Dec 02 2016

Watching a news story unfold on Wikipedia

The English football sexual abuse scandal is being extensively covered in newspapers and on TV and radio. It is also being captured in Wikipedia articles; articles about organisations or individuals involved are being widely read. Wikipedia statistics can help indicate interest in a subject, but care is needed in editing articles relating to an ongoing news story.

It’s now more than two weeks since the English football sexual abuse scandal [Wikipedia article] first started to evolve following allegations made by former Crewe Alexandra players. As a Crewe fan and PR professional, it was painful to watch the club I support say too little too late (see my previous post), and to see Crewe in the eye of the media storm last Saturday when I went to Colchester (and saw the Alex lose 4-0 – yes, we have problems on the pitch as well as off it!). There were ITN vehicles outside the ground, cameras filming Crewe fans as we walked up to the turnstiles, and photographers training their lenses on Crewe chairman John Bowler in the directors box.

However, as the scandal has expanded and embraced more clubs, Crewe has started to drop from prominence, with allegations centred on big city clubs including Newcastle United and Chelsea, among others, taking the limelight. I sometimes use Wikipedia statistics to gauge interest in breaking or ongoing news stories. For example, here is the last 90 days of page views of the Crewe Alexandra article on the English edition of Wikipedia:

Crewe Alexandra page view on Wikipedia

It is possible to discern a small uptick in page views around 17 November (the day after Andy Woodward first went public), but it shot up the following week (after more players waived their anonymity and made similar allegations), peaking at around five times the normal daily levels.

Wikipedia’s statistical tools also let you track page views of multiple subjects. For months, the pages of three former Crewe players (Woodward, Steve Walters and Anthony Hughes) rarely got more than 10 page views/day, while the daily average for former Crewe manager Dario Gradi was c.104 throughout September and October 2016. When the players went public with their allegations, views of their pages immediately rocketed (the 25 November peaks coincided with BBC2 appearances by Woodward and Walters), as did views of the Dario Gradi page.

Crewe people - Wikipedia page views

Biographies of Living People

Wikipedians take special care over articles about living people (BLPs), and, as I contributed to some of the articles relating to the scandal, I noted a couple of things:

  • Care is needed to ensure articles relate to the correct person. For example, Wikipedia already had an article about a footballer called Derek Bell (ex Halifax Town and Lincoln City), but not the Derek Bell alleging abuse at Newcastle United. A new article was quickly added about the latter, though his contemporary enjoyed a day in the Wikipedia spotlight, vaulting from single figure page views to almost 5,000. A short ‘headnote’ added at the top of each article also helped point readers in the right direction (avoiding four other Derek Bells).
  • The Wikipedia article about Andy Woodward was repeatedly edited by an anonymous editor to remove a sentence and supporting Guardian newspaper reference about Woodward’s recent dismissal from Lancashire police for gross misconduct. An ‘edit war’ ensued as other editors repeatedly reinstated the information, with the page being semi-protected for a few days to stop further anonymous edits. Wikipedians aim to ensure articles are accurate, balanced and impartial (read WP:NPOV).
  • Tabloid newspaper coverage is often quickly edited out of Wikipedia BLPs and related articles repeating information about the individuals concerned. BLP editing pages warn: “Take extra care to use high-quality sources. Material about living persons should not be added when the only sourcing is tabloid journalism.

[Disclosure: I am a Crewe Alexandra supporter, I started the Wikipedia article on the sexual abuse scandal, and have edited other articles relating to it – see my contributions.]

Nov 21 2016

“No comment” strategy hurts crisis-hit Crewe

Football supporters have a deep emotional bond with their clubs, whatever their faults, but loyalty can be seriously tested if the club appears uncaring or unwilling to comment on a looming crisis.

Crewe Alex vs Notts CountyAs many friends know, I am a football fan, a follower of one of English football’s perennial under-achievers: Crewe Alexandra F.C. I have supported this club since the early 1970s, when I grew up roughly three miles from Gresty Road. My first visit to my even-more-local team, Nantwich Town to see a 1-1 draw against Rhyl hadn’t impressed me, but the Fourth Division ‘big match’ atmosphere regularly tempted me back to Crewe (OK the average ‘crowd’ in 1973 was around 2000 or so, but it was substantially more than the ‘Dabbers’ ever got). When I moved away from south Cheshire, I continued to follow ‘the Alex’ whenever they played anywhere nearby, even co-founding the Alex Exiles fan club (now a Facebook group), running an Exiles fanzine (“Without a Dream in My Heart”) and creating the mid-1990s Crewe Alexandra Extravaganza website.

Fortunately, during those times, the club enjoyed some modest success, clambering up the league tables to play several seasons in what is today known as the Championship (the second tier) during the late 1990s and early 2000s, before sliding down and returning to more familiar fourth tier positions. Key to that success was manager Dario Gradi and the club’s policy of developing home-grown talent via its academy set-up (Danny Murphy, Dean Ashton, Seth Johnson were among the most notable graduates).

However, during the past week the reputation of that academy and the club has become tainted.

Child sexual abuse scandal

One of the club’s early youth system products was a Stockport-born defender Andy Woodward, and he was persuaded to join Crewe in the early 1980s when he was aged about 11. According to the first of a series of newspaper articles in The Guardian, plus broadcast interviews (extensively re-reported by other media), he was targeted by a football coach and scout, Barry Bennell (convicted in 1998 as a paedophile), employed at Crewe and other clubs in the area, including Manchester City and Stoke City. Woodward suffered repeated sexual abuse by Bennell, which he says led to later panic attacks and other psychological problems. The press revelations apparently extend to other players and include child sexual abuse by at least one other coach, but in the midst of this scandal, this crisis, Crewe Alexandra has refused to say anything.

“No comment”

The club I support, a club repeatedly held up as a fertile production line of young footballing talent, has, to the disappointment of many supporters (I talked to some before and after the match at Barnet on Saturday), made no statement about the affair. This tight-lipped approach is frustrating journalists – Daniel Taylor, who broke the Woodward story, wrote in this weekend’s Observer:

“… there are so many questions that have never been satisfactorily answered. … What a cop-out, what a dereliction of duty, for the club, the directors and their media department to think this can be swatted away like a bothersome fly.”

Other journalists have badgered the club for statements, but the chairman John Bowler’s view – shared by the Mail on Sunday‘s Oliver Holt – remains ‘no comment’:

“The press office was polite but firm: ‘We are not making any comment.’ I asked if there were any plans to make any comment. ‘It depends what unravels,’ the club said.”

I know Crewe fans who have said they won’t watch the club again until a fuller picture emerges; others (like me) are disillusioned or worried, sharing views on Twitter: “The ‘no comment’ line is pathetic & makes you wonder what they’re hiding,” said one-time Alex Exile Tim Robinson, continuing: “The tone of these articles is designed to make you think there’s more ugliness to come.” Long-time friend, fellow fanzine editor, and prolific Crewe Alexandra author Jules Hornbrook writes:

That the club – our club – cannot even issue a public message of support to a former player during this time, or openly state backing for any subsequent investigation, is beyond contempt.

I am sure there are legal considerations, but we can only hope that such a basic statement is forthcoming soon.

Of course, we are horribly conflicted, hopelessly biassed. As football supporters we have an emotional bond with the club, whatever its faults, but our loyalty is being seriously tested, as Jules concludes

The way things are playing out at Crewe Alexandra, there’s a danger that many of the club’s supporters will lose all faith in an organisation that for many years has been a beacon of hope in a murky football world.

The game should be about fun, excitement and celebration. It should not leave dreamy, impressionable young players fearful for their personal safety.

What many of us know as a rock-solid football club, famed for decades of work with young up-and-coming footballers, is in danger of falling apart.

Crewe Alexandra, and clubs across the country, should step up, confront this issue head on and ensure that historical abuse cases are investigated properly.

Stonewalling is not acceptable. Men like Andy Woodward deserve better than that.

Don’t feed the social media echo chamber

It pains me to watch the club I support try to carry on as though nothing has changed. It also pains me, as a PR professional, to watch a communication vacuum being created, allowing all manner of speculation to thrive, damaging the club’s reputation and threatening to alienate its most important audience: the Crewe fans whose hard-earned pounds are vital to the club’s financial survival.

In 1998, after Bennell was tried and convicted at Chester Crown Court, Crewe Alexandra FC was not subject to detailed investigations, but the case has remained the subject of occasional awkward conversations among its fans for years. The Woodward revelations – particularly if not addressed – add fuel to speculation, accurate or not, that, perhaps, there is more to come out at Crewe.

At Leyton OrientMaybe the club thinks that, because it was able to ride out the storm in 1998, it can do the same 16 years later. But a “lie low and say nothing” approach to crisis management can seriously backfire these days. Now we have a content-hungry 24/7 news media and a huge social media echo chamber. Saying “no comment” has three impacts:

  1. It suggests Crewe may have something to hide
  2. It can be seen as an admission of guilt or complicity
  3. It makes Crewe look evasive or defensive

And a further consequence is that news media will look elsewhere for ‘expert’ comment – some of it almost certainly less well informed. Such ‘experts’ may engage in damaging speculation about what happened, how Crewe responded, and what the club should now be doing about it.

And should the club need to communicate some awkward information in due course, its short-term “say nothing” strategy has already undermined its relationship with journalists and with key local stakeholders; without explanation, even a well-intentioned delay can begin to look like deception to outsiders.

In my view, Crewe need to be seen to be pro-active in dealing with the situation. A statement of concern or sympathy towards Woodward would help, plus a simple ‘holding statement’ along the lines of:

“We have fully cooperated with past investigations and will cooperate / are cooperating with the relevant authorities in any further enquiries. We will give further updates when we have more information.”

Update (11pm: 21 November 2016)The Guardian‘s Daniel Taylor has reported comments from Crewe chairman John Bowler (it was also reported that six other individuals had contacted the police, and that the Football Association was setting up a helpline). The comments suggest an abrupt change of policy during the day (Dario Gradi earlier said he understood nobody from the club should talk to the media). Bowler is quoted:

“All this came out of the blue. … When things come out of the blue you want to make some inquiries from within. There is no doubt we concur with what the FA have said and we are now looking at it from within and considering what our actions should be going forward.

“We are a proud club and when allegations are made that we didn’t take it seriously we want to reflect. I will be meeting with the directors to review the situation. I’m the chairman but we have a board of very dedicated people who are at the heart of what Crewe Alexandra are about. We don’t take lightly – and I don’t mean that aggressively – any of these comments. We are not belittling anything.

“I’m not asking you to be kind but please don’t be too unkind because we really are taking it seriously and looking at the whole issue. We are talking about something 30 years ago, and a lot has changed in that time, but we must look at the current climate and, if we are to make changes, not just at Crewe but in football.”

Too little, too late

In short, Bowler (who also expressed sympathy for Woodward) has broadly followed good practice in terms of content – be seen to be taking it seriously, empathise with victims, be seen to be cooperating, and indicating next steps (a board meeting).

However, these words have finally been voiced several days too late for many fans and for the media. The club’s reputation remains damaged. It will need to be more responsive and proactive if it wants to limit this damage.

Updates (4pm and 10pm, 22 November 2016)A statement repeating much of John Bowler’s comments was posted on the club’s website at around 2.45pm today, but the club has still been criticised by Woodward for failing to apologise:

“… not one person from Crewe Alexandra has ever contact me to see if I was OK or to say they were really sorry this happened at their football club. Even now, they’re still failing to say they are really sorry this happened. I need them to say sorry. Everyone who was involved – and there are people coming forward every day – will want them to say sorry but unfortunately this statement doesn’t surprise me and it feels like to me there is almost an air of arrogance on their part.”

Oct 03 2016

Porting a telephone number – a sorry story

What started out as a Virgin Media #fail has now become an OpenReach #fail, facilitated by a #TalkTalkfail.

Virgin: how can we help (how about having a chat service that works?)Having experienced some poor TalkTalk service in respect of my telephone landline, and had some generally positive customer experience over several years with Virgin Media (notwithstanding the Great SE London Broadband Outage last December), it seemed logical to finally sever my connection with TalkTalk and transfer my existing telephone number so that it runs over Virgin Media’s network. How wrong I was….

The initial call experience was OK. While a parallel upgrade of my broadband got slightly delayed when equipment wasn’t delivered as expected, this was quickly resolved, but the transfer of the telephone number has become a tortuous month-long tale of missed deadlines, apologies and excuses – complete with one glaring example of poor customer service training.

I called Virgin Media in mid August, and when I received a “sad to see you go” email from TalkTalk on the 19th, it was clear Virgin Media had started the ball rolling; TalkTalk said they would be transferring my service on 27 August 2016. All well and good.

That date came and went, but the transfer hadn’t taken place. In fact, it wasn’t until 8 September that I got a Virgin Media text saying “we’re transferring your old number on 19/09/16” (OK, maybe it takes a month to effect a transfer, I thought).

“Your phone line’s not working….”

That date came … and went … and now the phone just stopped ringing. After a couple of days of silence, I tested the line. I could call out, but the line would not receive incoming calls. I called Virgin Media on the 24th and again on the 26th, and was told that there had been a problem with porting the number. Two more dates for the transfer were set, but still the phone didn’t ring.

(What makes this particularly painful is that not only do I use this telephone when working from home, but it has prevented relatives calling us – my wife’s family is going through a particularly distressing time over in Belfast, but she can’t even be contacted via our landline. And without a properly functioning service, I haven’t been able – or willing – to agree a call package to get the most economic deal, so her outgoing calls have been costing us a small fortune!)

Phishy fail

I called again on Friday 30 September, and the unfailingly sympathetic and apologetic customer service representatives I spoke to told me the number port would now take place on 5 October; I was also told that my complaint would be registered and someone would be in touch about recompense. Shortly after, I got a call on my mobile from someone saying they were from Virgin Media’s number porting team – I only had his word for this, but he then asked for my account password, and – when I refused to give this over the phone – asked which bank I used to pay my Virgin account and my date of birth. Given the publicity given to ‘phishing’ attacks, I said I wasn’t going to give out such information in an unsolicited call.

Ending the call, I once again rang Virgin. The next customer service agent I spoke to said the number couldn’t be ported because it had been disconnected (“Only because you instigated the number transfer on my behalf!” I raged; the agent also said the previous caller should have just asked for two characters from my password – clearly a training issue there); they tried to put me through to the relevant department, but the first attempt failed, as did the second. I then gave up for the day – work was too pressing to waste time on interminable service menus, ‘hold’ music, and telling the story over and over again.

Exasperated…

I am now keeping my fingers crossed that the number transfer is finally completed on Wednesday. In the meantime, if you have been trying to get hold of me on 020 8858 1104 – call my mobile instead: 07788 445920.

And after a patient Twitter silence on the issue, I have started to vent online….

This is my second poor experience with Virgin Media. Other people would be less patient. Should I move, or should I adopt a “three strikes and you’re out” approach….?

Update (5 October, 4.45pm): Got a Twitter response after a few minutes – then nothing for 2.5 hours until someone spotted this post…. And then the chat service was too busy, providing the visual message equivalent of an engaged tone…. (5.45pm) Eventually got a chat response and ‘Mark’ confirmed that our service should be reinstated on 5 October. More conversations to happen once if and when that happens…..

Update (6 October): Well, 5 October arrived … and went – we still can’t receive incoming calls on our preferred number. In the meantime, I got an email from Mark; when I replied, it was bounced back with an email saying:

“Unfortunately we’re unable to deal with your request via this email address. Here are a few useful places to visit that are perfect for finding answers….”

Needless, to say, I was less than impressed, but I was later told, via Twitter, “You can ignore the auto-response, it will have been received and Mark will pick this up when he is back in the office” (tomorrow).

Update (24 October) – Still our old telephone number remains unobtainable to callers, and now it appears that BT is the obstruction. According to my latest email from Virgin Media:

BT have advised that they will not release the number as it was closed by TalkTalk and not exported to us. Our porting team are continuing to try and get them to change their position on the basis TalkTalk closed the number down before we could bring it over for you and therefore there’s no fault on our or your part.

I regret that, in the event that this position doesn’t change, there would be no way to get the number back for you and I’m really sorry if that does become the case.

We’re not giving up yet though, so we’ll continue to chase and escalate with BT.

Based on my previous experiences, TalkTalk’s mistake comes as no surprise, but now it’s BT OpenReach that is perpetuating a problem that is not the fault of Virgin Media, nor me, nor – even – BT OpenReach itself. Their intransigence couldn’t have come at a worse time (a working telephone line would really have helped us last week in arranging to attend a family funeral in Belfast!). Let’s see if @BTcare-s OpenReach cares… Not holding my breath….

Update (12 November 2016) – So the Virgin Media / TalkTalk breakdown has resulted in us losing the telephone number we’ve used for over 20 years. I have accepted a goodwill offer of compensation from Virgin Media. From now on, if you need to call me, it’s 020 8480 6601.

Sep 19 2016

Atmotube: Mobile air pollution monitoring

atmotube-logoAtmotube puts air pollution monitoring in your hands, and enables users to share readings in real-time and via social media.

Earlier this year, I participated in a COMIT community day workshop which asked us to think about ways in which air quality might be monitored for construction workers in tunnels. As a cyclist and someone employed at various civil engineering consultancies (Halcrow and then Tarmac Professional Services subsidiary Stanger Science and Environment), I have long held an interest in air quality issues, and that has been heightened in recent years by living close to the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach – notorious for creating occasional pockets of poor air quality in south-east London (my children attended a primary school less than 50m from the northbound carriageway, prone to long queues of stationary traffic in the morning rush-hour).

In 2012, I participated in a Kickstarter campaign and took delivery of an Air Quality Egg set – but this proved difficult to set up, left wires dangling between devices, and while it could share air quality readings to the web it needed a permanent IP connection, and when a firmware update required me to ship the kit back to the USA, I gave up on it.

However, earlier this year, I saw another crowd-funded campaign, this time on IndieGoGo, to support Atmotube, a wireless personal air pollution monitoring device that connects to a mobile phone. After a few months of updates from the Atmotube team my device was delivered just over a month ago (with my investor discount, it cost me $69 plus shipping), and within a couple of hours I was capturing and sharing air quality scores from my office and other locations.

Atmotube website clipAtmotube MapOnce charged up via a USB connection, the device can take readings every second, monitoring carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and other pollutants, while also measuring humidy and temperature. To access these measurements, a free app is available (iOS and Android), and my Samsung smartphone was soon giving me a steady flow of readings. These readings can also be shared with other users of the app via a simple map interface, and – even better for a social media addict – the readings can also be shared via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Swarm (though the latter is a bit clunky – mainly because the main sharing is via FourSquare, not Swarm). The readings can also be exported to Excel, but I have mainly been using the app’s dashboard and reporting tools (I can, for example, view results for the past hour, past day, or past week).

Atmotube app screenshotThe device is about the size of a cigarette lighter, with the casing made of titanium – making it hard-wearing and good to look at (I’ve gone for the standard metal finish, but coloured options are also available!) – and it can be easily attached to a bag or keyring. I have used it to check air quality close to busy roads, in trains (both overground and on the London underground), as a car and bus passenger, and in various offices and meeting places, and, so far, I don’t appear to have been exposed to any particularly poor air quality. As the summary (right) shows, most of my air quality scores have been in the 80s and 90s – though my son managed to get it to read in the 50s and 60s by the simple tactic of exhaling hard into the mesh at the top of the tube!

I talked about Atmotube at the September 2016 COMIT community day and suggested such devices could be invaluable as a simple, user-friendly way for workers to monitor air quality around them both on-site and inside buildings. Typically, we take around 20,000 breaths a day, so Atmotube potentially provides greater awareness of what we are breathing in. In society at large, it could be helpful to asthmatics and those suffering from other lung conditions, as well as helping parents of young children and the elderly.

In the built environment, it might also help alert us to malfunctioning air conditioning or heating, or to leaks of gases, etc. I am not sure if the current devices can be networked together (at least not yet), but such personal climate monitoring tools might potentially help provide facilities or HR managers with constant updates from employee users about their working conditions.

 

Sep 03 2016

Please, to call Masters Chemist Ltd of 176 Shooters Hill Rd, London SE3, the correct number is 020 8856 1104

Not exacty nuisance calls, but frequent, disruptive calls of a wrong number are challenging my patience – and NHS patients!

I work mainly from a home office in southeast London and use a telephone number that we have had for over 20 years. Over the past couple of years, I have started to receive a growing number of calls from customers of a local pharmacy, Masters Chemist, whose telephone number (starting 020 8856) is one digit different from ours (starting 020 8858). Initially, it was maybe just one call a month asking about drug prescriptions, and – once I worked out who they were trying to contact – I wrote the correct number on a Post-It note that I stuck to the shelf above my phone.

I also popped into Masters’ pharmacy last year and told them about the problem, and the manager I spoke to was apologetic and said they would check all their literature and notifications to customers. However, the frequency has not diminished. In fact, it’s got worse, and I am now getting an average of 2-3 calls a week (and twice recently Masters’ customers have left messages on our ansaphone – one, from an elderly lady, sounded particularly distressed). Each time I am interrupted, I politely tell the caller they have a wrong number and make sure they have the correct one.

Today, I walked up to Masters’ again, and, a bit more forcefully, told them that their customers were still calling the wrong number. The man I spoke to initially insisted it was just people misdialling. This would be believable if the digits were adjacent to each other on a typical push-button layout, but, surely, if you miss the “6” you’d be hitting a 3, or a 5 or a 9? I pointed out that it was always people enquiring about prescriptions, but the staff showed me labels that gave their correct number. “Why don’t you change your number?” I was asked. “No way,” I said, “We have had this number since 1994 and it’s also one that I use extensively for my business.” Impasse.

It’s not an easy situation to resolve, but the attitude of the store manager this time was to deny any responsibility for the inconvenience that this problem was causing to a) his customers, and b), me, my business and family. Not great PR on his part.

So, please, if you are trying to call Masters Chemist of 176 Shooters Hill Rd, London SE3 8RP, the correct number is:

020 8856 1104

Apr 22 2016

To change the “image of construction,” first change construction

We need to tackle some of the fundamental issues in the UK construction industry before we can effectively change “the image of construction”.

“The image of construction” has featured heavily this week for me. On Tuesday, I attended a CIMCIG-led roundtable discussion in London with Mark Farmer, the consultant helping the Government’s Construction Leadership Council to address issues relating to construction skills and the future needs of the industry (see gov.uk news release).

Yesterday I joined a panel discussion at the Women in Construction and Engineering Awards day, part of which focused on how current images of construction and engineering make them unattractive to potential entrants, parents, teachers and even careers advisors.

CN headlineAnd today, I have been reading in Construction News (YouGov poll finds two-thirds of public would not consider career in construction) about a survey showing:

  • more than half of the public view construction work as ‘strenuous’ or ‘dirty’, with just 11 per cent saying it was ‘exciting’
  • 23 per cent viewed construction work as creating ‘mess, traffic and inconvenience’
  • people do not see the industry as academically driven, with 41 per cent saying it was one the least likely sectors to require a further or higher education qualification

Such survey findings are nothing new. They simply confirm that the “image” problem persists year after year despite numerous campaigns to change popular perceptions. Industry insiders maintain that we need to “present how fantastic it is to work in construction and change some of those perceptions… all of us who work in construction love it; we just haven’t been very good collectively at expressing that message” (to quote Suzannah Nicol of Build UK).

To change the image, first change construction

At the CIMCIG meeting, I repeated my view that the “image of construction” is a symptom of a more deep-rooted reputation issue. Bluntly, the industry’s reputation is not just the result of what it says and what others say about it, but – importantly – the result of what it does and how it behaves.

The reality, evidenced in report after report (read my Ethos blog post: Building a better built environment industry), is that the UK construction industry has for decades been recognised as:

  • overly-complex, fragmented and price-fixated in its procurement approaches
  • adversarial in its supply chain relations
  • poor in its payment practices
  • wasteful in its project execution
  • conservative in its adoption of new technologies, and
  • short-termist and reactive in its approach to human skills development and R&D.

Add to this the ‘macho’ culture on many sites, anecdotes about racist, sexist, homophobic and just plain foul language (When your people are not your greatest asset), and the painfully slow progress in addressing diversity issues, is it any wonder that the industry currently known as construction has an image problem?

At a Constructing Excellence conference in 2014, I said the industry needed to stop thinking of itself as a monolithic entity and start to identify changes it could make across its many disciplines, and then get them communicating, running long-term, integrated, pan-sector campaigns, and working collaboratively with partners, trade bodies and (most importantly, perhaps) its customers and end-users. Currently though, we seem to be more focused on trying to fix the image, rather than fixing the reasons behind that image.

It’s not just about campaigns

CITB’s Jane Gleave was at Tuesday’s CIMCIG meeting and talked about the GoConstruct campaign (read my pwcom post); last month I noted the launch at Ecobuild of Build UK’s new video; and this week’s story in Construction News (which launched its own #LoveConstruction campaign in July 2013 – post) is based on a poll undertaken for yet another campaign, Construction United, launched in February 2016 and building towards a week of events in October.

constructionunitedAnd while we’re talking about “image”, to me it is unfortunate that the campaign’s home page perpetuates a view of construction as site-based. Efforts are being made by the Chartered Institute of Building, among others, to get government agencies to accept wider definitions of construction that take account of the inputs of product manufacturers and of professions such as architects, engineers and quantity surveyors, according to a Construction Index report today. We also tend to underplay the key roles played in many construction businesses by accountants, lawyers, marketing, PR, HR and IT people, plus a myriad of administrators.

Nonetheless, Construction United does recognise that there is already an industrial strategy looking to address some of the underlying problems:

Construction 2025 identified a number of areas that needed addressing, so Construction United aims to bring everyone with a vested interest in construction together to raise awareness of the key issues facing the sector, including image, skills gaps and the wellbeing of employees at all levels.”

It’s not just about raising awareness of the key issues, but actually doing something about them. Construction 2025 and the Government Construction Strategy 2016-2020 (see another Ethos post: Tackling skills gaps – can we learn from BIM?) prescribe a suite of changes aimed at making construction and the built environment more cost effective and sustainable. The BIM programme has shown that the industry can collaborate to tackle the underlying fragmented structures, silo-based attitudes, anti-collaborative behaviours and out-dated technologies – and BIM shows we can be sophisticated users of technology and data, not just stereotyped wielders of bricks, concrete and steel.

If government can inspire such changes in project delivery, surely it can work on sustained campaigns with industry to effect change on other key areas – such as collaborative models of procurement, prompt payment, outdated attitudes and behaviours. If we can successfully tackle the root causes of the industry’s poor reputation, resolving the image issue will be so much easier.

[* This is an edited version of a blog post I wrote for Ethos‘s SkillsPlanner project blog; I am an Ethos partner and PR manager for the SkillsPlanner project.]

Feb 26 2016

Coordinated CIMCIG, CAPSIG and IBP

CAPSIGlogo-2014CIM logoFor a long time there has been some overlap, and a productive relationship, between two UK construction communication groups: CIMCIG, the construction interest group of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and CAPSIG, the construction and property special interest group (which I chair) of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

Members of one are often eligible for free or discounted places at the other’s events; events have sometimes been jointly produced; and we often cross-promote our events. Communication occasionally breaks down, though, and we’ve found that we are promoting two events on the same day, 3 March, in the same part of central London.

Fortunately, they are not on at the same time, so ….

If you want to boost your knowledge of digital construction marketing and PR, you can register to attend CIMCIG’s afternoon event at the Building Centre in Store Street from 1.30 to 5pm.

Afterwards, perhaps after a quick coffee (or something stronger), it’s a short work to the CIPR headquarters in Russell Square, where from 6.30 (6pm if you want a bit of networking first!), you can learn How to win a built environment PR award? This event is being run by CAPSIG in conjunction with International Building Press (another regular CAPSIG collaborator) and chaired by Rebecca Evans, editor of Construction News. Better still, this event is free to attend, being sponsored by Gorkana (and there may be beer and wine).

IBP logoThe IBP Communication and PR Awards 2016 also include a category specifically related to integrated campaigns, recognising the key part that digital, online and social media played in delivering positive and tangible results – and neatly linking the day’s two events. Hope to see you at both!

Feb 19 2016

Passing a Wikipedia milestone

Sometime earlier this month, I passed a Wikipedia milestone of sorts: I submitted my 20,000th edit.

I started editing the English Wikipedia 12 years, four months and 16 days ago (there is a handy counter on my user page that tells me this). As I noted on my 10th anniversary, my first edit was a correction to the article on Greenwich, followed soon after by starting a new article on Greenwich Park.

Some of my edits this week have been focused on construction industry trade bodies, sometimes stimulated by spotting a notable new development or fact that I think needs to be included. Today’s was seeing some industry news about the Strategic Forum for Construction, for example; yesterday, I updated an article about Ryan Seager, a young Southampton player injured while playing for Crewe on Tuesday night.

Wikipedia - Crewe Alex articleWhile Wikpedia has ebbed and flowed in my affections (my first 10,000 edits took around five and a half years, the second nearly seven years), it has never gone away. I still enjoy the process of writing and editing articles – I’ve started around 470 articles over the years – though I’ve never particularly wanted to become an administrator or anything more. I am quite happy to watch out for interesting new articles that link to ones I watch, to monitor updates to the 800 or so that are on my watchlist (I’ve edited the Crewe Alexandra F.C. article nearly 200 times apparently), and, occasionally, to contribute to a Wikiproject or two or add a photo to Wikimedia Commons (only yesterday I learned how I could do a search on a mobile device and see what articles about nearby places need a photo!).

The discipline of contributing to Wikipedia is also rewarding. Not only am I adding and sharing information (verified by reliable references, of course) for the greater good, but I am also learning, keeping my knowledge updated, and nurturing skills in writing content as neutrally as I can – always useful for a technology writer and PR practitioner. And hopefully, by helping with Editathons and training people in “Wikiquette”, I’ve also helped other people learn about Wikipedia and become part of its community too.

If I maintain my recent rate of editing, I suspect my third 10,000 may be my quickest yet – I might pass 30,000 edits sometime in 2020 or 2021.

Feb 16 2016

Back on the CIPR IPs trail

I took a month-long sabbatical from blogging recently – partly due to pressure of other work, but also to recharge my personal blogging batteries. This PR blog may take on a new lease of life now, as I’ve also taken on some new responsibilities at the CIPR: in December I was elected to the CIPR’s board, and last month, I chaired the first meeting of the CIPR’s policy and campaigns committee (in addition to my continued work with the CIPR’s construction and property group, CAPSIG).

Almost half my new policy and campaigns committee colleagues are independent PR practitioners, and I continue to receive a steady stream of emails and occasional phone calls from other independent practitioners (IPs) seeking help or advice. I spent a fair bit of last year working within the CIPR on building a network of IPs – activities summarised in this July 2015 post – and I plan to continue the effort this year (if time and my other responsibilities allow!).

CIPR Excellence Awards

CIPREx awards 2016Thankfully, the CIPR recognises the challenges faced by IPs, and the annual CIPR Excellence Awards reward the achievements of an Outstanding Independent Practitioner every year. Last year’s award was won by Northern Ireland-based Samantha Livingstone. Did it help her business? Well, she says: “This award has helped open new doors and added credibility to the service I offer clients.”

The entry deadline for the 2016 CIPR Excellence Awards is fast approaching. Entries need to be submitted by 6pm GMT on Tuesday 23 February 2016 (or, if you want to take advantage of the late entry deadline, by 6pm GMT on Tuesday 1 March 2016 – late fee applies). More information here.

Dec 20 2015

A minor rant about VirginMedia

I wish VirginMedia would provide more extensive, detailed and realistic information via its customer services.

I am now almost two weeks into a long-running conversation with my broadband and TV service provider VirginMedia, some of it conducted via Twitter, some of it via online chat and via telephone and email. The problem started on the morning of Tuesday 8 December when I understand an external contractor working in Lewisham cut through some VirginMedia cables cutting connections for 1000s of users in southeast London areas including Greenwich and Blackheath. But this explanation of the fault was only picked up via Twitter, not from VirginMedia (though my online chat with ‘Laura May’ later confirmed it)

It was six days before some semblance of normal service was re-established (late on Sunday 13 December). The following day, I spoke again to customer services and got a refund for the days without service (which included my son’s 15th birthday; he was off school with flu: hell hath no fury like a sick Xbox fanboy deprived of his online gaming!). But no refund for the data bundles I had purchased from my mobile phone provider to keep my 4G dongle working.

Then, having emailed a complaint to VirginMedia head office (thanks, Twitter, for the email address), I also got a telephone call, a personal apology and a reduction on future bills. We also discussed the lack of information provided to customers about the apparent reasons behind the outage, and the dispiriting succession of missed target dates/times set for resumption of normal service (as a PR practitioner, I thought VirginMedia could have been more open and informative about the reasons behind the prolonged outage and that it could have set more realistic expectations of a resumption of full services).

It now appears that resumption is distant. An adequate broadband service started to fail again four days later. Short interruptions quickly grew into prolonged outages. On Friday (18 December), I spent half an hour on the phone to a VirginMedia technician who confirmed I had no upload service at all, and then said that repairs to finally resolve issues created by the cut cables were likely to mean intermittent service until 29 December (three weeks after the initial incident). My son missed out on a gaming tournament with his friends yesterday, my wife was unable to book some tickets online, and I am only able to get online via my dongle.

Crisis of customer confidence

After water, electricity and gas, telecommunications is the fourth utility in our household – as it is for many millions of other UK citizens. When its services are working, I understand VirginMedia provides a higher bandwidth connection to my home than any other available provider, using the fibre-optic cables also supplying our television services, so I am reluctant to switch to a competitor.

It may not exactly be a crisis, but I am suffering a crisis of confidence. I just wish VirginMedia would provide more extensive, detailed and realistic information via its customer services. Here are three suggestions:

  • If the problems are due to an external issue, tell us (it would also mean some customer anger might be redirected at those really at fault).
  • If the issue is likely to persist, give us a realistic expectation, not a succession of optimistic – but missed – targets.
  • If the issue is prolonged, set up a dedicated site giving information on the progress of repairs, etc. Refer people to this resource rather than offering empty platitudes and mock expressions of concern.

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