They’re coming and they’re alive!

February 18th, 2020

WALL-E. SADNESS“The cuteness of robots may make us lower our guard and forget questions of privacy and security”.

This warning comes from Cherie Lacey, writing in Cosmo back in 2017.  Your day to day interactions with robots may be different to mine, but I wouldn’t characterise them as super cute.

In fact, individuals, who are leading how tech is transforming our industry, seem frequently to have a recurring question about the balance between the speed and efficiency that tech promises and the workload that it creates now to put it in place.

This is in big contrast with the machine robot revolution that liberated millions of women from their household chores last century.  Whilst the current gen of robots are seemingly making more work for individuals or shifting the balance of who does the work (after all phone banking means that you do the work instead of a bank teller), the introduction of the vacuum cleaner and washing machine meant significant time saved at home which allowed huge change in women’s lives.

In 1900, the average household spent 58 hours a week on housework, including meal preparation, laundry, and cleaning—a figure that dropped to 18 hours in 1975.  A US housewife, Mrs Verrett, reported to one survey that her washing took her 4 hours to wash by hand. With her new washing machine this transformed to 41 minutes.  Without the machine she walked 3,181 feet to do the washing versus 332 feet with the machine.  In 1920, an article in the Ladies’ Home Journal entitled “Making Housekeeping Automatic” claimed that appliances could save a four-person family 18.5 hours a week in housework.

This machine revolution freed up women to take jobs outside the home and boosted the economy, with more leisure time and more disposable income to spend on it.

One question this poses is: When the robot revolution frees up media people what will they spend their time on?

Planning for this is an essential part of any business in our sector’s transformation agenda.  This isn’t just about getting the robots working.  It is about how to leverage the benefits across the whole agency.

The second issue that Lacey’s comment raises is privacy and confidentiality.  Security of data is the business of media agencies, and managing this is our trade.  In life outside the walls of agencies though robots are getting smaller and cleverer, and yes they are coming alive.

To date, despite huge differences between the robots of science fiction and the robots in our offices, there has been one firm similarity as The Economist pointed out in January.  They are mechanical, built from metal and plastic and stuffed with electronics.

This won’t be the case in future.  A team at the University of Vermont and Tufts University have designed organic robots from biological cells.  Just a millimetre in size these xenobots can move and perform simple tasks.  They are capable of behaving autonomously and might be capable of reproducing themselves.  Currently they have short lives, a couple of weeks at most, and they can’t nourish themselves, but all of this is open to experimentation, and may need regulation, as it raises the possibility of “escapees establishing themselves in the wild”.

Super cute robots sound joyful in comparison to this.

 

 

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How to be happy

February 4th, 2020


happy dancersAdvertising makes people unhappy.

This news comes from Professor Oswald of the University of Warwick who asserts that the higher ad spend is the more miserable people become.

He says this is because ads make us want what we don’t or can’t have and comments: “The idea is a very old one: Before I can decide how happy I am, I have to look over my shoulder, consciously or subconsciously, and see how other people are doing”.  So status anxiety is to blame, status anxiety which we know is an innate human drive.

Oswald and his team compared life satisfaction data of over 900k European citizens in 27 countries with ad spend  from 1980 to  2011 and found an inverse connection ie as ad spend grew, satisfaction declined.

Is this another condemnation of our industry?

Does this make the ad industry the enemy?

Or is there something more profound to read into this survey’s results?

Ad spend follows consumption.  Arguably as citizens of a country have an increase in disposable income their problem list changes – it moves from worrying about whether they are safe on the street, and violence, to worrying about who has the best phone, car, shoes, watch.

The problems ascend Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

On the one hand then, maybe if you’re unhappy about whether you have all the things you see advertised, it’s a lot better than being unhappy about your physical safety or whether you have enough to eat or a whether what you say will get you arrested.

Happiness is an elusive emotion.  You’ll be happy if you do not want what you do not have, as Sinead O’Connor once sang, but ensuring psychological calm is not the role of advertising, however angsty agency people might get around purpose.  (Seekers instead must refer to art, music, literature, religion, self help and spirituality.)

This survey then, which features in the thought leading HBR, should not be a trigger of more outrage about our profession.  It’s a description what happens when human nature gets to develop in comfort, rather than in conditions of stress.  Just as any contented sibling soon learns to want exactly the toy that their sibling is playing with, or only to want to sit in the buggy if it is already occupied by another child, the yearning that can be stimulated by advertising is simply unavoidable.

We cannot take responsibility for the happiness of nations, but we can take responsibility to ensure that our advertising appeals to the better side of human nature.  We can combine purpose with commerce as many best practice case studies have revealed.  When Skittles removed the rainbow from their packaging, they sold more product and raised awareness of Pride.  When Lloyds created a programme about better communications in the family unit about money they solved a painful dilemma as well as improving saliency.

Media strategy is our responsibility too, we must ensure that chasing audience numbers is not done through bombardment or from appealing to the worst of human instincts.

And if we want to be happy in 2020, then we need to focus on what is most important.

 

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It’s time for the forecast

January 21st, 2020

bkI once overheard an American mocking the British weather forecast: “Basically it’s always “rainy with sunny intervals” except when its “sunny with a chance of rain”.

Weather forecasts have become more accurate.  Even in Britain. Though the public still loves to complain when they get it wrong.

We also love nothing more than a famously failed prediction.  There’s Michael Fish who, a few hours before the Great Storm of 1987 broke, on 15 October 1987, said during a forecast: “Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way. Well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t!”. The storm was the worst to hit South East England for three centuries.  The “unsinkable Titanic”.  The forecast from Mary Somerville that “TV won’t last, its just a flash in the pan”.  “Rock and roll will be gone by June” (Variety Magazine 1955).  And of course Decca Records on refusing to sign the Beatles : “Guitar music is on the way out.”

There’s media predictions each year.  How often do we check in on their accuracy.  In clearing the clutter from a bookcase I came across a book of predictions about TV in the 21st century that was published in 2004.

Mark Howe, now md, emea agencies, at Google, created the book for the long gone TV sales house: ids.  In his introduction he wrote: “one common thread running through is that our business has seen an ‘evolutionary change’…yet conspicuous by their absence are the accompanying changes to our working practices which we seem unwilling or unable to tackle… risk-aversion and a desire to keep the status quo.”  Tough words, yet there are still areas of our industry that are characterised by this, and they are not the areas that are thriving.

Paddy Barwise rightly pointed out that “interactive digital TV is not the internet on your TV”.

Mandy Pooler wrote: “media agencies are the ones with cash to invest in a creative product.”

In 2004 I wrote: “There is no longer a line between media and creativity” and “in the future a team will optimise airtime and space according to streams of data… and TV buyers will continue to spend summer on the golf course and have an  annual punch-up at Christmas”.  Call me Mystic Meg.

What’s up for 2020?

MediaCom’s 2020 media predictions are here.

I clearly see that there’s a movement strategically from the binary, either/or, thinking, that plagued 2019 in all kinds of ways, to seeing the bigger picture, considering all of the communications systems effects and how they together contribute to brand growth.

And I predict that diversity and inclusion movements will continue to gain momentum, and do it with meaning rather than being just a tick box exercise. The best companies will start to reap the benefits – the pot of gold at the end of the diversity rainbow.  Those companies that don’t really mean it though, the ones where it isn’t a cultural imperative, but just an HR endeavour, they’ll struggle to recruit and retain key talent.

Diversity of thinking is as crucial in this as heritage, race, religion, sexual preferences or disability.  Unless everyone in the business has a real sense of belonging and a sense that they are responsible for the culture there won’t be progress.

For a sunny forecast for 2020,  real change in this respect is needed and new ideas must gain traction (as Howe stated back in 2004).

 

 

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How clear is your desk?

January 1st, 2020

deskHow clear is your desk?  Mine is perpetually cluttered.  With apologies to those amongst us who love order above all things, I find it easier to work amongst an element of clutter.  It seems to help my thinking and to drive cross pollination, an essential ingredient of creativity for me.

There’s some personal items: photos of my family, objects with significant meaning including the mug that Kathryn Jacob (CEO of Pearl and Dean and my co-author for The Glass Wall) gave me which is too boastful to use, but holds my collection of pens, and a stapler that looks like a goldfish.

Many people have to have clear desks – its company policy.  I’m lucky to have the option.  There has long been a fashionable corporate idea that there should be no personal items on people’s desks.  No photos, kids’ drawings, no mugs.  It’s meant to add to everyone’s focus, eliminate distractions.

This wouldn’t have worked for me, particularly when I first returned from mat leave.  Photos of my children were essential – without the photos I would have missed them much too much.

In the MediaCom Connected Podcast we ask a series of regular questions including: “If your home fell down, every living person and thing is safely outside, and you were able to retrieve 3 personal items what would they be?”  This question always reveals so much about our guest.

Sometimes, occasionally, the guest of the show has absolutely no answer.  These are the minimalists.  Those people I would guess who would thrive with a clean desk policy.  Bruce Dailey at Twitter, for example, couldn’t think of a single item he cared enough about.  Mostly however, there’s a reply, often very moving, and usually about something that has personal and emotional value to the speaker.

Stephen Allan (MediaCom’s worldwide ceo) talked about the sailor’s ribbon that his father had been given on the notorious Voyage of the Damned – a ship that sailed with Jewish refugees from Germany on the brink of war after his grandfather had been imprisoned, and then released from a concentration camp and allowed to travel on this ship as a concession to international pressure; but with no safe harbour.

Dom Joseph (Captify’s ceo) would grab a picture of his mum at 19, and an original photograph of Kurt Cobain.

MediaCom’s current ceo Kate Rowlinson would take the poster from the first time she saw Queens of the Stone Age perform live in Australia.

Rob Norman (digital guru) has a copy of Allan Ginsberg’s poem Angkor Wat annotated by the author.

And Campaign’s Claire Beale would pick up a musical box in the shape of a chalet that belonged to her dad.

I could go on, there are many more.  All well and good, but had we better keep them out of the workplace because they are distracting?

In Rebel Ideas, the new Matthew Syed book, he recounts a scientific experiment that proves that the “Lean Office” ie the clean desk policy, isn’t efficient or productive.

Exeter University professor Craig Knight carried out a controlled test of two groups of people.  The first group worked in a clean desk minimalist environment.   The second group had plants, and pictures on the walls.  Group 2 performed 15% better.  Knight then took a third group and allowed them to personalise their workspace, however they wanted to.  These spaces were very different.  Some of them were minimal.  Others looked like my desk on a cluttered day.  Productivity soared.  Up 30%.  “Give people autonomy and they come up with something better than anything else” concludes Knight.  Syed comments that the power in this lay with personalisation: ”People could design spaces that they liked.  They could mould the space to their own characteristics.  This may sound like a small thing, but it is actually a very big thing.  It was an approach that took diversity seriously.”

Makes cleaning the office more tricky.  Might be worth it for 30% improvement in productivity.

Delivering diversity is not just about statistics about the make up of the workforce.  It’s about adjusting the workplace to suit individuals and allowing everyone a sense of belonging.

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Don’t get mad, get brave

December 16th, 2019

gwccThe bravery of the intransigent.

At the “Bravest” Marketing Society Conference in November Tesco Chair and CBI president John Allan explained his own interpretation of bravery at work.  Commenting that risking unpopularity by disagreeing with the status quo didn’t require the same bravery as the day job of a fire fighter he talked about his early experiences of standing up and being counted.  In his first role as a junior brand manager it was business practice for the most senior people in the room to comment on work last.  There was nowhere to hide and it wasn’t possible to just agree with the highest paid person in the room.

John commented that he has learnt more from his failures than from his successes, something that is clearly true generally.

It is hard though to talk about failures.  Its difficult to speak about detours and twists in the road, even wrong turnings, when so much business culture is about continuous fast improvement and showing no weakness to anyone.

That’s why at our Glass Wall Network event recently we invited panellists to talk about times when they were up to their necks in hot water and how they got themselves out of it.  The Glass Wall Network is open to everyone but is named for our book about diversity at work.  As women are sometimes stereotypically characterised as less strong so we asked 3 extremely strong women to come and talk about how they became this way.  Eleanor Roosevelt (American First Lady, not a panellist) once said “Women are like teabags, you don’t know how strong they are until they are in hot water”.

What’s clear is that often strength comes from getting really pissed off, from intransigence.  Claudine Collins, MediaCom’s Chief Client Officer, told us where her bravery in face of difficulties came from.  She mentioned a time at her first job in media when she was shouted at by an irate boss for something she hadn’t done.  She told him, if he didn’t stop shouting at her she’d walk out.  He carried on shouting.  She walked out.  And didn’t go back the next day.  Didn’t go back in fact until he’d apologised and properly listened to her demands for better behaviour.

As we wrote in The Glass Wall, Success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business, anger can often be very nuanced for people.  Some people are very worried about expressing their anger.  It can make you unpopular.  It can show that you are emotional.  Bottling it up though is one of the worst things you can do in terms of generating unhelpful stress in the workplace.  And faking forgiveness is bad for you too.  A Harvard Medical School study followed more than eight hundred people over forty years and concluded that though it is important to stay in control when you stand your ground, that taking action about something that matters enough to you to make you furious will be better for you and for your career and actually I’d say for the business you work in too.  Much better than simply sucking it up and swallowing the frustration.

Many people prefer to sit on their anger rather than find a way of expressing it.  But anger is an energy and it can propel positive change.   Continually swallowing your anger will sap your strength and contribute to making your business slow to transform.

Use your anger to fuel bravery.  Don’t put up with unfairness, challenge the status quo and drive your career.

 

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