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Monday, June 24th, 2024

New vinyl, new gifting

I have missed the smell of vinyl.  Growing up, buying a record on vinyl (the main format when I was a teenager) was hugely exciting.  After months of saving up you would venture out to the quite intimidating record store, staffed by trendy young adults (everyone who worked in a record store was very cool).  The experience of buying it, and the almost religious experience of carefully unwrapping and playing for the first time was unforgettable. 

The smell of fresh vinyl was an intrinsic part of this.

This week, joyfully, I was gifted a new (old) vinyl record by my esteemed EssenceMediacom Connected podcast co-host Sacha Owusu, as we did our final podcast together.  Sacha is both extremely talented and kind.  I’ve had a blast doing the podcasts with him, getting to know him and seeing his career progress.

When streaming overtook cds (which had of course overtaken vinyl), it meant that you could no longer give someone the gift of an album of music easily.  Apart from the emotional impact of this (choosing someone an album of music to give them joy, show well you know them, and possibly to stretch their musical tastes in a new direction are all a way of showing deep friendship), it was surprising to some that the music industry collectively had shut down a revenue stream in gifting.  (The same is still true of movie dvds of course.)

So its brilliant that vinyl sales have revived, and to see the new (old) HMV store on Oxford Street.

The Economist recently pointed out that contradictory though it might seem in the era of streaming music many pop stars are still making albums, not just releasing songs, some of which end up of course on vinyl.

Billie Eilish declared that her record “Hit me hard and soft”, released in May 2024 was a “cohesive piece of work… ideally listened to in its entirety from beginning to end”.  No singles were pre-released.  Taylor Swift released four successive sets of new material this year with no advance singles.  Ariana Grande stressed that she wanted listeners to “experience the album in full this time” when she released Eternal Sunshine in March 2024.

Was it the Beatles who delivered the first concept album with Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the 1960s?  Or Frank Zappa’s Freak Out? Or the Beach Boys Pet Sounds. 

According to Wikipedia, the concept of the concept album was invented by Woody Guthrie in the 1940s. Let’s not forget Frank Sinatra’s Songs for Swinging Lovers.

A new business model for music has evolved where fans will buy the album on vinyl, and download and stream their favourite tracks, thus paying twice for the same sound.  So vinyl helps sustain music profits and allows artists to dominate the charts.  When she released Tortured Poets Department Swift claimed the top 14 spots in the Billboard chart.

An old idea having a renewed life cycle, vinyl allows fans to own something concrete and of classic design.  It allows artists to make additional income.  And it revives the ability to give someone you care about something that you think they care about or will love.  Plus, more people get to smell fresh vinyl. 

Old ideas are sometimes the way forward.

There’s more than 2 Fs.

Friday, June 14th, 2024

When you are in a stressful situation at work there are famously two reactions that you might feel: Flight or Fight. 

These ancient responses make sense if you think of a pre language situation, where danger, at the dawn of mankind, might be sensed by the snap of a twig in the antediluvian forests.  Your reaction, like any cornered animal, is fight or flight.

But these two Fs are not the only instinctive responses to danger.  There are in fact another 3.  So if you feel that Fight and Flight are not your normal gut reaction to stress, read on – here are the others.  Stress reactions are possibly inevitable in daily life, unless perhaps you are lucky enough to be able to avoid them.  But if not, like most of us, understanding what is going on, and even trying to turn your typical reaction to your advantage if possible (as I think might be true with one of the Fs), can help with dealing with the frictions of the workplace.

These are the other 3 Fs.

  1. Flop: When you faint, become unresponsive, collapse.  Clearly a very dramatic response, especially in a work situation.  If this is your experience, you need to get out of any situation that brings this on as soon as possible. Don’t tolerate anything that threatens your health or peace.
  2. Fawn: To please someone to avoid conflict.  If you are a people pleaser by nature then this might be your response to a difficult boss or colleague.  Could you even use this response to navigate difficulties?  In classic ad man legend this might be the perfect recipe for account handling a difficult customer.  The qualities demonstrated by Roger Sterling and Pete Campbell in Mad Men show this to an extreme.

Roger Sterling describes meeting a prospective client (and here read customer, boss, very important colleagues) as if it like being on a date: “Smile and sit there like you’ve got no place to go and listen to them talk.  They’ll throw out something revealing.  Let them know you have the same problem.  Then you’re in a conspiracy together… the basis of a ‘quote’ friendship”. 

When suit Pete Campbell is asked what it is he does all day as an account handler he replies by turning the question back on the questioner (Emile).  He asks: “What do you do?  I hear you’re a trail blazer.. I bet the world would be better off if they knew about the work you’re doing.”  Emile, highly flattered responds: “You’re very kind”.  And Pete replies: “And that Emile, is what I do, every day”.

It can be hard to keep this up if your people pleasing skills are at odds with your real values, but if you can reconcile the two sides of your nature then this might be a great boost up a career ladder. People pleasing can help you get what you want.  If the people around you are motivated by flattery then fawning may be your way to manipulate the situation to your own advantage.  Don’t fear the fawn, use it. 

  • Freeze: When you are unable to move or speak.  This might be the most difficult of the responses (after the Flop).  At least in Flight, you get yourself out of there, and with Fight you might end up being thrown out.  But to freeze in the moment means that you are stuck.  Typically you might feel this response in two sorts of situations.  One is when simply overwhelmed by the other personalities in the room.  I can remember meeting a new creative agency top team for the first time as a planner in my twenties, and just being unable to contribute anything in the moment.  I’d been selected by my boss to lead the media part of a new business pitch, and sent to the introductory meeting with the ECD and CEO at the creative agency where I was completely intimidated.  By the time I got back to the office, where I had planned on coming up with a thought through response, my boss had had a call requesting my replacement, which created an opportunity for my very talented, and much more extrovert colleague.  The other situation when people can freeze is when they experience sexism, homophobia, racism or prejudice.  It can cost a lot to speak up in that moment, particularly if the person involved is more senior than you or has lots of apparent allies around them. 

There are techniques to help with all of these instinctive responses. They can be found in our book Belonging.  Breathing is paramount, with the right technique, all the Fs have a chance of coming under some kind of control, so that you can be your best self at work. 

“Gradually, then suddenly.”

Tuesday, May 28th, 2024

Ernest Hemingway fans will recognise this as the apparently contradictory yet ruefully truthful reply that Mike Campbell gives when he’s asked “How did you go bankrupt?” in Ernest Hemingway’s iconic novel The Sun Also Rises.

It’s an important concept. It might seem contradictory, (if its gradual, how is it sudden?) but it isn’t uncommon and can lead, as in Mike’s case, to catastrophe. When change is obvious, you can deal with it, when its gradual, it can be easy to ignore until it suddenly accelerates, when coping strategies may fall short.

In the absorbing and extraordinary book Blue Machine, how the ocean shapes our world, author and presenter Helen Czerski uses the phrase to describe the constant reshaping of the sea.  “The gradual changes are the slow shunting of the whole plates around the globe, at speeds of a few centimetres per year.”  Then all at once changes are “thousands of tiny earthquakes.. the solid sea floor dropped by 2.4 metres, clearly an eruption…. Long jagged mountainous scars zigzag around the global ocean… each one rumbles along with its own dramas and growth spurts, for the most part hidden by the ocean.”  It’s not directly related but as we face increasing Ocean temperatures, we must pay attention to gradual changes before they become seismic.

This observation is key to delivering transformation and change in an unstable world.  Dramatic changes are a surprise, a shock even, simply because on the surface, on the blanket of the deep ocean, everything has looked under control.

Any organisation with a complex matrix management system can be prone to this, because the tendency to manage upwards and across, can lead to people smoothing over any minor changes until it is too late to change course in time. 

Any team that lacks a challenger embedded in it is vulnerable to group think and consensus, which again can mean missing the warning signals of change.

Gradually and then suddenly is a danger to us all.  It can happen in relationships where suddenly the small things that aren’t right become impossible to live with.  And it is happening with trust.

Dan Slivjanovski, CMO at DV, gave the keynote at the Campaign seminar DV Impact: Protection, Performance, Outcomes on May 8. 

He warned about the proliferation of fake news online.  He told us about an egregious example of this that matters hugely to Londoners: the instance of Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, who said that deepfake audio of him making inflammatory remarks before Armistice Day 2023 nearly caused riots in the capital.  The clip used AI – artificial intelligence – to create a replica of Mr Khan’s voice saying words scripted by the faker, disparaging Remembrance weekend with an expletive and calling for pro-Palestinian marches, planned for the same day last November, to take precedence.

Intended to sound like a secret recording, it said: “What’s important and paramount is the one-million-man Palestinian march takes place on Saturday.”

The clip imitated Mr Khan, the first Muslim mayor of London, saying: “​​I control the Met Police, they will do as the Mayor of London tells them…the British public need to get a grip”. It said the prime minister meeting with Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley was “a waste of time” because “the buck stops with me”.

According to BBC news coverage: “Mr Khan said the fake audio “wasn’t a bit of fun” or “satire” and its creator had not been “naive” about the consequences it could have.

Mr Khan said organisations such as the Electoral Commission, which are responsible for keeping the UK’s elections “free and fair”, also needed more powers to deal with faked information.​​

There is currently no criminal law in the UK which specifically covers this kind of scenario.

The mayor said it was also “really worrying” that social media companies did not contact him or the authorities about the faked audio at the time it went viral.”

Renee DiResta of the Stanford Internet Observatory explains: “social media took the cost of distribution to zero, and generative AI takes the cost of generation to zero”.

Deepfakes are increasing exponentially.  According to Sumsub research there’s been a significant 10x increase in the number of deepfakes detected globally across all industries from 2022 to 2023: 1740% surge in USA, 1530% in APAC, 780% in Europe.

The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer named a new paradox at the heart of society. Rapid innovation offers the promise of a new era of prosperity, but instead risks exacerbating trust issues, leading to further societal instability and political polarization.

According to Slivjanovski 99% of all content could be AI originated by the dawn of the next decade.  Unless AI tools for detecting and deterring deep fakes grow at a faster rate than the deep fake proliferation, then the impact on trust might be sudden and irreversible.  We all need to pay attention to this or gradually mounting distrust will develop into sudden and irreversible disruption.

What does Taylor Swift do right?

Monday, May 13th, 2024

On April 2nd 2024 Taylor Swift officially became the 2545th richest billionaire on the planet.  (There are apparently a lot of billionaires these days).  According to Forbes she is the first musician to achieve this from talent alone (not needing side hustles).  A new concept has been named for her.  Swiftonomics, coined by Bloomberg, originally was conceived as a way of explaining how her 2022 tour bucked the overall economic trends in the US.  Advance sales of her tickets sold out and huge premiums were paid for resale.  And the trend has only continued to accelerate.  Apparently profits from her Era tour make her as rich as the 36th biggest nation in the world.  Recently the tourism minister of Indonesia, Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno, said: “We need Swiftonomics for Indonesian tourism” and created a fund to bid for events like a Swift concert in order to boost the travel industry.

The supply of an unmissable product or event can create truly significant revenue.  The Federal Reserve even mentioned Swift in its June 2023 Beige Book, its regular analysis of recent economic conditions, stating that “May was the strongest month for hotel revenue in Philadelphia since the onset of the pandemic, in large part due to an influx of guests for the Taylor Swift concerts in the city.” It’s not just the Swift product.  Barbieheimer, Beyonce and Abba Voyage (of course not actually in real life), women’s football, new formats of cricket, have all created new revenue streams. And a bit of comfort for people who are worried about AI is that according to The Economist “even if AI surpasses humans in art, intellect, music and sport, humans will probably continue to derive value from surpassing their fellow humans, for example by having tickets to the hottest events.”

What can brands and advertisers learn from this?

The first clear lesson is make it live.  The latest IPA Bellwether Report pointed to a boom in events.  A prestige occasion that was unmissable, you had to be there where marketing can deliver brand equity and create new memory structures outside of advertising alone.  The report indicates that “main media budgets” might decline, but events show unprecedented growth.  Paul Samuels, evp AEG Global Partnerships, is quoted in Campaign saying: “While an advert lasts just seconds, an event lasts for hours – and the memories, a lifetime – giving brands longer to engage with consumers and enhance their experiences.”  You clearly cannot reach as many people with an event as you can with a paid media campaign, even with an artist who is working as hard as Taylor Swift, but you can create lasting impact in the hearts and minds of those who are there.

Lesson two, you do not have to reinvent everything.  Too much revolution in communications can be overrated in terms of commercial success.  Ditching the slogan, changing the logo, creating a completely different ad campaign might be exciting, but might not deliver the outcomes that have been planned for.  Thinking about Swift herself, her longevity is important.  Her multitude of fans can count on a gentle evolution of content that sounds familiar and yet is refreshed.  This sometimes goes against common advertising practices of calling wear out long before the audience is weary of the ad, and of abandoning strong brand equity with a full makeover of comms.  Dominic Twose, the former head of knowledge management at Millward Brown,  explains that advertising wear out is rare, the response to an ad shown over months or even years is consistent, and if people enjoy the ad, then this doesn’t diminish through repetition.   A new Channel 4 study on sponsorship shows that effectiveness in driving purchase intent improves as time goes on, (even if people claim that they are fed up with the idents).  As Taylor herself puts it: “I never want to change so much that people can’t recognise me”. 

Diversification of revenue might not be how Taylor became a billionaire, but it hasn’t hurt her bank balance.  The sales of vinyl have stepchanged because of her and she’s sold lots of friendship bracelets and movie tickets too.  The Eras tour reportedly broke all records for event cinema within 3 days of opening in UK and Ireland.

Above all the lesson from Swiftonomics remains that real talent, dedication, hard work and passion are what drives success. Leaving the last words to Taylor: “Just be yourself, there is no-one better”.

ITS NOT FAIR

Thursday, April 25th, 2024

Do you ever feel like this?

I’ve blogged in the past about the fact that we are part ape and part bee.  Not just you and me, but humans in general.  It’s the theory of author and social scientist Jonathan Haidt who says that whilst deep down we are still pack animals, social creatures who need affirmation from our leader, we are also bee like.   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.

So the ape part of us needs recognition from our boss, the bee part of us loves collaborating to build great stuff.

The ape part of us is more nuanced than you might first think too.  It isn’t just about a top ape conferring credit on the humbler parts of the team.  Apes really care about fairness and about working together too.

Frans de Waal was a professor of primate behaviour at Emory University in Georgia, who died this March.  Till his work in the mid-seventies the prevailing theory about chimps was that the most powerful chimp became the leader, and that their community was based around violence, aggression and selfishness.

But de Waal noticed two young chimps fighting until one won, and the other lost, and retreated to a high branch.  Then de Waal saw something that astonished him and the scientific community at the time.  One held out his hand to the other as if to seek reconciliation.  In a minute they had swung down to the same part of the tree, embraced and kissed.

He rewrote the science beliefs of his era with this and hundreds of experiments and lots of data. According to his obituary in the Economist he passionately believed that it would be good for humanity if “he could convince people that their better instincts – altruism, co-operation, peacemaking – were as innate as violence and competition.”

What is striking about his work is that fairness is crucial to harmony.  This video shows the striking experiment (which is admittedly upsetting because of the caged animals, so be warned) where two capuchins were put in adjacent cages and given the same task to do, to hand stones to the researcher.  At first, they got the same reward – a slice of cucumber.  Then one was rewarded with a grape instead.  When the other monkey noticed this it went wild, hurling the slice of cucumber out of the cage and shaking the bars. 

Transparent, and clear fairness in every workplace is crucial to harmony and productivity.  If you feel your boss has favourites, for reasons that aren’t clear it can make you miserable.  If you don’t know what to do to get into an inner circle that seems to exclude you then it will damage your ability to do great work.

Great leaders know this, and understand how to get the best out of their teams by ensuring that there is a clear light illuminating how things work around the place. 

When you are leading a team, remember the grape, and ensure that you are being completely fair with your praise, rewards and inner circle.