With Creative North currently sitting on the dock of the bay, we’ve been Zooming our wonderful speakers finding out what they were planning to share on stage at the Royal Exchange at CN2020. 

You’ll find all the Zoom chats over on our Youtube channel from Friday 19th June.

Here we caught up with Rory Sutherland, Vice-Chairman and founder of the Behavioural Science practice Ogilvy in London, acclaimed author, public speaker and contributor to BBC Radio 4 and the Spectator amongst many other claims to fame.

In a rich and varied, extensive and extended romp through copy, collaboration and creative problem solving we talk Zoom, David Ogilvy, The Do Brief and how extending creativity beyond just communications offers fresh value and opportunity.

With collaboration the theme of the conference a natural starting point was to ask Rory his definition…

“How do we redefine collaboration?” was his answer.

“Because if nothing else good comes down to this Coronavirus crisis, the nature, and obviously the location of the people we work with should change significantly and irreversibly.

Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

He talks about the enforced need to work from home, the adoption of Zoom and video conferencing and the ways that this has changed the nature of meetings – “Can you ‘ear me Shelia!!!” and “Dave… Dave!… Dave!!!!!! Unmute yourself!” apart, many of them he feels have been positive

“When you meet virtually, meetings are less territorial, less hierarchical. They’re much more multi-disciplinary, and less siloed.

So instead of it being a marketing meeting or a finance meeting you get people from different disciplines all sharing the same screen. You can ideate and brainstorm in these ways rather effectively. Meetings become more egalitarian and more contributory and collaborative than when they were physical.”

And he talks about the unexpected creative benefits of running shorter, more frequent brainstorming sessions online.

Allowing the Unconscious to Do Its Work

“We always try and cram this brainstorming session into one half day or even the full day because the coordination costs, the diary coordination and the travel costs are such that you basically have to try and do everything within the course of that one occasion. 

And I’ve always had this belief that it makes much more sense to split a meeting like that into two. So you have immersion, up at the beginning, and it might be just two hours. It might be a virtual meeting where everybody familiarises themselves with the issue at hand. And then you allow for a week or so of what you might call ‘fermentation’, to quote, James Webb Young in a technique for producing ideas. 

Just to allow the unconscious to do its work…a chance to get lucky, because once the problem is in your mind, you might find inspiration in all kinds of accidental things.”

As with other seemingly immutable aspects of life, remote working and the adoption of online meeting platforms during the health crisis has accelerated their acceptance. Not that Rory wasn’t already ahead of that curve, running Zoom Fridays even before the world went a bit mad. 

“I realised that it’s not enough to give people permission to work flexibly. You’ve got to encourage it. Because otherwise people kind of have that awkward feeling that it looks like the easy way out. 

And actually, silly people haven’t helped that by saying, ‘working from home’ with big sort of inverted commas, as though the idea that you’re in the office somehow makes you magically more productive. 

And my enthusiasm is actually backed up by David Ogilvy’s observation that he never wrote anything in the office… most of his creative work was done at home because he simply found the office to have too many distractions to be conducive to protracted deep contiguous thought.”

Convenience, creative and cost benefits that all add up to a big Rory thumbs up for remote working.

But what about collaboration generally?

Rory goes on to talk about internal creative collaboration.

A Third Person Who’s Better Than Either of You

“I have no doubt in my mind that the purpose of the creative team, the copywriter and art director is to create a third person who’s better than either of you… You can create something better between a group of people than you might do on your own. If only through just feedback, you know, suggestions, and actually the sounding board effect…

David Ogilvy was absolutely assiduous on this, at least he claims he was. If I’d founded the company I’d basically write the copy and go ‘look at this everybody, it’s brilliant’. And I think David was conscious of that risk, which is everybody going, ‘David, you’re so clever!’, and he’d actually show a piece of body copy to six people and asked for comments before he sent it through to a client. And that weird reluctance to listen to constructive feedback, I think is a dangerous thing that has to be overcome, within reason, obviously you’ve got to choose the right six people.”

Like it.

And the perfect intro to what Rory was planning to focus on in his presentation.

Who Do We Look to, to Be Our Clients? 

“Because who we consider our clients to be has a major effect on what we’ll get good at.”

Rory cites the shift from agencies charging some sort of hourly fee to charging by media commission, as limiting us to only trying to solve comms problems (for businesses who believe they only have a comms problem) when we’re as valuable applying our creativity to solving business problems. 

By defining our problem solving abilities as broader than just comms and identifying those who might benefit (there are plenty of businesses out there with business problems but want to spend money on media or comms) we open up a whole world of opportunity.

The Insanely Self-Limiting Belief in the Value of Creativity That it Should be Confined to the Communications Part

“Marketing is a terrible word, because it essentially stereotypes marketing as a kind of arty discipline, not as a problem solving value creation approach. and it tends to miss the fact that actually marketing isn’t in any case a support function, it’s a mindset.

And it has a mindset which is highly complementary to the mindset of the rest of the organisation typically. 

So, what makes the marketing viewpoint unique is you tend to look at a problem, through the eyes of a customer over time, not through the eyes of the organisation or through the lens of a spreadsheet or through the aggregation of financial and other data. 

You see it from a psychological and perceptual perspective, not from an economic perspective for example or an engineering perspective, and the importance of that mindset as one of the ways of looking at a problem is vital because without that mindset you end up with a very narrow solution space for any problem.

We have to change objective reality to make this problem go away…, maybe you don’t have to change the objective reality, you just have to change the customer’s expectation.

If you don’t have the, what you might call the, the creative psychological perceptual angle on a problem, you could end up totally misdefining what the nature of the problem is, you’d end up performing incredibly expensive solutions where simple ones would do.”

That’s Behavioral Scientists for you! 

Copythinking

And he goes on to give a great example. The single best thing London Transport did to improve passenger experience per pound wasn’t introducing faster, more frequent, more comfortable, later running trains. It was dot matrix displays on the platform.

Says Rory, “It’s based on a very human insight that what people don’t like isn’t actually the waiting. That’s an objective measure. It’s the uncertainty. That’s a subjective measure. And people would rather wait nine minutes for a train knowing there’s a train in nine minutes, then wait seven minutes or six minutes not knowing. 

And so the way to solve that problem in fact, is not necessarily to solve it as an engineering problem it’s to solve it as a psychological problem which costs, literally, 1% of the cost of running an extra train.”

A Vocabulary of Critique, Oldies, The ‘Do’ Brief and Mending the Last Mile First

As I mentioned at the beginning the chat was extensive and extended. We’re already deep into this post so without wishing to go even deeper here I’ll leave you with some of the other themes that Rory covered.

Of course you can get it all at over on our Youtube channel from Friday 19th June.

To cut the remainder of this long and ludicrously interesting story short here I’m going to rapid-fire the headlines.

A Shared Language

He talks about the importance of having a shared ‘language’, a vocabulary of critique, among creatives because it’s much easier to collaborate when you have a set of words you can effectively use to say what’s missing.

Read The Oldies

“Read the oldies,” he advised. “read books by Claude Hopkins or James Webb-Young, read those books, alongside the D&Ad Copy Book.”

Start at the End

When it comes to direct response, “start with a coupon”. He didn’t mean literally, every time, what he’s saying is that if the final bit of your customer journey isn’t optimal, it doesn’t matter how good you are further upstream, because you’ll still be wasting sales. 

“Because there’s no point in widening a road if there’s a badly phased set of traffic lights two hundred yards on. What you’ve got to do is to optimise the journey from the end point and work forwards, and we tend not to do that.”

Respect the Numbers

Get your head around the numbers too he advises. And respect those who specialise in the numbers.

That good mathematicians are equally conscious of the limitations of mathematical modelling,  the things you can’t capture, that might matter a great deal. 

“I think it’s only reasonable,” he says, “if we’re asking for those people to recognise the weaknesses of their discipline, that we at least spend some time understanding their strengths.”

The ‘Do’ Brief

And he talks about the ‘do brief’. 

“At Ogilvy every single brief contains this phrase, what do we want people to do differently, as a result of this… One of the reasons that it helps you bridge the gap with the numbers people is, you can put a value on a behaviour, you can put a value on an attitude. And it’s only reasonable we should seek to do something which is at some point, measurable.”

And we talked about awards and Metropolitan bias and Brexit and commercial property prices and the War of The Roses and well. As I wrote at the beginning, a rich and varied, extensive and extended romp through copy, collaboration and creative problem solving was had by all.

Be sure to check out the video on Friday.

Hugely enlightening and enjoyable. 

So thank you Rory. 

We’ll see you in Manchester very soon.

With Creative North space hopping on the ceiling until somebody tells us to stop, we’ve been Zooming our wonderful speakers finding out what they were planning to share on stage at the Royal Exchange at CN2020. 

You’ll find all the Zoom chats over on our Youtube channel from Friday 19th June.

I did a LinkedIn video thingy recently titled ‘The Simultaneous Art of Giving and Not Giving a F**k’. It was a brief study of presence, the natural alchemic outcome of stumbling upon that fine and fabulous balance.

Some of it may have even made sense. 

James Torry has presence. 

And as is the case with presence, it simply became.

In our chat, he talks us through the journey – why and how he sailed the three Cs (spoiler alert, the last C is collaboration) and where that voyage has taken him. You might C your story in it too.

First things first though: Who is James Torry?

Good question.

James is founder and Creative Director of Manchester agency doodledoMOTION.

High impact, award winning visual content for major brands. They’ve recently won a number of awards for campaign content dealing with mental health issues.

In 2017 he pioneered a creative project in response to the Manchester Arena attack – This is the Place.

I’m also proud to say that James is a great friend and supporter of Creative North. He knows a good thing when he sees it.

Let’s start at the very beginning. Usually a very good place to start. In this case though it didn’t feel like a good place. It felt anxious and it felt envious. 

“Three years ago our business turned 10 years old. You start to kind of question things like what we’re here for? Are we making a difference? Have we achieved anything? All those sorts of questions. And doubts,” said James,

And I guess I was in a funk, but I was thinking that there seems to be more video and animation agencies than ever. And a million different people doing the sort of stuff we do.

And if I’m honest every time a showreel went up I felt threatened or worried or, kind of, why aren’t we doing something like that? 

Or every time that was a good idea put out there by an agency that was putting on an event, I’d think we should have put that event on. 

All sorts of things and then you’d be in pitches and you’d hear who else was on the pitch list and that real sense of being worried about the competition I suppose, and I had a word of myself. Then, I guess it was causing some anxiety, if I’m honest.”

We’ve all been there. So consumed with others and events beyond our control that those within can become neglected. 

But how and when does that change? 

How is a balance struck? 

And what causes it? 

Professional confidence? Personal confidence? A graduation of understanding? 

And where does it take you? Where does it leave you?

Where does it even begin?

In James’ case, it began with a question.

“What if we’re all doing what we’re born to do?”

Go on…

“Like what if you can believe that there’s something you’re born for and you’re meant to go after? That you’re meant to do? That thing that you come alive for and you’re good at and all those things? 

It sparked a train of thought that when there’s something we’re all born to do, then there must be enough room for us all to flourish. 

There must be enough room for us to succeed at it and for us all to be okay with it. 

There must be enough work.”

Fundamental.

Because with that double realisation that (as weird as it sounds), we are ‘called’ and that there’s sufficient work out there to meet those callings – then a pressure is lifted and a permission received.

The pressure of others’ talent.

The permission to celebrate that talent – not fear it.

“I got rid of the word competition and I told employees that we, as far as other agencies go, we’re not going to view people as competition anymore. If you see a showreel and you think it’s good work we’re just gonna celebrate, We’re going to say ‘good job guys well done I love what you’re doing’, all that sort of stuff, along as it’s genuine and we weren’t faking stuff.”

Easier said than done surely?

“I needed to shift myself in a real sense, like a physical change. And so I kind of made a bit of a competition with myself so as soon as the showreel went up to try and be the first to celebrate it or comment on it, or whatever else. 

And it totally shifted my mindset from competition to perhaps not collaboration straightaway. But something like conversation, so it opened up a conversation between me and other agency owners and just being able to say, ‘Hey, I love that work, you’re doing a really good job,’ and ‘I really admire your agency’, things like that.”

From competition to celebration/conversation what does that look like?

“I feel like we’ve had some of the deepest conversations and quite vulnerable conversations with other people totally in my sector, totally on my patch. But genuine conversations where we’ve been able to help each other, we’ve been able to open up to one another. 

And in some ways, and then some instances, collaborate, so we’ve been sending work to each other. You know where we’ve spotted opportunities that maybe aren’t 100% fit for us but we would normally go after it. We thought actually they’re a bad fit so let’s just send it to them and see if we can help them. And that’s been reciprocated. 

So I’ve noticed this shift in my journey, in our journey from competition, conversation, through to collaboration, and it just feels a nicer place to live.”

Enlightened. 

And enlightening.

And we talked about the mass Manchester creative collaboration This Is The Place. A project inspired by The Tony Walsh poem, driven by James and that resulted in a stunning book and £150,000 raised for charities supporting people affected by the Manchester Arena attack.

Inspired.

And inspiring.

Competition, conversation, collaboration. James’ 3 Cs

Because there comes a point when, for whatever reason, most of us are open to take that path. To go on that journey.

Thank you James for sharing yours. 

For helping what can often feel counterintuitive and uncomfortable, that opening of hearts, seem like the most natural thing in the world. 

And even, with care, acceptance and a little ego parking, begin to feel it.

With Creative North sat on a park bench in our party dress watching the world fall off the edge of itself, we’ve been Zooming our wonderful speakers finding out what they were planning to share on stage at the Royal Exchange at CN2020. 

You’ll find all the Zoom chats over on our Youtube channel from Friday 19th June.

Here we catch up with Daniel Priestley, CEO and the founder of Dent Global. Daniel’s also a successful business author with, among other titles, Key Person of Influence and Oversubscribed inspiring entrepreneurs all over the world.

And aren’t we all entrepreneurs these days? In one way or another? Business owners. freelancers, side hustlers, about to launchers:

Sounds about right.

You pay your money, you take your chance. You do your best.

And with Creative North, purposefully created as ‘a place where you’ll learn how to push yourself, to believe in your abilities, to develop new and exciting skills. An event to help you stand out,’ who better to learn from than Daniel?

A man whose business accelerators work with 3000 entrepreneurs to help them ‘stand out and scale up and make a positive impact in the world.’

And a man with an impressive approach to decoding the way all of us can do more of the work we love, with people we like and get paid what we’re worth. 

And at the heart of achieving all that? Collaboration:

“It’s about unlocking resources, and it’s overcoming the illusion of limited resources. So there’s this idea that a lot of people have that it’s a terrible time to be in business, there’s not enough resources, there’s not enough to go around. There’s not enough money, not enough stuff. And for me, collaboration means actually a complete flip on that. As soon as you get a collaborative mindset you realise there’s never been a better time to be out there and building a business. There’s more money on the planet than ever before. More PhDs and Master’s degrees than ever before on the planet. There’s more networks, distribution channels and technology that’s freely available.”

Sounds great.

Bring it on.

But how?

The Magic Triangle

Most of us will partner with a specialist to get something done that we don’t do ourselves. An SEO expert maybe, or a developer. And if it happens enough you’ll probably look to employ someone. But approaching it strategically as opposed to reactively?

Daniel shares a successful collaboration model (or certainly the model that has helped his success). What he calls the ‘partnership triangle’.

On one side is the brand. Another, the distribution channel. The third is the product. 

“What you’re trying to do with collaboration is bring together and expand the three sides so you’re trying to get bigger brands, greater distribution, better products, and you’re partnering with people who can expand the triangle in all three directions.”

A mega scale example he gives is Nike and Roger Federer as the brand, Fruit of the Loom as the product and Walmart as distribution = $50 million t-shirt business.

Or Nespresso and George Clooney as the brand, Megamix developed a fabulous product and Selfridges distributed, resulting in billions in revenue generated.

“So you’re basically solving three problems, how do I have a better cut through brand? Who would I partner with to achieve that… then how would I distribute and get myself in front of more people and have greater reach?”

How does Daniel see this approach apply itself in the creative world, for example? 

Practice What You Preach

Creative North is a conference of copywriters, marketers, creatives, agencies and freelancers. What sort of lessons might he share with them?

“So let’s imagine a digital agency, six or seven people working in a very competitive space. There are hundreds of little agencies like that. You could enhance the brand, by having a well known speaker in your niche who does a conference with you.”

Hmmmmm funny you should say that Daniel…

Carry on please.

“You could enhance the brand by having a non executive director or chairperson. When I was 22 years old. I launched a little creative event management business. And one of the first things we did was actually sign a big name person to give a weekly talk on the topic. 

Let’s say that your agency wants to have a product partnership. So, imagine that you’re a digital agency that builds websites.

We can have a partnership with a film production business that does film, 

We could have a partnership with the Facebook ads and the Google Ads company that sets up the advertising schedule. 

We could have a partnership with a podcasting business that does audio podcasts…. 

We could have a social media agency that sets up all of the social media, so now we’re offering a much more complete solution. 

When people buy a website they don’t really want a website, what they really want is interest, and people coming to them, and they want to show up powerfully online. So, if you kind of have all the things that allow people to shop online you’ve got a better product. That would be a product partnership.

Distribution, would be to find existing conferences and perhaps sponsor them, to find existing podcasts that already have thousands of listeners and somehow collaborate with them or sponsor them.”

Bang on. You can’t go wrong with a bit of sponsorship to get that name out there. Like sponsoring Creative North? Simply call 0161 862 9200.

Dig Deep, Get Aggressive 

Daniel also talked about “really digging deep to find out what the other party wants and needs, and seeing if you can truly, truly, truly, solve that problem for them.”

He talks about how relatively easy it is to create buzz, but that you need the sales capability behind the scenes to turn buzz into business.  

Which brings us to his final piece of advice.

Fairly and frankly Daniel explains: that we need to pin down sales meetings, sales appointments, proposals and actually follow up and do the sales work.

And that in the UK, and particularly in the north – we’re a bit shit at it.

Hold on tight… 

“I run a business that is in Australia, and the USA and the UK as our primary offices. And I would say that the USA, especially in the creative industry, they really get that it’s a sales business, so they are aggressively selling all the time. 

They have people going out to networking functions. You know they turn leads into appointments, appointments into presentations, and proposals into sales and they grab you by the jugular and they’ll keelhaul you across the line and before you know it, you’ve signed up to a $7,000 package. 

And then that leads to a $15,000 sale and then next thing you know you’re 25 grand in before you realise oh my goodness what happened? What have I signed up for? 

I mean they are, they are 10 out of 10 sales drive. 

Then you go to Australia. Australia is probably a 7 out of 10, they’re a little bit softer than the Americans. They’re just a little bit more friendly, a bit more rapport, slow it down a little bit. A little bit more get to know each other, to be mates. 

And then you come to the UK. And I would say London is a 3 or 4 out of 10 on that scale.

And then as soon as you go north, it’s down to a two or a one. 

I’ve seen creative agencies that are out in Manchester and outside of London, and clients are practically sitting on their lap licking their face before they will suggest that we should actually do some business and it’s almost painful to watch. 

So, unfortunately, the piece of advice I’d say is you’re going to have to be a bit more American. Or at least a little bit more, Aussie in the approach of actually turning buzz into business, following up asking for the business. 

When do you want to get started? How did you want to make it? Do you want us to send you through a proposal? Do you want us to send it to an invoice? Would you like to get started? 

“Actually going for the business and asking for the business and not just leaving it out there for the customer to follow up.”

Fascinating. Chastening. And bloody useful.

We thank you.

With Creative North temporarily up a tree scanning the horizon for dust trails we’ve been Zooming our wonderful speakers finding out what they were planning to share on stage at the Royal Exchange at CN2020. 

You’ll find all the Zoom chats over on our Youtube channel from Friday 19th June.

Storytelling eh?

Seems like everyone these days calls themself a storyteller. Well not everyone perhaps, but 110,502 people on LinkedIn do. And 1,406,338 use ‘story’ in their LinkedIn profile. 

In fact, such is the ‘cult’ of story that we decided to ask a genuine, real deal, real world, published, award winning storyteller, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi to put us all in our place.

Jennifer is lecturer in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her first novel, Kintu (Oneworld, 2018), won the Kwani? Manuscript Project in 2013 and was longlisted for the Etisalat Prize in 2014. She was awarded the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for her story Manchester Happened, and her first full story collection, Manchester Happened, was published by Oneworld in 2019. She was awarded the prestigious Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction 2018 to support her writing. 

You get the idea. 

To cut a long story short…  She’s great. Even Andrew loved her short story collection, and he usually only reads books about sports trivia.

And unlike slightly skeptical me she’s also delighted that so many people now want to call themselves a storyteller. 

“It’s interesting that people now are calling themselves storytellers because there was a time when being called a storyteller was embarrassing to, I think mainly to authors, who thought they were much more than storytellers.

I’m glad to hear that now it’s made a comeback.”

It certainly has!

But what about collaboration? How might she have addressed collaboration as the theme of CN2020? 

And this is where it gets really interesting…

While our other speakers talked about external collaborations, the partnerships between writers and other creatives or disciplines, Jennifer took a different route, exploring collaboration within writing.

Not the practical collaboration between, for example, publisher and author but a philosophical collaboration between aspects of her storytelling.

Collaboration within writing

“Of course within literature is the idea of the collaboration between ideas,” she says, “The collaboration between, let’s say fiction and myth. Which to me is a fantastic collaboration. When you look at how myth making and fiction work beautifully together, because you know myth and fiction are related. Or the collaboration between history and fiction. And how those two again work together.”

Now that’s an expansive idea. Aspects of a story, memories, ‘facts’ learnt, feelings felt, objective, subjective, proven and possible woven as narrative. The writer orchestrating these chemical reactions, the collisions, the collaborations. 

“Yes I do use truth, my life experiences or stories I’ve heard about real people or things that I’ve seen happening to other people, real life experiences and merge them with my imagination. My imagination would then be fiction.”

Interesting huh? 

Interesting too, her advice on how to be a better storyteller.

Where most marketers are quick to offer their marketing advice (maybe that’s a  Daniel Priestley KPI thing) Jennifer offers this:

“I can only tell you my experiences as a storyteller. I tend to resist telling people what makes you a good storyteller because there are a lot of ways out there that can make you a good storyteller. 

Thankfully though she does go on to share a little guidance.

“For me as a good storyteller … see that world you’re talking about. 

It must be real to you. The characters must be real to you. When I set a world I tend to see it and I tend to impose on a world that is familiar to me. It could be fictitious but I impose those fiction on a place that I’ve been. So that I know where I’m standing every time I talk about that place. 

That’s the collaboration between truth and fiction.”

A novel concept?

The novel concept?

You? How do you collaborate within your writing?