Shaper: Deborah Mattinson

Show aired on 9th December 2017

Transcript

Elliot Moss
The big and breezy sound of Sarah Vaughan and Orchestra. Good Morning, this is Jazz Shapers, I am Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM. Thank you very for joining me. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and right alongside them here on Jazz Shapers we bring someone who is shaping the world of business, doing amazing things, contortion acts and the like. My Business Shaper today, I am very pleased to say, is Deborah Mattinson and Deborah is the co-founder and director at BritainThinks, and BritainThinks is an international insight and strategy consultancy, talking to, advising businesses, politicians, Government departments, charities, you name it they do it and you are going to be hearing all about what she does and how impactful it really is. In addition to hearing from Deborah you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya, some words of advice I hope for your business. And then of course we’ve got the music and we’ve got some brilliant artists lined up today: Hugh Masekela; Ahmad Jamal; Cuban vocalist Daymé Arocena and this from Cannonball Adderley.

That was Cannonball Adderley with the uplifting, The Sticks. Deborah Mattinson is my Business Shaper here on Jazz Shapers; co-founder and director at BritainThinks, as I said earlier, they provide international insight. I feel like a man of mystery as I am saying this. International insight and strategy to a variety of different organisations and individuals and Deborah, in her past, and she will talk about this, has worked for people that you may have heard of like Gordon Brown and others. Hello.

Deborah Mattinson
Hello.

Elliot Moss
Thank you for joining me.

Deborah Mattinson
Great pleasure to be here.

Elliot Moss
Normally you are behind the scenes. Normally you are providing numbers that big companies and individuals use to great effect, is it slightly strange coming from the shadows or do you do this occasionally?

Deborah Mattinson
Well, I find I talk about them quite a lot as well and I should say what we do is not just numbers…

Elliot Moss
Yes, tell me about what you…

Deborah Mattinson
…numbers is important but we’re also, we call ourselves qualitative led so we are about small data, we do a lot of focus groups, we do a lot of depth interviews, we do a lot of so called deliberative research where we are giving people a little bit of information and finding out what they think when they know that. So, a typical opinion poll will tell you what people think given how little they know but deliberative research will tell you what they might think if you gave them enough information to be a player so it’s quite enabling and empowering, quite exciting.

Elliot Moss
And something very contemporaneous at the moment is, of course, what people feel about Brexit and if I’m not wrong I believe you, with The Guardian, you’ve created under the aegis ‘The Brexit Diaries’…

Deborah Mattinson
‘The Brexit Diaries’.

Elliot Moss
…forty eight people that remain, fifty two that…

Deborah Mattinson
See what we did there.

Elliot Moss
See what you did there. That’s a pretty smart thing to do but then you then talk to these people in a deliberative manner about what’s going on and that must be fascinating.

Deborah Mattinson
Well, what it is it’s actually, it’s the oldest style of opinion polling you can get. We ask people to keep diaries like the old-fashioned mass observation, we said to them ‘Just keep a diary, write down whatever you want as this story unfolds and then share it with us’ and it’s been remarkable in the insight that it’s yielded into our sort of divided nation and what that feels like and then the nuance that’s within that because, you know, there’s the obvious divide is Leave versus Remain but it’s so much more complicated than that and so much more interesting, and that’s the kind of work that we do.

Elliot Moss
It’s almost impossible not to have that conversation with people in terms of did you vote this way or that way, it happened to me yesterday with a politician actually, at a lunch, it was an extraordinary moment because we were utterly in disagreement about things that we probably never would have talked about before so it has obviously this issue has unearthed lots of things but research plays a critical role…

Deborah Mattinson
Huge.

Elliot Moss
…in really getting underneath. Well, what’s driving that?

Deborah Mattinson
Absolutely, and I think one of the really interesting things that came out of the referendum is this sense, this thing that we call confirmation bias, so that we all seek out people who have views the same as us and then we therefore think that everybody thinks what we think and, you know, through the referendum campaign when I was speaking at events or whatever, I took to saying to the audience ‘Hands up who thinks that Remain is going to win?’ and everybody would have their hand up including the people on the platform who were speaking for Leave. There was this sort of conventional wisdom because it was what, if you like, movers and shakers felt that everybody thought that was what was going to happen and I think one of the things that the work that I do can help people to do is to be in touch with people who don’t think what they think and to understand that. You need to know that.

Elliot Moss
Now, you work for, that kind of, we just talked about the specific issue around Brexit but of course over the last 25 however many years you’ve been looking at all sorts of issues. Right now, are you able to say who your clients are, some of them?

Deborah Mattinson
I can certainly say who some of them are.

Elliot Moss
Tell me about some a couple of them.

Deborah Mattinson
I mean, we work, we work with Government departments, we work with charities, for instance we’ve been doing a big project with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation understanding what people feel about poverty to help them, they launched a big anti-poverty strategy last year and we did a lot of work that fed into that. We work with brands, we work with companies, we do a lot of kind of corporate reputation, we help companies track their reputation, we help brands understand how their customers feel about them. Essentially, the thread that joins it all up is working with our clients to help them really understand the audiences that matter most to them and then to put that at the heart of their thinking.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out how the heart of the thinking of businesses and brands is being affected by Deborah Mattinson and her team. She is co-founder and director at BritainThinks. Time for some music and it’s the big sound of Mr Hugh Masekela with Grazing in the Grass.

Hugh Masekela with Grazing in the Grass. Deborah Mattinson is my Business Shaper today; co-founder and director at BritainThinks. They are the people that provide insight by talking to people, talking to audiences that matter.

Deborah Mattinson
Listening. Listening.

Elliot Moss
Listening. Listening. Now this thing about confirmation biases is really interesting to me. Do you find sometimes that you present some insights which are genuinely of huge surprise to the person you are delivering them to and, as a secondary thing in that, do they then actually change what they are either doing in a policy perspective if it’s Government or they are doing from a product perspective if it’s a business. Do they actually listen to the research?

Deborah Mattinson
Yeah, I mean it’s disappointing if they don’t and you hope that they do. It’s also kind of slightly disappointing if I don’t manage to unearth some new insight and I mean I suppose in a way you are looking for balance. It would be a strange thing if we did a piece of work and presented it back to the client and they were astonished at everything that we were telling them. It would mean, perhaps we’d got something wrong, it certainly would mean they’d got something wrong, I think. What often happens is that, you know, quite a lot of what we feed back would be kind of what people thought but because it’s us telling them that it gives it a different perspective and they can listen to that and they can believe it and they can buy into it. And what we do, again, part of our job, I see it, is not just saying ‘Here you are, client, here’s your research, here’s what people think’ but then really working with them to take that to the next step, so to develop the strategy that will enable them to figure out what to do about that. And that’s something that we, you know, we’ve worked very hard on.

Elliot Moss
Now, you’ve been running your own business for seven years. Before you did that were there times over the years when you thought ‘Do you know what I want to do this for myself?’ and if there were, why didn’t you act on that sooner?

Deborah Mattinson
Well I did actually. I’ve been working for myself since I was thirty. I left my job in advertising and set up a business, the very first business that I set up with a guy called Philip Gould.

Elliot Moss
Georgia Gould, the Labour councillor’s late father…

Deborah Mattinson
Yes. She’s the Leader of…

Elliot Moss
In fact the Leader of Camden.

Deborah Mattinson
Exactly, exactly that. So, so Philip and I sort of put together a consultancy to advise Labour in the very early days working towards, we didn’t know it at the time but the birth of New Labour. So…

Elliot Moss
So this was in the eighties, the late eighties?

Deborah Mattinson
So, it was the late eighties, so the first election that I worked on was ’87 and Philip and I had set up a business to do that at the request of the then new comms director at the Labour Party, this bright young chap called…

Elliot Moss
Mr Alastair Campbell.

Deborah Mattinson
Mr Peter Mandelson.

Elliot Moss
Oh, Peter Mandelson. Oh right.

Deborah Mattinson
No, Alastair Campbell was still at The Mirror, he was a sort of journalist who, you know, swung in and out and gave us advice and played the bagpipes at parties and did all sorts of things. So Philip and I set up that business. I have essentially worked for myself ever since so basically Philip and I ran our business, Gould Mattinson, which we ran until after the ’92 election. I suppose I must have known Labour wasn’t going to win the ’92 election.

Elliot Moss
That was the famous Sheffield rally? Was that ’92?

Deborah Mattinson
The famous Sheffield rally, exactly.

Elliot Moss
All right, we’re okay.

Deborah Mattinson
Jennifer’s ear. Yes, all of that. I guess I knew what was coming because I had already connected with an old colleague of mine from advertising days and we had hatched a plot to create a company called Opinion Leader Research which we launched immediately after the campaign and I then ran that until I sold that to Chime.

Elliot Moss
Oh wow, so you really, this is actually, this is like your fourth time round or something?

Deborah Mattinson
It is, well it is because I sold that business to Chime in ’98, left two years later and set up another company called the Smart Company to do corporate social responsibility which I also sold, actually, to Chime. I also sold to Chime two years later and I then ran the Research Division within Chime until I left in 2010 to set up BritainThinks.

Elliot Moss
Right, hold that thought because I’ve got a crazy, serial entrepreneur, it’s all coming out of the woods and if you don’t know who Philip Gould was, he was one of the most important, along with Deborah here, important pollsters and architects of proper intelligence in politics in the last twenty years so you’re with a proper guru here on Jazz Shapers. Stay with me for much more. Latest travel coming up in a couple of minutes but before that some words or wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss. Every Saturday I talk to someone shaping the world of business. Today, Deborah Mattinson is my Business Shaper, she is the co-founder and director at BritainThinks, talking to people, listening to people and advising companies on what they should be doing as a result and, as you hopefully heard earlier, she has been doing this for herself for quite a while and we worked out, how many times? This is your fourth time.

Deborah Mattinson
Yes, it’s my fourth. Yeah.

Elliot Moss
So obviously you are very independent minded. Was that always the case? I mean was it actually, looking back now, that you’ve been doing this since you were thirty. Could it have happened earlier?

Deborah Mattinson
I don’t think it could have happened earlier because I think, you know, you have to, if you are going to set up a business you have to know what you are going to do and you have to have a, you know, you need to have something to offer. So, for me it couldn’t have happened earlier. But I kind of always knew that was what I was going to do.

Elliot Moss
How did you know on that point?

Deborah Mattinson
Because my Dad had worked for himself so I had seen my Dad who worked in banking, in financial services, you know move from job to job, you know and around the country actually, which is what you had to do in those days to get promotion, and then finally having this kind of Road to Damascus experience coming home and saying, ‘I’m gonna leave this thing and work for myself’ and I remember the excitement of that and then, and how evangelical my father was about working for yourself and the independence that brought and I somehow just always knew that was what I was going to do, I didn’t know quite what I was going to do but I knew that I would work for myself.

Elliot Moss
And the craft skill that you developed, obviously, on one level it’s polling, on another level it’s qualitive research and it’s the, then it’s analysis and all those things. Beyond that, I mean that’s one set of things to do and often people are good at that but the commercial stuff, the learning how to actually set the business up, to make sure the cash is working, to make sure you hire the right people and so on, where did you learn that? And did it, were you scared that you wouldn’t know what to do on that first business?

Deborah Mattinson
Well, a lot of that I learned on the job and, I mean, one thing I would say here, is that I’ve set up four businesses and I have set up each of those businesses with a partner. The first being Philip Gould who we’ve already talked about but the other three with my longstanding business partner Vicky Cook who was a colleague of mine in the early days when we worked in advertising together and she and I have kind of, you know, evolved a way of working together and I think we’ve got very complementary skills and I do think, you know, it can be a very lonely business working for yourself, you know, most people that do that are sole traders and for me I think that the way to do it, as somebody who doesn’t like being lonely and is essentially quite sociable, finding the right business partnership has been amazing and, you know, I think Vicky and I have really enjoyed working together over the years, it’s been and incredible journey and actually in terms of, you know, having the confidence to do some of the things that I’ve done it’s been about doing that with a partner.

Elliot Moss
And what’s the buzz for you, Deborah? You look incredibly energised, your eyes and things, the way you talk, it means that you obviously love what you do. What is it?

Deborah Mattinson
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
What is it about what you do that you love?

Deborah Mattinson
So, I think it is, I’d almost spin that round and say ‘I think it is about finding a way to do the thing you love’. So, for me, the thing that really galvanised me was, you know, politics was my hobby, it was fun, it was the thing that I really enjoyed spending my time and suddenly it was sort of like, ‘Hey, maybe I could do this all the time’. You know, I have something I think I can offer to these politicians and that was the start point and I think all the way through, I mean actually what I do now isn’t very much mainstream party politics but it’s about this mood of the nation thing and that’s the thing I find so fascinating and I think if you can find your way of making your hobby your job then you never go to work, you know. It’s always fun and I guess that’s what I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper today, Deborah Mattinson, talking about finding the thing you love and then calling it a job when it isn’t really at all. Time for some more music right now. It’s Daymé Arocena with Mambo Na’ Má.

That was Daymé Arocena with Mambo Na’ Má. I’m always careful when I say that because Na and Ma, I’m sure I’m going to muck it up one day but I didn’t today. You are listening to Jazz Shapers and my Business Shaper today is Deborah Mattinson, I hope you have been listening to her already, co-founder and director at BritainThinks. They listen to people and then act or help companies and individuals act accordingly. In terms of the money bit, because obviously you’ve done this thing and you talk about independence, you talk about doing the thing that you love, we haven’t talked about the dosh.

Deborah Mattinson
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
How important is it? Is it just a function of well I just want to be able to not worry about it or is there something else driving you? It doesn’t strike me you are driven by the money?

Deborah Mattinson
We got great advice in the early days which is this, that you know, small businesses and start-ups fail for one of two reasons, typically. One is the partners fall out with each other and thankfully I have managed to avoid that and, you know, I’ve already said how important I think it is to get a great partnership at the heart of your business, but the other is cash. You know, cash is king for small businesses. And it’s about really nailing that and being very precise, it’s about getting good advice, it’s about having the right people around you but it’s about constantly making sure, you know, it’s the easiest thing in the world to spend money and it’s the hardest thing in the world to earn it, and you know, the focus for me with the business has always been about earning the money and, you know, being out there and building the business in that sense and being very cautious about spending that money.

Elliot Moss
Is the money though, it sounds almost like you’ve interestingly talked about, well if the company is going to work it’s got to have money because cash flow is, cash is king, as you say.

Deborah Mattinson
Yep.

Elliot Moss
In there, what does Deborah feel about money? Does Deborah really care about money or is Deborah more interested that the business she is with is successful because that makes her feel good?

Deborah Mattinson
Um, I mean, I am fortunate I have been reasonably financially successful but I’ve got to say, personally, I am not massively motivated by money, or at least for me money is only as a measure of success. I suppose I am driven by that but I am not particularly interested in earning lots of money, that’s not something, and I think, you know, I’m not sure I would be doing what I am doing now if I was I’d be, I don’t know, working for an investment bank or something. I mean I am not, you know, that’s not something that personally motivates me, other than as a way of enabling me to do what I want to do and the team of people that I have around me to do what they want to do.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my final chat with Deborah, plus we will be playing a track from Ahmad Jamal. That’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Ahmad Jamal with Saturday Morning and it is Saturday morning here on Jazz FM with Jazz Shapers and I have been talking to Deborah Mattinson; co-founder and director at BritainThinks. Good name BritainThinks, by the way. Not her first business, not her second business, not her third business, no, her fourth. Her fourth business I have learned today and you have learned as well with me. The future for a business like yours, it kind of feels like it’s as open and as wide as you want it to be because businesses and Governments and anyone will always need to know what people are thinking. I mean, that’s great isn’t it?

Deborah Mattinson
Yeah, it’s…

Elliot Moss
It’s a never-ending…

Deborah Mattinson
…it’s absolutely great and we’re, you know, we’re on a massive kind of growth spurt at the moment which is, you know, challenging and huge amounts of fun, we’ve sort of doubled in size in every sense in the last year or so. Yes, BritainThinks, it ‘s an interesting thing because one of the things driving the growth is actually international work and of course what you can’t do is go and interview people in Philadelphia and say ‘We’re BritainThinks’, they’re like ‘Why are you asking me questions?’ so we use the brand WorldThinks in fact when we’re operating internationally. But, yes, it’s very exciting and increasingly as we bring in more people to the business they shape its future as well because, you know, a business like ours is about its people.

Elliot Moss
In a way, I think like a lot of businesses at the moment, technology might make a fundamental difference. Is technology in your business…?

Deborah Mattinson
Yeah. I was just going to say, technology I think has been, and will continue to be transformational, actually, and although I am actually quite a fan of, you know, let’s not forget the kind of old fashioned, I was talking earlier about, the kind of keeping a diary or whatever, face-to-face interviews, but actually technology has enabled us to do some amazing things so for instance one of the things that we do is set up online communities that people can be involved in and that’s a really interesting way of collecting qualitative data that enables you to connect people up even though they are not geographically proximate and to get scale into some of that kind of qualitative insight in a way that is very expensive to do if you use the traditional methods but using online methods you can do some very exciting things so that, I think, what’s going to drive change in the business and that’s incredibly exciting.

Elliot Moss
Deborah, it’s been great talking to you. Thank you so much. Just before I let you go and zoom off to see those flowers blooming, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Deborah Mattinson
So, my song choice is Devil’s Door by a very talented young jazz vocalist called Francesca Mondi. I have chosen it because I know Francesca, I have known her since she was five. She was this little girl with this enormous voice and it’s been the most fantastic pleasure to hear her develop as an artist. She is hugely talented and I think she has a single coming out on January,13th and it’s great, just to listen to her, she has the most wonderful soulful voice.

Elliot Moss
Brilliant. Here she is, just for you, thank you very much.

That was Francesca Mondi with Devil’s Door, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Deborah Mattinson. A simple bit of advice, what is it that you can offer to the world and to business? The importance of partnerships and how she said it’s a pretty lonely thing running a business and setting a business up and how partnerships have really helped her. And finding the thing that you love and turning it into what we would call a job but it doesn’t feel like a job, finding that hobby or the passion and converting it into a business, that’s what she talked about. Really, really good stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am sharp here on Jazz FM for another edition of Jazz Shapers. Meanwhile, stay with us, coming up next, it’s Nigel Williams.

Deborah Mattinson

Deborah Mattinson has more than twenty five years experience of providing senior clients with research based strategic advice. In that time she has worked with global businesses, major charities, international governments and senior politicians. She is particularly well known for developing innovative ways to bring decision makers closer to their stakeholders.

Before co founding Britain Thinks, she jointly ran the Chime Research and Engagement Division. She was also pollster to Gordon Brown, firstly as Chancellor of the Exchequer, then as Prime Minister.

One of Britain’s leading commentators on public opinion, Deborah frequently writes and broadcasts about the mood of the nation. In 2010 she published Talking to a Brick Wall – the story of the New Labour years through the eyes of the voter.

Follow Deborah on Twitter @debmattinson.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

I’ve been working for myself since I was thirty. I left my job in advertising and set up a business. I always knew that was what I was going to do.

If you are going to set up a business you have to know what you are going to do and you need to have something to offer.  So, for me, it couldn’t have happened earlier.

The thing that really galvanised me was politics. It was my hobby, it was fun, it was the thing that I really enjoyed spending my time on and suddenly it was like, ‘hey, maybe I could do this all the time’.

What I do now isn’t so much mainstream party politics, it’s about this mood of the nation thing and that’s the thing I find so fascinating. If you can find a way of making your hobby your job then you never go to work.

Philip Gould and I put together a consultancy to advise Labour in the very early days working towards – we didn’t know it at the time – the birth of New Labour in the late eighties.

We ran our business, Gould Mattinson, which we ran until after the ’92 election. I suppose I must have known Labour wasn’t going to win the ’92 election.

For the Brexit Diaries we ask people to keep diaries like the old-fashioned mass observation. The insight that it’s yielded into our sort of divided nation has been remarkable. It’s so much more complicated and interesting than leave or remain.

We all seek out people who have views the same as us and then we therefore think that everybody thinks what we think.

It can be a very lonely business working for yourself. For me, as somebody who doesn’t like being lonely and is essentially quite sociable, finding the right business partnership has been amazing.

Cash is king for small businesses.  It’s the easiest thing in the world to spend money and it’s the hardest thing in the world to earn it.