One crucial reason the plan might not go to plan

May 4th, 2018

tysonA great plan is crucial to progress. Whether it is a plan for your marketing ambitions, a plan to transform the sector, a media plan or a career plan, great understanding and a logical solution are essential for success.

A great plan isn’t enough. As Mike Tyson said: “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”

None of us expect to get punched in the office. But a great plan might still go astray. Not due to random violence, not even due to an unexpected turn of events. It might be because of the bottleneck.

Bottlenecks turn up in all kinds of situations. They might be hidden, or it may be impossible to predict how much impact they’ll have. If you don’t find the bottleneck the plan might fall.

The term bottleneck is easy to visualise in theory of course, but often difficult to identify. The term is an engineering one and refers to the component that limits the performance of a larger system eg the slowest step in the assembly line in car manufacturing.

Strategy experts Sull and Eisenhardt think that exposing the bottleneck takes proper analysis and real data.  Take their case study of Grupo Multimedia, a Mexican videoconferencing provider, who analysed their processes to see what was leading to disappointing sales. The managers of the business were shocked to learn that more than 70 percent of projects were stuck in the design stage, waiting for engineers to create customised proposals for each customer. Not only were the design engineers stretched too thinly, the carefully customised proposals weren’t converting that well. Only one in six resulted in a sale. With this evidence the management were able to try a more agile approach, with more off the shelf solutions delivered faster.

Often activities that require coordination across different departments, as in a media agency or media owner, can be subject to hidden bottlenecks. The finance team, sales or buying teams and client service teams will have different objectives and distinct ways of working. The departments can end up spending time redesigning processes that subsequently have the same old bottlenecks unless these are identified and solved.

Data is important in the search for the bottleneck, as in the case of the stats in the Grupo Multimedia example, and this can apply to your personal life as well.

If you’re trying to make a personal change, maybe eating more healthily, drinking less or exercising more, Sull and Eisenhardt suggest a diary of what you are up to and when can make your personal bottleneck obvious, which then means you’re closer to solving it.

Personal projects or professional plans need data, evidence and honesty to uncover the bottleneck. If your plan isn’t going to plan, start investing time in looking for the place or time where it’s getting stuck before you rip it up and start again.



This is crucial

April 30th, 2018

becherIt’s more important than a good strategy

In 2016 I was introduced to the ceo of a manufacturing company as a strategy head.  “Ahh,” he said, “you know Sue don’t you that culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

“Indeed” I answered, “but the strategy is to have a good culture”.

Without a good culture you can have all the strategy, talent and leading edge product in the world, but you won’t have a chance at long term, or even medium term success.

Here’s three reasons why this is:

First, there will be no real diversity or inclusion.  If you have to fit in to a prevailing sameness in a business then too much effort is tied up in this, instead of doing good work.  This is inevitable if all the senior management line up look and sound the same.  Deep down most people will assume that in order to get promoted you need to mirror the majority look and feel of the current board.  So a lack of diversity tends to sustain itself, and we know that diversity drives better decisions, and ultimately better profits.  A good culture ensures that everyone feels that they can be themselves.

Secondly without a great culture bad behaviour and incivility can become deep rooted.  Here’s where genuine warmth is crucial.  It is possible to have a culture where everyone is ruthlessly polite, and even mild swearing is unacceptable.  This doesn’t mean that back stabbing and undermining are necessarily eliminated too.  Rudeness is never acceptable yet surface politeness is not enough.  The intention of the culture must be to get the best out of everyone there, not to create a series Grand National fences where if you don’t make it over Becher’s Brook at the first try no-one helps you back into the saddle to try again.   Having high standards is important, in my view good enough work is never good enough.  But the objective must be to help everyone work in the best way that they can, not to create an obstacle course to eliminate people as fast as possible.

Thirdly, and most crucially, without the right kind of culture you can’t have creative tension and disagreements.  Without this, you don’t get great work.  If disagreeing leads to put downs or even being taken off a project team then the need for consensus is probably being valued as more important than getting to a great answer.   There is obviously a balance to be struck here.  With deadlines looming disagreements and diversity of opinions need to happen at the right time and in the right place (ie not necessarily publically).  However if they don’t happen at all then you sacrifice great to mediocre.  A great culture doesn’t mean no-one ever argues.  A great culture allows for constructive debate.

As a final point, life is too short and you spend too much of it at work, to put up with a culture that isn’t awesome.



3 rules to simplify media

April 12th, 2018

3moonsMedia is complicated.

More and more complicated.

The more complicated things are the greater the need for simplification.

Here’s 3 simple rules to help to deal with the complications.

There are more and more lines on a block plan.  The media channels used don’t have easily comparable metrics.

Even the media that have been around since the middle of the last century don’t, for instance audiences for newspaper readership and radio listenership.  Those that might seem similar don’t of course either.   A view of an advert on the TV in your sitting room is not measured comparably with a view of perhaps the same ad on your mobile.   Add in experiential or the headline sponsorship of a sporting event and you are completely in the territory of chalk versus cheese.

Every plan should be judged by how it delivers growth for the client’s ambitions.  Yet judging by outcomes can be complicated too.  First, if you only judge by short term results you are in danger of ruling out media that contribute in a medium to longterm way.  Without this you are liable to end up with a brand without a medium to longterm future.  Secondly there is once again the chalk and cheese problem.  Experiential won’t deliver the scale of broadcast advertising.  But a great experience is hard to forget (as is a poor one of course).  The impact that a good personal experience can deliver is difficult to isolate and to calibrate against other marketing.

So things are complicated.

How can we simplify?

There are only two good forms of comms.  Comms which help to convert to a sale (or recruit to a new behaviour or cause).  Comms which help to drive desire for the brand (or behaviour or cause).

Every line of the plan needs to clearly deliver against one or both of these criteria with a clear key performance metric.

If it’s about conversion its essential to have a brilliant discipline of test, learn and reapply.  The best possible machine learning for execution and tactic.  Avoid the trap of too many metrics that Jim Kelly, VP R+D at Quantcast, talked about at MediaCom’s transformation session at Adweek Europe.  It’s important to prioritise the metrics to deliver the best outcomes for the business, and not to prioritise the metrics against which your current processes perform most powerfully.  This is essential because optimising against a metric that you can influence most successfully today is not necessarily as important as experimenting with what will leverage your business outcomes across the next twelve months.

If the comms are about building brand saliency and warmth then its crucial to remember the 2 second rule.  Much is made of the supposed “fact” that our attention spans are shrinking.  The truth is that there is so much more content trying to attract consumer attention that any commercial message needs to be brilliant at capturing and retaining that attention over and above the chaos.

The point is not that average attention spans have shrunk from 12 to 8 seconds.  The point is that you’ve really only got a couple of seconds to interest anyone.  Thanks to mobiles to which we are joined at the fist there is nearly always something else to look at or listen to instead.

Make yourself useful, interesting, funny, entertaining, emotive or personal in a couple of seconds or don’t expect to keep any consumer’s focus.

Simple then (but not easy): Be accountable, Innovate, Cut through.





Here’s the top reasons why there should be more women behind the camera.

April 5th, 2018

gettyImage: Black Victorian by Stephanie Nnamani Getty Images

Some called 2017 the “year of women”.  Time Magazine’s person of the year was “The silence breakers”, the thousands of people who blew the whistle on sexual harassment.   They didn’t put thousands on the cover however.  Five women were represented in the cover photo, together with an arm, an anonymous arm.  (The sixth image of an elbow, belongs to an anonymous young hospital worker from Texas — a sexual harassment victim who fears that disclosing her identity would negatively impact her family. And the five on the cover are Taylor Swift, Ashley Judd, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, lobbyist Adama Iwu, and Isabel Pascual, who is a strawberry picker and an immigrant from Mexico whose name was changed to protect her identity.)

In this so called “year of women” who took the cover photograph?  A team of two called Billy and Hells who are one man, one woman.  A good balance then.  Unlike many professional pictures.

A piece of research by Anna Fox, Professor of Photography at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, was published in 2016 said that under 5% of published and collected photographs are taken by women, and many commercial agencies’ employees comprising around 2% women.  As we know 51% of the population is women and they make in the region of 80% of shopping decisions.  They’re not missing from advertising imagery to that extent of course.  But those images will be taken largely by men.  It’s a mismatch that surely no-one would expect these days.

Does it matter who takes the photo?  A panel that I participated in at Getty Images discussed this issue.  They recently ran a gorgeous exhibition at their London gallery called “The Female Gaze”, of seventy images taken by women, mainly of women.

The inspiring Stephanie Nnamani, visual artist, points out that diversity of the people taking photographs is crucial to empowerment.  Even the selfie culture is “empowering, worth celebrating.”  As she first came to photography she realised just how prominent the “objectification of women” was in a very celebrated photographer’s work, and this inspired her in her career choice.

Why would the proportion of women behind the camera be so out of kilter, not just with the target audiences for most brands, but also with the numbers of women in photography classes in colleges?

It makes no sense at all. It is of course something that we can all try to influence if we are involved in the commissioning of work.  Does your process allow for a gender split of 50:50 when the photographer or director is being selected?  If the audience for the brand’s marketing or advertising is at least 50% women, can this be ignored as a factor?

The panel believe (although perhaps you would expect them to) that it should not be ignored, and that the images taken by women of women are different, perhaps more authentic.

Given the ASA’s conclusions about the depiction of women in advertising and the need for new guidelines, having more women behind the camera should help redress the balance to a new and more normal normal.





The single most important factor for transformation, and it might surprise you.

March 29th, 2018

aweWhich is the most important factor for transformation?

At the beginning of 2018 we asked our clients a big question.  Of all of the multiple issues facing our industry, (including GAFAM, Brexit, Millennials, Voice, Purpose etc etc), all of which are on marketers’ minds, which is the most important?

I can reveal here that the top four issues are:

Creativity, Artificial Intelligence, Data and Agility.

At our opening session at AdWeek Europe we invited four speakers to each champion one of the topics and let the audience vote on which was most crucial.

That transformation is essential for business is unarguable.  Most businesses have path dependence baked into their ways of working.  Keeping up with the pace of change in the world is essential but it isn’t enough simply to buy in a new head of digital or data.  If you staple on a new product to the edge of the business but don’t change how the organisation operates then it won’t deliver.

As one great thinker of this century Stephen Hawking said “intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”.

As another great (but in this case a fictional great) Optimus Prime said: “there’s a thin line between being a hero and being a memory.”

Without transformation, without change, there’s no chance of being a hero.

Without the right kind of transformation there’s just the Gartner “Trough of disillusionment.

What did our speakers say and who won?

Victoria White, editorial director of Hearst Made, championed creativity.  She talked about the importance of human editorial judgement: “If we only went with what the data said then would not have created such amazing products such as Esquire Town House and House Beautiful Sofas.”  She pointed to the need for bravery in knowing what the audience want before they know they want it and acting on that insight, calling her editors “walking algorithms”.  She concluded by saying: “without a passionate human being with an idea there is no creativity”.

Jim Kelly, VP R+D at Quantcast was up next, championing the supremacy of data.  He pointed out the step change in media from making a few decisions every quarter in the last century to making a few million media decisions every second now.  So he said it is crucial to get “comfortable with machines digesting data on your behalf”.  Culturally this is a big change too.  Kelly believes that many organisations are focussed on too many so called key performance indicators because too many metrics are measurable.  In a reference to Coleridge he challenged that many are “drowning in data, like the ancient mariner surrounded by water, but dying of thirst”.  (Remember the lines: “water water everywhere but not a drop to drink”).  The solution, sort out your metrics and data will drive business success.

Hannah Mirza, global head of partnerships at MediaCom talked about AI being crucial.  She said: “When humans think of problem solving we follow decision making trees to arrive at answers.  AI has the ability to comprehend many more decision trees than a human can by contrast.”  Hannah pointed out that we are reaching a point where AI and reality matching is as close as 95% and improving to the extent that we are not able to discernibly differentiate between humans and machine  and showed how you can benefit at every stage of the consumer decision journey with best practice AI.

Finally, Tony Foggett, ceo and owner of Code, computer love championed Agility.  Agile processes differ from traditional ways of working by valuing Individuals and interactions over processes and tools, Working software over comprehensive documentation, Customer collaboration over contract negotiation and Responding to change over slavishly following a plan.  His business is built on Agile practices and he eloquently argued that his philosophy of “Point, Fire, Aim” led to better decisions and more empowered staff.  In a world where change will never be this slow again, agility is essential for transformation.

Transformation is crucial.  That’s why we’ve set up Theobalds Road Consultancy at MediaCom to deliver a change path for clients.

After all the speakers had argued their point we had a vote.  The Adweek Europe 2018 audience said, conclusively, that Creativity was key.  What do you think?