Effectiveness Hall of Fame - Paul Feldwick
Q: What have been the high points and low points in your career in the communications industry to date?
I don’t think I ever enjoyed anything more than organising global planning conferences for DDB: 100 planners and others from all over the world sparking ideas off each other (with a certain amount of drink involved too!).
And indeed, all the really interesting and brilliant and lovely people I’ve met along the way. There’s so much intellectual power, as well as creativity, in this business. It’s just not always put to any good use.
Conversely, the low points would be all those times when I spent hours, days and weeks having to argue about the right words for ‘brand essences’ or ‘creative ideas’ or ‘key insights’, until I wanted to set fire to myself. Intellect and effort woefully misapplied to pointless language games that have no connection to anything else.
Q: In your work, who has had the biggest influence on your communications thinking and practice - and why?
At the risk of sounding pretentious (and when did that ever stop me?),Paul Watzlawick, whose theories of communication transformed my thinking – it’s not just about transmitting content, it’s about how we create relationships between us. (See his Pragmatics of Human Communication, 1968).
An alternative answer would be my first boss, Martin Boase, who understood all this intuitively anyway. As he used to say, ‘If you’re going to invite yourself into someone’s living room, do your best not to irritate them. But if you’re a charming guest, they might like you a bit more, and then they’re more likely to buy your brand’.
Q: What knowledge or skill do you have today that you wish you had possessed when you started out?
In the words of Peter Cook, I’ve learnt from my mistakes and I could repeat them all perfectly. But I wish I had understood more about how things really get done (or not, as the case may be) in organisations: the complex responsive processes that either keep a conversation open or close it down.
I wish I’d known this, and that I’d had the courage to challenge ‘the way things are done’ more often and more effectively than I did. I wish I’d had more confidence in the power of ‘just talking’, felt more entitled to play, and been less easily intimidated by demands for order and control uttered in the name of ‘professionalism’ or ‘responsibility’.
Q: What is the single, most important change you have seen in the industry since you started? Has it been a change for the better or worse?
Martin Mayer wrote more than fifty years ago in Madison Avenue USA about ad agencies’ ‘strange blend of assertion and obedience, prosperity and insecurity, flamboyance and timidity’.
The most important thing that’s changed since then is that, today, there’s much less assertion, prosperity or flamboyance - while there seems to be a good deal more obedience, insecurity and timidity. That serves no-one’s interest in the long run, and unless agencies find an effective way to shift this power relationship, the quality of their work will continue to suffer and the industry will be less and less fun to work in.
I spent 30 years in advertising at Boase Massimi Pollitt/DDB, as an account planner. Fifteen of these years were also in a global strategic training and development role for DDB Worldwide.
I was Convenor of Judges for the IPA Advertising Effectiveness Awards in 1988 and 1990, sometime Chairman of the APG and of the AQR, and Fellow of the IPA and of the MRS.
I have been an independent consultant since 2006. I am an author who has published extensively on brands, advertising, and communications and I recently put myself through the wonderful Masters Degree in Organizational Change, at Ashridge Business School.
I am experimenting with ways of working that combine all my experience of brands and communications, with organizational change.
For more information, visit www.paulfeldwick.com
Last updated 15/10/2013