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

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

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…..

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.

Orcas and Advertising: how to survive.

November 6th, 2023

It was world menopause day on October 18th.  This is one of the newer world days of note.  When my mother went through menopause, she, and of course billions of other women throughout history, at least those that lived long enough, had to manage without a day of commemoration. 

For something that is so material in the lives of 50% of the humans on this planet it is good that it is no longer hidden or shameful, as it once was.  Menopause has been shrouded in mystery and secrecy in most societies, and the understanding of its biological implications is important.  It’s a weird thing to go through, without any kind of roadmap, however inaccurate that map is.  Because, in a similar manner to the process of giving birth, to maternity labour, it is a very individual experience.  And generalisations aren’t that useful.  However, breaking the taboos that have kept women silent on this topic is important and empowering.

The point of menopause biologically used to be assumed to be the “Grandmother theory”.  That it was useful for society to have older women free to look after their grandkids so that the young mothers were free to work, gathering and preparing food (while the men went out to hunt).

There is only one other species other than humans in the world that is known to go through menopause.  Whales, specifically Orcas and Pilot whales.  All other animals continue to reproduce until they die.

Scientists have found that in the case of Orcas the grandmother theory is redundant.  The older matriarch whales do not look after their adorable grand children.  Instead they perform an even more vital and lifesaving role in the Orca community. 

In 2012 a research student, Emma Foster, found some interesting trends in a longitude study of Orcas.  In data that had been collected since the 1970s she found a pattern about the survival of adult male Orcas that was linked to the longevity of their mothers, and had nothing to do with the grandchildren.  If a mother Orca, who has been through menopause, dies, her male offspring is 14 times more likely than his contemporaries to die.  The evidence clearly showed that a mother Orca continues to help her adult offspring.  Professor Darren Croft of the University of Exeter said: “That left a big unanswered question.  Old females (his term not mine!  The older female Orcas I know would prefer to be referred to as in their prime) are keeping their offspring alive, but how?  What is it that they are doing to confer the survival benefit?”

The best answer is that female Orcas in their prime are better at finding salmon – the main diet of the Orca.  Salmon are unpredictable and post-menopausal adult females are much more likely to lead the group to salmon especially when salmon stocks are low.  National Geographic concludes that the longer the Orca females live the more they know and that the same principle applies to humans.  That older members of the tribe have wisdom and experience to impart that can sustain the wider community.

Do we understand this at work?  Be more Orca: learn more from and get advantage from nurturing older individuals.

Farewell Campaign Print Magazine

October 20th, 2023

I started out in a full service creative agency in the 1980s as a TV buyer.  Straight from university, with no particular interest in advertising (I was just filling time until I started a law conversion course), I didn’t know about the esteemed industry trade press organ until I met a fellow grad intake who proudly boasted that he had already been mentioned, before he had even started in his first job, as a face to watch.

For my first couple of years I only saw glimpses of Campaign when I could beg, borrow or steal an issue.

Media Week (subsequently incorporated into Campaign) was the go to weekly print magazine for media folk.  But I know the first time my name was in Campaign magazine, and it helped me get my job at The Media Business (the small buying start up media independent that became MediaComTMB, MediaCom and now EssenceMediacom and EssenceMediacomX).  (Thank you Campaign).

That first time, I was in a list of top 10 press buyers, and my name was (inevitably) misspelt, so I appeared as Sue Uberman.  Thrilled, and yet, peeved, I did get an approach from TMB to join and help set up a strategy team. 

Subsequently, eventually, I managed to get my own subscription to Campaign Magazine.  Favourite features were always Private View (some of which were laugh out loud funny, especially Gerry Moira and Dave Trott), Jeremy Bullmore (very wise and very funny), the editorial points of view and the columnists. 

To an extent the arrival of the magazine would dictate the rhythm of the week.  My Thursday had to incorporate reading time for the magazine, out weekly at that point, and then I would pass on my copy to anyone that needed it.  It was a necessary addition to reading Media Week to give a bigger picture view of our industry.

Also, everyone had a copy of Media Week.  Campaign could give you a competitive edge and a different perspective.  Copies of Campaign magazines were a rarity round the agency.  To be read thoroughly and then shared generously. 

As Campaign’s editorial viewpoint changed, to incorporate the acquisition of Media Week, and Marketing, with an ambition to champion good thinking and good thinkers across the business as a whole, so too did the business itself change and progress.

I started in the media department of an agency where the predominant business was making TV ads, and the job of the media team was to buy airtime to ensure that people saw them.

Usually, in the 1980s, the job was to reach as many people as possible, regardless of much emphasis on targeting or context.  The first sets of skills that I learned included to be complete accurate with data, and that buying space in “shoulder peak” was desirable to my boss, because it counted as peak airtime, but was cheaper.  After my first few weeks, I made my first challenge to the then status quo, by pointing out that buying airtime at 17:30 on a weekday, meant that someone in London with a normal commute, would never see the ad.  My boss responded by showing me the value saved chart for the client, and saying that was all they cared about.   That brand no longer exists in the UK.  So, there were two lessons learnt.  In the short term I learnt that challenging your boss can make you unpopular.  In the long term I understood that every decision can have significant impact.

In my first agency, there wasn’t much collaboration between media and creative, and despite the nostalgia about a so-called golden age of full service, my experience was more like that depicted in Mad Men where the media team are bottom feeders compared to everyone else.

And now media agencies make creative work.  In an era where the medium does and should dictate creative execution, where creativity is democratised across huge numbers of creators, and where the true strategic breakthroughs exist in the junction of insights from media, data, tech and creative understanding, this is less the return of the full service agency, and more the birth of a true communications business.  For brands to be relevant in the new communications economy, where people spend more time than ever with media, but less time as a proportion of that with ad funded media, every brand needs to consider strategies across culture, gaming, social, influencers, word of mouth, content, ecommerce and, also, advertising to breakthrough in terms of business success.

Farewell Campaign print edition, long live Campaign as a champion of this.