Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Power of imagination, side hustles and the personal brand: What I learned from Tom Goodwin

Every week, Automated Creative founder Tom Ollerton interviews advertising industry leaders about their experiences, views on technology and innovation and the future of marketing in the Shiny New Object podcast. This week, he spoke to Tom Goodwin, Head of Futures and Insight at Publicis Group. Here’s what he learned from the conversation.

Futurism is a nonsense word 

Tom’s job might be future-focused, but he describes himself as more of a pragmatist than a futurist. His many followers on social media platforms will be used to seeing his thoughts as he takes a more realistic (or even dismissive) view on new tech that others are hailing as the Next Big Thing. His secret to finding out what he should be advising clients on is very simple – he just tries stuff: “I’m quite a normal human being that has slightly more knowledge about how some things work than others, and I’ll try things.

When the Alexa came out, he used it, thought about it, and had opinions on it. “I said it wasn’t really going to change that much, it was going to be an additive user interface, just like touch is, or just like keyboards are, and it probably won’t mean the profound rethinking of business models.”

Tom believes in the power of our own imagination and says he spends more time in ‘dodgy’ shopping malls than Silicon Valley; that’s where reality is being played out, where you can see what normal people are thinking and doing. And when it comes to tech, he believes we need to focus on what we have now and how we can make the most of it, rather than wishful thinking of what we may have in the future.  

Do stuff that you absolutely love doing 

Tom’s Shiny New Object is side hustles. And he’s got more than a few going on – he estimates he has around 15 to 20 additional income streams going on from his ‘main’ job at Publicis, from sales from his book to doing a training course. Sounds like a lot, but he believes that if you really enjoy what you do, the lines between your job and your life outside work become blurred. 

Read stuff, learn stuff, go to exhibitions, browse Twitter. Even if they’re accidental trips to kids’ science fairs, you never know what you might discover if you keep an open and curious mind; learning beyond the defined lines of your job isn’t a waste of time.

And to facilitate this, Tom recommends stripping out the crap, such as pointless meetings, by learning to say no: “I’m not supposed to say no but I do – we need to grow some balls”. Using a sporting analogy, Publicis might be his football team, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have the occasional five a side game or play for his country. 

He says his path to success hasn’t been based on any kind of vision, but instead “everything that has ever happened to me has been a mixture of lots of energy, lots of passion and belief in this notion that it’s ok to be different”, while doubling down on things that work. 

Don’t set out to build a personal brand 

Our conversation took an unexpected turn towards the personal brand, something Tom accepts he has, but seems uncomfortable with. He thinks the idea that the world has got to a place where reputation matters is a good thing, as is the fact that people have platforms to speak out on.

But he worries that the “distribution of intelligence or interest is such that the way to be most popular is to be most average” – it’s easy to spread messages that people want to hear. Tom believes that the people most keen to develop a personal brand are often the ones with the least to say – those who look to gain attention with funny clothes, simplistic statements about hustling it, talking about how early they wake up and how much yoga they do.

Tom jokes that his personal brand is a lack of brand; he does and says whatever he feels like, and he’s lucky that this sense of not caring has allowed him to do what he wants to do. When I asked him what his recommendations would be to those wanting to build their own brand, it’s clear the idea of this forced self publicism isn’t really his cup of tea.

His recommendation is to “tweet like you’ve got diarrhoea – you’re in a situation where you’ve got so much stuff coming out of you that it’s hard to control it.” If you love what you do, you’ll be insatiably curious and occasionally you’ll feel like you have something worth saying to share with others.

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