Death of a salesman?

15 March 2011
The idea that sending a member of the royal family along on trade missions will dazzle hosts into signing deals is rather old-fashioned. At the time of writing, Prince Andrew’s career as a trade envoy is hanging in the balance as we wait for the tabloids to do their worst/best. Whatever the outcome of this latest flurry of sleaze and innuendo, it doesn’t look good for the prince. Which, according to some business leaders, is a shame, as he is said to do a very good job for Britain’s exporters, “banging the drum” for UK business and wowing foreign dignitaries with his old school charm. Even before the most recent controversy, questions had been asked about whether it was appropriate for a member of the royal family to accompany chief executives on foreign trips to help sell British goods. Was this an excessively backward-looking approach? The success of The King’s Speech may have suggested that the international public had an appetite for British princes. But that is a film set in 1936. How does that sort of imagery help UK companies in 2011? Buyers, as usual, will beware. It is not terribly important whether a sales delegation is being led by the 14th Earl of Cumberland, or Barry Smith (no offence, Baz). What matters is the quality and the price of the goods and services on offer. Companies who think they can wow purchasers with nobs and aristos are probably making a big mistake. By all means send Prince Andrew if he is a good salesman. Show respect for your hosts. But don’t think that a drop of blue blood will automatically lead to the signing of nice fat contracts. There has to be substance beneath the regal gloss. Finding a good Samaritan online At last, some good news. Week after week we are told about the terrible influence the internet is having on all of our lives, especially the young. We are being permanently distracted and driven out of our minds, it is said. No good can come of this dreadful new technology. In the worst cases, some lonely young people have been driven to despair, announcing on their Facebook page their plans to commit suicide, which have gone ignored, sometimes with fatal results. But now the power of Facebook is being put to a very good use indeed. As of a few weeks ago, users can report any concerns they may have over their friends’ “status updates” to the Facebook help centre. Facebook will then put Samaritans counsellors in touch with those who seem to be suffering or who are in distress. Samaritans has also launched an awareness campaign on its Facebook page, which is advising people on how to spot the signs of potentially suicidal anxieties, and offer help to those in difficulty. New technology can bring us closer together as well as driving us mad. It is, for good or ill, a networked world. Some see the net essentially as a tool for doing business – which it is. But it can also do more. Well done to Facebook and Samaritans for having the imagination to use their network to good effect, and taking their responsibilities so seriously.
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