This week someone laughingly asked whether I had a man for everything. I had been given a lift to Groves Batteries in Cheltenham where my car battery was being charged up for a bargain £3.50. The lift giver had been based in Gloucestershire for over a decade and had no idea this great company existed and how did I, who had moved here in April 2009, hear about it? I said it was on the recommendation of my boyfriend’s stepfather. On the journey back to Gloucester he asked what my plans for the rest of the week were and I said it was mostly errands in preparation for my new job at the Edward Jenner museum in Berkeley. Fixing my car was paramount but I needed some trousers altering among other things. “Oh, there’s a great guy in Eastgate market” he responded.

Maybe I just listen or perhaps it’s that I ask for details and remember them, but this is how I’ve grown a network of trusted service and goods providers. I make an effort to use people regularly and to recommend them to my friends. Last week I used a taxi company a couple of times to get me to Berkeley whilst my car was out of action and was happy to build a relationship with the owner. Who knows when I might need him again and so one of my tasks for this week was to write him a note expressing thanks (I got a life coaching along with my ride). 

Good service is terribly undervalued in the UK and when working as a service provider myself, I have always been touched when customers have contacted me for no reason but to express gratitude. One of the nicest things a customer has ever done was a lesson from the lady who developed photographs at Jessops most Fridays. She remembered my name and would wait until I was free to ask for my assistance. I grew fond of her and enjoyed our chats. One day I helped her repack her shopping into her mobility aid so that her pictures didn’t get bent and she started to tell me about an amazing doughnut stall at the market. A couple of weeks later she called in and gave me a doughnut as I always seemed to work when the Friday market was on and because I was such a sweet girl. It was no extra work to be nice to Mrs Harvey but I got a hell of a lot more out of our relationship than the doughnut. Thanks to her, I make far more of an effort to learn the names of those I cross paths with. I don’t always succeed but I try.

No man is an island, John Donne famously said and I truly believe this. I am only as good as my network. In my interview for my role at the Edward Jenner museum I talked about the potential for an event based upon the incredible vines that Jenner introduced in 1818. I have absolutely no knowledge of things horticultural (and would never mislead anyone to this fact) but I knew that my boyfriend’s mother was a keen gardener and might have some ideas. I asked her and she said she knew someone involved in events for the RHS. I like to credit those that not only help me but those who inspire me. I feel no great admiration for the person who claims to have achieved on solely upon their own merit, rather I wonder who they trampled and obscured on their journey. Personally, if great things are coming to me I want my people to celebrate with me.

I’m sure I would have got my new job without the killer blow dry Faye at Reflections gave me but there is a extra bit of confidence that she can deliver that makes me better being me . I rarely wear make-up but always wear it in a professional capacity. I call it my ‘game face’ and just like a great pair of heels, it puts me in the right frame of mind. When I collected my (beautifully tailored) trousers this morning, I felt that I at least ticked the boxes for professionally dressed. My list could be endless as I have a great butcher, a grumpy cobbler who nonetheless does excellent work and as a rather strange entry, really wonderful people at Gloucester Council who have been a joy to counterbalance the hassle of my council tax and parking permit – the bureaucracy was a pain but they were lovely.


You have to deal with people. It’s a simple fact of reality. So why not enjoy the ride? Yesterday a friend said I’d done the hardest part by doing retail but I actually enjoyed working at Jessops and when I talked about it in my interview it was with warmth and positivity. I liked the people I worked with and the majority of customers were either polite or friendly. Life is what we make it and if we choose to appreciate those we come into contact with, then it is so much the better. After all, we are only as good as our network.

Groves Batteries
01242 514940
Lypiatt Street
Cheltenham
GL50 2UB

Castle Cars Private Hire
01453 511793
Fishers Road
Berkeley
GL13 9AU


Jessops Gloucester
01452 300689
18 The Oxbode
Gloucester
GL1 1RZ

Nader Razae
Pamir Tailoring
Eastgate Market
Gloucester

Faye Williams
Reflections – Gloucester
01452 506267
30 Westgate Street
Gloucester
GL1 2NW
 
As my time as a PhD student draws to an end, I’ve started to look towards what I might do next. As such, the requirement of marketing myself to potential employers and work collaborators has been at the forefront of my mind, particularly as this Thursday sees me at an interview for a role that I am very enthusiastic about.

A couple of weeks ago I met with someone to discuss a potential opportunity and while I’m not convinced that it is right for me, it saw me digging through my archives for various projects I have worked on in the past. Something I uncovered was a report written for KMP Digitata back in 2004. I was working at the Stockport based digital agency as a copywriter and as my role there was somewhat intern-like in nature I was asked to summarise the nature of the advertising, PR and marketing industry. It was not a commercial report, more a demonstration that I understood the context of the industry I was writing for.


I wrote in my first column about the development of technology and its impact on my life in the first decade of the twenty first century and it was interesting to look back on a snapshot of 2004. The report is replicated here, unedited since 2004. Just as in putting my CVs together I look back at where I have been in order to support where I want to go, it is useful to see how advertising, PR and marketing have developed. For instance, in my report I said that while advertising was suffering, PR was on the up. The extent to which PR has grown has in fact been remarkable, especially on a personal level.

Richard Wiseman, Professor in the Public Understanding of Psychology is a fantastic example of the new personal PR that we call social marketing. By engaging with the followers to his blog and twitter account, Wiseman responds and produces highly relevant and personalised material. Wiseman draws the lay mind into the complex world of psychology through magic tricks, games and puzzles that at once engage and stimulate his audience. Wiseman has utilised the tools of the internet and has gone viral with his videos. The question raised in my report as to whether marketers were up to the task of exploiting the new creativity unleashed by technological advances is answered by his ilk; if marketers weren’t up to the task then there was a whole generation of savvy agents that were.

Evidence in 2004 pointed towards a world increasingly concerned with opting out of marketing but while our email accounts operate with increasingly impenetrable filters, a trend for opting in has grown. A glance through my accounts and I have content from Latest in Beauty (a site that provides samples of new cosmetics), Joe Browns (clothing) and Cedars (my spa of choice in Gloucester) in my inbox, I’m a member of the Facebook group for Sepang International Circuit from when I was living in Kuala Lumpur and I follow a variety of service providers on twitter.

The key to success then is what twitter has captured with the concept of following; one must market oneself in such a way that people want to opt in to your content. But how does one set about that? How does one become a successful twitter whore? Wiseman has 14,525 followers on twitter (the vivacious Lisa Nova has 42,410) but it’s not just about numbers, it’s about attracting the kind of people you want reading your content. Wiseman sells lots of books (my boyfriend got 59 Seconds for Christmas) so clearly he has his market sussed; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve emailed or sent by pm a link he put on twitter to a friend I thought might appreciate it. Wiseman not only gains my interest but he does so with content I can easily pass on to people who can quickly digest it. Wiseman reaches an extended audience via his followers. Clever stuff!

My brother is a Digital Marketing Executive at KMP Digitata (it’s a small world) and was part of the team that created and marketed Glacier Racer, a free game that can be played online, or significantly, on the iPhone. When I saw him last, various family members were heading outside to build a snowman while I, having just spent three hours on motorways elected to stay indoors and read the Sunday paper. When I went to see how they were getting on, I was somewhat surprised to see Eskimo Mo. My boyfriend took a photo and the comments came in on his Facebook. Danny reminded me of the link to the game and I posted that in the comment box. While I don’t really “game” and don’t know who amongst my friends do, Danny made me aware of the fact that my boyfriend’s network does in all likelihood include those that do. What Wiseman and my brother demonstrate is that engaging the degrees of separation between yourself and your most relevant audience is important in social marketing.

I think that is the most important thing when marketing yourself as a job seeker as well. While in an interview the person in the suit facing you appears to be your most relevant audience, the real audience is arguably who they are marketing to. Important as it is to make a personal impression, the ability to demonstrate a skill set that will help them meet their objectives is imperative. Just as the social marketer looks down the line of who they know to see who they can reach, the successful interviewee is the one that best identifies the needs of their potential employer and can best advertise themselves as the package to meet those needs.

Hopefully the package I present today is the one that my interviewer selects; the role does after all present a pathway to where I ultimately wish to go and social marketing is all about reciprocity.
 
I'm not big on the fluffy (unless you count the Mink coat my late grandmother gave me and I've had wrapped about myself since the snow finally reached Gloucester which I doubt you do). As such my motivation for going to see Avatar was a desire to see what Cameron had been waiting for in the development of digital technology and not to watch a story I'd heard summarised as Fern Gully on crack.

I was reluctant to see it in 3D as my previous experience of Beowulf in 2007 left me unimpressed but it was an incredible display which mostly utilised the technology in a wonderfully subtle way. Cameron was right to wait; he had an incredible vision and his patience paid off. I did like elements of the story, I enjoy fantasy and thought the interface method was certainly sparklier than the power cord to my netbook. I've recommended it to everyone I know but it didn't really touch me. It was, after all, a rather poorly disguised piece of environmentalist propaganda set against a lovely backdrop. Afterwards I was happy to wrap up once more against the cold and stomp through the snow to a steak and a glass of red wine at my boyfriend's flat.

Life went on. Until I picked up a copy of the Metro and read that fans have been left depressed, some suicidal even. Apparently they want to live on Pandora. There is a fan forum site called Avatar Forums where there is a topic thread entitled 'Ways to cope with the depression of the dream of Pandora being intangible.' The Metro's cited expert, New York psychiatrist Dr Stephan Quenzel explained that “It makes real life seem more imperfect.”

These people clearly lack imagination, passion and drive. I'm the first to admit that I love to escape into fantasy whether that be dancing in the ballrooms of the deep South as I read Gone with the Wind or taking on the X-men as Mystique but more than those junk food fixes, I look to reality and that's where my imagination really runs. I get excited about the jobs I apply for, I linger over a review of a restaurant I might visit, I remember diving with Manta Rays and think about future holidays. It's tragic that these individuals are so caught up in their provided reality that they are unable to create their own.

On Pandora there are creatures that the Na'vi can connect with and ride or fly through will. I grew up riding horses and while the connection that the Na'vi can have isn't possible with a horse, what is possible is not so different. As a rider you learn to know a horses mind, you read the signs and respond. The animals on Pandora look like lots of fun to ride but it's a bit of a cop out compared to the work that it takes to become a true horseman or woman on earth. As for the flight comparison, how many pining for Pandora have actually looked into skydiving?

What Avatar offers is not a fantasy world but the fantasy of a life where we are better; where talent and adventure are automatic parts of life. None of the Na'vi were shown as being normal, a bit scared of heights or rather fond of sitting somewhere comfortable. By being one of the Na'vi, one would automatically be slim and athletic, strong and talented. It wouldn't be necessary to have to find beauty in the world and wonder in life because those things are so blatant and accessible on Pandora. I for one embrace the challenge that the earth presents. The hassle of carrying scuba gear makes you appreciate the world beneath the waves all the more just as the cold air burning your lungs fully concentrates your mind on snowy vistas.


A poster on the thread calling themselves Elequin says ‘even if you wanted to strive to be more like the Na'vi you would be eaten alive in this world’ and that it hurt to know ‘It really would take a complete new fresh start somewhere un-corrupted.’ There are a few voices of reason in the thread such as that of the posters kaliko and Lparsons7641 but they are largely drowned by those unable to appreciate that a world where love and wonder are easy may even pale in comparison to the world where they live. I feel sorry for the likes of Elequin but wonder at the extent of their apathy towards confronting reality. The people who feel they are Na’vi trapped in human shells and only released when they dream are worrying examples of a generation so attuned to spoon-fed emotions that they lack the ability to recognise true connection with other people, animals and nature.

The thread on avatar-forums is a single example of course and no doubt the posters largely consist of teenagers that lack autonomy in their lives. It is of interest to me not so much because of Avatar itself but of a generation more eager to absorb culture than to critique it. Call me cynical but a significant part of the pleasure of reading, listening to music and visiting the cinema and theatre comes from discussion about these things, discussion that is rigorous and rates positive and negative attributes. Unthinking fandom creates flat listless conversation (I confess I only got to page 16 it was so dull) much like the rather flat and listless dialogue of the film. 

I rate Avatar 9/10. For all my criticism I think it’s a visionary feast; I just enjoyed it within my ability to enjoy something on a screen. Something which for me cannot begin compete with the fantastic entity that it reality. For those trapped in a depression of the dream of Pandora being intangible, I feel the trap is one of their own making; a way to evade the responsibility of finding happiness in a world that can sometimes feel cold and hostile.
 
As a researcher I have an acute appreciation for the importance of communicating to the public. Grants councils are answerable for how they invest and it is essential that the value of one's work is both understandable and defendable. In short, one must be able to answer the question of 'so what is the point of what you do?' 

The media plays a hugely important role in public understanding but as their primary objective is to sell copy, much can be lost between academic paper and headline as press releases and journalists play Chinese whispers with the most marketable aspects of the story.

Take
this article for example. One aspect of the findings makes for quite the snappy headline but if we read between the lines, the conclusion is not what it seems. The outline of the study appears to have been an attempt to prove the existence of the female G-spot
* by studying twins. The conclusion is that in a study of twins, the G-spot’s existence was not proven via the methods involved.
What we do when we conduct research is to isolate what we want to examine from as many contributory factors as possible and then study our phenomenon according to a clear set of criteria. The wonderful thing about twins is that they can provide as close to a control as is possible in the study of people. However, they are far from perfect as a control and as with so many types of experimentation; any results are subject to an extensive list of conditions. As such, research is often about proving what is not, rather than proving that which is. My MA thesis for instance gave a strong case for the psychology of players being a useful consideration in assessing economic development. It did not show that the psychology of players was neither better nor even equal to other factors for assessing economic development, merely that there was a place for it. In short, I showed that previously considered factors were not the only factors.

It can be strongly indicated (‘shows fairly conclusively’ to use Tim Spector’s words) that the existence of a G-spot in adult females in a study of twins is a subjective thing. What that means is that a single specific test failed to find the G-spot by using its outlined criteria. The value of this to the field of research is that some questions about the G-spot have been answered and others raised. For example, if the G-spot exists, is its development triggered by environmental factors? (A question that could explain why there was no correlation in the twin study.) But in no way does it provide a conclusive answer (nor even did it seek one) for the G-spot debate.

The media’s portrayal of such research can be confusing and annoying; leading readers to wonder whether the so-called experts have any idea what they’re talking about. All too often the term ‘researchers’ or, (in higher quality publications) ‘some researchers’ are used in lieu of names and institutions leading the typical reader to (to a degree) reasonably lump them all together when of course the research produced isn’t just from different individuals and institutions but from different fields of research, the public and private sector and to entirely different sets of objectives. One study proving that x number of women have a clearly defined area of nerve endings does not necessarily contradict another study proving that there is no correlation between twins and propensity to report G-spot experience.

None of this is meant to disparage the media. The media is far from some single monstrous body chewing through facts and spitting out ambiguity. What newspapers and other news sources seek to do is tell the latest story. It is only in the later pages of the Sunday papers and on news discussion programs that the latest piece of news can be set in any kind of context. It would make for terribly dull reporting if every story referred endlessly to previous material and for the most part I believe the methods used are the best available.

Responsibility for the confusion lies somewhere between unclear reporting and consumers lacking the ability to contextualise what they read; news articles could be clearer but consumers ought not passively accept whatever they are spoon-fed. I recently had a conversation with someone who believed in a number of conspiracy theories. He argued against my scepticism by citing the example of a television program that had “exposed” the conspiracy before accusing me of burying my head in the sand in the face of facts. I asked what material the individual had sought out that told the other side of the story and was met with silence. I explained that I had, as it happened, heard the story of the program he had seen but that I had also encountered information that suggested that his theory was unfounded. I said that I wasn’t ruling out the possibility of a conspiracy entirely but that I wasn’t convinced. He of course restated his case, which demonstrates the importance of not arguing with conspiracy theorists!

One of the reasons I like forums is that the hard work is done for you. Someone will post a link to a news story with a glib remark and this will, more often than not, be met with a link to a story which appears to contradict it. It is not so important that rarely do people point out that the stories may be quite unrelated aside from a key word (and G-spot is a word that tends to catch ones attention) but that they are engaged and aware of the world of research. And if they feel the need to speak out against public monies being used to fund research because they don’t understand its importance then they create a platform for the academics and that is something we academics really like! Some of us even start websites in an effort to be heard.

* What did you think I was going to link to? I know you know what it is (or at least what it is meant to be)!