And the winner is…..

November 30th, 2023

“I always was a big believer in things on a global level,”

Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I was recently invited to be the seconder for the opposition for a motion at The Debating Group event in the House of Commons, this October. 

The motion in question was: “A strong UK ad industry is key to returning the economy to good health.”   

My first instinct, as was the audiences’, was to support the motion.  As a proud Fellow of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, surely this must be right?  In fact, I was asked to oppose the motion, at the request of the Economist and the IAA, in support of the lead opposer, Patrick Foulis, Foreign Editor at the Economist.  This required me to think and to think hard about the issue.

The Debating Group is an excellent organisation.  It has been holding debates in the House of Commons since 1975 bringing marketers, politicians, journalists, and the public together to discuss the contentious political issues which surround marketing.

More debate is exactly what our industry, and indeed our society needs.  From difference comes strength, opposing views create a winning argument.  In a new book “The Cancelling of the American Mind” by Lukianoff and Schlott, the authors call on companies to foster not just a diverse workforce, but an intellectually diverse workforce.  “Bosses should make clear that a commitment to free speech is a condition of employment”, writes the Economist reviewer

Patrick nailed the argument against the motion by contextualising the real contribution of advertising to the economy in the UK.

The proposers of the motion gave excellent and strong reasons why advertising’s contribution should extend beyond this of course, which Patrick successfully countered. 

My arguments to support Patrick’s opposition were twofold:  

That the motion was based on a narrow and outdated definition of the ad industry, and that it ignored the global and interconnected nature of the world in which we live.

First, I challenged the definition of the “ad industry”. The ad industry is often only considered in respect of creating and distributing advertising messages, such as TV commercials, print ads, billboards, or online banners. But this is a very limited and old-fashioned view of what our industry is today. In fact, our industry today is much more than advertising. It’s about events, ad funded programmes, sports sponsorship, influencer marketing and the creator economy estimated by Goldman Sachs as a $250bn sector, branded content, and more. These are not just add-ons or gimmicks; they are essential parts of the marketing mix that can deliver significant results for businesses.  The good news about the new communications economy in which we live is that there’s 187 minutes a day more media consumption than 10 years ago.  But 46% of this is in media that isn’t ad funded.  People are gaming (and everyone is a gamer), they’re on subscription-based video, music streaming and podcast services.

So, reaching people with advertising is harder, and when ads do reach them they have more impatience with irrelevant advertising than they used to.  44% of adults say ads are a waste of their time and this has grown by 80% in the last decade.  Accenture research claims that in the US alone companies are losing $1 trillion in annual revenues to their competitors because they are not consistently relevant enough. 

I therefore argued that the motion should be opposed on the basis of the narrowness of the definition of advertising, we must instead recognize the diversity and creativity of our industry as a strategy for growth in the broadest way today.

My second challenge to the motion was the focus on the UK economy alone. The motion suggested that the UK ad industry can somehow operate in isolation from the rest of the world, and that its strength is only relevant for the UK’s economic recovery. But this is a very unrealistic and short-sighted view of how the world works. In fact, we live in a globalized and interconnected world, where borders are blurred, cultures are mixed, and problems are shared. We cannot afford to think only about ourselves or our own country; we must think about our impact on others and our role in the global community.

There are three reasons why thinking globally is important.

  1. Generation Z, the young consumers who will shape the future of consumption, think of themselves as global citizens.  This means that they are more open-minded, curious, and tolerant of different cultures and perspectives. They are also more aware of global issues, such as climate change, human rights, and social justice. They expect brands to reflect their values and to act responsibly on a global scale. Therefore, our industry has to understand and appeal to this generation’s global mindset.
  2. Focussing on the UK ignores the benefits that talent migrating across the world delivers for innovation and growth. History shows us that innovation often happens when people from different backgrounds and disciplines come together and exchange ideas. For example, one of the factors that enabled the Industrial Revolution was the migration of skilled workers from Europe to America. They brought with them new technologies and techniques that transformed manufacturing and productivity. Similarly, we need diverse talent and thinking from around the world, who can bring fresh perspectives and insights to solve complex problems and to export our talent to share our perspectives. Therefore, we must reject any idea of a UK industry in isolation and embrace and celebrate diversity and mobility. 
  3. Thinking tribally about the UK is not good for anyone. As we have seen in recent years, nationalism and isolationism can lead to conflict, division, and resentment. They can prevent us from finding common solutions to common challenges. We need more cooperation and collaboration across countries and regions, not less. We need more empathy and compassion for others, not less. We need more peace and harmony in the world, not less.  Let’s remember the lesson from Will Smith in the movie Independence Day, where humanity faces an alien invasion that threatens to destroy civilizationThe only way to survive is to unite as one species and fight back against a common enemy

In summary, we must reject outdated tribalism and old-fashioned localism.  Instead, we should be ambitious for the benefit of human kind by rising above tribal instincts, and think about making a plan to benefit the world, not just the UK.

Delighted to say that team Patrick and Sue won the motion, swinging the vote significantly from before the debate.  The real winner though was the Debating Group for stimulating positive disagreement and challenging discussions.

Orcas and Advertising: how to survive.

November 6th, 2023

It was world menopause day on October 18th.  This is one of the newer world days of note.  When my mother went through menopause, she, and of course billions of other women throughout history, at least those that lived long enough, had to manage without a day of commemoration. 

For something that is so material in the lives of 50% of the humans on this planet it is good that it is no longer hidden or shameful, as it once was.  Menopause has been shrouded in mystery and secrecy in most societies, and the understanding of its biological implications is important.  It’s a weird thing to go through, without any kind of roadmap, however inaccurate that map is.  Because, in a similar manner to the process of giving birth, to maternity labour, it is a very individual experience.  And generalisations aren’t that useful.  However, breaking the taboos that have kept women silent on this topic is important and empowering.

The point of menopause biologically used to be assumed to be the “Grandmother theory”.  That it was useful for society to have older women free to look after their grandkids so that the young mothers were free to work, gathering and preparing food (while the men went out to hunt).

There is only one other species other than humans in the world that is known to go through menopause.  Whales, specifically Orcas and Pilot whales.  All other animals continue to reproduce until they die.

Scientists have found that in the case of Orcas the grandmother theory is redundant.  The older matriarch whales do not look after their adorable grand children.  Instead they perform an even more vital and lifesaving role in the Orca community. 

In 2012 a research student, Emma Foster, found some interesting trends in a longitude study of Orcas.  In data that had been collected since the 1970s she found a pattern about the survival of adult male Orcas that was linked to the longevity of their mothers, and had nothing to do with the grandchildren.  If a mother Orca, who has been through menopause, dies, her male offspring is 14 times more likely than his contemporaries to die.  The evidence clearly showed that a mother Orca continues to help her adult offspring.  Professor Darren Croft of the University of Exeter said: “That left a big unanswered question.  Old females (his term not mine!  The older female Orcas I know would prefer to be referred to as in their prime) are keeping their offspring alive, but how?  What is it that they are doing to confer the survival benefit?”

The best answer is that female Orcas in their prime are better at finding salmon – the main diet of the Orca.  Salmon are unpredictable and post-menopausal adult females are much more likely to lead the group to salmon especially when salmon stocks are low.  National Geographic concludes that the longer the Orca females live the more they know and that the same principle applies to humans.  That older members of the tribe have wisdom and experience to impart that can sustain the wider community.

Do we understand this at work?  Be more Orca: learn more from and get advantage from nurturing older individuals.

Farewell Campaign Print Magazine

October 20th, 2023

I started out in a full service creative agency in the 1980s as a TV buyer.  Straight from university, with no particular interest in advertising (I was just filling time until I started a law conversion course), I didn’t know about the esteemed industry trade press organ until I met a fellow grad intake who proudly boasted that he had already been mentioned, before he had even started in his first job, as a face to watch.

For my first couple of years I only saw glimpses of Campaign when I could beg, borrow or steal an issue.

Media Week (subsequently incorporated into Campaign) was the go to weekly print magazine for media folk.  But I know the first time my name was in Campaign magazine, and it helped me get my job at The Media Business (the small buying start up media independent that became MediaComTMB, MediaCom and now EssenceMediacom and EssenceMediacomX).  (Thank you Campaign).

That first time, I was in a list of top 10 press buyers, and my name was (inevitably) misspelt, so I appeared as Sue Uberman.  Thrilled, and yet, peeved, I did get an approach from TMB to join and help set up a strategy team. 

Subsequently, eventually, I managed to get my own subscription to Campaign Magazine.  Favourite features were always Private View (some of which were laugh out loud funny, especially Gerry Moira and Dave Trott), Jeremy Bullmore (very wise and very funny), the editorial points of view and the columnists. 

To an extent the arrival of the magazine would dictate the rhythm of the week.  My Thursday had to incorporate reading time for the magazine, out weekly at that point, and then I would pass on my copy to anyone that needed it.  It was a necessary addition to reading Media Week to give a bigger picture view of our industry.

Also, everyone had a copy of Media Week.  Campaign could give you a competitive edge and a different perspective.  Copies of Campaign magazines were a rarity round the agency.  To be read thoroughly and then shared generously. 

As Campaign’s editorial viewpoint changed, to incorporate the acquisition of Media Week, and Marketing, with an ambition to champion good thinking and good thinkers across the business as a whole, so too did the business itself change and progress.

I started in the media department of an agency where the predominant business was making TV ads, and the job of the media team was to buy airtime to ensure that people saw them.

Usually, in the 1980s, the job was to reach as many people as possible, regardless of much emphasis on targeting or context.  The first sets of skills that I learned included to be complete accurate with data, and that buying space in “shoulder peak” was desirable to my boss, because it counted as peak airtime, but was cheaper.  After my first few weeks, I made my first challenge to the then status quo, by pointing out that buying airtime at 17:30 on a weekday, meant that someone in London with a normal commute, would never see the ad.  My boss responded by showing me the value saved chart for the client, and saying that was all they cared about.   That brand no longer exists in the UK.  So, there were two lessons learnt.  In the short term I learnt that challenging your boss can make you unpopular.  In the long term I understood that every decision can have significant impact.

In my first agency, there wasn’t much collaboration between media and creative, and despite the nostalgia about a so-called golden age of full service, my experience was more like that depicted in Mad Men where the media team are bottom feeders compared to everyone else.

And now media agencies make creative work.  In an era where the medium does and should dictate creative execution, where creativity is democratised across huge numbers of creators, and where the true strategic breakthroughs exist in the junction of insights from media, data, tech and creative understanding, this is less the return of the full service agency, and more the birth of a true communications business.  For brands to be relevant in the new communications economy, where people spend more time than ever with media, but less time as a proportion of that with ad funded media, every brand needs to consider strategies across culture, gaming, social, influencers, word of mouth, content, ecommerce and, also, advertising to breakthrough in terms of business success.

Farewell Campaign print edition, long live Campaign as a champion of this. 

What motivates people?

September 21st, 2023

With a global talent shortage, and as we get “back to school” for the autumn, after the summer holidays, it is important to unpick, and then refresh, motivation at work. 

Season 2 of The Bear is streaming now on Disney+.  Spoiler alert, the season leaves many unanswered questions (including will Carmy ever get out of the walk in fridge).  During the course of the show we see the process whereby the Chicago sandwich café The Beef, which protagonist and Michelin starred chef Carmy inherited from his brother, is rebuilt and reopened as fine dining restaurant The Bear.

It’s clear that fine dining is Carmy’s passion.  In fact, he concludes at one point that it is the only thing he cares about or that makes him happy, stating: “I didn’t have any of this fuckin’ bullshit” – by which he means “amusement or enjoyment” of any other aspect of his life.

It will be just as well if he is driven by the satisfaction of making customers swoon over his food, because the chances are that The Beef will have had been able to generate better profit than The Bear.  Restaurateur Russell Norman of Polpo points out that “if you own a restaurant with a Michelin star, you will lose money.  If you own a restaurant with two Michelin stars, you will lose even more money.”  As MoneyWeek recently pointed out, Domino’s Pizza on the other hand generates a ROCE of close to 30% and an EBIT margin of 20%.

People are driven by a passion to be the best and to give back as well as by making money.   

In a fairy tale moment in long running reality TV show “Say Yes to the dress”, about Bridal Store Kleinfield in NYC, star designer Pnina Tornei allows the sale of one gown at less than half price, because she says she is not only working to make money (the average Pnina gown goes for more than $4000) but also in the business of “making beautiful gowns for brides and of making their dreams come true”.   Of course, this is a reality TV set up, which sees Pnina’s dresses highly promoted, but it kind of works because we Say Yes fans all recognise some truth in the story we are told. 

This is important because it is relevant to how we create a strong culture at work.  If the only motivation of the ExCo and company planning is financial, then the culture is unlikely to stay robust during difficult economic times. 

A 40 year research study, from the American Psychological Association, has proved in fact that “extrinsic” (bonuses etc) and “intrinsic” (being motivated about the work) operate jointly to produce the best work performance. 

And as EssenceMediacomX ceo Ryan Storrar recently wrote: “Fundamentally, people need to be able to look at themselves in the mirror and feel good about going to work”.  Ensuring that there’s satisfaction from doing excellent work and from fulfilling purpose is the job of every leader and manager. 

The latest Edelman trust survey reveals that more than two thirds of employees believe that “having societal impact is a deal breaker when it comes to considering a job”.

CEOs are expected to take a position on climate change, discrimination, wealth gap, immigration as well as on how their employees are treated.  Businesses are now more trusted than any other institution, and with this trust comes high expectations that business should “advocate for the truth”.

Fulfilling commitments to wider stakeholders in terms of people, communities and planet is now on most UK companies’ radar.  But we must not ignore the drive to excellence and mastery too.  Carmy’s partner in The Bear, Sydney, makes a simple omelette for Carmy’s sister, and The Bear’s exhausted and pregnant project manager, Sugar.  We follow it closely, eggs, sieved through a mesh are beaten by fork; the omelette is cooked fast, and then filled with Boursin and sprinkled with some crushed sour cream and onion crisps.  Sugar thinks it is divine.  Sydney states that making that omelette and taking care of Sugar is absolutely the best part of her day.  After all, as she states in series one all her motivation is about the work: “I wanna cook for people and make them happy and give them the best bacon on earth.”

Break Expectations

September 4th, 2023

“Chloe Kelly thumped home her winning penalty for England against Nigeria.  At 111km per hour, it was more powerful than any Premier League goal in 22-23” Mailonline

It’s just not that long ago that the papers were debating whether women’s football was ever going to be as interesting as the men’s.  It’s in fact not long ago that the FA still banned women playing football.

And now look.

There are many societal expectations that we all grow up with.  Some are about gender and physicality.  Some are deeply personal.

Its never a good idea to manage expectations, either for yourself or for others.  Breaking them is a better idea.

Harriet Taylor Mill was the wife of renowned philosopher John Stuart Mill.  He acknowledged her contribution to his published works and ideas, but history has largely overlooked her.  A philosopher in her own right, she said, in the 1850s: “We deny the right of any portion of the species to decide for another portion what is and what is not their proper sphere.  The proper sphere for all human beings is the largest and highest which they are able to attain to.”

And 150 plus years on still stereotypes persist, and still assumptions are made. 

In economic terms, at the current rate of progress (or lack of it) its now 286 years until there is gender equality according to the UN.  This has got worse in recent years, and the rate of progress is clearly unacceptable.  In terms of what needs to be addressed to create better equality patriarchal attitudes come high on the list, and has different impact in different cultures around the world.  In the UK equal pay has been mandatory for decades, yet the gender pay gap means that women effectively work for free for a couple of months a year. 

Revising deep rooted patriarchal attitudes to gender is slow.  The audience for the Women’s World Cup gives us a start.  The viewing was roughly equivalent to the Qatar men’s final fixture (which didn’t feature England of course).  But turn to tennis and the Wimbledon men’s final was watched live by 11m people in the UK, the women’s final by 4.5.

So, attitudes linger, but at the same time history is being rewritten.   Gerwig’s Barbie has smashed box office records.  Just as the movie itself aspires to rewrite society’s expectations of women and girls, so too should it rewrite expectations of investment in women directors and movie lead actors. 

Most women spend too much energy either trying to live up to unrealistic expectations or in disappointment at the inevitable failure to do so as Gloria eloquently explains in Gerwig’s movie. 

But it isn’t only women.  Unrealistic and stereotyped expectations ruin lots of people’s lives.  In fact, as the suffragettes pointed out they could end lives too.  As we wrote in Belonging, One of the reasons why RMS Titanic was such a terrible disaster in the early years of the twentieth century was that there weren’t enough lifeboats. There were slightly more in fact than the legal requirement, but this requirement was inadequate and only provided sufficient space for about a third of the people on board.  The idea was that men would be… well, manly… about sinking. ‘Women and children first’ was the plan. And then it was the women and children in first class who literally were rescued first. The scale of the disaster was tragic and very public. So too was the longstanding call from the suffragette movement for the law to be changed so that there would be enough room for everyone to be rescued, regardless of gender, race, age or class, with the famous rallying cry: ‘Votes for  women, boats for men!’

Don’t be confined by expectations, don’t live up to societal norms, conventional wisdom isn’t designed to allow you to fulfil your potential.  In a world where change is the only constant, don’t be confined by anyone’s expectation, whether that is society, friends, family or your own internal monologue.