Monthly Archives: October 2010

Free speech

The business conference circuit is a merry-go-round of people trying to get on a platform and pronounce their expertise in a subject in the hope that they get noticed by someone in the audience with a bit of budget, so the speaker can drum up some business for his or her company. Because of this dynamic, most speakers at business events are not paid to speak, and in many cases (where they are a sponsor of the event), they are paying to speak to an audience.

But I don’t have anything to sell, other than myself. I do have years of experience speaking at events, organising other speakers, and chairing events. I’ve spoken all over the world on many subjects and in a variety of formats, and even written speeches for politicians, diplomats, and FTSE100 CEOs to help them speak on areas I am familiar with.

I do speak for free at many events, for not-for-profit organisations, or events that have a particularly important audience I want to reach and it’s worth it for me to do the event free. But I don’t normally speak at commercial events for free. And after all, if a conference organiser wants a decent chair who can handle speakers, field questions, ask relevant questions when the audience doesn’t, and generally keep things running, then surely that has some value?

So it’s a bit annoying to get called by a conference organiser who says he “heard of me from somewhere” and who then asks if I want to chair his conference. I said the agenda looks interesting, so maybe. He then asked me to detail if I have ever chaired an event before. Perhaps he could have done a little bit of the most basic homework? Google is quite good for that.

He offered me a free ticket to the event. Which, as a speaker, is kind of essential to get in. And the free ticket has a value of £1,400! So there is my payment – in free entry. If people are paying £1,400 to get into the event then that’s a commercial event, so why are important elements of the event – such as deciding on a chairman – done on the cheap by calling around to find someone who will do it free?

I actually have a speaker agent in the UK and USA now, because I often found that companies would book me, then change date or cancel events with short notice, meaning I would turn down other work and hold dates blocked in my diary, only to find them refusing to pay for an event that did not happen. At least with an agent in the middle it’s all contracted. I once had to explain opportunity cost to an Indian technology firm after they cancelled an entire week of work with two days notice.

Maybe I’m just ranting, but I know that most of the free speakers have a company to promote. If the conference organisers want someone independent, ready to offer opinion and thought, and with great experience speaking and chairing, then they should be prepared to pay.

Mark speaking at Chatham House, London, June 2005

Reality check for the UK

It’s the Comprehensive Spending Review today and people are endlessly talking of cuts. The military is upset that their budget is being slashed and the media have said that if we cut the military budget any further those pesky Argies will take over the Falklands all over again.

Maybe it’s time for a reality check. It’s no good to continually talk about the UK ‘punching above it’s weight’ forevermore just because of the lingering effect of a nineteenth century empire.

China: GDP $8.748 trillion, GDP Growth 9.1%, Population 1,338,612,968

India: GDP $3.57 trillion, GDP Growth 7.4%, Population 1,156,897,766

UK: GDP $2.128 trillion, GDP Growth -4.9%, Population 61,113,205

For such a small nation, the UK does have a large economy, one of the largest in the world. But the decimation of financial services will surely cause that dominance to collapse. And look at the population sizes and growth rates in India, China, and add Brazil too…

How long are we going to keep punching above our weight?

Surrey v Glamorgan, Oval 4th July 2010

Come to Elvis Costello’s launch party!

Elvis Costello’s new album ‘National Ransom’ is out next week.

On Thursday the 28th, he has a very special and very private launch party for the album at lunchtime in Soho. It’s going to be in the world-famous Ronnie Scott’s jazz club and these tickets are not for sale – it’s press and invite-only.

But you can win two tickets to this special event through a competition by entering on the Elvis Costello website here!

I’m going to be there live blogging and commenting on the event on Twitter, so if you win, do say hello!

Elvis recently joined Twitter, so if you are on there then why not go and follow him? And if you are a Twitter user then I’m hosting the Ealing Tweetup next week, featuring a live set by Elvis’s brother, Ronan MacManus…

Elvis Costello

French government subsidises music

Why on earth is the French government subsidising music purchases?

They say it is to get people into the habit of purchasing music, rather than stealing it through online file sharing. Did any of the bureaucrats ever consider that French citizens might use up their free allowance and then return to file sharing?

The big issue with music is that we are moving from a world where the consumer paid for a physical recording (LP, CD…), to a digital download (MP3), to access only. That’s right – even the MP3 files on your iPod will seem archaic when the next generation of iPods allows you to choose an artist or song, which it then automatically streams.

Most new TVs are already Internet-enabled, you can flick through YouTube as you watch regular TV. Imagine once car stereos, home audio systems, and iPods are all geared up for constant Internet access? There is no need to ever own a physical music product – you just pay for a song as you play it or pay a monthly access fee allowing you all you want to play.

Spotify uses this model already. The one thing that prevents it becoming the norm is that playback devices are still not ready for streaming-only – most people using Spotify are still playing the songs on their computer. But it won’t be long. It’s common to see streaming jukeboxes in pubs now – a jukebox with every song ever recorded and released. And that is what we will all have at home soon, a sound system with access to every song ever recorded.

The future is how you purchase access to recorded music, not purchasing a copy of recorded music.

Charts will be based on plays, rather than sales, and artists will be (more than ever) focused on live performance, merchandise, and specialist products – like the 78rpm vinyl version of the new Elvis Costello album. Who can even play a 78 these days?

Music is entirely changing and for a government to waste tax-payers money on a scheme that encourages ‘legal’ digital downloads is outrageous.

Trocadero and Eiffel Tower

How is the music industry changing?

Ronan Macmanus is playing at the Ealing Tweetup on Oct 26th. It’s going to be a gig in a pub jam-packed with bloggers and tweeters.

So, I thought I would try grasping at the collective intelligence of all those bloggers on that evening. I’ve printed these cards that I will cascade all over the pub that evening… aimed at getting the bloggers to think about how they can help an artist like Ronan – and maybe to do some immediate blogging and tweeting while they can see him performing!

If you are a music blogger then you are very welcome to join the tweetup. The nice people at Xerox are making sure that the bloggers have drinks to help lubricate the writing process. I’m very interested in how social media is changing the music industry and I’m planning to write some more about this next week and will be at the Music 4.5 conference soon – let me know if you plan to be there…

Ronan MacManus Tweetup

Buried

I don’t know any of the miners in Chile. I’ve never even been to Chile. But I found it hard to not be moved by the sight of them starting to arrive back at ground level once the rescue operation started today.

It’s an amazing rescue story that was led from the top of government, almost as a mission to restore national pride. Chile was never known for mine safety and these miners are incredibly lucky to not have been crushed or suffocated by the inital collapse on August 5th.

But I’m wondering what will happen now? These are fairly poor working-class men. How will they cope with the psychological trauma freedom is going to cause? Soon they will realise that they should have been dead. Many of them will start to question why they are alive, or will reappraise the life that they have. Not only will they need to readjust to normal family life after two months of fighting off the possibility of death each day, but they will now have the media of the world treating them as celebrities.

Who will be the first miner on the Oprah show? And which Hollywood script-writer might have already started dramatising the rescue? Will the money from all these ventures be shared fairly or will a few of the miners seek to grab all the attention?

It’s a great thing to see them rescued, but they might have just left the frying pan and jumped into the fire of the media.

Tallest palm

I’m glad I don’t work at Murphy Oil

Take a look at this debate from Linked In. The first person is talking about their investment in Wales, which I have asked them to elaborate on and compare to other parts of the UK.

Clearly this has upset Philip Hughes of Murphy Oil, who is of course based in Wales, and seems to think it’s xenophobic to contrast why a company invests in Wales as opposed to Northern Ireland.

But not only does Mr Hughes choose to try shutting down the debate by implying I am racist, he then starts suggesting that he is a “real” business person and I couldn’t possibly have a view.

That’s because I’ve written a book. That makes me an ‘academic’ and therefore not able to comment on what the real business people do in their offices.

If this is how debate takes place in Murphy Oil, I’m glad I don’t work there!

Tom Lawrence • Paul – You are demonstrating perfectly my problem that the big outsourcing names have done a lot of damage. Was your experience an off shoring model? 

I would say its almost (if not 100%) impossible to deliver the large ROI that exist in most companies through effective procurement via an off shoring model. Impossible for the simple reason that its all about business engagement, trust building, etc. 

Procurement doesn’t actually buy anything – its an influencer. An internal consultant. So to make people change their behaviours (which is where the real value is – multiples of what is achievable through negotiating with a supplier to get a better price) you have to be on the ground, in front of the stakeholder working with them day to day. Off shoring simply won’t work. Its too impersonal. Too process led. You need good commercial communicators intercating face-to-face with the stakeholders. 

The transactional work we do (e.g. help desk, supplier onboarding, market research, etc.) we run out of a shared services centre in South Wales – same time zone, same culture, same mother tongue (and they have mainland European languages in abundance there too). It means even this team can be ‘imtimate’ with our client stakeholders. We tried to run it out of Hydrabad, but because they were unable to form relationships with our client stakeholders, it failed. So we moved it to Wales.

philip hughes • Well done Tom – good decision …. although I wont get hung up on the expression “mother tongue”… diolch yn fawr!!!

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary • Why Wales over other parts of the UK though?

Tom Lawrence • Why Wales? Lots of skills there, fed by Cardiff Uni – including languages. Lots of call centres, so plenty of relevant work experience. 2.5 hrs on train to London. And the govt grants are very attaractive. 

Altogether it was more attractive, and better value, than the alternatives, e.g. Poland.

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary • I mean compared to Newcastle, or Belfast, not Poland though…

philip hughes • Your persistence on this matter is annoying Mark – Tom made a choice based on best value delivery with quality driven well trained very capable available workforce. Competition is always fierce for regional development – this time south wales next time newcastle or belfast or wherever you happen to live – move on and talk about outsourcing as a business benefit or not and stay away from the xenophobia OK!!

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary • Philip, I’ve got no idea at all what you are talking about. I’d asked in the debate about the merits of investing in various regions of the UK, including Wales, but Tom actually compared the investment to Poland as the alternative – I merely asked again about the relative merits of various regions within the UK. 

That’s xenophobic and annoying? I’m certainly glad I don’t work with you. I think my record of writing books about investment in Brazil, Russia, India, China, Poland, as well as working with several UK trade bodies to promote FDI, including the Welsh Assembly, speaks for itself on the accusation of xenophobia.

philip hughes • Being an academic is fine and if Mark has written books also fine. I just wonder if anyone has read them? An examination of Regional development funding, with the last vestiges of objective 1 may assist in understanding Tom’s excellent decision to come to Wales. 

Anyway back to debate at the sharp end of business – is outsourcing pure cost reduction – no in my opinion as I dont understand “pure” cost reduction. A matter of definition. 
I think outsourcing is a great tool for providing improved VALUE to businesses, which has a cost component, but there is also the intellectual improvement to business processes released by utilising the vendors skill and experience gained elsewhere, which is almost impossible to cost in the traditional sense.

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary • Philip, I’m at the “sharp end” of business working with some of the world’s leading firms on a daily basis, though clearly you consider it rather academic to also write about that experience.
Black Mountains, Wales: nice view