Friday, 27 April 2012

Britons' got talent

With the impending publication of the Sunday Times annual "Rich List", it will be interesting to see the mix of people who achieve a listing.

No doubt it will be all the usual suspects - the retailers "gone large", the entertainers, the inheritors, the lottery winners, the surviving dot com entrepreneurs and those who gain their millions at tax-payers expense while attracting the interest of the researchers at Private Eye!

It is fair to say that most deserve the accolade. Yes, there may have been an element of some being in the right place at the right time, but most have maintained their position through hard work, with the added bonus of employing hundreds of thousands of British workers between them.

People like Sir James Dyson with his wonderful, great British inventions, Sir Philip Green, maybe not at times the most popular guy in the UK, but nevertheless one of those whose empire employs thousands, Emma Watson the Harry Potter actress who has brought joy to millions of filmgoers, Sir Paul McCartney whose musical legacy is virtually unique in modern-day popular music, Sir Elton John who gives away millions to charity, and so on.

Some, however, are not white as white as they would like us to believe. The "Britain's Got Talent" and "X-Factor" franchises, for example, have raked in millions and millions of pounds at the expense of the hapless faux-starstruck, who are more than happy to waste their money on puerile advertisement-break, premium-rate phone competitions and premium-rate phone voting. Only to produce a bunch of tax-dodgers who register their financial interests abroad.

Another group who are set to appear in the Rich List are the directors of outsourcing companies - services, employment, security etc - who continue to bleed the Government coffers dry, offering more often than not sub-standard, and much more expensive, alternatives to full-time staffing - again, reported with alarming regularity in Private Eye. Yet no one in Government has the gumption to tell them to, as Shakespeare wrote in Richard II, "Go, bind thou up yond dangling apricocks".

They, along with the privatised rail company chiefs, bankers, water companies (with their incalculable water leak record while at the same time declaring hosepipe bans) and many more besides, pay themselves fat bonuses while crying poverty to their paymasters, us, the suffering tax payer.

The old-fashioned 15 minutes of fame is now much harder to come by. Generally achieved through a lucky break, some maintain it by actually having talent - for example the now legendary Freddie Starr appearance of the Royal Variety all those years ago. Others, so intrinsically untalented, have to be maintained in the tabloid gossip columns where the public are continually reminded that it's Tracey Slapper "The Big Brother Contestant" in order for us to gain a foggy clue as to who Tracey Slapper actually is. They don't add any value to the fabric of society, bar easily-writable column inches for the gutter-press journalists and other hapless celebrity magazines.

That all having bee said, it will be interesting to see who is and who isn't included in this year's Rich List!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Every little helps part 2

There was a time when WYSIWYG wasn't just about idiot-proof computer programmes.

Long, long ago, in a little place called Reasonable Land, if you wanted a £20 ticket for the Rolling Stones at the Venue, a month or two before the event, when the tickets went on sale, you either phoned up to reserve one (in fairness being told that if you didn't collect they'd be sold), sent in a letter with a £20 cheque, or queued up for one yourself. You paid your £20 and walked off with your ticket.

Now, the process is all automated, but you do have to be quick off the 'enter' key before the website crashes. You rarely can collect in person, you can phone a £30 a minute premium rip-off number and give your card details over the phone, you certainly can't reserve one without paying, and occasionally you can 'win' one using the 'enter' key.

However, unlike the 'olden days', added will be a booking fee, a handling fee, a postage fee, a packing fee, a 'you booked on a day with a 'y' in it fee, or if you go to Ticketmaster's "Get me in" site, a rip-off fee. This means the price that you pay for your £20 ticket won't bear the slightest resemblance to £20.

The frustrating thing is that they are making more money for less effort. And not only that, but tickets are quite often going on sale up to 18 months before the event. The band could be dead by then!

Anyone with any morals or gumption about them has to ask 'why?'.

And the simple answer. Because we the public let them away with it. If the girls want a ring side seat to drool over Simon Cowell's latest talentless protégées, then why should they pay £20 a month before when the ticketing parasites can leverage £30 out of them over a year in advance?

It's the big 'want' over 'need'. The same happens with altogether more mature (age, not mental agility) people who are happy to pitch their 2-man tent in front of the Apple store four weeks before the release of an identical-to-previous-but-with-a-higher-consecutive-numbered gadget. There is absolutely nil need, but a mere 100% want. They certainly don't queue like that at St George's Crypt in Leeds to donate to the homeless (at least I don't believe they do).

But it's the same all over. People engaging their wallets before they engage their brains.

Another example. There is what amounts to an admission fee of £2 at Leeds Bradford so-called International Airport. Yet, when you pay that fee, you still have to drop Aunt Bessie off, in the wind and pouring rain, some 400 metres from the terminal door. And if the weather is particularly inclement, as it is wont to be in the Leeds Bradford Airport hills, it can end up terminal for Aunt Bessie (she also has bad knees, bless her little cotton support stockings).

When you get into the airport, as if by magic, tea, coffee, crisps, beer, sandwiches, burgers, salads and lots more have been magically placed within a pricing structure that is up to 70% more than the High Street (well OK, perhaps not Kensington High Street, although I don't think even the Harrod's kiosk would dare charge £1 for a 35g/49p pack of Linnekar Crisps).

Similarly, when the casual visitor visits a Motorway Rip-Off, er, sorry, I mean a Motorway Stop Over, they are instantly transformed into mugs, happily paying a Michelin Star price for a Sam an' Ella's Greasy Spoon meal!

What is wrong with you all? Why don't you start voting with your feet and wallets and demand the value for money that you've worked hard to deserve.

Do you really have to have a £4 cup of hot brown very stuff cleverly disguised as a hot beverage every time you stopp off on the motorwqay, when you could have provided your car load with a proper cup of Yorkshire Tea for about 30p between you had you brought a flask. Does 30p not sound better on the pocket than £12, or are you in the habit of fuelling the Welcome Break Directors' overly large annual bonus to the extent that they surely must laugh all the way to under their mattresses with it (they're no fools, they don't trust the banks)? Stop putting up with their captive-audience "oh! they'll pay that" cavalier attitude.

So come on guys. Start becoming a bit more price-sensitive, like our American cousins, and stop putting up with this continual overcharging and rip-off prices for everything. Give "Take That" a miss at £60 + £12.50 booking fee.

Don't just leave it to the BBC's Watchdog and Fake Britain programmes or Private Eye magazine to expose.

Start being proactive in saving yourself a fortune.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

You get what you pay for?

"You get what you pay for". A statement guaranteed to strike fear into any financial-conscious parent queuing with their son outside a depressingly dark and noisy Hollister shop.

They have to be dark and noisy to reflect the far eastern sweatshops in which most of the product is manufactured. Yes, you get what you pay for in terms of pretty good quality, but the poor souls working flat-out under conditions that would have UNISON bringing the entire West of Europe out on strike, might not agree.

Plus the fact the £80 sweatshirt that you are quite unhappy to pay a fortune for comes with an advertisement for the company name on the front (surely Hollister should be paying you?) and leaves the far eastern factory at only a few dollars.

Yes, you get what you pay for.

My eyes were well and truly opened to brand manipulation several years ago when I undertook a little freelance work for a delightful local Leeds company called Standtondown, based in the Holbeck area of the city. Delightful in as much as it was run in the old-fashioned and genuine family way. No dysfunctional HR people calling on staff to jump up and down on coloured squares for an hour every Friday, or pushing out copied and pasted CIPD bilge every second day.

They manufactured and delivered, amongst other things, quality beauty products in bulk around the country. Wonderful stuff such as Coconut and Jojoba shampoo, dressing out cream, salon wave pink, stylecare gel and more.

Now what I did learn was, that while many hairdressers were simply decanting the products into the own salon dispensers to use on their customers, others were decanting (and quite legally I might, no arguments here!) the products into bespoke bottles for resale under their own name. Absolutely nothing wrong with that either!

However, the shock was that while "Betty's Hairdressers and Burger Emporium" on a sink estate in Birmingham were charging £1.99 a bottle, "Chez Con Customer" on St John's Wood Road in London, the type of salon with very uncomfortable seats and owned by a very badly-dressed TV hairdressing personality with a fee of £600 to 'personally' look at your hair from 50 metres, was charging £39.50 for the identical 60p's worth of product.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, on the basis that if the St John's Wood customer is happy to part with that sort of money (not forgetting the £60 fine for parking their 4x4 tractor on the double yellow lines outside the salon), fair play!

However, the point is that while these are best quality, British-manufactured products, you are NOT getting what you pay for because you have essentially been brand hijacked by the 'posh' hair salon. And yes, they say let the buyer beware, but in this case, they are very high quality products. It's just the morals of "Chez Con Customer" prevent him from coming clean!

Unfortunately, UK buyers are only now becoming a little more price sensitive. Sadly, to a great degree, this is only now happening as a result of the exposure companies are getting on BBC's 'Watchdog' and 'Fake Britain' programmes.

But why should this be the case? Why do people have to wait for these programmes to expose the far eastern sweatshops, the price disparity between game consoles sold in the UK and those sold in America or the fact that consumers in the UK put up with all sorts of guff as to why their purchase would be 30% cheaper if they could purchase them from the American website?

As long as we take the "You get what you pay for attitude", assuming that expensive is best, the importers and sellers will simply continue to rip us off. If you think it's too expensive, put off your purchase. Don't queue up outside the shop for the latest "fruity" must-have but really don't-need gadget or 60p DVD cleverly disguised as a £48 PlayStation game.

If you voted more with your wallet and feet, the sellers would quickly get the message.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Every little helps??????

I had a rather nasty confrontation in my local supermarket this morning, just at a time when I didn't need one.

It was a full-blown argument over a packet of paracetamol. Being middle-aged, I was convinced that I had the right to purchase.

But the checkout assistant thought otherwise, and everything came to a grinding halt. I sought help. But in true supermarket tradition, their out-of-normal working hours trading habits - 24 hours a day opening or not - do not transcend to having help freely available before 8.30am or after 7pm.

The assistant kept infuriatingly telling me "I needed authorisation".

With only a decade to my old aged pension, I felt I did not “need authorisation”.

Sadly, these self-service check-out machines don't listen. They're the things that supermarkets seem to insist replace the grumpy teenagers otherwise subsidising their huge student loans and who normally sit at the end of the conveyor belt and have perfected that stance so beloved by bank managers and estate agents - the ability to be sincere even when they really don't mean it.

Now there is one distinct advantage the self check-out has over its human equivalent. The fake fur brigade, who have conveniently parked their large 4x4 tractor in the nearest available disabled driver's space, can complain all they like to the machine that the shop has run out of organic cauliflower and poppy seeds. It won’t bat an eye-lid or become in any way embarrassed.

The supermarkets are quick to say that the self check-out machines help "streamline the purchasing experience for customers, especially those with only a few items". This translates as "it's far cheaper to employ machines than people".

But the whole thing seems to have backfired, as Tesco will testify by their recent figures. Having one spotty youth with headphones looking after a half a dozen quite uncooperative automatons that haven't the slightest ability to positively discriminate, is not good for business.

Yes, OK, the headphones come with a microphone, so the spotty youth can pretend, during quieter trading hours, that they are in the X-Factor final.  It is still a heavy and rather unfair undertaking for one spotty youth to have to look after six times the number of checkouts and six times the number of grumpy customers blaming him personally for the lack of organic cauliflower and poppy seeds because they have cottoned-on that while the machines may listen, they steadfastly refuse to respond to their rantings and ravings.

On the other side of the coin, there comes a point where the customer becomes rather fed up at having to do everything themselves in supermarkets. This is especially with the habit some of the chains have of rotating stock in the misguided belief that customers will purchase other items as they search for the mustard than has mysteriously moved seven isles across the shop beside the male shaving products, which have in turn themselves been relocated from beside the luggage labels and suitcase locks.

People will never cease in their requirement for a human being to instantaneously answer their queries, stupid or otherwise, and the supermarket that realises this soonest, instead of assuming we will wander around like purchasing zombies, filling our trollies to capacity with things we don't really need, is the one that will rule the retail waves.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Recruitment Irony

It has always been said that to get a job you need experience, yet to gain experience you need a job.

However, thanks to the vagaries of recruitment and the almost universal dysfunctionality and haplessness of HR, this is only half the story.

Some companies are Degree-mad, their policy being that if you haven’t a University education, they won’t consider you for a job. Now, the thinking here is that if you can make it through college, you then equally have the nous to make it through their company ranks.

To some of these companies, it make no difference that while, yes, you have a degree, your abilities in literacy and numeracy not only leave a lot to be desired, but, for the actual purposes of the job, are virtually non-existent.

Yes, you may have a degree in metallurgy and a degree in animal husbandry, thereby giving you legal right to weld cats, but the fact you have a degree that has nothing to do with either the business itself or the department within that business you are working for, you fit right in as, for example, their marketing research manager. Because of your University education. In non-related subjects.

Subjects that have absolutely nothing to do with what you will be working at.

The other side of the coin is the insistence by many companies that you have “at least three years’ experience” in their sector.

The NHS is particularly notorious for this in terms of marketing recruitment. They are insistent on prior experience. So everyone lies on their CV, and the resultant best liar is hired. Providing they can get their CV in front of the correct one of the 11 recruitment agencies the NHS farms the recruitment process out to and who all advertise it as “my client”. This done at vast expense. And bear in mind there are already overpaid HR managers in place in the NHS that should be doing this job themselves, not paying others to do at vast public expense.

So is this the case with accountancy also?

Not being an accountant, I don’t know!

Is totting up figures, double entry systems and paying invoices not identical in every business? Or am I unaware of some special BACS process to pay a bill that is unique to the NHS?

Then why does the NHS insist on prior experience for marketing?

Writing a press release and sending it out to a journalist, or arranging an annual conference, is the same for every business. The contacts may be different, but the mechanics are exactly the same. And joining the NHS as a marketer would entail the same learning curve as a marketer new to the charity sector. Or to engineering.

I would love an explanation.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

RECRUITMENT ADVERTISING NEEDS TO BE LEGAL, HONEST AND DECENT

Although there are emerging signs that employers are changing their attitudes toward older workers as a result of increased awareness of age discrimination legislation, some say there is still some way to go to help employers appreciate the full extent of new laws introduced over the past few years.

It would seem that one particular area employers still seem to struggle with is that of recruitment advertising.

Looking at some recruitment advertisements in the press, simple and sometimes obvious mistakes are still being made. The language being used is proving a reliable indicator as to the level of understanding on the part of both employers and, where used, third party recruitment firms.

Recruitment advertising can be expensive in terms of money and time, and employers are urged to get their advertisements right first time. This will pay dividends in terms of cost effectiveness, attracting the right applicants for the job, and at the same time coping with the demands of legislation.

Irrespective of the introduction of the legislation, in most cases there is no rational reason for employers to discriminate on the basis of age.

There are now quite obvious words that should not be used – young, old, mature, older, younger. But there still seems to be no doubt that terminology such as ‘senior’ and ‘junior’ continue to cause problems.

It appears the terms ‘dynamic’, ‘energetic’, ‘potential’ and ‘keen’ continue to feature in advertising and consequently attract far more attention than deserved. Of course, while none of these terms can be deemed ‘ageist’ if used alone, when used together they can infer an underlying requirement for ‘youthfulness’ on the part of the recruiter.

Recruiters should focus on the job and the skills required to do the job rather than on the individual. It is all about recruiting an individual on the basis of what they can do and bring to the business, rather than what their date of birth might be.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Crisis Public Relations

CRISIS PUBLIC RELATIONS

A crisis within an organisation:
- threatens high priorities
- presents minimum time for response
- is unexpected or unanticipated (although there may be an awareness of the possibility prior to it happening)

A crisis can be caused
- internally
- by a change in the environment

When facing a crisis, management often reacts in a restrictive manner which may not prove to be in the best interests of the organisation.

Appreciation of any situation is paramount and response issued in a calm and rational way. Over-reacting can do more damage than leaving it alone, which in itself is not the best method.

DEFINING THE CRISIS

It must be asked
- whether it was unexpected or unanticipated
- how was it brought to the organisation's attention
- if it was the result of a calculated risk (it must be noted that a risk is a risk, from which an outcome can never be calculated)

HOW MUCH INFORMATION SHOULD BE GIVEN IN A CRISIS

- authoritative information must be given out as soon as possible; if a positive response is not given quickly, the press will go elsewhere, very often down the employee chain
- the facts must not be distorted
- too much information must not be given (can cause panic) while at the same time too little must not be given (causes disbelief)

CONTINGENCY PLANNING
- a small group of senior management must be available from which a spokesperson can be drawn
- a member of senior management must be available to be 'on the spot' - specialist training (talking to TV or Radio) must be undertaken if required
- if there is likely to be an incident based on past experience or anticipation, work out a drill of action - who will respond; where (at company HQ or in a local hotel) will the response take place; will there be support or denial material available; will there be video facilities to carefully record the question and answer sessions viz potential misquotes.
- in event of a crisis, ensure media are monitored, in particular recordings of broadcasts (TV and Radio)
- note that press and news agencies tend to get news quickly - an embargo will not work.

SUMMARY

- only authoritative spokespeople, even outside office hours - try to encourage an understanding with the media whereby they know who they must contact in the event of a crisis
- if contact is made by the press with a non-authoritative, ensure all staff members are briefed to respond "I don't know but will get someone to speak to you within 10 minutes" - adhere to this, or the press will either misquote or search elsewhere

Monday, 2 April 2012

Advertising - the big mistake businesses make in a recession

“In a recession, do you spend more or cut back on your advertising budget?”

That’s the question that is spat out every time the economy dives, and not just by vested-interest parties whose billings are down.

In analysing recessionary periods, it is a fact that companies cutting their advertising budgets have performed far worse than those who maintained or increased theirs. And yes, there is the element of negativity in the media inhibiting demand and causing doubt in business confidence.

But that hasn’t worried some brands – they keep over-hyping their often over-priced and ‘wanted rather than needed’ goods, habitually to the extent of having people queuing six-deep on the High Street to purchase something that is 40% more expensive in the United States.

It may sound unlikely, but according to city analysts James Capel, companies which had maintained or increased their advertising budgets during the 1974/75 recession enjoyed higher levels of sales - 27 per cent over two years and 30 per cent over five years, both commensurate with that period of recession.

And a McGraw-Hill Research study that examined 600 companies from 1980 to 1985 found that businesses which preserved or raised their level of advertising spend during the 1981/1982 recession also demonstrated significantly higher sales after economic recovery. In this case, those companies that ran aggressive advertising campaigns during the recession had sales over 250% higher than those who had halted their advertising.

The entire issue represents an outstanding opportunity for direct selling businesses. The majority of businesses will be seen as taking the path of least resistance by cutting their advertising expenditure. However, it will follow that businesses who maintain their previous level of spend will appear to be bigger and more powerful to readers of their local press.

The real opportunity will be identified by the true marketing orientated business; this type of business will no doubt realise that an increase in correctly targeted advertising expenditure, regardless of how modest that increase might be, will create a greater awareness of that business. It can also be more cost effective than increasing awareness in good times!

It follows, of course, that for businesses cutting their expenditure, attempts at re- awakening awareness of that business with the public after the recession will not only be difficult, but also expensive.

The majority of businesses will moan about the contraction of the market place, the continual profit erosion, the ramifications of any World hot spot or crisis, interest rates and unemployment levels. They will complain about the often perceived low level of understanding and support from manufacturers, distributors and suppliers/wholesalers.

However, bright businesses realise that the majority of workers are earning as much, if not more, than when the recession began!

Because of the hype in the press and on television, the consumer will be a little more cautious about splashing out on outrageous luxury items such as holidays in the Far East or motor boats. It is nevertheless a proven fact that the consumer continues to purchase mainstream consumer goods.

While there is no doubt the retail market has declined a little in certain sectors, there is still a very big market out there, and it responds to advertising in much the same way as it always has done.

It is also probably a hard fact that the number of businesses trading at the end of the current recession in any particular sector will be less than those of four or five years ago. Naturally enough contractions in the consumer market will be mirrored by the contraction in the number of retail suppliers.

And it is worth remembering that media rates can contract during a recession (because all of the aforementioned), so you will in effect get more bang for your buck anyway!

Those bright businesses which advertise are going to make money, especially those is the need rather than want end of the market!

Edward Moss
www.maykit.me.uk