Archive for the 'Effective Management' Category


Three reasons why you should shake up your retainer.

Retainers are for all agencies the gold star – a retained client paying monthly or quarterly is exactly what most agencies strive to get: yes the big projects are all very nice, but a client paying you regularly… well that’s gold dust.

But does it encourage agencies to work harder for their clients?

The answer to that question in most cases is unfortunately no. It’s one of the reasons I started Vivid all those years ago, I got so depressed working at large agencies seeing great accounts lose their spark the minute they became retained. All to often in this industry, retained work becomes expected and standard, clients you’d once have fought for become clients that are just there, they pay and you deliver what’ll keep them happy, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with retained work, it must be treated with respect by the agency and an iron fist by the client, because otherwise it’s bad for you, and it’s bad for the reputation of our industry.

Firstly let’s look at you, it’s your money after all. At first you think you’re getting good value, you’ve got an almost ‘in house’ team – they deal with everything and you very rarely have to get into the bowels of the work, after a time things become routine, a few press releases a month, an issues awareness day or week, your happy face in the media when the easy picking stories come up for you to respond with, what’s wrong with that?

Well quite a bit – the routine falls into motions, easy to go through, well practiced – but essentially the same, day in day out. Good public relations and marketing is reliant on innovation and creativity, it relies on a hunger to find or create the good news, as well as just responding lazily to the bad. The second your retained team fall into that routine the quality of your press and marketing plummets, you need the fire of the pitch or at least an agency that retains the fire of the pitch to stave off the familiarity that breeds mediocrity.

Second, it’s bad for the agency: yes the money is nice – but a retained client is an agency football, yes the big guns are brought out for important matches, but the rest of the time the ‘b’ team will do – one of the reasons I got out of big agencies was because I was fed up with accounts being passed off to junior staff and interns the first time the client wasn’t looking: they’d bill the time as if it was the full team, but often that team was off working on new business – fighting hard on new projects because they’ve won the fight already on yours.

Third, it’s bad for the industry, it promotes laziness a worrying lack of transparency between the ‘account directors’ who meet with the client and those people who actually do the work on your retained account, but most concerning it promotes a culture where a complete lack of creativity is the norm: ‘it will do’ solutions overtake cutting edge thinking, the easy option becomes the only option – and when that happens it dulls the edge of our whole industry.

So what can you do? Well first – look long and hard at your agency, working with them should feel as fresh ten years in as it did when your first worked together; there should be a real sense that they know what they’re doing of course, but the thinking should still be filled with excitement and not tinged with cynicism.

Then, talk to your agency, don’t be afraid to ask exactly what they do for the retainer, if you think they should be doing more then make that clear, and a good way to start is to build in a monthly creative briefing – make them think for their money, good ideas will allow you and them to innovate and reach new goals.

And finally, talk goals – don’t let your agency get away with presenting a cuttings folder as ‘proof’ think hard about whether it’s met your goals, where is your return on investment – any agency worth their salt should be able to talk ROI, don’t be fooled by impressions to view or estimated worth, tie them down to how it impacts your business.

And if all this still doesn’t get you a better press and marketing service, why not talk to someone like us – never afraid to talk about your bottom line, and always happy to create and innovate, because we realise that real, measurable growth in your business is critical to the success of our own.


It’s time for the creative industry to take responsibility

Our thoughts on COI Reform and today’s General Election

On the eve of the United Kingdom’s most interesting General Election in modern times, many in the advertising and marketing sectors are still concerned about the future of the Central Office of Information (COI), the British government’s marketing agency.

As well as being Britain’s largest advertiser, the COI is the Government’s main procurer of advertising and marketing services. Most British agencies are therefore stakeholders in the organisation.

The COI’s current way of working has been called in to question; both by the Government in recent months, and by the battling governments-in-waiting during this election campaign.
As things stand, the Treasury, led by Chancellor Alastair Darling, has ordered a 25% reduction in the marketing and advertising budgets of all Whitehall departments for the current two years. Both main opposition parties, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have no objections to this cut.

But there is more to the parties’ plans for the COI. Campaigns that have worked in the past are now failing to reach their audiences or drive them to action. There have been success stories, like the recent binge drinking virals by VCCP which certainly caught the public’s attention.

Generally, though, the political consensus seems to be that COI campaigns aren’t as effective as they once were – mainly because they are becoming increasingly middle of the road, arguably as larger agencies begin to count on COI business regardless of creative content. Campaigns that fail to reach their objectives and don’t provide a great deal of return on investment are a problem for the taxpayer.

The Conservatives have announced plans to move COI contracts to a pay per results model. At Vivid London, we’d be happy to work under those conditions – we are confident in our abilities – but a lot of other agencies see the practice as unfair. They argue that ads can only promote behavioural change, not guarantee it.

Nothing’s certain in the world of marketing. You can never guarantee that a press release you send out, however interesting the story or full of hooks the content, will be picked up by the media. You can never guarantee that any advertising campaign that you run will change the audiences behaviour (purchasing or otherwise). And you can never be sure that your shiny new communications strategy will reach all of its audiences.

But you can mitigate these uncertainties. Our work at Vivid London is informed by thorough research – meaning that we audit all previous marketing efforts, analyse target audiences counterintuitively and focus on measurable deliverables. We’re upfront about our expected results and are happy to be judged (and paid) by them.

All in all, this will mean more efficient use of taxpayer money and more heated battles for part of the COI’s £232m annual budget. It will also lead to more stylish, effective and better advertising in the future. This is better for both agencies and consumers – after all, talking to the audience in a way that they understand is what creative agencies are supposed to do! Becoming reliant on government contracts not only impedes an agency’s creativity, but can also lead to disaster when these contracts are withdrawn. Just ask i-Level.

Whatever the colour(s) of the next government, the creative industry needs to become more efficient and adaptable – and it needs to accept direct responsibility for campaign performance. We always have – and always will.

Adam James Morecroft & Camille le Goff


It’s never too late to consider panic

Panic, panic, panic. Once it starts it’s often too late to stop it or even calm it down. We’ve all been there: something goes awfully wrong and you’re gripped by that knotting feeling in your stomach, which is quickly replaced by cold sweating palms and then you’re in a spin.

Corporate panic is just the same, ashen faces stare as phones ring off the hook as bad news breaks and the press take hold while the public fume, flee or both.

Which is why it’s never too late to consider panic. In fact, panic should be considered almost every time you look at your public relations strategy, as it’s a fact of life that the floodgates of disaster will always open at the most inopportune moments. It’s in these moments that most businesses find they’re ill-prepared to cope with the influx of attention.

A crisis management strategy is the air-bag for your brand, it’s designed to cushion impact and slow the rate of the disaster. Although it does this through a mixture of disciplines; the most essential element is often the simplest to arrange: preparation.

Preparation is critical, from the simplest things like a list of emergency staff phone numbers, to the most complex scenario planning, every bit of preparation you do is one step closer to effectively managing the worst if it does happen.

It’s astounding how many times I’ve been approached throughout my professional life by companies in trouble asking for help which they might have been able to fix themselves if they hadn’t let things spiral out of control.

If you can’t think of a reason why you should do the basics, or even get someone in to do the basics for you, think about this – how long could your business survive after a period of severe weather?

Would your supply chain mean that you could supply your customers as promised on time, and if you couldn’t, how long would they hold off before dumping your products publicly?

What about if your product or service was cast in a bad light by an article in the press (deservedly or not!) or your product or service were caught up in a safety scare or were accused of being misleading or even fraudulent?

Whether it’s putting the facts straight or smoothing the waters with apologies and positive campaigning, getting your prep work done early will cost you virtually nothing, and could save your whole brand – and when you’ve worked so hard to establish a good name, why put it at risk by being ill-prepared?


A good contact is never dead

There are a few signs of a sales person who’s heading into a bit of a spiral. Two really, really obvious ones: “organising my files” rather than being on the phone (or on the road); and “that contact’s dead”.

If the sales person concerned is speaking metaphorically, you have a problem. A contact is always a contact. No matter how tangential, no matter how burned, no matter how long ago you dealt with them, if you know them and they know you, they’re part of your network.

Obviously, if there’s been a comprehensive breakdown between the company and the contact, it’s more difficult to make that contact ‘live’ again – but the opportunity to make things better is in itself a reason for contacting people.

But most people won’t be like that. They’ll be people you once pitched; or people you know; or people you’ve met through casual contact; or even people – God forbid – who you’ve contacted to try and make a sale to.

Contacts aren’t necessarily sales contacts. Not everyone will want to buy what you have to sell. Crucially, though, they may know someone who does, and this above all is the key reason why no contact is dead. It is through referrals, through motivating your contacts you recommend you to their friends, that your contact base grows.

LinkedIn does this quite well electronically; Facebook sort of does it socially. But there is no real substitute for doing it in person – getting to know people, and getting to know their people, and ensuring that no-one you know ever, ever becomes a dead contact. Where social media excels – indeed, where social media is superb – is in ensuring that these contacts stay in touch.

Terry Pratchett, in Guards Guards say:

Noble dragons don’t have friends. The nearest they can get to the idea is an enemy who is still alive.

Things aren’t quite the same for your contacts, but it’s certainly true that if they’re still alive, they can be valuable to you.

Of course, if the contact genuinely is dead, ignore this blog. Sorry.


On being appropriate: Multitasking is wrong

One of the big lies in modern management is that multitasking is

(a) good
(b) preferable to linear action, and
(c) possible.

Time management tools, whether paper based or electronic, promise to make sense of an increasingly confusing and complex world. But they’re based on one basic, and mistaken premise – which is that it is actually possible to do hundreds of things at the same time at the same level of effectiveness.

This is so fundamental a misconception I am astonished it is still held. There’s a simple exercise, taught amongst others to people on the expert patients’ programme in the UK, which proves the point. People who have, for instance, panic attacks, are taught exercises that stop them thinking about their situation and which instead immerses them in thinking on something else – like thinking of an animal for every letter of the alphabet, for instance.

And what happens? The panic attack subsides; the fear somehow dissipates – simply because the mind cannot focus on more than a very few things at once.

If it is this simple to stop thinking about something as fundamental as a panic attack, how easy is it to stop thinking about work; to lose focus switching from one task to another; to forget, in the melee of daily business the one thing that actually matters.

Refusing to multitask, though, quickly gets you an image as some kind of workplace wimp. What’s the solution? Personal effectiveness experts like Steven Covey or Brian Tracey have good ideas on prioritisation, and some useful ways of thinking about work organisation, but still perpetuate the idea that multitasking is actually achievable. David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” methodology works better, acknowledging that organising tasks is only the first stage in finding ways of keeping tabs on everything that is going on.

But the challenge is still there – that these are solutions to a problem we have imposed upon ourselves. What we need to do instead is realise that giving uninterrupted time to a particular project promotes concentrated, effective work – and find ways of promoting that uninterrupted time within the workplace.

At Vivid London, where we work open plan, finding ways of limiting the interruptions that break concentration was one of our first foci. We solved it with something simple, and effective – we each have a flag (in a multi-national, multi-cultural office, there are more than enough flags to go round). When the flag is up, no interruptions are permitted. When the flag is down, the person is fair game. And suddenly, there is time in which to think.

This wouldn’t work without personal organisation – and personal organisation which is shared. We know what we have to do. We share that with our colleagues by having our task lists on a board which we all can see.

Sure, there are times when you have to multitask – when there’s a phone call, an email, and a colleague, all in the same space at the same time. But recognising that better work comes from better concentration, that the pressure to multitask is an artificial one and un-necessary; and by setting a policy in place that provides space, we believe we are giving people the time and space they need to do excellent, focussed work.

Jonathan Blanchard Smith
A strategic marketer with a range and depth of international experience, Jonathan is Managing Partner at Vivid London. He coaches at executive level and lectures on cultural integration with specific reference to cross-border mergers and acquisitions. Past chairman of a national patient advocacy charity, he also chairs the board of a technology company and a number of committees.

Who we are

We can be discreet or highly vocal, stylish but cost-effective. Always fresh and successful, we offer vibrant marcoms solutions.

Visit us:

Things we tweet


%d bloggers like this: