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 rouĂ© 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!