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There’s a common founder myth (read 'cliche') that goes something like this:
“From a young age, I found myself fascinated by how things worked. Once I took the TV apart to see how the little people got inside. Just like Steve Jobs, this is why I think the back of the cabinet/ inside of the device must be as beautiful as every other bit.”
I exaggerate somewhat. But you get the gist – people who end up in hardware talk about learning by taking things apart, scrutinising them and taking that understanding on into their work.
It’s a strong anecdote but this quite literal tale neglects a broader, possibly stronger metaphor that applies to more abstract careers too . And I’d claim, if anything, it’s more relevant in that context.
My own epiphany here started with Kevin Bacon.
When Bacon started fronting EE’s recent marketing, many thought the company’s decision inexplicably Footloose and fancy-free. Or worse, felt his character something of a Hollow Man at the centre of such an important campaign. (Forgive me, the puns are out of the way for now.)
My reaction was different. Immediately, my imagination conjured a corporate board room, perhaps with a whiteboard tripod in the corner and some Cadburys Celebrations/ Krispy Kreme on the table. Upon that whiteboard, in fading blue marker lay a single world in a big, misshapen circle: “Connection”.
The idea shower/ brain storm/ concept carnival/ perception party (delete as applicable) begins.
We have all been in this room, shouting out ideas fuelled by either too much caffeine, sugary snacks or both. As they say, there are no bad ideas in such a brainstorm – only bad people.
And in this case, that bad person is (through no fault of his own) Kevin Bacon.
Bringing it home
At some stage, starting with the word connection, someone brought up “seven degrees of Kevin Bacon”. This game involves naming any actor and then using various connections like costars, directors, relationships to map them back to Kevin Bacon in seven steps or fewer.
So, someone wrote that name on the wall. Then, months later, we have a former Hollywood A-listed doing a mockney English accent in a cafe and pretending anyone wants to use the Samsung Galaxy Gear.
This is one of the ways ideas are made. And this is when I realised how obsessed I have become with the construction of stories. Just as engineers constantly dissect and analyse physical creations, I think those of us in abstract disciplineslike marketing are doing the same thing. But perhaps in the abstract process, we’re carrying on with this behaviour more constantly and unconsciously than we even realise.
It’s time we proudly embrace this. It gives us the context to justify sending a whole agency of employees to the movies for the afternoon (Danny Whatmough deserves a hat-tip for that idea), and subsidising them to explore the fiction and culture that their audiences are immersed in.
Or better: encouraging them out of their comfort zone to even more diverse and varied material.
Some of us are better able to see the strings behind the scenes than others. Some of us may get so hung up on it that they can’t enjoy certain creations. However, if it takes 10,000 hours to become great at something, I’d assert that many of us are practicing more often than we think.
Poke fun at martini lunches, pitching to influencers, or the intense daily strain of PR (especially agency) life if you like. I think there are few places on earth that will push you in this area of understanding good stories like being part of a thriving, hungry PR machine.