Monthly Archives: June 2010

BP search strategy spills over

What do you do when you’re rapidly becoming the most reviled company in the world and are the focus for intense international criticism for your response to an enormous ecological disaster?

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Editor’s blog: The real Sir Terry Leahy

MT has had a good relationship with Sir Terry for the last decade. Here’s what I made of him.

So, farewell then, Sir Tel. Don’t forget to check the shelves are well stocked before you leave the building. I can’t claim I’m a great mate of Sir Terry Leahy’s – his circle of close friends is very tight indeed – but he and MT have had a cordial relationship over the last decade,which culminated in him kindly agreeing to write the foreword for our first book, The Management Masterclass..

What’s he like? Well, every last strand of his DNA is Tesco. He’ll talk about Tesco quite happily until the trolleys are all back tethered together at 11pm. But try moving it on to anything else – even Everton’s back four – and he goes shyly quiet. He’s very dry, very direct, very disciplined. The sort of guy where you end up gabbling in conversation because he thinks a lot more than he says. This is one of the reasons he was voted the UK’s Most Admired leader in the MT poll for seven years on the trot. He has a certain mystique, but he keeps his public utterances very sparing indeed (although his recent comments about the quality of the UK’s school education were worth listening to).

The most animated conversation I’ve ever had with him was about Ocado. I really have better things to do with my life these days than traipse around supermarkets with a pair of under 3s in tow. My local Sainsbury’s in Nine Elms is a real mess. My theory is that every Brit would shop all the time at Waitrose given the choice.

Anyway, Terry, on hearing me bleat that I was an Ocado fan, was onto me like a flash. Why? Didn’t I know they didn’t make any money and never would? Business model fundamentally flawed. Just a load of smoke and mirrors. I bet he’s utterly appalled that Ocado is after its customers to invest in an IPO. Hmm. I think the fact that there were these three Goldman boys who didn’t know a thing about the supermarket business on his patch and making a noise really got under his skin.

But that isn’t the point, your Sir-ship, I said. I just love their delivery people, who are the most helpful and polite anywhere. And supermarkets are not everyone’s idea of a great time.

It was fascinating. The key to understanding him is that he’s probably the most intensely competitive leader in a sector which is among the more competitive in the world. (Not that the UK market will be of much consequence to Tesco, as it goes forth into the world in ever-increasing numbers.) That probably comes from having come from nowhere and regarding nothing as a given. He grew up in a prefab with a father who was a carpenter.

What he does next will be most interesting. I don’t believe for one moment that he simply plans to sit at home in Herts and look after his investments. Blair and New Labour were desperate to get him on board, and I believe the rumour that the then PM wanted him as head of the NHS. Many now think the current government will go after him to help.

But I suspect they have far more to gain from his talent and his credibility than he stands to benefit. He’d have much to lose if he did get stuck into something quasi-governmental and it went wrong. I also can’t see him rubbing shoulders easily with Cameron or Osborne – I don’t sense they are his kind of folk.

Vince Cable, though… A match made in heaven.

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My Media Week: Ivan Clark, Independent Media Advisor

Alarm wakes me at 8.00 am. Lie in bed smoking Marlboro Red whilst listening to R4’s Today Show. Now replete with the bluffers guide to what is important to the London media village, I get up. Shit, shower, shave and leave home at 9.30 sharp. Pass by three different lollipop ladies, presumably on their way home, and wonder why there is no advertising on their big sticks. Distracted by the sight of someone leaving a gym wearing clothes suited to a film premier, I nearly crash my moped into the back of a bus. Reach the office and reply to my first email of the month, excluding those from Nigeria and bogus pharmaceutical companies. It’s a quiet day so return home to spend the rest of the afternoon watching test cricket and reading the Sun. Must talk to someone tomorrow.

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What’s wanted v what’s needed

At the beginning of World war Two, Hugh Dowding was in charge of fighter planes.
Churchill was desperate to stop France falling.
He wanted to send more and more fighter planes across to France.
Dowding tried to stop this.
Dowding even wrote a formal letter to Churchill about it.
And he made sure the cabinet saw the letter.
The specific point was that if Churchill sent any more planes to France, we wouldn’t have enough left to defend Britain.
Churchill wanted more planes sent to France to prove to the French that we were doing everything possible.
Dowding argued that this was irresponsible.
We must decide how many planes we needed and not send one more to France.
As we know France fell.
And the battle of Britain was fought between the Luftwaffe and England’s fighter planes.
England won.
But it was very close.
England won by the skin of its teeth.
By the exact margin of fighter planes that Dowding stopped Churchill sending to France.
Was Churchill grateful?
Churchill removed him from heading up fighter planes and gave the job to someone else.
Someone more amenable to Churchill’s way of thinking.
And that was pretty much the end of Dowding’s career.
He came up with the right answer.
But it wasn’t the answer Churchill wanted.
It was successful.
But Churchill decided it was successful despite Dowding.
Not because of him.
Dowding might have kept his job if he’d done what Churchill wanted.
Of course, we’d almost certainly have lost The Battle of Britain.
But we didn’t.
And Dowding lost his job instead.
Because he didn’t do what the client wanted.
He came up with the right answer.
He fought the client to get the right solution.
But the client hated working with him.
So the client changed agencies.
The man who got the job after Dowding was much less successful.
Casualties and RAF losses grew and grew.
But Churchill liked the way he thought.
So Churchill promoted him.
His ideas agreed with Churchill’s.
And so Churchill promoted him again.
Eventually to the highest position in the air force.
Because he gave the client the answer he wanted.
A very good, very senior suit once said to me, “The client knows what he wants.
The agency knows what he needs.
It’s the account man’s job to get the client to want what he needs.”

Dowding’s problem was he didn’t have a great account man.

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Online ads: bigger can be better

There has been much discussion behind-the-scenes of the marketing industry about new larger online display adverts – is bigger better? Not if it jeopardises user experience to SHOUT AT consumers, but yes when they are being used correctly. The Half-page Ad, the newest and largest UK standard, is around the size of two MPU ads stacked on top of each other and is slightly wider than its predecessor the skyscraper. I have a theory that it is the best online display format available today and I’ll explain why.

To me, display advertising should be treated as visual content – it should be relevant and interesting to the person viewing it. Above all it should be beautiful. If we assume that a display ad is actually just paid for visual content, then I want that content to be displayed in the best way possible. The Half-page Ad is better proportioned than most online ads. It’s wider, so you can fit better imagery into it at a size that can do the image justice. There’s a reason why Burberry have been using it to showcase their latest collections. The Half-page Ad represents a fabulously delicious new opportunity for advertisers to display their wares.

In the above Mercedes example the ad is almost exactly the same size as the image at the top of the content. If users expect images of this size in content – which they do these days because the internet is now a far more visual place – then an ad should be able to match it. Here the ad is clean, uses great photography and animation that wouldn’t be possible on a smaller ad. You can even include vertical video in the Half-page Ad with extra messaging around it in exactly the same way as outdoor digital (e.g. the displays on escalators) where both have no audio and both only have a small window of opportunity for people to see it. It would be bad practice to show someone a smaller image with squashed messaging. Out in the real world, agencies I’ve spoken to that have used the ad tell me they show strong uplift for brand campaigns.

So, why do some people have an issue with larger display formats? I don’t know, but my guess is that people still view online display ads as a direct response format like search ads. Online display is not search. Display ads are not always direct response. If you want direct response, it’s true, smaller ads can work – but the greatest use of display advertising is for delivering a brand message without the need for people to click through. I’m never going to click to buy a Mercedes online from seeing an ad, nor would I personally click to view the website immediately. In the same way I wouldn’t rush down to my local dealer from seeing a bus stop poster. The Mercedes ad certainly left an impression on me however by showing the car’s vertical flip doors in action. It is a cool car and something I may consider when I purchase a car one day – and that’s something I would never have seen properly in a smaller ad.

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Many years ago, Mike Stones was Ridley Scott’s producer.
Ridley was shooting a commercial in Australia.
Mike was flying out to sort something out.
In those days BOAC used to do half the route: London to India.
Quantas did the other half: India to Australia.
So Mike had just changed planes and was settling into the Quantas flight.
As it was returning to Australia, it was empty.
Mike had the plane to himself.
It began to taxi up to the runway.
In those days, Quantas stewards were all male.
Mike noticed they were walking past him to the front of the plane.
They were each carrying a suitcase.
Mike thought, that’s a bit odd.
He leaned out into the aisle and watched them.
By now the plane was picking up speed along the runway.
Suddenly all the stewards turned around and came rushing and yelling back along the plane.
They ran past Mike, still carrying the suitcases.
They ran right to the back of the plane where they collapsed in a heap.
Mike was scared stiff.
He rushed after them and yelled, “What the hell’s happening?”
By now the plane was in the air.
One of the stewards detached himself from the laughing, yelling heap.
He stood up and wiped his eyes.
He turned to Mike and said, “Sorry about that mate, it’s only because it’s an empty flight, see.”
Mike said, no, he didn’t see.
The Steward said, “Well, when it’s empty it’s much lighter. So if we can shift the weight from the nose to the tail at the point of take-off, the joystick jerks back and hits the pilot in the balls.”
The steward thought it was hilarious.
He couldn’t understand why Mike didn’t.
See sometimes the male attitude to things is appropriate.
Sometimes it isn’t.
Fun and excitement isn’t always the right answer.
I was once going from Phoenix to Denver on a domestic American airline.
A female voice came over the intercom.
She said, “Hi, I’m your pilot, I hope you’re enjoying the flight.
I just want to let you know that I can see a little turbulence on the radar. And in about in about 20 minutes I’m going to be putting on the ‘Fasten Seatbelts’ sign.
That means you won’t be able to leave your seat.
So, if you think you might need to use the bathroom anytime in the next half hour, now would be a good time to go.”
Now I’ve never heard a male pilot say anything like that.
I’ve never heard a pilot do anything so considerate.
It isn’t that one attitude’s right and one’s wrong.
It’s just a question of what’s appropriate.
I can see arguments both ways.
I like a laugh as much as the next bloke.
But not six miles up in the air, inside a metal tube.
Personally I’d like my flight to be as boring and uneventful as possible.
For me, the best flight is one you don’t notice.
So, in this case, I’ll take the female attitude.


Why is the government not NICE to advertising?

You’re hardly likely to get much sympathy, even from your mates. My teenage son thinks being involved with it is more despicable than a police presence at a squat party. But advertising and the livelihoods of many people within associated occupations are under severe threat.

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What happens to oceans when they get overfished?
People with no imagination just keep fishing in the same spot.
And the fish get smaller and smaller.
And poorer quality.
And fewer in number.
That’s pretty much what’s happened with ideas.
Advertising has been overfished.
YouTube, iPhone apps, social media gimmicks, ambient media novelties, bigger and bigger production budgets, computer graphics, trendy directors.
The traditional ideas breeding grounds have fewer and fewer ideas left.
So what do smart fishermen do when an area is overfished?
They fish somewhere else.

When Mike Gold got the idea for the LWT poster campaign, he got it from Chinese Communist weekly news-sheets, pasted on village walls.
When John Webster got the idea for his Unigate Milk Humphries campaign, he got it from World War Two propaganda posters.
When Alan Waldie got the idea for the Benson & Hedges poster campaign, he got it from Salvador Dali and the DADA movement.
When Paul Arden got the idea for the award winning British Airways commercial, he got it from a silent black and white film ‘Gertie The Dinosaur’ made in the 1920s.
When Ron Collins got the idea for his Escalade bra campaign, he got it from Botticelli’s “Birth Of Venus”.
When John Webster got the idea for Sugar Puffs Honey Monster, he got it from Sesame Street.
When George Lois got the idea for the most famous Esquire cover, of Mohammed Ali, he got it from Perugino’s ‘Saint Sebastian’.
When Malcolm MacLaren got the idea for ‘punk’, he got it from sado-masochistic leatherwear in sex shops.
When Andy Warhol got the idea for Pop Art, he got it from looking at a dollar bill.
When Marcel Breuer needed an idea for the most revolutionary chair of the 20th century, he got it from a US Navy wooden leg brace.
When Dennis Hopper got the idea for the movie ‘Easy Rider’, he got it from car commercials on TV.
When Johnny Depp got the idea for Captain Jack Sparrow in ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’, he got it from watching Keith Richards.
When Mick Jagger got the idea for ‘Sympathy For The Devil’, he got it from Bulgakov’s novel ‘The Master And The Margarita”.
When Marcel Duchamp got the idea for his ‘ready-mades’, he got it from the mechanical way a camera worked.
When Picasso got the idea for Synthetic Cubism, he got it from primitive African carvings.
When Isaac Newton got the idea for the science of gravity, he got it walking through an orchard, wondering why apples fall in a straight line.

Truly creative people don’t overfish an area.
They fish where other people aren’t fishing.


Editor’s blog: Spitting in the face of public servants

Surely we’ve got more important things to worry about than constantly pillorying public servants?

So, 172 civil servants earn more than the Prime Minister. So what? Let’s take the salary of NHS chief executive David Nicholson, for example. He is paid £260k. His annual budget is £130 billion plus. Wouldn’t it be a good idea if those sums of money were in the hands of someone with a good level of competence and experience? Do you think that such people come cheap? Indeed, should they come cheap? If he were in charge of an organisation of that size in the private sector, his salary would be vastly higher. What should he get for his toils? The same as a GP? I bet he works longer hours than most 9-5pm GPs who decline to do any out-of-hours calls any more. His job is one of enormous complexity and difficulty, especially as his organisation will have to make do on less in the next few years.

In tandem with this fake outrage comes the predictable sniffing through the underwear drawer of Danny Alexander, the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury (who has been elevated by the very regrettable demise of David Laws). If I may get personal here, this attack on Alexander and his wife, Rebecca, is a seriously nasty piece of work. Rebecca was a colleague of ours here at MT, and I’ve seen the flat they lived in with their small daughter before their second girl turned up just after the election. It was nothing to write home about, believe me. Alexander’s constituency is in Inverness. He is elected to represent their interest, so he does have to see them once in a while. It’s a long way from London and the air fare up there isn’t cheap. What do we expect: that Alexander should never see his kids? Should Mrs Alexander thumb a lift up the M1 with her double buggy and a nappy bag to save costs?

In the end, we have to make a choice. Are we going to waste our time and energy pillorying everyone in politics, and accept a reductive cynicism that spits in the face of all those who decide to go for public service? Or are we going to let them get on and try to do something about the dire economic mess in which we find ourselves? Because if we make the lives of politicians so unbearable, nobody with any talent will wish to do it any more – and we’ll be doomed to a Greek-style decade of poverty and misery.

I don’t know about you, but I’m far more worried about the hundreds of thousands of families who are paid benefits by the state to sit around doing absolutely nothing day-in, day-out. The bill for this runs into hundreds of millions a year. I’d be willing to pay a top civil servant a Terry Leahy-style salary if he or she were to find a way of getting these people back into work, and actually doing something of value in society rather than having their lives wasted. We really do need to grow up a bit here and get our priorities right, fast.

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