In conversation with… Martin Thomas

This month we sat down with Martin Thomas, marketing communications expert and author of the Financial Time’s Guide to Social Media Strategy

1. What was your first ever job?

Assistant gardener at a stately home. Still one of my favourite jobs – fresh air and Test Match cricket on the radio throughout the day.

2. Who would you most love to share a coffee with / go for a drink with?

I have an historian’s nerdy interest in T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia). Unfortunately, he was strictly teetotal, so it would have to be a cup of tea. I visited his house in the woods at Clouds Hill this summer – in this damp, little cottage he talked long into the night with some of the greatest minds of the 20th century.

3. Highlight of your career (so far?)

Wait and see. I hate looking back or reflecting on past achievements (or failures for that matter). There are few things more boring than a marketing person living off their former triumphs, although plenty of careers have been built on a single, accidental success 20 years ago.

4. Nature or nurture?

Sitting on the fence I’m afraid – 50:50. You can only blame your parents for some of your woes… as I keep reminding my children.

5. Best advice you ever heard or received?

Always put yourself in the shoes (and the mindset) of the person you are talking to – everyone has an agenda, everyone has fears, concerns, ambitions. The most empathetic people do this automatically… the rest of us have to work at it.

6. What talent do you yearn for?

As a Welshman, the ability to side-step off either foot and then accelerate away from some gnarly, old forward – like Jonathan Davies in his prime.

7. What is your favourite brand and why?

The brand I loved working on most was LEGO, not least because my kids were of the right age and thought that this was a really cool job. Watching the LEGO designers develop toy concepts gave me a fascinating insight into real creativity.

8. What book do you most recommend to others?

Lester Wunderman, the founder of direct marketing, wrote Being Direct before Google had even been invented, but it continues to be one of the sharpest books on the science of marketing.

9. What last impressed you at work?

I am old enough to be still impressed by new technology – when I started the fax was state of the art and presentations were produced on 35ml slides – which is why I am fascinated by our ability to work in real time with people around the globe. There are no barriers of geography, language or capability, which is why this is the most exciting time to be in our industry.

10. Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? What failure did you learn the most from?

The hardest management lesson is allowing people to fail or at least mess-up. Our instincts as managers are always to micro-manage, but if you don’t let people mess-up at least once in a while (hopefully not too seriously) they will never learn.

11. What do you want to do when you retire?

I have no desire whatsoever to retire. I am way too impatient for golf. Jeremy Bullmore has always been an inspiration for me.  He’s still banging-out brilliant copy and acerbic lines in his late 80s.

And the bonus question, why should we read your book?

My message is simple – strategy matters. Without strategic planning, time and money gets wasted on tactical social media activities that are not aligned to real priorities. Too much attention is given to outputs – cleverly-worded tweets, attention-grabbing posts, amusing videos, beautifully art-directed images, funny Snapchat filters – and not enough on measurable outcomes. Opportunities are missed. Bad ideas slip through the net, whilst good ideas are underfunded. Lessons are not learned. Risks are taken that are avoidable. If you take a strategic approach to your use of social media, maybe even encouraged by what you read in my book, you will:

  • Generate better results.
  • Stop wasting money
  • Avoid unnecessary risks
  • Deal effectively with problems
  • Enhance your career prospects

You can find Martin’s book, Financial Time’s Guide to Social Media Strategy, here.


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