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

Don’t Take Anything For Granted …
June 30, 2011, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

So a couple of weeks ago, one of my younger colleagues asked for advice on how she could get more involved in meetings.

When I asked her what she meant, she detailed all the stuff I talked about in my presentaphobia post as well as a whole bunch of additional issues ranging from how Asian culture expects women ‘to behave’ within the business environment through to how her clients mainly communicated in English and that was not her native language.

I immediately understood what she was going through and decided I’d do some training on the issue for the women in the office, which I entitled:

“How To Be A Bitch But In A Good Way”
[How to ask & respond to the tough questions without being intimidated]

Well, did that piss some people off.

I was informed that I had offended a number of people in the agency with the title of my training because they felt it was rude … I was advocating ‘being a bitch to succeed’ and by only inviting the agencies women to attend, I was potentially perpetuating the stereotype especially as I was a white male doing the training.

To be fair, they had a point – however in my defense, I was hoping that after nearly a year working with me, they’d know my goal would be to only help the young and talented in the office, rather than hinder … that my range and choice of vocabulary is always highly questionable and that I wasn’t advocating BEING a bitch, but encouraging people to harness the spirit of someone who wants to be heard [but in a good way].

As for why I only invited the women?

Well I’ll be doing training for the guys too, however the fact is around the World, women are faced with massive challenges and prejudices and no more is that prevalent than in Asia. On top of that, I found some photos from an Asian advertising bash and was overwhelmed by how many of the senior agency figures were predominantly white, middle aged and male – and that bothered me a lot.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the people in these photos are bad people who advocate gender and cultural stereotypes [afterall I’m kind-of one of them, even if I don’t want to be one of them] it’s just that I found it sad that the industry in this part of the World was so under-represented by people from this side of the World – especially women – and I wanted to pass on some of the lessons I’d learnt over the years to help our talented women feel more confident to express themselves [as well as overcome some of the additional hurdles they face] so their talent can shine and they can help change the make up of adland management over the next few years.

Well I did the training and it went very well.

Apart from the people who attending giving me positive feedback, the couple of people who were concerned it could come across as ‘a man dictating how to behave to the helpless women of Asia’ realised it was simply the tales of a bloke from Nottingham, passing on some of the lessons he’s learnt over the years and that he genuinely had the best interests of his colleagues at heart.

But as much as I was disappointed that anyone I work with could of thought I would fail to be sensitive to the people, gender and issues of the region, I learnt [or re-learnt] some valuable lessons from all this as well.

1/ People make instant judgements and hoping they’ll “get you” should never be taken for granted – especially if you’re still relatively new.

2/ Offensive words get all the focus, even when they’re surrounded with meaning that is intended to soften their impact.

3/ Years of negativity and prejudice overwhelm any positive historical actions or behaviour.
[Unless all your actions and behaviour are directly linked to the topic at hand]

4/ It’s important to do these things, even if it causes deeply held issues and concerns to rise up and cause tension.

5/ What you do, how you do it and how often you do it is the only thing that can make a real difference.

6/ It’s genuinely great – and healthy – when people express their concerns directly and we must continually encourage that attitude at all times and with all people.
[Which this training is also designed to help people do, without the fear of being insulting or causing anger – which I accept must sound weird coming from me]

Anyway, while many of the things I talked about in the training have been said before [by me and by others] … and many people would say it was nothing they didn’t know already … and the examples I used may sound obvious or trivial … I know from personal experience, the techniques I talked about helped me [and continue to help me] a huge amount – not just in meetings, but in how I get others to understand, influence and buy my views – so for anyone out there, especially the younger advertising women in this part of the World [it is also translated into Chinese ], I attach it for you to check out, play with and use it as you feel fit.

Hope it helps. Even a little bit.


Slides 2-14
They are there to explain the reasoning behind the training [as detailed above].

Slides 17-22
They describe scenarios that people will hopefully – in a sad way – resonate with.

Slides 23-33
They describe the techniques to help you handle pretty much every situation – at least in terms of being able to express your point of view without fear of reprise, however contentious you may be being.

Slides 34-38
Give some challenges for you to try and practice your techniques on.

Slides 39-44
Describe some additional tips and reminders.

Cannes Can’t Help Themselves …
June 29, 2011, 6:20 am
Filed under: Comment

OK, admission time, I hate Cannes.

I hate almost everything about it.

I appreciate it has some good points but I can’t help but feel it’s doing it’s best to destroy those too.

I wrote about much of this on my last visit there – however I’ve just heard that the ‘PR Grand Prix’ has been awarded to Australian Bank, NAB, for their ‘Break Up With The Banks’ stunt.

This was where they staged couples breaking up in restaurants on Valentine’s day and viraled the results.

No, I’m serious.

The justification for this campaign was that there was a perception in Australia that the big 4 banks were in cahoots and fixed charges … so what better way than to say/prove otherwise than to complicate a fairly simple message with a bit of contrived communication when all they had to do was change and uncomplicate their fee structure, stick to it and communicate it.

“But people don’t care/believe what their banks say and do”, I hear you say.

That’s right, and it’s because of bullshit stuff like this that is part of the cause.

“But lots of people talked about it and it achieved much more coverage than their media budget could of achieved on it’s own”, you retort.

Sure, but being talked about doesn’t automatically mean you’ve captured societies imagination, it can also mean people think you’re shit.

I talked about this campaign at Circus [admittedly after only seeing one of their billboards] and afterwards, someone from the NAB marketing team came up to me “to put me right”.

Standing 2 inches from my face, he said …

“The problem is you only saw one part of the campaign, so you don’t know the whole picture because if you did, you’d know that we are not like the other banks” … before proceeding to tell me in minute detail everything they’d done for the campaign.

I took this in for a few seconds before I said that as far as I knew, the Australian Government had not passed a law stating all its citizens must watch every piece of communication created as part of their advertising campaign and because of this, I’d possibly seen as much of the campaign as the average Australian punter. I also pointed out that even after he had told me what the campaign was about, I still had no desire to consider moving to them and if anything, it made me distrust them because a financial institution that thinks it’s a wise investment to fake relationship break ups in restaurants on Valentine’s Day is not the sort of company I want looking after my money.

He walked away.

When I look at what IDEO did for Bank of America and compare it to this shit, I shudder and the fact it got the Grand Prix at Cannes [albeit in the PR section] it makes me sick.

At a time where so many people think banks are arseholes – I find it amazing they used this approach for their communication. Don’t get me wrong, financial institutions don’t have to communicate like they all have the charisma of Keanu Reeves, but this sort of approach won’t change the way people think of them … fundamentally changing how they behave and operate will change the way people think of them.

I appreciate the role of PR can be different to other channels of communication, however I know how amazingly influential it can be and seemingly having a goal of getting ‘column inches’ is – at least to me – underselling the potential of the discipline and shows Cannes is still more about the gimmick than the power of commercial creativity, regardless what programs and speakers they put on display.

A Face For Radio …
June 28, 2011, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

So a while back I was invited to Seattle so I could rant at the lovely folk at Microsoft.

You’d think they’d of learnt their lesson, but no – they went and did an interview with me about the digital and advertising landscape in China.

Saying that, I do have this sneaky suspicion that it was all a ruse so that they could …

1/ Attach a blue light thing to my neck to make me look like a robot.
2/ Do something to the microphone so I can sound like a robot.

… but on the brightside, they literally beeped out my swearing.

That’s bloody awesome, that’s never happened to me before and now I feel I can rub shoulders with some of the best – from George Best on Wogan to Roger Mellie, the man on the telly.

Saying all that, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with these interview things.

On one side, I really enjoy being able to express my point of view. Apart from the fact I have the ego of Bono and genuinely want Asia’s people and culture to be treated with respect by brands and business throughout the World, I find it hugely amusing that me – some bald, uneducated bloke from Nottingham – gets asked for his viewpoint alongside far better qualified and looking individuals.

Then there’s the hate bit … which basically happens the exact moment I watch or read whatever I’ve said.

It never comes out quite as I wanted …
It never sounds as strong as I hoped …
I use my hands like a mad scientist …
I get alarmed at just how much I ramble …
… and go off tangent …
And I sound like a fucking robot.

Maybe that’s why I like writing this blog. I get to control what I express more carefully … which begs the question, if this shit is me being more diligent, what on earth would it be like if I just succumbed to typing whatever my brain commanded my fingers.

I shudder to think …

Anyway, here’s my robot ranting rubbish, and yes, I am wearing a Queen t-shirt.

I’m Lovin’ It …
June 23, 2011, 6:20 am
Filed under: Comment

Normally I’d write an overlong post somewhat related to an issue I feel is coming out of the photo below.

Of course the reaction I’d get from you lot is:

1/ Ignoring it.
2/ Complaining about it.
3/ Ignoring and complaining about it … and then making totally tangent comments.

However the good news [for you] is that …

1/ I have to catch a plane.
2/ I’m already running late for it.
3/ I’ll be away till next Tuesday.

… so I’ll cut with the waffle and just leave you with the pic.

Is An Ad Agency With Ethics An Oxymoron?
June 22, 2011, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

“Trust me, I care.”

I was recently asked for my opinion on whether adland should have its own code of ethics.

The reason this topic came up wasn’t because a bunch of people started questioning what they were doing to society [though I do know a lot of people who do feel this way, of which I am most definitely one of them], but because a few people felt it was unfair that some brands were able to do – or show – stuff in their ads that other markets didn’t allow and so it automatically gave them an unfair advantage at the ‘award’ shows.

I know … I know … it’s sickening isn’t it.

Anyway, here’s what I said:


While some people think most ad agencies would happily sell their collective grandmothers for a major new business win [the truth is only 37.35% of them would] … the reality is adland already works within a number of highly controlled and regulated standards.

US Advertising professor, Jef I. Richards, sums it up best [albeit with more of an American focus and a slight edit of his whole quote]:

“There is a huge difference between journalism and advertising: Journalism aspires to truth. Advertising is regulated for truth. I’ll put the accuracy of the average ad against the average news story any time.”

However there is a major difference between law and ethics which is why a question that is increasingly being asked is whether the advertising industry should have their own code of ethics.

Well, I’d say on an individual basis – many agencies do.

Of course whether they are ethics the masses would always be in agreement with, is a different matter … however there are definitely ‘lines’ certain agencies aren’t willing to cross that go beyond the government enforced policies.

Should there be an industry wide set?

In theory it would be great but then in theory I look like Brad Pitt because I have 2 eyes, a nose and a mouth … however, as in most things in life, reality tends to cast a different light on things which is why I don’t see how it can happen.

Who would make the decision?

Who would be able to find acceptable common ground when cities [let alone countries] have completely different views on a whole range of subjects and issues … and that’s before you even take into account what is legal in one country could be tantamount to declaring war on another.

And even if someone managed to get through all that, we’d then have to suffer the internal bickering.

Seriously, do we honestly think an agency who handles, for example, a fast food brand would happily accept a ban on advertising to children?

Of course not … and if the industry felt it was ethically wrong to sell overly aspirational imagery, we’d all grind to a standstill.

As much as having a universal code of ethics sounds great in theory, I think it is best to leave it to the laws of the individual land and the ethical standards of the individual agency.

It might not be perfect, we might still sometimes try and find ways around it, but I don’t think we are capable of doing it properly or fairly on our own.

How My Football Team Shows Brand ‘Rules’ Are Wrong.
June 21, 2011, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

I support Nottingham Forest.

You could say that is my first mistake.

However, I have followed them since 1978 [when they were good] and so I’m pretty much too far gone to change sides now.

The past 20 years have been rough.

Sure, in comparison to an unemployed dad who has 3 kids to raise, it’s not been that bad – however whereas once we were the proud Kings of Europe, we’re now the poor cousins of the Midlands.

From European Champions to League 1 regulars [or old league 2] in a few decades.

No winner of a major European Cup has ended up so low in a league.

No one.

Not one.

Which is another accolade we can add to the list of disappointments.

But despite all that, I still continue to throw my money at them.

Season tickets, internet access, merchandise … and then there’s the emotional expense where I spend countless nights huddled around a computer listening to them flatter to deceive once again.

But the last couple of seasons have had their ups.

2 years ago – after scraping survival in the Championship league – we started the season by buying 9 – YES NINE – players and then shock everyone by getting into the Premiership playoffs.

Of course we fucked it up – but despite the disappointment, we were so happy not to be fighting off relegation, we all left with smiles on our faces.

Here was a team on the up.

New players … a strong and successful manager [Billy Davies] … a multi-millionaire owner … it only needed a little push and we’d finally be back in the big time.

Except that push didn’t happen.

There was big talk …

The clubs Managing Director [not the team manager] spouted off a whole list of major names on their ‘wish list’ but in the end, it seemed their wishes weren’t shared by the players because apart from 1 loanee signing, we started off the season with no one new.

And yet, despite having the rug pulled from underneath us before the league had even started, we ended the season – yet again – in a playoff position.

But this time it was different.

OK, not everything was different because yet again we lost out in the playoffs – however what was new was that this time, instead of hearing our players excited about playing for the ultimate prize, we heard news of senior and pivotal players not being offered new contracts.

Sure, you could say the club were waiting until they knew their fate before offering them, but imagine if you were a player and you didn’t know if you were going to be in a job in a few weeks … would you really care whether they achieved their goal or not?

And now here we are …

At a time where you should be excited about the players that you hear might be coming in, all we’re hearing is of players leaving because they’re sick of how the club have treated them or how we’re going after lower league transfers because ‘they’re cheaper’ or – and this blows my mind – how the club might sack the manager because despite being the most successful guy they’ve had in 12 years, his outspokeness has upset the Managing Director.

I say we hear this, but actually we only hear it from other sources because the club is saying nothing.

It’s not answering the complaints of their once loyal players.

It’s not answering the concerns they may be sacking the best manager we’ve had.

It’s not talking about their plans for the future.



I cannot tell you how angry this has made me.

I shouldn’t care … I’ve had years of being disappointed, underwhelmed and given false promises – plus at the end of the day, it’s only a game – however I do care, I love this club, it is both a pillar of where I’m from and who I am and to not even be communicated to by the people who have happily taken my money for 30+ years is a disgrace.

Being wronged is one thing, being wronged and having no one tell you sorry – or even why – is another thing all together.

If I was treated this way by anyone else I’d tell them to fuck off.

I’d never speak to them again.

I’d wish them pain, suffering and misery.

And yet I won’t.

Even though I am seeing a team that was filled with amazing potential, slowly but systematically get taken apart and replaced with shit … even though I am probably going to witness the best manager we’ve had since the genius Cloughy get fired* because the petty, bland, corporate-toady Managing Director didn’t like him … even though I am destined to another decade of gut-wrenching disappointment and failure … I’ll be there.

I’ll buy my season ticket … I’ll get up in the middle of the night to watch the games … I’ll order their merchandise …

Adland likes to talk about brand loyalty but they don’t know shit.

Someone who stays true to a brand despite having them kick you in the face over and over and over again is brand loyalty, buying Colgate fucking toothpaste when you’ve run out of it, isn’t.

Of course football is different to FMCG … sure what I am doing is sad and pathetic … but here’s the thing, why can’t a mass market consumer brand brand attract the same sort of loyalty as I have for Forest?

Bands get it.
Football teams get it.
Even some movie stars get it.
Why not an FMCG?

We have become an industry that acts as if there’s 2 World’s, the ‘real life’ version and the ‘marketing’ version and we have an attitude that they can never, ever meet.

It’s time to stop thinking and acting in this way.

I’m not denying it would be difficult for a soap powder to attract the same sort of loyalty as I have for Nottingham Forest … but by the same token, there’s people all over the World that are doing a whole heap of weird, wonderful and irrational things because of something that means a lot to them … and so if brands truly want to infiltrate into people’s lives, they need to stop putting a lid on trying new things and start comparing themselves to the extremes of loyalty, not the most passive version of it.

* Since I wrote this post, my prediction has come true and they’ve sacked Billy and replaced him with this idiot.

What Planners Can Learn From Butchers …
June 20, 2011, 6:20 am
Filed under: Comment

A long time ago, I was told “… you will never find a poor butcher”.

While I can’t remember who told me this, I can remember what they said when I asked why …

“Because they make sure everything can be sold”.

They charge a premium for the best cuts.

A good price for the more popular parts.

And then package what’s left over to maximise revenue … from sausages through to ‘stock’ for stew.

In short, one animal can be sold in such a way that the money that it provides more than exceeds the money that it cost to buy.

Now compare that to adland.

Many undercharge what they offer.

Most have to negotiate on what they end up getting.

The profit margin they get is laughable for the time and effort they put in.

And almost everything is created in a bespoke fashion so that once it’s been handed over, it can never be used or sold to someone else again.


What’s even funnier is that adland loves to go on and on about how they’re business geniuses but in reality, so much of what they do demonstrates they’re anything but.

When you start a business, cash flow is the killer.

To say you have to watch your income and outgoings is an understatement … and yet I think most agencies would benefit from pretending they were in exactly the same situation.


Because when you start a business you have 2 choices … go cheap or find ways to make the money you need to do all the things you want.

At cynic we chose the latter.

The problem was, we had so many things we wanted to do, we needed to find ways to make way more money than normal agencies would get from their clients.

And this became our first brief.


We weren’t talking about ‘quality of work’ or a ‘clearly defined positioning’ … they were conditions of us wanting to start a company, we were talking about practical things, things we could or should do, that appealed to clients wallets.

And you know what? We came up with shitloads.

Sure some weren’t too successful, I think our ‘loose lips’ campaign – where clients paid us to act as an ‘early negative news warning system’ [remember, this was way before things like Twitter] – got about 10 subscriptions in 8 or so years … however our royalty scheme remuneration policy basically not only kept us in business, but gave us access to the sorts of briefs adland would kill their parents for a shot at.

However the one I want to talk about is how we followed the philosophy of butchers to sell the same research countless times.

When we started, we got quite a lot of projects where companies wanted our view on stuff.

The future of travel.
The definition of service.
The truth behind music choice.

Rather than approach the challenge specifically around our clients request, we thought about who else might find this information valuable and then went off and talked to people [in that industry] to find out what they’d specifically like to know.

Depending on the level of interest [or our ability to pre-sell the report to multiple parties] we would offer our original client the option to pay less for the work if they agreed to letting us reuse/resell the findings … with the guarantee [1] we’d only do this with brands outside of their core category and industry and [2] all confidential data would be removed.

While some clients were skeptical, most were quite happy to do this as the difference in cost was considerable … which meant that once the work was done, we were able to re-edit our findings [because we had included breadth of views and exploration in the overall process] and resell them for a significant fee.

Suddenly our report on the definition of service for Virgin Atlantic was able to be repackaged and sold to McDonalds and W hotels – which meant we had suddenly just tripled our income for not very much extra work.

Of course it didn’t always work out – sometimes we lowered our fee for a client and then found no one else was interested in buying the work we’d done – however this didn’t stop us from trying because as a small business, looking for ways to maximise our income was a necessity, not a luxury.

Everyday clients ask planners for views and perspectives on stuff.

Stuff that goes beyond the category and into understanding everyday life.

And everyday, planners present this information to clients in the knowledge most will nod their head and then place it on their bookshelf, never to be seen again.

While I appreciate it’s hard to get paid for this sort of stuff – especially if it’s within the scope of work of the annual agreement – I believe planners should not regard this as ‘someone else’s problem’ because if you want to do work that excites and enthralls you, you should look for ways to make this happen, of which obtaining the revenue so your bosses can’t bitch to you about ‘wasted time’ is one of them.