‘Mark My Words’
It took the urban dictionary to sum up the true definition of passion. It says:
“Passion is when you put more energy into something than is required to do it. It is more than just enthusiasm or excitement, passion is ambition that is materialised into action to put as much heart, mind, body and soul into something as is possible.”
Passion was the theme of last week. I spent most of mine with David Blaine. There are many adjectives that sum up David and passion is certainly one of them. This is a man who is wholly dedicated to his craft. There have been many impostors along the way, and yet Blaine does not let any of them derail his vision. Ultimately he knows others will not venture beyond his extremes.
David Blaine was only four years old when a magician on the New York subway sparked his passion. His lifetime since has been spent honing his craft. That he is an innovator is undisputed. His magic operates on an uncommonly personal level. He took an age old skill and turned it into something unique. He started on the street which meant understanding enchantment and personalisation was vital above all. He leaves everyone in his wake in awe. Above all it is impossible not to be infected by his passion, the way he talks, his knowledge and unprecedented commitment.
Business has a lot to learn from this. It’s clear that the answer to his success centers around discipline, focus, long-term thinking, and a willingness to flout the rules that govern everybody else. It’s an approach that’s difficult to discern and tougher to imitate. It requires an ability to
tune out the wags, competitors, industry observers and journalists who constantly spew torrents of advice, hurrahs, and brickbats in all directions. This level of focus keeps the headlines big and the aura powerful and persuasive.
Once David Blaine decided that magic was to be his life, though surrounded by a cacophony of noise, distraction, advisors and ‘me too’ practicioners, he played by his own rules, never losing focus or shifting from the path he decided on at four years old, so he’s been liberated to devote years to attaining his enviable position, training consistently, learning constantly and challenging himself again and again to achieve levels beyond the niche.
“As a magician I like to create images that make people stop and think,” says Blaine. As businesses we must also hone our imagination and ability to create wonderment and ultimately change points of view and move boundraies. We must keep focused and curious and learn what it is that will create enchantment. Imagination is that uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not and therefore the basis of all invention and innovation. Blaine sums it up:
“In truth, the only restrictions on our capacity to astonish ourselves and each other are imposed by our own minds.”
Last Wednesday, the cuddly, credit card provider Mastercard ran into an alleged ‘PR fail’ storm when their PR agency mishandled and misjudged a bevy of journalists they were inviting to the Brit awards. Scribblers claim that, in exchange for entry to the event, they were asked by email to guarantee coverage, and were requested to keep to social media guidelines including using brand hashtags. Why the inane babble was thought important, is another discussion.
The first thing to say is that this is but a irritating itch, not a full blown brand ebola. Journalists may have ‘taken to Twitter’ to gloat over the misstep, but I can’t see anyone getting fired over a few tantrums. House PR, who sent the offending emails, have only ‘become the story’ for a tiny circle of media old wives. The man and woman from Kettering hasn’t the faintest idea that any of this has happened. Mastercard’s logo still proudly enveloped the event like an amorphous boil.
“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought” Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
Someone recently said to me “the more I read, the less I know”. Profound. In a world where technological advances were supposed to make life simpler, the reverse seems to reflect the truth. The world is more complex, undefined, rushed. Decisions are taken without hesitation in the race to keep up with social channels and serendipity is increasingly a thing of the past, despite what we are repeatedly told. Serendipity requires time. The one thing we are very short of. And we seldom have a big idea anymore. Instead we have ‘notions; and a notion is but the teeniest of concepts.
The point is that big ideas add value to any business. Obvious. Yet many businesses regard ideas with suspicion. Real ideas have dimensions and are resilient and flexible. Outside of some connections, where ideas really spring from is unpredictable. The only thing for certain is, ideas don’t come when called! To get to them it is necessary to clear the mind. This requires a step away from technology and to look up and around, be curious and open minded. The opposite then, of the behaviour of most businesses. Try as they might, there is a fundamental problem with businesses trying to marry creativity and commerce! The trouble is for this to work, they have to lose the fear of making mistakes and this requires a step away from viewing situations in conventional terms and avoiding creating problems that don’t actually exist. This is a dynamic system we are dealing with and it poses some interesting questions.
2014 promises to be the year of wearable tech. CES in Vegas will show a smorgasbord of new and innovative ideas and the promise of the ultimate connected life for consumers. But does this mean that businesses will become more dependant on data driven decisions? Will there be a rush to keep up and grab the upward line of the adoption curve? And will this add to the burden and confusion? The trouble with data and technology is that they doesn’t allow for ambiguity – the very nature of human beings. Data has its value of course, but we must not become complacent and rely on it. Instead at Borkowski.do we are sticking our necks out and recommending the reverse.
A goodbye to allowing the data to decide and a warm welcome back to reflection, intuition and judgment!
After all, reflection, is key to producing quality decisions and the foundation block to build strong leaders.
But the speed of disruption is so intense, it is stripping away all confidence.
Let’s look up from the technology and proliferation of ‘information’ for a moment. Great leaps forward come from asking the right ‘big’ questions. That’s why we should start our thinking with NOT knowing any answers! Competitive companies will be those that offer products and services minutely shaped by the unique ideas and perspectives of every single one of their customers. Companies that fail to grasp this new reality will ultimately be squeezed out of markets by those that do.
Experience, though of great value, all too often fails to change the world. We must embrace the great unknown, listen, reflect and fashion solutions that are unique. Let’s not be fooled by fashion, tamed by reason or trapped by experience, but work with clear and open mindedness.
That means celebrating people and ideas from wherever they come, rather than seeing things entirely from our own perspective, and developing a unique and clear point of difference.
Welcome to 2014. The Now Economy requires us to sit still, demand more time to think, reflect and innovate, to avoid making the same mistakes of the past few years.
I don’t usually do awards ceremonies. I’d generally rather be making a new campaign than remembering the last one. However, as the end of the year finds Borkowski towers in a reflective mood, I thought I’d put together a brief collection of 2013’s standout PR moments—the ones that made us gasp with astonishment, and the ones that made us groan in horror.
Most gloriously over the top viral stunt
I’ve actually already blogged about this one [link: http://www.markborkowski.co.uk/supernatural-pr-fear-that-fans-can-love/] but it’s stuck with me. In order to promote the remake of classic teen-angst ‘em up Carrie, the movie’s PR team set up a hidden camera stunt to end all hidden camera stunts. A new York Cafe was rigged with booby traps, and an actor was planted at a table. Following an altercation with another “customer” (actually a stuntman), the actor appears to wreak havoc with her psychic powers, terrifying several genuine customers. A video of the event went viral.
In some ways, there was nothing groundbreaking about this, well-executed as it was. Still, as I acknowledged at the time, the team deserve huge props for finding a clever way to engage with movie audiences outside of the traditional press junket snore-machine.
Oh, the wretched topic of death, such a frustrating interloper, especially at Christmas, damn you. Alas, there is no point in pretending that we improve with age. In his colossal autobiography, Ben Hecht expressed the ageing process thus: “the years diminish us, time rots our body, cools our blood, darkens our brain, and, like a furtive embalmer, prepares our bodies for the winding sheet.” All too often, humans exit the process prematurely; on Saturday, the uber-agent, my old friend Addison Cresswell, checked out at the height of his power, just as Santa was coordinating the settings on his SatNav. Addi’s death was heartbreaking for his loved ones, sad for his legions of friends and acquaintances.
Bad news travels fast: Addison’s demise percolated through Facebook and Twitter like a ruptured reservoir of sadness. Folk etched moving epigraphs on a host of social sites, a community stunned into stupefaction. This unexpected shock unified the comedy universe, many finding solace celebrating his memory. Some were immobilised by a deepsense of loss; others recognised a more remarkable full stop to a significant chapter. These flickering chronologies passionately accumulated into a string of lyrical memoires about his largesse and contradictions.
Beyonce’s new iTunes record—the singer’s album broke a million sales in six days on Wednesday—should be a lesson not only to pop stars but to anyone with a message to get across. The singer released the album entirely without prior fanfare, tossing it onto iTunes with a casual insouciance. It was a masterclass in cutting through the general PR melee and of course, a conscious purpose of control.
Beyonce’s people have said the release was all about talking directly to the fans without interference from the media. A fun idea, but not likely to be of much use to artists who’ve not had millions of dollars spent on their promotion over the years. The more important point to draw from it for PR pixies is how shouting loudly just doesn’t work any more. Nobody can hear!
The sorry tale of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi should teach us some valuable lessons about the climate we operate in these days as businesses and brands. In this story we have a clear example of how a 24/7 news agenda fuels turbo charged and emotional reactions from the crowd – #teamnigella – and enough sympathy (for now at least) to skew any real perspective.
Not only that, but we also see how quickly brands are able to react to the idea of being written off. A skill that is becoming increasingly valuable in the furnace of media opprobrium. Kate Moss, BP, Ryan Air, Elton John, Virgin Trains and Twitter are all example of “brands” who have recovered from attack and moved on. The vicissitudes of the age did not crush these mass market icons. Why?
Well we are a “transmissive” society. Consumers don’t look up from the mesmeric power of their devices, so many are onto the next brand or story after they have erroneously dismissed the brand in trouble. In other words, we actually don’t enter into a dialogue. We don’t look up. We fail to discriminate in the moment as we digest the mass of information. This lack of consideration and reflection results in the transmission of undigested information. It’s a never ending circle for a moment or two. Then momentum changes…
Get your story straight before you pick up the phone:
Always true, this one, but especially nowadays when a journalist might be live tweeting your conversation as it happens. A plaintive ”off the record, right?” just won’t cut it.
Get the right team for the job:
Today’s PR industry incorporates dozens of diverse skills. Make sure you wow clients at pitches with a few carefully selected specialists.
Catchy wording goes a long way:
Whatever you’ve heard, copywriting isn’t a dying art. In an age where consumers write more every day than at any point in recent history, a great line or memorable name can make all the difference to the way your message spreads.
Never underestimate the power of a freebie:
However sophisticated your audience might think they are, nobody can resist a freebie. With the growing popularity of the ‘freemium’ model first thrust into the mainstream by online games company Zynga, getting people to buy your product is increasingly about giving a bit of it away first.
You can’t hide your corporate ties:
When The Simpsons got Banksy to direct their intro, he used the platform to critique the shady practices of the US merchandising industry. Not everyone is an anti-capitalist megastar, but they do all now have platforms, and no matter how edgy you pretend to be, they’ll expose you for who you really are given half a chance.
Prepare your client before a live TV appearance:
Even the most boisterous boardroom warrior is capable of clamming up in front of the camera. Now that 24 hour news and online bulletins demand a near constant supply of pithy soundbites, be sure to run through likely lines of questioning and prepare a script before sending your boy or girl out there.
Numbers are your friend:
Word a survey carefully and it will say whatever you want it to.
Never underestimate the inspirational power of a maverick:
Your rival may be sloppy, derivative or unethical, but if they’ve got a charismatic frontman they may have the edge. Seek out inspirational individuals within your client’s business who can give their brilliance a human touch.
Don’t try and jump on every bandwagon that comes along:
If you don’t provide “innovative interactive solutions”, don’t say you provide “innovative interactive solutions” on your website.
Sometimes, simple really is best:
A great message speaks for itself.
Last week, the PR buzz was all around Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary and his uncharacteristic mea culpa. This week, another combative consumer brand is filling up feeds across the globe: Miley Cyrus and her encounter with some of Amsterdam’s finest.
Cyrus’s ‘outrageous’ awards ceremony performances are fast becoming a fixture in our lives. Regular, horrifying and compelling, they scratch an itch that some cultures tended to with a vestal virgin, a serrated knife and some geometric architecture. It seems as if Cyrus doesn’t do something a bit ‘youth culture’ every week, usually at a three-letter award ceremony you’ve never heard of before, the sun will cease to rise. This time, for those pretending they don’t read MailOnline, she lit up what appeared to be a joint during a performance at the EMAs on Sunday.
Props to the pixies behind her – it was well thought through. Where twerking with Robin Thicke was calculated to rile up the world’s lefties, this latest stunt taps into the grand old tradition of fuddy-duddy moral panic. Read the rest of this entry »
Malcolm Walker and Tom Reddy how we applaud you!
Being the subject of an observational documentary is not without risk, but Iceland emerges triumphant from their series because as an organization, they don’t perform. They don’t hide. Malcolm and his team remain unashamedly authentic whilst not taking themselves too seriously. How wise. Who would have thought that Malcolm Walker and Tom Reddy, the steady, old school ad man would be showing us the way?
We exist in a world where it is very hard to miss your own reflection. It is more vital than ever that brands know what they look and sound like! Multi channel media demands businesses can quell customer satisfaction and enquiry in real time. In this instance, only the truth is good enough. Read the rest of this entry »