Sunday, 30 September 2007

Fox wants you

Fancy a quick entry into Hollywood? Fox is asking for your story ideas on MySpace.

Sounds like a good idea - unfortunately one I don't have time or mental space to participate in at the moment. A bit of advice: check out what they do with submissions that don't win. Do you as the creator retain copyright? This is a great opportunity, but it would help you to be very clued up about the legal ownership aspects.

Hat tip: Heather Shepherd from Skip's Hollywood Hangout.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Thanks so much!

Just got some great feedback from Conferenz, who have summarised the feedback of attendees at the 5th Annual Media Relations Conference:

"Simon was my favourite speaker! Great content as well as audience participation"
"Liked the interaction, great start to the Conference"
"Entertaining & informative"
"Very keen/enthusiastic - made blogs interesting"

Blush. Thanks all for making it a great session!

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Maxnet followup - they don't suck after all

Someone said a company's response to a problem can make all the difference. Maxnet's general manager Brett Herkt was quick to respond to my irate blog post the other day, and it's a textbook example of a gracious, well- thought-out reply.

The problem in question was (thankfully) sorted the morning after I posted, only to be followed up by another problem that seems to be with "the way things are" with domain names. It's still very frustrating.

But Brett's response stands as a textbook example of how to cope with those cranky customers who use their newfound power to spread bad vibes about your brand. That was a common fear expressed at the Media Relations Conference I've just returned from.

As I tried to explain at the conference - it's just conversation. All technology does is extend the conversation outside the walls of a room. The same rules apply online as in a room - be direct, be humane, attack the issue and not the person (which I tried to do, but probably slipped over the line in that blog post title...)

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

The secret of New Zealand

In conversation post-conference yesterday with Leon Hudson from Chong Newztel and Nick from the New Plymouth District Council - two expat Brits who have seen the light and made New Zealand their home.

Leon: Since moving here I have never been so relaxed in my whole life.

Simon: Boy that's not the message we want to send out during a skill shortage - come to NZ to relax.

Leon: No, it's not that I'm relaxing - in fact I'm working longer hours that I used to. It's just that I'm not so tense. In London if I miss the tube it's a huge catastrophe. In New Zealand if I miss the bus, I get out a book to read.

He then said some stuff about cheese that I really didn't understand... but it was food for thought (the conversation, not the cheese... hang on, there wasn't any cheese..!)

And Nick did contribute to the conversation, just not that part of it.

Anyway ... like I said, food for thought. What sort of message should we send out to attract the rightly skilled people to NZ? Not that it's a place for work/life balance (although that's true) because apparently we need high growth businesses and those kind of businesses don't do work life balance.

But Leon's correction - that he's perhaps able to work longer hours because of a less tense atmosphere ... now that's interesting.

More info: my immigration article in Idealog

The Internet in 1969

Monday, 24 September 2007

Maxnet, you suck - or why I got interested in management

I'm writing to you from the Booklovers B&B where the internet is slow but the atmosphere is faanntastic. (And, of course, interesting books line the shelves)

Wellington is groovy as always, and my presentation this morning was another step in finding my best presentation style. More on that later.

But for now, a constructive grumble.

It was on my fifth support call to Maxnet that I realised why I'd become interested in management all those years ago.

I started in advertising. If you think a little bit about advertising, you want to learn about marketing. Marketing is about making promises. If you make promises, you want to keep them. If you want to keep them systematically, you have to have a system in place. Hence, management.

Maxnet is experiencing systematic problems right now that are preventing it from fulfilling its potential.

Since Saturday night I've been trying to switch my domain to a new registrar before launching our new SimonYoungWriters' site (I won't link because there's nothing there at the moment!).

I could bore you with a long story, but I'll summarise what's up with Maxnet, and how they (and every business) could do a better job:
  • Do the thinking for me. When I phoned late on Saturday night, and then again on Sunday morning, I got the same recorded message: "Unfortunately our operators can't take your call at this time". I didn't have the presence of mind to check their hours of operation, or I would've saved myself a lot of stress. But why don't they put their hours of business in their answerphone message?
  • Get the staff you need. My righteous indignation hit a high when I waited on hold for 10 minutes, only to get automatically put onto an answerphone. Not what I want as a customer!
  • Give staff the tools to help. When I finally talked to someone it was using my cellphone, calling from Auckland airport. It was a relief to talk to someone, but they couldn't help. The webmaster's in tomorrow, he said. Great.
  • Don't be so frickin' cheap. And that's another thing. I had to pay for the call, even though it was Maxnet's system that wasn't delivering the results I needed. They have an 0800 number, but you can't call it from a cellphone or from within Auckland.
I think that's all, and it looks a lot less when I see it in bullet point. But each of these bullet points caused me a lot of grief, and it got worse, the less responsive Maxnet appeared.

Tonight I spoke with a helpdesk guy named Stephen. From him I discovered that my issue was a priority, that several members of the team were aware of it, and that there had been other, similar issues on rare occasions before.

That's great, but why didn't anyone email me or phone me? I want to know something, even if that something is "we're working on it".

Even then, I had to prod and poke Stephen. He would've been quite happy to let me wait until morning to talk to an expert. This is my business, I told him. Is there anyone who can help me right now, because right now is when I need help.

Then the helpfulness came. Stephen plumbed all the knowledge he had on the subject, and shared possible scenarios, used his creativity and imagination. We didn't get there, but we got further than we had been.

Why is it so hard to get people to be completely present to help you in these service situations? Why do I have to be more assertive than I feel comfortable with to get what is simply my due as a customer?

All questions to ponder. And I don't completely blame Stephen or his colleagues for the bad service they've given me. It's a systemic problem that must be dealt with in a systemic way. Not a mechanical system, but a growing, learning organic system that gets better over time.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Switched-on Obama

Barak Obama's done it again. He's not only using Twitter, he's now on LinkedIn. And he's not sending a message, he's asking a question.


Thursday, 20 September 2007

I don't know why but this made me cry

I'm a big softy. There's just something about encouragement, about how this coach literally gave courage to someone who was a good singer, but lost her nerve.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Monday, 17 September 2007

Scoop: ‘Social Networking’ Trend Coming To Real Estate

Scoop: ‘Social Networking’ Trend Coming To Real Estate

Great to see Harcourts blowing the trumpet for social networking. This is an interesting example of being seen to be onto it, simply by saying we all need to be onto it. It's a peculiar trait of this time in history, when social networking and web 2.0 is so new, that there's a lot of room in between the know's and the know-nots to educate and position yourself and your company.

But as far as I can tell, Harcourts are the real deal. They've even got an office in Second Life.

But it's quite funny to have a press release simply saying 'we've been to a conference and we think that what they said was really important'. Maybe I should send a press release out every time I go to a conference ... or I could just blog it.

Hmm... I'd better stop, I'm sounding snarky. But while I'm teetering near the edge of snarky, I'll say this ... why put 'inverted commas' around 'everything'? It's kind of 'annoying'.


But hey, the press release worked, it showed up on my Google Alerts for Generation C, and here I am writing about it instead of doing my other work. Great work, Harcourts!

Friday, 14 September 2007

How to write Short Films

It's sadly been many months since I've attended Script-to-Screens Writer's Room - so I greatly appreciate them posting notes from the most recent event.

Even if you're not an aspiring screenwriter, there's some great advice on how to get ideas, how to craft short stories, and how to get funding for artistic projects (‘There is no substitute for originality and emotional resonance’).

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Picking on podcasters

I'm just reading 20 "do's" for your corporate podcast, this week's free download for members of Interesting.

I've only read points one and two, and I can think of some really good exceptions to the rules:

1. Podcasts should be short. In most cases, 30 minutes is too long; 15 minutes should
be the max, unless you’re interviewing Osama Bin Laden.

Yeah, but what about the enormously popular For Immediate Release, Across the Sound, or Shrink Rap Radio, which all clock in at an hour minimum per episode? And I haven't heard Osama on any of them. (Yet).

2. Take your podcast seriously, not yourself. For example, don’t introduce yourself as “America’s most practical small-business marketing expert.” Do we need to be
prompted to think that?

That's a cheap shot at John Jantsch, who does Duct Tape Marketing. Admittedly, he's stopped calling himself that (I think). And it doesn't come across too well for me - just as well he has a great personality and easy manner to get beyond the hyperbole. But that's part of his brand, not just his podcast strategy - why pick on him?

Apart from that, there are some pretty good ideas for podcasters. Maybe not hard "do's", but some food for inspiration, anyway.


Originally uploaded by Wilhelm Augustus Hohenzollern
There's something to be said for unambiguity. And repetition. And repetition.


Originally uploaded by Wilhelm Augustus Hohenzollern
This made my morning. Who would have thought that government-owned New Zealand Post had such a rebellious streak?

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Cross-post: Gen C comes to Australia

Cross-posted from

Gen C hits Australia

A column in The Australian puts a start date on Generation C - 1985. It’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek column, but maybe there’s a bit of truth to it?

generation C (for communication, caring and compassion apparently). This generation, born in the late 1980s, is completely wired, does not believe anyone born before 1985 knows how to use Bluetooth or a DVD player let alone an electric wanger - sorry, I mean one of those new-fangled computers.

These children of the millennium create their own content online, and while generation X pays for an unlisted number and retreats ever deeper into its funkhole, gen C spends its time going public and talking about itself in neurotic detail on the web.

Every member of gen C is a celebrity - they must be; they all have a website, don’t they? Gen C was also taught to care. They not only want to save the whales, but forgive the fiends of Guantanamo and September 11.

They sound like every generation of idealistic youngsters: eager, cute and, sadly, about to run slap-bang into reality.

Already the article’s been picked up in the blogosphere, here, here and here.

Monday, 10 September 2007

What web 2.0 means ... semiotically, anyway

Umamiblog » Blog Archive » So, so true

And thanks to Jake Pearce for telling me what semiotics actually is. Jake, don't forget to come back from Europe! :)

Sunday, 9 September 2007

How well does your business facilitate?

AuthorHouse and iUniverse Join Forces to Change the Publishing Landscape: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance


Under Author Solutions, Inc., the World's Two Largest Providers of Publishing Services Will Expand Offerings to Give Authors More Choice and More Control (my emphasis)

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

I am a shameless Xero fanboy

Switched our accounting to Xero last night. Wooo!

It's good. It seems to do all the same things our old package did, but it does them cooler. And that is surprisingly very important, even for something like accounting.

What's so cool? The fact that there's a dashboard, the fact that I can click on just about anything for more information, and the fact that the "feedback" button is on every single page, and actually goes to someone who gives me an answer!

Well done, Drury, Morgan et al. Here's to all the success you deserve.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Co-creation at work

Feature: Please don't mess with this sign by Matt Nippert | New Zealand Listener

Very interesting stuff!

"The unlikely symbiosis between advertisers and those who hijack their campaigns."

Monday, 3 September 2007

Is this a hoax?

Or something that's desperately needed? The "about" video copy reads like "The Sound of Silence":

People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs
That voices never share
No one dare

visit NOSO

Maybe Wilf Jarvis was right?

Art of chatting face to face dying | The Daily Telegraph


Psychologist, Harvard Business School researcher and etiquette columnist Robin Abrahams says societies have become filled with shrinking violets.

"In the past, only about 40 per cent of people reported being shy in social situations,'' Ms Abrahams said.

"It's now a significant problem affecting about half.''


"Society is changing so rapidly it's becoming difficult to navigate. There's no longer a set of rules for appropriate behaviour,'' she said.

"At the same time, technology is enabling us to opt out of difficult situations and causing people to become more insular.


Ms Abrahams said the answer was in developing a new approach to teaching social skills.

"It can't be about the memorisation of customs as it was in the past, because there are too many potential situations and too much social change and cultural diversity.

"It needs to be more like chess, based on strategies and general principles.''

Ms Abrahams recommends two key strategies: communication and practice.

"Communicating with others about their expectations is a huge part of feeling comfortable socially,'' she said.

"And so is practice. Social interaction is like anything else: the more you do it the better you become.''

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Where is your competition coming from?

Interesting feature in the latest Hitwise NZ Newsletter: the local competitiveness index.

Turns out that in the "shopping and classifieds - house and garden" subcategory more than half of traffic is going overseas. I wonder how much of that traffic is turning into cash?

Reminds me of some interviews I did last year, all in the one week, where two Americans and a Kiwi who's worked in the UK warned businesses that there is no such thing as a domestic market any more.

Sure, you have companies that only sell to New Zealand, but their competition is from anywhere in the world. That takes the stakes way higher. Patriotism can only go so far, particularly when it's faced with convenience.

Diversity drives innovation - notes from this week's diversity symposium

I had such a great time at Thursday's Diversity Symposium, where I was the guest (thanks very much) of the EEO Trust, who put the event on.

Keynote speaker was Frans Johansson, who's well-qualified to speak about diversity, being part Afro-American, part Cherokee and part Swedish. He's the author of the book The Medici Effect.

Without further ado, my notes from Frans' presentation:

  • All new ideas are combinations of old ideas.
  • Some combinations aren't that exciting; eg spider + web. Big deal.
  • But what about spider + goat's milk? Strange, huh? Explore connections between the two and you actually get some of the material they make bulletproof vests out of.
  • Far apart ideas and cultures look at the same things differently -> creativity -> innovation
Then he looked at the characteristics of organisations and teams who create great ideas:
  • Corning Glass - the world's biggest glass provider - develops 4000 products a year; about 2% go to market.
  • Prince has about 1000 unreleased songs in his vault - they're not good enough for him to release.
  • You have to have lots of ideas to get the good ideas.
  • The most innovative teams fail the most. (Interestingly, I was hearing much the same thing in ResearchTalk's interview on excellence while waiting for the train Thurs. morning!)
  • Diverse teams generate more ideas.
Then he had a really cool example from the world of music: Tubular Bells.
  • If you were a rock musician in the 70s and you wanted to do something different, how many variables do you have? There are about 2400 combinations with traditional rock band equipment, chords and vocal styles.
  • And if you're a classical musician, you've got about 2400 different combinations to create a new piece of classical music.
  • Or you could mash them together like Mike Oldfield, who made an album that stayed at number one for something like 15 weeks!
And now some facts and figures from the world of business:
  • hp's quantum lab has 32 scientists from 13 different countries, and 13 disciplines. And no rules!
  • Took them 2 years to get established and working together as a team - but once they'd figured out which language to speak (!) they got to be one of the most productive research labs in the USA.
Then a few pieces of advice, supported by examples:
  • Find inspiration from fields and cultures other than your own - and dare to explore the connections.
  • Redefine what you do.
  • How to be number one: make a new category.
  • Combine curiosity, no fear and ideas.
  • Deliberately staff for innovation - different:
    • experiences
    • approaches
    • concepts
    • traditions
  • Diversity by design.
  • Example: L'Oreal - a French company with a British CEO - launched a hair product for African-American women (why didn't an American company do that?). They accidentally discovered a market of 1 billion people worldwide - all those women with African-origin hair, found in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe!
  • Example: Frit-o-lay had an affinity group (self-formed group of people with something in common) of Hispanics who recommended a guacamole-flavoured chip. In its first year it earned $100 million. Ees nice!
  • Ignite an explosion of ideas by selecting specific groups.
  • Eg Volvo had a concept car designed by all-female engineers. It had - among other things - a side hatch to fill up your washer fluid, instead of having to open the bonnet (or hood). Good only for women? Nah, great for everyone. Diversity drives innovation.
  • Intesect ideas from your global offices.
  • Example Cummins makes generators but makes profit from service. Good in Europe and US but in China there's no infrastructure, so they had to make their generators better so they won't need servicing so much. Ended up thrashing the competition and changing the business model!
Then Frans showed us a graph which showed that homogenous teams get productive straight away, but plateau after a while. Meanwhile, diverse teams take a while to get going but go on to outperform homogenous teams.

"The single most important leadership quality is to move the [time to get productive] to the left (of the graph - in other words to get productive , faster)"

Man there's so much great stuff here, I'm going to have to do another post shortly. Time for tea now!