Recent Work: Progressive Partnership.

Progressive-Mockup copy.jpgDoug Cook and I worked on this new website for Progressive Partnership.

It’s the main outcome of an overall positioning research project and a revamp of the entire suite of Progressive’s marketing and presentation collateral.

We slightly tweaked (updated) the branding and designed, wrote, built, filmed, photographed and marketed the new site.

We feel it’s a clean crisp, professional representation of a clean, crisp, professional outfit that has punched well above its weight in Scotland for many years.

Here’s to as succesful a future for Sarah, Diane, Carole and the gang as the past has been.

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

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(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!

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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.

How not to kill your clients.

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So impressed and inspired was I by Atul Gawande’s astonishing book, The Checklist Manifesto, about how a seemingly mundane tool such as a checklist can reduce deaths on the operating table by half, that I’ve been pondering on how the same could apply to the world of advertising.

His inspiration was the world of airline piloting and he took the principals of this industry and applied them to his own.

I’ve done the same for the advertising industry and will be sharing them with an audience of account handlers at The Leith Agency on May 6th.

My presentation covers all aspects of advertising strategy and how to minimise your chances of getting it all horribly wrong, and contributing to the 89% of advertising that, according to Dave Trott, simply does not get noticed and consequently has no chance of working.

If you’re interested I could potentially be persuaded to share it with you.

(But only after The Leith Agency have had first dibs.)

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.

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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.

 

 

The Troy Library Yes vote campaign

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Fahrenheit 451 is a sci fi book (Ray Bradbury) and movie, made by Francois Truffaut as part of the French New Wave in 1966.  It shocked the world with its highly controversial theme; the burning of books because the fictitious totalitarian government saw them as the root of all evil.

This must have been the inspiration for a campaign in Troy, Michigan to encourage local voters to approve a 0.7% local tax increase to save its town library.

The backdrop to this was an aggressive no vote by the Tea Party who were angered by the proposed tax rise and had both money and influence to vocalise their anger.

The Yes vote was being drowned out because the Tea Party were relentlessly highlighting the hole this would burn in people’s pockets with no real emotional engagement.

It feels a bit like the vote for Scottish Independence which has no heart or soul, just political rhetoric.  Tit for  tat squabbling about tax and revenues, legal implications of constitutional issues, arguments about whether or not Scotland can, or will, enter the Euro.

Consequently the No Vote will win because people are fundamentally averse to change.

What the Troy Yes vote did was change the entire axis of the conversation.  Instead of trying to outshout the No vote with big and bloody Yes messages it subverted the whole thing.

It ran a mock No campaign by asking the citizens of Troy to attend a celebratory Book Burning Party because, after all, in the wake of the library closing there would be books aplenty to fuel the bonfire.

The townsfolk were outraged.

The fake campaign had touched an emotional nerve much deeper than that of their wallets; this got deep down in Maslowe territory and  completely overwhelmed the No vote’s clumsy blustering.

Using social media and good old fashioned pamphleting and street postering it drove the community into a social media frenzy; only when the rug was pulled, on the approach to polling day, did people see the audacity of the approach for what it was and the emotional power of their argument.

What was an 0.7% increase in tax compared to the loss of civil dignity, freedom of expression and cultural integrity?

The Yes vote won.

By a mile.

Watch the story unfold here.

Wouldn’t it be great if Scotland’s Yes vote could rise above tit for tat politicising and reframe the argument emotionally in such a way that people actually engaged and felt strongly enough to make it a movement not a box crossing exercise.

Think Hard in Toronto

I’m here in Toronto on a creative industries Trade Mission from Edinburgh in my capacity as Chair of Creative Edinburgh

Day One

We arrived on Saturday evening about 10pm after a gruelling 19 hours of travel and spent Sunday acclimatising to the city, maybe recovering would be a better word. On our way in to the City (we’re staying downtown in a good Hilton Garden Inn on Dundas West and Jarvis) I was particularly taken by the cinematic feel of the literally hundreds of condominiums ranging from 10 to 80 stories in the centre. The effect of their almost universal floor to ceiling glass windows all lit slightly differently was kind of cinematic. it just needed a soundtrack from Mogwaii or maybe Brian Eno to create a really special effect. It transpires that there are a further 135 Condo’s under construction right now in what effectively amounts to a boom town. Head of Economic Development, Ron Wandell was to tell us on Monday that in fact there are 185 fixed cranes in operation right now in the city. A fact he followed up triumphantly but unsourced with the claim that that’s more than in the rest of North America combined. Seems quite a brave claim to me, and to one of my sternest critics, Chris Miller, who poo poo-ed it on Twitter. I will try to find a way of substantiating it though.

Day Two

Back to the diary. On Sunday I arose early and headed by foot in -8 degree dry weather to the iconic CN tower that for over twenty years stood as the tallest unsupported tower in the world, higher than the likes of The Empire State Building. Great views ensued from a deserted observation deck and a mind-blowing experience was trying, and failing to stand on the glass floor. Such a powerful optical effect.

The rest of the day was taken up with touring by foot the Downtown part of the city whilst meeting my old pal from The Leith agency, Andrew Horberry who lives here and works in Detroit with Imagination. It was great to see him and we whiled away a very pleasant couple of hours in the charming Queen Mother on Queens West. Andrew showed me the PATH a 16 mile complex of underground streets that link the city through very discrete entrances, typically in tall buildings and public buildings.

By the end of the day I was really taken with Toronto’s sense of ambition, it’s growth – already the fourth largest City in North America with 2.7m in its city boundaries and nearly 6m in Greater Toronto. We met Greg Bauer from Authenticity for dinner in a great little French Bistro call Le Select Bistro on Wellington Street. Very good, and my first chance to Try out bone marrow. Literally a cow’s thigh bone sawn open roasted and dropped on a plate with some salt and nothing more.
Day Three
Our first official “work day” We met with a delegation from The Toronto City Council Department of Development and Culture (an interesting combination of roles) and one which signified the importance the city places on all things cultural, including its huge Creative Industries sector.

My moment of the day was when the screen industries head was introduced. Possessing the ultimate grafting together of North American and Scottish nomenclature he’s called Randy McLean and he’s grrreeeat.

Our speakers were inspiring in that they clearly had total belief in their city, one which is turning heads globally in all manner of ways including quality of life. I was particularly taken with the theme of diversity that peppered the presentation – a word used in the city motto and represented in not just its architecture and wide spread of industries but in its ethnicity. The council has to produce communications materials in over 100 languages to cope with a population where over 50% are born (not ancestored – actually born) outside of Canada. Nowhere on earth has this scale and breadth of multiethnic civilians and they’re growing by something like 50,000 every year. Hence the new condo’s.

Randy’s most interesting insight into the economic strategy is that it is designed to create “random collisions”. By encouraging collegiate thinking (something very close to my and Creative Edinburgh’s hearts) networking amongst peers and related industries creates unexpected outcomes and meetings of minds between technical, creative and scientific minds. Edinburgh can learn a lot from that. After the long meeting (7 hours) we were given a guided tour of Totonto’s unusual 60’s built City Hall and were fortunate enough to meet outspoken and controversial Mayor Rob Ford’s very amusing Scot’s bred assistant who gave us a tour of the mayoral office.

The day finished in classic Scottish style. A massive Chinese feast at an outstanding chinese restaurant on Spadina in Toronto’s modestly sized and unspectacular China town. Modest in scale perhaps but not in quality, quantity or value.

I should share with you who’s on the trip. fellow board member and Professor at Napier University, Robin MacPherson, one of Creative Edinburgh’s Directors Janine Matheson, CEC Economic Development guru Jim Galloway, Kate Ho of Tiger Games, Dave Sapien of Me and the Giants, Stuart MacDougal of Pufferfish, Mike Stevenson of Thinktastic, Jim Rae of Elevate UK and David Calder of The Caledonian Mercury amongst other things. It’s been a fascinating start with some great people and I look forward to sharing the rest of the tales with you as they unfold.