I have been in communications for for 35 years and a PR agency for 22 of those years, so there is little in the way of Ad Fab bollocks, pretentious nonsense and plain common sense dressed up as earth shattering and internet breaking, that takes me by surprise any more. But an article by the Chief Strategy Officer of O&M in Campaign magazine this week had me alternatively rolling around laughing and rolling my eyes in despair.
His analysis – that Brexit was a shock to the London and metropolitan establishment, and that increasingly the opinion elite are out of touch with what people outside South West and North London (or the Groucho Club) are thinking and experiencing – is correct.
I heard similar from senior editors at The Economist a few weeks back. But “planning in the wild”, getting “out there” and sticking nice middle class planners on trains to Brexit centres like Boston, Lincs, to Oldham and – bizarrely – The Isle of Man (?! I could fix them up with a few insightful chats in Salford) to listen to “real people” (argh! All people are “real”, it’s just some experience life more real than others) harks back to some Evelyn Waugh-esque jaunt to see how the peasants live.
During my time I have been lucky enough to work with some great insights strategists like Deborah Mattinson of Britain Thinks, and the late great Phillip Gould, who spent years listening respectfully to people across Britain on why they had fallen out of love with Labour. Not an away day to Ormskirk for Jeremy and Jemima from the planning department. I assume his next strategy is to lock his team in a room to watch back to back episodes of “Coronation Street”, eyelids clamped open Clockwork Orange style but with flat whites on tap for survival. Rather than just get out of the Groucho and the office and go talk to “real” people in seemingly alien towns and social groups, maybe his “chief strategy” should be to actually hire some of them into his bloody team! Oh and buy them a copy of “Everytown” by Julian Baggini, much cheaper than a first class Virgin Rail ticket. And maybe open up offices outside London. If there was ever a wake up call to the need for greater diversity in PR and marketing, it’s this well meaning but facile field trip initiative. (By chance I am working on a story of an academic anthropologist who gets sent from his comfortable university surroundings to live with ordinary disadvantaged people in a northern inner city. Thanks to the O&M article I have even more black comic fodder as source material.)