Author Archives: John Harrison

He’s Gone!

Well he’s finally taken the hint. After it became clear that  he had the support of neither his work colleagues nor the general public, he finally did the decent thing and resigned.

No I’m not talking about Jeremy Corbyn (who apparently needs something more akin to a bang over the head with a sledgehammer than a hint) but rather Chris Evans, who announced that he won’t be making any more Top Gear shows after this series.

Evans took over as lead presenter of the hit BBC2 show following the sacking of Jeremy Clarkson late last year. Like it or loathe it, Top Gear is a huge worldwide money maker for the BBC and so the appointment of Evans was subject to much scrutiny and analysis in the media. Evans has always been something of a Marmite character and so the outcome was always in the balance. Things didn’t go well.

Ratings plummeted as both the presentational style and content  was savaged by both the press and on social media. By the final show of the series, it was clear that the Evans experiment had failed and that there would need to be a change. Evans resigned, despite having a 3 year contract to present the show, and as I write this, the future is uncertain.

So what went wrong and what can we learn from it?

Well certainly, the decision to stick to the original format of the show didn’t help. Evans and his co-presenters attempted to step into the shoes of the personalities who had presented the show previously with similar content and scripts. It was described by many as like watching a bad tribute act.

That has to be the first lesson I think – that it is far better to be the best version of yourself, than a poor imitation of someone else. Try to imitate someone else and you will always suffer in comparison. Be original and unique and you will be judged on your own terms. If you don’t invite comparison, it’s unlikely that you will suffer from it.

This is certainly something I’ve been conscious of over the years. We have never had the budget (or indeed the skill!) to create publications that look like the kind of things you might find on a shelf in W H Smiths. So we have never tried to do that. Instead, we’ve created products that look completely different – less polished, less elaborate certainly, but still fulfilling the objective of conveying important information clearly and effectively. I think this is what Evans should have done – started again with something that achieved the same objective – to inform and entertain – but with a very different look and feel.

But I don’t think this is the only reason the show failed, because despite  what I’ve just said, much of the series was actually pretty good. No, to find the other big nail in the Evans Top Gear coffin,  you need look no further than the first show in the series. It was awful!

I watched the first show as a long term Top Gear fan, and couldn’t believe how bad it was. I almost didn’t bother watching any more episodes, which would have been a shame because it improved immeasurably. Many other people felt the same way, except they weren’t as persistent as me – they gave up on the thing altogether.

I was totally baffled by the decision to put what was clearly the weakest episode, up first, and sought explanation from someone in the TV business. They explained that producers like a series to improve and build through its run, and that this kind of approach is fairly common.

As a business person, and (a human being!) this just seems crazy. Why? Well let’s start with an old adage.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

The first impression that the Chris Evans Top Gear created was poor. Once that impression was created, it led to a perception and an expectation that proved impossible to shake off. Many people didn’t give the show a second chance and those that did, had a negative expectation of what they were about to see. Each succeeding episode had ground to make up, just to get to a level of neutrality. Positivity was way in the distance.

Make no mistake, the job of that first show was to sell the rest of the series .It failed miserably because it started out with its weakest ‘argument’.

Whenever any of us are selling anything – whether that be a product, an idea or even ourselves, it’s absolutely vital that we start out with the biggest guns we can muster. Time is tight and it is precious. People  don’t have the time or inclination to allow us to get warmed up and eventually deliver the goods. They are constantly looking for clear evidence that it might be worth spending a bit more time on (or with) us, and if they don’t get that very quickly, they’ll go elsewhere.

It’s why headlines are so important in sales letters, why first impressions are so critical in sales meetings, and why the first 30 seconds of a house viewing are often  decisive in determining whether a sale is made.

Can you imagine writing a boring headline on purpose, farting when walking into a sales meeting, or showing someone the bins first on a house viewing…just so there is room for the whole thing to improve and build? Of course not. You try to create a great impression from the off, and then hold on to the positive perception as best you can through the rest of the presentation. If you’re building rather than holding, it probably means you didn’t fire your biggest guns first.

Starting slowly and then building and improving might work if you have a captive audience, but who the heck has one of those? Chris Evans certainly  didn’t which is why he felt the need to fall on his sword.

It’s a harsh lesson. Your audience (and we all have one) won’t wait for you to limber up. If you need to build and improve your message, don’t do it in the public gaze. Hone it perfectly behind closed doors and then hit the world with your very best from the first words, the first line, the first picture or whatever scenario is appropriate to you. And then feed off the resulting wave of positivity all the way to your goal.

Perhaps only someone with an over-inflated opinion of their own importance and standing would think that it could ever work any other way?

The World’s Simplest Business

In my last blog I talked about the importance of accepting the hand you’ve been dealt, and playing it well. To illustrate, I told you about  how Neil Warnock had taken my ‘dead and buried’ football team in February, and sent them on a run of eight unbeaten games. Well I’m pleased to report that the run has now extended to eleven games (equalling the club record) and the threat of relegation from the Championship is gone. This was something which most viewed as highly unlikely back in February. So how was it done? Continue reading

Playing The Trump Card

There are many reasons to be  jealous of  Jeremy Clarkson – the fabulous cars he gets to drive, his unique way with words, or the huge sums of money he earns,  for example.  But above all of this, there’s a  far more compelling reason – he got to punch Piers Morgan in the face.

For reasons I find hard to fathom, Morgan seems to have got himself a regular job on Breakfast TV. At first they had him on there for a week as a kind of joke, But then he came back again, and now he’s still there, and there’s no sign that he’s about to go away any time soon. The joke isn’t funny any more – at least not to me. It turns out that Morgan is good friends with Donald Trump – a friendship made in hell if ever there was one. When considering who this friendship casts the worst light upon, it’s probably fairest to call it a draw.

As I’m sure you’re aware by now, Trump has become a serious U.S Presidential candidate, a fact that seems incredible to British eyes, given that he is little more than a figure of fun here.  Anyway, Piers Morgan found himself interviewing a Labour MP last week about the attempts to have Trump banned from coming to the UK, following his suggestion that all Muslims should be banned from entering the United States as an anti-terrorism measure. Morgan thought that banning his friend from travelling here was idiotic, and rather worryingly, I find myself agreeing with him.

Donald Trump was called a ‘buffoon’ and a ‘wassock’ in parliament last week, and it’s hard to find a coherent argument that suggests these assessments are anything other than a bit too generous. But if these were  grounds for banning someone from the country, there would be a lot of empty aeroplanes landing at Heathrow – and a lot of full ones leaving.

His crime though, was an unforgivable one – he said something stupid and offensive about  Muslims. You can do little worse than this in Britain today, (although as an aside, the same rules don’t seem to apply if you say something stupid and offensive and you ARE a Muslim) but the calls to ban Trump from these shores seem like a  gross over reaction.

Our government welcome leaders from all over the world who haven’t just said something  daft and sported a dodgy haircut -  they’ve presided over (and continue to preside over), some truly horrific actions and events. I’m not going to detail the events which the likes of Russia’s President Putin, China’s President Xi Jinping  or the King Of Saudi Arabia have been closely associated with – I’m sure you’re familiar with some of them -  but there’s been no campaign to prevent these people from entering the country, on the scale of the one relating to Donald Trump, and certainly not from M.P’s.

They used to say that actions spoke louder than words. Not in this case. In fact, it seems that in the modern world, you can literally get away with murder just so long as you don’t talk about it.

Maybe this is something Donald Trump needs to learn – or maybe he doesn’t. You see despite making a number of statements generally perceived to be outrageous (a wall along the Mexican border anyone?) his popularity shows no sign of waning. In fact his support has grown with each headline-grabbing outburst.

Why is this, and what can we learn from it?

Well one thing we need to consider is that huge swathes of the United States are not as…how can I put this delicately…not quite as advanced in terms of education, sophistication and social awareness as we might think.. In the UK, we are more accustomed to exposure to the educated liberal elite that populate big  cities like New York and Los Angeles, than we are to the insular, ill-informed and ill-educated masses that live in areas we tend to know little about.  Anyone who plays up to prejudice will always go down well with people like that.. But I think there’s more to it than this..

People throughout the developed world are bored with, and cynical about, professional politicians with their politically correct statements and their carefully worded speeches which offend nobody and say very little. When someone comes along who is outside of the mould, he gets attention, and when he tells it how it is (or at least how he sees it) people start to listen.

Just grabbing attention and getting people to listen to what you’re saying is a huge advantage when you’re selling anything. Of course, not everyone will like what they hear, but at least they hear it. And the more people that hear the message, the more that will respond positively to it. It’s a numbers game. You can have the strongest message, but it’s of little value if nobody is listening because you don’t have their attention.

Whenever Trump speaks now, the world is listening, and no matter how crass, stupid or plain wrong his message might appear,  the more people that hear it, and that more will respond positively. People only respond once you have their attention. Perhaps a lesson there for anyone seeking to influence others. Which, of course,  is all of us.

So could a Donald Trump style politician succeed here in the UK? Well I’ve insulted a large proportion of the American population, but are we much better here…are we more sophisticated, better educated and better informed.? Perhaps not. A few years ago, a petition calling for the aforementioned Jeremy Clarkson to become  Prime Minister generated a lot of support. It may have been tongue-in-cheek, but would you rule out Clarkson – or someone like him -  being voted into a position of political power, should he chose to stand? I wouldn’t

The capacity to grab attention, to stand out from the crowd and then to play to people’s prejudices and pre-dispositions can often trump (no pun intended) intelligence, logic and conventional competence.

Something to think about, no matter what sphere of life you’re trying to move forward in.

Continue reading