Listen to your gut… or don’t?

by Sarah Lockett on February 22, 2021

I have recently been doing some new types of work, with new types of people. My gut has been twisted in knots, because some of the people I’ve been working with have been unfamiliar to me. They have seemed perhaps intense, odd, alternative, out-of-the-ordinary, difficult to categorise. Maybe brilliant. Maybe crackers. Maybe both.

In broadcast journalism, most colleagues are ‘people-people’: chatty, socially adept, intellectually bright, organised, efficient – and both good listeners and good talkers.

Specs! Photo: Sarah Lockett
Specs! Photo: Sarah Lockett

Since I have been doing some acting work, some drama voiceover work, some acting-presenting (eg playing a part, speaking to camera but not being myself) and some actual acting (interacting with other characters, doing accents, conveying emotion and character, singing, dancing) I have come into contact with some different kinds of professionals. I’ve done some Bollywood films, some comedy-podcasts, some radio drama.

Now, part of me has rebelled, pushed back, been fearful, anxious, reluctant to step into the unknown (as I am not reeeeeeeeally a trained actor, although I have done some courses). But part of me has thought, Come on girl! Give it a go! If you hate it, at least it’ll be a good story for when we’re all allowed back in the pubs πŸ™‚

So which voice should I listen to? The gut-feeling that is cautious? Or the impulse that says, Get out of your comfort zone, it might be fun?

That depends on your personality, I suppose. I am usually happy to try things in the acting/performing arena (although it can be scary and get the adrenaline pumping, I admit). Equally, what I know about myself is: I don’t enjoy pushing myself physically eg climbing Everest, shooting down flooms in French waterparks, hiking/trudging for hours/days in the mountains, jogging for anything longer than 5 minutes, getting cold and wet/camping, digging trenches, IronMans, Tough Mudders, Triathalons etc (so I’d be no good in the military). It’s “horses for courses” as the phrase has it.

Other people would rather be hung, drawn and quartered than do any kind of public speaking, performing, presenting, singing in public, stand-up etc. But I’m first in line for these types of things (…”showing off” as my mum would say – thanks Mum).

In the end, I have deployed my tried-and-tested formula: if in doubt, sit on it for a few days, cogitate, see how I feel, and then make a decision. I recently turned down two jobs – one because it turned out to be soft-porn (after the director sent me a link to demonstrate the “genre” he worked in – all I can say is: it was a lucky escape FOR THEM!!!) And the other was a request to do a paid voiceover as someone’s dead mother, in a phonecall to his boyfriend, who he hadn’t got round to telling his mother had died. I am not judging (well, I am) but that was a step too far for me. I was polite and kind, but I declined.

So, in a nutshell: use your judgement, pause and pontificate, and then embrace whichever decision you go with. Just make sure you have an exit strategy if it doesn’t work out.

Cringey Mission Statements?

by Sarah Lockett on February 2, 2021

“About us: we’re a community of constant explorers, travelling the globe and breaking open horizons to breathe beauty into life”. OK, so do you know what this company does yet? Are they selling financial services? Widgets? Cakes? Clothes? Cars? Agricultural machinery? Probably not the last one, I’ll admit.

Let’s read further: “We honour our rich heritage, with an eye for the future. Our adventures bring the fuel. They bring us closer to our community, as we make meaningful connections across the globe. We surface unexpected experiences, challenge perspectives, test our limits”. Nope, I still don’t know what they do.

Sarah Lockett WFH 2021
Sarah Lockett WFH 2021

Does the satirical magazine “Private Eye” still have that regular column called Pseud’s Corner? Yes, they do! I just checked. It lists pretentious, pseudo-intellectual, especially convoluted and impenetrable jargon featured in the media. Well, these are good candidates for the column.

I am not having a go at any company that chooses to describe itself like this. Well, actually I am. But in fact, this particular company is quite successful/well-known/profitable. So – what do I know? If it’s working for them, good luck to them! But I do have a personal bee-in-my-bonnet about this sort of vague, high-falutin, ‘mission-statement-ey’ speak.

The opposite, I suppose, is the straight-forward “We manufacture cars” type of advertising; the “Boxy, but good” slogan favoured by Volvo in the 1990s (they ran with this tagline after it was created by a group of mental health patients in the 1990 Dudley Moore film “Crazy People”). Instead of bringing in the lawyers, they built on it – it was genius!

And I am not an advertising guru, so maybe the Pseud’s Approach works? We know that people do want to know about a company’s values, their Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR), their ethics, sustainability, energy use etc. But – as I am a writer, a journalist and a communications trainer – I would say that I know something about words, language and tone. And the vague, almost nonsensical approach annoys me. If you are going to make a high-concept statement (eg “We’re energetic and driven. We want to live life to the full and we use our bold, enthusiastic spirit to keep us moving forward” (this is all from the same website, by the way. In fact, it’s from the same page of the same website!) – then immediately clarify it with an example. So, something like, “For example, we never use palm oil in our products because of the damage to the environment caused by growing it.”

That’s just my take, and feel free to ignore it. Certainly, when you do media interviews (which is my main area of expertise when I do comms training), don’t speak in the airy-fairy, high-concept, vague style of ‘values-driven’ ponciness featured on this website. Unless you immediately say, “OK, I know that sounds impenetrable, but what I mean is: x and y etc…”.

Just my two penn’orth. Thanks for reading πŸ™‚

Are you having a good pandemic?

by Sarah Lockett on January 25, 2021

People are having very different experiences of lockdown in the UK.

a) Some are working all the hours God sends, at their normal place of work (nurses, paramedics, NHS staff, doctors, police, the military etc)

b) Some are working pretty normal hours, but from home (white collar, what-I-call computer/phone-based jobs – bankers, HR professionals, accountants etc) – with or without children they’re trying to home-school

c) and some (like me) are doing virtually nothing because 95% of our work has been cancelled (creatives, airline pilots, hospitality, actors, performers, hands-on types). I suppose I should be glad – I can spend this time (as I am) learning new skills (singing, Grade 4 anyone?!), doing yoga, catching up on all the TV box-sets and movies I’ve never seen, reading, cooking for the family (and eating too much, yes!), plus hanging out with my teenagers home from uni/sixth form etc.

In fact, hang on, I have just talked myself in to the fact that I am having the best of all worlds in the pandemic! I haven’t had COVID, I have been well for the last year (no coughs or colds), and I have my loved ones around me (who are also well). We have enough WiFi for all of us, enough rooms so we can all work in different parts of the house, enough devices so we don’t have to fight for the TV/various laptops etc.

#wfh Sarah Lockett
#wfh Sarah Lockett

So I’ll shut up.

Of course, it’d be great to be back working. Creative work is such a buzz – it’s stimulating, fun, interesting, challenging (in a good way) and really lifts the spirits. But we’ll get back to it, we’ve just got to wait it out.

My parents (who are both 90) have now both had the vaccination. They lived through the war and they’re much more used to embracing ‘make-do-and mend’, ‘keep calm and carry on’ and other slogans. They just hunker down, get on with it and wait for better times. They don’t expect to be having a whale of a time every minute of every day. Part of that acceptance comes with age, and I have got better at it in recent years. It doesn’t mean you need to put up with intolerable cruelty because you think you don’t deserve better, or stay in a terrible job because you can’t see a way out. DO try to move onwards and upwards, but also take a breath and find the strength to deal with tough times.

We’re running the “hard yards” at the moment – the bit in the middle of a race where you’re not near the end, but it seems ages since you started. Just hold on and keep going. We also serve who only stand and wait.

Cringey Job Titles?

by Sarah Lockett on January 6, 2021

Here are some job titles on LinkedIn – these are the first 10-ish words under your actual name: “building bridges to what’s possible”, “savvy, connected dealmaker”, “high-energy individual looking to make an impact”, “We have over 25+ years of expertise”, “attended X college”, “bringing the world together through play”, “an enthusiastic and focused manager”….etc.

Now, I am not having a go at these people personally, but my problem is: I don’t know what they do. Are they a journalist, an IT professional, an HR person, a caterer, a construction foreman? If I email and say, great, I’d like you to make an impact on my business and they say, well, we’re a cleaning company (and I need my accounts doing) then we’ve got nowhere.

Sarah Lockett at Moneymagpie relaunch party 2011
Sarah Lockett at a moneymagpie.com event

I am exaggerating, but don’t make it difficult for people to be interested in you. Don’t make them do the work. Don’t make them have to spend time looking you up to find out what you actually do.

Also, as an aside, if you have to put “savvy”, “enthusiastic” or high-energy” I’d be worried they’re compensating for not being those things. Or conversely, they’re so manically high-energy they feel thay have to put it on their profile to avoid you getting a shock on their first day working for you, when they’re bouncing off the walls!

Now, not everyone has a neat job title such as: accountant, butcher, baker, candlestick maker etc. Some of us do a few different things and just putting “consultant” sounds too vague – and even dodgy. So we want to encompass everything we do in our job title/description. I understand this, but perhaps there’s a happy medium?

Incidentally, the same goes for websites. Often on their homepage there’s just some inspirational photo (of green fields, happy smiling communities etc) and a motto such as “Inspiring the future”. Ooh that makes my blood boil! I instantly backspace and change the Google settings to “News” to see what journalists have said about them. Then I get “software company x…” or “financial services company y” and then we know where we are. (I always wonder if the actual company is seething because they don’t want to think of themselves as just a technology company, or whatever). But hey, if I ring up and say, I need help with marketing – and actually they make payroll software – then again, we are stuck. Best to be clear, I think.

Also I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old bag, but it bears repeating: don’t make people work to give you work. They don’t want to have to research you, to spend time discovering what your specialisms and abilities are. Make it easy for them. I once got some work because someone just Googled “TV News Presenter London”. Boom, I got the gig. And it was kosher. And I got paid.

But if you want to call yourself, “Changing the world one interaction at a time”, or “Connecting Everything All The Time”, don’t let me stop you! Sometimes we don’t want to be limited by a label. Dream big! But don’t be surprised if people are confused, decide to pass, or don’t call you.