Monday, 7 December 2009

Is Twitter the secret of life?

I love Twitter - it takes a while to get into it, but I now cannot imagine life with out it. I am a working mother - I am out of the house for long hours and when I'm not at work I try to ring fence my time to commit to my family. I spend a lot of my time 'alone', and by that I mean without Hubby there - he's my best friend and the time we spend together is generally accompanied by a flow of comment, observation and mutually enjoyed sarcasm - we laugh a lot. When he's not there with me, I miss being able to share my witticisms with now I tweet them instead - it's like a purging ritual.

I also use twitter to record the random joy of having a 5 year old and his evolving & maturing comment on life and things in general. The observations of a 5 years old are unique - a cataclysmic naivety married with increasing levels of articulation. Add the fact that he has hearing difficulties and this results in often hilarious misquotes and very random output on an almost hourly basis.

So, in truth, I find Twitter comforting, it's a new buddy that just listens to my ramblings, allows me to delete them later if I slipped into withering comment mode, and importantly, allows me to re-live small but important events in the life of my son and as a family unit. Life moves so fast, it's easy to forget the funny bits, and surely those are the bits that need to be captured in order to live a life of positive thinking, which, by the way, I happen to believe is the secret of life.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Was Woolies brought down by 8 year olds?

I wonder where today’s youth are nicking pick & mix and small pieces of stationery from now that Woolworths has shut? Petty theft is a part of growing up – the acquisition of small-value consequential objects driven by a variety of hormonal, social and (anti) authoritative issues. I can remember lifting a blue and white rubber (eraser, not the other kind) when I was about 8 – a daring, petrifying, adrenaline pumping act of irresistible law-defying insanity. In fact, I effectively doubled my risk the next day by taking it back to Woolies and sneaking it back out of the very sleeve that had previously acted as the getaway vehicle.

Woolworths may have respected this nod to growing up’s rite of passage, in the hope that this relatively small loss leader would instil a lifelong guilt-indexed sense of brand loyalty as those 8 year olds became cash-rich twenty-something’s, and then parents themselves – trekking through life with a deferred payback clause buried deep in their sub-conscience. Quite a risk really, considering this lacklustre attitude towards loss-prevention could have the alternative effect of encouraging lifelong shoplifting habits in generations of mainstream society who got addicted to the adrenaline of theft and as a result didn’t grow out of the 8 year old boundary-pushing mindset.

It’s too late to ask the powers that be at the now defunct Woolworths Board whether this was a strategic business decision or just a failure to secure the long tail of stock-drip. In fact, it would be interesting to know if, with that long tail potentially lasting the entire stretch of Woolies commercial existence, whether this was in fact contributory their eventual demise?!

If so, I’m very glad I took the risk of returning my ill-gotten loot – I wouldn’t want to think I had been a part of the downfall of a High Street great, about whom my Granddad always said; “if you can’t buy it in Woolworths, it’s not worth havin’”.

Friday, 19 June 2009

All change - again!

The Marketing Industry has recently changed in response to the prevailing economic downturn in ways that could not have been envisaged as little as 12 months ago. Two major things have changed – one being the way that work is awarded, briefed and budgeted for by Clients. The other is the nature of that work and the weight of inclusion of different channels. In the same way that the Search arena revolutionised the way that brands approach digital marketing channels 5 years ago, Social Media is currently having a progressively important impact on not just digital channels, but on the whole mix – through the line.
The ATL Vs BTL discussion has been an industry favourite for several years now, but one thing that everyone agrees on is the fact that there will be no line in the future – and once agencies truly embrace this and start to change their models, everyone will benefit, especially Clients.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

When love and skill work together, expect a Masterpiece!

A friend of mine just emailed me this and I just had to post it on - for all those busy cake-lovers out there:


4 tablespoons flour (self raising)
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract and your favourite tipple
1 large coffee mug

Add dry ingredients to your largest mug and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the chocolate chips (if using), vanilla extract and a drop or two of your favourite tipple, then mix again.

Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts (high).
The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed!
Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired.

EAT! (this can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous).

And why is this the most dangerous cake recipe in the world? Because now you are only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night!


Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Dreams that Never Fade

I owned my first Porsche at the age of 5. It was petrol blue with a black interior, about 8 inches long, with all the bits: gearstick, steering wheel, rubber tyres, window wipers. I loved it. Sod the dolls and teddy bears – I took my Porsche everywhere with me. My cousin Richard broke the gearstick off it one day and I can still feel the rage when I think about it – I have never forgotten, and will never forgive him.

I love cars. I inherited this personality trait from my Dad and it’s a passion that has (largely, but not exclusively) prevented me being wealthy for all of my adult life. I’ve gladly squandered thousands of pounds on depreciation, insurance, petrol and dealers commissions over the years. My ownership pedigree reads like a hot-hatch-hot-picks listing: Peugeot 205 Gti (the 1.6 before you ask – I was 18 and £1700 third party insurance was enough of a stretch already), Nova SRi, Nova GSi, Peugeot 106 GTi, Golf GTi Turbo, BMW 316i, 320i, 325i and 330i (FAB car!!) in succession, Astra 2.0 Turbo, and I currently have a MINI Cooper S. My love affair with fast cars knows no bounds, and I have my sights set on an ultimate goal – one day I will own a real Porsche (a 911. However contentious, a Boxter is not a Porsche as far as I am concerned).

I have never even sat in one before – I made a pact with myself in my teenage years that I wouldn’t even sit in a Porsche until I was test driving one for myself. The second clause was that I would never test drive a Porsche until I could genuinely afford to have a Porsche – no finance, and no heart attacks when it came to servicing it.

Who knows if I will in my lifetime take my seat in ‘my’ Porsche (you never know, I might win the Lottery and buy 2!), but it’s a dream that never fades, and that’s a really important thing.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Belonging, in the Community Way.

Much comment has been made in the media in recent years over the loss of community spirit; real-life community spirit anyway – online communities being the physical antithesis. I have to say that I have largely concurred, having taken the journey myself from an active social and community lifestyle to an increasingly online existence; driven by convenience, increasingly complex time demands as my son gets older, and if I’m honest, laziness.

In many ways, I have a lot more day-to-day contact with my immediate circle of friends than would be possible if I didn’t maintain an online presence, and I’m ashamed to say the receipt of a handwritten letter from a couple we met on holiday in February was a delightful novelty, a nod to times gone by, and I’m even more ashamed to say that I didn’t ‘hand’ write back – I emailed (having resisted the temptation to text!). Indeed, my own Mum even texts me now instead of picking up the phone and speaking to me.

However, this last weekend, I had a large injection of community involvement that I am still smiling about. I live in a town called Rickmansworth – it’s towards the north end of the Metropolitan Line, near Junction 18 of the great car park that is the M25. It’s affectionately nicknamed ‘Ricky’ to its residents. Every year, we have Ricky Week – a community initiative that runs all week and involves Parades, Fairs, Victorian evenings and events that drive people together to have fun.

My son’s School took part in the Parade on Saturday afternoon, and their chosen Theme was ‘America’. My husband and I were designated stewards for the school and paid a nod to the Theme with Mickey Mouse T-Shirts and other paraphernalia, and our Son was decked out in a full Captain America Outfit (including Shield ;-). I’ve never actually taken part in anything like this before, having always shied away from any form of exhibitionism, but that says everything about the things you do for your kids!

I loved every step.

Every step, down the High Street in a big Loop – in the leading parade group, 5 steps behind Captain America who looked round frequently for reassurance that Mum was on hand, if not hand-in-hand. Followed by several hundred other Ricky Resident Groups in the sunshine; Brownies, Sea Scouts, several School, Dance and Am-Dram groups, all dolled up to the nine’s to their chosen Theme, and laughing, dancing, horn blowing, waving their hearts out. The High Street was 5 or 6 people deep in spectators, waving flags, pointing out comical or impressively-decked Parader’s and taking photos.

For that 45 minutes or so, We all belonged; I belonged; The Community belonged; Captain America belonged.

Monday, 11 May 2009

What does the future hold for Recruiters?

Recruitment Agencies have had it good in recent years – the Marketing Comms Industry (particularly digital) needs good talent on a large scale, and is notoriously bad at retaining it, resulting in a constant churn upon which a whole off-shoot recruiter business has thrived. This frantic talent exchange has made many people a lot of money in a short space of time and seen certain recruitment agencies achieve faster growth than the creative agencies they are servicing. It has been a dream environment that has seen the best Recruiters prosper, but also allowed those with ‘less-than best practise’ to survive on the pickings...I’ve seen it all over the past 4 years – as have all agency side recruiting managers, and I have only survived intact by holding a firm and fair line with what I am willing to accept in terms of supplier behaviour – they then need to fight amongst themselves when it comes to who-owns-which candidate, and who submitted the CV ‘first’.

I sometimes wish the candidates realised the world into which they are offering themselves up as currency when they submit their CV to a job posted in any of the industry magazines/portals. But it’s probably best they don’t know, as it would not be of the benefit of anyone, so best left alone. However, being positioned as I am, one exception to this is I wish they understood the financial implications of their own career decisions – if they decide to take another offer that came in just after that one that they ‘accepted’ it can cost the ‘soon-to-be-let-down-at-the-last-minute-agency’ many thousands of pounds, as their ‘acceptance’, however temporary, can instigate the first contractual payment to the recruiter who placed them there – this can be for anything up to 25% of the annual salary for the role if the hiring agency hasn’t properly reviewed and negotiated the recruiters T&C’s. But I digress....

So, the Recruitment Agents – they have been affected badly by the current economic conditions – the larger of them are laying off staff and the smaller agencies are either thriving on their more flexible approach to client relationships and willingness to renegotiate terms, or they are at risk of soon becoming obsolete. Those that have failed to respond to the times will flounder, as will those who survived on bad practise and underhand tactics – the recruiting managers just won’t stand for the arrogance and intimidatory approach that would previously have been swallowed in order to secure the ‘exclusive’ candidate at whatever cost.

We will see the Client Agencies continue to innovate and seek new ways to secure talent for their teams; for many agencies, once they do the due diligence on their bottom lines covering recent years, they will have highlighted the money spent on recruitment agent commissions with a big red marker – for most it will be one of the biggest outlays after salaries and rent. For these Agencies, with a more stable market such as now, it’s time to invest in thinking of ways to complete talent transactions without using a middleman. As the creative agencies start to use the skills they sell to their own clients (such as Online Communication and Content Management tools) to their own benefit and open up the paths for talent to apply to them directly, the culture of moving jobs will gradually change. Networking and referral initiatives have also been given accessible platforms such as LinkedIN, which will continue to be a major channel for opening up relevant conversations.

Of course, it’s not possible to rely on these channels alone – there will always be a very real need for agents for certain roles (particularly Senior hires) and in certain sectors, but for mainstream hires the table is turning – the power increasingly now sits with the employer – not the employee, or the employees representative.

So – what’s the future? The best recruiters will increasingly look to become specialist talent partners, and if done successfully will float to the top and do well – feeding off a new wave of Client-lead Talent Strategies that require their expertise and network to fulfil. There will be much closer relationships to be built and cherished – not just sending an obviously mass email to random contacts with a poor souls CV attached for all to scan and delete just because the agents approach was disrespectful and uninvited. It follows that those Recruiters who have mismanaged their relationships in the past will find it difficult to move forwards, and those that mistreated yesterdays candidate will fall foul to that same candidates rise to becoming tomorrows client.

Recruiters need to take a step back and realise that they need to start working in a way that mirrors the Clients they are servicing – good, robust client relationship management, flexibility, and realistic terms and conditions that aren’t unfairly weighted in their favour. They need to be part of the conversation and add value at all stages, and most importantly they need to invest time in truly learning about their Clients business, culture and idiosyncrasies, and matching them carefully with their candidates before even submitting them. They all say they do that already, but many of them really don’t and it shows.

They also need to push their hiring Clients to give them proper briefs and to include them in conversations earlier. A good recruiter can help solve complex team skills gaps & challenges and bring new ideas and options to the table, which can add proper value to an organisation.

There is an elephant in the room here, as ever – the Trust Issue. For Clients to engage with a Recruiter at the level that they need to make this work, trust needs to already exist. So in summary, this is at the heart of who will flourish and who will fall by the wayside, and for many it’s too late – trust is largely built over time already served, and is nigh-on impossible to rebuild if it has been compromised. The rogue recruiters will be exposed and their bad-practises of the past will ultimately be their downfall – for the benefit of all.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Me and My Comedy Ears.

Anyone who has actually met me will (probably) know that I have what are lovingly referred to as ‘comedy ears’. That’s not in the sense of physical appearance, but more the effects of having lifelong Otosclerosis that is irreversible and results in me being rather deaf. People tend to react with concern at this revelation, but I can assure you that it has been the catalyst for a peaceful life, and many, many funny situations where I have gloriously misheard a question or statement and given a wildly disconnected answer or comment in return. One example of this was when working as a production manager in my mid 20’s, producing an ad for a title that I had heard as the ‘Budgie House Tales’. I had to call the contact at the publication to confirm a point of detail and was tackled by an clipped-accented lady who veritably snorted with derision and corrected me; “My Dear – it’s the Burghley Horse Trials”.

It was around that time that I conceded to hearing aids at work, and the world was suddenly a more serious place.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Fake Louis Vuitton Bags and Memories of New York

I saw someone on the tube this morning with a fake Louis Vuitton handbag and it reminded me of my first day working in New York. It was early on a beautiful October morning, and as I was walking from the Red line to the office in Greenwich Street, right in the heart of the meatpacking district, a similar bag was launched through the air a block ahead and landed by the kerbside.

That kerbside happened to be directly outside my office block, and as I approached and turned the corner of the block, the owner of the bag was rolling around in the middle of the road scrapping with another lady in a full-on catfight. Both had each other’s hair grasped tightly in their fist and it was a rolling mass of fishnet tights, stilettos and leather miniskirts, set to a sound track of screeching.

I looked on in amazement as I crept past, and into my building – going up in the lift to the second floor. From there, I stood in the window and watched as the fight wore on until one of them disengaged, grabbed her bag from the kerb and ran off towards Chelsea Market, leaving the other sat forlornly in the road with blood dripping from 3 deep nail scratches on her cheek.

I hadn’t realised that the Red Light district covered that part of town, and seeing what I could only assume were 2 ladies of the night fighting over territories was not the way I’d ever dreamt my New York experience would start.

I turned to my new colleague who had been stood watching me, watching them, in amusement.

“Wow”, I said, “that’s a first – 2 women fighting in the street in full daylight!”

To which my colleague chuckled and as she walked away said “Actually, they weren’t women, they were transvestites.... Welcome to New York”.

Saving the Digital Marketing Industry

Few can argue with the fact that these economic times force you into making decisions that go against your natural behaviour – where head wins the fight over heart (which generally goes against the DNA of most creative agency decision-makers), and this is never truer than in the context of the people who work in your agency. The most difficult decision any agency head has to make is whether to make redundancies in order to secure the future of the business, and this is an experience that the vast majority of business leaders and owners have been forced to at least review over the past months as forecasting abilities are compromised due to visibility decreasing to nail-biting levels.

These conditions tend to dictate that you focus your investment on more experienced team members – in Account and Project Management for example, an experienced Senior PM will deliver more to the bottom line than a junior or even a mid-weight. This not only starves the talent pool of senior PM candidates, but it also heaps sometimes intolerable pressure on them day-to-day whilst agencies push their workloads up and up in order to manage a non-decreasing revenue stream with a decreasing headcount, relying on that extra experience to pick up the slack – we should expect to see an increasing departure of Senior PM’s from the Industry over the coming months as a result. However, this is not unique to the service skills – it impacts the product specialists in creative, tech and design disciplines too, for much the same reason.

This focus on investment in ‘already senior’ staff has the effect of cutting off the future-proofing investment in junior and mid-weight levels – those with 0-3 years experience being the most vulnerable. This is a short-term effect that will have long-term repercussions – in 2-3 years time, the industry will be forced to adapt to a severe lack of seniority, as the seniors continue to move onwards, upwards or outwards, their natural successors will be absent.

This presents an interesting dilemma – in an attempt to secure the short-to-mid-term health of the business, it is sacrificing the long-term continuum of experience. It’s a vicious circle, that could have far-reaching effects on the ability of the Industry to realise its own potential. So what to do? We have an overriding responsibility to protect the business from these unpredictable economic conditions, at the same time as needing to ensure that the business does not starve in the future as a result. It’s like climbing up the palm tree to escape the flood, whilst slowly dehydrating the longer you are up there – at what point to you decide it’s safe to swim for it, and in what direction?

The industry really needs to work together to prevent its own dehydration of talent, but the past passion for vying against each other for talent makes this a hopelessly idealistic notion.

There is another risk related to this that will also threaten this longer term continuum – the past 3 years have nurtured a culture of job-hopping that is going to come back to haunt the Industry. It’s considered the norm to stick in a job for just a year and then move for a pay rise, with no regard for the investment that the incumbent agency has made in their development – the Agencies who are committing to the graduate intakes are not getting to benefit from the seniority that they have invested to nurture, they are merely incubators, who, with the inability to match inflated salaries offered by the smaller agencies with lower overheads, then see their investment fly the nest without a bye or leave. This has enabled comparatively junior people to realise senior salaries and titles in half the time that it would have taken in an offline agency as little as 5 or 6 years ago. We are seeing GADs with 4 or 5 years of total career experience where it would have taken 10 years to reach that position in an ATL Agency. The fact is, as a rule (obviously there are uber-talented exceptions), it takes 10 years to become a true GAD (online or offline) – because it takes 10 years to gain the experience to manage a Senior Client relationship – the part of the industry, above/below/through-the-line/digital, you exist in is irrelevant. The levels of candidate expectation have risen to an unsustainable level and the industry risks collapsing in on itself as a result.

This all sounds like scary stuff, and I think it’s about time we took a bit more collective responsibility for the health of the Industry; innovation isn’t just about technology, it’s about finding new ways to do things - and it’s imperative that we harness this to keep the paths to, and through, the Industry open. Everyone has a part to play – from entry level stars respecting the investment their agencies are making in them and showing some loyalty, right up to the Business Leaders who need to focus a little bit more on the state of the market in 3 years time when they are deciding where to heap the pressure in the short term, and also to commit to continuing to invest, train and develop at all levels.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Reality TV and Me.

I am at a stage in life where I am comfortable with admitting that I really do love reality TV – something that peer pressure generally dictates you should hate. This is in the same way that I am also comfortable with admitting that I hate the Wizard of Oz, Baked Beans, and Ice-skating: things that social peer pressure genrally dictates you should love.

In real life, I am completely disinterested in school-gate gossip, other people’s misfortune, physical confrontations, formal events such as Christenings and anything else I can’t wear jeans to. However, this disinterest turns on its head as soon as the elements are ‘virtually’ viewed: there’s nothing I love more than a fly-on-the-wall view of a genuine argument or fight – I love ‘You’ve Been Framed’, ‘Come Dine with Me’, and was genuinely disappointed when ‘Kirsty’s Home Videos’ stopped production.

I am no longer a Big Brother fan, but I was completely hooked in its first couple of seasons – when it was all still real; cast with real characters without the underlying celebrity connotations and overacting. I still get hooked when a genuine reality show comes on – as long as it’s fresh and not over-worked or contrived – I am fascinated by gaining insight into other people’s lives, but anonymously, secretly, indulgently. There will be many psychological suggestions that I use it as a crutch to support the belief that my life is comparatively in control; Compared to the people in these shows, it validates that I have a happy family life, a good job, my son is well behaved, we eat healthily, I’m not depressed/neurotic/unhinged/a stalker.

It’s reality-comparing in bite-sized chunks, that you can reject if you see something that you don’t want to engage with.

It is for these very same reasons that I love Social Networks – I am virtually addicted to LinkedIN, Twitter, Facebook – all for slightly different, but fundamentally the same reasons as my fascination with Reality TV – Virtual insight into other, REAL people’s lives; their jobs, their friends and their day to day musings – all of which I can reject at the click of a mouse if the insight doesn’t fit with my needs. I can have as much or as little interaction with these networks as I need in order to ensure my own needs feel met – if I’m feeling in need of social support I can reach out to one of my girlfriends over Facebook; if I need professional advice or referral I have a completely separate set of connections on LinkedIN, and Twitter enables me to follow randomly interesting people for as long as my intrigue lasts – then I can un-follow them and select another.

I had always refrained from blogging until Twitter came along – my previous attempts at publishing blog posts folded under the pressure of perceived expectations : Why would anyone read it?, Would they think I was boring? Isn’t it all a big intrusion? But maybe it’s all part of my place in my life’s journey – in the same way I can admit to my hate of Ice-Skating, Baked Beans, Horses...maybe now I am comfortable enough with myself to not worry about whether people agree with what I’m twittering about – in the knowledge that they can just un-follow if they find me an insufferable bore. It’s the final piece of the jigsaw – I can talk to people without opening my mouth, and without needing them sat next to me – I can have the best of both worlds – seclusion and interaction – all on-demand.

My Twitter experience has now lead me back to full-on blogging - thus the manifestation of ThinkerActivity...

Ultimately though, as a person who has an almost insatiable appetite for knowledge: it’s all a learning experience – ambiently absorbing thoughts, conversations and bits of information without having to find the time in my busy, and finely routined life to specifically set aside for it.
Sad? Maybe. Embarrassed? Never.