This may seem a bit new age, but it’s not really, and the sense of it is spot on.

IMG_0541 copy.jpg

(Photo Credit: My own)

It’s a quote by a guy called Zen Shin. (They’re all Chinese warriors and philosophers that come up with the best ones are they not?).

Anyway, I spotted it within a talk by Lucky Cloud Skincare at Creative Edinburgh‘s Talking Heads event last night.

What resonated with me is the vanity that pervades my industry and the comparisons we all make with one another for no real gain.

The simple fact is that great work will always stand out by being, great work.

This is my philosophy on how to achieve that;

  • Strong strategy/briefing (follow the ‘Garbage in, garbage out ‘principle as a starting point to keep you straight on that one)
  • Focussed messaging (Meies Van der Rohe nailed that one – less is more)
  • Thoughtfully targeted and placed in the right context
  • Work with (and hire) real creative talent and don’t be in awe (they are as nervous, inside, about any new brief as you are)
  • Enthuse them
  • Immerse yourself in the product/service
  • If it IS great and your client doesn’t bite; sell, and sell hard.  Do not give up.  Do not compromise.  If all fails put it in a drawer for selling later to someone else who has vision

The end of my first decade of Thinking Hard? No, the start of my second!

Thinkhard logo that works.jpg

Ten years ago I sat at my desk looking out onto Ashburnham Loan without a single client.  I’d walked away from my job as CEO of a Stock Market listed communications group.  Just like three years earlier I had walked away from my role as MD of my own advertising agency (50 strong and highly regarded).

Why had I done this?

(After all, to lose one senior level role is unfortunate, to lose two is downright carelessness.)

But I hadn’t lost either of them.

I’d elected to change my viewpoint on work.  To get out of the hamster’s wheel of eternal financial year ends, HR responsibilities, client bum sucking, to keep the corporate machine rolling on when I didn’t always respect all of the clients or all of the work my team was doing for them.

And that’s actually the crux of it. “the work my team was doing for them“.

I, personally, wasn’t actually a net contributor to anything that came out of either of those agencies.

I was simply a manager, albeit a senior one.

I didn’t want to be a manager.

It’s boring.

And so I walked away.

Twice.

Ten years later I’ve completed 694 creative (mainly) projects for no fewer than 80 different clients.  The vast majority of which I can say I’m proud of.  And have enjoyed the process, liked the people I’ve worked with, and for, and made many new friends along the way.

In fact, it’s the longest I’ve held down a job in my life.

And it’s allowed me to indulge in other things I consider worthwhile; NABS, FCT, The Lyceum, Creative Edinburgh

Thanks guys.

Thanks very, very much.

I hope some of you will stick around for the next ten.

“Apostrophes are wee arseholes.”

That is the single bestest sentence I’ve read in a long while.

It stemmed from a twitter conversation I had with Helen Sell of The Gate Interactive.

She’d posted this, decent, long copy ad for Currys, but my Lynne Truss-like eye spotted that slap dang gosh in the middle of it was an offence to mankind.

THE MISSING APOSTROPHE.

B89GVJPIcAEpWhH.jpg

Come on Currys.  Come on.

And come on your agency too.

A bloody great retail ad spoiled by a wee arsehole.

 

Google RankBrain. What it means. (I think.)

I was reading a post today about RankBrain, the artificial intelligence (AI) tool that Google engineers have been training since last October to process user-search results in such a way that it makes them more relevant to users.

It’s essentially a new tweak to Google’s already highly complex Hummingbird algorithm to make search (i.e. advertising) more effective/intuitive/human.  (Slightly ironic then that they don’t use humans to actually train the algorithm.)

It’s got the SEO community in a palaver and it’s scaring some SEO practitioners because if it works it will make PageRank, which assesses inbound links, less effective. (Link building is the current top dollar methodology for increasing a website’s prominence and authority on Google.) And that will mean genuinely good websites will beat wolves in sheep’s clothing in site ranking.

That’s good for those of us who value quality over quantity.

Right?

Well the boffins can’t really agree on anything in SEO – which suits them.  As the more black magic associated with it the better.

They make it singularly as complex as they can, although five minutes spent perusing this outstanding infographic by Column Five Media might help you get see the full(ish) picture  because it gives an, at-a-glance, perspective on the factors that influence search.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 10.43.02.png

What’s gratifying about this, from my personal perspective is the things we mere humans can influence, situated prominently and with authority, at the top left of the table are Content, Words, Research and Freshness.  RankBrain is going to like these a lot and further move the dial away from link-building as the most effective means of getting people to read your website.

 

But if you want a boffin or two’s view; help yourself and maybe you could explain to me what they mean.

…it’s merely a switch from user-intermediated algo-tweaks to mostly automated algo-tweaks to arrive at the same end result

or this

 …also think they will include the fact element they patented – the number of facts a page has about a keyword set – latent semantics meets encyclopedic data.

The ten year project. My voyage of discovery.

Thinking hard.jpg

I often help my clients to define their values and positioning but, like the cobbler who neglects his children, it has taken me 10 years to do the same for myself.

Until now.

This is Think Hard

What you’ll get if you engage with Think Hard’s eponymous Head of Thinking is a one-to-one service.

No juniors.

No bag-carrying yes men.

And that’s an important point.

One of my pet hates, when I worked in the advertising industry (specifically), was the account man who held his clients in thrall.

In such a way that their advice was compromised.

‘No’ is a wee word.  (But a big one.)  But too many of my erstwhile colleagues preferred the Y word.

I believe that if my clients engage me they want to hear the truth; not what is convenient.

They want to hear, in the words of Al Gore, Inconvenient Truths because once they know the truth of their brand, their service, their business they can act to enhance it.

Even if they don’t like it.

I recently read an interesting article  that said creativity essentially scares people.  That’s because the vast majority of us are risk averse and don’t want to break out of the mould despite hiring consultants, agencies and so on to be ‘creative’ and find alternatives to their current modus.

We want to conform.

It’s a crazy irony for those of us who are engaged to help our clients non-conform because often their wishes, when dramatised on whichever creative canvas we adopt, scares the bejeezus out of them, and so it plays straight into the hands of those consultants who feed off their clients’ fear of the unknown.

Consultants (account handlers) who prefer to say ‘yes’ when ‘no’ might be the right answer, thrive on this preternatural instinct for taking cover rather than facing up to and conquering inconvenient truths.

I don’t do any of that.

It doesn’t suit me.

WYSIWYG.

I prefer to share with my clients what the truth is: no matter how inconvenient.

The money bit

I consider what I charge to be a fair price.  (I don’t have many disagreements over my fees.)

I could ask for more I suppose.  (I know some of my ‘competitors’ do; but I do OK.)

My office is in my home.  (And anyway, often I work in my clients’ offices.)

My Macbook is robust.  (I don’t need to replace it often.)

I ‘repurpose’ memory sticks, Postit notes and Blutack.

I use a second-hand desk.  (It suits my requirements.)

I cycle to meetings.  (If they are within cycleable distance.)

There is no BMW on my drive.

I don’t speak Drucker

I very rarely read business books because I believe my experience shapes my thinking better than someone else’s jargon. (That said, I wholly recommend The Lean Start Up, Hey Whipple Squeeze This and anything by Paul Arden and Trotty.)

I’m quick

I’ve always been quick.

Why do eight research groups when you know the answer after four?

Why have a full day meeting when all it needs is an hour?

(More to the point; an hour when five minutes will suffice.)

I cannot abide the practice of ‘spinning things out’.

That further cements my ‘value proposition’.

And at the very core of it all is that scary word creativity.

The need for creativity

I can’t paint.

I can barely tap dance.

My ‘White Balance’ is poor when I take photographs.

I’ve never been published as a writer (unless you count my absorbing undergraduate paper: Structure and Biochemistry of Endosperm Breakdown in Date Palm (Phoenix Dactylifera L.) Seeds).

I’m no Dame Kiri.

But I do understand and appreciate the creative process.

Moreover, I have an ability to manage and direct it in such a way that inconvenient truths can be overcome.

Creative people, the ideas people I know and often commission, or am commissioned by, seem to agree.

And it’s they that make my bit of the equation add up so that n + n really does equal 2n+.

I am not averse to a two Martini lunch

Sometimes it’s needed.

So.  Take it or leave it.

That’s me.

Why Emotional branding and Behavioural economics are so tightly associated with the marketing of sport.

I’m going to share an experience with you that made me realise I was so completely immersed in a brand that even though I thought I could wean myself off it, almost completely exclude it from my active pursuit of life, entertainment and cultural consumption a single shot, like an alcoholic, brought me right back to an almost preternatural state.

A state of dependance.

My following of Hibernian Football Club is not, of course, preternatural because I’m not from a ‘Hibby’ family.  I wasn’t wired before birth to scream 7 – 0 as my first words.  And I haven’t indoctrinated my kids into the ‘Hibby’ way.

But for many years it was part of my Saturday ritual with friends; beer, fags, football (the Hibees), beer, fags and a Chinese Take Away. That’s what I did.

Then inexplicably, I stopped.  Family got in the way, golf got in the way, theatre got in the way.  Ticket prices got in the way.

“You’re no a proper fan.”

“You just turn up for the big occasions.”

Yes, all true.  Guilty as charged.

But it changes nothing.

Because it became clear to me on a wet and windy  Tuesday night, last week, that I remain completely consumed by the emotional strength of this magnificent brand.

Some of the explanation can be found in Behavioural Economics theory and its explanation of emotional branding.  The words of Dan Ariely from his paper, Behavioural Economics: An Exercise in Design and Humility, is quite apposite..

“There are lots of biases, and lots of ways we make mistakes, but two of the blind spots that surprise me most are the continuous belief in the rationality of people and of the markets. This surprises me particularly because even the people who seem to believe that rationality is a good way to describe individuals, societies and markets, feel very differently when you ask them specific questions about the people and institutions they know very well. On one hand, they can state all kinds of high order beliefs about the rationality of people, corporations, and societies, but then they share very different sentiments about their significant other, their mother-in-law (and I am sure that their significant other and mother-in-law also have crazy stories to share about them), and the organizations they work at. Somehow when we look at a particular example of life up close, the illusion of sensible behavior fades almost instantly. And the more we look at the small details of our own life, the more our bad decisions seem to multiply.”

Of course Behavioural Economics is designed to ‘Nudge’ people away from bad or dangerous decisions.  But what could be more attuned to Ariely’s theory than football supporting.  Sensible behaviour is jettisoned the second we get into the (fan) zone.  We over indulge.  We endure extreme weather conditions.  We neglect family life for our own gratification.  We spend way more than rationally the product is worth (on tickets, memorabilia and stadium food).

But then this happens.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 10.18.10.png

To mark this momentous occasion the Club’s ‘unofficial’ song was sung by 16,000 home fans as the away end, where moments before your natural born and sworn enemy were congregated, emptied,  as if by magic.

Before I share this moment of total brand immersion with you I need to explain the lyrics.  It’s a song by The Proclaimers.  Bespectacled (some would say geeky) twins with broad Scottish accents.

They are Hibs fans.  Everyone knows that.

This, then, is their Magnus Opus.

The opening stanza is a lament.  appropriated by the Hibernian fans as a total metaphor for the last 114 years in which we have not won the ‘Big’ Cup in Scotland.  Or the sixty or so that the ‘Big’ league had evaded our trophy cabinet.

My heart was broken, my heart was broken
Sorrow Sorrow Sorrow Sorrow
My heart was broken, my heart was broken

Although verses 2 – 4 were clearly written about the arrival of a woman into a man’s life it has been anthromorphosised into our love of our team and its restorative qualities in only a relatively minor victory (nothing as big as winning the ‘Big’ Cup for example);

You saw it, You claimed it
You touched it, You saved it

My tears are drying, my tears are drying
Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you
My tears are drying, my tears are drying

Your beauty and kindness
Made tears clear my blindness

But the killer stanza is this one.  The one in which our declaration of faith, devotion, love recognises that Leith is the spiritual home of Hibernian FC and the central role of this great brand in our lives.

While I’m worth my room on this earth
I will be with you
While the Chief, puts sunshine on Leith
I’ll thank Him for His work
And your birth and my birth.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Then we do it all again.

My heart was broken, my heart was broken
Sorrow Sorrow Sorrow Sorrow
My heart was broken, my heart was broken

You saw it, You claimed it
You touched it, You saved it

While I’m worth my room on this earth
I will be with you
While the Chief, puts sunshine on Leith
I’ll thank Him for His work
And your birth and my birth.

yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Now, here’s how it translates into a brand mantra.  The greatest brand emotional call and response that even Liverpool, and Celtic cannot match, try though they might.

Because they sing a hymn.

We sing a Gospel.

And it’s ours.  Only ours.

 

 

Lessons in life and in business.

I was asked to contribute (as Chairman) to the new Creative Edinburgh blog so I thought I’d draw on some of my personal life-lessons after 30 years at the marketing coal face.  It is, of necessity, rather brief but I’m happy to elaborate with whoever thinks it might be interesting…

Things I am glad I was told

400

Mark Gorman shares an informed (and humorous) insight on business management in the creative industries.

Given that Creative Edinburgh is essentially about sharing (knowledge, experiences, contacts, opportunities and pizza) I thought it incumbent upon me as the Chair to share a few of my own personal insights gathered over nearly three decades as a creative practitioner.

What follows are the slides from a PPT deck that I created a couple of years ago for a talk I did in Newcastle. Although most of my career has been in advertising I believe the lessons can be applied to any creative business (in fact any business whatsoever).

Some are more serious that others.

Read it all here…