Ahead of next Monday’s Guardian event, Paid Attention author, co-Founder of Genius Steals, an itinerant strategy and innovation consultancy, and ex-OMDer Faris Yakob talks exclusively to OMD UK about his past, present and advice for future media generations.
Hi Faris – thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Our first question and one that a few OMD people wanted to ask you: What was the inspiration behind Paid Attention?
The original inspiration was a piece in the New Yorker about the pickpocket magician Apollo Robbins [he has a TED talk you can find]. He talks about how he manages attention, how “attention is like water.” This fired up a new set of connections in my head.
About how attention is the foundational idea of advertising, the A in AIDA, the currency we buy and sell: impressions are a proxy for human attention. But by rendering it binary and fungible with the idea of impressions, I felt we had reduced something very complex to something too simple.
It all grew from there.
How did you shape your career to get to where you are?
Not very consciously. It’s been a series of lucky accidents mostly, driven by a desire to really understand something, to keep learning, to keep exploring. I started out in management consulting, which gave me a solid foundation in strategy. I applied to the grad scheme at OMD UK which got me into advertising and planning. Naked taught me that the more fun people were having the better the ideas seemed to be. A brief stint at Naked Sydney made me realize I wanted to live and work, not just visit, other countries. New York taught me to be busy. Being Chief Digital Officer of McCann taught about huge agencies and massive budgets and politics. Setting up a digital agency in NYC taught me about growing a business.
My wife Rosie gave me the confidence to package it all up and create the itinerant consultancy that is Genius Steals, which is going surprisingly well.
In the digital world, what’s the most exciting area for you?
I love the new, I love the idea that digital is democratic; that anyone can make something that is seen by millions. I love the idea everything is going to change, that tomorrow will be different from today.
What advice would you give a grad entering media?
I actually tell grads that media is one of the best places I can imagine starting in advertising, and not just because I did. You learn about money AND ideas and it best place to get free food and booze. But generally, I’m still shocked by how linear and narrow advertising careers seem to be, with people only ever working in one kind of agency their whole career – and we wonder why inter-agency collaboration is difficult. So I’d say grab all the media experience and lunches you can, but remember that every agency is only a tiny slice of the industry.
Thank you for your time and good luck for Monday.
Faris Yakob is co-founder of Genius Steals, an itinerant strategy and innovation consultancy he started with his wife, Rosie.
He is the author of Paid Attention, and a contributing author of Digital State  and What is a Brand? , all published by Kogan Page. He is lucky enough to be invited to speak and consult all over the world. He was named one of ten modern day Mad Men by Fast Company but hopes he is less morally bankrupt.