‘Birmingham – A digital opportunity’

The Digital Revolution

I was recently at a Birmingham Business Breakfast Club event and the guest speaker – Simon Jenner, a technology entrepreneur – gave an inspiring and motivating talk regarding the position of Birmingham as a digital hub.

As we are all becoming increasingly aware, the digital landscape is changing and technology appears to be influencing everything we do.

A great example of this is Uber. Simon explained that within a 4 year period, the company has gone from nowhere to being a $50bn business and the biggest taxi firm in the world. Yet they own no taxis and no taxi drivers – they are a truly digital business.

Brummies Overlooked?

So, where does our great city and the surrounding area fit into the global digital arena? Simon told us that in terms of numbers in employment, digital technology accounts for the 4th largest sector, equalling 40,000 people. The public sector is still by far the biggest employer in Birmingham, with 450,000 people.

However, despite most sectors now being affected by technological advancements and despite 20% of the UK gaming industry being based in nearby Leamington Spa – why is ‘digital’ is still being overlooked?

An Opportunity

Simon is clearly very passionate about his city and technology. The issue from his perspective is that the two have not become aligned as yet, but there’s absolutely no reason why Birmingham cannot become a ‘digital hub’ on a grand scale, rivalling London, Manchester, Edinburgh…

It’s easy to think of this scenario as classic Birmingham – living up to a reputation of a city behind the times. However, it’s thanks to Simon and other visionaries that we should see this as a great opportunity for the city to build a reputation, like any brand, by offering a clear vision and standing out from the crowd.


It’s true that without a ‘champion’ business, such as a Google, it has been difficult to be seen as an industry player, but with lots of smaller individual companies – who knows which one of them could be the next overnight phenomenon?

Success breeds success, and the time is now for Birmingham to join the digital revolution.


Ashley Madison – A broken marriage

Fundamentally Flawed

“Life is short. Have an affair.”– The slogan used by website Ashley Madison offering extramarital relations and a 100% guarantee of confidentiality.

The site, which prides itself on being the ‘world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters’, has suffered from a recent hijacking from a group of hackers known as ‘Impact Team’, who gained access to over 30 million user details and subsequently released them online.

The identity theft of users’ personal details including sexual fantasies, has swept all hope of confidentiality away from the brand. Few who’d signed up to have an affair could be happy to have that particular portion of their moral code exposed to all.

Founded 13 years ago, the Ashley Madison website concept was fundamentally flawed from the start. A service promoting betrayal of a partner will have been considered by a large majority to be of such a low moral standard, anyone who signed up would get their just desserts.

Vision, Mission and Values

A reputation can be defined as “everything you say, everything you do and everything others say about you.” (Chartered Institute of Public Relations)

In order to build and maintain a sustainable reputation, it is key for an organisation to deliver their service focusing on a clear vision, supported by a mission and set of values.

Ashley Madison’s vision could be described as becoming the world leading service for extramarital relations and ensuring people have no regrets about having an affair. Their mission would simply be to provide guaranteed privacy, secrecy, confidentiality – call it what you will. Finally, some relevant values may include‘rigorous security’; ‘changing perceptions’ and ‘customer successes’.

The Theory Bit

Jane Jacobs, the author of the business publication ‘Systems of Survival’, details that in order to be a successful company there are a number of key precepts. Let’s consider two of the most important: respect contracts and be honest.

Following the clear breach of trust to keep data confidential, it is evident that Ashley Madison had little respect for their customers’ data when they entered into a contract with them, while the guarantee of anonymity was, in fact, far from honest. In the eyes of this particular commentator, Ashley Madison will clearly struggle to survive after breaking these values and contract.

A guarantee within a legal context is described as a pledge to be responsible for another’s debt or contractual performance if that other person does not pay or perform. This provides yet more evidence that Ashley Madison is a business on the ropes as it could also be bound legally to refund their customers for an inadequate performance relating to one of their values – rigorous security.

Broken Trust

The moral question here should really be how Ashley Madison can remain a functioning business with such a blatant disregard for people’s data?

The answer is, it can’t.

There is a clear association between personal relationships and business relationships – both are based on trust. Alas, trust can take years to gain, yet can be whipped away in a flash – the Ashley Madison fiasco a case in point.

Given the kryptonite nature of the data entrusted to them, Ashley Madison clearly did not do enough to protect it. The seemingly relative ease that private information of customers has been obtained and released into the public domain is alarming and completely conflicts with the company’s mission of guaranteed secrecy – hence, a reputation destroyed, broken families and now two suicide cases.

DivorceThe trust between this business and its customers has been obliterated and it is hard to see this particular relationship not ending in divorce proceedings.

Ashley Madison’s slogan has become rather apt – “life is short”

Lights, Camera, Action – PR and the moving image

video compressed

Today, we consume information in many different ways. Technology has thrown out a multitude of digital, social and interactive platforms that help open up a world of content to engage, excite and connect audiences in ways that they have never done before.

Moving image is one of the most rapidly-growing sectors in communications with innovative new content sharing platforms being developed every day.

But helping to bring video skills into the creative domain isn’t just about knowing your Vimeo from your Vine and your YouTube from your Yahoo. It’s about having the ability to produce and share compelling content effectively, giving PR and marketing agencies fresh new ways of breathing life into their messages.

Coming from a film production background, I was a little bit apprehensive about making the transition into PR and communications. Would I be able to step up to the plate when it came to delivering world class video material for Kinetic and our portfolio of clients?

My first task was to produce a new video for the Kinetic website, providing the audience with an insight on how to build reputations you can trust. My mission; to produce a piece of content that is compelling, inspiring and intelligent – to make the website useful for anyone looking to build trust in their reputation and take Kinetic’s video offering up to the next level.

It was a big challenge but, as soon as I got my hands on the camera kit and into the studio, my anxieties melted away and I felt like I was back in my element. Fortunately for me, Angela was a true natural in front of the camera and excelled in delivering her message in an inspiring and engaging way.

So why is it so important to use video to help illustrate your message in PR?

Did you know?

–          Only 20% of web visitors will read the majority of text but 80% will stop to watch a video

–          Videos are 53 times more likely to appear on Google’s first page

–          Cognitive psychology shows that stimulating both auditory and visual senses increases retention by around 58%

–          YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine after Google

–          Adding a video to your website makes it 6 times more likely to convert a browser to a paying customer.

There is no doubt that video is an extremely powerful tool for businesses. Whether you want to say something about your company, promote a new product or service or just make your web presence or YouTube channel more interesting and engaging for your audience – moving image can provide the perfect solution.

Public relations isn’t just about getting column inches and writing media releases. It is about fully integrating communications solutions across traditional and digital new and rich media platforms.

I enjoyed my time working in film because it allowed me to develop a broad range of technical skills across a number of key areas. It was fast-paced, diverse and often unpredictable but the transition into PR has given me that and so much more.

It has allowed me to adapt those skills and apply them into diverse communications plans, helping to bring a fresh new take on each individual client’s message. It’s not just fun, it’s fast, exciting and above all, it’s now.

Accents in business by Jade Mansell

Jade Mansell

‘Oy kwoyt loik the berminggum accksunt’. Oh sorry, does that sound comical? And I mean the actual statement as well as the way it sounded: is it possible to have any love for the Birmingham accent?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy living close to the haven of shopping that is the Bullring, and Birmingham is supposed to be the “second city”, isn’t it? But it wasn’t until university that I realised quite how much my Brummie credentials affected perceptions of my personality.

I don’t live in Birmingham, I’m around 45 minutes away on the train – though of course this doesn’t mean anything to my lofty aristocratic southern friends. They deem anything above London ‘The  North’, whilst repressing an involuntary shudder at the thought of the murky, uncivilised wasteland that they have thankfully avoided thus far in life.

On arriving at Oxford Uni, I was astounded to find myself one of only 3 other West Midlanders in my year; needless to say I stuck out like a sore thumb. I’ll never forget the fresher’s week team-building exercise in which I addressed the whole hall with a microphone. Heads whipped round, students fell off their chairs, people took out ear-trumpets, all the better to hear the strange and jarring tones of my unlyrical utterings. Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite that bad, but I soon realised that I was different, and what’s more, I would become the butt of everyone’s’ joke.

Not that I minded – I love attention in any form – but I did find it grating that people were so quick to ‘figure me out’ based on my accent. A 2008 survey found that, as The Times put it, ‘the Brummie accent is perceived as ‘worse than silence’’. In a series of experiments, even a control group who said nothing at all were considered more intelligent than those with Brummie accents, and I have no trouble believing that. People with this bothersome accent are considered far less intelligent than those with other accents, and as such I sought to ditch mine as soon as possible.

Now don’t judge me, I wasn’t just being vain. I was thinking of my career, I swear – another survey showed that the Birmingham accent severely decreases interview success. (But mainly I was just being vain).

This all provokes the question: accents – should you tactically ditch or be proud of your roots? It’s a tricky one, and has sparked debate in the Kinetic office. On the one hand, the Brummie accent is associated with stupidity, and could be damaging. On the other, it’s quite cool to be novel, and certainly makes you more memorable. Plus, ditching your accent is like denying a part of your past. So I decided to try and embrace it, and, not gonna lie, it’s proven to be something of a talking point (see what I did there?).

Three years later and my accent has become ‘kind-of-southern-with-a-west-midlands-twang’, or so I’m told. At home, I’m posh. Amongst my uni friends, I’ll always be the Brummie. Damn!

ONE TEAM – ONE P&L – that’s the way to do it by Angela Podmore

Space shuttle Atlantis lifting off on 8th July 2011

A masterclass lives up to its billing

It’s not often a masterclass in leadership lives up to its name but Bob Duff did this week at an Aston University event. Bob is VP for UK and Ireland at Jacobs – a global engineering enterprise.

He introduces himself professionally (joined in 2004 through acquisition) but then adds, “I’m a husband and father first”. Good to know we’re listening to a man who has his ‘rocks in a jar’.

Some of his team really are rocket scientists – eg half of the people behind the NASA desk on manned space flight are from Jacobs.

Read on for how he got 62,000 people – culturally diverse – facing in the same direction.

They were losing 380 people a year to sickness and knew ‘problems cannot be resolved at the level of consciousness that created them’, Albert Einstein.

So in 2006 they launched, Beyond Zero – a culture of caring – to cut sickness to zero. It was beyond health and safety regime. “You have to live it.” They were 40K people worldwide then, they’re 62K today so they’ve done something right.


Jacobs developed a triad of values: 1. we are relationship-based (they’ve been working continuously for 46 years with Exxon Mobil. They’ve only 40 to 50 clients worldwide. “Clients like the people not the company”. They’re spread 50/50 over public/private sectors. 2. people are our greatest asset, 3. growth is an imperative (“we don’t pay dividend, we reinvest and are trading on Wall Street”).

He was full of the usual wisdoms: “transformation comes from the people not from the management, ” and “a good boss doesn’t really need appraisals. You never leave something to an appraisal which you should be doing right here and now.”

He was open with their figures showing steady growth through the 1990s and then the ‘bubble’ in the mid to late noughties. But they’re still on that 1990s/early-noughties growth track if you extrapolate that line through the bubble.

“Our margins are thin because the business model says our clients don’t like us making huge profits.” Jacobs is very customer-driven.  They grow by asking customers where they want them to be in ten years’ time.

“We’re multi domestic – ie where we open offices where we’re operational.” They work for Unilever all over the world but run it out of India because that’s where Unilever wants them.

Founding fathers lead the lessons

Jacobs College – at the US HQ – features lectures by the chairman – a- 75-year old who originally worked with the founder Joe Jacob. “You don’t go there to get ‘chipped and pinned’. It’s about learning the core values and it’s loaded with tests and role plays of how to do things ‘the Jacobs way’. Values underpin everything we do.”

Jacobs College takes to the road – important to keep momentum which is certainly there with every day, someone’s asking ‘what’s next’.


Jacobs has only one p&l worldwide. They don’t measure turnover but they’re committed to delivering 15% growth year on year. That’s a commitment to Wall Street (which is why I personally prefer the Arup business model).

But the Jacobs business model is undoubtedly successful – only 20% of the workforce has seen a downturn and their headcount speaks for itself. Each dept subsidises another.  The audience questioned that.

Bob Duff replied, “Culturally, you have to adjust to the fact that you may need to be supported one day.” In one fell swoop he showed how they’d swept away the departmental silos and made the one team culture dream a reality.

Jacobs is keeping the momentum by working with Aston University (they approached three business schools and chose Aston for the way its courses are Jacobs-focused as well as accredited to MBA. “We were looking for diversity – it’s great for cross-fertilisation – our workshops are like the UN.” And Aston certainly knows how to make international talent feel right at home.

Why I think Prezi is better than PowerPoint – by Rebecca Sloan

Rebecca Sloan, Kinetic, WIBA

Rebecca Sloan waxes lyrical about Prezi

With my upcoming presentation on how to measure and manage your reputation in the 21st century coming up next Tuesday to WIBA, it seemed about time to start pulling together the presentation slides. 

Having recently discovered Prezi, a relatively new platform which functions as a zooming presentation editor, my upcoming seminar seemed the perfect opportunity to try out the new platform.

With this in mind, we’d like to let you in on this well-kept secret and give you an insight into this tool which will revolutionise the way in which we deliver presentations. Here’s my review of Prezi in comparison to PowerPoint:


It will take a few minutes to get used to the new functionality of Prezi.  However, once you’ve learned this, designing a presentation is much easier to do and requires far less fuss to make look interesting.  Kiss goodbye to aligning text with grid lines.  Prezi is all about freedom of expression.


Unlike PowerPoint, more than one person can edit a Prezi presentation at a time.  You can even track their movements with neat little cartoon people who wander around the screen mimicking the movements of other users.  Great fun and hugely useful if you need to pull together a last-minute group presentation.


Where PowerPoint encourages a ‘less is more’ approach, Prezi takes a view that ‘more is better fun’. With the ability to zoom, twirl and dive into words and pictures, Prezi enables presentations to function more as a ‘mind-map’ than as a slideshow.

Overall, we think it’s a great piece of software.  Although serious users will need to pay a small licence fee (approximately £37 a year) to keep their presentations private and under-wraps, it is well worth the price if you’re likely to be running regular presentations. Four out of four stars!

Hello Digital 2010 – Alex Hunter steals the show by Simon Partington

a lightning bolt momentFor those who’ve ever wondered what a lightning bolt moment feels like, I can lay testament to having one at this year’s Hello Digital conference.

It came in the middle of a seminar from Alex Hunter, head of digital at Virgin Global.  He spoke passionately on a subject that rarely gets addressed in such a literal way – social media (check out Alex’s blog here). For those that couldn’t make his session, I’ve put a few of his top line thoughts below.  Brands lacking in self awareness and using social media, read on …


  • “The social web isn’t about connecting brands with people, it’s about connecting people with people.”
  • “Why is Steve Jobs so intrinsically linked to Apple in our minds? Because he cares enough about the brand to stick his personal reputation on it.”
  • “Screw consistency (in social media).  If we’re all moving in the same direction, the consistency will come out.”
  • “The brands that are winning (on social media), are the ones keeping it real by being true to what they believe in online.”

These thoughts are interesting, particularly number two.  In the PR industry, we strive to find brand advocates within a business that truly care – not just on the social media front, but across communications in general.  Finding enlightened individuals to speak up on behalf of a business adds more weight to their offering – in short, it’s better to have substance before showmanship.

Cases rarely come as perfect as the likes of Apple or Digg (the online social bookmarking service). In the real world, harnessing the power of a corporate brand through an individual takes guts. It’s something that, if communicated correctly, can give true meaning to a corporate entity.  We’ve all heard the adage that ‘people buy from people’, but in the case of social media, it really rings true.

The second point that opened my eyes was the one about consistency, or the need for a less rigid approach to it.  In PR, we talk a lot about consistency.  An awful lot.  In reality, if we’re having to plumb consistency into a brand before it ventures out into the social world, then in many cases, it will come across as lacking in credibility.  Bad for you. Bad for the client.  Just generally bad.

For communications online to come across as credible, it needs a balanced approach – a loose set of guidelines is fine, but for people to have proper conversations, they need to have a personality.  Just remember Groove Armada’s track from the 90s – ‘if everybody looked the same, we’d get tired of looking at each other’.

It all comes back to the ‘Steve Jobs model’ – throw your weight behind a brand and people might just love you for it.  Fake it, and risk being found out!