Pitch rehearsals in the dark.

January 26th, 2015

Men may have outnumbered women on stage by some margin at the Marketing Society conference but the women who did feature were amazing.


Kirsty Wark chaired the day with charm.  Carolyn McCall never disappoints.  She’s always great, either personally, where she is nothing but kind, nor professionally where she is always as impressive as her reputation. Sarah Sands talked about taking the Evening Standard from paid for to free – real step change in business model.


Orit Wolf opened the conference on the grand piano with an amazing Chopin performance.  She then returned to the stage to talk to the audience about her experiences in her professional life.  She is at the top of her profession, and it is always a joy to see someone perform at this level whatever their job.  The passion is clear, whether a sportsman, an entrepreneur, a CEO, a marketer or as in this case a musician. (The agenda for the day included all of the above and more).


Orit spoke about when things go wrong, overcoming which she believed taught us most about how to reset the agenda (the overall theme of the day) and the importance of learning to improvise.  One anecdote had her arriving, early in her career, to find that the piano she was expected to perform on lacked a key.  The C sharp had come lose and was lying next to the piano.  She instantly demanded a tuner to replace the key and repair the instrument.  She was told that they didn’t work weekends.  When she said that she couldn’t possibly go on with a missing key the man she was dealing with waved at the keyboard and pointed out that all the other keys were there – couldn’t she make do with them … There were so many of them and they were all intact.  Orit called for superglue and improvised.


Things go wrong for all of us sometimes and yet we have a culture of rewriting history to make it look as if it all went smoothly – we work in marketing services after all.


Wolf suggests that we all write a cv of our failures.  She is an advocate of practising with her eyes closed.  It ensures that you really know your stuff.  Pitch practices in the dark, without any IT and with someone throwing a curve ball in the room.  Let’s do it.





“Have you noticed how the best planners are often biologists?” Rory Sutherland

January 26th, 2015

This throwaway comment, from the Grand Rory, gave me pause to think.


Biologists, really?  Rory believes they best understand how the brain works.  A biology graduate would have great expertise in the reptilian brain for instance, which helps to explain system 1 vs system 2 thinking that many consider crucial to predicting behaviour.


The very notion that the best planners are graduates of higher education is worth challenging as it is.  I’ve worked with brilliant planners whose education was finished in the school of life.


If there is a debate about which university subject is best fit for a planner then we must consider maths.  Sir Martin Sorrell’s remark that the advertising industry is populated by “math men not mad men” has been quoted frequently.  Without a doubt a grasp of maths is essential.  Even an understanding of the algorithm: this year’s explanation for nearly everything clever.  Recently I’ve been surprised when I fired the once notorious entry level interview question that I was asked at a couple of very senior executives. They could only give me an approximation of the correct answer.  (What is 70 percent of 7?).


Let’s not bring a degree in advertising into this.  Rory’s point is around what non-vocational degree best suits.


Psychology trains you in what really motivates.  English, Drama, Film studies help with crucial skills in storytelling.  In our global economy a Geography degree will at least mean that you know what continent you’re being sent to in order to put out fires or to grasp a palm.


IMHO History gives you the best preparation for life as a planner.  A student of history grasps how to interpret research and how to balance information from wildly different and subjective sources.  They’ll understand the impact of new technology on civilisation (eg the printing press, often remarked on as the first time that tech allowed radical thoughts to be democratised to the masses).  The role of celebrities in culture from Cleopatra to Mrs Simpson*.  Politics, economics, king makers, revolutions, the power of the meme and how communication spreads.  Good historians are curious about everything. Above all history gives you perspective and of course understanding of how important it is to learn from the past, the good, the bad, the successes and the mistakes.


*(Are you thinking: a) Marge; b) Edward VIII’s missus c) Fightstar’s lead vocalist’s mum ?)





Love and Laugh

December 9th, 2014

The other day I was chatting to the head of a media company about how one of his new recruits had settled in.  He’s said that his new employee, a senior executive, had settled in well, and was already making a great contribution.  He’d reported that he’d already had more laughs in the first few months of the new team than in his years at a previous job.


This is startling isn’t it? Shouldn’t every business have the time and space for a few laughs, a bit of gentle banter and some affectionate piss taking?


It should.  It doesn’t hurt anyone’s professionalism to chill out at the end (or during) a hard day at work.  My old coach would agree with me.  He’d talk about leadership not as command and control but in the context of helping the people you work with to get the best out of your team.  During coaching sessions he’d show movie clips to illustrate true love and passion in working relationships. There were clips from The Matrix (for instance the kiss where Persephone wants Neo to kiss her like he kisses his true love) and from Ali (to illustrate team work and faith :”I wanna be in your corner”).


We didn’t discuss my favourite movie about a working relationship (I was the coached not the coach), so allow me to reveal it here.  Clearly the protagonists’ occupation is far from exemplary, indeed it is appalling, but the team dynamic is superb.   Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the story of one of the most beautiful and until the very end effective working relationships captured on the big screen.


From the very beginning where Butch apparently “rescues” Sundance from an accusation of cheating the sense of absolute trust and love between the protagonists is wonderfully narrated.


There’s the knife fight where Butch has to win back leadership of the Hole in the Wall Gang.  Butch says to Sundance “Maybe there’s a way to profit from this, bet on Logan”.  Sundance responds ” I would but who’d bet on you? ” When Logan, the challenger, says “When it’s over and Butch is dead, you’re welcome in the gang” Butch whispers to Sundance “I don’t mean to be a sore loser, but when it’s over, if I’m dead, kill him” and Sundance replies “Love to”.


Great trust, great love, perfect understanding of and respect for each others strengths and weaknesses, countered by almost constant mild insults, lots of laughs.  If you can have that with your colleagues then your work culture is a good as it gets (and the HBR agrees).



The XX Factor

December 1st, 2014

“Notice anything unusual about this panel? Yes, it’s all-female. And yet male panels, or those with one woman, are so common, they go unremarked. Our industry is filled with incredible women, but the future isn’t female – just equal.” Lindsey Clay, chief executive, Thinkbox in Campaign Magazine.

It really is about time we made progress on this issue.

I’ve rarely been on an industry panel with a majority of women.  Yet I sit in meetings every week at MediaCom where it is of course common place.

What’s different about 124 Theobalds Road ? We have never had gender quotas.  Our business returns a great set of results consistently.  We are a meritocracy.  We don’t only promote women because we work in a business that ultimately markets products bought by women.

Arguments about women knowing better how to sell to women are irrelevant.  Was it a problem when Karen Blackett was the director on an account that predominantly sells fast cars to men? Of course not.  What was a problem was when I arrived at a previous agency to find that I had been given the Royal Doulton China Figurines account because I was a woman.  My ability to empathise as an urban twenty something with whatever drives ladies to spend north of a pony on one was not aided by my gender.

Confidence is one of the key issues hampering women’s career progression according to Atlantic Magazine.  They think that women are less confident than men professionally.  When they are equally confident then they’re labelled ball breakers.

Not everyone will agree with authors Kay and Shipman.  This isn’t the only reason for a lack of equality in the numbers of women leaders. But the good news about a confidence gap is that it can be overcome.  This is why Kathryn Jacob and I are writing a book packed with the kind of career advice you never get taught, including how to acquire confidence.  As one Atlantic correspondent writes : “Ten years ago I began teaching shy medical students “tricks of the trade” for appearing confident.. Early on I noticed that just by practising techniques for appearing confident, my students began to feel more confident… With enormous positive implications for improving lives.”

If anyone has any stories, tips or tactics for our book, please get in touch.  As for what’s different about MediaCom, I hope and believe that we have a culture that encourages everyone’s confidence, regardless of their gender.




Tighter Targeting Doesn’t Mean Better Persuasion

November 24th, 2014

“The weakness of modern strategy is that it is too reliant on technology.  The triumph of accuracy of outputs with no impact on outcomes”.  Hidden Histories GPS BBC.

I am sometimes asked about how programmatic will transform advertising.  Clearly a benefit of programmatic is pinpoint accuracy and the reduction of wastage.  But when we consider how it will transform advertising strategy overall we can look to the impact of GPS on military strategy as a related world.

I love my GPS.  My relationship with GPS did get off to a rocky start as I tended to take the bossy voice of the navigator too literally and was directed across a river in full flood down in Cornwall once.  Common sense prevailed but it was a disappointment.  Now I wouldn’t be without it and thanks to Google Maps on my phone can rely on not getting lost anywhere I go.

Soldiers used to have to find their way around using a compass and a map.  The first satellite navigation system Transit was used by the United States Navy in 1960.

The development of GPS came about on a Labor Day weekend in 1973 when a meeting of twelve military officers at the Pentagon discussed the creation of a Defense Navigation Satellite System (DNSS). It was at this meeting that “the real synthesis that became GPS was created.”  But it is President Reagan who we must thank for its everyday use in stopping us losing our way.

For years it was a military system only but after a tragic incident when a Korean Air Lines Flight carrying 269 people was shot down in 1983, when it strayed into the USSR’s prohibited airspace, President Ronald Reagan issued a directive making GPS freely available for civilian use, once it was sufficiently developed, as a common good.

It is still of course used in military circumstances and as we know from the current series of Homeland is used to pinpoint accuracy for the deployment of drones.

So technology has massively improved the accuracy of targeting.  But as the comment opening this blog points out, it has done nothing to improve the persuasion of opponents to a different point of view.

What is the objective of military strategy? Usually it is a good peace. More accurate missiles are clearly a great thing in the short term.  Winning only comes about if we convince the opponent to a different point of view.

Convincing the potential consumer of a brand of our point of view is of course a major part of advertising strategy.  More accurate targeting via programmatic is a good thing. It is only important if we can persuade the consumer of a brand’s point of view at the same time.