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How I fell for the Great BT TV scam

10 Dec

I live in the country and never experience any doorstep selling.

I’ve learned to screen calls on my landline and mobile – and have never been prey to a sales scam.

I’ve been online for a long time, and have learned to become better at avoiding phishing attacks and protecting my security – though I have to keep continually alert.

So I’m shocked and angry that I’ve fallen prey to a scam from an unexpected source – from BT itself.

I’m a phone and broadband customer, and started paying my BT bill by direct debit nine years ago.

So I didn’t immediately notice that BT had started charging me a monthly fee for BT TV and for BT Sport – services I didn’t ask for, don’t want, and don’t even know how to use.

How did this happen? It seems that all broadband-only customers have started being charged for BT TV unless they opt out. In my case, when amending my phone and broadband package a year ago I accepted the offer of a ‘free’ TV box. I can see now that it may have been ‘free’ for 12 months, at which point charges of £25/month kicked in. I never even opened that box.

The month these charges kicked in was the first month in many years I went over my overdraft limit – but still I did not spot that BT was to blame.

I’ve called the bank to renegotiate my overdraft. I’ve called BT and demanded out of BT TV and BT Sport.

But those adjustments aren’t enough. How many others are paying monthly amounts to BT by direct debit for services they didn’t ask for and don’t use?

The expensive acquisition of Champions League football is headline-grabbing for BT Sport. But how many even know how to watch BT Sport? I certainly can’t given the speed of my rural BT broadband.

Why should loyal BT customers be taxed to pay for elite football and its overpaid players?

Are BT shareholders aware that profits are being bolstered by this racket and that there’ll be a price to pay when customers realise they’ve been scammed?

I confess I never found the Payment Protection issue all that concerning – but it certainly is now to the banks and their shareholders.

The Great BT TV Scam seems potentially a bigger deal. It’s magic money for now for BT – but there will be a price to pay.

Had I been scammed by overseas spivs I would have had to shrug my shoulders and hope to learn from the experience.

But to be scammed by BT plc, a business I’ve trusted with my bank details in the form of a direct debit, is a different matter. I want to tell others so they can check their accounts and take action.

I’ve taken action. I’ve cancelled my direct debit and have asked for paper bills (at my expense). I don’t trust BT with my bank details anymore. There’s a price to pay for loss of trust.

It seems I’m not alone: https://community.bt.com/t5/BT-Sport-on-the-Box/Bt-Sport-Letter-Getting-when-you-don-t-want/td-p/901662

Confession: I’m an imperfectionist

24 Apr
Shipwreck, Ireland (John O'Sullivan on Flickr, Creative Commons)

Shipwreck, Ireland (John O’Sullivan on Flickr, Creative Commons)

Here’s the problem.

University is a tidy environment that suits tidy minds. Hard work is often rewarded and perfectionists tend to thrive. And if at first you don’t succeed, there’s usually another opportunity to try again.

Yet those same perfectionists with their first class degrees tend to hit the rocks early on in a public relations career. Here’s why.

Most public relations jobs cannot be done perfectly. Some try to do so by extending the working day, but this is not a recipe for success. It adds to emotional exhaustion and in a consultancy environment leads to over-servicing. Our always-on world of mobiles and social media have made ‘office hours’ a redundant concept.

The tidy planning and to-do lists that work so well at university (and also in junior roles) become a problem as your career advances. How do you adequately respond to a crisis if it’s not on your to-do list or in your plan?

So what’s the solution?

Each individual will develop their own approach, but it surely must involve some amount of imperfectionism. If there are no perfect outcomes, you need to stop worrying about them and focus instead on good-enough. Rather than fighting battles you can’t win, put your energies into tasks that are achievable and which contribute to your direction of travel.

There’s another approach; it’s the one I used in my consultancy career. Just as there’s a role for imperfectionists in a team, they should surround themselves with tidy-minded completer-finishers, combining agility with solidity. A flexible approach works best if you want to survive the storms ahead.

Under pressure

6 Mar

I’m busy.

I’m working for two universities in different corners of the country and currently teach first, second and third year undergraduate classes; full-time and part-time postgraduate classes and a professional course. I’m a placement tutor and a dissertation tutor among other student-facing responsibilities. Time in the classroom means less time for emails, paperwork and meetings, though the demands don’t go away.

I’m odd.

In my experience most academics seek to negotiate away classroom commitments in return for more administrative or research responsibility. I’ve only ever met two people who seemed perfectly able to balance the conflicting demands of teaching, administration and research – and they’re both now professors.

I’ve been here before.

This level of busyness reminds me of my peak in corporate and consultancy public relations two decades ago. The work and the demands were relentless: fun in the short term, very hard to sustain over a long period.

I observe.

Back then I used to wonder how the busiest business executives I worked with also managed to have the shiniest shoes. Was it that they could afford many new pairs, or was it that their efficiency extended itself to small matters of personal presentation?

In the past week, I’ve heard from the chairman of a large plc that employs 300,000 people. He appeared calm and considered. I’ve met a former high-flying BBC executive and a former university vice-chancellor and both were charm personified. They made time for additional meetings in the evening and at the weekend.

I’m busy, but my work does not involve life-saving surgery or decisions of national importance. I should put it in perspective.

Busy people are often the most productive. Stephen Waddington is a PR consultant, a family man and this year’s CIPR president. He publishes one of the best PR blogs and has co-written or edited five publications in the past two years (but I may have lost count). He seems to be everywhere. That’s properly busy.

Jolly? Good? Fellow!

15 May

So, after fifteen years as a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (MCIPR), I have today been awarded a fellowship (FCIPR).

The CIPR’s letter tells me it’s their ‘highest membership grade’ and that it’s been awarded for ‘the outstanding contribution [I] have made to the CIPR and the PR industry’.

Both claims are open to question.

Chartered Practitioner status is much more deserving of praise because it’s based on attainment, not just longevity (when I first joined as a member, a fellowship would have become mine by right after a mere ten years).

I’ve avoided joining things, so have not gained this recognition through years of dedicated committee work. Others are in a better position than me to judge my contribution to the PR industry, but it’s where I’ve worked and it’s what I’ve taught for some 25 years (so I should have contributed something).

I’ve also been rather a ‘critical friend’ of the CIPR during this time, but have belatedly come to the view that our industry/profession does need a strong body to champion professional standards and to speak up for practitioners and educators. So I have always encouraged students and practitioners to join.

I also feel that one representative body would be better for us than two – or twenty (I’m concerned that there will soon be bodies representing eg internal communicators, public affairs practitioners, those in analyst relations, marcoms etc). We’re a surprisingly fissiparous bunch for people known for their skills in relationship building and practical problem solving.

But that’s for another discussion. Today, I’ll pause to mark another milestone on my journey. Jolly? Rarely. Good? Not always. Fellow? Finally.

Let me also note that I did not seek or pursue this recognition. Had it not been for the persistence of a friend in the business I’d have carried on as before. We can all benefit from some objective public relations advice.

The pattern of life

12 May

Years ending in a three may not sound auspicious; Olympics and world cups happen on even dates in the calendar.

Yet milestone events in my career have happened on the following ten-year pattern (with a keyword to summarise each ten-year phase):

1983: I was completing a Master’s degree (my second History degree) and looking for work. By September I was a history teacher. I did not know it at the time, but this was not a new start, but rather an end point to many years in educational institutions (though I’ve since returned to teaching – see below).

Opportunity (1983-1993)

1993: I tried many things in my twenties. Having been a teacher, I became a writer, publisher, editor and journalist before moving into PR consultancy work. In 1993 a left a consultancy job to become an independent public relations consultant.

Experience (1993-2003)

2003:  The independent role enabled me to take on interim contracts as an in-house PR manager and as a consultancy director, so expanding my experience. It also allowed me to make a transition from being a PR consultant to being a professional trainer in the same field. In 2003 I became a full-time university lecturer.

Education (2003-2013)

2013: I’m certainly feeling restless, and the pattern suggests it’s time for a new direction.

Development (2013-2023)

2023: In another ten years I’ll be approaching normal retirement age, though I won’t be alone in needing to supplement my various occupational pensions with some ongoing paid work.

Extension (2023-?)

As a former roguish teaching colleague put it: ‘do as I say, not as I do’. I don’t claim to be a role model in my career choices, but I do think there’s a lesson for any student in the brevity of a working life: four or five decades is all you get, even if you’re Sir Alex Ferguson.

Young people feel that life is endless – and so their greatest fear is boredom. Older people know how brief it can be, and that the greatest fear is living with regrets.

Looking back, I wouldn’t change any of the major decisions I’ve made. I gained a breadth of experience in my twenties that’s still useful (learning typesetting on an early computer was a good training for the later arrival of the web and HTML). Since my thirties, I’ve gained a depth of experience in public relations (from a practice, professional training and academic teaching perspective).

I recall a friend producing my horoscope back in the 1980s on a primitive Amstrad computer. It predicted among other things that I’d make my living out of ‘writing or teaching’. I may still be sceptical about horoscopes, but it’s proven to be a very accurate prediction of my working life. Whether it’s because of the stars or because of my personality, there certainly has been a pattern to my working life.

It’s never wasted (only connect)

28 Sep

It's so easy to have regrets, usually over the things we didn't do. But nor is there necessarily a right way, or a correct sequence, for gaining experience. Here are some of the jobs I've held before working in public relations that I still draw on today in my university teaching:

  • Special needs carer. We're all different, we're all unique and there's something special in everyone. You just need time to find out what it is.
  • History teacher. Experience of school teaching is valuable in the lecture theatre. I even called on a lesson learnt in a difficult client presentation. The new boss of my main client was talking audibly to a colleague as I presented. How to respond? I did what always works best to quell unwanted noise. I stopped talking and waited.
  • Typesetter. Not quite hot metal, but the system pre-dated Apple, Microsoft Windows and visual displays. Learning a code language early on means that HTML has never seemed too scary. Acquiring the principles of typography and visual design was a valuable lesson.
  • Researcher. It often seems that everything is just a Google or Wikipedia search away. Gathering accurate facts in the world before the web involved patience, persistence and perfectionism. I was surprisingly good at it.
  • Editor. This is the most underrated and most valuable skill of all. How to spot dull copy? How to transform it into something readable? How to cut 1000 words down to 200 while keeping the meaning?

My review of my year

25 Jul

We encourage students to become 'reflective learners' – but in general undergraduates are poor at reflection. Some assume they're perfect and all assume that they're perfectible works-in-progress.

I know differently. I've never been perfect and with age my character flaws have grown ever more apparent. But my strengths are equally clear and as adults we become proficient at masking the one with the other.

So here's my reflection on my (academic) year, starting with what's gone well. For context, I returned to a full-time role in September after an inexplicable year of trying something different.

Positive

  • My teaching hightlight was leading a large, lively and experimental postgraduate module (Public Relations and New Media). Not all welcomed the wilfully unstructured delivery – but it forced everyone to think and there was some very strong student work from a very diverse group.
  • I have spent my adult life trying to turn a love of history into paid work in public relations. This year I turned a PR-for-PR project into a paper at a History of Public Relations conference.
  • We're in a recession and graduates are sometimes derided for lacking workplace skills. Yet I'm still aware of more employers seeking good graduates than good graduates lacking suitable work. Nothing pleases me more than connecting the one with the other.
  • My own research is limited (see below), but I'm delighted that a postgraduate who I supervised has had a paper accepted at the Euprera Congress 2011 (which we have both been involved in promoting).
  • I've become something of a professional qualifications expert, and helped with delivery of the CIPR Diploma in another country (in addition to location-based and online delivery).
  • I've edited online magazine Behind the Spin for over four years. We have a viable and valuable student magazine (with cash in the bank) – and I should now start looking to pass this on to a suitable home.
  • I blog infrequently at PR Studies – yet it's still what I'm best known for. Perhaps this is a weakness (see below)?

Negative

  • What have I written? I'm not a traditional academic focused on 'research outputs', but I should be capable of some original thought or interesting publication. So where is it? Are the blogs and tweets merely a displacement activity?
  • I was fortunate to have gained a very good education in the humanities, during which quesions were always more interesting than answers. Yet I'm more often teaching people who expect a didactic and definitive approach to knowledge. (Knowing my weakness, I get an opportunity to work on it: I'm leading a new module for first year undergraduates – Principles of Public Relations, a chance to teach theory rather than practice.)
  • I'm impatient with process and paperwork. I regret this where students are involved, but still feel there's a point to be made at an institutional level. I could be wrong…