So we went to stay with Mum and Dad in Cornwall last week. I always treasure these times.
Mum and Dad are getting on, when you begin to realise they won't be around forever, you make the most of the time that little bit more.
It's one thing to become a parent, or have a moderately serious job. You think you may be all grown up, but until you emotionally reach the moment YOU will be the only backup in the family, I'm not sure you're totally mature. This is a very personal perspective of course, coming from a loving, supportive family unit etc. Some people have to grow up a lot quicker I guess.
Of course, these weeks are for me to spend proper time with my children. They are four and six now, Evie, our youngest is at that point when she's about to become a girl, rather than a little girl and you want to get as much of it as you can, before it's gone forever.
We always find when we go away with them, that they seem to change right in front of your eyes. Evie seems to have come home with even less of the 'little' in her and Will, our six year old is suddenly having much more intricate conversations and we can see in his developing features, more of the young man he will sadly become all too soon.
I'm not sure if it's because we have the chance to stop and watch them, without having to go off and do the usual stuff working parents running a house do, or the fact they respond to so much more time with us.
Either way, it serves as a reminder that no child will grow up remembering how clean the bathroom was, or how great Daddy's powerpoint was, or how well Mummy ran her team.
They'll remember how much fun they had, what we all talked about and how loved they felt.
Let’s be clear. Winning awards is nothing to do with telling the truth.
It’s mostly about what you can post rationalise to fit whatever people are looking for.
For IPA Effectiveness Awards for example, judges are looking for econometrics, some sign that above the line advertising still works and something new to tell the industry. The IPA is mostly about making adland look grown up and commercial – and create a bank of data for the IPA DataBank which will always tell you creativity pays back and do TV.
The APG Awards are looking for some sign that ‘planning’ had some influence on the creative work and, again, you have something new to tell the industry. In essence, the APG Awards exist to make planners look like a necessary evil rather than an unnecessary evil. And make planners feel creative.
Media Awards are all about evidence and some sign of innovation. Unlike most ‘creative awards’ where it can just submitting the work with a little background explanation, they’re looking for actual evidence you made a difference to a brand’s fortunes, they hate brand tracking and want actual evidence of sales and behaviour change. But as they don’t want econometrics, you can always find a sales story in the data somewhere. Boiling it down....., because media is boring, the direction of media awards is to try and make media interesting, but more grown up and serious than creative awards.
Creative awards judges are looking for something new and original. Something that hasn’t been done before. They couldn’t care less if it sold anything, or indeed of anyone saw it, as long as it rewrites the creative lexicon. Increasingly, unless you want to enter craft skills sections, this means avoiding actually entering ads and doing lots of social media/events/stunts that four people saw. The essence of creative awards is partly making creatives feel good since 80% of their work is destroyed by suits or planners before it gets to the client, then the rest is mauled by client committees and pre-testing. Leaving 1% of work running close to what was hoped for. The rest of creative awards is down to impressing creative directors at agencies you want to work at.
The essence of all awards is to pretend everything is perfect. Strategy, then creative or buying the plan etc, then production works like clockwork. When of course nothing happens until the day before the presentation and the idea that ran came from a rebrief after the client binned the original work.
The mis-quote the X Files, The Truth is Out There but it’s not in awards papers.
So, here’s a potted guide to winning awards..........
Awards do matter by the way. They are good for morale, clients really like them and brilliant for PR. Seriously, clients tend to select new agencies based on work they’ve seem.
But, like the industry, just don’t make a life or death thing.
It’s only life or death if you get too drunk and the actual do and tell your bosses what you really think of them (trust me).
Someone, I forget who, once said everyone is two people.
You have the person inside your head, how you think you are, how you think you come across to others. Exhibit A, the bloke in the media agency pushing mid-40s. He thinks the 36 inch waist squeezed into 32 inch designer jeans, paired with the Hugo Boss blazer comes across as smart casual power dressing. While the 32 inch waist size shows he’s still young and good looking. Exhibit B, the creative director (or Kevin Anderson) rocking the skin-tight black t-shirt to make him look young and edgy.
But then you have the other person, the one everybody else sees. Mr Media Agency, you just look like Jeremy Clarkson. Mr black t-shirt, man boobs were never a good look, not even in the 90’s where your outfit looked okay.
Just as the charismatic, off the cuff presenter (in her head) just goes in too much and looks really unprepared to the poor recipients of her nuggets of gold.
Arguably, there is a third one these days. The one in social media, that is maybe even more divorced from reality, but let’s not go there.
Then there are the planners. Who, on the outside tend to appear super calm, super open and generous all the time. No matter how you feel inside, you are the one who cannot lose your temper, have to earn your place in any meeting, have to look like you know what you are talking about even when you haven’t a clue and, know as much about everything as you can – be a super generalist, make the dullest subject matter seem interesting and, perhaps hardest of all, have to make the few gaps in others drawing breath count, as these are the only seconds you’ll get to say something.
Inside of course, we get just as frustrated, just as angry, just as nervous, suffer just as much anxiety, get just as bored as much as anyone else. This constant disconnect between internal and external dialogue, constant edit, precis and distil and constant hoovering up information, no matter how banal has side effects outside of the job.
In tricky family, or close friend situations, planner folk tend to assume the calm, conciliatory role. When everyone falls out at Christmas over Pictioanary, we tend to be reasonable ones who mediate between parties affronted over the unfairness of letting a seven your old write a word rather than draw, or the cousin who has one too many who offends Auntie Hilda by drawing some genitals.
That said, like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, planners can go the other way. All that calmness at work can mean they have a very short fuse at home and can crack at any second. This is rare, as planners tend to let off the internal pressure cooker with a chosen outlet.
Yep, most planners tend to do something which has nothing to do with planning out of the office. For some, that might be amateur dramatics, for others it might be venting spleen in a blog. Many find an outlet through sport. But rest assured, planners tend to have many outside interests. They may cultivate a persona of ‘being curious’ or ‘making sure they are interesting by being interested’- but mark my words, it’s all to do with making sure they don’t have melt down when someone tells them they’ve missed the breakfast serving by one minute.
All that extra stuff outside the office, couple with the factory visits, the cultural research, having to know what a fifteen year old finds interesting, while understanding what the hell your cloud computing security B2B client actually does, means planners have tons of pointless knowledge. This puts planet sized weight on the shoulders whenever there is a quiz. If there is some sort of agency quiz night, planners will never vote for a department based team structure, the expectation to win is simply too great –especially from the head of planning who will almost certainly lose that calm exterior and go Michael Douglas after endless goading from their other bigwig colleagues. But the mixed teams structure can be a blessing – as planners are never allowed to get their round in, as they need to be present for every question. Of course, it also means they have bladder issues, as they also are not allowed to disappear for a piss.
Dealing with unreasonable people become second nature though. You are so used to killing folks with kindness (Falling Down syndrome aside) planners are good at sneakily getting what they want.
However, this doesn’t go as far as relationships. We’re so used to persuading everyone, rather than just saying it how it is, partners tend to walk all over us. Even worse, we’re so used to not making the decisions, it can be problematic when we are actually given a choice. I’m amazing at making my wife and friends think they’ve chosen the venue for a night out, or what we’re going to watch on telly, but when someone actually says it’s my choice, I melt like warm Nutella.
Consequently, planning types tend to have very strong partners who know their own mind. Good thing too, if two planners got together nothing would ever get done, but at least they would never run out of conversation.
This willingness to be led by others by the way, also means planners should never organise any family outings, stag do’s or mates nights out. Seriously, unless you want to turn to Prague and find your hotel was booked for next month, or be driven into the wrong country (I have done both), don’t ask a planner.
On the other hand, if you’re going to get lost, get lost with a planner. We’re so used to it, we always deal with it pretty well.
Finally, we’re back to where we started, the clothes. Planners needs to look smarter than the creatives, but less smart than the suits. So we’re great at nailing the smart casual thing.
Unless it’s a media planner that is, the jeans, massive brogues, shirt and blazer is highly infectious and penetrates all levels of media.
Working in certain postcodes means some exceptions too. Anyone working around Shoreditch gets really good at spending a month’s salary looking like a tramp.
The general casualness of working attire also means that when you meet friends and family from work, it simply reinforces the impression we don’t have a proper job. When most folks in the pub are sporting a suit, or perhaps the dreaded chinos and suede shoes combo, turning up in £200 jeans and a Cat in the Hat t-shirt reveals you for the middle class dilettante you really are.
(this is too long to be spell checked and should be taken with tongue fully in cheek)
OK, so after the 'how not to train junior planners' here's some thoughts on how to go about it.
Although, I guess much of it has been covered by pointers in the last post.
Still, worth a positive outlook and some general pointers.
Much of it is based on some simple principles:
First, great planners are interested in much more than planning or advertising or even brands.We're interrupting what people care about, or these days, finding a way to be part of it, so the more we care about THAT the better.
Second, no two planners are the same, nor should they be.
Third, happy people produce better results and stay far longer.
Fourth, planners without evidence based work are just suits with more opinions.
Fifth, creative planners are losing their role as 'lead planner' with many clients.
Finally, it's hard enough being a senior planner type when you have to earn your right in the room, for a junior, it's Everest.
1. Great Planners are interested in much more than planning
This means you need to give them both the space and the encouragement. Agencies can work long hours, but when you are a junior, it's easy to think you need to stay late every single night, or get in at the crack of dawn. Some places make it known that this is encouraged, but all you get are tired and stupid people who are nowhere near their best.
What is worse, if they spend all their waking hours talking about advertising, they'll only plan for 'advertising' rather than planning for making real people care. Rather than pulling stimulus from the world at large and being able to inspire the team around what really interests people, to make advertising register, they'll just start doing 'advertising'.
Even more dire, they'll start thinking it's a desk job and not go out and meet the people they're supposed to making strategy for - real human beings. As has been said a billion times, research is a waste of time unless you observe people in their real environment. If you want to understand a species, go to the jungle. not the zoo.
So apart from sending folks out of the agency and protecting them from a 'presenteeism' environment, here are two stimulating things you can do:
First, give every junior planner (in fact every planner) a 100 day task every single year, where they have to go and find out something new and interesting about an important target audience for your clients. To focus the minds, they have to present to a senior team and even the client if you have that relationship. The evidence can only be what you have discovered from 'non-advertising' tools, no TGI, no WARC, no NVision. And they need to have some video of actually talking to people.
Second, get an 'interesting fund' set up, where everyone in your department gets £200 to invest in learning something new and interesting, or enriching a private passion. It could be learning to play the guitar, doing a video production course. They just have to write why they are choosing what they are choosing - and share what they're learned and what it's taught then about the job at the end of the year.
2. No two planners are the same.
In the previous post, we discussed the wrongness of the one size fits all planning approach. The problem with a proprietary process is that it makes you approach every brief the same way, and usually come out with the same solution. It's why every campaign out of Chiat Day looks like an Apple campaign and always has a manifesto in it somewhere. Just as doing the same workshop over and over again yields the same kind of idea.
Boundaries and guidelines are good. Fixed rules are not.
But it's much more than that. There are core planning skills of course, but even these are debatable. This is a good starting point.
Nowadays, the skills of a planner are too broad to be contained in one human being. Generally, you need to know how most stuff works and be able to knit it together into something more cohesive, but 'most stuff' is getting a very large requirement. Getting to grips with data, the rapidly changing media environment, digital and social media, the need for content as much as ads.
You need a team that's good at different stuff and can do things different ways.
Someone ace at data, I mean the really hard stuff, not just TGI.
Someone who lives and breathes digital (but get's it's place, double so for social media).
A good comms planner is a must these days.
But then someone who has the rare instinct for retail too. If you think retail is easy, try writing a brief that stimulates people into the saying the word 'sale' a different way, or someone who can handle a sales force.
You might need someone who get's healthcare, B2B, maybe someone who get's international brand planning.
In short, you need to recruit for filling gaps, not for carbon copies.
Especially folks who are good at what you are not.
They need to be assigned accounts that suits their skills and interests - and some that do not.
So they get to do what they're good at, plus enrich their knowledge and skills base. Give them enough space to learn from mistakes and issues, with enough support and 'open door' sensibilities so they feel they can come for help (and not be made to feel stupid).
As mentioned before, making them do secondments in other departments really works here.
All of the above kind of goes towards happy people staying longer and producing results by the way, which was point 3.
4. Planners without evidence or just suits with more opinions.
There's a vogue for 'ideas' rather than insight. I don't mean some sort huge revelation, which are hard to come by, but evidence based thinking that unlocks other people's skills.
My view on this stuff is that our task is to get to a really great task, a jumping off point for everyone based on: brand/product/market/customer/audience/media/shopping or customer journey/culture. Our task is to knit these sources of input into once clear task for communications that everyone can get behind. If you miss one of these, you haven't done your job, and if any of it doesn't have some evidence, you haven't done your job.
The core observation might have some sort of focus or emphasis.
For example, this was all based on a shopper insight that women bought lots of shower gel for men:
This campaign was based on a cultural insight that the Scots are very optimistic supporters who deal with defeat and victory really well, supported by all sorts videos from sporting events and street interviews..
With a special bookend after the games, based on the pyschology insight that we remember the end of things best, and stories of how movie companies film and research the ending scenes to death.
Anyway. For junior planners, I think we need to get back to training them to be very good researchers. Planners used to be focus group moderators who then turned the findings into usable hooks for strategy and creative work.
We rarely have budget to moderate groups for development (and I can safely say most of us know it's a waste of time) but now we have all that data freely available from the internet, trends stuff coming our of our ears, all sorts of market data, Mintel reports and, if you are lucky enough, TGI and Touchpoints. A really great planners will look at all that stuff and connect it in a way someone else won't.
Or they'll just go out an meet their audience and talk to them enough to understand the business issue in the context of real life...which is always the real competition for the brand. Just get some proof video, quotes and try and quantify it in some way.
I think our job is to teach junior people these skills (and some bloody senior people) and as a leader of a department, hold everyone to account .
And train your team to connect things. There are not really new ideas, just new re-combinations of old ones. I think that means teaching them to mind-map, teaching the unfashionable are of distillation and....
Make sure you have some sort of scrapbook initiative. Some of that is taken care by the 100 day projects and interesting funds from above, but it's worth having a scrapbook initiative. A vault of interesting stuff for everyone to draw on. I suggest a team TUMBLR, perhaps with a different editor every month. But the trick is to get the team to all contribute - as long as your hiring people with different skills and interests (you should be).
For me, all of the above will really help that 'lead planner' issue. It's fair game for any agency now and I feel that the planner that:
Has the most interesting things to say, the one people want in the room, will be that planner by default.
That doesn't mean they talk the most - in fact, they should be taught to keep their mouths shut, listen to everyone else and speak last (see IRN BRU thankyou ad insight).
They should be taught to plan for meetings, to have something evidence based to say that will make everyone think, create a discussion point and shed light on the agenda .
Like Gordon Gecko says here:
They should be taught to always know more about client business, target customer and relevant culture than any other supplier and, in the case of customer and culture, anyone in the client business.
These are more important than 'ideas'.
And, dare I say, the person that brings real life, the lives of real customers and culture into the room.
Which brings me to a final point.
The more complex your language, the more people think you are an idiot. The best planners speak human. The task of a leader is not tie their team up in knots with needless jargon and buzz words.
It is to set an example by speaking plainly and bollocking anyone in your team if they don't do the same.
Hope this helps.
(very busy, this will be riddled with dreadful typos, sorry, no time to check overly!!)
I got an intriguing email from someone recently asking if I knew of any posts from myself, or other planner types, about training junior planners.
I have to admit I did not.
Which, after thinking about it for a bit, was a little shocking.
There has never been more competition, between the various agencies that make up 'adland',to hire and keep talent than there is now.
This industry just isn't as attractive next to other career paths as maybe is once was. It's much less cool, pays less relatively, has less career stability and works long hours.
So, despite the prolific chatter all over the interwebs on 21st Century Branding, the Death of TV, the death of ad agencies, it's a real shame there isn't decent content on the hiring and development of great talent.
It's a focal point on much wider, real issues around the hours we ask people to do, how we charge for our ideas as opposed to our time and the general rule that if you want people to do well, stay and give you their best, you have to treat them properly and balance their quality of life and career path with the very real need to make money.
I replied with a few pointers, but I thought I might do a bit more here.
I'll start today with the easier one, what not to do. This is of course based on personal experience as someone who was a junior once, but also observations gleaned from the experience of others.
So, how not to train junior planners (and to some applies to junior folks in agencies per se):
1. Don't try and make them have YOUR idea.
The problem with many planning directors is that they are great at thinking and having ideas, but rubbish at bringing it out of others. This can be seen in the way they interact with other departments, they are the ones who stick to their strategy or proposition and don't like it being changed- as opposed to the ones who are great at generating and spotting great ideas from others ( have to admit I'm the latter, mostly because I don't have many good ideas and it's easier to get others to do it for you!!).
So it follows that when they let juniors have a go at a project, they won't be able to see the merits of the solution the junior comes back with, because they will already have something in mind themselves, so they'll belittle the poor bugger about what might be wrong with their thinking and evidence, rather than looking at what's good and what can be developed.
Even if it's bollocks, you need to find a way to praise their effort, show them why it's wrong and empower them to find another solution - rather than call them stupid and say, 'what you should have done it this'. There is no ONE solution, just like with economists who cannot agree on anything, there is more than one approach. Listen, help, encourage and guide. So...............
2. Don't expect them to work at the velocity as you.
So what follows should be simple, allow for the fact they'll be a little slower than you at stuff and when you work on a project together, you need to make time to talk them through things, explain things a little more and stuff.
I learned the hard way that there is no point telling my kids 20 seconds before we're leaving the house that it's time to go, then getting grumpy when take an age to find their shoes, pick a toy to take or go to the toilet, their agenda is not mine. It's like that working with juniors - you're dead busy, you could do it twice as quick, but if you don't make time to help people learn, they'll never get better and be stuck thinking nothing they do is good enough.
3. But don't be a light touch.
Once, planners were allowed to be late for things, to get lost on the way to meetings and generally be a little air headed.
No one has the time and patience for this any more. Because as they progress, they'll have to deal with more of a blur between 'suit' and 'planner' and do more things that people in real jobs have to think about.
Only let them get away with being late, lost or forgetful once. That goes for rigour too. There's a trend for planners to have 'ideas' these days rather than evidence based strategy based on proper examination of the information at hand.
It is critical to have evidence based thinking, otherwise you are just someone with opinions, even more these days with Lord knows how many people thinking they can own the strategy: the creative agency, digital, media, media owners, brand consultant and whoever else are all trying to own the lead strategy and even lead creative.
The only defense for a good working planning team and its agency is to be able to back up their ideas better than anyone else, and be able to de-stabilise first page, slap dash stuff from other folks. I'm not saying every idea should be backed up with a flash of amazing consumer insight (but I weep at the trendies who seem to think this doesn't matter anymore) but there is so much to be gained from looking at TGI harder, reading the clients' annual reports, or just bloody going out and talking to people who work for your client or real people on the street.
This goes for you too by the way, it's easy to fall into the 'because I say it is' camp when you get senior, because you can force your thinking through, which will come unstuck eventually, getting your team to back up their thinking encourages you to do the same.
4. Don't moan about the good old days.
This might manifest itself as 'the good old days when I used to work 16 hour days as a junior and spend 5 years not being allowed to go to a client meeting'- in order to rinse your people for every drop of energy they have.
Those days are, if not gone, they are fast going and there is no point burning your people out, and getting them to change to another career because they've had enough. Likewise, the good old days when you could charge a fortune, you made loads of TV ads, clients took more risks, bought more better work etc.
No one needs to hear they joined the industry too late, you're just encouraging them to do something else. And it really wasn't that much better was it? Rather, help them embrace the limitless possibility of mixed up media - and the fact that few are able simplify and make it something clients can embrace gladly.
They know more about digital than you do, they're on Snapchat and you are not (I hope) - embrace the future with them and stop boring them with a past that wasn't as rosy as you now like to believe these days.
5. Don't try and create cardboard cut-outs of yourself.
You will be really great, really experience dand able to apply it to all sorts of varies briefs and projects. You will have learned to overcome weaknesses and build on natural strengths.
But your are a one off, the product of a mixture of genes and experiences. Your are a one-off - and so are the people who work for you. They will have different in-built strengths and weaknesses, so making them work in only one way - be that developing workshops, the times of day they best work, getting respect from other departments, the style they write briefs in, how they apply research, how they present - in other words, your way, is doomed to fail.
Figure out what, in your own arsenal are universals anyone should know and practice (always sit in the middle of the table to get gravitas in a meeting, don't get excited about a high index on TGI until you look at the actual percentage of the audience, speak last in any review of any kind of work if you can) and then what should be a library of approaches for your team to try and see what works and what doesn't.
That also goes for presentation decks. They are the background and 'props' for the speaker, no more no less. Insist on any agency template if you like, but apart from that, it depends on how someone presents - naturally 'tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you've told them' 'find a theme' are universals.
But applying some storytelling structure etc, how that works depends on the person.
Just as some planning folks don't sweat a proposition (thoughtleader or core thought) in a brief or client strategy presentation, and work on a really juicy task, or even a transformational insight instead (but every brief or deck should have one focal jumping point, everything else builds up to or from this point, but then again that might be how I work!!!).
6. Don't be a parrot for the proprietary process.
Look, every agency in various disciplines sort of works the same. They flounder around for a bit, they get worried about the deadline, something comes up and then they work like mad to be ready for the deadline.
They hide this from clients as sell a process that gives the comfort of making things look professional and predictable (and procurement loves to buy a process). This benign conspiracy sort of works, as long as you remember it's a conspiracy and the process is really a load of bollocks.
So forcing your people to follow a process just doesn't work, especially as, as mentioned before, they need to find the best way to work efficiently in their own way. Make everyone work the same and you get the same stuff. Just as every brief isn't about 'disrupting the market or zigging where others zag'.
At the basics of communications strategy, there is only really 'impacting with the audience' 'activating people to do stuff' 'reinforcing how they feel, or what they know, about something, or 'Augmenting' - changing how they feel or what they know. But that's four, not one and it changes depending on the brief.
Your team need the freedom to explore these four ways, then understand how their thinking can be made to fit the 'planning model' or how the client thinks communications works - freedom, guidance. Not suffocation and constriction.
7. Don't over-protect them
I learned when I was a competitive swimmer that no amount of training can prepare you for real racing. The pressure, the way your body copes with adrenalin, how you respond when the pain kicks in and only willpower can help you carry for the final metres. You can only get better at racing by racing.
It's the same with client meetings, dealing with grumpy creatives, scary TV buyers, doing presentations or even the moment when the pitch team has a melt-down when they can't seem to crack the brief.
Gradual exposure, starting as soon as possible is the only way to get good at this stuff. The first cut is the deepest, but until you are able to get used to things, learn from mistakes and get used to the realities and pressures of the real job, you are not really doing the job.
Great thinking and insight is only 20% of it. Being able to persuade others of your thinking, internally and externally, empowering others, thinking on your feet and, critically, being able to deliver solid work time after time, being a safe pair or hands rather than a 'either brilliant of dire' planners are where the job is really done.
So honesty about where ideas come from, the fact they do not appear mostly as if by magic, they emerge and are developed by lots of reading, hard work, edit, precis and distillation and, also, having the dignity and generosity to include as many people as you can in the strategy, as they might strike lucky instead of you, which also means having the courage to admit when someone has some better thoughts and when you are totally wrong.
But also knowing when to be firm, when to let people down gently, to prove them wrong but leave them smiling, to be able to stand your ground without being obstinate.
In other words, always being the bigger person,
"Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted"
A lot has been promised by Big Data. Mega things. Most of it seems like over excited over claim, but probably, sooner or later, it might deliver.
There are examples today of how it can be good. The US House of Cards reboot is thanks to the number of people liking Kevin Spacey content also liking political drama.
But Big Data is also responsible for online retailers stalking me with re-targeted ads of things I have already bought. It's meant that when I buy stuff for my wife and kids, I can't move for ads selling me more of the same.
When any idiot human could intuit that I really don't want an avalanche of offers for women'srunning gear, Zara shoes or Star Wars Lego (okay, I'll give you Star Wars Lego).
Of course there is a great example of a US supermarket that got publicly roasted by a father, furious that his teenage daughter had been sent stuff for maternity, only for the father to apologise when he found she actually WAS pregnant and was too scared to tell him.
it can right, yet horribly wrong.
On the subject of supermarkets, big data has been around for a while, Tesco is the pioneer with its Clubcard, the value of knowing intimate shopping habits was priceless for them.
But Tesco in the last few years, if you excuse the expression, is fucked. It forget to look at what customers were really bothered about, what they cared about. In post recession UK, shoppers want a lot more simplicity, less hassle and it's uncool to waste things. The avalanche of short term offers, multi-buys and the like turned shoppers off looking for a trusted price, looking for great quality in less stuff, rather than pointless choice and fleeting discounts.
All the while, we started shopping for little and often. Many started looking for intimacy and the feeling of real care and attention, in some things anyway. While in others, they just wanted simple no-frills functionality. You could say that Tesco, with all its data, got squeezed between people wanting more stuff from a good butcher AND the simplicity of a discount grocer like Aldi.
Yet you can't move in marketing circles, and business in general, for data scientists. Like the web developers before them, or the social media gurus of today- and the brand consultants that still manage to sell snow to eskimos, these folks are the latest thing.
But let's not be too harsh. The central premise of data is still sound. It makes sellers wiser when selling to potential buyers and, when done right, adds value to buyers buy not wasting their time with things they have no interest in.
Now I know the arguments from Byron Sharpe about light buyers and targeting the whole market. Even today, ignore the arguments that mass broadcast media doesn't work, even with young folks. It does if it is done well.
But big organisations are still very dumb when it comes to their customers. They are numbers, not names. Perversely, the web has created the death of the human and the personal.
There is lots of talk of 'personalisation' but that is not the same as intimacy.
Old fashioned shopkeepers, who are now in vogue to some degree, were the pioneers of big data. They remembered what their customers liked, they recognised them when they came in. The fishmonger in Leeds market always kept mackeral aside for my Grandmother on a Thursday morning. Today, my local butcher knows when I walk in the door that I buy a mountain of his thick sausages and gets them out without asking. He knows a BBQ in summer and talks to me about new marinade ideas and stuff I haven't tried.
Some of this emotional intimacy can be delivered by the power of great brand building. Nike feels different to Adidas, it just does.That's why I sometimes don't believe the data about people not being able to say why a brand is different, it's like trying to do a questionnaire about why you love your children, it's a smudgy feeling that you can't always express.You remember how the brand feels when you're in buying mode, yes it comes to mind, but so does the emotional resonance.
But we can do better than that. Brands should be able to understand its customers better. Much of the personal, CIM marketing is a waste of time of course, working with heavy buyers who would buy anyway, but data should help us work out ripples of behaviour on a much larger scale.
A sports brand should know that loads of it's football buyers also love not just comedy, but what kind of comedy, what comedians. They could then set up a multi-platform football comedy show where their favoured comedians banter around footie.
An FMCG salad dressing company should know that people who like the brand but don't buy often also love a grilled chicken and do recipe campaigns with their favourite celebrities for using the dressing with chicken too.
Because ads in Facebook trying to sell me slippers are really not good enough.
But data is only a tool. I cannot replace imagination, emotional intelligence and intuition. It cannot produce the consistent ideas that recombine old ones.
It would tell Steve Jobs not to launch the Iphone.
It would tell Henry Ford people preferred horse.
Put another way, numbers can help us make sense of the world but, today at least, they cannot replace wisdom.
Where I work was responsible for this..
It's actually a simple idea.
Not so simple to pull off.
It took lots and lots of hard work.
That's the truth about innovation, new ideas or general stuff that isn't the usual or expected.
Having ideas isn't easy of course, but it isn't the toughest bit.
The toughest bit is getting them to ever see the light of day.
New ideas tend to look like hard work.
To account handling types who have to get the stuff made, and persuade the client.
To clients who have to sell in plans and stuff to commercially focused people who don't like surprises.
Clients for whom advertising and stuff is about 10% of their entire job.
Clients who want their lives simplified and who live in quarters of years.
So how do you get stuff like the Lego ad break made?
Make it something the client HAS to buy.
Don't make innovation and great work a nice to have.
Make it central to the strategy.
Clients and especially their finance directors don't want nice to haves.
They want stuff that will transform their business.
If you're a planner, this is down to you.
Make it easy to sell into the wider business.
Make it something anyone can explain in 30 seconds.
Because that's what your client will have to do.
Then make it seem easy to actually get off the ground.
Don't make it look like extra work.
If they want it enough, they'll put a bit more effort.
The trick of the Lego thing was that the team did the work with ITV and the other brands.
They worked their arses off.
They never expected anything done for them.
They did the work.
They took responsibility.
And then they made sure they could prove the effect.
By building evaluation into the sell.
Not just soft media figures.
You know, views, shares and the like.
Exit interviews in cinemas, to help link those that claimed to see the break and those that paid to see the film.
They wrote an IPA paper on it even.
That's the thing about innovation.
It's actually really boring.
Because it's a slog.
It's not for the glory seekers or 'ideas people'.
It's for the workers.
The folks that won't give up.
Just like any account that people think they would like to work on is usually incredibly hard.
Every time I've worked on something others might call 'sexy' it''s always been hard work.
Because good clients demand the best.
They expect to buy stuff that's not just great, it's commercially watertight.
And they're busy and expect you to do the work.
It's the crap clients that hard work.
Not least because they don't buy innovation.
But then again, they tend not to buy innovation because they haven't persuaded why they should bother.
In other words, creativity and innovation isn't about flashes of innovation and glory.
It's about the long slow grind.
"When the opinions of the masses of merely average men are everywhere become the dominant power, the counterpoint and corrective to that tendency would be the more and more pronounced individuality of those who stand on the higher eminences of thought"
John Stuart Mill
In other words, if you want to do the kind of work you always talk about wanting to do, you need to work twice as hard as everyone, and not be afraid of being different.
Now go into any agency department look at what they all wear, not the unspoken uniforms and ask yourself, are their any individual here? Is this really a hub of new thinking?
The results to Rob's tremendous assignment are here, do have a look, it's ace and people have worked really hard.
A useful way of looking a your relationship with clients is asking yourself, "Would they want to spend two hours on a train with you".
As a client once said to me. "You can have the best planning, the best creative and the best pricing, but you won't get anywhere if we don't like you".
So I was pleased to be invited to spend a whole weekend with some of them, riding 150 miles.
You know you must be doing something right when they're happy for you to see them in lycra.
Not to mention share a jacuzzi in the hotel after day one.
That said, they were a little incredulous at the pink overshoes.
To quote the commercial director, "What the fuck are they".
There was the cafe stops.
The ice cream stops.
The amazing landscape in the Scottish borders.
The sea on the run up to Edinburgh.
What wonderful people.
If you're buying outdoor in general, it's one message and that's it.
You have a few seconds, no more.
If folks take out one message and know who it's from, you've done your job.
With 'Street Talk' stuff like phone box's you have less. These are mainly for getting for people on foot in their day to day.
The ad I saw (below) really doesn't do that. Intentionally or not, it's three messages.
"Always fresh and tasty"
"Prepared in shop everyday"
And then a promotion to activate in that order.
The first has no place on street talk really, especially if they're trying to activate footfall.
The second is a very valid 'quality message' that gives me a reason to think "Might try Greggs today or soon".
The third MIGHT make me go in today to take advantage of the promotion, but I won't have noticed it.
Either the client has insisted to put in multiple messages.
The agency can't help trying 'brand stuff' in what is response stuff.
Or one or both hasn't a clue.
Now here's Oasis, with a 6 sheet, who are activating 'thirst' at point of need with a personality wrapper -rather than confusing brand with activation.
Scratch that, they've realised that single-mindedly tapping into a needs and doing it with the right tone and wit can deliver crisply - doing a longer term brand job as well as 'activation'
It's a little before 5am. My Dad is gently shaking me awake.
In 5 minutes flat, I roll out of bed, put on my clothes, picked up my swimming bag and get into his his Ford Sierra while he scrapes the last of the ice from the windscreen.
It is minus four, which is really cold for the UK. The radio comes on and, as usual, Dad has put on Radio 2 and it's a slightly mad bloke doing the 'Bog Eyed Jog'.
I am thirteen.
Half an hour later, were at the swimming pool in Leeds city centre. Dad makes his way up the balcony with his flask of coffee and the paper.
I get changed as quickly as possible, the heating hasn't come on yet. Diving into the pool doesn't offer any solace though, it isn't heated either.
The only thing recourse is to train as hard as possible.
It's a delicious feeling when ice in your veins begins to melt and you go from a little warmer to wonderfully toasty.
Two hours later, I will be totally spent and feel like a mini furnace.
As a do the various reps within the session I look up to Dad.
His attention constantly darts between the paper and his son slogging his guts out in the pool.
Only years later will he tell me how proud he is of me.
Not the winning, which happens a decent amount.
The determination to train everyday, twice a day.
Getting up in the freezing dark.
Bolting down a hurried evening meal after school, crashing through homework and training again.
He knows there isn't a day when my body doesn't hurt.
And I will tell him how it felt to know that when I looked up from the pool, he was always there.
Just like before every race, he was always there.
Just like when I didn't have any money, he was there for me, not judging, just helping.
How he never told me what to do at the big moments.
Jobs that mattered.
Having your heart broken.
The twin joys and terrors of becoming a parent.
He just talked about what it was like for him and what he did.
The rest was up to me.
When I got beaten up by a mental chef working in a hotel one summer, I only found out months later that he had to physically restrained from driving up to that kitchen and trying to knock his lights out.
We weren't speaking all that much at the time.
The usual headstrong boy/man and the puzzled Dad wondering where his little boy had gone.
But he was still there for me, even when I didn't know it.
I don't think you see the person your parent is until you go through some of the same stuff.
I only understood what it took for him to take me morning training and then do a demanding job.
As a child you love your parent of course, it's biological.
It's another thing to become friends with your Dad and admire him, to want to be him.
And I want to be like my father.
There are things happening in mine and Juliette's live to do with her Dad right now.
I'm very close to him too, but it reminds me to make the most of my, quite old, Dad and make sure he knows how I feel.
He tells me these days he's just as proud of me doing something with cycling now as he was when I was a swimmer.
He was the first on the phone my I broke my wrist crashing into a car.
He was there when our first son was born with an infection that nearly led to meningitis.
He's always there, he always was.
As I may have mentioned, we're having a not okay time at home.
To the point where I'm not that interested in extraneous stuff that much.
But you need an outlet.
Hence I'm posting the odd thing that isn't much to do with work -but if you want planning stuff scroll down to the end.
Swimming used to be my outlet, still is a little, but it's mostly pain and suffering on my road bike.
Because as a busy, working Dad, it's just easier to use where getting to where you need to be as training.
I seem to love agony. I couldn't tell you if this was nurture - 6 daily hours in a swimming pool as a boy.
Or maybe I'm naturally someone who needs to suffer.
And I think it's great training for the job, and character in general.
Like I said, we're having a difficult time, but I'm the one that keeps it going.
That tends to happen when the job get's tough.
Just like being able to take one length, or mile at a time, it helps to take one day at a time.
And nothing focuses the mind like a goal.
And right now, doing something else that isn't 'reality' really helps.
So, with that in mind, I'll take you back to last June.
I was planning to do a 70 mile ride very fast.
70 miles isn't that far, but it was the speed I was looking for.
I had trained hard for it. Weeks of pain.
Then the night before I fell off my bike and badly hurt my arm.
So I was forced to watch mates at the finish line the next day, quietly seething.
The anti-climax, the disappointment.
So this was going to be the year.
I got a new bike in January, a terrifyingly fast race bike.
With gears much too hard for my puny legs.
But I would grow into it, train into it.
I used to find when I was swimming, the best way to get better was to train with older kids.
First is was pure agony just to not get dropped completely.
No rest between intervals. Pain and suffering.
Then slowly I would get within touching distance.
Then I would start to find I wasn't last, then halfway up the chain.
And when I raced with kids my age, it paid off.
Just as I got better at tennis by playing with kids much better than me.
First you want to duck their cannon ball serves.
Then you get a couple.
Then you start smashing them back.
So that was the plan in January.
I (humbly) told anyone that cared I would grow into the bike.
And try do the ride in under four hours.
That doesn't sound like much, but an average of 17.5 miles per hour with a couple of really big hills felt like it was pushing it at the time to me.
And then I broke my arm.
Knocked off the bike by a driver that wasn't looking where he was going.
And lost two months training.
I also lost a lot of confidence.
I've had the usual crashes, but after breaking my ribs in November, this one really hurt.
Not to mention the frustration at losing what I love for so long.
When I got back on the bike I discovered two things.
First, my legs has lost a mass of power, a tough bike had become a torturous.
Moreover, I was afraid.
I was pulling back when I got up to a decent speed.
So I embarked on a mental training regime courtesy of Strava.
Every day I got challenges on email based on where I needed to be.
Lots of intervals, lots of long sprints, lots of hills.
All designed to break me into little pieces.
All at 7am, the only time a really have.
Nothing has hurt like it since I was a competitive swimmer.
In fact this hurt more.
There wasn't a day my limbs didn't really, really hurt.
I resorted to doing sports massages on my tired legs -which meant more pain.
I drank a lot more coffee and little less tea.
And gradually, the bike got easier.
I got stronger and the fear went away.
Put the pain never stopped. Because you just push harder.
Then two weeks before the ride, Juliette's father fell ill.
He loves cycling.
He was looking forward to being at the finishing line
He's also as close as you can get to having a second father.
It hit me nearly as hard as it did Juliette - but I was the one to carry on with everything.
But we agreed we would do the riding day anyway.
It finished at the beach and we had promised the children the day out.
Juliette knew I had worked so hard and what it meant after the hurt arms.
But the reason we went ahead was we knew he would be furious if we didn't.
So I got to the start line with a couple of mates.
On the understanding I would drop them pretty much straight away.
Because I was going to do the fucking time no matter what.
After all the hurt.
But now, because I felt he was riding with me.
And the first half felt good, really good.
I didn't understand why, but I was way ahead of pace I needed.
I was zipping past everyone and didn't bother with big drinks stop after 35 miles.
But one of the stewards did.
Which mean I went the wrong way.
And after another few miles, I realised this wasn't right and went back a little, to find others who told me they were sure this was right.
So I turned at sped back.
But it didn't feel right and I phone the helpline, who told me I was way off course.
After last year.
After the broken arm.
After the agony of training.
After wondering if we would even be doing this.
There are moments when you decide to give in.
Seriously, fuck it. Whatever.
Or you carry on.
A meaningless bike ride that seemed to mean everything.
I sprinted the 12 miles back to the route.
In time for a vicious hill.
Waved at my mates as I climbed past them (they had no idea what the fuck was going on).
And then sprinted the last 25 miles.
Anger is energy. There is much to be gained from being totally pissed off.
It certainly pushed me along.
Until everything changed.
I felt like I was flying.
Yes, this was what mattered.
The bit when you're mind and body work together.
When you're lost in the moment, both inside and oblivious to the situation.
Flow, wonderful, glorious flow.
Yes, this is what it' all about, this.
10 miles to go. I was actually smiling.
My hamstrings began to scream.
I went faster.
The flat turned into one more hill.
I could smell the sea.
Snot coming from the nose.
Soaked in sweat.
And then 1 mile to go.
Sprint, let it all go.
Go the wrong fucking way with 200 metres to go, end up down at the beach.
Sprint up the cobbles.
And then I see wife and children at the finish line.
It's over. I need it to be over.
I don't want it to be over.
Come off the bike.
Drink a litre of water.
Get handed a cup of tea.
Hug proud family.
Think of father in law.
Look at the time.
79.2 miles per hour.
And average of just under 20 miles an hour for four hours.
I didn't think that was possible for me.
The fucking pratfall detour has actually turned into a sweeter result.
Did the time, went even further.
And, for a little while, being away from everything that was going on.
Just me, my bike and him riding with me.
A meaningless ride that meant everything.
Later, when father in law found our what happened.
He grinned from ear to ear at the result.
And laughed at the 'detour' so hard the nurses got worried.
It was worth it just to make him happy.
You will care little about any of this.
And I don't really care about planning stuff right now.
But I still think there are a couple of things to apply to the day job.
You have to put the work in.
If you take yourself way to a place way out your comfort zone, eventually it becomes your comfort zone.
Hang around people better than you, until they are not better than you.
Then hang around new people who are better than you.
Welcome pain, suffering and setbacks - they pay you back in the end.
You're much better than you think you are, you only need to do the work.
It's only a fucking job, if there's one thing I've learned recently it's that it really doesn't matter.
Find something you love that isn't work.
The internet is ablaze (sorry for the pun) at fate of a young, sweet innocent girl was burned alive by her parents, in service of fanatical religion - on a fantasy drama series you'll be familiar with. You'll know what I'm talking about it you've seen it, if not, you've been saved the spoiler.
Some are understandably up in arms at the torture of a character many took to their hearts. Others talk, in sophisticated terms on the value of getting people to question their belief systems and showing the unvarnished truth about religion, medieval times and so so.
I must say it affected me, but for very simple reasons.
I used to get annoyed at parents in research who could only talk about their kids.
They framed every experience through their experience with their children.
I didn't understand this but I do now.
Nothing changed my life like having my two of my own.
The unconditional love is so fundamental. I can't think I wouldn't do for them if required.
They know, and will know for the rest of their lives that, when it comes down to it, if they needed me I'd drop anything and be there to do what is required.
Which is why the made scene of a girl being burned at the stake by her parents is so shocking, I'd rather burn MYSELF alive. Not my little girl.
But it's not just that.
My eldest is five and is still holding on to his innocence, but you see the cracks.
But Evie, my Evie.
She's three and such a sweet little innocent little thing. You fight a doomed battle to preserve it, knowing it's only a matter of time, but utter trust in you always being there never goes away.
Breaking that trust is unthinkable. And the faith doesn't go away when you grow up.
Juliette's Dad isn't very well and, while intellectually you know they won't always be there, the emotional reality really knocks you.
With both my kids, especially my eldest actually, I see so much of myself.
They're both so INTERESTED. They're quick learners, they love books, they have this total love for whatever they're into. Right now it's sharks, and we read endless books about them, and Will draws these amazing pictures of every species he can. If he loves something, he has to draw it.
It makes me feel responsible, as this came from me.
Juliette says she sees Will's eyes glaze over when they're chatting and she knows he's away daydreaming.
Like his Daddy.
We know that he, and to a lesser extend her will end up quite sensitive, kind and little bookworms.
We know we need to protect this is and help them with introversion, while absolutely letting them know how proud we are of them as they are, and their interests and passions should be respected and developed.
This in a world where they're going to have to compete like never before.
I see an army of ferociously well educated children already readying themselves for the dwindling jobs and prosperity. I see a world that sees the cost of everything and the value if nothing.
It's my job to help them through this, but keep who they are intact. No, to flourish.
That's why burning your child in a fantasy show affected me. Because that innocent trust is the most fundamental thing in the world. It becomes your world.
There's conflict of course. In my case the obsession with swimming and cycling, wanting to read and watch stuff and the realities of being a planner that is better for their upbringing than it is for being a planner.
There needs to be some balance, but the scales will always tip in favour who I really am.
We're really close. I'm a very tactile parent. We hug a lot, we tickle more. I dread the coming years when they start to pull away.
Right now a single kiss can be magic. It can make everything go away. I can make them believe that when I snap my fingers, my nose will beep when they touch it, and their will honk.
I quail at the time when they're teenagers when we laugh together less and they laugh at me more. When they do the whole rejection thing. I can't imagine yet the pain of reaching to take a hand and only grasping empty air.
It will come.
Which is also why I get annoyed with so much advertising around parenting.
Much of the themes are the hard work, the 'job aspect'. The joy in sacrifice. It's true, it's bloody hard work.
But it seems to miss what most parents (this isn't just a view, decent research seems to corroborate this) want to feel.
No parent has a child because they want another job.
It's about love, it's about a relationship, it's about playing, it's about the watching someone grow and helping shape how that turns out.
There's some insight for you if you like, I suppose.
So yes, all that from a burning child on a fantasy show.
I'm off to call my Mum now, I suggest you do them same.
So our family hasn't had a great time recently. You don't need to know.
But not having a great time has reminded of the comfort and solace of work.
I'm lucky to have a job I like.
It has its frustrations, but they are piffling next to doing something interesting with nice people.
Nice to be reminded of that.
Not to take it for granted.
But even that is tiny next to the comfort of your own children.
My two are three and five.
They are such fun.
There really are no problems that don't look smaller being knocked around on a trampoline by two pint sized gangsters.
More of the 5 songs in 5 days thingy
I am ashamed to admit the first record I ever bought was Queen single.
To be fair, it's still a classic and was more about liking the film than Queen.
Princess Aura, I certainly would. In the real world, Flash would have dropped Dale Arden without a second thought.
More 5 songs in 5 days. Today it's The Beatles, Here There and Everywhere. The first track we played at our wedding. Matters more more now, ten and a half years later 'Here making each day of the year'. That's her. I bloody love Revolver too. Balls to Sgt Pepper or the White Album.
I might ride the bike more these days, but swimming was my first love and will always have the most enduring place in my heart. If I had the time as a working parent, I would still in the pool everyday.
I used to compete as a youngster. The kind of competition that required six hours training a day. You don't come out of stuff like that unscathed.
Below is the Leeds swim team on tour in Chicago in 1988. Bet you can't spot where I am in the line up.
1. Accept the simple truth, you are alone in this
You will tailgate others in training to pull you along. You can banter with your team mates. You can lean on the coach for advice and a kick up the arse. You can turn to family and friends for support. But eventually, there will always come a time when you are utterly alone. It will happen in the training pool when your body cries for mercy and you have to go on. You have to try and lock away the negative thoughts in your brain and pretend the agony in your muscles is not there.
This is doubly so in a race of any notable distance.
But the real loneliness is when you're on the starting blocks.
It's just you, your nerves, your courage and the clock. Waiting for the starting gun. The other other people on the blocks hardly matter. You'll hardly see them in the race. You won't hear the crowds cheering. It's just you.
It's ultimately the same as a planner. You work in a team, a team where most, at best, tolerate you getting in the way.
Nevertheless, while you rely on the creatives to execute something in a way that can't be missed, you have suits and production folks to make sure stuff gets made, if your in media there's a whole host of specialists and buyers to flesh out the plan and get a decent rate (and media owners to add loads of value) there are suits to get things through Clearcast and make sure there is a vet for a mouse on the shoot (legal requirement in the UK) - you can't get away from having having to do a clear strategy you can express in a sentence.
You. No one else. A sentence others will question, pull apart and try and ignore. It's lonely.
There will be moments, with a first stage internal meeting, a pitch date getting closer and closer when you feel you have nothing.
All you can do is grit your teeth, keep working, keep looking at as much stimulus as you can and keep writing things down.
Flashes on strategic insight rarely come on their own in the shower. Nice when it happens but you can't plan for it. They come from hard work. The pressure to get there can be immense and no one is going to do it for you.
Assess and listen to your body, always be patient
In training, you have to listen to your muscles as they flush out any stiffness or residual lactic acid. Don't go too hard at first. At the end, your body will acquiesce to your determination and begin to respond to more challenging demands. They will collaborate more willingly on some occasions than they will on others, but eventually they will play ball.
It's the same with your mind. Many don't appreciate the challenge of having to think for a living. Most days, there are big chunks that require concentration. Some days, you're tired.
The brain is a muscle too.
But deadlines and general workload, like essential training days in sport, will not go away.
You have to get on with it - and get into that prized 'flow state' when everything gets fluid and easy.
Which, like with sport, means starting gently, stirring the soup a little, but generally keep going. Eventually the brain will play ball like the other muscles do.
Find a rhythm
When you're training and doing long distances, you need to find the right cadence that suits your lung capacity and strength. Start too hard, and you crack and the rest of the distance you have to swim is murder.
You've lost a race or wasted a training session.
Leave too much until to late and you won't make up the time distance with the leaders, or you won't have put your body through enough in a training session to build your body up.
In planning, it's hard work. The days can be long, the work intense.
Find out how you work best and stick to it.
Some folks are on it in the morning and come in early. Some work late and do naff all in the morning.
If you're like me, and find it's amazing what you can achieve between 9 and 5.30 if you don't prevaricate, as long as the tea is good, you'll go full pelt from the get-go.
Of course, with practice you can change your ways, but, like making your weak legs get stronger, it won't happen overnight.
I also know that, as a shy person in meetings, it takes a while to get going. I start off quiet and build confidence as the small talk stops and the work talk begins.
Even then, I let others talk and weigh in when others have exhausted their vocal cords. I make sure what I say is short and to the point, i may not get another chance. Then, as I relax, my cadence builds and I get more chatty. Eventually, I need to make myself shut up.
But that's just me.
But change it up when you can
In our training schedule, there was always planned shocks to the system.We used to do hell weeks, where over seven days you would be close to tears, throwing up or both. The only objective was survival.
Because of the law of diminishing returns. The more the body gets used to a routine, the less it benefits. You need to introduce surprises and variation to keep in on its toes.
That's why every training session has a variety of strokes, distances, rest periods etc. And why we never did the same session in a fortnight.
It's also why interval training is so good. Not only does it raise the metabolism for hours after the session, it makes you train way beyond your threshold for limited periods - and as you do more and more, you find you can go for longer and longer.
If you only train at a 'training pace' you only get good at swimming at a training pace.
Variation is essential as a planner.
Media, creative, whatever -if you go through each project in the same proprietary process, you'll always do similar work. Innovation comes from doing something different.
By all means, create a benign conspiracy where you sell your thinking conforming to a the stages of a process, post rationalise it I mean, but if you want new stuff, do new stuff.
But don't forget the basics. That's where processes and agree standards are good, just as with swimming, where there is a basic correlation with the amount of training kilometres you've done and how race fit you are.
That goes for reading. If you just read marketing, planning and reading books, you'll just do the same as everyone else who reads the same stuff.
Soak up as much interesting stuff from as many sources as you can.
And for God's sake. Don't just be a planner 24 seven. Don't live at the office. The more real life you live, the more you can draw on.
There's a trick of psychology too, where couples that do new things together tend to be happier. So do new things as a team, try new stuff. It just makes it more fun.
Just as there is nothing more monotonous as swimming up and down a pool if you can't find a way to make it more interesting. Like I said, you're on your own in the pool, it's boring unless you jazz it up.
I'm sure you have lots of stuff to draw on from your own interests, this is just some stuff which is of relevant to and how I have gone about stuff in a variety of species of agency.
Rob Campbell has helpfully got me to do this 5 songs in 5 days thing. Rob has decided his 5 will be songs to be played at his funeral. Despite the fact I'm getting spammed on my email by 'plan by funeral' at the moment I won't be entirely following suit.
However, the first one is a funeral song, partly because of the neatness of the title- it's 'Goodbye Andy' by Lou reed and John Cale.
Now, The Velvet Underground are not too everyone's taste, but along with some of Lou Reed and John Cale's respective solo efforts, some of their stuff, especially songs not on the album everyone knows (with the banana on the front) are among the stuff I've always come back to for most of my life.
Songs for Drella the album this song was from, was a joint effort Reed and Cale did, burying the hatchet after years of the usual music partnership falling out. It was a tribute to the Andy Warhol after his shooting. The whole album is moving, utterly original and communicated the regret of too, now mature men, who wished they hadn't wasted some of their best years on spite and pride.
This song perhaps captures that the best
I used to work in creative type agencies, now I work in media type places.
The things I tend to miss about creative places:
1. Unlimited big pads and sharpie pens for scrawling notes and thoughts etc.
2. Creatives that liked solving problems
3. Experienced planning directors who wanted you to get to some great thinking
4. Working a planning department
5. Suits who loved working in partnership
6. Creative reviews that took your breath away with inspiration
7. Working in an agency run by people with the kind of experience you'd kill for and were incredibly generous at sharing that experience
8. Jonathan Fletcher
9. People who cared and understood about the craft of making ads and content
10. Seeing the ad you worked on appear on telly (come on, we all did)
11. The endearing passion to debate how advertising works and break new ground
The things I don't miss:
2. Planning directors who wanted you to write up their great thinking
3. Creatives who wanted to talk about if the work was a gold
4. Arguing about brand theory and how advertising works to justify okay work
5. Working out what the hell Media Arts was
6. Spending a week getting a proposition signed off by various stakeholders so the creatives could ignore it
7. Discussing the creative brief format
8. The minority of the people
9. Creative reviews where you're scratching your head trying to find something positive to say.
11. Working in an agency run by people who had only ever done CRM for tiny, tiny clients who knew no better
12. Reporting to a Head of Client services who's response on most things was 'When I worked at Little Chef'
13. Obsessing about the size of the logo
It was the first of our children's swimming lessons after the Easter break.
I love these Sunday mornings. Will and Evie have their separate lessons - make me nervous about their growing aptitude and the 6am morning training sessions that might entail when they're older - and we all have a play. Good family time.
Anyway, this was the first time I got in the pool after I broke my wrist.
First time proper swimming for about eight weeks.
I only did a couple of laps, I wanted to watch Evie with her new teacher.
But, boom. It felt great.
You lose your feel for the water really quickly, but for whatever reason it was all there.
It reminded me that I ride every day, but I'm not any good.
Swimming is what I was made to do and I do miss it.
Just like I do sometimes miss getting deep into creative development, which I don't really do any more.
(If I was ever any good is a completely different question).
I had a sports massage towards the end of last year (that's not a euphemism).
Because I do a LOT of cycling these days, I haven't the time for swimming I would like.
It's all or nothing with me, I have to do it right, so it's daily torment.
There isn't a day when my legs don't hurt to a certain degree.
So sometimes they need help.
It was agony on my legs this time. Sports massages do hurt a bit, but this was like some mythical 8th circle of hell.
My tormentor was clear on the reasons.
The first was that I didn't massage my legs enough.
The second was that I was over-training.
I had forgotten the basic principles I was taught when I used to swim.
It's a daily grind close to the edge of your limits and beyond.
But for that training to really work, you need to give your body time to heal.
Because training is really controlled damage to your body.
If you want it to benefit, to get stronger, it needs time to heal itself, for the work to bed in and your body develop.
Rest days and even rest weeks.
It's the same with the job.
You need to work hard.
You need to do lots of reading, lots of thinking.
You also need to have lots of patience.
You can't be the one to lose your temper. You need to convince everyone about everything.
Planners are the only ones in any agency who can't say, "I think we should do this, end of discussion".
All this makes you hard, it makes you tough.
But it's exhausting.
But if you don't take time off to recharge, you'll just end up tired and stupid.
Even in the thick of things, going home on time should be a must when you can.
If you can take a day to kick back a bit in the office and potter, do it.
But it's more than that.
There is no point banging your head against a brick wall when you're on a project.
There is no point spending all your waking hours thinking about planning and brands and stuff.
There isn't any point reading all the stuff planners need to read in you spare time - culture etc.
For all that reading and work to have it's real benefit, you need to shut your mind off, to do something else.
That's when new neuron pathways get bedded in and new connections form.
Your subconscious is thinking when you're not.
That's when ideas pop out.
That's when the memory is encoded for later use.
So take lots of breaks.
I don't believe in those flashed of Damascene insight that much either.
They happen of course, but not all the time.
The only way to be consistent is to work hard.
Start with something a bit rubbish, edit, talk it around, read some more and gradually end up with good and hopefully great.
But done is better than perfect.
That level of work isn't sustainable forever.
Take a lunch break, go look at an art gallery, go to the gym or just take a walk.
Take time to make tea or coffee.
Go to another department to chat.
But also, in general, do absorbing stuff outside of work.
Have a hobby you give yourself utterly to, so when you're mind is focused on it, you're cleverer subconsciousness is sorting all all the memories and problem solving for you.
Cycling and swimming work for me.
But so does having kids and spending proper time with them.
I'm not saying don't work hard.
I'm saying work really, really hard, at your threshold as much as you can.
But no your limits.
Then take a break for that work to properly pay off.
Just like my legs, your brain is muscle.
It needs time to recover to get more intelligent.
Otherwise, you'll end up a very busy, very tired fool.
Picasso once said that art is a lie that tells the truth.
He has a lot to tell agency folks.
Because great advertising doesn't just sell the product, it becomes the product.
It makes Coke taste better, as makes the fit of your jeans feel better.
It makes a car that isn't really that different to the legion of others more reliable, sexy, faster..or even make you feel like the rebel/success or whatever you probably are not.
I liked much of what Paul Feldwick said about the value of 'Showmanship', but I don't really think this is as different to the dark arts of psychology and subtlety as he claims.
I totally buy the Byron Sharpe 'fame' and 'distinctiveness' argument. You need to reach as many people as possible and make the advertising gets noticed...because when it comes to buying stuff, folks buy the ones they remember.
But the quant research that dismisses 'differentiation' and noticeable brand preference forgets a truth most of us conveniently forget.
Research is rubbish at getting people to describe how they feel about stuff. Verbal communication in general is rubbish at describing the intangible.
I really would struggle to tell you why I love my wife, I just do. I could tell you some core facts if pushed of course, but there is a warm fuzzy 'Julietteness' I can't really put into words.
Just as I can't really tell you why I tend to prefer Nike. Apart from the fact it just feels better. I can't tell you why it's different, there is just a feeling of 'Nikeness' built up from years of advertising.
To be honest, I didn't understand 'Just Do It' when it first launched, but I remember how the ads made me feel. I suspect most folks didn't get it, or cared. They probably remembered it because it was different.
I don't feel intangible stuff based just on emotional content or tone of voice.
The 'Nikeness' is also built out of the intangible value of the showmanship advertising, the great, powerful advertising that magically inserts itself into the product.
Yes, great ads and stuff are essential to get noticed, as Byron Sharp says, but they do much more than that.
It's no accident that 'Fame' campaigns, the one that folks talk about are the most effective, according to the IPA Databank. We just naturally feel that the products are better if the ads are good and create natural PR. It's not just about being seen to lead in my view, it's as simple as really liking the ads means really liking the product.
These ads are as generic as could be in terms of messaging.
"We'll find you the right glasses, so you'll see properly".
There might be a subtle emotional wrapping about 'the need not to look daft' (which I can imagine some brand consultant saying is the main fear of folks buying glasses).
But to be honest, the ads are very funny, very consistent and entertaining.
I'm not sure they would work without the single minded message - relevance still matters in my view (even if there isn't any real 'differentiation') but what really works is the fact you like the advertising and therefore like Specsavers.
No 'consumer' could really tell you why Specsavers is different. They won't tell you 'I just like the ads' in any quant research either.
So when the brand comes to the front mind in buying situations, which Sharp tells us is the main role of advertising, it's not just that it's remembered, there is an emotional smudge we can't describe, that makes it feel good...not must from a tone of voice, but from great ads.
The 'lie' has become the reality.
That's why you can buy success by outspending your market share, but aware winning advertising increases the effectiveness 11 times (Source IPA).
The ad has become as much part of the product experience as the sugar content, the engineering story or whatever.
How you build a 'showmanship' ad campaign is up to you.
A great source can be a cultural flashpoint...
The battle of the sexes and young men's search for identity in a contradictory world for example.
It can be taking a simple category generic, for example, the main buying need and ramping it up to hell.
It can be, and perhaps should be more often, a brand or product truth delivered in a devastating way.
It can even address a negative about the brand in a way people will just love.
Or make a spurious, but confident claim about quality. This campaign has been resurrected.
And let's face it, most of the above fit into one category, in fact, if they do, you know you're onto a winner.
So yes, there is a treasure box of source material to create ads like these.
The magic ingredient thought, is, well, magic.
I love these new Curry's ads. There's that universal in here that everyone has dreams of another life, of what might have been, no matter how happy they might with the one they're living.
And even more fundamental, people are perfectly capable of having two opposing principles, or points of view at the same.
Just as I move heaven and earth to get home in time to see the kids during the week.
Then plot and negotiate to leave them for two hours on a weekend to indulge in mid-life crisis bike riding.
But let's forget all the planner speak, they're just funny.
Where as this, which again shows the pain and joy of parenthood, is so charming.....
I've worked on one or two supermarkets. Hard work, but then again. that level of intensity means you work fast.
It struck me then, as it does now, how contradictory people are about these kinds of places.
On one hand, we think they're the devil, ruining independent high street folks, making us fat and unhealthy while shafting their suppliers.
On the other, people still tend to agree that 'their supermarket offers value for money' and, let's face it, most people have spent and still spend most of their grocery money in these places, even if they shop around more.
Just like, if you read the papers, everyone thinks Amazon is evil (they don't) but everyone shops there (they mostly do).
What does this mean?
Firstly, don't assume what you read in the papers is what people really think. It usually isn't.
Secondly, don't assume people will put their money where their mouth is. We all go down the path of least resistance, it's just we try and feel a bit better about it.
Thirdly, it's pointless listening to what people claim to think or do, we are all liars in research. In fact, we all do contradictory things too. Most people that shop in farmers markets also go to a supermarket every week.
Finally, no one has a God given right to survive.
Back in the days of the independent high street, most of the shops were overpriced, gave bad service and didn't sell good stuff (and they also shut on Wednesday afternoons).
But it's true too, that many good businesses went under when the big boys came along. When markets move on, when culture does, those that haven't stayed ahead get crushed.
There are still some ace local retailers though, because, well they are ace and give people a reason to bother.
My local butcher has more business than he can handle because his stuff is better quality, keenly priced and his knowledge of his product is second to none.
In other words, if you want to survive as a business, don't ask people what they want or what they'll do.
If people will have a choice, they'll go with the easy option, not always the best - unless you're exceptional.
And finally, don't stand still. If you're not ahead of the market, eventually it will crush you.
Those creative agencies still churning out 30 second ads as 'the idea'? Yes, there are still some. It's not business as usual, it really isn't.
Those media folks only talking in terms of reach and frequency, you need a new act.
Digital agencies that don't get brands and how communications works? You won't get away with it for long.
Social media folks still talking about 'likes' and 'retweets' as valuable business metrics? Enough said.
Don't stand still, the market will always move on and crush
(Excuse the typing I've broken my wrist)
I hate this quote, really hate it. I loathe the way it shifts responsibility away from agency folk.
I hate the disrespect, you know, "Clients just don't get it, if only they would let me do what I wanted we would be so much more successful".
Yes, you know advertising, but they know their business, they know the board that signs stuff off. There is a reason people work in most types of agencies, they haven't the personality or skills to do a real job. Respect the people that do.
We're supposed to produce compelling work, that supposedly doesn't need a clear selling message. If you can't make your client sell compelling, you're in the wrong job.
Now I've been fortunate to have some lovely clients in my time. Some really good relationships.
Good enough to have me sat on their side while they were pitched to.
Even good enough with another client to sit with them while they talked colleagues through the process they'd just gone through in hiring another agency.
I suspect much of that is down to the fact I love the job, therefore love working on their stuff. Genuine enthusiasm gets you a long way, even more so when you're senior.
I also think it's because I'm very honest, trust me, I'm a useless liar.
It's not the looks, charm or talent mark my words.
I also got to hear Sara Leach of Coca Cola talking through the client perspective recently.
Distilling much of this, here's some stuff to think about.
1. When you're presenting, especially in pitches, just like advertising should leave some space for the consumer, leave some space for the client. In major presentations, clients are faced with well honed arguments, great theatre, charm, wit and the sheer force of slide after slide of crafted persuasion. It can be quite intimidating, especially if you can't get a word in. Find a way to draw them into a conversation. Because when we feel fear, or uncomfortable it's fight or flight. You don't want that.
2. In reviews of work, I usually find a way to give feedback last, or not even give it. Because I need to entertain an idea a bit before I decide what my view is. With clients, agencies push for immediate feedback on the work they have just shared, right at the point they are struggling to process what their opinion is. Push them to share and they'll share something they might not mean and then stick to it. And the default reaction is to add some builds, builds that turn into issues that kill your entire project. Don't push for immediate feedback unless they really want to give it.
3. Listen to feedback. Clients do want to be challenged, but they don't want to be ignored. Try and discern what is up for debate and what is not. You MUST actually listen to feedback and show you've taken it on board. In between tissue meetings and final presentation, the number one loser of pitches or work getting rejected, is that agencies haven't listened to clear feedback- or even worse, they've ignored it.
4. Be likeable. My favourite client ever once told me,"You can be great at strategy, wonderful at execution, you can be the cheapest, but if we don't like you, forget it". Of course, some agencies ARE successful with the whole arrogance thing, but being cool and mistakenly thinking you work at CDP and it's 1976 only gets you so far. Some agencies get hired for being totally brilliant, but I know of one hot agency where the client hated their guts and kept with them as long as they delivered the goods. But as soon as they cocked up-and you always do- they were toast. No one perfect, good will and trust gets you past the moment you make a pigs ear of it.
5. Keep things clear. There is more jargon than ever. Clients can't be arsed to de-code your work, and they usually have to present it on, make it easy for them.
6. Stop working so hard. Done is better than perfect. Good clients pay you to be on time. They also pay you for what you think. Spend a little less crafting the powerpoint and more time getting a tight argument - in fact, a little imperfection is good, is gives clients the chance to correct you and feel they are playing a part.
7. Clients are human too. There are wankers who enjoy making you work weekends, but most are uncomfortable working with pale faced ghosts who look exhausted. See point 4.
8. Get the bloody set up over as soon as you can. They're sitting there waiting to see the ads, the plan, or whatever the main output is supposed to be. Get out of the bloody way. Most strategy bits of decks tend to be about looking clever, rather than helping. And be brave, show them the ads first, show them the proposition, then tell them how you got there. Surprise the poor bastards instead of showing basically the same deck over and over again. It's boring, and bored clients fire you.
9. Their hours are shorter than yours. But don't mistake that for an easy life. It's a cultural thing that they leave on time, but that puts them under pressure to cram more into the day - and only 10% of what they do is advertising and brand stuff. They don't get to lounge around and have the banter that we do, it's serious and intense. And their offices are usually grim, grey affairs with no decent tea or coffee. So no wonder they like their agencies to be fun. But also, respect their time, give them plenty of notice if you need stuff approving, their days are choc full in ways we are less used to.
10. Would they like to spend a couple of hours on a train with you? Boil it all down, especially for planning folk and they want smart intelligent folks they could have a chat with. The smart and intelligent bit is about being interesting, especially if you're shy and introverted like me, read lots of stuff, know a little about a lot of things. As for the having a chat bit, find out what they care about and know something about it, even better, just listen! Ask questions, lots of them and you'll find out what you might have in common. So, if you found yourself on a train with a client, what would you both do? Have an easy, natural chat, know each other well enough to even read in silence? Or would you pretend not to notice each other. If it's the last, you're fucked (see point 4)
Obviously I've read Paul Feldwick's book about how advertising works. I'm sure you have too.
I don't there is any point a monkey like me offering any kind of review, except that you should read it and form your own view. I certainly enjoyed it and appreciated the reasoned approach, as opposed to the self importance or 'this is the new that' conceit of other authors and industry voices.
What I did want to meekly point out was the fact this was a book about advertising. Not Growth Hacking, not brand communication or any other of the stupid phrases folks bandy about.
Advertising.No bothering with above the line, online v offline. Advertising.
Perhaps we should call it this more often and not pretend we're in another business. It might be harder then to dismiss the work and ideas of those that came before us, by kidding ourselves stuff is that different.
I'm not saying it's business as usual with digital and stuff.
It wasn't business as usual when TV came along either.
I went to see Ryan Adams (NOT, I repeat NOT Byan) the other night at the O2 Academy in Leeds.
Rather good in case you're interested. I like gigs like this, nice to be surrounded by my own people or so to speak.
But that's not the point I want to make.
You see, leaving the venue, we walked past a nondescript pub.
Except it's not for me.
Over 13 years ago, I didn't have a full time job and the money was running out.
So I was temping in a call centre, selling plumbing and drainage insurance.
Soul destroying, which is why I'm always nice to cold callers. I've been there.
We worked from 12pm until 8. Lunch was 5. But it wasn't lunch, everybody went to this pub to drink their way into a state to get through the rest of the shift.
The spoiled, ex-student, recently ex-ad agency me met all sorts of people there.
And I learned how lucky I was, because I knew this employment arrangement was only temporary.
For others, this wasn't a stop gap. Just part of an endless cycle of undertainty.
Sometimes it's worth being reminded you could roll the dice a thousand times and never be as lucky as you are.
So I went to see Queen last night.
It wasn't totally hateful.
I took my sister and it made her happy. If anything made it worthwhile, it was that.
But it's hard to not to appreciate 10,000 happy people singing their hearts out. It even made me smile.
The songs, and yes I do unfortunately know most of them, do work in a live setting.
Adam Lambert confounded my expectations. Once he forget to try and impersonate Freddie Mercury and just perform, he's a very good singer, he won the crowd over, not least because he could see they were enjoying themselves.
But Brian May was the real star of the show. It's uncool to play a guitar that looks like he crafted in a school woodwork class and he always has this squinty frown. But he's a very good guitar player.
Someone apart from Freddie Mercury was missing. They played Under Pressure, a David Bowie song Queen got involved that in that I do love - and it missed Bowie.
Overall, I wouldn't go again. The songs just aren't that interesting. Eventually, like listening on record, it just became slightly camp power rock played with a very similar guitar style. It was a bit boring.
Meatloaf does this kind of thing a lot better in my inconsequential view.
The one surprise was when they forget to be 'Queen' there were some good bits. They played a very earnest and affecting Days of Our Lives for example. That was OK.
So I maybe hate Queen a little less. They make a lot of people happy and you can't argue with that.
It's just not for me.
But at least I gave it a go.
Thankfully I'm seeing Ryan Adams in February and Morrisey in March to cleanse myself.
“Who will be my primary contact to interface with?”
“We’re way off the point of actual ideation”
“I like recessions, the fear means we can squeeze far more out of our people”
“I agree with you completely. However….” (every single meeting)
“Put that hardhat on. No really put it on. Now take this celery and hit yourself on the head again and again, because it’s more likely you’ll eventually knock yourself out than me paying this fucking bigger fee”
To a creative team:
Day one: “This is the last change the client is going to make”
Day Two: “Just a couple of final tweaks before it can be signed off”
Day Three: “Has the print run started yet?”
“These are not the fucking changes I briefed, what sort of a twat do you take me for? How fucking simple is it to get a fucking wine leaflet right? Oh bollocks! This is the chicken leaflet isn’t it? Fuck me, I’m sorry, mind you why the fuck didn’t you say I was talking about the wrong bastard leaflet?
“The secret to marketing? I’ll tell you the secret to marketing, it’s selling a loaf of bread to poor simpletons for 10p less than the other bastards”
“We just don’t go for this emotional stuff”
“This is a professional organization, put some bloody shoes on”
“I haven’t got my credit card, can you get the bill?” (said the Head of Client Services to the account exec when the £2,000 bill came in for the client lunch”
“I can’t make my mind up with these scripts, can we have an animatronic please”
“Fucking salience? What’s salty water got to do with my fucking brand?”
“Just letting you know you replied to my email. I’m assuming you wanted to forward it?”
Ring ring….“I know it’s two in the fucking morning, but I’ve just had a thought”
“Do they still bother with suits Up North”
“Can you give us a worse proposition?”
“We’re going to make a cartoon panda sponsor a racehorse”
“Get out of my broom cupboard”
"No one leaves this bar until dawn. 6 more black russians on the way"
"Look, the trick of a contact report is not to report what happened and what was said. It's a second chance to get we wanted out of the meeting. No one reads them anyway"
"When you sign on the teleconference, everyone can hear you mate"
"You forgot to press mute"
(Okay I lied, a couple of extra posts before a long departure)
There have been many examples in history of famous quotes, pieces of work or leaps forward in technology that have been mis-interpreted on purpose, or through lazy thinking.
For example, Einstein once said, “God does not play dice”.
This was in relation to being uncomfortable with the random nature of quantum mechanics.
But plenty have taken it as proof that once of physics’ greatest minds was religious.
He was borderline atheist. He just believed nature would be a little neater.
In fact, many have taken the weird nature of quantum mechanics too far.
They think it means you can’t measure what is happening.
That physics is bollocks.
When quantum theory has been measured to ridiculous lengths. Because of quantum theory, we know what is happening in stars billions of miles away, we can predict what will happen to them too.
Perhaps ‘survival of the fittest’ is the most terrible.
Darwin didn’t actually write that in ‘Origin of the Species’ and it doesn’t mean the strongest.
It doesn’t even mean individuals or species.
It means genes that produce traits and qualities that are best suited to their environment.
Homo sapiens are far weaker than previous species of hominid.
Homo Erectus would destroy you in a fight.
And it’s more genes that survive an environment as much as accidentally making you better.
The appendix is fairly useless but doesn’t get in the way for example.
Which brings us to developments in brand and marketing theory.
Which does get in the way, as all sorts of people use to sell all sorts of weird and wonderful things.
Now most theory in brands and marketing are bollocks anyway.
Opinion dressed up as science based work.
But even some stuff that is good if often not understood and applied wrongly.
To show you what I mean, let’s rewind a few years, to when I once worked on a global client coming to grips with digital.
They still held on tightly to the comfort of the Millward Brown brand pyramid.
The brand teams worked in isolation of marketing and sales teams.
Both has separate measures of success.
They could spend millions on brand stuff and be happy with shifts in brand tracking.
Sales didn’t matter, that was marketing’s problem.
Distribution was a discussion for a totally separate department. Despite the fact it was a low interest purchase you had to make the effort to buy.
Now because of the famous Millward Brown pyramid, ‘awareness’ was a credible measure.
Which meant most digital stuff was measured on pure reach.
The game became how little you could spend on production and media to get the logo in front of as many people as possible.
It didn’t matter if they cared, it didn’t matter how relevant the stuff was.
Just that it reached a decent number of people.
So the PR charlatans has a field day. The social media folks thought it was Christmas.
Because they knew how to get stuff out there.
But they didn’t know how get people to buy anything. They didn’t have to.
Since then, Saint Byron Sharp has given us all some evidence based ways of thinking afresh how brands work.
And the same organisations that were able to peddle paid/owned/earned reach as brand metric are newly empowered.
Because the central argument of ‘How Brands Grow’ is that the most efficient role of advertising in all its guises is to reach as much of the market as you can.
In the wrong hands, this information can be really unhelpful.
Confirmation bias means many of the awareness peddlers have leaped on it as proof of the ‘reach’ approach.
For some it’s a genuine mistake.
While the more devious have blatantly post rationalized it, to suit their argument that reach is all that matters.
But, to quote Rob Campbell (I admit I’ve passed this off as my own how and again), most people are aware of Hitler. I don’t many who are particularly fans.
Even worse for the digital reach brigade, simply getting stuff into people’s timelines or clicks on YouTube Trueview or whatever doesn’t mean people have taken anything out of the communication at all.
Even worse, many display ads are really cunning at making us click by accident, but that click gets recorded as a score.
The real argument that came from Byron Sharp was ‘salience’- Mental Availability. Making sure the brand gets front of mind in buying situations.
That means you have land something distinctive with people. They need to remember.
Which is why ‘Fame’ campaigns that get people talking work so well.
They stir the emotions that generate longer term memory, they make the brand feel it’s on the up – while being seen to lead creates a feeling of quality.
Because people can’t be bothered to think about buying most things.
(which is also why my old client was daft not making everyone think about distribution – physical availability. In the case of some categories, especially FMCG, shoppers, even allegedly loyal ones, will simply buy what’s there. If your product isn’t you’ve lost the sale and given your customers the chance to build up a new habit).
So, when it comes to digital brand communications, we need to apply exactly the same rigour that’s applied to TV and other channels.
In fact, scratch that. I bring you back to my old client again. The entire brand tracking system needs an overhaul.
Of course, knowing how many people saw and recall something about the advertising is fundamental.
But understanding if it drove salience with those people is the measure that really matters.
And the contribution both short and long term sales, or whatever the hard business measures are.
Econometrics, real time reporting, control groups, whatever.
Of course if you have a ‘response’ led client, you can measure the journey to sales online, but even in these cases, there will be plenty of people who didn’t convert right then who did later – or even bought offline.
By the way, short term measures do matter, namely removing reasons not to buy, but overall, there’s enough evidence out there to show that the real contribution to profit is building long term brand salience over time.
Any great piece of writing or thinking can be used for evil in the wrong hands.
It’s a real danger in marketing.
With all those received wisdoms.
All the different disciplines and agencies competing for, the increasingly squeezed budgets.
The temptation digital presents to measure all sorts of vanity metrics that have nothing to do with growing a business.
Back to Einstein. He also said we shouldn’t strive to be successful people. We should strive to be people of value.
Whatever the latest theory, that should never change.
You can be successful getting loads of reach and totally fail in creating any value whatsoever.
I refuse to call them audience.
'Audience' suggests people sitting and waiting for our stuff.
It suggests arrogance, that we don't need to impress them.
We just need to fire things at them.
When we need to get noticed and earn space in their heads.
Now, nearly every strategy presentation should have some observations about your target customer.
Planning has evolved into all sorts of stuff, but at it's heart, it's our job to make sure the work does the right job with the right people.
That means understanding what we need them to think/feel/do in the first place.
But it also means a deep understanding of their lives. Not just some dry data on TGI -questionable personality traits or motivations and the like.
They're more likely to notice and maybe feel something about brand communication if it has some relation to their lives.
What they care about, what keeps them awake at night. What suprises them, what excites them.
I have one golden rule that helps me do things quicker, get a true perspective and, ultimately, help doing stuff that works.
Find something to admire in your audience.
From defining a brand new customer group for the brand, to a specific quarterly comms brief, you'll get to something strategically useful quicker if you're able to edit out the extraneous rubbish in service of something that makes you admire them.
Something that makes you care.
Because great brands talk about what they love and that should include what they love about their customers.
But mostly because too many people in this business don't know their customers well enough and, worse, in some cases are quite sneery about them.
They do work for themselves, not the customers.
That won't be enjoyable, want capture the imagination. Won't get talked about.
More than the 'voice of the consumer' I think we need to be the champion of the customer.
One way at looking at this work is admiring the work ethic of potential Chrysler customers and America at large..
This largely came from admiring the growing independence of modern UK women.
This came from the admiring the determination of the young Scottish people in adversity..
While this admired the unquenchable hope and enthusiasm of Scottish sports supporters no matter.
Even publicly thanking them...
You get the picture I hope.
I'm convinced that the secret to great presentations, and meetings too, is two fold.
But mostly it's about love.
1. Hard work and preparation.
If you know you're stuff inside out, if you have rehearsed, if the slides are engaging and more of a support to you than 'the show',if you've prepared for any difficult questions, you'll be fine.
People will see the hard work, appreciate it and immediately warm to you. Even the most shy person can perform if they've done the work.
2. But the real secret is being able to connect to people.
I don't think that has to be finding a link to what your audience deeply cares about, although that helps. I think it's more about getting folks to identify with YOU.
Which means linking your presentation, or your part of the meeting to something you deeply care about. Link a personal story or passion to the theme of your stuff and you won't go wrong.
Firstly because when people see you the human, rather than the professional, they'll connect to you more. If they can see your enthusiasm, if they can see what brings you joy, pain or whatever, the mirror neurons will fire and they'll feel it too.
Secondly, by channeling what matters to you, you'll care more, so you'll perform better. Not least because, again, if people see your enthusiasm, if they know you care and they'll care too.
The best feedback I ever got from a client, apart from how I made things simple and clear, was how they loved I was enthusiastic about their brands.
Which is why nearly every presentation I do nearly always has a Star Wars slide (in fact, clients that know me well are usually wondering when the slide with a crow-barred Star Wars bit will arrive), a slide with the kids in, with guest appearances from swimming and cycling.
In other words, like the key to advertising communication itself, rather than talking about yourself, talk about what you love - and make people feel something.
Seriously, naked emotion and humanity trumps slickness and 'performance' any day.
I got knocked off my bike the other day.
I've never understood how clothing can remain un-ripped yet the skin can be stripped from your flesh, yet that's what happened to my leg.
Then there's my ribs that are either bruised or broken.
Still on the bike though, a few pain killers etc and it's OK.
Get back on the horse.
Now it wasn't my fault, but it doesn't matter.
It doesn't make my ribs any less damaged, it doesn't put the skin back on my leg.
If I didn't know how to fall, it wouldn't change more broken more bones or a mangled bike.
That's the problem with getting all self righteous about blame and fairness.
It rarely changes your current predicament.
In fact it usually makes things worse.
It's the same with the job.
It's not fair that strategy types have to earn the right to have any sort of point of view -and are expected to back it up with evidence.
While others can say what they bloody well like and it's taken as gospel.
It's not fair that brief has largely been ignored by the folks working on it.
It's not fair that your carefully crafted, well researched thinking has been torpedoed by a client, creative director, media partner or whoever without any evidence or logic whatsoever.
It is the job. Change what you can, deal with what you can't.
Treat rejection of your work as a chance to do something even better. Work even harder. Learn dirty rules to politely destabilise the thinking of louder mouthed people. Learn how to push emotional buttons when you share your work, no one gets excited by logic.
And if it's a lost cause, start the long term plotting to change your job, client or even department. But do make sure the problem isn't really you that's the problem.
Back to that bike incident.
I got up, ready to blister the offending driver with white hot rage.
Only to see a mother and her little girl behind the dashboard, on their way to school.
No way am I going to upset a little girl.
I prepare for a withering look before I stuggle onto my bike and ride off.
But she opens her door, rushes out and gives me hug.
My ribs are agony, but I let pass because she's in tears.
She's actually in shock. She says she's so sorry, she's full of concern, she offers to drive me to work, pay for a new bike and God knows what else.
I end up calming HER down and making sure she's OK, before I eventually pedal away.
Why am I telling you this?
Because no one has the right to be self-righteous if someone else feels bad and didn't mean it.
But more because, getting back to the job, it's worth making sure you know how someone else feels before they wade in. They may well surprise you - and head confrontation rarely works.
The person who blanks you because they're actually painfully shy.
The client who won't even discuss why you're work won't get any further because they're inexperienced and they make you feel stupid.
The creatives shouting at you for work bombing in research, when they're actually terrified of a creative director.
The TV planner who's only way of dealing with stuff is 100% aggression, because that's what he's got from everyone else. If you give it back, you've only managed to cease to amaze him like everyone else.
Remember, I missed acting looking a total idiot on that road, by a matter of seconds, only because I happened to look through the windshield at the person.
I've learned the hard way about rising to unfairness and being shafted at work. It never works. Pause, look behind the windshield instead.
On the other hand, she might have been using emotional blackmail on me, but that's OK, we've already covered how playing dirty can get you out of dodge. Being moral and fair and considered is all good of course, sometimes, you just need to be a little bit cunning too.
'Corporations don't own modern brands, consumers do' - try telling that to shareholders or venture capitalists. Consumers- let's call them customers or people - decide your fate, they don't reap the profits, and don't think about brands enough to even merit the word 'relationship'.
'Brands today are conversations' - true in the sense that a minority of strange people might spend time talking about a brand/with a brand, but they make up a tiny fraction of commercial sales, while the people that growth and the big numbers come from, they indifferently get on with their lives. Just maybe, a decent amount of might notice the brand more, thanks to this minority doing stuff.
‘It’s all about content’ – well this is actually true, it always was. If you have nothing of value to add to what people are already doing, or your stuff isn’t good enough to merit your interruption, there’s little point. That’s not the same as the modern way of thinking though - the current fixation with the ‘build and they will come’ content model, or really entertaining stuff that’s not relevant to what the brand makes or does. Even worse if it’s nothing to do with any hard commercial objectives. That said, relevance can be overrated. People don’t need to rationally accept whatever you’re doing/saying/demonstrating, because they don’t buy that way. But if it feels intuitively wrong, or it doesn’t make sense somehow, if they can’t see the point, you have wasted your time.
‘Modern brand storytelling needs to leave lots of space for people to put the story together themselves in their own way’ – now, as Gossage said, “If you’re going to lay a mousetrap, leave some room for the mouse’. That was always true. In terms of culture, even more so these days. The entertainment we all enjoy has become more complex, less linear and asks more of us in terms of filling gaps in plots etc.
Now there are limits even in popular culture. I give you exhibit A, the initially brilliant Lost. At first most loved the big questions, they loved debating what was going on. It was good. But then it got so complicated it seemed that not even the writers knew what was going on – and the ratings plummeted to the point only the die-hards stayed until the end.
There are limits to the complexity we will accept in culture, even in a world where The Dark Knight and Interstellar can succeed as blockbusters.
Which brings us to brands and back to that point about conversations.
Most people cannot be bothered to work it out, let alone talk to anyone about it. Of course, any modern campaign needs to be respectful to the grammar of the media it’s in. Your creative really shouldn’t be the same everywhere. For example, you need to front load your message and brand attributes on a YouTube pre-roll before folks click away, while you can still afford the big reveal in a linear TV ad. But that’s about people noticing and accepting your stuff.
‘The agency model is dead’- which agency model?
If you mean the one where shops that operate in different disciplines try and charge a fortune for selling a process that has a very obvious end, and the output is judges as effective because if the way it’s measured, there are still global corporations making a lot of money with big clients doing exactly this. Their shareholders are not complaining. Even if this might not be the way stuff should be done today, tomorrow or ever.
If you mean the one where clients will pay a hefty fee for genuine creativity and ideas – again in all sorts of agencies, there are still clients that are more than happy to do this, but the thing about the successful agencies, is that there is a lot of hard work and thinking behind the great work. To quote John Hegarty, there is still money there for ‘Intelligence turned into magic’.
If there are fewer who will pay for this kind of work, it’s probably because they’ve invested in agencies that are all for doing the crazy stuff, but not the hard work of understanding what the crazy stuff is supposed to be doing, or if it’s right for the people it’s aimed at.
If you mean the kind who are willing to pay for fantastic service, a groovy reception and being made to feel special, it’s fair to say that world is gone.
The people who say the ‘agency’ model is dead are usually people who are peddling something else. It probably works really well for them, but there are other ways.
Ultimately the agency model is a place where you do stuff for clients they cannot do themselves. I’m not sure this will ever go away.
I was brought up in creative agencies.
They had good points. They had bad points.
I now work with the media folks. They have good and bad too.
I really never thought I’d end up in a media agency though.
Then again, there was a time I was sure I’d never get married, be a parent or go to a Queen concert.
Now, beware of post rationalization, confirmation bias and the general way the brain makes you feel good about yourself, but I’m becoming more of the opinion that, maybe, media agencies are set fairer for today’s world than the various guises of today’s creative agencies.
Here’s some reasons why. Based purely of my experience of working for some from both sides and working with even more.
Let’s get one thing clear though, we’re all in marketing which means for the average person, we’re about as respected as estate agents. Still, if you work in this industry, may as well work on the side of the least evil.
Media agencies are much nicer to their staff. While there one or two creative or digital agencies that don’t work mental hours, have a culture that nurtures and invests in their people, encourages staff to respect each other and is grounded in the reality of the people their work, is aimed at, creative agencies work much, much longer hours, tend to make their people redundant more quickly, celebrate loud mouth extroverts rather than talent and thoughtfulness, don’t train staff, expecting them to sink or swim, and generally chew their people up and spit them out.
And they use creativity as an excuse for leaving things until the last minute and being disorganized as hell.
Media does have its share of extroverts, there is still the odd late night and any service business is only one phone call away from having to shed staff, but they are much nicer places to work. Hours are more regular, yet all the work gets done. They manage to be much more flexible around the lives of their people. They invest a lot more in training and staff development. There are whole search departments full of shy science types who would melt in front of clients. And people do seem to have a life.
This matters, because tired is stupid. Knackered, irritable people who never actually get out and experience the lives of the people they are selling to will simply not perform.
And no amount of concrete hot desk tables, bean bags and ironic t-shirts will make up for it.
Because media agencies respect their people, they also respect experience. So you’ll find far more mature people in media agencies than creative and digital species. Creative agencies, in general, seem to value the young and, even in a world where they’re competing against other professions that are now seen as more lucrative and even cooler for the newer generations– tech companies, The City to name but two, they don’t hold on to experience. Now a variety of studies have shown that you can’t fake experience, you need 10,000 hours of practice to be great a something. Moreover, in a little bubble forever pronouncing the death of this and the death of that year in year old, the more sane voices who see through the bullshit and have seen it all before are very valuable indeed.
The number of older folks with kids and stuff in media agencies means their employers just can’t get away with working their staff to death and sane, humane culture built on respect, temperance and thoughtfulness just naturally bubbles up.
You need your young blood to shake things up and inject fresh energy in an organization. But that constant renewal needs to be balances by experience.
I’m sure the love of rash youth is why creative and digital agencies get all excited about the latest wheeze- they don’t have the frame of reference. Like the social media gurus who have never heard of Gossage, the Behavioural Economics proponents, the folks who suddenly discover co-creation and God know what else.
Everyone in media is a doer. Creative agencies have departments. Account folks ‘handle the client’ with varying appreciation for planning, creative, developing or whatever. Creatives are probably as far away from pure craft as they have ever been. With art directors who cannot draw and writers who cannot write copy. It’s for the studio to visualize stuff and the suits to check copy. While the planners have stopped getting their hands dirty with research and don’t know how telly ads get made, the nuances of casting and many don’t go to client meetings that often. Digital folks of course, just sit in dark corners coding. I stereotype a bit, but you get the gist and probably recognize it.
Now media organisations of course have their departments. But in each one, there is no client handler who can get away without knowing the minute details of their chosen field, and actually doing an element of the planning or buying themselves, based on good evidence based consumer insight. In a world where innovation and content ideas don’t just come from creative agencies, they also need to have ideas too.
If anything, as the media landscape has become more complex, the craft skills have gone up. I’m still intimidated by the complexity and hard work that goes into good TV buying, it’s every bit as skillful and demanding as the shoot for the stuff that will fill the space bought.
But putting together an integrated plan across channels, that will achieve cut through and makes the most of a list of available channels, innovations and prototypes that grows daily, that takes mix of deep knowledge, insight, imagination, rigour and hard work. And then the same people who have done the thinking need to sell it in and make it all happen.
And when you’re at the sharp end of what’s going in your field, when you have to do so much yourself, rather than hand it all over to another department and forget about it..it keeps you at the top of the game, forces you to evolve, which in turn means the organization is always moving forward.
Media is where the innovation happens as the great work by Steven Johnson shows,
great leaps forward come from people building on others’ work. It comes from good people being around lots of other good people. Now some creative agencies are pretty good at bringing in other talents. Film makers, tech geniuses etc. But mostly, they jealously guard the creative project.
My little three year old girl is very independent and insists on doing everything ‘all by myself’. It’s only when she gets in a terrible mess that she asks for help. It can be very entertaining, but watching her nearly strangling herself with her vest before finally holding it out and saying’ fink Daddy should do it’ doesn’t get us to swimming lessons on time now does it?
Media agencies HAVE to work with media owners. We have no choice but to work with the very, very best in their field. Who knows social media better than Twitter? Exactly. Working in TV, especially on a sponsorship or partnership thingy, well, you’re working with people who know how to entertain people and make content people want to experience.
So not only do you get the very best advice and stuff to play with, all that cleverness and expertise constantly challenges and rubs off on you.
If you want to be good, hang around good people. Media agencies have that in the job description
Media agencies have no choice but to constantly evolve. When you strip away the hype media agencies still think hard about where to buy space, and then buy it. They get paid for leading overall strategy a little more, they brief content more, they even make some of it, but it comes down to planning and buying media. That media is changing every day. The pace is only getting faster. Which means that evolution is built into a media agency’s business model. We’re automatically at the cutting edge and we know what is useful and what it Emperor’s New Clothes because we have to constantly talk to, collaborate and negotiate with the people who at right at the very sharp end of it all. We still sell TV plans of course, we still recommend 30 second commercials as the most efficient buy, because they are. But we know everything about sky Adsmart, we know that Programmatic TV is a possibility and that it’s likely TV might be bought on impressions, like digital, in the near future. Just as Twitter works directly with us on our briefs and tells us all about what they have in BETA
Media agencies are not blinded by the word ‘brand’. At some point, creative agencies began to talk about ads that disrupted the category, that build brand values as credible objectives themselves. They justified ads that didn’t necessarily result in hard business effects by pointing to results in brand tracking studies. They began doing ‘brand planning’ and messing around with brand essences and such. Media agencies have bought brand ads of course, but as they’ve been charged more and more with taking responsibility for strategy on some level, because they don’t get to do brand planning, they don’t make brand ads and don’t create brand onions, they naturally look for real problems to solve, rather than brand problems, and then use their powers to solve them in the most efficient and effective way they can. The problem with being the custodian of the brand, is that you tend to think ‘brand’ is the problem, solution and Holy Grail all in one.
So there you have it. Maybe I’m showing a new bias based on my new circumstances.
Don’t get me wrong. There are fantastic creative and digital agencies that are just brilliant to work with and ace to be employed by. Just as there are terrible media agencies, some which are relics from the ‘luvvie age’ some that are blatantly steal partner agency turf. Many that don’t plan, they simply justify the biggest media budget they can get away with.
But I am beginning to think as a general rule, they are increasingly where it’s at.
And so we have a new Star Wars trailer.
No point telling you I’m looking forward to a new Star Wars film.
Since I was born in 1974 and I’m male, it’s sort of inevitable.
Because the Star Wars world is divided between those too scarred by the prequel trilogy and those that insist on living in hope.
Anyway, the prequels were not as bad as received wisdom likes to claim.
It’s just that die hard original fans saw the first film as little boy and nothing can ever match how it felt to watch those films for the first time.
When I listen to my five year old begging for a Darth Maul lightsabre you know those films had something good about them.
From time to time, we all need to feel like little boys and little girls again.
It’s why I just read the Hobbit again. When I was eight it was magical. It still is, not because I haven’t grown up, it’s just that the wonder of being that age comes flooding back.
The feeling that everything was amazing and special.
That Mummy and Daddy were much loved constants that knew everything and would always be there.
Where December seemed to take forever and ever.
That nothing mattered more than if Vader really was Luke’s father, except, perhaps, the Raleigh Chopper you were hoping against hope would appear on Christmas morning.
How lucky I am to have grown in a little world where I never had to worry about real things, apart from the odd bully and relentless teasing from my elder sisters.
How fortunate (for now, you never know what’s around the corner) my children are able to grow up in a similar way.
That's why some folks can't get over Star Wars and similar things. It's what their childhood was made of and who doesn't want to feel like that again every now and then?
One of my many failings is my useless sense of direction. SATNAV and Google Maps are a godsend for a numpty like me.
Blatant excuse to show this..........
I was lucky though to have grown up in a time when there were not the tools to do it for you. The AA Route planner and real maps became my friends.
And I got very used to being lost. Got used to not panicking, leaving enough time in the first place and getting there.
Which means when the tools let you down (and they frequently do) you actually want me in the car with you.
When it comes to the tools for our job, media agencies tend to be amazed how loads of creative agencies you will have heard of don’t have some of the basic planning tools.
I don’t mean the sexy stuff like TGI Worldpanel, NVision or the latest YouGov Profiles doo dah (you can get a watered down version of Profiles here).
Stuff like basic TGI, Mintel, Touchpoints or access to WARC.
Now these tools are bloody useful of course, but they have problems.
TGI is based on claimed behavior and as has been said ad nauseum, people rarely say what they do.
Touchpoints is more diarised of course, and real time reporting means you get a decent idea of what people do. But no clue about how they feel about it, or why they do what they do.
Mintel is really someone else’s opinion on market share and TGI. And don’t believe their observed trends – it usually means it has been observed twice.
WARC case studies are really helpful for all sorts of industry stuff, case studies and awards papers are great for inspiration but every single one is a representation of a perfect world, where everything works like clockwork, where there has been an ‘invented crisis’ and some earth shattering insight to overcome it. When of course, every agency process is a variation of chaos, post rationalization and gut feel.
The tools are great for the ‘sell’ – case studies and data that justifies the thinking are great.
But the problems with tools is they’re too easy.
They keep you at your desk, settling for easy answers that at best tell you ‘what’ rather than ‘why’.
They allow you to have an opinion and then justify it.
Rather than finding a fresh perspective.
They allow you to have a point of view on your target customer without ever having met them.
They are Trojan Horses of the obvious.
Now, of course, creative folks without the tools can be VERY guilty of assertion without making any effort to prove it.
And some quotes from Trendwatching or NVision loosely linked to your ‘insight’ don’t count.
But the good organizations are great at having an informed opinion by constantly going out and meeting their customers, reading what they read and doing what they do.
I think a great example was when AMV wanted to prove that Sainsbury’s customers sleep shopped, so they filmed a Gorilla roaming about instore, being mostly ignored by customers and showed it to the client.
Deep insight you won’t get from TGI.
Aligned with the fact that most bought cookbooks are left unread you have a lovely tension between the pressure of habit and routine and the pressure to be a ‘foodie’ you get ‘Try something new today’.
By all means use the tools, but only as a starting point and by way of the final ‘sell’.
Please do the desk research, all the crumbly stuff out there on the web.
By you can’t beat leaving your desk and actually being your audience.
Because the problem with relying on Satnav, and planning tools, is that you don’t know you’re lost.
Just following on from this post about doing as much stuff as you can, in the hope something unexpected and good will come of it..
The evil genius Rob Campbell somehow goaded me into accepting a challenge to see Queen live in January.
For the record, I hate Queen. Really hate them. Maybe irrationally so.
Maybe the pain will mitigated by the lack of Freddie Bloody Mercury.
Yet I will be going, posting a selfie and blogging an honest report.
With an open mind.
I doubt anything good will come from this new experience.
But you never know.
If that's not putting my money where my mouth is, I truly do not know what is.
I had some pretty good training on digital stuff recently.
Some of the specifics - you know, programmatic buying, blind networks etc.
This stuff is important as I’m getting more convinced that, whatever kind of agency you are in, you need to get to grips with the nuts of bolts of the technology that’s out there and how content and stuff tends to actually get in front of people.
I suppose it’s like great Formula One Driver know their cars inside out and work with the engineers as much as possible.
This matter firstly because of first mover advantage. If you’re first to take advantage of new technology or media stuff, you get the chance to do something really special.
Subservient Chicken springs to mind.
As does this Honda video – a genuinely ‘interactive’ video that integrates with the story.
It also matters because it’s how you put things together that matters. Which means a fundamental grip of what works and what works together.
This great Yeo Valley case study wouldn’t have got so much traction on the back of one hero spot without working so well with social media.
Broadcast working with Facebook was fundamental to this Yorkshire Tea campaign.
What is also true of the last two examples, is how they are still TV campaigns.
Not TV as we use to know it, but television still.
Because, despite the emerging tradition to kill off telly, it’s still the most efficient channel for building business profit, against a whole range of secondary objectives.
It’s just that it’s role, and how it works with other channels and assets HAS changed.
Funnily enough, there’s evidence it’s also the most efficient and driving genuine widespread word of mouth.
Which brings me back to that training.
They made a fair point, that we have to assume that whatever content you put out there can be played with by people on all sorts of networks. There is little you can do about it, so you may as well embrace it.
But what they didn’t say was that you will be very, very lucky if anyone can be bothered, if you intend it or not.
And you have to assume they won’t, which is the most commercial way of looking at things.
Since, as has been discussed by cleverer people than me, it’s the light buyers that notice a brands stuff the least that matter for growth the most. The people the least likely to engage.
The only point of people getting involved with your stuff is how it will extend your reach, to infiltrate the barrier of indifference most of us have for most of the things we buy with some sort of social proof or whatever.
They used these examples to show the power of people playing with your content and getting involved.
But nothing would have happened without, of all things, a finely crafted ad that, yes, was really cool and funny, but also dealt with a specific truth about how shower gel gets bought (by women for men) and a bigger truth the brand could play with –what it means to be a man in our porous, ironic culture.
So don’t forget, be a digital engineer, its essential these days, but don’t forget to understand some older fundamentals too.
Basically, few people care, and the role of people that do is to make them notice.
I was reminded last week that the internet grew out a US military drive to increase security.
That’s right. It’s not up there with moveable type of course, but the internet has still created a seismic shift in freedom of information and control of content.
Out of a drive to limit it.
Whereas the World Wide Web was one the unexpected by-products of setting CERN to send atoms whizzing around and smashing into each other.
Which goes to show that when you set out to do stuff, not only do you not know where it all may end.
If you open your mind to the possibility, all sorts of wonderful things can tumble out along the way.
It can be the exact opposite of what you intended in the first place.
I guess that’s why science funding is so important. Just by trying to do all sorts of improbable stuff, we often get far more unexpected value.
Perhaps that’s an argument for more learning for learning’s sake and a subtle swipe at those who see education only in terms of economic ROI. But let’s not go there.
Looking at the day job, it’s why I think pitching is healthy, even if you don’t win.
The tight deadlines, adrenalin and the way they bring teams together can bring other benefits.
Great ideas can develop along the way to save for later, along with the main crux of your pitch.
Moreover, if you put together a pitch team of folks that don’t usually work together, it’s great for creating an even closer knit agency, while the getting used to other views and frames of reference develops everyone’s world view and skill set.
It’s also why planners should be as interested in as much non-work stuff as possible.
Great ideas are as much about drawing new connections between things as ‘bolts from the blue’. The more fodder you have, the more likely you’ll produce the goods.
Put another way, read, watch and experience as much as you can, you never know when it might come in handy.
My little boy has recently turned 5 and started school.
If that wasn't enough, he has his own football team kit and happily chases the ball with his little friends every Saturday morning.
I wasn't ready for this picture. He's all grown up.
I still remember the first time we brought him home like it was yesterday.
Of course, to be honest, there were times in the last five years when I wanted some time alone. Or just a sleep in.
But these moments when he's suddenly all grown up make me want to re-tread every single moment with an even greater awareness and attention. Now he plays by himself more. Now, when his friends are around he sometimes forgets we're there.
I’ve worked in quite a few different agencies.
Each has been very different, starting with a creative agency getting to grips having to do more than traditional ads, right at the start of the original ‘What do about the internet?” question, when agencies began to think being able to design and build websites.
Blogs were a long way off, let alone anything that looked like social media.
This contrasts sharply with my experience these days in media agencies.
They’re absolutely on top of their game dealing with the continuous upheaval and change their industry faces.
Communications strategy is no longer owned by the creative (or digital) agency and, to some degree, nor is core brand strategy. How can it when a huge proportion is what gets planned, across paid and earned I hasten to add, doesn’t actually need much stuff created for the client by an external agency?
(Can I just say I bloody hate the term ‘brand planning’ or ‘brand strategy’. Yes, I’ve seen the same numbers as you, that show the payback from great campaigns that build and refresh memory structures etc.
But this is merely a constant need over time to reach as many buyers as possible with stuff that is consistent with, and develops, core associations in the mind.
Rarely is the immediate PROBLEM the brand. The problem is nearly always about removing specific reasons not to buy. Defining the issue, then going about the job of solving it.
So many modern campaigns include content created in partnership - with the people that own the media, or folks at an even sharper end of creativity – film makers, writers, technology outfits and whatever else – ‘strategy’ no longer means what you fill the ads with.
Now, as a strategy type in a media agency, you’d expect me to say that.
But the reason I jumped ship from the creative outfit a worked with wasn’t just down to the creative director with the ego dwarfing his skills, or head of new business that thought he was a planner, not even the general complacency of the place.
It was simply that I was getting concerned at the amount of ‘ad tweaking’ briefs I was working on.
After getting used to, in many cases, developing digital stuff around the work other creative agencies were doing, it was a little too much to find in latter years, I was mostly being given some core thinking from the media folks.
And lots of it was pretty good too.
In fact, it seemed that much of the innovations and drive to solve business problems rather than just ‘marketing’ or even ‘creative’ problems was coming from the media folks.
So here I am. Probably quite well qualified to comment on what’s different between creative/digital/media agencies and what is the same.
5 things that are the same
The other agencies are charlatans. They don’t work as hard, they get paid more, they’re not held to the same high standards as you are. It’s so easy on the other side, you’ve often thought of jumping ship for an easier life, to make a bigger impact and get paid more.
Clients just don’t get how hard you work, how you’re always juggling, how their briefs are never clear enough. They always brief you at the last minute and expect a response now. But when it comes to invoices, they pay as late as possible and query everything.
Suppliers to agency folk, researchers, media owners, production companies, tech companies, printers etc think agency folk don’t get how hard they work, how they’re always juggling, how their briefs are never clear enough. They always brief you at the last minute and expect a response now.
Many agency folk jump ship and work on the client side, only to get a nasty shock at the stuff they have to deal with, things well outside their experience or skills. Like dealing with a supermarket buyer if you’re in FMCG. Like dealing with sales team. Like being actually responsible for sales. Like working in a normal office without a groovy coffee machine. Like having to spend 90% of your time having to deal with stuff that is nothing to do with ‘campaigns’ or ‘communications’/ They miss the good old days.
They wish they were paid more, they hate the new world of procurement and know for certain the other agencies get paid more than they do.
5 Things that are different
Creative agencies secretly wish it was 1995 again, they could just make ads and bamboozle clients. Media agencies are torn between the simplicity of the old days where you could just negotiate the right amount of TVR’s – vs the brilliance of the new world where they can be lead agency all of a sudden. Digital agencies wish it was 2003 again when no one understood what they did, including themselves, but they could charge the earth for it. PR agencies don’t care when it is, as long as no one asks them to report ROI in the detail everyone else does.
Creative and digital agencies rarely have lunch breaks. Media agencies nearly always have lunch breaks and will not answer the phone to anyone between 1 and 2 pm. PR agencies are out to lunch all day.
Creative agencies spend ages on two IPA Awards year to prove the stuff they do works. Media agencies report on everything they do, reach is actually a serious measure. Digital agencies can prove everything they do, clicks are a serious metric. PR agencies have got to grips with the new world of accountability and do far more than equivalent media value and share insightful stuff like ‘likes’.
Media agencies have ‘invention’ or ‘content’ departments to disguise the fact they’re doing more creative and want to do even more. Creative and digital agencies have ‘creative departments’ (so little imagination) and planners that innocently trot out media recommendations in the guise of ‘brand behaviour. PR agencies do PR.
Creative agencies make their money charging a lot of time for a make-believe process. Media agencies make their money on commissions and charging time for a make believe process. Digital agencies charge for what they can get the client to understand. PR agencies are lovely.
I’m back in the pool again.
One of the benefits of the new job is that only two minutes’ walk from a decent pool.
The other is that it’s the kind of place where people actually take a lunch break.
So it transpires that a few days a week, I’m in the pool for a go half hour.
Now half an hour for swimmer isn’t much.
When I was training as a boy, we did about four to six hours a day. There wasn’t a day when my body didn’t hurt. I don’t mean the actual training, I mean the ache in my muscle after. The only thing that would stop it is more training.
It’s not even much next to what I was doing a few years ago to train for the Great North Swim – about a solid hour a day.
But now I’m riding around 20 miles a day, it’s not about the fitness and stuff, it’s about just doing it.
My obsession with getting on the road bike is all consuming, but my first love with always be swimming.
Because I will always be a clumsy fool on land, but when I get in the pool, suddenly my body assumes an air of grace. It knows this is something it likes to do well.
Also, cycling is freedom but riding is solitude and for an introvert like me, being alone with your thoughts is a rare pleasure. When I used to train properly, it was far from lonely, with all my team mates, united in agony and loving what they did. But now, there isn’t a silence quite like being underwater.
So how is it going?
At first, muscles I forgot I had woke up in flaming torture.
Then they calmed down.
My feel in the water was dreadful. That’s the thing swimmers need the most, and what disappears the most quickly if you stay out of the pool.
But it’s coming back.
While all the hours on the bike mean stamina isn’t a problem, as far as the lungs are concerned anyway.
What still hurts are the arms and shoulders.
Anyway, as embracing my long lost lover has been great, especially as it coexists with my new flame, my beloved cycling.