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Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

Archive for the ‘comms’ Category

A new world order?

Posted by Chris Clarke on April 3, 2009

A view from the front row at the Obama and Brown G20 briefings

Spending 15 hours in ExCel isn’t something I would wish on anyone.  However, spending 15 hours in ExCel at the London Summit of the G20 yesterday was an incredible experience.
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Agree with the communiqué or not, the Summit was historic. Historic because of the sheer size of measures announced. Historic because of the extent of co-operation across countries with divergent agendas. Historic because there was an unmistakable sense that yesterday really was a day that would be remembered – and judged – by history.

Despite the columns of copy, hours of footage, number of tweets dedicated to the event, its success cannot be judged until a few months down the line. It may come to be seen as the world’s costliest mistake, or the day the world identified and acted upon the realities posed by a new world order.

Sitting in the front row at the Brown and Obama briefings, it became clear to me that we are all, like it or not, operating in a new era. And, whilst rhetoric was not absent from either briefing, there was a clear sense that we are genuinely entering a changed environment. One in which the role of government, through regulation and intervention, is going to be more dominant, and one where businesses and their leaders are to be questioned more, scrutinised more and, perhaps, restrained more.

The implications for all businesses – global or UK – will emerge over the coming weeks.  But, what is certain is that, in this new era, government intervention will be commonplace, scrutiny over the actions of corporations more intense than ever; and the shifts of power between the East and the West, developed and developing, will become current and dominant trends – not just speculations.


chris_gordonThe new challenge for communicators

All of this has huge implications for communicators. It makes the stakeholder map more complex as the concept of ‘shareholder value’ becomes blurred. It calls into question the role that business plays in society, as politicians start to believe that it is them who can (and must) ‘manage globalisation’.

It calls for the reassessment of not just commercial strategies, but for the re-evaluation of communications strategies, as well.  How businesses communicate and interact with employees, customers and the wider network of stakeholders, is about to undergo a fundamental transformation.

Change may have been the slogan of the successful Obama campaign. But, for communicators, change must become a guiding principle as we help businesses navigate this new era, connect with new and more demanding audiences, and establish authentic and credible reputations that work in the interests of shareholders – and not against them.

All of us in communications should relish the challenge that this new world presents. In many ways, it is us who are best placed to help business adapt and respond to this new reality.

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Restoring corporate trust – can communicators really make it happen?

Posted by majazupan on April 2, 2009

Caught between jaded consumers and sweeping budget cuts, should communicators roll up their sleeves or ask for a sabbatical?

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The G20 London Summit brought together national leaders from around the world, as they searched for ways to restore the global economy. And, while the desired outcomes are economic in nature – stabilisation of financial markets, regeneration of the housing market, creation of jobs, sustainable growth – the public outrage, market volatility and finger pointing of the past six months have made it clear that no solution to arresting the economic fall could stand a chance without one key ingredient – restoring trust.

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“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.” These were the words of Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the very beacon of the free market philosophy for decades leading up to the crash last autumn.

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But, the breech of trust did not happen over night. The fact is that confidence – in both institutions and individuals – has been deteriorating for a long time now. Still reasonably fresh in our minds is the Enron scandal from 2001, which prompted the US government to introduce the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, setting strict guidelines for public company accounting practices.

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If anything, the market crash was but a last blow to the school of thought that considers the creation of shareholder value the key responsibility of any corporation. It has become apparent that accountability to shareholders does not act as a sufficient check on the level of risk tolerance within global financial institutions.

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Financial resilience, it turns out, can not be guaranteed without the integrity of corporate governance and concern for the interests of the wider community. Relationships based purely on a financial contract are inherently self-centered, so corporate accountability must go beyond the balance sheet to include an investment in human relationships in order to create trust and a sense of community between the organisation and its stakeholders.

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Consumer psychology in recession: trust no one

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A lot has been written about the extraordinary loss of consumer trust in businesses – ranging from pure rage toward the financial sector to apathy for industries such as retail and leisure, as consumers tightened their purse strings and strengthened their distrust of corporate marketing.

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The public focus has now shifted to policy makers, who have struggled to find quick solutions to an avalanche of market failures due to both corporate and individual misconduct, as well as decision-making based on insufficient information and flawed assumptions. And, while governments are now expected to establish a system of checks and balances to ensure ethical corporate governance, public opinion ranks politicians as even less trustworthy than businesses.

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According to the annual 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in government did not rise to offset disillusionment with the business sector – enterprise is still more trusted than government in 13 of the 20 markets surveyed. The media closely follows the government trajectory, with less than half (47 percent) of overall respondents worldwide saying they trust the media to do the right thing. This figure drops precipitously in the UK, with mere 28 percent of respondents placing trust in media.

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What’s a communicator to do?

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Faced with such strong distrust in their corporate spokesperson, their political guardians and the media channels – should corporate communicators throw their hands up in the air and give up trying?

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The short answer is – absolutely not. Withdrawal at a time of crisis not only feeds the public suspicion by cloaking the organisation in a veil of opacity, but it also allows detractors and the competition to take the reins and tell your corporate story from their point of view.

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Trying to get yourself heard and noted while bearing in mind heightened sensitivities may seem like navigating a landmine, particularly with very few certainties to anchor your key points to in this volatile economic context. However, it is key to remember that consumer behaviour is only partially rational. Those organisations consumers come to see as ‘their brands’ appeal to their emotions, desires and the need for identification and comfort – the dimensions that, albeit highly personal and complex, are rooted in a simple human need to relate and belong.

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So no, there is no rulebook for regaining consumer trust. Rather, communicators should deploy their innate ability to listen and act intuitively to find a ground where both their organisation and its stakeholders can stand comfortably.

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House Sweeper in Chief

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Before engaging with the wider public, communicators have a big role to play in making sure their organisation’s house is in order.glass

Problems within organisations all too often arise when the information available is insufficient, misinterpreted or withheld from those whose conduct or decision-making depends on it. Having access to various areas of their organisation, and on a perpetual mission to gather information to base their external communications on, communicators are in a unique position to be the first to notice something being wrong with either the information itself or its interpretation by various internal stakeholders.

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Communicators should use their listening skills to detect any such breakdowns in communication, which, if undetected, may present reputational risks to the organisation. Put in political parlance, communicators should have in place an ‘early warning’ mechanism by which to evaluate the internal flow of communication. This, in turn, can enable them to anticipate questions and concerns likely to arise among the organisation’s external stakeholders.

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In short, communicators should keep their ear to the ground, monitoring both internal as well as external chatter to understand what gaps may exist between the organisation’s goals and self-perception, and external stakeholders’ expectations and conceptions of the same.

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Turning communications into an operational function

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Having this knowledge does not in itself mean that communicators can begin plugging gaps through crafty communications.

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Informed understanding of organisational opportunities and threats is a golden opportunity to reassess not only the way an organisation talks about itself, but more importantly, how it behaves. Analysis of external perceptions can shed a spotlight on corporate practices that are redundant, inefficient or misdirected. In such instances, attempting to adapt the corporate rhetoric without solving the core issues that cause the disconnect can only aggravate the already fragile confidence in the organisation.

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Owning up to shortfalls and acting to address them needs very little supporting rhetoric to make meaningful progress in calibrating perceptions and restoring trust. Communicators are in a powerful position to make the case for organisational change by bringing the potential reputational risks to the management’s attention, and embedding transparency into any remedial course of action.

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Ability to influence management decisions implies a communications role that is part of the management structure – a strategic role integral to an organisation’s operations, rather than a functional position serving to merely report the official company line. Organisations should go beyond introducing grand titles, and truly make communications part of the decision-making process, including board representation where applicable.

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Knowing who your friends are

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Understanding issues and having the right set of messages still does not guarantee that messages will be heard and, critically, stick. Good communications are not only relevant, well targeted and easy to understand. Ideally, they are also supported by sources outside the organisation – those people and organisations who matter to the audiences the communications are trying to reach. Messages delivered by third parties – such as academics, think tanks, industry analysts, or ‘people like me’, often carry more weight than messages communicated directly by the organisation itself.

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Understanding who the influencers within relevant communities are, and finding ways to align with them, should be at the core of communications planning. Having a corporate position endorsed by the people who are personally relevant to your audiences helps create a sense of common purpose and familiarity crucial to building trust.

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Reinventing romance

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Once the organisation enters this privileged relationship of confidence with its stakeholders, the job, in many ways, only begins. As with any relationship, nurturing through regular contact, being in tune with personal concerns and changing needs, creating opportunities for personal involvement with the brand – all of these are key to making sure the relationship continues to blossom.

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And, while apologies may be accepted and amends made, getting it right the first time around is worth its weight in gold in the face of short attention spans, volatile economies, and competitive suitors ready at the door to jump on an opportunity to get involved.

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How can we communicate through the recession?

Posted by Nick on March 2, 2009

At a time when the news agenda is firmly gripped by job losses, bankruptcy and budget deficits how should the modern corporation communications team respond? There is certainly a widespread feeling within the industry that at a time like this corporate communications teams should batten down the hatches and avert risk. No one wants to be responsible for the interview during which the CEO struggled with questions about job losses. This culture often contrasts heavily with pressure from internal business stakeholders who look to the PR team for support at a time when marketing budgets are being reduced. The corporate communications function (especially in the B2B world) is now often the primary channel for a company messages > see this interesting study which found that pressure from inside corporations during the downturn is significant – 64% of in-house respondents said they’ve felt an increase in pressure to perform from their internal clients.

So we’ve established it’s a tricky period with potential for bad news breaking and contrasting internal pressures. But what can be done?
Industry veteran Lord Chadlington makes a salient point in an article on this subject: ‘Silence will result – almost inevitably – in the assumption there is something to hide’ . This is something that every major corporation will recognise. If you close down relationships with journalists that are close followers of the organisation and that expect regular pro-active contact it can tempt them to be more investigative – after all some journalists have strict briefs to watch just a handful of companies. If the story doesn’t originate from the communications function it has the potential to originate from business stakeholders such as non-media trained employees, customers and partners. Perhaps best not to raise suspicion in the first place by opting for silence.

From the same article Simon Lewis, Director Corporate Affairs at Vodafone makes another good point “communicating when times are good is always easier. But there will now be a greater emphasis on providing a perspective”. I took this to reflect the need for a company to be bold, to have a position on the issues surrounding it in order to offer stability to its stakeholder audiences. At a time like this championing a cause or issue can provide a platform to align the brand in a positive light. CSR issues and approaching some of the worlds big challenges can provide a point of communications differentiation during this period. When backed by interesting, unique, content issues-based communications can also deliver a reduced risk interview option for spokespeople who may otherwise have been expected to comment solely on business performance.

The recession poses significant challenges but also offers the opportunity to differentiate through communications. Companies that can take and ‘own’ relevant issues are likely to gain a positive reaction from journalists that I suspect will shortly be suffering from recession fatigue themselves.

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Why innovation matters…

Posted by Will Connolly on March 2, 2009

Innovation is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “1 the action or process of innovating.  2 a new method, idea, or product. ” So what is the process of innovating, and what can we achieve?   Innovation is then, creating new ways of thinking to enable the practice of a new method, or design of a new idea, service or product. 

Whether we are talking about the global economic downturn, scarcities of knowledge and resources in developing countries, or thinking about new ways to learn and educate; innovation is essential in the way we work. 

How can innovation be envisaged?

Methods of creative thinking such as brainstorms, collaborative working, and exposure to new experiences shape our innovative success.  Working in a creative environment, the use of social media and web 2.0 are ways to engage with others both in and out of our physical vicinity.    Working in these ways inspire new thoughts and avenues of discovery.  Web 2.0 and social media are an ever-increasing phenomenon, but what is the point to all these usernames and passwords?  How much social media can we take? Among the young no doubt, social media is a popular topic; people are using websites such as Facebook and MySpace to connect with their peers.  How many professionals today are using these ways of communicating fully to their advantage?  The increase in contact through these channels surely leads to learning new information and inspiring ideas.  Twitter has proved a popular business tool, to communicate with journalists, PRs, and add a personal touch to the way we communicate in business.  This is an example of how we can manipulate the media to our advantage.

Best practices and examples of success

Context is important when thinking about innovation.  What are the social, environmental, political, economic, and media factors that will influence the way we communicate and design?  Can the way we look at and forecast the future also define what we should be doing now?  Knowing what issues of the day affect our businesses and policies will put us in better positions to be successful in the future and aid the evolution of innovation.

Business Week asked futurologists, to describe what they’d like to see arise from the current downturn.  “What are the most important inventions of the next 10 years?”.  The futurologists suggest innovations in energy such as bio-fuels and thermal and kinetic energy generation for electronic devices, smarter applications for mobile devices, medical breakthroughs, such as a cure for cancer, and social media literacy to name a few.

Financial rewards and other results of innovative thinking

Can innovation be measured?  The innovative successes of the BBC iPlayer, iPhone3G, Twitter and Facebook, show how innovative thinking can lead to record breaking corporate transformation.  The network operator O2 sells 1m Apple iPhones in 2009 showing how this innovative product helped initially gain the deal with O2 and subsequently increase its sales.

Are there flaws in innovation?

Some people may be wary about changing traditional practices.  Whilst some ways of working will be productive, innovation of our methods and the way we communicate can result in higher levels of productivity and success. But does success stifle innovation?.  Another interesting topic discussed on Business Week; success identified here as breeding a spotlight on efficiency – which can be an obstruction in creative innovative thought.   Companies and organisations should then have a balance between what is measurable by success and what can be measured by our ideas.  Innovation is more an investment in the long term.

Innovative thinking should be used by all and nurtured into our best practices.  Striving for new and exciting prospects and ideas will lead to richer experiences and the ability of communicate with more people.  Innovation and communication should go hand in hand. 

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Hothouse Foresight 2009 launched

Posted by amandapurdie on November 24, 2008

On Wednesday, we launched Hothouse Foresight, a research initiative to explore the economic, political, business, societal and media trends that will shape the operating environment in 2009. To mark the launch, we assembled a stellar cast of speakers including Paul Mason, Economics Editor, BBC Newsnight; Holger Schmieding, Chief European Economist, Bank of America; Professor James Woudhuysen, De Montfort University; and, Edward Mason, Independent Diplomat.

In line with our approach to the research, the speeches and discussion was broad ranging. It covered everything from the impact of energy saving light bulbs to economic restructuring; European expansion to the evolution of the Anglo-Saxon capitalist model.

The event – hosted at London’s Soho Hotel screening room – attracted over 70 senior communicators representing companies from many sectors.

If you would like to listen to an edited podcast of the session click here.

Paul Mason, Newsnight

Paul Mason opened his presentation with insights from his travels in the US, to cities such as Detroit which have been at the sharp end of the credit crunch. He also focused not just on the short-term economic impact of the current downturn but also explored what it means for the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism, consumer expectations and policy-making.

holder_bigHolger Schmieding – a self-confessed optimist – talked about prospects for the UK and European economy over the coming year. He said it is likely that this recession will last longer than six months or so and we could be well in to 2009 before we start to see economic growth. He also suggested that – if you remove the impact of government expansion in the last decade – the UK has been growing at a similar rate to most countries in the Eurozone. Looking to the future, he suggested that this may indicate that UK growth in the next decade will be more line with the rest of Europe.

james_bigProfessor James Woudhuysen is currently finalising a book called Energise! which looks at how we can begin to address the world’s energy needs. He challenged the presumption that energy is a scarce resource and that we need to move beyond this ‘austerity mentality’ which punishes individuals for using energy and instead focus on creating scientific solutions to the energy crisis.

edward_bigEdward Mason presented his views on what an Obama presidency would mean, prospects for the EU Reform Treaty and what would potentially be the global trouble spots in 2009. He suggested that it is likely that continuity, as much as change, will define the Obama presidency as he continues to further and safeguard US interests across the globe.

The launch of Hothouse Foresight was the culmination of months of work and planning. Hothouse Foresight is part of our commitment to underpin PR and communications with insights into what is shaping business decision-making, consumer purchasing and policy-making. We will be using the research with our clients to develop high impact comms programmes over the coming year.

If you’d like to know about Hothouse Foresight, or what the trends mean for your business or sector, then do get in touch. We’d love to meet up for a chat over coffee.

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Complimentary workshop

Posted by amandapurdie on October 10, 2008

Clarke Mulder Purdie are offering a complimentary one hour workshop to examine how your company should be communicating about sustainability issues. 

 

In the workshop we will cover

 

  • How your company is currently perceived with regards to sustainability issues?
  • What is the image of your sector in general and your competitors?
  • What are the key sustainability trends and issues?
  • What would be an appropriate way for you to incorporate sustainability themes into your communications?
  • How to avoid being accused of greenwashing?
  • How to get buy-in from your organisation.  

 

Please let me know if you would like to take advantage of this offer.  Amanda Purdie apurdie@cmpcommunications.com, 0207 401 8001

 

 

 

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Communicating sustainability: what really matters to your customers, and why you should care?

Posted by Helen on October 10, 2008

From Maja Zupan, Associate Director, Clarke Mulder Purdie…

For the past year or so, one could not open the morning paper or log onto a news site without half a dozen headlines jumping off the page announcing newly crafted sustainability policies by this or that organisation. However, after initial praise for the green pioneers, the media became more difficult to please, criticising many a corporate policy as skin deep. This, in turn, has led some organisations to conclude they were better off not doing anything at all.

At a time when the economic downturn is placing new pressures on organisations, and the media appetite for corporate sustainability stories is seemingly waning, are these organisations onto something? Should companies put their sustainability policies on a shelf and get on with business? While tempting, such thinking is fundamentally flawed.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Can actions really speak louder than words…?

Posted by Edward Mather on July 10, 2008

Watching BBC Four’s programme ‘Black Power Salute’ late last night (repeated tonight at 0045), I was struck by the overriding sense that this one isolated, and essentially unplanned, gesture made by Tommie Smith and John Carlos sent shockwaves throughout the world that achieved more than a million propagandist pamphlets ever could.

 

A brief potted history: At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, US sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, after winning gold and bronze medals respectively, raised their black-gloved hands, and stood shoeless, with heads bowed atop the podium while the Star Spangled Banner played. The act was done to show support for the Black Panther movement, and to decry the appalling treatment of America’s black population.

 

This act was unplanned, and only decided at the last minute, yet the subsequent effect it had across the globe was monumental, becoming front page news around the world, and is now acknowledged as an essential part of the Civil Rights Movement.

 

During the programme last night it was also revealed that the Australian runner Peter Norman who finished in second, athough appearing disinterested and almost awkward in the iconic photo of the act, was in fact also an integral part of the scene. Despite being a white athlete, he asked for an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge, that he wore on the podium, as recognition of how he was sympathetic to the other athletes’ cause. The impact of his act is proven by his subsequent treatment – he was ostracised by the Australian media and banned from the ’72 Olympics despite his unquestionable talent.

 

The point I would like to make is about the vital importance, and dramatic impact that actions can have, but only when done correctly. If we look at the recent pro-Tibet protests that have been dominating this year’s Olympics, the images we have seen are of violent protesters attempting to hijack the torch-bearers. When confronted by such images, it seems hard to feel sympathy for their cause, and you have to question what it will actually achieve. This is in stark contrast to the genuine impact of the peaceful and silent protest of Tommie Smith and John Carlos – a gesture that was deafeningly loud throughout the world and truly monumental for the Civil Rights Movement in America.

 

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Satirical graffiti

Posted by Graham Hayday on January 15, 2008

We’ve all seen those ‘waggish’ comments etched in the mud on the back of vans and lorries. You know the sort of thing: “If only my wife was this filthy”, and so on.

This morning on the way into work, the bus I was on drew alongside a rather dirty white van. Someone had scrawled on the back: “Cleaned by the NHS”.

You know you have reputational issues when you suffer this sort of indignity…

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Another reason why Kindle may never light anyone’s fire

Posted by Graham Hayday on December 4, 2007

More than enough criticism has been levelled at Kindle (Amazon’s e-book reader), and I’m not going to waste any more valuable server space on that issue – except to point you in the direction of this.

It’s story from the Sydney Morning Herald (and I believe it is a news story, even though the actual news is buried in paragraph seven). To quote the relevant section:

“Remarkably, half of Japan’s top-10 selling works of fiction in the first six months of the year were composed… on the tiny handset of a mobile phone. They sold an average of 400,000 copies.”

The point is that these books were also read on mobiles, of course.

Reading books on your mobile… As with Kindle, that’s not something I’ll ever want to do, but hundreds of thousands of Japanese can’t be wrong. Can they?

This might be a bit of a stretch, but I’m sure there are implications here for us communications/media types. It may be that mobile content will soon be more pervasive than we ever imagined (good luck to the clippings agencies on that one).

It may be that those people who continue to scoff at the utility of such services as Twitter may have to eat their words.

It may be that I’m talking nonsense, and cultural differences will mean that we Brits will never use mobile phones in the same way as the Japanese.

Whatever happens, that’s one heck of a statistic the Sydney Morning Herald almost buried in its story (and thanks to TechCrunch for bringing it to a wider audience).

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