What time and when are the CHURNies local journalism awards?

It sometimes feels like it’s always awards season in Birmingham — in fact it’s been said we have the second longest awards season in Europe — because if there is a drum to be banged or a trumpet to be blown you can can guarantee that there will be a Brummie standing nearby, claiming that they own it and ready to have a go. And behind that Brummie, press ticket in hat, is a reporter from the Post and Mail. But Quis scribet ipsos scriptores? Who is looking at the real skills of the footsoldiers of our local media?

Those pounding the streets of Tweetdeck and the editorial inbox, we salute you.

Today we launch the Championing Urban Brum’s Real Notetakers awards — inelegantly varied as the CHURNies — celebrating local journalism excellence, from SEO to good Tweeting practise, from erm SEO to desk-based news gathering, with a side order of fries served in a old shoe in order to review the latest craft beer street food hangout. Who will come to our literal opening of an envelope? Who but the Evening Mail will live blog it?

We are now accepting nominations in the following categories:

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We’re the biggest outside London, inside London it’s too dark to read

A letter we sent to the Birmingham Post the other day, do they still have ‘letters to the editor’ in papers these days?

Dear Sir,

I think we all agree that there are times when Birmingham should blow it’s own trumpet, excepting of course those times when we need our hands free to bang our own drum, but articles such as Birmingham ‘most entrepreneurial city outside London(16 Jan) do us no good at all.

The article – based on data from Startup Britain – informs us that our city has more new businesses were registered last year “than any other city outside the capital.” Great news, for the second city: but it would only really be newsworthy if we weren’t — as we have by a long way the largest population of any UK city ‘outside London (over a quarter of a million more people more by any calculation).

Birmingham (population approx one million people) had 17,473 new businesses, Manchester (population approx 430,000 – less than half a Brum) registered 9,416. It doesn’t take an entrepreneurial maths wizard to see that England’s third city is doing a little better than its second by this arbitrary measure.

Startup Britain’s own data, (which is freely available to all) suggests that Birmingham was in fact the 16th highest area in Great Britain for new businesses registered per 1000 people.

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The same essay about Albert Bore every day

Duran Duran get pilloried for claiming, on their 1995 covers LP Thank You, that ambulances won’t come to their houses because they are black. But they’re right, try to dial 911 from South Birmingham of the late ‘70s: it’s unlikely that any of the emergency services will turn up.

It’s also true that if you phone the Capita-run call centre for some bin bags or to pay your council tax it’s likely you won’t get anything useful. They’re not discriminatory, just a bit crap – hamstrung by both council bureaucracy and  inertia driven by the commercial profit motive.

And while Sir Albert Bore didn’t sign the Capita contract (that was a Tory/Lib Dem joint production back in 2006), he is judged for presiding over the aimless ‘looking for it’ that followed. In an era that started to demand big personalities and decisive action, it was all too easy to assume that Sir Albert’s reticence to ‘find’ the contract was nominative determinism.

“He’s called ‘Bore’, he must be dull.”

“Solihull’s council leader is way more exciting, even if the place is cold and he’s sliding downhill.”

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The same photo of Albert Bore every day calendar 2017

We’ve already signed off for the holidays but we know that some of you are still in the office today — after all, there’s no work to do and the boss will let you go home at 12 in any case so it’s basically a free day off and only a mug would take it as holiday.

Well anyway, as you’re the sort of person who is in the office on the last day before Christmas we figured you’re also the sort of person who has left shopping a bit late — after all, you’re getting out of work at lunchtime so you can just grab stuff on the way home: what’s all the fuss about, right?

If you are still shopping, and if you’re at the office with nothing to do, why not print off a few copies of our FREE 2017 calendar?

We hope you like it, but if you need more gift ideas here’s our handy last minute shopping guide.

Download the calendar, it’s set for A6 pages so you can print 4 a sheet and use the guillotine (careful now), or scale up to A4 for a monster size photo of  Albert Bore… every day!

Get The same photo of Albert Bore every day calendar 2017 now!

Birmingham’s Mannequin Challenge—Forward whilst standing still

Villa’s defence have been doing the mannequin challenge since last season, way before the current craze started. And Birmingham is always ready to jump on such a bandwagon for promotional purposes, but what would a Birmingham mannequin challenge look like? Luckily we’ve got a leaked email from internet marketing guru Andre de Jong…

To: John.Clancy@birmingham.gov.uk

From: Andre.De.Jong@zaphiks.in

Re: Forward while standing still!

29th November 2016 11:03

Hey John Clancy!

How’s everything going? Not too worried that the new metro mayor will usurp all your powers? Good job on hiring Paul Dale btw, all the better to neuter any scrutiny. Anyway, Andre here, we met at the social media cafe thing, where the students are students and the PR people are nervous.

We’ve been brainstorming a thought shower for you on the new internets sensation. And the best bit is you don’t have to do anything at all. Literally Birmingham just has to stand still. Like under the Tory/Lib Dem coalition, am I right, JC?

So, how about we do a mannequin challenge with all of Brum’s great stars? We just set up a Brumagem Hogarthian tableau and film it. Then, profit!

I figure we do this at an artisanal street food market. If we can’t do it tomorrow then there’s another one the next day. And now the MDMA stall’s closed there’s not too much movement anyway.

So first we see the bar staff at the fighting Cocks—they have a craft beer pop-up and are moving speedily to serve you.

The pie stand has run out, and Steve Bruce is standing nearby looking embarrassed. Some Villa supporters are cheering him but there is a long queue made up of Blues fans, Remi Garde and Tim Sherwood who all look sad. The pie shop is run by Andy Street who is disappointed that he knowingly oversold.

Talking of the football, ex-Villa star Gareth Southgate is full of anticipation as a man from the FA looks like he might be about to give him a job sometime soon.

Lenny Henry is half way through delivering one of the many duties that BCU’s chancellor actually has. Maybe he’s sorting out the bins or something. Talking of bins, Marco Pierre White’s team from the restaurant at the top of the Cube are doing ‘everything they can’ to clean up and get a better safety certificate.

At a table with a laptop, Jess Phillips is writing a column. She’s done one word: “I”. Her husband is making a sandwich and picking up a good pay cheque.

Keith from the Prince of Wales is there with his laptop too: caught halfway through starting an online petition to stop something that isn’t happening happening.

The UB40s who like Jeremy Corbyn are running a falafel store. The UB40s who don’t like Jeremy Corbyn are telling people how falafel stores are so over.

Now the camera swings around to where the Mosley Labour Party are doing some voter ID, moving as quickly as ever to open the train station, and we keep moving over to the entrance to the market. Andrew Mitchell is caught having a nice joke with a police officer—he’s holding a gate open so the officer can wheel his bike through, and all is forgiven. Another police officer is buying some sourdough bread from Jamelia, but she’s insisting on seeing his ID before giving him the forces discount. You can never be too sure.

And who is next? Here’s Gisela Stewart! She has a bap of something pulled she thought she wanted but she seems a bit taken aback by the price. Careful what you wish for.

And then lastly the camera comes past Albert Bore who is looking in the back of a cupboard for the Capita contract.

Kind Regards

Andre

On Trump(ets)

By popular demand, here is our hot take on the Trump election. Sorry we kept you waiting, it’s a complicated business.

A Trump rally. It's in Birmingham, Al.

Broadly speaking, this isn’t a Birmingham issue. We are not aware of anyone with a Birmingham connection called D. Trump who we can interview about their tangential relationship to the President-Elect. We do not know of anyone from a B post code who is a distant relation to Hilary either. We do not know how Birmingham can make America great again.

We do know that Trump’s election is one of several markers of a shift to a less tolerant and less progressive world. The other markers include the rise of the right at home and abroad, the Brexit vote, the movement of Tory policy in the direction of their right and the hardening against the left by those who claim to be on that side of the centre.

We know that amidst that backdrop we are electing a Metro-mayor next year. Listen not just to what candidates are saying, but look at what they represent: the ideologies and records of their parties and partners; they may talk anti-politics or ‘best midlands’, but be sure that this is politics and those businesses or media organisations that help candidates are buying influence for them, not you.

You can’t do anything directly about Trump, but you can make small steps against that system by focussing on the things you can affect.

Birmingham can make America great by starting with making Birmingham great. Actually great: fair, equal, friendly, welcoming, rather than boosteringly tooting on your tremendously, I mean really tremendous, Trumpet bigly. Go do something: buy a homeless person a tea, help someone with their bags at New Street, call out the Mail’s Facebook commenting racists—just be nice.

It’s not the End of the World, for that you have to get the 16 to Handsworth.

Satirical Cartoon: Birmingham Chamber of Commerce react to US election result

It’s the morning, the results of the US election are in. We can tell this as a man in a suit in the background is holding a newspaper that says ‘Trump wins presidency’, despite that being both a shit headline and an impossibility because the papers were all printed before the results were in.

We’re in the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce office. It says so on the sign. There’s a bloke, well fed in a suit and tie. His desk sign tells us he is Paul Faulkner CEO of the Chamber. Let’s just say he’s made this out of a Toblerone packet much like you may have done playing offices as a kid, because, how would you get one of those these days?  He’s on the phone, but holding it off his ear, hand over the mouthpiece.

“It’s BBC WM on the phone, desperately casting around for a local angle on the Trump election. I’ve told her that Midlands business can help make America ‘great’ again. But now they want an example…”

He has a traditional secretary, glasses and a beehive. She’s bringing him in a cup of tea – with saucer – on a tray. She says:

We’re not sure how this ends, so you can pick your favourite response here. It’ll give you about as much power over what happens next as your average voter.

  • “He could get the bricks for his wall at Wickes’s up by the Albion ground?”
  • “It’s a pity they’ll now be able to make their dystopian films at home now”
  • “Do they like award winning pop-up street food?”
  • “I think they are capable of making up their own bullshit.”
  • “You can get white sheets for Klan outfits and tin foil for hats at Latifs.”
  • “I’m sorry, this retro construct of a scene is so far removed from reality as is the idea that a sensible member of the Birmingham establishment would say something so stupid, that I am unable to suspend disbelief for long enough to comment.”

#boingboing — John Lewis comes to WBA

Continuing the hot 2016 meme of unsecure private political comms, here’s another hacked correspondence from digital experience agency Zaphiks to their biggest client

To: Andy.Street@greaterbrumminghamlep.com

From: Andre.De.Jong@zaphiks.in

Re: Christmas Teasers — #boingboing

8th November 2016 14:02

Hi Andy,

How’s the shop going? I hope it is ready for Christmas because my goose is fat.

As you know the advert for your shop is super important for Christmas. So we started today the teaser campaign. It is very cool. The campaign is called “Boing Boing” and we went big on the #boingboing hashtag for it today

I think some people think we made a mistake because we didn’t realise that the football fans of West Bromwich use this hashtag all the time, but actually it’s all part of the plan. The advert isn’t about a dog, that’s just a red Hollandse nieuwe haring. We’re bringing Christmas to the Midlands!

Yes actually the advert is a story about the “football widow” and her husband is at the big game doing boing bounce. How will they connect and talk? They’ll buy some things from the shop! Happy Christmas to everyone!

Here’s a rough cut for you.

Sure it’s a bit 1970s but it’s all very Brexit, and I think your mayor voters will like it a lot. Also the Labour guy likes this team, so it’s good for you mix it up a bit.

Kind Regards

Andre

ps we just need to add the pay off now, what present can he get for her on the way home from the game? Do you sell Baggies hats and orange chips?

 

 

Don’t go topping yourself—chain pizza is in Moseley to stay

Our pals over on Eye on Moseley have run a piece on the opening of Pizza Express and Prezzo in B13 and it’s a tasty slice of deep pan fun. There’s an obvious nimby trap laid out for the unsuspecting writer here—it’s tempting to moan about ‘chains’ and ‘independents’ and witter about bringing down the village—The Eye deftly avoids doing that and adding too much cheese (though many of their readers fall into the hole in some of the online chat that surrounds the article).

There’s a point we want to pick up on though which is that the opening of these restaurants makes no business sense. The Eye says:

“opening two almost identical restaurants within months of each other is just ridiculous. Opening two massive restaurants demonstrates little comprehension of how business works […] So one of these is going out of business, once they have bled their parent companies dry.”

The thing is, weirdly, it does make sense, it’s not ridiculous and it is exactly how business works. Pizza Express doesn’t act on emotions—it acts on numbers, maps and intelligence. It also doesn’t open a restaurant in Moseley to serve the village, it opens a restaurant in Moseley to serve the city, and it wouldn’t open it unless it also served the shareholders a wedge of dough. Marketing for multiple outlets relies on coverage, brand, and relationships with customers. Casual dining pizza restaurants have this down to an art.

The pizza chains’ websites and apps broker relationships between customers and the brand not between locals and restaurants. They direct us to our nearest touch point from where we are now, not from where we live, and they use voucher based incentivised pricing to keep us in the sweet spot of a reasonably priced dinner at all times. To be effective we always need to be near enough to a restaurant to be able to get there. That’s where these new restaurants come in: there’s a hole in the map where coverage can be improved and that hole is Moseley, in the Birmingham, Northfield area.

These restaurants will draw from miles around in a way that a locally owned place can’t: they don’t need to build a reputation through word of mouth. They’ll attract families that need a quick meal at a known price point (we haven’t time to explain, but the Pizza Express children’s menu is an exquisitely designed customer journey, which maximises income for the restaurant whilst feeling very reasonable). Teenage couples from a few miles down the road will come because it’ll be just far enough for them to feel like they’ve been out but close enough that they won’t have trouble getting there (the fact that the menu is so good for veggies helps put bums on seats in a multicultural city, and only a Nando’s would do better with the dietary requirements of most Birmingham kids).

Just imagine a local, bearded, entrepreneur decided to take up one of the premises and install a ‘food concept’. Even if it’s brilliant, a conceptual masterstroke like balti-pork scratching cobs with orange chips and a scallop served on a scale replica of King Kong, it will take time to build up word of mouth. Pizza Express is in like Flynn. Terry Flynn who opened Al Capone pizza in 1987.

We are in favour of variety and admire passionate people doing their own thing—despite our willingness to get a rise out of all things “street food” and “artisanal”—but we recognise that doing anything that starts small and builds is hard and that actually companies like Prezzo and Pizza Express are more likely to succeed over time because they have a method that works. That is why UK high streets all look the same. That is why these restaurants won’t close as quickly as The Eye thinks. Just look at the Pizza Express and Ask restaurants in Sutton Coldfield which have thrived for years separated only by a Wetherspoons (and just across from a Nando’s) whilst next door plucky indie after plucky indie has withered and died on a seemingly cursed plot, most recently ending in a frankly bizarre alleged murder plot which fails to take into account the fact that diesel fuel can’t melt steel beams.

And that’s why we are going to make a bet with The Eye: we bet them a slap up reasonably priced pizza dinner that Moseley will have a thriving Pizza Express in 2020.

And if there isn’t, we’ll get them an artisanal falafel.

Jon B & Jon H