The Wallington Arms

A few months ago, Kirsty pointed out to me with some excitement that an old dive of a pub in Wallington (S London suburban town where I grew up) had been bought by the Antic pub chain, which we knew well from various places in both SW London and the City.

This meant Wallington was finally going to get a gastro type boozer that would also have great real ales. I’ve always been amazed that Wallington, a fairly mixed area that has a pretty significant affluent population lacked such a thing. Lots of 20-30 somethings get on the train every weekend to go to this sort of place in balham or clapham.

So what’s the place like? After a little while getting comfortable in its skin and building a new kitchen, it’s very much the standard Antic proposition. Good food, probably that bit better than it has to be; well kept local ales and some good American craft beer as well.

The beer and food combo really does deliver. Great Sunday lunches, with particularly good Yorkie puds and very good roast potatoes. The starter of crispy squid and carvalo Nero shows the kitchen has more skill than usual in a pub. Bouncy, dry, crispy squid with punchily flavourful garlic mayo. Not usually found in Wallington. Nice clean pint of Cronx (I’ve had lots of good small brewery beer) and then a Lagunitas to make sure I snoozed well when we got home.

I really like the chain and the Wallington Arms delivers on my experience, which goes back to the EDT, Tramshed and Balham Bowls Club about 8 years ago. I wonder whether the move to Wallington (and Bromley) is about following their customers from used to drink further into London (like me) that have bought houses to settle down and have kids in suburban London where there is far less competition for this sort of proposition, but plenty of market potential.

You either like Antic pubs, or you don’t. I know people that think they’re just as soulless as Weatherspoons or any other branded pub / restaurant chain. They think the artifice of bric-à-brac, books, mis matching furniture etc is just a branding affectation.

I think that’s a massively snobbish attitude that only considers part of the Antic offering. The beer and food are great. They’re normally run by smart young(ish) men and women who do a very good job. There for a chat if you want, leave you alone if you don’t. Passionate about their job, because that enthusiasm is shared by their customers. Yes I’d prefer more comfortable chairs, and maybe a bit more light, but it’s a small price to pay.

The Wallington Arms is one of the best boozers in the area. As is the case with the Sun in Carshalton it is great for a swift half, a proper session, a light meal or a banquet. When I’ve been it’s been child friendly, but I doubt there are many kids there on a weekday night slurping down Lagunitas.

Well done guys, great boozer. I’ll be back.


Industrial Specialisation in PR; vital or over complication?

In the sphere of corporate communications and some of its subsets (strategic, financial comms, PA, etc) there is something of a philosophical schism. On one side, the belief that developing deep knowledge of a small number of often interrelated industry sub sectors brings added value to the client. On the other, there is the belief that a broad base of knowledge, taking experience from other sectors will bring more value.

There is an additional level of complication that makes this a three dimensional matrix: communications offering. Full industrial specialisation is much easier if the agency either has a limited thematic offering (eg fin comms) or focuses on one industry (financial services).

Of course what agencies say about this schism focuses on output and value to the client. What is less mentioned is the value to the agency. Internally the discussion focuses on the question of value. How can the agency best market its services and win mandates? How can capacity be most efficiently utilised?

This is not a binary choice. There are hybrids. Some agencies are pure specialisms, particularly around financial services and professional services. Some agencies have risen on the back of commodities booms and then fallen, or been forced to diversify.

The second sort of hybrid is the generalist that by coincidence of client demand creates adhoc specialist team. I’ve worked at two agencies where this has happened, where coincidentally a significant number of natural resources mandates were won, which in turn created an unofficial sector team, whereas our colleagues were far less focussed.

Specialisation is obviously useful when running and executing outreach / advocacy programmes. Deep sector knowledge will help when dealing with a wide range of stakeholders as contextualisation can create credibility – vital for communicators of all sorts. A stakeholder might take an interest in a client narrative story because it’s a great story, but as PR advisors, we’ve all had challenging mandates that need creative thought and execution to tease out the detail that captures the imagination.

It’s not just the client you need to know well, but the wider sector contextualisation. BP will always be compared to Shell, Total, BG and Exxon, by a wide range of stakeholders. The peers group’s operations and reputational campaigns need bearing in mind as no actor operates in isolation.

There’s also the issue of historical precedent. Something that happened 5+ years ago might not be considered by a generalist, but could lead to giving ill informed advice to the client. This is negative on two levels. On the tactical level, the campaign won’t work. On the more strategic level, senior in house communications leaders are often industrial specialists. Even more so at the executive level. A relationship won’t last long if they think their advisor is winging it.

This is not to say that we should be blind to developments in other sectors. There are always lessons to be learned from communicators in different industries. For instance there are parallels between pharmaceuticals and energy. Both are highly regulated and politically sensitive. Both are dominated by global vertically integrated giants. Finally both have a universe of start up, incubator, entrepreneurial firms of varying size that are meant to be swallowed up by the big boys if they are successful.

Bringing in techniques from other industries can be massively successful. Some industries are intellectually conservative. A generalist might well bring innovative break through concepts that can really change the perception of a client, if he or she can persuade the client to take them on.

I’ve seen this whilst at my current shop. Working with our creative events and marketing team who do a lot of work in the tech and consumer brand space was a breath of fresh air when they drove a project for a client. Working hand in hand with sector specialists created the best result possible, because we had the best possible combination of skill set and experience.

Finally, it’s worth noting that there are significant costs to the agency if it only employs specialists. Unless very successful, and agency won’t cover every industry, thereby leaving gaps and missing opportunities.

So my answer? It might surprise you. I’m something of a specialist myself. Whilst I have a varied CV, having worked on pretty much any industry in the past 15 years, at heart I’m an extractives industries and capital markets specialist who has a deep interest in the post soviet, MENA and sub Saharan regions and a post grad MA in international relations and have advised numerous sovereign states. I’ve seen the value in specialisation. I’ve got to where I am by being a specialist. I also passionately believe that there is a place for them, particularly during times of intense pressure. Sometimes you need to know more than the chap/esse on the other end of the phone.

BUT that’s primarily tactical. To put it simply in today’s communications industry, it’s not enough. Clients demand a wider perspective. A broader and deeper knowledge base. The big global agencies therefore look to develop advisors with as wide a range of industry and thematic skills as possible. We are of course allowed a foundation, or core skill set, but we have to build on this and develop far more than I once thought.

Pure specialism is therefore either the province of limited and almost certainly quite small agencies, or something of a luxury in a global integrated agency. Given the current state of the global economy, there’s not that much room for the luxuary of a rota of comms specialists only useable for a small number of client assignments.

Is anyone else bored of the election campaign yet?

The new year has brought us a political communications onslaught. Someone probably let of one of the cannons at Edinburgh Castle or the Belfast fired a salvo to mark what will be 4 months of being blasted with a constant, 24/7 diet of political campaigning.

I’m sure the political junkies amongst you are really excited. Wow, more politics! Brilliant, there’s Cameron, May, Miliband, Clegg, Farrage etc on Question Time, Today, PM, Andrew Marr etc. Oh look, a hectoring piece about how the NHS will go down the can with the Tories in power in the Guardian. What about this hard hitting column in the Mail on Sunday bemoaning the “scrounging culture” engendered by Blair and Brown’s governments.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a combination of politically apathetic and professional communications advisor that I despair of much of the content and tone. There’s a dearth of subtlety and nuance. There’s little sophisticated oration. Speeches are designed to be split up and showed on TV, so they can often appear to be a collection of policy derived soundbites, rather than spelling out a narrative about why I should trust some independently educated 40 something that has only ever worked in politics with the future of our country.

Perhaps it’s because I’m related it immigrants, and wasn’t even born in the UK, but I despair of the UKIP led agenda around both the EU and our demographics. Of course the EU needs reform; it’s a political institution that blends the sovereignty of dozens of States. It’s complicated, which doesn’t help if you’ve got 200 words to grab the attention of a busy commuter in their morning paper.

It’s the same when matters of ethnicity are discussed. I’d be far more willing to engage with someone about ethnicity if I didn’t feel that their starting point was racially motivated negativity. “Bongo Bongo” and the like. Again, I don’t suggest that totally open borders are the answer, but after chatting to a few ‘Kippers, I came away with the impression is that they’d be happier with a far less ethnically diverse UK because “that’s the way it should be”. There are rather than more nuanced arguments than could be made around the economic challenges driven by a growing population dependent on low wage insecure employment / social security dynamic that makes like miserable if your called John Smith and you’re from Upminster or Piotr Pavlevsky from East Prussia.

I’m so dispirited by the main parties. How they don’t have anything new to offer. How it all feels so negative. They’re not selling hope, they’re selling fear. The whole process all feels so tired. The Lib Dems put themselves in an impossible position going into a coalition rather than a more elastic deal. I just don’t believe them. I work in the energy industry, so I’m never going to vote Green. My words above show you my feelings on UKIP.

Add this to the fact that my MP is in the safest seat in the country, as is the opposite party next door, and it all feels such a charade. You could take the same pig, swap the rosettes on its collar and it could win both seats.

It seems so fundamentally against everything I’ve been taught in different sorts of communications, where positivity and dynamism are valued. What your team can offer a myriad of constituencies. Don’t get me wrong, I love working out the political considerations for clients and considering messages that will chime with regional stakeholders. This however seems a world away from what political parties do to reach voters.

I don’t know whether these issues are all intractable. Perhaps there will be a revolution in political communications back to a more positive agenda.

Given the Scottish independence process, I wouldn’t bet on it.

What do girls want?

I have an admission to make.

I have no ideas what little girls like.

“So what?” I hear you ask and Miles Davis play.

Well, I’m a new father to a little girl called Hannah Violet Blewer. She’s going to grow up with a Dad who knows nothing about little girls or bigger girls.

It was a genuine fear when it became obvious that we had daughter. My first thought was “Aidan will be narked”, as he had wanted a brother. My second thought was “Kirsty and all my family will be delighted”. My final emotion was less singular.

“Wow it’s a girl. What do they like? I haven’t known a little girl since I was a little boy! How the hell am I going to do this?”

Since my initial seconds of panic, I’ve fallen into the rhythms of fatherhood to a baby whilst working long days. Kirsty does all the work, and my fears for the future are put to the back of my mind. Most of the time.

Funnily enough it’s Aidan that brings my fears back to the front of my mind. I sort of instinctively know that he’ll like running around in the park, playing sport, bit of rough and tumble. Standard boy stuff. Stuff I still like doing.

He loves going to Rugbytots. He loves soft play. He wants to learn how to play cricket, because his dad and grandad did.

My fear is of the unknown. Of little girls.

It’s great that there are girls at Rugbytots. Of course girls like playing on swings and climbing frames as well. Let’s be honest, it’s not now of the next year or two I’m really scared of.

It’s me I’m scared of. The scary protective dad whose first reaction is fear. “You can’t wear that. You can’t go there. You can’t do that. You can’t see him”

I’m going to do what we did with Aidan. Try as many things as possible and see what Hannah likes. If she likes it, no matter what it is, that’s the main thing.”

So what do girls like.

Any ideas?

A Return To Blogging

Hi to all

I’ve had a rather busy time since my last blog. Both professionally and personally it was a full on Q4 2014. As most people reading this will know, Kirsty gave birth to Hannah in November. She’s turned all of our lives upside down.

In a good way

Anyway, I’ve had a few ideas about blogs that I put on the back burner as I was too stretched. Now I think I’m sort of back in a regular groove I can get back to writing I hope that my one regular reader is happy

Cheers all