business for good

was the big idea of this year’s Marketing Society conference. It proved an inspirational platform. A great conference theme- credit must go to new CEO Gemma Greaves and her team.

This being an individualistic culture (and age) stories were often told as personal triumphs over fear, especially in extreme sports (a big theme of the conference which I suspect made most of us feel distinctively queasy and meek.)

Bravery is enabled by encouragement

Yet , for me, a sub text kept surfacing: brave people (often) could not have acted without both support and encouragement. (Encouragement literally means being given courage by others)

Syl Saller refused to be drawn into the “I” word and insisted on “we”- on the collective corporate bravery that built by internal champions and consensus builders ( like her)  Extreme Surfer Garrett McNamarra said he could not have recovered from injury and found the monster wave that broke the record without his wife. Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi woman to scale Everest, was initially told “no” by her father, when she announced her climbing ambitions, yet received his blessing shortly after. Hassan Akkad, a refugee from war torn Syria, had bravery forced on him by circumstances and has subsequently received support from (amongst others) The BBC in telling his story. His bravery was the most humbling – causing me to reflect on how very fortunate and selfish we are. 

Bravery as solidarity

Francis O’Grady, general secretary of TUC, framed bravery as sticking up for others rather than individual triumph. TUC as a brand has been stuck with dated associations of the “big men” of trades unionism. They seemed to be in denial about the opportunities of a globalised, technologically driven, individualistic world. That’s why Thatcher set out to weaken them.  Yet that promise has turned sour. Economic growth did not “float all boats” but has resulted in gross inequality. So Francis’s call for solidarity, mutuality is timely. She even suggested that a union for the gig economy should be launched – now that would be “a big idea” and perhaps “a symbol re-evaluation” (in Adam Morgan’s phrase) for TUC      

There was another theme that kept surfacing. Not a new one. A  theme of many a conference of old. But always valuable to companies. It is the stuff that actually builds brands and businesses ( not chasing people round the internet with programmatic ads). It was:-

The power of big ideas.

To galvanise everyone, especially your own people

To make teams braver and more focussed

To inspire designers and agency creatives to do their best work

Here are my three favourites from the day:

NEW YORK TIMES. THE TRUTH IS HARD: a clarion call for investigative journalism in the face of mendacious attacks from Donald Trump.

BABYLON APP. Brilliant new AI powered app that enables more accurate self diagnosis of illness and triages people in the right direction. Sure to be a hit with hypochondriacs everywhere – and (hopefully) save time and labour

Pedigree’s insight that it is the innocence of dogs that breaks down barriers and brings people together. This inspired a great social experiment in getting Trump and Clinton supporters to be nice to be each other.

As for my act of bravery from the day:

I think I am off to join a union and buy a dog



Was the theme exposed and discussed in a new style seminar (called Bad leader) that has been launched by the Marketing Society’ new CEO, Gemma Greaves.

50 or so society members sat in the round in a session moderated by leadership expert and coach Steve Radcliffe. Two people shared stories of being on the receiving of painfully bad leadership. Observations were invited from the floor. And former leaders felt compelled to ‘fess up having been bad leaders. Glasses of wine loosened tongues.

The stats are dispiriting.

In a large survey only 38% of people said that their organisation was well lead. That leaves 62% that are underperforming because they are not getting the best out of their people. The impact of leadership is well attested. Schools, for example, with the similar resources and socio-demographic profiles, can deliver good or bad education depending on the quality of the head teacher. Getting more from the same (or less resources) is the drum beat of our times and particularly of the education debate so there can surely be no more important investment than leadership training.

Behind the bald stats lies much human heartache.

Millions waking up in the morning with a sense of dread after a sleepless night. And worse- bullying, depression and sickness.

Once bright eyed and motivated workers start to think more about how they can leave their organisation than doing a great job. Bad leadership has huge economic and personal costs.

The tragedy of leadership is that we live our lives forwards and learn what we should have done by looking backwards later. Leaders (mostly) get the job first time round by having been great operators and managers, which does not prepare them for how leadership is different. An investment on training and mentorship at the point of promotion can deliver both better performance as well as human flourishing for both leaders and lead.

The seminar gave a taster for the experience of attending a full training session with Steve Radcliffe. There were useful insights on offer such as

-Leaders need to know who their support team is – their sounding board and support

-Leaders need to communicate their vision and (very important this) keep communicating it (even when v busy and under pressure)

-leaders need to create a safe space where the views of others in the company can be heard

-People want consistency – when leaders veer dramatically from one mood or point view to another it can cause confusion and anxiety.

-Leaders need to be able to stand back and evaluate their own behaviour – why are they behaving aggressively or steamrolling their team when they are in “get things done” mode.

Another side to the story was also revealed. Often working for a really bad leader can be the making of you. Observing one in action can make you determined not to repeat his or her errors when you get the top job. It can also force you to re-evaluate what you really want and go for it, get out and start something new. Bad leaders can trigger resilience and determination in their subordinates.

Bad leadership, then, is bad, but can have benign un-intended consequences.




We will be eating a lot of fruit and veg in the next 10 years 

The forces that will make even more of us “demi-veg” (or even vegetarian) are a powerful combination of the personal, environmental and economic.

Plus, anything that Jamie Oliver champions is likely to go mainstream.

“I’m going vegetarian 3 times a week” says Jamie in The Daily Mail. “The celebrity chef said the diet will save people ‘a load of money’ and revealed he personally tries to be vegetarian two or three times a week. He described the experience as ‘an absolute joy’ and encouraged others to enjoy ‘more plant-based delights’ because it is ‘beneficial for the environment and your wallet’- which neatly encapsulates three big force that will make vegetarianism mainstream and roast beef an occasional luxury.

Here is another sign of the times. Even Doc Martins- bulldog British and down to earth- is getting in on the act and going vegan:


I was wandering around looking at the work at D&AD judging week when this one caught my eye. Even Stella Artois – known in certain circles as “wife beater” for bringing “rocket fuel” lager to the general public in the 90s- is getting in on public good branding.




At first sight you think that the brand is getting in touch with its old-fashioned self with the line “Buy a Lady a drink”- Port and Lemon perhaps? Half of bitter Shandy ? A Babysham? But no in fact the brand is supporting clean drinking water in emerging economies…who would have thought it.IMG_4494


Words get stripped of their meaning if used too often.

There is a phrase for this- semantic satiation: a word progressively loses its potency through over repetition. The marketing business positively over flows with such words and phases as Brand, Engagement, Target Audience, Core Values and, my particular bug bear, Content.

The C word is very hot now and turbo charged by all manner digital marketing.

Does this overuse of certain words matter?

I think it does – because we stop thinking about what words mean. They cease to have a personal impact and pass into the territory of important sounding positive buzz words that we can intone in the sure knowledge that we will not be challenged to say exactly what we mean.

Words become something we can hide behind or just a way of a particular group of people signaling that they belong the same professional tribe.

Flatulent language leads to sloppy thinking. So at the risk of farting in church ( as  one Australian Creative Director  put it to me ) I am going to suggest some  alternatives to our most overused words.

Can we ban the Brand word?

Probably not- Brand is written into the valuation of too many companies. Yet Brands are things companies own with famous logos that people can hide behind.

What if we used the word Reputation more often?  Reputation is personal – it is precious thing and can be won or lost depending on how you behave. “Your reputation is at stake” sounds like something I should worry about. “The brand is at stake” sounds like something that other people might worry about.

 Can we ban the Values word?

It is a very high-flown word for an activity, which should be daily and down to earth. Going on about Brand Values is all very well if you are John Lewis or Apple but most companies do not have clear brand values that staff can understand and live up to. What if we used two old fashioned words like civility and decency.  Decency as Orwell said is that “intuitive sense of morality that exists among common people.” It was what we expect and hope for from each other – it’s therefore a guide to behavior that anyone can understand.

Engagement used to be lovely word (as in “engaged to be married”) but now it has been taken over by agencies who are using it a version of “soft selling.” Most people can spot the difference between pretend engagement to make a sale or the real thing.

Real engagement normally starts with listening or empathy because you cannot engage without understanding.  This may lead you to offer advice that is objective, timely and helpful. Or it may lead you to give pleasure and entertainment as a release from the grind of daily life. It may be a genuine act of generosity with no immediate expectation of a return. Most people can spot a bribe -it is a transaction not an engagement.

Which brings me to my pet hate- the C word- Content.

It has never been a good word. It suggests yet more digital detritus being pumped out to an indifferent world.

Would you like more branded content, madam?

No thanks.

What I really want is something that interests me or is relevant to me – like entertainment, rewards, advice, ideas, pleasure, excitement, things worth sharing, the inside track.

But please not more Branded Content.

Now ,It is not easy to replace the C word as it is a portmanteau term without a ready synonym. But it manages to be both bland and flatulent. My modest proposal is that we ban it.

There is a free lunch on offer to anyone who can come up with a better word.

I was asked what they were by Aurora magazine – a Karachi based media and marketing magazine

so here there are

A treasure trove of PowerPoint presentations on all sorts of topics

If you can’t get to the ultra hip SXSW tech conference in Austin Texas with all the other cutting edge digerati, well, you will find the presentations here

The name says it all. It spots trends globally and identifies products and services that are manifestations of these trends. Lots of brain food for marketers looking to ride the emerging cultural waves

Good overview of what is hot and important in all things tech- products, software, services and who is making a mint from the valuation of new digital businesses. I read that hackers claim to have cracked Apple’s new fingerprint security software. It is the kind of stuff that affects and can destroy brand reputation. (subscription)

A huge searchable database of articles and studies about marketing, brands, media and communications covering a range of journals including Admap and Marketer Leader. Also has a good daily highlights email with a global perspective to which you can subscribe for free.


I subscribe to McKinsey Quarterly email alerts, which don’t over load you with articles but highlight key issues, and I have just installed the  new McKinsey Insights app for IPads which is an easy to navigate library of their thought leadership pieces