Merry Christmas / Summer Reading List

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Before I wrap up for the year I wanted to take a few minutes to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

It’s been a big and exhausting year for many of the people we work with – so I hope you all have the chance to rest, relax and enjoy some well deserved time with family and friends.

I love a bit of time reading over the summer break. So I’ve collected some of my favourite things I’ve read and written over the past year.

Maybe you’ll find something to read and enjoy over the break. I hope so.

Merry Christmas,
Steve Pell

A Summer 2016/17 Reading List

Published @ Thought Leadership Partners

My main adventure day-to-day is building the profile of CEOs – most of whom run fast growth technology businesses. As part of this work I write regularly on CEO comms and marketing. Some of the pieces that have resonated this year:

Published @ Management Disrupted 

Many of you will know Management Disrupted as a side project where I interview interesting Australian CEOs. There were a bunch of fun interviews this year including: Martin Hosking (Redbubble), Collis Ta’eed (Envato), Simon Lee (PromisePay), Tim Fung (Airtasker), Didier Elzinga (Culture Amp) and Jason Wyatt (Marketplacer)

Some broader reading I really enjoyed in 2016: 

Three articles that made me rethink my perspective and changed the way I look at the world in a small way:

Two newsletters that I’ve loved this year are

  • Nextdraft – A daily newsletter that’s never boring
  • Marketoonist – Weekly cartoons on marketing and communications

Two books that have kept me thinking all year:

  • Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. Perhaps the best business book I’ve read in the past five years. A powerful reminder that strategy is much more than a buzzword or synonym for success. Simple, practical and more insightful than most business school courses on strategy.
  • You Are the Message by Roger Ailes (founder of Fox News). Even if you deeply disagree with Ailes politics and personality, it’s impossible to ignore the impact of Fox News on the media and political landscape. A practical guide for how to communicate in the current environment.
Let me know what you enjoyed – I’d love your feedback.

The biggest corporate comms disasters – 2016 edition

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It’s been a big year for corporate comms disasters.

There’s a lot to learn from how a company manages a crisis. Whilst crisis management isn’t something that we do here at TLP, it’s very closely aligned great CEO and corporate communication. It’s a pressure cooker, where the consequences are huge and everything simply must go right.

This list collects some of the big examples where everything hasn’t gone right and there’s been compounding communications failures. It’s the instances where a bad situation has been made much worse by the failure of communication.

Here’s five disasters from 2016 (included with a range of links to read more):

1. Bellamy’s – Revenue, margin and management credibility all downgraded in one day

Releasing a really bad result to market is bad enough. But being deliberately vague about the implications, and even whether it represents a downgrade made the issue much, much worse. Compounding the issue, both the CEO and Chairman have recently been selling shares on market, pocketing $2.4m and 2.9m respectively.

See also Bellamy’s great China moderation

Update 14-December-2016: Bellamy’s shares have been suspended from trade. A big and ugly reset of investor expectations is about to happen.

Update 19-December-2016:  The AFR is reporting that “Maurice Blackburn is meanwhile investigating a potential class action claim against Bellamy’s following its share price plunge and suspension.”

Update 22-December-2016: Bellamy’s has extended the voluntary suspension of its shares until January 13 to “continue negotiations with key suppliers and manufacturers“. It’s unclear what the underlying issue is – but it’s unlikely to be good news. The only positive at this stage is the company has resisted making more promises without understanding the full picture – which is a good start in rebuilding credibility.

2. Slack validating the competition

Microsoft announced their competitor to Slack in Microsoft teams. Slack responded with a full page New York Times advert, which validated and turned the launch into a real news item. This would otherwise have gone largely unnoticed by those outside the tech community.

3. Ignoring the crisis management team at Ardent Leisure / Dreamworld

In ignoring the advice of crisis managers, Ardent Chairman Neil Balnaves turned a tragic accident into a communications disaster. The company initially responded legally, and was on the back foot chasing to media coverage from a very early stage.

The issue was made worse by a vote on the CEO’s bonus, that went ahead just days after the incident.

See also Dreamworld accident: How to avoid a PR disaster

4. 7-Eleven “still don’t get it”

The 7-Eleven wage scandal didn’t turn into a crisis of confidence until the company transitioned (‘sacked’) the Alan Fels led independent board – charged with investigating and righting widespread wage abuse. Fels subsequently spoke out publicly, stating “7-Eleven still don’t get it”.

See also 7-Eleven creates new public relations disaster

5. Seven West Media following the Tiger Woods ‘arc’

After it was widely reported that Seven West CEO Tim Worner had an affair with an assistant at the company two years ago, the company went into lockdown, saying the issue is a personal matter for the CEO and refusing to comment.

The share market clearly disagreed, with shares down nearly 10% in the first few hours of trading post announcement. Many sources say that the company has played legal hardball and tried to shut-down the story, making the issue an even bigger rabbit chase for journalists.

Update 19-December: This is likely to get a lot worse for Seven West before it gets better – only great crisis management from this point forward is likely to save Worner’s job.

Update 20-December: New revelations today of up to four more affairs, drug use, and payment of an indirect bonus by Worner to Harrison. The CEO is mentioned in the press as a “serial sexual exploiter” of staff. The Board is likely to have their hand forced at this stage. Worner appears very unlikely to make it to Christmas.

Reports: Seven CEO Tim Worner Outed By Former Lover

Update 22-December: There’s some big challenges now for the Seven Board. Worner must go, but the Board have known in full for 2 yrs. It’s very hard to take the moral high ground now without Board change (which in itself is difficult in a family company). Today the Board has announced an “Independent Enquiry”, whilst announcing ongoing support for Worner (see also Seven West Media board missed the change in corporate culture).

It’s going to get much worse before it gets better, with journalists digging into credit card spending, the irregularities of the initial dismissal and Worner’s denials of widespread drug use. Given the typical Tiger Woods arc of denial, minimisation, resignation and repent – it’s likely that there’s still more to play out.

It will be interesting to see how long the Board continues to attempt to minimise the damage, before recognising that their only job right now is to rebuild trust and credibility with shareholders, employees and the general public.




The marketing arms race (for board directors)

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There’s a bunch of analogies between non-executive directors and venture capital firms. But the most important one is for a long time they’ve both succeeded on a “rich get richer” model.

The ‘rich’ get ‘richer’ in both venture capital and board directorships

Ben Horowitz is a founder of Andreessen Horowitz (US venture capital firm). He’s also broadly recognised as one of the most influential people in technology right now.

In 2015 Horowitz gave an influential lecture at the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. In the lecture Horowitz talks about this idea that for a very long time in venture capital there were five leading firms. And those five firms got richer and richer by the year. Because the more deals they were involved in, the more deals came to them.

Like venture capital, the way you get elected to a board hasn't changed for a long time. A rich get richer effect means the more prestigious boards you currently sit on, the more attractive you are as a candidate

Like venture capital, the way you get elected to a board hasn’t changed for a long time. A rich get richer effect means the more prestigious boards you currently sit on, the more attractive you are as a candidate

The analogy to non-executive directors is pretty clear. For a director, the more prestigious boards you sit on, the more attractive you are as a board member. So the ‘rich’ get richer and secure the most exclusive non-executive director jobs.

That’s all very interesting, not entirely unexpected and completely unhelpful. What is very interesting and helpful is how Andreessen Horowitz broke this model and built the most influential venture firm in less than 5 years.

Andreessen Horowitz broke the rich-get-richer model in venture capital with a marketing ‘arms race’

As a venture firm, Andreessen Horowitz did something that no-one else had ever done in venture capital. They started marketing. And in a market where nobody has ever done marketing, that gets amazing cut through.

This strategy wouldn’t work today, because it’s now the default that every venture capital firm markets as aggressively as Andreessen Horowitz. So the strategy took them to the top of the market, and then closed up behind them.

It was basically the great marketing arms race in venture capital. Hear Ben Horowitz describe what happened at 33:15 of this lecture. 

My analogy to non-executive directors is pretty clear. If you want to get on boards, there’s a real opportunity to get cut through by marketing your opinions, your skills, your thought leadership. Almost nobody is doing this today. This will be hugely effective whilst there’s hardly anyone doing it, moderately effective when a few people start doing it actively, and then will be required ‘price of entry’.

As a non-executive director, you can either choose to lead or follow into the marketing ‘arms race’

As a potential non-executive director, you get to choose if you lead or follow into the marketing arms race. If you lead, you will get disproportionate rewards – in a similar way to Andreessen Horowitz in venture capital.

There is real first mover advantage in play with non-executive director marketing. As more and more NEDs start copying, the likelihood of your opinions standing out decreases. It’s your choice when to start – but have no doubt that In 5 years time all NEDs will be actively marketing what makes them different, unique and expert.