CEOs called Elizabeth, risky strategies, and how to get lucky

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Giles Edwards is Creative Director and Founder of marketing agency…Gasp!, creator of ISOLATED Talks, and host of the UK's top 5 marketing podcasts, Call To Action. He's also dad to two much more likeable humans, and to quote Professor Mark Ritson, “a bit of a tit”. He mentors for several organisations, including Adweek and Beyond Barriers, and once made the front page of Jawa Pos (one of the leading newspapers in Indonesia) for cheating in a test, joined Mensa to win a bet (and prove he could), and was described by his best friend as the “kind of man who would own a gazebo”. A new low.

Biggest fuck up

I have a few very big ones, but I think for legal reasons, I shouldn’t share sadly. As much as I’d like to, two are big orgs bullying us, c’est la vie.

I made a large quantity of smaller, less interesting fuck ups during my early years prior to starting …Gasp!. Rather than one or two atomic fuck ups. Though I firmly believe it’s better to make mistakes than not (more on that later).

That said, we made the mistake of using a new fulfilment house to personalise an important piece of direct mail in our first years of running the agency; a client invitation that went out to approx 1000 C-Suite targets inviting them to an event. The artwork file had used the name Elizabeth as a placeholder, and all 1000 were sent out with “Dear Elizabeth” front and centre.

Needless to say, none of the recipients were even called Elizabeth so all 1000 were wrong. Clearly, it was too late to fix, but we quite quickly realised via their sales team, who were doing the follow-ups, that the effects were almost entirely positive.

“Big wig CEOs” certainly remember being called the wrong name, so recall was incredibly high, and actually, they were so keen to tell our client of their idiotic error that an unprecedented number of calls were taken.

There are various things to take from this, I suppose, not least how difficult it is to predict behaviour. At no stage ahead of sending this would we have suggested intentionally calling the recipient by the wrong name, but it was indisputably one of their most successful invitations for several years of similar outreach.

The key lesson is how important it is to stand out, whether via luck, accident or any other means.


Too many things. And given I’m not allowed an endless, erratic rant, I’ve gone with one that is at least helpful to share.

Which is that many businesses think there is a correlation between creativity and risk. As if they have to come as a pair.

The truth is the riskiest strategy is sameness. It’s looking and sounding like everyone else in your industry. Doing the same thing everyone else is.

Yet there’s a perception and understandable feeling of safety via majority and mass. It’s cosy. Whereas (everything else being relative, and put simply) the more you stand out, the more distinctive you are, the more salience you enjoy, the more successful you will be.

The really risky fuckers are the ones who churn out the same dull as everyone else. They’re risking it all. Lunatics.

Useful advice

This is aimed at everyone, regardless of industry: Do more, try more, but most importantly, fail more.

The more you try and the more you fail, the more likely you are to succeed. People often give up when they fail, so you’re immediately at an advantage if they do.

Equally, the more you try, the more you maximise your chance to get lucky. Luck plays such a significant role in so many successes we see around us, yet it seems somehow disingenuous or deceitful, so we find ourselves looking for rational reasons instead.

Life is too short. Get lucky. 

The other, if I can sneak one more in, is aimed at agencies. Agency owners in particular. You are a B2B business. So, all that great advice you preach to your clients applies to you too. Act accordingly. A hat tip to the brilliant Gillian Rightford for that gem.


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