In praise of Sytner MINI High Wycombe

Almost as good as new

Almost as good as new

I took my MINI Cooper for a service today. It was a terrific experience – thank you Sytner High Wycombe MINI.

It started after I decided to extend the TLC car service package for an extra two years when I dropped the car off. Shortly after, service person Neil raced after me to say he had looked into it and concluded I’d lose money compared with paying for each service, given the car’s mileage. It’s always impressive when a company tells you not to spend money.

Later, Sytner emailed me a video showing the car on the hoist, and the work that needed doing.

When I collected the car, Neil said that they’d managed to do several of the jobs for less, as they’d done the work quickly. So the bill was less than I expected.

Finally, my MINI looked stunning after its wash and vacuum.

Very impressive!

Costa Coffee takes over Captain Mainwaring’s bank branch

Captain Mainwaring at The Crown

The Crown as Martins Bank, Walmington-on-Sea

I don’t imagine that Dad’s Army’s Captain Mainwaring ever tasted a frappucino. (They came long after 1940.) But the Chalfont St Giles, Bucks pub that posed as Mainwaring’s bank in the Dad’s Army film is about to open as Costa’s latest coffee shop.

Costa Coffee Chalfont St Giles

The Crown becomes a Costa

Sadly, the much loved Crown closed last year, as I blogged in May. It was one of our favourite venues for anniversary and birthday dinners. (I took my very first iPhone photo on one such occasion in 2008.) Losing a pub is always a sad event, but if we have to swap dinner for coffee a Costa is a good choice. (Make mine a skinny latte and tiffin…)

The Crown Chalfont St Giles pub sign

Sign of the times

PS: we paid our first visit today, 20 December. They’ve done a very nice job converting the pub. The coffee’s great too!

Costa Coffee opens in Chalfont St Giles

Costa Coffee opens in Chalfont St Giles

Goodbye to Guardian’s Media Talk podcast

The Guardian Media Talk podcast

Media Talk silenced

Fridays will never be the same again. The Guardian’s Media Talk podcast has ended after eight years.

It’s not a huge surprise. The Guardian has been losing money – like most newspaper groups – for years and has been making cutbacks for some time. (The venerable separate Media section of the print edition was merged with the main section in 2011.)

I’ve been a regular listener from the beginning. I loved the mix of wit and insight into the changing media scene from the likes of Matt Wells, Emily Bell and Maggie Brown in particular, as well as final presenter John Plunkett.

Media Talk has chronicled one of the most dramatic eras in media history. The digital revolution has led to what many see as print’s terminal decline. Rupert Murdoch introduced a paywall – the opposite approach to The Guardian and Mail Online – then was laid low by the phone hacking scandal, which the Guardian played a big role in breaking.

Media Talk was off air when the paper’s revelations about the News of the World hacking Milly Dowler’s phone became a major scandal in 2011. But I was there a week or so later when Matt Wells recorded a special edition on the subject with a panel including Guardian editor in chief Alan Rusbridger.

Ironically, Emily Bell herself said in the farewell podcast that there are signs that podcasts are enjoying a revival. All is not lost: John Plunkett and team are hoping to revive the show as an independent production. Please subscribe to make this happen.

PS: Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff writes critically about the Guardian’s US expansion in GQ.

 

 

In praise of David Abbott

The Economist management trainee advert

Simply brilliant: classic David Abbott

Back in the 1980s, many people said the best thing on British television was the adverts. It was a tribute to the work of adland legend David Abbott, who died this week.

Abbott created some of the most memorable, wittiest ads ever conceived. It ranged from the clever – the brilliantly simple Economist ads quoting the 42 year old management trainee who never reads the paper – to the tender “Good Old Yellow Pages” TV commercial featuring elderly author J R Hartley using the directory to track down a copy of his book about fly fishing. He also overturned the assumption that only sex and sexism sold cars by brilliantly selling safety to as a benefit of buying a Volvo. Continue reading

Back to O2

O2 Telefonica iPhone

Back to O2

I’m back with O2 after a three year break, and after 17 months of frustration at countless missed calls with Three.

I never meant to leave Telefonica-owned O2. I was happy with the UK’s original iPhone network, but moved to Vodafone as I didn’t see why I should pay more for the iPhone 4. It was a big mistake, as I blogged in 2012. I have found Three excellent for data, but hopeless for voice calls, even in London.

Continue reading

British Rail’s corporate identity, 50 years on

I’ve been thinking about corporate identity recently, following PayPal’s brand identity refresh. (Every organisation needs to update its look every now and again.) It’s exactly 50 years since the conception of one of Britain’s most far reaching and longest lasting brand identities: British Rail.

The new face of British Rail

The new face of British Rail

Back in 1964, Britain’s railways were changing. The traditional steam railway was being replaced by a new age of diesel and electric trains. British Railways wanted to create a clean, consistent, modern identity across its trains, stations and even ships. The new identity still looks modern half a century later, and the famous BR symbol is still with us almost 20 years after BR itself disappeared. (You don’t hear it called the arrow of indecision these days.)

Southern Railway S15 Barry scrapyard

Southern Railway and BR identities, Barry scrapyard 1982

The new BR identity scrapped the mock heraldic logos that it had used for its first 16 years – no longer would British trains feature lions. It even appeared on BR’s narrow gauge Vale of Rheidol steam engines well into the 1980s.

British Rail Sealink identity

British Rail’s identity goes to sea

Back in 1964, British Railways was much more than a railway. It ran hotels, cross channel ferries and the new identity applied across land and sea. The shortened name, British Rail, was quickly adopted although the longer title remained the official name to the very end under the British Railways Board, which was abolished in 2001.

Since Britain’s railways were privatised, our trains carry a bewildering array of liveries. The one unifying element is the famous 1964 arrow.

British Rail symbol

British Rail arrows

Note: thanks to Nick Job’s website  www.doublearrow.co.uk for much background on the BR corporate identity, including pages from the original BR identity manuals. See also the late Brian Haresnape’s British Rail 1948 – 1978, a journey by design.

The return of the artisan

Around the time that Margaret Thatcher came to power, I learned a new word: artisan. My Cardiff High School history teacher, the excellent Dr Davies, explained that an artisan was a skilled manual worker. The question was prompted by Dr Davies’s lesson on the  reforms of Benjamin Disraeli’s first ministry, including the Artisans’ Dwellings Act 1875.

Little did I imagine back in 1979 that the word would become a marketing buzzword in the 21st century. Yet it has, as Kathryn Hughes examines in her column in today’s Guardian. As she puts it:

“The implication is that everything in these charming, gentle spaces has been done by hand, from scratch and on the premises. The coffee beans are ground to order, the soup was simmered in a battered old saucepan, and the cakes were made overnight in the basement kitchen. The interior design too hints towards “artisanal” without quite spelling it out. There are old refectory tables, chairs from an abandoned cricket pavilion and some mismatched crockery that came from someone’s granny.”

She draws parallels with William Morris’s arts and crafts movement of the 1870s (by coincidence the decade of that famous act of parliament). Morris was keen to improve the lives of workers. Yet few of those workers could afford the hand made furniture inspired by the movement. In much the same way, the new generation of artisanal products and shops carry a steep price tag.

I wonder if the coffee tastes better?

I owe you: talking about friendship debt

Mrs Moneypenny and Rob Skinner from PayPal talk friendship debt

Mrs Moneypenny and PayPal’s Rob Skinner talk about the money owed by friends

I teamed up today with Channel 4’s personal finance expert Mrs Moneypenny to talk about the awkwardness caused when friends don’t pay each other back. We chatted to radio stations across the UK – who found it struck a chord with listeners.

We were talking about PayPal’s survey which showed that Britons are owed an estimated £3.2 billion by family and friends at any one time. That’s £66 per person! It’s not just the cases when you actually hand over cash; these small loans also include the times when you buy a friend a meal, a coffee or takeaway.

A fifth of us would rather go short than ask for the money back. As Mrs Moneypenny put it, money is the last taboo. Many feel more comfortable talking about sex than money, especially when it comes to confronting a friend about a debt.

Help is at hand, in the form of technology. The survey showed that one person in seven is using their mobile to remind friends to repay them. That’s typically a text alert, but apps can be an even better reminder. I explained how you can use the PayPal app to prompt your pal to send you the money with just your mobile number or email address.

PS: Mrs Moneypenny has a new book out: Mrs Moneypenny’s Financial advice for independent women. One of her best tips today was to set aside an hour a week to sort out your finances. For example, when your car insurance comes up for renewal, get  quotes from other insurance companies to see if you can save some money.

Disclosure: I am PR director for PayPal, UK & Ireland

In praise of John Lewis customer service

I love John Lewis, the British department store. It’s always a delight to shop there, with its wide range of stock, attractive stores and superb customer service. And it’s so convenient to shop online at johnlewis.com, paying with PayPal, then collect the goods at my local Waitrose.

I experienced that terrific customer service again today. I was distraught recently when my John Lewis messenger bag ripped (below) when it snagged on the side of the car seat. I’ve had the bag since Christmas 2012, and found it perfect for trips into London when I didn’t need my laptop – this bag has room for iPad, wallet, mobile phone and EE mifi. John Lewis in Watford swapped the faulty one for a new one without quibble despite the fact I didn’t have the receipt. No wonder John Lewis’s business results are so strong.

John Lewis messenger bag

John Lewis bag ripped – but no need to panic

Disclosure: I am head of PR for PayPal UK

Visibility: I see a buzzword

Visibility: not what it used to be

Visibility: not what it used to be

Once upon a time, if people didn’t know the answer to a question, they’d say they didn’t know the answer. Now, if they work in a big organisation, they’re just as likely to say, “I don’t have visibility about that.” They’ll say they’re sending an email so the recipient “has visibility”.

I first heard visibility used in this way in Rebekah Brooks’ evidence to the House of Commons media select committee hearing into the News of the World phone hacking scandal in 2011:

“One of the problems of this case has been our lack of visibility and what was seized at Glenn Mulcaire’s home. We have had zero visibility.”

Where did this nonsense come from? I have no idea, but I’m sure it follows the belief that jargon and buzzwords are more impressive than plain English. The truth is the opposite. Language like this deadens the senses. People use it without thinking.

Here’s my earlier post about jargon and buzz phrases. Sadly, ‘roadmap’ and ‘granularity’ remain as common in office language today as two years ago.