Marjorie Ellis Thompson, CEO C3i, Cause related Marketing and Brand Communications.
Marjorie Thompson has worked in all sectors: private, public, and voluntary or not-for-profit (NGOs) on both sides of the Atlantic.With her colleagues, from an extensive network built after nearly 25 years in Britain working for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Royal College of Nursing, the Commission for Racial Equality, Saatchi & Saatchi and numerous clients in her freelance career, she has a wealth of experience.
1. Why is Changing the World so important for you?
A variety of influences—coming from a medical family where both grandfathers, my dad and all my uncles’ careers had an element of helping people rather than purely making an income. Watching the Sound of Music as a child and then reading a lot of history to try to understand how the Nazis had come to power. The belief that (like the Schlitz beer commercial ‘You only go around once in life’ so that rather than ‘grabbing all the gusto you can’ you try to make a difference. This probably stems from being brought up as a Presbyterian and going to Sunday School for 17 years.
2. What can we all do to help make the world a fairer and more equal world for all that live in it?
Short of actually working in the field of human rights, we can support those who do, try in our own behaviour to ensure that we do not discriminate, persuade the organizations we work for to adopt equality policies and speak out—uncomfortable as it sometimes is—when we see injustice occurring.
3. What has been your greatest achievement to date, either work or non work related?
I would like to believe that in the various organizations for which I have worked—CND, the Royal College of Nursing, the Commission for Racial Equality and Saatchi & Saatchi I have either empowered and given confidence to others to pursue their beliefs and values or (as in the case of S & S) inspired some to go and apply their considerable commercial skill to go and work for good causes! I also think I have an amazing global network of friends and I feel both humbled by and proud of that!
4. What is your hobby if you have one?
I love to read—fiction and history and biography—and in the past three years I have become a devoted fan of the Welsh rugby team! My Jack Russell, Ria de Janeira very spoiled, is also a big part of my life.
5. Are you an activist or a protestor?
I have always described myself as an activist and campaigner.
6. I have recently started to develop my own business—what is your top tip for anyone venturing out on his or her own?
Hold your nerve—and if possible, get a long-term freelance assignment that will provide you with a stable income while you are building your own business!
7. Where is your favourite place in the world?
Probably North Wales—it has everything, beaches and mountains and is not yet too crowded! I also love the West Coast of Ireland (and the California coast where I am from—but the uncrowded bit)
8. Are you proud to be a British national?
Well I hold joint citizenship—an Ethiopian woman sitting next to me in our citizenship ceremony last October thought I had the two most desirable citizenships—American and British. This may be true in many peoples’ eyes but it also makes you one of the first people to be kidnapped or persecuted due to our governments’ activities abroad. The things I am proud of—the Americans putting Conrad Black on trial and considering going after British Aerospace for bribery and corruption—as well as not letting Mark Thatcher in the country due to his activities in Equatorial Guinea—and in Britain a certain amount of tolerance, restraint, Radio 4, the sense of humour are probably not what come to mind for a lot of people.
9. You have worked at some incredible organizations, such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Royal College of Nursing, Commission for Racial Equality and Saatchi & Saatchi. How do you keep focus on your individual aims and goals for each organization’s needs whilst being part of a team?
In CND, the RCN and the CRE I worked to committees, which had great people on them—Jane Oberman at CND was my first Parliamentary and Elections Committee Linkperson, followed by Neville Pressley. In the RCN I worked with Sylvia Denton and her breast care nurse’s executive as well as Peter Boylan, Graham Moore, Carol Smith, Jean Hale and Eirlys Warrington of the HIV/Aids nurses. At the CRE I had the amazing Michael Hastings as chair of the Public Relations Group. All of these people valued my input and advice, and I respected them. At Saatchi’s I worked to Vice Chairman (now Director General of the Institute for Practitioners in Advertising) Hamish Pringle. His influence—due to the book we co-authored and his ‘Pollyanna Pringle’ very upbeat approach to life have had a huge influence on me.
It was harder being the Chair of CND. I had some very supportive fellow officers—Frank Parker, Claire McMaster, Mary Brennan, Janet Bloomfield and some great Labour CND support—Carol Turner and Walter Wolfgang, but a lot of people pursuing other agendas and I found it completely draining and exhausting—not the grassroots out in the country but the office politics and the politics of the National Executive and Council. I wanted us to oppose Gulf War I so we could remain relevant in the larger political sphere. Because some people hadn’t outgrown student politics they attributed this to my being a Trotskyist, which was absurd. They failed to take into account the impact of Viet Nam and the disabled Veterans’ Hospital around the corner from where I grew up. I also tried to get a debate going around Article VI of the Non Proliferation treaty, which was later successfully taken up by Janet Bloomfield when she was elected following me.
10. What is the essence of Communications?
Who is your audience? In what way (internet, TV, radio, etc.) are they most receptive to receiving your communication?
Keep it simple, keep it clear. The less words the better. NO material designed by committee!!
11. Why does the world still need to fight and have wars? Does peace mean nothing anymore? Forgive me for asking a stupid question but I hate injustice and you have worked very hard to promote peace which is why I am interested to know your answer to this question.
Your question isn’t stupid. What we need to do is to turn it upside down and point out how stupid it is (and what a waste of resources) that we are STILL fighting wars. I am not sure that peace ever has meant anything. I worry that sometimes the people promoting ‘peace’ are too self righteous and alienate others for whom the daily struggle of living is such that they have no time or inclination to campaign—which is quite a middle class indulgence for some of us. It’s a lot easier to campaign against GM foods or climate change…we can see the tangible impact around us and we have control over what we put in our mouths (at least, again, the middle classes do, as we have access to better shops and more information) I started ‘promoting peace’ in an effort to get America to live up to the ideals I learned about—democracy, justice, liberty for all. That didn’t fit in with what I saw—134 US bases in Britain, a country the size of the state of Oregon.
There are too many people with too many vested interests in the arms industry. That is why we are still fighting wars—and often we have provided the weapons and equipment to people we end up fighting against! Until that is tackled—and there are some very good campaigns young people can support—such as that by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade to get churches and universities to divest themselves of shares in arms companies (just like the campaign I was first involved in at Colorado College with John Weiss to get universities to divest themselves of shares in companies involved in apartheid back in the 70s) we will continue to have wars unfortunately.
12. Do politicians ever actually listen to the people or do they just do whatever they think is best—as per the recent Iraq war and upgrading Trident?
Sadly it seems they ‘do what they think best’ which means not challenging the spurious claims about WMD—see Hillary Clinton’s excuse for this in the most recent issue of the New Yorker, as well as the too late conversion of some of Labour’s deputy leadership contenders and then the absurd idea that upgrading Trident in any way enhances our security. Trident did not deter Gulf Wars 1 or 2, or either of the bombing incidents here, and neither did the United States’ vast nuclear arsenal prevent 9-11. Our thinking is way behind the reality of the true threats we face. And if the politicians would listen to the MILITARY, the people who have to fight their wars for them, they would find some very interesting truths. As one Trident sub captain asked me at the Maritime Warfare College in Hampshire ‘What do I tell my men when they ask me whom we are deterring?’
13. You have published Brand Spirit (which I am reading and enjoying) is creating an alliance with a social cause by brands their way of manipulating the public in order to improve brand perception and make more money or are brands very sincere in their alliances with a good cause.
A little of both—and of course, despite our attributing human values to brands, they are not people—there are people behind them, and many of the marketers I have come across, for a mixture of reasons—the desire to break through the ‘communications clutter’ (we receive over 10,000 commercial messages a day which we effectively screen out) and their own desire to make a difference as well as a profit means we have a great opportunity to work with them, to get essential messages across to people in a way they are prepared to receive those messages. After all, commercial branding is a lot more effective in ‘selling’ behavioural change to people than any number of well intentioned (written by committee) publically funded communications, whether they be about smoking, breast cancer or any number of causes.
14. Freedom in the air is about new possibilities for people with a disability. What can I do to promote and ignite self-belief, confidence in disable people to have new experiences that can change their lives? For me it has been learning to become a pilot. Before this, I had lost a lot of myself.
Keep telling people about it! There is a famous German opera singer, Thomas Quasthoff whose mother took thalidomide when pregnant and Thomas’s arms are not developed. I cut out something he said once and put it on my computer. ‘What is a disability? I am lucky in that everyone can see my disability. But if you are never happy, if you can only think about success and money, than that too is a disability. Besides, I do not live the life of a disabled person, I am lucky, I travel and am able to have many experiences not open to your average disabled person.’
I am a depressive. One thing my disability has done for me, is to help me appreciate life when I am NOT depressed, to live in the moment, to see beauty in the night sky and in my garden and to have peace hearing the wind chimes in the garden and to be grateful for what I have. So I would suggest that you try to share your experiences to empower others to think ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’ To take on new challenges, to try to live as a ‘normal person’ (after all, who defines what is normal?) and to seize every opportunity life gives them, or to create those opportunities through associating with like-minded others and seeking mentors (maybe like you?)
15. Lastly, you have given me a lot of inspiration lately, who has inspired you and how?
Well, obviously the Von Trapp family!!! Captain Von Trapp refused to be part of Hitler’s navy, and the family left Austria, giving up quite a comfortable life style, which they probably would have been able to maintain if they had cooperated with the Anschluss. Campaigners for civil rights in the 60’s—unsung heroes like John J Lewis who wrote ‘Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement’, a humble, modest, very black sharecropper’s son, who didn’t get the glory that the more Caucasian taller lighter handsome black men like Andrew Young and Julian Bond got. Obviously Martin Luther King, the student protestors (Four Dead in Ohio—the Neil Young song) against Viet Nam, a Zimbabwean international law professor I had called Solomon Nkiwane who told me about the realities of apartheid thus inspiring our campaign at Colorado College, your mom for her amazing achievements at such a young age and as a woman in a field largely dominated by men, my own mother for her fight against mental illness and her individual acts of kindness to refugees, my father for his refusal to acknowledge his disability (the result of too much radiation treatment, he cannot do surgery as his right arm doesn’t function), my brother for his amazing linguistic skills and how hard he has tried to overcome some of the legacies of our family problems, my friends for the difficulties—healthwise, work wise, in relationships they have surmounted and overcome—KC Still, Nancy Baxter, Patrice Pineda, Lynn Young. I’m inspired every day! When I have been depressed I realise that it’s inspiring even to be able to brush your teeth! (I’m not being sarcastic..it’s true). It’s important to have empathy…..and sometimes mine runs dry.