Archive for August, 2017

Mur de Verre

Monday, August 28th, 2017


In the months since the Cannes Advertising festival in June I have been mulling over the state of our industry.  As a self-proclaimed champion of diversity in senior management, how was gender diversity represented there this year?

I wasn’t staying in Cannes so needed cabs to and from my out of town room and I’m pleased to report that, for the first time, I was driven by some women taxi drivers, so clear evidence of gender diversity in transportation.   At the WARC future of strategy debate I was one of three women speakers with Suzanne Powers and Lucy Jameson.  When the third speaker Hristos Varouhas had to leave us for a client meeting, WARC head of content head David Tiltman was left with a “Wanel”.  (Women only panel).  The session was standing room only.

Cannes organisers had picked more women for the judging juries .  Kate Stanners,  chairwoman and global CCO of Saatchi has remarked that being on a judging panel with a balanced gender split made its decisions more robust, and celebrates this change for the better:  “Historically male juries have selected and awarded work through a male bias.  The work we’ve traditionally out there, put as best in class, has unwittingly had a gender bias.  It has had a gender lens filter on it.”

Has the gender issue gone away then from Cannes as its organisers are doing more to ensure an even mix?

Not exactly. At the MediaCom fireside chat Madonna Badger commented that team after team that picked up the Lions at the awards ceremonies were mainly or exclusively men.  As one member of the audience (who doesn’t want to be named) subsequently privately observed, since these are the outstanding successes of creativity why would anyone think that change was necessary? (I cannot comment on the proportions of the media agency teams picking up Lions as this is statistically insignificant.  The Media Lions predominantly were awarded to creative or pr agencies.  Only 10 out of 95 were won by media agencies as the lead.) 

There’s been loads of research into the profit benefit to business from mixed gender boards but I’ve seen nothing to substantiate that creative teams would win more awards with more women on them. However with more than 80 per cent of marketing efforts aimed at women you’d think that it couldn’t hurt to try, and might give an agency a competitive edge. Award winning movie director Gillian Armstrong featured on a SAWA “Women and Cinema” session at the Palais (another Wanel).  She stated that while the proportion of movies directed by women is still only 14 percent it looks good compared to the proportion directing commercials.  Which is just 9 percent.   She wryly queried: “I guess the last thing you’d want is a woman’s point of view?” adding: “ It’s just not good enough… it’s the men in baseball caps that get picked every time.” If you buy the idea that you have to see it to be it then you must worry for young women in agencies who frequently don’t even see a single woman as a part of the team running up to accept the Lion. You must also consider if this is the optimum way to build your team to market successfully to women. 

Cannes this year leads me to conclude that our industry still has plenty to do in terms of gender equality and smashing Glass Walls  It is time.  The conditions are right.   Time to walk the walk not just talk the talk.



Diversity of thinking

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

ihateyouyourehiredMark Zuckerberg remarked at the launch of Facebook Watch, a Youtube style content video channel: “Watching a show doesn’t have to be passive. It can be a chance to share an experience and bring people together who care about the same things.”

Thus at a stroke, he adopts for Facebook a couple of the strongest attributes of TV on the box now and in the past: the watercooler moment and commonalities of interest. What a perfect description of watching Coronation Street or Morecambe and Wise in the last century. And still what great TV from Game of Thrones to XFactor can offer.

Facebook’s intention for Watch is user generated content of course. “Watch is a platform for all creators and publishers to find an audience, build a community of passionate fans, and earn money for their work,” said director of product Daniel Danker.

Other media have warned of the perils of too much shared interest. The Guardian commented that “whilst the “things” that bring people together can be cute videos of kids bossing chefs around, Zuckerberg makes no mention of the possibility those things might also be a shared hatred of a minority or religious group.”

Of course no one has any intention, especially this blog, of endorsing hate content, yet we can recognise that shared loves and shared dislikes are a common human bias. It is what we all do. Everyone can criticize editors that they don’t agree with and faceless algorithms of unconscious bias: of not giving a fair and balanced picture of all the sides of an argument. All successful media do a version of this. This is in effect what has always made media owners successful. A point of view that reassures you that you’re not alone.

You’ve always known what it means to describe a room full of Mirror readers or Telegraph readers. This is a simple way of characterising a point of view, and a set of people who are more alike in values than different.

Those values are what attract people to the brand in the first place.

This is unsurprising. It taps into the basic human need to associate with “people like me”, after all a primeval survival instinct. (If you disagree with the rest of the tribe, they are unlikely to bother rescuing you from a sabre tooth tiger or grizzly bear attack.)

Most people go much further of course than simply seeking reassurance of their views and biases in the media. They seek out people who agree with them to spend time with. It’s one definition of friendship: shared values and reassuring perspectives.

Not everyone does this all the time. We try and discourage it at MediaCom. There used to be a poster in MediaCom’s old office which I am thinking of re-issuing. (Beautifully illustrated by Sam Learmonth).  It showed dogs and cats and mice working productively together with the slogan: “I hate you; you’re hired”. Its intention was to point out that diversity of opinion makes you stronger and that a good argument with a thesis, antithesis and synthesis, gets you better decisions as Dave Trott points out in a recent blog.

When Facebook prioritises friends and family in your news and content feed it may commit editorial bias. It is serving you opinions that are likely to agree with your own. As John Simpson pointed out in his review of 20th Century journalism “Unreliable Sources” this is nothing new. He describes the age old tension between the view of the reporter, often bravely trying to be as accurate as possible, the demands of the proprietor and the necessity of selling copies which required stories to be popular and fly off the newstands. In other words to report opinions that broadly agree with most readers.

Any critique of Facebook’s popular approach must accept that it is largely how popular media has always worked. Facebook is just better at doing it personalised at scale.

For a stronger, more balanced society, and for a stronger, more successful workplace, we need to encourage not just diversity of gender and personal attributes, but diversity of thought.

Them and Us

Thursday, August 10th, 2017
The-Flintstones-Animation-Sericel-cel-the-flintstones-24423346-900-692Daniel Kahneman is the father of behavioural economics for which he won a Nobel prize in 2002 for his revolutionary theories that challenged the idea that economics worked on the basis of humans being rational. He showed instead that economics really operates on the basis of dumb instinct.
When I saw him speak (thanks to Rory Sutherland) he said: “people think that they are the Oval Office, in fact they are the Press Office.” At the time Obama was running the Oval Office. One wonders whether Kahneman is still using the analogy?
Overall of course Kahneman definitively shows that whilst we think we make decisions on a rational basis, in fact we usually don’t. We make them on the basis of powerful instincts that have evolved over millennia.
It’s crucial to bear this in mind when we consider research findings about advertising and content. People will explain their motivation rationally rather than simply and instinctively.
The elections of the last 18 months show us that people convince themselves they’re voting on the basis of evidence when in fact they’re voting with emotion.
This is crucial to bear in mind when we come to build teams and consider office culture.
Without a great culture a business will suffer. What makes a great culture work well? When teams look out for each other, and care about the company as a whole, rather than when the individuals in the team compete with each other.
There’s a theory that 150 people is a great size for a business. Yet with 150 people working together you have the problem of good team dynamics. In fact in a team of 20 or fewer you can have the problem of team dynamics.
There’s a number of reasons this arises. If the structure of the organisation is hierarchical and pyramid shaped then everyone knows that they’ve got to beat everyone else at their level to build their own career. This can happen if the organisation operates a “dead men’s shoes” policy where you only ever get promoted into an open role.
If the organisation takes people at entry level every year, but only 25% of them are still there 3 years later this brings out a kill or be killed instinct.
If there’s an aspect of matrix management, whereby you work for one manager but have a dotted line into another, and it’s an unusual organisation that does not have an element of this these days, whether it’s local to global or vertical specialists to horizontal generalists, then deep rooted tribal instincts operate which can mitigate against all kinds of theoretical team bonding.
Yuval Noah Harari writes in bestselling “Sapiens”: “Homo Sapiens evolved to think of people as divided into “us” and “them”. “Us” was the group immediately around you, whoever you were, and “them” was everyone else.”
People are the only species according to Harari who actually can cooperate beyond the immediate group.
To achieve this a team culture needs nurturing.
Harari cites 3 ways in which people have evolved to work productively together that developed in the first millennium BC.
First economic. Can everyone share monetarily if the business succeeds or is it just the top people?
Secondly political. This a toxic and very energy draining way of manipulating people into working across teams.
Thirdly, and most powerfully, belief. If the culture has a core belief that everyone can buy into and contribute to then everyone is in it together.

Fragmentation and distrust in elections and consumer marketing

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

trust1Gillian Tett is the managing editor of FT.

Last month she created a new acronym to explain to the world the continual surprises of the electoral results in the western world.


Tett wrote FUCU as a political analysis. A cynical analysis.  It led me to question whether FUCU might be a descriptor for marcomms too.

Tett’s F stands for Fragmentation, reflecting the polarised views of people in the 1st world.  In the UK, still reeling from the Brexit vote last summer, it became clear that a London centric view of consumers was deeply foolish.  Unless you really get that a Huddersfield housewife has less than £100 a week to spend on household expenses you really don’t have proper customer insight to fuel comms strategy.  Personalised and localised insights are crucial and easier to come by than ever with intelligent analysis of data.  You should also just get on a train and get out of London.

Tett’s first U stands for Untrusting.  The Edelman Trust barometer described a crisis of trust in media, brands and institutions, and for anyone who has been following the trajectory of their annual study it has made for grim reading over the last 5 years.  What do consumers want? Truth and authenticity.

C represents Customisation.  Customer service expectations are higher than ever before.  At MediaCom’s “What’s eating Gen Z?” seminar the speakers agreed that Gen Z expects a level of customer service that exceeds any actual experience.  The consensus was that if you took to Twitter with an angry rant and didn’t get an immediate apology and redress then the brand in question took a real hit in terms of credibility.  However they reflected that no actual brand had come anywhere near good enough.  More broadly we know that e-commerce is essentially “Me-commerce”.  Consumers expect disappointment, and any brand (including politicians) that delivers a bit better than the others will gain clear competitive advantage.

Her second U stands for Unstable.  Tett writes of today’s culture as “a place of political cyber flash mobs, in which passion suddenly explodes around a single issue or person then dies way.  It is a place where it is hard to have a sustained conversation about trade-offs, and where voters and politicians jump across traditional boundaries with dizzying speed, defying labels as they go.”

The instability in media fads sometimes mirrors this.  Media Owners see sectors go in and out of fashion and experience the highs and the lows accordingly.  As long as media spend remains aligned with audience research techniques that vary greatly across media types there will be a large amount of spend that flows according to what will work in theory.  The real answer to this is outcome based planning and a development of outcome based trading.  Although media owner heads talk passionately about how strong their medium is in delivering good roi,  not enough of the money spent in media overall is traded on shared risk and reward (outside of immediate response or click through.)

FUCU lacks a third U however as far as marcomms is concerned.  I’d add another U to represent the you of the consumer.  Unless strategists really walk in the customers’ shoes and truly drive insights all you get is a series of me too communications which fail to differentiate the brand and build real memory structures that ensure that the target audience reaches for that particular brand first of all.  Real insights that show how the target audience operates in the category and turn into an actionable strategy to drive sales.  Let’s put this U first and pay the consumer the respect of real empathy in our comms strategy.  In the upcoming Awards season for Media Week this is the key ingredient that makes a winner.

With her intentionally offensive acronym (sorry if you are offended) Tett is delivering a commentary on the deteriorating relationship between politicians in general and the voters.  With an emphasis on the U, the You of the consumer we will grow brands and also avoid dwindling trust.  UFUCU. 

Debunking myths

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017
Did you catch the headlines about women’s brain size earlier this month?
It turns out that women’s brains are smaller than men’s.  This is not particularly startling as men are on the whole larger than women.  (Especially when they man-spread of course).  A new study from Erasmus University in Rotterdam claims that this correlates with a higher iq for men which in turn means men are smarter. 
You would think that scientists might find better things to do.  Journalist Angela Saini writes: “this study is part of a longterm attempt to undermine women by male neuro-scientists…. For more than 100 years male anatomists and neuro-scientists have sought to find evidence of women’s intellectual inferiority by comparing their brains to men.  It’s surprising that in the 21st century this hasn’t ended.”
It isn’t relevant to get involved in questions of EQ vs IQ as a signifier of smartness here.  (Women’s EQ is greater even despite their teeny tiny brains), let’s just say there are smart women and smart men and I’ve yet to notice a correlation with hat size.  The man with the biggest head is not necessarily the cleverest person in the room.
Myth debunked.
Another myth about women is that they can multi-task whereas men can’t.  And that multi-tasking is bad for everyone.  See what happens there?  The one thing women are supposedly superior at is bad for you. 
There’s contradictory evidence on this one.  For part one of the myth, that women can multi-task whereas men can’t: one study from China has endorsed women’s superiority, whereas a Swedish study claimed the opposite.  The theory behind this supposed ability is based on pseudo-science.  Evolutionary theories claim that women have evolved to better able to juggle tasks (caring for children whilst stirring food for instance), whereas men need focus to hunt animals for the pot.  Hard to prove this theory.  Especially in our neck of the woods.  There isn’t a lot of focussed hunting for food that goes on Bloomsbury, as Meet and Eat supplies all Theobalds Road necessities unless Fab has an unexpected demand for scrambled eggs or bacon sandwiches that is!
For part two of the myth is that multi-tasking is bad for you anyway.  University of Glasgow’s Dr Stoet claims that filtering out distractions helps us achieve more.  Several commentators think that multi-tasking is killing productivity.
Tim Harford thinks the opposite
The FT writer and BBC broadcaster concludes that real breakthroughs come from being messy, and doing many things at once, not from focussing on one thing.  Multi-tasking helps us synthesise more than one idea, and synthesis is where genius lies.  The future of strategy lies in fact in this.  
Harford writes in Messy about a series of creative geniuses including Jane Austin, Charles Darwin and nobel laureates who all worked on more than one project at once and picked up another subject when they were stuck in something, which helped them become unstuck.  A large number of nobel prize winning scientists switched fields entirely on their journey to Stockholm. 
Harford argues that clean desk policies hurt creativity and problem solving.  First of all because people dislike being told what to do, so a clean desk mandate causes resentment and time wasting.  Secondly because your mess of papers might be self-organising into a genius cross fertilisation that solves the very issue you’re stuck on. 
If you happen to be happy to multi-task resist those around you that tell you off about it. 
If you can agree with these criteria:
          Doing two things at once means that I am better at both of them
          Checking my smartphone does NOT mean that I am not paying attention
          I deliver original and valuable ideas to my team
Then go ahead, mythbust.  Prove the singleminded, focussed, hunters out there wrong every time.