What does Taylor Swift do right?

May 13th, 2024

On April 2nd 2024 Taylor Swift officially became the 2545th richest billionaire on the planet.  (There are apparently a lot of billionaires these days).  According to Forbes she is the first musician to achieve this from talent alone (not needing side hustles).  A new concept has been named for her.  Swiftonomics, coined by Bloomberg, originally was conceived as a way of explaining how her 2022 tour bucked the overall economic trends in the US.  Advance sales of her tickets sold out and huge premiums were paid for resale.  And the trend has only continued to accelerate.  Apparently profits from her Era tour make her as rich as the 36th biggest nation in the world.  Recently the tourism minister of Indonesia, Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno, said: “We need Swiftonomics for Indonesian tourism” and created a fund to bid for events like a Swift concert in order to boost the travel industry.

The supply of an unmissable product or event can create truly significant revenue.  The Federal Reserve even mentioned Swift in its June 2023 Beige Book, its regular analysis of recent economic conditions, stating that “May was the strongest month for hotel revenue in Philadelphia since the onset of the pandemic, in large part due to an influx of guests for the Taylor Swift concerts in the city.” It’s not just the Swift product.  Barbieheimer, Beyonce and Abba Voyage (of course not actually in real life), women’s football, new formats of cricket, have all created new revenue streams. And a bit of comfort for people who are worried about AI is that according to The Economist “even if AI surpasses humans in art, intellect, music and sport, humans will probably continue to derive value from surpassing their fellow humans, for example by having tickets to the hottest events.”

What can brands and advertisers learn from this?

The first clear lesson is make it live.  The latest IPA Bellwether Report pointed to a boom in events.  A prestige occasion that was unmissable, you had to be there where marketing can deliver brand equity and create new memory structures outside of advertising alone.  The report indicates that “main media budgets” might decline, but events show unprecedented growth.  Paul Samuels, evp AEG Global Partnerships, is quoted in Campaign saying: “While an advert lasts just seconds, an event lasts for hours – and the memories, a lifetime – giving brands longer to engage with consumers and enhance their experiences.”  You clearly cannot reach as many people with an event as you can with a paid media campaign, even with an artist who is working as hard as Taylor Swift, but you can create lasting impact in the hearts and minds of those who are there.

Lesson two, you do not have to reinvent everything.  Too much revolution in communications can be overrated in terms of commercial success.  Ditching the slogan, changing the logo, creating a completely different ad campaign might be exciting, but might not deliver the outcomes that have been planned for.  Thinking about Swift herself, her longevity is important.  Her multitude of fans can count on a gentle evolution of content that sounds familiar and yet is refreshed.  This sometimes goes against common advertising practices of calling wear out long before the audience is weary of the ad, and of abandoning strong brand equity with a full makeover of comms.  Dominic Twose, the former head of knowledge management at Millward Brown,  explains that advertising wear out is rare, the response to an ad shown over months or even years is consistent, and if people enjoy the ad, then this doesn’t diminish through repetition.   A new Channel 4 study on sponsorship shows that effectiveness in driving purchase intent improves as time goes on, (even if people claim that they are fed up with the idents).  As Taylor herself puts it: “I never want to change so much that people can’t recognise me”. 

Diversification of revenue might not be how Taylor became a billionaire, but it hasn’t hurt her bank balance.  The sales of vinyl have stepchanged because of her and she’s sold lots of friendship bracelets and movie tickets too.  The Eras tour reportedly broke all records for event cinema within 3 days of opening in UK and Ireland.

Above all the lesson from Swiftonomics remains that real talent, dedication, hard work and passion are what drives success. Leaving the last words to Taylor: “Just be yourself, there is no-one better”.


April 25th, 2024

Do you ever feel like this?

I’ve blogged in the past about the fact that we are part ape and part bee.  Not just you and me, but humans in general.  It’s the theory of author and social scientist Jonathan Haidt who says that whilst deep down we are still pack animals, social creatures who need affirmation from our leader, we are also bee like.   Bees work for a common cause, not just for individual recognition.  They don’t compete with each other within the hive.  The hive works together to make honey and ensure the survival of the next generation.

So the ape part of us needs recognition from our boss, the bee part of us loves collaborating to build great stuff.

The ape part of us is more nuanced than you might first think too.  It isn’t just about a top ape conferring credit on the humbler parts of the team.  Apes really care about fairness and about working together too.

Frans de Waal was a professor of primate behaviour at Emory University in Georgia, who died this March.  Till his work in the mid-seventies the prevailing theory about chimps was that the most powerful chimp became the leader, and that their community was based around violence, aggression and selfishness.

But de Waal noticed two young chimps fighting until one won, and the other lost, and retreated to a high branch.  Then de Waal saw something that astonished him and the scientific community at the time.  One held out his hand to the other as if to seek reconciliation.  In a minute they had swung down to the same part of the tree, embraced and kissed.

He rewrote the science beliefs of his era with this and hundreds of experiments and lots of data. According to his obituary in the Economist he passionately believed that it would be good for humanity if “he could convince people that their better instincts – altruism, co-operation, peacemaking – were as innate as violence and competition.”

What is striking about his work is that fairness is crucial to harmony.  This video shows the striking experiment (which is admittedly upsetting because of the caged animals, so be warned) where two capuchins were put in adjacent cages and given the same task to do, to hand stones to the researcher.  At first, they got the same reward – a slice of cucumber.  Then one was rewarded with a grape instead.  When the other monkey noticed this it went wild, hurling the slice of cucumber out of the cage and shaking the bars. 

Transparent, and clear fairness in every workplace is crucial to harmony and productivity.  If you feel your boss has favourites, for reasons that aren’t clear it can make you miserable.  If you don’t know what to do to get into an inner circle that seems to exclude you then it will damage your ability to do great work.

Great leaders know this, and understand how to get the best out of their teams by ensuring that there is a clear light illuminating how things work around the place. 

When you are leading a team, remember the grape, and ensure that you are being completely fair with your praise, rewards and inner circle.

Career stalling? Need a boost? It is all about technique

April 9th, 2024

Misty Raney Bilodeau is one of the stars of Homestead Rescue, a very snackable Discovery Channel makeover show.

The twist for this version of the tried and trusted format is that the Raney family turn up at the homes of Americans who have moved off grid.  They have left the modern world and are living in the wilderness, trying, and failing to make a success of man versus nature.   The families fall victim to predators (bears, coyotes, wildcats); the weather (snow, tornadoes, desert conditions); and their own idiocy (building a home in front of a collapsing mountain, buying a property with no water, or with contaminated water, with no source of food or ending up having to travel 100s miles to earn money to sustain their supposed bucolic aspirations).

The Raney family, long term Alaskan Homesteaders, arrive to rescue them.  Marty, the patriarch, with his casual disregard for health and safety and love of a JCB digger and a nifty turn of phrase.  Matt, the son, eager to get the family trained in shooting at predators with rifles or bows.  And Misty, the epitome of strong femininity and resourcefulness.  She normally sorts out the food problems with an inventive approach to animal welfare and growing vegetables.

Without too much exaggeration, after you watch a couple of episodes, you will probably agree that Misty should be the next president.  She’s open, warm, inspirational, practical, resourceful, inventive, and empathetic.

However desperate the situation is, Misty will come up with a solution.  As she once said: “You can grow food anywhere, it is all about technique”.

She frequently repurposes apparent junk into greenhouses that can successfully grow food. In one episode she rebuilds a school bus into a fertile hothouse.

In another episode she adapts the fertisilation system for crops of acquaponics, using water from fish ponds to fertilise crops, to “duckquaponics”, to create a real breakthrough on a homestead with little water, lots of ducks and an arid garden. 

Misty empowers the food growers and care givers in the families she helps (who are predominantly women) by giving them techniques for growth.  To get Misty to help, you do however need to live on a Homestead.   For those of us that haven’t embraced that lifestyle there is another way to get tips and techniques for growth at work.

As March 2024 marks another International Women’s Day that has seen little progress in terms of lessening the gender disparity globally, we all need to make efforts to be inclusive and equitable. Understanding and sharing techniques, and pragmatic strategies for success at work are a crucial part of this.  The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business is a best selling book that I wrote with Kathryn Jacob OBE, published in 2012.  It contains many solutions that will help grow women’s careers, just as Misty has techniques to grow gardens.

The book is designed to answer a range of frequent and common issues, issues that many of us have sleepless nights over, from: Do you worry that you’re getting less than your fair share at work?; to do you worry about what people think of you?; do you take the steps you should to progress your career?; Are you sometimes overlooked? Do you ever take things personally?; to do you have any difficult relationships at work? And do you know how to back down?

For one woman we interviewed for the book, the solution to feeling overlooked, lay in changing the language she was using for making suggestions: It is easy to mistake a rejection of your suggestion as a rejection of the idea. Of course it is. Frequently you may find that the rejection is a rejection of the format of the idea, not of the content of that idea. The format of any suggestion is as important as the idea itself. In this instance “Sara” bounced back from an outright rejection by using a football analogy. It is so simple, but it was just luck that she arrived at it. Before you take an idea to your boss, your client, or your team, think about the very simplest way that you can explain it. Find out what they’re passionate about – it might be sport, it might be art, it might be education. Use the language of their passion to explain your thinking.

Misty maintains that she can grow food anywhere under any conditions, we think that you can grow your career under most conditions, but sometimes you have to try new techniques and strategies to change the circumstances around you at work to grow your career.

How best to get what you want: Hard or Soft power?

March 19th, 2024

If you have to choose between having hard or soft power, which should you go for?

In 1919 the British Empire was at its largest.  It covered a quarter of the land mass of the world, and ruled over a fifth of the population.  This was hard power, command and control, and it has mostly and thankfully been dismantled. 

They used to say that the sun never set on the empire.  To quote Shane McGowan “It is now deep in darkness”.  But there is an aspect of Britishness which still is pre-eminent around the world.  In terms of soft power, UK is still one of the top nations in the world.  In fact, in 2023 the United Kingdom was second only to the USA in the Brand Finance soft power index.

So, what constitutes soft power?  It is the ability to persuade rather than coerce.  It involves bringing people over to your camp through appeal and attraction, and shared experiences and values. 

Hard power is a military invasion. Economic sanctions are hard power. In contrast, soft power is persuasion, without recourse to force.

The UK’s continued appearance at the top of the rankings must these days has less to do with politics and more to do with traditions like a good cup of tea, and culture, music, movies, tv and sport.  These days the sun never sets on a Manchester football team fan, an Ed Sheeran fan or a “Whovian.”   Hard power gave us Land of Hope and Glory, soft power is a host of global hits from Stairway to Heaven to Harry Styles ‘ As it was” with influential British artists like Oasis, The Beatles, Adele, Elton John and The Rolling Stones.

Diane Coutu, director of client communications at Banyan Family Business Advisors, explains in HBR: “In essence, power is nothing more than the ability to affect others to get what you want, and that requires a set of tools. Some of these are tools of coercion or payment, or hard power, and some are tools of attraction, or soft power. For individuals, charisma (emotional appeal), vision, and communication are key soft-power skills; for nations, soft power is embodied in their culture, values, and legitimate policies.”

You’ve got the choice of chasing soft or hard power in your career.  Clearly the best leaders combine both, using soft skills to win people around them over to hard, sometimes tough, decisions.

Unless you chase hard power it can mean that you are overlooked for promotion.  If you don’t prioritise climbing the career ladder, if you focus on the work, or the happiness of your team mates then other people might be pushing for that next step to the top and you may get overlooked.

Alternatively, if you are all about climbing the career ladder you could be shocked at how little power you actually have when you do get promoted.  There can be a pit of despond that recently promoted directors fall into when they discover that a much longed for career boost means more responsibility and little actual gain in status. It can take time to process the real meaning of leadership status.  And wow betide those that forget the mantra to be nice to those when you are on the way up, as you might someday meet them on the way down.

Hard power gives status, people to command, divisions to restructure, expenses to sign off and assistants perhaps to get your dry cleaning.  Soft power will win more people over to your point of view. It depends what you want most of course but going by the British Empire it’s soft power that has more longevity and better tunes.

What can we learn from Ronnie the Rocket about winning?

March 4th, 2024

Ronnie O’Sullivan is unlike other legendary sports people in a number of ways.

First of all, he’s got huge longevity: he is the only snooker player to have won the world championship as both the youngest, and now the oldest player.

Secondly, at the same time as being on top of the modern game, in some ways he is traditional. He won’t switch chalks. Most snooker players use the TAOM chalk which apparently reduces friction better. Ronnie has stuck with the old Triangle chalk. It certainly doesn’t seem to be holding him back from being both one of the most successful and the most entertaining players.

Thirdly, he says frequently that he does not care about winning at all costs. Although his rivals talk about him as a legend, he must annoy them. He often talks about the fact that he really doesn’t care about winning, only about playing well.

And yet time and again, he wins.

Fourthly, when he plays badly, which he acknowledges that he does reasonably frequently, his competitor seems to drop their game too. Ronnie will then apologise for “dragging the other player down to his level”. Ronnie then recovers his game and beats the opponent. It is like a weird version of the “Tiger Woods effect” whereby the presence of a superstar in a tournament has statistically been shown to diminish the performance of the other contenders. Weird because in the Tiger Wood instance this was because he was playing so well. Not, to quote Ronnie, “dragging the other player down to my level”.

In January 2024 Ronnie won his 8th Masters Final and the World Grand Prix. But he told his public that its not winning that matters to him as much as playing well.

In an interview with ITV Sport on January 17th 2024, Ronnie said this:

“Its nice winning tournaments, you know, but the biggest worry for me is that I’m not really comfortable, or I don’t feel that I’m playing with confidence – to do with cueing and stuff like that. I know I’ve won tournaments but I’m still not really happy with my game, which is more important that winning tournaments to me…… it’s been surprising, I don’t know where it (winning) has come from. Maybe cos its not the most important thing for me. The most important thing is I want to play well. I’d rather play well and get beaten than play badly and win.”

Now clearly Ronnie likes to win (as he has stated before). No champion is averse to winning. But caring about how you do it as well as what the outcome can indeed drive more longevity and better job satisfaction in the long run.

Winning at any price can drive short term benefits in our sector, but winning at the wrong price may mean under resourcing an account, failing to have anything other than a transactional relationship and can be harmful for the work and the outcomes for clients and businesses.

Teams suffer under a pressure to win at any price. We are all human and usually we are motivated by doing our best work. Compromise might be pragmatic, but if it is the only option time and again, then its not the most motivating way to win.

A boss once told me, “don’t worry about winning the pitch and double guessing what you think people want to hear. Focus on what we think is right and showing up as our best version of the ourselves”. It was inspiring, it took the pressure off, it made me want to win even more (and in fact we did win.)

Winning matters, but so too does being your best self at work, doing beautiful work and delivering true breakthroughs. Putting the latter first, may help you come first more often.