Monday, 14 February 2011

A Farewell to Screen Yorkshire and inward investment?

The problem with cuts is they just remove expenditure.

To reduce debt, you have to do a whole lot more than cut costs. In fact, cutting costs can result in further problems down the line.

Screen Yorkshire is a case in point as it sees its funding under threat. As the BAFTAs bestow accolades on films made with Screen Yorkshire’s help, the organisation is looking at shutting its doors. The Kings Speech used the Odsall Stadium and Elland Road.

The end of Yorkshire Forward would always see a number of the regional development organisations biting the dust – but at what costs?

Some of Yorkshire Forward’s funded bodies might have been a white elephant than a great white hope, but Screen Yorkshire has been a net contributor to the region’s economy.

I haven’t all the figures, but the last report suggests £70.6 million invested in the region as a result of the organisation between 2006 and 2009. I’d heard a figure of £82 million, suggesting a further £11.5 million being invested in the last year.
The investment from Screen Yorkshire last year was £5 million.

So we save £5 million and potentially lose around £10 million. Add to this the tourists brought to the region and the knock on effect of having associated businesses busy with supporting the film crews, and the benefits are probably greater.

Not all the filming will cease but it will make a big dent into the region’s film economy, already suffering from the centralisation of TV production.

The funding is difficult to directly replace as the ‘benefits’ don’t come in a big cash sum paid into the bank. Private capital won’t get the 100% return in the same way that the region’s businesses and councils benefit from the money spent across the region.

So we trust Manchester and London based organisations to represent Yorkshire? Would they be more likely to promote a cobbled street in Salford or Bradford? A railway arch in Brixton or Leeds? Or maybe the loss of support sees films moved out of the UK altogether?

If the financial side didn’t add up, fair enough, but we need small businesses to grow through investment and prosper. This is the only way we can stimulate the economy to get business booming again. The tax take increases and we can start to pay off the debts of the past government.

Yorkshire has a fine tradition of film making from Louis Le Prince to Billy Lair; from This Sporting Life to The Railway Children and from Brassed Off to Four Lions. The loss of Screen Yorkshire wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of this heritage, but it certainly would make it harder for the next Yorkshire blockbuster.

For more information on Screen Yorkshire, click here.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

CSR - When a good idea looks like a mistake

How important is Corporate Social Responsibility to a business (CSR)? Many big businesses spend vast amounts on CSR policies, but is it really worth it? BP look to be the latest company to shoot themselves in the foot by coming up with a fantastic idea, and then scoring a massive own goal because they haven’t thought it through.

People across the UK are starting to get angry about the back of their Tankers – which read “This vehicle is CO2 neutral”.

The problem with CSR is that it is often used as propaganda rather than really being at the heart of business. The statement’s read like a pillow of fluff and puff, often linking in with PR activities or existing activities. There’s often no harm, and something positive to say, but it is often meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Look at First Groups’ CSR policy. Most of the document lists activities you’d expect them to do – pay their workers fairly, abide by the laws of the land, not to lie or cheat, to offer a reliable service and the like. Get on to the environment and they say:

We are committed to: preventing pollution and reducing the overall impact of our operations on the environment.

Now what does that mean? Not much. It could mean they are working tirelessly to eradicate carbon emissions. It could mean they’ll try not to knock over any barrels of oil in the yard so it doesn’t get washed in to the local water. It could also be anything else inbetween.

Compare that to Tesco who have put hard figures in their environmental CSR policy, aiming to be carbon neutral by 2050 and with a range of other targets for 2020. They may be too long term to bring to book, but they are demonstrable.

So what’s the issue with BP? On the face of it, there’s no major issue. The objective is for BP to be carbon neutral and they are making some significant steps. According to their website:

Over the last seven years we have achieved real sustainable reductions of 7.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MteCO2e). In 2008 we reported 0.4MteCO2e of reductions, including for example, expansion of the use of 'smart' well automation to reduce venting and improved well completion procedures to reduce flaring at our Wamsutter natural gas operations in the US, which resulted in emissions being 48,000teCO2e lower than they would otherwise have been.

The problem is the communication and the messaging of what this is and what it means.

What does it mean to be carbon Neutral? BP has a definition which basically covers its back. Its aim is to reduce green house gas emissions where possible and offset a significant proportion of the rest. Offsetting in itself is controversial in itself and there is debate about how effective it really is, but let us leave that to one side.

Now BP isn’t Carbon Neutral and a tanker certainly isn’t CO2 neutral, so how can they make this claim? I’m imagining they’ve set themselves a target of offsetting all tanker journeys and paid to plant the trees. Some bright spark has come up with the idea of promoting this fact by painting it on to the tankers.

Now shift forward away from the company to the man or woman in the street. When you say BP what do you think of? Oil spills, petrol stations may be even a North Sea oil rig. Does this seem carbon neutral activity? The problem is the statement is probably right in terms of running the vehicle but it seems such a lame attempt to cover up environmental issues.

I’ve dealt with environmental issues for a major company and it is amazingly complex. There’s a lot of propaganda and not much fact.

But when a large industrial tanker is staring you in the face and proclaiming to be carbon neutral, it is like a heavily obese person telling you they’re on a diet because they now have a sugar free soft drink with their burgers.

It all chimes with the Cadbury CSR disaster. Buy lots of chocolate and get a free skipping rope. Deliver tonnes of fossil fuels and plant a few trees.

So how do you use CSR effectively? When I worked at Orange, they claimed only to use fair trade coffee. The drinks machine I used definitely didn’t contain fair trade coffee. Even if your failed objectives don’t leak out to the press, its not great for staff morale to see a promise broken.

It must be part of a brand and be at the heart of your operations. It’s great to say “this company values its workers” but what does that mean? It has to have deliverable and preferably quantifiable objectives. The days of warm words and fluff are gone so the greenwash won’t wash. If you support a charity, why was it chosen, how much are you donating and how else are you helping?

Do you really care about the local community? What have you done to help it and have you volunteered your skills or people to help?

Finally, is what you are saying true? Even if it is, what does it say to the man on the street who doesn’t read your environmental manifesto, your press releases or your internal memo?

CSR comes from the heart, needs to be genuine and needs to be reported tactfully.

Top image from © BP p.l.c
Other images courtesy of

Friday, 4 February 2011

From Chaos to Calm (or Communications in Egypt)

In this age of communication and social media, how would you cope if you mobile and landlines stopped working? Could you really keep you business going or make arrangements with your friends and family?

This is just what happened to people in Egypt this week and I found the development of the situation fascinating for many reasons. Through the terrible scenes and the remarkable peaceful start demonstrate a whole mass of communications theory in act.

Social media is very much seen as an online revolution but it really describes the creation of communities. In such, social media tools help to create communities in a virtual world but are inferior to the real communities where people come together.

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered peacefully in the Tahrir Square, brought out by the word of mouth and not by technology. When the government switched off Twitter, and then the web, it was clearly an attempt to stifle the ability of individuals to co-ordinate a demonstration.

This failed because the real way people co-ordinated was by talking and sharing in a genuine community. This was spontaneous and the rabble rousing of the past. Mosques, churches and community halls were the social media on the ground.

We’re so used to the power of flash mobbing and the co-ordination of protests like the tuition fees protests, that we forget that protests used to have a spontaneous nature to them. In some ways this may be why it started so peacefully. It was people coming together for a common cause rather than a strategic and lead revolution.

The start of the violence was also telling. Within a few hours of the internet being “switched back on”, the Pro Mabarak faction took hold two facts I personally feel are linked. There was a coordinated violence element to their reactionary protest.

The weaker of the two communities would benefit from the use of mobile and internet technology without a clear community to draw its support from or coordinate protests. Ignoring the claims of corruption, the protest worked. It brought Pro Mabarak supporters out and not all were hell bent on violence. There were some peacemakers but they never had a chance.

The disturbing scenes of violence created chaos for a while, but the chaos theory suggests order would return. What I found surprising was the speed with which a crowd organised itself. From a disparate group, a hierarchy developed and a strategy to deal with the violence being forced upon them. Within an hour there seemed to be roman style tortoise formations of protestors, using any sheet metal they could find as shields and barricades. At the same time, foreign journalists were targeted to minimise coverage of the violence, often by the police, absent from their peacekeeping duties.

Another disturbing thing happened later that day. Rumours started flying that the anti Mabarak protests were being run by foreigners and other misinformation. The problem is, though, that in a tight knit community you know the difference between your kin and an alien influence. Protestors claim dozens if not hundreds of undercover policemen had been challenged for making these claims.

Several days in the Egyptian Government started to speak again. They echoed the misinformation heard in Tahrir Square with an unnerving similarity. It seemed very much like a classic divide and conquer approach to their propaganda.
The spin didn’t wash with the western journalists and large holes were present. The president was definitely in Ciaro but no one had seen him, yet it is not unusual in a crisis for a president to see his cabinet. This seemed to be the nonsensical argument.

And despite the Egyptian Government’s claims, Friday’s big putsch started with the biggest protest yet and a peaceful protest. Just think of most G20 protests and the student protests, add in the strength of feeling in Egypt and the provocation and this is remarkable. The level of communication and community needed to draw out the crowds and maintain the peace shows how coordinated yet spontaneous these demonstrations are.

So what are the learning points:

Online communities and communications are important but are never as strong as genuine real life communities

There is nothing stronger than spontaneous and unconnected action

Movements can be created organically and quickly. Here’s a lighter example

Propaganda is only effective if it’s believable and based on fact. Once it’s been shown as a sham, it actually harms your cause.

It’s amazing to see the power of humanity which can bring a riot back to peace.