Cicero Knew a Thing or Two About Armchair Professionals

By The Cog Blog Archives
Cover image for  article: Cicero Knew a Thing or Two About Armchair Professionals

Faced with an unprecedented worldwide health emergency, we are lucky to be a click away from literally millions of experts. It was only a matter of time before the "100 Lessons Marketing Can Learn From the Coronavirus" articles started to appear and, sure enough, it's now hard to avoid marketing commentators pontificating on one or other aspect of this awful situation.

It always used to be said that everyone is an expert in two things: one's own job and advertising.

We've all experienced this, ranging from the aspiring copywriter who just had to share a line that his mate thought was fantastic, through to the people convinced that advertising doesn't work on them. We all know those people. They usually preface their remarks with "advertising has no effect on me" before telling us all that, of course, Guinness is good for you as they sink their third pint.

A more recent manifestation of this came during the Brexit debate, when thousands insisted that they were swayed by the factual arguments behind the "leave or remain" case, and certainly not by any ad. Although, of course, they were looking forward to having a vast amount to redirect to the NHS, and were on the lookout for the 70 million Turks who were about to land on our shores.

But back to the current crisis. It's scary and it's reassuring to have expert advice from actual experts. It would be even more useful to have the space to listen to what the real experts have to say — without the clamour and background noise from the rest.

What is not helpful at all are the armchair health professionals telling us that someone they know, knows someone who once met a nurse on a bus who told him that we should all wear hats to stop the virus entering our system through our hair follicles (fake news alert).

It's only a short step to the charmer who sent me an email threatening me with the coronavirus, which he would transmit to me via my laptop unless I immediately transferred some large number of bitcoins to him.

The point is that someone will believe this and bankrupt themselves paying this person out of sheer terror.

Or, at the very least, will buy a hat.

Social media is wonderful in a crisis; nobody needs me to extol its benefits. But it's also full of people who think they're being clever or (worse) helping by spreading rumors.

This is an inflection point. Life will change, for some more than others; it's true.

Take our little bubble and remote working. Yes, it is great — for some people in some organizations. So are hot-desking, open-plan offices, shared spaces, flexible working hours, and video conferencing. All are great. But there are some organizations where working together in the same space works well — maybe even better.

It has nothing to do with being old-fashioned or a Luddite. It's just that we're social creatures and a single solution is very rarely the answer. Even if it involves the Internet.

We change, we absorb, we adapt. This happens with media forms, too. Live streaming from theaters to cinemas didn't wipe out the theater; DVDs didn't wipe out the cinema; and TV didn't wipe out radio.

The situation we are all in will test our ability to adapt and absorb. Remote work, working from home, and more flexible working arrangements all are being tried, and many will be appealing and efficient.

It will be fascinating to see how the HR business absorbs these changes once we are through to the other side of this emergency. They're the professionals we need to blend the ingredients together to create a modern, fair, flexible workplace, while maintaining company culture and, ultimately, business performance. They should be listened to and their advice heeded.

In the meantime, we should beware those sounding off about things they know little about to an audience far too ready to believe what they read and far too keen on easy solutions.

Mediahub's CEO Danny Donovan summed the state of play up in a quote from Cicero (thanks to Kevin Duncan for finding it): "Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book."

As Cicero might have said: Qui salvum maneat. Vale.

Stay safe, people. Stay well.

Don't stop now! Read more on ad industry issues and trends from Brian Jacobs in The Cog Blog.

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