Five really awkward questions before you wake up in 2017

  1. Five months on, can you think of a single advantage in Brexit?
  2. Do you have any warm feelings towards Teresa May’s Government? Or for that matter towards any grouping in the House of Commons?
  3. How could America have elected Trump?
  4. Have any of the big Christmas ads knocked your socks off?
  5. Are you going to put up with yet another year of spending half your working life in conference rooms?

Sadly it is beyond the power of the British and American people to reverse the Brexit and Trump votes. That’s democracy for you. All that foreplay. All that climactic excitement. And the next morning it’s all sadness and regret. The people who voted ‘out’ and for the Donald have to live with the consequences of what they have done. Unfortunately, so has everyone else

Is it really surprising that we have all fallen out of love with politics and politicians? At least with brands and football teams you have some idea of what to expect. But what are we to make of a Conservative Party that suddenly seems to be against all the things it used to be in favour of? A Labour Party that is deliberately making itself unelectable? Lib Dems who have collapsed from Coalition to the fringes? UKIP winning one seat with nearly 4m votes, while the SNP got 56 with less than 1.5m?

I’ll also be honest and admit that I am allergic to the synthetic association between celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and the giants of the High Street and Shopping Malls. Who knows? You may sympathise with my views.

But if it’s meeting madness and ennui that bugs you, I am your man – and there is something we can all do about it. For a couple of years I have been banging on about MOTE: The Super Meeting. Conventional business meetings are a waste of time and money. People know it and want something better.

Either persuade your company to try out Mote, and enjoy fewer, leaner, better prepared, more productive meetings. You and your colleagues will have a far better life/work balance, get your real work done in the working day, and amaze partners and family.
Or become a Motivator – a one person ambassador for the Spirit of Mote.

  1. Remind everyone that unproductive meetings cost a fortune
  2. And eat into both work and leisure time
  3. Decline any meetings that won’t achieve anything
  4. Refuse to participate in back to backs
  5. Encourage meeting organisers to strictly ration the number of people attending. You only want contributors
  6. Prepare incredibly thoroughly for any meetings you accept
  7. Be a star and a delight at every meeting
  8. Think ‘team’
  9. Motivate everyone ‎to do the same
  10. Towards the end of the meeting insist that everyone agrees ‎what has been achieved, and what needs to be done next time.

This is David’s Marketing Society blog for December. Read more at

We can’t be brilliant every time

Don’t beat yourself up if you have an off day. We are surprised when we fail to hit the heights at something we are normally good at. We didn’t make the sale. I didn’t get the job. We lost the match.

We shouldn’t be surprised. We are humans not robots. There are days when it doesn’t work out – sometimes because we’ve goofed, but often because of competitive pressure or outside factors. Remember when we used to get excited about biorhythms? Perhaps I was having a triple critical last Thursday.

Why have I gone all philosophical this month? Partly because of my commitment to Mote, and reminding everyone that meetings should be a team game, where we compensate for individual weaknesses by picking balanced teams to maximise the chances of success. But partly because – after many decades – I think I have finally come to terms with the fact that I play bad golf as often (or more so) as good golf. I was starting to dread playing in case I had a bad day. Now I’m telling myself just to enjoy the exercise, the company and just being out there swishing in the fresh air!

After all kids learn to walk, not by standing up, but by falling over. We learn more from mistakes than when we get it right. Winning feels good, but we don’t always know why we have won. If we lose, it is useful – as well as therapeutic – to find out why. I’ve always offered agencies post mortem sessions to try and explain why they didn’t win the pitch. They might well have missed out because of poor chemistry or creative that the client didn’t like. Very often on the other hand they haven’t won because another agency performed better. Blaming the timing, the venue, or the unfair client can be a natural reaction. But it’s not helpful – any more than having a go at the referee or umpire.

What is a problem is losing the war, not the battle. There’s a difference between a poor press conference and a failed launch. Losing a sale is a not as bad as losing a customer. A bad meeting is bearable – being fired by a client less so. And this is where failing and not beating yourself up pays off. You can learn – and live to fight another day.

Kipling was write about treating the twin impostors – Triumph and Disaster – exactly the same. I’d just add that being a bit less excited about triumph, and a lot less depressed about disaster could be really helpful. Why do I know this? Because I have always been the worst offender.
This is David’s July article for the Marketing Society.

From Mad Man to Glad Man

David Wethey’s Twitter account playfully proclaims him a ‘survivor’ from the Mad Men era of advertising, but David’s much more than that. With over 50 years experience, including running his own advertising agency, he’s seen it change beyond recognition. He’s even helped shape it himself through his innovative approach with Agency Assessments, a spur-of-the-moment business that’s lasted 28 years.

David’s reflections on a life in the industry also yielded two published books, DECIDE: Betters Ways of Making Decisions (2013) and MOTE: The Super Meeting (2015). He now divides his time between speaking on those subjects and working at Agency Assessments. Luckily for us, he’s also found time to share some of his experience with Regus Re:think.

Was there a moment where Agency Assessments clicked?

I hadn’t written the defining business plan. It wasn’t a grand scheme. It was a client ringing me up, and his need to completely rework his marketing organisation – which wasn’t fit for purpose. Then, coincidentally, another friend rang up and said they wanted to buy a PR agency. When I asked why he didn’t rent one like everybody else he said, “because I’ve invented something”. That was Interbrand and they’d just invented brand valuation. So I found myself working for two clients, not as a direct agency but as a kind of consultant/recommender intermediary.

Nobody had done what I was doing, which was to build a consulting service entirely supported by clients. Everybody else represented agencies. To me the only sort of consulting that made any sense was to do do it direct for clients so you could be completely objective about which agency you recommend, and be completely allied with the clients.

Tell us about a lesson you learned the hard way

I’ve always been exceptionally enthusiastic about new things. New clients, new projects and of course Agency Assessments is definitively a project business so I’m constantly looking for new opportunities. I was never as good as I should have been at keeping up with the last lot, I was always really keen to get the next lot. Unless you’ve got a big infrastructure, you waste opportunities for contacts that way, I did it myself.

You also need to not just satisfy the clients, but learn something you can use to become a bit of a thought leader. I’ve really promoted the business over the years from articles and platforms, workshops and seminars, and learning and coming up with the bigger picture.

How important is it to occasionally step back and reassess?

Completely. I hadn’t realised it until I came to write the first of my books. If you’ve sat in what used to be smoke-filled rooms, although now they’ve been sanitised there’s still a lot of hot air in them, deciding which agency you’re going with, the whole science and psychology of how people and companies make decisions is fascinating. But I think in those processes I realised there were bigger lessons on decision-making, and the key thing in DECIDE was that I stepped back and interviewed 25 great deciders and learned an enormous amount from that. We’re taught to be iterative and logical, but gut feel is also incredibly important in everything we do.

Was there a moment when you looked around in a meeting and thought ‘this isn’t working’?

There were lots of them, but because of the Agency Assessments role it was the other way around. Every meeting I’ve organised for 28 years I’ve known what the objective was, who should be there, how long it should take. I had a clear expectation of what the outcome should be, and if the client was involved I would share that with them.

There was real contrast with other meetings where there hadn’t been any kind of preparation. Where it was managed badly and where they just ended without any real conclusion and people shuffled off to the next meeting. I think it’s because I knew what a good meeting was like that I could recognise what a bad meeting was. That’s why I felt like there had to be a constructive book about meetings.

What’s the biggest challenge to businesses today?

I think the biggest problem we have to deal with is the confusion between short, medium and long term. And the real challenge is maximising the possibility of keeping the long term goal in view. Financial reporting coming down to two months or one month has taken a lot leaders’ eyes off long term goals. For me, leaders need to have people guarding the gates, making sure short term things are being done. The moment leaders take their eye off the medium and even long term, organisations fall apart.

What are your tips for staying at the top?

Never stop learning. One of the depressing things about experienced people is how often the experience is just an aggregation of doing the same thing the same way, rather than being a considered and dedicated learner. In your 70s, I think a great deal of young people think you’re running on empty, a throwback to the old days, but I think most of the people who’ve stayed at the top, managed to succeed, are incredibly open to new ideas.

David works in our office at 100 Pall Mall, London. His books DECIDE and MOTE are both available to buy online, and you can find out more about the work of Agency Assessments through their official website.


This interview is from the Regus Re:think magazine and can be found online here

It’s not what we say, it’s what they feel

We know all about presentations in marketing and advertising. Even if we aren’t too hot at French, and haven’t learned to code, we are all pretty fluent in PowerPoint. Yes, I know everyone says they hate PowerPoint, but we use it all the time, and how else can you do credentials or show the new strategy?
At AAI I have nearly 28 years’ experience of watching agencies present their credentials and pitch for new business. What insights and understanding has it given me? The main problem, as I see it, is that agencies (and it’s true of virtually everyone who presents to sell in business) only tend to concentrate on one aspect of the presentation – the input bit. All efforts are directed at the impactful opening, assembling the meat in the middle, crafting the segues, and finishing on a high note. So what is there to go wrong?
Even if the whole 58 MB has been meticulously prepared and punctuated with standout video and motion graphics, it is sadly not want you put into the presentation that matters. It’s what the audience takes out of it. This is another of those input/output/outcome challenges – like advertising or mass entertainment. We can say something telling, and say it brilliantly, but the success (or otherwise) of the presentation depends squarely on the guys across the table.
It’s like food. You can chuck in all the fancy ingredients, and follow the preparation and cooking instructions to the letter, but either the dish has appetite appeal, or it doesn’t. And the chef is not the final arbiter of that. The customer is.
At Harvard University these days, the hottest ticket is Michael Puett, Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. How so? His lectures are sold out, and attended by students of many other disciplines, because Puett is spreading the teachings of Confucius and other Chinese philosophers from 2500 years ago about how even our smallest gestures and habits can mould our destiny, and influence others. Better still, he shows his students how they can change their behaviours (facial expressions, mannerisms, actions and words) to be more likable and therefore more successful. He advocates trying new things and new ways, as opposed to the traditional advice to ‘stick with what you’re good at’. He’s a big enthusiast for smiling, and not defaulting to looking serious or severe. He urges people to be far more self aware about those of our habits, expressions, and phrases that irritate or grate on even our nearest and dearest. In the West, we are taught to be clever, skilled, and full of rationality and knowledge. Puett promises to change his students’ lives by persuading them to concentrate instead on what they might think are the secondary and trivial signals they send.
Take these insights from distant millennia into the world of pitch and present, and what is the learning? For a start it gives new ammunition to the emotional intelligence movement. Beldoch and Goleman and their followers have been criticised by some of their fellow psychologists, but the early Chinese behavioural gurus provide convincing evidence for EI and EQ.
More specifically Puett’s teaching suggests that just as we know the importance of personality profiling (our own, our colleagues and those we seek to influence or sell to), we should also submit to merciless appraisal of how we come across in action. Pitch doctors need to get up close and personal. Team mates should agree to be both frank and less sensitive with each other. Winning behaviour needs to be encouraged. Annoying habits have to be acknowledged and, if possible, cured.
It’s not just what the audience feel about the presentation. It’s very much about what they feel about the team and individuals who are delivering it. We’ve always known about chemistry and gut feel. Professor Puett is telling us why we should take them very seriously indeed.

This is David Wethey’s May blog for the Marketing Society. To see more go to

Nudge? Or fudge?

Do we buy all the tenets of behavioural economics? Are we convinced by these counter-intuitive insights and theories, where people apparently behave against their self interest, and can be persuaded by the way the argument is framed? We’ve all heard about the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for the Thaler and Sunstein approach, and the establishment of the Behavioural Insights Team (“Nudge Unit”) to advise on making government policy more acceptable and easier to implement. In advertising and marketing communications generally we have all become accustomed to cunning plans arising from behavioural insights. But are nudges all genuine, or are some of them fudges?

This is my fiftieth monthly blog for the Marketing Society in this series, and I thought I would try something different – something more interactive. It all started with the famous (infamous?) idea from Norfolk County Council and the Department of Transport to remove the broken white line in the centre of two lane roads, on the grounds that drivers will go more slowly, take more care, and cause less accidents if they can’t see the dividing line between the two carriageways. I read about the mooted experiment, and sided with the AA, who see the idea as frankly barmy.

Paul Watters, the head of roads and transport policy at the AA, said authorities should be looking to increase road markings, rather than decrease them. “Far from talking their use down we should be talking it up,” he said. “They have a vital role in keeping road users safe. Of course there should be places where they can
be dispensed with and this has largely worked, but unlike road signs, markings are already less intrusive but still help road users.”

For my own part I wondered if abolishing air traffic control might make pilots more cautious, and if taking out zebra crossings could promote more caring engagement between pedestrians and other road users.

So for this half century blog, let’s ask readers what they think, starting with the white line idea, but also about other insights, other theories that don’t seem to check out, or are less convincing. It’s also going to be a test of whether I do actually have readers out there!

Here are some questions to set you thinking:

  • Are all these pro-cycle initiatives a great idea? Is it sensible to encourage what might be a dangerous level of coming together between vulnerable bikes and better protected motor vehicles?
  • How much good will come from reducing sugar and salt content? Might consumers work out how to get their sweet and savoury fixes from other foods that still taste good to them? Evidence seems to suggest that the only effective disincentives to obesity are war, pestilence and poverty – none of which attract
  • Why target road users and pensioners to balance the books, when simply raising direct taxation would bring in more funds to the Exchequer without putting prices up and increasing the likelihood of senior citizens needing more welfare?
  • Does it make sense to subsidise further increases in the availability of tertiary education, when companies seem more interested in hiring school leavers and apprentices?
  • Why allow councils to save money by cutting rural bus services, thus ensuring putting more cars on the road?
  • Does getting rail passengers from London to Birmingham 15 minutes quicker justify HS2 and so much destruction of the countryside? And while we are in the wonderful world of railways, how many people want to go from Maidenhead to Stratford E?
  • Is it a greater good to guarantee the closure of vast numbers of country pubs by changing a drink/drive alcohol limit that has worked adequately for nearly 50 years – when in many parts of the country the pub is the only viable community centre?

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Join the meeting revolution – hit ‘Tentative’

When you receive your next meeting invitation on Outlook, try something different. Instead of automatically clicking on ‘Accept’, try ‘Tentative’. I’m suggesting that you experiment with something that could become a new habit.
After all accepting meeting invitations isn’t in the same category as paying your taxes or observing the rules of the road. You don’t have to attend every meeting you are invited to. You are paid to be a responsible member of the team. You are paid to think and make good decisions. You are paid to assess your workload and deliver it in a diligent and timely fashion.
What clause in your contract compels you to spend 50% of your time in meetings? Why does it make sense to attend three meetings back to back?
And this meeting at 2pm tomorrow: what evidence is there that it has been planned carefully? What is the agenda, and more precisely the key purpose? Why have 13 people been invited, when it probably only needs six? How much time are we going to waste trying to patch in Patrice on that dodgy line from Mumbai? Have further meetings been scheduled to progress the project?
Who will lead the meeting? Tom? He seems to be incapable of controlling the meeting wreckers, based on what happened at the last two meetings. Or Fiona? She is so controlling that no-one can get a word in. The invitees are supposed to be members of the same team, but on recent evidence teamwork is unlikely to be a feature. In the unlikely event that the meeting does make progress, who is going to be responsible for selling the outcome upwards, downwards, and to the people who couldn’t make it?
You can probably predict the way this meeting will go as well as or better than the colleague whose assistant issued the invitations. So don’t accept. The meeting isn’t going to achieve much, and you could do with the time. Click on ‘Tentative’ to give you time to think, and send it immediately to flag the message that you may not be coming. Provided you are sure the sky is not going to fall in – and why should it, it’s only one meeting for goodness sake – follow it up with a graceful, but firm, ‘Decline’.
You’ve taken the first step on the road to meeting revolution. You have won yourself two hours to do some real work tomorrow. You’ll get home on time. The family will be amazed. You will be less stressed, and next week you can start coaching your boss and fellow team members on how to adopt the Mote: The Super Meeting system.

This is David’s January blog for the Marketing Society. Read more at

“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go”

When Oscar Wilde coined this saying, he might have had business meetings in mind. Haven’t we all suffered in conference rooms at the hands of people who try to dominate, to interrupt, and to be generally contrary and uncooperative? We also know too many meeting participants who are, well, miserable….
In these circumstances it is only natural to celebrate quietly when they have to make a premature departure!
Happiness is one of those words we don’t readily associate with business. But that is almost certainly a mistake. There was an interesting study published last year by economists at the University of Warwick, and recently publicised by Damian Symons of the M&C Saatchi Group agency Clear at the Saatchi Institute event at the London Business School on 24th November. Symons reported that happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers proved 10% less productive. As the research team put it, ‘we find that human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings.’
Nor is it really about money. Financial incentives aren’t enough to make for highly productive employees. Professor Andrew Oswald, one of three researchers who led the study, said companies that invest in employee support and satisfaction tend to succeed in generating happier workers. At Google, employee satisfaction rose 37% as a result of those initiatives—suggesting that financial incentives aren’t enough to make for highly productive employees.
Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage, has found that the brain works much better when a person is feeling positive. At those times, individuals tend to be more creative and better at solving problems. And additional research has shown that when workers are happy they’re more effective collaborators working toward common goals.
Clear referenced another study – this time a paper published by the American Psychological Society in 1985, in which three researchers at the University of Maryland (Isen, Daubman and Nowicki) demonstrated through four linked experiments that happiness stimulates creativity. As the paper concludes, ‘the impact of positive affect on creative problem solving is that good feelings increase the tendency to combine material in new ways and to see relatedness between divergent stimuli. We hypothesize that this occurs because the large amount of cognitive material cued by the positive affective state results in defocused attention, and the more complex cognitive context thus experienced by persons who are feeling happy allows them a greater number and range of interpretations’.
In other words happy people are likely to out-perform people who are miserable in a challenging area like creative problem solving.
When I introduced my ‘Mote’ system for improved meeting culture in organisations I wasn’t aware of these studies. But I was very influenced by Tony Crabbe (who wrote Busy), and Roman Krznaric (the author of Empathy). Crabbe is passionate about the need to liberate successful business people from being ‘crazy-busy’, and feeling that at all times they must tell everyone how busy they are. Drastically reducing the amount of time they spend in largely unproductive meetings, will make these high-flyers not only far more effective, but also happier and better partners, parents and friends. Krznaric’s book is a plea to us all to try and feel how it would be to be in the other guy’s shoes. In his view, not only enlightenment, but also happiness, stems from not being dismissive, prejudiced and arrogant.
My own experience of a business lifetime spent in conference rooms was quite sufficient to be able to identify the negative and corrosive behaviours that make everyone, including the perpetrators, feel unhappy.
All of us have grown up in a business world built on the left brain pillars of efficiency, productivity and power. It is refreshing – to me at least – to realise that right brain values like happiness and consideration can prove just as potent.
This is David’s December blog for the Marketing Society.

Don’t be in a meeting

Despite a bewildering choice of smart (and not so smart) phones, you begin to wonder whether it is worth calling anyone these days. Most of the time you get either a voicemail, or the message that he/she (the object of your desire to communicate) is in a meeting.
Let’s dwell on this ‘Bob/Tracy is in a meeting’ phenomenon. Receptionists say it. Assistants say it. Colleagues say it. They don’t say ‘she’s in the loo right now’. Nor ‘he’s not back from lunch’, ‘on the golf course’, or ‘bunked off early’. Interestingly no one says, ‘he’s actually working now and doesn’t want to be interrupted’. Very few assistants are bold enough to admit, ‘David really doesn’t want to speak to you’.
But this ‘in a meeting’ excuse happens all the time. It suggests a number of things:
Either that meetings are intrinsically important. Or that I’m very important, because I’m in a meeting. Or possibly that this particular meeting is so important that I cannot be interrupted even by spectacularly good or bad news.

It is interesting how many genuinely busy and powerful people will respond to a text – even if they are in a meeting! That suggests to me that most sensible people don’t regard meetings as a bar to being interested in what is happening outside the meeting room.
What do I recommend, having researched the meeting phenomenon pretty thoroughly en route to writing Mote: The Super Meeting?
i. Don’t be in too many meetings, and in particular avoid back to back meetings at all costs. Two meetings in a row, and you waste the second half of the first one worrying about the next one. Three in a row, and you’ll forget everything about the first two, quite apart from being mentally drained in the third one.
ii. Leave messages or instructions for dealing with callers that are a bit more imaginative than the ‘in a meeting’ cliché. ‘He/she can call you back this afternoon’, or ‘Is it important? Because I could get a message to him/her’ would both be a tremendous improvement
iii. Tackle the problem at source by being less compliant in pressing Accept when you get a meeting request. You can always hit Tentative or even Decline. You could Propose New Time. You could also not respond, although maybe that’s a subversive suggestion
There are too many meetings. Meetings have too many people in them, and are inefficient.  Meetings drive us mad and frustrated by making us crazy-busy, and not allowing us to finish our real work in office hours. They destroy our life/work balance, and indirectly rob partners and family of quality time with us.
The next time you are desperate to get hold of someone, and you are told that they are in a meeting, resist the temptation to say, ‘tell me something new’. Reflect on how meeting fascism affects us all, and resolve to not be in meetings so much, and encourage your friends to do the same.
This is David’s October blog for the Marketing Society.
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Meetings: what’s there to make a fuss about?

Quite a lot, actually. Ever since I let slip that I have been writing a book about a better way – a radically better way – to do meetings, reactions have varied from what I can best describe as supportive excitement (‘Oh, please yes. I’ll definitely buy a copy’) to jaded scepticism (‘There’s nothing anyone can do’).

Here are ten reasons why I believe that meetings are simultaneously the most dysfunctional item in the calendar, and the business activity most capable of being done in an infinitely superior way.

The five biggest problems first:

  1. It is estimated that wasted time in meetings costs around £50bn every year in these islands alone. That’s more than the defence budget. It’s a scandal, and a really good reason to take the issue seriously. That time does not have to be wasted.
  2. Organisations, companies, businesses allow their best people to spend at least 50% of their time in meetings, instead of doing proper work. How can I put this really simply? This need not happen, because many meetings are bound to be unproductive, and most of them are attended by far too many people.
  3. But it’s not just the organisations at fault. Many of the problems in meetings stem from bad etiquette and inconsiderate behaviour. This behaviour can and should be improved.
  4. The bigger the meeting, generally speaking the worse the behaviour? Why? Elementary psychology (and maths) tell us that the more people in the room, the less the opportunity for individuals to speak and contribute. Result: frustration, aggression, selfishness and the rest.
  5. Why don’t we arrange a meeting and invite all the stakeholders? Wrong! This is a very common mistake. If you are looking to manage change, or make a big decision, or drive a vital project, the last thing you want is all the stakeholders. They (or at least some of them) are the very people who will resist change, slow down the decision-making process, and hamstring the project. Don’t confuse efficiency and democracy. Getting things done necessitates keeping people informed, but you don’t have to do the two things simultaneously!

Now for the five steps to solve the meeting crisis – or at least the one with strategic and dynamic meetings, that solve problems, create opportunities, and drive innovation and growth:

  1. Accept that strategic meetings are like buses, stores in a Mall, or security guards. You need several to get the job done. Managing change, making decisions, and leading a successful project will require a series of meetings, not just one.
  2. Organise and orchestrate these meetings, like you would an event, or a team performance in say sport or entertainment. Don’t leave things to chance, to individual will, or to the fates. Manage the meeting with a hand-picked two person team.
  3. Start each meeting small, and keep it small by only inviting additional participants sparingly, and letting them go once they have made their contribution.
  4. Mandate a spirit of co-operation and good behaviour by insisting that each participant accepts the injection of a large dose of empathy.
  5. Keep crazy-busyness at bay, and promote focus, by insisting that participants prepare for meetings, follow them up, and never accept the booking of back-to-back meetings in their diary.

MOTE: The Super Meeting is going to be published in May. Till then, I can only suggest taking the five problems seriously in your business (and your life), and looking at how you might be able to do things better along the lines of the five tips above. Yes, and saving an extremely modest sum to purchase ‘Mote’ when it comes out!

This is David’s blog for the Marketing Society in April 2015.

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