Archive for October, 2011

It's right because it's...

People respond well to original, adventurous, slightly mad ideas.

This applies equally to marketing communications and to fundraising events.

As Tim Fitzhigham said during his talk at the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh on Saturday night,

Tell someone that you’re going to run 40 miles in the desert, or that you’re going to row across the English Channel and they’ll say, “Uh, that’s not that hard”. But tell them you’re doing it in a 40 kilogram suit of armour in 40 degree heat, or in a one third of a tonne copper bathtub and they instantly become inspired and engaged.

Original, adventurous ideas don’t grow on trees.

They’re not easy to have.

And they’re not easy to make happen.

Indeed, it’s a characteristic of original, adventurous ideas that “some people” seem to go out of their way to erect additional barriers to make it even less likely that they will see the light of day.

This applies equally to marketing communications and to fundraising events.

You’d think that rowing the English Channel in a bathtub was difficult enough, without various authorities on both sides of the water doing their best to make it even more so.

For instance, the French authorities decided that they didn’t like the idea of their bit of the Channel being rowed in a bath, so they passed a law specifically outlawing this very eventuality.

Undeterred, Tim Fitzhigham found himself a friendly Admiral in Whitehall (a story in itself) and worked a solution whereby he was able to register the bath tub as an official British shipping vessel.

In order to make the bath into a ship he had to add a mast (he installed a shower head), he had to have a sealed cabinet for electrics (he installed a sink unit), and he had to fly the Red Ensign.

His indefatigable attitude and his creativity in the face of adversity allowed him to sidestep this particular barrier whilst retaining the madcap integrity of the idea.

When it comes to making adventurous ideas happen, indefatigability is good, creativity is good, and so is a bit of bravery. Tim Fitzhigham had to stick his neck out several times just to get to the start line. He then had put his body on the line to row across the busiest shipping lane in the world.

The first attempt ended in rough weather during which the bathtub and Tim both took a bit of a beating. The waves tore a section off the top of the bath tub and the resulting serrated edge tore into his shoulder to the point that he lost all sensation in his arm.

In true Chumbawamba style he got knocked down, but he got up again and completed his epic round trip journey on the second attempt with a lot of guts and a little ketamine.

(He proved his bravery yet again when he asked a Scottish audience if anyone in the room was a Morris Dancer!)

At the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh : "Is there a morris dancer in the house?"

Here then are the qualities required to help an original, adventurous idea see the light of day.


To me this auditorium is half full.

Infectious enthusiasm.

Tact and diplomacy.


And the occasional bit of bulldozer-style brute force of will.

These all apply equally to marketing communications and to fundraising events.

Thanks to The Adventurists (those lovely people that brought you the Mongol Rally) for making the evening happen in their own, inimitable, eccentric style.

Thanks also to Hendrick’s Gin for some splendidly curious libations with which we washed down the post-talk cake and sandwiches.

Inspirational stuff from the organiser, the sponsor, the venue and, of course, the speaker himself.


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This tweet appeared amidst a Tweetdeck sea of grief and eulogies, prompted by the death of Steve Jobs.

I caught my breath a little. And I was caught in two minds.

On the one hand it was classic, no-holds-barred Mash satire. Funny, frankly.

On the other the Mash tweet “broke” at the same time as news of Jobs’ death was breaking for many people. It wasn’t just topical satire. It was real time. I wish I had grabbed an image of my Tweetdeck screen at the time to show the context in which the tweet appeared. Too early? Too disrespectful?

I thought about it but decided not to retweet.

And I thought nothing more about it until I saw this xkcd cartoon, entitled ETERNAL FLAME. I have included both the animated gif version and a static image showing the rollover text.

On reflection this is all about context.

The context in which the Mash tweet appeared was created by me.

Twitter is primarily a professional tool. It is a highly efficient means of accessing and disseminating relevant information. And its efficiency in this role is a direct result of the people whom I’ve chosen to follow.

Given the industry in which I work this highly efficient information transfer network contains more than its fair share of evangelical, earlier-than-early adopters of just about any object that Apple decides to produce. It’s not surprising therefore that, on the morning of Thursday 6th October, Tweetdeck resembled a 140 character wake.

The Daily Mash doesn’t share this context. Its church is much broader than mine. As you can see from the image above, more than 100 people took a different path to me and did retweet it.

It is also the nature of Twitter that you see Daily Mash headlines out of the context provided by the full content of each article. If you read the Mash article in full you’ll see that there is no disrespect for the man. Indeed, Paul Stokes, founder of the Mash was kind enough to confirm this for me.

We don’t make fun of tragedy on the Mash. Yes the headline might bring some people up sharp, but the piece is probably as close to an affectionate tribute that you’ll ever get from the Mash.

The Mash piece was written by site editor Neil Rafferty and is modestly described by Stokes as…

…a brilliantly constructed and perfectly judged piece that summed up in a few hundred very funny words what other commentators struggled to get to in thousands.

A sentiment echoed by at least one Mash reader…

Which begs the question what exactly was the Mash article satirising?

Looking at it again I think the Mash anticipated and highlighted the ridiculous over-reaction of a small but vocal group of Apple devotees. It’s one thing to admire the man. I personally think it was a little over the top for people who had never met him to gush publicly and uncontrollably to the extent that they did about the extent to which he had changed their lives. Maybe it wasn’t actually that far fetched for some commentators to compare the reaction to the death of Jobs to that of Princess Diana.

This (over?) reaction, not the man, was the subject of their satire. A point I missed because of the insular context I had created for myself.

Satire is about providing much needed balance. Indeed, it often fills a vacuum left by the serious coverage of an issue in this respect.

When it came to balanced serious coverage of Jobs’ death, one article stood out from all others for me.

Unlike so many of the tweeters who provided my initial context, Stephen Fry had actually met Steve Jobs. And, unlike said tweeters, his measured assessment of the man and his contribution was both heartfelt and objective. It is a dignified and insightful piece of writing.

The Mash, xkcd and Stephen Fry all read the context better than I did.

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My dad used to work for the Fibreglass division of Pilkington. His business cards were made out of glass fibre. They were well cool.

My mate Mark runs Sandstorm Kenya. His business cards are made out of leather. If anything they’re a little bit cooler.

Contact details deliberately blurred out.

These business cards leathers are made from off-cuts from the process of making luxury, “safari grade” luggage. Potential waste is efficiently recycled into something useful.

These business cards leathers cause a stir. Apparently the five minute conversation between five people that ensued when I was given this one is not unusual.

And here I am blogging about it.

These business cards leathers are most definitely social objects.

In the hands of a naturally engaging, natural storyteller like Mark I’d imagine that these business cards leathers are an efficient sales tool. Who needs a 20 slide Powerpoint presentation when people can enjoy the tactile feel of a piece of your product whilst you use it as a prop from which you can talk brand, product quality, ethical manufacturing and any other corporate back story?

What’s more these business cards leathers are much smaller than an iPad, they don’t need recharging and they are presentation and leave-behind aide-memoir rolled into one. They are distinctly non-digital but they have versatility, utility and interactivity in spades.

These business cards leathers are an elegant solution that speak directly to the engineer in me.

In engineering, a solution may be considered elegant if it uses a non-obvious method to produce a solution that is effective and simple. An elegant solution may solve multiple problems at once, especially problems not thought to be inter-related.

Source : Wikipedia (where else?)

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