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.