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Thursday, 19 July 2012

This is the end, beautiful friend, the end ...

Actually it's not so much an end as a new beginning.

You know, "The blog is dead.  Long live the blog" ...

Or something like that at any rate.

What you need to know is that the blog hasn't gone - it's moved.  To here:

Please click on the picture, or the link and bookmark the page.

Some of you have been clever (or is that foolish) enough to subscribe to my musings.

So - by invitation - my latest ramblings invade your inbox once a day.

You don't have to re-subscribe.  One of my pointy-headed colleagues has done battle with the technical and won - you're already subscribed.

And with that I shall bid you farewell from here.  And look forward to greeting you over there.



How are many firms dealing with the recession? Nothing seems a popular option. Why not take Sir Francis Bacon's advice?

What are firms doing about the recession? I suspect many are hiding under the bedclothes and hoping it'll go away. Or maybe they're like this deer.

I get this impression from one fact and one observation.

The fact is this.

Firms are sitting on big piles of cash and doing nothing with it. As Sir Francis Bacon remarked in an essay, "Money is like muck. Not good except it be spread."

It is a cliché that the best time to act is when all your competitors aren't.

That is the case in a recession. Your money will get you better deals. You will have a greater share of voice.

And so on. Boring, boring, boring - except that this simple lesson seems lost on those who should have it off by heart.

The observation I refer to confirms what the effects of the fact are.

The other day I went to a big do at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which I shall write about when my hangover recedes and I am less mystified.

I spent a little time talking to a colleague who, like me, built a big direct marketing agency in the days back when and sold it for (I hope for his sake) loadsamoney.

I asked him how things were. "Tricky. Clients say they're going to do things but keep delaying and very often end up doing nothing," he replied lugubriously. 

Those piles of cash are losing value every day.

Put them to work.

REMINDER: I'd hate to lose you, but this blog is migrating (has migrated, actually) to Wordpress.

We are trying to move everyone with us automatically, but my experience is that in Cyberspace everything that can possibly go wrong will.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Mysteries of the universe: who on earth approves this sort of thing, and why?

The question I asked when I saw this was not "why not?". It was "why on earth?"

I saw it on the platform at Henley Station, just after I had finished interviewing Tony Laithwaite of Laithwaite's and goodness knows how many other wine businesses.

Tony is very modest considering how successful he is. It was only almost as an aside that he admitted he has created what is probably the world's largest wine merchants' business.

The question is, what is that glass of wine doing on the poster? Did they put it there as a subtle tribute to Tony, whose office is not far away?

Since they sell insurance was it perhaps a roundabout reference to the number of glasses of wine you should drink every day if you want to stay alive?

Was the red slash a cunning echo of their logo, in the fond delusion that would boost their sales? Couldn't they have found a more boring headline?

Is there even the slightest scintilla of a fraction of a ghost of a chance that it will do any good?

Tony told me that he gives his new people copies of my Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing. Like Peter Hargreaves, another successful businessman I have interviewed he has never spent a penny on image advertising.

What do they give new people at AXA and their agency to read? Alice in Wonderland?

Just as a reminder and because I don't want to lose you, I'm moving this blog to Draytonbird.com soon.

If you go there and think it's a bit of a mess: I agree. It has a huge amount of advice and other stuff yet to be plonked onto it.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

On Chinese charm, Ling the Unstoppable - and to hell with the internet experts

Is it politically incorrect to say this? I fear so.

I prefer women to men, always have.

They look nicer, are more entertaining and far more practical. They need to be, to cope with men.

It is probably even more politically incorrect to say I like Chinese women - but I do.

Before that gets me into further trouble I should explain this is nothing to do with sex. It is to do with personality.

Over the years I have worked with a few Chinese ladies. The first was Moy - back in 1958 in my first job in advertising. She was funny and charming in a way I can't quite describe, but she had a directness I loved.

The same applied to Alice, who worked for me about 15 years ago. I lost her because someone who also worked with me was a pain and lost me one or two good people including her - but Alice went on to do well. She too had this charm and directness.

But none could compare, as you will see, with Ling.

Yesterday somebody sent me to her site - http://www.lingscars.com/talks.php.

I was utterly transfixed. Especially when I saw a speech made by the master - is it OK to say mistress? - of that particular universe.

The site is the sort of thing that most marketers would find appalling.

It was voted one of the world's worst websites. But I bet that people spend ten times more time on it than they do on any site produced by people who think they are experts in building websites.

But none could compare, as you will see, if you go and watch Ling. This is 100% what you need when leasing cars. It is a living, moving example of a great car dealer's ad - but with the magic of Ling added.

The car marques build the brands: Ling shifts the metal. Great stuff.

Ling did very well on Dragon's Den, which I never watch as I see so many silly people on it. This is my favourite episode: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mmlx-e_u0i8.

Serve and volley - a profitable Wimbledon afterthought - and a reminder that this blog is moving

A while ago I confessed that for my first six years in this business almost all the copy I wrote was rubbish, but I sold it very well.
The best person I know when it comes to face-to-face selling is Andy Bounds. 
He has written a book you will often find on airport bookstalls called The Jelly Effect. Don't be put off because he mentions me at the start. It is a good book, and he tells me he is writing another.
Here's some advice he sent me this morning. It is good.
A powerful technique to help people think differently is to use what I call “serve and volley” – two questions that work as follows:
  1. The serve – a simple question that everyone knows the answer to; and
  2. The volley – a second, related question that provokes people into realising they need to change their mindset
For instance, I recently addressed a conference audience I knew hated networking.  So, I used “serve and volley” with them, asking these two questions:
  1. Do you feel uncomfortable when you are networking?  (90% of the room put their hand up)
  2. Do you think your discomfort is worse than other people’s?  (Again, 90% put their hand up)
I then made the point:  “Well, you can’t all be right.  After all, you can’t all find it worse than everybody else.”  Once people realised their feelings were similar to others, it was easier to improve their confidence, safe in the knowledge that they weren’t the “only one”.
Another example:
  1. Is your product good or bad?  (Everyone says “Good”)
  2. Given how good your product is, do you win as many sales as you should?  (The only answer people give to this is “No”)
Conclusion:  It’s not what you sell that’s the problem; it’s how you sell it.  So, let’s look at how you can win the sales you should be winning.
And another:
  1. Do you hate reading presenters’ wordy slides?  (Everyone says “Yes”)
  2. Do you use wordy slides when you’re presenting?  (If you do, you are doing to others what you hate people doing to you)
Conclusion: you really ought to take some words off your slides!
See how it works?  If so…
  1. Might “Serve and volley” help you change people’s perceptions?
  2. Do you think it’s easy to master, or not? 
Action point
If your answers to these two questions were “Yes”, then “Not”…
… Think of someone’s mindset you want to shift. Then work hard to identify two related questions you can ask to get them to see things differently.
As I mentioned the other day, this blog is moving over to Draytonbird.com - which at the moment looks like a building site.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Why this blog is not vanishing, but migrating to DraytonBird.com ... plus advice for someone intelligent on how to start a business

Do you find it takes a depressing amount of time to get anything done?

And that even when you've done it, you're disappointed?

Me too.

It is now several months since I got fed up with the "improvements" made by Blogger to the way you put things up here. They were a perfect example of how big organisations change things - but make them worse.

Anyhow, I've finally managed it, and you will now find my ramblings on a revamped Draytonbird.com. You will also find all my past blogs.

My publisher suggested the other day that we might put together a collection of the best ones - but that sounds like a pretty daunting task.

To be honest I am not yet entirely happy with that site - there's a lot of type floating around vaguely at the top. But it is in Wordpress which makes life easier, so I hope to have it sorted out in the next few days.

There are a great many features that Im going to incorporate, one of which has been on my mind for over a year. It is a listing of all the books, videos, e-books and courses I have created.

There are so many that I gave up going through them a couple of weeks ago. Serves me right for being a motor-mouth.


Last week a young man I know in Montclair N.J. wrote asking for my advice.

He has a good idea, and approached it in the best way: he has done his research and found a business with several advantages.

I am not going to tell you what the business is, but it is nothing unusual. You can see this kind of business in every town, everywhere.

Most people who talk to me about going into business do so just because they like the idea. Hardly any do their homework. He has.

He has looked at the total U.S. market and how it is growing based on the statistics in Forbes magazine. He has looked at his local area and found there is unusually high demand for what he proposes to sell because of a particular ethnic group. And he has found cheap premises.

He is also very realistic, with a goal.

"It is also relatively cheap compared to other business and I don't plan for this to become a multi-million dollar business. Just something to make a smaller income over time but more so the experience needed to run a much larger business."

This is what I wrote to him:

This is not a bad idea at all and you have started off by doing an analysis, which is the right thing.

You must now do more of the same.

Take a note of and study all the successful retailers you can, both on and off-line.

Try to determine what they are doing that makes them succeed, both in terms of their general approach and in specific things they do.

Read any books you can that seem helpful. Also anything on the Internet to do with start-ups.

I do not mean the kind of "I'll make you rich in 20 minutes" garbage. I mean stuff by people who have been there and done it with serious business - Tony Hsieh of Zappos is an interesting case.

Try to define what it is about your business that will make it better (it does not have to be different - just better).

Write a plan that defines how you will be different and better.

Work out the numbers. Never underestimate how much gross profit you need.

Define your customers. Why will they buy? When will they buy? What emotions will make them buy? How can you make them buy again? Remember, the first sale is not the one that makes you money. How are you going to communicate with them?

Be a customer. Look at what other people are doing and finish the following sentence:

Why don't they .....? Then finish it with something you think people could and should do, but don't.

When you get going, learn to live with failure and keep trying. But equally, don't persist in something that doesn't work.

One of the smartest entrepreneurs I know is an ex army officer who came and worked for me for virtually nothing before setting up his business, which he sold for millions.

So there you are. See you at DraytonBird.com, which is still like a building site, but we'll get there.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Why firms go broke - a mystery ... The blessing and curse of teams ... the astounding Mr. Ogilvy ... and a little luck for Friday 13th

Before you read another word, I am not going to sell you a damn thing. I'm just curious, that's all. No: bemused is the right word.

I was talking the other day to a friend who sells a way of finding business prospects on the Internet. I know it works because we tested it.

I have written about it before, so I won't bore you. However he reckons that for every prospect you now get you could get nine more. All you have to do is spend a little time - I mean minutes - copying and pasting to get it working for you.

So that's a potential 900% more prospects if you can spare a few minutes. And if you don't have enough prospects to chase you'll go broke. But you know what? Most of the people who've asked for a free trial can't be arsed to do it.

People go broke because they're just too damned idle. We had a client not long ago - a well-known firm in financial trouble. We proved that we could transform their business. They just had to give us two pieces of simple information.

It took them two months to supply the first - and so long to supply the second that we gave up and had to sue them to get money they owed.

So now you know why firms go broke. Sheer unmitigated sloth. As the slogan says, "Just do it".

I was talking to friend earlier about "teams". Many firms sign messages from "the team". I'm all in favour of team spirit if you're playing soccer. Good teams have it; bad ones don't. 

But I don't want to talk to a team if I have a problem. I want to talk to a person. And as my friend said, in business having a team all too often means this: if it's the team's problem it's not mine. They abdicate responsibility.


Among other things I am busy writing a brief memoir of my experiences with David Ogilvy. The more I write, the more I realise what an extraordinary person he was. Such was the power of his personality that I think I can recall just about every conversation I ever had with him.

Tomorrow on Friday 13th I shall be making a special offer. Just for that day. God knows we all need a little luck.

Lastly, and at long last, I am putting up a new DraytonBird.com website. Not before time as the present one is a shambles - and this blog will be migrating there.

Ciao for now.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Sodden and Gomorrah: a little trip back to hippy-ville - and how to get a job

Sorry about the dreadful pun, but it seems to have been raining forever and a day.

Having said that yesterday I visited Glastonbury, where the ever vigilant Chloe who tries to keep me on the right lines comes from.

The day was a joy for many reasons.

To start with, we witnessed a small miracle. The sun shone all the time.

By my reckoning this has only happened once for about ten minutes during this pathetic apology for a summer.

There was lots to look at in Glastonbury. The town is full of slightly dazed-looking folk wandering about in multi-layered, scrupulously mismatched clothes. I couldn't think what they reminded me of, then realised they look as though scooped up in Haight-Ashbury in the '60s and miraculously dumped in this little market town half a century later.

Every other shop is selling bizarre jewellery, fortune-telling, all-round wizardry and any number of loony religious outcrops. I never in my life saw so much mysticism in such a small area. I thought it only polite to get with the programme and in no time at all I was pushing Buddhism prayer-wheels round and making wishes.

Actually I rather like Buddhism. It seems the only major faith that has never thought that slaughtering the unenlightened is a good way to spread the word.

There was a pilgrimage (Christian) going on, too, which we ran into when we went to visit the ruins of the Abbey. The hymns were rather dreary, but you can't have everything. We climbed Glastonbury Tor, where they hanged the last Abbott half a millennium ago.

Perhaps the two best things in the town for a greedy-guts like me are gastronomic.

Burns the Bake sell all kinds of goodies including pasties that are twice as good and half the price of the ones the big chains offer.

A couple of hundred yards away is Knight's who have been around since 1909 and were recently named the best fish and chip joint in the west. We ate in a small sunlit courtyard. Excellent. Their haddock is the size of a small whale.


To change the subject radically, I got an email the other day from Alison in Australia, who wants to get into direct marketing after raising children for 13 years.

She told me she is 46 and a bit concerned that digital "seems like it's made to be the be all and end all".

Here's what I wrote back:

My God: I wish I were 46 again, Alison. That was almost 30 years ago, and I was about to make a great deal of money.

That is a tricky question, for two reasons:

1) The industry is full of semi-literate 23 year old muppets who know little but think they know it all (as I did at that age).

2) Everyone - 23 year old or not - thinks the solution to everything is digital. I happen to agree to a great extent.

Having said that, the beginning of a solution, as with all else in life is to do your research and have a clear objective.

You should make a scrupulous study of what is happening in marketing and an equally scrupulous study of yourself.

That is because your aim is to find out where you are most likely to be able to do well.

What are you good at; what are you not good at; where do you think you could make a difference?

Then learn about how to get a job.

95% of people haven't a clue on how to go about it - and that is a kind percentage.

A friend who has been looking for good employees has been depressed by the ineptitude and illiteracy of would be candidates.

But the bias against age is such that you must then be prepared for a lot of rejection.

For that, the only solution is to remember the remark of Calvin Coolidge.

"Persistence alone is omnipotent."

I was going to suggest she look at a report I wrote on how to get a job, but I couldn't find it. Now I have and you can see it if you know anyone who is in the same position as her.

There is also a video I made about three years ago that you may find interesting. By the look of it we must have a had a good summer when I made that.

Friday, 6 July 2012

A sexy social media ad for the oldest profession - and a helpful 5 point check-list

Back in 1980 I set eyes on the oldest ad I have ever come across in the ruins of Ephesus, in Turkey.

Carved in stone and up to 2,000 years old I guess it is the equivalent of a modern poster.

You could reasonably claim it is a helpful social media message as it gave directions to the local brothel. You might even see it as the ancestor of the kind and helpful emails I get every day from ladies who are just round the corner from my flat, horny as hell and dying for the touch of my manly hand

Those of you with strong views on such matters should stop reading now, but how encouraging to see the ancients advertising something more fun than Coca Cola, McDonalds or Tampax.

Either way, it was wonderfully simple and effective compared to almost all the posters I see today

You may wonder why I often discuss posters.

The reason is simple: it is very hard to devise a good poster. They are a tough challenge - just as banner ads on the internet or classified ads are. So studying them pays

You have to convey a strong, relevant benefit, be simple, dramatic, to the point, include the name of what you are selling and be very brief, as the average poster is only seen for seconds.

Virtually all the posters I see fail on all counts.

They fail to convey a strong benefit and are neither simple, nor dramatic, nor to the point, nor brief - perhaps because those who throw them together have never considered how fast they have to work. In many you can't see the name of the advertiser very quickly.

"We want to look after you well into the future" is the line on a poster near Bristol Temple Meads station.

It is just about possible that a motorist whizzing past might take in all those words, but highly unlikely that they would read the long sentence afterwards which explains why the advertiser thinks they can look after you - which is something to do with an obscure survey they keep topping.

The passing motorist might also be surprised to know that the advertiser - if they ever saw the name - is a power company.

Do you see your power company as looking after you? I think a nurse, or a husband or wife or at a pinch the lady in the Ephesus hospitality suite would be a much more likely candidate.

As it happens there is a lady in the poster wearing what looks like a motor racing helmet. I have no idea what she has to do with gas or electricity. Maybe she is Lewis Hamilton's cousin, lost on her way to one of those confusing Santander bank posters. Her only role is to mystify.

There are only five things to remember about a poster.

  1. Is it striking and hard for someone whizzing past to ignore?
  2. Is it relevant, with no confusing pictures?
  3. Does it offer a clear, credible benefit in a split second - that no competitor is offering?
  4. Does it display the name of the advertiser in a way you can't miss?
  5. Does it have less than seven words in total?
The only exception is if the poster is in a place where people have time to read - like a railway station. Then you needn't be brief.

Apart from that if you apply those criteria to every message - not just posters - that you run, you won't go far wrong.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

I have a better idea - only for people in the real world, with notes from Peter Drucker, and an announcement

This cartoon by the excellent and funny Tom Fishburne speaks for itself, but reminds me of a discovery I made recently.

I was talking to my PA the tenacious Chloe, who gazes each day with renewed dismay at my antics.

She has a degree in something I probably don't understand, but seems to know what she's doing.

The subject of mission statements came up and she told me they actually had a course at her university on how to write them.

I suspect this is pretty close to having a course in time-wasting.

A harsh and simplistic view you may think. But I cannot conceive for a second that any genuinely successful person ever wrote a mission statement. Steve Jobs? Branson? Gates? I somehow doubt it.

I suspect most had an objective - maybe even quite vague - and just got on with it as fast as possible.

The first aim in business - said Peter Drucker - is to avoid making a loss.

I think you are likely to manage this best by recalling another of his remarks: "There is only one profit center in business. It is your customer".

In October Howie Jacobson will be joining me in London, in an attempt to help anyone who is interested in that capricious source of revenue.

Howie will be helping you to get inside the head of your customers.

The better you can do that the better you'll succeed.

Why? Because the more you know about your customer the more you know about their wants, needs, hopes, desires and fears.

I'll then help you turn what you've learnt into copy that will persuade better.

Alternatively you could spend a few weeks writing - and having lots of long meetings about - a mission statement for the benefit of your colleagues, but nobody else.

Chloe can probably point you in the wrong direction.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The mystery of spasmodic idiocy: is my bank's computer drunk, or what? And a writing lesson from the Saiour of Tea

Do you remember GIGO - the acronym used in the world of data, computers and so on for Garbage In, Garbage Out.

I have decided that the computer at Lloyds Bank is fed nothing but garbage from morning till night.

Here's why.

I visit the U.S. about five times a year, and have done for the past 12 years or so.  I almost always go to the same places - where my son Philip and my daughter Chantal live: Brooklyn and Montclair.

I always need money, so I go to banks' ATM machines, mostly in Montclair or Brooklyn. And at irregular intervals my plea for cash is denied.

Has the art and science of feeding info to computers not reached the stage where they can recognise regular patterns of behaviour? The mystery is that this doesn't happen every time. Just occasionally.

How do banks manage to combine incompetence and rapacity to such an unnatural degree? It really beats all.


My regular correspondent Andrew Gadsden sent me this today

One of my jobs is to write descriptions of teas for the website, labels, leaflets, etc.  It is quite hard to think of something different to say about them after a while - I have 150 types.  A woman was in our new shop / trade counter yesterday.

Woman: What does "super...    lat...  ive" mean?
Andrew: Oh, you mean "superlative".  It means it's really good.
Woman: So why didn't you say so then?

Quite.  What seems obvious to us is not necessarily obvious to someone else. "Short words are best and the old short words are best of all". 

As a plug for Andrew, whose firm are the proud producers of the world's largest tea-bag you can