The long and the short of your career

March 4th, 2019


Some days are more inspirational than others.

In the morning my client Mark Evans, CMO at Direct Line Group, mentioned that he’d been discussing the fact that Binet and Field’s now omnipresent thinking The Long and the Short of It, was applicable to more stuff than marketing science (crucial though this is).  And if anyone is entitled to express this of course it’s Mark whose team won the IPA effectiveness best new learning award.

It’s equally valuable as a guide to your career.

Pundit Mark Ritson explained the lessons he took from the IPA Gold for marketing.

Here’s some lessons that could apply to a career path.

Brand image and differentiation matter. 

It wasn’t only Mark Evans who inspired me.  The same day MediaCom hosted a Glass Wall network event.  (The Glass Wall is my book about diversity at work, and we have an inclusive industry wide network).  At this particular event Karen Blackett, OBE, our chair, WPP UK leader, Cabinet NED and race equalities business champion, shared her personal brand building tips together with mindfulness coach, journalist and diversity training expert Mark Edwards.  As I say some days are more inspirational than others.   It’s crucial to build a personal brand, and yet even in a business of brand builders people don’t always take the advice that they give.  Deciding what you stand for, and what you stand against can inform and supercharge everything you do at work.  For example, I can’t bear the idea that “good enough” work will do, when outstanding work is always within reach.  I feel equally about people who don’t get to fulfil their potential for any reason (hence my last book).

The long and the short applies to your career too.

Binet and Field make a recommendation that brand investment should be balanced with activation investment.  Overall at a 60:40 split, but with significant changes to that balance depending on the category in which the brand sits.  It is equally crucial to balance long term career investment with short term tactics.  Which may well change proportions at various stages of your career journey.  So there will be times when you can get an immediate pay hike by jumping ship from one employer to another.  It’s very tempting.  Especially in times of belt tightening.  In the long run though it might prove suboptimal in terms of longterm roi.  In other words, a pay hike now might be at the expense of longterm career development.  As someone once said to me when I had been given an extremely financially attractive job offer, there’s a reason that place is offering huge salaries – they have to in order to get good people to go there.  Sometimes you need to take a deep breath and think it through.

Fame matters.

One of the first, (and to some a bit controversial) findings from the IPA databank was that campaigns that are specifically designed to create fame for a brand outperform other campaigns on all business metrics.  Really this is because they drive “mental availability” faster and without this, or spontaneous awareness if you like, then brands find it more difficult to grow.

It’s the same with your career.  If someone asks “Who’s the best thinker/seller/ideas person/most efficient?” and your name doesn’t come up at all then you’re less likely to be considered for the next promotion or career opportunity.  So as well as making sure that your work is great, you need to be known for great work.  Keep a balance then between getting stuff done and building a profile.  At different stages of your career the balance will again shift.  You need great work to promote, as fame without substance may give you the wrong kind of profile.

Think long and short for your personal brand.



Entering awards? Here’s one category you wish you could enter:

February 18th, 2019

venomThe if only awards

Awards season is on us again (is it ever not these days?), with entries due for Campaign Media, Marketing Soc, Thinkbox, Outdoor, Festival of Media and more.

Enormous effort will be made to ensure that each brilliant idea is explained properly, and the results will be polished up to look as good as possible.  It’s important to shine your best work so that it can be judged by a jury of the finest minds in media and marketing.

Effectiveness rules of course, and a good story about customer insight and use of data helps to make the work stand out.

There’s very strict rules in place to ensure that everything that is claimed to have happened did in fact take place.  This is right of course and proper.

What if, though reality was only optional?  I’d like to suggest another category for the awards.  The If Only category.  In this category there’s no need for the work actually to have taken place.  It need not have run, it can just be a really good idea, that probably would have run if only there’d been enough appetite for risk/the budget hadn’t been cut.

The award would be judged on the basis of how strong the logic was.  A brilliant yet untapped consumer insight would kick off the entry.  The execution must be innovative, never done before (but technically possible).  Full mock-ups of this would be required and a robust yet speculative assessment of return on investment.

Judges would be untroubled by grim reality and expect to be entertained and wowed.

A bit like the idea of the Olympics on steroids.  Jeremy Clarkson once wrote: “I find myself hoping Russia reacts (to a proposed ban) by setting up an alternative Olympic Games where anything goes.. on cable TV, Olympians on drugs”.

Stoned hurdling, drunk skiing, 400 metres on drugs were all part of his vision.     And as Russia’s Alexander Zubkov receives a 2 year ban for doping (appeal pending) let’s add dazed bob sleighing.  Might this make for a slightly more interesting sporting event than some events are (to the unexpert eye) when viewed straight?

I certainly would not ever advocate writing any kind of award entry on drugs of any kind, but I can see that allowing thinkers to escape from reality might lead to some interesting ideas being given oxygen.  Ideas that are currently stifled by economic uncertainty or unimaginative selling.  Most experienced planners would admit to ideas that “got away” like the imaginary big fish from the expert angler.  Even those planners who’ve converted great ideas to reality will have others that have sat on the back burner for years.  (At MediaCom we’ve had an annual  internal training scheme for many years that works a bit like this, as some external schemes do.  Everyone in the agency and media owner delegates does a virtual “pitch” for a brief.  And part of the brief is to push the boundaries, maybe further than everyone can in the day job.  To think “what if”.  I always enjoy and learn much from this annual competition.)

The What if awards.  They’d be fun, they’d be frivolous (and in grim times that’s not necessarily a bad thing),  and we might just learn a lot from them.





Why no idea is a bad idea, is a bad idea.

February 4th, 2019

brainstorm“No idea is a bad idea” is one of the sacred rules of brainstorming.

The concept is based on the theory that ideas are like young plants. Rain too hard on them and they will wilt away. Don’t criticise. Warm them in the greenhouse of sunshine approval. This is one of the founding rules laid down for brainstorms by BBDO’s Alex Osborn when he coined the term in 1948 and is still widely employed today, (together with the other rules which are to emphasise quantity of ideas, to allow freewheeling thinking and to build on the ideas of others). While other techniques for the sessions will vary, these rules usually prevail.

This is despite a relatively little known study conducted as long ago as 2000 which seems to prove the opposite of what’s normal. Criticism does not deter ideas. In fact it encourages it.

In an academic experiment “The liberating role of conflict in group creativity “ by Charlan Nemeth, individuals in small groups were given the problem of solving traffic congestion. The research was conducted in San Francisco and Paris. The rules were the same as usual except for a test set of groups who were told to feel free to debate and even to criticise each other’s ideas.

Most creativity coaches and moderators would predict that allowing criticism and challenges would be the death of ideas. In fact, in these carefully controlled conditions, the reverse was true. Allowing debate led to more ideas, significantly more.

These results may seem surprising. However, given these two requirements for creativity, they are no surprise.

The first requirement is diversity of thinking. The second is authenticity, to be yourself.

If people in the brainstorm are similar in how they think rather than diverse, which may well make for an easier, perhaps a happier, session, then there will be fewer different ideas.

Furthermore, if the people in the brainstorm are not similar in how they think, but have been asked to follow a rule that they must not debate or criticise, then they may well be self-censoring to ensure a happy and obedient session. The effort required in worrying about not offending others by a spontaneous negative reaction to ideas can suppress creativity. This doesn’t mean criticism is required, just that people don’t have to stop themselves being critical. The “don’t rain on ideas” rule can be replaced by a “don’t take criticism personally“ mandate. Everyone should be free to be themselves and to say what they really think, with courtesy and kindness, but also with the courage of their convictions.

Think hard before your next idea generation session. Is a required outcome and priority that people should have a good time? If so then definitely keep to the standard rules. If there a real need for creativity and a diverse range of solutions then it’s definitely worth breaking the “no idea is a bad idea” rule.

The author of the study says that she believes that disagreements open the mind: “Faced with an alternative conception of reality and a different way of thinking..we actually search for and consider more options”.

More options, more ideas, more creativity, more chance of truly transformational action.




Here’s one thing you can be certain about in 2019

January 21st, 2019

dog“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

(Yogi Berra and others).

January is the month for pundits to place their best bets for the year.

We need not go very far though these days to know what nonsense those bets usually amount to.  In respect of outlooks and outcomes for 2019 the bookies are the only winners.

One thing you can be sure of in these uncertain times is the need for a growth mindset.

Most businesses I’ve been involved with spent plenty of time in 2018 paring things back, making economies and reducing unnecessary expenses.

This was entirely necessary.  Pessimism and uncertainty were the predominant feelings in most board rooms.  Even those businesses who are in growth were beset by doubts, challenges and change.

No one was immune from negativity.   Darkness seemed to loom like never before.

Now for January consumer confidence is down again and Joe Staton from Gfk has written:” In the face of ever-rising costs, and the threat of higher inflation, combined with uncertainty around the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, it’s no surprise that consumers are in a chilly mood and putting on a glum face when they look at the prospects for 2019. Sad to say that an unhappy and uncertain New Year beckons, despite good intentions from all points on the economic and political spectrum.”

However there is data that provides some evidence to the contrary if you take a long term perspective.  That uncertain as the outlook is, its no more uncertain than it has been for years.

The longitude survey from Gallup has been looking at emotions globally for more than a decade.

On the one hand it will surprise nobody that emotional wellbeing took a downturn in the latest report which came out last autumn versus the previous report. On the other hand, despite the headlines that this inspired, the PEI (Positive Experiences Index) is actually flat from a decade ago.

Despite the headlines. Despite the politics.

Gfk’s consumer confidence level too looks a lot less depressing in the long view.

In light of this the tactics need to switch.  Rather than focusing on battening down the hatches, it is time to set a limit to the gloom, be positive and be open to a growth mindset.

Without a growth mindset transformation is painful and difficult. With one you can “be the change” as Gideon Spanier asserts. With a growth mindset, you have a better chance of delivering growth, both personally and for your organisation.

There’s lots of ways to grow.  One of the exciting aspects of this is that it’s much more interesting and colourful than the dark greys of pessimism. Here’s three paths to consider for growth in 2019.

Firstly, can you find a way to get existing customers to buy more?  This might be through product or service innovation.  It may be by streamlining the customer journey, opening new paths to purchase or as simple as reducing website load times or making the “buy now” button a big bigger.

Secondly, could you target more people?  Customer segmentation is still very predominant. It can go too far.  Read Byron Sharp for a point of view that would insist on food and drink brands targeting anyone with a mouth, skincare brands targeting anyone with a face, and entertainment brands targeting anyone with time for leisure.

Thirdly become famous for what you’re good at.  Fame is often dismissed as showy or extravagant.  Yet real front of mind and spontaneous awareness is very worth while.  Getting talked about for the right reasons isn’t easy but it does pay back, and an integrated strategy is essential to deliver on this, integrated through the line and throughout the customer journey from awareness to repeat purchase.  This works on a personal level too.  Work out what you’re great at.  Double down in that area and make that your focus for fame.

Is anything or anyone certain in 2019?  Perhaps only that a growth mindset is essential for any growth.


True grit: does it always work to your advantage?

January 7th, 2019

supermario“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never” Winston Churchill

I’ve always been inspired by persistence.  When you fall down, you get back up again.  Yet a fact based argument in the much resp‎ected Harvard Business Review challenges this idea. Cass Business School’s professor Andre Spicer says that there’s in fact a “weak link between grit and performance”, and also that “people who tend to be tenacious are also those who get trapped into losing courses of action.” Spicer has a point. There’s a difference, a big difference, between not giving up and finding new approaches to problems (admirable) and not knowing when you haven’t got a chance of success but continuing to hit your head on a brick wall (dumb).

Churchill gave the speech quoted above in 1941, not to Britain as a whole, but to the boys at his old school.  Not just boys who would be fighting for their country one day perhaps but also those who would be building businesses in times of peace.

It echoes his great speeches to the nation of course and also the spirit of entrepreneurship that is evident in small business and start-ups.

Whenever Justin Cross (from MediaCom’s start up for start ups Blink) introduces us to a tech start up there is a spirit of doggedness that comes across.  The spirit of doing things differently and hoping to change the world.

There are a lot of start-ups. 9 in 10 people in the UK are considering starting up in a business of their own. There’s 80 start ups launching every hour.  At a recent seminar of small and medium enterprises: “The State of the SME nation” a panel of small business owners talked about their reasons for setting up in business for themselves.  Hearing them talk about their jobs sounded like a description of living in SuperMarioLand.  Hazards kept cropping up out of the blue (one owner talked about her surprise in learning that she needed liability insurance of over £5m to sell a few pictures at a market), and also good luck and opportunities mushroomed unexpectedly.  The general spirit was that so far everything had worked out if not as planned certainly better than they’d feared.  For every hazard then at least two business beneficial mushrooms.  Similarly at Red Magazine’s Smart Women Week, where I was interviewed by Cyan Turan last month for a “Grow your business” session, that same spirit of optimism and breathless excitement shone through.

Every business is subject to change. As Antonio Lucio fb CMO recently said: “change is inevitable, growth and success are not”. Growth and success need a plan, need a strategy, and in Vuca times need resilience. (Vuca is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous).

Wherever you work these days, in your own business or in a worldwide corporation, we need this spirit of resilience to progress.  The spirit that allows you to face challenges as if your livelihood depends on it.

As Jim Collins says in “How the mighty fail and why some companies never give in”:

“Never give in.  Be willing to change tactics, but never give up your core purpose.  Be willing to kill failed business ideas… be willing to evolve into an entirely different portfolio of activities… but never give up on the idea of building a great company”.