Monday, 17 October 2016


We live in grumpy times. The referendum didn’t help much. I’m still coming across people who haven’t been on speaking terms with their Brexit-voting parents since June.

It’s reminiscent of Jonathan Swift’s descriptions in “Gulliver’s Travels” of seemingly trivial but vitriolic disagreements between the Lilliputians and Blenfuscuans as to which end of an egg to break open, the small or big end. This ding-dong led to thousands of deaths. There’s yet another dispute in the Lilliputian court between the Tramsecksan and Slamekstan factions, the one favouring low heels and the other high heels. Neither party will acknowledge or speak to the other. Splendidly the Emperor seeking a rapprochement wears one low heel and one high heel “which gives him a hobble in his gait.”

Ah, the hobbling gait of modern life foreseen back in 1726. Plus ça change….

What I love about Swift is his ability to put the spotlight on the triviality of human obsessions and that urge to take extreme positions even when Lustrog (Swift’s fictional god in this instance) has proclaimed:
“All true believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end”

Depends on what you mean by “convenient” they all cry and the Smallenders and Bigenders in rage and hatred set about each other…kersplat!

Surely we are better? Well not if you read about the alleged tantrums displayed by the third and not-so-lucky appointment to head the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse by Theresa May, when Home Secretary, a few months ago. Dame Lowell Goddard, according to the Times, “treated staff with contempt and flew into rages”.

She refutes this but even if a tiny bit true it might explain why so many people at work there and generally today are so unhappy. Workplaces are increasingly driven by targets, by egos and by fear.  And this made me sad when the so-called NHS Whistleblowing Tsar Dr Henrietta Hughes said the NHS needed more of the “trust and joy and love as in Love Actually” hormone oxytocin and was derided by Santham Sanghera in the Times. More mirth and better manners and, yes, a bit more love wouldn’t be so bad but Santham hates the film for its sugariness, inappropriate sexual liaisons - just about everything.

Come on. Richard Curtis must have done something right because Love Actually grossed $259 million worldwide and nearly $30 million in the UK and was the apotheosis of “feel-good”. And feel-good is what we’re missing. Santham reduces life to mere functionality when he suggests all an employee needs to be happy is to be reasonably paid and do interesting work for a successful company. Most people achieve none of those.

What the workplace currently misses (blame computer screens and savings on coffee and biscuits) is the sound of buzz, gossip and laughter. Make it a place people want to go to for work and a pay packet, sure, but much more a place where interesting stuff happens and where grey people and misanthropes get mercilessly teased.

Bah humbug!

Monday, 10 October 2016


The new-enlightenment fizzled out in June when old Britain won. Just what this really means became clearer at the Conservative Party Conference. This is not just about throwing up two fingers to Europe; it’s about dismantling new, liberal, cosmopolitan Britain and creating a new Brand. The Millwall FC of Nations - remember Millwall’s chant “nobody likes us and we don’t care”.

Old Britain hankers after BOAC, the Austin Allegro, coal mines, bri-nylon and Rule Britannia. And because we love the idea of democracy more than we love rationality we are all reluctantly and silently getting on with it, playing the ball where it lies and tacitly accepting a long period of decline and disgruntlement.

Because we are homo sapiens (well, most of us are  but there are an awful lot of neanderthals around too) we are adaptable, crafty and resourceful. Yes of course we’ll find opportunities but if the landscape against which this smart thinking occurs is as disagreeable to many of us, as seems increasingly possible, the will to win for Britain seems less likely to burgeon.

In the midst of this a public row between Rudd and Rudd - Sister Amber Rudd Home Secretary and her smarter, older brother Roland Rudd founder of Finsbury PR is thrilling. Here’s what Roland said:
In a democracy there’s always a spectrum of views. Those of us who want a sensible Brexit, who want Britain to remain a beacon of tolerance and who find the denigration of non-British workers appalling have a duty to speak out”… and he added …”Leaving the EU is probably the biggest event since the Second World War.

When I look at Amber I remember Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary - when our leading politicians (even some Conservatives) were progressive champions of liberalism and creating a New Britain.  I have a mischievous desire to extrapolate the nonsense that she speaks to a declaration that foreign names like Prêt a Manger, La Gavroche, Credit Suisse must be translated in future.

 “The Best of British” - overdone beef and warm beer - lovely - is also on many lips together with dark warnings about failing to be patriotic enough. Remember Dr Johnson saying “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. He was right.

And talking of scoundrels.

Here are three of my least favourite men. The chaps to get a deal, win business and build Brand Britain.  “Haaanngg on!!!” as Mr Tumble my grand daughter’s favourite TV character splutters in despair.  Davis, Fox and Boris (another Johnson) - the slipperiest trio in living political memory. Philip Collins quoting Chamberlain’s comment on Disraeli says of Boris: “a man who never tells the truth except by accident.

So am I depressed? No. This will not last. Old Labour and Old Tory will be replaced by a new generation of liberal, enlightened and resourceful voters. Just keep on talking about all this and laughing at their idiotic lumbering backwards.

It makes Monty Python look quite serious.

Monday, 3 October 2016


No, yesterday wasn’t so good if you actually think back.

This week Libby Purves wrote a great piece in the Times counting our current blessings. She’s so good that a friend said to me “I’d make her PM - tomorrow” - he’s right Libby’s a liberal voice of joyful sanity - Libby for leader of the Happy Party. Why not? In the insane post-reason and enlightenment world of Brexit, Corbyn and Trump anything could happen.

Her basic thesis - well-worn and endorsed in various blogs of mine and others but not so well written as hers - is that across the board everything, yes everything, is getting better. Health, medical discoveries, food and drink, restaurants, shops, manners, sport, wealth, housing, welfare - yes, everything….Yet despair is fashionable, she says, and only 5% of Britons think the world is getting better. So of the other 95%...
Are you blind? Are you deaf? Are you mad?

In the relatively recent past we hanged, beat and abused people with some relish. When Winston Churchill rebuked some Admirals for talking affectionately about the traditions of the Royal Navy he said:
 “And what are they? They are rum, sodomy and the lash'.

In this better world, global literacy is up from 21% a century ago to 86% now. Johan Norberg,
whose book “Progress” Libby cites at some length, praises globalism, industrialisation, science and the liberal heart. And it’s this liberal heart that interests me and inspires me the most.

Overall we, and especially the young and better-educated, are repelled by any concept like the old-school smack of firm government. And to those lamenting our rapid progress and who advocate the return to the rose tinted past and good honest coal mining, well I despair of them.

Our new world is actually (and potentially even more) bright, shiny and brainy. It’s liberal, cosmopolitan, speaks English and likes the same great movies. It’s young, energetic, fit and funny. We learned to laugh intelligently in the 1960’s and 70’s and now again we are seeing better and sharper satire. This is as good as it’s got.

Over the past two weeks I’ve eaten splendidly at newish restaurants - 64 Degrees in Brighton and at 45 Jermyn Street and Eneko in London. I’ve felt as though I were in the centre of the world walking with a mix of different nationalities and seeing people enjoying the warmth of a long drawn out summer.

I read Saturday’s Times and it was upbeat as I wanted it to be, Caitlin Moran and Robert Crampton as ever cheerful, funny and big hearted. Happy stories like Gertie the dog swimming out to sea to recover a German holiday maker’s false leg that had been washed away in a freak wave.

All too often we get what we expect. As the Victor Meldrews discover things go wrong when
we anticipate them doing so. So cheer up. Expect the best. And start laughing at our extraordinary good fortune.

Monday, 26 September 2016


Peter Drucker, the famous management guru lived to ninety six saying stuff like:
“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said”

He was seen as wise and relevant because he presented himself that way.

So like Drucker I’ve decided to keep on going but by being a nuisance. In his book “More Human: Designing a World Where People Come First” Steve Hilton who used to be David Cameron’s policy advisor and a man who despises corporate obesity noted that nature had determined that the elephant and the whale were as big as it was going to get. So BT and the NHS would be anomalies then?

My run-ins with BT have bored many who read me so I won’t go on but the irony is it’s hard to telephone BT and the company that produced an advertising campaign -“It’s good to talk” - doesn’t actually want to…talk that is. We got back from Venice three weeks ago and our land line was down. Getting through to a human was hard and when I did they lived in Chenai and they weren’t briefed about the angry me - the human ‘me’ - not just my phone number. It’s taken three weeks, three engineers, with only the last one to visit qualified to do the work. It worked fine but then stopped working although right now it’s OK again. My fingers are crossed.

This is a marketing problem. I want a Bob Hoskins sound-alike on my case not an Indian with an MBA being very nice but without being trained in how I feel and me feeling worse through being carefully nice to prove I’m not racist. BT is a dinosaur trying to be hi tech and this rusty old beast isn’t human so even when they get it right I get cross.

Next; my wife’s eye examination at the Brighton Eye Hospital. Result: nurses brilliant; doctors superb; front of house marketing a disgrace. The waiting room is dirty. How dare they have posters emblazoned “This is an infection free zone…are you are in the zone?” when it’s clearly a breeding ground for all kinds of vile viruses, especially the filthy windows which make those on a Southern Railway train look spotless. And talking of railways why in this supposedly state-of-the-art palace of medical technology would you have a large but faded print of a Great Western steam train tootling through idyllic pre-war Britain? And finally under another poster which asked cheerily “Having trouble with your sight?” they had a little library of sarcastically small print paperbacks bar one vast  1000 pager called ”Into the Darkness”. Also amid the plethora of posters was one that intrigued me. It said “Finding Your Feet with the ECLO* - and in small print *Eye Clinic Liaison Officer

Decent marketing communication - I conclude somewhat irritably - would put us all in a better state of mind and make our world a better place.

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.