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

The Good News …
February 21, 2012, 5:09 am
Filed under: Comment

The bad news, it’s only for the day.

A Little Reminder For Anyone Who Has Woken Up This Monday Morning And Started Stressing About What They Have To Do, Who They Have To Do It For And What Their Life Is Becoming …
February 20, 2012, 6:10 am
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How To Outrun The Inevitable …
February 17, 2012, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

There are a lot of agencies out there.

In China alone, there’s said to be tens of thousands.


However amongst all those – not in China, but generally – there’s a few that have a ‘global’ name.

Traditionally, they fall into 2 camps:

Those who are living off their legacy and those creating it.

Yes, that’s harsh – and there’s a whole host of reasons for it – but that’s pretty much how it feels.

Of course, these two states are in a constant state of motion … one good campaign can lift an agency from the past to the present and vice versa … however the agencies that tend to have the greatest momentum are the ones that seemingly are continuously creating their legacy rather than riding on their past.

Now in no way am I suggesting an agency purposefully ‘takes a back seat’ – there are many reasons why that can happen – however the point of this post is that as much as there are many agencies out there who are grabbing a bunch of the headlines right now, there’s 2 that are seemingly always at the forefront of commercial creativity.

BBH and W+K

Now without doubt there are some fundamental differences between the 2 companies – some good, some not so good – however the thing I find fascinating are their commonalities, of which a number of them, I believe, have directly enabled them to succeed while others have fallen.

I should point out that what I’m about to write is my perception.

The fact is I’ve never worked at BBH and while I know many of the guys there very well – I am still basing my views on observation and here-say.

And as for W+K. Well while I have had the pleasure of meeting Dan and his senior management team, we’ve not really talked about this sort of thing … most of the time I’m getting bollocked for something.

But that aside, here are 5 things that have made these agencies so creatively influential for so long.

1. Consistent Management.

The guys who run both these agencies have been at these agencies a long time.

Better yet, they are the people who founded these agencies – so they have a vested interest in maintaining the culture of the place rather than just go after the profit, regardless of the implication.

That said, they are constantly introducing new people into positions of influence and power.

Younger people. Talented people.

People who bring new perspectives and thinking to the table so while the principals of the company will stay the same, the expression of it is at the forefront of the times.

2. Control, Not Controlled.

In short, when you own your company rather than a holding company with masses of shareholders, you can control how your company grows and where your company goes.

Basically, control means you can focus on the longer-term, bigger play rather than purely focusing on hitting the next quarterly target.

It’s probably the best ad for communism you could have, ha.

3. A Willingness To Fail.

Both agencies try stuff.

Better yet, the want to try stuff.

There is a reluctance to rest on their laurels.

This isn’t just because they believe to stick with what you know is the surest way to future failure, but because they are adventurous by nature and they believe great things happen from experimentation, even if on first impressions, the result is not quite what they hoped.

They also put their money where their mouth is.

They don’t expect clients to fund their adventures into the unknown, they’ll pay for it … be it in the activities they do or the people they hire.

For both, failure is NOT trying stuff.

4. Culture, Not Function

When I first joined W+K, people talked about it’s unique culture.

To be honest, I’ve heard this sort of thing before and almost always it’s turned into a crock of shit … because the culture that was there was because of the people in the place rather than the company.

But in W+K and BBH’s case, I believe it’s true.

Sure, the people that work there enhance and develop that culture, but there’s a strong philosophical view that permeates every element of both companies.

It’s not about the press releases or the credentials deck … it’s about their standards … their expectations … their beliefs.

They actively encourage trying new things … exploring new approaches … not going for the lowest-common-denominator or the category convention … standing up for what they believe in …

In short, it’s about filling their company with interesting and creative people who share their beliefs [even if they express it in radically different ways], rather than simply those who can perform a specific job function at the lowest price.

5. Involvement, Not Observation.

Northern wrote a blog post recently where he said he was convinced the reason older, senior people lose their dynamism and originality is because no one challenges them and they don’t get in enough situations to be told something they don’t know.

Very true.

However one thing I really like about W+K is that while the senior guys are ridiculously talented and smart and experienced … they welcome opinion, debate and challenge. From everyone. Literally everyone.

I remember the first time I met Dan and John and had an ‘out of body experience’ where I saw myself telling, arguably 2 of the most respected ad guys in history a bunch of stuff I think we should be doing.

OK, so Dan said, “you’re fired” … but he listened and that’s more than many would do.

The other thing is they are all deeply involved in what’s going on.

Not in the sense of dictating outcomes or decisions, but being part of the chaos – contributing, listening, exploring.

Sure that doesn’t happen on every single piece of business on every single campaign, but you’d be amazed how knowledgable about what’s going on. Seriously, you just need 2 minutes in the company of Dan or John or Dave etc and you know that they are absolutely bursting with dynamism and originality, even though by the protocol adopted by many agencies, they should be put out to pasture by now.

Why are they like this?

Because they still care. I honestly think it’s that simple.

They still want to learn. They still want to do stuff. They still want to push boundaries.

It’s fantastic and I honestly believe that one of the reasons this is the case is because they seek out people they regard as talented and interesting … people who can push them … their colleagues … their clients … and their agency to a different place.

Not being scared of change or youth or provocation shows people who are very confident with who they are … which for all the ego and posturing that goes on in this industry, is very rare indeed.

Of course you might think this is all bollocks … and maybe it is, however I can tell you from my time at W+K and my relationship with BBH that I see all this time and time again.

Sure it’s not always perfect, sure there have been some bad mistakes – but that aside – the fact they have been at the forefront of mass market commercial creativity means they must be doing something right … something few other companies have been able to pull off over 30 odd years which is why I honestly believe these are things we could all benefit from following or learning – whether we work in a company or want to start our own.

Making money is not hard.

Being the creative industry darling for a moment in time, is not out of the reach for all.

However making money while sticking to your principals and being an acknowledged leader in [effective] creativity for 3 decades is, and that’s why W+K and BBH stand out from the crowd.

While both agencies shun propriety processes in favour of being judged by what they do [rather than what they say they do] … the reality is you can’t ignore how their principals, philosophies and approach have directly contributed and impacted to the work that so many of us [general public, not just adland] hold in the highest esteem.

Saying “it’s all about the work”, might make a nice headline that people can gravitate to, but a great creative legacy starts way before the brief lands on the table.

Why Hiding In The Shadows Can Sometimes Put You More In The Spotlight …
February 16, 2012, 6:20 am
Filed under: Comment

I’ve written a lot about the loss of long copy ads – and how the industry has mixed up people’s reluctance to read words that don’t interest them with volume of words.

Long copy ads are fast becoming part of a by-gone era, but I recently came across an ad that just might change all that …

[See it clearer, here – but please read it]


Have you checked it out?

Have you?

Honestly, you have to see it before you read any further.

All done?

OK, so let’s continue.

Seriously, how amazing is that.

I absolutely and utterly love it.

I adore the pace … the eloquent phrasing … the way it constantly tries to coax a reaction by gently probing, tempting, flattering, challenging and misdirecting your trains of thought … the requirement to stay completely focused … the need to read between the lines … the incredibly slow reveal and – at the very end – the slight touch of menace they’ve intertwined with an air of concern as they warn you, in the most gentlemanly way possible, to keep this all strictly confidential.

This is copywriting at its best.

Storytelling at its most supreme.

And best of all, you are the star.

Of course given it’s an ad to attract potential ‘spies’ means it was always going to be interesting and intriguing, but that’s why the writing is so wonderful, because they’ve resisted the urge to scream it out from the rooftops, and instead, chosen to let the ad speak in a way that I imagine a real British spy would act and sound:

Calm. Eloquent. Controlled. Educated. Informed. Intelligent. Ambiguous … and ever-so-slightly intimidating.

I also love how the ad has been made to look.

No logo. No headline. Just – on first glance – an innocuous page, standing slightly behind all the other pages screaming for your attention.

It blends itself in the background, wanting you to come to it, not the other way around.

Treating the reader with the intelligence they can work it out.

Filtering out candidates by every line that they read.

Based on the ‘rules’ that much of today’s advertising seems to adhere to, this is almost the perfect anti-ad … and yet it’s one of the best ads I’ve seen in a long time.

I don’t mean best long-copy ads, I mean ads full-stop.

Apart from it being by M&C Saatchi London, I don’t know who specifically wrote this ad for the British Government … I don’t know if we’re ever going to be allowed to know who specifically wrote this ad for the British Government … but I want them to know it’s an exercise in communication magnificence and it restores my faith in what this industry can achieve when it wants to, and when a client allows it to.

Expectations Are In The Eye Of The Beholder.
February 15, 2012, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

So recently I had a major falling out with a very dear friend of mine.

A major falling out.

And a very dear friend.

The problem was, I didn’t know she was angry until she wrote an email featuring some of the most vicious accusations you could ever hope not to get.

She was majorly pissed off.

So pissed off that she was happy to write off a 15 year friendship, despite us having supported each other through all sorts of trials and tribulations in all sort of situations.

And what was it that had caused all this anger?

I didn’t send a card when her new born baby was born.

OK … OK … so I should have, but it’s not like I wasn’t in contact or telling her how happy and proud I was on a regular basis.

But that sounds like I’m justifying myself and that’s not the point of this post.

The point is my friend expected me to react to her big news in a certain way and when I didn’t, she took it as a major – and personal – insult.

But I didn’t know.

I didn’t realise.

And while you may think this makes me thick – and maybe I am – it provides a valuable lesson for her, for me, for you …


Don’t think people – even people you have known and worked with for years – are always going to be on the same wavelength as you.

That doesn’t mean you have to treat people like village idiots because at the end of the day, if people don’t react or respond in the way you hoped, you have to accept that you might have to shoulder some of the blame.

Did you tell them what you wanted? What you expected? What you hoped for?

Did you explain why it was important to you?

Did you give them any information at all?

This is more than two friends having a bust-up … adland is terrible at giving [and taking, but that’s a post for another day] direction.

Maybe it’s because we think it’s ‘un-creative’ … but there’s a big difference between articulating expectations and dictating how you want it done.

Explaining your expectations up front allows clarity right from the start.

It means everyone knows where they stand and gives them the chance to express their point of view or perspective before any issue has a chance to take hold.

So often we take other people’s understanding of what we want for granted … and while 90% of the time, we might get away with it, that doesn’t mean we should continue in this manner because it just means that when something does fuck up, the level of anger will be even greater because both parties will think the other person understood them and their mistake is a sign of selfishness.

I feel terrible about my friendship, however while I accept I might have done better … I also know it’s impossible to live up to someone’s expectations when they haven’t told you what they want.

Life is full of complexity and confusion without us adding to it, so make sure you’re assumptions won’t come back to deeply hurt you.

International ‘Don’t Fuck Off The Lady’ Day …
February 14, 2012, 6:00 am
Filed under: Comment

So today is Valentines Day … that special day where men are guilt-tripped into spending copious amounts of cash on overpriced cards, flowers, chocolates, dinners as a public statement of ‘I LOVE YOU”.

Seriously, it’s almost insulting that companies think a woman could be so easily won over by some dropkick boyfriend simply because he sent her a card.

Isn’t that basically corporate sexism?


I’ve written a lot about how much this day pisses me off [like this one] however I recently came across something that made me think men are starting to fight back.

See that card?

Well it’s a range of Valentine’s Day cards from Asda supermarket that cost 7 pence each.


That’s even less than Billy spends on wooing his lady-friends.

But even better than that, they’ve gone and placed their name right on the front of the card.

I don’t know about you, but nothing says “I Love You” like a 7 pence Valentine’s Day card, made out of the cheapest paper possible with the name of a ‘every day low price’ supermarket plastered on the front.

But that’s the genius of it.

Because at the end of the day, a 7 pence Valentine’s Day card is still a Valentine’s Day card and for a woman, that is still ten thousand times better than having nothing at all … which is why I can’t help but feel the person behind this bit of evil genius was a man.

I should point out my hatred of Valentine’s Day is not because I think expressing your emotions is weak … far from it … I hate Valentine’s Day because it has fuck all to do with love and all to do with fear which is why I subscribe to the view that ‘real love’ is all about telling – and showing – what that special person means to you, each and every day.

Well, that’s my excuse to Jill and I’m sticking with it.

A Man Called Nigel …
February 13, 2012, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

So last week I woke up to hear the tragic news that Nigel Doughty was dead.

He was 54.

Nigel Doughty was an incredibly successful and talented business man … making millions with his investment company, Doughty Hanson, and then – showing he wasn’t always so smart – blowing almost 100 million pounds on Nottingham Forest.

Yes, 100 million pounds.

All that investment and where are we? Yep … 2nd from bottom in the Championship with relegation all but guaranteed.

That aside, his death really affected me.

Not because – like some Forest fans – I was concerned how his death might leave our rubbish football club – but because it re-inforced that you can’t escape death.

Without being morbid, I think about this a lot.

I have found myself – like my father before me – reading obituaries, however unlike him, I pretty much only focus on how old they were when they died.

I think about whether they knew they were going to die?

What they did that day?

How they died?

Were they alone?

Were all their affairs in order?

Nigel Doherty was – on face value – a fit and healthy man.

He was rich, happily married and incredibly successful.

Yet at age 54, it appears he suffered from a heart attack while exercising at his home gym.

What a tragedy.

I don’t know what I’m writing this for or what I really want to say other than you never know when it’s all going to end so to put off what you really want to do seems a terribly foolish – and risky – move.

I’ve met so many people who say stuff like …

“one day I’ll _______________” or “I’d love to be a __________________”

… but it doesn’t happen if you don’t make it happen.

Maybe they’re people that I heard Sir Ken Robinson once describe as ‘idea lovers’ …

They are in love with the THOUGHT of doing something, rather than doing it.

You know, the people who say they’d “love to play the guitar” but have never picked one up.

The people who say “they’d love to change careers” but don’t want to take a pay cut.

The people who say “they want a promotion” but don’t want added responsibility.

Trying and failing is not failing.

Not trying is failing.

Of course everyone is different, but I know when I eventually pop my clogs, I hope people can look at what I’ve done and say, “he lived a full and interesting life” because I know that’s what I’m trying to do and what my parents always encouraged me to do.

I’ve gone off tangent again haven’t I!?

Well what I want to say is thank you Nigel Doughty for everything.

Thank you for saving my club from extinction.

Thank you for being a good Dad and husband.

Thank you for showing rich doesn’t mean heartless.

Thank you for showing success shouldn’t stop experimentation.

Thank you for getting me to do my bloody annual health check.

Life’s short. Live full.