Archive for August, 2011

PR prepares for post-Olympic case studies tidal wave!

Posted in PR with tags , , , , on August 31, 2011 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Anybody who has worked in PR over the last few years, particularly in B2B, has probably had a conversation with a client which has gone like this:

Client: “Fantastic case study opportunity. Very hush, hush, but we’ve been working on the Olympic site building the [insert construction project ie. velodrome, swimming pool, athletes village]”

PR company: “Well that’s terrific well done, but we won’t be able to use it.”

Client: “Why not?”

PR Company: “Well because the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) are running the whole thing like a police state and nobody is allowed to say anything about what they have supplied or are helping to build on pain of death.”

Client: “Is there any way around it? I mean it’s only [insert specific construction product]”

PR Company: “No.”

Now I must have had this conversation, or variants of, at least half a dozen times. Multiply that by the number of different construction products being used from flooring through to plumbing equipment through to hammers and nails and you get some idea of how many companies, and their PRs, that are currently sitting on case studies to do with 2012.

Of course, come the closing ceremony on Sunday 12th August 2012 all bets are off. The ODA dam, holding back this torrent of words will break!

I confidently predict an avalanche, indeed a veritable tidal wave, of case studies landing in the inboxes of trade press editors on Monday 13 August.

Gawd help them!

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UK Manufacturing – reports of its death are greatly exaggerated!

Posted in business, economics with tags , , , , on August 24, 2011 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Britain’s manufacturers have been left untouched by the recent turmoil in the world’s financial markets, and expect healthy order books to be translated into higher factory output over the coming months, according to the CBI. The latest monthly snapshot of industry found companies in upbeat mood, with increased demand and the steep upward price pressures from earlier in 2011 on the wane.

Hang on, hang on, hang on – let’s just rewind a minute here!

Am I going mad or are the CBI findings a direct contradiction of the recent surveys by BDO and the CIPD? My recollection is that both organisations said a drop in business confidence was largely due to a ‘fragile’ manufacturing sector. In fact I distinctly recall that BDO partner Peter Hemington was all over my TV telling me that said the UK’s economic recovery continued to falter and that “the rapid decline of the manufacturing sector, championed as the key to a rebalancing of the UK economy, is alarming.”

Now, I’m going to say it again and I’m genuinely not making this up. I have one multi-national manufacturing client who has just had the best half year sales figures in nearly four years. I have another that is a global manufacturer of engineering components that has had to tell the sales force to stop selling, so worried are they about being able to meet demand. I have another well-known manufacturing client who is looking for new premises because the company has outgrown its current site and it is physically impossible to put on any more than three eight hour shifts in a single day!

The fact of the matter is (and I’m going to keep on banging on about this until somebody listens) manufacturing in the UK is buoyant and it is not just due to advantageous exchange rates because the first two companies I mentioned are predominantly selling into the UK from their UK sites.

And just in case anybody thinks that it’s just my clients, I saw Juergen Maier, managing director of the Siemens UK Industry Sector on Channel 4 News a few nights ago and he said the same thing!

So, I would like to issue a standing invitation to anyone in the media or any consultant, trade body or purveyor of statistics, who thinks that a: we don’t manufacture anything in this country or b: thinks that manufacturing in the UK is just about assembly (that would be you Mr Hemington) or c: thinks that manufacturing output is going into freefall, to visit any one of the three companies mentioned above and find out exactly what is going on at the coalface.

We look forward to meeting you!

Save us from the surveys!

Posted in economics with tags , , on August 15, 2011 by Tom Leatherbarrow

A quick take on the two business surveys which came out this morning, namely the Business Trends Optimism Index from accountants BDO (which I’m beginning to think should be renamed the Pessimism Index) and the CIPD staffing survey.

The Pessimism Index fell to 95.1 in July from 95.6 in June and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) say that more employers plan to cut jobs than increase staffing levels in the third quarter.

Both surveys point to a drop in confidence in the ‘fragile’ manufacturing sector as a cause which is indeed worrying, particularly for one who makes his living from engineering PR, but I am not going to throw myself off a bridge just yet. Two reasons, firstly manufacturing makes up just 13 per cent of UK GDP. Now, admittedly, that is still a fairly large chunk, but for both surveys to point to poor performance in the sector as a reason for a downgrading of overall business confidence feels a little bit over the top. Manufacturing and a ‘rebalancing’ of the economy may be the key to a sustainable recovery but that goal is going to take years not months!

Secondly, anecdotally I have one multi-national manufacturing client who has just enjoyed their best quarter since 2006 and another who has recently told their salesforce to stop selling as they can’t keep up with orders! In short, I do wonder whether (and I hope) conditions on the ground are better than what the surveys are telling us.

PS: I saw BDO partner Peter Hemington interviewed on BBC Breakfast News this morning. He seems like a nice chap but I have to take him to task on one point, namely his extraordinary generalisation about UK manufacturing, namely that, “these days manufacturing in the UK is more about bolting things together that are made in the Far East”. Errr …. I beg to differ and I can think of multiple factories within a 30 minute drive of where I sit which could prove him wrong!

Pray for Rain

Posted in Politics with tags , on August 10, 2011 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Another night of rioting and looting brings the inevitable question, when will this all end? The destruction of property and disturbances to normal shopping patterns will do nothing for an already fragile high street. London was quieter, but presumably that was due to an extra 10,000 bobbies on the street. We can’t do that indefinitely!

I spoke briefly last night to the former PR Officer for Manchester City Council, now retired, who was around when Moss Side kicked off in 1981. For anyone under 40, the summer of 1981 is not even a distant memory, but the parallels are there for all to see.

Rioting started in the St Pauls area of Bristol and quickly spread like a domino effect to Handsworth, Brixton, Toxteth and finally Moss Side in that order. Then, as now, politicians were quick to rush to the scene, and my friend was forced to organise an emergency press conference for the then Home Secretary William Whitelaw.

Prior to the press conference starting, he asked a senior Greater Manchester officer what the plan was for that night? All leave cancelled? Extra police drafted in from other forces? The army?

The officer was quick to answer. “We’ll beef up our presence but the best policeman we can have tonight is rain. People don’t riot when they have water running down their neck!”

Amen to that!

Riot coverage shows depth of picture desk cuts

Posted in Media with tags , , , , on August 9, 2011 by Tom Leatherbarrow

The riots across the UK get massive coverage in today’s newspapers but media watchers will be intrigued by the front pages of the Mail, Independent, Express and Sun which all carry the same photo of a hooded “yoof” looking distinctly menacing (presumably the Prime Minister has flown back from his holidays early to give him a hug!).

It is unquestionably a powerful image supplied by EPA, one of the biggest European Photographic Agencies, but it does also demonstrate the extent to which the nationals have now outsourced image sourcing to agencies. Much of it goes unnoticed, but today’s front pages will, I suspect, cause one or two red faces for the editors involved.

A picture may still be worth a thousand words, but today’s use of the same image across four titles demonstrates that our major newspapers unfortunately no longer have the photographic staff (or the budgets) to get their own photos.

A sign of the times.

Global economics: time to learn mandarin!

Posted in economics with tags , , , , , on August 8, 2011 by Tom Leatherbarrow

It was difficult to know how to react to the downgrade in US debt from its traditional AAA rating. My first reaction was to scoff at the idea that one of the ratings agencies could have the sheer nerve to do it, this is after all the same people who gave AAA ratings to stacks of sub-prime Mezzanine Credit Default Obligations.

As Paul Krugman put it in yesterday’s New York Times, “America’s large budget deficit is, after all, primarily the result of the economic slump that followed the 2008 financial crisis. And S&P…. played a major role in causing that crisis, by giving AAA ratings to mortgage-backed assets that have since turned into toxic waste.” Thank you Paul.

However, in fairness to S&P, who issued the downgrade, there is a very important point at the heart of their statement namely, “the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges”. In other words, America is currently ungovernable at precisely the time when strong leadership is needed, witness the negotiations over raising the debt ceiling.

What was striking about much of my weekend reading was the extent to which the American public still view their debt problems in isolation, which can be easily solved by cutting taxes to stimulate growth, raising taxes to increase receipts to the Treasury or cutting Government spending. In all the discussions I read on the New York Times or Washington Post websites there was barely a mention of the sovereign debt problems in Europe or the potential implications of a US default or continued subdued economic performance.

Which leads me to ask two searching questions to which I do not have answers. Firstly, how can the dollar continue as the international reserve currency (the foreign currency which is held by central banks and other major financial institutions as a means to pay off international debt obligations) when it is clearly so politically and, as a result economically, dysfunctional?

Secondly, is this the moment when America begins to wake up and realise that it is unlikely to be top dog much longer and what effect will that have on the American psyche?

Certainly the rhetoric over the last few weeks has been extraordinary with Putin accusing the US of living “like a parasite” on the global economy and of being a threat to the worldwide financial markets. Rarely, if ever, has America been scolded in such terms.

However the real threat to America comes from China which is due to overtake the US as the world’s largest GDP sometime in 2016. As a client of mine put it last week, “the Chinese idea of an economic slowdown is GDP growth of 7-8 per cent, which is our idea of a boom.”

I don’t know where the rapidly unfolding events of the last few weeks will take us. Only one thing is certain, it’s too late for me, but I’m seriously considering getting my two children to learn mandarin!