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.