We celebrated our fourth birthday recently. It was a strange occasion that didn’t feel quite real (and not just because of the amount of alcohol consumed).
In some ways, it seems like yesterday that Danny, Helen and I were choosing soft furnishings for an office that could barely accommodate any hard furnishings. But in other ways (mostly when I look in the mirror), it feels like we’ve been going for a hundred years and should be packed off to the glue factory (Danny would sniff it, I would get stuck in it and Helen would pitch for the account).
Anyway, this got me thinking about the strange elasticity of time in modern marketing. How certain moments seem to drag on like a month of Sundays while others whoosh by in a nanosecond.
In the former category is the apparently endless passage of time that elapses between finishing a pitch and receiving the decision. During this period, the whole world seems to stand still. One-line emails are scrutinised for hidden meanings. Silences are given profound interpretations. The meeting itself is returned to again and again ("What do you think she meant when she said ‘thanks’ at the end?").
Meanwhile, your precious idea hangs in limbo, defying the laws of physics, like a PowerPoint version of Schrodinger’s cat.
Other marketing moments when time seems suspended include: the occasion when your presentation technology goes wrong and you are left fiddling with USB leads while a dozen senior people stare at you, awaydays that feel more like away weeks, and all those hours spent waiting for Godot (the barman at the Carlton Terrace in Cannes).
Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum is the horrific acceleration of time when Something Goes Wrong With Your Social Media Campaign. Forget the neutrino particle, nothing travels faster these days than an ill-judged hashtag or user-generated effort.
By the time you have spotted the disaster, it’s too late: the speed of schadenfreude is considerably faster than the speed of light.
What starts off as a well-intentioned Mother’s Day initiative can end up with #YourMum orbiting the world in the blink of an eye. And by the time you’ve spotted the disaster in progress, it’s too late because the speed of schadenfreude is considerably faster than the speed of light.
Likewise, time seems to flash by between the advent of any new technology and predictions of its demise; the appointment of any given marketing director and that of their successor; and one major think piece on artificial intelligence and the next (maybe they’re so frequent because some superintelligent machine is churning them all out).
Finally, there are those strange events – such as starting an agency – that seem to unfold slowly and quickly at the same time.
Deadlines are the other classic example of this phenomenon. And, according to scientists, Campaign copy dates are the most terrifying of all – these appear to move at a glacial pace for millennia before surging through some kind of intergalactic wormhole at the last minute.
Faced with such worrying warping of the timespace fabric, experts advise you to always have some profound theoretical article up your sleeve. Or borrow from the peerless Dave Trott and have a huge collection of fascinating historical stories to relate. With facts. Lots of facts. Arranged in short sentences. That are highly persuasive. And entertaining. But also burn up your word count.
What you should never do is panic and resort to some whimsical discourse on, for instance, the peculiar chronological sensations associated with the passage of common events. That would just be a waste of everyone’s time.
Andy Nairn is a founding partner at Lucky Generals.