Saturday, 31 December 2011


I have predicted that 2012 will be the year of lunch, of that forgotten art of eating together, playing with ideas and feeding the mind and soul as well as the body. For too long Gekko’s words from Wall Street have coloured our lives. “Lunch is for wimps” he said and sales of Prêt sandwiches soared. We now, typically, stare at screens and don’t talk. We are prepared to embrace the philosophy of the Valley of Austerity just as the prohibitionists embraced moral austerity in America in 1919. My first picture defines that neatly. Although this is a finely wrought spoof it manages to capture the world we could create if we chose this path. No love, no listening, no lunch.

In the party time of the ‘80s we went the other way, as we see, in the “Feast of the Gods” by the wonderfully named Renaissance painter Johann Rottenhammer. This reminds me of the legendary parties we had at the advertising agency FCO when we were producing our most creative work. Odd coincidence that. Lots of love, lots of listening (and talking), lunch never stopped and the work was courageous and alight.

The joy of lunch was best epitomised by Roy Jenkins who revered the ceremony. Our best ever Home Secretary and one of our best writers, he’d down a large amount of claret, captivate conversationally and stroll home to write 5,000 words on Asquith, Baldwin, Churchill, Gladstone, whoever. Without lunch Roy Jenkins would have been a lesser person. So here is a vision of lunch in the sun about to happen. Eighteen people about to sit and eat, laugh, love and listen. And do one other thing. Think.

I give you the lunch party as an altogether better way to run the world than the introspective structures we currently have. And if you believe creativity is what really makes the difference (”the last legal way to gain an unfair advantage” as Maurice Saatchi put it) start filling the 1230-230 slots in your diary. It may make you a little rounder and a lot more cheerful; it’ll also, make you a better person. Bon appétit or if you prefer mahlzeit, pofta buna or smaklig måltid.

Monday, 26 December 2011


Racial abuse is big news right now. Luis Suarez, the Liverpool footballer, has been banned for eight matches for calling Patrice Evra “negrito” (a neutrally factual term in Uruguay he claimed). John Terry has been charged with racial abuse by the Crown Prosecution Service for calling Anton Ferdinand a “black c***” – but note it’s not the “c” word that’s provoked the storm. Be very careful not to argue with the Times leader on Thursday which said “Kick racism out – racial abuse cannot be countenanced”. Look at Sepp Blatter’s battering (battering Blatter though is fair game) for downplaying the whole concept. A post-match handshake would sort out any misunderstanding he suggested. Flogging, crucifixion, disembowelling would not be too bad for thoughts expressed so vilely. And now Aidan Burley Tory MP is going to be prosecuted in France for going to a party where people dressed as Nazis. What a prat. Why bother the lawyers? I want to describe the two occasions when I was racially abused. The first was when I played cricket for a team where I was one of only two white guys playing for my team. We played against another team that I think was totally Afro Caribbean and Asian. I batted three. As I walked out early to bat the mutter went round “watch out for dat honky bastard”. As a succession of quick, short pitched deliveries peppered me accompanied with cries of “murder de whitey” and so on, something strangely powerful happened to me igniting my competitive instincts. It was one of my better innings because I had fun, irritated them and I felt I’d been put on trial and survived. Bruised and laughing. The second was in Osaka when a colleague and I were unceremoniously ejected from a “no-gaijan” bar. He being South African was especially outraged and described my phlegmatic response as being “Uncle Tom-ism”. I felt slightly irritated but glad to know what it felt like being discriminated against for having a big nose and smelling of cheese. We need to be intolerant of racism but careful not to let words change our world. The 1955 film “The Dam Busters” still earns plaudits apart from Richard Todd’s final words addressed to his Black Alsatian “Come on Nigger”. My uncle, Walter Mycroft wrote the screenplay. He’d be sent to gaol if he wrote that now, unless of course he was black. Happy, diverse, tolerant and racism-free Christmas…oh and make that New Year and forever too. Ice Cold in Alex Man Friday

Tuesday, 20 December 2011


I sent a Christmas Card this year produced by Private Eye which had a group of snowmen sitting around a boardroom table one of whom was gloomily intoning “Gentlemen I think we’re heading for a meltdown”. Thus we read in the Sunday Times article “Nightmare before Christmas” all about the retail bloodbath with rucksacks and thongs in the news…..Black’s Leisure and La Senza apparently on the brink. Meanwhile the Foreign Office is working on advanced plans to evacuate over 1 million Britons living in Spain and Portugal who may have their savings frozen in failing banks and be thrown from their mortgaged villas on to unswept and potholed streets because yes, the end of the Euro-world is nigh. Tragedy was heaped on tragedy as the rumbustious polemicist and contrarian Christopher Hitchens handed in his dinner pail and got two double page spreads in the Times. The Queen Mother didn’t even get that. Hitchens was quoted “The four most overrated things in the world are champagne, lobster anal sex and picnics”. All of them are highly rated here in Brighton – although it’s agreed here that lobster is, perhaps, a bit over hyped. None of this is very Christmassy all this is it? Yet I’ve heard more good singing in the past few weeks than for a long time and I’ve laughed more. I laughed at the story in Stephen Pile’s story in his Book of Heroic Failures about an opera in Wexford thirty years ago on a sloping stage covered in marbled formica. This proved so slippery that the first singer slipped fell and slid rapidly towards the orchestra pit but hung on to be swiftly joined by another singer who suffered the same plight. Locked in embrace on the brink of the stage (not in the script) they carried on singing. The moral of that story which made me laugh out loud was their professionalism was not daunted by the minor mishap of a stumble. The show went on. As our show will. And I realised as I was laughing why the whole Euro farce has been pissing me off so mightily. No sense of humour. Have you ever seen a Belgian laugh? Name a comedian from Luxemburg or Lithuania. And satire’s role in France died with Voltaire. The last words, as they should, belong to Christopher Hitchens. “Alcohol makes people less tedious and food less bland and can help provide what the Greeks call ‘entheos’, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing”. Cheers and Happy Christmas.

Thursday, 15 December 2011


Presumably this shows why the debate in Brussels was so important….incidentally Paris came 24th
 The top twenty financial centres in the latest index (GFCI 10) which was published in September 2011 are:

GFCI 10 Rank
GFCI 10 Rating
GFCI 9 Rank
GFCI 9 Rating
Change in Rank
Change in Rating
New York
Hong Kong
San Francisco
Washington DC

Monday, 12 December 2011


We all get a warm feeling being elected to a club or being picked to play in a cricket or football team. It’s good being wanted. Winning the struggle to get a good job because they prefer you to the other guys or quite simply being a popular person matters.

Don’t be embarrassed.

We all want to be liked.

So what happened in Brussels last week was very uncomfortable. We were cast out. Like Judas. We were the lonely 1 out of 27 - although I do wish that David Cameron had swaggered more instead of looking apologetic and sorry for himself. He needed to look as though he was right and they were wrong which for month after month they have been.

Trouble is it keeps on happening to us. A few months ago it was FIFA kicking dust in our face with Sebb Blatter asserting his corrupt right to rule and now this.

But the 5th biggest economy in the world is Germany, followed at joint 6th by the UK and trailed by France at 9th and Italy at 10th. Yes we are that important.

So the real tragedy here is for the EU who, in not wooing and, yes, making concessions to the UK, the second biggest economy in greater Europe, and thereby persuading us  to play a big front of stage part in solving the Euro-crisis, has now almost certainly led to the crash of their doomed currency. Especially as France who seemed pretty pleased about (as they saw it) seeing off Britain, are rumoured to be likely to lose their triple “A” credit rating this week.

It’s important to realise that Europe contrived to exclude us not vice versa.

You will gather I am not an entire fan of France but to be fair their President has just four more months before elections that look likely to unseat him and he’s tried to play the “see how I beat Britain” card as a desperate political stratagem.

But it still feels lonely and rancorous for us today. It’s not nice being blamed and being told, as Paddy Ashdown did, that forty years of foreign policy had gone down the plughole in a single night and being told off by the Lithuanian Prime Minister.

But how isolated will we be in the end?

The last words on that go to Terry Smith CEO of Tullett Prebon the broker…
“…as isolated as somebody who refused to join the Titanic just before it sailed”.

Monday, 5 December 2011


From time to time I sound off about negative thinking and that idiotically masochistic desire for failure. Austerity Britain’s icy fingers beckon us towards the lost decade of misery. At least that’s what the media says. Great headline – “Lost Decade”….

But it was a friend who’d been so ill she’d spent a week in bed to make me realise Radio 4 has to go or just has to be sorted out (Chris Patten are you listening?) She said she had to switch to the cheerfulness of Radio 3 to escape the sneers and sardonic pessimism of the Today programme. And it’s contagious. I listened to the Archers the other day. They’re all candidates for Dignitas.

Yet the rest of us are fine.

The News of the World’s used to claim “all human life is here”. Apparently not, nor in the Sun, Mirror, Mail, Express and the rest (all being daily spanked in the Leveson enquiry with worse to follow for them) because the office for National Statistics have just published “life satisfaction” figures for April-October 2011 of 7.3 out of 10 (with a slightly higher score for a sense of “what I do (overall) being worthwhile”) and for “satisfaction with personal relationships” being a quite storming A* 8.3.

Either these figures are being cooked, which I doubt, or a tranche of would-be opinion formers are doing what they do best “whingeing”. And to borrow from Jeremy Clarkson what we should do is shoot them because such doom-mongers are dangerous.

But as they whinge we are all pretty cheerful. And here’s how to get even better.


Not a lot (too much swearing is self-neutralising) but do it with emphatic rage when you do. Research at Keele University proves swearing (in moderation) is a “stress-induced analgaesic” – so every time you say the “f” word equates to taking a Nurofen.

Another reason to be cheerful, I’m told, is the long overdue reduction in University applications – down in England by 15% - but also down in Scotland where it’s still free - by 16%. So it might not just be a fee related decline then whingers ? Prod, prod!

It’s time to stop the complainers confusing us with their misery and time to enjoy our personal relationships and the joy of reflecting on how to simplify our lives, spend a bit less and a bit better.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


You'll know by noy about Fenton that black dog – a Labrador I think – chasing deer in Richmond Park pursued by his despairing owner shouting “Fenton! Fenton!! Oh Jesus Christ!!!”

This was videoed by a 13 year old out with his dad, they thought it was quite funny, posted it on You Tube and it’s gone viral. Well over 1 million hits including spoofs from “Jurassic Park” to “Lost” to Hitler’s last days in the bunker. Fenton has become the name of today. Babies all over the world are being named Fenton. The Fenton film-makers are bemused by their success and are getting richer as we speak.
Why the excitement?

 First of all it isn’t the filming…sorry guys.
Secondly it isn’t the subject which is not a bit PC…poor deer, bad dog, terrible master.
Thirdly it isn’t the best joke ever.
But it spoke to millions.
That name is a key….how many Fentons do you know?

Shane Fenton and the Fentones (later he became Alvin Stardust), Graham Fenton footballer, Fenton House a National Trust property in Hampstead. OK a few but Fenton is a silly name.
And it’s the way it is pronounced by the basso profundo slightly overweight owner clearly having one of the worst days of his life.

Suddenly Fenton became a swearword.

And it touched people because the situation had run out of control and the dog had gone deaf…Fenton!
Phenomena like Fenton and the boy whose baby brother kept on biting his finger are not particularly funny but they are true. In them we recognise something of us and in Fenton a rather upmarket dog who, if he were a human would probably be a right wing Tory.

The speed it has gone from a dog disobeys master to T-shirt, ringtone and parody is fascinating and instructive as to what we want marketing to do for us today. We want our marketing message to spread like a pandemic. We want to be spoken about in pubs and by water coolers. We want to be known in as few words as possible.

“Fenton! Fenton!!! Jesus Christ!!!!” is the anthem for marketing and the dying days of 2011.

Monday, 21 November 2011


This was a 16 year old to his mother after being persecuted repeatedly by friends on his i-Phone when he didn’t instantly reply to his voice mail and texts. It’s worth considering in this techno-age.  Bryan Appleyard author of “The brain is wider than the sky” did just that at the RSA this week. Bryan writes for the Sunday Times. There were many questions - has technology made our lives better? Are “they” out to control our minds? Is the progress to thinking machines inevitable?

He was uneasy. In his research he spent time in Silicon Valley where employees at Microsoft confessed “we are not whole people here” and everyone described what they did as “transforming” and “life changing”.
Technology is responsible for one of the things people hate most – call trees on phones where a computerised voice tells you to “press 1 or 2 or whatever” ( advises you how to beat this system, by the way.)

Check out Facebook updates to discover what “seeing inside our minds” is coming to. Bryan reckons if they have your date of birth and postcode you are nailed. So, if they don’t control our minds yet but that’s where it’s leading.

The Turing Test comprises putting a computer and human answering service to see if you can tell the difference. My advice is to tell the computer a joke.

Science has moved from human experiments to human observation to computer modelling to neuro-experiments. Put “neuro” in front of anything and it certainly sound uber-cool. (“I’m on the new neuro-diet. We do laboratory neuro-research instead of focus groups now.”)  Science and its bastard offspring “singularity” and “scientism”  are worrying signs of making information neutral and fact defined…a world of “if you can’t count it,  it isn’t there.”

Then Rod Liddle Spectator and Sunday Times who looks like an out-of-condition bouncer who’s very clever laid in to Bryan calling him a “bourgeois escapist Leavisite” – in other words anti-science and reactionary.  “Can robots think?” “Yes” asserted Liddle. “Celebrities today are our most successful robots.”  Well done Rod. “I’m a robot get me out of here”.

The rush of technology as with all trends is excitingly undiscriminating. Lives are generally improved but the bearers of tech banners (to get back to my comment on jokes) have this in common. No irony. No sense of humour. Utterly self-obsessed.  Consider the late Steve Jobs. Genius is not always a good companion or right. Except when he’s called Einstein and says “not everything that that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Monday, 14 November 2011


It seemed a normal enough Wednesday with Prime Minister's Question Time being run by Nick Clegg (again), the Prime Minster having been called to an emergency G20 meeting in Brussels to discuss the Spanish crisis. England had lost to South Korea in a friendly at Wembley. Inflation was rising as was unemployment. The Coalition Government were described in the Times as “doing an excellent job in the circumstances.”

It was in the wine bar “Four Green Bottles” that a few us decided these were weird times and rather sad ones too. Private Eye had just been successfully sued for libel by Rupert Murdock and suddenly was no more. Mervyn King had suddenly resigned for personal reasons and been replaced by Michael Sherwood head of Goldman Sachs UK as Governor of the Bank of England. John Humphrys had been killed in a hit and run outside Broadcasting House and Police Chief Bernard Hogan-Howe saying it was suspicious, apparently warned BBC newscasters to be careful about what they said. BBC responding announced as a duty of care they were appointing a temporary Director of Screening – Alistair Campbell to oversee all news coverage. And sterling was weakening daily. “We’re doomed” I laughed as I ordered four more Riojas – “blimey!” I said when this came to £35 “we won’t be doing this too much longer”.

Later that evening a news flash appeared on the giant Siemens flat screen above the bar. It was David Cameron. We paused laughing about Wayne Rooney’s three missed penalties the previous night to listen. “I spheak to you from Paris” he said – “he sounds drunk” whispered Ian. He went on about partnership and looking after the interests of the world and never succumbing to tyranny and why being together represented strength and being alone was lonely and dangerous. “Very drunk” muttered Ian.
Which is why tonight we are joining the Euro – sad to lose the pound but really no choice and I shall be standing down as Plime Rinster and goodnight”.

A BBC newscaster appeared and soberly said “in a move welcomed throughout Europe and the world Britain has joined the Euro. A new Euro-Council of three ex heads of their respective states will handle all transitional arrangements. They are Angela Merkel, Nicholas Sarkozy and Anthony Blair.”

My friends looked at me and said as one “get another two bottles fast.”

This work of fiction is provoked by the increasing appointment of unelected bankers to run our affairs and a sense of being led down a path of no one’s choosing.

This piece has not been passed by the newly appointed Director General for UK Media (DGFUKME). 

Please delete after reading.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


My grandsons are 5 and 3; my great nieces are 6 and 2. I’ve learned more from them than from most of my colleagues at work. Mostly it’s to do with the speed at which they learn, their refusal to be patronised and their need to be amused.  But bad jokes don’t get asked back.

The job of mentor is not so different.

The task is unconditional support, help and the provision of sunshine when it all gets too much. CEOs have tears before bedtime too. So it was with interest I saw young David Cameron had appointed Lords Young and Heseltine both old Tory stalwarts (when I say old I mean both are approaching 80 – great grand-dad age) to do some work for him in revving up the economy.

I think he needs the comfort of two guys who’d done a lot but also made mistakes. A mentor’s biggest contribution can often be a laughing admission that in a similar dilemma to those currently encountered by their mentee they’d done ‘x’ which didn’t work…”wished I’d done ‘y’ instead…still no point in crying over spilt Petrus.”

The balance of youthful energy and excitement in young executives sprinkled with a wonderful sense of naivety – much like seeing my grandsons or great nieces crashing to earth by taking risks on a bicycle no one sane would take; then followed by the energy blended with judgement – sort of 40-50 year old senior executive but still untrained in skating on corporate black ice. Then we have the mentor who’s been there, seen plenty and is covered in scars but if he or she is any good has three qualities

Good at listening and better still hearing
Brilliant at empathising
Full of good humour and a sense of perspective

It’s when I see young Sarkozy getting so incredibly grumpy and I think that none of the current players are likely to be in power for much longer I feel impelled to say “take a longer view of things. Be strategic rather than fixated on the next quarter which when you think about it is a rather childish habit”.

Mentoring is rewarding because you get to see so much talent flowering and surviving winds of change. So I hope Lords Young and Heseltine persuade David Cameron to lighten up a little. With Sarkozy the other side of a table things can’t be that bad.

Monday, 7 November 2011


Why presenting well is worth more than an MBA today

We are declaring “death to boring” in presentations wherever they happen – whether to the public, to employees, to colleagues or to investors. Dull is dead. Welcome to world of engagement and entertainment.
This new world of presenting involves a series of realisations. That the audience is always right and they’re all that matters. That jargon is out. That conversation is in and rhetoric is out. And that the long-fangled speech has been replaced by the 12 minute chat.

TED has been a major influence on this. TED as you probably know and if you don’t ( is an American not-for-profit dedicated to having good guys standing up and spreading ideas worth spreading. It has inspired some of the best speeches/presentations I’ve seen.

But it doesn’t stop here. We had that great “pitcher” of new products, Steve Jobs. We have 5x15 in the UK.(a  similar concept to TED.)  All over the place we’re seeing “keynotes”, conferences and debates.

Speaking in public is big news right now.

Vivid opinion and engagement is in. Dull ideology and company policy is out. We’ve created a world where people are standing up and talking. But that’s really, really hard to do well. You need coaching. You need confidence. And you need to be great. The word “competent” doesn’t exist in this tough world. You are brilliant or you’re  forgotten.

It really is just a fifteen minute opportunity.

My new book Brilliant Presentation (now in its 3rd Edition) published by Pearson (the one with the BLUE cover) describes this world and how to win in it. It takes you through the world of presenting and concludes:
Slides still work – if done really well. Bullet Point is a problem unless you are a bully and want to be seen as such. The big message is about storytelling. In the rush to PowerPoint (of which I remain a fan –when it’s used well) we forgot the primal art.

2011 and beyond will demand an ececutive doing more than just standing up there spouting numbers. He’s expected to have a strong narrative flow, lots of colour, anecdotes (research is not enough), what people want to know is what really lies behind the numbers, how the heartbeat of the business feels. In short he’s expected to be an engaging – no more than that - an enthralling teller of the story he’s directing.

The art of presenting has never been more important. 
It’s really much more important than that MBA.
It’s career defining.

Brilliant Presentation 3rd Edition (Blue Cover – just out)

Monday, 31 October 2011


As I spent my week puzzling over the disadvantages of democracy – all talk and no action – the idiotic spectacle of the Italians with their trousers round their economic ankles - the last writhings of capitalism furtively displayed by that shameless increase in pay of senior executives in the UK of 49% year on year and the split in the church over how to handle St Pauls from the Bishop of London’s robust approach “onward Christmas soldiers marching as to war” (viz torch the tents) to the more pacifist “turn the other cheek” - the view (yet again) is the Anglican church has made itself an idiot (together with the Catholic church in those leafy avenues of paedophilia Ealing).

What would Steve Jobs have done? Steve the hero of our generation, and undoubtedly a genius techno-artist.

He’d have simplified everything.

He’d have taken Greeks, Portuguese, Italians and Spanish into his legendary lift and fired them, reduced  Angela and Nicolas to torrents of tears by, as Jonathan Ive said, identifying their sensitivities and weaknesses and ruthlessly attacking them where it hurt (which being so sensitive himself he was adept at doing), disbanded all the committees in Brussels and created the greatest currency ever - the iPo.

Trouble is it would have led to war because countries are disparate cultures which can’t be conformed like Apple and because people just aren’t as perfect and clonable as things like the iPad and the Mac keyboard can be, so beautiful that Steve wanted to lick it. Steve himself was clearly not a very nice man. He seems to have been a sadistic bully and full of anger and contempt for others. He was the sort of person who wouldn’t say “after you” as you stood by a lift together (but wouldn’t need to as the thought of being “Steved” in a lift should have been enough to make you flee.)

But he taught us a lot of things and sometimes genius maybe forgiven its bad table manners. He taught us bullshit is bullshit, mediocre isn’t good enough so try again, obsession with detail is good and small is beautiful. Apple always felt small and focused.

Unlike Shell, CitiGroup, Kraft, BA and the EU which I always see as big and sluggish, process-driven, old fashioned and vulnerable. Out-of-condition Goliaths (“Sorry Mr G you need a life style change.”)  So when I kept hearing through the week “does Britain want to become a second class power?” it was like hearing “does Leeds United want to be a second class football team?” But we are and it is.

We need to be the best we can be at what we can excel at. Steve turned a bankrupt Apple into one of the most successful companies in the world in 20 years just by focusing on that. If he’d been an average UK businessman he’d have sold to Microsoft years ago. Or he’d, as Britain, have become a fully- fledged member of the EU.

But if you give up your independence you can’t live your dream.

Now get into that lift and let’s talk.

Monday, 24 October 2011


This was James Delingpole in the Spectator speculating on how bad this recession could be and he summarises the potential bankruptcy dilemma we may face  thus – when we have to survive we need to be creative in our culinary choices. The trouble is he doesn’t know how to do it to his podgy moggy.  A stew, a roast or fried in butter?

Cats I like. They seem to know where they are going. They are aloof, superior-looking creatures. A bit like economists. Although they’re very clever they’re not terribly useful with anything other than small things like mice. Economists are good when it comes to mice-like problems but get very wobbly when confronted with dog-like or bigger issues.

Which brings me to Lord Wolfson who runs the retail chain Next. He’s a Eurosceptic who has offered £250,000 for the economist coming up with the best solution for smoothly exiting countries from the EU who need to be exited, like Greece.  To be fair he hasn’t specified that the prize will go to an economist because that would be a little like nominating the 2011 winner of Global Diplomacy as Bashar-al Assad.

Anti-economists? You bet.  Because they are all in in their own minds right yet offer no leeway to opposing views. And nearly all of them seem to get it wrong. Anatole Kaletski whom is I’m sure is a delightful man is just such an expert. I’ve found I’m happier if I disagree with everything he says, as a matter of principle.
And the Greeks or the ones who are wealthy are scarpering and coming to London where the 50 most expensive apartments on the market were snapped up by the Micropolis Brothers, the Anastokios’, Joannis Ladis and so on last week. And they weren’t coming here for the cats.

London is becoming an ever more powerful magnet for the crookedly rich, Russian, Arab, Indian and now Greek. You can see why. It’s got the best Arts in the world and some of the best food. Anatole Kaletski would probably think their arrival a disaster. There, see, I told you. And if you think I’m being mean to Anatole because he’s Russian I have one thing to say


Monday, 17 October 2011


I’ve been studying a major piece of research into senior executive attitudes this week which endorses what the good guys knew already but it’s nice to know we are in the majority. It conclusively shows emotion is as important as rationality in forming plans, that corporate culture is a key issue ignored by too many CEOs and that positive-minded and engaged managers are substantially more likely to have a good effect in a business. (Good. I’ve been advising the mass assassination of cynics for years now).

So how do we find these “super” guys and girls?

The Managing Director of Diesel said you had to tear up their CVs and look at their eyes. Are they really alive and enthusiastic? If they are, hire them. Then you can sort out the easy stuff they’re missing.
This appeared this week in Fast an interview with Oren Jacob one time CTO at Pixar – here’s his criteria for hiring the best:

When Pixar is evaluating potential hires they look for three traits: humor, the ability to tell a story, and an example of excellence. These aren’t unique qualities to assess in applicants, but how excellence is defined is not that common. It doesn’t matter what you are excellent at, just that you have reached a level of excellence. It’s important that you know what excellence feels like and what it takes to achieve it. It could be gardening, jujitsu, or cooking. The main thing is you’ve had a taste of excellence and will know how to get there again.

My two best hires in my career were just like this. They had amazing hunger and energy and they made me laugh. They’ve deservedly gone on to be huge successes. But I would have hired neither by just studying their CVs.

Apart from people who are colourful-thinkers ( and my wife and family (who are also bright and smart) I want to have around me people who joy in life and who care.

So the protests against the unacceptable face of capitalism and the anti-banker riots that have now spread right across America - “Occupy Wall Street” - and all round the world over the weekend should tell us something interesting. I think I sense democracy waking up.

Thursday, 13 October 2011


This link takes you to a fascinating insight from a Google insider - its a long read but I think you may well find it worth it.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


My favourite cartoon from years ago was of a guy walking downstairs with a blank expression and a thought bubble from his head saying “What do I think today?” He picks up the Daily Mail from the doormat. The headline screams “It’s a disgrace!” His face breaks into a thunderous frown. “It’s a disgrace!” he cries.

My thesis is that like Mr Daily Mail reader we’ve stopped thinking for ourselves. And some of us have stopped thinking altogether. Melvyn Bragg, one of whose heroes is Isaac Newton, speaks in awe of Newton’s alleged ability to sit and think for hours, days and weeks at a time. Melvyn says he can do three minutes before he has to make a cup of tea to break the monotony. Marcus du Sautoy who is Professor of Mathematics at Oxford says he can only think about maths for an hour or so because it hurts to do it any longer. So we shouldn’t be ashamed at finding thinking hard.

But there’s so much going on now that we do need to think about it….for our own peace of mind.
About sovereign debt, about the Human Rights Act, about our holding the European title for largest % of the population imprisoned, about the level of and justification for top salaries, about English Rugby, about our state educational system, about our likely economic prospects, about what we are going to spend money on this Christmas….

None of these are trivial and all deserve some thought. Just try exploring the pluses and minuses of all of them. Take the last one – only 75 shopping days left. And apparently the fate of the British Economy lies in us emptying our wallets on stuff that we don’t really need or want. So take a long, creative think about how you’d make this Christmas more fun, worthwhile and memorable.

Example: think about those financial instruments none of us understand (but then again that’s because we’ve never tried to.) Let what Hercule Poirot called his “little grey cells” get to work. Think about what’s really going on.

You may not save the world by doing this but you might save you sanity and your career. Because we all need people who can really think right now rather than just reading those headlines.

Monday, 3 October 2011


In common with other writers on marketing I’ve been trumpeting the fact the consumer is in charge for a long time now. We’ve learned to complain. We’ve earned the right to be promiscuous in our buying habits. We can fight and win. Isn’t the mis-selling of PPI by the banks and their humiliating climb down strong enough evidence of the transfer of power from them to us?

But whilst part of me is high fiving all my spot-on instincts the other half is wondering just why I keep encountering sheer naked fear. Intelligent friends cautioning me to be very careful in what I say. A sense of living in not a police state but something worse, a polite state that will be circumspect about saying what it thinks (believing that it would not make any difference anyway.) And have you noticed the virtual absence of decent satire? What ever happened to Spitting Image? And even Private Eye seems a pretty safe, old fashioned thing now.

I was watching Newsnight the other night where even Jeremy Paxman seems to have been neutered into a kindly guy who growls a bit but will curl up if you tickle his tummy. A day or so back a well-suppered Peter Osborn from the Daily Telegraph had called a Eurocrat idiot who was being interviewed  “that idiot from Brussels” and this created a media storm – why? This episode dealt mildly with what Greece was really like now.

Antonis Papagiannidis Editor of Economics Monthly said
“It’s the little things that matter not the macro stuff…”

What we saw then was a lot of leafy suburban despair in Athens.  Little things; they looked down and spoke flatly. People like us who’d given up. Who believed the game was over and their children had no future. People afraid that they would and could do nothing. People who had nothing to add. Frighteningly, people whose eyes had died.

Antonis is right. But we are capable of changing little things by saying what we think. We shan’t  emerge from this Euro-shakedown unbruised, happier or richer. But we can come out of it losing a lot more than money.

Meanwhile in New York the “Occupy Wall Street” movement took to streets three weeks ago, not well reported this, and this Saturday night 700 were arrested on Brooklyn Bridge.

That “no” vote is getting louder.

Monday, 26 September 2011


It’s easy to talk oneself into a state of despondency. Read any economist today on sovereign debt and you’ll reduce your forecasts and plan to dine on gruel two nights a week.  Lose your confidence and your expectation of success reduces too. Barack Obama said “always act confident”. If we acted on what we are reading currently we’d all be doomed.

But there is a side effect of the prognoses these economic gurus are having. They are dispiriting most of our competitors and giving the rest of us huge opportunities. Strategically we should be embarked upon a share-gain plan, ruthlessly selling the benefits of our products and services at the expense of our more pessimistic competitors.

This is the age of the salesman…they crop up every decade or so …where confidence, can-do and enthusiasm will win friends and sales.

The world has changed. Countries like Greece and Portugal, we’re told, are structurally doomed and being targeted by those who make their money by selling things short. But none of this makes a scrap of difference to someone selling industrial flooring, pesto sauce or who’s running a restaurant. We may live in a global economy but on a day to day basis we live in our own worlds, world’s a lot simpler and more driven by practical needs than those of macro-economists.

In planning for 2012 you’ll be told to expect downturn to which your answer must be “not necessarily”.
The answer to most things will be to retain good, cheerful, smart people in the front line, to focus on existing customers encouraging and incentivising them to do more with you, to invest in programmes of positive coaching for all your sales people and to be much more creative in your presentations and your solutions to problems.

This is the age of creative confidence when ingenuity and the ability to talk things up rather than be down in the mouth will pay dividends.

And in the end with low interest rates and an increasing pressure on people to work harder 2012 could be quite spectacular in terms of share growth and productivity for some of us.

To put it in perspective here’s what one-time US President Calvin Coolidge said about the prospects of doom:

“If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”

Monday, 19 September 2011


Fresh from doing battle to stop marketing exploitation with Pure and with some self-delusion about painting myself as a 21st century Ralph Nader I’ve come a cropper.

Enter Abel and Cole on their organic steed and their neo classical marketing techniques. The door-to-door upmarket canvasser of their gastronomic delights came to call. And sold me on signing up there and then for a weekly fruit and veg box, size small, cost £12.

They were right about the first bit. About it’s being small.

It contained 1 broccoli, half a dozen plums, 3 bananas, 4 apples, some deep red carrots (a small bunch), 2 courgettes, 2 onions and a bag of leaf beet. It was very small and £12.

So I fired them.

Courteously but firmly.

E-mail one came back immediately. This is terrible they said. How can we have let you down so badly. You’re not paying. We are very, very, very sorry.

E-mail two followed. It was much longer than this blog and contained these lines near the end of a well written note which was a passionate essay about their value system and their relationship with their farmers:

I hope I have managed to convince you, even just a little bit, that we are different from a large number of grocers, not just in the produce we supply but in the ethics we uphold as a company.  I do completely understand that we may not be for you, but I wanted to explain the background as I would hate you to think that we intentionally charged you more than you felt the items were worth.

My wife sniffed she’d never seen such self-flagellation . Me? I was in tears and feeling awful.

So I had a plum...And then an apple...And the bloody leaf beet and courgettes with my supper...And a banana for breakfast.

And they all tasted wonderful. They taste of…plum, apple, banana, spinach, courgettes and (this is frightening) I’d completely forgotten what those tasted like. As far as I’d seen it vegetables tasted of green crunchy stuff on the side of the plate and fruit was either unripe or overripe and most apples were kind of fossilised.

Tonight it’s carrots and broccoli.

And tomorrow it’s sackcloth and ashes and an e-mail from me to them which says: “Sorry. You are small but you are very, very nice.”

Monday, 12 September 2011


Some time ago I seem to remember Toyota had some quality problems which involved accelerators in their cars remaining depressed and the vehicles speeding out of control and impossible to stop. Nothing could be more frightening.

Now imagine writing a document in pen and ink (hard to do unless you are old fashioned like me) and imagine the pen suddenly starts spurting ink and writing “fuck, bugger, shit and bollocks” over and over again in capitals.

I think that would be even worse.

Well it’s my PC that’s got Tourette’s Syndrome and it’s much, much worse.

I’m revising one of my books, Brilliant Marketing, for the 2nd Edition and decided that a fairly substantial rewrite was needed given the pace of change in the recent marketing world. All was going swimmingly until this morning when something somewhere went mad and now I can only get one paragraph a page which given I’m prone to use short paragraphs looks pretty silly.

In fact, very silly.

And then all the fonts change to large bold and Ariel when they should be small not bold and Times New Roman and then as I watch everything turn to shaded blue. By now I’m going at 80 mph and the steering wheel has come off in my hand. I’m told it isn’t my PC at all but the printers’ word files I‘m using in which there are embedded templates so as I achieve my peak of brilliance in my changes some Dorset gremlin, because that’s where my printers live, decides to restrict the changes and makes me go mad by mucking it all up and in a west country burr says “how’d you enjoy that my dear?”

I don’t.

This sort of thing didn’t happen to Dickens or TS Eliot. I am a victim of 21st century technology or worse, a 21st century disease. Some mischievous editor virus that is sitting in the in the machine at random taking things out and putting things in?  Bugger. Bugger. It’s all very, very disconcerting.

Cars that never go wrong and brilliant computers are all very well until they do and when they do you are f……the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog…..bugger, bugger.

Monday, 5 September 2011


Pure delight leads to penury!

First the good news.

Last week I took Pure the cashmere people to task for favouring conquest potential customers over loyal ones.

During the week something strange and rather nice happened. They sent my wife a new catalogue giving her the discount previously reserved for non-customers plus free postage.

Well done Pure.

And now the bad news.

She promptly spent £200 saying now she was, in fact, saving money.
I wish I’d never got involved. Let sleeping dogs of customer relationship malpractice lie in future. 


My wife loves cashmere so she was cheered to discover that Pure, the mail order cashmere people, were offering a 25% discount. Given the eye watering cost of cashmere this was a welcome piece of news.

But hang on. She was told she wasn’t eligible as she was already a good customer of the company. It was only for people who weren’t Pure loyalists.

I e-mailed them: “My wife just called to talk about a 25% discount she’d heard about to be told this only applied to “new” customers not “existing (loyal)” ones. Surely this is mistake”.

They replied: “Thank you for your email. You wife has been given the correct information with regard to eligibility of the 25% discount. This is an introductory discount for new customers placing their first ever order with Pure.

If we can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact us.

Not good enough so I remonstrated:  “I’m intrigued. Do you believe it’s sensible to treat non customers better than loyal ones? I think you’ve rather disenchanted my wife – check out how much she’s spent with you.

By now a senior officer, Trevor,  was involved who started digging furiously in the hole Pure had created for themselves:

Unfortunately, the 25% discount booklet your wife found inside a magazine is a recruitment offer that we have to run in the media to attract new business, so we’re unable to use this offer for existing customers. I do realise that this may be disappointing, (how about outraged Trevor?) but I hope you’ll understand that only by expanding the customer base will Pure be able to continue giving good prices to all customers throughout the season, like the 10% discount offer we’re currently offering everybody for the new collection.

The media booklet you have there does also explain that the offer is for your first order with us as a new Pure customer, on the inside cover, so we apologise if this was not clear enough.

However, as we appreciate this may be disappointing for existing customers, we would be happy to honour free postage on your order for you, as well as the 10% discount that is already available for you.

Absurd. It pays to be disloyal as a cashmere customer.

And Pure, bizarrely seem to think it’s important to understand that their customer recruitment strategy is of interest to its disadvantaged loyal (till now) customers.

Actually, yes Trevor, it’s all very disappointing, bemusing marketing and a case of pure stupidity.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011


I blame the accountants.

When they discovered that brands were worth lots of money we were all told to join the brand game. If it earns money it’s a brand now. And brands are valuable. Madonna is a brand but so is John Humphrys – the Today programme inquisitor. Be a brand.

Put it this way, as the CEO of Nestle did when asked what would the consequences of each of the following occurred. Imagine the following horrors:

  • Your top team assassinated
  • Your key manufacturing plants blown up
  • Your top brands confiscated
He was remarkably sanguine about the first two – a bit of time, a lot of money but back to normal soon because no-one and nothing is indispensable apart from brands…. If the brands go we are in big trouble….it will take vast cost and risk in trying to recreate them.

Brands are hard to create, expensive to develop and hard to control…like works of art or orchids or Pit Bull Terriers.

Brands used to be staid and safe. Benton and Bowles (imagine what Messrs Benton and Bowles were like) were said to have been the architect of the three ‘b”s – “big, bland and boring” or if you add the eponymous founders the “five b’s”.

And this was especially so in the field of professional services where the names of the founders were used to define the business – thus J Walter Thompson or Doyle Dane Bernbach were all we needed to know. But now we live in different times.

Here are just a few names flying around in the marketing game right now. Marketing men have stopped behaving like bankers (and the mind still boggles as to what Saatchi & Saatchi would have done to Midland Bank if their attempt to buy it in the 1980s had come off – maybe the face of the high street bank would have changed forever.)

Some names, names just within the professional advisor sector: Mother, Strawberry Frog, Adam & Eve, Karmarama, Elvis, The Red Brick Road, Pretzel, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, 3 Monkeys ….

And why not…why not find a name that grabs the imagination and tells a story?

These are brands now not just firms of advisors.

And as such you could argue life is more colourful.

The days of egocentricity have been surplanted by a desire to make your company name sing and I think I prefer it.

Monday, 22 August 2011


A really bright creative called Scott Leonard said to me last week – “let’s not talk about social media let’s talk about how unsocial old media used to be”.

To be sure letters to the Times and Any Answers were about as interactive as it used to be and I recall sitting irritably in a Greek Harbour waiting for the ferry to arrive with the Sunday Times. I’d have killed to have got the last copy. To read it, by myself, like a news addict.

Although now Mr Murdoch seems have finally proved how anti-social old media could be.
But why can’t I get more worked up by Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin?

I think it’s to do with their content.

Most of the stuff on them barely raises itself above the level of “OMG don’t you hate Sundays. Groan!”

And imagining you can sell stuff on Facebook seems naïve. It’s a place to chat not to do transactions and having big brother brands next you pretending to be cool is absurd.

But as the riots and the Arab Spring have shown, social media is an efficient way of managing the expectations and movements of crowds.

When it comes to ideas, though, something else is needed – Dave Trott provides that in his blogs with  genuine “I hadn’t thought about it – whatever it is – quite like that” insights. Ken Robinson and Matt Ridley do it on TED.

And TED and its mission to spread interesting ideas that seems to change our world.

It’s when you can pick away at and disagree with someone that something interesting happens.
What is happening, I imagine to the distaste of most politicians, is a lot more people are starting to think and the old fashioned art of conversation has started to be revived.

I like neither the word “social” nor the word “media” very much – if only we could describe the phenomenon as “community conversations” I might be less grumpy.

Because that is really interesting – the idea of groups of people spreading ideas and thinking about stuff that really matters.

The megaphone is redundant. Welcome back the village pump and the oral tradition. Welcome back storytelling.

Welcome back discussion.

Monday, 15 August 2011


Am I the only person over 25 viewing these riots in a slightly different way? To sound in control ministers are talking like Harold MacMillan in tones of horror and vote-for-me outrage.

I’m not saying the looting, violence and riots are to be treated lightly.  But nor can they be just brushed under that “criminality” carpet.

The Arab Spring must  have felt like this from the other side and Dave Cameron is probably feeling like Al-Gadaffi … outraged, confused, cheated (in Dave’s case of his Tuscan holiday) and very cross.

There are a few things to note.

This turned from a local protest to a series of “flash-mobs” to a wave of orchestrated gang and passer-by looting to chaos. Shopping-with-violence someone called it.

And it was a mix of very young, middle aged, of black and white but few Asians – except as vigilante protectors of property. It became infectious because the big broken society was ready for such a social explosion.

The real issue is not the criminality but the disadvantaged young whom we don’t understand. Judges (on their own planet) seemed appalled that parents weren’t accompanying their 14 year olds to court. But nearly half those over 14 are no longer under parental control. Parents-in-charge are a thing of the past; gangs as group to belong to aren’t. But the middle class doesn’t get this. I expected to hear a judge ask “were these young people on properly signed exeats?”

So we’ll send them to prison to join the other 11,000 young prisoners. We’ve had a 66% increase of young prisoners in the past 5 years. Nowhere else in the world can boast a prisoner growth of youth as high as that.
And we’ll slag off the police as soft and although they were slow and are out of touch with change, the way the senior politicians treated them was  a disgrace. Good to see a fight back from Deputy Commissioner Orde.

We’ll demand social networking is curtailed (how?)

And we’ll lament the passing of happier times.

But the opportunities this shock has created are exciting. We have a chance to sort out security; a chance to recognise parental and school authority breakdown – and do something about it; a chance to begin to dismantle those gangs; a chance to upgrade police intelligence; a chance to educate our Prime Minister and peers and a chance to invest in the future (education) as opposed to the past (the NHS).

It could be worse.  And taking those chances since the zeitgeist feels just right are worth more than an AAA rating and a focus on money. It sometimes takes a storm to blow away apathy and ignorance.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


I was walking the streets of London recently staring up at skyscrapers full of people and wondering what they all did. As I sit on the train from Brighton looking at them tapping on their PCs or talking on their mobiles with blithe unconcern about revealing internal confidences I always think “is what you do actually worth doing? Does it make a real difference?”

When we hear about the “dreaded cuts” we all know that a refocus on business – stopping doing the many irrelevant things that get done merely because there are people enough to do them – would result in massive downsizing, improved profitability and better business. We’d stop doing all those surveys no one reads. We’d stop having meetings where nothing happens. We’d get rid of departments with nice people whom we didn’t really need.

We have a vast unwieldy civil service spread all over the place. The Civil Service has some great people at the top but some time-servers and lazybones too. Too many people doing stuff very slowly and not very well that makes no difference. I read the Department of Education in Britain is 100 times the size of that in Sweden.
And yet in neither the private sector nor public sector do we address the key issue of what really needs to be done and how to get it down most cost effectively.

Wouldn’t it be great to hear a Minister say “I don’t know the answer to that nor shall I bother to find out as the cost of so doing would in my judgement vastly exceed the benefit the knowledge might bring.”

Recently I met someone from Fire Brigade who described the most thorough, exacting and expensive recruitment exercise I’d ever come across. Something like 3000 applications going through 6+ levels of sifting resulting in 12 appointments. I may have these numbers wrong but the principle is valid. We just have to be better, faster, smarter and cheaper at what we do. The incentive to question the need of the action rather than recruiting the staff to fulfil it is missing.

One of the key questions today needs to be asked and asked and asked.

“Yes, but what do they all do?”

And unless convincingly answered some very tough decisions need to be made which I doubt if this government or any other would make themselves or really want to see made under their administration.

Monday, 8 August 2011


“For the first time the consumer is boss, which is fascinatingly, frightening, scary and terrifying because everything we used to do, everything we used to know, will no longer work.”That was what Kevin Roberts of Saatchi said.

And then there’s the story of investors in the early days of the web demanding to be told who the CEO of the internet was – “there must be a CEO. Who is it? Why’s he hiding?”

If someone isn’t in charge we get worried.

As children it’s our parents and our teachers who are in charge and those incorruptible authorities…”I’ll call the police and they’ll take you away.” My grandsons think the police are quite wonderful…they’ll learn.
Journalists used to call the Prime Minister “Sir” – he was seen to be in charge. And he wouldn’t have dreamed of going to Tuscany for a holiday – why do they do that?

And now?

This dilemma certainly distressed pundits on the Today Programme recently as they demanded to know who was in charge of the EU.

The answer is everyone and no one.

The accepted wisdom is “let the markets decide.”

And yet we know a thought becomes a  rumour becomes gossip becomes an urban myth becomes fact now in a blink. The marketplace rather than the market decides sitting round the metaphorical well in the town square on the web.

No amount of leadership beats that crowd.

We live today in a state of perpetual intellectual riot.

Decisions are made by focus groups “they don’t like your voice Ed…fix it”; “they don’t like immigrants Dave get them outta here” or they aren’t made at all until enough money, opinion or noise makes something happen because…”the public is expressing outrage.”

Liberal democracy is a wonderful thing but it has a downside. Loonies like the Tea Party and the Norwegian Breivik get to express themselves and begin to think they can actually be in charge.

The world it seems is managed by market-confidence yet politicians would clearly not even pass GCSE in psychology (were it an optional subject) if they believe you can preach “austerity” and expect your voters to rush out shopping, simultaneously.

In the end Kevin Roberts is right but as we know in marketing, consumers don’t really know what they want until they get it.

Everyone’s waiting for someone else to make a move.

Anyone who’d like to be in charge this week, just call.  Otherwise leave it the experts (again).

Monday, 1 August 2011


On Saturday a charity that I chair, responsible for raising funds to restore the oldest building in Brighton held its AGM. Professor Bruce Brown, pro Vice Chancellor of the University of Brighton spoke engagingly about the things that made Brighton special and its being a Super City of the future, according to an HSBC study, owing to its independence of spirit, an  ideal qualification for a thriving SME community.

But I was riveted by what Bruce said about the distant past, when few read and books were unusual, when buildings themselves were like “textbooks” – where pictures, sculptures and decorations all held great meaning and how old buildings, well restored and archived were “memory palaces”.  Google has its own value, of course. The internet allows us to find out how to make a bomb or deworm a cat but a memory palace it is not.

I am not nostalgic but the practical value of having people in a business who know where the bodies are buried and who know how to deal effectively with a crisis be it pandemic, flood or earthquake is immense. I’m not talking about spectators who, seeing a building collapse, are fondly reminded of Fred Dibnah – the TV steeplejack star and demolition expert of the 1990s. Practical memory means having an intuition so finely honed that it and not your brain instinctively helps you do the right thing when there’s no time to stop and think.

And we are placing perhaps too little value on memories and instincts seemingly wired  into an organisation which often determine how it behaves. It’s the expression “it’s in the woodwork” that determines how a Google, News International, BA or even political party behaves. Better to delve into the collective memory to understand it rather than try and brainwash it and hope it will change. Cultures don’t change that easily because of the collective memories that permeate them.

Having recently had a birthday and gloomily counting them forgive me if I reflect on the value of grey hairs. In Japan they give the wise, older executives “a seat by the window” so they can read their newspapers more easily but also because they are a constant resource of memories for others to use.

The current propensity to say in an age of change that the past is like an unwelcome anchor is wrong. We all need access to the past to avoid making the same mistakes and reinventing that same old wheel  which may be diverting to watch but is wasteful.

Memories matter. They inform the future. Ask someone older next time.

Monday, 25 July 2011


The original “wind of change” speech was made by Harold Macmillan, then British Prime Minister, 51 years ago in and about Africa. To many it seemed a seminal insight.

This week a very dear friend came round and as we had a drink or two he sighed. Understand that this guy is someone hugely successful and effective so his weary pessimism was significant.

Our institutions are falling. The Media. The Police. The core of government. The judiciary (they’re probably next). Big companies we’d relied on. The armed forces. Nothing seems  capable of surviving any more…it’s very depressing”.

I disagreed. It seemed to me the windows were being opened in a large, dusty house that ponged a bit. It’s time to work out what we stand for and to stop talking about money the whole time. If money were the sole determinant of a successful life then the Mafia must be up there with the great institutions.  I think what’s happening is just what we needed. A big shake-out. Sorry for some of the guys caught in the crossfire like Paul Stephenson but in a zero tolerance world you don’t take freebies if you’re the top policemen, however innocent that may have been.

So as you write your next marketing plan you’d better be clear about what you would or wouldn’t do (“would you pay £5,000 for a copy of your major competitor’s plan? Would you slip a briefcase full of £20 notes to a buyer at a supermarket group to double your facings? Would you write an anonymous damaging tweet about a personal rival?”).  If you aren’t clear that this is a game with rules and diving in the penalty area gets you fired then join the guys in the smelly house with closed windows.

And if you don’t find life funny and full of delicious ironies then you should join the pastafarian cult. Didn’t see it? Niko Alm in Austria persuaded the driving-licence authorities to allow a licence photograph with him wearing a colander on his head. As a disciple of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster he must have been persuasive or do you think he just slipped then a brown envelope full of euros?

Monday, 18 July 2011


It used to be so easy.

There were people who were in charge and there were those who obeyed them. Think of school. Think of work. Think of society. Society was neither big nor was it small; it was just a perfect triangle of rulers at the top and the ruled at the bottom - kings and subjects.

And then, following the American model of checks and balances, we had the executive, the legislature and the judiciary and, added to that, the free press. Remember Watergate, that moment when all rulers trembled. Followed by a period when through processes of consultation in companies, concepts like referenda in politics, abnegation of decision making to others (“this one has to go to Brussels for a ruling”) and an over eager use of market research,  the tree of ruling has been damagingly shaken. We have delegated the decision making process and those whom a one-time gardener of mine used to grimly call “the authorities”,  are now no longer in authority or, more to the point, have any authority.

And it’s been, happening again and again and again. Dictators, Party Leaders, MPs, Police, Media have all lost their influence and next? It’ll probably be the judiciary because it’s time for the biters to be bitten as the always wise Matthew Parrish put it.

I don’t know about you but I’ve never had a greater sense of power. If I don’t like something that’s been done or the way it’s being done I shall complain and kick up a fuss. That’s what social media can help me do but beyond that the so-called authorities are running so scared that any blip on their political or publicity radar will make them fumble with their bone china strategies.

Which brings me to marketing. I’m rewriting my book Brilliant Marketing for its 2nd edition. Since 2008 when I first wrote it much has changed. As marketers we used to practise mass-marketing, what Seth Godin calls “interruption marketing” and power-marketing…telling people what to think and do. Marketing was once a baseball bat of a weapon where we stunned consumers first and then left it to salesmen to finish them off (closing the sale we called it), now we are using conversation, irony and gestures of friendship. We are building relationships not inducing transactions (or we should be.)

Most of all, we, the customers, are in charge. Let’s hope we use this better than the ones that went before us.

Monday, 11 July 2011


The thing I’d always loved about the News of the World was its Donald McGill naughty seaside postcard sleaziness. The editor of the News of the Screws seemed likely to be a Max Miller “you-really-think-those-are-big-tits?” sort of person. We all read it – in fact it had the highest AB readership of any organ (sorry!) The News of the World was the Heinz or Kellogg of newspapers. An institution that was as British as the London Palladium, the Beatles, Coronation Street, Twiggy or Auntie Bessie’s Yorkshire Puddings. It was an iconic brand.

And then it got sold to Mr Murdoch, the man who has arguably done more for newspapers, the media in general and sport in particular than anyone in history. Yet whilst he’s done all this good he’s done something else too - set the bar higher and higher until the only way of them hitting the target was for them to be increasingly more “creative” in how they got sales which meant how they got news.

The fact is that spying is a common enough business practice and has been for centuries. That poor old Vicar in the headline was probably caught by a camera hidden in a bible. But what’s unusual is for a big brand to be killed-off like this one, like a pig with swine fever. The product had been bad: the brand was strong. So what went wrong?

Are we as Matthew Parrish suggested, in Saturday’s Times, simply getting things out of proportion? Because this was the way the media all always behaved with now that extra of technology thrown in?  The NOW brand was a leader amongst a pack of wolves who behaved in a similar way. The Telegraph started its MP expenses campaign via a stolen CD so, as we know, they were really all at it. That’s what they believed they had to do in their relentless quest for “truth”. Spy, eavesdrop and pilfer dustbins.
Machiavelli has a lot to answer for because the end doesn’t always justify the means despite the pressure from owners, shareholders, CEOs, CFOs and talented people hungry to advance their careers.

But there’s only one thing even more unpleasant than the reek of corruption and sleaze which I can smell a lot of right now - sanctimoniousness.

More tea Vicar?

Monday, 4 July 2011


There are two aspects to the DSK saga that strike me.

The first is why the great and the good seem time after time to get way with inappropriate or sometimes possibly criminal behaviour. Zuma, Clinton, the Kennedy’s and now the man that was born to be the President of France, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

The recent swing from how a previous recipient of his unwelcome attentions described him, “rutting chimpanzee”, to wronged roué is pretty amazing. The high profile arrest, the comic spectacle of the French in the dock, the self-righteous commentaries and the immediate presumption of guilt was always liable to prove troublesome for any prosecution but the speed with which their case is unravelling is bizarre. It argues for all of us to be a lot more circumspect until we have all the facts. As Sean Meehan, Professor of Marketing at IMD said:-“in God we trust …all others need data”.

The truth is, as the editor of the Lady, Boris’ sister Rachel Johnson noted, DSK is sort of fanciable and (I loved this one) seemed to like women a lot. Years ago I was at the Hay-on-Wye Book Festival when Bill Clinton was there. Sponsored by the Guardian it was full of feminists who strongly disapproved of his presence. Until they met him at which point “phwoar!” set in and they pretty well all confessed to melting beneath his ardent you-are-the-only-one gaze. Others, like the Kennedy’s had a kind of droit de seigneur about them that meant they got away with murder. Incidentally this sexual entitlement for the boss was known to apply in several British advertising agencies at one time.

None of this justifies rape. None of this justifies lousy behaviour or the sexual equivalent of ram- raiding.

Simply that there’s more to a scandal than meets the immediate salacious media eye. As Rod Liddle notes “sex sells papers” and he was desperate to scoop the Prime Minister being found in bed with the Archbishop of Canterbury and several goats.

The second question is why on earth talented people behave so badly, recklessly and stupidly.

Stephen Ambrose, the late US historian and biographer had the answer:

“God created man with a penis and a brain, but only gave him enough blood to run one at a time”.

So the worst charge would be diminished responsibility. Hmmm!

Monday, 27 June 2011


Polar bears, organic vegetables, political correctness, liberal values, employee rights, health and safety. Somehow they’ve all got melded together in some kind of misguided and worthy gel. And all the good stuff that lay behind the causes they individually represented has been lost.

How can it be that I’ve leapt from a believer to a sceptic this fast?

Let’s look at organic food. How is it can I find myself applauding Matt Ridley saying that organic farming was sustainable for sure, sustainable insofar as it sustains famine and food shortage? Why? Because it’s so inefficient a method of production.  And I’ve just begun to discover something important: a lot of it doesn’t taste very good. And there’s the e-coli issue in Germany has made me question how safe it is. So if it costs more, tastes poor and makes me ill,  that seems a dodgy old marketing platform.

One after another, good liberal causes are being strangled by mendacity or hype. I suppose it’s the messengers rather than their messages that I’ve begun to distrust or think would say anything to prove their point. Life seems too short for this and the devil in me is muttering there’s nothing that a diet of Marlboro, pork pie, Tequila, chocolate and Jeremy Clarkson won’t solve.

My second thought this week relates to role models.  There’s probably nothing really wrong with Bob Diamond who runs Barclays or Sepp Blatter who runs FIFA or Bernie Ecclestone who runs Formula One or Jean-Marie Le Pen who runs the French National Front Party (potentially the next French President). They are rich, successful, utterly shameless and with feet of something clay like.

But Rory McIlroy, the wonder golfer, fills me with joy (especially in contrast to the charmless Tiger). As does John Hegarty ad man extraordinaire whose book is just out. As does Jamie Oliver. As does George Clooney. As do Sue Barker, Margaret Heffernan, Carolyn McCall, Stevie Spring ….

All nice guys.

As Margaret Heffernan put it “nice is the new mean.”

The nice guys who espoused the nice causes I talked about up front have screwed up because they’ve stopped being nice. The moment you forget your values and just focus on winning at all costs you lose your sense of fun, your reputation and your soul.

Monday, 20 June 2011


Jan Morris entertainingly described the history of Venice as a transition from power to luxury from luxury to flippancy and from flippancy to impotence. But the Venice of today, where I recently spent a week, is on the ascendancy again.

There are real craft shops doing great stuff, the Biennale is in in full swing and once you’ve overcome three shocks one has a deep sense of admiration that billions of dollars have been well spent on restoration
The shocks are economic -the pound/euro parity – so a couple of beers cost £15; iconoclastic - the cruise ships (Voyager of the Seas which has over 3,000 guests and is 14 stories high slid past on the Giudecca Canal and nearly gave me a heart attack because there are no skyscrapers in Venice except these) and finally commercial, the posters and African market traders of knock-off designer labels in St. Mark’s Square. The 96 sheet ad for Citroen was particularly nasty, the Louis Vuitton knock-off bags a close second.

Pseuds’ Corner would have a field day with the arty fliers. Here are just some of them:
“One of a thousand ways to defeat entropy”;
“The cloud of unknowing”;
“Permanently becoming and the architecture of seeing” (this one authored by Julian Schnabel, the US film maker and artist) and from the Canadian exhibit at the Biennale itself – (Canada clearly got out of bed the wrong side that day)
“Triumphant secretion sculpted in foul mist
Dehydrated spectral birth at war with false metals”

Even the local Casino got in on the act with this: “an infinity of emotion” – yes that’s what you get with your chips on the tables of Venice.

The city is glorious – learning, effortlessly reaching back a thousand years and forward to a world of art and experiment, of hand craftsmanship and of car-free and Vespa-less perfume. Venice feels quite modern and self-confident in some ways, a world apart from the wrinkled old lady I first saw over twenty years ago.

Look at Venice today and see how once great can be reborn as the capital of conferences, global art, fashion and opera. There’s the odd jolt and tacky moment but it felt young, experimental and fun; a place in which to learn rather than a place in which to decay or die.

And maybe it’s a place to use as a new paradigm – one of restoration and hope.