Communicating construction (and #contech)

Routledge’s latest title for the construction industry, “Communicating Construction”, looks at public relations and communications in the built environment, and includes a chapter on construction technologies.

Communicating constructionLast week, UK book publisher Routledge officially launched its latest title for the construction industry. The Construction and Property special interest group (CAPSIG; I am currently CAPSIG secretary) of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations held an online book launch on Tuesday 9 March.

Communicating Construction” is the second of two books looking at public relations and communications in the built environment. The first looked at communication challenges in the property or real estate sector. This latest book looks at challenges across the architecture, engineering and construction sector.

Both books have been edited by UK PR veterans Liz Male and Penny Norton (who both chaired the launch), and both books are made up of contributions looking at different aspects of PR and communications.

“Communicating Construction” has chapters on architecture, planning, building consultancy, building products and manufacturers, general and specialist contractors, infrastructure, on communicating sustainability in the built environment, and about communications for construction technologies.

Communicating contech

I wrote the latter. The chapter looks at the industry’s adoption of digital technologies, its reputation as a ‘low-tech’ sector, and at the impacts of new processes such as building information modelling, or BIM. It also covers the media and events landscape as it was just before the COVID-19 pandemic (which – as discussed briefly at the launch – has helped challenge perceptions about using technologies for communication, including increased use of video conferencing tools, and of video in general). It also explores how social media and other channels are augmenting traditional means of creating, disseminating and consuming information. And I also talk about how communications fits in with other management disciplines in helping businesses as they digitally transform.

Whether you are a construction professional wanting to improve your communication processes, or a PR professional wanting to better understand the construction sector, this book will help. It can be bought direct from Routledge, and is available via Amazon and other book-sellers.

Crewe’s “Blue Moon” and avoiding Wikipedia ‘citogenesis’

Which supporters first adopted “Blue Moon” as their fans anthem? Both Crewe Alexandra or Manchester City claim it, and it’s a disputed assertion in Wikipedia.

Charlie Morris: Generation GameMy friend Charlie Morris (another London-based Crewe Alexandra supporter, who also grew up in Cheshire; also an ex-FT journalist and author of Generation Game, an excellent memoir about being a Crewe fan),  recently wrote a letter to the Financial Times:

Permit me to add to Ian Gittins’ excellent history of “Blue Moon” (The Life of A Song, FT Weekend, March 6). He refers to the song’s football associations, being “a terrace anthem at the blue-kitted Manchester City FC for 30 years”. As a member of the stoical band of Crewe Alexandra FC supporters, please allow us one “victory” over the all-conquering City by recording that we were the first fans to sing “Blue Moon”. As City historians freely admit, Crewe fans adopted it during the postwar years, apparently because the mournful tune and the first verse’s misery-drenched lyrics matched their mood as the team endured dire times. The 1950s included the side’s worst-ever league defeat — 11-1 by Lincoln City — and 55 consecutive away games without a win while stuck firmly at the foot of the Football League. Now that Crewe Alexandra has reached the heady heights of English football’s third tier, I am delighted to report that the old joke aimed at Crewe and City fans — that we sing the song because our teams only ever win once in a blue moon — does not currently apply to either team.

There was subsequently some Twitter chatter about his assertion. He cited as sources a 2008 history of the club from south Cheshire’s Crewe Chronicle newspaper, and also the English edition of Wikipedia, which says:

“Crewe’s fans were the first to sing the famous football song “Blue Moon” (with lyrics that do not quite match the Rodgers and Hart original). The song was a response to the gloomy days at Gresty Road during the mid-1900s, and reflects the colour of the Alex away strip, which only the more steadfast and determined fans would travel to see. The song has since been sung by fans of Manchester City, although their rendition was highlighting the colour of their strips as opposed to simply copying Crewe’s supporters which has been a trending ideology amongst Crewe followers.” (Wikipedia, as at 12:08 on 16 March 2021)

Tracking a Wikipedia assertion

I have edited the Wikipedia article about Crewe Alexandra many times. My first edit was in November 2003 and I’ve since made over 500 updates. In total, since it was first created in November 2001, over 900 editors have made almost 3,000 updates – see article statistics), I did a bit of checking.

The first Wikipedia reference to Crewe fans singing Blue Moon was added by an anonymous editor on 8 January 2007. The section was later expanded by another anonymous editor on 6 March 2009, and it has remained pretty much untouched ever since. There was for a while, from 25 September 2009, another anonymous addition about Crewe fans starting to sing the song at an away game at Stockport County on 22 April 1988, but  – as Wikipedians were now more stringent about reliable sourcing – this was immediately marked as “citation needed”, and (with no source provided) later deleted. Nonetheless, the claim about Crewe fans being first to sing the song remains.

Interestingly, I recently read about a Wikipedia phenomenon called “citogenesis“, whereby false or erroneous assertions are made in Wikipedia articles, with the assertions then quoted as facts in books, journals or newspapers so that they become “reliable sources”.

I am not saying this assertion amounts to ‘citogenesis’, but how could either Crewe or Manchester City fans reliably support any claim to be the first to sing “Blue Moon”? I have read discussion forum contributions where people say they remember singing it during a particular season (today, two Crewe fans on Twitter recall it being sung at Stockport on Friday 10 February 1989), but in Wikipedia terms this would be unreliable and ‘original research’. I wonder if there any newspaper reports remarking on the singing, or perhaps recordings of audio or video broadcasts of games from the late 1980s, if – indeed – that is when it started?

Books can also be reliable sources; I’ve scanned Jules Hornbrook’s Gradi Years (no joy) and I can’t find my copy of Scarlet Ribbons (named after another song) – however, I think Jules’s books were self-published so also may not be reliable sources.

I certainly recall singing “Blue Moon” during the 1990s. It was also something I wrote about when I created the first Crewe website, the Alexandra Extravaganza, in 1996. And for a while (1998-2004), I even edited an Alex Exiles fanzine titled “Without a Dream in My Heart” – citing a line from the fans’ version of the song.

“Paul, it’s your parkrun anniversary!”

An email landed in my inbox this morning announcing that it was a year since my first Parkrun. It motivated me to write about my past year in running, and to ponder on volunteer communities.

Parkrun anniversaryI am a late convert to running, though I ran a lot in my teens (I did some cross-country for my school, and also orienteered for several years, running in national championships and being trained as part of the Cheshire Schools set-up). Competitive cycling then took over, and I raced for clubs in Cheshire and Leicestershire into my 20s. After a 10 year gap and a move to London, I resumed regular cycling in the late 1990s, and, despite an interruption due to a broken wrist, continued to ride regularly with the Woolwich Cycling Club, and with others (For PRs and others, cycling is the new golf). Then I suffered two major injuries. I tore hip ligaments after a club run tumble onto a concrete kerb, then damaged my shoulder and bruised my ribs after being hit side-on by a Ford Transit. Both injuries required even longer recuperations, and I stopped regular cycling. Without regular exercise, I started to put on some weight, but by walking as much as possible I was eventually able to shed those extra pounds.

C25K

Start sign at Southwark parkrunEarly last year, a London pub discussion with construction industry friend Duncan Reed turned to the subjects of running and parkrun, and I wondered out loud if it was too late for a 57-year-old to start. Duncan said it was never too late, and suggested I try the Couch to 5K programme. In May, I gave it a go, mainly running in my local Greenwich Park. After nine weeks, my final run – my “C25K graduation” – was a Saturday morning parkrun at Southwark Park. I stunned myself by finishing in under 27 minutes (26:26), but was also surprised by the welcoming and friendly nature of parkrun.

I was hooked.  I returned to Southwark (still nominally my ‘home’ parkrun, though I have run more often at Victoria Dock), and also tried other parkruns in Southwark, Greenwich and Bexley – even venturing further afield as a “tourist” to run a windswept Morecambe Prom on Leap Year Day, 29 February. In the meantime, I had also run a chip-timed 10K event in Victoria Park, Hackney (51:20) in chilly January, joined an early morning run from an industry conference in Newcastle (running is the new golf!), and then set myself a half marathon target: the Reading Half on 5 April, only for it to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

My enthusiasm has not been dented by a couple of injuries. Just a month after my parkrun debut, I sprained my ankle and needed prolonged physiotherapy to return in October (during my recovery, I also volunteered to marshall at Southwark). Later, just as I was gearing up for the Reading Half, and just before the COVID-19 lockdown started, I strained ligaments in my right hip, ending up on crutches for several days. After nearly two months of gentle recovery (no physiotherapy due to COVID), I am now back running regularly again.

Parkrun has, of course, been suspended in the UK due to the lockdown, so I have had to make do with solo runs, and some self-timed “(not)Parkrun” efforts (basically running any 5K route and recording a time). I can also monitor the efforts of other runners – including Duncan, of course, plus many other construction industry friends – connected through the Strava exercise app. Recently another friend (fellow Crewe Alexandra fan Wayne Kercher – also an ex-cyclist and recent running convert) invited me to join a Strava group for “over 40s C25K runners” so I now have some friendly C25K peers to compare notes with via social media.

Update (1 August 2020) – Injured again! Seems I tore a calf muscle pounding the pavements of north Greenwich peninsula last Saturday.

Social communities

I sometimes liken Parkrun to Wikipedia editing. Both are 21st century social communities. Both are free to users, reliant on volunteers, have strong online communities, embrace young and old from any background, share results online, and have expanded internationally (pre-COVID, Parkrun events were held in 22 countries around the world – I was just too late to run one in Singapore last year!). People can do as much or as little as they want; they can get involved occasionally and anonymously; they can award each other accolades (‘barnstars’ are given in Wikipedia, PBs are noted in parkrun, and you can give Kudos in Strava).

Running social media applications such as Strava, of course, can erode that anonymity (I recently discovered Strava “Fly-bys” where you can see whose routes crossed with your’s, for example), but there can be benefits from connecting online and real-life activities. Just as enthusiastic runners can start running together and sharing routes, hints and tips, Wikipedians can assemble in groups comprising both experts and beginners to edit together and share their know-how (as a Wikimedia trainer, I have helped with several face-to-face ‘editathons’ and also supported online sessions – I recently led a session for the Women’s Engineering Society on women in engineering, for example).

Of course, Wikipedia editing (mainly sedentary and solitary) is otherwise very different to an exercise-based group activity such as Parkrun, but both communities show how the altruistic behaviours of volunteers can contribute to benefit a much wider community. It’s set me thinking: what other ‘free’ communities have evolved to become international movements?

COVID-19 and me, the small limited company owner

As the self-employed owner of a small limited company, any respect I might have had for the UK Government’s COVID-19 response was fatally undermined by Rishi Sunak in March.

In early March 2020, I attended an industry trade show (FutureBuild) at London’s EXCeL, never imagining the place would later become a centre for treating COVID-19 patients. At the time, coronavirus was just beginning to dominate the news, and, as organisations began to limit employees’ movements, it was noticeable how FutureBuild attendances began to dwindle over the three days, but we didn’t anticipate how bad it was going to become….

Nightingale Hospital, ExCEL

By Sludge G – Nightingale NHS Hospital, E16, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=89034666

By late March, of course, the UK was heading for lockdown, and the daily press conferences made grim viewing. Every evening, we listened as Government ministers announced new constraints, while offering measures to ameliorate the worst impacts. On 20 March, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak took to the podium to outline how he would support businesses and pay the wages of workers unable to work. Sadly, Sunak’s measures almost completely failed to support one group: directors – like me – of small limited companies.

The plight of the small limited company owner

Conventional businesses would receive support to pay 80% of their employee salaries. But people who operated their businesses through limited companies, taking income through a mixture of PAYE and ‘dividends’, were told they could only claim help on the (often small) PAYE portion of their income if they furloughed. Asked by the CIPR, to comment on the provisions, I told them I would “be materially worse off simply because the Chancellor has decided to protect the employed and ignore the financial pressures on the self-employed.” My clients were already stopping PR and content-related activities, and – apart from chasing up some outstanding payments – my income was about to fall off a cliff. In a follow-up email to the CIPR, I ranted:

“… there is a loophole in the Chancellor’s support for self-employed workers. It relates to small limited companies like mine. I therefore fall through the safety net and will suffer a painful, if not fatal, crash in my income as a result. I have just spoken to my accountants, and my account manager says I am the fourth person he’s spoken to on this matter today. …

“IPSE seem to be congratulating themselves on achieving a good deal, but their anti-IR35 obsession appears to have blinkered them to the impacts on small businesses operating as limited companies and which genuinely work for multiple clients. From what I have read, they appear to have caved in to the Chancellor.
“Like many others, my personal income comes from a combination of payroll and from dividends paid from the profits of my business. I pay income tax and NI. My business pays corporation tax. I have worked hard for more than 10 years to keep myself afloat financially, and have scrupulously relied upon my accountants’ advice to ensure I have met all HMRC financial requirements. I opted for Limited company status for legitimate business reasons: some of my corporate clients will only work with registered companies. [And] I wanted to ensure separation between my business and my personal/family finances (in a worst case scenario, I did not want my home and the wellbeing of my family to be at risk).

CIPR campaigning

CIPR logoTo give them credit, the CIPR (along with the PRCA) has been relentless in its efforts to support its many members who are directors of small PR businesses, writing an open letter to Sunak on 27 March calling for more support for owners of small businesses. A month later, on 27 April, it joined forces with other membership bodies to call for financial support for their forgotten members who have been overlooked for Government support. And two weeks later, on 12 May, it lamented the continued lack of support for self-employed practitioners. The CIPR Independent Practitioners Group has also been agitating. There has been much discussion on the freelance PRs Facebook group. And the CIPR’s President-Elect Mandy Pearse also took up the issue, using an #AskRishi Twitter opportunity to ask Sunak: “Are you going to provide any support for self- employed Directors working via Ltd Co? Many freelance PR lost up to 70% of work but can’t furlough or UC.Sunak’s video response (below, bottom) was a bland reiteration of previous support measures and an assertion that it was too difficult to distinguish between dividend-based income paid to business owners and dividends paid to millions shareholders (Sunak is, of course, a wealthy former hedge fund manager):

As I tweeted: “basically, @RishiSunak and his chums can’t be bothered with the faff of distinguishing between small Ltd Co directors and investors receiving dividends. Brushed off again….

New research

Last week, new research by University of Edinburgh Business School in association with IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed) – now increasingly looking beyond the IR35 issue – revealed that one in five highly skilled freelancers expect to have to close their business because of the COVID-19 crisis. The study, which surveyed over 1,400 highly skilled freelancers, found that three quarters (74%) had lost income, with an average income fall of 76%. As a result, over two thirds (69%) say they now have cashflow problems.

The overwhelming majority (91%) said they could not access the government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), mostly (73%) because they work through a limited company. Unsurprisingly, average stress levels in this group have increased by 80% because of the Coronavirus crisis.

Anonymised quotes from respondents:

1: “I have fallen through every single crack in this supposed raft of financial support measures. I cannot pay my bills. My income has gone from £4k a month to zero overnight. Despite paying taxes in this country for over 12 years, I am not eligible for any safety net from government […] There is nothing I can do to work and pay my bills.”

2: “I was made redundant in January. I went freelance until I found another job. I’m an art director. Now all work is cancelled. I have no income at all. I’m not entitled to UC as I have savings. I’m now expected to live on savings which is unfair. I have a family and we have no income at all.”

3: “Overnight [I lost] £50,000 of work. [The] TV industry disappeared. Despite being a high earner tax contributor for 20 years, when I needed help, I was excluded from the SEISS. I have now [decided] to sell my house,[…] and work no more than three months a year. I will never again earn more than £50,000 as I have been disincentivised by the government. Just incredible.”

4: “I’m genuinely frightened about my future. I’m secretly in tears most days. I feel like a failure. Why can’t I get help? Over 25 years I’ve given hundreds of thousands of pounds to the exchequer.”

Admittedly, my situation is nowhere near as dire as any of the above. However, I remain frustrated at the disproportionate impact on my business and my personal finances, and at the impact on my industry peers. Others (including some people against whom I might be competing for work) have been helped by the Government’s safety net provisions simply because they work on a self-assessment basis or are employed and have been able to furlough. By contrast, I and others have lost out. While I have done some work for a couple of new clients, it hasn’t completely filled the gap, but it has at least softened the impact on my income. But any respect I might have had for the UK Government’s COVID-19 response was fatally undermined by Rishi Sunak over two months ago, and it has never recovered.

Update (27 July 2020) – The plight of small company directors was the subject of a petition to the UK Government, and the Treasury was pressed to respond by the petitions team. Correspondence was published on 3 July. Unsurprisingly, the Treasury basically confirmed that it felt it was too difficult to help out self-employed director/workers. IPSE has condemned the response as “deeply disappointing”

Although IPSE was grateful that the government considered its proposals for supporting directors of limited companies, it did not agree with the response that it would be too “resource intensive”, saying the plight of limited companies was enough that it should commit those resources. Andy Chamberlain, Director of Policy at IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed), said:

“It is deeply disappointing that the government has not seen fit to do more in response to the Treasury Select Committee report.

“Although we appreciate the government ‘carefully considering’ our proposal to support directors of limited companies with a pay now, claw back later policy, we do not think its response is enough. The response claims this approach would be too ‘resource intensive’ and that including the newly self-employed in SEISS would involve too much of a risk of ‘fraudulent activity’.

“To this we would say that limited company freelancers, the newly self-employed and other excluded groups have suffered enough that the government should commit those resources and take those risks to protect these people.

“Our research and news report after news report have shown that self-employed people have been hit particularly hard by the lockdown, seeing their incomes fall off a cliff overnight. One study we conducted showed three quarters of freelancers saw a drop in their income by an average of 76 per cent. Without financial support, this has been devastating to individuals and families across the UK.

“The self-employed are a vital part of the workforce and the economy: government must be ready to do more to protect all parts of this diverse and essential community.”

Start of new era at Crewe Alexandra

Promotion to League One, and some new faces around the board table, augur well for Crewe’s future. But COVID-19 and the malignant sore of Barry Bennell still pose challenges.

Yesterday, the English Football League decided to end the 2019-20 football season prematurely due to the COVID-19 pandemic – no matches have been played since early March. Crewe Alexandra were top of the table on goal difference from Swindon Town, but had played a game more, so, on an average points for per game basis, were beaten into second place (only the second time in Crewe’s history that is has been runner-up). Nonetheless, the club will be playing in League One next season.

Project250This confirms some new optimism surrounding the club. My previous post (End of an era at Crewe Alexandra?) described plans to buy-out the shareholding of former director Norman Hassall, with the Railwaymen Supporters’ Society launched to build sufficient funds for it to be represented on the club’s board. Through the efforts of Tim Tantram, Dave Tomlinson, Matt Owens  and numerous others, the #Project250 initiative was successful, with over 400 people (including myself) pledging over £250,000, and earning  fans’ representative Mark Beavan a seat at the club’s revamped board table.

(With promotion now secured, will this be the year that chairman John Bowler finally stands down after steering the club through many largely successful years?)

Meanwhile, the muted elation I currently feel about Crewe’s promotion and its evolving board membership is tempered by the cold realisation that (a) it will probably be some time before I get to watch the club play live, and (b) that the club – like many others – also faces some major financial hurdles. On-pitch success could yet be undermined by off-the-pitch challenges.

COVID-19 impacts

There have been no gate receipts since March; matches behind closed doors are the norm at the moment, and it may be the same when the new season starts. With no gate money coming in, the club’s finances will be severely stretched – like those of most lower league clubs. There is speculation that some clubs may go bust. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Bury and Bolton both went into administration (and, having been expelled from the EFL, Bury FC seems destined to go into liquidation). Other clubs – notably Crewe’s Cheshire rivals Macclesfield Town – are teetering on the brink.

At least Crewe has a decent crop of talented young players that may attract interest from other clubs, and provide some much needed transfer fee income. I will be sorry to see some of these players leave, but as a Crewe fan I know this is how the club has managed to survive. There will be announcements over the next few days about which players are retained, and which are released. Fans will then wait to see what happens during the close season transfer window.

Reputational risks remain

Crewe’s football reputation may have been enhanced by these latest developments, but the malignant sore of Barry Bennell is still festering in the background. Bennell faces new sexual abuse charges (potentially delaying the FA’s long-awaited Sheldon report still further), and two victims associated with Crewe (as well as Manchester City) have instigated damages proceedings scheduled to be heard in late 2021.

The club, assuming it survives the COVID-19 crisis, still faces some future PR challenges. Perhaps, with some new faces around the board table, it will respond to these more adroitly than it has in the past.

End of an era at Crewe Alexandra?

After a few uncertain years on the pitch, a sexual abuse scandal off the pitch, and prolonged uncertainty about the club’s financial future, we seem to be at a turning point in the fortunes of Crewe Alexandra football club.

Long-standing Alex supporters may tell you 2016 was Crewe’s “annus horribilis”. The club was relegated from League One with five games to spare after defeat at arch-rivals Port Vale in April, and in November, the club became immersed in the UK football sexual abuse scandal (Wikipedia article) after new allegations about paedophile Barry Bennell emerged. Allegations soon extended to other clubs, and Crewe’s former manager and now director of football Dario Gradi was suspended for his part in an apparent cover-up of sexual abuse at Chelsea in the 1980s. Meanwhile, in the midst of a crisis, Crewe’s board did the club’s reputation no good by, first, refusing to comment, then grudgingly accepting it needed to investigate its past conduct, before finally discontinuing its own inquiry – a step that received almost universal condemnation, alienating some fans from the club.

Turning a corner?

Artell applauds Crewe's travelling supporters at the end of an away win at Crawley Town.

Artell applauds Crewe’s travelling supporters at the end of an away win at Crawley Town.
(By Paul WOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link)

However, the past few weeks have seen a series of changes.

First, under manager David Artell (right – appointed in early 2017), the gradually improving performance of a largely home-grown squad of players has seen the club winning games, topping League Two and winning plaudits for their style of football.

Second, in late September long-standing board director David Rowlinson died … and soon after …

Third, on 7 October 2019, fellow board director Dario Gradi, 78, announced he was resigning from all Crewe Alexandra roles. His considerable achievements as a manager and coach will assure him a place as one of Crewe’s all-time greats, but the sexual abuse scandal and his suspension tainted his final years. The FA’s own enquiry has yet to be published, and it may well criticise Gradi and Crewe for its past actions, but the successful prosecutions of Bennell and other offenders has at least started to draw a line under this affair.

Finally, and most recently, Crewe announced (see also Cheshire Live news report) that it had reached an agreement with its majority shareholder and former director Norman Hassall for him to relinquish his shareholding in favour of local shareholders. The finances of the club will be restructured with the aim of no single shareholder having more than 12.5% of the club, with ownership to be extended to supporters. In light of recent financial troubles at other northwest England clubs (Bury – expelled from the Football League; Bolton – put into administration; Macclesfield – unable to pay its players), this must be seen as a positive step. And, following two recent board departures, it will also likely mark the end of John Bowler’s long tenure as chairman.

The beginning of the end of an era?

However, this important announcement is just the beginning – much will need to be done to resolve the details of Crewe’s new balance sheet, and to raise the investments needed to buy out Norman Hassall. I understand that Crewe’s independent supporters’ group, The Railwaymen,* has been involved in the discussions about the club’s financial future, with advice provided by the Football Supporters’ Association on how fans’ shareholdings might be achieved (a Railwaymen Supporters’ Society is being launched).

Lessons will be learned from other clubs. At the moment 17 clubs in the English pyramid are wholly owned by supporters, including League One side Wycombe Wanderers; five clubs are majority owned by supporters, including AFC Wimbledon, Portsmouth and Exeter City; and 16 clubs are partially owned by supporters, including Swansea City, Grimsby Town and Carlisle United. So there are numerous precedents. Experience suggests supporters invest in order to give their clubs longer-term financial security – their financial contribution is more of a donation or long-term loan, as there is little prospect of getting their money back (though some clubs have offered promotion dividends, actioned if a club is promoted as a result of fans’ investment). I will be awaiting further announcements with interest to see how Crewe builds its relationship with its fan/investor base.

[* Disclosure: I have talked to The Railwaymen about helping improve its connections with Crewe supporters based outside south Cheshire – in the 1990s, I co-founded The Alex Exiles – now mainly a Facebook group – and was secretary and fanzine editor into the early 2000s.]

The North Face and Leo Burnett Tailor Made join the Wikipedia hall of shame

News today (see The Guardian, The Drum, for example) that marketing agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made (part of the multinational Publicis marketing and public relations agency group) has manipulated Wikipedia on behalf of its client, outdoor apparel manufacturer The North Face, has spectacularly backfired.  The North Face has been forced to apologise for its campaign, while Leo Burnett Tailor Made has also achieved new notoriety and, in Wikipedia terms, possibly unwanted ‘notability’.

The campaign

wikipedia-logoA gloating video on AdAge highlights how Leo Burnett Tailor Made tried to exploit Google’s search engine rankings for a range of outdoor locations popular with walkers, climbers and other outdoors types. As images used on Wikipedia frequently top the search pages, they set out to replace the existing images with new images featuring athletes wearing the brand at each of the chosen locations. These included Brazil’s Guarita State Park and Farol do Mampimptuba, Cuillin in Scotland and Peru’s Huayna Picchu. The new images were then uploaded to the Wikimedia Commons (“a collection of 54,094,341 freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute“) in early April and used to replace the existing images in the articles. Photos that once showed magnificent scenery now had The North Face people and/or products cluttering up the natural splendor.

Cropped The North Face imageUser Gmortaia, for example, uploaded six images to the Commons and then added them to various pages during mid and late-April. These images have since either been replaced by the previous images, or in some case have been cropped so that logos or products no longer appear in the image. My friend and fellow Wikipedian, PigsOnTheWing, was one of those who edited one of Gmortaia’s images (right – without logo) – as Wikipedia cheerfully warns, “any contributions can and will be mercilessly edited”. (Gmortaia and 12 other user accounts have also been indefinitely blocked from editing, with ‘Global Blocks’ across all Wiki projects under consideration).

The AdAge article says agency felt the biggest obstacle of the campaign was updating the photos without attracting attention of Wikipedia ‘moderators’ to sustain the brand’s presence for as long as possible, as site editors could change them at any time. The campaign had some shortlived success, but its impact may be more damaging in the long run.

The Wikipedia hall of shame

Both companies now feature on a Wikipedia page about Conflict-of-interest editing on Wikipedia. Articles about The North Face and Leo Burnett Tailor Made* also now include details of the controversial campaign.

Leo Burnett Tailor Made therefore joins a group of notorious marketing agencies and PR consultancies – including UK-based Bell Pottinger (now defunct) and Portman Communications – that have sought to manipulate Wikipedia on behalf of their clients, and ended up with their COI activities recorded in Wikipedia articles about them (with Wikipedia’s SEO power ensuring that the articles feature prominently should prospective clients ever want to learn more about the agencies concerned).

My professional body, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, has condemned the agency’s actions. Citing the CIPR’s best practice guidance to PR professionals (which I helped draft; see previous post), CIPR President Emma Leech said:

CIPR logoIt is wholly unethical for PR or creative professionals to make changes to Wikipedia entries on behalf of a client. The rules are clear and ignorance is not an excuse. You wouldn’t expect to be given access to the back end of a news site to make changes and the same applies to Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s commitment to neutrality must be respected and its rules upheld at all times.”

(It is probably time for the CIPR guidelines to be updated. Some of these recent examples of unethical practice might usefully be included to show what needs to be avoided, with the longer-term implications spelt out.)

* Disclosure/update (2.45pm BST, 31 May 2019) – At the time of writing, Wikipedia editors were discussing merging the Leo Burnett Tailor Made article, to which I had contributed, with that about its parent Leo Burnett Worldwide.

Construction and social mobility

“There’s a business case for tackling the issue of social mobility” says Making The Leap’s Carmen Antiqueira, who wants more construction businesses to showcase their achievements in the Social Mobility Awards 2019.

Social Mobility Awards logoOn 19 March, I attended a business seminar about social mobility, organised by Making the Leap, a London-based charity that improves social mobility by raising the aspirations of, and increasing opportunities for, young people between the ages of 11 and 25. The event, held at the Law Society, also launched the third edition of the UK Social Mobility Awards, which recognise and celebrate the efforts of the people and organisations leading the way in this endeavour.

Having been involved in various construction skills and diversity initiatives, and also helped organise CIPR construction and property group (CAPSIG) events on women in construction PR and on social value, I can see how social mobility can be encouraged by construction businesses. The event highlighted the benefits to businesses of widening their net:

Social mobility enables less ‘group think’ and greater innovation,” said Professor Anthony Heath, of Oxford’s Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, adding: “Social mobility is about social justice – and should be a fundamental value in society, avoiding us wasting talent.”

Panellists at the event spoke from personal experience about how their lives had been transformed by being given life chances by enlightened organisations who didn’t focus solely on formal qualifications but looked at the attitudes, behaviours and non-academic talents of the individual. Banker Steven Cooper, for example, said: “Social mobility is good for business because it really enhanced our brand, far more than advertising our products(read more about the seminar here).

Social Mobility Awards 2019

Since that event, I have spoken to Making The Leap’s Carmen Antiqueira about encouraging construction businesses who invest in social mobility to highlight their achievements by entering the 2019 Awards. She explained:

photo of Carmen Antiqueira“Construction companies are not only choosing to devote attention to one of our society’s biggest problems, but they are also recognising there’s a business case for tackling the issue of social mobility. Momentum is building behind the cause, and it has attracted universal support across sectors and the political spectrum.

“The construction industry has a key role to play and organisations with an active interest in this all-important arena can now celebrate what they are doing by entering the UK Social Mobility Awards. Established to recognise the forward-thinking organisations who are doing something to promote social mobility, the awards recognise best practice and innovation, and encourage cross-sector collaboration.

“The awards have drawn in an impressive array of entries from across regions and sectors, and the list of past winners includes Wates, the Civil Service and Greene King. The initiative also counts the government, the Social Mobility Commission, DWP and the Institute for Apprenticeships amongst its supporters.”

If your organisation is proud of what it is doing to advance social mobility, then enter these awards now.  For any enquiries about entering, please contact Carmen (carmen.antiqueira@mtl.org.uk) to find out more. Entries close on 28th June 2019.

Update (30 August 2019) – Making The Leap is holding its annual Social Mobility Careers Fair in Westminster on 26 September and wants construction and engineering businesses to participate. The not-for-profit event brings together 16-25 year-olds from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, from across London, who are looking to kick start their career with top employers. MTL’s Carmen Antiqueira says:

“It’s a fabulous way for construction companies not only to recruit but also to have a real impact on erasing some of the myths of who works in construction and engineering and talk to young people on a one to one, about the range of jobs in the industry and what might suit them.”

If you want to get involved, please contact Carmen (carmen.antiqueira@mtl.org.uk) to find out more.

One in three construction practitioners do not have easy access to the knowledge they need

A survey carried out by the UK’s Construction Knowledge Task Group has found that a third of construction practitioners do not have easy access to the knowledge they need.

easy access to knowledgeFeedback from 299 practitioners from every part of the industry, found almost two fifths (38.5%) said they did not have easy access to all the knowledge they need to do their job.  Practitioners also admitted they use less-trusted knowledge sources more frequently than more-trusted knowledge sources, with web searches and free online resources accounting for almost half of all the knowledge accessed.

Other key findings include:

  • Cost and sign-up forms are significant barriers to accessing knowledge, particularly for SMEs.
  • Practitioners are unaware of much of the knowledge that is available, they are overwhelmed by how much knowledge there is and frustrated by how fragmented it is.
  • There is a ‘them and us’ culture separating those in the knowledge loop from those stuck on the outside.
  • There is a need for quick and straightforward access to knowledge on demand.

knowledge sources trust graphThe survey (full results here) also revealed that designers access industry knowledge up to four times more frequently than decision makers such as clients and project managers, and that the most frequently-accessed knowledge is practical, specific guidance that supports day-to-day activities. Less specific, traditional ‘learning’ material is not as popular.

The survey, which ran at the end of 2018, was intended to help the Construction Knowledge Task Group steer its work, improving the way industry knowledge is prepared, accessed and applied. It was distributed to the membership and other networks of the organisations that form the Task Group.

Ann Bentley, Global Board Director at Rider Levett Bucknall, and Member of the Construction Leadership Council said:

“… Practitioners have embraced the internet and are seeking out easy-to-access, easy-to-apply knowledge. The industry needs to make sure they find what they are looking for. This means bringing knowledge into 21st century and taking a more collaborative and systematic approach to how it is prepared and shared. BIM has shown how this can be done for data and information, but knowledge is still stuck in the past.”

Convenor of the Task Group, architect Dr Gregor Harvie (and developer of the Designing Buildings website – post) said:

“Construction is a knowledge-based industry. Knowledge helps spread best practice, promote innovation and prevent mistakes. But this important survey reveals that all too often practitioners are unaware of what is available, or they do not have easy access to it. As a result, knowledge has less impact on the ground than it should.”

The survey suggests the future should be one in which knowledge is better integrated, less siloed, more easy-to-access and available through flexible subscriptions and intelligent search tools. The Task Group will be meeting this month (January 2019) to discuss how to move forward.

The Construction Knowledge Task Group (CKTG) was established in 2018 to make it as easy as possible for practitioners and other industry stakeholders to find, access and apply the right knowledge at the right time. Its members include representatives from; the Construction Leadership Council, CIOB, ICE, RIBA, RICS, i3P, BSRIA, CIAT, CIBSE, UKGBC, BRE, Arup, Rider Levett Bucknall, University of Dundee, Polypipe, The Get It Right Initiative, Cundall, Designing Buildings Wiki, AEC3 UK, Invennt and Stroma.

Earlier, in September 2017, Designing Buildings analysis suggested the knowledge framework underpinning the construction industry is no longer fit for purpose.

Update (14 January 2019) – Journalist George Dimetri has been appointed editor of Designing Buildings.

UK launches first ‘data trust’ pilots

New approaches to building trust in AI and in open data have been announced. I will be awaiting ‘data trust’ developments in my local borough with interest.

InfluenceIn September I participated in a round table discussion for the CIPR‘s Influence magazine about artificial intelligence, AI (the outputs from that conversation will be published in the Q4 issue of the magazine shortly) – part of an ongoing discussion within the CIPR about the potential impacts of AI on ethical professional PR practice and on wider media and society at large (read more about the CIPR’s #AIinPR panel).

Part of that Influence discussion focused on use of UK-published ‘open data’ by journalists to generate news stories, and – as I had previously written a CIPR best practice guide to open data and delivered a CIPR webinar – I repeated my view that PR professionals increasingly need to be data-literate to operate in the 21st century and to work with ‘data journalists’ such as those at the Press Association’s RADAR service (news item).

I have been thinking about Open data and AI again today after reading that the Open Data Institute will be working within central and local government (including my local council in the Royal Borough of Greenwich) on a series of ‘data trust’ pilots. The ODI be leading a data trust project with the Mayor of London in Greenwich using real-time data.

The new pilot projects will establish if this new approach – where a legal structure provides independent third-party stewardship of data – is useful in managing and safeguarding data, for instance, data about cities, the environment, biodiversity, and transport.

The Government’s Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright said:

“We are a world-leader in artificial intelligence and our modern Industrial Strategy puts pioneering technologies at the heart of our plans to build a Britain which is fit for the future. But it is crucial that the public have confidence it is being used to improve people’s lives and we have the right expertise and framework in place to maximise its potential.

“I am pleased we have secured global leaders from academia and industry to work alongside us as we develop the world’s first Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and explore the potential of data trusts.”

Chief Executive of the Open Data Institute (ODI), Jeni Tennison, announced that it will also be working on a further pilot project to prototype a data trust with the Mayor of London and the Royal Borough of Greenwich. City Hall is working with the ODI on data trusts as part of its Smarter London Together Roadmap to support AI and protect ‘privacy by design’ for Londoners.

This Greenwich project will focus on real time data from IoT and sensors, and will investigate how this data could be shared with innovators in the technology sector to create solutions to city challenges.

Future data trusts could take advantage of the Urban Sharing Platform that the Mayor of London and the Royal Borough of Greenwich are developing together in their Sharing Cities programme. The platform enables the collection and sharing of live data from the city, for example: energy use, parking space occupancy and weather, while maintaining the privacy and security of Londoners.

The pilots are the first of their kind in the UK. The Open Data Institute will work in the open and with other organisations and experts from around the world to explore the model. Following the pilot projects, the Open Data Institute will make proposals for the use of data trusts in future.

The ODI defines a data trust as ‘a legal structure that provides independent third-party stewardship of data’. This structure and stewardship provides benefits to a group of organisations or people. Those benefits might include enabling them to create new businesses, helping research a medical disease, or empowering a community of workers, consumers or citizens.

Jeni Tennison, CEO at the Open Data Institute said:

“In 2018 we have become much more aware of who has access to data – data about ourselves, our family, our friends and our work. While we see many benefits from the use of data, such as being able to find local exercise classes using data from leisure centres thanks to OpenActive, or plan a train journey quickly and easily with an app using route and timetable data, there has also been misuse and harm, as we saw in the case of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Data trusts are a potential new way to help realise the benefits while preventing the harm. We’re keen to explore them to find out where they might be useful. ”

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