hello – come in and make yourself at home

The Woodies have a blog. It’s a kind of collective. Not sure we’re about to start a revolution baby, but we might kindle a small debate or two and perhaps raise a smile. Anyway, rather than just blogging corporate Woodreed by fielding our top Woodie (as so many other companies seem to do in a thinly veiled attempt at impressing with their profundity), we wanted all our individual voices to be heard. An agency’s most valuable assets are its people after all. Everyone’s got something to say here and with us everyone’s ideas and opinions matter.

Each week someone different will be blogging. It's mostly about stuff that rocks our world as well as the flipside – the things that just don't cut it with us. We'll blog about inside and outside – inside this glorious industry where we work and outside in the real world.
It's a bit of an experiment, so go with us on this one.

Hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Culture - 2014 word of the year

So it turns out that Culture was the word of the year in 2014.  According to Merriam-Webster, America's leading dictionary publisher’s analysis of the top lookups at its online dictionary, Culture was the most searched word from a staggering 100 million lookups per month:

1. Culture
2. Nostalgia
3. Insidious
4. Legacy
5. Feminism
6. Je ne sais quoi
7. Innovation
8. Surreptitious
9. Autonomy
10. Morbidity 

Although by no means a top 10 of corporate words it got me thinking.

1. Culture – I’m not at all surprised it’s at no.1. It certainly is for us at Woodreed where we’ve been banging on about the importance of organisational culture for ages – “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”(Drucker) after all doesn’t it? In 2014 we published our own take on the topic from an organisational perspective – Culture the true story. When we talk about positive cultures, we mean cultures of engaged employees aligned with an organisation’s values – the watchwords for what drives, unites, motivates and differentiates one business from another. A positive culture isn’t just a nice to have. It’s a competitive advantage. It’s people that give you the edge. You can copy technology, you can copy process, you can copy the product. You can’t copy the culture. It truly is Number One.

2. Nostalgia – is there a hankering in the workplace for some long lost halcyon age? If so when was it?  In our own ad industry Mad Men is of course a must watch show, but, putting aside the Martinis, do we really want to return to an age of such stratification, ingrained with sexism and racism, both in the workplace and society at large?

3. Insidious – the much propagated, and yet still widely held, perception that employee engagement is somehow pink and fluffy or doesn’t apply to us or is HR’s job, that soft skills don’t really matter in the work place.  Keep holding on to this belief system and you’ll find yourself in the area of the 4th word of the year – legacy!

4. Legacy – legacy systems! Yes, hard to believe I know but in 2014 there are still corporate organisations still struggling along with Lotus Notes.  But as businesses upgrade and invest in new technology it brings a raft of opportunities not just for employee engagement, collaboration and work life balance – good things – but also of course threats to the perfect life balance with a potential ‘always on’ culture (there’s that word again). Canadian employee engagement expert David Zinger talked recently instead of ‘work life infusion’ as one can in a healthy way infuse the other – of course new technology, used sensibly, can certainly play its part in making this happen.

5. Feminism – see number 2 above.  But the job is by no means done – in the workplace or outside.  Feminism seemed to get a resurgence in 2014 – both in the wider world with No More Page Three and the recognition of the great work of Laura Bates at the Everyday Sexism Project.  And of course the efforts of so many in trying to get more women onto the boards of plcs. Despite research cited in Management Today which shows that Fortune 500 firms with three or more women on their boards outperformed those without any between 2004 and 2008, still the FTSE 250 has 29 all male boards – shameful.

6. Je ne sais quoi – Odd that this snuck into the list, apparently it appeared in a US TV ad and drove the lookups. But of course we’re all French now in January 2015 – yes free speech, honesty, transparency, standing up for what you believe in, fighting for what you believe in. As important in the workplace as outside. Je suis Charlie, Je suis Ahmed.

7. Innovation – the key to business success and an absolute must if an organisation is still going to be around in ten year’s time.  But don’t think of innovation as just a job for leaders and futurologists – the most successful businesses are recognising the value of involving all their people in the process of innovation and using new technology, like that of Woodreed’s partner Challengera, to unlock and harness their knowledge and energy – and of course push the dial on employee engagement too.

8. Surreptitious – the way to approach employee engagement.  Don’t set out to ‘do’ an engagement campaign, don’t tell your workforce you’re going to ‘engage’ them, don’t approach employee engagement as a project, something to be done and ticked off the ‘to do’ list.  Approach it as just the way things are done around here – but do it with a clear strategy and plan and do it by unleashing the power of your brand to engage your audience. We know that the emotional engagement people have with brands is a far more powerful driver of behaviour than rational – as much as four times, so use that power to force behaviour change and create the right kind of positive and successful organisational culture you need to achieve your business goals.  And if you don’t think you have a brand then stay behind and talk to me after class.

9. Autonomy – the great Dan Pink’s favourite three words. Autonomy, mastery and purpose being the three drivers of motivation – more powerful than monetary incentives, although try telling that to the banking community at bonus time!  If this has passed you by what rock have you been hiding under for the last goodness knows how long?

10. Morbidity – the only certainty in life along with taxes (unless you’re Jimmy Carr, Starbucks or Vodafone of course). So as it’s the direction of travel we’re all heading in I for one want to have some fun along the way and that means working at something I’m absolutely passionate about – using brand to engage employees and make workplaces better places to be. We know that organisations who treat their employees like customers are more successful than those who don’t – end of.


Monday, 17 November 2014

Creativity Works: making magic on TV

Last week the airwaves, cyberspace and print media exploded with debate about is it or isn't it disrespectful for Sainsbury's to use their telling of the story of the 1914 Christmas Truce for something as grubby and commercial as selling more groceries.

Just before that furore broke Patrick and I attended an event organised by Thinkbox which brought together the great and the good to share and debate some of the very best (the most creative and effective) of our UK Tv ads - how 'Creativity Works - making magic on TV'. Clips included John Lewis' #MontythePenguin and JS' #ChristmasTruce as well as other gems from Three, Thomson holidays and Marmite amongst others.

It was a great event, really worth of our blog name - "Things that inspire."

We learned how great campaigns need brave clients - ready to embrace new and exciting ideas and fight for their survival against often sceptical exec teams. And that emotional advertising delivers a greater ROI than a rational campaign.

We learned how great campaigns need single-minded directors with a clear vision of what they're trying to achieve.

And we learned that one of the most important ingredients is trust.  The more clients trust their agencies to deliver, then the harder the agencies and their film-makers will work to deliver the very, very best work to them - and the opposite is true too.

We learned that even in this age of media fragmentation TV is still the best way to build awareness - with a typical TV campaign generating a staggering 234 million views.

We saw great work, showcased as it's meant to be on the big, big screen with pumping digital sound - ads which, irrespective of your view of the rights and wrongs of the JS campaign, make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and which make you proud to work in such a great, creative industry.

If you missed it, then take yourself off to a darkened room for four hours, pump up the sound and enjoy. 


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The network run by you

October signals for me a very special moment in modern 21st century life: the end of my phone contract.

I have been bombarded by companies alerting me that I can upgrade. Do I stay with my ‘friends’ at Orange? Do I go to android or IOS (never windows)? Do I get the most expensive gold phone on the planet with a 30inch screen?

My last upgrade 2 years ago from my trusty Blackberry to my current HTC was a quantum leap in technology: double the screen size, 4 times the megapixels and 10 times the power!

The demigod iphone 6 has just been released and for an eye watering 3 times my current contract price I can have a phone that has the same megapixels, less power and the same screen size as my 2 year old HTC.

I decided to stay with my current phone and ask Orange to have a contract just for minutes, SMS and data. After being offered 100mb of data a month by the terrifying sounding ‘retention team’ I put the phone down.

This led me to GiffGaff.

GiffGaff is a virtual network that offers a unique brand proposition that they are ’Run By You’. The members help each other out in forums, give ratings on the best sites to unlock your phone, take part in forums to update the sim plans to make sure they provide what customers want and much more.

This revolutionary and very disruptive business model means that they have no customer service department and can pass on these enormous savings to the user. This is why I have just been able to sign up to a rolling monthly contract that is 500 minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited internet!

My sim arrived the next day with a beautiful packaging that you could fold into an origami heart (which makes a difference to my bill letters from Orange and their their retention team)

So my upgrade this year will not be to the iPhone 6 but an upgrade to the same phone for half the monthly cost than before. So thankyou GiffGaff.

PS Oh and I also now have signal in Tunbridge Wells!

Monday, 4 August 2014

How do you define culture?

When we talk about positive or healthy cultures, we mean cultures of engaged employees aligned with an organisation’s values – the organisational watchwords for what drives, unites, motivates and differentiates one business from another.

Engage for Success defines engagement similarly:
"A workplace where employees are committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success"

Values and culture are inextricably linked. Culture is the things are done ‘round here’, what it’s like at our place. Culture impacts on everything the organisation does.

Culture must be managed from within, as important a part of your brand strategy as your customer communications. This can be done with what we call, Cultural Frameworks; sets of behavioural guidelines stemming from the values setting out how people in an organisation should interact with each other
and with customers. These frameworks are about empowering employees to do what feels right individually within the framework rather than shackles to stifle. Without behaviours to drive them, values are of course, simply meaningless words on a poster.

How many UK organisations are still simply paying lip service to their brand values? Who are using them as tools to create powerful cultures to give them that common purpose and the competitive edge? What can we learn from them and what needs to happen to maintain and sustain the right sort of culture?

We've looked at culture from all angles speaking to experts and practitioners along the way. We've also looked at some of the UK best organisaitons in terms of culture to uncover how they go about it. Read it all in our report 'Culture - the true story' here

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The battle for talent is well and truly on. Reputation and recommendation’s not enough

As the economic recovery continues, organisations are competing for talent on an unprecedented scale. KPMG’s recent survey of HR professionals revealed that more than 80% of respondents say that addressing skills shortages is a higher priority now than it was two years ago – and will become critical in the next two years.
Personnel Today, July 2014

So how are you approaching your talent attraction right now? Are you limbering up in the red corner preparing to knock out the competition or twiddling your thumbs in the blue corner wondering what to do next?

How can you package up your offer in the most compelling way? How do you make sure you and your recruitment partners are telling the same story? How do you make sure the experience promised in the ads and on your website matches that within the walls of your organisation?

This is how

Treat your potential employees like you’d treat your customers with engaging, relevant communication based on insight.

Use your brand values to make sure the promise in your recruitment comms is aligned with your culture. Get it right first time by employing people who demonstrate they’ll fit with your culture; recruit for attitude as much as skills.

You don’t need to be Mars, Unilever or Coca Cola to get this right. We’ve recently done just this for two clients in professional services. A strategic planning led research programme, including key messaging workshops defined a compelling and competitive value proposition for our clients as the potential employer of choice. From this we developed distinctive visual identities to act as blueprints for all talent attraction communications, whatever the channel, and striking creative campaigns to put them both firmly on the talent map.

It's worth adding a postscript that you don't need a mega media budget to raise the recruitment bar. The key is in uncovering your value proposition then developing a platform of consistent content to use wherever, whenever and however you want to get your message out there.   

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Volkswagen Financial Services’ first ever ‘Brandthem’ - the story behind the music

Volkswagen Financial Services (VWFS) had five new values. Values Woodreed needed to bring to life, launching and embedding them firmly in the hearts and minds of employees. We’d created individual graphics for each value, abstract representations of people, each with its own personality to symbolise the value. Each graphic told its own story, but also came together to create the bigger more powerful story of ‘Living our spirit’.

A storyboard for a full length animation was written to allow each value to tell its own story, each of which would be accompanied by an individual musical soundtrack. We advised our client that rather than use music ‘off the shelf’, a unique set of values deserved a unique score of music from a composer of note. Luckily they agreed!

Choosing the right composer was key. Our target audience was broad so our score needed to feel timeless to give it maximum appeal to all. It was important to get the balance right; not too modern/electronic, not too traditional. We finally settled on Antony Pitts[i], a renowned musical composer, director and sound design artist, who had the ability to play, record and mix - all under one roof. Perfect!

Whilst each track would have its own identity and evoke different emotions, we wanted them to all work together to form a complete sound track that would be bold, ‘anthemic’ and above all memorable.

Antony Pitts picks up the story:

“Dave Wilson, Woodreed’s Creative Director, approached me to compose, score, and record an animation soundtrack. He wanted an ‘inspiring anthem’ and had detailed ideas about what kind of music should go with each of the five values.  He needed music that would build up from five separate directions and also work together as a single track.  As he suggested, we mixed together real and electronic instruments - we used a real piano and trumpet (me), a flute (my wife Karen Pitts), and Dave himself played a sampled drum kit, all held together by an acoustic tambourine rhythm.”

Here’s the detail for each value:

A simple grand piano tune in which more notes are added as the numbers increase on-screen.

The idea of a folk round-dance led to the collective of flute, fiddle, accordion, and triangle.

A ‘trusted’ synth bass doubled two octaves above to which was added a simple hi-hat figure.

The military snare drum is combined with a real bugle, part-electronic horn section and their martial themes are crossed with jazzier outbursts.

The Hollywood string section arrives on the scene accompanied by a full percussion department with handclaps and finally faux-lead guitar.

The resulting piece was a two minute ‘brandthem’ that helped put the new values on the pedestal they deserved, launching them with pride, conviction and energy to a delighted crowd. 

Do have a listen and we hope you enjoy it. 

[i] Antony Pitts (born 1969) is one of several composers in his family; he was an Academic Scholar and Honorary Senior Scholar at New College, Oxford where he founded TONUS PEREGRINUS and in 2004 won a Cannes Classical Award for their #1 debut album Passio.  He joined BBC Radio 3 in 1992 and received the Radio Academy BT Award in 1995; as a Senior Producer he won the Prix Italia in 2004.  He joined the Royal Academy of Music in 2001 where he was Senior Lecturer in Creative Technology until 2009.  Antony’s music has been premiered at London’s Wigmore Hall and Westminster Cathedral, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Berlin Philharmonie Kammermusiksaal, and part of his Requiem at private memorials for former Soviet agent Alexander Litvinenko. 

Monday, 9 June 2014

Are you a culture vulture or culture curator?

Culture is one of this decade’s buzz words, with the media delighting in naming and shaming what it views as toxic and unhealthy cultures from some of our biggest institutions whether it is the banks, the Beeb, the NHS or its turning on its own like News International.

What lies at the heart of culture are brand values – the organisational watchwords for what drives, unites, motivates and differentiates one business from another.

But often these values are not clear, not embedded and not lived from the top, so people take them for granted or create silo cultures. This ‘taken-for-grantedness’ is what frequently makes culture problematic in organisations. People assume that everyone views things in the same way. What I’m saying is, just like the consumer brand, it needs managing to flourish.

A strong culture isn’t just a nice to have, it’s a competitive advantage. It’s an organisation’s own DNA, as intrinsic a part of the brand as the logo. Brands, in their most powerful form being organisational blueprints for growth led from the top.

Your brand inside matters as much as your brand outside. As Peter Simpson, founder and ex commercial director of First Direct, said: "Why would you want to be one kind of brand to your customers and a different one to your employees?"

Smart organisations know that the stronger the culture, the higher the levels of employee engagement (broadly defined as the skills to leave but the desire to stay). There’s a direct correlation between levels of employee engagement and business performance.

The higher the level of engagement, the better for business. Just look at Pret, Innocent, B&Q, Whitbread and, most recently, Nationwide, who have just posted a 113% increase in pre-tax profits for the year to 31 March - a leap it has directly attributed to employees. Ads recently ran in the national press thanking staff with the names of its 15,000 staff under the headline 'Our most valuable assets'. It cites GFK research for the year to May based on interviews with 60,000 customers of the main high street banks who were asked to rank satisfaction levels. (Source: Marketing Week, 28 May 2014)

It makes sense - engagement improves productivity. Engaged employees work harder, take less sick days, stay longer, are happier and make customers happier. People buy people. Forget the inside and lavish all your time and effort outside to your detriment.

Making money matters, of course it does, but people matter too. Treating people like dispensable cogs or work horses just won’t cut it anymore. Gen Y certainly won’t tolerate our old way of working.

The fast-track has lost much of its appeal for them and they’re willing to trade high pay for fewer billable hours, flexible schedules and a better work/life balance. Times are a changing; we need to move with them.

Our clients are seeing the bigger picture of employee engagement. CEOs are starting to take notice. In ‘Engage for Success’ , a government white paper on the importance of employee engagement, company leaders describe their "light-bulb moment" when an understanding of the full potential significance of employee engagement dawned.

Ex Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy talks about his reaction when he realised that the company knew more about its customers than it did its own people. He then set about understanding what the workforce wanted and what motivated them at work.

So what about us then? Our own industry? Your own agency? We live for our clients’ brands and the work we produce for them. We relish the thrill of the chase of new business; we love to compete, love to win and we’re obsessed with the prize. I wonder sometimes, really, honestly, how healthy our own cultures are? Is our industry really much different from the likes of News International and the banks?

Do you know what your agency’s values are and the defined and expected culture–defining behaviours aligned to them?

Are they simply words on a manicured wall, in a beautifully art directed induction vanity piece or genuinely embedded into the culture of your business?

Are they measured, recognised and rewarded? Are they used in induction, training and recruitment? Are they lived from the top down and right across your business or is it simply lip service? The say-do gap – how big is yours?

We are making some headway through the IPA’s CDP and, arguably, the Gold agencies are making their own people more of a priority. But employee engagement isn’t just about winning a Gold (see, it’s that prize thing again), it’s what you do every day that matters.

It’s about being true to your values by encouraging a collective set of behaviours that bind you together as one organisational culture.

A curator of culture, guarding and nurturing, or a vulture picking over fragments of a stagnant culture. Which one are you?

Check out Arianna Huffington's take on the subject in her Campaign piece

This first appeared on the IPA's website www.ipa.co.uk/blog