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” (www.gethuman.org 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 (www.ted.com/) 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)