Industry Musings

Weekly thoughts from the World of Recruitment Comms

Wednesday 6 March 2019

How Old Spice reinvented its brand, and lessons you should apply to your recruitment campaign.

This is a story of the rebrand of Old Spice, how their thinking changed the marketing game, and what this means for your employer campaigns, and even your overall employer brand.


Old Spice is a brand of male grooming products that hit the shelves back in 1938 (81 years ago). Back then, the trend was for a man’s ‘natural scent’ to be seen as the height of masculinity. The brand became synonymous with the most ‘manly’ of trades – the maritime industry. And thus, the brand association with ships was born. But it didn’t really totally take off until the Second World War. This is when Old Spice won the wartime contract for providing US Soldiers with grooming products. And instantly became the symbolism of masculinity.


Then, for almost half of a century, Old Spice was the scent of choice for many men (including my dad – oh dear – but he had been in the Navy so). Then Lynx came along and started dominating the younger segments of the market – advertising themselves not as a scent, but as a way to attract the fairer sex. By the 1990s Old Spice was seen as the brand of grandads.


In 2008 Old Spice tried to launch a new product range but was competing with a whole new set of players in the market such as Dove for Men. And Nivea had also flooded the market with their own ranges of men’s grooming products. The market was saturated, and Old Spice was still seen as the products for grandads. Old Spice needed to do something radical.


In 2010, Unilever announced it would be rolling out a huge campaign during the Super Bowl. Old Spice was looking like it was about to lose even more market share. They went to Widen + Kennedy, the iconic advertising company behind some of Honda’s best adverts.


W+K took a different approach. It looked at the data and found some surprising results. For a start, most men in relationships with women don’t actually buy their own grooming products. In fact, up to 70% of women purchase their partners hygiene products. So they shifted the target audience away from who Lynx and Dove had been targeting (young men), to the women who were actually buying their products.


The advert talked directly to women, cutting out all the sexist rubbish seen by other male toiletry adverts. They had shifted the brand to appeal to an untapped audience.


The main star was Isaiah Mustafa, a former NFL player, who’d go on to become a celebrity in his own right off the back of this campaign.


Now let’s discuss advert placement. Their budget meant they could not compete with Unilever. In 2018, a 30 second Super Bowl commercial costed at least $5million. So the idea was to target the areas and culture surrounding the Super Bowl. They launched the campaign 24 hours before the Super Bowl on YouTube and Facebook: advertising that could be directed straight to their target audience. Targeting relevant age groups, but also people who had talked about the Super Bowl online. The plan was to launch a campaign that was synonymous with the Super Bowl, without the massive cost of being associated with it.


This campaign was hugely successful – and went viral. With further organic reach pushing the advert further without additional cost. Their YouTube video received tens of millions of views – a predicted 10 times more than the number who’d had seen Unilever’s Dove advert during the Super Bowl. By May 2010, sales had increased 60%, and by July sales had more than doubled from the previous year.


After launching the campaign, they kept interacting with their fans. Over 180 videos were produced staring Mustafa, increasingly known as The Old Spice Man, answering questions from the audience. This is what kept people talking about the brand long after the main paid placement component of the campaign was over. Advertising in the social age isn’t just about broadcasting, it’s about two-way communication.


The Old Spice case study is one that is surprisingly relevant to many employer brands and recruitment campaigns we see out there today. Many employers have a very traditional and set employer brand, with long established career paths into the company. For many, it’s the way its always been done. This creates stagnation, higher competition for a limited pool candidates as other companies start working to attract the same types of people. This also risks your company workforce facing an issue of diversity.


When you have the right creative message and employer brand, you can consider swapping out expensive advertising platforms and swapping to places that generate a buzz. For example, when we ran the campaign to attract mental health nurses for an NHS Trust. We had the creative message that we knew would work on social platforms – and the results proved us right. We had created a campaign that played with the brand, generated buzz, and for less money, hired more people.


Finally, the Old Spice campaign shows that broadcasting to an audience isn’t enough. Instead people want two-way dialog with a campaign. Sometimes this might mean letting your audience lead you. But in a world of Tweets and Q&As, can your company afford not to respond to candidates for the tiny amount of money it costs in the grand scheme of things?





Wednesday 13th feb 2019

Why do female leaders have to walk the line between matriarch and patriarch?

Our Agency Director has written a blog about women in leadership roles. Her musings are a pretty interesting read, so we thought we’d post her blog today instead of mine. All credit goes to Anna Fleetwood for this one of course.


I took part in some research today on ‘Women in Advertising’. The researcher from Leeds Beckett University was working on a study funded by the British Academy. She asked me some thought-provoking questions about my career trajectory and whether being a woman had held me back or caused me to encounter any sexist experiences in the workplace. It got me thinking and led to me writing this blog.

Today, there are only 26 women in CEO roles at Fortune 500 companies and globally women’s income is 20% less than men’s. Harsh facts. Many generations of women have been fighting for equal rights, from the right to vote to the right to equality in the workplace. Yet we still have a long way to go and it just seems to be taking an inordinately long time!

So what is stopping us ladyfolk from getting to the top? Is it that, like the American activist Marian Wright Edelman’s said, “you can’t be what you can’t see?” As a woman in a senior post, I know how hard I had to work to get to where I am, but I was lucky enough to have senior female directors to show it was possible and a role model in my Mum. She, along with the help of her 80s shoulder pads, pushed her way through a man’s industry – the only woman in more than one company who wasn’t a secretary or receptionist. And she excelled, but it wasn’t without sacrifice. My brother and I had nannies as my Mum worked long hours up in London and we didn’t see as much of her as we all would have liked in those early years.

For many women today, they see a C-Suite full of men and often middle management too. So why, 35 years on from my Mum’s experience, haven’t things progressed more? Having become a parent myself just over 13 months ago, I am juggling the pressures of trying to be the best Mum I can be and being the dedicated Agency Director my colleagues and clients need. I am lucky to have an employer and team who support me in that, but one of the reasons so many women do not make it to the top is that, by taking a career break to have a family, they are being held back. Hence, so many women (myself included) put having a family on hold until they’ve forged a successful career. Had I had a baby as an Account Manager for example, there is no way I would have progressed so quickly to Account Director on my return to work. I wouldn’t have been able to put in the super long hours or the general out-of-hours social engagements that helped me get there. Is that just our industry? I would argue not.

So, under such trying circumstances, how on earth does a woman compete with men to become a great leader in 2019? By acting more like those men, perhaps? After all, the results from a number of research projects show that men and women in executive positions demonstrate a similar pattern of classically masculine personality traits. But what exactly does it mean to be ‘manly’ in 2019? Are we saying that we women need to be more aggressive and authoritarian in order to compete? Because, even beyond the fact that such a definition of ‘manliness’ is pretty outmoded in the gender-fluid era of the 2010s, it just doesn’t feel quite right based on my own experience. And I would say that the success I’ve enjoyed personally has, to the contrary of such research, been as a result of managing in what might (by the same terminology) be described as a much more ‘maternal’ style. Or, as I’d prefer to put it, much more carrot than stick.

Fortunately, there’s also research out there demonstrating that a number of the key skills that make a truly great leader are those that could be considered more female – the ability to empathise and listen, to care about those around you. And I believe that, by quashing these behaviours in order to get to the top (anyone remember Maggie Thatcher?), some women are diluting their own contribution to diversity within the workforce, which as we all know, contributes generally not only a happier one but a more successful one. So how do we get all those alpha males in the C-suite to recognise this and see value in these skills rather than looking for women that behave in a way that is more familiar to them?

As a sex, we need to galvanise the men around us into action, as women aren’t going create a level playing field on our own. We need to educate the men, particularly in more senior roles, to look for the more back-seat behaviours of the women in their teams and encourage them to speak up and be heard, to put the training and development plans in place to give them the confidence they may lack. And to recognise that sometimes the different skills we bring are of equal merit.

And what can women do to support other women? We need to shout about each other’s achievements as well as our own. It’s time to support one another – from helping that Mum career returner get back up to speed quickly to boosting each other’s confidence in what we do and what we know. Many companies have created Women’s Networks to help us do just that. But again, these need men to get involved too. It’s men that can really make equality a reality. They play a vital part in creating opportunities for everyone.

So, in conclusion, let’s create a more equal world for my daughter’s generation. Women be brave! Men be supportive – you will reap rewards.

And, if you’re reading this thinking your company needs some help with their Diversity and Inclusion or attraction strategy, be it for future female leaders or any other demographic, we’d love to help, so please get in touch.: 0161 238 8110




Tuesday 22nd January 2019

Make your way calmly toward the Brexit


How did March 2019 creep up so fast? It’s a mere two months away and we still don’t know if we’re leaving the EU with a deal or not.


The government was in such a flap to prove the viability of a no-deal Brexit that it ran 87 trucks across the southeast English countryside to test the possible effects of leaving under such conditions, last week. And we’ve been told this week thousands of troops are on standby in case there’s No Deal. Hmm. Which begs the question, if the very people behind Brexit are at panic stations, shouldn’t you be, too?


Well, not quite. And I am firmly of the belief that we should do as the motivational 1930s British slogan tells us, when it comes to all things Brexit: ‘keep calm and carry on.’


That doesn’t mean we don’t need to worry – that’s something we Brits are very good at, concealing our panic under a wave of stiff-lipped worry. And I would recommend to all medium-to-large enterprises that they batten down the hatches, as it were, and ensure that they’re fully prepared if and when the worst does happen and they’re suddenly faced with a situation whereby:


Vast swathes of migrant workers from the EU suddenly leave your employment

You find yourself with pockets of vacancies that were once not too bad to fill but are now problem roles for you

You can ill afford to have British nationals leaving your employment based on the idea that they’d rather work elsewhere, considering your EU migrant losses

The value of the pound drops below that of the Euro and you suddenly need your employer marketing/recruitment expenditure to have that much more bang for its buck

Your competitors have all readied themselves by engaging in an effective employer branding exercise and ensuring that their respective reputations as employers is unbreakably positive


Because, well, that all sounds a bit scary doesn’t it? It actually sounds maybe inevitabl. Even then, though there’s no point in panicking. Panic never delivers a long-term solution – it just means that you end up spending your time and budget on unnecessary things that don’t impact well on your wider strategy. Just prepare yourself and take out some insurance in the form of a cost-effective Employer Brand to rival that of your fiercest competitor.


Employer branding is the opposite of panicking. In the run-up to Brexit and far beyond, it will ensure that your reputation as an employer is consistently positive, no matter who is talking about you. Meaning that you stand a much better chance of British-born workers (and those EU migrants who do decide to stay) applying to you first, rather than your competitors. And, once they’re inducted into the business, being glad that they did – and staying with you to develop.


Delivered properly and with depth of research behind it, an Employer Brand will serve your business for a goodly while. The way it’s executed might be refreshed once every few years – based on the things you need to do to tailor the public’s current vision of you as an employer. But its essence will always remain the same: it will present to the world the very best version of your company’s personality and offering as an employer.


Priceless investment, really, and not at all expensive. One of the few Brexit-related solutions you can say that about.



Tuesday 8th January 2019

Our Controllable Christmas lights


More interactive than a Christmas card, more successful too:

How Jupiter and Sparks ran its Christmas marketing and why it was so successful.


Christmas marketing can be a mundane affair. So this year we wanted to do something different. For the cost of £0 we came up with an idea that generated over 259 hours of view time and over 3,000 organic views. Here’s what we did and the train of thought we had at the time.


Is anyone actually appreciative when their email box is filled with Christmas ecards? Open rates and click throughs on this type of Christmas marketing would suggest not. Yet we are still at the stage where people are more than willing to lie to themselves to say that ecards are “memorable for millennials” for the sake of convenience over paying the cost of a postage stamp.


This is where the cries of ecard supporters come in. Sure ecards are measurable, and come with clickable call-to-actions. But even if it gets through the recipients spam filter it’s the user’s choice to delete it on sight.


I may come across as some hater of ecards. I’m actually not. Jupiter used them this year like many others. There is a time and a place when they are useful and appreciated, but that time and place is not as a company’s single and only source of Christmas marketing. They should be tactical, not blanket spamming as you’ll find others use them.


So for 2018, we decided to go out of the realms of boilerplate Christmas card lip-service and come up with something original! Something that was Christmas-first, or dare I say, make Christmas marketing great again. Here is how our thought process worked:


• It should be something that should speak for itself, and be interesting enough to bring people in without having to advertise it heavily.


• It should go against the grain, and probably against convention too. So on the face of it, it should be a bad idea.


• It should be as fun for our office as it is for everyone else.


Then someone said the magic words. ‘Letting the internet control things always goes badly, doesn’t it?’


After that statement, there was only one way it could go, let the internet control the office Christmas lights. What could go wrong?


After this the process was simple, we used a small micro-computer called a Raspberry Pi, some code, and some relays, to create a website with a live stream of our office and some buttons to turn our Christmas lights on and off. We even connected the Jupiter logo to the system! We already had the lights, and the computer, it only took a few hours to code and set up.


As we stated before, we wanted this to be something that wasn’t spammed, was mainly organic, and we wanted to see how much attention the idea garnished with only minimal advertising. So we made two tweets, one Facebook message, and a few posts on Reddit. We expected maybe 500 people max over the Christmas period to access the website. A small bit of fun. Here is how it actually went:


Over the three weeks it was active, the stream was viewed by over 3,000 unique viewers, and the watch time was an absolutely amazing 15,547 minutes. That’s 259 hours. Or 10.7 days of pure watch time. The average view time looking at the lights was 5 minutes and 41 seconds.

This is the things brand marketer’s dream of. For zero cost, we had over 10 days’ worth of people watching a video with a bright logo at the centre-point.


But it got better. We started to see the website spread throughout the internet, especially on Reddit, where the website received over 70 comments talking about the Controllable Christmas lights. Normally praising the setup.


A little community formed based on the premise of keeping the Reindeer light on (a clear favourite). Naturally, there was also a small counter team who battled hard to keep the Reindeer turned off. It’s safe to say there was a lot of flashing from that side of the office.


Naturally, give the internet something to control, and they will abuse it. People spent time finding ways to control the lights in unintended ways. Either to spam turning the lights on and off, or to make the lights match their own music. One person even created a small script and pounded on Nick, our Creative Director the next time he was on screen.


His reaction is worth the time spent on the project alone.


So what are the take always from the project?


• Don’t treat Christmas marketing as lip service. Treating it as a chore or just another excuse to spam your name to your audience just comes across as unauthentic. Truly embrace the Christmas sprit!


• The right creative idea is worth its weight in gold.


• Engagement isn’t clicks or likes. It’s people talking about your concept, creating little communities, or even using the skills and spending time to add to your concept.


• Finally, the best ideas are sometimes come from situations where there isn’t an attachment with performance targets or management pressure – but more a genuine great idea with dedicated staff that are fully behind the idea and want to see it through.


So will we be doing something similar for Christmas 2019? 100% yes. We even have some suggestions for Christmas 2019!



Thursday 6th december 2018

5 reasons why working in Employer Marketing beats Consumer Advertising


I’ve worked in Employer Marketing for 25 years now. And, for every one of those years, I’ve heard someone say about it something along the lines of, ‘It’s the poor cousin of Consumer Advertising.’ Which is baffling because in all this time, I’ve never actually met anyone who actually does see it that way. In fact, I (and most of my peers) would say the opposite is true.


Here are 5 good reasons why you should be bursting with pride to work within the Employer Marketing space:


1. You get to work with bigger clients


The biggest names in Consumer Advertising go to the biggest agencies. WPP, Omnicon, Publicis, Interpublic, Dentsu. If you work for a boutique consumer agency, don’t expect to be working with household names on big budget projects every day. Expect to be working for start-up tech companies at best or your local car showroom or no win, no fee solicitors firm at worst. Nothing wrong with that of course. But Employer Marketing gives you much more scope to work with world-renowned clients. Just look at Jupiter. We’re a boutique agency but we’re working with Starbucks, Pizza Hut Restaurants, E.ON, wagamama, McCain… Names that make your CV really pop. And the projects we’re involved in include things like highly conceptual video projects that will be programmatically served to SKY TV viewers all over the UK – seriously exciting stuff. Work to be proud of!


2. You get to be more creative


If you want to churn out functional designs, pushing the hard sell of kitchens, bathrooms, furniture and other household goods, get a job in Direct Marketing. Sure, it’s easy and you’ll earn a decent living. But, if you’re bubbling with ideas then you’re better off in Employer Marketing.

We’ve wrapped an entire tram in Space Invaders for Sainsbury’s and made a high spec CGI commercial for E.ON that sets Graduate recruits into a fantastical land of the giants.


3. You get a bigger portfolio, faster


If you’re lucky enough to get to work on a big budget Consumer Advertising project, expect it to take a good six months from brief to launch. Or longer. You could end up working for an agency for five years and leave with few more than ten pieces of work in your portfolio or on your CV. Employer Marketing is a blur of activity by comparison. Expect to be turning around campaign concepts in a day, presenting them the next day and getting to work on making them happen the day after that. Our hugely successful and incredibly high end E.ON Graduates campaign took exactly one month to develop from brief to campaign launch. We worked like wildfire to get it done and, guess what – the quality was amazing. And we were working on equally demanding projects simultaneously without breaking a sweat.


4. You get to see the results


On the whole (and with the exception of programmatic), Consumer Advertising is like letting go of a helium balloon in Manchester and hoping it ends up in Paris. You just never know whether it’s going to do what you want it to. Because, even if the products are a huge success and with the best will in the world, how can you reliably trace back the desire to buy to the moment the consumer saw your billboard on the flyover on their way to work? Employer Marketing is different, because it’s not just the content marketing and programmatic stuff that drives traffic – it’s pretty much all direct response. So, when your work doesn’t perform well, you know what you have to do next time to make a success of it.


5. You get to change people’s lives for the better

This is the big important one. Consumer Advertising is all about getting people to buy more stuff. Employer Marketing, by contrast, is about letting people who might be struggling to find work know that there’s a role out there for them. So they can feed and clothe their families, improve their lives, maybe even pay for the first holiday they’ve managed to afford in years. It doesn’t get more rewarding than that.


So hold your head up high. You’re part of one of the most amazing sectors around. You deserve to feel great about it.





WEDNESDAY 21ST November 2018

Anti-social media.


Most of us use social media both personally and professionally. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. We’ve probably posted thousands of pictures of ourselves and made many more comments that may be deemed controversial. And I bet we’ve all Googled ourselves (through curiosity or fear of what monstrosity of ourselves Google will present). Whatever our activity, we know this for sure: we each have a sizeable digital footprint, which is accessible to anyone who cares to search.


As we transition into a deeper digital world, employers naturally have begun to claim that part of the resourcing process is checking out our social media profiles which will form part of the hiring decision making. But do they really do that? No, but really, though? Do they really have the time? Well, it turns out they do. I know so because a recent episode of Dragons’ Den told me.


Two chaps who appeared on the show have set up a website that cleanses your biggest online sins. They will present a sterilised version of you so that, when would-be employers check you out, you gleam like a Colgate smile.

And I was quite surprised when the Dragons did invest £100,000 for a relatively tiny 2% of the business. Surprised as this revealed to me that big employers (like some of the Dragons) must indeed check candidates’ social media accounts when making hiring decisions. Indeed, a 2018 survey by CareerBuilder confirms that 7/10 employers do check your personal social media accounts.


The study found that 58% of employers conduct social screenings to look for information supporting a candidate's qualifications for the job, 50% want to ensure the candidate has a professional online persona, 34% want to see what other people are posting about the candidate and 24% of those surveyed actually check social media to search for reasons not to hire someone.


These are stats that would send shivers down the spine of any job-seeking Twitterholic. Especially one who likes to engage in activity deemed unacceptable by potential employers, which, according to Workopolis (a US site), are:


Drug use – 83% of employers say they are put off by references about using illegal drugs

Sex – 71% are put off by posts of a sexual nature

Swearing – 65% are put off by use of profanity

Poor English – 61% are put off by bad spelling or grammar

Booze – 47% are put off by photos of alcohol consumption


Interestingly, demonstrating poor grammar and spelling online appears to be more detrimental to your prospects than getting wasted. So if you’re going to post about your nights out on the tiles, the advice would be to make sure you spell everything correctly and use proper punctuation when you do so. Whatever you do, though, it would appear that someone, somewhere, will always be watching and judging. And who among us doesn’t swear, have sex, make the occasional linguistic slip or even consume more legal substances than we should? There are none of us Saints. So maybe it really is a good idea to get your digital footprint cleansed next time you have to start looking for a job, as it seems that you’ll never be good enough.


I don’t know, though. Should our paranoia about our employability really force us to sanitise our online selves in order to present a more professional version? Doesn’t that just feel like deleting a chunk of your real self? It raises all sorts of questions about documentation and the plotting of history. What’s real? What’s just a story? And it really starts to make the world a blander place, too! It used to be that documentation would embellish the reality of a person’s story to make it more interesting to future generations of interested parties. That’s how myths and legends were born! Now we’re doing the opposite, or at least being told we should. We’re ironing the unsightly wrinkles out of our lives so as not to excite the imagination. Even deleting our social media profiles altogether so as to avoid any unwanted scrutiny. It’s puzzling indeed.


Of course, you can always set your social media profiles to various levels of ‘private’ (I know I do). Which is a little bit more like real life – you share what you want with who you want. But doesn’t doing so only suggest that you might have something to hide to a nosy employer? So what’s the answer? Well, maybe you just have to take your chances – show your brilliance in spite of your more undesirable behaviours and hope that it comes through. Or maybe you might feel forced to think about your actual behaviours in real life – not just the posting of them (you might actually start to realise that you drink or swear too much and decide to become a little less ‘antisocial’). These seem to be the two most obvious routes of dealing with your ‘candidate brand’ (i.e. your reputation as a potential employee).


It’s definitely a world of two very distinct sides. But, because it’s virtual and can be manipulated by you so that you appear exactly as you wish to appear, it’s really almost entirely up to you which side you end up being on. Do you want to be a self-censoring wallflower who fits into a neat little box of blandness? Or do you want to be a loud-mouthed, aggressive, social media tornado who impresses by removing all the boundaries? It would appear that the choice is yours.





Friday 9th November 2018

Body art discrimination in the workplace.


Cool or not cool?


Tattoos are everywhere. What were once the markings of sailors, soldiers, prisoners and punks are now everyday fashion accessories and the more elaborate the better. There are multiple mainstream TV shows about them (Ink Master, Tattoo Fixers, Black Ink Crew, et al) and a whopping 30% of 25-to-39 year-olds in the UK say they have them (47% of millenials). Yet, under current UK law, body art is not considered a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (unless it’s a religious marking) and so it’s at the employer’s discretion whether or not they decide to employ someone with visible body art.


As you’ll already know if you regularly read my blog, I’m on the Board of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, so it’s probably fairly obvious what my own stance as an employer is on tattoos – I do not discriminate based on them. And yes in fact I have two myself (more about that in another blog).


However, I have to say that I suspect a lot of existing and potential clients might object to them if they were too extreme, which puts me in a precarious position. What happens if one of my team is suddenly adorned in body art and a client decides they don’t want to work with that person anymore, as a result?


When we developed wagamama’s Employer Brand – the entire brand was based around an individual’s visible difference. (It happened to win a RAD Award for Best Employer Brand too but I don’t want to brag too much about that!.) wagamama was and still is very very overtly wanting to attract people who are different -all welcome. Visible tattoos? Join us. Pink Mohican? Join us. Visible piercings? Not a problem – join us. The employer strapline is ‘be you. be wagamama’


Yet that is the only brand I’ve ever seen that is so openly, tolerant and accepting of difference. You’d really hope that in 2018 we’re a much more tolerant and liberal society and that includes the workplace. But I’m also almost certain that strong prejudice still happens in the workplace – even at a subconscious level. And prejudice doesn’t just begin and end with body art. It probably spans all protected characteristics.


I know that some of my recruiter friends are specifically told by their clients “I don’t want a woman/man/person under or over this age/person with this nationality” etc. How can this be OK in 2018? Yet the brief is stuck to and the prejudice is tolerated behind closed doors.


So whilst we’ve made huge strides in protected characteristics legislation, I wonder when true prejudice will be a thing of the past. Or is this wishful thinking? Will it never really go away because we all have subconscious prejudice and bias?


But I’m forever an optimist. And the day that no one bats an eyelid at any protected characteristic and the best person for the job gets it, the sooner employers (and myself) will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. Right now, whether we talk about this openly or not, it’s just not the case.





Tuesday 23rd October 2018

I Want To Break Free


Or how being the daughter of a tyrant took me to the top


I went to see the new Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, last week with my other half. At the end of the film – as I sniffled the obligatory end-of-movie tears into my coat lapel – they asked me, “are you all right?”


The film taught me that Freddie Mercury was both a lonely man and a visionary. He had a very troubled relationship with not only himself, but his band Queen for his ‘maverick’ behaviours. Yet it was not the tragic plight of the man himself that actually made me cry. I’m not ashamed to say that it was something much more elemental than that.


No spoilers, but the film is bookended with Remi Malek’s amazing impersonation of Freddie at the 1985 Live Aid concert. And as the closing moments of the film rolled, it was this memory of Live Aid that set me off. Because I’d had a ticket to the now legendary concert (which, to this day, holds the record for the biggest worldwide audience of a live event of all time). And I wasn’t allowed to go.


Live Aid was the perfect representation of what I could realistically call ‘my time’. The mid-1980s were filled with culture that changed the whole way I looked at the world. The pop bands of the time – David Bowie, U2, Elton John, Ultravox, Spandau Ballet and, of course, Queen, to name a few. They sounded like nothing that had really come before and they were positive and danceable and filled me with excitement as a young kid, in my teens. The idea of attending Wembley Stadium to see such a perfect line-up was almost beyond comprehension.


My biological father, however, was not a good man. I don’t even remember what went down between us that led to him taking that amazing privilege away from me. But it was quite a typical occurrence that he did. My sister had queued all night for the tickets. And I still remember the moment she came home and waved them in the air triumphantly – the holy grail, located, secured and returned. We were beyond excited, but it was not to be. At least not for me. A harshly worded encounter with this most confrontational of men led to him gleefully sending my sister off on the train to London with a friend, who took my ticket. And I was forced to sit at home and watch the event in a pool of understandable self-pity from my bedroom.


Teenagers don’t really understand why bad things happen to them – they just know that they hurt a lot. And they often look for meaning where there really isn’t any. The truth of the matter is that my father was quite simply a bit of a mean human. And he probably enjoyed seeing me miss out on the one thing he knew would light up my childhood. But it’s only with the 20:20 hindsight of a woman approaching middle age that I’m able to see that. I have no self-pity about that moment left in me, make no mistake. And it’s only a strange, negative nostalgia that took me back to that moment from my childhood, which seemed to mean so much at the time. So powerful. So symbolic. So indicative of the future that would unfurl between us.


But something came alive in me last week, as I watched Bohemian Rhapsody. I saw Freddie Mercury – a man at the absolute pinnacle of his professional game; beloved the world over – tortured by the secrecy of his inner life. And I thought of all the fears and paranoia that I had held so closely to my chest at that time. And of having a father who took pleasure in putting me (and my mother and siblings) down. And how I had actually had a chance to confront and get over those fears in way that poor Freddie never did. By the time he died, Freddie Mercury was still dealing with the judgement of the media, his bandmates and his family. He still had to answer for his perfectly unremarkable lifestyle choices in a way that, in 2018, would be seen as plain unacceptable.


I, however, feel so fortunate that I was able to come to terms with the mind games and emotional torture that my father put me through as a young woman. Every put-down led to an action that drove me further toward my goal of achieving something meaningful in life. In many ways, you might say that I have the mean old sod to thank for my career. And the fact that I’ve gone farther than I might ever have without such a negative example to battle against. Ha! I would never have imagined myself writing those words, oh, just fifteen years ago, prior to his death!


When he did die, I made sure I went to see my father, to pay my respects and ensure that there was nothing ‘left’ inside that I hadn’t already dealt with. I’m glad to report that there wasn’t. As he left this earth, I actually felt a sense of closure and relief that it was over. I count my lucky stars every day for the fact that I was able to process and deal with this in my own time and my own way. Unlike poor Freddie, whose personal life was nothing if not constantly under the microscope.


Of course, I’m no Freddie Mercury. I can’t sing and I’m not really big on public speaking. For a woman who runs a successful advertising agency, I’m rather uncharacteristically reclusive, in fact, and tend to shy away from the limelight. I’m actually only writing this blog after years of coercion from various parties who seem to think that some of you people might want to read the ramblings of a madwoman, ha ha. But I definitely do identify with the idea that, whatever your chosen profession, you have to present a version of yourself to the world that might not reflect the person on the inside. And, for that, I think Freddie Mercury was (and remains) one of the most influential and inspirational people ever to have an impact upon my generation.


I can’t recommend the film highly enough.



Tuesday 23rd October 2018

Weirdo. Mosher. Freak. Person.


Today is a day for celebration, as the new report on Hate Crime released by the Law Commission includes the potential to include Alternative Subcultures in the legislation. Jupiter’s Managing Director Fiona Horton has entered the arena to battle in favour of the victims.


It’s becoming more and more common for professionals to have a portfolio career, otherwise known as multiple roles at the same time. This has had quite a dramatic impact on the Employer Communications market in that it both opens up high level roles to the otherwise engaged and flexibly skilled and, simultaneously, makes it all the more difficult to attract professionals to those demanding roles that tend to require work outside of normal hours.


Whichever way you look at it, though, there’s no arguing that it’s had a hugely positive impact on professionals undertaking this model of working, allowing as it does the opportunity to meet multiple goals without conflict, e.g. making a skills-based living whilst also indulging a personal passion. And, I’m delighted to say, that I’m just one such professional and, yes, it has really changed my life.


As well as running the brilliant Jupiter Advertising agency – which pushes me professionally, gives me my living and also makes the most effective use of my very specialised skillset (25 years in any industry will do that!) – I’ve also had the privilege of taking up the post of Non-Executive Director for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, a charity that’s very close to my heart.


Sophie Lancaster was the daughter of a good friend of mine, Sylvia. I say, ‘was,’ because Sophie is no longer here. And the reason she’s no longer here is because, quite bluntly, she was beaten to death by a gang of bullies just for being a goth. Now, I’d known Sophie since she was a toddler, along with her brother Adam – they were (and Adam still is) like family to me. So, as you can imagine, Sophie’s death shook me to my very core.


What made immediate sense to me was when Sylvia set up the Foundation in her name with the goal of raising awareness of hate crime and working to ensure that attacks on people like Sophie were added to the Government’s Hate Crime Action Plan. I, like Sylvia, believe that beating someone to death just because they identify as a goth should be judged with greater seriousness than, say, a crime of passion. Hate in all forms is intolerable and, when it results in the death of an innocent, it must be punished with maximum effectiveness.


It was then, a huge honour when I was asked to be on the Board of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. It would give me the chance to have a direct influence over the Foundation’s work, training and education and, much as it’s a huge responsibility, it’s also immensely satisfying to know that I’m doing something with a fundamental, positive impact on people’s lives. It’s also had something of a two-way impact because, whilst it’s allowed me to bring my own professional understanding of the motivations, behaviours and impacts of others’ actions on people to the Foundation on the one hand, it’s also taught me to take a more altruistic view of my role as MD of Jupiter. What the Foundation has learned from my experience in Employer Communications has been returned to me tenfold in terms of my own understanding of the need for empathy and tolerance.


I take my role on the Foundation Board very seriously, so when I first started, I undertook a training day in a school hosted by Sophie’s brother Adam and another member of the team. The session saw a class of pupils completing a card game of sorts, which challenged them to answer which types of people they’d like to hang out with and those they wouldn’t, based on appearances alone. Sophie is on one of those cards and, 95% of the time is regularly (I’m told) picked out as someone the class would not like to hang out with. Towards the end of the session, Adam reveals that Sophie is his sister and that she was murdered for the way she looked. The reaction from the pupils during the session I attended was staggering. Suddenly, their prejudices turned into sorrow and regret and they all learned that day that it’s okay to be different. It was a very emotional experience and, yes, tears came to my eyes as I witnessed, first hand, the turnaround in people’s attitudes. If just one child grows up with a better view of people who appear different to them, then the Foundation has achieved something. If it saves a life, even better. And if, by helping to change Hate Crime legislation, it saves multiple lives, then its work is done.


This year, the Sophie Lancaster Foundation won a BAFTA for best single TV drama for the 2017 Murdered For Being Different, which was screened on the 10th anniversary of Sophie’s death and examined the causes and consequences of the brutal attack. This hugely high profile award is not just an achievement in itself, but has helped to highlight the cause of the Foundation, which has led to some amazing results. On a personal level, I have recently secured long-term funding for the Foundation to allow it to continue its education programme, starting with every school and Social Worker in the Rossendale Valley. And, this week, I am delighted to tell you that the Foundation is one step closer to achieving one of its major goals, during this yet early stage in its development.


On 16th October, the Government announced that it is putting new measures in place to tackle hate crimes, including a review of legislation, which will consider if there should be additional protected characteristics, such as misogyny, age and, you guessed it, identification with alternative subcultures. This is such a huge step forward and looks likely to have a long-lasting impact that will make the streets of Britain a safer, more welcoming place for people of all cultures, subcultures, backgrounds, age groups, sexual orientations and ethnicities. I only wish it had been achieved over a decade ago, in time to save the life of a young woman very dear to my memory. Nevertheless, it is indeed a day of celebration. So here’s to the moshers, the freaks, the weirdos, the goths and all the other self-styled alternative people who make our world that bit more interesting. This is your victory.




Tuesday 16th October 2018

The hallmarks of an amazing client


Jupiter’s relationship with Beaverbrooks started with a bet. Specifically, a £10 bet between me and their Chief Exec (prior to her promotion to Managing Director in January this year) - the lovely Anna Blackburn.


You see, I was thinking about our upcoming focus groups, and how they’d very probably uncover some things about the employee culture that Beaverbrooks might be surprised by. Perhaps something that would upset their ideas of what their people thought about them as an employer. That’s just what happens when you focus group a company’s people.


Anna, however, was confident that we wouldn’t. She insisted that the positive culture of ‘enriching lives’ that they had developed was absolutely real and that I had a surprise coming if I expected to find any cracks in the proverbial façade. So I slapped £10 on the table and told her, ‘This is how confident I am.’


A month and many focus groups later, and we were back in the Board Room with the Beaverbrooks senior management team, where I had the pleasure of pulling that £10 back out of my purse and handing it to Anna, saying, ‘Well, you were right. Your people really do love working here. And it really is all about enriching lives.’


It was a lovely ‘I told you so!’ moment for Anna and Beaverbrooks as a whole. And much is revealed about the culture of the company by the fact that she immediately told me she could only accept the £10 as a donation to the Beaverbrooks Charitable Trust and that Beaverbrooks would match the donation. I should have expected nothing less.


In lots of ways, finding out that the company was everything it said it was made our job of developing an Employer Brand, here at Jupiter, much harder. Because, where our insights would normally dominate a company’s limited understanding of itself as an employer, here, the exact opposite was true. Beaverbrooks knew themselves so much better than we’d ever be able to. So rolling out their Employer Brand was, more than anything, an incredible learning curve that we’re still only just getting to the top of almost a year down the line.


It’s been a true partnership, where we’ve developed the tone of voice and messaging very much in conjunction with the business, guiding each other along the way (us on, say, what makes a strong headline; Beaverbrooks on the content of the messaging). And it’s been quite a humbling exercise for me and for Jupiter, overall. Usually, we’re so confident going in that ‘we’re the experts’ and, of course, we still are. We know the employer marketing landscape better than most, being that we’ve been in it for over 25 years. Yet, this particular experience with Beaverbrooks has taught us a valuable lesson: some companies already really know how to treat their people.


Impressive stuff, Beaverbrooks. And I speak on behalf of my entire team when I say how proud we are to be working with you.




Monday 8th October 2018

Why Employer Marketing is a Pooch Lover’s Paradise


People often ask me how I ended up in Employer Marketing and what I’d be doing if I weren’t running my own agency.


Well, like many of my peers, I entered the industry completely by chance. I’d graduated, travelled the world and still didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up. A chance phone call to a friend led me to be interviewed by Jupiter for an Account Manager role. That’s 25 years ago now. I remember coming back from the interview and my mum asking me what the role was about. My answer: “I have no idea.” But I got the job and have been addicted to the industry ever since. Having worked in other agencies, large and small, I returned to Jupiter to head things up some eight years ago now. And, my goodness, has the industry changed in the years since I was first here. As I say, though, it’s addictive and the constant change makes every month feel like a new learning experience – something I cherish in both my professional and personal life.


Did I think I’d see my Employer Marketing career through for a quarter of a century when I first started out? Of course not – how many of us really know exactly where we’ll end up until we arrive there? But would I change it for any other job? Well, no, or I probably would have already gone off and done so. I like to think that I’m good at my job, if that’s not too lofty a claim. It long ago took me to the top of the Client Services tree and now here I am as the Managing Director of what I genuinely believe is one of the great UK agencies. I got where I am not just because I work hard, but because I care about what I do.


There are, of course, days where I daydream of a less hyper-focused me. A me who isn’t so driven by the thrill of the perfect Employer Marketing solution. Who doesn’t get that rush of satisfaction when the line between ‘client’ and ‘friend’ blurs and I find Sue Stephens from Pizza Hut hugging me because she’s so happy with the transformational work we’ve been doing for her. Because, as in any job, there are always down days. Days without the thrills and rushes, let alone hugs. Days where you think about the things that most matter to you outside of work and what life would be like if you were doing those professionally, instead.


If push came to shove, then, and I really had to do something different, I guess I’d open a dog sanctuary – probably because it’s the job that’s the least like what I do now. (What would be the point in changing career otherwise?) Working in a people industry, after all, means dealing with all the complexities of what makes us human – our needs, desires, frustrations and whims. Dogs, by comparison, are much simpler creatures. They’re nearly always happy and uncomplicated and don’t need a lot to keep their tails wagging. My days would be spent playing, cuddling, talking in the ‘coochie coo’ voice and wiping muddy paws. And getting paid for it. What a life! Yes, you’ve read me right, I am very much a dog lover and have two fur babies at home waiting for me to get back from work.


That is, however, a daydream and, much as I love dogs, I can’t help being one of those complicated humans I describe. Which means I’m a person of two halves. A person who needs the thrill of a challenging day just as much as I need the simple, unquestioning love of my poochie pals. So, whilst I’m sure I would be absolutely delighted to spend my days grooming and walking and feeding and playing fetch for a living, I can’t see that it’s something on the cards in the near future. Living the best life you can is all about finding the perfect balance and meeting as many of your complex needs as you can to reasonable degrees. Which is why you tend to find so many dog lovers working in Employer Marketing. Many of my team, my peers, clients and past employers are self-proclaimed Cynophilists (that’s the technical term for dog lovers, don’t you know). They spend their days immersed in what could almost be described as a ‘human hyperreality’ with anywhere from 40 to 80 hours a week dedicated to thinking about people’s needs and how to meet them. Is it any wonder then that, when they finally get home and melt in the sofa, there’s nothing they want more than a cuddle from their favourite canine pal? I think not.


So here’s to woman and man’s best friend. The domestic doggie. My own personal pooches are called Halo and Bruce. Halo’s a beautiful rescue dog who came into the household just 10 months ago, following the passing of my beloved rescue dog Molly aged 17. She’s settled in brilliantly and she’s so far doing an amazing job of keeping Bruce, my 8-year old miniature Schnauzer, company and me at the top of my game by reminding me of just how easy-going life can be outside of work. What’s your dog called and how have they slotted into your busy life and helped to make it that much happier? I’d love to hear your stories.



Copyright Jupiter Advertising 2018