Life After Marketing
Eugenie Harvey has made the world a better place. Thanks to her, pollution is down, recycling is up, blood banks are fuller, kettles are emptier, people are happier and somebody let me cut in front of them in my car this morning. Thanks to her indeed.
If you’ve got no idea who this woman is, you’re probably not alone. In fact, you’re definitely not.
A straw poll of friends, colleagues, acquaintances and accomplices greeted the mention of her name with completely blank faces. However, a quick reference to her pet project made a great many mouths upwardly mobile, as a flurry of shared experiences, emotions and opinions flooded out.
You see, Eugenie Harvey created arguably the publishing sensation of the year last year. Her book, or rather her ‘movements’ book, is called Change The World For A Fiver. It’s an uplifting, 20-minute read that aims to do exactly what it says on the cover, by prescribing 50 simple actions that we can all take to make a positive difference to the world around us. Examples range from ‘use both sides of every piece of paper,’ to ‘take time to listen,’ to ‘do something for nothing.’
If you think this all sounds corny, again, you’re probably not alone, but the 140,000-odd folk that shelled out for it would probably disagree. As would Hutchinson 3G, Coca-Cola and Channel 4 (who bought up copies for their staff), Getty Images and Cathy Pacific (who provided their services free of charge), and Innocence, Wieden + Kennedy and Antidote, who believed in the project to such an extent that it became a pro bono labour of love.
Add to this the fact that the book is about to launch in Harvey’s homeland, Australia, where advance orders are in excess of 200,000, Germany in 2006, North America shortly after, and you’ll begin to comprehend the scale of this truly global altruistic assault.
“I just can’t quite get my head round what’s happened,” says Harvey in an infectious Aussie twang from her London offices. “Originally our publisher told us that the initial print run of 10,000 was very ambitious and we’d be lucky to break even. But by the time it launched in September last year there was such interest in it that we’d already had to bump the print run up to 50,000 – and from there it’s just taken off.”
Harvey, as you’ll guess from her appearance in a ‘Life After Marketing’ feature, used to be in marketing. To be more precise, she was a high-flyer at London-based financial PR big boys, the Brunswick Group. Although, ostensibly, everything was going swimmingly, deep down she was not a happy camper.
“I was just really down,” she sing-songs happily along. “I had a good job, with a good company, earning a reasonable amount of money and going out when I wanted to. But my life just didn’t seem to be worthwhile. I didn’t feel like I was making any kind of positive contribution. I felt like a fraud and I had no idea how I was going to take any kind of step forward in my life.”
Although we may have all felt like this from time to time, Harvey’s low was one that was unfamiliar to her and that she was desperate to haul herself out of. In the end, it was Brunswick that unintentionally helped her up and, unfortunately for them, straight out the door.
“The great thing about being at rock-bottom is the only way is up. The problem was, I couldn’t see how. It was around then that the company invited David Robinson in from a charity called Community Links. He was an inspirational guy and their work sounded really worthwhile, so I asked if I could come along one day and find out a bit more.”
Harvey describes the visit to Community Links as “absolutely eye-opening to me,” so much so that, quicker than her bosses could say “pay rise and an extra week’s holiday,” she was out the door and starting a four-month stint as a volunteer. A move made possible only by giving up on a flat she’d been saving for, using the deposit as a safety net and starting a sustained period of flat-sharing, house-sitting and purse-string tightening. However, it proved to be the start of something pretty special, as Harvey herself explains:
“David was interested in finding ways to cope with the problem of modern-day feelings of isolation and alienation. Of people feeling that they’re alone, that they don’t belong, and they’re not contributing to, or a part of, any sense of community. We came up with the idea of creating a brand, ‘we are what we do’, that might one day be as big as Coca-Cola or MTV. The difference would be that it wasn’t about a product or service, but rather a movement that people could feel a part of, one where they were doing some good and feeling good about it within themselves. I thought that was a very interesting and worthwhile challenge.”
The book was envisaged as a tangible rallying point for the movement; a manifestation, and a manifesto, that would inspire people to get up off their arses and make a difference.
“The idea was, and still is, to encourage people to use simple everyday actions to make the world a better place. If you can begin doing small-scale things, it isn’t long before you find that you’ve embarked on a journey of sorts and started a process of change. As the saying goes: every journey begins with a few small steps and if you change your mindset to take positive action, you’ll begin to look for more substantial contributions that you can make.”
Pie in the sky hippy hokum? Well, from the success of Change The World For A Fiver, obviously not.
“We get an amazing number of e-mails through the website (www.wearewhatwe.org),” Harvey relays with a tone that still suggests an air of incredulity. “I mean thousands and thousands and thousands of them. Each one saying something like they’ve been inspired by the book and they’re taking part to make the world a better place. Even if you’re one of life’s cynics, I don’t think you can argue with that – with people being positive and inspired.”
Of course, the success of the book, the movement and the plans for global domination, mean that if Harvey was ever looking to escape from PR for an easy life, then she’s failed with flying colours.
“Yeah, I know. I probably work harder now than I ever have done. I always have a book in my bag, I never switch off and I’m always prepared to talk about what we’re trying to achieve. But that’s okay, it’s what I want. I’m passionate about what I’m doing now and I don’t feel like a fraud any more. That’s a nice feeling to have.”
Having won over Adline with her enthusiasm and selfless dedication (the book price only covers the ‘movement’s running costs – this is not making her rich), she seals the deal by giving us an exclusive.
“We’re actually working on a second book for the UK right now,” she says in hushed tones. “It currently has the working title ‘Change The World 9 to 5’ and it’s 50 positive things you can do at work. The central idea is exactly the same, it’s just opening up a whole new market.”
We get the feeling that the first print run of this one might be slightly more than 10,000.