Monday, 4 November 2013

Remember, Remember - Why I'm doing Movember again

When the clocks go back you just know it is that time of year.

The time of the year when small fuzzy creatures appear in various shapes and sizes, coming together to create warmth and do what they can to help their species.

Yes, it's Movember, the annual month of fundraising and awareness raising across the world.  A chance for men across the world to grow a "Mo" join the man movement.  It is a campaign that has seen over £276million raised so far to support the work of men's health programmes with more than 1 million moustaches appearing above the top lips of participants last year.

This fantastic movement wasn't the result of months of strategic marketing discussions.  It was, as many great ideas appear, over a pint in the pub that Travis Garone and Luke Slattery came up with the idea and enlisted the first 30 Mo Bros into the very first Movember.

From those humble 2003 origins the campaign is now firmly fixed in the calendar for many men across the world.

So why am I taking part for the 2nd year?  It certainly isn't a fashion statement, I don't suit hats and it could be argued that a moustache has the same quality for me.  My reasons for participating are simple really, I'm a man and being one I know just how important it is to ensure we raise awareness of all the health issues this side of the chromosome encounter.  Because at the end of the day, we encounter quite a lot (we just pretend we don't).

Let's face it, however many times were are told by loved ones, girlfriends and mothers it often takes something drastic or a whole squadron of saddlebacks passing by an upstairs window to get us men to a doctor.  For all the demands from TV doctors to seek medical advice or speak to your GP it just isn't going to happen without changing some deep routed male psychology.

Ok the simple growing of a mo isn't going to change that, and believe me I put myself firmly in the old-school camp when it comes to GP's.  But growing the Mo not only raises money for prostate and testicular cancer and men's mental health, it creates awareness of these serious problems and puts them squarely in your face...or at least on it.

I see the growing of a mo as my opportunity to bring these issues to the fore, a chance to talk, have some fun and raise money for serious but often forgotten issues.

Movember is simply a chance for me to say, "I'm with you brother" whomever and wherever you may be.

I'd love it if you could support me in my "Mo Grow" even if it's just to say hi.  My Mo Space page is

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Toffees come unstuck over badge re-design

When the Z-Cars theme strikes up, the Gladys Street end rises en-mass to its feet and the players’ heads begin bobbing up the steep staircase you know you’re at Goodison Park, home of Everton FC.

Football is a funny business, as fans we can get obsessed over the smallest of details, a change of pie or the removal of a sticker on seat, even the change of a scarf design can elicit mass objections.  So it’s no wonder then that the recent decision to change the Everton badge design has caused such uproar.

Such an uproar in fact that within days of the new design being ‘launched’ on a mostly unsuspecting Everton public the club has had to promise a u-turn of monumental proportions.  Now, on the surface, especially to those outside of Everton or those untainted by the subtleties of football obsession, the change is far from dramatic.  Especially when you consider that the current badge has only been in position as a whole on forever changing kit designs since 1978, a relatively short space of time.

Here’s the current and new design:

Everton crests

However the change has proved too much for supporters with particular focus on the removal of the Latin inscription and laurels.  The Latin motto Nil Satis, Nisi Optimum, which means "nothing but the best is good enough" has been part of the badge since 1938, but didn’t appear on the kit until 1978, disappeared from it again in 1982 and returned in 1991.

So what is the problem with an element that has been included or dropped on more than one occasion?  Well that my friends is football and the increasingly ‘hard pressed’ fans.  In a football world increasingly distant from fans, for many of the 22,000 signatures of the complaint petition the objection is one of a break with tradition or “not fitting a club of Everton’s rich history and stature”.

It is this seeming rush by clubs in the current age to somehow disassociate themselves with some of the more traditional elements of football.  Sky Sports have been one of the biggest sinners in this with every stats relating to Premier League days (ie 1992 onwards), as if football didn’t exist before this.  If you’ve noticed, they have even begun to conveniently forget some of those stats and teams from the earlier years of even the Premier League to make the clubs they wish to “push” more look like they’ve always been the biggest in the league.

Other comments on the make reference to the design as being "amateurish", "poorly designed", "ridiculous", "clownish".  It is at this point the age-old problem for designers/agencies becomes a real; design has such a subjective nature that it is rare to get 100% approval with any project, add that to an emotionally evocative aspect such as a football club badge and the reaction is perhaps that much more understandable.

From a design point of view, particularly as I’m guessing the brief would've required a need to make allowances for use in modern technology, the cleaner design has its benefits.  I should also point out at this juncture that sometimes the simplest looking designs require a huge amount of work, so I wouldn't go with the “amateurish” comments.  Good designers are able to achieve this.  The dropping of the motto from the design point of view may make practical sense when you are trying to create a workable “space” to use.

Try telling that to some Everton fans though, practicality isn't the issue for them, the fact it fits better on a smartphone screen will hold no weight for them, because the badge is their link to their club and their tradition.  For some fans, the badge is the clubs brand, it is the promise from their club to them, it stands for tradition, obsession, comfort, victory and every memory they have taken from their football journey.  For others the badge will be a logo, pure and simple, the name Everton FC is their brand.

Perhaps Everton didn't really understand what Brand is.  Or perhaps the people within Everton assigned the project are in the “logo” camp.  They will therefore have worked to create a good looking logo, without understanding the impact that can have on the brand.

The better place to work from with any kind of project like this is to create a series of brand workshops.  Start by working with different groups of people from all areas of the business, and in this case the fanbase, to understand not the logo, but the brand.  Those sessions should be focused entirely on values, and what the brand means.  From those sessions key values and often many great design guides can help formulate the direction for new logo designs.

At the very least it ensures that you have already created several groups of “fans” for the new logo before it appears, as they feel included and often proud to have played their part in the process.

This is perhaps the biggest lesson Everton FC can learn, any U-turn actions should include a more wider-consultation, and this should be seized as an opportunity to get to the heart of the brand and create a subsequent logo that serves to bind some as they march on together.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Beer today gone tomorrow

"Alcohol, the cause of and solution to all of life's problems"

A great philosopher once said that (Homer Simpson)but he had obviously never seen The Apprentice, especially this weeks episode.  The thing is, the alcohol had very little to do with the problems this week, that was firmly in the hands of the classic Apprentice combination...ego and strategy (or lack of it).

You'd think after 8 previous series the candidates would sense the warning signs around the challenges like this "produce and sell" task.  The real key to both areas isn't in the speed and aggression of selling, it's in the planning.

Tim "thank you for the opportunity even though we've just won and I should just shut up and do the huggy-jumpy thing outside the room" Stillwell was transferred onto the girls team to begin the mixing of the teams and fared no better in the spot vacated by the fired Jaz.

Immediately taking the project manager role, he gave a rather convincing impression of a weedy stripper at a demanding hen night, more concerned with not being eaten alive than concentrating on the job in hand.

Still at least he didn't send a non-alcohol drinking team member to the manufacturing plant, key requirement being the ability to taste the product.  And at least he also made sure his sales team had enough samples to keep the buyers happy.  Who'd have thought that a set of buyers would want to taste a product before they agreed to spend their money on buying it.

"Stella English" look-a-likee Francesca, placed in charge of that toughest of task on Apprentice tasks...sums...almost came a cropper as the girls manufacturing team produced the most lethal brew since Oliver Reed and George Best decided to empty their cupboards to make a punch, which led to gallons of product being washed away and a big loss of cash.

Yet, it was the sales strategy that once again cost the project manager his place.  "Nice but Dim" Tim was wobbling like a student on a 50p a shot night as his sales teams struggled with locations, pricing and selling - not the greatest of combinations.

If nothing else, this episode showed how important it is to get people into the right roles and balance personalities in teams.  The clashes between Zee, Alex and Jason, and Uzma and Rebecca were Apprentice staples, but some better decision making on both parts by each of the project managers would've headed off any problems before they started.

Not for the first time the serene Karren Brady was left exasperated by the conduct of the girls as the claws came out in the boardroom.  Yet, it was the intriguing prospect of just how Zee will conduct himself when left in the steely grip of Lord Sugars pointing finger that has me looking forward to the next few episodes.  His conduct with Jason was bordering on bullying at times, even if some of his gripes had some validity.

As for "The Count" his eyebrows were sadly more absent this episode, though the magnificent black turtleneck, aviator shades and brown coat on the shoulder look was stunningly "Boycie", and yet menacingly Kray twin.  A show stopper all of it's own...maybe he'd spent just a little too long sniffing the empty sample bottles.

Did Lord Sugar get it right?  Simon Says....Yes! Tim was floating in a vat of mis-management by the end of the task.

Star of the Week: Alex Mills - Not just the "Eyebrows", the Belgium "Look".

Got Lucky: Francesca Macduff-Varley - How often the "counter" takes the rap on the manufacturing task.

Heading for a Fall: Zeeshaan Shah - He's making enemies, will he be able to control his short fuse in the pressure of a boardroom dressing down?

What do you think, did Lord Sugar get the firing correct?  Who should've gone? Who's your favourite to win?

For Twitter updates on The Apprentice don't forget to follow me @simonbrooke

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Eyebrows Have It! - The Apprentice Series 9, Episode 1

1...haha....2...haha...I love to count...

Not just one Apprentice episode this week, but two as the flagship BBC show strides back onto our screens (empty case in hand).  

Alex "The Count" Mills claimed the prize for biggest impact on episode one with those mesmeric eyebrows crafted from hours of preening and some may say one or two mistakes getting the length of them correct at the beauty salon.  

From his first moment on screen, especially when he stated that he had key skills in numbers reminded me of someone...

              The Count                                     Alex Mills

...still him and his eyebrows helped the boys to a win in a typical "buy and sell" challenge.

In between the startling appearance by The Count and the first firing of the series of Jaz Ampaw-Farr, who took on a very Sideshow Bob look when she donned a hard hat at the docks, it was an episode full of childish arguments, schoolboy one-liners and hanging high business as usual really.

As happens so many times on the first few episodes, the personalities that get the attention are often for the wrong reasons.  Sophie was absent in her contribution, Tim delivered the most cringing of cringeworthy thank you's to Lord Sugar and Jaz lept two-footed to her doom within seconds of the intro by taking on the project manager role.  I look forward to seeing how Zeeshaan "Napoleon" Shah copes as the series continues, I'm no historian but I'm not aware of Napoleon being known for hissy fits on the back of his horse (or in Zeeshaan's case his people carrier).

It was a poor episode all round for the teams, Evolve and Endeavour, Barry and Paul (Chuckle) would've been more appropriate as they sold a number of random items from the back of a shipping container.  Still the boys team somehow scrapped a win and it left Sideshow Jaz to walk squarely into the rake that is Lord Sugars firing finger (one for Simpsons geeks there).

The lesson that teams never seem to learn from these selling exercises is that whenever you are selling, and whatever you are selling you need a plan.  That starts by identifying the most likely 'buyers' for your products/service, then identifying the decision maker or key influencer, understanding your sales boundaries (stock, cost, break-even, profit) and then engaging with your prospect.  Sadly, even this basic outline tends to get lost in the politics of who needs/wants to sell.  Despite being taken into the boardroom (and seemingly not contributing hugely) it was admirable that Uzma at least took on a definite role within the team and made sure she contributed doing what she'd been asked to do.  Even on the harsh world that is The Apprentice early days, teamwork is still the key to get you through to the later weeks.

Still, it's beer tonight so chuck a little alcohol and production into the mix and it has all the hallmarks of a classic Apprentice episode.

By the way, this weeks episode was brought to you by the letter E...for Eyebrows.

Star of the Week: Alex Mills - The Eyebrows, just the eyebrows

Got Lucky: Tim Stillwell - What was he thinking with that sickening thank you??
Heading for a Fall: Sophie Lau - Already singled out as not contributing in front of Lord Sugar and her fellow candidates, they'll not forget that quickly.

For Twitter updates on The Apprentice don't forget to follow me @simonbrooke

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

It's here....The Apprentice Series 9 preview

And so it begins.

No I’m not talking about summer, we all know that big yellow ball in the sky won’t be here forever.  I’m talking the return for Series 9 of The Apprentice.

Following rapidly on from the “Stella English” court case there hasn’t been a better indication of the significant and, I think it’s fair to say, necessary change from the winner receiving a job to receiving a significant investment from Lord Sugar that we saw two series ago.

The award of a job within the wide spread of Lord Sugar’s business empire always seemed to jar with the nature and style of the programme and selection process.  As mad professor Tom and wrestler Ricky “La Vida Loca” Martin have both shown, the guiding hand of an entrepreneurial master like Sugar can prove invaluable, as long as the fundamental business plan is sound.

Tom’s flourishing empire is a fabulous example of a great business where the owner has lost their way (in Tom’s case getting caught up in his passion of inventing) getting the experience and guidance from a mentor and partner.  It should also be said that Tom would probably be the first to admit that the rather public time he spent understanding his own strengths and weaknesses will also have had a major bearing on his new found success.  Ricky too going from a situation where he has never started a business before, but held a number of key entrepreneurial attributes, has seen the rapid growth of his new venture benefit hugely from the experience a savvy entrepreneur and mentor can bring.  Sure the huge investment helped, but having that guidance is equally key.
It may be a great lesson for anyone frustrated by the lack of bank lending to look to alternative sources for funding and guidance.

So to this year’s batch of business wannabes and what another eclectic mix the producers have selected this time (let’s get it straight this is primarily a TV entertainment show).  From a professional dancer, Monaco-based marketing man to shop owners and even a doctor the mix is wide and varied.

For the very best introduction, check out the Meet the Candidates song courtesy of The Brett Domino Trio here – stunningly brilliant.

So what can we expect...more of the same I would suggest.  Ego’s, mis-calculations and unknown objects and everthing in between.  Already 22 year old Alex Mills’ claims to have strengths in design and calculations could come back to bit him.  Still it’s going to be fun!

Incidentally, a number of the candidates this year have retail experience, particularly in/with food-based companies which may indicate a little of Lord Sugars business preferences this year.

Follow me @simonbrooke for more thoughts on The Apprentice and my follow up on the first episode.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Learnings from 2012

As glorious as this year has been in many ways, it's also been a far from perfect affair.

Like many of you I began the year with many thoughts, dreams and ideas. None of them driven by any fly-by-night resolutions. These were solid, focused plans all taken from my dreams and hopes for the year, goals to achieve.

Unfortunately the hand of fate has delivered a larger slice of pain than triumphs this year, and I write this having received yet another slice...still I'm not alone and certainly have more than enough to be grateful for, I am everyday.

So I've composed a list of seven points that I'll share with youto keep you warm over the coming months. For next year is another year, and one full of even more promise...

Points to remember:

1. Keep going!
2. You have learnt a lesson with every kick.
3. You are 12 times the person you were in January.
4. Focus on all your great wins this last year, even if they don't feel quite like wins right now.
5. You have learnt so much about yourself and the people around you, use this new found power for good.
6. If you believe,
you can make your dreams come true, however far away they feel.
7. Take action! Wallow, Swallow and Follow...( ie. wallow, allow yourself a small wallow when things go wrong, but quickly swallow some oxygen and click yourself back into gear, and follow your dreams and plans and things will work out for you).

Here's to a cracking'll be here sooner than you think

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

One small leap for business...

As someone who doesn't 'do' heights the prospect of leaping off a balloon 24 miles above the cold and rather solid ground isn't my idea of fun.  In fact sometimes I think the reason I never made the 6 foot tall mark was the sheer determination of my inner self not to be heigh up rather than my genes.

So when Felix Baumgartner stood on the platform and lept I wasn't envious.  Or at least I shouldn't have been....

What Felix did in stunning hd action was something that everyone who has ever started a business has done.  You stood on the platform and lept.

I think that's why I was strangely drawn to that platform.  It brought to life the 'leap', that moment that separates the players from the wannanbees.  The moment that someone considers the risks and decides it's time to take the chance.

Speaking regularly with clients, friends, family and many many enterprising people I'm amazed at just how significant this 'leap' is.  Certainly not in an arrogant way, what I mean is that 'the leap' is what bonds fellow entrepreneurs together, that tacit understanding that means we don't need to speak about 'the leap'...we get on talking about everything else.  Yet for those who haven't taken 'the leap' it often takes on a huge amount more significance.

"You're so brave, I could never take the leap"
"I'd love to work for myself, but I just get scared of the leap" 
"I'm just not ready to take the leap just yet"

Just a couple of the lines that have been said to me in recent conversations.  Don't get me wrong, the little boost of self-esteem that I get whenever I hear these kind of lines is fantastic.  As it should be for all those brave souls that have taken the leap and set up businesses of all shapes and sizes.  The tacit understanding between us 'leapers' means we don't give ourselves the credit for just how significant such a step is.

And that is just the start of the business journey, which can feel like you've stepped off a 24 mile high balloon....Travelling at breakneck speed, not quite sure if you're heading in the right direction, not able to see or hear your instruments, you're visor misting up so you can't even enjoy the view or know when to push your shoot and hopefully the relief of making it to your goal in one piece.

But sometimes, even though the conditions aren't quite perfect, there comes a time you've just got to leap.