Archive for the ‘MediaComment’ Category

For love or money? What is professionalism?

Monday, February 19th, 2024

Nick Dunlap made golfing history in January 2024 when he won The American Express PGA Tour.  He is the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event in 33 years.  The prize money for the event is £1.5m.  However, because he is an amateur golfer (Dunlap is a university student), he doesn’t get to win any of the money.

In a 2019 episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld takes his friend and guest, fellow comedian Mario Joyner to the barber.  Jerry insists that Mario’s beard needs trimming.  Leaving aside the strain that this might put on any relationship (if your friend’s hirsute style troubles you would you book them into a hairdresser, and if you did would they still be your friend?), the sincerity of Seinfeld’s horror at Joyner’s unfettered beard is clearly authentic.

Post barber, situation resolved (though the difference seems marginal), Seinfeld points out that he thinks it is much better, and that there are some things that need to be carried out by professionals.  And this takes the pair into a familiar (to regular viewers of the show), rant about how comedy is only the business of professionals, and amateurs telling jokes fills them with horror.

But doing something because you love it, the original definition of amateur (from the latin amare – to love), requires a passion for the subject that could transcend simply doing something for money, clearly evidenced in Dunlap’s golfing victory. 

Most bloggers will be doing it for the love of getting their point of view out there.  I don’t get paid for this blog – it doesn’t mean that I don’t consider myself a professional blogger, and care about every word, every semi colon, and the cadence of each sentence. 

The scientist and heiress Miriam Rothschild spent years compiling a four volume catalogue of fleas, published in the 1950s.  She had come under accusations in a field almost exclusively populated by men, of being a dilettante.  She instead used the term amateur with pride.  According to Natalie Livingstone, the author of Women of Rothschild, it was Miriam’s “expert amateurism that allowed her to follow her broad interests, work across subdisciplines, imbue her work with her love of literature and philosophy, and avoid the increasing specialism she observed taking place”.  Miriam was a huge success in her field, she served as the first woman trustee at the Natural History Museum and was awarded an honorary doctorate of science by Oxford University and was a visiting professor at the Royal Free Hospital.  Read between the lines and her amateur status allowed her to break the glass wall of men dominated institutions, and the freedom to explore her own judgement for the benefit of science.

What does being a professional mean?  In the world of sport, being a professional means getting paid for what you do.  Is that the only criteria?  Or is there a level of professionalism that requires more than just a salary?  My first job was selling shoes in Dolcis in Brent Cross.  I don’t think the lavish salary (for a 14 year old, (with double time for bank holidays and a bonus for selling Scotchguard)), made me a professional. 

My colleague Rob Meldrum, head of creative futures at EMX, spoke recently to his team about a collective ambition to make “the best work of our lives”. 

This ambition, together with the expertise and persistence, are what characterises professionalism.  And it is what I’d want from a barber / hairdresser.  What any client would want I think.  And what keeps me loving my job.

A good boss is a servant leader

Tuesday, February 6th, 2024

Happy 2024.

As the old year turns into the new year there are often added pressures.

Where it is acceptable to move a meeting from June to July or from October to November, moving a meeting from one year to another seems much more epic, and rude, so maybe the last weeks of the year have been especially fraught with added pressure to squeeze catch ups in?

For organisations with calendar reporting there is all the busyness of finalizing year-end figures, and crystalising business plans for the next 12 months.

Then there are awards, the new season is also starting with Campaign Media Deadlines in January.

Is your boss putting pressure on you to get stuff done at an even higher rate of agility than usual?

Bosses increasingly see the benefits of being in the office together and want to see you there.  So, getting you physically in the office is an overriding agenda too, which can be an added pressure to a difficult work life balance for some.

Bosses shouldn’t be adding pressure of course.  That isn’t the role.  A great leader will be working as hard as possible to alleviate pressure and find hacks to make your work simpler and less hassle.

Our popular culture doesn’t reflect this does it.  It’s locked into a 20th century, even Victorian, notion of the boss as tyrant, making unreasonable demands and not caring about anything more than the results. 

From the wonderful Sylvie in Emily in Paris to the iconic Katharine Parker played by Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl, to 9 to 5, The Office and Horrible Bosses and all stations in between there are a myriad of caricatures of rubbish managers.

And where are the good bosses on screen? Few and far between.

In our best-selling book (with Kathryn Jacob), The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business, one of our anonymous interviewees told us about the need to ask your boss for help, not to assume that they just expected you to Just Do It.

She told us that she had taken a big promotion but felt really out of her depth. In fact, she confided that after her first few weeks she was completely miserable, not sleeping properly and she felt like she was

letting her new boss down badly.  She had found out that she wasn’t superwoman.  Well, nor are any of us.  What she needed to do was ask her boss for help.  Because her boss wanted her to succeed.  Of course, he did, he’d promoted her, and her failing was only going to cause him more problems. 

This is true of everyone.  Always remember that your boss needs you.  But they might not know, unless they are mind readers, what you need from them.

In an ideal world your boss would prioritise your welfare.  In Agile ways of working (of which I am a huge believer) the notion of the Servant Leader is pre-eminent.  The role of the team leader is simple, to control workflow to make sure it is realistically manageable, and to remove barriers from your path.  And the daily standup and transparent KanBan ensure that the leader can do this.

Not everyone works in this way of course.  Your barriers or difficulties might not be clear to your manager, and remember they have their own problems, and pressure.

So, take time to communicate what you need from your boss.  Manage your manager and try to manage your team better than Sigourney.

Please don’t bore us, get to the chorus.

Friday, January 19th, 2024

First lesson of presenting:

Say what you’re going to say.  Say it.  Say what you have just said.

I learnt this in my first ever presentation training and it is true not only of presentations, but every time that you want to communicate.

Got some feedback for a team member.  Say what you’re going to say, say it, say what you just said.

Pitching for a payrise.  Say what you’re going to say, say it, say what you just said.

Breaking up with someone… Say what you’re going to say, say it, say what you just said. 

Writing an awards entry, Say what you’re going to say, say it, say what you just said.

People’s ability to hear what they want to hear is pretty amazing, and our brains love to stick to existing patterns of thought, so if you have something new to pitch you need to make it simple and repeat it. 

If you complicate things, then that will allow misinterpretation.

If you hedge around an issue, people might just not hear anything that you say.

If you assume that they will work out what you mean from your subtle implications, you’re probably wrong.

And if you love (as many in adland do), to lead up to a big reveal, don’t count on the fact that people will still be paying any attention at all unless you have given them a really good reason to by, yes, you guessed it, saying what you’re going to say in the first couple of minutes.

Our favourite sing-a-long songs demonstrate this beautifully.  It doesn’t matter what the artist intended, all people remember is their interpretation of the chorus.

The Pogue’s classic, with the wonderful Kirsty MacCall, Fairy Tale of New York from 1987 is a perennial favourite in the UK.

But have you really listened to the lyrics?  They aren’t cosy, they aren’t that Christmassy and they aren’t really suitable for a singalong with your nan or your kids.

Britain’s favourite Christmas song, starts in the drunk tank, and goes downhill from there: Blessed Shane now “won’t see another one”.

Every Step You Take is still popular as a classic wedding song, and the Police original from 1983 was of course about a stalker.  40 years later, it’s still hugely popular, as a love song.

There’s a Bowie favourite used to rouse crowds and boost corporate spirits; but when people hear “Heroes” what they hear is just the line “We can be ‘heroes’!”.  What they don’t hear is that the song is actually about a doomed, dysfunctional couple whose dream is that they might be ‘heroes’ (Bowie includes the ironic quote marks, just to make it absolutely clear that they’re not really heroes) just for one day.

Born In The USA by Bruce Springsteen is played at patriotic gatherings.  Its about how badly vets were treated after Vietnam.

And the highly hummable, Stevie Wonder hit, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours, is less of an actual love song, and more of a dodgy and unbelievable grovelling apology for bad behaviour.

Of course, there’s more.

And why should the artists who made the hits worry?  After all they may be misunderstood, but as my grandmother would have put it, they’re misunderstood “all the way to the bank”.

The key point here is that this is more common than you might think, and this is worth remembering every time you begin to compose.

Let’s assume that most of our readers aren’t writing hit songs, but you probably are writing presentations, scripts for meetings or working out how to sell something.

Two crucial points to remember are:

You need a chorus, something memorable, and repeatable.

No-one will remember anything else apart from the chorus.

And, as I have said,

Say what you’re going to say, say it, and say what you have just said.

Or in other words:

Say the chorus, repeat the chorus, repeat the chorus again.

Breakthrough in the New Communications Economy: Culture and Communities

Tuesday, December 12th, 2023

The final week of November saw a week of breakthrough presentations at EssenceMediacom and EssenceMediacomX from our partners, our teams and a wide set of inspirational people.

Everyone was asked to come and deliver their view on how brands can breakthrough in the New Communications Economy (NCE).

One clear theme stood out from many amazing sessions.  Culture has undergone a transformation in the last decade. 

It used to be that there was a dominant mono-culture.  This would either be dictated by or amplified by established media platforms.  The glossy magazines would set an agenda for the season, or TV shows would create the buzz for the season.  A new release by a band or the latest hit musical might fuel that theme.

Now there is no mono-culture but a set of overlapping and contrasting multi-cultures.  And these are not dictated from above but formed by micro-communities.  Everyone can contribute to and might contribute to, or even star in, the zeitgeist of the moment.

From the thousands of communities on Reddit, to the explosion of fan communities on YouTube, and everything in between, it is micro-creators, geeky communities and their weird and wonderful points of view that make culture real now.

This isn’t new, but now it is properly widespread.  In 2012 in my co-authored book Tell the Truth, honesty is your most powerful marketing tool, we published a case study about an innovation in magazine publishing, a new phenomenon that at the time was very successful in leading the way.  We wrote: “Magazines have always traded on knowing what their readers want.  From Cosmopolitan’s vision of the young single woman to Good Housekeeping’s soothing of the household matriarch, a wide offering of publications produce images and words to satisfy readers dreams and aspirations.  This is the classic model and it is traditionally left to the instinct of the editor to pronounce and deliver it… A new model of journalism is evolving now that is based on audience behaviour online.  Goodtoknow has transformed from a top down editor’s opinion led publication to a bottom up reader-enlisted model.” 

It’s editor, and pioneer of community fed editorial, was Jolene Akehust, and she led the way, 20 years ago, by flipping the model. She informed content from what was trending in online forums, and she aimed for the tone of voice of shared experiences in supermarket carparks between busy mums.  She confided in me at the time that she didn’t really fit the gang of the other women’s mags editors who (supposedly) dictated culture.

Even earlier, in the 1990s, I was really intrigued to work with Converse’s ad agency who employed a “cool hunter”, Jane Buckingham, who travelled the world looking for the new hottest fashion passions to feed back to our comms strategy.  The plans weren’t driven by what the media considered trendy, but by micro communities in far flung cities. 

This week our EMX ceo Clare Chapman interviewed Adam Baidawi, GQ’s Deputy Global Editorial Director and Editor in Chief of British GQ.  He explained that GQ had transformed, from a publication that dictated how one homogenous cohort of men should look, behave and buy, to a title that reflects and adds to different pockets of culture.  It’s no longer about looking for the biggest audiences as an editorial focus, but instead finding the biggest enthusiasms (however niche) and putting them in the spotlight. 

In the New Communications Economy, where user generated content is now the dominant content in young people’s lives, you can breakthrough if you put people, their passions and their communities first.

Now we’re all cool hunters, and there’s millions of communities to seek out for the next (for the moment) big thing in the zeitgeist.

And the winner is…..

Thursday, November 30th, 2023

“I always was a big believer in things on a global level,”

Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I was recently invited to be the seconder for the opposition for a motion at The Debating Group event in the House of Commons, this October. 

The motion in question was: “A strong UK ad industry is key to returning the economy to good health.”   

My first instinct, as was the audiences’, was to support the motion.  As a proud Fellow of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, surely this must be right?  In fact, I was asked to oppose the motion, at the request of the Economist and the IAA, in support of the lead opposer, Patrick Foulis, Foreign Editor at the Economist.  This required me to think and to think hard about the issue.

The Debating Group is an excellent organisation.  It has been holding debates in the House of Commons since 1975 bringing marketers, politicians, journalists, and the public together to discuss the contentious political issues which surround marketing.

More debate is exactly what our industry, and indeed our society needs.  From difference comes strength, opposing views create a winning argument.  In a new book “The Cancelling of the American Mind” by Lukianoff and Schlott, the authors call on companies to foster not just a diverse workforce, but an intellectually diverse workforce.  “Bosses should make clear that a commitment to free speech is a condition of employment”, writes the Economist reviewer

Patrick nailed the argument against the motion by contextualising the real contribution of advertising to the economy in the UK.

The proposers of the motion gave excellent and strong reasons why advertising’s contribution should extend beyond this of course, which Patrick successfully countered. 

My arguments to support Patrick’s opposition were twofold:  

That the motion was based on a narrow and outdated definition of the ad industry, and that it ignored the global and interconnected nature of the world in which we live.

First, I challenged the definition of the “ad industry”. The ad industry is often only considered in respect of creating and distributing advertising messages, such as TV commercials, print ads, billboards, or online banners. But this is a very limited and old-fashioned view of what our industry is today. In fact, our industry today is much more than advertising. It’s about events, ad funded programmes, sports sponsorship, influencer marketing and the creator economy estimated by Goldman Sachs as a $250bn sector, branded content, and more. These are not just add-ons or gimmicks; they are essential parts of the marketing mix that can deliver significant results for businesses.  The good news about the new communications economy in which we live is that there’s 187 minutes a day more media consumption than 10 years ago.  But 46% of this is in media that isn’t ad funded.  People are gaming (and everyone is a gamer), they’re on subscription-based video, music streaming and podcast services.

So, reaching people with advertising is harder, and when ads do reach them they have more impatience with irrelevant advertising than they used to.  44% of adults say ads are a waste of their time and this has grown by 80% in the last decade.  Accenture research claims that in the US alone companies are losing $1 trillion in annual revenues to their competitors because they are not consistently relevant enough. 

I therefore argued that the motion should be opposed on the basis of the narrowness of the definition of advertising, we must instead recognize the diversity and creativity of our industry as a strategy for growth in the broadest way today.

My second challenge to the motion was the focus on the UK economy alone. The motion suggested that the UK ad industry can somehow operate in isolation from the rest of the world, and that its strength is only relevant for the UK’s economic recovery. But this is a very unrealistic and short-sighted view of how the world works. In fact, we live in a globalized and interconnected world, where borders are blurred, cultures are mixed, and problems are shared. We cannot afford to think only about ourselves or our own country; we must think about our impact on others and our role in the global community.

There are three reasons why thinking globally is important.

  1. Generation Z, the young consumers who will shape the future of consumption, think of themselves as global citizens.  This means that they are more open-minded, curious, and tolerant of different cultures and perspectives. They are also more aware of global issues, such as climate change, human rights, and social justice. They expect brands to reflect their values and to act responsibly on a global scale. Therefore, our industry has to understand and appeal to this generation’s global mindset.
  2. Focussing on the UK ignores the benefits that talent migrating across the world delivers for innovation and growth. History shows us that innovation often happens when people from different backgrounds and disciplines come together and exchange ideas. For example, one of the factors that enabled the Industrial Revolution was the migration of skilled workers from Europe to America. They brought with them new technologies and techniques that transformed manufacturing and productivity. Similarly, we need diverse talent and thinking from around the world, who can bring fresh perspectives and insights to solve complex problems and to export our talent to share our perspectives. Therefore, we must reject any idea of a UK industry in isolation and embrace and celebrate diversity and mobility. 
  3. Thinking tribally about the UK is not good for anyone. As we have seen in recent years, nationalism and isolationism can lead to conflict, division, and resentment. They can prevent us from finding common solutions to common challenges. We need more cooperation and collaboration across countries and regions, not less. We need more empathy and compassion for others, not less. We need more peace and harmony in the world, not less.  Let’s remember the lesson from Will Smith in the movie Independence Day, where humanity faces an alien invasion that threatens to destroy civilizationThe only way to survive is to unite as one species and fight back against a common enemy

In summary, we must reject outdated tribalism and old-fashioned localism.  Instead, we should be ambitious for the benefit of human kind by rising above tribal instincts, and think about making a plan to benefit the world, not just the UK.

Delighted to say that team Patrick and Sue won the motion, swinging the vote significantly from before the debate.  The real winner though was the Debating Group for stimulating positive disagreement and challenging discussions.