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

Today Is The Day …
April 20, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: Advertising [Planning] School On The Web

So by 11:59pm [and 59 seconds] Shanghai time, all submissions for the latest APSOTW assignment must be sent to this address.

What happens after this is that all the submissions are sent to the judges to be critiqued and then I compile the feedback and publish it in a few weeks.

We have 6 judges, of which 3 are Gareth Kay – founding partner of Chapter SF, Andrew Hovells – planning guru and proud Northerner and myself – the less said about, the better.

In addition, we have Ian Woods, senior counsel at Virgin, Daniel Stevens, one of the early employees at ATTIK whose design genius touched Playstation, Nintendo and MTV and Sue Burgess, who in the late 80’s/early 90’s was the head of tourism for Skegness … so her view will be utterly fascinating.

As I said when I launched the assignment, I totally understand how daunting this may feel, but the purpose of the APSOTW – as well as involving some of the best in the biz – is because we want to help you be better and the fact you took part means you want to be better too.

I hope you enjoyed it, in many ways that’s the most important thing.

And trust me, while this was just an assignment, this is something Skegness really needs.

Don’t Forget To Do The APSOTW Assignment …
April 14, 2017, 8:00 am
Filed under: Advertising [Planning] School On The Web

… the entry submission is April 20th.

Good news, that’s almost a week and the whole of this weekend.

More info on the assignment is here and some news that’s rather big [for me] is here.

My advice is you should stick to the former and ignore the latter.

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Don’t Forget To Do The APSOTW Assignment …
April 5, 2017, 6:21 am
Filed under: Advertising [Planning] School On The Web

… the entry submission is April 20th.

More info on the assignment is here.

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APSOTW Assignment: Turning Shit, Into Gold …

So it’s been ages since we did a planning school on the web assignment and it’s all my fault.

Well, not totally mine – Andrew and Gareth can take some of the blame too [I’m nice like that] – but still, I feel bad about it.

In a desperate attempt to make amends, I officially launch the first APSOTW project of 2017.

As usual, it’s open to anyone … people in advertising, people who want to be in advertising and people who were in advertising and never want to think about it ever again.

Seriously, everyone is invited – from any background or discipline – because the goal of the program isn’t just to help make people be better, but to help people ‘have a go’.

As usual, we will have a bunch of top professionals reviewing all the work.

We totally understand how intimidating this could be for you, but the purpose of involving some of the best in the biz is because we want to help you be better and what better way of doing that than to give you direct commentary from folks who are widely regarded as being some of the most successful or interesting.

So what’s the assignment?

Well we wanted to go back to basics with this.

There’s a lot of talk about planning … what it is and how you do it … so we decided it would be good if we put the fun and imagination back into the assignment. Get the discussion about planning to be about opening creative opportunities rather than closing them.

With that, here it is:


The tourism industry is incredibly competitive. With low-cost flights, it has become even harder for England’s seaside towns to be attractive, especially to families and especially out of the typical ‘summer season’ months.

The Skegness Tourism Authority – the local government department responsible for boosting tourism in the seaside town on the outskirts of Lincolnshire – feel this pressure more than most. For years the small town has suffered from a negative reputation.

Bad beach. Bad weather. No real reason to visit other than accessibility to a beach for people located in the middle of the UK.

With no money to dramatically improve facilities, the Skegness Tourism Authority have approached you with one simple challenge:

How can we position Skegness to appeal to short-stay* tourism, especially over winter?

* Short-stay tourism is any visit with a duration of between 4-24 hour.


Yes, I know if this was a real brief, there’d be plenty of reasons to push back on the client, but let’s ignore that for now.

Right … there’s a few ‘rules’ …

You can provide your response in any format you choose, but to guide you …

If a presentation, it should not be more than 12 slides.
If a video, it should not be more than 6 minutes in duration.

Whatever you do, your presentation must cover the rationale for your positioning idea.

Please remember this is a positioning exercise so you don’t have to provide any creative or media and all submissions should be based on Skegness’ reality, so no suggestions of ‘importing’ events into Skegness to make it topical.

In essence, if Paris is the city of love.

And New York is the city that never sleeps.

Skegness is _________________?

All submissions should be sent to this address by April 20th.

Have fun … not just because this is something where any answer has the potential to be the best answer, but because it’s a tourism assignment and going somewhere for no other reason than you want to do something different should feel enjoyable.

Help Tim Cook Become Richer …

So today we are launching an APSOTW assignment in association with WARC.

It is predominantly for planners based in Asia, but if you want to go for it, then go for it.

The reason we are focusing on Asia is that the challenge involves APPLE PAY and the competitive environment there is far more innovative and accepted.

That said, it would be good practice for anyone so if you’re ready for it, it’s ready for you.

Like all APSOTW assignments, your submission will be evaluated by a team of highly regarded and wildly experienced planners so feedback will be constructive and super useful for you moving forward.

Information – and the specifics of the brief – is here.

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Where Will The Next Assignment Take You?
April 22, 2016, 6:20 am
Filed under: Advertising [Planning] School On The Web

Later today, the wonderfully smart and talented Northern Planner [also known as Andrew Hovells] puts up the latest in the Advertising Planning School on the Web assignment.

It’s a corker.

We’ve been a bit slack with APSOTW assignments lately.

It’s not due to a lack of interest, it’s just the past 6 months have been full of good and bad surprises for Andrew, Gareth and myself … however it is something we all enjoy doing because we think/hope it makes a difference. In fact, we know it does because there’s at least 3 people that we know of, who are in their jobs because of one of these assignments.

Jobs that have given them the chance to travel and/or live in totally new countries.

OK, so they didn’t get this just because of the assignments – I concede their talent and attitude probably had something to do with it too [bugger]- however they all have said their career in planning started because they had tried one of the assignments, enjoyed it, learnt from the feedback and realised it was something they were interested in and wanted to continue doing.

I cannot tell you how happy that makes us feel.

However this is not just for people who want to become planners.

I’ve said it before, but I don’t think anyone should aspire to be a planner, they should aspire to be able to get away with the things a planner can get away with and trust me, if I can still be employed after some of the shit I’ve pulled, you most certainly can.

So regardless of your job, level, role or experience – whether you aspire to work in advertising or do something totally different – if you fancy learning or sharpening some valuable skills and then get some constructive feedback from people who are incredibly smart and well respected [and me], I urge you to have a go.

I have evidence of at least 3 people who did just that and now live a life they didn’t see coming.

In a good way. [I hope]

For more information, go here for details … though it might not be up till UK time.

APSOTW: The Results That Took Longer Than FIFA To Finalise Are Now In …
July 24, 2015, 6:15 am
Filed under: Advertising [Planning] School On The Web

First of all, a massive, massive apology for the delay in giving you all this feedback.

As I mentioned previously, the majority of judges were very prompt – some actually submitted their feedback before the deadline – but one of the judges was involved in a major business deal and couldn’t get to it until recently.

The fact he wanted to do it is testimony to both what he wants to do for the industry and how much he believes in people who are willing to ‘give it a go’.

Without doubt, this assignment was way, way more difficult than many initially thought.

Not just because of the challenge, but because of the limitation that was given to you in terms of number of words or video duration.

Before I get into the specific feedback, some general comments …

1. Many of you felt that a Marketing Directors key concern will be their ‘communications’. Marketing is so much more than that and to imply otherwise shows a bit of naivety

2. Some of you felt it was fine to almost slag off the predecessor. You might be trying to play to their ego, but you just end up looking like a 2-faced, petty, untrustworthy fuck.

3. Some of you have watched too much Mad Men and think some beautiful prose will convince someone to change their mind. Maybe [and it’s a big maybe] that is the case when you meet them in person. As a letter? Never.

4. A lot of you inadvertently positioned yourself as a supplier rather than a knowledgeable and valuable partner.

5. Hardly any of you talked about solving their business problems.

As I said, this is a very difficult brief but what struck me most was how ‘nice’ everyone was being.

I get you want the client to feel ‘important and valued’, but all I ended up feeling was you were relinquishing control of the relationship over to them – which means you are relinquishing the opportunity to either save the account or maintain it’s profitability.

Maybe I’m naïve, but I would have maybe approached it in a very different way.

If I believe the client is going to change the account for personal prejudice reasons rather than professional and the result of this will be hundreds – if not thousands – of people’s jobs being lost, millions of dollars of revenue disappearing and share holder value being diminished without any chance of being able to immediately get some business in to reverse this situation, I would have executed what I call ‘the bridge strategy’.

What the ‘bridge strategy’ is, is an approach where your goal is to extend the relationship for a further 12 months at the same terms, so that you can spend the time nurturing the replacement client.

Now you might ask how I would execute this.

Well, acknowledging this is all ‘in theory’ rather than ‘in practice’, I would have pointed out to the client that all WPP’s companies around the World use FedEx which means they are a top tier global client.

I would then say that if they move agencies, we would have no other course of action that to immediately stop working with them and work with their main competitor.

Of course, I would convey this in a professional, none-threatening way [even though it’s a blatant threat] but that fact is, while it’s a super harsh and super dangerous approach … I have nothing to lose.

It’s a strategy you can only do once – and it has to be for the reasons I listed above rather than just being a bad loser – this approach would, in theory, buy WPP a year to identify and win over a replacement client, while maintaining revenue and profitability, then I think this is exactly the time you would action it.

Not to mention the fact it immediately positions you as equals, not master and servant … which I felt some of the entries were doing.

But that’s me, let’s hear what the judges thought of what you did.

[Note: We are not posting the submissions as we forgot to ask permission to do this]


The thinking behind the backdated letter is interesting, but the actual execution of it is massively flawed.

Not only does it require an incredible amount of luck in the new CMO finding it, remembering it and relating to what you want them to do moving forward … the fact is you had a chance to use your main letter to address your ‘agents of change’ point of view rather than adopt this cheapish trick.

That said, the suggestion you knew what the old CMO would do given your close working relationship was a nice touch to make them stop and think … however the overall feeling from the judges was this was not enough of a pull to make the client fundamentally re-evaluate what he was probably going to do. Especially with the back-dated letter idea.

Interesting thinking. But not brilliantly executed.


So the main feedback from the judges was the correspondence was way, way, way too chatty and rambling.

While we appreciated the attempt to forge a relationship from the off … there were a number of things that just felt awkward.

The first was that this was supposed to be a letter written by Sir Martin Sorrell and while there is room for a lot of artistic licence, none of us can ever imagine him writing the sentence …

“I look forward to having a fellow bean across the counter.”

While the introduction of 2 new hires was interesting [especially as Jonathan was my old boss at Google] … you were still implying your marketing approach to helping your client was through ‘storytelling communication’, which smacks of a company who wants to help their client by helping themselves.

Also the brief explicitly stated the old CMO had gone to DHL, so where you go Uber from is anyones guess.

But the last thing – and possibly the most worst thing – is you tell the client “to call you if there’s anything you can do for him”, rather than showing a hunger and proactiveness to get things working and moving together immediately.

All in all the basis of your approach seemed a bit flawed.

Too nice … too passive … too focused on making content, not business.


So this is hard for me to write because I know Bryan personally and I know he’s super smart and doing things adland could only dream of.

Based on his submission, he should stick with that.

OK … before people call me a bastard, I’m only saying “based on this submission”, because I know this is not representative of who he is or how he thinks.

What’s my issue?

It sounded more like a boy trying to flatter his way into a girls pants than a letter that would open a productive and mutually advantageous conversation.

It read like a Hollywood speech … something delivered by a b-grade Al Pacino – with swirling violins in the background.

I know a lot of business people are flattery operated, and while it would make the new CMO feel ‘on-par’ with Sorrell, it also would make them feel they may have a stalker.

I’ve seen your best work mate and it’s fantastic. This isn’t one of them.


Without doubt the judges all liked that you were positioning WPP to help FedEx with their marketing needs, not just their communication and by talking about your unparalleled global network, you basically said you could make things more efficient than any other agency group – which is pretty compelling, especially for a CMO who was an accountant – but unfortunately after that, it all went a bit corporate talk. [Which to be fair, is probably quite WPP]

Now I know you’re not a planner and the fact you identified that to stand any chance of winning them over, you needed to talk about their needs not yours – that’s great – but while you could never write a letter that would explain all the details behind how you were going to help them more than before, you could have given them just enough of a quantifiable hint to gain his interest enough to win a meeting to pull them over the line from there.

Last thing, all the judges loved the line …

“Delivering growth to your business is our primary goal”.

That could have been the backbone of your letter, instead, it just ended up being a great line in the middle of an OK letter. That’s a shame because the best way to strengthen the relationship with the Marketing Director is to explain how you’re going to grow their business.

But you should take positives out of this and I hope you do.


You didn’t answer the brief.

Sure, you included a letter … but sending pages of background and context with it basically undermined the point of the challenge.

As a rule of thumb, if you need to explain why you did what you did, then you’re either suggesting the judges/recipient are too thick to understand or you know you’ve failed to convey what you need to in the letter.

Neither is good.

It’s a shame because there was some good thoughts in the set up [including the importance of meeting up as soon as possible because you know what the old CMO will do] but there were way too many things that would alienate rather than attract, from calling WPP a ‘comms agency’ to referring to the ex-client as ‘a devil’.

One of the judges said he felt ‘youthful arrogance’ in your submission.

The line between confidence and arrogance is very thin and the irony is the truly successful – including Sorrell – know how to stay on the right side of the line.

Some good thoughts, badly executed.


First of all, big congratulations on having the balls to do a video.

Sadly, at 6 minutes 52 seconds in length, it was too long by far.

Part of the reason is that you spend a lot of time talking about yourself.

We all understood why you were doing this but you forgot the fundamental rule of business … people buy what benefits them, not what others want them to think benefits them.

If you had focused your energies on what the CMO of FedEx would want to hear, your video would be more concise, your argument more focused and your submission more positively received. Saying that together you could produce ‘more convincing advertising’ didn’t really do it for anyone.

What makes it slightly more annoying is your ‘Bringing People What They Want’, is not a bad idea. But, like Karen, you should have led with this because it immediately sets out your agenda for driving their business forward [even though we all felt the expression of your idea would be more comms focused rather than marketing focused]

The overall comment from the judges was they liked your spirit but felt your material needed editing and focus.

Oh … and if you were really Sir Martin, then your stool would be much higher. [Sorry, just teasing but a judge really did say that, ha!]


Everyone felt this was nicely written and you used their ‘We Live To Deliver’ positioning in a nice – rather than cheesy – way.

That’s good.

The problem is there was a feeling the overall tone of your letter felt more like you were pleading to keep working with them rather than making an argument that would make someone see the value in your expertise.

Part of the reason for this was because you mention insights but never actually specify them and that’s a lost opportunity because not only could they help demonstrate your deep understanding of their business, but it could also to tempt them to want to know more.

Last thing.

Ending your letter with “We trust that you will continue to appreciate this relationship” … sounds more like a threat from the mafia than a genuine statement of partnership, so ensure you evaluate your letter from your audiences perspective, not just yours.

M Bianco

Similar to Bryan, it seems you have tried to write a scene from a movie rather than a letter to make a client give a shit.

We get you are trying to inspire the client by giving a history lesson on Apple … but FedEx is not Apple and if anything, it’s likely to sound patronising rather than inspiring.

But the key issues for us are that you are implying that advertising can solve everything.

Advertising is powerful and important, but a CMO wants a marketing partner not just an ad agency and the fact you don’t mention that WPP has so many specialised disciplines in their group seems a lost opportunity.

Last thing – and this could be an English thing – it feels like you’re promoting the power of average.

I’m sure that’s not what you mean, but you talk so much about it that the overall impression is ‘average wins’.

Our advice is that you should think about what the clients fundamental business problem or opportunity is and how you’re geared up to help them overcome or realise it.

Talking about other companies or yourself doesn’t inspire confidence and ultimately you leave the client feeling you don’t understand them even if you want to work with them.


So this felt like a correspondence of equals.

It felt like there was a level of appreciation of the role, opportunity and challenges that some of the other submissions didn’t have.

The judges also liked the acknowledgement of needing to hit the CMO’s professional and personal goals. A small – but nice – touch.

Finally, the overall tone of the letter felt just right.

It highlighted the history of successes, but more importantly, explained why this would be a powerful benefit for the future.

You really sensed the desire to keep moving things forward rather than running the risk of being seen as resting on your laurels.

Good stuff.

Where the debate started was when you highlighted this was the clients first CMO’s role.

We get the reasoning behind mentioning it, but while it could show empathy, understanding and a desire to fill any gaps they may not have due to their previous roles, it also smacked of being both a bit corporate toady [implying ‘you will get marketing but not many marketers will ever be able to have the breadth of knowledge and experience you do’] as well as a bit condescending by [not that subtly] positioning the agencies marketing skills as being higher than the clients. That may be true and it may be a smart psychological move but in terms of first impressions, it’s probably not necessarily a good business one.

Especially in a letter.

Mind you, where ‘slagging off another agency’ was concerned, there was no debate.

This is a no-no for both professional reasons and for negotiation reasons – because the moment you drop another agencies name into the mix, you make a client wonder why you are so concerned about them.

Overall, while your letter didn’t really say anything you would do, it was sharp, brief and focused and would probably leave a more positive impression of WPP – and Sorrell – than they previously had.


So your submission caused quite a bit of debate between the judges.

Everyone felt it was well written and treated the client as an equal.

It also felt like you were ‘putting your cards on the table’ which immediately makes the recipient feel he is working with someone who wants to make things better. Together. Now.

That’s good stuff.

Where the debate started to come was when you started to talk about “you need us as much as we need you”.

While you can argue there is logic in that statement – especially with an old CMO who is now at a competitor fixated on taking market share – the reality is it is a blatant threat.

Now cards on the table, a lot of judges didn’t like this.

However, if you read how I would tackle the problem at the start of this post, you’d know I don’t necessarily share their view.

Personally, I like how you wrote this letter because you made a blatant threat sound much more palatable … though personally, you would never do it via a letter, always face-to-face.

But that aside, there is no doubt the CMO would know what you were actually saying, and you did it in a way that had – at least to me – the quiet menace of a person who knows he holds a lot more cards than the other person initially thought.

That said, I think you could have been discussed the [scary] implications of both companies parting ways. No new CMO wants to be associated with a huge client loss and the early day are when you make or break your reputation. Especially if you have never been a CMO before.

As I said, I liked this. Many judges didn’t.

There were some areas where the judges were united and that was – unfortunately for you – where you made some silly mistakes.

Saying “I want to see you respected the way I am” might help Mr Sorrell feel above the new CMO, but it’s also likely to make him fucking hate him.

And saying that it was ‘a blow to WPP’ that the previous marketing director left seems weird.

That said, the energy and pace of the letter was great and while the strategy might have caused division, it would certainly make any CMO stop and think.

Even if it cemented their desire to get rid of their agency at the earliest opportunity.

So as I said, this was a hard assignment.

It is also an assignment where there is no way to determine ‘a winner’ because everything is ultimately very subjective.

In all honesty, for simply having a go, you deserve to be congratulated.

I mean it.

Anything is easy for the person who doesn’t have to do it and the fact you put yourself out there is brilliant and I hope the feedback – though tough – is also something you feel is fair. And valuable.

In terms of judging a winner, we decided that we would ignore the ’tone’ of the letter [even though some were the antithesis of how WPP’s CEO would speak] and just focus on what is being said.

After evaluating all the entries the overall opinion is none of the communication would stop the inevitable ’sacking’.

Some would definitely get a meeting with the CMO but some may actually reaffirm why he would want to change agencies.

Now of course the reality is no letter – or single meeting – is likely to change someones attitude 180 degrees, but that’s not what this assignment was really about.

The point of this assignment was to test your decisiveness.

The tragedy of strategy is that it seems to have morphed into being about appeasing the masses rather than sacrificing the superfluous to enable you to directly address the people who matter with a message they care about … which is why in my opinion, a lot of strategy isn’t a strategy at all.

That’s why this assignment was developed.

It was designed to see who had the courage to be decisive as well as remind people they should always embrace it.

Some may say this approach is not liked by clients.

I’d say it’s simply not liked by bad clients.

What I’ve found is that when you are dealing with people at the very top, they want answers to their problems – not platitudes to their seniority – and while you always have to be respectful, truth and clarity go a long, long way.

It’s for these reasons that we have determined Rob is the winner [but based on his decisiveness rather than his approach] with honourable mentions to Thomas and Duncan.

Congratulations to all of you and if you could email me your home/work addresses, I will send you your prize – which is something called a book. Made of paper. That is similar to the stuff on your Kindle, just better.

Should any of you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to write to me and thank you again. You should all feel good about what you’ve done and I hope you understand the feedback is to make you better.

It’s worth remembering the people who have judged you [excluding me] are all highly regarded and experienced in their chosen fields so what you’ve just had is a lesson in dealing with some of the best. And that can only be a good thing, even when it’s via a dose of tough love.

Have a great weekend, you’ve earned it.