Speaking as a weirdo and misfit with odd skills…

The big news story of the last 24-hours – seemingly overshadowing the kick-off of World War III and Australia burning to the ground – is the fact that Dominic Cummings is looking to hire some new staff for No.10.

The job ad (if you can call it that) is a doozy. It pretty much slags off the civil service and paints Cummings himself as a maverick outsider running a start-up. It’s surprising that he doesn’t mention a list of nearby vegan pop-ups or the in-house table tennis league. And, naturally, people have picked up on the overworking culture that it subscribes to.

But what grabbed me was the line saying that he was looking for ‘weirdo and misfits with odd skills’. That is me. That unique combination of, erm, stuff is exactly what many clients hire me for and keep coming back for. I do something that their employees or (in the case of CEOS I work with) they cannot do.

The paragraph that describes these ‘weirdos’ goes thus: ‘We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole, weirdos from William Gibson novels like that girl hired by Bigend as a brand ‘diviner’ who feels sick at the sight of Tommy Hilfiger or that Chinese-Cuban free runner from a crime family hired by the KGB. If you want to figure out what characters around Putin might do, or how international criminal gangs might exploit holes in our border security, you don’t want more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties with TV producers and spread fake news about fake news.’ .

Quite rightly, this has been laughed at on social media and in traditional media A LOT. But my two-penneth is simply that none of these people would want a job working for Dominic Cummings. Even Dominic Cummings wouldn’t want to work for Dominic Cummings.

That said, they are unlikely to want a job working for anybody. Us weirdos worked our way out of hellholes and feel sick at Tommy pants because we are weirdos and misfits who don’t want to answer to some loon who wants you to work start-up hours in a going concern for no stock. Although, to be honest, even the stock wouldn’t be a draw. This is why we become writer-artist-consultant-ideas wranglers. My own limit for being in an office is one season. Your mileage may vary.

I have to constantly remind open-mouthed recruitment consultants that I don’t want to be head-hunted thank you very much. I am happy skulking, taking the morning off or laughing at Dominic Cummings on social media.

I shan’t be sending my CV.

Phone a friend

It’s not often you meet a professional writer with writer’s block. At least not one that still needs to pay the bills through their work. But there is no denying that writers do sometimes get stuck, chewing the tops of their pens to a ruinous state as they ponder where to go next. Never lend a copywriter your pencil. You won’t want it back.

Everyone deals with this problem in their own way, but I find that a walk around the block or a bath (if I’m working from home – it tends to be awkward in a client’s office) sorts me out. But there is another solution that I always recommend to writers who are firmly and wholly stuck.

In our WhatsApp, SnapChat, Messenger, Telegram, Trello, Slack and email world it is a radical and an unusual idea. It is making a call. Speaking into your phone to another human being. You may have tried it. If you haven’t, then give it a go. Just be sure to call someone involved with the project, preferably the client or someone linked to the client, rather than your mum or your hairdresser.

There are two reasons that making a call can help with your writing. Firstly, you are using a different part of the brain than that which you use to think about what to write. This means the thinking part is freed up and relaxed. It’s the same theory as counting sheep or making lists when you cannot sleep.

The second reason that making a call offers is new information. Ask pertinent or even tangential questions. ‘What do you want from this?’. ‘What is the pay off for you?’. ‘What did you like most/least about the last job?’. It could be about the focus for the coming year, the new product coming down the line or how the client wishes to be seen. Things that didn’t make it into the briefing or the meeting.

Your interaction can also inspire the client or someone at the client’s office to let go, reveal more, or even have a new idea that helps. Business relationships can sometimes be seen as a kind of contest between the person giving the brief and the person delivering the goods. Talking can help to break this down and make the project seem more collaborative (without them doing your job for you).

So, when your brain is stuck, then use your £750 phone to make a call. It’s either that or spend the next four hours playing 2048, Pacman or that one with the farm.

Stupid is as stupid does

That both Tory and Labour parliamentary candidates have had to step down due to shocking opinions should come as no surprise. Both candidates had expressed highly-offensive views, which could have easily been checked up on. But no-one did. This happens more and more.

No one thought that was their job to check. No one wanted to spend any time or money checking. Cue maximum embarrassment all round. A short hostile candidate interview (of the type I offer – insert sales copy here) could have spotted any tell-tale signs. A quick search could have confirmed any suspicions.

Those who spend a little cash on competent researchers can always dig up some useful dirt on their rival candidate, or enough on their own to dump them or get hitting the delete key, fast. Accompany this with tough interviews and dissection of opinions and ideas and you should have most bases covered (until those unguarded microphone left on moments). It should be a simple precaution.

Naturally, the always-offensive Brexit Party had to go one better and have a candidate quit because she came from Sirius and was convinced that the government was conspiring with aliens. Obviously, some offensive racist or sexist remarks are par for the course there and unlikely to result in a sacking.

Do get in touch if you need help with candidate research, hostile interview or even campaign ideas. Better to ask than be stupid! iain@thisidea.co.uk

Tell us a story

Tell us a story

LinkedIn, Twitter and CV sites are jam-packed with ‘storytellers’. Corporate storytellers, even. But so many of these claims at being able to weave a cohesive narrative fall short.

Storytelling is not simply about going from A-to-B in a perfunctory manner. If that were the case, then novels would be rather thin, and films would all be over by the time you’d swallowed your first mouthful of popcorn.

It may be a useful way to work on User Experience (UX), but it won’t keep readers engaged when not simply performing tasks. Storytelling is all about beginning, middle and end, whether that is headline, tag line, call-to-action, or set-up, biography and denouement.

A good storyteller knows what the story is (not as simple as it sounds), how to order it and how to turn that order on its head when needs be. Anyone can write a shopping list, it takes a special skill to make someone else want to read it. This is where the storyteller comes into their own. Weaving a narrative, making that story sparkle and drawing the reader in. Storytelling is not about listicles, bullet points or SEO, it is about feeling.

Let me take you back to your first experience of stories. When your parents (or maybe your nanny, if you were a bit posh) read them to you. You didn’t know what a narrative was, couldn’t care less about story arc and weren’t even that bothered about the jacket or illustrations. What you cared about was how that story made YOU feel. This is why you had your parents read the same story to you again and again, and went back to the same books again and again once you were old enough to read them yourself.

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All of this was down to a good story and a good telling of it – by the writer, not your parents. Even The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a thrill ride for an infant. You don’t get bored when the caterpillars has eaten a few plums, you want to know just what the hell happens at the end. The best copy does the same job, just as the best journalism and novels do.

So, here is my final plea. Please don’t add ‘storyteller’ to your CV unless you can indeed spin a yarn, tell a tale or at least take a shaggy dog for a walk around the block. And they all lived happily ever after. THE END.

Jumping the shark with a terrier

The launch of Huddersfield Town’s new football kit has been causing something of a stir on social media, inevitably leading to coverage in the actual media. The outrage is coming from Terriers fans and fans of other clubs alike, mostly lambasting the club for defiling the kit with a huge Paddy Power sash, which has been compared to a beauty show sash or hen party accessory.

At first, I thought the kit launch was a stunt. But now I am not so sure. Yes, the club’s launch page does not show a clear picture of an actual physical shirt with the oversized advertising sash. But then I considered the fact that no club management structure or even the most naive of internal marketing teams would see trolling their own fans. The kit even features on the banner at the top of the club’s official website. This is not just a Twitter wind-up thought up in five minutes.

Betting firm Paddy Power would be more than happy to execute such a wind-up, but even they (or club management) must realise that such a campaign would amount to an advertising campaign for them and not for the club in question. Add to this the sensitivities about gambling in and around sport at the moment and you have something of a mess. After all, when drawing so much attention to the deal with a betting company, both club and sponsor should not forget the fate of Bolton’s short-lived shirt deal with a payday loan company.

Whatever this design is – wind-up or cock-up – neither side comes out of it well. Either Huddersfield Town have taken the piss out of their fans by allowing Paddy Power to use them for a PR stunt in which they gain nothing, or they have allowed a disastrous shirt design out there. Possibly one that even breaches league rules.

The truth of the campaign will obviously come out in the next 24 hours, but this may well be the point where the famously disruptive betting brand has jumped the shark. Their brand is increasingly one that people groan at (for their gags or their impact on communities) and it is alienating fans when it should be cosying up to them. The class clown is only funny for so long when he keeps telling the same joke and telling everyone how funny it is.

Dog bites shark? Just maybe.