My worst (and best) business experiences of 2022

Unhappy yellow face against a brick wall

“Your call is important to us…”

Does anyone believe these empty business promises from bots while navigating automatic call filtering processes?

Services mishandled, calls unanswered and complaints ignored. Dealing with big organisations seems much more difficult, as customer services automate and default to online. It feels like only those bloody minded enough to complain or kick off online will get meaningful responses from this set-up (I am one of those people).

I’ve had frustrating times on the phone trying to resolve various issues since setting up Distinctive Communications earlier this year. A recent Sunday Times article asking why nothing in Britain works as it should highlights that I’m not alone (£).

It’s brought home to me how detached some organisations are from their customers. It also begs a question: why the hell do we put up with this?

Continue reading “My worst (and best) business experiences of 2022”

Post-truth mindset must leave government with Truss

Liz Truss on the podium at a press conferene on 14 October 2022

Liz Truss’ press conference performance last Friday had the air of a disgruntled employee working out their notice in a job that was never for them.

Terse and evasive, her blank stare resembled a zoned out manager who had reached the end of their tenure. Taking just four questions from a room full of journalists – and answering none properly – failed to match the seriousness of the moment.

And don’t forget, this was the moment when her economic policy fell apart, less than a month after its unveling. She announced it without contrition, suggesting that the markets weren’t ready for her Growth Plan.

It plumbed new depths for a format that too many treat as an opportunity to ‘get their message out’ rather than properly engage the media on nationally significant events. Listening on the radio, journalists’ exasperation when Truss left the room after eight minutes was palpable. I shared their bewilderment watching it again afterwards.   

Liz Truss’ eight-minute press conference on 14 October 2022

This highlights a long-running issue with spin that I’ve banged on about for years. But they’re not even spinning a line any more. They’ve stopped answering questions and left us staring at an empty podium wondering what the hell just happened.

Here are a few moments which hopefully illustrate my point.  

Continue reading “Post-truth mindset must leave government with Truss”

Five place points from the Growth Plan

A copy of the Growth Plan

Just when we thought things couldn’t get any stranger…

Friday’s heavily trailed fiscal event contained few surprises for anyone following the news. But it was no less mind-bending for that.

Here was a ‘small-state’ government setting out its most statist programme for borrowing and spending yet. Their supporters would ridicule Labour opponents for suggesting an intervention this big.

At the same time, they unveiled the largest tax cutting programme in 50 years – bigger than Nigel Lawson’s 1988 budget that many still speak about.

The £60bn measures to fix energy prices for homes and businesses had to happen, it’s true.

Other details in the government’s Growth Plan – tax cuts making up £45bn of a £234bn debt financing requirement – sharpen one’s focus on the cost. That’s if you can stop your eyes watering at the size of the numbers.

Meanwhile, markets watched askance as the pound fell to $1.08 against the dollar.

Many commentators pointed to the regressive nature of the tax cuts, which unquestionably favour wealthy people. Others have made this point already, and I’ll touch on it later in this post.

Having followed many statements on growth and helped to promote them when working for a government body, I’m struck by the ‘throw everything at it’ spirit of this one. The pace of change it sets is extraordinary.

The Resolution Foundation’s Torsten Bell explained how unusual this approach is yesterday.

As always, there is much to debate, and people will pour over the detail. Having read the plan, here are five points I thought would interest those striving for better businesses and places.

Continue reading “Five place points from the Growth Plan”

Royal reflections show doing what’s right beats doing what looks right

People gather at the funeral procession at the roadside with soldiers at either side of the Queen's coffin

Events of the past week provided an opportunity for collective reflection, whatever your views on the monarchy.

I felt unexpectedly emotional and uncertain about the Queen’s passing. There is some personal context. I turned 47 on Sunday and have come through a tough couple of years. The last thing we needed was more uncertainty. But despite the madness happening around us, I start the week feeling optimistic about the future.

I’ve been saddened and moved, without approaching anything near full on ‘mourning’. It was strange stepping away from blanket media coverage and online discourse about a ‘nation in grief’ to see people having coffees, travelling to meetings and getting on with their lives.

Good comms, bad comms

I’ve supported clients’ communications whilst looking on in bemusement as some brands showed ‘respect’ in weird ways that caused a stink. On Twitter, @GrieveWatch provided some light relief by sharing the dafter examples of ‘respect’.

Many comms people (once again) provided sound advice during the mourning period. They helped organisations strike the right balance between respecting those affected by the Queen’s death whilst recognising that many will not be. They advised against anything too promotional and put events and campaigns on hold. And, yes, if they had been in the room at the time, they would have said that kicking paying customers off site for a day isn’t ‘respectful’.  

As the Queen’s funeral approached, the gap between what I’m seeing and the media narrative has narrowed. After years of backbiting and division, here we are feeling and speaking as one, right? Or, at least, we’re giving people space to express their views without trashing them for it.

I take heart from how so many people joined this conversation. They used words like ‘dignified’, ‘duty’ and ‘constant’ repeatedly. Many saying this did not know the Queen. This highlights the strength of a narrative supported by an enduring truth.

It also points to something we seem to have lost. And it all stands in stark contrast to how we see today’s political and business leaders.  

Continue reading “Royal reflections show doing what’s right beats doing what looks right”

Why the public shouldn’t hate ‘comms’: an open letter to Matthew Parris

Matthew Parris wrote on Saturday that people ‘hate comms’ for its slickness and vacuuity. This is my response to his comment.

Dear Matthew,

I enjoy your writing about politics, and the Conservative party you represented in Parliament during less febrile times.

Your analysis about the lack of new ideas in British politics today strikes a chord with me. I also share your despair at how this is playing out in the turgid Tory leadership contest.

You were right to warn on Saturday that the party is heading towards the abyss as things stand.

I was also struck by your comment about the comms profession’s supposed role in the campaigns, when saying:

“[Rishi Sunak] has fallen prey to the vultures of what we now call “comms” — professional communications advisers. A breed with a blind spot when it comes to the one truth about comms that matters: that the 21st-century British public hate comms, spot it a mile off, and walk away.”

Continue reading “Why the public shouldn’t hate ‘comms’: an open letter to Matthew Parris”

Distinctive future for stand-out comms team

Green leaf stands out in a load of brown leaves

After nearly five great years at Social, I’ve just completed my first full week as owner of a new comms consultancy.

Social’s former South West business is now Distinctive Communications. A plucky, collaborative talented team of six who I’m proud to call colleagues is joining me on the journey.

This follows an agreement between Social and myself to sell its South West business to Distinctive. It offers a rare combination of continuity, credibility and the excitement of starting afresh. Although it’s a huge decision personally, I think it’s a massive opportunity for all colleagues involved.

The Distinctive team, at the Engine Shed in Bristol
Continue reading “Distinctive future for stand-out comms team”