What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

Being mistaken for someone else can be a right laugh sometimes. I once turned up to an event in Buxton and introduced myself as ‘Phil Hayes’, which is my name, and several people giggled. This was slightly confusing, but I put it down to the famous Derbyshire sense of humour. Only later did I find out why my name was so amusing to them. And so will you, if you read to the end of this.

There is a more serious side though. At Hayes Collins Media, we sometimes receive emails for a furniture manufacturer. We don’t make sofas, we train people to be interviewed on them. On TV. Collins and Hayes do make sofas, and they’re lucky that we reply to their confused customers and point them in the right direction. If we didn’t, then a minor problem could escalate into a bigger argument, if a disgruntled furniture shopper felt like they were being ignored.

In a broadcast interview, you don’t want to be called by the wrong name, but do you want to correct it? Does saying “It’s Alex, actually.” make you look like a pedant to the audience? Or should you just let it slide? Well, maybe you should. Unless it’s the name of your organisation, project or product that’s being misnamed. Because that’s one of the reasons that you’re there – to persuade people and to build your brand. So find a form of words that allows you to correct the reporter with good grace, like “Here at the Health and Safety Executive we know that…”. This is good practice anyway, even if they’ve got your name right, as it reinforces who you are, and why the audience should listen to you.

So those are two examples of innocent mistakes. What about mischief?

On social media, particularly Twitter, there’s a long tradition of parody accounts. These are often very funny and say what we’re all thinking about the inner thought processes of a public figure who’s on the ropes. Sometimes though, people don’t realise they are parodies and even though it’s common to see the word ‘PARODY’ in the description, it’s not always there. Here are two examples I’ve recently encountered in which journalists and members of the public either failed to notice parodic content, or chose to ignore it for a story.

Firstly, Wetherspoons got into trouble in 2018, over claims that it had banned staff from wearing remembrance poppies. This didn’t exactly sound right, given Wetherspoons’ general politics and sure enough, as The Guardian reported it came from a spoof account, not the official Wetherspoons Twitter account. It didn’t help that the spoof account (@Wetherspoon_UK) sounds more real than the genuine account (@jdwtweet), so make sure your social media names make sense to you, monitor what’s said about you (including parody accounts and misspellings of your brand) and respond to set the record straight.

Sometimes it’s not your brand, but the brand that offered the same service before you. Here in the West Midlands, many of our local buses are run by National Express, who use the Twitter handle @nxwestmidlands. For many years before National Express, services were run by Travel West Midlands and the twitter handle @travelwm gets you to a parody account, which does its best to spread chaos. Like a local transport embodiment of Anansi the spider god. Who would also have a web presence.

To be serious for a moment, @nxwestmidlands does mention in its description box that they are the only Twitter account for National Express, but for an audience with a long memory (my mother used to call the buses WMPTE, which they haven’t been for decades) that may not be enough. I’m guessing the National Express West Midlands social media team spend a lot of time monitoring and responding to stop customer relations going off the rails. Or should that be roads?

And for those of you wondering why I was such a hit in Buxton, here’s a link to the Health and Safety Laboratory where one of the scientists is a man with grey hair in a white lab coat called Phil Hayes. You can also hear me interviewing him on this podcast for the Health and Safety Executive because, as a media trainer, it’s good to ask the questions for real as well as just in the training room.