Things we'd like to tell you 

Here are some of our recently published articles, comments and thoughts. Plus a few relevant older ones.

I was watching an old episode of Grey’s Anatomy the other night, and in it one of the female surgeons tells another to adopt the ‘Wonder Woman’ pose. You know – stand tall, chest out, hands on hips, legs slightly apart. You do this for two minutes, and it increases your confidence, prior to performing slightly terrifying surgery.

I checked out the science, and apparently it stands up (sorry). Your testosterone goes up by 20%, and your cortisol (stress hormone) goes down by 25% on average. And ladies, you need your testosterone, just as much as men do. And gentlemen, you too can stand like Wonder Woman. Don’t be shy.

But since most men in our business don’t seem to lack the ability to talk on subjects about which they know f*** all, at great length, I’m addressing the ladies now.

You may not be about to undertake brain surgery, but standing up and presenting, or indeed any kind of public speaking – even just in a regular meeting – is highly stressful, and more so for women who have been brought up to be less assertive than men (see above).

I know this because many of the women I coach tell me this is the arena they fear most – the one men seem to own, but women are guests, and expected to behave like one.

Try it. Two minutes before you enter the room. Do the pose, and be the wonder woman you know you truly are.

PS I know the picture isn't Wonder Woman. Nor standing correctly. But what a cracking whip! (boom boom)

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Updated: Apr 2

Direct marketing is back, I hear. I didn’t know it had ever gone away, but it's been unfashionable for a while, I agree. At least, with the supposed opinion-formers in our industry. Not so much with clients, who are more interested in what works for them. And DM does.

Direct has always been a bit of a Cinderella, in truth. Ad agencies in the past were both disdainful and perhaps a little afraid of it. I recall once being asked by a pair of ad agency creatives what we direct people would present in a pitch. Might it be spreadsheets?

A few weeks later, after working and winning a client together, one of them sent me a letter, asking if he could come and join us. He was excited by the idea of using many media, and being able to come up with ideas that were tangible, physical and could appeal to touch, smell, and taste rather than just sight and hearing. He was tired of writing endless TV scripts, most never to get made. ‘But please don’t tell my creative partner,’ he added.

Digital should have swept away all such prejudice, and given direct its day in the sun. It offered us better targeting, faster testing, and combined communication with the means of response, instantly. But instead it brought with it a cloud of new nonsense, new terminology, bamboozlement and obfuscation, plus a massive side-order of fraud.

It also drove prices down. Never mind the minuscule response rates, the media costs were also tiny. And why bother with all the hassle of printing when you could bang out millions of identikit emails or social media posts for fractions of the cost? Cheap, fast, good – you can only have two of them, as this yet again proves.

I’m exaggerating, of course. You can do exciting, engaging creative things now that you couldn’t before, and we and many other creative agencies make the most of the opportunities digital offers.

But it's also true that email and social media can flatten out brand identity, by forcing the creative expression of it into pre-ordained forms – which are determined by the media, or by the device you use to view them, not by the creative minds who came up with the brand communication ideas.

If there were creative minds involved at all, or ideas. In the dismal sea of email that greets you each morning, and which you sweep away with barely a glance, does it matter if a human or robot composed the plankton?

In truth, all forms of marketing generate this kind of sludge. Ad agencies are often sustained by work they would never put on their showreels, for carpet warehouses, payday loans and funeral plans and the like. And direct marketing got its bad name by following the gurus of formulae such as ‘the ten most powerful words to use in a headline’, or ‘use a PS to boost response’ and so on, and on.

If the revival of direct marketing means a return to such rules, it will not last.

I think what makes direct worth reviving is not the techniques it offers, but the attitude that drives it.

An ad agency boss once told me the goal of his work was ‘to make people think’. Mine, I replied, was to make them act. In his view, action came after a change in attitude. In mine, attitudes would change to fit actions already taken. So prompting action took precedence, and ads could help reinforce what direct marketing had already accomplished.

In short, our attitude in direct was always ‘do something.’ Get a response, make things happen, measure them, do better next time, and all of this while building the brand and delighting the customer.

You do this by using some of those direct techniques - things like understanding the customer, and knowing how to test – but more important than that is setting out with ‘do something’ in mind.

Creative ideas in direct marketing are there to make things happen. Usually, to sell, to keep customers buying, and encourage them to tell others about it. Or as we put it, ‘to do something they’ve never done before, and keep doing it while telling all their friends.’

You can talk all you like about brand experiences, content, engagement, or even, heaven help you, humaning, but it won’t save you.

The direct attitude might – it’s not about media – it works in all of them – it’s not about rules and formulae, and it’s not about spreadsheets, though it can fill them up with big fat ROIs.

It’s about action. If ever we needed that attitude, it’s now.

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Updated: Apr 2

A destination.

That’s one place, not a list.

The leader’s job is to inspire everyone to want to go there, and then set out along the route he or she has decided on.

It’s helpful to put all this in concrete terms. Leadership is often talked about in abstract, almost mystical ways, but if you think about a group of people on the move, wandering through possibly hostile terrain, it all becomes much clearer.

So – a single, clearly defined destination. You can call this your business vision if you like.

It can be far away, over the horizon, almost impossibly remote, as long as it’s desirable enough.

The NSPCC used to have as its destination ‘Cruelty to children must stop. Full stop.’

A brilliant, and unarguable destination. Nothing less would do. Even if we never get there, it’s the only worthwhile destination.

They’ve now replaced it with ‘Every childhood is worth fighting for,’ which isn’t a destination at all.

Their fundraising has fallen every year since.

Your destination – or vision – must, I said, be desirable. Not just to you, or your shareholders, but to everyone in your business. It should also impress your clients, who are essentially going to pay for the journey.

When I was at an agency called 141, we were asked to design the website for Cordiant, the network to which we belonged.

The chairman, who was wafted to and from the office in a chauffeur driven Mercedes S-Class, told us he thought the very best thing to put on the site, right there when you first arrived, would be a live feed of the Cordiant share price.

The staff and clients weren’t shareholders. Most had the usual level of interest or knowledge about share prices (almost none).

Cordiant went bust three years later.

A desirable destination is one that offers everyone something meaningful. Not money. You can get that anywhere.

A destination or vision that mentions money can’t help but also remind everyone that the eventual distribution will be fantastically unequal. Whereas the benefits to everyone of working in a brilliant company, in terms of satisfaction, career prospects and fun are much more evenly shared.

You must define your destination in as few words as possible, because people won’t remember it otherwise.

The next thing you need is a map, on which you can plan your route to your destination.

The route may be hard, and you need to be prepared. But an easy route to a close destination won’t inspire anyone, nor will it produce the best in your people.

Being prepared means having the right team, the right equipment, and plans for what to do when things go wrong, as they will.

This is hostile terrain, remember. You will have to fight bandits, wild animals, and organised enemies, traverse bogs and ravines, and deal with appalling weather. The leader will be at the front, always confident, never despairing. If you want to cry, go and do it in private. Never show fear, never show lack of faith in your people, never give up.

You need to have a schedule, but not be a slave to it. Set ambitious targets, but don’t despair if you don’t always hit the waypoints.

Navigating the route includes using financial data, but you can’t triangulate your position using only one data source. The clue’s in the word.

Decide on two other measures of success – non-financial, and thus of wider interest beyond the company walls. In my industry, awards, or at least brilliant creative work, could be one. PR about the business – wins, initiatives, innovation, opinions – could be another.

You may find yourself a long way off your route over time. Don’t change the destination. Remember there’s always more than one way to get where you’re going. It may take longer, or be harder, but keep heading where you said you were going.

Keep your people with you. A leader is always visible, always audible. Literally, in the flesh. Emails etc. won’t do. You’re only on the journey together if they can all see you at the front, striding forwards. Without hesitation.

Whenever you hit a waypoint, stop and tell everyone. Praise them for getting there. Celebrate with them. Honour them. Then show them the next one, far ahead.

When you fail, tell them why. Don’t blame them. Take responsibility. Then show them where the next waypoint is, and get up and go towards it. They’ll follow.

If you ever reach your destination, it wasn’t difficult enough. Set another, further off. Everyone who followed you this far will have such pride, such faith, and so much fun along the way, they’ll pick up their packs and start out for the new, far horizon.

Keep going, because sitting still is boring.

You can rest when you’re dead.

The actions:

1. Set your destination and make it ambitious

2. Throw it away and set another even more ambitious one

3. Tear up the first two and write the really audacious one

4. Plan your route

5. Establish who’s leading

6. Talk to your people a lot

7. Never show fear

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