Thirteen years as CEO of the now defunct National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG) and I was beginning to experience a sense of frustration that the debate on transparency and trace-ability in the jewelley supply chain was going around in circles! After more than a decade of work – heroic efforts by Greg Valerio and Fairtrade Gold, and a bucket load of green-wash from other quarters – I was starting to feel that the pool of committed people was almost saturated and that we were now just having a circular debate within a group of devotees to the cause. But the recent FLUX: REDEFINING LUXURY conference has restored my faith!
Now, after three years watching from the side-lines, I’m immensely encouraged to find that the message is again reaching a wider, grass-roots, audience of designer makers. Why is this? Well, persistence is one reason, recognition another! The award of Greg’s MBE contributed new impetus and pushed ethical gold several notches up the awareness ladder. Ethical fashion has helped too.
In 2000 – when I first became involved with retail jewellers – many didn’t really get the connection between themselves and the fashion industry. But brands and diverse materials have broadened their horizons, and cemented the bonds between jewellery and fashion. Interestingly fashion and jewellery have been running on parallel tracks when it comes to ethical supply chain issues too.
Both are concerned with provenance, the elimination of destructive environmental practices, human rights violations, and exploitation of local workers. But their gestation periods have been different. Environmental and exploitation anxieties about gold, precious metals, and diamonds matured over decades, reaching their tipping point with the No Dirty Gold and ‘blood diamond’ revelations early this century.
Similarly, the extraction, and consumption of water during cotton cultivation and subsequent pollution in the processing of fabric has long been an environmental concern for the fashion industry. The universality, accessibility, and relentless rapidity of fashion trends – ‘fast fashion’ – has accelerated that destruction but also propelled the possibility of change in the garment industry. The durability, value, and complexity of jewellery, has driven change more slowly.
Fashion Revolution was born, in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that killed 1,134 and injuring 2,500 others. Its belief that ‘fashion can be made in a safe, clean and beautiful way, where creativity, quality, environment and people are valued equally’ seems to me to be the fundamental linkage between jewellery and fashion! Thanks to Greg, Fairtrade Gold, Lina Villa from ARM, and Orsola de Castro of Fashion Revolution for bringing that fact vividly to life!
Association executives will all have experienced difficulties with presidents, chairmen, or directors. They are a mixed bunch and over the years the good, the bad and the ugly come and go. Never-the-less, as professionals you have to get on with them, accept their peculiarities and petty likes and dislikes whilst the serious business of governance goes on.
In my twenty-odd years’ working my way up through membership bodies, trade associations, and charities, I’ve discovered that Boards come in many shapes and sizes. Each adopting a different attitude to the responsibilities they have taken on – sometimes unwittingly. They range from the indolent to the hyperactive, the distant to the micro-managing, and all shades in between. Their attitude to the chief executive and secretariat can also vary wildly.
Some directors see the association as their personal fiefdom, with the staff as serfs to do their bidding; the chief executive’s prime functions – in their view – to ensure the success of the golf day and the quality of wine at the annual dinner. Such attitudes stem from the days when association secretaries ruled; when finding a place on a Board or committee was one way for family firms to distract patriarchs who refused to step aside; when a culture of amateurism prevailed; and directors’ focus was sometimes blurred. In my time I’ve met them all – the commanding, the conniving, the conceited, and the committed – but when it comes down to it there are two distinct types of association Board. One meddles and micro-manages in the mistaken belief that as business people themselves they must be able to do better than their ‘employees’. The other understands their strategic role but accepts that the secretariat are professionals – experts in their field – with the CEO taking operational responsibility on a day-to-day basis. Only the chairman can determine which route they take.
But don’t let’s fool ourselves, chief executives can be a mixed bunch too. Perhaps best described as entrepreneurs, showmen, and diplomats all rolled into one, they have to juggle the often conflicting interests of their members to achieve consensus, and they can be complex characters. Nevertheless the key relationship is that between the chairman and the chief executive, and trouble follows where this fails. As well as a shared commitment to the cause, relationships must be based on mutual respect and trust. They must be frank and open, with problem areas being addressed amenably. Empathy, communication, humility, and self-awareness are the key differentiators.
The two roles must be complementary. The chairman is responsible for leading the business of the Board while the chief executive manages the association’s business. The chairman and the chief executive must be aware of each other’s activities and work together as a team. The duties of the chairman – a non-executive role – arise from their position as the chief elected officer of the association and their responsibility for presiding over its official business and the Board. The chief executive is responsible to the chairman and the Board for directing and promoting the operation and development of the association consistent with its primary objectives. In so doing they exercise executive stewardship over the association’s physical, financial and human resources.
There used to be a joke along the lines of, ‘what’s the similarity between a non-executive director and a shopping trolley?’ Answer: ‘They both have a mind of their own, but you can get more food and drink in a non-executive director!’ It may be an old chestnut, but it illustrates that the fault line between executive and non-executive responsibilities is often where most tension develops. Some secretariats are resentful of the oversight of a largely non-executive Board that they sense doesn’t share their vision or commitment – or jeopardy to their income – or appreciate the skills and professionalism they bring to a difficult job.
Therefore, not-with-standing their fiduciary responsibilities, and duties to members, every Board must remember that the lively-hoods and well-being of all those employed by the association are at stake and the consequences of ignoring this fact can be enormous. Believe me, I’ve been on both sides of the fence, as director, chief executive, trustee, and humble foot-soldier, and I know how morale suffers when internecine warfare sours relations or the Board appears to lose the plot!
Michael Hoare FIAM
Members of The Gemmological Association of Great Britain can log in and find details of the 2015 Council elections on the Gem-A website, including a proxy voting form for those wishing to caste their vote online.
The Gem-A Manifesto by Ronnie Bauer, Kathryn Bonanno, John Bradshaw, Guy Clutterbuck, Michael Hoare, Alan Hodgkinson, Alberto Scarani, and Greg Valerio is available from firstname.lastname@example.org
Hilaire O’Shea is a man who has spent most of his professional life dying bank notes lurid colours or sticking them together into inseparable lumps. Not because of any character trait, but as part of his work denying criminals access to their ill-gotten gains. Now he has turned his attention to jewellery!
As he says, “The criminals – whose job it is to steal from people; who consider their crime victimless; believe it is harmless because insurance pays for the loss; and having insurance is part of doing business – they have no empathy or admiration for the passion and craft that goes into creating these works of art. They believe a suitcase full of money is the same as a watch or necklace because the price to the public is the same. But it’s not.”
Events like the Hatton Garden vault break in inevitably throw crime against the sector into high relief. But in reality they are just the tip of a very big, very dirty, criminal iceberg. Much theft is mundane; involving trickery, deception, fraud, and occasionally sleight of hand. Higher up the criminal food chain comes robbery, often involving violence against property or people. And whilst we all fantasize about being a have-a-go hero, the reality is that cases like the recently reported jeweller giving his assailant more than he bargained for with a baseball bat are few and far between. Thankfully, most jewellers and their staff value the safety of life and limb above diamonds and pearls, and put up little resistance to violent robbers; preferring instead to deal with their insurance broker.
Great strides have been made in recent years with alarms, CCTV, fogging, and forensic markers, to either defend or identify property. But, with over £14 million of losses reported to SaferGems in 2014 alone, there is still plenty of stolen merchandise in circulation. The fact that it is easily transportable, can be recycled, or broken down into its component parts, and still represent a store of value is the biggest challenge to police and insurers. So much so that only negligible amounts of stolen goods are ever recovered. The knock-on effect is that organised crime gangs continue to use these resources to pay their subcontractors and fund more criminal enterprise. The challenge is to deny them access.
In Greek mythology Medusa was a Gorgon who, apart from having venomous snakes in place of hair, could turn to stone those who looked directly into her eyes. Through his Medusa™ system, Hilaire can achieve the next best thing. He hasn’t yet mastered turning people to stone, but in a trice he can encase your valuables in an impenetrable block of inert material. Making them impossible to get at, and impracticable to transport.
A few weeks ago he demonstrated his system to industry experts gathered in London, and within seconds filled a showcase full of watches with expanded foam. Even if an axe wielding hooligan could risk the sixty seconds of incessant pounding that it took to breach the toughened glass, his reward would have been impossible to transport on a scooter, let alone divide up between his co-conspirators.
Initially developed for use in secure flight cases, the Medusa™ system has now been scaled up to give all round security to stand-alone showcases, and is especially effective where displays of high value watches are concerned. To find out more, go to www.medusa-hss.com Personally, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of Medusa!
So, as a membership organisation, trade association, or professional body, your world is changing. Your role as gatekeeper to privileged information has disappeared. The internet has given free access to sector data. Previously, when you spoke, your members listened, but not anymore! You understand social media is the new member engagement front – at least your inbox tells you so – and you’ve got some young people working on it, because they understand these things! And yet, shifting your brochure to Facebook hasn’t quite cracked it, and you’re beginning to wonder if you’ve become busy fools! How can you make this torrent of information work for you? Why is everyone else succeeding when you’re not?
Grant Leboff is a sales and marketing expert. He has three books on the subject under his belt to prove it. Sales Therapy and Sticky Marketing, his two earlier titles, were in Amazon’s top ten Business Books, and number one in the Sales & Marketing bestsellers chart. His latest, Stickier Marketing, went straight to number one in the Amazon Sales & Marketing Chart, and was in the top ten overall Business Chart, on publication in February 2014. It provides companies with the new principles of marketing so they can thrive in a digital world, and recently I arranged for him to share some with Institute of Association Management Members!
We’re going through a ‘social era’ according to Grant. One in which ‘word of mouth’ has gone online, and – to quote Oscar Wilde – “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”. Marketing is no longer about the image companies create, but the reputation they earn, expressed through what others say about them; building communities, not winning customers; and creating great content.
Sounds like a lot of work – you may think – pumping out all that content every day! But that would be to miss the point. Firstly, membership bodies must resist their natural instinct to ‘broadcast’ their important words of wisdom; focussing instead on a curatorial role; editing choice and maybe adding their imprimatur of authority; but certainly focussing on the ‘ME’ in social media.
Why? Because your members look for personalisation, are interested in what ‘influencers’ have to say, and are likely to act on recommendations from people they trust. So, harnessing the ‘wisdom of friends’ is the key. Ask yourself, where is the value for your customer in each piece of communication, why would they share it, and how? As traditional communal structures break down, and individuals, faced with ultimate choice, have to act on their own instincts, they look increasingly for social proof to guide their thinking, reinforce their ideas, and confirm their choices. And once they have made choices they want to legitimise them by involving others. Plus, there is nothing that most people like more than talking about themselves. If you can harness their desire to be associated with ideas and content and organisations that show themselves in a good light, they will do your marketing for you.
Regent Street is to become the first shopping street in Europe to pioneer a mobile telephone app which delivers personalised promotions to visitors.
Capturing shoppers’ attention as they walk down the pavement was once a relatively simple task for high-street stores. They relied on location, innovative presentation, and a dash of theatre, to stand out. But now, with shoppers’ shrinking attention span shorter than the average goldfish’s, and the advent of smartphone and Internet accessibility almost anywhere, the battle to capture awareness has become even tougher. So now, to compete with the existing blizzard of information, The Crown Estate, which owns Regent Street, will introduce a new smartphone application that effectively allows your favourite retailer to shout “Hey, we’re over here!” as you walk past their door.
Sceptics might see this as the technological equivalent of handing out leaflets wearing a funny costume. But this system takes advantage of location-aware beacon technology to deliver discounts, new-product promotions and other alerts to shoppers’ smartphones as they walk past stores and restaurants. The app, created by US agency autoGraph, allows users to select their shopping preferences from a list of 40 well-known brands. It then builds a profile to determine which customer gets marketing messages from which brand and distributes them via Bluetooth. Simple! But what are the downsides?
First, shoppers need to download an app to make the most of the technology – thus limiting the possibility of bringing in new customers – so recipients will already need to be somewhat engaged. Secondly, with about 100 stores along Regent Street already fitted with the technology, shoppers could be in for a disorienting and none too relaxing stroll down their favourite thoroughfare if they have selected all their top brands. I’m sure these will prove minor quibbles now, but wait until the technology becomes commonplace.
Imagine the scene. Aside from the risk of fist-fights over ‘personalized’ discounts when customers are summoned by phone like Pavlov’s dogs, pavements will become assault courses as recipients halt mid-stride to study their alerts. Avoiding those mesmerized by simply speaking on their smartphones is already bad enough, will distracted pedestrians soon be wandering into the path of oncoming traffic entranced by a must-have offer? And taken to the extreme, one can imagine the chaos on Oxford Street as great shoals of Christmas shoppers surge back and forth, pounding hither and thither, egged on by competing enticements, first from John Lewis, then House of Fraser! But I digress!
The inevitable arguments about privacy of data will eventually apply too, and we will be given the same tired assurances that our details are safe. In reality such systems can only offer really individual content if fed with enough personal data. So the trade-off is privacy versus greater convenience. Presumably you have to opt in to this particular app, but what if all that other data captured by machines connected to the ‘Internet of Things’ begins to leak over time? Who’s going to stop all those computers talking to each other? Because, if they really are busy developing human characteristics – one’s allegedly already passed the Turing test – they will inevitably become dreadful gossips! And as Schopenhauer said, “If I maintain my silence about my secret it is my prisoner…if I let it slip from my tongue, I am ITS prisoner.”
Every trade association or membership organisation should have a social media presence, right? Yes, but think hard before leaping in! It’s not something to be tackled halfheartedly, so be sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, and have the right resources – human and financial – at your disposal.
As a former trade association CEO, if my inbox is anything to go by, some of the most hyped training courses are about getting the most out of social networking. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t get an invitation to attend a course where I will learn about the effective use of the Internet and social media to drive business growth. The idea being to harness Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google +, and others to drive sales.
There is anecdotal evidence that it works. Contrary to tradition, and In a reversal of their usual approach of shouting about the unique benefits of their product in the hope of snagging customers who are ready to buy, some companies are trying to build a community of interest around their activities and employing engagement marketing to bring customers to them. It is one stage on from transactional marketing and it clearly works for those companies that have employed it to best advantage.
But will it work for membership organisations? The key words, of course, are ‘community of interest’; or the people who buy into the ideas, brand, or lifestyle that is being promulgated, or share the same beliefs as those doing the talking. It’s the basis on which all membership bodies work, so the concept is not new, it’s just the method used to achieve your objective. For instance, back in the olden days, retailers had local high street shops, and they developed a community of interest by talking to their customers and understanding their lives and needs. Membership bodies did the same using print media, social events, and meetings. But now, because we enjoy less personal contact, and a businesses’ ‘community’ may be flung far and wide, we need to use new tools to achieve the same ends, so social media appears ideal.
But beware! What might seem at first glance to be a cheap and cheerful marketing tool – beloved of trade associations – may swiftly become an albatross around your neck if you don’t have the resources to see it through? And by that I don’t just mean money! Before membership bodies take the leap they should be mindful of some of the pitfalls. Because, once committed, there is no going back!
The Internet is not the sole preserve of the young, but it’s a fact that having been brought up in a computer based environment they take more readily to the medium. The age of your target ‘community’ will influence your tone and how you communicate, but don’t imagine you can just hire a ‘youngster’ and let them get on with it! Plus, social media sites aren’t a broadcast medium. The traffic isn’t all one way and they rely on action and reaction; developing a conversation over time. So, ask yourself, can you develop an enduring narrative; are you comfortable writing persuasive informal text; and can you keep it up day after day and night after night. Considering the websites I’ve seen that haven’t been updated since the year dot, and the lamentable rubbish I’ve read online, the evidence isn’t looking too good!
Consider the amount of precious time consumed just reacting to your email inbox, and the time commitment is pretty clear! And have you, personally, got heaps of sparkling ideas with which to entice your eager waiting community? Describing your breakfast every day simply won’t cut it – unless you own a café – and what happens when you want to take a break? Going silent for a fortnight isn’t an option, so without help you can wave goodbye to uninterrupted holidays, your life will never be your own again.
So, the tools may be free but the content isn’t. It takes resources – both human and financial – to develop engaging content, and there can be reputational risks too! It’s all well and good when your community loves you, your ideas, service and product. What happens when they don’t? Or, more likely, when a vocal minority, or a disgruntled customer doesn’t! An old customer service mantra used to run something like, ‘a happy customer will tell his best friend and an unhappy one will tell everyone’. That was in the days of neighbourhood gossip, today the Internet has given rumour an exponential boost. Just look at current world events to see the power of social networks and the inherent risk if they disseminate unfettered and un-moderated comments.
But these aren’t reasons not to proceed, just why you mustn’t assume social media is a cheap option that can be easily delegated. It requires, clear objectives, defined resources, excellent content, measurement and management. And, once you commit to the process, you’d you better get your running shoes on to keep up with the ‘next big thing’. Because as surely as night follows day, when the pioneers and acolytes of social networking realise that their chosen medium has been debased by cynics, they will move on faster than you can say Twitter. With effectively half the UK population having an account, Facebook is now arguably mainstream, and the corollary of that is that it’s no longer ‘cool’ for the younger generation – and probably hasn’t been for a couple of years at least. I guess that’s what we call progress folks!
But, with a little bit of help, it doesn’t have to be like that.