CREATIVE REVIEW

Souls are being searched. Hands are being wrung.  It’s as if the industry that trades in confidence has had some of its own taken away.  This bout of critical introspection comes courtesy of the Cannes Lions’ Festival of Creativity, where this year the advertising types took home all the awards. The PRs returned having been advised to buck up their creativity and big up their ideas.  But debating whether advertising is more creative than PR like trying to make orange juice with a box of Granny Smiths.

There is more than one type of creativity.  Advertising, as a rule, does big and bold and brash. It screams out. It’s visible.  There’s no intermediary.  Its job is to yell and sell. The media space that will eventually become home to the ad agency’s creative work is a very expensive neighbourhood.  Only the most creative, the whackiest, the most memorable will work.

PR, on the other hand, does subtle.  It speaks more quietly, often through third parties.  Its job, in a way, is more complex.  Its job is to explain, engage and provide context so the other person can better understand.  It can help sell too, but it does so through endorsement and argument and debate.

Here’s the thing:  it’s not a competition, so why make it one?

If I’m the client, I’d like both to work together from time to time, for one plus one to equal more than two.  I’m after the best results and will deploy the best tools to achieve them.  Many of the most creative people I’ve met work in Public Relations.  Many of the rest work in advertising.  Both groups are equally vain and self important, too.

So let’s not spend any more time on this debate, on the surveys and the seminars.  Say goodbye to any crisis of confidence and let the creative juices flow in all their flavours.

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MAULED BY A BABY SHEEP

It used to be said that if you owed the bank £500, you had a problem but if you owed the bank £500 million, the banker had a problem.  Since the near collapse of the global banking sector in 2008, we’ve discovered that the banks are largely problem-free, thanks to a secret sugar daddy in the form of a taxpayer-funded safety net.

Last week, we learned that a number of bankers have been manipulating LIBOR, or inter-bank interest rates. This little ‘win-win’ had the benefit of reducing the interest rate the bank paid to borrow from other banks, thereby improving the bank’s profit margins, whilst providing a nice little ‘kicker’ for the banker’s personal bonus.   Barclays was first to fess up and agreed £290 million in fines and an act of public contrition in full and final settlement.

‘Liborgate’ bankers face the wrath of Government

But over the weekend, in response to public grumbling, one elected representative after another queued up in front of the TV cameras and radio microphones to declare war on the greedy bankers and promise revenge.

“Bob Diamond must pay with his job,” they demanded.  “A Levesonesque inquiry or the full wrath of a Home Affairs Select Committee would restore common decency,” they promised.  The government was talking tough and would reinstate honesty with an iron fist.  On hearing the news, the greedy bankers cowered in fear in boardrooms across the square mile. It must have felt as if they’d been threatened with a mauling by a baby sheep.

The chairman of Barclays resigned today while the CEO has refused to budge.  Government action holds no fear for banking executives because the Government has already shown its hand and its hand says it fears little more than it fears a troubled bank.  That’s why the Government has committed up to £1.3 trillion of tax-payer funds to bailout the banks after they’d over-stretched themselves buying sub-prime assets and full value prices.

These are the same politicians that near nationalised two of our largest and most troubled banks in a panic in 2008, asking only for a vague commitment to keep lending to business in return.  The banks accepted the terms and then declined the loan applications.  David Cameron and Nick Clegg talked tough but delivered little.

The banks lost all fear of politicians when they effectively told the banks that there was nothing the state wouldn’t do to keep the banks afloat, however turbulent the sea becomes.

And that’s the thing about a threat.  It holds no fear for the threatened if he’s bigger than you and he knows that you fear him more than he fears you.

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TAXONOMICS

I lived in San Francisco in the late 1980s. On my first evening in the city, I checked out my new neighbourhood bar. Two things remain with me about that evening. The first was that the barman greeted me by name  (it’s a small world – I had worked with him in the civil service in Ireland some years earlier); the other was something a female bar tender said.

A debate was raging between the female bartender and a number of regulars at the opposite end of the bar.  I don’t know what they debated but she was clearly coming second.  Then she said, loudly:  “Screw you. I pay my taxes.”  At that point, the debate stopped and the customers raised their glasses and acknowledged her place in the world. Playing your part by paying your tax is a matter of both personal pride and national citizenry for Americans.

Compare that to the UK where the wealthiest, we’re led to believe, do everything possible to minimise their tax liability. Guilty or not, they have been roundly demonised as a group in recent months.  At the same time, the Government likes to make a hullabaloo of reminding us that since coming to power they’ve taken millions of people ‘out of tax’.

A symbol of a bloated government overhead funded by excessive taxation?

Tax has become an emotive issue. It’s not, as David Cameron naïvely suggested recently, a moral issue (only the shortest of short-sighted politicians would raise morality as an issue).  When you make or are responsible for bad rules, and you’re unhappy because people followed those rules, best to turn the accusatory finger away from the law-abiding and back at yourself.  But there are two big issues for me on tax.

A country has surely lost all balance when anyone is required to pay more than half of what they earn to fund the state overhead.  Interest declared – I am a higher rate taxpayer.  But punitive rates of taxation exist only to fund a government that has grown obese and inefficient. That overhead is suffocating and is the single most important motivation to avoid tax.

Secondly, raising the tax threshold to remove the lowest paid from an income tax liability both misses the key issue (low pay and part time work) and denies those people the ability to make their contribution, to play their part and pay their way.

The UK Government spent more than it collected in 27 of the last 33 years and the country’s net debt is more than £1000 billion, £2300 billion when you include promises against further banking failures. As a taxpayer, my name and yours are included as guarantors on that liability.

That’s like someone on £30,000 a year driving a Porsche and keeping a Range Rover in the garage for rainy days, taking four holidays (one of them a cruise) a year, doing their weekly shopping at Harrods, buying champagne for every stranger they meet in a bar and having a little cottage in the country for weekends.

Surely it’s time for a proper national debate about the kind of country we want to live in and the nature of the government overhead we need?  The Internet is now available to practically everyone and would allow the debate to be held quickly, cheaply and regularly. I’d vote for a party that arranged this because it would suggest he or she understood that they work on my behalf and in my best interests, not the other way around.

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