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


In England, Having Tea With The Queen.
July 27, 2011, 6:30 am
Filed under: Comment

… so no blog posts till next week. Lucky bastards.

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Debi Does Departure …
July 25, 2011, 6:10 am
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Weird.

So today is one of those days I hate – a day where I have to say goodbye to one of my wonderful colleagues and team mates.

To be honest, she doesn’t actually leave till Friday – but I bugger off to the UK tonight so for me, this is the last day I’ll see her.

Debi has been in China for about 6 years and at W+K for about 18 months and in the time she has been here, she has cemented her reputation as a wonderful planner, colleague and person … and to say she’ll be missed is a massive understatement.

In the time I’ve known her, I have been lucky enough to pretty much see all sides of her character.

She is kind, generous, smart, empathetic, open, warm, involving and very, very weird.

Maybe it’s the fact she comes from Canada or maybe it’s because she’s just a wonderful freak – but I can honestly say that despite only having worked together for a year, there are things she has done that I will never forget for as long as I live.

Sick.

To be honest, most of them would require you to have ‘been there’ for the full impact – however turning up 7 minutes before a major meeting pissed out her head [it was everyone else’s fault, apparently], spending the day exploring a sex supermarket and claiming it was part of our monthly ‘planner safari’, eating more fried chicken than an American red neck before a flight because she “hadn’t tried that brand before” and arguing that the reason she wouldn’t reach over to unlock a passenger car door is because she’d be too busy “looking at the car mats” are just a couple of the lowlight, highlights.

Evil.

Despite having had to sit next to me for the last 6 months and going through the sorts of trials and tribulations that would break most people [ie: sitting next to me for the last 6 months] she has maintained her wonderful sense of optimism, humour and mischief and at a time where planners are seemingly sounding more and more like emotionless robots, Debi’s infectious, effervescent energy makes people want to work with her, rather than run and hide.

I have always been of the belief that the job of a boss is to give their people experience and exposure so when they decide to leave, they get a better job than they might otherwise of achieved but in Debi’s case, she’s leaving for an even better reason.

Love.

On Saturday, the day after she finishes her wonderful work on LEVIS, she heads over to Portland – without a guaranteed job, though she’ll be snapped up in an instant – to go and be with her boyfriend, a creative at W+K.

I think that is brilliant.

Of course I am absolutely gutted she’s leaving, but anyone that chooses life over a lifestyle gets my vote which is why as sad as I am that she’s going, I am also immensely proud and happy.

[L] Sweet. [R] Sour.

Debi, thank you for everything. It has been a genuine pleasure knowing and working with you and my life is better for the experience.

Enjoy everything and don’t change a thing about yourself.

Except maybe your thumbs.



One Wedding & No Funeral …
July 25, 2011, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

I love weddings.

Love them.

Even the bad weddings are good and I’ve been to a few.

Groom doesn’t turn up?

Check.

Groom doesn’t turn up because he’s on the run from the police?

Check.

Jilted bride announced – through tears – she’s pregnant with the soon-to-be-arrested runaway groom?

Check.

But weddings don’t have to be that extreme because the simple act of seeing people I care about, be so happy, makes me happy.

The reason I am saying this is that on Friday, a dear friend of mind is getting married.

After being engaged for almost TWENTY YEARS.

TWENTY!

Now you might be wondering why they would be doing the deed after so long and the answer is French tax laws.

You see after a few years of personal trials and tribulations, they have decided to pack everything in and buy a working vineyard in France and move there full time.

Nice.

However, because the French tax system is more complicated than a 96 side rubik’s cube, they’ve realised getting married will make their new life a whole lot easier which is why on Friday, I’ll be in the UK celebrating a fantastic day.

I can’t wait.

I know that makes me sound a complete ponce, but I can’t.

Apart from the fact they are 2 of my closest friends, it is great to see them do something that is so awesome.

I know you might think that after 20 years, nothing will really change once that piece of paper has been obtained, but it does. And it changes in a great way.

I was with Jill for about 3 years before we got married and I was already as happy as could be.

To be honest, I didn’t mind if we got married or not because the only thing I cared about was being with her … but for a bunch of reasons, Jill wanted to make it official and so in September ’07 we did … and you know what, it was the best decision of my life.

Marriage does make things different.

Not in bad ways … or external ways … or big, bad and external ways … it just affects how you feel inside.

You feel stronger and securer [if that’s a word].

You feel you have double the power … double the opportunities … double the possibilities.

You feel you’re able to create stuff together … stuff that can change the path of your life, in a good way.

You stand closer together.

Happier.

Taller.

It’s the best feeling on earth.

Of course with a near 50:50 divorce rate, not everyone feels that way and I appreciate on face value, everything I’ve described could be achieved without making things ‘official’ … but from my experience, that’s exactly what that piece of paper did for me and that’s why I’m so happy Doug and Sally are getting married, because as brilliant as their relationship was before, I know it’ll be even better once that ceremony on Friday takes place and I’ll be happy to see that happen because they deserve nothing but the absolute best..

The only bad thing about my little is that this will literally be the first time in my life I’ll be in England but not visiting Nottingham.

Normally I’d pop down, even if I’m only there for a few hours – but my Mum is in Italy and Paul is in Spain so the main reasons to go are not there.

That devastates me.

It’s like I’m entering a new phase of my life … one where a couple of the most important people in my life aren’t there … even though the reality is they’ve both buggered off for a few weeks on holiday.

But the thing is, after almost 20 years away, going to England is synonymous with going ‘home’ so while this trip is for wonderful reasons, the fact I’ll be staying in London for my entire 42 hours rather than popping home is one that I’m finding hard to come to terms with.

That might sound over-dramatic and it probably is … but as I have been away for so long, having things that let me feel connected to home is far more important than you’d think, as I discussed here and here.

So here’s to Doug and Sally … and let’s hope they don’t mind one of their wedding guests turning up in Birkenstocks!



Thanks For The Memories …
July 22, 2011, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

My first teacher was Mrs Berry.

I was 5.

The following year I was in Mrs Staples class … then Mrs Crowe … then Mr Catchick [who I will never forgive for making me clean up some other kids vomit in the classroom] then uber-strict Mrs Terry’s and finally, the gentle giant [unless he was giving you the slipper] Mr Aspinal.

The headmaster was Mr Dewing … the caretaker was Mr Roberts … the dinner ladies were Mrs Whitehead, Mrs McCutchon and Mrs Gibson … Mr Fletcher doubled as the sports teacher and Mrs Cohen – who I fortunately avoided – was the lady who used to slam a ruler down on your fingers if you had misbehaved.

Between the years of 1975-1981 – apart from my parents – these were the adults that I saw most in my life.

Now obviously that is a long time ago.

A very, very long time ago.

And while there are a few things from that time that are still in my life … my Mum, my family home, Paul [who I was in every class at school with between 1975-1986] and Nottingham Forest … it’s fair to say my life has pretty much moved on.

With all that in mind, it’s kind of weird that an innocuous little notice – posted on my Facebook wall – could have such an effect on me.

Mr Fletcher never taught me.

He was there on the very first day I started at Heymann, but I was never in his class.

And yet I wish I was there to wish him well.

I wish I could shake him by the hand and say thank you for 37 years of teaching.

I wish I could ask how he feels about never making Headmaster.

I wish I could chat with new and old pupils and teachers and compare stories.

I wish I could see the hall and see if they still hide the apparatus behind the back curtain.

I wish I could see the chairs so I can remember how small I once was.

I wish I could see if the marble was still half buried in the playground concrete.

I wish I could walk in and smell the air.

Or hear the bell.

Or the echos of my past.

I wish I could say goodbye.



So This Is How Ronnie Corbett Feels …
July 21, 2011, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

The baby industry – like everywhere in the World – is very competitive in China.

Despite a one child policy, you can’t walk down an alleyway without bumping into some pregnant woman.

Because of this, shops are desperate to get their unfair slice of the baby action … so while many take out ads or do a direct marketing campaign to new mother groups, there’s a shop near our office who did something much more interesting.

No, they’ve not hired me to stand outside of their shop [let’s be honest, if anything that would have the opposite effect] they’ve put a set of giant furniture outside of their store.

What this has done is not only get people to notice the store, but talk about it.

Not just Mum’s and Dad’s … but people who have no kids, aren’t old enough to have kids or are to old to have any more kids.

With a few bits of wood, they have found a way to capture attention, convey the magic of the store and cleverly represent what they do and who they do it for.

Now imagine if an agency had been given that brief.

Would they have come up with it?

Do you think?

While I’d like to think/hope a couple would [us included] but my gut tells me that most of them wouldn’t.

They’d come up with a film … an app … a poster … a youtube video …

Sure it would look good … sure it would probably be bursting with energy and colour … but I’d bet it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful or effective as building an oversized table and chairs and placing it in front of their store.

And here’s the thing, adland could do that …

Adland should do that …

While there are many reasons this sort of solution is the exception, rather than the rule – I feel media agencies have a big part to play in it all.

Of course it’s not purely their fault – as I said, creative agencies and their ego is very much to blame too – however because clients tend to judge their effectiveness by the level of media exposure they’ve achieved [R&F] – rather than by specific business goals – media agencies are basically being encouraged to push for creative work that can be placed in measurable media channels because it help ensure they get their fees.

What this means is that if an agency did come up with the idea of building a giant table and chair to promote a baby shop, they’d be told it would be better if they turned the concept ‘into an ad’ because that way they could achieve better R&F scores.

While I appreciate media and creative agency separation has driven massive profits for holding companies, I don’t know whether clients have benefited nearly as much.

My view is that unless adland gets back to remembering what it’s here for – which, contrary to belief, is not about awareness or achieving sales without longer term benefit – then we will continue to dig our own grave, and that would be a tragedy because I truly believe adland is one of the most powerful and valuable assets for business … though to realise that, it requires everyone to be focused on the same goal, not what will drive their personal profit centre.



Sometimes, What Is Essential Is Invisible To The Eye …
July 20, 2011, 6:18 am
Filed under: Comment

One of the best bosses I had was a guy called Chris Jaques.

He was great for a bunch of reasons – his leadership, the faith he put in his people and his overall inspiration.

However one of the other things he did was cultivate an atmosphere of ‘we’re in it together’.

I’m not talking about senior management towing the line and then demanding everyone follows suit … I’m talking about getting everyone from the receptionist up, knowing what the goal and the plan was, and what role they needed to play to make it happen.

[I’m not saying the receptionist is the lowest rung of an agency, it’s just to demonstrate a point so put your knives away]

And here’s the thing, Chris’ skill was appreciating details made success.

Sure the big things mattered … but how people worked together, interacted together, collaborated together was everything to him.

Don’t get me wrong, he didn’t adopt some crowd source, everyone-can-have-a-good-idea type of bullshit – there was definitely someone driving the overall goal and approach – it’s just he understood that when everyone knew what they were doing, why they were doing it and what it was all leading up to, a more seamless process occurred, exemplified by the fact people were encouraged to make slight tweaks to things if they saw the process/goal was either going off course, or able to be improved.
_____________________________________________________________________

“If you think you can do it all on your own, you’re either God or an idiot.”
Roger Campbell.

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This sort of approach has been well documented in the book ‘Nudge‘ [it’s also one of the key reasons behind Toyota’s meteoric rise, especially given they come from a country whose culture is literally the relentless pursuit of perfection] which is why I am continually surprised when I hear companies mandating a none-negotiable, stringent approach &/or process when there is countless amounts of evidence to suggest effectiveness and efficiency can be dramatically improved when you embrace, inform and empower the actions of the people around the process, not just in it.

Guess what I’m saying is, if you’re in adland and you want to improve your odds of success – you could do a lot worse that just making sure you’re nice to the people throughout the agency – because there’s a shit load of people and steps between writing a great brief and making an awesome ad.



Better Late Than Never. Especially When Everyone Else Is Still Late …
July 19, 2011, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

Remember that post where I said Asian Governments and businesses were more focused on attracting foreign investment and tourism than their Western counterparts?

Well it’s pleasing to see that Starwood and Hilton hotels have finally got off their arses and evolved their offering so that they actively appeal to Asian guests rather than continually expecting them to adapt to Western tastes and habits.

Despite the major step in the right direction, I do find it tragically amusing that Starwood Chief Executive, Frits van Paasschen, said:

“I know how daunting it is to step into a country for the first time so we want to make sure that when Chinese travellers go outside of China for the first time, whether for business of pleasure, that they are as comfortable as possible.”

So I assume for the previous 25 odd years, neither Starwood or Hilton gave a flying fuck about making their Chinese guests feel comfortable when outside of their home country.

There is a major issue they’re missing …

In many cases, Chinese hotel guests – especially those traveling for business – actively choose to not stay in an expensive international hotel.

They may eat or meet people there, but in terms of where they choose to stay, there are some fundamental differences in what they look for.

A while ago, I did some work on the differences between Western and Chinese business travelers and what we found was …

WEST EAST
Grandeur Comfort
Social Practical
“Deserve It” “Earn It”
Their Money My Money
Work, Rest & Play Work & Rest
International Food Local Food
Indulgence Purposeful
Rest Stop Pit Stop

Of course, not everyone thinks/acts this way – however there was some data we got our hands on, that showed the average Chinese business traveler valued very different things to the average Western business traveller and almost universally, international hotels were not catered to these requirements.

[International hotels tended to base their ‘Asian credentials’ on an aesthetic or a cuisine choice rather than appreciating what many really valued and were willing to spend their money on]

Saying that, I think it was a smart move for Starwood to temporarily move its headquarters to Shanghai for a month [though if I strip away the PR hype, I assume what they really did was send some of their Head Office people to their Shanghai office for a month] though I still stand by my view that more companies should be globally located in this part of the World because they know way more about the West than the West know about Asia.