GENERAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Coffee Morning this week, Friday 21st of May, is at 8 am. Join using this Zoom.

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Every other Friday, myself and russell davies open a Zoom chat and sit down in our respective homes for a cuppa, a chat and to see who else turns up. Any and all plannery types are welcome. This is a tradition that Russell started years ago and we’re trying to re-ignite remotely. Below are occasional write ups of what we talk about.

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Coffee Morning S2 E7 / May 8th

I’ve been in a bit of a funk these past few weeks, so it’s proved difficult to write up the Coffee Morning chats. But last week’s was intimate (only three of us turned up) and incredibly focused on the subject of public service announcements or communicating information of public/national interest that I thought some of the details need to be collected here. Here’s some of the things we covered:

  • what makes a good, memorable slogan — speaking about the rule of three, say three things and the longest one goes at the end. You can choose to evaluate current government communicating based on that rule.
  • we naturally brought up TFL posters and the whole tradition of incredibly designed posters for PSAs in Britain. The best resource for this is Dr Paul Rennie, who’s contributed to a variety of books on poster design including the amazing GPO Poster Design.
  • We spoke about COI — the Central Office for Information “responsible for poster advertising, exhibitions, photographs, publications and films, and provided a central channel for the distribution of news from departments. This, more or less, was the arrangement for government comms for over 60 years.” If you haven’t read about the history and achievements of COI, like I hadn’t, it will send you down a most useful rabbit hole.
  • We tried to understand what made past government comms/ public service comms in Britain so effective, and somebody tracked the downfall of that great tradition to the S&S ad called “Pregnant man” (apologies S&S)
  • We spoke about the obsession with complicating simple things: public service announcements usually need to convey really simple, really straight forward messages but inherent in the job of planning is the need to make things rest on very intricate frameworks (we need to discuss this!)
  • There were some stories about Nike vs Coke, focusing on the Nike culture of getting things done and making LOTS of work instead of trying to refine and complicate one single piece of comms. Nike culture was described as being about doing something new all the time rather than stopping to interrogate what had been done, whereas Coke culture seem to be more about trying to formalise past success into a “recipe”.

The next Coffee Morning is Friday May 22nd. Hope to see you there.

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Coffee Morning S2 E4/ Feb 26th

Right, it’s getting harder to actually write these because the chats we’re having are denser and also because I sometimes forget to take notes because I’m immersed in the chat. At any rate, we had stellar showing this last Friday, with Ben, Jesper and Neil making repeat appearances (all three have now been elevated to the position of honorary co-hosts) plus none other than Gareth Kay turning up at what for him was after 12 at night (luckily for us he does not seem to sleep). We also had the lovely Gemma and Flora and a mysterious Roland who stayed in dark mode and got bored about 15 minutes in (sorry, Roland!).

Here we all are:

Scant notes from the actual talk because I forgot to put them all down but we chatted old series and movies and how to get them for free online (yeah, I know, the cheek), Plex featuring a bunch of stuff ripped from old Netflix DVDs, and that there apparently are people putting loads of series/movies on Google Drive (where are these people?). We then briefly talked Adam Curtis (Adam Curtis bingo cards were shared and then I found loads more on Google) and we swiftly moved on to reminiscing about old BBC series (well, the Brits on the call did really, some of us were just listening in). We got angry about the fact everyone seems to be writing children’s books these days (from Rick Stein to Michael Palin) and the wonderful Tara Binns character and book series was mentioned. Some solid book recos were made among which Samanta Schweblin’s Little Eyes and Ian Leslie’s Conflicted.

Coffee Morning S2 E3/ Feb 12th

After a week’s hiatus, we gathered again, Russell, me, Ben (who’s probably going to be named honorary president of Season 2), Jesper and Sarah. Plus an amazing (but shorter than we had wished it) appearance by none other than Sarah Newman, lovely APG boss lady who makes it all happen for the planning community in the UK.

Here we all are.

Many things were discussed, among which Amazon and its freaky recommendation system, choice paralysis and the fact that there is a middle layer of products that are now good enough without being the best. We heard the amazing story of the magazine that was not to be, Binnacle (spelling TBD), brother to Monocle, which would only feature “good enough” products rather than just state of the art ones. And we all agreed that “middle class secrets” — like the haberdashery offering from John Lewis, was always good business.

We briefly discussed whether our phones were listening to us, following one particular encounter on Twitter with a person who was sure theirs did listen to them, and concluded we were divided on the subject but most likely if we did have the impression our phones were listening it was the result of both Hanlon’s Razor and Baader Meinhoff Phenomenon happening (google them, you won’t be disappointed. And watch the movie, the Baader Meinhoff Complex. You won’t be disappointed either).

That brought us to coincidences and how sometimes you see the same car or the same ad over and over and you think something unholy is happening. Someone aptly said that coincidences were amazing to think about because our brain was really just a big machine to dampen out reality. You don’t go around thinking about all the things that surround you but then it also works to reinforce coincidences. Which brought us to the amazing story of the brand manager for BMW who said that they only really made ads for people who had already bought a BMW, so they could justify their decision after the fact. The story also went that the big spread in the Sunday magazine was always bought by BMW and it showed a car and included 3 paragraphs about why the car was amazing. And the people who ran the ad tried to get the copy out assuming it was pointless and the efficacy of the ad dropped because people DID read the copy, again to just justify their choice. And then a story was told about how more copy on OOH sometimes prompted more sales because people assumed they were getting more for the price.

My last note from the call said “sandbaggers” but TBH I cannot really remember what was said :)

I’ll leave you with something smart Sarah B said which was that, if you think about it, the best reframing in recent times has been stock cubes into bone broth ;)

Next Coffee Morning should be next Friday, Feb 19th.

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Coffee Morning S2 E2 (season 2, episode 2)/Jan 29 2021.

We kindof messed this one up a bit, because I had to do a workshop and Russell had some work and we thought about postponing it but it was Thursday and it felt like it was a bit late to postpone. So we pushed it from 10 to 11 which, I guess, made it harder for people to join. We are sorry about that. We’ll try to not do that again.

It was lovely to see some repeat faces (Ben, Neil and Gavin) and some new faces in Florencia and Megan. Here we all are.

There was a lot of talk about life in corona times and how this period (that seems to have gone on for centuries now) will change all of us. But, as expected, we started with a short nod to the GameStop story, which made us wonder whether gamifying trading is a good idea, but also if the stock market is just a huge game with ridiculous stakes that nobody really knows how to play.

We talked about how working remotely is affecting people’s relationships with their co-workers, but also with the “system” that is their workplace and wondered whether the extended period of “being invisible” to this system — because you’re not in the office, is going to drive more people to question the rules or try to extract themselves from the rules altogether (the concept of white collar strikes was briefly mentioned).

We mentioned the Britain Thinks Diaries which tracks what people have been thinking of in lockdown as a measure for how we’re all changing as people. It was noted that lots of people take on new roles in the dynamic of their office, either becoming champions of togetherness or retracting in the background and there was a question of whether we also do that with our personal relationships. The idea of “friend furlough” and how the types of “weak tie” relationships we used to have have been really put under pressure (or even completely removed) by the lockdown is something that’s been written about already.

The question being asked was how much the changes we’re seeing now are going to be lasting and what will happen to how we work and travel and live. The phrase “Travel less but deeper” was mentioned. Could we work in the office less but more deeply? There’s a number of companies who are already thinking about having people in for a limited number of days to do essential meetings, with the rest of the time being WFH. But the changes need to be structural to be lasting, it was concluded.

We briefly talked about the COVID communication in the UK and wondered whether the inconsistencies and the drive to prevent people seeing the devastation caused by the virus meant that people were less likely to think this was serious. Counting infections and deaths can become a meaningless exercise especially when the brain can no longer process the numbers emotionally. And does it matter who the leaders are doing the communication? Is it different if they are male or female? Lots of us seemed to think it does. And then we said bye :)

Stay tuned for the next one. Details will be up on Russell’s blog.

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Coffee Morning S2 E1, 23 Jan 2021

Just before Christmas, Russell Davies suggested we restart something he used to do a long time ago called Coffee Morning. I wrote about it here. The idea was for planners to get together and talk about anything and everything, and for people to (to quote Russell) “see other faces on Zoom calls”.

Because Russell is a doer (as opposed to me being more of the “let’s write some rules for how we plan to do things”) the first Coffee Morning of Season 2 actually happened last Friday and … IT WAS GREAT! We’d been worried about too many people turning up and the Zoom call becoming impossible to manage but it wasn’t. Maybe because of the non-parent friendly hour (8 am) there were no more than 12 of us which, I have to say, made for a very pleasant conversation.

Here we all are (Russell, myself, Anna who now lives in Australia, Ben who was dialling in from NY and who is FAMOUS — just Google Ben Schott (OMG!!), Flora and Gemma who are mates with Russell, Shadi, Omar and Jesper, Gavin and Neil, yes THAT Neil with the newsletter that we all subscribe to, and Javier). I will only link them if they say it’s alright.

Under Chatham House rules, I can report that the conversations revolved around:

  • workshops and how to make them work — people opined that over 20 participants in a workshop make that a presentation and that holding a puppy up to the screen is probably the best energiser ever. There were lots of horror stories from workshops, but the tip of the day was to assign one person to watch the people on the call/workshop and let the presenter know when people were getting disengaged. The same person should control videos and make sure that everything is seamless. The presenter or moderator should not have to deal with that at all.
  • socialising with your teams → suggestions included taking Yale’s Science of Wellbeing/ Happiness class on Coursera and then discussing it, doing topic led coffee chats over Zoom or having people sign up to Highbrow so that they could bring interesting topics to the socials
  • Just talking about plannery stuff with other people → we talked about how we miss being able to turn to a colleague and mention a random stat or marketing info and then get into a real deep conversation about it; Clubhouse was suggested — apparently it’s a place where people have conversations and you can drop in to listen.
  • Doing Tik Toks — it’s hard work to make some of that stuff and it turns out Judi Dench is a hit on TikTok because she’s been quarantining with her grandson who’s young and into making TikToks
  • Algorithms and how amazing TikTok’s is, the amount of information it uses to learn and the speed at which it learns; on the other hand, Instagram’s algorithm is so transparent and so easy to “train” and could we have “Instagram butlers” — people who teach your social platforms to show you the content you want;
  • Some more cool ideas that came up: a retargeting-powered To Do list where you only click on ads so you’d be reminded of the item later when the company retargets you with another ad; the series Yellowstone (I found it on Prime also) which was described as “Succession with cowboys”.

Some of my favorite things said in the call included:

  • someone’s wife described this period as being on a long haul flight — you just sit around, wonder what to watch and what to have for meals and occasionally you get really anxious
  • the concept of “finishing Netflix”, basically having watched everything that you can stomach on the platform and having to move on; I think I have “finished Netflix” which is why I’ve started watching old BBC series like This Life and Our Friends in the North
  • “If your brand was a dog, what kind of dog would it be”

So, it was great fun. We’re doing another one in a week and we’re trying to do it at a different time so other or more people can join.

Also, I was one of the people who moaned about not being able to talk about strategy/ plannery things with other people so if you’re in the mood to talk about planning related stuff, do drop me a line. Maybe we’ll make a podcast out of it.

See you next time. Check Russell’s blog for details.

Digital Strategist. The Internet will save the world (pending verification). Views expressed here are my own/should not be construed as coming from my employer.