Monday, 28 November 2016


Philip Hammond in his autumn statement last week lamented Britain’s poor productivity:

“The productivity gap is well known, but shocking nonetheless. It takes a German worker four days to produce what we make in five, which means, in turn, that too many British workers work longer hours for lower pay than their counterparts.” 

Is that really true? Are our Nissan and Jaguar plants really 25% less efficient than German car plants? I doubt it. The problem is that productivity’s a tenuous means of measuring performance. Apparently we lag all G7 countries apart from Japan for productivity and our performance rather than improving has stayed flat over the past decade. GDP per hour worked seems a loopy way of assessing things because when I was working fulltime I reckoned my contemporaries worked much harder than their French, American and German counterparts. It was only in heavily unionised businesses like the film industry that productivity was really held back.

On a personal level I’m very concerned about my wife’s productivity. She seems to be working harder and harder despite my reducing the housekeeping budget in view of the current economic uncertainty and a reduction of “narrow money”. In other words less GDP per hour worked. Her productivity gap is shocking and she refuses to accept my solution that by doing less we’ll improve our productivity. Indeed when I mention productivity now she gets quite shirty and hands me a tea towel.

So the solution to this “national problem” is for us to reduce the number of hours we work. In the UK the number of hours worked per head per annum has gone down by just 1.5% in the past 15 years (it’s down 6% in Germany). The Germans work 18% less than we do - yes a whopping 18% fewer hours.

The original definition of Parkinson’s Law was this:-
"Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."

So if follows if we worked less we’d produce about the same and our productivity would shoot up; as an economist might say - “sorted.”

Sathnam Sanhera wrote about the “gig economy” last week. This is where people do things other than just for money or proper money for the job done. Like speakers at conferences and virtually all writers. If an author were to apply a minimum hourly rate for their work no one would ever publish their work. Yet our world is full of wannabe writers. According to a report from the International Publishers Association UK publishers released 184,000 new and revised titles in 2013. That’s 2,875 titles per million inhabitants, and places the UK 1,000-plus titles ahead of second-placed Taiwan and Slovenia with the US publishing only 959 titles per million inhabitants.

So we work too much, we charge too little for our work and we spend too much time writing books.
We don’t actually have a real productivity problem at all. As my wife so aptly said it’s just another piece of claptrap.

Monday, 21 November 2016


Throughout my career I met people who said they loved change, simply thrived on it. They were, they claimed, a manic gleam in their eyes, change-agents. They were only interested in the future. “History is bunk” they said quoting Henry Ford. And I humoured them because a change, here and there, is the essence of progress. As it says in my recently published book on marketing - “Brilliant Marketing - 3rd Edition” - it’s “new and improved” - in other words changed.

But this year change seems too small a word. I’ve been arguing for some time that we’re living through a quiet revolution. After the US election and Brexit it’s not so quiet. And just wait as suppliers and retailers in the UK grapple with forthcoming inflation and a sales slowdown. More revolution’s imminent.

I say “forthcoming” but who can tell?  Our radar systems have all gone down. Research has become discredited. A senior fmcg executive recently said “we’ve more than halved our research budget. It wasn’t telling us anything we had any faith in”.

(Until November 9th  - David!)

This is the age of the contrarian, the thinker of the impossible. When the Saatchi brothers said in a Lewis Carroll moment “anything is possible” they were, at the time, guilty of hyperbole but, considered today, they were merely ahead of their time. In this uncertain world those apostles of change I described should be feeling delighted. But I bet they aren’t. We know that the most stressful moments of our lives - moving house, changing jobs and divorce - all involve real change, reappraisal and the need for difficult decisions.

Increasingly it feels as though we’re living with Alice in Wonderland where “If you don't know where you are going any road can take you there.”  Certainly that seems to describe our Prime Minister whose pose of confidence doesn’t conceal that she must be missing the Home Office where she was mistress of all she surveyed with no ghastly surprises coming at her from every direction.

Post-Truth has been named word (sic) of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary. It will, I think, be overtaken by “Post-Strategic” because arguably strategy has been replaced by tactical nimbleness, by the ability to change direction and avoid the unexpected. Diplomacy has been replaced by deal-making and poker (at least that’s how some Minsters describe the negotiations with the EU (“keeping our cards face down and close to our chest.”)

Perhaps the biggest surprises will be for two people discovering that running a turbulent country is neither the same as running a business empire nor heading a government department.

So it’s time to turn and face the strange…and the totally unexpected.

You’d better be ready. So here’s some advice….

Medical research (if you believe it) shows that snoozing before an exam is more efficacious than last minute cramming. So I recommend a lot more snoozing for all of us. We need to be prepared… for anything.

Monday, 14 November 2016


This isn’t just another let’s-be-nasty-to Trump piece although I thought the comment made by Freddy Gray (Literary Editor of the American Conservative) was pretty good:

“In his anger, shadiness and batty orange campness, Trump looks like America’s answer to Hugo Chavez.”

I hope he’s wrong given the current state of Venezuela.

What I want to think about is truthfulness.

When the Leave campaign in the UK Referendum created a blatant lie - ‘give our NHS the £350 million the EU takes every week’ - it struck a chord with many voters. Only after their victory was it stripped from their website and grudgingly acknowledged as a “mistake.” Not a “lie” a “mistake.”

Politicians don’t “lie” any more they “mis-speak.” And isn’t it interesting that an MP isn’t allowed to say that another politician’s lying in Parliament - even when they are?  If they say it, they’re dismissed from the chamber?

But Donald J. Trump is in a different class altogether. And why this should concern us and, regardless of its consequences, we should stand up against this appalling charlatan, is the example he sets for the future generations. How do you say to young children “don’t lie” when they now can, and having more courage than we ever did, will reply:  “why not? You lot do it all the time. Look at the US President”?

In a moment of arcane philosophical reflection the Managing Director of M&C Saatchi, Tom Firth, said this:
“This is post-truth politics, so you can literally say pretty much anything you want as long as it fits with what people think is true”…or, I’d add “what they want to hear”.

Another take on the US Election was this from Peter Thiele, co-founder of PayPal:
“the media takes Trump's remarks literally, but not seriously. Trump supporters take them seriously, but not literally. "

Which is all very well and very smart but it worries me to death as do all the apologists and gurus who are currently analysing Trump’s campaign and pronouncing him a genius marketer.

Sorry. That just will not do.

His campaign was a cynical piece of showmanship full of lies, monster over-claims and bigotry. He’s an impressive TV performer. His Apprentice series in the USA on NBC got audiences of 30 million I heard.
Hang on. No. It was the highest rating TV show in the history of US TV reaching 100 million people and winning a Palme d’Or at Cannes.

No, it didn’t. But the lie once spoken captures the average attention.

There are very few people like my friend Leon Kreitzman who will always say “hang on let’s examine those numbers for a bit to see if they feel right.” So here’s today’s formula. Lie first and repent later. Exaggerate, embroider and hype. Oh  for heaven’s sake I spent years in advertising so I know about that but it really will not do as a strategy that’s acceptable any more in an increasingly credulous world.

We’ve got to stop it.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016


I discovered that Donald Trump’s father had an extraordinary middle name - Frederick Christ Trump. It makes my own - Martin - seem rather drab in comparison although being in the company of Scorsese, Amis and Luther King is a consolation. I recall once running a seminar for some Unilever Management Trainees. When it ended their leader said: “Will Jesus say a few words of thanks to Richard”. And up stood this Colombian…perhaps Trump Senior wasn’t so abnormal.

When I was younger I had an irrational urge to own a dog and call it “bollocks” so I could go down the street calling its name as it playfully ran ahead of me. The acid question regarding names is this - would the You Tube video of a stout man trying desperately to get his dog under control in Richmond Park have gone viral if it hadn’t been called Fenton?

Certainly the Beckhams think names matter. Here’s what they call their children: Brooklyn, Romeo, Cruz and Harper Seven. Harper Seven? What a great name for a Special Agent - a male version of Modesty Blaise or the hero of my as yet unwritten thriller - Armitage Shanks.

In marketing the experts were dismissive of two brands that emerged in the late 1980s. Werthers and Mueller, the first a caramel flavoured cream candy and the second a range of yoghurts. The general view was the Brits wouldn’t put up with German names … well ”Vorsprung durch Technik” to all those experts.

Similarly when Mars decided in a policy of global alignment (those words bring the Brexiteer out in marketing people) to rename Marathon Bars Snickers and Opal Fruits Starburst, Catastrophe was foretold - the marketing book of revelations was quoted

and they gnawed their tongues for pain ….and repented not of their deeds.

Actually Mars seemed a bit penitent themselves and the apologia they issued by way of a press statement must go in history as the definitive piece of corporate squeamishness:
We know that changes of brand name do not happen on the whim of a brand manager, without reference to the people who really matter, in this case Opal Fruits’ consumers.  Presented with the rationale for the name change and the reassurance that it is only the name that is changing, research shows (as one would expect) opinions ranging from the very positive to the very neutral.

The “very neutral” is my favourite expression of all time.

But the best thing ever said about name changes was by Alexei Sayle in the 1980s

"You know what they're going to call the replacement for the Cortina? They're going to call it the bloody Sierra. Sierra don't mean nothing to a working man like me, does it? Not like Cortina..."

Alexei Sayle - strange name! Is Brains a great name for a beer or Helena Rubinstein a great name for perfume? We get used to names and even the oddest like Sweaty Betty become household names in time.