What happens when over 200 of the world's best Indies get together?

The Indie Summit Highlights

I was lucky enough to recently attend The Indie Summit, the coming together in London of over 200 top independent agencies from around the globe. After a jam-packed couple of days rubbing shoulders with some of the marketing and communications industry’s finest, here follows a selection of my top picks.

We were treated to a compelling panel discussion with the Who’s Who of global client brand leaders – from Google to LEGO. I found this riveting, with a few prize snippets coming from Graham Bednash, Consumer Marketing Director at Google who proffered up the gem that agencies thrive on Talent, Perseverance, Luck and ‘a healthy dose of Amnesia’. There was unanimous consensus that the main thing agencies bring is creativity, inspiration and freshness of perspective. “I spend days looking at horrible charts” said Amanda Rendle ex Global Head of Marketing, Commercial Banking for HSBC “and agencies bring a new perspective because they don’t have to suffer that.”

They all pushed for greater honesty and openness from their agencies – “Move beyond the inherent fear” encouraged Graham Bednash. Every one of them confirmed that they cannot abide Credentials presentations (“…45 minutes of hearing agencies talk about themselves is torture”) and yet there is an inherent disconnect surrounding not really understanding how agencies do what they do, which has a spill-over effect on remuneration. Says Thomas Holzapel, Global Category Leader Marketing for Deutsche Telekom ”Understanding how to evaluate what an idea is worth is hard”.

Perhaps as a light warning that our industry is ripe for disruption, Sabrina Rodrigues, Global Head of Social for Travellex tells us that Uber-style agencies are right on our doorstep, where you can dial for an immediate service.

Next up we heard from Phil Barden, the man behind the original Flash Mob that rocked the world at Liverpool Street station for T-Mobile. He talked candidly about the fact that its off-the-charts success found him questioning everything he’d ever thought he knew about marketing and how consumers engage with brands. Bear in mind that the flash mob featured no product message, no pricing, no features or benefits and was very light on branding, and yet its sales-driving effect broke every record for the category. He found himself desperate to un-package this to understand why, and it led him to an obsession with behavioural science.

In a nutshell his take is that humans seek to conserve energy by making as many ‘no-brainer’ decisions as we can through the day. These ‘demand less of us’. Barden believes (and there is science to back this up) that as marketers we spend far too much time worrying about consumer motivation and not enough time thinking about how we get in people’s brains in the first place.

Gary Noesner, former Chief Negotiator, FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit, took us through his remarkable story of life and death high stake negotiations with charisma and pathos. His advice to us regular folk in the heat of any negotiation is as follows:

• If you do nothing else, stall for time (everything comes easier when the emotion is notched down a few pegs)
• Take the time to listen – figure out what makes the person you are talking to tick
• Paraphrase – repeat back what you just heard them say to check for common understanding
• Acknowledge not just their story, but the feelings behind that story.

A quote from Gary that I for one can always pay greater head to is that “Listening is the cheapest concession you can make.”

Karl Heinz-Oehler from Denison Consulting closed the first day with a great piece on Culture and encouraged all of us to step back and very honestly interrogate the culture of our organisations, to admit to ourselves that every culture is punctuated by ‘bad habits’ and that moving forward is about admitting to these in order to let go of them.

Dinner was held at a classic London venue, the glorious Gladstone Library and we had the honour of hearing from Dr Dave Alfred MBE, or put in more everyday terms, the man who coached Johnny Wilkinson to rugby greatness.

Another natural speaker, he took a spellbound room through his take on Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “The most powerful drug known to man is language”.

According to Sir Dave, the optimal age for positive self-talk is age 4 and it’s pretty much downhill from there. As adults, our natural tendency is to start by talking about all the things we’re “rubbish at” rather than focusing on what do well. Coaching, mentoring, training, however you choose to frame it, is all about reinforcing what people are good at, honing in on their natural strengths (we all have them) and then using productive language (not just “That was a good kick, but rather “That was a good kick because your foot was turned out at the right angle, your head was up, now let’s think about how we can make it even more effective…”)

His top tip is that we all immediately remove the words “Never”, “Always” and “Can’t” from our vocabulary and we will instantly be better. Get ride of those words and focus on this one – FIG (or “Fuck I’m good”).

For more from this amazing man, check out his website and book ‘The Pressure Principle’: http://www.davealred.com/