Monday, 30 August 2010


When I’m mentoring people I preach the importance of energy and enthusiasm. Yes, you have to believe with great passion in what you do, say and sell.

But you also have to know your stuff, really know it.

I suppose if a charity salesman on the street is called a “chugger” (charity + mugger) then one phoning you is, I guess, a “phugger”.

And I was “phugged” thus a few days ago:

PH: Hallo Mr Hall? As you know Age Concern and Help the Aged have merged to form Age UK. Isn’t that great?

Me: How big does that make the business in revenue terms?

PH: I don’t know. I’d have to come back to you on that. But we do such fantastic work like helping old people and that.

Me: How? And what % of the income actually goes to good works as opposed to administration costs and general overhead?

PH: I don’t know. I’d have to come back to you on that one too. But can I tell you about a new scheme we have. You pay just £1 a week and that entitles you to participation in a lottery and you could win prizes –like £10,000 at Christmas – just imagine winning all that money.

Me: But this is gambling. It’s wrong, immoral and totally un-Christian (this an inspired thrust on my part). You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

PH: Oh dear but it goes to good works like….

Me: Like?

PH: I’d have to come back to you on that.

Am I being a bit mean?

The poor guy had been dropped in it and had not been trained. So my gripe is with Age UK not with him.

In common with many other businesses more money spent on staff training and less on so-called marketing would be a much wiser investment.

However enthusiastic you might feel about what you do, the first need is to know your stuff backwards and then to learn how to pitch a great story. There is no substitute for the hard work of learning and understanding your script.

Monday, 23 August 2010


Robin White, the one time ad man, invented the term “advertising archaeology” by which he meant delving into the past to find a brand’s DNA. And it’s true that some of the staples of the past that are dear to the nation’s heart have been mislaid rather than forgotten or renounced.

On the come-back, for instance, are Spam and Wall’s Ice Cream.

But here are four that are about to hit the headlines – and remember you read it here first.

Soap. The real thing. A lump of cleaning foaming perfumed purity. A Knight’s Castile. A Palmolive. A Pears. A Wrights Coal Tar. Baths you see are coming back. I sometimes have both a bathe and a shower. A shower to wake me up, a bath in which to think and in a bath I need a lump of soap to play with.
Hats. Fedoras make you look like an actor or a secret agent. They also stop you getting damp around your neck when it’s drizzling. They say you can lose up to 30% of your body heat through your head in the cold because that’s where the most skin area is left uncovered. So hats are cool. Or rather vice versa.

Ties. Symbols of the fat cat, bloated plutocrat or wage slave. The first thing the genuine entrepreneur discards. The SME equivalents of a commando’s underpants. They’re slowly coming back as mood creators. A cheerful, colourful tie signals a happy person. They also set you apart from the tieless throng of fat cats, bloated plutocrats and wage slaves who are trying to stay in fashion.

Pies. In January of this year the Daily Mail noted a Nielsen statistic in this £230 million market; “Pie sales in Britain have soared to a 30-year high with an extra 17million sold over the past 12 months.” Better quality, more variety, OK (as with everything) in moderation. They are also great value and trophy sales flags of the mighty recession busting Greggs, Britain’s largest specialist retail baker with 1,400 outlets. Pies are the new sushi.
So keep an eye on quality items slipping out of fashion and wait for their bounce back. You can’t keep a good brand or product category down for long. Take Old Spice, the men’s fragrance, which thanks to the social networking campaign of Isaiah Mustafa is making a come-back.

Remember – it’s never over till the fat lady sings…talking of which look out for the return of well rounded divas…

Monday, 16 August 2010

THE ART OF THE PUT-DOWN, or the 'Bon Mot'

The relevance of this to marketing or to presentation is that all of us are forever seeking the simple and crushing meaning of the universe; our very own “42” as it were.

If only we could find our own “Reassuringly expensive” or “Because you’re worth it” we should succeed.

Dream on…

The smart line is seldom enough unless like Oscar Wilde that’s all there was, a never ending volley of smart one-liners. Or if you’re Lord Saatchi what he calls the two word equity (see Stella Artois above).

But in its time it was devastating.

Example, Harold MacMillan having just stood down as PM meeting a young historian Simon Schama who tripped and fell flat on his face in front of him to be greeted as he blushing arose by MacMillan saying:

“Gratitude understandable; prostration quite unnecessary”.

Or Dorothy Parker going through a doorway ahead of a rival who muttered “age before beauty” and without pause Dorothy riposted:

“No, my dear, pearls before swine”.

But this is not about smart lines alone, it’s about a mastery of the English language possessed by only a very few writers like Frank Skinner in the Times and comedians like Michael McIntyre.

My recent favourite was in Bombay proving the Indians have really got what we once had. It was a poster beside a road which said:

“Impatient at wheel, patient in hospital.”


Monday, 9 August 2010


“Come to the edge

We can’t. We’re afraid

Come to the edge

We can’t. We’ll fall

Come to the edge

And they came

And he pushed them

And they flew”

(Guillaume Apollinaire)

I did not expect to quote poetry let alone French poetry.

But I guess M. Sarkozy will be pleased if he reads this….and if he does I hope he takes note.

But I think it captures what it is which inhibits most of us from trying to be a great presenter, a creative thinker or someone who is ambitious to try something difficult or new.

I mentor people. The objective is always the same. To push them over the edge and then watch them as they discover they can fly. It is less a tribute to my skill and judgement and more a testimony to their leashed talent that when I decide it’s time to push them, their spiralling flight always amazes them and makes my own heart stop at the sheer brilliance of nearly all human beings.

Helping people realise just how talented they are and how much closer they are to the level they aspire to, is hardly drudgery.

The trick is to do two things.

1.Understand the potential of the person.

2.Enable them to feel the confidence and sense of purpose to express that potential.

As simple a magic trick as that.

And as amazing.

Monday, 2 August 2010


The press release last week of the four new strategic directors for Brighton and Hove Council struck me as odd as all four were men.

I have been a strong believer in the benefits of diversity in creating a strong team and whilst I have no doubt the four guys were selected for their individual merits I doubt if they’ll prove to be a compelling “team”.

The point is diversity leads to creativity and creativity overturns the traditional and outworn. Besides which surely a council would want to be vaguely representative of its voters’ interests or the other 50% as it were.

Tom Peters, who is one of the more stimulating management thinkers of our times has a strong view about why, possibly, all of the appointments should have been women:

“It is my fact based conviction that women’s increasing power – with their leadership skills and purchasing power – is the strongest and most dynamic force in the American Economy today – this is even bigger than the internet.”

Women are bigger than the internet….. but not in Brighton and Hove they aren’t.

But then, look around the boardrooms of Britain – the supermarkets, banks and insurance companies - and women are a rarity.

Let’s face it business is still a boys game and however liberally minded you are seems likely to remain so. Talking of which it’s not just business - only 7 out of 57 Lib Dem MPs are women.

So Brighton and Hove may have got it wrong but they are in good (male) company.