Archive for the ‘MediaComment’ Category

Respect is more important than a title

Friday, February 16th, 2018

trott“Any fool can buy a car, but you can’t buy respect”.

“free fall”, Robert Crais

You can’t buy respect.  You have to earn it.

There’s some jobs where hierarchy and status mean that everyone below you more or less does as you tell them.

I imagine the armed forces work like this, and the police (although the TV is littered with rogue detectives who operate outside the system and get results.)

Then there’s other workplaces where the hierarchy isn’t as clear, or even if it is a title does not necessarily mean people do as you tell them.

Whatever the system, however lofty a title or a position in a hierarchy, it means nothing without respect. And respect can’t be bestowed, as a title can. It must be earned.

Some people approach their job yearning for status, believing that they could just get so much more achieved with a better place in the hierarchy. Often they are doomed for disappointment. When that well deserved promotion comes, they might be faced with the fact that still no-one ‘below’ them does as they are told.

In media and adland a disrespect for hierarchy is not that rare. Many would argue that it isn’t unhealthy in an industry that has to survive disruption and constantly reinvent itself. If you don’t challenge the status quo you don’t get growth, especially now.  A good media sector culture will tolerate a reasonable level of challenge, in fact thrives on it, and that includes challenging status as well as status quo.

Respect however, that’s another thing. Respect can’t be bought. It isn’t bestowed by a title or a promotion. It has to be earned.

There’s a resounding example of this doing the rounds at the moment. Dave Trott wrote a memo, on paper, 30 years ago about the creativity of his team at ad agency GGT. One team member kept the memo and showed it to a colleague who posted it last week on facebook. The content of the memo is, if he won’t mind me saying so, typical of Dave. He believes difference is crucial for stand out, that most ads disappear as wallpaper and that it is as important now to break with convention as it ever was. Three decades ago Trott said: “Instead of trying to be totally different to what’s around we’re more often nowadays concerned with trying to do the same thing but better”.

As well as ads many comms strategies fall into this trap, aping the competition but trying to beat them rather than doing something completely different. To answer the brief that has been given well rather than differently. How many conversations are had about how to win Christmas like brand x (insert name of well known retailer here) rather than by doing things that haven’t been done before?

What shines out for me about this though is not just the lesson of difference, of zigging when everyone else is zagging, but the level of respect that this shows for a great creative director and a great boss. Campaign reports that Trott said that the memo had been kept by a former staffer at GGT, Andy Archer, who now teaches at art school and who had shown it to his colleague Roger Stanier, who posted it on social media. They add that: “His words, which in spite of their age appear to be as pertinent today as they were then, have clearly struck a chord with the ad industry.”

Respect, you can’t buy it. You can’t control whether people give it to you, not really. It doesn’t go along with a title or a status. It doesn’t correlate with how many people report into you, what your bonus is or how many followers you have on social media.

Respect is hard earned and given freely, and it lasts.




Advertising and marketing don’t feature as career choices for kids

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

merged_pic_2At the centenary of suffrage for some women in the UK, a report reveals that girls as young as 7 think women less smart than men.

A recent report on the career aspirations of 7-11 year olds has concluded that from a very young age most children stereotype jobs according to gender and their career choices are based on these assumptions.

‘Drawing the Future, exploring the career aspirations of children from around the world’ asked 20,000 kids to draw a picture of what they wanted to do when they grew up.

The report reveals data from a US study that by the age of 7 girls are less likely than boys to believe that members of their gender are ‘really really smart.’  Throughout the UK socio-economic background limits the scope of jobs that all children aspire to.

Most kids know about jobs from members of their family, but after that it is from popular culture and advertising.

Less than 0.1% kids want in the UK want to work in marketing.  Less than 0.1% kids want to work in advertising. The few that do aspire to advertising are all boys.

For the authors of the report this has begged the question of whether advertising has a role in gender stereotyping. Which leads them to refer to the ASA’s report from last summer on this.

The ASA report concludes that there is plenty of evidence that there needs to be a tougher line on ads featuring stereotypical gender roles, including ads which mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.

Every depiction that stereotypes or follows cliches, and you don’t have to look far to find examples of this, adds to the likelihood that kids will grow up with the same cultural expectations that lead eventually to Glass Walls at work that get in the way of women and top jobs.  And which ladder up to there being more FTSE 100 CEOs called Dave than FTSE 100 CEOS who are women.

According to the ASA this includes:

  • An ad that depicts family members creating a mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up.
  • An ad that suggests a specific activity is inappropriate for boys because it is stereotypically associated with girls, or vice-versa.
  • An ad that features a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks.

What can be done about this?

Brief and create content that challenges those stereotypes rather than reinforcing them.

In addition, the Drawing the Future report remarks that: ‘Less than 1% of children stated they heard about the job from a volunteer from the world of work coming in to school.’

If advertising and marketing is to find the talent of the future, and the diversity of talent that it needs, there’s a marketing and advertising job to be done in schools at an early age to create aspirations to join our industry.  Get out into schools whenever you can.

Ann Mroz, editor of TES, comments: ‘Our children are encouraged to shoot for the stars, but we glue their feet firmly to the ground.’  Particularly young girls.

Let’s help them reach for the moon.




Leaders have one job

Thursday, February 1st, 2018
"Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier"..Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)..Ph: Zade Rosenthal..? 2014 Marvel.  All Rights Reserved.

 2014 Marvel. 

How many voices do you need for great leadership?

Writer and leadership coach, Amy Jen Su wrote in Harvard Business Review earlier this year that you need to cultivate many different leadership voices rather than simply focussing on trying to appear confident.

She lists five different voices that she says are essential for leadership

– The voice of character, the persona that holds your convictions

– The voice of context, where you communicate perspective

– The voice of clarity that helps prioritise

– The voice of curiosity, where you are able to learn and admit too that you don’t know all the answers

– The voice of connection where you acknowledge the contribution of others

She states that “Discovering and developing your voice as a leader is the work of a lifetime.”

Indeed it is, but it is also true that you don’t actually need all those voices to be developed to the same extent.

It is honestly impossible for most people to be expert in every voice. If you are trying to be brilliant at character, context, clarity, curiosity, and connection then you might be missing something. You might be missing the fact that on your team bench there is someone else who is supremely better at context or curiosity and your true role must be to allow them to take that aspect of leadership and run with it.

At MediaCom we like to talk about the team of experts approach.  One of our favourite movies is Avengers Assemble. The plot of this fine example of a Marvel cartoon converted to the big screen involves bringing together a crack team of superheroes with very different skills. Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye, Thor and Black Widow don’t necessarily see eye to eye in every respect. They are diverse in values, behaviours and dress sense. Individually none of them can overcome the mega threat posed by Thor’s evil brother Loki. Together however (spoiler alert) they are able to save the earth.

It is Nick Fury, leader of the peace keeping organisation S.H.I.E.L.D. who assembles the difficult to manage but brilliant crew. It is Nick Fury’s voice which is instrumental in holding the team together to focus on the task in hand.

He does this not by having multiple voices, but by being the consistent voice of focus throughout the chaos of the enemy attacks.

Now when I say Nick Fury, who is after all a fictional character, feel free to imagine Samuel L Jackson who has played the role both on the big screen and on TV. Jackson’s persona is said to have informed the writing and characterisation, even before he was cast in the role.

Fury is straight and to the point. He won’t take any nonsense from any of this team, no matter how talented: ‘”I am Iron Man”, you think you’re the only superhero Mr Stark, you’re part of a bigger universe’. He believes in this team, and tells them so: ‘I still believe in super heroes.’  Sometimes he goes his own way and breaks the rules for his team: ‘I recognise that the council has made a decision, but given it’s a stupid ass decision I have decided to ignore it.’

Don’t worry about many voices. Focus on empowering your team to be super heroes.



How “path dependence” can help and also prevent progress

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

mad_men_peggyPath dependence is our business.  Path dependence can break our business.

The qwerty keyboard doesn’t make much sense.

It did once, it was designed to make typing easier. When typewriters were manual, typing was limited largely to professional typists who used all their fingers for touch typing.

Mad Men depicted the typing pool perfectly.  In media, if you were important, your fingers never touched a keyboard.  Usually no typewriter in an ad agency was touched by a man.

Typing was done in a typing pool, (and the overwhelming majority of typists were women.)  The QWERTY keyboard had two main benefits.  It was constructed to ensure that manual keys didn’t get stuck on each other.  And the design ensured that the most frequent letters used were in the middle of the board, and accessible. Ps, Qs and Zs were outliers.

There won’t be many readers out there who used an old fashioned typewriter.  Electric typewriters became mainstream in 1970s and 80s and once they were in use the old problem that QWERTY solved was already reduced.  Manual typewriters were hard on the fingers, especially the pinkies.  If you had to reach with your little fingers to the keys at the edges, it could hurt.

Touch typing requires typists to rest their fingers in the home row (QWERTY row starting with “ASDF”). The more strokes there are in the home row, the less movement the fingers must do, thus allowing a typist to type faster (without keys sticking), more accurately, and with less strain to the hand and fingers when typing on a manual keyboard.

Everyone uses a keyboard.  Few people learn touch typing.  QWERTY keyboards live on however due to the phenomenon of path dependence.

This is where something that is first to market becomes standard and advantaged even if other better options are available or usage conditions change.

The economist Brian Arthur thinks the supremacy of the internal combustion engine in the last century is another example of path dependence.  The investments in infrastructure meant that cars ran on petrol even if there were better alternatives much earlier than the current shift to hybrid and electric.

Path dependence is one of the reasons that big brands thrive. We’re used to Brand X, so we carry on buying it, even if another better option is available.  Revitalising a brand therefore in the light of new competition is crucial to fend off challenges to path dependence in a category.  Building memory structures for a new brand, to create a path dependence, that’s our business in comms too.

Path dependence is our business.  It can however also break our business if we carry on with ways of working that are no longer useful even in the face of a better way.

A competitive review is often the task of a new planner.  She may be instructed to carry it out according to a tried and trusted way of working.  If she feels that the generation of 97 charts and little insight is not that productive she will not be the first junior planner to think so.  She may well remain silent and continue to create PowerPoint decks that reveal little other than late nights and a burgeoning expertise in chart generation.

If it isn’t interesting, if there isn’t an insight, it should be redesigned and challenged.

If it’s one of the jobs that can be better done by robots as it currently stands, the path dependence, the tried and tested way of working, must change.

A good business, with transformation as a part of its strategy, must consider where path dependence exists. If something is worth changing radically have courage to chuck out those practices and replace them with new and better ways of working.


How to get better ideas

Friday, January 19th, 2018

Better ideas

spielCreative problem solving is crucial to everyone’s job now.  Innovation is part of the day job.

Sometimes that means doing new things in new ways.  Sometimes that means new things in old ways or old things in new ways.

There’s two dominant schools of thought on innovation in media.  Professionals who believe that not enough has changed and are sure that there’s radical change in reaching people in the right way, with the right message and at the right time which will grow brands and drive more effective work using new tech.

Others pour scorn on the digital utopia and suggest that the market will swing back to traditional brand building techniques.    (Have you read Ritson on 2018?).

The media landscape has been made less navigable by these contrasting orthodoxies. 

The truth lies in between. 

Because it depends.  On the brand, on the category, on the audience and on the timescales of effectiveness.  We need a steam of better ideas about how to solve new problems. 

The movie mogul Steven Spielberg has been making blockbuster films for decades.  Everyone reading this blog loves one of his films, at least:  Jaws, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Raiders of The Lost Ark….et al.  It is interesting and useful to know that he doesn’t rest on tried and trusted techniques and ways of working despite his amazing body of work and the army of adoring fans and strong critical acclaim.

He could rest on his laurels.  He doesn’t.  With 40+ years of experience he has turned his camera to a new genre of movie, one that is spot on for the current zeitgeist of questionable news and a woman brave enough to speak truth to power.

The Post opens this week.  It tells the story of The Pentagon Papers.  Documents that revealed that the US government had been lying about the Vietnam war.  The documents were initially leaked to the NY Times but President Nixon’s lawyers shut down their ability to publish.  The Washington Post got hold of them and published.  It was a high risk thing to do, one that could have landed the owner and editor in jail.  The owner, Katherine Graham, stood up for truth in the face of the full force of the government shut down. 

Spielberg says it’s his first political thriller.  He says he likes new challenges because he gets all his best ideas when he doesn’t know exactly what he is doing: “I get better ideas when I am standing on my heels, not on the flat of my soles.  It’s because I don’t want to fall, and I need to regain my balance… it’s scary but healthy.”

Want better ideas for problem solving in 2018.  You will need them.  Get on your toes, get outside your comfort zone.  Keep the knowledge and experience that you’ve earned but don’t over rely on them.  Get on your toes.