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Sunday, 27 March 2011

How to breed a nation of drones, cowards and weaklings

Yesterday Warren Cottis from Australia asked me what I study nowadays and I mentioned some books.

I love history, and read a while ago an excellent book about Alexander Pope, who wrote some 300 years ago that "The proper study of mankind is man".

He was right, of course. People are by far the most intriguing, worthwhile object of study. Their follies and eccentricities constantly entertain, appall and astound me.

Take this sign, to be seen at many points in Bristol Temple Meads station. Ignoring (with difficulty) the silly slogan some fool stuck at the end, it assumes that all passengers are half-wits. I believe that as you treat people, so they become.

In the last 60 odd years nanny governments in their insatiable desire to control every aspect of our lives have succeeded in making half the nation fit for nothing.

So one can hardly blame the feckless millions who in fact do nothing except collect money just for drifting though their pointless lives. That is how their masters have trained them to behave.


Having written all that and read it with a certain quiet pleasure, she who is smarter than me then said "Actually, I think the signs are up because some bastard sued them."

Two thoughts come to mind.

1. Nobody should be allowed to recover damages because they didn't use the wits God gave them.

2. "First, let's kill all the lawyers" - Shakespeare, Henry VI

After I wrote this we went shopping. Outside the Odeon cinema is a sign "Fanatical about film".

P. S. I don't know what the hell's happening with the spacing on this.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Folly exposed: the most important piece I have seen in years - from the New York Times

Most people have it all wrong.

Every time someone comes to me for advice - as a young American did last week - I give the same dull, unexciting advice. Study.

I said, "If you go into a room confident that you know more about the subject that anyone else, believe me, that is a marvellous feeling."

Every time someone interviews me, as someone did last week, and asks about the secret of success, I say the same dull thing. Study.

I said, and I meant it, that any success I have had is nothing to do with me. I get down on my knees every night and thank God for the people who are more talented than me but can't be bothered to study.

Blithering idiots.

Their ignorance and sloth are astounding

A study of senior marketers which I love quoting sought to find out what they knew. It was found that if every respondent had answered "I don't know" to every question, they would as a whole have got better average marks than they did.

All success and happiness, of a nation, a person or business starts with knowing more. I sold my agency to the firm - Ogilvy and Mather - that was most dedicated to training, not to Grey who offered a better deal but only cared about money.

In the New York Times a piece by Nicholas Kristof points out that in those nations which are doing best, like Singapore and South Korea, teachers are paid more than lawyers.

In those nations, teachers are highly respected and paid better than lawyers and engineers.

In the U.S. a good starting lawyer takes home $115,000 more than a good starting teacher.

No lawyer can set you up for life. A good teacher can.

By not paying enough to teachers and too much to legal vultures, shoddy local politicians and financial drones we are mortgaging our children's future.

Of all the things I do, training is by far the most valuable.

"Knowledge itself is power" - Francis Bacon.

P. S. I see the bloody machine that sets up these blogs has started playing silly buggers with the type again.

P. P. S. Was that piece a subtle promotion for my seminars? No. But since you ask, I have lost count of the number of people who say I help them succeed. I get at least one message a day saying so.

P. P. S. Should I also say that I am fast approaching 15 years past the age when many people retire, so this could be your last chance?

Friday, 25 March 2011

How hard is it to get people to tick boxes? BT’s infinity of boastful incompetence – with a relevant comment from Jeff Bezos

When they lower me into my grave, will I still be waiting for BT broadband?

It looks a bit like that.

Over the last few weeks, the normally serene Carol in my office has been nigh on rendered insane by BT’s inability and disinclination to be helpful with her home number.

It then took us 5 weeks to switch lines from one office to another, during which all references by the radiant Chloe to the fact that they were supposed to be helpful and supply a service were either ignored or dismissed as the ravings of a simpleton.

And here in Bristol we have just received our second ”home hub” pack which we had to pay a deposit for. Maybe it's their credo that the customer is always wrong - or they think it is our fault the first was useless or perhaps we might run away with it.

Many people imagine (wrongly) that all you need to build a brand is a pretty logo and a snappy slogan that sums your offering up.

For BT “Run by cretins, staffed by morons” might work, but it would be unfair. We have encountered one very helpful and competent person, an engineer and there must be more hiding their faces in embarassment somewhere.

But then again, “Run by cretins, staffed almost entirely by morons” lacks simplicity. How about something less corporate? “As full of shit as a Christmas turkey” has a certain ring.

Anyhow yesterday our second “home hub” came, like the first, in a box unencumbered by helpful instructions, just a series of vainglorious boasts about how wonderful the service is.

Both times some essential wires were missing. At least, that’s what we concluded - though without the instructions how can you possibly tell, any more than you could find out where to get the wires even if we knew where to stick them?

However I have one excellent idea which involves forcible insertion up the fundament of someone very senior at BT.

For all the good they are we might just as well start our own broadband service – and my beloved’s regular conversations with BT (Hindustan) Ltd got her nowhere.

This is not because poor ladies in Bangalore or Chennai or wherever don’t want to help, nor that they are stupid. It’s just that they a) speak a slightly different kind of English to the one we use here and b) have no idea what they are talking about, presumably because nobody has thought to tell them.

To give one example, whilst the engineer I mentioned was in our flat a lady in India was informing us that neither our order, nor our phone number nor even our post-code existed.

Are we a figment of our own imagination? How did the engineer come to visit us at our phantom flat? Do they have a random installation programme? Just walk in anywhere and start installing? They certainly have a random management system.

The engineer was so annoyed about this nonsense that he took over the phone call and sorted things out (as he thought).

The only people getting any fun out of all this are the colleagues who follow with the occasional chuckle these weird exchanges with the subcontinent. After the last one, her boss said to my loved one with a sort of lugubrious glee, “You’ll never get it, you know”.

He should know. He’s been waiting since December to get his broadband properly installed. Not an infinity, but far too long.

Friends tell me all the providers are the same, but surely none can quite match the surreal levels of uselessness we have encountered.

And when finally the root of the problem was discovered it was simple. Whoever took the original order failed to tick two boxes. The second person and the third got it half right, ticking one of the boxes. So on the first occasion nothing arrived; and on the second two just half the order arrived.

For years BT was named as the number one brand in Britain. But sheer incompetence will always override bullshit. What Mr Big Fat Useless who runs BT should do is get off his overpaid arse and try being a customer.

A relevant comment came from Jeff Bezos of Amazon a few years ago.

Somebody asked him if his customers were loyal. “Absolutely. One hundred per cent,” he replied. “Right up till the moment someone comes along and offers a better service.”

The minute someone offers a really good broadband service, they’ll clean up.

P. S. Since I drafted this, another exchange has taken place: the missing wires will reach us on Monday – so they claim. I won’t be at all surprised if instead we receive a microwave or food mixer.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Cannibalism for animal lovers. Whatever next?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

How to make friends and influence people - or not, as the case may be

I have always - naively perhaps - believed good marketers should make it easy for you to do whatever you want and whenever possible appear welcoming and helpful.

So I was intrigued to read what happened when a friend wanted to join the Chartered Institute Marketing's group on Linked-in.

Here is the welcome she got.

Subject: Your request to join the CIM group on LinkedIn

Hi and thanks for your interest in the group.

PLEASE follow this up with an email containing your CIM membership number, or at least confirm that there is something on your LinkedIn profile that will show me you are a CIM member. This is strictly a CIM-members-only forum and I just don't havew time to check up on everyone, so please make it as easy as possible for me to let you into the group!

If it takes a while to process your application, please bear in mind that I run the group on a voluntary basis, and I don't always log in regularly. I get 50-100 requests to join a week, so forgive me if it takes time for your request to be actioned: I will get round to it!

On the same note, if you feel that your request is taking too long to action, sending me a snotty email demanding that I accept your request or you'll withdraw your application (don't laugh - it does happen!) is unlikely to make me drop my clients and rush online to welcome you into the group!

Finally, if you get a rejection from me in a few days please don't take it personally. It means I've either made a mistake (it happens!), or you haven't sent me your CIM number :)

Finally, I am not on the staff of the institute, so if you have any queries about your membership please address them to the CIM directly.

All the best

What I don't understand is why he never asked her for her bra size.

Monday, 21 March 2011

If this is how they invest their money, I’d hate them anywhere near mine

Not long ago a credit card firm called Mint whose card I have not used for two years sent me a letter and statement.

The statement said I owed them nothing, adding that if I didn’t want to keep using the card, I need do nothing.

So I did nothing.

Then I got a bill for card protection insurance, followed by a phone call chasing the money.

Then a bigger bill (added interest) and another phone call.

You tell me how I can owe money for something I could not possibly have needed protection from - which they well know?

I believe this closely parallels the insurance policies so many of these rogues sold and have been fined millions for, but we shall see.

While I am waiting I thought it worth looking at a few other millions - those that most financial services firms piss away on bad advertising and marketing.

If enough of you find what follows useful, I shall do a free webinar on the subject.


In his introduction to the best ever book on the subject, Claude Hopkins’
"Scientific Advertising”, David Ogilvy wrote, “When I see an advertisement I can always tell if the writer has read Claude Hopkins”.

Very few copywriters who work in financial services have read Hopkins, as a quick survey of their efforts shows.

To be honest, it's hard to believe they have ever studied anything on what makes advertising do its job – get you a good return on your money.

Ironic, when you consider that is what financial services are supposed to do.

Typical is a piece of dross produced for Zurich, who, like most insurance firms, have far too much money for their policyholders’ good.

It is an entire double page spread, with nearly all the space wasted.

There is no promise; instead a picture of a rather sinister-looking individual surfing takes up most of the space.

The headline says, “Some people dream about a retirement spent in the garden. Not me”

After you’ve filed that under “So bloody what?” you can ask a simple question. Why is there no attempt to explain why the reader should choose Zurich rather than anyone else?

That one line just suggests that a pension may free you to do what you want when you retire, whilst asking you to identify with someone you may well find as obnoxious as I did.

The whole ends with a silly slogan - Because change happenz” that, setting aside the twee use of the z, could be applied to just about anything from an umbrella to pregnancy testing.

But that effort is the advertising equivalent of the Mona Lisa compared with one in the same publication (The Week) for Brewin Dolphin which consists of an entirely blank page, and a line at the bottom reading, “We like to begin every relationship with a blank sheet of paper.”

One of John Caples’ books is entitled “Making Ads Pay.” This won’t – not a chance.

As far as I can make out neither the people who turn out this stuff, the creative directors they report to nor the clients who approve their woolly-minded outpourings have the vaguest idea of, or slightest interest, in what sells and what doesn’t.

If you would like to see these and a few other ads analysed so as to examine what works and what doesn’t in this field, just go here and register for my free webinar.

Relax: I won't just vent my spleen on the ads I hate; I'll analyse some good ones too.

Incidentally, the competition in this field is so poor that I reckon anyone with a little skill, determination and willingness to study can make a good living.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Is this the biggest advertising lie?

Nobody knows or cares more about your business than you.

But sometimes an outsider sees what you don't.

That is why some clients pay me to take their copy and comment or edit it.

Adrian Teale of Oceanvillas is running 10 reports for people who sell property, one of which I revised this morning. You might find it interesting, so here it is.

Don't fall for this advertising lie

Does this story ring any alarm bells with you? Because it should.

A salesman for a magazine, newspaper or billboard calls and gives you the hard sell. He tells you how many fantastic prospects their ad will bring you and how you only need to sell one property to pay for your investment.

The sales guy’s promises are so good that even if it generates just 1% of what he tells you, you’ll still make money.

So you pull out your cheque book and write a cheque for a 6 month contract which costs around 10,000 USD. The salesman goes away and in no time at all sends you a great looking advert.

This guy is on the ball!

Six months later you're still sitting in your office wondering where your first property buyer is coming from.

So what went wrong?

All your competitors use these types of advertising and it must work – otherwise why do they do it?. The ad looked great and the slogan was really clever. But still you have no buyers.

So you call the salesman you wrote the cheque for and tell him you’ve had no response. He suggests some arty alterations and explains that you haven’t got your message across yet. So he asks you for another six months contract.

That makes sense so you pull out your cheque book and write him another fat cheque and sit in your office for another six months.

Still few people come and nobody buys.

Now you are twelve months down the line and you’re still struggling for sales despite spending thousands and thousands of dollars.

The advertising guy calls you up again and you tell him it’s a waste of your time and your money and it’s simply not working - just as you told him six months ago.

Then he tells you the biggest lie in advertising:

"This type of advertising cannot be measured. You can't just count how many leads come in and calculate your return on investment. That would be very misleading. You need a campaign. You have to build “awareness”. Look at what the big advertisers do. They repeat their ads. You need your name out there so people have heard of you and recognise your brand."

He goes on to tell you, “Your ad has to be seen between 6 and 12 times before it starts to be effective”.

The truth about advertising

If your ad doesn’t work once it will never work no matter how many times you run it.

People who measure their results know that the first time an ad runs it attracts the keenest prospects. If it doesn’t work then, it never will.

The truth is, most companies who sell advertising will actively avoid doing anything that allows you to measure their results.

So when you see an ad or billboard with a great picture and a clever slogan declaring how xyz property will transform your lifestyle and make you the envy of your friends - don't be fooled. Chances are that the people who run it have no more idea than you if it worked.

Brand and awareness are terms often used by ad agencies and magazine and newspaper sales reps to make excuses for not measuring the results of their work.

Many advertising companies have used this method for decades to keep their customers in the dark about how effective their work really is.

The plain, unpleasant truth is that most advertisers have no idea whether their advertising works at all or they’re just wasting their money.

But if you rely on sales you can’t afford this.

This deception will continue to be used forever until business people wake up and see that results can be effectively measured and marketing money can be targeted to where it does most good.

Advertising a global consumer product versus a property development

Am I saying that Coca Cola, Nokia and Adidas are run by a bunch of dim-wits who are pouring their advertising money down the drain?

No; I am not.

Their sales process is not the same as yours. They are selling through retail in a global consumer market where image rules. Their ads are designed to stick in the mind and make people choose them when they reach the shop.

And their margins and numbers are so colossal that they can afford to throw millions at advertising. You can’t. You build and sell property. You necd a return on your investment - and pretty quickly.

So the next time your advertising salesman asks you for a big cheque think twice and ask him some simple questions, like:

“Really? Show me the sales results.”

And, “Can I talk to a few of the people who are getting sales through you?”

And, “Please explain to me why and how that ad you’re suggesting will work?”

Or even: “How about I pay you on the results? The replies can go to you and I’ll pay you so much a lead.”

You’ll soon find out where you stand.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

I’m a fan of this ludicrously underpriced artist – maybe you will be too. Here’s an (also ludicrously underpriced) opportunity

If you love good music and art, and would enjoy an evening that combines both, keep reading.

You will never get better value for £10.

Since the mid ‘70’s I have followed and collected not nearly enough of the work of John Minnion.

He is a cartoonist of extraordinary talent, with a wonderful affinity for (and knowledge of) music and musicians, classical and jazz.

Starting Tuesday 22nd March he has an exhibition of 21 pictures inspired 
by Chopin's Nocturnes at Lauderdale House, Highgate, London N6.

On 24th and 25th March there are two Chopin recitals by 
the talented pianist Mirsa Adami, including six of the Nocturnes, plus an animation based on pictures John has created for the exhibition.

He’s also
 showing a brief slideshow on the life and death of Chopin, and there’s 
a book (just £5) featuring all the drawings, with quotes from Chopin 

So if you come to Lauderdale House on 24th or 25th March you get an
 exhibition, a piano recital, a slideshow, an animation and a book.

But there is one problem. Only 100 seats

Come if you can, and bring friends. The music is wonderful - the most romantic ever composed, I would say - and he deserves a full house for both concerts.

Tickets are £10 on the door, but you can also buy in advance by 
credit card or paypal on John’s website www.checkmatebooks.com.

I hardly need say that I have no commercial interest in this. I just think that in a world of Philistine rogues good people should flourish.

Friday, 11 March 2011

But can I call you a deeply unpleasant, grasping bully and shit, "Sir" Fred? Plus an interview with someone who really does understand money

Former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive "Sir" Fred Goodwin has obtained a superinjunction to stop him being identified as a banker.

He is the man whose arrogance and incompetence, together with that of the Bloated McToad and his sidekick Ed Balls we are all still paying for.

John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley told MPs about this outrageous piece of legal flummery, asking:

'Will the government have a debate or a statement on freedom of speech and whether there's one rule for the rich and one for the poor?'

Fat chance of Dave "can anyone show me Libya on a map?" Cameron and his pals doing that.

Superinjunctions stop the media from even revealing that an injunction has been obtained, but. MPs can use parliamentary privilege to avoid the legal ban. Good on you, Mr. Hemming.

Interestingly, Mr.Hemming made his money in investing. As did my long-time client Hargreaves Lansdown who the day before I flew here (I'm in New York) joined the FTSE 100 - the biggest firms by capitalisation on the Stock Exchange.

They did it the hard way. They earned it.

If you want to know what it takes to climb from a spare bedroom to an awful lot of money, I can help.

That's because I spent a fascinating hour interviewing Peter Hargreaves to tease out his secrets and his character. It has majestic views of the back of my head - plus his pungent views on matters like meetings, salesmen, who he learned from - and brand advertising (not keen).

He has written an excellent book on how he did it all called In for a penny.

Very few people have seen this interview, but you can if you come to my branding weekend at the Business School at De Montfort University, just an hour away from London.

By the way, the day of the London bombings I did some training for Hargreaves Lansdown (don't ask how we got there!) Quite a few of their people have attended my seminars too.

They seem to have done quite well. Maybe I could help you, too.


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

A minor orgy of self-congratulation, a mystery explained - and what the hell do I do all day?

Yesterday I went to see a new client who sells something highly technical I barely understand.

I was there to comment on their marketing, which doesn't do anything like justice to their product - which has 85% of a multi-billion dollar market.

Finding out about new things is one of my remaining pleasures, whereas explaining what I do (which the client also requested) is a pain. That's because it is so multifarious I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

As chance would have it, I also got five nice messages, also a pleasure, which related to some but not all the things I do. So talking about them helps explain.

One was from an alarmingly clever and very funny Russian lady in Paris. She organises the largest event of its kind in the world, which is to do with investment and told me in the morning that the last mailing I wrote for her had got complaints.

I said that is usually a good sign. It means people read it.

Her messages always make me laugh. In the evening I got another: By the way, that letter that got complaints was a good one. The bookings are going up on it.

Well done Drayton for being brilliant.

You should explain to people that you are brilliant, and then business will be up!"

Well, that sounds like good advice, Katia, so ...

Besides writing copy, I do training for her firm which I believe is the biggest of its kind in the world. The last session I did was a nightmare. My visual presentation had been stopped by their server, so I had to talk about how to write better without any visual aids for three - or was it four? - hours. They said they loved it - or were too polite to tell the truth.

I got another message yesterday from someone who I think gets my helpful ideas.

It read, "I am currently studying a copywriting course and am seriously loving your emails. The pieces of advice are definitely little gems. l am also gaining so much from seeing how you write and employ these techniques. I reckon you have saved me masses of time. Thanks, I no longer have to learn these tricks through trial and error but can immediately put them into practice. Brilliant!"

Then I got a third from a client who does the marketing for a big fashion retailer in South Africa. I wrote a report for her on her copy. She saw me at a one-day seminar I did in Johannesburg last year. She said, "Thank you for the critique. I’m very happy that you were frank – it’s exactly what I was looking for!

The communicating the Fashion is Fun resonated particularly with all of us and we’ve already started implementing some of the other suggestions to test in our next mail run."

The fourth was from a client who operates in Singapore and Thailand. He helps people market property all over the world, and I've been helping him and his marketing partner with their messages. Actually he sent me two kind messages yesterday, one about a suggestion I made about their copy, "The definition is priceless if kept in mind whilst writing." He keeps inviting me to stay at his villa on the beach at Phuket - but I've been too busy. Bad priorities on my part? Yes.

The fifth, from a client in Birmingham who sells financial services was so flattering I cannot reprint it with a straight face. I advise them on just about everything they do.

All that's a long winded way of saying that I advise, write for, train and help people all over the world on just about anything that will give them better results.

Which reminds me. I sent out an email three days ago that flopped. I thought that was because it was too clever. I was wrong. It was because it had the word sex in it, so the spam catchers did for it. The follow-up did twice as well in two hours

I almost forgot that I speak at and sometimes organise events. And we now have our first bookings for the branding event - one from the managing director of a publication that I consider the best of its kind in Britain. It is certainly the best marketed, by far.

You meet a better class of person when you know me.

P. S. And if you really want to get to know me, I have not forgotten about mentoring. I'll get round to it - but right now I'm getting ready to go to New York and see some of my family - my son Phil, my grandson Rowan and my daughter Chantal.



Monday, 7 March 2011

A little laugh or two - and advice on how to be creative

My friend Daniel Roberts sends me a regular flow of cartoons, sample above, many of which give me a quiet smile. He has a style all his own as you can see - essential in a cartoonist - or in life, I believe.

Being funny to order is not easy, which may explain why so many comedians are miserable.

The late Frankie Howerd was such a moaner that his driver once told me he dumped him off at a motorway service station between London and Weston-super Mare, which is where he lived. Tony Hancock and Kenneth Williams both killed themselves. Spike Milligan alternated between being funny and downright abusive.

However, I recall many years ago having dinner at a table with his colleague Harry Secombe who seemed cheerful - he was laughing all the time. Bruce Forsyth sitting
opposite me said little but had appalling table manners. I watched in horrified fascination as he chewed away with his great gaping jaws wide open.

Sid Caesar's Show of Shows in the '50's was hard to beat. Comedy often seems unfunny in retrospect - but even over half century later I find his stuff with Imogen Coca hilarious. A friend of mine told me Caesar was utterly paranoid. He had a cupboard full of weapons in his house in case "they" came to get him. I should be so crazy: his writers included Woody Allen, Neil Simon and Mel Brooks.

The funniest man I ever saw in person was Ken Dodd, still going strong in his eighties, who sent me some links a while ago to sketches he admired featuring Jack Benny, whom I thought hard to beat. I had almost concluded that American comedians are funnier than British ones; then I recalled that Bob Hope, W. C. Fields and Stan Laurel - not to mention Charlie Chaplin, whom I also met - were born here.

I once saw Lenny Bruce who was so good I left his show with an ambition to be a stand up comedian. Another lost dream - though I feel I have the requisite amount of misery. Right now my friend Ales Lisac is having a go as I said recently. He always seems pretty chirpy, so maybe he should try more Slavic gloom.

Being funny takes a lot of talent, not always in great supply in advertising. Often it takes little more than one part ability to five parts bullshit. You can probably go easier on the talent if necessary: when I was a creative director I don't think I really worked more than a couple of hours a day.

This rather unkind thought crossed my mind as I read Australian Adnews, which pretty much convinced me that I am missing a few tricks when it comes to being creative.

One of my old proteges, Dave Nobay, is now creative chairman of a highly creative agency called Droga 5. As far as I can see he spends much of his time judging awards. To help him he has Sydney creative director, Steve Jackson and executive creative director, Duncan Marshall. They are clearly very creative as there is a photo of them in a bar.

Meanwhile Gavin McLeod, newly hired as creative director at THBW is "fiercely creative" maybe because he hasn't shaved for three days.

Must drink more (how is that possible?) and throw away razor.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

So how did we build a brand? And what does it really do for you?

About three years ago a reader of my helpful marketing ideas asked me how we built THB & W - the firm I sold to Ogilvy and Mather for what seemed a lot of money until my ex-wife got up to speed.

I listed – I think - 17 things, and said I would write a little book called How even a business idiot like me managed to make a million or two.

This is one of three books I want to write before I croak, but business keeps getting in the way - as with some of my other plans.

But from memory, here is what we did. And we must have done a good job, because 7 years after I sold THB & W it came 15th in a survey of which firms people rated as worth hiring

Weird, eh? A brand can live on after you don’t even exist.

Interestingly, we set up that business during, would you believe, a recession. Not a monster like this one. But a recession - especially for us as individuals

We were all in debt - so for the first few months we worked from home whilst keeping our jobs.

We did a test to see if we should tout ourselves as people to come to for international advertising or as direct marketing experts. Direct marketing won.

I wish I had kept the letter I wrote. One fool with time on his hands (Creative Director of Young and Rubicam advertising) said it was too long and there was a grammatical error at the top of page 3. Advertising people often know very little about selling anything except themselves.

I wrote a plan listing what kind of clients we should go for in order of priority and why. I was planning director (what a laugh) and my more talented partner John Watson was Creative Director.

We worked out how much money we needed to survive by Friday each week. On Wednesday I would say to our new business partner, “Where’s the fucking grand, Glenmore?" (That's how little you needed in 1977!)

We charged more money than anyone else – a pretty good positioning statement. Glenmore was exceptionally good at extracting money.

For the first three years we never paid rent for offices: we exchanged work for the space.

At least one of us went to every event we could, with the proviso that we had to get enough business to cover the cost.

We did house advertising – which nobody else did (advertising agencies rarely believe in advertising, had you noticed?)

We persuaded (with great difficulty) a top art director to join us, so our work would look good as well as sell.

Glenmore suggested – and drafted – a booklet on 35 ways direct marketing could help your business. I still have a copy somewhere.

He also forged alliances with agencies in New York and Hong Kong, which made us look good

We ran conferences in four cities on direct marketing. They made £10,000 profit - a lot then. I won the top award for the letter I wrote – lost that letter, too.

I befriended a man who wanted to start a direct marketing magazine and newsletter and churned out stuff for him every week. In fact I wrote articles for anyone and everyone I could – at least 6 a month for at least 10 years.

In conjunction with the magazine we ran the first-ever residential direct marketing course in the U.K. in a Hertfordshire country house. I rented a white Jaguar XK to look a lot more successful than I was.

Reluctantly, because I was utterly terrified, I start public speaking. I did so anywhere at any time for anyone who asked.

In 1982, at Glenmore and John’s suggestion I wrote my first business book, Commonsense Direct Marketing which has now morphed into Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing.

I was – and remain - astounded at how well it was received. And even more astounded at how many successful people (far more so than me) have been influenced by it. It's now in its 5th edition and out in 17 languages.

We had regular training sessions. You can't do it all yourself. We wanted the best trained staff.

We threw great parties and had annual sports days and mystery tours.

We had birthday parties which lasted all afternoon for every member of staff.

We wanted the happiest staff.

In three and half years we were the biggest agency in our little world. But we fought like mad and my partners both left the agency.

Over time we were approached by 8 of the top 20 ad agencies to sell.

I couldn’t stand the strain, so I sold to Ogilvy and Mather. What we were doing was closer to their founder's philosophy that their own direct agency in London, which was a joke.

I gave a share in the proceeds to everyone who stuck around. My dear P.A. Daphne was able to buy her house and a big field to the back of it.

What I sold was not an agency. It was a brand. To this day, 34 years later, people occasionally mention THB & W and say what fun it was.

A brand comes from an attitude and what you do more than what you say.

Most people don’t realise that. If you do - and you act on it - you have a remarkable competitive advantage.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Could a cuddly sheep help YOU find success and happiness?

Those of us who cherish great moments in cinematic history will fondly recall the deep and meaningful relationship Gene Wilder had with a sheep in "Everything you ever wanted to know about sex - but were afraid to ask."

This touching image of domesticated felicity sprang to mind as I scratched around for ways to tell you really MUST try to make it to the event I'm mismanaging in my usual half-arsed way on April 15th and 16th in association with De Montfort University.

By the way, did you ever see “Everything you ever etc.?" For the time it was pretty outrageous.

But I mention the sheep story because at our seminar, James Hammond - The Brand Doctor - will explain how one firm got its customers to have a relationship with sheep – and how it helped build their brand.

You think that’s crazy?

It’s just the beginning. Because then he’ll show you how an idea like that could help build your brand. And he will come up with many more startling examples and show how they can help you, too.

The two day event is called How to build a winning brand in the 21st century. And James won't just talk theory. He will work with you to see how you can build a brand, no matter what your business. I have never met anyone so knowledgeable about the subject - and he has a unique 4-step approach to how you go about it.

Other speakers include Rory Sutherland, former President of the IPA whose talks on TED are almost legendary and Andy Knowles, chairman of the U.K.'s largest design firm who will make you think again about why people buy (and what whopping mistakes many big firms make).

I'll be there in my usual role as Lord of Misrule - plus a couple of other luminaries of whom more in the days ahead.

You will be relieved to know we won't just talk about the relationships you can have with farmyard animals. We will be exploring a much deeper topic. And that is the fact that despite all the hogwash about social marketing, most firms find it so very hard having a relationship with customers.

By the way, if you’re not interested in brand building, just ignore a lot of what I write in the next few weeks – because that’s mostly what I’ll be talking about.

But if you realise that a brand is just about most valuable business commodity you can possibly possess - literally more important than your product - then please pay attention in the back row.

Because my colleagues and I hope to intrigue, entertain and surprise - besides showing you why to succeed today you've got to throw away a lot of old fashioned notions about branding.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The first shall be last – and other glimpses of unconscious irony

There are countless stories in history about great leaders who would stroll anonymously among their people to find out what was really going on.

It seems many of the best leaders did this

Sadly, nobody teaches history any more except in the very best schools, like Eton, which is where our glorious prime minister went.

Clearly he has forgotten his history because the admirable practice of those old heroes has now been replaced by the photo-opportunity, where leaders pretend to ride bikes, go jogging or mingle among humble folk like you and me.

This is a shame, because as a result they have no idea what is happening in the real world.

If Mr. Cameron wanted to know what it’s like for the rest of us he could stop talking bilge about this mythical Big Society, which is about as meaningful as Shrek 3, and sample the services - or not, as is the case - of the laughably named, dismally managed First Great Western company.

This appalling lash-up is the bastard descendant of the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western, for over a century perhaps the best run railway firm in Britain, and now among the worst.

If Izzy could see what was going on he would elbow his way to be first in line to jump off his favourite baby, the beautiful Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Cameron could start his brush with reality this Friday by sampling cattle class on the 7.30 p.m from London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads - assuming he could fight his way on.

When eventually he reached Bristol he could then marvel at the astonishing bus service provided by the same firm. The incompetents in charge have managed to turn on its head the very idea of public transport - to get from A to B faster than walking.

From where I live I have three choices. I can walk briskly to Temple Meads station in 42 minutes. Or I can take the bus - one takes 36 minutes to get there; the other two take 32. This is because they all take you a tour of the Wet Country en route, taking care to pause for a minute or two every now and then so the driver can calm down. Or I can take a taxi, which takes about 8 minutes. I have never seen a place where taxis do such a good trade.

Even if you get to the station on time – as I did yesterday – you will probably miss the train as I did yesterday because the queue to buy or obtain tickets is so long it takes 15 minutes to get your turn.

If there were a prize for the worst transport firm in Britain, surely “First” as this bunch of cowboys hilariously call themselves would be in the running. They could also win an award for humour, as they have on each bus an utterly pointless poster stating that they’re “transforming travel”. You can say that again.

There was a happy ending yesterday, though – and another laugh provided by another damn fool copywriter working for another utterly useless firm.

There is a Pasty Shop in the station where the helpful Agata from Poland and her colleagues serve the best bacon baps I’ve ever tasted.

And while I munched and waited for the next train to Birmingham I was able to marvel that whoever “creates” Lloyds Bank advertising thought it in any way a good idea to claim “We’re changing the way you look at money”.

Although this shows the copywiter has no idea what makes a good advertisement it has the merit of truth. Nobody realised just how well paid fat bankers could be for failing to provide a service and nigh on ruining an entire country. But it’s not necessarily a good idea to stick up a poster reminding us.

A good advertising rule: if you have nothing helpful or intelligent to say, shut the fuck up.

*** On the matter of banking, the retiring chairman of Rolls Royce had something good to say. There are only three ways to create wealth. Dig it up. Grow it. Or transform other things into it. All the rest is just moving it around.