Forget the IoT, AI is the NBT

As a communicator – if that’s what, like me, you are – I think there is an implied duty to keep it simple, concise, accurate and to-the-point. It is part of our job to ensure that the message is understood, and central to that is using the right words and the right terminology. And being rigorous about others doing so – keeping your spokespeople in check – and absolutely not pandering to the latest buzzwords and phrases unless they are applicable and relevant.

One of the areas with a propensity for chucking up such terms is, of course, the tech sector.  It was only four years ago that I first encountered the Internet of Things. The IoT, for the sake of clarity and a frame of reference, was the idea of machines connected by the internet, exchanging data and information, thereby better enabling the lives of the humans interacting with those machines.

It was science fiction becoming science fact – mooted examples included fridges that would email their owners to advise them that they were low on Chardonnay, cars that would ‘talk’ to parking spaces to ascertain which were empty and transport hubs that would manage passenger flows by anticipating staffing and infrastructure requirements on a ‘just in time’ basis.

The IoT was the Next Big Thing, and – briefly – everyone (seemingly) had some skin in the IoT game and an industry grew up around it. I myself spoke at an event in Frankfurt entitled ‘Monetising the Internet of Things’ (in front of an audience of 17 people, I’ll admit).

It’s still going on – I recently read a lovely piece of corporate pluggery on the Forbes ‘news’ site (here it is) which explains how Heineken, brewers of the global parish, are busy using big data, the IoT and AI to enhance their customer experience. (And sell more beer. Obviously.)

All very, very consumer-focused, very hi-tech, undoubtedly extremely experience-enhancing – and, the real point, highly reputation-building and positioning of Heineken in the very vanguard of new thing adoption.

But IoT or AI? I’m no tech whizz, but – as a communicator, wishing to ensure things are factual, easy-to-understand and reputation enhancing – I’d have to question it. Looks mostly like clever use of existing technologies bundled together to give the appearance of a whole thing.

Doesn’t mean the IoT doesn’t exist, mind. There are smart roads. You can turn your heating on via your smartphone. But mostly, the IoT has turned out to be gathering data, from ever-more numerous sources and using it in decision-making. Brilliant, but not, really – to my mind – machines talking to each other over the internet.

Which brings us to the latest tech buzzterm, AI. Apparently, 70% of enterprises expect to implement AI over the next twelve months (again, I’m afraid, via Forbes).

It’s an interesting statistic, given the fact that Artificial Intelligence doesn’t actually exist yet. It is the IoT experience all over again – AI is the new shiny object, which everyone covets (partly through severe FOMO), but without really understanding the reality of it.

Like ‘blockchain’, AI is becoming a buzzphrase, shoehorned into presentations and strategies, simply to demonstrate that the organisation is up-to-speed with the latest, down with the technopreneurs and (most definitely) not missing a trick. Doesn’t seem to be important whether the buzz term du jour is being used correctly or not.

Unfortunately, the very use of the term ‘AI’ gives the lie to anything containing it. What we are dealing with today is, as I understand it, augmented machine learning, not intelligence – your bots, which, it seems, and in advanced cases, can access previous decision trees to improve future decision making.

I’m a firm believer that AI will become part of our lives, and very much sooner rather than later. I’m also a firm believer in the Internet of Things and am confident that real M2M communication will also be a part of our day-to-day. I rather suspect that the development of the former will facilitate the latter.

Until, however, it does happen, we – the guardians of the message, the conscience of the organisation – need to ensure that we’re not just jumping on a poorly-understood bandwagon, for short-term (and rather flimsy and see-through) reputational gain.

Some More Thoughtful Social Media Commentary

You know me, not much of a socio-mediavelist on the whole – but, still, I bet you thought I’d gone a bit Southern (for my friends from the United States and America, ‘southern’ in this context means ‘effeminate’, not ‘toothless, hairy, armed and smelling of bourbon’) (and for my UK fans, yes, I am a southerner, so it is perfectly alright for me to use the word ‘southern’, as it is not offensive. In the same way I could use the word ‘gay’, if I wanted to) (which would be offensive) when I stopped ranting about t’social and how it represents a direct road to hell for civilsation as we know it.

Anyway, rumours of my descent into southernness have been greatly exaggerated, as demonstrated by this article from that stalwart bulwark of editorial honesty (on matters communication), Communicate Magazine. I cannot tell you how much I echo the sentiments in this article – not all of them, obviously, there is some very Southern thinking contained within – and how I am in complete agreement with the school of thought that says social media are completely irrelevant. (OK, that’s not EXACTLY what it says, but near enough as makes no difference. To my mind.)

I also admire the (again, to my mind) extremely clever way that one of the authors – the one in the right, obviously, the one on the side of truth and justice – has designated social media ‘SM’, which, of course, is simply shorthand for a very Southern practice indeed.

Yes, I am wholly in favour of one half of this article.

The one that I wrote, clearly.


Further Adventures In Language

Hello. You still here? Amazing.

Anyway, many, many moons ago when the world was young and fresh and full of surprises – for me, anyway – I discovered American English. Or, rather, I was dunked in it, like a reluctant digestive into a large cup of cold sick, immersed by virtue of where I worked. I discovered it was at times lazy (aluminium, chaps, aluminium), misunderstood and misused (no, you will not be with me momentarily, neither have you misunderestimated my capacity for rage and revenge) and sometimes simply made up on the spot. I know that powerpoint is a (fairly) new thing, but we could to do better than ‘bulletize’ when trying to convey the act of translating an idea or theme into or on to a powerpoint slide. After all, as a valued commentator pointed out to me, bulletise is what US infantry do to the Taliban. (Is that a little risque?)

So, it’s been a while, and – having escaped the clutches of the Americans – the horror of daily acquaintaince with what can only be described as the English Language Chainsaw Massacre was starting to fade. The dreams had almost stopped, I’d been weaned off the sedatives and my current boss’ inadvertent use of the not-word ‘foundationed’ in a live media interview resulted in little more than goosepimples and a slight dimming of my peripheral vision.

It was all getting better. Until today. Now, before I go and unveil this latest verbal atrocity which – yes – comes wrapped in the Stars ‘n’ Stripes with a billet doux from Uncle Sam – may I say that there is something even more insidious at work here. Which is that people I would consider perfectly sane, normal people – the sort of people that one might almost have a drink with (if they were paying) – seem to be perpetuating this nonsense.

You all know the rules. You see a twisted or maimed word, phrase or construct and you put it out of its misery. You do not pass it on. You do not ‘like’ it. (Is is me or is the word ‘like’ too close to ‘lick’ for comfort? It simply backs up my deep-seated belief that the vast majority of people who are ‘liking’ things on the old social media are also the sort of people you find licking shop windows and moaning.) Anyway, this latest linguistic travesty came to my attention because people have been passing it on. Had they not, everything would be alright.

And here it is. I have removed the company name to spare its blushes. And to avoid the blog coming up in searches.

“Throughout November, employees in 30 offices spanning 23 countries will come together to support a variety of projects to help those in need and improve our local communities through volunteerism.”

Volunteerism. What – in the name of all that’s holy – is wrong with the perfectly acceptable word ‘volunteering’? I mean, it’s not like there was a gap in the dictionary where they word they wanted to use wasn’t, is it? There was a word, for God’s sake – a good one, one that’s been used before to great effect – but no, far better to make one up. And while you’re at it, why not make one up that sounds like a personality disorder? Excellent. Well done, you.

I’m just going to sit here quietly until the darkness goes away.

Apostrophic Errors

Morning all – this is a post for me, so apologies in advance – and it’s with regard to one of my pet hates (and, I am aware, a pet hate of many of yours, dear internet-dwelling word herders) – the misplaced apostrophe.

I am not going into this here, as you’ll know what I’m talking about and if you don’t, then it’s likely that you make apostrophic errors and, if I were you, I’d keep your head down, do da clickety onna linky and NEVER MAKE THESE MISTAKES AGAIN.

(In actual fact, I like this whole blog – Boggleton Drive – and so should you, dearest Blog Trotters. This stuff is important.)

(Even if the apostrophe post has a split infinitive in it. Mind, I was told recently that split infinitives don’t matter any more, so who am I etc etc etc.)

The Devolution Of Language Part 2

Yes, yes – as I’ve already said, I know that devolution doesn’t mean de-evolution. So what? Let it go, blog snorkeller minor, let it go.

Today, for your delight and delectation, I have two words that should never have existed and yet – somehow – do.

  • ‘Electronification’ – the rendering digital of a previously analogue process
  • ‘Ideation’ – the taking and developing of an idea

Which has led me to ideate the concepts of ‘literacization’ and ‘verbification’, which both describe the taking of linguistic vandals and shutting them in a small room full of scorpions and centipedes with only a copy of the Oxford English dictionary (abridged) for protection. I’d have thought that, after an hour or so, they’d appreciate the real value of said reference aid.

Social Media – PR ‘Students’ And Twitter

You couldn’t make it up. This is another one of those jaw-dropping, what-the-f*ck moments. A moment when – for someone who’s spent the best part of two decades in the corporate communications business – I actually begin to question why I’m here and why the industry exists.

Here is a link to a post on the Teaching PR blog (May 2009), from Grady College, University of Georgia. I can only presume that this is a seat of learning with the same level of gravitas and respect that is accorded to Keele here in the UK.

It provides some hints and tips to PR students on ‘what not to tweet’. I’m not going to paraphrase it here. Trust me, you need to read it in all its truly frightening originality.

Without beating about the bush, the hints about ‘what not to tweet’ are not bad. Basic, but good guidelines for those embarking on a Twitter feed. But they’re all about image and communication – things that, arguably, a student of PR should have a natural feel for.

Personally, if I came across a potential communications practitioner making any of these mistakes, I would advise them that perhaps they have made the wrong career choice and that they should f*ck off and trouble some other industry with their ridiculous and naïve viewpoints and attitudes. (Hey – call me harsh.)

On top of that, if Grady College feel the need to give these hints and tips to their students, then they have wholly failed to engender any sort of PR sense into them – thus, arguably, their course should be shut down.

It’s this sort of misunderstanding, naivety and ill-informed behaviour that will provide the comms industry with the next generation of PR lovelies – all blonde hair and parties – that will perpetuate the crass mythology of PR as a business of fluff and spin and will continue to deny the industry its seat at the top table.

My faithful blog snorkellers will know my feelings on social media. This scary nonsense does nothing to change my opinions, or give me any faith in the future of our profession. I’ll leave you with the following:

“Earlier this semester, @BarbaraNixon tweeted a wise suggestion to her students: go to the Web and look at your last page of tweets. Is that really how you want to represent yourself to the world?

If not, it’s time to rethink your twitter strategy.”

No, it’s time to rethink your life.

Public Relations – Just A Bit Of Fun, Surely?

Another day, another story to make your mouth drop open in astonishment, partly for the right reasons, mostly for the wrong ones. My favourite free paper (that’s London’s super soaraway morning Metro, blog snorkellers mine) ran a smashing piece this morning about a New Year’s ad campaign dreamt up and executed by Cadbury House Hotel (Bristol) Health Club and Spa (yep, slow news day all round).

Simply put, the ad campaign is a picture of an green, bug-eyed alien, stretching out his (her?) long green forefinger, with the copy ‘Advanced Health Warning! When the aliens come, they will eat the fatties first!’ Followed by the usual gubbins about ‘join now get a discount yadayadayadayada’.

Well. It works for me. Bit near the knuckle perhaps, but suitably off the wall and much better than anything I’ve ever seen coming out of a health club (which, frankly, wouldn’t be hard, in fairness). But, of course, it’s fattist, isn’t it. The Metro article quotes an unexplained Vicky Palmer (45) – doesn’t say who she is or what she does, but I’d like to imagine she’s a doughnut taster for Greggs (who doesn’t spit them out) – who thinks the people who came up with the idea deserve a kick up the backside. There’s also a spokesperson for the Beat Eating Disorders association (that’s got to be made up, right – an association for people made ill by food, with the acronym BED).

The serious point, in amongst this silly season japery, is that this is actually quite fun. (Like the Heineken Christmas poster which showed a nativity scene and the caption ‘Congratulations – it’s a girl!’, followed by the payoff  ‘How refreshing, how Heineken’.) OK, if you really, really try, and squint a bit, it might be construed as possessing the tiniest possibility, just a whiff of one, of needling the most sensitive of the overweight. Those, perhaps who are overweight through no fault of their own. And believe that the aliens are on their way. And that they’re aliens with a taste for people.

Which, let’s face it, isn’t very many, is it. Sorry, fatties, most of you are fat because of the pies. Stop eating the pies and things will get less large and wobbly, trust me on this one. And if you’re a fatty and believe in people-eating aliens, I’d stop washing down the pies with Tennents Super, if I were you. (Here’s a topical article.)

That off my chest (it’s a weight off my chest, actually), the point is that just because there are some people who are overweight through no fault of their own, and are unhappy about it, and are trying to do something about it, does that mean that whole field of fat is out of bounds to the communications and marketing industries, when they’re attempting to have a bit of fun to spice up an otherwise deathly dull product proposition? I really don’t think it should be. No more should religion, sexuality, musical taste, hair colour or any other of the great taboos – as long as it’s tongue-in-cheek and quite clearly possessed of no intention to offend or alienate (if you’ll forgive me). (And I know the liberals will tell me that one man’s definition of offense and alienation is another man’s Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown, but could we just be sensible here and agree that there are boundaries and definitions which are reasonably clear to everyone, if they can be bothered to look.)

The good bit, of course, is that the Cadbury House Hotel gets a splendid piece of publicity, and the Metro gets to publish a picture of the fragrant Ms Allyson Wicklen (20) who lost 5st to become the Slimmer Magazine Junior Slimmer of the Year. Well done to her.

Oh, and by the way – fatties? The aliens ARE coming and I can see no reason at all why they would waste such a great resource. They ARE going to eat you.

So, Farewell Then, PRWeek


Morbid fascination, that’s what it is. Anyway, there I am flicking through November 20th’s offering, doing my best to suck what little value I can from the less-than-compelling mix of not-news, hagiography and terrifying light-weightedness (tell me it’s not so) and my eye is grabbed by the ‘From The Editor Column’.

“Striking a Balance Between Print and Web” is its title. It goes on to inform me that I will be noticing a few changes to the ‘Week – cutting news pages and and adding extra space for analysis. (Of what, exactly, pray?) They’re also going to dedicate a page in the magazine to content featured online – which has to imply that there’s not that much news or analysis to fill the pages that they have.

In fairness – it all makes sense. The website is rapid reaction, more easily updated and attracts far more viewers. The print version is out-of-date by the time it’s published and has never really contained the sort of thought-provoking, enduring, educational and value-providing content that would justify its existence.

What all this is clearly leading to – especially given Haymarket’s current title rationalisation – is the closure of the print version of PRWeek, although the editorial team are doing their utmost to hide it behind the smoke and mirrors of increased analysis and assertions that the ‘industry’s bible’, which has ‘enjoyed a major redesign’ is and ‘remains the mainstay of our offering’.

Well, no it won’t, beyond, I’d say, January 2010 – unless it genuinely can reinvent itself and become the ‘industry’s bible’ – and by this I mean something that sets standards, leads the way and provides the industry (at all levels) with stuff we can use.

For example, recently it was reported that very few European businesses had crisis management plans in place. In this very issue of PRWeek, there’s four pages dedicated to ‘crisis comms’ -case histories and commentary from industry pundits. Good start. But.

Wouldn’t it have been a better idea to create a guide to creating a crisis plan? Outline the basics, so that everyone knows where to start? Show the differences between plans for global organisations and local organisations? Demonstrate the potential consequences, the signs to look out for and how to counter them? Suggest a process for employing a crisis consultant? Provide examples of best practice desk-top exercises and full-blown crisis plan trials?

Wouldn’t this be significantly more useful? More useful than yet another Thought Leader supplement, but probably attracting a similar amount of advertising? Useful enough to merit a print version, and useful enough to motivate people to keep it on file and share it with others? Hmmmm?

I don’t want to see any print media disappear as a consequence of the rise of the internet and online content. I do understand, however – and PRWeek almost certainly does as well – that unless print media offers something that t’internet can’t (and I’m guessing that this includes in-depth consideration of topics and issues) then disappear it will.

Luckily, the communications industry has a myriad topics and issues that are ripe for this sort of treatment.

Corporate Communications – The Whale Penis Story

Here’s something you simply couldn’t make up if you tried. Some Russian automotive manufacturer decides to upholster the seats of their latest blingmobile in – yes, obviously – whale penis leather. For the hard of thinking, that’s the tanned skin of a whale’s penis. For the puerile, yes, it came in four skin colours.

 Pamela Anderson gets involved, because, obviously (again) she can’t bear to think of the plight of the whales’ penises. Sends email to Russians. Russians decide not to use whale penis leather any more. Issue a retraction. Everyone happy.

 Now, listen up. The serious message in this is…………………, you’re right. Who cares. Enjoy it for what it is.

Public Relations – Best Practice…..I Think

I’m seriously anti-fluffy. I think there’s too much fluff in PR. Sadly, I think there are too many la-las as well. Thus, when I come across a trend-setting (or identifying) newsletter from an up-to-the-minute PR agency, my heart sinks and my stomach turns over. I know what it’s going to contain. Lots of laaaa, and Dysons full of fluff. “How great are we?” sort of stuff, with garish graphics and pictures of Charlotte, a junior account exec from their sTYleWerKs division, riding camels in an amusing manner. (Or is that just me?)

Anyway, much as it pains me, a shout out to Lexis PR for this. (Particularly for the Meatwater heads-up, which my regular readers – ho ho ho – will know sparked off a bit of a diatribe.)

Tentatively, because I’m not one to get all definite about anything, I think this might, actually, be quite good. No pictures of Charlotte riding camels, you see. I hope they can keep it going.

But – because nothing, here on Wordmonger Farm, is ever without its ‘but’.

“Dear Lexis,

Loving your website – but does it not take an absolute age to load? Is it, perhaps, slightly more clever than it needs to be? I hope this is seen as constructive criticism.

Also, in your lovely e-newsletter, just a small thing, you namecheck Bring Me The Horizon as being a beat combo who may achieve some popularity in the mainstream hit parade in 2010 and have a ‘new sound’. I’m seriously middle-aged and I know that Bring Me The Horizon have been around since 2004 and the sound, far from being new, is an evolution of that well-established and popular easy-listening genre, deathcore. Possibly not as cutting edge as you might be, here.

Good luck with it!

All the best