There is one aspect of business that the leader cannot delegate

July 31st, 2020

Can’t delegate the culture

We have hurtled into the future of work in the last few months.  For many the workplace has ceased to be the office and we have instead participated in a giant pilot of home working.

Some people can’t wait for it to get back to “normal”.  Most never want it to go back exactly to that pre-Covid norm.    Most of us in fact prefer working at home to being in the office, at least some of the timeForbes reports that according to Qualtrics, workers are in no rush to return to their old desks. Instead three out of five workers in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, who switched to remote working, say they prefer working from home. Just one in four workers under the age of 55 actually wants to go back to the office.

Of those who are still working from home after the switch, the majority (59%) want to permanently switch to a form of blended work that allows working both in the office and at home.

Companies seem to have responded to this cultural shift. Some 41% of global respondents to the survey said their companies are now giving staff the option to work remotely some of the time.

How do we manage workplace culture if the culture of the workplace is no longer just the office?

Some businesses have regarded the workplace culture as just that.  Something that can be controlled and monitored and nourished inside the office.  So businesses might paint corporate values on the walls, or in the lifts.  They will offer sweets or a banana for snacking.  The meeting rooms may contain beanbags to encourage creativity.

Frankly these moves were never enough to deliver a good culture.  Whilst a coat of paint and a decent carpet can spruce up atmosphere, unless the emotional culture is right then everything else is masking reality.

Then there’s office rituals.  When I started out in media an afternoon ritual was often a game of cricket in the office.  This notion of fun was not my notion of fun.  This fun ritual made me feel excluded, not included.  At least virtual online games are easier to swerve.  I only fitted in when I moved to a business that was full of diverse types of people.

As we move to what many think will be a more hybrid office/home working pattern there are new challenges, and new opportunities to get culture right.  To make sure that it is inclusive, that everyone has a sense of ownership, shared vision and empowerment.

This is not simple.  It is not something that any leader should delegate to the people team, or specialist department.  In perhaps every other aspect of the CEO’s job a specialist, experienced, senior expert can deliver strategic advice and actionable tactics.  A great CEO will always keep culture as their own deliverable and their own responsibility.

We are in uncharted waters.  The social capital that has glued the work place together in our sector has been largely earned through interactions in the workplace together.  As we move to a situation where there are new norms the challenges multiply, and so do the opportunities.

Some careers have been built in the past in media and advertising on the golf course or in the pub.  This has held back non golfers and light drinkers.  Businesses with great cultures have reaped the rewards in terms of diversity of thinking because golf has not been the main path to promotion.

If casual encounters or serendipitous meetings become less likely in the future everyone will need to play a part in creating a positive inclusive culture where talent of every kind is encouraged, led in person by the CEO.




Now is the time to innovate.

July 17th, 2020

There are three factors that make this the moment.

  • Inability to rely on modelling as a decision making tool;
  • Changes in society and media behaviours;
  • New tech.

First modelling.

IPA Effectiveness Awards judging is ongoing.  As convenor this year I am all too well aware of how tough the process is, and what a huge amount of work goes into the most rigorous awards standards in the industry worldwide.  This year for the first time all papers were read by technical judges not only those with technical appendices.  A new and valuable adjustment to the process of proving, beyond reasonable doubt, the effectiveness of advertising (in the broadest sense) on business outcomes.

Many papers use econometrics to help with this proof.  Yet as my colleague Greg Newman has pointed out to me, we are currently in interesting times as far as econometrics is concerned.  There has been much disruption to normal advertising practices and this will both be very valuable (econometricians like dark periods for contrast) and yet also very useless (in that so much in the supply and retail chain has changed that the models will need a reset.)

Fans of The Black Swan will remember that Taleb was critical of econometrics in times of change.  He cited turkeys and Thanksgiving.  If a turkey commissioned a lifetime model of what was going to happen in late November based on the previous months of its life then the prediction would be that it would get slightly more food every day, not that it would be cooked for Thanksgiving dinner.

Where there is great emphasis on modelling, there can be less appetite for experimentation.

Factor one then is that when there is less to base predictions on, it can be easier to persuade stakeholders to try out something new.  This is already happening in some sectors, for example live music.

The Economist predicts that the current crisis will prove to be “the biggest jolt to live music in decades”.   The market value of Live Nation, the world’s largest live-entertainment company, has dropped from $15bn to around $10bn as concerts have been postponed.  The writer argues that the current situation however might be a boon in terms of creativity and innovation, (whilst acknowledging that a virtual gig will never replace a live event): Rolling Stone magazine reported that K-pop band BTS made $20m from a virtual gig staged on June 14th;  Travis Scott famously reached 27m on Fortnite; and Laura Marling sold many more seats for a live streamed gig than she could have sold at the venue.

So, this brings us to the second factor which is that many more people have learned digital skills and new digital habits.  Covid19 has done more to get people to adopt online shopping, entertainment and interaction than any planned campaign or strategy.  E-commerce has become normal for all ages and on-demand viewing has grown by 70% year on year.

Factor three is changing technology.  5G will enable more creativity in terms of virtual experience.

These three factors – the fact that we can’t rely on the past to model what is to come; the change in society in attitudes, in digital habits and media behaviours;  the impact of 5G – make for a powerful Venn diagram.  In the centre is a moment in time, a moment to innovate for brands, for comms, for media.  If this isn’t part of your plan then now is the time to think of ideas that haven’t been tried before, about appetite for risk, and to design a plan with elements that look like nothing that has gone before.





Fine words and pledges are one thing. Actual change is another.   Good measurement is crucial for real change.

July 7th, 2020

Project Diamond is a single online reporting system supported by all the major TV broadcasters to measure the diversity of everyone on TV and everyone who makes TV.

It works very simply.  If you are involved in any TV show, in front of or, behind the camera, in any way at all, then you are emailed with a link to a voluntary self-completion questionnaire.

The data generated is then developed into a report every year, but you can also access the information on an ongoing basis by channel or type of programme and by seniority of role.

It isn’t just a snapshot of diversity at one point in time.  It isn’t just opinion.  It is ongoing live data.  In the latest report there is data from over 600,000 contributions.  This third cut of data shows that women represent 52% of appearances on screen and 53% of the off screen contributions, and yet are missing from key senior roles (only 26% directors).  B.A.M.E. are 22% of on screen appearances yet only 8% of directors.  Trans people are represented on screen in line with the population.  Disabled people are under-represented on screen and behind the scenes.

The data shows that there is room for improvement and the broadcasters behind the survey don’t hide from the facts.  They acknowledge that they are on a journey, but that by measuring data they have taken the first step to real change.  Gary Davey, CEO, Sky Studios is quoted on the Project Diamond website: “We will only be able to achieve real change armed with comprehensive and reliable data and that is exactly what Diamond is now delivering. The third report makes the information even more powerful with the addition of analysis across production roles and across genres. I am a big fan of Diamond. For the first time we can force the pace of change, based on evidence.”

There is no such equivalent data for advertising.

I am a firm believer that only if you measure things can you improve them.

There are very good surveys of on screen representation in advertising for TV – Channel 4’s “Mirror on the Industry” study is one of them.  Lloyds Banking Group’s report into diversity in advertising “Reflecting modern Britain?” is another.

There is nothing that looks systematically at who is working behind the scenes, and this too is crucial as we consider the real diversity in our industry.  As the Lloyds study remarks: “65% of respondents said they would feel more favourable about a brand that tries to represent different parts of society.”  I think that this is best achieved by having the right mix of people creating, developing and making the ads, a team that represents all the different parts of society.

Some of us are working on a project to change this.  A group of MediaCom advertisers are consulting with the industry bodies, IPA, AA and ISBA and CDN (who are the organisers of Project Diamond) to create a version of this for our industry which would be world leading.  It isn’t simple, but it is very important.  As many commentators have said, fine words and pledges are one thing.  Actual change is another.  Bobi Carley, head of media at ISBA, says: “We are at an inflection point in society and in our industry, we need actions and a meaningful measurement mechanism to hold people to account.  To steal a great phrase I heard this week ‘we need to measure what we treasure.’”

If you would like to get involved please email me or get in touch with the industry body that you work with.



Forget average.

June 24th, 2020

No more planning for the average

How average are you?  Most people consider themselves above average.  It is a behavioural heuristic known as illusory superiority.  Yet planning for the “average” or typical person is normally how we make things work.

Offices for example are planned for the average person.  Average size, average outgoing personality, and average behaviour.  But those averages have become meaningless since Covid19 changed our lives.  MediaCom’s 5 offices across UK accommodate about 1500 people normally.  Since lockdown of course we have moved from 5 offices to 1500.  Each individual workplace is tailored by each colleague to a greater or lesser extent depending on who they live with, where they live, and what kind of flexibility that affords.  It has been remarkable how swiftly we have all adapted, with not one ball dropped, with an overnight transition.  The rhythm of the office has been disrupted and many believe it will never entirely return to pre-Covid conditions.

This gives us a once in decades chance to reconsider everything, and re-imagine what office life is for and how it should work.  Pre-lockdown offices were largely based on what had gone before.  Some people had fruit and sweets and hanging out areas on top of a series of desks and laptops but one office more or less matched another.  Now we can really get radical.

Jeremy Lee points out that planning for exceptional behaviour rather than the average will be good, even great, for advertising, writing: “offices as collaborative spaces, to be used from time to time and only when necessary: this sounds like a progressive move that the entire industry – and its employees – can benefit from.”  There is a paradox.  Some are thrilled at the prospect of returning to work. Others are dreading the commute and a resurgence of the culture of some businesses’ toxic presenteeism.

There is no consensus at the moment about lockdown easing.  There is also no consensus in terms of public sentiment.

Britain is awash with paradox.  FOGO – fear of going out and BOSH – bored of staying home.  People are anxious about conspicuous spending and yet also yearning for treats as USA MediaCom CSO Anush Prabhu points out in a recent podcast.

Many advertising strategies segment audiences into cohorts with similar attributes.  Creative and media strategies are developed to reach the average person in each of those 5-8 tribes.  Yet within the tribes there are polarized attitudes which are made more extreme by lockdown conditions.  For example, a Gen Z living with their grandparents will not have the same attitudes or behaviour as another who is not.  A mum of two who is a key worker won’t feel the same as a mum of two who is furloughed.  The differences in outlook mirror the diversity mosaic of the UK.  Just as MediaCom now has over 1000 offices instead of 5, there are many more than 1000 consumer types instead of 5 for every sector.  We don’t need to aggregate for an average any more, we can examine the detail and plan against it.

Media planning was originally designed for averages.  But it has been reinvented for individuals.

Media intelligence can observe the differences and the commonalities and create effective solutions.  Are you a TikToker or a Pinterester?  OTT or linear TV?  Instagrammer or Facebook?  Amazon or eBay?  Every one of those consumer types will create a data trail of intelligence that allows the design of communications strategies to best drive outcomes for the brand.

Group M’s global ceo Christian Juhl has pointed out that adaptability and fast understanding of data are crucial as communities exit lockdown.  “In China, where lockdowns have eased, we’ve done things like track road-traffic activity to identify when and where weekend travel has or has not returned to normal.”

There is no more “average”.  We are divided by our experiences now more than ever.  The challenge of 2020 is to diagnose and plan for the differences and at the same time seek the common human cultural truths that bring us together.



There’s nothing a video call can do to replace this.

June 9th, 2020

Can’t smell you, can’t touch you, can’t make eye contact with you, can you still motivate me?

The movie director John Boorman has written that when he wanted to get the most out of a movie star during a shoot, he would make a small adjustment to their hair just before filming.  He said that this was about proving his attention to detail, to ensure that the actor knew that he could absolutely trust that he wanted the best for them.

There are no movie shoots at the moment of course, but the point remains, that a touch to add confidence (not in a creepy #metoo way) is impossible at work now.

You can’t smell your colleagues either.  Smell is a very profound sense.  People who have suffered from Covid and recovered, talk about how disorientating the loss of smell has been.  Smell is one of the oldest of all the senses.   A familiar scent can revive all kinds of memories.  (They can also sell your house.  Top tip for showing property is to have some vanilla toasting under the grill).  It is even likely that when we feel attracted to someone it is as much to do with how they smell as how they look.  Patrick Suskind’s novel Perfume spins a fantasy tale of the impact of how an individual can change his impact through his scent.   So, whether you recognize this consciously or not, you now can’t smell the people you are in a meeting with via video, or at a social distance from.

There is no eye contact.  Not in the way that you have when you are in a one to one meeting in real life.

And micro-expressions are much harder to read.  And easy to mis-read.  Especially when poor wifi delays their impact.  Less than 10% of communication is verbal and so much body language is lost on a Zoom call.  Micro-expressions which are only a few seconds in total are a massive part of how we react to someone, and this is now either lost or misconstrued.

When we give our Glass Wall Talks, Kathryn Jacob and I are often asked about speaking up in meetings and how to overcome nervousness.  We have to stress that it is important to understand that when you are in a meeting people aren’t judging exactly what you say because they are mostly worried about how they are coming across themselves.  Now they are literally watching how they come across.  Is there any point to seeing yourself other than vanity?  Imagine how a real life meeting would be if everyone had their own mirror to be distracted by.

It is still possible to connect emotionally, but you need to think about it differently.  In a way it is like moving from being an actor in a small theatre to becoming a movie star.  Michael Caine’s masterclass on this has some lessons for us all now – see 6 minutes in for how to handle a close up.

3 tips for video calls:

  • When you need to make a connection look into the camera, not at someone’s face. If there are 6 people in the meeting and you are looking at someone on the bottom left of your screen it will look like you are not looking at them.
  • Ask the people in your meeting lots of questions. Don’t deliver a long monologue.  Most people don’t have the attention span for this in real life, let alone on a video call – you will lose some of them to admiration of their own image.
  • Tell stories, short stories, to keep people’s attention. Lee Child writes mass market thrillers that are ultimate page turners.  How can you adopt the page turner technique (without the violence) to ensure you sell your points?  Here you need to think like a script writer for an unmissable USA TV show where every frame delivers drama, laughter, or emotional resonance.