My Creative Hero: Edward De Bono
Mick Mahoney, Creative Partner at Harbour, June 17, 2022, LBB #Creative #Hero #Creativity #Advertising #ProblemSolving #Specialism #Radicalism #Inspiration #Celebration
Mick Mahoney, creative partner at Harbour Collective on the influence of the master of lateral thinking
Who would you say is your creative hero?
My creative hero isn’t someone who has inspired me with their creative output, it is someone who helped me to understand what creativity really means. He made me realise that creativity isn’t whether you can draw, sculpt, compose or write ads, it’s so much more than that. Creativity is about open mindedness and curiosity. And it belongs to everyone. Not a privileged few. And not just people in the creative industries.
My creative hero is Edward De Bono. The man who coined the expression ‘Lateral Thinking.’ Which he explained as “Seeking to solve problems by using unique methods. A process and willingness to look at things in a different way.”
How long has he been important to you and what are your first memories of meeting him or coming across his work?
He has been important to me for my entire life. Although I didn’t know he was until a few years ago.
Growing up, I struggled with the idea that I was a creative person. It always made me feel like an odd one out. Like it was something silly or ephemeral and that I’d probably grow out of it. Which is in most people’s case the truth. You do grow out of it. We are all born with the ability to think creatively and through a combination of school, society, work etc it is stripped out of us bit by bit. They all want us to conform. Go with the prevailing narrative flow. Which minimises creativity’s potential to bring about needed change and influence progress in every field.
Like most people working in the creative industries, I’d heard of him but didn’t really know much about him. Everyone knows the name and the term lateral thinking. And most people could take a stab at what it means. But it was only when I saw this quote from him that I really sat up and took note.
“Creativity makes life more colourful and more interesting.”
This quote was so powerful to me that I used it on the first page of The Creative Nudge, the book I co-authored with Kev Chesters about how to rediscover your creative brain.
If it’s someone you personally know, how did you get to know him and how has your relationship evolved over the years? If you don’t know him, how did you go about finding to learn more about him and his work?
Sadly, De Bono died last year. I would love to have met him and discussed creativity. But at least there are plenty of books and talks to study.
Why is the person such an inspiration to you?
His work is the foundation of my belief in the primacy of creativity. He has given me the confidence to champion creativity to a wider audience. The Creative Nudge was my first attempt to do this. Kev and I have also been asked by the Guardian newspaper to give a creativity masterclass in September which should be an interesting experience. And my next book explores creativity as a life skill.
How does this person influence you in your approach to your creative work?
Edward De Bono has completely changed my relationship with creativity. I no longer think about creativity as just an artistic pursuit. It is, of course. But that is only one aspect of it. I’m now actively trying to encourage everyone to embrace their creative selves. And to bring creative thinking to the widest audience possible. Creativity lies at the heart of all progress. It should be taught in schools. Encouraged in industry. Be a fundamental skill demanded in commerce.
What piece or pieces of this person’s work do you keep coming back to and why?
I constantly come back to this quote. If ever you needed validation for your pursuit of creativity, here it is:
“There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.”
The Alcohol Category in 2022: There’s Never Been a Better Time to Celebrate
Kev Chesters and Kim Walker, Strategy Partners at Harbour, June 15, 2022, LBB #Alcohol #PostCovid #Marketing #Advertising #AlcoholFree #AlcoholBrands #Radicalism #2022 #Celebration
Remember how we used to celebrate the milestones in life pre-Covid?
New baby? Get a bottle of wine from the year they were born.
Engagement? Send a bottle of champagne to toast their good fortune.
Christmas? Buy every man in your family a bottle of whisky with a personalised label.
Random Thursday? Well, it would be rude not to celebrate that it’s almost the weekend, with a few Aperol Spritzes after work.
Alcohol was often a staple of how we marked the moment. In most cultures, in many parts of the world, throughout the year.
Our ability to celebrate got a little blurry there for a while during Covid. As the definitions between work and pleasure, day and night, week and weekend blurred during lockdowns; we stopped celebrating both the big and the little moments in life.
Countless birthday parties, weddings and Christmas celebrations were cancelled. Well, unless you were in Downing Street. As a result, we have lost some of our connection with the power of social ritual and ceremony.
It’s not that we didn’t want to celebrate. We just found it harder to demarcate the moments that matter. A trend that still continues. According to a recent study, 70% of US professionals who worked from home during Covid depressingly now say they regularly work weekends .
Any skill that goes for months without practise gets a bit rusty. And for whole cohorts of Gen Z, who are predicted will make up more than 60 percent of luxury spend by 2026 , they haven’t even yet mastered the art of celebration as adults, in the way previous generations did. Maybe we haven’t forgotten entirely but maybe we’re just a bit anxious about how to get back into celebrating again?
Post pandemic, there is a 25% decrease in desire to visit bars . Yet 61% of young US adults reported feeling ‘serious loneliness’ during the pandemic . Does this disconnect provide opportunity for the alcohol category to lead the way in remastering the art of celebration?
If celebrating is like riding a bike, can alcohol brands act as our stabilisers, whilst we get back up to peak celebrating skill levels?
The alcohol category was turned on its head by Covid, perhaps more than any other. On trade moved to off trade overnight. Hospitality became home-spitality. Cocktails and cocktail bars became cocktail kits and DIY home bars in the shed at the end of the garden.
Yet for all the lows, there were a number of highs for the alcohol category. Globally 43% of individuals reported an increased drinking frequency during the pandemic . RTD cocktails saw a rise of 131% in the off-trade . Global E-commerce boomed and is expected to continue to grow by 66% by 2025 .
In order to continue these alcohol growth trajectories as we start to venture out of our front doors and adjust to new ways of being together again; the biggest opportunity for alcohol brands appears to be to help us to reconnect. To learn again how to celebrate the familiar rituals of old and to master the creation of new celebration rituals, relevant for the new now.
Here are three tips for any alcohol marketeer grappling with how to make the most of this post-Covid celebration opportunity.
Firstly, celebrate the familiar. Communicate the power of the rituals that were associated with your brand pre-Covid. The ones people cherish and miss. Whilst the place and pace of celebrating has changed during Covid; the role of alcohol brands to enhance celebrations in any space is perhaps more important than ever, delivered with aplomb and panache.
Secondly, create new celebration rituals in a post-Covid world. Make the most of trends that were already burgeoning, like the daytime drinking brunch occasion, which massively accelerated in 2022. Ensure your brand is ready for new celebrations. Especially for a new audience, who have missed out on so many of the formative social rituals of becoming an adult.
Finally, celebrate where your audience are at. In a world where we don’t have to and don’t want to travel as much, focus on creating occasions in the home. Post-Covid celebrations may not find always themselves in the luxury of on trade hospitality but rather the intimate surroundings of the home. And need be no less luxurious. As Ellie Pithers from Vogue said, “The next stage of showing your good taste is now extended to your home.”
Time to pop some corks and make celebrations happen in the on and off trade worlds of the future. Cheers!
Be More Queen
Kev Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, June 6, 2022, Walpole #Queen #Luxury #Marketing #British #Specialism #Creativity #QueenElizabeth
Her Majesty is the best example we have of a British luxury brand, and all companies could learn an invaluable lesson from how her personal brand has endured and thrived over the decades. The key to her success? An authentic tone of voice.
In my day job as a strategist and consultant, I have worked with, and for, some of the most famous and fêted British brands out there: British Airways, British Telecom, Vodafone, The Ritz and Sipsmith Gin to name a few. I am often asked to develop positionings for clients to help them separate successfully from the rest of their category, and to bring their most attractive side to the fore for consumers. The key to brand success is, and always has been, authenticity. Judy Garland put it best all those years ago when she said: “Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.” Pretend to be something you’re not and you’ll quickly get found out, in the luxury category more than any other.
The biggest element in establishing a successfully authentic brand is to develop an authentic tone of voice. This is key because once you get beyond a certain size you won’t always be in the room to represent your product or service. So, your communications in all their forms – from packaging to advertising – will have to act as your proxy. As well as representing your key values when you’re not there, how do you stay true to what you believe across audiences, borders and cultures? Probably one of the most famous brands out there is Nike, with one of the most famous lines: Just Do It. My old boss Dan Wieden (who wrote that line) once told me, “We never gave Nike an idea, we just helped them to find their voice”.
There is a simple rule, which I’ve gleaned over my three decades of experience, to developing an authentic tone of voice. And Her Majesty has nailed it and continues to nail it perfectly, regardless of her age or the changing sociological and political climate. It is the reason she is consistently top of the YouGov poll of most popular royal with an approval rating that any brand, regardless of sector, would kill to have. It is why I have always described Her Majesty as Britain’s number one luxury brand. The one-rule-to-rule-them-all is having a simple set of timeless beliefs and values, and then working out how to stay consistent to them regardless of the audience you are engaging with. Think about Her Majesty. She has endured and thrived as the head of state across seven decades. She has reigned through 14 US Presidents, plus 14 UK Prime Minsters (and counting). She has been there from Bill Haley to Harry Styles, from Lady Thatcher to Lady Gaga, from Marilyn M through Jessie J to Kim K.
Your brand will often have to talk to multiple audiences, in multiple countries about many different things at the same time. Across age groups, borders, categories and sectors. But if you think your brand has to flex to talk to different audiences, just imagine the average day of the Queen. She may begin by talking to a town mayor, then have to speak to a four-year-old flower girl, followed by the bereaved parents of a deceased soldier, and finish the day having dinner with a head of state.
She doesn’t morph. Her values don’t change. She doesn’t try to be something she isn’t. She has a strong belief system and simply flexes intelligently and empathetically based on the audience she is in front of. It works and it works brilliantly. I don’t know anyone who has been lucky enough to talk to Her Majesty without coming away believing that she spoke to them personally. And if you want perfect proof for this, just look up the story of David Nott, the author of War Doctor, who tells about the time he had a PTSD attack at dinner with the Queen. It is a masterclass in adaptation and empathy.
Brands often have to talk to multiple audiences at the same time. This is the lesson all brands must learn. My mum always said that you should learn from studying the best at what they do. So, learn the lesson from the greatest luxury brand we have. One that has adapted, survived and thrived across 70 years.
The Pitch Positive Pledge: more harm than good
Paul Hammersley, Managing Partner at Harbour, May 23, 2022, Campaign #Pitching #PitchPositive #Marketing #Advertising #ModernMarketing #MentalHealth #Radicalism
Much has been written recently about the latest attempt to improve the agency pitch process, this time a joint effort by ISBA and the IPA.
Much of what has been said about it to date, publicly at least, has been reasonably positive.
From the client side we’ve heard that it’s “a common framework of expectation on what a good pitch looks like” (Pete Markey, Boots) and “a great initiative that codifies best practice” (Toby Horry, TUI).
From the agency side it’s apparently “a great opportunity to set a new standard” (Charlie Martyn, Wunderman) and “a call for a change”, (Julian Douglas, IPA and VCCP).
But it’s also been summarily dismissed as “a Band-Aid on a process that this industry should have ditched a long time ago” (Julie Cohen, indie agency Across the Pond).
I fully support any attempt to improve the pitch process – especially the kind of process creative agencies go through – as laudable. There have been many over the past few years and this initiative is at least partly motivated by a mutual desire to reduce mental health pressures in agencies.
But I’d have to agree with Cohen that what the pitch process really needs is a complete overhaul and rethink and, unfortunately, this latest effort falls way short of that mark. Despite bringing the main client and agency representative bodies together in no-doubt lengthy discussion and, ultimately, agreement.
Only when agencies are no longer expected (and most continue to willingly offer) to give away their services for free during pitches will the process be improved meaningfully. This means not just the end of the anachronistic and old-fashioned creative pitch but even the strategic pitch, right across the agency landscape. There is no reason why pitching in our industry shouldn’t be about the team, how they work and what they’ve done for other clients – just like in every other professional services business.
And if you really want to reduce pressures on the mental wellbeing of agency staff, the chaos of a creative pitch has to be top of the list of things to stop doing. Only those who’ve worked in a creative agency will fully appreciate this.
The Pitch Positive Pledge aims somewhat lower. Indeed, and in case you haven’t read it, the three main tenets are to ‘be positive that a pitch is really necessary; run a positive pitch that takes wellbeing into account; and provide a positive resolution’.
It doesn’t take an anti-pitcher like me to see how that sounds a bit thin. Like me, you will probably assume that there must be more meat in the detail, but if you read the pledge fully you will see that there are certainly more words but I’m afraid very little more substance. Indeed, the pledge is a triumph of style over substance; written in the hope that by reasserting the same anodyne platitudes in more detail they will somehow gain more meaning and value.
I appreciate that hours of agonising discussion between ISBA, the IPA and some of both their members will have taken place and these may have taken the edges off potentially loftier ambitions (Douglas admits as much in his Campaign interview).
But if these negotiations watered things down to a point of banality, wouldn’t it have been better to drop the whole initiative entirely?
I imagine that everyone involved agreed that the final pledge was progress, an improvement and better than nothing. I’m not so sure.
Actually, while I have enormous respect for those who have worked hard to try to solve a long-running problem, I fear this pledge actually does more harm than good.
Partly because now the problem, still unresolved, has been put back in its box for a little while longer.
But mainly, because by having a pledge signed up to by 70 clients (why wouldn’t they? It requires almost nothing of them) and lots of agencies (they don’t dare not), it has further legitimised and extended the life of a fundamentally flawed process. A process that undermines the agency model, invariably does clients a disservice and will continue to contribute to unnecessary pressure on mental health in the workplace.
“Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” (The more that changes, the more it stays the same)
Kev Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, May 5, 2022, MediaCat #Change #Modern #Marketing #Radicalism #Tech #Creativity #HumanNature
How well do we turn to face strange changes? Harbour Collective’s Kev Chesters recommends three books to show that, whilst technology changes, humans do not.
“May you live in interesting times” — as that old Chinese curse goes
We are all cursed. Apparently. Everyone thinks they’re living in unique times. Every one of us thinks that the changes that are happening now are absolutely the most ch-ch-ch-ch-changey changes that have ever happened in the history of ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.
But are they? Or do we just all suffer from that secret exceptionalist narrative that convinces us that what is happening to us now must be the most exceptional thing that has ever happened?
For starters, those wonderful folks at BBH Labs released some data last year that showed that virtually all things relating to consumer attitudes and behaviours haven’t really changed an iota over the last twenty years — despite media hype and Twitter-based hysteria. Dean Matthewson and Harry Guild did some hypnotically brilliant work to show that “change sells” for marketers, hence why it’s fashionable to sell it, but that attitudes to pretty much everything in society haven’t (and don’t) really change at all.
So why do we think that everything is changing so much all the time, and why do we obsess over it?
It is natural for humans to think that things change. We are programmed from an evolutionary perspective to only notice new things. It starts with a principle called the Von Restorff Effect. Back in the days of the savannah it was vital for us to be able to focus on the many and varied threats that could kill us, so the brain evolved to edit out what it thinks it has seen before and only notices the noticeably different. So, we are physiologically hard-wired to obsess about change. The second thing is called Hedonic Adaptation. This scientific principle builds on Von Restorff and shows that we automatically assimilate every positive change as ‘normal’ and only notice the negative. Again, it was a survival mechanism. It’s why we moan about the price or speed of inflight wifi rather marvelling that the internet, or the wireless internet, or wireless internet IN THE SKY exists at all. We only see the bad bits of change. I’ll come back to this, too!
My own experience of this is through the lens of technology changes over the last twenty-five years. This is because it is technological changes — such as social media, mobile, the metaverse — that tend to dominate discussions over what is changing; for good, but mostly when it comes to the media, for worse. The vast majority (80%) of the coverage of technology in the press comes at the topic from a negative slant.
I started working on technology clients in 1997
I was lucky that my first large client was IBM, who even then spent 10% of their budget online on banners and buttons (unheard of back then). My first campaign for them on Lotus Notes was called “Work the Web” featuring Dennis Leary, and therefore I was exposed to the potential of the web very early on. Part of this meant I was put on a four-person committee at Ogilvy called the ‘Work the Web Committee’ to convince the sceptical WPP network that the internet was going to catch on. This was before there was an Ogilvy Interactive, before Google, before YouTube — hell, it was before Tim Berners-Lee was even a Sir (we ran a brilliant campaign to get him his knighthood btw — ask Rory Sutherland about it, if you don’t believe me) It was nearly a decade before any of us were to hear of Facebook or Twitter.
I then went through the emergence of the mass internet and the first dotcom bubble, boom and bust. I was the Head of Strategy at BT when we launched broadband in the UK in 2002, and as things like WAP (What A Palaver) and the mobile internet started to emerge. I then ran strategy on Sony Ericsson, Nokia and Three.co.uk as the world of social media started to take off 2007-2012, and since have watched with professional and personal interest as VR, AR and the metaverse has started to enter the mainstream. At each stage I have been deluged with increasingly panicked articles about the end of days that have been supposedly heralded by the arrival (and occasional subsequent disappearance) of all these things.
What have I noticed?
Well, largely that the arguments, impacts and even the language used has been similar at each stage of the emergence/adoption of technologies. And to be honest, the fundamentals of human behaviour and motivations haven’t really changed at all. Technology amplifies or augments existing traits or behaviours; it doesn’t create them. I have always been asked to write articles like this one on the huge seismic unique changes of whatever huge seismic unique changes are happening this week.
I’d like to recommend three books that have stuck with me over these times that help support the argument better than I could.
Douglas Rushkoff (1997) — Children of Chaos: I first read this as a wide-eyed Account Manager in the late 90s. It basically covers off all the potential negative impacts of the WWW on children and teenagers. The oldest teenager that it referenced in 1997 would now be 44 years old. It honestly could have been written yesterday. Its thesis about technological change is the same as the articles being published now about Twitch, Meta, and the ‘screenager’. It’s now 25 years old.
Tim Guest (2007) — Second Lives: A superb romp through the impact of Second Life (remember that?) on society at all levels. If you replaced the words “Second Life” with the word “metaverse” it would be identical to 99% of the articles I have read about the second topic in the last 18 months. It’s almost eerily uncanny.
Tom Standage (1999) — The Victorian Internet: This one is the real pearler. It compares the language used around the emergence of the telegraph in the mid 19th century to the emergence of the WWW in the last 90s. It proves that the hype, hysteria and even the words used (“it’s a web of ideas”) was identical back then as it is now — plus ca change.
I’m not saying that things don’t change but they don’t change as fast or as extremely or as permanently as people think they do. Technology changes, humans don’t. Science changes, humans don’t. We just think we do because of all the reasons I outlined earlier. We’re physiologically hard-wired to notice and amplify change, so we can’t help ourselves. The core motivators and drivers of human behaviour are pretty constant — writing The Creative Nudge taught me that.
I’ll leave it to Bill Bernbach to sum it up. He’s a bit better at writing than me:
“Human nature hasn’t changed for a million years. It won’t even change in the next million years. Only the superficial things have changed. It is fashionable to talk about the changing man. A communicator must be concerned with the unchanging man with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.”
Modern Marketing : Parents are not a segment
Kev Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, May 4, 2022, adforum #ModernMarketing #Modern #Marketing #Radicalism #Advertising #Creativity #Parents #Mothersday #Strategy
To mark Mothers’ Day, we looked at the representation of parents in advertising and how brands are connecting with the non-traditional family unit. Click here to view our curation of ads innovating their comms to be more inclusive.
In a special interview with Strategy Partner Kevin Chesters at UK-based Harbour Collective, we unpack how brands should (and shouldn’t) target people with kids:
What do Al Pacino, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Norris and Raquel Welch all have in common? Don’t know? They were all born in 1940. But you’d struggle to think of a segment where all four of them would fit comfortably. The 1940 segment?
What else do they have in common? They’re all parents. Like Donald/Melania Trump and Barack/Michelle Obama, or Ozzy/Sharon Osborne and Victoria/David Beckham. See what I mean?
I’m a parent. So is Homer Simpson. So was Joseph Stalin.
Parents are not a segment. They’re not a homogenous blob to be targeted by advertisers as if they are all one big mass of groupthink. Advertisers are making a massive mistake if they start to think of people who have kids as people who have the same motivators and drivers – but that tends to be how they are presented.
Just because a section of the population has been blessed with fertility does not mean that suddenly they all think the same, look the same, act the same and have the same triggers.
It is so curious that as marketers we are often asked to target “parents”. Mind you, we make the same mistake with “millennials” or “the over 55s” . I would advance a theory that whatever you make or sell then your target audience do have ONE thing in common. They are all human beings. Even if you sell pet food then Fido isn’t the one buying the dogfood. So, look for the human driver they have in common as people, not parents.
Parents are just human beings who happen to have had children. You were a couple before you were a mum and dad. I was a bloke before I was a parent of two boys. My desires, motivators, likes and loathes were the same the day before I had my first child and the day after. People who are motivated by fear over love will still be motivated by that driver regardless of whether they have one child, ten or none. They have more in common with someone who feels the same way but whose sperm hasn’t yet hit the jackpot versus some whose has.
Advertising is at its best when it depicts parents as humans who have challenges, that sometimes involve kids. Advertisers make a massive mistake when they try to treat “parents’ the same – and they often fall into this trap when depicting them. Too much homogeneity in thoughts, word, deed, ethnicity, or situation.
This is one of my favourite ads. It happens to tell the story of a mum and her boy as he grows older. It’s a beautiful piece of storytelling, telling the story of a clearly complex relationship.
This is another from the same advertiser. A story of a blended family in the modern world, facing challenges that modern families do. But effortlessly and subtly weaving a product and brand story into it.
Here’s another of my favourite ads of all time. So different. Brilliant comedy based on a parenting insight that we’ve all faced!
But the important thing is the story. The narrative. The fact that they might target parents isn’t the point. Life is the message; the parent bit is the context.
So, that’s my advice to advertisers who are targeting parents. Think about the person, not their fertility.
Think about their motivators, not their descriptor.
David Ogilvy was once asked what the difference was between, men and women and his answer was “which man and which woman?” Think of parents the same way and you won’t go far wrong.
Last Orders or Popping Corks? Ten Ways the Alcohol Category Can Bounce Back Post Covid
Kev Chesters and Kim Walker, Strategy Partners at Harbour, April 25, 2022, LBB #Alcohol #PostCovid #Marketing #Advertising #AlcoholFree #AlcoholBrands #Radicalism
The last two years have rocked all our worlds; and not in a good way. But, for the alcohol category, the world turned on its head perhaps more than in any other industry. On trade moved to off trade overnight. Hospitality became home-spitality. Cocktails became cocktail kits as bars moved from out out to very much in. Especially in Downing Street, it seems.
Winston Churchill once said that we should ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’. And a life coach we know (far less famous, but far more alive) tells us on a regular basis that in challenging times the best way forwards is to find the gift and opportunity in the moment.
The current cultural climate provides multiple gifts and opportunities for alcohol brands to make the most of. At Harbour, we’ve been canvassing the wide and deep experience of our Harbour Collective partners on the topic and have distilled ten top tips for any alcohol marketeer out there trying to figure out the way forwards in a post-covid world.
1. Learn from eggs and beef.
For the off trade, more than anything, it’s about rebuilding trust again in going out. As we entered 2022, there was a 25% decrease in desire to visit bars. Alcohol brands seeking to rebuild consumer confidence in socialising post-covid could learn a lot from the UK Egg Salmonella (1988) and Beef BSE (1990) crises and how confidence was restored back then. It’s about uniting as an industry to meet the common threat, slowly. Nudge; don’t push. Focus on the glass half-full positives of socialising again.
2. Say my name.
Brands matter when building trust. Remember the power of brand and name. Over 75% of drinkers still prefer their drink in a branded glass. Make the most of the highly branded world of alcohol by making your brand steal-able. Make your brand easy to call at the bar. And leverage branded opportunities in offline and online worlds. Invest in your brand and reap the reward.
3. Be more house burglar.
Maybe take advantage that out-out has become more in-in. Alcohol e-commerce is expected to grow by 66% by 2025. So, get obsessed with tactics for getting into peoples’ homes, just as a house burglar might. Maximise the off-trade entry points by getting into the front door, into the at-home bar and into the cocktail glass. How do we become a great visitor to people’s in-home entertaining?
4. Reinvent the art of celebration.
Our ability to celebrate got a little blurry there for a while. 70% of US professionals who worked from home during covid now say they regularly work weekends. Days have turned into nights, weeks into weekends and we find it harder to demarcate the moments that matter. Help people to reconnect post-covid by celebrating the familiar rituals of old and creating new rituals relevant for the now. Find glory in the return of normal.
5. Find fun in purpose.
61% of young US adults reported feeling ‘serious loneliness’ during the pandemic. As we ‘vibe shift’ to a more joyful existence, alcohol brands can be purposeful in a way that genuinely makes people feel good. Alcohol brands can help us reform our most important connections. What can be more purposeful than connection in the world of today? Stop being so serious and….
6. Lighten up.
There wasn’t a single advertising campaign in the WARC Creativity Top 10 ads in 2021. In a serious world, alcohol brands can cut through by focussing on being entertaining. Stop talking about yourself. Focus on what people buy, rather than what you sell. Help life get back to normal and feel good.
7. Turn trag dad back into cool guy.
31% of Gen Z want to reduce their alcohol intake. Alcohol has become the tragic older guy telling dad jokes in the corner. Avoid this trag dad trajectory for the new generation by stopping the alcohol dad dance at their disco. Avoid binary labels or choices. Embrace new trends. Think low-ABV, think no-ABV, think about acting for the now, not the then.
8. Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.
Alcohol brands get a bit obsessed with history. 94% of people would choose a brand that has a clear purpose over a competitor that doesn’t. So, alcohol brands can communicate how they improve lives now and into the future, not just in the past. Look forwards as well as backwards as you toast your brand’s history as well as your audience’s future. This is how to avoid the trag dad trap and stay relevant.
9. Do it in the dark.
Three out of four Brits now back new and increased controls on alcohol advertising. In one of the most regulated industries in the world, alcohol communications need to be even more creative to cut through. Earn attention through your brand’s behaviours as well as it’s communications. Be in the spaces and places your audience are. Break the rules of your category, not the rules of law.
10. 0% ABV ≠ 100% creativity.
40% of global consumers want to decrease alcohol consumption for health reasons. As the low ABV movement explodes, it feels like low ABV communications are about what their products lack, not what they enable people to do. So don’t juniorise your big growth bullet, put your best people on it. Focus on audience wants, not their needs, from low ABV. Find the opportunities they crave, not the compromises they feel compelled to make.
Of course, we can only scratch the surface here. There is so much more to talk about and talk over when it comes to how the alcohol industry and its brands can emerge stronger from this period of challenge. It would take longer than the five minutes it took to read this to be able to work through some of the clear and simple actions brands need to take to get back on the path to success.
Perhaps we should have a drink and discuss it.
'We wanted to inject optimism back into Britain': How a BA pitch failed to take off
Kev Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, March 15, 2022, Campaign #Success #Failure #Radicalism #Specialism #Creativity #Marketing #Britain
Like most of us older ones, I have a massive list of great ads that didn’t happen. Ones that would have made clients famous and rich. Ones that would have made the agency shelves heave with plaudits and tin.
But the one I most regret isn’t a single execution, it’s the brand platform we failed to sell into BA back when Mick Mahoney and I were creative and strategic leads on the business in 2017.
It might sound churlish because we did eventually sell BA a good idea (“Made by Britain”) and made a basket of nice brand work off the back of it. And not just big-assed TV ads either; some lovely brand partnerships and a rather smart set of activations. And everyone down at BA was really happy with it (well they said nice things about it at the time).
However, that platform wasn’t the best one. Or the one Mick and I wanted. Or the one they should have bought. That came about almost a year before, at the start of the relationship. God, it was a pearler. In pre-Covid days I think it might have actually taken the BA brand where it deserved (and still deserves) to be.
You see, BA had a problem. It still does. It just isn’t loved any more. And it hadn’t invested in its brand for years. Everyone just thought it was a more expensive easyJet that had robbed your free G&T. The latent brand love just wasn’t being leveraged in any kind of way.
The idea that got away was called “It’s how you see the world”. And it was lovely. The platform was so smart and the line was a work of genius.
It was a wonderful encapsulation of a point of view; full of the right sentiment for the time in the UK (in the depth of the post-Brexit shitstorm). We wanted to inject optimism back into Britain through a brand that really had the right to do so if it just regained a bit of confidence.
It was joyful. It was positive. It was playful. It said everything about a brand that had to represent all Britain, from every spectrum.
At a brand level it could communicate a point of view that travel makes us all happier and more rounded human beings – it’s how you see the world. At a customer level, it was about being the best version of yourself.
At a product level it was about… duh… what they do for a living. The way to see the world is by… getting on a bloody plane… to more destinations… at the right price.
It could do everything. It was ambitious and flexible. It had a point of view with personality too. Mick and Martha wrote some stunning work featuring Rosamund Pike and Michael Fassbender.
There was some of the most iconic visual/static assets that I’ve ever seen. I truly believe it would have made for one of the most famous campaigns of all time.
It was undeniable. Yet it was denied. Why? As any farmer will tell you, it is imperative to set up the right conditions for anything to thrive.
I don’t really know what happened, because I wasn’t in the room when it died. The conditions for success weren’t created. It ended up being shoehorned into about five minutes at the end of another meeting that was set up for something else.
The CEO didn’t even think that its line needed changing (unbeknownst to Mick and I). He was a bit snippy that someone was even suggesting it apparently.
We also didn’t have the people who were truly invested in its success in that room to talk about it. I’ve learned a few things over the years, but one that I should have remembered is that no one can sell the work like the person who created it. And I also learned that sometimes the right things fail for the wrong reasons.
It was a shame. I love what the BA brand could stand for as a representation of Britain on her best day. I think this platform could have been the start of something magical. It’s not about the line. It’s about the power of the sentiment. Although it is a belting line.
It’s a bitter irony that the one that got away was the travel brand. It really could have been the world’s favourite.
Utopia or dystopia: changing client-agency relationships
Kev Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, March 7, 2022, MediaCat #Utopia #Dystopia #Radicalism #Specialism #Creativity #Marketing #Leadership
Is there anything more “dystopian” to the British than a lack of manners?
And when I talk about manners, I’m not talking about minding your Ps and Qs or eating with the right knife.
I’m talking about following the most fundamental tenet of humanity known as the golden rule — “do unto others as you have them do unto you”. I’m talking about fairness and decency.
It’s a negative consequence of an over supplied industry. I think as budgets get squeezed the temptation seems to be growing to not only ask agencies to do more with less, but some proper bad behaviour (call it bad manners) is creeping in.
Clients who don’t even say thank you. People who only focus on the negative after weeks of hard work. New business prospects who ask people to pitch for free and then don’t bother to get back to you. New business prospects who ask people to pitch for free in the first place. Companies that interview young people and then ghost them.
How do we expect to make our industry an attractive place for talent, young and old, if we treat people like this — especially that last one.
I’ve been chatting to a few leadership peers recently and some shocking stories came up (all the following are anonymised).
– Multiple examples of agencies being asked to pitch extensive ideas for free and then not even getting so much as an acknowledgment email.
– One client asking for ideas, then telling the agency there was no longer a brief, and then running the agency’s ideas anyhow without any credit.
– Multiple examples of clients asking agencies to respond with detailed written proposals/scope and then not having the basic manners to reply “yes” or “no”.
I know from chatting to industry peers and commentators in the last couple of weeks that those examples are not only depressingly common but also on the rise. I want to make a plea for a return to acting decently towards people, especially suppliers.
Actually, in a lot of cases, it is not really about manners at all. It is about basic backbone or courage to be honest with people. The book Eat That Frog! contains some simple advice for anyone who has aspirations of leadership: Approach your difficult tasks first. Leadership in the good times is easy. Anyone can turn up for the celebratory drinks. The real leaders are the ones who can deliver bad news and the ones who face up to the problems.
But I don’t want to just moan or accept that this is just a consequence of the modern imbalance of an over-subscribed category. I want to give some basic simple things I think all leaders — agency or client — should do to act more decently.
Delivering bad news isn’t easy but grow a pair and do it. Don’t just hide or hope the problem goes away. Being a strong leader is about the ability to deliver bad news with empathy. Tell them they haven’t got the role/brief/business. You owe them that much.
Pull the plaster quickly
Don’t leave people hanging on. When I was a client I did loads of pitches. We always knew exactly which agency had “won” by the end of the day – no exception. Call them all. It’s very least you can do after all the unpaid time and effort they’ve put in.
I came across a case of a client who had wasted months of agency time getting them to respond to a brief that they clearly hadn’t had the courage to confirm internally. The bad blood created was permanent. Tell the truth. I have come up against so many examples of people telling easily disprovable lies to avoid having a more difficult, honest conversation.
Say thank you
It goes a long way. Seriously. And costs nothing.
Focus on what you “like” first when giving feedback
It really helps. Especially to a bunch of people who may be quite exhausted having put a lot of time and effort and soul into what they’re showing you.
Look in the mirror
Just always ask yourself would you like to be treated this way? If you would be upset, unhappy or angry to be treated that way then why do you think it’s acceptable to act that way towards others?
None of that is hard, is it? No one is asking anyone to change the entire industry. The dictionary definition of manners/etiquette is about what is “acceptable” behaviour. Just act like a nice human being.
Oh and…. pay your interns and pay your invoices (on time). It doesn’t take much really. It shouldn’t feel like asking for Utopia, but sometimes it really does.
Planning for the Best: Kim Walker on Being a Strategic Shapeshifter
Kim Walker, Strategy Partner at Harbour, February 22, 2022, LBB #Strategy #Specialism #Radicalism #Team #Creativity #Curiosity #Shapeshift
Harbour Collective’s strategy partner on making choices, the importance of a good team and Aha moments.
LBB > What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one?
Kim > There’s an element of ‘call me what you want, as long as you call me’ about this question.
I get called a strategist or a planner interchangeably and I don’t get too precious about job titles. I’ll answer to either, but my humble point of view is that the people who do my job and do it well, are strategists not planners. Strategy is about making choices. Choices about what to do, how to do it and most importantly, why to do it. Sometimes those choices are hard, as you have to walk away from things that could potentially be interesting, because you can’t do everything. Do everything, achieve nothing. Strategists have to kill their darlings.
The term ‘planner’ only talks to a small part of the job, which is executing those strategic choices once you’ve made them. Arguably planning is the easy bit once you’ve figured out what choices you need to make.
LBB > And which description do you think suits the way you work best?
Kim > I describe myself as a strategist. Because I make choices. I create business, brand, creative and communications strategies for clients, which are choices about what they should do next. And personally, the strategy bit is the bit I enjoy the most. Mulling over the big meaty challenges and figuring out the problem before you figure out how best to get to the answer.
LBB > We’re used to hearing about the best creative advertising campaigns, but what’s your favourite historic campaign from a strategic perspective? One that you feel demonstrates great strategy?
Kim > I believe the best campaigns are the ones I hear about from my friends, rather than the ones I read about in industry press. Because that means they are campaigns that have really managed to get people to notice them, to feel something and to feel enough to want to tell other people about them.
You only get this kind of response if the strategy is sharp. They aren’t typically just pretty shiny adverts on the telly but things that brands do in the real world that really show people what they care about.
A great example is the Bodyform Libresse work. Celebrating women, not just talking about periods. Embracing diversity, not conformity. Taking on taboos in a positive and meaningful way to create cultural change. Using a plethora of creative techniques including metaphor, illustration and depictions of reality. And now behaving in line with this ethos – with a pain museum, a pain dictionary and the launch of period pants.
More recently – I’ve loved the BBC ‘This is our BBC’ montage idea because it made me fall back in love with the Beeb, by celebrating the very reason it exists.
LBB > When you’re turning a business brief into something that can inform an inspiring creative campaign, what do you find the most useful resource to draw on?
Kim > My team. Within Harbour and within the wider Harbour Collective. There is no substitute for a good chat about what we’re all excited about in life to help fuel the start point for new ideas. All of my best strategies have been born out of interesting chats. Particularly with my strategy partner, Kev Chesters, who is Rain Man-like in his ability to recall brilliant cultural references. Definitely not chats exclusively with strategists but with anyone who has a point of view on the world (which is everyone).
LBB > What part of your job/the strategic process do you enjoy the most?
Kim > The Aha moment. When you realise you’ve got something so beautifully simple and extremely powerful that you want to go home and tell your mum about it. (Although of course, she wouldn’t care, because very few people in my real life care about what I do for a job). So you settle for telling the creative team or your client and hope they’re as excited about it as you are.
LBB > What strategic maxims, frameworks or principles do you find yourself going back to over and over again? Why are they so useful?
Kim > There are so many I’ve picked up along the way, but there are four main ones that I come back to every single day.
“Memories are fragile, brands are substitutable, reach is king.”
Byron Sharp usefully reminded me that people don’t care about brands the way marketers do.
“Feel lots, buy lots. Feel nothing, buy nothing.”
John Kearon at System 1. Usefully reminding me that people don’t buy the rational argument for anything, let along anything they see in advertising.
“Make things people want, not make people want things.”
From a wise person at PHD. A useful reminder of why I get up every day and put the work in.
“Notice, Remember, Understand.”
From my days at Mars Chocolate, one of the most creatively effective companies in the world. Useful to keep things simple when I’m final checking the executions of ideas are going to have the impact we want in the world. If executions are easy to notice, to remember what brand they’re for and the message is clear – well we’ve done a marvellous job of not getting in our own way.
LBB > What sort of creatives do you like to work with? As a strategist, what do you want them to do with the information you give them?
Kim > Good ones.
Good creatives are ideas people. Which means they are collaborative, open to the abstract, experts in their craft and passionate about making ideas come to life. They might be more interested in the words or the aesthetic in execution, but their passion comes from the kernel of the idea itself.
In that way, strategists and creatives are two sides of one coin, united by the idea, specialist in how they shape and bring that idea to life. Equal partners in the success of the agency’s output.
I am most proud as a strategist when my input leads to a really good discussion that the creatives can build from. And then we keep building together until we’re collectively happy the idea is as strong as it can be.
LBB > There’s a negative stereotype about strategy being used to validate creative ideas, rather than as a resource to inform them and make sure they’re effective. How do you make sure the agency gets this the right way round?
Kim > The creative process isn’t a baton pass between strategy and creative, it’s a continual sense of partnership from start to finish. At Harbour, we’re a small yet mighty senior team and we all get involved throughout the process so the baton is passed between strategy and creative the whole way through.
I believe the only way this stereotype would happen in an agency is where the baton passes from strategy to creative and then back again in a more linear fashion. Where strategists aren’t in the middle of the creative process and are just bought in at the end to finalise the deck for the client.
Strategists should be constantly inspiring and validating the creative team’s thought process the whole way through. Anything else is just lazy and old school strategic behaviour.
LBB > What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent? And how has Covid changed the way you think about this?
Kim > I think recruitment of strategists comes down to three things, regardless of their level of seniority: curiosity, confidence and cultural appetite.
If I can see that I can build a person’s ability around these three pillars, and that they value those three things, I know they can be a great strategist and a great member of my team.
And that’s true for nurturing strategic talent as well. You have to give people time to build these behaviours into the work they’re doing every day.
Covid only reinforced this for me as I saw so much strategic talent around me start to burn out. As strategists weren’t able to make the time to get curious, weren’t getting the praise and recognition they needed to feel confident and weren’t topping up their cultural energy by seeking new sources of inspiration.
LBB > In recent years it seems like effectiveness awards have grown in prestige and agencies have paid more attention to them. How do you think this has impacted on how strategists work and the way they are perceived?
Kim > I’m not sure we would put the hours in that we do as an industry if we didn’t think it was going to have an impact on the world in some way. Would we? I think that’s not just true of strategists but of everyone involved. If you can’t measure it, how can you objectively know that it was worth all your time and effort?
Having more emphasis on effectiveness as an industry just helps us reinforce the value of this in agency culture; so we don’t lose our way and get lost in the rabbit holes that don’t impact the work’s impact. I was trained as a researcher in my first job so effectiveness has always been at the core of the way I think about output. And from my time client-side, I think it’s right that clients and their agencies in turn prize effectiveness above all else, in order to drive business growth.
LBB > Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?
Kim > My frustration is when people stereotype us as just smart thinking people, not creative people. Brilliant strategists are creative too. It drives me mad when strategists play up to that stereotype by using unnecessarily big words, acronyms and complicated frameworks to make themselves look smarter.
LBB > What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?
Kim > Three things.
Do some soul searching. Is being curious a core value of yours? If not, it won’t be right for you. In fact, it will drive you mad.
Understand the role you like to play in the story. Strategists are team players, so if you want to be the solo hero that saves the day, go find another role.
Finally, do your research. Research is a core skill of a strategist so start as you mean to go on.
Why the key to creating and sustaining brilliant brands hasn’t changed
Kev Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, February 22, 2022, The Drum #Strategy #Specialism #Radicalism #Metaverse #Creativity #Marketing #NFT
What does it take to create and sustain brilliant brands today? The short answer is that it takes what it took yesterday, and what it will take tomorrow.
There is a temptation, when something new happens (a new platform, a new technology, a new trend, a new societal event), to think that it suddenly resets the clock on absolutely everything you’ve ever done, said, read or learnt. But if one takes a step back from the hype, vested interest, panic or spin, it becomes obvious that, fundamentally, humans don’t change.
The brilliant work done recently by Harry Guild and Dean Matthewson from BBH Labs shows that, at the top-level, consumer attitudes don’t change that much over time – about anything. Even the most rudimentary study of human behaviour from an evolutionary psychology point of view shows that the base drivers of all behaviour – threat or reward – haven’t changed since we were ploughing the savannah with the arse-bone of a giraffe.
NFTs and metaverses. Replace it with Second Life and QR codes. Replace that with mobile and WAP. Replace that with the world wide web and Friendster. Replace that with CDs and MTV. Video and television. Radio and the telegraph. The printing press and… smelting iron. Basically, the human story is one of developments in new technologies and our ability to adapt to them and assimilate them.
The basics of marketing don’t change. It’s tempting to think there is a get-rich-quick scheme or a shortcut to marketing success if one just signs up to one more webinar or buys that bottle of digital snake-oil from the bloke who has a vested interest in flogging it to you. But success in marketing is like success in all things – the basics are simple and if you do them you are more likely to succeed. Despite all the ads for slimming pills or miracle teas, nothing can ever replace the right amount of exercise and decent diet. Eat less, move more. It’s the same for advertisers and marketers.
The key to success today? Understand your customer or potential customer. Understand the category dynamics and drivers. Understand the cultural context you are operating in. Develop a differentiated point-of-view. Most importantly, find a compelling and creatively brilliant way to bring that to life – and the right place/way to do that in terms of engagement strategy, whether paid or not.
It’s not that complicated. There are simple methods for developing all the above. Come and talk to me if you want help in how to do it – I have a lot of experience and some brilliant partners!
Now I’m not saying that technology is not having or going to have a huge impact on how we engage with customers and how they engage with our brands. It will. The web did. Mobile did. Television did. Radio did. But it doesn’t change the fundamentals of great marketing. From Jesus to Victor Kiam, the basics of understanding how to reach an audience and engage them will never change.
Also, like the arrival of an unexpected guest at a dinner party, a new technology tends to cause a bit of a flutter immediately. But then it becomes a matter of assimilation rather than replacement. It is how it works alongside tried and trusted methods, not about annihilating them like some apocalyptic tech-based mega virus.
And change has happened many times before, even in my career window. In 1997 I was made part of a four-person committee at Ogilvy called the ’Work the Web Committee’ to convince the network that the internet was going to catch on. It was in response, largely, to a speech that some higher-up had given from the New York office about how the world wide web was largely a flash in the pan and wouldn’t impact what the agency was doing day-to-day (LOL).
As with NFTs, metaverses and the like, at the time we had every client under the sun asking us what impact it would make on their world. But fundamentally, the successful brands were still the ones that did the basics right. Customer. Category. Culture. Comms. It didn’t change absolutely everything, in the same way storytelling hasn’t really changed whether it is delivered via voice, books, the wireless or Oculus.
Tom Standage wrote an amazing book in 1999 called The Victorian Internet. It contrasts all the language and opinions being published on the impact of the world wide web in the late 90s with the language used around the development of the electric telegraph in the mid 19th century. It was identical. People from NYC moaning that their work/life balance had been interrupted by “that damned telegraph from London”. Short message codes in morse like GA (go ahead) and SFD (stop for dinner) were all there, like with SMS or hashtags. It was even described in a contemporary article as “a web of ideas”.
I’m not sneering. I wouldn’t be so arrogant. Technology changes things, for good and bad. The internet has had a huge and lasting impact in how we interact with brands and each other. The mobile had a huge impact. Social media has had a huge impact. But so did television. So has every major technological or communications innovation since the wheel.
The temptation – especially if one wants to get a few columns or stage bookings – is to loudly proclaim that future of this means the immediate death of that. But the data shows that this just isn’t true. One must be mindful and vigilant always about the potential impact of technological developments on how we engage with our consumers, or how they engage with us. But don’t succumb to the temptation to violently panic and pivot.
The fundamental truth remains the same as it ever was. Be good. Have a great product. Take the time to understand your customer, category and culture. Then work with specialists to understand how to bring that to life in the most interesting and impactful way possible. There are no shortcuts. And if you believe there are, I’ve a bridge (or a platform) to sell you.
What all brands can learn about making a difference from a sixty-year-old shirt commercial.
Kevin Chesters, February 15, 2022, MediaCat #Harbour #Onething #Radicalism #Marketing #Brand #AgencyVoices #UpInTheAir #WhatsInYourBackpack #Strategy
On this month’s theme of ‘making a difference’ Harbour Collective’s Kevin Chesters says you need to spend your time focusing on one thing.
“Rael-Brook Toplin, the shirt you don’t iron.
“Rael-Brook Toplin, the shirt you don’t iron.
“Rael-Brook Toplin, the shirt you don’t iron.
“Rael-Brook Toplin, the shirt you don’t iron”
This is the jingle from a TV ad from the early 1960s. It’s for a shirt that you… didn’t need to iron. I’m sure the shirt was also available from all good stores. I’m equally convinced the client would have wanted you to know that it was available at a good price, and that it was quality made. Maybe even something about its provenance or process or materials. But they decided to focus on one thing. And hammer, hammer, hammer it home.
The sentence is repeated in a jingle eight times in thirty seconds. It is reinforced by being on screen for the entire ad, with the type dancing on top of a shirt. Obviously.
Most brands aren’t known for anything.
Let alone one thing. At Harbour we always work closely with clients to work out the ‘one thing’ that you should be known for. Why? Well firstly, all consumers are humans, and the human brain is very very lazy. It craves cognitive closure and what behavioural scientists called cognitive ease. It loves simplicity. From its brands as much as anything else. It was the most efficient way to survive and thrive back on the savannah.
There is a tendency in marketing to always want to say too much. To add a big list of RTBs. To tell absolutely everyone, absolutely everything, in absolutely every media, at absolutely every opportunity you have. This is not only odd, but the data shows that it is incredibly detrimental if you want your marketing to make any sort of difference.
The best lesson I was ever taught was that great strategy is sacrifice.
The biggest impacts are made because of what you choose to leave out, not put in. Create the space for landing your key point-of-difference. I remember listening to some idiot once tell a client that “the more you say, the more you sell’. Literally nothing could be further from the truth. Statistically robust analysis by Kantar/Millward Brown across their entire global database of ads showed that ads with one message in them land that primary message with 30% of the audience. The introduction of a second message reduces that to 21%, and a third message to only 14%. If you want a customer to remember something you are best to not interrupt and muddy the waters with something else whilst you’re doing so. Duh.
Leaving aside (if you wanted to for some weird reason) the proven evidence that saying multiple things to your customers at the same time is marketing stupidity, then just look at the evolutionary science. Reactance Theory shows that the more reasons you give for something being the right thing to do the less effective your argument will be. It triggers the primal fight-or-flight response that you are spending so long telling me something is right, that it must be wrong.
The scientist, Edward Dean, did some great work on this in the 1960s to analyse the impact of ‘nagging’. It doesn’t work. If you want to make a difference in your marketing, spend time working out your one thing. The most important thing you want people to get from you — rationally or emotionally. Work out your version of the “Rael-Brook Toplin” sentence.
The game to play here with what you want to say is the ‘what’s in your backpack’ one from the George Clooney film, Up in the Air (2009). Put all your supposedly vital things into your strategy messaging backpack. You’re allowed five things. OK, now you must take two out. What’s really vital? What can’t you do without? Now take out another. Finally, decide what you absolutely must take with you. If you can’t decide, use research to work out with your key audience what they think is vital. Now, take that with you.
And now a test. What was so special about a Rael-Brook Toplin shirt?
What Phillip Coutinho’s Move to Aston Villa Can Teach Us All about Career Happiness
Kev Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, January 10, 2022, Little Black Book #Radicalism #Happiness #Career #Leaders #TakeControl #BeBrave
Don’t worry too much about how cool or famous your place of work is, says Kev Chesters, strategy partner at Harbour Collective
For those not in the least bit interested in football I should start with a bit of context. This week a Brazilian footballer called Phillip Coutinho chose to leave one of the biggest clubs in the world (Barcelona) to play, at least temporarily, for a much smaller team (Aston Villa) who aren’t exactly sparkly and sexy.
Coutinho is a big deal. His 2018 transfer to Barcelona remains the third most expensive in football history at a whopping €145m. Barcelona are one of the most recognisable names in world football with nearly 100 major trophies to their name. Aston Villa? Well, let’s just say that they have struggled to win trophies since Bucks Fizz were in the charts. And most people outside of British football circles probably won’t know that much about them.
So why am I talking about this? And what do I think this can teach all of us about finding some career happiness?
To start with, I have always found it curious anyway (almost fascinating) quite how much moaning* people in our industry do about their jobs in ‘adland.’ *Note: I’m talking here about the day-to-day grumbling of the day job, not about legitimate and important issues the industry needs to address.
I find this moaning especially strange when it comes from people who are mostly well educated/reasonably well paid so therefore have the choice to do something else if they really hate it so much. It’s worth remembering that 90% of people out there aren’t even lucky enough to have the luxury of moaning about their work. Now I think I must be either quite weird or quite lucky because I have always enjoyed my job. From being an account exec through to a junior/senior planner to management positions to business ownership, I have always found my job interesting and mostly rather enjoyable.
So back to Coutinho. Why did he leave the lovely sunny climes of Las Ramblas for the less attractive and less sunny surroundings of Great Britain’s second city – and what can we all learn from it? Here it is.
The #1 reason for his choice was his new ‘gaffer’, Steven Gerrard, who happens to be a close old colleague. They played together in the same Liverpool team for nearly three years between 2012-2015. Apparently, the lure of working with and for a trusted friend for whom he had great respect mattered more than how sexy the name of the club was, or even potentially the lure of greater lucre elsewhere. Phillip wasn’t enjoying himself at Barca, and his big money move hadn’t worked out as he’d hoped. So, he’s chosen to join a club for work with and for someone he clearly respects and gets on with. I think this is a really strong lesson for people in how they might find greater happiness in their careers, regardless of what that career is.
I have worked for some big-name agencies in my time – Ogilvy, Saatchi & Saatchi and Wieden + Kennedy. I enjoyed most of my time at all of them. But by far and away the most enjoyable two parts of my career were my times as CSO at mcgarrybowen, and these last three years setting up and running Harbour. This got me thinking, Coutinho-inspired. What was it that made me happier when I was at those smaller, less ‘famous’ places? Or what was it that made me enjoy some/most of my time at the ‘bigger’ agencies? And it comes down to the people surrounding me, not the reputation or size of the company.
In my career I have come across a lot of folks – junior and senior – for whom how ‘cool’ or how ‘famous’ the agency name was seemed to be their primary driver of choice. I have also noticed, not always but often, that this doesn’t seem to make them very happy. Apologies for another football analogy but I think this is a bit like those young players who sign for Chelsea or Man City – because they’re seduced by how sexy the name above the door is – only to sit on the bench for three seasons before moving on. Where you work won’t necessarily make you happy. Coutinho went to the most famous club in the world, but it didn’t necessarily translate to work satisfaction. He’s now chosen to work with or for an INDIVIDUAL he clearly loves and respects.
The most important thing in choosing where to work in my opinion – more than how sexy the name of the business sounds – is the people you work FOR, the person(s) you work TO and the folks you work WITH. So whatever stage of career you are at I would suggest that it’s more important to think of these three things.
Who you work for: Seek out and find inspirational leaders & bosses. Look for somewhere where there is a leader with a vision that you share or a value system you recognise and buy into (I’ve had some great leaders – Amanda Mackenzie, Annette King, Mike Dodds – and a couple of absolute howlers). These leaders can be found in many and varied companies – they don’t have to always be in the pages of Campaign or in those ‘lists’.
Who you work to: Find an amazing, empathetic line manager. In my career I have attributed any success to the brilliant mentors I have had, especially when I was junior. I’d call out one of my first, Louise Mulford at Ogilvy, as someone who cajoled, supported, inspired, educated and occasionally bollocked me to great effect.
Who you work with: This is the most vital; the people you see every day. Find (or stay in) a place where you are surrounded by lovely, supportive, and empathetic colleagues. When I joined mcgarrybowen I had my amazing partners, Paul Jordan and Angus Macadam. Their support, and the fun we had together every day, was worth ten times the famous reels or Cannes Lions that I’d had in my previous two jobs (mind you, we won a few Lions together too.) My time as CSO at Ogilvy was amazing when I was working with a gang of incredible, inspirational partners – Clare, Mick and Charlie. Once they were no longer there, I left after a few weeks. There was no point hanging around. The people you are surrounded with daily make all the difference.
And that brings me to my current job, as owner and partner at Harbour. It’s hardly a famous or household name (yet). It’s not even an agency in the traditional sense of the word. But I chose it because of my two brilliant partners, and now the extra three partners that we have added. So, I get to work for & with amazingly talented people who I love and respect, every day. It makes all the difference to your mental health.
So, this is what Phillip Coutinho choosing Birmingham over Barcelona has taught me. And I hope it will teach you too – regardless of where you are in your career.
Don’t worry too much about the fame and sexy bits (no one outside the advertising echo chambers cares). Worry instead about who your leader is, worry about who your immediate line manager is & mostly worry about the people you’ll see every day. Be more radical with the choice of where you work. Don’t just take the most trodden and obvious path. Oh, and if you really don’t like your current job and you have a degree and experience then leave it and do something else. Most people in the world don’t have that luxury.
See, it wasn’t about football after all. Told you.
How our brains can be nudged into thinking differently
Mick Mahoney, Creative Partner at Harbour, December 16, 2021, Shots #Creativity #Radicalism #Nudges #CreativeNudge #Brain #Behaviour #Positivity #New
Mick Mahoney, Creative Partner at Harbour Collective and co-author of The Creative Nudge, explains what prompted him to co-write his new book, how a ‘nudge’ is a simple but effective way to have a creative impact, and why it pays to be unreasonable.
What inspired you to write this book?
The belief that we are all born creative, and that most people have it knocked out of them from an early age. Creativity is something that we unlearn. Evolution, society, education, the workplace, life, all do a great job in helping us to unlearn it. They tell us how to think, how to behave, how to fit in. As a consequence, there is a mistaken belief that creativity is the preserve of a few, or exclusive to people with creative in their job title.
It’s a narrow view of creativity that limits many industries including our own, and promotes an unnecessary divide. We should all be in pursuit of creativity, in whatever form that takes for us to flourish individually and collectively. Promoting creativity to the broadest possible audience is in everyone’s best interests.
There is a mistaken belief that creativity is the preserve of a few, or exclusive to people with creative in their job title.
How did you approach writing as a duo?
My co-author Kev Chesters and I have quite an unusual working relationship in our day job at Harbour, insofar as we have blurred the divides of the strategic and creative process. So, basically, we approached the book in the same way. We had very different deliverables in writing the book, but we merged them and debated them at every stage. Overall, Kev remained responsible for the science and the facts and I was responsible for writing it all into a compelling narrative. But the planning out and organising of the key themes and sections we did on the wall, together, with lots of pieces of paper.
The book is about ‘nudges’; can you explain what you mean by a nudge and why they’re helpful?
At its most basic, a nudge is a little change to our behaviour or thought patterns that can have a disproportionately large impact on an outcome. A nudge can be making things a little easier, a little simpler and, sometimes, a little more motivating. Nudges can often seem obvious but as humans we become such creatures of habit that we frequently need to be prodded, both metaphorically and physically, into waking up to the possibilities of the world around us. Nudges can be as simple as renaming or reframing things so that we think of them in a different, and more positive, way.
A nudge can be making things a little easier, a little simpler and, sometimes, a little more motivating.
Creatives often have favourite places to think or where they feel comfortable working, but your book states that ‘familiar territory is dangerous territory’ when it comes to creativity; do you think that too many people are too comfortable?
It’s comforting to place yourself in familiar surroundings, think familiar thoughts and do familiar things. You often hear the phrase, ‘I know what I like, and I like what I know’. And in such a fast-moving and changing world, it’s understandable to feel this way; people are constantly under threat from change, and it can be tough to keep facing into it. But when it comes to creativity, avoiding change is a cardinal sin. It’s the worst of the worst. It’s Chapter 1 in the book of how not to be creative.
Creativity no longer seems to be the advertising industry’s primary objective (with honourable exceptions, obviously). So, as a consequence, I would say that everything does feel a bit comfortable. It’s always a much easier day at the office if it’s not spent in the pursuit of something original.
When it comes to creativity, avoiding change is a cardinal sin. It’s the worst of the worst.
You also say that ‘creativity lies in friction’; do you think the industry has lost some of its creative friction?
No question. Consensus is the cultural norm today. Creative friction is now mistaken for being difficult or unreasonable. Creatives need to realise that unless they are prepared to be unreasonable they won’t find anything fresh or original. Unreasonable people should be treasured. Everyone should aspire to be unreasonable. We love unreasonable people because they have a belief in something – a passion, a vision of a better something, the courage to challenge conventions. George Bernard Shaw clearly thought highly of them: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
One section of the book looks at creativity on a scale of one to 10, saying that ‘six is the evil child of fear and cowardice’; does advertising too often settle for six, and why aren’t people/brands aiming more for top marks?
It too often settles for six because of the number of people involved in the process who think that they need to input to validate their jobs. It ends up being something that doesn’t offend anyone. Polarisation is a good thing for brands. Better to have fewer people who love you than more people who are ambivalent. There’s also a lot of over-reaching in most agencies, driven by the need to survive. That means they are often creating work in a discipline that they aren’t experts in, which mostly leads to pretty ordinary outcomes.
Polarisation is a good thing for brands. Better to have fewer people who love you than more people who are ambivalent.
Confirmation bias is touched on a lot in the book; how guilty are we – as individuals and as an industry – of this tendency?
I don’t think that it’s an ad industry issue particularly. I think that it’s an every industry issue. Because it’s an every person issue. And the real issue is that we don’t realise we’re doing it.
You touch on ‘consensual validation’ [preferring people who think like us]; how big a barrier is that to a more diverse industry?
Huge. Because, as a general rule, it’s a subconscious act. We have to make a decision to recruit people who think differently to us, have different reference points, approach issues from different stand points. And if we don’t, we will always have a collective cultural blind spot. It’s a blind spot that can be seen so clearly at the moment. The industry has been speaking to itself for too often now. The disconnect between what the industry applauds and what the public do, has been growing for some time. It’s partly why the popularity of ads has sunk below the waves. I just despair every year at the ridiculous pantomime of scam ads for awards. Honestly, who benefits? Certainly not the industry. It just compounds the truth that advertising has lost touch with its audience.
I despair every year at the ridiculous pantomime of scam ads for awards. Honestly, who benefits? Certainly not the industry.
Each of the nine chapters looks at a different behaviour and offers nudges to increase creativity; which nudge would you say is the most important, or most effective?
The first chapter is the most important: If you know what you’re doing, stop doing it. The very essence of creativity is to embrace the new. New ideas. New concepts. New people. New ways of approaching familiar things. Sticking with what you know is never going to lead to a new outcome or fresh thinking.
A funny thing happens when we stick to what we know. While we might become faster and more efficient, we actually get lazy. Dangerously lazy. In fact, a third of all car accidents happen within a mile of home – the area that we know best. When we’re comfortable, our brains switch off, turning us instantly into creative wet blankets. To demonstrate, try counting the F’s in this sentence:
Finished files are the result of years of scientific study combined with the experience of years.
3? 4? NO. 6!
Well done if you got them all. But chances are you didn’t. That’s because we’re all so familiar and comfortable with reading that we often miss words like ‘of’. So, what else have you been missing?
Basically, if you don’t start with Chapter 1, then the rest of the book is academic.
Harbour Collective Offers Diverse Communications Experience To Three Young People, Through Inaugural Harbour Fellowship Programme
Newsroom, November 29, 2021, Marcomm News #radicalism #specialism #collectivism #harbour #harbourfellowship #recruitment #creativeindustries #agencyvoices
Independent communications collective, Harbour Collective, has selected three candidates for its inaugural Harbour Fellowship programme, as it seeks to offer young talent a way into the industry and experience across a broad range of communications disciplines.
As part of the government’s Kickstart initiative, the one-year Harbour Fellowship programme offers an opportunity for three people currently claiming Universal Credit, aged 16 to 24-years-old, to gain experience across a number of the specialisms within member agencies, including brand advertising, PR, content, entertainment and social. No previous advertising or marketing work experience is required.
Following an application process which kicked off in October, Harbour Collective has selected three individuals to take part in this year’s programme: Hajra Razak, 24, from Brighton, who has been working on her small business called Genki Bazaar, Olly Reeves, 23, from London, who recently completed a course in content production with Creativity Works, and Saul Wickremasinghe, 22, from London, who recently graduated from Central Saint Martins.
The Harbour Fellowship aims to give participants an introduction to the creative industries and help them to discover the various career paths and opportunities available across marketing, advertising, communications and media. The diverse nature of the specialisms within the Harbour Collective members will expose the three participants to the widest range of roles on offer within the industry.
Hajra, Olly and Saul will begin the programme this month. Each will work within three different Harbour Collective member agencies over the course of the next year, changing every four months. The three interns will support and shadow team members from various departments, from planning to creative to account management, as well as taking part in training, attending workshops and receiving career coaching from both Harbour Collective and its partner, Create Jobs. In addition, they will become part of the Create Jobs community, gaining access to exclusive events, training, and mentoring opportunities.
Following successful graduation from the programme, Harbour Collective aims to offer each intern employment at a member agency of their choice.
Harbour offers independent creative, strategic and media thinking for brands, and sits at the heart a collective of more than 400 experts across 12 independent specialist agencies, including M.i. Media, PrettyGreen and Live & Breathe.
Paul Hammersley, Managing Partner, Harbour Collective, said: “We’re thrilled to be launching the Harbour Fellowship. Harbour was founded on three core principles: radicalism, collectivism and specialism. This initiative reflects all of these values, offering a radical approach to finding and nurturing talent outside of the usual channels and giving three talented young people the opportunity to become part of our diverse collective, where they can gain an understanding of a range of specialisms and find out what a future in our industry might look like. We’re excited to see what they bring to our business and the direction their careers might take.”
Creativity is your best untapped resource
Kevin Chesters and Mick Mahoney, November 17, 2021, Management Today #Creativity #Radicalism #Creative Thinking
“Creativity makes life more fun and more interesting,” said Edward de Bono. Who doesn’t want that? But improving levels of creativity in your business is probably sitting somewhere below efficiency and productivity on your to-do list, if it’s even on your list at all.
So, why aren’t you ruthlessly driving creativity into the beating heart of your organisation? And why is creativity so rarely considered a fundamental tool of business success?
“Without creativity there is no progress,” de Bono also said. Creativity is essential to business. Innovations in medicine, science, technology – frankly, any field (even a big muddy one) – don’t come about by maintaining the status quo. The future of every business is in the hands of creative thinkers. Without progress there is no business.
Creativity isn’t a job title or whether you can draw or not. Creativity is forcing your brain out of autopilot. Engaging it. Training it to accept new ideas. Turning your back on the familiar and the ordinary – looking and thinking beyond the constraints and pressures work imposes on you.
The good news is that we are all born creative, with the ability to think laterally. To problem-solve creatively in everyday life. Capable of original ideas and thoughts. And no matter how long it’s been since you last saw it, it hasn’t gone for good or shrunk. Your creative self is sitting there patiently, waiting for you. You just need to encourage it. It’s quite possibly your organisation’s greatest untapped resource.
Creative thinking hurts, it demands discipline. If it was easy, there’d be a damn sight more of it in the world. The problem with creativity is that it’s hard. Evolution, society, education, the workplace have all done a great job in suppressing it. They tell you how to think, how to behave, how to fit in.
As creatures we are desperate to be accepted by the herd. It’s how we have learned to survive. We’re hardwired to emulate the behaviours of others. Not challenge them. To reverse the process, you need to overcome this biological and sociological double whammy.
Simply, the brain’s connections are like a series of roads. The things you know are built like highways, and the things you don’t, like single-lane mud tracks.
The more familiar you are with a thought or a concept, the stronger the connection will be. This means our brains default to working with what we know.
So, unless you have an intense curiosity that forces you to challenge it, your brain’s sat-nav defaults to taking you to the main road. You need to develop the tools to turn off that road, start to embrace the mud track, and reclaim your creativity. Those tools are nudges.
In our book, The Creative Nudge, we lay out the nine behaviours that you and your team will need to embrace to unleash your creativity and boost your business.
Try these three nudges to get yourself started. We guarantee that your productivity and efficiency will never be the same again.
1: APPLES & PEARS
Pick up your apple or pear. Hold it in your non-dominant hand. Take a bite. Congratulations. You are now more creative and open to new ways of thinking than you were only moments earlier: amazing but true. Simply by overriding habits in one area you will disrupt the familiar and challenge the brain to respond and adapt, keeping its neural pathways buzzing.
Studies show that by deliberately opening doors with your non-dominant hand, or stirring your tea in the opposite direction, you can actually increase your self-control and consequently your ability to stop your brain from nodding off. Meaning, such alterations can inspire you to embrace the new.
2: MAKE A CHAOS CORNER
Our brains get more creative in a messy environment. If you’re lucky enough to have a spare office, create it there. But if all you can spare is a corner or a table, that’ll work just fine too. It doesn’t particularly matter where it is.
All that matters is that you have a designated messy space to create or think in – somewhere that you can feel the burden of order and logic lifted. Fill it with whatever you find interesting, the more eclectic the better. And resist theming the things that you put there; clashes are good.
3: GET A ROOM
If you’re at work, build walls. Block yourself in. And if you can’t, sit in a cupboard. An empty meeting-room. In the basement bike park. Anywhere you won’t be disturbed. It really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. When the quality of your creative thinking goes through the roof, they’ll all just think you’re a mad genius.
If you’re at home, shut yourself away in the quietest spot you have. And make sure you put your phone and laptop in a different room. Research carried out in 2005 by Dr Glenn Wilson at London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect on workers. Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ.
Your “default mode network”, active when you daydream, is central to your ability to generate creative ideas. In fact, people with the least mental stimulation – those who are left alone – are 40% better at creative problem-solving.
The Hot Takes About Facebook Going Meta Is a Symptom of Our Resistance to Change
Kev Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, November 3, 2021, ADWEEK #Change #Facebook #Meta #Neophobia #Rebrand #Radicalism
Oh look, Facebook has decided to change its name.
Leave aside the fact that it actually hasn’t (Facebook will still be called Facebook—it’s a corporate rebrand, like with Alphabet/Google), this was the starting pistol for the usual tsunami of sneering from our industry, and a cacophony of cackling from the wider world.
Nothing sets the hilarity gauge fluctuating like a name change. You can set your watch by it—like leaves on the railway line or the springtime arrival of the murder hornet. The only thing that sets everyone off more than a name change is a logo change (London 2012, anyone?)
But whenever we have a corporate rebrand it seems to be the signal for everyone to pile on. Hot takers gonna hot take. Can you remember a renaming that was received positively by our industry? Plenty of rebrands now taken for granted by companies with strong reputations—Diageo and British telecom 02 being two examples—were laughed at heartily at first.
The one I recall being most ridiculed was when Anderson Consulting decided to “put the accent on the future” by changing its name to Accenture. It was genuinely like the entire industry had found a warehouse full of nitrous oxide. Accenture now has a market cap of £160 billion ($218.5 billion).
It seems the best anyone can hope for from a rebrand is studied indifference, like what met Google’s renaming (again, like Meta, just the corporate holding entity) to Alphabet. But why does this happen (leaving aside the fact that we just love to mock anything that smacks of self-important navel gazing)?
It happens because humans don’t like change. We just don’t. Neophobia. It’s an evolutionary thing. Change was bad; it often meant death. So, we tend to run from it. Bristle at it. And this hasn’t changed in the modern world either.
Age may be the context, but life is the narrative
Mick Mahoney, Creative Partner at Harbour, October 27, 2021, Shots #Radicalism #Age # Life #Friends #Context #Stereotypes #Changingstereotypes
There are 12 million people over the age of 65 in the UK. That same 12 million spend more on make-up, more on fashion, more on going out, cars, culture and lifestyle brands than any other age group.
Basically, they’re spending far more on having a good time than you are. Learning this was something of a wake-up call when Harbour first started working with McCarthy Stone (the UK’s largest builder of retirement apartments and houses) to redevelop their brand, over two years ago.
So, why do you rarely, if ever, see lifestyle, fashion or make-up ads featuring older faces in the glossies or on TV? There are exceptions of course, but they are few and far between. And even then, they are never represented as they really are. People who happen to be lucky enough to have reached older age and are just going about their lives, hanging out with their mates, doing the things that they enjoy and, quite often, have always enjoyed.
Mistakenly, advertisers define older people by their age, rather than as the doctors, dreamers, dancers, divas, mums and dads that they are. They’re just normal people who happen to have grown older. The issue stems from decades – possibly centuries – of older people in culture being depicted as one of two stereotypes. Firstly, the needy, doddering old curmudgeon. And, secondly, the spunky, over-achieving ball of energy. Both are deeply patronising. They don’t want a round of applause any more than they want to be treated like a child.
These two stereotypes render older people as two-dimensional cut out, to be pitied or celebrated. Think about it for a moment; how many characters from film, TV, fiction or advertising can you name that don’t fit into one of these two jelly moulds? One, maybe two?
Let’s look a little more closely at the first stereotype. Dressed in dowdy, autumnal colours, white haired, melancholic and tinged with regret. Life has passed them by. Often depicted bathed in sterile lighting that evokes a faint whiff of Dettol or Coal Tar soap. Usually seen as rather troublesome background characters. Typically gazing through windows into the middle distance. They do a lot of waiting, and are fixated on the old days. What they were. What they did. When life was happier. Easier. Sunnier. Ahhh, bless. You warm enough, Nan? Don’t worry, she can’t hear you, poor old love.
Now, as is often the case with stereotypes, there is a grain of truth in this. But, certainly, it’s something of a rarity amongst people in their 60s and 70s and, increasingly, in their 80s. Older people aren’t all the same age, by the way. What is far more common is millions of older people still out there enjoying their passions, interests and peccadilloes. Just like you. Still excited about their future, still aspirational, still having fun. On their own terms.
So, when it comes to representing them, don’t be such a prude. They aren’t. They’re into all kinds of things that you imagine they wouldn’t be. Sex. Flirting. News. The future. Fashion. Sport. Music. Medication. Make-up. Cocktails. Nights Out. Friends. Films. Technology. Adventure. Travel.
This is beautifully summed up by a quote from an article in Psychology Today by Susan Scarf Merrell: “I know how old I am. I’m not in denial about the fact of the years. I simply reject the fears, stereotypes, and caricatures of ageing. If you ask me my age, I’ll tell you, but I don’t think it’s the most relevant fact about me.”
The second stereotype appears at first glance to be the lesser of the two evils. And I’m sure it’s deployed in a well-meaning fashion. But it is nevertheless equally as pernicious, because it represents another unrealistic extreme. It is tempting to think that you should be celebrating lives like these, but resist. It’s not helpful. Not everyone over 65 base jumps. Nor do they wish to. Imagine if the only time your age group was rendered in culture it was as a larger than life extreme-achiever. Wouldn’t you start to think that perhaps advertisers or film makers didn’t really understand you?
Don’t celebrate older people. Normalise them. Normalise their behaviours. Their hopes and aspirations. Their desires. Their activities. They aren’t being marvellous any more than you are being marvellous for doing whatever you enjoy doing. Next time you’re casting for an ad or a film, forget age as your start point. Instead list the characteristics you’re looking for. Try making their age the last criteria.
I’ll leave you with my favourite quote on old age from Germaine Greer that will hopefully stay with you as a simple prompt: “No two people age the same way”.
Five Relationship Questions to Apply to Fix the Client-Agency Dynamic
Kim Walker, Strategy Partner at Harbour, October 21, 2021, ADWEEK #Relationships #Client #Communication #Radicalism #Specialism #Brief
When it comes to the client briefing process, we are in a place where, according to the IPA, one partner in the client-agency relationship thinks they’re getting it right 80% of the time and the other partner thinks they’re getting it right … only 10% of the time.
In romantic relationships, that sort of imbalance would surely lead to divorce. Or at least a good few ding dongs. I might be so bold as to suggest that, in adland, it points to a default transactional or even dictatorial relationship pattern, being repeated over and over again across the world.
Having written clients’ briefs as a planner client-side and creative briefs as a strategist agency-side; I can see the view from both sides of the fence. I am a strategic Switzerland, if you will. And I believe that, with a little lateral thinking instead of finger-wagging, we might find new solutions.
When the latest data suggests that our relationships are in such dire straits, maybe we all need a bit of relationship counselling to get things back on track. I’ve applied five questions to the client-agency relationship that are typically posed by romantic relationship counsellors:
How do you both want to communicate?
This dialogue is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship. And if communications agencies can’t communicate, well … Of course, there would be no healthy tension if clients and agencies agreed all the time. No one wants to live in a working world with that level of dull consensus.
So work out together how you want to deal with moments of tension in the briefing process. To turn that friction into focus, so your brief is ever sharper and … well … brief.
Do you share the same life goals? Are you heading in the same direction on the big stuff?
In a romantic relationship, these are the biggies: do you want to get married, have kids, where do you want to live, are you in this for a long time or a good time? Be crystal clear on what success is going to look like for both client and agency teams and make sure you’re aligned on that. Super importantly, make sure your whole team on both sides are aligned with that, not just the senior execs.
Leveraging brand Britain in a post-Covid world
Kevin Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, October 18, 2021, The Drum #Radicalism #Britain #Brandbritain #Covid #Postcovid #Leverage
In a fast-changing world, it can be tough to know how to apply ‘brand Britain’, says Kev Chesters, strategy partner at Harbour Collective, who writes as part of The Drum’s Globalization Deep Dive.
One of the biggest challenges of globalization when it comes to taking British brands out to the four corners of the world is that “Britain” is something of an amorphous and ambiguous concept.
Having been proud to be responsible for helping brands as different as Sipsmith Gin and British Airways with their global brand presence in the last few years, I’ve learned a thing or two. I’ve also recently been an advisor to the GREAT campaign, and the UK luxury body Walpole, on how to represent British brands outside of the UK.
The challenge one faces when taking ‘Brand Britain’ outside of these shores is to decide which “Britain” you want to represent. Everyone from Tommy Robinson to Stormzy, Katie Hopkins to Emma Raducanu, Jacob Rees-Mogg to Mo Farah has been held up in various corners of social media as a representation of “British values”.
Whose Britain? What Britain? What is “British?” What values are we lauding? And who oversees them or agrees them?
Well, to a large extent we all do (or can be). It’s about deciding which bit of Britain you want to stand up for and represent. The key is to decide as a brand which bit of the ludicrously wide sociological and demographic tent we call Britain you want to align to or celebrate.
I’m more Team Stormzy than Team Farage. But you’d probably guessed that already.
Britain is genuinely Great (it’s in the name). And if you can take the right bits of it and apply them credibly to your brand then you’re onto a winner. There is nothing wrong with a bit of cliché and familiarity. Remember that Parisians might be bored with baguettes, berets and the Eiffel Tower, but you aren’t. That’s a large reason why you go. Ditto La Dolce Vita, coins in fountains and pasta when you’re in Rome. I’m not talking about just lazily leveraging some Austin Powers Union-jacked soaked cliché-fest. But some of that can be useful too.
There are two key points I really want to land about taking British brands global.
Firstly, the key elements of what people like about Britain are very useful for brands. Heritage and provenance for starters. We have those in spades. Britain has a certain permanence to it that is reassuring. It’s been about for a while – we’re talking millennia here. Most national brands would definitely covet a lot of what we have.
Secondly, the post-Covid world offers an unprecedented opportunity to leverage these factors. When humans suffer trauma (and we’ve just been through a collective trauma) we crave familiarity, certainty and solidity. This is because we want to feel safe, certain and calm. This is the reason that gold prices rise when stock markets fall, or why Bob Marley and Queen went rocketing back up the album charts in the first lockdown. We look for familiarity after periods of uncertainty. It’s societal comfort food.
So much of what Britain has historically stood for are the exact factors that humans seek after periods of trauma. And as the world emerges from the Covid-19 gloom and we start to return to the new (ab)normal, British brands should be very well placed to take advantage if they can work out which bit of Britain they want to leverage. My advice is always to be Britain on her best day.
I’m more than happy to advise on it for brands. Apply within.
Just what are investors being asked to pay for in Engine 'auction'?
Kevin Chesters, July 26, 2021, Campaign Magazine UK #Radicalism #Business #RisingCollectiveAction #Collectivism #Business #Pitch #Agency #Legacy #Independent
There was an old phrase my gran used to use about “cobblers’ children going barefoot”; meaning that people tend to be terrible at practising what they preach. It came back to me this week when I read about the Engine “auction”.
As an industry, we continually and consistently tell our clients about the power of brand. We preach from the rooftops about creating intangible value and about how much commercial return will come from investing emotionally and financially in “the brand”.
We planners spend inordinate amounts of time repackaging the [Les] Binet and [Peter] Field argument about sinking 60% of the budget into emotionally resonant, brand-building comms so that consumers can have a stronger, more loyal relationship with “the brand”. We drone on to the point of saturation about getting customers to buy “into” something rather than just buy “from” someone.
Yet when it comes to our own brands – as agencies – then the sort of decisions we’ve seen from holding companies in recent years are thoroughly baffling.
Agencies, but especially holding companies, have consistently acted in exactly the opposite way to the mantra they preach to their clients. A couple of years ago, Engine got rid of some of the most respected brand names in the industry and replaced them with capability descriptors under the name of the holding company. So, when it comes to the “auction” in the article, what exactly are investors being asked to pay for?
When I entered the industry in 1995, White Collins Rutherford Scott was one of the most respected and feared creative companies in the UK (see BMW ad, pictured above). Even in recent years, it had built a fabulous reputation off the back of great work for Warburtons (below) and the like.
PAA was one of those “direct shops” that all of us in the hierarchical world of ATL always respected and listened to. Then suddenly these names were dropped in favour of a descriptor of what they did for a living. A bit like Unilever suddenly deciding to rebrand Lynx and Dove as “lads’ deodorant” and “women’s soap”.
It’s not just Engine, though. This commoditisation in the name of convenience has been going on for a while. Ogilvy did a big re-org a couple of years ago to do the same exercise – merrily binning names with many decades of equity in favour of generic descriptors like “Advertising” or “PR”. It seems curious to me at the time and very contradictory to the “making brands matter” mantra.
WPP paid $566m for the J Walter Thompson brand name in 1987. Then they threw away that name – which had been invested in over a century – a couple of years ago. It paid a whopping $5.7bn for the Young & Rubicam name, equity and reputation in 2000 and then pretty much casually canned it last year.
The behaviour of tossing names with decades (or centuries) of equity aside without seemingly any thought seems baffling. If we want clients to think their brands matter, why don’t we demonstrate to them that we value our own?
I suppose the argument would be made that the equity is being built in the holding company brands, but is it really? People buy into brands and brand values. It takes years; decades. I don’t really care about Reckitt but I do care about Dettol, Durex and Finish. I don’t really give two hoots about Procter & Gamble, but I do care about Pampers or Olay. Would I care as much about the those last two if they were rebranded as P&G Nappies or P&G Face Gunk?
This is what we do when we rebrand our agency brands as capabilities. We sacrifice our specialisms for convenience and efficiency. And we also dangerously commoditise our offer and make our internal agency cultures irrelevant. Basically, we become the Borg – and who’d volunteer to work for them?
I hope if/when the Engine auction comes to its conclusion, we’ll see an emergence of the various capabilities within that group as fierce, strong and successful agency brands – they’ve certainly got some talented leaders there who could run them. I think that would be a brilliant signal that specialism matters and agency brands and cultures matter, too.
People want to be proud of where they work. But it’s not a coincidence that the best and most successful agencies tend to be independent, creative ones – not anonymous “capabilities” under a big, faceless, corporate umbrella.
If the industry consistently demonstrates to its clients that it has no loyalty to its agencies, then why should we expect them to have any in return? If we show that we can toss aside our agency brands without a moment’s thought, then why do we moan when clients don’t invest in their own brand? But most importantly, if we keep showing clients that we have zero interest in our own brands, then why should we expect them to have any trust that we’ll take care of theirs?
Creativity is a fantastic opportunity to live a more fun and interesting life
Mick Mahoney, July 22, 2021, Campaign Magazine UK #Creativity #EveryoneHasIt #AWayOfLookingAtTheWorld #BeExtraordinary #UnlearnEverything #TheCreativeNudge #Radicalism
When I approached the head of one of our more august industry awards and education bodies to write a review for our new book, The Creative Nudge (written with Kev Chesters my strategy partner at Harbour), they declined, citing a concern that it would encourage clients and account people to write ads. And that wasn’t something that they were willing to do.
I share this story only to highlight the odd relationship that the advertising industry often has with the idea of creativity. It’s most commonly defined as a piece of advertising in one form or another. And only people with creative in their job title have permission to be creative.
I understand why that view pervades. Writing ads is a craft skill. It is learned and honed. And, without question, is better left to experts. I’m a big believer in the power of specialists, as my own business, Harbour Collective, is a testament to.
But creativity itself, isn’t exclusive to the creative department or to the writing of ads. That’s a narrow view that limits the industry and promotes an unnecessary divide. We should all be in pursuit of creativity, in whatever form that takes for us to flourish individually and collectively. Creativity can be and should be applied to any role in an agency.
Promoting creativity to the broadest possible audience is in everyone’s best interests, because, as the recently departed Edward de Bono stated: “Creativity makes life more fun and more interesting.” And that has to be a good thing right now, right?
Now that we have that straight, on to the premise of The Creative Nudge and the cause of the aforementioned refusal to review: we are all born creative. Yes, really. In fact, we all have the ability to think laterally. To problem-solve creatively in everyday life. Capable of original ideas and thoughts.
Creativity isn’t a job title. And it’s not about being an artist. Creativity isn’t even about being able to draw (despite what your art teacher may have told you). Some of the least creative people I know can draw brilliantly. Creativity is a way of looking at the world in whatever field you are in. Even a big, muddy field. There’s creativity in every industry, every walk of life. Breakthroughs in science or technology don’t come by accepting what people have already told us. The future is in the hands of creative thinkers.
Creativity demands that you force your brain out of autopilot. Engage it. Train it to accept new things. Creativity is being brave enough to do new things in new ways – exhilarated by the challenge and the fear. It’s about taking risks. Being open to new ideas. Following your own path. Turning your back on the familiar and the ordinary. It’s about being extraordinary.
It allows you to look and think beyond the constraints and pressures life imposes on you, sprinkle magic onto the mundane. It doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are or what you do for a living, you were born with the ability to think creatively.
Unfortunately, creativity is something that many people have unwittingly unlearned. Evolution, society, education, the workplace, life, all do a great job in helping us to unlearn it. They tell us how to think, how to behave, how to fit in. Don’t rock the boat; stick to what you know; failure’s not an option. These are the insidious little thought worms that are holding you back. It’s very unlikely that there was a point in your life when you decided that you were no longer going to be in any way creative. Instead, creativity has been stolen from you bit by tiny bit without you even noticing.
As creatures, we are desperate to fit in – to be accepted by the herd. It’s how we have learned to survive. We’re hard-wired to emulate the behaviours of others. This is the reason why the fashion industry, for one, is so successful; we signal our desire to identify with others. Why else would rational beings all wear ripped jeans, then flares, then skinny fit, then stone wash, then hipsters? But it is possible to reverse the process. To overcome this biological and sociological double whammy and let all that wonderful, brave, original creative thinking come flooding back into your life.
All you need to do is unlearn everything. Don’t worry. It’s easier than it sounds. Well, I say it’s easy more to encourage you than because I really believe it. Nothing worth doing is ever easy. But it is possible. Kev and I, with the help of a team of brilliant behavioural scientists have developed a series of nudges to make it happen.
The Creative Nudge isn’t really intended as an “industry book”. But it is a book that promotes the benefits of creativity for everyone. Which, in my humble opinion, should make it an “industry book”. Advertising and communications would benefit enormously from parking its mistaken belief that creativity is a job title and not a fantastic opportunity to live a more fun and interesting life. Then perhaps we might start to look like a more fun and interesting career choice to a much broader church.
Mick Mahoney is creative partner at Harbour Collective.
The Creative Nudge is written by Mick Mahoney and Kevin Chesters and published by Laurence King. It is available to pre-order in the UK and Europe, where it will be released on 5 August.
What Business Can Learn From Studying Gangs
Kevin Chesters, July 19, 2021 #Creative #Business #RisingCollectiveAction #Radicalism #SpecialistPartners #OpenAttitude #WorkingTogether #Collectivism
Ever since we humans have been on Earth, we have come together with like-minded individuals who happen to share a set of common values, beliefs or objectives. In other words, we have formed “gangs”.
Gangs are an incredibly successful way for humans to connect and collaborate with like minds.
But the term ‘gang’ comes with issues. It conjures up images of tattooed criminals and street violence. Fear and menace. It screams danger. Few parents would sleep soundly if their child joined a gang.
But there is a lot that business can learn from studying and replicating the shared characteristics of some of the best and most enduring gangs.
Being in a gang gives you a sense of purpose and an infectious confidence. In a gang, you stand together, you struggle together, you win together, sometimes you lose together. But, most importantly, you have a strong sense of who you are, what you believe in and the values you share. The best ones don’t compel people to join and they aren’t full of people who are half-engaged. If you’re in, you’re all in. And in the great diversity debate, the best gangs don’t discriminate based on age, sex or race. If you want in and you share the values, you’re in. It’s a great feeling to be on the inside and, conversely, it is pretty miserable when they won’t let you in.
Now successful gangs come in all shapes and sizes. From Hell’s Angels to the hardy volunteers of the RNLI, through the Brownies to the Kronk Boxing Gym in Detroit. They can be scary or benevolent, but regardless, whether it is the 220,000 ladies who are members of the Women’s Institute, the nearly 400,000 young men and boys of the Boy Scouts or the 300 members of the Crips, they all seem to share a set of similar characteristics.
So, what makes for a successful gang, and what can we all learn and apply when it comes to running a successful department or business? I happen to think quite a lot.
From studying gangs in all their forms across the ages I have identified ten core characteristics that all gangs share that mirror what makes a successful business. They are Code, Aim, Loyalty, Pride, Enemy, Symbols, Place, Fear, Damage & finally, Swagger.
Gangs have shared sets of values that all members buy into. Think of the Cub Scout Law, “Blood and Fire” from the Salvation Army and the US Marine Corp’s Semper Fi. The best gangs live by their shared code and discipline or exclude those who break it. Businesses could learn a lot here by having a simple set of coherent rules that everyone signs up to adhering to. Think Avis “We Try Harder”.
Gangs have a mission and they make sure everyone, internal and external, knows what it is (and what each individuals role is in achieving it). Most gangs tend to have a simple and (reasonably) achievable objective for the group. How many people know what the objective of their company is, or their role in achieving it? Exactly. The BBC aim is to: “Inform, Educate and Entertain”. Good, eh?
All the best gangs are loyal to one another because they love and trust one another. They take time over who they admit and have a set of expectations for those they allow inside the tent. Not everyone gets in. It should be the same for businesses. No, not demanding blind loyalty but taking time to choose people who have a vested, shared interest in success. And rewarding them accordingly.
Gang members love the gang and they are proud to tell people they are part of it. They feel part of something special because if you get it right, you are part of something special. Think of the pride and passion of the best football tribes or the Palio gangs of Sienna. People should be proud to say where they work and who they work for. If we get it right as businesses and leaders, we should garner loyalty. And loyalty means staff retention and saves a fortune of recruitment too. Everyone should want to be part of what you have.
All the best gangs, tribes, clubs have an enemy. Think Liverpool and Everton. Think Rangers and Celtic. Think Starks and Lannisters. Hell, think Coke and Pepsi. It helps to have a focus. And it’s the same for businesses. Who is occupying your rightful turf? Whose failure would mean your success. Who don’t you want to be like because you just, well, don’t like them?
It’s not a boring corporate ID thing. All the best gangs have a set of powerful symbols that help them identify themselves to each other (and others) and they display them with pride. Even the early Christians had their fish (and cross). Most gangs have a recognisable set of iconography (hell, you could even include the bottle top shoes of the Brosettes in here!). This is equally good for businesses and brands. Read Byron Sharp if you don’t believe me.
It could be a tree stump, scout hut or the back of the bike sheds. Maybe the diner in Grease or the MCC clubhouse. Gangs have a place where they feel safe and where they identify with their code and kin. When it comes to your business your office is not just your office, it’s your home. Be proud of it. Create a safe, happy, attractive environment that people want to be in (and your ‘enemy’ covets).
OK, this is where this might start to make some people feel uncomfortable. The most successful gangs do tend to instil fear in their opposition. This can sometimes be a little controversial when it comes to life or prison – think Yakuza, MS-13, Sharks and Crips. But in a business context fear is fuel, fear is useful. If you are in a competitive pitch against another company it is good if they fear you. It is useful if they are distracted by the fact that you are their opposition.
Gangs tend to leave a mark. You know they have been. Think about the Mods and Rockers visiting those trembling seaside towns in Quadrophenia. Think about the Hells Angels. In a business context this damage can be reframed as ‘impact.’ Your company should leave a lasting impact on its sector, competition or culture if you are creating art, music or media content.
A good gang walks with a bit of swag. Winners choose winners. Remember Rizzo’s strut in Grease when she was wearing her Pink Lady jacket? Yes, that. But in a business context. When you put together elements 1-9 it should give you a magnetic and attractive group of like-minded folks that others will want to join or align with. It helps in winning new business and retaining existing business. It’ll help with morale. It will help with mental health. You will create something and somewhere that is undeniable. You’ll walk taller just because you are a member of a gang, and other people know it.
So, what happens when you put all those things together for your business? If you spend time and energy applying the above to your team then you will create a powerful and successful group of individuals. You walk a little taller, you act a little braver, you speak with authority when talking to partners, customers or prospects. And because of that you tend to ‘win’ more than you ‘lose’. It makes you one thing: UNDENIABLE.
According to Bloomberg, 80% of businesses fail within their first 18 months. Now think about the enduring nature of the Cub Scouts, the Women’s Institute, the RNLI, or even groups like Opus Dei! Wouldn’t any leader love to be able to harness and apply some of their enduring success?
Let’s reclaim the word ‘gang’ for good. Let’s reclaim it so that we all understand that creating a ‘group of people with compatible tastes or mutual interests’ is a great thing when it comes to running a business.
The bear trap for new agency models
Mick Mahoney, Creative Partner at Harbour, June 25, 2020, Shots Magazine #Creative #Production #TheModelClientsNeed #OnlyPayForWhatYouUse #Radicalism
Last year’s report from research consultancy Forrester featured the following line; “Agencies need a new business model that puts the client at the centre, elevates new services and blends creative entrepreneurialism with new executional prowess.”
It’s hard to argue with that statement, and Covid-19 has now accelerated this need into something of a burning platform. True creative entrepreneurialism and executional prowess are in desperately short supply in our industry right now, having been sacrificed in the fight for survival over the last 10 or so years. Despite being what makes our industry truly valuable in the first place.
All new models need creative and production driving them, or clients will find themselves sitting at the centre of not very much at all. It’s something of a concern, then, that in everyone’s haste to nail this new model they appear to be walking into the bear trap of focusing solely on the process. On how we do it, rather than what it is we do and how good it is.
Following all the recent high-profile alliances and re-orgs, I didn’t hear anyone talk about the work itself, or the quality of production, or that their new model will create a brilliant atmosphere to enable these invaluable disciplines to create world-beating work that would be a genuine business benefit to clients.
I only hear talk of efficiencies. That’s like opening a restaurant and selling it on having a clean kitchen. I want to be sold a culinary vision. I don’t want to know about your kitchen, I just want to know that what comes out of it is going to make me weep with joy. I want to know that your chef has the talent to create miracles in my mouth. The backroom that gets it there is their business.
I know that money is tight and getting tighter by the day, but it’s the quality of the work that is remembered long after the saving is forgotten. The creative and production agenda needs to be at the heart of the evolution of our industry. Or, frankly, we’re little more than PowerPoint decks and meeting contact-reports, neither of which have ever, to my knowledge, made anyone rush out and buy anything.
We have to create new models that enable us to excite, inspire and delight our clients, but, most importantly, the public. Of course, they have to be efficient, but in the service of creativity. Now, I don’t believe that there will only be one successful model, I’m sure a number will prosper as there are now so many possibilities and permutations to successful creative output. But I do believe that they will all share a belief in the power and primacy of innovative creativity and production.
Broadly speaking, the advertising world is, at present, split into two halves; we have the network agencies, that have vast standing armies to cover every permutation of communications under one roof, and the specialist independent agencies that are entrepreneurial and focussed on the output, but limited in the variety of skills they can offer a modern client.
And it’s now the norm that CMOs aggressively manage costs, that budgets and fees are routinely cut and account reviews are used to force down marketing costs (which have grown due to the rising cost of media, content, data, technologies, and agency fees). This in turn is putting an incredible pressure on both types of agency to trim their costs. As a result, they have no option but to discount labour costs, junior-ise roles, restrict the scope of work and manage the margin through fees.
I struggle to see how the big network offerings will ever be able restructure themselves to deliver the model that clients need and Forrester suggests. But the indies can. The future is in the hands of hungry independent agencies and production companies willing and able to work together to offer the same breadth of skill sets as the networks. And because each of those skills operate as independent entities, they aren’t waiting around to be fed centrally. So, no need to restrict the scope of work or the quality of the services delivered as clients can build what they need around them, then only pay for what they use, when they use it.
It also enables the elevation of new services at a moment’s notice, blends creative entrepreneurialism with executional prowess, and creates a level of flexibility that is impossible to achieve any other way. So, just remember, next time you go to a restaurant, (hopefully very soon) ask yourself why you chose it. If it was for the spotless preparation surfaces then you deserve the very ordinary meal you are about to eat. Hope it was cheap enough to help you swallow it.
Our world is waking up to collective action (finally)
Kevin Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, May 26, 2020, Campaign #RisingCollectiveAction #SpecialistPartners #OpenAttitude #WorkingTogether #Collectivism
I don’t think it would be unprecedented of me to talk in an unprecedented way about the unprecedented challenges we are all facing in these unprecedented times.
One response to this (unprecedented?) set of circumstances has been the rise of collective action and the acceleration of collaboration – between industries, brands and latterly, rather tentatively, agencies.
In recent weeks, we have seen loads of examples of businesses and brands setting aside their traditional practices and working together for the common good. Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, writing in The Guardian this month, noted the trend was on the rise in all areas of society.
Naturally, this starts with the more acutely Covid-19-specific challenges. We have seen landmark collaborations between Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, and AstraZeneca and University of Oxford, pooling resources to search for a vaccine. We have seen the creation of the academic rapid review initiative to speed up the traditionally glacial-paced work of peer-reviewing of academic papers on Covid-19.
The next collective actions have come in the form of brands partnering organisations to help deliver personal protective equipment or other related materials for front-line workers. The best of these has been the Mercedes Formula One team collaboration with University College London to develop a breathing device in a matter of days and weeks. Collaborations have also taken the form of my old friends at Sipsmith partnering Imperial College to quietly turn waste alcohol into medical-grade hand sanitiser. Obviously, lots of other brands such as LVMH have also partnered medical bodies to provide equally useful products not traditionally associated with the brand.
There have also been interesting collective actions between brands themselves. Deliveroo and Morrisons have come together to allow customers to order from 70 essential household items for on-demand delivery. Aldi and McDonald’s in Germany have collaborated on a staff-sharing deal to redeploy workers who might otherwise have been laid off. Ukactive and Nike united to create a pretty cool set of daily “activity missions” to keep kids active through a joint initiative called Move Crew. Vogue and Amazon have done some cool stuff together, too, as have the National Gallery with Ocean Outdoor (pictured, top). There are loads more of these interesting partnerships, showing there is a growing understanding that the way we solve the big problems is to set egos and agendas aside and work together.
One great recent example in our industry – although slightly disappointing that it had to come “bottom up” rather than “top down” – was the launch of the really rather brilliant Not Fur’Long collective: some enterprising folks from Dark Horses putting potentially dormant talent to work on pro-bono projects. I know from mates who are part of it that it’s useful, fun and productive. I think the recent VoxComm initiative is also a strong example of movement in the right direction as a result of the pandemic.
There have been some encouraging signs that our industry is finally waking up to the benefits of collectivism (even before Covid). We at Harbour Collective have been big exponents of this way of working for a while – the clue is in the name. Other examples include collectives such as Hello Finch, Beyond or Pimento. I even saw that maybe WPP was starting to see the benefits with the launch of Black Ops.
There are some interesting freelance networks such as The Fawnbrake Collective or Been There, Done That, or international examples such as Speakeasy, Co-Collective or Dawn. This is all growing evidence of a trend of clients wanting to work in more flexible ways, by accessing a wide variety of talent, rather than a closed shop of the same team from the same agency on every brief. This is being turbocharged by the timing and budget challenges that all clients are now facing for the foreseeable future.
I’ve seen lots of articles from agency leaders recently that seem to suggest a few of them, too, have become latter-day converts to collective working. Quite an epiphany from an industry that has been traditionally really bad at collaborating together. But if it takes a pandemic to get people working together better, then at least something good can come out of all this.
It’s not before time that agencies are waking up to the power of acting collectively. Clients have been encouraging it for a long time, but some of the more traditional process (and especially attitudes) have tended to get in the way. One of the few positive consequences of Covid-19, I hope, will be the adoption of more open and collaborative creativity.
Our industry is traditionally awful at collaborating. Agencies often pretend to collaborate with other partners when forced to by the client, but they are not traditionally very good at it. Agencies do tend to be OK when they have to work alongside other partners, but only if they are implementing their “big” idea. This behaviour has come about because the ad agency was traditionally the “lead creative” agency. They were the ones who came up with the idea and then the retail agency got to draw it on a box/bag and the PR agency had to somehow get people interested in the concept without the attention bribe of media spend. The ad agency took 90% of the “deck” time and left the remaining scraps for media, with the other agency work normally relegated to the appendix if they were lucky.
Agencies might be waking up, slowly and tentatively, to the benefits of collaboration with specialist partners, rather than sticking to the one-stop-shop model of yesteryear. If one good thing comes out of the challenges of the past few months, it is hopefully people being more willing to work together.
Sitting at the heart of a collective of independent specialist agencies has really brought home to me the cumulative and additive nature of actually properly working in collaboration with expert partners. An idea can be so much more powerful when it is truly delivered by experts in their field, rather than an ad agency playing at doing content, digital, experiential or branding.
And these collaborations are also more effective when they are positive choices rather than enforced by clients or holding companies (I know from experience that those are always a disaster for all involved).
Collaboration is best when it comes from a place of shared respect, synergistic skills and an open attitude to embrace challenging each other to create better shared outcomes. It’s not just forcing people to work in the same room to save a few quid – which has been the traditional network view of “collaboration”.
The power of collective thinking is proven. The benefits of the sharing of specialist thinking and expert execution are not in doubt. But traditional models, egos and working practices have always got in the way of agencies really collaborating effectively with each other.
Maybe now is the time. The age of collective action could and should finally be upon us. Better answers – for agencies, clients and society at large – lie that way.
The Agency Pitch in its Current Form is the Root Cause of the Problem
Paul Hammersley, Managing Partner at Harbour, May 13, 2020, Little Black Book #AgencyPitches #ResistTheTrap #High-ValueThinking #StopGivingItAway #Radicalism
As more agencies chase every new client review, now more than ever we must resist the trap of the traditional pitch explains Harbour’s Paul Hammersley.
The issue of agencies getting paid fairly for their advice and creativity was raised once again this week in our trade press, ironically by one of the intermediaries responsible for managing client reviews and agency pitches.
I say ‘ironically’ because the issue of how agencies get fairly paid and the pitch process are fundamentally connected in a way that is constantly overlooked. Actually, the agency pitch in its current form is the root cause of the problem.
Everyone knows that the pitch process is imperfect and there’s little value in reiterating all the issues here in detail; but most of the discussion is about how to tweak what has become accepted as the norm.
But ‘tweaks’ won’t ever solve the real issue with the pitch and the negative effect it has on the broader relationship between clients and agencies.
The real issue, whether for creative, media or other disciplines, is that most pitches now demand that agencies give away their high value-add work on a speculative basis.
As competition has grown and agencies have got ever more desperate, the scale of the pitching task has grown exponentially like some sort of arms race; in the 2020 downturn, I fear the desperation will get even worse.
In literally NO other professional services business, or for that matter any other services business at all, is this the case. Accountants, lawyers, investment bankers? Photographers, designers, architects? Plumbers, fitness instructors, picture framers? None of them, not one.
This video from Canadian agency Zulu Alpha Kilo makes the point better than any words can.
You know who else doesn’t do it – the management consultancies parking their tanks on our lawn. The same intermediary referred to above said in a report last year that ‘the strategic consultancies appear to have it right; they’ll show work done for others, their methodology and approach as the basis on which the brand has to make a decision’.
I understand the apparent attraction of pitches to clients but there are wider consequences of all this for clients as well as agencies which aren’t well understood.
The waste of time and resource and distraction from attending to paying clients is obvious enough – especially for the losing agencies.
But critically, even if an agency wins a pitch, the only way to make up for giving away all that high value thinking for free is to charge as much as possible, for as long as possible for the low value-add executional work that comes with winning the assignment.
While this used to be the unwritten rule of the game, it’s the cause of a growing misalignment of interests and friction between clients and agencies.
As Tim Williams of Ignition Consulting says, in an hours-based cost-plus remuneration system there will always be an underlying conflict between how agencies justify their fees (with the executional work) and where clients see value (the strategy, insight and concept work).
This is why clients are increasingly finding ways to get that low value-add executional work at a better price. Where once they negotiated on charge out rates, chargeable hours, overhead mark-ups and profit margins, they are now unbundling that work or taking it in house. Some are finding ways to automate much of it and many more will follow. All developments which the pressures of the Covid-19 crisis will only accelerate.
So yes, agencies have to stop being reliant on the executional work to pay the bills and make sure that they get paid properly, on an output or outcome basis, for their high value-add work.
And this requires more than just having a different conversation with their clients (if it were that easy we’d all have done it long ago). Agencies need to organise themselves differently to disconnect the strategic, insight and conceptual work from the executional work; something that the big legacy agencies will find very difficult to do with their huge standing armies to feed, revenue streams to protect and shareholders to fend off.
But critically, despite all the short-term pressures that will lead to more agencies chasing business harder than ever, they must also stop giving away their true value for free in a pitch process.
We can’t blame clients for asking for it but we can blame ourselves for agreeing to it and for facilitating it.
Why There Will Be a Reset in Client/Agency Relationships after Covid-19
Paul Hammersley, Managing Partner at Harbour, April 22, 2020, Little Black Book #OpportunityForChange #TimeToReset #TrySomethingDifferent #BigBrandThinking #Radicalism
This week we are seeing clients dropping daily crisis management meetings and in their place booking meetings to discuss ‘Project Relaunch’; even a client whose business has been mothballed is now running a ‘Project Revival’.
So, to quote Churchill and Andrew Cuomo, we may now just be ‘at the end of the beginning’ and our minds must turn to what business will look like as and when we emerge from this crisis; specifically, what clients will want and need from their agencies.
While it remains the case that there won’t ever be one model or offer which prevails, as in every other aspect of life and business, there will be change and it could be significant in breadth and depth.
What will be the driver of this change? Will it really be that profound? Won’t we just fall back in to our old ways of working?
I think the biggest driver, and it will be profound, is the opportunity for change as much as the need.
What we’re seeing on a number of fronts is that if there is any upside to this mess, it is that once a business is significantly, or in some cases completely, put on hold, that creates an opportunity to start things all over.
Annual budgets, year on year targets, market share, tracking studies: all have become irrelevant for a brief, ‘once in a career’ moment.
Never has it been a better time to reset or start over; to try something different; to dump that legacy system. There’s no risk, no downside and no complex ‘mid-air refuelling’ process.
Surely that is as true for how clients work with agencies; most client/agency relationships are the function of some legacy system, perhaps with a few tweaks along the way. Very few are the function of a fundamental re-think and zero basing. Why not now make the switch to that optimum, modern, relevant agency offer that you know exists but so far have been too busy, or fearful of any downside risk, to make.
So, if you were starting again in today’s (or more importantly, the post Covid-19) world what would the characteristics of the ideal agency relationship look like?
Everything we have heard from clients during the crisis has been an amplification of what they said they increasingly wanted before – integration, collaboration, flexibility, speed and lower cost; all without any compromise in strategic, creative or executional quality. More and more we’re hearing that what they also want are innovation and ideas – not just creative or channel ideas but business ideas.
In delivering all this who are the winners and losers in ‘agency land’ likely to be?
The losers will be those who can’t change – or can’t change fast enough. It has to be likely that these will mostly be the big network agencies; classic legacy businesses with siloed structures, complex management hierarchies, excessive fixed cost bases and a dependency on historical revenue streams.
Even before the crisis they have already shown that their ability to change is institutionally limited but with the recent collapse of revenues combined with the pressures of public shareholders this could be horrifically exacerbated.
Just when change is most expected by clients, they will be less able than ever to deliver it.
The winners will be agencies with lower cost bases and simpler structures; who are used to cooperating and integrating; whose scrappy attitude have seen them through the crisis by throwing ideas at their clients. These are the defining characteristics of the many independent agencies across the UK’s marketing services landscape.
If they organise themselves in some way to partner and integrate with other specialists in their respective field – and perhaps have also found some way to also offer clients the big brand thinking that will help them adapt existing strategies, positionings and campaigns to the post Covid-19 environment – they will be especially well placed.
If only there was a model which looked like that. Oh wait, hang on…!
If brave is best, what are we all afraid of?
Kevin Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, August 5, 2019, The Drum #CreatingEffectiveWork #BeBrave #TakeBiggerRisks #FocusOnRelationships #Radicalism
I think we all have always instinctively known that the best ideas are the brave, distinctive ones. Gorilla, Cog, “Dumb Ways to Die”, Skoda Cake, Nike’s “Nothing Beats a Londoner” – work that helps to define categories.
New research that came out last week finally proved what my creative partner, Mick Mahoney, always told me was “bloody obvious, Kev”. The study carried out by Mark Ritson and published in AdAge analysed 6,000 campaigns to try to isolate the primary factors in making more effective work. Guess what came out on top? Bravery. Brave work is the most effective work. Work that is conservative (with a small c) is the least effective work. It turns out that the safest option for agencies and clients is to take a bigger risk.
As Mick said, I think we all instinctively knew this already. Ritson has validated it but it isn’t anything new in terms of theory. We know from lots of other studies (especially by Binet/Field) that the most commercially effective work is the most creatively original work. We also know that doing fame-making, brand-building work is more effective (even in response campaigns) than doing the dull, massive-phone-numbered, dull-as-ditchwater generic campaigns. For things to be creative they need to be original (just check your dictionary) and original means new and different.
So, it’s obvious, proven and unarguable that being conservative is commercially damaging. We know that doing things that are outside our comfort zone will benefit our brands and businesses. So why don’t we do it? Why are most campaigns asinine, obvious and as far from brave as it’s possible to be?
Well, like most things, it is a combination of nature and nurture. There are some behavioural science factors that stop us doing what we know is better for us. But equally I think we have some industry-wide bad behaviours that get in the way of developing braver and better ideas. The former are hard to stamp out, the latter should be a lot easier.
Let’s start with evolution.
There is one core characteristic about new and brave ideas that we don’t like to admit: they make us feel uncomfortable. This is because humans are not good with new things; they set off every single ‘fight or flight’ mechanism from back in the prehistoric day. We aren’t a brave species. We’re far comfier with cowardice. Remember that your brave ancestors all died fighting the sabre-toothed tigers. The cowardy-custards who hid, trembling, behind the mammoth carcass? Those are your genes, mate.
We actually fear the new. It’s a real thing: neophobia. We fear the unknown more than the known bad, it’s hard-wired into us. It drives the principle called ‘risk aversion’ and means we’ve been trained over eons as a species to fear and distrust new things. So, does that mean we are off the hook? Do clients and agencies tend to steer clear of the brave and hug the average because of our evolutionary blueprint. Well, sort of. But I’m not going to let us off the hook that easily. There are some industry factors that are compounding the issue.
Any form of good creativity involves taking a risk. You will never take a risk with someone that you either don’t like or don’t trust. The best work comes from a different attitude between client and agency. It happens when that relationship is one of mutual respect and trust; not a master/servant, JFDI relationship. But these trusting relationships don’t form overnight or tend to happen in one campaign. They develop over time as people get to know and trust one another. Declining tenures of CMOs and the pitch/switch addiction of clients changing agencies like shoes have really got in the way in the last decade. No one, client or agency, seems to have the time (or be afforded the time in the age of short-term metrics) to develop those longer relationships. Look at the agencies and clients that are doing the best, most effective work (and bravest) – they tend to be the ones who have developed long-term relationships (Mother/Ikea, adam+eveDDB/John Lewis, W+K/Lurpak). Duh!
Every new business lead, meeting or project win we’ve had in the last few months at Harbour has come from a former client or colleague with whom either Mick, Paul or I had developed a strong relationship of trust. Trust pays.
The second industry factor that gets in the way of brave work is how the role of account management has changed recently (for the worse) – from relationships to service. If we are going to get to great, brave work then we all have a role to play, but Account Management’s role is disproportionately crucial. They create the conditions within which great creative can happen. Without them, strategists and creatives are wasting their time. Brave work won’t get developed, presented, sold or ever made if Account Management don’t create the framework for it to happen within. And the mutually respective relationship between agency and client is key to this. If account management think their role is client service, then it’s unsurprising if they and their agency get treated like quasi-servants.
Account Management have to work harder than anyone to create the relationships that will nurture those risky ideas that we all want to make. The best work has always come from good client relationships. I’d suggest getting back to some of the things that used to make for strong, mutually-respectful relationship building: a focus on commercial understanding of your client’s business and adding intellectual value beyond standard agency scope, for starters.
So, let’s get braver. Let’s break those pesky evolutionary shackles. Let’s do new and ‘risky’ things because they are what will get us lauded, awarded and rewarded (Ritson just re-proved it). Let’s get back to having relationships with clients, not just three-bags-full agreeing with them. Let’s get back to what we know works. After all, it’s not brave to do what is proven, is it? It’s just bloody obvious, as Mick never grows tired of telling me.
Creatives, take control of your business... or stop complaining.
Mick Mahoney, Creative Partner at Harbour, July 31, 2019, Campaign #TheCreativeAgenda #TakeControl #YourIndustryNeedsYou #CreativityAtTheHeart #Radicalism
I keep hearing and reading about agencies/groups etc. that are “putting creativity at the heart” of what they do. But in most cases, it’s not really true, is it? In fact, it appears to be in almost inverse proportion to the amount that is claimed.
You only have to look at how a business is structured to see that. Look at what percentage of the headcount is creative. Ask the chief executive of your agency.
If it really does have creativity at the heart, they will give you a direct answer. Because they’ll be proud of the fact. It should be around 30% at a minimum, by the way. Ideally 40%.
If they start talking about creativity in the abstract and use vague terms such as “creative problem-solvers” or “creative is a collective responsibility”, they’re fudging. Take this as confirmation that creativity isn’t really at the heart of their business. And if that matters to you – and it really should – then you know the question to ask at your next interview.
It has become one of those lazy things to say, such as “content solutions” and “agile working”. Our industry loves a good buzz phrase, doesn’t it? Everyone repeats it so they look like they’re in the know. Even if they don’t really know what it means. Assuming it actually means anything at all.
Great creative work is what makes a difference to clients’ businesses. The stats are endless that prove the case. But it’s hard to do. Really hard. And it can cause friction. It’s much easier to be a pleaser. To hide beyond lots of excuses. Time. Budget. Research. Difficult client. And bill for all the things that are more tangible, such as bodies in a meeting and photocopying decks. But great work finds ways through this. Great creative agencies find ways through this.
Agencies that truly have creativity at the heart build the structure of their business to deliver great work. They don’t have a “pleaser” structure and then make unreasonable demands on the creative department, like most agencies. You know exactly which ones they are too. If I asked you to name them, chances are 99% of you would say the same ones.
We are in an industry that needs to adapt to thrive. It’s currently on its uppers. Everyone can clearly see that the entire industry needs to find new and innovative ways to restate its creative agenda. We are finished without it. If we make it all about things such as efficiencies, then management consultants have won. And they’d be welcome to the miserable and joyless nonsense that would emanate.
But shouting and posturing about it all “being shit nowadays” creatively isn’t helping either. All the creative commentators who bemoan the good old days really irritate me, to be honest. Silent films became talking films. Film became digital files. Records became streaming. Things change. Get over it. Lean in and help the industry find new paths that put creativity at the heart. Or be quiet.
And creatives, don’t sit there and allow it to happen around you. It’s your business too. You need to engage with the business side of the business you are in. Do you understand how an agency is structured? Do you know what a client is charged for? Do you understand how a project is scoped? Well, you should. It’s why the creative department you are in isn’t big enough to service all the briefs. It’s why you didn’t have enough time on that brief. It’s why you’re working at the weekend again.
Don’t allow others to worry about that stuff. You worry about it. You change the business. You ask the chief executive about headcount. It’s time to roll up your sleeves, creatives. Take control of your businesses, influence their structures, involve yourself in every aspect of what we do. And if you don’t, don’t be surprised if you don’t get what you want and the industry doesn’t get what it needs.
And, yes. It is your responsibility. It might not interest you or play to your skillset, but it will create the environment that does.
Creatives, your industry needs you.
This is advertising's age of the collective
Mick Mahoney, Creative Partner at Harbour, June 18, 2019, The Drum #Collective #NoStandingArmy #Entrepreneurial #FairerWayOfWorking #Collectivism
“Agencies need a new business model that puts the client at the center, elevates new services, and blends creative entrepreneurialism with new executional prowess.”
Hard to argue with the Forrester report on that one, and it’s certainly in everyone’s interest to nail that model. Creativity has been sacrificed in the fight for survival in the last 10 years. Yet it’s the one and only thing that truly makes us worth paying for in the first place, as well as the thing that truly differentiates one agency from another.
Everyone seems to have become obsessed solely with the process. How we do it, not what we do. In recent high-profile alliances and reorganisations I haven’t heard anyone talk about the actual work, or how they are going to create a brilliant atmosphere to create world-changing work that would be a genuine benefit to clients. They only spoke about efficiencies. That’s like opening a restaurant and selling it on having a clean kitchen. I want to be sold a culinary vision. I don’t want to know about your kitchen; I just want to know that what comes out of it is going to make me weep with joy.
I know that money is tight, but it’s the quality of the work that is remembered long after the saving is forgotten. We have to put the creative agenda back at the heart of the evolution of our industry. We have to create new models that enable us to excite, inspire and delight our clients and the public. Of course, they must be efficient, but in the service of creativity.
Of course, I don’t believe that there will only be one successful model. I’m sure a number will prosper, as there are now so many possibilities and permutations to successful creative output. However, I do believe that they will all share a belief in the power and primacy of creativity and innovation.
Furthermore, it’s possible that the Forrester report has overlooked a model that is pretty much what they are describing and already exists. I would argue that they should have said ‘a new business model that puts the client and creativity at the center…’ In any case, the model in question delivers on that too.
The model I’m referring to is the collective – independent individuals or businesses that co-exist for the mutual benefit of their clients and each other. The principle of the collective is not a new one, but it does seem to be gaining a lot of traction right now. Possibly it’s because the previous orthodoxy was just about bearable enough for everyone to carry on as they were, but not anymore. Now, everyone is desperate for a better, smarter, fairer way of working. From the most senior CMO to the most junior creative.
In this environment, collectives offer two very obvious benefits to clients.
Take the world being broadly split into two halves: there are the network agencies who have vast standing armies to cover every permutation of communications under one roof, and there are independent agencies who are entrepreneurial and focused on the output, but limited in the variety of skills they can offer a modern client.
If you accept the norm that CMOs now aggressively manage costs, then budgets are routinely cut, fees routinely challenged, and account reviews are used to drive down marketing costs which are rising from the growth of touch-points – the price of media, content, data, technologies, and agency fees. This in turn puts pressure on agencies to trim costs, which results in them discounting labour costs, juniorising roles, restricting the scope of work, or managing the margin through fees. All these moves challenge client trust, let budget negotiations influence the quality of the services delivered, and screws up any chance the work had of being good.
Then collectives can afford to counter one offer with a ‘have what you need, use when you need it and only pay for what you eat model’ as they, in theory, could have the same breadth of skill set as the networks. As each of those skills operate as independently, they aren’t waiting around to be fed centrally. This means that there is no need to restrict the scope of work or the quality of the services delivered.
Collectives can trump the second offer by creating a central relationship that harnesses all the necessary skill sets to deliver on a client objective, that the clients in question would otherwise have to juggle themselves.
In both cases this puts the client at the center and enables the elevation of new services, blends creative entrepreneurialism with executional prowess, and creates a level of flexibility that is impossible to achieve any other way. Most importantly of all, it puts creativity at the heart of the offer right next to the client.
That’s just my take on it, but it’s why I’ve chosen to join a collective.
Just remember, next time you go to a restaurant to ask yourself why you chose it. If it really was for the spotless preparation surfaces, then you deserve the ordinary meal you are about to eat.
The Joy of Knowing F*** All
Kevin Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, June 11, 2019, The Drum #DiscoverWhatYouDon'tKnow #WeNeedExperts #NewModels #SpecialistPartners #Radicalism
“The only true wisdom is to know that you know nothing” – Socrates (not the footballer).
Our natural human tendency, as evolutionary problem solvers, is to want to have all the answers. It is also tempting in a ‘service industry’ to want to be seen to have all the answers – for our clients – and to not ever admit that we don’t know or can’t do something.
It’s definitely not encouraged, especially in network agencies, to admit a knowledge or skill gap. In fact, quite the opposite. There is pressure in modern agencies to pretend that you can solve all client issues. Whatever the challenge, the agency will say they have the experience and skillset to solve it – before trying work out how the hell they are going to deliver.
It is seen as a sign of weakness to admit that your agency doesn’t have a certain skillset or capability that a client might need. In the current industry climate, it is also encouraged to never (ever) allow any revenue outside the tent whilst also trying to expand accounts across every single part of the agency offering – like some kind of Augustus Gloop at a scope-of-work buffet.
One thing that struck me while watching that documentary on the Fyre Festival, was that what they did didn’t seem that odd in the advertising industry. We are used to making huge (over)claims about the scale/scope of what we can do and then heading back to the ranch to work out how the hell we can possibly deliver on the outlandish promises made in the meeting/pitch/RFP.
No one can possibly know or do everything – individually, or as an agency/network. It’s simply not possible. The world of communications has just got too complicated. In his brilliant book, “Better”, Atul Gawande discussed this as the need in modern medicine for “pit-crews, not cowboys”. He was talking about the need for a set of experts to come together, Avengers-style, to solve problems that are just too complex for one person to be able to solve alone. This is the case in most modern marketing/brand challenges. The one-stop-shop sounds like a magical panacea to cost and convenience, but it is in my experience a total myth that asks clients to make far too many compromises on quality and specialist output.
My view is that it is the very opposite of a sign of a weakness to admit that you don’t have all the answers, to say that you don’t know, or will have to go and ask an expert in that area. I think only confident people admit what they can’t do and wouldn’t ever pretend to. I believe that if you want an expert opinion then you are better off asking an expert, not an over-enthusiastic generalist.
As an ex-client I can also say that it makes you look much more credible as an agency to admit what you’re good at and what you might need to partner with someone else to deliver (even if that revenue goes somewhere else). Over time any client will value the honesty and it’ll pay back in a stronger relationship. There is nothing more annoying in life than a bullshitter. They are obvious, odious and frankly dangerous to agency credibility (both internal and external).
Now, admitting you don’t know the answer certainly doesn’t come naturally to us Account Planners. We’re supposed to be the thinkers, the ‘clever department’. This was clearly brought home to me in the early part of my career when I shifted from being an account man to being a planner in the same agency. On the Friday I was being scolded for not buying the right biscuits for a client meeting, and then on Monday it was “what’s the answer, oh sage one?”
As planners we find it really hard to say, “you know what, this just isn’t my area, let me go and find someone better who can help you”.
I’ve have also discovered that it is not only a sign of strength to admit that you don’t know everything, but also incredibly liberating! Spending time with experts is really brilliant. It is exhilarating to watch someone who is really good at something you are not. It is really seductive to listen to someone talk enthusiastically about an area or sector that you know nothing about. It is really useful to know people who can add to your knowledge rather than just validate it. This is why I say that it is not just a real joy to discover what you don’t know, but it is also vital.
The best thing about going to the annual TED Conference is how thick it makes me feel. It’s great to sit for a week and listen to people who are ten times cleverer than you talk about stuff that you know nothing about. It takes your brain for a walk and makes you see things very differently.
At Harbour, over the last few months, I’ve been spending time with VR specialists, programmers, UX folk and eCRM/data experts. I’ve also spent time with people who make proper long-form content (rather than just writing slides about it at the end of a pitch deck). It’s brilliant, so interesting. It’s also a little embarrassing and humbling to realise how much of my career I have spent thinking I knew about stuff when I really didn’t. John Keats said “Nothing ever becomes real until it’s experienced.” I think that says it all when finding an expert.
The nice thing about being a consultant now, with access to specialist partners, is the ability to always be within arms-reach of a true expert. My advice is to find someone who does only that thing because they’ll know an awful lot about it because it is their life.
Give yourself the permission to feel a bit clueless occasionally. It’s fine to ‘not know’ or to have to ‘phone a friend’. It’s amazing how clever you can look when you admit you’re a bit stupid.
Why does B2B advertising have to be ugly and crap?
Kevin Chesters, May 10, 2019, The Drum #GoodCreativeSells #BeAestheticallyBrilliant #InfluencedByEmotion #B2Badvertising #Radicalism
Last week I did my first bit of business travel in ages. As I walked through Heathrow my eyes and ears were repeatedly assaulted by a cacophonous avalanche of cliché, both verbal and visual, under the guise of B2B advertising.
I didn’t even want to start to imagine how much all the media must have cost the respective vendors punting their mostly-tech wares at me. My professional self was pretty embarrassed on behalf of the set of big clients and big agencies who had signed it off and spent the money. It was universally ugly, boring and utterly meaningless.
You know the kind of messaging I’m talking about, right? ‘Powering the Possible’, ‘Enabling empowering possibilities’, ‘The possibility of empowering enablement’ and ‘The power of enabling the possible’. It was all as anodyne as it was lazy.
It struck me that all of it was targeted at my ‘business self’. That mythical creature that inhabits this world of ‘possibilities’ and ’empowerment’ and is surrounded only by people who look like Gary Vaynerchuk, endlessly high-fiving at the top of escalators.
All the work reminded me of that amazing ‘tagline generator’ meme.
When I got to the business lounge, I opened my free copy of The Economist and was further drowned by the same fridge poetry of meaningless words and an equally tiresome smorgasbord of suited-up Getty Images. But something was very weird. My eyes had been opened like the main character in John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’. I looked around at all the other people in the business lounge. They weren’t a set of these mythical identikit ‘businessmen’ and ‘business women’. They were like me and all my mates who work ‘in business’. They were mums and dads. They were people who go to gyms, drive cars, visit supermarkets. They were ‘Consumers’. In short, they were real people with real lives and real human brains.
Businesspeople are still people, with the same evolutionary brains. You don’t switch off your heart when you put on a tie. Humans in business respond like all other humans – emotion first, logic second. We know that creativity is the key driver of effectiveness. We know emotion in advertising works. So why is this suddenly different for B2B and B2C? (Spoiler: It isn’t. All research proves it).
Science is seriously on my side here. We humans respond better to what looks nice. It’s called the Aesthetic Usability Effect. Masaaki Korosu and Kaori Kashimura from Hitachi Design Centre in 1995 tested 26 variations of an ATM UI and found that there was a huge correlation between participants ratings of aesthetic appeal and perceived ease of use. People think things are superior if they look nice.
As a corporate business you want people to trust you, like you, interact with you, buy from you. You want your reception to look good. You want your office environment to look good for clients. So why would you then let your advertising be a lazy collection of cliched stock shots and word salad? Follow the same rules you know work – good creative sells. Always.
Google did a piece of research on this back in 2012. This proved that emotion works just as well (in fact better) in the B2B world compared to B2C. They studied a vast number of B2C and B2B brands to check people’s emotional engagement with them. The survey showed that people actually had a higher level of emotional connection with B2B brands compared to B2C brands (in fact, most of the B2B brands had an astonishingly high level of emotional trust – above 50% – compared to the average 10-40% for B2C brands). According to Google, this indicated that: “B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers.”
The survey stated that over 50% of B2B purchasers were more likely to buy from a product or service that they ‘personally’ valued. It went on to show that 71% of B2B buyers who had an emotional connection to their vendors ended up buying products/services from that vendor. Google concluded: “We like to think of organisations as rational and logical. The truth is, there are people within them, and those people are just as, if not more, influenced by emotion than everyday consumers.”
It makes total sense if you think about it. If you’re buying a chocolate bar or a can of fizzy drink then your risk level is virtually zero. But when you’re choosing a supplier or partner for your business then there is an inherent risk, and it can often be a hefty financial one. This just increases if it is your business. You buy from people you like and trust – your ads in this instance are your ambassadors and virtual sales force.
So here is my challenge and plea to all of us advertisers. Let’s up the game. Let’s apply the same rules and quality levels to the corporate advertising as we do the consumer stuff. There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t have emotionally powerful, creatively brilliant, aesthetically amazing advertising in the corporate space.
I’ve worked in a lot of the top agencies and the B2B work is hidden away on other floors or in back recesses like some embarrassing relative we don’t want people to meet. Why have we accepted that the trade ad has to be ugly and boring? Why do we think that it’s ‘just the corporate’ stuff so there’s no need to try too hard? Why do our rock-star creatives never work on the B2B accounts?
So now that we know the same rules of emotional storytelling work just as effectively to businesspeople as all people, we have no excuses for the tsunami of pap that overwhelmed me at Terminal 3. We could start applying a 50% ‘possibilities’ or ’empowerment’ tax to the next corporate advertiser that attempts to use those words in a strapline. But mostly it would just be about applying the simple rules that we know work in all advertising, regardless of audience or product.
Let’s be clear. Let’s be different. Let’s be aesthetically good. Let’s aim for brilliant.
Just imagine the “possibilities”.
Frogs in the well: How creative agencies could get a lot more creative
Kevin Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, April 12, 2019, The Drum #FrogsInTheWell #OriginalityOfThought #DifferentQuestionsForDifferentPeople #CreativeAgencies #Collectivism
There is a Korean proverb that says “the frog in the well never sees the ocean”. For the hard of thinking this means that if you spend all your life in one place you don’t get to see the depth and breadth of everything the world has to offer.
I’ve spent nearly 25 years working in what we describe as “creative agencies” but what everyone else in the world would probably just call advertising agencies. Let’s face it, whatever most agencies make – telly stuff, digital content, direct, PR – most people who live in the real world would just call it adverts. The stuff that businesses create to get you to buy something that they make and sell.
I’ve worked for big and small agencies, independent and big network agencies. I’ve seen a lot of change in that time. I’ve seen the canvas for creativity grow and stretch. But in the greater scheme of creativity I’ve increasingly noticed that most agencies still see ‘creativity’ through an incredibly narrow industry lens. This is especially true compared to the rest of the world. I think I’ve come to realise that I’ve spent most of my career at the bottom of the aforementioned well regardless of the size or style of agency I’ve been at.
So, what made me reach this conclusion? Firstly, I did a project last year which was triggered by people saying that people working in communications were ‘story-tellers’. I interviewed a teacher, journalist, sculptress, film director, a documentary maker and a vicar to see if the rules of storytelling changed, if the story output was different. It made me realise that we rarely look out from our own little industry bubble for the lessons that can be learnt and applied to what we do. Soichiro Honda always said that we “learnt at the edges” (he had a weird analogy about baby spiders that won’t go into) but we rarely do this in ad land. We read the same blogs, we retweet the same tweeters, we read the same case studies about the same campaigns and we pass around the same received wisdom from the same industry luminaries.
In most ‘creative’ agencies the problem solvers still tend to solve problems with one form of answer. My gran always wisely counselled – ‘never ask a fishmonger what he recommends for dinner’.
The second thing that happened was a recent rather lovely six-month period of paid garden leave. I spent the time visiting galleries, reading books, attending lectures on things, talking in cafes to mates who didn’t work anywhere near my industry – basically spending time NOT rewriting another deck about ‘The Long & Short of It’ or talking about the same advertising case studies. It was incredibly eye-opening to not be ‘in the well’ every minute of every day. It was also – here’s the crux – enlightening, terrifying, humbling and embarrassing to see how widely the rest of the world defines ‘creativity’.
Now most of you won’t be lucky enough that an employer will pay you for six months to wander galleries and gain life experience, but the more enlightened bosses (I think of Stu Smith when I worked at W+K) won’t think you’re skiving if you visit the odd gallery or attend the odd lecture ‘on company time’. And clients should be open to thinking that that their problem could maybe be solved outside of their ‘main’ agency – because I can tell you from experience this is where the more creative thinkers lie.
And finally, I’ve now started a new job. And it’s not quite what I did before. I’m at the heart of a collective of 20 specialist agencies (and, by god, in some cases do I MEAN specialist). And this has given me a new and (over-) excited appreciation of the depth and breadth of creativity that exists outside of the well of ‘advertising’ (even in the broader network agency sense). Now, I love adverts, I always have and always will – and they have a brilliant and vital role to play in the communications mix. But the world of creativity is an amazing sandbox outside the world that I’ve been living in until recently.
The dictionary definition of creativity is “originality of thought” – and this can and should be applied to any output of an agency for a client. Everything can be approached creatively. The worst kind of people in our industry are those who only see creativity as creative work.
It has been amazing to sit down with a data science business, and a local media specialist business, or proper experts in experiential brand proof. It’s been the most ridiculous learning curve to sit down with people who genuinely make long form documentary content (rather than people who write a slide saying we should ‘make long form documentary content’). The questions that people ask are different when the output is different. You tend to talk to different partners, you are exposed to different references, you genuinely get to see more ‘creative’ (ie original and different) answers to clients’ challenges.
If you want to be a creative problem solver then it’s probably best that you don’t creatively problem solve with the same tools, case studies, research sources and creative solutions that everyone else is using.
We should all get out of the well. If we are to cut through in an increasingly complex and noisy world then we are going to have to differentiate. Creativity is about being original; and if we want to get to different answers it is time to ask different questions to different people.
Why the world needs more agency specialists
Kevin Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, February 7, 2019, The Drum #TargetedSolutions #SpecialistAgencies #RealCategoryExperts #RightToolForTheRightJob #Specialism
If you were looking for the best butcher in your area, I suspect you wouldn’t find them behind the meat counter of the local supermarket.
If you did look there, you’d be likely to find a very good butcher. You would find someone with skills, experience and knowledge way in advance of the average layman. I suspect you would come away (unless the supermarket was crap) with a good solution to your meat-related need.
But you would always be making a significant compromise.
That compromise would be sacrificing the guarantee of getting the best answer in exchange for enjoying the convenience/scale of a generalist retailer. Now, if you were the kind of person who had quality as your first criteria, then I suspect you’d seek out a specialist butchers’ shop.
It’s the same with medicine. A visit to your GP will bring you into contact with a skilled generalist in medical health. One who’ll be able to give you a more accurate diagnosis than you’d get from Dr Google or a concerned mate. However, the moment you required any form of more specialist diagnosis then you’d expect the doctor to know their limits and refer you to an expert in that field. This expert practitioner would be in a much better position to give you a more targeted solution to the problem at hand. And this would just get more specialised as your issue became clearer. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If you want to get a more expert opinion, ask an expert.
So why has our communications world become so populated by generalists? This is something that has definitely come full circle in the marketing and communications industry since I started back in the 90s. Back then there were lots of specialist agencies, and clients tended to employ a collection of said experts to deliver specific elements of the marketing mix. This became especially true during the first wave of digital marketing in the late 90s when some really famous and feared digital agency brands emerged to challenge the famous advertising behemoths.
However, the world has tended to shift since the noughties (and the financial crisis) towards generalists – big agency or big holding company solutions that promised the convenience (or economic saving) of a one-stop-shop to meet all your marketing needs under one roof. This was the marketing equivalent of the big out-of-town megastores offering the promise of worry-free convenience if you weren’t too fussed about excellence in any specific vertical. Small specialist local shops went out of fashion (or business) as a result of this compromise – but the ‘consumer’ didn’t necessarily get the promised excellence (or savings, for that matter).
The world of marketing has got more complex over the course of my career. Significantly so. I think that the role of, and need for, the specialist has really grown over the course of the last decade. The role of the specialist expert agency has never been more necessary for clients in my opinion. And I think we are about to enter the new age of the specialist.
If you want sharper, better informed, more focused answers then you are better off going to an expert. And my observation from 20+ years of doing this is that the smarter, hungrier, more informed people tend to gravitate towards the more specialist agencies. Especially if they are the kind of owner, entrepreneurial folks who set up their own agencies based on their specialisms.
As a side note, I think this equally applies to the specialist skill of traditional advertising. The most lauded agencies over the last few years – W+K, Mother, Lucky Generals, Adam & Eve/DDB, VCCP – have massively over-indexed on traditional advertising output (especially film/TV) and have reaped the benefit for it in awards and new business wins. It might be unfashionable to say it, but the best agencies are still largely defined by their advertising output.
I’m not saying that there is not a role for big generalist communications groups or more generic folk (I’d count myself as one of the latter, for starters) but I think that the role of specialist agencies and experts has never been more vital than it is today. Beware the generalist who promises to be the ‘Master of All Trades’ – it is just not possible in 2019. To steal the words of Atul Gawande, modern marketing solutions need pit crews, not cowboys. And I think that it is unlikely that you find these real experts in vertical offerings in the big generalist supermarket-style agencies. They don’t gravitate there.
If you’re a big client with a meaty challenge, then you’ll certainly still need an overall diagnosis. It is good to work with an experienced brand expert who can see the bigger picture and give you a ‘big picture’ answer. But then I would argue that in this increasingly complicated media landscape you are much better off selecting a specialist to meet your specific need. The key, as always, will be in making sure that you don’t end up taking too much time managing or integrating your various experts. This is the issue is what led to the ‘convenience compromise’ of choosing the one-stop-shop at the expense of the right solution to your specific problem in the first place.
It’s my contention that the world needs experts more than ever. It just makes sense to me that you would get your collection of expert Avengers with key skills together rather than expecting the big Hulk to be able to solve every problem with his big generic Hulky fists (apologies to any non-Marvel fans out there who are probably lost at this point).
Sharper answers come from asking the right questions. Deeper knowledge comes from exposure to real category experts. If you’re just looking for convenience and speed, then you probably should head to a supermarket. But if you are looking for the best answer to meet your specific needs, ask an expert.
As my dad always said, “the right tool for the right job”.
Bye Bye Binary : Why one answer can never be the only answer
Kevin Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, November 7, 2018, The Drum #AgencyModels #BinaryChoices #MultipleApproaches #MoreThan1Answer #Radicalism
Everything seems to be binary these days. Everywhere we look we seem to see the emergence of ever more polar extremes presented as the only true path to salvation.
Are you a Brextremist or a Remoaner? A patriot or a traitor? Alt-right or left-wing mob? It’s either all about this or all about that.
A quick check of Twitter will show you that everyone and everything seems to be pushing us to take ever more extreme positions with very little shades of grey. The recent US Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh showed that we seem to be becoming ever more binary in the public arena with his confirmation being easily the closest and most partisan in SCOTUS history. Filter bubbles can take a lot of the blame for what’s going on. The behavioural scientists like Cass Sunstein ‘Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite & Divide’ show how we humans take ever more extreme positions in order to stand out from within our like-minded ‘tribes’.
Now binary thinking and binary choices do make some sense in politics because often it frankly IS a binary choice. It is a case of vote for me or vote for him/her.
But I think we are increasingly falling into this trap in our industry too. It seems it is all about the brand or all about the technology. “Are you ‘Traditional’ or ‘Digital’? is possibly the most ridiculous question in the history of marketing against some very stiff competition. We are presented with the binary choice of emotional engagement/purpose-led marketing vs. rational activation/data-driven targeting as if this is some kind of Dante-esque battle for the soul of a client’s business.
I think this is not only unhelpful but also frankly ludicrous. We know this because smarter people than me – Les Binet, for starters – have proved that it is the cumulative blend of these things working together that makes for more effective campaigns. But there seems to be a lot of money to be made in the modern world from trying to convince clients that the future is this, therefore, it must mean the death of that. These either/or choices tend to be pedaled – mostly via LinkedIn – by a bunch of (sorry) modern snake-oil salesmen who have a vested interest in selling you whatever their next wizzy ‘future’ answer is.
There is no more ridiculous example of this current trend for pushing erroneous binary choices than in the current debate about agency ‘models’. I’ve lost count of the amount of articles I’ve read about the ‘death of the network’ or the ‘rise of the independent” – or was it the other way round? To be honest it tends to depend on who the author is, and whether or not they work for a network or an independent agency.
I think we make ourselves seem laughable to clients when we try and claim that the answer to everything must be the one we are currently selling or representing. It also undermines the ever-eroding claim that we are an independent counsel to our clients. My gran always said you should never ask a fishmonger what he recommends for dinner.
It is frankly ridiculous to try and claim that one model of engagement is the answer, regardless of what the category or challenge is. We wouldn’t ever make this kind of silly conclusion for a client when it came to creativity or media solution, so why do we do it for agency models?
I’ve always hated binary choices. I know humans tend to gravitate towards the simple choice, but simple easy choices are so often picked over more difficult right ones.
I’ve worked for the big agency networks (Publicis and WPP), I’ve worked for the independents (W+K) and I’ve also worked at a micro-network (mcgarrybowen). When I was a client at BT I worked with all three models at the same time.
There are amazing benefits to using a big network agency – scale, breadth, experience – and many client challenges that could only be met by a network. There are brilliant benefits to using an independent agency – flexibility, speed, hunger – that frankly big networks often claim but can rarely deliver just by the nature of their set up.
The best things in life often come from blending the good things about multiple approaches. Fusion cooking, for example – take some great flavours from one culture and fuse them with another and you’ll get some of the most delicious (and lucrative) menus in the world. The music business has understood this for decades and as long as you forget some of the more unsuccessful examples of mash-ups like Ozzy Osbourne and Miss Piggy (look it up) the blending of different styles works more often than not. Anyone familiar with the work of artist Jacky Tsai can easily see what gold can come from taking the best of one thing and fusing it with the best of something else.
So that’s my plea to my/our industry.
Let’s stop presenting binary choices as the only choices. Let’s stop presenting what we sell as the only thing for sale. Let’s work to find the right way of solving problems for clients that might not always be our way. Let’s be honest sometimes and say that maybe we are not the right choice for a particular challenge or project. There is good and bad in all of the ways of working and engaging with clients, let’s take the best of all of them and work to find the best answers. The clients will thank us for it, and maybe all those obituaries about the death of the industry we all love might turn out to be a little premature.
Keep it complex, stupid: A plea for the glory of complexity
Kevin Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour, December 19, 2017, The Drum #KICS #TheGloryofComplexity #KeepItComplicated #AgencyVoices #Specialism
KISS; short for Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Oi! Who are you calling stupid, Stupid?
Whisper it in hushed tones, for it is probably marketing heresy, but simplicity is greatly overrated. And over-simplifying in most cases is downright dangerous.
Now, clearly it is a fundamental skill of a planner to make the complex, simple. But as Einstein once said: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I believe that perhaps we have accepted simplicity as the one true God and I’m noticing it’s not always the right thing.
The world is a complicated place, life is complicated and let’s face it, marketing is becoming increasingly complicated. My proposed enemy isn’t simplicity per se, but the sin of oversimplification.
This infatuation with simplicity is bad for the world. It encourages binary thinking (Remoaners v Brextremists etc) and favours over-simplified solutions to complex world problems (#MAGA). So here is a new mantra to kill KISS stone dead. I call it KISIS (Keeping It Simple Is Stupid). Not convinced? OK.
Businesses are complicated. Often we try and reduce a business/comms problem to one thing. And I think this might be damaging too. Businesses are complex so therefore business problems are complex. Maybe (Heresy! Heresy!) we actually have four or five problems that need to be fixed with comms. So maybe some of the comms will fix one problem and other comms with fix another. I think this is the heart of Binet and Field’s Brand Response model. We tend to oversimplify when we are planning communications and the world is rarely as simple as we can make it look on 21st century witchcraft (or Keynote as it’s sometimes alternatively called). KISIS.
Audiences are complicated. Most segmentations are hopelessly simplistic and pretty much useless for anything other than making money for those who devise them. How many segmentations have you seen with more than eight segments? Gracious me, even the bloody Horoscopes have 12 – and they’re a load of tosh. 60 million people in Britain: Are you really telling me that they can all be stuffed into one of eight buckets? No, they can’t. We’re complex creatures with multiple competing desires and attitudes, often simultaneously across different parts of a day. I once saw a segmentation for headache pills where I could stick myself in seven-out-of-eight segments. The simplicity in segmentation studies is rarely useful. As a marketer, ask yourself a question and answer it honestly. Does your segmentation cause more problems than it solves? I reckon in most cases it does for both agencies and clients – because of oversimplification. KISIS.
The media landscape is complicated. The IPA’s brilliant paper ‘Know the Value of Media’ highlighted this in 2014. Between 2003 and 2014, there was a 46% increase in the number of TV stations in the UK. The number of radio stations rose by 17% in the same period, the number of consumer magazines by 24% and the number of poster sites by a whopping 217%. Add to this the proliferation of digital platforms and the emergence and ultimate triumph of social media in the same period and you’ll see that the media world has become increasingly complex. The brilliant thing about this is that it gives us multiple ways to reach audiences in different ways when they are in different mindsets. Great! Let’s embrace this complexity and get smart about using it to our advantage – rather than galloping to (over) simplify it for the purposes of making charts look neater. KISIS.
Creativity is complicated. “Keep it Simple, Stupid” also leads to one of the ugliest phenomenon in modern communications – the matching luggage problem. Obviously consumers are far too stupid to deal with two sets of pictures or two creative executional techniques aren’t they? I mean, they’ll follow multi-level narratives in shows like Game of Thrones but their tiny brains will melt if the poster doesn’t have a massive picture of the telly advert on it. Grrrrrrrr. I’d hazard a guess that most consumers don’t give a stuff. Your posters can be different from your telly in the same way that you can wear a hoodie one day and a suit the next without your family suddenly believing you’ve developed acute schizophrenia. They are different mediums, so it’s OK to use them differently. KISIS.
I’m all for being clear, concise and cogent. I’m a big fan of understanding the key challenges and the key message(s) we want to get across. But I’m not a fan of simplification for convenience, or simplifications, sake.
Let’s keep it more complicated. In a lot of cases it’s the more useful thing to do. I think most consumers are far smarter than most clients or agencies give them credit for. After all as the man himself, David Ogilvy, said: “The consumer isn’t a moron, she’s your wife.”