Posts By: Jim Reade

Proper tea is not theft

A few years back, Gordon Smith went to an open day at the main SAS training camp at Hereford.
He was telling me about the different assault courses they had.
Rope slides, water crossings, scaling high obstacles, storming buildings, barbed wire, all using live ammunition.
Real tough guy stuff.
He said every obstacle course had one thing in common.
A tea urn at the end.
If you made it through in one piece you wanted a cup of tea.
Not camomile, or elderflower, or jasmine.
Not a herbal infusion.
A proper cup of tea.
The sort of tea you see on a building site next to a copy of The Sun.
In a heavy, chipped mug, not bone china.
Recently, I was reading about The Challenger Mk II.
The British Army’s main battle tank.
It’s got a 120mm gun, more accurate than any other tank.
It can hit, and destroy, pretty much anything from 5 miles away.
In the invasion of Iraq, not a single Challenger II was lost.
Although one was damaged a bit.
After being hit by 17 rocket-propelled grenades, and a MILAN anti-tank missile.
So, as they say in the army, this is a serious piece of kit.
And it’s got one thing that absolutely no other tank in the world has got.
It’s got tea-brewing equipment built in.
That’s its USP.
My Uncle Harry was in the 8th Army in World War 2.
In the desert they each got just 2 pints of water a day.
So, they saved the water for the important stuff: making tea.
And they used petrol for washing themselves.
Tea is a pretty important part of our creative department.
We’ve got an article pinned up in the kitchen by the kettle.
It’s called ‘A Nice Cup Of Tea’ and it’s written by George Orwell:

“When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:
* First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.
* Secondly, tea should be made in a teapot. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware.
* Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand.
* Fourthly, the tea should be strong. Six heaped teaspoons would be about right. I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones.
* Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea.
* Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact.
* Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it.
* Eighthly, one should drink out of the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. With the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
* Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
* Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
* Lastly, tea should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here, but tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter.”

We drink a lot of tea at work.
Usually we make a pot of tea for the creative department.
This is a big job, so we’ll try to find a fair way of deciding who makes it.
Sometimes we’ll play rock-scissors-paper, sometimes we’ll play ‘spoof’.
Recently we’ve found an online application that doesn’t depend on skill, just pure chance.
Personally, the only thing I insist everyone does is put a tea cosy on the pot.
That way the teapot doesn’t get cold if sits there for a bit.
I’ve written CREATIVE in big fat letters on the tea cosy, so the account men can’t nick it for client meetings.
Although I don’t think they would.
Tea tends to be blue collar, whereas coffee tends to be white collar,
So people who have a lot of meetings for a living usually prefer coffee.
Whereas people who make things prefer tea.

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Without the details, nothing happens

Mike Greenlees was CEO of GGT.
The agency had a big presentation to a major client, at the client’s offices.
So everyone was getting ready to leave the agency.
They were all making last minute checks.
Mike was going through the deck, getting his head in the right space.
Making sure the argument made logical sense.
Making sure all the charts covered all the points that needed making.
He checked with Jim Kelly, the agency MD, if he had everything he needed.
He checked with Damien O’Malley, the Planning Director, if he had everything.
They were going through their own decks.
Mike checked his watch.
He said, “What time does the cab get here? We’re going to be late.”
Jim said, “I left the new trainee account manager to sort it out.”
Mike went to double-check.
He found him sitting with his feet on the desk, leafing through the presentation document.
Mike said, “What time have you booked the cab for?”
The trainee account manager said, “I haven’t done it yet, I’m just checking the strategy to see if it makes sense.”
Mike took the document, and brushed his feet off the table.
Mike gets very northern when he’s angry.
He said, “Never mind the fucking strategy document. You let me worry about the fucking strategy document. You just get up off your arse and get out on the street and get a fucking cab, right now.”
See, the trainee account manager hadn’t understood the job.
First you get the small stuff right.
Then you get to be involved in the bigger stuff.
But he saw the small stuff as unimportant.
He just assumed it would get done by somebody.
But everyone else was assuming he’d do it.
Logistics is the account manager’s job.
That’s why you train people from the bottom up.
Because without the details nothing happens.
If Mike hadn’t worried about the details, they’d still be waiting for the cab.
Because everyone would have assumed someone else would do it.
Which means no one would do it.
Which means it wouldn’t happen.
Which means the presentation doesn’t happen.
Which means you lose the business.
See, however brilliant the presentation is, if no one gets it to the client it doesn’t happen.
And all that thinking is wasted.

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I’M RATIONAL, YOU’RE EMOTIONAL

In most heated discussions, everyone thinks they’re being rational and the other person is being emotional.
When my son was about six or seven, he said he wanted to support West Ham like I did when I was young.
I said, “You’re not from East London, you’re from North London.
You have to support your local team.”
He said his friends had told him he could support who he liked.
I said, “You can’t, it’s the law, you’ve got to support your local club. So you’ve got two choices, and you’re not Jewish, so you’ll have to support Arsenal.”
To me, I was being rational and he was being emotional.
He wanted to support West Ham just because his dad had.
I thought the rational thing was to support your local club, so that you could go and see them play.
But to him, he was being rational and I was being emotional.
What did it matter if he supported his local team?
Nowadays everyone mainly watches all the matches on TV anyway.
Another confusing situation concerned my wife.
She’s Chinese, and one day she said to me, “The people at the greengrocers are very rude.”
I asked her what she meant.
She said, “I was buying fruit and veg, and suddenly they all started shouting “Wanker!” at someone on the other side of the road.
I asked them who they were yelling at.
They said it was Freddie Lundberg.
I didn’t know who he was, so I asked them what he’d done wrong.
They said, “Well he plays for Arsenal, and we’re all Tottenham fans.”
My wife didn’t think that was a very rational response to someone famous.
She thought they were just being rude and emotional.
But the greengrocers probably thought it was quite reasonable to shout insults at the opposition.
Again, both sides had different interpretations of rational and emotional.
There was also a similar confusion with my neighbour a few years back.
My son was at St Martins, he had to do a photography project over Christmas.
A series of pictures taken from the POV of an ordinary object.
He decided on the POV of a fly.
He knew pretty much what a fly would see during the day: dustbins, dead animals, piles of rubbish.
So he took pictures of things like that.
And the expression ‘Like flies on shit’ is pretty much a cliché.
So he was obviously going to have to do one of those, too.
But it was winter, too cold for tramping the streets looking for a pile dog’s mess.
So I said I’d help him make some.
We got some earth, mixed it with water, and moulded it into authentic looking shapes.
By now it was late afternoon and everything was in shadow.
The only place that still had sunlight was the pavement in front of the house next door.
So we put the fake turds there, and my son started taking the shots.
Suddenly the front door opened and The Arsenal footballer Robert Pires came out.
He started scowling through the fence at us, frowning and looking very fierce.
We ignored him and carried on with what we were doing.
He kept watching us, walking angrily up and down.
I thought he should mind his own business.
We were behaving rationally, just getting on with an art school project.
He was behaving emotionally.
Getting territorial about the pavement in front of his house.
Eventually, after about 10 minutes of scowling he went back inside.
Then I thought, let’s look at it from his side.
He thinks he’s being rational.
My son’s taking shots with a camera.
I’m holding all the equipment: lenses, tripods, film.
He must think we’re paparazzi.
He opened the front door expecting us to take pictures of him while he confronted us.
When we didn’t he saw we were more interested in taking pictures of dog turds in front of his house.
And we kept picking them up and rearranging them.
Looked at from his angle, maybe we were after a story about a rich footballer’s filthy house.
He wanted to have a confrontation with the tabloids.
We wanted to finish the project and get in out of the cold.

Everyone’s in their own reality, and they’re all different.

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TRICKLE-DOWN ADVERTISING

When I was a junior copywriter at BMP, I wanted to know how advertising worked.

In fact did it work at all?

Sure everyone liked the ads, they were entertaining.

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REASONS AND EXCUSES

“A Perfect Storm” wasn’t much of a movie.
Typical Hollywood: Lowest Common Denominator entertainment.
But the book was absolutely brilliant.
Thoroughly researched in massive detail.
Right down to detailed accounts of what happens when you drown.
Bit by bit.
How every cell in your body reacts.
I learned a lot from the book.
Working on those boats is a seriously dangerous job done by macho guys.
But there was one female skipper.
Can you imagine how hard it was for her to even get a crew?
The comments in the bar, between fishermen:
“Hey, your boat needs a new coat of pink paint.”
“After you pee in a storm, do you put the seat back down?”
But all that changed after the storm hit and most of the other boats sank.
And most of the macho skippers, and their crews, died.
Except for the female skipper.
Her name was Linda Greenlaw and her boat was the ‘Hannah Boden’.
They came back untouched by the storm, with a record catch.
Her crew made a lot of money, while the other crews died.
Suddenly everyone wanted to work on her boat.
No one made cracks in the bar any more.
She wrote a book about it.
Reading her book, I learned something really interesting.
Her book was boring.
And that’s why she was successful.
She wrote the book the way she caught fish.
Thoroughly, carefully, conscientiously.
Bit-by-bit, making sure everything was right as she went along.
She was only interested in making sure every detail was covered.
She wasn’t interested in being exciting.
She wanted a nice, dull, safe, profitable fishing trip.
No surprises.
I can’t quote her exactly, but this is the general drift.
“I wasn’t trying to be macho, so I didn’t leave anything to chance.
I checked and rechecked everything.
The night before we sailed all the other captains were in the bar, getting drunk.
I was on the boat, making lists and double-checking everything again.
During the trip I listened to all the weather warnings on the radio.
I didn’t try to tough it out, I didn’t take any chances.
I relied on my sonar and my charts, and the radio reports, to find the fish.
I paid careful attention and used all the information I could find.”
That’s not an accurate quote, but you get the drift.
She tried harder.
Simple as that.
She was thorough and conscientious and hard-working.
She didn’t want to take a chance on anything slipping through the slats.
Unlike the guys.
Their weakness was they had to appear like they knew it all.
They thought making lists and double-checking would signify they weren’t confident.
And these guys didn’t want to show any weakness.
So instead of the reality, they just played the part.
They faked it.
They kept up the pretence and it cost them their lives.
Their ‘strength’ was their weakness.
There are people like that in every business.
Especially in ours.
People who have closed minds.
People who aren’t interested in finding out new information.
People who have to appear as if they know it all.
People who rely on faking it.
You can usually find these guys down the pub.
Getting drunk and complaining about what went wrong.
Telling you why life is so unfair.
Telling you it was the account man’s fault.
Or the creative director’s fault.
Anyone’s fault but theirs.
You won’t find people like the female skipper down the pub complaining.
They’re too busy getting a result.

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Advertising doesn’t sell stuff

I always loved Bill Berbach’s advertising for the VW Beetle.
But I never bought one.
I loved John Webster’s Honey Monster advertising.
But I never ate Sugar Puffs.
I also loved John’s advertising the Guardian.
But I never bought it.
I loved David Abbott’s advertising for The Economist.
But I never read it.
I loved Saatchi’s advertising for The Conservatives.
But I never voted for them.
I loved Trevor Beattie’s ad for Wonderbra.
But I never wore one.
I loved Terry Lovelock’s ads for Heineken.
But I never drank it.
I liked Alex Taylor’s ads for The Army.
But I never joined it.
I like VCCP’s ads for Compare The Meerkat.
But I’ve never visited the site.
I loved BBH’s ads for Paddy Power.
But I’ve never been in their betting shops.
I liked Barbara Noakes’s ads for Dr. White’s tampons.
But I’ve never used any.
I liked Paul Arden’s ads for Silk Cut.
But I’ve never smoked them.
I liked Fallon’s Drumming Gorilla.
But I’ve never bought a bar of Cadburys Dairy Milk.
In fact there are loads of ads I love.
But often, I don’t buy the product
So where does that leave advertising?
Does that mean it doesn’t work?
Well it depends on what you think advertising’s job is.
If you think its job is to sell products to people who don’t want them then no, it doesn’t work.
If you define a great ad as making people rush out and buy something they could never imagine buying, then no, it doesn’t do that either.
So how do you define advertising?
I’ll tell you what it is to me.
It gives my client an edge over their competitor.
But that’s all it is, an edge.
And an edge can’t do the whole job on its own.
If you’re in the market for a car, maybe I can make you buy my brand.
But you’ve got to be in the market for a car in the first place.
If you’d never even consider a car, I can’t make you want one.
I can’t turn a core non-user into a core user.
Because advertising is just one of many factors involved in the process.
Factors like product quality, is it any good?
Factors like distribution, do they sell it near me?
Factors like cost, is it more expensive?
Factors like personal taste, is it available in a colour I like?
Advertising isn’t the be-all and end-all of selling something.
True, in a parity situation, advertising can give you an unfair advantage.
But advertising is just one of the factors that will influence selling.
That’s why many products sell despite bad advertising.
Because they’re good products.
Or they’re widely available.
Or they’re cheap.
Or consumers like them.
All advertising can do is influence a consumer.
But only influence.
All other things being equal, it can tip the balance.
But it can’t do the whole job on its own.
If you’ve got a good pitch for your product, advertising can get someone to listen.
It can get their attention and get your case heard.
At best it can create a ‘propensity to purchase’.
A willingness to buy, a curiosity to try.
If, it’s available where I shop.
If, the price is right.
If, it’s in my size.
If, it’s in a colour I like.
If, I like the taste.
If, I’m in the mood.
If, it’s the right time of year.
If, I’m the right age, sex, religious persuasion.
If, I have the right interest, habits, predilections.
If I tick all those boxes good advertising will work.
But most advertising doesn’t work.

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Teamwork

Michael Caine was making a film with Sean Connery and director John Huston.

They were on the set of ‘The Man Who Would Be King’.

Caine said to Connery, “Have you noticed how John Huston never gives us any direction?”

Connery said, “You’re right, he doesn’t.”

Caine said, “Go and ask him what’s going on.”

And Connery went over to Huston and said, “John, how come you never give us any direction about how you want us to play our parts?”

And John Huston said, “You only have to do that when you get the casting wrong.”

Isn’t that a great take on teamwork?

If you get the people right in the first place everyone can trust each other.

And just get on with doing their own job.

I heard another great example of teamwork from James Stewart.

He was talking about acting in a Hitchcock film.

He said, “Hitchcock never gave you any advice about how to play your scene. He didn’t see that as his job.

He gave you a start position for the shot, and an end position.

What happened in between was your business.

You were the actor, that’s what you were getting paid for.”

That’s how a proper team works.

When you don’t keep looking over each other’s shoulder.

You trust people to do their job so you can concentrate on yours.

Tony Adams was a great example the proper way to work in a team.

He was in charge of the most successful Arsenal defence ever.

He said, “I’d never try to take the ball off the attacker.

If I did, I was committed and, if I missed, he was past me.

So what I’d do is just shut him down.

So he’d have to shoot from about 30 yards out.

And I knew I had a goalkeeper behind me who could handle anything from 30 yards.”

That’s what every member of a team should be thinking.

You trust the other person to do their job.

You haven’t got to constantly check they’re doing it correctly.

Because, if you do that, you’re not concentrating on your own job.

And you lose both ways.

No, in a proper team, the winger trust the centre forward to be there when the cross arrives.

The midfield trusts the defenders to pick up their man.

The defence trusts the goalie.

It’s like that in advertising when we get the team right.

The client trusts the agency to solve their business problem, not just do flashy, trivial ads.

The creatives trust the planners to have an insightful strategy, not just state the obvious.

The account handlers trust the creatives to do work that will cut through in a break, not just try to win awards.

In short, everyone trusts everyone else to do their job.

In the 1966 World Cup final, it was half time in the dressing room.

Alf Ramsey stood in front of Bobby Moore.

Ramsey said, “Look, you’re the captain. Tell Jack Charlton to get on his man quicker. Tell Ball he should be tracking back more. Tell Peters to start making diagonal runs out of midfield…..”

Bobby Moore just looked up and said, “Leave it out Alf. I’ve got me own game to worry about.”

That was the match where England won the World Cup.

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We don’t need more thinkers, we need doers

The act of creation is about making something happen,
from nothing.

That’s creativity.

Just making things nicer isn’t creativity.

That’s styling.

As Edward de Bono said, “There are lots of people calling
themselves creative who are merely stylists.”

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Who is advertising for?

When I was on holiday in Umbria, I visited Assisi.

As you drive into town, there’s the biggest Church you
ever saw.

It’s called the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

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It may not be wrong, it may be inappropriate

I follow Seth Godin on Twitter.

Every day he posts really thought provoking articles.

This is one of my favourites.

I like binary thinking.

I like things simple, even over-simplified.

It’s not always right.

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