The mother of all shows

Mobile World Congress in Barcelona really is quite the event. This year saw somewhere in the region of 110,000 attendees cram the halls, bars, and restaurants of what is a marvellous city. The crowd in the 90k-capacity Nou Camp stadium for Barcelona’s league game on Wednesday was small compared to the show – and it was easier to get onto the Metro train afterwards as well.

I wrote in a Facebook post that you have to praise the event. It is a commercial runaway express train. I’ve never seen the halls as crowded on the first morning of the show as they were this year. And although it is a very different show to the one I first went to in Cannes 22 years ago, some things don’t change – but more of that later.

The Cannes event, with its few thousand delegates, was a place were the mobile infrastructure vendors looked to meet and seal deals with network operators, and where smaller innovative companies in the same space tried to sell to the bigger players – other vendors, integrators or the operators themselves.

These days the headlines at the show are usually grabbed by handset vendors launching new devices, or by driverless cars, or keynote speeches by star names from the Internet – this year it was the CEO of Netflix. The exhibition halls are awash with smart toys from Swiss watch companies or drone manufacturers, and with video glasses, and Virtual Reality headsets; most of which have very little to do with real mobile infrastructure.

But despite the high profile nature of the event these days, I actually felt this year’s show was a little light on headline news. Blackberry’s handset launch garnered some attention, but in a relatively young industry the wave of nostalgia that surrounded the return of Nokia to the handset market with its retro 3310 was in some ways as disappointing as it was fun.

When the innovation on show is a return to past glories, that does seem at odds with an industry that is constantly looking forward. Having said that, the warmth and goodwill that accompanied the launch was fun to see. Of course, sales will be the final arbiter of its success, but it would be great to have a strong European brand back in the handset market.

On the conference stage, the news that incoming GSMA Chairman Sunny Mittal of Bharti Telecom intends to scrap roaming charges during his time at the helm will be welcomed by businesses, consumers, and regulators all over the world. However, not all operators will be smiling and the move will throw up some interesting commercial as well as technical challenges – especially for subscribers living close to land borders.

And while on the giant booths of the big infrastructure vendors and operators, the talk was all 5G; in the corners of the booths and halls, and in small meeting rooms, the old show still very much exists. One relatively small UK start-up I chatted to had held eight, one hour-long, meetings every day in its cubicle-sized meeting room in Hall two. They had been back-to-back without a break and often had to send one or two of the team to have parallel meetings in the coffee bar.

Which means, that despite all the glitz and the glamour; at its heart, MWC remains THE place where the mobile industry comes to do business. After more than 20 years, that’s quite an achievement in itself. And next February, we’ll gather to do it all again.

Peace breaks out at telco pantomime

Peace eventually broke out after a pantomime style opening to a panel session on reinventing the telco business model moderated by AsiaInfo’s VP of Global Product Marketing Andy Tiller at the Total Telecom Congress last week.

It started when Fernando Nunez Mendoza, the founder and CEO of Spanish firm fonYou Telecom, delivered the ‘oh no you can’t moment’ when he said operators shouldn’t innovate because when they did – “it doesn’t work.”

Unfortunately, joining Mendoza on the panel was Telefonica’s MD of digital commerce, Robert Franks – who just happens to be the executive charged with helping the global operator develop and deliver innovative new services.  Mendoza had explained that he thought telcos should concentrate on finding the right partnerships and should leave the innovation to those companies.

As might be expected Franks delivered the ‘oh yes we can’ reply to Mendoza’s opening salvo.  He agreed that partners were important to the future operator business model but also spoke about the need for operators to be active themselves and to look for new areas of business to develop and grow.

Andy had started by asking the panel, which also included Vivian Woodell, chief executive of the user-owned and run MVNO The Phone Co-Op, whether the traditional telco business model was doomed and how they saw the saw it evolving?

Woodell’s view was that, while the giant global telcos can often stifle market innovation from the smaller players; by concentrating on business rather than technical innovation, he believed that smaller telcos could in fact thrive and create their own market niche.

Mendoza picked up on the point and cited a service fonYou is developing for operators in Latin America. He said that they were providing real-time credit scoring and analysis for pre-pay operators to enable them to issue micro-credits and therefore maintain data connectivity to targeted customers even if they had a zero balance.

“There is no need to deprive a customer of data connectivity for one day when you know from your credit analysis and scoring that they will have funds tomorrow,” he said.

And Franks admitted, with a tip of the hat towards Mendoza’s opening comments, that with all the innovation on offer from smaller nimble players in the market, it was hard for operators to find gaps in the market for new products.  He did however highlight some O2 successes – including GifGaf, the Just Call Me conference call app, and the Voice over WiFi services that could be offered to the 23m O2 UK WiFi customers.

And, in a sentiment that moderator Tiller and all the panellists agreed with, Franks also said: “While connectivity has never been more important, operators must not allow their business model to drift down to a simple commodity service based on price.”

This led Tiller to ask whether operator innovation should be based on monetizing customer insights and collaborative services with third-party players.  I was interested to see how the answers from the panel matched AsiaInfo’s own research into these areas.

Not surprisingly, both Mendoza and Franks thought that monetizing that data through partnerships had tremendous potential for innovation and carefully targeted growth.

Franks, in fact, explained how O2 already uses bulk, anonymised customer data in its Smart Steps service – which provides transport and planning authorities with detail on the mass movement of people.  Mendoza meanwhile outlined a service his company was developing with operators in South America looking to carefully mine customer data in order to provide targeted offers or services to customers.

In contrast, Woodell instinctively felt, that monetizing its customer database was against the principles of The Phone Group and its member-run ethos.  However, he accepted his business wasn’t particularly representative of the industry and he also didn’t completely shut the door on the idea; instead saying that he was open to the idea of working with some ‘ethical” data mining companies, but only with full transparency and the agreement of the full member base rather than just its management team.

Despite the apparent disagreements at the start, the panel did come together and peace broke out on the innovation issue with everyone agreeing that innovative operator thinking was certainly required, that the telco model would continue to evolve, and that partners were going to be crucial to the process.

And the way the discussion developed, it certainly seemed that the collaboration initiatives, that companies like AsiaInfo are looking to help telcos deliver, are exactly what is needed to support the business model transformation that is undoubtedly underway.

This is a tough choice

The 2016 CIPR election is underway, voting opens on Monday and I’m standing for a seat on the Council.  It’s a tough choice facing members with some 17 candidates standing for eight places.

But if the choice for Council is difficult, at least you get eight votes and there will be eight winners.  Although for all members reading this, I urge you to give due consideration to your order of choice as it really, really matters.  Candidates need those high placed selections to make it through the various rounds of voting – so if you are thinking of voting for me, please give me one of your top two votes.

However, this blog is about the vote for President elect, where we have three great candidates, but there can only be one winner.

Since the Presidential hustings last week (which I attended in person) and the start of official campaigning on Monday, I have been asked a number of times who would I be voting for as our 2018 President.  As I was one of Emma Leech’s ten nominees for the election, that should be a very simple question to answer – but it isn’t.

I have known and worked with Sarah Hall for many years, and we previously served on the CIPR Board together.  Sarah is a tireless, energetic campaigner for our profession and a passionate advocate for the causes she supports.

Before Thursday’s hustings, I did not really know Gary Taylor, but I was impressed with his candour and disarming style during the panel debate at the hustings.

And then there’s Emma – who I first met when I was judging the Excellence awards one year and she came into the panel interview session and blew us all away with the strategic and tactical strength of the campaign she had led, and the passion she showed for the profession.

Gary: I have to say you are a brave man, because you are up against two formidable, powerhouse PR practitioners who radiate strength of character, who will be fearless in their defence and promotion of the profession, and who both have it within them to truly inspire a generation.

But only one of Sarah and Emma can get my number one vote on the ballot paper – though if I am elected to Council it will be a privilege to serve with whoever wins.  And that person will be Emma.  I find much to support on both Emma and Sarah’s election platforms, but on balance prefer Emma’s “old school values with new school thinking” approach.

I think Emma will be a progressive but pragmatic leader of the Institute and is well placed to strengthen our partnerships with other professional bodies and institutes, which I think is crucial to the future success of our Chartered Practitioner programme.

There can only be one winner, and two losers in this election for President. But the CIPR will not be a loser.  With these strong candidates, the CIPR can only be a winner.

It’s about purpose, status and reason

It’s about Making Membership Meaningful

So I’m standing for election to the CIPR Council – the body that helps set the strategic direction of the Institute and provides the checks and balances of oversight for its elected Board and full-time staff.

In many ways, I think the CIPR is in pretty good shape. The changes it has undergone in recent years have returned it to profitability and restored its purpose.  I think the developments that I introduced during my time as Treasurer and as President were significant steps on the road to profitability; but it is the work of the Presidents that followed that helped restore the purpose.

The challenge now is to ensure that purpose is recognised, to respond to competitive pressures the Institute faces, and to make the most of its point of differentiation.

The PRCA’s decision to rebrand, and to drop Consultants from its name, is the latest step on its move towards becoming almost a copycat body.  Remember, just a few years ago, the PRCA was a trade association for PR agencies. There was clear blue water between the trade body (PRCA) and the individual membership body, our professional Institute, the CIPR.

That is no longer the case.  The PRCA now accepts “in-house” teams into membership; it also has individual members; it has Fellows, it has a Council, it runs a regional award scheme called DARE – a name that has echoes of the CIPR’s well established PRIDE Awards.  I think the loss of the clear blue water between the two organisations is a shame – but I can understand and even admire the commercial motivation that has brought the PRCA closer and closer to the CIPR model.

But only the CIPR has the Royal Charter.  And only the CIPR can award Chartered status to individuals in the profession, and also approve the University degrees and courses that can create the path to Accredited and then Chartered Practitioner.

So the task facing the CIPR now, and its elected Board and Council, is to ensure that Chartered status – both of the Institute and the individuals who achieve it – is not only widely recognised but highly valued across the profession.

Because then, when someone asks me – “why should I join the CIPR?” the answer becomes simple. To get Chartered, to get respect and recognition for your skills, to get a new job, to get a promotion or win a major piece of business.  To get better.  Or, in the words of our President-elect Jason McKenzie: “to be hired first, paid more and promoted faster.”

So if you elect me to the CIPR Council – I promise to do my bit to ensure that the Institute, its Council, its board, its staff and its volunteers, are given the tools to get that message out to our existing and potential members, to employers, and to other professional bodies and influencers.   Because if we deliver on that; we make membership meaningful both for those in the tent and for those that wish to enter.


Time to stand up for PR

I’m standing for election to the CIPR Council.  Here’s my candidate statement that explains the reasons:

The Challenge

It is often said that any organisation is only as good as the people within it; for a member organisation like the CIPR, it can only ever be as good as its staff, its many volunteers, its elected officers, and its wider membership.

Pleasingly, we are blessed with a good, committed Head office team, and our volunteers up and down the country continue to put their heart, soul, and spare time into running events and encouraging participation.  Our elected officers and council members are also driven by a need to improve professional standards, to act in the best interests of our membership, and strive to protect and enhance the respect and reputation of our ever-changing and evolving profession.

And yet, and yet: many of our existing members remain unengaged; they do not value their membership, and they number only a minority of working UK PR professionals. This weakens the Institute. As yet, we have not succeeded in delivering such a compelling case for membership that it becomes a de facto choice.

The Good News

In my view, the CIPR has never been in a better place to significantly grow its base and, in the process, to strengthen its voice, its stature, and its influence.  We have a re-vamped CPD scheme, and have made changes to the route to Chartered Practitioner status that is encouraging greater participation.  These are all moves that can make a difference to our appeal to potential members of all ages and backgrounds.

The task facing your new elected leadership will be to get the message out to all those working in our profession – and to other professional bodies and employers – that individual CIPR membership, participation in its CPD scheme, and planning a route to Chartered status with a commitment to lifelong learning is the gold standard.

Gold standard applicants should have an edge; gold standard applicants should be at the front of the queue for jobs, contracts, account wins, promotions.  Gold standard applicants will be Chartered CIPR members.


The message

I have said many times that we need to make membership meaningful – for our existing members and for those we wish to recruit.  We will not do that through improved member benefits no matter how welcome and excellent the new Influence magazine is, and no matter well we run our regional and national awards schemes – both of which, incidentally, set gold standards.

No, we will make membership meaningful because it is recognised that without it, personal career progression and personal standing and reputation is diminished.  That is message to get across.  And if you elect me to serve on the council, that is the message I will work to deliver.

About me:

The CIPR has played a major role in my professional life – as a student member, a sectoral member, a regional chair, board member, Treasurer, and President. I am now an independent practitioner, working in technology PR, and an active Fellow keen to help build on the good work of recent Presidents.