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


The Problem Vs The Real Problem …

A while back I wrote a post about the best bit of advice I’d ever had regarding solving problems.

Or should I say, on how to present how you are going to solve a problem.

But this is dependent on knowing what is the right problem to solve … and quite often, it ends up being the problem we want to solve versus the problem that needs solving.

Now of course, we can only solve the problem that relates to our particular discipline.

For example, as much as adland likes to claim it can solve everything, we can’t build a car.

[Trust me, I’ve tried]

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

Too often, when there is a huge piece of business on the table, our goal is to get all of it.

Every last piece.

Doesn’t matter if it’s not our core expertise.

Doesn’t matter if the work won’t be interesting.

We. Want. It. All.

Now there’s many reasons for this – mostly around money – but what it often ends up doing is destroying everything we’ve spent decades trying to build up.

It burns out staff.
It undermines the creativity of the agency.
It forces quick fix solutions rather than ideas that create sustainable change.
It creates a relationship based on money. rather than creativity.
It positions the agency more as a supplier than a partner.

Now don’t get me wrong, money is important, but when you let that be the only focus – it is the beginning of the end.

Before you know it, the money becomes the driving factor of all decisions and – because you have had to scale-up to manage the huge business you’ve just won – you end up looking for similar sized clients to ensure the whole agency is being utilised rather than chase the business that can elevate your creative reputation.

Oh agency heads will deny this.

They’ll say they still value creative, regardless of the size of client they work on.

And maybe I’m utterly wrong.

But as I wrote a while back, we had a [small scale version] of this situation when we had cynic … and while we were making more money than we had ever earned, it had made us more miserable than we’d ever been.

Thank god we noticed in time, because we were in danger of seeing more economic value in the processes we were creating for the client than the work and then that would be it.

People would leave.
Our reputation would be damaged.
We’d have to pay more to bring people in to deal with the situation.
The profit margin money we were making from the client would be impacted.
Soon we would be doing work we didn’t like without even the excuse of making tons of cash.
The client would call a pitch.
We would have to do it because we were so dependent on them financially.
They’d pick someone who would do things cheaper.
We’d crash and burn.
We would hate ourselves.

OK … OK … that is a particularly bleak possible version of events and I know there’s a lot of big agencies that have found a way to manage doing work for big clients while marrying it with maintaining their creative credentials [but not as many as they would like to admit] but I am surprised how few agencies say which part of a big job they want to do.

I get why, because there’s fear the client will write you off because they want a simple solution rather than a complex.

But if you’re really good at something, then you have the power to change that mindset from complexity to effectiveness.

Of course, to pull that off, you have to be exceptional.

A proven track record of being brilliant at something few others can pull off.

Which means I’m not talking about process or procedures … but work.

Actual, creativity.

In my entire career, there’s only been 3 agencies I’ve worked at – and one of those I started – who have told clients they only want a slice of the pie rather than the whole thing.

More than that, they also told the client how they believed the problem should be handled rather than simply agreeing to whatever the client wanted in a bid to ‘win favour’. Of course, the slice they focused on was not only their core area of brilliance, but also the most influential in terms of positioning the entirety of the brand – the strategic positioning and the voice of the brand – so what it led to was a situation where the benefits for the agency far exceeded just an increase in revenue.

They had the relationship with the c-suite.
They set the agenda everyone else had to follow.
They were paid for quality rather than volume.
They made work that enhanced their reputation rather than drag them down.
They were more immune from the procurement departments actions.

All in all, they ended up having a positive relationship rather than a destructive one.

Now, I am not denying that in all 3 cases, the relationship lasted less time than those who were willing to take everything on. In many cases, once the initial strategy and voice work was done, many companies felt we were no longer needed. Not all, but a few.

And while many will read this and say my suggestion to choose the part of the work you want rather than take it all on is flawed … my counter is not only did all 3 agencies enjoy a reputation, relationship and remuneration level that was in excess of all the other agencies they worked with – and often delivered in a fraction of the time – but they ended up in a position where they attracted new business rather than had to constantly chase it.

In all business, reputation is everything.

Don’t make yours simply about the blinkered pursuit of money.



Mr Zuckerberg Needs A Different Argument …

So I, like many of you, have been pretty appalled by Mark Zuckerberg’s stance towards President Trump’s hate filled, violence inducing commentary.

I say his ‘stance’, but the reality is he doesn’t have one, preferring to claim he is an advocate of free speech.

While there’s many reasons we know this is rubbish – from Facebook selling people’s data, to trying to win favour with governments to counter the next wrong doing that is just waiting to be discovered, to trying to get back into China and countless more – the example that always sticks with me was one I wrote about a while back.

Basically, it’s this.

Not that long ago, that photo of that woman breast-feeding her baby was flagged on my Facebook page as potentially causing offence.

A photo.

Of a woman.

Breast-feeding her baby.

One of the most natural acts of humanity you can get.

Now I appreciate it was less Zuck and more his AI that flagged this, but if it can [wrongly] identify imagery, surely it can also identify factually incorrect claims and/or words that incite violence.

Or it could if Zuck wanted it too.

For me, the fact this photo was censored highlights Zuck’s double standards, reinforced by the speed he criticised Twitter for doing possibly the best thing they’ve ever done and the amount of [senior] people in Facebook who have broken rank to say Zuckerberg is wrong

It won’t make a jot of difference.

Because Zuck is about Zuck.

And for all his claims of being torn, he is actively choosing to remain ignorant.

For money and ego … and absolutely not for freedom of any speech.

#BlackLivesMatter #SilenceIsViolence



Art Writes New Rules …

One of the things I love about this industry is our way of re-writing rules.

I don’t mean that in terms of post-rationalisation.

I don’t mean that in terms of rebellion.

I mean it in terms of letting creativity take us to new places.

That said, I think a lot of people forget this.

Clients and colleagues.

Specifically the one’s who encourage work to go where others have gone before.

Or where the brand has previously been.

Or just killing ideas before they’ve had a chance to start to evolve.

Of course I appreciate what we do has a lot of implications on our clients business.

That to get it wrong has serious ramifications.

But – and it’s a big but – doing the same thing over and over again doesn’t move you forward.

The opposite in fact.

They know this.

We know this.

And yet I hear words like ‘optimisation’ far more than I do ‘creativity’ these days.

Now I get it, you want to get every bit of value from something that you can, but our obsession with models and processes just limits our ability to invent and move forward.

Please don’t think I’m discounting the value of experience.

There’s a lot to be said for it.

But basing the future purely on what has happened in the past – specifically your individual past – is not experience, it’s blinkered.

Case in point.

Mouldy Whopper.

Here was a campaign that was attempting to do something differently. But rather than be curious about how it would be received, industry people – the same folks who are supposed to be pushing for creativity – were violently writing it off from the beginning. And when I pointed out that no one really knew what the campaign was trying to achieve – I copped it too.

Hell, I didn’t even like it very much, but I appreciated they were doing something different and evidence showed it was getting people to talk about preservatives in food – which was a positive for BK – so at the very least there were something positive in that. But then a senior industry person challenged me – said it was only people in the bubble of adland doing that – so when I proved he was wrong, he just disappeared. Happy to throw out personal opinion but not happy to be shown it was just his personal opinion. And that was my issue, we didn’t know how it would go. We had thoughts, we had opinions but we didn’t give it the time to see how it played out and apparently, it did pretty well by a whole range of metrics.

Of course, the great irony is that when you do have a brand that believes creativity can move things forward in unexpected ways, then you get accused of your job being easy.

I can’t tell you the amount of times people said to me, “it can’t be hard working on NIKE, they love being creative”.

Of course, the people who say this have never worked on NIKE and tend to be the first to criticise anything they think is ‘too creative’.

My god, when Da Da Ding came out, the wave of, “I don’t get it”, “it’s indulgent” was amazing.

But not as amazing as the fact that a lot of the abuse came from white men not based in India.

But I digress.

I love creativity.

I use that word specifically as I see it as being much bigger than advertising.

At least in terms of where the inspiration can come from and how it can be applied.

I am in awe when I see ideas taking shape. Things I never imagined coming together in the aim of changing something rather than just communicating it.

One of my greatest joys was running The Kennedys, because I saw that in possible its purest form.

From making takeaway coffee cups into dog frisbees to re=programming Street Fighter to represent the lessons they’d learnt over the previous year … was epic.

Sure, sometimes it was scary, frustrating and painful.

Sure, there were arguments, walk-outs and moods.

But as I wrote before, great work leaves scars and while that doesn’t mean it can’t be an exciting journey to be going on, it will have many twists and turns.

Or it will if you are pushing things enough.

And that’s what this post is about, because recently I read a story about John Kosh.

John was the creative director of Apple.

Not the tech company, but The Beatles.

John Lennon loved him and at 23, he found himself art directing the cover of their iconic album, Abbey Road.

What many people fail to realise is the band name was no where on the cover.

And while John had logic behind that decision, many in the industry thought differently.

Especially at their record company, EMI.

In fact, the only reason it ended up happening is that timing was so tight that it was allowed to slip through before anyone else could stop it.

Another example of chaos creating what order can’t.

What a story eh?

And before anyone starts saying I’m wrong …

I’m not saying the decision to remove the bands name from the cover made the album successful. This was The Beatles after all – the biggest, most successful band of all time – so it was always going to sell by the bucketload. However I am saying the decision to remove the bands name from the album cover helped make it iconic … which arguably, helped make it even more successful.

Not to mention make the zebra crossing on Abbey Road one of the busiest in the World.



Just Because You’re Talking Doesn’t Mean You’re Communicating …

I’m writing this post on the 28th May, so who the hell knows what’s happening a month from now. Actually I’m lying, as I have a pretty good suspicion about a few things, at least to do with me, so it will be interesting to see how wrong or right I am.

But I digress.

This is about the British Government’s communication strategy, specifically when they went to phase 2 of their COVID-19 strategy and launched these guidelines to help the British public deal with the pandemic.

As we all know by now, there was a lot of debate.

Some said they were clear.

Some said they were ambiguous.

And so rather than help the nation as a whole understand their situation and what was needed to help us move forward, they ended up igniting the nation in debate about wording, leaving people to interpret what the hell they wanted.

A conspiracy theorist may suggest this was done to stop people looking at the huge death toll that had happened due to Boris Johnson’s shambolic handling of COVID. A theory only made compelling by the way Johnson suddenly announced the UK was ‘re-opening’ mere hours after he had publicly backed his advisor, Dominic Cummings, for breaking the rules he had helped force upon the entire British public in an obvious attempt to distract the public’s attention. Made even worse by the fact Johnson had apparently almost died with COVID, so he knew first hand how dangerous it was and as such, should not back anyone who had the symptoms and then knowingly broke the rules. And as a final insult, the way he backed Cummings – suggesting it was what ‘all parents would do’ literally pissed on the faces of the parents and children who went through incredible hardship [from not seeing loved ones, to not attending loved ones funerals] to obey what was asked of them. An utter, disgusting way to behave.

But I digress. Again.

The point I want to make is that while all this argument was going on – specially around what ‘Stay Alert’ meant in practical terms, Vic Polkinghorne, @vicpolky on twitter, wrote a tweet that put the debate to rest.

They wrote:
____________________________________________________________________________________

Note on clear/unclear communication (one area I do have some experience)

If some people find it unclear, it’s unclear.

If you find it clear and some people find it unclear, it’s unclear.

The responsibility for clarity of comms is with the communicator, not the recipient.
____________________________________________________________________________________

That’s a good lesson for anyone in the communication industry.

An even better one for the British Government.

Now if only they were open to constructive criticism or gave a shit about anyone outside of their chummy little privileged gang.



Nice Guys Don’t Always Finish Last, But They Always Suffer Pain …

I recently watched the Netflix documentary on Bobby Robson.

While I had followed his career as a manager – especially during Italia ’90 – I didn’t know many of his life’s details.

He had always come across as a kind, considerate man … maybe too kind and too considerate … but given his achievements in the game, it’s fair to say it worked for him.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary, there were two things that really hit me in it.

The first was the people who went on camera to speak about him.

I’m not talking about his lovely wife and son, but football elite like Sir Alex Ferguson, Mourinho, Shearer, Lineker and even Gazza.

All to a man, talked about his character … integrity … compassion and humility.

For that to happen means you had to be something special.

But it’s the second part that led to the title of this post.

You see Bobby Robson went on to manage Barcelona.

Apparently he had previously turned them down twice due to his loyalty to the teams he was managing before, but on the 3rd ask – he said yes, even though it meant he had to follow in the footsteps of the great Johan Cruyff.

To be honest, this added a huge additional amount of pressure on him and fans were initially very skeptical about his tactics and style of play. But he won them, because he showed he loved the club and the region, he desperately wanted them to win and he conducted himself with nothing but compassion and dignity.

And this all turned into some iconic achievements and actions …

He brought Ronaldo to the club and turned him into the most famous player of his generation.

He won the Copa del Rey, Supercopa de España and European Cup Winners’ Cup all in one season.

He offered to pay part of his salary to cover the cost of his assistant manager, Jose Mourinho as he wanted him there so much.

He turned down approaches from other clubs because he loved Barcelona and wanted to honour his contract.

And then, just as he was ready to use that season as a launchpad to achieve even more, he discovered the Barcelona chairman only ever planned for him to be manager for one season.

ONE.

Like a buffer manager between Johan leaving and the next dynasty of Barcelona.

Imagine discovering that.

That you’re only seen as a ‘stop gap’.

To make it worse, they weren’t going to get rid of Bobby, they were going to ‘move him upstairs’.

Oh I am sure they thought that was a sign of respect, but it was anything but … especially with how they did it.

You see the manager they brought in was Louis Van Gaal.

Without doubt, an excellent manager … but not only was it a smack in Bobby’s face, they made Bobby attend his unveiling.

Like attending your own funeral.

And while I accept Van Gaal wanted to assert his arrival to the press, the way he did it was both arrogant and disrespectful … especially given the manager he was taking over – a manger who neither failed or was fired – was sitting to his right.

While Bobby was too nice to say anything, his face said it all.

But here’s the thing, Barcelona – or at least the top management – couldn’t care a less.

They got what they wanted.

And by keeping Robson onboard, they had – in essence – bought his complicity.

Or so they thought.

I’ve experienced these kind-of situations in my time.

Albeit a very loose version of these situations.

Being hired because we thought the client valued what we did and how we did it.

Then discovering it was really about PR because their intention was to make us complicit. That they deemed all the experiences and viewpoints we could bring to them, as unnecessary. Because they just wanted to be seen to be doing something without actually doing anything.

And that reveal was horrific.

Initially written-off as ‘teething problems’ before realising it’s fundamental problems.

And while money can make you temporarily complicit, in the hope you can find a way to make it work, if someone is not transparent from the start, it means you can never get to a better place.

And that’s when you discover that regardless of how much money a client – or a job – is paying you, it’s never enough.

Not because you want to be disgustingly rich, but because you determine your value beyond money, but the work you do and the people you do it with and for.

Some out there will never understand that.

They evaluate success with the money they have. Or the groups they are a part of.

But some will.

The ones who remember that what you have isn’t as important as how you got there.

Anyone can win, but only the best want to win well.