Introducing Strata. A concept for a full stack marketing service for start ups.

Imagine this, An automated brokerage service that allows start ups to access full stack marketing services from leading agencies and experts in exchange for sweat equity.

There is a lot of talk at the moment about Growth Hacking and it’s very similar cousin Full Stack Marketing . The idea being that start ups need individuals with a full range, or stack of marketing skills, just like they need full stack developers who can create technology stacks from top to bottom including UX, front end , back end, database management etc.  The full stack of marketing skills ranges from skills in the understanding of building brands, design work, social media, SEO and PPC, eCRM, analytics, banners, content creation and distribution and even dare I say it advertising.

It strikes me that all those skills exist within many creative agency businesses and of course across the industry as a whole.  So how might it be possible for a cash-poor start up business to access those skills.  After all, start ups, even those that are well funded, are unlikely to have the capital to spend on agency fees given all the other things they need to spend on to maximise their runway.  An answer to that challenge is that start ups contract with marketing services companies  or individuals with a sweat equity arrangement.  That is nothing new, and obviously this is entirely possible at the moment on a one to one personal basis. There are plenty of people from the marketing and advertising community working with the start up community in this way already.  But the problem on the marketing services supply side is that there is a limit to how many start ups you can work with, and therefore a great degree of uncertainty and risk as to whether the sweat will pay back with equity that is worth anything.  As Ben Horowitz puts it "1% of nothing is nothing". And so many players are forced into a part fee, part share of revenue and part equity arrangement, which adds friction into the system of connecting up supply and demand.

One possible solution is an online brokerage service that connects start ups  who have marketing needs, with marketing services companies who can help them, and which automates the financial side, spreading the risk across multiple deals.  The service would be part matchmaker, part legal service and part hedge fund.  How it would work is that the start up would input their needs on the demand side, and the service would recommend the best partners on the supply side.  The service would then allow the start ups to contract services in exchange for an equity share or a share of revenue.  The service would take on the responsibility for the deal, and aggregate the returns across a number of deals when they reach maturity, and then pay out to the supply side companies a share of income.  In this way the supply side is insulated from the risk of working with individual partners and can share in the overall returns, when as is highly likely most deals return little, and a very small number pay out big.  The whole thing would work best at scale, 10s if not 100s of deals, and multiple partners.  It isn’t going to make any one individual a millionaire, but it is a way for supply side marketing services companies to add a revenue stream, and increase the utilisation and productivity of its people, often on interesting, different and challenging projects.  The service would take a commission/cut for its part in bearing the risk and brokering the deals.

So it’s a concept, no doubt the legal hurdles are substantial, but it would be incredible to connect up supply and demand in this way and do so at scale so that it is financially viable for everyone.

If you would at all be interested in something like this, and maybe participating in a trial or experiment if there is enough interest, get in touch!

Content - the best word we have to describe what we should be making


“content"   [kon-tent]. Noun.

 something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech,

writing, or any of various arts:

"a poetic form adequate to a poetic content."

significance or profundity; meaning:

"a clever play that lacks content."

substantive information or creative material viewed in contrast to its

actual or potential manner of presentation:

"publishers, record companies, and other content providers; a flashy

website, but without much content."

Philosophy, Logic. the sum of the attributes or notions comprised in a

given conception; the substance or matter of cognition.


Richard Huntington wrote a great piece of content on his blog the other day about how the word content is useless, Richard and I work together and nearly always entirely agree with him ;-). But not this time.

In this case I kind of agree that the word content is in danger of being over-used,  and in danger of becoming an empty buzzword and generally bandied around.  But I don’t agree that it is completely redundant and a completely useless generic label for all sorts of creative products like film, telly, journalism, apps, and advertising.  For me the word “content”  is a powerfully loaded with positive meaning and can help to create an essential mindset shift for brands trying to operate in a digital world.

As we all know, it used to be that brands could buy media space and interrupt peoples' lives to get their attention.  People could then try to mentally edit out brands and their messages, and the brands that succeeded were the ones that interrupted people in the most engaging and entertaining way, such that people actually quite liked being interrupted - this was the fabled and I suspect apocryphal era when the "ads were better than the telly programmes".  But then media fragmented and digital technology came along which enabled people to physically edit their now vastly more varied media diet. And so the ability of brands to interrupt was much reduced.  Telly advertising hasn't died of course, it remains a massively important part of any large brand’s marketing mix because it is really important to people and still the best way of reaching a mass audience.  But peoples' relationships to brands did shift. They became more able to chose the things that mattered most to them.

In this context the reason the word content is so useful is that, as per the dictionary definitions above,  it connotes something that is useful or entertaining, something that someone might chose,  and it implies the consumer is in control of whether the content is consumed and shared or simply ignored.  And so thinking of the output of the brand's creative activities as content  - whatever that stuff is - means a massive mindset shift.

That mindset shift is from that of being an interrupter, crassly dressing up commercial announcements with the wafer thin patina of emotion.  To the adoption of the mindset of the producer of culturally relevant and welcomed entertainment, or utility. Moving from thinking "what do I want to say", or "what do I want people to hear", towards "what might my brand have to offer" or "what could I do that might be interesting to people?"

Quality does matter with content, because the form that content takes is a format like advertising, video, social media posts, or even film, music and TV shows. And so it is competing for attention against all of those formats, to get viewed, or to mean something to someone and be shared. It isn’t a separate thing from the rest of culture, it competes with culture for attention.

It would be lovely to think that as an industry we’ve always thought about the things we make in this way in the past and so it isn’t necessary to use the word content, and therefore more explicitly just talk about specific format instead, i.e. if we are making a film lets just call it a film rather than giving it the generic label content. And from time to time this has probably been true. However,  in the main, old habits die hard. The marketing industry has relied on paying for eyeballs for so long, and remains so desperate to prove a short time ROI rather than drive long term growth, that it is all too easy to end up serving your own corporate agenda and under emphasise the need to genuinely delight people with content that is high quality and worth them having in their lives.

As such the word content it is a really powerful tool for forcing us to keep thinking differently about brands and how they should interact with the world and consumers. To bastardise Google’s phrase -  to keep putting the user first, and create content that connects them with the magic at the heart of the brand by making things that are relevant, distinctive, and worth people’s scarce attention. And thinking like that should also help us face into the future, where the longevity of reliable channels that deliver mass attention which are underpinned by an ad business model, like TV airtime, are less assured.


What I learnt about CVs from a year as Head of Account Management at Saatchi & Saatchi

After over a year as Head of the Account Management department at Saatchi & Saatchi London, I have seen a lot of CVs.  And it's the second time I've tried to do the tricky job of finding great talent, the first time being at Dare. I have seen a ton of CVs in that time, at all levels and across most specialisms in Account Management, so I thought I would share what I look for and find helpful in choosing people to interview.

CVs are shit , but really important...

A creative agency is a simple business. It is about great work, and there are two ingredients that create that work,  culture and talent.   So the quest to find great people is crucial, it is not just about filling a gap, your people are the talent and they create the culture.  The sad fact is that the humble CV is a really bad place to start that quest, given how hard it is to get a sense of what someone is all about from two sides of paper/PDF.  However, there is a limit to the talent you can find through personal recommendation and networks, and churn in advertising remains high, so the CV is a necessary evil.  So lets take a look at the context and then look at what works and doesn't work....

CVs are all the same...

You would be surprised how similar most CVs are, until presented with hundreds of them.  By the time a CV reaches the inbox of a head of department at an agency , along with the other couple of hundred other emails received that day, to sit alongside the 10-20 other cvs received that week,  it has been through a filtering process . Firstly the person who wrote it has filtered themselves, deciding they might be the right person for the job.  Secondly, they've written their CV to match what they think are the agency heads expectations following a formal format.  Thirdly, the recruiter has filtered the candidates to put forward ones they think might be suitable, and have even edited the CV along the way sometimes without telling the candidate, to fit their in-house style. What this means is that most CVs are converging on the same space, and so there ends up not being much between them - it ends up being wall-to-wall well educated people , with relevant experience, at interesting companies, presenting themselves in a professional manner.  The context makes it very hard for great talent to stand out.

The jazz-ing trap

So given this tough context and the need to stand out, it is often too tempting to jazz up the cv in some way to get some sort of cut-through. Maybe using some unusual fonts or colours , or maybe some quirky headlines or the dreaded word art.  Or maybe even turning the CV into a surprising object like printing it on a chocolate bar wrapper or record sleeve.  However the sole impact of this kind of thing is to cast doubt on the quality of the candidate.  All it makes you think is "well if they have to do that to get noticed then they can't be very good". It's the CV equivalent of putting a neon starburst on a shop window display.

The only way to avoid this trap and to still stand out is to ruthlessly focus on the quality of the content.  Here are some simple rules to keep in mind to try and achieve that:

The first rule is - make sure it is crystal clear.

What I need to get instantly from a CV is the length of time someone has been working in total since leaving education, the companies they have worked at and roles they have done in simple chronological order and what job they have performed at each. Include the date you graduated so it is obvious how many years you've been working.  If I have to do more than skim read to get that info, then I am clicking on to the next one, because I can't get a handle on your experience level.  Oh, and keep it to 2 pages at the most, because anything longer is just noise rather than signal.

The second rule is - assume nothing.

You might think the companies you've worked at are the best in the world, and they may well be, but there is still good possibility I have never heard of them, and this particularly goes for CVs from people from other countries.  Same goes for the brands you've worked for, people you've worked with and campaigns you've created. Context is everything.   So if I read "Jung von Matt" , I be like "who??" but "Jung von Matt, Germany's leading  independent creative agency" I be like "now we're talking!". Or "The Beldent Twins campaign" should become "Twins - an innovative social experiment for Beldent, the LatAm regions biggest gum brand".

The third rule is - don't tell me what you think I want to know about you, tell me about the real you

Substance is crucial. I personally like it when people list their interests,  it tells me a bit about why they might be fun to work with and what they might bring to the table.  But do you seriously think that it tells me anything to list "reading".  You might as well put down "skilled at breathing air".  Now "obsessed by graphic novels" or "addicted to horror maestro James Herbet" those are interesting interests.

I would also apply the same principle to the "introduction" paragraph that a lot of people include.  To be honest it is better that this is left to the covering letter or intro from the headhunter and to let your experience do the talking.  But if you must include it then make sure it has some substance.  What is it about you that is interesting? Nearly everyone is "highly motivated and energetic, strategically minded, with a passion for creativity". Instead try and say something about what makes you, you. What are your strengths and weaknesses, what do you really like and dislike.

The fourth rule is - make it tangible

When it comes to your experience, focus on what you have done that is tangible. What work have you created, what impact have you made, what results have been driven.  Again anyone can list a load of skills they think they have acquired and nearly everyone will think they have acquired the same skills.

The fifth rule is - G.A.B.O.S -   Game ain't based on sympathy

The final principle to keep in mind is  the acceptance that it is all a very unfair process. Hiring managers in all walks of life get tons of CVs, and they are very hard to pull apart so the smallest thing becomes a reason make a decision yes or no.  Typos are just that type of thing.  Of course everyone makes them, this blog is probably riddled with them, and of course it means nothing about your talent and suitability if you make a typo.  But if a decision hangs in the balance then it helps someone decide yes or no.  Same thing goes for inconsistencies and uncertainties.  If you took a break mid-way through your career to do nothing and sit in your pants, then say so, and ideally the reason why.  If you leave a blank with no explanation then the mind starts filling the blanks, like, maybe that time was spent in a maximum security prison or something.

So there you have it, some of the things I've noticed about what works and doesn't work in a CV this last year.  Good Luck!

Brands, sponsorship and the Olympic Games

Here are a couple of things I've written recently during the Olympic Games.....

First up some thoughts on how brand's have approached their advertising, and the benefit of making people laugh,  first published on The Drum......

The Drum  - Are the Rio Olympics ads living up to the greatest, most emotional show on Earth?

And second, is a piece on the BBH Sport blog about the opportunity brands have to take more responsibility in cleaning up sport......

Giving in order to receive – a different way to look at Olympic sponsorship

.....Any thoughts welcome!