The point of no return

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We’re not going back.  

The way we work in 2020 and 2021 looks nothing like the way we worked in 2019.  

We might sail back a little towards the ‘old world’ after the Covid crisis, but not back into port.  The prevailing wind isn’t blowing that way. It would prove treacherous. 

As we move from the old world to the new world, the shape of the new landscape looks more defined. You can see big opportunities if you look closely enough; fresh and fertile land.

What can you see?


Firstly, bosses trust us more than they ever thought possible.  

Like a parent realising they don’t need to run alongside their child’s bike anymore, they know we won’t crash.  

We aren’t crashing into our duvets and ‘shirking from home’.  We like getting things done without the constant distraction of the office. Instead of working less at home, we’re working more.

Older workers, parents and introverts especially love working from home. Happier and more productive, they’d take a 14% pay cut to keep doing it.  

The rest will like it more when technology brings things they loved about the office to the home.

Social Capital

Social Capital is the name economists give to the benefits (especially the financial benefits) of team spirit and collaboration. At work, this means teams sitting together, water cooler chats, brainstorms, break-out spaces, new-employee onboarding programmes, networking and the nearest bar to the office.  

The growth of collaboration software, which accelerated through the Covid crisis, means remote working needn’t turn off the Social Capital tap.  

In fact, collaboration software can allow Social Capital to build both remotely and asynchronously. We needn’t be together, in space or time, to work together.  

When we do have meetings, ever-improving video tools like Zoom and Webex, are drawing remote synchronous collaboration closer to ‘in-person’ quality. 

Better meetings

It needn’t stop there, Cisco has a vision in which online meetings are 10x better than live meetings.  For one, they remove the inconvenience of travelling into the city, between cities or halfway across the globe.

Sure, you can get ‘Zoom fatigue’ if the meeting is run badly, but bad meetings didn’t arrive with Covid.  It’s just a new variant of ‘badly run meeting fatigue’. 

The cure is, and always was, the preparation it takes to run a meeting well. Combine good preparation with tools like Slido, Miro and Cameo and online meetings can be electric, ‘lean forward’ experiences.

 As workers grow used to the efficiencies and inclusiveness of using tools like these in meetings, the use of them will grow. Managers who fail to be good meeting managers will get left behind.

Good people management 

Managers who fail to be good people managers will get left behind too. 

Introverts might enjoy being at home, but they will find it harder to catch their manager at a good time for a quiet word. Tools like Slido help managers hear every voice.

Now is a time for softer leadership skills. Listening, coaching, mentoring and counseling will be key to preventing alienation and burn out amongst team members. From one-to-ones to all-hand meetings, communication needs to be a two-way street.

When we do go back to the office, if only part-time, a good manager will work to ensure that hybrid meetings, with some attendees in the office and some on screen, don’t prioritise the former.  We don’t need to rebuild toxic presenteeism in a new, post-Covid form.

And if we don’t?

Of course, bad managers haven’t gone away.  

Since the start of the crisis, investment in employee surveillance technology, to keep tabs on remote workers, has multiplied .  Nothing kills trust faster. 

Equally, there are those keen to get their team back into the office, where they can see them, 5-days a week.  They look forward to familiar forms of control, like presenteeism and the gilded cage of a well-appointed city-centre office. 

But, if other companies don’t enforce a full time return, what is to stop a brain drain to companies offering remote working, flexibility, and line-managers who listen? These things will beat a flash, city centre office in the new world. 

It’s not just about employees either. Those that relied on that flash city centre office and the surrounding restaurants to build client relationships will have to think again. Learn to create magical moments of connection digitally and win the spoils.

Little space for old thinking

Still think you’re going back to the office?

If you do, digest this:  the hottest trend of the next decade for private equity will be purchasing companies to make them ‘remote-first’.  

The cost savings on real-estate, enabled by the rapid pivot to digitization caused by Covid, will be staggering, and not just for private equity firms. 

Offices will be smaller.  Instead of open plan rooms full of desks, they will be hubs for meetings and socialising that you visit occasionally, not daily.  

Some companies will have no office but occasionally use purpose-built retreats that allow entire companies to fly into a campus for a synchronous week.

Less tied to a regular office location, people will be able to live further away from the office, enjoying the benefits of towns and rural areas over cities; more space and lower living costs. 

They will be able to look further for work, even across national borders, avoiding the traditional upheaval of relocating.

We’ve come a long way

We’ve come a long way since we hurriedly left the ‘old world’.  We’re not going back.

We’ve learned too much. Companies have learnt to trust their teams and workers have learnt to operate collaboration software. It would be foolish to unlearn these, and other lessons of the pandemic.

The opportunities we’re sailing to in the new world are enormous.  Good collaborators and managers should welcome the fact that we’ve already turned the point of no return.

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Play for Today

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I had a nice surprise the other day. A play I’d written for a Greenwich Theatre short play writing competition has been chosen to be directed, read and posted online by the theatre. You can see it…. here (15 mins)

It has always been an ambition of mine to write a play and see it performed. I’m hopeful that when the Covid cloud lifts, the theatre perform it live on stage (as nice as it is to see it performed, using professional actors and a professional producer, on YouTube).

The competition was part of the Greenwich Connects initiative run by the theatre to help the community and theatre industry through lockdown. I entered it during the dark days of early lockdown.

The subject matter is totally influenced by that time. Set in the future, a couple struggle with the effect of Covid 1 on their lives and consider (or at least he does) a new way to make money.

It’s also influenced a lot by the book Homo Deus. I owe that book for double inspiration because it also gave me an angle for a 2018 (BC) Media Research Conference paper

Watching the play I’m reminded of how those first few days of lockdown felt.

A freelance project had just come to an end and others in the pipeline suddenly dried up. Nobody was booking research, consumer behaviour suddenly ceased. Media was holding its breath and furloughing staff. Ad revenues were diving. The daily commute, with its commuter papers and outdoor advertising had simply stopped.

So, aside from homeschooling, I threw myself into writing this play and running every day (I covered well over 200 miles during lockdown). In month two I pivoted to SaaS, working intensely on a project for Slido.

If you’d told me in month one that the play would be chosen and published and that from month two I’d be working all the hours again, I’d have been amazed.

Anyway, enjoy the play if you view. As I said to my mum, sorry about the swearing!

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Which Previous Generations is Gen Z Most Like?

Image from the cover of The 7 Star’s report, Talkin’ About a New Generation

I went along to the February evening meeting of the Media Research Group where Isabella O’Duffy of The 7 Stars was talking about her report, “Talkin’ About a New Generation”.  It’s about Gen Z, born since the mid-nineties.

Isabella pointed out the difficulties of describing an entire generation in one succinct report.  I recognise those difficulties as I’ve done something similar with the Baby Boomer generation and Millennials.  There’s a fine line between over-generalisation and capturing a zeitgeist. 

The 7 Stars’ (and Visionpath’s) report can be found here.  Here it describes similarities and differences with previous generations: 

Appreciate my youth. Regardless of whether you navigated kid-ulthood in the 50s, 70s, 90s or now, most people will have had the same overarching experiences, emotions and stumbling blocks. They are going through the same milestones that the majority of people go through – of first loves, exam pressures, deciding on the path they wish to take, and struggling to earn their place in society. The key difference is the scrutiny with which others view them – through social media, mainstream media and beyond. Empathy will travel a long way in building relationships across generations”

It’s a good point.  Another paragraph led to a very interesting observation from the audience:

Do not underestimate us. Just because they have yet to have the lived experience on a situation or topic, doesn’t mean they’re any less informed than anyone else. Brexit is commonly cited as an example of this. They feel just as informed, misinformed or uninformed as anyone else in the UK”.

“That’s what my generation felt growing up in in the Sixties”, said audience member Julian Pounds, “don’t underestimate us”.  Also, echoing other points, that Gen Z feel the weight of climate change and suffer high stress, Julian talked about the fear he felt growing up in the Cold War.  Indeed, the nuclear threat is growing again.

The evening’s moderator, Frances Revel, observed that some generations have similar experiences to others, even though they’re years apart. 

It got me thinking.  If Gen Z are like 60’s kids because they’re growing up under existential threats, which other generations is Gen Z most like in terms of two other big forces, economics and technology?  After all, the Sixties kids did rather well on these fronts, but Gen Z will find them tougher.

Economically, facing growing inequality of wealth and the threat of job automation, maybe they’re more like young Georgians.  It’s the economist Thomas Piketty’s view that ‘inherited wealth will make a comeback’.  Fortuitous marriage (or partnering, rather) may re-emerge as the only way some will get on.  Jane Austen again? 

When I was selling a flat recently, I noticed nobody was viewing on their own, it was all young couples who needed to marry their monies together to get on.  Young house-hunters told me as much during some qual interviews I’ve since carried out too. Perhaps, for this reason, we’ll see a reversal of the trend towards couples marrying or co-habiting later in life, a big defining feature of Generation X and early Millennials.

Technologically, Gen Z are often compared to the generation who grew up at the start of the Industrial Revolution, retraining from agricultural skills to industrial skills, and upgrading those skills as machines developed.  They didn’t have the ‘job for life’ that the Boomers later had, and they didn’t have the ‘career for life’ (albeit with portfolio CVs) that Gen X and the early Millennials have come to enjoy.  It has been said that Gen Z will have ‘portfolio careers’, as they are forced to career hop as technology automates their previous line of work. 

However, Yuval Noah Harari offers us another perspective and a surprising (if bleak) punchline to my tale.  He sees a future for emerging generations in which new, embryonic jobs will create job openings for people forced to change career, but the new jobs will demand higher levels of skill than many are capable of or able to retrain for.  He writes, “a cashier or textile worker losing their job to a robot will hardly be able to start working as a cancer researcher, as a drone operator or as part of a human-AI banking team”.

He goes on, “Many people might share the fate not of nineteenth-century wagon drivers – who switched to driving taxis – but of nineteenth century horses, who were increasingly pushed out of the job market altogether”.

So, Gen Z, you might just be like Sixties kids, Georgian youths AND nineteenth-century horses.  I’m sure you won’t thank me for all those comparisons.  I normally like to end an article on a positive note, but I might have to settle for an appeal for anyone else with more positive analogies to share – along with the trite old expression, “cheer up, it might never happen”.

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Is there something in the driving seat that should be in the toolbox? Thoughts on a recent keynote by Rory Sutherland

Photo Matt Artz

Rory Sutherland was the keynote speaker at the Media Research Group annual conference recently.  As usual it was a thought-provoking presentation and a whistle-stop tour of a thousand great ideas.

Let me see what I can distil from it for you in this short blog.

Hatred is a strong word, so let’s start there. 

Sutherland claimed that, “If your dominant mindset is economic you have a visceral hatred of marketing”.  If, like me, you enjoy reading about economics and you enjoy working with marketers, it’s a claim to pique your interest.

He went on to explain:

“Standard economic theory assumes for the purposes of making [mathematical] models that everyone is making decisions as standalone utility maximisers in an atmosphere of perfect information and perfect trust.  In that world, that economists have created, marketing needn’t exist. 

And because that world is the map they use to make all business decisions they can’t help but frame marketing expenditure not as a source of value creation but as a necessary evil, a cost to be minimised as far as possible.”

It reminded me of a point made in a book I read recently called ‘Adam Smith: What He Thought, and Why it Matters’ by the MP Jesse Norman.  Norman writes about the great strides in economic thinking happening at a time when mathematics was the great answer to everything:

“Mathematics was originally intended to be a tool of analysis.  Instead it had moved to centre stage, increasingly shaping what questions could be asked… 

Homo economicus originally developed over time as a useful fiction, whose purpose was to reduce complex questions down to the bare bones of mathematical structure – that is, to allow the simplifications necessary for mathematics to get some purchase on the problem. 

Instead it has been taken over by utilitarian thinking and marginalist mathematics, and transformed into a culturally significant meme shaping the development of economics itself…

Thus too, was born in outline the popular caricature of economic man we see today: as wealth maximising, pleasure seeking, greedy, calculating – and idle to boot”.

In short, mathematics should have been in the toolbox, not the driving seat. 

Sutherland believes it created a problem that shapes the thinking of not just economists, but the majority of boardrooms too.

We now live in an age where digital technology, not mathematics, is the great answer to everything and Sutherland described how it too reduces complex questions to overly bare bones.

“The mistake we often make with any [digital] tech is we define something very narrowly, we replace a narrow part of its function with something technological and we point to the cost savings and we declare it a success.”

He illustrated his point by talking about book sales, which were expected to dwindle in the shadow of the Kindle.  One of several things forecasters were missing, asserted Sutherland, is the gifting of books, which accounts for a large proportion of book sales. 

In our world of media and media research we often talk about the fact that digital media is very measurable. Then we quote Einstein who wrote, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”  Sometimes what is measurable shapes our narrow definitions of what media is.

Sutherland warned of the dangers of, “defining media as a way of conveying a message as though those receiving the message completely trust it”.  You can see a “popular caricature of economic man” in that mistake.

Sutherland had a rallying cry for marketers: 

“The saddest thing about marketing is that when faced with people with numbers marketers tend to go ‘stop it, ooh these people have spreadsheets, they must be superior to me, I will bow to their superior information’.

But what we need in marketers is the ability to say, ‘yep, very convincing but the way you’re looking at things is wrong’.  A lot of numbers are not factual they’re a story and the story is fundamentally wrong.”

Market researchers should take heart from these words too when faced with their rival to the Insight crown – digital analytics.

Here’s my example.  I was once working for a news website where the digital analytics team had identified very regular users of the site. The ‘story’ they arrived at was that the newsbrand could sell these people branded goods e.g. white labelled financial products. 

I suggested we hold focus groups amongst these people, which wasn’t popular.  It wasn’t a vey digital idea. 

The people we met in the groups were far from ‘brand lovers’, they were newshounds who were reading every news website and were highly critical of the coverage on every site.  They weren’t lapping up every word unquestioningly and they weren’t about to buy wine or ISAs from the site just because its name was on it.

So, my take-out from Sutherland’s excellent keynote speech is that we should be wary of situations where mathematics or digital technology has been put in the driving seat and not the toolbox.  Instead, champion a realistic understanding of human behaviour and not popular caricatures.  And never be afraid to say, “‘yep, very convincing but the way you’re looking at things is wrong”.

We should all be a little more Rory!

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Marketing the Media Research Industry

I was recently asked to do a 5-minute soapbox session at the annual Media Research Group conference. I used it to describe how a marketing and PR strategy for the Media Research industry might look. Here is my script.

“Media researchers. We are the masters of the media universe at making the case for the organisations we work for. 

My suggestion is that we use those same superpowers to make the case for the media research industry.  

Here’s an example of researchers making a brilliant case for an organisation.

When the latest IPA Bellwether report showed a drop in advertising budgets the IPA reacted saying,

“It’s a false economy to cut one’s ad budget when things look uncertain.  The evidence shows that far from being prudent, it can have a negative long-term effect on growth.  Companies that hold their nerve consistently, and that invest in the 60:40 ratio of longer-term brand building to shorter term sales activation, outperform the market”

They could have added, Mike Drop.

This statement succinctly summarises two huge research projects.  Well done the researchers!

Now, the same IPA Bellwether report also flagged up a sharp drop in research budgets.

It’d be wonderful if we could have had a similar statement.  For a moment, let’s borrow this one. As you’ll see, I’ve changed a few of their words for ours.

“It’s a false economy to cut one’s research budget when things look uncertain.  The evidence shows that far from being prudent, it can have a negative long-term effect on growth.  Companies that hold their nerve consistently, and that invest in the 60:40 ratio of longer-term consumer research to shorter term ad effectiveness research, outperform the market”

Feels good, right?  Don’t cut your research; or you’ll die. 

Not easy to prove for real.  Not impossible.

But important, for two reasons. 

Firstly, headlines about declining research are too easily interpreted as old market research spend moving to data science and AI. 

The message needs to land that media research works alongside and even incorporates data science and AI, but isn’t rendered useless by them. 

Secondly, when the economy is hard, research budgets are sitting ducks. 

 At the start of the financial crisis The Telegraph ran a cartoon of a man with the word ‘Recession’ on his back, aiming a gun at a duck with the words ‘Research Budget’ on it.

That cartoon was particularly prophetic for me as I held the research budget for the Telegraph then.  It proved to be internal communication by cartoon! 

However, I now know a drop in research budget isn’t always mirrored by a drop in research spend. 

The C Suite of a company cut budgets to impress owners and shareholders.

But if they later realise they need a critical piece of research, the money is found.  It does mean – in these circumstances – the decision to buy the research is instigated by the C Suite, not the budget holder.

Given that, wouldn’t it be great for more of them to be exposed to, and inspired by, your wonderful work here today?

Let’s quickly visit the 1980s.

If this were an MRG conference back then, the CEOs and CCOs of planning and buying agencies would be here. Sitting with you.

So would media owner commercial directors.

All of them would form opinions about research capabilities and new studies, and what they meant to planning.  Our world was part of their world.

We can’t expect those people to come here now.  Life’s more frenetic and fragmented.

We now have to go where they are to shape their opinion of our industry.

Not easy, not impossible.

We should have an inspiring deck with a strong narrative, encompassing all that’s new in our industry, showcasing great work.

We should take it to agency forums, like Wavemaker’s Who What Wow – or conferences like Ad Week Europe.

We should aim for an effect similar to that of the annual Mary Meeker deck.

She pulls from different sources with a narrative – and inspired the biggest agency name to get planners to pay attention. 

Everywhere that Mary went; Sir Martin Sorrell was sure to go.

If Mary can inspire Sir Martin, why can’t we, collectively, as an industry, inspire big names too?

So, I put it to you.  We should seize the day and use our superpowers to make the case for our industry.

Not easy, not impossible.”

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Engaging the Young with News

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I remember a chart showing print newspaper reading by age.  The bars stepped upwards as each ten-year cohort read a little more than those younger than them.  It often led editors to conclude that people develop a print newspaper habit.

It was the wrong conclusion.  Deeper analysis showed that people in each age group read newspapers less than those same people did ten years previously.  The habit was being broken, not adopted.

As that lesson sank in, gurus offered explanations.  Young people have shorter attention spans, was a popular theory; they prefer video, was another. 

Fast-forward fifteen years to a lecture hall where Mark Thompson is speaking.  Mark is now the President and CEO of the New York Times.  15 years ago he’d been the CEO of Channel 4, riding the video wave.

Across town there’s a panel discussion where Katie Vanneck Smith, the co-founder of Tortoise, a new news organisation daring to be different, is on the panel.  She’d moved to Tortoise from a long career in News Corp, where she too, fifteen years earlier, would have seen that chart.

These two bright sparks, one at a start-up and the other at a 170-year-old business, are using these speaking engagements to say they can engage the young with news.  Neither thinks the obstacle to overcome is attention span or the lure of video.

Thompson’s approach can be summarised as: invest in content, listen to the young to find out how they want to consume it, and utilise the Podcast.  Audio, for news consumption at least, is killing the video star.

Thompson represents the New York Times and they have deeper pockets and greater magnetism amongst investors than, let’s say, The Sheffield Star.  It can, therefore, be both galling and uplifting to hear Thompson talk about investing in content. 

“We believe in journalism, it’s what we stand for, it’s also the only thing we have to sell.  So, almost unlike everyone else we’ve invested in journalism. We now have around 1,750 journalists working for the New York Times, that’s 300 more than in 2012 and the greatest number in our company’s 170-year-old history”.

He draws a direct line to companies adept at attracting the young, “Heavy investment in content is Netflix’s strategy; it’s Disney’s strategy”, he argues.  He adds, “This is unavoidably a capital-intensive period in media history”… yet we’re probably headed towards a new recession.  Eek.

He attacks “former digital darlings“, like Buzzfeed, who came to fame by holding short attention spans for a monetise-able second.  With too great a dependency of ad revenues, he argues, they are, “Players who today look more like legacy publishers but without an actual legacy”.

On Podcasts he says the following: “The Daily, that podcast of ours, is reaching and deeply engaging a significantly new audience for us.  ¾ of that audience is 40 or under.  45% is 30 or under.  I grew up in broadcasting being told by everyone that very few young people would ever listen to serious speech audio.  It turned out to be rubbish.” 

Considering the cost difference between good video and good podcasting, this at least offers some cheer to lesser publishers.

Thompson concludes about young people, “All you had to do was go to them and listen to them and figure out what they wanted.”

Let’s turn now to the thoughts of Vanneck-Smith.  Her approach can be summarised as: reinvent content, listen and discuss, reach beyond the professional classes, and, of course, use audio.

Tortoise are reinventing news content, taking time to produce ‘slow news’, not chase breaking news.  Fast news had become noise, she argues, saying, “When you ask people why they joined Tortoise three quarters gave ‘news had become noise’ as their reason”.

On listening, she says, “When I was at The Times we talked about our role being to inform, educate and entertain our readers.  It’s slightly different at Tortoise, where we don’t start by thinking we need to inform, we start by thinking we need to listen.  We listen and we learn and we understand.”

She doesn’t mean they start with market research (as much as I’d like that to be true), she means they involve their members in editorial style meetings called Think-Ins.

She says Think-Ins are, “engaging, participatory, we’re having a conversation in a room, it’s not a panel [with] sages on the stage, it is a genuine conversation in a room.  That is the number one reason our membership skews younger, it’s why they joined Tortoise, to be there in person and be part of those conversations.” 

You can see how Think-Ins appeal to millennials given their pursuit of experiences and keener sense of entitlement.  40% of Tortoise’s 8,000 members are under 30.

However, she says, “Even though we see a younger membership than I traditionally see in other [paid for news] organisations, they are still the professional, urban classes.”  Tortoise now runs bursary memberships to extend their reach, and conversations, beyond the bubble.

Like Thompson, Vanneck-Smith sees the value of audio.  She says, “You can’t have enough audio, one of the things we get asked is, can you actually read the article to me?”

The funny thing is that none of these approaches were unheard of fifteen years ago.  In fact, the term Podcast was first coined fifteen years ago, and not with great fanfare.  Podcasts were stepping-stones on the way to video solutions.  They have since been rediscovered and better appraised.

Listening is a far older word, but listening to the customer is being practiced with more urgency now.  Publishers are leaning in.

And we’d all love to see more investment in content.  Great content holds attention, no matter how old the audience.  And we should welcome the reimagining of quality news content and how it is delivered to younger audiences too.

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Friday Lyric Quiz: Ten Types of Responder

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Every Friday, on Twitter, I publish a Friday Lyric Quiz.  The format is simple; guess the lyric.  There’s no prize, just the joy of getting it right. 

I first started it ten years ago when I got the idea from Michael Vaughan, the cricketer.  He posted a lyric one Friday and I recognised it (ABC, The Look of Love).  It made me smile and forget I was stuck on a train. 

Let’s spread that sort of escapism around a bit, I thought.  The following Friday, I started.  I didn’t imagine I’d get to 520 Friday Lyric Quiz tweets and still be going.

People respond in different ways but there are patterns, there are responder types and this is my attempt to categorise them.  For you fellow researchers out there it’s a lyric quiz respondent segmentation, if you will!

I’ll use some lyrics to illustrate my points but, in true quiz format style, I won’t say what songs they are from until the end of the article.  How many of the song lyrics can you recognize?

ONE: The Muso Response.

A muso is a music-obsessed person, with clear thoughts about what is cool and what isn’t.  The Friday Lyric Quiz isn’t just for musos; it’s for Christmas hits, 80’s cheese, chart toppers, one hit wonders, boy bands and girl bands and everything in-between.  I’m dealing in memories not refinement.

Occasionally I stray into muso territory.  Here’s a recent example, I met one man who was wounded in love, I met another man who was wounded with hatred”. (Recognise it? Write it down. Remember, answers are below).

Musos let me know they know it without condescending to answering directly.  They might ‘like’ the tweet, for example, or make an observation to tell me they know about the song.  For this reason it tends not to be the muso who wins on a muso week, but a general music enthusiast who follows up with the right answer. 

TWO: The Original Artist Responder

The original artist responder can be a muso or just someone old enough to remember the original.  There are a lot of cover versions out there, and often they’re the most famous.

The week I used Give Me Just a Little More Time (the week Brexit was delayed), someone said Kylie and was ticked off by Chairmen of the Board fans.

Of course, the older you get the more you spot cover versions – but I suspect you still go through life thinking some songs from your youth were originals.  I grew up thinking Siouxsie wrote Dear Prudence.  I know. So shoot me.

Here are lyrics from a quirky song that I associate with one artist, that I never realised was a cover version until I posted it: You’re gonna need an ocean of Calamine Lotion”. I’ll even give you the original artist, which was The Coasters (1959), in case it helps.

THREE: The I-See-What-You-Did-There responder

On that Friday, nobody got my Give Me Just a Little More Time/Brexit-delay connection.  I can’t blame them; it wasn’t the best.  However, the day after the referendum someone did make the connection with The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum).  And they have.

Most of the time I don’t try and link the lyric to anything going on.  Sometimes, like the day after a terrible news event, I’m just mindful of the mood.  As I don’t really plan the song choices they tend to reflect my mood anyway.

People do spot some deliberate choices; Snow Patrol when the snow came, Ashes to Ashes for the start of the cricket and, at Easter, Good Friday is a lyric day, of course.  Admittedly, Good Friday is stretching my knowledge of songs about crucifixion (yes, I’ve done The Stone Roses and The Army of Lovers). 

Sometimes the link is personal.  I should probably be ashamed to admit I tweeted one Friday Lyric Quiz from the maternity suite the day my boy was born.  This was the choice that day, Friday’s child is full of soul”.  And he is.  And I’m biased.

FOUR: The “Tuuuune” Responder

Nothing can take you out of the present like music.  I work at home with my old iPod on shuffle and my mind bounds between school, university and jobs and between summers, friends, parties and holidays. 

If I post a lyric from a song that puts someone’s mind in a DeLorean Time Machine the response can be enthusiastic.  “Tuuune”, is a typical response.

I think the one song that generated the strongest “Tuuuune” response from those responding has these lyrics: “Wipe your feet really good on the rhythm rug, If you feel the urge to freak, do the jitterbug”.

I think it’s a “Tuuuune” too.

FIVE: The Unsurprising Responder

In general responders fit a type, depending in the song choice.  Some people have a favourite genre.  I have a responder who will pop up for Soul, another for gay anthems and a usual suspect for Madchester.

Aside from genre lovers there are mums and dads who spot current chart toppers because they’ve lost control of the car radio. 

Mostly responders are products of their age.  Music dates us.  Spotify data tells us we all over-play songs from our mid teens.  My Twitter photo is now ten years old but I suspect my Friday Lyric Quiz dates me more accurately.

This one’s for those Mum or Dad Taxi responders, God bless them for the hours they put into driving their darlings, and their very up to date musical knowledge:  But you say it in a Tweet, that’s a cop-out. And I’m just like, “Hey, are you okay?”

SIX: The Surprising Responder

Some people are more surprising.  One responder is a discerning gent and the very model of professionalism.  However, cheese runs through him like a Philly Steak sandwich – from every era. 

People who know him tell me they’re amazed he knows the songs he knows. “I know”, he told me, “I’ve got the musical taste of a twelve year old girl”.

But it’s more than that; he’s just got a great memory for lyrics and a broad knowledge of general radio airplay music, and not just from the Dad Taxi runs.  It makes him a great ‘mopper-up’ of Friday wins. 

I salute you, sir.  This one’s for you: Tank fly boss walk jam nitty-gritty.
You’re listening to the boy from the big bad city

SEVEN: The Horrified-at-Self Responder

The thing about my Surprising Responder is that he owns it, without shame.  You’d be surprised how, on some weeks, I get DMs, via Twitter, from people who know the answer but don’t want to be seen to know it.

Others respond and then recoil when they realise what they’ve just admitted to knowing. An attempt at an explanation follows.

So, this one is for the responder who spotted this lyric immediately, to his enormous surprise and the surprise (and delight) of people in his network: Paul’s gettin’ down on the floor, while Hannah’s screaming out for more”.  He’s got an explanation (it was big when he was at uni), of course.

EIGHT: The My Town Responder

Moving on from shame to pride.  No responder exhibits more triumphant pride than someone spotting a lyric from a hometown band.

The lyrics of Pulp’s Wickerman appeared in an A Level paper this year, illustrating a question about how music and art can influence someone’s perception of a place.  Jarvis peppered his lyrics with Sheffield references and Sheffielders, like me, love it.  I went to Forge Dam café too, Jarvis.

However, it’s not just about local references, it’s just about being from the same town as a credible band.  I’ve discovered Mancunians are still fiercely proud of Madchester bands and people in my adopted borough of Greenwich still love a good Squeeze.

This song recently had the responder celebrating his hometown of Leeds: She said that my chance has been and gone (Going out with) (Going out with) Cause I’ve been in for the same clothes far too long”. 

NINE: The I-Can’t-Believe-I-Got-One Responder

I’ve thought about stopping the Friday Lyric Quiz.  Ten years is a long time, after all. 

Then I’ll meet someone, maybe at a conference, who says, “I know your name.  Are you the Lyric Quiz guy?”  If that’s who I am, this is what I do.  They’ll also tell me they try and get the answer every week but haven’t got one yet.

Some people tell me I get up too early and so late risers stand less of a chance.  Sorry!

Often I’ll get a responder who is delighted they’ve finally won one.  I love these responders.  This is for them: I will be King. And you, you will be Queen”.

TEN:  The Too-Easy Responder

Finally, there’s the Too Easy responder.  They don’t rear their head up these days but were around a lot at the start. “Too easy”, they’d cry, but the fact I wouldn’t hear from them again suggests to me that music is very personal. 

We all have our collections and our lives have different soundtracks.  One person’s ‘too easy’ is another person’s ‘never heard of it’.

This one’s for them: “You see I begged, stole and I borrowed”

But my hat is off to all you responders.  Thank you to all who took part in good humour and with enthusiasm for music.  I’m sorry for the earworms but I’m happy to have stoked many wonderful memories from your lives, if I have.  Every Friday should start with a song.

Answers below:


A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.  Bob Dylan

Poison Ivy.  The Lambrettas (OK, The Coasters)

Through the Barricades. Spandau Ballet

Can I Kick It?  A Tribe Called Quest

You Need to Calm Down.  Taylor Swift

Dub Be Good To Me.  Beats International

S Club Party.  S Club 7

I Found Out.  The Pigeon Detectives

Heroes.  David Bowie

Easy.  Commodores

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Measuring apples and apples: OOH and online advertising

people walking near buildings during night time

Photo by Lukas Hartmann on

Recently I took up a temporary position as acting head of research at Exterion Media, the company that run the ads on the London Underground, on buses and some of the over-ground train network.  It was an interesting time and I enjoyed working with a great team.

Working in Outdoor media is always interesting. What is always very striking is the rigour of their advertising measurement. Here I’ve written about an eye-catching study by rival Outdoor firm JC Decaux in which they’ve tried to level the playing field between their measures and the measures of online advertising.

JC Decaux commissioned Lumen Research (famous for large scale eye-tracking studies) to run a project.  The idea was to create a level playing field for measurement of online advertising and OOH advertising.  They called the study, Attention: the Common Currency for Media

The online industry has very minimal requirements for an advert to fulfil before it is measured as viewable.  It needs to display 50% of pixels on screen for 1 second or more.  For OOH ads to be considered viewable the requirements are far more stringent.  It needs to face the right direction, have both edges visible, have no more than 10% obstruction and have dedicated illumination at night.

However, advertisements that are viewable are not always viewed, of course.  Therefore, Lumen use eye cameras to measure the ‘hits’ (or fixations) an advert gets.  One ‘hit’ is a viewed impression.  It’s something the OOH industry has measured for years (for their own inventory).  What happens when they apply the same approach to online advertising on mobile and desktop screens?

There’s a white paper for this and it can be found here.  It discusses the methodology in detail and there is an important methodology points to note here.  The eye camera work wasn’t done in an actual OOH environment, unlike, for example, Exterion’s excellent Engagement Zone project, which was done in real locations.  It was done using mock ups of OOH locations on screens that respondents looked at.

There are two main parts to the findings.

One: likelihood to see a viewable ad in each media

On desktop, if an ad is served in a viewable position, consumers have a 22% chance of noticing the ad (i.e. having at least one fixation on it).  On mobile the same figure is 59%.

For OOH static panels, consumers have a 66% chance of noticing the ad (i.e. having at least one fixation on it).  For digital OOH panels the same figure is 69%.  Please note that in situations of less dwell time e.g. amongst motorists or in a London Underground station, digital panels get noticed more.  Where the dwell time is longer, static ads ‘catch up’ and can have as much chance of catching the eye as digital.

Two: what happens when you build in the fact that not all ads are served?  After all, some are simply not seen by the audience, e.g. when less than 50% of all pixels are in view or when a digital OOH ad is in a loop of six.

The answer is that on desktop an ad has a 13% likelihood of being seen.  For mobile the same figure is 25%.

For static OOH the number stays the same at 66% (i.e. no change because the ad is there all the time) and for digital OOH the number is 39% (because some people will see other ads in the loop instead and because the ad won’t catch every eye).  For a total OOH number, the average of these two is 53%.

Notably, the OOH numbers are higher than the online numbers, which, of course, proves JC Decaux’s point about the value of OOH ads.

It’s a neat little study with a clear aim – and it is a great addition to the advertising measurement debate

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How digital assistants will change media research between now and 2028

Recently I was invited to speak in a debate at the Media Research Group (MRG) conference in Bratislava. We had to imagine what media research would look like in 2028.  I chose to concentrate on the effect digital assistants will have.  We were encouraged to be a little controversial and it was an enjoyable theme to warm to.  Here is my script:

If I think back now to media research in 2018 I could laugh.

But I won’t laugh because I’d be using laughter as a heuristic cue for you to process in a low involvement way.

In short, it would be weak communication with your weak human minds.

And I’m happy to say that in 2028 we’ve now eliminated human weakness from media research.

Back in 2018 we dressed human weakness up and gave it the name System 1 Thinking. It’s what we do when we’re not concentrating. It’s automatic, emotional … and weak… thinking. It saves us energy but it’s enormously flawed.

Can you believe this; it’s how we used to make most of our choices?

A whole discipline grew up called Behavioural Economics, about the impact of human weakness on economic decisions.

But a big problem for us researchers is that System One thinking made people unreliable witnesses to their own behaviour.

For example, people say advertising doesn’t influence them, but it does.

16 years ago the psychologist Robert Heath wrote a book about how advertising Seduces the Subconscious. The less attention people pay, the more seduced they are. Did you ever have your subconscious seduced by advertising in 2018? Hashtag Me Too!


But since then we all got Digital Assistants. They became our very own digital PA, our synthetic butlers. Digital Jeeves to our analogue Woosters.

We delegated our choices to them.

They make all decisions for us in high attention System 2.

There were two phases in our willingness to delegate choice to them.


The first phase was about convenience. Even in 2018 we gave away data for convenience – so we were equally happy to give up our choices for the same prize.

It immediately paid off. They made better decisions. We became content.

Studies of human happiness show that people are more content when their purchases fit their lives. Not when they fail to live up to some impossible dream like the subliminal stories in branded advertising. Drinking Nespresso does not a George Clooney make!

So we also gave them our media choices. I used to read The Guardian and The Economist because – it turns out – I thought they made me look dead clever.

My digital assistant pointed out that I was intellectually more suited to watching reruns of Tattoo Fixers – and Extreme Tattoo Fixers – so that’s what I do. It makes me happy.

We called it the “big pivot to content marketing”. Not Content Marketing like Native Advertising Content Marketing (that’s so 2018) but marketing to make me content.

More specifically, marketing to MY digital assistant to help it make ME content.


We’re now in Phase Two.

We now give our digital assistants more control because it guarantees us a longer life.

My digital assistant has full exposure to my biology. He knows what I’m going to die of – and how to delay my death.

Marketing has pivoted to Lifetime Value Marketing. I don’t mean marketing based on someone’s estimated total spend on a brand in their lifetime. That’s so 2018. I mean marketing aimed at adding more value – i.e. years – to my lifetime.

When my assistant orders my shopping an old bearded sailor advertising a brand of fish finger doesn’t influence him. He no longer cares about brands that make me content. He’s interested in finding the right piece of fish to protect my heart.

He puts in front of me the media content that will keep me alive by reducing my stress OR keeping me alert OR helping me sleep OR giving me pertinent information.

His KPI is getting me to my 100th birthday.


Now, my main KPI, as a media researcher, is still consumer insight. But, these days I only talk to digital assistants.

It is refreshing. I can ask them questions a human would struggle with, like:

Why did you buy this brand?


What programmes have you watched?

Qualitative work is fun these days.

I love paired depth interviews with both human and assistant.

It’s a bit like paired depth interviews used to be with married couples….

…Where he’d say:

“I like a bit of chutney on my cheese sandwich”

And she’d say, “You don’t, you’ve never liked chutney on your cheese sandwich”

Except now it’s a bit more like this.

Human, “Telly? Dunno. I just like watching football”

Assistant, “He’s saying that because he’s in his ‘Comfort’ needstate. Give him some sugar and he’ll tell you what he watches in his ‘Indulge’ needstate”


So, digital assistants have brought a new age of media research. It’s a return to asking somebody questions to get answers only this time you get answers.

It’s not asking people for an unreliable commentary of their own life.

Nor is it asking questions of big unstructured datasets that those datasets were never designed to answer. That kind of big data, these days, looks… small. Or… weak.

Digital assistants have only one job, to understand their human inside out, what makes them content and what keeps them alive.

It’s not big data; it’s strong data – about individuals.

And THAT absence of weak data is what characterises media and advertising research in 2028.


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To Print or Not to Print: The Publisher’s Dilemma

I’ve recently joined with a few industry luminaries in a venture called Red River Blue.  As a freelancer it is always good to join forces occassionaly with others to see what might come of collaboration.  To get their site up and running we’ve been writing blog posts.  Here is my first contribution and you can see it on the Red River Blue site here – or read it below.

To print or not to print, that is the question publishers are asking themselves as their audiences increasingly turn to smartphone screens.

On one side of the argument is economics. When The Independent stopped printing it was selling 55,000 copies a day but there are around 30,000 independent retailers in the UK and 13,000 supermarkets. Sending one or two copies to each of them just isn’t good economics.

It doesn’t help the economics when the costs of newsprint and glossy paper go up. Nor does it help when the public are increasingly concerned about the use of paper, no matter how much of it is recycled.

If you stacked up every copy of the Evening Standard distributed in one evening the tower would be ten times the height of the Shard. That’s an awful lot of paper to buy and recycle.

But print is resilient. Kindle reading didn’t take off as thought and book readers still buy paper books. Metro and Evening Standard reading is still high even though 55% of the London Underground is over-ground where the newspapers compete against smartphones.

And then there are the Lazarus titles that made it back into print despite going ‘digital only’ with great fanfare. Centaur brought The Engineer back into print and readers rejoiced, saying how much they’d missed it – but its content never actually went away!

Some work has been done to understand just what it is about print that makes the experience different to screens. In a nutshell print reading requires a different sort of energy and you learn more from it.

Research by NewsUK discovered that reading The Times via a tablet triggers more electrical activity so it encodes into memories faster than print. Screen reading is the hare but print reading is the tortoise. Reading The Times in print encodes the information into memories more slowly but in a more relaxed way.

Compare that with the findings of researchers in an Israeli Institute of Technology in 2011. They had people prep for a multi choice exam either using screen based or print based course material. When given only 7 minutes to prepare both groups did equally well. When given an indefinite period to prepare the print group did much better. The researchers put it down to print encouraging people to read with goals and revisit paragraphs to ensure they understand. This is consistent with the idea that print is Aesop’s tortoise.

Funnily enough there’s a new news organisation called Tortoise Media. It is the pet project of James Harding, ex Times editor and BBC News director.

Harding’s gamble is that slow news is better than the constant wearing whirl of breaking news and that people want to take time to learn and make sense of news. Slow Down, Wise Up is his slogan. Tortoise will run digital editions but their “small book of big reads” called the Tortoise Quarterly will appear in print.

Harding has had the advantage of building from scratch and deciding on his ideal use of print. Notably it’s less central in the proposition than digital content, despite his willingness to throw out the worst of the new.

The Guardian, with a strong legacy print history, are also re-thinking ink. David Pemsel, CEO recently said, “You can imagine at some point there will be a brief, saying, ‘What are the various ways that print can add value to people’s lives?’ But then there’s this binary thing of, ‘When are you going to turn it off?’ – it’s much more nuanced than that. People in this digital age love the tangibility of print and we’ve got to respect that.”

Romantics might like to think his brief will uncover aspects of print unique to print. More likely he’ll look at the benefits of print and ask if they can be replicated digitally.

Notably The Times has been more successful at finding and keeping digital subscribers by adopting digital editions (they publish three daily digital editions) rather than chasing breaking news. The idea of daily editions has been taken from the print world.

It’s probable that other print tactics will find their way into digital publishing. The ability to annotate articles, for example, is like the age-old learning aid of jotting notes down in the margin.

Print isn’t dead yet, not by a long chalk, but nor are attempts to replicate the best of it in the digital world. Publishers should keep an eye out for emerging examples.

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