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Could business save the world?

December 8, 2016 Leave a comment

You may have noticed that 2016 has been a tough year. Choose your own lowlight; there have been so many. It reminds me of my favourite TV commercial…

…only I’m still waiting for the “I won!” part.

Anyway, no one wants to read a whinge. So with an eye to the new year and all the optimism it brings, I’ve been trying to identify who or what is likely to ride to our aid and save the world from irreversible climate change and the worldwide rise of nationalism and its close cousin, fascism. No pressure…

It’s a tough job, but if anyone can do it I reckon it might be business.

I’ve worked with hundreds of clients – from large multinationals to tiny regional start-ups – and despite the suspicion in left-wing circles that business is a force for evil, I haven’t found that to be the case; indeed quite the opposite.

From the environmentalists working at British Energy to the care company bosses who genuinely spent their days trying to work out how they could provide better care for the elderly and better conditions for carers while government spending is slashed, the vast majority of businesspeople I have met are intelligent, well-rounded and conscientious.

Exactly the type of people who, with or without a helpful nudge from the public, would definitely think twice about advertising on Breitbart or in the Daily Mail.

(By the way, if you’ve never visited Breitbart, you never need to as every article they publish is exactly the same: I was bullied at school and my encounters with women are exclusively transactional.)

Businesses don’t take kindly to employees making threats on social media – whether in or out of work – and generally believe in many of the “tiresome EU regulations” they’re forced to observe because they actually value their employees’ health, wellbeing and satisfaction.

They also value long-term planning on things like energy provision and infrastructure,  hate ideologically-driven change, and like being able to employ who they want; regardless of where they come from.

It’s possible that while improving the standard of living for billions, our GDP-driven globalisation model will also be our downfall – if you have a spare 15 minutes, you might find this article pretty informative and depressing – but business, and the people who work for businesses (i.e. most of us) might just be alert enough to right our wrongs before they’re terminal.

Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Uncategorized

Controlling the controllables

November 16, 2016 Leave a comment

It’s November, and the John Lewis ad is already on TV. Christmas party arrangements have long since been finalised. And next year’s marketing plans have almost been signed off.

If it wasn’t for the imminent arrival of a narcissistic demagogue in the White House and the very real possibility of nuclear armageddon, prospects for 2017 would be looking pretty good.

Or would they?

Before the ink is dry on your 2017 activity, take a look at your brand: a long, hard look.

Could it be better? Is it built on a coherent and rigorous brand essence? Does its visual identity emanate from a brand idea that permeates every aspect of your communication? Does it possess a distinctive and consistent tone of voice?

If it does, great…you’ve only got the Donald to worry about. Oh, and Brexit. Mustn’t forget Brexit.

But if it doesn’t, you might want to talk to Breakfast. We help Caffe Nero and Pets at Home, amongst others, with their brands, and they’re doing ok. We’d be happy to talk to you too.

What have you got to lose? Get in touch with us and we’ll happily pop one of our brand workshops in the diary for 2017, to give you something to look forward to.

In the meantime, enjoy the John Lewis ad. At least it doesn’t have James Corden in it.

ed-speaking

Breakfast Managing Partner Ed Will in full flow at a recent brand conference

Categories: Uncategorized

“Illegal, indecent, dishonest and deceitful” – who is in charge of adjudicating political claims?

November 14, 2016 Leave a comment

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Having spent a lifetime working in the advertising and communication industry, my sense is that everyone in the business of building brands knows the Advertising Code inside out. For the record, here’s what they say – “The Advertising Standards Authority is here to make sure advertisements are legal, decent, honest and truthful. Many millions of ads appear every year in the UK. We know that the vast majority comply with the Advertising Codes* – and we act swiftly to tackle the ones that don’t. By proactively checking ads and acting on complaints, we make sure that consumers are protected. Our service operates at no cost to the public because we’re funded by a levy on advertising space. Importantly, we don’t collect or administer the levy ourselves, which ensures our independence from advertisers. The ASA is recognised by Government, other regulators and the courts.”

Post Brexit and post Trumpit, my question is very simple…who in theory is who is protecting the political consumer on both sides of the Atlantic?

In turn, who is holding politicians on all sides to account when it comes to supporting political claims? Where is the evidence that we can rely on to be adjudicated by impartial judges? Who is accountable? Why have we heard a shuddering silence from the sources of sagacity in the world?

All I know is that if politics was governed by a body equivalent to the Code of Advertising Conduct, then “Locking them up!” might be less rhetorical, more realistic and highly desirable.

Categories: Uncategorized

Men who’d rather fight than win

October 21, 2016 1 comment

I grew up listening to the Clash, whose lyrics helped form my worldview and inform any number of my cultural choices, especially in music and literature. Thanks to Joe Strummer and his gang, there were a handful of Hertfordshire schoolboys in my circle who, aged 13, knew a lot more than they needed to about Nicaragua, Chile and the Spanish Civil War.

This week, as Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Drive-By Truckers’ song ‘Ramon Casiano’ has been on constant repeat on my headphones. ‘Protest songs’ get a bad press; unsurprisingly, as many of them are earnest, hectoring and ultimately a little embarrassing. I still squirm as I recall the deputy head at my senior school reading the lyrics to Dire Straits’ ‘Brothers In Arms’ (not strictly a protest song but definitely a song with a message) to an alternately bemused and amused audience, and storming off stage when 300 cynical schoolchildren laughed as he played the music.

But the best examples of the genre – and ‘Ramon Casiano’ is definitely one – manage to deliver an intensely personal, passionate message without leaving you feeling like you’ve just been handed a pamphlet.

By taking the story of two men – one of whom went on to lead and radicalize the NRA – Mike Cooley manages to skewer not only the gun crazies, the racists and the cowardly; he also nails every small-minded man, languishing in his bedroom and cowed by his own inadequacy, firing off abusive tweets or Facebook posts.

This week, I broke a few of my own rules and tweeted in support of The Sun’s favourite BBC presenter Gary Lineker, as he took a very public stance in support of admitting child refugees from Syria. The gist was that I’d happily swap a British-born racist for a Syrian refugee. As a result, I received a number of bemusing and hostile replies from, as far as I could make out, British paedophiles worried that Syrian paedophiles were going to come over here and steal their work. At least I think that’s what they were saying.

Nearly all of these keyboard-warriors use false names and cartoon avatars. Some of them sort of threatened me; one told me “he wants his children touched”; some tried to ridicule me, as if supporting someone for being a tolerant non-racist was embarrassing. I think I’ll survive.

Why did I break my own rules? After all, no one wants to be lectured, or patronised. As I wrote myself a couple of blog pieces ago, the best way to change people’s minds is to be creative, satirical or simply calm and rational. In other words, to write one of the good protest songs, not to shout the lyrics from one of the bad ones.

Part of me still believes that. That’s why I’m sharing ‘Ramon Casiano’, and these two stanzas:

He had the makings of a leader/ Of a certain kind of man/ Who needs to feel the world’s against him/ Out to get him if it can

Men whose triggers pull their fingers/ Men who’d rather fight than win/ United in a revolution/ Like in mind and like in skin

It’s a brilliant piece of writing. It’s a brilliant song. It’s angry, it’s articulate, and it sums up Donald Trump, police shootings, the NRA and the tyranny of small, inadequate men in a few short verses. I wish I could sum up the depressing state of our country with such economy. It inspires me to want to try the same. I’ll get round to it one day.

But part of me thinks that if you were born and raised in this country; had the benefit of an enlightened liberal education, had any number of opportunities to further educate yourself and find out the real reasons why some of your countrymen are earning less than someone who’s just arrived from Poland, Syria or wherever, and still can’t find it in your heart to provide sanctuary to someone fleeing from a warzone, whether they’re 17, 18 or 19, then, in all probability, you’re just a c**t.

Damn! Back to the drawing board…

Categories: Uncategorized

“How can I help you?”…a message for our times?

October 13, 2016 Leave a comment

With the depressing spectacle of the decline of political and business discourse on both sides of the Atlantic, and the emergence of a general consensus that we are living in a ‘Post Truth’ era, where simply blagging and bragging are the the new modus operandi, how refreshing to be reminded that there is another way to conduct oneself in the modern world.

I have long held the belief that sport and sportsmanship offers an alternative value structure to much of what we have learned in business. In the latter it has become ok to condone an Apprentice style, Alpha male, ‘suck it up or get out’ schtick where every dog is encouraged to eat the dog next door …and then shout about it.

“Can’t hack it?” Get out of the business. “Don’t like conflict?” Abandon the boardroom!

Maybe it is time to look away from the Sugar/Trump model and seek inspiration elsewhere…

I was recently reminded of the value (and values) of team sports and what we can learn and reapply in life, and business in particular. Here the hard yards are always on the pitch and the real battles won through shared values and an overarching and unshakeable sense of purpose, where everyone understands what they have to do.

These values are profoundly ingrained. Sacrifice; self and team mate awareness; respect and valuing of difference in others; resilience; grace and humour under pressure…and an unbending desire to help any team mate who may be struggling. If this can be done, when the bullets have stopped flying, over a few beers then all the better.

Welcome to The Rugby Business Network, where the abiding philosophy was and remains – “How can I help you?”

I joined the London organising committee of TRBN a few years back, and I have never ceased to be amazed at the authentic warmth and welcome of all the members within this happy band of rugby loving business folk. Colm Hannon, the founder, has built a global network of over 30,000 people, who all believe that the best way to counter a world under increasing pressure is to put something back through a raft of charity partnerships; building and supporting a ‘Life after Rugby’ programme, and creating a series of events built on the back of a golden John F Kennedy-esque rule that places others’ needs first.

Bob Skinstad, South African rugby legend hosted just such an evening earlier this week with James Anderson, the England cricket star; Sally Pettipher, the charismatic CEO of Jason Leonard’s Atlas Foundation and Chris Bryant, the Head of Operations at the FA and formerly Operations Director at the recent Rugby World Cup.

As I watched this group amuse, enthrall, educate and inspire the attendees in equal measure, I felt a glow of satisfaction and pride in being part of this band of brothers and sisters. Was this the ‘Best Clubhouse in the World’? For others to judge, but a very welcome respite from a rising tide of cynical, selfish, and largely absent, world leadership.

If you have a spare couple of minutes, take a look at the video below. If you’re interested in joining the RBN, by all means get in touch with me and I’ll point you in the right direction.

Categories: Uncategorized

We’ve never had it so good

October 12, 2016 Leave a comment

Back in around 1999 or thereabouts, I suggested in a conversation to some miserable git or other that we were living in a golden age. My evidence for this was that, at the time, we were enjoying unprecedented economic wealth, were not at war with anyone (at least not what we would usually call a war), were governed by a centrist Labour government whose stated primary objectives (of alleviating poverty and improving the life chances of all through education) more or less chimed with the prevailing mood of the nation, and were not, it seemed, imperilled by any aggressive totalitarian regimes threatening our existence. Even the IRA had piped down. Admittedly Arsenal were much too strong for my liking and England still weren’t that much cop at cricket, but things were, on the whole, pretty good.

The only dark cloud (literally) came in the shape of eventual climate armageddon, but there was still time to deal with that.

Whoever I was talking to clearly wanted to start a conversation with someone else, because after some minor hectoring they agreed with me. “Put it like that, and I can see your logic,” they smiled (or so I like to imagine). “Let’s hope things carry on improving, or one day you’ll end up writing a blog – whatever they are – about how prescient you were.”

And here we are.

I shan’t chronicle the past 17 years, but a few things have happened. As the infuriating American saying pithily puts it, “It is what it is.”

So, I was watching the movie “The Big Short” and there’s a great bit at the end where, quoting Michael Lewis’s book directly (I assume) Ryan Gosling’s character amusingly says something like, “post the financial crash, all the bankers were jailed, the taxpayers were reimbursed, the politicians got a hold of things and justice was served.”

Then the payoff: “Only joking. They just blamed immigrants and poor people as usual.”

And here we are.

It’s hard to argue that life is better now than it was in 1999, for those of us fortunate enough to have lived through that golden era. Cynical politicians have managed to persuade the uninformed that “immigrants and poor people” are indeed to blame for their ills. There’s Trump. ISIS. Farage (in descending order of scariness). But, again, it is what it is. My point is that things could very well get worse.

We mustn’t take for granted what we have now, because there’s no guarantee we’ll still have it in 20 years unless we get to grips with the alarming increase in nationalism and racism we’re seeing now. We have to deal with it.

I watched “The Big Short” with a pretty comprehensive knowledge of the events that led up to the biggest global financial crash in history. I laughed, knowingly, about the “immigrants and poor” line. I wondered how they’d managed to get through the whole film without mentioning Gordon Brown or Labour, as I had heard the Conservatives say that the financial crash was all his fault. I wondered why Barack Obama, who has overseen an almost implausibly solid recovery in the US from the ruins of an economy he inherited, is not only given no credit for this achievement but has to watch as his opponents accuse him of trashing their country. It’s a film based on actual events, which makes it clear that bankers and lax regulation by the politicians they owned screwed us all.

Knowledge helps in that way. It allows you to contextualize and analyse. It’s why the likes of Farage and Trump are so dangerous; they are working from a playbook written back in the 1930s and relying on a compliant political class that has indulged their poison.

So yes, it’s ok to get angry at Wall Street and politicians – indeed, we didn’t get angry enough – but not to infer that everything else touched by government is illegitimate. If you want change, yes, vote against politicians in thrall to Wall Street, but not by siding with racists and misogynists.

If we don’t take care to promote the forces of enlightenment, information and reason, the tools we use to share those values may soon be taken from us. If the other side stop respecting the values and legitimacy of our nation and our institutions, then we have nothing to keep this wheezing charabanc on the road.

When that happens, then all the stuff we enjoy now – and I’m talking about a free press, the supremacy of the rule of law, a choice of food at the supermarket – might disappear.

So far, so good: if you’re reading this, you probably agree with every word. Our challenge is to break out of the echo chamber and get this message to the people we need to hear it. And that’s where we – the creative, informed, empathetic metropolitan elite – need to use our skills.

Be creative. Get to it.

 

Categories: politics, Uncategorized

Back to school

September 8, 2016 1 comment

For those of you frantically refreshing your browser in the vain hope of a new blog post (Hi mum!), great news…the holidays are over and the Breakfast team are back at the metaphorical coalface. (Somehow ‘wind turbine’ doesn’t convey the same message.)

And what a smorgasbord of September delights awaited us! I was despatched to Oslo, accompanying one of our clients as he begins the long and exciting process of establishing a world-class property brand; Ed (after a long ramble in the Pembrokeshire hills) is off to Belgrade on a secret but hugely exciting fact-finding mission for another client, while Sarah has been juggling energy comparison sites, naval-based tourist attractions and crusading social justice start-ups. You don’t want to get those mixed up…

Exciting times. Here’s Ed in his new uniform.

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Categories: Uncategorized