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From Dot-Com Bust to Digital Boom: The Remarkable Evolution of Marketing in the 21st Century (Episode 202)

Mike Maynard is the CEO of Napier, a $7M PR and marketing agency for B2B technology companies.

A self-confessed geek who loves talking about technology, Mike offers a unique blend of technical and marketing expertise. Mike began his career as an electronics design engineer, developing products from complex radar systems to recording studio mixing desks.

Mike and his team at Napier specialize in increasing the speed prospects travel through clients’ sales and marketing funnels, generating opportunities more quickly.

Their unique approach to campaign strategy designs-in speed to campaigns from the outset, building integrated campaigns that focus on the important tactics, whether clients need to increase awareness, generate leads or engage contacts to create opportunities.

The Leader of B2B Group in the Forbes Agency Council, Mike has directed major PR and marketing programs for a wide range of global technology clients, reaching over 30 European countries, North America and beyond.

What you will learn

  • How marketing has evolved over the past two decades, from the dot-com crash to the present
  • Top tips on surviving and thriving in the dynamic world of marketing
  • Why intention is a crucial factor in career and business planning
  • Are you obsessed with results? Why it’s better to focus on the process
  • The huge impact of marketing automation and email marketing in the B2B landscape
  • Unpacking the challenges and opportunities in human-AI interaction
  • Plus loads more!

Transcript

Jeff Bullas

00:00:13 - 00:01:48

Hi everyone and welcome to The Jeff Bullas Show. Today I have with me, Mike Maynard. Mike is the Managing Director of the Napier Group, a $7 million a year PR and marketing agency for B2B technology companies. And for those who don't know what B2B means, business to business. He is a self-confessed geek who loves talking about technology, Mike offers a unique blend of technical and marketing expertise, Mike began his career as an electronics design engineer, developing products from complex radar systems to recording studio, mixing desks. Mike believes that combining measurement, accountability and innovation that he learned as an engineer with a passion for communicating, means his clients can achieve their marketing goals sooner. Mike and his team at Napier specialize in increasing the speed prospects travel through clients’ sales and marketing funnels, generating opportunities more quickly. Their unique approach to campaign strategy designs-in speed to campaigns from the outset, building integrated campaigns that focus on the important tactics, whether clients need to increase awareness, generate leads or engage contacts to create opportunities. The Leader of B2B Group in the Forbes Agency Council, Mike has directed major PR and marketing programs for a wide range of global technology clients, reaching over 30 European countries, North America and beyond. Mike, welcome to the show.

Mike Maynard

00:01:49 - 00:01:51

Hey, thanks for having me on, Jeff.

Jeff Bullas

00:01:52 - 00:02:12

So you're in the UK, I'm in Australia. The English sent the Australians as convicts and now I'm a convict actually interviewing an Englishman. I didn't steal bread by the way and the Americans won't get a joke anyway.

Mike Maynard

00:02:13 - 00:02:18

Yeah, we'll talk about cricket next and really turn everybody off.

Jeff Bullas

00:02:18 - 00:02:22

Yeah. What happened in the 50 over game in India?

Mike Maynard

00:02:23 - 00:02:28

Not our best tournament, I'm afraid.

Jeff Bullas

00:02:29 - 00:03:13

Yeah, it was, look, they're trying to launch cricket in America, you never know it might take off. We just don't know but America has the World Series in baseball despite being the only country that actually plays in the World Series, but that's another story as well. So, anyway, Mike, I digress, I'm sorry, I've got distracted by cricket and World Series Championships. So, Mike, what got you into, you're an engineer, you got into PR and marketing and the question, one of the questions I asked you was what do you do mostly PR or marketing or is it the same thing or is it slightly different?

Mike Maynard

00:03:14 - 00:05:16

Yeah. So a couple of questions there, I mean, in Napier we're basically split 50-50 PR and marketing. We started off as a PR agency. And we've added marketing services and they've grown faster than PR and it's that simple. How I got into it, well, that's a long story. And it all started with parking my car in a car park when I was an engineer and one of the sales people ran into my car and denied that they did it. So I had to go and fix my car back in the day. Anyone who was in sales, they got a company car. So the company paid for it, the company paid to maintain it and fix it. So he didn't have to pay anything. I had to pay for my car. He was more senior, kind of, left the company soon after that. But, you know, it wasn't a great experience. So I thought this company car idea is great. I want a company car, I don't want to have to pay for my own as an engineer. How do I get that? Well, I need to move into technical sales. So I moved into what was called applications engineering, which is basically giving technical support to electronics engineers. And I did that for quite a few years, ended up running an applications engineering team in Europe, you know, really enjoyed that for an American semiconductor company. And then kind of got to the point where it was like, well, where's my next step in my career? And one of those steps would have been to go to the states because at the time, particularly a lot was focused around Silicon Valley in terms of where the electronics industry really was. And certainly for my company, it was very much a Silicon Valley located company. Didn't want to do that, so, you know, the other alternative was to go and do something slightly different. So, I've been talking a lot about products because I've been helping engineers and I've actually done some marketing pitches as well as journalists, really enjoyed it. So I thought, yeah, let's jump into marketing and see what that's like. So yes, that was it. So literally, I just took the jump into marketing, became a European marketing manager. And then that kind of kicked off my career in marketing as simple as that.

Jeff Bullas

00:05:17 - 00:05:33

So you got into marketing and then you ended up buying into the Napier group and you said that it was a very interesting circumstance that led to that.

Mike Maynard

00:05:34 - 00:07:17

Yeah. So, I mean, of course, you know, you'll probably guess by now my career is not super planned. So I've kind of jumped into things where I've had opportunities or, you know, just where I felt like it. So I was sent on a management development course. We had a great one week residential course. Last night everyone went out drinking too much wine. Somebody said to me, Mike, you should run your own business, naively at the time, I thought it was a compliment. Looking back, I think it was basically someone saying in a nice way to me, oh my God, Mike, I'd never wanna be your boss. But anyway, I took it seriously. And then as chance would have about three months later, the agency I was using, came up for sale and I was approached and they said, you know, would you like to buy an agency? And I thought, well, I've never worked in an agency before. I mean I've had one work for me, but I've really got no idea, you know, what happens in an agency, but hey, how hard can it be? So I bought an agency. And as it turns out if you buy a technology agency about three weeks before the .com crash, which was way back in 2001 for people who are younger, you know, there was a big boom in technology around the, you know, early days of the internet in the late 1990s came May 2001, I actually remember it very well. Everything fell apart, you know, all the spending upcut, all the funding went from a lot of these internet companies and particularly from the companies, you know, putting in the infrastructure, the communications that drove the internet. So if you've got a company that's very reliant on promoting suppliers to that industry and then you hit the .com crash. Yeah, the answer is it can be kind of tough.

Jeff Bullas

00:07:18 - 00:07:32

So, how did you survive? So you got the call to go into like a bit of Joseph Campbell, you know, called across the threshold, you crossed the threshold and you found that actually there was a lot to learn.

Mike Maynard

00:07:33 - 00:08:39

Yeah, for sure. I mean, one of the interesting things is and if people, you know, particularly people working, you know, in client businesses, so in businesses that are doing marketing rather than agencies, the agency world is very, very different, you know, and I came from a world where, you know, almost time didn't matter, you know, you focused on what was gonna make a big difference to the company. You ticked off certain achievements, nobody really cared how much time you spent on it. And I think that's true in a lot of businesses today. And then I moved to a business which is basically all about selling time and so then every half an hour matters and that cultural difference is very difficult to grasp. It's also hard as well and I think you come from being a purchaser to being a seller in any market. That's actually quite a big jump. And, you know, you do understand what the purchasers need ‘cause you were one, but you don't necessarily understand how to sell to them and it certainly took a while to really understand how to sell the services and how to make, you know, the business grow. I mean, that was a real challenge.

Jeff Bullas

00:08:40 - 00:08:46

So, what year was this? So you bought the PO company almost 20 plus years ago? Is that correct?

Mike Maynard

00:08:47 - 00:09:02

Yeah, 22 years ago. So I bought it in 2001 actually, I mean, Napier is 40 years old next year. So, it was started by two people who then sold the business to me. But yeah, I've been in the business for over 20 years.

Jeff Bullas

00:09:03 - 00:09:07

So there's been a lot of change in PR marketing since you started in 2000.

Mike Maynard

00:09:08 - 00:10:28

Just a little, I mean, I think if you look at the impact of technology, ironically PR marketing and also media. So people doing publishing have probably seen, you know, as much change as almost any other industry, you know, going back to when we started, you know, doing an email marketing campaign was kind of edgy and exciting, you know, there wasn't really social media which is not entirely true. I mean, for all the youngsters that think social media is a new thing they invented, actually back in the 1900s, I was answering technical questions on usenet as part of my technical role, so kind of doing social media last century. But, you know, social media really wasn't a big channel and certainly not for marketing, it was much more for providing support and interaction. So, that's all changed. None of the marketing technology really existed. And, you know, let's be honest, websites 23 years ago were pretty flaky, there was certainly nothing like websites today. So the whole world has changed in marketing. It's been, you know, a really 20 years of massive change which, you know, has been fun for sure. And educational, but of course, it's been incredibly challenging.

Jeff Bullas

00:10:29 - 00:11:13

Yeah. So one of the inspirations for me back in 2008 and nine was reading the New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott. That was one of my inspirations to start a blog on social media and it was very much about content marketing, inbound marketing. And David and I actually caught up a couple of times in the last decade and he's become a good friend. Did you ever read that book or use that as inspiration or where did your inspiration come from to keep evolving what you're doing with PR marketing and content?

Mike Maynard

00:11:14 - 00:12:28

That's such a good question, David's book, I mean, it's fascinating, it's still relevant today. I think some of what he said, you know, definitely happened, some of what he said, maybe didn't come true, you know, I think one of David's things was that, you know, you've really got to be open and transparent because people will find out, you know, the internet means people will find out everything. Well, we all know that there's a lot of companies not being open and transparent in marketing and a lot of them are getting away with it. So there's some things that I think are actually still happening that he forecast in the book. But the book itself is great and actually, I've not only read it, I've taught it. So, I lectured for a while at a local university. A key part of the digital PR course was talking about his book. So definitely recommended. It probably wasn't one of my early inspirations. I think looking back, you know, probably Tom Peters was more influential, maybe a little bit before David wrote his book. And I'm also very jealous you've met him, ‘cause, you know, it's one of those geeky things where you wanna meet your heroes. But, you know, Tom Peters, I think was probably more influential to me and that was a little bit earlier on in my career prior to the New Rules coming out.

Jeff Bullas

00:12:28 - 00:12:32

Yeah, Tom Peters was one of my inspirations back in the last century.

Mike Maynard

00:12:33 - 00:13:01

Yeah, it makes you feel really old, doesn't it? Saying last century. But yeah, at the end of last century, beginning of this one, I think Tom Peters was really, really at his peak, really smart and obviously, you know, I mean, for readers, for listeners that don't know Tom Peters, maybe somebody who's a bit younger. He was very big about having entrepreneurship in large companies and that was really his.

Jeff Bullas

00:13:02 - 00:13:03

The internal entrepreneur, wasn't it?

Mike Maynard

00:13:03 - 00:13:31

Yeah. And he called them skunk works, which was like little groups, you know, going off and doing their own thing and, but it was very inspiring and at the time, you know, Tom Peters was particularly big end of last century, you know, I was in a large, fairly large company, several 1000 people. And so that was really exciting and then to be able to take those concepts and actually bring them to a small company where it's actually a lot easier to be entrepreneurial was really, you know, was even better. So, that was a big influence on me.

Jeff Bullas

00:13:32 - 00:14:29

Yeah, I read a couple of his books but he was an inspiration, which I think helped me lean into being an entrepreneur in my own right. So look, as you look back on your pathway, you think that you're actually planning a career or planning a business. The reality is that, I think we actually end up just falling into opportunities as they arise and we have very little control over what we do frankly because of our predisposed positions as well as how you are wired. I really, I'm starting to think that having choice is actually very overrated.

Mike Maynard

00:14:30 - 00:16:01

Yeah. I mean, I think of planning in a slightly different way, you know, I think planning is important but I think of it in a way that there was some research done years and years ago with the British army and the British army found that if soldiers were lost in a particular location and they had a map, they were more likely to get out than if they didn't have a map, it didn't matter if the map was of where they were or not. I mean, obviously it was where they were, it helped but if it was somewhere completely different and so they built a plan on the map and then they executed it, they were more likely to get out of trouble than they were if they had no map and no guide and I think actually if we look at business planning, it's a little bit like that, you know, you put together a plan, you kind of imagine what the situation's gonna be. It isn't like that in real life, things change, things are different, you know, your map is of somewhere that actually doesn't exist. It's not the situation, but actually having a map, it helps, you know, be more definite and, you know, make the right decisions. So, you know, you make the decision that you're gonna, you know, invest in growing the business, for example, and you have this list of things you're gonna do in your plan and maybe 50% of them are actually things that you can actually execute that year. And then because of all sorts of reasons, the other 50% you can't, but it still sets that kind of general direction. And if you're heading in the right direction and you're consistent about heading in the right direction, I think that makes a big difference, you can't, you know, predict what's gonna happen and draw this exact map of the route you're gonna take.

Jeff Bullas

00:16:02 - 00:16:40

And for me, I suppose I'd lean more into having specific goals is great. But I think having intentions is actually the most important thing. This is what this is the direction I wanna go, the intention I have because you have no idea what will happen. Just like, you know, one of my favorite quotes is from the philosopher, you know, the, I suppose the boxer, Mike Tyson, he said everyone has a plan till they get hit in the face.

Mike Maynard

00:16:41 - 00:17:02

I think that's a brilliant quote. I've used that as well. I love that. I mean, to me, you know, one of the sports I do is speed skating and you talk to some of them. And of course, Australia had one of the most famous speed skaters ever, but that's a different story. So people know about it.

Jeff Bullas

00:17:03 - 00:17:05

It works well.

Mike Maynard

00:17:06 - 00:18:55

Yeah but they also have a lot of psychologists involved in elite sport now. And you know, they look at two things, I mean, one is, they have this real like controller controllable and they just keep saying it and honestly, if something happens, it's out of their control, it's just pushed to one side. I wish I could do that, you know, I try really hard but I think like most people, if something happens, you wanna try and fix it even if you can't. So I think trying to focus on what you can control. And then, you know, not trying to change things you can't change, it's just burning energy. And then the other big thing they do is they focus on process, not on results. And this is something I think that's happening more and more in business. But if you look at, you know, this approach, it makes a lot of sense, you know, what you can do is the process, the things you actually do, you can't necessarily control the results, you know, and, I'm a PR agency. So, you know, as an agency, we go out and pitch clients, I can go out and pitch clients and I can work on that pitch, I can create the best pitch I possibly can. I can't control whether I win or lose the business, you know, that particular client might have a brother working at another agency and they're gonna give the business that other agency no matter what. That outcome is not controllable. It's the process you've got to control and if you work on the process, on average over a period of time, you'll be more successful. In individual situations, you may win or lose and the ability of, you know, athletes to do that and just go, it's about the process is incredible, obviously a little bit different when they get to the Olympics, you know, but they, even the elite athletes tend to fall over and it's all about the result. But when we look at, you know, things like, you know, the regular season stuff process really matters.

Jeff Bullas

00:18:56 - 00:19:56

Yeah, it's really important. I'm trying to remember Steven Spielberg but it might be another movie producer, I can't think of his name. He said you not only need to be in love with what you do but love the process of what you do. In other words, the journey of it. In other words, if you're a movie producer, there's a whole process to take it from idea to, you know, launching and that includes marketing, everything else. So despite my first part of my career, not career, but my training at college was to do an accounting degree. I discovered that I really hated accounting, which then led me to go well, you know, routine and processes are boring. So I'm gonna avoid that. The reality is that processes and routine and systems are actually quite important as a business grows.

Mike Maynard

00:19:57 - 00:20:34

Yeah, I mean, I completely agree with that. It was like me with my engineering career. I really love the creativity bit. I didn't like the engineering process. And there's a lot of process in electronics engineering and development and that takes a lot of time. So that was a bit I didn't enjoy by moving into technical support. I could actually cut out what I saw as hard grind, you know, and other engineers love it and they're great at it. And that's fantastic. Otherwise we wouldn't have all the products we have today. But I could talk about the creativity and the ideas and not have to follow through and do all the work to bring it to actually become reality.

Jeff Bullas

00:20:34 - 00:21:27

Yeah. And this is where we need to embrace the diversity in humanity and that some are good at processing routines and just love that. Then there's others that love the creative part, the big ideas, the concepts. It just goes on and on. So where are you today with your company in terms of AIs turned up, social media showed up in about 10 years into your journey. AI showed up about another 10 plus years into the journey as well. Social media did change PR in a big way, didn't it? So let's go first to that particular area. How did social media impact the PR industry and your company?

Mike Maynard

00:21:28 - 00:25:01

That's such a great question, I think, you know, maybe take a step back and talk about business to business. PR and marketing versus consumer because we as an agency only do business to business. And we do that because I think it's much more interesting, it's much more complicated. You're typically making much bigger sales, you know, you're not trying to sell a chocolate bar, you're trying to sell an airport or something. So, you know, the difference between selling something for, you know, less than a pound or a dollar versus, you know, selling something for hundreds of millions or billions of dollars to me is really exciting. So there's lots of people involved in the decisions as well. So you're not just selling to one person as you do as a consumer. You know, typically in consumer, there's one or two exceptions, but generally speaking in consumer, you're, you know, you're primarily selling to women who are the biggest spenders in almost every category. Whereas in business to business, you're selling to, you know, what the UK calls, decision making groups and what Americans call buying committees. So you're actually trying to influence lots of people and get them to all come to a consensus that they need to buy, you know, your product or your client's product. Now, business to business is also much more conservative, and there's really good reasons for that. So, you know, for example, if there's a new chocolate bar on the market and I see that on TikTok, I'm probably gonna buy it, you know, the cost of buying it is pretty minimal. If I don't like it, you know, I, okay, it's a small amount of money. It's, you know, it's worth trying, nobody's really got hurt. If I'm Boeing or Airbus and I'm making an airplane, there's a new way of fixing wings to aircraft and we generally worked with a client that made fasteners that fixed wings to aircraft at one point. So there's a new way of fixing wings to aircraft I see on TikTok, I'm kind of hoping those guys don't go, oh, I've seen that TikTok ad. Let's try it on the next plane and see how it works. You know, what could go wrong. Well, the answer is what could go wrong is the wings could fall off, and we've all bought stuff on TikTok or Instagram where basically the wings have fallen off, it's all gone horribly wrong and your personal life, it doesn't matter in business to business, it really, really matters. So generally, what we see is some of these new channels have far less impact on business to business and the impact is slower and over a longer time because of this need to verify everything because of the caution involved. There are some exceptions to that. So social media, you know, clearly, you know, people buying fasteners to fix wings to aircraft, they're probably not that influenced by TikTok. They might be influenced by LinkedIn and LinkedIn is a very big platform for us. But, you know, TikTok, Facebook, it's certainly a kind of secondary platform for a lot of our clients. On the other hand, though, if you look at marketing automation and what you can do with email, marketing and engaging people on websites, I mean, that's been way more impactful for business to business than it has been for consumers. So it's not always that the consumer has all the innovations or always leads but it's certainly true quite often. I think social media definitely is one of those areas. So we have a lot of people running social campaigns, but they're not dramatically different from how they used to run. For example, media relations campaigns. They're still trying to do things like build trust, establish credibility, you know, raise awareness of products and technologies and it's just a different channel. Because the decision making process is still the same.

Jeff Bullas

00:25:02 - 00:25:31

Yeah, so one of the most important things about, we're talking a little bit more about marketing rather than PR, so let's do a little bit of a dive into the PR component of what you do. I've got some good friends who are in PR and they're saving the asses of companies that are fucked up badly. In other words, so is PR about spin, is PR about content or is it all of the above?

Mike Maynard

00:25:32 - 00:26:16

So that's a great question. And I mean, the honest answer, it's kind of painful to me, but the honest answer is it depends on the company, you know, the classic thing and actually, I can tell you this is taught in PR courses at university ‘cause I've taught it is if a company makes a huge mistake, the best PR advice is fix the problem, the best PR advice is not to do this in the media or go talk to this person or say this or do use this messaging, the best PR advice is to fix the problem. So, you know, and I can say this because we don't work with oil companies. So I, you know, I'm not pointing at anyone in particular, but you know, if you're an oil company, you spill oil, the only PR advice that you should be getting is to clean that oil up.

Jeff Bullas

00:26:17 - 00:26:20

But you need to tell them that you're actually doing that as well.

Mike Maynard

00:26:20 - 00:29:15

You need to communicate, they're actually doing that. But I think the problem is some companies, you know, they think, well, how do we mitigate this through PR and actually you don't mitigate it through PR you fix the problem and then say what you've done to fix the problem, but you do see a lot of companies going, yeah, I do that and, you know, I mean, there's all sorts of issues and again, you know, I can pull out child labor as a classic one where a lot of companies in their supply chain have child labor and a lot of companies know they have child labor in their supply chain and yet they're probably not doing as much as they should do to fix it because they want those lower price goods to come in. The raw materials they need to build their product. That's not good because you're gonna get found out and at some point you're gonna get found out and if you're Nike, you're probably gonna be one of the first ‘cause you've got a big target on your back. But even if you're a fairly small company, you stand a risk of getting found out. That, I mean, there was a client who we worked with who actually found that one of their products was used in the IED devices used in Afghanistan to target allied troops. And it was the most popular of its type and this client said it's a story. We believe it's true. Here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna send as many people as the American government needs to find out who sold these products because we didn't sell them. We banned anyone who, you know, we sold these products to, from selling them on, you know, it's illegal to do it. We're gonna find the person and we're gonna put them in jail and that's what we're gonna do. And they basically said to us, you know, not in so many words, but if a journalist comes to you and says, is this true, you kind of say yes, you know, because it is true. And interestingly, you know, within a year or two, there was a guy in the Netherlands in jail for a very, very, very long time for basically dealing with terrorists in Afghanistan and selling the product and they stopped it, they stopped the product going out and they stopped these devices being made, at least with their product. And I think that was great PR. Interestingly, the company chose not to actually talk about it. So I can't mention who it is, but I've just got so much respect for a company that went, you know what, this is news we really, really don't want to have, but the way to do it is to fix the problem, not to try and spin it or to try and make excuses or, you know, do anything else, you know, ‘cause they're absolutely right. It wasn't them at all. It was somebody else breaking the law and they just happened to be passing on this company's products, but they did an amazing job of fixing it, you know, a really, you know, a great company in terms of like, let's not make this something about us or try and take advantage of it. Let's fix a problem and I think if more companies did that, we'd see far fewer scandals.

Jeff Bullas

00:29:16 - 00:29:49

Okay. So let's move on to AI and the impact on marketing and PR and you can choose which one you want to talk about first or you can choose not to talk about any of them but AI has got some really interesting implications in the sense that you can do deep fakes that impersonate a brand or a person which can create real damage. So how are you guys viewing AI for PR and marketing?

Mike Maynard

00:29:50 - 00:35:26

So that's a fascinating question that's actually got a number of ways to answer this. So I talked, you know, initially about, you know, what are we gonna do about the impact of AI being used for nefarious reasons. It's gonna happen, I think, you know, I'd love to be able to say I could do this and I'm trying to do this. But looking back to what I said earlier about controller controllable, brands have got to understand that this is gonna happen and there's gonna be deep fakes that are gonna undermine their brand. And what they need to do is they need to build up trust. That means that people don't believe the deep fakes. The deep fakes that work are the ones that are believable. So, you know, if you have something that shows a brand in a bad light, if people can envisage that brand actually doing it, they'll believe the fake. If they can't envisage it, they're gonna be much more skeptical. So from a PR communications point of view, it's very much about building up trust and you build up that bank of trust and that's gonna massively lessen the impact of any kind of negative campaign. I think the other question is how do we use AI within a business and that's much more interesting and much more challenging to me because, you know, I'm an engineer so I understand algorithms. I understand to some extent neural networks. I'm certainly not an expert in either but fundamentally what something like ChatGPT is doing is it's taking a topic and it's basically predicting what the average person would say about this particular topic. And it does it by, you know, on a word for word basis, there's kind of a complicated route to it, but fundamentally it's picking the most likely next word. And that's how it builds up a sentence. So what you can say is that ChatGPT is ultimately roundabout average on any topic. Now, if you're the average person interested in any topic, that's an incredible, incredible breadth of knowledge. So, you know, they can have the average knowledge of, you know, someone who plays cricket, they can have the average knowledge of someone who's into baseball and they can have the average knowledge of someone who's a nuclear physicist. I mean, amazing. It's very hard for these AIs to go beyond average. And so this is where people are saying that this creativity and innovation isn't really being seen in AI, it's because that's how it works. So it's not likely to necessarily push the boundaries. You have to do that through your inputs. This horrible prompt engineering phrase that people use to create those prompts. That's about the humans needing to put the creativity and the innovation in and then the AI coming out with again, you know what the typically average person can do but coming out with it immediately, not having to go away and think about it for, you know, four or five weeks, but coming out immediately. So the first thing I say to everyone and I love doing this when there's an even number of people in a group. If you say, well, of course, AI produces, you know, something that's about average. So there's four of you talking to me, two of you are safe, two of you better worry because, you know, on average two will be above and two will be below average. But I actually think what's gonna happen in reality is that AI is gonna lift that flaw of where people are and everyone can be average about everything by asking AI and that if you think about it is incredible as a concept. So, you know, you can be up in the middle of the world in almost any topic by working with AI, it's not quite that simple and obviously an AI answer doesn't teach you all the background and the context and things like that. So, maybe, average is a bit of a stretch but it's really helpful and honestly, if, you know, if I have someone helping me who's, you know, round about the middle of the pack in anything I wanna do, that's great, you know, I can literally sit on my computer and go, gotta write some headlines for Google ads and I'm gonna get help from someone who's, you know, pretty good. And they won't be great, you know, they won't be the best Google ads writer in the world. And actually anyone who's tried using ChatGPT for writing Google ads headlines knows that you throw away a bunch of them, but there's two or three you go, wow, that's really cool or it can be, you know what, I've got a podcast coming up. I've got to ask Mike some questions. What questions can I ask? Let's go and put it into ChatGPT and again, you're gonna get kind of that average podcast idea and some of them will not be as good as your ideas, some of them might be better. So I think that's really exciting. And I see AI doing that all over the place. And actually what I see is AI will get integrated into a lot of tools. So we won't, you know, in five years time, we won't be thinking about AI in terms of a stand alone kind of product like a ChatGPT. We'll have AI embedded into all the things we use. So whether that be something that helps you write emails more quickly, we will be embedded into Outlook or your email client, you know, Google will obviously use more and more AI to suggest headlines and descriptions via Google ads and so on. So everything will have that, you know, little sprinkling of AI magic. And I think it's really exciting because it can massively level up what everybody's doing, you know, across the world in all sorts of things with very little effort and very little cost.

Jeff Bullas

00:35:27 - 00:36:32

Yeah, the prompt engineering part is very interesting in the sense that if you ask better questions, you get a better answer. And I've experimented with a prompt, you know, engineering questions. For example, I've come up with what I thought was a very creative headline, for example, and I fed that into ChatGPT and it came up with a really, really good response. There's been some tests done too. There's a competition between a head designer and the other designers within a company and the best result came out of the head designer because they were able to ask better questions. So sort of people laugh at the fact that, you know, prompt engineering while they get paid so much. Well, typically a good prompt engineer is an expert in their field and can come up with better, more creative prompts. And that's what I've discovered is that the better the prompt, the better the answer. And it's a lot of fun to actually play there.

Mike Maynard

00:36:33 - 00:38:34

Yeah. And I mean, the problem is it's not always the case, you can get better and better answers, but it's interesting, there are a lot of businesses today that are launching the fundamentally created prompts for, you know, ChatGPT and other models. And you know, so for example, you know, there's companies that do content and you give them a persona and you give them challenges and it's like this structured process you work through. Ultimately, all it's doing is creating this very long and complex prompt that you could in theory type to ChatGPT, in practice, it's actually very time consuming to write that long prompt. So to have a front end that does, it is super cool and super, you know, super helpful. But I totally agree, I think getting the prompt right is important and being specific. But, you know, it's interesting that there's always issues with these AI models in the same way as asking real humans. I mean, humans are not perfect. We like to think we are but we're not. And I think there definitely is the case where you, you know, also need to do something outside of the AI to make sure that for example, the facts it gives you are correct or the assumptions it makes are correct or, you know, even your prompt actually asked it the right question. So you've got the right answer. So I see humans still having a lot to do around AI, but I see it massively lifting up, you know, maybe that bottom half of performance. And so, you know, that's gonna move average up higher because obviously the bottom moves up, it's gonna be interesting to see how much AI's gonna improve the performance of elite people. At the moment quite dramatically I think because people who really do understand their sector again, it comes back to the fact they know what to ask, they know how to be specific and they can also very quickly validate the answer and make sure the answer, you know, feels right to them and for them feeling right is normally a good indication that it's not a hallucination.

Jeff Bullas

00:38:35 - 00:39:14

Yeah, I think the fun I'm having with it is I'm seeing that you can enhance our creativity and amplify our creativity because quite often it will recombine ideas in ways that humans just hadn't even thought of. And I remember there's a case study about the machine I think was deepmind or something that was playing go and the experts who are watching observe the move that won. They said that that's not a human move.

Mike Maynard

00:39:15 - 00:40:24

Yeah, I saw that and I think one of the things we do as humans is we have rules of thumb and 99% of the time they're actually fantastic because they're very simple rules that we can implement that stop us screwing up. But 1% of the time they're incredibly limiting and I think one of the things that we'll see with AI is that 1% of the time the AI will come out with something dramatically different. Not necessarily because it's smarter or got more knowledge or doing anything that someone couldn't do, but because it's not limited by the, oh, we don't do it that way rule and certainly I did see the go thing and I believe now the go champion has actually beaten deepmind again because they've gone away and studied what deepmind did and, you know, understood how to play a machine rather than how to play a human. So it's, you know, it's a fascinating battle between, you know, humans and machines. But I think, you know, that go example is great because it's actually moved human achievement up rather than necessarily just replacing humans.

Jeff Bullas

00:40:24 - 00:42:16

Yeah. And that's what really fascinates me is that I very often feel that I am trapped in my own paradigms, my own past programming that limits me and I feel like I just need to kick up the arse something that recombines what I do that just says, why don't you, do you know XYZ instead of ABC, I really feel within me and I think within most humans, there's magic. Sometimes we just, the machine is maybe allowing us to think outside, this old bloody cliche, think outside the box. But the machine isn't trapped in anything but the paradigms of humanity because it's trained by humanity. That's the other reality. But I really, I have fun playing with the machine to see whether it comes up with different ideas. It's very good at information. It will occasionally surprise you with a recombination that will blow me away. And I remember coming up with a headline that I thought was really good and the topic was inspired by a personal story is, you know, the rise of incredibly expensive handbags, right? So, and ‘cause my partner's daughter wanted to go to a party and she wanted to get a really nice handbag. And so she borrowed a $3000 handbag from one of her peers. So I went down the rabbit hole of exploring what's the most expensive handbag in the world.

Mike Maynard

00:42:17 - 00:42:21

That's probably quite expensive, more than $3000.

Jeff Bullas

00:42:21 - 00:44:27

Try $2 million. And so the fun part for me was the creativity in coming up with how I can spin a story about a $2 million handbag into a story about social media and its influences. So I said I'm gonna blame the social media influencers on a $2 million handbag. So they end up being a headline. And then I asked ChatGPT to write a story about our social media influences to blame for the rise of the $2 million handbag and write it in 1000 words and it was bloody good. I think though that what was really revealing for me was it was a creative prompt from me that I don't think AI or ChatGPT would have ever come up with. So that was the fun part. I went and my editor said I showed her the two versions of what I wrote and agonized over hours of writing and did research and worked out. It was a Hermes handbag, by the way, with 1100 diamonds. And I then went and had some fun chasing down what are the, who are the influencers that actually, you know, buy all these handbags. I discovered that the Crazy Rich Asians actress has 200 Hermes handbags. And I just don't know where the fuck she keeps them, but I'm sure they're in a small wardrobe, the size of a small apartment. And I'm going, so I had all this fun. But I think this is where it gets really interesting is that as humans, we need to have fun and play about being creative. And then let's have some fun and then give it to the oracle, ChatGPT, AI and see what they come up with. And my editor said to me, do you want me to publish that instead of yours? I said, fuck off.

Mike Maynard

00:44:28 - 00:49:09

We've actually done some tests. I, you know, and we have quite a funny discussion about the quality of AI writing. So we ran some blog posts. We had, you know, obviously our writers are producing blog posts all the time. So it's not a problem. We had a project where we're getting some of our studios. So graphic designers write blog posts. And at the same time, we thought we'll run a little test on ChatGPT. So we generated some blog posts. We actually used a tool called Jasper rather than ChatGPT. We then edited the blogs, we actually spent as long editing them to fix some of the issues as we would have done to write them in the first place. And then we published them. And so we had at one stage, we had graphic designers, we had writers and we had AI, you know, all competed together AI edited. And interestingly, the time on page for the AI was almost exactly the same as the graphic designers and well below the professional writers. So our writing team breathed a sigh of relief. They weren't all getting fired that day. And I think, you know, AI is good for the kind of, you know, sort of average kind of stuff. But if you want to write great quality articles and spend a lot of time on it. AI still isn't there yet and possibly won't be because as I say, you know, fundamentally it's a probabilistic tool. It's picking the most likely words so you can tweak the training, you can, you know, give it better quality inputs which will move the quality up. But ultimately, it's probably not gonna produce something that's really truly creative or innovative no matter how much you work on the prompt. Unless your prompt starts matching the actual length of the article. So I think it's about using it for the right occasion, you know, and I know I don't necessarily agree with it but I know that there are a whole bunch of companies today who are outsourcing internet content and they're generating it for SEO reasons. They're just generating this factory of blog posts or pages that talk about topics they wanna rank for and they're low quality, they're typically, you know, often not written very well, you know, and it might be the Philippines, it might be India, but I think we've all seen those blog posts where you read them and you go, this is written for Google ‘cause it certainly isn't written for a human to read. And probably, you know, nobody in the marketing team has actually read that they've just posted it, that sort of stuff is going to AI, if it hasn't gone already, it's going to AI and that will actually improve the quality because a lot of those blog posts are produced by people who, you know, frankly are doing this purely based on price. And so they're by almost by definition below average quality because it's all about how cheap they can do it. So that's all going away, that's going to AI if you wanna do that, it's not necessarily a great SEO strategy, but if you want to do that, do it, knock yourself out. It's a great way to do it. I think if you look at the high quality stuff and this is what, you know, we have always done at Napier. We're an agency’s agency, you know, certainly in the western world are actually quite expensive, you know, we're a premium service. We're a premium price, we've got to be a premium service. So by definition, what we're doing is, we're producing something that's above average. Hopefully, otherwise our clients will probably fire us. So it's much harder for AI to compete in that sector. So I think it's about picking where AI can help, you know, can AI help us write better articles? Hell yeah, I mean, absolutely, you know, and I know our writers are using AI in all sorts of ways to get ideas and things like that. I mean, the other issue as well we've got with AI is that without doubt there is a plagiarism issue. And that's not to say there's not a plagiarism issue with humans. Humans sometimes take content they've read and regurgitate it unintentionally. But with AI, it can be a very significant issue, particularly when you look at topics that have relatively little source material. So AI is drawing on relatively little source material. It seems to be much more likely to plagiarize big chunks. So, you know, that there's a big issue there with AI and whether that's ever gonna work when you talk about, you know, niche technical areas that we write in. So it's such an interesting situation. You can see areas where AI is fundamentally gonna replace people, you know, you can see areas where people who use AI are gonna replace people who don't use AI because they're gonna be a lot smarter and then you see areas where you think, yeah, maybe that's not gonna be impacted so much. But you know, we've gotta wait and see.

Jeff Bullas

00:49:10 - 00:50:49

Yeah. I think one of the things that I am exploring is, does AI enhance and amplify human creativity? Does it take away? You know, as humans looking and goin, okay, as a writer and going, is it an existential threat to me as a writer? The thing for me that I love about being human is that we are storytellers and we write stories based upon our experiences and we hurt, we bleed, we cry, we laugh. AI doesn't. And I think that as humans, I think AI will lead humans to actually become better storytellers to tell better stories that will showcase our humanity. It doesn't mean that AI can't write stories, but I think that humans and writing are more about inspiration than information. AI's very good at information. It's got a much better memory than we've got and I think that's, we're gonna have some fun with this. So I think, you know, it could be seen as the next potential threat. I think it's actually just an augmentation of who we are as humans and we've got to use it as a tool instead of being used by it as a tool for them.

Mike Maynard

00:50:50 - 00:51:25

Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think it's absolutely in most areas that it's gonna make us better and more creative. I think that there is an issue, you know, as someone who was, you know, quite involved in music and sound. It's interesting that people are accepting a lower sound quality today than maybe they did, you know, back in the 1900s where everyone wanted a great hi-fi with super quality speakers and, you know, now we're all listening through bluetooth headphones and I'm sorry, the quality is not as good. The audio quality is not as good. Maybe there'll be.

Jeff Bullas

00:51:25 - 00:51:51

I built my own speakers in the 1800s. It's like I loved it. I had a, you know, a guy that was a science teacher who was my flatmate and he helped me build my first set of speakers and that's another story. But yeah, I think that we're accepting low quality sound. I totally agree with what we used to have.

Mike Maynard

00:51:51 - 00:53:53

Yeah. So maybe there'll be areas where we accept lower quality content because AI can produce it, makes it cheaper, it makes it more ubiquitous. But whatever, you know, I think there may be areas and if I could work out which ones they were, I'd love to be able to do that because you could go and really focus on AI there, people might accept that quality goes down and that includes some writing, you know, perhaps people are gonna accept lower quality writing in certain areas. And certainly, you know, if you look at some of the news reporting and particularly around sports, there's now a lot of AI being used in terms of sports reporting and there seems to be an acceptance that actually great quality writing doesn't matter, just give me the facts about what happened in the game. So that's an area where actually, you know, if I was a sports journalist, I wouldn't want to be reporting on, you know, the results of football matches or cricket matches or anything, I'd wanna be doing more in depth profile pieces because I think, you know, that report of what happened in the game. AI can probably do that. So there will be some areas that I think are gonna be taken over and that may be linked to people accepting slightly lower quality, but equally, there will be other areas where great writers get even better because they're using AI and they're the, you know, the bar's gonna go up as to what people expect and we're gonna get, you know, maybe better insight into athletes when people write profiles. Because what will happen is the journalists will upload all their notes into their own ChatGPT AI tool. They'll build a model around all their notes and then they'll be able to interrogate them in more detail and get more insight and find more links between different things. So I'm really excited that, you know, there's gonna be very different things happening in different areas and being on the right side, you know, whether it's human driven but supported by AI or whether it's, you know, predominantly AI, you pick the right horse in each market or each situation and you're gonna win. The challenge is, which is the right horse, of course.

Jeff Bullas

00:53:53 - 00:54:49

Yeah. And what's the right algorithm. Just reading a book by a well known machine learning scientist. And there are five different schools of thought on machine learning. In other words, the, so he's trying to create what he calls the master algorithm, which actually is like, I suppose the holy grail, that's how he sees it. But it's fascinating. The other thing too is that quite often AI looks very programmatic and templated. So sometimes and, one of my favorite car review journalists is a guy that I'm sure you've heard of, who has been infamous and famous all at the same time, Jeremy Clarkson.

Mike Maynard

00:54:50 - 00:55:01

Yeah, we haven't replicated Jeremy Clarkson's complete randomness, have we? So that's something that I think AI would struggle with.

Jeff Bullas

00:55:01 - 00:55:46

There is a part of me that just loves his writing because the first 80% of his car review is a story about something that is totally unrelated and the last 20% is about what he thinks of the car. And I just love his randomness. I love this but it is master storytelling done with tongue in cheek English humor that I just quite enjoy. And, so, in fact, just for fun, I wrote a headline, an article I said, rewrite this article using Jeremy Clarkson's humor.

Mike Maynard

00:55:47 - 00:55:51

It was probably quite entertaining, but it probably wasn't in the same league.

Jeff Bullas

00:55:52 - 00:55:58

The first paragraph was good. The rest became a little bit formulaic, but it was actually worth doing just for fun.

Mike Maynard

00:55:58 - 00:56:49

But I think the formulaic thing is interesting, you know, if you look at people who are and use it in the derogatory rather than the mathematical sense, you know, kind of an average press release writer. And you ask them to write a press release, you know, you'll get something back saying, you know, Napier, a leading PR and marketing agency today announced that this, which is gonna improve this, which is, you know, and you'll get something that's very formulaic. And I think again, that reflects, you know, AI being trained on the internet and picking up kind of the average level, you know, and the average level tends to be fairly formulaic in a lot of areas. So it's not necessarily that AI is any different from humans. But I think humans who can partner with AI are gonna actually, you know, really increase their performance. And to me that's exciting.

Jeff Bullas

00:56:50 - 00:58:05

Yeah, I think we need to treat it as an amplifier that actually we can use and treat it as tools to amplify what we are and not treat it as a threat. And it's really, I'm having a lot of fun with it and we're experimenting using AI to do podcast video editing to choose snippets that we, that the AI believes are worth sharing and we're getting some wins. It's really, really good. And so, anyway, it's a lot of fun. So to wrap things up, Mike, anything else you'd like to say, you've, we haven't talked much about business. We've talked more about AI and content and PR and so let me ask you a question which I ask everyone at the end and this is what I call a suitcase word and the suitcase word is happiness ‘cause happiness means many things. It can be deep and meaningful, right? It could be frivolous and superficial. I wanna ask you this more on a very deep layer. What brings you real deep happiness?

Mike Maynard

00:58:06 - 00:59:46

So that's a great question. I think it's very challenging ‘cause obviously lots of things bring me happiness. But if there is kind of a formula and it comes down to, you know, this concept, I guess of flow, which, to me, is an incredibly boring way of expressing something that's, you know, really about being a nerd, you know, I was starting my life as an engineer, I'm still a bit geeky, I'm still a bit nerdy. And whether it's, you know, working on a marketing project or whether it's, you know, playing sport, I, you know, I speed skate, I play cricket when you get into that zone and you're just focused on that one thing. And you're focused on it because you want to be focused on it and because it's enjoyable and it's not necessarily because it's necessarily mentally taxing. And you know, if I'm skating, it's not super mentally taxing, you're not not thinking about, you know, how do I balance, but you're just focused on doing maybe one or two things to improve your technique. That's what makes me happy, you know, because you feel you're progressing, but you feel so engaged with what you're doing and that's quite hard to do. And I think, you know, today there's so many distractions that a lot of the time, you know, there's three or four things pinging at you and that's not fun at the end of the day just being able to spend time and focus on one thing and do it really well and do things to make yourself better also seems to make it, make a big difference. So it's that, you know, it's that focus or, as I say, you know, I mean, I know psychologists would call it flow. I like to call it in the zone. I feel that's kind of the old term and resonates better with me.

Jeff Bullas

00:59:46 - 01:00:38

Yeah, I love flow, I've experienced it quite often as a runner, I've experienced it as a writer. And I think that the other thing I've learned as I got a little bit older is that the more we try to force things, the harder it gets, I think if we actually let flow show up, then the magic really does happen. And, yeah, I totally agree with you. I think being in the zone, being in the flow is really, really important and we quite often try to be something we aren't. And I think obviously you love speed skating because it touches something deep within, inside you and that is to be treasured in every corner of what we do, I think.

Mike Maynard

01:00:39 - 01:01:37

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, and he's probably not the best person to quote, but Lance Armstrong, I remember reading about him once and he said, you know, someone asked him what he thinks about when he goes on five hour rides and whether he gets bored and he sort of said, I don't think about anything. I'm just riding and I'm, that's what I like doing and I enjoy it and it's about the ride. It's not about thinking about anything else. And I think, you know, that that's a great example, if you can find something you love that gets you to focus down and really be in that flow state that's really important and that state can last for a long time, you know, and in the case of Lance Armstrong, you know, on his training rides lasted for five hours which is incredible. I mean, I wish I could get things lasting that long, you know, people who know me and know my speed skating are gonna tell me that my 500 meter time is not far off five hours. But it is just under, I can assure you.

Jeff Bullas

01:01:37 - 01:02:12

Well, I think when you get to a place where time stops is really, really just such a great space to be. And I think the other thing is that maybe Joseph Campbell and I'm a bit of a fanboy of Joseph Campbell and then one of his top tips is follow your bliss. And we're told by one to force things to happen, be disciplined and I really don't think that's the case anymore for me.

Mike Maynard

01:02:13 - 01:03:13

I also think it doesn't, you know, it's very difficult, follow your bliss, follow your passion. It's all about, you know, you've actually got to know what you're passionate about and then do it. Whereas actually I think, and maybe this is my nerdy engineer, geeky side. There's a lot of things that are really interesting that we know nothing about. We've got no experience of. So I think it's also to be curious and try new things because some of those things might be your bliss. You've got no idea how to do it. So, that idea of what's your bliss shouldn't necessarily lead you. You've got to try things because you'll do things that, you know, you had no idea you enjoy. I mean, I'd never skated till I was in my mid 30s. So like literally never ice skated so I had no idea that was gonna be one of my things that I really loved. So I think, you know, yes, follow what you're doing. But I always tell my kids to try other things as well and if you try something and hate it, that's actually a good thing ‘cause you now know that that's something you hate, you can move on, you can try something else.

Jeff Bullas

01:03:13 - 01:03:17

So maybe we should come up with a new term called follow your curiosity.

Mike Maynard

01:03:18 - 01:03:20

That'd be awesome. I love that.

Jeff Bullas

01:03:21 - 01:03:49

Yeah, I suffered asthma as a kid at the age of 12. I went running and the doctor said to me that exercising can help you with your asthma. So I started running and I discovered that was my bliss and I ran for the next 40 years a little bit like Forrest Gump.

Mike Maynard

01:03:49 - 01:03:55

That's awesome. I mean, that's great, you know, you try something, you love it, just keep doing it.

Jeff Bullas

01:03:55 - 01:04:37

Yeah, I got into a zone while running the endorphin showed up and I could run for hours and today I rode for hours just like Lance Armstrong. I love cycling. I love that. As you get a bit older, there's a question. It's great. Keith Richards, the guy that thought was going to die in his 20s, from kidney stones, it's amazing he's still alive. Someone said to him, are you glad to be here today? And he said, I'm glad to be anywhere.

Mike Maynard

01:04:38 - 01:04:44

That's great. I mean, he's certainly put a lot of living into his life, I think you'd say.

Jeff Bullas

01:04:46 - 01:05:15

And I went, yeah, it's just fabulous. So, Mike, thank you very much for sharing what motivates you and speed skating is one of those and also your engineering geekiness and curiosity, which is great. And thank you very much for sharing your stories and passion in different corners of your life and business. And, look forward to catching up with you in real life someday, maybe a beer in the UK or whatever.

Mike Maynard

01:05:16 - 01:05:20

That'd be awesome. Thanks so much for having me on the show, Jeff, it's been a great chat, really enjoyed it.

Jeff Bullas

01:05:21 - 01:05:23

Thanks Mike. It's been an absolute pleasure.

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