Giles Hedger is chief strategy officer at Leo Burnett Worldwide
Giles Hedger is chief strategy officer at Leo Burnett Worldwide
A view from Giles Hedger

Sit down, chill out and allow your emotional side some freedom

So, back in March, you arrived home from Austin, full to the brim with the brave new world. As you disgorged tech-stained T-shirts into the laundry basket, you asked yourself when it would be time to start packing for Cannes.

A quick calculation confirmed there were two full months until your next injection of This Changes Everything. What to do during this twilight of the paradigms; this interregnum of the intellects? After all, in, what is now, seven weeks or so, someone on the Riviera will explain why This Changes Everything Again.

Is there really any point putting anything new into practice. Is there time? Even your new default operating mode – Always in Beta – would require more than eight weeks...

On the other hand, imagine what damage could be done if last year’s New Universal Theory is left running, like a powerful locomotive, chuntering witless through a disused mine. More unsettling, though, is the question of how, in the meantime, you are going to fill your reservoir of Cutting-edge Thinking.

It’s an uncomfortable feeling, not knowing where to go next to learn the things that allow you to keep wondering what on earth you should be learning next.

Well, my advice is this. Cancel some meetings, sit on a park bench, and spend several hours thinking about what you know already. What we all know already. Luxuriate in the spring sunshine and the comfort of known-knowns.

Crazy golf

As you regress toward the fundamentals, look at the passers-by on their way to the swings or crazy golf and ask yourself whether what is in your head would be even vaguely comprehensible, vaguely intuitive, vaguely life-affirming were it suddenly to appear in a cloud above the park. If not, you’re probably still in Texas.

As you peel away the conference patois, consider marketing in its naked state and ask yourself how it works.

As you peel away the conference patois and unlearn the names of marketing’s infinite new moving parts, consider marketing in its naked state and ask yourself how it works.

Start with the distinction between physical and mental availability. Put physical availability to one side. (You can come back to it later, and deep down you know it’s the easier half of the task.) Think about mental availability and accept that, in a mature and competitive market, there is no easy straight line from share of voice to share of mind. Accept that there is a "content variable". Concede that all the wondrous new pipework of the 21st century can’t make this irksome variable go away.

Consider the learnings of the past several decades as to the characteristics of the most-effective content strategies. Enjoy the fact that emotion-based campaigns are typically more effective than rational, informational ones. Consider therefore, that mental availability is best defined as emotional availability.

Noble purpose

Emotional availability. Now there’s a simple, guiding thought. This is starting to be quite therapeutic. Suddenly, marketing has a clear and noble purpose. Marketing’s job is to move people to act. Your job, or the more interesting half of it, is to move people to act.

Contained in that phrase, though, is something unfashionably sentimental, and at this point you are probably looking up from your park bench to check that nobody is listening. Making people feel things so profoundly that they are moved to do something doesn’t sound like a job for a grown-up.

But, in the final analysis, it’s what earns your salary and mine, which is a surreal truth, given how seldom, between the meetings and the email and the travel, we allow ourselves to feel things with any intensity.

We work ourselves into a state of emotional numbness, slaves to the gadgets that Change The Way We Live Forever, and then we sit in meetings (continuing Lucy Jameson’s thread from last month’s Essay) hoping to nurture creative work capable of something we liberally refer to as emotional priming.

I would venture that emotional priming starts at home. So when you’re finished on the park bench, take yourself off to a matinée. In the darkness of the cinema, laugh or cry. It doesn’t matter which, but do it properly, until your ribs ache or your eyes sting. Now, emerge, blinking, into the daylight, walk to the office and create something amazing.