I just received an email from Remo. Seeing images of the 'Printed thing' he and his team are working on reminded me how interesting Remo Guiffre is. I had seen an article in the excellent, if strange, Australian magazine DumboFeather Pass It On but had neglected to read it. So I looked it up on the web and found the short version. It featured this illustration:

Looking at it I had a strange feeling of having seen it before. Then I remembered seeing a Fast Company magazine video featuring an interview with Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great (Amazon), one of the classic business books of the 90's. So I scooted over to Jim Collins site (which is outstanding by the way - or should I say 'great'?). A little probing around and there it was: The Hedgehog Concept - how to develop an understanding of what you can be the great at doing

The essential strategic difference between the good-to-great and comparison companies lay in two fundamental distinctions. First, the good-to-great companies founded their strategies on deep understanding along three key dimensions—what we came to call the three circles. Second, the good-to-great companies translated that understanding into a simple, crystalline concept that guided all their efforts—hence the term Hedgehog Concept.

More precisely, a Hedgehog Concept is a simple, crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of the following three circles:

1. What you can be the best in the world at (and, equally important, what you cannot be the best in the world at). This discerning standard goes far beyond core competence. Just because you possess a core competence doesn’t necessarily mean you can be the best in the world at it. Conversely, what you can be the best at might not even be something in which you are currently engaged.

2. What drives your economic engine. All the good-to-great companies attained piercing insight into how to most effectively generate sustained and robust cash flow and profitability. In particular, they discovered the single denominator—profit per x—that had the greatest impact on their economics. (It would be cash flow per x in the social sector.)

3. What you are deeply passionate about. The good-to-great companies focused on those activities that ignited their passion. The idea here is not to stimulate passion but to discover what makes you passionate.

My point isn't that the diagrams are the same - they are - but that how a few random connections can lead to something I noted as significant - an idea - but had forgotten. I have been preparing to settle down to plan the next couple of years and the Hedgehog idea couldn't have come back at a better time.

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  1. Obviously we all have many infuences on our work. When it comes to writing copy two people stand out for me.

    One is James brown who started Loaded magazine. I did a workshop with him, went home, rewrote some copy I'd already finished and it ended up picking up an award for copywriting.

    My other great influence is Remo. His Remo Store catalogue from a long long time ago is still, to this day, the best written catalogue I have ever read.

    Good to see his name and thinking pop up in an unexpected place.

  2. Agree with you about the Remo catalogue.
    Actually there is an American catalogue that inspired me back in the early 90s. I had been given a huge pile of catalogs by my mate and former business partner Greig Buckley (now a director of the Internet advertising company MediaOne) - one that stood out was Victoria's Secret; though not for its copy. The other was the J Peterman catalogue. It was similar to Banana Republic (before they went mainstream and were selling safari clothing - always handy) - The Peterman catalog felt more honest. It is online now - I haven't seen the print edition for a long time - I guess the economics of niche businesses make the web a godsend instead of sending out processed trees.
    Bottom line - the copy, like the copy in the Remo catalogue is excellent. I still want a Hemmingway cap with an extra-long deer skin bill.

    Do you think copywriting is a dying craft in advertising?

  3. Is copywriting a dying craft in advertising?


    A much more pertinent question is why?

    I wonder if it's a result of AWARD School type thinking, where the idea is everything. The so called big idea.

    When they show their folio to a CD these kids know the CD will rarely want to see copy or Mac layouts. Big ideas and simple layouts is the mantra.

    Another reason for this is the internationalisation of award shows. Used to be you entered your work into a local art directors club type award and were recognised by your peers.

    Nowadays you develop witty visual puns that work in any language and send them off to Cannes to be judged by people who don't have English as a first language.

    Last year Russell Davies espoused the concept of the rich idea. This was an idea that was not only campaignable, but which lent itself to lots of different avenues of thought and expression.

    I like the idea of the rich idea. If we could get it adopted by adland I reckon copywriting would start making a comeback.

    As for Peterman, it was never the same after Mr Peterman went mad in a Burmese opium den and left Elaine from Seinfeld to run the company!

  4. Hey Stan,

    do you ever sleep? I guess I should allow for the time difference.

    Kind of cool that you know your catalogues. Arcane detail about Mr Peterman...I'd run of with Elaine if I wasn't so George. Figuratively speaking.

    I was genuinely inspired going back to the great copy ads that I had grown up with. I don't know if you read my tribute to Indra Sinha a few days ago?

    I'm a little exhausted by post-modern/existential ads. I wonder if planning is to blame?
    Just an idea.


    I'm initiating a transtasman thinkoutloud fest for advertising/marketing/branding types if you are interested (or any others reading this) let me know. Probably here in Auckland.

  5. Thinkaloud sounds good. Keep me in the loop on that one.


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