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Will we see the ‘Great Resignation’ here, or will it be a case of the Great Pumpkin?

October 26, 2021

There has been a lot of evidence lately that Australia is about to suffer from the ‘Great Resignation’ – a massive staff turnover rate that some parts of the world are already seeing. The U.S. Government reported a record level of workers leaving their jobs in August and more than 25 million people quit their jobs in the first seven months of this year, according to PBS NewsHour.

With Halloween coming up this weekend, will the Great Resignation actually happen in Australia, or will it be like the Great Pumpkin? As a kid, I grew up regularly re-reading old Peanuts comic books, and one of the best story lines was a recurring theme about Linus’ dogged belief in the arrival of the Great Pumpkin in the pumpkin patch on Halloween night. Of course, the Great Pumpkin never appears.

So will we see the Great Resignation here?

As everything slowly returns to ‘normal’, there has to be some sort of bump in employee turnover, but I’m not sure it will be as massive as predicted. In one recent survey, Slack found that more than half (59.9%) of Australians say they are likely to change jobs in the next year, and in this poll embedded in an article from Gartner’s Aaron McEwan in news.com.au, 54% say they have already quit or are planning to leave their job.

Most of us have been living a very insular working and personal existence for the last two years, and anyone who has been unhappy in their job or looking for a career progression or change has most likely parked any decision to leave. We haven’t been mixing with many people outside of our work and family bubbles, we haven’t travelled or attended conferences, and we haven’t been in the office or met with friends or industry colleagues for lunch or drinks after work. As things open up and we start to do more of this, new job opportunities will come up. Businesses that contracted during the pandemic will be re-hiring and other sectors will start growing rapidly, and the decision to leave that we had parked during the pandemic suddenly becomes viable again.

However, the biggest change we’ve seen through all of this has been in the attitudes of organisations and our business decision-makers towards working from home and hybrid work. I think this will have a more significant bearing on people’s decision to move or stay put. In 1998, when we planned to move to a country town from Sydney’s inner west, I had my heart in my mouth when I asked my employer if it might be possible to work from home three days a week and come into the office for two. The prevailing attitude in my organisation and just about every other business at the time was against me. If they had have said no, I was prepared to quit. Luckily for me they said yes, and I proved it was possible to be a productive and collaborative member of the team from that day on.

How things have changed!

Earlier this year, a survey conducted by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald of 50 of the nation’s largest companies found that, overwhelmingly, these organisations would be permanently adopting hybrid working policies for office-based employees. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. What about the public sector and the vast majority of Australian organisations that operate in the small-to-medium business sector? The attitudes have definitely changed. The Committee for Sydney surveyed 130 organisations that employ 640,000 workers across Australia and found that 51% expect their workers will commute to the office for just three days a week, and 36% expect their staff will cluster their office days from Tuesday to Thursday (see further ‘Bosses anticipate ‘long weekend’ trend to stay once Australians head back to the office’). In an embedded survey in the same article, when asked what’s most important to you in a job?, 58% of readers responded with ‘work/life balance’.

In a survey that I’ve read but is yet to be published, it’s really interesting that business decision-makers are far more positive about the experience of remote and hybrid work when compared to workers in general. Work/life balance is one of the biggest factors in this response, as well as the effectiveness of collaborative technologies to enable remote work. This says a lot about why organisations large and small have embraced a permanent hybrid work policy and why I also think the Great Resignation will be a small bump rather than a big shock as life slowly returns to normal.

Workers want flexibility, and a better work/life balance, and will go looking for it elsewhere if their current employer isn’t going to offer it (see, for example, ‘Here comes the Great Resignation. Why millions of employees could quit their jobs post-pandemic’). But that doesn’t seem to be the case in Australia. Most Australian businesses, from the biggest to the smallest, seem to be happy to offer their office-based workers greater choice and greater flexibility in where and how they work – taking away one of the main reasons cited for the Great Resignation.

So how do I wrap this up with a final allusion back to the Great Pumpkin? In a Peanuts strip from 1961, Linus cites confirmed appearances of the Great Pumpkin in Connecticut and Texas as evidence for the likelihood of it showing up in his local patch while Charlie Brown argues that conditions might not be ideal for it. That’s my argument too – I think conditions in our ‘local patch’ and the enthusiasm with which Australian business has embraced hybrid working will minimise the chances of the appearance of the Great Resignation here.

Explore turns ten

September 7, 2021

Explore Communication has turned ten! Like with a lot of things in life, it seems to have been forever and the time has just flashed by. I set it up with no expectations beyond creating a sustainable long-term business that would be the vehicle for me to “explore” new opportunities, and work with a diverse set of organisations and people. Looking back on the last ten years, I’ve had one-off projects, short-term and long-term engagements with more than 50 different client organisations. I’ve been able to prioritise and spend time with my family throughout, which has been the biggest benefit of all. And I’ve worked with hundreds of great people, who have been instrumental in broadening my professional perspective and helping to make Explore Communications a success.

It’s also given me the freedom to try new business ventures and explore (there’s that word again) new ideas. To date, I’ve had to put these down to “learning experiences”, but I’m really hopeful that my newest venture is destined to succeed. Born out of the heart of the pandemic last year and based on my personal experience and wanting to make a difference to the arts sector, Giving Culture® is coming soon! https://givingculture.com.au If you want to know more, I’d be happy to chat.

I posted Explore’s anniversary news up to LinkedIn yesterday, and I was amazed and heartened by the response from my community. Thank you so much for the lovely comments, and thank you to everyone I have worked with and who has supported Explore Communications over the last decade. I’m looking forward to the next ten years with great hope and optimism.

Writing phrases that people can’t forget

April 30, 2021

This week, I had the great honour of introducing a panel session featuring four of the leading figures in Australia’s technology media sector over the past 40 years. The event was part of the regular Pearcey Conversations webinar series. These are monthly panel discussions capturing the stories and experiences from people involved in the Australian ICT industry to inspire the next generation.

Tech Scribes – telling the stories of digital disruption’ was moderated by InnovationAus founder and editorial director James Riley, with a panel comprising former technology editor at both The Australian and the AFR, Helen Meredith; former technology editor of the AFR Beverley Head; and former publisher at Allure (now Pedestrian Group), former editorial director at CNET and current publisher of Byteside Seamus Byrne.

There was a lot of reminiscing about the days before digital (hardcopy and faxed press releases, writing up stories on typewriters, newspaper layouts on bromides) and the incredible ‘rivers of gold’ in tech publishing and advertising in the 1980s and 90s when there was a plethora of IT publications and The Australian’s weekly technology section took up 40 pages.

Digital technology really changed things for tech journalists from the perspective of the growth of the internet, the accessibility and removal of the barriers to entry for start-up publishers and writers with low-cost blogs and website platforms.

The other hotly discussed topic was the initial struggle to have technology stories recognised and promoted by the mainstream, something that’s now ironically suffering the reverse problem. With technology now embedded as a part of just about everything we do, the difficulty is not in getting on the front page; it’s getting the technology angle to the story effectively and accurately covered.

There were two refrains throughout from the panel – how technology journalists today no longer have the luxury of time to write their stories and the importance for publishers and editors to invest in great writing.

The issue of time is a real problem. With so much competition to get breaking stories out quickly, how do you find the time and put in the effort to produce great content?

Unfortunately, we ran out of time all too quickly, and the panel probably needed another hour to really get into the future of technology journalism in Australia.

Beverley Head did end the session neatly though with a Clive James quote on producing great writing:

“One thought at a time. Clear. Articulate. And above all, memorable, if you can be. You’d like to write phrases that people can’t forget as soon as they read them.” https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1282407

Keep an eye out for a recording of the session, which should go up here in the next few days.

Is media coverage reporting still important?

February 24, 2021

Yes – media coverage is an important gauge of the overall success of your brand, not just on the performance of your PR program. Sure, you can use coverage stats to measure the success of a particular campaign or press release, but it is everything else that is happening around these activities that are really interesting.

Your PR strategy should be all about building ongoing awareness in the market of your brand and what your organisation does, which helps to generates impetus and increasing inertia over and above the specific PR activities that are executed. The metrics captured above are from ANZ for one of Explore’s clients for January this year – typically a very quiet month for PR, given it is our extended summer holiday period. Also, no traditional PR activities were undertaken that month. It’s a great sign that the PR strategy and approach is working, that your organisation and your products and services are in the conversation. It’s giving your brand a life of its own in the local market.

While public and private sector organisations and the media are increasingly relying on social media to amplify their content, it’s important as a brand to maintain a healthy marketing mix – one that doesn’t rely too heavily on social media activity. Facebook’s stoush with the Australian Government is a case in point. We also now know that the algorithms being used by search engines and social media platforms are influencing what content we see. This is driving people – including your customer base – to source content directly. Those direct sources include local and international media outlets, your website, blog, videos, webinars, events, press releases and announcements, etc. A diversified social media presence is also part of this mix, but most importantly it is the social network – the people your brand is connected with – staff, partners, customers, analysts and journalists – who are helping to carry on this conversation about your brand. The manifestation of this includes the coverage you receive in media publications.

So, you can measure the success of a press release by the number of media clips it has generated, but that’s a very transactional approach. It’s better to measure PR success when things are quiet. Are people still talking about you when you don’t have any news or a new product to announce? Are you maintaining or increasing your monthly media coverage? What’s the readership like on your corporate blog posts? Are you adding followers and increasing views on social media channels?

Establishing a media monitoring and reporting service is a great way to start. Please contact us if you’d like to find out more.

Fair use: search engines and social media

January 29, 2021
Photo by Alan Levine (PxHere) – Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

While I’m reluctant to weigh into the current Google debate in Australia (I think both sides have a point), it does raise a number of issues – particularly the continued pressure on the viability of news publications and the journalists who work for them. Google ANZ’s managing director says that about 95% of searches in Australia are made through Google, which makes its threat to pull out of Australia a serious one.

I’m old enough to remember being introduced to Google by one of our tech guys in the office when it had just started out, and being amazed by how much better it was than the existing crop of search tools (remember AltaVista and Ask Jeeves?). Recognising the power of Google at the time, we quickly embedded it as a search bar on the company’s intranet. I’m not sure how many people would have predicted Google’s complete dominance and, given the company’s longstanding (now demoted) “Don’t be evil” motto, it’s hard to reconcile Google of the late 1990s with the company we see now.

Google’s recent “experiment” in hiding Australia news was particularly chilling, especially when you think about the concept of a free and open internet – which Google’s own (and Internet pioneer) Vint Cerf expounded on without irony. Like many other professionals who rely on keeping up to date with news and media coverage, the thought of an expurgated search engine is really concerning and a threat to our ability to do our work. I’ve been busy trying out other search engines this week, but invariably fall back to Google as my default.

What I don’t understand is why we need to keep creating new legislation and regulatory controls to deal with technology and internet issues. The internet and the technology we use is just part of life and how society works. We just need our legal system to keep pace with the rapid change (another issue altogether!)

In this case, that’s the Federal Government’s proposed digital media code that would force tech giants to pay local media companies for providing their content in search and sharing their content on social media. Is that really necessary? For media companies, it’s all about protecting and creating revenue from their content, so why don’t they simply rely on our existing copyright laws, and launch a joint legal action for copyright infringement? While there are currently no fair use provisions in the Australian Copyright Act (as Gizmodo and other publications have pointed out), it’s still a defence that can be used in court. Rather than the government stepping in to regulate, maybe it’s better to see how the legal system would deal with something like this. As a test case, the court’s decision would actually have far greater power and impact than a media code. It’s a great definition of what constitutes fair use for search engines and social media companies, particularly when you consider the eye-watering amount of advertising revenue being generated by Facebook and Google in Australia – “Google told a senate inquiry the regulation would make the function unviable, despite paying just $59m in corporate tax while reporting over $4b in revenue“.

For me, it keeps coming back to the protection of Australian journalism and independent media content. We should be able to do that successfully by relying legal principles that have been protecting the rights of content creators and publishers for centuries. If Google, Facebook and other big tech players want to benefit financially from news content, why don’t they join the other side, employ journalists, and create and publish their own content?

The future of work? (2020 version)

July 30, 2020

WFHEarly in the COVID-19 lockdown I took the opportunity to use that extra time to completely re-organise my office and clear some of the clutter accumulated over the last 20 years working from home (WFH).

In the process I found an old APC magazine from 2002 which had an article from Phillipa Yelland about the future of work, featuring a much younger me.

At the time, the article stated, about one in 16 Australians were doing some or all of their work at home or away from the office.

Yes, in 1998 my family moved away from the city to the NSW Southern Highlands. Armed with an eye-wateringly expensive ISDN connection, I started working remotely about three days a week. I carried a concertina of paper files with me between the office and home and I had to remember to divert my office desk phone to my WFH number (these were the days before unified communications!). I often forgot to do this, so had to sheepishly call one of my office colleagues to redirect it for me. With a home Internet connection charged on a time used basis, I was very judicious about when I would go online during the day.

IMG-4129

Since COVID-19 hit, suddenly just about everyone is ‘WFH’. There’s already been a deluge written about WFH and how it has changed our working lives, so I’ll quickly mention the two things that quickly became apparent for me, and then I’ll stop there on that aspect.

First, I realised that your productivity, your output and your results defined how well you were working – which is actually how it should be for any role, but isn’t always the case in organisations.

Second, you have to be far more present, available and responsive. People can’t see you at your desk or walking around the office, so if they can’t reach you straight away (or if you don’t respond to them quickly) there’s a perception that you aren’t working. You don’t have to live up to that same expectation when you are physically in the office.
What I really wanted to talk about is some of the macro trends or the ‘new normal’ of WFH post-COVID.

In The Register, Simon Sharwood predicts a corporate backlash against WFH, and pens an imaginary ‘all staff’ email in 2022 from a CEO cancelling the organisation’s WFH arrangements, calling everyone back into the office. (‘A memo from the distant future… June 2022: The boss decides working from home isn’t the new normal after all’) Sharwood foresees insurmountable issues around staff productivity, inequality and cultural division as the killers for WFH.

On the other hand, Anthony Caruana believes WFH is here to stay, provided we sort out a few technical and operational things first. (‘Working from home is the new cubicle farm’) And it’s not necessarily from a corporation’s altruistic intentions! Responding to Sharwood’s article, Caruana writes: “The clear benefit of working from home is simple for employers. It’s cheap.”

While corporate attitudes are key, I think the future of WFH will largely be driven by personal factors.

WFH simply doesn’t suit everyone. I made the decision back in 1998 to work remotely due to personal and family circumstances knowing that it might be detrimental to my career progression and chances of promotion. However, my motivation was driven more by the constantly changing nature of the work I was doing and being creative – and these could be achieved just as well, if not better, away from the office. That’s not going to suit the ambitious corporate types out there with a five-year plan and career trajectory mapped out.

I’m also not the typical nine-to-five style worker. I’m happy to work whenever I have to, and to keep working on something to get it finished, whatever that takes. That’s a great way to work at home, but not necessarily so great in an office. However, that can be quite difficult for some people to manage. At home, it is hard to keep up the same sort of routine you can have in the office, because the boundaries between work and leisure aren’t marked by the daily commute and the parallel schedules of your colleagues.

The biggest issue by far though is the dichotomy of personality types in the workforce, and how that affects their ability to work from home. I’ve seen a polarised response to WFH during the pandemic. Some of my family, friends and colleagues are revelling in the isolation, and in the opportunities it has given for them to have time to themselves and to ‘get things done’. On the other hand, other people I know are really struggling without being able to draw on the energy and inspiration they generate from the social interactions and physical connections they have in an office environment.

So, what do we do?

We’ve already proven through the pandemic that most office-based businesses have continued to function through the extended lockdown and social distancing period with the majority of their staff WFH, so there is no reason why that can’t continue in some form when things return to ‘normal’. In white-collar industries we can complete all or most of the work we do on a day-to-day basis from home; we can securely access the applications and data we need, we can participate in meetings and connect with our colleagues and customers via a multitude of channels, and we can collaborate effectively on projects and documents.

After all these years, it’s finally dawned on most organisations that ‘work is something we do, not somewhere we go’. Hopefully that means we will all stop being measured by the length of time we spend sitting at our desks or tapping away on our keyboards. We might start getting better at recognising genuine productivity and achievement across all levels of the organisation, which will make it immaterial if we are at home or in the office. That way, where we work becomes a personal choice, and we might get more out of all the different personality types in our employee base in what will be a much more diverse and hybrid workplace.

Pictured top: ‘Female hand writing at home.‘ by Nenad Stojkovic, shared under an Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence.

Communications in the Time of Corona

April 2, 2020

off to the sunNews that both MSNBC and CNN are no longer airing the full White House briefings on the COVID-19 pandemic is gobsmacking – given the alarming escalation of the virus in the USA right now.

One of the MSNBC hosts made a telling observation:

“we know these briefings have a tendency to veer in a lot of directions. Not all of them are informative or relevant in the midst of this crisis.”

At times of crisis, people are looking for clear, concise and factual information and advice – and also an expression of empathy for the emotional distress and anxiety we are all going through.

While I can’t speak for the veracity of the information, the clear, concise and empathetic way this executive responds to the situation regarding the Ruby Princess is a good example on how to communicate in a crisis.

Here are some quick pieces of communications advice for organisations right now:

  • Make sure that you are communicating regularly with your customer base and with your partners. They will want to know what you are doing to respond to the pandemic, and how any changes you are making will affect them. They will also want to know if they can continue to receive products and services from you during this time, and maybe other ways in which you can help them deal with the crisis.
  • Don’t be afraid to promote your products or services, as long as they are relevant during this time. Organisations and individuals are looking for ways to help them get through this crisis – whether that’s IT solutions to set up remote networks or support their employees working from home, personal protective equipment, supermarket opening hours or home grocery delivery services.
  • If you are providing advice or sharing information, limit this to areas in which you are a subject matter expert. Stick to known facts. At times like this, don’t waste people’s time with your personal theories or irrelevant information. They will already be looking to their own trusted sources of information and experts for this advice.
  • Get to the point quickly. People are dealing with an overload of information with regards to COVID-19, but they do want to hear from you if it is going to have a material impact on them. If you aren’t succinct or providing them with important information quickly, people will switch off and that’s the worst thing that could happen. You want to set the expectation that when they hear from you, your message is relevant and useful.
  • Don’t forget this is personal. While keeping things simple and to the point, be aware that this pandemic is affecting everyone and express that in your communications. Be empathetic throughout, and acknowledge the difficulties and distress we are all going through at the moment.

I hope everyone stays safe and healthy through this pandemic, and gets the information, makes the services and connections they need to keep on top of everything that is going on right now.

Pictured above: off to the sun, by Predi, shared under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) licence.

 

Seven Attributes of a Great Endorsement

December 10, 2019

 

unfinishedbusiness_croppedEndorsements from companies and people that have used your services or bought your products are a great way to illustrate the value and quality of your business and your brand. Here are the seven attributes you should always factor in when making a decision on which ones to use.

1. Authentic. Whenever possible, use the endorsement exactly the way your customer expressed it. All of the examples I’ve included below are taken from emails received by Explore Communications. There’s nothing more authentic than direct praise that has been freely given, and there is nothing worse than a quote that looks like it has been written and reviewed by a committee! If you get a nice email or survey feedback from a customer, it’s also going to be a whole lot easier to get approval on the exact words that they wrote. If you do have to rewrite the quote (say, to stand alone as a specific quote), keep it as minimal as possible so you don’t lose the tone and expression of the original words.

“… you once again have impressed me with your general awesomeness!”

Changed to:

“Once again you have impressed me with your general awesomeness!”

– Martin Reidy, Operations Manager, Waterman Business Centres

2. Aligned. The endorsements you use should align with your company’s brand identity and persona, and with the services or products that you provide. If you are a B2B services provider, that’s going to feature quite different language and expression to a youth-focused consumer brand.

“Absolutely wonderful PR partnership and great results!”
– Mariana Kosturos, Senior Director, PR & Social Media, RingCentral

3. Personal. If you are a B2B organisation, always attribute the endorsement to a person, not just a company. It’s a quote, and companies don’t speak! If you are a B2C business, try to give a little more context to the person you are quoting: their photo, age, location, or maybe the product they bought or the service they used. Potential customers who are reading the endorsement need to be able to identify with some element of commonality – working in a similar role or in the same industry, living in the same area or in the same age bracket.

“You have done an amazingly fantastic job! Such a great read, well done. Congratulations on pulling together a great report.”
– Kerri Buttery, Director, VETNexus

4. Weighty. For a business endorsement, the more senior the person you are quoting, the better. It’ll carry more weight, and it will probably be easier to get it published, because it won’t have to go through as many levels of approval. For consumer brands, nothing beats a positive media review or unpaid, spontaneous feedback from a famous or well-respected person.

“Thanks for the awesome case study. I’ve just read it in detail, and gosh you could make even God blush!”
– Angelo Giuffrida, CEO, VentraIP

5. Short. It’s an endorsement, not a case study! Endorsements should be short and sweet – don’t try and cram in too much detail or description, or you will limit how you can use the content. Also, the longer the quote, the more difficult it will be to get it approved.

“You are spectacular to work with!”
– Sarah Hanel, Director of Global Corporate Communications, OneSpan

6. Approved. Make sure that any endorsement you use is approved explicitly by the individual quoted. It’s even a good idea to ask for their express permission if you have received the endorsement via social media or some other public channel. Keep a record of that approval, in case you need to rely on it in the future to prove that you received it at the time – but be prepared to stop using the endorsement if the company or individual withdraws their consent. You can use an endorsement that doesn’t identify the company or person, but that is not going to have anywhere near the same impact.

“You are a STAR!”
– APAC Marketing Manager, Global Networking Vendor

7. Reusable. Re-use endorsements as ‘nuggets’ where-ever you can. An endorsement is a positive, subjective view on your company in the words of your customers, so include them where relevant in your press releases, case studies, website, and promotional materials. You can even include them in your blog posts, just like I’ve done here 😊

Photo above taken from free stock images released to promote the movie “Unfinished Business” back in 2015: see further https://explorecomms.com.au/2015/03/05/making-fun-of-yourself-and-the-unfinishedbusiness-of-marketing.

From digital SLR to AR

September 12, 2019

Bridgewalk_inside_archTwelve years ago, the Sydney Harbour Bridge celebrated its 75th anniversary by closing the bridge to traffic for the festivities. Walking across the bridge that Sunday I was taking lots of photos on my digital camera – as were thousands of other people. I remember wondering at the time how many terabytes of data were being generated just by this one big event, but there was no way of ever knowing.

That was March 2007. The first iPhone was still to arrive later that year. YouTube was only a couple of years old, Facebook had not long been open to general users and Myspace was still the dominant web player.

Fast forward to now, and the iPhone 11 has just been launched. Multiple cameras, Dolby Atmos and a raft of other features. Most people are now permanently connected via their smartphones and crazy amounts of data are being generated and consumed daily by users on the Internet – largely via mobile and through social media channels.

We’ve just witnessed a new record for Wi-Fi usage at any in-venue event in sports history – with a peak data transfer rate of 23.24 gigabits per second when the New England Patriots NFL team unveiled their Super Bowl LIII banner before the game, surpassing the previous record at a sports event of 13.38 Gbps. According to figures from Extreme Networks, 44,906 of fans at the stadium connected to the Wi-Fi network at some point, 34,982 concurrent number of users at the peak. While the total amount of data transferred over Wi-Fi during the game was only 11.58 TB (only!), well short of the 24.05 TB at last year’s Super Bowl, this sort of activity is now becoming the norm.

The amount of insight we are getting now is on user engagement and behaviour is incredible – but what’s really cool is the way connectivity is opening up opportunities for a range of applications like an enhanced fan experience. Fans who can’t be there on the day can experience the event vicariously by following the event hashtag and inside the stadium, we are just starting to see some of the ways Wi-Fi and 5G can be used for AR and VR experiences – like this very cool ‘Pose with the Pros’ AR activation at the Dallas Cowboys’ first home game.

I think we’ve got a long way to go here in Australia before we have the same level of connectivity infrastructure in place in our local venues, but it will happen! Then it’s just a question of how imaginative we can be in putting it to use.

The next big Sydney Harbour Bridge event is coming up very soon: #BridgeClimb21 on 1 October, BridgeClimb’s 21st birthday. It’ll be interesting to follow the hashtag on social media and see how far we’ve come in just 12 years.

Pictured top: Bridgewalk inside arch by Saberwyn from Wikimedia Commons.

Pulling the plug on quality

May 31, 2019

cordWhen it comes to discussing technology, the focus today is usually on innovation – but that wasn’t always the case. The worrying thing about this is that we seem to have forgotten about quality, longevity and reliability.

That said, given that most tech we buy will be superseded in 12 months, does it really matter? Based on recent experience, I’d say yes. More on the cut cord (pictured) later!

Thirty years ago, I was working as a sales assistant in the ‘TV and Sound’ section of a department store (yes, when we still had VHS video recorders and 21″ – yes, 51cm – CRT televisions at around the $900 price point were the biggest sellers). Invariably customers would ask me which brand or product was the most reliable, which one had the longest warranty, and where was it made (Japan then being the preferred country of manufacture for quality consumer electronics).

People didn’t seem so hung up on features back than, or that they might be missing out on some new technology just around the corner. Most people wanted to know how well it was made and how long it would last. In fact, the first amp (NAD) and speakers (Richter) I ever bought are still going strong, and sound just as good as the year I bought them (1989).

Fast forward to this year, and I’ve just received my third multi-function cooker in three months after the previous two were faulty. We did have a ‘quality brand’ cooker originally, which lasted about two years before packing it in. So, instead of paying a couple of hundred dollars for the replacement, we went for the ’16-in-1 Multifunction Pressure Cooker’ for around $70 from a budget online retailer. My thoughts were, why bother paying a premium if it’s only going to last two years anyway? Also, how amazing to have a single device that has 16 different cooking functions! I think the old one we had only had four …

The first 16-in-1 cooker we received was faulty on arrival, and the second one developed the same fault after a month or so of use. At least the retailer had a pretty slick returns process (I guess they do a lot of them). First, I had to send them a video of the fault, then a picture of the cut electrical cord before they sent the replacement. The cut cord was to prove that I was no longer able to use the device – they didn’t want me to return the whole device – shipping fees would have ended up costing more that the product itself!

So what happens with all these faulty products? They just go into landfill. What a colossal waste of our finite resources in a time when we are facing the biggest threat to our environment we have ever seen.

Really, should I care about having 16 cooking functions? In the time I’ve had a working device, I’ve only used three.

I was given a Wi-Fi extender purchased from the same online retailer, and it was so bad that I stopped using it almost immediately and reinstalled my trusty Apple Airport Express, which is well over ten years old and still going strong.

What worries me is not just all the people who are buying this cheap, nasty technology – or the number of budget retailers out there selling this crap. The biggest worry is the pressure that this price-driven race to the bottom is putting on the ‘so-called’ quality brands to cut manufacturing corners to stay competitive. We are getting to the point where we will no longer have a quality option for tech. The sheer scale of the problem needs to be addressed before it becomes unsustainable (if it isn’t already).

And don’t get me started on other industries. Poor clothing quality, thanks to fast fashion,  is costing Australian charitable recycling organisations a staggering $13 million per year sending unusable donations to landfill. That’s also spilling over into the quality brands. Have you noticed that your new sheet sets barely fit your mattress any more? That’s because manchester manufacturers have realised they can save a few dollars on material by making every standard sizing a little bit smaller.

I could go on, but I won’t. I love innovation, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of our planet. We need to make manufacturers more accountable for the products that they are selling; if not by introducing longer mandatory warranties for technology, then maybe we need to force manufacturers more generally to take responsibility for their product over its entire lifetime. That way, it will force them to think more carefully about the overall quality and longevity of the product, the sustainability of the materials they are using and the ability to recycle or the product at end-of-life. That will also put a real cost on this cheap, throw-away tech that everyone seems so happy to buy.