Fresh blood in the mix

October 26th, 2016

maxresdefaultAt the Royal Television Society conference last month there were calls for “Fresh blood in the funding mix”

This felt a bit strange to me, as a panellist from the media agency sector.  We have for a long time now been including branded content as a crucial part of the content and connections mix of a brand’s media plan.  Most planners now routinely consider how branded content could play a role in driving client’s objectives and outcomes.

(The answer might sometimes be it can’t, but crucially, the question is usually asked.)

It didn’t feel very much as though this source of “fresh blood” from the media agency sector has had much, if any impact, on the funding mix for TV based on the debates.

The Royal Television Society exists to celebrate and encourage work in TV in all fields.  Its CEO Theresa Wise invited me along to participate in a panel entitled: You don’t own a TV? What is all your furniture pointed at?

It is of course a time of great change.

We are on the brink of a coming together of the disrupted (the heritage television channels) and the disruptors (YouTube, Facebook etc) to create a new eco-system in television funding with new rules of thumb.

We’ve created very interesting and effective campaigns using content in this way.  Scope’s #EndtheAwkward short form content in partnership with Channel 4 is just one effective campaign that would come into this category of work.

This (and there are many other examples, you will have your favourites) does not compromise the high editorial standards we expect from the channel.  This campaign was great for the outcomes for the audience (very funny content), for the channel (advertiser funded short form content) and the advertiser (changed attitudes).

We know that branded content funded by an advertiser can attract additional audience to the channel too.  When MediaCom partnered with Channel 4 and Google to bring the live TV performance that launched Universal Music’s Sam Smith in the UK, an additional 100,000 viewers tuned in specifically to watch the ad.

We know too that there are more brands who would spend money in this way if they could.

Why isn’t there more branded content injecting “fresh blood into the funding mix” than we’ve seen so far?

I think there are three reasons for the fresh blood merely being a trickle so far.

  • Limited interest or awareness from the established creative community in making branded content. Perhaps because change is scary.  Perhaps because the requirement to diversify revenue streams into unproven areas is hard to justify to the finance director.  Perhaps because the awards for branded content aren’t as prestigious as the existing awards.
  • Branded content is a very different process from advertising or programme making. It’s a hybrid.  It can requires new rules, new ways of working.  This takes effort and is hard work.  Who goes on the shoot?  Is the creative agency involved or is the media agency?  The sophistication of a traditional advertising shoot (with big entourages of people) is alien in the lean and more agile world of content creation with YouTube.  This doesn’t mean that the outcome is any less good, it might indeed be better, but the process of getting there might feel more like catching a bus than driving in a limo.  You’ll get to the same place, at about the same speed, but you might not be as comfortable during the drive.
  • The old rules of thumb metrics don’t apply.

Hugh Dennis ended on a cheerful note by asking the panel to predict who was going to go out of business.  If we’ve learnt anything in 2016 it is not to make foolish predictions.  However anyone who isn’t diversifying revenue streams needs to wake up and smell the coffee.




When the machines take control

October 10th, 2016

tfmThe machines are coming.

In the course of talking about The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business, some people have told me and my co-author Kathryn that there really is no need to be anxious about gender inequality in senior management.  They speak comfortably about the rise of Millennials in the workforce solving any gender balance issues.

It seems true that for millennials as a generation that the idea that gender is binary seems out of date.  Indeed using male and female as synonyms for men and women is offensive in this respect already as you can self-assign as a man or a woman but this may be different from your biological origins.  For older generations this idea may still seem controversial, but for millennials, now a huge part of the workforce, it’s how life now is.

If this is true then surely the boards of companies will sort themselves out I have been told.  Gender will become a less relevant matter.  One media company ceo has in fact placed a bet with me to that effect.

I’m obviously not convinced about this.  For decades women have been told that the matter will resolve itself and with just 9.6% of FTSE 100 boards with executive women directors and more ceos of those companies named Dave than women ceos it certainly has not so far.  The reason for this is actually I think that the situation isn’t about the gender you identify with at all it is about power and how you use it.

Our research for the book suggests that boys get more training in fighting and pushing themselves forward and girls get more direction in playing nicely together.  Boys in the UK participate in more sports for longer at school than girls.  Culture directs women to believe that self-deprecation is necessary for peer acceptance.  Men are meant to show off.

Culture takes a huge amount of time to change.  Whilst deferential attitudes to politicians and policemen may have shifted (we don’t live in the world of Dixon of Dock Green these days) there is still huge deference in organisations to the boss, to the man who can fire you, and hierarchies are naturally formed in a pyramid structure down from that man (it is still usually a man).  Yuval Harari however thinks that there is one thing that that is changing heritage power structures at work.  Unfortunately for human kind, it is not a shift towards gender parity or even to a flatter less hierarchical way of working.  It is a shift of power out of the hands of humans altogether.

Harari says that the net, artificial intelligence and biotechnology are moving so fast that we just can’t keep up.  “You’d be surprised how many seemingly powerful people deny having the power to change things, and don’t even know who has such power… the world is changing so fast due to technology.  Yet technology doesn’t obey the tradition power structure, hence presidents, generals and tycoons may genuinely feel that somebody is pulling the rug from under their feet.”  His theory is that while people are worrying about last century’s political issues (left versus right, socialism and capitalism, democracy and authoritarianism) we’re worrying about the wrong things.  What we should be considering is how on earth we legislate for any control over the coming revolutions in cyber space.

So the one factor that may step change the workplace and society in general is not a release of power by men to women because of a generation shift.  It might be that we will shift to a gender neutral meritocracy finally in the face of the cyber revolution.


Time to add common sense to video view metrics

October 4th, 2016

What is a view?

“This is the glory of business travel”

According to Rob Norman, Chief Digital Officer of Group M, and he travels a lot, so if anyone should know Rob should know, the glory of business travel is doing your own ironing.  He posted a video (which is strangely mesmerising) of himself ironing a shirt on Facebook under the caption “Iron Man” (geddit?).  This video has received over 2.5k views.

Rob ironing is lovely to watch, most certainly it is.  However when I mentioned the huge views he’d received (probably because I’m envious of his huge fanbase) to one of our directors he sniffed a bit and pointed out that a Facebook view counts if it only lasts 3 seconds.  Frankly just the time it takes to register the content and scroll past it.

I’m sure that thousands of people really have enjoyed Rob’s domestic excellence, and witty pun.

I don’t know how many of them have stuck for the full 30 seconds.  Or had the sound turned up for the inimitable wit.  In the context of video for brands this raises some real questions about the comparability of metrics.  If an advertiser uses a 30 second ad designed for television for online video for good audience reach based reasons it’s transferring an ad that is designed to be watched for 30 seconds.  Not 3.  And for some VOD channels 3 seconds seems generous, expansive even.  There are other VOD services where 2 seconds is enough to count as a view.   In all cases this is enough to count as paid for viewing for a 30 second ad.  Is it any wonder that metrics of effectiveness are not uniform across all channels?  Especially if you add to the mix that in most cases only half the ad needs to be in view, to be counted.  So that’s 2 seconds and 50% of the video.

Either we need to be very clever about the ad formats for this distribution, redesign the copy to get the essential sales message across in one tenth of the time it was designed for and with branding that’s obvious without full screen visibility or sound.   Or we need to start to question what advertisers should pay for.

With his fully ironed shirt on and his Group M hat, Rob Norman has called for best practice in viewability appointing John Montgomery to set market leading standards.

Maisie McCabe pointed out in Campaign recently we should be proud of advertising and the benefits that it brings for the wider public.  I completely agree with her.  It is difficult to do this on the one hand whilst we are making a nonsense of advertising views on the other hand.

Increased viewing time of VOD unsurprisingly leads to increased advertising recall and ultimately effectiveness.

This is not a critique of Facebook or VOD as effective advertising channels.  It isn’t a reference to the average video duration calculations from the former.  It’s an attempt to bring common sense to the metrics overall in order to sort the wheat from the chaff, what works from what doesn’t and how it should be made accountable.

We cannot accept a situation that accepts that ads, designed to be viewed for 30 seconds, are counted when only half the ad is seen for a tenth of that time.  This is not an equivalent.  It isn’t good for the brands in question, the effectiveness of the expenditure and ultimately it isn’t good for either the end user or the reputation of advertising as a whole.



No regrets

September 23rd, 2016

piafNon, je ne regrette rien.

No, I have no regrets.  How many of us can truly say that?

According to recent research in the US by Allianz 32% of Americans regret major choices in their lives.

Topping the regret charts according to the research?

Ignoring your health; neglecting to exercise; giving up on a romantic relationship; losing touch with friends.

It’s common for people to reflect that they’ve let stress rule their life in a really unhelpful way.

A bit of stress isn’t bad for you.  It can raise your adrenaline levels in the office, some people thrive on it up to a point.

But if you’re living with stress surrounding you every time you step into the workplace then you need to take some action.  If you’re dreading the next encounter with a certain colleague or a boss, so much that it gives you sleepless nights or anxiety strewn weekends.  When you’re very stressed it’s too late in my experience.  You can’t diagnose yourself at that point.  Seek out mindfulness techniques and meditation now, not when you’ve crossed the line, not when you’re too busy to think.

One very big stated cause of regret is letting fear drive your decisions.

Psychology professor Hal Shorey says that there are two aspects to this that lead to regret.

First that instead of taking healthy risks and following your passions and intuition people worry that they won’t be up to the job, or that the choice won’t meet the standards that other people have for them and so make choices that aren’t really right for them.  I can remember being on the brink of what felt like a huge career decision, several people thought and told me I was making the wrong one and of course I was filled with anxiety.  Then a friend said to me “well the decisions you’ve made so far haven’t been that bad have they, and also if it doesn’t work out you’ll go and do something else instead”.
That outside perspective stabilised me into what turned out to be a key step in my career.

The second consequence of fear based decisions is ethical regrets according to Shorey.  He says: “with a lot of my grads, they’re making good money for the first time in their lives, and they think to themselves, “oh my goodness, I’ve arrived.” Then they’ll be asked to do things professionally that they may think are unethical or go against their own knowledge of leadership and because they’re concerned about losing the job they go along and conform”.

Conform, and live with a lifetime of regret.

According to our own research, conducted by Lightspeed in the UK, USA and Russia for our new book, The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business, more than 40% of women surveyed regret their career choice – an upsetting number – though perhaps understandable given the glass walls so many women face in the workplace.

Kathryn and I wrote the book because we don’t want any women to be disappointed with their career paths.  Indeed we hope the book well improve a system that seems stuck in an unhelpful and unprofitable cycle of disappointed careers and frustrated intentions.  We would have regretted very much staying silent on this issue.

Fast Company Magazine writer Gwen Moran says that it’s not possible to map out a strategy for a regret-free life, and some regrets of course are bigger than others.  Some we get over, some stick with us for ever.

When you’re considering the next move in your career think seriously about what your regrets would be, what opportunities you’ll never get over if you miss them.  Most crucially, a year from now, what could you have achieved, what difference can you make?  And how can you set about doing it?


How did we do that and what can we learn?

September 20th, 2016

_90885783_team_gbAs we waved Team GB off on the way to Rio were you thinking what I was thinking?

“Good luck, hope you do well, but I don’t really expect you to bring back as many medals as London 2012”.

Team GB defied my expectations.  The best accumulation of medals in 108 years.  A spread of medals across more sports than any other nation.

Where academic studies have found that gdp and Olympic performance are inextricably linked (rich countries do better), GB punches significantly above its economic weight.

How did we do that?

Significant investment in sport, funded in part by the Lottery.

In terms of outcomes, the National Lottery money spent on sport seems money well spent.  In the first Olympics after the lottery launch (when the investment clearly hadn’t had time to bear fruit) GB won just one gold medal in 1996.  This year’s success shows exponential improvement.

It is perhaps a sign of the great British success that the haul isn’t without criticism.  Outside the UK questions have been raised, and you might say that people have been quite rude.

Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper ran a story questioning the success in cycling and stating that it has led rivals to wonder “if there isn’t something fishy going on with the Brits”.  Outrageous.

El Pais in Spain said that GB’s pursuit of medals was “brutal and heartless”.

Focussed certainly.

Sports with the best chance of medals get more investment.

Lesson one from the Olympic experience is that UK Sport have been calculated in their efforts to deliver step change.

They have supported areas of strength.  Any business that milks its strong brands or divisions in order to take a punt on step-changing areas of weakness (and supposed potential) should remember Team GB when the experiment doesn’t pay off.

UK Sport’s website features the #Discoveryourgold programme.

Any athlete can apply to be assessed for this programme, and success stories include Winter Olympics medal winner Lizzy Yarnold.  Lizzy applied for the UK Sport and EIS Talent ID campaign, Girls4Gold in 2008 having never tried Skeleton before. With the help of the World Class Coaches and Support Team, inside just five years Lizzy won gold in Sochi 2014.

So as well as focussing investment behind areas of strength, UK Sport have tried to broaden the talent pool, take people with no track record and make them champions.

Does this contrast with how the UK is doing at academic subjects at school?

Academically there’s a huge talent problem.  This year’s GCSE results have fallen again and thousands of teenagers will be faced with inadequate results in English and Maths.

We’ve spent 20 years finding and supporting talent in sport.  We’ve spent the last decade screwing up some people’s potential academically.

Apprentice schemes such as the one we run at MediaCom scour the talent market place for individuals who have been failed by schools in one way or another.  The level of grit that some of the candidates have developed over the years is actually perfect preparation for a job in media.

The second lesson to learn from the UK Sport is to open up opportunities to everyone.  If you write people off who haven’t performed against conventional benchmarks or followed the normal path to work then you end up with a company of people who can only perform conventionally.  In this media environment where change is the norm that’s a dangerous place to be.