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Friday, 3 February 2012

More British Gas lunacy. Also: False Gods and Groucho Marx: why I laugh at the idea that this marketing leader is a good guide for you or me

Yesterday I spent an insane hour (for the second day running) talking to four different departments at British Gas.

They had broken into my home to install an electricity meter because I hadn't paid a bill they hadn't sent. They had the gall to try and charge me for their ineptitude. I felt sorry for all the poor folk who have to talk to aggrieved souls like me. But not for the overpaid people who run the business.

The person I would most like to see run over by a bus is whoever commissioned and approved the answer-phone messages I spent most of time listening to during this ordeal by gross incompetence.

If you are trying to sort out some phantasmagorical cock-up it is no joy to listen to some patronising out-of-work actress lying to you about how wonderful their service and prices are. Eventually when some buffoon asked me for my details I lost my patience.

Talking of which, while all this was going on I was emailed an invitation to a big Internet Marketing event.

It will do well for three reasons.

First - and most important - because of the subject.

Even the teeming hordes who have yet to understand the basics of any kind of marketing know that online is where much of the action is today.

Second, because entry is free if you reply now - but £30 if you pay at the door.

Third because of a testimonial from the Head of Online Customer Marketing at 02, who gushed:

"This is really the only event worth attending for me. It's the only barometer on what's really going on with the development at the Internet."

Now this may impress many people, but I instantly recalled Groucho Marx's line: "I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members." Except I would change me to him.

You see, you and I live in a different world to this person. His is the corporate world. Ours is the real world. He is probably brilliant at climbing the corporate ladder. But that's no use to me; I'm unemployable.

What I wonder (and doubt) is: has he ever read Claude Hopkins or John Caples? Has he ever risked his own money on anything? Those are the only people whose views interest me.

That was what made Steve Jobs so fascinating. That is why Richard Branson something of a hero. They are entrepreneurs. In the world of phones I can only know one such person: James Dunstone, of Carphone Warehouse.

Dunstone saw an opportunity and grasped it. The corporate drones in that field are just fortunate enough to be in an industry with insanely high margins. Few are anywhere long enough to do much anyhow. The average length of tenure as a marketing director is 14 months: just long enough to screw everything up and get found out.

At random I just looked at the CV of one of these high flyers. Average length in his last six jobs: 16 months. His current employer (one of the world's biggest brands) has been losing market share ever since he got there. I doubt if he can be blamed. He probably spends his time in meetings rather than doing anything useful.

One problem is simple but much overlooked. Titles. How can you (or anyone else) know what the hell you do when your title is Head of Online Channel Insight?

Of course, there are advantages. I know someone who was given a new title he did not understand during one of those "let's rearrange the deckchairs" sessions companies love. I asked him what he thought he was supposed to do. "Anything I like", he replied.

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