Monthly Archives: December 2009

Editor’s blog: 2009, a year to remember

A forgettable year in many respects – but here are my highlights.

Well that was probably a year that most of you are quite keen to forget. Except if you are a banker, of course, in which case you’re probably already in Barbados nestling down with your bonus and bottle of chilled Pol Roger while preparing to whoop it up with Michael Winner.

Having spent most of the last twelve months stuck in the economic mire, now we’re all knee deep in ice or slush. (I’m amused to note, by the way, that while the Eurostar is having trouble with current climatic conditions, the steam-driven Bluebell Railway in Sussex – where I am due to travel on the Santa Special tomorrow along with several hundred ear-splitting toddlers – is currently working normally despite the fact that its locomotives are more than a century old.)

I hope over the year that we’ve brought you some little rays of sunshine both online and in the magazine. Our highlights have been many: despite the downturn we’ve continued to produce an award-winning monthly magazine that, unlike its competitors, has refused to compromise on editorial quality by slashing budgets. Our scoop of the year was with the mysterious man of the shadows Matthew Freud, who opened his mouth for the first time in nearly a decade. (And then immediately regretted it.) The portrait of Freud – naked in the style of his uncle Lucien – drew gasps from all over town and led to a bidding war for the original oil painting, with Rebekah Wade in the forefront.

We’ve also submitted Kenneth Clarke, Mark Thompson of the BBC, Sir Victor Blank of Lloyds TSB and Luke Johnson to the 3500 word grilling. We even persuaded the reclusive head of the NHS, David Nicholson – a man with a £120 billion annual budget – to answer a number of tricky questions. Life is about to get far tougher for him.

MT readers need to know how to weather this recession intact. So this year the magazine has emphasised a regular diet of practical material: “How the bonus culture goes wrong”, “How to keep the cash flowing,” and “Survival Tips from the Silvertops.”

Our roundtable discussion on the pressing issue of business reputation attracted CEOs from Diageo, BSkyB, Unilever and Aviva to produce a much talked about feature on the public’s loss of trust in business. Our 35 Women Under 35 sub-brand has developed a vigorous life all of its own with networking events and seminars. This year the list contained the first appearance by a transsexual, Kate Craig-Wood.

Britain’s Most Admired Companies awards at Claridges three weeks back again attracted the crème de la crème of UK business. Well done to BSkyB for winning the title.

Well, at least we’ve past the shortest day yesterday – and we can now all head for the sunlit uplands of 2010 with a song in our hearts. Well, sort of. Have a Kool Yule – you deserve it – and see you again on January 4th.

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Bullet in the head

So, Rage Against the Machine beat Joe McElderry to become the UK’s Christmas number one. There’s been enough column inches wasted already discussing the implications of this somewhat odd development so I won’t be adding my tuppence worth (read this though if you want to read something genuinely interesting about what the whole debacle might mean).

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What can we learn from prostitutes?

Years ago, I saw an interesting programme on TV.

Six prostitutes were interviewed about what they did, where,
how, and why.

Now this is an area I don’t have much knowledge of.

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The Independent moots potential sale to the Evening Standard owner: What a difference 5 months make

In a dramatic turn of events, Independent News & Media (IN&M) looks like it is preparing to sell its Independent and Independent on Sunday newspapers to Russian Alexander Lebedev, majority owner of the London Evening Standard.

Today’s admission that talks are taking place follows months of speculation, rumour and counter-rumour within the media industry.

Media Week was the first to report the deal between Lebedev and INM was on the cards, in a story that was jumped upon, and later trounced, by other commentators in the national press.

The source of such strong denials clearly emanated from Simon Kelner, the managing director of the Independent and Independent on Sunday.

“Contrary to a report presented as fact by Media Week, O’Reilly has never met Alexander Lebedev and has no plans to do so,” raged Kelner. “There are no ongoing ownership discussions between the Independent and the Evening Standard.”

Such strong rebuttals led the Guardian’s forthright Greenslade to ask: “So how did the mistake happen? Clearly, the Media Week reporter – who quoted Lebedev in his piece – got the wrong end of the stick, reading too much into the cryptic statements made by the Russian owner of the London Evening Standard.”

He also quotes another “senior INM executive”, as being “clearly furious at the false report”, adding: “All this talk about talks is utter bollocks. There are no talks whatsoever.”

Which seems to be a lot of talk about no talks.

Today’s announcement suggests a few limited possibilities, either the touted deal, by some amazing coincidence, really did only emerge months after the excited speculation this summer. Or could it be that Simon, who so strongly and publicly dismissed the reports, has never been in the loop? It would not be the first such deal to take place solely at the highest level.

Of course, there is one remaining possibility, and that’s that the esteemed managing director purposefully and determinedly quashed any rumour for his own purposes. Surely not?

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What’s in store for digital media regulation in 2010?

As the UK’s largest marketing platform in terms of advertising spend, 2010 will require an ongoing demonstration that as the internet continues to grow, it does so in a responsible way.

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Susan Boyle paves the way for YouTube in 2009

Susan Boyle on ITV's Britain's Got Talent

You’ve got
to hand it to Simon Cowell; the saviour of ITV to some, the destroyer of music
to others, he’s also now responsible for the most watched online video of 2009.

In what has been the biggest year yet for online video, Google’s
YouTube has today unveiled its first official Most Watched listings
, and
it’s led by Susan Boyle’s audition on ITV talent show Britain’s Got Talent back
in April.

The clip of Boyle singing ‘I dreamed a dream’ from Les Mis in front of Simon
Cowell, Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden, complete with commentary from ITV’s Ant
and Dec, has attracted more than 120 million views from around the world.

Put into some kind of perspective, that’s the equivalent of two “view counts”
for every person living in the UK,
or more than the entire population of Mexico.

Elsewhere, the second most watched video on YouTube was from international
rapper Pitbull (82m), followed by the music video for American actress turned
singer Miley Cyrus (64m) and then the expletive-riddled video from The Lonely
Island’s I’m on a boat (48m).

While diverse, all have one thing in common. They are examples of
professionally produced content, licensed to Google under various
rights-agreements.

None of YouTube’s staple user generated content – cats on skateboards, dogs up
trees, or wedding dances, made an appearance in the top 5.

True, the site’s sixth most watched video of the year, David After Dentist
(37m), starring a seven-year-old filmed by his dad after visiting the dentist,
is more traditional UGC fare.

But as Google continues to broker deals with established publishers and
broadcasters around the world, YouTube appears to be moving towards a business
model based on sourcing strong content producers that can attract audiences,
which in turn advertisers want to be in front of.

In other words, a traditional media business.

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Editor’s blog: Painful changes at BA and Royal Mail

Strikes are damaging to everyone, except the competition. But BA and Royal Mail have to change.

I watched Channel 4 News last night – BA strike – followed by the Panorama about the lamentable state of the Royal Mail. It was enough to remind you of the bad old days of 3 day weeks, when I did my homework by candlelight and the rats ruled London’s streets.

Relations between management and staff need to have got pretty awful within an organisation for the workers to down tools. It’s like a marriage where the rowing has escalated into chucking things, including fists. The company is badly damaged by loss of business and reputation, the staff lose money; the competition is the only winner. Everyone gets angrier and more miserable. There has to be an easier way, you might think. Get in the marriage guidance folk at ACAS.

What you cannot argue with is that BA and the Royal Mail desperately need to change how they do things, otherwise oblivion beckons. I’d rather travel BA than Ryanair any day, but you simply cannot sustain a contract system which pays a ‘cabin services director’ £56,325 when the equivalent at Ryanair makes do with two bob and a toffee apple. Beardy Branson only pays his lush Barbie and Kens who shove the trolleys nineteen grand.

BA cabin crew go on about Willie Walsh being confrontational and not shaking their hands when he’s onboard in seat 1A. He may be no charmer and a little deficient in the Emotional Intelligence stakes, but he has a job to do – to ensure his airline survives. And many will not make it out of this downturn. But he clearly hasn’t done the job of winning hearts and minds. And if the strike goes ahead, screwing up the emotion-laden plans of a million Christmas travellers, then everyone in his airline will suffer – staff and management.

As far as the Royal Mail is concerned, I fear the game is up and in the medium term the organisation is a basket case. Looking at that footage of all those millions of letters whizzing through high-tech sorters, I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth we still bother with paper, stamps, franking machines, and postie gallantly lugging them all down the street when the net does away with such a wasteful process. (Except getting your copy of MT delivered each month, of course.)

The postman Panorama interviewed was a thoroughly depressed man who’d been pacing the streets for 26 years and looked ready to burst into tears at the prospect of being told to walk at 4mph to increase his efficiency. You felt some sympathy for him. But many Royal Mail people I come across are surly and not very likeable at all. Quite the reverse of charming brand ambassadors who stop for a kindly chat with lonely OAPs, they speed down the 20mph street where I live in their trucks and Transits at 35mph plus, giving you the finger and a mouthful of abuse if you dare to make any comment. At their worst they appear like an unmanageable rabble, whingeing and fiddling while their organisation is levelled by the firestorm of the market.

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Let’s do it and see where it goes

Creative Mischief

Ed Morris was telling me how he thought life worked. He said, most people think you have a plan in life and go for it, simple as that.

Ed said, life wasn’t like that for him. For him life was like Frogger. Frogger is an early computer game.

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Editor’s blog: Darling thinks small in Pre-Budget bore-fest

God that was dull. Where was the stirring rhetoric, the grand gesture, the bold decision making?

What a disappointment. When the big news is that Bingo duty is coming down by 2% and that there is to be a boiler scrappage scheme next year, you know that not much has happened in the PBR. I’ve just watched the Chancellor’s speech in its entirety (well, as much as my struggling web connection would allow) and I am afraid to say I’m not sure it was worth the 45minutes of my time it took up.

For an event that had the potential to be one of the more seismic economic policy announcements of the 21st Century, it was about as much fun as doing your tax return. And rather less rewarding. Where was the stirring rhetoric, the grand gesture, the bold decision making?

Instead of a great vision for national economic rehabilitation, complete with the necessary-but-painful big cuts in public sector spending which we all know are on the way, what we got was a sort of steady-as-she-goes exercise in treading fiscal water.

OK the banks are going to have to pay 50% tax on bonuses, but we knew that was coming anyway thanks to Robert Peston, et al. And NI is going up again, too, and there will be a cap on public sector pay-rises of 1%. All very sensible, but no sign of anything on a scale that seems anywhere near large enough to deal with the mess that our economy is in right now.

I should have know better of course – high drama has never been Darling’s style, and there is the little matter of a general election on the way. What’s the point in making a Churchillian appeal of the ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ variety, when by doing so you stand a good chance of putting yourself and your cabinet colleagues out of a job? What politician wouldn’t choose to have a worse mess of their own making to clear up in six months time, rather than having risked handing power on a plate to the other side by trying to fix things now?

Darling’s professed reasoning is that it remains too soon to start slashing public spending; that doing so would damage our chances of recovery more seriously than adding yet more zeroes onto the already scary string of digits that is the PSBR.

He did drop a few hints that the worst may be yet to come – debt as a proportion of GDP will peak at nearly 80%, he says, and not until 2015 – but on the whole this was an exercise in marking time. Time that by the end of next year, may end up looking like it’s been wasted.

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What good is outrage

Recently, Steve Henry and I separately wrote that creatives naturally enjoy getting into trouble, and that’s a good thing.

In our terms, trouble means creating controversy. Controversy means people will take sides. Which means discussion and debate and consequently free media.

I gave some examples of this, and how well it had worked. Then Tod Norman wrote in to say that all the examples I had given “had generated no income.”

He went on to say that this “proves that outrage engages, but does not create profit.”

I think that’s an interesting point, and worth debating. Outrage for its own sake isn’t what we do. Everything we do must have an objective purpose. Otherwise it’s merely decorative, not functional.

It didn’t occur to me to at the time to choose examples that had generated profit. I see the job of the creatives as maximising the effect of the spend.

Our job is to deliver the strategy as loudly and memorably as possible. So that we generate many times more media than we’re paying for. But it did make me think.

Did any of the examples I gave actually generate income? Well LWT certainly.

We didn’t even have the actual LWT account. Just the trade budget that they usually spent in Campaign and Marketing.

Mike Gold persuaded them to put it on 48 sheet posters and run them next to ad agencies.

The controversial campaign caused outrage, and won lots of awards. Normally this wouldn’t matter. But in this case it got LWT talked about inside agencies much more.

Which got it on the media department’s radar. Which caused advertising spend to shift from their rival, Thames TV.

So yes, outrage generated profit. The Cadbury’s campaign I mentioned worked well, too. Crème Eggs were only available between Christmas and Easter. Stock that wasn’t sold hung around until next year. By which time they didn’t look so appetising. So we had to get people buying them at times other than Easter.

Planning told us everyone had an individual way of eating Creme Eggs. So we found a way to make and run six 48 sheet posters for the price of one. This meant we could run a campaign with cheeky rhymes like, ‘Give It A Suck, Chuck’, ‘Stick It in Your Gob, Bob’, ‘Give It a Lick, Mick’.

They got into the language and made the product more current. So much so, that you can now buy Crème Eggs all year round. Another time controversy was good for Cadburys was the Flake ad that. Gordon Smith and Dave Waters made.

A skimpily dressed girl was perspiring and sensuously eating a Flake, while a lizard clambered over a ringing phone.

It was so erotic, even Spitting Image lampooned it. They showed a man entering a porn shop and asking for ‘something really hard core”. He’s offered some magazines like ‘Screw’ and ‘Hustler’.

He says, “No, something really hard core, like the new Cadburys Flake ad.”

They throw him out of the porn shop in disgust. Dominic Cadbury, was so outraged, he wanted to pull it straight away. (The ad that is.)

Then the marketing department explained to him that they’d had to turn another product line over to making Flakes. Just to satisfy demand.

Another instance would be the Saatchi gallery in North London. There was a photographic exhibition of snapshots of a family. It was innocuous, not to say dull, and not many people went to it.

Then someone (we can speculate who) called the police to complain that the children were naked in some of the photographs. The police closed the exhibition down.

Immediately many media celebrities (we can speculate who prompted them) protested this infringement of the artist’s creative rights.

The police were forced to reopen the exhibition. And hundreds of people came to see what all the fuss was about. It was one of the most successful exhibits in the gallery’s history.

And that’s a gallery you had to pay several quid to enter. For another example, ask Steve Henry about Tango’s advertising. Tango was a moribund orange drink when his agency got the account.

HHCL’s first commercial showed a little fat orange man slapping someone’s ears with both hands. Newspapers carried stories that parents and schools were outraged at the damage done to children’s ears. Tango seemed anti-establishment and even rebellious. Sales went through the roof.

Another example would be London Docklands advertising. They were going nowhere as a development site. They were being made to look really bad by Milton Keynes’ advertising.

Their commercials showed beautiful fields, cows, trees, and happy families. They made Docklands look gritty and urban.

We figured we’d reposition Milton Keynes as the place to play. And show London Docklands as the place to work.

So we ran a campaign for London Docklands with the line, “Why move to the middle of nowhere, when you can move to the middle of London?”

The Environment Minister and a group of 11 MPs were so outraged they tried to ban the advertising. They failed because the ads were shot and the media already paid for. The ads ran, and London Docklands now has the tallest buildings in Europe.

And Milton Keynes still has fields, cows, and trees.

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