Archive for October, 2010

Masterchef The Professionals – disagreeing with the judges is sometimes the only way to win.

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

The current series of Masterchef – The Professionals which is running on BBC2 has lacked excitement. We don’t even have the frequent assertion that “Cooking doesn’t get much tougher than this” – perhaps because the candidates on this version of the reality show are actually people who earn a living from cooking unlike the amateur, dinner party enthusiasts of the core series.

(So that they actually know that cooking does in fact get tougher.)Tucked away in the most recent episode was a great turning point moment.

Two of the six remaining chefs were battling it out for a place in the final. Clare, a self deprecating woman with clear talent, was pitching with a starter of a giant ravioli (or should that be raviolo?), and a main of “pan-roasted calves liver with crushed jersey royals in a spring vegetable broth”. Imagine if you will the stirring music that injected excitement into the gritty finale cook off with her immediate rival – a rather charming French bloke who made some lovely rum ice-cream. The key moment came when the judges Michel Roux Junior and Gregg Wallace tasted her food. They both liked the food but Gregg said he didn’t like the combination of broth and liver – he didn’t think they went together. Getting the mix of flavours and textures wrong is enough to lose the competition usually. Mild mannered, unconfident Clare, uncharacteristically, said that she understood his point but that she disagreed with him. At this moment the course of the show changed completely. Up until this point her rival looked like he was going to carry off the prize. On any previous show a criticism of culinary juxtapositions would be enough to ensure a knock out. Clare stood her ground, and carried the day.

Not being afraid to disagree with other people’s opinions and conventional wisdom is a sign of potential greatness. As Rupert Murdoch pointed out in his recent speech at the Centre for policy studies (, Margaret Thatcher (of whom I am not a fan) was undoubtedly willing to court unpopularity even within her own party in order to get change to happen. Murdoch said “…she has that admirable quality so rare in politicians – a willingness to court unpopularity. As she said, “If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.”

Not agreeing with her judge on MasterChef must have taken some courage. But standing her ground got Clare in the final. I await with reawakened interest now the final result – but good luck to her and her giant ravioli.

Go To The Shed

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Loving the Kill the Hippos thought from Matt Brittin of Google which Arif wrote about here

For those of you that missed Arif’s blog it is not about attacking endangered species but is the theory that the world wide web allows you to contradict the Hippo ie the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion with online data. The problem in actuality is that all data is open to interpretation, and the wisdom of the crowd can sometimes be the idiocy of the mob. But there is so much to be said for challenging the Hippo that it ought to be part of every business person’s training as they progress through our industry. But I’d in fact like to build on the thought (without hurting any more animals) by saying it is time to go to the SHED.

Watching The Apprentice last night we were pushed to discuss as a family how everyone kept hugging each other only moments before and after stabbing each other in the back. This saccharine effusiveness oozes hypocrisy and the tendency to it surely both diminishes genuine affection and undermines trust.

I call for us to go to the SHED – Stop Hugging – Embrace Disagreement. (Yes I know it lacks the elegance of the Hippo).

First it would be much better viewing on TV if everyone was open about how they felt about it other on the show. Secondly there is a point to be made about real life. The obsession with apparent harmony in the workplace can undermine people’s ability to have a decent argument about things in public and reach a better decision via some elegant dialectic.

You arrive at better, smarter and more profitable decisions if you can have a good fight about a series of opposing views. This is easier with champions of different opinions having a passionate debate than if you’re trying to do it on your own.

Now there is no reason why you can’t still love the person with the opposing opinion to your own, but there is a tendency for the appearance of harmony to be preserved at all times and at all costs. Personally I think this is bad for the energy of the meeting. If you’re in a meeting where the objective is for everyone to look like they’re agreeing even if they are not, then you are in a meeting where everyone’s time is being wasted. If there is a conflict – get it out the closet. And spend more time in the SHED.

The Age of Dialogue has grown up.

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Last week we held our latest Age of Dialogue conference at MediaCom.  The terminology has now passed into popular usage, but to remind you The Age of Dialogue is our name for the 4th and current age of communications.  Consumers relationships with companies and their products and brands have changed.  In the  1st age in the 1950s, The Age of Interruption, consumers were happy to pay attention to advertising and essentially to do what it told them to do because they actively sought the reassurance of brand names and tended to trust what big companies told them.  In the 2nd age, the Age of Entertainment in the 60s and 70s people would still pay attention to ads, but they needed to be entertaining.  In the 3rd age, the Age of Engagement, the 80s and 90s the relatively rapid rise in the number of media channels meant that reaching people at the right time and place was crucial.  But now, in the Age of Dialogue, dialogues between consumers can and often do have more effect on brand image than advertising.

Our first age of dialogue conference was in 2007.  A lot of the things we talked about then seemed disruptive, but marginal.

Now Facebook has in excess of 35 million users, Search Engine Optimisation is a recognised part of brand management and famous brands have been brought to their knees by a bunch of mums chatting online.

The Age of Dialogue has grown up.  Non traditional media channels are now part of mainstream media plans.  Many people think it still a confusing age.  But we believe it is an exciting place, full of opportunities to effect behavioural change and to deliver opportunities for growth.

And growth is what we need right now.  All of us with very few exceptions have been through or are going through cutbacks in marketing spend, in staff, in nice to have but non essential activities.

We are now lean, we are now pared back to the bone, and now is the time to take the lead, to take competitive advantage and drive growth.

But it is a different kind of growth in an important way; it is growth driven by consumers not by business people.  The new ways of communicating with consumers don’t necessarily conform to the old principles, for instance psychographic segmentation of consumers.  There are new consumer journeys in every category – new ways to understand and to direct behavioural change, new ways of getting our messages across.  For instance if you have a new advertising campaign you can work with the blogging and tweeting community to understand how it is being received and to help to amplify it, the very fact that everyone has their mobile on and with them nearly all the time gives you the potential to take the consumer from ad awareness to purchase in minutes.  There is no need to leave a communications strategy set in stone for months.  Real time course correction planning can and indeed must be built into any media plan.  And there are opportunities too now to build partnerships in new ways with media owners based on effectiveness.

We had an exciting array of speakers.  They included Justine Roberts of Mumsnet – whose community of mums wield great influence.  Mary Portas, Queen of Shops, who spoke with great panache about customer power and the new “universal shopper”.  A better informed shopper who will mix high and lower end products and switch from shopping instore to shopping online as it suits them.  David Abraham, CEO of C4, talked about the evolution of trading and business models for TV.  John Grant showed us how games and gaming can be a great analogy for behaviour change.  And our own speakers Jerry Lloyd Williams and Steve Gladdis talked about accountability and planning methods for the Age of Dialogue. 

Things have changed and are changing but if we focus on the consumer we can drive growth in the year ahead.