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Thought leadership

Witness David Attenborough

By Communication theory, Communications craft, Story, Structure, Thought leadership, Uncategorized, What's out there now

In David Attenborough’s short trailer he demonstrates how to launch an argument and sell in documentary in just a few powerful seconds. If you’ve done the Copycourse you’ll recognise the structure he uses a mile off.

David Attenborough: I am David Attenborough and I am 93. I ‘ve had the most extraordinary life. It’s only now that I appreciate how extraordinary. The living world is a unique and spectacular Marvel. Yet the way we humans live on earth is sending it into a decline. Human beings have over run over the world. We are replacing the wild with the tame.

This film is my witness statement about my vision for the future. The story about how we came to make this, our greatest mistake. How if we act now we can yet to put it right. Our planet is heading for disaster. You need to learn how to work rather nature rather than against it. And I’m going to tell you how. In cinemas 2020.


Playground for the imagination

By Creativity, Thought leadership, Uncategorized, What's out there now

Over control and obsession with health and safety is the biggest killer of creativity. And it seems parents in the UK have become masters of it, but not so in Germany and Denmark. Maybe as this video suggests, because they were able to observe what kids were doing on bomb sites after the war. It’s tempting to link this with a lower child suicide rate in these countries too. Whatever your parental notions are, the lessons for creativity are clear. It’s a messy business and if you over protect you ultimately stifle.

Truncation is a funny business

By Communications craft, Funny, Thought leadership, Uncategorized, What's out there now

One of the problems mobiles responsive sizing gives us is that we’re never sure exactly what is going to appear as the final result. Pictures have to be created so that the subject of the picture is in the centre. That limits things considerably. And there’s even more trouble when you start putting type messages in respsonsive situations.

You want the message to appear as Acme is proud to sponsor World Aid . But what you actually see in certain screens is different.

Acme is proud to ponsor id. The truncation is worse than meaningless. It makes the brain work hard to guess something that probably wasn’t very interesting in the first place. The Two Ronnies nailed the experience with this classic sketch.

Until Linkedin produces responsive banners the advice has to be don’t put type in the banner head.

Creativity where you least expect it

By Creativity, Strategy, Thought leadership

There have been many funky things you can do with the design of a bike stand, and I’ve had to lock my bike to quite a few of them. Some of them are really annoying because they allow a bike to topple over. But this one I spotted in Islington is a breath of fresh air. And like all neat creative ideas, it starts by asking a question no one else had bothered to ask: What would bike parking look like if it were designed by someone who wasn’t a cyclist or a road engineer? What if it were designed by a landscape gardener? The ability create different answers starts with the ability to ask different questions. And follow them through to interesting conclusions.

Starting with a story

By Communication theory, Communications craft, content, Funny, Thought leadership, Uncategorized, What's out there now

Masters of story don’t start with a simple fact or assertion, they weave a story that does the same thing.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks could have begun his speech by simply saying something like “all faiths have similarities, but they also have interesting differences.”
That would have been a perfectly coherent way to start a speech at an interfaith dinner. But by starting with a story that demonstrates the same thing, he does so much more than assert a first beat.
He demonstrates mastery of the story form, establishes his own character as a player at Government level, and also brings some laughs to the room. But the story is always in the service of demonstrating the first beat of the rest of his speech.

Are you really getting your client's world?

By B2B, Communication theory, Communications craft, Strategy, Thought leadership, What's out there now

Chris Voss, an ex FBI negotiator is used to dealing with murderers, rapists and terrorists. Here he shares his biggest insights into communications.
Chris explains that being able to play back, almost verbatim, the exact argument of the other side, is more important than expounding the rationality of your own case.
When you repeat exactly what the other side has just said, and they reply, “That’s right“, you’ve achieved the first and most important part of a negotiation: Demonstrating that you actually get where they’re coming from.
Probably the most striking moment of the interview is when Chris describes how one of his team was called up by a hostage taker they had negotiated with a short while back.
“A bad guy called Sabaya. Head-choppin’ terrorist, rapist, real bad, bad guy. Sabaya calls us up two weeks after the negotiation and says: ‘ Did you get a promotion?'”
“‘You should have. I don’t know what you said to me on the phone but I was going to kill Jeffrey. You kept me from doin’ it. They should promote you.’ Then hangs up.”
And so it is with customers, stakeholders and prospects. Getting their worlds as they see it, not as you do, or your CEO does, is the first step to doing business with them. Most of the time we’re not talking to head-chopping murderers and rapists, just people who don’t share your corporate view on how effective your services are.
But like head-chopping murderers and rapists they have an alternative narrative on the way things are.
And the needle only starts moving when you’ve proved you’ve heard what they’re trying to say.

TED topics for Industry 4.0

By B2B, Communications craft, content, Strategy, Thought leadership, What's out there now

Thought leadership has been a buzzword for a little while now.
To do it well you famously have to be able to have thoughts and also to lead. Neither of those two things are particularly easy things to do. For many content producers, it may feel like a big mountain to climb. They way to succeed is to break it down and get a little help.
Imagine you have to create a TED talk for your product or brand. What would it talk about? What are the big themes that operate around your product or brand that you personally find fascinating? Still stuck? Ok, try something simpler, treat it as an exercise in curation.
Just make a list of existing TED talks that seem to discuss topics near to the issues close to the brand. Then, write a few comments or remarks that bridge any relevant issues that need connecting. Here are some of mine for a company that’s designing software for a modern business. They deal with what’s generally called user centred experience. The connecting comments simply need to answer the question, “What’s the relevance of this inspiring video to what these guys actually sell?” Even if it’s obvious, it’s good to make it explicit so you don’t leave your audience in the fuzzy further reaches of philosophy.

David Abbott’s goodbye

By Communications craft, Thought leadership
David Abbott was easily the boss I found the most inspiring.  When he died, I managed to get my hands on the text of the farewell speech he’d given fifteen years earlier upon his retirement, and which I and the rest of his agency had watched through watery eyes. I remembered the last parts of the speech, about the African storyteller, verbatim.
The speech as a whole combined the acknowledgements of a departing CEO, a little foundational history, and some of what would now be called key values and behaviours going forwards; except of course he would never have allowed himself such buzzwords.
It was a stirring, emotional twenty minutes, and culminated with just a hint of physical ritual invoked from storytellers of a very different culture. Like all his copy it had an strong uplifting ending. What better way to say goodbye?
(Clapping as he takes the podium)
“Thank you. Running into such kindness is a bit like running into a brick wall.  It knocks the wind out of you and leaves you speechless.
Lucky then, that I have one with me that I prepared earlier.  I only hope I have the composure to get through it.
There are some people in this room who know me very well – and yet have still decided to turn up.
I thank them.
There are many here who know me quite well.
There are others who know who I am, but look at their feet when I get in the lift with them.
Then there are Louise, James, Paul, Justin, Becky, Matthew and Lucy – the new graduate trainees who are not yet quite sure whether I’m Peter Mead or Adrian Vickers.
Dear graduates, this must be a bizarre evening for you and I’m sorry that we overlap by only a week.
You have arrived at a mature, fully formed agency, so you’ll be surprised to hear that we were once an agency where everyone had to work far too hard trying to satisfy difficult clients and management’s outrageous targets.
How times change.
You’ll be surprised to learn, too, that in AMV’s first year the total billings were less than the price of Peter Mead’s latest car.  (Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that.)
But don’t let’s start at the beginning, let’s start before the beginning.
It is 21 years since Peter and Adrian persuaded me to join them.
Their seduction technique, I later realised was one that they had honed on various girlfriends.  It was a two-pronged attack and consisted of a relentless succession of Indian meals and a steady flow of lies and half-truths.
“Our clients are secure,” they said.  “You’ll be joining a happy family,” they said.  “Financially, we’re more than stable.”
Something must have alerted me because I turned them down and in doing so sealed my fate.
I don’t know if I ever told Peter this before, but it was the grace with which he accepted my refusal that made me change my mind.
“Here is a man,” I thought, “whom I would be happy to have beside me in bad times.”
If you’re looking for incidental wisdom in these words of mine tonight, perhaps there is something here.  Perhaps we most accurately define ourselves when things are going against us.
All I know is that if things were ever going to get tough, Peter is the kind of man who would immediately trade down to a Porsche or a Ferrari.
I jest, of course – in the long tradition of joshing and teasing that has marked our friendship and that has fooled no-one.
Adrian, Peter and I have transparently loved each other and looked after each other through all the years.
And this, above all, has made us the kind of agency we are.
And then came Michael (Baulk).  Double-breasted, fast talking, his semaphore hands sometimes caressing, sometimes slicing the air to add weight to his words – he brought order and discipline to our affairs.
Somehow he made company growth and personal restraint a desirable banded offer.
On the drive to and from Wentworth mansion he practiced the mantra that saw us throught the 89-93 recession, “Of course it hurts but we’re all in the same boat.”
Old-timers here will recognise earlier hymns to Michael and such jibes are the fate of those whom we ask to chase the income and watch the overheads for us.
But in truth, that was never the real story of Michael.  He is more architect than accountant and deserves to be the fourth name on our notepaper.
Some of you will know that we once offered to put his name there, but he declined.  “You are the brand,” he said, “you started the agency.”  That may be true, but in my mind Michael’s name is above the door, anyhow.
We are three who became four – I feel no less for him than I do for Peter and Adrian – he is a man with a good brain and a good heart.  Look after him, I urge you.
Now, where do I go from here?  I could haltingly run down the phone list and stop at scores of names who are special to me; but it would be a long night if I did.  Some of those people I paid tribute to at a creative lunch last week – including my dear friend and partner, Ron.
Over the next two days I hope to say in private to many of you what there isn’t time to say in public but it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t pick out a couple of names tonight.
First, there is Angela (Porteous), formidable gate-keeper and extraordinary friend.
My children blame Angela for the fact that I have never used a cashpoint, don’t know their phone numbers and can’t work a PC.  If all this makes me seem pretty feeble, I plead guilty.
All I know is that Angela and I have been a wonderful team and somehow, between us, we’ve shifted a great deal of work together.  I thank her from the bottom of my heart and rejoice in the fact that she is still going to be around to help me in my new life, even though she remains at the agency.
And, of course, I should mention Mr. (Jeremy) Miles.  Despite the vast difference in our ages, Jeremy and I have become friends, cricketing companions and, if it’s not too painful a word right now, ‘confidants’.
There haven’t been many days in the 18 years when we haven’t sat down for a chat – and through Sainsbury’s, BT and The Economist there haven’t been many days when we haven’t been in the trenches together, either.  He is everything you could wish for in a friend, steadfast, cheerful, loyal, funny, generous.
Andrew (Robertson) and Peter Souter are next on my list.  As I’ve stepped down progressively over the past 3 years their sensitivity and kindness to me has made the process bearable.  It wasn’t easy to let go, but they in the best traditions of the agency have continued to involve me, treating me with tact, understanding and affection.  I hope they know that I return that affection in full.
Finally, I would like to thank Terry Green (organiser of the company cars) who over the years has aided and abetted me in my ambition never to see an MOT certificate.  Thank you, Terry.  I can’t promise that you’ve heard the last of me.
So, here I am – about to leave not just an agency, but an industry that has supported me, entertained me and stimulated me for 40 years.  I have truly been a lucky man.
If I could still remember things, I’m sure I’d have some wonderful memories.  You know, the cliche is true, I often remember the distant past more clearly than the recent past – so let’s start there – in the distant past.
The first great hero of mine was David Ogilvy and I saw him for the first time in the early sixties.
I was a junior copywriter at Mather & Crowther and David had just merged our agency with Bensons.  The combined workforce was summoned to the Connaught Rooms to hear a pep-talk from our new leader.
He spoke to us in shirt sleeves, red braces brilliantly visible even from the back of the hall where I stood with the rest of the small fry.  He was informal and inspiring.  Soon after, we received his written wisdom, too: a blue-covered manual called “Observations” – it became my first advertising bible and I never really escaped its strictures.
For the next 40 years I felt guilty if I couldn’t get the client’s name into the headline, and I could never write long copy without putting in crossheads.  Why there is a Lord Saatchi and David remains a Mr. seems to me to be one of life’s more inexplicable mysteries.
Another distant scene pops into my head.  In July of 1966, I flew to New York with Eve (his wife), who was six months’ pregnant, and Jenny and Matthew who were both under three.
DDB had sent me to New York to be groomed to take over as Creative Director in London when John Withers returned to the States.  The process was meant to take six months, though we ended up staying nearly a year.
We travelled on a Friday and arrived in the middle of a New York heatwave.  We were booked into a small service apartment in the Gramercy Park Hotel – on the sixth floor with a single air-conditioning unit that made a great deal of noise but no cool air.
On Monday morning I walked the 20 blocks to the office, leaving Eve and the kids behind in a sweltering hotel room in a strange city.  What were they going to do all day?  How was Eve going to cope.  I walked to the office crying, although it was so hot my tears passed for perspiration.  (At this point, David had to pause for a moment.  300 of us watched as he seemed overwhelmed by this recollection.)
Of course, it got better.  In six weeks we’d found a flat, in November we’d had our second son, Dominic, and I got to know Bill Bernbach.
Bill Bernbach was the most persuasive man I ever met in advertising.  His voice was soft but emphatic and when he sat at the boardroom table his small hands would delicately underline the point he was making.
He had the authority of a college professor and the showreel of a genius.  I sat mesmerised – how could any client resist him?  Most of them didn’t.
When I became MD of DDB’s London office in the late sixties, I would arrange a lunch party whenever Bill was in town.  A few of us would sit down with him to eat and talk about advertising.
On one occasion I referred to the agency as Doyle Dane – a common abbreviation at the time. Bill gripped my arm – Doyle Dane Bernbach he said gently as his fingers tightened.
It was a courtesy he richly deserved, though I was surprised he insisted on it – perhaps he was teasing me.  perhaps there’s a lesson there – never underestimate the vanity of an agency owner.
One more memory.  I have a Polaroid somewhere, taken on my first day at AMV – we were in our little offices in Bruton Place – Ron took the picture.  I am in my overcoat, viewed from the back, round shouldered as I fill the kettle from a tap that for some reason is high on the flaky, plastered wall, 3 foot from the sink which is out of shot.
It is a photograph of a refugee in a halfway house, the saddest, most melancholy photograph I’ve ever seen and it almost certainly reflected the way Ron and I felt that day.  And yet, look what happened later.
And now I’m saying goodbye in the good times and some of you may be wondering why.  Let me try and explain.
I always promised myself I’d do something different before I was sixty and I’m making it by two days.
I like to think it’s a happy omen that I am leaving the agency, as near as dammit, on its 21st birthday.
My own 21st was on October 11th, 1959 and it wasn’t a great time for me – my father had died in June and I was about to go back for what I knew would be a futile last term at Oxford, before I took over the running of my father’s shop.
I went to the pub that night with some friends and at turning-out time I went on to a coffee bar with one of them – really just to delay going home.
We walked in and my friend stopped at a table where he knew one of the girls.  One of her friends was Eve and she says that she wanted to marry me there and then.  I just knew that I wanted to see her again, which proves just how much smarter woman are than men and how much more determined.
In a very real way on that 21st birthday I got the key to my future, so I’m hoping that this 21st will be lucky, too.
I want to try and write fiction of some kind; maybe I’ll write jokes, maybe I’ll write about gardening, maybe I’ll write scripts.  I want to spend more time in my garden, more time with my children and grand-children, more time traveling, more time doing things I don’t even know about yet.  But no, I don’t believe I’ve written my last ad for AMV.
I’ve found this a very difficult speech to write – I suspect it shows.  I’ve felt the burden of your expectations – I felt you wanted the speech of a lifetime – quite literally – that you wanted me to plunder the past 40 years and come up with gold – golden advice, a set of bliefs and canons that would keep the agency the way it is, protect it in the future.  And for some reason I haven’t wanted to do that – I’ve done it before so why not now?
Perhaps this explains it:
When I say good bye to my children I give them a hug and  a kiss and say: “See you soon.”
I don’t say “And here are a few tips and principles to help you get through to Thursday.”  I just give them a hug and a kiss.
If I were a giant I would cross the road and put my arms around the building opposite (he was giving the speech in the Landmark Hotel, across the road from AMV) and say “Goodbye, see you soon.”
I hope to do just that to many of you, too.  It doesn’t seem the time for a lecture and anyhow you all know how to run a great agency.
You care about two things.  You care about quality – in everything you do. From the chairs in Reception, to the way you answer a phone, to a piece of Typography, to the ideas you have, to the research you put your name to, to the meetings you hold, to the way you hang a picture, to the way you crop a photograph or write a line.
Quality is always possible and always under threat, but if you don’t seek and defend it you won’t be satisfied and you won’t be happy.
The second thing you must care about?  That’s easy.  It’s each other.
Take care of each other and nearly everything else will take care of itself.  It’s pat, but it’s true.
Both these things take effort and boldness.  I’m retiring now because I want to take charge of my future – however long or short it may be – I don’t want to be passive and let the future happen to me – what I’m doing is risky, I could be very lonely in my little office, I know I will miss you, I will miss the fun and the talk.  I’m giving up something I’m good at to try something I’ve never tried – I’m going from guru to novice, from safe to uncertain.  And I’m happy.
A few months ago I read Peter Brook’s memoirs.  I’d like to end by quoting something from his book.
“At any moment we can find a new beginning.  A beginning has the purity of innocence and the unqualified freedom of the beginner’s mind.
Development is more difficult, for the parasites, the confusions, the complications and the excuses of the world swarm in when innocence gives way to experience.
Ending is hardest of all, yet letting go gives the only true taste of freedom.  Then the end becomes the beginning once more and life has the last word.”
That is how I feel.
In an African village when the storyteller comes to the end of his tale, he places the palm of his hand on the ground and says: “I put down my story here.”
Then he adds, “So that someone else may take it up another day.”
I’ve been privileged to help write the first few chapters of AMV – you will write the next few – it wont be my story, but it will be a good one.
And so I place my palm on the ground – AMV will be fine, you will be fine.  “Courage, mon brave,” as Jeremy would say.  God bless you all.”