By Andrew Roberts, Managing Partner  (originally published in BITE magazine) The inimitable Woody Allen famously once said “I am ...

Seeing things in a positive light

By Andrew Roberts, Managing Partner 


The inimitable Woody Allen famously once said “I am at two with nature.”

It seems he is not alone. Biophobia, or an aversion to nature, is increasingly common amongst generations raised with iPads, Netflix and Grand Theft Auto.

What’s more, statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency suggest that adults spend 93% of their lives inside buildings or vehicles. We’re spending more and more time under what Richard Louv calls “protective house arrest.”

This is worrying for a number of reasons. As human beings we are programmed to seek connections with nature which have a huge importance on our health and well-being in the modern world.

Related to this, the World Health Organisation expects stress related illness, such as mental health disorders and cardio-vascular disease, to be the two largest contributors to disease by 2020.  Unsurprisingly, this diminished connection to nature and the ubiquitous presence of technology means we have less opportunity to recuperate our mental and physical energy.

Research has shown that by incorporating direct or indirect elements of nature into our lives, it’s possible to reduce stress, blood pressure and heart rates, whilst increasing productivity, creativity and self-reported rates of well-being. But how can we escape a self-imposed ‘biophobia’, if these are the unavoidable conditions of modern living?

A simple way to reconnect with nature and reap the positive benefits is exposure to natural daylight. Daylight is proven to be essential for our health; it has a positive effect on our circadian rhythm and helps balance our hormonal levels of serotonin and melatonin - important hormones linked to mood and sleep.

It’s therefore no coincidence that mindfulness – the zeitgeist wellness movement of our generation – focuses on light as a key tenet of its philosophy. Those practicing mindfulness believe that “light has always symbolised the Life Force behind all creation.” In other words, light has always been an important part of the human experience, associated with power and positivity.

With so brands using positivity in an abstract manner, subject to different personal interpretations, we thought it would be interesting to explore how light could be used as a metaphorical manifestation of positivity.


Hyundai is a South Korean car manufacturer that epitomises positive, forward thinking. They are one of the 3 big ‘chaebols’ (family owned conglomerates) in South Korea, a country that has leapt from being one of the poorest countries in the world to a developed high-income country in just one generation. Hyundai’s philosophy ‘New thinking, new possibilities’ reflects this, and means they are constantly challenging convention and pushing boundaries. They are forward thinking, but with an understanding of their responsibility to customers, society and environment.
They believe in the call to arms of ‘together for a better future’ and making the impossible possible: optimism is at the core of their beliefs.  Over the past 9 months we have distilled this optimism by using the positive effects of light and nature in two key campaigns.

#TwoMoreMinutes

During the dark month of January, a few minutes of light are added to each day. Winter is a time when it can be a struggle to get natural daylight – the nights are longer and darker and the mornings colder and greyer. British Seasons have an impact on people’s health: around half of us reportedly suffer from a vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to thyroid problems and brittle bones, and on a psychological level, can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In light of this, these two additional minutes of daylight do not seem inconsequential.

As an optimistic brand that celebrates innovators, Hyundai celebrated the #TwoMoreMinutes we gain in a unique content series. Collaborating with four inspiring and optimistic people: tech journalist Becca Caddy, clean energy entrepreneur Carlton Cummins, outdoor filmmaker Tom Reader, and Hackney City Farmer Chris Pounds, we explored how each individual embodied what it means to be optimistic in different ways, in a bid to inspire the same optimism in Hyundai’s social audiences.

Results:
It worked: our audience felt inspired to make the most of even the smallest amount of sunlight in a typically “blue” month. We saw engagement and interest double on Instagram and Twitter in January, and the #TwoMoreMinutes content were the best performing posts against the Hyundai monthly social calendar on all channels.



#before7

As a follow up we focused on the optimism of summer. The summer months mean longer, brighter mornings, which make it easier to get out of bed and get a head start. Research showed that the successful innovators of the world were already doing this: from Benjamin Franklin, who famously rose at 5am and asked “What good shall I do this day?” to Tim Cook’s eye watering habit of checking emails at 3:45am. If inspirational innovators are doing this, why shouldn’t we make the most of the light summer mornings, too?

This was the perfect opportunity for Hyundai to inspire people to break from a daily routine that keeps them from nature.  By focussing on 7 key individuals that make time for their passions already by Creating headspace, getting ahead, finding a passion, feeling energised or inspired or simply enjoying life and staying healthy. The #before7 campaign was a highly visual inspiration piece that used sunrise as a strong motif. We challenged our audience to do something that sets them up for the day before 7am over the summer months, exploring their passions and feeling the positive benefits.

Results: The campaign is currently live, but the response so far has been positive, with over 300 people sharing their own experiences of seizing the day #before7. Our hero film also captured the attention of 417k viewers, prompting 107 to spread optimism to their followers.


From humble beginnings working in a small dusty room on the 3rd floor in Covent Garden with a couple of cheap Toshiba’s and one founding ...

10 Lessons learned over 10 years running my own agency

From humble beginnings working in a small dusty room on the 3rd floor in Covent Garden with a couple of cheap Toshiba’s and one founding client who you’re unlikely to have heard of. To a lovely studio on the South Bank, with a talented team of 30 producing award winning work for some amazing brands including Hyundai, Glenfiddich, Allianz, Hendricks and Miracle Gro.
Sounds sweet, however it’s been one hell of a roller coaster ride and as we pass a significant milestone I felt the need to share some lessons I learned along the way. Sometimes we got it right and other times we did it the hard way.
Gravity Thinking has actually lived in two very different phases. The first 5 years working with investors and the next 5 years as an independent agency.  Which leads me nicely into the lessons learned in the early years.
1. D.I.Y.
Wiser people told us this from the outset however we didn’t have the experience or perhaps confidence to go it completely alone. Although having investors can be a foot up it also means that from the outset you are potentially compromising your vision to deliver against someone else’s. This means that you run the business differently and don’t take the risks you should. Generally, this means a focus on net profit over an investment in talent.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing however if I had my time again I would probably wait until I had the experience to go it alone rather than take on investors. You could look to choose those investors more wisely than we did ensuring an aligned vision and plan however there will always be a compromise.
2. Have you really got what it takes?
Starting, growing and managing an agency is way tougher than working within one and tougher than you could imagine. The learning curve is incredibly steep, the pressure intense and the effort needs to be unwavering. The compromises and sacrifices you make for your family, friends and yourself are significant. Long hours, canceling holidays, working whilst on holiday, letting friends down at the last minute, weight gain etc… You need to think very carefully before making the decision as it doesn’t impact just yourself.
I was incredibly lucky. My family have been extremely supportive and my friends incredibly understanding. They all appreciated why I was doing it and that I needed to do so. The main reason for this is that I talked to them about it and kept them informed as to my progress. This connected them in part to my journey in the early days and made them more understanding of the compromises they also had to make.
3. From A to B via C, J, X…
You start the business with a water tight business plan and commercials that you have meticulously planned for months. Pouring over the information and data late at night and early in the morning. And you repeat this each year. However, rarely does this plan turn into a reality and you need to be able to bend and flex considerably in order to take advantage of the opportunities and overcome the challenges that you face.
At times our focus would change almost daily which is tough when you’re an organized suit who likes to plan ahead, however it’s important to have a flexible mind set and approach. Most importantly you need to remain relevant and differentiated in a crowded market and over the years, I am extremely proud to say, that our proposition as evolved ahead of the curve to achieve exactly that. From traditional digital formats and early adoption of social platforms to culturally connected innovative work that’s never been done before.
4. Your priorities are not your priorities
We often focus on what’s immediately in front of us and get confused about the most urgent tasks being our priority. Rarely is this the case. The day to day often gets in the way of the real priority which is forward thinking and tasks that will make a difference in 6 to 12 months’ time.
The classic example is new business where you’re too busy delivering a campaign for an existing client that you neglect picking up the phone and speaking to potential clients. Another is focusing on the tasks that you enjoy rather than those that are important. Did we spend too much time thinking about what we’d call ourselves and not enough time on the new business plan detail? For sure. Did I use to spend a lot of time making loads of money on a spreadsheet rather than getting out there and meeting people? Absolutely. Take time to think about and focus on what’s really important and plan the time to do it.
5. Get a good night’s sleep
In my career, I’ve met way too many charlatans. Those people who talk a good game but really don’t get it. They’ll sell you whatever they can to make a few quid or simply do as their told when they know that if it were their money that’s not what they’d do at all.
Work and live life with integrity as it’ll pay back in the long term. People who liked you, respected you and trusted you will turn up again in your life and have a positive impact. We’ve turned down client briefs that we didn’t think were right. We’ve stopped working with clients where the value exchange was poor. We always try to have honest conversations no matter how much it hurts at the time. Be honest, be open and be yourself. This way client and other relationships will flourish.
Going independent was the greatest single step change on the agencies performance over 10 years. We saw a 50%+ growth in revenue in the first year and have been growing steadily since crica. 30% year on year. Why was this? A few reasons actually…
Our timing was impeccable and we had a bit of luck. As we bought ourselves out of our final investment relationship we managed to grow one of our clients significantly – a client we continue to work with today.                                                       
The empowerment to make decision and take calculated risks paid off in spades. We stopped focusing and worrying about monthly net profits and started to run the business on a quarterly basis based on growing revenues and in turn investing in talent.
The personal motivation to make it work (the safety blanket was gone) created a new injection of energy and focus within us and the wider agency. We were the keepers of our own destiny and that felt amazing. Another reason to do it yourself from the outset.
6. Liberate yourself – as above.
7. Your people are what matters most
A lot of agencies I’ve worked in and observe get this wrong and we’ve certainly made mistakes along the way. Our people are the most important thing within our business because it’s them who create the magic and make it happen. If you can focus time and effort on the team then it will pay back – great people equals great work which in turn equals clients being happy and wanting to work with you.
Over the last few years we’ve invested in a talented Senior Management Team who are able to focus time and effort nurturing and supporting their teams. We have a Personal Development Plan process that ensures everyone is clear and focused on their own development. We have been told that we have one of the most attractive benefits packages in London. We’re still on the journey and don’t get it right every time however with our focus on talent we’re making real progress.
8. Take the knocks but remember to celebrate success
When you invest so much of yourself in something it’s impossible not to take things personally. Someone who doesn’t appreciate your work, a candidate who doesn’t accept the job, a client who doesn’t want to work with you… when you believe so much in something and others don’t it can be hard to take. You need to be resilient and move on quickly as wasting emotional energy and dwelling gets you nowhere.
On the other hand, you need to celebrate all the successes and milestones along the way. For me I have an ambition and when I achieve it I will celebrate, everything along the way is a stepping stone to that moment. So, I need to be careful to understand that my stepping stones are other people’s achievements and ensure that I appreciate and celebrate those moments with them.
9. What goes in dictates what comes out
I have always believed in this philosophy. I was never the smartest or most talented person in the industry however I moved through the ranks quickly because I was willing to go the extra mile and work harder than more talented and smarter peers. That effort resulted in a higher standard of performance across the board.
When you run your own agency, this philosophy is even more pertinent and as your own boss you need to be disciplined with yourself. It’s certainly not about mindlessly working into the early hours and weekends. However, it certainly is about working long, hard and focused hours on what is going to make the biggest impact within your business. You also need to remember that your whole team, all 30 of them, are looking at your behavior and taking guidance from it. Therefore, the need to lead by example and expect of others what you expect of yourself is crucial.
10. You don’t know it all and never will
One of the most empowering things about running your own agency is that you’re the boss now. No one to manage you, tell you what to do, you can do it your way. However, with that comes a pit fall of thinking that you’re right all the time and know it all. I can guarantee that you never will.
Surrounding yourself with trusted advisors and taking the time to listen is crucial. We have implemented a Senior Management Team who have a strong voice and platform to use it. Since going independent we have had a Non-Exec on the board to provide guidance and mentoring. We have had paid for consultants and experts assist us with specific tasks such as systems and process. We have also spent a lot of time talking to friends and colleagues in the business having honest conversations and getting invaluable advice. Connect, listen and learn as much as possible.

I hope you have found my lessons both interesting and useful and that some of the lessons I have learned can accelerate your own ambition should it be running your own business. For me it has been a cathartic experience and one that has enabled me to understand that we have learned and achieved more than we credit ourselves with.  
There are a lot of people to thank however Claire, Andrew, Michaela, Ben and Martyn spring to mind specifically. Each of you have had a significant impact both professionally and personally. Thanks for your support and / or bringing your talent and energy to table.
Here’s looking forward to the next 10 years.
If you’d like to add lessons and your pov then I welcome comments below #alwayslearning

For decades marketers have been told by all the greats to ‘Love the Brand’. Why bother? It’s simple: if you love the brands you wo...

Loving the brand


For decades marketers have been told by all the greats to ‘Love the Brand’. Why bother?

It’s simple: if you love the brands you work with, you’ll produce better work. The long hours won’t seem so bad.

But how many agencies really do it?  I’d wager few go beyond trying the product once. And, 3 months into my role at Gravity Thinking, I’m delighted to say that I’ve found am agency home that really does love and live the brands.

Whilst I type this I am watching our Creative Director, Martyn Gooding, attempt to levitate a bag of Tyrrells popcorn on a drone through the office. What’s he doing? “Trying to create a crisp delivery system that captures the delighted faces of the recipients”. I smile.

It’s also the week after The Botanical Boys visited us and we immersed ourselves in the joy of urban gardening. Why? So that when we work on the Scotts Miracle-Gro brief we’d actually had soil under our nails for the first time since childhood. So we thought differently about the brief. So we had a connection with the product beyond reading the brand guidelines.

The same week I took part in a Remy Martin master class to learn about the glorious process of making Cognac, from their very own cellar master Baptise Loiseau. Why? Not only because it’s a glorious thing, but so that I could compare it to the Whisky making process that I learned from the Glenfiddich Global Brand Ambassador, Ian Millar, years before. I want to know how our category talk and present themselves at such events.

Our diaries are booked up with Farm Trips so we can plant the humble potato for Tyrrells, Distillery trips so we can experience the whisky being made by our Glenfiddich client. We’re seeking out the best Gin bars in London for Hendrick’s and visiting the Science Museum to meet Robots. It’s actually part of our day job. #ToughGig.

This weekend I’m off to a Top Secret location to observe a new car under scrutiny at research groups for Hyundai. And then I’m off to a gig, where – by the way – I’m wearing a t-shirt we had printed with a trendy Black Magic logo on the front. Just so if anyone asks I can talk about the latest urban potting soil. Thanks to our connections planner Shelly, this soil is also the reason why half of the agency windowsills are bursting with plants.

There’s energy at Gravity Thinking that just drives people to do more; to want to know more and want to discover it for themselves.

So I come back to my original question: do we love the brand at Gravity Thinking? Yes we do. And Why? Because we are curious and we believe it makes our ideas better. And it’s fun!


BRAND: DANCING WITH THE TECHIES Every year dozens of brands descend on Austin to show their innovations and ride on the coa...

AVOIDING THE SHIT AND FINDING THE MAGIC AT SXSW: DAY FIVE


BRAND: DANCING WITH THE TECHIES

Every year dozens of brands descend on Austin to show their innovations and ride on the coattails of the festival. This year was no exception. I have already written about Gatorade and their work with sports teams and Sony's excellent 'WOW Factory' but plenty of other big brands were in attendance. As it was the final day I thought it would be good to tell you about a selection:

IBM was one of the biggest with a huge hall showcasing IBM Watson's capabilities with beautiful data visualisations and added services that targeted cyber crime and provided genuinely useful info to groups including teaching and rural communities. The AI beer was a particular favourite with long lines of people looking to see what Watson recommended to them as their most suitable type of beer. All of it was fascinating but it did feel like a bit of a 'one trick pony' albeit a very clever one !

Esurance, Bud Light, DELL, Mazda and Adidas have been in attendance for the last few years and every year I ask myself why they are here - from running a sweepstake type game in return for data (err spam) to giving out screen printed posters and lounges with free beer and networking space to VR experience to a series of yoga classes it all felt like badging rather than genuine involvement. 

Levis were here for the first year - appeared to be genuinely adding value at their outpost. Celebrating the intersection of music and style with innovation in partnership with Google and Rolling Stone they showed unique collaborations and DIY customisations.

Armani were in attendance pushing their glass and sunglasses frames showcasing a collaboration with 5 film makers across the World showing 5 short films shot in 5 cities in an interactive dome www.filmsofcityframes.com/Sxsw. the displays allowed us to manipulate the images and create our own montages and then watch the films. It felt indulgent but to their credit they appealed to the intersection of the film and interactive sections of the audience and the result was as you would expect stylish and on balance additive.

TECHNOLOGY: CAN COMPUTERS  MAKE FILMS?
Every year in Cannes Saatchi and Saatchi run a new directors Showcase and with the 25 anniversary coming up Team One at Publicis decided to look forward 25 years into the future of directing and ask the question of whether in the future would a director be human or a computer ? To investigate this they created a music video that was completely conceived, directed, filmed and edited by a computer.

CONCEPTION
Integrating a number of different off the shelf algorithms, and a muse EEG to connect algorithms and humans and Watson to tell them what the emotion should be. Emotional synch was connected at the same times so data = emotion to ensure the artists intention is aligned to the what the computer output.

DIRECTION
Used the algorithm MS Rinna and shalbeen, a Japanese algorithm to determine character, location, actors, wardrobe etc. In essence every question that would be asked of a director was answered by a computer. 

CASTING
Rene told them the type of person and they used Effectiva facial recognition to find the actual person. During the casting they attached the EEG and captured data, interestingly they all had a favourite but not their choice - the computer chose the same person !

FILMING
The action was filmed using a computer to drive the drones, in planning this worked brilliantly however the reality of wind and radios signals meant it didn't work on the day so they followed the flight paths that the computer had decided.

EDITING
For editing they used the algorithms from personalised video companies that stick photos and videos together and then a program that looked at the beat of the song, the content, the movement, the emotional data from the song. In addition they in-putted other music videos that followed similar song cadence. The computer created thousands of versions in a minute - the very first version understood the narrative, the characters and delivered a sequence that made sense to the song 

RESULT
In all honesty they all agree it was not a great video (C+) With the main issue being that they couldn't feedback to the computer easily. The final version was placed in the reel amongst all the other entries for new directors without people knowing However sadly it was pulled at the last minute as deemed not good enough.

The overall conclusion appears to be that a machine is capable of executing this in the future and in a compressed timeframe however the output at the moment is elemental - who knows what the future brings though !

 CULTURE: IDEAS ARE KING
 Ideas are the lifeblood of SXSW, there is a pitch on every corner, in every bar and on every stage so it was hugely interesting to hear Mike Maples, a prodigious investor and Scott Cook the inventor of Quicken talk about how they assess and come up with ideas.

The first piece of advice was perhaps the most relevant to SXSW, it was the ability to be able to pivot and screw up everything you have done to date without regret. Pivoting is not always because of failure it can also be relevant when the unexpected happens, indeed this was what Mike said he loves - hidden surprises as they often offer huge opportunity. The best examples he shared was Instagram that started as a location based gameplay but they found that most people were using to share photos, Paypal is another, it started as a means of transferring money between palm pilots (which were big back then) then an email from an eBay seller asking to put their logo on her page got them thinking it exploded on eBay and the rest is history. Scott Cook shared that  Quicken was originally built for consumers but found out that the majority of their customers were businesses using it hence Quickbooks was born.

Peter Thiel said the great entrepreneurs find secrets and then go for it and see it through, the question of how do you find this secret was debated. The answer is to avoid confirmation bias ie not to look for what confirms your existing beliefs, look for what surprises you, savour it and use it. They shared a great leadership technique, think about asking teams "What have you learned that surprised you ?

In such competitive spaces all companies are dealing with close competitors, their advice was not to focus on the competitor but instead focus on your customers so you innovate forward. Quicken was given as a great example of knowing the customer better and as a consequence developing a better product. As an investor in Lyft Mike Maples said his advice to them was to focus on being the best version of itself not focusing on competing with Uber.

When developing new ideas they advised to always focus on the ideal not small changes and used the example of the Japanese Bullet train. They didn't focus on shaving off 30 mins they embraced the concept of thinking completely differently, in essence, don't see limits and don't see walls.

Lastly perhaps the best advice of the session was from Mark Maples who rallied against one of the key phrases you hear a lot in tech - 'fail fast fail often', he said it was too easy to use this as an excuse for failure and lack of effort. Instead his advice is to take risks and fail that way - exert yourself to the maximum and if you then fail you know you did your best!

 WILDCARD: DON'T MESS WITH CINDY
 It is not often you meet a billionaire entrepreneur who is female let alone dressed in bright pink - Cindy Whitehead in her talk "Sex bias and $1bn"

Coming from a large pharma background she founded Sprout Pharma to investigate new pharma based ideas and in 2015 came across a fascinating stat that drove her next venture. She found there are currently 26 sex help drugs for men and 0 for women. This set her off looking for a solution and found that a German pharma company had developed a drug that was billed as 'Viagra for women'. The company had experienced huge problems getting any Governmental approval and had shelved the product so she raised the money to buy it and made it her mission to get it through the FDA.

Using 11,000 female subjects they found conclusively that the drug resulted in these women having desire. She took the 1m pieces of data to the FDA and despite meeting all the criteria they asked for the all male panel turned her down. This resulted in a coalition of women turning on the FDA to (in their worlds) "even the score' using the #womendeserve. Ultimately she was successful and eventually the FDA passed the drug and her company was immediately bought for over $1bn creating an enormous payback for her investors many of whom were friends and wealthy women suffering from the same issue.

She ended with 3 bit of advice that helped drive her over the decade long struggle:
1) Do not accept narratives that impede progress - poke fun at the absurdity
2) Be unapologetic in your mission - hers was "The most intriguing new pharmaceuticals in a generation" NYTimes 
3) Embrace the workhouse to become the unicorn


As you can imagine she didn't retire with the cash she has reinvested a significant amount into a "Pinkubator" which has invested in products that propel female focused companies. A true inspiration in pink!
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