In July 1911, the polar explorers Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Henry Bowers and Bill Wilson endured hideous conditions in perpetually dark Antarctica. They were all part of Scott’s ill-fated expedition the following year, which was described in Cherry Garrard’s famous book: “The Worst Journey in the World”. In 1911 they were looking for emperor penguin eggs. Some people do very brave things for very odd reasons.
The free rock climber Alex Hammold scaled the 3000 foot sheer rock El Capitan in Yosemite without ropes, and just the video of him doing this on the huge screen at the Science Museum was terrifying. But he had assessed the risk beforehand - and had done the climb first with ropes. And he didn’t tell his mother till afterwards.
Hassad Akkad was living happily in Damascus teaching English until 2011. Then he was tortured and put into solitary confinement for protesting peacefully against the government, and he knew in 2015 that he had to escape – and film his journey.
It was called the Brave Conference but that wasn’t the only theme to emerge from this fascinating Marketing Society event.
Passion, collaboration, boldness, togetherness, diversity - all emerged as critical subtexts of the day-long conference at London’s Science Museum.
Lyrical Essex poet Hussain Manawer opened up and knocked us off course, with a stirring tale of facing fear, feeling - and then overcoming - negative energy to achieve the overwhelmingly positive. And the sessions that followed explored how we can all be brave enough to do just that.
Hosted by BBC journalist Tina Daheley and introduced by Marketing Society chief executive, Gemma Greaves, it began with psychologist and author Dr Emma Barrett urging people to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Fear in itself is not a bad thing and can perform a useful function, she said, but it can stop us achieving our goals if it is not kept in check.
Once upon a time, you knew where you were, with The Marketing Society. You went along for quality, and quality was what you got. The Annual Conference would be at an establishment venue – somewhere with “Royal” or “British” in the name – and you’d hear object lessons in marketing success from the great and the good: CEOs and CMOs to a man. (Or sometimes a woman, though less often).
Of course, it wasn’t all suits: we had celebrity chefs, polar explorers, Olympic athletes and other successful public figures. But even then, it all seemed a bit powerpoint.
Please don’t misunderstand. We all enjoyed this. We learned a lot and we liked our annual chat with old friends.
And don’t get me wrong, this author for one has a huge respect for the former management team who transformed the Society from an insolvent not-for-profit, into a network of global leaders.
But all good things come to a new beginning. And the Marketing Society most certainly has.
Who wouldn’t want to be inspired? Invigorated, positive, motivated, uplifted. These are just some of the words that typically come to mind when we think about inspiration. And I’m delighted to say that I came away from this year’s conference feeling all of these emotions. The extraordinary stories and insights shared by a fascinating range of speakers were a genuine treat to experience.
Yet what also struck me was how many of the speakers themselves talked about very different emotions. From Min Kym and the loss of her treasured violin, to Mark Thompson handling Trump’s onslaught on the so-called “failing” New York Times. From the dreadful torment suffered by Syrian refugee and film-maker Hassan Akkad, to the shattered shoulder of Garrett McNamara, the world record-holding surfer. The words that best describe their experiences are very different in tone – testing, painful, daunting, frightening.
Big wave riders, violin virtuosos, refugee film-makers, Saudi lady mountaineers, healthcare pioneers and the odd CMO. Now I expect to find the last lot at a Marketing Society Conference but those first bunch were something of a surprise and a genuine delight.
The title and theme of the 2017 Marketing Society Conference was “Brave” and the speaker programme delivered on this in spades; expertly marshalled by the BBC's Tina Deheley and thoughtfully curated by Gemma Greaves.
I have to confess that I thought yada yada, blah blah when I first saw the title of the conference.