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We have the power: BBH New York founder Cindy Gallop explores how to create big change using microactions

Founder of BBH New York, porn non-apologist and challenger for change – as Cindy Gallop took to the stage at The Drum Live to talk about changing the industry, the audience got a taste of her fix-it approach. From losing the fear of what others think to altering the language of failure, the future lies in microactions – small changes for big change. Catherine Turner reports.

There is rather less than a day left by the time former ad executive Cindy Gallop takes to the stage at The Drum Live. Collectively, we’ve already tackled the industry training and talent gap, discovered the future of money and learnt how to build tomorrow’s cities today: all that remains is to round up and put this issue of The Drum Live to bed.

Oh, and completely redesign the way the industry works. In a day, or rather the allotted hour Gallop has on stage.

No problem. In the short hour she has, Gallop’s platform for change includes redesigning the business model and creativity itself to everything in between: from embracing art and science (“Mad Men plus math men”), to being data informed rather than data driven, employing more women and minorities “because we challenge the status quo”, to new world payments and structures, monetising the marketing model, changing the business lexicon and even a modicum of personal counselling, she covers it all.

The former Bartle Bogle Hegarty New York chairman and current porn non-apologist issues the change challenge and outlines her manifesto, later throwing open the debate to the floor.

She calls for the industry to move from a position of collaborative competition to one of competitive collaboration. Collaborative competition, when everybody in a sector competes with everybody else in that sector by doing exactly the same things in the same, old ways, was a dangerous phenomenon for the industry, warns Gallop, “because this is what allows true innovation and disruption to come in from the outside”.

Instead agencies must radically redesign their businesses, the business models and creativity, she believes, adding that the current model, built in a time when linear storytelling was dominant, has “broken irretrievably”.

“We have to make people love advertising in general [rather than individual ads in particular],” says Gallop, a Brit now based in New York. “We have to move from a focus of making good advertising to making advertising good. We have to demonstrate that we are a force for good if we are to have a future.”

Yet such new world order business is impossible to do from this old world order place. “We have to completely redesign the way we do business. We have to effectively blow it up and start again.”

What we changed in a day

From God-awful feedback to a lack of innovation, team structures to overly long hours, a lack of trust to client frustrations, the collected conference attendees shared a long list of frustrations of every day industry life. Yet overwhelmingly chosen as the topic to tackle here today was the problem of “clients with no bollocks”. Together, Gallop and her audience workshopped and agreed actions – microactions – to redesign said clients out of the business.

  • Talk about the work with your client when there is no work. Engage with your clients when the stakes are very low – before the start of the creative process, when there is no work on the table. Asking clients what they consider great work outside of the constraints of work in progress or competition will lead to surprising, more transparent conversations and help set parameters early on.
  • Change the language. One of the quickest ways to make people think and act differently about things is to change the way we talk about business. Both the ad and tech industries are guilt of wanting to ‘celebrate failure’, ‘fail fast’. Yet ‘fail’, ‘failure’, ‘risk’ are “still bad words with bad connotations”. When you find language that’s more positive and constructive about what you’re doing then you can change attitudes.
  • Push back and lose the fear of what other people think. Gallop says the single biggest obstacle on MakeLoveNotPorn is “people’s perceived fear of what other people think”. Yet fearing what other people might think is the single most paralysing dynamic in business and in life. Don’t worry about what your clients might think: talk about what you believe is right; create what you believe is right; present what you believe is right.

And, she insists, it’s easier to do than it sounds. Both in business and in life, the essentials are to identify what you most love doing, and then identify the conditions under which you most love doing it. Then, it’s a small, simple step to design an opportunity, a job, a venture, a business, a brand around these two things.

“As an agency, or a brand you must identify what it is that you’re passionate about at your core – the reason you were founded in the first place. Companies lose sight of that over time,” she adds.

Gallop outlines her time as a traditional agency CEO as a case in point: running “the kind of company” where as you grew and won more clients you had to hire more people, expand into bigger premises and acquire more resources. Yet this traditional model for growth isn’t receptive to sudden change or disruption.

“The moment there was an economic downturn you were fucked. I never want to be in that position again. I designed my own businesses so I never have to be.”

Those businesses include, a pro-sex site celebrating ‘real world sex’, which launched explosively at TED 2009, and IfWeRanTheWorld, an experiment turning human and business good intentions into actions, or microactions – changes so small and easy to make, “why wouldn’t you?”.

She urges individuals everywhere to make these microactions that could cumulatively bring about an industry revolution. Not, perhaps, in a day, but starting today. “Everything starts with a microaction,” she advises. “Go away and think ‘what are the microactions I can do to redesign the way I do business?’, and test them out… take that out into the rest of the company and make it work differently.”

One such action is directed squarely at the men in the audience, whom Gallop advises need to take a long hard look at the gender split in their businesses.

“If you want to do one thing that you can do immediately to set your business, your brand, your company on a more innovative and disruptive path, it’s very simple: just go back to your offices, take a long hard look at your business, identify every single area that’s all male or male dominated and change that,” Gallop urges.

Now is the time for men to get out of their comfort zone because the future is gender equal and female-informed, in Gallop’s view. In embracing diversity – whether that’s ethnic diversity or gender equality – companies can excel.

“Women challenge the status quo because we are never it,”, says Gallop, adding that this ethos applies equally to ethnic and sexual minorities. “We have different insights, different mindsets, different perspectives, different world views. But out of that discomfort comes greatness.”

“Women are the sharers, the gossipers, the recommenders, the advocates. In fact I say to brands that think men are the target audience, talk to women. Because women will influence men more than men will other men.”

From these new mindsets and ways of working would come the future, which Gallop believes is about competitive collaboration. It’s better for the industry to come together and collaborate to make changes for the greater good than to continue working in a siloed copycat way that is driving a race to the bottom.

“It allows everybody to be uniquely competitive off the top of that by leveraging our own skills and talents. And that’s exactly what a day like The Drum Live is all about. The opportunity for us all here to competitively collaborate in a way that makes things better for each and every one of us.”

One final call to action before the day is done: “All of you, go out there and redesign our industry. Because you can.”

Catherine Turner is a freelance journalist and communications consultant. She lives in London and specialises in the media, marketing and advertising industries.

This feature is published in The Drum Live issue out today (23 July). Subscribers can download a copy here. If you're not a subscriber, you can subscribe to The Drum here.

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