June 2020


I was asked by Hilary Dunne to write and deliver a Podcast.

Hilary runs a Global Speaker agency called The Brand Activators.

I addressed this subject:

Deep recession. Pandemic. War, even.

Globally significant. Thankfully rare. Landscape-shifting.

But if they do occur, what should business owners do regarding brand, PR, marketing and sales?

Here’s what I said.

5 Things.

First, I defined Brand, PR, Marketing and Sales.

(Just to make sure we were all chatting about the same thing).

Our DNA. What we stand for. Purpose. Belief. The change we want to make. What we’re most famous for.

Schedules and targets messages, identifies networks and channels, targets content and readership, reputation management. Includes digital PR (how found, what for), measures reach, engagement and effect.

Marketing & Sales
Identifies markets, how to reach them, what to say to them and how to close and grow accounts. Identifies targets, opportunities, responsibilities, relationship building and sales methods for developing insight and selling. 

Then, I listed 5 things to do during the Pandemic.

Here’s an overview:

  1. Don’t crave normal. Crave better. This means, use the time to get those things we’ve just defined, amazing. Sort them out. Because there will definitely be work to do
  2. Storify your journey to better. Tell the world, via Social Media and great quality email marketing, about your journey to better.
  3. Invest heavily in generosity. Help people. Loads of them. Sincerely and without expecting anything back. Jump out of bed to do this, in fact. Commit to it.
  4. Look for inspiration-and to inspire. Take a look at what other inspiring leaders are doing. Soak it all up. Then do something inspiring yourself. Imagine that other people, just like I am advising you to, were looking around looking for inspiring leadership during the pandemic. Would they find you?
  5. The worst decision you can make is to stop making decisions. You’re a leader. So lead.

In summary:

  1. Improve.
  2. Storify.
  3. Generosity.
  4. Inspire.
  5. Lead.

So it’s pretty much what you should have been doing anyway.



And after.

When I delivered a podcast recently.

About what a business should do with its Business Communications during a pandemic.

I summarised with 5 points.

A story about that podcast is here:


When I was chatting with the viewers at the end of the podcast.

I extended the list by 4 more points.

Quite spontaneously.

On the subject of what to do inside your businesses during the pandemic.

Or anytime, really.

In order to progress and improve.

And here it is:

  1. Don’t moan. Focus on what you have got and what you can do. Instead of what you haven’t got and what you can’t do. Find the opportunities (they are definitely there). Start that side project.
  2. Compartmentalise your time. It’s easy to drift when the world feels like it is pausing. And some of the pressure is off. Keep your discipline. Block out time to do this thing. And that thing. And stick to it. Also, turn your phone off. And your email. And focus. (And by the way, I think that compartmentalising time to do bugger all is just as important as compartmentalising time for work).
  3. Create a mini tribe. You plus 6 people. Zoom weekly. See how you all are. See how you can help each other. Tell each other how you’ve discovered something useful to pass on. Keep to the schedule. And get the mix right. The tribe should contain people that are better than you. And people that are not.
  4. Run your business and your brand as you know you should be. We can all be better. So describe what better looks like. Plan. And close the gap.

I like that list.

And since I am definitely not doing all of them myself.

I’d better get cracking.

I really do mean it.

When I say that I can’t.



The media.

The Media. 

Arguably, I work in (or at least ‘with’) the media.

I rely on certain aspects of the media as channels for the delivery of the carefully crafted brand messages I create.

Yet I really do mean it.

When I say that I can’t.



The media.

My Businesses. 

This, for example.

When I founded and ran 4 businesses.


For 15 years through the noughties and after.

Winning 70 awards.

Selling millions of pounds worth of Brand, Marketing and Design Consultancy.

All of it intended to help my fellow businesses.

All of it intended boost the Regional and National Economy.

All of it meaning that I had to employ over 100 people to help me on my way.

The local newsroom never rang me.

Local Newsroom.

I rang the local newsroom a lot of course.

Encouraging clients to spend money with them as appropriate.

And working with great local PR Companies to help spread upbeat and positive news as it happened.

Through the local news channels.

Yet as I say.

The local newsroom never rang me.

For 15 years.

Until the summer of 2014, that is.

When they did call.

And they asked for me by name.



Someone said as I was handed the telephone.

Michael Owen? The MD?

They asked.

And I replied.


That’s me.

How can I help?

The reporter continued.

I’m calling from The Chronicle. We hear you’re sacking 30 people. How do you feel about that? That’ll be quite a hit for the region. Would you like to tell us about it? Your side of the story I mean. Before we print anything.

I paused.

I had a strange swimming feeling in my head.

Just for a second.

Not an out-of-control feeling, you understand.

But the adrenaline was definitely pumping.

It was a busy time you see.

I was in the process of closing three of my businesses as calmly, as humanely and as sensibly as I could.

Taking on personal loans to cover redundancy payments that reserves could not.

Encouraging clients such as Virgin Money and Sage to, if possible, take the best members of my team on.

So the call threw me a bit.

Especially one of the words he used.


I didn’t like that word.


And as I say.

I really do mean it.

When I say that I can’t.



The media.

The Pause.

But I didn’t want to keep them waiting on the line too long.

So after the pause.

Which extended to a full 15 seconds or so.

I worked out what to say.

Fuck off.

I replied.

As I gently popped the phone down.

And that was that.

Nothing is universal is it?


There is no universal anything.


No universal sense of beauty.

No universal sense of rich.

Or poor.

Or happy.

Or sad.

It’s all relative.

The only thing I thought that there might be a universal definition of.

Was a universal sense of what is right and wrong.

But I was ‘put right’ by a guy on LinkedIn.


He said LinkedIn were merging professional lives with personal lives because they included Pride colouring in the LinkedIn logo.

I said sexuality was universal as it transcended everything.

I suggested that if you were gay at home.

You were gay at work too.

He said that sexuality was not universal because his religion saw homosexuality as wrong.

We’d moved on!

Because this chap was not just saying that homosexuality is not acceptable as a subject or as a ‘thing’ at work.

This chap was saying that homosexuality is not acceptable as a subject or as a ‘thing’ anywhere.

And that was that.

A dead end.


I did suggest the guy left LinkedIn.

Because he was so against a platform that supported a Pride ethos.

Bit he didn’t.

He’s still there.

He did teach me something though.

He taught me that Social Media spats are almost always pointless.

And I suppose he taught me that I even have to respect his point of view.

Even though I really do find his point of view yucky.

As yucky, I suppose, as he finds mine.


So I am back to where I was.

Nothing is universal is it?


There is no universal anything.

My very first business plan.

Was for my very first business.

Design Status.

In 1990.

Life of Brian.

Brian was a business adviser I had back then.

The Life of Brian collided with the Life of Michael as I was invited to enter a business competition.

The LiveWIRE Awards.

The entry deadline was Monday.

And the conversation I was having with Brian.

Was on the Friday before.

The entry criteria was the business plan.


Said Brian on the Friday.

Summary, Products and Services, Marketing Research, Marketing Strategy, Operations, Finances. The usual. Cash flow. P&L. Balance Sheet. List startup costs too. Break them down. Say where the money came from to start this. And a Sales Projection. Do one of those.


Now I like a challenge.

I had all of this stuff.


On bits of paper.

In the pages of books I owned.

In my head.

So I smiled and said:

No problem Brian.

I can get that done for you.

Monday Morning OK?

Brian leant forward.


And said this:


I don’t give a shit whether you do it or not.

You’re not doing it for me.

You’re doing it for you.

Two Things.

I took two things from that.

Two things that I still remember today.

In 2020.

30 years later.

  1. I had to stand on my own two feet. This was it. The spotlight was on me. Brian was much cleverer than me. Much smarter. Much more experienced. But he was not stood where I was. He was behind me. I was leading. I was 21. He was (I don’t know) 30-odd. But I was leading.
  2. I started to write the document not in a way that I thought Brian wild want to see. But I wrote it in a way that was best for my business. I was totally focused on that. And, of course, that’s a good thing.

The Life of Brian collided with The Life of Michael as I was invite to enter a business competition.

In 1990.

And I’ll never forget it.

This really is a thing.

Lynx Body Spray.

With Marmite.

Brand Buddies.

I like this.

Because Lynx and Marmite as ‘Brand Buddies’ tickles your brain.

Because of the parallel brand strategies of the two brands.

They are, in fact, very similar.

And they know that a Marmite smelling body spray is going to get noticed.

And talked about.

And they know that you’re going to either love it or hate it.

And they know that you’re going to talk about whether you are a lover or a hater.

Seduced enough by this strange idea that you might.


Buy it.

The Point.

And that’s the point.

Getting noticed and talked about is the only way to begin as a brand.

Because if you don’t have that bit.

Nothing else matters.

And do the words lover, seduction, love and hate resonate and point to both brands?

Whether they are alone or whether they are together?


Of course they do.

So there is a strange and quite lovely logic to all of this.

And I really like that.

All Lovers.

The product is playfully being described as being, ‘For All Lovers’.

And Jamie Brooks, Lynx Brand Manager commented.

(In a carefully constructed, tongue-in-cheek statement, I might add):

By combining two iconic legends that have shaped dating and breakfast culture across the nation, we have created a product like no other that is sure to get lovers and haters spreading the news.

Get noticed.

Get noticed!

Because if you don’t have that bit.

Nothing else matters.

Converse allow you to customise sneakers online now.

Which is great!

It’s great that they have developed this.

And that they’ve launched it.

But what’s not great.

Is that they’re not ready.


I actually really like Converse.

As a brand and as a product.

So the opportunity to get a pair of Chucks.

A design and a quality that I know already.

With Izobel’s name on the side.

And the ability to customise the shoe design.

That sounded cool!

So that’s what I did.

Here’s how the experience went.


  1. is a funky place. It looks good. And that’s fine.
  2. The customisation engine is imperfect. Some customisation shows as-you-go. Some doesn’t. It seems that some customisation cancels out another kind of customisation. So you can’t have both. But I am not sure. And it wasn’t clear to me exactly how the name would appear on the side. So all of that is a bit crap. It’s not been user tested properly. So I didn’t actually know exactly what I was going to get. Nevertheless – on I went.
  3. The product. On arrival from China. Is literally stuffed into a brown outer package. No inner. So converse are giving me a  higher level product, with a much lower level experience. They are reminding me that these shoes have been spat  out of a factory. And this is such a shame. It feels like they are user testing on customers. And that’s not right.
  4. A final point is that the email correspondence from China (I chased the order) was quite nice. Responsive. But not well written and contained spelling mistakes. I don’t want the customisation arm of a business to write to me with spelling mistakes. It makes me uneasy.

Guinea Pigs.

‘Go before you are ready’.

We hear the a lot in business..

And you know what.

I agree.

But as with all things.

There is a line that defines a level of quality above which it is acceptable to take money off people for products and services.

And that same line also defines a level of quality below which it is not acceptable to take money off people for products and services.

Business owners have to know where that line is.

And Converse.

Because they are treating customers like Guinea Pigs.

Do not.

Part 3 is missing from most businesses.

And I think we should put  that right.

3 things.

The first 2 parts  feel super-important to most people.

And the third part, not so important.

But to me.

All 3 parts are equally important.

And I also think that the reason most businesses never really maximise.

Is because the third part is missing.

Part 1 – Mattering.

This is understanding what you do from the market way around.

Making sure you matter.

It is knowing what you are for.

It is knowing the difference you want to make.

And knowing that that difference matters.

And who to.

That’s your market.

Part 2 – You.


Ability is not necessarily talent.

But you definitely need to be able to deliver on the promises you make in Part One.

With conviction.







And I could go on.

But you get my drift.

Part 2 is about being bravely all in.

Part 3 – Playfulness.

The best way to get noticed.

In a world that is.

Let’s face it.

Pretty boring.

Is to be different.

And one of the best ways to be different.

Is to be playful.





A little bit zany, even.

That way – you noticed.

You get impact.

And if you can get impact.

You can start to communicate.

And if you start to communicate.

You can start to persuade.

And if you can start to persuade.

You are on your way to building relationships.

And building a business.

So there you go.

Part 1 –  Mattering.

Part 2 – You.

Part 3 – Playfulness.

‘Coco’ by Pixar.

It’s an animation.

And a nice wee film, too.


The story is this.

A small boy has a passion for music.

His family don’t want him to pursue this.

Preferring he secured a ‘proper job’.

So the boy seeks the approval of his dead grandfather.

A famous musician.

In order to pursue his dreams.

Those are the headlines of the story at least.



The small boy’s grandfather resides in a different world.

The afterlife.

It’s quite pleasant there, actually.

At least according to Pixar it is.

All fun.

And dancing.

And revelry.

And lights.

But there is a problem.

Because just like in the real world.

Your days are numbered in the afterlife.


Back in the real world.

Your days are numbered because we all live for about 1000 months and then that’s it.

We die.

And in the afterlife.

You only live for as long as you are remembered by someone in the real world.

So as soon as everyone you knew in the real world forgets you.

The moment you are forgotten.

You die The Final Death.

The Final Death.

I wonder.

How long would I last in the afterlife?

Before everyone back here in the real world forgot about me?

And what would they remember me for?

And does all of that even matter?

Well; yes.

It does matter.

To me.

And I think that the formulae for living longest in the afterlife.

Is something like this.

The Formulae.

Just try to matter to as many people as possible in the real world.

Then after you’ve gone.

Because you mattered.

They’ll remember you.

And because they’ll remember you.

You’ll live in the afterlife for a long and happy time.

I have no idea if this will work of course.

I have no idea if the clever people at Pixar are right.

But just to be on the safe side.

Just so that I can stick around in the afterlife for as long as possible.

‘See a few old friends.

I think I’ll give it a go anyway.