Clown school lessons in listening

May 15th, 2017

chaplinThis week I experienced clown school.

No, I have not had a lifelong ambition to don a red nose and big shoes.  Nor have I discovered a hitherto unknown love of slapstick.

At a networking event for Rada for Business we had a taster of what clown school is like.

One of the exercises involved one participant leaving the room while another picked a pose with a chair.  A particular way of sitting, standing or leaning on it.  Our first picker chose the classic Christine Keeler pose.

The subject who left the room then returned and had to guess what pose we’d chosen.  However there was no verbal communication allowed.  As the subject tried out different poses we were meant to show through non-verbal encouragement (applause or the lack of it) whether they were warmer or colder in finding the right pose.

The exercise was more fun for the audience than it was for the subject.

Subject one actually found the Christine Keeler pose reasonably quickly.  Subject two, who had to guess a different pose, to sit sideways and cross her legs elegantly, really struggled.  The more the subject struggled, the more heightened the emotions in the room.  She kept trying different poses of all kinds.  Moving different parts of her body in lots of contortions.   The one thing she didn’t try was crossing her legs left to right instead of right to left.  It was frustrating to watch her.  The journey felt hopeless in the end and we were glad to stop the exercise and clearly show her what was going wrong.

This exercise is useful to trainee clowns apparently because it helps them read the mood of the audience.  It teaches them to find ways to intuit what the paying audience wants but cannot express.

This exercise would also be useful to anyone who is navigating a business relationship that has hit rocky waters.  That could be trade press to agency, client to agency, agency to media owner, you and your colleagues, you and your boss.

Useful in two ways.

First because it requires you to stop listening only to what is being said (as nothing is being said) and instead be attuned to non-verbal communication.  Sometimes when relationships break down we demand a chapter and verse detailing of what has gone awry.  Whilst this may prove a cathartic bit of venting for the aggrieved party it can also be misleading.  If the problem is really that one party just doesn’t “get” the other one it might not be much help.  And we know (or we think we know), that more than 90% of communication is non-verbal.  Yet we demand, rather righteously, that a detailed list of the problems be delivered (verbally) so we can fix them. Which we may then try very hard to do without fixing anything close to the real issues.

Clown school would stop you making that mistake.

Secondly it teaches how important it is to be inventive with agility.  Our second subject at Clown School just lost heart and dried up.  We were so anxious for her to succeed.  With every non-verbal cue at our command we tried to get her to cross her legs the other way.  Apparently, according to our moderator, comic Viv Groskop, in real clown school there is no letting you off the hook.  You keep trying new poses until you get it right.  She said she’d seen grown men reduced to tears in this exercise.

Sometimes even when both parties in a business relationship mean well things can go wrong.  It is crucial to stay positive and try new things.

It is crucial to really listen to each other, beyond what either of you are saying.




Measured caution or risk aversion?

May 10th, 2017
BARCELONA, SPAIN - Tuesday, April 24, 2012: Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic and FC Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez during the UEFA Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg match at the Camp Nou. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

BARCELONA, SPAIN – Tuesday, April 24, 2012: Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic and FC Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez during the UEFA Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg match at the Camp Nou. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It’s always a pleasure to watch Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy in full flow.  If you haven’t seen him speak, here’s a collection of his bon mots.

Last time I saw him speak he was holding the ad industry to account for a lack of risk taking.  He said: “is the industry programmed to think too small?  Is too much effort directed at arse-covering under the guise of rigour?”

The belief in the importance of rigour is a good thing.  Media practitioners are involved in spending money on behalf of clients and to do so on a whim and without evidence is clearly both inappropriate and inexcusable.  Without a good base of evidence you cannot expect to drive better efficiency and effectiveness.

If however you only ever spend money on stuff that has been proven to work in the past how on earth are you able to innovate?

In 2012 Chelsea played Barcelona in the semi-final of the Champions League.  It’s probably fair to say that most people who watched the game on the TV in the UK, excluding Chelsea fans, were rooting for Barcelona, home of some of the most beautiful football in the world at that point.  (It also probably goes without saying that if you’re not an active Chelsea fan in the UK you’d prefer to see them lose.)

I watched my partner watch the game.  At the end of it he was yelling “Just stick it in the mixer!”

I had to ask him what that meant.  He said that Barcelona were renowned for their passing game and maintaining possession of the ball.  They knew what worked, and what didn’t work, and played to a system that made them extraordinarily successful, and conquered all before them.  A system that they refined all the time, but that they didn’t like to deviate from.  Unfortunately for Barcelona fans (or anyway non-supporters of Chelsea) the only people who understood Barcelona’s system better than Barcelona were Chelsea.

Their fans were desperate for Barcelona to deviate from their system of keeping the ball in possession and take some chances.  To stick it in the mixer (goal area) and not worry about the chance of giving the ball away.  As one commentator wrote: “No-one would have been hailing a defensive masterclass from Chelsea if Barcelona had taken just one of their glaring opportunities. Then the talk would have been about how Barcelona had unscrewed the wheels on Chelsea’s parked bus and left a load of cardboard boxes in their place; how they’d paid for being so defensive and so anti-football.  But they didn’t so Chelsea’s plan can be judged to have worked to perfection.”

How many glaring opportunities are passing by because the rigour of media means that they can’t be proved to work in advance of trying?  Managing innovative thinking is crucial.  If everything is changing so fast, and we’re spending all our time looking at what just happened how on earth can we have the ideas or the impetus, let alone the time to plan the different?

There needs to be a balance between following the rules and justifying actions on the basis of data, and taking a leap into the unknown.  Sometimes, most of the time, sticking to the tried system is good and proper.  Sometimes you need to stick it in the mixer for any chance of a win.


Forensic media planning

May 2nd, 2017

forensicThe new forensics of media will change how we evaluate media, just as forensic DNA revolutionised criminal investigations.

The introduction of forensic DNA in criminal investigations in 1985 revolutionised the field.  Before this date, crime scenes relied on much patchier evidence.  If the criminal wore gloves, there’d be no fingerprints, so any astute crook could avoid the only sure form of identification for someone unseen.

Dr Henry Lee, one of the world’s foremost forensic scientists, calls 1985 a turning point in criminology.  “DNA proficiency has made revolutionary contributions to forensic science,” Dr. Lee says. “In the forensic world, its impact has been felt as profoundly as the discovery of fire and the invention of the Gutenberg press.

“Since this breakthrough in the 1980s, innovations and new applications have occurred with breath taking speed. Advances in miniaturization and microchip technologies have been combined with the analytic techniques of DNA analysis to give us impressive new capabilities. DNA science has solved crimes considered otherwise unsolvable.”

Those of us fortunate enough to lack personal involvement in crimes can look on from the side lines, fascinated by the advances, and the iterations of the science.  It is a popular form of fiction.  There’s always a CSI on somewhere on the Sky EPG and modern crime fiction dominates literature sales on an ongoing basis.

Investigative reporting of real crime is fascinating too and new developments continue to improve accuracy and precision.

In 2009 crime scene evidence from the tragic death of Sierra Bouzigard in Louisiana led police to investigate a crew of undocumented Mexican workers because of a call made from her mobile.  There was DNA evidence too at the scene, all the police needed was a match.  But none of the suspects matched the evidence, nor was there any match in the FBI database.  The investigation stalled until 2015 when a lead DNA analyst Monica Quaal found a way of conjuring up a physical likeness from the DNA which didn’t require a suspect or a match.  This process, known as phenotyping, produced a completely different suspect pool – the murderer was now believed to have freckles, light brown hair and green or blue eyes, of Northern European ancestry.  The case is still ongoing, but the police are still investigating and have been knocking on a completely new set of doors, thanks to this new development in forensics.

Media planners are faced with a step change in the amount and quality of evidence they can use to make the case for strategic decisions for a client’s brands.

Our industry must expect to feel challenged by the new technology, but also to find that the new forms of data evidence open up new avenues to decision making.  As we move away from proxy audience data, however robust, to big data sets with real time and location evidence, new strategies will emerge in established categories.  Just as with DNA how the evidence is applied is crucial to the outcome.  And just as with DNA evidence the effectiveness and efficiencies of the data today will continually evolve.  Sticking with the old ways of planning won’t do.  Nor will shifting from one established process to another unflexible one.  An openness and agility that allows for continual re-evaluation of strategic approach is crucial.


If you need to see it to be it then here’s more role models for girls

April 10th, 2017

femaleleadEdwina Dunn, famous for setting up the mother of big data DunnHunnby, has retired from her previous life in data analytics and is tackling a problem dear to all our hearts, how to inspire young women.

Her new book, The Female Lead, is designed to inspire the next generation of girls.  It takes the idea that you need to see it to be it and delivers at scale. The Female Lead is a non-profit organisation dedicated to making women’s stories more visible and offering alternative role models to those ever-present in popular culture. The project highlights the breadth of female achievement in order to offer inspiration for future generations.

The Female Lead creates a variety of spaces to present these stories including a book of 60 amazing women from around the world published in February, together with an online and social media presence, and an outreach programme for girls in schools, celebrating female role models who shape the world.

Edwina was interviewed at AdWeek Europe by Natasha Pearlman editor of Grazia.

Dunn talked about the gender divide that she’d seen in girls’ role models.  She said that girls have a smaller range of people that they look up to.  They will name their mother or sister, perhaps a celebrity (Kardashian inevitably).  Whereas boys seem to have a wider spectrum – footballers and business men included.

Our longitude study RWI’s Connected Kids, which has been surveying 1,200 8-19 year olds in the UK for over 15 years, shows that when specifically asked about people in the public eye as role models, girls do come up with business women, even if they might be celebrities first as well as sports heroes just as boys do.

When asked who in the public eye who they might see as role models the boys’ list includes: David Beckham, Alan Sugar, Bill Gates, Wayne Rooney, Richard Attenborough and Richard Branson.  Girls name: Emma Watson, Kylie Jenner, Beyonce, Scarlett Moffat, Little Mix and Jessica Ennis-Hill.

Furthermore girls’ career aspirations are far broader than when our survey started when hoped for careers were dominated by movie or pop star hopes.  So junior school girls now say that when they grow up they want to be a vet, teacher, policewoman, doctor, dentist and yes dancer.  Senior girls say: teacher, scientist, doctor, vet or lawyer.  For comparison boys say: Engineer, footballer, doctor, IT and gaming and scientist.

The Female Lead book will encourage even more young women to embrace a variety of career aspirations, including business.

Meanwhile at another highlight of Adweek, when Matt Schnecker himself interviewed Jamie Oliver, Oliver struggled to answer the question about who he considered a role model.  Eventually he arrived at Mayor Bloomberg (who was obviously a businessman who turned to politics – does this indicate Oliver’s future plans?  Might we get the Naked Mayor?)

He pointed out that Bloomberg is criticised by some for not achieving all of his goals.  Oliver’s view is that Bloomberg cast a stone into the pool and it is the ripples that are his achievement.  Even if all of his objectives haven’t necessarily been met.

The Female Lead is another stone into the pool of the status quo, and here’s hoping it creates ripples that deliver lasting change for young women.





April 3rd, 2017

Twitter chief Bruce Daisley used to have the wrong photo on his LinkedIn feed as he explained on the MediaCom Connected Podcast this month.   Instead of his happy smiling face, for a long time he had a picture of iconic British comedian Bob Monkhouse, a man who frankly does not bear much physical resemblance to Bruce.
Not many people are that aware of Monkhouse these days.  Jon Culshaw calls him the “Rolls Royce of gag tellers”.   The only joke that I can remember of his was that he used to say “They laughed at me when I said that when I grew up I wanted to be a comedian…. Well they’re not laughing now!”


Bruce takes comedy seriously.  He says that he “laughs every day in his job”, which might be a key part of his road to career success.


Being funny really drives status.


Colleagues who make others laugh are seen as more self-confident, competent and higher in status, according to a series of experiments by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Harvard Business School and reported by WSJ.


The average British worker has over 6000 meetings during the course of their career.  It would be a bit grim if none of them made you laugh.


The right sort of humour is crucial however.


During the course of writing The Glass Wall, Kathryn and I came across a gender divide as far as humour is concerned.


There might be a culture of banter in the workplace that blokes find incredibly funny, and women find very excluding, even if they laugh along with the jokes.


Creative legend Dave Trott explained the gender divide with his own joke: “Men insult each other all the time in the workplace, but they don’t really mean it.  Women compliment each other all the time at work, and they also don’t really mean it.”


This led us to ask: “Do women take “funny” seriously enough as a career boosting technique, and do men allow them to do so?”


One story that didn’t make it into our book involved a young account director at a creative agency who was specifically told by her boss (a man) not to open a presentation with a joke, because it was inappropriate for her status in the agency.  Was it because he thought it wasn’t a funny joke?  Or was it because he didn’t like the idea that she was funny?


There was a media storm last year when a City receptionist was sent home because her heels weren’t high enough.  Note that the story wasn’t about the fact that she was dressed smartly (no one was suggesting that she was wearing trainers or flip flops).


This led Times’ journalist Deborah Ross to write: “No woman has been told (as far as I’m aware) that perhaps, after lunch, it might be a good idea to reapply her wit if she wishes to get places…just lipstick and heels”.


On the contrary in The Glass Wall, we absolutely recognise the power of humour for women, both to respond to (and hopefully put a stop to) uncomfortable banter, and to win over your audience.  Everyone (regardless of gender) should consider putting the same amount of effort into devising the appropriate opening joke for a big presentation as they put into the rest of the content for that meeting.


Being funny is a serious career move.