This is the blog of Ant Miller, senior research manager and dilettante geek at large at the BBC.
I wail moan and cuss about the challenges and fun to be found here.
These are my personal opinions, and not those of my employer. Or anyone else here for that matter.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A few good men: Why too small a PR team is worse than no PR team (but a proper sized one is best)

Just a very quick note to articulate a thought that has weighed heavily on me and others I work with lately.  In the field of corporate communications, a small team and be worse than no team at all, and that's no reflection on the people on that team.  A too small team for corporate comms can never get to grips with the whole brief- all the activities and actions buzz along below the radar, and only crises that rise above a threshold can be dealt with.  Note that crossing the threshold doesn't mean anything has gone wrong- just that the situation has become big enough to demand attention.  However, at that stage the team will have no background, and probably only the blast of the last crisis ringing in their ears, so they immediately pounce in a negative controlling but woefully under-informed manner upon the situation.  The reaction of first resort is to clamp down, to stifle and to kill any story.
Naturally enough the reaction from the footsloggers in the trenches who've been working on this for weeks if not months is to be upset, in fact downright pissed off.  Months of planning, weeks of effort, good relationships built without the support of 'professional PR' are dashed.  It may well be that the message has been passed up to PR over the preceding weeks, possibly in some detail, but they have been to busy to read or even note it, and actually, that's perfectly reasonable of them.
The upshot- PR deliver nightmare drivebys of negativity, broken relationships and trashed plans, and the rest of the organisation tells them less and less in the hope to keep their size nine party pooping boots at bay.  This is a situation where nobody is doing anything less than their professional best, but the organisation is built to fail.
If you work in a place where things have got to this state take a moment to recognise that the people in PR (or vice versa who work in the org where you do PR) are actually trying hard to do their jobs well.

Then find the fucktard that thought this was a sustainable way to do business and string them up by piano wire from the nearest lamp post.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Apostropocalypse

Or the final nail in the coffin of the bibliophile driven bookshop.

I used to be a bookseller.  It's a lovely job- selling books and buying books is an activity that really does tend to bring out the best in people.  It's an activity that we engage in when we feel a little bit noble, a tad worthy, and maybe just a tiny bit pleased with ourselves.  It represents an exchange that is clearly a part of a long tradition, of the constant interplay of literature and economics, and we hope when we buy a book that the cash handed over will be repaid manifold in a wealth of intangible riches.

To be more prosaic, as a job at university it was easy to do with a stinking hangover, had flexible hours, the customers tended not to be too awful (though never without their elements of occasionally parabolic eccentricity), and you could meet girls.  Pace my wonderful wife.

The shop I originally worked in was the little branch of Waterstone's on North Street Brighton.  It's not there now, but that funny little horseshoe shaped leaky shop was a fantastically concentrated example of the old school Waterstone's ethic.  Every member of the staff planted their extraordinary personality on the section they ran, which with our bunch meant we had a fairly esoteric stock, and thus a similarly peculiar clientèle.  We would routinely purposefully 'flood damage' books that got scaled out from HQ- whole crates of Princes Diana schlock was dunked in buckets of dirty drainwater.

Our events were occasionally riotous- trying to wrangle 200 surprisingly boisterous stoners in to see Howard Marks for one of his Mr Nice talks was quite a struggle, and I had to feel for my colleague who was 'volunteered' to look after him.  We used the staff room (with it's glorious south facing rooftop suntrap) as a green room for visiting authors, and on this occasion it reeked of skunk for weeks after- my colleague who shall remain nameless staggered downstairs looking like he'd been hit by a bus before mumbling through a heartfelt but largely incoherent introduction to Howard.  Ah happy days.

We did our own window displays- mine were rubbish, but many were extraordinarily beautiful examples of temporary urban art.  I think we even had a transexual stripper in the window one year.

The point I am trying to make is that at one time, not so long ago, the UK was spattered with a chain of bookshops which each had a vibrant and creative ethos and community of engaged customers and which thoroughly and without any constraint reflected the most radical and literary of their local communities hopes and aspirations.  And this from a shop!  A profitable one too!

Now what do we have- anonymous, repetitive centrally managed battery farms of literary ubiquity.  A stultifying published pap box shifter.  I used to pop into a Waterstone's to get a mediated flavour of a town, to see what they read, what they were into, what events would draw them out- you could catch half of that from the locally designed and lovingly created window displays.  No more- those windows are prime high street real estate- auctioned off as generic advert space to be identically dolloped without care or attention in hundreds of shops nationwide.

If this total collapse of passion and imagination had happened to one chain, one shop amongst may, this would be a tragedy, but it isn't.  This bland monster has swallowed up two of the UK's other biggest bookshop chains leaving them too bereft of their signature quirks and sensibilities; Dillon's and Ottakar's (which had previously swallowed up Hammicks).  Today on any given British high street you will probably only see one major bookshop, and it will be identical to the one you would see on any other high street.  Its stock, displays and overall character will be utterly indistinguishable from any other Waterstone's on any other high street.

So they're dropping the apostrophe? Good.  As a symbol of lost sense of any ownership by individuals it is salient.  As a symbol for a collapse in any respect for literature, it is salient.  As a symbol of a shift toward an all encompassing, ever spreading miasma of conformity and corporate anonymity, it is salient.

Local independent bookshops are the best.

Only got around to watching this at the weekend, but I think it illustrates the sort of beautiful crazy that used to be possible in Waterstone's and all the other little chains that it swallowed up, but now lies so far beyond the petty imagination of that corporate behemoth that it breaks one's heart.