Saturday, 29 November 2014

Practice what you preach

I spend a lot of time coaching people.

Five Post-It notes, a pen and an hour somewhere quiet has helped unlock something inside dozens of colleagues. 

Their frustrations with work but ultimately life brought out into the open. And sometimes for the first time a realisation that they are more in control than they realised.

Three small steps taken in seven days return that sense of wellbeing. Back in charge they feel a bit better.

And feeling better ultimately means life and work are a little happier.

Every time I go through this process I have a mini crisis of confidence that it won't work with this particular colleague.

But it always does.

And almost without exception the five most important ingredients of their ideal job are not the first five Post-It notes placed on the table.

In fact the sixth, as there is always a sixth, is not only normally the most important motivational driver, but it is also the one with the lowest score out of ten.

Isn't that interesting that in the thirty or so people I've coached in the last three years, without exception the most important thing to them in life wasn't something they were aware of.

So why do I share this with you?

Today I feel low.

I'm not sure why. It could be I'm simply tired. Or hungover. Or both.

Or more likely one or more of my five Post-It notes is below par.

In fact maybe I'm not clear any more what my five really are.

So here goes. Off the top of my head:

1. Work life balance
2. Receiving praise and recognition from people I respect
3. Being perceived to be an expert
4. Being in a role where my creativity is celebrated not seen as disruptive
5. Inspiring others

Now if I were coaching me (this could get a bit weird) I would ask what the difference was between 2, 3 and 4. Aren't they one of the same?

For 2, this is about seeking out feedback knowing that I need it to feel a sense of well-being. When it is in short supply I feel anxious. I experience self doubt. I get that imposter syndrome thing.

Number 3 is the chip on my shoulder. The son of a world renowned scientist, I too want to be respected by peers in my industry for my craft. Albeit I'm not daft enough to think I'll ever get an OBE like my dad.

Number 4? Creativity is part of my wiring. I love the chance to problem solve. And join dots together. I used to think social media was my only outlet. But actually it turns out that was just a convenient coincidence for a year or two.

If I were to score them all out of ten what would they get based on how I feel today and the job I do?

Here goes:

1. Work life balance (8/10)
2. Receiving praise and recognition from people I respect (7/10)
3. Being perceived to be an expert (5/10)
4. Being in a role where my creativity is celebrated not seen as disruptive (6/10)
5. Inspiring others (7/10)

So it turns out the expert one is where I'm not content. Which ironically is a result of being recognised this week as the 13th most influential social media person in the UK. Hilarious I know.

My reaction to the accolade in itself is interesting. I thought it would make me feel good. And it doesn't.

Anyway there is always a sixth one. What is it? Numbers 2 & 3 are one of the same. I need another different one.

Winning. It's winning.

I enjoy winning. I'm competitive. It's my dirty secret. Like some people who want to earn more money but don't like to admit it. I like to win.

What score out of ten would I give it? 3/10.
So what three things can I do in the next seven days to get that from 3/10 to 4/10?

How confident am I and how committed am I to do them?

Hmm. Here goes...

1. To win in anything you need world class people around you. If you want to get better play with the best. I'm going to book my next trip to San Francisco.

What else?

2. I'm going to start reading a book on winning. I'll Google some in a minute.

What else?

This is harder than I thought. One step to get it from a three to a four.

3. I'm going to push the boat out on something I'm working on. Winners take chances and go with their gut?


How confident am I that I can do all three in the next seven days? 100%. How committed am I? 100%.

So my new five are: 

1. Winning
2. Work life balance
3. Receiving praise and recognition from people I respect / being perceived to be an expert
4. Being in a role where my creativity is celebrated not seen as disruptive
5. Inspiring others

So the one I wasn't aware of an hour ago is possibly the most important motivational factor.

How do I feel now? Better. More in control. And not as low as an hour ago.

Maybe it's just the hangover wearing off. But I don't think so.

This is mad. I started this blog feeling depressed. And now I don't.

Hopefully as you read it this makes sense. If not don't worry. I wrote this for me. And it worked a treat.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

My self limitation is in desperate need of some complimentary medicine

Later today I'm going to meet my new executive coach.

I've never had an executive coach before.
I've had the odd business mentor here and there. And a boss or two who I really looked up to. But this is different.

Throughout my career, if not my life, I've been a self-limiter.

By that I mean I've held myself back. At certain points I had a chip on my shoulder. Enviously looking at others and what they had achieved. And I let that get in the way of my ambition.

I wanted success to come quickly and at times thought I knew it all, especially in my early career when some colleagues probably thought I was a bit cocky.

At school I was even called arrogant, albeit only by one teacher who coached our football team and mistook my lack of skill when getting caught in possession as arrogance, when in reality I just wasn't that good.

Or was I? With the right support, challenge and practice could I have been a decent player?

See there I go again. Forever questioning how good I really am?

I've said before on here I'm the kind of player who needs the gaffer's arm around his shoulder every now and then.

But having been given a new job back in April, that I had no idea how to do, I've come out the other side and for the first time in a long time am beginning to feel like I'm half decent.

As a result I'm at another cross roads.
But this time rather than being faced with only going left or right, I feel like I could be lifted up and dropped off more or less anywhere now and somehow I'd find my way.

I read the other day that 'good leaders are good path makers. Sometimes the journey is not clear' (via @LeandroEHerrero).

I like that thought. Sometimes you need a map. Sometimes you need to follow the well trodden path. And other times you need to create your own way for others to follow.

Hence the time feels right for some guidance. Someone to expand my horizons. And to help me realise my full potential.

The job I'm doing right now has taught me a new level of resilience.

But it's also demonstrated to me that I'm more capable than I have ever given myself credit for.

That's a very liberating experience to go through. I've lost my fear of failure.

So back to meeting my coach...

Last week we had a pre meet call with him and my boss.

Following a few introductions my coach asked my boss to outline three things:

1. What he liked about me.
2. What would make me even better.
3. And what people say about me when I leave the room.

It was an illuminating experience, thankfully, as it could've been fairly humiliating.

What follows btw feels a little self congratulatory but to overcome my self limiting tendencies I've resolved myself to share (look away now Mr Hague or whatever his name was).

My boss said things like:

"Dom is incredibly honest, he's very authentic with high integrity. He's a very inspiring leader."

He went on to say how I get to know my team, I'm very creative and very adept.

So far so good.

What could Dom do more of asked my coach?

My boss described how although I have magnificent ideas (his words not mine). The opportunity for me was to convert these into impactful business plans.

I need to hold myself and my team more accountable. Blending ideas with real commerciality. Taking myself into tough leadership forums. Elevating what I do up to senior stakeholders in the business.

It was then that my new coach singled in on something simple but extremely revealing.

He described how all senior leaders are effectively in two teams. The one they manage, and the one they share with their peers.

Team one, the most important one, is your peers, not the one you manage.

As I sat there and thought about it I realised I spend 95% of my time and effort on team two.

Rightly or wrongly I always felt they were in more need of my time and full attention.

Then came the killer third question about my own personal brand. My reputation.  What others say about me when I leave the room.

My boss listed off the things I often hear said of me.

Positives: Nice guy. Full of ideas. Great fun. Different perspective. Etc.

Negatives: Where's Dom today? Would be good to have visibility of his plans. It would be great if Dom could offer a view on this.

There is a sense that if you need a whacky idea I'm the guy to go to. If you can find me that is.

Ironically I'm on the early train to London penning this blog so no doubt someone is wandering the corridors of Asda HQ looking for me right now to solve something for them.

So what do I want out if this new executive coach relationship?

I want someone to challenge my thinking.

I want someone to recognise in me the skills and characteristics of a great leader, albeit one at the early part of his development.

And I want to overcome my self limiting tendencies once and for all.

Not much then. Wish me luck.

Monday, 3 November 2014

My present to you. Enjoy living in the now.

Do you ever get that anxious feeling that you're missing out on something?

Or do you spend so long looking forward to something happening that when it arrives it is somewhat of an anti climax?

When I was a teenager I remember feeling like I was missing out. Something was happening and either I wasn't invited or worst of all I was, but was paralysed by indecision. Should I leave where I was and go there instead. Or should I stay where I am in case I miss out?

On Friday my eight year old was in such a predicament. She wanted to be in two places at once. Already out trick or treating with her sister and one of her best friends she had also been invited to a house party.

As we left her sister and friend and walked to the party she stopped and said she didn't know what to do.

Cue my attempt to explain enjoying life in the moment. Being truly present in the now. Not worrying too much about what has gone before or what may come next. Pausing in the moment and being content with your lot. Right now.

It didn't work. We crossed the road towards the party. Ironically we either went to the wrong house or the party had all gone out trick or treating. Either way her gamble of the grass will be greener backfired.

By now her sister had separated from her friend. And we trudged off home.

On Saturday evening this tweet crossed my timeline. Attributed to the Dalai Lama it captures the sentiment rather more eloquently than I.

When asked what surprised him about humanity he apparently said:

"Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he doesn't enjoy the present; the result being he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die; and then he dies having never really lived."

Well said that Dalai.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Trust me to make an arse out of myself during my moment of glory

Last week I was lucky enough to appear on The Bottom Line with Evan Davis from Dragon's Den fame. The new Jeremy Paxman no less.

It's always interesting when you meet someone in real life who you feel like you know already through regular contact, albeit one way, via the television or radio.

In most instances they are not quite the same as they appear on the box. But I'm pleased to report Evan, Mr Davis to you, is an absolute gentleman.

He put all three of his guests at ease. Was humble about his new gig at Newsnight. And was the consummate professional throughout. Even thanking me for my tweets earlier that day.

I have to say appearing on Radio 4 for a full half hour on Thursday evening was the highlight of my career.

In part because I got to rub shoulders with Edwina Dunn of Tesco Clubcard and Dunnhumby fame. The inventor of Big Data thirty years before it was even called Big Data. And I got to compare notes with Robin Grant Global MD and co-founder of an award winning, international agency called We Are Social.

But it was also because for the first time ever my mum and dad were genuinely interested in tuning in to hear me do my thing. They've heard me be interviewed before but only in my previous capacity as a spokesperson for the company I represent.

On this occasion the subject matter was what I do, not who I work for or what they do. And the test was whether or not I could hold my own in such eminent company.

The format of The Bottom Line is very informal which suited me just fine. A round table discussion deftly handled by Evan Davis to illicit the best from his guests.

Recorded in one take and edited down from 45 minutes to the 30 that are broadcast, it flew by in a flash.

I could've carried on for hours. And it would appear Evan was genuinely interested in the conversation. Either that or years of feigning interest make him a great liar.

The only blot on an otherwise perfect afternoon was me inadvertently swearing. I said arse on Radio 4. Can you believe it? And not only that but they chose to leave it in.

Trust me to say arse on The Bottom Line. Oh the irony.

The other surprise was how many people were listening to Radio 4 who happen to know me. Texts were flying in asking if that really was me on the radio. 

A mate from school sent me the following DM which kind of summed it up:

'Came across very well - sounded like you actually knew what you were talking about.'

My degree in bullshit is finally paying off it would seem.

Anyway, if you get a chance take a listen. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

If a snail can climb a tree maybe you can do more than you think

At risk of sounding like one of those cliché quotes that do the rounds on Facebook, if a snail can climb a tree maybe you can do more than you think too. 

I spotted one this morning who had climbed a tree and made its way along a tiny twig and was balancing precariously with its house dangling below.

It got me thinking.

Three or four months ago I was given a new job.

Up until that point I'd always worked in PR - something I knew a fair bit about having studied it at Uni and then spent 16 years practicing.

In the preceeding twelve months leading up to this major career change I'd had it real good. 

As head of social media at Asda I'd somehow managed to shrug off all the hard bits of working in PR like dealing with journalists and managing issues and been left with the fun bit.

I had a team of two including me. And the one person I had to manage was a breeze.

Then following a significant reorganisation I found myself with a job title I didn't even understand the meaning of: senior director revenue management and marketing process.

I felt completely out of my comfort zone.

My team of two was disbanded and I inherited a whole new team of 18.

Not only that but the business plan I also now owned was challenging to say the least. 

We were seen as the problem child. Morale was low. Expectations high. And the pressure palpable.

After the initial shock and bewilderment, I had to get my head around what the hell I was going to do.

I knew very little about the department I was now in charge of. Nor did I really know any of the people in my new team.

So even before I started the doubt was setting in.

In my head I was questioning why the powers that be had opted to place the least commercial person in the whole of marketing (their words not mine in my last annual review) in charge of the only part of marketing that actually makes any money.

I openly joked I can barely operate a calculator, yet here I was accountable for making millions of pounds profit.

It's been an interesting journey to say the least. I've seriously considered giving in at various points. But at all the right moments I've been given a little encouragement or word of wisdom. Just enough to build up my resilience.

And a couple of weeks ago I felt like having reached the depths of the biggest trough in my career I was clawing my way out. 

There was light at the end of the tunnel. The wind felt like it was blowing us back on course.

The confidence was returning. The restless nights waning. The bounce back in my step.

If nothing else the last fifteen weeks have made me realise that being forced out of my comfort zone is essential every now and then. 

It's something you know deep down inside but nonetheless sometimes it takes an unexpected event to make it happen.

As a result I now know I'm more capable of leading a team of people than I gave myself credit for.

Not knowing what they do isn't a disadvantage after all. 

In fact not being an expert means I have to rely on them. At the same time I can bring a new perspective by asking all the silly questions, and can apply the same approach that has served me well until this point:

Don't try and make friends in a crisis. 

Collaboration is key. 

Be humble. 

Ask for help. 

Get the bad news out of the way early. 

Hang in there. If it feels crap know that it will pass. 

Trust your gut instincts and have more faith in your judgement. 

But also don't make hasty decisions. 

So there you go. My new job has brought out the inner snail in me. Who'd have thought it. 

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Going to the footie with your dad

My dad started taking me to the football in 1986. I was eleven. As luck would have it it coincided with Reading FC's record beating run of thirteen straight wins from the start of the season. Ending in the fourteenth match with a 2-2 draw with Wolves.

I was distraught.

If only I knew then the years of toil to come supporting my local team.

Yesterday I treated my dad to a belated birthday present. We went to the last home match of the season. A game against already promoted Burnley.

A must win game to ensure our progression into the play offs. Alternatively we had to get a better result than Brighton who were playing away to Nottingham Forest.

There is a certain inevitability to games involving Reading.

I'd predicted back in October that we'd need to beat Burnley 3-0 to scrape into the play offs on goal difference.

Whilst technically not quite right I was near enough.

So me my dad and my mate Dave rocked up to the ground just after 10 am.

Our posh seats meant we were treated to a three course brunch. Red or white Sir?

Dear god it is only ten in the morning.

Then Reading legend Jimmy Quinn walked in. Our hero. Scorer of 42 goals in one season. The best headerer of a ball ever to wear the hoops according to Burch senior.

Former player manager in our first fateful play off final against Bolton in 94/95. A game to this day I haven't watched since. Two nil up and a missed penalty and another missed open goal. And leading 2-1 with seven minutes to go. And. Well you can guess what happened.

So back to Burnley.

After a couple of looseners we took our padded leather seats. Bang on the halfway line. Best seats in the house.

And who should be in the row behind but a school mate I've not seen for twenty years. A good omen. Or someone else to blame should it all go wrong.

Reading take an early lead through a deflected own goal. Brighton are also losing. If it stays this way we're in the play offs.

Burnley strike back and then take the lead. We scramble away a third and go in at half time down 2-1.

Brighton still losing. We're still in the play offs.

Another nerve settler at half time then we retake our seats.

Brighton have equalised. Shit. They go ahead of us.

Then a wonder goal from absolutely nothing. Hugs all round. Back in the sixth spot.

This is it. We're only gonna go and do it.

With added minutes being played out and a corner to Reading the home manager waves everyone up including our goal keeper.

What's he doing? Something has happened. Brighton must have scored. Noone can confirm it. Our game ends in a draw.

Shit, shit, shit. What's going on.

A cheer goes up. Have Forest equalised.

A pitch invasion ensues. Thousands flood onto the pitch. Another cheer from behind the goal.

I don't believe it. I won't. Not until I've seen it.

There's no bloody phone reception. Everyone clogging up the airwaves trying to get the results on the phone.

I turn and shout up to the camera man on the gantry above. What's the Brighton result?



The news slowly seeps out around the ground.

We finish seventh.

A 92nd minute winner at Forest. Who would've predicted that?


What a day. I absolutely loved it. Every minute.

Going to the footie with your dad is ace. Thanks Robbie.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Mum's Eye View - four weeks in

A couple of months ago Mum's Eye View didn't exist.

It was a glint in my eye so to speak.

Four weeks after launch it's clicked up more than 334,000 views of our videos and attracted more than 19k subscribers.

And we've not spent a single penny on advertising. Not one.

Earned media lives on for now at least it would seem.

Who knows where it will take us but those annual targets we set ourselves look very soft all of a sudden.

That Dom Smales managed my expectations brilliantly.

I have a history of over promising and under delivering but for once in my career I think we're onto a real winner.

The influence of the talent that Gleam manage is staggering.

Not only do they all have huge audiences on their main YouTube channels but they also have massive audiences on their daily vlog channels too.

Oh, and a decidedly big number of Twitter followers. 

And the amount of fans they command on Instagram would put most brands to shame.

I've said it before but to the untrained eye it all looks too easy.

What on earth is going on when a seemingly ordinary person can get paid a small fortune just for doing a video selfie and uploading it to YouTube?

If they can do it why can't I?

Why indeed. Because you can. If you start now. Vlog every day. Are good on camera. Love what you do. Have friends who love doing it too. Are generous in everything you do. Open, honest and authentic. True to yourself and your audience and never lose sight of the reason why you started doing it in the first place.

There is literally nothing stopping you.

But most of us won't do all that. We prefer to consume not create. We'd rather watch than make.

And that's fine too.

In the meantime look in awe at how big they have grown in a matter of a few years.

Pixiwoo started their makeup tutorial channel five years ago. Now their younger brother Jim has more than one million subscribers. His twin brother is also a YouTuber - one half of the Lean Machines. His fiancé Tanya is also pretty big on YouTube too. And her mate Zoe is huge.

Zoe's really chummy with Louise. You know Louise, aka Sprinkle of Glitter. And her gorgeous little girl Darcy. Not to mention her gran.

And so it goes on.

Mind boggling. The train has well and truly left the station.

Who knows where it will take us in the months and years to come.

But it ain't slowing down any time soon.

Jump on and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Mum's the word, a mediocre idea comes good at last

As a rule of thumb most of my ideas are pretty average.

But even mediocre ideas can change over time. They can develop and grow. They can mesh into other ideas.

Serendipity can work its magic linking two things together that were, until that point, drifting alongside each other.

On 28th January, only two months ago I woke up and realised I knew what we had to do. A moment of clarity at last. A bolt from the blue so to speak.

It was a conundrum I'd been trying to solve for at least five years, although it's fair to say in the last year or so I'd given it a bit more thought. 

Having tried and failed to find a way of making Asda cool on YouTube (saving you money TV was one of the early hopeless attempts), I'd come to the conclusion we needed to curate not create. 

A year ago - armed with this new found perspective - I was still none the wiser what to do next.

Who's content should we curate?

Then in July, following an all day session with YouTube, it started to become clearer.

A very glamorous lady from LA (I forget her name, Stephanie I think), introduced the concept of StyleHaul from the US. A network of independent content creators, amplifying each other's work.

Suddenly I was really interested. Product related content. Created by individuals who had already found an audience, and a big one at that.

According to a report published last month beauty bloggers on YouTube have racked up more than 14.4bn views for their content.

Did you hear that? Fourteen point four billion views.

As a point of reference a typical video posted on YouTube by Asda gets a few hundred views. We have a grand total of 1300 subscribers.

So you can see why it peaked my interest.
It was then that the chaps from YouTube suggested I meet Dom from Gleam.

He was doing in the UK what StyleHaul was doing in the US. That's how I understood it anyway*.

Emails were duly dispatched. Meetings arranged.

In a little side street near Covent Garden in the lower basement of a small office my world was about to change. For the better I hasten to add.

Dom walked us through his talent presentation. Pictures of mainstream celebs on one side. Young people I didn't recognise on the other. Who had more twitter followers? More subscribers on YouTube? More fans on Facebook?

The answer was obvious. But the thing that stood out was the video of Tanya Burr meeting her fans in Covent Garden. Advertised in advance via her Twitter account, and expecting a few to turn up, things quickly got out of hand.

Security stepped in to avoid a crush. The Apple store had to close. Tanya had to be whisked to safety via a restaurant's kitchen fire exit.

This is big. Really big. 

Dom then shared an anecdote of a senior marketing director at a brand who had questioned the value of all this 'social media stuff'.

A call later. And a quick tweet from one of Dom's talent and suddenly Google analytics lit up on the brand's website. A website they were spending millions on via traditional TV but to limited effect suddenly had a surge of traffic thanks to one seemingly innocuous tweet.

Ok I get it Dom. Where do I sign? How do we work together. And quickly before everyone else gets it too!

We decided to pick an event to test the art of the possible. Dom proposed a number of different options.

Let's do them all I said. Much to his bemusement. 

I won't bore you with the details as I blogged about it at the time. But needless to say it was a pivotal moment in my career.

Feels a bit weird saying career. But as I hurtle towards my 40th birthday, my twelve year at Asda and sixteenth in PR, this moment feels like a turning point.

For the first time I feel like I actually know what I'm doing at last. And rather than keeping it to myself I feel the need to share. As Austin Kleon said in Austin it is our duty to teach others what we know. 

On Friday a week and a half ago we launched Mum's Eye View the UK's first dedicated YouTube channel aimed squarely at mums 

Hosted by established talent like Pixiwoo the channel will only be as good as the content they choose to create for it. We will merely curate it.

In effect I've handed over control to them as unlike me they literally know best.

And less than 48 hours into our new venture my hunch was proved right. Tens of thousands of views. Thousands of likes and clicks and thousands of usually hard fought subscribers.

Without wishing to over egg it, this is the most exciting thing I've done in 16 years of trying.

*As I've grown to understand what Gleam do I've realised they are not like StyleHaul at all. 

StyleHaul are an ad network; combining channels (not talent) to create reach through impressions rather than engagement and relationships. 

Gleam is a talent management company. They care about the talent and their audience and see the potential in the relationship that they have with them.

They are developing talents individually into brands rather than making them part of a larger commodity.

Whereas StyleHaul are brokering both talent and platform.

The talent StyleHaul mention when they talk about a community of creators is often talent that Gleam manage.  

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Business or pleasure Sir? Both. I hope.

I have just returned from attending SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas for the first time

To those following events from afar, SXSW may just look like one big jolly.

But I beg to differ...

It's a melting pot of the kind of people I most identify with. Creative types. Social media bods. Digital innovators. And party goers.

In recent years Austin has gained a reputation for being the coolest City in America.

Home to one of the youngest populations, what was a sleepy Texan town is now bigger than San Francisco.

A combination of Californian promise and stubborn southern independence (Texas is the lone star state, the only US state allowed to fly its flag higher than the national flag).

Keep Austin Weird is the town's motto. Something you see almost as often as the State flag.

Out on its streets there is a heady mix of quirky hippy madness, making the town seem somewhat out of place alongside the oil rich city of Dallas and the aeronautical hot spot of Houston.

I read in the BA in-flight magazine that Austin is the only place in the State, possibly entire US where it is considered acceptable to swim in its central lake in the nude.

SXSW is one part conference, one part festival and one hell of a party by all accounts.

The Interactive conference which proceeds the better known music festival has 800 events crammed into five magical days. I start off with a small session in the Courtyard Marriot called 'Workplace redesign: the big shift from efficiency to collaboration?'

Full of interesting case studies like Toyota turning its entire workforce into problem solvers.

Or Steve Jobs when at Pixar who deliberately didn't employ enough serving staff in the company canteen so people in different teams would be forced to queue up. What do you do in a queue with work colleagues? Talk to each other. Cross pollinating ideas. Smart guy that Jobs was.

Off to the next event. This time Austin Kleon delivering a keynote about the theme from his new book 'Show Your Work'

Austin in Austin no less. He offers up a few gems including: Shut up and listen; Don't be a hoarder; Teach what you know; and the Importance of attribution.

Then it was a quick dash to Mashable House to swing on a big wrecking ball Mylie Cyrus stylee and stroke a grumpy cat.

Ok. At this point I admit the work element of SXSW is slipping towards the pleasure aspect. But all the while inspiration is around you, infecting your being. Brands jostling for attention. Start ups showing off their new app, their new city friendly motorised scooter or their new social network.

My particular favourite brand on display was Samsung who'd cleverly employed a team of battery exchange angels. Simply stop them on the street and they'd swap your flat battery for a fully charged one. Failing that tweet #poweron and they'd come find you. Genius.

As the days and nights passed I grew fonder and fonder of Austin, its people, and its spirit.

Some argue it has grown too big. Lost its uniqueness.

Maybe so for the original old timers. But for a SXSW virgin like me it was everything I'd hoped for and more.

Weird. Wonderful. And truly inspirational.

Roll on next year Austin.

My Top Five Sessions

Austin Kleon's keynote
Bernie Su and Jay Bushman's session on transmedia storytelling
Robert Scoble's and Gary Shapiro's #techtrends session
How to run a badass TEDx
And Yu-kai Chou's session on Gamification

Biggest disappointment

Biz Stone talk. Left half way through. Sorry Biz. No offence.

Biggest surprise

Edward Snowden. Very compelling speaker, even via dodgy Google Hangout connection

Weirdest moment

Swinging on a Mashable branded wrecking ball

Update: On my return I heard the awful news of the car crash that killed two and injured many others. But for the grace of God go I. Thoughts are with everyone cruelly affected.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

I'm a bit naive. But I like that about me.

On Friday I was unceremoniously ditched. By email. Not to my face. Not even to my ear. By email.

It came out of the blue. Arriving in my inbox like a hammer to my heart. A tremor of shock rippling through my very being as I stood dumfounded in the midst of a busy bustling pub surrounded by the din and revelry of a colleague's leaving do.

Ironically I'd only just met said colleague who was leaving and we'd hit it off immediately and were having great fun exchanging anecdotes in full knowledge that our paths may not cross again. Investing in each other a degree of friendship and trust.

I'm naive. It is a fact of my life.

I place my faith in people and assume as a result they will be true to their word.

When they're not I feel silly. Very silly.

It is embarrassing. And wallowing in my foolishness it is hard to control my emotions. The temptation to hit back. To send them the email that you've redrafted dozens of times.

But when that initial anger passes, when you allow the deep breaths to regain your composure, you realise that naievity has its benefits too.

Imagine wandering through life as a cynic. Riddled with suspicion. Fueled by mistrust. And driven by deceit.

I choose a different path. 

I will always assume the best. Even if at times that means I'm taken for a ride.

Last night I lost my cap. It blew away in a gust of wind. The calamity that followed is worthy of a separate blog post. Suffice to say it involved four strangers and an umbrella. My hat remains at large. 

This morning I spotted these spectacles (pictured below) lying lonely on the street. They stopped me in my tracks. And got me thinking. They gave me a new perspective.

I slowly realised I recognised them. They looked familiar. 

They were in fact my wife's glasses. Undamaged despite a night alone on the street outside. 

For some reason I find that oddly comforting. As if the tide has turned in my favour once more. 

The business deal I lost on Friday, the cap I dispensed of last night are but two blips on an otherwise wondrous voyage. 

I am a better man as a result. I can raise my head higher. And you can't take that away from me.

Deep thoughts for a Sunday morning. But I feel better for sharing them.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Dom's dirty dozen for 2014

A bit late to the big predictions for 2014 party I grant you. But these twelve were compiled last week by colleagues at my agency IMP Media for a planning day we held.

They are a combination of 23 pages worth of blogs, articles and tweets that they've poured over in recent weeks and we've been collectively mulling since.

So we make no claims to be the originators of any of these trends, they simply stood out and resonated with us.

Some of them overlap, and each one probably deserves a fuller description or explanation. Tough! Make of them what you will. The 23 pages are avaliable on special request.

So, in no particular order Dom's dirty dozen are:

1. The resurgence of the advertorial
2. Employee advocacy is now key
3. Engaging content will still be rewarded
4. The age of advocacy is upon us
5. Pay to play (Facebook etc now charging brands for 'organic' reach)
6. Millennials will fuel even more video sharing
7. The death of the social media manager (slightly worrying that one)
8. Social organisations will be the real winners
9. Customers expect instant responses on social channels
10. Growth of gamification on social - including within the workplace
11. Key influencers / content creators can now monetise their position
12. Stronger interplay between social and TV

So there you have it.

Feel free to put me straight or add your own to the list.

You will have gathered by now the title of this blog is somewhat misleading given they're not really mine and they're not very dirty. There are a dozen though.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Playing around with Jelly

Trying to predict the next big thing is about as easy as pinning jelly to a wall. But the latest addition to the social media landscape Jelly ( aka @askjelly on twitter) is probably worth a look.

Less than a week old it is already eating up hours of my attention each day.

It is far too early to draw any meaningful conclusions at this stage.

But as someone that spends a lot of time engaging with Asda customers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - using lots of fun images, and often posing questions that are quick and easy to engage with, Jelly is simply an extension of that approach.

So far we've tried five different posts. Most of which have also appeared elsewhere in our social news streams, so it's not a lot of effort for us to be trialling similar content on this new platform.

We've asked the big questions on the nation's mind, such as which is best for a mid-morning tea break - chocolate or plain digestives. We've asked people to choose between three different shampoos, one of which we will stock. And posted a fun spot the snowman competition which enabled Jelly users to annotate the answers on the image itself.

We will obviously continue to experiment with different types of questions and formats.

If and when Jelly becomes more mainstream (the reality at present is that it is mainly full of early adopter social media types, not core Asda shoppers) then it could be a fun, engaging way to interact with customers.

It is really easy to get going. All you need to do is download the app, login via Twitter or Facebook. Upload or take a pic and pose a question.

According @Azeem at Peer Index the posts have a 24 hour shelf life (he posed the question on Jelly, got 124 answers including one from the co-founder of Jelly @Biz himself), and at present you can't delete them or search for Jelly questions.

No doubt the subsequent releases of Jelly will have a very different user experience than the one we're 'wasting' hours of our life on at the moment.

Either way, I will do my best not to be too distracted by it. Fifty per cent of Asda customers (9m people) are on Facebook each day, around ten per cent are on Twitter and YouTube, so that's where most of our effort will continue to go for now.

Btw, did you see Mark Zuckerberg on there yesterday!

He's got issues with an unidentified spider in his shower don't you know.

In the meantime spare a thought for a chap who is actually called Jelly and has had the twitter name @jelly since 2008. He's getting a lot of misdirected tweets poor chap. Reminds me of @theashes and @johnlewis. I've told him to embrace it. Either that or sell his profile name to @biz. What would you do? 

Perhaps I should ask that on Jelly. Right must dash. Questions to ask. People to see. 

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Resolutions 11-20

Three years ago I set off on a journey to devise 37 resolutions with the intention of completing them all in my 37th year.

I made them up as I went along and deliberately had a good mix of fun and serious ones.

This is an update on resolutions 11-20:

Resolution 11: 
Make contact with a friend of the family who was going through a tough time at the time. 

I made a bit of an effort and it paid off in spades. He's been a great help to me too. 

Resolution 12: 
Being more spur of the moment, and talking to people you meet for the first time as if it is the last time you'll ever speak to them. 

I've tried my best to do this and had some interesting conversations as a result.

It's fascinating when you lose your inhibitions a bit and allow yourself to be yourself at every opportunity rather than flexing your personality to try and fit in. It's easy to spend too much time worrying about what people think of you. If you're talking to someone for the first, and quite possibly the last time, why bother caring what they think?

Resolution 13: 
Help get Rich Gillen a job in PR. I had a spurt of activity around two years ago. But to be frank didn't have much impact. Thankfully Rich git himself a job in marketing with no help from anyone. Fair play.

Resolution 14: 
Keep chickens, get a composter and a water butt for the garden etc. In other words try and recreate a bit of the Good Life in Saltaire. 

Still on the list.

Resolution 15: 
Bring my potter's wheel out of retirement. 

I signed up to a pottery class in January 2012 at a local art workshop. But going back to work following my career break got in the way. I also volunteer at BCB Radio every other Friday afternoon so felt like I was taking the piss a bit if I took every Wednesday morning off too. 

Resolution 16: 
Stop being lazy. Put more in and get more out. 

Hard to do in practice all of the time, but a good prompt every now and then. 

That said I do think it is possible to choose your attitude.

You can choose to get up and do something or simply stop saying no all the time particularly when it comes to the kids. I've started to say yes as often as I can and the results have been far more pleasant as a result.

Resolution 17: 
Watch one hour less each day of TV, and read a book instead. Not sure I've cracked this yet. However the introduction of a real fire a year or two ago has made a big difference as it is in a room without a TV. As a result we tune into 6 Music instead and watch and listen to the fire.

I've also got out of the habit of watching X Factor, I'm a Celebrity and Britain's Got Talent.

Resolution 18: 
Appear on a daytime television game show in order to earn a bit of money i.e. Come Dine With Me or Deal Or No Deal. 

Filled in my application and was invited to an audition. Then thought better of it.

Resolution 19: 
Overcome a fear or phobia (this one was suggested via twitter by @broadfordbrewer). 

I jumped off the highest bungee bridge in the world. Didn't cure my fear of edges/heights, but it was A M A Z I N G ! 

Resolution 20: 
Become a bone marrow doner.

Bit of a cheat this one, as I did it, then set it as a resolution. Good cause tho, so forgive me.

17 more resolutions to go...