30 June 2014

"They called me Mister Glass"...

So, I'm occasionally given to incoherent, controversial outbursts. Here's another. Possibly unfair. But it's been bothering me.

A few days ago, I decided to unfollow Comms Hero on twitter. I did so publicly, partly through my usual egomania, and partly because I actually wanted to let them know why I had. 

It's not personal. I don't really know who is behind Comms Hero. I know people who appear to be associated with it and they all either seem to be, or are, lovely. It's about the behaviours.

I told @CommsHero that (and I know I am far from alone in feeling this - people have told me they agree via twitter and in person) the whole #CommsHero campaign had begun to seem spammy at the very least. 

I said: "Am going to unfollow @commshero Sorry. Lovely idea, but an incessant bandwagon-jumping, credit-taking sales attack is simply becoming spam."

Actually it had seemed to me for a while that at worst it can a bit of a manipulative power play. But it had, frankly, also just been getting on my nerves.

The final straws that night were tweets aimed at, around and through the Digital Leaders awards and Helen Reynolds. Helen had won one. Much deserved and wholly under her own steam. To me, the Comms Hero account seemed to bombard it all with their own branding; claiming a winner (Helen) as one of their very own. I have not discussed this at all with Helen, who may feel very differently, but it offended me a bit that they pitched in to her success. 

Success by association. Brand enforcement. Sales. It felt like a kind of hijacking. A kind of tweet-bombing.

And there's just a bit of that. Lots of busy-bee bombardment of tweeps, hashtags, events with the Comms Hero 'brand'. This weekend it happened again with the lunch provision at The Big Yak, for Heaven's sake.

"@theICcrowd: Lunch is served at #thebigyak pic.twitter.com/o56h7M8rKy" ++ a meal fit for #CommsHero types. Hope it's a good day so far

That's nice. A lovely sentiment. 

Was the branding REALLY necessary?

I expect CommsCamp to be similarly 'associated'. It's a big sales opportunity.

I need to be clearer. I first expressed my concerns at Comms Hero before their first event. It felt, just, y'know, wrong. Couldn't put my finger on it. But wrong somehow.

I was a bit gobsmacked at how quickly they announced their second.

Here's my latest feel for that wrong:

I don't want to be a hero. I never have. I hope to lead and manage a team of communications people who feel safe in their jobs, confident in their creativity, properly supported in their work and skills and satisfied in making a difference. 

don't think we're heroes at all, even if we do all that. Look, I know that many, and probably most, of us have been through some really tough times, and Comms Hero is designed to make us feel good about ourselves again, and maybe this all makes me a miserable old sod. I am a miserable old sod. But what we do isn't actually about us at all. It's about the people whose lives we're seeking to improve. The people we serve. The people we need to find relevant, resonant, persuasive messages for. The people we need to engage and inform.

I don't know how capes, and school hymns and a load of lovely, but pricey-looking, branded business cards (for people whom I assume already either have business cards or have chosen not to have business cards) helps us with that. I don't know how we justify branded donuts, while we cut the money we spend on comms: while we cut jobs. The core message of Comms Hero, deliberate or not, conscious or not, seems to me to be that product is lovely. I don't think what we do ishould be much about product. 

Sometimes, possibly, maybe I could be persuaded. Maybe. When product is appropriate and effective and needed and affordable. But not to make us feel good about ourselves, surely?

For me the heroic posture is all wrong. The outcomes, insofar as I can see them, are badly aimed. The messages are skewed. It makes it all about us. And all about product. For money

These are good people and the learning opportunity is undoubtedly important. But CommsCamp doesn't seem to need paid for capes and branded donuts and individually prepared and printed superhero cards, and theme tunes. Perhaps we could go there instead.

So here's a question or two: I don't know this, but who is getting paid for all that product anyway? Who is getting paid for the (quite pleasing) individualised design work? How can we justify the costs of that to a family living on ten quid a day?

Ach. Enough. I'm ranting again.

Probably not the most popular position I've ever taken. 

Tin hat on.


Anonymous said...

I went to the event in Manchester. I too was sceptical and slightly uncomfortable with the marketing approach and initially declined to attend. I was then invited to attend as a guest if I blogged about it. I went because I wanted to see how it was different. My take here http://wp.me/p2toTS-f8 which I think is a fair summary.

I think the event and the marketing are two different elements.

The event was different, good content, well organised and included some useful things that other events could learn from. Some merchandise was included that could perhaps have reduced the event price if I'm honest, but heyho we all have an opinion.

You make a fair challenge and provide constructive feedback about the subsequent promotion and use of association.

I'm sure the organising team will take the feedback on board.

Dan Slee said...

As someone who was a speaker at the first and declined the second I have to say there's a lot of this I agree with.

But what is commshero good at? It's good at branding and its good at telling people who probably don't get told they are doing a great job that they are doing a great job.

It's also very good at monetizing relationships and people's networks and generating money in a sector that isn't overflowing with cash.

What I signed up for wasn't quite how it panned out and I'm afraid the cold calling over the Twitters approaching potential attendees, link jacking and a few other things just wasn't for me. I increasingly found it a bit spammy and quietly unfollowed.

But, hey. What do I know? If this works for some people, then that's fine and good luck to them but it's really not an approach I'm comfortable with at Commscamp or elsewhere...

Anonymous said...

I think the event has the potential to be all the things you identify Eddie, but, being part of it, as I have been, it definitely won me over with its uncompromising feel-good factor. I think we all need some of that in our lives.

And, Helen has spoken at both of the events so far, so I suppose she is part of the brand, as am I.

One of the things that Comms Hero has done is that it has got its customers advocating for it, very strongly in many cases. That is not an easy thing to achieve.

Anonymous said...

I think the event has the potential to be all the things you identify Eddie, but, being part of it, as I have been, it definitely won me over with its uncompromising feel-good factor. I think we all need some of that in our lives.

And, Helen has spoken at both of the events so far, so I suppose she is part of the brand, as am I.

One of the things that Comms Hero has done is that it has got its customers advocating for it, very strongly in many cases. That is not an easy thing to achieve.

Anonymous said...

I hate, blogger by the way. And it hates me back by duplicating my comments!

Dan Slee said...

To be fair, John, it's also had a load advocating against it if my DMs and other conversations are anything to go by over the last few months are anything to go by...

Dan Slee said...

I'm with you on Blogger, John. It's a flipping horrid CMS.

Hel said...

Nice one! I love a bit of controversy. I work for myself now so I can lumber in to the debate without worrying my boss will be embarrassed! I’m going to comment doing a form of fence sitting that will probably annoy all sides of the argument (which is a shame because Eddie and Asif - I love your company and admire your work but I know you fellas are as robust as your tremendous). In general I’m standing up for Commshero and your choice to unfollow.

Eddie, I think you’re right to voice that you’re uncomfortable with this kind of thing. I get your point and the Commshero guys might probably be more zealous in use of social media than I’d do or you would. But it works for a lot of people and at the conference I met and chatted to people really keen to do a better job for the people they serve.

An aside:

I’m always a bit self conscious about being seen as a soshul meeja guru. I pretty much fanny around on the internet for a living but my intentions are good, I aim to make organisations in the public sector a bit less stuffy and far more open. I’m not selling snake oil but I’m not curing people of illnesses or working down the mines so I can see and understand people thinking I’m a knob. It’s not trolling when people say I have a non-job, it’s a fair perspective which I’ll argue against until I have to get on with my work.

My main point:

Commshero cheers up some people who look forward to a change or relief from their corporate day. The capes and stuff aren’t naturally my thing but then nor are those events where it’s mainly old blokes in suits acting important and making well meaning but patronising assumptions about what I’m like because I’m a woman or think my career is about a climbing a traditional career ladder. (I’ve gone off on one again.) I like going to a room of people who are keen to learn and have a laugh, that’s kind of what Commshero is about. Some of the stuff those guys are doing (e.g. personalised invitations and nice graphic design) is impressive and refreshing.

In person, Asif is hilarious, generous and articulate. Yeah Commshero is making a profit but slating it is hardly sticking it to the man: I’m sure CIPR, CIM and all the trade bodies that market their conferences aren’t doing it because they’re naturally lovely. And how much public money goes to far more expensive events, clubs and professional associations?

I’ve rambled on too long but, I’d say that I’m grateful anyone at all knows who I am and talks to me because it can be very good for the motivation to have people to talk to and share jokes and learn from. So cheers!

Hel said...

You are. "As robust as you are tremendous". I blame Blogger for this terrible your/you're calamity!

Phil Rumens said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Here's hoping this comment doesn't appear 14 times... or not at all...

I think Helen has hit the nail on the head with the comment. about men in suits. For some people, walking into a room full of grey men in grey suits is just as alien as walking into a room full of giggling people in colourful capes and with underpants over their trousers.

Maybe CommsHero is the extreme which has to exist to try to rebalance away from the grey suits. For me, its an event full of joy. I believe as many of our days as possible should be like that.

Matt Clements said...

I'm not as knowledgeable or experienced as other commenters in this field.

But I just thought it was a bit of fun.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting read Eddie and equally interesting comments. Yes you are a bit "forward" and I guess you know that already. I agree with ALL of it. Thanks for writing it and giving voice to many introverts like me who will just sulk and not say it.

I admire Asif Choudry and his work as a people's person and as a marketeer who can understand a client's requirement well and deliver accordingly. Comms Hero was sold out! Tells me this is what we want. We love wearing colourful clothes and capes, sing, dance and high-five each other. We just do it because we all sulk in our jobs and are so tearful that we need a place to feel good and laugh.

That alone isn't enough for me, I need to know where I stand today in this league of super digital. Am I number 51 or 151 or 1151? because that is also very important for me to do my job happily. Now, I would need someone to do this for me and I am happy even if you make it as your full time job.

My gran-dad found a lamp genie, he kept using him to fetch him flour from our cellar, kneed the dough and to make him tea. The genie turned into a midget. we all use to laugh and point fingers at him. (I just made this up but you get my point)

When superman did Comms he was Clark Kent! It doesn't matter if you wear a suit, a superman's cape or V for vendetta mask, what matters is what you are offering me to help me move forward.

A non-super comms person goes on social media to find solutions to problems like "What does our website need" What is our customer looking for? How can this be done online? Is there anything that is already done that I can use and share? What research did he do before commissioning this intranet. What is digital inclusion? Can this be done without a bus? I don' want answers like "meet ABC they have a brilliant product, Meet MR. Superman he is brilliant and has done this for top 50 amazing companies already. I don't even want to leave me desk because I am quite happy and I have a big work load. Desperate enough, if I come to an event, give me what I need instead of giving me an award and a cape. Tell me what I am doing right and what I need to change to make that thing work. Please keep it simple.

I don't mind these party type events along side as they might have some audience.

One last thing, Lists only make you famous, they don't make your right, nor does proving me wrong. Moving away from the suits and clown party debate, the sector needs help solving the problems, if you do your heroic tales will be told for comms generations to come.

I think I have said enough, especially on my first day in my role as a permanent team member :)

Annemcx said...

Hi Eddie, my impression is there has been quite a high level of emotion injected into #CommsHero so it might seem a little churlish not to like it. As a two comms professional ourselves I think it's right you've raised a couple of questions about it.

Overall I agree with your post. Firstly and not least, because this is the kind of in-depth conversation that brings credibility to the public sector. The shiny 'kapow' type of communications of #CommsHero is something I've felt uncomfortable about because it has got in the way of having those conversations. Also I wonder if it's appropriate. It's for residents to say communication is heroic not for communications materials providers egging on Comms folk. The self-celebratory emphasis in the feedback there just seems wrong.

From a simple tone of voice perspective if the people comms teams talk to are struggling to get by on £10 a day, flashing up pictures of branded donuts is ill advised. I think the tone of voice in the #CommsHero event is not appropriate and is counter-productive actually to helping Housing comms folk get further with comms. I'm sorry, there's no other way to say that.

I worry about some of the implicit advice being given too that suggests techniques like event-jacking and such high levels of self-promotion are ok. The success of these events is worth flagging up of course because some great speakers have been involved with it but in that sense it's success by association and those people would have great advice to share whatever the platform.

I think Helen's point in her comment was spot on when she said 'Commshero 'cheers up some people who look forward to a change or relief from their corporate day'. I'd say it's actually more of an internal communications project if anything, designed to make people feel good about what they can do. As such it addresses issues perhaps of corporate culture.

I'm glad #CommsHero is flagging up the chance to get more creative with communications. There is room for more personality in Housing communications, but via good marketing techniques and conversations that resonate with residents not just pizzazz. I have been disappointed to see a slightly rampant sequestration of other events and people going on for what seems like self-serving ends and in that sense it is promoting questionable marketing practice which is not ok.

This came home to me at HACT when I was with a good group of people including Asif and I suggested I take a group photo. Asif's reaction was to take his HACT lanyard out of the way to promote his Comms Hero T shirt behind it. I didn't feel I could post the photo after that because that wasn't the point of the photo. So that act was a turn-off. It stuffed a Comms Hero promotion in the face of what could have been a nice joint HACT promotion for everybody. And digitally that is not cool networking.

Apply this thinking to the Housing sector and what have you got? Messages about how many branded repair vans are in the area, for example at the expense of listening, producing resonant communication with residents and focusing on the real social media priorities that are less shiny but arguably more important. User engagement is the priority communications people say they have but engagement rates are extremely low. To make digital media work in Housing means a focus on communication that is therefore first and foremost credible, then compelling.

'Uncompromisingly feel-good'? What is the party atmosphere there for, what is compelling motivation to get involved and how credible is it? To have credibility in the public sector I think tone of voice and conversations like this are an important consideration to think about. Thanks for opening up the conversation.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to have to say this but it feels as though commshero has turned into a giant personality cult. To find out for who just try a Twitter search to see who is behind 70 per cent of the noise...

Jayne Hilditch said...

I've pondered on this for a bit, having had my spider sense tingling.

I'm not a fan. The 'hero' positioning sits uncomfortably with me too.

And the capes/masks/song stuff is just too close to David Brent & The Office for me. That bit at least is just my personal preference I guess - thankfully the world isn't full of people identical to me.

The campaign/brand has made me think a bit though - so that's good.

Its been great at connecting disconnected people - and that's a good thing. I'm sure the people who've met and had conversations at the events and through the #tag will really value those connections over time. I'd love to see those folks take their connections forward, and create a real community that supports them in their work. Its often a tough job and mutual support is ace.

Asif/Resource do some really nice print & design work. The tactical execution of the brand works well I think (much stronger for me than the strategic positioning of heroes). So if folks are ever in the market for good print/design work, they seem like a good place to get it. As long as you're up for that type of energetic supplier relationship!

One of the emergent themes from the #myworstpractice confessional session at #HseParty14 was us all looking back on things we'd done in our careers, that we were uncomfortable with, but didn't say anything - sometimes because we felt too junior but also because sometimes it felt that "everyone else was doing it, so it must be OK". So thanks @pseudograph for opening up the conversation.

I think there are some really powerful and valuable contributions to the housing sector, that come from suppliers / consultants / advisors etc, who don't work "in" a Housing Association. Those trusted advisors can hold up a mirror, help with outside perspective, and connect us with our peers in other HAs. And I think its important that those folks are able to earn a living from providing their services.

I reckon the most sustainable sales approach is to demonstrate that you add value to a problem that needs solving. For me #CommsHero has highlighted a problem that needs attention (improving comm throughout the sector) but its not really adding value. My gut feel is there's more heat than light at the moment. But here's hoping things evolve and grow in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

The world would be a dull place if we are felt the same, wouldn't it? And it would be a dull place, too, without initiatives such as Comms Hero, in my opinion. Sometimes you just have to do something that grabs people's attention.

This is a great debate, thanks for starting it Eddie.