Vero caught up with Charles Lankester, a career communications expert in Asia who has recently been making some serious waves with his new podcast, ‘What Are Your Three Things?’
Speaking to leaders in business, entertainment, and sport he has carefully researched, he asks them what three pieces of advice they would give to their younger selves. You can find the show on Spotify or Apple. From a fitness instructor who had a near-fatal motorbike accident to a well-known Hong Kong lawyer who was accused of a criminal offense in 2019 (and eventually found innocent) to a national UK newspaper editor and former communications director to the UK government who spent time in prison, Charles’ choice of interviewees speaks to an audience who seek stories of human endeavor, resilience and life lessons learned.
Why Three Things?
Charles shares how he arrived at the Three Things Concept: “One of the great benefits of our industry is you meet many very interesting people. My biggest takeaway? What you immediately see does not usually reflect their real story.
“In my experience, everyone has a story that is often hidden, even from close friends and family. And it occurred to me that an interesting question to ask them would be: ‘If you could change three things about who you are today… if you could go back in time and tell your 21-year-old self … what would those three things be?’
Charles continues on what inspired him to start Three Things: “I was surrounded by people who had been through so much and had such interesting stories – what inspired me was how they kept going despite it all. Certain people have a resilience I am in awe of. With these types of people, I want to draw out what makes them tick.”
Why the number 3? Why not 2, or 4?
Charles explains: “Well, there is a real science and psychology to it. The human brain conceptualizes and remembers things much better when they come in three. Example: Good, Bad, Ugly. Forward, Neutral, Reverse. The reason for that is that there’s a linear relationship between three things. If you add four elements, then you have a much more complex series of inter-relationship. It also forces people to think deeply. And on a more practical basis, I really don’t think people have an hour and a half to sit and listen to a podcast. It means we can be quicker!”
Why a Podcast?
We asked Charles what is so special about podcasts?
“I think right now, people are very much over-screened. We live in front of computers, and when we get home, we’re still looking at our phones. The thing about the podcast is that it’s just speech, you aren’t looking at images or reading anything. It’s more like radio. Listeners experience much more intimacy with the subject and are much more engaged, as they’re only using one of their senses). Put simply: podcasts are more personal.”
He continues: “I find that when I listen to a podcast, I can remember approximately 75% of the content, but if it’s a TV show, I can only remember about 10% of what I’m watching. In a recent marketing study, a poll of thousands of people across Asia found a massive 66% said they listened to at least one podcast per week. If you want to reach more people, a podcast is an incredibly efficient and effective way to go about it.”
Favorite Three Things?
We asked Charles what were his 3 favorite things shared by guests of his podcast.
“They are all such great people and shows- it’s very hard to single these out! However, the first that stands out is from my lawyer friend who said we should all ‘get rid of energy vampires’! I love this! We all know who our energy vampires are. They are the people we only hear from when they want something or when they want to share their own negativity. We let them into our lives, they are toxic, and they just suck the energy out of us. It’s not easy but doing so will always put you in a better place. Get rid of them in 2022!”
He continues: “My second favorite was another life hack: ‘gratitude is attitude’ and the importance of being grateful. It’s the little things that we take for granted. This rung very true for me. In 2020, I spent six weeks in hospital, had lots of tubes coming out of me, and could hardly walk! The first time I was allowed out for a walk in the hospital grounds and felt the sun on my face was like being reborn and incredibly emotional. We forget how much we take for granted. So be super grateful for the little things.”
“My third favorite thing was the value of humor. One of my guests shared that humor can help deal with just about every problem. And it’s so true. In the darkest times, if you inject a little humor, you can pull through. I call it finding the funny. It’s so important”.
“And I have one more I’m going to share. It’s a lovely story from a newspaper editor I interviewed who had spent some time in prison. He said everyone should ‘get a dog called Bob’ because, he explained, having this wonderful dog to come back to after his time ‘away’ who just loved him and treated just the same was so powerful.”
Recommendations for Agency People
We’re beginning to like the number three too, so we asked Charles for three pieces of advice he can give to agency people.
He answers: “I’d never actually thought of that…” he pauses before he continues: “The very first thing is to be curious. If your client makes airplane engines, find out as much as you can about airplane engines. Really dig into the business you’re dealing with… because with an agency, or I call it consultancy, on a typical day, I’m a pharmaceutical expert from 9-11 am, and then a cryptocurrency expert from 11-1 pm… sound familiar? We can’t be as deep as our clients but what we can be is informed and curious.”
“The second thing, and this sounds a bit counter-intuitive, but have the confidence to ask dumb questions. When you’re sitting with your client, especially in the early stages of a relationship, ask dumb questions. ‘Why do you call the product this? What does that acronym mean? How do you guys make money? What is your hiring strategy?’ Obviously if you’ve been with your client for a year and then ask ‘What is your business – that is a really dumb question! But I think at the initial stages you’ll find that if you have the courage to ask a dumb question, the response you’ll get is ‘You know, that’s actually a really good question’. If we don’t understand, others won’t.”
“And finally, never forget that the work we do is extremely important. We get caught up in the day-to-day, but the reality is the work we do can help our clients grow their businesses and, in some cases, save their businesses. We place our clients in the public eye via numerous channels and platforms. What we do matters because what people read, see and hear about those we represent will form long-lasting impressions. It will make their businesses stronger hopefully- if we do our jobs properly. Never forget the importance of what we do.”
Misconceptions about Agency Life
We also asked Charles about misconceptions on agency life he thinks are most common. Of course, we asked him for three!
Misconception #1: “There’s always the perception that life is better in-house, that the grass is greener, that it’s easier, the hours are more friendly and it’s all-around a better place. But the reality is, in an agency (consultancy!), it is my belief that the ability to make a difference is more significant. In-house has its advantages, but I don’t believe that the grass is greener. I believe greater things can be achieved via a career as an adviser.”
Misconception #2: “The second misconception is that it’s glamorous. Many people coming into this industry think it’s all fun, luxury, champagne, and events. Wrong! it’s serious, challenging work. I think it takes an exceptional person to do well. You must be very resilient. It’s an industry where you put your heart on your sleeve a lot. My firm won a large amount of new business in 2021, but we lost a pitch I was very keen to win a couple of weeks ago. I was very disappointed! In consultancy, as much as we love to hear ‘yes’, we must be prepared to hear a few ‘no’s!’”
Misconception #3: “It takes time to develop your career. Ignore the ridiculous number of titles that our industry seems to adore!
We have Assistant Account Executives, Account Executive, Senior Account Executive, on and on and on. What I would say is that good people can go far, very fast in agency life because we are always looking for high-quality people. If you shine, you will shine very, very brightly within the agency world. At the end of the day, very few firms have that magic piece of software or magic technical solution. Business success is down to the humans that comprise the business. Ambitious, smart, and creative people can do very well in agency life.”
Advice for Starting a Podcast
We asked Charles for some advice for podcast newbies.
“Firstly, find a topic you care about and that you also understand deeply. For instance, my educational background is in psychology, and I am interested in human behavior. You really have to know and love the subject.”
“Secondly, find a space where there’s not a lot of competition, a topic that is not overpopulated. For instance, when I was doing my research on Spotify, I was surprised how little there was around the ‘3 things’ concept!”
“Most importantly, spend money on outstanding audio. One of the things that make people leave podcasts instantly is if it sounds like it was recorded in a cardboard box!”
Thank you for your time, Charles! This has been most interesting.
At the time of this interview, Charles was three days away from his seventh show with renowned British political writer Quentin Letts, author of ‘Stop Bloody Bossing Me About!’. Charles’ other planned guests include an international bestselling author on getting the most out of relationships, a top recruiter in marketing and communications, and a technical expert who will share what we can expect from the internet in 2025. With ten podcast episodes per season, ‘What Are Your Three Things?’ Season 2 is expected launch after Chinese New Year. Listen to it here.