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So last week we had Mr Wieden in town and I had the pleasure of spending a bit of time with him. [Probably not a mutual reaction]
The thing that really struck me was just how sharp he was.
I’m not saying that because …
1/ I’m a creeping shit.
2/ I thought he’d be a thicko.
3/ I believe anyone with a white beard should be in incontinence pants.
… I’m saying it because in about 3 seconds, he clearly demonstrated why he was able to create something so good.
I’ve always said the best creatives are often the best planners [see what I did there?] and he proved it time and time again because he not only got to the heart of any issue being discussed in the blink of an eye, he was able to work out what the solution/reason was and convey his answer/opinion with the minimum amount of time/effort/energy as possible.
M&C may claim they are all about brutal simplicity, but they have absolutely nothing on him … and he can do it with more charm, grace and colour than those lovers of black & white.
There was a Q&A session and someone asked him:
“What made you decide to start W+K”
In an instant, he replied ..
“My boss was an asshole”.
No talk about a desire to create a place where creativity could flow or where he could empower companies to reach greater heights, he summed it up in 5 words – FIVE WORDS – and while I am sure there were a bunch of other factors that helped him at least shape what he wanted W+K to be, the fact is he was able to pinpoint the actual heart of the issue and express it in a way that left people in no doubt what motivated his action.
OK … OK … maybe he’s well rehearsed in that answer, but even if that was the case, it was glorious to witness especially as it takes me 57,000 words just to say hello. [Though my excuse is I’ve never claimed to be a good planner, ha!]
You know the other thing I liked?
You only feel his presence when he’s talking to you.
I should explain that a bit better shouldn’t I!
Dan Wieden is a lovely man.
He might be a genuine – and deserved ‘god’ of adland – but he is a top guy.
I like that.
He is a human first and a brilliant ad person second.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few ‘icons’ in their fields and they’ve all generally had the same trait … which is possibly why so many people want to work for them.
But here’s the thing, when you are talking about work – especially his agencies work – then you feel the presence, the super-super-sharpness, the take-no-prisoners or bullshit. It’s exhilarating and petrifying at the same time.
As I wrote here, if you didn’t know who he was and had a chat with him in the street, it would be easy to walk away thinking you’ve just met a nice, everyday guy who seemed pretty passionate about people and creativity – however every now and then – when the right questions are asked [or should I say the wrong questions are asked] you get a glimpse of how he may tolerate many things, but low standards are not one of them.
The best way to describe it is this …
Imagine you are slagging someone off and then they opened their jacket to reveal a shiny revolver with the safety catch on ‘off’.
That’s how a pissed off Dan Wieden makes you feel.
Maybe I’m a sicko but I like it.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the idea I would be the cause of it, but I like that he’s accommodating on many things except standards.
I genuinely think that’s what helps make W+K great and why I feel fucking scared to be here … but scared in a good way … in a way that makes me want to try even harder to do stuff that makes him take a big gulp and break out into a sweat when he sees/hears/experiences it.
But hopefully for the right reasons … but maybe not always … which is why I stupidly liked that he said “You’re Fired” to me after I had told him what I was going to be doing – though he said it while smiling, so I’m telling myself he was joking and will still turn up to work even though there is a nagging concern that the grin on his face was because he was happy to see the back of me rather than simply being mischievous.
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So in my job, you often find yourself fighting against endless debate relating to single words.
A friend of mine has spent – no word of a lie – THREE YEARS helping his client encapsulate their brand pyramid in a way that they feel comfortable with.
Now I appreciate words are important … but three years???
Surely the World will have changed significantly enough in that time to mean that whatever they come up with may not be as relevant as it once was.
And then there’s the fact that whatever ends up being shoved on the powerpoint slide [which will literally never be seen by anyone again] has to be translated and may not have a naturally fitting local alternative, the culture and make-up of that country may mean that even if things can be translated perfectly, they may not be culturally relevant.
As I said, I appreciate the importance of these things – at the very least, in terms of encouraging/ensuring consistency – however isolated words without any form of context will never convey everything you want to capture because at the most basic of levels, their interpretation is dependent on the person reading them and to counter that requires the adoption of the most bland, rational, category-cliché definitions possible and even that is no guarantee of success.
Sadly I sometimes get sucked into this sort of thing and so rather than end up having endless arguments about role, value, definitions and relevance [that doesn’t mean I don’t have them, I just have an inbuilt limiter], I tend to do two things.
1/ When we are defining words, we add + and – elements to help shape the meaning.
So for example, if the word under discussion was ‘fun’ [which most clients love to have in their brand pyramids, despite the fact they are almost universally devoid of it] we would say:
+ Spontaneous, Playful, Inclusive.
– Vindictive, Violent, Dangerous.
2/ To back this up, we create a mood board [or preferably a mood film] that captures the spirit and meaning of everything being said, with the instructions that they should never be seen by in isolation.
[I’d love to show you some, but that would get me in trouble because obviously the ones I have are all associated with a client I have either worked with or work with and they’ll be some rule about it, even if it’s years ago or thought it was shite]
Now you might think that makes it more painful and difficult, but trust me, in the bigger scheme of things it isn’t.
You see not only does this approach actually speed up the whole process because the +/- element allows people to not get so lost in words … but the mood film allows people to be emotionally involved and engaged by it all so by the end of it, the outtake is a more universally understood set of words, both interms of their definition but – even more importantly – what they emotionally represent.
Of course it’s not perfect – there’s still a degree of subjectivity behind it and I still question how/why some brands do this sort of thing, especially when they seemingly prefer it to actually ‘doing stuff’ – but at least when someone see’s the stuff we’ve developed, there’s a greater appreciation of what is being expressed than a seemingly random bunch of words that have been shoved inside a triangle.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that when you are in a position where you are being asked to do stuff that you feel has some flaws, don’t blindly go along with it – find ways that will let the client feel they’re getting what they want, but better than they ever expected because not only will this highlight your particular talent, skills and value, but longer term, more people.
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I often talk about the commercial value of ‘strong & charismatic leadership’ as well as how I believe it should be something business schools include in their syllabuses … however whenever I bring it up at a conference or something similar, I tend to get smacked down because there is this belief [in certain business circles] that it’s a danger, rather than an opportunity.
Of course I appreciate a high-profile leader means a company may disproportionately attract the attention of competitors or lawyers – but apart from the fact ‘high profile’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘dangerous’ or ‘corrupt’ – the fact so many of these “believers in the bland” spend billions each year trying to shove their name down everyone’s throat hardly demonstrates an organisation fixated on hiding under the radar.
Now I am not saying every charismatic business leader will drive a companies revenue – just like how every bland corporate head doesn’t get double digit growth – plus I am painfully aware that you can’t actually teach someone to have charisma … however my point is that if its commercial value was recognised and validated, then maybe it would encourage more companies to embrace the unique or the different, because sadly at present it appears that regardless of whether we’re talking about brands or business leaders, there is an attempt to standardise tone, manner & approach and I believe that is a major contributing factor to the seemingly never-ending production line of the soulless and the average, even if on occasion they try and disguise it in cliché-ridden sparkles.
Being different isn’t wrong. Being wrong is wrong.
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So up until recently, my wife always regarded my blogging as a bit of a joke … no different to the rest of you then.
She never could understand why I did it – or more precisely – why I spent so much time on it, which is a fair point because I haven’t got the faintest idea why I do it either.
Anyway a few days ago, all that changed and now Jill actively encourages me to continue writing it and it’s all because of an old woman.
You see Jill was recently listening to a podcast and the topic of death came up.
Given I had just gone through my Dad’s anniversary, Jill thought it would be interesting to hear how other people had dealt with their experiences and so listened to an elderly woman talk about how she felt when her husband died.
Without going into all the details, she said there were 2 key emotions that a person experienced when a person they loved died and they were depression and grief.
The difference between the 2 was that depression was completely unrelenting and debilitating whereas grief allowed you to still continue some sort of relationship with the person you have lost and ultimately fades away over time.
And you know what, she finally made everything I had/have experienced make sense.
When my father first passed away, I felt I was in no mans land.
While I still functioned, everything felt dull and bland … I had no sparkle or energy and spent my days ‘pretending’ I was OK to basically make other people feel better.
No, that’s not right … I did it because it helped people feel less uncomfortable in my company.
I always thought I felt this way because I hadn’t really grieved for my Dad … instead I had locked all my pain and sadness away in an emotional box that I had hidden somewhere deep inside me … however after hearing what this lady said, I now knew the real reason why I have started to feel better about my life without Dad [well, not better, but not in as much pain] and that is basically because I have now actually started grieving.
You see, this woman believes that when you are depressed, you can’t see or talk about your loved one because it’s literally too painful, however when you are grieving, you can start including them in your life again.
Of course the sadness is still there, however it’s no longer totally debilitating and you can start remembering them in the good times.
In this ladies case, she was able to start re-reading the love letters her late husband had sent her and feel the love and closeness she once shared in the real World … whereas for me, I am now able to think and talk about my Dad in the good times, not just when he was ill and unable to talk or walk for his final few years.
This makes me very happy, because my Dad had so many wonderful traits [and a few pain-in-the-ass ones, ha] and I feel I’m beginning to see them again, whereas previously I was pre-occupied with his final days.
So what has this got to do with Jill wanting me to continue this blog?
Well basically, she likes the idea that when I’m gone, I will still be here.
Of course, that also indicates she thinks I’ll be dead before her, which is slightly concerning, but for her, this blog now represents who I am and what I have felt over a countless number of years so regardless what happens, she’ll always have a place where she can feel close to me and that gives her a great sense of comfort and calm.
I know … it’s kinda weird to think this blog could be anything that makes people feel good … but I must admit, when Jill told me this, it made me happy because amongst all the planning bollocks and Jillyism pisstaking, there are a few posts tucked away that are basically my version of love letters to her and I adore the fact that one day, when I am no longer here, she – and anyone else who happens to come across them – will know how much I love/d my darling wife.
Too often we talk about legacy in terms of what we have done to change the World – or our little part of the World – but we rarely think about it in terms of the feelings or messages we want to pass on to our loved ones, so whilst this blog is a far cry from Phil Toledano’s sensitively magnificent ‘Day’s With My Father’ or as genuinely brilliant as ex-W+K’er Rudy Adler recently launched ‘1000 Memories’, I love the idea my wife could go here or here or here or here or here and know she has always been my number one.
So I guess what this means is that this blog will remain open for the forseeable future.
Sorry. Blame Jill.
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I found this post in my email draft box and to be honest, it’s bloody ancient … however given it gives a great insight into what some people/companies think planning is – or is in danger of becoming – I thought it worth putting up.
Before I rant though, I have to thank Niko who found it for me – though why he didn’t write about it is beyond me, because his venom makes rattle snakes quake in their, errrm, boots.
Now I want you to imagine your perfect planning job.
Go on, imagine it.
Who would it be for?
What would it involve you doing?
What clients would you work on?
Would you be spending oodles of time exploring the weird and wonderful?
Would you be talking to clients about amazing ideas that could change their fate?
Would you be developing stuff that impacts life as well as advertising?
Would you be dealing and collaborating with interesting, talented individuals?
Would you be respected and evaluated by actions, not words or powerpoint docs?
Would you be mixing with cultures and communities and finding out the real issues in their life – and better yet – helping come up with ways to change them, all with the support of your immediate team and client?
Would you be associated with things that impact culture and create a legacy and blueprint for the future?
Well if any of these ring true, you won’t be interested in this job:
Look at it.
LOOK AT IT.
Being highly numerate and having IT skills [read: EXCEL, WORD & POWERPOINT] are at the fucking top and creative thinker and integrity are at the bottom.
[So is ‘sense of fun’, but after reading through that list, you know pretty much that’s where it would be if you ended up taking the job]
This isn’t a planning job, it’s a prison sentence and yet this is the actual job description for a planner that was placed on LinkedIn a while back.
I am beyond grateful that I don’t even know what an ‘Excel with pivot table’ even is … so I pray for whichever poor bastard ended up taking the gig, because it contravenes everything a planner is – and should be – and the fact they will know they’re in a situation that basically guarantees they have no chance of ever being able to show what they can do must be devastating to the extreme.
OK, so maybe it’s not that bad.
Maybe it’s just a really badly written job description and the actual gig is OK.
Let’s be fair, most job descriptions sound pants when they’ve got every minute detail written down in them.
Seriously, look at your current job, I bet you’re doing many – if not all – of the things detailed above in some way aren’t you?
Oh who am I kidding, that job sounds shit – I mean if the company behind it knew what planning was really about, they’d of at least written it in a way that made all the nasty stuff sound like a support to the good … but no … they gave it pride of place, which is a massive indication that they don’t know what planning is nor do they value what a planner can do and add, other than fee justification to clients who treat the agency as a production supplier for averageness. Ahem.
To be fair, the job description I use for planners would probably look just as bad as the one I’m dissing.
You see the things I focus on are less about technical capabilities and more about their approach and attitude to life.
Personally I seek people who have experienced a varied life … have points of view based on what they’ve seen, learnt, tried and failed at … have a real empathy and understanding of people. All people. Not just hipsters or others in the ad industry.
I adore folk who have worked/tried 2 or 3 industries before entering adland … who have the same “best friend” they’ve had for decades … who have smarts but aren’t desperate to prove it and are open about what they know and what they’d like to know.
Without doubt, I value people who are entrepreneurial, inquisitive, honest, decent, continually open to learning new things and [a bit] socialistic in their values over someone who has fantastic excel spreadsheet chops … but hey, that’s just me.
Saying that, I appreciate if I put all that into a job description I’d probably get visited by the mental police rather than planners/interesting individuals, so for me, the key criteria I use when looking/judging people is …
1 Empathy [the ability to truly relate and understand the needs/wants/fears/loves etc of people – not just the specific consumer category]
2 Ingenuity [the ability to discover new ways to do/explore/prove/understand ‘stuff’ with business/financial relevance]
3 Opinion [having one – preferably because of what you’ve done in numbers 1 and 2]
4 Action [doing stuff, rather than just saying stuff]
… mainly because to have those characteristics, you’ve probably lived life – rather than a lifestyle – and have experienced highs, lows, crap jobs, great jobs … stuff other than JUST advertising!
Don’t get me wrong, industry – and academic – knowledge is brilliant, but if you can’t use it to relate to a Mum with 3 kids who survives on $100 per week, I’m not going to be interested … and that’s maybe why that LinkedIn job description bothers me so much, because it’s literally that, the description of a job and for me, great planning comes from people, not a bunch of process-focused, tangible attributes.
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So as I wrote/complained about last week, it’s been snowing in Shanghai.
Even though I’ve not lived in a place that has had snow for almost 20 years – and have been perfectly OK with that fact for all those years – I can’t help but accept it’s quite nice to have around.
Sure it’s cold and has forced me to enclose my feet in contraptions that I am sure were created to be torture machines from the past [that’s shoes if didn’t know] but because my reference point for the white stuff was frozen in a time to when I was much, much younger – my initial reaction to a city covered in white was that it was time to play.
I think I mentioned to some of you that within minutes of getting out of the apartment, I found myself making snowballs and throwing them at people. Sure, they were the wrong people [ie: not who I thought it was, which resulted in me having to try and apologise using a few words of Mandarin and some excessive hand gestures] but the fact that was the first thing I did kind of makes me feel good.
Well, probably more sad.
Anyway, the thing is because it’s been so long since I saw the stuff falling out of the sky, it felt like I was seeing it for the first time and the whole concept of ‘experience innocence’ is one I find fascinating.
Without wishing to sound like a weirdo – or a pervert – one thing I love to do is watch a kid experiencing something for the first time.
It could be their first interaction with snow … circus’ … animals … it doesn’t really matter, I just find watching their faces and actions amazing and end up feeling kind-of honoured I was there to share it with them, even if they don’t realise it and will have forgotten it when they get older.
And that is why I am secretly quite excited about the snow.
It’s more than just nostalgia, there was a sort of ‘discovery’ element to it … and so not only did it make me wish I could clearly remember how I felt the first time I experienced stuff, it made me re-think and re-evaluate a whole bunch of things that go way beyond just the category of icy water and that’s nice because when you get to my age, the thought that you can still be enchanted and inspired by something from your past is rather pleasing, especially in my industry which is almost exclusively focused on the new.
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