Archive for March, 2018

The single most important factor for transformation, and it might surprise you.

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

aweWhich is the most important factor for transformation?

At the beginning of 2018 we asked our clients a big question.  Of all of the multiple issues facing our industry, (including GAFAM, Brexit, Millennials, Voice, Purpose etc etc), all of which are on marketers’ minds, which is the most important?

I can reveal here that the top four issues are:

Creativity, Artificial Intelligence, Data and Agility.

At our opening session at AdWeek Europe we invited four speakers to each champion one of the topics and let the audience vote on which was most crucial.

That transformation is essential for business is unarguable.  Most businesses have path dependence baked into their ways of working.  Keeping up with the pace of change in the world is essential but it isn’t enough simply to buy in a new head of digital or data.  If you staple on a new product to the edge of the business but don’t change how the organisation operates then it won’t deliver.

As one great thinker of this century Stephen Hawking said “intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”.

As another great (but in this case a fictional great) Optimus Prime said: “there’s a thin line between being a hero and being a memory.”

Without transformation, without change, there’s no chance of being a hero.

Without the right kind of transformation there’s just the Gartner “Trough of disillusionment.

What did our speakers say and who won?

Victoria White, editorial director of Hearst Made, championed creativity.  She talked about the importance of human editorial judgement: “If we only went with what the data said then would not have created such amazing products such as Esquire Town House and House Beautiful Sofas.”  She pointed to the need for bravery in knowing what the audience want before they know they want it and acting on that insight, calling her editors “walking algorithms”.  She concluded by saying: “without a passionate human being with an idea there is no creativity”.

Jim Kelly, VP R+D at Quantcast was up next, championing the supremacy of data.  He pointed out the step change in media from making a few decisions every quarter in the last century to making a few million media decisions every second now.  So he said it is crucial to get “comfortable with machines digesting data on your behalf”.  Culturally this is a big change too.  Kelly believes that many organisations are focussed on too many so called key performance indicators because too many metrics are measurable.  In a reference to Coleridge he challenged that many are “drowning in data, like the ancient mariner surrounded by water, but dying of thirst”.  (Remember the lines: “water water everywhere but not a drop to drink”).  The solution, sort out your metrics and data will drive business success.

Hannah Mirza, global head of partnerships at MediaCom talked about AI being crucial.  She said: “When humans think of problem solving we follow decision making trees to arrive at answers.  AI has the ability to comprehend many more decision trees than a human can by contrast.”  Hannah pointed out that we are reaching a point where AI and reality matching is as close as 95% and improving to the extent that we are not able to discernibly differentiate between humans and machine  and showed how you can benefit at every stage of the consumer decision journey with best practice AI.

Finally, Tony Foggett, ceo and owner of Code, computer love championed Agility.  Agile processes differ from traditional ways of working by valuing Individuals and interactions over processes and tools, Working software over comprehensive documentation, Customer collaboration over contract negotiation and Responding to change over slavishly following a plan.  His business is built on Agile practices and he eloquently argued that his philosophy of “Point, Fire, Aim” led to better decisions and more empowered staff.  In a world where change will never be this slow again, agility is essential for transformation.

Transformation is crucial.  That’s why we’ve set up Theobalds Road Consultancy at MediaCom to deliver a change path for clients.

After all the speakers had argued their point we had a vote.  The Adweek Europe 2018 audience said, conclusively, that Creativity was key.  What do you think?

What you need to know to avoid wasting time in start up petting zoos

Friday, March 23rd, 2018

pettIn today’s business world, doing the same thing you always did is not an option. If you don’t innovate, you die.  It could be a slow demise, might be fast, but thriving isn’t on the cards if you don’t change.

One of the fastest and most effective ways to drive digital innovation is to go directly to the source – to the start-ups that are reinventing your market right now (whether you know it, or not), and Start Up Europe Week in early March 2018 created a fine opportunity to consider the role of a start up in your business and your career.

Yet consider with care, with caution.  This century might be relatively young but we’ve already seen waves of over-investment in what felt like pivot points but frequently were simply money-pits.

One discussion at Blink’s (MediaCom’s division which matches client needs with start ups) event for the week focussed on the big question of whether innovation by big corporates in this space really delivers business value or is essentially an effective way of driving public relations and image.

The panel concluded that there’s sweet spot where you can get both, but the panel urged caution in having too high an expectation from this work stream.

Dora Michail, md, digital at The Telegraph, reckoned that if 1% of the meetings with start-ups converted into something powerful, something that would drive real change, you were doing well.

Jon Bradford, early stage investor and founder of Motive Partners, characterised corporates’ meetings with start ups as a “petting zoo.”

Does that leave you wondering if it’s worth your valuable time?

Whether you should leave the disrupting to someone else and hope for the best?

What if despite your best efforts it fails?

What motivation is there for corporate innovation in fact if it’s so hard to execute and business as usual pays this week’s bills?

Dave Knox, one of the Blink panel, has written a guide for businesses seeking to navigate this.  In it he quotes Jeff Bezos “Most large organisations embrace the idea of invention but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there….. in business, every once in a while, when you step up to the plate, you can score 1000 runs… it’s important to be bold.”  Knox is passionate about the value of start ups: “the canary in the coal mine”, and points out that it’s easy to dismiss them, warning: “The leaders of yesterday have to learn the rule of an entirely new game of business in order to maintain their position as the leaders of tomorrow”

Businesses need to think through how they innovate.  Anyone can create experiments or buy in some new tech.  The real question to be asked and answered is where is the new business model?

There’s a danger in using an accelerator that is incentivised on introductions to start ups.  The business must ask the right question first and be prepared to experiment in an agile way to find the answers.

The team at Blink focus on defining the business opportunity or problem first.  With this clarified the odds of finding the right start up solution to make sure that your business has competitive advantage are hugely improved, and operating this way can lead to step changes in performance.



The weird way to succeed at networking

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

mad-men-award-mom-e1335757797644Two ways to succeed at networking.

Some of us are naturals at networking.  Given a luke warm glass of indifferent white wine and some limp crisps those lucky people circulate at room like honey bees in search of nectar.

Two hours later they are the last to leave (undoubtedly to go on to their next fixture) and they have talked to at least a dozen people that they barely know.

Some of us are not naturals.  Some of us need help.

My very first abject failure at networking happened when I was put forward for an exclusive club where the candidates were vetted at a cocktail party.  My sponsor invited me along, introduced me to a series of very influential people, and then left me alone with them.  To a woman they each looked at me, raised their eyebrows, waited expectantly for me to say something impressive, and then swiftly moved on, in disappointment, to the next candidate.  I did not make the cut.

Don’t get me wrong, I was aware that I was meant to make impressive small talk, with at least half a dozen different people.  I just had absolutely no idea what that consisted of.

I still don’t know.

I don’t think you need to make small talk anymore though in order to impress.

Here’s 2 things you need to do.

  1. Do some research.

That cocktail party was in the dim mists of time before linkedin, before Twitter, before facebook, before the Campaign A List.

Now, faced with any prospective encounter with people you don’t know you can easily look them up and find something to talk to the about.

It may seem obvious but it’s something that people who ask to meet you rarely do do.  This is not stalking.  This is not intrusive.  This is professional preparation.

If people have shared aspects of their careers, personalities, interests, and humour on social media or in Campaign, they are in the public domain and it is just polite to find out something about them in order to make conversation.

5 minutes preparation about who you think will be at a gathering so that you have something to connect with them about will make a difference.

So if you want to connect with Tess Alps (and who wouldn’t), listen to some Bach.  Brushing up against WPP UK country manager Karen Blackett, perhaps show an interest in athletics.

  1. Make your network wide and weird.

It’s great to be in with the in crowd.  To know the latest gossip, and to feel at the centre of a large group of familiar faces.  They will be warm to you and useful in your career.  But don’t spend all your time with them.  Make sure that you make contact with people outside the “usual suspects”.  Especially people who have only a very random connection to your current day job.  In the first place they might be really intriguing, going outside the norm is fun.  In the second place, with the pace of change in our industry you don’t know where your career will take you and building connections outside of the current status is a really beneficial thing.  Finally, once you have established a relationship with them you’ll be able to ask them about work issues that it is difficult to speak to your current inner circle about because everyone knows everyone.  They will give you great, unbiased advice from a remote perspective.  That’s very valuable in any situation.

Doing some homework and going wide and weird.  The two essentials of effective networking.







No more standing by #pressforprogress

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

IWD-2018-900x380For IWD 2018 make a pledge.  No more standing by.

Let’s talk about bravery. Not mountain climbing. Not parachuting out of a plane. Not bungee jumping, abseiling, marathon running, Tough Mudder or Iron Man training. All of which are admirable.

I’d like to talk about everyday bravery. The bravery never just to standby and listen while someone in the office shrinks into themselves because the office humour or banter has taken unpleasant turn.

The bravery always to speak up to make sure that the quiet people are included and heard. That the outliers feel like they belong as much as those who fit the mould.

To speak up, to act, to defend, even if that makes you the unpopular one.

Speaking up, staging interventions and zero tolerance of excluding behaviour at every level, this is what changes work culture and if the current statistics on diversity balance at the leadership levels of our sector and the gender pay gap are evidence then culture needs to change, to be more inclusive, to be more diverse.

Speaking up does require everyday bravery… I know mountain climbing bungee jumping fanatics who find challenging in the moment too difficult.

It must be done, for the sake of the profits if nothing else. New McKinsey analysis demonstrates that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity at exec level can deliver 67% better economic profit than those in the bottom quartile.

There’s been a lot of discussion of this in the last 18 months. Since I published my book (with co-author Kathryn Jacob): “The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work, and businesses that mean business”, in September 2016, we’ve seen the issue of gender parity reach everyone’s attention. Yet little actual change. Yet.

The question every business and every leader should ask themselves is are you doing enough?

One of the case studies in our book concerns a CMO based in the US whose career takes a downward turn when she finds herself with a new boss from a different country, where the prevailing culture is that women are expected to be much more deferential than in New York.  It takes a while before she realises what is going on and takes steps to change the situation.  One reader told me that he read the story full of anger towards the woman in question’s colleagues.  “Why didn’t they speak out?,” he said, “they must have been aware of what was going on, but they said nothing.  Were they afraid to rock the boat, thought it wasn’t their business or did they simply see this as a way of pushing their own careers forwards?”

Frankly incidents like this are all our business. Or we should make it so.

In our interviews and research for our book, in the questions we’ve been asked at the 90+ talks we’ve given, Kathryn and I find the same themes come up.

There was the woman who was asked, the last time she pushed for a pay rise, if her husband’s career was in trouble.

There’s the rep who was asked if it was her time of the month the last time she challenged her boss.

The lawyer who when she arrived at a meeting where she was the only woman present, and there weren’t enough chairs, was asked by the CEO if she’d like to sit on his lap.

Colleagues said nothing.

I expect it was too hard to intervene in the moment.

We must intervene. Every time. We must not stand by. We must be brave. Every day.




The most important thing to focus on when you create content

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

bp11 hours of media consumption in 8 hours of time.

This is not a creative endeavour; it is a race for attention

This is how Jez Nelson, ceo of Somethin Else, describes the content development and audience generating business he’s in.  I think it is a good description of the business we are all in.  It is a crucial bit of understanding given the OfCom insight about UK media consumption.

If you’ve been in any kind of presentation recently you’ve probably seen a chart that says that attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds, or in other words that we have less focus than a goldfish.

Whether attention span is significantly falling off a cliff or not is to my mind questionable.  When there’s great stuff to watch, listen to or read there really isn’t an attention span problem.  At the showing of Black Panther that I attended in my local cinema last week you didn’t see anyone getting a bit bored after 8 or 12 seconds and looking at something else.  Rather there was a full house rapt audience who didn’t even move as the credits rolled, and most of them were there for the preview (spoiler alert) of the next Avengers movie right at the end.

The Harry Potter franchise got more kids reading than ever, and reading long, long books with no pictures, no sound, no moving images.  The truth is an economic one.  Supply and demand.  There is more choice this century in terms of quality content than there ever has been.  Consumers are at the equivalent of the best buffet you can ever imagine.

You know what it’s like if you face a really good spread at an event.  Where you want a bit of everything but you also can’t either eat it all or even fit it all on a normal sized plate.  You’re wearing your best outfit, it’s not designed for big eating but you want to try it all!  That’s what content providers are now doing.  Throwing the best ever buffet of content.  And the audience knows it.  So they try one thing, and if it doesn’t satisfy they switch to something else. Fast.

It is a race for their attention.

Thanks to multi-tasking and stacking behaviour, in a typical day, we squeeze 10 hours 52 minutes of media and communications into the 8 hours 45 minutes of time actually spent with media (OFCOM). There seems to be no slowing in this wave of content production and consumption; users upload more than 400 hours of video to YouTube every minute, Instagrammers post more than 80 million photos daily.  People are over stimulated.  Which means to really cut through to the consumer a brand’s communications have to stand out.

The crucial question to ask is of any work is just that.  How does it stand out?  This is a different question to whether the work is logical and data driven, even any good.  Frankly you might be better off being the funny and irreverent piece of content if your environment is made up of meaningful, moving and serious work.  A brand that is famous for shouting about price might be the brand that gets remembered in a stream of ads that talk about feelings and emotions.  Or a brand that creates real meaning for the consumer will stand out in an environment that otherwise looks and feels commercial.

It’s a race for attention.  Not a creativity contest.  You can’t demand attention ever again. You have to earn it.  Second by second.