A short and pithy piece this month, from starting your day early to setting a delivery delay on your emails.

  1. Start really early
    Forget all that larks and owls stuff. Face it that larks rule the world and owls just try to keep up.
  2. Don’t immediately say ‘no’
    Make ‘I’ll think about it’ your default setting.
  3. Get into the habit of looking things up and checking facts
    The internet is a treasure house of information, facts and figures. Your brain is overloaded. Being right is a good habit, and it’s quite easily achieved.
  4. Set achievable goals for every single day
    Or one goal. Doesn’t matter. Write it down. Go for it.
  5. Plan a bit further ahead
    Always have your sights on something ambitious and exciting, and keep stoking the fire.
  6. Don’t go to meetings that produce no results and no decisions
    We all know that six clever people in a conference room is no guarantee of a successful outcome.
  7. If you want to get something done, start small
    The most efficient meeting is just two people.
  8. Delay sending your emails
    Go to the tools menu on MS Outlook. You can set a ‘Rule’ to defer delivery by up to 2 hours. No more embarrassing mistakes or hot headed notes.
  9. Try not sending an email at all
    Remember the old days. Nothing wrong with meeting someone or calling them.
  10. Reconnect with one old friend a day
    Doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just let them know you’re still around and interested in them.

This is David Wethey’s Marketing Society blog for this month. You can also read it here

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Who says it isn’t (you may well ask)? Where’s the survey?

As it’s the silly season, I offer no research, just conjecture and portentous conclusions. But is that any worse than countless articles, programmes and blogs where the data is briefly summarised and then discarded in a welter of opinion? My first job was as a Nielsen presenter, and I was taught to interrogate the figures and never deviate into guesswork. Here is the other end of the spectrum – no data and plenty of speculation.

Marketers are loved by agencies eager for their business, but apparently by few others. Take the denizens of any commuter train or tube. Very few of their professions and job descriptions would excite much admiration or even approval from the world at large. In the early days of TV panel games there was a long-running classic called ‘What’s My Line?’. Contestants were welcomed, and required to perform some mime to give a clue to what they did for a living. I remember that when the panel had cracked the puzzle, the audience would invariably applaud enthusiastically. Chimney sweeps, accountants, tea tasters – it made no difference. All jobs were respected and OK back then.

How very different now. To judge from newspaper and internet chatter, I suspect that marketing and advertising might not be down there with bankers and politicians, but would probably fall into the shyster/exploiter category alongside estate agents and car salesmen. Pity that, because we mean so well.

After all, the language of marketing and marketing communications is so caring and consumer-friendly. We listen. We learn. We wish to offer benefits, superior performance, outstanding value, and indeed ultimate satisfaction. Our generosity in bringing radical new products to market is only matched by our dedication to improving familiar brands and repositioning them to make them more appealing to today’s mother, shopper, householder, motorist, whatever.

But they still don’t like us much:

• ‘Products would be cheaper if brand owners spent less on advertising and promotion’ (generally untrue)
• ‘Admen are always making spurious claims about superiority’ (surprising given the toughness of truth in advertising legislation)
• ‘Top marketers and advertising people are overpaid’ (tosh – look at city boys and girls, entertainers and footballers)

The scepticism towards our industry is even more remarkable given the dramatic swing from command and control communications (telling people what to buy) to conversational dialogue in social media and a new emphasis on sharing content.

Maybe the #1 goal of the marketing industry in 2014 should be to market marketing itself, and marketers, as forces for good.

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As I write this on an early morning Eurostar, newspaper talk is of green shoots. So are all the faces around me wreathed in happy smiles? Well, no. But that is because the ones that aren’t asleep are all feverishly gazing at their phones, Blackberries and laptops. Why feverishly? Because we have just emerged from that undersea world of communications blackout we call the Tunnel.

Stop at traffic lights, and you’ll see the passengers in the car alongside are looking down. If a meeting breaks for five minutes, colleagues will immediately check texts, emails and Facebook. Some will even make that a higher priority than a bathroom break. See what happens when an aircraft lands. Look at kids, teenagers, young adults, everyone. Look at spectators at the Test. Eyes down – even in a full house.

Just think how different things are from every previous moment of history, when our natural gregariousness led us to chat with the people around us. Now we’re preoccupied with communicating with people who aren’t there. Our thumbs are working nineteen to the dozen. Give us two generations and our thumbs will be longer than our fingers.

We are checking on what we can’t see – not what we can. We used to have a laugh with the person beside us. Now we Tweet it to our followers. We are here, but our minds are elsewhere.

Things may be looking up, but we are looking down. I worry about that. I’m a great enthusiast for bright eyes and a smile. With the eyes cast downwards and the mouth set in concentration,
I can’t see either. ‘Social Media’ – bit of a misnomer, isn’t it?

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Sometimes you have to date an article precisely. This one is being written after the Manchester derby (unfortunate result, but who cares – we’ve won the League anyway). I’m writing it after some pulsating Heineken Cup clashes, and after my golf partner and I were devastated to lose a foursomes final on Sunday, and before we became embroiled in the Masters.

I’m writing about brands, so why start by talking about sport? It’s because many of us always start by talking about sport. It’s exciting, it’s involving, it matters. In particular, it matters whether you win or lose. It is also overwhelmingly absorbing – in detail and across the board. That’s why so much broadcasting time is dedicated to showing wall-to-wall sport. That’s why it sells newspapers, which we tend to read from back to front.

I wasn’t so immersed in events at Old Trafford last week that I couldn’t dwell on the contrast between the frightening intensity of the battle on the field, and the ‘contest’ between rival shirt sponsors AON and Etihad. Even when Chevrolet take over the United shirts next season, it will be the clubs, not the brands, that fight it out.

Everywhere we read that the consumer is in charge. The era of command and control is over. Instead of consumers being pattern- bombed by advertisers trying to spread awareness and influence purchasing behaviour, the internet and social media sites in particular are inundated by consumers talking up brands – and sometimes slagging them off.

But last week, as bone crunching tackles rained in and the yellow card was repeatedly flashed, it occurred to me that none of this consumer involvement with brands is confrontational, or adversarial, or competitive. It is military parades, not an engagement. It is manifestos, not the hustings. It is on the training grounds, not at the stadium.

It is instructive to look at the language. The experts at brand management in social media use phrases like:

  • Social networks can breathe new life into brands by building collaborative relationships with consumers
  • Let go – allow consumers to lead the conversation
  • Anchor your brand to your core values
  • Connect to causes that truly resonate with your organization and its culture
  • Don’t just celebrate success. Embrace failures and resolve them in public

Social media marketing has followed conventional marketing in preparing brands for battle. Not leading them into it. Marketing (like R&D) is essentially a headquarters activity, unlike sales, which has traditionally been on the front line.

Maybe this is why marketers have developed such a love for competitive pitches. If you can’t actually watch your brand trading blows with its rivals, at least you can enjoy agencies killing each other for the right to advertise it!

I feel that digital marketing is missing a trick. It would not be hard to devise formats in which brands could slug it out in the ether, with rival supporters baying for blood, and judges championing the contestants as if they were on The Voice or Britain’s Got Talent. It could even work on TV too, which would be even more exciting.

Am I being unfair in suggesting that even on the internet, brand battles are tame compared to sport and other contests? Is it wrong to suggest that today’s brands are too bland for such a gladiatorial age? I am not sure. But it would be well worth looking at something more combative.

And what a brilliant challenge that would be for agencies, who feel that micro-management and over-reliance on pre-testing has blunted their creative claws. For pioneer companies who decide to take the gloves off, and dare to fight toe-to-toe with competitors, the rewards might be mouth-watering.

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St John’s Wood was developed in the early 1800s as a genteel London suburb, with low density villas as opposed to the terraces familiar in the East and South of the Capital. As such there would have been plenty of business for ostlers (or stablemen) and ready employment for lamplighters who strode along the streets at dusk and dawn with the long poles that were the tools of their trade.
Of course both occupations have long since disappeared. As I walked briskly yesterday afternoon from Lord’s to the Tube at the end of the ISBA Conference, I fell to wondering if admen and marketers could suffer the same fate.
This was ISBA’s 25th Annual Conference. In years gone by the relationship with agencies would have been a key agenda item. Prominent agency leaders would have been speaking. Marketer delegates would have felt like ‘clients’. How very different this March. As snow flurries freshened up the Nursery Ground, agencies were conspicuous by their absence from the agenda – nor were there many agency attendees.
In the morning, delegates were regaled with presentations on EU regulation, newspapers, social media and brand purposing. We saw ads, but they were mere illustrations (and mostly unattributed) from EffectiveBrands, a marketing consultancy firm dedicated to taking their clients global.
Isn’t that what BBDO, McCann, Ogilvy and co used to do? Of course it was Ogilvy who were responsible for the legendary Dove case history. Sad therefore that in the EffectiveBrands presentation their ads were shown but not credited to the agency.
If the morning had been awkward viewing for sensitive agencies, the afternoon was hardly a comfort blanket for the legion of marketers in the room. First, any complacency would have been blown away by the performance of this year’s crop of Marketing Academy students (mainly 30 somethings from clients and agencies). Not only were their communication and presentation skills ahead of what their seniors managed earlier. Their message was encouragingly and chillingly clear:
• The role of marketing needs to be redefined to deal with its many critics
• Marketing has to be seen to be ‘doing the right thing’, rather than just push products and services. A moral code is needed
• The talent pool needs to be urgently refreshed with people with more diverse backgrounds and experience.
Then we heard from a panel of seasoned marketers who had made it to the Boardroom – no mean feat, given that only 40 of the FTSE Top 350 companies have a marketer on their boards. Were these super-successful ex-marketers reassuring about the profession that had been their pathway to glory? Absolutely not. They were also worried about the talent pool. They criticised marketers who were full of jargon and short on numbers and accountability. They said marketers were often un-cooperative and not on the right agenda. They want marketers to be more widely experienced – preferably in consumer-facing roles. They said that marketers should have a single-minded focus on driving sales and top line growth. They encouraged marketers to pick up experience internationally, so they can learn new things and become less insular. They bemoaned the loss of so many of the old ‘marketing universities’. Steve Langan spelled it out: ‘marketing is a tool to an end, not an end in itself’.
It’s a tough environment for both agencies and clients. We all know that. What I took out of the ISBA Conference was that neither can take the security of their position in the world for granted. It is now apparently open season to talk about marketing communications and say little about agencies. Also for both the new generation and those with years of experience to talk about the future of marketing in much less than admiring language.
But there’s always hope. I suppose ostlers graduated to work in garages, while the lamplighters were the forerunners of today’s energy companies!

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Last summer I made one of the toughest decisions of my life: that my company AAI would turn its back on the conventional way of conducting agency pitches. I believe it was a great decision. But it was not an easy one.

Because making difficult decisions is one of the crucial tests for any decision taker, I thought it might be helpful to share the story.

By July 2012 AAI had been advising clients on finding new agencies as a specialist consultant for exactly 24 years. AAI had an established reputation across many countries as a state of the art facilitator of agency pitches. Running pitches was roughly 75% of our revenue stream, and our methodology was well known and accepted by advertisers and agencies alike as the default setting. Rival consulting practices and numerous advertisers across the globe had followed our lead.

Yet we made the announcement that we were no longer prepared to handle pitch assignments if it involved agencies giving away creative work for free. Why make that change, when we had been closely involved in organising such contests for many years?

First, and importantly, I emphasise in my book Decide (to be published by Kogan Page in February) how vital it is to make formal choices by establishing robust criteria, and sticking to them. At the outset of a pitch, all our clients work with us on deciding which boxes the agency of their dreams needs to tick (the criteria and sub-criteria). No client in our experience has ever been brazen enough to stipulate that their agency choice should be based largely on which agency provides the most plausible free campaign in the shortest number of days!

Secondly, we recognised that there had been a significant and continuous slippage from what was the custom 30/40 years ago – agencies offering just an indication of a possible solution – to effectively providing complete free campaigns.

We were also influenced by four salient facts:

1. The first is the research carried out by the ISBA/IPA steering group (of which I was a member) on the Good Pitch initiative: only one in five of the campaign ideas that win pitches ever runs for real. That means four out of five fall through clients changing their minds, or at the research hurdle. And that’s just the winning agency’s idea. If six agencies make speculative creative presentations, five of those ideas are destined for oblivion anyway.
2. Academic evidence is clear that picking a winner from exceptional candidates is a demanding and specialist skill, which requires both strict criteria setting and a healthy dose of gut feel. The AAI casebook – over 24 years – shows no correlation between the ability to create instant magic and forging productive long-term relationships. Some agencies are particularly successful at winning pitches. Others have an enviable record at long term stewardship. We can find no evidence of a link.
3. We researched a wide spectrum of other professionals (including lawyers, accountants, management consultants, architects, surgeons and consultants), also service providers as diverse as defence contractors, caterers, and kitchen designers. No one gives away IP, or offers for free what they should be selling
4. We believe that the movement to raise ethical standards in public life (politicians, media owners, company chiefs, bankers) is unstoppable. We have spoken to several senior marketers who would prefer a less lavish, more practical and more effective way of finding new agencies.
There is a strong case for marketers, procurement professionals and agencies to try something different: a pitch process that is:
• Faster (target 5/6 weeks maximum), much less expensive for everyone, with fewer agencies involved
• Dependent not upon final presentations of speculative creative work, but creative work done for the agencies’ clients (with results), reputation, track record, people, fit and strategic alignment

We called our new process Mutual Decision™. The name reflects the fact that there are two decisions at the end of every pitch: the client’s to appoint a new agency, and the agency’s to take on a new client.

Mutual Decision™ is designed to be a far more effective way of forming a productive long term partnership, because it is based on mutually relevant criteria, not one side putting the other through a creative beauty parade, largely to the exclusion of more important considerations. It also provides for two other vital elements of any professional partnership – a proper induction period, and ongoing – and two-way – evaluation of the quality of the relationship, and the productivity engendered.

It was a difficult decision to change our business model so fundamentally. But for me, having just written a book on making better decisions in a better way, it would have been even more challenging to carry on recommending an agency selection system that is not only costly and time-consuming, but also relatively ineffective and ethically questionable.

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The procurement function gets a lot of stick.

Organisations that supply services to big client companies (especially agencies) frequently complain about that they see as mean procurement departments. ‘They beat us up on price’. ‘They make us jump through all sorts of hoops’. ‘They impose tough payment terms on us’.

I’ve been known to say the same sort of thing myself!

But there’s a big truth out there: procurement’s job is to buy raw materials, goods and services for their company, and to do it selfishly. That’s because we all buy selfishly. We want things on our terms, at the lowest possible price, provided the quality is OK. The language is littered with sayings and aphorisms to underline this point.

“They are so desperate for the business, they’ll drop the price in the end”
“Never pay more than you have to”.

But the buyer can be sceptical too.

“No such a thing as a free lunch”.
“Pay peanuts, get monkeys”.

It is unrealistic to expect your commercial equation to defy the laws of gravity – whether you are an agency seeking a higher fee, or if you are trying to sell your house in a depressed market. Buyers will be buyers. But the other side of the coin is rather less obvious. If you want to be a success in sales, you can’t sell selfishly. If you sell what you want to sell, at the price you want to get, on the terms you insist on, you are likely to have very limited success.

That’s because we have to sell generously. We need to work out what people want to buy. We have to allow people to choose. We must get the pricing right. We are obliged to offer terms the buyer will accept.

Yet so often, we come across ungenerous sellers:
• The take it or leave it mentality
• Agencies that tell the client there’s only one creative solution, only one photographer, only one director
• Inflexible media deals, that aren’t deals, precisely because they are inflexible
• The used car that’s too pricey, or the house seller that won’t drop their price

Selfish buying demands generous selling. Hard-nosed buying makes sense. Hard-nosed selling makes none. Unless you are very tough – or very, very good.

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For a business built around vocabulary, advertising is beginning to struggle with its own semantics. We seem to be saddled with the cumbersome ‘marketing communications’ to embrace the expanded suite of ways in which paid communications can impact consumers and other target audiences. It really started with direct marketing and sales promotion, which demonstrably weren’t advertising, in that they weren’t delivered via the traditional media. And PR which was, but on an earned, not paid basis.

Now there are so many more activity areas: sponsorship, digital, content, events, guerrilla, buzz, social and so on. Is ‘Marketing Communications’ the correct cover-all. Or can we make a case for using the word ‘Advertising’ – albeit in an expanded and differentiated context. That’s what the late great Steve Jobs thought. He reckoned that anything the brand did was advertising.

If you are promoting a brand, an organisation or a cause, that’s advertising in a real sense. The collateral vocabulary supports that view. We are admen or adwomen, working in adland, making ads – not adverts please. We have paid our admission fees. We are addicted to our way of life. We are fuelled by adrenalin. It all adds up.

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Bernie Ecclestone said this in an interview last November: ‘I think Europe is finished. It will be a good place for tourism but little else. Europe is a thing of the past.’

The back story was about Ecclestone’s determination to change the shape of F1 by holding fewer GPs in Europe, and more elsewhere. But his words grated with a lot of people on a far broader front. People who believe Europe is absolutely not finished. Struggling maybe. Certainly not in great shape.

But still the cradle of our civilisation. Still rich in culture and invention. Unbelievably diverse. Impossibly beautiful. Incredibly, spectacularly wonderful. And a great place to grow up, live, love, work and prosper.

Luckily advertising folk read what Bernie wrote and decided to fight back. The way the ad world does. With insights, ideas, ingenuity and professionalism. The EACA (European Association of Communications Agencies) is the body that embraces all the national advertising communities of Europe.

Today in Brussels, as the continent’s creative cream gather to celebrate the Euro Effies (effectiveness awards to you and me) EACA President Moray MacLennan, Worldwide CEO of M&C Saatchi, announced an initiative called “This is my future”. He also unveiled an initial TV commercial idea.

The official statement from EACA says, ‘The initiative is designed to inspire 500,000 new start-up businesses over the next three years. Based on the average value-added per micro-business, this would deliver a gross added value of €33 million and nearly two million employed positions to the EU. The campaign will be supported by a budget of €2.2 million to be funded by private enterprise, venture capital and contributions in kind from partners’.

So Ecclestone made a highly negative pronouncement, which caused much consternation and a considerable problem for what had started to look something of a beleaguered region. Europe’s ad community saw not so much the problem. More the opportunity. Their response: the whole ambitious “This is my future” programme.

It all goes to prove one of my favourite beliefs: opportunities are far more important than problems.

With a problem, you are left with sorting out the plumbing. Even if you manage to solve it, you are often no better off than before the problem emerged.

Opportunities are infinitely more powerful. There are two higher order tasks: identifying them, and realising them.

Go for it, EACA! You’ve spotted the opportunity. Now it’s up to us all to help you turn it into reality.

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The lead story in the latest edition of Campaign (29th June) is about Lloyds Banking Group allegedly calling a pitch on a project called Project Verde. In the first paragraph the journalist Anne Cassidy says, “Lloyds has called a multimillion-pound pitch to create the advertising to support the launch”.

I think the quote is very interesting from two aspects: the pitch (not the assignment that follows) being multimillion-pound), and the assertion that the pitch (not the relationship that follows with the winning agency) is to create the campaign.

I have no knowledge at all whether the story itself is true, or whether the idea is to create the campaign at the pitch itself. I can easily understand that the campaign would cost a few bob, and that the agency list would be on the lines of the quality mixture of established players and newcomers listed.

LBG and the agencies (if they are indeed under consideration) are consenting adults. It is a free country and an open market between clients and agencies. My question is more generalised: should it be the function of a pitch to create a launch campaign? Or would it be better for our industry if clients chose agency partners on the basis of track record, reputation and people – and then briefed the winning agency to create a campaign within a working commercial relationship?

At AAI we started the Mutual Decision™ initiative to try and promote quicker, less expensive, more effective, and less exploitative pitches. That is because we believe that agency/client relationships are likely to last longer, and be more productive and successful if they start that way. There is no evidence that agencies who are good at speculative creative sprints deliver more value over the long term. There is conclusive evidence that around four out of five “winning campaigns” fail to reach the marketplace, also that the cost of big pitches is massive.

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