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Monday, 31 December 2007

Denny Hatch supplies the last word on MBAs

Thanks for the comments, especially the funny ones, but special thanks to the most relevant one from Denny Hatch, who simply sent me the following, which came as a glorious confirmation of many long held suspicions.

Tuesday, march 21, 2006
Are MBAs killing your marketing?

_by Jack Neff_
CINCINNATI (AdAge.com) -- A Master of Business Administration degree is not only worthless, it can work against a marketer, according to a survey of marketing executives from 32 consumer-products companies by consulting firm Ken Coogan & Partners.
The study used scanner and panel data from VNU's ACNielsen to show marketers from companies with significant market-share gains are far less likely to have M.B.A.s than those from companies posting significant share losses.
Major marketers.
The M.B.A. factor wasn't the only difference, but it was perhaps the most striking one between winners and losers among the companies, which included General Mills, Kraft Foods, Nestle, Pfizer, Clorox Co., Reckitt Benckiser, Energizer, Alberto Culver Co., Hasbro, Cadbury Schweppes, Kodak and Dunkin' Donuts.
Marketing executives from 18 underperforming companies -- which had sales grow 7% less than their categories on average in the two years ended August 2005 -- were
twice as likely to have been recruited out of M.B.A. programs than marketing executives from out-performing companies, which averaged growth 6.2% faster than
their categories over the two years. Of executives from underperforming companies, 90% had M.B.A.s vs. 55% at outperforming companies.
Not all master's degrees appear worthless in the study. Just M.B.A.s. About 10% of the marketing executives at the out-performers had master's degrees other than M.B.A.s vs. none at underperformers.
That twice as many underperforming companies as out-performing ones participated in the survey may indicate something, too. Possible theories: Underperforming executives, particularly ones with M.B.A.s, spend more time filling out surveys, or are more likely to be in contact with consulting firms like the one that administered the study.
Recruitment practices.
The out-performers in the survey got about a fifth of their marketing executives
from undergraduate programs and another fifth from advertising or marketing agencies or other industry vendors. None of the executives from underperformers had been recruited as undergrads and only 5% came from agencies or suppliers.
Perhaps surprisingly, the out-performers were understaffed compared to their underperforming peers. Out-performers averaged one marketing executive for
every $37.9 million in sales, compared to one for every $28.5 million in sales at the underperformers.
But the out-performers spent more on marketing-averaging 12.4% of sales vs. 11.6% for the underperformers. Ken Coogan, principal of the consulting firm, isn't sure the marketing-budget differential is significant, but believes the staffing
number might be. Possibly, it reflects staffing at both out- and underperformers not having caught up yet with their changing marketplace results, he said. But he said too much staff -- and bureaucracy -- could actually be slowing down the underperformers.
Outsourced marketing services._
In a separate bit of counterintuitive research, Mr. Coogan said he has found marketers that outsource marketing-services functions the most actually have higher staffing levels than ones that outsource less.
Though they don't value M.B.A.s as much, out-performers in the survey place a much higher value on personal and professional development once they hire people. The survey showed the share winners far more likely than the losers to support attendance at industry conferences and seminars, involvement in industry associations and peer-share groups, internal training groups, formal mentoring programs and graduate-level seminars.
The only professional-development perks supported more by the underperformers were -- you guessed it -- executive M.B.A. programs.
Equally unsurprising, executives at the out-performing companies were far more likely to believe career advancement at their companies was based on merit
rather than politics. Underperforming marketers were more likely to see politics at play. Overall job satisfaction measures were higher at the out-performers.
Stock option differential.
But executives were about equally happy with compensation at both the winners
and losers. And the underperforming marketers were more likely to offer stock options than the out-performers. Both findings could create some interesting fodder for executive-compensation critics.
Retention programs that were more common among the out-performers than the underperformers included assignments outside marketing to groom for general
management, part-time or job-sharing assignments for managers who request them and giving more tenured executives preference in job assignments.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

To Amanda, because I'm an idiot

No, this is not a loving message - just a confession, and a suggestion.

Although I can read your comments (and really appreciate them) I can't or don't know how to reply, so the confession is that probably I'm an IT-IDIOT.

The suggestion is that if you want to talk directly, just write me at drayton@draytonbird.com. I always try to reply; if I don't, nudge me.

Oh, and Amanda, what do I think about the value of MBAs? Not a lot,to be honest. They're a bit like University degrees, I suspect; they'll get you a job, but not necessarily tell you how to succeed in it. What's more most of those who teach are not successful practitioners.

(Personally I am a BA, failed - I got a scholarship to University and walked out after the first year, bored. My father never forgave me)

Years ago I had lunch in Paris with David Ogilvy and both the chairman and managing director of our biggest client in London. He asked the chairman if he had a degree.

"No" was the reply.

He asked the MD, who also said no.

Then he asked me - and I of course said no.

"Nor have I," said David, "Haven't we done well?"

Going back to your question, whatever I have managed to do has been by hard work, a prodigious amount of reading - most of it nothing to do with marketing, some kind people, and some competitors even dumber than me.

I spent a couple of years reading philosophy in my spare time. This did not make me as informed as my partner who actually is a doctor in that discipline, but it helped me to think a little more clearly.

When I was young I thought there were only two places worth working at. 1. Superb firms where you would learn a lot. Unfortunately they're hard to get into. 2. Struggling firms that knew they were in trouble, needed your help, and had enough money to pay for it. Unfortunately most firms in trouble are there because their managements are too thick to know why - or do anything about it.

It's a tough old world, Amanda.

Poltergeists and animal crackers

Logorrhea, I was told at school, is the word for people who can’t stop talking.

I’m afraid I have the literary equivalent; just can’t stop writing. For a while I was banging out a good 6 columns a month for an assortment of marketing and business publications.

At one point, I vaguely recall, I was boring the pants off people not just in the U.K. but in Portugal, India, Australia and Malaysia.

This was much easier than you might think. You just open any marketing magazine and within 60 seconds you’ll find something ludicrous to write about.

Take an old December issue of Marketing Week I found amidst the old bread crusts in my office recently.

On the first page I learned Vodaphone had a Global Director of Brand and Customer Experience, which is reasonably but not insanely pompous, but below him was someone with a markedly more fatuous title: Director of Brand Strategy and Manifestation.

What is that then? Does he direct ghosts and poltergeists? No; it’s just our old friend corporate masturbation, which always thrives best when a friendly economy gives encouragement to idle brains.

The best title ever was held by a man I knew whose job title was Being Volkswagen. What can you imagine he did at meetings? Maybe say “Beep-beep” every now and then?

Besides silly job titles, you can always rely on marketing mags to keep you au fait with the latest vogue in asinine advertising.

The news pages of Marketing Week began with a jokey piece about Egg, the credit card that Prudential (wisely I suspect) have unloaded on Citibank. This no doubt will add to the impressive panoply of loss-making activities their glorious leader, “Chuck” Prince, came up with.

I'm not surprised they paid him $40 million just to go away and do no more damage. Of course, if he were one of the many ordinary employees whose jobs he has put at risk they would have told him to clear his desk and get out. And if life were fair he would then have been taken outside the office and run over a few times by a truck.

But I digress. See if you can extract anything vaguely resembling sense from this piece of persiflage about Egg.

It seems they have axed a campaign that said their card was “tested and approved by guinea-pigs” – which they allege “was popular with the public but had failed to raise brand awareness or sell its products.”

How the hell can something popular not only fail to sell, but despite being (as was claimed elsewhere in the piece) “well-loved” – not even get noticed. A double flopperoo like that that takes rare talent. I suppose it’s a new kind of minus-advertising.

Anyhow, it doesn’t matter how they managed it: just picture the mellifluous waffle the agency used to persuade the client it made sense! Imagine how little the client must have studied advertising to have run it! Then pause, gentle reader, and ask yourself why the client still has a job. Maybe he or she is not as culpable as ole Chuck, but wouldn't a remedial course in advertising basics for 4 year olds be in order?

I wish to God some of these people would just give me the money. I would just piss it away on booze and exotic trips and guarantee to achieve nothing.

Anyhow, Egg laid an egg with guinea-pigs, so the new campaign features a dolphin called Raoul, who has the advantage of being as irrelevant to money as any other animal, but can at least perform tricks.

Maybe marketers would do a bit better if they recalled from time to time that their job is to sell more stuff more often to more people at higher prices – an excellent definition I gladly credit Sergio Zyman with.

I look forward eagerly to the effects of the coming Gordon (the financial genius and all-round creep) Brown recession, which may put an end to some of this indefensible crap.

The growth of a silly new Christmas game

White Christmases are rare and church visits in pagan Britain rarer still, but every year I notice a new yuletide tradition burgeoning.

You see the first signs in the newspapers around the 18th of December. As regular as clockwork headlines announce that the nation’s merchants are quivering in their boots because customers are not doing their duty, and sales are down on the previous year’s.

I assume this is a ploy to make us all rush off to the shops and do our duty by the economy. It may also promise some peace and quiet to the poor shop assistants, but I’m getting bored, because although sales do indeed go down year on year, statistics, as usual, are a load of old codswallop.

The reason is simple. Although the British are celebrated – especially among car manufacturers - as perhaps the world’s most gullible customers, they are not complete idiots.

Many – cheapskates like me especially - patiently await the New Year Sales. Others keep their wallets closed till just before Christmas, when the shops announce they have been forced by “adverse trading conditions” to start their sales early, which is exactly what happened this year.

Yesterday I said to my son Nick, “I’m waiting for the first headline saying sales were not as bad as expected.”

“Too late,” he replied. “I saw one today.”

What is happening? The retailers are slowly educating customers. Pre-Christmas sales will continue to go down, and sales will start earlier and earlier – as they do in the U.S.

Another factor is the internet. I am waiting for the first headlines about the slump in stores being compensated for by the growth on-line.

Next year should be really interesting though, as the cumulative effects of Gordon Brown’s financial ineptitude over the last ten years start to have real effect.

Part of me really likes recessions, though. Advertisers suddenly realise marketing is about measurable results, not corporate bullshit, and turn to old hacks like me.

I have been trying, with difficulty, to work out how often our stuff fails to work so that I can boast about it. It seems to be about once or twice a year. The percentage must be very low because we do a lot of work; we did four jobs and a marketing review in the week before Christmas.

Lest you get the idea that this means we’re a bunch of geniuses, forget it.

It’s just that most of the people out there can’t write more than 100 words without getting lost because nobody taught them English. Anyhow my partner’s stuff does better than mine. She’s better looking, too.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

A London Christmas for you

Well, I had an idea last week – always a mistake. I commissioned a photographer to bring a fresh eye to the London I love at Christmas – which she certainly has.

See what you think. Just go to http://www.draytonbird.net/xmas/xmas.html
... there’s music, too, so if you don’t want to wake up all your colleagues, turn the volume down.

Some sights you’ll expect – a floodlit St. Paul’s cathedral and its choristers, joyful carol singers in Trafalgar Square, a wreath on the door of a posh Knightsbridge mansion, a Santa climbing into a less exclusive residence, the bar in my favourite Shepherd’s Market pub – with a sign that’s been there ever since I used to take a glass of champagne each morning when I lived there 40 years ago. (Shepherd’s Market is where for centuries they held the May Fair that gave London’s most elegant district – Mayfair - its name).

Others may surprise you.

50 crazy Santas skate down King’s Road, Chelsea, near our home. A “penguin”
waits to assist young skaters at the spectacular Somerset House ice rink.
Angels in stilts swoop in Covent Garden - others glide swiftly by on wheels outside the Tate Modern museum during the annual Southwark Frost Fair.
Meanwhile outside, “frost-bitten” Arctic explorers march on a mysterious mission; a Polish-Mexican restaurant has a French name - why? – and our favourite grocers in Chinatown offers Christmas greetings.

At Borough Market near London Bridge a policeman beadily watches over the Salvation Army band. A chestnut seller plies his trade. Floodlit sand sculptures astonish by passers-by on Thames bank. Shiny, sparkling fairground souvenirs and fluffy toys catch the eye. Enticing signs - Shepherd’s Market again - promise quick romance. A kilted dummy adorns a Savile Row tailor’s window, and everywhere you’ll see views of one of the world’s most extraordinary cities.

“Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” – Dr. Johnson

Merry Christmas!

All Photographs by Maura Caricato

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Would you accept this invitation?

About 20 years ago when I was clearly a lot more distinguished than I am now, I was, to my great surprise and childish delight, told I was to be included in Who’s Who.

Normally I would have thought this is a mistake, but as I am the only Drayton Bird I have ever heard of, I guess they did it on purpose.

To be honest, I always thought these entries are just a ploy to get you to buy the damn book, but I’m too cheap, so I’ve never looked to see if I’m in there. However I read recently that once in, you’re in for good, and every year they write to ask if I want to amend my entry.

So I guess I’m in the Rogues Gallery with people like Brown, G, Incompetent Chancellor, Bully and Worse Prime Minister whose Chickens are Coming Home to Shit all over Him and Blair, A, Pathological Liar And Religious Fantasist Who thinks He Can Solve the Palestinian Problem, the Idiot, When we all Know he couldn't Run a Piss-up in a Brewery.

All these thoughts and more came crowding in this morning when I was invited to be “considered for inclusion into the 2007-2008 Princeton Premier Business Leaders and Professionals "Honors Edition" section of the Registry.”

It seems the Registry will “include biographies of our country's (my italics) most accomplished individuals. Recognition of this kind is an honor shared by thousands of executives and professionals throughout the world each year. Inclusion is considered by many as the single highest mark of achievement.”

How bloody sad you’d have to be to rate that as your life’s greatest achievement – being listed in a book put together by geographically deluded loons who think everyone lives in the U.S. despite being scattered around the world.

Nevertheless, I bet they do well. The human thirst for flattery is limitless. What worries me, though, is that they ask you to give your phone number, and the best time to be contacted. I feel a pitch coming my way if I’m not careful.

Talking about pitches, please don't imagine this is any kind of a pitch for Cameron (he's the leader of the Conservative party here, for those of you unaware of the sordid trivia of British politics).

Cameron could conceivably be worse than the other two I mentioned, for two simple reasons. First, he used to work in public relations, so his natural inclination is to distort the truth - a bit worrying. And second, his policies are almost identical to the ones that got us into today's mess.

You know, spend more money rather than think a little harder about what needs fixing. Trouble is, though, that if all you're used to managing is the truth, the real world could prove a bit confusing.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Advice from the dead on how to party down

Just to follow up my little squib about banks, here are extracts from a message about “party etiquette” sent to its hapless employees by one big US bank.

“After a good year’s work, you’re entitled to let loose with your co-workers at a holiday party. Right?

Wrong. No matter how festive the occasion, it’s still a business setting. Follow these tips to avoid damaging your reputation as a competent professional.”

Then there’s lots of nauseating crap about how to dress, not to drink too much, don’t just spend the time with your office buddies, network – “introduce yourself to senior managers (i.e. arse–lick, pal - that's the way to the top here)”.
Then there’s stuff about timing, "Don't really want to go? (Who would?) Avoid turning up 20 minutes before the end? And “don’t party into the wee hours.”

It’s really excellent advice if you want to be the most boring, humourless twat anybody ever met.

Anyone who wants as their epitaph “She was a competent professional” deserves parties like that

"Pump up the volume"

You can't beat a load of old bollocks to cheer me up, friends.

Sheer childlike delight overcame the jet-lag today when I read in the gossip column of Italy's leading newspaper that whoever does these things at Armani had done some subtle retouching to "add more volume to the contents of his knickers" - or as we say here in London, "big up his crown jewels."

Go large, Becks!

Seriously, though, this is a sad comment a) on the falling away of standards in Italy and b) how image has destroyed reality.

There they are, with the most beautiful, sexy women on earth. Couldn't they have got someone to give him a bit of a tickle?

Monday, 10 December 2007

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t hate their bank?

Who do you bank with? Are they run by grasping wankers*, like all the others?

I bank with Lloyd’s, and I hate the bastards. This expression of venom arises from 20 minutes trying to find out why I can’t get money – or even a balance – out of an ATM here in Montclair, NJ.

This although I have money in my account, have been coming here 5 times a year for 8 years and always use the same ATMs. Surely even a witless computer can notice that.

So I just spent money first phoning my office to see what they could find out and then calling the “help line” – which was helpless, as you might expect.

“Your card has been declined, but I can’t see why,” said the man at the call centre, who was doing his best. Then he called the man who might know – but there was a queue. "Can you hang on for 5 or 10 minutes till he’s free?”

“Why can’t he call me? I’m the customer, aren’t I? Don’t I pay them, or is it the other way round?”

“I’m afraid we don’t have the facilities, Sir.”

“You mean you have no phones?”

“Er, waffle, waffle, drivel, drivel.”

“Look I know it’s not your fault - or even your bank. But why should I pay my money on international rates to find this out? Do I have to pay for Lloyd’s mistakes?

Embarrassed pause.

“Maybe you could try in a few minutes.”

“What? And join the same queue, but a bit later?”

I once did a talk to an audience from banks and insurance companies. After giving a few examples like the above I asked, “Is there anyone here who laughs all the way to the bank?” That went down well.

And nearly 20 years ago over lunch with Bob Heller the great business pundit, I asked what he thought about bank marketing.

He replied, “They should stick to arranging transactions properly.”

How right. The first rule of marketing is simple. Get the product right. But they haven’t. They thrive on shoddy service.

And they’re no bloody good at banking basics. Why do you suppose your property is about to lose value? Stupid, greedy, incompetent bankers. You get punished for their sloth. They retire with millions.

And please don’t think I’m singling out Lloyds; the others are just as bad - sometimes worse. The only people I can think of who are less competent are the government,

Nor am I singling out all the poor sods who have to do the work and spend too much time listening to angries like me.

I just hate the fat cats in head office who draw massive salaries for bad management. What rapacious swine they are.

As a coda, I was once ranting like this to my Lloyds manager - in the days when they still had them - and he said, “You should see what they do to me,” and told me a few stories that made me feel sorry for him.

If anyone wants to start a vigilante group devoted to chaining the top people at all the banks to desks in their own bloody call centres for a few hours, then sticking short-fused dynamite sticks up their arses, count me in.

* No prizes for “what rhymes with wankers?” by the way.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Do you have £500,000 to invest?

It is now well over a century since intelligent marketers started measuring the results of their ads by keying them.

Even before that some were building databases on card index systems; I often show an example in my seminars that dates back 140 years

It is coming up to fifty years since firms started using the computer to store and extract relevant information about people thousands of times faster and more cheaply.

So how come this was sent out to someone who certainly doesn't have £500,000 lying around:

Subject: Good news for cahoot savers

Dear Mr Bruce,

We are delighted to tell you that the rate on your cahoot standard savings account is increasing!

On your savings account ending XXXX XXXX, your rate will increase to 6.45% AER* on balances of £500,000 or more. So why not take advantage of this boost to your savings rate by transferring some funds into your cahoot savings account.

If you want to add some money into your account to take advantage of these increased rates then please contact your bank and set up a standing order for regular saving or ask them to send money across electronically via BACS. You will need to give your bank your cahoot account number and savings sort code which is 09-06-43. You'll find your full account number on your personal homepage when you log in. For security we have not included your full account number in this email.

Remember with your cahoot savings account you get easy access to your money and unlike some other banks we do not penalise you for taking money out of your account.

If you have any questions about these changes to your interest rate, or any queries about your account then please give us a call on 0844 9000 900**. We are available 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 6pm Saturday. If you prefer, please email us through 'contact us' from your personal homepage as messages sent from here will be responded to as a priority.

Thank you for saving with cahoot.

Yours sincerely

Harvey Griffith
Head of Customer Contact

Yes, friends, the Dark Ages of marketing are still with us.

Key things to make a note of for people who haven't caught up with the 20th century, let alone the 21st, are: profiling; relevance; learning the basics; and try copy that reads like it's from a human.

How do these people survive?

Slightly less serious

One of my favourite clients just read some copy for a collectible that I wrote.

(Wondering what a collectible is? It's usually something absurd for people to collect who don't know what to collect).

He suggested we look at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=I7CsYfJ9-3k

Check it out. If you don't laugh, you're reading the wrong blog.

Goodness me, let's not offend anyone

Well, I'm in the US again, for my youngest's birthday party, which would be perfect if it were not my eldest's Christmas bash in Brooklyn the night before.

No long boozy sessions tonight with the lads for me then.

The climate here is cold - and just slightly short of insane. On the TV yesterday I saw the following:

We wish you all a happy multi-faith Festive Season.

Doesn't that word multi-faith warm the cockles of your heart? How much more sincere does it sound than boring old Merry Christmas?

It's true there are many faiths here, just as in England, and the chief aim nowadays is not to upset anyone. But in a country with an amazingly high percentage of church-goers compared to us slackers in England, it is astonishing that this sort of tripe pervades.

My heart cries out for all those who have been distressed over the years by the word Christmas. Many probably threw themselves off high buildings as a result.

It is interesting to compare our warm, embracing approach with the more muscular one in countries where they live a simpler life.

They don't worry about these niceties in Saudi Arabia. Try opening a church there and seen what happens. Or try being a Christian in parts of Pakistan. But this attitude is not exclusive to Muslims. Don't upset the more enthusiastic Hindus in the wrong parts of India, whatever you do. If you're a Marxist it could cost you your life.

Here, on the other hand, there seems a reluctance to stand up for ourselves. Except, of course, for the Evangelicals of one kind or another, who are almost as hot in their beliefs as the people I just mentioned.

Why on earth do I think about these things? Because, as Napoleon put it, "Moral force rather than numbers, decides victory."

You can't have any moral force without faith. These zealots may be crazy and deeply unpleasant, but we seem to believe in nothing around Christmas except shopping.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

My first great act of public service

My friend Iain Murray, is – by far – the funniest commentator on marketing I know. I don't know why he hasn't been knighted. Too honest, I guess. He writes a column every week in Marketing Week which is the only thing worth reading in that rag.

(The rest is mostly sycophantic rubbish about nothing much. I just snorted on reading about a man one of whose chief achievements is that he helped to shepherd through a silly new logo for British Telecom to replace the silly old logo which replaced another silly but slightly duller logo, not one of which did anything to improve the phone service. What a wasted life - but I digress).

Anyhow, Iain often writes about the kind of witless pseudo-academic research which either tells you something you already knew or something you don’t need to know. I thought of him when yesterday I read that those twats who fail to run the National Health Service* are going to squander a few more million on research into finding what people want from their hospitals.

Well, this is a really tricky one, you useless berks**, but I can help.

1. People would like to have clean hospitals.
2. People would like to have their ailments treated promptly, especially if they have things like cancer. I would have liked it if someone had detected this in my late mother before it was too late.
3. People would like you to stop pissing away their money on bereavement counselling and channel the cash into something useful like medicine.
4. People would like fewer managers and more nurses and doctors.
5. People would like almost all of you who run things thrown out, blindfolded and sent to play in heavy traffic on a major motorway
6. People would prefer not to die on the way to the wrong hospital
7. People would like the entire government to spend a week locked in any of the many hospitals with MRSA problems.

Is that clear enough for you?

Just send the money I’ve saved you to my offices in Newman Street. I will then divide it up and send it to the nurses up and down the country as a Christmas bonus.

*Sorry about that to those readers who are not benefiting from our famous health service, as praised by uber-wanker Michael Moore. It is the largest employer in the world after the Indian Railways – but not nearly as well run and far more dangerous.

** Berks is English rhyming slang. To give you an example, apples = apples and pears = stairs. So, Berks = Berkeley hunt = work out for yourself what rhymes with hunt.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

More on Denny - for marketing folk only

Before I start, this is not an attempt to sell you Denny Hatch. He doesn't need the money and he probably hasn't got the time.

I'm sure of the first because we are having lunch and he's taking a taxi. This means he must be rich, because nowadays London taxis are the most expensive in the world.

I'm not sure of the second, but I suspect he is far too busy for his own good

Anyhow, one of my partners tells me that besides Million Dollar Mailings, Denny's book Method Marketing is excellent.

And just as a footnote, Denny sent me a message about yesterday's entry, which reads:

Nobody knows how to write a letter any more. Nobody dares be emotional and let emotions hang out.

Maybe it's not politically correct to be emotional.

But non-emotional letters do not work. The rational, analytical approach is what goes into the circular or flier.

So if people write rational, analytical letters and the letters do not work, the logical extension of that thinking is that all letters do not work.

An old direct mail rule: A mailing with a letter will always outpull a mailing without a letter.

Certainly a premise worth testing in e-commerce.

Betcha the old rule works.

I can tell anyone who's interested that he's right as usual. For our clients we always try emotional approaches, whatever the medium - and since we have a success rate of well over 95%, (we have about one flop a year actually) they must work.

Enough boasting - but it's true

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The astonishing Denny Hatch - again

I know quite a few of you are marketers, so I thought I might say a little more about Denny, whom I think I am having lunch with tomorrow.

First, if you haven’t looked at his blog, www.businesscommonsense.com, do so. He has had a most interesting life and always has something well worth reading.

I don’t really agree with him entirely in his comments about the Belgian Eurostar campaign – which must be the first time we have ever differed. He is worried about children’s reactions to a naughty poster.

Well, I have helped to bring up quite a few children. Eventually even the most backward child is going to learn the shocking facts about urinating, which is not on the same level of impropriety as killing people.

What’s more, I have always found kids at that age more intrigued or amused by bodily functions than maybe they are in Philadelphia, where Denny lives. Almost the first thing kids of a certain age start doing is telling each other naughty jokes about such things.

Come to think of it, when she was two my daughter, who is now twelve, used to spend a lot of time trying to catch sight of me in the toilet. Once or twice she succeeded, but she seems to have survived the experience without lasting scars.

Anyhow, back to Denny. Although I think I’m quite a hard worker, I am a sloth compared to him.

Years ago he started a newsletter called Who’s Mailing What which gave you a wonderful picture of that people were mailing in the U. S. I once rang up his wife and asked how many mailings he scrutinised each month. “Two to three thousand,” she replied.

Somebody here copied or adapted the idea and used the same name. Denny came over to try and stop him but was defeated by the intransigence of the courts here. No wonder he quotes in his latest blog, Shakespeare’s line, “First, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

With co-editor Axel Andersen Denny also put together an excellent compendium called Million Dollar Mailings of all the most successful mailings in the U.S. I often refer to it when stuck.

For some weird reason I have never fathomed (stupidity, maybe?) many on-line marketers seem to imagine their customers mutate when sitting in front of computer screens and don’t react to the same stimuli. They do. Only the medium changes; the customers don’t.

That is why a book like the one I mentioned is so valuable.

Which reminds me: yesterday I was the chairman of a little conference on e-mail marketing. The day was hilarious for several reasons.

First, there was a major excavation taking place next door, so for much of the morning you couldn’t hear. Second, the sound system was totally f***ed anyhow. Third, the suppliers in the audience outnumbered the clients three to one.

It reminded me of an old joke - “Whenever three Americans meet, they form a club, elect a chairman, secretary, and treasurer and start selling things to each other.”

Interestingly, the speakers kept saying, “It’s just direct marketing” – which pleased me, as for ten years I have been defining on–line as accelerated direct marketing. And they all talked about testing – which many “conventional” direct marketers seem to have forgotten about - which means they are definitely idiots.

What puzzled me, though, was that most of the e-mail examples were what I call internet leaflets – the equivalent of those old mail shots that used to come with no letter. I find the personal approach works much better – as in direct mail

Anyhow, the hotel gave us free drinks to compensate for the chaos. So that was pretty good.

Monday, 26 November 2007

What's happening on the King’s Road?

I’m seriously wondering if I should move. In the last 48 hours there have been two dangerous accidents within half a mile of where I live just off the King’s Road, Chelsea.

The second was just at the bottom of our street this morning. Two cars and a motor bike were involved and one of cars caught fire – I don’t know if anyone was hurt.

The first was when I was walking down the road to meet friends. An old green Porsche hit a group of pedestrians. A poor 33-year-old woman has since died from serious head injuries, after being taken to hospital in the air ambulance. Three other people were hurt.

You can see some (very bad) pictures of the scene taken on my mobile, but you can’t see that the car managed to demolish a 250 year old wall and knock down some very solid iron railings, too. The driver is in his sixties, apparently, and there’s some speculation that he passed out before the accident.

What is almost incredible is that people manage to drive fast enough to cause accidents in an area which is always congested on Saturday afternoon and Monday morning.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

A better use of public money?

Being a founder member of Rent-a-Mouth, ready to spout off about anything and anything no matter how pig-ignorant I may be, I am rarely flummoxed.

But a kind correspondent just sent me something that really had me in a puzzlement. I won’t quote it all, just the bits that give you the gist.

Subject: Let's Pretend! London Metropolitan Archives' Fifth Annual LGBT History and Archives Conference

Back in 1988, Section 28 of the Local Government Act stated that a local authority was not permitted to "promote the teaching ... of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship."

The conference sets out to explore the experience of LGBT families and family life and how these important histories might be recorded for future generations.

9.30 am Welcome, Arrival and coffee

10 am Evlynn Sharp with LGBT writers - 'My Idea Of Family'
Kairos in Soho hosted a creative community event exploring the dynamics of LGBT family relationships across generations. Poems, words, ideas and art emerge. LGBT people's expressions of family show a commitment to share and learn from our realities. Along with participants who offer readings of their poems, Evlynn represents the highlights of 'My Idea Of Family' and interweaves with her own poetic reflections.

10.20 am Vanda Carter - Elephants in the Bedroom - Writing for children of LGBT families.

We dimly remembered the dreary photo-realism of "Jenny lives with Eric & Martin" in the Eighties and the media storm which followed its British publication.

We found a few picture books from America and Canada, published in the Nineties, sagging with the leaden weight of ISSUES and horrid illustrations reminiscent of local authority clip art.

We found hardly any books which showed, let alone celebrated, the existence and lives of same-sex parent families like us. There was almost nothing which we could bear to read to our children or felt that we could recommend to their nurseries and schools. So, we thought, something must be done...

11 am Matt Cook - 'Exiles from kin'? Gay men and the family This talk looks at how gay men came to be seen as 'exiles' from kin, disconnected from domestic life, but also suggests that their involvement in home and family has a long history, providing precedents for more recent 'families' of choice.

Noon Bernard and Terry Reed - 'The Work of GIRES'
Gender variance in children, adolescents or adults usually causes acute stress for other members of their families. The reactions of other family members often intensifies the stress that gender variant people already feel. Communication within the family is difficult. The Gender Identity Research and Education Society has supported over 200 such family members by providing information and running workshops.

Bernard and Terry Reed are the parents of a trans woman. As trustees of GIRES, they play leading roles in its education programmes and are the authors of much of its literature. They work with many government agencies in the development of policies to support transgender people.

12.45 pm David Fullman Equality & Diversity Officer, Age Concern Norwich 'Fulfilment and Fear' - The Ups and Downs of Growing Older

This presentation explores concepts of the family for aging LGBT people. As we get older we may all need extra support and help. But what happens when these structures fail? There will be time for questions at the end.

… and so on down to …

Regard The National Organisation of Disabled Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexuals and Transgendered People. A forum session exploring issues around disabled LGBT people and ideas of family.

Enjoy an interlude with the London Gay Symphony Orchestra string quartet.

There are also free children's workshops.

I found myself floundering at all this, partly because I had no idea what LGBT is, till I realised it stood for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered.

Then I asked myself a few questions, like, why is some quasi-governmental body arranging this? Are there more important things to do with our money? Is this all ludicrous? Should there be children’s workshops – can’t they just play?

But there are lots of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered people. Perhaps not as many as some might like, but live and let live. And I think it is infinitely better to have loving gay parents than some of the “normal” ones we read about.

In a world besotted by silly workshops of one kind or another, maybe it’s good that kids are exposed to this – it will prepare them for some of the asinine things they’ll be asked to do when they get jobs and go on training days.

So in the end I rather surprised myself by thinking I rather approve (though I fear the day will prove desperately earnest, jargon-strewn and dull).

If it is a waste of money, it’s far less so than the millions squandered by politicians on “summits” which achieve the square root of f**k-all.

Rather than pay for the Mayor of London to sod off to India on a jaunt costing £740,000 and achieving little in return, let’s have a constant flow of events for every kind of oddity you can imagine.

How about my own personal favourite pressure group, Gay Whales against Racism? Don’t they need a few quid?

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Denny Hatch

For those who have asked, www.businesscommonsense.com is Denny Hatch's website. Denny is one of most perceptive commentators on the American business scene in my view, partly because he is one of the few who really understand marketing.

Why should this matter? Because marketing has an immense influence on all our lives, yet very few understand it - including most practitioners, which explains why the average tenure of a marketing director here and in the U.S. is well under two years.

That's long enough to get a fancy office, change everything whether it needs it or not - and get found out or if lucky promoted or transferred before the chickens come home to roost.

Anyhow, Denny showed me what he has drafted about the posters I discussed two days ago, but his point of view is not mine. We rarely disagree, so when we meet next week for lunch we can have a mashed potato fight.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Outrage? Unfair? Rubbish!

On Friday one of the gossip-riddled rags that purports to be a newspaper in London ran a story complaining bitterly about a poster campaign for Eurostar. They think it represents English football fans in the wrong light.

You can see the poster at the top. A typical English football suppporter pissing in a cup of tea - with two others, featuring rather poor look-alikes of Hitchcock, Major, Thatcher and Bliar. I'm sorry the pictures are a bit crap; they're taken on my mobile, and I have no photographic skill anyhow.

Anyhow, the posters were all on giant cubes and each had something going on round the corner, for reasons I will now explain.

If you don’t speak French or Flemish, the copy says London is just round the corner, plus how long it takes to get there by the fast new Eurostar train. I think this is an excellent campaign as it makes the point in a surprising and relevant way.

What’s more, it’s in a good place – the Gare Du Midi – where you have plenty of time to see it. That’s because this quintessentially modern railway station is one of the worst signposted in the world. You can spend 20 minutes just looking for a toilet –and I did. In fact one of the security guys told me “This station can drive you mad.” The architect probably won an award for it.

If you compare this campaign with the one running in London, it is an instructive and striking demonstration of the difference between good and bad advertising.

Good advertising talks about benefits. Bad advertising talks about features.

The London campaign squanders full pages on the stunningly dull line “Hello to 186 m.p.h.” and even more ill-advised double page spreads showing pictures of St.Pancras Station. Features of the service, not benefits.

I heartily congratulate the agency responsible on conning a gullible, spendthrift client into pissing away all that cash to tell people about something they have all seen on TV and in the press ad nauseam – and my hearty commiserations to the shareholders.

But let’s get back to pissing away.

This is not a perfect poster - it aims to satisfy the ego of the people who created it - but it’s still pretty good, and here’s why

There is one really famous thing in Brussels. It is called the Mannequin Pisse - a statue of a little boy doing just that. There is also one famous thing about England. We drink a lot of tea. And there is one really famous thing about English football fans. Too many are violent, drunken thugs.

Now where do you think our brave boys have demonstrated these qualities most memorably? Why, in Brussels a few years ago during a match between Liverpool and Juventus, when quite a few people died.

And if the cap fits, wear it.

Drayton, you idiot! It's Michael, not Tony

I was lying in bed last night wondering what is my worst quality.

This works much better than counting sheep as there is a limitless catalogue to select from.

Anyhow, in business I decided it is a close run between sloth and sloppy inattention to detail.

That's why I renamed the head of Ryanair Tony when his name is Michael. Either way, it's a good story, and thank you to Michael Rhodes, who pointed this out.

I also got a message from Denny Hatch (see his splendid blog, by the way) who is going to write about the very same subject as me - the ad campaign I saw at the railway station in Brussels.

I'm worried lest he has a different opinion to me: he is almost invariably right about things to do with marketing - but let's see.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

A thought for O'Leary

Last week my partner and I went to Brussels for a meeting. Not wishing to remortgage the flat so as to pay to go by Eurostar or go on a posh airline, we went on Ryanair.

If you don’t live here you may not know Ryanair. It’s the airline everyone loves to hate but travels on because it’s so damn cheap. Their boss, Tony O’Leary is famous for his cavalier approach to passengers.

This is quite the opposite of the famous maxim “the customer is always right” and closer to “the customers are all arseholes, so screw them – as vigorously and as often as possible.” Of course the truth is that the customers are cheap arseholes, like me, and his novel marketing approach - cram 'em in and sell more seats - has resulted in them becoming Europe’s biggest airline.

It has to be said that he is not the first to have this approach but he is by far the most aggressive.

One reason they’re so damn cheap is that they fly to airfields that are miles and miles away from whatever city you are supposed to arrive in. This means in the case of Brussels, the little town of Charleroi.

Ryanair brings so much business to such spots that O’Leary, a superb negotiator, gets some amazing subsidies. I heard a lovely story about this from my host in Brussels. It seems that O’Leary went to negotiate some years ago with some bureaucrats in Brussels and was extremely rude to one of them, who was fairly junior at the time.

He ended a brief conversation by saying, “I don’t want to waste time with you. Fuck off.”

More recently he had to discuss the arrangements he had with Charleroi, and came for a meeting, again in Brussels. And guess who was dealing with it? The very same man, who greeted him (I imagine with some glee) with pretty much the same words.


Now that we have a shortage of decent heroes, far too often we worship people whose only talent is for making money - or very often, just for sliming their way to the top of large firms. Many of those I have met have been dull buggers with one-track minds.

But the O’Leary story reminds me of something.

In one of my periods of financial drought I worked for a while in the swimming pool business. I did the advertising and marketing and sold national franchises for a very funny New Yorker called Sammy Gold.

Sammy had the rare distinction of having cost the Mafia a lot of money and lived to tell the tale. Besides being a superb salesman, he had lots of good advice. One example I have never forgotten: Never end up in such bad terms with someone that you can’t do business with them again.

My next piece will be about an excellent ad campaign I saw in Brussels which upset some idiots in Britain who can't stand the truth.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Health and safety warning

When you get to my age you have to keep a close eye on your health.

I think I go to no end of trouble - breathe on a mirror every morning to see if I'm still alive and so on - but my beloved is a bit sceptical about my casual approach.

That is why I am once again having a complete health check tomorrow - which takes a couple of hours and costs far too much money.

It also calls for me to supply faecal samples, suspended in a little plastic capsule of water.

I couldn't believe what I read on the side of the bottle this morning, though. It said "Do not drink contents of bottle".

Well, I like a drink as much as anyone - but really!

The people who write most of these warnings on packages clearly have shit for brains.

Ah! This explains it: mutant ninja chimps are in charge

I am too damn cheap to buy the papers, which is a waste of time anyhow - yesterday the Sun’s front page said CHELSY QUITS BRITAIN.

If you are a normal person you may not give a toss who Chelsy is or a flying f””k whether she’s here or on Mars. You are, however reasonably entitled to wonder why her parents couldn’t spell Chelsea, so I will enlighten you on both points.

She is a tart the buffoonish Prince Harry has been charvering (assuming someone has told him how to do it) and her parents are South African. Got that?

The Independent had a more interesting front page. It had a big close-up of a chimpanzee's face, with a caption in case anyone confused it with a) Harry or b) Gordon Brown. (Clue: it looked a) more intelligent and b) kinder - and honest).

Anyhow, it seems scientists have been cloning some of the upper primates, and a few of them are worried about the results.

Sorry, chaps, you're a bit too late. The buggers are already taking over. The West End pullulates with them every night. They clutter up the pubs; they vomit on the pavements; they sell each other drugs. Many are in parliament, obviously. And they're everywhere. I went to Wigan a while back and the streets were crawling with them.

I met a marketing director in Wigan who was definitely one. So clearly whilst the really useless ones are safely corralled in the cabinet office, quite a few of the others have proper jobs. Unfortunately, though, there is a real problem facing businesses that employ these mutants. They can’t read.

I know this because my partner’s sister went to a job interview on Sunday at a firm called ROC. They do recruitment for Selfridges and Harrods. They had asked for her CV, in which she said she had no retail experience, but thought she could do the job.

They kept her hanging around for 3 hours (cloned primates can’t tell the time and have no social skills - ever seen a chimp scratching its arse?) Then when she finally got seen, the unusually stupid ill-mannered mutant ninja bitch who interviewed her said: “Sorry, you’ve got no retail experience.”

Oddly enough this firm says on their website that one of their objectives is to "Treat other people as you would want to be treated." Obviously they all like sitting around for hours just to be buggered about.

If I were Harrods or Selfridges I’d get down to the zoo pronto and see if a few giraffes might be better at the job.

Don't go poaching anyone at the chairman's office in John Lewis, though: his assistant can't read either.

But I will come to that soon.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Half-wit communications strikes again!

If you aren't British you may not be familiar with the name Amy Winehouse, but she has similar problems to Britney Spears - too much too soon - but maybe hers are even more serious.

She can't dance like Britney, but on the other hand she has shown an astounding ability to consume vast amounts of drugs. She looks like one of the Ronettes - beehive hairdo, slutty face (but unfortunately no figure), too much make-up, doesn't seem to wash too much - just one of an endless parade of white singers who have done well because they sound as though they might be black and as a result make more money than they should. Janis Joplin was her prototype, I imagine.

Anyhow, enough of the music criticism. She lives with a guy who says he is called Blake Fielder-Civil - though I wonder, seriously, is that a real name? I suspect he's really called Bert Sidebottom; but anyhow he also consumes vast amounts of drugs, presumably on her money as he has no talent we have heard of.

This morning my day was lightened when I read a piece in the London morning freesheet, the Metro , describing the latest loony antics of this prize pair of twits. In it the radiant Amy - talking about what the writer, with ineffable gift for cliche, called her "drug abuse shame" - revealed she thought she was going to die last August when she was raced to a London hospital following a reported binges on ecstasy and cocaine.

Then - and this is what made my day - someone at Metro with a sense of the ludicrous dropped in one of these quizzes for morons: "Do you think Amy is good role model? Tell us on metro.co.uk."

I believe on Monday they're thinking of running a similar piece on Adolf Hitler.

By the way, now that I've got you in the mood for the bizarre, the picture at the top is of me dressed as Dumbledore for a seminar I was doing yesterday in Durham for The Pru. Unlike Amy, I have NO shame.

Monday, 5 November 2007

This week’s great read

What a wonderful day! My business worries are over. Someone has e-mailed me about a book that “provides readers with proven business intelligence from C-Level executives (Chairman, CEO, CFO, CMO, Partner) from the world's most respected companies nationwide.”

I like the conjunction of “world’s” and “nationwide” – a sort of unconscious giveaway, really. You know it's all going to be drivel from that point on.

But gosh, what must it feel like to be a “C” level person, not just a sad little scribbler? And there was more! “Each chapter is comparable to an essay/thought leadership piece and is a future-oriented look at where an industry, profession or topic is headed and the most important issues for the future.”

How could anyone who writes like that produce an essay? The subjects of the various reports gave me a good insight into what to expect. For instance, “Setting and Reaching Benchmarks" and "Using Internal Metrics to Benchmark Performance" not forgetting "Maximizing Performance with Effective Benchmarking" and "The Importance of Analytics in Today's Complex Organizations".

I was a little disappointed to see no use of the words “vision” and “mission” – but there was good stuff about leadership and strategy, so that’s alright. Anyhow, if I had any doubts about what was in store they were quelled when I read that “Through an exhaustive selection process, each author was hand-picked by the Inside the Minds editorial board to author a chapter for this book”.

I have never for the life of me understood why jargon-constipated people “author” things when they can write them. God knows, writing is hard enough. But then I have never understood why people buy books like this when a sympathetic, understanding doctor will prescribe sleeping pills.

What I have noticed, though, is that people who use this sort of language are almost invariably useless at doing anything. As Winston Churchill noted, "Big men use little words."

Another thing I have noticed is that very often this year's "thought-leader" is next year's overpaid drone who's been found out and is scuttling off with his or her massive, utterly undeserved pension, plus compensation for loss of office and so on, having lost millions for shareholders and lots of jobs for the poor bloody O-level workers.

Do I look as though I'm 17?

I have clearly discovered the secret of eternal life.

Last Saturday an idiot in the Kings Road Tesco, where I went to buy some cooking plonk, greeted me at the check out with this astounding request:

"Can I have proof of identity?"

"Don't be ridiculous," I responded. "Do I look as though I'm under 18?"

To this the witless buffoon said, in all seriousness, "Just don't forget it next time."

Do you suppose these people are instructed, once hired, to leave their brains outside the door when they come to work? I see quite a few signs that this is true - and not just at Tesco.

You, dear reader, probably don't read all the comments that appear beneath these pieces. That's why I'm reproducing a funny story from Archie Clifford, who recently tried and failed to extract some service - or at least dawning gleams of commercial intelligence - from the loonies at PC World.

'I wanted to buy a snazzy new laptop which they were selling for £999.

I found it on their site online, but it said it was only available for pick up in store, no home delivery option. Strange, I thought, but I was willing to go and pick it up from the local store so that was okay.

However, when I tried to order it online to pick up in my local (Norwich) store, I got a message telling me the nearest store I could pick it up from was Cambridge, over 70 miles away.

I thought there must be some mistake, so I called PC world and explained that, as I was offering to put almost a thousand quid's worth of business their way, and as we were almost 10 years into the 21st Century, with all the advantages of the modern communications infrastructure, was it not possible for them to somehow get the laptop to Norwich, where I lived.

The conversation went something like this:

"Sorry sir, we have none of that particular item in stock in Norwich."

"I know, that's why I called. To see if you could deliver one there."

"I'm sorry sir, that's not company policy."

"Perhaps you should make it company policy."


"I don't mind if you don't deliver it to my home, if you could just transfer one to your Norwich superstore, I could pick it up. I'll even pay for the courier to transfer it for you."

"Sorry sir, that's not company policy?"

"Why not?"


"Have you ever heard of the concept of customer service?"

Then she parroted the manual back at me. I asked to speak to her manager, and got the same tripe. I asked to be put through to their complaints department, and had a soul-destroying conversation with a very abrupt young man who seemed about fifteen years of age, and wasn't taking any shit.

I pointed out to him that I wanted to spend almost a grand with PC world, by ordering one of their laptops, and all I wanted was for them to get it to somewhere near where I lived, and not have to drive half way across the world to pick it up. Was that too much to ask?

Astonishingly, for someone in a 'complaints' department, where you would expect a rather more diplomatically trained staff to work, he was actually quite rude and dismissive, and when I said I had no alternative but to take my £900 elsewhere, his response was along the lines of, "whatever".

I went into my local Norwich pc world to see if I could get the manager there to swing something for me, as I really wanted this laptop and it wasn't available anywhere else.

Guess what. You know when you don't want to be hassled in a store and every assistant in the store makes a bee line for you and asks you if you need anything? And when you DO need assistance, you can't find anyone for love nor money?

Well this was worse. I couldn't find the manager so I stood waiting near this member of staff who I thought was talking to a customer. It turned out to be his girlfriend as, after 5 minutes, he started kissing and hugging her, in the store, while I stood by waiting, about 5 yards away. I even waved to get his attention, but he was obviously on to far too good a thing to let work get in the way.

So I walked out in disgust,and will spend my money elsewhere.

It makes you wonder how these companies make any money.


All this reminds me of the instructions that excellent U.S. store Nordstrom gives its employees: "Use your best judgment at all times."

Which reminds me: I was in Macy's in New York last week. Their approach is quite different as far as I can make out.

They just hire as few sales assistants as possible, and when they do fail to tell them where anything is, so the sustomer has to hunt things down.

In that way they eliminate all service problems: customers have to do all the work. I bet their pilfering problems are immense, though.

Friday, 2 November 2007

In awe of this stupidity

Anyone out there who can tell me how this makes anything even vaguely resembling sense?

My colleagues and I are organising a conference in Brussels (which means they’re actually organising it and I’m asking irrelevant questions).

Anyhow, my PA Iane – aka The Brazilian Bombshell – is checking out hotels and this is what happens when she talks to one which I will call for the sake of argument The Stanhope. They quote a ludicrous rate per delegate so Iane says, “But I’ve seen a much lower rate for you on Expedia.”

The lady at the other end – get this – says, “Oh, if that’s the case, why don’t you book through them?”

No, you didn’t read wrong, friends. Rather than match the Expedia price, she is willing to let us book through them and pay commission. So the hotel screws itself twice.

I just take my hat off to that. It’s almost as stupid as the way Peter Jones in Chelsea handle customers.

This will be the subject of a forthcoming piece I guarantee will give you a few laughs.

It will tell how everyone we’ve dealt with since February from the Chairman down in a vain attempt to get a pair of curtains made has been – with two helpful exceptions – either dilatory, rude, incompetent, smug, dozy, unable to read, thick, bossy or just plain useless.

Interestingly, the Chairman is called “Charlie”. Very appropriate - as you will see -if you know what that name implies to most English people.

Monday, 22 October 2007

“Fings ain’t what they used to be”

That was a very popular show back in the ‘60’s. It struck a chord partly because we all moan about things going downhill.

For instance, for hundreds - no, thousands - of years, people used to get married then have kids, and bring the kids up by copying what their parents did.

Of course, some people were better at it than others and some were downright disastrous - just as in every other area of life. But here’s an absolute guarantee that things are going to get worse.

"£30m for national parenting academy

King's College London, the Family and Parenting Institute, and Parenting UK, have been awarded £30 million by the Department for Education to create a new centre of excellence called the National Academy for Parenting Practitioners, which will carry out parenting research and provide quality support for parents. Based at the Strand Campus it will be launched in October 2007."

Yes, folks, another “initiative” – no doubt based on some half-witted “vision”, and the idiots are in charge again.

And you know what? I have a better idea. Assume for a moment that people should run their own lives, for better or worse.

Assume, too, that they should do it with their own money.

Why? Because this – like all the other dopey ideas we’re subjected to – comes about as follows.

A politician, far too busy lying to think, pays a consultant plus maybe some academics to think for him or her about a problem. They go away and spend a long time thinking (a lot of it about how much to charge).

Then there’s lots of expensive research into what happens in the real world, as the politician is only good at politics and has never had a proper job, a state of affairs which allows no time for contact with reality.

Then there’s an expensive report. This is considered by a committee, whose members get well paid to ruminate and discuss. It is printed and circulated – which costs money

Then, there are some proposals – which cost money. Then something like the £30 million loony-tunes scheme above comes into effect, the money being given to more consultants and for more research.

Later, when it emerges that the square root of f**k-all has been achieved by all this administrative masturbation, a further committee is set up – and so on.

People may not be too smart, but they can’t be any more stupid than that, can they?

As Ronald Reagan said, “One of the most frightening things you will ever hear is: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help’”.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

A pig’s point of view

The first proper money I ever made was in my parents’ restaurant at the Sycamore Inn in Ashton-under-Lyne – a good 18th century pub of character which has since been utterly ruined by the tasteless halfwits at the brewery which owns it.

I was 16 or 17. I cooked pork chops stuffed with ham and cheese. Probably the home-cooked food we served in those days would never pass muster now, but that restaurant was in the Good Food Guide right from its first year.

And I’ll tell you what, the service was far better than at many restaurants today. This is despite the fact that my father, for whom the word eccentric may have been invented, used to make the whole cooking procedure almost impossible.

That’s because he was constantly going round turning down the gas to save money. I shall discuss my extraordinary parents when I get a minute, but back to the kitchen.

Well I am, quite frankly, a pig - just love eating and drinking - and maybe because of my upbringing, I’m fascinated by restaurants and how they are run. It's one of the hardest businesses in the world to get right -and one of the easiest to go broke in, believe me

Last week I took my partner to dinner at L’Oranger in St. James’ Street. They rang me in the afternoon to confirm the booking – almost the only efficient thing they did from then on. I made a point of telling them it was her birthday.

When we arrived we were greeted by a smiling receptionist who said she would show us to our table. then an unsmiling waiter came up who undid her good work by completely ignoring us – actually had his back to us. After chatting to her – but not us - for a while, he disappeared, leaving her with the nasty job of saying our table was not ready – would we take a seat?

We did, and another waiter came and asked if we wanted a drink. “No” was the answer.

Then a very pleasant man bustled up, showed us to a better settee, and offered us champagne and foie gras on the house. Then two minutes later another waiter came up with the champagne - but not foie gras, but crostini and tapenade. Then, after another few minutes the foie gras did arrive.

Half an hour after the scheduled time we went to the table. It took twenty minutes to order - and they took the the food order only, forgetting about the wine. All in all it took three and a quarter hours from the time we arrived to get and eat a two course meal with coffee. The food was pretty good, but not extraordinary.

But here’s the most amazing thing: they had about one waiter per table. With the exception of the dolt who ignored us to start with they were all quite charming and, when necessary, apologetic. But they spent most of their time rushing about to no great purpose or talking to each other animatedly, but not achieving much.

If you know much about the way a classic French restaurant is organised you will be aware that there is someone called a commis whose job is to take the food from the kitchen and give it to the waiter to serve at the table. The commis knows where it is to go because it's written down on the order that went to the kitchen in the first place.

I felt sorry for the commis here: they spent a lot of time not knowing which table the food should go to. Clearly the ordering system was not being operated in the classic manner.

We weren’t pissed off; just amused.

But it saddened me to see such lack of attention to detail, especially as I am chairman of a firm that arranges a lot of entertainment, and they had a superb private dining room which would be perfect for high-level clients. But could I trust them? Not really.

Having said all that, they were paragons of efficiency compared to Peter Jones in Sloane Square who have so far spent 10 months failing to make a set of curtains for us -- and can't even summon up the wit to reply properly to a letter of complaint sent to their chairman.

That hilarious tale I'll come to, not just because you wouldn't believe anyone could be so incompetent, but because it's an interesting insight into why good businesses go bad. Like fish, they rot from the head.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Merci bien, Swans: tres gentil

You don't often get anyone who'll translate stuff for nothing into French - which is what Swans Paul did with my last piece without being asked. Thank you!

My French is a joke, but not such a good joke that I trust it to make jokes in. (Shut up, Drayton - or as they taught me to say in Paris, Ta gueule, toi!)

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Irony - and your comments

Just for the benefit of anyone who's had an irreversible sense of humour bypass operation, an explanation.

Much of what goes on in the world today is far too serious to be treated seriously, so many of these pieces are ironic. If you don't know what that word means, you strayed here by accident. Leave before I upset you any more. There are many earnest blogs entirely devoid of smiles. Any that mention Al Gore or diversity approvingly will probably suit you fine.

I really appreciate the comments you make (or at least the ones I understand) and want to thank you. I often feel like responding, but of course the system doesn't reveal your e-mail address. So if you want me to agree, disagree, or thank you, leave your e-mail address.

And by the way, Michel, I've lost yours because I'm terminally inefficient, but I really appreciated what you said.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

How to solve the immigration problem: the reverse BNP solution

Before I start, for the benefit of overseas readers I should explain that the BNP is the British Fascist Party, who keep on calling for the repatriation of everyone whose colour or ethnic origin they dislike.

They are a sort of mirror image of the politically correct halfwits who run most of the institutions in Britain today

What follows is a comment on some news that came out today

I see that what I’ve always known has been finally confirmed. Immigrants work harder, are a lesser charge on the various state giveaway services and on balance bring a lot of benefit to our economy.

The trouble is that there’s something of a housing shortage, which prompts me to put forward with some confidence a simple solution to a problem that vexes all of us. What can we do about the idle druggies and beggars who infest the streets, mostly because they can’t be bothered to work?

Some particularly infuriate me, especially a well-dressed, strapping gay black one who regularly takes up space on a bench on the King’s Road which should be reserved for old farts like me. Not so long ago we spotted him going into a very expensive shoe shop that’s way beyond my reach, but I haven’t seen him for a bit. Probably on holiday in Barbados.

In the reign of Elizabeth 1st an excellent edict was passed which called for all able bodied rogues and vagabonds to be swept off the streets and locked up. Knowing the way this country works, it’s probably never been repealed, but isn't very practical as our jails nowadays are full to overflowing. On the other hand in those far off days they didn’t have the excellent international travel facilities we now enjoy, which make my simple proposal feasible.

I propose an exchange programme. We should gather up all these useless British drones and ne’er do wells and pack them off to places like Poland, Romania and Bulgaria which are sending us so many good people. Once they got there they’d soon get licked into shape, as there’s no choice there but to work or starve - and we wouldn’t have to keep giving them unemployment money and, if we’re foolish, spare cash.

In short, the BNP have the right idea, but the wrong people in mind.

Monday, 15 October 2007

What about the poor bloody workers?

I suspect this line was usd by Peter Sellers as Mr. Kite, the shop steward in "I'm alright Jack".

It certainly used to produce guffaws years ago whenever quoted as a parody of the average trades union moaner.

But when we were in Shanghai last year a friend told me that the poor sods who put together the stuff there are told to “work harder – or you will be looking hard for work”.

Not long ago a big piece in the Evening Standard about fashion week talked about how the stuff you buy for sod-all from places like Primark, Top Shop, Bhs etc. is produced by people who work for as little as 40p a day in conditions that often lead to deaths and injuries.

I was discussing this with the Light of my Life, and said, “Well, maybe these people are happier with that rather than nothing.”

This may be true, but she put me right smartly.

“Look. You can always beat these people down in price. They are usually helpless and frightened. In Cuba we could quite easily have beaten down people from $3 to $2 for a shared taxi ride – but it was wrong.”

She’s right of course. But I don’t think the people who run these big fashion firms give a shit about anything except where their next billion is coming from – and beating the competition.

"There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money" is something Dr. Johnson said which I think was plain wrong.

Consider, for instance, King Leopold of Belgium, who enslaved most of the people in the Congo to satisfy his bestial cupidity – an approach its rulers since independence have followed with such zeal that it remains one of the most destitute places on earth.

Churchill said “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others.” I think that is true of free enterprise, having seen communism in action.

But why can't all the filthy rich just occasionally ask themselves what is the right thing to do?

Sunday, 14 October 2007

If you ever want to know what those a***holes have been doing with your cash ...

... for the last ten years, don't ask Gordon Brown - he's just in charge of stealing it. Read this utter garbage. But after doing so, why not ask yourself a few questions, like:

Is this not just a giant public wank at our expense? Should people who can't even explain in decent English what they do or why it matters be given a penny of your money? Do you think they're anything but a bunch of grasping time-servers? What the hell is an "expert in empowerment?" Would such drones not be better employed cleaning pub lavatories after a good Saturday night's piss-up? Will you contribute to a fund to pour a bucket of shit over Hazel Blears?

Expert partnership on empowerment launched to support participation agenda
Release date: 18 Sep 2007

A body of experts in empowerment have developed a partnership to support the Government’s mission to increase levels of participation at local, regional and national levels.

The National Empowerment Partnership (NEP) which aims to improve the quality, co-ordination and evidence of empowerment across England was announced today in a speech by Hazel Blears MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, at the DTA conference.

Currently there are a number of community empowerment activities and projects taking place, across England, but they are often scattered, have unstable funding and are of variable quality. Some are brought forwards by communities themselves and others stimulated by government. However, there is little central information about what works in practice at a local, regional or even national level, or co-ordinated action to stimulate and support activity where it is absent or weak.

The National Empowerment Partnership seeks to address these problems and support existing projects by improving the quality of practice through exchange of information and good practice, quality assure processes which aim to achieve empowered communities and citizens and centrally gather information about community empowerment. By doing so, the partnership intends to increase the numbers and capacity of people able to influence the decisions that affect their lives and improve the quality and function of relationships between citizens and government.

The Community Development Foundation facilitated the development of the partnership which brings together representatives from the Community Sector Coalition, Urban Forum, Community Alliance, I&DeA, the Young Foundation, Federation for Community Development Learning, Community Development Exchange, the Take Part Network, ‘V’ youth volunteering, Academy for Sustainable Communities, and Involve.

Alison Seabrooke, Chief Executive of the Community Development Foundation said: “The Community Development Foundation welcomes the government’s support of the development of the National Empowerment Partnership. Empowering communities is an essential starting point for encouraging engagement and participation. Therefore, the National Empowerment Partnership is pleased that the government has recognised its important role in achieving their vision of a strengthened participatory democracy for all. The National Empowerment Partnership very much looks forward to supporting the government in implementing its vision.”

Tom Levitt MP, Chair of the Community Development Foundation said: “The National Empowerment Partnership will provide vital evidence and promote good practice which is an essential component to achieving the Government’s aim of a strengthened participatory democracy for all. I am delighted that the Community Development Foundation was instrumental in the development of the National Empowerment Partnership and look forward to working with the partnership and government to improve the levels of participation in England.”

For further information about the NEP, email Alison.Seabrooke@cdf.org.uk
Release date:
18 Sep 2007
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Monday, 8 October 2007

Oh, God – not more of Drayton’s bloody holiday snaps!

You can skip this one if you like, because you know all too well what’s coming, but I did promise to say more about Cuba so here goes, with a few illustrations

Everybody loves those ancient American cars that sheer mechanical ingenuity keeps running there year after year – and so did we. They represent one aspect of the transport system – in Havana, anyhow – which seems to consist of three alternatives.

First, buses, and for that matter trucks, which are almost as old as the old Chevrolets, Fords, Plymouths, Chryslers and Buicks with their dollar grins on the fronts. We never tried the buses and trucks - they were too crowded and we had no idea where they were going.

Second, pretty new “official” taxis, which operate with meters and cost much more than the third option, which you might call “stop me and buy one.” You stand by the road side and thumb a lift. When someone stops (you hope in a wonderful old classic, but sometimes in a battered old Lada or Fiat) you tell them where you’re going and they take you if it’s convenient. No problem if other passengers are already in the car or they join on the way – it’s like a shared taxi, and it costs about a quarter of an official taxi.

We loved Cuba, because the people are charming and for the most part it has not yet been ruined by tourism. Parts of Havana are a bit commercial, but tastefully done. I mentioned last week the artist Salvador Gonzalez, who has decorated an entire street.

We bought two pictures off him, but not one that we wanted, which had a small picture of Pavarotti, who had died the day before, inset in the middle. Salvador said we couldn’t have it because he was off to Turin the next day to do a mural, and was going to give it to the Pavarotti family.

I won’t bore you about the seminar we did, but the delegates, who had flown from Kiev, Moscow and Minsk, arrived late at night and turned up the next morning at 9:30 ready for a day that didn’t end till 6:30 – followed by another day starting at the same time. Talk about stamina.

Our translator, Vladimir, told me he had once been corrected by Putin – who apparently delights in catching interpreters out. The place we stayed was a bit like Club Med in the ‘70’s but without the good food.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

"Blood and stomach pills!"

My father sometimes used this phrase when feeling a trifle heated about one thing or another - which was pretty often, starting with the choice of tunes on the Light Service, which is what they called radio 1 in medieval times.

It sprang to my lips when I realised I have mislaid somewhere in cyberland a painstakingly prepared, utterly riveting description of our trip to Havana, complete with enough boring holiday pics to put a regiment to sleep.

Don't imagine you've escaped, though. I shall reconstitute the whole thing and slip it in when you least expect it. Come to think of it, that sounds trifle obscene, doesn't it?

But enough of these preliminary frolics. Let us turn from the obscene to the ridiculous, of which I saw a couple of examples in the past 48 hours. The first was a ludicrous little invitation from some halfwit in local government inviting "Black and Minority Ethnic Elderly (Over 50) to attend an event where they would learn about their "entitlements".

I saw this on a bus between Roedean and Brighton Station. I was on that bus because I had just been to see my black and minority ethnic granddaughter playing net-ball and it happens that more than half my family is black and minority ethnic; and in fact I have been mingling with black and minority ethnic people since the age of 18 when a black and minority ethnic bongo-player called Bizi passed me my first joint in a rather dodgy Moss Side jazz club.

And you know what I learned from my intimate acquaintance with these black and minority ethnic folk? Many are quite as bright as everyone else, and would feel as insulted as you and me if some patronising twat from the council with absolutely nothing useful to do but piss away tax-payers' money thought us so thick we needed to have our own little get-together to explain these things.

But of course the minute most people get that little sniff of authority they seem to imagine we're all as thick pig shit. Gordon Brown explained he's not going to hold an election not because the polls said he will lose, but because he doesn't want to be judged on his "competence" but on his "vision".

Er, pull the other one, Gordon. This one's got bells on it.

Who knows what might happen if you were really judged on competence? Would you get three cheers from the soldiers in Iraq you arranged a photo-opportunity with last week? I looked at their faces. Were they all thinking how competent you were to keep back the funding to supply them with better body armour? Who knows? Or were they thinking you were using them to try to look good? Who knows?

But you want to be judged on your "vision".

Haven't we had enough of vision in this country. Tony Bliar had one every week, as far as I can make out - and many were not just "visions". They were strategic visions. I bet many were so strategic and visionary they were downright iconic.

I have no brief for Cameron, but I'll lay odds that the chief reason why many voters started to think he might just conceivably not make a total balls of things was that he stopped talking vaguely and started being specific.

If you want to persuade people, one fact is worth a truckload of waffle. Why do politicians find this so hard to understand?

But I digress, because it seems visions are far more relevant nowadays than competence. I read that, allegedly, the man who got fired from BBC 1 last week
lost his job because his boss was likely to end up in trouble. His boss? Who could be more important than the guy running the programmes? Why, a woman whose job is "Head of Vision".

Head of what ?

Thursday, 4 October 2007

A true Chihuahua story - specially for Aussies

Did you know Chihuahuas were used to kill snakes? I found out the hard way

Just over 21 years ago I was on my way to make a speech at a posh club in Melbourne. It was a blazing hot summer day.

As I walked through the car park outside the club I saw a little Chihuahua tethered to a car door in all that heat. I felt really sorry for the dog and bent over to pat him (or her – I didn’t stay to find out).

The tiny beast leapt forward and sank his teeth in my brand new trousers, just below the knee. I don’t like to boast, but a couple of inches more and it could have been a lasting personal tragedy.

But enough of that trouser-snake story - which is absolutely true, except the boasting, ladies. It was just an intro to this excellent joke.

Two friends were out for a Saturday walk. One had a Doberman; the other
had a Chihuahua.

As they sauntered down the street, the guy with Doberman
said to his friend, "Let's go over to that bar and get a drink,"

The guy with the Chihuahua said, "we can't go in there. We've got our dogs
with us." The one with the Doberman said, "Just follow my lead."

So, they walked over to the bar and the guy with the Doberman puts on a pair of
dark glasses and starts to walk in.

The bouncer at the door said, "Sorry, Mac, no pets allowed."

The man with the Doberman said, "You don't understand. This is my Guide

The bouncer said, "a Doberman Pinscher?"

The man said, "Yes, they're using them now. They're very good."

The bouncer said, "OK, Come on in."

The buddy with the Chihuahua figured, what the heck, so he put on a pair of
dark glasses and started to walk in. He knew his hound would be more unbelievable.

Once again the bouncer said, "Sorry, pal, no pets allowed."

The man with the Chihuahua said, "You don't understand. This is my guide dog."

The bouncer said, "A Chihuahua?"

The man with the Chihuahua said, "A CHIHUAHUA?!!"

They gave me a f*****g CHIHUAHUA?

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

My secret bodybuilding past

Well, I never knew so many people were so seriously fed up with gyms. This confirmed my maxim: "Nothing fails like success" (© Drayton Bird) - which I find applies to most industries and people.

Before enlarging on that, I have a confession: forty odd years ago I was partly responsible for the success of a gizmo called the Bullworker. I worked with a very large man called Dave Prowse who later played Darth Vader. It is not true that I was Mr. Before to his Mr. After.

Ads I wrote ran all over the world - to such effect that two years ago a US internet whizz called Joe Vitale did a one hour interview with me, partly because he bought one. I get lots of e-mails from Joe who seems to specialise in miracles as far as I can tell, but sure knows how to sell them.

Anyhow, reverting to my maxim, somebody wise - maybe Warren Buffett - said a good trigger for getting out of an investment is when you see the firm has built a big fancy office - giving the example of Sears, Roebuck.

(No chance there with us; our office is a former basement brothel in the West End. Same principle; less pleasure for the clients.)

I think a good indicator of impending catastrophe is when the person in charge starts rushing around giving speeches about how wonderful he is - a good example being Mr. Bannatyne. Another was the late Saint Anita Roddick whose principles had far too little to do with her practice.

Before you lot in the back row say it, yes, I do make speeches - but if you ever catch me telling you I'm wonderful, shoot me.

Monday, 1 October 2007

More sweaty armpits and addled brains

I am really thinking there is a market for books about the topsy-turvy world of gyms. Last week my partner and her sister went to one called KX which was wonderful. It is an absolute snip at £300 a month – plus a trifling £1500 for life membership.

They are perfect, says my partner. “Their attention to detail is impeccable. You get lots of really expensive free toiletries. They even give you flip-flops.”

To be honest, at that price I’d expect free blow-jobs – but there you are.

Tonight we all trooped off to check out somewhere called The Third Space near Piccadilly Circus. The guy who showed us round – William - did a great selling job, but his skills were wasted, as the yoga man was extremely rude, greeting the girls with a snappish, “You’re late!”

Considering this joint costs over a hundred quid a month you might think a little politeness was in order but clearly the arrogant twat hasn’t yet worked out where his money comes from.

In fact that graceless greeting was about the only thing they did hear clearly, as the freezing air conditioning drowned out his whispered instructions. Mind you, they needed some air-conditioning; the place was amazingly crowded, except for the swimming pool, which is excellent and empty.

On balance the girls think the most expensive place they’ve tried is the best value. I think they should save the money, buy a nice new car instead and ride round on bikes to keep fit.

Incidentally, the clowns at LA Fitness, having totally ignored them when they were there, rang to ask if they'd like to become members. Rather like an 18th century whore asking if you'd like a dose of the pox.

That’s quite enough about gyms - but isn’t it odd how half the population is trying to eat, drink and drug itself to death while the other half is pelting round Hyde Park, doing aerobics, eating seeds and falling for utterly bogus tripe about de-toxing.

Odd creatures, people.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Why LA Fitness is unfit, some thanks - and a few other reflections

Dr. Johnson, as you know if you read this, is perhaps my favourite person to crib from, though he made quite a few pretty sweeping and highly dubious statements.

One of his best lines came when he was asked to coin a good insult. His suggestion was: "Sir, your mother, under pretence of keeping a bawdy house, is a receiver of stolen goods."

Another I like was, "I do not wish to speak ill of any man , but I believe the gentleman is an attorney."

This strikes a chord with me right now, even though one of my best friends is a lawyer.

I am going through my third and, I devoutly pray, last divorce. A sad business. My lawyers are good - perhaps the best around - but seem unable to restrain their rapacity. Maybe it comes with the training. Not content with charging perhaps the highest fees in London, they insisted that I deposit a tidy sum with them in advance.

I can understand that, just, though I am hardly a likely defaulter; but to add injury to insult they charge me as we go along. So my money sits in their bank earning interest.

Let's moan about something else.

My partner and her sister are taking free trials of various gyms, while I stay home and do my usual set of exercises: three deep breaths, two twitches and a majestic fart.

Yesterday they went to LA Fitness in Fulham. The instructor was wonderful they said - he struck some impressive, near impossible poses of a highly contortionate nature, with the intention, I greatly fear, of conveying his abilities in closer contact with someone of either sex later.

They arrived to be greeted with far less than total apathy. Nobody told them where the changing rooms - or anything else - might be; they were expected to buy a lock to put on their locker; and they left just as ignored as they came.

What the hell is the point of offering a free trial if you ignore the people who accept it? When you're in a booming industry like health-freakery you can get away with this level of incompetence - but not forever, believe me.

You know, quite a few people suggested I write this blog but I always refused as it seemed grossly narcissistic and, again to quote Dr.J, "Sir, no man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money."

However, I greatly appreciate the comments I get - especially the last two. To give you another little gem I love, James Thurber wrote a very funny book about the great New Yorker editor Harold Ross, who was a very lugubrious soul and sparing with praise. Whenever he saw something he liked he would say, "I am encouraged to go on."

You comments ancourage me to go on, except one that I removed last week, because it was a) untrue in three important respects and b)it named names, which I try to avoid so as to and c) the writer (like many of this type) did not identify himself.

If he does I'll put him right - though I have a suspicion as to who he is. I do plan to write about all those things eventually - and accurately