Monthly Archives: March 2015

The age old problem with marketing

Effortlessly connectedThere’s a hoarding outside a new housing development opposite the railway station in my home town. It implies that would-be residents will be effortlessly connected to the rest of the world on foot, and by road, rail and air if they buy one of the houses.

To be fair, we are well connected which means that houses in the town (particularly within easy walking distance of the station) are more highly priced than in other parts. Ironically, this makes ‘connection’ that much harder for a whole host of house-buyers!

But the ‘effortless’ bit of the ‘effortlessly connected’ marketing slogan is more contrived.

Overlooking the cost in terms of time, tickets and fuel, travel by road, rail and the air is not always effortless and in many cases people find it’s the opposite – stress-inducing! Which is where marketing (I speak as someone involved in it for 35 years) can be abused – using shorthand to paint rosy pictures about a life to which you and I can only aspire (like living in the ‘luxury homes’ being built behind that hoarding).

And the same criticism goes for bringing marketing and media speak to issues around ageing. Not only do they not know what to call us – senior citizens, elders, the elderly, the old, old people or older people etc – but they can’t make up their minds whether we’re a liability or an asset to society!

In a recent tweet, Mervyn Eastman co-founder of Change Agents ( highlighted some of the mixed messages about our ageing population. Mervyn listed four: we’re living longer, wise and valued; we’re ‘hoarding’ wealth; we’re an economic drain; we’re dependent. I added another pair of stereotypes – we’re either frail or we’re skydiving at 100.

In common with others (or all ages) helping to keep older people ‘out of the system’ for as long as possible, Men’s Sheds – I’ve started one in Hertfordshire – are fighting a constant battle to challenge stereotypes peddled by marketing people, the media and yes, some well-meaning support agencies. Ultimately it’s up to every one of us to think less about shorthand and slogans, and more about the people behind the words. And remember – from the day you were born, you could accurately be described as ‘ageing’.

Second impressions also count

Sekond impresions also countIn training days on not-for-private-profit marketing I’ve often hung a part of the course around the much-quoted ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’ – variously attributed to Oscar Wilde, Bill Rogers, Andrew Grant, and probably others.

It’s something of a cliché of course, but it’s also true. It takes a lot of work to undo a blunder at a job interview, a foot-in-mouth first meeting with your partner’s parents etc, so we need to try to control the things we can and minimise the risk around things we can’t.

But for all the talk about first impressions, we also need to concentrate on second, third, fourth impressions – and the messages we put out there – all the time.

A few weeks ago I was shocked to upset someone I’ve known and liked for over a decade. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people I’ve knowingly upset (as I remember each, a shiver goes down my spine). In this case, what I thought was a fair and frank exchange was not received as such and the damage was done. I now have to guard my words much more carefully than before, and I realise that our relationship may never be the same again.

A second experience at The Repair Shed (our aspiring social enterprise bringing men in the 50+ age group together to mend, make and learn) made me wonder whether, after 35 years in marketing, I need to go back to school.

I’ve recently been banging out what I feel is an avalanche of publicity about The Repair Shed, including a targeted approach to recruit new Shed members.

Whenever I put out publicity (on and offline materials, in talks to individuals and groups of people etc) I always stress our three areas of activity – mending, making and learning. These will also be our three broad income streams if all goes as planned (and if I don’t upset too many more people).

But for all my promotional effort and decades of experience, I recently learnt that the message I thought I’d been putting out was not the one received by at least one person I wanted to reach.

One of those I targeted with my membership pitch (I’m delighted to say he’s now joined us at The Repair Shed) was saying how much he was looking forward to getting stuck in. He then added casually “until recently I hadn’t realised you made things – which is my particular interest – I thought you just repaired them.”

Another timely reminder that when it comes to effective communication, I should continue to choose my words carefully, learn from my mistakes, and guard against making assumptions.

If you haven’t been bombarded by Repair Shed publicity yet, see our webpage and short film clip  at You can also sign up there to receive our free monthly e-bulletin Make & Mend. If you’ve done so already – sorry – no offence meant.

Half way between home and work

EggsThis is a shameless plug for business incubators (an alternative family home for lonesome entrepreneurs) in general, and one in particular.

Ten months ago I wrote about my competition success – winning free desk space and business support in the Wenta Group’s My Incubator in Stevenage. For a recent presentation at Stevenage Borough Council I was reflecting on my two days a week at the Incubator; these are my thoughts.

I’m probably not a typical incubator client – ours’ is an aspiring social enterprise and we’re decidedly low-tech. In Stevenage, I seem to be surrounded by people talking software development, apps and gadgets, while our tea-break chat at The Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead is more likely to be around the merits of different power saws and multi-meters than anything beginning with i- (phone, pod, player etc)

The Repair Shed is one of 130 Men’s Sheds across the UK but is the first, and currently only, Men’s Shed in Hertfordshire. In Australia, where there are nearly 1,000 Men’s Sheds, they describe them as ‘half way between work and home’; easing the transition to life beyond paid employment.

For me, Wenta’s incubator in Stevenage is literally and metaphorically half way between home and work; The Repair Shed being in the opposite corner of the county from my home. My arrival there coincided with a personal decision ‘to be more businesslike’ about my social enterprise development effort. The friendly but professional working environment helps my self-discipline and focus and, of course, there’s the benefit of being surrounded by other business start-ups.

Interest in my expressed passion for making products from reclaimed materials has resulted in welcome tip-offs about local sources of wooden pallets from fellow incubatees (or whatever the word is… maybe I should just call them good eggs). The value of unplanned exchanges while making coffee is much talked-up in start-up circles, but it’s true, as is the sociability of staff and clients alike. As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m a great advocate of peer support.

As someone with twelve years experience in supporting social enterprise development (I’ve even got a qualification to do it) I probably make less use of Wenta’s business face-to-face and online business support than most.

But that said, I think I really should make more of what’s on offer in the building. Online sales is one area I need to beef-up my knowledge for our burgeoning range of upcycled Repair Shed products for home and garden – see Thank you Wenta – all help is appreciated. Plugs over.

If you missed the original blog on my ‘big win’ go to

See the new Repair Shed film clip at and find out more about Wenta at (Repair Shed profile page 8!)

Men’s Sheds and male identity

Red BikesApparently there’s a higher than average incidence of depression in retired posties. I can’t find the research but you can see why this might be true. They have a physically active job, they’re well connected in the community, have unusual working hours and  wear uniforms associated with their valuable, but increasingly threatened, role.

When all that’s gone – what’s left?

Of course posties are not alone in being in danger of drifting when cut loose (by redundancy or retirement) from structures, routines, and the status often associated with paid employment.

Any yes, the uniform – even a suit or a high-viz jacket – can be incredibly important in confirming identity and self-worth, boosting self-confidence.

Which is increasingly understood by the burgeoning network of Men’s Sheds around the UK which offer a half way station between workplace and home.

In Australia – the home of the global Men’s Sheds movement – they found that workers from the emergency services and the armed forces were particularly vulnerable after losing their uniforms (alongside many other, more traumatic, experiences no doubt).

In the not-for-private-profit world of charities and social enterprises there tends to be much less adherence to the idea of hierarchy and uniforms (the Scouts and Guides being honourable exceptions). That said, there are still pay differentials and efforts to foster a corporate identify in most organisations – which may or may not include a dress code.

Closer to the grassroots where organisations, including Men’s Sheds, are largely volunteer-led and run, it’s important to recognise that people giving up their time for free need to feel valued and useful, and able to identify with a worthwhile cause. In fact, because volunteers can simply walk away, it’s essential to get this right.

Meanwhile, at The Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead, we’re just about to order some branded fleeces for our members. This is primarily about keeping bodies warm and reducing wear and tear on other clothes, but it will be interesting to see if the new uniformity adds anything to our collective sense of belonging and self-esteem.

For more about UK Men’s Sheds go to and The Repair Shed is at

Of related interest…

Men’s Sheds and lifelong learning Men’s Sheds and enterprise