Frank Kane’s notebook: dinner table discussions? Now you’re talking

Have any of my colleagues in the UAE media noticed the increasing trend towards “roundtable” events in the financial world?

Have any of my colleagues in the UAE media noticed the increasing trend towards “roundtable” events in the financial world?

The public relations profession seems to love this kind of news disseminating event, yet I’d never heard of it before coming here. Now, virtually all media events are billed as “roundtable”, even though in most cases they differ little from the old-fashioned press conference, except perhaps in scale.

I suppose there are some advantages. The occasions are more intimate, yet public and “on the record”. There is a format of presentation by the sources (let’s call them “them”) and a chance for questions by the journalists (“us”).

It retains a sense of the gladiatorial confrontation between journalistic poacher (“us”) and corporate prey (“them”) while allowing the gamekeepers (the PRs) some form of control.

The tables, incidentally, are very seldom round. They are usually oval, as seems to be the norm in most boardrooms and meeting rooms these days. But “we’d like to invite you to an oval table” doesn’t have the same sense on inclusion, does it?

Are they better than other forms of news propagation? That’s hard to say. I’ve always found the one-to-one briefing, on the record but with ample opportunity for “them” to go off if they wish, a good medium, but I do miss the cross-fertilisation of ideas you get from the presence of other “us” in the room.

But my all-time favourite, and far and away still preferred number one choice, is the old-fashioned square table, set with plates, cutlery and glasses, with menus and a waiter in attendance, beginning at 8.30pm and finishing whenever you’ve had enough.

Although it can be difficult to balance note-taking, eating and drinking, it’s far more convivial and productive than any of the above, and I’ve found often blurs the distinction between “us” and “them.”

*****

I wrote last week in this column how my personal email account had been hacked by some beggar pretending to be me, robbed and penniless in the Ukraine with my family and seeking funds — £2,200 (Dh13,709) precisely — to get home.

To all who contacted me with inquiries as to my well-being, expressions of sympathy, or offers of help, I thank you. If the Ukrainian story had been true, I would probably have got home on the strength of charitable donations, maybe even shown a profit. It reinforced my faith in friendship.

But what really impressed me was the speed with which British Telecom (BT), the UK national phone company whose service I’ve used for years, sped to the rescue.

From the office of the director of communications (a friend and former colleague from Fleet Street days) the message went out: “Help Frank Kane”. Within hours my case had been “escalated” to the “executive level complaints team” in Newcastle, north-east England, who apparently are the techno wizards in these kinds of things.

The account is working again, although with glitches. My contacts book still has not been retrieved, and some other functions are slow and unreliable. I’m told by BT that these are the responsibility of Yahoo, which runs the BT internet operation.

Gratitude to BT, and get a move on, Yahoo.

So my advice to anybody who feels at risk of a similar cyber-threat is two-fold: set up an emergency alternative email address before the event, backed up with contacts. I hadn’t done this but now have. I await only the contacts list from Yahoo.

Second, cultivate a friend at a senior executive level of the email account operator.

fkane@thenational.ae

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Published: May 6, 2014 04:00 AM

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