Should’ve or should not’ve; it’s so tricky now…

I have received two responses to last week’s blog which concerned the Intellectual Property Office approving Specsavers appropriation of ‘should’ve’ as part of its trade mark. I objected, of course, as I believe that our common language is just that: common to us all and is not for sale.

The first was from the IPO itself and parts of it are worth quoting:

“I have considered your observation but it does not tell me anything that was not known when the application was accepted, nor does it establish that the application was accepted in error. Trade marks are an Intellectual Property designed to protect a brand. Words are often registered as a trade mark in order to show that the goods or services being provided emanate from a single source of origin. However, the case has received notices of threatened opposition which may or may not lead to a formal opposition. This is a judicial process and as such I cannot pre-empt or comment on the outcome of this application. If you intend on filing a formal opposition, you must do so before the end of the opposition period. Details of the opposition process may be found here

Translated, I believe this says that the IPO will do whatever companies want,  and it is paid to do, and if you don’t like it, please sue them and not us.

I think this is both piffle and lazy communication. Surely intellectual property is something more than words we all use?

I am extremely keen on clear, coherent communication and, in particular, its content. One essential aspect is, I believe, that everything that is said, written, broadcast or streamed is reasonable, based on common sense and best judged by the man on the Clapham Omnibus.

Who he? He is, says Wikipedia, “…a hypothetical ordinary and reasonable person, used by the courts in English law where it is necessary to decide whether a party has acted as a reasonable person would. The man on the Clapham omnibus is a reasonably educated and intelligent but nondescript person, against whom the defendant’s conduct can be measured.”

I am of the opinion that the IPO and Specsavers, who may well be within the letter of the law, are so far removed from anything that could be considered to be either reasonable or sensible that they might as well be in a different galaxy.

Far, far better is the other response I received, from an editor called Alison Harmer, who sent me a link to Groucho Marx’s response to Warner Brothers in an earlier trade mark dispute which concerned the use of the word ‘Casablanca’.

It’s clear, reasonable, hilarious, rammed with common sense and will make folk on the bus laugh out loud!

We should’ve stopped them; thankfully we still can

The marketing folk at Specsavers are not illiterate. We know this because their ad strap says ‘…should’ve gone to…’ and not ‘should of’. Bravo and well done.

On the other hand we can assume that either they have fascist tendencies or are terribly insecure about the sticking power of their work.

How do we arrive at this conclusion?

Because yesterday the UK Intellectual Property Office (surely a gross misuse of the word intellectual?) approved the trademarking of the words ‘should’ve’ and ‘shouldve’by the optician chain. Read more about this attempt at legal larceny of common property here.

This is not the only company to appropriate selected elements from the English language and, in my opinion, they can jolly well sod off!

We have a little time to object to this attempt to nick our birthright. And we should. Write, send an email or telephone, whichever is the easiest for you but please do it.

These are the contact details for the Intellectual Property Office: IPO, Concept House, Cardiff Road, Newport, South Wales NP10 8QQ


Telephone: 0300 300 2000

If we fail to object it is surely only a matter of time before we shall all be forced – by copyright and trademark law – to use that barbarian phrase ‘should of’ instead. And that will make us all appear to be functionally illiterate.

Click here for a fun date

I’m looking for a sharp brain, attached to a work ethic, with oodles of intelligence, imagination, initiative, integrity and good humour.

No you clown; I’m a happily married man with responsibilities!

It’s a position I want to fill. A sales/business development position to be precise. Which is why I got all excited when I found Commission Crowd online.

It’s a dating site for businesses and independent (aka freelance), commission-based, sales folk. And being excited I signed up, completed the registration and ‘details about your company’ stuff, put out a couple of feeble pings to possible agents and then sat back. As you do.

Some weeks later, having heard nothing, thinking that I had been, at the very least, sold a pup and being irritated as a consequence, I sent a forlorn note to the company on the same lines that one might place a note in a bottle and cast it into the ocean.

My cynicism was unworthy. Yesterday Laura called; she and I had a positive conversation.

Laura engages, she responds and when she thinks something is funny, she laughs. And her laugh isn’t a contrived, social thing – it’s a genuine sound of merriment and delight.

There’s more; Laura devised an action plan because she wants my date experience with Commission Crowd to be productive; ie bring in new business and bring in new business for the agents on her site.

Laura is, in short, an ideal communicator who connected with me. I got what I really wanted: a practical plan for positive engagement; great content, in other words, professionally delivered.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the concourse, have you ever tried to communicate with an individual at Apple? Google? Amazon? Vodafone? BT? Your bank?

What a horrible contrast to the laughing Laura approach.

Here is the news … hold on; that’s not news

News used to be either something that someone somewhere did not want known. Otherwise it was something so unusual that it would be a source of amusement or interest to sufficient folk as to make its publication worthy. Journalists used to spend their days digging out stories about corruption and dodgy dealing in high places, or human interest stuff that was intended to make us laugh or say ‘Well I never…’.

At the National Council for the Training of Journalists (the body which issues the best professional qualification for journalists) there were two anecdotes used by tutors, year after year, to illustrate the point.

They would say: “Dog bites man, not news; man bites dog, news.”

And another old chestnut was: “Trainee journalist sent to cover wedding; comes back after an hour, sits at his desk and drinks his tea. ‘Where’s the wedding story?’ asked the news editor. ‘There was no wedding,’ said the hapless youth. ‘Church burnt down.’”

Those come from the days when it was normal for women and men working for newspapers and magazines to talk to people, find things out and write newsworthy stories for publication.

When did opinion start to become news? When did it become normal for professional, respected news outlets to use Twitter content to fill their pages?

Because I am interested in the world and am involved in it, I need accurate information about daily events, trends and possible outcomes so that I can do all that is possible to secure my family and myself against the “…slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Content and communications failures in the media mean that few citizens are sufficiently informed – the Economist, FT and New York Times are not for everyone – to make important decisions that affect their lives now, their lives in the future and the lives of others including their children.

A financial crisis is unfolding in the UK as a direct result of the vote to leave the EU. In November, Donald Trump may become the next President of the United States. Turkey is about to become a carbon copy of Iraq complete with a Saddam Hussein clone.

I really want to know what these events mean to me, my family and my business. Not from opinions on Twitter and other social media used by news outlets as content but from people who have found out whether I need a nuclear shelter in the back garden or not.

Unlike Michael ‘People in this country have had enough of experts’ Gove, I want to to hear what experts, people who know far more about these things than I do, think and predict. I am wholly disinterested in knowing what Sid and Doris Bonkers in Neasden (pace Private Eye) think, because they know as little as I do.

I find it alarming that only companies, and not individuals, are required by law not to lie to us in their communications. Why is there no law which states that content published on social media must be legal, decent honest and true as well? Or is posting not publishing?

Goodbye Kate Granger who said: “I am not a diseased body … I am Kate Granger”

Kate Granger, a doctor in West Yorkshire, passed away this week. She had terminal cancer.

Pic gratefully borrowed from BBC

During a hospital stay in August 2013 with post-operative sepsis, Kate noted that many staff looking after her did not introduce themselves before delivering her care.

“It felt incredibly wrong that such a basic step in communication was missing,” she wrote. “After ranting at my husband during one evening visiting time, he encouraged me to ‘stop whinging and do something!’”

So she did.

She launched ‘Hello, my name is’ to encourage NHS staff to connect and communicate with the patients they look after from the moment they first meet them.

“I firmly believe it is not just about common courtesy, but it runs much deeper. Introductions are about making a human connection between one human being who is suffering and vulnerable, and another human being who wishes to help.”

Kate believes that introductions begin therapeutic relationships and can instantly build trust in difficult circumstances.

In the comms business we ‘professionals’ are (hopefully) up-to-speed with the latest techniques, whether this is the creation of content, marketing that content, networking and communicating the results. That is what we do.

What Kate did was deliver all of the above on a platform of compassion, as opposed to one of reward.

Her message – and I urge you cast work aside for a few minutes and watch her video – is so simple and effective that it must work with equal effect in other spheres as well.

The world is in a state of high anxiety right now. Brexit, Nice, Turkey, Trump –v- Clinton – all these on top of existing tension and violence in Syria, Israel, Palestine, Somalia, Iraq and elsewhere.

Would it not be splendid if folk just said ‘Hello; my name is …’ instead?

Kate Granger wanted her campaign to be her legacy. And so it will be if we all play a part.

Crowds are only as wise as their dumbest component

Once, LinkedIn was a useful job board where buyers and sellers could sniff each other out before they made interview dates or other arrangements to meet.

It evolved into a revenue-generating B2B network with a function beyond job and employee hunting. Suppliers and potential clients could post quality content, meet online and take the first steps of a productive business relationship.

Today it is teetering on the brink of degeneration into just another ‘same old, same old’ social network. Its majority content comprises advertising disguised as information, platitudes, homilies, fantasy and nonsense. Nuggets of usefulness must be searched for whereas once they were easily discerned on the home page.

Driven by superficial ‘sharing’ inspired by Facebook, Instagram and, increasingly, LinkedIn, communication has become an end in itself. Many people, especially the voiceless, believe this is good, liberating progress  because online there is no-one to reason or remonstrate with them. And because online is mostly anonymous, it is not edited, not filtered and not policed.

It is hardly surprising that angry and hateful content is such a loud and forceful element of social media content.

To me it is more worrying that facts are the real victims, killed off by opinions that have no reality of their own.

In a month when we remember the soldiers who died at the Battle of the Somme, armchair generals from all over have filled the forums with sentimental tosh and uninformed nonsense about the battle, the way it was fought and how the troops were led.

It was a refreshing revelation to see historian Peter Barton on BBC2  explain the context of the battle, provide a clear and accurate picture of the first day and inform his narrative with disturbing revelations gleaned from German military archives. Of particular interest were those recording how much more than name, rank, number had been forthcoming from, and indeed volunteered by, English and French prisoners of war. That information, plus the fact that German intelligence signallers had tapped into British telephone lines, meant that the attack was doomed to fail from the start. Facts; nothing like them to bring history, and stories, to life and make content great.

The fight for user numbers on LinkedIn, Facebook and others is driven by an insatiable demand for advertising dollars. We, the users in question, are the product that these networks sell. The more controversy there is online, the more eyeballs it generates. It’s a self-perpetuating vicious circle that will bite us all in the bum.

Where is the quality content? Going, going and, unless we rescue and nurture it back to full health, soon to be gone, drained away like blood on a battlefield.

Cleared for take off

A fast jet, screaming low across the sky, delivers a unique visceral thrill. The noise the lethally sleek machine makes as it devours the air through which it flies, compresses it, blends it at enormous pressure with Jet A1. It ignites the resultant mix to produce supersonic thrust provides all the evidence we need that primeval slime can, and has, evolved.

This week’s biennial Farnborough Air Show is a global event that showcases a sector worth, before the referendum, £52bn a year.

Aerospace is the fifth-largest industry in the UK. It directly and indirectly employs 340,000 people and in 2014 orders taken at the Show by companies from all over the world were valued at £157bn.

“Farnborough is a global shop window for the UK and Europe, for the entire world,” Shaun Omerod, chief executive of Farnborough International told the BBC. “It connects UK small and medium-sized companies – who ordinarily wouldn’t get this access – to the global market. He added: “Farnborough is one of the very few international trade events which is left on UK soil.”

To be successful and effective, Farnborough requires three strong supports: a robust national manufacturing presence, a powerful communications capability capable of delivering precisely targeted content to government, finance and the global industry and an unimpeachable professional status based on rigorous scientific and engineering integrity.

This is exactly what we have and it works like a Swiss clock.

The UK manufacturing presence is robust – and global. Agusta Westland is Italian. BAE is headquartered in the UK and listed on the London Stock Exchange. It is also, to all intents and purposes, an American company. Airbus is a European consortium and the wings for all of its civilian products, including the A380, are made in the UK. Rolls-Royce PLC is wholly British (not to be confused with the German-owned car company) and is the world’s second largest jet engine manufacturer.

Until 24th June this year it is fair to says that the future for the sector in the UK looked unassailable and assured.

The aerospace industry communicates with government via ADS, the sector’s trade body which wholly owns Farnborough International Limited, the show organiser. The content and substance of ADS communications is extremely effective and cannot be fairly faulted. Aerospace has a high profile as a result of consistently professional PR.

The keeper of the flame that illuminates professional integrity behind the industry is the Royal Aeronautical Society, 150 years old this year. It is the world’s only specialised body dedicated to the aerospace community. RAeS exists to “…further the advancement of aeronautical art, science and engineering around the world.” Through peer discussions, close and enduring academic liaison, and professional accreditation the Society keeps the sector on the straight and narrow, something that engineers do by instinct and men of commerce often avoid for the same reason.

Sir Sydney Camm, engineer and designer of the WW2 Hurricane, Cold War Hunter and Falklands hero Harrier among others, once said of the TSR-2 aircraft cancelled by the then-government: “All modern aircraft have four dimensions: span, length, height and politics. TSR-2 got just the first three right.”

One has to wonder what the future holds for the UK element of this hugely successful global industry. How will it fare without existing free trade agreements, all of which are now, terrible pun absolutely intended, up in the air right now?

The simple answer is that the industry as a whole, and especially all the companies and bodies mentioned above, must communicate as never before. The content of their united message is simple: irrespective of the referendum result, and the weather, the show (literally and metaphorically) must go on.

Hold your fire

There have been occasions in our history when we were faced, individually as well as collectively, with difficult circumstances.

Presently, we are in such a position.

Nerves are raw; feelings and emotions are running high. This is partly because the nation has been told a significant number of untruths, or at least half-truths, all of which failed to provide the required information to answer a fiendishly complicated question the consequences of which would be momentous.

Some folk argue that there has been way too much communication. I’m not sure that they are correct.

It is the veracity and reliability of the content within the comms, as opposed to the quantity, that has been, and remains, an issue.

That matters will be resolved eventually is in no doubt. How, though, is impossible to estimate right now.

What we can hope for is that the present panic, fuelled by irredeemably poor quality journalism in just about every newspaper and news broadcast, will end once we recover our traditional cool and calm way of life.

In the meantime, in the short-term, what best for us all to do?

The past provides several situations and observations which are, I believe, helpful to the here and now. These three, in particular, offer a degree of sound, strategic and helpful advice to guide us through these dark days.

First, to assuage our feelings of apprehension and fear coupled with a strong desire for reassurance read this quote from Lord Curzon, aged nine, writing from school: “A hamper is undoubtedly requisite under the present circumstances. It must contain several pots of superior jam.”

Curzon was later appointed Viceroy of India. He was responsible for the restoration of the Taj Mahal and bowled the first ball in what became known as the ‘Great Game’. I do not mean cricket.

The second tranche of wise words are from the man who gave us the boot. His big moment came when he commanded Prussians, Germans, Dutch and Belgians to kick Napoleon into touch in 1815. On that momentous day outside Brussels, at 5.00pm we had practically lost the battle to find a name for one of our great railway termini. Two hours after Blucher and his Prussian Army arrived to join the other European armies under Wellington, ‘we’ won.

The Iron Duke, asked for advice once replied: “Sir, you are in a devilish awkward predicament and must get out of it as best you can.” Quite so.

Finally, may I share the words of one the great economist and academic, J M Keynes? He was possessed of a dry sardonic wit and when asked to opine on a matter which was to all intents and purposes beyond resolution – at that time anyway – replied: “It depends on the rupee-value of the dollar in three months’ time.”

In other words: be kind to yourself, do your best and be patient.

Read in haste; repent…

This is an international island. Its roots, tentacles and influence trail all over the planet and the history of its trade and diplomatic missions over hundreds of years is generally one of success. Slowly and steadily this nation built bridges with other countries, made enduring relationships and, by dint of calm acceptance of short-term failures as well as successes, mostly (though not always) maintained these to the material benefit of all concerned.

Britain, to paraphrase Kipling, has often met with Triumph and Disaster and, as he advised, treated those two imposters both the same.

Using bawdy humour, irony, self-deprecation, pig-headed stubbornness and, let’s face it, prodigious quantities of alcohol, we progressed steadily and inexorably to the goals that we set ourselves. Those goals being entirely based on exploiting trade relationships.

Every so often these fell foul of a hysterical monster called political ideology. Dealing with it was tricky, especially when collisions kicked diplomacy and trade out of the window and allowed war in as happened in 1914 and again in 1939.

I started to ruminate on the above once the results were in on Friday and the web was awash with content, some good, some bad, most of it overexcited nonsense.

Sanity and perspective being in short supply online, there was only one thing for it: I required my copy of Kingsley Amis’ book ‘Everyday Drinking’.

Throughout his life, Amis was anti-social and grumpy. He used drink in the same way that most us use air and as a reliable support to prevent himself from falling prey to melancholy. For those who drink to excess, his chapter on how to deal with a hangover is a helpful master class.

Later in the day, as the lies came tumbling down and my original premise that no-one had a clue what In or Out would look like was reality, I discerned despondency in the air. I looked for solace and remembered reading a note written by one of our Moscow-based diplomats in 1943.

My Dear Reggie,

In these dark days man tends to look for little shafts of light that spill from Heaven. My days are probably darker than yours, and I need, my God I do, all the light I can get. But I am a decent fellow, and I do not want to be mean and selfish about what little brightness is shed upon me from time to time. So I propose to share with you a tiny flash that has illuminated my sombre life.

[Paragraph removed to protect the sensitive and those who are easily-shocked by language. At your own risk you can find the full version here].

Sir Archibald Clerk Kerr, H.M. Ambassador”

If the blue-penciled paragraph offends you, having been warned as to the consequences, why pray did you read it? That is to make the same mistake as, for example, voting in favour, or against, something the implications of which are beyond your intellectual grasp and knowledge. Why would anyone do something as silly as that?

Hope, not hate. Always.

This has been a bleak few days.


Whether we knew her or not, sadly I did not, we must remember Jo Cox.

She was fearless in her engagement with the purveyors of hate. She reasoned with them and was ruthless in the way she exposed the flaws in their arguments. Jo Cox stood, and her memory will always stand, for the hope that by engagement we can conquer hatred and the violence that it generates.

She embraced every opportunity to communicate with words, and deeds, her peaceful and positive message to powerful people. Jo Cox is an inspiration whose example, were we all to emulate it in everything we do and everything we say, would be the most powerful remembrance for her children, her husband, her family, her friends and for us.


As of today, the fund set up in her memory has raised over £1 million. The three charities who will benefit from it are:

Royal Voluntary Service

Hope not Hate

The White Helmets

This is Hope not Hate’s published goal:

“HOPE not hate exists to provide a positive antidote to the politics of hate. We combine first class research with community organising & grassroots actions to defeat hate groups at elections and to build community resilience against extremism.

“Hate is often the consequence of a loss of hope and a political articulation of despair, but given an alternative, especially one that understands and addresses their anger, most people will choose HOPE over hate. Our job is to expose and undermine groups that preach hate, intolerance and division whilst uniting communities around what they have in common.

“Building a society that celebrates rather than scapegoats our differences.”