The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred

… a completely unofficial work-related blog

Percentages versus pounds

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A regular discussion I have;

Journalist: Can you give me the top 10 and bottom 10 cars iin terms of residual values?

Me: Yes, but are we talking about % retention of list or actual £ lost.

Journalist: Percentages please, because that’s easier to benchmark.

Me: But do you think people say to dealers “I want something that retains 51% at 3 years and 36,000 miles” or do you think they care more about the actual money they lose on a car?

Journalist: I know what you’re saying but I’d still prefer the percentages.

So that’s what I give them.

But this begs the question for motoring journalists … when you tell a story, are you imparting information someone can use to influence their behaviour or are you simply entertaining your readers?

A major national recently published one such list, supplied by CAP. Sure enough, some of the reader comments were negative, with one going so far as to accuse the paper of ‘churnalism’. That was frustrating for me because it suggested they had slavishly reproduced something pointless and meaningless that I had proactively issued just to whip up a bit of publicity.

Amusingly that same paper now accepts my argument and wants to run another piece, based this time on actual money lost. Ironically they want to say that our new approach to this analysis has been “inspired” by their readers.

Sometimes you have to just go with the flow.

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Written by mikehind

April 12, 2012 at 11:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Occupational hazards of news releases

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As a PR you have limited control over the message that appears, however carefully you craft the original announcement. This is a given. But still it rankles when lazy or irresponsible journalism threatens to make you the apparent bearer of false and potentially alarming information. The risks escalate when the message you’re attempting to convey tiptoes toward the realms of subtlety. Journalists want a clear tale they can tell in a one sentence intro.

I understand this, being the proverbial poacher turned gamekeeper myself. So I don’t have a problem when a story I put out gets ‘sexed up’ by a punchy hack. As long as the supporting information is included there is balance. Readers aren’t stupid and they generally understand the ‘rules’.

But still, sometimes you’ll read an overdramatised version of your story and only realise it is your story when your name appears. That can be a blood-curdling moment.

Recently I announced that CAP’s year on year measure of trade values now reveals that values in some sectors are, on average, lower than they were a year ago. The context – carefully explained – was that this was merely bringing values back to more ‘normal’ levels after the recession-driven spikes of last year. Most people reported it ‘as is’. Which means they cut and pasted my copy into their publications. But not everyone was satisfied with the story as it was. And one hack decided to re-nose the story with the line that used car values were “plummeting”. Trouble is, they were either freelance or agency so the story traveled.

Does it matter? It could. Anyone who wasn’t up to speed on current market dynamics, but who is heavily exposed to used values risk, could have been severely spooked. Others who did understand the current market might have thought we were either stupid or irresponsible, which poses a risk to my employer and indeed my own credibility.

Still, when the alternative is to say nothing it’s always a risk you have to take.

Written by mikehind

September 3, 2010 at 10:47 am

Posted in CAP stuff, Thoughts

Why bother to even ask?

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A while ago I used an application as part of my regular PR tasks. It was demonstrated well and the supplier’s sales people were personable, knowledgeable and attentive. We signed a 2-year deal. And came to regret it.

Like any sophisticated technical application there were a few technical issues every now and then. I could live with that. But the supplier committed what to me is one of the ultimate sins. They asked me for my feedback. And it just disappeared into a black hole when I gave it.

I spent a significant chunk of time one day meeting the account manager from supplier X and explaining that the application really needed some very obvious features in order for it to seamlessly integrate with my daily work routines.  He asked me to formally list them in a subsequent email so that he had the ‘evidence’ necessary to put a case for these changes.

As well as wanting a better product for my use I also felt that I was supporting supplier X by taking time to provide constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement. After all, I’d been encouraged to do that.

2 things p***ed me off subsequently:

  • No feedback on my suggestions, so that eventually I was forced to ask whether anyone had ever considered them.
  • No change in the application’s functionality.

Needless to say we didn’t renew.

It seems to me that supplier X was merely ticking a very superficial box by requesting my time and feedback. The missing part was what needs to come next. Which is the necessary update on what happened to my feedback. Where it went. What they did with it. And an explanation of why my suggestions themselves were not implemented.

I wonder how many others experience this in business? It’s certainly a killer in terms of relationship longevity.

Written by mikehind

March 11, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Thoughts

Making the most of the medium

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I’m always irritated when people seem to leap into the ‘latest thing’ without thinking about it first.

Today I ‘tuned in’ to a webinar. And I was treated to a blank computer screen while a couple of distant voices discussed something in what sounded like a completely empty room (which produced a miserable sounding echo).

Nobody greeted me. I couldn’t see who else was attending. It even started 5 minutes late. It was a completely impersonal experience and could have been achieved just by having everyone dial in to listen to a conference call.

The irony is that this webinar was about new media and was run by a media business

A few months ago I ‘attended’ a webinar run by the SMMT. On that occasion there was visual content to go with the speaker and everyone attending was encouraged to speak up, introduce themselves and ask questions.

The contrast between these two experiences was stark. One organisation had clearly thought about it and resourced their approach properly while the other was just ticking the webinar box.

It reminds me of the early days of widespread internet access. Some people had good websites with a clear purpose. Some just had a site because it was the ‘done thing’.

The lesson is, when embracing new technology like this, ask yourself whether what you’re planning could just as easily be executed using old methods. If the answer is ‘yes’ you’re almost certainly not using the new way properly.

Written by mikehind

February 16, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Thoughts

It gets worse…

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So last night I’m driving home and the BBC correspondent milking the Toyota story informs me that “It is Toyota’s race for profit over the past decade that lies at the heart of its problems today.”

And the evidence she offers (wait for it) is (baited breath…..some serious insight on the way …..) because ….. Toyota shares components across different model ranges.

I’m aghast. How dare a manufacturer employ such design practices.

But seriously, there is a worrying factor at the core of this kind of journalism. Which is the insidious nature of misrepresenting a story while not quite stating falsehoods. It means nothing can ever be done to correct the misleading impressions given.

In this case it suggests that Toyota’s cost cutting measures have finally caught up with it – to the potential detriment of its customers. A very serious claim …. but not quite overt enough to give the manufacturer recourse to demanding a correction.  So the drip drip drip of negative misrepresentation continues unabated.

The BBC  (I single out the corporation because it is supposed to be a beacon for balanced reporting and I used to work there)   is mightily hacking me off with its constant use of hyperbole to make each component of a developing story seem massively significant. This morning I logged onto the BBC News website and found this nugget of ‘contextualisation’ in its reporting of Honda’s airbag recall ….

“The fresh blow to Japanese carmakers came as Toyota recalled nearly half a million hybrid cars over faulty brakes.”

Er, ‘the fresh blow to Japanese carmakers?’. What?!?  Has the story now been inflated to one about Japanese vehicle build quality in general? It seems so.

I wonder what Mitsubishi and Nissan think about that.

Anyway, all of a sudden vehicle recalls are mainstream news.  Expect a spate of recall stories in the next few weeks as arrogant,  ignorant, sensationalist journalists attempt to portray the entire automotive industry as a huge component safety crisis.

Before they get bored with milking that and find some other target to exploit in their quest to sound like really really important guardians of ‘the truth’.

Written by mikehind

February 10, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Irresponsible reporting

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I have to declare an interest here because I am the very happy owner of a generation 2 Toyota Prius. Nonetheless, sloppy journalism in general gets me hot under the collar at the best of times but when it’s about something even vaguely close to my heart it really hacks me off.

Which is why I was so irritated by the BBC Radio 4 news bulletin this morning which began by informing me that Toyota were recalling new Prius because the ‘brakes sometimes momentarily fail’.

No they do not. At no point, under any conditions, are the brakes on new Prius failing even for a moment. They may feel like they’re not operating but that is not what the BBC headline stated.

I despair when I think of the damage a sloppy piece of headline writing like that can do to a brand.

As a former journalist this kind of thing particularly rankles. But it isn’t always the reporters. I recall one regional newspaper sub ‘correcting’ a story I’d written about a bus company which had been in court for irregularities with a PSV (public service vehicle) license. The subs hated jargon (as they saw it) and this one helpfully simplified my copy so it said ‘tax disc’. So there I suddenly was, in print, sounding like I’d only been half paying attention to the case.

But it has to be said, Toyota seems to have really struggled to handle the message around this spate of technical issues, always seeming to be on the back foot. I was wondering why this might be until a colleague here said simply ‘they’re not used to it’.

And when you think about it, he’s probably right. The irony being that when you’re that good at quality and never generally need to manage a crisis you really do take a smacking when it does briefly go wrong.

The lessons? Never assume the media will report the facts. And always have a crisis management and PR plan in place during the good times because you’re going to need it one day – guaranteed.

Written by mikehind

February 9, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Thoughts

Lost in translation

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Thursday February 4

Photographed by Manufacturer Relationship Manager Martin Ward at the unveiling of new Audi A8 in Malaga and causing much hilarity in the CAP offices. Apparently it’s a slightly too literal translation of footwell.

Martin was being shown the new model’s ‘Multimedia Interface’ which controls the cabin’s ambient lighting by it’s inventor, one Dr Burgar. An ‘in the nicest possible way’ explanation of how ‘Front bottom’ might be construed in the UK market followed. Expect a change to ‘Front lower’ and ‘Rear lower’ by the time new A8 reaches these shores.

Written by mikehind

February 4, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Posted in CAP stuff