Archive for the ‘MediaComment’ Category

“All my best decisions are made with heart, guts and taste”

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

kb“All my best decisions are made with heart, guts and taste”

Instinct or algorithm?

It’s a question that Karen Blackett OBE asked her three interviewees at her Chancellor’s Dinner at Portsmouth University last month.

Kanya King OBE, supercool founder of the MOBOS said instinct. Sir Lenny Henry CBE fresh from raising money for Comic Relief said instinct too, but Tom Ilube OBE, tech entrepreneur, as you might predict (using your instincts) chose the algorithm.

Every time I jump in the car the same question comes up. Should I turn on Waze? Should I use my instincts? Surely Waze’s algorithm knows more than me, and, so it proves until, there’s an unexpected road closure and you wind up with me and everyone else trapped in the “ Wazelocked” traffic.

Karen asked her guests about cheerleaders in their lives. Lenny Henry talked about the big break he got from Chris Tarrant. When Lenny was failing on breakfast show Tiswas, Tarrant took him for lunch and told him he was failing to make the transition to presenter from stand-up and would soon be off the show. He suggested that Lenny pivot and try a different approach, and Lenny listened, followed his advice and soon this turned him into a star. Karen asked him why he thought that Chris Tarrant had bothered to stage this intervention. Lenny said: “He saw the potential in me”. Tarrant gave him a leg up. Tarrant saw something in Lenny Henry even when he was screwing up and trusted his instincts too. Don’t trust that any algorithm could have delivered on that potential fame, and a career that aside from the laughter has helped raise over £1bn for Comic Relief.

A black-box thrown into a tech stack can certainly do a lot of automated heavy-lifting, but there is still a need for human intervention to guide what the algorithms are trying to achieve as well as augmenting their outputs with human ingenuity and inspiration. Delegating this responsibility to an opaque black-box to make all the decisions is short sighted – as the algorithm is only a part of the process. It cannot define what data to assess, how that data should be featured and the interpreting of the results in-line with commercial goals.

Media delivery has been transformed in this decade because of algorithms and the business models will continue to change. As AI grows in real functionality many traditional aspects of media planning and trading will fade. But the industry must stay rooted in the real world, where instincts and creativity will always play a crucial role. The digital ad bombardment of consumers is just one outcome from too much faith in algorithms, and marketing chiefs are right to question this. Real world planning for comms using instinct as well as data to drive competitive advantage has never been more important. As Jeff Bezos says in the opening quotation: use the data but trust your heart.



Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

cake-605-450x392Just kind

In a business that is under disruption, sometimes the best decision you can make is to be kind.

At the IPA conference for International Women’s Day one of the key note speakers Pinky Lilani CBE, Founder, Women of the Future, talked about the importance of kindness in modern leadership.  She said that her business had been built on the kindness of others. She’s created the Kindness and Leadership 50 leading lights, and points out that kindness is seldom celebrated.

The phenomenal early success of one icon of British TV represented a prominent example of the power of kindness in popular culture.  Sandy and Noel are mischievously anarchic.  But they are not as kind as Mel and Sue.

Remember this season?  Watching diffident Rahul win Bake Off was a great pleasure,  finally an introvert in the spotlight for success.  It was one of the highlights of archetypal British TV.  Ratings were strong (if not quite BBC level), the bottoms are no longer soggy, but everyone had a lot of fun with Veganism.

One missing ingredient though is the kindness of Mel and Sue, both to each other – after all there’s a genuine relationship there not a manufactured one – and to the candidates.

Sue revealed that she and Mel walked off the set during Bake Off‘s first season because the producers were trying to coax human-interest drama—and the inevitable tears—out of contestants. “We felt uncomfortable with it, and we said ‘We don’t think you’ve got the right presenters,'” Sue told the Telegraph. “I’m proud that we did that, because what we were saying was ‘Let’s try and do this a different way’—and no one ever cried again. Maybe they cry because their soufflé collapsed, but nobody’s crying because someone’s going ‘Does this mean a lot about your grandmother?'” Bringing up dead relatives at stressful times is a time-honored technique for introducing tension into a television show, but it’s no way to treat your family.

Further than that when contestants did cry—out of frustration or disappointment, generally—Mel and Sue would stand near them and use un-airable language so the embarrassing footage couldn’t make it into the final edit. ” Sue was reported as saying: “If we see them crying or something,  Mel and I will go over there and put our coats over them, or swear a lot because we know then that the film won’t be able to be used.”

Kindness is perhaps the polar opposite of traditional patriarchal business values of ruthlessness and power politics.  Just as we wrote in The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business, the toxic masculinity that pervades many organisations excludes all kinds of talented people from developing their full potential at work.  Pinky said:  “With kindness comes a feeling that is not easily forgotten. Think about customer service that has delighted you; think about a boss who inspired you to be where you are today; think about a brand or business you are loyal to because they seem to genuinely care. Kindness enhances the best qualities in people; it disarms a disagreement and it brings about collaborations which you may never have dreamed possible.”

Think about your own career path.  It’s absolutely true that you will never forget the kindness of others.  As Pinky added on IWD you also never forget an unkindness.

Being unkind is often unthinking and casual.  But never to the recipient.

Kindness depends on there being nothing immediately in it for you.   #Payitforward.


Is there any purpose in campaigns with purpose?

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

tttThere’s plenty of debate about campaigns with purpose.  Much of it very intelligent and informed.  Should marketers invest in campaigns that go beyond communicating the benefits of the product or service advertised and extend into a wider purpose for society with which the brand wants to associate?

Does purpose pay is often the question.  And it can divide a room.  The cynics will challenge the purpose of the purpose, often alleging that brands are only doing it to make money or to jump on a bandwagon.  The advocates of purpose campaigns will amplify the effects and gently exaggerate the case studies that get it right.  The arguments will rarely focus on the skill of the execution.  The debate may as a consequence end up being about the difference between a great execution that people love versus one that most people ignore, rather than the strategy of purpose itself.

In other words nice strategy, shame about the execution.

Here are two questions to start with.

The very first question that must be asked is about authenticity. Does the brand have any real right to play a role in the territory in question.  And what actually are they doing to help.  I discussed this in my first book, “Tell the truth, honesty is your most powerful marketing tool”.  As the title suggests our theme was authenticity and we described a powerful case study where the cleaning brand Clorox created a range of products that were better for the environment in partnership with the Sierra Club, an organisation dedicated to fighting for the protection of the planet.  From the brand’s perspective the upside was serious third party endorsement.  Sierra Club acted on the basis of pragmatism.  For the environmentalist campaigners the co-creation of Greenworks meant there was a mass market option available to Americans that was better for the planet.  A brand doesn’t need to reformulate to be authentic in terms of wider purpose, but it needs to be able to evidence that it walks the walk as well as talk the talk.  Average consumers these days are smart.  They can and do investigate the ethics of a brand and manufacturer on their phones, and then shout about what they discover.

The second question is does purpose pay?

Purpose does pay.  The most rigorous UK awards scheme in terms of effectiveness is of course the IPA effectiveness awards.  Several papers published in this year’s book demonstrated two ways in which purpose pays.

Purpose motivates employees. 

Having a higher purpose to the communications helps employees feel positive about the day job and creates opportunities for the business to get more from them.

In an environment where many people are dissatisfied with their careers campaigns with purpose are good for business.

They make employees happy.  This can also help with grass roots marketing, as every happy employee is likely to tell their friends and family.  For big businesses who count their employees in the thousands, this has a multiplier effect that could reach millions as those employees who are proud of their company are likely to tell their friends and family and if 30,000 employees tell 10 people each, and if those 10 tell another 10 friends, well, you can do the math.

Purpose boosts brand saliency. 

It’s one way of standing out from a crowd of similar work and therefore driving return on marketing investment.  Where a product is good, but the category is awash with similar images and messages purpose can differentiate the brand.

Why wouldn’t you want a campaign with purpose?  A well-executed campaign makes your employees feel better about working for you, it gets you talked about in the right way and it delivers. The strategy should be simple.  The campaign can be transformational.  The execution needs above all to be authentic or it will fail.


The long and the short of your career

Monday, March 4th, 2019


Some days are more inspirational than others.

In the morning my client Mark Evans, CMO at Direct Line Group, mentioned that he’d been discussing the fact that Binet and Field’s now omnipresent thinking The Long and the Short of It, was applicable to more stuff than marketing science (crucial though this is).  And if anyone is entitled to express this of course it’s Mark whose team won the IPA effectiveness best new learning award.

It’s equally valuable as a guide to your career.

Pundit Mark Ritson explained the lessons he took from the IPA Gold for marketing.

Here’s some lessons that could apply to a career path.

Brand image and differentiation matter. 

It wasn’t only Mark Evans who inspired me.  The same day MediaCom hosted a Glass Wall network event.  (The Glass Wall is my book about diversity at work, and we have an inclusive industry wide network).  At this particular event Karen Blackett, OBE, our chair, WPP UK leader, Cabinet NED and race equalities business champion, shared her personal brand building tips together with mindfulness coach, journalist and diversity training expert Mark Edwards.  As I say some days are more inspirational than others.   It’s crucial to build a personal brand, and yet even in a business of brand builders people don’t always take the advice that they give.  Deciding what you stand for, and what you stand against can inform and supercharge everything you do at work.  For example, I can’t bear the idea that “good enough” work will do, when outstanding work is always within reach.  I feel equally about people who don’t get to fulfil their potential for any reason (hence my last book).

The long and the short applies to your career too.

Binet and Field make a recommendation that brand investment should be balanced with activation investment.  Overall at a 60:40 split, but with significant changes to that balance depending on the category in which the brand sits.  It is equally crucial to balance long term career investment with short term tactics.  Which may well change proportions at various stages of your career journey.  So there will be times when you can get an immediate pay hike by jumping ship from one employer to another.  It’s very tempting.  Especially in times of belt tightening.  In the long run though it might prove suboptimal in terms of longterm roi.  In other words, a pay hike now might be at the expense of longterm career development.  As someone once said to me when I had been given an extremely financially attractive job offer, there’s a reason that place is offering huge salaries – they have to in order to get good people to go there.  Sometimes you need to take a deep breath and think it through.

Fame matters.

One of the first, (and to some a bit controversial) findings from the IPA databank was that campaigns that are specifically designed to create fame for a brand outperform other campaigns on all business metrics.  Really this is because they drive “mental availability” faster and without this, or spontaneous awareness if you like, then brands find it more difficult to grow.

It’s the same with your career.  If someone asks “Who’s the best thinker/seller/ideas person/most efficient?” and your name doesn’t come up at all then you’re less likely to be considered for the next promotion or career opportunity.  So as well as making sure that your work is great, you need to be known for great work.  Keep a balance then between getting stuff done and building a profile.  At different stages of your career the balance will again shift.  You need great work to promote, as fame without substance may give you the wrong kind of profile.

Think long and short for your personal brand.



Entering awards? Here’s one category you wish you could enter:

Monday, February 18th, 2019

venomThe if only awards

Awards season is on us again (is it ever not these days?), with entries due for Campaign Media, Marketing Soc, Thinkbox, Outdoor, Festival of Media and more.

Enormous effort will be made to ensure that each brilliant idea is explained properly, and the results will be polished up to look as good as possible.  It’s important to shine your best work so that it can be judged by a jury of the finest minds in media and marketing.

Effectiveness rules of course, and a good story about customer insight and use of data helps to make the work stand out.

There’s very strict rules in place to ensure that everything that is claimed to have happened did in fact take place.  This is right of course and proper.

What if, though reality was only optional?  I’d like to suggest another category for the awards.  The If Only category.  In this category there’s no need for the work actually to have taken place.  It need not have run, it can just be a really good idea, that probably would have run if only there’d been enough appetite for risk/the budget hadn’t been cut.

The award would be judged on the basis of how strong the logic was.  A brilliant yet untapped consumer insight would kick off the entry.  The execution must be innovative, never done before (but technically possible).  Full mock-ups of this would be required and a robust yet speculative assessment of return on investment.

Judges would be untroubled by grim reality and expect to be entertained and wowed.

A bit like the idea of the Olympics on steroids.  Jeremy Clarkson once wrote: “I find myself hoping Russia reacts (to a proposed ban) by setting up an alternative Olympic Games where anything goes.. on cable TV, Olympians on drugs”.

Stoned hurdling, drunk skiing, 400 metres on drugs were all part of his vision.     And as Russia’s Alexander Zubkov receives a 2 year ban for doping (appeal pending) let’s add dazed bob sleighing.  Might this make for a slightly more interesting sporting event than some events are (to the unexpert eye) when viewed straight?

I certainly would not ever advocate writing any kind of award entry on drugs of any kind, but I can see that allowing thinkers to escape from reality might lead to some interesting ideas being given oxygen.  Ideas that are currently stifled by economic uncertainty or unimaginative selling.  Most experienced planners would admit to ideas that “got away” like the imaginary big fish from the expert angler.  Even those planners who’ve converted great ideas to reality will have others that have sat on the back burner for years.  (At MediaCom we’ve had an annual  internal training scheme for many years that works a bit like this, as some external schemes do.  Everyone in the agency and media owner delegates does a virtual “pitch” for a brief.  And part of the brief is to push the boundaries, maybe further than everyone can in the day job.  To think “what if”.  I always enjoy and learn much from this annual competition.)

The What if awards.  They’d be fun, they’d be frivolous (and in grim times that’s not necessarily a bad thing),  and we might just learn a lot from them.