26/03/2015 06:46 GMT | Updated 25/05/2015 06:59 BST

Lead For Success: Alastair Campbell on Winners at Adweek Europe


Image via Nick Giles on Twitter

Advertising Week Europe on Monday was all about the celebrities for me. I went into it feeling quite cynical about the media's unwavering fascination with big names of all kinds, so was relieved at the end of most sessions when I heard some wise words amongst the enjoyable, if sometimes surprising, anecdotes.

My day began by listening to Alastair Campbell, who is on a book tour promoting his latest work 'Winners: And How They Succeed', and held forth on the importance of having a clear strategy in order to succeed. It is only in very rare cases where the fundamentals of a business change, that the strategy needs to change altogether. It is very different from a tactical model of working, he said.

As someone who co-runs Ada's List, I was intrigued to hear what he had to say about women leaders. He praised Anna Wintour and Angela Merkel's leadership styles in different ways (they also feature in his book). Anna Wintour is very clear that she doesn't create fashion itself, but she has her finger on the pulse of what the readers of her magazine want to read and that gives her the edge. From a leadership perspective, Mr. Campbell also compared Angela Merkel's leadership style with that of David Cameron, unsurprisingly making digs at the latter as he said that Chancellor Merkel is very serious and focussed about what she does, whereas Cameron 'bounces around with the news story of the day'! I did take issue with the fact that he said women aren't as obsessed with winning as men. There's probably some truth in it, but I couldn't get a strong enough grasp over whether he meant this obsession is necessary because it translates to aggression (more typical of males), which in turn leads to winning. I certainly don't think that aggressive obsession is necessary to win.

Mr. Campbell's views on how successful people maintain a certain level of success were sensible, especially today when things move so fast. He said that a 'perpetual fear of being left behind' is something that characterises successful brands; the knowledge that if they don't innovate, they will be the losers. He mentioned Virgin as a brand to emulate: of the 19 airline brands that existed when they launched, only British Airways still exists. He also quoted Arianna Huffington, another leader he holds in high esteem, who believes that everything is always a work in progress. On failure, he spoke of the importance of learning from it; 'the winner is the loser who evaluates himself properly.' He is a big fan of reverse pro-zone analysis, a tactic used to evaluate football games post-play, and mentioned how winning can mean different things depending on where you're at. For example, to his beloved Burnley, just staying in the Premier League is success, but for Manchester City only winning the Premier League would really count as success, given they are already out of the Champions League.

His views on strategy in media were also worth noting: the atomisation of media, he says, necessitates an even clearer strategy than otherwise because it is all too easy for your message to get lost in the volume. If TV, OOH and social media are all saying different things, then customers get a mixed message, which damages the brand. He believes it is all about the message, not the medium (sorry Marshall McLuhan).

But even with a clear strategy, it is only the best communicated ideas that make an impact. Mr. Campbell agreed that even the greatest ideas often don't get the necessary airtime because the people who convey them simply aren't good communicators.

In short: have a clear strategy, make sure everything you do aligns with it and communicate your ideas clearly and strongly. Then sit back and enjoy your success.