Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Top of the Tortoises


There's a whole new area developing in assessing how good companies are performing on the triple bottom line. The latest new Index looking at how good companies actually are (in every sense of the word) is from Tortoise Media - The Tortoise Media Responsibility 100 Index

This index takes the FTSE 100 and rates these on indices relating to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, across the two broad areas People and Planet. There's a full detailed transparent methodology link included on the website for those interested in the nitty gritty and yes, of course, there is a degree of judgement in terms of how the indices are derived and weighted. 

Always worth bearing in mind.

Looking at the results, Top of the Tortoises this year are:

1. Unilever

2. Severn Trent

3. Diageo

4. AstraZeneca

5. BT Group

There are several things I like about this index - first of all, there's the "talk" and "walk" division - what the companies are committing to, and what they are actually doing. And I believe both are vital. Companies that simply donate a bucketload of cash to a trendy cause on the spur of the moment aren't in it for the long-haul, usually. 

It's good to see the top five from a complete mix of sectors - retail & consumer, engineering, pharma and services are all represented. And yes, it is the FTSE Top 100 which is generally about established companies, but it's encouraging to see all the Top 5 were established in the last century (with roots going much further back, in some cases) - these are certainly not "new kids on the block" who have social and environmental responsibility baked-in from the beginnings.

What I'd really like to see accompanying this is a "Hare Index" of growth to see if the third part of the triple bottom line really does go hand-in-hand with the other two to the finishing line.

Friday, 2 October 2020

Back to Business

I recently read a document that was recommended via one of the world's biggest and most influential planning communities. It was called the Visibility Brief and has been produced by a well-established US agency. The brief is described as a "bias firewall" to be used in the creation of "more representative cultural goods". 

Using the search function, I looked for the following words in the brief:

Objective. Sales. Growth. Creativity. Effective.

None of these words have been used at all in the 19-page document.

This experience is similar to one related by Steve Harrison in his excellent book, can't sell won't sell

Steve wondered how he could help his clients in the coming recession, and what role in general the creative industries should take to keep the economy afloat during these "challenging times."  In June this year, he emailed the D&AD asking for a reading list of How To books or articles - useful stuff such as Advertising on a small budget, Writing copy that Sells, Creating a website that generates sales, How to plan media, How to write a brief and generally How to go about developing effective advertising in any medium.

The only reply he got was an "out of office" one.

However, the D&AD subsequently posted a couple of reading lists on their website: one of #staycation reading (rather heavy), replaced by 85 assorted sources to "educate yourself" about BLM.

These examples are symptomatic of the way that the ad industry has lost the plot and taken its eye off the ball, the main theme of can't sell won't sell

Reading this important book over the last couple of days, I realised that these ideas have also been at the forefront of my thinking over recent months.

The ad industry has become side-tracked and distracted away from its core business. One factor behind this is that agency people - particularly managers - are becoming increasingly less divergent in the way they think, and the values and opinions they hold. A consequence is that UK TV ads are markedly more annoying and less enjoyable than they were a couple of decades ago. They're also far less likely to be funny. And it goes without saying that this has consequences for effectiveness.

With a huge recession already kicking in, now is the worst possible time for this to be happening.

I strongly recommend this book - it's highly topical, funny, sharp, credible and readable.

My only little quibble (planner alert!) is that there isn't enough here about brand-building as driving long-term revenue, profit and general prosperity as well as short-term immediate sales effects produced by advertising.

It's given me a kick in the ivory tower for when I get too up in the clouds about purpose (I have my own views on purpose, here). I do hope that advertising doesn't become a completely dirty word, and that everyone in the industry can get on with what we do best - and get back to business.


Monday, 28 September 2020

Having it all (or as good as)

When I was a 20-something bright young thing starting in advertising, the women's magazines of the time were full of articles debating whether we women really could "Have It All." One person who has made a pretty damn good job of it is Rita Clifton, CBE. She's someone I can look at and say - yes, she's both personally and professionally fulfilled and very much still at the top of her game. Rita is the author of a new book, entitled Love Your Imposter.

I worked with Rita Clifton in the late 80s and early 90s at Saatchi & Saatchi London. She was my boss on the British Airways account. Reading Rita's book was like leaping into a rediscovered video-tape in a sort of Alice-in-Wonderland fashion: I was back in the crazy world of yuppies and Concorde, shoulder pads, strange new-agey gurus and The Only Way is Up.

Rita always spoke a lot of sense, but never in a preachy kind of way. She led by example, and what an example she was! Reading this book was like listening to her chatting - so different to many business books, with warmth, openness and a sprinkle of self-deprecating humour pervading its pages.

The honesty - and specifically, that you have to work and understand the language of finance to get to the top - is just one appealling aspect of this book. Rather than the glib advice to "be yourself", Rita is very clear that you have to stretch to get on, that there is a skill to knowing when to toe the line, when to fit in and when to stand out, and an art to getting yourself taken seriously. (Oh, those memories from my early career days on being lectured about "gravitas" - not from Rita, I hasten to add). The chapters on finance and numbers were a well-needed kick and reminder to me that I must always keep one eye on solid ground even if the other is floating up in the ether of visions and purposes.

I'm less of a fan of personal branding and the whole personal development shebang than Rita is, but maybe that's telling in itself. At a few points in the book, I had little aha moments about where I've gone wrong, and toppled off the career ladder a couple of times. I even wondered if I have a reverse imposter tendency now and then. The book certainly gave me food for thought, and encouragement that it's not too late, even now ...

I know that Rita worked bloody hard and made sacrifices to get where she is - and this success couldn't happen to a brighter, friendlier and all-round-good-egg sort of person. Thank you, Rita, for giving me the belief that I could make it - even if in the end my choices in life took me in another direction.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Why can't we live together?

At the end of 2019, I blogged about reconciliation, in the hope that 2020 might be the year, both on the political front and in the world of marketing, that we might be able to reconcile differences, establish common ground and move forward on this basis.

Unfortunately, the common ground that came upon us was something we hadn't wished for - a rather nasty and persistent virus.  The first couple of months did see some pulling together against adversity, which I think gave me renewed hope in humanity and what we can achieve if we work with what can unite us and leave divisiveness behind.

But unfortunately, the old divisions have crept back and new ones have come to the fore. And yes, I do believe that without differences and a certain amount of friction and tension, there's no progression, but in the world at large as well as the microcosm of marketing, there still seems to be a lot of black and white thinking going on.

Binary debates in marketing Source: Martin Weigel

Rather than aligning myself to one camp or another, I've learned along the way that the truth about these things usually involves "a bit of both", whether its human and machine, purpose and profit or brand-building and activation.

There a super article from Tom Roach here, which looks at the false choice between long- and short-term marketing or brand/performance. The approach is to harmonise short-term sales and long-term growth, with "share of search" as a promising metric to predict market share that both camps (if we really have to have these camps) can get behind. Thus selling "both immediately and forever" as Jeremy Bullmore put it.

Mark Ritson has summed all of this up rather well in his article about "Bothism" - the rare capacity to not only see the value of both sides of the the marketing story, but actively consider and then co-opt them into any subsequent marketing endeavour in an appropriate way.

And yes, I do have The Beatles and The Stones, Oasis and Blur in my music collection. As well as a lot of other weirder stuff, which is another story.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself


In the lead-up to the US Election, the fear-mongering has long since started. Of course, playing on fear has been the weapon of choice for propaganda and political campaigns since civilisation began. Alarming visions of the future should you not vote for us and they get in.

And what better time to play the fear card than now, when most people of the world have just reason to be utterly terrified if they stop too long to think about it.

Fear is one of those nasty psychological levers that's also given advertising and marketing a bad name. It's used in more subtle ways, of course. It used to be fear of what the neighbours might think, fear of not keeping up with the Joneses, fear of being a failure.

Fear of problems you didn't even know you had.

These days it's fear of everything from not being popular enough on social media, through to saying or doing the wrong thing regarding social issues, through to completely ruining the planet for future generations due to lazy, selfish and thoughtless behaviour. On top of all the other fears.

A lot of this fear ballyhoo must come from the culture and worldview that pervades many organisations (maybe more so during these times, when people are genuinely frightened for their livelihoods). The acronym  of the VUCA world is still very much in evidence - as well as the advice on how to arm yourself against it via the alternative VUCA (Vision, Understanding, Clarity & Agility)

Sensible advice. And yet, it all still feels like there's a war on, that everyone is in mortal danger, that we need strong generals and superior firepower. I recently read Empire of the Sun, and the way that young Jim manages to survive the war in the internment camp is to relish it. I thought about my own spin on VUCA here, where volatile becomes spontaneous, uncertainty becomes surprise, complex becomes diverse and ambiguous becomes enigmatic.

Should we be taking it as a given that uncertainty is always bad?

As C.G.Jung put it,

…I had the feeling that I had pushed to the brink of the world; what was of burning interest to me was null and void for others, and even a cause for dread. Dread of what? I could find no explanation for this. After all, there was nothing preposterous or world-shaking in the idea that there might be events which overstepped the limited categories of space, time and causality.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Data, information, knowledge and wisdom

Photo by Martin Schitto, July 2020

Would I rather be knowledgable or wise? Can you be one without being the other?

I see a kind of progression, according to synthesis level, from data to information to knowledge to wisdom.

In a preamble to one of their articles The School of Life picked up the distinction between knowledge and wisdom, suggesting that knowledge is the accumulation of facts, figures and theories, while wisdom is the further synthesis of this knowledge with experience.

Knowledge can be forgotten, while wisdom can't.

Knowledge is specific to subject and context, while wisdom is universal and timeless. 

Regarding the latter point, many moons ago, I did my A-levels following my Cambridge Entrance Exams (this was a bit topsy-turvy, but that's always been my way). I had to swot much more for the A-Levels than the Cambridge Entrance Exam as these were more about regurgitating my knowledge - the structure of DNA and how it all worked, for example. For the Cambridge Entrance Exam in Biology, you'd get asked something like "What is the importance of water to life."

I've written a post or two about A.I, and I fancy that a machine these days may have fared better in my Biology A-Level than I did. I don't discount the idea that a machine could be described as "knowledgeable" - why not, if we already describe machines as "intelligent"?

But I doubt that we'll ever have a machine that is wise in the way that a human being is.

I'd welcome a change from thinking about "data-driven insights" to "the wisdom of insight".

The rather pensive photo of me in my cellar pub had me philosophising, about the Road to Excess and all that stuff.

I know I'm doing something wrong as I don't seem to have cracked the "wealthy" bit of the healthy, wealthy and wise thing, although I'm not sure wisdom brings wealth these days.

Maybe it's a case of "Late to bed and late to rise makes a (wo)man happy, healthy-ish and wise"?

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Method in Madness?

There was a time early in my agency career when creativity just happened - in a mysterious way - and questioning how the the creatives got to their ideas was likely to earn you at best a sarcastic riposte, and at worst eternal banishment from the creative floor.

Of course, we had a high-level idea of how creativity worked, but on the whole we were interested first and foremost in cracking ideas that fit the brief - and if they were really cracking, the brief could be made to fit ;)

These days it's all very different. There are no mad geniuses prowling the second floor and throwing typewriters out of windows. We're all team players, and openness and transparency is all the rage, including the tedious, usually post-rationalised blow-by-blow thought process of how you arrived where you arrived. I blame all this Design Thinking gubbins - the thought of scrums and sprints gives me the heebie-jeebies - it doesn't sound agile to me, rather completely exhausting.

Creative processes are described in flow charts and icons:

Occasionally with a few disembodied arms and hands - or brains - to add the "human-centric" touch:

Can I be the only one that feels as if these standardised processes lead to standardised ideas?

Even in a completely different world - literature and fiction - authors seem only too keen to display their working on social media, usually in the form of a forest-slaying over-abundance of Post-It notes:

I really don't want to read that novel, however it turns out.

My favourite representation of the creative process is this one:
I take a deep breath at this point and tell myself that it's a good thing that there are different ways to approach creativity and as long as I'm not forced into one of these flow-charts of Post-It proliferations, then let it be.

Adobe Create have come up with a rather nifty tool (not a process) to discover your own creative type.  No surprise that I was the Visionary (who looks like the lovechild of a cactus and a cucumber - well, that was a surprise).

And, for things to go pretty swimmingly, I have to get together, not with a cactus or a cucumber, but with a Thinker.

Who I am sure comes armed with a stack of flow-charts and a catering pack of Post-Its.