THE BLOG

23
Jul

Choose yourself.

Many years ago, I was telling a crowded room of complete strangers about the strained relationship I had with my father. At the time I had been in Italy for a little over 11 years and he hadn’t called me once. Admittedly, this was before everyone had smartphones in their pockets but that’s hardly an excuse, is it? Not once.

As I dived into the pain this sense of abandonment had caused me, I could see I had the audience in the palm of my hand. They were moved by the story of a young foreigner in his late twenties facing his demons in public, but I couldn’t care less because I was about to hit them with the punchline:

I hadn’t called him either.

I think there comes a time in everyone’s professional life when you have to look in the mirror and give yourself credit for everything you’ve accomplished, including the bad things.

On far too many occasions, I have allowed the market to crush me, the latest of these episodes just one year ago as my dream of expanding a business beyond my known boundaries was dashed by the enormous ego of yet another pseudo-entrepreneur in search of a quick buck at the expense of creating long-term value.

By all accounts, 2018 was the third time in 6 years I’ve been forced to mop up the total chaos left behind by broken promises, disregarded contracts and unpaid invoices. Each bump along the way making me become simultaneously stronger and weaker.

Which brings us to 2019 and that mirror.

Because as tempting as it is to blame the outside world for this rollercoaster ride, just as I didn’t call my father, I must accept responsibility for not creating the conditions necessary to succeed.

All the talent in the world won’t help you if you jump into a pool of sharks without a cage.

There’s a bizarrely illuminating feeling to hitting the deck. The sensation that you’ve lost control over practically everything in your life and have to reinvent – not from zero, but from many numbers into the negative – is both momentarily terrifying and profoundly clarifying.

I won’t lie. It took two months just to get my bearings back, but I spent the time wisely, looking into the mirror not in self-pity, but in search of a way back.

And I found it.

The first thing I decided that it was time to choose myself. If you want something to happen, the onus is on you to put yourself in the position to allow it to come to fruition. And hence the @copywritermadrelingua spinoff activity came to light.

Copywriting is nothing new – I’ve been doing it for 20+ years but not like this. This time I choose to do it. I’m grateful for it. I respect it.

Choosing yourself doesn’t make you immune to the whims of the market. A few weeks after setting up all my various accounts for this project I applied to provide my services at the highly-recommended Upwork website.

And got rejected.

But it didn’t matter because in the same month I quadrupled my client base.

With choice comes power. The power to choose. The power to share. The power to be ethical. The power to decide where you want to be 5 years from now. The power to accept your mistakes and learn from them.

The moral of the story?

  1. Choose yourself. Put a cross on the calendar 5 years from now and start working.
  2. Be grateful for and generous with your colleagues and clients. Those who get it will get you too.
  3. Make sure you’re not blinded by self-sealing logic that separates you from reality.
  4. Share as much of yourself as you can free of charge. There is no limit to the value and goodwill this will provide.
  5. Always call your father back.
01
Apr

Lost in translation

What does a 9kg metallic disc have to do with the reputation of Made in Italy? 

Yes, it’s a rhetoric question but I’m asking the Internet to take this seriously as I’ve just stumbled across a gaping hole in the quality of communication in one of Italy’s most important industries that is currently going through a profound resurgence, and feel compelled to bring it to everyone’s attention.

It all started as a simple translation of a press release for a prestigious textile manufacturer located on the outskirts of Milan, who this year has its first stand at the 58th edition of the Salone del Mobile, one of the world’s most important international showcases for creativity and a forum for industry professionals, with more than 370,000 attendees on average, every year, from 188 different nations.

That’s a big number and Italy’s reputation for excellence is on permanent display.  

And the flywheel?

According to Merriam-Webster, a flywheel is “a heavy wheel for opposing and moderating by its inertia any fluctuation of speed in the machinery with which it revolves. [It’s also] a similar wheel used for storing kinetic energy (as for motive power).”

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So why is it turning up online as a description on a number of Italy’s finest textile companies’ cushions? 

The answer: Google translate.

There are in principle, two types of cushions: one with a fabric border and one without. For those of you who aren’t in the know, Housewife Pillowcases have a sewn edge, which fits snugly to the pillow, and Oxford Pillowcases have a fabric border around the edge, usually around 5cm.

In Italian, the word for these borders is “Volano” so a pillow with four of them is called “Cuscino a 4 volani”. Put that into Google translate and you have a pillow complete with four metal objects that weighs more than the bed!

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Don’t laugh because Google is full of them and any SEO these companies thought they were rocking is, frankly, inexcusable. 

A thriving industry is being indexed for all the wrong reasons. 

As I tried to resolve this conundrum, I came across a worryingly high number of Italian companies with this error in their description pages and the only possible conclusion is that they all used Google translate and, noticing that their competitors used this terminology, assumed it must be correct.

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This is a social norm I’d like to eliminate. Not the flywheels, but the attention to detail in communication that trips up even the finest Italian companies. 

On behalf of those of us who care about Made in Italy, I urge you not to make this mistake with your international communication – make the effort to research your chosen markets and market yourselves accordingly.

08
Jan

Saving Italy

I’ve just read a fascinating article that, depending on how you read it, can be terrifying or stimulating.

The article, published in Linkiesta a few days ago, paints a grim picture for the future of Italy’s younger population because of some very poor decisions made by previous generations.

It turns out that more than half of Italians aged between 50 and 60 have amongst the lowest levels of education in Europe.

In the 70’s and 80’s the idea of going to college was the last thing on the mind of the majority of Italian students, who quickly found jobs in the growing number of factories and offices across the country. However, 40 years later, Italy is now paying a very heavy price.


Source: Linkiesta

The problem with this philosophy is that the majority of the country’s workforce lack the skills to adapt to change and grow later in life, meaning they are forced to stay in the same, lower-paid jobs for longer than their neighbours.

Hence the enormous pressure on the state to reform the national pension scheme.

Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.

Prometheus

According to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the situation doesn’t seem to be intent on improving much over the next 25 years as other countries storm ahead with higher education initiatives, increasing the gap still further.

Italy has been stagnant for too long and needs help. This is no time for protectionism – we don’t have to play in defence.

There are those who play with numbers and negotiate with Brussels (and others paid to introduce frankly cruel and crazy schemes to protect the status quo but that’s another question). My job is to create a market with what I have.

I have Made in Italy, and I mean all of Italy.

I am convinced this asset is still our greatest USP across the globe, but just like everything that ages, it is in desperate need of TLC. It needs reinventing. It can no longer be used as a prestigious badge of honour to favour the country’s competitiveness and excellence when its core values are crumbling from the inside.

To start off, we need to redefine what Made in Italy means beyond blind national pride, which will only get you so far, particularly if you’re trailing everyone else on every other statistic.

This new meaning then needs to be shared. Shared amongst the entrepreneurs, the workers and the schools producing tomorrow’s leaders. Once we have shared value, then the social norms start to kick in.

And then we need to broadcast it. Correctly. In a clear and precise language that leaves no doubt about Italy’s values, its culture and its capacity to turn things around.

Copywritermadrelingua is an attempt to reverse engineer these three steps.

I don’t have the firepower to organize top-down think tanks but I do have the balls to contact every creative agency out there to see if they want to do something about this collectively, or whether they’d rather watch as the candle of Rome slowly expires.

It sounds far fetched, I know, but there’s purpose here.

More than turnover and competition, it’s about reinvention, higher standards and ethics – something that’s sadly missing from our daily routine.


02
Jan

Something’s not right

At first I was blind to it. A bittersweet presence in my daily life, an itch I could never quite scratch.

I put it down to the usual creative paradox where you’re never truly satisfied with something in the projects you work on. Was it the idea? The client? The team…? I could never really put my finger on it but something wasn’t right and so I kept looking for clarity.

Like all curious minds, mine found solace in the works of those who wield a higher power than me and on whose shoulders I proudly stand. I’m forever grateful for the fireworks of Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk, but equally enthralled by Henry Mintzberg’s theories on emergent strategy.

And yet, an inquisitive mind has a knack of opening one door only to discover another one slightly ajar behind it, and the cycle continues.

All this academic soul searching would be pretty useless and self-serving if it didn’t move the game forward. And yet, despite the obvious professional growth and steady stream of successes, I didn’t see any real progress until I realized I was part of the problem.

It won’t have escaped any of you in marketing that every single one of your clients has, at some point, been disrupted. In the past four years alone, the automotive world has seen the arrival of electric cars and car sharing. Or what about the FMCG sector, which has gone so far online it’s now selling at a loss to keep up with the “ridiculously scary” Amazon.

Not enough? Then let’s talk about marble. If you’re like me and you live in Italy, you blindly associate marble with Carrara, but like everything in life, there’s far more to it than that. With marble production from Chinese, American and Turkish quarries going literally through the roof, Italy now has just 4.3% of the global market share of authentic marble production and is having a hard time maintaining that. Coupled with the (unexpected but predictable) arrival of cheaper artificial marble, even the age-old market of rocks have been shaken at its core.

And then the penny dropped.

We communicators are so busy adapting to our clients’ new surroundings we have forgotten that our world might be primed for disruption too. The unease that’s been growing inside of me is nothing more than the realization that we’re in a fast-flowing river of change but as a sector we’re actually standing still.

Think about it for a second. Apart from output (from TV to Digital), what exactly has disrupted the communication world? Nothing particular comes to mind.

Some of you might point out that one-time accountancy firms are now hiring creatives? Yeah that might unsettle us a little but they are the Goliaths of the marketing world so we take comfort in the fact that we’re not big enough to sit at those tables anyway.

No matter how edgy agencies and the talented professionals that work for them might be, our model hasn’t changed one bit in the past twenty years and that’s a painfully risky attitude to adopt.

In her signature video, Chief Reinvention Officer Nadya Zhexembayeva says that half a century ago, the life expectancy of a firm in the Fortune 500 was around 75 years. In other words they had 37 years of growth, and 37 years of decline. You could graduate, work your entire career in one place and retire and you would not see any significant change in the status of the company you worked for your entire life.

From the 1990’s that same life cycle had shrunk to just 15 years. Now, many indicators suggest it’s down to seven.

The problem then, is that we creatives live in an echo chamber of SEO skills with diminishing returns and shrinking media budgets but we’re not changing the game, we’re subjected to it.

As a result, we’re actually making it harder for ourselves to stay alive.


15
Apr

Look to the future please!

Of the many (hundreds?) meetings we have had with various potential clients over the past few months there’s a common theme that continues to stifle nearly all of them: The future.

At times it’s almost like we’re fighting a crisis of courage where the decision gatekeepers are seduced more by the comfort zone of mediocrity than the safety zone of leadership.

We are in the privileged position to be able to make a sizeable difference to the current performance of our customers’ digital adventures, but when you sit at certain tables, you can’t help thinking that there are very few companies that really plan beyond what can realistically be called a “quick fix”.

Sure, I enjoy nothing more than sorting out the digital maps and creating relationships between all departments – PR, marketing, web, sales, SEO – in the strategic planning of communications decisions, but as the magnificent Katie Paine put it on her return from the third European Digital Leadership Conference:

Marketers are still looking for those big numbers, and when confronted with much more meaningful metrics like the percent of all those “likes” that are actually engaged in sharing and commenting on your content, the numbers are just too small to register in the marketers’ minds.”

I would go a little further. While it obviously affects marketing, the reality is that this mindset affects all corporate silos with the result that very few companies invest further than the next quarter, which makes introducing a more accurate, scientific approach based on big data that would allow them to understand and leverage their customers’ and prospects’ real-world relationships to substantially improve customer acquisition, cross-sell and retention, all the more difficult.

As curious (and at times overly-assertive!) observers of the online world, our view of the web shares much with this brilliant piece from ZDNet:

The world wide web remains one of the greatest disruptive forces in human history. On an average day it can give you access to a vast wealth of human knowledge from a simple search box, show you snapshots from the lives of friends and family spread across the planet, provide a world-class education for freecrowdfund solar power in ways that governments can’t affordredistribute food that would have been wasted, and sweep corrupt rulers into the dustbin of history.

There is a huge structural change in the systems of communication we are used to underway and it affects everything from politics to e-commerce. And yet when we sit at certain tables, the sad truth is that these nascent systems of new standards and behaviour pale behind “right-now” media planning and “safe” forecasts that blindly consider the web as just another channel for an extra sale – an idea I fully support when that same sale generates value for both my clients and their customers.

It’s not all bleak, though. Some smart agencies (no names) and customers are starting to look beyond the “either/or” marketing proposals and are adopting interesting marketing strategies, even older ideas like this one which have instantly-recognisable value and are still being discussed but have yet to gain the traction they deserve.

What’s your view on the marketing landscape? Are you planning to survive, or building a leadership?

08
Dec

No more empty chairs

Recently I met Katie Paine while here with my dear friend Richard Binhammer, I read her latest book, and had the good sense to change my business model.

This may sound like a pseudo-spiritual business promise but in today’s market it makes far more sense to focus on ROI before planning (and proposing) digital solutions rather than generating a slew of one-shot wonder widgets for customers that perhaps generate short-term gains, but ultimately bring long-term confusion.

Numbers, measurement, sentiment…  The old business model of just producing great ideas never really got anyone close enough to actually make a change because, frankly, we never had the opportunity to tackle financial efficiency head on. Even our biggest clients never shared P&L, meaning we were left in the dark over the most fundamental of questions: Is this latest widget positively affecting our bottom line?

By looking into the dynamics and metrics of measurement, and by razor-focusing on key issues, projects are born with purpose. And when they have purpose, they make a tangible difference for all stakeholders, be they financial controllers, marketing directors, or, heaven forbid, customers.

Our latest project, for which we collaborated with BeWe, required us to look deeply into the dynamics of the financials around a burgeoning Italian e-commerce site, identify and correct areas of concern, and kick-start a progressive decline in cost per transaction. In four days… I’m happy to report that just one week after launch, this new approach is already beginning to pay off.

18
Nov

Stonex chooses Social Starter

We are extremely proud to announce that Smartphone Innovations srl, the Italian company behind the rather brilliant Stonex smartphones has chosen Social Starter as its digital partner for the Christmas 2013 digital campaign.

Our goal, apart from spreading the word about this pretty amazing product, is to combine best practices across multiple disciplines (from server integration to digital PR) with real time ADV split testing to optimize and then stabilize the various revenue streams so that 2014 can be even greater that 2013.

All this of course wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the tireless commitment of the Stonex management to this Italian startup and the cast-iron belief that they really do have an interesting product to offer. Kudos above all to them.

Many thanks to the team that changed the rules of engagement. Now back to work!

15
Oct

Ciao Marco

“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.” Obi-Wan

Much has been written about Marco Zamperini today and many people knew him much more than I did so this won’t be a fitting salute to the man that helped shape the Internet in Italy. However such is the overwhelming sensation of loss in this small yet profoundly close-knit community of technology professionals, oddly reminiscent of something from a Star Wars film, that I feel compelled to add my own, sad farewell to a father, husband and genius I had the privilege of meeting at my partner’s home last year.

Farewell Marco and thank you for a life dedicated to innovation, optimism and guidance.

03
Oct

Marketing shift

Right now I’m doing what most single-task males would consider a foolish task at best. Attempting to read two books at once.

It wasn’t an intentional move – I’m not that stupid, but as the various US-based social networks and people I follow started to come alive with pre-release reviews of The Age of Context by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, I gave in and had it delivered to my Kindle in under thirty seconds.

Dilemma: resist, finish the admittedly brilliant but decidedly paper-based Ctrl Alt Delete by Mitch Joel or sneak a peak at AoC to see what all the buzz was about?

Digital won so I’ve started a book I’m going to have to read a couple of times in succession.

The argument of context has always been something I’ve treated with the utmost respect and rigidity ever since I landed my first copywriting job at Acer. The idea that a marketing activity (product naming, event, social media strategy) can be created without context removes all trace of coherence from the message the brand wishes to convey. It’s so obvious that I’m still astounded when I see SMB’s (and some large companies) launch activities with clearly no idea of the context that activity will have to do battle in.

That’s advertising. Things get worse when you start trying to encapsulate a social media strategy into a process that doesn’t consider the context of the activity. Big mistakes are made when companies lose sight of the context but at least here they get to react to critical feedback almost in real time.

But what about the whole system of commerce and communication? As The Age of Context itself states on the very first page: “The five forces of context are everywhere. [They] are changing your experience as a shopper, a customer, a patient, a viewer or an online traveler…  They know where you are and in what direction you are headed when you carry a smartphone. They are in your car to warn you when you are too close to something else. They are in traffic lights, stores and even pills… … All five of these forces – mobile, social media, data, sensors and location – are in the hands of more people every day, and it means that every business will have to adjust course to include context in their strategies.

Mobile, social media, data, sensors and location. Now that’s a marketing shift.

27
Sep

Haven’t done that yet.

In answer to the question “What is your favorite Ferrari?” Enzo Ferrari once said “”The one that has not been built yet.”

We have just got back from one seriously long day in Montecarlo which is currently hosting the Monaco Yacht Show so I wouldn’t recommend going unless you want to spend a couple of hours looking for a free parking spot…

We are currently trying to close an important repositioning project with a client there that will require everything from a new logo to regular corporate events with selected clients plus all the digital goodies (front and back-end) you can imagine thrown in.

The project itself – all 100 slides of it – has been a monumental feat to produce and we are particularly proud of how it acts on both brand AND business at the same time. It’s not every day (or client) that allows you to cross the line from the sometimes commercially blind marketing departments and propose ideas with P&L implications so this is a particularly demanding concept.

Yet despite this, the thing about Enzo Ferrari’s quote that resonates so much with me personally is that all of our projects, no matter how big or small, somehow become the next big thing as we take them on and we quite literally fall in love with them, fight over them and build them one by one by hand.

So what’s next? Does it really matter? After all, we haven’t made our best project yet.

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