A template for non-spammers sending ludicrous PR emails

As someone who works in social media marketing, my definition of ‘spam’ isn’t aligned with the definition among techie purists. This is mostly because I think “talk to someone unless they tell you to go away” is a completely legitimate way to behave, in life as in work, whereas techie purists tend to think “don’t talk to anyone, ever, unless they beg you to talk to them” is the way the world should be. Yes, stereotypesLOL.

I can certainly make common ground with techie purists on the concept of how fucking annoying it is when you do tell people at nominally legitimate companies (not talking “send your money to Nigeria for Viagara” crap here, all of my email addresses are on the web and I’ve not received that kind of spam for years. FILTERS: THEY WORK) to go away and they don’t.

However, given the utterly pisspoor state of lists at nearly all companies of all kinds, and the utterly urchin-child-intern nature of the poor sods who generally end up processing lists at PR firms, it seems unreasonable to get angry at the individual on the end of the email (*). So I don’t.

My recentest response to such an email is here, partly for public edification, and partly so I can Google it next time.

Dear [xxx]s as an organisation, please remove me from all of your press lists of all kinds and add me to your (DPA-mandated, so you must have one, right?) list of people who have requested that you never contact them again – obviously, apart from the email to confirm that this has been done.

Dear [yyy]l, I’ve asked your predecessors to take me off their lists before but apparently my address has still been passed on to you. Apologies for sending you a grumpy message due to wider organisational problems that aren’t your fault, please don’t take it personally.

Sorted.

(*) far more unreasonable than, say, a comedian getting angry at a heckler who’s deliberately choosing to be part of the comedy act, rather than some poor sod who’s getting paid and doesn’t want any trouble. People who get personally lairy at customer service operatives are the lowest of the low.

The future of News: from one oligarch to the next?

In the wake of a punch to the face from phone-hacking-Leveson-scandalous-British-naughtiness, and a kick to the balls from shrinking print revenues, News Corporation is contemplating splitting its TV assets from its print ones.

The plan would be to remove the newspaper drag from the share price, and hopefully bypass some of the regulatory fallout from News International’s behaviour. In Australia, that’d mean the Foxtel, FoxSports and Sky stakes going into ‘Good News’, and the papers, magazines and book publishing (HarperCollins) going into ‘Bad News’.

An obvious problem here is that Bad News would be, well, bad news.

The analysts at Nomura have worked out what the historic and forecast income statements would be for both demerged companies. They’re projecting that, despite the newspaper division halving in profit (EBIT) in 2012, future profit declines will only be in the region of 5% a year – and that global newspaper division (including digital) revenues will show slight overall growth. Nomura values the print company worldwide at around US$3-4 billion.

To me, that sounds optimistic. 2012 is going to be particularly awful for the newspaper division because it’s the financial year after the cash cow of the News of the World was killed, sure. Nonetheless, looking at Fairfax’s position, the Guardian’s position, News Limited’s announced cuts in Australia, the Times and Australian’s massive losses, and the ongoing march of often free, often superior (albeit seldom both) online news sources, growing sales even at the rate of inflation seems like a pipedream.

Supposedly, the WSJ’s finances are in a better state than most of the other titles, because people actually pay for business information online. The four remaining sensational big city tabloids in the group – the UK Sun, New York Post, Sydney Daily Telegraph and Melbourne Herald Sun – likely still make money, since they were never reliant on classified advertising. But the Times and the Australian are reported to lose vast sums annually, despite the imposition on both of draconian paywalls which very few people have taken up, and which mean that they form no part of the online conversation.

(the Times recently started a Tumblr for some of its opinion content, in a desperate attempt to maintain some kind of relevance to the outside world…)

Now, Rupert Murdoch is 81, and his children show absolutely no interest in taking over the print business. And Bad News would be a publicly traded company with shareholder obligations.

When you’re a vehicle for an oligarch to promote his corporate interests to politicians, in the way Mr Murdoch has used his papers for the last 50 years, bunging tens of millions of dollars a year into a respectable-opinion-leading project like the Australian or the Times can get you results far in excess of your investment: tax reliefs, exemptions from competition laws, broadcasting licenses, etc.

But once you break the link with the corporation that benefits from the regulatory corruption, lose the oligarch to retirement/senility/Old Father Time, and lose the ability to shape national conversation by excluding your pieces from most modern forms of sharing and discussion, then really, what’s the point?

So the only way for the Times and the Oz to survive is to be sold to some kind of oligarch who’d benefit from their advocacy. In London, you can barely throw a stick and not hit some overseas billionaire or other, so that should be easy enough.

In Australia – now, who might be interested in buying a voice in the national conversation? Who easily has the money to continue publishing the Australian, tearing down the paywall, making it into perhaps (if Fairfax’s desperate plans are followed through) the only free source of premium news and commentary in the country? Who has a conveniently close ideological position to the one the Australian is already pushing? And who’s just been rebuffed in her attempt to gain control of a couple of newspapers whose readers and editorial staff are completely opposed to her ideological position?

Gina for the Oz. You read it here first!

All open letters are pathetic in the same way

Inspired by the “send a letter to the Government of Ecuador” left-meme, here’s my letter to the Government of Ecuador:

Dear the Government of Ecuador. You’ve got a slightly disturbing Cuba-light personality cult going, and Julian Assange is an autistic pervert who I wouldn’t let within a hundred yards of any female friends or relations. Nonetheless, the Yanks are still probably mad enough to torture the hell out of the poor sod for the rest of his natural life for making them look silly, so saving him from that one is an excellent PR opportunity for yourselves. Best, John. PS, I love your song (*).

I’m sure this will address matters.

* this one, I mean.

If we had the same sports, we might properly fight

List of significant winter sports and the teams who play them seriously who are from English-speaking countries

American Football (USA)
Australian Football (AUS)
Ice Hockey (CAN, USA)
Rugby League (AUS, GB[ENG],NZ)
Rugby Union (GB [ENG, IRE, SCO, WAL], NZ)
Soccer (GB [ENG,SCO,WAL,NI], IRE)

List of significant winter sports and the serious teams who play them seriously who are from non-English-speaking countries

Ice Hockey (SWE, NOR, FIN)
Rugby League (FRA)
Rugby Union (FRA)
Soccer (THE ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD, SERIOUSLY, THE ONLY FUCKING GAME, NO, ENGLISH SPEAKING PEOPLE ARE WEIRD)

A man of genius makes no mistakes

“[Great Blasket] island was inhabited until 1953, when the Irish government decided that it could no longer guarantee the safety of the remaining population. It was the home of three noted Irish writers: Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Peig Sayers and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin” - some slightly ropy web slideshow.

It’s a fair call. There is absolutely no effing way I would consider myself safe if sharing a small island with three noted Irish writers. One, you could overpower. Two, you could feed them whiskey and song until the one killed the other. But three? Jaysus.

Relatedly, happy Bloomsday.

The sun is, most likely, still gonna shine in November

After a massively high-spending recall campaign, a controversial Republican state governor has held onto power with a slightly increased majority (while losing control of the state senate). Naturally, the oh-so-left-wing US media are spinning this as Terrible Democrat Defeat, Disaster Due for November, etc.

To highlight the fact that this spin is absolute dingoes’ kidneys, it’s been pointed out that the Walker campaign spent $7 for every $1 his opponent could muster, which is not really a feasible plan for the November election (no, not even for someone with Mitt Romney’s wallet).

This figure is slightly unfair: the difference wasn’t as stark between interest groups which didn’t donate directly to the campaign. Not much less stark, though. Some quick-and-dirty analysis on CNN’s handy “who gave what” piece shows that we have:

Walker $30.5m
Named R lobby groups $16.9m
Estimated R lobby groups* $0.8m
Total R $48.2m (71% of total)

Barrett $3.9m
Named D lobby groups $14.9m
Estimated D lobby groups* $0.7m
Total D $19.4 (29% of total)

So the Republicans only need to manage to outspend the Democrats by 2.5:1 in November. That’ll be nice and easy for them.

They’ll also need a charismatic candidate who’s become popular among independents (17% of Walker voters currently say they’ll go for Obama in November) through being fiscally conservative but avoiding the social culture war. That’ll be nice and easy for them.

* The “estimate” is where I’ve split the outside donations that aren’t named to specific groups between the parties according to the split of named groups. If you ignore it instead, you get 72%/28%.

100% true, 100% of the time

From Ian B at Tim’s place:

The problem with a society in the grip of a moral panic- an example is the Gay Panic that started in Victorian England- is that it does not recognise it. The hysterical and extreme behaviours exhibited by panickers are considered not only normal, not even just desirable, but effectively obligatory. It’s quite interesting to note that the paedophile as folk devil has almost perfectly replaced the homosexual as folk devil, with only the degree of hysteria being even greater. The fact that many of the victims of this witch hunt are not, as noted above, even recognisably suffering from the aberration described as paedophilia does not matter, because unfortunately when it’s witch huntin’ season all that matters is that one joins in with the hunt (or raise suspicions that one is worthy of becoming the quarry).

…and this is why we throw people in jail for possession of Simpsons slashfic and manga. Even though only a certifiable lunatic could consider such an outcome just, The Great And The Good don’t want to march in the streets in defence of Someone Who Might Be A Nonce.

Sacking people is easy to do

Just a quick one on the incompetent Mr Beecroft‘s attempt to take labour relations back to the 1830s… noting that in private sector workplaces in England & Wales without union recognition agreements, all of the following are the case:

There are straightforward processes available to sack lazy/incompetent workers which, if you follow them correctly, take less than six months from when you first notice the problem with their work [*] and don’t lead to complicated legal action. I’ve personally dismissed people in this way. Anyone denying that is either lying or has no idea what they are talking about.

There are straightforward process available to sack people for gross misconduct which, if you follow them correctly, can be actioned on the same day, totally resolved within a week, and don’t lead to complicated legal action. I’ve personally dismissed someone in this way. Anyone denying that is either lying or has no idea what they are talking about.

If someone you have sacked having followed the correct procedures then takes you to tribunal, you can call a pre-hearing review where the judge determines there is little or no case to answer. Should they wish to pursue the case, they’ll have to pay a hefty deposit and will ultimately be liable to pay your costs when you lose. Anyone denying that is either lying or has no idea what they are talking about.

Where cases make it as far as losing at a tribunal, it is inevitably for one of two reasons:
1) the person was fired without reasonable cause (whether for race/whistleblowing/management petulance/whatever)
2) the person was fired with reasonable cause, but the company failed to follow the simple procedures that you need to follow in order to fire somebody with reasonable cause.

Anyone denying that is either lying or has no idea what they are talking about.

In unionised and/or public sector workplaces, the procedures may be more complicated; I’ve got no idea how they work, having never worked as a manager there. Ditto Scotland, although I think most employment law is reserved to Westminster. But none of that matters for Beecroft’s purposes, because the procedures followed in these situations are not the ones laid down in statute law, and hence wouldn’t be changed by anything that Beecroft dictates.

[*] it’s been questioned whether ‘six months’ is ‘simple’. I’d say yes: if someone on probation turns out to be crap, you can fire them immediately and easily – so the ‘six months’ bit only occurs for someone who was decent and suddenly becomes crap, or who’s been left to get on with being crap for years with nobody doing anything about it. In the first case, it’s human decency to give them the chance to turn around (hence why performance improvement plans etc exist); in the second, the company can hardly blame the law for doing what it failed to do in the first place.

Shot by how many sides again?

Everything is retro is coming round again, and so on. In that vein, I’ve dragged some offensive old blog or other from the depths of my spare hard drive. My foreword to the reprint may provide context. Dive in, if that’s your thing.

You’d probably do better just to watch this, though:

Fans of Sharpeners will like this

All the content from the long-defunct Sharpener group blog (formerly at thesharpener.net, before pirates stole the domain name) is now available at sharpener.johnband.org. The formatting’s basic, and categories have been lost; this may improve in future.

That was the easy-ish task, building a new WordPress 3.3.1 site based on a fairly arbitrary selection of obsolete MySQL databases (while junking all actual blog skins etc because they were compromised by virus-injecting malware types over the years). The next task, which will be super-exciting for fans of masochism, will be to set up a WordPress 3.3.1 blog and then import a whole bunch of tables from a non-standard, custom-built Access database into it.

Fans of controversy and excellence, and/or readers of my last post, may be able to guess which particular Holy Grail of magazine-titled Internet history will be revived as if by Dr Frankenstein at the end of this process.

The idle musings of John B