It's my last day here. That means some proper work in the morning, pub at lunch and that's pretty much it. I've a healthy dose of nerves at what's waiting for me in Manchester, but change is good.Time to do new things, learn new stuff, find out how talentless I really am.
But it was a hard think about this. The people I met beforehand really mattered, I had to know that there was some cultural fit (sorry Marcus).
The place I'm leaving has been good to me, and I always felt I fit in. That's rare and precious in this business. They allowed me to grow up and develop as planner in my own way, and even put up with my occasional fiesty outburst.
So when I was talking to someone who's involved in the task of finding someone else to do my job here, it was no surprise to find that getting the right person is proving hard. Of course there is a pre-requisite of skills - but it shouldn't be too hard to get someone as average as I - the real task is finding someone with the right attitude. Some people are right for places and some people aren't. What I like about here is that they want people to be as diverse as possible.
It means being prepared to say what you think, and respect that others have a right to their view too. It means valuing the doers as much as the thinkers, and relishing being around people who are different to you. It also means not caring about being cool (lucky for me that).
It's really important to find the right agency for you. Quality of work and clients is important of course, but in the end it's the culture, the people around you that matter.
A well respected planner once told me that he wasted the first ten years of his career in the wrong places, doing the wrong job. I don't quite agree, since my view is that all experience is good, but I know what he means. I didn't get to focus on what I'm really good until I was 30 years old.
Yes, In the course of your career you'll zig and zag through a number of places. You'll change to move forward, to learn more or work on what you think is more interesting stuff. You may get fired once or twice. You'll be lucky not to be made redundant.
But don't forget that it's as much them as it is you. You'll find yourself moving around to find a place that you love working at. A culture that feels like home. If you get that in your first job, you'll be very lucky. If you get that in your third, that's pretty great too.
Never join a place just because you think it's achingly cool, or they're doing the best work in town. Find out what the place is like to work at, make sure you like your new boss (I do, she left me buzzing and fizzing, so did the others). You'll be spending a lot of time with these people, make sure you like them. And don't pretend you're something you're not.
So God bless the internet and blogging, where you can get a far better sense of what people and places might be light than you could ten years ago. And they can get a better view of you too. Bloggers can't hide what they're like.
Now to be honest, it's nothing new. If you work in the UK and not in London, it's sort of second nature. In fact, it's not really new there either. It's just that every generation thinks it's discovered it, like music.
That said, plenty of people will be used to working in the single minded, reductionist process that forms traditional advertising - or at least advertising led. That's not going to last much longer thanks to the new web enabled, marketing savvy consumer emerging. Much of the talk you'll see in Campaign are the death rattles of the traditional ad agencies looking for a way to survive.
But honestly, it's not that hard. Instead of doing the ads and shoehorning the rest of the stuff in, or at best working like this:
You want to be working like this:
Get a really good idea first, then decide where to put it. Put together a team of who are good in their respective fields and work together - and that includes the media people. And this is where the planner really comes in - your the person who can pull all this together, have your brain in lots of camps and make the team work. It may be that once you have a good idea, it's then briefed out to specialist executors- especially if the team is a team of different agencies, that's up to you, but the idea you have needs to flexible and rich enough to work in lots of different media. That's very different to a single minded proposition.
Adliterate calls them generous ideas, and that's a good a name as any. Think of them as tasks or call to action:
Make the reliability of the Civic desirable rather than dull
Make beards uncool
Yorkie will turn its heritage as the truck drivers chocolate into a celebration of modern blokiness
DFS will re-educate people who choose sofas for style rather than comfort
Ikea will defend their customers from the style police telling them what to like
Persil will enable children to play as hard as they want
.......You get the idea. Much richer, more flexible than the traditional proposition. A useful test would be seeing if you can get an idea for a poster, DM, website, TV and maybe even some staff blogs from it. If you can't, why should anyone else?
Of course that's not easy, and different people will get there in different ways. Here's one way of framing your thinking. Here are seven key questions to try to answer:
And consider that different disciplines will have different ways of briefing:
And maybe digital briefing should be a bit more about the user journey and the experience you want people to have........
And like most strategy, the ideas will come from a pivotal observation that marries the brand, the audience and the market. Much of that is covered here.
It means getting some rich insight from your audience, or a meaty problem that your client needs to solve from themselves. Find a rich, core need to focus on. Something that fills a gap in their life, as opposed to a product sized hole. Look at the market at the same time and make sure no one is filling this gap - it will make your idea disruptive, it will make it lead, it will make it interesting. Rob Campbell talks about looking at real people's emotional logic of the category.
And a good way to get there is laddering. Quite simply, keep asking why, Like this:
That gets you to something meaty and interesting. But a word of warning - don't slavishly play back an insight to your audience unless there's a way to connect it to your brand and what it does/could do for people. It needs to be usable. You don't want creatives or partner agencies saying, "Wow, that's a great discovery, but how the hell are we supposed to use that?".
And don't forget, there may be more than one audience. Take UK television licensing and students. Students need their own television license, but not enough know and get hit with fines. The year before the kid goes, parents sort things out for them and have lots of influence, so it makes sense to target them. But once the child is there, Mum and Dad get ignored and you have to target them direct. The maximum effect will be from doing both campaigns simultaneously.
Once you've got your idea, it doesn't stop there. You and the team have to decide the most appropriate places to put your work. And let the media planning giants do all that opportunities to see stuff, you can do something far more useful. Give the kind of people your looking for a digital camera for day and get them to a diary of what they were doing. Look for relevant events and frames of mind.
Where and when can you best connect?
What, and when are the key events relevant to what you want to achieve?
Who and where are the editor brands?
When is awareness important? When is involvement the key?
Is there a mood or association we can tap into?
What's the decision making process? Where does out strategy fit in?
What's the web of influence?
And that's just about it. Like I said, I don't think it's any harder than being a specialist, it takes some practice to think in a slightly different way but that's it. In the end, I find it comes down to connecting the real lives around the category to a truth about the brand and the market.
Something long term, something rich. Imagine you're pitching for a TV series instead of a campaign. Like Heroes is what would happen is people got superpowers in the real world, not comic book land, or Buffy is horror meets high school drama. That kind of thing.
This article shows how the onset of high definition TV has some unforeseen consequences. The image is getting TOO GOOD, exposing beauties as not that beautiful after all, flimsy cardboard sets, hungover pallor, panstick makeup and even stage blood.
I think that's the really interesting bit of how technology evolves. Not only do you really know what will work for people until you try, you can never be sure if it will be used exactly how you intended. Like the way text messaging was never really intended as mass social media - the users just made it that way.
Let me be clear, I don't like Tesco. It doesn't use its scale for good, it's bland and it's not as good value as makes out. But that's a very subjective view based some very personal values.
Still, every now and and again I've paid a visit under duress. It's close to where I work and time is precious. And you know what? It's just too much.
Tesco has got very good at selling everything, but I find it totally overwhelming. TV's, DVD's, clothes, furniture, food, books, Ipods - there's just so much to do it's hard to decide where to start. It's a bit like breathless first day of the family holiday where the kids will explode if they don't do something, but there's so much to do they can't decide what to do first.
This always happens to me when I have an evening in to myself. This is a rare things and is invariably filled with the things I'm not allowed when we're both in. Clean your mind up at the back. What it really means is something very hot and spicy that Mrs Np doesn't like, and a film she usually refuses to watch. But the problem is, with all that choice I get very stressed about what to actually settle on. The food is easier,. but as for the films......will even be a film when I can watch old Curb Your Enthusiasm or Seinfeld? By the time I've chosen it's too late to watch it anyway.
Tesco is a bit like that for me.
And bizarely despite this paradox of choice, the options when you come to the food bit, which is the reason most people visit, are there's actually less interesting than other places.
So, finally, here are some pointers to dealing with the odd difficult situations you may come accross.
You'll come across three difficults types of behaviour:
Dominant people taking up too much time and space liking the sound of their own voice.
Reticent people who don't way much and are way too shy.
Evasive people who are just too bored to answer questions.
I think it all comes down to rapport. Try and understand why people are behaving like they do. Dominant people are usually quite keen and really want to help - they don't get they are helping by letting others speak too. Shy people think their opinion will get shouted down - they need to know they won't be dismissed as dumb. Bored people need to have their interest prickedm, or do a task to make the time pass.
I find that looking at non-verbal stuff helps - and gets to the root of why someone is behaving as they are:
Tapping fingers and feet means someone is impatient or annoyed
Frowning means someone's impatient or disagrees
Stroking the side of the nose means someone is lying or exagerating.
Head scratch means someone is emarassed (as a shy person I do this all the time)
Hand on neck, pressing hands means someone is quite literally hot under tha collar.
Eyes peering over glasses means 'i don't believe you'.
Cleaning glasses means 'I need more time'.
Look for incositencies between the spoken word and body language. And use body language yourself! It's more subtle and less confrontional than direct words. I find cutting someone off with your hands more effective than telling them to shut up.
If you find the group is getting out of control, it's time to either more on to distract them, or ask the group as a whole what is going on. They'll soon realise they've got out of hand and simmer.
Using humor to defuse tension works really well.
And in the end, it all comes down to how hou behave. Confidence helps, but if you're showing you are interested, and you're curious, they'll respond well. Rehearse the bits you need to - the intro and the big bridges. Be yourself - if you're a good listener, listen. If you're good at bossing people, be bossy - BUT CHARMING WITH IT! I always warn people I'll be interrupting during the session (I get impatient) but it's only to get them out on time.......and if I do it too much they should have a go at me. We start forming a bond right there, and they know what to expect.
So there you go. Hope this 'groups' stuff is useful.
Since I'm off soon, work have got me doing some creative briefing workshops over my last couple of weeks. Hopefully they've found it useful. I certainly have since having to teach something makes you think a little harder about how you go about things. And bump across some bad habits you didn't know you developed. It's also reinforced a truth about planning to me too.
I see much of this job as a series of connections. Really good strategy tends to make people connect things in a different way, or remind them it's there. That makes much of the day job about collecting lots of stimulus ready to connect it to something you'll be working on sometime.But connections matter for the here and now too.
It's useful to look for overlaps between audience, market, brand and so forth... and it's unavoidable. The more you talk about tone of voice, the more you end up talking about objectives and propositions too. That's the secret to thinking about strategy and writing briefs I think. Start writing/thinking about the bit you can do, and soon you find you're moving on to something else. It starts to do itself.Like the way Jigsaws get easier as you put more pieces together.
I saw this when we were covering objectives in the workshops- soon we were talking the audience as a natural progression. Then when we talked about the audience, suddenly tone and proposition stuff just arrived. And they found that discussing it and bouncing it around made things emerge so much more easily.
What does that mean? Start quickly and improve it as you go along. And the more you talk about it, the better it will get. Things start connecting.
The ever generous Mark McGuinness sent me a free 'e-book' on time management for creative types. As he suggested, I've gone to chapter 5 first - managing emails and stuff. If the rest is as good this will be a gem. You can download it here.
First, a word on numbers. The optimum number of respondents is 6 to 8. Anything more and it's a bunfight, anything less and it's just narrow opinion. If you have eight you'll get much more talking, it will be livelier, but you have to accept there won't be equal participation. 6 allows you to coax everyone to speak, probe a little deeper. But you have to work harder to get discussion going. The choice is yours.
Now, like most things, a good group comes down to preparation. You need that since things rarely go how you expect ......... which is a good thing if you manage it right.
That means working really hard on the discussion guide. This guide works in two ways. Firstly, it's an agreement between researcher, agency and client on what will be covered and how this will be approached. It is NOT a list of specific questions. It should be an agenda of the subjects you will cover and the things you will do to stimulate the discussion.
It's about getting people to talk as naturally as possible. The more artificial and stilted it is, the less useful your findings will be.
Secondly, it's your rock. During the course of the session, not everything will go to plan. You will forget stuff and get carried away with the conversation. The guide reminds you what you're supposed to do and, if well planned gives you enough space to allow for specific agenda points and that all important area you want to leave in the hope of being surprised. Work hard on planning what you will do.
That means allowing for two 'hats' in a session. There will be a time when you are looking for specific answers. This can form a traditional 'question and answer session'. This is fine up to a point, but if this is all you're going to do you may as well do quant.
I think the real skill is the second role. A moderator should be a bit like the perfect waiter - you don't really notice them. If you can, get them talking to each other and just steer and join in when you need to. This is when you're going to get the best chance of real insight. Not only will they be less self-conscious, the more they talk about what they want, the more you're likely to find out new stuff and be surprised. And that's what you want isn't it?
It's important to warm them up first though. Explain who you are, what you're doing and what will happen. Then stimulate their curiosity as early as possible. Get them talking about something that will interest them as soon as you can, so they start to gel and relax.
Give them a minute think about telling you something about themselves (including their name!). Like if you're researching fairy, ask them who does the housework in their home, and who tends to do the washing up.
And maybe consider pre-group tasks. It gives them something to talk about, and it can produce a useful springboard for creative stimulus. Like asking people to do a quick picture of the view from their favorite seat in the house if you're researching sofas, or maybe a collage of what they remember from childhood if you're talking to potential parents. I got people in the market for a house to bring in their idea of a perfect home. without exception they brought in newbuild brochures - it showed us they were VERY open to be told what to like, as opposed to having a firm opinion.
Anyway after the warm up, where they begin to form a group mentality, try to follow a process that roughly follows this model:
Storm - throwing out all the things they want to get off their chest, lots of internal difference and maybe disagreement
Norm - begin to move towards common ground. Things they can agree on.
Perform - get them thinking for you, throwing out ideas and doing tasks. Tasks are brilliant. They stop people being bored, draws out the quieter ones and can bring you closer to the truth. Like the famous Porsche example where Porsche drivers all had to draw them in the car. They all did a view from the windscreen, allowing the agency to understand that Porsche drivers are driving enthusiasts rather than image driven wankers.
Mourn - gradually bring them down and let them disengage.
Pace and tempo are really important. Boredom is your enemy. The more you vary the pace, stimulate, intrigue and use humour to defuse any tensions, the better. For them, which means for you. You'll get better results.
The last post on this will cover difficult groups, for now, here's a final thought.
I know it's a Monday, you're in a bad mood and want to be left alone. But if you can, spare a minute and send happy thoughts to the gang at Cynic. You won't find a kinder, more generous bunch anywhere, but they're all a bit low at the moment.