Monday, 3 December 2012

Getting the most out of attending conferences

I spent today at another fascinating conference. Today it was the British Library's 'taking a long view on the impact of the social sciences'. For anyone not familiar with SAGE, social science is the backbone of our company and key to our mission, so immersing myself in the debates both last week and this has been fantastic.

Ordinarily I don't get out of the office all that often, but whenever I do I am strongly reminded of how important events like this are, and how valuable face to face dialogue remains even in a digital age. Building relationships is such an important part of PR, and it really is important to use the limited time we get for face to face engagement effectively.

I've blogged a little before tangentially about conferences, but tonight it felt appropriate to reflect back on making the most of the in-person event, including where and when to incorporate online tools. It should be noted that these are just my views: other tips and tricks are of course plentiful, and comments are welcomed.

  1. Get a delegate list. Obvious, but it helps so much to have had a chance to digest who is going to be attending the event with you. More often than not I'll set up a spreadsheet to examine the whole delegate list, googling names I think I know but can't remember where from, or to add background information for people I want to pick up a conversation with. Additionally it is a great way to ensure that (as the PR Manager for my company) I've prepared an adequate brief for anyone else from my senior team that might be participating. Pulling out the key influencers makes sure they make good use of their time away from the office.
  2. Check what the social media landscape is for the conference beforehand. More often than not, a conference will have an established #tag set up for the event a while before it takes place, or set up a Facebook or LinkedIn group, allowing for additional networking before delegates even arrive. See point 1), then use point 2) to really maximise the networking opportunities that this presents: you can see what people are planning to talk about, arrange to meet up with like-minded delegates, or even get questions in ahead of getting into a session.
  3. Network! Let's be frank, I HATE networking. As an introvert, the prospect of making small talk makes my insides turn over. But it's a necessary part of my job and one that anyone that wants to work at a more senior level in PR must be able to do. So my tips on doing this well? Well tips 1) and 2) are really excellent contributors to this! Again, as an introvert, having a text-based conversation, where I feel more at ease with myself, makes it possible to avoid that awkward "umm..hi!" and cuts straight to the "so I totally agree with that blog post you wrote last night." Also it never hurts to be up to speed on relevant industry headlines and issues, so you can join in with the discussion without fumbling for a point of view. Trust me if you're an extrovert and find that these sorts of things come naturally: for an introvert, being put on the spot really is painful. Other tips? I have to say I've found it much easier with practice than when I was younger: it's now less traumatic to just go up to a group and say "Hi can I join you?" Generally people are nice, and receptive to an introduction. I've met some really interesting and useful contacts this way that have often been unexpected. What also works well is listening out for the people who ask interesting questions in a particular session, mentally recording what they look like, then finding a way to chat to those attendees during a break or by finding them during another session. And the last networking tip merits a point all of its own:
  4. Plug into the digital conversation. I blogged recently about my own particular Twitter issues, but as I mentioned in that post, engaging in the conference back channel discussion on Twitter really is valuable. With relation to point 3), you get to meet a huge range of delegates and hear their views before you've had a chance to physically engage with them. As above that further reduces the need for small talk and ensures you can immediately have some great conversations with those people when you do meet face to face. Beyond networking, I also find the Twitter back channel a great way of re-emphasising the most important nuggets from a conference: it distills the sessions in a way that can trigger your memory after the event too, with tools like Storify and archiving tools collating the tweets into permanent conference notes.
  5. Swap contacts. Old school style: swap your business card. Digital style: follow your new contacts on Twitter, connect to them on LinkedIn or other networks, or super techy maybe you can bump them. Whichever method you choose, don't let the link go cold: get in touch as soon as you can after the conference ends. Which reminds me: after four days out I've got some jobs to do...

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Where am I? The missing hashtag participation mystery

This has been bugging me for a while.

For those of you who use Twitter, it's not uncommon to participate in a Twitter #tag as a back-channel to in-person conferences. For example today I was on  whilst attending a two-day conference on open access. A few weeks ago I was participating on  whilst at the Spoton conference. And interestingly one of the sessions at Spoton was actually the value of using social media channels as part of a conference: video online here.

I find tweeting through a conference, plus following others tweeting on the hashtag, a great way to get a rounded view of the session I'm in. It also gives me a great summary of the event after I've returned home. Sometimes I've even storified the tweets from events to create a permanent summary of those tweets as a narrative.

So you can imagine my frustration, when I have been tweeting like a MACHINE through a conference, to discover that the tweets I've been tagging are not appearing in the tweet stream.

Why? Is it something I said? Where am I hiding?!

Having frustratingly been invisible on my tweet stream today, I thought it was time to get to the bottom of this. Guess what? I can't.

The Twitter help page gives some suggestions on why someone would not appear in search:

On the viewer side of things: if you're viewing only top results you will be missing some tweets. Similarly not all tweets show up on a mobile.

On the tweeter side: If you have protected tweets, again these will not show up. Apparently infrequent tweeters don't appear, and neither do people with incomplete profiles. New accounts may not show up either.

But I'm none of these things!!

So here's some more thoughts from across the blogosphere:

  • I'm a spammer? If twitter sees you tweeting the same links or tweeting the same content across multiple accounts they can mistake you for a spammer. Hmm, I do tweet on the company accounts, but is that really it?
  • I'm using too many third party services: Quora reckons if you use a number of third party tweet apps, you'll also get blocked. Great, I'm definitely in that category, but that sounds plain crazy.

I love using Twitter to participate in live dialogue at events, and even though I'm not appearing in results, people who follow me can still see what I'm tweeting. It does however prevent me from really engaging with the other conference participants, and inevitably also means I'm not contributing to the discussion. I'm not alone: other colleagues have experienced the same issue, and there's a lot of internet forum discussions on this topic. If it's a problem for you too, send Twitter a complaint here!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Some thoughts on crowdfunding

This week's been fairly exciting in the Lucraft house, driven by the launch of Songkick's Detour initiative. So exciting in fact that, deep in conversation, Dan and I missed our train station on Tuesday night and ended up trekking through leafy Surrey in the rain trying to find our way back home...

If you are unfamiliar with Songkick, in a nutshell they make it easy for you to track bands you want to see play. This new launch is part of a growing trend of crowd-sourced funding projects, or 'crowdfunding.' In essence, pay Songkick upfront for tickets to a gig that you want to make happen. If enough people all do the same, that gig will then take place. Neat idea for fans of less mainstream artists that might not otherwise be willing to take the risk of booking a gig. This is guaranteed business: the customers have said they will pay, so the risk is removed.

The Songkick project comes not long after the launch of Kickstarter in the UK. Perhaps the best known crowdfunding site, the US version of Kickstarter launched in 2009. According to their site, since then:
...over $350 million has been pledged by more than 2.5 million people, funding more than 30,000 creative projects. 
Staggering. Yet so plainly sensible. People have astoundingly good ideas, but don't have access to the funds to make those ideas real. Individuals can review what these ideas are, and provide support to those they would want to have access to as a consumer.

In a world where new businesses can really struggle to reach sustainability, why wouldn't you start by having those people that want to buy your stuff fund your set up?

What does this mean for my industry? A search on Kickstarter brings back 340 projects in publishing. For authors in niche areas, this could have huge implications for choosing to self-publish. Before any production work is undertaken, they can identify who is going to buy their book. For the scholarly author, notably the monograph author where it isn't uncommon to sell only 50 copies of a title, this is clearly significant.

But (and this is a big but) not all projects will get funded: there are time periods set, and if funding goals are not reached, the project doesn't go ahead.

So this is the most significant point, from my point of view as a PR/Marketeer. To me, the benefits of crowd-funded projects are plainly sensible, but I can see that the model benefits businesses as well as individuals. There will, I believe continue to be an important role for publishers, and notably in providing the promotion and marketing of a project to enable it to stand out from the crowd. The XKCD cartoon above says it all: not only will you need a Kickstarter listing, your Kickstarter page has to be more awesome than every other page on the site if you want anyone to sit up and take notice.

In an environment where there's a lot of criticism over what 'value' publishers bring, expertise and scale in getting the word out about a project will be what makes some initiatives succeed where others fail. It's all well and good suggesting that 'anyone' can do this. Sure, anyone can set up a blog and have a presence, anyone can have a twitter feed and make their virtual presence felt. But there will only ever be a few who really achieve that success. For the majority, the experts in PR and Marketing will continue to play a really valuable role.

There's also potential here for publishers in supporting new authors or niche areas: drive selection via the buyers, then invest in the high quality production and add on services once there's a clear demand.

I'm excited to see where and how this evolves.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

What does your online presence say about your personal brand?

So I wouldn't describe myself as vain, but from time to time, I do check out my Google ranking. I found myself doing this today.

Flickr: Aray Chen

Firstly because I've just spent most of the last week out at meetings and conferences, which provide an amazing opportunity to meet new people who share the same fields and passions as me. Several people I met at a conference at the weekend are now connections on Twitter. Assuming they do the same thing I do when I am about to make a new connection, they would have checked out my online presence by either looking at my Twitter feed or blog.

Secondly because I just realised today, when I was researching some potential interview candidates for a job opening at SAGE, that you can no longer (could you ever?) view third-degree connections on LinkedIn unless you have a premium account. I'm not sure how long ago LinkedIn introduced premium accounts, or whether this has always been the case, but it was news to me. It made me wonder what the real value of a service like LinkedIn has for me, when what I really want to do is be able to quickly look up people that I've met at an event (or in this case that I'm about to meet), remind myself of who they are, then connect with them. So if someone is looking for that information about me, if they can't check me out on LinkedIn, where are they looking?

And thirdly because the topic of personal brand has been playing on my mind over the past few days. It started at home when Dan and I were chatting about the rise of the individual employee brand. This is a particularly hot issue in organizations driven by experts, like tech guys in start ups. They each have a personal brand tied to their expertise, which makes them credible within the tech community. But they can also use this brand to enhance that of their companies by leveraging that personal brand. As this article points out, this can be taken even further if you use the voice of your employees to create a personality for your business brand. Blog networks have been a great way to show the people behind a brand, build trust and advocacy. This in turn was fed on by conversations I had with fellow PRs up in Newcastle last Friday. We were talking about the rise of the 'CEO brand', and the power that good management of that voice can have on the broader business brand. I'm not even really talking about the much discussed 'Celebrity CEO', aka the Steve Jobs character. Rather, there are very charismatic figures at the head of organizations who use their social profiles to humanise their corporate brands. Now not everyone believes it's a good thing for CEOs to be building their social media profile, and I would agree it isn't right for every business or every industry. This Forbes post goes as far as to claim CEOs don't need to be strong communicators at all. I'm more inclined to agree with George Anders, who posts on what has worked successfully for CEOs on Twitter.

Somewhere between these three strands, I found myself wondering how sound my own personal brand is right now online. As the above shows, people are looking at your online profile. So do you know how yours looks? This Mashable article reminds us to apply what we know to be effective in PR and Marketing to our own personal identities. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Be consistent.  I have to say, in the last three years having a strong online brand has been significantly easier than it had been prior to July 2009 for me, simply because I now have a much more unique name. I'm almost 100% certain that I am the only Mithu Lucraft in the world. That makes my search ranking almost immediately more likely to be accurate. But it isn't just about a name: having a clear naming convention across social channels helps too.
  • Keep an active public profile. Regardless of whether it's just on Twitter, or using a variety of mediums, keep an active channel publicly available. Not only does this benefit search rankings but it also helps to clarify what your area of expertise and interest is. For a PR professional, being active on social media feels like a must: how can we advocate for social media if we don't understand how to use it ourselves?
  • Be thematic. The best blogs I read have one consistent thread that runs through all posts. Readers then know what to expect from that blog. As this post sets out, an online presence should clarify who you are, what drives you, what your strengths are, how you're unique, and what value you bring.
  • Be engaged. Don't just put messages out. Engage. Listen. Join in. Again, Twitter is such an easy channel to use for engagement: follow people that you relate to, respond to what they have to say, and have a conversation. Similarly, comment on the blogs that you rate. Build some connections, and in turn you'll find the same happens in return. 

Monday, 12 November 2012

Warning: this blog post may contain strong English language

It's entirely possible that I'm a little tired and grumpy this evening, and as such, perhaps the rant which I am about to begin is a little harsh. But nevertheless it would only be a little harsh.

As a communications professional, I'm conscious of the need to think through who I contact. And to reach out to those people with relevant information. As a PR professional, if I made the grievous error of reaching out to a journalist who wasn't interested in the topic I was pitching, I'd find myself blacklisted, or even worse it would be posted about all over the internet (cf the wonderful bad pitch blog).

So it was with a little outrage that I opened an email newsletter from my alma mater this evening, the University of Durham, with the subject line "English Department Alumni Newsletter".

Why such outrage, you ask? Because I didn't study English.

Now I can see how such an error might occur. My degree did have the word "English" in the title, but I studied English Language and Linguistics, and I was registered in the Linguistics department. Not English. Durham closed my department the year I left, with the tutors moving mostly to the University of Northumbria. That felt, to me, appalling at the time, not least of all because it was one of the best courses in Linguistics in the country, but because the department received high impact scores. I'm not going to dwell on this though, because despite how it may have appeared to me, I was 21, and frankly don't really know the politics or strategic direction that the then administration based their decision on.

But while I won't dwell on the demise of the Linguistics department, I will dwell on the poor re-categorisation of a Linguistics graduate to an 'English Studies' mailing group. I won't blame the people involved with writing the newsletter, which is perfectly nice (although the e-reading interface is a little challenging and they might want to consider splitting the pages for online viewing). Where the buck stops is really in the management of alumni data at the University, wherever that sits. Is it CRM? Administration? I don't really know but this is a message to them, whoever they are:

Dear X,
I am a graduate from the University of Durham with a first class honours degree in English Language and Linguistics. Whilst that department no longer exists, at the time, it was a world-leading Social Science department. You wrote to me recently addressing me as an 'English Studies' graduate. I'm sorry, but you seem to have me confused me with an Arts student. You see, Linguistics has absolutely nothing to do with English Literature. In fact, I probably read as much literature as a plant scientist.
I spent my degree drawing syntax trees setting out grammatical sentence structures; analysing discourse; and writing out phonetic symbols. Where the English Literature scholars your newsletter addresses learned of poets and prose, and dug deep into understanding what these great works might mean, I was listening to kids learning to talk. I was watching individuals playing a game and analysing the sociological roles they assumed in a group. I was listening to accents and phonetically transcribing the sounds. I was studying people and language. I wasn't studying literature.
Other than them sharing the same symbols, they really don't have much in common. So can I have something targeted to me in my own right as an alumnus of your institution? Or does the fact that there no longer is a Linguistics department mean I am lost forever, a floating name in your CRM system without a proper category?

As I say, it's been a long day, perhaps I'm being too critical. And for the record, I absolutely loved my university experience. My heart beats a little faster when I think about how much I love Durham, how much I loved my time there. So I guess maybe that is why it's even a little sadder when my alma mater doesn't recognise me, lumps me with a group I share no affinity with, and doesn't offer me anything to engage with. Maybe I could ask the University of Northumbria to email me from their Linguistics department instead...

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Google inside out: 'I'm feeling Lucky' review

Time for a book review. I really enjoyed 'I'm feeling lucky: the confessions of Google employee number 59' by Douglas Edwards.

It's a fascinating insight into the world of Google from a Marketeer, from the team culture to testing, to efficiency measures, to the actual workings of the search giant. To be honest, Edwards paints it as a terrifying experience, with little trust in Marketing or PR skills, and some seriously overbearing management.

It's worth bearing in mind that this is based on the early days of Google, with less than 60 people operating in its Silicon Valley centre. I have no idea if this is reflective on life at Google now, and I'd imagine that  things are a lot more structured given the size and scale of the company worldwide. But really, how scary is this:
"Google hires really bright, insecure people and then applies sufficient pressure that no matter how hard they work, they're never able to consider themselves successful." 

As Edwards puts it, the start up worked its employees hard. It wasn't about trying to please the boss so much about staying on top of your workload. The recruitment of bright young things without family ties also made it easy to keep Googlers late into the night by providing high standard catering, saunas, masseurs, entertainment, sport and more. It doesn't sound so bad, if you take those benefits into account, right?

As a Marketeer, it was really interesting to read about the low cost implementation of Marketing and PR in those early days. "Efficiency, Frugality, Integrity", he writes, were the cornerstones of the Google approach. That cautiousness to spend on Marketing is something a lot of small businesses can relate to. It is even easier today, with the wide availability of white-label web options and free tools, to take this low cost approach to building a cheap yet effective marketing/PR machine for a brand, and to test how well that is working. For example for the creation of banners for contra-advertising on partner sites, instead of traditional market testing with its (often) large costs, they would test by creating one hundred banners, putting them out, and seeing which ones got the most click-throughs, then replacing those not performing.

Their approach was to favour word of mouth and free opportunities over paid. Mass media advertising was shunned. Everything should be measurable. Something tells me that times have moved on though, as advertising is now a regular occurrence, at least in London I have seen Google adverts on the tube for some time now. I'm also a big fan of their video campaigns, such as this one featuring Cambridge-based Julie Dean who launched the Cambridge Satchel Company 'from her kitchen table'. Why is this a great campaign warrants a blog post of its own, but, in brief, it takes human interest, story telling and brand values to dizzy heights. It's great.

On the other side of the coin, he also talks about the lack of trust in what Marketing could offer:
"Sergey had begun doubting the wisdom of hiring marketing staff, since apparently we couldn't actually do anything for ourselves." 
How is it everyone knows how to do Marketing and PR? It's one of those areas everyone has an opinion on, even the tech guys know better, according to Edwards. The copy and design on banner ads for example, or the wording in a press release, all were subject to input from all departments. Crazy. I hear designers spout similar outrage, so it isn't just my profession that suffers this. More ranting on expertise for another time though...

There are some really excellent brand development insights in the book, and given that Google was in 2011 at the top of the Brand Directory's '500 top ranked brands' listing, it is a significantly important and successful brand. As Edwards writes, "a brand is the sum of all the "touch points" you have with a product or service - your interactions, your impressions, your expectations, your unplanned casual encounters." He outlines so well the trials of brand management - how do you keep that engagement across all encounters consistent?

Edwards talks about the birth of the Google Doodle, and his initial scepticism. And of the challenges of making the Doodle an internationally representative one: the Thanksgiving turkey really doesn't resonate outside the US for example. This is without a doubt one of the most recognisable features of the brand now, so demonstrates that consistency doesn't just mean what you think it does: creativity counts too.

He also talks about how they developed the personality of the brand. As Google's "word guy", he could direct the experience users had in a very direct way, by being the voice of Google on its platform. He talks about the implementation of his own voice, including cult references such as the Simpsons in error messages, and making important messages, such as the user licensing agreement, stand out with less formal copy ("It's not the usual yada yada"). Tone of voice is a really big part of the Google brand, as it is with others too, but something that really stands out in Edward's commentary as a key way Marketing and PR supported the growth and fondness of the company.

At times, there's a sense of bitterness in his tone, but this is a very enjoyable, entertaining, and seemingly honest read. There are many great lessons in the mix. He covers many of the trials Google faced, on growth, competition, privacy, and more. It's a very open (at least on the surface) look at workplace politics. One of my favourite notes of advice: "to always make the boss's idea a priority, even if it's patently unreasonable."

Monday, 29 October 2012

Look for longer: a great campaign

You know you're reading a good book (which, it happens, I am) when you can't stop thinking about it, and every free minute you dive back into it. It would be fair to say the same is true for any media: really impactful TV, film, theatre and art have all done the same to me at one time or another.

This got me thinking on the way home tonight about the similar impact that marketing and advertising can have. You find yourself suddenly thinking about it or, in some cases, spending ages pouring over it, even though it really isn't something of great significance.

A case in point is a great campaign that CBS Outdoors have been running, called 'Look for Longer.' If you haven't seen it, be warned it has the potential to draw you in for some serious time wasting. In a good way. It asks you to interrogate an image with a number of London's tube stations cheekily disguised as images.

I came across it when a friend posted it to her Facebook wall. Sitting in bed, supposedly winding down, I found myself spending a good half hour looking at this picture and guessing what the pictures were. I then roped my husband into playing too. Then today, when writing this blog I just managed to spend another 20mins looking at it again!

I was at the ALPSP annual conference back in September where the oft-repeated buzzword of the event was, for me at least, 'gamification'. What a great example this campaign is. Gamification differs in some ways from the great book analogy, in that it also ties into the concept of competition. People get addicted to gaming because they are, by nature, programmed to want to do better than their peers. We want to win. I'm so interested in learning more on this that I just signed up for a Coursera module - more on that to come.

The thing about this campaign is it combines the gaming element with something visually stimulating that makes you want to look, and look for longer. And isn't that exactly what brands all want to achieve? If we're looking to engage, build brand advocates and trust, then inevitably we have to start with getting people to pay attention in the first place. Finding a hook to get people spending time on your site like this seems a great starting point to build conversation and engagement around.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Stretchy time and bad habits

It's easy for busy periods to take their toll. It's been that kind of a year for me. Pretty much all year my team has been under-staffed. Initially because someone was out on maternity leave, followed by another team member resigning, then my US counterpart moving on. So it's been a drain on my time, making up for those shortfalls.

It's been a challenge. Not least of all because I find my hours in the office get taken up with fire-fighting, helping to offer support, and training more than they are with doing my own projects. The result of that is an inevitable drop in motivation that comes with that exhaustion that makes it harder to proactively initiate change, be creative, think big. When you're treading water the main objective is to stay afloat, after all.

The thing that suffers the most is always my personal development needs. This blog, way back when I was first doing my PR Diploma back in 2006, started out as a way of keeping on top of CPD - tracking what I was learning. The absence of a regular post on this blog is testament to that fatigue I've experienced this year - I just find it tough to motivate myself to sit down and log in at the end of a long day. I know I'm not alone in this and there are some amazing progammes to initiate discipline and habit formation when it comes to blogging.

So getting listed in the new Guardian Higher Education blog network was a much needed kick up the proverbial. It reminded me that this is something I really do want to cultivate. Particularly if people are going to be visiting it (1100% visitor increase, thanks Guardian team!).

Sitting and thinking about that over the last week reminded me of the old adage about the stretchiness of time, and the ability we all have to fill that time regardless of how little or how much we have to do. For example from January to May I was out four nights a week, taking rehearsals for Wimbledon Light Operatics Society (choreographing their production of Curtains). I had to be there, so I had to be strict with my evenings to fit that in around the rest of my life. Now, without that obligation, I find my evenings have passed by without me getting anything done. Stretchy time? You bet. So, a new commitment Dan and I have now made is to allocate one evening a week to our 'work'. We'll both choose the same evening, and focus it on getting stuck into those projects that we both want to do but just are not making the time for.

Alongside that, I'm  going to take my full work/life time sheet back in hand. A few years back I made a list of things I wanted to do regularly: a daily list, a weekly list, a monthly list etc. That was everything from forcing myself to read outside of my comfort zone, to regular exercise, to meeting up with friends. Basically it was the Mithu Lucraft work/life balance sheet. It's time to review that, assess how well I'm doing, and get new habits formed.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Smaller Apple temptations

My husband, as I've no doubt mentioned once or twice, is an Apple fanboy. There are more apple devices in the house than I'd care to mention. And eventually I realised I wanted one too, this time last year resulting in my iPad purchase.

It wasn't a mistake. I love my iPad. I use it all day long, from checking my emails in the morning, to reading on the Kindle app, to taking meeting notes through the day, browsing the Internet to fact check both at meetings and at my desk, watching iPlayer downloads on the train home, and streaming content to Apple TV in the evening.

So today Apple announce the new mini iPad is here. Surprisingly, it is me, not Dan, tempted to buy one. The mini offers same screen proportions in a smaller frame which you can "hold in your hand". The benefits, from my point of view, are the greater portability. Even though the standard iPad is small, it is still reasonably heavy, and it's been a pain finding a handbag that I can easily yet securely fit it into (vain, I know, but in London you can't walk around with it loose). This, more similar to a Kindle in size but with all the benefits of Apple's array of apps (everything for iPad 2 works on the mini too) is just great.

The likelihood of buying one is, however, low. I can see no reason to switch from the device I have. But I'm interested to see how the mini market takes off. Will there be a higher demographic of women, supporting my handbag theory? Will there be generally higher uptake because the price is lower? Or actually will people look at it and want the larger sized keypad and display?

Watching, with interest!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Where are all the women in leadership?

screen grab: BBC 'Women at the Top'

Hilary Devey's recent two part investigation for the BBC has given me some food for thought. I'm a thirty year old who knows that she wants a family, but equally hasn't yet reached full career potential. In the documentary this is the point many young women like myself are leaving the career ladder in droves. I want a career AND a family. But can I have both?
When I was born, my mum made the decision to make sacrifices in her career for her family. A consultant radiologist since her early thirties, she was what Hilary's programme would have set out as a future star for senior management. In the long run, deciding to work part time did affect what she achieved, but she feels it was the right choice. Work life balance in the 80's is not what it is now, and would the decisions my mum made be the same if she was in the same situation today?
For me, I know that my current employer offers excellent maternity benefits and flexible working for parents. That is a huge plus. But equally I also know that my current employer doesn't have a strong career pathway for me. It's a dilemma as a thirty year old to decide whether to risk staying on but hurting my career versus leaving for another company that offers better opportunities but less security. There's a huge sensation of guilt hanging over me as I flim-flam between prioritising career over family then back again.
I came away from both episodes of Hilary's programme feeling inspired. I want it all, and I came away feeling more confident that that is possible to achieve. There needs to be better representation of women in senior management positions, and there needs to be better gender balance throughout companies. The research suggests how much more productive, cooperative and happy gender balanced teams are. And that more revenue is generated as a result. It also looked at the psychology of recruitment, and made me realise I myself don't rate myself highly enough when it comes to looking at my skillset. It has renewed my self belief and equally my motivation to go for what I want, which is the best of both worlds.
Gender balance in the workplace is not going to be achieved overnight, but women need to be confident in their abilities and to work with their employers to see the benefits of providing good work life balance.
I know when my husband and I do get around to having kids I will be more driven to find a way to continue my career path, as I confidently believe that I have it in me!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Inspiring a generation

Screen shot: BBC coverage of the closing ceremony, 2012

Well, after seventeen days of a certain sporting event that we are not supposed to name (for some great background on censorship of the Games, see the latest issue of Index on Censorship), London is awakening from its post-party hangover and is feeling pretty good.

There were several times that the Games brought me close to tears. Oh, who am I kidding, I cried like a baby. From the opening ceremony, Seb Coe told us these games would inspire a generation. His words played out in symbolism, with a relay of young athletes carrying the torches to light a spiral of petals, each catching the fire from its neighbour, spreading out just like that spark of inspiration.

Equally we were humbled by the awe-inspiring athletes, with their dedication, skill and commitment. In the face of defeat, they were good humoured, mature, positive, looking to the future.

There is lot of talk right now on the legacy of the games, and what London needs to do. But the chief inspiration I want to share is what Seb Coe's own contribution has made.

An Olympian himself, Seb Coe has cut a respectable, likeable, knowledgeable figure during the past seven years leading up to the Games. His media appearances have been well orchestrated, yet at no point did his performances feel controlled. Rather, his communication comes across as incredibly genuine.

His speeches at the opening and closing ceremonies are strong examples. In a spectacle where a speech could, and in the past has, come across as boring and irrelevant, Coe spoke in a manner that was simple, yet powerful. I'm tempted, in fact, to do a little linguistic analysis to review what lexicon was chosen: his turn of phrase felt aimed at the common man, but also rang true to the international audience, and all praise to his speech writer for the masterful rhetoric.

So what next for Coe? The media are clamouring for everything from government to king - with the ability to win hearts with simple words you can see how running for mayor might not be a bad move. Even without knowing his policies you can see he has inspired a generation of Londoners.

So what does this, as a communicator teach me? That there is a huge opportunity here for those seeking prominence/profile to work on their public speaking. Obviously having a great speechwriter helps too, but it's delivery - honesty and pace, which comes across in those words chosen that really matters. Even without knowing anything else about that speaker, you take away a perception of their  abilities. Something for any potential leader to think about if they're seeking to inspire.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Empowering employees

It's a year since I returned from an amazing one-week management retreat at Ashridge Business School. As a second group of colleagues also returned just a week or two ago, several of us have been reflecting on what we've achieved a year on.

The week I spent at Ashridge was intense, on many levels. One aspect was the challenging hours - straight into work from 8 in the morning or earlier through to 10.30 or 11 at night (working, not socialising, which is rare in my industry!). 

Another was the sheer level of immersion in business theory, from considering the global business environment and challenging assumptions we held about our industry, to change management and finance. 

Then there were the real hands on exercises, including a full business simulation, running a pretend company over a period of seven years (where each year lasted only a few hours). Having no experience previously outside my own area, this was thrilling, and fully absorbing.

Lastly there was the personal journey that we all experienced. From watching ourselves on camera, to engaging in detailed feedback from our colleagues, and a self assessment scoring, I came away with a much clearer understanding of my work style, how I am perceived by colleagues, and how to be more effective both with my team and within my organisation more broadly. I came back brimming with confidence in my abilities, with drive and motivation to be a better manager, leader, colleague.

It was timely that econsultancy posted this article a few days ago, looking at employee motivation. Amongst the great suggestions were having a clear career path, having flexible working, having time to pursue personal projects, and ensuring people found their work meaningful. I wonder why some of the following didn't come up:

- Fostering a keen sense of self
One key takeaway from Business school was how much more effectively we work when we understand our colleagues better. Investment in culture is important. Find out how each team member likes to work- either through psychological profiling or other means. Having this knowledge empowers individuals to communicate better - for example as an introvert I am most effective if I have had time to digest information ahead of a meeting).  Knowing how my peers like to work enables me to respond appropriately to their needs, building a stronger relationship and better work. Inevitably, that makes me happier!

- Building strong teams
Motivation,  I'd say, is closely tied to how able a team is to rely on each other. 
The stronger the bonds between a team, and the more honest they can be with each other, the more effective the workplace. 

- Training and development
While the article pointed to career paths, what can often be missing is the tools and guidance to navigate the route. Investment in training, as I've been fortunate to have in both my current and previous workplace, can be hugely motivating.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Big rocks or hammer?

Today Dan introduced me to the concept of Covey's "big rocks" approach to organisation. To fill your time, or your jar, if you don't start with the big rocks and instead fill it with the pebbles and sand, the big rocks just won't fit in. More on this from the great zenhabits blog here

I get this as a goal-oriented approach. In fact, I like to think I do this already, blocking out periods of time when I want to tackle projects.

However the thing that struck me was where is the hammer in this approach? You need the hammer to chip up those big rocks into manageable chunks, allowing you to fit more in the jar.

I once had a language teacher at school who took exactly this approach, and was in fact one of the first people to get me interested in linguistics as a subject. To tackle a translation, you don't look at the whole sentence. You break it down into tiny portions, based on the syntax of the words and phrases in front of you. As she put it, you don't tackle the Marsbar: you break it into mini Marsbar portions.

In terms of the rocks analysis, I wonder what acts as the hammer? For me it comes in not just assigning time to a big project, but identifying the project scope and tackling a manageable hit of it in one session. Definitely requires planning, but as an introvert that is the best approach that enables me to still see the big picture but to approach it in an achievable way.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Listen up? To audiobook or to not audiobook

My husband bought me a subscription to Audible for Christmas. I'll confess I have - despite my many years in publishing - until now never listened to an audiobook. I have to also confess that I am not sure I like it!

I selected a title on a historical palace which we are visiting on vacation in a couple of months. I figured it would be a good way to engage with a subject that was likely to be pretty dry.

I was wrong. Rather than be more engaging than the printed version, I find myself missing large chunks of the content when my mind wanders ('hmm I wonder of that guy knows he's snoring really loudly...oh that is a nice coat...etc etc'). Not very good when you're trying to digest lots of facts about a location!

My plan for my next title (the sub gets me one free book a month) is to try a language book. I am thinking that an audiobook geared to learning a language should be better suited to my short attention span on the train. I also think it is the kind of thing I might find easier to listen to than read in print. The benefits of hearing the language spoken are pretty obvious.

I also have plans for book no. three: There are a huge number of titles by celebrity authors reading out their own books. Now that might be well worth a listen...

Any audiobook recommendations?

Monday, 2 January 2012

Fired up

So I recently succumbed to the temptation of an iPad. I had a sense it would improve my productivity at work, and make my home Internet use easier too. Two months on, how is that going?

- I have used the iPad regularly meetings, taking electronic notes and emailing them immediately back to myself to add to my to dos - time saved, and actions logged more effectively.
- I have been able to print less and review more whilst in meetings through having the documents on my iPad instead.
- I have been able to email someone a file while in a meeting to aid discussion (obviously this only worked because they had an iPad as well; potentially a downside).
- I have been able to review website content for discussion as part of meetings - easy to share and view.

- i-player in the kitchen/bedroom/wherever is like having tv in every room in the house - amazing
- Internet browsing is now immediate and mobile. No more lugging a laptop around, or waiting for it to turn on.
- It has also found itself useful as a kitchen aid. With a portable stand it now doubles up as an extension of our recipe books. A great beef bourgininon was achieved this weekend :)
- We now also have Apple tv, so can stream music and video through the tv.

However, was I too hasty in my purchase? Having just read a lengthy review on Mashable of the Amazon Fire, I'm feeling that creeping sense of doubt. Will I be lusting after that soon too?

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Hello January

Welcome 2012. In the end, 2011 was a mixed year for me. The highs were moving into a wonderful new house, some great learning experiences at work, and some great times with friends. The lows were spending three months at the end of the year with a neurological condition that was unpleasant and is still not fully gone, but thankfully was not life threatening.

I have two goals for 2012: to be well, and to be happy. Broad brush, but I intend to do a lot within those two chief statements.

Firstly, that means learning and maintaining a healthy work life balance. On the whole I push myself hard which I know I can no longer do without it affecting my health. Learning my limits and making time to rest is going to be a tough one for me!

Secondly, on the happy front, I'm going to be looking out for some great new books to read: it's been a while since I last devoured a great story. Recommendations are welcome.

More monthly goals and missions will be set. A happy New Year!