Leadership Lessons from Two Virgins

I was approached by David Tait OBE recently to form a speaking partnership. David was with Virgin Atlantic from the very beginning and is acknowledged by Sir Richard Branson as having played a pivotal role in the development of Virgin, marking its progress from an underground office to a global luxury brand.David wrote British Atlantic Airways first business plan, a company that would eventually become Virgin Atlantic. In 1984, Tait became the fledgling airline’s first US employee, reporting directly to Sir Richard Branson. He built and led all the airline’s North American operations including sales, marketing, operations, customer service, finance, IT and HR. He was awarded an OBE in 2001 by Queen Elizabeth II for “services to British aviation in the United States”. Since that time he has worked as a consultant to the airline and travel industry and is a founding partner in the online luxury hotel booking site “Discover Luxury”. David has a veritable treasure trove of stories that offer insights into the ingenious and disruptive strategies of a serial entrepreneur and the Virgin brand. Here are just a few of the stories we share in our work together.

I want to break free … frustration and innovation

In the same way that Sir James Dyson’s breakthrough Dual Cyclone vacuum cleaner was inspired by his frustration with his existing vacuum cleaner, Branson’s decision to start Virgin Atlantic was inspired by a sense of frustration with existing customer service:

“As the head of Virgin Records, Richard Branson was a frequent flier between London and New York. Frustrated by consistently high fares and bad service he was convinced there had to be a better way and so, never one to be hindered by conventional wisdom, decided he would look at starting his own transatlantic airline. He’d learned from his success in the music business that what doesn’t work in theory can sometimes work in practice. But this was different – in a business ruled by Goliaths, starting another airline was a major leap of faith!

But just ‘another airline’ wasn’t what Branson had in mind. With the help of a few former Laker executives and some entertainment industry flair, Virgin crafted a radically different model. Branded Virgin Atlantic Airways – by conservative airline standards a risqué move – the product it offered would be equally disruptive.”


An obsession with Customer Service – Virgin Upper Class

Being frustrated is insufficient to innovate.  You must go on and do something about it. Some 5127 prototypes later James Dyson produced his first commercially viable Dual Cyclone cleaner. Branson also went past frustration and disrupted the market in a monopoly industry. Find out more about Dyson and Branson in our exclusive interviews with both at “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise

Screw it, Let’s do it

David recalls the “Screw it, Let’s do it” days of Virgin Atlantic’s maiden flights to New York. One of Richard Branson’s secrets is that he is a master of delegation and that sometimes means he does not always “do the detail”. It turned out that Richard had managed to forget his passport for the first Virgin Atlantic flight to the USA, which technically made him an illegal immigrant! David had to skilfully navigate his way out of the problem …


David also shares insights on how to change the customer experience via the early days of Virgin Atlantic with a fellow alumni of my secondary school, Sir David Frost:

“Those on the inbound trip were party to a flight that could well have made the Guinness World Records book for the most champagne consumed on a single Atlantic crossing.

A smiling David Frost, who was almost a weekly commuter across the Atlantic at the time, told me that it was the first time he’d ever made the entire seven-hour trip standing up with a drink in his hand”.


Sir David Frost R.I.P.

As well as some great storytelling, together David and I offer deep insights and takeaway concepts presented in ways that last forever. My experience of teaching MBA’s over 20 years has shown that we are missing out on the heart and soul of leadership by just teaching dry concepts. The mnemonic MBA should really stand for Much Bigger Amplifiers rather than More Blooming Analysis! We cover subjects such as

  • Disruptive thinking about your business strategy and practices
  • Converting ideas into sustainable innovations
  • Building and rethinking your brand to face a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous)
  • The “anatomy” of Sir Richard Branson : Why he leads the way he does
  • How does Virgin organise its affairs? – Culturally, structurally and in terms of day to day people management
  • Customer Centricity without Customer OCD
  • Leadership for good : Balancing Passion, Purpose and Profit

We finish with the hilarious story of Richard’s entrée into the world of Cola, which resulted in failure:

Cola Wars

“When trying to promote anything in the US one really has to “Go big or go home” – well, we went big! … I drove a vintage Sherman tank down Broadway … heroically smashing through a giant wall of Coke and Pepsi cans.”

Sir Richard Branson

On this occasion Richard’s underlying modus operandi of “playing David to Goliath” did not succeed. Coca Cola engaged their massive distribution machine to ensure there was no room on the shelves for Virgin’s product, Coke was discounted massively and Virgin retired injured. The key point here is the idea that success recipes work for a set of reasons and therefore transplanting a recipe (the David and Goliath approach in this case) does not always work in a new set of circumstances.

Contact me via peter@humdyn.co.uk to book David and myself for that very special event.

With Sir Richard Branson at The Virgin Money Lounge

With Sir Richard Branson at The Virgin Money Lounge

Enigmatic Leadership

Does your enigma as a leader increase if a sense of mystery surrounds your life?  I was thinking about this whilst listening to the BBC broadcast on Prince’s ‘Vault’ of unreleased material today, estimated to be more than 70% of his recorded output.

In case you are not familiar, Prince is thought to write a song every day and is already considered to be capable of releasing albums for many years after his death, achieving some kind of mythical ‘life after death’ status for some of his fans.  It’s a quite different approach to that of Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, where people have struggled to find anything like a catalogue of quality unreleased material.

Undoubtedly, his enigma is a great allure for his fanbase, some of whom would probably do anything to see him. This level of adulation has its downside. My own frustration with the purple genius’ enigma reached its peak when I bought a ticket to one of his aftershows in London some years back, only to find the he had gone directly to Dubrovnik after the main show and had no intention of performing, leaving me cold and tired, walking around London till the early hours.  Yes, the billing for these shows did say “Expect the unexpected”, but at that point I felt he had stretched the deal way beyond the promise!  I recall he did something similar in Ireland some years back as well and at numerous other locations.  Yet, he also occasionally gives ‘random acts of kindness’, such as when I queued for 7 hours to see him in London last year, expecting to pay £70 for the pleasure and then being asked for £10 when I reached the door.

Do the concepts of being mysterious and precocious stretch to modern day leadership in business? I’m sure many of you would expect me to say yes, given my ‘minor obsession’ with music and business parallels, but this is one area where I have to say no.  Here’s three things you should not ‘copy and paste’ from Prince’s example as a leader and two that you might:

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 12.07.35

Finally, here’s the song from my ‘vault’ that I wrote for Prince, in support of the charity Autism Rocks. Download your copy now via Bandcamp and tell your friends.  Also a picture of Prince’s spiritual Godfather Mr George Clinton of Parliament after his tour of The Houses of Parliament last week when I caught up with him. I’m off to see George if anyone wants to join me in London on April 15th at Kokos with Dr Andrew Sentance and a special guest.


What U C Is What U Get – a tribute to Prince, in support of Autism research – artwork by Mary Frances Geiser

First you gotta shake the gate ... of Parliament - with George Clinton at The Houses of Parliament

First you gotta shake the gates … of Parliament – with George Clinton at The Houses of Parliament               Photo by Clive Allen

Prince - I would fry for you

                                        Prince – I would fry 4 U – Breakfast can wait!


Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics – better Business and Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with parallel lessons from the world of music via The Academy of Rock.

Author of eight books on Business Leadership – Check his latest one:

Punk Rock People Management

Click on the picture to find out more

   Click on the picture to find out more

Flowers and Dirt

Flowers and Dirt - Click to buy the CD or download now

Flowers and Dirt – Click to buy the CD or download now

Today marks the release of Bernie Tormé’s awesome new double album “Flowers and Dirt” and I’m delighted to been able to help in a small way on the road to Bernie’s renaissance that led to this development. Bernie’s example teaches us valuable lessons about business, marketing and engagement. Firstly, let’s hear the man himself explaining the project:

You may have heard the phrase “If you want something done properly, do it yourself” It is incorrect in many circumstances, since a committed expert will always do a better job than a lazy novice. But in the case of my friend Bernie the cliché is absolutely true … The music industry has lots of people with good intentions but poor timing and competence when it comes to the murky world of marketing and promotion. So Bernie decided to adopt a DIY approach to support his new album release and tour. He crowdfunded the project via Pledge Music to engage people and was funded to 418% of his target.

Bernie’s tour takes off on October 15 and the double album “Flowers and Dirt” is available today on Bandcamp and all the usual platforms. If, like me, you want the money to end up with the artist rather than a bunch of middle men, buy it on Bandcamp.

The Tour Dates - Go to http://www.bernietorme.co.uk/shows.html for ticket links

The Tour Dates – Go to http://www.bernietorme.co.uk/shows.html for ticket links

Business and Music Lessons

  1. Whilst conventional wisdom suggests that leadership and management is all about delegation, in the music industry, there is an argument for a DIY approach if you cannot get hold of great people to manage your enterprise.
  2. The DIY approach cuts out all the thieving by major platforms such as Amazon and iTunes, though a plethora of middle men, and connects the artist to their fans direct. It’s what consultants call “disintermediation” but what I call common sense.
  3. Look in other places to find other people who are committed to help you. In Bernie’s case, he harnessed the power of the crowd and a little help from his friends.
  4. Seek advice from experts, but consider your own circumstances too and decide to do what’s right for you. A best-fit approach is always better than “template” business advice.

Bernie was extremely kind in giving me some credit for helping to kick start his thinking re marketing and I ended up with a credit for this “accidental coaching”, alongside Arthur Brown, the man behind the 1960’s hit phenomenon “Fire”. We’ll be performing “Fire” by Jimi Hendrix when I join Bernie on stage at London’s Borderline on October 29th. Be sure to book your place at the gig of the year and relight your own fire …

Credited alongside the awesomely Crazy World of Arthur Brown - Thank you Bernie

Credited alongside the awesomely Crazy World of Arthur Brown – Thank you Bernie!!

Flowers and Dirt - literally - Click to buy the CD or download now

Flowers and Dirt – Click to buy the CD or download now

Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Business and Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He also offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with parallel lessons from music via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE. Contact Peter to transform your enterprise.

Scrapyard Improvisation Challenge

How do you take a bunch of business people who have already done a full days work, enthuse them and, in just two hours, get them to write and perform some original songs followed by engaging them in a live open mic jam session? Well, some of that is “our little secret” at The Academy of Rock. But this post let’s you take a peek inside our approach to team development with music, which was judged as outstanding by one of our clients just recently.

The other week, I took the superb band Masterclass to London for an evening of music composition and fun with a market analysis agency whose HR Director prefers to give their staff ‘memorable experiences’ rather than training to engage, retain and motivate them. Alongside a diet of giving them a chance to actually play with the band, we also provided a ‘Scrapyard Challenge’, whereby we provided participants with a range of naive instruments that I got from a car scrapyard. This helps people escape from notions of what a musical instrument is and who is qualified to play one ….

Some of the scrapyard items we used

From the scrapyard to the stage

In the event, the scrapyard was barely needed. Instead we found an enormously talented bunch of people at the company.  A superb female bass player, several female drummers and singers.  Oh yes, and a few guys that got into the groove! So, how did we do this in such a short time from a standing start is perhaps a good question. Here’s our operating principles for doing amazing things in a short time:

Principles for Spontaneous Combustion

Install positive hallucinations – I learned many years ago through teaching MBA’s for the Open University that the first lesson one needs to teach people is to install the idea that success is possible. Many of my OU students would arrive having failed at school and it was necessary to ‘overwrite’ those assumptions before we could get on with the work.

Lead people to the water, but don’t make them drink – A lot of people think I make people do this or force people to participate. In fact I’ve seen people try to emulate what we do and fail miserably. No-one is made to do anything they don’t want to at our events, which is one of the secrets. This sounds like a really simple idea but it works, suitably led and facilitated and with suitable safeguards installed at the outset.

Choice, Choice, Choice – We always bring much more equipment than is really needed. But this provides choice for people and allows them to engage at a level of their own choosing.

Work inside the client / customer’s wish list – During the ‘aftershow jam session’ we took requests from the floor and then worked the songs up with the people. This is only possible if you have an enormous repertoire and was the main reason I chose Masterclass for this event. Involvement and participation breeds engagement. In the event, we ended up playing a whole hour longer than our agreed time with the company, after which time they still wanted more.

Girls Are Loud - Musical Talent emerges

Girls Are Loud – Musical Talent emerges if you let it happen …

The Masterclass boys

The Masterclass boys

A master of improvisation - We can also bring celebrities to events if required

A master of improvisation – We can also bring celebrities to events if required

We’ve done similar things for a wide range of companies and organisations. To arrange your next staff engagement or conference event with a big difference, please get in touch. Watch out for an exclusive interview with a master of improvisation and creativity – Mr George Clinton, pictured above – coming soon.


About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk 07725 927585

Crowdfunding your business – Lessons from Rawk’n’Roll

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 16.52.23

I was delighted to see this approach to Crowdfunding working for my friend Bernie Tormé last week.  In under one day, the project to commission a double album had exceeded it’s funding target and is now providing badly needed income for The Teenage Cancer Trust. The idea behind crowdfunding is simple:

  • Find enough people in the world who love something you want to do
  • Ask them to support you by pledging money up front via a web platform
  • Deliver on your promises

It’s another thing altogether to get people to do the pledging and this requires an enticing set of offers, which Bernie has put together.  I personally love the offer to sell his prized guitar given to him by Ozzy Osbourne, although I don’t think he really wants to part with it at £66 600!!

The number of the beast - £66 600

The number of the beast – £66 600

Crowdfunding is increasingly being used by entrepreneurs to overcome the initial funding hurdles to starting an enterprise.  It also allows independent music artists to cut out the middle man of the music industry, which many musicians detest.  This project will succeed and Bernie was kind enough to suggest that he’d used a little bit of my marketing advice in designing the project.  Now it is past the breakeven stage, the fundraising continues but with the greater goal of providing funding to support The Teenage Cancer Trust. It’s what leading author Daniel Pink discusses when he talks about combining Profit and Purpose in “A Whole New Mind”.

Bernie is simultaneously supporting a social goal as well as a business one

Bernie is simultaneously supporting a social goal as well as a business one

I have agreed a unique special offer with Bernie for executives wishing to put a bit of soul back into their lives.  We’re offering a trip to Bernie’s studio, some insights into the life of a working rock star, a live jam with the man himself and optional guitar lessons.  The offer is strictly limited to groups of a maximum of 8 people.  Contact me for full details via e-mail peter@humdyn.co.uk   Bernie also has a series of guitar masterclasses on offer either face to face or via Skype.

Check out the man to hear just what’s on offer and make a bid in this unique project.  We were lucky enough to do a couple of business events with him a while back.  You can’t beat Rawk’n’Roll ….


About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.

Two Tribes – Branding for different markets

One of the challenges of managing a brand with two distinctly different manifestations is the need for each of them to have the same strength and a distinctively different targeting. People that don’t know so much about our twin brands tend to think first of what I call our ‘high visibility’ brand – The Academy of Rock, which offers events that blend business ideas with music. As a result our business consultancy offering at Human Dynamics can get submerged under the hullabaloo of the more notorious aspects of what we offer. Importantly different customers or ‘tribes’ are interested in the two diffferent aspects of our work.  To serve them well, our brands need to clearly target the differing needs and wants of the ‘two tribes’, hence the title of this blog.

Contrasting brand images

Contrasting brand images

Conventional wisdom says that you cannot make videos about a serious business consultancy business, but I like to break rules, so we just made a video on Human Dynamics with i54 New Media.  Take a look:

Jeff Bezos at Amazon says that your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.  The next best thing to that is what they say willingly on Linkedin, so this was a great opportunity to bring some of this together.  Making films with 154 new media is really simple and quick.  Within 15 minutes, we had shot the video and the finished product was made in double quick time.  More importantly, the film has been pivotal in securing a creativity and innovation keynote at a conference in Malaysia.

Four branding lessons

  1. A brand is a shorthand intended to stop people thinking when they are making decisions under pressure. Just think of the advertising slogan “Beanz Meanz Heinz”.  In a busy and complicated world, it’s vital that you can convey your brand to others in minutes, preferably seconds.  Andy Warhol said “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”.  In the internet age, that may have come down to 15 seconds.
  2. Brands convey the emotional more than the rational aspects of what your company does. They must rest on some firm foundations to be successful however.  In other words there should be no gap between brand perception and brand experience if you are to succeed.
  3. A brand must tell a story, which reaches people’s hearts, minds and souls if it is to be successful. We will be exploring the business of storytelling shortly on this blog.
  4. Get your followers to become brand representatives.  Their view of what you do is more important than your own and their marketing advocacy is free and more credible than that which you do yourself.  Amongst my various experiences with musicians, I sponsored a Spinal Tap inspired world tour for Punk Idol John Otway. Although the tour was a glorious failure, one of John’s great strengths is that his fanbase offer him an absolutely free marketing service and are passionate brand advocates.

An excellent 5th point arrived on Linkedin this morning, from Brian Shannon on the need to have a point of focus when managing multiple brands:

“When I was the VP of strategy for GlowWear. They had about 10 brand names they were trying to manage and the strategy was clear. Everybody buys clothes but the branding must match the demographic. Demographic = Brands”

Here’s a short video on branding:

Check out John Purkiss’ book on personal branding “Brand You” for some fascinating insights into personal branding.  Click on the picture to find out more:

Brand You

We finish with the title of this blog:


About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.


Opportunity Lost or Gained?

I noticed this letter from “We Buy Any Car” to the owner of a “Playmobil Little Tikes Car” recently and was curious about how this came to be:

We buy any car, but not Playmobils

We buy any car … but not Playmobils …

Let’s re-imagine the scenario:

Instead of the letter above, We Buy Any Car could have decided to pay the full price of the Playmobil, perhaps deducting some money for ‘wear and tear’ 🙂 and then present the owner of the item with a cheque as part of a TV campaign for the company.  Better still, perhaps they might have presented the child with a bond to the value of the car to be redeemed on their 18th birthday as a downpayment for a real car … and so on.  Just think how the company could have turned this round to their advantage …  Just a little bit of creativity needed really.

Well, it transpires that the letter was fake, although the story went viral and it certainly fooled me at the time of writing this blog.  Here is the turnaround strategy via a spoof website called “We Buy Any Toy Car.com“.  This is a great response to the fake letter.

We buy any car's turnaround strategy

We buy any car’s turnaround strategy

What would have your preferred creative reversal of this opportunity for We Buy Any Car?  Post your thoughts here.


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 peter@humdyn.co.uk

Top of the Pops – How to get your business to No. 1

Just 3 points away from 'The One Minute Manager' and ahead of 'From Good to Great'

Just 3 points away from ‘The One Minute Manager’ and ahead of ‘From Good to Great’

Thank you all for your assistance through purchasing copies of “The Music of Business” and through all your tweets, facebook, linkedin, G+1 etc.  It was truly a fantastic day on 31 1 13 and I was humbled by your support for the book.  We gained articles in The Guardian, The Sunday Times and have had offers from the BBC and Sky News for features.  We reached the Top 10 on the Amazon chart, passing evergreen books by world class authors such as John Kotter and Jim Collins, author of ‘From Good to Great’ and nearly passing ‘The One Minute Manager’ by Ken Blanchard.  This is unheard of for a book produced in this way.  Click on the logos to read some of the articles.



In case you had not realised, The Music of Business is an indie release and NOT backed by a large publisher such as The FT, Kogan Page, Penguin, Wiley and so on.  Having published several books with established publishers, I chose NOT to do this on this occasion.  That makes the achievement even more remarkable.  I was firmly told by several PR agents that “I would not get anywhere on my own without their help”.  This proved to be wrong.  So, what could we learn from this ‘media experiment’?  Someone wisely observed that we succeeded in this enterprise through Creativity and Collaboration.  They are fundamentally correct.  Here’s a bit more detail for those of you seeking to be DIY entrepreneurs and authors:

  • I had already built a considerable following through previous book releases, face to face networking and social media.
  • I systematically went out to get a range of high quality endorsements from companies such as Lloyds, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, HP, University College London etc.  These were matched by references from Richard Strange and Harvey Goldsmith in the music world.  Some of this was planned, the rest relied on a degree of luck.  As Louis Pasteur observed “Chance favours the prepared mind”.
  • I carefully planned a launch day and communicated this to national and international media.  This was to involve as many people as possible, taking offers of goodwill as they came.
  • At the same time, we remained open to opportunities and offers which could not be planned in advance.
  • My wife points out that I was also on the job 24/7 to make this happen.  Innovation is part inspiration, but mostly perspiration!
  • In the event, people were exceptionally kind in spreading the word via various media and I must thank them once again for this kindness.

Contact us if you would like to harness this kind of power for your own marketing and PR, whether it’s for your business or for a personal enterprise such as a book.  I’ll be at Entrepreneur Country this Wednesday 27th February and the University of Oxford Business School the day after if anyone wants to catch up.

As a special thank you, I am offering two free vouchers for my new online learning programme “The Music of Business” in exchange for a few words by way of a review.  Claim your free voucher HERE by Sat 02 March.  Read all about it here:

Finally, in the spirit of TOTP, let’s see some of the great moments from that show including a rare live performance by David Bowie:

Stop in the name of Branding

Wanna be stoppin’ something?

I interviewed Michael Schein recently, a New York based content marketing and branding specialist on his thinking on branding, content marketing and Rock’n’Roll here.  Turns out that Michael is also a big fan of classic British rock music, having been an honorary ‘mod’.  We must begin with a nod towards one of his favourite bands, The Who, who used a great deal of branding and marketing stunts to get their message across:

Wanna be stoppin’ something ?

Whenever I’m asked the question “what do I do?”, I like to say that I help people stop branding their companies. Then I stand back and watch their eyes bug out of their heads. The reason I got into the business I’m in is that I was tired of seeing marketing departments invest hundreds of thousands of dollars and a year’s worth of time into rebranding campaigns only to end up with a nicer logo, a prettier website, and no difference in sales results whatsoever. These days, the thing that determines a company’s profitability is how well they drive potential customers to raise their hands and say they want to have a conversation. Everyone is online. They’ve seen it all. They can get all the answers they need about your product or any of your competitors’ products with the click of a button. A new slogan or color scheme isn’t going to make much of a difference. So what I do is create bold, honest content that draws a line in the sand. The people who don’t like it are going to turn away, but they usually aren’t going to be buyers anyway. The people it resonates with end up being customers for life.

The good, bad and ugly of content marketing

Let’s start with the bad and the ugly. It’s a lot of work, plain and simple. If a company chooses to do it themselves, it means creating a lot of content and publishing a lot. Even if you’re hiring outside help, it’s a lot of work. Because when you’re using content to market your business, what you put out there has to be honest. It has to really be about who you are and what you represent as a business. Today’s customers have seen it all before, they know the difference immediately. So a lot of time has to be spent to make sure the marketer knows you better than they know themselves. As for the good, content marketing is quite simply the opportunity of a lifetime for anyone in business. In the past, if you wanted to compete you needed a huge advertising budget, print magazine campaigns, TV commercials, billboards. It was insanely expensive, and you couldn’t even tell what part of it was working. With content marketing, it’s all about the ideas. If you can write or have access to a good writer, and have some knowledge of how the Web works, you can use creativity to beat even the biggest Fortune 500 companies. And on top of that, you can measure everything – what’s working, what isn’t, how so, and why not. 

What can marketers learn from music and musicians?

I’m a gigantic music fan and played in a lot of bands when I was younger. I’ve always said that rock ‘n’ roll is a lot more than music – it’s theater, marketing, sales, and philosophy wrapped up in one package with a backbeat. That’s what makes it so awesome. There are so many lessons that marketers can learn from rock music. But since I’m talking to a British blog, let me give an example from one of my all time favorites, The Who. When The Who first started, they were a diehard R&B band that had a small but very dedicated group of fans. Then at one point they decided to make a change. They ditched the R&B purity, latched onto the Mod trend, jacked up their amps, and draped themselves in all kinds of crazy outfits with Union Jacks, RAF targets, and medals. And of course, they started smashing their guitars and wrecking their equipment. Was it a gimmick? Maybe. Their diehard fans certainly thought so. Seventy-five percent of them bailed. But the audience they got in return ended up being twenty times bigger. A hundred times bigger. Hell, they became one of the biggest bands in the history of bands. So I guess the lesson is that you shouldn’t be afraid of turning off the wrong people. Stand out. Draw a line in the sand. Take controversial positions. Provoke. Some people will dislike you for it. People will abandon you, and that’s an awesome thing. Because the fans and customers you end up getting in return will live and die for you.

What’s the most interesting marketing job you’ve ever done?

I know this is going to sound like I’m evading the question, but what ends up being interesting about my work very rarely has to do with the nature of the actual product or service that’s being sold. It usually has more to do with the process of digging into why our client went into business in the first place, what problem they’re trying to solve, how they’re trying to make the world a better place, and figuring out how to get that out there. I never stop until we get to that point, regardless of how much it annoys the person I’m working with. So I guess all the jobs end up being interesting, which is exactly why I love going to work every day.

Is there anything marketers should NOT learn from the crazy world of Rock’n’Roll?

Don’t throw your TV out of your hotel room window at a trade show. Especially a flat screen.

Mr Schein, Pinball Wizard and Content Marketing King

Get in touch with Michael by email at mschein@scheincommunications.com or by phone at +1-855-855-6607 ext. 801.  On the web at Schein Communications.

Finally, as living proof that Mods and Rockers were quite literally disruptive, here’s some footage of them fighting in 1964 in Margate.  I actually remember being there on the day as we were out on a trip to the seaside, although I think I still managed to produce some castles made of sand before they arrived … 🙂


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 peter@humdyn.co.uk

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 http://laermer.com/  Twitter @laermer  Huffington Post

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