Sarah Hall Consulting

Dealing with people who treat you like dirt - a book review of The Asshole Survival Guide

We all have times in life when working relationships affect our self confidence, moral and motivation and we feel disrespected and de-energised. I read The Asshole Survival Guide by Stanford professor Robert I Sutton to better understand bad behaviour and find work arounds. 


There are times when I really struggle to manage certain working relationships. In a stroke of fortune I came across The Asshole Survival Guide by Robert I Sutton. Here are 18 of my favourite quotes that I’ll be keeping close by as I work on my resilience. 

  1. Start with self awareness
    ‘Be slow to label others as assholes, be quick to label yourself as one.’ Keeping this mantra in mind primes you to avoid falling prey to your knee-jerk reactions... people who act like assholes are often blind to their bad behaviour and how others experience it. Always apologise when you’ve behaved like an asshole - but only if you really mean it and then do it right.
  2. Empathy
    If you really want to understand an asshole problem and how best to tackle it, consider how your quirks, background and biases shape your feelings. Taking responsibility for your feelings - and understanding what drives those of other targets or witnesses - helps you (or them) figure out how to limit the damage.
  3. Rabbits and rotten systems
    Assholes tend to breed like rabbits because of what psychologists call similarity-attraction effects. Be careful however not to mistake one or two bad experiences or unpleasant people for a rotten system.
  4. Petty power play
    Petty tyrants wield power over some narrow but unavoidable domain. They are rarely in a position to ruin your life, but often wield their limited authority to make you suffer (and to make themselves feel more important). 
  5. Kindness as a tool
    It is smart to treat every asshole survival problem as a two-way street - where you both offer and ask for help. By giving help to troubled targets and witnesses as they try to size up to and deal with jerks, you not only do good deeds; you equip yourself to withstand and to battle the malice and incivility in your own life. Your allies will feel obliged to return the favour, to help, support, protect and fight for you.
  6. Power plays, provocation and caution
    You should try and get away from assholes, but don’t be an idiot about it. When people feel as if they are being treated like dirt, many feel a mighty strong urge to resign in abrupt or confrontational ways. But do so only with extreme caution: such impulses can be dangerous because, if you act on them, it might just provoke some powerful and mean-spirited people to make you pay for it later. 
  7. Being an asshole can be an infectious disease
    Even a single exposure to a rude person can turn a person into a 'carrier,' who in turn infects others with the negative behaviour - so it spreads much like the common cold. 
  8. Protection through distance
    When it comes to assholes, it’s sometimes wise to add rather than remove communication barriers - and physical distance is one of the most protective barriers.  
  9. Assholes and perverse kicks
    Some assholes take a [...] kind of pleasure in your pain. When they do something that generates a strong reaction from you [...] the pleasure centre in their twisted minds light up. 
  10. Forgiveness and letting go
    Even when a jerk doesn’t apologise, and you don’t express forgiveness to them, forgiving him or her in your heart can help you let go of the hurt - and you should do so without condoning, downplaying, or forgetting the offence.
  11. Not giving a shit
    Practising the fine art of not giving a shit about people who mistreat you - honing your ability to tune them out - can save your sanity, shield your physical health, and keep you from hurting the people you love.
  12. Look ahead to better days with better people
    Turn your full attention to those people who treat you with respect, to what matters most to you, and to the better days ahead.
  13. Righteous anger and passive aggression as means of defence
    When you are dealing with a pushy jerk who is undermining the greater good, even if they wield power over you, a flash of righteous anger can sometimes get them to back down. There are other times when subtle ‘passive-aggressive’ confrontation is best.
  14. Managing up and bringing assholes down
    If you want protection from powerful and prickly narcissists, there is an argument for kissing up in order to provide cover and to keep them calm while you work backstage to bring them down.
  15. Assholes are insecure
    Some people are grumpy, insulting, or overbearing primarily because they are insecure about their abilities and prestige.
  16. Revenge is sweet but short lived, fix the system
    Revenge is sweet, but can be useless and dangerous. Use the system to reform, defeat and expel jerks.
  17. Stop and listen
    Reduce your risk of treating others poorly by seeking out and listening to trusted truth-tellers and reflecting about your past behaviour to identify circumstances that bring out the worst in you.
  18. Strength in friends and family
    By realising you are not alone, by turning to people ranging from fellow targets to friends and to your family for support and wisdom, you bolster your chances of constructing better plans, traveling through difficult days with dignity and grace, and emerging from it all a stronger person.








    Gender pay gap: Think, Act, Report

    The Government Equalities Office (GEO) is shortly to publish draft regulations for gender pay gap reporting as part of its drive to bring about gender equality in the workplace.

    It’s a critical business issue: McKinsey estimate that the UK could add £0.6 trillion of additional annual GDP in 2025 by fully bridging the gender gap.

    I’ve written extensively about the gender pay gap in PR and look forward to seeing how far the regulations go. As ever the devil will be in the detail.

    The GEO has already shared ‘Trailblazing Transparency: Mending the Gap’, a report produced with Deloitte and sponsored by Think, Act, Report which documents some of the challenges, opportunities and innovative action businesses are taking to successfully tackle this problem.

    I’d urge you to read this. Not only is it jam packed with help and best practice on how to tackle the problem within the workplace, it sets out exactly what the benefits for organisations are.

    We all have a role to play in closing the pay gap. Those in public relations also have a responsibility to accelerate the rate at which this happens. After all, a female-dominated industry like PR should be an exemplar to other sectors.




    Mind the pay gap: How to achieve parity in PR

    #FuturePRoof #FuturePRoof launched earlier this month with the purpose of asserting the value of public relations as a management discipline. A new chapter is being shared every day on the site. Here's my contribution, the very last chapter, released early to mark Equal Pay Day. You can find out more and download the full book via Join the conversation on Twitter at @weareproofed. 

    UK business has a major issue with equal pay, with women working ‘for free’ for 1 hour and 40 minutes a day according to research by the Chartered Management Institute and XPertHR.  In female-dominated industries like PR, the problem is even more acute. Parity in the workplace can be achieved: here are some steps you can take to make this happen.

    In July 2015, the Conservatives announced plans to force large companies to publish the difference in earnings between male and female staff in a bid to ensure equal pay.

    Currently in Britain, female workers are paid on average 19.1% less than their male counterparts and this applies across both full-time and part-time positions, according to the Office of National Statistics.

    While the stringent new regulations will only apply to those employing more than 250 staff, it’s a step in the right direction. Gender pay transparency is one sure fire way to creating a fairer job market.

    Management teams need to be accountable for the recruitment and reward measures they put in place if parity is to be achieved and then maintained.

    Publishing salary data means directors have nowhere to hide and forces them to deal with discrepancies.

    Change can be fast and effective

    Despite the change in law not coming into effect until 2016, there are a handful of UK businesses already committed to this course of action. Their results underline how quickly change can be effected.

    Take PwC, which in November 2014 was the first in its industry sector to undertake and publish pay gap analysis after two years reporting its diversity targets.

    It identified an immediate issue with the balance of senior talent and trebled the number of female internal promotions compared to the previous twelve months. A lack of women in senior positions often plays a sizeable part of the pay gap.

    The top four accountancy firm also introduced a range of initiatives that help its people achieve their potential, from Board level mentoring schemes, women’s leadership programmes to diversity training.

    While emulating its now annual equal pay review may admittedly be beyond the capabilities and cost base of many smaller companies, PwC’s best practice and forward-thinking stance is one we can all learn from. Employers should look to follow suit.

    Sadly it’s hard to name one employer in the communications business focusing on the problem in this way.

    We can’t wait any longer

    It’s a critical issue for the PR sector and one we need urgently to deal with.

    For close to two years now, gender parity and the pay gap has been a key policy area for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

    Its State of the Profession Survey identified a salary discrepancy of £8,483 in favour of men. This cannot be explained by any other factor such as length of service, seniority, parenthood, or a higher prevalence of part-time work among women.

    It’s a sobering thought when over two-thirds of practitioners in the profession are female.

    This major disparity is compounded by the problem of senior female talent dropping out after maternity leave. Many practitioners cite being unable to balance work and life pressures.

    It is imperative we break down the barriers that prevent women progressing in the workplace.

    Policies are in place

    Some work is underway. In 2014 the CIPR teamed with Sheila Wild from the Equal Pay Portal to look for potential solutions to the issue and provide policy direction.

    The return to work process was identified as one creating issues for employers and employees alike, resulting in the production of ten practical best practice guides developed with the help of The Talent Keeper Specialists.

    From handing over and keeping in touch through to role renegotiation, the toolkits help those involved find a solution to suit all parties.

    The CIPR’s production of nine recommendations for enabling flexible working in PR has also been useful in making strides forward.

    Aimed at helping employers manage the shift to a round the clock service provision as dictated by 24/7 online and offline media, while delivering work-life balance for staff, the guides are equally beneficial in helping parents achieve hours that are better suited to managing both work needs and childcare.

    Useful as they are, the next step with these guides must be to replace the word flexible with agile. While this might seem a small difference, it’s not. Using non-discriminatory language is critical in the movement towards equality in the workplace.

    Agile working is seen to be about keeping pace with the way the working environment is changing, as well as a way to help staff strike a balance between work and home.

    In contrast, flexible working is tarnished with being something that in the main only working mums want and need, with a lack of commitment almost implicit within this.

    Changing perceptions is part of the answer and it’s something everyone can help with.

    It’s also a question of skillset

    The truth of the matter is that the gender pay gap will only become a thing of the past when all organisations have to publish salary data to show they are complying with legislation.

    Employers can make a big difference however if they are prepared to be ethical, honest and employ best practice.

    Human resources is a case in point. A serious issue with pay in the PR industry is a lack of experience by those managing people and performance.

    Outside of the largest agencies and public sector, the industry is dominated by SMEs where the human resources (HR) function is often managed by a member of PR staff. Internal or external HR specialists are rarely brought in.

    Without best practice policies or the use of competency frameworks, it’s easy to see how and why the system fails without oversight of an expert eye.

    It’s a business not a gender issue

    The Government Equalities Office states that closing the gender pay gap could add 10% to the size of our economy by 2030.

    This is most definitely a business not a gender issue.

    A female-dominated industry like PR should be an exemplar to the rest of the UK. The challenge is for us to make it a reality.

    Ten steps for achieving parity of pay in PR

    1. Be transparent with your pay structure
    2. Use an HR specialist for your people and performance needs
    3. Have a Board with an even gender balance (if deemed necessary only ever use quotas as an interim measure)
    4. Monitor hires and promotions by gender and diversity
    5. Adopt agile working as a business model and consider part-time and job share solutions, as well as freelance support
    6. Support parents in identifying and securing affordable childcare
    7. Enable access to leadership programmes
    8. Signpost to / deliver mentoring schemes
    9. Normalise shared parental leave
    10. Use language carefully – agile over flexible working every time.

    Mumpreneur: How to patronise working mothers

    I'm a mum who runs her own business - not a mumpreneur Language is important in tackling lazy stereotypes, addressing equality and celebrating a multi-billion pound market.

    eBay recently published research that claimed businesses set up by so-called mumpreneurs last year generated £7.2bn for the economy and supported 204,600 jobs.

    Fantastic, and something worth celebrating. Except I couldn’t get past the mangled word mumpreneur.

    Mumpreneur is patronising - and I’m an entrepreneur and a working mum.

    I have several issues with the term and having tested these out among my community on Facebook, it seems I’m not alone.

    Firstly, I don’t see why I should be pigeonholed just because I have kids.

    My professional identity is not linked to my children and while I am proud of my two boys, I am also proud of owning a successful business that continues to grow.

    Entrepreneur is a non-gender specific term

    Secondly I don’t see why professional women with children should be singled out from those who don’t. Men wouldn’t be divided in this way, so why do it to women?

    All female-led businesses deserve to be celebrated – it’s not just men and mums who are helping shore up the economy.

    As a term, mumpreneur is unnecessary. The word entrepreneur is non-gender specific so it makes no sense to define female business owners by their personal status.

    The fact that Wikipedia doesn’t have a listing for Dadpreneur but describes a Mumpreneur as “A mother who works as a business entrepreneur in addition to her family commitments” tells you all you need to know about this gender issue.

    Men simply aren’t defined by being a parent.

    We are all busy building businesses so drop the tags and let us get on with it.

    Reinforcing gender stereotypes is dangerous

    No doubt, the eBay team would argue that the word mumpreneur is actually a form of positive discrimination.

    But when the media runs a story such as this, they invariably – as in BQ’s case – also use a story of a harassed looking woman in a business suit sat in the kitchen, juggling a laptop, phone and baby.

    It doesn’t create a very favourable impression and it’s at odds with reality.

    Most of the working mums I know have daily life planned to precision in order to accommodate the pressures that come with their different roles. They are much more professional than such a lazy title suggests.

    Through almost two years of leading the gender and diversity work at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), I can say from experience it’s important not to underestimate the power such words and phrases can have.

    Mumpreneur does us a disservice

    The language we use is critical in the fight for equality.

    The PR industry has a serious issue with senior female talent dropping out after maternity leave. Many practitioners cite being unable to balance work and life pressures.

    The CIPR teamed with Sheila Wild from the Equal Pay Portal to look for potential solutions. One of her pieces of work was to help us develop return to work policies and to embrace the term agile rather than flexible working.

    It might seem a small difference but it’s not. Agile working is seen to be about keeping pace with the way the working environment is changing, as well as a way to help staff strike a balance between work and home.

    In contrast, flexible working is tarnished with being something that in the main only working mums want and need, with a lack of commitment almost implicit within this.

    Using non-discriminatory language is critical in the movement towards equality in the workplace.

    And please stop using the label mumpreneur.

    This article was first published on Business Quarter's website in August 2015.

    Five essential elements to organising an excellent event

    Concourse at Sage Gateshead prior to Eat! Events have always been part of the PR practitioner’s tool kit but if you’re new to organizing them or are ready for a refresh, here are some handy hints to make your management skills top draw.

    1) Be clear on your objectives

    Always make sure you know exactly what your event needs to achieve and on what terms you’ll be evaluated. Only by knowing what the desired outcomes are can you design something to suit. This includes setting out who your audiences are and running through the faithful what, where, when and why checklist.

    2) Plan like a pro

    A pro knows exactly what can and can’t be done and will step away if there isn’t a reasonable timeframe to work within. Consider the different stages right through from ideas to budgeting and logistics and you can see why even smaller events usually require a good three months of planning from start to finish.

    Add time in for all the elements you have to handle. If you’re responsible for exhibition materials, entertainment, comperes, invite list management and overseeing sub-contractors, your schedule needs to be realistic about when each of these elements can be delivered.

    Always keep in mind who it is you’re targeting. For example, when organising something for the media, be thoughtful about publishing deadlines and avoid clashes with big events that might dictate editorial agendas.

    Logistics is the big one. You need to think about a wide range of things, from room layouts and floor plans through to capacities and sight lines. Understanding how people behave and what they need to feel comfortable is important to help the event flow.

    3) Roles and reporting

    If the event is a sizeable one, create a core planning group of people you trust. Clarify roles, actions and deadlines to avoid key tasks slipping through the net and have regular updates to ensure everything remains on track. This includes building in time for regular reporting and a debriefing session after the event to share feedback and learnings.

    4) Get your governance right

    Risk assessments, contracts, insurances, health and safety, permissions and licences all form part of the event management process and can easily be missed. Making sure you have covered all these things and considered issues such as transport and accessibility greatly reduces the likelihood of something going wrong on the day.

    5) Publicising the event

    If your role also includes publicizing the event, there are additional considerations to factor in.

    Media relations offers a great way to spread the word but don’t forget social media as well as self-publishing via blogs or even broadcasting via YouTube or Vimeo.

    Hashtags on Twitter can be a great way for people to join in and allow those people unable to attend to follow proceedings from the comfort of the office or home.

    While photography is usually on every event planner’s list, apps like Periscope and Meerkat offer video streaming for during the event and are also worth taking into consideration where resource is available.

    Event organisation isn’t as easy as it looks, but practice makes perfect and there’s always the option to work with an experienced hand until you can do it alone. Crack the detail at planning stage and you’ll be set for success, not to mention grow in confidence. Any doubts, there are plenty of event management companies around so get the experts in.

    A variation on this article first appeared on Hiscox's business blog in August 2015.

    LinkedIn sexism debate: Charlotte Proudman has made it harder for others to speak up and be heard

    Charlotte Proudman One of the hot topics on Twitter this week was the case of Charlotte Proudman, who publicly shamed a partner at law firm Brown Rudnick for calling her LinkedIn profile picture 'stunning'. 

    Charlotte took to social media to share the message she'd received from Alexander Carter-Silk and her response, in which she stated she was not on the networking platform 'to be objectified by sexist men.'

    While there's no doubting that Carter-Silk's message was poorly thought through, the tone and content wasn't unpleasant and referenced the fact he wanted to understand Charlotte's skills and how they might work together.

    It's hard to know what was in Carter-Silk's mind when he penned his unfortunate note, but it's unlikely he was expecting the aggression in Charlotte's reply.

    Shaming someone is not the answer

    By turning this into a public issue via social media, Proudman did everyone a disservice.

    Every day people compliment each other on their appearances and achievements. Sometimes there is hidden agenda, most of the time there's not.

    In this situation, many would have just taken the compliment and moved on, especially as there was nothing sinister in the text. Some people would have enjoyed the attention. Others would have just turned the focus straight back to business, asserting themselves that way.

    But by pushing the exchange into the public eye, Charlotte shamed a barrister and missed an opportunity to potentially achieve behavioural change on a one-to-one level. She also behaved in an unprofessional manner by not dealing with it privately and escalating what was in essence a fairly harmless exchange.

    By complaining loudly about something trivial, Charlotte made it even harder for those experiencing something serious to speak up and actually be heard.

    Every day sexism happens and it needs to stop

    I've had my own experiences of every day sexism, from  inappropriate out of hours messaging right through to gropes of the bum and it's deeply unpleasant.

    However there are ways and means of dealing with it and turning immediately to a public forum is not the solution. Those likening what has happened here to rape culture take it way too far and it's not helpful to the wider sexism and gender debate.

    The fact that the majority of people seem to agree Alexander's message was a cack-handed, badly judged but harmless compliment says a lot.

    Think about it this way. If Charlotte had gently and privately outlined her discomfort with his message and signposted Alexander to the #HeforShe campaign, she might have made him think twice about the discrimination faced by women and girls every day, which would have been a start.

    She might have also avoided a lot of reputation damage for all the people and organisations concerned.

    How to grow your business and use digital to do so

     Newcastle University runs a GOLD Network for its graduates with the aim of providing its alumni with opportunities to acquire new skills, make business contacts and provide a social network.  Its latest event gathered business people and students for a discussion on How To Rise Above The Digital Crowd.

    Things kicked off with a keynote by Ewan McIntosh, who talked about 'Shipping It' - how to build a business and get your messages out to the people that matter.

    Ewan's presentation was built around not being frightened to fail and he had the following top tips for entrepreneurs:

    • Follow your passion. Take time out to work out your overall objective, strategy and tactics 
    • Whatever you're working on, try to break it because this is where you learn. It's always better to fail early in the process as it will be less public and costly 
    • Take your idea out to market and see what other people think. You might love it, others might not and you'll almost certainly get ideas on how to enhance it
    • Concentrate on who you're trying to improve the life of through your product or service 
    • Be daring and do something that breaks through the noise and grey of day to day life.

    Following Ewan was a panel involving Herb Kim, Sandra TangBrigitte West and I, chaired by Caroline Theobald, in which we looked at the digital sphere and how to use it to build business.

       Here are a few pointers from the session:

    • Get online and try things out. Don't be afraid to fail fast, just fail forward
    • Unless you have heaps of money and resource, don't worry about being on every platform. It's much better to do less brilliantly
    • Give your organisation a tone of voice and be consistent with it
    • Make sure you're authentic and don't forget the social element of it - be human in your approach
    • Have a contingency plan for when things go wrong
    • Use social platforms to listen and join conversations to understand your audiences and marketplace 
    • Tell your story and work out different ways of sharing it on different platforms 
    • Curate content and look outwards for inspiration - you don't have to do it all yourself

    FutureComms15: What does the future have in store for PR and comm's?

    I'm at the Crystal in London today for the FutureComms15 conference to see what the future has in store for PR. I'm going to try and live blog key take outs but you can also follow @Future_Comms and the hashtag #FC15 on Twitter for live updates.

    Jonathan Bean, COO of mynewsdesk, is kicking off with a video talking about the importance of the connected community and how we need to reach the most people we can online if comm's are to be effective.

    Jonathan believes agencies = creativity and resource. He is reminding the audiences that realtime content doesn't have to be difficult and that within comm's we need to dare to try new things.

    Our first keynote speaker is Robert Rose, chief strategy officer for the Digital Marketing Institute who is now speaking on How Content Marketing Saves PR From A Little Less Doom And Gloom.


    New platforms are dying before we even have a strategy for them

    Robert is opening by stating that whatever we have learned about digital in the last two decades, it will all change again in the next five to ten years.

    He's in a challenging mood talking about how PR is focused on influencing influencers with or without their cooperation and as such practitioners are not in the business of truth (lots of people in the audience disagreeing on Twitter).

    Robert says if we want to be successful, that will only come with delivering value. His question to comm's professionals is how do we delight audiences with content-driven experiences? What magic do we actually deliver?

    "I don't want realism, I want magic! Yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I don't tell truths, I tell what ought to be the truth." Blanche Dubois

    Here comes some useful stuff. Robert is now talking through the evolution of customer relationship.

    He is explaining how everything we know has been disrupted by digital (whatever industry or comm's discipline you're in).

    With this expectations have changed and customer loyalty is now to the brand experience - not the product or service.

    This matters because individuals are now their own media and have a voice on their chosen platforms where they will continue share their experience of your company, so you need to make sure this is a positive one.

    Robert has just stated that PR is probably the most appropriate discipline to create differerentiated value at the storytelling level.

    Experience must be the strategic differentiator

    His belief is that we must get beyond organising by technology and platforms.

    His advice is to look at function before form and to start with the right business case for content to exist. Robert documents the content mission as follows:

    • What is our goal?
    • Who can satisfy that goal?
    • What valuable experience - separate from our products - can we deliver at a given stage of the customer journey?
    • What makes our approach different from competitors?

    He is now saying we have to properly manage the product of content:

    • Map stories and experiences.
    • Build content products, not campaigns.
    • Operate like a media company and not like an internal agency.

    Robert is underlining the point that this activity is not just about creating assets for a campaign and that practitioners need to adopt a different investment model. Content marketing is about creating increasing value OVER time.

    Robert is culminating his talk by stating that content offers the opportunity to evolve PR, which could and should become the corporate storyteller.

    The opportunity is there for the taking if practitioners give content a different value and make it the main driver and purpose of their work.

    Holiday wisdom: why regular time out should form part of your business plan (& is good for the soul)

     I'm two days away from heading home after a fortnight in Greece and am looking forward to getting back into the office.  It's a great reminder of why taking regular time out should form part of your business plan. 

    Holidays give you the chance to reboot and recharge so you're ready to grasp the nettle when back at your desk.

    Distance from work gives you the objectivity you need to think about your business, what it needs and reconsider your goals.

    Working too hard over long periods of time isn't good for anyone and also sets a bad example to your team and family.

    Employers have a duty of care to ensure staff have a decent work-life balance and you should encourage them to use their holiday entitlement.

    Here are a few things I've learned about holiday planning and getting the most from your leave both as a sole trader and agency boss.

    1. Approach leave like you would a campaign and prepare solidly. Check your deadlines and plan your workload so last minute issues are avoided. 
    2. Advise clients well in advance and make sure they know how to contact your team while you're away. I also give my details too as I'd rather be contactable in an emergency.
    3. If you work alone, bring in support. Working every day of your holiday defeats the purpose and you'll go back tired and frustrated. 
    4. Leave your account handlers a detailed brief as it saves regular queries over phone and emails. My team are fantastic and do everything they can to avoid bothering me. I trust them implicitly to make key client and campaign decisions. Everything ticks along as it should do and clients become equally confident in every team member because they see they have the authority and expertise to deliver what's needed.
    5. Use some of your holiday time to exercise. Finding the time to do this can be hard when caught in the daily grind. Get out while you can, you'll feel better for it and it's also the perfect excuse for escaping the family, even if you have to go back. Eventually.
    6. Blog. I enjoy writing but it's a case of the Cobbler's Child. I've churned out a few pieces this break and am happier and more informed for it. Reflecting over things you've read and experienced is a great way to learn. 
    7. Choose who you holiday with wisely. We are lucky to be with a fantastic family and both the adults are comm's people too. Rebekah and I have turned over the regional market (health, opportunities, competitors - the lot), talked about business strategy, discussed the challenges of being working mums and much more. It's been good for the soul.
    8. Write a funny out of office. One of my friends goes on the search for the world's best cheesecake when he visits New York. Right now mine links to Boney M's Hooray Hooray It's A Holi-Holiday track. It's fun and inspiring and it's great when everyone starts to follow suit.


    Thinking Digital - Team takeouts #2

     Emma Pybus was the other member of the Sarah Hall Consulting PR team to attend Thinking Digital. 

    Here's what she learned from her day out listening to some of the world's most innovative people.  

    New adventures in coding

    Last week, Herb Kim held the 8th Thinking Digital conference right here in the North East at Sage Gateshead. I was lucky enough to go along to one of the days and amongst the facts that I learned during the day are the following:

    • The clock on your microwave which flashes 00:00 at you costs about £4 a year to power

    • The first ever online shopping transaction took place in Gateshead

    • The most common time to eat your dinner in the UK is 5pm

    As well as these intriguing facts I also did genuinely learn a lot about digital developments and ways to make best use of all types of digital technology.

    Two of the speakers on day one of the conference, Sam Aaron and Seb Lee-Delisle, talked specifically about coding and how they use it to teach programming in schools (Sam Aaron) and create dramatic, large-scale interactive art installations (Seb de Lisle).

    One thing that Sam said stuck in my head: he asked the audience to raise their hands if they knew how to read and write. He then asked them to raise their hands if they were a professional writer. His point was that we all see reading and writing as pretty much essential skills for everyday life, regardless of whether we make our living from them.

    Why shouldn’t we think it’s just as important to have an understanding of coding and programming too? 

    After all, it’s used as the basis of all the websites we spend hours on and it powers so many of our everyday transactions. Also, the fact that Sam runs workshops with hundreds of school kids every year who clearly have a better grasp of coding than I do shamed me into wanting to learn more.


    If we don’t make an effort to at least understand coding are we running the risk of being left behind? 

    Surely it’s better to have a grasp on how it all works, especially if your job, like mine, involves working with websites, apps, social media and e-comms and things like Twitter cards and so on already require an element of HTML knowledge.

    Straight after getting home from Thinking Digital I signed up to Codecademy and (on the advice of Seb Lee-Delisle via Twitter – thanks Seb!) also Khan Academy. These are both free online tutorial systems where you can learn the basics of HTML, CSS and other programming languages which I haven’t even heard of yet.

    So far I’ve created an animation of my name which moves around when you run your mouse over it. I’ve made a virtual galaxy in which the planets refuse to orbit around the sun. And now I’m half way through coding a replica of the AirBnb website. These are all entry level exercises on the Codecademy website. So far it’s easy to follow and you get to use words like ‘jumbotron’ which is fun.

    For some inspiration and to see what can be achieved with coding plus artistic flair and imagination, visit Seb Lee-Delisle’s website, particularly PixelPyros, the audience controlled virtual fireworks display.

    Also definitely worth checking out is Sam Aaron’s Sonic Pi, a free live coding synth which he uses to teach programming in schools.

    CAPTIONS: Seb Lee-Delisle presenting at Thinking Digital.

    Emma Pybus, PR Consultant, Sarah Hall Consulting Ltd. 

    Thinking Digital - team take outs

      We had the privilege of providing PR support to Thinking Digital this year.

    Two of the team attended. Here's PR Consultant David Brookbank's take on day two of the conference. 

    One of the best things about attending conferences is the ability to switch your brain off from your day-to-day routine and just learn. 

    I, like many other people, am guilty of not giving myself enough thinking time but for one day I put my brain in the capable hands of Herb Kim and his team of speakers at the final day of the Thinking Digital 2015 conference.

    As a PR and marketer I went expecting lots of inspirational thoughts and ideas about how I can use digital technologies to better serve my clients. 

    That was one aspect of the conference but there was an altogether more important message, and that was how digital can better serve humanity.

    From robotic surgery to disaster relief, developments in the digital sector are transforming lives.  

    Dr. Catherine Mohr, Vice President of Medical Research at Intuitive Surgical in the US, talked in detail about how products like the da Vinci surgical robot – which she played in key role in creating – has transformed the surgical experience for millions of patients across the world. Its delicate instruments are able to do the job of a surgeon’s hand causing only small entry points on the body.

    Patrick Meier, a Humanitarian Technologist, used digital technologies and crowdsourcing to revolutionise crisis early warning and humanitarian response. When his wife was in Haiti during the devastating 2010 earthquake and Patrick was unable to reach her, he took to social media and established media sources to develop an interactive map that provided a real-time picture of the devastation on the ground.

    Tara Shears, a particle physicist at Liverpool University and Liverpool’s representative at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland, explained how advancements in digital technology is telling us more about our world than ever before. I think I’d be doing her a disservice by trying to explain it here so you’ll have to take my word for it – it was fascinating.

    It was refreshing to stop thinking about digital technologies as just another marketing tool and really appreciate the bigger picture.

    Ian Wharton, Group Creative Director at AKQA, gave one of the most marketing-orientated presentations at today’s conference. He put a lot of emphasis on supporting creative ambition and putting a stop to the barriers that prevent us from achieving great things. His message was that ridiculous beats rational, which is a fantastic thought to finish on.

    The things I will take away from my Thinking Digital experience are that all ideas are valid and we should pursue them with passion and intensity. 

    Never stop asking questions; our education is never over, and champion the team around you - it’s not all about you.

    Converting to a Kindle - why it's worth giving one a go

    IMG_0435.JPGI never thought I'd say it but I've converted to a Kindle. My dirty secret is now out: while I haven't abandoned books, the days of travelling with them are over.

    I'm currently on leave and although my laptop is with me, I'm trying to keep it securely packed away. My two boys have the household iPads so they're out of bounds unless I want to watch Scooby-Doo or play Toca Boca.

    The decision to move over has been a purely practical one. Travelling en famille can feel like moving house it requires that much stuff.

    I might miss the feel and smell of books, but I don't miss the weight of them in my hand or suitcase.

    Having barely picked up a book except to skim read key work titles since having Toby (5) and Ben (3), I want to get back in the habit.

    Consulting the Oracle (my mates on Facebook) clearly showed the Kindle was the only way forward.

    Aside from the abject mortification of a five year old introducing me to features I wasn't aware of after approximately two minutes of playing with it (him), I was actually won over by the device on first use.

    I bought a Paperwhite on a friend's advice as we are holidaying in Greece. It's a joy. I read through the instructions in 28° sun.

    Being a technophobe, I can confirm the user experience is actually as easy as 1, 2, 3.

    Charging is via the usual USB cable which even I am capable of plugging in. Not a problem anyway; the Kindle has a crazily long battery life, unlike the continually depleted iPhone, and automatically switches to sleep after a few minutes if you accidentally dose off after a rosé and there's a period of inactivity.

    IMG_0174.JPGThe touch screen interface is beautifully thought out and you can do pretty much everything with the tap or swipe of one finger, including swapping from the home screen to different books and a lot more.

    There are several features that are particularly helpful, especially if you're using the Kindle to work. My top ones are as follows:

    • The ability to make notes as you read, which I love to do. I can't ever bring myself to write in books so have scribbles in all sorts of places that I often can't find again. Not any more!
    • A dictionary for words you can make head nor tail of. I usually gloss over these and now have no excuse not to learn something new. This is a good thing as I spend a lot of time conversing with pre-schoolers.
    • The sheer ease of searching for and buying books. This is not so good if you have errant children nearby who will take any chance to wreak havoc when you pop to the toilet. I probably need to read up on the parental controls.
    • A secondary toolbar which displays a Go To tab should you want to navigate your book to see its contents, your notes and general highlights. An X-Ray tab gives you an overview of the book too so you can quickly see key themes.
    • Books you can 'borrow' rather than pay for and download if you're on Amazon Prime.
    • The option to share thoughts on Goodreads on Kindle and other social networks. No doubt most people will like this although that's not my bag, admittedly.

    You can even change the brightness and make the font bigger if you have a hangover.

    As you'd expect there's more functionality than this but with some good books on the go (just finished Bob Hoffman's Marketers are from Mars, Consumers are from New Jersey), it's enough to keep me happy by the pool.

    My next steps: download more books and order a personalised case. The latter being a key priority. Obvs.

    Contentable - how to kickstart your content marketing strategy 

     Contentable is an event aimed at helping SMEs kickstart their content marketing strategy that takes place in Gateshead from 6 to 7 May.    I’m speaking on how content isn’t king if you don’t align your PR and marketing to your overall business strategy.    Too many brands chuck out any old rubbish to create noise on different marketing platforms. Creating content for content’s sake isn’t brave, it’s just stupid. And it won’t deliver what your business needs.   Some of the speakers at Contentable are North East entrepreneurs who have successfully exploited digital platforms to promote and grow their businesses.    Here’s some take aways from the morning session with Kieron Donoghue, Tommy Jackson and Paul Slater.   - Don’t be afraid to experiment with your content. Keep testing and if it doesn’t work, move on.  - Use your platforms to listen and follow conversations; you’ll soon discover what interests people and how you might be able to interact as a brand.

    - Social media is the perfect place to provide customer service so invest in your resource to make this happen. 

    - Automation can help if treated with care where the majority of interaction is humanised.  - Build communities by tapping into things that interest (don’t be afraid to hijack events and hashtags) and by ensuring your content is relevant and nicely presented. 

    -  Always measure your activity or you have no idea of what is working and making the biggest difference to your bottom line. 

    Five life lessons that apply to business too

    IMG_7018.JPG Being in business can be a lonely place especially if you're a sole trader.

    Here are five life lessons that also apply to the world of work to help make things easier when the going gets tough.

    1) Believe in yourself Confidence is key to moving forward in a positive way. There is nothing more crippling than doubt about the decisions you've made. Try to always do things for the right reasons and you won't go far wrong. If you do make a mistake, learn from it and move on.

    2) Things happen if and when they're meant to Tennessee Williams said "Time is the longest distance between two places". While we're often told that speed is of the essence (particularly in business), sometimes it can seem your preferred destination is moving further away, rather than closer. Give it time, keep travelling and even if you don't ever get where you were going, you'll experience lots of other wonderful stop offs en route. And anyway, isn't life a never ending journey.

    3) Common goals matter If you're working with others, make sure they have the same ambitions and desires as you, particularly when it's a partnership. Talking face to face regularly and honestly should be top of your list because discovering that you don't meet in the middle any more can damage even the strongest relationships - and that's a lot of wasted potential.

    4) Be true to yourself A friend of mine said this to me recently and she is so right. Sometimes, for many reasons, you have to do what's right for you and that can involve hurting and disappointing others. Deal with the guilt, while easier said than done, it's like doubt and is an insidious emotion that stops you achieving.

    5) Trust your judgement I make myself cross with this one. My instinct is pretty much unerringly right and I don't always listen to it. Trust your gut, it'll tell you when things are good and most importantly when you need to take care. You'll be so, so glad you did.

    Board Intelligence - what do you need to grow a business?

    When running a business, there are certain things that can make a significant difference to the speed and trajectory of company growth. Here are a few of the top tips shared by Pippa Beg, director of Board Intelligence, at today's IoD Women in Business Conference:

    - Build networks and surround yourself with people you trust and can seek advice from.

    - Have blind faith and be positive where your ideas are being well received by those around you.

    - Ensure your Board get the right stimulus and intelligence to perform well.

    - Technology is key. Embrace new applications and platforms and develop your own where the need arises. Innovate.

    - Challenge yourself to identify what you want your business to look like in ten years time and continually push yourself along the path to get there.



    Diversity on the Board - how do we achieve it?

    When it comes to diversity on the Board, there is still a long way to go before there is parity between the sexes. So how do we address this? Here are few of the take aways from the interactive panel session on this topic at the IoD Women in Business Conference today.

    Taking part were: Melanie Eusebe, founder of the Black British Business Awards; Amanda Bolt, founder of Boardroom Mum; Amanda Mackenzie, chief marketing & communications officer at Aviva and Allyson Zimmermann, executive director of Catalyst Europe.

    - Everyone in an organisation has a responsibility to challenge the status quo and ask why there aren't more women on the Board.

    - Senior managers need to ensure there are strong female role models available for others to learn from.

    - Quotas can be one way to create change but accountability measures are much more effective.

    - Cultural change is required. This is not about expecting female leaders to be more masculine in personality trait and having more confidence, but about male management pushing harder for a better balance and recognising the benefits this brings.

    - Women need to have stronger profit centre skills in order to be able to compete with their male counterparts.

    - Inclusive leadership is required to get more out of the management team, particularly if there is only one woman on the Board who could feel like an outsider.

    Apprentice winner Dr Leah Totton talks entrepreneurship

    leahDr Leah Totton, founder of Dr Leah Clinics, hasn't rested on her laurels since winning the Apprentice.

    Determined to launch a range of cosmetic surgery clinics that would set the standard for providing safe and affordable treatment on the high street, she's now well underway with making this a reality.

    When asked, Leah says she knew she was an entrepreneur when she realised she had a vision, she believed she could create it and then actually made it happen.

    But even with Sir Alan Sugar as a business partner and mentor, as well as the investment and publicity from winning the programme, Leah has faced the same issues as other business start ups.

    Brokering supplier deals, sourcing premises, choosing the right branding and managing staff have all created the same headaches for her as they do for other owner-managers.

    Despite having had to navigate all this, Leah says it's a great time to be a woman in business.

    "As of 3 March 2014, in the FTSE100 women now account for 20.7% of overall board directorships, up from 17.3% in April 2013. While 9/10 start ups fail, male entrepreneurs face the same issues as female ones so there is little disparity there.

    "My view is if you have a dream and can make it happen, go for it."