Wednesday 19 March 2014

Sell or Else

I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art for, but as a medium of information

That line was written by David Ogilvy, one of the most successful advertising men of all time. After having worked in advertising for many years, I know that Ogilvy chose his words carefully.  Too much advertising is entertaining, clever, confusing or enigmatic rather than focused on the product.  It’s just too easy to think that factual copy is boring, dull or that it won’t engage the reader.  So instead we attempt to entertain, tell stories, be mysterious, or a whole host of things that confuse the reader.

Even in this line Ogilvy is selling.  It’s the first sentence of his book “Ogilvy on Advertising” and it manages to inform, challenge and engage the reader all at the same time.  It is also one of the most fundamental principles in advertising – your time, work, and money is wasted unless your words sell something.  As soon as you open his book you meet the man face to face with his challenge – sell or else!

The challenge that Ogilvy sets is a big one.  To analyse the product or service so completely that the features and benefits are so well understood that the product or service can be clearly explained.  And that the most important benefit engages and enthralls the reader.  Just as Ogilvy’s copy does. 

Here is the man himself: He spoke directly to his audience long before the days of YouTube or Google. 

He would have been pleased to see how many people have viewed his crackly old recording.  And would likely be amazed at how his predictions have turned out to be absolutely true. Actually, he was probably more confident than that.

Now, back to that letter I was writing.  My first sentence needs a little more work, I think …..

Friday 7 March 2014

Do It Now and Get More Done

Is “Do It Now” still a valid time management strategy?  After all, didn’t Adam Smith demonstrate that we could do things faster by doing the same thing over and over, rather than suffering the overhead of switching between tasks?  So is it better to keep on top of expenses day by day, or pile them up to be done at the end of the month?  Should you write a month’s worth of blog posts all together, or day by day as thoughts occur to you?  Indeed, is it better to take a month off to study something important, or try and fit an hour in here and there?

I’ve tried both strategies to a lesser or greater extent, and on balance I come down on the side of Do It Now.  For jobs that take perhaps 15 – 30 minutes, and definitely need to be done, I think it is better to get them done and not let them get transferred from To Do list to To Do list.  When the idea is fresh in your mind, or the task has become apparent, it is extremely efficient to get it done as fast as possible, otherwise it starts to weigh you down day after day.  And the more little tasks can get cleared up, the more mental energy you have for the big things.

The danger is filling the day with “busy work” rather than important work, so timing is important.  I work best in the morning, so I try to do smaller tasks and tidying up jobs in the afternoon.  The key, though, is to keep on top of them so they don’t become a big job.

Another danger is that the job doesn’t really need to be done at all, and if you leave it, it will just go away.  That’s a valid point, I guess, but it leaves out the mental energy that’s needed to keep on top of all those “someday-maybe” jobs.  I think it’s better to make a yes/no decision and either do it or bin it. 

What do you think?  Are you a Do It Now person?

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Teams Outperform Individuals - Sometimes

Tempting though it is to think we can do everything ourselves, in fact our best work gets done with other people. We depend on the skills, experience and knowledge of others to achieve really great work.

Think about scientific breakthroughs like Crick and Watson’s breakthrough with DNA. Think about Wedgwood’s brilliant partnership with Bentley creating the world’s most famous ceramics business. Think about Jobs and Wozniak creating Apple. Although Warren Buffet is the name we recognise as the world’s most successful investor, in fact he has a long-term partner and sounding board – Charlie Monger.  Just yesterday Buffett said that he had lost $873 million with a power utility stock. This was an investment he had made without consulting Monger. Next time, he said, I’ll call Charlie. It seems everyone needs to be part of a team.

Unfortunately, though, it’s not always so easy.  Not all teams are successful. In fact some are spectacularly unsuccessful, and would do better to have people work independently. So what’s the key?

Having complementary skills and experience seems to be a big part of it. With Buffett and Monger, Buffett is the optimist and Monger the pessimist. Between them they cover all bases and make outstanding decisions.

Think about a football team. If you had 11 goalkeepers, or 11 strikers, it wouldn’t be very effective. You need defenders, midfielders, even left and right midfielders, plus strikers and of course goalkeepers. All members of the team have to be proficient in their own right, but also good at working as a team to create goal scoring opportunities. I think the football team is quite a useful analogy in business. We can’t all be strikers. We don’t all have the talent, ability, experience or inclination. But we do all have specific skills that are important within teams.

The key is to understand and appreciate what each person brings to the team, and to ensure their skills are acknowledged and used in the best way.  It’s not always easy, but perhaps a key part of achieving important things.  

What would our businesses be like if we weren’t so obsessed with taking the credit for things? They might be more effective, and a great deal happier.

Monday 17 February 2014

I’m a Secret Lemonade Drinker

Rod Allen was a founding partner of the successful London agency Allen Brady & Marsh and he wrote this memorable ad for R White’s lemonade. It was so effective that it was originally aired in 1973, revived in 1983, and remade in 1991. To turn an ordinary sunny afternoon drink into a guilty pleasure is almost as delicious as lemonade itself. It’s a world where bad mothers swig sherry from mugs, and chocoholics hide their stash for fear of sharing. Allen’s words were as delightfully daft as the tune was irritatingly memorable:
I’m a secret lemonade drinker (R Whites! R Whites!)
I’ve been trying to give up, but it’s been one of those nights (R Whites! R Whites!)
R White’s lemon-a-a-ade, R White’s lemon-a-a-ade
I’m a secret lemonade drinker (R Whites!)
At least three things that make this pure genius:
  • Inversion. Turning an innocent pleasure into a guilty secret is memorable (as well as silly). Allen was a funny man, apparently fond of telling Marsh “I’ll come to your funeral, if you come to mine”.
  • Research. Allen Brady & Marsh analysed market research data to great effect. Their ads were based on the best data their clients could buy. Mike Brady was the analytical part of the trio and no small part of their success.
  • Advertises the brand. Crazy as it sounds; not all advertising does this. The brand name is repeated 7 times in this 30 second ad.
Allen is known for having made brilliant and economical use of words to great commercial effect with slogans such as “This is the age of the train”, “Milk has gotta lotta bottle”, and “That’s the wonder of Woolies”. All were backed by thorough data analysis and research which enabled them to understand their customers.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

No man is an island

Microsoft has announced that Satya Nadella is replacing Steve Ballmer as chief executive. This is good news, not least because we have waited so long to hear it. The share price blipped up 1%, indicative perhaps that this was no great surprise. But Microsoft is such an important player in the software market that all eyes will be on Mr Nadella to see how well he performs.

What’s perhaps most interesting about this announcement, however, is that he will have the assistance of Bill Gates as Technology Advisor. Whilst it’s tempting to believe that the people who make the headlines are largely responsible for success, lessons from Microsoft and many more, show that it is the quality of teamwork that make or break a venture. Microsoft’s earliest days were a partnership between Paul Allen and Bill Gates. Their first operating system, DOS, was bought in rather than developed themselves, despite their obvious enthusiasm for software development. They could have had a crack at doing it themselves, but they smartly chose not to.

Whilst rumours abound about the personalities at Microsoft (both Gates and Ballmer have their critics) it’s hard to escape the fact that this is a story of partnerships as well as passions. Microsoft has certainly contributed to the sum of knowledge for great teamwork, and have massively improved standards within their own software development teams. So they have learnt their fair share about getting the best out of teams.

So will this be an inspired move? Gates has the tenacity and technical depth to be of assistance to any CEO. But he is also said to be abrasive and rude. So can he be a team player , as well as being competitive? The cloud and mobile technologies that Microsoft produce are amongst some of the strongest reasons why teams are more important to businesses than ever before. We now live in a world where relationships can now be as strong across oceans as they are across the table. Which is both empowering, as well as daunting. So I’m going to be watching this one with more than a little interest.