The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


If You Read This Post, It’s The Equivalent Of Winning Survivor. Kinda.

So this is it, the last post of the year.And what a year it has been.

The biggest thing was obviously leaving a company I loved in a country I loved to move my family to the other side of the World to start a new adventure.

The impact of that move has been bigger than we thought or expected.

For me personally, it has revealed a bunch of insecurities and self-doubt that I thought I had kidded myself into believing I’d kept locked away for good.

I was wrong.

However 6 months in, not only do we feel settled and confident about where we are, what we’re doing and what we want to do … we are reminded of the reasons we made such a major move on an almost daily basis.

Put simply, Otis has literally blossomed living a healthier, outdoor life and while we will always miss many of the parts of the life we enjoyed in China, his happiness and well-being makes the move worth while.

Of course that won’t be enough to make us stay here forever …

If truth be told, we’re wanderers so the idea of staying in one place forever freaks us out. Or at least me.

Don’t get me wrong, we are loving our life in America and are incredibly grateful to be here, but the reality is it’s probably not our long, long-term home so in the time we are here, our goal is to enjoy the opportunity, get as much out of the opportunity and make as much of a difference because of the opportunity as we can.

[For the record, I reserve the right to delete the above sentence because if moving countries again ever becomes a real possibility, I imagine the idea of leaving a house next to the beach – see photo at the top of this post, a photo I took on my way to work – to go some place in the middle of nowhere will suddenly feel a lot less appealing]

And one of those opportunities that has presented itself is having my best friend come to visit us over Christmas.

In all the time I’ve known Paul – 47 years – he has not once spent Christmas with me.

Or me with him.

Sure we have met up on Christmas day for a drink or to swap presents, but we have never spent the whole holidays together.

More than that, in my 7 years living in China, he didn’t visit us once.

NOT ONCE.

His wonderful wife did – twice in fact – but not Paul, but now we’re in LA – where even in winter it’s sunny and beautiful – he’s on the first fucking plane over here.

And despite that showing me he’s a ‘using little prince’, I’m happy.

Ridiculously happy.

As is Otis …

For us, having Otis ‘odd parents’ [we’re not religious and they’re definitely odd] come stay is the perfect way to end a particularly interesting year.Ever since my Dad died in January ’99, Christmas lost its power.

Sure, I still looked forward to it, but it was always underpinned by the feeling it was when my Dad fell ill for the final time.

However since Otis came on the scene, that darkness has been broken and I fully expect this year – in a proper house with my family and the people who feel like family even though they’re not – to be the one where that spirit of the holiday truly comes back into force.

I’m grateful for that too.

As I am for everyone who has looked out for me, my wonderful wife, my epic Son and even my pampered princess of a cat, Rosie.

Whether it was in comments on this blog or conversations over the year.

Which is why I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and – even more importantly – a wonderful year ahead.

For a boy from Nottingham who wasn’t very good at school, I do feel I hit the jackpot and while there are many reasons for that, a big part is the community I feel a part of which has been formed – in part – through the insults thrown at me on this blog.

Long may they continue. [I know they will]

With that, I leave you with a family photo we recently took to commemorate our ‘LA life’.

All was good until we discovered that every shot clearly highlighted my poor choice of t-shirt.

Shit! Literally.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Happy New Year.

See you in January.

PS: To my darling Clare Pickens, I know today is your last day at Wieden Amsterdam. I can tell you, it will be as emotional to everyone there – and beyond – as it is to you. You’re an absolute legend and I’m so, so glad you’re in my life. And have put up with me. See you soon. Love ya.

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What Planners And Police/Military Interrogators Could Have Learned From My Mum …

For a long time, I’ve talked about the importance of empathy.

In fact I regard it as the most important trait I look for in a planner.

That’s right, empathy … not curiosity.

As my Mum used to say, ‘being interested in what others are interested in’ is the foundation of forging real understanding … understanding that lets you gain real insight that leads to work that doesn’t just resonate, but is both authentic and sincere to the core.

I recently took my team through the original ‘Thank You Mom’ work I was involved with at Wieden for P&G.

In essence, there were 2 roles the planning departments of W+K had.

The first was to find a point of view for P&G’s Olympic sponsorship that was authentic rather than falling into that trap of being ‘the proud sponsor of razor blades for athletes’ etc etc.

However, once it had been identified that P&G could genuinely claim to helping the Mum’s of athletic hopefuls in their role of being supportive Mum’s, the rest of our job was to ensure the work we produced was authentic to the regions we were going to cover … the UK, the US, China and Brazil.

It took a long time, a lot of meeting, watching, listening and chatting [in fact the little film I made from it all to help the client and creatives really understand our Mum’s is still one of the best things I made at Wieden] but it made all the difference because while some elements of the film may be lost to viewers of other nations [ie: Westerners thought the Chinese Mum who watched her child win via a TV in her home did it because she couldn’t afford to go to the event, when the reality is we had learned parents wouldn’t attend key events for fear of afraid of adding extra pressure to their beloved child with their presence] the fact is those within each culture we featured connected to the little nuances we were able to reveal which led to work that felt part of the culture rather than just being an observer of it.

The reason I am saying all this is because I recently read an amazing article about interrogation techniques, or more specifically, how the interrogation techniques favoured by the Police and military are wrong.

Now I am not suggesting interrogation techniques are anything similar to how we find out our insights about people … but the learnings are.

You see what a team of scientists discovered is that rather than intimidating individuals in the hope of getting them to reveal their information, the secret was to show genuine empathy towards them.

Not in what they did or tried to do.

Not in their cause or their ideology.

But in why all of it was important to them.

In essence, they discovered empathy – rather than intimidation – was the closest thing we have to a truth serum.

Or said another way, be interested in what others are interested in.

Another reason [for me] to say Thank you Mom.

[Read the article here]



Creativity Without Bruises And Scars Is Not Great Creativity …

A while back – when I was running The Kennedys – I told the guys about how hard it is to make great work.

Ironically, the issue was less about the expression of creativity – though there is always difficulties in that – but in actually getting your precious idea through all the gatekeepers/processes/people without it being impeded, diluted or impacted.

Now don’t get me wrong, being pushed to be better is always good, but it appears we now live in times where the goal of others seems to be the reverse.

Sanitization.

Blandness.

Ego/Career management.

Or as my dear friend George once said:

“Creativity today is a client going to the doctor, telling them their expertise is wrong and then prescribing their own medicine.”

Of course people are entitled to their opinion.

Of course ad industry creativity needs to be commercial creativity.

But right now, it appears many clients version of ‘commercial’ is to either communicate what they want people to care about [regardless if they care about it, or believe it] or to say things where absolutely no one can ever be offended because what they want to communicate makes beige look bold.

And because adland – or should I say some within adland – has sold the value of creativity down the river in favour of making fees from process and production, the entire industries ‘creativity’ is being called into question.

What has happened to wanting to make work that makes culture take notice?

What has happened to wanting to making work others wished they had made?

What has happened to wanting to make work that changes entire categories?

Yes, I know there are some that still fly the flag of great work – but not many and not always consistently – and what’s worse is that we, as an industry, have contributed to this situation but what really gets to me … what really pisses me off … is that I feel we are continuing to pander to the wishes and demands of the organisations we are supposed to help, the organisations who – for whatever reason – are undermining our industries value and long-term future.

I’m not saying we should be arrogant.

Or rude.

Or forget why clients hire us.

But come on, why be a doctor when we let the patient diagnose themselves, which is why I absolutely loved this piece by the phenomenal Dave Trott.

At the beginning of this post, I wrote about how I had taught The Kennedy’s that great creativity doesn’t come without bruises and scars … well, if we still want to stand a chance of making the work that shows how brilliant we can be, then we better be prepared to fight harder for it, because being the punching bag is hurting everyone … us, our clients, our audiences.



Social Media That Is Actually Social …

For a long time I’ve had a problem with social media.

Actually I should rephrase that …

For a long time I’ve had a problem with people who claim social media is all that matters.

Part of it is because too many companies have approached it as free media.

Part of it is because too many agencies have approached it like it’s a magazine.

Part of it is because ultimately, everything can be social, not just things on certain platforms.

And that’s why, for all the hype it gets, the amount of social media campaigns that have actually been truly social [as in, gained traction and awareness beyond their core audience eco-system] is relatively small.

Please note I’ve said ‘campaigns’, not one-off tweets … which, apart from the fact the idea of a ‘campaign’ on social is kind of an oxymoron … makes it even smaller.

And then if you add ‘successful’ to that group of criteria, it gets even smaller … with arguably only Ice Bucket Challenge and #MeToo being worthy of acclaim, which, let’s not forget, were both causes dedicated to righting human wrongs.

Which is why I have fallen in love with this social media campaign from Doncaster County Council for naming their 2 new grit-spreading trucks.

Please read it.

Read all of it.

I know it’s super-long but I guarantee you will love it.

Every single line and suggestion.

For me, it’s single-handedly the best social media campaign of 2017.

No, seriously … because a conversation from Doncaster County Council about their Road Gritters achieved over seven million impressions in 48 hours.

Seven. Bloody. Million.

I love this campaign for so, so many reasons.

I love that they treated their audience with a brain.

“We would like your name suggestions for two of our new gritting vehicles, please. Keep em clean and be original – we’d prefer not to spend the next few days trawling through responses of Gritty McGritface and Gary Gritter. 🙄”

I love that the people running it were empowered to respond to negative comments with wit and focus rather than – as is the norm – to back down and beg for forgiveness when someone challenges them.

“For those who say the council shouldn’t be wasting their money on this, we say getting the community interested and engaged in how their town runs is a good thing”

I love there mischief and humor with lines including …

“When you look at your grandchildren, what side of history do you want to tell them you were on? #DoncasterGrittingWorldCup”

But most of all, I love that one of the winning names was …

Gritsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Anti-Slip Machiney

… proving there is justice in the World.

Yet again, we see a campaign from an organisation that doesn’t have ‘social media experts’ dictating their approach being more successful than the output of an entire industry who claim to be the most informed people in their field.

Why?

Well, as much as I have met some truly brilliant social media strategists in my time, the fact is the vast majority fail because they forget the importance of understanding one key element in creating a social media campaign.

People.

Look, it’s not just the social media industry that is making this mistake, everyone in communication is … preferring to rely on data than some good, old-fashioned, get-in-the-weeds exploration and discovery.

This is not some anti-data rant, it’s just in our quest to drive speed and efficiencies, we are walking away from understanding the texture that makes any data worthwhile … the stuff that helps you develop ideas that feels it comes from the culture rather than an observer of it.

The Doncaster County Council campaign should serve as a reminder everyone about how to make great comms.

In these days where it seems the emphasis is on the platform, the reality is we’re all still trying to connect with humans so spending time to really understand how they think and do stuff is still the key to making ideas that makes a difference.

Not purely in terms of optimizating effectiveness, but in terms of how people feel, think and act.

You know, the stuff that makes sustainable differences to companies rather than this short-termism we have all fallen victims to because to quote John Le Carre, a desk is a dangerous place to view the World..



Happy Birthday My Wonderful One …
December 11, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: Anniversary, Attitude & Aptitude, Birthday, Comment, Daddyhood, Jill, Mum, My Fatherhood, Otis, Parents

So this is the last week of posts for 2017 so prepare for a bunch of sentimental claptrap as the week continues. Sorry, I mean ‘even more’ sentimental claptrap.But today I am talking about something else.

Something that continues to be one of the best and most amazing parts of my life.

I’m talking about my son Otis, who today hits his 3rd birthday today.

THREE.

How is that possible?

And yet it is and I’m both thrilled and petrified about it.

Thrilled because he is the most wonderful little boy I could ever hope to know and petrified because – as the cliche goes – he is growing up so, so, so fast.

I can remember everything about the day he decided to come out and say hello.

From the moment Jill woke up at 2am feeling ‘funny’ to seeing his face at 6:27pm.

Up until his birth, he was about 7 days past the due date and a part of me that was very happy about that fact.Not because I didn’t want to meet him, but if he was born on the 12th December, our medical insurance would have clicked over for another year and all the costs associated with his delivery would be covered.

Of course he came out 5 hours 33 minutes too early for that to happen … proving that even before he was a minute old, he had the same annoying, cheeky-bastard traits of his father.

And yet, despite having just cost his Mum and Dad thousands of dollars by being born on the 11th, he has only filled our lives with happiness, excitement, joy and love.

And I mean filled.

To the point of overflowing.

This little boy is a delight.

He’s funny, kind, compassionate, curious, mischievous and loving.

He is everything I could ever have hoped to have in a child and a ton more besides.

I am incredibly proud to be his Father and hope he will feel the same way for all his life.

So with that, I want to say something to him that he can look back on whenever he faces trials and tribulations in his life.

My Dearest Otis.

You are the best thing that has ever happened to me and your Mum.

You make everything worth while.

The late nights, the early mornings, the decisions we made focused around your needs.

Everything.

So much has happened in the last 12 months and yet you have taken it all in your stride.

Your Mum and Dad are under no illusion how challenging this must have felt and yet you remained happy and open to all that is around you and we are in awe of the way you have coped with it all.

We will continue to do all we can to equip you with the skills and knowledge to handle whatever life throws at you and all we ask in return is you stay as cheeky, curious and happy as you are. Be safe knowing there are lots of people around the world looking out for you and we will always support you in the things that excite you and move you and will love you, regardless of what trouble you cause us ahead.

But don’t push it too far …

Happy birthday my dearest little boy.

Oh what a treasure you are.

Mummy and Daddy [and Rosie]

xoxoxoxoxoxoxox



Inspiration From The Random Post-It Note Writer …

A few weeks ago – after being away on a business trip – I found the above note on my laptop.

I have no idea who wrote it and – to be honest – I’m not sure if it was meant as a reminder of what I should be doing or a report on what I do … but either way, it’s a pretty good standard to live up to.

Many years ago, a magazine asked what my job was. I replied …

“To ensure no one gets complacent, whether that’s the team, the agency or the client”.

I used to think what that meant was to ‘keep pushing, prodding and provoking so we would stay focused on making the biggest difference in the most interesting way rather than settle for good and easy’, but now I know a better interpretation is this.

Be great.
Fuck shit up.
And do it again tomorrow.

We all win if we all want higher standards.



What We Can Learn From Tom Hanks About Working With Others …

OK, full disclosure, I don’t really like Tom Hanks.

Sure, I’ve enjoyed some of his movies but for some reason – maybe due to overexpose of his movies in my early 20’s – I think he has a face I want to smack.

But recently I read an article on him that changed my opinion of him.

To be honest, this ‘change my opinion’ thing is getting annoying.

First is was my ultra-nemesis, Morrissey – though he seems to behaving like a twat again.

Then it was Johnny Marr.

And now Tom Hanks.

Who next … Todd Sampson? That would literally make me want to kill myself.

Good job I know that will never, ever, ever happen.

But back to Hanks.

In the article, Hanks covered a huge range of subjects … the roles he’s taken, his approach to parenthood, the mistakes he’s made – it was all very interesting, vulnerable and honest – but the bit that caught my eye was this:

“I learned a long time ago that you don’t have to like the people you work with. If someone wants to be a dick, it’s OK, but if their dickishness means everybody else doesn’t get to work at their best level – if you being a dick means you’re going to encroach upon my process – there’ll be a slug fest in the parking lot. There will be words exchanged I’ve worked with men and women where I’m like, ‘Are we going to have to go through this again?’ And, well, yes, because that’s what’s called for. On rare occasions, people are insane – but those are really rare.”

The reason I like this is because one of the biggest issues many face in agencies is working with others.

OK, in the majority of cases, as Mr Hanks states, it’s all good – but occasionally you find someone who is especially difficult – not because they are pushing for the best work, but because they think they are the only one’s capable of doing the best work and don’t value anyone else’s contribution or process to get there.

In other words, they’ve become the office egotistical dick.

We’ve all seen them.

Prancing about like they’re gods-gift.

At best they’ve done something genuinely good in their time. At worst, they’ve only done something good in their mind.

What I like about Hanks advice is that it ultimately helps you work out when you should or shouldn’t act.

In other words, if the person isn’t affecting your standards negatively, then let it pass.

Life is too short and ultimately, your engagement with them is not going to achieve anything.

However if their actions are impeding the work you do to the standards you hold, then it’s time to strike.

I should point out that when I say ‘strike’, I don’t mean it literally, but the key point is that the moment you feel your process/standards are being limited because of this other persons actions or behavior, you need to speak up.

To them.

Directly.

I wish I had known this earlier in my career.

When I think of all the energy and time I wasted taking on issues that were just annoying rather than damaging, I want to kick myself. But the good news is that working in advertising means I’ll be able to use this advice properly in the very near future.

And it’s important.

Not just because you should never let someone negatively impact your standards and process, but because – as fellow actor Michael Keaton pointed out – even if you’re just an employee, you’re still in charge of the direction of your career.

So thank you Mr Hanks. Damnit.