This blog reflects on life at work at comments on the latest news that shapes my 9-5 working day in a Corporate Communications consultancy.

About Me

I am a born and bred South African who has always loved to read and write. As a child my mother used to read to me and my siblings, from classics like the “Lord of the Rings” but later also from her own stories. She would write children’s stories and then use us as her test audience, but I loved to hear what she had written long after my siblings had tired of it. So I grew up in an environment of reading and writing, which inspired my love of these things. I hope to write a great book some day, and have learnt first hand the determination and will that it takes. My love of English inspired me to continue my study of it at university. I majored in Law and English in a BA degree at UCT where I found that I took to English much more than law. I enjoyed learning about South Africa’s history and the development of our liberal Constitution, which increasingly made me committed to the hope this country has for the future. Ideally, I’d like to find myself in a job where I am able to write; that allows a good mix of time spent with people and being able to work on my own.

Tuesday, 05 May 2009

Debating the wisdom of open plan offices

Time to be honest about open-plan offices
By Michael Skapinker
Published: May 4 2009 19:19 Last updated: May 4 2009 19:19

When I began my first management job, an entrepreneur friend gave me some useful advice: “Give your people space to moan about you.” Talking about the boss was an inevitable part of working life, she said, and a way for teams to establish camaraderie.
I remembered her words when the Financial Times reported that Terry Morgan, chief executive of Tube Lines, had no office, sitting instead at a desk on an open-plan floor where he gazed over his employees. Mr Morgan, whose company runs three London Underground lines, said: “The only privilege I have is the best view.”
Lynda Gratton, a London Business School professor, said of Mr Morgan’s arrangement: “We’ll see more of it. Organisations are moving to being more of networks. So sitting with your colleagues signals that you see it in a less hierarchical way.”
Underlying the question of whether the boss should sit in an open-plan office is whether anyone should. That is not an issue much discussed these days, so well-entrenched is the assumption that open-plan offices encourage the free-flowing communication essential to business success. Put people together, let them talk and innovation will flow.
Will it? Certainly, people need to talk to get things done. But do they need to spend their days in the same office to talk, especially when they have e-mail and Skype? Thirty years of studies have revealed that open-plan design “only minimally facilitates communications and does so at the expense of privacy”, Suining Ding, a US academic, noted in an article in Facilities journal.
The privacy point is important. Who would opt for a shared space if they could have their own? Backpackers stay in youth hostel dormitories, but that is because they cannot afford to pay for privacy. Hotels do not ask business travellers whether they would like to have their own rooms or shared ones, because they know the answer. Airlines can charge considerably more for seats that give you some distance from your neighbours.
Whatever small gains open-plan offices do offer in enhanced communication are, in any event, wiped out by the loss of productivity. We do not need academic studies to tell us people get less done when they have to listen to their neighbours’ conversations and telephone calls. Once again, a commonsense reference to life outside the office suffices: libraries have a rule of silence because it allows people to work.
It is not just the distractions of open-plan offices that lower productivity. A recent article in the Asia Pacific Journal of Health Management said that employees in open-plan offices were more prone to eye, nose and throat irritations, and more likely to come down with flu.
Open-plan offices may offer companionship, but that assumes you like the people whose space you share. It is surely more comfortable to be able to pop into the private office of those you want to see.
So why are most offices these days open-plan? Because they cost less. The Asia Pacific Journal article put the saving at up to 20 per cent. Not only do open-plan offices allow companies to eliminate the cost of all those walls; they can also fit far more people into the same space.
There is nothing wrong with cutting costs; lower costs mean higher profits and a better chance of corporate survival. Organisations in which every employee has his or her own office might soon find themselves undercut by companies, possibly on the other side of the world, that pack staff into a single space.
Open-plan buildings are, as the Asia Pacific Journal says, also more efficient to heat and cool than traditional closed offices, so open-plan is greener as well as cheaper.
Given that it seems here to stay, should managers share the open space with their staff? There are strong arguments in favour. Whether it comes to insisting that all staff fly economy or cut down on lunches with clients, when companies impose a cost-cutting hardship on staff, managers should lead by example.
Against that, managers need a space to talk to employees in private, and for employees to talk to them, away from the straining ears of their colleagues. That can be dealt with by providing meeting spaces away from the open-plan areas, although that requires staff to make specific arrangements to talk rather than just dropping by. (By way of declaring an interest, I should say that I have an office next to the open-plan area of the team I manage.)
But my friend’s point remains: managers may want to work alongside their staff, but their staff may not want to work alongside them. Certainly, managers who work in open-plan areas should give their people a break by going somewhere else from time to time. Mr Morgan of Tube Lines told the FT he liked working in the open-plan office because, “I can listen to the gossip.” The gossip he is unlikely to hear is the gossip about him. His staff probably go elsewhere for that.

Wednesday, 04 March 2009

Graduates naive about jobs

Advice to be realistic about job seeking from a recruitment agent should come in handy for any WoWers still out there are looking.

'Graduates naive about jobs'
Mar 04 2009 09:39 Joanita Cillié

Johannesburg - Graduates who are now entering the labour market, need rapidly to adjust their expectations because, in the current economic conditions, there are many obstacles to accessing the workplace.
Jan Coetzee, managing director of Manpower South Africa, says "Generation Y", who were born between the late 1970s and 2000, are entering the market with entirely different expectations from those of their predecessors. Much of these are unrealistic.
"They think a degree will ensure they get work. And I cannot say how many come to us looking for a monthly salary of at least R20 000, exorbitant benefits or a management position."
These individuals have, however, zero work experience and compete with an ever-expanding pool of jobseekers.
South Africa, he reckons, has till now been largely a candidate-driven market. When people with good skills sought work, agencies could quickly place them somewhere.
With many people losing their work as a result of retrenchment, and South Africans returning home from, especially, England, Australia and New Zealand, it is changing into an employer-driven market.
"It is also a reality that the market for permanent employment has shrunk significantly," Coetzee notes.
He comments that candidates with an honours or Master's degree struggle for months to get work and, sometimes, as soon as they get a job quickly lose it again because of the first-in-first-out principle; this can result in psychological scarring.
He advises candidates to first become more realistic about what they expect from a position.
Secondly, they might consider temporary work. Such jobs could become permanent in the future, and these candidates would then be more attractive because they would have gained valuable experience in different industries.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Thought for the day

“Brand is what people say about you when you’re
out of the room.” Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO, Amazon

Monday, 16 February 2009

Excelling at your job

Amidst all the unemployment statistics, a Finweek piece today gives valuable tips on how to keep your job. Although has an edge of cynicism and when I'm reading it, makes me feel like I should walk on a tightrope around the office, it gives some valuable reminders on how to excel at my job: sometimes I forget this in the quest just to survive the day to day.

UNLESS YOU HAVE A JOB where your output is clearly measurable, you may wish to consider the guidance provided below. It would appear such measures - as ludicrous as some may seem - have been proved to work over the years. Donna Rosato, of Money Magazine suggests the following:
"It all starts with profiling. Does your boss's boss know who you are and what you do? If he doesn't, you may well be in trouble. It's no good if your immediate line manager or supervisor alone knows you're good. You have to make sure that at the uppermost echelons of the organisation the right people know your name (and game).
"Stephen Viscusi, author of Bulletproof your job: four simple strategies to ride out the tough times and come out on top at work, warns that 'the invisible guy is the first to go'.
"How do you raise your profile? Suggestions in Viscusi's book include: "face" time (arriving at the office a few minutes before everyone else and leaving a few minutes later) and making yourself noticed. You do that by making convincing statements and asking appropriate questions at meetings and other public arenas. Dressing more professionally. How about volunteering for those assignments nobody else wants?
"Then there's the question of money. You have to be making money. If you're not - and you happen to fall on the support side of the business - you need to be seen to be adding to the bottom line. Companies tend to cut jobs in support areas first. You need to be seen to be sharing leads or ideas to generate revenue.
"You need to network and you need to ensure you network with the right people: align yourself with those perceived to be top performers - those who have the boss's favour. Be careful about backing the wrong horse, because when his race is done, yours may very well be too. On the other hand, hanging out with the top performers may just leave you looking good, even if it's just by association. Some gurus don't agree: we'll leave it to you to decide the best course to follow."
Chris Kalaboukis, CEO of Advice Trader, a leading expert advice marketplace, suggests now's the time to be politically neutral. "If you ally yourself too closely with your boss, you could be in trouble if he goes. Be very aware of what's going on - but don't ally yourself with anyone," says Kalaboukis.
Most importantly, don't complain. Nobody likes people who complain all the time, especially when times are strained and profits are down. Rather be seen to be the one coming up with new, creative, cost-cutting ideas.
Kalaboukis agrees: "That's a sure job buster. Management is strung tight: stress is at an all-time high. Money is barely trickling in, if at all. Now isn't the time to complain. Bottle it all up and never say a single word to anyone at work - or anyone who knows anyone at work - no matter how unfair or wrong things are."
He cites the importance of wearing a mask when at work. "Smile, be happy and never give anyone a reason to ask: "What's wrong?' That, my friend, is the beginning of the end. You may as well get your resumé out."
You need to be seen to be going beyond the realms of responsibility for which you were hired and to position yourself as a "team player". The reality is employees worldwide are being expected to do more with less. You can choose to embrace it or complain about it: either way, you can't change the outcome - which is that you have to work harder. If you embrace it, you're more likely to remain on the team when the short straws are drawn.
However, Kalaboukis warns: "If you excel at your job you'll get noticed. Your co-workers will notice you're doing well and start talking to the boss about it. They'll gang up on you and try to take you down. Excellence makes you different and 'difference' is a negative. Don't be different - but don't let yourself slack off in any way either."
Last, but certainly, not least - be on time.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Quote of the Week

"The financial crisis that grew into an economic crisis is now becoming an employment crisis, and in the coming months, for some it will be a human crisis. Far from being insulated... developing countries are feeling the effects - and Africa is no exception"


Interest rates in numbers

With Interest rates and the budget all over the news lately, this FM article provides a quick snapshot.

100 basis points, or 1%, was the SA Reserve Bank's interest rate cut last week, making the prime lending rate 10,5%. This will provide relief to cash-strapped consumers.

2003 was the last time the bank made this big a rate adjustment. Bank governor Tito Mboweni had, uncharacteristically, said he had favoured a 2% cut.

10,3% was SA's consumer inflation in December 2008. Declining inflation and consumer confidence gave the bank reason to cut.

0,2% was Q3 economic growth rate in SA, its slowest in a decade. Mining, retail and manufacturing experienced negative growth.

1% is the interest rate in the UK, the lowest in the 300-year history of its central bank. The UK has consistently decreased its interest rates from 5% in October last year, in a bid to drag its economy out of a recession.

0%-0,25% is the interest rate in the US. It is down from 4,75% in September 2007.

0,1% is Japan's interest rate. 2% is what Europe opted to leave its interest rate at, this month. It has suggested it may

Thursday, 05 February 2009

Thought for the day

Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book.
~Author Unknown

More on unemployement

Two Finanicial Mail pieces this week look at unemployement and the credit crisis. The figures coming through in the news have been a wake up call, especially the estimate that 18 - 30million could lose their jobs in the duration of the crisis. Amidst these sobering figures, unemployment becomes a political issue as South Africa approaches an election in a few months time, and political parties aim to make promises around job creation. There is likely to be intense public scrutiny of top leadership's salaries, as there staff is laid off in the thousands. All factors to watch over the next few months, and which are likely to become issues in my job, the business of communicating.

Global jobs in numbers
By Razina Munshi

18m-30m people could lose their jobs due to the global credit crisis, says the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) annual global employment trends report released last week.

51m or 7,1% globally would be affected if world economic conditions continue to deteriorate. Based on November 2008 forecasts, an unemployment rate of 6,1% was expected. The ILO measured unemployment by those without a job, but looking for one.

3bn people worldwide were employed in 2008 - up about 1,3% over 2007. This is lower than the annual average growth rate of 1,6% during the past 10 years.

7,9% is the registered unemployment rate in sub-Saharan Africa. North Africa, with an unemployment rate of 10,3%, is the highest in the world.

5% economic growth is forecast for sub-Saharan Africa in 2009. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says the region is in a less precarious position than the rest of the world because of its limited linkages with the global financial system.

0,5% The IMF's (adjusted) expectation of global economic growth in 2009 - down from 2,2% in November.

1,4bn people in developing countries are living in extreme poverty. 2,6bn consume less than US$2/day at 2005 prices.

200m more workers, mostly in developing economies, could be pushed into extreme poverty, if conditions persist.

Source: ILO and IMF

Jamie Carr

Those who struggled hard but failed to shed a tear in sympathy with the former big swingers of Lehman Brothers may now find it easier to get the water works flowing as the recession bites all across the real economy. Now it's not just the financial casino clowns who are heading for the elevators with the cardboard box of doom, and it's impossible to open a newspaper without reading of 10 000 jobs lost here, 5 000 there. Corporates are responding to an unprecedented drop-off in demand by cutting fast and cutting deep, and this in itself will drive demand ever lower.

SA has already suffered some cuts, but there could be many thousands more before the year is out. While political parties are putting the finishing touches to their job creation rhetoric in preparation for the election, the reality is going to be heading in exactly the opposite direction, and this may add spice to what is already a fiery political mix.

What government should be doing is racing to create the most enabling environment possible so business can bounce back as soon as possible, but sadly the compulsion to interfere may be too strong for our glorious leaders to resist.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Bringing the Obama social networking tactics to SA politics

Today's Management and Leadership page in Business Day has a profile of Abey Mokgwatsane, which caught my eye because he spoke to the WOW 2007 group about building a personal brand. Abey describes how his marketing agency VWV made a pitch to a South African political party to include social networking strategies in the run up to this year's election, modelled on Obama's campaign.

He discusses Obama's brand and how it was built through the use of social media tactics - recognising Obama's stress on change but also how his slogan "Yes we can" empowered and gave hope to the consumer.

What interests me is whether a social media campaign will work for a South African political party. Yes, social media is taking off - but how much is it really taking off in South Africa? We were discussing it yesterday over lunch, and, for our purposes as a comunciations company, there's so far been little of import in that space that would affect any of our clients - people aren't going to use social sites such as Facebook to chat about a major mining company. The most popular blogs are those like "Mushy Peas on toast", and the Rugby blog KEO is in first place in popularity: we haven't yet seen corporate activists take the blogging sphere and build up a popular following.

I'll be watching the election with interest to see how the social media tactics play out. Abey thinks an Obama like campaign will work just as well here, and focuses his model on cell phones, with their major penetration in SA and African markets. As CEO of VWV at only 30 years old, Abey Mokgwatsane is also definitely one to watch.

Business Day
Surfing into the edges of brand consciousness
30 Jan 09

Abey Mokgwatsane, CEO of pace-setting marketing agency VWV, sees powerful lessons for SA in the Obama communications strategy, writes Doug Gordon

ABEY Mokgwatsane may be the only man in Johannesburg running a R100m annual business whose card doesn’t list his title. It’s a statement, of course — tuned specifically to the vast, young African consumer market who communicate as fast and laterally as today’s global internet community can reach. It’s the reach that voted a little-known junior senator into the White House this month and the kind of thinking that can make the “Obama effect” a major factor for change in our own upcoming elections. Mokgwatsane is the CEO of pacesetting marketing agency VWV, whose pitch to one of the campaigning political parties includes much of the cutting-edge communications strategy that caused tens of millions of voters to get behind Barack Obama in last November’s US elections. “It would work just as effectively here,” Mokgwatsane says. The blueprint for such a campaign, developed by the VWV planners during the recent summer holidays, is based on the rapid cellphone penetration of the South African market — already to more than 80% of the population. Obama’s blitz used SMS, MMS and Twitter to get the word out, which then multiplied via social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to millions who felt alienated from their political establishment. He campaigned for change and he kept it one-on-one, sending out daily messages while his rivals spent fortunes on saturating the TV channels with lavish TV messages. “The Obama campaign aligned the people behind a cause instead of a candidate,” he says. “It became a mission. His young organisers on campuses and in the streets networked through every community. They overlapped, they multiplied. They had an army of people constantly growing behind the single purpose of bringing change to the government.” Obama’s e-punchline made voting personal: “Change starts with you.” Smart campaigning has proved equally effective for VWV in terms of selling products other than political candidates. He and business partners Jameson Hlongwane and Wanda Shuenyane have made the transition to new media for a client list that includes Nokia, SABMiller, Coca-Cola, Nando’s, Neotel and BMW. This month the agency completes a mammoth, four-year rebranding operation on the national freight carrier Transnet. And Mokgwatsane regards the new Mini account as equally significant. “We are increasingly targeting areas of our portfolio in which we can work with the dynamic young market,” he explains. “Clients like these allow us to tap into the confluence of social networking and flow at full pace. It’s what we did with Virgin Mobile two years ago. The brief is always to be cool and do stuff that’s never been done before. To be edgy. It’s fantastic.” Now aged 30, Mokgwatsane has been in step with the multimedia evolution since he began his marketing career. What he’s brought to the superhighway is a street instinct for What’s Coming Next in a well-informed, emergent consumer market that’s setting trends for the whole of the subcontinent.

Working as a marketing trainee for SAB in 2002, he revolutionised the commercial pop culture with SABC1’s influential Castle Loud show. Household names jammed together live every Friday night to set the tone for the new urban chic, what they wore, how they partied and what they drank. Appointed a brand manager, he used a similar approach to separate America’s Miller Genuine Draft from the dated “green glass and silver foil” image of European beers. “The TV ad was like a music video,” he says. “There were no pack shots and bowing the knee to tradition. It was a fresh young brand designed for fun times: a party in LA, a party in London, a party in Tokyo — and a party happening in Jo’burg. It hooked a new brand to the global party vibe.” Backed by a launch event on a Hollywood scale, 1 500 A-listers commuted to parties around SA aboard Lear jets — hooked up to the online audience via images downloaded onto the brand’s website. Miller sales hit 100000 hectalitres faster than any other SAB label at the time — and Mokgwatsane quit to join VWV. “Radical new ideas cause waves,” he shrugs. “I needed the freedom to follow the momentum I’d discovered in below-the-line marketing. I have never accepted that relentless, big-budget TV advertising can establish a product and a new mindset. Not with today’s media-savvy generation. For me, a brand concept is made at 4am, at a club, with your friends, listening to great music — that’s when you connect with a brand. You tune into what the people want next.” Today, with more than 40% of our population younger than himself, Mokgwatsane feels even more closely tuned to the mindset of a consumer generation in its second decade of democracy. As the economy bites into marketing budgets, he’s intent on finding new, cost-effective ways for his clients to reach the public.

One example: Mokgwatsane believes that traditional stokvels are an untapped source of investment finance, a resource estimated to be worth close to R1,5bn, with memberships mostly female. “It stems from the apartheid era when many men went off to work and they stayed at home to raise the families,” he says. “I’d guess that maybe 70% of South African households nowadays are led by women. We are only beginning to figure out how to reach them. I’m talking about the grandmothers who feed their kids, clothe them and get them into school, all on their monthly pensions of a few hundred rand.” The trade and industry department last year estimated there are at least 800000 active stokvels with at least 10-million members, providing cash reserves to supplement the meagre incomes of low-income households. “This is a massive community dedicated to a single purpose,” he continues. “They are constantly looking out for a new savings account offering a better rate of interest. Yet many banks, which are desperate for cash, ignore them. The stokvel model is a major new factor. In an election year, it brings into play every one of those millions of women as potential investors taking charge of their savings and the future of their families. That’s who we need to reach in an election year.” Cellphones provide the cheapest and most effective route of doing that. Text greetings flew at a rate of 1000 a second between families and friends as New Year arrived this month, on one leading network alone; at least 50-million messages pinged out on Christmas day. Digital hook-ups are handheld and thriving here in the same way that Obama amassed his own grassroots collective. Empathy is what gets millions of people on message. “Keep it simple,” says Abey. “Express it in a single sentence that everyone can relate to and talk about.” Brands must connect with the right market energy to build fast, and when it works it’s dynamite. President Obama is already a brand icon at a level that marketers can only dream about. Virtually unknown to the American public a year ago, his credibility and user-friendly image now puts even Tiger Woods in the shade. He’s the first president to use his smartphone inside the Oval Office — a product endorsement that would be worth at least $50m a year if he wasn’t doing it for free, say marketing experts.

“The BlackBerry anecdotes are a huge part of Obama’s brand reputation,” he notes. “It positions him as one of us: he’s got friends and family and people to communicate with, just like all of us. And it positions him as a next-generation politician.” He followed the Obama campaign with increasing fascination as the buzz mounted on the net and began generating global headlines. He’s feeling the same excitement about our own upcoming elections. “The Obama campaign model would be the quickest way to bring an intensive, fully organised operation into play here,” he says. “When he won the election on November 5, the world changed. There is a new era of truth that’s sweeping the globe, the unvarnished realities of business and politics exposed by the economic recession. “Obama understood from the beginning that change was the key issue — change that was coming and would radically affect us all. He grasped that instinctively and drove that message throughout 2008 while his rivals only latched onto it in the closing weeks before the election.” That’s the pitch that Mokgwatsane used last month to bring state-of-the-art communications to our own election. “South Africans want respect and they want to be kept in the loop about the issues that affect them personally,” he says. “They couldn’t care less about old-style electioneering, gossip and moral baggage. The greatest credibility a candidate can offer nowadays is simply to tell the truth and trust the voters to make their own decisions.”

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

72 000 retrenchments announced in one day

Scary headlines yesterday announced 72 000 retrenchments across the globe. I heard the news on the radio when driving to work and was suddenly very glad to be driving to work! It is still unclear how badly South Africa will be affected by the threat of retrenchments, a lot of the big companies are skirting around the issue, but they are sure to be around the corner. At Brunswick we will no doubt have to carefully manage how some of our clients issue these annoucements. Between that and the impending elections, its bound to be an interesting year!

Massive global job cuts as crisis deepens
A tidal wave of layoffs washed across the world, sending 70,000 workers into joblessness as the pain of the global recession worsened. Brian Moss, Reuters27 January 2009 02:51
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A tidal wave of layoffs washed across the world on Monday, sending tens of thousands of workers into joblessness as the pain of the global recession worsened.
Amid reports of tumbling corporate profits, dire outlooks and a lowered global growth forecast from the International Monetary Fund, companies in Europe and the United States announced they would cut employees in a dramatic effort to reduce costs and keep their businesses afloat.
Despite the corporate gloom, markets rallied on some of Monday's other news: No. 1 drugmaker Pfizer Inc said it would buy rival Wyeth for $68 billion, Barclays said it had no need to raise capital and sales of existing U.S. homes unexpectedly rose 6.5 percent.
"In the midst of a global recession, here is Pfizer, hopefully spending their dollars wisely," said Andre Bakhos, president of Princeton Financial Group in New Brunswick, New Jersey. "It adds a little confidence that all is not lost."
But the darkening view was reinforced by a dismal revised outlook from the IMF, which slashed its forecast for 2009 global growth to 0.5 percent from 2.2 percent in its last economic outlook in November, a source told Reuters.
The IMF saw the U.S. economy contracting 1.6 percent in 2009, with the euro zone shrinking 2 percent and Japan contracting 2.6 percent, according to the source. The IMF pegged 2010 world growth at 3 percent.
The tsunami of layoff announcements, affecting more than 70,000 workers, started in Europe, with electronics maker Philips reporting 6,000 job cuts as it posted a bigger-than-expected 1.5 billion euro ($1.9 billion) loss, its first quarterly loss since 2003.
ING cut 7,000 of its 130,000 jobs, replaced its CEO and got guarantees from the Dutch government as other European banks sought to reassure investors they are coming to grips with the turmoil in financial markets.
Corus, Europe's second-largest steelmaker, said 3,500 jobs would go worldwide, including 2,500 in Britain, as the company, owned by India's Tata Steel, sought to boost operating profit.
In the United States, Caterpillar, the world's largest maker of heavy equipment, said it would eliminate nearly 20,000 jobs, reported a 32 percent drop in profit and forecast the weakest year for business since the end of World War Two.
Sprint Nextel Corp the No. 3 U.S. mobile service provider, said it will cut up to 8,000 jobs, or about 14 percent of its workforce. [ID:nN26368948] Retailer Home Depot Inc said it will cut 7,000 jobs, or about 2 percent of its workforce.
Chip maker Texas Instruments said it was cutting 12 percent of its workforce, including 1,800 layoffs and 1,600 voluntary departures [ID:nN2638388], and car maker General Motors Corp said it would lay off 2,000 more workers at two assembly plants.
On the flip side of Pfizer's deal for Wyeth, Pfizer said it will cut 15 percent of the companies' combined 130,000 workers -- about 19,500 jobs.
Major U.S. indexes rose. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.5 percent and the broader S&P 500 was up 0.6 percent. Bond prices fell as the increase in existing-home sales raised questions whether the housing market was as weak as thought. European stocks rose, with Europe's FTSE 300 index closing 3.2 percent higher.
Gold climbed above $900 an ounce, the highest in more than three months.
Governments around the world focused on stimulus packages to grapple with the financial crisis.
U.S. President Barack Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, told reporters the president "would do everything in his power to ensure the financial system does not collapse," after a weekend in which Republicans voiced objections to Obama's stimulus proposals.
Obama's choice to help lead the government effort, Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner, won Senate approval after a delay due to qualms over his underpayment, since rectified, of some personal taxes earlier this decade.
Geithner is expected to be sworn in quickly and within weeks will likely unveil reforms to the $700 billion financial bailout program to provide more support for housing and credit markets and possibly to absorb troubled assets from banks.
Canada will spend C$7 billion ($5.7 billion) on infrastructure over the next two years, a government minister said, and officials said Canada will run budget deficits totaling C$64 billion over the next two years.
"We not only create jobs and economic activity now, we also improve our economic competitiveness for decades to come," said Minister of Transport John Baird.
The Norwegian government presented a $2.87 billion fiscal stimulus package to prevent a surge in unemployment.
In Iceland, however, the government of Prime Minister Geir Haarde collapsed under the pressures of the financial crisis.
Banks have borne the brunt of the credit crisis, which was sparked by mass defaults on U.S. home loans. The sector has seen a wave of consolidation as leading banks around the world have collapsed or been taken over.
But shares in Britain's Barclays leaped 73 percent after it said its projected 2008 pretax profit of more than 5.3 billion pounds ($7.3 billion) would include significant writedowns of 8 billion pounds and that the bank had made a good start to 2009.
global recession, job cuts,

Monday, 26 January 2009

More about Blogs

Another piece highlighting the importance of blogs, this time focused on their usefulness in attracting graduates to a company. The rise of social media is attractign increasing attention. I wonder how many South African businesses are starting to take notice? Seems we can no longer hide behind the excuse that blogs haven't really taken off here.... if I find out more I will keep you all posted! (via posts on my blog : ) )

Fin 24
Businesses: blog or bust
Ines Schumacher
23 Jan 09
Johannesburg - Your company may be losing out in the battle for Generation Y if it does not have a corporate blog, according to the latest research by employer branding specialist Magnet Communications. In its annual student employer survey, Magnet Communications established that students and young graduates react well to corporate blogs. "They are generally viewed as less controlled than corporate websites, since information doesn't come from a faceless corporate - giving blogs a high degree of credibility," the report says. A corporate blog is an online space used by a company to communicate with its employees and/or its customers. The concept is not something to be frowned at, since more than 12% of Fortune 500 companies have set up corporate blogs. However, it's not a concept that has had a wide uptake in South Africa.
"Some South African companies are still afraid of the medium because people are saying bad stuff about them," says Mike Stopforth, CEO of social and mobile media company Cerebra. His message to those companies is to give consumers the platform to interact with the company, because the bad comments will still be made on other platforms. The appeal of a corporate blog for potential employees is to get a sense of what a company stands for and the "vibe" of the environment, says Arthur Goldstuck, MD of technology research firm World Wide Worx. "Young people don't want to get the feeling that they're stuck in a prison camp," he says. Of course, there are the inevitable pitfalls. "A corporate blog is only a good strategy if you have the right blogger," says Goldstuck. "A CEO blog is a bad idea if the CEO is a bad communicator or writer and has nothing to say," he says. But handing the blog over to a public relations (PR) company to manage denies the company its voice. "People see through an unauthentic blog immediately," he says. Stopforth says: "If there is major dissonance between what the brand stands for and its voice online, readers are going to push back."
How to do it right
Most importantly, a corporate blog has to follow four simple rules, says Goldstuck.

1. Convey an authentic message
2. Be interesting
3. Don't use the blog as a marketing exercise
4. Interact with the users.

Stopforth would add one other rule to that list: "A corporate blog has to empower its users and involve them in brand-building. That will give your blog meaning." has compiled a short list of corporate blogs that add value to the company, and another looking at blogs that should never have been set up in the first place.
The good and the bad
Samsung South Africa: Samsung's blog is unique in that it engages users with other platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as providing some product support. "The authors are fans of Samsung and they are potential new talent for the company," says Stopforth.
Marriott International: A blog by the CEO of a hotel chain. In Marriott on the move, Bill Marriott blogs about the world as he sees it, showing us the humanity behind the brand. Another good CEO blog is Boeing's blog, which gives insight into the workings of the airline industry.
Google blog: A blog where Google employees blog about the working environment. "This blog works well only because Google's corporate environment encourages creative thought and employees feel free to express their views," says Goldstuck.
Sony Playstation blog: Sony harps on about its Playstation and all the latest games it's releasing. This is just a PR blog.
Starbucks blog: Apparently a place for commentary on the brand, but mostly PR material posing as an independent blog.
Happy blogging!

Friday, 23 January 2009

Social media and Businesses

A Business Day piece (sourced from the FT) looks at the damage social media can do to companies, particularly if they do not respond in time to complaints in that sphere. It suggests that companies need to develop a response strategy for dealing with social media, highlighting that bigger US companies such as Ford Motor and PepsiCo are already appointing social media strategists.
Importantly, the piece also emphasises that corporate communications have radically changed with the onset of social media : "It's no longer just companies talking to the press, and customer service talking to customers. All these other people showed up in the -middle. They may not be press and they may not be customers, but suddenly their collective voice is bigger than the traditional channels."

Business Day
Logging in with the new corporate firefighters
By David Gelles (FT)
23 Jan 09
When advertisers launched a campaign last September for the pain reliever Motrin, they hoped to attract the attention of mothers whose backs might be sore from wearing baby-carriers. The advertisements implied that while baby-carriers might be fashionable, hauling a child around could be painful. Mothers were not amused. Soon after the ads were released, anti-Motrin campaigns appeared on Facebook and blogs. Outraged mums, furious at the suggestion that their babies were a hassle, posted rebuttal videos on YouTube. Through Twitter, the microblogging service, thousands of people attacked the company. Motrin was caught off-guard. For days, no company representative replied. Critics accused the company of being not only insensitive but also unresponsive. Eventually a marketing executive at McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson that markets Motrin, e-mailed individual bloggers to apologise for the campaign. But the damage was done. The "Motrin moms" episode illustrates the power of social media - the expanding network of websites that allow users to interact with each other and, increasingly, with companies. It also demonstrates the perils for enterprises that are unprepared to interact with social media. But now a growing number of companies, including Ford Motor, PepsiCo, Wells Fargo and Dell, are creating new high-level jobs to ready themselves for engagement with social media, with titles such as director of social media, head of communities and conversation, vice-president of experiential marketing and digital communications manager. The role of these new executives is to monitor and influence what is being said about their companies on the internet.
Johnson & Johnson made its own appointment in the wake of the Motrin debacle. Having already dabbled in social media, in December the company promoted Marc Monseau, a 10-year company veteran and former director of media relations, to director of social media. "My responsibility is to work with the corporate office and the individual companies to better interact online," Mr Monseau says. "It underscores the fact that we realise this is an important audience and one that we need to develop relationships with." These new jobs represent a broad shift in media relations strategy at large companies. "Corporate communications has radically changed," says Andy Sernovitz, chief executive of the Blog Council, an organisation for heads of social media at big companies. "It's no longer just companies talking to the press, and customer service talking to customers. All these other people showed up in the -middle. They may not be press and they may not be customers, but suddenly their collective voice is bigger than the traditional channels." The essence of social media is conversation. Rather than a one-way stream of information, where companies make announcements to the press and customers, social media enables a great deal of interaction, where companies are in constant dialogue with the public. "We've seen a shift from doing things the old way to now having conversations with our customers," says Jeanette Gibson, director of new media for Cisco Systems. Ms Gibson, who began her job in 2007, says there is now a mandate at Cisco that all staff be attuned to what is being said about Cisco online. "It has definitely shifted how we've done communications," she says. "Our executives are video blogging every day. Everybody's job is now social media." Dell, the computer maker, has one of the most robust corporate social media programmes. Bob Pearson, former senior vicepresident of corporate communications, became vice-president of communities and conversation for Dell in 2007.
He now has 45 people working for him. The core team works on "blog resolution" - trawling the web for dissatisfied customers, then attempting to contact them to make amends. Others on Dell's social media team manage the company's 80 Twitter accounts and 20 Facebook pages. Still others manage IdeaStorm, Dell's forum for customer feedback. Dell is taking its customer feedback seriously. When the company launched the Latitude laptop last summer, six of the features, including backlit keyboard and fingerprint reader, were ideas that came from IdeaStorm. "It's always worth talking directly with your customers. It's always worth listening to them," says Mr Pearson. "It's the wisdom of crowds." Peter Shankman, a social media expert and founder of Help a Reporter Out, a service that broadcasts reporters' requests to a network of experts, says many companies are still reluctant to get involved: "Companies are slow to adapt because they're still not 100 per cent sure they can make money with social media," he says. Yet Dell, for one, has made a business of it. By broadcasting discount alerts on Twitter, it says, it has generated more than $1m in sales. And in the US, 59 of the 100 leading retailers, including Best Buy and Wal-Mart, now have a fan page on Facebook, according to Rosetta, an interactive marketing agency. Other savings can be realised through the Web's ability to reach many people at once. "If you solve someone's problem on the phone, nobody knows," says Mr Sernovitz. "If you solve that same problem in writing on a blog, it costs you no more, but thousands of people are satisfied. And then, if 100 people never call because they found the answer, you very, very quickly get to multimillion-dollar savings." Other companies are using Twitter to douse public relations fires before they erupt. Scott Monty, head of social media for Ford Motors, used Twitter to appease users who were angry after the carmaker sued an enthusiast website that was selling unauthorised Ford merchandise. When fans of the enthusiast site posted angry messages, Mr Monty "tweeted back" to explain the company's position. Bonin Bough, who was appointed director of social media for PepsiCo last year, also used Twitter to defuse a brewing crisis after the company released a series of advertisements depicting a cartoon calorie character committing suicide. "Social media is much more than getting out there and having conversations," says Mr Pearson of Dell. "It transforms a business if you use it correctly."
How to get the best out of social media
* Service alerts. In October, Comcast cable customers turned on their TVs to watch a playoff between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays. Instead, they found an old sitcom. On Twitter, furious viewers began complaining about the problem.
Frank Eliason, Comcast's director of digital care, saw the "tweets" and soon informed users that the problem was a power outage. "Twitter allows for an immediate response," he says.
* Storytelling. In December, Molson Canada sent 10,000 cans of beer to Canadian troops around the world. To promote this noble act, Molson's PR team did not place the story in local papers - they blogged about it. Soon seven other Canadian bloggers followed up the story. "The blog allows us to tell our story," says Ferg Devins, manager of the brewer's social media programme.
* Customer relations. A few months ago, a member of Kaiser Permanente, the California healthcare provider, had a poor experience with her doctor in San Diego. She blogged about the event, attracting comments.
Holly Potter, head of social media for Kaiser, contacted the doctor, who made amends with the patient. She then blogged about her corrective experience.

Manage your career through social networking

An interesting piece from Business Day.

Get Linkedin and put your best Facebook forward

Mark Gray, of recruitment and technology company Graylink, tells Penny Haw how job seekers and those looking to hire are increasingly finding each other online
FORGET the credit crunch, what about the career crunch? A survey of graduates and students conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers last month found that 81% were more concerned about their job prospects than they were a year ago.
Getting a job as soon as possible, they say, is a top priority. So much so, in fact, that more than 50% conceded that they are willing to look for work that is not relevant to their qualifications to ensure that they are employed. Furthermore , 42% anticipated less pay than they had initially hoped for.
And that is only one side of the recruitment coin.
As budgets come under pressure to facilitate the economic downturn, companies and their recruitment agencies are increasingly looking for more cost-effective and creative ways to fill positions.
But while in some places employers are cutting back, indications are that the majority of businesses across the world are still looking to recruit, particularly those in budding economies such as that of the Middle East. This means that overall, there are more applicants in the mix and that an increasing number of hopefuls are prepared to consider global assignments. The result for many human resource professionals and recruitment agencies is an increase in workload and the call to make greater use of technology to more effectively manage the rising flood of applications.
Technology, says Mark Gray, who heads up South African-based recruitment and technology company, Graylink, has had a huge effect on recruitment processes — for candidates, recruitment professionals and employers alike — in the past five years. Not only are employers and their agencies increasingly adopting online-only recruitment policies, but more and more are using social networking platforms — such as Facebook, Orkut, MySpace and Linkedin — to hunt for candidates. These sites, he says, are also increasingly helping job hunters market themselves online by providing potential employers with access to profiles, work history and details of specific skills.
Gray, who is the son of 1980s Johannesburg recruitment buff Don Gray (of Don Gray Associates), and the nephew of Allan Gray (founder of investment management firm, Allan Gray Limited), established Graylink as a supplier of specialised recruitment software to replace paper-based processes in 2002. Since then, he and his developers have advanced and expanded the application — which is delivered to clients over the internet — to make it possible for their 150 active clients to better track, screen, filter and manage applications, and to engage with thousands of job seekers in seven different languages across the world each month.
“Most companies readily acknowledge that recruiting talent is a priority,” comments Gray, whose enthusiasm for the internet survived the dotcom meltdown and which, combined with his understanding of recruitment, has helped put Graylink up ahead in the field of online recruitment in this country.
“Managing the recruitment process is, however, a challenge. When there is no database to source from directly, costs and time-to-hire increase. Done manually, the process requires a great deal of administration, and is inefficient and slow. What’s more, traditional recruitment advertising is increasingly costly and, in most cases, it does little to build the organisation’s brand.”
Graylink — which, in addition to operating out of its head office in Cape Town with a bureau in Johannesburg, also has offices in the UK, France, United Arab Emirates and Singapore, and representation in the US, Australia and, from early next year, South America — provides a single software code base to automate clients’ recruitment processes. Each organisation gets its own database of potential employees, and a recruitment website that is incorporated into its existing website.
The look, functionality and marketing-led approach of an organisation’s online recruitment service are, stresses Gray, fundamental to its success.
“It goes without saying that, like customers, candidates are attracted to strong brands,” he says. “Our approach ensures that each client’s brand is carefully managed and that it wins the attention of the right audience. With more organisations moving their recruitment online, competition has increased and it is no longer enough to have a website that merely lists current vacancies. You have to add value, compete for the best talent and, wherever possible, go out and look for it — and that is where social networking sites come into play.”
According to a study by, which is one of the largest online job sites in the US, one in every five employers in that country uses social networks to research information about job candidates.
Reuters reported last month that “traffic on the world’s top professional web networks has surged since the financial crisis started to make headlines, with top player, privately held Linkedin, notching 25% more registrations in September than forecast”.
Membership on Linkedin has increased from 18-million at the beginning of the year to more than 31-million. It is growing fastest in the financial services, media, education and technology fields.
Increased use of social media, says Gray, compels employers and recruiters to examine, network, attract, engage and connect with potential employees like they have never done before. Companies are increasingly questioning long-standing recruitment strategies and accepting that social media has entered the mainstream as a recruitment strategy.
“While South Africans are slower on the uptake than many of their international colleagues, the more savvy local recruiters are already getting into social networks as a new way to hunt talent and market their clients as employers,” he says. “When done correctly, recruitment via social networking platforms can be a more effective and inexpensive way to reach and engage relevant talent than traditional methods.”
There are two options for recruiting candidates via social-networking sites: recruiters can either set up pages on the sites for passive recruiting or, using various search tools, actively troll the sites for suitable candidates.
Trolling is generally done by using keywords to search targeted sites. This way recruiters dig out high-quality candidates that cannot be found elsewhere. These candidates can then be contacted directly about job offers that might interest them. Organisations can also set up groups to create communities around a shared interest, simultaneously using it to find talent.
The premise is that employers and recruiters have the opportunity to target, sound out and interact with candidates at length before final interviews take place.
Candidates, on the other hand, receive job offers from companies that have taken the time to seek them out, and find out all about their career objectives and skills.
Moreover, the kinds of online conversations recruiters have with candidates can reinforce the organisation’s brand. For example, Linkedin has a very active feature for asking and answering questions. As a member of Linkedin, a candidate is able to convey knowledge and expertise, positioning him or herself as an expert on a certain subjects. Linkedin also allows job seekers to list previous employers to confirm credibility.
But, cautions Gray, using social networks for recruitment and branding is not as simple as clicking and searching.
Recruiters need to understand exactly what organisations need, what each site provides in terms of service to users and intelligence to the recruiter, and which of these their desired candidate audience is actively using. In other words, it requires a specialised approach.
“For employers and job seekers to remain competition, they have to start getting more active around marketing themselves on social networks,” says Gray. “But it is as important to do it correctly to make it work — and to avoid damaging the brand, whether that of the company or the candidate.”
That then, is perhaps the other career crunch of the 21st century.