Why our industry could do with being a bit more Wimbledon

August 1st, 2022

Serena practicing at Wimbledon. Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

A new film about John McEnroe was released as this year’s Wimbledon tennis tournament came to a close, which prompted me to think a bit about tennis.

McEnroe is famous of course for being outspoken.  In a corporate world some people find speaking bluntly can be difficult.  McEnroe’s view was that he was the “normal” one on the tennis court: “What I’ve always thought about myself is that I’m more like the normal guy than Björn is,” he goes on. “Björn’s the freak that could go out there and not change his expression for four hours. I’m the normal guy that gets frustrated on the court and expresses himself.”

He believed in winning at any cost, but goes on to say however that 37 therapists didn’t help him really be normal.

Is anyone who is world beating entirely “normal”?  Not by definition. 

Is it possible to win without ranting?  Yes of course. 

Has psyching out your opponent become common practice?  Yes of course.

Can you give robust feedback without upsetting people?  Undoubtedly, and here’s one highly successful contributor to my book, with co-author Kathryn Jacob OBE, The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business explaining how to give criticism so that it is well received: “Above all, I am authentic. I would say that what I do is the Shit Sandwich. I’m quite nice to people, I try and be understanding and empathetic and listen, but it doesn’t stop me from confronting what’s wrong. Nice, and then I’ll be horrible. But then I’ll say I love you, let’s have lunch. I get furious, but then I say, it’s only work, there are important things, let’s make friends.”

However, this is not how we should be more Wimbledon.

And its not by eating more strawberries and cream, or drinking more Pimms.

We should be more Wimbledon by adopting the rule of the second serve.

The genius of the tennis game lies in the second serve.

What other game, or profession, authorises you to make your best shot and have no worry about failure?

In tennis every player can shoot for the moon with their first serve, with no anxiety at all about it missing. 

Imagine how much more interesting to my mind (apologies to the purists) penalty shoot outs would be under these rules where every shooter would get two shots at goal. 

Imagine what this would do to our education system if a brave go was written into some subjects.

Think how you would feel in a pitch or answering a client brief if the rule was to go twice – first you shoot for the moon, then you give a safety shot.

Of course, we all have the option to give a range of solutions.  But that’s different, that’s about options not about ambition.   The Second Serve rule should be baked in, and I would recommend to any client giving a brief today that they try this as a mandatory and see what that does to the responses.

Our industry is transforming thanks to the advent (finally) of great AI and automation.  Efficient automation levels the playing field in mature markets, and means that competitive advantage lies in those businesses that fuel differentiation with creativity.

The second serve rule can transform that creativity.

5 things I learnt at Cannes 2022

July 15th, 2022

I won a free pass to Cannes this year, VIP, access all areas.  You can win one next year – just enter The Brief #2 – exercise some creativity for good, and, if you have the luck of the draw that I did, meet some friends for life and become part of the exclusive Cannes 1954 club.

Because I won a free pass I was particularly keen to make the most of it, and attended 20 sessions, took over 70 pages of notes (many of which were written in the dark of the theatres, and so may or may not be legible), and watched many many campaign entries.

Here’s 5 things that I learnt at Cannes this year.

#1 The Metaverse has power for good.

I’ve been quite open, but maybe a little skeptical, but have learnt to appreciate more possibilities.  RGA led a session where the possibility of the metaverse to allow people to be more themselves was brought to life: “From fixed identities to fluid”.  Their research shows that many current users feel that their avatar allows them to be more themselves than they can be in real life.   If this makes people happier, if you can try out different versions of yourself in a safe space and that helps your mental health and sense of Belonging, then let’s embrace it.  Its also important that we all get involved – this is a new world of media and you, readers, need to make sure it’s a good one.

Mark Curtis, head of innovation at Accenture Song, explained that the intimacy of the metaverse can deliver a stronger connection to the imagination about big issues.  He found that climate change impact had stronger meaning at Davos through this medium, and explained the huge impact on education via for instance the creation of a Favella in Roblox to explain different lived experiences to middle class kids.

#2 Be ambitious

The work that wins at Cannes in some respects simply blows your mind.  And so it should.  Some of the winning work has taught me that it is a trap to confine ambition to what seems possible.  The media Grand Prix Sheba Hope Reef campaign took the purpose behind using sustainable fish in the product and extended it into using resource to make the sea itself more sustainable. 

A small, pragmatic, and not quite against the law shift in one bank’s approach in Peru, has emancipated millions of women in this work for Mi Banco.

The mayor of London campaign firmly shifted the agenda from women keeping themselves safe to men taking action to behave better.

#3 Creativity feeds on speed, fun, punk energy and randomness.

David Guerrara showed us how important randomness is to creativity.  The movie star and ad maker Ryan Reynolds told us “the enemy of creativity is too much time and too much money”, and to look to social media creators who make brilliant things out of thin air.  Vicky Maguire raved about the punk energy she felt in Cannes this year: “we’re coming out fighting”.  I also loved Vicky’s 3 words to sum up the role of a CCO: “Generous, generous, generous”.

#4 Context is (once again) queen

Nancy Smith of Analytic Partners demonstrated that context is a multiplier on media effectiveness with her ROI Genome – great to see the science backing up instinct and experience on this.

#5 Allyship isn’t enough, be an accomplice

Shelly Zalis founder of FQ states: “Creativity starts with diversity”.  (This I already knew!).  Then Adrienne C. Smith told us that allies in the workplace are not enough.  You need accomplices – people who will support you and push for fairness and inclusion in every way there is, even if it means breaking some rules and some conventions (many of which need breaking).  Love the idea of this, adding it to our list of roles you need to show up for others in your career.  We’ve seen that diversity has not progressed fast enough.  Don’t just be an ally, become an accomplice. 

Finally – with the right stimulus – you never ever stop learning in our business. 

There has been little or no improvement in diversity or inclusion at work despite increased focus on this area over the past two years  – new research reveals.

July 1st, 2022

Despite more than £6 billion being spent on Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, the workplace is still full of inequality, prejudice, discrimination, marginalisation and harassment.

More than £6bn ($7.5bn) is spent on diversity and inclusion initiatives every year. There is very little evidence, however, that this expenditure in fact leads to increased diversity, especially at the top of business.

Newly published research (carried out in two phases, in early 2020 and then in late 2021)  shows that – despite the huge focus on this area that followed the murder of George Floyd and the BLM protests – the workplace is still full of inequality and unfairness, prejudice and discrimination.

Almost one in three people in the UK have felt excluded or marginalized at work because of their beliefs, personal circumstances or identity.

However, this rises to:

•          54% of 18–24-year-olds,

•          46% of mums returning from maternity leave,

•          over a third of BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic),

•          52% of people who are registered disabled,

•          and 50% who are neurodivergent.

One in three women expecting their first child have felt excluded in the UK.

Disappointingly many of these numbers have risen despite significantly increased spending by corporations on DE&I.

A deep dive into the marketing and pr sector is troubling. 

As far as the proportion who have felt excluded is concerned this has risen between 2020 and 2021 from a third, to 41%. 

The research further reveals:

  • Only half the UK workforce think that the leader of their company takes personal responsibility for diversity.  Its also true that half the marketing and pr workforce believe this too.  However, this is a decrease from the statistics in 2020 when nearly two thirds had this belief.
  • A third of people in the workplace find office banter uncomfortable. This rises to half of 18–24-year-olds in the UK; 37% of LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or queer, and plus – other sexual communities) in the UK; and 38% BAME UK.  51% of our sector think this, and this too has worsened in the last year from under a third in 2020.
  • One in three people feel that they can’t bring their whole self to work and that they cannot be truly open about themselves. And more women than men feel this is the case. And it stands true for our sector.
  • Shockingly, one in four people have experienced bias, harassment or inappropriate behaviour at work. This rises to 39% of 18–24-year-olds (where there’s a sharp rise), 37% BAME, 49% disabled, 62%

neurodiverse, 43% of people diagnosed with mental illness, % of LGBTQ+ and 59% of women expecting their first child.  The percentage of people in our sector who have personally experienced bias, harassment or inappropriate behaviour at work has risen from 42% to over 60%.

  • One in three people have witnessed harassment, with similar levels across gender. It’s higher levels here: 52% under 24, 45% BAME, 59% disabled, 62% neurodiverse, 43% diagnosed with mental illness and 57% of the marketing and workforce.

Is there any good news?

Overall, 57% of the workforce feel comfortable at the moment to challenge this behaviour.  This has grown slightly in the UK overall, and its good news for our sector where two thirds of workers in pr and marketing now feel safe to challenge. However there is much more to do.

The shocking lack of progress is revealed in Belonging: The Key to Transforming and Maintaining Diversity, Inclusion and Equality at Work, which was published in paperback by Bloomsbury on May 12 2022. The research was carried out specifically for the book by Dynata.

One in three people in the UK still don’t feel as though they belong at their workplace, and 37% of those who work in marketing and pr.   This book is about addressing those issues head-on in a new way, not just by throwing money at the problem – which we can see doesn’t work – but creating change collectively throughout the organization that you work for.

It is now time for action.  This is crucial in our sector where everyone is facing a talent crisis.  This research re-inforces the importance of a new approach, such as that led by the Advertising Association’s Talent Taskforce.

Book Description

Belonging: The Key to Transforming and Maintaining Diversity, Inclusion and Equality at Work  (published in paperback by Bloomsbury on May 12 2022) is a ground-breaking investigation into diversity and equality in the workplace, arguing that everyone needs to be an active participant in the conversation if any meaningful progress is to take place. It has been described by Esquire as “the most important business book of the year”.

About the Authors

Sue Unerman is Chief Transformation Officer at MediaCom, the largest media agency in the UK with over 200 clients. She is also the co-author of the bestselling book, The Glass Wall.

Kathryn Jacob OBE is CEO of Pearl and Dean, a cinema advertising company and co-author of the bestselling book, The Glass Wall.

Mark Edwards is a coach who trains businesses in diversity and inclusion, emotional intelligence and leadership. He is also the author of The Tao of Bowie.

(The research uses UK national figures and UK and USA marketing and pr figures for sample size robustness)

There are 48 ways to transform creativity; here’s #6

May 23rd, 2022

There are 48 techniques that can transform the creativity of the work that you do.  Here’s the sixth technique:  What if we exaggerate?

Take an idea, take a problem, take a question and exaggerate it to help you find a creative outcome.

One of the most iconic pieces of advertising did this beautifully.  The Sony Bravia ad featuring huge dollops of colour cascading through the landscape took the literal idea of enhanced colour and exaggerated it into something that would not just transform your TV experience, but which would transform your whole physical and emotional experience.  The art director Juan Cabral reportedly wanted to exaggerate even more than the final shoot allowed, he wanted to throw a million balls through the streets.  In fact they couldn’t find a million balls in time for the shoot, and so a mere 250,000 were used. 

Apple’s 1984 commercial.  Conformity exaggerated into a dystopian nightmare relieved only by Apple’s revolutionary new computer.  Old Spice’s The man your man could smell like.  Not really, of course, but yes in your wildest dreams.

Beyond the realm of advertising exaggeration can drive creativity.  Peaky Blinder’s writer Stephen Knight took the real lives of a Birmingham street gang and exaggerated the characteristics of one gangster: Sam Sheldon and by making him smarter, prettier and more heroic created the show’s magnetic protagonist Tommy Shelby.

Exaggeration of threats can lead to creativity in business problem solving.  This might seem unnecessary in these times of change and disruption but change is less difficult if you can get ahead of it.  Re-imagine customer service by auditing best in class service, not in your competitive set only but beyond the sector that you operate in.  What would happen if your closest competitor delivered at that level?  What actions do you need to take now in order to ensure competitive advantage? 

Risk management requires not only imagining the worst that could happen, but also working through the business’ appetite for risk, should the worst occur.

New  product development and increased satisfaction can be accelerated when you pre-empt a potential client or customer re-pitch by offering a solution to a problem that the client isn’t even aware they have yet.  How about imagining the client in question as the most unreasonable client you’ve ever met.  Consider them to have the standards of the princess in the story of the princess and the pea and the patience of a toddler.  

When we were answering the brief for the Cannes Lions Creativity for Good competition we applied exaggerated thinking to one of the insights.  To quote Francesca Ranieri, one of my Team Wriot team mates, “if women received as much business funding as men, and if they combined their business worth, they would become the most powerful economy in the world”.  From this exaggeration of the economic facts we created the award winning campaign  – you can find out more here.

If you are having a tough time, creative exaggeration can be surprisingly helpful.  Dreading something?  A difficult meeting?  A speaking engagement?  A networking event?  What is the worst thing that could happen, and if it did, how bad would it actually be?  Was inspired by this years ago by asking my brilliant daughters how they were so good at networking (my particular bete noire).  They replied: “we just think, if it goes badly, we don’t ever need to speak to that person again”.  Cognitive Behavioural Therapy includes this technique too as a way to stop worrying – exaggerate to the worst case scenario and then go further and work out what your reaction might be to that: “If the worst-case were to happen, what would you do to cope with it? ..If you do have a bad meeting, you might be disappointed for the rest of the day, curl up on the couch with a pint of ice cream and watch T.V. Get back on that horse the next day.”

Looking for a creative solution: Exaggerate

Challenging times for brand building

April 19th, 2022

A Forrester report in Campaign from late 2021 claims shockingly that only a third of USA ceos think their marketing chiefs grow business. This just doesn’t ring true to me. Every CMO I’ve met is driven by growing business, effectiveness and creativity. Is there an issue with the language of branding in those board rooms?

The increase in ad bombardment has consequences for trust and interest in advertising.  60% of adults say that they see too many ads and as media consultant Nick Manning has written: “The user experience is suffering and the traditional compact between the public and the ad industry that held the acceptance of advertising in balance has eroded as some of the old controls fell away.” 

Forbes writer Emilia Kirk explains: “Attention is a finite resource. On average, people are exposed to between 6,000 and 10,000 advertisements a day. The average human brain is simply incapable of processing such a bombardment of content, which means the vast majority of ads seen are only ignored or forgotten about within seconds.  As the number of advertisements encountered increases, so has the hostility towards them.”

There has been evidence of a worrying drop in effectiveness in the UK according to WARC’s ranking.  Some of this may be mitigated by the biannual cycle of IPA Effectiveness awards (last year was an off year), but we need to pay attention to these findings.  Campaign reporter Daniel Farey-Jones states: “Between 2014, when the WARC Effectiveness report debuted, and 2019, the UK consistently occupied the second spot in the country ranking for the most awarded campaigns around the world.  However, it placed third in 2020, fourth in 2021 and now seventh in the 2022 ranking.”  As I wrote in the last IPA Advertising Works 25 book introduction: “It’s our collective responsibility to champion effectiveness and its measurement for the ultimate health of our sector.  Any business that doesn’t do this, that doesn’t put effectiveness at the heart and centre, and through every muscle and sinew of activity is short-changing its own future.”

A downward spiral must be avoided where declining proved effectiveness, diminished public trust in advertising and the noted board brand rift in major organisations all contribute to diminished outcomes for our sector.

We can turn this around.

We can improve the relevancy of advertising by aligning media and creative and this will drive trust and enjoyment of advertising.  Do you remember when you were a kid how every ad break in kids commercial TV was like a brilliant catalogue of toys that you loved?  What if every ad you saw was relevant to you?  And frequency was capped to ensure no wastage.  This would break that cycle of bombardment and  mistrust.  W hen data, media and creative are optimised in concert, effectiveness increases significantly.  This is the start of the fifth age of advertising

We must all take responsibility for effectiveness measurement.  There was a strong showing in 2020 in the IPA Effectiveness awards, when I was convenor, producing a truly inspirational body of work, and I expect to see the same this year under the Convenor Harjot Singh, Global CSO, McCann and his team of judges.   However, every leader in our sector must make sure that effectiveness is built into their, and their teams’ objectives and key results. 

In addition, it may be that we should consider adapting the language of branding to fit the board room.  My long term esteemed colleague and performance legend David Kyffin used to tease me by referring to me and my team as the “brand bunnies” as if this was a less serious part of the advertising mix.  He believed however that great brands drive great performance and that brilliant performance and of course customer experience do support great brands.  Yet the lack of knowledge revealed by The IPA and FT research “ The board brand rift”, which tells us that over half of business leaders rated their knowledge of brand-building as average to very poor, indicates that understanding brand building is not a priority for those leaders.  Is language part of the problem?  Let’s talk instead about building value and generating demand.

Branding just might need a rebrand.