Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Better Red than... well, any other colour, really

Last night I watched a re-run of Sunday's Top Gear. Actually it was just one bit, when the merry trio of presenter/pranksters were handed a radio station to play with. And play they did. I don't know if it was a success or not, but the body language of some of the staff seemed to suggest that the plan may not have fired in the direction required. When the dust has settled, the next day the workers have to clear up the debris.

And so we come to today's edition of the Independent, which unless you have been locked in a box these last few days (even other media ran features), is the one with Bono editing, to borrow a nomenclature trick from Friends' episodes. It sets an interesting precedent for any other medium looking for a circulation boost.

My first mistake was not buying a copy, because I did not get the chance to pop out first thing, and once I did it had gone. Which is a good sign, because they are forking over half the revenue to the cause. Better than nothing, when all's said and done.

So I am left with today's online, and it is all a bit daunting. As, cleverly, the RED features were in, well, red, which kind of drew the eye (distracting from some top enviro bits too, try Carbon trading chaos as Brussels gets numbers wrong). And there were a fair few of them. Lots and lots. All covering some aspect of the cause. And all contributed by the A1alpha list of UK pol, comment and celebdom.

It's hard to know what to quote from (as a few were a bit SOSO), so I won't. In fact the better summary is from yesterday, which I will: A red revolution on the high street (see, I am playing along, too).

There were many bits I liked, but I am being selfish, because I get encouarged with what we are trying to do for the environment when I see stuff like: '...brings together two of the most powerful forces in the contemporary world - the appetite of consumers and the marketing intelligence of the corporate sector - to open up an entirely new front...', and: '...they wanted to do something. So we had to come up with something for them to do - something easier" ,"You need to market this like Nike.", and "We had the churches, the student campuses, the activists. But we didn't have the high street."

And the piece is further littered with direct lifts, it seems, from our Funding Proposal:

"What was needed, was not a mere spur to the social consciousness of big business, but something more structured - a new brand. And one which iconic companies would fight to join." "Only that way would we be able to bring to bear the marketing muscle and intelligence of these big companies who, above all else, know how to sell stuff". "In between are "middle- path realists" - who want to effect change without spending much money or time," "...hoping it will also attract the kind of shoppers who look for the cheapest chicken on the supermarket shelf. "...they are no more expensive than the one you were going to buy. On top of that they are products that are aspirational, cool and look good. Where's the downside?'"

"The point of RED is that it is win-win-win - consumers, corporate business and the world's poorest people all benefit."

All I can say is good luck, and why not?

But I'm afraid my passion, and what I am a bit more interested in is GREEN, which is the totality of the environment.  And I am keen to engage as much as possible with the average person in the street, and especially those who may not be slavish adherents to media hype-driven elitist icons to feel guilty about, and then satisfied with a low effort way to buy off their guilt (not that the environment is immune from a few of these).

But we have a ways to go. As one of the top organisers is quoted:  "I got a phone call the other day from someone who works for the Global Fund. She happened to be in Cardiff and saw the RED window display in Gap and went in to see the T-shirts... The woman came out of the shop in tears of joy and called me." 

Gap. Hmn. Nice she happened to have his number handy, too.

Ross Calling, Ross Calling..

Not too sure who out there who reads this and may be in the vicinity to listen, but I've just found out that tomorrow at crack of drivetime I am to be interviewed here by BBC Hereford & Worcester

That their pre-show soundbites were of the order of 'What's it like to be a latter-day Womble' puts it in context, but it's shaping up as a nice bit of PR coverage, so I hope I don't mess up.

Now the big thing is to figure out how to a) record it, and b) upload it to the website. It looks like they have all sorts of onsite techno stuff so it may be possible.

If we manage, you will be the first to know. Otherwise, at 7.30ish am and again at 8.45ish  am I shall be in a living room near you.

"You were looky. In my day we had only had 512k memory and a 28k modem."

The Sunday Times has a columnist, consigned (if relevantly) to the Appointments section, by name of Andrew Taylor. His 'patch' is the trials and tribs of those at the more senior end of the workforce, which I am surprised to realise I am well into, and may well be rejoining soon, if only to secure more Junkky funding. Having read a piece of his on IT, I was moved to write:

"I enjoy your column, which often speaks to me (and about my situation). Especially your latest
 Technology: getting the hang of IT.

It's a bit late for me to learn from your sage advice 'think twice before launching a business on the web', but two years ago I allowed a hobby to take over the day job, and here I am, nearly 50, with many eggs in one online basket.

But has been, is and doubtless will be quite a ride.

Like you, I find many programs wonderful mysteries, often to remain unsolved after a few hours with the immortal words onscreen: '[PowerPoint, Excel, etc..] has quit for no good reason - shame you forgot to enable the regular save function'. But I persevere, and often commit my pencil and paper doodles to an odd kind of layout using the pretty pictures function on Word, which in turn a munchkin with a graphics package to make da Vinci weep converts into something pretty. Note at this point where the idea has originated. I’ve often knocked out a campaign whilst the designers are still warming up the border function of their Macs.

So of course I have a pretty good grasp of what a computer can do, and can often do it. But here I must diverge from Mr. Thomson. The details can be distractions that  lead you down very expensive and time-consuming paths. The secret (and for sure not one easily solved, in terms of personpower or finance - ie: paying for the person with the power) is applying your wealth of experience in the grey matter, and not getting hung up with the demands of that big grey box.

Actually my problems come precisely because I could care less about the manual or obsessing how the program does whatever it does. I just need to get to what it can do and figure out applying the end-benefits (to my clients, readers, etc ) in short order.  

Maybe that's the issue with people over 40: they remember the taste and sizzle is worth more than the sausage and the packaging. I am perfectly at ease with a computer; they just a boring tool between me and doing useful stuff.

Which is odd, as I use one 18/24 of 24/7 of 365 (minus a few).

And if I can avoid a meeting by using a PC and do it all by email, blog, vlog or any other way not to budge from my comfy chair rather than do battle with a conference call or a few hours on the M4, then way-hey!!! What I’m not so keen on is hitting the bars post-working hours to bond with fellow workers or clients, and that is a failing on the whole networking front (see last para) that really powers careers, new business or pr.

As you say, '...getting a website going is a lot cheaper and simpler than setting up a business with office premises, equipment, stock and all the other start-up expenses, and it’s a good way of reaching customers and building a reputation'. 

I am more in the mould of Greg Paine, though Junkk.com became a full-time job more by accident as I let the hobby take over... 'after a long and successful career in advertising'. Maybe I should get in touch with him! 

Whether letting the day job slide was a good idea is another matter, but time will tell. And you have kindly posted some very useful resources to help if not.

My start-up costs and marketing cost were/are considerably more, but then I am being a bit more ambitious with what I am trying to do (and IT does not come cheap, especially if your understanding is this side of the screen/CPU), and I wish the site was paying for itself by now, let alone turning a profit. For me it's a long term thing. But you are right to be a cynic, and the pitfalls you mention are very real (I am writing this from the bottom of a few you mention.).

It rather depends on the business you are in, so it’s missing a trick or two to think only in terms of 'widgets' you 'sell'. Often a website can sell experience and information,,. which are not so tangible.  Mr. Thomson's 'product' is surely his advice after all, and he is using his success in people seeking it to create opportunities for him to profit from this.

What I think he has touched on, is that most elusive of all things beyond the quality of the product or where it exists; and that is getting your audience (purchasing or otherwise) to know about it, love it and want it.

And that, though it can be helped in so many ways by using it skillfully, need not have anything to do with IT. Maybe I should be hitting the bars more often."

Acorns & Oaks

I was reading a Sunday Times Special insert entitled 'Companies that count' (I've popped the link in, but good luck if you can get anywhere with it being an online version of what I read - why do B2B types assume we all live in their complicated, jargon-laden worlds) along with a piece It's cool for business to be green, when ironically enough along came this from the Guardian: Five biggest polluters in UK produce more CO2 than all motorists combined .
From the Times I now have a hitlist of organisations who would in theory be open to engaging with us, though my experiences with Tracey on Reception ('Hew should I sayz callin'? Does he/she know you... no... goodbye') or Mrs. Miggins on gatekeeper duty ('Computersezno. He/she is very busy, please address all enquiries via our customer service website [oblivion]) mean it will be time well wasted.
And out of the 50 listed, it was amazing how few are in our area of 're'.
But looking at the Guardian piece, it is pretty telling the disconnect between the efforts being directed at the consumer and those selling to them by those tasked (or who have taken it upon themselves) to serve/save them.
It's a problem compounded when these figures and consequent headlines come out.
As a consumer, I am tempted to say 'sod it, I'll get the 4x4'.
But there are threads that need to be picked up.
These big polluters produce the energy which we burn inefficiently with our 18p lightbulbs from Tescos (you can see what they were pushing with the message I advocate they could/should (part of a series I did) side by side) - and ironically they are one of the top 50 CSR companies in the Times list.
So it IS worth plugging away (there's an idea in there for an 'anti-leaving electric appliances plugged in' ad) on the little things, but only when they are relevant and can be tied in to benefits.
I reckon the whole car thing is diverting way too much from more importnat areas that could be more fruitfully addressed.

Mixed Messages

At my talk at Internet World (must post it up on the site one day), I enlivened it a bit with a section called 'mixed messages', basically advocating that these should be avoided wherever possible. 

It was a thinly veiled plug for Junkk.com vs. more traditional media, because we are in a position to embrace more relevant ad opportunities and have less conflicting editorial dilemmas to deal with. I had fun showing a page from one online site which had a big blue-chip energy banner advocating renewable electricity atop an article gushing about a device that plugged in to keep your butter permanently spreadable, and a button ad offering a day trip in a Bentley as as a prize for entry next to a piece trashing 4x4 drivers.

But as I have admitted before, things can slip through. We are looking at Google adwords-style revenue for now (while we can't be choosy or find the time to place and monitor every page) that can result in 'inappropriate' clashes.

But it doesn't stop me having a chuckle at others' expense.

And today I noticed this from the invariably excellent Grist:

Arctic Tock ...
Arctic ice may be gone in one to three decades

If you've been planning a trip to the Arctic, better buy your tickets now, because it's a-meltin' fast. (Perhaps you've heard?)... 

straight to the source: The Guardian, David Adam, 15 May 2006 

I know the environmental rite of passage de jour is a trip to the snowy wastes and all (and I'm pretty sure they were just making an off the cuff funny remark - the article it links to is pretty heavy), but there is a certain perverse irony in advocating one travels up there to see it before it melts, thanks in part to people traveling up there more and more to see it... before it melts. 

And I quota... (or don't)

Drifting into politically incorrect territory for the sake of a light-hearted intro line, you can say what you like about the Germans, but they certainly know how to obey orders. While, patently, the British cannot: UK above quota, Germany within, where we are not exactly delivering the goods (or, rather, are delivering too many) on our carbon emissions EU-wide.

It's hard to find an excuse, until you read on and find out what a tortured and convoluted the whole thing is, rife I am sure with all manner of accounting tricks, back-door politico/commercial deals, smoke and mirrors and of course small fortunes being made by those who make everything out of making nothing (n this case literally as well as figuratively).

Mind you, our new national habit of blaming the pitch/track/weather/own negotiated positions for failing to do what was agreed smacks of goalpost adjusting.

I wonder what the average consumer would make of it all, especially if they know how much of their money pays these guys salaries.