Archive for the ‘MediaComment’ Category

If you can measure it, you can improve it.  If you are measured, you will game it.

Tuesday, May 30th, 2023

If you can measure it, you can improve it.

Dr J is one of the greatest basketball players ever.  Julius Winfield Erving 11, better known as Dr J won 3 NBA championships, 4 most valuable player awards and is an inductee of the Basketball Hall of Fame.  In 1994 Sports Illustrated named him one of the 40 most important athletes of all time.  He has a reputation for bringing artistry to the slam dunk.

I saw him speak at a Converse basketball shoe marketing conference in the 1990s, just after he’d retired.  He described his upbringing in New York.  He said whatever he did as a kid, he continually tried to improve.  If his mother sent him to the store to buy milk he would add excitement to the chore by trying to beat his personal best running to and from the shops and up and down stairs to the apartment.  Through measurement came both improvement in speed, and satisfaction of growth.

If you are measured, you will game it, prioritising the targets even at the expense of the wellbeing of people and indeed companies.

Targets for schools is one prime example of this.  When the government set exam targets for school children commentators and experts pointed to the harmful outcomes for many pupils.  One National Union of Teachers report stated: “Teachers object passionately to the accountability agenda imposed on them because of the consequences that flow from it. These are undermining creative teaching and generating labels which limit students’ learning. Crucially, they also threaten children’s self-esteem, confidence and mental health.”

Alfie Moore is an ex-cop who now works as a stand-up comedian.  His insider take on policing is both funny and sad.  One of his routines takes on the extreme outcomes of the target culture in the police.  He tells a story of a man who tries to report a burglary when new targets (to reduce the number of burglaries) have made recording more burglaries against policy (as recording them as other things means that the target gets met, even if the burglars continue to rob).  He says: “the guy shows the attending officer scratch marks around his patio door.  The cop says: ‘That’s badgers.  Badgers have done that.’  And the guy says: ‘ But, they’ve been away with my 42-inch colour TV.’  The cop replies: ‘Must have been two of them.  Sometimes they’ll work in gangs.’”  This month he commented on Twitter on a story that a retired police officer had carried out breathalyser tests on himself to meet targets: “Well they did say that meeting performance targets was a priority”. 

So, targets are good, and targets are bad.  Without targets how can you measure progress, but with targets you have to be aware of the externalities of people only focussing on what is measured. 

One tactic is the anti-target. As well as setting an objective also set an anti-goal.  Be clear on what you don’t want the team to deliver? 

Andrew Wilkinson, successful entrepreneur and founder of Tiny Capital, set out his schedule of anti-goals on Medium in 2007.  The list of 7 includes: “Never schedule morning meetings, sleep in when necessary” which I know would strike a chord with many people who are trapped in the alpha patriarchal schedules that suit the minority few who mainly set rules for business. 

If the goal is to drive profitability, then it might be crucial to set an anti-goal to ensure that you don’t optimise profit at the expense of growth (this might seem redundant but I’ve seen modelling optimisations to profit at all costs that ends up in a non-optimal position).

Measurement is good, but to be effective targets need context and nuance. 

Conditions for transformation

Monday, April 24th, 2023

Lionel Shriver is not noted for her optimistic outlook on the world. She is an author and spokesperson, her breakthrough book was “We need to talk about Kevin”.  This was a dystopian description of a mother’s journey to explain why her son killed 9 people at his high school.

Lionel was born Margaret Ann in 1957 and changed her name to Lionel when she was 15.  She’s an American, but lives in Bermondsey. 

I once heard her speaking about the NHS, and the dire state it finds itself in.  (Not that this needs emphasising in a week of junior doctor strikes, but to quote the British Medical Association: “The NHS is experiencing some of the most severe pressures in its 70-year history. The COVID-19 pandemic is just the tip of the iceberg – the health service has been facing years of inadequate planning and chronic under-resourcing.”)

Shriver commenting on why this is difficult to fix (and bear in mind that there is no NHS in America), said: “However bad things are they can always get worse.  Better the chaos you know than the chaos that you don’t know”.

This is the very opposite of the mindset that you need for transformation and change.  It is why people in all kinds of sectors cling on to outdated and anachronistic practices and fail to take advantage of opportunities and grow. 

The UK editor of Campaign Magazine, Maisie McCabe wrote a leader denouncing the failure of creative agencies to embrace change.  She notes that this has led to a disappointing “quality of output”.

Creative agencies however are full of smart, creative people.  Are they also too full of people who like control and predictability over the potential chaos of the unknown? 

It might be a bit unfair to pick only on creative agencies.  The tendency for managers to resist change in favour of things they know they can deal with is across our industry, across the UK as a whole (with a few and of course notable exceptions).

What proportion of leaders truly embrace change?  How many of our people love the new?

Statistics state that just one in five people in general at work want to step out of their comfort zone.  If the comfort zone is heritage status quo, then any business in our industry needs a much higher proportion than this.

We are in the new communications economy, where change is continuous and accelerating.  If you have built a career on certainties that are now redundant its crucial to be open to new learnings. 

For generations (according to a survey from Deloitte, quoted in The Economist) Americans have picked TV and film as their favourite home entertainment, those under 25 now prefer gaming.  Although gaming is specially favoured by the under 25s (9 out of 10 Brits of that age game (what is the other one doing?)), two thirds of people in rich countries play, nearly half of them are women and half of the population aged 55 to 64.  At Snoop’s appearance last month at the O2, the millennial woman in the row in front of me was playing a word game on her phone during the support act.  On the tube home a Baby boomer woman sitting next to me was playing patience on her smart phone.  Gaming is a mass medium, whether it fits with heuristics of creative and comms agency planners or not. 

On Founder’s day at EssenceMediacom, Andrew Shebbeare stated: “Step change feels like an existential threat but sitting still is really the existential threat”.

We all need to embrace change and potential chaos to deliver customer value, not necessarily with advertising but with data informed comms, creative and tech fit for the new economy.

What do you really do?

Wednesday, April 5th, 2023

During a visit to the NASA Space Centre in 1962, President Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said: “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy, what are you doing?” The janitor responded: “I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr President.”

Is everyone you work with clear about what they are doing there?

Often the job description, even the key performance indicators which you will be judged by, are not the real reason you are there.

If the janitor at NASA was putting a man on the moon, not sweeping the floor, then what are you doing and how does it ladder up to the ultimate purpose of your organisation?

In any media agency the overall purpose is what?

To buy space for creative work that is made by a creative agency to appear in?

Not in my opinion, not since the end of the last century at the latest.

It is to consider the best way to communicate with people to achieve the client’s objectives.  That might be buying some space, it might be making a TV show, it might be smoothing the customer journey or a driving brand love by championing women in sport.

Is the point of your job the same as the functions you perform?  Unless you are a sole independent operator the chances are that you are performing those functions as part of a team which has a bigger purpose.  You should be very clear as to what that is.  Making profits for the company you work for, soothing your immediate boss, or helping your clients to grow?

The FT recently wrote a piece about “mattering”.  Apparently it’s the new management buzzword coming your way from the lofty environs of Davos.  Journalist Jemima Kelly (who is clearly irritated by this concept) writes: “supposedly, the ‘secret to management in a new hybrid-working economy’ is not honouring working hours, or making sure employees are achieving a proper work-life balance, or even just keeping in regular contact with them.  No, the most crucial thing is ‘delivering and cultivating’ something known as ‘mattering’ the belief that you are important to others in your workplace”.

She goes on to say (unarguably): “The way to make someone feel that they are valued is actually to value them”.

But mattering at work does go beyond feeling valued by co- workers, or a boss.  It is about whether you know that what you do matters to the overall purpose of the organisation. 

Deloitte have published some new findings that substantiate the importance of ensuring that everything you do ladders up to the purpose of the organisation. 

I joined the Deloitte Academy session in early March for a discussion of what they framed as “The purpose gap”.  From research of over 4,000 employees they found that purpose really matters to employees, but that only half of those surveyed see the organisation’s purposed mirrored in their workplace reality.  47% said they left for purpose related reason, and only 55% see their leadership reflect the organisation’s purpose.  There is a clear competitive advantage to be driven here, in terms of retaining and attracting talent. 

Environmental, social and governance funds have doubled in size in the last 7 years and manage $7.7trn in assets.  The Business Roundtable, a talking shop for American bosses, declared in 2019 that companies must place the interests of clients, customers and communities on an equal footing with shareholders.  Buttonwood in The Economist states “at the moment this is the only rational choice.”

Over and above this, IPA Effectiveness awards case studies have shown significant gains to be had in terms of outcomes for purpose related campaigns, including SK11, Barclays and  Mars.

In a high functioning team everyone knows their immediate and their ultimate purpose.  Its great to be appreciated for what you do, it is even better to know that what you do matters.

When ads are welcome

Thursday, March 30th, 2023

One of my esteemed colleagues used to like to reflect annually on the continued decline in the numbers of people who agreed with the TGI statement “The ads are better than the programmes on TV”.  The glorious Tess Alps, ex ceo of Thinkbox would counter that this was because the programmes had got better.

People always avoided ads.  Back in the 1970s they had to get up from the sofa and go to the kitchen to make a cup of tea to do so.  In the 1980s there was a mini crisis in the media community when the widespread use of remotes meant that switching channels became easier.  One media chief suggested that the solution to ad avoidance was more entertaining advertising.  The answer today is more relevant advertising, we know that relevant ads are 4 times as liked and more than 90% more actionable. 

People aren’t consuming less media, yet they are avoiding ads more, sometimes with adblockers, sometimes with premium subs, sometimes surely still by popping to the kitchen to make a cup of tea.  Lumen have given us stats on attention spans for ads, which are shrinking faster than the contents of a box of Celebrations does in an office communal kitchen.  The conclusion that younger cohorts’ brain functions have changed is less science and more speculation in my view.  Immerse them in content they love and their attention span is more than adequate. 

It is also true that some people have always enjoyed ads some of the time.  Partly because in the golden age of entertaining adverts they were funny, told stories first, or as System 1’s Orlando Wood would state, had more “right brain” appeal.

If the purpose of advertising is to create or maintain memory structures or to stimulate demand then finding people when they are open to adverts can only be a bonus.

Ads are still welcome when people have dwell time.  Watch people watch ads in cinema.  The right quality of ad will have them more than enraptured.  Ads are still welcome when people are bored.  Think of cross track posters on the underground when you’re waiting for a train, the relevance then might simply be to distract you from the underground.  There’s poems still on tube card panels, why not entertaining copy too?  Not everyone is head down on their phone in the tunnels. Glossy magazines can essentially be catalogues of appropriate advertising that fit round the editorial.

Dwell time at bus stops, on bus sides and roadsides in traffic is there to be taken advantage of by great creative copy.

The ads while you’re waiting for a wetransfer are a superb opportunity too.

Pinterest has the magnetism in this respect of any special interest or community of passion magazine.  The right advertising fulfils the reason that people come into the site in the first place leveraging contextual advantage.  As the team put it at the Pinterest trends breakfast the community of Pinners are planners united by moments and interests not demographics.  If you have a brand that fits the trends then there is a community of interest who may welcome your message.  For example apparently finance will be fun this year (hmm?) and gamifying savings is on trend and could be your resonating comms message. 

At a recent event one attendee said that context was dead for advertising.  To misquote Mark Twain – the reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. 

When ads are great, or when people are looking for distraction and when ads are greatly relevant then there is a better chance of breaking through everyday clutter to reach audiences in a richer and welcome environment.

There are 48 ways to be creative.  Here’s number 10: Build communities.

Friday, March 3rd, 2023

What’s creativity for?

One use is creative destruction.

To destroy and to clear away old and legacy models so as to allow you to create new mores and standards.  Sometimes it is impossible to create the new if the heritage of the past hangs heavily on your organisation or culture.

If this is your intention then building a community can enable you to get support from the crowd and is a good place to start.

For many millennia your community meant a local community in real life within a few miles from where you were born.  Most people knew the same people all their lives, for good or bad, and stayed in touch.  It was only really in the second half of the twentieth century that family units became smaller and more independent, and it became more of the norm to move away from friends and family and from your place of birth.  Urban landscapes changed so that you didn’t stay in contact constantly with your neighbours, and, especially in London, you might never meet them.  Modern life became weird.

With the internet came social media allowing communities to be reinvented.  Friends Reunited, MySpace, Second Life and of course Facebook allowed human beings to fulfil a deep rooted emotional need to connect.  A child of the millennium can stay in touch with everyone they were at school with all their lives (should they wish to that is of course).  As contact has grown so too has ghosting.

Social media also allowed people with passions to connect.  Until this flourishing in the early 21st century if you had a passion for collecting or crafting or a geeky interest in a niche topic you were pretty much on your own unless you found a club in real life to join.  If your passions were niche, the chances of this were minimal before Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram gave us communities of interest around anything you can think of from cookies and quilting to independent bookshops.

Of course, before social media there were ways to find out about your passions and magazines thrived from feeding them.  The strategist John Grant called them catalogues of passion, not simply paper and print.  They allowed people to connect with people they didn’t know in real life who shared their interests, and this was and is enriching on a personal and a creative level.

People with passions are curious about their topic (unceasingly).  People with passions connect despite other differences of age, class, gender, race, sexuality, even politics.  They connect across barriers.  And if you can create communities that are passionate about your business then it can step change your profitability.

People with passions can create, (and can destroy). If you can harness this, you can stepchange the success of your project, venture or brand.

Justine Roberts is the co-founder of Mumsnet, a social media platform that gave a voice to the silent.  If an idea catches hold there, it makes national news.  Her community famously gave UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown a tough time because he was unable to name his favourite biscuit.  The Mumsnet community can create success and failures.  As Roberts once said to me: “If they like your ideas then they will tell everyone, and if they don’t then they will tell everyone that too.”

The #metoo and @everydaysexism communities on Twitter have created new societal norms where silent millions have gained a voice and wielded power.

Tiktok, Instagram, Pinterest and the rest all deliver communities and connections.  If you’re facing a situation that needs change and creativity, reach out to or create a new community and harness the power of the people.