Why you should say no to meetings in 2015

What’s that? A new blog post? It’s been a long time since I last put fingers to keys and typed something that could be deemed even remotely interesting – indeed some may argue I never have – but nonetheless with the colder days and darker nights, I thought why not.

It’s been a busy year that has distracted me from blogging, with family illness, a few personal things and a move but as the end of the year approaches, I have logged back in and pondered: just what have I spent this year doing? The countless “14 things you won’t believe about 2014″ articles are just a few weeks away; so I decided to pre-empt the usual December self-reflection by scrolling through my iPhone album from this year. This is the photo that caused my thumb to stop:


Thank you Siri

I have spent (read: wasted) a lot of my time this year in meetings. Status meetings, update meetings, brainstorm meetings, general meetings about meetings we should be scheduling. With some back-of-fag-packet maths, on average I have spent around 700 hours this year in a meeting of some sort. That’s 30 days! A full month. A whole Ramadan duration (not that ‘a Ramadan’ is a unit of time). Spent at a table, looking at other people, talking about mind numbing things. Wasted.

Now don’t get me wrong, meetings can be positive. With a solid agenda, clear outcomes and a strong leader, they can achieve what hundreds of e-mails will never achieve. You can’t imagine the Declaration of Independence to have happened over an e-mail trail – in fact cutting on e-mail improves communication. However, after yet another meeting that felt like it led to nothing this week, I sought some help.

David Grady’s TED talk on how to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings offers some sage advice. Don’t automatically click accept is a good start. He calls it MAS: Mindless Accept Syndrome. To overcome it, use the Tentative or Maybe button when receiving an invitation. It allows you to show intent to participate, but that you require further information to help sway your decision and dedicate time to it. James Altucher says we need to learn to say no – “No, thank you” more specifically – will energise you and excite you. Use it as much as you can, he says.

Some Brits, juniors or FOMO sufferers might be thinking: heresy! How could I say no? That’s so rude and I might miss out! The head of my team, Josh-Michele Ross, shared an article this week about if you are late for a meeting you are rude and selfish. I’d argue that if you’re scheduling a meeting without a clear intention and an agenda in the notes, then you have very little appreciation of others’ time and in fact you’re ruder than someone coming back to you with a firm no, thank you. And wondering if you’d have missed out? It’s unlikely. The best bits will be in the notes that should be sent round promptly afterwards.

More importantly, saying no is crucial for the economy? If we keep saying yes to mindless meetings, we will continue to waste money. According to Stateside research from 2012, failed meetings waste $3.1 million every year. In the service industry, time is one of the most valuable resources we have, so let’s stop wasting it on mindless meetings.

If you still need to meet, this Evening Standard article offers some excellent advice – a lot of which isn’t new. A quick five minute huddle, a stroll around the block or even try throwing out the most unnecessary person in the room will save you from the mindlessness.

The 30 days I gave up to meetings this year hasn’t been a complete waste then as it’s helped to reach my first New Year’s resolution. In 2015, I pledge to be more mindful of meetings when hosting, accepting, or declining them. Indeed this FastCompany article provides some excellent tips to help get there. Who’s with me?

Geek that was: Maybe you should just leave earlier

Retweet for fame, please

There was a recent study. The #TVTwitter study. It was conducted by @BrainJuicer on behalf of Twitter and the marketing body for commercial TV in the UK, @Thinkboxtv. IT identified two very different states of mind Twitter users are in when they’re watching TV and tweeting. The first is relaxed (lean back) and the second is engaged (lean forward). They observed people to find out how they react to adverts. It’s really not ground breaking, but when people are engrossed in the show, they aren’t tweeting. They only react when there’s a pause to share an opinion. When they are leaning in, they are tweeting more to comment on what they are seeing. So when watching the Line of Duty (needs you to concentrate), you aren’t tweeting. When watching The Voice, you are. Simples. However despite various ways of responding, the hashtag remains constant. If there’s a hashtag, apparently three in four will look it up. The study found Twitter users see hashtags around TV shows in two ways. Firstly as a punch line, or a creative and amusing way to sign off a Tweet about a show; and secondly as a way to sort and categorise conversation. For brands, the good use of hashtags again can also pay dividends whether they are everyday or live moments. Recent research from our US team found that TV ads with hashtags also drive 42% more conversation. Oh, and want retweets? It’s because you want fame. 15% admitted that they made sure their Tweets about TV were funny so they would get a retweet. But when we asked indirectly, 76% agreed that other users made sure their Tweets about TV were funny, so they would be retweeted. Interesting stuff.

Vine is after Snapchat and Instagram

Vine, the 6 second video sharing app that you use all the time (right….right?!) now lets you send direct video messages. So put down your Facetime and Skype, and start sending short dirty funny videos to whoever you want! Seriously though, the kids don’t want to broadcast any more. They want to share discreetly and directly. The days of social broadcasting are going to be numbered, me thinks.

Trouble Sleeping? Stop taking tablets

Front page of the Metro this morning. Tablets and mobile phones are to blame for nine in ten young people failing to get a good night’s sleep. Do a detox to make your life better and sleep sound tonight.

Watch out, Moleskine

The must have scribing accessory for digital hipsters is about to get a run for its money. Meet Mod, the paper notebook that comes with a digital backup. It’s basically you to pay for someone to scan in your notebook. Honestly. And it costs $25 a month. And has got loads of coverage. No idea is a new idea, people. I’ll happy scan in your notebooks for a nifty £15 a go if you want to digitised, just get in touch.

Ermergherd, Twitter photo tagging!

Taken an embarrassing photo of a friend or colleague? Tweet it and tag them in it! It is what it says on the tin. But it’s useful for brands because like if you have a celeb or ‘influencer’ or spokesperson at an event that you are livetweeting from, you can now tag them in it all that visual content! That puppy has totally been nailed to the floor there (W1A reference for those of you in the know).

Buzzfeed of the week: maybe you should just leave earlier

Just this. Tweets make news. Branded tweets make news. If you are funny and real. No one writes about things that are heavily bounded in a voice guide. It’s like when your spokesperson something you’ve tried to prevent. It’s always going to get coverage. A branded tweet is no different.

Wow of the week: Happy April Fools. Google it.

This is well worth a read. Google owned April Fools. Take a look at some of their pranks. The Shelfie is my favourite.

And finally – this, from my colleague is brilliant. Every Brand Video You’ve Ever Seen in One Sweeping Parody.

I couldn’t think of a sign off after reading this.


#nomakeupselfie works no matter the motive

I will caveat this blog post with two things up front:

  1. I spend my life (and a large part of my career) trying to understand how news spreads and why we behave the way we do on the Internet
  2. This week I have seen my mum go through the first steps of her breast cancer treatment

Those of you who prefer listed articles (e.g. 5 reasons you will be happy today, or 14 of the best jokes of all time), this is where the click bait ends I’m afraid.

Over the past week I’ve met some astounding people. In real life I’ve met the nurses who have rallied around to help my ageing 68-year-old mother understand cancer treatment, the doctor who performed the operation, and the other patients in the hospital who all have their own stories about how they discovered they had a lump and are now all going on their own journeys. In the online world (I still separate the two, forgive me), my newsfeed has been bombarded by my female friends, many of whom have been posting #nomakeupselfie photos from Tuesday. Some of them contained links and details of donating to Cancer Research, some of them didn’t. What a coincidence given what’s happened this week, I thought.

This morning I decided to investigate a bit more. We’ve got the time for the follow-up appointment, my mum is feeling better, and I’ve got a bit of time to do some reading. Upon some Google searching, the conversation is largely positive, but there’s a debate about whether it’s charitable, or actually an act of narcissism. Most of that debate focusses around this article by Yomi Adegoke. Indeed, from further scooping around, it led to a R4 Today programme on the very subject. And of course there’s a MailOnline article on it. That all happened on Wednesday, and on Thursday Cancer Research UK announced they had received £2m in donations over the course of 48 hours. This in itself squashes Yomi’s argument in the most part, as the financial evidence is proof of success in my mind. However, I felt a need to write about why I think #nomakeupselfie is working and will continue to appear in my newsfeed over some days.

Going back to my profession, the campaigns I work on are measured by four things: exposure, engagement, influence and action.

  • Exposure: have people seen it?
  • Engagement: do people get involved?
  • Influence: have you changed the way someone thinks?
  • Action: have people done something as a result of the campaign?

I’ve been asked countless times to ‘make something go viral’ or ‘create great content that people love’ and in order to do so, you need something people understand. Some try to with cats (in fact, a lot of companies try with cats), but this has worked because people understand what a selfie is. It’s in the dictionary. It defined the Oscars. It’s on the catwalk. Therefore there’s a low barrier to entry to get involved. If we’re talking just about sheer exposure to breast cancer (Cancer Research has admitted it’s a trend they jumped on, not their own brainchild), this has worked.

Having taken the selfie, people are now nominating friends to do the same. It’s loosely similar to Neknomination, which Yomi Adegoke talks about in her article. Where the similarity ends is when you realise that you’re not dreading a nomination, or asking friends to do something that is on an absolute scale abhorrent. You’re asking them to do something with very few repercussions and something that people talk about in the offline world: going out with no make-up on. That’s how engagement has built and continues to grow in the campaign.

Is this campaign going to change the way people think about cancer? Well, no. Trying to truly understand cancer is a task that has no end. This is where I strongly disagree with Yomi. With any charity, trying to really understand the root is going to take far more than a selfie or marketing campaign. Even having gone through some of the process this week, I don’t really understand all of the combinations and permutations of the disease. This campaign was never going to achieve that – it takes much, much more. Comparing the braveness of going through cancer against uploading a selfie with no make-up on misses the point of the campaign completely – the two are nowhere near on the same scale, and I highly doubt anyone is arguing that it is. This campaign isn’t about getting people to truly feel what it’s like to have cancer, it’s about a wider group of people trying to help those who have been diagnosed.

But finally, converting the awareness into cold hard cash is the hard part. This is where technology is allowing us to do bigger and bolder things. More people use Facebook on mobile than on computers now, so the flip between uploading that selfie and sending a text is small – it’s about three presses away. Granted, a small percentage might not convert from Facebook to text message, but trying to make any money from a social campaign should be seen as a win. Indeed, what’s the outlay from a charity trying to raise funds from a spreading trend? Relatively small. The £2m stat shows that people took action: the hardest part of any campaign.

On at least three of the four measures, the campaign has worked. It’s just a shame that writers such as Yomi felt a need to comment and attack before seeing the results of the campaign.

Geek that was: Twitter leads the news cycle

In the news over the past week…

Twitter leads the news cycle

Eleanor Mills from the Sunday Times has contributed to an insightful blog about how Twitter and newspapers work together. She says that Twitter is how journalists look for breaking news, but a real benefit for her is interacting with her readers. She also cites the Oscars selfie as proof of how the news cycle has changed – Twitter leads it, newspapers follow. It’s a really good read, and I encourage everyone in the building to click here to find out more. There’s also a video. So multi-channel content. Similarly,this FT article on how broadcasters are trying to handle the future of news (BBC’s Instagram account is really worth following – #instafax) is another good read of the week.

#TwitterFictionFestival 2014

It’s all about storytelling. It’s all about social media. Have you fallen off your chair, yet? The #TwitterFictionFestival took place last week – there are people writing stories through the 140-charater-medium. It’s worth checking out because it’s the future. And who doesn’t want to see into the future? By the way, here are 12 things ‘Back to the Future’ thought we would probably have by now.


Hashtag strategies are important. For some brands, they are a way to make things look fresh and modern, for others they are a way of naming a campaign in a way that the end-user/consumer is likely to talk about it. When you’re coming up with any campaign, don’t just slap a hashtag on it. Do some research, think about how it would be responded to, and make sure you’re using something that doesn’t end up as the next #susanalbumparty. As an aside, here are 16 inexplicably popular Instagram hashtags.  

Geek that was: Instagram can make you money

Here’s what has caught my eye in the past week.

Facebook Paper is here

The big news this week is that Facebook has finally announced its plan to launch Paper. Fed up of scolling through your newsfeed scanning through post upon post from Buzzfeed? Well soon you’ll be able to download an app that changes the interface. Those of you who know Flipboard will be familiar with the mechanic. In a broader look at this, it’s Facebook’s attack at becoming your main provider of news. Read here to find more and expect more buzz around this next week when it launches in the US. European launch plans are TBC.

Why should they share?

#HackTheSale is simple. If you tweet or share the deal, the price goes down. When you’re talking to brands about how they can get people to ‘engage’ you always, always always have to ask yourself: what’s in it for the sharer? They aren’t going to do it unless there is a reward. And in this case, the reward is monetary. Check out the site.

Instagram can make you money

Have you heard of foap? It’s like iStock / Getty images for Instagram photos. You can sign up and upload your Instagram images. People can then search and pay to buy them from you. Images cost $10 and you’ll get $5. They’re now working with brands and agencies on ‘missions’ in which you can get crowd sourced images for your campaigns. It’s well worth checking out, because this is the future of branded imagery. In a similar vein, you should take a look at this lovely site from Coach calledcoachfromabove. Simply tag your photo with #CoachFromAbove and your photo could be featured on the site. The call to action is simple, the reward is recognition.

Some news from Pinterest

Two bits of news from Pinterest this week. The first is the launch of ‘Interests’. It’s an Interest-Based Homepage and is designed to match your personal tastes. You’ll be able to find pins you like and is based on those you have collected before. Take a look here to find out more. The second piece of news is that Pinterest generates four times more revenue than Twitter. Not convinced? HERE’S AN INFOGRAPHIC (ergo it must be true).

Buzzfeed of the week: 31 Vines that are guaranteed to make you laugh

Vine continues to go strong. And brands are still trying to make it work. Here are some Vines that should provide you with a healthy dose of Friday funny. Note: none of them are from brands.  

Wow of the week: How Nokia connects with its amazing community

OK, so this isn’t “wow” in the usual sense of the word, but I think Nokia, despite some questionable handsets and a rocky future, has really cracked brand advocacy. It’s a huge job, and they have a global network of “Nokians” who wax lyrical about the new tech to no end. Click here to read more but in summary, here are their rules: 

Nokia’s  “7 super rules of engagement”

1. We discover and get involved in relevant conversations.

2. We reward people who create amazing things with their Nokias by showcasing and amplifying their content.

3. We give people the opportunity to test out the latest Nokia products through device trials.

4. We inspire our community to be creative with creative content and challenges on Instagram, Vine, Twitter, Facebook and Nokia Conversations.

5. We take members of the community to key events around the world such as MWC, Nokia World, CES and Social Media Week.

6. We build real relationships through years of community management on social media, telephone, email and most importantly, one-to-one!

7. We provide our community with access to Nokia employees, from R&D to Product Managers to Marketing.

Asian Britain: A Photographic History

Tonight marks the launch of the 2013 South Asian Literature Festival. It’s touted as ‘a platform generating interest and discussion about the themes and literary heritage of the subcontinent, reaching out to new audiences across the UK with established and emerging talent’ and the opening event was ‘Asian Britain: A Photographic History’, a look at a collection of images worked together by Susheila Nasta with Florian Stadtler. The book is prefaced by Razia Iqbal and today’s event brought all three in one room hosted by Bidisha.

photo 1 (1)

To provide some background, Asian Britain: A Photographic History ‘vividly charts Britain’s process of coming to terms with the historic realities of its culturally diverse past and present’. It was a delight to hear the panel talk about Asian life before the World Wars; a time when there were brown people in England, but perhaps we just haven’t seen them. Indeed, I had not seen any photographic evidence that Asians existed on these shores before 1960.

It would be foolhardy to talk about the book in any detail as I have only today bought it, I wanted to write about some of the themes from today’s discussion that really stood out.

There was one comment about how images of mixed race dances were not shown in the 1950s or 1960s. That got me thinking about how our view of race and ethnicity is shaped by the media. I’ve been exposed to this through my work, but it’s fascinating how we form our opinions of entire nations at the hands of editorial boards and news agendas. The talk skirted around the idea of celebrities and ethnic role models in media (something I personally struggle with), however when it comes to Asian culture, what the media tends to portray are moments of unrest. Don’t believe me? Search “Daily Mail Indian Men” on Google and here are the headlines:

Granted all of these stories occurred in India, but I would wager money that the following sentence has been uttered as a result “Oh my…I wonder if that happens here…”. The panel did mention a Daily Mail article about how Indian men are ideal as they can be tall, dark and handsome…but I can’t seem to find that one (shame, because I would be sending it to all my friends).

Now I’m not using this post to cast blame. I’m saying that the lens through which we look at others is heavily shaped by media outlets and it’s up to well rounded individuals to carefully consider the motives of any writer or establishment before forming an opinion. Any Indian will know Sunrise radio and often I’ve heard in brainstorms ‘let’s get it on Sunrise radio, that ticks the ethnic box’. To some degree it is, but the media environment is much more complex than that, and warrants a whole blog post in itself.

Another theme that came up at the beginning of the discussion was that there were Indians in Britain well before the 1960s. This was a revelation to me. Namely because in the Internet era it’s hard to imagine last week, let alone 1920, but Razia Iqbal summarised it perfectly, stating that Asian Britain: A Photographic History provides a sense of pride in being Indian that helps to remove the isolating experience that so many modern day ‘British Indians’ will admit to. Indeed I’m currently reading Sathnam Sanghera‘s The Boy with the Top Knot (a book which makes me feel like he’s a 1980s Sikh version of me) and the sense of isolation rings true from chapter to chapter. What I took from this was to take a much, much longer term view about the pattern of Indian migration to Britain to fully understand how and why we are where we are today.

The final theme that really got me thinking (not surprisingly) was the digital question towards the end. Asian Britain: A Photographic History brings together photos from The British Library, but in an age of 55 million Instagram photos a day, what would the same book (in fact, would it be a book?) in 50 years look like? Might it change the face of how we see Asians in Britain? Looking back to my point about the Daily Mail, perhaps yes, because the funnel through which we’re seeing Asians has changed (I believe the PR Wankery term of this is ‘crowdsourced content creation’).

Whilst I would like to agree with Razia Iqbal, who argued that digital photography is a throwaway item and that the digital image deteriorates at a very fast rate, I really liked the point made that in order to understand photos you have to look beyond the frame and understand the context. And in that respect digital photos allow you to see the photographer, their work, their interests, in a way that brings a much richer (and yet all the more confusing and complicated story).

It was a fascinating talk and I would highly recommend you to check out the South Asian Literature Festival over the coming fortnight. It will get you thinking, even if you’re not of an Indian persuasion (despite the best attempts of the aforementioned elusive Daily Mail article to get you to love the tall, dark and handsome ones) it will provide a worthwhile insight into another world. Click here for the website and follow it all on #SALF2013.

Thanks to all the speakers mentioned above for a fantastic talk and I can’t wait to get stuck in.

photo 2 (3)

Are you the same same, but different?

On a road trip over the weekend two friends and I were discussing where the term “same same, but different” came from. According to the trusted resource that is Urban Dictionary, it’s used a lot in Thailand, but it’s also the title of a song from the film “Bombay to Bangkok”. Oh how we laughed, and oh how I’m digressing.

The idea of same same, but different is a really important one. It’s important to carry an air of “same same” about oneself, particularly in a corporate environment. You need to find a place where you feel comfortable and others feel comfortable around you – somewhere where you feel like you’re the same (same) as others.

The “but different” sticks with me, though. Those of you who’ve read my previous blog posts will know that I am a huge advocate of diversity, particularly within the PR profession. Diversity and difference are changeable here. But why is diversity so important? Surely I’m just flogging a dead horse and harping on about nothing new.

Diversity is important, particularly within PR, because it’s one of the best ways to seek out good ideas and attack a problem from different angles. Arun Sudhaman wrote about unlocking creativity yesterday, and stated: “good, relevant insight [that] serves as the building block for the core creative idea.” In my opinion, that insight should come from a diverse range of people; those with different backgrounds, different believes and different ways of thinking. Only then can an insight be found that resonates with more than one group of people.

After all, more often than not, you are not the target audience.

That’s why I think the term “same same, but different” is pretty apt when it comes to work. Yes you want to be same same in that you need common interests to bond with team mates, but you need to be different in some way. Worried about just being same same? Well start following and doing things that really interest you. Unlock that hidden violin player in you, or that writer you always wanted to be, or even just that book you kept meaning to finish.

A friend of mine once said that you should live life in colour rather than in black and white. It comes across a bit cliché as I type this, but it’s so true.