Monthly Archives: June 2009

G’day mate, Digital Britain can go XXXX itself

Lord Carter presenting Digital Britain

“First, I have to start with an apology, we’ve spotted a mistake in the report… has anyone else spotted it yet?”

As far as agenda-setting Government launches go, Lord Carter’s opening gambit to the press pack at the RSA as he unveiled Digital Britain this week was far from reassuring.

What followed can best be described as a cagey preamble on some of the report’s key findings, delivered by someone who already seemed painfully aware of its own shortcomings.

At one point a member of the press read out a quite ludicrous sentence, overly complicated and full of disclaimers, and used it to question claims the report was clear and transparent.

“Yes, that could have been written better, so full marks for spotting that,” came Carter’s concise, sarcastic reply.

At another point, when asked for the second time to clarify the report’s recommendations regarding top-slicing the BBC licence fee to help ITV’s regional news, a weary Carter said he would be counting the “number of column inches” the BBC gave to the rest of the report, in the interests of fair and balance coverage.

Mildly amusing, it raised a titter, but hardly fair. The changes Digital Britain describes in its Public Service Content chapter pave the way for the first major overhaul of BBC funding in its 87 year history, you could understand the interest.

For Carter to become so exasperated so quickly offered some indication as to the many hours the creation of the final White Paper had already stolen from his life.

Another pesky member of the press pack launched into an attack on the Government’s plans for a universal 2Mb connection speed by 2012, surely it’s not enough and already behind the curve?

You’ve misunderstood, replied a patient Carter. He went on to blame his own “failure to communicate” that the 2Mb had been set as a minimum level, to ensure the pockets of the country currently without any decent service would not be handicapped or overlooked in the future. And so it went on.

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I found this really moving

I found this really moving.

See what you think.

Hey, blogger – it’s time to reveal yourself!

No longer can we hide under the cloak of anonymity; bravely publishing our pithy pronouncements from behind witty pseudonyms. Thanks to yesterday’s landmark High Court ruling it’s clear that we no longer have the right to keep our identities secret. The case itself centred around prize-winning blogster, the NightJack. His damning indictment of politicians and police officers made it a regular ‘must read’. However, the judge ruled that he had no ‘reasonable expectation to anonymity because blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity… and it would seem to be quite legitimate for the public to be told who was choosing to make quite serious criticisms’. Does this stifle free speech? Obviously it depends on the blog. We’ll gravitate towards certain blogs because of the star author e.g. advertising industry stalwarts. But others are appealing because they’re penned by anonymous whistle-blowers reporting from the inside. I guess it’s a thin line. If someone’s going to criticise they’re eventually going to have to stand up and be counted. But if we stifle them from the outset, will they speak out at all?

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A BBC licence fee for a digital age?

The Government – pioneered by the departing Communications Minister, Lord Carter – today unveiled its final Digital Britain report.

There is welcome acknowledgement of the contribution digital advertising – in particular targeted advertising – will make in helping to monetise online content. The Government also attaches significant importance to self-regulation and education in promoting transparency and protecting internet users’ online privacy, supportingthe IAB’s Good Practice Principles for behavioural advertising, as well as, the new portal to help educate users. There is also encouraging news in the appointment of Martha Lane-Fox, one of the pioneers of digital commerce, as the Government’s digital inclusion champion.

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Editor’s blog: The abuse of power

The first is the case of the redevelopment of Chelsea Barracks by the Qatari royal family, who put in an application to build 552 homes in a modernist development designed by the celebrated Lord Rogers. The Prince of Wales has torpedoed the project by writing to his Gulf-based royal friends saying he didn’t want another monstrous carbuncle on the beloved landscape – and they have acquiesced by withdrawing their project, just before it was due to be considered by the relevant planning authority.

We have well-defined laws and rules when it comes to planning in the UK, which have been developed over many years. They should not include complying to the taste criteria of the heir to the throne. Rogers, who has been plagued by royal interference throughout his career, is so cross that he’s thrown his drawing board right out of the pram.

‘The prince always goes round the back to wield his influence, using phone calls or, in the case of the Chelsea barracks, a private letter,’ he rages from his River Caf office. ‘It is an abuse of power because he is not willing to debate. He has made his representations two and a half years late and anyone but him would have been shown the door. We should examine the ethics of this situation. Someone who is unelected, will not debate but will use the power bestowed by his birth-right must be questioned.’ (Not that Lord R has ever shied away from throwing his unelected weight around when he wants his way).

Even if it weren’t thoroughly unconstitutional, I have to admit that I’d still find Charles’s interference distasteful, because his taste in architecture is thoroughly backward. Look at the model village of Poundbury in Dorset, where his toytown vision has been turned to a grim reality.

Charles has been a thorn in the side of modernist architects for years. This matters greatly to UK business, because if he takes against a commercial development of any significance in the capital, the project is good as doomed. As anything tall or modern brings him out in hives, this is not good for the commercial future of London.

The second example of muscle-flexing comes from across the channel and is altogether more comical. It concerns the notorious micro-management of the dwarfish and Napoleonic French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has fired the prefect of the Var region over a dispute in the exclusive Cap Negre, Lavandou enclave. Sarkozy’s in-laws, the Bruni-Tedeschis, have been involved in a row since 2003 with locals over the removal of individual septic tanks to be replaced by a communal sewerage system. Sarkozy even turned up last year at an owner’s meeting on the stinking subject with his battleaxe of a mother-in-law.

Being the owner of a septic tank, I can vouch that if they are correctly installed and looked after they should emit no significant smell at all. (Although when they’re pumped out every few years I wouldn’t recommend anyone of a queasy disposition being present to observe or sniff the proceedings.)

It’s not hard to see why this pair behave in the way they do. You could argue what is power for but to be wielded, as Sir Fred Goodwin clearly felt once he ascended to the RBS throne. One of the joys of those who exercise power in business or public life is the ‘let it be so’ syndrome. They command something will occur and those around them make sure it happens. They cut through the inefficiencies of due process, the endless faff of committees and they Get Things Done. But they often get up a lot of peoples’ noses in the process.

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People don’t think like we think they should think

Every time there was an election, exactly the same thing happened in our house. Dad would come home from work, Mum would put his tea (dinner to us) in the oven to stay warm. Then they’d go to the polls together.

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My first encounter with a planner

My first encounter with a planner was at BMP in the seventies. I’d just come back from New York, and they didn’t have planners there. Over there the creatives had to do the thinking for themselves.

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Editor’s blog: Fat cats who gorged too long?

When the history of executive remuneration is written – ‘Fat Cats Who Gorged Too Long’ – it may well turn out that this week turned out to be when the greedy moggies’ supply of king-sized tins of Whiskas was withdrawn.

What has previously been a relatively united front of resistance and denial from the boardrooms of UK and US companies was broken by the bizarre musings of outgoing Shell boss Jeroen van der Veer, who admitted that how much he took home each year didn’t make the slightest bit of difference to his management performance. ‘You have to realise,’ he said, ‘If I had been paid 50 per cent more, I would not have done it better. If I had been paid 50 per cent less, then I would not have done it worse.’ You could hear groans all round the City at this desperate faux pas. What kind of a job would he have done for 90 per cent less?

Over at British Airways, CEO Willie Walsh declined to take his annual bonus of 550,000 for the second year running, but still received a mauling for accepting ‘an inflation-busting 6 per cent pay rise’ (cf. The Times) taking his salary to relatively modest 743,000 this year (plus a possible 1.1 million in deferred share bonuses). When MT interviewed him last year, he said he worked so hard he didn’t have any time to spend his cash anyway.

At the same time, the knives are now out for the compensation consultants who are alleged to have connived in the orgy of executive pay. Mark Burgess, head of active equities at Legal & General Investment Management, told an Association of British Insurers investor conference this week: ‘The compensation arms race that we’ve had in remuneration, driven by pay consultants, is neither viable, tenable, appropriate nor desirable.’

But the truly decisive move has occurred over the pond. Obama has kept true to his word and taken the decisive action of appointing a ‘pay csar’ to police the remuneration of the top 100 employees in each company in receipt of bail-out funds. The ‘special master’ is – surprise surprise – a lawyer, Kenneth Feinberg, who was previously head of the 9/11 compensation fund. His job is to align pay with ‘sound risk management.’ There will be some ugly haggling to be done in his office over the coming months.

There is now a broad acceptance that excessive compensation and the bonus culture has played a large part in creating the mess in which we find ourselves. Politically something needs doing, because the public mood remains very ugly. There is one small caveat, though. How many bosses out there do you know who might be capable of sorting out the car crash that is General Motors? And how many of those sufficiently capable want their wage slips examined down to the last penny or cent by a hostile public? It won’t just be the money that puts them off, but the unhealthy opprobrium that business leaders seem to attract at the moment.

There are easier ways of earning a living – be a London tube driver, for one. Plenty of days off when you throw your pay toys out of the pram. And the inspirational leadership of Bob Crow to keep you motivated on the dead man’s handle when you’re actually driving.

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Webster’s Millions

It’s official, at around 10.22 today, ‘Web 2.0’ will become the millionth English word or phrase to enter the language! No longer just a whispered refrain for us digital types… it has, apparently, crossed over into common usage. What does it all mean though? Well, probably nothing. For a start, many linguists claim that we hit the million mark eons ago. English is, after all, top of the hit parade for words – with at least double that of any other language. Of course, half of those date back to when it became the language of science. It’s also exceedingly popular and resilient. A point that some put down to the fact that it’s the easiest language to speak badly! However, the good news is that ‘Web 2.0’ is now well and truly centre stage – after so many years languishing as a matter of conjecture. But can the debate be finally laid to rest – that it does, indeed, refer to a next generation for the Internet not just ‘Web 1.0’ with slightly fancier clothes on?

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Now that’s an account man

Gordon Smith used to work in the studio at CDP. One day the studio head gave him a piece of artwork for a finished ad.

The artwork was ripped in half, and the studio head asked him to repair it. Gordon said, “What happened to it.” The studio head said, “Frank just sold it.”

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