Monday, December 19, 2016

My year in London theatre - a round-up of 2016

I’m very lucky. Not only do I have a love for theatre, I have friends who work in the theatre sector which means I can sometimes score a free or heavily subsidised ticket for a show. Other times, I get day seats (well worth a shot if you’re in Central London – check out Theatre Monkey for info), or reduced price tickets at the Leicester Square Ticket booth and I’m also on a couple of last-minute theatre ticket mailing lists offering heavily discounted seats. That means I can truly indulge and not worry about the how I’m going to afford the high ticket prices. 2016 has been a particularly good year in that I’ve attended more than 30 different shows ranging from pub and fringe theatre to play readings and improv to West End marvels. And I can honestly say, I enjoyed pretty much all of them. This is my round-up of the year.

There have most definitely been some highlights:

Discovering the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe
My goodness what a treat of a theatre this is. It’s the smaller, intimate, indoor space at The Globe and is laid out as an indoor theatre in Shakespeare’s time would have been laid out – bench seating on three levels, galleried stage and all candlelit. I think you’d be hard-pressed not to be completely captivated by the setting. It’s now one of my favourite theatre spaces of all time. I saw three shows there this year – The Inn at Lydda (a thought-provoking fictional tale of when Caesar meets Jesus), Comus (by John Milton and beautifully retold in a historical setting) and The Little Match Girl (A very clever integration of puppetry and actors). If you get a chance to visit, go! I defy you not to love it wherever you’re sitting.

New work: The Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer
I’ve seen a number of revivals this year but not very much at all that’s completely new writing. One new piece I did see and one of my highlights of the year was The Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer at The National (Dorfman – their smaller space). It clearly wasn’t to everyone’s taste as the reviews were mixed. But I found it moving, powerful and entertaining (if a musical about cancer can be entertaining). It was an important piece of theatre in that it approaches a difficult, emotive topic we don’t really want to talk, or even think about much but in approaching it, gives us much-needed permission to do just that. The musical was in the verbatim style – that means that the playwright and the actors talked to real cancer patients and recorded what they said and then used their words exactly as they were said. This means there’s a raw honesty about the dialogue which works for me as an audience member. (This is a technique the National is known for. Rufus Norris used this technique to great acclaim with the musical and the film of London Road.)

Revisiting Shakespeare – a surprise highlight
I can’t say I’m much of a Shakespeare fan. I studied The Tempest and Macbeth at school and didn’t enjoy it much. I found the language hard-going as it’s not the English we use today in either style or vocabulary. To try and combat that I took a role in Julius Caesar with The South London Players a few years ago. Although I enjoyed being in the play, I can’t say that it ignited any particular love for The Bard.

But seeing as he is the father of our modern theatre, and having friends who do have a love for Shakespeare, I’ve given it another go this year and have been (mostly) pleasantly surprised. I’ve taken in an Australian Aborigine version of King Lear called The Shadow King (replete with didgeridoos, sand and body paint), a modern version of Cymbeline (it’s a kind of mash-up of several of Shakespeare’s previous plays) (both at The Barbican), Edwardian versions of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing from the RSC at Theatre Royal Haymarket and the piece de resistance, Glenda Jackson as King Lear at The Old Vic. She was utterly magnificent. Probably the best performance by any actor I have ever seen on stage or screen. It inspired the thinking behind my blog post about work and aging here.

Low point: Closure of Croydon’s Fairfield Halls & Ashcroft Theatre
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing and I’m still cross and frustrated about this. One of my favourite venues, and an unsung hero in theatrical circles was Croydon’s Ashcroft Theatre and Fairfield Halls. I’ve seen some fantastic shows and performances there over the years including Under Milk Wood, The Accrington Pals, Teechers (woefully under-marketed but such a brilliant show) and Morecambe. The venue was a great place for touring shows, amongst other things.

This year, I managed to catch a few shows. My favourites were Lotty’s War, about the Nazi occupation of Jersey and Shadowlands which is about the author CS Lewis. Both very moving in their own ways. And what a treat to be able to see something local to me rather than having to go into the West End every time. But no more. The Fairfield Halls closed down in the summer and is set to be part of a regeneration project in that part of Croydon with a view to reopening in 2018. We’ll have to see if that happens or not. In the current fiscal climate, I’d say chances of that happening are getting slimmer by the day, unfortunately. I hope to be proven wrong.

The reviews
My list of shows seen (not in date order) with a brief review. Current shows listed first.

  1. Once In A Lifetime – Young Vic; A comic tale about the early days of Hollywood starring Kevin Bishop and Harry Enfield. This was great fun and if you were watching carefully, there were some very clever touches to highlight the darker side of the business of Hollywood. Currently playing until 14th January 2017. Information and booking here.
  2. Another Night Before Christmas - The Bridge House Theatre, Penge; A bit of Christmas cheer in this two-hander musical in a pub in South London. Highly recommend. Last performance is on Friday 23 December. Book NOW if you want to go!

  3. Mary Stuart – The Almeida; Lia Williams and Juliet Stevenson alternate the roles of Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart based on a coin toss at the beginning of the show in this modern translation of Schiller’s play. It would be a challenge to learn one of the leading roles, but to have to learn both is an extraordinary feat. The actors were all in modern dress and there was an bare set which allowed you to focus on the words, the characters’ development and the dynamics between them. This made for an intense performance which will linger with me for a long time. Currently playing until 21 January 2017. Information and booking here (I sat at the back of the Circle and the sight lines were great). Day seats available at the theatre box office daily from 10am at £10 & £20.

  4. Love's Labour's Lost – Theatre Royal, Haymarket; and

  5. Much Ado About Nothing – Theatre Royal Haymarket; RSC at their finest – showing alternately. Currently playing on a 14 week run until 18 March 2017. Information and booking here.

  6. The Little Match Girl - Sam Wanamaker Playhouse; Traditional fairy tales for Christmas told by incorporating puppetry into the acting. Very cleverly done and all the more mesmerising for it. A Christmas treat. Now on and playing until 22 January 2017. Information and booking here.

  7. Sunny Afternoon - Harold Pinter Theatre; I loved this! I’m a fan of The Kinks anyway and I’ve seen Ray Davis play a couple of times live. It was an honest retelling of the Kinks story (as written by Ray Davis), their music and the 1960s London they hailed from. A tale of dreams, luck, love, drugs, loneliness and dodgy managers. Uplifting and great fun. Currently on tour around the UK and booking now.

  8. All or Nothing - The Vaults Theatre; A new musical about the Small Faces now on tour across the UK. Although I knew quite a bit of The Small Faces music, I didn’t know their story of drugs, alcohol, sex and being completely ripped off by their management. Despite the sad ending, the musical itself was great fun with a bit more to it than some of the jukebox musicals doing the rounds. This show is touring in 2017. Information and booking here.

  9. In The Heights - Kings Cross Theatre; - A fabulous musical set in New York's Latino district of Washington Heights. A very different take on a musical with inventive staging (bearing in mind the layout of this temporary theatre), a great storyline and fantastic singing and dancing and music styles ranging from hiphop and salsa to merengue and soul. A must see musical. Closes in London on 8 January 2017. Information and booking here.

  10. 1984 – The Playhouse Theatre; Powerful performances with innovative stage techniques to enhance the oppressive atmosphere of the play.

  11. King Lear – The Old Vic; Glenda Jackson was magnificent as King Lear. Strong supporting actors included Jane Horrocks, Celia Imrie and Ryhs Ifans. Stark set, modern dress, clever lighting all added to the intensity of the play. The best thing I’ve seen in a very long time.

  12. The Go-Between – Apollo Theatre; Michael Crawford as you’ve never seen him before in an understated role as the elderly version of the protagonist. A beautiful production with music in a supporting role rather than a leading role. Left me feeling thoughtful and wistful about life.

  13. Threepenny Opera – National Theatre; This play is challenging even before you get to the massive stage at The National but the team pulled it off with a vibrant, pacy rendition of the story of Mack the Knife and his antics. I never knew Haydn Gwynne could sing but she has a mighty find pair of lungs! Enjoyable but not may favourite show of the year.

  14. George Fenton - Lady in the Van – Festival Hall; What a treat to have Alan Bennett read from his diaries whilst being accompanied by George Fenton’s fantastic music. It felt like I was witnessing a historical moment. Fab!

  15. Things I know to be True – Lyric Hammersmith; This was from Frantic Assembly who specialist in integrating physical theatre into a play. It was very effective in this instance and not what I was expecting. This is a sad tale of a family whose individual truths are challenged and, it turns out, that none of them are true and they were all hiding something. Quite challenging but beautifully done.

  16. Comus - A Masque in Honour Of Chastity - Sam Wanamaker Playhouse; A thoroughly enjoyable version of Milton’s Comus set in its original historical setting.

  17. A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer - National Theatre (Dorfman); A really important piece of new musical theatre in verbatim style. Thought provoking, moving and cathartic. This is my favourite show of the year, I think. (Last year it was Golem at The Trafalgar Studios, the year before it was Orpheus at Battersea Arts Centre).

  18. Cymbeline - Barbican Centre – this was good, but not great. I don’t think it was the failing of the performance, rather it’s not one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays to begin with. The set and costumes were great and I loved some of the special effects. But the storyline didn’t work for me.

  19. Airswimming - The Vaults Theatre – This play was written by Charlotte Jones who was in the year below me at school so I was curious to see it. It’s about two women who are institutionalised at a young age for being ‘moral imbeciles’. In reality, they’d done nothing wrong, but had gone against the norms of the day which set them apart and led to them being incarcerated. Even when they were set free, their mindset meant that their incarceration was life-long. Very sad and thought-provoking revival. This deserved a bigger audience than it achieved.

  20. Body and Blood and Importance of Being - The Colour House Theatre; These two short plays were performed by an Irish Theatre Group and were both new pieces of writing about the Irish diaspora. With shoestring budgets and a tiny stage, they pulled off two interesting pieces of theatre. They both felt like they were still works in progress rather than finished pieces, but I think both stories would lend themselves to being adapted for TV or radio.

  21. The Libertine - Theatre Royal Haymarket; Dominic Cooper was great in this as he flounced and charmed his way around the stage in the more-or-less true story of John Wilmott, Second Earl of Rochester – a writer, a philanderer, a drunkard, a rake and dead by the age of 33. Good fun and a snapshot into the theatrical world of Restoration London.

  22. Shopping and F***ing - Lyric Theatre Hammersmith; Another revival, this time of a play from the 90s about the 90s. My friend and I ended up sitting in the ‘VIP’ seats on the stage sipping perry and seeing the action very close-up. Despite the bright lights, loud music and general bawdiness of the piece, it’s actually a dark story of a group of young people struggling to make their way into adulthood and how sex, drugs, money and shopping (consumerism) takes hold of them. Brilliantly done and thought provoking in relation to consumerism today. There’s even more of it than there was when the play was first produced.

  23. Tosca – ENO, London Coliseum; Utterly sumptuous set and costumes, fabulous voices and orchestra (as you would expect from the ENO) played out with both the humour and pathos required for this tragic tale. Thoroughly enjoyed it despite not being an opera buff!

  24. The Inn at Lydda - Sam Wanamaker Playhouse; This is the tale of a fictitious meeting between Caesar and Jesus. If you can imagine a mash-up of Carry On films, Frankie Howerd in A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum and Up Pompeii with a bit of Shakespeare for authenticity, and you’ve pretty much got the gist of this. The humour of the piece kept it pacy and fun yet the more serious elements also had their place. I watched this from The Pit and loved the way they lit the stage with candles and used the whole of the theatre as their stage.

  25. The Plough and the Stars - National Theatre (Lyttelton); It’s a hundred years since the Easter Rising in Dublin and there have been a fair few Irish plays doing the circuit including this Sean O’Casey play at The National. A stunning production and a heart-breaking tale of how the Easter Rising impacted those involved, mainly the poor and working class, at the time.

  26. The League Of Youth - Theatre N16, The Bedford, Balham; A modern retelling of Ibsen’s classic set in an office in the 1990s. It opens with a dodgy office Christmas party and people are pairing up in ways they really shouldn’t be. Office politics is the name of the game with greed and power as the underlying themes. We’ve all seen this in our various work environments at some stage and the cast got their characterisations spot on from the bubbly receptionist to the slightly nerdy support guy.  This may be one of the smallest theatre spaces in London, but the cast and production team managed to create something much bigger than the space they were confined to.

  27. The Truth - Wyndham's Theatre; A new translation of a modern French farce. Two couples, two affairs and the lies and subterfuge that that entails. The translation made the script a little clunky in places for me but good performances throughout.

  28. The Shadow King - Barbican Centre; A retelling of King Lear set in modern Aboriginal Australia replete with didgeridoos, sand and body paint. I thought this was an interesting adaptation of the play as seen through the lens of a completely different culture. It took me a while to tune into the accents (the cast were mainly Australian), the vernacular and the slightly chaotic style but I did enjoy it.

  29. Blue/Orange – Young Vic Theatre; A powerful play (another revival) and very well done, but my goodness, it was bleak, I mean, really, desperately, utterly bleak. It’s a thoroughly depressing insight into the mental health system, how it works and how people are treated and leaves you questioning what is madness and who is mad – the therapist or the patient? Not one for the faint-hearted.

  30. Whose Line Is It Anyway?… Live - London Palladium; A faithful live version of the popular TV show using regulars from both the UK and the US version of the show. Josie Lawrence was *amazing*. I’ve seen her perform on TV but seeing her perform improv live was a whole different level. Just brilliant. A fun night out!

  31. Hobson's Choice - Vaudeville Theatre; A tale of a widowed, drunken, shoemaker and his daughters in 1880s Salford. The set, costumes and performances transported you back to Victorian Salford in a Cinderella meets King Lear storyline. A lovely leading performance from Martin Shaw and strong performances throughout from the whole cast and the kind of quality you expect from a West End theatre experience. Another enjoyable night out.

  32. Guys and Dolls - Phoenix Theatre; This was glorious! So joyful, such energy and such a great musical score. I’d defy anyone not to have their toes tapping along to this one. We may have been sitting at the back of the circle, but the energy from the stage permeated the whole audience. Loved it!

  33. Wifi Wars - Udderbelly Festival at Southbank Centre; If you every played Pong, Space Invaders or Pacman back in the day and are at all geeky, then this is for you. We were all hooked up to a private wifi network so that as an audience, we could play each other in this romp through the history of digital games. Great fun! This is the show that led to Dara O’Briain’s (relatively) new show on Dava called 8-bit and they’re still doing the show live. They were on tour in the UK recently and got rave reviews up in Edinburgh. Highly recommend if you get a chance to catch it. More about them here.

  34. How The Other Half Loves - Theatre Royal Haymarket; A 1960s Alan Ayckbourn farce of matrimonial mishap. Three couples, one affair, and the shenanigans that go on to hide the affair between the boss’s wife and one of the firm’s staff. There were strong performances from the whole cast and plenty of laughs but the play felt a bit dated for me. I found aspects of the relationship between William and Mary Featherstone a bit troubling – the way he bullies her and tries to dominate her (even though he’s not a dominant man). Let’s just say it’s of its time and if you enjoy a good old-fashioned farce, you’d have enjoyed this.

  35. Jackie the Musical – Wimbledon Theatre; I have to say, I did not have high hopes at all for this musical but thought I’d give it a go. It’s the story of a Jackie magazine reader who’s now grown up and going through a sort of mid-life crisis. It turned out that it was rather enjoyable. Lots of hits from the 1970s to keep the audience happy, Cathy & Claire made an appearance and there was a half-decent storyline too. All in all, a fun show and a great night out. More about the show and Jackie Magazine here.

  36. Lotty’s War – Fairfield Halls, Croydon; A moving tale of Nazi occupied Jersey and an illicit love affair between a local and a Nazi officer. This was very thought-provoking and poignant.

  37. Shadowlands – Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon; The story of CS Lewis and the female fan he ends up marrying. Very moving performances from both lead actors in this tale of love unexpectedly found in later life only to be cruelly taken away.

  38. A Christmas Carol – Noel Coward Theatre; Jim Broadbent was born to play Ebenezer Scrooge in this fantastic retelling of the familiar Dickens story. A top notch production and a lovely post-Christmas treat.

  39. So that’s my round-up of my year in theatre. January and February are usually quiet times for me theatre-wise. Not least because I’m preparing for Swedish Beers and my other events in Barcelona the week of Mobile World Congress so I need to keep my head down. But come Spring, I hope to be back in the saddle and enjoying theatre and performance of all sorts in 2017.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2016

    The population and workforce is aging. What are we going to do about it?

    An infrequent look into Google+ this afternoon brought up a post by Dick Stroud commenting on the increase of UK workers over the age of 50. Our population is aging and the proportion of older men and women working is also increasing. We're also living longer and our pensions don't kick in until we're older (assuming you have one at all - can't see the gig economy being big on pensions).

    Here's a summary from a UK Government report from November 2015
    • Employment of workers over the age of 50 has grown significantly over the past decades.  
    • The employment rate for people aged 50 to 64 has grown from 55.4 to 69.6 per cent over the past 30 years, an increase of 14.2 percentage points. 
    • The employment rate for people aged 65 and over has doubled over the past 30 years, from 4.9 to 10.2 per cent, an increase of 5.3 percentage points. 
    • The largest increases in employment rates over the last 30 years were for two groups: for women aged 60-64 the rate grew from 17.7 to 40.7 per cent; and for women aged 55-59 it grew from 48.6 to 68.9 per cent. 
    • The employment rate gap between men aged 50-64 and women of the same age dropped from close to 28 percentage points 30 years ago to 10.9 percentage points in 2015. 
    • The proportion of people aged 70-74 in employment almost doubled over the past 10 years (from 5.5 to 9.9 per cent), and numbers in employment more than doubled from 124,000 to 258,000. 
    • Part of the increase in the numbers of workers over 50 can be explained by demographic changes, but growth in employment rates shows that the number of people over 50 in employment has risen faster than the population over 50.

    As I wander around the mobile marketing and advertising sector and big agency world, it's a young workforce. If you wander around the tech start-up scene, the workforce feels as young, if not younger, even if the founders are not young themselves.

    I've seen from many of my peers from the early days of the mobile marketing industry that they are now becoming advisors, non-executive directors and mentors. I've done this myself and am always on the lookout for more of these opportunities. (Get in touch if you know of one!)

    That's all well and good, but not everyone in the workforce ends up at the top of the pyramid. What about everyone else? What role is there for older workers in our mobile marketing world? Not that 50 is old, but to a 22 year old entrepreneur, that might feel very old indeed. And although ageist recruitment practices are illegal, they still happen all the time as those recruiting tend to recruit in their own image. It's human nature to an extent but also down to a lack of thought about actual requirements. And some good old-fashioned prejudice in some cases.

    How do we find a balance between nurturing new talent whilst also benefitting from years of experience and keeping people gainfully employed through their whole career rather than relegating people to years on benefits or working hand to mouth? 

    Is this a leadership task? Is this about changing the culture to be more inclusive? Is it rethinking assumptions about age and capability? Or is it a moot point in light of robots and AI taking our jobs and we get a Universal Basic Income instead?

    If you ever want to see your assumption about age and capability be challenged, go see Glenda Jackson in King Lear at the Old Vic Theatre in London (I think it's returns only but you might get lucky). It's an incredibly challenging role and Glenda is magnificent in it, and absolutely at the top of her game. She celebrated her 80th birthday in May of this year. Yes, her 80th. I was gobsmacked when I realised that.  

    I'm told that the generation gap in media doesn't really exist any more as we have access to the same media thanks to the likes of Facebook, Twitter et al. Can we make the same true of work opportunities?

    So to the under 50s, especially if you are an entrepreneur or you recruit in the tech sector, what can you do to attract, retain, recruit and benefit from some older additions to your workforce?

    And to the over 50s, especially the women over 50, don't give up on yourself! And don't give up on the chance to work in this vibrant, growing sector.

    And yes, yes, I know that there are physical limitations as you get older. But you can have physical or mental limitations at 21 too. And, you know, tech can alleviate some of that.

    Wednesday, October 26, 2016

    Happy Slapping 2.0 - Sex, honour, shame, and blackmail in an online world

    I was in two minds about writing this post but I felt it was worth sharing.

    If you've known me for any length of time or read much of what I write and talk about here and elsewhere, you'll know that I'm vocal in the gender debate in the mobile industry and beyond. I want to see more women in senior level jobs in our sector, more women at board level, more female investors (and to become an investor, you have to have worked your way to the top to earn the money or you've inherited it), and more women join our industry in all types of job from coding and programming to data science to marketing and ops and more (and not just in token sales roles to appeal to the male tech buyers thanks very much). 

    Aside from the financial gains a company gets from having more balanced teams at every level, you may wonder why I'm so vocal on this issue. Google it. You'll find plenty evidence and solid research to support this if you don't believe me.

    It's because of this: The shaming of women around the world for no reason at all except that they're women; The fact that there are still child brides; FGM; And rape culture in all strata of society. The everyday sexism I, and others experience at home and in the workplace is trivial in comparison to these issues but they are part of the same global problem. It's a continuum.

    This article, 'Sex, honour, shame and blackmail in an online world', brought it home to me as to how much work there is still to much to do to change entrenched attitudes and make the world a safer and lovelier place to be for all people, of whatever creed, colour or gender. 

    There is much in the article that is truly horrific. But this particular paragraph really shocked me. It had never occurred to me that this would be a 'thing'. This is happening in Agra. The home of the magnificent and awe-inspiring Taj Mahal - a monument to undying love - seen as the most romantic building on the planet. 
    "In August 2016, the Times of India found that hundreds - perhaps thousands - of video clips of rape were being sold in shops across the northern state of Uttar Pradesh every day. One shopkeeper in Agra told the newspaper: "Porn is passé. These real-life crimes are the rage." Another, according to the same report, was overheard telling customers that they might even know the girl in the "latest, hottest" video."
    I doubt this stuff is restricted to Agra or even India either. It's happy slapping gone to the extreme (that's if you're old enough to remember that). That doesn't make it better or worse. And you might say that technology is to blame as it makes distribution easy and cheap. Despicable scenes of war and terrorism have been distributed on phones for more than 10 years. But it goes much deeper than that. It's about changing attitudes whether it's the everyday sexism experienced in a business environment or on a political podium or the dreadful crimes that women across the world are victim to.

    I know these things are not easy to fix and change won't happen overnight. Poverty is playing its part in this as much as culture and tradition and wrong-headed ideas about the role of women in society and what we're good for. But change it must.

    IOT, Connected Devices and You

    I thought the Internet of Things was supposed to make life easier and simpler? Just ask Alexa (Amazon Echo) to turn on your music, add things to your shopping list and order them for and even tell you a joke. There are adverts on TV suggesting we turn our homes into smart homes so we can monitor our energy usage. We're encouraged to monitor our fitness with Fitbit devices and Apple Smart Watches. There's everything from a connected toothbrush to make sure you're brushing your teeth properly to a connected babygro that monitor your baby's heart rate and other vital stats.

    Turns out we're just making it more complicated than ever - security being the thing about all this stuff that feels the most complex to me.

    You've probably already heard that the DDOS attack that put out a whole bunch of websites last week was caused by security weaknesses in connected devices or 'internet of things' allowing a massive botnet to be created.You may say, oh, that's not me. I wouldn't be affected by something like that! I don't have an Amazon Echo or a Nest thermostat or anything like that.

    Except, you could be affected. It's not these fancy, high-falluting new gadgets that aided the attackers. The list of devices that were used to propagate the Mirai virus includes printers, routers and TV receivers. How many of us have those in our homes and offices and don't think twice about it? Hmm.

    As Benedict Evans said in his newsletter last week where I picked up on this story (you can sign up for it here), "A network designed to withstand nuclear attack, brought down by toasters". He's not far off the mark there. 

    I hope someone is working on a solution to help normal people get their heads round this stuff to make it easy to manage our digital lives. I'm already boggled by the amount of passwords, settings, app updates and other online admin I need to manage. I don't want more of this stuff. I want less. How about you?

    And how do we raise the profile of security issues like these to make them accessible to the general public and to make it a no-brainer to set-up and manage and lessen the admin burden?

    More on the DDOS attack here and here.

    Monday, October 24, 2016

    China, Big Data and Social Scoring - Big Brother Is, In Fact, Watching You

    This isn't entirely new news from The Independent today, but it is an update about the Chinese government implementing a sort of comprehensive Klout score to each and every citizen and in turn, limiting access rights to certain services (including travelling by train or going abroad), goods and even jobs. It's the stuff of fiction of the kind of society Orwell was writing about.
    "A high-level policy document released in September listed the sanctions that could be imposed on any person or company deemed to have fallen short. The overriding principle: “If trust is broken in one place, restrictions are imposed everywhere.” A whole range of privileges would be denied, while people and companies breaking social trust would also be subject to expanded daily supervision and random inspections.
    The ambition is to collect every scrap of information available online about China's companies and citizens in a single place – and then assign each of them a score based on their political, commercial, social and legal “credit.”"
    I first picked up on this story last December and wrote about it on my blog here in some depth. I hadn't exactly forgotten about it, but had brushed it to one side. But Big Data and the algorithms that are interrogating Big Data are not going away anytime soon. And in that respect, we're all affected in some way or other. We are being measured and tracked and assumptions are being made about us all the time based on our home address, where we work, where we travel to, the products we buy, how much money we have and who we are connected to.

    There are clearly some very useful aspects to scoring to make certain things in life and business easier - after all, we have extensive credit scoring in Europe and the US. But that's not a perfect science by any stretch of the imagination and is prone to fraud, abuse and misuse. This will likely increase. I don't think there is an easy answer to this. Some kind of scoring is inevitable when there is data available (and it's available in bucket loads). We are being scored all the time at some level - from targeted advertising to credit scores. Is it the price we have to pay to have a digital life?

    1984 play image
    On a side note, but not entirely unrelated, I recently went to see Orwell's 1984 in London at The Playhouse Theatre. It's very powerful and pertinent to today's society and I highly recommend it. It's on a limited run and closes on Saturday 29 October. Catch it while you still can. Or you could read the book as a refresher.

    Thursday, October 06, 2016

    What does the skills gap look like in the mobile sector? Have your say!

    As a long-serving veteran of the mobile marketing, advertising and media community, I have seen how the sector has evolved over time from its lowly beginnings with SMS. I spend time mentoring and meeting under-graduate and post-graduate students of business and marketing and I'm always surprised at their lack of awareness of the opportunities in the mobile sector. I'm also painfully aware of the lack of teaching on the topic at undergraduate and post-graduate level. And I'm wondering if that is having an impact on the innovation (or lack of) in the sector and in turn, if that means we're missing a trick somewhere. And that's why I've set up this survey.

    A couple of years ago, the Mobile Marketing Association published a report on the opportunity in the mobile sector in the US, and as part of that, highlighted the skills gap. I can remember thinking it looked pretty stark at the time - a huge opportunity on the one hand but not enough people with the right skills and attitude to deliver on the other.

    I know this is partly addressed by companies with their own in-house training, but I'm wondering what else can be done to both make the sector more attractive to both new graduates and more experienced people looking for a career change and also make sure that the people coming into our industry have the skills and tools they need.

    To that end, I have a first meeting with a senior academic from one of the fastest growing universities in the UK on Monday 10th October 2016 to discuss the skills and teaching gap in mobile marketing, mobile advertising and mobile media and to see how we can address that. And I'd like to hear your opinion on what they are.

    Whether you're a seasoned professional with a decade of experience under your belt, or you're new to the sector, I'm interested in your point of view. If you are hiring, what skills are you looking for? If you're new to the sector, what would have been helpful for you to learn before you started the job?

    Although this questionnaire is geared towards the UK market, I'm also interested in hearing opinions from our friends in other countries since it's a global industry.

    This questionnaire will remain open past the meeting date so don't worry about filling it in after 10th October! The conversation will be ongoing, as we work towards understanding and addressing the skills gap. If the form below doesn't work properly, please use this link instead.

    Tuesday, October 04, 2016

    A little gender analysis of my social networks is revealing

    I hosted a lovely dinner last week in London for ladies working in and around the mobile industry. I was thinking on the way home about hosting another one in a couple of months time and what I could do to attract more women to come along. And that got me thinking on how many women I'm connected to on social media. These thoughts were alongside those on the gender pay gap, women struggling to advance their careers (McKinsey), the advice that was circulating that women should remove their photos and resort to initials only on social media, why women don't seem to get pay rises and the depressing constant that women are not in senior roles in digital agencies or tech companies. So I did an analysis out of curiosity.

    My Twitter audience was easiest to analyse since Twitter does it for you via their advertising system. Just go to and check the analytics. It gives you a breakdown of gender, income, location and interests. What it doesn't do is measure who you are following so we'll have to leave that for another day when I'm truly bored and don't mind working it out one by one.

    Out of just shy of 9000 Twitter followers, it's a 70/30 split male/female and my organic audience is 75/25 male/female. I'm guessing that's based on what tweets are shared and by whom. 

    You might say that this kind of breakdown is to be expected due to my long history in the mobile sector. However, I actively follow a lot sewists and crafters to get some variety and balance in my find. This group of tweeters tend to be mostly female. And my perspective is that a lot of them follow me back. But without further analysis, it's hard to say.  

    I've been active in women's networking groups for almost 15 years including Digital Eve, WiMD, WiTT, Everywoman as well as my own female-focussed events. I'm also pretty good at adding people I meet to my LinkedIn as I use it as an outsourced contacts database if you like. I'm also good at weeding out fake or dodgy profiles. I do check people out before I add them due to the risk of spam, scame and phishing. I have about 3,500 contacts on LinkedIn as I've been active there since they first launched. I downloaded all of them.

    Once I'd done some deduping, removal of people I knew to be deceased, accounts that were businesses rather than an individual and a handful of dodgy accounts, I worked out who was male and who was female based on either a) I knew them personally so could say male or female b) I checked their profile for evidence. 

    On that basis, the gender split was 69/31 male/female. Hmm. I thought there would have been more women in there.

    Finally, I downloaded all my Facebook data and got my friends list. (Go to settings and Download your Data and follow the instructions). I use Facebook for both personal friends and family as well as business friends as a way of keeping in touch. The total number of friends, once deceased, duplicates and non-attributable accounts were excluded was just over 1200. I didn't count my followers as part of this exercise. And I followed the same process as I did for LinkedIn. 

    The result - 60/40 male to female. A bit more balanced, but still skewed male. And that's with my having attended an all girls school for 9 years too!

    What to conclude?
    Without doing analysis on other peoples' accounts, it's hard to tell what is cause and what is effect and if this is a 'oh, it's just you, Helen' thing. I think there may be several contributing factors:

    1. The fact that I've been working in mobile technology for the last 16 years has clearly meant that I've met more men in my line of work than I have women. And that's despite efforts made with hosting and attending female-focussed events. Where else am I supposed to meet other women in my sector for friendship, support and to do business with?

    2. Women are more reticent about living life in public? I'm not sure about this, but anecdotally, it feels like there could be something in this. To counter this, do women in business need to step up and be more visible online so that other women will follow them and we can then see them too? According to Brandwatch in 2015, women are using social media as much as, if not more than men, but do not use it for business. Is that holding them back? How important is visiblity?

    3. The women in the workplace, especially in the UK and US (where most of my network is) are not in the kind of roles where I'm likely to network and meet them. They're in lower paid or part-time work where networking is not part of the role nor would networking enhance the role necessarily. I'm thinking waiting staff, cleaners, teaching assistants, care workers, shop assistants and shelf stackers here. Is there any truth in that? Is that why I can't see women in mid-level or senior roles in any large number?

    4. Women don't see the need for this stuff. They're too busy getting on with other things and have not embraced digital connections.

    5. It is just a Helen thing, an anomaly, from 15 years of running Swedish Beers Mobile Networking parties!

    Research has shown us over and over that companies are more successful if they have more women on the board and more women at senior levels. Mixed gender teams do better than single-gender teams. For those two reasons alone, I've been wanting to see more women in senior roles in mobile marketing, mobile advertising, digital, tech entrepreneurship etc for the last 16 years and still would like to see it. But it feels like I'm fighting a losing battle sometimes.

    What have I missed? What other possibilities are there? Can this be addressed and if so, how? Does it matter? I welcome your thoughts and observations on this.

    I'm planning to host another ladies dinner in London in the next couple of months and one in Manchester. Watch this space for details.

    Wednesday, September 28, 2016

    Deloitte's 2016 UK Mobile Consumer Report is out 'There's No Place Like Phone'

    And it's a treasure trove of the latest consumer trends when it comes to mobile usage in the UK. Well worth a look if you're interested in the British consumer at all.

    From the executive summary (emphasis my own and some minor edits):

    "This year’s report marks the end of the smartphone growth era, and the start of its consolidation. A mere nine years after the launch of the first full touchscreen smartphone, adoption is nearing a plateau, at 81 per cent of UK adults, and 91 per cent of 18–44 year olds.

    The smartphone user base is approaching an unprecedented peak. No other personal device has had the same commercial and societal impact as the smartphone, and no other current device seems likely to. While the base may plateau, relentless innovation continues at device and network levels. Devices are likely to incorporate more functionality and get even faster. Biometric sensors, particularly fingerprint readers, are likely to see widespread adoption.

    Over a quarter of smartphones now have a fingerprint reader, of which three quarters are in use. The majority of phones are now connected to 4G, and cellular networks are getting ever faster, with headline speeds now at over 300 Mbit/s.1 As speeds rise, ever more latent, high bandwidth applications become viable. It is now as easy to read the news on a phone as it is to live stream a breaking news event from a smartphone.

    Businesses and consumers are still determining how best to use these devices. For the former, a common dilemma is over whether to use apps or websites. The typical UK user downloads 20 or fewer apps.

    Our research suggests that apps are not the right approach for every business.

    Consumers, who collectively look at their smartphones 0.4 trillion times per year, still need to identify how to use their devices in a balanced way, at a level that suits them, their other halves and colleagues. It is the sleek digital Swiss army knife that can be used at every stage of the day. How people will use their devices to communicate will be driven by consumers.

    The traditional voice call has become steadily less popular over the last four years, and usage of email, social networks and instant messaging has risen in tandem."

    Click here for the PDF.

    Friday, September 23, 2016

    Page 52, Sentence No. 5

    "This is a generalised feeling of envy and resentment about life: Just as in a passionate age enthusiasm is the unifying principle, so in a passionless and over-reflective age envy becomes the negatively unifying principle."
    (Robert Ferguson: Life lessons from Kierkegaard)
    Grab the nearest book, look up page 52 and share the 5th sentence. For no reason whatsoever.

    My friend, Heli, posted this on her Facebook page this morning. Just for fun, I grabbed the nearest book and did the same. This is what I got. 'Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better' Samuel Beckett. The book is 'It's not how good you are but how good you want to be'. (Apparently I bought it in May 2004 and it's still a best seller - the joys of a digital footprint...I'll leave thoughts on that for another time.)

    We all fail in life from time to time. It's inevitable and part of our human nature to get things wrong and to make mistakes. I know I've made many mistakes and failed at things more times than I care to remember. The trouble is, society is not very accepting of this. Schools don't really prepare us for failure. I know my schooling didn't. It was all about who could come top of the class. If you come top of the class, you haven't failed so you're not prepared for the inevitable failures that come later and may be ill-equipped to deal with them. If you are not top of the class, you feel a constant failure and under pressure to do better in exams which leads to stress and, likely, even less ability to perform or conform to what's expected of you. Most people don't perform well under extreme stress. In the corporate world, failure at work means getting fired or the intense feeling of shame - either scenario is debilitating and stressful. Failure and shame are often swept under the carpet or glossed over. Yet, if we don't make mistakes, it's almost impossible to learn or improve.

    I'm not sure what else to say except maybe to have less judgement and more compassion when people make mistakes for it happens to us all. We all need to take Samuel Becket's advice and fail, fail again and fail better.

    What's on page 52, sentence number 5 of the nearest book to you?


    Thursday, September 22, 2016

    Ladies in Mobile Dinner in London next week - 28 Sept 2016

    With 10 years of ladies in mobile meet-ups in Barcelona and one in Leeds last year, I thought it was time to host a dinner in London. I know some terrific ladies in the industry and I know that they know some terrific ladies in the sector too. So let's gather, exchange notes, have something nice to eat and drink and meet friends old and new.

    I have not yet found a venue - it largely depends on how many of us there are. We may be a handful of people we could be 30, I don't know yet! However many we are, I will book a venue that can do us a fixed price menu for the evening at a reasonable price and afford us some privacy, but not necessarily a private room (unless we need it because of numbers). As a picky pescetarian myself, I will make sure that different dietary requirements can be catered for. Please let me know when you register of any specific needs. You can register on the form below or by clicking this link and registering on the Eventbrite page.

    I currently do not have a sponsor but am very happy to welcome a sponsor or two that would help subsidise the price to make the event open to those less able to afford it and/or to provide some additional wine on the night. If you'd like to sponsor this event, please get in touch with me, Helen Keegan, by email.

    Once I have an idea on numbers (currently about 20), I'll go ahead and book somewhere and advise on the price. You may be asked to pay in advance in order to secure our reservation. If that's the case, I will contact you with details of how to pay by by paypal, TransferWise or invoice/bank transfer.

    Men are welcome to attend the evening but must be accompanied by a female colleague.

    Know of a suitable place for us to go? Please let me know! I'm all ears.

    Looking forward to seeing you all.



    This is a Heroes of the Mobile Fringe Event.

    Photo credit Becky Gorman / aql. Taken at the Heroes of the Mobile Fringe Ladies Lunch in Leeds, November 2015

    Sunday, September 11, 2016

    The Ten Book Challenge

    So there's this meme going around on Facebook about ten books that have stayed with you over the years. This is the sort of thing we used to do in the early days of blogging, so I'm going full circle and bringing it back to my blog.

    So this is the challenge:
    List ten books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes and don't think too hard. They don't have to be great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way. Tag some friends, and leave a comment with the link to your post, so I can see your choices...
    My list (in no particular order) :

    Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
    1984 - George Orwell
    Under Milk Wood - Dylan Thomas
    E - Matt Beaumont
    Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
    Northern Lights - Philip Pullman
    Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
    H - The Story of Christiane F (It's harrowing. As is the movie.)
    Flowers in the Attic - V C Andrews
    Charlie & The Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

    There's a bonus 11th as it's a recent one that I only read in the last few weeks so I don't know how long it will stay with me but I can recommend it - Reasons to Stay Alive - Matt Haig

    I found the challenge really hard as although I read all the time, I don't read that many books. And I didn't read that much when I was younger as it was too passive an activity for me. I preferred acting or singing or sewing or just going out. I wasn't particlarly one for sitting still and reading. Even today, I don't read that much as I don't commute any more. Having said that, I've read at least 26 of the books on this list and has highlighted a couple of others that could have made this list - The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett. And there are others as I read friends' lists too.

    However, as with most people, there are some books that have stayed with me for one reason or another. And these are they, or at least the first 10 that sprung to mind.

    If you don't have a blog, feel free to add your ten books list in the comments below.

    Saturday, September 10, 2016

    Do you really need to upgrade your phone?

    Ah, it's that time of year when the annual new iPhone announcement comes out. I'm not particularly bothered. I've never bought into the cult of Apple products or services. If you don't think it's a cult, then I recommend your read this brilliant article about a journalist trying to get their press pass to attend. I digress. Judging by my timeline and the flurry of press releases about iPhone 7 compatible headphones and cases that I got within moments of the press conference finishing. A few people I know are upgrading the software on their existing iPhone and some have stated their aim to buy the new handset despite the high price point. I also note that Brexit appears to have put the price up due to our currency devaluation of late.
    Do you really need to upgrade your phone? 
    You might think that's an odd question from someone working in the industry and actively promoting mobile apps and services. But I am serious. I am conscious of the environmental impact the industry is having. And I was reminded of it this morning when following this discussion on TEN and this related article from Quartz from a couple of years ago, the reminder that the Coltan needed in all our phones, and not just iPhones, is sourced from troubled nations like Congo and Rwanda, that most of our phones are made in China where workers' rights are not necessarily a priority, putting it politely, and the retail workers selling the phones are on low wages too. And that's despite the £599+ price tag for the latest iPhone. And then there's the whole recycling issue - not just of the devices but of the cables, plugs, adapters and gizmos that we use alongside them. Is there anywhere near you where you can recycle cables and gadgets safely and easily?

    My lowly Nexus One
    I meet with friends from the mobile industry regularly. They joke with me that I usually have a really old phone. They're not wrong. I still use my Nexus One which I got in 2010 (although I can only use it for phone calls, SMS, alarm and, at a push, maps. It can't take the pressure of much else). It still works so why not still use it until it stops working?

    I currently complement it with a Samsung S4 (3 years old) and a Google Nexus 7 tablet (also 3 years old). My laptop is also 2 or 3 years old but serves its purpose. Shouldn't our devices and gadgets be built to last? Until I actually need a new phone, I won't be upgrading any time soon.

    How about you?

    Friday, September 09, 2016

    Is Google our Mobile OS Overlord?

    I stumbled across this chart earlier today. It's from Statista using data from Gartner and it shows the global smartphone operating system market share.

    Infographic: The Smartphone Platform War Is Over | Statista

    You will find more statistics at Statista

    If you're looking at the UK only, then the market share is still dominated by Android but not as steeply. This is my source for the UK data for the chart below and I'm guessing their source will be Gartner or similar.

    If you look at either chart, you can see that Google is currently winning the battle both at a Global level and in the UK. Whether they've won the war or not is a different matter in different countries. There is still much to play for and it's a dynamic market. Nokia was once as dominant as Google is now.

    Understanding your market

    However, it is also important to note that when you're running mobile activity that you understand the nuances of the market(s) in which you're operating and the habits of your customers. And it's not just an Android vs everyone else story. There are so many shades of Android and such a wide variety of handset capabilities within Android that you also need to understand that at a deeper level. There's everything from the high-end devices from Samsung, Sony Experia and their ilk down to the sub £100 handsets to even cheaper devices in developing countries.

    It is still important to avoid memory and RAM hungry apps if you can as many of your customers simply won't be able to access them or if they do, it's at the expense of other apps - a one-in and one-out scenario.

    I'm also musing if the first chart will do a full circle and go back to the multiple OS environment we had 7 years ago. Probably not anytime soon, but it could happen. Look at Nokia.

    Email Marketing Fail from Monsoon this morning

    I don't shop for fashion very often on the High Street these days. This is partly due to fashion overload from my 10 years spent in fashion retail and my love of a second-hand bargain from eBay, a charity shop or my Mum.

    There's also this small thing of not knowing what the right price is to pay for something and the potential of triggering 'buyer's remorse'. It's a horrid feeling to buy something and then find out you could have got it a lot cheaper the next day or in the next door shop. With the proliferation of promotional offers, never-ending sales and discount days, it's difficult to know what is the 'right' or 'fair' price to pay for something. My Mum also passed on her bargain hunting gene to me so I can't help but look for the yellow stickers in Marks & Spencer's food department!

    My love of a bargain sometimes leads me to the Monsoon Accessorize Sample Sale. Non-UK readers may not know the brands. They're ladies and children's fashion brands at mid-range price, generally good quality, fashionable but not overly fashion-forward. Historically, they were known for great-priced evening wear but they've moved on from that (although that's still a big part of what they sell in Holiday Season).

    I've been to their Sample Sale a couple of times and got a few things there and I'm on the mailing list. And the email dropped this morning to let me know that their next sale is on 21st and 22nd September. This is the image I received.

    Umm, Monsoon - where is the event? It would be nice to know! The image didn't even click through to a website. (FWIW, I'm guessing it's at The American Church in London again, but I could be wrong.)

    Lessons learned today:

    • Even the big, experienced companies get it wrong from time to time
    • Make sure all the key data is included in your email flyer, including the location!

    Thursday, September 08, 2016

    From the archives - It's Throw Back Thursday time again

    So this time ten years ago, I was just back from my second visit to The Electric Picnic in Ireland. By all accounts, I'd had a fab time despite rain and the ensuing mud. My review of the weekend is here.

    Location Based Services

    Meanwhile, 10 years ago, DoCoMo was trialling in-mall location based marketing. It's weird that this was 6 years AFTER we'd done this at ZagMe and even weirder is that it was 10 years ago and we're only just beginning to see location based services (or proximity as it's known now) come to fruition. Brand Republic wrote a half decent piece on the potential of mobile for marketing and advertising. Remember, this is pre iPhone App Store days and Nokia was the best selling manufacturer by a country mile.

    Branded TV Channels

    In September 2006, Anheuser Busch announced they were setting up and investing US$30 million in their own TV channel for Budweiser drinkers called Bud.TV. 10 years ago, this was forward thinking and arguably, ahead of its time as it closed down in 2009 as they deemed it too expensive to sustain and the audience couldn't easily access it. Critics suggested that it closed down as the content wasn't relevant and limited in its appeal. More on the demise of Bud.TV and other branded content channels here.I would suggest that timing is key. Branded channels per se are not necessarily a bad idea. Look at the content that Red Bull comes up with that now hits mainstream TV. Bud.TV may just have been ahead of its time.


    Stephanie and Bryan Rieger are long-serving designers and mobilists. They are mavens of what works in mobile design and this presentation, 'Letting Go', from 5 years ago is well worth a look to remind you of what's what in mobile design. It's also a lesson in how to create beautiful presentations. 

    But what about the children?

    Throughout my time in mobile, there have been people thinking about how to use mobile devices to monitor and track where their kids are. They are generally a terrible idea - if a teen wants to escape your digital clutches, they are more than capable of doing that with or without the fancy tracker you've bought. I'm not really sure why they keep resurfacing. However, this one that friend and mobile ally, Carlo Longino, wrote about back in 2004 takes the biscuit name-wise. Read all about '' over on Mobhappy. It's a great takedown and well worth a read.

    More from the archives soon!

    Wednesday, September 07, 2016

    It's so funny how we don't talk anymore..

    Retro house phones in a hotel in Los Angeles. May 2016.
    I have rarely been without a mobile phone for the last 16 years of my life. When I first got one, talking on the phone was the thing I did most of. Mainly because that's what the devices were designed to do and I didn't know any different having been brought up with a landline where it was the height of extravagance to listen to the charts on the phone using Dial-A-Disc (no really, we did do that and you can read about it here). I also used the alarm clock every day. I occasionally used the FM radio and did a fair bit of texting - but I was ahead of the curve on texting back in 2000 as I was working for a company whose only focus was on SMS marketing. If I hadn't been working for ZagMe back then, I'm not sure I would have been as quick to embrace SMS.

    Fast forward 16 years and I can count the number of phone calls I make each week on the fingers of one hand. And when I receive a phone call, it's such an infrequent occurrence, it can sometimes feel like an intrusion of my private space. With messaging of all kinds, be that email, Facebook Messenger or lowly SMS, it's asynchronous so I can reply as and when I choose to and it's fair to say, I'm overwhelmed with written communication much of the time - especially email. A phone call is in real time, hence the feeling of intrusion. And if I need to get hold of someone, calling them feels like I'm intruding into their day unnecessarily. Although, that could just be call reluctance.

    I'm not alone in this. A recent survey from GiffGaff (sample size 1,500 adults in the UK according to their PR team) showed that not only are we Brits spending 3 hours a day on our phones, but that less than a third of us use our phones mainly as a phone for making and receiving actual phone calls. The UK is a nation of texters with 36% of the 1500 respondents stating messaging (SMS / Messenger Apps) as the main use of their phone. Browsing is surprisingly low at 16% and Social media at 11%. I'm wondering if the last two were under-reported?

    Also of interest, depending on the device you own, your use of that device will vary. There were 13% of respondents who own a Nokia device and more than 50% of them said they used their phones for phone calls. Apple users (29%) were the least likely to use their phones to make calls and most likely to play games on their phone. I'm guessing many of the Nokia owners have simple phones that do calling better than anything else and that's why their owners bought them as they have no desire to push their finger around a glass screen aimlessly.

    It's something I've been thinking about for a while now. This song that my older readers may recognise comes to mind, Cliff Richard's 'It's so funny how we don't talk any more'.

    So what happened? How come we fell out of love with talking? I used to spend hours on the phone talking to my friends after school. Is today's teenage experience with messaging and social media as rich? Do we need to be encouraged to talk more with an updated version of BT's 'It's good to talk' advertising with Maureen Lipman playing Beattie?

    Of course, this survey was UK specific so usage trends are likely to be different in different countries, and especially in countries where literacy levels are not as high as they are in the UK. And communication in any form is a good thing - whether that's written or spoken. 

    The main impact of all of this, especially for marketers, is about understanding people's preferred forms of communication and playing to it. If I want to get hold of my Mum, it's a phone call. If I want to talk to my friends, it's probably Facebook Messenger. For business contacts, it's Skype or email. And if you really want to cut through the clutter, a hand-written letter will do the trick.

    Much as I love written communication, I think there is still a place for voice. A friend called me on the phone the other day. She knew I was having a rough patch so she took the time out to call me. Like people used to in the old days. And I'm grateful that she bothered as it was a much richer experience than the equivalent in SMS or email would have been. I need to remember that and maybe pick up the phone more often, for you know, phoning people. 

    Sometimes, it's good to talk.

    Update: Slate has picked up on this topic too and published a very good article about it here. Well worth a read.

    Tuesday, September 06, 2016

    Linkage on a Tuesday

    A few things I've been reading and thought were worth sharing...

    • Why am I being paid less than my male colleagues? TLDR probably because you never asked for more money and didn't negotiate. I've heard this before that women don't tend to negotiate. Men negotiate from their first salary so get ahead early on. It doesn't occur to women to do the same. A lesson in negotiation here for men and women of all ages.

    • This next one isn't news to me, but it may be news to you and is one of the reasons why I keep banging on about gender discrimination. Having women on your team makes for a better business:

    Companies with three or more corporate directors who are women (in at least four out of five years) outperformed those with no women on the board by 84% on return on sales, 60% on return on invested capital and 46% on return on equity.
    A 2009 study in Silicon Valley found that venture-backed companies run by women had annual revenues that were 12% higher, used an average of one third less committed capital and had lower failure rates than those led by men.
    There's more in this article about addressing the gender gap in angel investing. 

    Thanks for reading.

    Monday, August 29, 2016

    The Trouble With Big Cities

    Although I live in London, I spend a lot of time with my Mum in the city where I grew up. I say city, but Worcester is actually very small when it comes to town and city sizes. And it's a long way from anywhere. It's quicker for me to fly to Barcelona than it is to visit my Mum. Worcester suffers on the GWR Hereford to London line as part of the route is single track through the Cotswolds. I read somewhere that the train journey takes longer now than it did in the days of steam trains. There are local buses, but you really need to understand the timetables as most services are not very frequent and don't run every day and don't have services after 5pm. How you are supposed to use those buses to get to or from work, I really don't know! And let's not talk about the local motorway traffic which seems to get more congested year on year.

    As a city, Worcester seems to be suffering from lack of job and career prospects, especially for young people, despite being home to a large university. It's a nice enough place to live with beautiful countryside nearby, a river running through it, a sizeable Marks & Spencer in the High Street and some lovely places to eat and drink. But that's the trouble, the new job opportunities in the city are all hinged on retail and catering jobs. Gone are the days of the big employers like Kays Catalogue, Dents Gloves, Cinderella Shoes, Worcester Royal Porcelain and Metalbox. Maybe, it was like this back in the 1980s when I left school. The majority of my generation left Worcester at the earliest opportunity. A few stayed, but they could be counted on the fingers of one hand. A lot of us left for London. I certainly did and I wasn't alone.

    I'd love to see an innovation space in Worcester - in the city centre - showcasing young retail and creative talent and giving them the opportunity to try out their ideas in the city and providing a business hub. I've always thought the old Corn Exchange would make a great space for that. It has been lying empty for so long with a string of failed restaurants behind it, yet it's in a central  location in an interesting and historical building. Or failing that, the Angel restaurant could be reverted back to a market hall but focused on new retailers and have a mix of small office and retail units. I'm heartened to find out that there is an organisation who have similar desires called The Kiln. I'm interested to see what they come up with and wish them every success.

    I mentioned all this in passing in a conversation I had with friend and retail expert, Eva Pascoe, and she was telling me that the network effect of new technology was boosting cities and was keeping smaller towns and cities down. It's not something I'd really heard before but it made sense. This article, 'The problem with London Guilt' explains how that works in more detail and why London has become so dominant over other British cities over the years.

    I'm not sure where that leaves places like Worcester but it makes for interesting reading to understand the dynamics we're living in right now and why the focus is on 'smart cities' rather than 'smart towns' or 'smart villages'.

    I welcome your thoughts and comments on the topic.

    Revisiting proximity marketing

    I cut my teeth in mobile marketing in location-based services, or proximity marketing as it's now known, way back in 2000. I was Head of Customer Experience for a new outfit called ZagMe (now long gone) where we sent SMS text messages to customers at Lakeside and Bluewater shopping malls while they were out shopping. We were not only pioneers of mobile advertising, we were also pioneers of location based mobile advertising, and we were way ahead of our time.

    Fast forward 16 years and proximity marketing is making the headlines again. Retailers are experimenting with geo-fencing, location based targeted advertising online and beacon-enabled apps. It has been a couple of years since I last took a good look at the sector. You can see the video here of the interview I did with David Murphy from Mobile Marketing Magazine talking about the history of location based services.

    If you have an interest in this technology and its practical application, you my be interested at this upcoming Mediatel event, sponsored by Proxama, that I'm participating in on the morning of Monday 12th September in London. I'm looking forward to hearing about up to date case studies and I'm hoping brands and agencies have learned the lessons from the past. We'll see... 

    And if you'd like a history lesson in how mobile proximity marketing began, here are a couple of videos from BBC News and Channel 5 explaining how ZagMe worked. 

    Thursday, August 25, 2016

    #TBT From the Archives - On this day in 2006

    On this day in 2006, I wrote about Coca Cola embracing mobile marketing in Japan. That's 10 years ago! The gist of the service was that they could pay for Coca Cola in vending machines using an app that was NFC enabled or by using a personal QR code. They would then earn loyalty points for each purchase. To think we're only just seeing mobile payments here in the UK...

    You can read the original post here.

    Off hours mobile usage is covered in this short post from 10 years ago prompted by the Puzzler Media project Tom Hume was working on at the time. That is, usage of mobile devices at home in the wee hours of the morning rather than the received wisdom at the time of mobile being used mainly 'on the go'.

    And the final one I'll share from the archives today is this one about Carling and a campaign they were running 10 years ago. There's a text in call to action and you get a wap link back (we are talking the days of Nokia N95 handsets and their ilk). Then there's a bar finder and a mobile game you can download and play. As a campaign mechanic, it's probably not that different from a lot of the campaigns we see today. The main difference is the call to action. Then it was SMS to WAP and now it's more likely to be a banner ad or social media triggering the download.

    Wednesday, August 24, 2016

    To Adblock or not to Adblock, that is the Question(naire)

    Well, it's one of the questions that crosses my mind as 2016 seems to be the year of the Adblock Wars. I'm busy collating a bunch of resources and thinking around the topic and I will write about it here in due course.

    However, having worked in mobile advertising and media for 16 years, I am more than a little interested in what's happening in the sector. I've been heard to lament the lack of innovation in mobile advertising many times and I am still frustrated that, as an industry, we are so focussed on the banner ad but maybe the times are a-changing with the debate around adblockers, click fraud, 'sponsored' or 'branded' content.

    So indulge me if you will, and please complete my short questionnaire about your usage (or non-usage) of ad-blockers and mobile advertising. I'm not judging you! I just want to get a picture of what's going on in the sector which will confirm or deny some of my hunches.

    I will compile the results and try and make some sense out of them. I have no idea what insight may result, but let's see what happens. If nothing else, the answers will help me formulate my next series of events. Please also share it with colleagues, friends and family. It shouldn't take you more than a few minutes to complete as it's mostly tick boxes.

    If you can't easily access the form below to complete, you can follow this link instead. And if you'd like to share the survey with friends and colleagues, please feel free to copy/paste this link