There was an interesting exchange on TV, on Question Time.
Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party was on the panel.
The BNP is an extremist fringe-fascist party.
The most contentious of their policies are openly racist.
The sort of thing that gives the right wing a bad name,
But whatever most people thought of their views, they had a legal right to be heard.
The interesting part for me was the opening exchange.
Apparently the BNP had hijacked Winston Churchill as a figurehead.
The questioner asked if everyone thought this was fair.
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, answered first.
He made a big play of the fact that he’d been to France to see the war graves.
He lauded the patriotism of the fighting men.
There were around 500 graves from members of his constituency.
Half of those were white, and half Asian.
Non-whites had died fighting for this country’s freedom.
Therefore they should have the same rights here as whites.
Very fair point.
Jack Straw paid tribute to the patriotism and sacrifice of our soldiers.
And his constituents who’d been willing to lay down their lives fighting for democracy.
Fighting the Nazis.
Who were not unlike the party represented by Nick Griffin.
Jack Straw spent ten minutes extolling the virtues of the people who fought and died for Britain.
So far so good.
Then it was Nick Griffin’s turn.
He said, “Hang on your father was in gaol, for refusing to fight the Nazis, while my father was in the RAF, fighting the Nazis.
By your logic, honouring the descendants of the people who fought against them, I have a lot more right to claim to be anti-Nazi than you do.”
Now I don’t think anyone reading this is going to remotely sympathise with the BNP.
But the issue is, how dumb was Jack Straw to walk into that?
He appeared at best a dope, and at worst a hypocrite.
Why didn’t he have an answer prepared about the fact that his father was a conscientious objector?
Something like, “My father was prepared to go to gaol for his principals.
I don’t agree with what my father did, but I admire his courage.
Anyway, the issue isn’t my family, it’s whether the descendants of the people who died fighting for Britain deserve an equal place in it.”
Why didn’t he say something like that?
He’s a professional politician.
These sort of debates are what his job’s about.
Let’s give Jack Straw the benefit of the doubt for a moment.
Let’s assume he’s not a dope or a hypocrite.
What he did was underestimate the competition.
You see this all the time in sports.
Big, rich, powerful teams get complacent.
This becomes laziness.
They turn out against a really motivated underdog.
And they get beat.
It happens to ad agencies all the time.
You look at the pitch list and, alongside your agency, you see a great agency, plus an agency you never heard of.
So you concentrate on beating the great agency, and ignore the one you don’t think has a chance.
And guess who wins.
The lesson is that anything you’re not paying attention to, makes you vulnerable.
This is true in our daily advertising lives.
Lots of creatives grumble about the briefs, but don’t do anything about it.
They’ve accepted that they can’t change the brief.
So they get complacent.
They sit in their office and accept what they’re given.
I’ve never understood that attitude.
Why would you want to trust your career to someone else?
What if the account man, or planner, or media buyer is as bored and unprepared as Jack Straw?
That’s your ad you’re trusting him with, your career.
How will you know if he’s doing a good job or not?
You won’t, unless you take the time to find out about their job.
And you know what?
Like everyone else, they’ll try a lot harder if they know someone is paying attention.
Finding out about the market we’re in, finding out about strategy, how to write a brief, finding out about media.
That’s all the equivalent of preparation.
Straw didn’t prepare so he was vulnerable.
He was vulnerable so he lost.
It’s the same with us.
The same in any area we don’t know about, anything we’re not prepared for, anything we ignore.
That’s where we’re vulnerable.