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It’s all about context

Meet Ollie

My youngest nephew, Ollie, has just started secondary school so, when he paid a visit at the weekend, I was keen to hear how he was getting on. As well as the expected science, maths and sport chat, I was glad to hear that cooking, or ‘food tech’ as they call it, was part of his curriculum.

Like any parent, getting your child to explore the world of food is a fraught and often unsuccessful venture. Those parents among us can bear witness to accepting a narrow repertoire of menu selections just so the little blighters eat something and do so without screaming the place down! You only have to hear the phrase ‘oh they don’t eat that’ to know another parent has lost the battle.

Frame of reference

Now, Ollie is quite adventurous for his age and is willing to try pretty much anything at least once. But it wasn’t always that way. I remember only too well trying to persuade him to try a pizza for the first time. A simple task, one may have thought, but imagine it from his perspective. Not quite a Peter Kay ‘garlic bread?’ moment but pretty similar as he didn’t really have a frame of reference to process the information. So, I thought, how might we engage this young lad in overcoming his genuine fear of the unknown?

Well, I got him to help me make one. Thinking that being involved not only in the selection of the ingredients but in their construction into this wondrously strange thing called a pizza would help him to make that step. It worked a treat (the kitchen was covered in flour) and there has been no looking back since. He even tried an oyster on a recent trip to Whitstable, asking the stall holder all sorts of questions before woofing it down and declaring that it tasted rather like a mussel! The wider his knowledge of food has become the better his questions have got to help him tackle the next new thing.

So, I was rather pleased that this coming week’s food tech lesson involved making pizza. Having established his love of the Italian flatbread, he was now presented with the challenge of choosing just three ingredients for his toppings by the teacher. Ollie thought it would be a great idea to use the colours of the Italian flag as his theme. Pizza is Italian; the Italian flag has three colours, simple. You can’t fault his logic there.

Point of view

Now I was thinking of the classic mozzarella, tomato and basil topping. He wasn’t. He has just fallen in love with mushrooms, likes anything a bit spicy and eats his greens (see the progress!). His ‘classic’ would be spicy pepperoni, mushrooms and spinach. He thought mine sounded rather bland and uninteresting.

He’s at that age where he is not only up for asking challenging questions but also has an emerging point of view on things. What I soon realised was his ‘context’ was not the same as mind. Sure, he’s learned some fundamental truths, like what a pizza actually is compared to a kebab, but he knows that he has the opportunity to develop the concept based on his experiences to date and so has a clear point of view on pizza toppings. Smart lad.

Think about the context

When a client decides to search for a new agency it is important to think of the context. Is this something they haven’t done before and, like Ollie, is there a fear of the unknown? If so, how do you introduce and explain this ‘new’ thing to them? Talking about toppings at this stage could be premature. Equally, if we find they are more than comfortable with ‘pizza’, then now might be a great time to start talking about toppings. Perhaps even get into the realms of how it will be cooked. Ollie is partial to a wood fired oven.

Agencies need to be able to flex their approach to help their clients through a similar learning experience to Ollie, so being able to switch your focus from the ‘how to make a pizza’ to the ‘toppings’ and even to how it’s ‘cooked’ are all vital ingredients in a successful new business store cupboard.

Too much base, too little topping

In our experience, we find that too many agencies focus just on the ‘base’ by describing themselves as ‘an integrated marketing agency’ or a ‘retail agency’ or a ‘social and content agency’ without enough flexibility in their story to switch their focus to match a client’s context.

So if your agency would like to learn how to not only develop better ‘toppings’ and ways to cook your ‘pizza’ but also how to express your ideas as forcefully as young Ollie, then come along to our next Masterclass.


Tony Spong (Ollie’s uncle) and Robin Charney, AAR

Who should attend?

Anyone involved in agency new business, at any level.