Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Reputation: Why Ford's Indian Ad Affair Hurts Their Brand Even If They Had Nothing To Do With It

Images from a controversial Ford advertising campaign in India went viral on 22 March 2013, followed by a furious backlash against the company. Many people took issue with the image of people bound and gagged in the back of the car; others were upset by the image of Berlusconi during a period of difficult diplomatic relations between Italy and India.

Except that Ford didn't really have anything to do with it. The ads were created by employees at the JWT agency in India entirely on their own initiative without any input or approval from the agency or the client. The same individuals then uploaded them to adsoftheworld.com a site where people in the advertising business post their work to be seen primarily by their peers. The ad was never requested, seen or approved by Ford or even their agency. [Update: there are different versions of the story. Some say Ford knew more than they say in the official version. See Ford Mess: Ford, JWT and WPP Have Overeacted. ]

Most people agree that the fault lies with the individuals who created and uploaded the images and JWT for a lack of supervision. Perhaps a small part of the blame could be attributed to Ford because their oversight of the agency was imperfect, but this is surely a minor sin of omission. Yet in the court of public opinion Ford gets the blame because their logo is on the ads. Even though the full story has been widely reported, like in this Campaign article, most people only see the images on Facebook and never read the articles. Very few people outside of the advertising business have any idea anyway of the role of JWT in this affair or the practice of bored creatives making artwork for ideas that they would never dare to propose to clients.

If there is a key learning from this affair it is that if your name is on the ad you will get blamed for it even if you had nothing to do with it. There are still many websites that show the Southern Comfort "Liquid Panty Remover" ad (here's an example) and the BMW "You know that you're not the first" used car ad (example) -- both widely debunked as fakes. Ironically Ford contributed to the confusion when they apologized for the Indian ads. Normally I encourage people to apologize when they upset people but this is one of those cases where it has the unintended effect of making people assume they have done something wrong. Perhaps Ford would be been better advised to insist that JWT apologize, since their role in the failure of oversight was apparently greater.

In all of these cases the original image was widely shared on social media but any explanation was mostly ignored and seen only by people in the business. The inevitable conclusion is that the only way to protect against this kind of reputation crisis is just to be extremely strict about what employees of the agencies do with your branding. Companies need to make it clear that they will not work with any agency that does not have a zero tolerance policy. In the pre-Internet days creatives could have fun with fake ads and share them with their friends, but this is simply not possible today when images can spread worldwide in hours. In this situation allowing people to put your branding on potentially controversial fake materials is about as sensible as keeping the rat poison on the shelf right next to the sugar. It's a pointless risk not worth taking.


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Friday, March 15, 2013

What to do When Someone Asks You to Create Their Presentation

Earlier I wrote what you should do when someone asks you to deliver the presentation they have created (Seven and a Half Things to Do When Someone Asks You to Deliver Their Presentation). Now I hear more people asking what to do in the equally common situation where someone asks you to create a presentation that they will deliver. In most cases it is your boss who makes this request so assuming that this is the case what can you do? Here are three basic concepts you should focus on:

KNOW THEIR STYLE. Before you start you need to know something about their presentation style. It will not help to make a textbook perfect presentation if the boss feels uncomfortable presenting it or cannot deliver it in the way you expected. Personally I like to emphasize visuals and memorize what I need to say, but not everyone has the time or performing skills needed to do this so you might need to embed more of the content in the slides than is ideal.  Maybe you like to use "builds", where elements of a slide are added one at a time, but this will not work if your boss does not remember the sequence (it is also bad technique as I explained in Presentation Techniques; Pointing Without Pointing). Perhaps you like fast-moving dynamic presentations made with Prezi where elements rotate and zoom rapidly but your boss feels more comfortable with static bullet points.  In any case you need to understand their style. Try to watch them deliver a presentation, look at slide decks they have made and ask others to describe how they present so that you get a feel for what they will be able to deliver convincingly. To test your drafts imagine your boss delivering them and ask yourself if it sounds like them.

BE DEPENDABLE. Having to rely on someone else to do things is essential for very busy people but it is also very stressful. You can minimize this stress and make yourself very popular by being utterly dependable. This means meeting all deadlines on time, always making sure the file is in the right format and testing every presentation to make sure everything works. It also means accurate proofreading  and fact checking. It is hugely embarrassing for your boss to present a slide with a hilarious typo or a fact that is challenged. Many of the stories and "facts" that you hear in presentations are actually false. Mention that Henry Ford once said that if he had asked customers what they wanted they would have said "a faster horse" and someone in the audience will point out that this story is false. Try repeating the old myth that we only use 10% of our brains and people might not point out the error but will mistrust everything else you say. (For more about these myths see The Creation of Levi's: Why Writers and Speakers Should Always Check Facts). Today everyone has a search engine in their phone so any claims like this can be checked and challenged. You can check, too, and make sure that you do.

ADD VALUE.  Simply delivering a minimum viable presentation might get you off the hook but career-wise it is much better to add value. Stick closely to the brief you were given but try also to add some new facts, data, examples or stories that you have researched. Add these in such a way that they can be dropped without redesigning the whole presentation. Adding value makes you a valued member of the team; just creating the minimal viable slide deck makes you the guy who types the slides.

Know their style, be dependable and add value. Get these three key concepts right and your boss is more likely to be happy with what you did. It's also more likely that that they ask you to do it again and this is actually a good thing because it guarantees you more time with the boss and gives you a window into their thoughts, ideas and plans. You're also more likely to get invited to meetings if you explain that you'd like to see how they present so that you can do it better next time. You will also know about stuff before anyone else and get a chance to show that you are dependable and can add value -- two things that bosses especially like.

In addition to these three basic concepts make sure you know enough about presentation skills to do the job well. If you get chosen to make a presentation for the boss you can use this opportunity to get some advanced training or coaching so that you can do it even better -- a plus value for both of you.

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For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics visit http://andrewhennigan.com, email conseil@andrewhennigan.com or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81 (France) or 0046 730 894 475 (Sweden).

Friday, March 8, 2013

Engineer Culture and the Transition to Management

When people talk about culture they usually mean national or regional cultures, but there are also important cultural differences between professional groups -- doctors, lawyers, pilots, managers and engineers -- and these cultures have an impact that is often underestimated.

Most people from a certain region will have similar values, beliefs and practices as the others from the same region, but within each professional subculture there are additional shared values and practices that are perhaps not shared by people in other professions from the same region.

One of the practical impacts of this difference in professional culture is the difficult transition from engineering to management.  In technology companies this is a problem familiar to managers and human resources professionals, and is also the subject of some training programs.  There are many factors involved but central to the engineering value system is the shared understanding that their world is strictly Cartesian, following logical laws and where everything has an objectively right answer.  Engineers are trained with the mindset that everything can and should be calculated or judged objectively, and this is essential to their work.  But moving to management means dealing with people issues, and this requires a completely new approach where there is rarely a single right answer and where the world is not black and white but many shades of gray.

One way to grasp this concept is to look at dilemmas like the credit for the discovery of the cure for Tuberculosis.  Streptomycin, the antibiotic that effectively eliminated tuberculosis in the 1950s, was discovered by a young scientist called Albert Schatz but initially the credit -- including a Nobel prize and a TIME magazine cover -- went to his professor, the microbiologist Selman Waksman.  Ask any group of people who should have been credited and at first most say Schatz, but if you dig deeper then you begin to have doubts.  It was an insight of Waksman that a suitable antibiotic could be found by testing thousands of cultures found in soil samples, he built the laboratory to do this and hired Schatz to do the practical work.  So it was Schatz who was actually doing the work when Streptomycin was discovered but intellectually it was the fruit of work by Waksman, even if he never visited the lab.  Perhaps the best solution would have been to share the credit, but fifty years ago when universities were more hierarchical this was unthinkable.  Today, though, the story helps people to see that answers are not always so black and white. 

You see the difference between engineer and non-engineer culture manifested in many other ways.  One is in the management of people – a difficult but learnable skill – and also in the way people present their ideas, something I have seen many times while I have been giving advanced speaking coaching to managers.  To anyone from an engineering background it is logical that you present the facts and the technically best solution will be chosen.  In reality it is rarely that simple because there are also human issues involved and some influencing skills will be needed.  Some look down on this as “politics” or worse, but it is in fact an essential core skill for managers, though also useful for engineers who wish to influence management.

Fortunately there are solutions to this problem and you will usually find them in management training programs, but the best starting point is recognition that there are different professional cultures.  They are there for a good reason and they are important for the success of the professionals in that field.  An engineer with no feel for engineering culture will find the work much harder, and a manager without the human skills will find their task very difficult, but someone who has both can move easily from one to the other, outperforming the less culturally literate.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics visit http://andrewhennigan.com, email conseil@andrewhennigan.com or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81 in France or 0046 730 894 475 in Sweden.


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