Leaders must influence beyond their own sector

Lucy Jameson of Grey London advertising agency

As business evolves, it’s no longer enough to confine yourself to your industry – you need to be influencing the wider culture too, argues Lucy Jameson, chief executive of advertising agency Grey London

“Did you know the biggest problem with road safety in Sweden is people driving into elks?” asks Lucy Jameson. Weekend is approaching and inside ad agency Grey London’s sun-drenched open-plan offices on the top floor of a Hatton Garden block, Friday feeling is in the air. Young creatives busy themselves on campaigns for Volvo, Lucozade and Vodafone; tunes blast, high volume, from a desktop speaker.

Jameson has been chief executive for 16 months. Regarded as one of the most influential strategists in the industry, she joined Grey four years ago after almost two decades at ad-land rival DDB working on accounts as varied as Marmite, the Financial Times and Budweiser.

“Our world has changed,” she says. “When I started, pre-internet, there weren’t as many advertisers because the entry level ad spend was much higher as you had to be on the big commercial channels. Now we have much more varied scale and size. The old interruptive model of buying ad space and shouting at people has gone. You have to do something interesting enough that people will seek it out and share it.”

While technology has opened up new channels, most businesses, says Jameson, still struggle for publicity. To grow, you need to influence culture outside your industry. As if to hammer home the point, Grey London recently launched a new free app, iKitten, for biscuit maker McVitie’s, which allows smartphone users to ‘play’ with a fluffy grey kitten.

“It’s not about saving the world but [McVitie’s] is getting into the gaming industry and it has people writing about why it’s done that. It doesn’t matter if you’re a widget manufacturer or a massive packaged goods company, there’s no one who wouldn’t benefit from having people knowing about them. The problem is it can cost a huge amount of money. To reach more customers more effectively is a problem whether you’re a one-man band or a giant corporation such as IBM or HSBC.”

Failing to maximise exposure puts growth at risk. “You’re just going to stand still. When businesses lose momentum it has a dangerous, double jeopardy effect and if people are thinking, ‘I haven’t heard from them for ages’, you spiral off even quicker. You want people to be regularly thinking about you and regularly using you.”

The director with the widest perspective on their industry, its role and what else it could do for other people, says Jameson, gets to be the reference point. “Most industries are vying for a higher profile [but] pretty much every industry has that struggle. If you are seen as being able to communicate beyond your industry then you are seen as being much more important within it. So it’s a double whammy effect. Suddenly everyone comes to you. You’re the person doing the keynote speech and representing your industry more broadly because people think you’ve got something more interesting to say.”

Think nippy

Large corporations may have deep pockets for protracted publicity campaigns but it’s small businesses – and the people who run them – who have to act big, says Jameson. “They’re the little nippy ones that are so easy to ignore. Suddenly if you can have a bigger point of view on your whole industry everyone thinks you’re much more important than you are… From a B2B point of view it’s critical. Everyone needs more leads, more contacts, more customers. They’re more likely to come to you if you’re better known and the way you get better known is if other people want to write about you.”

If the speed of technological change has taken some businesses by surprise, it offers smaller businesses a chance to have their voices heard for less cost. She says: “Anyone can have a provocative point of view on Twitter; 20 years ago you couldn’t. Scale is much less of a factor and having a bigger point of view is a bigger factor.”

Jameson draws a distinction between making a mark and having a purpose. “That changing-the-world kind of thing has got a bit overblown. It’s right for some brands but if you’re a loo cleaner… I get a bit tired of them saying they are going to change the world. It can get a bit annoying.”

For last year’s launch of the Volvo XC90 (which has a safety feature to notify the driver if someone, or something, approaches), Grey worked with Volvo’s designers to reformulate a reflective safety paint sprayed in Sweden on elk antlers for the British cycle market. For a “not massive” £75,000 investment, the result was Volvo LifePaint, which got a new type of consumer into dealerships. “Volvo has a lofty purpose of having no one killed in or by a Volvo by 2020. In a million years you’d have never got the UK clients talking about that because it would seem too grandiose and we’re there to sell cars. But even the shyest chief executive would want to talk about [LifePaint] because it’s really interesting – and it’s tangible. It enabled Volvo to reach out to a completely different community.”

Having a viewpoint on something of interest doesn’t have to be about saving the world, she says: “[It can be one] that travels well beyond your industry that isn’t just about having a lofty purpose… [It can be] a completely different approach to a business model, diversity or a different angle.”

Of young digital businesses, disruptive by nature and difficult to pigeonhole, she suggests Silicon Valley has an edge over British competitors: “Everyone wants to write about Airbnb because it’s [about] the sharing economy, disrupting that whole sector… We have huge fintech presence in Silicon Roundabout but how many people outside that industry know about any of them? Almost none because they are not reaching out beyond their little bubble.”

Jameson blames British cynicism about “new stuff”, but with more businesses being disrupted more regularly, she issues this parting shot: “More companies, more connected, more people with the right to be able to talk about anything, more disruption. Scale is not as important and stuff is changing a lot faster. It’s been said that it’s never going to be slower than it is now. That’s frightening, but if that’s the case you need to have a point of view because your industry and your competitive set is going to change quite radically in the next 10 years.”

Time for us all to find our voices.

Find out more about Grey London



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About author

Richard Dunnett

Richard Dunnett

Richard Dunnett is an associate editor who writes about entrepreneurs, SMEs, FTSE 100 corporations, technology, manufacturing, media and sustainability.

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