In conversation with… Nick Bonney

We recently sat down with Nick Bonney to talk life and find out about his latest venture, Deep Blue Thinking.

Nick started Deep Blue Thinking in 2018 having previously been MD of ABA Research, but he’s actually spent most of his working life on the other side of the fence, leading the insight teams for Orange, EE, and The National Lottery. He’s worked in research for over 25 years and has a real passion for connecting brands and businesses with the issues that matter for consumers. Having spent most of his time in senior client roles he understands how to drive genuine impact from research rather than just the process of running. He’s started Deep Blue Thinking to help people get the most out of their investment in insight.

What was your first ever job?

My first job was working in a warehouse in Wembley for WEA Music. Somehow the fact it was boxes of records, CDs and cassettes (remember those?!) I was lugging around made a manual job much more appealing. It also had some nice side benefits – I remember getting last minute freebies right down the front to a Prince gig at Wembley. My first job in research was as a telephone interviewer for NOP – I’m proud that I’ve spent my time both as an interviewer and as a field manager as I think it helps design better research.

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

I’ve been racking my brains to find a suitably worthy figure for this but I should probably just be honest! My two big passions have always been music and football so I’d love to have a catch up over a beer with Michael Stipe or Frank Lampard. I feel like I’ve been part of so many shared experiences with them as a spectator, I’d love to get their view from the other side – what’s it like to play in a massive game or to hear 80,000 people singing your song back to you? From a marketing perspective, I’d love to chew the fat with Mark Ritson over a couple of pints but I think, given both our potty mouths, the air might be quite blue!

Highlight of your career (so far?)

I loved working on the launch of Orange internationally. Seeing a brand I was so passionate about become global and getting to travel and work with people from so many different cultures was just a wonderful learning experience. The launch in Thailand, in particular, was really special and I loved working with the team out there.

Nature or nurture?

Definitely nurture for me. I think we all have the ability to make the most of what we’ve got and to improve if we work hard at something. Equally, we all have something we’re great at which we can become even better at – there’s a guy called Rene Carayol who wrote a book called Spike which talks about maximising your strengths which really resonated for me. It’s a nod to nature (ie we’re all born with different gifts) but focuses on nurture i.e. the ability to identify those strengths and focus on getting better at them

Best advice you ever heard or received?

My nan used to often coin the phrase ‘more haste, less speed’ and I have to say, in the current marketing climate, I often think about this. Yes, we need to do things quickly and in a more agile way but that doesn’t mean rushing into things for the sake of being seen to be doing something. I see a lot of people dive straight into PowerPoint for a presentation for example rather than pausing for breath and thinking about what it is they really want to say first…

What talent do you yearn for?

I’d love to be better at the guitar and I’d love to not be quite so crap on the football pitch or tennis court every week!

What is your favourite brand and why?

In a sector where a lot of brands are having a very tough time, I think Ted Baker continues to do a lot of things right. They’ve focused on creating a more experiential store environment rather than just splashing on advertising and they’ve thought about how to re-create this in the online world too through nice touches like their delivery box.

What book do you most recommend to others?

From a work perspective, I think The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton is a must read this year. It’s a really approachable and accessible book on behavioural science. From a fiction perspective, I love the Christopher Brookmyre books – if you like your crime novels with a good dose of Scottish satire, give them a try.

What last impressed you at work?

I’m always impressed when I see younger researchers given the opportunity to shine and thriving at it. I think the traditional agency world is still very hierarchical and often more junior team members are buried ‘back of house’. I think both as clients and agencies we have a collective responsibility to help develop younger talent coming through.

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

I think to listen to my gut. I can think of a couple of instances where I’ve made bad decisions (whether in hiring people, making a career move, appointing a new supplier etc). In hindsight, I can look back on the moment where I knew deep down something wasn’t quite right. However, it felt easier to quell the disquiet and push on because I had already mentally made the decision or it was an ‘easier’ path. I’m still trying to figure out how to pause, take a moment and reflect on those inner voices.

On a less ethereal level, I can think of a number of projects over the years where I’ve been pulled in because things weren’t going right (both agency and client-side). Almost without fail, poor communication was at the heart of all of them. I’ve tried to bring that to bear on everything I do now – more time talking and listening to clients and stopping Chinese whispers by getting closer to the originator of the brief.

What do you want to do when you retire?

Live somewhere warmer, ideally near the sea!


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