About Jon Higgins

Jon Higgins is responsible for Ketchum’s offices in Asia, Latin America and Middle East & Africa. In these regions, he is responsible for client stewardship, business development, and new ventures, as well as enhancement of the agency’s global reputation for creativity, innovation, and thought leadership. Jon is a member of Ketchum’s Executive Committee. Prior to assuming this role in 2008, Jon was CEO of Ketchum EMEA, covering offices in the U.K., Germany, France, Spain and Italy, as well as an exclusive network of 20 affiliates. In addition, Jon helped lead the creation, global launch and agency integration of the Ketchum Programming Process (KPP), an ambitious undertaking aimed at leveraging the agency's digital strategy, creative resources and unique culture into a consistent approach to client programming. Jon is based in Washington, D.C. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California.

Author Archive | Jon Higgins

Tea Time?

I’m probably not the first to declare the world is divided into two camps – coffee drinkers and the tea sippers.

My wife is the latter. I am the former.

Coffee, to me, isn’t about taste – it is purely a functional duty. Bracing, bolted down, badda boom and bang – out the door, on with the day, day, day! 

I often observe my wife with her tea cup in the morning – she’s not drinking from it, she’s caressing it.

Tea looks to be all about lingering, savouring, easing … smoothly, gracefully … into the daaaaaaay … Tea, it seems to me, is more about meeting the day and negotiating a proper start to it, versus charging in and confronting it.

Check this out for yourself this summer:

I maintain that tea drinkers step carefully, gingerly into life’s swimming pool. Coffee drinkers? Hell, they cannonball straight into the deep end.

Even the afternoon tea break – a fine English tradition – is a discrete way of slipping out of the moment and then quietly back into it, whereas a coffee break is about refueling, recharging and gearing up for the day’s final grind.

But on an Air China flight to Beijing this morning, I was handed an 8-page Tea Menu that has caused me to rethink everything. Its introduction jolted me like a rich mug of black Colombian, and at the same time, it also gave me pause:

“The tea emits a sweet scent and a degree of warmth, displaying its posture of calmness, reservation, introversion and modesty, providing us with a share of ease and peace of mind in the noise of the city, ( deep breath here) allowing us to enjoy a portion of quietness and comfort in the surge of lives, the change of seasons and the convergence of time and space.”

Dang. Who knew? (And to think my wife has been harbouring this truth from me for all these years.)

Purely as an aid to public health, allow me to now quote from a few of the selections Air China has on offer :

Green Tea

Suitable for busy young people who often use computers with refreshing, cooling digesting, clearing throat, brightening eyes functions

Black Tea

Suitable for weak people with refreshing and enriching the saliva, diuresis, diminish inflammation and anti-bacterium, detoxification functions

Blue Brown Tea

Suitable for the crowd to lose weight and feel irritable, with the functions to prevent occurrence of reactive oxygen and tooth decay, elimination of damage to beauty and health

Preventing an “occurrence of reactive oxygen” seemed like a good idea (chicken sausages for breakfast) but instead, I went for the Jasmine – “full fragrance and stored in a cool place.” 

Supply your own punch line here: _________ 

 

Jon

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Plinth People

Plinth People

Been to Trafalgar Square lately? 

In the northwest corner, on the infamous “empty” fourth plinth, there’s now a stunning work of art called “Ship in a Bottle.”   It’s a replica of “HMS Victory” – the ship in which Admiral Lord Nelson’s scored his decisive naval victory in 1805.  

Trafalgar Square itself stands as something of a civic victory, too. The square was created back in 1840 and ever since it has served as London’s central gathering point. A £25 million redevelopment programme in 2007 put new wind in the sails of a city that cherishes, if not overtly celebrates, freedom of expression.  

“Ship” is truly incredible. The Anglo-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare created all 37 sails from African-style textiles and it is, as branded, indeed encased in a giant glass bottle.  

But for me, nothing tops the fourth plinth quite like last summer’s artwork. 

As Londoners will easily recall, the July 2009 “installation” marked the start of a total of 2,400 individuals who climbed to the top of the plinth to take turns becoming a living work of art.  

The idea was the brainchild of artist Antony Gormley – his work saw one person appear on the Square’s plinth every hour for 100 days. Art specimens ranged from the existentialist humanitarian who did absolutely nothing to the one who dressed as human excrement in a plea for clean drinking water. 

 

 

Is it art? That was the question of the day.  

A columnist (Frank Skinner) from The Times then called it “a living portrait of modern Britain” and endorsed it with a quote I love and all cranky cynics will hate: “One of the worst things that can strike down a human being is the slam-dunk closing of the mind – the idea that one’s opinion of something has been finally formulated and now set in stone. I think opinions should be like Plasticine – always open to reshaping, always having the potential to become something new.”   

In the closing ceremonies, Mayor Johnson said “Over the past 100 days we have witnessed the bold, the beautiful and the bizarre. In the age of X Factor and Guitar Hero, Gormley’s plinthers have quite literally stood alone.” 

I loved the idea of the exhibit and have thought our agency would be for the better if we all took on board and exercised more rigorously the symbol of freedom it represented.    

For nearly a year now, Skinner’s column has been crumpled in a corner of my backpack, but yesterday, on the taxi ride from the airport to my Singapore hotel, I saw a billboard for the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School that neatly captured the essence of the Plinth People: 

“SCGS Talent Programme. From a face in the crowd to the one the crowd faces.”

 

Jon   

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Globish Friends

I must have half a dozen friends who have told me they learned English by watching the American TV sitcom, “Friends.” 


My buddy Akmal from Uzbekistan even has the accent from his favourite character, Joey. (I have to say it was a little odd to hear him say “Hey! Fuggetaboutit!” — perfectly in character, in a street market in downtown Tashkent … but I digress.)


This occurred to me while reading the reviews of what I believe will be the first book I download on my spiffy new Father’s Day present. The book is called “Globish,” by Robert McCrum. Its premise is that English has now become the world’s default language, birthed by non-native English speakers who found they could communicate through an exchange of a basic vocabulary of English words. 


“Globish” (so named by a French former IBM executive) is “overwhelmingly an economic phenomenon,” according to a recent piece in the New Yorker — “(It’s) the language of Singaporean businessmen closing deals with the help of a small arsenal of English words, and of European officials calming financial markets by uttering stock phrases on television.” A review in the International Herald Tribune called Globish ‘”the worldwide dialect of the third millennium” sustained by, McCrum asserts, “the Internet, global marketing, mass consumerism, instant communications, international soccer, and texting and (Mr. McCrum is English) cricket and the legacy of Winston Churchill.”


At dinner in Dubai last week, the new client prospect I was meeting stopped herself in mid-sentence, laughing, no doubt, at the giant question mark hanging over my head. She paused to explain two Arabic words she had been sprinkling liberally into our conversation. She’s an Egyptian and has lived in seven different cities, picking up phrases and languages at every stop. 


I would argue she is also fluent in Globish. “Yanni” means “it means” and “massalan” means “for example,” she explained. 


My friend Hania (MD of Ketchum Raad Middle East) then added, “When you text “yanni” one does so by typing ya3ni. Using certain numbers such as 3 is the new Arabic way to express letters that not do not have an equivalent in English … such as 7 for the heavy Arabic ‘h’ in words like 7abibi [my love] — a very common word in Levant that we use for all! Also 2 for the ‘a’ in the middle of words sounding like ‘a’ in ‘at’.  For example, “Ya 2allah” = “Oh God”, another common phrase used when frustrated or sad. A third word commonly used among Arabs while speaking in English:  “Yalla” for “Come on” or “Let’s go.” This applies mostly to the new generation – it’s like the SMS lingo of LOL, cul8r.


“So — Ya 2allah! 2 hot for pool 2day.  Yalla … I have 2 go 3abibi!”


Confused? Well, take heart. There’s still plenty of room for retro language with the next generation, apparently.  


Yesterday, while watching the World Cup with my England-born daughter, we were whooping it up after a cracker of a goal by Brazil. She turned to me and asked “Hey Dada, what’s the word that Americans use when they’re excited about something?”


“Awesome?” I ventured.


“Yes – that’s it! Awesome!”


 


 

 

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Clods and Sods

 Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be goalies. Especially if you’re English. “Hand of clod”, “All-time goal-keeping howler”, “Rob’s clanger”, a psychologist describing the similar traumatic impact of a road accident.  These were just a handful (sorry) of pronouncements from the UK media after Robert Green, England’s goalie, fumbled a shot and allowed the ball to dribble over the line in the 1-1 draw against the US in the World Cup match Saturday night. A groan? A moan? Whatever it was, it was heard all over the country, all at once.

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Coach Wooden

Coach Wooden

One of the early thrills of my career, more than 25 years ago, still ranks as one of the all-time highlights.

That was the day I got to work with the legendary Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden — without question, the greatest basketball coach ever. (There’s also a good argument to be made that Coach Wooden was the most successful coach of any sport in American history.)

As the most casual fan can tell you, Coach Wooden, who died Friday at 99, won an unprecedented 10 championships in 12 years for UCLA. Since his retirement in 1975, only two universities have even won consecutive titles, making it a virtual certainty this feat will never be duplicated.

As a graduate of crosstown archrival USC, I had never set foot in Pauley Pavilion — Coach Wooden’s stomping ground — until that day in April 1984 when the public relations agency I worked for assigned me to oversee a photo shoot featuring Coach Wooden himself.

The occasion was the McDonald’s High School All-American Basketball Game, a fundraiser for Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities of Southern California. Although Coach Wooden had steadfastly stayed away from the game after his retirement, Wooden was by then a great grandfather and the local charity appealed to him. His beloved wife of 53 years, Nell, was battling cancer, and he did not like to leave her side, but he agreed to serve as the game’s spokesman.

As Media Day approached, our client, the Southern California Owner Operators Association and my agency, Bob Thomas & Associates, knew that having Wooden on board would ensure tremendous media attendance. But we all felt we still needed another news hook to elevate attention on a high school basketball game in Los Angeles, a city that was  — and still is — crazy about its two biggest sporting draws, the Dodgers and the Lakers.

We came up with what I believe to be the first slam dunk contest in the High School All-Star Game’s history. And it was a hit. 

The day’s only hitch — we neglected to mention the slam dunk contest to Coach Wooden. He hated showboating of any kind and did not hide his disdain of the slam dunk, calling it an unnecessary distraction from team play. 

The media in attendance of course pounced on this, and if Coach Wooden was annoyed that day, he didn’t show a hint of it. 

This past weekend, the many reverential stories about Coach Wooden I read all have two things in common — his peerless success on the basketball court and his stature as a gentleman off of it. Can I call it courtliness? 

That’s what it was to me, his gentlemanly manner — his courtliness — that I remember best from that morning at Pauley Pavilion. He smiled constantly, he gracefully and thoughtfully answered every media question, and patiently posed for every picture. 

When I nervously asked the great man to please pose with the High School All-American team and a photo prop — a basketball clipboard with the McDonald’s logo emblazoned across the top of it — Coach Wooden not only politely complied, he drew up an actual play.

It is today preserved in plastic wrap and safely locked away in my storage locker as one of my most prized possessions.

I saw that NFL superstar Peyton Manning counts among his prized possessions a copy of Coach Wooden’s infamous “Pyramid of Success.” The Pyramid is a chart Coach Wooden created that simply outlines his personal code for life. According to a piece in SI.com, “Industriousness and Enthusiasm were its cornerstones; Faith, Patience, Loyalty and Self-control were some of its building blocks. At the top of the pyramid was Competitive Greatness.”

Over the years, there have been countless quotes attributed to Coach Wooden, but in today’s era of hyperconnectedness, fleeting fame and the enduring value of authenticity, this is one of my favorites:

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are. Your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

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9 Minus 11

9 Minus 11

I’ve lived in London long enough to wax, wane (and whinge) about the good old days. Case in point: the Routemaster. Elsewhere it’s known as a double-decker bus, but ask a Londoner about the post box red Routemaster and just watch him stiffen that jaw and blink away, instantly misty-eyed. Routemasters are off the road now — 50 years of service was deemed enough — and now that it’s been a couple of years since mandatory retirement, we’ve all forgotten how grubby, belching and smelly they actually were. What we remember was just how fantastic it was to hop on and off the back platform. Leaping off a moving bus made one feel like an action hero in a business suit . . . and giddy in the thought that this would never be tolerated by health and safety pinheads back in the US. In that first year, I used to take the #11 from the King’s Road in Chelsea to the office, near Liverpool Street station. The #11 is known by locals as The Tour bus, because its route follows some of London’s most famous landmarks — Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the Thames, and St. Paul’s among them. I always made a point of going for an upper deck seat — the ideal being the farthest forward, right hand side as it made for an elevated, unobstructed view. There was nothing better than that seat on a Friday night. But this was a Wednesday, in fact. It was an unusually hot day and I was annoyed the batteries had died in my Sony Discman (this was the pre-iPod era). We were stopped at a light in Chelsea and as I stowed that useless piece of you know what into my briefcase, I looked aimlessly out the window. My eyes eventually rested on the Bentley below, stopped at the light and facing the opposite direction. As the scene slowly slipped into focus, I was jolted into the startling realisation that I was making eye contact with the Queen. Yes, THE Queen. And get this — when she saw me do a double-take — my eyes doing that Homer Simpson popping out bit — she smiled. And then gave me a little wave. I swear. When I told the story in the office the next morning, I described her majesty’s light blue outfit in detail (light blue gloves, light blue hat),  but when I said she smiled — well, let’s just say there were skeptics.


But minutes later, the morning papers were delivered and there she was — on the front page of The Times from the Chelsea Flower Show and just as I saw her the day before — smiling and wearing light blue, including the little blue hat. Boris Johnson, our mayor, has promised an all-new Routemaster will carry passengers by 2011. Memories will take a little longer.  

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Caps to Clicks

Caps to Clicks

Among the movie selections on my flight from London to Lima, Peru were Precious, The Blind Side and Up in the Air.

Not a bad way to describe the current state of the worldwide economy, it occurred to me.

Nevertheless, it’s an incredibly exciting and historic time to be in the public relations profession and that was the gist of my speech this morning to the International Public Relations Association’s World Congress. 

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The Extra 26.2

The Extra 26.2

For 87 years, Ketchum has taken pride in always going the extra mile for our clients.

But 26.2?

Yes, that’s a full marathon. Sally Arnold’s snap decision to go for it – the entire distance – was actually made when all but one entrant had completed last Sunday’s London Marathon.

It was 9pm. It was raining. And she was wearing jeans. (She ditched her soggy ballet flats after Mile 5.)

The runner she was supporting still had more than 15 miles to go.

The series of events that led to this moment were set in motion months earlier when a small group of Ketchum Pleon London colleagues took on the challenge of supporting wounded war veteran Phil Packer.

The former Army Major, paralyzed from the waist down by a rocket attack in Iraq two years ago, was attempting to complete the London marathon, dedicating each mile to a different charity supporting disabled or deprived young people and injured service personnel.

With just one stop for physiotherapy, Packer crossed the finish line in 25 hours and 55 minutes to achieve his target of completing the 26.2 miles in under 26 hours for 26 charities.

The pro bono campaign sought to raise both money and awareness for all of the 26 charities. Due to the efforts of our colleagues in London – namely Suzanne Sinden, Avril Lee and Sally – both goals were achieved.

Wow, were they ever. During the pre-race build-up, double-decker buses and train stations were plastered in posters, the Tower of London blazed with a projection image that ran across the full face of the famous landmark; the story ran everywhere.

Throughout the run, a young support walker from one of 26 charities joined Packer for each one of the 26 miles. And, of course, they were joined by one member of KP London who found herself at Mile 11 on a wet Sunday night with the indefatigable Packer and didn’t want to be left behind.

“There was no way I was not going to see it through,” Sally told us all on Tuesday morning. “The crazy carnage of the photographers trying to get the first shot at the finish line, the media pushing for live interviews… Phil crossing it with those 26 kids around him and the emotion that was felt throughout the hundreds of people there… It’s something I was so proud to be a part of and will never forget.

“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

As Phil himself put it: “It’s about what you can do – not can’t.”

For more information on Phil you can visit www.philpacker.com 

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The Extra 26.2

The Extra 26.2

For 87 years, Ketchum has taken pride in always going the extra mile for our clients. 

But 26.2? 

Yes, that’s a full marathon. Sally Arnold’s snap decision to go for it — the entire distance — was actually made when all but one entrant had completed last Sunday’s London Marathon. 

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Zzzzzzz

It was ten minutes into my 30 minute presentation. I looked up to make eye contact with the senior client and … he was … sound asleep.  Chin on chest, snoring, the head bob. 

The man was Mayor in the Land of Nod.

You can imagine how disconcerting this was.  But it was a boardroom in Tokyo 20+ years ago and I am almost over it now.  Afterward, my Japanese colleagues were quick to explain that this was actually a compliment – if the senior-most client nods off, it means he has confidence in the presenter and his colleagues, who he trusts to make the correct decision.

At least that was the line my new friends were spinning to the naïve American (and I was only too happy to believe it).

All these years later, it turns out my conked out client was on to something.  A recent study from the University of California at Berkeley shows that an afternoon nap can boost a person’s brain power. 

Our friends in Madrid may be able to confirm this – the study also indicated that the afternoon siesta not only contributes to work-life balance, but is “essential if the brain is to take on additional information needed for work or study.”

According to a story in “The Independent,” the study was comprised of 39 healthy volunteers who were divided into two groups (Note to Cal Bears everywhere – 39 is not an even number.)

At noon, both groups took part in a series of demanding learning tests, intended to fatigue a part of the brain called the hippocampus.  (If I recall correctly from the story I just read, the hippocampus is connected to short-term memory.  I think.) 

Anyway, one group was asked to take a 90 minute nap at 2pm, while the other group continued to work away.  At 6pm, the two groups were reconvened.

By golly, don’t you know the group that enjoyed the afternoon nap not only performed better, they actually improved their capacity to learn. 

I don’t know that anyone engaged in gainful employment could ever get away with a 90 minute nap on a regular basis.

But 10 or 15 would be sweet. I have just the presentation for you.

 

Jon

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