paul skinner on the podcast
Jul 25, 2019

Learn how Collaboration beats Competition as a Strategy for Success with Paul Skinner

By Matt Dodgson

Co-Founder - Recruiter & Marketer

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Fiona Jensen: Welcome to Market Mentors, a podcast for the marketing leaders of today and tomorrow. I’m Fiona Jensen, a director and co-owner of Market Recruitment. For over a decade, I’ve been helping B2B marketeers find the best jobs with great companies. Together, we’ll discover how marketing experts reach the top and learn from their experience. Ask career related questions you can’t get answers to elsewhere. Be tough, be challenged, be mentored.

Fiona Jensen: Are you disenfranchised with competitive advantage as a strategy? If so, Paul Skinner of Pimp My Cause and Agency Of The Future has a new pair of lenses for you to look through. Paul’s philosophy is polar opposite to most, and he’s written a book about it called, The Collaborative Advantage, where he shares many great examples about why, and how, that works; a marketing tool kit, you could say, that helps you to take into consideration the whole ecosystem your business operates in, and challenges you to find purpose and a way to add value by understanding the bigger picture.

Fiona Jensen: One of the most inspiring conversations so far. We pick apart the drive-through marketing approach and look for the opportunity for marketers who are brave enough to find the space in between things. Paul also has a great way to help you develop your marketing team by working on their talent needs, but creating a positive legacy at the same time. Listen to this.

Fiona Jensen: So, Paul Skinner, thanks ever so much for joining us on Market Mentors. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you join us. What I’d really like is for you talk to us a little bit about your background, your experience, how you’ve got to where you are today so that the audience can learn about the type of experience and exposure that they’re about to learn and benefit from.

Paul Skinner: Sure, and thank you for… yeah. I’ve been looking forward to talking to you. Maybe it makes sense to work backwards. I sort of have three hats at the moment. I’ve written the book Collaborative Advantage: How Collaboration Beats Competition as a Strategy for Success. I run the Agency of the Future, which helps leadership teams to understand and define their organisational purpose in the light of collaborative advantage and to better mobilise around that purpose accordingly. I run the social platform Pimp My Cause, which connect marketing professionals with charities and social enterprises that they can support with their marketing talent and enhance their own marketing capabilities in the process.

Paul Skinner: I think they all share a belief that marketing can be a tremendously positive force for good in the world in different ways. I segued into those from a brief stint in freelancing, where I developed an interest in the collaborative business models that were exploding that were largely enabled by the internet and technology. I was interested interest broader range of social and environmental factors that were impinging on business in different ways, and for which business was needing to take a greater level of responsibility.

Paul Skinner: I’d also become quite fascinated by how change was becoming effective outside of conventional approached and outside of organisational… conventional organisation boundaries. Before that, I’d headed up marketing and business development for a variety of venture backed [inaudible] business, which my interest in some of these themes had been ignited. Before that, I began my career in global brand development for L’Oreal, which I think has given me a lifelong passion for marketing and belief that marketing can play a role of leadership in organisations and beyond organisations as well.

Fiona Jensen: That’s fantastic actually. You’re so right. I think marketing, especially within the B2B space, is only just really starting to find its feet at the table at the right level i.e. the board and senior directors. Up until recently, it was still seen as a bit of a services department, or almost a service add-on to the sales guys. But I think, nowadays, companies in particular, especially at a senior level, are starting to see marketers as a real force within their business around the vision, the direction and how they’re actually going to achieve their goals; rather than a colouring in department.

Fiona Jensen: A lot of what you’ve said all helps to build towards that, marketing having a bigger chair and a better seat at the table to be able to influence a business.

Paul Skinner: I think that’s absolutely right. The best marketing leaders that we see, I would say, don’t so much lead marketing teams as they work with marketing teams to lead their businesses, to lead the partnerships that their businesses depend on and the relationships that those business depend on; even to lead society and enabling society to content with particular forms of change that are relevant to their line of work. I think that you’re right, also, that for various reasons, marketing doesn’t always have the confidence or the recognition to play that role to the degree that it can do and should do.

Paul Skinner: I think you’re right to say that, too often, marketing can be differential to sales. We hear of the concept drive-though marketing, where, essentially, marking becomes the support service for the sales director on his next… on the way to his next important meeting, which is really good for selling what you have, but it’s not necessarily so good for making sure that you have what’s right in the first place. There is actually one area of deference that I think is even more pernicious than that, perhaps, and that’s the deference to finance.

Paul Skinner: We might come onto that when we talk about the book a little because strategy has been dominated by the idea of competitive advantage. The idea of competitive advantage was created entirely by financiers. All of the major pioneers of competitive advantage were financiers. We could even dive into the history of that, if appropriate. But the consequence is, we’ve come to see strategy as being about what you own, manage and control. Particularly the development of the concept of competitive advantage supported senior business leaders in using the tools of finance to understand what we own, manage and control, and to use that to line up a firm’s resources to create that all important superior customer offering, which was perhaps understandable in the environments in which that emerged.

Paul Skinner: But I think today’s business environment is so dramatically interconnected that the assumption that value is created from within a business primarily, perhaps really no longer stands. That partly where the idea of collaborative advantage comes in. But, more broadly, thinking about marketers playing a more strategic role, when strategy is left to finance, it becomes too inward looking. We could point out that 90% of the world’s money doesn’t even exist as a thing; it’s just numbers on server. Those numbers, if they’re to mean anything and be effective, depend entirely on trust, on relationships and on ideas.

Paul Skinner: What happens if that trust, those relationships and those ideas start to fall apart? Of course, everything is lost. I think it’s tremendously important for marketers to play that role of defining what a business stands for and mobilizing around that, both outside and inside the business. The audience for marketing in whatever type of business they’re working in is, of course, all of the departments inside the business and, of course, also, all of the stakeholders that are relevant to the way that business creates value across the whole of the UK system in which it operates; from its partners, from its suppliers, right through to its customers, and perhaps it’s customer’s customers in a B2B environment.

Paul Skinner: I think it is tremendously important for marketers to foster that holistic business vision that enables them to contribute to the business in a strategic way and be a key engine of growth, both for today and for tomorrow.

How B2B marketers can have an impact on business strategy

Fiona Jensen: The collaborative advantage is more about the outlook and the vision and strategy for the business overall, versus the product per se, because I suppose, from a B2B perspective, marketers won’t necessarily be able to just change what the company does or how it does it, but what it can do is think differently to everybody else in the market, potentially, about what that product or service does affect within the customer world.

Paul Skinner: Yes. That’s absolutely right. Of course, marketing should be used to define what a business stands for in the first place. That’s tremendously relevant to a business’s brand, whether it’s a B2C business or a B2B business. By the way, I might, if I may, in a sense, push back on the B2B concept a little in that, I do think it’s the case, of course, it’s self-evident that it’s the case, that not all businesses are B2C businesses. However, there are very few businesses that I know that are not, at least in someway, B2B businesses. Even businesses that are serving an end consumer depend on such a range of business relationships and could grow more quickly by harnessing the power of business relationships that they don’t even have.

Paul Skinner: So I would strongly encourage any B2B marketer not to limit their perception of what they could contribute to any business, and that understanding how you create value across a complex business environment can be useful to brands that are reaching end consumers as much as they are, for example, technology brands in a B2B service environment.

Fiona Jensen: Ooh. You’re trying to poach B2B marketers over to the B2C side. That’s normally… that’s quite different. We’re always trying to convince the B2C people to come across to B2B to say, “It’s not a boring space to work in. It’s very complex. There’s decisions by council and by humans that you have to really consider.” And how complex the whole marketplace is and why it’s so exciting to work in. I think that’s the first time I’ve had someone pitching, or thinking about, the B2C world actually being more B2B and the value that a B2B marketer could bring to it. I love that. Love it.

Paul Skinner: I think, to give a brief example, if that’s appropriate, I was just talking about collaborator advantage at the Lowry Theatre on Salford Quays. Across from that theatre is a Pizza Express restaurant that you would think of as being a classic B2C environment, but I would argue that the value created in that Pizza Express restaurant is inseparable from the value created in the theatre because it’s probably the lure of the night out at the theatre that gets you there and feeling hungry in the first place. It’s inseparable, also, from the value created in car park, underneath the commercial building it adjoins, because it’s one of those places that you probably have to drive to unless you’re lucky enough to be connected to one of the public transport links.

Paul Skinner: I would say, above all, it’s also inseparable from the value created by you and your friends when you go there because it’s unlikely that you will say to yourself, “Do you know what? I have to go to the Pizza Express on Salford Quays. I wonder who I can drag along with me.” No. The starting point is, you decide to go on a night out with your friends, and you work out where to go. In a sense, collaborative advantage is about seeing how value is being created across a whole complex ecosystem that, ultimately, reaches all the way from raw materials to end consumer to… or it runs to end customer, or to end citizen. Understanding how that value is being created across that broader ecosystem, and then seeing what the best approaches to marketing and growth can be by harnessing all of those value creating processes, and maximising them so that you’re maximising the value that you can create from outside the business, as well as from inside it.

Fiona Jensen: So it’s like a philosophy of being everywhere, almost, throughout that whole experience chain from start to finish, before somebody even knows that they’re going to grab a pizza from Pizza Express for example, using your analogy, because it all starts from a completely different perspective and point. That’s something which, as a Pizza Express marketer you’d be aware of, the local venues, then it would be a chance…

Fiona Jensen: The collaborative advantage specifically would be them reaching out to the local venues to say, “When you guys have big events, people are going to be hungry, and we can probably supply or support that need. What should we do?” It’s more about partnership marketing, thinking outside the box, or is there additional feedback or thoughts on that?

Paul Skinner: I think marketing largely resides in joining up the spaces between things. As marketers, we don’t actually build things, even if we contribute to designing them. What we play as a role is, we play the role of the junction point between supply and demand, between a business and its customers, between a business and its partners, between the different departments internally within a business. We function as that holistic organising glue that creates a holistic vision for people to buy into, whether as end customer or as partner or as employer.

Paul Skinner: Collaborative advantage is about taking marketing capabilities and using it to maximise the value of all of those junction points or all of those relationships, formulating the propositions that make them work, and maximise the value and the contribution that they can make.

Fiona Jensen: Not just necessarily to their own business, but also to the ecosystem around their business also?

Paul Skinner: Yes. Absolutely. Many businesses have failed in their innovation processes because they’ve overlooked the value that needs to be created by either business with whom they partner or business on whom they depend, even if they don’t have a direct relationship with them, or even overlooking the role that could be played by other business who they done have a relationship with, but on whom their customers also depend for the totality of their solution.

Paul Skinner: To give one or two examples, if we think of Michelin PAX run-flat for example. This was a new form of run-flat tire that was launched by Michelin and that created value for their customers car manufacturers. But they really overlooked the needs of the garages that would have to replace and fit these tires, and who would need to invest in specialist equipment and training to be able to do that. As cars started to come out with these particular tires that needed that specialised approach, the end customers with those cars were finding it was very difficult to find a garage that could do it because for no… for very few garages was it worth their while to invest the time and money into something that so few of their customers would be coming in and asking for.

Paul Skinner: As a result, the PAX launch was a failure. It was a failure of failing to see how value needed to be created across a business ecosystem as a whole, rather than a failure of delivering a superior product to their end customer. We can think of other innovations such as one form of inhalable insulin that didn’t take off, not because it wasn’t a good solution for patients, but because the particular doctors that would be called upon to prescribe it, rarely had access to the particular form of lung testing that would be required to make sure it was safe for that patient.

Paul Skinner: Collaborative advantage does ask us to expand our understand and to look at our sector and to really work through, from start to finish, how is value created actively in that sector by all participant? And how do we maximise the collaborative advantage we can create by using our internal resources to leverage that external value creation in the best possible way?

Fiona Jensen: That’s fantastic. There’s a hundred different examples, isn’t there, where people, or companies specifically, have brought product to market where it’s kind of fallen flat on its face because they hadn’t thought about the next person in the supply chain, or how the end user would actually benefit from that, or the additional bits and bobs that you need. I think that’s because there’s a lot of companies that do run from quite a selfish perspective almost. It’s about getting another product out there, it’s about getting a price advantage, as opposed to being more philosophical around the value that they’re creating, and how their business is going to have an impact.

How to deal with resistance from senior stakeholders

Fiona Jensen: I love the fact that everything that you do is coming from that philosophical trunk, I suppose, of, why are we doing it? Why are we here? How are we going to make a difference? If there is a marketer who’s sat in their own company currently thinking, I love your concept, I really buy into it, and I think it’s fantastic. That when they, maybe, talking to their senior leadership team or the rest of the business, they’re experiencing some resistance around that, to the approach, what sort of advice would you give to them if they are sat in one of those businesses who is, maybe, a little bit more narrow about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it?

Paul Skinner: I think where collaborative advantage and the ideas in the book come in to help a marketer in that particular situation is by giving them a language and a structure through which to articulate how their insights directly contribute to growing the value of that business. In a sense, I think all of the capabilities of collaborative advantage are capabilities that, inherently, marketers possess, but one of the challenges is that marketing has become so fragmented. So often is it the case that, for example in a B2B technology environment, marketing is not represented holistically even on the main board, so that value can be overlooked.

Paul Skinner: I think collaborative advantage relates marketing capabilities directly back to a strategy for growth. I think that’s where it helps marketers to overcome resistance. I think… picking up on something on which your question was predicated, you were talking about businesses that are very much thinking about what they offer and not seeing the bigger picture. I think, also, in a technology environment, we can often focus a little bit too much on the characteristics of what we’re offering, and we can overlook, as a result, the value that needs to be created by the person using what we offer.

Paul Skinner: I think that’s maybe why so many government IT schemes fail, for example. It’s not necessarily that the idea itself is wrong or that the technology itself is necessarily flawed, it’s often that people overlook the processes of human change that would be required to actually bother with and make most use of that technology in the first place. One non-technology example that maybe brings that to life is, the Puerto Madero development in Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Paul Skinner: This is a phenomenal mixed use urban development. They have leisure, they have restaurants, they have shops, they have offices and so on; A completely multi-state [inaudible] environment. Now, the entrepreneur behind Puerto Madero called in one of Argentina’s top creatives Jorge [Hay-mond 00:22:52], and briefed him a few weeks before launch on the need for an advertising campaign and asked him to come up with ideas for a campaign that would make a success of the launch of Puerto Madero.

Paul Skinner: He spent a few days wandering around having a look at the place. As it happened, he came from one of the districts that was the target market for Puerto Madero. He went back into the entrepreneur’s office a few days later, and he said, “You don’t need an advertising campaign. I’ve just come here using two buses and 20 minute walk. What you need is not an advertising campaign, what you need is a bridge to make it easier for people to get from those districts to Puerto Madero so they can walk straight across, or drive straight across.”

Paul Skinner: Of course, being an advertising executive, it couldn’t just be any bridge, it had to be what would become one of the most iconic bridges in Argentina, which is called La Puente de la Mujer and is a sort of swing bridge which is worth a google, actually, to have a look at it. Often marketing, again, is at the junction point between what the business can offer and how people can use what that business offers.

Paul Skinner: If we’re constantly the lamp at the door between two worlds, I think that’s where we make our greatest contribution. Understanding the outside and understanding the inside, whether the inside is our marketing team and the outside is other departments, or whether the inside is our business and the outside is all of the ecosystem in which it operates.

Fiona Jensen: Brilliant. Lovely example. So the swing bridge will be google now, probably an awful lot more successful and better looking and amazing than the Garden Bridge which never happen in London, not so long ago. I’m keen to get into a little bit around your Pimp My Cause social media website… or social website that you talked about. I originally came across you, Paul, from some of the Pimp My Cause activity that I spotted with some of the other B2B marketers that I know. It really tweaked my interest. I looked into it, and I thought it was such a fantastic idea.

Fiona Jensen: I’m really, really keen to share that with the audience as well. Where did the idea for Pimp My Cause come from? To those who don’t know, what is it about? And how is it going to help them as marketers?

Paul Skinner: Sure. So Pimp My Cause is a platform that connects professional marketers with charities and with social enterprises that can benefit from their marketing talent, and where the marketers can enhance their own marketing capabilities in that process. I guess the idea emerged because I’d often enjoyed supporting particular causes that I believed in with my own marketing abilities. I’d enjoyed that process. I think there is something unique about marketing that it can be an intrinsically enjoyable process. I’m not sure… If I’d been an accountant, I’m not sure I’d’ve launched the Pimp My Cause of accountancy.

Fiona Jensen: no, probably not.

Paul Skinner: But I was very interested, also, in cooperation enabling ideas. So I was wondering if there was a mechanism to multiply that impact many fold by, instead, making it quicker and easier to… by making it quicker and easier for any marketing professional right across the sector to find and work with the right cause for them. I would really encourage anyone listening to the podcast to just take a moment to think about yourself as a marketer, your ambitions for the future. What are the aspects of marketing that you find most thrilling, most enjoyable? What are the aspects of marketing that you would like to do more of? What are the aspects of marketing that you miss, having taken on a more senior role, that you want to get back into? To think about the kind of charity and social enterprises that might mean the most to you.

Paul Skinner: Then, to use our matching platform to find the right cause partner to support with your marketing talent to leave that positive [inaudible] legacy of seeing the power of what your marketing expertise can translate into in terms of enabling the causes to better support their beneficiaries and to support people in improving their lives across such a wide range of activities, and to see how that helps you rewrite your own story of who you are as a marketer, and what you understand marketing to be able to achieve in the process.

Fiona Jensen: I love the fact that it’s to enable marketers to learn and stretch themselves because, often, I think, sometimes, especially if you’re working in much larger corporations, you can get a little bit pigeon-holed and a little bit stuck almost with what you’re allowed to do or what the business is looking for you to achieve on a day-to-day basis. I love the fact that this platform’s obviously going to be a good route for people like that who want to challenge themselves, stretch themselves and learn something new but, also, do something for a good cause in the process, which I think’s fantastic.

Fiona Jensen: Actually, you’ve had whole marketing teams taking part in this. What can you tell me around that type of engagement with the platform? Has it worked? How has it worked? And what sort of outcomes did the teams and the good causes get from that whole process?

Paul Skinner: Yes. So we work with marketing leaders to create challenge programs, which are talent development program for their team with a difference. Some of the problems that marketing leaders face, for example, many marketing leaders face the seemingly intractable problem that their CEO wants them to achieve more, while their CSO would like them to be spending less.

Fiona Jensen: Oh, yes [crosstalk 00:29:10]-

Paul Skinner: How can they get their teams to be able to achieve more with less? I think a lot of marketing leaders can easily identify the talent development priorities of their teams, but it’s not so easy to identify the real world challenges that they can pose to the marketing teams, and to marketers within those teams, to help them enhance those priorities and capabilities. I think, for a lot of marketing leaders, if you could offer them a more experienced marketing team without the need to replace anyone or to extend their budget to hire anyone new, then that’s a fantastic offer.

Paul Skinner: Our challenge programs are designed to meet those needs. We work with marketing leaders to carefully understand the talent development priorities of the teams that they lead, then we develop live charity briefs with a number of cause partners for each challenge. We curate those in a completely bespoke way around the talent development priorities that those marketing leaders are seeking to foster in their teams. Then we support and coach those teams through the process of delivering on those briefs in a way which, universally so far, has supported the marketers in making more ambitious and successful contributions than they ever believed possible at the start of the process, particularly given that our challenge programs are typically quite short. They’re incredibly intense, and require marketers to be more ambitious in terms of the scope of what they can achieve and the timeframes within which they can achieve so much.

Paul Skinner: Of course, they create a tremendous positive legacy and enhance the experience of those marketing teams in the process. I’ve often found… Earlier in my career when I was between marketing jobs or moving between jobs, often the moment when you would realise how much you’d learned in one role was in the first few weeks of taking on the next role. I think our challenge programs replicate that experience boost, but in a very compressed amount of time.

Fiona Jensen: I love that. Again, it’s kind of leveraging that collaborative advantage, isn’t it, again, with regards to different perspectives, different viewpoints, challenging the status quo? I love the fact that everything ties together and matches up together with the whole concept and philosophy of the book as well.

Paul Skinner: Yes. In a sense, Pimp My Cause is a living laboratory of collaborative advantage in practice. Three key ingredients of collaborative advantage are purpose, creativity and collaboration. In a sense, our cause leaders you could describe as real ninjas of higher purpose, each relentlessly pursuing the purpose that brought their organisation into being. Then, if we think about the typical, even a very small charity or social enterprise, typically needs to align the interest of quite complex stakeholder environments, when you think about their beneficiaries, their service users, their volunteers, their donors, their corporate partners and so on.

Paul Skinner: They’re great testbeds of collaborative value creation. Then along come our marketers with their tools of creativity and influence and apply that creativity to our cause purpose to unlock greater and more sustainable level of collaboration. We found… Actually, I know that you have… a lot of your listeners are working in B2B environments. I would say, our challenges have been very successful within B2B environments because, in a sense, there’s a very close alignment between the marketing priorities of a B2B business and a small charity or social enterprise with the complexity of the stakeholder environment in which it operates.

Paul Skinner: It’s less about global expensive media campaigns and more about, how do you cultivate the value of your most important organisational relationships?

Fiona Jensen: Fantastic. Yeah. I can imagine there’ll be quite a few marketing leaders now, hopefully, checking out Pimp My Cause, and hopefully reaching out to you and getting involved because I think it’s fantastic. Fantastic concept and certainly something that I’ve heard very good things about from other people who have taken part from the B2B world. Thanks for talking us through that. I’m keen to tap into that leadership conversation now, that you were talking about.

Fiona Jensen: You also run the Agency of the Future. I shall say nothing else. Back over to you, Paul. What is the Agency of the Future? What can you tell us about this and your campaign to improve leadership in the business world?

Paul Skinner: I think one of the thing that I think marketers find themselves naturally, and it ties back to one of your previous questions, is in the space in between things. I love to be at the space in between things. In a sense, collaborative advantage as a concept, also, is at the space between marketing and strategy. I would say, that’s where we are at the Agency of the Future. We develop marketing capabilities, but we are putting them at the service of leadership teams to grow their businesses more quickly, or to accelerate the social change created by non-profits by better harnessing the fuller value creating potential of the environment in which they operate.

Paul Skinner: For example, recently we’ve been working with the EU to look at how we can better adapt to the needs and capabilities of what are, essentially, aging populations across many of the countries in Europe. Or with the world leading renewable energy group, we’ve been looking at how to drive… how to power greater positive change in the world. With the UN we’ve been looking at how to foster more collaborative problem solving across the boundaries of the different professional networks that are involved in preparedness and response in the context of disasters and emergencies.

Paul Skinner: In all of these cases, you have leadership teams who cannot deliver the change that they’re working for, whether that’s commercial change or social change. Rather, what they can do is, enable that change to occur by creating collaborative advantage. That’s where we step in. It often begins by seeing an organisation as an enabler of change, whether for profit or not for profit, rather than the deliverer of change, redefining or understanding the purpose in a new light as a result of that, and then better mobilising for change as a result.

Paul Skinner: It’s interesting, obviously in the book I take aim against the concept of competitive advantage and argue that, actually, most value is created across organisational boundaries, so what we need is collaborative advantage. I think the whole field of change management, in a sense, is polluted by the perceptions embedded within the idea of competitive advantage, that what we’re looking at is what happens inside an organisation is what’s important. Change management is about focusing with a largely financial lens on what is going on inside a business and how to change that, perhaps to adapt to a changing external environment, but the focus is inside change.

Paul Skinner: Whereas, actually, I think businesses can grow more quickly by seeing themselves as accelerators of change that is already taking place outside the business.

Fiona Jensen: Very good. It is constantly flipping everything on its head, from your conversation, Paul. It’s really intriguing. Every time you think, “Yes, but what about this company and that company?” Then you start to realise that, as you say, a lot of what they do and why they do it comes from a very different standpoint. It does start to make you question, well, what could be achieved if companies started looking at, as you say, the collaborative advantage of what could be achieved for them and for their industry or for the market they operate in or for the customers that they serve by having this very different viewpoint?

Fiona Jensen: It’s an exciting time to be a marketer if you think about all of this movement, this change, there’s a lot fear, should we say, with regards to the lack of decision making, the fact that nobody knows what’s about to happen in six months, let alone twelve months time; not that you can always guarantee that stuff. With the political environment, with industries going down the pan within 24 hours notice, there’s a ridiculous amount of turbulence and change going on in the world, it’s really refreshing and positive and exciting to come across someone who challenges the status quo in absolutely every field that they come across, but has also created this marvelous toolkit that other people can also purchase for themselves and use to try and improve their sector or improve what they do as a market on day-to-day basis. I think that’s fantastic.

Fiona Jensen: What do you think the most valuable marketing skill is that you can have as a marketer?

Paul Skinner: That’s an interesting one. I suppose from the perspective of collaborative advantage, in a sense, that always begins with the unknown, in that it always begins with the other person. I think a very important capability is to foster your empathy. Interestingly, the author Peter Bazalgette suggests that in the future, brain scans to test people’s empathy levels could form a part of the selection process at interviews for determining what kind of roles people might be well adapted for. I think fostering your-

Fiona Jensen: Where can I get one of those, Paul? Where can I order myself one of those? [crosstalk] Amazon.

Paul Skinner: I’m sure your empathy levels are off-the-chart high, so they don’t even need to be measured. I think fostering empathy is key. Interestingly, actually, because if you… implicit in your question is, how can I become more empathic? I think the paradoxical counterpart to empathy and the understanding of the other is actually also fostering self-knowledge. In our quietest moments there is of course so much similarity between us, even if we’re so different on the surface level. I think one of the most powerful things you can do as a marketer is to cultivate a high level of self awareness and be able to almost watch yourself think and act and to have enough… not so much honesty, but even perception of how and why you do things as a segue to understanding how and why other people do things as well.

Paul Skinner: Perhaps empathy and self knowledge are the skills that are most valuable for a marketer to cultivate. Everything else is easy to add on if you have those. If you don’t have those, it strikes me as much harder to complete the toolkit.

Future proof B2B marketing skills

Fiona Jensen: Makes sense. What skills do you think marketers should be investing in for the future?

Paul Skinner: I suppose, since you’ve so encouraged me to challenge everything I hear, I’m going to challenge the idea that there is a “the future”. I suppose at a macro level it’s true. As the world is becoming more complex, more uncertain, more saturated with information, of course you would need to say, one thing we can’t afford to do is to step back in our ability to cooperate. Understanding the environment we’re in, and understanding the environments adjacent to that environment is of course really, really key.

Paul Skinner: But I still come back to this idea of self knowledge because, in a sense, there isn’t one future that we’re all moving towards. We will each create our own futures through our own preferences and perceptions and in response to the opportunities available to us in our environment. I think fostering a high level of self knowledge, and an insane level of curiosity for the world around us… not just connected across the planet through the internet, but even in our local physical environments and the people in the office down the corridor whose work we don’t fully understand. I think fostering curiosity in that way, accompanied with self knowledge, is the fastest path to creating the right future for us.

Fiona Jensen: Love it. So you’re in charge of your own destiny. Everyone’s got the chance to make impacts and change how they view things, but you’ve got to be willing to go there and explore the stuff that you don’t necessarily understand and ask the questions. Then try and understand everybody else’s perspective, as well as being really honest and truthful about who you are and what your vision is and where and how you see things. Your own opinion counts, obviously, as much.

Paul Skinner: Absolutely.

Fiona Jensen: What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt in marketing and business? And how did it come about?

Paul Skinner: I think that it might be ambitious for me on the spot to identify the most valuable lesson I’ve learned. I’ll tell you one thing that comes to mind, some very memorable, useful career development advice that I’ve heard. Also, as it happens, it has its equal and opposite in, perhaps, the worst career development advice I’ve ever heard. The memorable and useful advice came from Rory Sutherland, who writes a column for The Spectator and is vice chair of Ogilvy UK and has supported Pimp My Cause-

Fiona Jensen: Yep. And he’s just [crosstalk 00:44:22]-

Paul Skinner: He has his own book that’s just come out a couple of weeks ago, which I’m listening to as an audio book and which is absolutely brilliant. He has supported Pimp My Cause almost since the start. We partner with the part of… one of the parts of Ogilvy he’s closest to, their behaviour change team. They use the behaviour change expertise to support a number of our causes each year through the summer school program that trains marketing professionals from across the sector in enhancing their ability to use behavioural insight to foster business advantage.

Fiona Jensen: Amazing.

Paul Skinner: He gave on piece of memorable advice, which is, “Be good at two things.” Based on the mathematical fact that it’s relatively easier to differentiate when you’re good at two things compared to one. For example, I imagine it would be quite difficult to become the world’s best rollerblader. It’s probably quite difficult to become the world’s best accordion player. But it may be surprisingly easy to become the world’s best rollerblading accordion player.

Paul Skinner: I don’t know if I actually implement Rory’s advice, but I do think it folds back into the topic that we’ve been discussing previously of being the junction point between two worlds. In a sense, Pimp My Cause is the junction point between good causes and marketing teams, and how they can work together and enhance each others capabilities as agents of change. The Agency of the Future is the junction point between marketing and leadership, or marketing and strategy. Marketing itself can be the junction point between a business and the environment in which it operate.

Paul Skinner: I think being that space in between two worlds can be tremendously valuable for a marketer. And I mentioned the worst advice I’d ever heard, which is the opposite of that, which is, stick to your job.

Fiona Jensen: Oh, no.

Paul Skinner: When I was an intern, I must’ve been 19, 20, something like that. I happened to be with a team that was working on… I was lucky to be in a team that was working on a prestigious global advertising campaign to be rolled out across more than 50 countries, this was in Paris. We had one of the world’s greatest agencies with a full-time team dedicated to creating this campaign. It instantly struck me, being English and also speaking Spanish as well as French, when they presented the campaign, it depended on quite sophisticate French wordplay. I couldn’t figure out a way to translate it into English or Spanish. I didn’t think it would be easy for other people to do that, and if it wasn’t easy for other people to do that, it would probably be very difficult in many of the other languages it was destined to be used in as well.

Paul Skinner: So I pointed out to somebody quite senior, compared to me at the time, that this really was a difficulty. I was pretty harshly reprimanded for that on the basis that our role in global development is to get the global campaign right. It’s up to the countries to work out how they translate it into their own languages and contexts. So I was sort of shamed to silence. Then, of course, a number of weeks… actually, months later, the campaign eventually gets presented at a very senior level in a global business. At that senior level only that… you have a campaign that is developing variants of the campaign for maybe 12 sub-brands.

Paul Skinner: They only got as far as presenting the first image of the first part of the campaign for the first sub-brand, and it was immediately dismissed as being of no value whatsoever because it couldn’t be translated. So I would really encourage people, first of all, don’t just stick to your own job. If you believe something to be true, if you believe you can add value, then find a way, have confidence in yourself, and find a way to express that to the right person at the right time in the right way to make the most of that contribution because you may be, by going outside of your remit, where that is appropriate and where you see the relevance of that, you may be contributing something to the business that is exponentially greater than what is currently expected of you. That’s good for the business and, ultimately, that’s good for you.

The importance of a marketing mentor in your career

Fiona Jensen: That’s so true and really good advice. Thank you. How important is it to have a marketing mentor, would you say? And why?

Paul Skinner: Well, it certainly can be extremely valuable. With my Pimp My Cause hat on, there are many of our small charities and social enterprise that have worked in a mentoring type way with some of our more senior marketers, and who would candidly tell you that the very reason their organisation still exists is because of the value that has come from that mentoring relationship. So it can be extremely valuable. I think one of the reasons for that is that it gives you one of those rare opportunities to have systematic structured conversations, the only purpose of which is to help you advance your capabilities; to be better at your job, perhaps even, to be happier in life, depending on the remit and the relationship that you establish with your mentor.

Paul Skinner: That can be very valuable for the mentee. It can also be very valuable for the mentor who can find a relatively enjoyable and time efficient way to make a positive contribution drawing on the expertise that they’ve taken so long and worked so hard to accumulate and find a relatively easy channel into contributing some extra value from that expertise. I think those relationships can be incredibly useful. I think it’s also worth acknowledging that sometimes you may not find the right fit with a mentor. Since your time is valuable, and the mentor’s time is valuable, my advice would be to have a few sessions and explore that relationship, and if it works, to continue it. If not, perhaps that mentor can contribute greater value to somebody else. Or perhaps you need somebody different to learn from.

Paul Skinner: That’s okay as well because mentoring works best when you create some kind of way to know and way to measure, are you making the progress that you want to make? Or what kind of changes are required?

Fiona Jensen: Perfect. Again, good advice. Speak up if it’s not working for you, but take full advantage if it is and carry on for as long as possible. With pressures of general life, how do you manage the work/life balance? And how important is it in today’s society? Particularly valid for you, Paul, running two businesses and writing a book and goodness knows what else you’re involved with. How do you fit it all in? What’s the secret?

Paul Skinner: Well, I get up very early in the morning. And I-

Fiona Jensen: How early is early?

Paul Skinner: I typically wake up not long after five in the morning. So whether that counts as early, I suppose, depends on who you’re talking to.

Fiona Jensen: No, that’s definitely early.

Paul Skinner: A couple of things that balance things on a daily basis for me are meditation and a little bit of regular time in the gym, picking up a few heavy things and putting them back down again. I find those both very balancing. Meditation, actually, in a sense, comes back again to that theme of collaborative advantage. You can see why I was motivated to write a book on it.

Fiona Jensen: Yeah.

Paul Skinner: In that the first act of cooperation has to be cooperation with ourselves. In a sense, if we think about creativity as very important in marketing, and clear perception, it’s actually quite difficult to have an idea. I don’t think that we create ideas. I think that we create the space from which ideas emerge, and then we use our conscious minds to color in the picture on those ideas, to refine them, to test them in the light of common sense and so on. But a lot of our most valuable inspiration actually doesn’t come from constantly… from consciously creating that value, it comes from allowing it to pop up from the spaces in between our thoughts.

Paul Skinner: For me, meditation has become a very important way to start the day in a grounded way, and, perhaps, to sort of dissolve the boundaries between the various activities and things that I’m involved with and just dwell in the space of silence for a few moments, and to use that as a source of creativity that can nurture and nourish the rest of the day.

Experience versus salary

Fiona Jensen: It’s your own personal space between things, Paul. You’ve just given us where you sit. It’s often said you can be paid in money or experience. Looking back on your career, how often did you value experience over a higher salary? Did you strike a good balance?

Paul Skinner: For me, I think marketing can be a real vocation. One of the reasons we created Pimp My Cause is just the belief that if you’re looking to improve the environment around us, if you can understand need, formulate solutions that match that need, and then mobilise participation in those solutions, then you’re off to a very good start. I think if people were to step back and think, what are the professions that can contribute the most to enabling society to better contend with change, to improve the economy, to improve our social environment and our physical environment, our natural environment, think marketing wouldn’t come to many people’s minds as quickly as perhaps it should to.

Paul Skinner: For me, I would say, every aspect of my work is a vocation for me. That applies to the nonprofit activities, the commercial activities as well because charities and social enterprise don’t have the monopoly on meaning. We can create our meaning through whichever avenue of activity we choose to pursue. I think marketing is about… if there’s one thing we manufacture, it’s meaning. So I think, for marketing to be at it’s best, it does need to mean something to us.

Paul Skinner: I think we should consider marketing to be a vocational profession when it’s at it’s best. It’s interesting you raised the subject of experience versus salary. When you have enough meaning you can even go beyond not paying salary. We have a cause called Blue Ventures that I’ll do a shout out to. They do maritime conservation but with a very thoughtful approach to sustainability. For example, one of the many things they’ve done in Madagascar to promote maritime conservation is to promote better sexual health on the island. Better sexual health leads to fewer accidental pregnancies, it leads to greater survival rates and stronger, more sustainable communities that are better able to sustainable… sustainably manage their fisheries.

Paul Skinner: They’ve actually got to a point where, not only are they able to engage people’s work without paying a salary, but they actually charge people to work with them; it’s such a great experience. They actually have people who pay to join their research teams. Now, granted, in their case, they do have a head start because participating in one of their research expeditions involves things like going scuba diving off the coast of Madagascar. I suspect we’ve all had some professional experiences that were so enriching and so meaningful to us in a particular way that, if we’d had to, we’d have even paid to have that experience.

Paul Skinner: I think that if we reflect on what our most enriching professional experiences have been, we can learn a lot from identifying what they were and what that tells us about ourselves. I think, as employers as well, we can learn a lot by asking ourselves the question, what kind of changes would we need to make to our business environment to make it so attractive and rewarding that people would pay to come and join us?

Fiona Jensen: I think that’s fantastic. Great. Great idea. Certainly to Blue Ventures, it sounds like something that I would definitely pay for. How do you deal with all the noise and hype in the market balanced against the reality of day-to-day execution, which often isn’t given due care?

Paul Skinner: I think it is important… in many business environments, the pace of change is so fast that marketers can be forgiven for forgetting to lift their heads up to look at the longer term horizon. It reminds me, actually, of one of our challenge programs at Pimp My Cause. We run one of our challenges with Sony Mobile. One of the reason that they did a challenge with us is that their marketers were just so used to operating in very fast paced environments where there was short turnarounds on activities of a few weeks long. They really wanted to create to opportunity to cultivate a longer term marketing planning process, so they worked on, specifically, on a Pimp My Cause challenge where we curated the briefs around causes that were looking to reposition themselves for the longer term in some way.

Paul Skinner: I think it is important to have the confidence, and to prioritise, making sure that, even when we’re involved in a lot of fast paced tactical activity, that that activity adds up to something and is contributing to an overarching purpose, such that, at any point in time, we can say clearly how the activities that we’re running contribute to enhancing the value of the business and to creating more value with, as well as for, the stakeholder… the business’s most important stakeholders.

Fiona Jensen: Fantastic. I love [inaudible 01:00:02]. That was a perfect example, wasn’t it, because obviously everybody knows, within the mobile space, it’s all about launching a phone at great speed, and it’s accessories and it’s surrounding what’s-it’s and [doo-berrys] as expected. The fact that the whole them, then, got the opportunity to have that different project, different concept, something where they had to almost engage a completely different marketing muscle and stretch that one would have, I’m sure, had a massive impact on the marketing that they did thereafter.

Fiona Jensen: I think it’s the same with everything, isn’t it? Once you start repeating it day after day after day, you can forget all the other things that you could be doing, the small tweaks that would make the boat go faster for whatever it is that you’re looking to achieve. Similar to sports and athletics and these amazing people who have these amazing feats of athleticism or great challenges where they’ve managed to swim around the British Isles for example, it’s because they constantly work on just improving this bit, that bit, “What’s next? How can I make myself better? What else can we learn? What else can we do to stretch ourselves?”

Fiona Jensen: Again, you have a great platform and an avenue for people to do just that. I think it’s fantastic. You’ve mentioned a couple of authors and books already, so if this is one step too far in digging into your library, then do let me know. What’s the book that you recommend the most, either to marketers or to people in general, aside from your own obviously?

Paul Skinner: That’s hadn’t crossed my mind for some reason. Sorry to challenge everything, but actually, just you saying that makes me think of something. I remember a professor of literature at Oxford who told me that his interest wasn’t just in teaching people to read more critically and appreciatively, or to read books more critically and appreciatively, but he felt that in the process, he was also teaching us to read life in a different way. I think one of the wonderful things about marketing is that almost anything that we do can count as research. Talking to a family member can count as research. Watching a film at the cinema can count as research. Anything that we do, we can find something in that and translate it into business advantage for ourselves or for our customers or to find some way to add value, add more value to people’s lives.

Paul Skinner: In a sense, I think we can treat the whole of the world around us as a book to read. Specifically in terms of books though, to answer your question more conventionally, there is one book that I loved that I happened to have recommended quite a few times to people, and that’s Vincent Deary’s book, How We Are. I did mention that I think that both self knowledge and empathy are such crucial ingredients for fostering collaborative advantage, although there are many tools and techniques to foster collaborative advantage at a much more, what you might call, right-brained, rational way that people can find in the book. But I do think self knowledge and empathy are also at the heart of it.

Paul Skinner: Vincent Deary’s book simply explores what it is like to be a human being with a human mind. He’s a clinical psychologist, I think at Northumbria University. He has written this wonderful, lyrical book that, when you read it, I promise you, you will feel twice as human afterwards, and as if you understand yourself and the people around you twice as well. It will give you a whole language and way of thinking about how your mind works that gives you a new frame through which to understand how you do things and how you contend with change and how you go from one condition to another and how you become something different to what you used to be.

Fiona Jensen: Wow. That’s a fantastic recommendation. Thank you. I shall be adding that to my list immediately. Alongside, I would recommend collaborative advantage to anybody. I would personally like to thank you ever so much, Paul. I found your episode really inspiring. I feel like my brain has been massaged and poked and pulled apart a bit and then squished back together again for a little bit. I’d love a pair of Paul Skinner frames to put my glasses on and have your perspective and outlook on everything moving forward.

Fiona Jensen: I shall often listen to the episode to make sure that I do just that. What parting words of wisdom or advice would you share with our audience?

Paul Skinner: Many people have really taken Gandhi’s word to hear to, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” I would say, for marketers listening, it’s not always grandiose, and it’s not always world changing and important, but each in out own way, I think we have the capability to deploy an advanced version of that technique, which is to enable the change that we want to see in the world to scale. Let’s just make it as much of an adventure as we can and use that capability as excitingly as we can.

Fiona Jensen: Fantastic. What great philosophy to grab and run with. Thanks ever so much for your time, Paul. It’s been a fabulous episode. If people did want to get involved, how can they get involved with your different options? You’ve got Pimp My Cause, and you’ve got the Agency of the Future, or, indeed, if people wanted to reach out to you to talk about an idea around collaborative advantage, how should they get in touch.

Paul Skinner: Brilliant. Let’s take those in sequence. First of all, Pimp My Cause, we have a free platform that any listener can sign up to find the perfect cause partner for you. We’d love to hear from you. If you’re a marketing leader, and you’d like to develop your team, and you’d like to commission one of our challenge programs, then we would love to hear from you as well. You can reach me… the website is My email address for that is [email protected] For the Agency of the Future, that’s My email is [email protected] We would love to help you grow the value of your business or accelerate the impact of your nonprofit by creating collaborative advantage.

Paul Skinner: If anyone reads the book, the book’s available in Waterstones, Amazon, wherever you choose to buy your books. If you read it, I would also love to hear from you. People can connect with me on LinkedIn or on Twitter. I’m @iPaulSkinner.

Fiona Jensen: Perfect. Thank you ever so much for that, Paul. Really enjoyed your episode. Thanks so much for your time and talking us through it all. I would hope… you’ve definitely got a fan in me, and I’m sure there’ll be some additional ones now, thanks to this episode. Thank you.

Paul Skinner: Well, thank you very much, Fiona. It’s definitely mutual.

Fiona Jensen: So there you have it. Career advice from a real marketing expert and leader in the field. Thanks for listening. If you’re enjoying this podcast, then please leave us a review in iTunes. We’d love to hear your feedback.