Category: Category:Ideas - page 2

Why I don’t work for betting companies

Ray winstone head

I wrote this post about betting way back in the summer and thought it sounded somewhat self-indulgent. But, as sometimes happens, my heart needed to allow time for my brain (and perhaps mass opinion) to catch up. So, here it is. Why I am eschewing one of the more lucrative markets for writers nowadays. I have now edited it to detail some of my work with those in debt and those who have gambling problems.

I like a bet. Although I have been doing it less of late.

There used to be a betting booth near my seat at White Hart Lane, and I would throw away whatever change I had – usually around £2 – on some unlikely outcome, like a full back scoring the first goal, or a 5-0 win. Very occasionally I would have a big win. I more or less broke even over the season. And if I didn’t, it didn’t matter. It was entertainment. I didn’t need to win. £2 was less than a Coke in the stadium. Certainly less than the coke that the dads on day release were doing in the loos.

Anyway, since Spurs have been playing at Wembley, I hardly bet any more. I don’t miss it. But I am not deliberately avoiding it. Sometimes the full backs score. Sometimes Serge Aurier even manages to take a throw-in properly.

Now, in the world of content, social media, copywriting and any other form of the written word that pays nowadays, the betting companies are the big payers. They sponsor the games, the teams, the media. They have Ray Winstone in a cage and make his enlarged head perform for them at half-time, imploring you to chuck a fiver on how many corners West Ham will get. The beautiful game.

But now I’m not taking that cash.

When the fun stops, stop, Chris Kamara tells us. But, for some, the fun never starts. The troubles of footballers and betting is well-documented. For some, the thousands they earn is barely enough to keep up with the bookies’ bills. They’re chasing their losses with wages earned chasing lost causes at the Riverside or Craven Cottage.

For those who don’t have the income of a small former-Soviet state, the problems are even worse. For them, the gambling represents both addiction and escape. The endorphin rush accompanied by the dream of a new winter coat, ticket for the match or the kids’ shoes. The lottery you can win, every day. Only you don’t.

Living in Newham, I have seen the Fixed Odds Betting Terminal (FOBT) fallout up close and personal. The borough has over 80 high street bookmakers, most of which contain a FOBT or two, on which punters can throw away £100 a spin on games that are fixed against them. The dream is that they can beat the odds and the system. But you can’t beat a machine that is programmed to make you lose.

Is it class war? Maybe not. But it’s not benign. Bullets are being fired. Some of them hit.

Newham Council has been waging a campaign against the terminals (albeit a council who let this happen and championed a super casino in the borough), and this is perhaps the one thing I agreed with recently-ousted Mayor Sir Robin Wales on.

The betting authorities and betting companies seem to be either unable or unwilling to tackle the problems caused by FOBTs. They can stop any time they like. The betting companies that is. Some of the punters don’t have that choice.

That misery makes money. So, working class men (and it is always men I see) in Newham will keep throwing away money they cannot afford to keep the shareholders happy as they make their own lives more miserable.

So, I’m not taking that money. I know where it has come from. Sure, it’s not all of it. Some of it was even mine. Paid in at £2 a fortnight at White Hart Lane. But I can’t be a part of encouraging it. Just like I (cue Don Draper voice) don’t work for cigarette companies. Gambling ads can be funny and innovative. Their website copy, too. Just the kind of thing I like to get my teeth into. But no.

Sure, I have my fingers in dirty pies, from the media conglomerates and investment funds that have owned the publishers I have worked with and the newspapers funded by who knows what. I’ve worked for property developers, airlines and banks. I’d probably be working in a public-facing role in any of those if I hadn’t discovered I can write. Working class lad, no media contacts. I made my own path and take a living where I can.

Since I started to write this I have found myself working more and more with those in debt. I wrote the website for the Debt Hacker campaign, interviewing people like Danny, who had his early life ruined by betting. But that all led to helping people claim back money on over £2.6m-worth of payday loans. Far better work than encouraging people to bet on Huddersfield drawing a blank or Neil Warnock being a pillock (actually, I don’t know if you can get odds on that).

Others have already started to take action. Much-respected football magazine When Saturday Comes has dropped gambling ads from their publication. There are also proposals from within the industry to initiate a ban on betting ads during the games on TV. It is a small help. But it is a help. Sure, it won’t stop those who are happy to gamble on animations of Canadian third division games at 3am. But it is a step in the right direction.


Just because they’re big ideas…

ligh builbs

Part of having ideas for a living is rejecting what can initially seem like good ones. Maybe even the best ideas.

That may sound hard, but it’s not. You’ve already had five others that morning and, even though this initially seemed like the best one, you can just let it go. But not everyone can work like this. Those who struggle with ideas can see any idea as a sunk cost. They’ve struggled with it, agonised over it and obsessed about it. They’ve decided that a fast food truck selling hot apples will really fly and no one can persuade them otherwise now. Well, maybe their bank manager.

Sometimes, these ideas have genuine legs. They can run. But only so far. But that same, mistaken concept of sunk cost – whether it be financial or emotional – still applies. People find it hard to let go, whether it be Brexit or the London Garden Bridge. They’ve put their money, soul and whole belief system into it, so much that it now identifies them. To walk away would be to admit huge personal failure. It would be humiliating.

To this end, it makes sense to hire external agents to have ideas for your company. They can quickly learn about your business, look at it without emotion and assess the lie of the land internally or globally. You get fresh ideas with fresh eyes. And no one is going to scream if you kill their babies. You don’t have to worry about valuing Paul from the ad department’s views over Mary from the board room or Raj from despatch. You’ve paid for these ideas and you will use them.

Apart from the ones you abandon, of course.

Content is everywhere, so why the **** is it not in your window?

restaurant window
Content should always be tailored to the business. It is your voice in the outside world.

An important part of that content is, naturally, sales content. It is the nub of all business. You want to sell, whether that is your new gadget, a fruit juice or charity.

This is why I am also so surprised when businesses fail to do this in the real world and the virtual world. I’m looking at you food and drinks businesses. And I am particularly thinking of restaurants and cafés.

Yes, this is a particular bugbear of mine.

If you are Starbucks or Costa, you probably don’t need to put an extensive menu on your window. We know that you sell coffee, cakes and the odd sandwich. There is probably something for everyone. That is why people go there. It is safe. So you can just advertise your latest oat milk latte offer and be done with it.

But when you run a small food business – whether that is a sandwich shop, hipster vegan street food joint or fine-dining restaurant – there is never any excuse to not offer at least a rudimentary menu in the window. It is the most simple (and often most effective) piece of marketing, and one that is so often missing.

If I look at your sign then it may give me an idea of what sort of food you offer. But I can’t tell what you have and how much it costs from that. Can I grab a pasty? Do you do vegetarian options? Can I get lunch and a Coke for under £10 (or ’10’ if you’re the hipster restaurant). Are you doing a Sunday roast? Do you have a decent salad? Do you serve alcohol? Is it BYO?

But everyone is online now, right? People can check on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and your own website. In my experience, this can be even worse.

Businesses who spend a great deal of time on Facebook or Instagram are often the worst culprits when it comes to not utilising the real estate of their window. And they are often the same on social media. I have lost count the number of times I have seen a great looking place online, only to have to visit Yelp or Zomato to find out what is actually on offer.

Yes, these people who hire content and social media managers miss the most important content opportunity of all. Sure, your window doesn’t count towards your search visibility or your SEO status. But all the while it is empty I will keep on walking by.

All the Presidents men & how Corbyn gets PR at last

presidents club logo

I have never been much of a Jeremy Corbyn fan.

Perhaps it was the years spent with him as my MP when I lived in Finsbury Park. Maybe it is his support of Arsenal. But his lack of a team that could think more than one move ahead was also something that worried me.

In the early days of his leadership we saw him miss open goal after open goal. His team seemed bereft of ideas and lacking in any kind of strategy. They still often do when it comes to Brexit.

But the new debate surrounding Corbyn’s sacking of Lord Mendelsohn shows that some advanced media thinking is now going into decisions. On the face of it this may look like a Politically Correct move to distance his front bench from the sleazy party and its fallout. But what it does to to keep the story alive, move it on and draw the focus to the political.

Nadhim Zahawi has already been rebuked by the Prime Minister for attending (and making his excuses and leaving early). But this (apparently agreed) sacking from the front bench sets a moral high ground and threatens to leave the Prime Minister with no option but to bow to pressure to sack Zahawi.

This is the chess of politics that observers most enjoy, and which the very best ideas and PR people put into everything that they do.

As accusations, counter-claims of over-zealousness and uncharted territory for men who enjoy sexism on their night out mix into a heady brew, it remains to be seen whether Zahawi can make it to the finishing line of the weekend. After all, that is the relatively safe space for politicians, where sport takes over the news agenda. At least until Sunday’s Marr Show.


Me too, him too, her too. Yawn.

me too copying

Me too is a reflex. And you know what? It works. For a while at least. After all, the zeitgeist is where it is at. It is also relatively inexpensive, as it doesn’t involve a whole lot of thinking.

When it comes to marketing, PR and advertising, me too can work like a charm. Just photocopy someone else’s ideas and ride their wave.

But me too has a limited shelf-life and hinges on what is now a very limited attention span. Whilst it is true that you may be able to get that YouTube star on the cheap just as she hits the big time (and before she reveals herself as a transphobic racist Twitter bin fire), you have to get the timing just right.

When me too becomes everyone too then you are throwing your money away.

After all, a penguin will hold your attention magnificently well, as will two. But when all you see is penguins then you are going to get excited when you see a tiger. Especially if it eats the penguins. [Would they do that?]

What was seen as current, daring and exciting can become seen as clichéd, overdone and boring. Even spins or parodies on a popular theme can become staid and boring. If people groan when they see your marketing then you are getting it wrong, and that applies to celebrity endorsements and creative styles too.

Think about cutting edge political commentator celebrities from 2015. Would you want them plugging your product, campaign or ideas now? They may still have reach, but they are not going to amplify much (with a few exceptions).

Another thing to remember is that zeitgeist is seldom universal nowadays. Yes, the water cooler is still in existence (despite what some may tell you). But what is considered current for millennials is not always going down well with the baby boomers, and vice-versa. In fact, once a current trend becomes even vaguely common knowledge among boomers then you can consider it done. Move on. Sit and think. Sometimes original ideas are best. You may even get someone riding YOUR wave.