Shortly after I arrived in Dublin, I was sitting in the Queens pub in Dalkey, having a ‘meeting’ with a sharp-suited, tanned and clever man who owns a successful agency here. I was pleased that, so soon after I had touched down on Irish soil, social media had at last actually delivered a real person to me who might help me network my way into Irish business –or even give me some real work! All seemed to be going swimmingly. I had a wide range of skills that he used in his business, and experience with large companies, often at a high level. He talked languidly about the number of staff he had, mega-contracts and astronomical deals. Then he licked the froth off the top of his cappuccino and said, with a smile, “So, basically, you’re an agency’s nightmare.” I never heard from him again.
Oops. Maybe I should have passed on the Guinness, but it was my first pint of real Irish Guinness in a real Irish pub, and I was kind of celebrating the way everything had fallen so neatly into place. I was very peeved at the time and my ego was dented, but chatting to a good friend later I discovered that there was possibly another reason for his disappearance from my life. It seems that his was a business that had grown rapidly over the good years, and was now top-heavy and losing contracts. He had been having several meetings with clients and others in efforts to woo back seven figures of lost turnover. I guessed that, even if he had liked me, he simply didn’t have time to answer an email. So, there’s your tiger. Still sharp-suited and majestic, but hiding a fear that he may not be able to protect his pride during the dry season. And no, I’m not confusing lions and tigers.
Rewind to the 1980s for the part about the bunny. I used to belong to a club called Stocks in the UK. They had a loud, gold-plated dive in Chelsea, and a rather elegant country mansion in the picturesque village of Aldbury, near where I lived in Hertfordshire.
These were the glam days of advertising when I did a lot of photography, bought my clothes in South Moulton Street and drove a very noisy TVR. I rarely stooped to doing wedding photography, but I was invited to do one that looked particularly interesting, and there was a budget that would support my extravagant lifestyle. Victor Lownes, who owned Stocks, had famously been the highest paid executive in London when he ran the Playboy club (it’s fun to check out his background here!). The bunny was his girlfriend’s idea, but he was the one who pushed Hugh Hefner to use it. Anyway, Victor was about to marry Marilyn Cole (his first-ever full-frontal Playboy Playmate), in Aldbury, with a reception at Stocks.
The wedding was a surreal affair—a kind of ‘who’s who of déjà-vu’. Is that…? Yes it is – David Jones of the Monkees. And there’s Kenny Lynch. And who’s that playing backgammon with Victor? Ah, yes, Bernie Cornfeld. And so on. Marilyn still looked impressive, statuesque, elegantly trussed up and gift-wrapped to perfection. The gift-giving was like a competition where each was topped by the next. At one point, we were all shepherded out of the front door watch a forty-foot container, wrapped in pink ribbon and topped by the biggest bow I had ever seen, being hauled up the sweeping driveway on an articulated truck. The invited gutter press pack loved it! Click, click, click. I noticed a definite wince when Victor was told it was actually empty, followed by a wide smile when it was explained that he was to be the recipient of all the profits from the use of this container from then until it fell apart. It was, as you can tell, a fairly grotesque event.
So, what has all this got to do with corporate behaviour and image? On the one hand, we have a man following what he believes to be all the right rules and trying to build and sustain a really professional image and, on the other hand, we have men behaving badly. We have a company built on accepted ethics, a rational and professional business plan and good corporate thinking, and the other built on the exploitation of outright greed, lust and gambling. One went from zero to hero, and slightly down again to a precarious position, in a relatively short period of time; the other lurched through massive wealth to near bankruptcy to somewhere in between since 1953. Which one has the better chance of survival, and why?
For my money, it’s not so much about all the checks and balances that we put in place to try and protect ourselves, but the conviction and passion we put out there to attract what we want. Therein lies a key that a lot of businesses miss. They don’t understand the difference between corporate image and corporate identity. Corporate identity is the nuts and bolts of the design and appearance of the company. Corporate image is the perception that is generated by the vision, actions, passion and activities of the company. A good corporate identity reflects the image. The bunny does that very well – but only because of its association. Too many companies try to rely on an all-too-often vacuous corporate identity that they hope will impress, without realizing that it’s just the tiny visual tip of a much greater iceberg. That’s when I despair when I see ads for ‘designer wanted for a logo’, which seems to me to be entirely missing the point.
Did you know that, in 1970, Playboy was the first men’s magazine to be printed in Braille? Hugh Hefner really understood that it’s all about the touch and feel.