Posts Tagged: Misc

Edukashun is in a pickle

Blame those in control of the purse-strings, not the teachers.

Not a great week for education news. First off came the bombshell that Mark Elms, a primary school headmaster in Lewisham is going to take home a whisker under a quarter of a million pounds for 2009-10. I’m sure Mr Elms is a dynamic and inspiring individual in an area where such people in education are thin on the ground. The kids of South East London may well have benefitted directly from his dedication. But two hundred and fifty grand? (Mind you he’s earning it now being chased around South London on his five hundred quid bike by a load of righteous Daily Mail photographers.) Lewisham is a toughish patch, but it’s not Helmand with roadside bombs going off and the chance of being stoned to death for daring to educate the young females of the community.

To coin a phrase from the boss of Shell – are you telling me Mr Elms would have done any less good a job for £150k? What this shows is how smart and committed individuals within the public sector have been able to rook the system. It’s not just teachers – over recent years if you were a consultant who landed a public sector contract, you wandered around shouting ‘Bingo!’ for the next three weeks, and ordered a new 911. But it’s not Mr Elms who should be blamed, it’s the poor governance of his bosses. Those who spend public money remain desperately bad at negotiating and getting value for money. The seller names a price and the mugs just ask where they should sign – assuming all the nonsense box-ticking of the procurement process is in order. There’s no commercial nouse.

Then we have Vince Cable’s bad news about university education. (My god, Vince loves delivering bad news, doesn’t he? He was born a Jeremiah and his enemies within the coalition are busily trying to remove his halo and turn him into Public Enemy Number 1. ) Tens of thousands of those who are applying to university this year won’t get places: there are 170,000 more candidates than spaces. And then those who are lucky enough to graduate face a new tax on their earnings. One way or the other, universities are going to get it in the neck from the new regime, and both of these occurrences are inevitable.

There has been a massive expansion in UK university education in the last 15 years and much of what is on offer is, put bluntly, crap. Many of these institutions are poorly run, doling out degrees of little or no value. That’s why it’s an utter nonsense that the rules currently say a degree from Leeds Metropolitan University should cost a UK undergraduate the same as one from Oxford. Things are now so out of control that there are more than 20 universities so ineptly run that they are struggling to stay afloat, with seven on a secret ‘at risk’ list.

Doing down Generation Y is not a nice business. They need all the help they can get at the moment. I went last year to give a talk to a bunch of undergraduates at a very new provincial university. Call me a mean-spirited snob but it was a pretty depressing experience. Despite my best efforts, they were bored stiff during my scintillating 40 minute presentation: yawning, picking their finger nails. They all probably assumed they were going to walk straight into a job on Take a Break. What made my day was the one kid who came up to me afterwards telling me how he’d sorted out work experience on Le Monde in France and asking if I had any tips. I love it when you meet someone young, bright and enthusiastic who wants to get into our profession. But I was glad I wasn’t him trying to get a job at the moment. It’s not very nice out there.

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Apple drops the call

Apple isn’t the first to have prioritised style over substance.

I’ve held off requesting an iPhone4 from MT’s IT requisitioning department for the time being. I find it helps if your mobile phone actually enables you to talk to people as well as editing your video of the kids, joining online Raoul Moat appreciation societies, finding good dogging spots in Solihull and shining your shoes overnight.

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I’ve been asked to write an entry for D&AD’s Copy Book.
I just found this list of tips in my desk drawer.

1) Avoid alliteration. Always.

2) Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

3) The adverb always follows the verb.

4) Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

5) Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.

6) Remember to never split an infinitive.

7) Contractions aren’t necessary.

8) Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

9) One should never generalise.

10) Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”

11) Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.

12) Be more or less specific.

13) One word sentences? Eliminate.

14) The passive voice is to be avoided.

15) Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

16) Who needs rhetorical questions?

17) Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

18) Don’t never use a double negative.

19) Proofread carefully to see if you words out.

20) And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)

21) Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!!!!!

22) Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

23) Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

24) Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague; they’re old hat; seek viable alternatives.

Like most lists of rules for creativity, this one is long and thorough.
It’s detailed and proscriptive.
It’s confident and dogmatic.
And it’s about as useful.



My dad was a policeman.
One night he got a call that someone had found a dead body.
A body has to be officially certified dead, by a doctor.
So Dad went round and made sure nobody touched it until he got there.
Eventually the doctor turned up.
It was late, and he was bored, and annoyed at being called out.
He went through the motions.
He checked for a pulse.
He pulled back the eyelids and checked the pupils.
He took the temperature.
The he said, “Okay Sergeant, you can move him now.”
And he started to leave.
Dad said, “What are you going to put as the cause of death, sir?”
The doctor stopped at the door, turned round and sighed wearily.
He said, “It should be perfectly bloody obvious sergeant, even to you. It’s a heart attack.”
And he left.
After he’d gone, Dad turned the body over.
There were six stab wounds in the back.
So it wasn’t quite so ‘perfectly bloody obvious’ after all.
Which was why my dad taught me, don’t trust ‘experts’.
They get smug.
And that stops them thinking.
Their complacency makes them dependent on the systems they’ve learned.
And their systems never leave space for the unexpected.
So they’re on auto-pilot.
They can’t think for themselves anymore.
If it isn’t in the book, it doesn’t exist.
Last week we were putting a music track to a commercial.
The composer turned up late.
He said, “I’m sorry I’m late but the studio was burgled last night.
They took my wallet, my phone, car keys, credit cards.”
I asked if he was insured.
He said he was, but he wasn’t sure they’d pay out.
I asked why not.
He said, “Well, I did a stupid thing. I left a window partly open when I locked up. So they got in by yanking it all the way open, and they even broke the handle off the window.”
I asked what difference that made.
He said, “Well, the insurance company could say it’s down to my carelessness couldn’t they? Then they might refuse to pay out.”
But then he brightened up a bit.
He said, “Mind you, we’ve just had the police forensic crime detection unit round. They went over absolutely everything.
They dusted for prints and checked for strands of hair.
It was like that CSI programme on the telly.
They eventually came to the conclusion that the thief got in using a straightened out coat-hanger on the front door.
They never noticed the bloody great broken handle hanging off the open window.
And I didn’t say anything because, if the insurance company accept the police view, I’m covered.”
So that was a result for the composer.
But imagine if the police hadn’t sent the forensic crime-detection unit.
The people who already know that the answer must be either fingerprints, hair-strands, or DNA samples.
Imagine if they’d sent an old fashioned copper.
He have might have looked round the crime scene.
He might have seen a window broken open with a big handle hanging off.
He might even have put 2 and 2 together to work out how someone got in.
But the police, like advertising, don’t put 2 and 2 together.
Like us, they’re not encouraged, or possibly even allowed to.
We have to gather all the data and feed it into a system.
Which then takes over and delivers the answer.
Without imagination.
Because imagination isn’t factual like a system.
Systems are predictable, so there won’t be any surprises.
And surprises are a bad thing, aren’t they?
But are they?
The point about a system is that everyone can recognise and agree on it.
In fact, because everyone agrees on it, everyone is using the same system.
But is that really a good thing?
We’re in a competitive environment aren’t we?
As Bill Bernbach said, “The same data, the same technology, are available to all of us. If we all use them in the same way, we’re all going to end up doing the same thing.”
Which is okay if you’re the market leader, and all you want to do is maintain the status quo in the market.
But what if you want to shake things up, to take market share?
Using the same system won’t do that for you.
As Bill Bernbach also said, “It may be that creativity is the last unfair advantage we can legally take over our competitors.”

Or, as my dad used to say, “Use your loaf.”


Editor’s blog: Uselessness is everywhere

The Ofsted head’s assertion that bad teachers are inevitable may be shocking, but you can’t avoid incompetence.

The outgoing head of Ofsted, Zenna Atkins, has given an interview which has really succeeded in pushing the outrage button nationwide. The implication of what she said appears to be that we should simply accept that useless teachers exist in schools and they can even be of benefit to children who learn the vital social skill of how to deal with ineptitude by being taught by the incompetent.

What she actually said was this : ”I think it is inevitable that every school will at some point will have a useless teacher. If you look at any population of a workforce, there are people who are under-performing and that’s often a significant percentage – up to 10% of people under-performing. It is inevitable, and it is not always a disaster, because children go to school to learn how to be in society. I don’t think they should have a useless teacher, but I think at some point it is inevitable that they will have.”

Surely she’s right here. We all know someone – maybe more than one individual – who’s pretty useless whether we work in the private or public sector. But they carry on, being tolerated and carried by the rest of us. Too much trouble to do anything about… Too much risk of an ugly and costly tribunal hearing if we try to kick them out.

The argument is that in schools this isn’t good enough. Children’s lives could be blighted for good by bad teaching. There should be ‘zero tolerance’ of uselessness in our schools. It’s certainly an amazing statistic that a mere 18 teachers have been struck off for incompetence in the past 40 years, according to an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama. (One suspects many more have been forced to leave their posts without ‘incompetence’ being the official reason on the P45) Nevertheless, it’s estimated that around 17,000 teachers may not be up to the job.

Uselessness is everywhere. Do you really believe there aren’t any useless paediatric cardiac surgeons around the place? (There certainly were in Bristol.) Do you believe there isn’t a totally useless banker inside Goldman Sachs. (There may be dozens who aren’t socially useful but that’s another story.)

I recall one particularly useless teacher at my school. Let’s call him Mr G. He was a pretty complex individual of about five feet two with a funny voice, Austin Powers teeth and a drink problem. His pedagogical ability was limited and he was a laughing stock, both among the boys and the staff. I can still see his tiny shoes now – no bigger than those of an eight year old. I recall one especially cruel incident when I was about twelve. In the classrooms we had those old-fashioned blackboards with ‘rubbers’ made of felt and wood to wipe off the chalk marks. Before one of Mr G’s lessons some boys attached the rubber to the wall at a point they knew would be just out of his reach, so he’d be unable to clean the board and thus unable to give the lesson. Hilarious.

Mr G left after a while, although I have no idea whether he was ‘pushed’ or not. God knows where he could have gone to for help in the British independent school system of the 1970s. His head, the NUT or Alcoholics Anonymous.

I just Googled his name and found the following from the Evening Argus in Brighton from 2001. “ Police are appealing for anyone who knew a man found dead at his home to contact them. The body of R*** G****, 56, of Merewood Court, Carew Road, Eastbourne, was found on October 12. Police believe he may have been dead for some time. Coroner’s officers are trying to build up a picture of his life and want anyone who knew him to contact them. Dentists have been urged to check if he was registered with them.” So he died alone – still probably useless – in a flat in Eastbourne. I for one, feel rather sorry about that and don’t feel he blighted my life. You could argue the 26 little savages he taught in class 2C of 1974 in fact contributed to blighting his.

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Are we in for more fat cat protests?

Life is still good if you’re one of the wealthy elite.

‘Well here we go again…’ you could be forgiven for thinking. Happy Days have returned. Wine experts have agreed that the 2009 vintage is one of the finest in recent years, thanks to last year’s perfect conditions of a wet spring and hot summer. The result of this classic marketing nonsense is that the newly released stuff from Bordeaux is going en primeur for seriously silly prices. Château Latour is £11,400 a case, Château Lafite-Rothschild is £13,500 a dozen, while Le Pin, a small vineyard in Pomerol, is on sale for £18,000. There are, apparently, no shortage of buyers for this nectar that cannot be consumed for at least ten years, although the vulgar City boys will be slinging it down their necks way before then.

Happy days, indeed. The truth is for those individuals able to afford a grand for a bottle of wine things never really stopped. Ok, it was said after the darkest days of late 2008 that the mega-rich were laying low and merely doing the Pètrus in the comfort of their own Notting Hill and Monaco mansions. They were rolling in it before 2008 and still are. Little has changed for them.

Meanwhile us mere mortals are all entering the grim Age of Austerity. George Osborne is handing out hair shirts by the container-load which makes conditions ripe for yet another round of fat cattery protest. According to Incomes data Services bonuses for UK board directors at the largest companies rose by an average of 22.5% in the last six months. The average went up from £456,000 to £559,000. ‘After a period of relative austerity [note the word relative] the good times have returned to the UK boardroom,’ said Steve Tatton of IDS.

The truth is it’s always been miserable being poor and life won’t change there. But the new squeeze is on the middle class, as The Telegraph’s excellent and so-to-be-missed economics commentator Edmund Conway shows in this piece.

As Conway writes: ‘much of the extra cash generated during the boom years (and even after them) has been actively funnelled towards the most wealthy. The median wage in the US, adjusted for inflation, has been stagnant for pretty much three decades. But the figures at the high end of the scale have soared; whereas in 1970 the average US chief executive made $25 for every dollar of their typical employee’s salary, today the figure is more like $90.’

The blessed Vince Cable, Business secretary – who must be well and truly pissed off that he’s been forced to trim £1bn from his departmental budget – is on the warpath. In an interview with the Times today he describes the excesses of executive pay as ‘socially unacceptable.’ But it’s hard to see what he can do about it. The rich are being squeezed a bit. The Treasury is already going to grab 50% of everything someone on £150K or over earns. CGT has been hiked. From next April if someone buys a house over £1m – and such purchases are made by many who are not super-rich – they will pay 5% in Stamp Duty. So that’s fifty grand and upwards.

But the very wealthy do control our destinies. You can moan all you like about the big rewards handed out to the Tesco board but for all the laudable and painstaking efforts to get SMEs up and running in blighted spots such as Doncaster or Hull, just a single wave of Terry Leahy’s magic wand to conjure up a new store creates many more jobs than dozens of small businesses.

But it’s all about fairness, the likes of Polly Toynbee shout. Well, New Labour had a long hard go at fairness between 1997 and last May but it didn’t get very far. A very large amount of money was wasted trying to make things fairer. Unfortunately life often isn’t fair, although governments one should never give up trying to make it more so. But it’s a lot fairer in the UK than it is in Brazil or China or India. Maybe things are less fair than in Sweden or even Germany. But demonizing the creation of wealth isn’t going to help anyone.

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Play your own game

I was talking with a young man from Paris the other day.
We were discussing creativity in general.
He felt the French were historically better than the English at most creative things.
Painting, sculpture, film, photography, theatre, architecture, fashion.
He didn’t think he was being arrogant.
He was just stating a generally accepted fact.
Then he said, “Except humour. There cannot be anyone who would deny the English are the world leaders in humour. Definitely no one can touch them for this.”
And it occurred to me that all the things he thought the French were better at were visual things.
The one thing he thought the English were better at was a verbal thing.
Maybe written, maybe spoken.
But definitely language.
It reminded me of when I first went to art school in New York.
One of my first lectures was a History Of Art class.
The one thing that stuck in my mind was something the lecturer said.
“The English are the only civilisation never to have made a significant contribution to the visual arts.”
I remember being angry.
I wanted to say, “Excuse me, what’s that language you’re speaking? English right?
So how about Shakespeare, Chaucer, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Dickens, Kipling?
In fact how about non-English writers like Shaw and Joyce?
In fact how about every American writer: Kerouac, Salinger, Mailer, Miller, Roth? What language did they all write in?”
But I stopped myself.
Because of course he was referring to the purely visual arts.
And I thought, like the Frenchman much later, maybe he had a point.
What great visual artists have we got?
Stubbs, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Constable.
Like our footballers, competent enough in their own league, but hardly the world’s best.
Hardly Raphael, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Ingres.
The very best we’ve ever produced would be Turner, Bacon, and Moore.
Again, not bad.
But hardly Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Duchamp or Warhol.
So, pretty much, it seems the Brits aren’t great at the purely visual.
Why is any of this relevant?
Last week, John Tylee asked me why the UK isn’t doing so well at Cannes.
Why haven’t they won much?
What’s happened to UK creativity?
Well, let’s see what’s changed recently.
Because of the rise of multi-national agencies, much of the advertising that agencies turn out has to be international.
It’s a smart idea.
If they can make an ad that can run across a dozen countries, they get a much bigger production budget for that ad.
A million pounds, maybe two.
But that means the ad can’t just be in any one language.
Which means it must be visual
That means we’ve left the area where we’re strongest.
And now we’re competing in the area where other countries are stronger.
The purely visual.
We’ve moved away from our language, so we’ve moved away from our humour.
So we’ve moved away from our strengths.
Even in our own country, the award schemes have become international.
Tony Hardcastle told me he was on the D&AD poster jury.
An Economist poster came up.
The headline said:
Now that’s a very funny poster.
We all get the joke straight away.
The Economist reader doesn’t react like a tabloid reader.
They take a much more intelligent view of things.
We get the joke because we all know who Jordan is..
But an American guy behind Tony said, “I don’t get it. Is this referring to Michael Jordan the basketball player?”
And a Chinese girl next to him said, “Oh no. I think it must be referring to Jordans, the cereal bar.”
Because it was verbal, not visual, two of the people judging it didn’t even understand it.
So what would have happened if the Economist campaign had been done for an international audience instead of just a UK one?
All those intelligent ‘word’ jokes wouldn’t work.
So it would have to have been a purely visual campaign instead.

And some of the best poster advertising of recent times wouldn’t have seen the light of day.

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Editor’s blog: Ocado – to buy or not to buy?

Ocado publishes its IPO prospectus today. It could be brilliant but it’s yet to make a profit.

I dread to think how much the Gwythers blow at Ocado during the course of a year. If we go on at this rate, the company will be in profit within months and you can all fill your boots with the shares and make a killing.

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The media money can’t but

I was listening to a speech by Mark Lund, Chief Exec of the COI.
He was talking about the government cutbacks in COI spending.
This was obviously a challenge.
Mark thought it needed a new approach to media.
What he said might be obvious to marketing people and new-media gurus.
But I’m a creative, and I hadn’t heard it before.
The general drift was as follows.
There are three basic kinds of media.
PAID Media is the stuff you actually pay money for.
TV, press, posters, radio, online, idents, ambient, DM.
Anything we generally refer to when we say ‘media’.
This is what media departments deal in.
For the COI this is obviously where the government cutbacks will have to come.
They’re having their budget slashed so they can’t afford so much PAID media.
Mark said, this meant making a lot more of the two other areas.
The first of these is OWNED media.
That’s any space you’ve got, that you could use without paying for it.
For Ocado it’s their lorries.
For Travel agents and Building Societies it’s their shop windows.
For breweries it’s pub walls, beer glasses, toilets.
For shops it’s carrier bags.
For the COI it could be doctors’ waiting rooms, police stations, job centres, hospital A&Es.
Maybe even government DM that has to go out anyway.
Anything free.
So far all this makes sense.
But it was the third part, EARNED media, that really interested me.
Because I thought this was where the creative dept came in.
But a few days later I discussed this with a COI planner, Penny Hunt.
She disagreed with my interpretation.
She said EARNED media was actually more to do with building a reputation.
The way M&S was always known for quality.
So I looked it up on various media-guru websites.
It seems we do have a different interpretation.
They describe EARNED media as “what people say about you”.
And they give examples as “WOM, buzz, viral”.
Fair enough.
But how do you do that?
Penny thought you did it by enhanced performance and delivery.
Maybe that’s true, but I can’t help there.
I’m in advertising.
So, for me, the answer must be via the advertising.
If we want to cut the cost of your PAID advertising, make sure that whatever advertising we do works much harder.
Make £1 work like £5, then we’ve earned another £4 of advertising.
Don’t simply think of it as share-of-voice.
Think of it as share-of-mind.
If we can get people talking about our advertising, every time they do it’s a free OTS.
Advertising we haven’t PAID for.
We’ve EARNED extra media.
Of course to do that we’ll need advertising that stands out.
Advertising that catches on.
Advertising that break rules.
And that will take nerve.
And that will be uncomfortable.
That was how I interpreted what Mark Lund meant by “The Challenge Of EARNED Media”.
The COI is in charge of all government communications.
Aka Advertising.
They’ve just had their budget cut.
Less advertising.
Why wouldn’t that challenge be about making whatever PAID advertising they can afford work harder?
Years ago we ran an ad with the following paragraph in it.

The most effective form of advertising you can have is word-of-mouth.
Unfortunately you can’t buy space in this medium yet.
At least not with money.
How you can buy it is with advertising that gets noticed and talked about.
The more it gets noticed the more it gets talked about.
The more it gets talked about, the more it gets noticed.
Strangely enough, this advertising doesn’t actually cost any more than the advertising that doesn’t get noticed or talked about.

I may not have got the definition right according to the experts.
But for me that’s EARNED media.

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Editor’s blog: Time for a woman to run the CBI?

Richard Lambert will be a tough act to follow. I think the CBI should go for a woman.

So, Richard Lambert is to stand down as the director-general of the CBi. Lambert has been a thoughtful and intelligent D-G – just what was required as a stark contrast to that rabble-rousing tub-thumper Digby Jones (who had his own merits for the era in which he served). What has been impressive about Lambert is that he is nobody’s man. He says what he believes and has refused to toe the line, even with Peter Mandelson hissing at him.

Leading the CBI is a very important job, even at the best of times. But as we’re not really experiencing the best of times at the moment, getting the right successor is vitally important. The CBI, despite enduring so many brickbats from all directions, really is The Voice Of Business – and business has a vital role to play in the coming years. With the Department of Business Innovation and Skills all over the place, and probably about to suffer a budgetary butchering, the CBI will be in a hugely influential position.

Personally, I think it might be time that a woman ran the show. At times the CBI has been perceived by its knockers as a bit of an old boys’ club. Appointing a woman would be a powerful rebuttal of that. And it seems to have worked for the French, who have a woman in the equivalent role – Laurence Parisot, who we profile in our current edition. I also think it would be a good idea to have an individual in the job who has experience of running an SME. It will be this tranche of UK business that gets us out of the mess in which we find ourselves. Parisot also came from small business: a family furniture company plus a market research outfit. (She also, incidentally performs her role at Medef for nothing – handy in the new Age of Austerity).

Elsewhere in the CBI, Helen Alexander is making way for Stephen Green of HSBC, a truly estimable individual, as the new President. Green is a bloke and corporations don’t get much bigger and grander than HSBC. So let’s find a smaller business woman for the D-G role. Who do you think should receive the head-hunters’ call?

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