Intro: Welcome to Planner Parley, a show where we come together under a flag of truce to talk about small agency planning. In this episode, we’re getting lucky. Despite it being mentioned in only two percent of management books and theories, luck can play a big role in your work. And it’s within your powers to make it happen. Sure, you can stumble into luck, but wouldn’t you rather create your own chances to get you where you wanna go? To find out how, join Andy Nairn, Campaign UK award-winning strategist three years in a row, founding partner of Lucky Generals, and author of Go Luck Yourself: 40 Ways to Stack the Odds in Your Brand’s Favour; Lynette Xanders, Director of Brand Strategy at Truth Collective; and, of course, John Roberts, Chief Strategy Officer at Truth Collective, as they share how to get luck under your control, or not, and what it means for small agencies. Pull up a chair and listen in.
John Roberts: Everybody, welcome to another episode of Planner Parley. And I’m thrilled today to really get into the meat of what I think about as creativity being a serious business, but there’s magic in it. And I stumbled across an author and a strategist called Andy Nairn who, um, I’ve learned so much from in our brief conversation so far. Today we’re gonna be talking about luck. In fact, Andy’s gonna teach us how we can go luck ourselves. Joining me in the conversation is Andy and also Lynette Xanders, our Director of Brand Strategy here at Truth Collective, uh, with a great background in understanding the power of creativity, not just as a strategist but also within the work and the teams that we build. So, why don’t you do a quick introduction, hello yourself and then, uh, we’ll get into lucking ourselves. Andy?
Andy Nairn: Amazing. Thank you so much for that. Yeah. My, so my background is, um, I’ve been a strategist for the best part of 30 years in the UK and a little bit in, uh, the US, uh, but mostly over here in Europe. And I run- I founded an agency called Lucky Generals about nine years ago. And we’ve- we’ve done sort of pretty okay over here in the UK and we’ve got a- a little offshoot in New York as well now. So, uh, lots on my plate.
John Roberts: Excellent. Lynette?
Lynette Xanders: Hi, I’m Lynette Xanders. Uh, I have been a strategist for about that long. Um, so in, uh, the US and, uh, Canada. Uh, I went up to ski and fell in love and thought, “I’m gonna live here for a while”. Yeah. I’ve worked on, um, brands, consumer research, uh, workshopping, trying to get, uh, good ideas to come to life throughout my career. And, uh, I’ve been a Truth since April of this year. And, uh, I have found my home.
Andy Nairn: Oh, that’s nice.
John Roberts: I’m thrilled to hear it. Hey, Andy, you did say you’ve done pretty okay. But from my, um, Google searching and our conversations, I believe Lucky Generals has been short listed for the UK Campaigns Agency of the Year for six out of the last seven or eight years. And, uh, you are actually one of the top creative, [00:03:00] uh, strategists, I think, three times in a row. So I’ll say it ’cause I know you won’t. But it means that believe most of what you say. Why don’t you start with why on earth did you write a book called Go Luck Yourself?
Andy Nairn: Yeah. So a good question. I mean, obviously there’s a lot of, you know, the- the cynical view would be, “Oh, well this guy’s got an ad agency called Lucky Generals so it’s- it’s, uh, clearly a sort of shameless self-promotional, you know, sort of you’re putting the agency’s name into the title of the book”. But I’d obviously, there’s- there’s a- there might be a tiny little bit of that. Um, but I sort of wrote it despite, um, having an agency called Lucky Generals, really if I’m honest. Because I just found myself thinking a lot about luck over the last couple years. And realizing, to my embarrassment, really, that despite having an agency called Lucky Generals, I didn’t really know much about the, you know, wh- what luck was. And I- you know, I started thinking, you know, I guess the pandemic has probably made us all think about how unlucky the last couple of years have been for many of us. You know, what have we done to deserve this? So like all of us, I’ve sat at home having a few dark moments like that.
Um, but then I- I found myself thinking a lot about good luck in other ways ’cause a lot of the other big issues over the last couple of years, big social sort of issue, you know, whether it’s Me Too or Black Lives Matter, you know, have revolved around a different sort of luck. You know, this idea of privilege and, you know, I- I’m your classic old, white, straight, uh, able-bodied bloke. And so- so, in those dark moments of thinking how unlucky I was, I thought “No actually, hold on a minute, you- you’ve been very lucky just by your demographics apart from anything else”. But- but then I started thinking actually, beyond my demographics, I’ve just been lucky throughout my career. And then I started thinking “Well, do you know what? Everyone I speak to in private admits to the fact that they’ve- they’ve had a little bit of luck along the way”. If you’re being honest, I think any good strategist or any good creative person will say, you know, “We’ve had a little bit of luck”.
But in public, we’ve got this crazy pretense where we all write these case studies and talk about our careers as if luck never played a role, and I found that fascinating. I found that an interesting little tension there that privately we’ve got this little secret that we do know that luck exists, but we- we pretend that it doesn’t exist. I found that the only two percent of management textbooks mention the term luck, you know? And I feel like, uh, after 30 years, and I’m sure you’re the same Lynette and you’re the same John, you sort of know that it’s a lot more than that in- in real life. So I- I decided to sort of explore that.
John Roberts: Excellent. Lynette, are you lucky?
Lynette Xanders: Yes. But I think, uh, I set the conditions for luck. We always say that you, uh, lay the table so that the fairies show up.
Andy Nairn: Oh I love that, I’m stealing that. Absolutely.
Lynette Xanders: Are you? (laughs).
John Roberts: Okay the stealing has begun, we’re about two minutes into this podcast.
Lynette Xanders: (laughs).
John Roberts: I’m just gonna keep- keep going at it.
Andy Nairn: See that will crop up the next, um, uh, the next podcast. I- I will credit you, of course.
John Roberts: (laughs).
Lynette Xanders: Oh, no worries. I’m glad. But yeah, I read the book. And so I heard you speak about it and it was just like “Oh, yes, absolutely”. It is- a lot of it is- is channeling an, um, maybe even divine intervention. But-
Andy Nairn: Yeah.
Lynette Xanders: … I was thrilled to see you talk about it.
Andy Nairn: Thank you. I feel like you’ve got to be, uh, my point is that you’ve got to be conscious of it, so that’s why I like that phrase of setting the table. You- and obviously we can all stumble onto luck and experience and, uh, uh, you know, along the way, you know, experience serendipity and that- that’s fine. It- it’s not particularly useful that. And I- obviously, writing a book about that isn’t necessarily all that helpful because it doesn’t tell you how to increase your chances. But the book really frankly is about setting the table out and sort of stacking the deck, or whatever analogy you wanna choose, to increase your chances of luck coming your way. Because there’s a science to luck, you know? There’s a lot of research in psychology devoted to the subject. And we pretend it’s some sort of superstitious, silly thing, but actually it’s sort of just maths, really. It’s- it’s, um, probabilities.
And like all things related to probabilities, you can- you can calculate the- you know, your odds of success. And then, you know, if you’re conscious of it, you can increase those odds. If you don’t- if you don’t accept it exists, you’re not gonna be able to effect your odds because you’re not thinking about it, you’re not consciously setting out that table so that these lovely fairies are gonna arrive.
John Roberts: To- it, uh, struck me when I was get- I’m gonna come back to the point you made earlier about two percent of management books or- or theories refer back to the power of luck, I think you said. Um, why is that so strongly imbued in the power of, the importance of management theory? That actually lucky doesn’t play a role.
Andy Nairn: It’s got quite big cultural roots, what- it what I discovered. Again, this was all new to me. But, um, anyone who’s worked in another part of the world, perhaps Asia in particular, or has family background in those cultures, will know that it’s- it’s not a taboo in other parts of the world. But in Western business culture, um, and especially Anglo Saxon sort of business cultures, it comes from the Protestant work ethic. So during the industrial revolution, um, the Victorians had this real belief that if- if you’re rich and successful, that meant that God had smiled upon your hard work and your- your endeavors. And if you were poor, you just didn’t- hadn’t tried hard enough and you would work harder you lazy git. And there’s, uh, this kind of illusion that everyone had the same chances in life and all you needed to do was work harder and harder and harder.
And we’ve all heard that phrase, um, you know, “The harder- there’s no such thing as luck. The harder you work, the luckier you get”. And- and that is- that has become the answer to so many Western business problems. We’re told, you know, it’s the American dream, isn’t it? You know, and you know, that every everybody has an equal chance and everyone can succeed and all you need to do is work- hard work. And of course hard work is really important. Um, and talent is really important as well. But… um… they’re not everything. And if the last couple years have taught us anything, it’s not just about working harder and harder and harder, it’s not that you have to work smarter as well. Um… you know, I think it’s- it’s become very damaging this, uh, in the book, and maybe we talk about it later, I’ll talk about how it- it’s really damaging to people’s lives and to the quality of the creative work if you just say that- that the answer is to spend another couple of hours at your desk working at it, you know, slogging away. And it- that literally does not improve your chances of success, it probably damages them, really.
John Roberts: Well let’s stay on that. Let’s not go- come back to it later, let’s pick up from that immediately. Because I do feel as though the last couple of years have taught us, look, what we just chat before we were off air, you know, the- the importance and the growth now of the recognition of a complete flexibility in our workplace, okay? The- we’re not measuring time, uh, as a- as- I think almost as- as functionally as we were in the past. We also weren’t assessing people’s contribution based on whether they were at their desk or not. It’s more in the output. Do you think those, uh, the changing conditions of the- the Covid years and now onwards, okay, the new normal now, will that improve the potential of luck?
Andy Nairn: I think in some ways it does, because it- it al- for instance, I mean an obvious implication is that allows perhaps different and more diverse gr- people to work in the workforce, to collaborate together. So you can smash together different influences, you know, from all over the place and therefore, you know, a lot of creativity is about serendipitous connections between different forces, different points of view. So that- that can be, you know, here we are talking together, you know, a thousand miles apart. You know, that might increase our chances of having a lucky connection. Um, what it- where it sometimes is difficult and I think we haven’t collectively all figured out how do we, um, replicate this, is that what it sometimes does is removes the serendipity of like, you know, the water cooler, uh, you know-
John Roberts: Right.
Andy Nairn: … conversation. You know, and Steve Jobs, you know, among his many other clever things, was the realization that so much of creativity comes from those accidental, uh, you know, conversations. Uh, and- and therefore again, like as to my point he would, um, deliberately, uh, engineer the buildings and, uh, and the processes so that people had to talk to each other. And- and when we- when we’re not in the same place, sometimes it is harder on a Zoom to engineer that sort of conversation, because some of those conversations can be more functional, can’t they? You don’t always have those kind of slightly more sparky chance conversations that you have in- in real life.
Lynette Xanders: I do think though there’s maybe, uh, part of the setting the table, Covid silver lining, is that, uh… I think part of setting the table is- is having more joy, um, and having more fun in the workplace, and perhaps not having the commutes and not having to, you know, get there by a certain time and clock in, clock out. My- my hope is that that kind of, um, feeds that creative spark and feeds the, uh… ability to I guess be open to things other than “We’re gonna go from here to here to here to here, and it’s- it’s gotta be painful”.
Andy Nairn: That’s a brilliant point. And actually, yes, ju- just thinking about it, one of the things, uh, I- I talk about is, you know, doing other stuff more likely to spark. Going for a walk around the block, um, or a run or going to, you know, do something creative, listening to music or going to a ball game or reading for- about psychology for a bit or religion, or whatever it is. All those things are not only good for your soul and good for your sort of personal life, but they’re probably gonna increase your chances of striking it lucky when it comes to your work because creativity thrives when we take diverse influence from all over the place and throw them into that work setting. If- if all we do, I probably shouldn’t say this as someone- as someone who’s promoting a marketing book, but I’m gonna say it. If- if all you read is marketing books all day, you- you’re not gonna, um, come up with as rich ideas as you do if, uh, you are getting your- your information from all sorts of other places. My publisher’s gonna kill me now. It’s, uh-
John Roberts: Yeah, but it- uh… in your defense, okay, I find that most marketing books tell you how to do it. And what your book has done for me and when Lynette, when you and I were talking about, would be to- how to create the conditions. I’m on this fairy table now, okay? But how to create the conditions to allow, okay, to allow more expansive thinking and- and the ability to actually create these- these happen chances. Uh, and have you found, and Lynette, do you feel that there’s a difference in the appreciation of luck between agency folk and client folk? Is it that simplistic? Lynette.
Lynette Xanders: I do feel there’s a difference. Uh, it depends on the agency. My- in- in the best cases though, I think agencies have had a little bit of, “I don’t know where that come- came from but thank god it showed up, uh, the- you know, the night before”. Uh, I do find clients to be a little more, um, stair steppy. Like this is going to lead to that, this going to lead to that. And there’s a process. Um, and I think in the agency world, you know, I think we know there’s not really a process. There’s some guideline of this has to happen before that. But ultimately you just get smart people in the room with a great question and let ’em, you know, let ideas kind of bubble up. So there’s, uh, having played with it I think either they’re more open to it bef- when they show up, it pulls that kind of people, or it’s through the process we’ve just learned that sometimes it- it happens brilliantly.
John Roberts: Okay. Andy, how about you?
Andy Nairn: Yeah, I think that’s very true. I think… and we’ve all conspired to create this, and again, these very deep cultural sort of connotations of luck being a scary, primeval, primitive, un- you know, it’s a- it’s out of our control and, um, you know, uh, it’s often interpreted as, uh… bad luck, you know? Thing- when- the only time we ever mention luck in a business context, you know, is usually to say “Let’s leave nothing to chance”, you know, “Let’s eliminate luck”. Um, you know, it’s a very negative, you know, um, “Le- let’s make everything very predictable”. And of course, actually ultimately predictable is bad, especially in our line of work, because if we can predict everything it’s just gonna be boring. So it’s- it’s taking clients on a journey and helping them understand that, you know, luck is a- is a good force.
And- and, um, one of the analogies I always use is with science. So… a lot of, uh, I totally get what Lynette just said about the- the step by step thing, you know? We- we’re all told that we need to think very logically from, you know, the idea comes out of a very logical process with the business, you know, objectives and the marketing objectives, the comms objectives, the- the creative id- yadda, yadda, yadda. Uh, and you should- you should think about it now and, uh, obviously ultimately that has all gotta line up. But- but sometimes you just stumble over something interesting and cool and you work backwards, and that- that is- that is, um, dealt with as a terrible crime if you’re a strategist, you know?
John Roberts: (laughs).
Andy Nairn: You- you’ve do- you know, that is, um, you know, post rationalizing it and, um, you work backwards. And, uh, and it’s very unscientific. But what the great irony of that is, and I’ve got lots of friends who, you know, have got senior jobs in science, they- they say “Well that is precisely how science works”. Sc- you know, most science, all the great discoveries in science have been discovered as accidental stumbles, um, which then pe- clever people have worked backwards from. So whether it’s, um, you know, Archimedes in the bath, uh, to Isaac Newton under the ap- apple tree or Alexander Fleming spotting a moldy petri dish on, you know, on his window ledge, um, those things were discovered and then of course there’s a great skill in realizing, uh, the- that discovery, you know, the significance of that discovery. So it’s what Louis Pasteur said, you know, is- is luck is when, um, opportunity meets a prepared mind.
So the equivalent in our world is I guess you can- you can- you can stumble on something, you can be having a shower and just think of something that’s a cool idea, and you can think “Oh I wonder if that’s the answer to that brief”. And even if it’s a bit off brief, if you work backwards and think, um, “I- okay, that actually does stack up or that does solve that business problem in a way that I didn’t expect it”, then that’s- that’s totally fine, and that’s actually quite common. And… it- I just laugh at the idea that, you know, sc- scientists don’t look at somebody like Isaac Newton or Alexander Fleming and say, you know, “Well they were a bit- they were a bit lucky, weren’t they?”. They-
John Roberts: (laughs).
Andy Nairn: … one- one of the things I’ve found in my life, and I- again, I don’t know what- whether you two are the same, is if you- if you stumble over just what is a brilliant idea that- that is lateral and perhaps wasn’t quite what the brief initially demanded but is a better answer to a better brief, then you’ve actually got to do more work in retrospect to prove scientifically and robustly that this is a- a- an exciting thing to do than if you had just been working through- going through the motions of a kind of more predictable sort of process. So- so, you know, and that- and again, that’s like science, isn’t it? When- when a- when a scientists discovers a cure to arthritis when they’re searching for something to do with, you know, um, uh, influenza or something like that, then they have to actually do more work to prove that it’s valid than- than if they were not working on that brief in the first place, if you know what I mean.
John Roberts: Yeah, so true. And you know, on that- on that… the idea and the brief part, I find that you need to be fairly confident to allow yourself the possibility that the brief might actually be slightly different. Now you’ve got to the happen chance of the- the lucky solution, but actually you realize how brilliant it could be to allow yourself the possibility to go back in and say “I know it’s not quite on brief, but what brief is it on? And the- will it still, you know, will it still meet the needs of what we need to achieve?”. Do you find that Lynette?
Lynette Xanders: I do. Yeah. I think, uh, the subconscious is- is powerful. Right? And sometimes, you know, if you listen to it, you know, you get a whisper in the ear. Um, and it’s- it’s paying attention to that. Sometimes you have to blow up something you’ve already worked really hard on. Um, but that’s, you know, uh, it’s being open to luck is- is saying, uh, “I might have to scrap it, but it’s gonna be better”.
John Roberts: Yeah. So let’s talk, Andy, uh, the- the book, where you- get it- delve into a little bit more in, okay, and I- I- I just, Lynette and I were saying earlier, it’s, um, it’s a marketing book that’s worth reading.
Lynette Xanders: Yeah.
John Roberts: It’s a marketing book that is-
Lynette Xanders: Fun.
John Roberts: … challenges you to ask yourself questions and have fun with it, Lynette, you’re absolutely right. Um, talk a little bit about, um, the four themes that you uncovered and you want to reveal in the book.
Andy Nairn: So, um… it’s a way of organizing. I- I feel like there’s four different sort of ways that you can, you know, stack the odds in your favor. One- one is about appreciate what you’ve got. Again, there’s a lot of science behind that. In life, if you appreciate the good things in your life you’re more likely to succeed. And I- I feel like the same applies to companies. We’ve all worked with companies, you know, it’s incredible how many times the brief is something that is lying almost in front of the companies but they just haven’t appreciated the value of, you know, they haven’t appreciated the value of their people or some hidden asset or, um, a- a history or heritage or data, and it’s human nature to not appreciate the things that are closest to us, right? So- so very often the answer for someone like us, like external experts is to come in and go “Wow! You haven’t made anything of this, this is- this is like gold dust, you know? You’ve got treasure lying in you attic and you just haven’t done anything with it”. So- so just appreciating these things that are around us that are almost like too close up and familiar for us to see, is like there’s a lot of examples of that.
Um… and then the second section is about looking for opportunities everywhere, it’s something we just talked about. Where, um, a lot of the time the answer lies from, you know, seren- deliberately engineering serendipity. So, um, making sure your life is full of, you know, interesting influences from sport to religion, music, to science and all this other stuff. Uh, and then deliberately tasking yourself with “Oh, well what would- what would a scientist think about this?”, “What would Babe Ruth say about this?”, “What would Madonna do?”, you know? All that kinda stuff. Um, and so it’s kind of having a rich life, uh, and actually having, you know, rich diversity of a workforce as well as a kind of- another accelerator of kind of more interesting ideas, sort of thing. So that’s about that multiplier effect.
The third one is about turning misfortune into good fortune. You know, so a lot of the best strategies take something that at first sight looks like a terrible thing, bad luck, you know, it’s a we’ve got no money, we’ve got no time, um, we’ve got a terrible product, um, we’ve got a flaw or a crisis or, um, people hate us, or whatever the- the problem is. But sometimes you can flip that and turn it- that on it’s head, and that can be really, really powerful as well. So, um… I- I always- I find that a really interesting strategy, to get energy from back luck.
Um, and then the fourth one is about, um, it’s- it’s kind of about, um, practicing being lucky, so some sort of slightly more practical, day to day ways to institutionalize in your culture, you know, like that Apple example I gave. You know, how you- how do you organize your business? How do you organize your working process and teams? Um, you know, very deliberately and consciously engineer and lock in your processes, uh, can be, and also a really good way to sort of, um, increase your chances of succeeding.
John Roberts: So stay with that last one, the- the practice versus over rehearsing the appreciation. ‘Cause I find that, um, you know, from our discussions we’ve had already, it’s a- it’s a hard working book, okay? Because it opens up the mind with great si- examples, uh, really joyful and easy to read. But also, I love the way that the chapters end with like questions to ask yourself. Almost like brainstorming stimulus. Um, what have you found, um, within your experience to be some ways that actually other strategists can pick up and- and apply that practice?
Andy Nairn: Um, so… uh, I’ve worked with a- a number of companies that do this, that are very successful. So things like, um, Lego. I was having a chat with some people at Lego the other day, and they- they have play days where they, I mean, so it’s so perfectly suited to their product where they, you know, they literally just spend the day, they- they are talking about business challenges, but they are very deliberately and consciously playing with the products as well. And sometimes the tactile nature of that leads to, you know, interesting solutions to the- the business problem they talking about. So… um… I think play- playful sort of processes, you know, how- how can you make your business culture more playful? You know, god it’s- it’s hard work at the moment, and I just feel like business culture should be more fun, otherwise we’re all gonna, you know, just, you know, just off a cliff sort of thing. So, um… how can you be more playful?
I- I worked with Paddy Power, which is like a very well-known European betting company, it’s like the biggest betting company I think in Europe now. Um, and they’ve got a mischief department, um, who set up a- only to do crazy, funny, silly, stupid, irreverent stunts in the world of sport. And there’s no onus on them to, um, generate payback, you know? But- but it’s just about generating mischief that will then ultimately over the long term benefit the brand. And that, again, I- I feel like encouraging culture where some of the time is dedicated to just pure mischievous, naughty sort of boundary pushing kinda stuff, um… can be quite- quite useful. Um… people at, I think, Google and, uh, 3AM do that well, as well. I think they ring- I think they literally ring fence time, um, uh, you know, and- and make sure that employees, and they know that a lot of time will be wasted, but within that, you know, one or two amazing ideas will just bubble up that wouldn’t otherwise, you know, by allowing people to pursue those sorts of passions.
Um, and, um, I think generally the quote I love in this face- space is by the great, uh, record producer, uh, Quincy Jones who- whose got on his- on his wall, he’s got this brilliant phrase which I love, which is “Let the lord walk through the room”. And I- I love that because I feel like a lot of our process in business and marketing in particular are kind of- are designed to let the lor- you know, to lock the lord out the room, that keep him out, don’t let any chance occurrences-
John Roberts: Right.
Andy Nairn: … happen. And just how can you consciously loosen up your processes so that even when something has been approved and sold up the chain, you can still un-sell it and u- and make it better and take it in a different path, um, in the way that a great record producer might do. You know, he can have- he could record a track but then somebody might walk by in the corridor and he might think “Well this is- this wasn’t on the original thing, but I’m gonna get this guy in to do a guitar solo”, and it turns out to be, you know, the- one of the biggest selling, you know, songs of all time sort of thing. So, um, I think we should take a leaf out of that book. Embrace lucky opportunities rather than, you know, lock the door to them just because they weren’t on the plan.
John Roberts: And I hear within that also create those opportunities where we- we take the risk of something may not happen, okay, the- the- just accept that there’s gonna be time where not all of the time gonna immediately lead to the right answer. Lynette, does this feel similar to, you know, when we start talking together about how the creative buoyancy workshops I think about that you run? Does that feel similar to you?
Lynette Xanders: It does. Um, I think it’s- it’s retraining ourselves to- to play, um, and- and be open. Um… and, uh, think about things while we’re doing things that are joyful, like bringing that energy, um, to the table. But I think it’s, uh, what I love about Truth though it’s- it’s being able to look at the process and say “Let’s make some time, let’s just go all out and, uh, do something fun together”. Um… so it’s- it’s making the time and space, I think is- as much as kind of retraining our- our brains to- to say “This is- it’s not a bad thing, this is actually a good thing”. Um, and it is part of productivity, you know, that creativity and happiness and productivity all play in the same sandbox.
John Roberts: So I feel as though, just picking up from that Lynette and Andy, what you were saying earlier, there’s- there may be an innate tension between this ability to create the space and accept that the risk in there can be play in the sandbox, as you were talking, with, you were talking about the third theme, about, uh, misfortune turning. Okay? We all have no time, no budget, too many constraints and so on. Talk about the- that- that theme and what that means to you, and some examples, would you? ‘Cause I bet we all have plenty of those examples.
Andy Nairn: Yeah, we- I mean, the examples are myriad. And especially, I mean I guess over the last couple of years we’ve all been dealing with misfortune to some degree, you know, in, uh, certainly most categories, you know? How do we deal with this incredible challenge? To me it’s a- there’s a basic truth in life, which again is backed up by science. Um, there’s actually a really interesting experiment, I fe- I’ll explain that ’cause I think it’s, uh, quite useful to show how this works. Um… there is a university, I forget which one, who doesn’t remember, where they tell a story about a guy who was, um, present at the first atomic bombing in, um, Hiroshima. Uh, he was on a business trip and he was at the epicenter, uh, and he escaped and- and went back to his home. Um, and his home was in Nagasaki. So he was also present at the epicenter of the bomb that dropped on Nagasaki and he escaped that too and he went on to live for about 40, 50 years. And he’s the only person that was- that survived both bomb blasts, um, or that has been verified.
And anyway, they tell this story in two slightly different ways to two different audiences and to one audience they set it up as the- the story of the luckiest man in history, and to the other audience they set it up as the- the unluckiest man in- in history. And they had, um, incredibly different results. They managed to persuade the two different audiences, you know, just by the way that they told the story, that this was, you know, two mutually opposing sort of, um, outcomes. And- and I think that’s very- and- and the biggest point they make out of that is that so much of what we frame as bad luck or good luck is in life is- is really just about how we think about it.
And that really struck me as a sort of a creative person, because… I can think of, and I’m sure you two can think of so many examples where something that looked like a bad thing turned out to be, you know, we’ve all bitched about a- a- a- a tight deadline, and then actually it was the deadline that made us come up with the goods. Or, you know, the budget, the fact that we had a low budget. Um, the first thing we ever worked on as an agency, we- we were- we were working for this company, um, Paddy Power, the betting company, for the mischief department they wanted to do something fun in the world of to take on homophobia in British soccer. Um, and we had no money. We were- we were on a shoestring, and we were moaning about being, you know, marketing on a shoestring, yadda, yadda. Then we actually thought, “Do you know what? Let’s literally market on a shoestring and we’ll- we’ll create rainbow colored bootlaces that we’ll give to every single football player in the UK and get fans and celebrities to champion”.
And that- that’s been a phenomenon, uh, that’s gone on for 10 years now, it’s a huge part of the British sporting calendar. Every single club in the country, every, you know, team takes part in it. And it’s- it’s an enormous, you know, long running sort of campaign. Um… that sort of we would never have got to if- if we- if they’d given us loads of money and said “Do us a telly campaign”. It was- it was out of, you know, our- our grumpiness about having no money (laughs), um, that we- we a- we just had no other options. Um, so I think things like that, there’s lots… lots and lots of. So and of course, you know, in the States the great- the great Bernbach campaigns when, you know, he- that was his trick, wasn’t it? That- to take the worst thing about the product, you know-
John Roberts: That’s right.
Andy Nairn: … the fact that the cars wasn’t desirable and to celebrate those facts, um, and flip it. And- and I think we forget that at our peril.
John Roberts: Excellent. How do clients feel about luck, Andy? How- how’ve you been selling luck?
Andy Nairn: Um… it can be a… you know, the- I think we never sell it as just luck. I think the w- the word just is a very important one here, ’cause a l- a lot of people say “Oh we-“, you know, j- if I call you- if I say you’re just lucky, that’s pretty insulting, isn’t it? ‘Cause I’m saying that you’re not talented, not hard working. Um, and so we would never say as an agency that we’re just lucky. We don’t just sort of pluck these ideas out of nowhere. But we do encourage our clients to sort of see the value of luck, because that’s about opening opportunities and- and being mindful of it. And, um, you know, not sticking rigidly to a plan, ’cause something, you know, interesting and cool might happen if we are a bit more open minded. But we- but we’ve still… almost to [inaudible 00:31:25] against that, we are very hard working and we’re very, um, you know, we’ve got lots of really talented people and we’ve got a- we’ve got a track record, frankly.
It’s much easier to talk about, um, being lucky if you’ve got a track record of success. And that- that was really where, by the way, the- the name Lucky Generals comes from a Napoleon quote, do you this? So he- he- he was asked “What does it take to win a war?”, and he said “Just bring me your lucky generals”. You know? It’s easier to talk about luck if you’ve, uh, I think that’s a- the thing, to sort of make sure you got some good case studies up your sleeve that can demonstrate the power of this stuff, um, and then, you know, clients will sort of, um, have more trust in, uh, that role in the process.
John Roberts: It’s funny, just building on what you were saying. Um, it just struck me that Napoleon wanted the lucky generals, okay, the generals that had spent years in the services understanding and planning strategy, warfare, whatever it would be, and then that added measure of luck. Lynette, when you found discussions with clients about the notion of luck and the- the magic that oc- occurs from that as well, are there any tips you’ve had? Uh, you’ve learned along the way about how to help a client start to appreciate that?
Lynette Xanders: I, uh… I don’t know that I- I hit it straight on. But one thing, like we did this today in the client presentation and say “It’s- it’s, you know, not gonna ring a bell for you right this minute, but it’s like a movie. Like are you- if you’re thinking about it the next day, pay attention to that”. Um, so I just try to tell them “Listen for things you’re not listening for. If you get a goosebump, pay attention, say something. If it makes us laugh, pay attention, there’s something in there”. It was kind of like the boot laces. You know? It was like yeah, muttering, but somebody said “Hey, wait a minute, there’s an idea in there”. So I think it’s, uh, kind of getting them to feel their way through as opposed to think their way through. At least a little bit. Just say “Pause for a second, let it wash over you, sleep on it, see how you feel, um, and pay attention to that”.
Andy Nairn: Yeah that’s good. And I- I feel what I’ve- I’ve found is that those- those four themes are kind of helpful. Rather than just talking about luck in an abstract-
John Roberts: Yeah.
Andy Nairn: … way, I’ve found the four individual themes are- clients totally get them, you know? Because, uh, so for instance, the first one’s very flattering actually and- and reassuring to clients, because to say to them, “Do you know what? You know, you- you’ve got amazing assets, you’ve got so many great things to talk about that you don’t appreciate. Or even if you just got one thing that you’ve just- I can’t believe you never, you know, uh, made more… you’re so lucky to have it”. That’s reassuring rather than worrying. So that’s me saying you- you sh- you need to appreciate what you have more. So that’s- that’s helpful. Same with, um… you know, s- getting them to appreciate that there are opportunities coming from everywhere to sort of say “You might feel bad about this current situation, but imagine if you were a bank or a utility or, you know, imagine if you were in the- in the rock industry, they’d think you were amazing’. So again it’s- that’s a helpful, flattering, positive way to look at it.
Same with bad news. You know, if they come to you, because of course often clients with come with up to a prob- with a problem, by the definition of, you know, that’s how they- why they come to an agency. So if you’re kind of saying “You know that flaw or that taboo, that low budget you think is gonna be a problem? Don’t worry, that- we actually think that could be the secret to unlocking things”. You know, all of these are actually positive ways to, um, turn your luck around for the better. And I think once you starting that conversation, then clients, you know, start feeling more cheerful about it I guess.
John Roberts: Yeah, that’s great pick up. Reminds me, uh, we did a campaign for a client where they were concerned that they were the number one style of beer in the US, but no one had heard of it. We said “That’s the magic”.
Andy Nairn: Hmm.
John Roberts: That’s the lucky part-
Andy Nairn: Yeah.
John Roberts: … we- we can bring alive. So when you flow through the book and when you went back through history and time and experiences you’ve had, is there one that shines for you? That stands out?
Andy Nairn: Um… yeah, I guess there’s- there’s lots- lots of them have got- I- I tried to mostly write about stuff I, you know, um, got direct experience of. So they- they’ve all got little personal places in my heart. But one that, um… I was thinking about the other day, that just thinking how- how fun it was to work on was for Virgin. I’ve done a lot of work for Virgin over the years. Richard Branson’s a big believer in l- in luck. Um… he created a very vibrant, you know, iconic, uh, sort of a lucky brand, I guess. Um, and anyway, he… the sort of truth about Virgin is that they are very lucky and they ap- they do appreciate how lucky they are to have brilliant people. There’s something slightly intangible about just the people they attract and hire and somewhat in the image of Mr. Branson, you know, they’re more entrepreneurial more fun, um, they don’t follow a script, um, and, uh, there’s a bit more charisma to them.
That’s quite a hard thing to get across though, so it- lots of- lots of service companies pack their advertising full of smiley, happy feeling, you know, people, and everyone’s got a good- some good employees, right? You know, so it’s quite hard to- it’s quite an intangible thing that, to say “We’ve got nice people”. So we- we were sort of struggling with that brief to think about how we might capture how lucky they were. And we sort of hit upon this truth, which again, they’re very lucky to have. That might be- they might have seen it as a bad thing in one- at one stage, but the- their roots are in the rock industry. You know? They started off as a, you know, as a music company and it was the band, you know, the- the music, the record label Virgin who, um, you know, found the Sex Pistols, you know? It was punk and all the rest of it. Which at some levels might have been a bad thing for a holiday company, I guess.
But we sort of actually figured out no, that’s- that’s why the service is so good. If you get a Virgin holidays, they’re used to dealing with rock stars and, you know, they- they will cater for anybody’s most outlandish desires. And so we kind of thought, “Do you know what? That’s- that’s the magic of Virgin that’s hard to put your fi- w- it’s not just five start service or even six star service, it’s rockstar service”. And that was the idea, rockstar service, based on that truth that they were originally a record company and- and a- a music company, and they treat everyone brilliantly and there’s a bit of charisma and chutzpah to them. And then we just went to down with it. So instead of… so there’s rockstar service, we did all sorts of fun things including getting one of the roadies from I think it was the Grateful Dead to- to teach, um, the staff about how do you give someone rockstar service? How do you make sure that they’re, you know, all their wishes are- are- are, um, fulfilled and all the rest of it? Um, and we- we created, um… like a plastic televisions that you could throw- inflatable televisions you could throw out of the hotel window and stuff like that.
John Roberts: (laughs).
Andy Nairn: W- it was, uh, it was the kind of big bra- there was television advertising, all the rest of it, but at its heart was just like a really brilliant, vibrant description of h- of this company that acknowledged how lucky they were to have this slightly odd, uh, history, um, and to have these amazing people. Uh, and yeah, I- I think a lot of companies would’ve said “Oh no, that- we don’t wanna be associated with such sort of bad behavior and, um, arrogance and all the rest of it”, but they- they were- they were up for it. And we were lucky to work with them frankly.
John Roberts: Excellent. How about Lynette? When you were going through the book, and you and I have been chatting about some of these, uh, examples that, uh, Andy’s given us but also some of the tips, is there any one that stuck out for you? You wanted to probe in deeper with Andy?
Lynette Xanders: There is one, uh, only because like the… so, uh, I am a huge Ridley Scott fan, and the fact that he, uh, directed, you know, the first ad for this bread company that you, um, subsequently worked for, I mean that caught my attention. But what I- what really struck me was that you, uh, said, you know, you went back and forth to the client several times without the right answer before, you know, you said “Hey, let’s, you know, take a piece of that and show the progression to- to today and change that tagline just a little bit”. But my interest was just in, uh, not getting it right the first time, or not being able to get lucky the first time. And, uh, you know, what do you say to the client? Or, you know, how do you bring ’em along?
Andy Nairn: Yeah that’s good, I mean lots of- lots of, uh, stories get airbrushed don’t they? So you don’t- you don’t find out that they agency got it wrong for two or three times before they struck lucky. But in this case it was so the brand was Hovis, um, and they had this amazing history, including that ad by Ridley Scott from 1974. It’s not run for 30 or 40 years, but it’s one- still one of the most famous ads in British history, people still talk about it now. You know, god knows how they’ve seen it but it’s part of our sort of social cultural history. They were really embarrassed by it, that was the problem. Because their- their brand had become very old fashioned, the ad by Ridley Scott was, um, uh, it was very, um, it was all about, um, you know, it’s shot in sepia tones and black and white and it was- it was about history. So the brief that we had been working on, time and time again, was, um, how would you make it modern? And the- the explicit mandate was “Don’t do anything that’s old fashioned because that is the- our whole problem”.
So there was a whole sequence, not just through us but previous agencies of, um, modern families, modern non-nuclear families, um, South Park kind of animation kind of stuff. Stuff that more or less screamed “We’re modern!”, you know, “This has all changed”, and all the rest of it. Uh, and none of it worked. And eventually we- eventually we got kicked off, we- we didn’t win that pitch and we, um… we- we forgot about it for six months. And then- then we had a bit of luck. There was a new marketing director came in, um, and gave us a call and said “Look, none of this stuff has ever worked. Um, we’re really in the shit now”. Like they were in a very, you know, for one of the most famous brands in Britain they were gonna be de-listed. Um, and said “Do- do whatever you want, um, as long as it works. I don’t care”. And we said “Can we have a look at the history then? Everyone keeps saying don’t go near the history”, and he said “Whatever”, you know? Um, on your heads be it sort of thing. But, um, “With my blessing go and have a look at the archives”.
And we just found this amazing history and we, as you say, we sort of found a way to nod in the direction of the famous ad, um, and we had- there was echoes of that. Our ad also had a young boy, but our boy ran rather than going on a bike. He ran through history and he ran through all the big events of the 20- you know, well the last 122 years, you know, um, through the First World War, the Second World War, in mass immigration, England winning the World Cup, the miner’s strike, all the way though the millennium fireworks, back into the modern day, puts the loaf of bread on the table and then the line, as you say, was a tweaked version of the old line, “As good today as it’s always been”. And it was- it was voted the British public’s number, you know, favorite campaign of the decade. Uh, it generated, you know, £100 millions worth of extra profit in the first couple of years. Um, it was a huge success.
But that was because that one individual appreciated how lucky they were to have a history and how lucky they were to have that heritage of that- that old advertising. And that, you know, that- that’s gold dust if you’ve got that. Don’t, you know, throw that stuff under the bus, which is what a lot of other companies do. So that’s a good example of just helping companies appreciate, if you’ve got old icons or brand characters or jingles or pneumonics, you’re- you’re often better to try and repurpose them and bring them back to life and, you know, make them modern rather than just kill them because superficially they look old fashioned.
John Roberts: Excellent story. And I- Andy, um, I just wanna summarize again, I think that it’s been great, Lynette and I have been talking about this book, it’s so good to spend time with you again. Um, I do really appreciate how the book helps provide a little bit of structure to this notion of luck, that it- that you talked about the science behind it earlier but also the structuring. Because it also is a really hard working book. It isn’t just about creating that- the conditions, but it also helps you with, the way that you structured the book with the- the tips at the end of each chapter and so on, to ask yourself provocative questions, which I think is so important for us as the- the strategists within the companies today. And to start think about how do we get our clients on the side? You know, preconditioning like you’ve guys have talked about or, uh, having them to start to appreciate that- that potential, the magic, the, uh, the lord’s share. Andy, thank you. Uh, we’re gonna make sure that everyone’s got access to the book, uh, I’ll talk to your publisher about see if I can get any commission. Uh, but I wish you, uh, all of- all the very best of luck and, uh, we’ll keep in touch.
Andy Nairn: And actually, the other, uh, um, final thing I want to say is that all the royalties from the book are going to a really good cause. Um, it’s a group of people called Commercial Break who help working class kids, uh, get a lucky break into, uh, the creative industry. So it’s a book about luck that hopefully will bring a little bit of luck to other people.
John Roberts: Oh Andy, that’s fantastic. We’ll make sure that, uh, with the pod go all of the- all of the links, not just to the book but to Commercial Break themselves as well.
Andy Nairn: Brilliant.
John Roberts: Uh, as ever Andy, really appreciate it. Just such an easy conversation to have but I- I’ve learnt more, I’ve got enthused more as well. So thank you.
Outro: Planner Parley, a Truth Collective production.