Staying in the EU is not about economics – it’s about political stability

The economists for  the UK leaving the EEC and staying in have fought themselves to a standstill – it would seem that which ever way you are tribally inclined you will pick the economics that supports your inclination. My reason for wanting to stay in the EU is political. And I know that the Brexiteers will talk about laws being made in Brussels and British autonomy being weakened. Though I would look at the last 30 years and say that Britain has been remarkably autonomous in terms of our national identity so more of the same as far as I am concerned.

Here are my questions. Is Britain capable of fighting a land war in Europe? And how many French refugees would we be able to take? Is Britain able to feed 60 million people using its own resources? If the answers to any of these is no. Then I respectfully suggest that leaving the EU would be a silly thing to do since the partnerships of the last 60 years has kept Western Europe peaceful for that time.  I never did national service and I don’t expect to see my son conscripted to defend the United Kingdom. The Brexiteers say that just won’t and can’t happen.  But the very confidence they have is because of the political stability we have been enjoying and which we destabilise by withdrawing.  Has come because of the European community which has made war unimaginable.  When you revert to nation states and start to use blockades to protect yourself war follows very soon. Why have the oil prices been all over the place. Ukraine that’s why. Nation states create instability because they behave unilaterally if they can.  Large trading b locs are forced into multilateral behaviour.  The talk of the Brexiteers is unilateral -even if economically that will not be possible even if we withdraw.

I acknowledge the unwieldiness inefficiency and cost of bureaucracy in Brussels Frankfurt Luxemburg and Strasburg. But that is nothing compared with the inefficiency and cost of a land war.  Our defence is dominated by the felt need to reciprocate against a nuclear attack. We are not strong enough to protect ourselves from conventional attack. Stay in.

God moves in VERY mysterious ways

It is one of the most irritating phrases in the English language. Bleated by well meaning religious types who want to close down speculation and uncertainty with a non threatening conversation stopper that suggests It will turn out all right  – God is still in charge.  It sounds pious, humble, tentative. But for those on the receiving end the platitude ‘God moves in mysterious ways’ comes across as smug and complacent.

That wasn’t how it began. God moves in mysterious ways is  the first line of a poem Light out of Darkness which became one of the greatest hymns in the English language.  Written by William Cowper in his time one of the best regarded poets in the country.  When I say written – more like dragged out of him as he teetered on the edge of a manic episode that looked as if it would destroy him.  He had been recovering from a mental breakdown and was invited to move with his carer to a village in Bedfordshire. The vicar who invited him lived on the other side of the village green. His name was John Newton – he was notorious as the slave trading captain who had turned to religion. He was after a fashion a hymn writer as well. Though not in the same class as Cowper. The two men became friends and used to meet daily. They started to write together and to put together a collection of their poems and hymns.

On the morning of the day God moves in mysterious ways was written a new hymn had been sung in church. Newton was worried that the children wouldn’t follow his sermon so had put some verses to go with it. The first line of that one “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.“ A small masterpiece in its own right because the entire lyric contains almost no words as long as 3 syllables – it was never recognised as such in Newton’s own lifetime. Even if it tops polls today.

So that afternoon Cowper was walking through the fields when he realised that the black dog of depression was about to take him again. As he turned for home he got caught in a thunderstorm – he ran back go the village across the fields through torrential rain as words formed in his mind. When he got home he wrote the entire poem down. Within 12 hours Cowper was trying to kill himself. Newton was summoned and had to wrestle the knife out of his hand.  Cowper lived for another 27 years.  Convinced he had been told by God to kill himself as a sacrifice he regarded himself as apostate for failing to do so.  He never wrote another religious poem. And he never set foot in a church again.

Here’s the poem. Light out of Darkness. I think it’s a remarkable window on mental illness.  Despair is being kept at bay. Just.  There’s nothing remotely smug about it.

God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps in the sea,    And rides upon the storm.


Deep in unfathomable mines Of never-failing skill,

He treasures up his bright designs,  And works his sov’reign will.


Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy, and shall break   In blessings on your head.


Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust him for his grace;

Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.


His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding ev’ry hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow’r.


Blind unbelief is sure to err, And scan his work in vain;

God is his own interpreter, And he will make it plain.


The poem became a casualty of the first line – repeated so often it turned into a platitude. A way of excusing the inexcusable.  But the poem still remains a way of affirming hope when there is absolutely no evidence that what you believe is true. In fact all of the indications are to the contrary.  Sometimes all you can do is to hold on.

Technology isn’t working (ask my mum)

If you work at a technology company then this is for you.  My mother has just called me. She is over 80 has problems with her eyesight and she wants help working the TV.  She was looking for handwritten instructions for getting one of the 2 televisions in the house working.  She needs to locate both of the handsets. The one which manages the cable signal into the house. And the one which switches the TV on and off. I go through the familiar mantra. Never turn off the cable box.  Just use the handset to change channels.  And use the other handset to turn the TV on and off. And to adjust the volume.  She tells me that the TV won’t change channels. So round we go again.

My mother doesn’t want a 4K Smart TV streaming internet with apps,  timeshift TV viewing and an interface that changes when the manufacturer feels like updating it (and collects all the viewing data whether you’re cool with that or not) . She just needs a set with a power button, a channel selector and a volume control. But technology companies believe in progress so they make television sets that very few people over the age of say 60 can use with any degree of confidence.   That is why my mother has 2 TV sets she cannot use and there are none on sale that she can.  My mother is not a moron. She has been using televisions for 60 years. Her inability to use a television set on which she depends for news and entertainment is not her fault but that of the technology companies who make products which only young tech savvy consumers can use.  This is moronic because most of the population with money are older than the audience for whom the tech companies are building TV sets.

I know what you’ll say – she should get on the internet and sort herself out. Google the problem.  Only she has been diagnosed with Parkinsons so struggles to use a mouse. She’s perfectly capable of using one but the screen freezes – what she needs to do is to upgrade to Windows 10 right? How is she supposed to do that. Why is Windows 7 obsolete and no longer for sale – that’s the OS she is used to.

In any case she can’t upgrade to Windows 10 because her internet connection is running at 15% of the speed she is paying a monthly fee for.  Fast enough for email but not fast enough to download any of the software which no longer comes on DVDs from a computer shop but you buy a code in a cardboard box and download and install that way.

I call the broadband provider to ask why the connection is so slow. They send a modem and try to charge her for the postage. I lose my temper. They credit her account.  It saves her £6. They explain the reason the connection with the new modem is running so slowly is because she has too many telephone sockets in her house – she’ll never get the value.

So if you work for a technology company I hope by now you are thoroughly ashamed of yourselves.  We don’t need 4K screens, surround sound, high speed downloads, and social campaigns so we can chatter about the football results. We need services which just work and are self explanatory for experienced users with the money to pay for them who actually depend on them totally. My mother lives an hour away from her children. So email, a working telephone, a mobile that she can reload using spoken instructions over a helpline all of these are essential. But tech companies are so busy blazing their way into glorious future there is zero tolerance for an ageing population who just don’t get it. Because you’re making the wrong products and delivering and supporting them incompetently.

So can I suggest you cancel your next viral, celebrity fuelled, lifestyle, co-created  UX branded content and make boxes with a buttons on them which can be worked by people with visual and mobility issues. You never know. You might even make money doing it.

I know I’m being a bit tetchy here but its probably because I was a bit short with her when she called. She made sure she did after 5.30 but I was still in work mode. Though actually I wasn’t working. I was just trying to clear my way through a back catalogue of promotional crapola emails for a bunch of offers which I shall never  respond to. So it’s my guilt talking.  This is no way of living. For her or for me.  So take some unfriendly feedback and change your products. Too subjective.  I can give you some genuine research feedback. I was interviewing someone in a department store a few weeks ago who was trying to buy a £500 TV. With a ruler. He knew his mantelpiece was 8 inches deep. So he asked for a tape measure so he could choose a TV set with a stand less than 8 inches so he could put it on his mantelpiece as his young grandson recommended. I hadn’t the heart to tell him he would struggle to use a fraction of the technology inside of it.  A £500 TV sold because it had an 8 inch stand. Really. I rest my case.

Carnage and Colectiv responsibility

I am playing catch up at present. Like everyone I was appalled by the news of the fire at gig at the Colectiv in Bucharest. But having checked that no one I knew was involved and then seeing the protests build up to the fall of the government I had been first confused by how the government could have been so swiftly implicated – and then the global  news machine rolls on so I forgot about it. Until I realised that I did know people who were there at which point the horror of it all hit me.

I have been visiting Romania for nearly 10 years now during which time Bucharest has changed radically.  But there has always been a feeling of mild chaos. I’ve gone to nightclubs to see bands, I’ve gone to dance clubs underground. And if you’d told me the walls were covered with flammable tiles and people were standing around them cigarettes in hand I would have shrugged. That’s just how it is around here. Is it dangerous? I suppose so.  But that is how the culture is – people take short cuts – officials look the other way. And most of the time nothing goes wrong. So what?

Nearly 50 lives snuffed out. That’s what. Unnecessarily. The trouble with fatalism is that you think it can’t be changed. Or that it doesn’t matter. The two I knew who were there – probably right up at the front watching the band Gravity. Right where the action was and right where the fire started. They didn’t have a chance.  Monica Tanasiou was a director of innovation – I’ve taken the liberty of using a photo of her standing by a display of fragrances. The photo taken by her partner Ionut Popescu one of the founders of the agency Cell.   I’ve taken the liberty of linking to an experimental film of dancing buildings he was working on a few months ago. They were lovely people and really good at what they did. Evidence that Romanian creativity and talent is world class.  So why should someone have to take their lives in their hands when they go to a gig or a night club. No reason. Because the difference between making products and environments that are healthy and safe or ones that can kills us is a tiny difference. It costs a little more money. But not much.  Unless somebody doesn’t care.  And then all the creativity and quality in the world won’t save you.  I was bemused by all the anger following the fire at Colectiv because I too had become fatalistic. But if the people who opened that club and the officials who gave it a venue license had taken the trouble Monica and Ionut took over their work there wouldn’t have been a problem.  Its partly why what happened to them is so unbearable – its the opposite of the life they were building for themselves which is all too evident from the pictures they left behind. I don’t want to suggest that the lives of creatives and craftspeople are worth more than the lives of others – every life is precious and unique. But much of the the richness of our own lives come from the best of what others make for us. When they make it well.

It is true that Romanians beat themselves up over institutional corruption. And while there seems to be a lot of it in Romania the rest of Europe are hardly clean. British bankers are getting back to business as usual after bringing the continent to its knees with the financial crisis.  We have discovered that iconic German marques put software in all their diesels to fake the tests. And we have just been told that from the highest levels Russian athletics sanctioned doping.  Corruption is everywhere. It doesn’t go away.  But what allows corruption to succeed is fatalism.  If we refuse to tolerate it wherever we find it we can drive it back.  The reason billions of people have a better standard of living than they did a generation ago and might expect a better future for their children comes from small changes which add up. The imminent climate change conference in Paris will either be an exercise in fatalism or making a real effort to make changes which will lead to a better future and not a worse one.  We need to hold the line against cynicism and fatalism – we can do better and be better. And the world will prosper when we do.


Productivity gets personal

There was a recent news item that claimed that Britain wouldn’t move into growth unless employers could improve productivity. What has been happening is that the existing workforce are working longer hours (in their own time) and this isn’t making people more productive – it is giving bosses the pretext for not investing in capital improvements which would make their people more effective while they were at work. Cue more agonising over work hours exploitation and a zero hours culture.

My concern with this is that it is measuring the wrong sort of productivity – only that of economic productivity. There are 8 kinds of capital so productivity needs to be understood in wider terms.  See the graphic and the article it comes from.  Several of these kinds of capital are essential for the business owner. If your staff turnover is relentless high, the experience of your company is leaking out the door – you are losing intellectual capital unless you have made strenuous efforts to capture it. If companies which create knowledge capital (like research agencies and ad agencies) don’t catalogue it they lose it when their employees leave.  Productivity is about creating value using all the assets you have. And making stuff fast and charging for it is arguably one of the least profitable ways of doing it.


But I want to address the issue of trying to prop up productivity by working longer hours. Work has invaded every part of life. People answer emails in the middle of the night. Weekend work is usually unpaid.  Somebody had to explain what TIL meant to me the other day – not an acronym I come across often (it means Time in Lieu – does your employer offer you that?).  But work expanding outside of work hours just means there is less time to do the things you are supposed to be doing out of hours to make you a more successful human being not to mention a productive employee.

At its most basic you may not be getting enough sleep so you’re not working at your optimum when you do go to work.  But simple things like staying in to wait for the engineer to come and fix the washing machine, looking after children because it’s the holidays or the school staff have had yet another inset day (for which they bear no responsibility for looking after your children). Or looking after your elderly parents. Because the state doesn’t want to – and if you live hours of travel away that has to be fitted into the schedule as well. One of the core values in our society is doing it yourself or if you have the money paying somebody else to do it. And that is what we spend significant proportions of our lives doing.  And that is part of your productivity – how you measure your own.

There isn’t enough time. You know there isn’t. So home life invades the workplace. Going on holiday? I bet you booked it online at work.  You may not be at home to take delivery of a purchase on the internet but chances are you were at work when you booked it.  There were attempts in the early days of Facebook to ban social media platforms from computers at work (and I accept that not everyone has access to a computer at work) but along comes the smartphone to let you do all the same things – not a lot your boss can do about that – and its even more productive because its more difficult to serve ads onto a smartphone so at least you can’t be targeted as easily by advertisers!

Where am I going with this? Two suggestions. To plead with employers to monitor the productivity of their employees in other terms than the bottom line but in terms with how each employee perceives themselves as people to be productive. Including all the home stuff. They will be happier employees and you will get more out of them.

Secondly if you work in the marketing business to recognise that however you engage with customers that in all probability you are reducing their productivity in economic terms – you are interrupting them, not just their TV watching or reading but what they are being paid to do. You are a distraction which can either be annoying or a treat. Aim to be the second. But of course recognising that an alternative to being a distraction to your customers is being useful to them. If you can make them more productive  (in their terms – as human beings) the more they will reward you with their attention and their liking.  Productivity in economic terms isn’t going to increase any time soon. Go forth and distract! Or increase their productivity.

The high price of independence – a price too high to pay


What with the European elections in the next few days, pressure building on all our main political parties to go for a European referendum as a way of extracting Britain from the EC. At the same time Great Britain could be just a little less great by mid- October if the Scots vote to take themselves out of the picture making the United Kingdom move a binary kingdom. My Scottish friends are becoming increasingly vocal. Say yes.  It looks like it might really happen. Despite all the warnings that they would be outside the EC and have to reapply. Despite being warned they wouldn’t be allowed to keep the pound as a unit of currency. Despite being told they will have to pick their share of the national debt.  All those insolvent Scottish banks.  It’s an interesting time in politics at the moment.

And I have been wondering when I have to make up my own mind.  I don’t have the vote. I can’t vote no.  It’s the residents of Scotland who vote whether to stay or to go.  But Scotland aside the pressure is growing with right wing parties like the comic UKIP to pressure the mainstream parties to have a referendum and take what’s left of Britain independent.

I made up my mind last month at the Arc de Triomphe. I had gone with the family to Paris for the week.  Caught the morning train into London and jumped on the Eurostar at Kings Cross. And we were in Paris by lunchtime.  An easy journey. The Arc de Triomphe is a memorial commemorating French victories set up by Napoleon.  It became a symbol of French power long before World War 1. A tomb of an unknown French soldier was placed there after the Great War and an undying flame set up to remember the French dead. Only French power wasn’t what they thought. In 1939 the German army unceremoniously occupied France and the Arc de Triomphe with it.  I thought about that invasion as I stood under the arch.

And was vividly reminded that nationalist has started a lot more wars than it has prevented. I have never had to fight in a war.  Nor has my son been called up to do national service either. Western Europe has enjoyed the longest period of peace in history. And largely I would suggest because we found a way to form a supra-nationalist order.   Nations get into squabbles which escalate into wars to defend interests.  It might seem ridiculous to imagine that the English would send special forces into an independent Scotland to rescue English citizens. In a supranational political order that would be unthinkable. But that is exactly what has been happening in Ukraine – a national entity not powerful enough to defend itself but powerless to prevent its citizens joining militias and creating conflict.

What neither the Scottish separatists nor the British independence lobby have considered is the ability of the nation state to defend its interests. But there is more to independence than economics.  You need to be able to back up the talk.  Scotland as a nation of 5 million people isn’t big enough.  Nor would the rest of the United Kingdom by themselves.  I too dislike the bureaucracies of Europe which are not politically accountable. But they have so far proved impervious to extremism.  And that’s why I would like to stay part of the EC. And that’s why I don’t want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom.  It will make the world a more violent place.  I don’t expect the separatists to agree with me. But what I would expect them to demonstrate is that separation will lead to more stability. More peace and security.  I don’t believe it.

Now I am going to be told about all the wars that the UK and that other EC countries have fought in the last 50 years. Yes with professional armies – outside of Europe. But the cost of doing so in resource and lives has worked its power on the electorate who are sick of casualties for wars whose purpose they have long forgotten.  The role of the territorial army has been corrupted. They were supposed to be volunteers to defend their country. But they found themselves conscripted into foreign wars for the British political interest. They weren’t defending their homeland at all.  What I am fearful of is wars that envelope the whole country. Where men and women have to be called up regularly. We have forgotten what that was like.

The sacredness of ordinary life

A collection of photos showing Orthodox priests and monks blessing a variety of contexts. The church in Eastern Europe is much more integrated with ordinary life. Whether this is eccentric beyond belief or a reminder that all life is sacred the photos ask a question which is provocative.  How could we celebrate this better?

Why football fans no longer need to watch the game

Last week I found myself flying back to Heathrow with a lot of hung over Chelsea fans who had gone there to support the game against Steaua Bucharest.  I’d watched the game in a glittering new sports bar full of TV screens called Stadia.  A much more comfortable environment than the stadium on a cold wet Tuesday night. A game of beautifull football but with a very clear cut result 4-0 to Chelsea with the goals coming regularly and one particularly excruciating own goal.  I asked the Chelsea fan sitting in the plane next to me what he thought of the game. To which he replied he hadn’t seen much of it and missed all the goals and had left the stadium 15 minutes before the end to avoid the rush. He’d been drinking in the old city before the game and then went to the stadium to sit high up freezing and wet and then he returned to the old city to finish off a night’s drinking.

I couldn’t quite believe that he’d come all the way to Bucharest to support Chelsea at a cost of several hundred pounds.  And seen hardly anything. So I asked when he planned to do it again. In 3 weeks he replied. Dusseldorf.

I was reminded of this when reading this article this morning about twitter and twitter audiences which now vastly outnumber the number of those watching a particular programme at any one time. Partly its to do with time shifting and people watching programmes later – who can experience a unified response to the programme using social media.

Because what unites these 2 stories is that the behaviour which accompanies supporting a football team or watching your favourite reality TV show – does not necessarily require you to pay close attention to it. The football fan was still supporting his team getting drunk on cheap beer in a Bucharest bar – as long as the team got the result he didn’t need to watch it at the time – he could always watch the game in playback later.  The same is true of television – the audience may be heads down watching the facebook or twitter feeds and only lifting their heads to graze the programming stream. Which the TV execs are still anxious to reassure us constitutes television watching.  But increasingly the event – the bit we are paying for is the stimulus for the social interaction.  We don’t need to pay continuous attention. We can channel surf or skim – or go to youtube for the highlights or the mashups.

Which is tough for media owners and for advertisers. Because its no longer an easy sell to persuade advertisers to sponsor the programme or to put ads into the breaks.  It may be more profitable to hang around the social media feeds and to do interesting and relevant things there.  Its tough for professional footballers too if their most valuable fans aren’t actually paying attention to the football – its about solidarity and human togetherness.

New research product ideas – do you think Zappi is a good one? If so then VOTE!!

I have to declare an interest – Zappi is from the same stable as Spring Research! We’re chasing votes at the moment in the Green Book Innovation awards. Closing date February 15th in only 2 days time. Here’s the elevator pitch. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could test creative ideas in less than a day without having to do the whole survey monkey .. write a questionnaire and analyse the results.. shenanigans? Don’t get me wrong. DIY research is great but if you do it yourself it will take you a day to do the job and it will take you a day’s work or more to run it.

Zappi is different. The questionnaire is already written. You have some limited choices to make but it’s a standard set of questions. The sample is standardised with very simple breaks. The analysis is done for you and put into charts that can be poured straight into a PowerPoint presentation.

Result: you spend your day doing something else. Zappi is an odd product – it sits in between surveymonkey DIY and the kind of online survey that takes days to turn around and fiddle with. Its strength (and achilles heel) is that you can’t customise it very much. How quick and how much? Well it starts at the 3 hour mark and it costs about a £1000 with the price and length of time increasing with the size of the sample.

I think it was Bono who said that all you needed was 3 chords and the truth. Zappi needs 3 hours and a credit card. I was talking to the head of a UK agency a couple of weeks ago who said what he loved about the idea was that it lifted quant pretesting surveys away from all the bogus certainty and put it back where it belonged in using a pre-test to support your judgement. Agree the creative by lunchtime and put it onto Zappi.  You can have a survey back by the time you go home. Ready to show it to the marketing director first thing in the morning with 200 people or more having told you what they made of it the previous afternoon while you were putting the presentation together.

If you think this is the best killer app of a research idea you have heard this year then I’d be very chuffed if you’d motor over to the Green Book site and vote for it. Zappistore is the platform and there are going to be half a dozen products using the same approach with the same outrageously low cost and quick turnaround.

Why buy books when you can download them free from your local library?

I was at one of the evening events at the Bishops Stortford College Festival of literature last week.  To see Christopher Lloyd and his unique books from his company Whatonearth and to hear from Jackie Morris about how she got started as an illustrator and how she managed so earn her living surrounded by cats in a cottage outside St Davids – you can get a wonderful insight into her life reading her blog.

As I queued at the bookstall at the back to put my money on the counter Marilyn Brocklehurst  of the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre said I’m happy to take your money but of course you could read these books for nothing as a digital download.  It turns out that if you have an up to date library card then all you need to do with your pad is to logon to your local library service and then order an ebook to be downloaded onto your pad.  3 weeks after doing so if you haven’t renewed your ticket – the ebook vanishes from your device.  So there you have it – an endless supply of books piped straight to your device – who said the library service was over? I’m a librarian said Marilyn. I just want to get you to read books.  So don’t forget there’s no need to pay for them unless you insist!

Top tip!

Rachel’s Planning ramble no 1

This is just a short post to log the first ever planning ramble led by Rachel Hatton. Rachel had made an impassioned plea at the last Account Planning Group Noisy Thinking session for planners to leave their desks and walk in the open air to organise their thoughts.  This is a frankly appalling piece of filming (mea culpa) of Rachel’s introduction. Using a pair of lofi video glasses. I realised subsequently that I was so busy filming I hadn’t taken in half the things she said. It was a very noisy location.  Before we set off from the corner of Libertys down Carnaby Street and then across Soho passing sites like the famous water pump which John Snow got sealed and in so doing discovered how cholera was being carried. And on round buildings where characters such as Hazlitt and Dr Johnson lived or went to drink and argue.  15 planners came on the trip. It was a blend of sightseeing, chatter between the walkers and generally unwinding on a Friday lunchtime.  Rachel finished the walk in the photographers gallery on Ramillies Street where we were able to warm up over a cup of tea.  The plan is to make a map of the route so others can follow it and for Rachel to set up other walking routes as well.  These rambles sit between a number of areas – there is a bit of psychogeography involved – but not too heavy. There is a good dose of sightseeing.  But the interaction is a major plus – planners are after all interesting and articulate people well worth rambling with.

As a postscript I wrote a Psychogeography circuit training for using pyschogeography as part of a research project. Here’s the file if you’re curious. It was used on an AQR course last May to get researchers thinking more creatively about entering customer worlds.

Slavery in Britain

Every morning this week I have read a transcription of someone who has been trafficked to Britain – a verbatim account of their experiences.  As someone who spends a lot of their work time either creating or analysis verbatim accounts this is familiar territory. But my country is no longer familiar territory as familiar place names are mentioned as locations for squats, dodgy building jobs, safe houses or massage parlours. This morning’s interviewee was still paying off the travelling debts of his brother who suffocated (with 57 others) in a container crossing the Channel on the last leg.

I shall be looking at the staff at Chinese takeaways with different eyes wondering how long they have been working that day.  I have said this before but what we need is a Charles Dickens to stitch the diversity of the stories of the people who live in this country into a new Bleak House.   I have 3 abiding impressions:  the diversity of the people who are coming here – from professionals who have considerable skills to those who can barely understand how to move around a city and are dependent on others for almost everything. Secondly  the role of technology – which allows people to make mobile calls back to their families to raise finance for the next stage of their migration.  And finally the behaviour our immigration service, police, legal people and not for profits who are compared very favourably with the government officials, police and soldiers from the countries the migrants have come from and on the way.  Our system is relatively straight and people on the strengths of these interviews are basically decent. Something to be a little proud of.

The rest I am not at all proud of. It has become evident to me that while we may publically repudiate slavery our way of life is wrapped up in cheap goods and services and we need cheap labour to deliver that to us. Regulate it all you want the traffickers will continue to bring men women and children here to satisfy the demand.

The book is called Enslaved by Rahil Gupta. As a postscript to this here’s a link to an account of an anthropologist who identifies migrants who have died crossing the Mexican border into the USA. By their belongings because the bodies are unidentifiable. Now there’s a practical use for anthropology.

Bye bye Blockbuster

Here we go again – this is getting depressing. I can claim no first hand experience of Blockbuster – our video and DVD rental stores were independents and they withered away 10 years ago – HMV (see above) stepped into the breach.  But Blockbuster has been grimly holding on.  The shocker is quite how many stores they have – over 500. A reminder that the peril for service businesses is that they become cash businesses with more and more outlets trading unprofitably just to keep revenue flowing through – and using debt to cover the lean periods.  It rather looks as if Blockbuster has been unviable for years but didn’t have enough cash to rationalise and to cut to a number of stores which might have been profitable. Or is the retail rental concept now so tarnished that this was a business they couldn’t pass on or close so they soldiered on until the bankers pulled the plug.  You can call this upheaval the market correcting itself. But our communities depend on many different kinds of service which on the evidence of this one may themselves be unprofitable.  What happens if there aren’t enough stores within reach to buy what you need or want – so you catch the bus supplied by your nearest grocery high street name to stock up as much as you can carry (not everyone has a car).  Not everyone has broadband access or the confidence or desire to use a computer at home.  The internet has been a wonderful way to reduce the costs of trading for start-ups.  But the goods cost as much as they always did. And now we have the hassle of waiting in or going to depots to collect them.  Is this the kind of life we would choose for ourselves? Or have we sleepwalked into it?

Nature abhors a vacuum and I for one am thinking of ways in which we can create interaction and community as our high street chains steadily retreat from their customers.  And service managers study dashboards to monitor the quality of customer experiences.  But we’ll have to do it for free – investing our time in it.  This is my home patch not a Center Parc with a price tag for everything.

Bye Bye HMV

Now HMV have gone into administration – the latest high street chain for whom the oxgen of Christmas has proved inadequate – and the administrators have got their own financial targets to achieve this year so in they go. I have to confess this was a surprise. And I want to quibble over whose fault it is.  Because this is a store I have been shopping in happily for years. My shelves are full of HMV product so how come they can’t make a go of it?

The memory blurs – one of the problems of being in the entertainment business is that people remember entertainers better than venues or channels.  And the better the entertainment the more kudos goes to the entertainer.  My main store has been the one in Oxford street which used to have major competition from Virgin Records by Tottenham Court Road. And working as I have done with agencies in the West End for the best part of 20 years these were stores I could easily cover in a lunch time.  In the 1990s it was CDs – a massive range and I bought at full price.  Unless there was a seasonal sale. My allegiance progressively transferred to HMV because it was literally round the corner from where I was working.  I bought prerecorded video tapes but not that often or regularly – it was mainly children’s titles.  By 2000 when I set up my consultancy I bought my first 2 DVDs – the Matrix and Gladiator. To watch on my brand new computer which had surround sound. I didn’t have a DVD player.  They were bought instore. By this time I was buying books twice a week at least from Amazon. But not CDs or DVDs (that came later).

My HMV DVD buying habit has lasted 12 years. It replaced my audio CD buying mostly.  The shelves were already full of audio CDs and there wasn’t any room. But with children at home and baby sitting costs to think about. Friday nights needed fuelling. The video rental shops had gone bust and film downloads were still quite new. So I bought DVDs usually 2-3 at a time from HMV. The shop and almost never the website.

I could do this because the films were never full price. Even the obscure foreign language ones were on sale quite regularly.  And then as TV viewing dried up I found I had entered the age of the box set.  Well promoted instore and sometimes promoted.  I bought Father Ted complete in around 2009. From HMV.   But by then Amazon DVDs had got its hooks into me.  Amazon doesn’t give you the immediate gratification of picking a DVD and watching it as home that night. But box sets are the perfect roll out purchase. The top of my DVD shelves is now full of film compilations and box sets of TV series. I never need to watch TV again.  I never paid full price and barring odd exceptions I never bought from HMV because box sets felt expensive – a lot more expensive than those that could be found on Amazon. And by this time HMV had trained me never to buy at full price.  I remember toying with the complete set of Friends for £45 for my daughters. That’s about 5 pence per episode. I decided against it on the grounds that they always had Friends on tap at home so there was always a choice of episodes so no point.

So here I am with thousands of hours of DVD TV programmes and films and one of my main retailers can’t make a living selling them to me.  Is it my fault or theirs? Well perhaps I should have given less to Amazon but couldn’t HMV have made a go of having half my business? Apparently not. And they seem to have had that reticence so many retailers have where they can’t make up their mind whether they want you to buy instore or to buy online.  So you make your own choices: HMV store for the high street and Amazon for online purchase.

HMV got hooked on the crack cocaine of sales promotions. They were always having sales. There was always something to buy on discount and I am not one to resist a bargain.   The immediate gratification of a reason to buy now is great – but the cost attaches to every single products.  When I first worked in the drugs trade (sorry that should have read sales promotion)  one of my first accounts was Buena Vista the launch of Snow White.   A lot of people bought Disney films because they wanted them and would pay full price. Buena Vista were canny and didn’t allow the films to be left on the shelves. If you didn’t buy them they would disappear until the next release.  So people bought at full price and the promotions we put together were trade promotions to give you a reason to buy in WH Smith or Woolworths or Sainsburys.  But Safeways got greedy. A week in they offered a pound off.  By lunchtime every highstreet retailer had followed them. The advantage was gone. That single action wiped 3 million off the sales of Snow White. Disney was furious –a tactical move had given Safeways no longterm advantage just poured away money and primed the customer to expect not to buy on full price.

After the wasteland of the noughties when we have had endless sales, bogofs, closing down sales , margin contribution, every day low pricing and what-have-you we have mostly lost the joy of paying the going price because the product is WORTH IT at full price. Advertising by contrast is very cost effective. We put up with the tantrums, the shoots in exotic parts of the world, the Ferrari for the creative director and the cocaine sent across to the production team because even with smaller TV audiences the potential upside of advertising is huge – the cost per exposure and per sale is tiny. By contrast sales promotion is a class A drug. Once you have used it you’ll want to try it some more. And before long you can’t sell in to the channel without promising a list of kickbacks. And once its in you need to put in a programme of offers otherwise the retailer will send your stock back. And the cost of the promotion is felt on every single purchase.  I remember how shocked I was when supermarket shoppers started ignoring buy one get one frees, paying the offer price to get one item because they felt so bad about taking the offer and having to throw perfectly good food away when it rotted.  Sales promotions are still with us but mostly as price promotions which don’t need a good agency idea.  Perhaps that is why the league table of sales promotion agencies is now merged with that of direct marketing – the two activities have converged – put the offer in an envelope where you can use targeting to give yourselves some kind of control as to who you are making the offer to and who is likely to redeem it.

So it rather looks as if this loyal customer is going to have to get used to paying one off fees for a digital download.  Because I was not taught that its worth paying the going rate for a DVD. What a shame – I hope they make it – I am going to have to change my behaviour if they don’t.

Bye Bye Jessops

Soo Jessops is in administration. I thought I would put up a brief diary of photographic products I have bought over 25 years starting with a purchase from Jessops which charts their decline

1988 Pentax SFX analogue SLR bought after Canadian holiday when a cheap  camera failed travelling through the Rockies. Never again.  Bought from Jessops because 25% cheaper than local camera specialist.  Went on to buy lots of accessories and additional lenses from Jessops in the following months. £600.

1992 2 weeks before birth of first baby, bought SVHS camcorder when vhs was the norm to get the highest resolution possible of aforementioned infant.  Walked Tottenham Court Road to get lower quote than Jessops (which they told me to do) and got 10% off the listed Jessops price as a result. £1000

2002 Bought a Sony Vaio Digital camcorder because a work project justified it. Reserved it online once found lowest price but went to Edgeware shop to collect it. Jessops weren’t remotely competitive and wouldn’t discount over the phone.  Top of the range consumer   it even sent film clips across the internet! £1200

2005 Sony 300CZ first digital still compact bought on Amazon. By this time I owned a Vaio with a stick socket so I could load stills from the camcorder and the camera.

2008 bought a 2nd digital camcorder online with the same basic functionality. Can’t remember the online retailer. Jessops not even consulted £500

2009 working on camcorder projects for Flip and Kodak – never went near Jessops – buying online now.

2010 bought a Pentax K5 (top of the line digital SLR) online before mega New Zealand trip. Jessops again not competitive.  £1100.

2011 bought a Nikon digital compact 14megapixels  at Jessops New Oxford Street flagship store as a camera to use for research. Bought in response to an emailed 25% December sale offer £80.

Jessops has never emailed me since.

I am not a hobbyist. Nor am I camera shy. This list of purchases shows the inroads made by the convenience of online and the credibility/security of online purchase.  With regular purchases and upgrades for taking pictures and filming. Every laptop in the house here (and we have a few) has Photoshop Element editing software.  And we make films as well as take photos.  You can see that we have invested in good equipment which was if anything higher specification than average. Yes I take photos on my mobile phone and keep them too. But the mobile hasn’t replaced my use of the camera it has just amplified it.

Despite their strapline Jessops have never expressed the remotest interest in my photos. They just wanted to sell me cameras – and once I had one I was cut loose until I felt the need for another one. But actually the pictures are the thing – today I store photos on Facebook. I back up on dropbox.  How many tech sectors are in decline because they fail to find a cost effective way to build their credibility as guardians of content? But fighting it out on price with competitors locked them into a cycle of decline. Jessops is the latest casualty. Don’t make the same mistake.

Lemmy or Mariachi? Vote and decide.


We’re having a bit of a debate at Spring at the mo-ment where no less than 5 of us are participating in Movember – which is turning into a lot of facial hair. Here’s a photo of me. The question is this. Do I look more like Lemmy of Motorhead or a Mexican from a mariachi band? I’m giving you the chance to vote. If you think I look more like ‘Lemmy could you donate an even number of pounds of whatever amount. And if I look like the Mexican could you donate an odd number of pounds. Feedback always welcome. Here’s where to donate and cast your vote. And here’s where you can find out more about the team. There’s not a lot left of November so time to get those votes in! I will add a photo of myself over the weekend in case you need any reminding..




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