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On September 24th 2018, WeightWatchers – the company started in 1963 and now operating in over 30 countries and worth several hundred million dollars – announced that it would be rebranding and be henceforth known as WW. The rationale given was that the change is  necessary in order to keep pace with modern thinking, which is more about health and wellbeing than simply weight loss. It’s hard to think of a worse business decision, and I barely know where to begin. Let’s start with the new name.

WW hardly trips off the tongue, and it means absolutely nothing. In interviews last week, the company chief executive failed to explain what it means. The W’s don’t stand for ‘weight’ or ‘wellness’ though. She made that much clear. If the company did need rebranding (more about that in a moment) the new name needed to be either catchy or memorable or meaningful – or ideally, a combination of all three. The new name is is none of these things.

But why change the brand  at all? WeightWatchers is a household name, with a standing built up over the past 50 years. The value tied up in the brand is incalculable, and yet they just decided to throw it away.  Of course weight isn’t the only important factor, but the company should really be self-aware enough to know the primary motivation why people subscribe. It’s not to be healthier, happier or fitter. It’s because they want to shift some damned weight and look better! Whilst it might be politically correct to pretend otherwise, political correctness doesn’t equate to profits. Look at the other major competitor in the market – Slimming World. It does what it says on the tin, which WeightWatchers did – until now.

One thing I’ve found over the years is that trying to sell people what they need rather than what they want is a big mistake. People want to lose weight and look better. They’ve proved that they’ll pay money – and lots of it – for help with that. Anything that distracts from that core message diminishes the brand and dilutes the message in my view.

It will be interesting to see how the new branding goes down over the next couple of years. My prediction is that there will be a realisation that this is an almighty cock up, followed by a tactical return to the core messages and benefits that have built the company to where it is. We’ll just have to wait and see though. I could be wrong. It happens!

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