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 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.
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 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.
Being rude, crude, un-fact-checked, or even downright offensive had, until recently, been the path to power and influence for those using the media to build a career.
Katie Hopkins was top of the columnist pile, Nigel Farage had Question Time as his own and little Toby Young was appointed by a chum to a government post to stir up the lefties and the oiks.
Only no one reckoned with the fallout from the Trump presidency and the subsequent Weinstein A-Bomb. Suddenly, being a pub bore was no longer a desirable character trait. Twitter would call you out and may not stop until you were fired.
People were pointing. shouting and then laughing. Katie wound up being ditched by LBC and the Daily Mail, Nigel moaned about being skint and Toby was forced to resign.
Even Spiked, the online magazine for economically liberal Tories who used to be communists but now like public schools and dinner parties, has seen its commentators and its manufactured ire largely ignored. They still let them review the papers, which is nice, because they’re nostalgic about the print industry, inky-fingered sons of toil and that young woman that they got off with at the Wapping dispute picket line.
So far, so good, you may say. But what this marks is a change in the way that ideas can and will be communicated. I am not holding out for a return to a fictional golden age of journalism. But things will alter. Thinking of the prevailing decent view and then positing the opposite doesn’t play so well any more. You need to be cleverer than that.
But it is not only journalists who need to beware of potential pitfalls. Those looking to promote and sell need to be aware too. For example, Poundland just about squeaked through with a Marmite-y Elf on the Shelf Twitter campaign over Christmas. But they were derided as much as they were applauded for it.
Similar stunts, humour or even ads will need to walk a fine line between grabbing the attention and grabbing your crotch in a crowded park. The bold and the clever will know. You can be controversial or edgy without being, to put it bluntly, a wanker.
But not everyone knows when they are being a wanker. Hence Toby Young.