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Why I'm not going to the Church of Magnolia this Christmas 

December 22nd 2014 
On the last weekend before Christmas there seemed a lot on TV that made an impact on the Riley household. 
The legend that is Spit the Dog, who sadly no longer visits our TV screens enough, was on BBC 1’s Pointless. ‘Take That’ danced like The Drifters on Strictly but for me and millions of others Gary, Jason and Mark still shone. A one hour special on the late great Rik Mayall saw moving footage of him sharing his personal ‘mantra’ for life with students from Exeter University but the summit of the weekends viewing was the Fern Britton interview with the Rev Richard Coles. 
Richard who? The Reverend Coles is one of the former founding members of The Communards (you’ll remember Jimmy Somerville) who after a career of sex, drugs and debauchery gave it all up, went to church, liked it and now is a Parish Priest in middle class rural Northamptonshire. He’s Gay too. 
Richard said two things of immense clarity that brought together much of the mixed emotions I hold over church, faith and religion. 
The first was that the ‘blandness of religion’ kept him away from Church for so long. The ‘magnolia message’ we hear at Church when so many people, young and old, seek and desire colour from the world goes a long way to explain for me and for many others why we are not rushing though the local chapel doors on a Sunday morning. Lots of us believe. I mean truly believe with a passionate and meaningful faith. We just don’t want the life sucked out of it by others. 
Billy Connolly explained it perfectly when he said that the first thing a Vicar ever said to him was ‘we are one in him and he is one in us.’ Billy never went back as he hadn’t got a clue what the man in the white colour was on about. 
The second was Reverend Cole’s view of why the Christmas message is more important than ever. Richard explained that the centre of Christmas is a dark, cold and lonely night, in a place far away. In the middle of that, all of sudden there is a little glow of light from a crib. In that crib is a tiny and vulnerable baby and yet that baby is the power that lit the stars and set the whole thing in motion. 
That baby, that light, that gift, enables us to move away from the cold hopelessness of life and walk,live, grow and love in that light of hope in front of us. 
That is why so many more people go to church at Christmas. It is the reason for the season. It’s the colourful message in a world of magnolia that so many want, need and desire to hear. 
Sadly the Church of Magnolia is why so many of us don’t venture out for the other 51 Sunday’s of the year. 

Black Friday, Cyber Monday …. Service Saturday? 

December 15th 2014 
You can’t fail to have missed the media coverage of the problems over recent weeks with deliveries failing to arrive at homes across the UK after online purchases have been made in time for Christmas. 
Industry experts said internet retailers and courier companies had failed to forecast the Black Friday and Cyber Monday spending binges a fortnight ago. This does seem a little strange especially when I imagine much of Cyber Monday and Black Friday (did we have them in 2013, 2012, 2011 etc?) was driven by internet firms who want us to purchase from them. 
One of the leading couriers Yodel hired 5,000 staff before Christmas, including thousands of self-employed drivers and couriers, and insisted it was well placed to cope with the festive rush. It made me feel better that I can’t get hold of a highly sought after Monty the Penguin – even if I could he probably wouldn’t arrive. 
As a marketing business we spend a lot of time and effort with firms discussing and implementing customer service. It’s one of the key reasons why even in the recent recession people spend with high end retailers. People buy people not products and if your customer service is right your business can touch the gold of retail otherwise known as ‘Trust.’ 
Didn’t Yodel and others see it coming? Perhaps they don’t have to worry about customer service as when we complain about a late parcel we go to who we brought it from not the carrier they employ. 
Even if the parcels are not, one thing is guaranteed this Christmas. Those firms who Scrooge on the customer service won’t be having a prosperous New Year. However much it costs. 

Did Bob Geldof ever read a book? 

November 29th 2014 
The debate you often hear in business is whether true, inspirational leadership is natural or learnt. 
If it is natural, then the millions of pounds spent on books, self-help guides and workshops are a waste. If it is learnt, where did Ghandi, Dr King, Richard Branson and Steve Jobs hear all about it? 
Events happen to us all. Isn’t it what we do with them that gives us the opportunity if not to move mountains then at least to show leadership traits that make others want to do more and be better? 
I have been really struck by the man that is Bob Geldof. 
Here is someone who was the lead singer of a somewhat successful rock band who 35 years after having a number one single remains an instantly recognisable name. It was 1984 when he pulled Boy George, George Michael, Simon Le Bon and even Marilyn together for Band Aid. A year later Live Aid at Wembley. A decade later with the Prophet Bono he lobbied global 
leaders and showed people like Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela what to do. Now in 2014 he once again demands us to do our bit with Band Aid 30. 
While the clarion call from the man from Northern Ireland never changes, the events in his personal life are enough to make a good man bad. 
He married a beautiful woman who left him after meeting another rock star on live TV. When that man, Michael Hutchens then killed himself, Bob’s ex-wife took her own life. The child they had together, Tiger Lily, was adopted by Bob and his family. Only last year, one of Bob’s daughters by Paula Yates died in her twenties from a drug overdose. 
His recent appearance on the X Factor to promote Band Aid 30 saw a man who physically shows the scars of personal tragedy. But his spirit, his passion, his belief in what we can and should do for others was not dimmed. If the personal experiences that Bob Geldof has faced happened to me would I work harder than ever to still put others first? 
That for me is true leadership that you can’t learn from a book. 
Respect Bob. Respect. 

My Friend Michael O'Leary 

November 20th 2014 
I’ve been to a special event recently where those present heard from and got to question Michael O’Leary. 
You know him. He’s the CEO of Ryanair, famous for being outspoken, told BBC Panorama if you want to have customer service use British Airways and if you believe what you read in the press is considering charging passengers to pee on his planes. 
Apart from sharing some pretty impressive stats – did you know that Ryanair pilots are some of the best paid in aviation and Ryanair planes are the most fuel efficient there are – the man showed a great level of personal and professional reflection which in my experience is much valued trait in successful business. 
He still doesn’t like British Airways, he still wants to ban UKIP and still says outspoken things (there was a comment about having sex with his wife) but he has recognised where Ryanair have got it wrong in the past and how that has been put right. 
To hear a man with such a big ego say ‘I know I no longer walk on water’ is refreshing. To hear him say one of his top tips is ‘copy the good bits of your competitors’ is even better. 
Ryanair is the number one airline in Spain, Italy, Belgium, Ireland and Poland. Its website is the most visited airline website in the UK. The company will grow by an amazing 40% in the next decade and its CEO admits to being so ‘well off’ he doesn’t understand why the Government still pays him, his wife and his four children child benefit. 
There was a time when Michael knew it all. He now knows he didn’t. There is a time when the voices in your head should be heard. 

Poppies, Mr Jones and my Daughter 

November 11th 2014 
It is impossible not to be moved by the amazing 888,246 poppies that surround the Tower of London. As we remember, honour and thank those that gave their lives a century ago millions of people across Europe stopped, in silence, today on Armistice Day, for two short minutes to remember them. 
What do you think off in those two minutes? My thoughts often lead me to picturing the black and white flickering images we see on our TV from that time. The trenches, the mud, the bombs, the horror. I sometimes think of Mr Jones, a man my Mum used to be a home help for when I was growing up. A dear old friendly man who would talk about so much but never his time in the trenches as a 19 year old when he saw things ‘no man should ever have to see.’ I sometimes think selfishly of how lucky I was when I was in my twenties and thirties that I did not have to go away to fight for King and Country. 
I was driving to a meeting today listening to BBC Five Live. They interviewed people commemorating Armistice Day in Belgium where there is a tomb to the thousands of still unnamed and unknown soldiers who gave their tomorrow for our today. 
Imagine not being remembered? 
I hope that my beautiful almost 3 year old daughter when she grows up never has to go to war. Imagine if she did? Imagine if she was killed in action. Imagine if they never found her and she became another ‘unknown soldier.’ 
A century ago and in wars and conflict ever since, young men and women and their families do have to imagine this as for far too many it becomes a reality. They don’t come home. They do it because they are committed to protecting our freedom, our county and our way of life. 
That is why we stand in silence every year. That is why we will remember them. 

Monty and Mabel teach us all a lesson 

November 8th 2014 
Of all the marketing advice I could give to businesses big and small this Christmas, top of my list would be watch more television. 
It comes after the release of the new John Lewis ‘Monty and Mabel’ Christmas Advert which for me is one of the best they have produced. 
The John Lewis Christmas advert has become a cultural institution over the last decade such as the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special was in the 1970s. They may be a Department Store that has been on the high street since 1864 but all businesses big and small can learn from them and the way they promote themselves. 
There are no overt references to John Lewis or its products in the Christmas Advert and that’s the key. We know that only 14% of people now trust advertising compared to 90% who trust recommendation. John Lewis want us to talk to our friends about the advert and that’s exactly what people do. 
It is not about being original. It is about being seductive and recognising people buy with their emotions not their wallets. You don’t have to have to be in retail and you don’t have to have a marketing budget of millions. If you want to more people to use your business more the way you communicate through talking, writing, emailing, via websites or on social media has 
to be less about sales and more about engagement. 
That’s why the John Lewis ads have become a Christmas event in their own right. 
If you haven’t seen the John Lewis Advert yet click here
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