Jeremy Ettinghausen

Jeremy is Innovation Director, BBH Labs & BBH London.

The End of Words? Let’s Hope Not

Author, Jeremy Ettinghausen, Innovation Director, BBH Labs and BBH London

Working at Penguin Books in 2000 I recall plenty of excitement about a brand campaign featuring black-and-white documentary photography with the caption ‘be here’ in Penguin orange. The striking images and absence of any actual books certainly made the work stand out from the mass of publisher marketing activity, which largely featured a book jacket and a quote.

The campaign was a huge success. But perhaps there was a little ambiguity in the messaging. The intention was, of course, to imply that there was no better way of immersing oneself in a story, a world, someone else’s life than through the pages of a (Penguin) book. But such was the power of the imagery that, without the Penguin logo, ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ could have been an equally valid interpretation.

I was reminded of this last month when Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn seemingly predicted the end of the written word, at least on that platform. “The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video,” she told a conference in London, adding, “We’re seeing a year-on-year decline of text…If I was having a bet I’d say: video, video, video.”

Of course, Nicola has both data and Mark Zuckerberg on her side. Video content made up 64% of web traffic in 2014, had reached 70% by the end of 2015 and is predicted to reach 80% by 2019. At Facebook’s F8 developer conference Mark Zuckerberg told the crowd that we are ‘at the beginning of a golden age of online video’, announcing a raft of tools for the production and dissemination of live video content. Twitter seem to be placing a major bet on and major investment in the streaming of live sports. And Snapchat proudly opens into the camera rather than into anything as passé as a text entry box.

And in the meantime, traditional publishers are doubling down on video. Most major newspapers have created video production units, and just a few weeks ago The New York Times (‘All the News That’s Fit to Print’) picked up two Cannes Grand Prix, one for Mobile and the other for Entertainment, with its VR app and The Displaced VR film. Even The Economist magazine has a documentary film arm, tautologically advertised as the place ‘Where the Image is the Final Word’.

Words, it seems, have had their day.

It’s undeniable that the raw, unedited, as-live video that fills our news and social streams provides a more visceral and immediate storytelling experience than a more passive, measured reading experience can. But – and this might sound a strange question from a publisher-turned-marketer – is storytelling all there is?

Right now, given tumultuous events both at home and abroad, I’d argue that there is a desperate need to propose, share, support, challenge and discuss ideas, not just tell each other stories. We need ideas that can change views, overcome apathy and suggest how we get to a better tomorrow.

And words, carefully chosen and elegantly arranged, are perfect tools for the communication of ideas.

Certainly the brand as storyteller is a notion that many dismiss nowadays. The 2016 brand needs to have a purpose and a mission, an idea of what a better world might look like and an idea of the role that a brand can play in helping us get there. The GMO of Procter & Gamble has pronounced that Millennials demand brands have a purpose. And it is purpose driven ideas (that word again!) that win pitches and win awards.

So perhaps we should hope and expect to see more brands crafting campaigns with ideas formed out of words instead of stories crafted from video. History and momentum suggests the year-on-year decline of text on Facebook is an inexorable trend on that platform. But just as is it’s not all about storytelling, it shouldn’t be all about video.

Our culture and our marketing needs ideas more than ever. We still, unambiguously, need to choose and use our words carefully.

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This article first appeared in Campaign

Brexit, or What Happens When You Don’t Have Big Ideas

Author, Richard Cable, Content Director, BBH London

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There’s a post being shared on social media that shows a scene of Armageddon under the legend ‘If we leave the EU’. Beneath it is an identical image under the legend ‘If we remain in the EU’. It’s a perfect expression of the dire predictions emanating from both camps.

At stake is the United Kingdom’s place in the world. We are engaged, as a nation, in creating a positioning statement that will define our role in the 21st century. The shaping of destiny is heady stuff. Now is the time, if ever, to do the ‘vision thing’, break out the stirring rhetoric and inspire a generation. It’s a big stage that cries out for big ideas.

Instead, we’ve ended up with stereo negativity. Surround-sound Project Fear. The political equivalent of an Eastenders Christmas special, in which unloveable people say terrible things about each other for an extended period, followed by an unedifying revelation just before the ‘doof doofs’ at the end.

Which is bizarre, given that there are two ready-made big ideas at the heart of both campaigns.

According to Millward Brown, the anatomy of a truly big idea is that it disrupts the category, has emotional resonance, compels you to discuss it, is credible and believable, and cuts across cultural and geographic boundaries.

By that rationale, the European Union is the biggest of big ideas, transcending the nation state, bringing peace through shared prosperity, creating order and structure through collaboration across one of the most historically diverse and fractious continents on Earth. Britain in the vanguard of a great leap forward. (Campaign song: ‘All Together Now’, The Farm)

On the other hand, we have the radical, kick-over-the-traces option that would see us be the first to cut loose from an organisation no-one has ever cut loose from before and striking out as an independent. The challenger brand that promises a less encumbered, less parochial perspective, match-fit for a century that will be defined by what goes on in Beijing, Rio and Delhi, not Brussels. Britain as a re-energised global free agent. (Campaign song: ‘Here I Go Again (On My Own)’, Whitesnake)

Both big. Massive, in fact.

Yet somehow we’ve ended up with a choice of lanes on the dual carriageway to Hell; financial catastrophe if we leave (campaign song: ‘You Oughta Know’, Alanis Morrisette) and the-immigrants-are-coming-to-get-us if we stay (campaign song: ‘The Wall’, Pink Floyd).

It’s as if the two camps see us, the electorate, as a gigantic Lou and Andy sketch, sitting, myopic and listless, mumbling ‘I don’t like it’ over and over again before suddenly deciding ‘I want that one’.

Nationwide Building Society- Little Britain- Lou and Andy from Adam Arber on Vimeo.

Failing to land a big idea could be considered an occupational hazard. Failing to formulate one to begin with is nothing short of intellectual cowardice.

A big idea tells people what you stand for, but a big idea is fraught with risk. It takes courage to stand up and say “We choose to go to the Moon”. It takes luck and energy and talent and belief to actually get there. You choose a big idea not because it is easy but, as Kennedy went on to explain: “…because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept and unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win…”

Would Kennedy have electrified an entire nation with the pioneering zeal to see the job through if he’d chosen instead to talk about projections of the likely long term economic benefits of the space programme, or the fact that on the Earth you don’t get to choose your own laws of gravity and they’ll let literally anyone live here?

No. He captured the imagination of the quarter of a billion tax payers who were going to foot the bill for this ludicrously expensive enterprise by landing one big idea: The Moon. First.

The ‘big idea’ is advertising’s most recent sacred cow to be trotted in the direction of the abattoir. If you needed a cautionary tale against dragging Daisy up the steps and in favour of setting her free in Elysian Fields forever, the EU Referendum is about as cautionary as it gets.

As David Ogilvy put it: “You will never win fame and fortune unless you invent big ideas. It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product. Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.”

Or in this case, perhaps sink like one.

A Very Virtual Bedtime Story

Authors: Jab Borgstrom, Creative Director, Samuel Bowden, Producer and Jeremy Ettinghausen, Innovation Director, BBH London

Doing something for the first time is a great feeling, but doing something so new that you don’t have the set of references, the criteria, to judge the work you’re doing is a wonderful, intimidating and educational experience.

When Samsung offered us the opportunity to try and come up with an innovative new purpose for any of their pieces of technology, VR and specifically the Galaxy Gear VR headset was an obvious candidate. To paraphrase Kevin Kelly, the chance to create a genuine experience ‘as authentic as in real life’ was too interesting to pass up.

‘People remember VR experiences not as a memory of something they saw but as something that happened to them.’ Kevin Kelly – The Untold Story of Magic Leap

VR as a consumer technology is still very new but what we saw when we started looking the growing number of exciting executions was that VR experiences are essentially solitary ones. You put on the goggles and are transported onto a surfboard, a rollercoaster, onto Mars. A recent, deeply affecting piece from The Guardian even puts you in the cell of a prisoner in solitary confinement – a great use of the technology and also a useful metaphor for the majority of VR experiences.

So when we discovered the statistic that a third of parents today are not at home to read bedtime stories for their children, we decided to see whether VR technology could bring a parent and child together, inside a real, virtual bedtime story. Could use Samsung’s technology to elicit real emotion and recreate the sense of closeness that is lost when parent and child are apart?

The use of technology to augment parenting is understandably a contentious issue and at no point in this process did we believe that our VR story should replace either books or parental presence in a child’s bedtime routine. Rather this is an experiment to discover if technology can be used to ease a modern tension and help parent and child stay emotionally connected when physical distance prevents traditional togetherness.

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Given that we were embarking on a project without any precedents we knew that we would need both a guiding set of principles and a partner who could help us translate our idea into virtual reality. We found a perfect partner in Unit9 and together agreed that what we were making needed to behave as much like a bedtime storybook as possible. We needed to enable interactions between the parent and child, the reader and the listener, but these needed to be gentle and natural, designed to engage rather than excite a child. So not a game, not a completely passive story, but something in between.

The project was developed at quite a pace and we had several workstreams running in parallel. We had a bunch of fine writers working on and tweaking and revising the story that eventually became The Most Wonderful Place To Be. And we had illustrators and 3D animators creating a look and feel, trying different visual techniques to see what felt right. But it was when the two came together that we knew that a traditional, illustrated storybook world was the one for this project. It would be the animations and the fact that things were happening in 360degrees – up in the sky and behind the viewers’ heads – that would make this feel magical. Anything else – superrealistic 3d renders, papercraft etc – would be sensory overkill.

But as it is also not film – not even an interactive one – we needed to give the parent a child the opportunity to talk and interact ‘off script’ and the ability to control the pace of the storytelling. Incorporating VoIP into the VR experience was definitely a challenge, but one that we knew we had to overcome. Similarly giving the parent the ability to control the pace of the story – to pause and talk with their child between scenes was really important.

Explaining some of the concepts we were contemplating and sharing them internally and with clients also proved a challenge. At different points of the process we had to invent new metaphors for the interactions we were creating. Powerpoint builds and advancing between powerpoint slides was a very useful metaphor and one that both advertising and client teams got behind very swiftly!

This has been such a unique project that it’s hard to know what lessons we’ve learned that can be taken into future VR projects. If we were starting this again with what we know now, perhaps we’d have added a little more personality to the parent and child avatars each viewer sees. But when you are finding solutions to new problems that you have invented for yourself, you have to make choices on what to focus on and thankfully we had the principles we’d agreed on early in the process to guide us.

Most of the time, on most projects, there are canons of craft lore and decades of iconic work to compare what you are doing with. Working on this project was a step into the unknown and because of that liberating and terrifying in equal measures.

 

Creative Credits:

Client name and title: Dan Canham – Manager, Samsung Global Marketing

BBH Creative Team: Martin-Jon Adolfsson and Oksana Valentelis

BBH Creative Director: Joakim Borgstrom

BBH Strategy Director: Damien Le Castrec

BBH Strategist: Tom Patterson

BBH Chief Strategy Officer: Jason Gonsalves

BBH Chief Production Officer: Davud Karbassioun

BBH Producer: Samuel Bowden

BBH Business Lead: Julian Broadhead, Polly McMorrow

BBH Global Business Development Director: Tim Harvey

BBH Account Manager:  Lara Worthington and Katharine Gritten

BBH Copywriter: Nick Kidney

BBH Print Producer: Simon Taylor

Additional Contributors: Amrita Das, Richard Cable,Jeremy Ettinghausen,Vix Jagger, Chris Meachin, Alex Matthews, Sarah Cooper, Patrick Dedman, Kate Frewin-Clarke, Matt Bertocchi, Katie Callaghan

Unit 9 Credits

VR Creative Director: Henry Cowling

Art Director: Fred Aven

Teach Lead: Laurentiu Fenes

Lead Unity developer: Xavier Arias

Unity Developers: Kevin Borrell, David Diaz, Luke Haugh, Mark Vatsel, Riess Phillips Henry Illustration / Environments & Character Design: Christian-Slane

3D Artists: Sophie Langohr, Steve Campbell

Storyboard Artist: Sophie Conchonnet

Technical Artist: Josep Moix

UX Designer: Camille Theveniau

Designer: Mariusz Kucharczyk

Sound Design: Chris Green, Sound Design

Head of QA: Dominic Berzins

QA Lead: Eve Acton, QA Lead

QA Senior Tester: Tom Watson, Ayesha Evans

QA Tester: Andrew Heraty

Executive Producer: Richard Rowe

Senior Producer: Emma Williamson

Film Credits

BBH Producer (Film): David Lynch

BBH Assistant Producer: Sarah Cooper

Production Company: Black Sheep Studios

Editor/Editing House: Black Sheep Studios

Print Credits

BBH Producer:  Simon Taylor, Katie Callaghan

All Together Now

Watching the music industry wrangle with disruption and try to redefine its offer *and* its revenue stream has been both a decent spectator sport and a cautionary tale. But the power of musicians to connect with their audience and push creative boundaries has remained undiminished, even as business models have mutated around them.

Last week the Convergence festival hit London, with an interesting and experimental set of performances, collaborations and events curated to focus attention on the intersection of music, technology and art. We sent a group of BBHers along and below are some of the provocations and takeouts they brought back to the office.

On Music Vs Sport

Dan Deacon‘s tales of dumpster diving for food and couchsurfing across America amused/appalled many of our attendees. Annie Little and Alana King were struck by his desire to create a collective ‘vibe’ at his performances; “People at a gig think of themselves as I, not we. At a sports match it’s like ‘Yeah we played really well’ but at a gig it’s more of an individual encounter that everyone experiences differently.” As Alana discovered later that evening, Deacon’s demands for audience participation did produce a very different and very communal gig, though one that might be awkward for a more squeamish audience!

On Creative Collaborations

Mercury prize winning produce Dave Okumu is a prolific collaborator who has worked with Amy Winehouse, Jessie Ware and Theo Parrish to name three. Richard Birkett was interested to see that while creatives from different disciplines approach a problem from different directions, there is often parity in the process they bring. Okumu emphasized the human nature of creative collaboration, going into them without an agenda, treating them ‘like a child playing’. What is at the heart of the project is fragile, he says, and must be protected and nurtured. The best way to do this is to create a real connection between collaborators and create the right conditions for magic to happen.

On tangible data

Touching Air, by Stefanie Posavec - a necklace made of data showing a week of air pollution levels.

Touching Air, by Stefanie Posavec – a necklace made of data showing a week of air pollution levels.

Between them, the panellists at the Tangible Data session have produced many of the most imaginative and impressive visualisations of recent years. While she was seriously impressed with the beauty and craft on display, Elle Graham-Dixon found herself wondering whether there was a real need to make *all* data more accessible. The difference between data visualisations and interactive data manifestations is that the former are beautiful in their own right, whereas the latter require our participation – perhaps the early experiments haven’t quite balanced the value equation to make that happen naturally. Yet.

On not messing with our algorithms

Spotify’s Discover Weekly service is an amazingly rich personal recommendation service generating a playlist based on your listening habits cross-referenced with those of others who share some of your tastes. It made Laura Osborne wonder whether Spotify should introduce a ‘Don’t Mess with my Algo’ button to avoid playlist pollution, when a friend takes over your account at a party or when you are using Spotify to search for music for a mood film. When an algorithm produces such individual and useful results, perhaps we need help to keep the inputs as personally relevant as possible.

Convergence London is scheduled to return next year. In the meantime check out their Facebook page for pics and videos of this year’s event.

 

 

Chats with Bots

Author, Jeremy Ettinghausen, Innovation Director, BBH London and Labs

Funny robot sit with headphones

AI bots are everywhere. Or at least, chatter about chatbots is everywhere. The slick new Quartz app wants to msg you the news. Forbes launched their own official Telegram newsbot yesterday. Will 2016 be the year of the bot, the year we start chatting and stop worrying about whether the person(a) at the other end of the chat is human or not?

At Labs we like to get stuck in and get our hands dirty. Metaphorically. So we fired up Telegram, added some bots to our contact list, and started chatting. And here’s the resulting chat, screengrabbed for your edification.

So, maybe assi.st couldn’t cope with my language or, more likely, my location. And there’s clearly no pretence of any sort of humanity in the interface. And maybe no food to be had in London after 10pm.

More chats with bots to follow…

The Last Click is not a New Jerusalem

At the end of last year, strategists at BBH London were ‘invited’ to compete for The Write and Black Sheep Prize, an internal writing competition. Answering the question ‘If I were a marketer today what zag (general or category specific) would I make?’ in 400 words didn’t faze their planning brains – there were many brilliant entries. 

Here’s the second of our shortlisted entries – Strategy Director Tom Roach on the distorted worldview of customer journeys.

The World in a Cloverleaf

The World in a Cloverleaf

Medieval maps often placed detailed illustrations of Jerusalem at the heart of wildly inaccurate depictions of the world.

Like early map makers, whose worldviews were bent out of shape by the dominant views of the day, our perceptions of customer journeys have become wildly distorted.

The last click has become the Holy Grail. We obsessively optimize the final stages of the journey whilst remaining remarkably incurious about the long periods beforehand.

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The very first online ad was produced in 1994 for AT&T. It had a click through rate of 44%, incredible by today’s standards where online display averages 0.06%. It was, briefly, a source of difference and competitive advantage.

Its inventors possessed a belief in the power of difference rarely seen in the performance-marketing gold rush that followed.

Marketers are now hooked on efficiently driving customers along the online journey, often via an ever-expanding and murky network of affiliates, publishers and agencies who feed their habit.

Our focus has shifted downstream, multiple brands often focusing on the same point in the journey, using the same channels and tactics to target the same customers.

And every time new platforms become available we default to using them, layering them on top of existing journeys, further fragmenting limited resources.

Rather than seeking marginal gains at every stage of the journey, perhaps we need to shift to a strategy of aiming for exceptional gains at only one or two.

Some brands do this already: John Lewis wins via customer service and only chooses to win social fame at Christmas; Apple wins via design and its product ecosystem; Red Bull wins via content, opting for invisibility in broadcast.

Business strategists would recognise this as something akin to ‘Blue Ocean Strategy, which aims to create uncontested blue oceans of market space in order to create a category of one that makes your competition irrelevant.

Applying this thinking to customer journey mapping would mean creating accurate maps of the full on and offline journeys for our brands.

Then it would mean determining where precisely on the journey to deploy the power of difference, where to be present but not different, and crucially, where to be different by being absent.

We mostly use maps to help optimize campaign performance. But they could also help steer us to our true destination: long-term competitive advantage.

Write and Black Sheep – Pt 1

At the end of last year, strategists at BBH London were ‘invited’ to compete for The Write and Black Sheep Prize, an internal writing competition. Answering the question ‘If I were a marketer today what zag (general or category specific) would I make?’ in 400 words didn’t faze their planning brains – there were many brilliant entries. 

Over the next week we’ll be publishing some of the entries – starting today with the winning piece, Saskia Jones wonderful provocation on the connection between introversion and creativity. 

(note – this piece was first published in Campaign)


 

Precursor Monologue to a Creative Dialogue

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Let’s start with a game of “Who am I?”

I am told to speak up;
more often;
with more authority.

I am encouraged to
communicate with immediacy
work in groups;
and to network.
Yet I think more than I speak;
I am considered rather than immediate
I seek solitude.
& I hate small talk.

Who am I?

I’m Albert Einstein, I’m Barack Obama, I’m Mark Zuckerberg.

I’m me.

I’m an introvert.

I am part of the 30% of the nation that are.

I haven’t picked introversion to validate talking about myself for the next three hundred words.

No.

I’ve chosen this because of the intrinsic link between introversion and creativity. The kind of creativity that creates difference. At scale.

The kind of creativity that is the holy grail for today’s marketers.

Yet marketing is an industry renowned for attracting extroverts – and our environment has adjusted accordingly.

Collaboration, brainstorms & public speaking.

These words, and variations of them, fill me with fear.
I turn quickly from a vaguely intelligent & considered individual into a vacuous mute.

These now common-place processes and functions are founded on extrovert norms.

Extroverts are galvanised by other people, by external stimuli; they are each other’s catalysts – but these approaches are less effective than applying introvert “norms” to idea generation.

They also increase both social anxiety and peer pressure.

I therefore become more likely to agree with an idea I don’t necessarily believe in.

However, these approaches still prevail.

I find irony in the idea that we are trying to create difference but adopt processes that promote homogeneity.

There is an opportunity to disrupt this – to encourage a dialogue between extraverts and introverts.

Greater difference will come from quiet, than it will from noise.

This opportunity is not just internal, it extends to how we best engage with introverts through our comms;

Introverts over index on having a higher income – being high net-worth individuals.

Audi is marketing to them – consciously or otherwise.

But these people have defining traits that impact how & where we talk to them; they are fiercely private – an important consideration as comms become increasingly personalised.

Do I have all the answers to how this would work?

No.

But I do know that “Neither E = mc2 nor Paradise Lost was dashed off by a party animal.”

So how about I start by turning the tables.

By asking you to:

Speak more quietly
and less often.

To work alone
be more considered
and cut out the small talk.

Try it.

I dare you.

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On the Beach pt 2 – Awesome People Talking

Last week we sent Alana King, Strategist and Tom Willner-Reid, Commercial Finance Manager, to Silicon Beached. Here, Tom tells us about what he learned about creativity. Part 1 is here.

Sketch Notes from Silicon Beached, by Natalia Talkowska

Sketch Notes from Silicon Beached, by Natalia Talkowska

At BBH I’m in Commercial. I’m not a creative. I observe creativity happening from a distance; I greatly admire the genius of those who sit in an unlit booth all night and come up with something as brilliant as the Chokeables. Spreadsheets, on the other hand, now we’re talking. What would I learn from a festival of ideas such as Silicon Beached?

1. Here we are at the Conway Hall, home of the Conway Hall Ethical Society. They’d have a field day debating the ethics of advertising.

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2. They are also hosting a debate on the ethics of Star Wars. Brilliant, but sadly nothing to do with today’s festivities.

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3. The theme of the day is simple: to have awesome people talking about their day jobs. The line-up is all women. Therefore we have 10 awesome women talking about their awesome day jobs. This fact is pointed out. But these are supreme experts in their field who just happen to be women.

4. 99.9% of the audience is white, however. This does need pointing out.

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5. Proceedings kick off with a TV advertising lobbyist (Lindsey Clay of Thinkbox) extolling the virtues of her medium, allowing us all to shrug off the notion of working in a declining industry and feel better about our world. TV is the saviour of advertising!

6. Ms Clay goes on to talk about targeted TV advertising, such as the Sky AdSmart service. Since watching live TV is still by far the largest recipient of our watching time (>50%), this seems a logical step forward. Are the terrestrial channels doing anything though…?

7. Liz Pavitt from Rubber Republic asks us whether we would “date our brand”? Experience tells us that lying on our dating profiles isn’t going to get us anywhere in the long term, so why do so many brands go for short-term dishonesty over longer relationships? Her sound advice is to be honest, and take the piss out of yourself, like in this Innocent ad (no danger of BBH not being “rugby” enough!).

8. Matthew, our suave, pink-jacketed MC, is behind today’s event. If only more conferences could ditch the “theme” and maintain the element of surprise by giving participants an open brief. It keeps a sense of anticipation among the audience.

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9. One (American) presenter realises Brit audiences don’t punch the air, whoop, nor have the stomach for 25 minutes of self-promotion and motivational quotes. Sorry, it just doesn’t play here.

Spot-on with your final slide though.

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10. Chocolate covered cookie-dough balls are mighty fine tea-break treats. Not only very delicious, a couple of these sugar-loaded snacks ensure the audience’s attention levels are right up there for the final session.

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11. Any minute now, the robot accountant army is going to usurp me and my kind. So proclaims Pip Jameson, founder of The Dots. Luckily the creatives are safe.

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12. Pip gives some fascinating personal insights into the start-up experience. I realise it’s for braver people than me. She then describes how she pioneered the use of wall space in her office for employees to post all the random things they love. She calls it the Glory Wall.

13. You cannot go wrong in finishing your event with an industry legend reeling off a few anecdotes from a glittering career. MT Rainey delivers in spades. Her concise, witty tales and re-runs of classic 80s ads give the dwindling crowd a little late-afternoon boost. And make us pine for Ridley Scott to go back to directing for the small screen.

14. To sign-off, MT gives us some sage advice. Take regular time out to consider things you’ve achieved, things you’ve worked on, things you’ve been a part of. Keep the memories of being involved, because you’ll want to remember them when you share your experiences with others in later life. I think she’s absolutely right!

On The Beach pt 1 – A Conference for Everyone

Last week we sent Alana King, Strategist and Tom Willner-Reid, Commercial Finance Manager, to Silicon Beached. Here, Alana writes on the significance, or not, of a conference where all the speakers ‘happened to be’ women. Part 2 is here.

 

Something strange happened this week: I attended a conference (Silicon Beached) where all ten speakers were women. Even stranger, the conference promotion made no mention of the fact that the speakers were not men. And perhaps strangest of all: the topic of the conference was not “working while female” and all its variants (“how to be confident”, “how to be less stressed” or “how to achieve work-life balance,” as if only women have feelings or families).

It was an experiment, according to the conference’s organizer: he invited ten speakers who happened to be women, and asked them to talk about their work, not their gender. Given that the sky hasn’t fallen in and the sun still rose today, the experiment was a success and one I’d love to see the rest of the industry pick up on. (Or, even better than all-women speakers, it would be great to see mixed panels organized and greeted with a no-big-deal attitude.) As you’d expect from any group of 10 human beings, some of the talks were excellent, most were good, and a few not great.

But if I dwell any longer on the all-women line-up, I wouldn’t have learned the lesson would I? So taking a page out of Silicon Beached’s book, I’d like to talk about the speakers’ work, not their gender.

For me, the theme that emerged from the best talks was a reminder that the creative and digital industries thrive when they help and delight real people–not customers or viewers, but emotional, social human beings.

Lindsey Clay from Thinkbox presented some fascinating ethnographic research about TV viewing that reminded us that people watch TV to participate in the shared social fabric of the nation.

Liz Pavitt from Rubber Republic asked us to use the “would you date your brand” filter for whatever we put on our brands’ social platforms (“possibly”, “no way” and “never in a million years” was my conclusion).

Lauren Currie from Snook told us about her mission to ‘invert the pyramid’ in order to get to brilliant service design: that is, prioritize the wisdom and experiences of people who are closest to the service in question, an idea that shouldn’t seem revolutionary but probably is.

Pip Jamieson, founder of The Dots (a LinkedIn for creative people) gave an honest account of the human side of founding a successful startup, both the emotional highs (easy to talk about) and the emotional lows (easier to keep to oneself).

And MT Rainey closed the day with some wonderful stories from her career in advertising, including babysitting Kevin Costner’s dog on the set of an Apple ad, defending Apple’s now-famous “1984” to a hostile board, and a nerve-wracking address to the board of News International in 1997 about whether this internet business will take off and whether it will change journalism, brilliantly and boldly entitled “Crystal Bollocks”.

Most inspiring was her observation that her experiences didn’t seem as remarkable at the time as they do in retrospect, and a gentle reminder to step back and appreciate your professional life as it’s unfolding.

The New Mission Control

Until about three hours ago, I thought that the people who sent rockets into space looked like this.

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Or him.

Apollo_11_David_Scott_in_Mission_Control

or them.

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These guys maybe.

261016main_03_MissionControlCelebrates_full

But not *these* guys.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 12.06.05

Or this guy.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 12.04.08

 

And definitely not her.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 12.01.50

And these two? No way.

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(actually, I’m still not sure about these two)

Watching SpaceX’s PR video (above) showing the successful launch and landing of their Falcon 9 rocket brought home to me (maybe very belatedly) what egalitarian forces technology and code can and should be. We’re at a point where you don’t have to be a white guy in a white shirt and dark tie to set up a million user or billion dollar business, or become Head of Creative Technology in a respected creative agency (ahem), or send a rocket into space.

I’m going to go home tonight and show the video to my kids, point out that that today the people who have sent a rocket into space and cheered its return look just like the people we see on the bus, in coffee shops, in the streets where we live. And I’ll tell them that sending a rocket into space isn’t easy, that nothing big and important ever is, but it *is* possible and to look at how joyous accomplishment feels, and I’ll tell them to dream as big as they dare.

We have ignition.

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(photos screengrabbed from SpaceX youtube channel and downloaded from Nasa archives.)