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The Unmade podcast: Nigel Marsh

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Insights into the media and marketing industry from an Australian perspective, from the founder of Mumbrella and the author of the best selling book Media Unmade, Tim Burrowes
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Welcome to a Thursday edition of Unmade.

Today’s edition features adman, author and podcaster Nigel Marsh, whose latest book Smart, Stupid & Sixty has just been published.

Marsh describes how his new portfolio career took off after a much talked about TEDx presentation in which he channeled his hatred of working in a big advertising job.

‘I haven't got to go into an office and report to an idiot and do moronic stupid things’

Transcript:


Tim Burrowes:
I'm Tim Burrowes and this is Unmade. My guest today is author and once-upon-an-adman, Nigel Marsh, whose new book, Smart, Stupid & Sixty has just been published.

Tim Burrowes:
Nigel's first career was as an advertising executive in the UK, and then Australia. Then he lost his job and found his way into books via the story of his year out from the industry, Fat, Forty & Fired. Nigel later came back to run Leo Burnett in Australia for a while and then Y&R Brands. These days, he keeps at least one foot in the industry via the medium of podcasting, but we'll come onto that.

Tim Burrowes:
Now, Nigel, I was watching a video this morning in preparation for this. It was shot exactly 10 years ago this week, as far as I can work out. It features you and I in the Mumbrella studio talking about your follow up book then, Fit, Fifty & Fired Up. So tell me everything that's happened since then, leaving out no detail, no matter how small.

Nigel Marsh:
I watched that because you sent it to me, but it's quite nice that you ... I mean, I didn't plan to do a personal Seven Up series, but that is what I have fallen into, Ten Up and it's not on TV, it's published by Penguin.

Nigel Marsh:
So it was actually quite sweet of you to send that clip because I mean, that reminds me whatever I was crapping on about 10 years ago. And hopefully, in 10 years' time, I'll look back on this interview when I'm 70 publishing Senile, Slim & Seventy and see what I said at 60. I mean, I know you were joking in your question, but bloody hell, a lot has happened since then, and happy to answer questions on any of it.

Tim Burrowes:
And there is a lot we can and will dig into. One of the things I think back to around that time was, I guess, that was about the point when really it was becoming clear that probably the advertising industry was mostly in your rear view mirror and it's going to be and it is a portfolio career, but speaking was becoming an increasing part of it.

Tim Burrowes:
The other thing I found myself thinking about was what looked to me like one of those game changing moments for your career, was your TEDx Sydney talk, which I think was 2011, which again, I just watched back in preparation for our conversation.

Tim Burrowes:
Now funnily enough, watching the video, I can actually see myself sitting in the front row, so I am starting to feel a bit like Forrest Gump popping up to witness key moments in your career, but it was a much talked about presentation.

Nigel Marsh (audio clip):
Certain job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged on a day-to-day basis with a young family.

Now the first step in solving any problem, is acknowledging the reality of the situation you're in.

And the reality of the society that we are in, is there are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don't need to impress people they don't like.

It's my contention that going to work on a Friday in jeans and T-shirt isn't really getting to the nub of the issue.

Tim Burrowes:
So Nigel, tell me about how you turned that TEDx opportunity into something that became so big for you because there was obviously a lot of preparation just to get you onto that stage.

Nigel Marsh:
Yeah. I mean, it's a lovely story. There's a chap, you probably know Remo. I don't know if you know Remo?

Tim Burrowes:
I do. Yeah. Remo … Giuffré. I struggle with the pronunciation.

Nigel Marsh:
So, Remo was a dad at the school, the public school, government public school where my kids went to, and he asked me if I would do a TED speech. And I said, told him a fee. And he said, "Oh no, it's for free." And I said, "Well, why the hell would I do that? I mean, no, I never heard of TED." And then he said, "Oh no, you should think about it. It's a big thing," blah, blah. So I said, "Oh, okay mate." And then I looked at TED, which then, I mean, I think it's been a bit personally, without no offence to anyone, I think it's a little bit watered down now, but anyway. I looked at it, and this is ages ago, then and I called him back and said, "You got the wrong bloke." I mean, it was all President Clinton, Bill Gates or whatever. I go, "What an earth do you want me for?"

Nigel Marsh:
Anyway, so I was talked into it. And they were, it was run by a lovely lady who used to work for the ABC and think they were after all these rehearsals and send a speech, and I politely refused and said, "I'm just going to turn up." "And have you got a presentation?" "No," and all that. I'm just going to turn up and talk from the heart for 10 minutes. And I was obviously talking about myself, but I couldn't admit it because I was in a big job then.

Nigel Marsh:
So I just did it sort of as a favour, because I was asked and I fell into it and I had no plan whatsoever for it, apart from to get through to the end of the 10 minutes, hopefully without making a fool of myself. And then at the end of it, I also had no plan. I didn't do anything. I mean, I just, gosh, I've done a TED speech and I've got away with it. And Tim Burrowes was in the audience, as was Malcolm Turnbull.

Nigel Marsh:
But then it went ... I get bored of those people who say, "Oh gosh, it went viral." But maybe, whatever, I don't know what it is now, six million people have seen it, which is quite a lot.

Tim Burrowes:
I think you're up to, yeah, certainly really high numbers. Yeah.

Nigel Marsh:
So, I didn't do anything apart from do the speech. And that actually goes to something which is a core part of all three of my decade books is the having a philosophy of the passionate dedication to a short term goal. And it's the opposite of what many people, and I'm happy for everyone to do whatever they want. But for me, is you do hear some people say, "Oh, have a dream, follow your passion," whatever it might be. Whereas my advice for myself is just focusing on whatever you are currently doing. It could be talking to you. It could be doing a podcast interview. It could be writing a book or doing a TED speech. Do it to the very, very best of your loving authentic ability. And then whatever will happen, will happen.

Nigel Marsh:
So that's what I did with the TED speech. And then what subsequently happened is if you are a speaking client or a conference organiser, or indeed someone who works for a large company who's tasked with finding speakers, well, there aren't that many people in that sort of space whose speech has been seen by millions of people that is sort of relevant to a business-y audience. Anyway. So yeah, it catapulted me into a different area in terms of speaker, because I was no longer just CEO of Leo Burnett. I was CEO of Leo Burnett and TED speaker.

Tim Burrowes:
And one of the things that does strike me is, and maybe you are doing yourself a bit of a disservice was, it was incredibly well presented in the, as I say, I watched it again recently. The way you had, and I guess this is as you know, I'm sure you were even an experienced speaker then, but the way you're able to use pauses and emphasis, all the things that people on a big stage like that for the first time maybe get a bit nervous about and kind of rush through. So I wonder, sure, you are sort of saying, "Ah, no, I just busted it to a certain extent." It feels like it was quite rehearsed to me.

Nigel Marsh:
Yeah. I think there's two separate issues. And all of that bunny that I've just said is about me having a masterplan around how to leverage it. And there wasn't one. There was naught, nothing, I'm just going to do it.

Nigel Marsh:
The answer to the question that you've just clarified is did I just stand up and pull it out of my ass? No way! I was petrified, and I rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. And if you look at, I mean, there are different sort of, I think, I don't know Chinese versions, American versions, but one version of the film, when I say, "Goodnight, thank you," it goes from 9 minutes 59 seconds to 10, the digital clock clicks over to cue applause on the second of the time that he ... not 10 seconds over or under. So it was, I'm proud of that speech because I meant every word of it and I think it's helped a few people, but holy crap, it would be entirely disingenuous to suggest that I did anything other than practice and rehearse and practice and rehearse. Yeah.

Tim Burrowes:
I do wonder actually. I think there are a bunch of people in our industry, but probably many industries who make things look effortless by quietly rehearsing really hard. I remember talking to Jules Lund and him saying that if ever he was doing something like on the red carpet or something, and he'd be doing the cross and he'd seem to be effortlessly bantering with the celebrities and they came and passed, he'd rehearsed and practiced it all beforehand and thought what he was going to say and where it might go and all of those things. So I think sometimes, I don't know if this is maybe an industry which actually is a really great industry for the successful people actually hiding some of the work that goes into it.

Nigel Marsh:
Yeah. Do you know what? Because what we all ... What we all ... What is incredibly appealing and impressive is people who ... I saw Wil Anderson because I interviewed on my podcast and too, in preparation for seeing him, I booked tickets to his most recent show before my interview. And that was “What are you talking about Wil” or something it was called, but it literally is him just doing improv. He's got lots of different shows, but this show is he walks on and says “hello” and he will point at you in the audience and say, "Mate, what do you do? What's your name?" You'll say, "Tim, I'm a journalist," and then off he'll go. Right, and that is a skill that is extraordinarily rare and extraordinarily impressive ...

Nigel Marsh:
And I think, some people, because we are sort of on the... We, I'm not in the industry anymore. Because the industry is sort of on the shoulders of showbiz. I think, there are some people who would like to pretend that they can command a crowd and blah, blah, blah, without any preparation. They can go, "Oh, Nige, we just want you to do 10 funny, inspirational minutes." You go, "Well, I can't." I'm not that clever. Maybe Steve Martin can, or Wil Anderson, but Nigel Marsh can't. I can prepare a good speech, and if you... Last night, Osher Gunsberg, at my book launch, was doing a... He was so generous and sweet. He said, "No, don't write a speech Nigel." And I'm not going to write speech. "I'm just going to talk to you."

Nigel Marsh:
And then, so he has to... Like what you and I are doing now. We're just downing questions, so I haven't prepared anything because I don't know what you're going to ask me and that's the best way. So, there's a lovely, sweet spot I find whether it is in my speeches, interviews, I did little with comedy once, blah, whatever, is, if you know your topics authentically, properly, by heart because you've honed them, then that's a beautiful place to be because you can relax. And so, if I said to you, "Oh, Tim, tell me the story about when your granny fell over in the laundry." You know that story. You haven't got to be word perfect, as long as you know the grounding in the laundry story. And if you've got 10 of those, you don't really... You can turn up and say, "Which one do you want to hear about?" And it looks like it's ad lib. Have you heard the story about Boris Johnson?

Tim Burrowes:
Yes, I have. The one where he turns up at the awards ceremony and he's all bumbling and he just scribbles on the napkin and everything's, gosh it’s amazing. And then, he turns up again at something else two weeks later and goes through exactly the same performance.

Nigel Marsh:
I'm so glad you've heard because that goes to my... I mean, I hopefully wouldn't try and pretend like that, but that goes to the heart of what I'm saying, okay? Well, he's got whatever 25 gags and stories in his back pocket and he's turning up pretending he's bumbling, but he isn't. He's incredibly well-prepared. But there are some people, not many in advertising, who have got that gift where they can... I think, actually politicians. You’ve got to be… If you are really an inspirational, good lead... A JFK, a Churchill, even though those people did prepare. You spend your life having to do speeches on the hop.

Tim Burrowes:
And I guess you develop a muscle memory for it as you go along as well. Now, you do touch a little bit in the book on a couple of your less successful speaking engagement moments. So, what are your worst experiences in speaking gigs?

Nigel Marsh:
Oh, no. Mate, you're going to make me cry. I mean, there's one. Do you mind me telling you this story? Oh God, I can see it now. Because I write about sex in my books, and I swear and all that stuff. I'm a professional bloke, so I'm very sensitive to my audience, I don’t want to upset them, so I'm not going to talk about wanking or swearing or whatever. Why would I? It's a business audience. I'll talk about effective leadership. So, it's rare if you get a brief where they say, "We want blue material, we want you to” ... This is a car dealership conference in Fiji, not a Fijian car company. An Australian car company who's been flown to Fiji and you are closing the conference. “They're all going to be pissed. So, mate, go for your life."

Nigel Marsh:
So, I used it. I got all that material I've cut out over my career. This is my chance to be Jerry Sadowitz. It’s all going to be… I'm going to tell all those stories. And they were saying, "You know, it's more entertainment than a speech. Just go for your life." So, I had the most revolting, offensive blue speech I've ever written, and as I was about to step on stage, the... Long story short, they ushered in about between, I don't know, 30 and 50 eight to 10 year-old Christian children. Boys and girls to sit on the floor in front of the stage because at the end of my speech, they were, as a honour to the Australian car company, they were going to sing the national anthem.

Nigel Marsh:
So, mate, I have got 60 minutes of shagging gags and whatever else, and I'm looking at these innocent kids. And I still wake up at night, like Edvard Munch’s The Scream remembering that. And you just go, "What are you going to do?" I mean, they got dry ice, they've got music, I'm ushered onto stage, and there are the kids.

Tim Burrowes:
Yes, that's the stuff of nightmares indeed. Now, I guess one of the... You have explored this in a couple of the books that the attractions of working in an executive role in the industry is the security it brings. I imagine, particularly the first months of the pandemic couldn't have been great for you and your finances.

Nigel Marsh:
No. I don't want any sympathy, but it was a disaster. I mean the one thing that ain't going to happen in lockdown is large groups of people getting together to have a conference. So, yeah, my speaking work disappeared. And then, in drips and drabs, it came back in virtual ways, doing Zoom and all those things. But ironically, the podcast, which is another leg of what I do, that, they were defined as a, I did it with a large media company, as an essential service.

Tim Burrowes:
Mm-hmm. We'll come onto the podcast in a minute if that's all right. And then, I guess, the other thing I found myself sort of wondering about, reading the book, was that question of... It feels like now... Maybe when we... I last formally interviewed you 10 years ago, you were sort of beginning to walk away from agencies. My read is that you are done with big agencies now. Now, you did go again with The Leading Edge, but you mentioned in the book that it's been a year since anyone's called.

Nigel Marsh:
You are talking to yesterday's man. Yeah. Although, funnily, I am... Do you know a thing called the Effies?

Tim Burrowes:
Yes. Yes, yes. Yeah, organised by the advertising council, the Effectiveness Awards.

Nigel Marsh:
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I'm judging the Effies. I mean, me and the whole host of others. I'm judging the Effies in... Well, now, actually I've got all the cases behind me.

Tim Burrowes:
Well, that rarest of things, I suppose. Somebody who knows the world of advertising, but is also now neutral.

Nigel Marsh:
Yeah, 100%. God. Holy crap. I mean, this is... Gosh, I had to choose my words carefully. They, some of them can be head-spinningly unimpressive. So, the ones that have some clarity of thought and actually, insight... It's like eating ice cream. You go wow, but it's not in the majority. And some people entering things where you go, "This is so shudderingly obvious and pedestrian, why would you..." Anyway. But it's quite fun because I like the... If I say intellectual, it sounds pretentious. Forget the politics, I like the intellectual side of creativity in advertising brands and business and strategy. I find that stuff, when it's done well, really fascinating. Now, I forgot your question. Yes. So, I-

Tim Burrowes:
The question was, have we got to the never again stage of a big, let's say CEO role for a big agency group?

Nigel Marsh:
Well, so my wife might listen to this, so I'm going to have to wink at you because I'm going to say, "Never say never" and I'm winking now. Yes, I think we have. I mean, for me, being involved... As a project, I get hired as consultancy, or with West 82nd, or judging things, or being asked is fine, but going in five, six, seven days a week at 12, 14, 16 hours a day, and coping, and dealing with the stuff that you very well know an agency CEO, or you know, it needn’t be the CEO, but someone working in the trenches in advertising, you go, I would rather lick the pavement outside a public lavatory than do that again. But I'll do whatever it is to support my family, but my kids have left home, mate, so I might have got to the finish line. Then, there are some people... Oh God, maybe even some people listening to this. But there's some people who I have to be very careful how I explain where my current...

Nigel Marsh:
I mean, I haven't got any money. I haven't got any pension and we're going to have to sell the house to afford to be old and all that stuff, but I haven't got to go into an office and report to an idiot and do moronic stupid things that I think I shouldn't be doing to pay for school fees or a mortgage. So, if it came to I had to earn a certain amount of money to afford bread, I would like to think that running an advertising agency would be at the bottom of the fifth page of options.

Tim Burrowes:
And I suppose some of the irony of that is you observed, I think, maybe one of the books or maybe one of your speeches, one of the kind of hardest times to be in that sort of role is when you have a young family. So, there is a kind of irony that you've probably got the experience and the life space now to maybe do it better than you would've done it then.

Nigel Marsh:
Do you know mate? It's so nice to talk to you because you are right, and that is... I mean that's life, really? I think I'm going to be a sensational granddad if I'm ever a granddad. You go, "Well, how rubbish is that?" I've learned with my kids by making all the mistakes. I've had four dry runs. So then, when I'm presented with a little nine-year old, nine month year old toddler, well, I mean I'm match fit, I've done it. So, you are right. It's if you could not have the moronic pressure, and the politics, and all that stuff.

Nigel Marsh:
In terms of the thinking, if I was a... And I'm not sure who your audience is, but if I was a large company senior person who was buying proper advice on my marketing communications, I would go to the grey beard. Now, I'm not saying that because I've got a grey beard. I’m not available, not me, but somebody else.

Nigel Marsh:
I would rather talk to David Abbot or Matthew Melhuish or someone, how you describe me for the FBs, who hasn't got skin in the game, is trying to win in the pitch or undermine someone, who's just interested in the question that you ... How do we sell more of these cars or whatever it might be, and you think, "Wow, they've got 40 years of experience of dealing with this stuff." I'd far rather talk than the enthusiastic, energetic, ambitious young buck, the 29-year-old who probably runs your account.

Tim Burrowes:
Hey, look, I guess it's a bit like this week we've seen the news that Mike Wilson is coming back to be the Sydney chairman of ... or chairperson. I'm not sure whether he's gone for the exact title of the media agency Hatched. So I guess that's a good example of the grey beard coming back.

Nigel Marsh:
I love the fact that you ... I think he is fabulous and that is the precise example. You go ... I don't know the first thing about Hatched, but they're very clever because why wouldn't you want Mike? I mean, why wouldn't you want him to be advising clients on stuff that he's clearly an expert and seen it all? I mean, that's a sensational idea. As long as you can afford him, as long as he wants to do it.

Tim Burrowes:
And I suppose speaking of grey beard wisdom, you do have a consultancy in West 82nd.

Nigel Marsh:
Yeah. And that's fantastic, with my dear friend, Chrissy Blackburn and that, but we do that, work with people who I want to work with on things that I want to work on. And it's a real ... without having tickets on yourself, it's a real privilege to be able to say, "Well, I don't really want to run around begging for business from people." But if someone is of a mind that they think Chrissy and I could help, and we've done a few things in our career, then if you pay us the right amount of money, we'll give you a point of view.

Tim Burrowes:
Well, let's say you've touched on it already. Let's talk about the podcast Five of My Life. Why do you do it?

Nigel Marsh:
God, I don't know. I don't know. Who is going to listen to this? But I do like you, Tim, so I'm going to tell you the truth and then I'm going to trust you to edit it out if I sound like a total wanker. So it's selfish really, so I'll answer two answers. So honestly, the first is my selfish reason, which is the primary one, is as we get old ... and my book is about the third trimester and making the most of the last years of your life and we're all heading to the hole in the ground, and you and I have got 20, 30 summers left, so how are you going to fill them? And what can happen is your interests contract and get a bit narrower. So my record taste is stuck in the '80s. I've been to see The Smyths with my son, The Smiths tribute band. I've seen The Smiths live four times and The Smyths live once.

Tim Burrowes:
At least The Smyths don't have Morrissey as a member so they're less problematic, I suppose.

Nigel Marsh:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. They're more acceptable politically, but they have a bloke pretending to be Morrissey. So what was it ... and on a serious point is you can, your friends, your interests, your everything can contract. So you like, I don't know, blues, so you listen to blues. You like this type of book, so there's ... your friends and everything. So for me, the notion of talking to different people, completely different people, I've done Julia Gillard and Albanese, but I've done John Eales and Layne Beachley. I've done rabbis and ... so complete diverse people. So I'll meet diverse people who I wouldn't meet in my normal social career, social life, but I'll ask them questions around their cultural interests, films, books, and songs. And then I go and read the books and I watch the film and I listen to the song.

Nigel Marsh:
So what has happened, long answer to your question, is it has exploded my interest and my network. At an age where most people's gets narrower, mine has exploded in a way that it never has in the previous 60 years. I have read 90 books I would never have read. I have seen 90 films. So selfishly, it keeps me interested and whatever, but the second personal reason before I get on to the other one, which is what I'll tell another interviewer, but you are so good and nice that I'm telling you, I'm trying to be less of a judgmental cock where I might interview people where secretly I think, "Ugh." I'm mentally rolling my eyes. "You think you're bloody clever. You're some idiotic actor," or whatever. I mean, they're all lovely ... but as in, in the past, I would be the ... or maybe I'd write off some advertising executive as some hollow suit, right?

Nigel Marsh:
And you go, "Nige, wind your neck in, look for the best in everyone because you haven't got to marry them or live with them, or even go to dinner with them. You have to interview them for half an hour and try and get the very best out of them. Look for the good in them." And I used to go to the Quakers and everyone's got a bit of good/God in them. And you go, "That's quite a useful character building project for Nigel Marsh, Inc." And it's making me a better man. Anyway, so that's the true selfish answer. And then the other answer, which is also true, but not the primary thing, and it's proving to work, I think I've got the ... hold on. I've got the old podcast award.

Tim Burrowes:
For those listening, Nigel is currently holding up a trophy to the camera that I can see.

Nigel Marsh:
Momentarily forgetting this is not being filmed. I would like to ... God, this sounds so pretentious, to secretly entertain, elevate, and educate. And I take that very, very seriously. So, and it's in that order. So I'd like people, if you're flying from Hobart to Sydney and you listen to an episode of Five of My Life, to think, "Oh, that was interesting. That was fun. That was better than staring out the window or reading a book," but I'd also secretly under the radar like people to go, "Oh, Tim talked about his football club and that was quite interesting. I'm going to investigate more about that," or ...

Nigel Marsh:
So if there's one thing, it could be learning more about the guest or one of the guest's choices that in some way motivates, interests and inspires you or helps you, then that's the package that I ... I don't want to do an instructional one. I don't want to do a self-help one, but I'd really like people, "Oh, I listened to Commando Steve. Oh, he was hilarious when he talked about X, Y, and Z. Oh, and Thich Nhat Hanh, that Buddhist monk, I went off and Googled him," and I go, "Brilliant." You know, I'm not trying to be Shakespeare or Joe Rogan. I just would like half an hour of people going, "Oh, that was quite nice. I like listening to Russell Howcroft or whatever”.

Tim Burrowes:
And you sort of touched on that world of self-improvement, something I found myself thinking about a bit in the book, and this is a half-formed thought, this wasn't a question I made a note to, but you reminded me of it, was you come across in the book as being incredibly self-aware, and it feels like you've sort of beaten all of the arsehole out of yourself. Surely nobody can be as nice as you come across in the book now?

Nigel Marsh:
Wow. Wow. Because it's only been published yesterday so .... how interesting, beaten the arsehole out of myself. Well, I don't know. I mean that's why I put ... it was very important to me to have the word stupid in the title. And there was some people who ... lovely, who I respect, who wanted three positive words, so smart ... I mean, I'm embarrassed to even say this, but smart, sexy, and 60, or smart, slim and 60 or smart, sober and 60, make them up, three positive ... and because I think I like the power of paradox. I mean, I like to think I'm a nice man and all those things, but I like to think I've got a few ... I wouldn't put the word smart in if I thought I was a total idiot, but we are all flawed.

Nigel Marsh:
So I mean, hopefully I'm improving as the years go on, but I would imagine you are more intelligent and empathetic than you were as a 20-year-old, but you have your moments. I imagine you embarrass yourself and you have regrets, and there are things you don't know and mistakes you make. And one of my messages is ... not that I've got messages, but to you, one of my messages is, it's brilliant that there's still learning and improvement ahead. I mean, how boring would life be if you were the perfect interviewer or the perfect journalist, or you never made any mistakes or you couldn't be a better husband or a better father?

Nigel Marsh:
Without wanting to be on toxic positivity and self-improvement, it is, yeah, I mean ... gosh, what an interesting question it is. I don't know how I come across in the book. I mean, I just wrote it. So you might not be representative. There might be, hopefully, tens of thousands of people who read it who will go, "What a cock." And if they say, "Oh, isn't he a nice chap," well, I mean, I'll let you know in a few months' time.

Tim Burrowes:
And what's your view on the place in life of therapy and therapists?

Nigel Marsh:
Ah, well, do you know a lady called Nancy Kline who wrote Time to Think?

Tim Burrowes:
No, no, I don't.

Nigel Marsh:
Anyway, it changed my life, but it is about the power of being listened to properly and listening to other people properly. And through that and conversations I've had, I'm interviewing her on the podcast in a few weeks. It's sort of because that's what ... from an arm's length amateur point of view, that's what sort of therapists do largely. So I early on would be very sniffy, from a completely ignorant point of view, and think it's just people being paid to say, "So Tim, you're feeling angry. Hmm. Tell me about how you're feeling," and thinking, "Buddy. I could do that. A dog could do that. What's the value in that? Give me some answers, you prick." I've never had therapy, but I am probably the person most in need of it walking this planet. And my philosophy has been ... which is terrifying, it is terrifying, is I am a fan of Pandora's box, but-

Nigel Marsh:
locked. I'm going, there's two ways of dealing with Pandora's box. One is opening it and sorting out all your issues. Haven't got the time. Haven't got time to be doing that.

Nigel Marsh:
My attitude is buy three or four more padlocks and lock that lid nicely closed and then get on with Tuesday and Wednesday. So, I'm not sure if that answers your question is I think good therapists, I mean, like good advertising agency. I mean, bad therapist is just a waste of bloody time talking mumbo jumbo, mung bean bullshit. But I imagine good therapists are just sensational. And if you get in early enough and you can afford it. Do you do therapy?

Tim Burrowes:
I have done it, yes. Yes. And not because of a particular crisis or anything, but because yeah, it struck me that if you get to the age of 50, then it's probably about time that you have a few things to understand better.

Tim Burrowes:
Yeah. I agree with you that I think, yeah, good therapy is good. And I suppose I find myself wondering, because there's a part in the book where you talk about finally biting the bullet and getting your hearing checked and getting a hearing aid. It feels to me like maybe the therapy journey is for the next book.

Nigel Marsh:
Ah. And so what I will do, which when you spoke to me 10 years ago, formally on that, when we both looked like little school kids. And said, "Will you write a 70 book?" I go, "What are you talking about, Tim? I'm 50. Of course I won't. I don't know." But now I'm actually committed. I'm going to write a 70, 89. Yeah. Long as I live, I'll write 101 if I'm still life. What an interesting question. I mean, I'm terrified to do that. I'm terrified to do that, but it's a possibility.

Tim Burrowes:
Interesting.

Nigel Marsh:
What's there? There's a brilliant type book title. I mean, it's a serious upsetting book, but it's a brilliant book title, where I think it's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, but in it, the mother says to the daughter who is struggling with being gay and coming out, this brilliant line, which she says... What was it? "Why be happy when you could be normal?"

Nigel Marsh:
And you go, "No, that's the wrong way round." But this is just terrible. The mother going, "Oh my God, I'd rather you were miserable for the next 80 years of your life," so you can go back to it. But a watered down version of that is, I, touching wood, at the moment and again, don't tell anybody, I am, with lots of challenges and flaws and whatever else, I am ecstatically, orgasmically fucking happy with my lot.

Nigel Marsh:
Everyone else in my area's got more money than me and blah, blah. And I'm yesterday's man. And no one, a head-hunter hasn't called for 100 years and all. Please, don't take this as smug self-satisfied, but I'm really, really happy with the challenges ahead of me. And I work on things.

Nigel Marsh:
What's the phrase I said to somebody once? Is, "I'd like to be paid well to work part-time doing things that I love." And don't tell anyone that's what I'm doing. Yeah. And I'm married to who I want to be married to. And I'm going to Smyth's concerts with my children and I swim at the beach.

Nigel Marsh:
I would be terrified of blowing it all up. "Nigel, with some of the things that have gone on in your life, you should be more miserable." And you go, "No, no, no, no, no, no. Don't tell me that."

Tim Burrowes:
Intriguing. No, I think one day we might revisit this conversation. Now obviously, it's an audience, which I guess is at least marketing adjacent. What are the marketing lessons of the title of your book that wasn't in the series?

Nigel Marsh:
Ah. Oh, yes. Observations of a Very Short... Are you dissing my title choice skills? Because I -

Tim Burrowes:
When I was doing my research, I get the impression that it started, the book I was holding up on camera is Observations of a Very Short Man. But as far as I can tell, it was then reissued under another name a little bit later, which makes me think there must have been a marketing story there.

Nigel Marsh:
Yeah. Well, so do you know that the free Hoover fiasco story?

Tim Burrowes:
This was in the UK where people were promising free flights every time you bought a Hoover.

Nigel Marsh:
I worked on that. I did the advertising for that. There you go. I've been involved in the two biggest marketing disasters that humanity has ever seen. One, I mean, it wasn't my idea, the Hoover thing, we were just a little ad agency. I witnessed it, like being in the audience for the Will Smith slap. I was-

Tim Burrowes:
It was one of the great British scandals, wasn't it? I can still remember, the consumer affairs show “Watchdog” sent in undercover reporters, didn't they, to see how your client was trying to dodge giving away the flights.

Nigel Marsh:
And trust me, they were. Anyway, that is a rolled-gold disaster. Almost matched by my rolled-gold disaster of choosing the title of my second book, which comes from a sweet story with my younger son who had to write a Father's Day card to me at school. And everyone else said, "My daddy's my hero, or my daddy is my best friend." And Harry wrote, "My daddy's a very short man," the little fucker.

Nigel Marsh:
The only anything he could think about was I'm short. Anyway, I made it the title of my book. And the truth is, I love that book, but people would walk past it in a bookshop. And unless you had an interest in the thoughts of a very short man and why would you? What an incredibly boring thing to... Well, you wouldn't pick it up. You'd just walk past. If you did have an interest in the thoughts of a short man, well, I'm not that short and the book isn't about that anyway. I mean, it couldn't have been a worse title.

Nigel Marsh:
The publisher said, "Your first book, Fat, Forty & Fired, sold quite well. That was the best seller. Is why isn't the second one selling as well as we thought? And it's because you're an idiot, Marsh. You've given it the wrong title." So we retitled. I came up with Overworked and Underlaid, which it's a good title, but chat to my wife. I mean, it's not without...

Nigel Marsh:
Yeah. I mean, although I'm actually, I don't know. I didn't like the title Fit, Fifty & Fired Up because it sounds a bit smug and anyway. But I really, really like Smart, Stupid & Sixty because I'm proud to own it and it talks to the power of paradox and all those things. Yeah. Thank you for raising my worst title, mate.

Tim Burrowes:
Well, that is a good point to leave it with, a mention of the book. Once again, Nigel Marsh's book is called Smart, Stupid & Sixty. It's out now. Nigel, thank you very much for your time.

Nigel Marsh:
No, thank you, Tim.

Tim Burrowes:
Today's podcast was produced with the usual enthusiastic support of Abe's Audio. More soon. Toodle pip.

Speaker 1:
Unmade.

Speaker 2:
Podcast edit by Abe's Audio.


Audio production on Media Unmade was courtesy of Abe’s Audio, the people to talk to about voiceovers and sound design for corporate videos, digital content, commercials and podcasts.

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