Strategies for a strategy: advice from @jeremygilley @campbellclaret @ddroga & Sir Mike Jackson

The APG pulled off what I thought of as a coup when I first heard about their most recent ‘Worlds Collide’ event: they got Jeremy Gilley, founder of Peace One Day, General Sir Mike Jackson, previously commander of the British Army, David Droga, founder of Sydney, Auckland and New York-based agency Droga5 and Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s Head of Communications and Strategy when he was in power, all on one stage, moderated by the very entertaining Rory Sutherland. It’s not often that you get representatives from such disparate fields pouring their thoughts into the same jug, and I lapped it up for all it was worth.

Non-profits and charities have it tough. They are worthy, no doubt, but very often not interesting enough for people to listen to. Jeremy Gilley took on a crazy challenge when he decided to establish September 21st as a global day of peace through his organization Peace One Day. Luckily he had a friend in Jude Law (Gilley used to be an actor himself) who happily espoused the cause early on and with Gilley visited Afghanistan to talk to the government there and try to convince them to agree to a ceasefire on that one day. British Airways was an early backer – they gave Gilley hundreds of free flights, and continue to do so, so that he could visit everyone from UN representatives to heads of states across the world. He has gained huge success, but the journey wasn’t easy – when he started out, he called a press conference to which no one arrived, for example.

Today Peace One Day has global support – this year on September 21st, they hope to achieve a Global Truce, and the largest reduction in violence on one day ever recorded.

Jeremy’s tips on strategy and how to achieve scale with a cause like his:

– ask yourself how you can win when you can’t afford to lose (the cause is bigger than anything else he’s done)

– use images to fight your battle (all his trips were visually documented to convince other governments and people to sign up)

– think about who you’re doing it for (the people who will gain so much from peace in war-ravaged areas)

– build relationships with people and organisations who will take up your cause for you (media has a huge role to play here)

General Sir Mike Jackson followed. I think this may have been the first time I’ve actually seen an army general speak in a forum like this, and I can say he was quite entertaining, as most army people tend to be! He narrated a couple of interesting incidents, one of which was especially entertaining: during the 1999 Kosovo war, he met the Russian general Victor Zavarzin during heavy rain at Pristina airport (which was almost rubble thanks to NATO bombing), and offered him some ‘brown stuff that came from the Northern part of the United Kingdom, long may they stay so (!!)’, as well as giving the thirsty Russian army what remained of the UK’s water supplies, and promising to send his son Mark as commander of the UK army to protect the Russians, as they were apprehensive of being attacked by the Kosovo Liberation Army. In Sir Jackson’s words ‘the Russian general’s eyes teared up’ when he heard that. The moral of the story being that ‘there are other ways of killing the cat than banging its head against the wall’; the UK army immediately found an ally, instead of alienating them as the US had initially planned. If you’re interested in reading more, there’s plenty of information on Sir Jackson’s Wikipedia page.

Strategically useful words from him to remember:

– Think positive; ‘failure is not an option’

– Get your team to believe what you believe because you count on them to win

– Consider the risks – physical, financial, reputational – and then make the best decision you can under those circumstances

– Clearly lay out the ends (goals), ways (how you apply tools) and means (tools themselves) you are looking to utilize

David Droga was next. He was the flame holder for the advertising industry as he said we have the good fortune to be able to make a difference to a range of industries – from nonprofit to government and capitalist. He cited some of Droga 5’s work as examples of the different ways to make an impact. I started thinking it was going to be the presentation of a creds deck, but it was done in such a relevant way with such insight that it all just made sense.

Things to take away from his talk:

– Understanding how the message will be consumed is sometimes more important than the execution itself

– Understand your target audience (The Great Schlep)

– Pay attention to context (UNICEF Tap Project)

– Think of what the right answer is, not the ‘advertising’ answer (Million project)

– Be the best version of yourself, no the current market number 1 (Puma Social)

– Reward people if you’re asking them to go out of their way to do something (Jay-Z/Decoded)

– Respect your audience (Prudential Day One)

Alastair Campbell was last, and dare I say, the most impactful (he even won the vote at the end, mine included). He seemed to echo Sir Jackson’s philosophy of never ever thinking it’s OK to be second (a sharp contrast from Jeremy Gilley, who believed it was all about learning from mistakes if you didn’t make it to number 1). Mr. Campbell had a flip chart he wrote a bunch of acronyms on, which I’m going to share with you as they were all thought-provoking.

– OST: Objective Strategy Tactics. Know what they each are, and know the difference between the three. Also, use your individual skills – what do you bring to a project that no one else can? In his opinion, ‘it’s not a strategy unless it’s written down’, and in order to take your strategy forward, you need a space to debate it with others.

– TLTP: The Best Team Leader has the Best Team Players. Even if you hate the person on your team, if they’re on your team, your priority should be the task at hand rather than focusing on your personal likes and dislikes.

– BB: Be Bold. Tony Blair came into his office one day when he was Prime Minister and said he had a solution for Northern Ireland. Of course everyone thought he was mad, but at least he had vision.

BA: Be Authentic. If you aren’t, people will sense it. In Mr. Campbell’s view, that’s the reason David Cameron didn’t win the election outright. This is a theme I see a lot of brands trying to espouse – and I think it makes sense but it has to be done right.

– CC: Stay Calm in a Crisis. Remember that no matter how bad a situation is, it will end. If you are staying up late preparing for a pitch and wondering if it will ever end, remember that it will.

– LBL: Listen But Lead. If you’re a leader, remember that as much as you have to listen to your team’s input, in the end you have to take decisions, not fob it off on someone else.

– GGOOB: Get Good Out Of Bad. Any setback is an opportunity. Look at how you can change a bad situation to your advantage.

– 3-1/1-18: In 1984, apparently there were 3 positive media messages for every negative one. In 2003, it shifted to one positive as against 18 negative. Remember that you set the agenda. It reminded me of the saying ‘no one can make you feel inferior unless you give them permission to do so’.

– HAP: Keep your Head Above the Parapet when the shit is flying, and make sure you have the right person representing you. Sometimes the nominated person may be the wrong person, take cognizance of that fact.

– VTV: Visualise the Victory. Always pre-empt. There was a lovely story Mr. Campbell said here about practicing football one day in an empty Old Trafford, with Diego Maradona, for a charity match. He almost couldn’t believe what was happening – Maradona being such a larger-than-life character. Funnily enough neither could Maradona speak English, nor could Mr. Campbell speak Spanish, yet they were able to communicate through actions enough to kick the ball around a bit. After a few horrible aims at the goal, Maradona finally hit one in (he was past his prime, remember!), and he went yelling around an EMPTY stadium as if he’d kicked a World Cup-winning goal in. When Mr. Campbell looked a bit confused, Maradona’s response was ‘Visualise’!

A lot of food for thought there from just one afternoon, and I’m going to try and remember as many of these as I can, as often as I can.

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