Archive for November, 2015

I completely disagree

Friday, November 27th, 2015

SimpsonsFamilyGuyCrossoverTom Goodwin, SVP at Havas in NYC, and I have never met, but we’ve disagreed about things publically on Twitter, and been in violent agreement there too.  We share a view that a bit of devil’s advocacy is important to our industry.  Last month he tweeted “Passive agreement is killing vital discussions at conferences in particular”.

Too often a panel will be reticent to argue in public it seems.

In addition there is more and more compliance in public or indeed in small circles with the party line.  I was struck by the non-party line taken by one sales director of a media owner last week, where he felt very free to dismiss aspects of their content as not quite hitting the mark.  It was very convincing and I am impressed by his integrity, and bravery.  These days there is a tendency for some businesses to want to present a completely shiny and flawless united front to the outside world.  Apart from the fact that it isn’t very believable it begs a question about the culture of the organisation that public dissent is discouraged.

How far should you go with disagreements in public? All the way.  I don’t believe that someone’s relative status (whether more or less senior), gender or age should mean that you must comply publically or privately with what they say.  I am very aware that not many people see this like this.

I can remember one head of department expressing ambivalence about running department meetings (he had a department of over 100).  He said that he could imagine nothing worse than making an announcement to the team and being publically challenged.  I can imagine nothing better.  If someone has the conviction to challenge their department head publically then they must be so passionate, so convinced and so interested in the issue that this intervention would have huge value.

I believe in dialectic.  That if I put across a point of view, and someone disagrees with me then we can both build together on our perspectives to arrive at a creative and innovative answer.  So there is a thesis (a thought or opinion), followed by a disagreement or challenge which is the antithesis, which in turn can be resolved by the synthesis – a refinement of the idea or thought.

In the fast moving times that we all work in, no-one has the definitive answers to all of the questions and challenges that we face.  We can only work with good convincing evidence, and no answer is a proved answer in perpetuity anymore.  We can know that something works for now, until that situation changes.  We need to be specific about what we know and we don’t know for fact (there are too many woolly claims and vague notions), and open to everything being challenged or disagreed with.

Does everyone have the resilience for public challenge?  Perhaps not, but it is a useful thing to learn, especially if you are a leader.  The peer reviewed VIA Classifications are a good resource to understand how to build resilience.  They include: “not shrinking from threat; speaking up for what is right even if there is opposition; curiosity and speaking the truth”.

It has been suggested to me that one should never disagree with a colleague in public, you should always stick to the party line and present challenges in private.  Yet we are working in an era where the landscape “is not remotely stable but is changing at mindboggling speed” as Martha Lane Fox puts it.  You can’t really have a very agile approach to business if you can’t disagree in public can you?

Or do you completely disagree?


What would make you happier at work?

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

beeOn a scale of 1 to 5, how do you feel about your role in the company?
Both these questions are lifted from Jeff Sutherland’s new book “Scrum: the art of doing twice the work in half the time”.
In many sectors, including media agencies, we need to do more work in less time because we need to do more work to arrive at an optimal connected media plan.  In the last decade the number of channels and considerations to produce a plan that is connected, has no silos and is delivering effective outcomes has obviously increased.  The automation that will take time out of the process is not yet fully established.
So Sutherland’s idea is an attractive one.  More work, less time.
How interesting that the method to get there is rooted in happiness.
So how happy are you in your job?
I’ve met two people recently, both in their forties, who are counting the days till they can retire.  One’s a mini cab driver, of course the traffic in London in the last few weeks is enough to make anyone fairly miserable. The other one is a senior media executive, with a great job.  It seems to me that neither of them are spending enough time thinking about what would make them happier in their current roles and too much time planning how to escape them.
This summer I had lunch with a man in his late forties who has achieved that dream, and is planning to leave the business within months.  He’s very analytical.  He had calculated that 90 per cent of the time he is in meetings or at social events professionally that he hates.
As we enter an era of great change in the rise of robots in one form or another being capable of more and more tasks the greatest consideration at work should move from efficiency to happiness.  After all the robots can provide the former.  Only people can find the latter.

People usually say that it is other people that make them happy.  Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains this by pointing out that we are, deep down, still pack animals.  We are bound by our heritage and we are social animals who get affirmation from approval of the leaders of our communities.  This is of course one reason why great management can make people happy.  They want the recognition of the alpha pack animal.  Our survival is no longer as dependent on it as it once was, but in the work place it can feel as crucial to have your boss recognise and approve of you.  If you’re working somewhere where your boss never appears except on their way to a very important meeting (or golf course) without you and doesn’t notice what you do then it can be very hard to be happy about your working day.
So we are like chimps in the office in that respect.  We want affirmation from the leader.  Haidt however adds that we are also “part bee”.  The bee part is crucial to our happiness too.  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.  A hive-like work place is one where teams work together for a common goal.  There is less of a focus on an alpha leader recognising an individual and more on celebrating the inclusiveness of everyone in the team.
So more happiness makes for more effective ways of working.  Bees are (arguably) happier and definitely more productive than chimps.

You call it advertising, I call it content: A view from a media agency

Friday, November 13th, 2015

panelWhy has the term Content roused such fury amongst some in our industry?

At Time Inc’s recent Campaign summit exploring the Future of Content there was quite an argument about the term Content itself.  Some say it is yet another way of complicating matters and ask where is the exact definition.  Others enquire whether there is anything new here – if you have an inspirational advertising idea for the brand and amplify that then what else do you need?  Is  “Content is just embarrassed advertising”? (overheard recently).  Clients just want to grow their brands and sell more product.  Who cares what the techniques are called.

Advertising is essentially a push medium.  Some ads attract such attention that they are shared, but this is not most ads.  My point of view is that we must communicate with a wider set of tools than just advertising alone these days and that there is a range of media techniques required for most brands which are about sharing and dialogue first.

In the great days of entertaining advertising in the last century indeed sometimes a great ad was all you needed.  Then as this century dawned we entered the Age of Dialogue.  Driven by the growth of everyone’s use of the internet and the birth of social, first on pcs and subsequently on smartphones, the fact is that how a brand communicates with their target consumers and what people in general say about the brand is as important as what the brand says about itself in an advert.

I believe that Advertising is too small a word for the business we are in.  That Brand Content covers more of the material of communications than just adverts. An ad is an ad.  A brilliant unpaid tweet on behalf of the brand that goes viral is not strictly speaking an ad, but it is Brand Content and it does communicate the brand idea and deliver against campaign objectives, including driving visits to a website for example.  Just consider the superb and very spontaneous Visit England Tweet when England came out of Euro 2012: “England lose on penalties.  For more about our culture and traditions go to”.

I sat once (briefly) on the IPA’s Value of Advertising Committee.  It is of course not only advertising that drives value for brands.  Owned and earned media also do this, from social to pr to events to native to seo.  I advocated changing the name of the committee to Value of Communications.  I thought in fact that the IPA should consider a name change to IPC (of course this acronym is now available thanks to Time Inc’s own rebrand).  Everyone else on the committee considered it a given that all of the practitioners in the industry understand implicitly that the term Advertising encompasses all forms of Brand Communications (paid, owned and earned).  I don’t believe that this is the case and that the very name of the IPA therefore can be rather excluding of much of what we know is of value to brands.

All Advertising is Brand Content in a certain established, usually paid for, format.  Not all Brand Content is Advertising.

We endeavour to communicate using good Brand Content of course, by which I mean Brand Content that delivers against the client’s objectives.  Good Advertising is one technique by which to deliver those objectives.  Other forms of Brand Content are increasingly gaining accountability and share of mind. Is it too loose a term as critics claim?  Maybe, but I can’t think of a better one at the moment.  If we can come up with a better term it may help to break down some of the silos that can slow progress.



What advice would you give your 21 year old self?

Friday, November 6th, 2015

jungleIt’s that time of year when we’re welcoming a whole new intake of talent into MediaCom.  Fresh from academic pursuits.  First jobbers.  Up for anything.

All of them have survived at the time of writing.  There are precedents here.  I worked somewhere once where a new graduate didn’t make it through the first day – she went out for lunch and didn’t come back.

Recently we had an evening in the bar, where some of us who have been around the block a few times (including me, Claudine Collins, Josh Krichefski, Matt Mee and Karen Blackett OBE), gave some of the advice that we would give our 21 year old selves.

What a range of advice!  Plenty to pick and choose from and from very different personalities.  It included “Put your hand up for everything”, “Don’t be worried about asking questions” and “Surround yourself with talented people, don’t worry if you think they look cleverer than you, actually it will rub off on you”.  “Work hard, play hard” goes without saying, though getting the balance correct can be a bit of a challenge particularly at this time of year in the run up to Christmas when there is lots of seasonal work and lots and lots of seasonal entertainment.  In my first job you were expected to get in before your boss and not leave until the boss left, and then to go to the pub with him.  I can remember wondering when he saw his wife and children, as he seemed to spend from 8am until 1130pm with the team at work, (and then to play golf during  most of the weekend.)

A couple of us talked about how important the culture you’ve landed in is to your enjoyment of the first year or so of work.  You need a match for your personality, and there will be a great environment out there for you, but you’re lucky if you’ve landed in it first time.  If you like routine and boundaries then somewhere too dynamic can be a daunting, even stressful experience.  On the other hand if you can’t help but challenge the status quo (and this does seem baked in the bone for some people) then a hierarchical culture might crush your spirit (and you don’t have to put up with it).

Wherever you work, whatever your role, there is only one person who is responsible for whether or not you have a good or bad day at work.    You.  The power of this is enormous.  You can’t control at all how anyone else behaves around you, you can control your own reaction to everyone and everything.

In the opening of The Continuum Concept (actually a book about parenting) the author talks about a journey that she undertook in the rain forest with some business men, on a team building trek.  The journey was a tricky one.  Although there were some experienced indigenous guides everyone stumbled and dropped things.  The heat was overwhelming, the terrain difficult.  She said that she noticed that the business men were mainly miserable.  They swore every time they fell.  They cursed the heat, the flies etc.  The guides, despite their experience, were going no faster than anyone else.  The difference was that when they fell they laughed.  They were in the moment, they enjoyed the companionship, they were pleased to be working.  The business men were desperately frustrated about not being in control of the things that were impossible to control (the rain forest environment).  The guides accepted the limits and the power of what they could control.

There is a profound lesson here, for everyone at work.  We all fall, we all stumble.  Some of us get diminished by it.  Some of us enjoy the trek, pick ourselves up and keep on going.  The choice is yours.  I wish I had known that at 21, in my first job in media.




“I’m never going to put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never going to say I can’t do it. I’m never going to say maybe. I’m never going to say I don’t think I can. I can and I will.”

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

bakeoffNearly 15m viewers for the Great British Bake Off Final on the BBC.  More than a quarter of everyone in the UK tuned in to Nadiya’s heartfelt speech (all audience figures used in blog are Source: AdvantEdge (BARB) – Individual Max TVRs).

I personally have my doubts about marshmallow fondant with lemon drizzle but none at all about the gorgeous winner Nadiya – to quote Arif, late of these pages: “Four foot, eleven inches, but a true giant to me”.

There’s been much discussion about the content of the show in the media which focusses on diversity and political correctness.  Let’s instead consider that this show proves that audiences are still available in huge numbers on British television for entertainment peaks in the way that they used to be back in the old days.  We’ve learnt to use TV in media planning in a much more fragmented way over the last half decade.  Can we imagine an era where you could once again regularly count on reaching a quarter of the UK in one show on one night?

The capacity to bring huge audiences in at one go remains the remit of one channel commercially.  It is an unshakeable truth still that ITV draws the biggest audiences.  When Channel 4 originally launched there was a brief period when the airtime was sold by ITV sales houses regionally.  For one night, and I think one night only, some C4 shows were aired on ITV in a mass sampling exercise.  The shows, which included C4’s soap Brookside and an original movie Ptang Yang Kipperbang, drew far bigger audiences when shown on ITV (and this was at a time when the TV only had 4 channels.)  Despite mobile and tablet viewing habits the tune in behaviour of the British viewer on the main screen is in some respects unchanged.  There are all kinds of shows that if shown on ITV would drive bigger audiences still.

Sporting events remain big draws for live audiences at scale (England versus Wales at Rugby delivered 13m viewers) but the last time that ITV achieved 15m viewers for entertainment was years ago.

The big audience is not purely about the quality of the content.  I sat through the Bake off Final and trust me if you missed it you really didn’t miss that much – it’s not Shakespeare, it’s not even George Lucas.

The marketing of programme brands by the BBC and the reputation of the BBC master brand is a huge ingredient (pun intended) in the brilliant audience figures achieved.  The approach is long term, exploits ruthlessly paid, owned, earned, acknowledges the massive role that the audience plays in the brand’s success, is very friendly, and is famously nurturing of new ideas and talent.

Whilst it is the obvious point to make that the BBC funding means that they can afford all of these characteristics it is wrong to dismiss the strategies of ITV’s main competition for that reason alone.  The BBC has constraints that the commercial channel does not in terms of what it can spend on marketing – it would be open to heavy criticism if it was judged publically to be profligate with license fee money.

What can ITV do to borrow from brilliant tactics used by the BBC?

Commercial TV’s usefulness is step-changing for advertisers in new ways with tech advances finally reaching the mainstream.  Jamie West (Sky Media’s deputy md) wrote this month in Campaign about the evolution of targeting on TV using Sky AdSmart which serves different ads to different households watching the same TV show.  This has potential to reduce wastage for a client with a portfolio of brands and improve effectiveness.

What advertisers would also like is the potential to reach lots of people at the same time in one spot reliably too.  Come on ITV1, don’t put boundaries on yourself, don’t say maybe, if Bake Off can do it so can you.