Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year, New Speech

Now is the time of year to review material, including speeches. To be honest, you should keep speeches under constant review, but the turn of the year serves as a good reminder. Think about any speeches that you deliver regularly. Consider the stories, the people you mention, the examples you give. Are they all still relevant to your audiences? Although we get older every year, our audiences don't, so it's important to keep an eye out for material that should be retired gracefully.

Not only should we be chucking out material, we should be incorporating new stuff. There will have been many things that happened to you in 2008 that could make a strong point about your topic. Provided you have been making notes (you are keeping that story file up to date, aren't you?), then you will have a wealth of information to draw on.

How much to change? Well, it depends on your topic. If you talk about technology, you might have to replace more than half the content of your speeches every year. If you talk about leadership, then maybe only twenty per cent of your content needs to be let go and replaced with contemporary examples. Whatever you speak on, make sure that you do change at least some elements of your speech regularly. If not, you will hear your audience saying "I bet they gave that same speech five years ago - they clearly don't care about us any more".

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

All I want for Christmas - is to be on radio or TV

Actually, it's easy.

If you asked a TV or radio producer what they want for Christmas, the response will very likely be "A guest to talk to".

Over the Christmas and New Year period, the media still operates, but guests are hard to find. It is often the easiest time to get on air, and because the audiences tend to be large, it can be a very good time too. How to get on air? Call them and tell them how much you enjoyed an earlier item. Ask to speak to the editor or producer. Chances are, they will ask you if you are available to chat.

If you receive a call from a journalist, asking if you might be available for an on-air interview in the next few days, say "yes" - even if it means missing a couple of hours dozing on the sofa in front of a repeat of that comedy show that you never really liked anyway. You'll be glad you did. It could be the start of a new career.

Have a happy media Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A sound bite in time...

...can save nine, as my gran would have said if she'd been a PR expert. However, you may have very little time to react and craft a perfect message when a reporter calls. It is more important to be responsive to the media than to spend hours deciding the best possible response. If you don't supply a statement or quote quickly, someone else will, and they may be a rival, or someone with a grudge against your organisation. You need to establish yourself, very quickly, as a prime source of information that the media can approach to for a viewpoint.

If a journalist tells you that they need a response by eleven o'clock in the morning, you need to supply it by five to eleven, not ten past eleven. A few minutes late can mean that your brilliant quote may never be heard. Of course, you can sometimes prepare your quote in advance, such as when a report is due for publication, and you know you will be asked to comment. In the apparent "heat of the moment" you can then deliver your carefully crafted message.

The best way to deal with a sudden media request is to have a list of agreed "position statements" in the hands of anyone who might be confronted by a camera or microphone. Update these statements regularly - say every three months - and your spokespeople will be able to deal with most issues without having to call a meeting first. When I was a media spokesman for a large organisation, I could recite any one of ten position statements on various issues, and could adapt them for any situation. That's what you need to do too, otherwise you could be caught out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Media Myths

There are lots of misconceptions about the media. Here are a few.

I need to ring journalists to make sure they have received my press release, and see if they are going to use it

Er...No. This is the first job given to a press office trainee to make them realise that it is not a good idea. Never pester a journalist about press releases. They'll contact you if they want more information.

I should ignore freelance journalists - they move around too much

No again. Freelance journalists should be cultivated, because they move around. They work for more journals and broadcasters, are more experienced, and likely to be career professionals. Aim at developing a long-term relationship with them.

I need to wine and dine editors


That's fine if you just want a chat and a nice meal out. Editors don't write copy. If you want to entertain anybody, try some of the poorly-paid journalists. But don't expect to receive anything in return, and don't ask for any favours. Se it as part of building a relationship.

The press are out to get me


Probably not. Journalists rarely have vendettas against individuals or companies. It doesn't mean you will always get an easy time, but there isn't any hidden agenda.

There are lots more, of course, but we'll discuss those on another day.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Don't apologise on stage

I've seen far too many speakers who make self-denigrating opening remarks. OK, the best person to tell a story against is yourself, but don't do it right at the start of your speech. Worst of all, in my view, is the person who wanders on, looking hunched and nervous, handles the mike as though it's a poisonous snake, and then says "I'm not very good at this, and my speech isn't very well prepared"

We know you're nervous. We know you're not too confident. But we want you to do well. If you appear in front of us and start off by apologising, we'll expect the worst, and that will probably be our perception when you've finished.

So, take a few deep breaths, walk on stage with your head held high and smile. It doesn't matter if you are feeling nervous. We understand. The important thing is to do your best, and the audience will support you. If you lower our expectations by hand-wringing like Uriah Heep (no, the one in David Copperfield, not the elderly rock band), than things will only deteriorate.

Friday, December 12, 2008

How to drive away web traffic

Here are a few rules that you can implement if you want to keep those annoying visitors away from your website. After, all, they only send you pestering emails trying to buy things from you. It's a real nuisance. Even if you only follow one of these rules, you will be able to reduce the amount of inconvenient requests from potential customers by a huge amount. Ready?

* Insist on customer registration before they can see all the pages
* Keep popping up screens asking them if they want your newsletter, or would like to fill in a survey
* Have text scrolling across the screen, like a neon sign
* Give detailed information about the history of your organisation
* Hide links under innocent-looking pictures
* Use lots of flash, so that poorly-sighted people with screen readers can't make sense of the page
* Include the phrase "Optimised for Internet Explorer"
* Tell users that they have to download software to see the page properly
* Use cheap clip art and standard images
* Tell the visitor what their problem is

There, that should do it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's all about.....timing

There's an old line about the most important thing in comedy being.......timing. Like all old lines, there's some truth to it. The importance of timing when dealing with the media, though, is critical. Here are some key points about timing that you need to bear in mind -

* Have a stockpile of messages ready, and update them often
* You can't extend a journalist's deadline
* Anticipate events that might affect your business
* React within minutes, not hours
* Become the primary source of information
* Don't let your competitors comment first
* Make sure that someone is always available to take a press call
* Ensure that you know where your spokespeople are at all times

Get the timing right, and the media will love you for it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Ego has landed

The person who talks to the media on behalf of your organisation need not be the Managing Director. Of course, reporters will often call seeking an interview with the top person, but if they are either not available (because they are managing the crisis) or are not very media-friendly (and despite hours of media training, this can still happen), then someone else has to face the cameras.

The problem is, lots of MDs feel that they should be the company spokesperson, regardless of their communication skills. Their egos won't allow them to delegate the task. Under these circumstances, you need to have a very strong communications manager. If the MD is a poor speaker, or worse, actively distrusts the media, then you need to rely on prepared statements, limit the length of interviews (on the pretext of having to manage the crisis), and brief the MD very strongly on the core message.

One company I worked with deliberately set up an interview with the MD on a local radio station, and then offered the same timeslot to the BBC. Since the MD was already in another studio, a media-savvy company spokesman handled the Beeb. I'm not sure the MD ever found out (unless they are reading this, in which case I just made that up).

Friday, December 05, 2008

I want news and I want it now!

The news media seem to have an insatiable appetite for speculation, comment and analysis. Before a report is due out, its possible contents are discussed by experts. On its release, there is an on-the-scene report from outside a building where the announcement was made. After the event, another panel of experts gathers around the studio desk to dissect, discuss and digest the results. That's the way it works.

So how do you react if you are caught up in this news maelstrom? One thing is certain. You won't have a great deal of time to prepare yourself, particularly if it isn't a report, but a breaking news story. Here are a few tips if you find yourself in front of a camera as the first expert to comment:

* Deliver simple information that is easy to remember
* Never speculate
* A good sound bite will take seconds to deliver - but may have a lasting impact
* Write down your key message and keep it in your pocket (believe me, this works)
* Never lie
* After 30 seconds, people are losing interest
* If you have nothing to say, don't go on air
* If all else fails, just say how you feel

In summary, keep it brief, honest and sincere. That's it.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Christmas video competition

Watch the December videoblog, be one of the first five correct entries, and win a DVD on how to get free publicity.



Good luck!

Best wishes

Alan

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Why we need the Turner prize

Well done to Mark Leckey, last night's winner of the Turner prize, for his works which include cartoon characters like Homer Simpson and Felix the Cat.

As ever, there has been a lot of comment in the press about the Turner prize (though less than in previous years), and whether or not the entries constitute "art".

Frankly, I'm delighted to see awards made to artists whose work does not have universal appeal. Why? because it makes us think. If ever I'm in need of a creative idea, I head to the Tate Modern, and browse the exhibits, with no particular aim in mind. Sometimes I'm disappointed, sometimes annoyed, and sometimes amazed and impressed. It doesn't matter. It makes me think, and as I linger over a coffee in the cafe, ideas occur to me - and not necessarily answers to the problem I arrived with.

Try a visit to a gallery you wouldn't normally go to - we need art that challenges us.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Mike and the Mechanics

You will often have to use a microphone when you make a speech. We've all seen people using microphones, and the principle of using one is pretty simple - you speak, it picks up your voice. So why do so many speakers treat a microphone as though it is a threat to life and limb?

Here are a few microphone tips :

* Always do a sound check before your speech. Arrive early and make friends with the sound technician. With the mike switched on, walk in front of the speakers to check for feedback.
* Know how to switch the mike on and off.
* If you have to swap wireless mikes with another speaker, practice first.
* Keep your head up. Never lower your head towards a fixed microphone.
* Don't turn your head away from a hand mike - keep it in front of you at all times.
* Keep the mike at the same distance from your mouth. If using a lapel mike, this is easy.

Always ask for a wireless lapel mike (or lavalier to be technical) for preference, since it gives you the freedom to move (or stay put). And never, ever, tap the mike and say "1, 2, 3 testing - is this thing on?"

Friday, November 28, 2008

TMI

Now there's an abbreviation that is useful. TMI - Too Much Information. It's handy to drop into a conversation when one of your dinner guests starts banging on about their most recent surgical procedure. It's also very useful when talking to your web designer. The last thing you want on your web page is TMI.

For example, I was viewing a website for a dentist the other day (no, I'm fine, it was a chap who was following me on Twitter). On the front page, before my very eyes, were two large pictures of infected teeth. That's not what I wanted to see. Smiling "after" pictures and "no pain" testimonials were what I as looking for - TMI!

Don't frighten your site visitors with TMI. Show people the solutions to their problems, not the mess they are currently in. Keep it brief, concise and relevant. At all costs, avoid TMI. Here's my idea of a site with the right amount of information on (warning - it starts with a song)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mubai attacks first reported on Twitter and Flickr

As I write this, I'm viewing pictures and reading reports of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. But these images and reports are not on "traditional" news websites. The pictures are on flickr.com, and the reports on twitter.com.

In fact the latter micro-blogging service, which I often mention and use a lot, was probably the first medium to break the news of the attacks. The world of news is changing, and the phenomenon of "citizen journalism" is becoming significant, particularly in the area of "breaking news". Sites such as NowPublic and GroundReport are often ahead of the mainstream news media. However, in my opinion, the professional reporters and editors score heavily (and probably always will) in terms of detailed reports, verification and analysis.

The great thing about citizen journalism is its immediacy and lack of censorship. The drawback is the lack of verification. But there is one more factor. The police in India apparently asked Twitter to block their service, since the terrorists also have access to the twittered information. That's where things get tricky.

What's your view? Is citizen journalism a good thing?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The 7% myth

It's funny how some untruths become widely accepted as true. The oft-quoted statistic "Only 7% of our communication is conveyed by words (38% tone of voice, 55% body language)" appears in many textbooks, and is quoted by speakers and "communication experts" as though it were not only true, but proven.

In fact, it is a huge misinterpretation of an experiment carried out many years ago by Albert Mehrabian, when he studied feelings and attitudes when people make a judgement about liking or disliking someone. Mehrabian himself has stated that he never intended his results to be applied to conversation (and definitely not to public speaking).

Yet the myth has been propagated far and wide, by people who should have checked what Mehrabian really did. (I'm sure you were never fooled, of course).

Alas, I have debated many times with people who believe that the 7-38-55 rule can be applied to almost any communication, completely ignoring the evidence of their senses, let alone the origin of the figures. I have had several on-stage debates with NLP practitioners, who have professed "it must be true - it's in our textbooks".

Of course, tone of voice and body language are important, as is congruence between verbal and non-verbal communication. But please, let's not propagate this 7% myth any further

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Get a (Second) Life..

For some time now, I've been encouraged by a pal on another social network to "join my community in Second Life". I've never had much interest in that kind of online community, but I thought I'd take a look, so a few months ago, I signed up. To begin with, I had to select a funny name, since only a limited range of surnames was on offer. All of the common names were gone, so I ended up as "AlanL Svenska", which is as close as I could get to reality (little did I know how true that thought would become).

After downloading the software, there was a bit of a learning curve. Apparently you can "fly" and "teleport" if you know how to do it. I found walking in a straight line a bit if a challenge (no change there, then).

I did eventually find the community I'd been invited to join, on a virtual island. Somewhat to my surprise, some of the people I knew in real life had decided to manifest in a different gender in this virtual world. I didn't ask. Each to their own. Suffice it to say, that, like the reporter from the News of the World, I made an excuse and left, and haven't been back.

I was reminded of this when I read about a woman who is divorcing her husband for "virtual infidelity" with a cartoon character (sorry, avatar) in Second Life. Yesterday, I read that Reuters news agency are "recalling" their reporters from Second Life since "it no longer fits our communication strategy". However, some large businesses remain in the cyberspace world.

I'm an early adopter - I love Twitter, Qype, SocialMedian, and all that stuff. But am I missing something? Is there anyone who finds SL useful for business? Frankly, I'm baffled by it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Advice to storytellers - avoid penguins

The best presenters are often good storytellers. There's nothing that people like better than a good yarn well told, provided it has some relevance to them. Think carefully about how you can use stories to illustrate a point, or demonstrate a technique. If possible, find an image that goes with the story to provide some visual interest.

When you are deciding what stories to tell, you might try following my storytelling rules.

1. Tell your own stories
2. Don't tell other people's stories
3. See rule 1

OK, it may be just about acceptable to tell one second-hand yarn in your speech. If you do, make sure that you make it clear whose story it is, where you heard it, and who told you. And then think if you have a better story. I bet you do, if you think hard enough.

And don't overdo the images to illustrate your story. I once attended a presentation by a well-known adventurer. He illustrated his talk with pictures of his latest trek though the snowy wastes around the South Pole. As about the thirtieth slide hit the screen, there was a groan from the back of the room, and a voice called out "Not another bloody penguin".

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How to become a Professional Speaker

I'm appearing on a teleseminar this evening (Weds 19th November, 8pm UK time), organised by Bernadette Martin.

This is one of a series of teleseminars, and if you haven't listened to one in the series so far, this one is free.

I'll be talking about my journey through professional speaking, from starting out to reaching the Presidency of the Professional Speakers Association. I'll give you my best advice about how you can make it a great career. You even get a free ebook from me - 10 steps to the perfect speech. How good is that?

Drop an email to register to bmartin@noos.fr

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I know my rights!

When you do a media interview, you have certain rights that are not always mentioned to you in the rush to put you on air. All broadcasters will give you the right to know:

* the programme title and timing
* the style and approach of the show
* whether the interview is pre-recorded or live
* whether there are other interviewees
* what precedes your interview
* how you will be introduced
* the first question (sometimes there is no time to establish this)
* the length of your interview

You will also have the right of reply to correct any factual errors, even after transmission.

However, there are some things that you do not have the right to do, such as:

* decide where you appear in the running order
* reject anyone from a panel discussion
* receive a list of questions in advance
* specify topics that are not to be discussed (unless there are legal issues)
* give approval to, or reject the interview before it is transmitted

Make sure that you know the rules of the media game before you step into the studio.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A speech is a two-way thing

A speech should never be a monologue. Leave those to actors and poets. Although you do most of the talking (unless you have a serious heckler), you still get feedback in the form of expressions, body language, laughter and applause. You need to be responsive to the signs. In order to do that, you need to watch your audience, not bury your head in your script.

Your audience does not want you to talk at them. They don't want you to talk to them. They want you to talk with them. This reinforces the sense that you and your audience are "in this together", on the same side. A speaker that ignores the response of an audience can appear confrontational, while one who appears not to notice an audience at all can appear distant. Neither of these approaches will help you to deliver your message.

The way that you make eye contact, the way you gesture towards your audience and the way you move around the stage can all have a significant effect on how you are perceived. Stand-up comedians will alter their act, bringing forward their best material from the end of their performance if they aren't getting laughs. You also need to be prepared to adapt if the audience are not in tune with what you are saying. For example, if many members of the audience look puzzled, you may need to go back a few steps and explain yourself in more detail. On the other hand, if they look bored, you may need to pick up the pace.

It's a conversation.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

Avoid Mirrors

No, this is not anything to do with superstition, it's to do with rehearsal. Yes, you have to rehearse, but never, never stand in front of a mirror to practice your speech. I know that many presentation experts will tell you that mirror rehearsals are a good idea. However, as a regular reader of these tips, you will know that I don't always agree with conventional wisdom.

Allow me to explain. When you speak to a mirror, you are trying to do two things at the same time - assess your speech at the same time as delivering it. That puts you in the odd position of trying to be both audience and presenter. Even worse, if you follow the good practice of making eye contact with your audience, you won't see someone reacting to your ideas, you will see yourself trying to remember your lines. All in all, it's a waste of time.

What about videoing yourself? Well, that can work, but it can lead to focusing on small gestures, such as how often you scratch your nose, which would pass unnoticed in front of a live audience. Also, people tend to behave differently in front of a camera.

What's the answer? You guessed it. Find someone to rehearse with. It should be someone you trust to give you honest feedback. You don't need to take up too much of their time, since one or two rehearsals are sufficient. You want to sound fresh when you speak. If you are in a hotel room, on your own before a speech, you can rehearse your lines over the phone to a friend. But please, not the mirror.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand are Innocent, OK?

Well, not totally innocent. They went too far in a bit of comedy banter last week, and have rightly apologised. But the reaction from both their employers at the BBC, and a number of licence-payers, has been both clumsy in inappropriate, in my opinion.

The radio show in question was pre-recorded, which is a wise precaution given the nature of the presenters. The same is true, for the same reasons, of BBC shows such as Have I got News for You?, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and The Graham Norton Show. Prior to broadcast, BBC editors and lawyers are supposed to check the content. This is where the failure occurred.

Only two listeners complained when the show was broadcast. Thousands have complained since, some of whom, by their own admission on air, have not heard the 20-minute routine. Seems to me more like a chance to beat the BBC than to be outraged by something they heard.

I assume that after a few days cooling their heels, both presenters will be back on air, and we can get back to reality. About time too.

Now there's a funny thing

There's an old story about an aspiring professional speaker who meets a speaker at the top of the profession.

* Young Speaker "Should I use humour in my speeches?"
* Top Speaker "Only if you want to get paid"

It's true. OK, there are a few occasions when humour is not appropriate, but even in a funeral oration a light touch and a smile does no harm. None of this means that you have to be a stand-up comedian, though learning a few comedy skills is very helpful. However, you do need to prepare, so here are a few tips

* Don't tell jokes you found online (or anywhere else)
* Use stories that happened to you - self-deprecation is good
* Keep it clean
* It's OK to be simply amusing, not trying for the big laugh
* Rehearse your lines and timing
* If no-one laughs, move on quickly

If you aren't naturally funny, get some help. There's a great comedy writer called Benjamin Marks who is based in Australia, but can spice up your material wherever you are. If you contact him, tell him I said Hi.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Did a man really walk on the moon?

Yes, of course. Twelve men did, to be precise.

Is there any doubt? Well, apparently, according to a conversation I had with a pal from Australia a few days ago. Despite being an intelligent bloke in his mid-40s, he is totally convinced that the whole thing was faked, having read some "evidence" on the Internet.

Which brings me to my point. The great thing about the Internet is that it allows everyone to express a view. The bad thing about the Internet is - er - that it allows everyone to express a view. Without getting into a philosophical discussion about "what is truth", I'd just like anyone viewing a "conspiracy theory" website to take a pause for thought. Conspiracies, of their very nature, require groups of people to act together and not reveal their activities to others. The more people involved (or the more complex the alleged conspiracy), the more difficult it is for everyone to keep the secret. In fact, it doesn't happen. Someone always gives the game away, for reasons of conscience, bravado, or money.

So, the moon landings did happen, there is no New World Order and the planet is not governed by shape-shifting lizards. What we see really is what we get.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sarah Palin - the precriminations begin

Republican politicians in the US are already starting to apportion blame for the failure of the McCain-Palin ticket. A number of influential political bloggers are talking about "precriminations" (ugly word, but we know what they mean). Some Republicans, notably Colin Powell, have already endorsed Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

In one of their recent joint TV interviews, with Brian Williams of NBC, John McCain and Sarah Palin did not look exactly like a united team, and Ms Palin gave a rambling and barely comprehensible answer about preconditions for talks with rogue states.

Now senior Republicans are distancing themselves from her selection, noting that McCain spent less than three hours in her company before announcing her as his running mate. The lesson seems clear - if you are going to work with someone, get to know them well, otherwise it can go very wrong, very quickly.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mind your language

No, this is not about whether or not you use swear words in your speeches, though I assume that you don't. This tip is about choosing the right words for your speech. The important thing is whether the message that your audience hear is the one that you intend to convey. If, after your speech, you talk to members of your audience and hear yourself saying "that's not what I meant", then you have failed in your mission.

In short, you need to use language that -

* is clear
* supports your message
* is authentically yours

Clarity should not be a problem. There is no trade-off between short words and great speaking. In fact many of the most powerful messages have been delivered in the most simple language - "I have a dream..", "We will overcome.." "The lady's not for turning".

Using words that support your message is very important too. The recent turmoil in financial markets may have been addressed more quickly if US politicians had stopped discussing a "bail-out package" and started talking about a "rescue plan", as they did recently.

Lastly, being authentic is important for every speaker, in every speech. Try to avoid clich├ęs. Make up your own comparisons, based on your own experiences. Tell your own stories. That's what people want to hear.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tory spokesman loses the plot

This morning, over breakfast, I was listening to BBC Radio 5 Live, as I often do. On the back of the news, presenter Shelagh Fogarty was interviewing the Shadow Business Minister, Alan Duncan. It was an extraordinary interview. Mr Duncan was outlining Tory plans for small business, when he was asked how long he thought the recession might last. "What a silly question" he said. Ms Fogarty asked him again, in a slightly different way. "Are you a serious interviewer?" said Mr Duncan. Ms Fogarty tried again "Look" said Mr Duncan "You'd better get your head around this crisis and start making sense. Ask me the right questions"

Oh dear. Mr Duncan committed two of the primary sins of media interviews; complaining about the question and insulting the interviewer. It was a poor tactic, and seriously detracted from his message, which (for all I know, since I can't remember it) may have been very good. You should always be polite and respectful when being interviewed, and never, ever complain about a question. All you need to do is state your case.

By contrast, a few minutes later, Government minister Yvette Cooper gave an excellent interview, also with Shelagh Fogerty. It was a fine example of how to deliver a message.

It's nothing to do with political allegiance. I carry no torch for Labour or for the Tories. Nor is it, as people sometimes allege, a "left-wing bias" from the BBC. Shelagh Fogarty was impartial throughout. The point is, if a Shadow minister can't deliver a message on prime time radio, someone is not doing their job properly.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Joe the Plumber - oops McCain

Anyone who watched the McCain-Obama debate on Wednesday, or heard about it's aftermath, will know about Joe the Plumber. John McCain told a story about Joe Wurzelbacher, an Ohio plumber and handyman who confronted Obama at a rally last weekend. The point of the story was that Joe would pay more taxes under the Obama plan, according to McCain, and therefore Obama's plan to "spread the wealth around" was flawed. Joe clocked up several more name-checks from each candidate during the remainder of the debate.

Naturally, the news media were keen to track down Joe and find out his story. Unfortunately for McCain, it turned out that Joe is a tax defaulter, with no plumbers' licence, who earns less than $40,000 a year, so would be better of under Obama's proposals. Oops.

If you are going to use a personal story - whether about yourself or someone else - make sure that you get the facts right. Otherwise you risk looking foolish, since the truth will nearly always emerge. It doesn't matter if you are running for president or talking to a small audience of potential customers, you need to do your research, and tell the truth.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No sugar, no Marmite, no tomato ketchup - no freedom?

News filters in today that a school in Wales has banned 11-18 year olds from having sugar in tea, because of the "risks to health". This follows other bans in Welsh schools on Marmite (too salty) and tomato ketchup (too processed).

I'm glad my daughter is not at school in the principality. Though we eat healthily as a family (even the Wii Fit thinks we are fit), Marmite, tomato ketchup, and yes, even a bit of sugar are definitely on our menu. We eat them in moderation, just like we have the odd glass of wine (not my daughter, obviously), rare steak, an occasional bar of chocolate and (whisper it gently) sticky toffee pudding and cream.

I'm well aware of the effects of diet on health. My father, a heavy smoker and eater of a fatty diet, died of a heart attack when I was 9 years old. I keep myself pretty fit. My wife was, for ten years, Education Director of the British Heart Foundation, She knows a healthy meal when she sees one.

But banning everything that may cause health problems is ludicrous. Schools should be educating children about healthy choices. Pass the Marmite.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sarah Palin "bumped the edge of the law" - Eh?

A new euphemism (or at least new to me) entered the political lexicon yesterday, as a Republican party spokesman said that their VIce-Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, had "bumped the edge of the law" in the Troopergate affair. Ms Palin was found guilty, by an independent investigator, of abusing her power when she sacked a state official who refused to fire her former brother-in-law, an Alaskan state trooper involved in a messy divorce from Ms Palin's sister.

As aways happens in politics, it's the cover-up that seems to be doing the damage, not the original offence. Republican officials, for obvious reasons, tried to block the enquiry from reporting before November 4th. They failed. It's all getting very messy. They are now accusing the enquiry of being run by Obama supporters, in an effort to limit the damage.

Whether it will really have much of an impact on the outcome in November is debatable. The McCain-Palin camp are losing ground, and are looking for ammunition. The attempt to link Obama with sixties radical Bill Ayres (saying "Obama is close to terrorists") is also looking pretty feeble. These days, Bill Ayres is a respected education official, and everyone knows him.

McCain, to his credit, answered a question at a rally this week by praising Obama. A questioner asked hi, "Should I be afraid if Obama wins?" McCain reassured him that though he would rather be in the White House himself, there is no need to fear his opponent, who is a "nice guy". Maybe McCain has had enough of his party's tactics.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Has Obama reached the tipping point?

Last night's Presidential debate failed to set the world on fire. But I think we saw a shift that may be significant. The "Town Hall" format was supposed to suit John McCain, who has always prided himself on being "close to people". However, Barack Obama performed well, and on most assessments (including mine) won the debate, albeit on points rather than with a knock-out punch.

McCain had to do well in this debate to reverse his sinking numbers. He failed. There is no doubt that the campaign will now get dirtier as the Republicans attempt to make up the seven or eight point gap in the last few weeks before the poll that counts.

I felt that the most telling moment in the debate was when McCain, who was looking away from Obama, jerked his thumb at his opponent and referred to him as "that one". That single moment of disdain and disrespect may come back to haunt McCain. He clearly does not like Obama, and there isn't much love in the other direction either. However, when, in any debate, one side starts to show such an attitude to the other, it's a sign that they are in serious trouble. It may well have been the tipping point.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Ja? Nein? Well. maybe...Merkel in a Muddle

The world financial turmoil has not been helped by the apparent announcement over the weekend that the German Government was guaranteeing all private savings deposits. Ireland and Greece have already done so, but the decision of the European heavyweight would be much more significant. But hang on a minute. At the weekend, Mrs Merkel said, "We tell all savings account holders that your deposits are safe. The federal government assures it."

It now appears that this is a political assurance, not a legal one, reports the BBC website today. No new legislation will be passed in Germany. In fact, it's no different from the assurance offered by Alistair Darling last week.

Unfortunately financial markets thrive on rumour and speculation, not ambiguity. Just like in business, leaders have to make it very clear what they mean. Many of the news websites are still reporting that Germany has given a legal guarantee that savers money will be protected, and stock markets are acting on the news. It would be a shame if things got worse simply through a communication failure, wouldn't it?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

200 men, 300 miles, 72 years ago today

On October 5th, 1936, two hundred unemployed men left their homes in Jarrow to march to Westminster, three hundred miles to the south. The Jarrow Crusade was a response to 85% local unemployment, but more than that, it was a crusade for respect.

My grandfather, Edward Scott, was one of the marchers. He died 30 years ago, but I still remember his stories of what he regarded as the greatest event of his life. The marchers received support, food, water and lodging from well-wishers along the way, and gathered 12,000 signatures on a petition. It wasn't a party political protest. There were Labour, Tory and Liberal marchers, as well as a few Communists.

More information about the march, and the names of all the marchers, can be found here (click on Crusades).

I frequently return to my grandfather's home town (often I'm there for the Great North Run - also today, co-incidentally). I'm immensely proud of his role in one of the greatest citizen protests in the last hundred years. Well done, Ted.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What's in a name? Maybe confidence in a bill...

So the 700 billion dollar plan has been approved. Now we have to see if it will restore confidence to a fragile and jittery financial system. It was touch and go for a while, but I wonder if things would have gone a little more smoothly if some thought had been given to presentation and branding. As a former politician myself, I'm not sure if I could have put my hand up to vote for a "bail-out bill", whatever was in it.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines bail-out as "an act of giving financial assistance to a failing business to save it from collapse"

On the other hand, the OED definition of rescue is "an act of saving or being saved from imminent danger or distress"

Maybe that's why both presidential candidates are now talking about the "rescue plan". A pity that the politicians on Capitol Hill didn't take a bit of branding advice lat week.

The name that something is known by is very, very important. As Juliet says in Romeo and Juliet "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.". True my dear, but would people vote for it?

Friday, October 03, 2008

As Joe Kinnear says - "**** you ******* *****"

My Geordie grandfather must be turning in his grave. He was a devoted Newcastle fan, having been born in the shadow of the ground, and although he lived most of his life in London, left much of his heart on Tyneside. How he would have been depressed by the reports today of temporary manager Joe Kinnear's first encounter with the local press.

Kinnear, who will (probably) be in charge until the club is sold, and a permanent manager is found, mounted a hairdryer attack on the local hacks, delivering a torrent of 46 swear words in a matter of a couple of minutes. It was all over a story that he had given his players a day off on Monday - his first official day at work. His outburst came only a few days after the BBC apologised on air for Kinnear's swearing on Football Focus.

Ironically, while Kinnear was berating reporters and suggesting that he may not talk to them again, he also identified a lack of communication as the main source of the club’s problems, with Spanish full-back Jose Enrique now deployed as a translator for some players.

What a silly man Joe Kinnear is. In his position, getting the press on his side is important, since he also needs to win over the club's fans, as well as improving the team's performance. Prime rule of media management - never,ever, blame the press for your problems. As soon as someone does that, whether a politician or football manager, they're on the slide. Joe Kinnear's tenure may be even shorter than expected.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Conference speechwatch number 3 - David Cameron

I spent the afternoon in a small studio at Sky News, commenting live on David Cameron's speech to the Tory party conference.

It was a much longer speech than those from the other two party leaders, with a different tone. Clearly, the financial turmoil had to be addressed, and he paid it due attention, in a very sober opening passage. The story had been put about that the speech had been hastily re-written in the last 24 hours (which may be true, but the same story is "leaked", every year, about every party leader's speech).

It was a speech designed to present David Cameron as a Prime Minister in waiting. He used the term "prime minister" several times, as a "dog whistle" (subliminal message) to potential supporters. The main theme of the speech was "responsibility", and I lost count of the number of times the word was used. the staging of the event was markedly different from last year - a larger hall, the shadow cabinet on stage (he was bracketed by Hague and Osborne, who looked rather serious throughout), and a static Cameron, with his speech in note form on a lectern.

The "memorised speech" of last year was probably deemed to lack the gravitas required. In fact, last year's speech was also from notes, but the camera cutaways to the applauding audience took place as he consulted his notes. The big difference was staying in one spot. Personally, I think Cameron is more effective on the move, but his advisors clearly thought otherwise.

I think he was stung by Gordon Brown's jibe about being a "novice". He was at pains to point out that "experience often means doing the same things". Of course, that isn't true, but it helped him to make the point that the Tories are about "change" - a word used about as often as "responsibility". There was an echo of Obabma in this, and I know that Cameron's speechwriters have studied the US campaign closely.

Overall, it was a low-key and somewhat defensive speech, I thought. Some of it could easily have been delivered by Tony Blair, in much the same words and tone. That's how politics is these days.

After the dust has settled, I doubt whether any of the conference speeches have altered opinion in the country very much. But no-one dropped a clanger.

The event I'm really looking forward to is Palin v Biden in the early hours of Friday morning.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

MediaCoach October Videoblog

Time for the October videoblog -


Is Sarah Palin out of her depth?

A viewing of the interview that Sarah Palin recently did with Katie Couric must give even her staunchest supporters grave doubts about her ability to run the country. She is hesitant, indecisive and unclear about the economic situation. She may have had a couple of weeks of intense briefing from her media advisors, but in my view, she needs a lot more before being a convincing candidate.

If she was a client of mine, I wouldn't let her in front of a camera until she learns how to deliver a message with clarity and purpose.

It got even worse in a joint interview with John McCain, where they tried to explain a complete disagreement between themselves. They complain about "gotcha" journalism. Well, Sarah, if you're going for the job, you've got to handle the media, not complain about them.

Delivering a barnstorming speech to party supporters is one thing. Getting up close and personal with an experienced political interviewer is something else. The upcoming debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden will be fascinating.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Osborne fails to bite head off bat

Unlike Ozzy, George Osborne doesn't do rock and roll. But he did perform reasonably well in Ozzy's back yard, Birmingham, getting a sustained round of applause for a pledge to freeze Council Tax bills. On closer inspection, it's not actually a pledge, since the levels of Council tax are set by local authorities. It's more a strong bit of encouragement to Councils to keep bill low, by offering to rebate any increases below 2.5%. Still, it's a good sound bite in a fairly dull speech.

Earlier, dear old Boris Johnson made an excellent speech, poking fun at his old rival Ken Livingstone, and at Arnold Schwarznegger, who last year criticised Boris's speaking skills. Boris remarked " it was a low moment, my friends, to have my speaking style denounced by a monosyllabic Austrian cyborg."

Politics apart, the Tories do seem to have better lines this year. Parties in opposition often do, since they have more time to prepare their speeches, not having to worry about day-to-day issues like governing the country.

The word is that Cameron's speech will focus on Corporate Social Responsibility - an odd choice, so maybe it's a smokescreen. I'm sure he'll have some good one-liners.

In terms of the quality of political speakers, I don't think the UK has an embarrassment of riches at the moment. My favourite orators (in no particular order) are Boris Johnson, Vince Cable, and - er - can't think of a current great Labour speaker at the moment. Luckily, there are still two brilliant political orators knocking around - Tony Benn and George Galloway. Agree with them or not, you have to admire their rhetoric.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Nostalgia or dumbing-down?

I used to love a dreadfully naff TV show in the seventies called "It's a Knockout", known in other countries as "Jeux sans Frontieres". Towns like Milton Keynes and Cumbernauld selected their finest youths to participate in mock gladiatorial combat with the likes of Frankfurt and Toulouse. The "games" featured giant inflatable rabbits, lots of water and revolving things. Comentary came from the peerless Eddie Waring and Stuart Hall. I thought it was a thing of the past.

But last night I turned on the telly in the early evening, to be faced with the image of six "celebrities" in baco-foil suits, looking like six assorted oven-ready chickens. Standing next to a pool of water, they were encouraged to adopt weird body shapes to avoid being knocked into the said pool by a polystyrene wall. Dale Winton shouted encouragement. I rubbed my eyes, but the show continued.

I'm not particularly fussed. Afte all, watching Vanessa Feltz taking an unforced bath was quite funny. I wonder if other shows might get reprised. Seaside Special? Challenge Anneka?

Maybe there aren't many new ideas at the BBC. Maybe the programme commissioners are all nostalgic. Anyway, I turned over and watched "You've been framed". Much more sophisticated.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Round one to Obama on points

Having watched the debate between Obama and McCain live last night, I'm struggling to stay awake this morning. They were so polite to each other, it barely got going. No knockout punches were landed, byt Obama had a few good lines ("I'd use a scalpel rather than a hatchet to make cuts"), but McCain scored on foreign policy (especially with detailed knowledge of Russia and its former satellites) and support for the veterans.

McCain rarely made eye contact with Obama, and started the more nervous. Obama kept using the phrase "John is right" before highlighting their differences. Clearly this was a prepared tactic, but I don't think it worked.

So, for me, Obama edged it on points.

Next up, "Caribou Barbie" as she is becoming known, against Joe Biden in the early hours of Friday morning. I can't wait.

Friday, September 26, 2008

McCain - singing the wrong song?

John McCain has a problem. He's starting to look uncertain about what to do. As I write this, there is still no agreement on the 700 billion dollar rescue package for the US eceonomy. McCain says there should be no presidential debate until agreement is reached. Barack Obama, on the other hand, says the debate should go ahead regardless since "Presidents should be able to handle more than one thing at a time". There are 3,000 journalists gathered at the University of Mississippi, waiting for the debate this evening.The hosts have spent over 8 million dollars staging it. A no-show by McCain could do his campaign real damage. His opponent could be left with 90 minutes of unopposed prime-time TV coverage.

However, McCain's supporters argue that he is putting the welfare of his country first, by staying in Washington until the crisis eases. They say he is looking like a statesman. I'm not so sure, but then I don't have to choose a candidate.

John McCain's team has even had trouble with a theme tune. Of late, they were using Chuck Berry's 1958 rock 'n' roll classic, Johnny B Goode. Unfortunately for them, dear old Chuck is an Obama supporter, and objected. They also had to drop an earlier choice, Abba's Take A Chance On Me, after the Swedish group complained. Senator McCain said: "We played it a couple times and it's my understanding that Abba went berserk."

Maybe he should stick to making oven chips.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ruth Kelly's sleepless night

It must have been noisy in that conference hotel in Manchester. All those Labour party workers singing and dancing 'til the early hours, celebrating a speech by their leader. Ruth Kelly probably went to bed early, after 'phoning home and telling her family what a great speech Gordon gave. But her reverie was interrupted by the partying downstairs. Pausing only to don her quilted dressing gown, she decided to take action. Thumbing through her Filofax, she rang every news outlet, explaining that she was standing down from the Government. With a satisfied smile, she must have dropped off to a deep slumber.

Imagine her surprise this morning when all of the headlines were about her and not Gordon's speech.

Of course, that's not what really happened. The official story is that Ruth wants to spend more time with her family (no, honestly), and that Gordon knew several months ago of her decision, but asked her to wait until the next Cabinet reshuffle. So why did she make the announcement in the wee small hours this morning? Couldn't she have waited until the reshuffle in a week or two?

That depends on the impact she wanted to have. Despite her protestations, her timing was a brilliant piece of PR, from someone disenchanted with the leadership of Gordon Brown. Cabinet ministers rarely resign. She knew it would be a huge story, and knock any feel-good factor from yesterday off the front pages. In my view, she made a calculated political decision to inflict damage on a leader who she used to strongly support.

That's the way it goes in politics. Timing is everything. It's a lesson for us all. If you deliver the right message at the right time, everyone listens.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Conference Speechwatch Number 2 - Gordon Brown

I had the great privilege of being able to talk over Gordon Brown on air today. I was giving a live commentary on his speech on Sky Active (if you've seem fanzone on Sky Sports, you'll know what I mean). I was in a voice-over booth at Sky News with a screen showing the speech live, and a microphone. I was told by the guys in the newsroom that over 500,000 people listened to my commentary, and I was the most popular of the eight "active" windows under the red button. Even some of the Sky Newsreaders were listening to me. Frankly, I'm chuffed.

Oh yes, the speech. It was typical Gordon, I thought. Unspectacular, steady hand on the tiller, Labour are the party to steer us through, etc, etc.... A good move for Sarah Brown to introduce him, I thought. The sections on the NHS were when he looked most relaxed,and got the best response. He doesn't do the humour thing well, and delivered few telling sound bites. Nevertheless, as a "can I keep my job?" speech, it worked, I think.

As for policy, I make no comment for or against. I'm not a politician, I'm a speech expert.

Next week, Cameron's speechwriters will have a field day, I'm sure. He's a much better orator, and gets the advantage of going last. Look out for my report.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Urgent - Nick Faldo's PR Advisor - apply here

Poor old Nick Faldo. He's still reeling from "sandwichgate", when he inadvertently revealed the European pairings for the first day of the Ryder Cup. Now the whole thing has imploded, and his "best 'til last" strategy has gone down the Swaneee. Alas, Nick does have a bit of a history when it comes to dealing with the media. Ever since his victory speech at the 1992 Open championship, when he thanked reporters from "the heart of his bottom", some hacks have been waiting for an opportunity to get their own back.

The time is now.

Even some of his closes confidantes say the Faldo doesn't have friends, he has "admirers". Winning US Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger has little time for Faldo, who he once described as a "p**ck". I first met Faldo many years ago, when he was playing his home course in Welwyn Garden City. Even then, as a 20-year-old, he had little time for small talk or PR. I saw him interviewed by the local paper, the Welwyn Times, being almost monosyllabic. The reporter had to make up most of his quotes.

So, the point is, does he need a PR advisor? I think, on balance, probably not. He hates the idea of "spin", and would be unlikely to temper his comments in order to present a "media-friendly" front. Maybe the European team had an off-weekend, and Faldo shouldn't be blamed. But blamed he will be, and the press payback could be brutal.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

How long have I got?

There's a word that media interviewers say to interviewees that makes them talk at great length. The word is "briefly", as in, "So, tell us briefly, in the few seconds we have left, what your new business is about". Alas, on most occasions, the hapless interviewee will begin their well-rehearsed response with a history of how they developed their business, only to be cut off with the words "I'm sorry that's all we have time for". The interviewee leaves the studio annoyed and frustrated that they failed to deliver their message, and furious with the presenter for cutting them off.

Well here's the thing; the news bulletin waits for no-one. It will be broadcast on the hour, regardless of what else is going on. That's why you need to be able to condense (or expand) your answers to fill the time available. Over the years, I have developed a sense of timing that allows me to speak for 30, 45 or 60 seconds, to within a second or two. It has been invaluable to me in media interviews.

Before you go on air, it will pay to practice delivering your message in a limited time. Here's an exercise that I've used with media spokespeople. Take half a dozen sheets of paper, and write a different number of seconds on each. Turn them face down and shuffle them. Take one at random, turn it over, and try to deliver your message in exactly that time. Get someone else to time you - maybe a fellow spokesperson, so you can exchange roles.

When you learn to speak to a precise time, your media interviews will be much more effective. Not only that, you will be surprised how much information you can deliver in a few seconds.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Conference Speechwatch number 1 - Nick Clegg

OK, this is not about politics. It's about speaking. Which makes sense, since I'm currently President of the Professional Speakers Association, and not a political commentator. So it's my take on the party leaders' conference speeches, starting with Nick Clegg of the Lib Dems.

He spoke for just over 38 minutes, on a stage with no lectern (though one lurked in the shadows at the rear of the stage, just in case. Unlike Cameron's speech in 2007, this one seemed to be delivered without any reference to notes, though there may have been prompt screens visible to him.

Nonetheless, it was a good performance, with well-used gestures and a number of strong applause lines. He needs to work on the strength of his voice, which lacks depth when delivering the big lines, but for his first leader's speech at a conference, he did nothing wrong.

Unlike other commentators, I'm unimpressed by politicians speaking without notes. It's something that I and my fellow professional speakers do several times a week, and actors are pretty good at it too. What I am impressed by is a speech with a strong theme, well delivered.

I'd give Nick Clegg 7 out of 10 for this one, and look forward to seeing Brown and Cameron.

Best wishes

Alan

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It's all the fault of the meeja, innit?

I've been in the office all day today, listening to the soothing babble of BBC Radio 5 Live. The main topic of conversation has been, of course, the twitchy stock markets, collapsing banks and sliding house prices. A number of guests have been asked what, or who is to blame. The most popular answer has been....the media. Now, as a part-time journalist myself, I'm aware of the power of the written and spoken word. But it's not that powerful.

Blaming "the media" for all sorts of troubles and tribulations is the last resort of many a scoundrel. I've lost count of the number of celebrities whose indiscretions were revealed, only to turn round and blame "the media" for their demise. Of course, not doing the silly thing in the first place might have been a better way of avoiding public humiliation.

The most important reason why "the media" is not the guilty party is simply that there is no such thing as "the media". There are no journalistic cabals, no conspiracies, and certainly no Government control. If there was even a hint of the latter, then successive Governments would not get into difficulties, and blame, er - you know who - for their poor image.

All of us hacks simply report what we see and hear. And yes, bad news does make the headlines more then good news. That's what most people want to see and hear. Best advice is to take everything with a pinch of salt anyway. Life is good, and mostly funny. At least from where I sit.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Black Hole appears between New York and Newcastle

As someone pointed out in a text to BBC Radio 5 Live this morning, the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva did create a black hole after all. It's currently located somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, and a large financial institution (Lehman Brothers) and a Premiership Football Club (Newcastle United) have already been sucked into it. The hungry vortex may yet claim more victims if the rumours are anything to go by. If I were Gordon Brown, I'd be chaining myself to the banisters in number 10, for a start.

Doom and gloom? Well not from where I sit. As it happens, I was in Wall Street a few weeks ago, watching the investment bankers shouting into their mobile phones. It struck me as all a bit eighties, and there was an air of unreality, almost as though it were a film set. Turns out it's a disaster movie.

As for Newcastle, home of my grandfather, I do have a lot of sympathy for the fans. Mind you, it's clear that a choice of shirt sponsor can have a dramatic impact on a club's fortunes. Mike Ashley, the current owner of Newcastle (though for how long, who can tell?) proudly sported the words "Northern Rock" on his manly bosom. West Ham, also going through some troubled times, opted for XL leisure. And who would have thought that Manchester United would be languishing in fourteenth place in the table this morning. Could it be that the travails of their shirt sponsors, AIG (who are seeking a forty billion dollar bail-out) are having an impact?

So who's next? ( a particularly good album, by the way). My guess is as good as yours. Let's take a look at the Premiership table. Spurs are propping it up. Their shirt sponsors, Mansion, are described on the Spurs website as "a gaming and entertainment company with strong Asian interests". Nineteenth placed Stoke have the Britannia Building Society across their stripes, while one place above them, sport the Crown Paints logo. No doubt they're all fine and stable companies. I'm sure the fans hope so too.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Two Years is a Long Time in Politics

Poor beleaguered Gordon Brown. No sooner does he start a "recovery" strategy, than it all falls to pieces again. It's how publicity seems to work. Once you get into a hole, even if you stop digging, other people queue up to throw dirt in on top of you. For example, the "fuel strategy" announced by Gordon this week turns out to be lukewarm, with only pensioners of a certain age or circumstance qualifying for free insulation. However, that was not what the PM said at his press conference. It's hardly an earth-shattering mistake, but it adds to the mess he's currently in.

Now a handful of disaffected Labour MPs have put their heads above the parapet and called for a leadership election. Although they are hardly likely to muster the seventy supporters they need, it's worth recalling that a similar bid by backbencher Sir Anthony Meyer led to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher. As BBC Political editor Nick Robinson put it this week "It's sometimes the peasant's revolt that brings down the monarch".

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, preparing for his first party conference as leader, must be pleased and annoyed. Mostly the latter, I suspect, since the potential backstabbing of Brown will keep the LibDems out of the headlines, yet again. They can't seem to buy publicity (unless one of their MPs admits to sex, drugs or even rock and roll). David Cameron and the Tories are looking happier, but not as much as you might think. Their danger is peaking too early. We may be two years from an election, and a lot can happen. Brown may recover (unlikely in my view), or young Milliband may take over and revive party fortunes. No-one knows. The best that Brown can hope for is a sudden change in economic fortunes, for which he can take the credit (without the crunch).

I have no political allegiance (since I work with MPs pf all parties), and I've worked in and around Westminster long enough to know that politicians are mostly well-meaning people overwhelmed by events, just like you and I would be. Despite the ravings of a few critics, none of them is "evil" or means harm to any sector of society. More often than not, events outside their control shape their destinies. If I was Gordon's PR advisor (a job I would need to be paid a lot to take), I would tell him to sit tight and not try any gimmicky initiatives. Cameron, on the other hand, needs to take every opportunity to increase his poll lead, which will surely weaken at some point in the future.

When the election finally comes, just like last time, there will be scant differences between the party manifestoes. As Harold Wilson said, "a week is a long time in politics", and there's no telling who will win two years hence.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Knees up Mother Brown

So the third-largest package tour company in the UK has gone belly-up. XL (funny name for a company) grounded all its planes last night, leaving around 70,000 travellers stranded abroad, and around 200,000 people with no holidays to go on. It's a disaster, and so unexpected, Eh? Well, maybe. XL are also the shirt sponsors of Premiership football club, West Ham. One of the West Ham fan forums (a bulletin board on the "Knees up Mother Brown" website) has had a discussion about XL for the past month. A week ago, fans were posting messages about the "imminent demise" of the company, and speculating about who the next shirt sponsor should be.

So why were passengers arriving at check-in in the early hours of this morning, still unaware of the collapse of XL until the check-in staff handed them a leaflet? A glance at the past few months of XL's history says it all. In May, CEO Peter Owen said "Our future is promising" and announced a re-structure of the company called "Fit for the Future". In June, Mr Owen resigned, citing "personal reasons". In August, XL Airways cancelled Caribbean flights,blaming rising fuel costs. In early September, XL Leisure confirmed refinancing talks, which a company spokesman said had "no connection" with the Caribbean flight cancellations. Today, September 12th, the company collapsed.

So far, so disastrous. I wonder why no-one seemed to expect it? The West Ham fans saw it coming. As one said last week "At least I won't have to wear my shirt size on my front any more". Maybe the financial journalists should spend more time on the terraces.

PS - Top marks to Travelcounsellors.co.uk - they snapped up the google adword "xl" and now appear top right of every search screen - brilliant business.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lipstick, Pigs and Pit Bulls

Far be it from me to pass judgement on another country's politics, but the US Presidential, and Vice-Presidential race is turning out to be riveting. The latest spat has been fuelled by an Internet advert for the McCain campaign,accusing Barack Obama of insulting Sarah Palin, by calling her a "pig". In fact, Obama made no reference to Palin in his speech, when he used the phrase "lipstick on a pig" to describe McCain's policies. The advert linked this remark to Palin's "Pit Bull with Lipstick" comment in her speech to the Republican faithful.

However, in politics, as in war, truth is often the first casualty. It doesn't really matter whether Obama was referring to Palin or not, it's the perception created by the advert that counts. It seems that many people in the US believe that it was a deliberate insult, which creates a problem for the Obama campaign. In my view, the speechwriters should have spotted the potential for harm, and used another phrase.

Every day that the news is about Sarah Palin, rather than the issues, is a good day for the McCain campaign chiefs. They must have been rubbing their hands in glee when Obama unwittingly dropped an opportunity into their laps. There's a long way to go yet,and many twists and turns to come. On this occasion, the McCain camp scored a point. It will be interesting to see how Obama responds.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Too old for the Beeb?

I've been the victim of age discrimination by the BBC. Well, to be more precise, by a researcher at the BBC. I called Radio Five Live this morning to offer a comment on how sports stars cope with the media - a topic that I know well, since I list sports stars among my media clients.

My call was answered, as expected, by a researcher. He asked me what I was calling about, and said "that's interesting". He asked me where I lived, and then said "is it East London?". Of course, the phone system had worked it out for him. Then the killer question "May I ask how old you are?" I replied, quite honestly, "55". There was a brief pause "Oh dear" he said "too old for our demographic. I'm sorry. Bye". And there was a click as he hung up the phone.

I was stunned. I was calling the Victoria Derbyshire show at 9.30am. It's a show I have appeared on several times as a guest - as recently as three months ago. I have never been asked my age before. Is it a new policy by the Beeb, or an over-zealous researcher? I hope the latter.

A couple of weeks ago, it was reported that newsreader Selena Scott is suing Channel 5 news for age discrimination. I was at university with Selena, and she has my full support in her claim - she's no age at all. What's going on with the media?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A storm in a supermarket basket

Tesco is considering changing signs in over 2,000 stores following a complaint by the Plain English Campaign. "10 items or less" is regarded as misleading, by the normally sensible Liverpool-based campaigners. They say, quite rightly in grammatical terms, that the sign should read "10 items or fewer", since "less" does not apply when dealing with separate objects, when "fewer" is the correct term.

So far, so pedantic. Tesco has responded by saying that customers may not understand "fewer", so are suggestimg "Up to 10 items". The cost of the change is not clear, but presumably customers will pay for it somehow.

Frankly, I think the whole row is pointless. We all know what Tesco meant in the first place. However, maybe someone should have a word with Sainsburys. I was in there yesterday, and several checkouts had a hanging sign reading "Baskets only". I had a basket, but mine had shopping in it as well, so I wasn't sure what to do.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Don't read, watch

OK, today you can sit back and just watch and listen. It's all in video -

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Back in the UK

At last! A whole week at home. Not that I mind travelling, but it's nice to be back with my family with some time to relax. Of course, I've been watching the Olympics, and forgive me if you are a reader from outside the UK, but the chance to do a bit of celebrating, rather than "Oh well, it's the taking part that counts" has been wonderful. I'm really looking forward to 2012, when I'll be able to visit the Olympic Park only 15 minutes from my front door.

TV and radio have been doing a great job in Bejing, though apparently the BBC have a larger team of staff there than Team GB. Maybe the BBC should have marched behind their own flag in the opening ceremony. However, I did detect one sour note. Mihir Bose, the BBC sports editor (and a fine chap, who I have met on several occasions) presented a story headlined "UK Government refuse to add to 2012 Olympic funds"). This story aired on the same day that the GB team won four gold medals. Now I know that when it comes to whingeing, we can often beat the world, but to run these two stories back-to-back was ridiculous. The funding issue wasn't even a real story, since all that was said by "a Government spokesman" was that they thought sufficient funding for 2012 was already in place. Shame on the BBC for a shabby piece of news creation, on a day of celebration.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Back again and gone again

Just back from a couple of days on business in the Lake District, where the weather was "variable" as you can see from this video -


video


So there you have it. My first videblog is a weather report. How typically English of me.
In a few hours I head off to Dubai (currently 45 degrees C). I'll try to video the weather there too...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hey ho, back to the office

Well, that was an amazing two weeks. I've been in New York City, attending the annual convention of the National Speakers Association, with 2,000 fellow speakers in a posh hotel in Times Square. The highlight of the trip for me was a private after party in a huge suite on the 43rd floor, with fellow speakers and entertainers. Amazing.

The centre of Manhattan is packed with media outlets - in fact it's hard to wander down a street without tripping over lighting cable or camera crew. You'd think that people would be used to it, but far from it - huge crowds gather whenever an arc light is turned on. Maybe they're all tourists like me. If you want to be on TV, just stand in Times Square for a full day - more likely than not you'll end up in front of a camera.

Anyway, back to work in the office, for a couple of days at least. I'm off travelling again on Wednesday - no rest for the itinerant media expert....

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mick

He won't ever read this, but allow me to wish Sir Mick Jagger a very happy birthday anyway. I first saw him and the lads in a very seedy club on Eel Pie Island in the middle of the Thames, near Twickenham, in the early sixties. He probably still talks about it.

When it comes to longevity in entertainment, the Stones cracked it. Bill Wyman bailed out to go his own way, Ron Wood arrived decades ago (and seems to have always been there), and poor Brian Jones checked out early, though he'd already left the band before his death. But Charlie, Mick and Keith have gone all the way, and seem likely to keep rocking for years to come.

It's a great example of simply doing what you do well. Greg Norman showed similar qualities when he battled to third place in the Open golf championship recently. He succeeded in conditions that destroyed the games of younger players, because his long experience had taught him how to play in driving wind and rain.

Experience is what audiences pay for. A reassuring thought.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Public Interest or Private Matter?

The ruling in the case of Max Mosley versus the News of the World has gone in favour of the boss of world motorsport. Mr Justice Eady said Mr Mosley could expect privacy for consensual "sexual activities (albeit unconventional)".Fair enough. I'm not vaguely interested in what people do in their bedrooms, or indeed in a London basement.

However, there is a broader principle at stake here. It's the "public interest" defence that was used by the newspaper. Let me make one thing clear. I'm not a fan of the News of the World, but I am a part-time journalist. My view is that people who run large organisations, and who expect respect from us as a result of their position, also have a duty to behave in a proper manner. In my own small way, I'm in charge of a an organisation too - the Professional Speakers Association. As President, I feel an obligation to the members to set an example in terms of behavior. As it happens, I don't have the proclivities that Mr Mosley has admitted to (though I do still harbour lustful thoughts about Julie Christie). But I think that your private behavior should reflect your public position. Mr Mosley, and the judge, clearly disagree. The judgement, in my view, is a bad one for journalism, and a worse one for society in general.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Is it me getting old, or what?

I've been having a bit of trouble with my identity lately. No, it isn't me getting absent-minded. Some swine has stolen my identity and opened a bank account and several credit card accounts in my name. luckily it's all been detected, and no money has been lost.

However, I have been advised ot check my credit records at Experian and Equifax to make sure that everything is in order. Of course, I now have to prove that I am really me (if you see what I mean), and therefore need to supply proof of identity. I received an email from Equifax today, which included this phrase - "...we must first receive a copy of the following documents from you for security purposes. One Statement - Dated within the last eight weeks, addressed to you at your current address. Documents excepted are Utility Bills or Bank Statements."

Note the last sentence about "Documents excepted.." When I went to school, admittedly a few years ago, "excepted" meant "not included". However, what the message is clearly meant to say is "Documents accepted..", in other words exactly the opposite.

The email was clearly written by Humpty Dumpty, who used to say 'When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'

Maybe I'm just a bit old and pedantic (but I think not)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Not my fault, guv...

Vanni Treves, the new chairman of Equitable Life, was all over the airwaves this morning, following the publication of a report by Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ann Andrew, into the company's spectacular collapse. Mr Treves was keen to put responsibility for any further compensation firmly in the hands of the Government, citing strong criticism of financial regulators in Ms Andrew's report. He sats that Equitable Life have "paid up and discharged their responsibility to customers", and that the Government should now put their hand in their (or rather our) pocket.

I have a bit of a problem with his argument. OK, financial regulators are there to do a job, and should be criticised if they fail in their duties. But surely the primary failing was that of the management team at Equitable Life? Without their decisions, none of this would have happened. Interestingly, the current management team have dropped their court action against the previous managers who got them into the mess, since it would "serve no useful purpose".

So, the previous managers are not going to be made to pay, the current managers say they've done enough, and the Government is asked to cough up. That's you and me. The Government has no money - they can only raise it from us in taxes, or borrow it, in which case the taxpayer eventually pays the bill anyway. So should I have to pay for the actions of managers who gambled and lost? I don't think so.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Thumbs up Egg, Thumbs down Ryanair

As a former (and still occasional) consumer journalist, I keep a keen eye on customer service. Every company that I deal with has a "customer charter", explaining how they will offer superb service to each and every customer. Alas, few maintain that promise. I had a couple of examples of both extremes in the space of 30 minutes today.

Firstly, there was Egg. As I mentioned yesterday, I have been the victim of identity theft, with some unknown felon trying to open credit card and bank accounts in my name. The first two companies I spoke to - Halfax and Audi - were pretty much disinterested, though they both promised to investigate, though not to tell me the outcome. However, Egg contacted me by letter to say that they had noticed a suspicious application, and explained what action they were taking to help me. I spoke to a woman in their fraud protection department who was brilliant. I was so impressed that I contacted my pal Derek Williams, who runs the "WOW awards" for customer service.

On the other extreme, I booked a flight to Salzburg with Ryanair. Although the "window price" was low, the add-on fees for taxes, insurance, luggage, boarding and check-in all inflated the price massively. Worst of all, they now charge four pound per person per flight for paying by Debit Card! I have seen, and understand charges for credit cards, but for debit cards? Mr O'Leary is taking the you-know-what. OK, I still booked the flight, but I don't feel good about the company at all. I'd prefer transparent pricing anyday.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I've been cloned

I received four letters this morning, welcoming me to various credit cards and bank accounts that I definitely hadn't applied for. Yes, I'm the victim of identity theft. I rang the financial institutions immediately, and it seems that their procedures had stopped any money from going missing. Phew.

However, I'm still concerned about the impact on my credit rating, so I went to the sites of the two major credit reference agencies - Equifax and Experian. They have a statutory duty to supply details of your credit history for a fee of two pounds. Even though you can apply online, they send it by post, taking "up to seven days". I can see my report online immediately, for twelve quid. Not very user-friendly for someone who has just had their identity nicked. I guess I'll have to pay the fee for immediate access.

Fingers crossed.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Will the real Bill Clinton please stand up?

For a while, I was being followed around by Bill Clinton. Quite flattering really. It came about because I followed him on Twitter, and his account must be set up to follow all followers (still with me?). All fine and dandy so far. However, today there was a very rude "tweet" about Obama and I thought "oops". Clearly it was an impostor, or Bill has completely lost it (obviously the former). Anyway, I've stopped following him. However the Barack Obama twitter account that I'm following seems to be genuine.

It's really hard to tell what is real and what is not on the Web. On facebook, I'm "friends" with Russell Grant and Jeremy Clarkson. I think at least one of them is real (or at least it's created by their PR person with their approval). Personally, I can't be bothered to impersonate anyone, since it's tough enough to keep up with social networks as me. I wonder how many Slim Shadys are online?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Slavery Today

So what is slavery all about today? According to Sepp "Mad as a" Blatter, president of FIFA, it is exemplified by Cristiano Ronaldo's plight at Manchester United. Poor Cristiano is earning a mere one hundred thousand pounds a week (that works out at two hundred times the average wage in the UK). I seem to recall that the artist formerly known as squiggle (now Prince again, I think) used a similar description of his relationship with his record company, when they asked him to fufil his contractual obligation by making more albums.

Forgive me, but I thought slavery was a social-economic system under which people are captured, and made to work against their will for little or no compensation. Maybe it's been re-defined while I wasn't looking. It seems that Cristiano, and Prince, signed contracts, of their own free will, that made them pots of money, for not working that hard. Presumably the leg-irons and whip have not been used (yet) by Sir Alex.

As that great and loyal servant of Manchester United, Sir Bobby Charlton, said in today's Daily Telegraph "If this is slavery, give me a life sentence".

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Speaking Out

I'm delighted to be a judge at the Speak Out Challenge at the Mermaid Theatre this evening. Eighteen hopeful 14-year-olds from London and Essex will be competing for the top prize of five thousand pounds. It's a real pleasure to be part of it.

Bearing in mind that public speaking is the most widespread fear, and young people are not always confident, a competition like this is very important. Next year it should go nationwide, and I hope that every school gets involved.

If I'd had a competition like this when I was at school, i might have become President of the Professional Speakers Association by now. (you are, you twit - Ed)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Beam me up, Scotty

I've never really got the hang of Second Life. It's as much as I can do to cope with one life, let alone another one. Nevertheless, I see more and more companies making announcements about opening branches in the virtual world, and even holding events and client meetings there (wherever "there" is). I have ventured a toe into the water, but to me, it still looks like a giant video game. Maybe I'm getting old, or maybe I'm just too rooted in reality to enter a virtual world.

The owners of Second Life (now there's a megalomaniac dream for you - owning your own universe), Linden Lab, have just announced the first ever "teleporting" of an avatar (that's your virtual self) to a different virtual world, run by someone else.

Here's the announcement, which even includes a video of the "historic event". If you want hyperbole, they've got it. Don't beam me up Scotty, I like it right here.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Recession? What Recession?

I know, I know, I'm not supposed to use the "R" word (although now some people are even using the "D" word). I recognise that times are getting a little tough. But the news headlines seem only to make things worse. I don't blame the media for this at all (OK, I'm in the media, so I do have to declare an interest). All the media are doing is reporting what surveys and company spokespeople are weeping and wailing about.

Forgive me, but things don't seem that bad. House prices are falling (but unless you are over-mortaged or selling up to move somewhere remote, it doesn't matter that much). Some things are more expensive. But the bars and restaurants still seem to be full, and when I try to book a hotel or airline ticket to go to a speaking gig, I still have to book well in advance to get a place. Even if times do get hard, people will pay for high-quality products and services. So if that's what you offer, you'll be fine. And it is what you offer, isn't it?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Heinz in Gay Kiss PR DIsaster (or is it...?)

In case you haven't heard about the controversy, have a look at the Heinz advert that was recently withdrawn because of complaints about a "gay kiss". Here it is.

Yes - exactly - it's not a gay kiss at all. It's an advert which tries to show that their new deli mayo will make anyone like a New York deli chef. So why withdraw the ad? It's the sort of thing you see every day on the streets of London, or on TV, come to that. Why have hundreds of people complained? Most remarkable of all, it has been drawn to the attention of the American Family Association, a powerful Christian group. They emailed over three million supporters, describing the advert as "the kind of ad we can expect to see in California as they prepare to vote on homosexual marriage". Good grief. have they no sense of humour or proportion (No - Ed).

But is it a PR disaster? Not in my view. Millions of people have now heard of a product which they may one day go out and buy. Heinz and their PR company will no doubt be kissing each other all the way to the bank.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A snack-size posting

This posting is only snack-size (or bite-size if you prefer), so it's much less fattening than a normal posting- or is it? Dutch scientists have discovered that when people are offered "snack-size" crisp packets or normal sized ones, they end up eating several of them, containing more crisps than a normal bag.

The researchers came up with the theory that people justify eating several snack-size chocolate bars or packets of crisps because they contain fewer calories, but eat several at a sitting. So there you are - snack-size packets can make you fat. OK, you can go to the kitchen now.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Alan Stevens 2.0

I've re-branded myself, as you can see from the title of this piece. Don't worry, it's only for a few minutes. I was prompted to do so after receiving a series of promotional emails and direct mail about events, services and products, all of which ended with "2.0". So, I thought, if it's good enough for them...

On reflection, it's just dismal marketing. Here's an example - sportsmarketing 2.0 Oh dear. Tim Berners-Lee would be turning in his grave, except for the fact that he's still very much alive. Even he's getting in on the act - not with 2.0, but with 3.0 Here's what he had to say recently - "People keep asking what Web 3.0 is., I think maybe when you've got an overlay of scaleable vector graphics - everything rippling and folding and looking misty - on Web 2.0 and access to a semantic Web integrated across a huge space of data, you'll have access to an unbelievable data resource."

No, I didn't make that up, that's exactly what he said. Your guess is as good as mine. "Taxi for Mr Berners-Lee..."

Monday, June 30, 2008

Getting the Message out

I'll probably get in trouble from Transport for London for encouraging beggars, but I gave a pound to a very clever young lady on the tube this morning. Instead of simply asking for money, she walked along the half-empty carriage and placed a slightly crumpled piece of cardboard - about the size of a business card - on the seats, beside each passenger. Of course, you couldn't help but read it. It said "I am poor and look after my two sisters. Your small donation will help us eat and find a warm place to stay. Thank you for your kindness". After proceeding through the carriage again to collect her gifts, she scooped up the cards for re-use.

Yes - I had the same thought - it's quite possibly a made-up sob story. That wasn't why I gave her some money. It was very clever marketing, and it clearly worked well - almost everyone gave her something. She'd spotted a way of persuading people to give money and feel comfortable about it. That's how great marketing works.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A fine weekend

I spent the weekend on the edge of a field with friends, having a few beers and listening to some great music. Unlike last year, it didn't pour with rain. No, I wasn't at Glastonbury, or anywhere near it. I was with a group of current and former neighbours at the home of the latter - a converted pub in the Essex countryside. We get together several times a year to chat, eat and - of course - have a few drinks. Our children all play together, giving us the chance to relax.

What does this have to do with the media? Nothing at all. It's pure downtime. I hope you had some too.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Tesco 1 Fearnley-Whittingstall 0

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall failed today in his bid to persuade Tesco shareholders to force the store to raise standards for rearing the chickens they buy. Bad luck, Hugh. Or was it? Even though he garnered only 10% of the votes, the publicity generated by his campaign has been enormous. Even his defeat could be a good thing for him, since it will keep the issue in the news for a little longer.

This kind of PR stunt (and I use the term admiringly) is a low-cost way of raising an issue to the top of the news agenda. I'm amazed that more causes and companies don't use similar tactics. Some organisations thrive on their ability to generate publicity at almost no cost. Others throw millions of dollars at advertising agencies. It really is a matter of paying your money and making your choice.

I know what I prefer...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Goodbye George

I have been remiss. Having just written my latest ezine and recorded my podcast. I am reminded that I neglected to pay tribute in this blog to the funniest man on earth, George Carlin, who died earlier this week. I was lucky enough to see him perform live, and have been in awe of him ever since. His demolition of "soft language", religion, and pomposity of all sorts was unparallellled.

Check out the vids on YouTube - there are hundreds of clips. But be warned if you are in any sense religious, pompous or sensitive to swearing. OK, off you go...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Oh I say!

Wimbledon time again. Or as dear old Harry Carpenter used to say "Wmbldn" (thanks to Clive James for that observation). In these early days, British hopes are high. The ladies are putting up a good show, Andy Murray looks strong, and previously unknown qualifier Chris Eaton delivered 26 aces to overcome Serbian Boris Pasanski yesterday. The Daily Mail has gone into raptures, and I say fair play to him too.

Radio 5 Live delivered a terrific audio montage of commentary on his victory played over "Eton Rifles" by The Jam. OK, a bit of a cliche, but it worked for me. Alas, earlier this year the same song was the subject of some media controversy when Conservative leader and ex-Etonian David Cameron declared that it was his favourite song. The song's composer, Paul Weller, was unimpressed, particularly since he wrote it to rage against the privilege and arrogance of students at Eton. Clearly Cameron missed the point, which Weller rubbed in by saying “Which part of it didn’t he get? It wasn’t intended as a f****** jolly drinking song for the cadet corps.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Jeff Koons Balloons - 12 million quids worth?

Well I'm blowed. There I was at my favourite London haunt, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, waiting for a media training client. I looked out of the window and saw what looked like an enormous balloon sculpture in the middle of St James's Square. On closer inspection, that's exactly what it was, in gleaming cerise-coloured metal. There was even a man polishing it, and two security guards in attendance.

Apparently it's the latest work by Jeff Koons, and is due to be auctioned for a sum not undajacent to 12 million pounds (about a squillion dollars). That's a tidy sum in any language. Actually, I rather liked it, and the groups of picnicking office workers around it in the lunchtime sun seemed to approve of it too. That's what public art should be all about. Nice one, Jeff.
The MediaCoach Blog is back! OK, calm down. I'll try to post more often - honestly. Feel free to drop me a line. Ta.

Nice to see that the art of oratory is not dead. A couple of years ago, I watched Bill Clinton's speech to the Labour Party Conference, and marvelled once again at the way he can hold an audience. It was a masterclass in speaking technique, using pauses, eye contact and creating an extraordinary rapport.

That's why Bill can charge up to three hundred thousand pounds for a single speech. No-one else comes close to his earning potential, although speakers such as Jack Welch, Bill Cosby and Rudy Guiliani don't need to worry about paying the mortgage. In the UK, celebrity speakers earn the big cheques. Matt Lucas, Gary Lineker and Ant and Dec all earn over £25k a time (of course, the Geordie boys only get half each). But then you know all that if you'd listened to me being interviewed by Chris Evans on Radio 2 a while back. You missed it? Never mind, it's on my website.