Monthly Archives: August 2013

Would I lie to you?

I recently received an e-mail from a best-friend of mine who previously lived and worked in Cairo for several years. His view of what was going on was very different to the one I had formed from the varied US media I had been gleaning information from. He also included a couple of e-mails from Egyptian friends of his reporting from Cairo. Again, a very different view than the one I had developed. And I thought of Stephen Colbert and “truthiness” — “anyone can read the news to you – I promise to feel the news at you.” Funny thing is he is honestly admitting what many news outlets do and yet swear to “accuracy.”

In my history book club we have read books on Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan, but one quickly realizes that there is little reliable first-person history about them. So people make educated guesses. And then write books. And we can so easily find ourselves arguing, fighting, investing in “truth” that is a viewpoint from a single source or partisan group.

Some people who find out I am in advertising say (hopefully in jest), “Ahh you lie to me to get me to buy things I don’t want or need.” To which I reply, “what’s your point?” :) But really, as I say in my lectures, it is an agency’s job to find a compelling truth or truths so people can first figure out what we are selling (no matter whether it is a product, service or viewpoint) and then decide whether they want to buy it. Because this message is delivered via some form of commercial people automatically run it through their own “truthiness” filter. That filter is largely turned off when reading non-fiction or watching the news. So be careful: question where “news” and “knowledge” are coming from and whose “truth” you are buying, and know that your gut and your brain pass unintentional lies back and forth every day. I mean it. Honestly.

Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO

Freedom to Fail

It’s an important conversation. Without freedom to fail I’m not sure you have freedom at all.

I talk about this a lot in my lectures, particularly when talking to students. It seems that more than ever our students are frightened of failing. And so they don’t risk it. And they don’t feel the exhilaration of just going for it. The esteem that comes from persistence. The strength that comes from eating pavement, dusting off and carrying on.

I see fear of failure in my own 10 year old son and his friends and am working hard to ameliorate it. It is such the enemy of what made America great. As someone recently said to me, “perfect is the enemy of done.”

I sometimes use the analogy of climbing. If you want to go up 50 feet in one pitch, you have to let out 50 feet of rope. Well now you have to accept the risk of falling 99 feet until your safety kicks in. If you can only accept the risk of falling 6 feet you can only go up 3 feet. But too many people are looking for some magic bullet where success comes without risk. (PLEASE remember to contact me when you find it.) Until then, I remind students that the journey between where they are and bankruptcy is so small they might hardly notice the difference. So while that is the case they should take advantage of it.

Ninety-nine percent of Thomas Edison’s working life was spent learning from failures. But we remember the huge successes that came from them. In fact the successes are how we remember and define him. The only way to guarantee failure is to never try – a pithy platitude I know. But nonetheless true. By and large in life, we regret the things we don’t do much more than those we do… So for your kids and YOU: give that idea you thought of while you were commuting last week a try. Let me know how it goes. Really, I’d like to know. And particularly how you or your kid felt for trying it.


Ticket punch

I was with my son in Washington, DC for the week of July 4. (Everyone should go and see those fireworks at least once.) At one point we went to catch the Metro and found that our tickets would not work at the gate. After chatting with the station manager we discerned that the magnet on my billfold had demagnetized the ticket. (His guess on that was quick enough that I guess it is a rather common occurrence. Maybe a warning Metro?) I asked what I could do. He said I could get a refund on the tickets if I either: a.) mailed them with a letter of explanation to an address he did not have, or b.) took them to Metro HQ in downtown Washington, DC. While purchasing replacement tickets, I pointed out to my son that there were 10 machines beside us ready to take our money but in order to get any of it back we were being asked to jump through serious hoops.

Now much like my travails with the Apple lightning charger “screw-our-customers-switcheroo” it is unlikely I will stop using Metro over this issue. (See nose/face spite.) But they have put a new negative opinion of themselves in my mind. And when the time comes that I have a no-loss choice to make between them and something else, this opinion will weigh in.

For years I spoke of this theory to the “schoolyard bullies” from the Washington Post as they told me what the new ridiculous annual rate increase for auto advertising was going to be. They laughed. Then along came Craigslist and the Post found out that investing in customer loyalty would have been a good thing. So ask the same questions of your own company. How easy is it for your customers to deal with you when things are not going well? Friendships born in the crucible of fire are quite often the strongest.

Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO

Size matters

Dan Wieden, co-founder of Wieden+Kennedy, one of the largest independently-owned advertising agencies in the world, has a prescient sense of timing.

After speaking to the audience at the Ad Age Small Agency Conference that the ad agency giants are “wobbling like drunkards”, the largest merger in ad-world history took place between Publicis and Omnicom.  I believe him when he says he wishes he were small again. One sees so many of the best creatives leave their big agencies to join or start small ones. And I think it is because big agencies are the enemy of the very reason to be an agency in the first place: creativity.  Bureaucracy, specialization, narrow-focus jobs, boredom – the behemoths abound with such. I wonder how clients imagine they are going to get real creativity from such places. Quite simply, one rarely does. Those billion-dollar mistakes that people laugh and shake their heads at in my lectures? — Big agencies.

We’ve had several “escapees” enjoy the unlocking of creative potential that comes from trading working on one tiny sliver of one account to working on several facets of several accounts. Instead of trying to see the world through a keyhole, one gets to see how people and the economy are broadly functioning, and at the end of the day it is the ability to navigate this dynamic that brings success for clients. When you are just one piece of the jigsaw, you never get to see the beauty of the whole puzzle.

So this may seem like a naked plug for IE. In a way I guess it is. But like Dan Wieden, I am a passionate believer of small agencies. I’m just lucky enough to work for one too. Now you know why I am always smiling.
Simon Dixon, Idea Engineering, CEO