Putting Paul in the hot seat.

August 1st 2017

As part of our latest Enquirer newsletter, we’ve shone the light on our fabulous Chairman, Paul Seligman, putting him in the hot seat and delving deeper into his career, thoughts on the marketing industry and what he’s learnt along the way.

Take it away, Paul.

At Stir, we believe that through enquiry we learn and by learning, we enrich the quality of our work…What is the most useful thing you have learnt during your long and illustrious career in marketing? 

Hmmm…not sure about my “illustrious career in marketing”, in fact my career has been rather impulsive (from getting my first job in New York, to moving to rural Ireland) and devoid of many of the logical principles of marketing! However, I have learnt one hell of a lot along the way – often from mistakes (my venture into raw food could be a case book study for sheer stupidity), but also from a fair number of successes, from building thought-leading agencies, to helping brands develop (indeed, I am especially proud that I have worked with Jack Daniel’s for over 25 years). 

One important lesson I learnt was at Britvic many years ago.  We sold baby bottles of orange juice mainly to pubs and I suggested that we look into the then new, evolving packaging formats (like Tetra Pak) only to be rather abruptly told that our production team couldn’t do that and I should focus on what we could produce, not what we couldn’t. The long-term result is that Britivic is no longer a major player in the juice market. The lesson is clear – don’t be constrained by your current production resource, be inventive and customer-focussed. Dream big dreams.

 

If you could choose anyone in the world to be your mentor (alive or dead, famous or unknown), who would it be and why? What do you think you could learn from them?

In Homer’s Odyssey (where the term ‘mentor’ originates), the goddess Athena disguises herself as Mentor and I think there’s a bit of a message here. Many people say they are mentors, but aren’t. Indeed, I suspect they have absolutely no training at giving advice whatsoever.  Given this, you may not be surprised that, at the risk of being a touch un-PC, I hate mentors. Okay, hate may be a bit strong! If you have an issue, by all means, go and talk to your boss (and if they are the problem, talk to their boss…if you still have a problem, get a new job!). What’s all this about mentors anyway?  Get a life, go to the pub instead with a few work colleagues and have a decent chat! 

If however, you pushed me to name a mentor, I would have to name Ruth Whiting, my old history teacher (a trained person!) at Bedales. She wrote in one of my reports that if I was less argumentative about minor points and worked harder, I would do better. It worked (though I can still be a bit argumentative!).

  

PR is all about positively influencing audience perception and/or behaviour through the power of advocacy.  Empathy, trust and attention are all key facets to successful persuasion. How do you rate your powers of persuasion and how have you used them to your advantage, professionally?

My father, who I lived with in Vienna,  always said I could sell snow to an Eskimo. Yes, I have good influencer skills (which obviously include empathy, trust and persuasion), but what I have learnt over the years is not to sell something that isn’t right for my client/friend. 

History is full of examples of poor (and in some cases stupid) decisions – from Persil Power, a washing powder that destroyed clothes, to BP’s appalling PR handling of the Deepwater Oil Spill. Companies get things wrong regularly (okay, not generally of the level I have mentioned here!) and a good influencer should have the guts to tell a client if they think they are doing something incorrectly. I am not saying agencies should be stroppy, simply be bold and speak the truth whatever the circumstance. 

 

In the future, when the world is run by robots (and Amazon!), what role do you see your particular area of the marketing mix playing?

I am not a Luddite, all societies have been challenged by technological change, but have adapted. That’s what we, as a race, are exceptionally good at. Technology is making the entire world of marketing more reactive, more clever, and a lot more fun. In a post-truth world, where brands’ reputations can be (rightly or wrongly) trashed in seconds, where one employee’s racist comment can become a reflection on an entire company, the need for good PR will simply get greater. I won’t bore you by talking about the stuff that has been covered repeatedly, but as someone who has spent the last four years living in India, I am especially enthusiastic about the power shift that’s occurring from west to east. The east has much to teach us. 

What is the most impressive campaign that you have either worked on, or is in memory, that you have thought “yeah, those guys know what they are doing” and why?

I am lucky; I have worked with lots of great people on some stunning brands. But, one company Stir has worked with stands out …they are a big company in their early days.  They make exercise fun and they truly live their brand. They are Frame, started by Pip and Joan, a rather amazing combo. Check them out at www.moveyourframe.com

They have expanded from two studios, shortly to be six, with plans for many more.  What I like is they don’t run ‘campaigns’ per se, because everything they do is an extension of their brand and conveys the vibrancy of it. From PR, pop-up activities, blog pots, to their out of home advertising. Indeed, I liked them so much, I invested in the company – which I suppose is testimony to how great I think their brand is.