Archive for the ‘MediaComment’ Category

True grit: does it always work to your advantage?

Monday, January 7th, 2019

supermario“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never” Winston Churchill

I’ve always been inspired by persistence.  When you fall down, you get back up again.  Yet a fact based argument in the much resp‎ected Harvard Business Review challenges this idea. Cass Business School’s professor Andre Spicer says that there’s in fact a “weak link between grit and performance”, and also that “people who tend to be tenacious are also those who get trapped into losing courses of action.” Spicer has a point. There’s a difference, a big difference, between not giving up and finding new approaches to problems (admirable) and not knowing when you haven’t got a chance of success but continuing to hit your head on a brick wall (dumb).

Churchill gave the speech quoted above in 1941, not to Britain as a whole, but to the boys at his old school.  Not just boys who would be fighting for their country one day perhaps but also those who would be building businesses in times of peace.

It echoes his great speeches to the nation of course and also the spirit of entrepreneurship that is evident in small business and start-ups.

Whenever Justin Cross (from MediaCom’s start up for start ups Blink) introduces us to a tech start up there is a spirit of doggedness that comes across.  The spirit of doing things differently and hoping to change the world.

There are a lot of start-ups. 9 in 10 people in the UK are considering starting up in a business of their own. There’s 80 start ups launching every hour.  At a recent seminar of small and medium enterprises: “The State of the SME nation” a panel of small business owners talked about their reasons for setting up in business for themselves.  Hearing them talk about their jobs sounded like a description of living in SuperMarioLand.  Hazards kept cropping up out of the blue (one owner talked about her surprise in learning that she needed liability insurance of over £5m to sell a few pictures at a market), and also good luck and opportunities mushroomed unexpectedly.  The general spirit was that so far everything had worked out if not as planned certainly better than they’d feared.  For every hazard then at least two business beneficial mushrooms.  Similarly at Red Magazine’s Smart Women Week, where I was interviewed by Cyan Turan last month for a “Grow your business” session, that same spirit of optimism and breathless excitement shone through.

Every business is subject to change. As Antonio Lucio fb CMO recently said: “change is inevitable, growth and success are not”. Growth and success need a plan, need a strategy, and in Vuca times need resilience. (Vuca is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous).

Wherever you work these days, in your own business or in a worldwide corporation, we need this spirit of resilience to progress.  The spirit that allows you to face challenges as if your livelihood depends on it.

As Jim Collins says in “How the mighty fail and why some companies never give in”:

“Never give in.  Be willing to change tactics, but never give up your core purpose.  Be willing to kill failed business ideas… be willing to evolve into an entirely different portfolio of activities… but never give up on the idea of building a great company”.


Who is your biggest critic? They might be closer to you than you think.

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

It__s_Like_Looking_in_a_Mirror_by_SamsSisterOften when mentoring, in a one to one, it will be clear that the mentees worst critic is the one they see very regularly, daily in fact.  Often when they are tired and stressed.  Often when they are at a low point.  It’s the one they see in the mirror.

Its very common.  In my latest book, The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business, we quote a returner from maternity leave who says: “Day to day I’m just as ambitious, but I’m so grateful now when I get given a break or a step up.  I have so much guilt.  Why do I feel like that?  I shouldn’t.  It’s my due.”

In the questions sessions that follow our talks about the book, all too often questions will be raised where it becomes clear that the questioner is doubting their own worth.  “I’m so lucky,” they might say, before going on to talk about a situation that they clearly deserve.  “I don’t want to speak up about this, in case I am not the expert” is another common trait amongst capable, intelligent and awesome performers.

Where does this come from.  In my experience it is certainly not always from their managers, who are often nurturing their talent.

It might be from their peers.  There are some work cultures that operate on zero sum game basis as far as success and recognition is concerned.  In cultures without a growth outlook rewards are limited and therefore success for one person means that no one else is recognised.  The team is therefore motivated to do each other down whatever the declared culture of the organisation might be.  It’s no surprise then that people don’t feel encouraged to take risks or to speak up about something that they haven’t 100% nailed down.

In this situation your worst critic might be the chap on the other side of the desk.

Most of the time though the worst critic lives inside people’s head.  It might be the relic of criticism that you heard at school or college.  It might be the voice of unfriendly so-called friends.  It might be a parent or guardian, sibling, perfect cousin.  You can’t always shut those voices up.  No matter how much you want to.  You can however recognise that they are internal voices and cultivate a strategy to counteract it.

If you can have an internal critic you can also have an internal cheerleader.  One technique is to give yourself advice that you would give your best friend in that situation.  If you’re worrying about not being good enough at something what would you say to your best friend in that same state?  You’d probably tell them that it would be alright, they’ll sail through it, that you believe in them.  If you can do it for your best friend, you can do it for yourself.

You can also build a network of actual cheerleaders.  As I said in Nicola Kemp’s feature on my colleague Claudine Collins, we’ve built a network of internal cheerleaders at MediaCom.  We’ve got each others’ back.‎ When, as is so often the case, ‎negative internal voices dominate, or we have a tough moment, we’ve got into the habit of turning to each other to check in and to get support, to be each other’s cheerleaders and sponsors. We won’t let each other down and knowing that we have this network makes us better and stronger. And better able to deliver outstanding work for our clients.


Creativity = data + imagination + empathy.

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

homerThere’s a reason that organisations that have real diversity thrive. It is not just a tick box exercise. It’s the synthesis of people with differences of opinion, personality and thinking.  It’s the ultimate “Avengers Assemble” team (as WPP UK Country Manager Karen Blackett puts it). These teams are not groups of people who love hanging out together (they may do, they may not). They are teams whose natural inclination is to go in different directions, to go at different paces and with different motivations. Whose behaviours don’t fit one nicely orchestrated corporate values box. But who come together with a single goal. In our case to grow our clients’ business.

It’s a rare person who combines the best of what used to be described as left brain and right brain thinking. The geography of the brain might be out of date, but you all know what I mean. Imagination and speculation combined with forensic concentration on data. Yet the best answers for brand growth will come from such a combination.  And such a combination might require that diverse team working in synthesis.

Data understanding alone gets you only to the half way mark of great thinking. Imagination and empathy take you the rest of the way to brilliance.

When people bemoan the split of creative and media they’re probably talking about this really. And whatever building or logo people sit in there’s a need to combine good concrete data analysis, including a robust understanding of the difference between correlation and causation, with the ability to dream, to confabulate, to storytell.  In the end imagination is what the planner must use to fill in the gaps between the data points.

Let me give you one example of a food brand where the data team found that discount offers performed significantly better (and against expectations) if served to potential customers the night before rather than immediately before use.  They of course immediately doubled down on serving messages at this time. There was a great hike in the short term response.

This is interesting, but not as interesting as why? Why this is case and what impact that could have? The discount in question wasn’t a large one, and the food brand was in the mass market category. Let’s use that one data point to imagine the customer.  As so often there was no budget for more research.

The coupon was being predominantly taken up by people who were properly budgeting for their lunches, who were planning ahead. So far, so interesting. There’s so much more though. For any great team the nugget of data could be used to drive the creative execution not just of the offer, but to feed into broader creative development, strategic positioning of the brand, menus and service values of the organisation. Maybe a new type of offer would suit this customer segment’s lifestyle for example, 5 lunches for the price of 3 to ensure that careful budgeters commit to one food outlet, thus breaking category norms to drive loyalty and repeat business. What else can we imagine from this one data point? How can we empathise with this audience? (And for the true meaning of empathy see Trott’s blog: ”Sympathy is emotional, empathy is rational”). If they’re planning meals carefully during the week, are they budgeting for a blow out at the weekend perhaps. Would a partnership with a glossy magazine be a great move, so that the frugality has an upside, with some affordable luxury? Or the chance to win tickets to an ITV Saturday night live show?

One tiny bit of data, that could so easily be siloed in a DM team. One tiny bit of data that could lead to a brand growth transformation. In tough competitive times, no nugget of data should go unexamined as true creativity means data analytics combined with imagination and empathy.



Sick of fake news

Monday, November 12th, 2018

Rs-5-Crore-Penalty-For-Writing-Fake-News-SocialpostFake news is everywhere, swaying politics, election results, public opinion.

Fake news permeates our business too.

You only need to attend a conference or browse your Twitter feed to come across media business fake news, such as, for example:

“Brands are dead.”

At a recent panel (Chatham House Rules) there was a fellow panellist who said that brands were dead.  Dead?  Really?  No Marmite in your cupboard then?  No Heinz tomato ketchup on your chips?  No Landrover in your drive?  As the recent Thinkbox research “From Brand to Bland: what happens when you take away people’s favourite brands?” shows brands are as crucial to real people as ever.  The crafty people at Thinkbox took away the branding from people’s favourite products and then gave them back to them.  The respondents were all extremely disappointed with their unbranded products.  They all said the flavour had gone, or the efficacy wasn’t as good.  And were unanimous in their disbelief when the researchers owned up.    Brands dead.  I don’t think so.

The over-riding example of fake news however today is this one:

“Data will bring more accountability.”

The promise of more data in media was clear.  There would be more accountability, more certainty, less assumption.  As Eaon Pritchard points out in the new APG book “Eat your Greens, fact based thinking to improve your brand’s health” the promises in digital media have fallen long short of expectations.  Pritchard writes: “social media marketing, content marketing, qr codes (remember them), VR/AR, chatbots, programmatic deliver and adtech have all arrived, been heralded as “the next big thing” then gradually landed in a ditch of disappointment.  He concludes “a decent rule of thumb would be to demand that the more extraordinary the claim of any tech platform of gizmo the stronger the evidence must be to support that claim”.

As MediaCom’s CDDO, Ben Rickard likes to reference: “people say that data is the new oil.  I would agree, it is exactly like oil.  If it is unrefined then it is just a slippery mess.”

We were promised that viewing figures for video online would be more accurate than just BARB could deliver with its panel of only thousands, who counted as viewers just if they were in the room with the TV on.  How could information from millions of data points be less accurate?  Easily.  If you compare the definition of a view by BARB (at least 50% of the ad) with that of a view on social media which might be for just 3 seconds.  How did we get ourselves into this?

Here’s another one:

“Media context means nothing”.

After all, if an advertiser can reach an individual via accurate behavioural targeting, just after they’ve searched for a particular product, what would it matter where the ad ran?  Quite a lot as it turns out.  A credible, safe environment means so much more than perhaps many people really ever understood as these technologies were developed.

Media people, it’s time for a reset.  Time for truth to overcome fake news.  Time to call time on claims that have little basis in fact. Change is inevitable, nonsense claims are not.



“What’s in it for you?”

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

wiifm1If you read this blog, you’ll have a better chance of being promoted, paid more, liked more, going home early.

Got your attention?

“What’s in it for you?” as a strategy is in fact short term and unsustainable for marketing, for management and finally for life.

“What’s in it for you?” can be a successful short term marketing tactic (buy one get one free; text for the chance to win; free lip gloss with every sku) that can lead to a race to the bottom.

When you’re the first to market with this tactic you can gain temporary advantage.  When you begin to rely on it because all the competitive brands in your sector do it to drive share or sales then you’re in a race to the bottom.

A strong brand doesn’t have to discount its way into the shopping basket.  Brand strength is one of the true paybacks of successful long term marketing.  The case studies that are rewarded in this year’s IPA effectiveness awards which I had the honour of judging are full of strong stories about building distinctiveness and driving effectiveness beyond the short term drug of discounting.  The databank is full of still more.

“What’s in it for me” can be a way of managing staff.  Open bar, summer picnic, free biscuits.  Tick off all your tasks and expect a reward.   Of course, staff need fun, rest and relaxation but a culture where you treat them like pets being trained to perform with treats or toddlers with a star chart doesn’t develop them or grow your business.

And what if you do want them to do something without reward, over and above the job description?  If the culture is one of performing seals purely acting in the hope of a fish then your chances of this are slim.

A strong team is made of individuals who look out for each other, not a collection of people who only act if there is something in it for them.  People don’t just act selfishly.  We’re not just in it for ourselves.  The collective matters, the team matters, and good managers find ways to encourage and reward good team citizenship over and above striving for personal reward.

Not all managers do this.  There are managers who will set their deputies the task of competing with each other for praise and promotion.  The best response to this is to point out that there’s plenty of competition outside the organisation, wasting energy on internal competition in a hideous and pale parody of Game of Thrones is a misuse of time and energy.

Of course there must a reward exchange.  There needs to be something in it for you.  But if it’s the first and only criteria then the outcomes won’t be pretty.  If you’re hooked on that “What’s in it for me?” hamster wheel professionally or personally, then it’s time to get off and start considering the bigger picture.  There are many ways you can behave at work which will help others.  Don’t be a bystander when you witness unfairness, speak up for the overlooked, the bullied or the silenced.  Or sign up here to be a gamechanger for disability in Scope’s new initiative.

What’s in it for you?  A real reason to get up and go to work happy.