Slogans are not enough

September 17th, 2014

Ian Katz, editor of gladiatorial Newsnight, wrote recently about an impasse in journalism suggesting a deal to allow politicians to get their point across in traditional media and to be less defensive.
As the general election approaches I think that politicians should focus on their direct channel to the public – social media.


Presenter Rick Edwards and former spin doctor Alastair Campbell explained, at Bruce Daisley’s new HQ,  how Twitter can enthuse people about politics.


They agreed that no British party leader is doing Twitter particularly well, and everyone is amateur compared to the Obama effort.  Campbell reminded us of the effective use the 2008 election campaign made of social media in the US (explained in To Be President).  Will the 2015 election be the UK politics year of social media ?


Edwards said that the PM’s tweets are just “tell” at the moment and need added interaction with followers.  Twitter is for conversations, and expressions of humanity, it is not a loud hailer (the same, obviously, is true for a brand’s use of social as it is for a PM.)


Campbell said that the key is authenticity (as for all modern marketing – see Tell the Truth), and explained that in his day in Downing Street it was still possible to have a command and control attitude to the news agenda.  Not anymore.  Politicians need to catch up with the fact that social can be a better gauge of the public’s views than a newspaper columnist.


In 1960 Kennedy and Nixon squared off in the first ever TV debate between candidates for president.  It is widely believed that this changed the course of politics.  Kennedy’s greater visual appeal won voters over and it was much harder after 1960 to win if you were not at least remotely photogenic.


Could the 2015 election change politics again?  This time instead of how good you look on TV it is how well you come across in social media ?


I asked Edwards and Campbell, and they weren’t entirely convinced that this is the breakthrough year but social media is changing things fast.  In the town of Jun in Spain the mayor made all public services accountable via Twitter.  Social media was crucial in India’s 2014 election.  Politician Rajeev Chandrasekhar commented: “On social networks, politicians cannot hide from scrutiny and interactivity.”


Exactly.  140 characters.  Tells you a good deal about someone’s character.





Fine words and good looks are not enough

September 11th, 2014

In 1946 Bedouin shepherds stumbled on a huge archaeological discovery.  In caves near the Dead Sea they found a series of scrolls housed in jars.  By 1951 a full excavation was under way and in the end nearly a thousand documents were discovered.


The documents were dated to the time of Jesus – around 33 CE.  It took years for their full publication, and they’re still surrounded in controversy and some mystery.


Most of the content is versions of the Old Testament; they appear to be the library of a Jewish sect, the Sons of Light, who fled to the caves to escape the Romans.  In addition to fragments of every book of Old Testament (except for the book of Esther) there are prophecies by Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Daniel not found in the Bible.


There are also non Biblical Scrolls that include writings on Law, Community rules, war conduct, thanksgiving psalms, hymns and benedictions.


The Scroll of War would not have been much use in fighting the notoriously efficient Roman army.  It mainly consists of detailed instructions about exactly what must be written on trumpets, banners and weapons: on the darts must be written “Bloody Spikes to Bring Down the Slain by the Wrath of God”.


Precise instructions are also given about the appearance of the weapons: the spike of a spear should have “ears of corn in pure gold pointing towards the tip”.


“If the battle could have been decided by literary excess and sumptuous scmeckerel it would be a cakewalk for the Sons of Light” says historian Simon Schama.


Lovely as it sounds it is of course all style and no strategy.


Sounds like a gorgeous looking PowerPoint presentation that’s got no strategy behind it.  We’ve all wasted time looking for the perfect image for our charts and left the construction of the argument till last (when of course it must come first).


Looks are important of course.  I was once called by an irate boss who was judging some industry awards shouting that our entries weren’t as pretty as our competitors.  (I’d been concentrating on the content instead).  As we get into the heart of awards judging season I will be looking out for beautiful entries that don’t have much of a strategy or weak tactics and results that are no more than a manipulation of statistics.  Just as with fighting the Romans, aesthetics is not enough.





Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

September 1st, 2014

Can we stop with the nostalgia for what media used to be about please?


Some say: the art of the media agency used to be to find the perfect spot for a TV ad.  I say : this is targeting the right audience at the right time and in the right place and media agencies are doing more not less of it thanks to better data.


Some call for a restating of a media agency’s purpose. I say: it is to communicate with the client’s target audience to sell more stuff, or to change their behaviour.  Just as it always was, but with more ways of communicating, and better, faster judgements of what’s working, and what isn’t so we can course correct during a campaign instead of waiting weeks, or even months, for a post campaign analysis when it’s too late.


At MediaCom we’ve just refreshed our planning process to ensure that we build the best possible connected plans for our clients.  Instead of planning in media silos, the crucial thing now is to plan the whole connected system of paid, owned and earned media, exploiting the second screen and the immediacy that mobile allows.


If in days of old the role of a media person was to find exactly the right spot for a one way communication from the advertiser, a bit like a message from the heavens, now their role is to deliver a connected communication system, fuelled by content (including, but not exclusively advertising) and measured by outcomes (final and intermediary measures of the clients kpis) not just inputs (coverage and frequency targets).


As an example, for last year’s Home Office anti-violence to women and girls campaign we didn’t just buy spots for advertising to reach as many teenagers as we could.  Instead we produced a connected plan that included associating with a storyline in HollyOaks, using talent from the show to run in specially commissioned ads than ran in the breaks that surrounded the show, with social media and extra editorial coverage that allowed commentary and dialogue with the teen audience.  We know we changed people’s lives with this campaign – they told us and thanked us immediately and online.


This is a big change for agencies, and some won’t find it easy.  But there’s no reason at all for nostalgia in my opinion.  What we’re doing now is better, and will get even better. We ain’t seen nothing yet.







World’s toughest job

August 7th, 2014

Nice framing of a human truth



Fewer cocks in the Cabinet.

July 31st, 2014

Comedian Andy Hamilton summed up how most of us feel about the injection of women into the new Cabinet when he said :”it’s nice that Cameron has discovered women so near election time.”


The reshuffle, which means that there are now 5 women in the Cabinet again (back to the level in 2011), seems to have struck the public as tokenism with a Sunday Mirror poll finding 56 per cent believe the Prime Minister brought in females for “mainly presentational reasons”.


Does the proportion of women in the Cabinet matter? Why should anyone care as long as it’s the best people for the job?  I believe in meritocracy.  I also believe in diversity.  It seems astonishing that in a democracy where women have been MPs for nearly a century that such a small proportion of them have reached Cabinet office.  I’m writing a book about women and work with Kathryn Jacob.  One of our arguments is that it is about time that the gender mix of the senior management of businesses should match that of the UK population.  Ie 50:50. We cannot be alone in believing this should also be true of UK government, ie that we should see a Cabinet where half are women, as a matter of course, and not in the position where we’re remarking on and celebrating that there are 5?


The tone of the news coverage has hardly been helped by the Daily Mail’s “Downing Street Catwalk” including the comment that Liz Truss looked “bright and sensible but a little too eighties air hostess”.


Well done Nick Clegg with his Tweet selfie: “What I wore to the office today.  Fingers crossed the Mail approves.  Hope I don’t look too ’80s cabin attendant.”


Gender balance should matter to businesses and by extension to government.  Statistics show that while tokenism doesn’t work (ie just employing 1 or 2 senior women), companies who have several women in senior management improve profitability and overall performance.


There’s lots of research proving this including a report in the FT from the Swedish Corporate Governance Board showing the positive relationship between the fraction of female board members and sales growth, returns on stock, equity, assets, and invested capital: “A board does itself a disservice by being too homogeneous”.


Any board, any government will thrive on diversity.  It is time that we take steps to ensure that gender balance is represented in proportion.  Those steps will be explained in detail in our book, but include understanding what is really going on (consciously and unconsciously) and strategies for women, men and business leaders (and government) for change.