On Friday, I did a talk to 1,500 people in Brighton.

I got to the venue just before kickoff, 9am.

Masses of people were queuing round the block.

I was told this was the theatre where ABBA won the Eurovision song contest.

I went into the huge empty theatre to test out the equipment.

Then I got a coffee and waited.

While everyone filed in I chatted to one of the audience.

I asked him if he lived in Brighton.

He said no, he’d come down from Birmingham just for the SEO conference.

He said people came from all over the country for it every year.

I asked him what the SEO conference was.

He thought I was kidding, he said “It’s this.”

A little red light started flashing in my head.

I said “Er, what exactly does SEO stand for?”

He said “Search Engine Optimisation, you should know you’re the keynote speaker.”

But I didn’t know.

I had assumed SEO was just another set of initials for some advertising organisation.


Suddenly I realised, in 5 minutes I was about to do a speech in front of 1,500 people, on a subject I knew nothing about.

I tried to sound casual.

I said “What does that mean: Search Engine Optimisation?”

He still wasn’t sure if I was pulling his leg.

He said “Well Google is a search engine, right? You tap in the word ‘plumber’ and 500 names come up. Everyone who’s here today, it’s their job to make sure the plumber whose website they’re working on comes at or near the top of the list.”

I said “So what you have to do is beat all your competitors, right?”

He said “Basically, yes.”

I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Then they called me up on stage to do my speech.

The first words out of my mouth were “The problems for everyone who works in Search Engine Optimisation are very similar to the problems for advertising.”

And I was able to do pretty much exactly the talk I’d prepared.

Which was a talk on Predatory Thinking.

You see everything in it was clearly as relevant to Search Engine Optimisation as it was to advertising.

Because in each case the purpose is to beat the competition.

That’s a simple human truth.

And as Bill Bernbach said, that’s what we deal in.

Simple, timeless, human truths.

That’s where the power is.

Not in the latest fashion, not the latest gimmicks, not jargon, all of that is just obfuscation.

Insecure people trying to impress other insecure people.

However fashion changes, whatever the latest technology, what will never change, what will always work will be simple human truths.

Which is why that speech was as relevant to advertising as it was to an area I knew absolutely nothing about: Search Engine Optimisation.

That’s why the talk on Predatory Thinking worked.

It’s not a gimmick, it’s not jargon, it’s not fashion.

It’s a simple human truth.

People have always needed to beat their competition.

That doesn’t change.

There are new ways to do that, new technologies, but that’s the job.

To beat the competition.

And in our terms that means standing out from the competition.

In advertising it means standing out from the thousands other of ads.

In SEO it means standing out from the thousands of other searches.

Standing out.

Beating the competition.

That’s the job, that’s the simple human truth.

That doesn’t change according to fashion or technology.

And that’s the same in any creative field.

Advertising, graphic design, film, photography, writing, music, dance, theatre, editing, painting, sculpture, journalism, SEO.

Show me someone creative who doesn’t want to stand out, someone who wants to be just like everyone else, someone who wants to be invisible, someone who wants to go unnoticed.


And I’ll show you someone who’s in the wrong job.