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Voting with your wallet

November 30, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve been ranting to enough people over glasses (numerous) of wine recently that it was bound to turn up eventually in my blog. The subject being my general and growing unease with corporate entities who engage in tax avoidance shenanigans. It riles me even more when the same people use “The consumer gets a better price” as an excuse. (Sure, you get cheap books but your kid’s school now can’t afford books – see the problem here?)

Image source & copyright: Guardian.co.uk

Obligatory Guardian sourced image (note the Guardian are owned by an offshore based trust so they are certainly not getting off scott free)

I’ve had pretty heated discussions about politics with many friends/ colleagues/ family over the years, and I must state now that my general views trend towards redistributionism, especially for unearned income, but this is not the aim of this post. There are endless discussions to be had around inheritance/equality of opportunity and the like, and I’ll leave those for another time. This blog is more about the feeling that corporate entities, especially, if they benefit from the market that a population provides (including a stable political system in which to do business; transport infrastructure to get their staff and customers to their locations; police and safety institutions that keep their money, customers and staff safe; and an education system that provides them with qualified staff) they should be contributing fairly to the taxes that fund that crucial infrastructure. I am far from thinking that making money is evil in of itself, and I’m plenty happy for companies to live or die by their levels of competitiveness/product range/R&D etc. I am much less comfortable when the reason they can undercut others’ prices is because they’re swerving payments that other operators have to pay by law.

I’m not expecting everyone to agree with me, but there is a growing movement across the UK in particular to shame both public figures and multinational companies into facing the results of their actions. Starbucks, Amazon and Google are well known companies that have been used as poster boys for how not to act (and how not to brief your senior executives for questions with an MP). There is also troubling evidence for these companies that consumers are not happy about their actions.

The Mission: Ethical Shopping

ethical shoppingThe fury that some companies create is often dismissed as “the politics of envy” and I’m sure there are some people for whom resentment of people richer than them has an ugly core of jealousy – but there is a very real issue of equality – not of money, but equality of tax treatment, at the heart of this issue, which definitely makes my hackles rise. The government should definitely be sorting it out, as it’s a farce that multi-jurisdictional entities are able to avoid payments that smaller companies cannot avoid, but until they do, I’m on my own personal mission to positively discriminate where possible towards those of whose actions I approve.

It’s not going to be possible to totally change my purchasing (and hey, I work in advertising, that well known ethical sector) but if I can  make a few key changes then I’ll be happier that I’m making a difference, even if small.

Task 1) Change bank account.

A few years ago I changed my personal account to Smile, the internet offshoot of the Co-operative Bank, and have been really happy with them, so my next step was to move our joint account also. As I do with everything, I tried to do it all online at first but because Jules wasn’t around at the same time and with joint accounts you need both people there,it became a bit of a chore and it was easier to register with the Co-operative Bank themselves and receive the application details by post, which made the process take a few more days (and sacrificed a few trees needlessly ;).

Once that had been done, they contacted our previous bank (Barclays) and all the direct debits were moved over seamlessly. We were given a temporary £1,000 overdraft in case there was a mismatch of bills/salary payments during the crossover period (which there was so it came in handy).

All in all, pretty easy and I now have the added smugness of knowing that my finances aren’t contributing to dictators or weapons supply.

Ease – 2 out of 5, (5 being the most difficult)

tree hugging

Tree hugging of course

Task 2) Green energy

I have been a typical “switcher” with my energy supply over the last few years – changing my supplier every year or so, following the cheap deals and trying to save money above all else. There has always been an element of greenery poking through the decision process – I’ll often pay a little bit more to get a greener tariff, for instance, but the majority of energy has always been from traditional sources reflecting the average UK supply – natural gas, coal fired power stations etc.

I decided this time to put my money where my mouth is and go for the largest green element to energy supply that I could find, which turned out to be 100% of electricity with Ovo Energy, although gas is still mostly North Sea supplied as right now we can’t yet use cow farts in the national gas network :). The good thing is that my bills still appear to be the same, but I’m benefiting from the smug factor again.

Next up – food, books, xmas presents…..

Two notes:

For anyone interested, there’s some great research in Ethical Consumer Magazine between providers in various sectors  and you can choose the issues you care about – eco, green, veggie, tax etc, so that the recommendations fit your needs. )

Apology that the book lover link is linking to Amazon. You don’t have to buy from there, in fact I positively encourage you to go to your local independent bookshop instead.

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Business Is Personal

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Slightly out of my usual ranty character on this blog, I’m publishing a piece I wrote for the Brandrepublic Career Blog which is going to be published in the next couple of weeks. I thought I’d cover it here too because it’s concerning my fundamentals about doing business – and indeed building relationships in all sorts of spheres, in which I think it’s crucial that you are true to yourself and the other people, and live out your beliefs.

Last month’s Online Adspend figures from the IAB give us some data to prove what we all know within the digital industry – not only is digital now the single largest part of all advertising spend (28% over TVs 26% of all advertising spending) but it continues to grow at a recession-defying pace.

With the advertising market overall predicted to grow by around 3% in 2012 (source), digital advertising jauntily grew by 12.6% year on year in the first half of 2012, with paid search maintaining its place as both the largest portion of this (59%) and the fastest growing (15.9% year on year).

This of course is great news for those of us in this industry – our jobs are relatively secure in a world where many other sectors are shedding staff in droves. What these figures don’t tell of course is the underlying story of staff churn and salary inflation created by these figures.

Having worked in digital since 1999, and agencies since 2005 I’ve been a grateful career benefactor of digital supply and demand, and also seen the impact of these issues first hand as manager of digital and search agency teams.

When I joined MediaCom to run the UK paid search department in 2011 I inherited a team of 38 people that had been churning at a rate of over 75% for the last two years.  The reasons were many but not unfamiliar – a great training ground created a bank of very employable staff, who were approached weekly by recruitment consultants/other agencies and offered hugely tempting salaries – which are easy to afford if you don’t have to fund the costs of training or unproductivity for new and management staff during the training process.

Add this to the youth of the agency sector and the fact that most graduates start with a huge debt burden, and it’s not surprising we have the perfect storm for huge staff churn, with all its negative effects on team morale, consistency in client work and time spent recruiting rather than making our teams and our work better.

My approach has always been to treat business as personal. Every decision that we make has an impact on our colleagues, clients and the wider community and it pays to remember that the people you meet will be around to help or hinder you for the rest of your career. Now that any mishap in business or personal life can also be broadcast across the entire Twittersphere within moments, it’s even more important that we are personally involved and authentic in all our professional relationships –besides – who wants to live 1/3 of every day as someone you’re not?

It can’t all be lovely fluffiness of course – we all have bills to pay and clients to service – so for this reason when managing a team I use a two pronged approach to all people management tasks:

Structural foundation: No organisation can work without the building blocks of what, who, and how. Each role within a team needs to have a job description, a personalised set of objectives for each member (based on their client mix, their skills and career aims, and the market’s possibilities), that ensure that the client’s and business needs are fulfilled.

In something as fast changing as digital, with new technologies and partners, the operational tasks that make up the objectives are likely to be changing on a regular basis, so as a minimum 1:1s are needed every 3 months to check that things are on track and the world hasn’t changed under our feet. The detail of the steps may change but career progression needs to be clearly signposted and recognised when it is achieved. Nothing is more demotivating than running just to keep still.

The personal approach: One of the best known theories in psychology is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in which Maslow contends that once we satisfy our basic physical needs (food, shelter), we move onto satisfying social and status needs, and finally work our way through to self-actualisation – and hopefully finding a real purpose in our lives. Taking the workplace as a microcosm of society, we can have people at multiple levels of this hierarchy within any one team, and crucially it will not necessarily correlate to their career maturity. There will be some who are grateful to just have an income, those who desperately need more money, some who embrace the new and require fast progression or a new job title, and those who need flexibility around their family needs or just want to be with their friends. As a manager our role is to figure out what each team member’s drivers are, and how to satisfy those within the realms of our professional and personal capabilities.

The point is that there is no all encompassing perfect approach – it is different for each member of staff, and keeping up with them all certainly keeps us on our feet. Happily my tenure at MediaCom search saw the staff churn levels from 75% to 28% within less than two years, so I am taking that as a sign of success.

Oh, and remember – you can’t win them all. When people do leave; as they sometimes will for reasons outside your control; let them leave with a smile. You will come across them again – I promise – and you’ll be glad to.