Archive for June, 2016

How much empathy do you have?

Monday, June 27th, 2016

Empathy is a finite resource, according to HBR’s Adam Waytz.  If I am empathetic towards you today, I will have less empathy towards my friend at dinner this evening.

If you take on board one colleague’s problem over lunch, you’re going to be less ready to shoulder the burden of a team member at teatime.

In light of this you may run the risk of short changing the later colleague simply because you have exhausted your empathy stock too early in the day.  Or of giving friends and family short shrift when you get home from work.

Empathy is crucial to the culture of the workplace.  If we are in need of support and don’t receive it then we topple.  A system is only as strong as its weakest link after all.

This is a dilemma.  Waytz, an associate professor at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, offers 3 strategies to help to manage empathy exchange at work:  Allocating people for empathy – selective assigned empathising; Encourage mutual empathy sessions; Give people empathy breaks.

Or you could stop overdoing empathy.

Of course, give help where help is needed.  Of course solve your high performers’ problems without a second thought.


Empathy is our start point so often for everyone’s problem.  Someone comes to you with a problem at work for instance missing a deadline, not having the right documents in a meeting or failing to secure a deal. Very often the default response is: “Poor you, that’s not fair, you’re under such pressure, how on earth can you be expected to work under those conditions”.

If that isn’t your response naturally then in most businesses you had better learn it, otherwise you may be labelled “not a people person” and good luck with your promotion prospects if that’s the case.

Kim Scott, has built a successful coaching career with an empathy overload antidote.  She points out that being a good boss, in the long term, is not about offering empathy.  I’d argue this is also true of being a good colleague.  If you’re trying to help someone, layering what you really think with lots and lots of sugar and thick thick marzipan, may mean that it is too easy for them to miss the point.

She says that pointing out candidly what you really think is in fact your job.  If someone turns up to a meeting,  and has omitted to bring a copy of the most up to date plan for example in hard copy when the team need to see it, it really isn’t that helpful if your only reaction is to empathise.   Certainly this is unlucky for them, unfortunate they didn’t realise that no-one else was bringing it, what a shame that the printer didn’t work and that there’s no access to it electronically.  However just feeling for them in that situation is nowhere near as useful to their career development as also pointing out that they should have double checked.  And not leave it till the last minute.   Scott asserts that frank candour in this situation is the only way to allow your team to grow and develop.

I feel for you.  But wake up and smell the coffee.  Too much empathy in the workplace may be stifling everyone’s career development.


Are Planners Printist?

Monday, June 27th, 2016

panda.jpgJames Wildman, CRO of Trinity Mirror says they are.

He writes that research has uncovered prejudice in agencies: “Printism can be defined as: “The preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience of the print medium; bias, partiality, unreasoned dislike, hostility or antagonism towards, or discrimination against, print – accelerated by those closest to it being too afraid to properly defend it for fear of being tarred with the career-stunting ‘dinosaur’ label.”

Is “printism” a fair accusation? As Newsworks hold their first ever summit on effectiveness next month, it is a good time to look at the situation.

The essence of good planning is consumer insight and evidence.

From the day you start out as a planner your role is to overcome your personal biases and think about the target market in a neutral way.

If every planner worked on the basis that what they like amounts to the plan they would be briefing Buzzfeed to come up with ten cats that most represent the brand values, or YouTube on funny brand pandas.

There’s two basic approaches that are essential for any planner.  Evidence and empathy.

For any great plan you need both.

Evidence about what worked and what didn’t work to drive long term and short term success often relies on quantitative data analysed objectively.  The better the data, the better the correlation between media spend and the brand objectives.  Media research data varies dramatically by medium.  The size of the panel, the methodology (passive v active), the specificity of the data.  TV is reported minute by minute, but print is averaged out over a longer period.  Then there’s big data, online data.  Where size does not always help us to explain what is actually going on.

We’re in a world where the potential to correlate data in real time to drive more accurate targeting and return on investment is being fulfilled in ways that analytical planners have been dreaming of for decades.  In that environment any medium that has less precise data will be less dominant.  I deplore the idea that any medium should be in or out of fashion, but if you expect to be considered “of the moment”, you had better look to your industry research capabilities.  If anyone you’re competing with has a turbo charged hybrid engine and you’re sitting in the side car of a scooter you might want to think again.

Empathy doesn’t come easily to any planner starting out.  We all enter the workforce with our personal prejudices about media consumption.  I can remember the inimitable Peter Barrett complaining to me once that selling Good Housekeeping to 20-something planners (who had never opened a copy) was so much harder than the job his colleagues had selling Cosmopolitan with its Sex Tips cover lines.

Do planners read newsbrands?  Of course they do.  Many may well have a greater personal affinity with social media than with the classic content creators, but great content, great editors and great journalists still cut through.

Personal affinity doesn’t create a great plan.  Understanding the audience does.  Thinking about the plan in the office isn’t always enough.  Hanging out in a supermarket or shopping centre has much more power.  Talking to consumers and taking the audience journey, away from where you work, is essential.

Good planners aren’t printist, any more than they are any media-ist.  They are pro-evidence and pro-empathy.



The Secret Life of Millennials

Monday, June 13th, 2016

c4The Great Wall of China is the only man made structure visible from space; a penny dropped from a tall building can kill a man; men think about sex every 6 seconds; we only use 10 per cent of our brains.


Millennials have the attention span of a goldfish.


All commonly held popular beliefs.  All rubbish.


Especially the last one.


Channel 4 have published a brilliant bit of new research into the generation known as millennials.  And I can confirm, having seen its first outing that they have hidden depths.  So if you want to really establish your brand with this generation then you need to respect them, and their depths.


Millennials are aged roughly between 16 and 34, and there’s lots of them… nearly 16 million in the UK.  So it’s important to understand them, their economic power, and how they are and are not different to previous generations.


They’ve been characterised as lazy tech obsessed entitled slackers.


They’re certainly at home with tech.  They do check their phone all the time.  But they aren’t passive media loners stuck to their screen, too lazy to achieve anything.  They’re constant sharers.  And constant hackers.


In contrast to any previously generation this is the time to design communications strategies that they can properly participate in.  There might not be a single water cooler moment for this group, but there’s a massive number of “Have a look at this” sharing opportunities.  For an unconventional and exemplary case study, take a look at how Kanye marketed “Life of Pablo”, sharing its development, driving controversy, demand and interaction.


Their lives are much less linear in many ways than previous people in that age group.  Some of their attitudes are significantly different too.


They’re the first generation to have grown up with access to the Internet, social media and global TV content 24 hours a day.  Culture and influence from around the world.  As a result they are extremely well informed.  (Unlike most goldfish).


There are lots of them living with their parents, that much is true.  But they often don’t see that as a compromise, they regard their parents as allies and friends according to the research and go to them for advice and support, but equally offer advice and support to their parents.


They’re a key, and often ignored, influence on their parents purchasing decisions.  Traditional views of gender seem to be truly absent, for perhaps the first time since Eve offered Adam the apple.


C4’s study featured Dan – millennial father of one.

He’s a football loving lad, who works shifts in order to get home in time to pick his daughter up from nursery, and to care for her for the rest of the day.  He points out: “My dad wouldn’t ever even have changed a nappy, and my grandfather was the type of man the kids would play around, but he wouldn’t play with them.”


Hidden depths, hidden potential.  As far as communicating with this generation goes, get it right and they’ll endorse you peer to peer.  Get it wrong, and you might not get a second chance.  Comfortable traditional ideas that this lot will turn into the same sort of people as previous generations might make things easier but they won’t have an impact.


Brilliant Louis Michael from Gogglebox put it simply when he joined the conference and said: “Millennial encapsulates the idea of change”.

Down with the “Digirati”

Monday, June 6th, 2016

Helena-Bonham-Carter-In-Harry-Potter-And-The-Deathly-Hallows-Part-2“Programmatic: it’s automated trading – say it as it is.  What is big data? – it’s what you do with it that’s important”.

This is Claudine Collins speaking her mind about advertising buzz words that she hears too much and just aren’t simple enough.

We all have a tendency to use jargon, as discussed in my recent blog.  We all have our pet hates, and our own bad habits.  When you work in an industry that’s as fast moving as ours, it seems as though we sometimes can’t bear to take the time, those few extra seconds, to spell out what we really mean.

It would be great to think that we could just call a halt to the proliferation of jargon.  In reality it’s not that easy.  You could argue that together with the internet, social media and search, another of the unstoppable developments of this millennia is more pointless, incomprehensible digital jargon, than the previous half century saw altogether.

Is it a necessary evil in a fast moving disruptive environment?

Or are there a set of digirati out there, who take comfort in the advantage of speaking in a language that ordinary media experts don’t quite follow?  Who use acronyms or technical speak instead of plain English? Who delight in baffling their colleagues and bask in the reassurance that after 2 or 3 hours of explanation of what data might be able to do everyone will agree with them just to get to go to the pub.

In the dying years of the last century writer John Carey published a scathing attack on modern culture.  He argued that high modernism was deliberately designed to exclude, and put down the vast majority of the UK population.  A standard of “good” had been created and agreed by a small group of “literati” – intellectuals, artists, writers – which was not accessible to most people.  In fact if they looked like ordinary people understood it, it meant that it wasn’t any good.

Well known writers came under the spotlight of his criticisms because they evidently regarded the education of the masses as a bad thing.  Attempts by normal folk to understand modernism were mocked and derided.  Anything that the masses appreciated was abandoned – realism, logical coherence, accessibility.  “Poets in our civilisation.. must be difficult” said T.S. Eliot.  E.M.Forster, who wrote “Passage to India” and “A Room with a View” depicts a young man called Leonard Bast in his novel “Howards End”.   In the novel Leonard attempts to educate himself by reading literary classics and going to symphony concerts.  Carey writes: “Despite these efforts, Forster makes it clear, Leonard does not acquire true culture.  He has a ‘cramped little mind’….there is not the least doubt that he is inferior”.

The literati, the literary intelligentsia, did nothing to promote understanding of their art.  In fact they went out of their way to inhibit broader access.

Are there a set of digital intelligentsia, or digirati, who only feel comfortable talking in acronyms, using jargon instead of plain English?  To jump to another literary genre, one of which I am sure the literary intelligentsia of Carey’s book would have detested, are they like pure born wizards in Harry Potter who despise and detest the mudbloods?

Surely not.  I hope that if that any readers do come across this they have zero tolerance for such attitudes.  Incomprehensible jargon is not big or clever and only plain and clear thinking will deliver success.