes some influence from their 1995 hit ‘I Believe’? Have a listen to them both below:


Blessid Union of Souls

And what about Katy Perry’s ‘Chained To The Rhythm’? Can I hear a bit of Carly Simon’s ‘Why?’ in the background?

Carly Simon

Katy Perry

Just my opinion of course, but let me know what you think.
(Image of Lucie Jones used under Creative Commons Licence, with full credit to Mykola Swarnyk. )