Adding a face to the HSBC name could go a long way

HSBC coverage by the Guardian

Reputation is built on trust and, for HSBC Bank, that chain has been well and truly disconnected through the revelations of alleged dirty deeds in its private banking operation in Switzerland that say the bank helped a large number of its private-banking clients evade tax that have been paraded through the mainstream media over the past week.

Whatever the actual facts of the matter, HSBC is being pilloried left, right and centre as a financial institution that helps wealthy people dodge tax – a very popular topic for politicians in the UK at the moment, with a general election on May 7, 2015 (that’s less than 80 days away).

Not only that, the bank faces criminal charges in the US, France, Belgium and Argentina – although not in the UK – resulting from information revealed by whistleblower Herve Falciani, the former HSBC IT contractor who blew the lid on this scandal (and did that some years ago, according to BusinessWeek and Der Spiegel).

The political angle took centre stage mid week with HMRC, the government department responsible for the collection of taxes, robustly and publicly accused of failing its duty to pursue tax dodgers in this case, and tax avoiders – again, a popular topic for politicians.

As the week wore on and negative commentary intensified, there was little substantive word from HSBC about the issue other than reports on the bank saying that it all related to “unacceptable practices” within its Swiss operation that took place some years ago and which don’t reflect the bank’s way of doing business today.

Many newspapers have been publishing reports and other content that analyse the bank and its business practices that go way beyond this current scandal. Take the Guardian, for example, which has extensive coverage as the image at the top illustrates, all of which undoubtedly leave the reader with the strong feeling that HSBC is a secretive bank not to be trusted (at best), and one that is run by, employs, and does business with, people who behave like crooks (at worst).

The Economist has a good report on cases in recent years focused on data stolen to expose alleged tax evasion, and a candid assessment of HSBC’s current predicament:

The questions for the bank are whether it reacted quickly enough to tighten compliance with tax laws after governments started to investigate in 2010, and how much pain the scandal will cause.

And now the latest development this weekend – HSBC published a public apology in the form of ads in the national press on Sunday signed by Stuart Gulliver, CEO of HSBC Holdings plc, the UK-based holding company.

He says:

We would like to provide some reassurance and state some of the facts that lie behind the stories. The media focus has been on historical events that show the standards to which we operate today were not universally in place in our Swiss operations 8 years ago. We must show we understand that the societies we serve expect more from us. We therefore offer our sincerest apologies.

You can read the complete statement, embedded below:

HSBC Private Bank Announcement Feb 15, 2015

The document refers to another document the bank has published on an HSBC website entitled Progress Update – January 2015, a four-page report on this affair and some detail explaining what the bank has been doing “to prevent its banking services being used to evade taxes or launder money.”

I know nothing of HSBC’s crisis communication plan that surely is well into execution by now, nor the specific public or investor relations objectives of these documents this weekend.

Yet, I cannot see how two rather dry documents like this – PDFs at that: try reading those on your iPhone or BlackBerry – will do anything meaningful to address the assault on the bank’s reputation and the impending collapse of trust.

I’m reminded of the 2015 Trust Barometer published by Edelman last month, one of the findings in which clearly shows one industry sector where trust has declined for another year, even if by only one percentage point over 2014 – banks (page 16 in the report).

I’m also reminded of a point Edelman has made in almost every Trust Barometer since the first report was published fifteen years ago – the negative outcomes distrust in a company can create (and, in contrast, the benefits trust in a company can generate), as this chart illustrates (page 40 in the report).

2015 Trust Barometer page 40

If you want to really get attention to an apology in a crisis like this – especially one that embroils a company in an industry as reviled as financial services still is – you would want to present a face of humility, humbleness, honesty and authenticity, complemented by assurance, authority and the sense that “I will get things done.”

You may think such attributes come across in both documents. No, they don’t. It means a real face, not PDFs drummed up by the corporate writer which he or she affixes a facsimile of the CEO’s signature to one of them, with the other being wholly anonymous.

I’d like to see a bold move with the CEO on camera delivering the apology along with the plan on what he is doing to fix things, and with a promise to report progress in a similar manner. That means a video, posted on YouTube with open exposure to myriad sharing opportunities across the social web.

HSBC has a YouTube channel.

Even though the 2015 Trust Barometer shows yet again that CEOs generally are not trusted voices for a corporation (page 20 in the report), it’s a lot better than a sterile PDF.

Is there such a thing as a British accent?

British accentThe British accent is the most attractive in the world according to a survey of 11,000 people globally, says a report in yesterday’s print edition of the Telegraph newspaper (and also in the online edition).

The Telegraph’s concise report notes that 27 percent of respondents to the survey rated British as the “sexiest” and “most dateable” accent, way ahead of the American accent in second place with 8.7 percent and Irish in third place with 8.1 percent.

The survey the Telegraph reports on was Time Out magazine’s Global Dating Survey that got a great deal of media attention this week.

What especially caught my eye, though, was the phrase “the British accent.”

What is that, I wondered?

Is it that when people think or talk about a “British accent,” what they’re actually referring to is an English accent, specifically what is defined as Received Pronunciation, and more traditionally known as “the Queen’s English”?

What we might even call “English English” as opposed to “American English”? (Certainly not “British English” as Microsoft would have it.)

Perhaps it’s the legacy of legions of actors from these shores over the past hundred years – most of them English rather than Scots, Welsh or Ulstermen (and women) – whose diction, vocabulary and context in the movies, on the stage and in television have defined the meaning of “British accent” in the minds of many people whose own language isn’t “British.”

Think of plays, movies and US TV dramas you may have seen starring legendary British thespians that include Laurence Oliver, John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole (who was Irish but with a wonderful display of RP in Lawrence of Arabia), Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison, Alec Guinness, Joanna Lumley, Noel Coward, and Patrick Stewart; and, in more modern times, names such as Emma Watson, Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kiera Knightley, Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Kate Winslet… just a few examples from a huge list.

Do they each speak with a “British accent”? Correctly, no they don’t. Instead, each speaks a version of English that may be particular to their origin in the part of the British Isles from which they came – and which, for most, is in England, many from the south – as well as the evolution of their speech as they get older, as they learn from new life experiences, and as they evolve their professional behaviours in acting.

Does it really matter? Not really, other than being clear in what we mean. It’s a bit like saying Tom Cruise or Timothy Oliphant each speaks with “an American accent.” I imagine linguists and language geeks – communicators, too, where this has significance in a business communication setting – will have a better idea of the nuances of language, accents and what that indicates or suggests about the speaker, and whether the receiver will understand what he or she is hearing.

For most of us, it matters little. At least we can spot the differences in the spoken word that give us insights into the speaker.

And a final thought – English today is a global language. If native speakers of English are now outnumbered by those who have learned it as a second language, then English now belongs to everyone who speaks it, no matter how they speak it nor where they speak it.

Brian Solis and Chris Saad launch Context Matters podcast

Context Matters

A new voice joined the ranks of business podcasts this week in the form of Context Matters, a new audio podcast from Brian Solis and Chris Saad.

The podcast’s focus is clear:

Context Matters is a podcast featuring discussions at the intersection of business, technology & culture.

The first episode was posted on February 4 in which the two hosts discussed Uber, Microsoft HoloLens and “why ‘Women Shouldn’t Code’ according to some people.”

It’s just over 35 minutes. Give it a try:

It’s terrific to see voices of Brian’s and Chris’s calibre start a podcast. Their collective knowledge, insights and ability to convey their opinions with credibility and subject-matter authority auger very well for Context Matters to become a must-listen resource if you are interested in that intersection of business, technology and culture.

I especially like their approach to topic development:

One of the novel things we’re going to try with this Podcast is to involve the audience in choosing topics and providing perspectives. In this section of the site we will post the topics we’re thinking about ahead of time and invite you to provide feedback.

So, speaking as a fellow podcaster, I bid welcome to Brian and Chris!

You can easily subscribe to Context Matters via iTunes and SoundCloud. Follow the show on Twitter: @ContextFM.

Rays of light amongst the gloom in the 2015 Trust Barometer

2015 Trust BarometerIf you glance through the 2015 Trust Barometer published by the Edelman PR firm on January 20, you’d be forgiven for thinking that things are bad if not dire everywhere.

The report – marking the 15th consecutive year Edelman has been publishing this – contains the results from surveying 33,000 people in 27 countries in order to paint a picture of public trust in business, the media, government and NGOs in those 27 countries and averaging across the world.

The data Edelman gathered from conducting the survey during the final quarter of 2014 enabled them to glean insights and come to some credible conclusions on the general state of trust around the world.

Three headline metrics paint a pretty bleak picture:

  • Trust in institutions drops to the level of the Great Recession (let’s start with the headline of the press release, referring to the global economic downturn that began in 2007/8).
  • Trust in government, business, media and NGOs in the general population is below 50 percent in two-thirds of countries surveyed.
  • Informed public respondents are nearly as distrustful, registering trust levels below 50 percent in half of the countries surveyed.

This picture is well presented in a chart that Edelman calls “The New Trust Deficit” showing that nearly 66 percent of countries are now distrusters among the general online population.

The New Trust Deficit

Each country has its own story to tell that throws some light on individual findings, as Edelman CEO Richard Edelman notes in the introduction to the report’s Executive Summary:

[…] We see an evaporation of trust across all institutions, as if no one has the answers to the unpredictable and unimaginable events of 2014. For the first time, two-thirds of the 27 nations we survey (general population data) fall into the “distruster” category. The horrific spread of Ebola in Western Africa, the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines 370 plus two subsequent major air disasters, the arrests of top Chinese government officials on corruption charges, the foreign exchange rate rigging by six of the world’s largest banks and the constant drumbeat of data breaches, most recently from Sony Pictures, have shaken confidence in all institutions.

In reviewing the 48-page report as well as the shorter summary, I was struck by these findings:

  1. The top three most credible spokespeople for an organization continue to be –
    – Academic or industry expert
    – Company of technical expert
    – “A person like yourself”
  2. There are further declines in CEO credibility as a spokesperson to the extent that this report shows that CEOs are not credible as spokesperson in three-quarters of countries surveyed. That is staggering.
  3. The pace of development and change in business and industry is far too fast for 51 percent of survey respondents, with not enough time spent on development and testing of products before the rush to market.
  4. Drivers of change in business and industry are perceived to be about technology, business growth targets, greed and money, and personal ambition. Improving people’s lives and making the world a better place hardly get a look in, with both factoring below 30 percent.
  5. 51 percent of respondents said the most important role for government in business is to protect consumers and regulate business.
  6. Most countries trust local governments more than federal or central governments. Although the numbers for individual countries vary widely, the global average comes in at 50-50.
  7. Search engines are now the most trusted sources for general news and information – very bad news for the monolithic model of mainstream media – with a 72 percent trust rank.
  8. Search engines are now the first source survey respondents go to for general information, breaking news, and to confirm or validate news. Search engines are way out front as first sources for general information and to confirm/validate news, and equal with television as the first source for breaking news.
  9. Put number 7 another way – for the first time, online search engines are now a more trusted source for general news and information (64 percent) than traditional mainstream media (62 percent).
  10. 63 percent of respondents said they refuse to buy products and services from a company they do not trust, while 58 percent will criticize them to a friend or colleague. Conversely, 80 percent chose to buy products from companies they trusted, with 68 percent recommending those companies to a friend. Such stated behaviour should be of little surprise to anyone in advertising, marketing and PR, although the high percentages in each case might be.

There is much more to digest and consider in this excellent report, available on free download.

And what about the “rays of light” I mentioned in the headline of this post? To me, that’s about some of the ten points above that I see as opportunities for organizations – whether business, media, government or NGOs – who recognize the continuously-changing and -evolving landscape and look upon it as a place to be that builds connections, trust and understanding between people for mutual benefit. Opportunity is knocking.

Finally, Edelman has a short video that will take you on a tour of the 2015 Trust Barometer. Worth two minutes and forty seconds of your time.

Cluetrain evolved

New Clues

Nearly sixteen years ago, a manifesto was published that has had a profound influence on many people’s thinking and, indeed, behaviours when it comes to business communication and marketing.

That publication was The Cluetrain Manifesto, a collection of 95 separate theses written by Christopher Locke, David Weinberger, Doc Searls and Rick Levine, and published online in April 1999 (a book followed in 2000).

The manifesto’s strapline – The End of Business As Usual – provides the powerful clue that this was no ordinary business publication. Its core premise that “markets are conversations” and the informality that such a phrase suggests flew in the face of much conventional thinking about how the individual and corporate person should behave.

I first read Cluetrain in 2001, and wasn’t impressed with half of it at the time, quite frankly, reflecting my own welded-ness then to the conventional corporate persona. But the other half was like a breath of rocket fuel vapour as it showed me the informed path to disruption of the status quo that, I guess, I was looking for.

I recall it was this particular text in the manifesto’s foreword that was my lightbulb moment:

The idea [is] that business, at bottom, is fundamentally human. That engineering remains second-rate without aesthetics. That natural, human conversation is the true language of commerce. That corporations work best when the people on the inside have the fullest contact possible with the people on the outside.

That illumination eventually opened my eyes to what all of Cluetrain laid on the table to consider and maybe do something about as I read and re-read those 95 theses.

A lot has happened in the intervening sixteen years as people and organizations have evolved how they do business as more and more people embraced many of the principles first set out in Cluetrain. I’d summarize all that in one more-or-less snappy sentence:

The innate humanity in business can break free of restraint with the understanding and willingness of individuals to shed their cloaks of opacity when it comes to engaging with their fellow human beings, and embrace the freedoms of transparency, authenticity and openness.

Which stems directly from “The idea [is] that business, at bottom, is fundamentally human” as noted above.

1999 seems a long time ago now and almost antiquated when compared to our broad landscape today of billions of inter-connected people and the massive behaviour shifts, personally and in business, that have resulted partly due to that ubiquitous global inter-connectivity.

And so it is good to see that Cluetrain has shifted, too, with the first significant update (addition, actually) since that original version sixteen years ago (and the 10-year anniversary update published in 2009) to bring Cluetrain firmly into this early part of the 21st century.

Two of the authors, Doc Searls and David Weinberger, have created New Clues, a collection of 121 “clues” published on January 8, divided into fifteen core topic areas. I especially like the marketing sub-section.

New Clues: Marketing

As I tweeted yesterday…

66: And, by the way, how about calling “native ads” by any of their real names: “product placement,” “advertorial,” or “fake fucking news”?

Searls and Weinberger present their new clues not as finished texts but as stimuli for discussion and debate, published under a Creative Commons 0 license, meaning: in the public domain with no copyright claim.

These New Clues are designed to be shared and re-used without our permission. Use them however you want. Make them your own. […] We intend these clues to be an example of open source publishing so that people can build their own sets of clues, format them the way they like, and build applications that provide new ways of accessing them.

In that spirit, I’ve grabbed the text from the site and created a simple Word document from it, embedded via Scribd, below.

New Clues by Neville Hobson

I can think of quite a few people who might be interested in this but would prefer to read it in a familiar offline form than purely online, and probably print it out, too. Go ahead!

The authors have set up a discussion group on Facebook. And of course, there’s a Twitter handle: @Cluetrain.

The FIR podcast and a foundational decade

FIR episode 1: January 3, 2005

Today is a special day for my podcasting partner, Shel Holtz, and I as we mark a milestone – January 3, 2005 to January 3, 2015 – that is ten years to the day since we started For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report, a business podcast that has grown in ways in which we didn’t imagine back in 2004 when we were planning it.

I’ve talked and mused about FIR – as the show has become known over the years, a moniker coined by Lee Hopkins in Australia – from time to time in this blog, as well as reflect on podcasting itself.

Shel has waxed lyrical and in considerable detail about FIR and its history in a terrific post he published on his blog a few days ago. If you’re interested in the detailed history of FIR, please read it.

What I concisely reflect on today is that milestone of quantity and where it leads. Ten years of podcasting. Ten years of commentary and opinion from two communicators who, as we described ourselves in that first episode a decade ago, “think they have something to say.”

788 episodes – and counting – of a show that we did twice a week for half of its life, settling in to its current weekly schedule in 2010. The expansion of the original show into what I used to describe as “the FIR podcast series” – the interviews we did with newsmakers, influencers and opinion-formers from the online technology and organizational communication worlds, and beyond. The book reviews we did (and much done by Bob LeDrew in Canada). And the podcasting book that came about in 2007, just two years into FIR.

I must mention, too, the occasional podcasts of speeches, keynote addresses, breakout sessions, and other recordings from meetings and conferences. The FIR Cuts: virtual clippings of topics that didn’t make it into a show but would have been a shame to just delete the recordings. And quite a few more shows.

So many people involved in all of that, many of whom Shel mentions in his post. For me, names that form a memorable resonance every time I think of FIR are our sponsors present (Ragan Communications, CustomScoop and Igloo Software) and past (TemboSocial); the “here’s how to reach FIR” voice of Donna Papacosta; and our correspondents – past and present, regular and occasional – that include Lee Hopkins, David Phillips, Dan York, Eric Schwartzman, Michael Netzley, Bernie Goldbach and Harry Hawk.

And then, the listeners and friends of FIR – those of you who download or stream episodes and engage in ongoing discussion in the FIR Podcast Community on Google+ and elsewhere. You have accounted for downloads of more than 2.3 million since that first show ten years ago, according to Libsyn, our file hosting service who we have been with for the whole time.

Without all of you, FIR would not have evolved the way it has. Thank you.

FIR Podcast Network

Just over a year ago, FIR began a new phase, reaching for a new level, as the “FIR podcast series” suddenly became the FIR Podcast Network as new voices joined those of Shel and I to offer their opinions and perspectives on topics about which they are passionate through their own shows that extend the FIR brand.

And so we start our 11th year of podcasting already with a network of shows by a raft of talented people from around the world who selflessly give their time and energy to offer comment, opinion and insights on topics that always find listeners – check out the current network shows from (name links go to the show home pages on the FIR website) Rachel Miller; Chip Griffin; Paul Gillin; Kevin Anselmo; Glenn Gaudet; Joe Thornley, Gini Dietrich and Martin Waxman; Chuck Hester; Andrea Vascellari; Dan York; Mitchell Levy; Ron Shewchuk; Kristine D’Arbelles and Julia Kent.

There are new network members and shows coming soon. And a brand new online presence fit for purpose for a growing podcasting network!

As Shel notes in his post, we have big ideas for the FIR Podcast Network and, in due time, we’ll be sharing what we want and plan to do.

In the meantime, please enjoy any or all the shows we publish, and tune in to the 10th anniversary episode of the anchor show (as The Hobson and Holtz Report is known) on Monday January 5, the usual day we publish the weekly show. We’ll be recording at about 5pm GMT on Monday with the show being posted later that evening GMT.

And if you have a burning topic that you’re passionate about that you think would appeal to a global, influential audience as a podcast, well, let us know, we’d love to discuss your ideas!

Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz
[L-R] Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz in London, October 2014.