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Mobile manners when we’re left to our own devices


There’s a rule in our house; when we sit down to eat, mobile phones, tablets and so on are a no-no.

With three kids, it’s a rule that’s sometimes hard to enforce, and it’s getting tougher.

And the reason for that is clear. We’re spending more and more time on these devices. Which of us has not sat in a room where everyone has been concentrating on their phone or tablet, in complete silence apart from the clicking of fingers on buttons and the odd chuckle?

We are now clearly a Smartphone society. They’ve overtaken laptops as internet users’ device of choice, and we’re spending around two hours a day on them. That’s a whole month of ever year. We watch two months of TV each per year (including time spent on Smartphones). I’m setting the ‘rights and wrongs’ of how much time we spend on our devices or watching TV to one side. There’s no doubt we love being on them and they’re often a vital source of information.

And they’re fun. Hands up if you’ve yet to take a selfie?

Fundamentally what it demonstrates is our thirst for access to information and a need for the ability to communicate, often instantaneously.

Interestingly, it also throws up the subject of what might be termed Mobile Manners. According to Ofcom, when we’re sitting down as families or friends together to eat, the majority of people think it’s unacceptable to update their social media status. We’re not Tweeting whilst we’re eating. So there are still certain boundaries, but I suppose precisely what they are depends on the nature of our relationship with those in whose company we find ourselves. Most people will check their Smartphone within five minutes of waking up, but will call and buy a card for a family member on their birthday rather than dropping them a text.
All of which means we’re spending more time online because we like it, it’s useful and in its way it’s timeless. We’re gregarious creatures and, though the way we communicate is changing, staying in touch and exchanging news and views is in our blood.

Is it to the detriment of conversation? Are we losing the art of how to engage, and understanding that listening can be as important as talking?

In order to answer that, I’m thinking of suggesting we introduce one evening a week in our household when all devices are banned, and we talk.

Now, would anyone like to tell my kids for me?

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Robert De Niro’s walking… how to give a media interview


“I’m not doing it, darling,” to quote Robert De Niro, is not a sentence most people can afford to say during a media interview. Particularly if you’re accused of messing up.

It’s been a week in which high profile people cutting short or walking out of major interviews has become the angle of the story.

First we had the Hollywood legend (let’s refer to The Deer Hunter rather than Meet the Fockers) making a sharp exit from a Radio Times interview, and then international architect Zaha Hadid halted a Radio 4 Today interview due to allegedly poorly researched questions.

De Niro’s and Hadid’s actions may have done little to harm their reputations long term if at all. But if you’ve never won an Oscar or don’t possess a damehood, then the chances are that getting snotty with journalists is not an option.

For us mere mortals, the best way to resist the urge to walk out of an interview, no matter how tough or excruciating it gets, is simple. Prepare.

But if you haven’t received formal media training, here are seven tips to help make your meeting with that ITV journalist next week go a little bit smoother.

  • Give thought to the worst question they might ask you and have a response in mind
  • Perform a mock interview with a colleague or close friend and get someone else to observe and feed back on how you did
  • Don’t try to defend in indefensible. If there’s something to apologise for then do so and then talk about what you’re doing to put things right
  • Don’t think you need to memorise 20 key corporate messages; there’s nothing worse than listening to a blatantly scripted interview. Two key messages are enough, and come back to them throughout the interview
  • Have a colourful anecdote up your sleeve. Talking about real life scenarios will make you look human
  • Don’t say the interviewer’s name when answering questions; it looks like you’re trying too hard to ingratiate yourself
  • Smile throughout, even if it’s radio or print

As experts in media training and interviews, these are just some of the tried and tested techniques that we teach business leaders and individuals at Clarke Associates to help ensure a successful media interview. Other techniques require a classroom setting, if they’re to be fully absorbed and understood.

If you find yourself in front of a camera, microphone or notepad and pen and manage to deploy some of the above to good effect, we’d love to know how you got on.


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Is the business card dead?



What an embarrassment!  There I was, at a Council meeting of Birmingham Chamber introducing myself to a guest speaker, suddenly realising that – having put on a freshly dry cleaned suit – I had omitted to put any business cards in my top pocket (which is where I normally keep them).

It was even more embarrassing because the individual I was approaching was from China – and the Chinese take business card etiquette very seriously indeed.

The gentleman was gracious in the extreme, handing his own pristine card over to me with two hands according to Chinese business card etiquette.  I did at least have the nous to study it carefully before placing it in my pocket (which I think is culturally correct).

The Chinese, it has to be said, are very keen on business cards and up until a few years ago, I thought that most Westerners were also.  And yet I read that they are on the decline – another casualty of our LinkedIn/Facebook/Email/Google Plus culture that seems to be demolishing everything I used to hold dear.

But actually, I am going to predict something of a counter-revolution.  Business cards are, I believe, an extension of your brand.  They can say a great deal about your business, what you do and who you represent.  They can include all the information that you need to enable people to link in to you with ease – as well as being a mini sales brochure at a time when sales brochures seem to have died out also.

They can also provide something of an ice breaker.

A few years ago, our business cards had different quotations about communications on the reverse side – there were about eight in all printed at random and I used to select the card with the quotation I thought most appropriate to the individual that I was presenting it to – or the situation.  Not once do I believe I offended anyone with my choice although I might have frustrated them as I shuffled through to find the most appropriate.

Then there are the business cards printed on unusual materials: metal, plastic, vinyl and even, believe it or not, concrete.

I was even more amused once, to receive a card that incorporated two finger holes in it together with a suitable graphic – for a fitness instructor (you’d have to see it to understand it fully).

So business cards still have a role to play – provided that is you remember to take them with you.

PS There was however, one occasion when I was less amused to receive a business card.

I had been chairing a breakfast meeting that, even though I say it myself, I thought had gone extraordinarily well.  There was good engagement with the audience, a few laughs and the guest speaker was excellent.  I’d even closed the meeting on schedule.

I was just starting to relax after my early morning ordeal when a lady, who will be nameless, marched up to me and presented me with her business card.  “I thought you might like this she said.  I’d be happy to help.”

There on the card, was presented her profession: personal speech coach.

Utterly deflated, I took a great deal of pleasure by later throwing it in the bin.

Clarke Associates has recently produced new business cards that include all our contact details including personal LinkedIn addresses.

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Going to read anything nice on your holidays?


One of the real pleasures of social media, to my mind, is its ability to open you up to so much material you might not otherwise discover.

In particular, books. Stuck for something to read on your hols this year? Jump on Twitter and ask around. Looking for opinions on books from people whose views you’d respect? Ask on Facebook.

I did just that recently; posted on Facebook asking people to whom I’m connected to recommend a good holiday read. I’m not sure we get the time we used to in order to devote to reading anything lengthy, and on reflection my online plea bears testament to that. I didn’t want to take pot luck, I wanted to be reading something safe in the knowledge that it had been recommended by someone whose views I respected. In short, I wanted to be guaranteed that any book I’m going to be getting my sticky, suncreamed paws on this year is going to be Any Good.

You do, of course, have to factor in the jokers. I was never going to take up the Harry Potter offers (I’m 53, not three), and wisecracks about crayons and join-the-dots had to be borne with what good grace I could muster.

But, I must say, the results my post elicited were great. Books I’d never heard of about and by people I’d never heard of suddenly became intriguing little nuggets and something to look forward to in the weeks ahead.

Previously my research had been restricted to trawling through Radio Four archives or scouring the Sunday supplements (you can rest assured “Fifty Great Summer Reads” will be appearing soon in a weekend paper near you).

But now I’ve ended up with the requisite three books, and am as confident as I can be that I’m in for some stonking good reads. And if not, well, I can always make my voice heard on social media.

Mark Whitehouse – July 2015

 PS The books Mark will be reading on his holidays are:

  • Do No Harm, by Henry Marsh
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce
  • Rock Stars Stole My Life, by Mark Ellen

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Monte Carlo or Bust



Monte Carlo or Bust is the ultimate European banger rally adventure; buy a car for £300 or less; hit Europe’s greatest roads and in five days you’re in Monte Carlo! Plus you’ve raised money for charity too.

And that’s exactly what Jo Thurston of our client Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust, and her co-driver Kate Burley are doing: driving an old yellow banger – an eye-catching yellow Renault Megane to be precise – from Bridgnorth to Monte Carlo starting 15th July 2015, to raise money for two children’s charities.

Jo and Kate are also taking the ‘yellow theme’ a stage further – dressed as characters from the Wizard of Oz. They plan to share their stories about the adventure on their Facebook page. The “Top Gear” style event includes France, Switzerland and Italy, finally pulling up in front of Casino Royale in Monte Carlo. The trip is in aid of Stacey’s Trust, a group supporting children in Shropshire who have lost someone special in their lives, and The Teenage Cancer Trust, the only charity dedicated to giving young people with cancer, the support and treatment they need.

As you might expect, their bid has our full support with a box of yellow goodies for them to enjoy on route as well as supporting them on their 1029.6 mile journey. If you would like to help fund raising target, you can make a donation here, via Just giving: Donate now

Good luck ladies and have a great time!


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Top 10 tips for social media success

You don’t need me to tell you how important social media is – 1.7 billion people across the world have active social media accounts and that’s growing day by day. Creating successful social media channels take time and dedication, but are an important way for brands to engage with both current and future customers/clients. Here are my top 10 tips for maximising your channels.

1) Work out which channels work for you

There’s no point in joining every social media channel you can find if you’re not going to have the time to invest in them. Consider the nature of your audience and what channels they will be using. Twitter is often a good starting point as there are people of all ages who use it and you can select targeted people to follow in the hope that they will follow you back. If you’re looking to post fun and shareable content that you think people will enjoy looking at in their spare time, try Facebook. To engage with businesses and professionals, the obvious choice is LinkedIn.

Oh and whilst you’re there, don’t forget about Instagram – which now has more users than Twitter. Just make sure you have some nice images to put on it of course.

2) Spend time researching and developing strong content

‘Content is king’ might be the most overused phrase in marketing, but it really is true. If you want your channels to do well then you’re going to need to spend some time developing the content and your website – working out what you want to say about your brand. Could you get some video testimonials from clients? Is there anything fun happening in the office that you could take pictures of or blog about? Seen an article that you think your audience might enjoy?

Build yourself a content strategy build the key times of the year for your business into it – if Christmas or the school holidays are a really important time for you, make the most of those.

3) Develop a clear tone of voice

For most brands, a friendly tone of voice is key. Your customers/clients want to know that there’s someone behind the account that’s interacting with them, so don’t be afraid to put a little bit of personality into it – “We love this hilarious article by…” “It was great to see our client Sarah today…”.

My old university, Aston, does this really well. They keep the tweets nice and simple when referring to schemes and events targeted at businesses and the wider community, but come across really friendly when chatting with students.

4) Deal with queries and feedback in a friendly and efficient way

There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to contact a company through social media, and them not replying. Keep an eye on your channels as often as you can and try and reply to any queries efficiently and politely.

More and more customers are now using social media as a quick way to complain or give negative feedback. The worst thing you can do is ignore these messages – tell them that you’re really sorry to hear about their bad experience and encourage them to email or direct message you to discuss this further away from the public’s eye. London Midland are a good example of this on Twitter – they are bombarded with messages from delayed commuters and are always quick to apologise and offer explanations.

5) Use images

It’s been proven that posts with images are more likely to get interaction, so have a think about images that could accompany your posts – get snapping when you’re out and about! Graphics are great too if you know someone who can make them. You can find all the sizing information you need here.

6) Join other people’s conversations

Twitter gives you the power to search key terms, so use it to search for people who might be interested in you. Search key words around what you’re selling/doing and join in people’s conversations without doing the hard sell. You can do this on Facebook too by looking for pages or groups in your area or industry and interacting with them.

7) Have a look at what the competition are doing

What are your competitors doing? What’s working well for them? If they’ve got some brilliant ideas, think about how you could use them for your brand – is there similar websites you could post articles from? Could you spend time taking nice pictures like theirs? Just don’t be too much of a copycat!

8) Use free tools to help you

Social media management dashboards are making everyone’s lives a lot easier because they allow you to schedule all your posts and monitor your channels at once – and they’re free! My personal favourite is Hootsuite, it’s really simple to use and will even put your posts out for you at what it deems the most popular times.

9) Offer incentives if appropriate

If you can run a competition, these can be really popular and help to grow your audience by encouraging people to share your posts with their contacts. Use it to get user-generated content by asking customers to send in testimonials or images about your product or service in order to win.

10) Use analytics

Make sure you’re tracking what you’re doing so you can see if it’s working. Facebook and Twitter now have their own analytics that work really well – they can help you see week on week whether your numbers are growing and help you establish which posts are most popular. Keep a track of them in a spreadsheet so you can track your growth over longer periods of time.

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A politician. A communicator. A man who knew the power of broadcast.


Much has been said and even more will be written during the course of the next few days about Charles Kennedy, former Lib Dem leader and overall, someone widely respected and reckoned to be “one of the good guys”.

Yes, like all of us, he had his failings but it is as a communicator that many will personally remember him – and a brilliant communicator at that.

He had the ability to convey his message politely but firmly; to embrace his audience but rarely to antagonise; to set out a vision and encourage his followers to believe in it. The twinkle in his eye revealed a man of great humour but also of great integrity.

I had the privilege of sitting next to him during a business lunch at which he was speaking. It must have been around 2002 when he was two or three years into his LibDem leadership and he had secured the LibDems’ extraordinary election gains. He was an affable man (although slightly more reserved than I imagined he would be), engaging in his approach but also a little more nervous about his forthcoming talk than I would anticipate for such an accomplished performer.

And then we got onto his appearances on BBC’s Have I got news for you? I commented that I hadn’t seen him recently and asked if, in view of his current commitments, he had decided to turn his back on what could have been an impressive broadcasting career. He turned the question on me. “You’re in PR. What would you advise if I was a client?” he asked.

The implication of course, was that it – the programme – was too frivolous. Not serious enough for a serious politician. But…personally, I enjoyed his appearances on the show – and not in the excruciating way in which we watch for the likes of other politicians. John Prescott comes to mind.

“You should continue,” I said thinking that straight talking was the order of the day. “You reach many more people than you will on a party political broadcast. And they probably listen too,” I added. (Today, entertainment programmes such as HIGNFY reach around 17% of the audience; party political broadcasts just 0.1%.)

It was sheer bravado on my part. An immediate reaction when such advice should be properly considered and the options analysed.

He nodded, said he’d think it through and a few years later did indeed re-appear on the programme- both as a panellist and as guest presenter – and also as a great communicator.

But I don’t think for one minute that my advice was instrumental. He was a man who I reckon followed his own instinct. And communicated it well.

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From Turnov to Wythall



Hello, I am Vojtech – a student of product design from Zelezny Brod in Czech Republic. I was given the opportunity to undertake work experience at the start of my school year and I was lucky enough to be chosen by Clarke Associates to do a four week placement.

When I first arrived at Clarke Associates I was little bit scared, because I wasn’t used to the workplace environment and I found my understanding of English wasn’t as great as I had thought! I’d soon met everybody in the office and the graphic designer Ian showed me my work station. There was a computer and room to do some sketching – it was time to get started!

One of my first tasks was to design a logo for a marketing campaign Clarke Associates are currently working on with the Peak District National Park. I started by browsing the web to find some inspiration; I did some sketches and then started to design using Adobe Illustrator. After creating some concepts I sent it over to Ian to show the client. I also worked on some illustrations to accompany the code of conduct, and helped Ian create icons for use on the trails.

By the time I started my second week, I already felt my understanding of English was getting better. I was getting used to the work environment and felt that everyone was really friendly. My next task was to design a poster for Warwick Music Group’s pBone competition Bone Idol, a competition in which students nominate their trombone idol to win a session with plastic trombones for their school. I put together many different concepts and variants of the poster, worked on a postcard and put together cover photos for Facebook and Twitter too.

I’ve also been designing a cover for a guide to Birmingham, I was unsure about how to approach it. Now I’ve tackled it, I think it was some of my best work. I started by searching for some suitable photos of iconic Birmingham landmarks like the Bullring, the Cube and The Library of Birmingham, before sketching five different concepts.

I have really enjoyed my work experience at Clarke Associates and I am really glad to have had the opportunity. I think it has been beneficial for a number of reasons – I got hands-on experience, I learnt about a new culture and I got to practise my English.

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Looking East: Clarke Associates forges China partnership


Over the past few months Clarke Associates has been working on the creation of a China business unit, calling on the knowledge and insights I gained whilst living and working in Beijing.

Our efforts are starting to bear fruit; we’re incredibly excited to announce that we have forged a formal partnership with Hong Kong-based public relations agency ETMG.

Part of the work involves assisting with native English copywriting and editing for major global clients, whilst another part involves gaining knowledge and expertise in SEO for China’s top search engine Baidu and in Chinese social media channels like Weibo and Wechat.

The work is proving both interesting and challenging as we seek to deliver against an eight-hour time difference.

Using Mandarin, we are able to cross reference the Chinese copy to ensure that the content is not only reproduced in native English but is also an accurate reflection of the original wording. We’re doing this for brochures, websites, press releases and social media campaigns.

Whilst ETMG gets the benefit of delivering good native English to important clients, we are able to enjoy a relationship with a business that has unrivalled insights into China and is able to assist with any projects we work on in the Middle Kingdom.

As is often the case with doing business in China, this successful partnership has come about thanks to the nurturing of a long-standing relationship with a partner at ETMG based on trust and responding to projects in a timely manner.

It’s great to be working with an agency on the other side of the world, particularly in China where I spent four fascinating years. The partnership has come at the right time for both of us.

At Clarke Associates we want to use our knowledge and contacts to assist clients in the UK with an interest in China, whilst we’ve been able to provide ETMG with a high quality English copywriting resource – one that comes with Mandarin insights.

We’re looking forward to developing our relationship with ETMG over the coming months and years.

I asked Cynthia Cui, MD of ETMG, for her thoughts on the initiative. She said: “Our partnership with Clarke Associates is proving to be incredibly fruitful and we’ve established a great working relationship in a very short space of time. Our business is growing very quickly and as China develops deeper trade ties in the Western world, it’s vital that we are able to produce marketing materials in good native English.”

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Why cloud technology is a silver lining for SMEs


Not all of us have heard of cloud technology – but I guarantee most of us are using it: Cloud technology is a form of computing that relies on sharing computing resources – rather than having local servers or even a personal device to handle applications.

The word ‘cloud’ is simply a metaphor for ‘the Internet’, so the phrase cloud technology or cloud computing means that something is a type of internet-based computing, where different services such as servers, storage and applications — are delivered to companies computers and devices through the Internet. Common work tools that use cloud technology are online workspaces such as huddle, podio, Google Docs, Dropbox and Kahootz or communication tools such as Skype and Mailchimp.

The development of cloud technology has unlocked a world of easy access and opportunity for many small and medium sized businesses (SMEs). However, adoption of this new technology has been slow (companies are perhaps not clear on what the benefits are, or the security around the data storage).

Cloud technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we communicate at work; effective adoption of cloud technology can improve efficiency in communication – so here are five reasons that I think businesses should be embracing cloud technology:

1) Fast and easy access:

Cloud storage space and access for websites communication can combine video, voice, text and document control technologies ensuring fast and easy access to their information – making your business communication as effective as possible.

The cloud enables people to work together seamlessly; to collaborate with colleagues and other stakeholder’s to help their customers keep in touch wherever they are – even when they are mobile or working from home.

2) Always up-to-date:

Due to the hosted nature of cloud services, users always have access to the latest technology therefore future-proofing an organisation in a cost-effective way (without the need for pricey upgrades!)

3) The sky is not your limit

Not only can you manage your information remotely – giving you greater freedom and flexibility – but this technology means that SMEs are more capable of competing on a global scale with larger businesses.

Technology is becoming less expensive and more accessible to any size business, which will drive more world-wide operations. Small businesses will become more competitive as they won’t experience scale limitations.

4) The death of the desktop computer?

Gone are the days of needing a specific type of device to work the business’s network. Whether you’re working on a smartphone a desktop or tablet – everyone can collaborate with cloud-based applications.

And this is just the start… service providers are continuing to work towards making their apps work on any type of device. Working entirely via smartphone or tablet is becoming a viable option (watch this space!)

5) Step into my office…

Businesses could see a rise in decentralising and hiring more full-time employees who work outside the company’s HQ.

With videoconferencing and other cloud services, employees now have the technology available to work completely remotely. This means a greater ability to integrate talent from anywhere, and flexibility in order to fit around different life-styles.

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