We all want to do work that matters, but is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed?

Two recent articles on the Ketchum (my employer) blog that can be found here: http://bit.ly/13T4xpE and here: http://bit.ly/12jR2iM demonstrate a number of ways that PR and wider communications can be used as a force for good in the wider world.

The undoubtedly good thing here is Creative for Good. Introduced by the World Economic Forum (WEF), in collaboration with the Ad Council and Ketchum, Creative for Good is an online resource for case studies of effective public education campaigns. The platform brings together over 60 campaigns from around the world on social issues such as education, health and environment, with the objective of helping smaller NGOs and organizations create their own public service campaigns.

This is a great example of the communications industry acting as a force for good. The next level is less purely altruistic, but can certainly be seen as a Very Good Thing. Many corporates, brands and their agencies have looked to position themselves as issues champions. Two of the examples mentioned in the first article are very strong. Dove’s championing of the female form, whatever a lady’s body shape, or P&G’s “Mean Stinks” are obviously commercially driven, but that doesn’t mean that the don’t have fundamentally positive messages that can engage with both potential customers but also society in general. As I say, a Very Good Thing.

An integrated campaign can therefore be run by a team that are both commercially and ethically minded. Happy, well motivated people are more likely to be more effective communicators, therefore the client gets an enhanced and more effective campaign. Everyone’s a winner. What could possibly go wrong?

The issue for me is when and where to draw the line. Are some issues just too heavy to approach by commercially focussed brands, where the primary aim is always (eventually) commercial?

I should here explain that I’ve never been involved in consumer focussed work, and the vast majority of my comms career has involved advising either natural resources companies, investment banks and sovereign states on their strategic communications, reputation management and capital markets communications. I’m also naturally cynical when it comes to other forms of communications, despite a certain personal inclination to idealism, even romanticism.

Probably too much Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and Spenser. “Down these mean streets etc” not the man you are, but the man you’d like to be…

I might therefore be about to make an ill informed observation, but it think that there are certain barriers to cause related marketing, or issues based campaigns, especially if a company wants to hijack a deeply emotional issue for commercial benefit.

Two issues really jump out at me as examples of professionally admired campaigns that have left me truly cold. The Coca Cola’s Kashmiri focussed campaign mentioned in the article and the PR Week prize winning campaign on behalf of Rwanda.

It’s probably because my MA thesis partially focussed on how a number of sovereign states have dealt with ethnically based insurgencies (Ulster and Chechnya), but i believe that there are a few issues that should be sacrosanct. I almost got into a fight with an Irish American who wanted to tell me about 1000 years of English oppression. I asked when his family had left and he replied “the late 19th Century”. My response was a ruder version of “mind your own business”. My maternal grandparents left Kerry for Kentish Town (North London) in the 1950s and as a half English, half Irish Londoner, and I’m well aware of the deeply complex issues of identity and politics that are mixed up in the concept of national identity.

I’ve chatted Kashmir through with friends and contacts from South Asia, and most of them respond with a sort of emotional “you can’t possibly understand”. A colleague who is deeply committed to the State of Israel reacts in the same way as regards the issues around ethnicity and sovereignty in the Middle East. Hundreds, if not thousands of years of history combine with the current or recent memory of death, questionable military tactics and the bending and breaking of legal precedent to create a dangerous psychological arena where those that don’t understand are better not to wander.

I don’t care how well intentioned a communications campaign is, my gut feeling is that some things should be best left alone, especially if, at heart, a corporate and its brand are running the campaign for commercial benefit.

The inherent complications of the Kashmiri situation represent, for me, a barrier that should not be crossed, even if there genuinely is a belief by the corporate concerned that they’re trying to do something “good” such as “creating dialogue”.

For me, this is naive at best. At worst, it’s the co-opting of 50 years of bitter conflict, with thousands of deaths and untold misery across a subcontinent and its global diaspora. Add in that its Coca Cola, a global branding and marketing hegemon, based in the global geopolitical hegemon, and it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

I suppose the proof of the pudding is how Kashmiris feel about the campaign. If they’re happy, I shouldn’t care. however, for me, at thousands of miles distance, it feels like a step too far.

It’s the same with the famous PR Week winner for rebranding Rwanda as an attractive investment and tourist destination. Again it was a purely personal reaction, but I’ve done a lot of advisory around African mining and I’ve heard some of the stories about Rwanda from people that were there when the genocide happened.

I know that sooner or later Rwanda had to get onto the stage and tell its story. I’ve told the “rebirth / innovation / modernisation / FDI / geopolitics” story myself for a number of post soviet and MENA sovereigns myself. I get how this works.

However, after reading a lot around the subject, including the frankly horrific “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families” by The New Yorker writer Philip Gourevitch, I also believe that decisions were made to bury the past due to the needs of today and the future to “rebuild” Rwanda.

This isn’t just about the recent history of one country, but a region that has had a pretty tough 20/40 years, depending on how wide the circle is. Mention “Kigali” or “Kinshasa” to anyone that studied international relations, or (in my case) War Studies in the early 2000s, you’ll get a strong reaction.

I’m sure that the PRs doing the programme believed they were doing a Good Thing as well as being very well paid by the remarkably successful Kagame government. I can imagine idealistic young PRs being delighted about working on the campaign.

In conclusion, we all have smell tests and both of these have my nose twitching. I’m far from perfect having worked on diamond, gold and copper projects in Africa, in addition to other extractive and sovereign clients throughout the world, but I’ve never pretended these have anything other than tangential benefits to the world or local communities.

In conclusion, there are ways for comms to do a Good Thing and be a force for good. However, a good salesman should know when he’s being played and if he’s trying to put a square peg into a round hole.

Its stuff like this that gives us a good or bad name

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Pizarro and the Gentrification of Bermondsey

http://www.josepizarro.com/restaurants/pizarro/

4 generations of Blewers, the first born around 1929, the last in 2012 convened, with my Mum (a Blewer in name, but a Connell in her heart) and Kirsty (soon to be a Blewer, but clearly an Armstrong) for lunch at Pizarro in
Bermondsey.

It’s a very attractive restaurant, with deep brown wood, dark leather booths, wide open sharing tables and a semi private room at the end, sort of on a right angle turn like the end of a “j”

We were in said room, which opens onto the restaurant, so that the boy could run around to his content without getting in anyone’s way. Also the acoustics work very well for gran’s slightly age impaired hearing. There’s some lovely stained glass and Hispanic tiling in there, and whilst its slightly separate, with the doors open, you still feel you’re in the restaurant.

The food was awesome. The starters are all distinctly “tapasish”. Fried sweetbreads, prawns in garlic, jamon etc. All of the cooked stuff was very well judged using great ingredients, and adding more than the sum of their parts. My sweetbreads were bouncy, crunchy coating, creamy gland, punchy mustard mayo. They loved the dry oloroso I ordered, but we just as good with beer.

Main courses were also excellent. My pork burger was rich, salty, creamy from cheese with the odd burst of caper to tame the richness. In a slightly sweetish brioche bun and crispy chips, I didn’t bother with wine but drank Al-Hambra and was very happy with everything.

Everyone else had good stuff, be it onglet or lumps of fish. Full on gutsy chocolate desert tempered by a berry sorbet was well matched with a Mataro sweet wine. The wine list is interesting and not appalling in terms of price. Add in truly hospitable service, indulgent of and welcoming to all members of the family and you’ve got an excellent restaurant. We love it as a family and will return.

Pizarro is very much part of the gentrification of Bermondsey. Other restaurants such as Zucca and the Garrison, not to mention the way some proper boozers that have been reconstructed into something glossier and safer are other notable examples. I’m slightly ambivalent about this. There’s an awful lot of tourists and north Londoners coming south for a bit of colour. Bermondsey Street is now something of a middle class enclave in middle of what remains a tough, working class area.

Pizarro and Zucca aren’t places for many locals, which makes the strip feel slightly false. Its as if somewhere like Notting Hill or Hampstead has been parachuted into South East London. Something for me doesn’t quite fit. Like a nagging feeling at the back of your mind. I don’t know what’s driving this, as I’m not a working class South Londoner despite certain social and personal beliefs and living in Croydon; I’m aware I’m basically a nice middle class boy and I should be happy with the environment.

But I’m not. I don’t know why, but something doesn’t fit. It’s like Borough Market, and Spittalfields. Middle class foodie nirvana cheek by jowl by some of the poorest areas in London. A little distasteful.

It doesn’t stop Pizarro or Zucca being wonderful restaurants. It just means I don’t want to hang around afterwards.

Sent from my iPad

Franklin’s, East Dulwich

http://www.franklinsrestaurant.com/dulwich/

If I lived in East Dulwich I’d be fat. I’d have to win the lottery, as its not really representative of South East London any more. It feels like Balham or Battersea, with independent boutiques, book shops, wine shops, florists etc etc. They’ve got nice looking bakers and even a cheese shop.

A cheese shop in sarf east London? Cue raised eyebrow. I’m from Croydon, cheese shops are for North London

Anyway, the reason I’d be fat is Franklins, where I ate lunch yesterday. It was my uncles’s birthday, and he, my 93 year old gran, Kirsty, Aidan and I had a wonderful lunch there. In fact it was all a lunch should be. Tasty food, good drink, wonderful company, well paced, good portions but not so large you need to sleep afterwards, excellent service.

But to start to the start, the place is part bar, part restaurant. If it hasn’t have been an occasion, I’d have been happy with a main course and a few pints of (very good) Brockley Brewing Company beer. The bar itself is great. A long handsome thing with lots of interesting things to drink, from microbreweries to Diageo’s finest, and a great wine list.

The welcome was warm and genuine. The lady serving that day was local, wasn’t that rushed and had plenty of time to chat with a SE London family (Camberwell and Croydon). She was great. The perfect bar – waitress – maitress d’, good chat, informative on the food and drink, friendly without being in anyway overbearing.

Once we’d had a few, we went back into the restaurant bit. Nicely done, simple tables with white napery. A lady sitting in the corner having a distinctly civilised lunch on her own. 2 g&ts, a dozen oysters and a glass of wine. I wish I’ll be as civilised when I get to my ’60s.

The food was excellent and simple. Roast pigeon with garlic, prawns and aioli, calf faggots, black pudding and mash, poussin and harissa. You get the idea. Bistro fayre that relied on quality and technique. All of which disappeared to the last morsel and was well complemented by Lebanese red and rose from Massaya. Which allowed me to make my “he’s not the massaya, he’s a very naughty boy” joke.

A lovely butterscotch tart and a large glass of calvados and I was done, thinking I hadn’t had a more relaxed, civilised lunch in years. We all loved what we ate, including the most adventurous young eater you’ll meet. Aidan like the faggot and black pudding.

£200 quid including service for 4 hungry and thirsty adults seemed good value. There’s a cheaper set menu that would have been good as well and quite a lot cheaper.

It’s only a 35 minute journey from me. I suspect various different Blewers will be back because this is a great local restaurant that’s worth travelling for.

The Lions, and the story of how rugby marks steps on a father / son relationship

Some of my favorite memories involve the Lions. I’m not talking sporting memories, but all time good memories.

Before I go into specifics, and at the risk of the curse of the Spanish Inquisition, I think there’s two main reasons: Rarity and Ethnicity.

1- Rarity: The Lions tours only come round every four years and I reckon that its this rarity that in part makes them so special. You savour the experience and the memory because there won’t be another one just around the corner.

The world athletics champs used to be special, then they dropped the frequency and now its just another tournament. Whilst its still a great achievement to win a world championship belt in boxing, the proliferation of sanctioning bodies has devalued one of the most valuable titles in sport “World Heavyweight Champion”.

Coming back to the lions its the fact that the four year cycle breeds a narrative of their own is something special. Speculation over teams starts fully a year before. The team that was picked at the end of last year’s 6 nations would have been quite different to this one. It all builds the excitement towards the first kick off – and just as important in Rugby that first big hit that defines the match and the physical confrontation.

Shit. The Spanish Inquisition’s got me. There’s another one.

2 – Tradition / Historical Progression: The “99” call. Barry “King” John in 71. Robert Jones stepping on Farr-Jones. The truly frightening 1989 English policeman pack with the hard edge of scots and welsh. Campo and Ieuan Evans. Iron Mike Teague was just hard. Scott Gibbs twice. An NZ victory stolen by poor refereeing. My hero Dewi Morris. Rory Underwood burning up the All Blacks. The return of the League exiles. Martin Johnson 3 times. Jerry dropping the goal. Daws fooling the worlds 2nd best EVER scrum half with a terrible dummy (1-Edwards 2- Joost 3- daylight). Deadeye Ruprecht kicking SA to death. Jim Telfer’s Everest and Living with the Lions. BOD in the golden moments of youth. Jason Robinson, now you see me, now you don’t. Martin Johnson coming on as a sub after Macrae’s assault on ROG. Macrae leaving the field soon after. The assault on Richard Hill, the man so good they had to elbow drop him to the neck. 5 yard line out, 2 call catch and drive; that bastard plank stole it. Keith Wood, far more than a bald psycho. The abomination of SCW NZ tour. Enough said. Mike Phillips – hateful for Wales, a prince (there’s only one king) for the Lions. BOD and Roberts as the best centre partnership I’ve ever seen. Kearney mixing Gaelic football and Rugby to sublime effect. The Beast tamed by the Raging Bull. And then devastation for ROG, always at his best playing in red, but that’s for Munster, not the Lions.

Seriously, if you love sport, I dare you not to be moved at that list. That’s what the Lions have to live up to.

3 – Ethnicity. I’m half English and half Irish. For Rugby I support, in order, the Lions, Munster, England, London Irish. You can see the mix right there. The Lions are one of the only tribes, along with English Cricket, that I really passionately care for with no ambivalence. It brings together the people of our historically and ethnically complex islands of the NW coast of Europe and turns us into one tribe, with no reservations. I’m not sure there’s anything else that’s ever really done that. Ireland’s been fighting for independence for centuries. The Scots don’t want to do anything that was thought up by the English. The Welsh get screwed over by everyone. England is hated by everyone and on its own would be a Tory paradise that would be anathema to a trot like me.

But these are general issues that are petty much shared by many people in our islands. The millennia of interweaving means that we know each other very well and however much you dislike Westminster, you can come together for the Lions.

For me though, there are a couple of very personal memories that matter a lot to me, and why the Lions are my own personal Everest. The thing I look forward to for four years.

The Lions is one of my earliest vivid sporting memories. Spurs losing to Coventry comes close, as does England’s victorious cricket tour down under, where Botham was world class for the last time. Maybe the ’86 World Cup with Lineker’s bandaged hand and Maradona’s hand of god.

But I didn’t watch any of those in my dressing gown at 0730 in the morning with my Dad, with the volume low so we wouldn’t wake mum up. Dad was primarily a football (Millwall) and cricket (Surrey) supporter and whilst I’d watched a bit of rugby, he’d primarily tried to educate me at these two sports. But the Lions was different. Dad got up early to watch the games, which was strange, as he was a forex broker and was up at 0530 every morning and home late a lot. The man needed his sleep. I wasn’t allowed to get up that early normally so i didn’t wake him up. But he was excited about the series and he cared and he transmitted this to me. An impressionable young boy (I was 9, and what 9 year old boy doesn’t hero worship his Dad?) I lapped it up, loving the sport, and loving sharing it with my Dad.

The sport was brilliant, with some real moments of drama, most of which are mentioned above. Guscott’s blistering pace, the physicality of the England pack. Jones’ pass. Evans and Campese. More than anything however, the Lions pushed the Oz pack off their own ball on a 5 yard scrum. The score was close and the wasn’t much time left. The reason I remember it so clearly was because Dad talked me through why it was so important. The series coming down to a 5 yard scrum.

The ’97 lions is connected. I was obviously a lot older. A 17 year old that wasn’t particularly happy with life at a grammar school sixth form, apart from the sport. The game was on Sky and my Dad hates Murdoch so it wasn’t on in the house. Mum and Dad were away for the first game, so I went down the local and sat quietly in the corner of the public bar, drinking a few pints and loving the game, and most importantly the atmosphere. A quintessentially masculine atmosphere, there was more chat in the bar than I’d ever heard and I was involved. A boy in a man’s world and I loved it.

So the second game came round. I talked dad into coming to the pub with me to watch the game. I had to bend his arm. I asked, “Want to watch the Lions in the public bar?” He said “of course”. We watched one of the tensest, toughest, most perfect games of sport I’ve ever seen. Add in the beer, the pub where we did a lot of father-son bonding and the great atmosphere in the pub, which was (strangely) full of rugby players (look at the nose, ears and body shape, you can normally tell) we had never seen before. It was such a close game. The South Africans were probably the better side, but Neil Jenkins kicked everything, the Lions pack was heroic and every single Lions player put their bodies on the line. The total physicality and commitment was awe inspiring.

Then Guscott dropped his goal. And the pub rose as one. We cheered, we hugged. For that second we were all sharing a communion to the god of sport. I spilt some Guinness on the old man.

We shared the SA tour four years ago, and drowned our sorrows in Guinness and Light and Bitter, but last year I smiled at the way the dynamic had changed. We’re still father and son, but even four years ago, Dad appeared to have pretty much accepted me as a man. We were two mates down the local talking about a sport and concept (the lions) we both loved. I’d gone through a tough few years, but was turning the corner (meeting Kirsty, new job on the way) and I was in a busy boozer I knew well, drinking a lot of beer with my old man and loving it. So we lost. It was still great.

So the lions for me is a story about two Blewer men and their relationship as father and son, and the development of a friendship. I’ve still got to work out where we watch the game, how to introduce Kirsty into this dynamic (she’d never forgive me) and how long we can persuade Aidan to watch the game. I can’t wait to do the same with him as I did with Dad. Although I might have to get Sky to do that.

looking forward to being somewhere were we can all watch the test series.

looking forward to being somewhere were we can all watch the test series.

Thoughts on the Lions part 2

Thoughts on the Lions part 2

So what did the Barbarians game tell us about the Lions and what’s going to happen in Perth?

Well firstly, I think it’s fair to say that the Barbars game was a waste of time, unless you’re a Hong Kong based rugby fan. The scratch side with nothing but pride and a pay check seemed up for it, but the Lions are playing for more than pride and they steamrollered the Barbars. It was like a training game played in a sauna. Inconclusive for the fan, dangerous for the players. Maybe good for the sponsors (Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation), but not for anyone else.

There we some interesting pointers. You could see why Danny Care was left at home. Gatland wants to break the gain line immediately and for every man to tackle big. This means a big scrum half who is nearly a 4th back row, as opposed to a jinker with a lightning pass. Not that “2 step Care” has great distribution anyway.

Phillips played very well and Murray came on and played to the same model. Big, fast, aggressive, direct, linking the back row and the backs. Interesting for a one time 6’1 90kg scum half, but a bit of a shame for someone who loved Peter Stringer and Rob Jones. My favourite moment in rugby is Strings making Betsen look a fool in Cardiff.

The back row showed why its the most competitive position on tour, but I still think Tom Wood could have got a call and still might if there’s an injury. Tipuric played a great classical open side game, always being there, hitting tackles, showing hunger. Shame the captain’s above him. Lydiate looked good for a man out for a year but on hard grounds, I’d have Croft. My reason for thinking Wood is hard done by is I don’t think either 8 is outstanding, and it’s really their relationship with the two main 9s that has cemented their positions.

Other than that, Jamie Roberts showed what he can do yet again, but I don’t think we learned much about the three quarters, apart from Sexton looks a more natural fluid 10, either on the gain line, or kicking for position. Forget Farrell’s fisticuffs; if Burger had wanted to hurt him, he would have. I just think that at the moment, with no need for someone to fill in at centre, because centre is the 2nd tough position after back row, Farrell is a back up, not first choice.

I actually think 10 is a dangerous position. Why are people pining for a good defensive fly half that plays so far behind the gain line he can only kick to move forwards? Johnny last went past a back on the outside in about 2002. He was once brilliant at a lot, especially when guided by greenwood and catt. He’s now limited and needs a dominant pack.

Best hope Sexton stays fit.

So what are we looking for in the next match? For me, centre is the big decision. There are four candidates, each with their own pros and cons, but due to age, form, experience etc there isn’t an obvious stand out combination such as Gibbs and Guscott or ODriscoll and Roberts.

BOD; his brain still works at a truly elite level but can his body get him to where his brain wants him to be? Last time out he made space for Roberts and Croft to be amazingly but I remember thinking then, a younger BOD would have scored himself. Also, can he pay a couple of warm ups and 3 tests?

Roberts; for a man with many skills, including being a Doctor, it seems unfair to call him one dimensional but…. Roberts has never looked better than when playing with BOD but if the Irishman runs out of puff could those crash ball runs be better made by….

Tuilagi; no one hits harder, unless its Roberts. Manu has made a big impact in a short time, but I remain agnostic. Think he needs a system to be built around him, then he can be a monster. Good acceleration, if not lightning fast enough to be moved out to the wing. Might scare the opposition a bit more than others – not in a physical way, just in a “we’ve really got to watch him way, which might open up space for anyone else.

Davies: a very good player, who because he’s very neat, fast, direct, has good hands and can kick, but isn’t necessarily a headline maker, is unfairly judged against the three already mentioned. I reckon he’s on the bench as cover, but he could be a Rob Henderson; underrated until he smashes holes in the Wallaby backline and smashes the crap out of his opposite number.

So where does this ramble end up?

1 Gatland will okay a big 9 in the tests.

2 back row will be warburton, fallateau, croft, but Tom wood shouldn’t risk getting injured in Argentina

3 Sexton’s a shoe in. Best hope he stays fit, as the cupboard is bare.

4 BOD is going to tear the Aussies a new one. Again. And Doc Roberts will sow it up for them. If they’re fit, those two make a great combination, especially with some pace outside them. Manu and Davies are great backups, and don’t forget Tommy Bowe, who is actually the man in possession (with Ricky Flutey)

More on this story later. It’s going to be fun. I’m already getting that Lions feeling. The “7 pints of Guinness before mid day feeling”

Gatland said his pass is better than care's but needs to get to the gym

Gatland said his pass is better than Care’s but needs to get to the gym

St Helier Hospital and the NHS. Thank you

This will be brief, but I want to make a serious point. Today, Kirsty and I had a run of incredible, caring, empathetic and timely service from the NHS.

The boy had a temperature of 104. We phoned 111 and got a call back very quickly. We were booked into see a GP at a walk in. They let us refuse the first offer as I’m never going back to Mayday in Croydon if I can in any way avoid it.

We got to St Helier in Sutton and were swiftly seen by a careful GP, who managed our expectations well. Aidan had a non scary (eg meningitis) virus and we had done everything right. He figured Aidan would be OK, but as we were on hospital grounds, why not check with Paediatrics?

15 mins later we were in the department, being seen by a specialist nurse. 3 hours later following diagnosis and treatment, we were home, our bright eyed, independently minded boy very much back.

Aidan had been so miserable and unlike himself. It would have been very easy to panic. We both almost did.

Except the system worked well and everyone we dealt with was not just professional but very human as well. This was the NHS that Danny Boyle celebrated at the Olympics; the one that has put me back together multiple times following sports injuries and the one that looked after Kirsty in the run up to Aidan’s birth and then both of them afterwards.

We are lucky to have what we do here. I’m very grateful for the professional skill and human kindness shown to my family today.

So enough sniping at the core of the NHS. It will always cost a lot, and it will always be right that it does so. Make it better by all means, but don’t attack it’s heart; health care professionals that rally do care.