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..."