No more standing by #pressforprogress

March 8th, 2018

IWD-2018-900x380For IWD 2018 make a pledge.  No more standing by.

Let’s talk about bravery. Not mountain climbing. Not parachuting out of a plane. Not bungee jumping, abseiling, marathon running, Tough Mudder or Iron Man training. All of which are admirable.

I’d like to talk about everyday bravery. The bravery never just to standby and listen while someone in the office shrinks into themselves because the office humour or banter has taken unpleasant turn.

The bravery always to speak up to make sure that the quiet people are included and heard. That the outliers feel like they belong as much as those who fit the mould.

To speak up, to act, to defend, even if that makes you the unpopular one.

Speaking up, staging interventions and zero tolerance of excluding behaviour at every level, this is what changes work culture and if the current statistics on diversity balance at the leadership levels of our sector and the gender pay gap are evidence then culture needs to change, to be more inclusive, to be more diverse.

Speaking up does require everyday bravery… I know mountain climbing bungee jumping fanatics who find challenging in the moment too difficult.

It must be done, for the sake of the profits if nothing else. New McKinsey analysis demonstrates that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity at exec level can deliver 67% better economic profit than those in the bottom quartile.

There’s been a lot of discussion of this in the last 18 months. Since I published my book (with co-author Kathryn Jacob): “The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work, and businesses that mean business”, in September 2016, we’ve seen the issue of gender parity reach everyone’s attention. Yet little actual change. Yet.

The question every business and every leader should ask themselves is are you doing enough?

One of the case studies in our book concerns a CMO based in the US whose career takes a downward turn when she finds herself with a new boss from a different country, where the prevailing culture is that women are expected to be much more deferential than in New York.  It takes a while before she realises what is going on and takes steps to change the situation.  One reader told me that he read the story full of anger towards the woman in question’s colleagues.  “Why didn’t they speak out?,” he said, “they must have been aware of what was going on, but they said nothing.  Were they afraid to rock the boat, thought it wasn’t their business or did they simply see this as a way of pushing their own careers forwards?”

Frankly incidents like this are all our business. Or we should make it so.

In our interviews and research for our book, in the questions we’ve been asked at the 90+ talks we’ve given, Kathryn and I find the same themes come up.

There was the woman who was asked, the last time she pushed for a pay rise, if her husband’s career was in trouble.

There’s the rep who was asked if it was her time of the month the last time she challenged her boss.

The lawyer who when she arrived at a meeting where she was the only woman present, and there weren’t enough chairs, was asked by the CEO if she’d like to sit on his lap.

Colleagues said nothing.

I expect it was too hard to intervene in the moment.

We must intervene. Every time. We must not stand by. We must be brave. Every day.





The most important thing to focus on when you create content

March 2nd, 2018

bp11 hours of media consumption in 8 hours of time.

This is not a creative endeavour; it is a race for attention

This is how Jez Nelson, ceo of Somethin Else, describes the content development and audience generating business he’s in.  I think it is a good description of the business we are all in.  It is a crucial bit of understanding given the OfCom insight about UK media consumption.

If you’ve been in any kind of presentation recently you’ve probably seen a chart that says that attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds, or in other words that we have less focus than a goldfish.

Whether attention span is significantly falling off a cliff or not is to my mind questionable.  When there’s great stuff to watch, listen to or read there really isn’t an attention span problem.  At the showing of Black Panther that I attended in my local cinema last week you didn’t see anyone getting a bit bored after 8 or 12 seconds and looking at something else.  Rather there was a full house rapt audience who didn’t even move as the credits rolled, and most of them were there for the preview (spoiler alert) of the next Avengers movie right at the end.

The Harry Potter franchise got more kids reading than ever, and reading long, long books with no pictures, no sound, no moving images.  The truth is an economic one.  Supply and demand.  There is more choice this century in terms of quality content than there ever has been.  Consumers are at the equivalent of the best buffet you can ever imagine.

You know what it’s like if you face a really good spread at an event.  Where you want a bit of everything but you also can’t either eat it all or even fit it all on a normal sized plate.  You’re wearing your best outfit, it’s not designed for big eating but you want to try it all!  That’s what content providers are now doing.  Throwing the best ever buffet of content.  And the audience knows it.  So they try one thing, and if it doesn’t satisfy they switch to something else. Fast.

It is a race for their attention.

Thanks to multi-tasking and stacking behaviour, in a typical day, we squeeze 10 hours 52 minutes of media and communications into the 8 hours 45 minutes of time actually spent with media (OFCOM). There seems to be no slowing in this wave of content production and consumption; users upload more than 400 hours of video to YouTube every minute, Instagrammers post more than 80 million photos daily.  People are over stimulated.  Which means to really cut through to the consumer a brand’s communications have to stand out.

The crucial question to ask is of any work is just that.  How does it stand out?  This is a different question to whether the work is logical and data driven, even any good.  Frankly you might be better off being the funny and irreverent piece of content if your environment is made up of meaningful, moving and serious work.  A brand that is famous for shouting about price might be the brand that gets remembered in a stream of ads that talk about feelings and emotions.  Or a brand that creates real meaning for the consumer will stand out in an environment that otherwise looks and feels commercial.

It’s a race for attention.  Not a creativity contest.  You can’t demand attention ever again. You have to earn it.  Second by second.















What you need for next level leadership

February 22nd, 2018

flexA recent brief for a talk at a conference about leadership ran as follows:

“We want the delegates to understand that what’s got them to the senior level that they are at now, isn’t enough to take them to the next level of business leadership”.

What’s necessary for the next level?

Technical expertise and being an excellent practitioner are taken as read. Neither of those skills are enough for management, let alone leadership.

Emotional intelligence is certainly crucial.

To lead you need to understand your own motivations, and then to share them. It’s not enough to share your targets, your key performance indicators. It isn’t enough, as Daniel Pink explains in his book “Drive”, just to share rewards financially with your team. You have to share your feelings. You must understand the motivations and feelings of your team. In both respects this requires emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence alone is not enough either though.

You need emotional flexibility.

To grow a business you frequently need to pivot. A strategy that suited your business 5 years ago is unlikely to deliver for the next 5 years. Customers are changing, for example, becoming more demanding of meaning and purpose as well of good value. They’re increasingly unwilling to compromise and their impatience with inadequate service levels or slow tech is increasing. Revenue models and sales channels might need to change to make sense of ROPO (Research online, Purchase offline and Research offline, Purchase online), meaning a change to how you motivate sales teams. Automotive sales have been step-changed by the growth in lease to own. Other sectors will follow. A good business leader will take advantage of these changes and pivot their strategy.

To grow a team you need to pivot emotionally too. If you get stuck in a narrative of negativity about a team member or allow negative thoughts to undermine your own abilities to deal with a difficult situation then you can’t be a great leader.

Take the example given by Susan David, author of Emotional Agility, in HBR. She describes Jeffrey, who gets angry at work, with his boss, with his team, when they don’t behave entirely as he thinks they should. When Jeffrey tries to suppress his anger he’s left feeling that he hasn’t been able to bring his whole self to work. So he’s less effective and of course even more angry.

She advises that Jeffrey needs to detach from the feelings and label them. So: “my colleague makes me furious becomes:   I’m having the thought that my colleague is wrong and am feeling angry about it”. Detached, labelled, it is easier to deal with. You can even ask yourself, what if I could stop being so angry with them? Or maybe, what if I am just angry because I can’t control my colleague and I don’t like their approach, but they might have a point?

No-one is suggesting that this is easy. If you can pivot emotionally however you are more open to pragmatic solutions. You are more likely to accept that your colleagues, bosses, team members can change.

Emotional flexibility is crucial for next level leadership.


Respect is more important than a title

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

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.