My side hustle? Reading.

As we start 2021, I’m hoping we’ll start to see the demise of hustle porn. We’ve all heard the standard rhetoric that we should have a side project or gig to “build’ something, generate extra income or impress a future employer. As such I’ve spent a large part of last year worried that I’m not building or creating or shipping or hustling or launching. What I have done, instead, is read books. If I had a “side hustle” in 2020 it was simply to read more.  This will continue to be my “hustle” in 2021.

At the beginning of this year, I decided to set myself a challenge and read 52 books. A book a week. Up from the 24 I, on average, read every year.

I closed out the challenge having read 77 books. This is what I’ve learnt that I believe has helped me read far more.

Making time

Well, I have to be honest, redundancy in March and lockdowns has meant that I have had more time. For me it was initially trying to replicate a Brighton to London commute which allowed me at least 2 hours a day to read. So I did two things, I set myself a daily reminder to simply sit down and read for 20 mins. And I started getting up 30 mins before the family woke so I had some time.  That said, if you find yourself reading a good book you will find yourself making time to read it, regardless.

Choose wisely but quit when required

I’ve learnt to both carefully choose what I’m reading  as well as learning to know when to quit a book. And I’ve certainly noticed that I was quitting fewer books as the year has progressed. I choose quite carefully which books to read as what I didn’t want to be doing was quitting a ton of books. I wanted to keep some momentum going.  My choices were a reflection of what I really wanted to read. There were occasions where I planned each month which books I’d read that month.


I’ve always have a book to hand. The format doesn’t matter. My personal preference is a physical copy. I have a kindle too. And I’ve even been listening to audiobooks. Whilst I’ve never been a fan of the format, I must admit I do like the convenience of an audiobook. I used the excellent borrowbox app which allows you to borrow audiobooks and ebooks from your local library. You can then read or listen to them via the app. I also read a couple of books using the app but I really struggle to read anything of length on a phone.


I picked up the idea of an anti-library last year from Ryan Holiday on his Read to lead course. The phrase itself was first coined by Nicholas Taleb-Nassim and it is to describe a collection of unread books. I also discovered a lovely japanese phrase ‘tsundoku’, which literally means reading pile. So besides regularly buying new releases, I would scour charity shops and pick up books left outside peoples houses. Anything that grabs my attention or looks interesting. Having an anti-library also means I will at any given time always have something to read.

tsundoku: buying books and not reading them; letting them pile up unread on shelves or floors or nightstands


I aim for 50 pages a day. I needed a target to work towards beyond the 20mins a day. I found that its habit forming. If i have to read 50 pages then I will find any excuse to pick up a book rather than look at twitter etc. In fact I will actually dog ear the book every 50pages to I know where I am. (Yeah, I know)

You get faster

I’m not a fan of speed reading. In fact, I can’t do it at all well. I have, however, noticed that I have become a faster reader over the course of this year. 

Alcohol vs caffeine

Quite simply if I want to read more, I stay away from the booze. Personally, I can’t read and drink at the same time. The morning after a late night, is not a good time for me to read either. Tea and coffee on the other hand works wonders. They provide focus, one less thing to be distracted by.

Improved sleep

I have no idea if there is any science behind this but the nights I read before bed, I find that I get to sleep much quicker and sleep much better.  Absolutely no idea why, I guess I’m more relaxed and no blue screens.

As I start 2021, Ive set the same challenge of 52 books. 2021 could be very different or very much the same. 77 books may well have been some freak occurrence so if I can repeat that again in 2021 then I’ll set a bigger challenge for 2022. But for now, one book and one day at a time.

Top Podcasts of 2020

Yesterday, Spotify revealed my listening habits of 2020. Included within was a solitary podcast. Just one. According to Spotify I listened for 48, 849 minutes in 2020. Of which less than an hour was spent listening to an episode of Eat,  Sleep, Work, Repeat. 

Incidently, I don’t listen to podcasts on Spotify. Instead, I use a combination of Apple Podcasts (Desktop) and Pocketcasts (mobile). And without a regular commute I haven’t been listening to podcasts all that much this year. I’ve been reading more than listening.  Nevertheless, I thought I’d compile a short list of those that I’ve enjoyed this year with references to specific episodes

  1. Call to Action

One of the consistently outstanding marketing podcasts there is.  This year I really enjoyed the episodes with Gavin Strange, Gem Higgins, Zoe Scaman and Jenni Romaniuk

  1. Do Lectures

Only released this year, it’s still finding its feet. Nevertheless, host Gav Thompson manages to get some excellent guests. I highly recommend the episodes with Tom Goodwin and Eleanor Tweddell.

  1. Everyone hates marketers by Louis Grenier

Admittedly, I don’t listen to this podcast very often but the most recent episode with Mark Ritson is one of the best episodes on any podcast I’ve listened to this year. (And yes, there could be some recency bias at play here).

  1. Eat sleep work repeat

Bruce Daisley does god’s own work when it comes to understanding modern work and lobbying for better working practices. The episode from January with Alain de Botton is excellent, as is his discussion with Mo Gawdat on happiness.

  1. The Adam Buxton Podcast

All round one of the best podcasts out there. Essentially rambling chats, or “ramblechats” as Adam calls them, I especially liked his chats this year with Laura Marling and Zadie Smith.

  1. Wittertainment.

Pound for pound the Kermode and Mayo film review is the best podcast there is.  Each episode is a gem. Two old friends chatting about movies and life. Hugely comforting.  Difficult to pick an episode but it is worth digging out their interview with Armando Iannucci to see whether his Thick of It writing team could have written anything close to what the UK government has done this year.

Lockdown Two: Inspiration, Comfort, Distractions.

As we head into a second Lockdown in the UK, here are some personal recommendations for books, music and newsletters that might provide comfort, support, motivation or indeed a distraction over the coming month. 


None of these are strictly marketing related but they are all well created and well curated. 

  1. Five things on a Friday (and occasionally on a Sunday) from James Whatley  (file under: things of note across advertising, social, gaming and much more )
  2. Drawing Links by Edith Zimmerman (file under: non-fiction comic)
  3.  Feasts and Fables (file under: inspiration and happenings)
  4. Salmon Theory from Rob Estreitinho (file under: clarity in the chaos with a cat cartoon)
  5. Love will save the day by Jed Hallam  (file under: music new and old)
  6. Scrapbook Chronicles by the team at Hiut Denim (file under: food for thought)


I’ve challenged myself to read a book a week this year, these are the ones that I’ve recommended the most to friends and family:

  1. The Five: The untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
  2. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (not that one)
  3. The Autobiography of Malcom X
  4. Detroit ’67: The year that changed soul by Stuart Cosgrove
  5. The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis (You could, and should, watch the excellent Netflix series. BUT the book is better)


Rather than list a load of albums, check out the ongoing playlists that Murray Calder has compiled in his Lockdown Series . There’s 30-odd and something for everyone from Country to US punk to Japanese Psych. 


Finally, please check out the excellent Isolated Talks created by Giles Edwards and the team at Gasp! So many great speakers have donated a talk including Rory Sutherland, Nicole Yershon, Nick Childs, Vikki Ross and many more. And all for a good cause, The Samaritans.  

Two Adverts

When I was invited to talk, I had a couple of ideas. And I worked through them and they just weren’t working for me.

So I started again. From scratch. I turned to music. I tend to listen to music when I’m stuck. It was whist doing this that I heard a track that brought on a smile. One of the tracks that takes me back to a certain time and place. And that got me thinking about a tv ad and the nostalgia that accompanied that.

Now, I work in B2B and there is some great work taking place in that space. And I could, and probably should, talk about that. However, I want to step out of that bubble and talk about a couple of old ads that I love. Before I go on, I want to make this clear I am by no means an expert in what I’m going to ramble on about. I’m simply interested in the format. I just want to share it. There’s no deep insight, no analysis, no future gazing, no trends. I’m simply looking back. Someone comforting nostalgia in a period of chaos. Please consider this a high a high level take on two tv ads that I love. 

At times like these we have to take comfort in the old stuff. Things that will make us smile. These two ads always put a smile on my face and I hope they do for you too. They might not make you laugh out loud. But they might just brighten your day. They might take you back to the same era and similar ads from that period. And yes these are old ads, dating back to 1995 and whilst they are two very distinct ads, they do have much in common; there’s no dialogue, a great soundtrack, excellent visuals, art direction, and two iconic directors. The one major difference is one is certainly more famous, and more awarded, than the other. Most importantly, however, they tell a story. Remember when adverts told stories? These tell stories, they don’t talk about product features. 

So this track that I heard is from what is probably my favourite ad of all time, a song called Novelty Waves by Biosphere. And whenever I hear this track I’m transported back to the commuter belt town in which I grew up. It takes me back to the early nineties.

The advert is Drugstore by Levi’s. This absolute gem was directed by Michel Gondry, who went on to work with Daft Punk and direct the likes of Sunshine of the Spotless mind and Be kind rewind. I have absolutely no idea when I found out he directed it, I certainly wouldn’t have known at the time but that doesnt matter. The advert itself was released in 1995, during a period when Levis were arguably at the height of their advertising powers. When seemingly every song used on a Levis advert went to number one in the UK charts. Babylon Zoo, Stiltskin, Shaggy. The track from this advert didn’t. It peaked at 51. 

I don’t even remember how I found out about the title of the track. But I remember buying the single from Our Price on cassette. Because everything about that advert, for me, boiled down to that track. It was so perfectly distinct. Up to that point Levis had really only used old soul or rock. So this was a departure for sure. They would later revisit it with Flat Eric and the music of Mr Oizo. But this track, at this time, just hit me.

Interestingly, I interviewed for Levis whilst I was at Uni. It was basically to be in the marketing team that supported their touring programme. At then time they were heavy sponsors of the likes of Jamiroquai and so on. I thought I’d nailed the interview, only to be called the following week to say that I didn’t have the job. And, this is the killer, they thought it was very amusing that I tend up for the interview in a suit. What the F**k? Lesson learnt. 

But coming back to this advert, I believe it did several things for me. The soundtrack the art direction, the execution, the cinematopgrtaphy, the production value. It feels solid, weighty. Pure. It opened me up to several possibilities. Music, film, photography and a career. At the time I was studying business studies and at that point I knew it was marketing that I wanted to get into. 

The second advert is by Gucci and it features I feel love by Donna Summer. Or at least an interpretation of I feel Love. It was directed by Chris Cunningham, who also produced the track. I am more than likely biased here, because I was and am a huge fan of Chris Cunningham work in music videos for the likes of Aphex Twin, Squarepusher and Bjork. And of course the Playstation ad. And when I’d heard that he was working with Gucci on an ad and I must admit, I wondered how that would work. Had Gucci seen the video for Come to Daddy

Someone on YouTube commented that it should be illegal for Chris Cunningham works to be viewed in anything less than 4K and in the case of this advert, I wholeheartedly agree. I mean c’mon that butterfly effect. But of course its the music that’s deployed to great effect, a totally emphemeral and 70s/80s take on the sound. There’s not much in the way of romance here. Which by all accounts isn’t in the Gucci code. Instead, its haunting and almost melancholy, cold even. Which I guess does reflect on the work of Cunningham’s previous output. Apparently, he managed to get Dionna Summer to re-record the vocals for the track, which is something in itself. Incidentally the full track isn’t fantastic. The first 90 seconds are great, and its application to this video made me smile when I first watched it. And then that butterfly effect, thats Chris Cunningham.  It just works. It makes me smile. 

As I said no insights, analysis or lessons learnt.  These are just two ads that I love. I want to share them. I hope you enjoyed them and my ramblings.  And if you enjoyed them great and if it means you donate to The Samaritans, even better.

Hopefully I’ve helped in some little way. 

This originally appeared as an Isolated Talk.

As Marketers We Owe It To Our Discipline To Get Trained.

I posted on twitter about my wish for marketers to get trained and qualified in the discipline. Whilst not a thread for the ages it did appear to split respondents between those who advocate formal training and those who don’t. So off the back of this I’m pulling together my thoughts on why I believe its important, as a marketer, to train yourself on the discipline of marketing. 

First things first, marketing is not advertising nor is it content, ABM, social media or podcasts. These are communications tactics. They are an element of and an output of the discipline of marketing. 

“Marketing is not only much broader than selling, it is not a specialized activity at all. It is the whole business seen from the point of view of its final result, that is from the customers point of view” Peter Drucker

This is why when marketers talk solely about tactics they are not being representative of the business. Nor are they being representative of marketing. Too many times I’ve seen marketing leaders say that if they were to start a business tomorrow, they would [insert comms channel of choice]. For example, podcasts may be all the rage but they might not be what’s suitable for your target segment or your positioning. 

If you decided to start a business tomorrow, a podcast or Adwords or “content” should not be the first thing you do. In fact, it is the very last thing you do. You’d start with understanding the customers point of view. You’d start with being market-oriented. You’d start with research.

It’s worth pointing out that these aforementioned tactics fall under communications which represents only 8% of the marketing discipline. The marketing discipline is split into three areas. Diagnosis (33%), Strategy, incl. segmentation, targeting and positioning (33%) and Tactics (33%). Tactics is then split into the four areas of product, place, price and promotion. Each representing 8% of the overall discipline. 

8%. And yet so much of the current marketing narrative talks only at this level. This is what marketing professor Mark Ritson refers to as the tactification of marketing 

“The focus on digital and the latest hot technology has resulted in all too many companies putting the tactical cart before the horse” (Mark Ritson. Eat your greens)

As Ritson points out, it’s a real issue and damaging to the overall discipline. This is why I believe that as marketers we should get formal training in the discipline. In the same way we expect accountants and lawyers to be formally qualified before we solicit their expertise, we should apply the same rational to marketers. We owe it to ourselves, our teams, our mentors, our mentees, our clients and employers. 

And this is why I believe we should, as marketers, do more to uphold our discipline. And the primary way to achieve this is to improve our understanding of the full marketing discipline. The remaining 92% of it. And in my opinion, they way to do that is to get to get formally trained on it. 

And you don’t have to get a degree or an MBA to achieve this. You can get a qualification from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, you can complete the Mini MBA with Mark Ritson or take courses on effectiveness from the IPA

It’s impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows. Epictetus