Monday, 19 September 2016


Ever since the debate about Grammar Schools started - surprising for a new PM to embrace a lost cause so strongly - I’ve been thinking about the way labels and images change our thinking.

In my day the 11 + wasn’t nerve-rackingly stressful. We all knew who the cleverer and less clever were and there were few surprises. Now just read Rod Liddle’s brilliant piece about his daughter’s terror that her life could be ruined forever by one dodgy 11+ exam, to capture the real distastefulness of the issue.

Why these anachronistic labels? Why secondary modern or comprehensive or grammar school, why not use football technology - Premier Schools for the best, Championship schools for the rest?

The biggest issues are:
  • Is the overall quality of our education good enough? (Hands up if you know the answer.)
  • How do we accelerate the progress of the brightest whose potential is so often stemmed by domestic poverty?
  • Are we creating an education fit for 2030 purpose?
The debate is great but the language belongs to the past and provokes half buried prejudices. Refresh the language and we’ll refresh the argument.

This week Barry Myers a film director died and in his obituary was best remembered for a Teenage Anti-Smoking film created by the ad agency FCO. Back then in the 1980s smoking was normal. Today it’s like Grammar and Secondary Modern and Steam Trains a vestige of old Britain. Look at the film: it stands the test of time.

It’s Russia, however that can show us the way in reinventing the past. Stalin, still darling of the people (after all what are a few million executions?) and inveterate smoker is now depicted as a smoker of e-cigarettes, Uncle Jo is reborn as a modern voice of wisdom.

And Lenin and Marx are close behind with genial smiles and laptops, trophy watch and Pussy Cat Doll girlfriend. In a few seconds history is rewritten and icons of the past are reincarnated as cool and modern.  The revamped revolutionary Vladimir Lenin (left) is shown as a young man alongside a glamorous and ultra-modern but nameless female ideologist as well as a casual looking Karl Marx

And finally - Brighton. We moved here 13 years ago and for a while, to a rather apathetic response, I promoted the argument that this was potentially a City of the Future…big intellectually, artistically, architecturally and commercially - the Powerhouse of the South.  Apathy put out the fire of my enthusiasm. As a Green Council struggled to govern, as rough sleepers became more of a fixture and rubbish piled up in the streets I thought Dosshouse of the South was probably more apt.

But a lot is changing. The two universities are doing well. There are massive infrastructure plans. And in the new Good Food Guide, Brighton gets seven pages (used to get one) - the same as Manchester and Birmingham.

And the i360. This delighted the critics by breaking down last week. Why? The overly sensitive stability system broke down because people inside were rushing en masse to the bar.  Some images of humanity never change…thankfully…cheers.

Monday, 12 September 2016


My next book is an update of my Brilliant Marketing - now in its 3rd edition. So marketing is constantly on my mind. And, anyway, it’s hard not to think of marketing in Brand-Venice which for 1500 years has created itself as the world’s first virtual city.


Everything Venice does is a promotional event, like the Regatta on September 4th when participants rowed in 16th century style boats down the Grand Canal. In Venice ask not for whom the bells from the 139 churches toll - they toll as part of the overall marketing of the place.

From music - Monteverdi, the Gabrielis, Vivaldi, to art - Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Bellini, Carpaccio,  to architecture - thanks Palladio, to theatre - hail Goldoni - this small city/town even has been raucously trumpeting above its size and population for a long time taking every chance to promote and dramatise itself. Venice is like a Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton or Leonardo DiCaprio - a living self-advertisement. We walk. My wife screams. Has some vile, greasy Venetian goosed her? No. It’s Sephora. It’s not in Britain but it is here - the beauty shop equivalent of WholeFoods Market = brilliantly serviced by smiling girls.

And the sweater shop not just selling pullovers but “Pull Love”.  I do love it and buy some. It’s not all good of course. There’s an advertisement for the Oxford School of English based in Venice. To reinforce its authenticity it has (wincingly) a guardsman in a busby….

I am betting which the English is here taught is so not best neither way.

All over Venice alongside more traditional outlets are fresh creations for ice- cream like Grom - it’s an amazing chain; Dal Moro’s Pasta to Go - bright, new, clean, appetising and it has a competitor - Pasta and Sugo.

There are Cicchetti bars where a glass of Chianti costs €2.50 and five great cicchetti set you back just €4. Apart from the history, the architecture and the tourists (confined to the Rialto and St Mark’s Square) what I constantly see is great marketing - super merchandising, witty copy, exceptional customer service and innovation. Odd isn’t it that in the world’s most historically intact city we keep on seeing new ideas?  The only tired and depressing aspect of Venice (apart from their mayor Giorgio Orsoni  and 35 others being arrested on corruption and money laundering charges related to the Venice flood defences) are the wretched liners and billionaires’ motor yachts with names like Enigma, Lady Good Girl, Happy Days, You’re Nicked and Wet Dream. Watching them and their languid passengers was like watching an episode of “The Night Manager”.

The New Brilliant Marketing 3E praises the power and the joy that marketing can bring. Try Venice to see how this works and always has….or read the book.

This is the second edition. The 3rd edition is unbelievably better and completely up to date. It comes out in six weeks.

Monday, 5 September 2016


I’m still in Venice where it’s seldom fallen below 30C. I’m so relaxed it’s bizarre. But, as Arnie said in the film “I’ll be back”, yes I’ll be back next week.

In the meantime here’s what happens today…a 16th century regatta

And here’s what happens tonight. Bellini’s Norma at the Fenice.

Venice is still the most beautiful place in the world, the quietest and the most relaxing and energising at the same time.


Monday, 29 August 2016


Richard is currently researching a book about Venice and will be back to his regular blog in a couple of weeks' time.

Monday, 22 August 2016


I’m not against big businesses.  Not at all. They are full of smart and civilised people. They are important to our economy and our social stability.

I like Google and Apple (who doesn’t?)

I used to love the spirit Nike had in the period of their pre-21st-century glory. I love the confidence with which companies such as John Lewis, Heinz (now 3G) and BMW go about what they do. I enjoy seeing challengers like Deliveroo, Uber, Airbnb and especially Aldi, disrupt their markets and behave small (even when - like Aldi - they’re the 90th biggest company in the world, a lot bigger than Tesco with twice as many stores in 18 countries.)

But there’s something about big companies that’s beginning to worry me.

Mark Ritson in Marketing Week gets it spot-on when he castigates Apple for circumventing paying their tax:
Apple is by no means alone in its attempts to legally minimise its tax responsibilities. Despite what all the naïve morons that espouse CSR and brand purpose keep telling you, there are very few brands that don’t actively and massively avoid tax liabilities to a disgraceful degree. What makes Apple notable in this uniformly disgusting context is the manner in which Cook has continued to portray himself as a different kind of CEO, who takes his societal responsibilities very seriously.

What worries me is being big can make you a bully and prematurely deaf. Being big makes you think ‘There’s my way and then there’s my way.’ Most of all, being big makes you an enemy of marketing. The big decisions you make will be about money, cost and margins, about downsizing, consolidating and acquisitions. They should be about people and what they want and need. They should be about marketing but they won’t be. And if you get too big to focus on marketing, well…you’re going to die.

Small businesses are about the future. They are about risk and about change. They are where innovation thrives.  They are about learning. They are about being busy doing important things. They are more in love with their top-line (their sales) than their bottom-line (profit). And they keep on trying to get better not richer.
Small businesses are lucky. They don’t usually have shareholders or if they do they don’t have analysts poring over their numbers. They don’t have a lot of out-of-date plant and investment in property they just don’t need. They don’t have a huge workforce.

But what don’t they have?

They don’t have enough money to have much wriggle room. So they need to be very smart if they’re going to survive.   Lord Rutherford the scientist said:

“We have no money so we shall have to think.” (Those who know me well will have heard that many times before.)

We’ve got to stop bending the knee to big business. The real future lies with companies creating the future and not protecting the past. And if they won’t pay their tax, however big they are, they can get lost.

Monday, 15 August 2016


Authenticity is something of a buzzword right now along with transparency, honesty and sharing. The need for plain English and the “truth” are constantly on people’s lips.

I have felt uneasy about the Olympics and about cricket because of the doping scandals of the former and the betting corruption of the latter to the extent of not watching them.

What’s the point when so many competitors have cheated blatantly?  These sports are simply inauthentic being literally played on an uneven playing field.  Yet I found myself being drawn towards the Olympics despite my reservations. Applause like laughter is infectious. There’s something about sport when it’s played well that gets you. So when Adam Peaty  smashed the world record time in the 100 metres breaststroke I, who loathe swimming, was fascinated. Adam seems to have disrupted breast stroke technique by swimming in an exhaustingly aggressive way. A dull stroke made thrilling.

In the midst of Polish Weightlifters, Bulgarian Steeplechasers and Chinese swimmers being sent home this week for doping offences there’s a kind of naïve brilliance we see in the way some athletes excel.

Here’s a different story about authenticity.  There’s an old report of a conspiracy to cheat on insurance through bogus whiplash and other injuries which were allegedly suffered by 26 passengers on a bus that normally carried about eight people. When the bus ran into a car causing a slight bump legitimate, law abiding passengers watched in bemusement as the conspirators flung themselves to the floor of the bus clutching their necks and screaming in apparent agony.

CCTV footage showed some of them giggling as they performed these antics. It was not authentic nor intelligent but quite funny at every level. It’s the idea of mass incompetent corruption that has a Monty Python feel to it. There was one other piece of idiocy - they all made claims against just one insurance company.

Judge Patricia Lynch was the most authentic voice last week when she swore back at John Hennigan whom she was jailing for breaching an Asbo order:

Henningan: You’re a bit of a c..t
Judge: You’re a bit of a c..t yourself.
Hennigan: Go f..k yourself
Judge: You too.

Hennigan did not cut a particularly attractive figure in his behaviour or in his physical appearance - no Olympic athlete he - but I doubt if Patricia’s authenticity which won her widespread support on social media will go down quite so well with the judiciary.

Whilst writers try to find their authentic voice - the true them - this is not generally true of politicians who spend most of their lives trying to be what they think voters want. Boris Johnson, for example, plays whatever he judges will work best: buffoon, man of the people, intellectual, small boy or repentant. Our Foreign Secretary seems to have gone to earth doubtless working on his next performance. To misquote Bacon in his famous quote about Pilate:

“What is real?” said jesting Johnson but would not stay for an answer.

Monday, 8 August 2016


I have a Blog Master who places and art directs my blog and bullies me if I haven’t done it. He is Scottish. That’s an observation not a criticism. But unlike Frazer in Dad’s Army, dourly and constantly observing “we’re doomed,” Ian, my Blog Master wondered in a post-Brexit hangover: “whether you should brighten up as you come from Brighton.”

So, starting today from Saturday 4th; it’s a real summer day. I’m awash with vitamin D. I’m invincibly cheerful. In Brighton it’s Gay Pride. As I walk along streets packed with people dressed in tutus, faces smothered in glitter and a gleam in their eye of impending-party-time a mother is addressed by her bemused 4 year old son:
“Mummy, why are we here?”
“To celebrate the day we can show we can love and marry whoever we want.”

Britain is a better place than it once was. 
And here’s more considered evidence.  A few weeks ago I talked to Harry Maitland, sixteen, co-founder of a group called The Basement Effect, voted the second favourite rock band in Liverpool. Harry is very bright (expect GCSE A*s), amazingly mature and poised. The last person I met with that much teenage charisma was Nick D’Aloisio.
Harry said that when they launched their band two years ago they resolved to set up a “Social Media” platform first, putting stuff there 24/7, announcing they were in existence and “inspiring and engaging people”. So when they began to build their fan base by busking they were already known. As their fans gave them money they rushed round giving their fans “business cards” - yes he called them that. Two years later they’ve done 150 live gigs - got 55,000 views of one of them - have been on BBC Radio 6. They are musically proficient and write their own stuff.
Who knows if they’ll make it … but Harry’s created a model approach to marketing today. It wasn’t just his modesty that I loved - it was his certainty that without awareness a brand/band hasn’t got a chance.
And here’s more. A few days ago I was taken to lunch by a very bright 26 year old. He’s  been doing brilliantly and was invited to go on the Board of his company. He said “no thanks, I haven’t quite decided what I want to do yet”. They offered to double his salary to say yes, instead he said: “no thanks, I haven’t quite decided what I want to do yet.”

He’ll start his own company when he’s ready. He’s already declared he’s not an average employee. He’s gone up in my estimation for being free from monetary persuasion.
Recently I have been developing a growing sense that aprés le deluge the post-Brexit-relaunch of Britain could actually work. Smart youth, cunning experience, a mission to clear out the complacently mediocre and drive an energetic agenda of innovation is what we need; this plus an utterly ruthless desire to win.