Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.
Hamish Thomson is a keynote speaker, board and startup advisor, consultant and the author of the business book “It’s not always right to be right”. Hamish shares his experience and insights from a career that started in advertising in the UK as a copywriter and took him across to marketing at Reebok and Mars, where he became the Regional President. He reflects on the challenges and opportunities presented at each stage and the important skills and capabilities he developed along the way.
You can listen to the podcast here:
Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising, with industry thought leaders and practitioners.
Today, I’m sitting down with Hamish Thomson, keynote speaker, board and startup advisor, consultant and author of the business book, It’s Not Always Right to Be Right. Welcome, Hamish.
Thank you, Darren, I’m looking forward to it.
Well, some people would say but you always have to be right. And if I’m not, refer to rule number one.
There’s always a lot of rules, aren’t there? Involved.
You have had quite a focused career in some ways, but also incredibly diverse. I believe you started working in advertising as the start of your career.
I’m unapologetic. I have had a, I suppose, quite a traditional career within the corporate world. I started out in London advertising my first year out of university, I started out as a copywriter. I was a crappy copywriter, to be honest. They quickly, much to the delight of the British viewing public, moved me into account management.
I enjoyed that though. It was probably something that knowing creativity and influence that you can have through words and positioning, it is an incredibly fast-paced environment. But I think that’s actually stayed with me throughout my career.
I still frustrate my marketing directors at times because I will try and write the copy for the ad and push it in.
I’m the worst with that. But rest assured, I haven’t had any success within that, but I just loved the power of good copy.
So, you were working in an advertising agency and you made the leap to the client-side. Was that with Reebok?
Yeah. I suppose it was probably the dream job as a youngster. So, we went up to the North of England based within that. And in those days, Reebok in the UK, was number one. It was always around doing your personal best and it was a positioning that worked incredibly well within the British persona.
I always remember, I think it was Damon Hill, won the sports personality of the year one year, but he came second within the Formula One driver’s championship. And you think, “Gee, would that happen in New Zealand or Australia? Probably not.”
So, positioning-wise, it was good, but I did a variety of brand management sales roles, looked after Northern Europe. And then I looked after the marketing for Europe based out of the Netherlands. Cool place, cool environment, very insular industry. I liked it, credibly, passionate people, very dedicated. Good pace and excitement.
And there’s an embracement of risk-taking. It’s okay to fail, but you have to try. But it is at the same time ─ it was reasonably sort of insular. So, eight years into it, we had our first kid within the Netherlands and decided to come back to closer to home, back to NZ and ended up in Albury–Wodonga of all places.
Well, I was going to raise that because you’re originally a Kiwi by birth. How does a boy from the land of the long white cloud find himself working in an advertising agency in London?
Yeah, I don’t know. I suppose university-wise, I did marketing and commercial law. I’d wished I’d always been a lawyer actually, quite an interesting moment. But I just liked the way that the pragmatism and logic and law things and great perspective.
I had a passion for advertising. Whatever it took, didn’t bother me where to be honest. I just wanted to get within the industry.
It’s interesting, Darren, that people have often said why New Zealand agencies, creative agencies are so creative. I’m obviously a little bit biased, but you think around the Saatchis, the Colensos of the world; they play miles above their weight, all that.
And I’ve always seen it as twofold. One, when you’re in NZ, you do realise that you’re small, and 70% of the news was always around international. When you move to a place like Australia, or obviously within the US or even in parts of Europe, it’s maybe 30% is international and it’s all domestic.
So, you realise very quickly you need to be curious. Their perspective is so much beyond the four walls. So, I think that curiosity and drive are key.
And the other one is whenever you’re in an agency and you’ll know this very well ─ normally when a creative idea or a naked-idea is presented to a client, I say, “What do you think?” And the client says, “I love it.” And I say, “Okay, what’s the next stage? What research do you want us to do?”
In New Zealand, it’s a case of, “What do you mean research? Just you like it, don’t you? Get on and do it.” And you will get to an end result that is not diluted. So, I love that philosophy.
Well, look, that’s a terrific perspective because like you, I’ve been observing New Zealand agencies punching way above their weight globally, for the creative insights.
So, the observation I’d make similar to yours, but slightly different, is one of the things I love about meetings with agencies and their clients in New Zealand, is that the CEO or the senior person is usually there or pops by to say hello to the agency, which in the bigger market share, because of the tiering of responsibility, doesn’t seem to happen.
And the second thing is that I think when you feel like you’re the minnow, the only way is up. When you’re in a small pond, you might as well go for it because after all, if you fail, what’s the downside? You’ll still be in a small pond. But yeah, if you go for it in New Zealand, there’s a chance that people somewhere in the world will see what you’ve done. And that they’ll want some of that innovation.
I think in some ways, the less you have to lose, the braver you are to really go for the opportunity. I think if we could only replicate that in countries and markets and organisations around the world, that it’s not about what you lose; you’ve got to keep looking at the upside.
I think you’re spot on. One of the frustrations I’ve always found within a global business or a company that has massive portfolios ─ why can’t you use set markets and set brands within your portfolio as your test case for totally new business models.
And I heard the other day there was a … I was actually interviewed for it. But two years back, I think it was a Bain or a McKinsey survey ─ said 90% of CEOs are massively nervous in the next three to five years of a massive business model disruption. Yet they only spend 10% of resources, time, and money and thought on those future capabilities now.
So, when you’ve got nothing to lose and you’ve got a wide portfolio of brands and 180-odd plus markets globally, you want a few of them to be playing on the edge, learn, test, learn, and do something completely different. And that’s going to lift your whole base when you get the solution. You can’t be conservative when you have a large portfolio.
That’s right. You need to … let’s just say test and learn. So, just to take you back to our conversation, you’d left the Netherlands, you’d left Reebok, you’d come back to Australia ─ and you actually cover this in your book. You were approached for a job at MARS up at Albury–Wodonga. And I have to say, it’s a terrific description of your first encounter with Albury–Wodonga, and also with MARS.
It was a different experience from the Netherlands, put it that way. But anyone who’s lived within a rural location and regional location will be a great testament to how good it is, particularly in regard to family life. You’re looked after incredibly well, you have a lot of freedom and responsibility with that new role.
So, I loved it within that environment, credible lessons throughout. But I think the key element is when you get yourself within an environment and a company that meets your values, aligns with hopefully your talents (not like my copywriting days), it is a marriage made in heaven.
And I’ve got so much time for family-oriented companies like MARS, who I think are very purpose-led, provide a lot of that freedom, incredible intellectual stimulation. And when it works, it’s fantastic.
But I’d had 20-odd years there, loved the last 12 doing CEO roles globally. And I just needed a challenge and a change. My boss still thinks I’m crazy. And my wife still thinks I’m a little crazy at times, but I have no regret over the last year or so, but it’s a wonderful company.
So, 20 years with MARS, so you went in marketing and you progressed through there to end up running business units and brands, global brands and regional business units, wasn’t it?
Yeah, I’ve always had a marketing background, sort of the marketing directors and sales director roles within that. But I’ve always had an affinity with manufacturing and supply chain. So, the beauty within the three CEO type roles that I’ve done; two within Australia, and then one within the UK and Europe.
I had to fall into doing supply chain P&L responsibility. And that’s actually really cool diversity. You learn a lot, you have a holistic lens. But importantly, I think you realise what it takes to connect and integrate people together. And that’s where we’re talking around this early, around that first chapter within that book, law, logic and relationships.
Unfortunately, we don’t reward those people who can connect and integrate cross-functional departments, external connectivity as well, enough ─ versus that of technical and functional brilliance.
Now, you can’t have one without the other, they’re not mutually exclusive. But I think that ability to actually really look from a complete commercial lens is pretty cool. But it’s quite unique within the business.
Now, the functional excellence; is it vertical or horizontal specialisation? And I’m not sure I’ve got the answer for that. I just know I prefer the wide approach.
Well, the model or the description I like is the team model. That you want people that have a broad, functional understanding and depth in a particular area because they are the ones that are most likely to become the connectors.
Yeah. I think you’re right in that Facebook has a model. I remember I was in Facebook HQ in London, and they have a learning and development model that even within your senior general manager, exec president type roles, you have to dedicate a certain percentage of your development time to functional and technical learning. And I like that.
It keeps you sharp. And it also shows a depth of technical knowledge and the importance of technical knowledge within the industry. So, I sort of like the balance. It’s tough for people though. A lot of marketeers struggle around the opposite of that. How do you focus less on the technical and functional area, and put more focus on leadership development?
And it’s understandable why people feel like that because they’ve been doing it all their life, they’ve been successful with technical and functional know-how. But it can be limited if they don’t get the relationship and the leadership dimensions right.
Well, I’d like to explore that a bit more in a minute but just to go back to … one of the amazing things from everything … I’ve not worked at MARS, but everything I’ve heard about it as a company is that ─ and I’d love your perspective on this; is whether you call it FMCG or consumer packaged goods. That the marketing role is multidimensional beyond the promotions component of the full piece of marketing.
But that also, there is a much more holistic view of you as a person and the skillset that it almost looks to bringing out those … they take a longer-term view of the human resources that they have within the organisation. Is that a reasonable view?
Yeah, and I probably talk more specifically around a family culture environment. And I think that’s similar within MARS and a number of different places. So, the egalitarian approach of everyone’s opinion counts, regardless of where you are ─ it really resonates with me. And I think for a lot of purpose and value-led individuals, I think it really does.
So, immediately within those family-led organisations, and it’s not unique just to the family if the culture supports that. You’re encouraged from a very early tenure within the company to input, provide your opinion, within your functional domain. But secondly, you bring in diversity, fresh thought, new perspective across multifunctions and disciplines.
So, it’s incredibly liberating as an individual. You feel good and respected for that, but equally, just that diversity and thought diversity across so many different functions is absolutely key.
And I think that’s why there’s never really been a set program or philosophy that if you want to be a regional president, a CEO, general manager etc you have to follow this career path. Marketeers do it, salespeople do it, CFOs, supply community, corporate affairs. What’s more, do you have a commercial lens and have you showed that breadth and that rural curiosity.
I was exposed the other day to a great/I think it was an algebra equation or something, and that’d be my strength Darren, but C plus W is greater than E. Curiosity and willingness is greater than experience.
And I really liked it as a recruitment tool. You don’t want to bugger up your operational roles where you need depths of experience, but those people are very curious and have a willingness, and a team passion to voice their opinions, bring fresh insight, challenge across an organisation at all different levels and are going to be respected, at least listened to (not always agreed with, but listened to) ─ it’s a pretty infectious culture, which is one of the reasons why I think it’s been an enduring culture within family businesses like MARS.
That’s a really interesting equation because it’s also what’s informing a lot of the move in education. Because in a world where we can’t even predict what jobs are going to be needed in 5 or 10 years’ time, we should be training people to be curious, and to apply their skills and curiosity, to solving whatever problem’s in front of them, rather than teaching sort of mechanical skills or technical skills ─ teaching them problem-solving and curiosity and communication and collaboration.
It’s really about creating the workforce of the future. Because I defy anyone to tell me what jobs they’re going to need in their organisations, what roles they’re going to need to fill in 5 or 10 years’ time.
So, do you think it’s always that nature and nurture question? There’s never a right answer for it. But do you feel that curiosity, that insatiable thirst for curiosity and perspective, can be trained or does it need to be inherent within somebody, to begin with?
I think that it’s degrees. If someone has an inherent curiosity, it can be encouraged. If someone has low curiosity … I’d have to say a lot of that would not necessarily be genetic. It’s all nurture because I think human beings in childhood are curious, it’s the way children learn.
I think … what’s his name? Robertson, the English educationalist was saying, children are the perfect learning vehicle. What we then do is put them through an education system that basically destroys what makes them perfect for learning. And I think that’s part of it but to degrees.
I think that there can only be upside to encouraging curiosity and creating ─ one of the things that you mentioned before is creating an environment where people are respected for their contribution and are encouraged to ask questions or to put forward thoughts and ideas because this is where innovation comes from.
And I love the fact that you use “thought diversity” because diversity is exactly … there’s a lot of talk at the moment about the importance of it. It’s absolutely important when it comes to innovation. Innovation comes from making new patents and we can only get new patents when we have new ways of thinking.
Yeah. I think the role of any leader as well within any business ─ and I’ve been guilty of this in the past as the typical sort of CEO. We’re all egotistical. We say we’re not and we … I took on my greatest leaders, the humility and everything, but we’ve all got egos within that.
But I think a lot of people, including myself, particularly at a younger age, were guilty of surrounding ourselves with “yes people” who would execute against your strategic thought and direction. And when you’re in a tailwind category strategically, it’s pretty hard to get it too far, it’s sort of wrong.
But realistically, you want that diversity, you want that challenge to people saying, “Yeah, nice idea. Get back in your box, we’ll focus on our core of profit or revenue.” But it’s something I think you get to, and you realise that the ideas and thought process of others if you can value them ahead of your own, you obviously, you benchmark them against your own. But if you go in with a mindset that “Gee, okay, this is going to be an actual input and an insight that I value ahead of my own,” it makes you second think.
It’s one of the things I like is the leadership style of never giving your opinion first as the leader, always ask everyone else and acknowledge them for their contribution, whether you think it’s right, wrong, or indifferent.
It doesn’t happen often though, does it?
No, people are very quick to say, “Oh, this is what I think, let’s go and do it.” Hey, Hamish, I’d like to take you back to the transition from an advertising agency to working in a marketing environment, a corporate environment where you went from the agency to Reebok.
Are there any thoughts in reflection or in hindsight about what that transition meant? Or was/is it relatively easy to ─ or you found it relatively easy to jump to what they say is either side of the fence.
Yeah, in transparency, I think back then, and this is going back a few years. I think there were difficulties and challenges, but I don’t think they would be looked at as blockers as maybe they are today. And let me put a little bit of context on that.
So, with an agency environment, you will get amazing capabilities, competencies, and learning and development. You’ll get pace agility, creative, inspiration blah, blah, blah ─ incredible assets. You will miss out on executional excellence at an operational level. You will miss out on some ways around planning, execution, or accountability.
Now, you could argue that both ways in regard to the way some agency, a company room is set up at the moment. But I do think you will miss out on a classical training environment that you will get within a typical corporate.
That said, equally, I look at the number of training programs and this has changed. I think probably over the last five years, it almost was a two-regimented structured blue-chip collar environment. And that’s where the cutting edge technical entrepreneurial way of thinking that the likes of your top four suddenly realised, “Okay, this is an importance.”
So, I think those are transitions across from agency, consultancy, client. I think they were easier in those days, but I still think they are vitally important nowadays. Does that make sense?
Absolutely, absolutely. Because agencies are incredibly adaptable. But what they rarely have to do is anything at scale. Whereas in a corporate world, almost everything has to be executed at scale. Just the sheer scale of most organisations.
So, people talk about large agencies. A large agency office is 500 people, maybe the biggest one would be 800. But yeah, you go into a corporate environment, you can have offices of a thousand people, 10,000 people. Suddenly, there are so many more levers that need to be considered before they’re even pulled. So, I can imagine that would be significant.
Yeah. And I think scale can be a dangerous thing in regard to resources. And when you have too many resources available ─ it’s a terrible thing to say because people will automatically jump to organisational design, which I’m vastly against probably 95% of our org design or revamps or restructures, but that’s a different topic.
But when you have a lot of resources, you can very easily get distracted and you view those resources as been incredibly flexible and you lose focus against your core revenue or profit stream. And I’m a massive believer in sweating the assets. But within your core focus area, most people believe that it’s almost at a saturation point and that innovation and creativity takes a backward seat. So, we need to go with a new adjacency.
Now, I’m one of these people Darren, I love new things, shiny and bright. My mind works creatively around, “Okay, let’s look here, there and everywhere.” One, I need the “right people” around me, as I said before. Not “yes people,” good CFOs, good challenges within my leadership team to say, “Get back within the box, we’ll focus on this.”
But secondly, I need to embrace an environment and create a culture where people have the freedom to be creative and innovative within the core focus of the business. And I’ve never been in an environment where a core profit revenue segment is saturated. And as soon as people say, “Hey, this is a mature market,” it actually gives me a bit of a challenge to say, “There’s no such thing as a mature market.”
To look for where the opportunities are.
That’s an interesting perspective from where you went from wanting to be the strategic driver to realising the importance of the team around you as part of the success of the strategy. Do you think that’s an important skill? And I’ll ask for you personally, but also generally.
When you went from a marketing role to a marketing leadership role, or was it more about the skill that you needed from that leadership role in marketing into a business leader? Because you know, in some ways that’s quite different.
Yeah. I think yes, it is different. I think that the parallels, the ones the same. I was told actually by a colleague of yours, Julian Barrans, back at the marketing director days in the peak here, and I always remember, he said to me going into the marketing director role ─ he said, “Your peers are now more important than your team.”
And I’d always been loved by my team. It was something I really always have a passion for… I’m a firm believer that a great leader will have respect but is also liked. Now, a lot of people think differently and I’m not saying I’m right or wrong on that. It’s just my view that people will go over the top and do extraordinary things for the people they respect. And if you don’t have respect, you’re buggered.
But if they respect and like you, you’ll go over the top. And I’ve always done that with leaders and I’ve fortunately had some amazing leaders who get both sides on that. But when you do take a new position, suddenly, as a director, your sales, your supply director, your corporate affairs, etc , are more important than your team.
And as a competitive-driven individual, who’s being functionally led, that’s an incredibly difficult mindset to get across that your first team mentality is always going to be that business first lens. And then I think when going from a marketing director into a general manager’s role, yeah, there is an advantage to have done different functions.
I’d always done a sales and marketing within that, but if you have a curiosity and a commercial lens, and a business lens focus, and you’re talking business strategy, that marketing falls within that, and you know you have a responsibility of business first, function second ─ I think it’s actually quite an easy transition.
That said, it’s not right for everyone because sometimes, they may not actually have that desire to do those more generalist roles. And I can understand that. I’ve mentioned to you in the past, I miss some of my probable sales and manufacturing time, because it’s so operational and tangible ahead of my marketing days, actually.
Well, to your point, you just build the team around you, and you become the leader of that team rather than putting yourself as an essential part of that cog or that composition.
And importantly, when you have had a functional background, my view is it’s even more important to step away and not influence. So, you still want to challenge and stretch. And I have this concept called the 30% rule where against the core segment, I will put a target that the only way for it to be achieved is to … it has to use a new business model and normally, external connectivity in force of behavioural change.
And when you do that, you cannot, if you believe you’re a past marketing guru or a sales guru ─ you have to give total freedom and creativity to do that. You don’t become situational leadership directive-wise, and you have to also provide a safe, psychological safety barrier that if they fail, it’s okay, as long as you’ve learned from it. And that’s difficult when you’ve had a background within one function.
I’m so glad you shared that because, Hamish, I’ve known a number of people in marketing that have taken on a marketing leadership role when the previous person has been promoted into a management role. And they said it’s the worst experience because they’re constantly looking at you saying, “Well, that’s not how I would have done it and you’re not delivering the way I would.” It’s very hard to fulfil the role when the person’s now your boss.
Look, one of the things that I wanted to talk to you about is that there’s a lot of conversation in the industry about why there aren’t more CEOs and managing directors that have a marketing background. And I know it does vary from market to market. It seems to be more in the US. There seems to be more than Australia or in the UK.
But Australia and particularly parts of Asia, marketing, doesn’t feel like it’s a natural progression into senior management. Do you have any thoughts on that? First of all, do you think it’s true or it’s just a perception?
Well, listen, I don’t know the stats. I’ve never actually sort of looked at that. Personally, and obviously, I probably would say just because of my background, I don’t see it as an issue. And the reason that I don’t see it as an issue is that I have seen exceptional leaders who are consumer-oriented and consumer-background and have a commercial lens and a commercial focus that blends marketing and business harmlessly.
So, I see that on regular occasions, but I don’t have the stats … first thing I’d probably say is that I think there’s also an individual choice around, is it the right career path that’s really going to match my passions and my talents. And when it is, tremendous, but it’s not for everyone. You do lose a bit of that thrill.
As I said, I love being a copywriter, but as soon as you’re not allowed to write your own ads, bloody hell, that can be frustrating. But when you know of what your passions are and align those with your talents, I think that’s the first decision and point you can make.
And then if you have got those talents in regard to the commercial lens, insatiable curiosity, and perspective, a leader, a wider leader of others, which you should have as a marketing director anyway or a key CMO ─ providing it matches your passions. I think it’s a marriage made in heaven when you get that right. But that said, it’s not for everyone.
Equally though, I would say that those people who sit on leadership or at a C-suite exec level, a CMO, the director level; if they do not from day one show a business mindset first, functional department mindset second, and don’t view first team mentality ─ very seldom will they go to that next stage.
And that’s regardless of what function you’re in; you have to have that first responsibility as a business director, secondary responsibility is functional. And that is hard for some people to actually get as well.
And just sort of rambling a little bit, but my other element would be that I don’t see it so much as a problem because the best marketing people, the exceptional ones are normally incredibly influential, have massive kudos and share a voice across the business at a strategic lens and people follow them.
And they are normally incredible relationship-driven people, and ideally, have a very strong external connectivity base where a lot of other departments can be a little bit insular and functional. So, I think most of the assets are there, it’s just whether they have that desire to do it.
Yeah, because the only fact that I’ve seen is one of the big recruiting firms said that the CMO has the shortest tenure of the C-suite. And I’m wondering if the part of the problem is that … and there was a Harvard business review article that identified why.
And the reason is that there is often a misalignment of expectations between the CEO and the CMO, in that the CEO will often recruit a CMO on the basis of a conversation around growing the business, growing the brand value and the long-term success of the business.
And then the CMO will get appointed and get told, “Well, here’s your lever, it’s called the advertising budget. And I have the right to turn that tap off at any time if I need to improve the bottom line, but you go ahead and grow the business.”
And yeah, this is this misalignment, which is why CMOS in a lot of organisations, they haven’t grown up. I mean, it’s interesting having this conversation with you because I’m hearing in the language and your approach that your 20 years in MARS was really an education in a way of transitioning you from a brand person from Reebok through to a business leader who was running regional and global businesses.
Whereas a lot of CMOs never get that opportunity because if you’re going to last in the job 22 months, I think was one number, which is ridiculous. You’ve just unpacked your office and you’re packing it up again. How do you become a leader when you’re there for such short periods of time?
And it’s a big brave call to put somebody out of their comfort zone and stretch them sometimes within the panic mode around big cross-functional assignments. Yet, those cross-functional assignments ─ and one thing that I’m very conscious of, I used to put an operational expert at the head of a major change initiative.
I will never do that anymore. I will put my best relationship driver and an integrator and connector of people. Even if they bugger around that subject matter, I’ll put them as the leader of that program.
So, one, that’s a massive talent developer and can be a huge unlocker of confidence, but also potential. But equally, you know that if you get the right energy and inspiration in a team mentality, as opposed to individual performance on it, it can unlock something very special within the business.
I’m interested, Darren, about years ago, I think the idea of a CEO leading a business around continuity and just consistency, a year’s a year, low single-digit growth, etc ─ I think those days may be a little bit numbered.
Now, I may be wrong, and I’m not saying it’s right, but I have probably got a predisposition because I’ve got this concept which doesn’t help me at times called constant dissatisfaction. It’s not healthy. Even when things are going well, I want to challenge and do something differently. I want to sort of stay ahead of that curve.
And I always remember reading that … it was a great book, Michael Watkins, The First 90 Days and his four-
Yeah, love that book.
… sequent model; start-up, turn-around, realignment, maintaining success. The word “maintaining success” means decline to me or reduces your pressure valve within the business. And unless you were looking to do a realignment; “We’re not quite as good as we are people, we need to do something a little bit different or we’re in a world of pain, our tailwind is turning as the headwind, follow me within a turnaround.”
I feel that mindset of constant dissatisfaction, needing to keep ahead of the curve, not needing to lose to learn, that I think is what most business expectations are, particularly at the CEO level. And the person who always should be one, the most inspirational around vision and possibility, but secondly, the person who should always be dissatisfied and always looking for something different ─ should in my mind be the CMO.
But equally, you want good people around you when you get to that CEO to say, “Get back in your box.”
Well, I mean, I think probably the best example of the turnaround is Microsoft after the sell-off to … they’ve done a phenomenal job at … sorry, what’s the CEO’s name? I can’t remember his name.
But yeah, to actually take an organisation like that, which was so preeminent in the category. And then it took such a hit, but then to restructure and say, “People, we can’t keep going the way we’re going.”
The idea of a realignment is harder than a turnaround. As I said, when you’re in a turnaround situation (and I’ve been in a few of those), in marketing and sort of gone into ─ people don’t want the endless discussion around what we should do. They want to be told essentially, “Okay, we’re in a world of pain, here’s the direction we’re following.” That is conviction marketing or conviction leadership.
And generally, you can inspire and get people around you. And as long as your strategic directions are okay, it’s down to probably executional excellence. In a realignment, particularly a successful business, who has had historical success, it’s very hard to tell people, “Gee, we’re going to have to do things a little bit differently at this stage.” And there’s only so many times that you mention the Codexs of the world.
Okay, so you’re talking about the lack of a burning platform because it’s very easy for people to go back (to mix my metaphors) to the wheel ruts when there’s no reason for striking out in a slightly better direction.
So, in your experience within … the first rule of change management, create the burning platform; do you think it’s better to do it through an inspirational lens of possibility or a fear factor?
Always inspirational because the fear factor burns people out. The constant fear actually minimises their ability, destroys risk-taking. What you should be doing is looking for the upside and the opportunity. That’s my perspective. I’m assuming that you would agree?
I’m 100% behind it. That was a leading question because the number of times that I see change initiative started through a fear situation (light the fire), I think I understand why, because this goes back to my point around a restructure. You can always do it. You can always do cost-cutting because there’s a definable black and white end point, it’s tangible. You’ll go through pain to do so, but you can always do it.
When you look at possibility and growth and innovation, there’s always an unknown. And I think that’s one of the reasons that people start from that burning platform as opposed to inspiration or hope. But in my view, a marketer’s job ahead of anyone else is providing inspiration; hard to do.
Hamish, I’ve just noticed the time, it’s been a terrific conversation. Your book is It’s Not Always Right to Be Right by Hamish Thomson. It’s available widely, is it? Can people get it on all the usual book sources?
In all fashionable markets and online, yeah.
Fantastic. And I also just wanted to ask you a question before we go, and that is, well, as a frustrated copywriter, does that mean we’re looking forward to a second or third book coming soon?
Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media, and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here