Mini update on Fiscal Cliff – where Ian Dury and Spinal Tap meet John Maynard Keynes

It’s really quite exciting to have written and recorded a rock song, so please forgive this brief intrusion into the “Music Business” blog, but I thought I’d post a short update on our progress to make our song on the economy go viral.  There’s also plenty of transferable lessons in terms of marketing, PR and how to use social media.

By the way, here’s all the links in case you feel like sharing any of this.  It all really helps:

Download the song on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play etc.

Watch Fiscal Cliff – The MOVIE

All press updates and the storyboard via SLIDESHARE

When planning a campaign of this nature, most of what happens is unplanned and if you want to create a viral campaign, the key move is to adapt and learn quickly.  Here’s some of the strange and wonderful unexpected things that have happened through our interventions in social and traditional media:

Management Today picked up on the song, thanks to it being played at a Garden Party with Dr Andrew Sentance, former Monetary Policy Committee Member at The Bank of England:

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We’ve had some people finding the video by accident on youtube and they are loving it’s quirkiness.  Here’s an example:

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The Church of England have also picked up on the song, as have the Catholic Church after I tweeted The Pope and Madonna with a message:

“Papa Don’t Preach … on the Fiscal Cliff”

More surprisingly I am being followed on Twitter by a growing number of evangelical Christians in the Mid West of America and in the US more generally.  Some seem to love the song, others want to ‘heal me’ 🙂  Here’s Paula White who loves the song:

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I’ve just sent the piece to Lembit Opik, the controversial MP who dated the Cheeky Girls.  I’m rather hoping we may record a dance version of our follow up piece “Forward Guidance” following the new Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney’s recent announcements on reforming the way we think about the economy.  I can foresee a wonderful dance routine arising from this collaboration! 🙂

In need of Forward Guidance from The Cheeky Girls .. Mayor Boris Johnson

In need of Forward Guidance from The Cheeky Girls .. Mayor Boris Johnson

Since I wrote this post today Don Richardson in Canada has contacted Bachman Turner Overdrive, Bryan Adams, Avril Lavigne and Celine Dion to ask them to collaborate with me and Bernie Tormé on “Forward Guidance” !! 🙂  So, two weeks into the process, articles in The London Evening Standard, City AM, Management Today, Innovation Excellence in New York, Entrepreneur Country, various local newspapers and radio shows.  We have programmes booked with the BBC World Service and meetings arranged in New York on September 6th.

If you have any ideas on how to make the song / video go viral, I’d be delighted to hear from you.  If you have a blog that you would like a guest post for etc. just mail me with some Q’s.  It just might change the way we think about boom and bust economics!  I would like to get Sir Richard Branson, Cliff Richard and President Obama to hear the song, and possibly George Osbourne or Ozzy Osbourne !

Thank you for all your support and please excuse this exuberance !  I hope it’s also instructive in terms of your own approaches to marketing and dealing with the media.   If you have not seen the MOVIE, here it is – produced by Val and Errol Whitter of i54newmedia with illustrations from Simon Heath:

Indecent Proposals

Desperate times make people do desperate things and this week I’ve produced a roundup of strange and bizarre business practices that stand out head and shoulders below the water line for business ethics.

Indecent proposals occur when there is dishonesty in a contract

Indecent proposals occur when there is dishonesty in a contract

Starting with Kent County Council, who are normally held to be good employers with decent standards and so on.  They seem to have lost the plot on this occasion, having sent a tender out for some services which a colleague applied for.  An extremely long tender document was sent with explicit and transparent criteria for selecting the winning bid:

  • Proven track record in leading successful change management projects
  • Experience of working with a range of statutory and independent organisations
  • Knowledge of mental health and knowledge of substance misuse issues

After spending considerable time preparing the proposal, a letter was then received, telling my colleague that they had lost the bid due to a ‘hidden’ fourth criterion:

The real criterion for selection

The real criterion for selection

Somewhat frustrating for an organisation that prides itself on transparency and so on.  There was no feedback on whether my colleague had met the other criteria, thus there was very little they could learn from the time they had spent on this “indecent proposal”.  What a waste:

Staying with local government, I heard that Medway Council are about to put their workforce on ‘zero hours contracts’ – this broadly means that staff will have no job security.  I am self employed and have therefore signed up to the idea of being hired and used for time limited projects – that’s what I do and my security derives from being able to have a variety of clients and so on.  However, many people in employment join an organisation partly for some sense of security re paying the mortgage and so on.  HR people talk of engagement and getting ‘discretionary effort’ from people.  In my long experience, taking away their ‘Maslow’ security needs is one surefire way of doing the opposite.  Talking to a friend who is a dinner lady, she reported bitterly:

As part of Medway’s ‘Better For Less’ programme, we have had our hours cut, but are expected to cook the same amount of food in that time.  They sent ‘potato consultants’ in to tell me that I could peel the potatoes in 8.5 minutes instead of the 10 that I take.  I used to stay extra hours to get things done.  That’s all stopping.  So there will be ‘less’ but it will not be ‘better’.

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Medway Council’s staff now have the worst of all worlds:  A single paymaster, but with zero job security and the possibility of instant dismissal without any employment rights.  Yet another “indecent proposal”.  I predict a riot:

Incidentally, I have just been sent this artist’s impression of a potato consultant:

Half Consultant, Half Potato - original photo at

Half Consultant, Half Potato – original photo at

Finally, I recently did a project for boutique outsourcing Accountancy and HR consultancy RSM Tenon.  The 7th biggest accounting firm in the UK.  Again, a respected firm according to their own website.  The project was to mediate in a dispute and I was informed that my budget was £3000.  I had nearly completed the work when their consultant called up to tell me that they had changed their mind and only wanted to pay £2000!  I reminded them that “The Only Way is Ethics”.

RSM Tenon - The only way is Ethics

RSM Tenon – The only way is Ethics

After a bit of straight talk, things were grudgingly settled, although I ended up doing some of the work for free, in an attempt to stay close to their “revised” budget.  It turns out that RSM Tenon made £100M loss last year and now have a £94 M overdraft to help them continue in business.  No wonder they are keen to slash contracts after completion! 🙂  Strange though for an accountancy firm to make a massive loss and not wish to pay their bills, as their main business is accountancy!  My attempts to help RSM Tenon stay within budget would prove later to be a “Big Mistake” in the words of Natalie Imbruglia

A couple of months later, I’d been asked to conduct some further work for RSM Tenon.  This required attendance at a tribunal hearing which I was told I must reserve the dates for and could not book alternative work.  These were then cancelled at very short notice and I was told that I would not be paid for the opportunity costs.  I complained and was informed that RSM Tenon’s lawyers would be brought in to handle things, a strategy presumably designed to batter me into submission.   Whatever happened to honour and gentlemen’s agreements?  Other disgruntled observers reported this in a financial magazine:

Bizzarely, they actually make a proportion of their fees from telling other people how to run their finances. Genius!  This is what happens when accountants try to run a relationship type business.  They’re like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.”

To quote The Beatles “I should have known better” from RSM Tenon’s previous form.  Oh well.  I now have to take these people to the small claims court, wasting everyone’s time.

What should we learn from all of this?

  • In desperate times, we need to be careful in taking contracts in case people default on their commitments.  Even from what we perceive to be honorable and large institutions.  How the mighty have fallen.
  • In desperate times, treating people desperately will lead to desperate behaviour in return.
  • In desperate times, smart people refuse to respond to desperate behaviour in kind.  They do something different.

Has anyone else experienced bad business ethics in challenging times?  My experience has been that there are plenty of them, although most people dare not speak of them or just assume that they are the only ones experiencing such things.  Please add your story to this blog.  For a further story on HM Revenue and Customs, check HMRC.


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via

Punk Marketing – An audience with Richard Laermer

“White Punks on Dope” – Richard Laermer – A live and dangerous asset to your company

Richard Laermer is a marketing genius from New York, who provokes his clients into much better marketing by helping them break away from tried, tired and worn out marketing strategies and tactics.  He is also a correspondent for the Huffington Post and a regular bon vivant.  I met him when we were both delivering keynotes at International Marketing and Leadership conferences in Athens during the massive strikes late last year.  Imagine our surprise and delight when we learned that we had both written books with Punk in the title:  Richard’s Punk Marketing and my Punk Rock People Management.  We became superfast friends and I wanted to find out more. We arranged to have a dialogue. Or really…to talk.

What is the essence of “Punk Marketing”?  What marketing demons do you want to purge?

“Punk Marketing” started when my friend Mark and I were talking at a grungy bar sometime in the mid 2000s. We realised so many marketing people had become entirely complacent. They were doing things that they knew did not work and they were hoping that nobody would push them off the cliff.   We realised that Punk Rock came about in the 1970’s when the music industry was at its most complacent.  The Osmonds, The Carpenters, Debbie Boone and so on.  When Punk Rock started, with The Clash, The Sex Pistols and so on, they crashed that party, they screwed up the mentality of the music industry and they made the staid industry wake up.  So we said, let’s do the same thing for marketing now that punk rockers did for music in the 1970’s.  We started this movement with a series of points in a manifesto, not a manifesto that says things that people already know, but not together, and have mostly forgotten. We made it an agenda for getting off your ass and becoming part of where marketing is today.

Editor’s note – at this point, we must have a bit of Ian Dury, having discovered our mutual love of his work through the occasional gig with the magnificent Norman Watt Roy:

The critics would say that punk only lasted two years and then it was all over?

Did it really?  There are essences of punk in everything these days.  Basically punk mainstreamed.  Punk to this day still makes people feel alive and “punk marketing” is the same way.  When something that happens makes people say “holy crap” they know that it’s something different and new and they can’t get enough of it.   We wanna destroy the old outdated marketing adages and start anew with points that are destined to make people feel as though where they are today is- finally- where they should be.

I interviewed Richard Strange, the Godfather of Punk the other week and he was talking about innovation in music.   He pointed out that all music is mongrel, so what can marketers do that is genuinely innovative?

Marketers need to have balls.  They are basically risk averse—a great many of them.  They look at a marketing project and say, our constituency is stupid so let’s just put out a fun tagline and some cute colours and everybody will think we’re great.  It’s all just clichés—dumb slogans and a lot of colors. Big deal.  What marketers should be saying is: “we suck”.  People don’t love us for what we should be.  People don’t see us for what we are, what we were, or what we have become.

A marketer has to stand up and say – You know what?  This is really stupid.  All we do is follow rules that don’t exist for any reason any more.  Why don’t we just shake it off and just go with the craziest idea?  The idea that everyone has been laughing at, the one that disturbs our competitors, the one that makes shareholders and board members nervous, because that’s the only thing that will give us any long term value.  And when you have that idea, don’t water the fu….er down.

Is there room for market research in punk marketing?

The consumers do not know what they want.  They want to be told what it is they need.  So market research has limited value. And I believe that the most successful companies (ahem, Apple) are resolute in their offerings.

What do you consider to be the future in social media?  What should go into room 101?

I’ve been working with web diaries since 1996 and I’ve watched this thing called social media drift up and off.  When you get people talking about stuff that you or your company put out there is a gift.  I got a call from a major fast food chain whose ads were being mocked on You Tube.   They wanted me to stop it happening and I said to the Marketing Director – Are you crazy?  People are taking time out of their day to make videos about your ad.  You should be paying them!

When someone calls me to tell me oh my God, one of our staff is going on and on about one of our products on his Tumblr, I tell them to buy them some editing software so they can show it off right.  So, people have to realise that controlling the message is about NOT controlling the message.  You must then participate in the conversation.  That does not mean just letting people talk – it’s like what Stalin said: You do have to control the people some of the time.  That means participating in the arguments, telling people the rules of engagement, making sure that people see what you are all about etc.  The problem with Twitter is that people are not that interested in what kids say about things.  They don’t have the breadth of experience to talk about things in ways that others are interested in.  They should use the most passionate people online.

People are now using all sorts of amazing new gadgets to create quick filmic looks at their lives and pinning things on Pinterest and so on.  But if what you put up there is brand new and not related to your mission statement and so on, then all the money in the world is a complete waste of time.  Proctor and Gamble can say a lot on social media but none of it makes people shake and shiver.  Look at their Man of the House, which was obviously something fantastic—and it turned out to be ditchwater. You will succeed because your audience goes Holy Crap.  If it doesn’t pass the shake and shiver test on social, it can go in room 101 and put its head on the desk.

With the tendency to graze, the “punk marketer’s”  job is to get them to stop for more that a millisecond?

You’ve gotta get people thinking.  And I know that’s hard. Everybody says the consumer is stupid.  Not true.  The consumer is constantly talking and getting information.  To think that somehow we’re gonna get their attention because we are more intelligent is ego.  Kodak died because they thought they knew more than the consumer.  They never stopped to think that we know more than an old complacent camera company from the suburbs.  This is also happening in media companies, social networking companies and so on.  You got to look around and pick up the intelligence that is swarming around you. Learn from it—get the info that you’re scared to hear about why some may hate your guts.

Editor’s note – now we move to teh issue of one man brand – what better way to do this than looking at The Tubes performing White Punks on Dope on the Old Grey Whistle Test

You are a one-man brand in terms of having developed an innovative and hard to copy USP.  Tell me your secrets?

Most people start out with the idea that they want to set their brand aside from everyone else but forget that a personal brand cannot be about making money.  It is about making people see the one or two things that people should know the most about you.   That’s it. If you are selling and selling and selling everyone smiles and clicks away. People think that if they talk about themselves endlessly and if they keep going across all the media, like the EverReady battery bunny, it will work.  What happens is that people finally get tired of it / you.  Be yourself. At all costs.

There is a personal fear of doing or saying things that they think will offend.  This assumes that anyone is listening or even cares.

What I do is spend a lot of my time looking at trends that are bubbling up and bringing those trends to my followers – I become a resource to those people.

Whatever you do on social media should align with who you are. Don’t try and film yourself doing acrobatics if you’re not a gymnast. You want to be consistent in everything you talk about so you become the go to person for some specific attribute.  That’s what makes a true personal brand. The other crap is all about making money, and you look desperate when you’re selling all the time.

Click to check Punk Marketing out on Amazon

Can you give me a couple of Punk Rock lessons as a taster from the book Punk Marketing?

Punk Marketing is based on a manifesto.  Here’s a couple:

When you avoid risk, you die – Have balls, the mortgage will follow – don’t worry about the job leaving you.  Worry more about doing things that people care about that touch a nerve.  When someone says to me, “This isn’t the right time”, I’m the first person to find their competitors doing something really great and sending it to the people who just told me it isn’t the right time.  General Mills and Kellogg Company found this out in the Great Depression of 1929.  At that time Kellogg was the number one cereal maker.  In the Depression Kellogg decided not to do any more advertising, due to the recession; they even cut their worker’s hours to 30. But General Mills, then the number 2, decided to go whole hog, even introducing Betty Crocker in the biggest possible way. Guess what? General Mills became number one during those tumultuous years—and still is. Kellogg learned a lesson I’m sure they never forgot.

Why not ask why not – People always assume that things are the way they are for a reason. Keep asking why things cannot be done differently. There’s always another way. Try a little creativity with your kindness.

Make enemies – These do not have to be the competition.  It only has to be positioning yourself against an alternative.  For example Oil of Olay made an enemy of a concept – they said that the enemy is aging. Women bought it (literally).

Don’t let others set your standards – What I mean is when someone else sets a standard for what they consider to be good, change the standard. You decide how to be measured. You make the rules. You… get the point.

Give up control – Realise that the control is all in your head, because a smart marketer will look at all the things that people say about them and the will love it and use it.  Domino’s Pizza used to have a terrible reputation, typified by the phrase “Dominos Sucks”.  They turned it round and told their customers “yep we suck so we’ve changed completely”. They introduced new recipes and tested them all round the U.S.  Within six months they had turned their reputation round. And they’re a leader in the diminishing pizza industry.

What part does music play in your life as a thought leader?

Music is a vital part of my life.  The other day for example, I played about 30 hours of Todd Rundgren songs on Spotify, but I don’t know why.  I get inspired by music but only at specific times and moods.  When I wake up I want to hear a particular piece of music and that used to be hard.  You had to go and search it out.  And God, it’s so easy to find anything you want.  It’s an embarrassment of riches.  I wish we all remembered when we had to run to the nearest Our Price to get what we wanted. I almost hate the fact that everything is so easy to find now as nothing is worth anything anymore.

Editor’s note :  This calls for a bit of Todd Rundgren for his lovely wife Michelle and all blog readers:

So, the big question has got to be why?

When I started in PR I realised that there was a game being played between people that knew a lot about what was going on in the world and people that were being told a lot about what was going on in the world.  My career has always been about trying to close that gap, because information is the biggest commodity of all.  Good, fun, cool information that people take to their grave is the best thing that anybody can own.  That’s the why of Richard Laermer. That’s my ken.  And leave Barbie out of it.

How can people find out more about what you can do for them?

My website is  Twitter @laermer  Huffington Post

People can also learn about the launch I’m doing right here in an article about that very product, ThankBank:

Punk Rock Business Attitude – Top Ten Punk Rock Business Tips

Punk Rock Attitude – Smarter, faster and more authentic business – Image by Lindsay Wakelin photography

Whilst we were preparing for the various media initiatives the other week, the papers, radio and TV wanted me to offer them some punchy (and short of course) punk rock tips for business.   Here’s the ones that got through the press filter on the BBC One News piece with Dolly Parton introducing us – what a coup !

And here’s a few of the rest with some links to previous blog posts.  Granted, they are not all punk rock, but I use the term in it’s widest context 🙂  You can find much more like this in the revised edition of Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll.

1. Bad Romance – Lady Gaga – If you’re having trouble in a work relationship, change what you’re doing, rather than banging your head against the same wall.

2. Like a Virgin – Madonna – To succeed in business, treat each day like its the first time.

3. Knowing me knowing you – Abba – If you want to serve someone really well, find out their wants, needs, whims, foibles, fancies, fantasies, fanaticisms and ensure what you are offering touches the parts that others cannot or dare not reach.

Reasons to be cheerful

4. Reasons to be cheerful – Ian Dury  – Reasons to be cheerful at work include: being listened to; doing things that count; understanding why they matter; being part of something; not having to do pointless tasks; getting meaningful feedback on what you do and so on.

5. Who killed Bambi? – Sex Pistols – Separate conflict over work from conflict over personalities. You can have a good bun fight over a project, but once things are settled, move on and don’t harbour grudges towards the people.

6. I can’t control myself – The Troggs – Creativity without discipline rarely leads to innovation.

7. What do I get? – The Buzzcocks – Pay people well enough, but don’t just focus on pay as the reward for work. This reinforces the conversation about ‘What do I get?’

Walk on the wild side

8. Walk on the wild side – Lou Reed – Encourage mavericks, madonnas and the odd primadonna at work if you want new things to happen.

9. Sexy MF – Prince – Style always wins over substance.  Once you have got your product sorted, go for style every time.

10. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for – U2 – Business needs constant learning and reconnaissance.  If you stop looking and learning, just like Kodak, you may disappear from view.

To finish listen anew to Bad Romance by Lady Gaga for a bit of punk business attitude: