Reuse, re-edit, remix and recycle | 重新使用,重新编辑,混合和回收 | 재사용, 재 편집, 리믹스 및 재활용

I have been working on a couple of briefs over time that have suddenly seen budgets cut quite dramatically. It’s often a struggle to pare the list of requirements back to a minimum viable campaign. One thing that tends not to happen too often is seeing assets reused and recycled effectively. I saw that being incorporated into thinking at Unilever making TV assets more easily localised in different countries including adapting end slides and one shot for culturally appropriate product uses.



But perhaps the best example I can recall was one that used to show repeatedly on cable TV when I was in the final year of my degree. I would have the TV on in the background, whilst I slowly but steadily cranked out my final year series of assignments and essays.

BreathAsure seemed to have given their London advertising agency very little to work with, but this cheeky voiceover turned the ad around and was an insiders nod to how awful the original American creative was. I am guessing that this probably would not have passed muster if it needed sign off by an American global marketing supremo.

In case you’re wondering what ever happened to BreathAsure, it seems that soon after this ad campaign originally ran Warner-Lambert took them to court in the US regarding their product claims.

The things that I’ve learned in agency life

Seven years ago I wrote about lessons that I’d learned in agency life. I wanted to think about how well those lessons stack up now.

Work with at least one thing you are passionate about. I once read what was reputed to be a Japanese proverb: in order to do great work you have to burn yourself in the subject. The point is it makes that our great work has part of us and we ‘live’ it.

I worked on data work that didn’t set my world alight and mechanistic launches for Chinese multinational companies. The thing that kept me going was edge projects.

Conversely; it’s not ER, it’s PR. Conversely, perceived client service pressures often create an artificial sense of urgency; this burns out teams and results in over-servicing because you don’t get a chance to reflect and work smarter.

If anything, this has gotten worse. Competitive pressures have brought a lack of prioritisation into focus.

Get technical. Understand what your client does, understand the dynamics of their business. You don’t need know how to programme but you do need to know how to specify buying a site and understand how it will benefit your clients business. Technical people will often tell you what they think you want to hear rather than the unvarnished truth.

I’d add getting some data skills now – at the very least knowing how to run sorts on Excel.

Prioritise. At a personal level, I draw up a double page of a notebook with five headings: calls, meetings, drafts, checks, other and run my day from it. With client projects I says to the teams I work with ‘cheap, fast, good’ – pick two when discussing what they want to achieve. The culture of client service in PR agencies often means that everything is considered important which isn’t true.

This is an evergreen issue.

Show the sausage factory. Much of my time as an agency-side PR person has been justifying what we’ve been doing. One of the best things that has come along over the past decade or so was collaborative platforms that allowed for real-time reporting and document sharing. I was one of the first European beta testers for WeberWorks an intranet developed for The Weber Group and then taken forward by Weber Shandwick. Whilst it strips the mystery away, it also helps deflect pointless phone calls, month-end reporting panic and document formatting issues.

Funnily enough, this mirrors much of what we tell the client about the effect of the social web. Slack, Facebook for Work, Percolate publishing managment all make this easier.

The only thing that matters is results that deliver value for the client. Everything else is window dressing.

What I’ve found with clients is that more data-centric marketing has meant obfuscation.

Data has meant that the objectives drift because of the data that’s easily presented. I spent six months working on a project for a pharma company going through each business area (what they call franchises). In each one, we’d work to get consensus on the business objectives. From that we’d work out what was the stakeholder behavioural changes required. The key technical part of the work was boiling all this down into dashboards that presented the critical KPIs. But also allowed the audience to delve deeper into the number if there were so inclined. Before this, marketers had instead received monthly 60-page PowerPoint presentations. Your guess is as good as mine about how many of them were read.

A second effect of obfuscation: B2B marketers drive to outsource their marketing strategy to technology platforms. Marketing automation has a focus only on the short term. Rather than a mix of short term lead conversion and longer term brand value creation.

You are only a strategic advisor, if your client trusts you and sees you that way. A lot of the time this role is often filled by the advertising agency planning department or the media buying agency.

Brands that sound sexy or cool, generally aren’t sexy or cool to work for.

Don’t drink the client kool-aid: believe and be passionate about a client’s brand on your own basis and by your own insight. Being able to provide an external insight based on empirical feedback is invaluable if you aspire to the strategic advisor role.

If Brexit and Trump taught us anything, it is that ‘real people’ and the ‘advertsing-marketing’ complex know little about each other.

Don’t be afraid to fail, just be sure to set expectations realistically in advance and learn from your mistakes. One thing I learned from freelancing at Firefly was the way they captured feedback from client pitches and learned from it in the new business process

Great ideas are worth keeping. My boss at Pirate had some stock creative ideas at hand that he kept until he found the right client to execute it with. Great ideas will have their day in the sun

As a junior person, try and work with people that you’ll learn from, strength of character is no substitute for mad skills

Employ people who can replace you, that is the best way of being able to move up through the ranks in an agency. The number of people that I worked with where their career hit a brick wall when they where found to be ‘too valuable’ in their current role, particularly on key accounts is surprisingly large

If you can’t change the people around you, change the people around you. Life is too short and your colleagues will spend more time with you than loved ones in any given week. If the chemistry isn’t there, move on, people are far more important than the brand name on the front door

Organise your address book. Your contacts in terms of industry contacts, suppliers, current and former clients and influencers (media, analysts, bloggers, celebrities, stylists, artists etc) is your currency as an agency person. Start early and keep it up. I spent too much time keeping my address book and armada of Rolodex frames up to date and an archive of old business cards as an analogue CRM back-up

Read widely. Clients don’t exist in a vacuum, having a wide range of reading material helps out in both social and professional circumstances

Experiment. Its a great way of getting ideas. My career in digital started off in anger experimenting with social tools, this then helped promote a rather dry book on futurology and Aljazeera’s first interactive news service in English

Try and meet the people that you work with at least once in person. It helps immeasurably when you are dealing with these people electronically. You are more than a disembodied voice on a conference call or an email address. It really helps to cement long-term relationships

Be loyal: long-term relationships with journalists and suppliers can help dig you out of holes. They are likely to last much longer than a client business

International travel isn’t glamorous

Have a go-bag. I have a bag with aircraft laptop adapter cables, Fujifilm plug adaptors, my passport, a USB 3G dongle, a pair of socks, a set of boxer shorts, a t-shirt, a set of Oakley glasses, an empty Travelex zip-lock back for currency – handy for receipts, a pack of wet-wipes and an antiperspirant.

I am doing a lot less foreign travel now, but these life hacks are still handy

Avoid big international trade shows: 3GSM, CeBIT etc. You will be living a vast distance from the event or sharing a bed with a colleague in a rented bedroom. You will spend long hours on a stand tracking down journalists. Your efforts will be unappreciated. Thankfully, these events seem to be on the wane

Despite what you may think, working in-house isn’t easier than agency life, its just different. I worked more hours in a week in house than I ever worked agency-side apart from a brief period during the boom

People understand through stories

Write notes in a book style notebook rather than a reporter style notebook, clients and interviewees like to feel that their pearls of wisdom are being captured

About 70 per cent of most corporate PR campaigns are about ego

Mature but don’t grow up – agency life is a young state-of-mind.

There seems to be more of a HR obsession for hiring people with less than ten years experience to optimise the churn and burn model.

China marketing agency landscape changes

Chinese poster

The Xi-era of China has seen the end of the go-go years in economic growth which was one of the factors picked up on Arun Sudhaman’s analysis of the market for PR services.

Arun also noted that the fortune of domestic and multi-national firms diverged.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Multi-national PR agencies often led with corporate communications and public affairs expertise. This meant that their businesses were led by leaders who paid lip-service to digital at best. My experience trying to sell digital internally was one of the most painful processes that I have ever done. It was one of almost insurmountable cultural differences: not Irish-Chinese, but analogue-digital.

To be fair many corporate and public affairs specialists in London are still trying to get to grip with what digital means. They know it’s important, but they don’t have a clue how it all comes together.

That mean’t that they didn’t really get social media beyond being a publishing platform. Chinese KOL (key opinion leader) work whilst effective, is paid media. PR agencies generally don’t have the depth of tools and analytics to provide comprehensive planning and execution for KOL projects. It is hard to get management teams to invest adequately in tools and talent.

Premier Xi has changed the landscape for public affairs practitioners. The government is less flexible, it feels that it no longer needs to be. China is on the ascendence in the face of western existential crises and America in rapid retreat from the world stage. Hence, new laws that discriminate against foreign technology companies as part of its wider approach to cyber sovereignty.  Public affairs still has a place in terms of research to provide understanding, but their foreign multinationals won’t like what the results will likely tell them.

Digital has hit the industry hard. It moved at an accelerated pace compared to other industries. Unlike the west were television isn’t in decline but has stopped growing, Chinese TV isn’t undergoing the golden age that we are seeing in the west. The government has made it less entertaining – which has only helped the acceleration of digital marketing channels in China. Government control of television content has meant less reality shows or remakes of Korean drama stories and more content extolling Chinese Communist Party values. Worthy content, but not particularly engaging.

May online marketing

In China, the major digital platform companies try and go direct to clients for social media advertising cutting out the media buying agencies. This gives media and digital agencies extra incentive to go and grab the paid engagements of key opinion leaders. These are often performance-related deals with directly attributable online sales or online-to-offline voucher redemption. Digital and media agencies are better equipped to handle influencer relations than their public relations peers. It is less about influence and more about performance.

Multinational PR agencies also have problems with their established client base of international brands. Under Premier Xi we have seen a more confident China. This confidence is manifested in Chinese board rooms. The way strategy and goal-setting works in Chinese companies illuminates this difference:

  • Big board meeting where outrageous unrealistic targets are set by the Chairman
  • Planning department turns the ridiculous goals into plans
  • Management goes to arrange funding

The business then goes to staff up and do whatever is needed. They will build massive conglomerates – what is known as building the eco-system – something that is frowned up in the West as being bad for shareholder value

Chinese entrepreneurs care about market share more than profitability. And sometimes they fail spectacularly like LeEco.

A lot of it reads like bubble-era corporate Japan. While it seems insane to outsiders, corporate China is much more closely knitted into the government than the keiretsus ever were. Corporate China may go pop in the future, but it won’t happen at the moment.

By comparison, multinationals are worried about activist shareholders and meeting their quarterly numbers can’t be as aggressive in comparison to their Chinese peers. This type of aggressive pursuit of growth would also be an anathema to the likes of WPP, Omnicom, Publicis and IPG who suffer from a similar risk of activist shareholder shenanigans as their multinational clients.

Which is why Chinese brands have been blowing up across sectors. 91 percent of smartphones now sold in China are from domestic brands. Apple has somewhere around 7 per cent share. Foreign FMCG brands are being slaughtered, even Amazon has only a few percentage points of market share.

Quite simply, multinational PR firms have generally bet on the wrong horse. China is the one market were American scale and capital actually diminishes in impact over time as the Chinese domestic market picks up. Multinationals in strategic business areas were always going to lose over time.

Where Chinese brands have wanted to expand globally, they have taken on foreign PR agencies. Part of this process was knowledge transfer. If one looked at an organisation like Huawei, you can see how they have learned and built internal capability with Chinese characteristics in their corporate communications function over time. It would be a similar process in other companies.

Even foreign luxury brands have struggled to be as agile as their Chinese customers. Between the crackdown on corruption and the rapid development of experienced luxury consumption – the only constant in the luxury market has been change. It is only a matter of time before China has its own answer to Michael Kors or Christian Dior. Western luxury brand problems will affect the agencies that work with them with massive fluctuation in marketing budgets.

A second transfer of capability from foreign to domestic is the move of multinational agency talent into local agencies. You combine that Chinese entrepreneurship and foreign agencies look vulnerable. Clauses that have kept western agency staff in check from plundering clients and talent don’t hold up as well in China.



Ten years of the Kindle

Amazon Kindle & Sony eBook

Amazon is celebrating 10 years of the Kindle so it makes sense to reflect on the device and the service.

Rather like Apple products Kindle is a combination of hardware, software (including content), payment infrastructure and the Whispernet global mobile virtual network.

Like Apple, Amazon came in and refined an existing business model. Companies like Sony made very nice e-readers, but they didn’t have the publisher relationships and market access that Amazon had.

Context rather than convergence

In a time where consumer electronics thinking was all about convergence, from the newly launched iPhone to the Symbian eco-system Amazon were determined to come up with a single purpose device.

Amazon resisted the trend and created a dedicated device for reading. That is why you have a black-and-white e-ink screen and an experience exclusively focused on seamless content downloads.

Yes, they’ve rolled out tablets since, but even the latest range stick to the original Kindle playbook. Some of their decisions were quite prescient. The Kindle was deliberately designed so that it didn’t require content to be side loaded from personal computer like an iPod.

The Kindle has survived the smartphone and the tablet device as a reading experience.

Using the U.S. legal system to clear the field

Amazon was helped out by the US government prosecuting Apple under the Sherman Act. Wikipedia has a good summary of this case. On the face of it Apple was doing a similar structured deal with publishers on book pricing to what it had done previously with record companies for iTunes music.

This case effectively stalled Apple book store momentum and lumbered Apple with overzealous US government overwatch. The consumer benefit has been minimal – more on that later. The irony of all this is the way Amazon has leveraged its monopolistic position to decimate entire sectors of the retail economy.

The interesting thing about this case, say compared to the Apple | Qualcomm dispute is that Apple still kept Audible audio book sales in iTunes throughout this dispute and didn’t look at ways to bounce the iPad Kindle app from the app store. Audible is an Amazon-owned company.

By comparison, Amazon bounced Apple’s TV from its own e-commerce platform and has taken a long time to support the AppleTV app eco-system – long after the likes of Netflix.

Piracy in China

Amazon hasn’t had it all its own way. China had a burgeoning e-book market prior to the Kindle and Chinese consumers used to read these books on their laptops.  Depending which store you used; it might have more books at a cheaper price because intellectual property wasn’t ironed out.

A cottage industry sprang up that saw Kindles acquired in the US and Japan shipped back to China and reflashed with software that made them compatible with the local app stores.

The Kindle brain phenomenon

I moved from the UK to Hong Kong to take up a role and tried to lighten my burden by moving my reading from books to the Kindle. I found that I didn’t retain the content I read. I enjoyed the process of reading less and did it less often. I wasn’t an e-book neophyte I had enjoyed reading vintage pulp fiction novels as ebooks on Palm devices and Nokia phones in the early 2000s as a way of passing them time on my commute.

Talking to friends their experience was similar. I now read on the Kindle or listen to audio books only for pleasure. I tend to buy my reference books in the dead tree format. There is something more immediate about the process of reading from a ‘real book’ rather than an e-book.

It seems that digital natives aren’t ready to give up books just yet. Studies about the use of digital technology and e-books in education are mixed and anecdotal evidence suggests that technology industry leaders liked to keep the level of digital content in their children’s lives at a low threshold.

The Kindle hasn’t replaced the bookshelf and the printing press yet.


Disposing of the medium didn’t mean that we got cheaper e-books. On Amazon it is worth looking carefully to see what is the cheapest format on a case by case basis. Kindle competes against print books and secondhand books.

Secondhand books win hands down when you are looking at materials beyond bestsellers. A real-world book is easier to gift and Amazon Prime allows for almost instant gratification. The Kindle starts to look like Amazon covering all the bases rather than the future of publishing. This may change over time, a decade into online news was a more mixed media environment than it is now – but Kindle feels as if it has reached a balance at the moment.

More information
New study suggests ebooks could negatively affect how we comprehend what we read | USA Today
Shelve paperbacks in favour of E-books in schools? | BBC
Study challenges popular beliefs on e-reading | The Educator
Are Digital Textbooks Finally Taking Hold? | Good eReader – makes the case for a heterogenous book environment of standard textbooks, e-books and used books
Do ‘Digital Natives’ Prefer Paper Books to E-Books? | Education Week
Our love affair with digital is over | New York Times (paywall)


ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우

Amazon marks 10th anniversary of original Kindle, the ’18-month project’ that took 3 1/2 years – Kessel said the team was determined to keep the Kindle a single-purpose device – something where you could lose yourself in a book, rather than a multipurpose piece of hardware that might create distractions.

They were also focused on making it easy for customers by ensuring they could access new books without connecting a cable to a computer for download. That dedication, which lead to a built-in cellular data connection and, eventually, the ability to sync your books across Kindle devices and app, was no small feat. “We said books needed to download in less than 60 seconds, but it definitely didn’t work that way at first,” said Kessel.

Patience was something the team was forced to learn.

“Originally I told Jeff (Bezos) it would take us about 18 months to build the Kindle and we could do it with a couple handfuls of folks. It took us three-and-a-half years and a lot more than a couple of handfuls of folks.”

The Motherboard Guide to Not Getting Hacked – Motherboard – really interesting guidelines

Do Facebook and Google have control of their algorithms anymore? A sobering assessment and a warning | Poynter – is this a ‘SkyNet’ moment? How would you troubleshoot? A lot further out, if you got to sentience at a later date how would you know, particularly if the machine learning system goes down the root of the logic outlined in Cixin Liu’s ‘Three Body Problem’ trilogy

There’s a Digital Media Crash. But No One Will Say It – Talking Points MemoProblem #1 (too many publications) and Problem #2 (platform monopolies) have catalyzed together to create Problem #3 (investors realize they were investing in a mirage and don’t want to invest any more)

Monodraw for macOS — Helftone – OmniGaffle but for ASCI art