The Future’s Attacking!

I had a conversation with some friends in between Christmas and New Year where we mused about how lovely it is to tune out the world of work and its responsibilities for a few days. We agreed that it is important to slow down and truly enjoy the moment. However, we discovered that we all found this remarkably difficult to do. We all struggled to do the complete switch-off.

We realised that we had all experienced one particular feeling at some point throughout the festive week. future-attackWe named it “The Future-Attack”. This is the sense of worry you feel when you suddenly remember an upcoming event or situation, where the fear of the future takes away some of the joy of the present.

The most obvious future-attack among us was the thought of the first day back at work. It was the idea of the relaxed and indulgent festive season coming to an end. Although the intensity of the future-attack would vary, depending on the level of overall job and life satisfaction, we all recognised that feeling much too well. I have myself spent many a Christmas break with a knot in my stomach and a whirlwind of worries in my mind at the thought of it all coming to an end on that first Monday back.

But this year, for the first time, it was different.

My future-attack lasted for about two seconds, before I suddenly remembered that I absolutely love my job! Unlike previous years, where the thought of work would provide an underlying sense of stress and inadequacy, I now felt a jolt of joy. I would be returning to do the things I love, for the clients I have chosen, earning the money I deserve.

I take great pride in being my own boss and the master of my own happiness – but I also wish more people could experience that same happiness at the thought of going back to work on a Monday morning. This year, why not take some time out to discover what would truly make you happy and passionate about your work?

Check out these top tips from Inc.com on how to be happy in your current job. And remember – if you can’t find meaning in your existing job, perhaps it’s time to look further along the horizon to find something new and better.

The first draft of anything is sh*t

Being a perfectionist is often hailed as an admirable trait to have, as if it somehow vouches for a continuous drive for excellence and a stamp of quality. In reality, it is a weakness in disguise. It hampers productivity for two reasons:

  1. You self-censor yourself

    Perfectionists often spend too much time criticising their own performance – when they could be churning out results, iteration after iteration. Just like the Sistine Chapel masterpieces were once rough sketches and outlines, we shouldn’t expect the first version of our work to be flawless. If we are overly focussed on achieving the perfect result, we won’t mentally give ourselves permission to work through a few rubbish variations before refining them to greatness. The title above is a quote from the great Ernest Hemingway, who himself understood the value of humble beginnings. We can learn a lot from adopting the mindset of the “draft” to many areas of our lives. Aren’t we all in fact, as people, the draft of a future version of ourselves?

  2. You don’t recognise “good enough”

    Perfectionists also struggle to let go when something is in fact very much fit for purpose. This is particularly true if your work entails producing written work or graphics but it can be seen on all levels of business where we simply don’t want something to leave our hands until it is absolutely perfect. This is of course not an issue if you have unlimited time and resource at your disposal, but most of us do still operate in a fast-paced world where we are measured on time as well as quality.
    Being a part-time artist, I sometimes find myself working on a piece of art long after it should have been declared “finished”. I always find little details that can be improved, things I’m not entirely happy with, things I suddenly decide I want to add or remove. Sometimes they do improve the end result, but most of the time I am just wasting my time as the edits don’t make any substantial impact on the final product.

The result of both of these behaviours can at best be a small nuisance, but can at worst drive you to the point of burnout – at which point you are of no use to anyone (from a business perspective, that is!). We should of course aim to produce our best work and maintain a solid high quality in what we do, but not at the cost of being perfect. Consider if it’s even possible to reach the standards you have set for yourself, with the means you have available. If it is, then do aim for it. If it isn’t, then do the best you can in the circumstances and accept it – and move on.

If any of this rings true to you, it could be useful for you to re-visit your approach to your own motivation. Why do you feel the need to be perfect? Whom are you working so hard to please? For many of us, there are latent issues from our early childhood conditioning which may need to be addressed. You may benefit from discussing this with a counsellor or a therapist.

But in the meantime, try challenging your own perfectionism, letting go at “good enough” – and see what happens!

What the Proms taught me about leadership

I was watching the Last Night of the Proms on Saturday, enjoying the essence of this wonderfully British tradition in all its glory. Old and new, sophisticated and playful – all blended wonderfully into a rich representation of modern classical music. And although I expected a beautiful performance, what I didn’t expect was to get a lesson in business management.

promsThe stage was bursting with talented musicians and soloists. However, my eyes were inevitably drawn to the conductor, Marin Alsop. With magnetic, mesmerising strokes through the air, she enticed the most amazingly complex music from the orchestra and its chorus. Her eyes, hands, baton – all were completely focussed on the musicians in front of her as she was watching, listening, feeling her way through the notes.

A friend and I got talking about how this is a fantastic visual of how business leadership works – or at least how it should work. The conductor, much like the manager of a business, does not get involved in the detail of any individual instrument during a concert. Even though she is most likely able to perform one or several instruments very well, she doesn’t do it. She allows each person to be the expert, and concentrates on getting the best out of each performer – despite the fact that they may play their instrument slightly differently to how she herself would play it. As long as she gets the sound she wants from the entire orchestra – together – she is satisfied.

A leader’s job is to ensure that harmony is created through collaboration. A good leader communicates clearly, while also listening intently to their team. And just as in the orchestra everyone is included and gets heard, everyone should be made to feel like an important part of the business team. The conductor doesn’t hide behind anyone, but gives credit where it’s due. She allows her musicians to shine.

But as we all know, a successful performance is the result of months and months of hard work, rehearsals and preparation. Just as a good conductor will recognise when the orchestra is ready for the task ahead and wouldn’t place anyone on stage who doesn’t have the skills required, a good leader knows how to pick a team that will excel in delivering the chosen product or service, under attentive and determined guidance from the front.

Let’s all face the music and help each other become better leaders and collaborators!

(Did you miss the performance? Check it out HERE).

Image credit: BBC 2015

Don’t fear the Marmite

Love and hate - credit to Baro24If you’re anything like me, you have an inner drive to be accepted, listened to and loved, especially by the people who really matter in your life. When it comes to business, the same applies. We want our customers – the people who really matter to our business – to accept us, listen to us and love our brand. But does that sometimes mean that we play a bit safe, become a bit bland – or even boring?

A fellow marketer at a creative agency told me about a recent direct mail campaign he had carried out, targeting prospects within the pharmaceutical industry. The letter itself was laid out in the form of a doctor’s prescription sheet, ordering the “patient” to take a hefty dose of the agency’s services. So far, all is well and good. Clever, but nothing too controversial.

However, for the envelopes, he chose to use a red ink stamp with the official-looking statement “Important medical documents inside”. This, as it turned out, stirred up a few emotions! The phone started ringing. Some were congratulating him on a cool, eye-catching and fun campaign, but others had a few bones to pick. Some felt it was unethical and deceptive – and one person even explained how she had hand-delivered the mailer to her colleague who was at home on sick leave, thinking it was crucial that she received it.

Now, regardless of whether the recipient loved or hated the campaign, it’s likely that they will remember it.

Some may place the agency on their wish list for future creative work; some may blacklist them for the foreseeable future. So – does this mean the campaign was successful or unsuccessful?

Some would argue that this is “natural selection” in the marketing world and that the unhappy targets weren’t a good match for the agency in the first place. Others might say that a campaign that aggravates part of your audience is inherently flawed.

In my personal opinion, I think the campaign was risky – but that was also what made it great! Some of the greatest artists, creators and leaders of our time have been both loved and hated, because they refuse to play it safe. So why can’t businesses do the same? You may face some tough commentary, but you may also gain some superbly dedicated advocates along the way.

Allow your brand to ruffle a few feathers!

(Image credit to BaRo24: baro24.deviantart.com)

How to manage creativity

We’re all operating in a world driven by innovation. Product life cycles are shorter than ever before, business start and expand overnight, the cloud computing revolution enables the instant turn-on and shutdown of resources at the click of a button… Entire industry landscapes change and evolve at a higher rate than many of us can keep up with.

As businesses, we try to make as much sense of this as we can. We often find ourselves on the sidelines, watching the game to see which side is winning before joining them on the pitch to help score a few goals.

The most successful companies don’t do that. They’re busy re-writing the rule book and sacking the referee.

Creativity and innovation go hand in hand and are essential to not only entrepreneurship but to the sustained success of established businesses. Unfortunately, many managers don’t know how to manage creativity. It is considered an elusive concept and less direct in its result generation compared to streamlining efficiencies or improving processes.

The first instinct of a manager is to refuse to consider ideas that are challenging and “impossible” (i.e. never been done before) – killing ground-breaking concepts.

“Revolutionary ideas come about when we doubt our existing view of the world,” says Alan Iny, co-author with Luc de Brabandere of Thinking in New Boxes: A New Paradigm for Business Creativity. “In this respect, true leaders must develop the capacity for radical originality: they must re-imagine and reinvent the world in totally unexpected ways. By doing that, they can create a culture that is open to creative risk-taking and an environment where failure is accepted as part of the creative process.”

Failure makes a great teacher but a lousy friend. A successful creative culture will nurture the process of generating enough ideas and hypotheses to counteract any setbacks from failures – but there will be no focus on failure as a word, which is negatively charged. Instead, it’s all about building resilience where the learnings are part of the creative journey and help form the backdrop for new innovation.

As for encouraging and maintaining the creative streak in our organisations; that’s going to be the next big challenge.
A recent Harvard Business School colloquium on creativity landed in the viewpoint that “One doesn’t manage creativity. One manages for creativity.”

I like the sound of that.

4 ways to build “Brand YOU”

hello-my-name-is-uniqueWhether you are an entrepreneur, business professional or service provider in some capacity, chances are a large portion of your time and effort is spent helping others look good. By working to improve profitability, solve problems, save time or improve image – you are making others more successful, just by being good at what you do.

But what about YOU? How do you make sure you also work on building your own brand – and get more business, more job offers or better compensation?

Now, I’m not talking about self-promotion here. Selling yourself through shamelessly waving your qualifications in other people’s faces is not how you build a strong brand. The only way you will gain true respect and confidence in your industry is by having a solid track record of performance and collecting a string of very satisfied customers and partners along the way. They are your true assets.

What you DO need to do, is to make sure that you leverage those assets in the most efficient way. So how do you do this?

Make yourself aware of what you’re good at

This may sound obvious, but there are two elements to this.

  1. Take time to actually evaluate yourself and bring your strengths and qualities to your conscious mind. By mapping them out in writing, you can make yourself aware of all the things you have to be proud of. But don’t stop there!
  2. The second step should be to speak to the people you serve. Your clients, co-workers, business partners – they all have an opinion on you. Ask them what they enjoy about working with you, how you have helped them and what benefits they have seen. Chances are they will point out things which surprise you, or at least things that you didn’t think mattered very much.

Work on your presence

Are you one of those people that tend to fade into the crowd at gatherings? Are you afraid of becoming the centre of attention, or do you play yourself down so as not to come across as one of those obnoxious horn-tooters that nobody likes? Well – having a humble personality doesn’t need to stop you from building your brand. There are many ways you can establish yourself as an authority in your field without coming across as cocky.

  1. Take genuine interest in people. It may sound counter-intuitive, but by focusing on the other person you are actually shining your own brand light over them. You are offering your ears – as well as your advice, if possible – which establishes a sense of reliability and confidence.
  2. Offer specific examples. Prepare a few anecdotes that you can quickly reel off when a suitable topic comes up, which really showcase your core strengths and abilities. Practice a few times and make sure you feel comfortable talking about yourself, but use the leverage of the client or partner perspective. Hone in on what benefits they saw from working with you or why they chose you instead of the competition.

Find your channels

Not everyone likes to write blogs or schmooze at networking events, but everyone can find platforms for brand-building where they are comfortable. Have a look at the channels you have access to, and identify the ones you like best – then think about how you can amplify them. For example, if you like to comment in an industry group on LinkedIn, you may want to consider also setting up a group of your own and create a schedule for sharing informative content and curating others’ articles. If instead you feel happier behind the podium at a conference, then perhaps you could build a global audience through sharing your knowledge in online webinars.

Keep getting better at what you do

Do you want to be seen as a superior provider, an industry expert or the go-to-person for a particular product? Then telling your story is not enough. You need to make sure you are constantly striving to be the best you can be. You are only ever as good as your delivery, so focus first and foremost on making your stakeholders happy. All the best brands show a consistent, proven quality over time. Without it, you are just an empty rattle.

Do you have other tips on how to build Brand YOU? Feel free to leave a comment!

Pawtrait, anyone?

Here are a few examples of lovely animals I have had the pleasure of painting in the last year. If you’re interested in getting your own, unique pawtrait – get in touch and I’ll give you a quote!


Loki

This is Loki the Finnish lapphund – as the name suggests he is a very cheeky and playful character and was a joy to paint!
This is a 24×18 inch piece in oil.


darcey  

This was the first pawtrait I made and it is the gorgeous cocker spaniel Darcey, who was just a tiny puppy at the time. She has since grown into a beautiful, fluffy lady dog with lots of pzazz. (And a keen interest in rabbits.)


monty

This is Monty the Labrador. He is a very friendly chap with the happiest tail in the world. He was very difficult to paint as he has so many shades of black throughout his lovely, shiny fur, and at 24×18 inches this was the largest canvas I’d done.


Lab3

This is Tosh, a handsome gun dog who spends most of his time in a pub in West Berkshire. The pawtrait of Tosh was a wedding gift for his parents. 


   pepsi

The pawtrait of Pepsi the Beagle was a first effort using the iPad (InspirePro Free). I’d like to say it’s work in progress, but I think it’s more likely that I’ll make an entirely new attempt.


 Lily

This little proud lady is called Lily and belongs to a gorgeous blonde (not me!). I loved painting this, because there were so many interesting changes in fur texture and shade.

The real reason you don’t give to charity

We all know the scenario. We walk past a charity collection stall, get stopped by an enthusiastic fundraiser with a clipboard and a well-rehearsed pitch. We get the all-too-familiar feeling of guilt as we make up some lame excuse as to why we choose not to give.

charity“I already give to charity.”

“I’m a bit skint right now.”

“I don’t have time – I’ll visit your website later.”

Whatever the excuse, and whether or not it’s valid, the truth is that most of us walk away feeling uncomfortable. Our guilt buttons have been pressed, and we have to try to switch to “callous mode”.

The Guilt Trap

When we DO give, of course some of us willingly give because we genuinely connect with the cause, but many of us fall into the Guilt Trap – and give only because we feel emotionally blackmailed into doing so. This results in an uneasy feeling, not dissimilar to how we feel when we’ve just bought a pair of shoes that were way too expensive – but the shop assistant assured us we look great in them.

Charity marketing should be no different to commercial marketing. When faced with charity, we employ exactly the same decision making process as we do when we consider purchasing a product or a service. We trust in facts and figures, but when it comes to signing the dotted line we also tune into what some people call the gut feeling.

We listen to our emotional response.

Our job as marketers is to ensure that this emotional response is aligned with the individual’s values. So how do we do that? Well – first of all, let’s not assume that everyone is our target market.

Charity Spam

Fundraising in the street is really a bit like spam email. We bombard every single person with our message, not knowing whether or not they are likely to be interested. A small percentage will respond, whereas the vast majority will turn away – and made to feel guilty for it. If we on the other hand engage with people in a select community, where we know there is already a heartfelt interest in a particular cause, we can create messaging and activities that resonate with that audience. This way we generate higher response rates, which give us improved ROI, and we are more likely to gain advocates who in turn will share the cause with their own networks.

Secondly, we need to also recognise that it’s not all about the money. By guilt-trapping donors, we may get a small, single donation or a sign-up for a monthly direct debit which is soon cancelled. In addition, the person may end up with a negative connotation of the charity. If we instead focus our efforts on winning donors who genuinely love what the organisation stands for, the charity can see long-term benefits which spread like circles on water.

Find the Sweet Spot

As marketers, we really need to wake up and respond to modern human behaviour. As cold as it may sound, charities need more than just pictures of crying children and endangered animals. The new generation has become immune to many of these visuals – because they are constantly bombarded with them and simply cannot respond to them all. But there will be that one or two causes, that speaks to them through the noise; that’s where the sweet spot is.

By implementing this marketing shift, charities will of course also stop wasting time and money on ineffective fundraising. And that’s surely a winner in anyone’s book!

5 tips for making PR work for you

I sometimes hear small businesses claim that they “can’t afford good PR”. This always prompts me to ask: “So – what is your idea of good PR?” Often the response is that good PR entails shuffling tons of money into epapers-logosxpensive lobbying, exclusive events and fancy brand makeovers. But in this era of post-recession frugal management trends, SMEs are waking up to the fact that PR can work wonders for them even with small budgets. With the right messaging and the right channels, companies can achieve targeted coverage that helps them win the business they want.

This week I met with PR expert and former journalist Margaret McDonnell and I want to share five of her top tips for achieving powerful PR opportunities, regardless of size and scale.

1. What’s the story?

Always ask whether what’s going on in the business can be a potential news story. What new products or services are being launched? Is the business approaching any milestones, or are you planning an event? If it’s interesting to your clients or prospects, chances are it will also spark an interest from the press.

2. What’s going on around you?

By keeping an eye on the media environment in general, you can discover angles of news stories which you could comment on or respond to as a business. If a new statistics report is released, for example, you could take the opportunity to write a commentary on how you see the trends affecting your region or your clients.

3. Write it yourself!

Many journalists appreciate receiving a brief, well-written piece of copy which can be published as it is, or built out into a bigger story. Margaret’s top tip is also to include a photo – even if it’s just a headshot – to make the story even more personal and eye-catching. (Bear in mind, of course, that newspapers don’t want to print the same story as everyone else, so make sure you don’t send a generic mass email to all your contacts. Make it personal!)

4. Keep it regular, but not over the top!

Make a habit of sending a story to your press contacts once a month. This will help build familiarity with your brand and keep you at the forefront of the journalists’ minds if they ever want to do a story involving your particular industry. However – if you want a story to have a seasonal connection such as Christmas or summer holidays for example, send it plenty of time in advance.

5. Be quick!

Sometimes being first with a unique story or offering the first comment on a major news event is all it takes to get covered on the front page. Check the Twitter hashtag #journorequests regularly to spot opportunities to speak to journalists on hot topics.

Ask “So what?”

Another one of Margaret’s top tips is to apply the “so what?” test to every story you create. The information might make sense to your business, but does it really add value to others? Is it compelling? Does it offer something of genuine interest to the reader?

Hopefully these tips can help to spark some good PR initiatives. I look forward to seeing your news stories out there!

3 ways to beat Marketing Impostor Syndrome

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the Sunday Times on the topic of Impostor Syndrome and its crippling effect on many professionals. I had a very rewarding conversation with Carly Chynoweth around various coping strategies for gaining a sense of validation and self-acceptance. It is a topic which sits close to my heart, having battled my fair share of demons when it comes to professional confidence. 

People with masks onAfter the interview, it struck me that the strategies which I had gained over the years, to help me overcome my sense of inferiority as an individual, could also translate into the wider scope of the marketing department. After all, don’t we often mark ourselves down, compared to the efforts of other businesses? Aren’t we often feeling as if we lag behind, as if everyone else is latching on to the latest trends and the coolest new tactics, doing “real” marketing? And so we try to keep up and convince ourselves that we’re just as good, although we secretly feel like we are nothing like what we portray ourselves to be.

This certainly rings true for me.

What is Impostor Syndrome?

People who experience this challenge often have a constant grinding wheel of questions churning in their mind, asking themselves if they are good enough, clever enough or confident enough. They have the sensation that everyone around them is “Real”, whereas they are “Fake” and that they only ended up being successful by pure luck or chance. Remarkably, this is experienced by many top performers who – to the outside observer – seem to possess shatterproof confidence. Examples include elite athletes, senior executives, powerful leaders and influencers.

Strategy #1: Be comfortable with your uniqueness.

I once worked in a marketing organisation where a “messaging workshop” for a new product consisted of visiting a range of competitors’ websites, pulling out key phrases and descriptions from their product pages and mixing them all into a new constellation, attributing it to us. It’s safe to say that the exercise drained all creativity from the room!

This is an extreme example of what happens when a marketing team lacks the integrity of being a unique creature. By wanting to appear to be at pace with the other players, we were not comfortable breaking away from the pack. This approach stifles marketing innovation and may contribute to a continued sense of being a fake compared to others. The same thing also happens to many people on a personal level every single day – we hold back our unique selves for fear of being ostracised.

Strategy #2: Do something terrifying.

Growing up, I was convinced I was destined to be shy, quiet and timid. Throughout my personal journey, I found that the best way to prove myself wrong was to do the very things that scared me the most. It led me to take on one challenge after the next, culminating in a series of stand-up comedy performances which scared the proverbial socks off me. At the time, I’d have happily jumped out of a helicopter before standing up in front of a crowd of people – let alone try to make them laugh! But once I did it, I unlocked a whole new level of confidence.

When managing a marketing organisation, the same fear can apply when faced with the opportunity to change. We imagine all the horrible things that can go wrong, the embarrassment of potential failure – even though we may have several very successful projects in the backpack. This fear won’t let go of us until we let go of it, trust ourselves and trust our teams to deliver the excellence we strive for.

Strategy #3: Ditch perfect. Be awesome.

Both as marketers and individuals, we can be crippled by perfectionism. In many organisations, I dare say it is one of the biggest threats to progress. We fail to value the art of being quick and adaptive, over the concept of absolute exactness. Mature organisations can learn a lot from the entrepreneurial mindset of “Ready, Fire, Aim” – determining the detailed direction as you go along – borrowing guidance from the Agile framework and its interpretation for the marketing specialism. The more time we spend perfecting our campaigns, the more pressure we put on ourselves and the wider the gap grows between us and our more nimble competitors.

Won’t we make mistakes? Sure we will. Plenty of them. But we’ll have momentum, learning as we go along and gaining the confidence of someone who dares to be “good enough”. The war between VHS and Betamax springs to mind – where Betamax was arguably the better product but lost market dominance to VHS due to a sluggish (albeit not entirely self-inflicted) approach to the marketplace.

I have learnt that both as an individual and a marketer, I have strengths and weaknesses which make me who I am. I am unique, terrified and far from perfect; but for those very reasons I will continue to strive for success and will bring success to others along the way.