All my Huffington Post pieces can be read here.


The pieces I wrote when CEO of Corporate Edge, here.


And everything else is set out below. 



Latest Posts

Magic Markers, Letraset, razor-sharp scalpels, studios thick with the fug of petrol, tobacco and various dangerous chemicals …


In some respects, to anyone who was around at the time, the 1980s don’t actually seem like that long ago.

We remember The A-Team, black forest gateau, TV-AM and red braces. We remember Boy George, the miners’ strike and the Falklands War.

But the day to day working reality of a 1980s design studio, as set out above, feels like an age ago: even to those who were there.

Many years later, in an agency I was running, we set up a weekly series of masterclasses. It happened every Friday, and was aimed at developing a bit more of a Renaissance mindset in our staff.

One Friday, I asked a chap called Stu Turnbull to lead the session – centred around the theme of change, the inevitability of change, and how we all make choices about how we view, and respond to, change.

Experienced, caring and relentlessly upbeat, Stu aced it.

He was effortlessly elegant and generous in his delivery. He talked about the change he had seen. And he poked fun at himself and his erstwhile colleagues. Stu described the laughter that greeted the grandiose claims of a kooky, little-known Californian called Steve Jobs – that someday, the little beige box and its tiny screen that sat untouched in the corner, would take care of pretty much everything that Stu and his colleagues in production spent their time doing.

“But of course,” whispered some of the agency’s fresher faces, “Surely that was all so obvious?”

Not as obvious as the rich irony that was being played out as Stuie spoke.

Because this generation is in danger of exhibiting the very same, very dangerous, very sanctimonious smugness that did for the Magic Markers and the people who used them.

It’s true: right now, we are kings, we rule. This is our time. But, to quote the great Gary Barlow, “someday this will be someone else’s dream.”

And, before too long — and only if we’re exceptionally lucky — we’ll be the ones taking a bunch of giggling kidults through why we thought the iPhone & changed everything. Again.

Because the future doesn’t care about iPhones and iPads, Androids or, dare I say it, Google Glass, just like it didn’t care about Letraset and manual typesetting.

Generation 2015′s ability to describe the studio of 2045? It’s like Tomorrow’s World all over again. And likely to be about as (in)accurate.

Why? Because when human beings think about the future, they tend to focus on what will be different. Almost invariably, therefore, the conversation naturally centres around what is, perhaps counter-intuitively, the lowest common denominator: tools and technology. Hence the predictions of personal jet packs, the ‘pills instead of meals,’ the three hour journey from London to Sydney; or the hover boards that we’d all be riding in 2015.

Futurology in this respect is no more reliable than economics: a black art, and a truly ephemeral one at that. Working out what might be different in the future doesn’t have a great track record.

So as those of us who work in communications look ahead from 2015, instead of trying to explain how our world might look different, perhaps we should think about how it might look the same?

Because it seems to me, to paraphrase a more eloquent Jefferson, there are is a certain self-evident truth at stake here. And that truth is unchanging, holding as good in 2015 as it did in 1985, as it did in 1955, and as it will in 2045.

Like all truths, it is simple. People will always want to communicate, to be understood. And if we accept that corporations have ‘personality’, then they are no different, and they want to communicate, to be understood too.

So to get wound up about whether a Magic Marker can or should be replaced by Apple’s latest ‘Paint’ app is to miss the point. Because neither has ever been, nor ever will be, the star of the show.

That slot always has been, and always will be, reserved for something much more important.

Agencies obsess about channel. But Stu’s presentation set out the folly and futility of such an approach. Channels move on, develop, change, grow, become obsolete. As an agency, competence in different channels is, of course, required but that is not what clients are buying. Not the clients worth having anyway.

Because clients care, have cared, and will always care, about their message, about being understood. The channel is just the vehicle. So the iPads, the HTML5, the Magic Markers, the Letraset, the Apps and the rest, are just part of that vehicle.


And, whatever they say, clients really only care about the vehicle to the extent that it gets them to the right destination. Very seldom do they want to look under the hood.


Don Draper and his pals on Madison knew that.


And so does Stu Turnbull.

- this piece first kindly published by Campaign Magazine


Decisions, decisions.

Posted on 20th January, 2015

I have just finished reading Boris’ brilliant biography of Churchill.


One of the (many) striking things about our wartime Prime Minister was the extent to which he was ready to make decisions; especially the hard ones.


The Mayor of London rates this characteristic very highly. Indeed, I remember some years ago, in a wide-ranging interview he gave to the Evening Standard, he himself was quoted as saying:


“People don’t care what decision you make, they just bloody well want a decision”


It’s an unusual – and somewhat risky – thing for someone whose job depends on votes to say, but is he right? And what does this mean for agencies?


A chap called Marcus Buckingham, in his book, The One Thing You Need To Know, argues that the number one priority of leaders should be to offer clarity.


Indeed, leaders have a duty, he continues, to set out beyond a shadow of a doubt where they stand, and what they will or will not tolerate. This duty of clarity is so acute because it is what those being led want. And they want this, says Buckingham, more than anything else at all – including liking or agreeing with whatever is being said.


In my experience, this clarity is in very short supply in agency-land. And the effects are obvious, at every level: from pre-pitch tail-chasing to the juvenile tediousness of agency politics to the continued tolerance of manifestly bad, if not criminal, behaviour.


Take a second to consider the most effective leader you can think of – business, political, even social. Is that person clear? Indeed, would you go so far as to say that being clear – even when that clarity drives you crazy – is one of their defining characteristics?


In making and implementing clear decisions, one way or another, leaders set the agenda. It may not be an agenda that others like, but at least it gives them something to react to. Even die-hard opponents of an idea ultimately tend to want a clear decision: it gives them something tangible to be “against”.


Dithering has never had a good press. Take a decision, good or bad, and one way or another you set the agenda. 


For business leaders, this is a core responsibility – to ourselves if no one else.


- this piece first kindly published by Campaign Magazine

Do You Hear The People Sing?

Posted on 18th November, 2014

- or The Great European Democratic Deficit


Henry Kissinger once famously asked who he had to call if he wanted to speak to Europe.


For Americans, and perhaps much of the rest of the world, the clarity and simplicity provided by a single, united European voice has its attractions. Europeans might also see the benefits, at least as an abstract idea.


But right now, the vast majority can only see it through the lens of the European Union as is, today. And that lens is looking increasingly dirty, if not cracked.


Over the weekend, one of the Spanish national dailies, El Pais, dedicated it first few pages to 'el futuro de la UE': the future of the EU. Like its counterparts in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and elsewhere, this respected title is perplexed by the pan-continental surge in support for populist, anti EU parties.


From Britain's United Kingdom Independence Party, to Italy's Five Star Movement and Spain's Podemos, there can be no doubt that an anti-EU tide is rising. And fast. These populist parties are regularly capturing up to a quarter of the popular vote at European elections, and sometimes even at national elections too.


Why? Well, this is precisely what causes a good deal of hand-wringing in the traditional European parties and intelligent press. This is not least because the 'new' parties are the political equivalent of cartoon gorillas - clumsy, unsophisticated and a-not-so welcome reminder of Europe's not-so-distant (and not-so-great) past.


But beware overdoing the historical parallels What is happening today is far from the uniform, crypto-fascist craze a la 1930s. Au contraire, the new parties confound the European political establishment by refusing to sing from the same hymn sheet.


Podemos, for example, is seemingly bent on bringing to Spain its own version of the insane Chavismo polity that has done for Venezuela. In France, meanwhile, Marine LePen's Front National is very much anti-immigration. In Italy, comedian-turned-demogogue Beppe Grillo is spoiling for a fight with the European Central Bank whilst in England, Nigel Farage's UKIP is trying to work out if it wants to have an American style 'Tea Party' or to get into bed with Labour, the British socialists.


Confused? You're not alone. The intellectual incoherence and contradictions frighten the life out of the European political establishment. The disparateness makes it harder for them to engage their new enemy, to say nothing of their popular appeal. So what tends to emerge is a classic European high-handed dismissiveness; the political equivalent of the snooty Parisian waiter. Needless to say, this is not well received.


Nor is it necessary. Because the connective tissue, the red thread, that links all these popular movements, is in fact obvious. It is the increasing powerlessness that ordinary Europeans feel over their ability to make a difference to their own lives, let alone anyone elses. What is not always evident on this side of the ocean is that the European Union is not, in fact, a terribly democratic affair.


Platitudes are, of course, uttered, and Members of the European Parliament are rolled out as examples of citizen power, but the reality is that the heart of the European project is deeply undemocratic. And that is because real power sits not with anyone who has been elected, but with an unelected commissariat, a bureaucracy: the European Commission.


This body is, in reality, at least as powerful in Europe as Congress is in the United States, but that is where the parallel ends. Because European Commissioners are in effect latter day prefects; civil servants-cum-governors, with budgets and staffs to match. Unlike members of Congress, their only real legitimacy stems from their nomination by the Prime Minister of their home country (most of whom themselves, of course, are only indirectly elected).


What's more, by the time initial Prime Ministerial nominations have been horse-traded behind the scenes (to an extent that would make a US Senator blush), the depressing hand of the Lowest Common Denominator is all-too-often visible. Given the width, depth and breadth of the European Union's (largely self-awarded) remit, and notwithstanding the existence of the European Parliament (ask a European to name their MEP......), the ability of the average European to effect any meaningful political change to their own lives is exceedingly limited.


Americans, for historical and cultural reasons, have a much keener and well-formed sense of 'freedom' than most Europeans. They can, typically, articulate what 'freedom' means to them with a much greater degree of precision that the average European. But this does not mean that Europeans do not treasure democracy. Political freedom might have been perfected (and sloganized) in the United States, but we cannot forget that its origins are indisputably Old World.


People know when freedom is being taken away, or reduced. And universally, they do not like it. Some kick, some bite, some shout, some merely grumble - but all resist. And this is precisely what is happening across the continent now. The reactions are different; the cause is the same.


The real debate is not, or should not be, about immigration, or employment law or tax, or inflationary policy. Not yet, at least. Those topics, whilst hugely important in their own right, are, consciously or otherwise, manifestations of a far greater challenge: the Great European Democratic Deficit.


This is the primal challenge, and the one that needs to be met, head-on, if the European Union is to survive. It is, indeed, bold to assert that it is this issue, and not Islamic State or Putin's putative Soviet Union 2.0, that presents Europe's greatest existential threat. Bold, but not fanciful.


There is a fabulous Banksy piece that features a chimpanzee wearing a billboard. On the billboard is written:


'Laugh now, but one day we'll be in charge'


Given that lots of Europeans think that they already are, we might forgive them for throwing in their lot with the gorillas.


- this piece first kindly published by The Huffington Post

Pimp My Brief.

Posted on 13th November, 2014

I’ve got a pal who met his wife in a brothel.


Oh, don’t worry – it wasn’t his idea. It was his financial adviser’s. (He takes him everywhere.)


Anyway, the financial adviser knew a brothel where the Madam would listen really closely to my friend’s requirements. And she did! Sure enough, a string of specially selected beauties paraded themselves in front of my pal and his financial adviser (I told you he takes him everywhere), each promising ‘a really good time’ with ‘guaranteed results’.


There were one or two who caught my friend’s eye, but neither of them made it to the ‘second round’ that his financial adviser insisted on.  Eventually, worn down and just wanting to get some ‘business’, one of the women in particular slashed her hourly rates.


That woman is now my friend’s wife.


Except she’s not.


Of course she’s not. Because everyone reading this knows that the process described above, as well as being deeply unsavoury in almost every respect, is also exceptionally unlikely to engender the type of long-term relationship that underpins a successful marriage.


Yet the process described above is almost identical to that which many  corporations go through, when supposedly looking for a ‘long-term relationship’ with an agency.


The ‘financial adviser’ above is the corporate procurement department, albeit with fewer certificates and even more spreadsheets. Procurement takes every spending decision as an opportunity to muscle in and treat everything as if it were paperclips; a transaction for goods, and nothing more.


And the ‘Madam’ is the intermediaries[1], wheeling out the agencies to do the business version of ‘tits and teeth’. Deliciously Orwellian, outwardly they display apparent magnanimity. But the reality, as every ‘working girl’ knows, is a different story. Behind the scenes, fierce control is exercised by their man on the inside; a particular breed of lickspittle ‘New Business Director’ whose very existence (as little more than a - highly opinionated - mailbox) depends on the continued hegemony of his intermediary masters.


This ugly, Faustian symbiosis ensures that the Gollum-like New Business Director jealously guards the ‘preciousssss’ process, whilst mandating that his pitch-weary colleagues line up again to go to ever-greater extremes to win over the prospect.


Corporations are, of course, welcome to seek counsel from whomever they like, when looking for a partner. It’s a free market, they are the clients and can and should enjoy the concomitant privileges. And god only knows that the agencies are their own worse enemies.


But all these layers? All these people? They’re not adding value. In fact, they are destroying value, for both corporation and agency. Their involvement, and the resultant adversarial tone from-the-off, demeans everyone; and inhibits delivery of the results that spell success for both parties.


And so many client-side marketers know this. The overwhelming majority of corporate marketers that I meet are confident, pleasant, and very smart. They know which agencies do what, they know how to get in touch with them and they also know how to extract maximum value from them. So why do they allow these third parties into the mix? Certainly, history does not accept ‘it’s difficult’ as a reason for not doing the right thing.


Corporate marketers - this is your Yazz moment:


Stand up for your love rights.


Because where true mutuality, the cornerstone of all successful relationships, is not allowed to grow, you won’t end up in a long-term relationship.


You’ll end up fucked.


- this piece first kindly published by The Marketing Society




[1] ‘consultants’ is a misnomer for businesses engaged in what can most generously be described as broking, with admin



Forget The Box

Posted on 10th November, 2014

Forget The Box is not a bad book, at all.


‘Useful’ is the word I would use to describe it. Eminently readable and beautifully illustrated, Kate and Stephen Page’s central – and unarguable - premise is that in order to develop a stimulating creative brief, one needs to free one’s mind. They’ve done some research which shows, perhaps unsurprisingly, that most briefs simply don’t excite.


The solution, as far as this book is concerned, is a collaborative process that builds a ‘bridge’ between business and creativity. Replete with exercises and tips for building this ‘bridge’, and notwithstanding the diagrammatic pseudo-science and long quotes from supposedly worthy thinkers, the book will make an excellent companion to junior planners, client-side professionals who are new to marketing and, that increasingly rare breed, intellectually curious creatives.


Whilst one might take issue with the length and detail of the model brief that the authors suggest (sacrifice being the essence of strategy, and all), they are bang on when it comes to the importance of courage, of diversity of thought and the ability, or necessity, for brands to show leadership to consumers as opposed to pure followership.


In an age where so much of our world is dominated by beige conservatism, the book’s clarion call to jam briefs with conviction, and to avoid the insipid, is very welcome, as is the constant urge to include rather than exclude. Grounded in 2014 reality (“We can no longer push messages to [audiences]. We must pull them into our brand.”), the Pages also demonstrate a sound understanding of the need to connect on both a rational and emotional level. As Coco Chanel said, “It’s not the brief; it’s the feeling”.


Perhaps most impressively, the whole book is an essay in the overarching importance for brands of ensuring seamless integration and authenticity in “every promotional breath” they take.


More Sting than Diddy; an ideal guide for those too young to get the reference to either.


- this piece first kindly published by The Marketing Society

From Mad Men to Middle Men, by Mark Fiddes

Posted on 21st October, 2014

Mark Fiddes is a huge talent and an awesome human being.

I consider myself really lucky to count him as a friend.

And I am frankly honoured that he has chosen to guest blog here.

NPJ 21/10/14



What with AdForum and AdWeek , it’s junket time in New York for journalists and business-to-business match makers.


Like the UK Political Party Conference season with which they coincide, these events give our industry’s big beasts the chance to show off and look cool by introducing some of their younger new friends.


As a former pitch-guy for a couple of the networks now presenting their monogrammed socks off, I know how much preparation goes into the show. First, to own the future you must mint some new jargon like Return on Ideation, Consumerology or HyperInteraction. (Apologies if any of these concoctions have actually been presented this year.)


Then it also helps if you can present some creative work: those long films you could never afford to put on TV which make you cry or laugh. These you might well have briefed to your South American agencies as “Cannes specials” (production costs paid from your central marketing budget). This is what in the industry we usually call “brave” work. 


If your reception is good, it’s Revivalism of the highest order - you’re the new faith in town and you’re on all the pitch lists.  If it’s bad, you’re somebody’s Dad pulling on the Lunar Rod Nikes.


But behind the glittering Madison Avenue shop windows, the classic ad agency business model has not changed. The way clients buy the ideas is still largely industrial. A brief goes in at one end of the factory and many months later a campaign comes out.


Sure, this may involve many more experts under one roof than formerly, in everything from PR to events, but the agency still makes its money the old-fashioned way. The longer the work takes to work its way out of the door, the more profit is generated, and the less likely the shareholders are to demand the head of another Adland CEO.


The clearest indicator of the manufacturing mindset is that “digital” still stands for stuff, denominating whole departments and even job titles. As Lazar Dzamic of Google Zoo commented recently in The Guardian, “Digital was the first ‘meta-medium’ we ever had…. like electricity, it stopped being new and just became ubiquitous.”


Yet advertising by gaslight still has eminent champions who continue to exploit the tensions between the old polarities: data versus creativity, ATL versus BTL, media versus advertising, suits versus creatives. This paradigm works, of course, because the only way for clients to resolve these conflicting agendas is to rely on a single factory to do it for them. Once it was called Integration. Now, it’s often the only way for cost-shackled hierarchies to make a decent margin.


And as for new ways of making ideas, there’s always more smoke than fire among agencies; the real change is happening elsewhere.  Clients really are installing creativity into their own organisations. General Mills have even appointed their own Chief Creative Officer in the inspiring Michael Fanuele, one of the most innovative and inspiring planners of our generation.


Media companies too, like Hearst and Condé Nast are establishing their own “Creative Solutions” departments, drafting in the brand expertise of ad agency creative directors (like our team at IdeaMotel). Only last week Trinity Mirror announced their desire to “solve not sell” in order to “produce valuable marketing answers to all briefs.”   Throw in the exciting creative output of new style production companies like Radical Media and Reel B and a clearer picture emerges of what “disintermediation” means today.


Faster and smarter has never favoured the middleman.  And yet, in this age of accelerated consumer expectation, the agency networks are nothing if not wily. Let’s see what they do before the next AdForum to flatten their structures and speed their responses.


If the answer’s another pseudo-tech buzzword or global mega-merger, I’m personally re-instituting the three martini lunch.     


The Ten (Creative Director) Amendments

Posted on 16th October, 2014

And the Creative Director spake unto the client all these words, saying:


I) I am the LORD OF CREATIVITY, who brought thee out of the desert, regardless of thine own so-called ‘efforts’. Thou shalt have no other creative directors before Me.


II) Thou shalt not make unto thee any creative ideas of thine own - any likeness of anything that I might possibly ever have thought in the past or might ever, in the future, possibly think of Myself. Thou shalt not bow down to, nor serve, any such ‘ideas'. For I, the LORD OF CREATIVITY, am a jealous soul, visiting the iniquity of My own former creative directors upon thee and all those who are indentured to Me, showing magnanimity to them by passing off their work as Mine.


III) Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD OF CREATIVITY in vain, for thy Lord takes Himself very seriously, and is wracked by deep-seated paranoia and multiple insecurities.


IV) Remember the Sabbath week in Cannes. In it, I shall not do any work for thou, regardless of thy ‘commercial imperative’, on account of the intoxicants and the maidservants. For in this week, the LORD OF CREATIVITY swaggers outwardly, but is inwardly rattled, wondering how He might shoehorn the latest bit of tech that seemed to capture the judges’ attention into thy next campaign, whether it be appropriate or not.


V) Honour My agency colleagues, even though I show open contempt toward them, that they may continue to be My bag carriers and hissy-fit punchbags.


VI) Thou shalt not kill My ideas. (Thou shalt in any event only see them again, during My next Powerpoint presentation).


VII) Thou shalt not commit adultery with other creatives and agencies.


VIII) Thou shalt not steal. (Thou art not a genius. I am the Genius.)


IX) Thou shalt not bear false witness to your knowledge of your business, products, consumers and internal systems being somehow ‘superior’ to Mine.


X) Thou shalt not covet hard ROI, as that is anathema to Me and risks making me look like an ass.


- this piece first kindly published by The Marketing Society

The 3Cs......

Posted on 13th October, 2014

I was recently invited to speak to a group of the world's most powerful Chief Procurement Officers.


Here is the text of what I said.......



'Thank you Alan. And thank you all for having invited me to speak this evening.


Tonight I’d like to talk to you a little about the '3Cs':


–    Culture

–    Creativity

–    Communication


And I’m going to urge you, as CPOs, to stop looking outside your organisations, nickel and diming poor impoverished suppliers who are just trying to put a bit of bread on the kids’ table (not that we don’t love a good RFP and a series of spreadsheets – I mean who doesn’t?), but to look within.


Because all joking aside, I think that’s where the real gold lies.


And here’s why.


We are now living in a post-Fordist world.


Most businesses haven’t really recognised it yet but we are.


The 20th century was all about Fordism: better, faster, cheaper.


But the 21st isn’t. Because we’ve reached this tipping point.


A tipping point where Operational Excellence – the thing that used to be the competitive advantage, the thing that got your business – and lots of us as individuals– to the top, is now offering diminishing returns.


Just to be clear on this, I’m not – as someone accused me at a conference I was speaking at in Switzerland recently - saying Operational Excellence was dead.


It’s not.  We still need it, of course.


I think an MBA type would say:


‘It’s necessary, but not sufficient’.


And it really isn’t sufficient.


Here’s why.


We’ve got these two huge disruptive phenomena in the shape of commoditisation and disintermediation.


The explosion of digital and the rise of Asia have brought these about, and – as we know – it’s changing everything.


And it’s changing everything for everyone.


You know, it used to be just blue collar workers – or their agricultural forbears – who were affected by technological changes – in comes the threshing machine, out go the rural labouring jobs, ditto the combine harvester, and the same in the cities as factories got more sophisticated, but this time it’s everyone.


White collar inclus.


As Alan mentioned, I was a solicitor at Ashurst many years ago. My memories of it are all quite pleasant really – all very cosy, and we’d win work by taking people out to lunch, and there was never any mention or discussion of anything as ‘vulgar’ as fees for goodness’ sake.


But I had a drink recently with a pal who’s a partner there, and he was telling me how that’s all changed. He now sits at his screen – using a system that you guys no doubt love ;-) – where he has to bid a fixed-fee quote in some kind of online portal, against a timed deadline.


Now he feels quite sorry for himself (on his £1m a year..!), but frankly that’s just the way it is.


But it illustrates the extent of what I call ‘value diminution’ in the last couple of decades.


And lest we laugh, this is the Niemoller moment


– and then they came for me.


It’s a big red flag.


If we’re not all to be competing on price (and that is, of course, a zero-sum game, unless you know anyone who is ready to work for Chinese wages – and I don’t), we need to do something very different; we need to reinvent our businesses.


We all need to be game-changers.


Cos if we don’t, what we do know, is that very quickly, we will become irrelevant.


Look at Detroit.


In 1990, the Detroit motor industry (rather Chrysler, GM and Ford together) had revenues totaling $250bn.


Between them, they employed 1.2m people. And their shared market cap was $36bn.


In 2012, Silicon Valley (rather Google, Facebook and Apple) had revenues of about the same level. But they employed just 130k people.


And yet their market cap was $790bn!


Now of course these tech businesses are overvalued, but the point is that no one had even heard of them in 1990. They didn’t even, for most people, exist. And here they are now, with 10pc of the employees, and 22 times the market cap!


So we really, really care about relevance right?


We really care about reinventing our businesses so that they stay ahead of the game right?




Well I do.


You do.


We do.


But – here’s the problem –'they' don’t.


Last year, Gallup did a big survey of American workers.


Guess how many of them described themselves as ‘disengaged’?


Yes, 70pc.


It’s huge.


And it’s part of the most extraordinary paradox, at the heart of 21st century business.


We’re always on, through mobiles and such, but we’re also – clearly – nearly always off, too. 


We’ve never been more ‘connected’, but we’ve never been more disengaged.


And that matters.


Gallup estimates that this disengagement costs American business between $450bn and $550bn each year.


Think about the impact that could have in your business, on your bottom line.


I mean, it makes the few quid you can shave off a cleaning or facilities contract – even if it’s a big one, a global one, kind of meaningless, doesn’t it?


And this is why I think this is a perfect area for CPOs to own. No one else is.


You guys can, and should.


‘But how?’ I hear you cry.


Well, by UNLEASHING the inherent creativity within your staff, tapping it, using it to help reinvent your business;


and by ENGAGING them – giving them reasons to care, to belong. Because the market for something to believe in is, well, infinite…


And you unleash and you engage with the 3 Cs. 





The first C.


Princeton University says that for 85pc of young people, the No. 1 thing they look for in a job is purpose.


They want to care about something. Feel like they’re making a difference. It’s understanding the ‘why’, as Simon Sinek would have it, ‘why are we doing what we are doing? Why am I hauling my ass outta bed every morning?’


And that ain’t just the young. We all feel it.


And we’d all have said so if we’d been asked those kind of questions when we were young.


What do we wanna say we breathe our last:


‘I helped maximize shareholder value’?


But let me just read you some examples of some mission statements; the kind of thing we’re offering people who work for us, or are thinking about coming to work for us:


1. ‘We want to be the best financial services company in the world. Because of our great heritage and excellent platform, we believe that this is within our reach.’


2. ‘To be one of the world’s great specialist banking groups, driven by commitment to our core philosophies and values.’


3. ‘To be the most competent, profitable and innovative financial organization in the world.


4. ‘We want to be a pre-eminent provider of financial services……’


You get the point. And some of you may recognize them…. But don’t worry, I’m not singling any out - nearly all of them are equally bad.


Does anyone genuinely, in a human way, feel inspired by these statements?


Of course not. They’re boring, meaningless corporate bullshit.


Frankly, it’s amazing that as much as 30pc feel engaged!


Mission or vision is not, of course, the same as culture – but culture flows from the mission or vision.


Culture is how we achieve our vision, our behaviour (especially when no one is looking), it’s how we answer the phone, it’s how decisions are made, it’s everything, and it’s forever.


Products and services come and go, culture just ‘is’.


That’s what makes people come to work engaged. Or not.


How many of you have ‘values’ or similar at your place of work?


Yeah? How many of you have them up on the walls? Screen savers, mugs, coffee points?


How many of you have kids?


How many of you would say that that you have a greater sense of shared values within your families than between your colleagues at work?


And how many of you have your family values up on the walls at home?


QED. Stuff needs to be on the walls when it’s not strong. Like rules. I saw this great TV show once presented by this historian-anthropologist whose big schtick was – by looking at the signs and notices of ancient civilizations, or indeed any civilization, the things that were being expressly prohibited – do not do this, do not do that – were the things that were clearly all too commonplace.


So in a civilization where there are signs asking that you refrain from expectorating and defacting in public, you can be sure it was a spit and shit fest.


Same for values. Meaningless unless they are lived.


Live the values, live the culture from the top, don’t put it on mugs, and expect it to happen.


You have to make this yours.


They do at Netflix.


If you have a bored moment tomorrow and if you haven’t already seen it, go to Slidehsare and look for the Netflix Culture slides.


Written by Reed Hastings, the CEO, and their HR director, slide 8 is my favourite:


‘The REAL company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go’




So the first C, Culture, it really matters.





There’s a cliché for our times.


Most used adjective on Linked-In last year.


Creative, Innovative.


‘I wanna be more creative’ 


In a survey of CEOs, PwC found that 97pc of them identified ‘innovation’ as their top priority for growth.


Let’s get some clarity around this word. And let’s also be clear that – whatever the hipsters in Shoreditch might think – creativity is not an aim or a goal in itself.


In fact, I think business needs to reclaim the word from those guys. I know many more people in banks and the like who are ‘creative’ in the true sense of the word, than creative directors.  What was Michael Milken if not ‘creative’ with his high yield bonds. And Rupert Murdoch, every Creative Director’s favourite baddie, so creative – in the way that all successful business people are.


But creativity is not a goal; it’s a way to get to an answer, by thinking differently. And that comes from a culture ( there’s that word again ), a culture where challenge is not just permitted but – at the right points – actively encouraged.


It’s about diversity of thought.


Yes, I used the ‘D’ word. It was cool in the 90s, wasn’t it? All Blairite, fashionable, and politically correct, we managed to use to upset, understandably, all sorts of groups who felt, with some justification, they were being patronized.


But real diversity goes beyond fashion; it’s style.


What is the style in which your organisation makes decisions?


At McKinsey, there is an obligation to dissent, then a duty to follow. Absolutely.


And that’s not an unsuccessful business. Just like countries that tolerate – or even encourage – dissent are not unsuccessful countries (but we’ll come to that in a moment or two).


Now of course, once a decision’s been made, you do then have to fall into line, though – otherwise you end up with ‘the cult of the cowardly ego’; dissent after the event.  


But think for a second about all successful, and sustained, civilizations and schools of thought.


The Greeks, Romans, the Caliphs and their courts jam-packed with mathmaticians and astronmers and poets, to the Scottish Enlightenment – did you know that James Watt, inventor of the steam engine, Adam Smith, who wrote that book you might have heard of, and Joesph Black, a chemist, and David Hume, the moral philosopher, used to deliberately get together once a week to shoot-the-shit and learn from each other; that’s a BIG deal, especially when you consider how big a role their thinking played in the thinking of the Founding Fathers. To the Californian ‘empire’ of today – from Aldous Huxley to Mark Zuckerberg; it’s all about diversity of thought.


It’s the one common denominator. And in those kind of environments, the sum is always, always greater than the parts – gesamtkunstwerk, as Walter Gropius, founder of the silo-free Bauhaus movement, had it.


But how many corporate cultures really encourage this right now, as opposed to arse-covering and sloping shoulders?


I mean we gotta recruit the right people in the first place, of course: smart people who CAN think; Renaissance men and women, who, Da Vinci stylee,  can move from chapel to chopper in one fell swoop.


But then we have to give them room to speak up; to do their thing. To voice an opinion.


But we don’t.


We suck all the personal discretion, out of corporate activity – spreadsheetizing. Powerpointizing everything – in the vain hope that this syndication of risk, putting everything into little boxes, might somehow make everything safer.


But it doesn’t – it increases the danger. It one of the things that leads to the 70pc disengaged figure I gave you earlier.


We are, in our corporations, killing this innate human trait, killing creativity.


In preparation for this event, I did a quick poll on creativity with my buddies at YouGov.


The results are really interesting.


55pc of Brits say that they have good ideas about work on a regular basis, but only 16pc of them feel that they are able to voice those ideas and be creative in the workplace.


Put your CPO hats on, and think about the wastage there.


So what we do?


By adopting what I call the Frozen doctrine….


That’ll all become obvious in a moment but first let me tell you a story.


In 1991, I was 15, and I was living in a little town called Warminster. 20,000 people, middle of nowhere in Wiltshire. I was the kid who looked a little older than the others, so I’d be the one who went into the offy to buy cider – Thatchers; you bought it in flagons, and you drank it ‘down the park’.


But in 1991, in America, a psychologist called Christina Shalley published the most extraordinaery paper in the Journal of Applied Psychology.


Now this paper should have revolutionized the way we run our businesses. But it hasn’t.


Shalley found that , in any workplace, the harder the challenge, the more creative the person and their response would be - provided that personal discretion was high.


That’s a big deal.


Remember that scene from Apollo 13; these guys are gonna die unless you fix it, against this very tight deadline, using just these things. Now get on with it. A hard challenge, for sure, a creative goal, yep, and plenty of discretion – all that mattered was saving these guys’ lives.


And they did it.  


The ‘Frozen’ doctrine?


Let it go, let it go, let it go…..


We have to free people up.


Literally. Because there is this interesting relationship between freedom and creativity.


Think about the most creative countries in the world. This is one of them for sure.


And I think it’s because of our long-standing tolerance, or celebration even, of eccentricity. From the moment Caesar got off his boat, 2000 years ago. The Brits he met were naked, and had painted themselves blue for God’s sake.


Permissibility.  If it ain’t expressly prohibited, go for your life. That’s the basis of the English common law (which we exported to the US, NZ etc), and it means we default to free-thinking.


We need to do the same in our corporations.


A mentor of mine put it well.


'Manage 'em on kite strings, not dog leashes'.





We all talk about communication all the time.


But, in business, we get it sooooo wrong.


And we can take another lesson from history here.


From Aristotle in particular.


He said that any good piece of theatre, any decent argument, any effective communication fullstop had what he called 3 ‘appeals’:









In all business communication, we assume ethos – that the speaker has some credibility, that what he/she/it is saying has some authenticity.


And we’re just great at logos – logical, rational appeal.


But pathos? Don’t make me laugh.


We don’t do emotion really, do we? 


But we need to.


Anyone heard of the Elephant and the Rider? Jonathan Haidt, psychologist.


Lovely metaphor.


So there’s an elephant. Huge. Enormous. Emotional. Hot. Very powerful.


But the elephant has a rider. And the rider thinks he is in charge. He is rational, cool, cognitive, he knows where he’s going.


And that’s the relationship, Haidt said, between the emotional parts of our brains – the elephant - and the rational parts of our brains – the rider. The rider often gets it - yep, I’m on board, I get it, I’m with you.


But if that elephant doesn’t want to move, he ain’t going anywhere…….


And so often, usually, we don’t.


Pathos or emotion doesn’t even get a look in, in most corporate communications – internal or external.


And here’s the thing. We need emotion. Believe it or not, we actually need to make decisions –whatever we might like to think about being totally rational when we’re making big decisions, we are still riding that elephant.


A Portuguese scientist called Antonio Demasio looked at patients who had all suffered damage to the part of the brain that deals with emotion. In every way, they were normal, fully functioning adults - holding down jobs, marriages, kids.


But the one thing about all of them was that they just couldn’t make decisions. About anything.


Now that’s amazing. Because, if he’s right, Demasio’s work suggests that all decisions are emotional and that it’s all about the elephant, all the time – and that without that, we just can’t make a decision, any decision.

So communicate, and communicate with EMOTION!

So here’s the deal.


In a disintermediated, commoditized world,


Your business, all our businesses, need to reinvent themselves – constantly.


The only way we can do that is with people.


But right now, they’re seriously disengaged.


But they don’t need to be.


They all want to be good employees. They all want to give, to grow,to create, to develop, to move ever closer towards the pointy end of Maslow’s pyramid.


We just gotta help ‘em do it.


We gotta UNLEASH them.

We gotta ENGAGE them.


And we do that with the 3 Cs – culture, creativity, communication.


It’s about the bottom line.


Thank you for listening.'


Sunscreen (Revisited)

Posted on 15th September, 2014

- with apologies to Baz Luhrmann -


Ladies and Gentlemen
Of the Marketing & Advertising Industry of 2014;

Listen to your clients.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future,
Listening to your clients would be it.

The long-term benefits of listening to your clients
Have been proven by accountants;
Whereas the rest of my advice has no basis,
More reliable than my own meandering experience.

I will dispense this advice, now.

Trust your instincts and the common sense
Of your youth.
Oh never mind;
You will not understand the value of your instincts
And the common sense of your youth
Until you have been forced to.

But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back
At the industry bullshit that was being spouted
And recall in a way that
You don’t have the confidence to do now,
How right your instincts were
And how ephemeral that latest
‘this will change everything’ channel really was.

You are not as dumb as your agency
Makes you imagine.
Don’t worry about the future;
Or worry, but know that understanding your clients’
Hopes and dreams will stand you in good stead

The real troubles in your career are apt to be people;
The kind that you just can’t believe
Really exist in the workplace.

Do one thing everyday that puts you
In the shoes of your client.


Don’t settle for intellectual mediocrity,
Don’t put up with people who are
Intellectually mediocre.


Don’t waste your time on office politics;
Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind.
But the rest of the world just could not give a shit.

Remember the value you bring,
Forget about when the planner makes you feel small.
If you succeed in doing this,
Tell your Creative Director how.

Keep daily contact with your clients,
Throw away your SoWs.


Don't feel guilty if you don't know
What you want to do with your career.

The most interesting people that I know now,
Knew at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives;
But they became the 40 year olds who don’t.

Drink plenty of alcohol.

Be kind to receptionists;
They know everything and everyone.

Maybe you'll win a Lion, maybe you won’t;
Maybe you'll get a bonus, probably you won’t;
Maybe you'll leave the industry at 40;
Maybe they’ll put you in the
Advertising Hall of Fame on your 75th birthday.

Whatever you do, always remind yourself to
Walk the floors.
You’ll be amazed at just how much you can learn.
And so will everybody else.

Enjoy your creative mind, use it every way you can.
Don’t be afraid of it,
Or scared off by those who are labelled ‘creative'.
It’s the greatest asset you’ll ever own.

Write... even if you find it hard; it forces you to think.

Break bread, even when you’re not hungry.

Do NOT read industry magazines,
They will only give you FOMO.

Get to know your Chairman,
You never know when he'll be gone for good.

Be nice to your colleagues;
They are the best link to your next job,
And the people most likely to tell stories about you
In the future.

Understand that agencies and accounts come and go,
But for the precious few you should hold on.

Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography,
Invest in your relationships now,
Because the older you get,
The more you’ll be able to help the people you knew when you were young.

Work client-side once,
But leave before it makes you terminally depressed;

Work in an agency once,
But leave before it makes you clinically insane.


Accept certain inalienable truths:
Finance departments will make you fill in forms,
Agencies prefer talking about themselves,
You too will get senior.

And when you do, you’ll fantasise that,
When you were young:
Finance departments were helpful,
Agencies preferred talking about their clients,
And juniors respected their bosses.

Respect your bosses.

Don't expect anyone else to bring work to you.
Maybe you have a big marketing budget,
Maybe you have a retained account;
But you never know when either one might run out.

You can’t mess enough with the received wisdom
Of an industry that, at 40, already looked 85.

Beware the ‘Next Big Idea’,
And be cautious with those who supply it.
The ‘Next Big Idea’ is often an old, small idea.
Dispensing it is a way of fishing the ‘creative brilliance’
Of the past from the disposal,
Wiping it off,
Photoshopping the other brand’s logos,
And recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me,
On listening to the clients...


- this piece first kindly published by The Marketing Society

Le Festival

Posted on 8th August, 2014

I have recently been living the garden leave dream.


And so I took it upon myself to watch the Top 100 ads that featured in this year’s Cannes 'Festival of Creativity’.


The very need for this particular ‘festival' is questionable, but for as long as it exists it acts as a useful barometer (of sorts) for all of us who care about creativity in business.


As ever, the Top 100 contains some gems, a lot of mediocrity and some outright rubbish. It never ceases to amaze me, for example, how many self-appointed ‘creatives’ will allow the latest ephemeral bit of tech to be the tail that wags the dog. Or just how nonsensical, overcomplicated and, frankly, self-indulgent some of this stuff can be - often without any real relevance to the product, or assonance with the brand.


Whilst there is some brilliant use of technology in some of these pieces, there is also some scandalously patronising usage of it too - for example the 3D printing of limbs for Sudanese amputees, toys for blind kids in Japan etc. It all sounds worthy, but it comes across as ‘maybe-we’ll-get-an-award-for-this’ type stuff. And it doesn’t stop there - cancer sufferers and ghetto-dwellers also get more than their fair share of agency ‘magic’.


But on to the better stuff. Below I’ve set out what I consider to be the more noteworthy ads, and if you scroll right down at the bottom I’ve set out some general themes that we might extract. But if you happen to have a spare hour or two over the hols, you might like to watch at least some of the ads yourself:




Volvo Trucks

Love this latter-day Victor Kiam-style, money-where-your-mouth is affair - using employees to tell us about the amazing features of the product. Great sense of fun.


Southern Comfort

These guys have mastered the art of inverting the notion of what it means to be ‘cool’ and it really works. They now ‘own’ that idea, in my opinion.


The ‘Mother Book’

I genuinely don’t know whether the strategy is right here, because I just don’t know the company and what it is trying to achieve. But my goodness both the idea and the execution are beautiful.


La Liga Contra El Cancer

This is hugely powerful, interruptive and slightly uncomfortable. It stays with you, which is surely the intention.



One of the real stars of this Top 100 for me. Chipotle is a brand that really knows who it is, what it stands for, and why it is in business. Their ad ‘Scarecrow’ focuses on both product and the business’ authentic values. They have tapped into both an underdeveloped market and also the zeitgeist of the American psyche. This work is an essay in the now-cliched idea of ‘purposeful marketing’ and it integrates seamlessly across multiple channels. The app/game is particularly impressive.


Terre Des Hommes

This is terrifying but one can’t help but admire the incredibly effective use to which the police put technology in developing ‘Sweetie’ - a fictional, 10 year old Filipina.


DHL Is Faster

This is a very clever piece of guerrilla advertising, that took a limited budget; and really, really sweated it.


Bob Dylan

We all know that Bob long since sold out, but at least this time its for himself and not a car. And this ad is a really interesting response to the question of how to cut through in an increasingly noisy world.


Climate Change Name

This ad is intensely political and so inevitably divisive, but politics aside there is no denying that it works. (And, dare I say it, it rather reminds me of a Huffington Post on a similar topic…...)


Honda - Project Drive-In

Compared to Honda's bizarre Senna schmalz-fest that also features in the Top 100, this is a cracker. And that’s because it fits with both Honda’s products (cars, obviously) and their values (where family genuinely matters - just ask any Honda employee about ‘Mr. Honda’).


Old Spice

I didn’t particularly like the execution here, but others no doubt will (including, perhaps, the intended audience - which manifestly ain’t me, or probably anyone reading this). But there is no doubting that the idea works - taking a brand to young men by having their mothers lament the loss of boyhood that occurs when they use this product.


First Kiss

A much parodied ad, and of course we all now know that these folk were actors etc. But it is an extraordinarily impressive piece of artistry, reducing sophisticated adults to nervous, arm-swinging five year olds. But does anyone remember what the ad was for?


EitB - Musica y Noticias

I love this, and not just because I am moving to Spain. The ad tells you - effortlessly - who they are and what they do, and how they are different. It draws you in: what’s not to like about a singing POTUS?



I want to be this guy. Who doesn’t? This is big-budget, warm-hearted, generous Americana; and I love it.


Guiness - Sapeurs

Ethically, for me this whole campaign is a little questionable, but every iteration of the campaign has been so beautifully made it’s impossible not to love. And I’m a sucker for a good William Ernest Henley quote.


Promart Homecenter

This little tale of a Dad fixing his deaf teenage daughter a lamp doorbell (so that she can see when her boyfriend is at the door) works really well. It’s about celebrating the perfection in what might otherwise be considered ‘imperfection’. Wabi-Sabi for the West?


Conference Call In Real Life

My wife sent me this ages ago, and I forwarded it on to tons of people. That in itself tells its own story. But is it really an ad, or just great comedy? The Leadercast ‘sponsorship’ feels like a clumsy addendum. Great ‘content’ is all well and good, but it’s got to work for your brand.



What a lovely poke in the eye to Jonny Ives et al, reminding us that great design is great design. Even if it’s ‘just’ a chocolate bar…..


Fiat - Live Store

Buying new cars should be one of life’s exquisite pleasures. But so often (in my experience) it isn’t. You have to schlep to showrooms where someone who has just left their job as an estate agent treats you like an idiot. But not any longer! Fiat have come up with something that sits perfectly in the intersection of the Venn diagram between ‘Sales’ and ‘Marketing’. More power to ‘em.


There’s plenty more ‘good’ ads, but these were the ones that just edged it for me.


So what unites them?


Well, firstly, lots of them focus on product; not the less tangible concept of ‘brand’. Brand is what builds up - in the mind of the consumer - after multiple exposures to a product that works for them.


Second, the great ads deal with universal human truths. But they recognise that, in the words of the great Bob Hoffman, emotion is not an input but a response. You can’t force that in your audiences.


Third, TV still really, really works. There was nowhere near as much standout work from other channels. DHL being the possible exception.


Fourth, authenticity. Don’t try and be something you’re not. The world, to paraphrase Mr. Ogilvy, is not an idiot. It is you. People know when you’re bullshitting them.


Those ads that flow effortlessly from the raison d’être of the business just ‘work’.


Simple as that.