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.

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.

Here’s the proof, @EE

I bought a new data SIM card from mobile operator EE a few days ago, to use in my Fujitsu Stylistic Q704 Windows Ultrabook. With the deal came an Alcatel One Touch Pop 7S Android tablet. Nice! It’s a good deal.

I’d like to use that tablet but first it needs charging. And it won’t.

When I plug it in to the mains power using the supplied charger, it shows the battery on-screen as is common with Android devices. But then it switches to show a white triangle with an exclamation mark in the middle. And then it goes blank. That’s all it does. And the battery always shows 2% charged.

I explained all this in a call to EE’s 150 support service yesterday evening. They wanted me to try it in different chargers and charge it for at least 15 minutes each time to see if the problem is the device or the charger or the cable.

So I’ve done that with these charging methods:

  • Connected the charger and cable that came with the Alcatel device.
  • Connected the charger and cable from a Galaxy S3.
  • Connected the charger and cable from a Galaxy S4.
  • USB cable to PC.

Same result each time:

  1. Battery showing 2%
  2. Triangle with exclamation mark
  3. Blank screen

The EE support person promised to call me back 20 minutes or so after we spoke, once I’d done a test. She didn’t.

So I made the video you see above to show what happens. And I left the device on charge overnight plugged in to the S3 charger. Same result.

It looks pretty conclusive to me, EE, that the device is faulty.

May I have one that works, please?

[Update Jan 15] On Tuesday, I finally got a replacement tablet that works, but no thanks to any pro-action from EE. After trying twice more last week to talk to someone at EE’s 150 support service – patience running thin after queuing for 10 minutes each time – I visited the EE store in Hammersmith, west London, on a trip into London, the place where I’d bought the SIM card/tablet deal a week earlier.

A quick test by a store employee confirmed the fault in the device and a replacement was swiftly agreed. We tested the replacement device – just to be sure! – and it worked perfectly, charging the battery as it should do. And so I left the EE store with a working Alcatel OneTouch Pop 7s Android tablet.

As I mentioned earlier, the data SIM card I have works a treat, and I have no issues at all with the service EE provides: a means for me to get online via their 4G cellular network. I anticipate continuing to use EE’s network well into the future (well, depending perhaps on what happens if BT does acquire EE), just as I have been with their devices I’ve been using as part of the EE ambassador programme that Andrew Grill set up with them in 2012.

What I genuinely hope, though, is that I never have need to call EE’s 150 support call centre number again. A nightmare experience. I wonder why most mobile operators have such awful customer support services via the phone, Vodafone being another one.

A subject for another post, another day.

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.

The shape of movies to come

The Interview

So The Interview got its public showing on Christmas Day in the United States in spite of hacks on Sony Pictures’ computer systems, angry denials by the North Koreans that they were behind the hacks, and intervention by the US President.

The political comedy film stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as journalists who secure an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (played by Randall Park), and who are then recruited by the CIA and instructed to assassinate him.

In what would have been a farce if the situation hadn’t been so serious, the North Koreans accused the US government of state-sponsored terrorism and said the release of the movie would be an act of war. There were also dire threats by shady online groups during the past few weeks to kill cinema-goers if Sony Pictures did release the R-rated movie.

Well, release it they did in spite of announcing a clear intent in the previous week not to release it at all.

Much of the media reporting I’ve seen focuses on the cinema release – The Interview was showing at 320+ independent cinemas across the United States starting on Christmas Day, with box office takings to date reportedly around $2.8 million.

Yet what I found far more interesting were the other distribution methods Sony Pictures employed to make the movie more widely available. This is how Sony announced the movie’s public availability:

Fans can watch The Interview on several platforms including:

Google Play: the movie is available to buy or rent at play.google.com, and can be watched in the Play Movies & TV app on Android and iOS phones or tablets, or streamed in the living room via Chromecast, Roku or the Nexus Player.

YouTube: the movie is available at youtube.com/movies and can be watched on the web, in the YouTube app, or on select living room devices like Chromecast, Apple TV, PlayStation and Xbox.

Microsoft’s Xbox Video: the movie is available to buy or rent on the Xbox Video app on Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and XboxVideo.com.

SeetheInterview.com: In addition, The Interview is available at the dedicated website www.seetheinterview.com, which is sponsored by Sony Pictures and powered by Kernel and with payments through Stripe, a secure payment platform.

In addition to Google Play, YouTube, Microsoft and www.seetheinterview.com, The Interview is also being released in more than 300 United States theaters on December 25th.

It struck me straightaway that digital and online are front and center in the distribution infrastructure, with the physical (cinema) release very much the supporting act. And, releasing a movie this way – enabling people to access and view it through online rental or purchase – is the first time a major studio has done that on the same day of its cinema release.

Although the US box office has produced the lion’s share of viewing sales so far, it’s being speculated that revenues from the movie on the various digital platforms could potentially make this method likelier for movie distribution in the future, if not for the specific reasons surrounding The Interview.

And let’s not forget one thing – all of this is available only in the United States (of course there are workarounds if you’re outside the US) and it’s an R-rated movie, restricting the audience potential in cinemas at least.

It’s a big hit with content pirates, too.

In any case, could this be a clear signal on what we are likely to see in future for movie releases, whether by big studios or indie producers? I’d say it’s a sure bet that digital and online will play a much more prominent role if not the leading role in future.

Imagine – you want to watch the latest Hollywood film on your 50+-inch Ultra HD TV in the comfort and privacy of home? You have many choices of the delivery methods (see above). Then imagine services like Netflix joining the streaming distribution party.

Or, you want the IMAX or other big-screen experience with the popcorn and cokes? Head to your nearest multiplex with its digital audio-visual immersion.

And all the choices happen at once – no more staggered releases.

Traditional mainstream movie distribution and marketing focused only on the cinema and subsequent Blu-ray/DVD sales just got turned on its head.

Finally, what about the PR surrounding The Interview? There’s been commentary and opinion galore over recent months suggesting the whole thing is just a huge PR stunt, with others offering opinion to explain why it couldn’t possibly be a PR stunt.

How long?

Whether it was or not, one thing is sure – Sony Pictures has gained publicity for a movie that has been panned by critics yet looks very likely to receive widespread attention as a result of all the publicity about it (and the bigger picture about the extensive hacking of Sony Pictures that extends beyond The Interview).

Will I watch The Interview when it’s available here in the UK? Probably, just to see for myself what all the fuss is about. And especially if I can stream it to my TV or computer rather than go to the cinema.

Good PR result.

[Update Dec 29:] The Interview has managed to rake in $15 million since its online debut on Christmas Day, reports Mashable:

“Through Saturday, December 27, including all of its online distribution platforms, The Interview has been rented or purchased online more than 2 million times,” read a statement from Sony Pictures. “Total consumer spending through Saturday for The Interview online is over $15 million.”

“[A]fter only four days, The Interview already ranks as Sony Pictures #1 online film of all time,” read the statement from Sony Pictures.

Recode reports that Apple has now joined the ranks of distributors:

It took Apple a few days, but it’s joining the club: Starting [Sunday December 28], iTunes users in the U.S. and Canada can rent and purchase “The Interview,” Sony’s controversial comedy.

The movie became available at Apple’s store at 1 pm ET [Sunday].

The Interview was a huge online success, says Quartz – but for Google rather than for Sony:

Sony’s big internet video gamble seems to have paid off: The Interview, which the company offered for online rental and purchase on Christmas Eve, earned more than $15 million during its first four days on the internet. The film was rented or purchased more than 2 million times from Dec. 24-27, making it the studio’s most successful online release ever, while also grossing an additional $2.85 million from 331 independent North American theaters over the four-day holiday weekend.

[…] The film’s online success might be a qualified moral victory for Sony, but it definitely won’t be a financial one—and that’s even before calculating the significant financial fallout from the hacking scandal, which could be as much as $100 million.

Instead, the biggest winners from the weekend are the internet outlets that first streamed The Interview in North America. Google’s two sites—Google Play and YouTube Movies—were responsible for the bulk of sales, and Google also benefitted from exposing its platforms to consumers who regularly choose iTunes, or other VOD platforms that did not carry the film.

Undoubtedly further analysis will come in the following days.