The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Just Because You’re Talking Doesn’t Mean You’re Communicating …

I’m writing this post on the 28th May, so who the hell knows what’s happening a month from now. Actually I’m lying, as I have a pretty good suspicion about a few things, at least to do with me, so it will be interesting to see how wrong or right I am.

But I digress.

This is about the British Government’s communication strategy, specifically when they went to phase 2 of their COVID-19 strategy and launched these guidelines to help the British public deal with the pandemic.

As we all know by now, there was a lot of debate.

Some said they were clear.

Some said they were ambiguous.

And so rather than help the nation as a whole understand their situation and what was needed to help us move forward, they ended up igniting the nation in debate about wording, leaving people to interpret what the hell they wanted.

A conspiracy theorist may suggest this was done to stop people looking at the huge death toll that had happened due to Boris Johnson’s shambolic handling of COVID. A theory only made compelling by the way Johnson suddenly announced the UK was ‘re-opening’ mere hours after he had publicly backed his advisor, Dominic Cummings, for breaking the rules he had helped force upon the entire British public in an obvious attempt to distract the public’s attention. Made even worse by the fact Johnson had apparently almost died with COVID, so he knew first hand how dangerous it was and as such, should not back anyone who had the symptoms and then knowingly broke the rules. And as a final insult, the way he backed Cummings – suggesting it was what ‘all parents would do’ literally pissed on the faces of the parents and children who went through incredible hardship [from not seeing loved ones, to not attending loved ones funerals] to obey what was asked of them. An utter, disgusting way to behave.

But I digress. Again.

The point I want to make is that while all this argument was going on – specially around what ‘Stay Alert’ meant in practical terms, Vic Polkinghorne, @vicpolky on twitter, wrote a tweet that put the debate to rest.

They wrote:
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Note on clear/unclear communication (one area I do have some experience)

If some people find it unclear, it’s unclear.

If you find it clear and some people find it unclear, it’s unclear.

The responsibility for clarity of comms is with the communicator, not the recipient.
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That’s a good lesson for anyone in the communication industry.

An even better one for the British Government.

Now if only they were open to constructive criticism or gave a shit about anyone outside of their chummy little privileged gang.



Timing Is Everything …

A while back, I wrote about WeWork.

Or more specifically, how the Messiah complex of one of the founders led to him ultimately screwing the company up with an ill-advised planned IPO.

Of course, as is the way with corporate-insanity – especially when you label your company a ‘tech’ company, even if it isn’t – he walked away for failure with a huge pay-cheque, which means being a start-up founder is even more lucrative after the job than it is for a football manager, which blows my mind.

[Though apparently it was not enough, because one of the founders, Adam Neumann, is suing Softbank for ‘abuse of power’ … when in reality, the only case they really have is Softbank giving them so much cash and praise, it led to Adam gaining a Messiah-complex]

Full disclosure, I did some work for WeWork when they first started.

I met Miguel – one of the ‘normal’ founders – and found him, and his ideas for the company both interesting and exciting.

And for a while it was.

They were tapping into a need that wasn’t being met by traditional office lease companies.

They invested in building a WeWork community because they recognised the commercial attraction of it.

They identified ways to profit from giving ‘start ups’ and ‘independent workers’ the sorts of benefits only people in more traditional employment enjoyed.
But then three things happened:

+ They realised the flaw in their business model because they signed long term property leases but had short term tenants.

+ To get long term tenants, they had to appeal to corporates who could screw them down on price, adding further pressure to their position.

+ To counter corporate price negotiation, they re-positioned themselves as ‘masters of igniting corporate culture and efficiency’ – which, at best, was marginally true and at worst, was plainly rubbish … because ultimately they were a contemporary office space leasing company.

Sure they offered more than some of their competitors.

Sure they were incorporating logistics into their offering.

But fundamentally, they sold space in buildings for others to work in.

I’m not knocking that, there’s a lot of very successful businesses who do it.

And I genuinely think the original WeWork idea was a good one – albeit with commercial flaws – but when ego, ambition and cash-flow pressure come together, they can make a pretty deadly combination, which the World – and employees of WeWork – discovered when the IPO forced them to open their books to the World.

However, I can’t help but think if Adam Neumann had waited just 6 months longer before announcing the IPO, he may have discovered WeWork was so in demand by companies wanting to reimagine their office approach post COVID-19, that investors may have overlooked all of his blatant exploitation and delusion.

I’m so glad he didn’t.



Fuck Your Mind Friday …

A couple of weeks ago, I came across this photo.

I still can’t quite get my head around it.

Yes, that’s Vanilla Ice and Benny Hill.

Together.

Two ‘entertainers’ who achieved far more than their talent should have allowed.

One trick, sub-standard ponies … though at least Benny Hill’s single was actually original, which is more than can be said for Vanilla’s Under Pressure Ice Ice Baby.

How?

Why?

WTF?

Sorry for ruining your weekend, but if I am going to be ruined by it, you’re coming with me.



Nice Guys Don’t Always Finish Last, But They Always Suffer Pain …

I recently watched the Netflix documentary on Bobby Robson.

While I had followed his career as a manager – especially during Italia ’90 – I didn’t know many of his life’s details.

He had always come across as a kind, considerate man … maybe too kind and too considerate … but given his achievements in the game, it’s fair to say it worked for him.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary, there were two things that really hit me in it.

The first was the people who went on camera to speak about him.

I’m not talking about his lovely wife and son, but football elite like Sir Alex Ferguson, Mourinho, Shearer, Lineker and even Gazza.

All to a man, talked about his character … integrity … compassion and humility.

For that to happen means you had to be something special.

But it’s the second part that led to the title of this post.

You see Bobby Robson went on to manage Barcelona.

Apparently he had previously turned them down twice due to his loyalty to the teams he was managing before, but on the 3rd ask – he said yes, even though it meant he had to follow in the footsteps of the great Johan Cruyff.

To be honest, this added a huge additional amount of pressure on him and fans were initially very skeptical about his tactics and style of play. But he won them, because he showed he loved the club and the region, he desperately wanted them to win and he conducted himself with nothing but compassion and dignity.

And this all turned into some iconic achievements and actions …

He brought Ronaldo to the club and turned him into the most famous player of his generation.

He won the Copa del Rey, Supercopa de España and European Cup Winners’ Cup all in one season.

He offered to pay part of his salary to cover the cost of his assistant manager, Jose Mourinho as he wanted him there so much.

He turned down approaches from other clubs because he loved Barcelona and wanted to honour his contract.

And then, just as he was ready to use that season as a launchpad to achieve even more, he discovered the Barcelona chairman only ever planned for him to be manager for one season.

ONE.

Like a buffer manager between Johan leaving and the next dynasty of Barcelona.

Imagine discovering that.

That you’re only seen as a ‘stop gap’.

To make it worse, they weren’t going to get rid of Bobby, they were going to ‘move him upstairs’.

Oh I am sure they thought that was a sign of respect, but it was anything but … especially with how they did it.

You see the manager they brought in was Louis Van Gaal.

Without doubt, an excellent manager … but not only was it a smack in Bobby’s face, they made Bobby attend his unveiling.

Like attending your own funeral.

And while I accept Van Gaal wanted to assert his arrival to the press, the way he did it was both arrogant and disrespectful … especially given the manager he was taking over – a manger who neither failed or was fired – was sitting to his right.

While Bobby was too nice to say anything, his face said it all.

But here’s the thing, Barcelona – or at least the top management – couldn’t care a less.

They got what they wanted.

And by keeping Robson onboard, they had – in essence – bought his complicity.

Or so they thought.

I’ve experienced these kind-of situations in my time.

Albeit a very loose version of these situations.

Being hired because we thought the client valued what we did and how we did it.

Then discovering it was really about PR because their intention was to make us complicit. That they deemed all the experiences and viewpoints we could bring to them, as unnecessary. Because they just wanted to be seen to be doing something without actually doing anything.

And that reveal was horrific.

Initially written-off as ‘teething problems’ before realising it’s fundamental problems.

And while money can make you temporarily complicit, in the hope you can find a way to make it work, if someone is not transparent from the start, it means you can never get to a better place.

And that’s when you discover that regardless of how much money a client – or a job – is paying you, it’s never enough.

Not because you want to be disgustingly rich, but because you determine your value beyond money, but the work you do and the people you do it with and for.

Some out there will never understand that.

They evaluate success with the money they have. Or the groups they are a part of.

But some will.

The ones who remember that what you have isn’t as important as how you got there.

Anyone can win, but only the best want to win well.



Are Warc Berks?

Last year, WARC made the terrible mistake of inviting me – and Martin, though he is never a mistake – to talk at their show at Cannes.

While our talk on chaos seemed to go down rather well, I was still amazed they invited us.

Well, me.

Amazingly, they still haven’t come to their senses, because last month they asked me to write something about how COVID-19 was affecting business. And while they wisely edited down what I’d written, you’d have think they would have learned their lesson by now.

But no.

And while I would love to say the reason I am posting it on here is because I feel it is a worthy read, the real reason is I am too tired to write a post today so this solves that ‘problem’ nicely.

I know this gives you no incentive to actually read it, but it does talk about Pornhub in it.

And penis shaped pasta.

And David Lee Roth.

Oh who am I kidding, you don’t even read the short posts.

Damnit.

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If You Think Change Only Happens When There’s A Global Pandemic, You’re Not Paying Close Enough Attention.

COVID COVID COVID. That’s all I’m hearing.

Of course I get it … it’s a terrible situation with ramifications that could fundamentally change the way we live, work and operate forever.

Hell, just a few weeks ago, the head of the Automobile Association, Edmund King, suggested the demand for travel – by road or rail – will reduce so dramatically [due to companies and employees recognising the ability to work from home] that the government may be better putting money into broadband instead of bolstering infrastructure.

That statement, if true, would have a seismic impact on an incredible amount of industries … from car manufacturing, train services, commercial leasing and banking to name but a few. And then, when you add in the expectation’s [some of] society is placing on the actions and behaviour of brands through websites like didtheyhelp.com, you see why some are saying the societal reset button has been pressed.

But I’m not going to write about that.

Not because I don’t believe it, but because everyone is writing about it.

My point is less dramatic. It’s simply that how we live, work and operate is always evolving, so if you only think it is happening now, you’ve been asleep at the wheel.

If You’re Not Moving Forwards, You’re Moving Backwards

I don’t want this to be a big piece for R/GA, but we’ve always loved playing to where culture is heading rather than where it is.

It’s part of the reason why we’ve continually reinvented ourselves as a company and why we’ve been able to fuse creativity with technology to either define the future normal or open the door for it to start establishing itself.

Some of these ideas required us to be ridiculously audacious – like when we created Fuel Band for NIKE to start changing the way everyday athletes train and develop or when we created one of the first digital banks – NEXT in Brazil – because we saw how the values and aspirations of 20-30 year olds were totally different to the products and services the established banks were offering.

And while those two are on a grand scale for liberating change, the reality is it doesn’t matter what the size of the project is, we always place huge value on exploring cultural and sub-cultural changes because pandemic or not, people are always evolving.

While I really didn’t want to talk about COVID-19, the fact is the biggest shifts occur when there is a crisis and it’s fair to say, that’s what’s going on now.

Put simply, crisis collapses time.

What could take decades to evolve can happen in years, months, weeks or minutes.

For example, after arguably centuries of being denied, women were finally recognised as societal equals* after people [read: men] saw the vital role they had played in the war effort of WW2.

[* acknowledging that women are still continually denied equality in so many aspects of life]

Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Newton’s 3rd law, which states ‘for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction’ has been around since 1686. But some had started to believe these shifts only occurred through technological revolution when the reality is cultural adversity is equally as powerful … and the reality is COVID-19 is creating some major changes of attitude and behaviour.
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At the time of writing …

35% of Britons are worried about their employment.

The average Londoner is saving over 2 hours per day of commuting time working from home.

The top 10 fastest growing products being bought on the internet right now are in the categories of healthy eating, medicine and gym equipment … though chips, popcorn and snack foods are also all experiencing triple digit growth.

64% of people believe their community is stronger now than pre-COVID-19 … with approx. 1/3 of people offering to help vulnerable neighbours.

Families are now spending approx. 16 hours awake together compared to a previous average of 2.5.

Google searches for ‘meditation’ has reached its highest level in history.

Visits to Pornhub.com has risen globally 11+%, with ‘corona virus’ searches in the site reaching 1.5 million on March 5th alone.
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These are all big shifts with major implications. And while I accept there is a chance things will return to the ‘old normal’ when the situation becomes a bit more stable – there are 3 things to remember:

1. The longer this goes on, the more likely these new attitudes and behaviours will become established and self-sustaining.

2. Not everyone’s situation is the same, including when isolation will end for them.

3. Even if things do return to the past for every single person, they will all continue on their individual journey of evolution … whether in attitude, behaviour, aspiration, ambition or a combination of all.

A New Value Of Money?

Once upon a time, the rock singer, David Lee Roth, said:

“Whoever said money doesn’t buy you happiness doesn’t know where to shop”.

While this may well have been the attitude for multiple generations, right now – across the entire World – the value of money is literally being re-written by society.

I’m not talking about what and where people want to spend their cash [though there are some fascinating facts emerging, such as Ann Summers – the adult romance company – revealing the shortage of pasta in supermarkets had led to them selling more of their ‘penis pasta’ in 1 week than they’d sold in all of 2019] … I’m talking about their relationship with it and, as a result, their relationship with their banks.
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At the time of writing …

55% of people are very or extremely worried about the national economy, with 35% very or extremely worried about their household financial position.

950,000 people have successfully applied for Universal Credit in 2 weeks.

In the UK, car sales for March 2020 have fallen 40%.

56% of Britons actively want to support local businesses over global business.

22% of Britons are already changing buying habits, especially for non-essential items.

And while on their own, these might not seem scary – even though they only represent the first 4 weeks of Corona impact in the UK – when you overlay it with some of the cultural narrative appearing on Mumsnet and Reddit …

“I don’t want to live in a city where I can’t afford a back garden”

“Why have investments when they go down when you need them most”

“Who thought I’d value a full fridge more than full wardrobe?”

“The government needs to see public services as an investment, not a cost”

… you start to realise the fundamental attitudinal changes that are starting to occur.

Of course, many of these shifts in attitudes regarding money may be being driven by their circumstances.

Maybe they can’t believe how quickly their financial situation has changed.
Maybe for the first time in their life, access to what they’ve always enjoyed faces obstacles.
Maybe the lack of human contact has highlighted how alone they are.
Maybe it’s seeing a business they built for years fall apart in days.
Maybe it’s not being able to leave their apartment and breathe fresh air for weeks.
Maybe it’s realising that how you live is becoming more important than what you have.
Maybe it’s realising this isn’t a matter of wealth or poverty… but life or death.

Whatever the reason, you start to think that just maybe some of the fundamental values, attitudes and behaviours entire industries have banked on – and actively fought to maintain – are starting to shift.

If that becomes reality, then not only are the ramifications going to be mind-blowing for business, it will mean Alvin Toffler – the futurist, writer and businessman – was right when he said the illiterate of the 21st won’t be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

While I readily admit I have neither the brains, vocabulary – or even the looks – of Mr Toffler, I wholeheartedly subscribe to his belief that change is the only constant … which is why I thought I’d end this piece with 3 ways we help our clients be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

1. The Most Valuable Thing You Can Give Your Client Is Honesty

When we were helping create Next Bank in Brazil – part of Bradesco – we discovered nearly 70% of the target audience would rather visit the dentist than go to a bank. No-one likes to hear they’re not liked, but knowing what people really thought of them allowed us to make decisions that could drive the biggest impact and value. In simple terms, it meant everyone was behind creating a bank that didn’t act or operate like a typical bank.

2. The Culture Of The Category Tells You The Direction Of The Category

We spend a huge amount of time understanding the culture around a category. Not just in terms of how people transact or interact … but how they live, act, talk and behave. From the music they love to the hashtags they use. For example, with NIKE Girlstalk, we use interviews, social listening and data to understand how athletes are talking about sport … because often shifts in language indicate changes in how they see or play sport. Some may not think this is important, but it’s the difference between talking athlete to athlete or brand to customer.

3. Use Technology To Be More Human, Not More Automated

We believe customer experience builds and defines brands. It’s why we look at technology as much more than a tool to drive efficiency and optimisation … but something that can engage audiences emotionally and distinctly. For example, COVID-19 is revealing a multitude of ways people are using tech to feel connected to others … from Zoom background hysteria to virtual pub quizzes to mega concerts on Fortnite. All of this shows the multitude of ways society plays with tech to provide them with emotional – not just functional – fulfilment, which should remind brands their customers need more than just, ‘category best practice’ digital efficiency.

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Sources:
The Daily Mail, 6 April, 2020
Dynata: Global Trends Report, COVID-19 Edition
Office For National Statistics
Stackline Retail Intelligence
OnePoll on behalf of ChannelMum.com Survey
Prof Jacqui Gabb of the Open University
Google Analytics
Pornhub.com Corona Virus Data
Dynata: Global Trends Report, COVID-19 Edition
The Guardian Newspaper April 1, 2020
Reuters, April 6, 2020
Hall & Partners
Dynata: Global Trends Report, COVID-19 Edition
Topics of conversation on Mumsnet/Reddit during March 2020