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


My Sons Reaction Hearing My Description Of What Planning Is …
April 21, 2015, 6:25 am
Filed under: Comment

How about that for a title?

How about that for a photo?

How about that for a reaction?

OK, so I admit that maybe my sons yawn was down to tiredness more than anything else, but what if it wasn’t?

I don’t know about the other dads on here, but I often find myself – at 4am, when I’m trying to calm him down from his latest screaming extravaganza – telling him all sorts of stuff.

From how much I love him.

To how much my Dad would have adored him and how much my Mum did adore hm.

To what I hope for him.

To what everything around him is called and what it does.

Floors. Windows. Lights. Cats.

And then that got me thinking about what I’d tell him if he asked me what I did for a living.

To be honest, I’ve struggled with this for many, many years … and that sort-of bothers me.

Policeman wouldn’t have that problem.

Lawyers wouldn’t have that problem.

Even creatives wouldn’t have that problem.

Sure, their discipline has had longer to establish itself in the public consciousness but the fact is what they do stuff is tangible. Stuff that you can see, hear, feel and touch.

What the fuck do we do?

Sure, we do stuff that leads to the stuff you can see, hear, feel and touch but it’s all a bit bollocks isn’t it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing the discipline … it’s important and enjoyable … but the fact it’s hard to describe what I do and that every single planner I know has a different explanation for what they do is troublesome and probably explains why so many people in our industry think we’re a waste of space.

Mind you, when you call yourself an ‘epiphanies hunter’ [which someone I vaguely know actually does] I don’t blame them.



From Grief To The Fragile Illusion Of Normality In 42 Days …
April 20, 2015, 6:20 am
Filed under: Death, Mum, Mum & Dad

So 6 weeks today my beloved Mum died.

In those 42 days, so much has happened and yet, as I sit here – tapping this out on my computer – it feels like nothing has.

Coming back to China has been weird.

It’s like all the pain and sadness and trauma that happened in England happened to another person.

It’s like I am cocooned from the loss and I have to be honest, I don’t like feeling that at all.

I feel guilty.

Selfish.

My Mum was everything to me and yet in some ways, I feel like little has changed.

And yet everything has.

Everything.

I should point out that the reason for this attitude is not because I am a heartless bastard who doesn’t feel a deep sense of loss that my Mum has gone, it’s because I often forget she has.

I know that sounds incredible, but it’s true.

My ‘autopilot’ is like the last 42 days didn’t happen and everything is as it was.

I continually find myself thinking, “I have to tell Mum that”.

Or, “I’m just going to give her a ring”.

And then I remember I can’t … and my emotions kind of freeze.

I use the word ‘freeze’ specifically … because it’s like they don’t know what to do.

A slight nudge one way and I could break down into a mess of grief, a slight nudge the other and my brain might explode when the reality of the situation becomes clear to me.

Again.

My biggest fear is that I am constraining my grief.

I don’t think I am … part of the reason I wrote all those blog posts after my Mum died was to try and get my feelings out … but I might be.

And that would upset my Mum hugely because she knows I did that when my Dad died and that fucked me up for 10 years.

Seriously fucked me up.

But the fact is, living overseas when a loved one dies screws you up.

You don’t pass your old house every day.

You don’t pass the Church you held the funeral at every week.

You don’t see your family and friends every night.

It isolates you.

And while many may think this is a good thing – it helps you move on – I’m not so sure.

You’re left with turmoil deep inside you.

You feel torn between going one way or the other.

You have a sense that you need to change things to represent the deep change that has just gone on in your life.

I have to be honest, I’m going through this now.

I am literally fighting with myself about what to do next.

Part of me wants to run.

I want to take my wife, baby and cat and leave everything else behind.

Work. Planning. Home. China. England.

But the other part knows this is probably just part of the grieving process and some time and stability will help me feel ‘normal’ again … hence work, planning, home and China may be more important to me than they’ve ever been.

As you can tell, I’m feeling a bit helpless and conflicted right now and the thing I’m struggling with is wondering if I would feel this way if I was still in Nottingham.

Of course, seeing my Mum’s house every day would open up a whole different set of issues and emotions … but at least it would feel like I am letting my grief out. Right now, I feel everything has been frozen and placed in a room somewhere … waiting to be thawed out and trip me up all over again the next time I go home, whether for good or for a visit.

That scares me.

What scares me even more is that my little boy will one day go through this.

Hopefully he won’t feel as bad or as confused as I am, but the fact is he will go through it.

The irony is that a parent never wants their child to feel pain and yet, by the simple fact you become a parent, you know you will one day subject them to incredible sadness when you die.

It’s a horrible thought but it’s also the price you pay for becoming a parent.

So why do it?

Because frankly, being a parent is amazing.

It’s better than I could ever of hoped or expected.

Before Otis was born, I thought the best time would be when he was about 3 or 4 – when we could have chats and go on adventures – but I was wrong.

Every day is a brilliant day.

To be honest, it took me 4-5 weeks to really ‘bond’ with him.

Before that, I looked at him as this thing that I was responsible for … that I had to ensure I didn’t ‘fuck up’, but then, when he started gaining some personality traits, I felt an emotional connection to him like I’ve never felt before.

He is my little boy … someone I want to protect and show the World.

Someone who I get the honour of seeing learn and develop every day.

Someone who I will be excited to see make his way in the World.

When he smiles, everything is good.

When he smiles at me, everything is amazing.

Everything.

He single handedly helped me deal with my Mum’s death in a better way.

That is not to take anything away from Jill, my friends and all the wonderful people who reached out to me, but his innocence and happiness made sure the darkness could never get to dark.

I’ve heard the phrase, “the miracle of childbirth” millions of times.

I can honestly say that I didn’t really appreciate what it meant until I had Otis … and I’m not just talking about the day he was born, I’m also talking about everything he has done for me since he was born.

It’s every positive, wonderful and amazing thing rolled into one.

From tomorrow this blog will get back to normal.

By that I mean it will get back to the rubbish I normally spout.

Some of the posts will be even more out-of-date than usual because I wrote them prior to my Mum dying and have just recycled them … but I’ve decided that from here on in, I’ll be back focusing on expressing my ridicule rather than [just] my pain.

My Mum would want that too.

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APSOTW Assignment: From Planning To Managing.
April 10, 2015, 7:00 am
Filed under: Advertising [Planning] School On The Web

So it’s been a long time since we did an Advertising Planning School on the Web [APSOTW] assignment but that is about to change.

Before I get to it, I just want to say sorry for the long gap between challenges … with Gareth and Andrew starting new jobs and me being both lazy and preoccupied with personal matters, it’s been hard to find the time to get things done.

But excuses aside, we are all big fans of the program and so will endeavour to ensure this will have been the longest gap between assignments. [Just don’t hold us to it]

Over the years we have covered all manner of subjects … from communication challenges to creating creative arguments to even making a pitch for business … but in all cases, they’ve been fairly directly limited to the craft of planning.

But the thing is, planning is way beyond just ‘the ads’ – or it should be – so this assignment is going to be different.

It’s less about coming up with a creative idea for a brand and more about how to keep your client.

Of course you could argue this is not your responsibility – at least not beyond doing your job well – however if you want to have more influence in how your agency runs and develops, you should make it your responsibility.

Because of this, I have chosen a situation that is all-too-common … a new Marketing Director comes in and wants to change everything, often for no other reason than they want to make their own mark rather than be seen as simply executing someone else’s plan. That, or they want to make the agency-of-record drop their fee massively so they can look good to their board of directors from day one.

The reason I want to do this challenge is because I genuinely believe the best thing anyone can do for their career is start their own business … and as much as we might all think that when you’re the boss, everyone has to follow your orders, the reality is that success often ends up being less about what you actually do and more about how well you can relate to your clients business, ego and fears and influence your clients business, ego and fears.

With that in mind, this is the assignment.

[For legal reasons, I better say this situation is all fictional and I’m only using it to set a foundation for the assignment]

Imagine you are Martin Sorrell … uber-god of the World’s biggest ad agency network.

Now imagine one of your biggest clients is Fedex … uber-god of logistics.

Anyway, for years you’ve had an amazing and mutually fruitful and successful business relationship … to the point that both companies ensured all brands within their portfolio use each other for their marketing/logistic needs.

Business is up. Profits are good. Work standards are solid.

In fact, they are now one of your biggest clients globally.

Good times.

Suddenly the client at Fedex leaves to join their main competitor DHL, and in their place comes a young, arrogant accountant with 10 years of logistics management experience.

Rumours are flying that he wants to make major changes. You know he has a massive ego [amplified by the fact he’s only 5 feet in height] … so it’s important for him to be seen as a respected and successful business leader.

A week later, you get a phone call asking you to come meet the new CMO at his office.

You know he is going to announce that he’s putting up the business for pitch. You also know all the competition brands are very happy with their agencies so the chance of picking one of them up if you lose FEDEX is small.

CHALLENGE: What speech/presentation will you give to your new client to ensure they see your partnership as so valuable, they consider cancelling the pitch process and continue working exclusively with you, with no change to remuneration?

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Yes, I know it’s open ended and ambiguous … but that’s part of the challenge.

It is also – if you look at it another way – part of the opportunity.

Now the mandatories.

You have 2 ways to respond to this challenge.

1. A letter – as if writing directly to the new Marketing Director.
2. A video – as if speaking directly to the new Marketing Director.

[If you choose the option of the letter, it cannot be more than 1500 words long. If you choose the option of the video, it cannot be more than 7 minutes in duration]

Submissions must be sent to me by May 15th and there will be a ‘prize’ deemed the best argument by the judges.

Don’t get too excited, the prize won’t be too good, but the judges are excellent.

They include:

Gareth and Andrew.

John Dodds: Who talks more sense about marketing than 99% of marketeers directors.

Heather LeFevre: Planner, author, creator, doer.

George Whitesides: A very important man at Virgin Galactic

Chris Wong: Advisor for Garage.com Venture Capitalists

David Tiltman: Head of Content at WARC

Me.

For the record, it doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced planner, a wannabe-planner or doing something totally different … this is something that is open to all and regardless of your experience and having a go is the first step to making change happen. In addition, while all the judges will be holding everyone to the highest of standards, their feedback will all be constructive, rather than destructive, so whatever the outcome, you will hopefully learn and gain from the experience. That is certainly the intention and goal of everyone behind this.

And with that, I will leave you to get cracking.

Have Fun. Be Sharp. Enjoy.



Waving Goodbye To My History …
April 8, 2015, 12:30 pm
Filed under: Comment, Death, Family, Mum, Mum & Dad, Otis

So today, after over a month in the UK, we fly back to China.

It has been one of the worst months of my life.

Losing my Mum.

Saying goodbye to my childhood home.

Packing – and throwing – away 44 years of my history.

I won’t lie, it’s been incredibly tough and I don’t think I’m anywhere near getting through it.

Part of that is because I’ve been so preoccupied with doing things like organising the funeral, sorting out my Mum’s legal matters and finding builders and decorators for the house, that it’s felt like I’ve had another full time job.

But now I am heading back to my ‘normality’ and I have to be honest, I’m scared.

I’m scared how I will feel now the distractions are over.

Sure, there will be other things to occupy my mind, but they won’t be like what I went through in Nottingham.

The things I had to do there was stuff that had to be done … demanded to be done … and given they all had a time limit for completion, it meant every waking moment was focused on specific tasks and objectives. However from here on in, everything is – to a large extent – optional and so my mind will be allowed to wander, reminisce, consider … and I’m worried where that will take me.

I got a taste of where I could be taken as I walked around the house for the final time.

Checking all the windows.

Closing all the doors.

Turning off all the radiators.

As I went from room to room, I heard myself saying goodbye.

Not just to the room or the house … but to the things, memories and people who once resided there.

Of course part of this is because it’s only 4 weeks since my Mum lived in this house.

Only 4 weeks since my childhood lived in this home.

But now it’s all gone and I’m finding it almost impossible to believe.

Yesterday I read all the posts I have written relating to this terribly sad time in my life … and while some things brought back jolts of painful memories and some, admittedly, also reminded me how fortunate I am, I had to often remind myself I was reading about my life, not someone else’s.

Deep, deep down, I feel I am in a dream and soon I’ll wake up and head to the hospital where I will see my beautiful Mum smiling as I walk into her ward. It’s mad. But I do. I just can’t quite accept it and that’s why I’m so nervous about how I will be once I get back to China.

Of course the fact is that while I’m leaving, the house remains.

From Monday people will be in it … fixing it … painting it … loving it.

And then a totally new family will be there.

Creating their own memories and experiences in each of the rooms.

But even if they lived there 1000 years, that house will still feel mine. Not just because I still own it, but in the sense its where my family came together and where my parents ashes are scattered.

I am eternally grateful to everyone who has been there for me, whether it’s in person or via messages.

I am also eternally grateful I was surrounded by my beloved wife and child and my closest friends.

The difference Otis made in particular, was astounding.

A constantly happy little chap who has the ability to be incredibly inappropriate at the most inappropriate time is a blessing in disguise as he ensures the darkness of grief can never fully take you away.

Being able to spend 5 weeks so close to him has been – in some ways – a gift and I should be grateful to my Mum for making it happen.

But I still wish she hadn’t.

I still think the sacrifice she made to make that happen was too big.

My life as an adult, in some ways, starts now … so it’s kind of ironic I feel more of a vulnerable child than I have in years and years and years.

Losing both parents is a strange sensation.

It feels like you are totally on your own. Abandoned. Left to fight your own battles.

Of course, compared to people who have really gone through that, I accept it’s nothing of the sort – but that’s how it feels and it’s both sad and unsettling, even though I came across a card my Dad wrote to my Mum on the day I was born that reiterated to me how much I was loved and wanted.

So as I get in the car to drive to the airport to fly to my ‘other life’, all I can say is goodbye Mum, house, childhood … you were amazing in every way possible and I’ll never forget you or be grateful for you or wish we could do it all again.

Miss you. Treasure you. Love you.

Rx

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April 1: Where Life Shows It Has A Dark Sense Of Humour …
April 1, 2015, 8:24 pm
Filed under: Death, Family, Home, Mum, Mum & Dad

The house is now empty.

44 years of life removed in little over 5 hours.

It hasn’t been this exposed since 1971, when my parents bought it to be their family home.

We had a good send off on Monday night by having dinner with Paul and Shelly, but now we have entered the phase between history and future.

As I now walk around the familiar rooms, it seems like another place. From another time. From another life with only the beautiful gardens – that remain intact – reminding me this was a place where so many happy memories were created and cherished.

Soon everything will be renovated. The house will be given an injection of love and life from both the builders we have asked to undertake the project and the family we will be welcoming into the home.

And while that is wonderful and exciting, I can’t help be reminded of why this is all happening.

It’s only 3 weeks since my beloved Mum died and yet the World seems to have moved on at a frantic pace … only applying the brakes when the impossible-to-ignore takes place.

Her death.
Her funeral.
Collecting her ashes.

And even I am being swept along with the progression … consumed by the expectations and needs of the law, the time I have available to do everything and the desire I have to honour my Mum in the best way possible.

But every now and then, moments arrive where I am smashed in the face with the pain and sadness of her loss.

Of course things like her death, her funeral and collecting her ashes are natural spotlights of grief but it’s the other things that really bring home how much you miss her and how much she loved you.

Today, as we walked around the empty house, there were two rooms that reiterated all the love my Mum had for me.

Her bedroom looked tired. Old. In need of some love and care. Sure it has just had new heating which meant it was in need of some decoration and sure, a empty room always reveals the bumps and bruises of the years lived within, but this room felt almost desolate – with only the indentations where my Mum’s bed had once sat … where my Mum had once lay – to remind me it was once one of the most important rooms in my World.

Then I walked into my bedroom.

Sure she had just had it decorated in preparation for her grandsons visit. But even with everything removed, it looked clean. Fresh. Full of life.

The contrast between hers and mine could not have been more distinct and in that moment I saw how my wonderful Mum put me before her.

That is both a beautiful gift and incredibly sad.

Beautiful: because it means she loved me without limit. Sad: because she deserved – and I always wanted to give her – the best.

Today I brought her ashes home.

My beloved Mum now in a relatively small, tubular container.

I’ve been hugging it for ages. I can’t believe it’s her and yet at the same time it’s quietly comforting. Being able to put my arms around her. Being able to kiss it. Being able to just hold it close to me.

I miss her. I miss her so much.

I must admit there is a part of me who still thinks someone will come out soon and tell me it’s all a joke. A mean, horrible joke, but a joke all the same. But with each phase of death, I become more and more aware it’s not a joke, it’s real and the pain hits me all over again.

Of course there is a tragic irony that this is all happening on April Fools Day.

Not just because this is a day where silly jokes are supposed to happen, but it is a year to the day that we found out we were going to have Otis.

A year where so much has changed and happened.

A year where every good and bad thing that could happen, seems to have happened.

But back to the house.

With nothing now in it, we are now staying in a hotel. But I’m still coming in and driving past all the time. Part of that is because I am well aware I won’t be able to pop in or stay here any more. Part of that is because of what it means and represents to me.

This is the house where love lived.

This is the house where happiness resided.

This is the house where the memories and values that guide me were born.

In just 21 days, my World has turned upside down and while I am letting another family start their journey within these 4 beautiful walls, I am glad this house is still mine – still my families – and I’ve ensured that’s the case by writing this in the garage.

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