Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Return of Beersphere - in London!

Hello London planners! It turns out I am unexpectedly coming back to Europe for a few months, and just before leaving I will be meeting with a bunch of Singapore planners for a Beersphere (the first official Beersphere Singapore, I believe) the week before coming to London, so I thought it would be fun to follow it straight away with a Beersphere London and catch up with my planner friends there!

I am hoping to make a sort of soft launch announcement for the very exciting secret project I have been working on these past few weeks at Beersphere Singapore, and will be talking about it some more at Beersphere London as well if all goes to plan. I'm also thinking of a cool way to bring word of the Singapore planners directly in the hands of the London planners (ideas welcome!).

In the usual fashion of Beersphere, it will be a casual meetup of planners over a few drinks - and given I've been in Asia so long and missing fine British ales, I've for now decided on having it at The Harp in Covent Garden - hoping the weather won't be too bad as it's a small pub and most people usually end up hanging out on the sidewalk, we'll see how it is weather wise and how many people can make it, if needed we can always change the location.

So if you're free, join us for a few beers from 6:30pm!

The Harp:
47 Chandos Place, Covent Garden
London, WC2N 4HS

Please RSVP for the event on
Twtvite / Twitter

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Beersphere Strikes Back - in Singapore!

In the grandest of Beersphere traditions initiated by Faris, come and meet other Singapore planners for a drink or three on Friday 7th October at Mulligan's in Clarke Quay, Singapore! We'll be discussing plannery type stuff, having fun, and of course it's an opportunity for close ethnographic observation of the Clarke Quay fauna (credits to Sushobhan for the expression).

Beersphere is an event very close to my heart, it's at a Christmas Beersphere in London that I made my first forays into officially becoming a planner, Neil and Faris are the first planners I met there, had cool conversations with them and they accepted me as one of them. After that, I was definitely a planner, even though I hadn't found a job as one just yet. I also enjoy beer and chatting with interesting people, so that's a big plus for the event.

If you're a planner in Singapore, I hope to see at Mulligan's in Clarke Quay that evening and count on you to spread the news - I don't know that many planners there myself! Let's make it a big one!

Event details:

See you there, I'm looking forward to it!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The importance of Multilingual SEO - or lack thereof

This is the second email I receive from this gentleman, here is his email and my reply. Just one question, am I being unnecessarily mean? Or is it relatively measured?

To: willem
Subject: http://www.willemvdh.com/ - Did you receive this email sent to you last week ?
Date: Thu, 15 Sep 2011 00:46:35 +0300
From: martin

Did you receive the e-mail which we sent to you recently (copied here-below)?
Please confirm since I have had problems lately with emails intercepted by spam-filters set too high.


Martin, Ph.D.

I am Dr. Martin and I work for Multilingual Search Engine Optimization Inc. in Washington DC  (Tel:) - I would like to speak with the person in charge of your international clientele. Who is my contact? Who should I speak to??

In fact, after visiting http://www.willemvdh.com/ , I have noticed that your website cannot be found on foreign search engines (I tested it on Hispanic search engines, German search engines, Asian search engines, etc.) Our company is specialized in multilingual search engine promotions in 28 languages . From the Japanese Google to the German Yahoo, from the AOL  in Spanish to the MSN in Chinese, we can show you how to develop a true international online presence by promoting your website on foreign search engines.

Let us show  you how to develop a presence on the multilingual web without having to  translate your website: It is not necessary to translate your website in  order to submit to foreign search engines, however, you need to have at least  1 page in Japanese optimized with Japanese keywords and meta tags in order to  submit to Japanese search engines, at least 1 page in Spanish optimized with  Spanish keywords in order to submit to Hispanic search engines and so  on...

I strongly suggest that you watch our online presentation which explains clearly how to get top rankings on foreign search engines with  only 1 entry page per language (click on the following link or copy-paste it  into your web browser): http://www.languageseo.net/demoFrom the Japanese Google to the German Yahoo, from the AOL  in Spanish to the MSN in Chinese, get users to find your website when  searching with YOUR KEYWORDS in their Native language.

Please call me at xx or email me and let's work on giving your website the true international exposure which it deserves to have with foreign native online  users!!


Martin, Ph.D.

From: willem
To: martin
Subject: RE: http://www.willemvdh.com/ - Did you receive this email sent to you last week ?
Date: Thu, 15 Sep 2011 03:05:21 +0000

Dear Doctor,

I did indeed receive your email last week. 

I had started writing a reply but stopped myself because it wouldn't have added any value, I thought it was probably a spam-bot email and it would have wasted my time, which I couldn't afford to do last week as I was very busy. You should probably have left it at that, but you're being insistent now so here I am. You caught me when I was just looking for some content for a new blog post and I can afford to waste a few minutes. 

Given you've sent another email, I'm now thinking you are actually serious in what you're talking about which to me is fairly unbelievable, being a marketing and digital communications professional myself. If you are a real doctor, I'm going to go on a wild guess here and say your Ph.D had nothing to do with the Internet because you don't sound like you know what you are talking about.

As you've correctly identified, I have a personal url, it's my personal and sometimes also business blog. It doesn't have that many visitors and I don't really need them either. 

It is written - in English - so why would anyone searching the web in another language want to come across it? And why would I bother spending time, effort and I suspect cash to make my site 'SEO friendly in other languages' when I'm writing in english, it doesn't make sense. And if I was searching in another language I may well be looking for content in my own language rather than having a blog written in English show up in my search results. I personally happen to be bilingual in French as well as pretty good with Spanish, if I really wanted to focus on reaching a French or Spanish speaking audience, guess what? I'd write in French or Spanish and then my blog would magically be optimized for French or Spanish search terms. 

Moreover it is extremely easy to translate my whole blog for free at the click of a button, you should try Google Translate: http://translate.google.com/. I tried using the link you provided for your presentation and it is broken, though I still found the demo via another journey of clicks on the site. 

That demo is preposterous by the way, and definitely contains erroneous information. I'd like to quote this:
'With the Foreign Web, a Japanese user will have a better incentive to type in keywords using his native Japanese characters in a search engine' - Oh my god, who would have thought!?

I imagine and really hope you are a good person just trying to run a good business here, but please realise the concept is just too silly for me to take seriously, I'm sorry.

Kind regards,

PS: Spam-filters aren't set too high, I found your email in my junk box. You use quite a lot of spam like terms in your email and the filters get it's a very 'salesy' email. I won't give you a recommendation on how to make your emails better, though I would advise focusing your business in a different direction altogether.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Top Secret Project

It has a been a pretty intense week for me, a lot has happened and I think it's all turning out for the best.

In no particular order:

I have finished two pieces of work I'm pretty happy with; after 7 months traveling (5 of those with no working whatsoever) I had forgotten the kind of intensity and frenzy sometimes involved in finishing work to a deadline when everything suddenly goes wrong. Like those times when you are working on a pitch (plus all your normal work load) and whoever is leading - sometimes yourself - declares 24 or 48h before the pitch presentation that everything is wrong and that the whole thing needs to go back to the drawing board. Don't we all love those moments! And wouldn't you [secretly] agree that some of your best work was born in that weird natural high that takes hold of you beyond exhaustion, when your mind and body are pumped full of adrenalin, serotonin, dopamin, and all sorts of other hormones? This week was a bit like that for me.

You guessed it, I can't sleep. It has never happened to me like this before. I've been operating on an average of 1-3 hours sleep for the past 5 nights or so. it's really weird, I'm alternating between moments of intense inspired creativity / productivity, and moments of total exhaustion. I am slightly worried about  my health, I know it's not a good thing to not sleep and I usually love sleeping, though I also think I'm OK and there's something going on demanding I give it attention (more on that further down). Today I felt I'd reached my physical limits, I had a really hard time concentrating on the deck I was writing and progress was very slow. Fortunately the topic was very familiar so I was wrote a lot from instinct, and triple checking everything I wrote. I finally finished the deck at 8pm, had a quick bite to eat as I hadn't eaten since the muffin in the morning. I was in bed before 9pm, feeling like I was ready to sleep all night. I woke up [good sign] certain I must have slept several hours, and it was 10pm. I stayed in a bed a while, then decided to get back up and write this.

My friend JB and I have known each other since we were 6 years old, a long friendship indeed. Him and his wife Marion have asked me to be the godfather of their newborn son Marcus, very exciting stuff and I'm really looking forward to meeting him. Nothing religious about it in case you're wondering (and interestingly the word in French is 'parrain' derived from the latin word patruus meaning paternal uncle, so the etymology itself isn't directly related to god; unlike the English word), I'm an atheist and they aren't particularly religious. I don't have godparents so it's a brand new experience and I know my friends see it as an important responsibility in their family as a different adult figure to the parents for their son. I was honoured to have been asked and I've of course accepted.

I've had a great time in Kuala Lumpur this week, I find it a city that really grows on you if you give it a bit of patience. It's really not pretty, that's true. On the other hand, the food is just phenomenal and as I'm meeting local friends it only gets better because they know the best places to eat. The people here are unbelievably friendly - I seriously can't get over it. You know the long face syndrome in the tube / bus / metro in all sorts of capital cities? Totally non-existent here. People smile, say hi, strike conversation randomly, with no ulterior motives than being curious and friendly. That's another reason I'm really loving spending time in Malaysia and I'm in no hurry to leave. And KL is also a big modern place with wifi everywhere which makes my life as a laptop hobo easier.

I've had this crazy day helping my friend out with changing her flights. Still not exactly over, though she's got back home in Paris as planned and Qatar Airways contacted her. I'll update the blog separately when I have a conclusion to report about it.

I discovered a great band playing in a bar close by. Travel in Southeast Asia long enough and good live bands quickly become very noteworthy as there aren't many and the majority of people around the region prefer going to dance to some cheesy popular club classics than live bands. I've posted a few songs on Audioboo if you want to check them out.

I thank the reader who has had the patience to come to this point and must by now be wondering what is  so top secret when I'm basically laying out my life on my public blog.

Well, here's the top secret part: I'm pretty sure I now know the main reason I can't sleep. I have a new project I'm extremely excited and terribly inspired about. I just started working on it and I'm keeping under top secret wraps until it is ready to be properly revealed. I'm hoping for the reveal to take place as fast as possible, realistically probably in a month's time, around early to mid October. In any case I will announce the date of the official reveal as soon as possible. Until then, as my photographer friend Vish knows well, Shh!


As I am writing this late at night in Kuala Lumpur and it is already September 12th; so it is early afternoon on 9/11 in New York and memorials of the 10th anniversary must be taking place as I'm writing this. I've decided to publish this post tomorrow, I just wanted to write it now as I can't sleep. I remember 9/11. I was a designer at the time, in a small agency in the suburbs west of Paris. I was shocked beyond belief; actually I hadn't really thought about it in a long time and my eyes are watering with emotion at the memory.

My elder brother Björn who is a chef was supposed to open his first restaurant in Mid-town New York that day and he told me this story. He had been working in the kitchen from really early morning getting everything ready for his opening. His food suppliers weren't showing up. He's stressing out, this is his big day. He picks up the phone and starts shouting at his fish supplier, who says something along the lines of 'You're not going to get your fucking fish today, man. Haven't you seen? Go to your roof!' My brother runs up to the roof of the mid-town Manhattan building, drops the phone to the floor when he sees the giant column of smoke. The first plane had just hit the tower minutes before.

I remember, and my thoughts go to all New Yorkers and Americans on this day.

PPS: After I finished writing this post during the night I was able to sleep again so it's all good. I'm now finishing to amend this post from a super luxury VIP bus on my way from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. I'm the only passenger! It has super comfy huge seats, electricity for my laptop, onboard wifi, had a breakfast, personal video screens, it's unbelievable!! So I'm working from my bus.

I love my life, I'm the king of the laptop hobos!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Qatar Airways Fail - A friend's unfortunate quest to change her flights

UPDATE (8th September 2011): The E-marketing manager for Qatar Airways just contacted me directly by email and is going to take care of contacting my friend in order to resolve her complaint. I'm very happy about that and will update again once it's all done with news.

I haven't blogged in a while and never have I gone to such lengths to publicize a company's customer service failings but this is what has been happening to a friend I have just been helping out and I find it so ridiculously outrageous that my friend and I feel the need to spread the news.

If you happen to read this and feel the same way, please spread and share these news far and wide, I'm sure this kind of experiences happen to a lot of people and I'm also pretty sure not everyone complains about it or receives satisfaction from their complaint(s). As a spoiler for anyone looking for real excitement, go watch a movie or something, this isn't anything to do with horror, thriller or action genres. That said, I do believe it's interesting and valuable.

Below is a copy of the email sent by my friend to Qatar Airways feedback and customer service email address, I just wish to add that the intention is not to accuse any one individual employee of Qatar Airways, nor to have anything bad happen to them, rather it is an official complaint to be lodged with the airline company as a whole. My friend had to run to the airport to catch their flight so I'm helping spread the news.

Qatar Airways claims to be 'the World's Best Airline'. My friend and I certainly don't feel this claim to be true right now. I am interested in corporations and organisations providing excellent customer service and what I've experienced today is probably the furthest from excellence I've ever seen.

The way I see it, they have messed up with one of their customers and now have the chance to make it up to them. If they're fast they have several hours to meet them for their layover in Doha in a few hours, or perhaps more realistically they hopefully contact my friend as soon as possible. We'll see.

Dear Sir / Madam,

I am writing this email today in order to register an official complaint to Qatar Airways as I am extremely disappointed so far with the level of service you have provided me as a paying customer with a problem to solve. As a global airline company wishing to promote world class service I would expect much better, particularly as I see that you are advertising yourself as ‘the world’s best airline’ on this site (http://www.qatarairwaysmelbourne.com) and have won several prizes I can see listed here: http://www.qatarairways.com/global/en/newsroom/archive/PressRelease1_22June11.html.

Unfortunately I haven’t found anyone who could help me directly and I find myself feeling forced to not only write you this email, but also to copy and send it to all the relevant people and organisations whom I feel may either be able to help me or would be interested in hearing about my current situation.

I will start at the beginning and explain to you the series of circumstances I have been faced with and the troubles I have had to deal with as a result of them, both on financial and emotional Ievels.

I booked a flight from Paris to Kuala Lumpur for my summer holidays, departing the 31st July 2011.

My return was planned for the 21st of August, and I decided to postpone my flight and extend my holidays which is where you presented a first barrier to me: the cost to change my booking was 433 RM which could only be paid via a Malaysian bank account or an international bank transfer, no major credit cards accepted whatsoever. I did not have time to process an International bank transfer and being a French tourist on holidays, I obviously do not have a Malaysian bank account. Fortunately, I managed to ask a Malaysian friend to help me with the transfer; my friend was forced to take time out of their working day to visit the Kuala Lumpur Qatar Airways office in order to pay for my flight change fees and of this I am extremely grateful to them, a new friend in Malaysia had already been ten times more helpful than Qatar Airways to whom I had already paid 1,100 Euros for my original flight, plus the flight change fees.

At this point, I am not even mentioning the 25 phone calls and time on the phone and emails looking to reach the Kuala Lumpur Qatar Airways office in order to organise this flight change, which is already unbelievable for an international company of the size of Qatar Airways.

Unfortunately for me, the National holiday celebrations in Malaysia on the weekend of the 3rd of September meant that I have had to change my flight again because I found myself unable to get to Kuala Lumpur in time for my flight. Again, I had to call the Qatar Airways Kuala Lumpur office over 20 times and send three emails to change my flight as well as find another Malaysian friend who would be able to help me transfer the new 435RM flight change fee. My understanding was that my flight had been changed for the 7th September and I arrived here in Kuala Lumpur yesterday morning on the 6th September.

I checked my emails upon arriving in order to make sure the new booking was confirmed, though having no news I managed to reach the Kuala Lumpur office by phone and found out that my booking had been cancelled and that the only flight now available to me would be on Sunday 11th September. At that point, I really want to you to understand that I literally broke down in tears on the telephone.

The stress I’ve been under over the weekend knowing I wouldn’t be able to make my flight on the 5th was already taxing enough, meaning 2 days of unpaid leave from work. The fact that my booking had been cancelled even though the flight change fee had been paid 3 days before for the 7th September meant that because of Qatar Airways’ poor service and/or mistakes, I would have to call back my employer and explain to them that I would have to take an additional 4 days of unpaid leave.

I spent Tuesday afternoon calling the Kuala Lumpur office pleading them to find the bank transfer that had been made and confirm my flight for Sunday 11th September given that still hadn’t been done yet, again more tears and fear of not being able to return to Paris even as late as the 11th. I had to give my Malaysian friend’s number to the Qatar office so they could ask my friend to send the bank transfer confirmation, even though I had already provided all the required banking transfer information several days ago. I don’t even know what words to write now for you to really understand the pain I’ve been through to do something as seemingly simple as changing a flight booking. For me to say it’s completely outrageous is an understatement.

This morning, still having had no confirmation that my flight was booked for Sunday 11th I called again and went to the Kuala Lumpur office in person and after having waited 2 hours, found out it still hadn’t been done. I confirmed the ticket in person, asked again if there was any way to be on an earlier flight with no success and asked to speak to the manager in order to lodge an official complaint.

The first thing that upset me even more if that’s even possible is that the manager told me almost immediately that he could contact headquarters and find an earlier flight for me, and after a few minutes confirmed I could in fact be on a flight to Paris tonight, with an 8 hours layover in Doha. Why this wasn’t possible for the past two days I spent calling and emailing the office I have no idea.

I then asked the manager to register an official complaint with Qatar Airways for all the trouble I had to go through to get the flight changed, to which he told me there is nothing they could do and that my sole recourse was to send an email to tell-us@my.qatarairways.com.

I am extremely upset about this whole situation; I am relieved to finally leave for Paris in a few hours even though I will not be looking forward to spending 8 hours in Doha airport. I will finish this email by saying that I unfortunately do not feel I have the luxury of waiting for a reply from the customer service department so I have decided to try and make this as widely known as possible, sending copies of this complaint to the people and organisations listed below.

I am landing in Doha for my layover at __:__ local time with the flight from Kuala Lumpur and will be hoping that a Qatar Airways representative will be waiting for me so my complaint can be solved to my satisfaction.

My name is G. M. and my flight booking reference is ______.

Kind regards,
G. M.

This complaint is copied and sent to:

Regional Marketing Manager Europe Qatar Airways
via Linkedin Inmail

VP Commercial Europe Qatar Airways
via Linkedin Inmail

Manager - Brand Communications Qatar Airways
via Linkedin Inmail

Head of Corporate Communications Qatar Airways
via Linkedin Inmail

Brand Republic
Marketing Magazine
Business Week

Several blogs 
Consumer organisations in France:
·      ASSECO-CFDT (Association études et consommation)
·      FNAUT (Fédération nationale des associations d’usagers des transports)
·      ORGECO (Organisation générale des consommateurs)
·      UFC-Que Choisir (Union fédérale des consommateurs-Que Choisir)