Why I might be obsessing over brand Birmingham

Press conferences in Hong Kong are strange affairs. If the subject being questioned is not a politician, the default position of journalists is wildly deferential.

Now I’m not saying that’s altogether a bad thing, it’s just odd and makes the one British journalist stand out as a bit of a… well… tough cookie.

So, I was the big bad journalist when interviewing Tom Dixon, the former creative director of high-street furniture chain Habitat, at Business of Design Week in Hong Kong the other week.

Mr Dixon seemed less than delighted to find that, amongst the throng of polite Hong Kong and Chinese journalists asking to impart the secrets of his success, there was a British scallywag questioning his sincerity about environmental issues.

He had been saying how bad it was that design was focused so heavily on consumer goods. I found it a bit rich coming from a man who continues to make his money from the sale of faddy furniture – much of which has a high plastic content – so I asked him whether he felt guilty about it.

He answered the question well enough admitting that he was a hypocrite, but that he was trying to do something about it by developing environmentally friendly furniture as creative director of Artek. Not groundbreaking for a man who has enough money and influence to do something really incredible, but certainly a start.

What I found totally unacceptable, however, was the conversation we had when the press conference came to a close.

I can’t remember how we got on to it, but he had mentioned something about working with motorcycle firm Triumph (which was founded in Coventry). The rest of the conversation is how I remember it, not having my notepad open at the time.

Me: Yes! Thank you very much, that might be a Midlands angle. I’m from The Birmingham Post you see and I’m looking out for Midlands-related stories while I’m over here.

TD: You are from Birmingham? I feel your pain.

Me: Actually, I really like the place.

TD: Really? Why? It’s got a terrible reputation for design.

Me: I think you’ll find there are a lot of good design companies in the city working really hard and they are helping to build up Birmingham’s reputation.

TD: Are they? Well… good for them.

The last comment was said in such a patronising tone it made my blood boil. But there isn’t much you can say when you’re fighting old, ingrained stereotypes. Admittedly, I should have asked him if he’d ever visited Birmingham, but instead, flustered and cross, I just walked off.

Now, I know there are good things going on in this city. Those who work in the creative industries in Birmingham also know there are good things going on. But time and time again in this job I am faced with people peddling this anachronistic image.

I suppose you could say it doesn’t matter what these people think. We know Birmingham has a lot to offer, if others aren’t interested they can sod off.

Well… yeah… but the problem is they do. They sod off to other cities in the UK and we lose out. Our situation is exacerbated by condemnation from influential figures such as Mr Dixon.

This annoys me because there is absolutely no concrete reason why this should happen, except because of an outdated image.

That’s why I’m obsessed with brand Birmingham. If ever a UK city gets undersold, it’s Brum.

Which cam?

Now I hear that Hong Kong is the place for all things electrical, so I am am hoping to use the excuse of Christmas to pick me up a new little gadget.

Top of my wish list is a camcorder, so that I can play around with making my own videos. The problem is I haven’t got a huge budget (£200 max.).

Is there anything small and whizzy that I could get for that price? It doesn’t have to produce the best quality video, just something that wouldn’t be horrible to view on this blog.


Over-excited traveller

Well, I haven’t even got into the air yet and already I’m blogging again!

Having inherited my mother’s over-cautious attitude to flying, I arrived at Heathrow four (!) hours before my flight was due to leave.

I have spent almost two of these mooching around the departure lounge getting stressed out by wailing kiddies and wheelie suitcases running over my feet. I also used up most of my laptop battery transferring tunes to my Mp3 to try and drown out the noise.

Then, on a hunt for a power socket, I remembered: I’m allowed into the Cathay Pacific Business Lounge. Having never been in a business class lounge, I thought I’d check in out.

Now I’m sitting in heaven! Peace, quiet, free broadband and as much food and drink as I could want. I’m not sure there’s much more on this mortal coil I could desire… expect perhaps a few friendly faces to talk to.

It does feel slightly odd though, as if any minute those well-manicured attendants will recognise me for the fraud I am and throw me out on my ear.

But… until that happens… I’m off to get another sandwich!

Hong Kong

Hong KiongFresh back from my trip to CERN, I’m repacking my bags to jet off to Hong Kong tomorrow!

I must stress, this is a one-off. Before this week my only foreign jaunt in three years as a journalist was a 24-hour stay in Brussels!

The trip is organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and focuses on three Expos – World SME ExpoInno Design Tech Expo and (of personal interest) Business of Design Week.

In case anyone is interested, below is a rough itinerary.

Arrive in Hong Kong


8:30am Gather at hotel lobby for shuttle pick-up
9:30am Meeting with Mrs. Helen Chan, Principal Economist, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
11.45am Visit to Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
1.00pm Lunch.
3.00pm Visit to Hong Kong International Terminals.
5:45pm Briefing by Mr. Parker Robinson, Head of Corporate Communication, Hong Kong Trade Development Council.
7:00pm Welcome Dinner, Top Deck, Jumbo Kingdom.


8.30am Gather at hotel lobby for pick-up by Andrea Chung
10.00am Opening Ceremony of World SME Expo and Inno Design Tech Expo
(Time tbc) Joanna Lavan, China Connect
3.00pm Ian BaileyTrade Commissioner, British Consulate-General


World SME Expo / Inno Design Tech Expo / Business of Design Week.
Please proceed directly to the events.
3.00pm Brigadier Christopher Hammerbeck, Executive Director, The British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.


World SME Expo / Inno Design Tech Expo / Business of Design Week.
Please proceed directly to the events.


Depart Hong Kong.

If there are any Hong Kong/West Midland related issues anyone thinks I should be checking out, let me know!

NUJ Multimedia Commission

The report is out! But, I must confess, I haven’t read it yet.

At the moment I’m trapped between writing up my trip to Geneva, preparing two weeks of media & marketing stories, completing the registration for a postgraduate course and preparing to go to Hong Kong on Sunday (I know! I will tell all soon!).

However, Paul Bradshaw picks up on some interesting bits of the NUJ report. Press Gazette also covers it and so does the Guardian. There is a lot I want to say, but I want to hold out until I’ve read the whole report (something for the plane perhaps?!).

Also, I’ve been really interested in the creative director for Birmingham debate that has taken place of late and will have more to say on that very soon. I read the posts by Stef and Paul with interest. There have been a few developments and I’ll fill you in on these soon too.

Sorry for the poor post!