A call for more to be done by our industry to represent people with disabilities

July 22nd, 2016

Scope_EndTheAwkward14We clearly still need a Glass Lion.

(The Cannes Glass Lion recognises work that implicitly or explicitly addresses issues of gender inequality or prejudice, through the conscious representation of gender in advertising.)

Of course we do.

It’s not enough.

We need more action.  We must all decide whether we think women should be depicted as Objects or not.   The Glass Lion is as necessary as it ever was.  The Glass Wall is still standing in the way of gender parity in agencies.

It’s not enough.

As far as representation of society is concerned the representation of women is not by any means the sole diversity issue that should concern us in communications thinking.

Millions of people in the UK sometimes feel patronised or ignored because they’re disabled.  Two thirds of us according to research conducted by charity Scope acknowledge that we don’t know what to do when we meet someone who’s disabled.  That we feel “awkward”.

Scope’s partnership with Channel 4 to “End the Awkward” was part of their ongoing campaign to highlight this.  Indeed Channel 4’s actions on the representation of disability, including creating and airing The Last Leg with Alex Brooker and their proud position as the channel for the Paralympics is exemplary.  Putting their media money where their mouth is with the £1m Superhumans Wanted competition shows how seriously they take the issue.

It’s not enough.

Every one of us has a role to play in making a difference in the representation of disabled people.

It’s easier to keep the status quo of course.

But in a closely related sector, the industry has made efforts to change.

Project Diamond would be a great example to follow.

Project Diamond is the effort of the Creative Diversity Network (BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4) to introduce a common diversity monitoring template for all programmes commissioned.  It enables detailed diversity statistics to be tracked and benchmarked.  It answer the question: “who’s on TV and who makes TV”.

It is as much about the incidental casting of disabled people as it is about hero-ing or championing disabled stars.

Which you don’t see much of in adverts.

Disabled people are under represented on our screens and in media in general.  Yet there is so much content being created now, so many of us have influence on what’s being made for consumers, consideration of casting a more diverse range of talent is only fair.

I asked a couple of CMOs about incidental casting of disabled people in advertising, and they suggested that it hasn’t ever been raised with them.  Are those responsible in content creation and advertising agencies considering this?  If not, then let’s put it on the agenda.

Project Diamond seems to be making a difference to what’s on our TV screens in terms of programming.  You’ll probably have noticed this if you watch British originated shows on TV.

Let’s adopt this idea for advertising and branded content.

Our head of MediaCom Beyond Advertising Tom Curtis has already committed that his whole team will “explore the incidental representation of disability in all relevant content projects.”

I’d like to propose that every head of creative/branded content/strategy similarly encourages their teams.

That every creative and content awards scheme takes account of the incidental casting of disabled people as a hygiene factor.

That Clearcast creates a code for their proportionate inclusion in the majority of an advertisers’ copy.

It’s still not enough, but it’s a start.







Turning old media around

July 11th, 2016

lisa bookNewsbrands have done well in the shortterm out of Brexit with sales and subs going up.  Consolidated sales are finally being considered for the medium.  Here’s a related world with potential other learnings for the category.

Printed book sales are up – are there lessons for printed magazines and newsbrands publishers?

Printed book sales are up for the first time in 4 years because of some very smart thinking and operational agility on the part of publishers.

Given that even the most optimistic pundits were predicting a long-term decline in the market only a few years ago, this defies expectations.

Are there lessons in keeping “old technology” alive that might be applicable to other media?

Factors contributing to the doom-mongering for books included:

Amazon’s dominance of the book trade which would drive independent bookshops out of the high street in the wake of record shops.

The e-book destroying the economics of printed books, because consumers would think that the price should be a fraction of the printed version.

Pirates destroying the book economy once it was predominantly digital?

The business world has turned into a giant computer game of Tetris for us all (challenges in different shapes and sizes just keep on coming.)  And book publishers are no exception.  We try and plan for a smooth strategy but agile tactics are crucial to survival.

And now it looks like book publishers haven’t just survived, they have maybe turned things around, for now at least.

Publishers are to be applauded for their innovative outlook.  Many, including the exemplary Harper Collins, have heritage to be proud of stretching back centuries, and are now tackling the issues of this century with the kind of bravery their founders would be proud of.

I recently talked to Stephen Page, ceo of Faber, about how the smaller, independent, book publishers have navigated their business Tetris.

His account of the turnaround has practices for change that all of us can learn from:

First get everyone together to discuss how to align best practice and unite in the face of turmoil.

In 2004 Page, together with other forward thinking independent publishers including Profile Books (the publishers of my own upcoming book The Glass Wall) spearheaded the creation of the Independent Alliance. The purpose was to put aside competitive difference to “share a common vision of editorial excellence, original, diverse publishing, innovation in marketing and commercial success.”

Secondly, support your distribution network.  If the bookshops had disappeared from the high street then that would have made the future of print much harder to salvage.  The Alliance supports independent booksellers in terms of special promotions, point of sale and author presence.

Thirdly try everything.  According to Page no innovation should go untested.  In 2007 Faber launched an Academy – a creative writing school, which represented a new revenue stream for the publishing house.  This gave the public what they wanted (consumer-centric), but broke absolutely with the traditions of the market place.  So what? Change is good.  Give the customer what they want.  Keep the customer satisfied.  (Courses available now for the next JK Rowlings out there amongst you.)

Page calls this “A riot of cross-dressing”; a colourful descriptor of everyone experimenting with new revenue streams from other sectors.  A riot which can seem remarkably slow to take place in some sectors of the media world.  Are some businesses still locked into traditional revenue streams, and in milking the last dregs out of them?

Despite doom-mongering, nothing is inevitable.

The fourth, and perhaps most crucial point, is to have a positive outlook.  Don’t worry about being wrong, or making mistakes.  Have the courage to try things that might seem too disruptive to the status quo.  These may be the very things that save your business.  If you don’t self-disrupt, then the disruptors from outside your business will destroy you.








July 4th, 2016

wno“It’s kinda messed up”


“It’s like gross to see”


“I don’t like seeing that”


“Cover your eyes, cover your eyes”


These are the reactions of a bunch of kids when shown ads featuring the objectification of women according to Madonna Badger of the campaign:  Women not Objects.  A campaign directed at you, working in media, marketing and advertising.

Badger, a New York Creative Director, has created a video about the harm this does to young women which was shortlisted, though not awarded, in the Glass Lion category.  The quotations above come from this related video.  Watch them both, and if you agree, sign her petition.


The Women not Objects mission is a simple one, and one that we can all, if we choose, get behind, to end the objectification in advertising and the harm that it causes.  To ensure girls truly understand that their worth is not their weight, their looks or their body parts, but who they are, what they say and what they can do.


We’re born male or female (mostly).  But it is culture and society that teaches us how we are meant to behave.  If children are surrounded by images that show submissive behaviour from women then we shouldn’t be surprised if girls grow up lacking the techniques to be as assertive as men.


Badger’s campaign has four criteria to judge a campaign.  1. Is the women being used as a prop – does she have a choice or a voice or has she been reduced to a thing?  2. Is she plastic – has she been retouched beyond what’s humanly possible? 3. Can we only see her body parts? (any sign of a face?) 4. How would you feel is that woman was your mother, daughter, sister, co-worker, you?


Madeleine DiNonno, from the Geena Davis Institute, says that the representation of women is going backwards, especially in newer media channels, digital and social.


The Institute has amassed an enormous body of research on gender in entertainment, spanning more than 20 years.


In the latest findings from the institute covering a huge range of video, if men are speaking on camera, then of course the camera is focussed on them.  If women are speaking, the focus is often predominantly still on the men listening to them.  The research counts the background presence of men and women in incidental casting.  Women are present less than 20%.


This is nothing new.  In the 1970s Marianne Wex, a German photographer, published a collection of over 5000 images of men and women photographed in public spaces.  They show people waiting for trains, sitting in public.  The women take up as little space as possible.  They make themselves small, narrow, harmless.  Men on the other hand take up as much space as possible, sitting in what Wex called the “proffering” position, familiar to anyone on a crowded train.  Legs are thrown wide apart, the crotch is “proffered”, feet point outward and extend.


It’s easy to conclude which is the dominant gender.


The sooner we can rid the screens and the streets and the pages of magazines and newspapers of objectifying and demeaning images of women,  the sooner we’ll achieve change for our daughters, sisters and colleagues, change that will mean that they can take up as much space in public as men.


Without a bigger proportion of women in senior jobs in marketing, media and advertising this change will be slow to be established.  Several commentators have pointed out that until women are dictating the media agenda from the top, change will be slow to happen.


My next book, The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work, is published in September to fix this, to address the gender lack of balance with advice for women and for business.




How much empathy do you have?

June 27th, 2016

Empathy is a finite resource, according to HBR’s Adam Waytz.  If I am empathetic towards you today, I will have less empathy towards my friend at dinner this evening.

If you take on board one colleague’s problem over lunch, you’re going to be less ready to shoulder the burden of a team member at teatime.

In light of this you may run the risk of short changing the later colleague simply because you have exhausted your empathy stock too early in the day.  Or of giving friends and family short shrift when you get home from work.

Empathy is crucial to the culture of the workplace.  If we are in need of support and don’t receive it then we topple.  A system is only as strong as its weakest link after all.

This is a dilemma.  Waytz, an associate professor at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, offers 3 strategies to help to manage empathy exchange at work:  Allocating people for empathy – selective assigned empathising; Encourage mutual empathy sessions; Give people empathy breaks.

Or you could stop overdoing empathy.

Of course, give help where help is needed.  Of course solve your high performers’ problems without a second thought.


Empathy is our start point so often for everyone’s problem.  Someone comes to you with a problem at work for instance missing a deadline, not having the right documents in a meeting or failing to secure a deal. Very often the default response is: “Poor you, that’s not fair, you’re under such pressure, how on earth can you be expected to work under those conditions”.

If that isn’t your response naturally then in most businesses you had better learn it, otherwise you may be labelled “not a people person” and good luck with your promotion prospects if that’s the case.

Kim Scott, has built a successful coaching career with an empathy overload antidote.  She points out that being a good boss, in the long term, is not about offering empathy.  I’d argue this is also true of being a good colleague.  If you’re trying to help someone, layering what you really think with lots and lots of sugar and thick thick marzipan, may mean that it is too easy for them to miss the point.

She says that pointing out candidly what you really think is in fact your job.  If someone turns up to a meeting,  and has omitted to bring a copy of the most up to date plan for example in hard copy when the team need to see it, it really isn’t that helpful if your only reaction is to empathise.   Certainly this is unlucky for them, unfortunate they didn’t realise that no-one else was bringing it, what a shame that the printer didn’t work and that there’s no access to it electronically.  However just feeling for them in that situation is nowhere near as useful to their career development as also pointing out that they should have double checked.  And not leave it till the last minute.   Scott asserts that frank candour in this situation is the only way to allow your team to grow and develop.

I feel for you.  But wake up and smell the coffee.  Too much empathy in the workplace may be stifling everyone’s career development.



Are Planners Printist?

June 27th, 2016

panda.jpgJames Wildman, CRO of Trinity Mirror says they are.

He writes that research has uncovered prejudice in agencies: “Printism can be defined as: “The preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience of the print medium; bias, partiality, unreasoned dislike, hostility or antagonism towards, or discrimination against, print – accelerated by those closest to it being too afraid to properly defend it for fear of being tarred with the career-stunting ‘dinosaur’ label.”

Is “printism” a fair accusation? As Newsworks hold their first ever summit on effectiveness next month, it is a good time to look at the situation.

The essence of good planning is consumer insight and evidence.

From the day you start out as a planner your role is to overcome your personal biases and think about the target market in a neutral way.

If every planner worked on the basis that what they like amounts to the plan they would be briefing Buzzfeed to come up with ten cats that most represent the brand values, or YouTube on funny brand pandas.

There’s two basic approaches that are essential for any planner.  Evidence and empathy.

For any great plan you need both.

Evidence about what worked and what didn’t work to drive long term and short term success often relies on quantitative data analysed objectively.  The better the data, the better the correlation between media spend and the brand objectives.  Media research data varies dramatically by medium.  The size of the panel, the methodology (passive v active), the specificity of the data.  TV is reported minute by minute, but print is averaged out over a longer period.  Then there’s big data, online data.  Where size does not always help us to explain what is actually going on.

We’re in a world where the potential to correlate data in real time to drive more accurate targeting and return on investment is being fulfilled in ways that analytical planners have been dreaming of for decades.  In that environment any medium that has less precise data will be less dominant.  I deplore the idea that any medium should be in or out of fashion, but if you expect to be considered “of the moment”, you had better look to your industry research capabilities.  If anyone you’re competing with has a turbo charged hybrid engine and you’re sitting in the side car of a scooter you might want to think again.

Empathy doesn’t come easily to any planner starting out.  We all enter the workforce with our personal prejudices about media consumption.  I can remember the inimitable Peter Barrett complaining to me once that selling Good Housekeeping to 20-something planners (who had never opened a copy) was so much harder than the job his colleagues had selling Cosmopolitan with its Sex Tips cover lines.

Do planners read newsbrands?  Of course they do.  Many may well have a greater personal affinity with social media than with the classic content creators, but great content, great editors and great journalists still cut through.

Personal affinity doesn’t create a great plan.  Understanding the audience does.  Thinking about the plan in the office isn’t always enough.  Hanging out in a supermarket or shopping centre has much more power.  Talking to consumers and taking the audience journey, away from where you work, is essential.

Good planners aren’t printist, any more than they are any media-ist.  They are pro-evidence and pro-empathy.