How clear is your desk?

January 1st, 2020

deskHow clear is your desk?  Mine is perpetually cluttered.  With apologies to those amongst us who love order above all things, I find it easier to work amongst an element of clutter.  It seems to help my thinking and to drive cross pollination, an essential ingredient of creativity for me.

There’s some personal items: photos of my family, objects with significant meaning including the mug that Kathryn Jacob (CEO of Pearl and Dean and my co-author for The Glass Wall) gave me which is too boastful to use, but holds my collection of pens, and a stapler that looks like a goldfish.

Many people have to have clear desks – its company policy.  I’m lucky to have the option.  There has long been a fashionable corporate idea that there should be no personal items on people’s desks.  No photos, kids’ drawings, no mugs.  It’s meant to add to everyone’s focus, eliminate distractions.

This wouldn’t have worked for me, particularly when I first returned from mat leave.  Photos of my children were essential – without the photos I would have missed them much too much.

In the MediaCom Connected Podcast we ask a series of regular questions including: “If your home fell down, every living person and thing is safely outside, and you were able to retrieve 3 personal items what would they be?”  This question always reveals so much about our guest.

Sometimes, occasionally, the guest of the show has absolutely no answer.  These are the minimalists.  Those people I would guess who would thrive with a clean desk policy.  Bruce Dailey at Twitter, for example, couldn’t think of a single item he cared enough about.  Mostly however, there’s a reply, often very moving, and usually about something that has personal and emotional value to the speaker.

Stephen Allan (MediaCom’s worldwide ceo) talked about the sailor’s ribbon that his father had been given on the notorious Voyage of the Damned – a ship that sailed with Jewish refugees from Germany on the brink of war after his grandfather had been imprisoned, and then released from a concentration camp and allowed to travel on this ship as a concession to international pressure; but with no safe harbour.

Dom Joseph (Captify’s ceo) would grab a picture of his mum at 19, and an original photograph of Kurt Cobain.

MediaCom’s current ceo Kate Rowlinson would take the poster from the first time she saw Queens of the Stone Age perform live in Australia.

Rob Norman (digital guru) has a copy of Allan Ginsberg’s poem Angkor Wat annotated by the author.

And Campaign’s Claire Beale would pick up a musical box in the shape of a chalet that belonged to her dad.

I could go on, there are many more.  All well and good, but had we better keep them out of the workplace because they are distracting?

In Rebel Ideas, the new Matthew Syed book, he recounts a scientific experiment that proves that the “Lean Office” ie the clean desk policy, isn’t efficient or productive.

Exeter University professor Craig Knight carried out a controlled test of two groups of people.  The first group worked in a clean desk minimalist environment.   The second group had plants, and pictures on the walls.  Group 2 performed 15% better.  Knight then took a third group and allowed them to personalise their workspace, however they wanted to.  These spaces were very different.  Some of them were minimal.  Others looked like my desk on a cluttered day.  Productivity soared.  Up 30%.  “Give people autonomy and they come up with something better than anything else” concludes Knight.  Syed comments that the power in this lay with personalisation: ”People could design spaces that they liked.  They could mould the space to their own characteristics.  This may sound like a small thing, but it is actually a very big thing.  It was an approach that took diversity seriously.”

Makes cleaning the office more tricky.  Might be worth it for 30% improvement in productivity.

Delivering diversity is not just about statistics about the make up of the workforce.  It’s about adjusting the workplace to suit individuals and allowing everyone a sense of belonging.

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Don’t get mad, get brave

December 16th, 2019

gwccThe bravery of the intransigent.

At the “Bravest” Marketing Society Conference in November Tesco Chair and CBI president John Allan explained his own interpretation of bravery at work.  Commenting that risking unpopularity by disagreeing with the status quo didn’t require the same bravery as the day job of a fire fighter he talked about his early experiences of standing up and being counted.  In his first role as a junior brand manager it was business practice for the most senior people in the room to comment on work last.  There was nowhere to hide and it wasn’t possible to just agree with the highest paid person in the room.

John commented that he has learnt more from his failures than from his successes, something that is clearly true generally.

It is hard though to talk about failures.  Its difficult to speak about detours and twists in the road, even wrong turnings, when so much business culture is about continuous fast improvement and showing no weakness to anyone.

That’s why at our Glass Wall Network event recently we invited panellists to talk about times when they were up to their necks in hot water and how they got themselves out of it.  The Glass Wall Network is open to everyone but is named for our book about diversity at work.  As women are sometimes stereotypically characterised as less strong so we asked 3 extremely strong women to come and talk about how they became this way.  Eleanor Roosevelt (American First Lady, not a panellist) once said “Women are like teabags, you don’t know how strong they are until they are in hot water”.

What’s clear is that often strength comes from getting really pissed off, from intransigence.  Claudine Collins, MediaCom’s Chief Client Officer, told us where her bravery in face of difficulties came from.  She mentioned a time at her first job in media when she was shouted at by an irate boss for something she hadn’t done.  She told him, if he didn’t stop shouting at her she’d walk out.  He carried on shouting.  She walked out.  And didn’t go back the next day.  Didn’t go back in fact until he’d apologised and properly listened to her demands for better behaviour.

As we wrote in The Glass Wall, Success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business, anger can often be very nuanced for people.  Some people are very worried about expressing their anger.  It can make you unpopular.  It can show that you are emotional.  Bottling it up though is one of the worst things you can do in terms of generating unhelpful stress in the workplace.  And faking forgiveness is bad for you too.  A Harvard Medical School study followed more than eight hundred people over forty years and concluded that though it is important to stay in control when you stand your ground, that taking action about something that matters enough to you to make you furious will be better for you and for your career and actually I’d say for the business you work in too.  Much better than simply sucking it up and swallowing the frustration.

Many people prefer to sit on their anger rather than find a way of expressing it.  But anger is an energy and it can propel positive change.   Continually swallowing your anger will sap your strength and contribute to making your business slow to transform.

Use your anger to fuel bravery.  Don’t put up with unfairness, challenge the status quo and drive your career.

 

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The hard truth about appearance

December 3rd, 2019

dogshotHow do you look?  How do you feel about how you look?  Have you dressed for success in the workplace? Or for comfort? Are you dressing in a feminine or masculine way?

One of the most discussed aspects of my last book, The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business, sits right at the end.

Lightspeed GMI asked the workforce of the UK, US and Russia some questions about how they showed up at work.  On a scale of 1-10 how feminine or masculine is your style at work?  We acknowledge of course that both everyone has both feminine and masculine attributes.  Women placed themselves across the spectrum, although the majority showed up as feminine in style about a third said they were more masculine.  Most men put themselves on the masculine side of the spectrum, with only 1 in 10 saying their style was feminine.  When we discuss this in our Glass Wall talks we often find that across advertising, marketing and media sales the split for women is more 50:50.  The profile for men is nearly always the same as our survey.

When we dug more deeply into the meaning of this, we found that part of the reason is “cross-dressing”.  100 years ago the women who did find their way into the workforce were not allowed to cross-dress – ie wear trousers.  In one talk, for the defence forces, we met a woman who remembered the first time women were allowed to wear trousers in the navy back in the 1970s.  Now of course it’s common and unexceptional.

Not so for men to do the reverse.  I only know one man who routinely wears a dress to a business meeting.

Now what does this mean?  And why is the thought of men wearing dresses still apparently so radical in 2019?  Is it just because there’s less availability in the shops as one talk attendee suggested last week?

I think that this issue is one of the “Glass Walls” of the workplace.  A point of real difference between the genders that is little understood, yet that has massive implications.

When a woman wears a pink dress, she might do so because it’s a sunny day and its a cool smart outfit.   When a woman wears a pink dress, she signals more femininity (whatever that means) to her colleagues who are men even if she does not intend to do so.  Simply because they cannot show up in a pink dress even if they’d like too, in most offices, without there being a very strong reaction.  Yet the next day she might wear a black trouser suit, and not feel remotely different.  The signals she gives are not the same.

Now it is worth recognising that not everyone is able to dress as themselves all the time – because senior management might find fault – and that the general term ‘smartness’ is subject to exactly the same prejudices within the workplace as without, determined by whoever is in power.

However, you dress, however you show up, one thing is certain.  Your appearance says more than you might think about how your colleagues, clients and customers will judge you.

If you are in any doubt about this try the set of pictures of dogs in HBR’s innovation issue from earlier this year.  Photographer Grace Chan has taken a series of shots of dogs before and after their Japanese-style grooming.  Irrespective of the advice in the story which is that you need to allow some uncertainty and confusion to create a true culture of innovation the pictures speak volumes about the dogs in question.  It’s almost impossible to avoid making instant character judgements because of the state of their fur.  You know it is the same dog.  And you know that the dog doesn’t change behaviour because of how its fur looks. Still you judge. Their appearance signals creativity (pre-grooming) or control (post), messiness or discipline, even aggressiveness or friendliness.

I’m sometimes taken to task when I talk about appearance, and after all I’m not an expert (although thanks to Campaign for allowing me to talk about my own style).  I believe you need to show up as your authentic self.  I also know that people will make snap decisions about you based on what you wear.  This is not a gender issue, it’s an issue of the conditioning that we have all experienced so much so that it seems like second nature.  You will be judged on what you wear.  The choice of outfit is absolutely yours but it should be a conscious one.

 

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Under 20 year olds, do you know what is going on?

November 18th, 2019

pinterestKeeping up with the kids.

Here’s another point about brand building in the 21st century.  The internet means changes are immediate.  In analogue times change was slower and it was easier to keep pace.  Now it is faster and more important, and in some ways more cryptic.

Its important for anyone who is advising a brand that seeks resonance with the under 20s to know what’s going on.

Fortunately MediaCom’s Connected Kids Research has delivered a snapshot of daily life for school kids and their digital world, an insight crucial for building brands with this group.  And of course therefore for ensuring future brand resilience.

Data driven personalisation is something that teens not only expect, they welcome.  They expect communications to be bespoke and they have high expectations and swift contempt for mistakes.  In addition live TV still has a key role for them too – and is a unique way in which they can connect with friends and family.

Social media is regarded as a blessing and a curse.  The upside is that it allows teens to feel included and validated.  The downside is that it allows teens to feel excluded and pressured.  A proportion of them have taken some control of their social media usage by removing apps or setting their own limits to screen time.  According to the report the highs and the lows are magnified in teenage girls.

This is something that Edwina Dunn’s Female Lead has had a look at too and has staged an intervention.  The organisation, which is dedicated to showcasing inspirational role models for girls, conducted a trial where they encouraged teen girls to follow a more diverse set of influencers outside of the typical celebrity which is the current norm.  This in turn challenged the algorithm which meant that more diverse content was served to their apps.  The experiment succeeded in breaking open the narrow echo chamber that the girls had been boxed into which they themselves characterise as negative.

Brands clearly can have an opportunity to create distinctive memory assets amongst teens by using social media platforms for inspiration and change.

Language itself is changing too.  Linguist Gretchen McCulloch has highlighted the fluidity of the new language norms in her book “Because Internet, understanding how language is changing.”   There are rules to language online, but they are constantly evolving and to be fluent a brand must stay up to date.  She’s a fan (as am I) of emojis, claiming that formal writing “lacks the physicality of speech, where so much communication stems from our facial expressions and our gestures.  Emojis fill this void by restoring out bodies to our writing.  Think of the thumbs up or the tears of joy; they project part of a virtual body” writes Sunday Times Culture reviewer Rosamund Urwin.  Or in other words you can let people know when you’re telling a joke over email 😊.

The 47,000 Inuit who live in Canada have only just agreed on a single writing system.  Until now they have had 9 different systems, invented in the 18th century, some with symbols (syllabics) rather than the roman alphabet.  It took a task force 8 years to agree on the system.   Some of the region’s biggest advertisers will however continue to use syllabics as well as the official writing.  The pace of change in the Arctic is icily slow.  In contrast it is more essential than ever to stay on point for communicating with teens in the UK.

 

 

 

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Ten considerations for 21st century brand building

November 5th, 2019

ipa061_award_finalIt isn’t either or.

One of the plagues of our industry is binary thinking.  Its nice and simplistic to pit different ideas or disciplines against each other.  It isn’t true or helpful.

A thorough reading of the IPA Effectiveness award winners in 2018 shows that there are many factors that might need to be considered to build brand resilience.  I was asked to address this at the IPA Eff Week Conference in October and used my experience as a judge and deputy convenor of reading the entries more than once, and of the discussions in the judging room, to summarise some of the topics a 21st century brand building communications campaign must think about that weren’t really an issue last century.

First of all, (and this was always true), it is not a question of either brand or performance.  There are essentially two good forms of advertising.  Advertising that creates desire for the brand, and advertising that harvests demand in the short term.  Both elements are essential in combination, and need measuring against relevant kpis, and the system effects of each on the other, and the question is the balance of the two.

Here are another ten considerations for brand building in the 21st century, that were probably not considered specifically 21 years ago. They have proven award winning effect in the IPA entries all of which are available at WARC.

In each point, for simplicity, there are just one or two case studies.  There are more in the awards data bank that could be mentioned and are well worth reading.  You’ll find your favourites.

They’re not in any particular order.  None of the considerations are either/or.  Its and and and and and and and and and and.

  1. Diversity

The British Army increased the number of applications it received after launching a compelling story-based campaign to reach a broader more diverse group of young people.

L’Oreal True Match increased its UK range of foundations to 23 shades to promote a more diverse and inclusive approach to beauty.

Both awards only addressed who was in the advertising not behind the scenes.  It is undeniably also a worthwhile consideration to think today about the diversity too of the teams working on the account, behind the camera and in the decision making senior teams.

  1. Purpose

For Barclays purpose-led communications accelerated its cultural transformation and delivered a step-change in marketing effectiveness.

The effect was proved against a consumer roi but also in terms of employee motivation.

  1. Frictionless customer service and comms.

Ella’s Kitchen created a new communications model designed to support, not sell to mums and dads, which encouraged loyalty.

  1. Personal and personalised.

Again not a binary choice.  Weetabix restored a personal connection with the customer by reviving an old still powerful brand asset (Have you had your Weetabix?)  Ikea demonstrated in addition the power of personalisation for every shopping mission.

  1. Be culturally resonant.

Every great brand has cultural resonance, and it is now something that needs to be a deliberate consideration because culture moves so fast.  There’s lots of great examples in the awards but Guinness’ Compton Cowboys is a great story.

  1. Use of data

There’s more data in the world than there are great insights.  32Red is a good story of intelligent use of data to drive business success.  Direct Line Group won the award for best new learning.

  1. Partnering

Suzuki’s use of Ant and Dec stands out as a different approach to effective advertising.  DFS demonstrated the role of partnerships to change brand perception.

  1. Experience

User experience is more important than it used to be.  Customer expectations rise all the time and your standard is set at the best experience you’ve ever had, not the norm for the category.

Skittles took their rainbow free pack experience instore to great effect and the Art Institute of Chicago literally created the experience of sleeping in Van Gogh’s bedroom to promote their exhibition.

  1. Brand safety

This wasn’t mentioned in any of the case studies but will have been part of the consideration of all schedules in a way that was unknown last century.

  • Integrated media and messaging.

The best case studies did this.  They created a whole that was greater than the sum of the parts.  Audi – the Grand Prix winner – did this to great effect.

That’s the ten.  The next round of effectiveness awards for 2020 is now open.  As 2020 Convenor I can state that the judges are seeking more diversity of evidence to add to the databank and entries from around the world.

 

 

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