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Not much news?

24 Jun 2020  |  Bob Wootton 
Not much news?

The devil has been making work for idle hands, writes Bob Wootton

The folk who write for a living might not like my telling you there really isn’t much to write about now.

News, that is.

Only a scant few months ago everything was about Brexit.  All other news got pushed to the back of the queue as media and chatterati continued to rail against the execution of the will of a marginal majority.

Then the pandemic came along and knocked one single-issue news agenda aside for another, where it’s pretty much stayed ever since, at least until #BlackLivesMatter dislodged it from its overworn groove.

But even then, a procession of people conjecturing from their studies/bedrooms didn’t often feel much like news.  Although it did give us the entertaining @BCredibility Twitter feed.

Nor is there much real news from adland.  Rather, it’s been reaction to developments mixed with numerous self-congratulatory stories about how well we’ve all adapted - and a growing number about mental health in isolation.

Not much apart from the launch of Disney+ - an incredible stroke of fortune for a company that’s too big to need one – the odd joinup (The Standard, Independent and Time Out join The Ozone Project) and a stream of feel good initiatives involving the gifting of unused space/s to causes.

ISBA gained widespread and well-deserved attention for its report with PwC on the programmatic supply chain.  As I’ve said before, many want this buried so it’s good to see it staying high on an otherwise thin agenda.

The APA has developed world-first post-pandemic commercial production guidelines and the ASA’s CEO published a finely-crafted piece of handwringing about the (in my view long overdue) regulation of political advertising - where else but The Guardian?  At least the numbers are well up.

Pitches have slowed, some appearing blatantly opportunistic and penny-pinching even in these straitened times.  By contrast, ITV’s move to Essence drew gracious praise from the losing incumbent, Goodstuff and hot startup New Commercial Arts landed a whopper founding client in The Halifax.

Even our own sage of Wall Street, SMS, has not been as prominent in punting his different-shaped recovery curves.

Talking of age and wealth, reports from the front seem to divide thus.  The seniors privately admit to rather enjoying their extended and less-interrupted access to their doubtless lovely homes.

The rank and file express more mixed feelings, however.  Most miss their friends and many loathe endless Zooms from spaces unfit for purpose and often contested by housemates.  And subsidising their employers as they pick up the tabs for utilities, broadband and refreshments.  Google it ain’t.

And all this ‘bring your whole self to work’ guff.  Really?

Will managements, greedily eyeing serious rent savings, be swayed by their many staff who can’t wait to get out of their homes and back to mingling with their colleagues and friends.  This will become a key employer differentiator.

I’ve been renovating our home during the outbreak so I’ve had to behave much as required by law anyway.  It’s the longest that I haven’t used London’s public transport systems since I was two years old.  Nor can I remember ever making fewer petrol station visits.

But that’s not news either.

The devil has been making work for idle hands.  There’s been a huge surge in support for and participation in social issues, be they gender, inclusivity or anti-capitalism.

Safety in numbers means rallies and demonstrations are a great excuse to socialise, seldom at distance.  (Mancunians simply chose some good old close-proximity raving.  Doubtless they’ll be the first to reopen clubs and fitness centres too.  All those sweaty, breathy, spluttering bodies closely adjacent - phwoar).

The virus prefers an older demographic but the younger cohort’s failure widely to maintain distance – the single most powerful preventative measure thus far – evidences its determination not to miss out on its share of infection.  Taking FOMO too far…?

Mediatel’s extensive programme of digital events is helping us to connect and keep abreast, and I was also delighted to join the IPA’s recent Lockdown Life session.  Ipsos UK CEO Ben Page and IPA Research Director Belinda Beeftink led two excellent, fact-filled presentations quantifying the much-conjectured changes to the country’s lives during lockdown.

Too rich even to summarise here, but a few highlights...

- most predictions are wrong

- overall society has been highly compliant, but

- alertness to the tensions and fissures within and between experts, politicians, bureaucrats and managers in a health crisis

- opinions might change quickly, but attitudes less so and underlying values much more slowly

- rise of authenticity, nostalgia, simplicity, also hedonism (go for it, the world might end tomorrow)

- sadness and anger on the rise

- many people getting up later

- huge rises in media consumption obvs

- further boost to adoption and use of tech. Greatest rise in video calling amongst over 45’s

- on-demand TV gets a big boost

- customer service key in cementing ‘new’ routines and behaviours

- to paraphrase Darwin – “adaptability to most important determinant of survival and success”

Amidst the fog of punditry around a “new normal”, we were reminded that humans are indeed creatures of habit.  The venerable Mark Ritson concurs…


Three people of matters note

Auntie now has a top-flight commercial marketer at its helm.  Tim Davie has been at the BBC a long time so he knows its arcane and labyrinthine ways.  Doubtless he has a cunning plan, the sharing of which with Chairman Sir David Clementi and his panel might have swung things his way?

Our industry is also losing two of its most distinguished senior leaders, one to the grim reaper and admittedly one only to retirement.

Jerry Wright passed away on June 6 after an illness.  A career marketer and a true gentleman, he held senior positions in Unilever before becoming Chief Executive of the ABC when it needed his skills to steer into the online era. He capped his distinguished career overseeing the Wates building dynasty’s family trusts.

While on distinction, in July John Ellery will finally hang up his gloves as Executive Director of the global out-of-home body WOOH (a position I recently held for a couple of years).  John spent well over half a century in out-of-home, in which his father was also prominent.  He is simply the most connected person in the space anywhere and WOOH, formerly FEPE, would probably not still exist were it not for his sustained efforts.

Subsequent generations have also produced great leaders, but it’s hard to imagine that people of this calibre are going to come along too often.  Deep respect.

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DAMIANRYAN, M&A PARTNER FOR MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY, BDO LLP on 24 Jun 2020
“Good copy thank Bob.”

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