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


Conversational Icebergs …

One of the things I am continually amazed at, is how few people know how to listen.

By that I don’t mean they’re not hearing the conversation, they’re just taking it all on face value.

The older I get, the more I have realised professional conversations are like icebergs.

What’s actually being said is often under the surface … clues, hints, admissions.

As someone once told me, people speak in words that are often designed to protect themselves rather than reveal themselves – and yet, if you listen really carefully – you can sense what is trying to be said … what they want you to really ask.

Police interrogators get this more than anyone.

Their ability to listen – and read visual cues – is what helps them solve their cases … whether that’s people who don’t want to be committed of a crime or people who are finding it hard to admit a crime has happened.

Subtext is everywhere.

It’s part of the reason I loved living and working in China, because everything had meaning.

To be quite honest, the easiest way to separate the people who appreciated Chinese culture and those who pretended to was to test their ability to read the invisible conversation that was going on during the conversation.

That or if they continually mentioned Confucius.

The ability to listen – and visually focus – is an incredible skill.

It lets you ask better questions.

It lets you discuss subject matters others may be finding hard to open up about.

It lets you judge situations through the context of the other parties body language.

It’s something rarely talked about in planning when – in many ways – it is the embodiment of planning, however it is also very easy to get trapped into.

Where you think nothing said is the truth.

Because if you think that way you’re doubley doomed – not just because there’s no way you can understand what someone is trying to communicate if you don’t listen to what they’re saying, but because the temptation would be to invent the subtext you want it to be and then you’re going to be in an even worse position than if you just took everything on face value.

As author Margaret Millar once said, “Don’t be one of those people who get so obsessed with what is being said between the lines that you don’t read the lines”.

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May The Forth Be With you …

I know this is late but then everything on this blog is late, but I absolutely love what Heathrow Airport did on 4th May.

I love it for many reasons.

But the main one is they did it right.

Sure, you could argue what they did was to hijack the day and gain some extra publicity … and I’m sure that was part of their motivation … but what I really like about it is how they went for the highest common denominator, not the lowest.

While the board features names most people will understand – R2D2, Wookie, Death Star, Han Solo, Leia – they have also used elements that only the true Star Wars nerd will get … like the name of the planets, the measurement of time and the weather conditions.

What this means is that not only will they get ‘mass appeal and coverage’, they will also make the hardcore nerds feel good about it … feel they’re dealing with an organisation that really gets them rather than just pretends to.

In a World where marketing is too often expressed as a constant stream of generalised noise … those who show their authenticity through actions and behaviour will win big every time, because as we saw in our America In The Raw study, the future of brand differentiation is going to be less about unique product attributes and more about demonstrating how you truly understand your audience.

Or said another way, resonance not [pretend] relevance.

So well done Heathrow, you deserve to be in a galaxy far far ahead of your competitors.



Resist The Pressure To Reduce Yourself To Others Standards …

Many years ago, I wrote a training guide called, How to ask questions without being a bitch.

It happened because a junior account service colleague at Wieden didn’t know how to get clients to acknowledge her and the questions she had.

This was not because she wasn’t good, but because of gender stereotypes.

Well recently, I had a similar experience, except this time it was a brilliant strategist that a mutual friend of ours had introduced me to.

In my time in LA, I’ve met a whole host of strategists and – as I wrote a while back – many have left me feeling indifferent.

But not this person.

She was more than one of the good ones, she was one of the best.

Sharp as hell.

Unique – yet well thought out – perspectives.

A genuine love of being creative in interesting ways.

Anyway, as we were talking, I said I’d be really interested in hearing – or reading – her perspective on the future of storytelling. For some reason, she said yes and a few weeks I received a great paper with a great perspective.

Except there was one thing I didn’t like.

“The surprising part of this was the fact that my mentor, a white man, erudite and well-known in his profession, cared about my opinion. To give you some background – I’m in my 30s, a mixed bag of races, city kid, raised by a single mom type through and through. I’m a decade into my career and this was the first time I was asked to share my perspective by someone that, for all intents and purposes, matters.”

I hate it.

I hate that this was the first time she felt she was asked for her opinion.

I hate it for the shit she has obviously had to put up with in her life.

I hate the baggage that has weighed her down.

I hate the low expectations she had been forced to endure.

I hate the bosses she’s had that have told her to follow orders rather than encourage her to find her own voice.

And while she finished her paper with a resolve to not let this shit quieten her ever again, I’m still angry that a great talent has had to put up with shit designed to keep her down rather than lift her up, which is why I ask her – and any other planner who relates to this situation – to embrace my paraphrasing of the advice comedian Michelle Wolf received when she was about to take the stage at the White House Correspondence’s dinner, at the top of this page.

Burn it all down.



Loyalty Only Works If It’s A Two Way Street …

So recently a friend of mine asked me for some advice.

OK, so that was their first mistake, but their question was one they felt I would have some perspective on.

[For the record, I asked her if I could write about this on here and she said yes]

So she’s worked at her company for 7 years.

It’s a good company – one of the best – and she has been rewarded with compliments and payrises.

Over the years, she’s been offered other jobs but has never seriously considered them.

Part of it is because she likes the work she does and who she does it with, the other is her most senior people keep telling her how important and valued she is.

But that’s all that is happening.

Being told rather than being given chances to grow.

Now I appreciate this is still better than many companies do, but now there’s an option on the table that she is genuinely excited about.

One that scares her in a good way.

Rewards her talent both in terms of responsibility, authority, pay and title.

And yet she’s hesitating.

Not because she isn’t excited. Not because she doesn’t like the company. But because she doesn’t feel she has “achieved what she wants to achieve before she feels she can move on” … and that’s what she wanted to talk to me about.

Now anyone who knows me will know I’ll never tell someone what to do. It’s their job to learn from their mistakes and choices. However one thing I do well is ask questions … questions designed to make the person think and get clarity at the same time. And the question I asked my friend was ‘what are you waiting to achieve before you could move on?’

It wasn’t a great surprise to learn that what she was talking about wasn’t actual work, but validation.

Now you could say that she had been receiving this through the compliments, but what she really craved was proof, not words.

Proof in the terms of promotion.

Proof in the terms of new opportunities.

Proof in the terms of new challenges.

I get that – I get that more than you know – but what it meant was she was basically a prisoner, because the longer they withheld the ‘ultimate proof’, the longer she would stay. It is – I imagine – somewhat akin to people who stay with an abusive partner feel. Desperate for approval so regard being abused/overlooked as something that is ultimately their own fault and they stay to try and ‘win them over’.

Now I get staying in a well-paid job is very different to domestic abuse and so if that analogy has hurt anyone, I apologise … but I told my friend 3 things she should think about.

1. When a boss continually compliments you but doesn’t promote you – despite continually, and undeniably, showing your worth – then what they actually mean could be ‘they want you to stay so they don’t have to deal with the shit when you go’. In other words, the compliments are designed more to help them than you.

2. If you have been consistently performing – and your reviews reinforce that – but nothing is happening, maybe you have to accept that their ambition for you doesn’t meet your ambition for you.

3. Lastly – and possibly, most importantly – if this situation has been going on for the last 2 years, how long do you give it before you decide the effort/investment you’re putting in is ultimately working against your bigger goals and potential?

A company that cares is a wonderful thing.

A company that says they care is a different thing altogether.

While it is impossible to help everyone grow in an organisation because – let’s face it – the higher you go, the less roles there are – you do deserve to know where you stand, if only so you can make the right decision for yourself.

Of course, that means you might hear things you don’t want to hear, but while being kept in the dark might help keep your ego in a pleasant state of delusion, it will ultimately bite you at some point in the future.

I don’t know what my friend is going to do and I appreciate change is scary but as much as loyalty is a very valuable trait, it only works if it’s built on honesty and is a 2-way street.



Weigel And Me …

As some of you know, I trained to be a teacher.

Admittedly it took me 5 years to qualify instead of 2, but my plan was that I would eventually leave this industry and become a teacher in the areas of creativity and innovation.

Then I started, and ran, The Kennedy’s, Wieden’s creative talent incubator and it all changed.

Not because I discovered I didn’t love teaching – quite the opposite – but that I love doing it through chaos, not order.

Now given most teaching jobs prefer the latter more than the former, that put me in a bit of a predicament … carry on with my plan and risk not enjoying myself or find another outlet.

Well, the reality is I’m a long way off leaving this industry, but if I am going to teach, I need to do it on my terms, not an education boards … especially as more and more teachers are being graded by their students which has to be one of the most stupid things I’ve ever heard.

So why am I writing this?

Well I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while and thanks to the experience I’ve had with the Advertising Planning School on the Web [APSOTW] and HOALA, I realized one area I like helping people learn, is advertising strategy.

Now I know what some of you are thinking, “the last thing Campbell needs to teach is ad strategy” and you’re right, that’s why I’ve somehow managed to convince the best advertising strategist in the World to do it with me.

Yes, that’s right … the majestical Professor, Mr Martin Weigel.

Now Mr Weigel’s brilliance is well documented – hell, I even wrote a love letter post about him not that long ago – which is why even if you ignore everything I say [which, let’s face it, we all know you will] you’ll still learn really valuable stuff from it.

I should point out, we’re not leaving our jobs* – this is a little side hustle business, where a couple of times a year, we’ll turn up in a country to see who is interested in doing a couple of days planning workshop – but it is something we both are very passionate about doing because we both feel there is not enough training going on in the industry these days.

Yes, there are schools of planning and yes, there might be the odd training workshop at an agency, but at a time where more and more brands seem to favour efficiencies and process over creativity and possibilities, we believe strategic radicalism is needed more than ever which is why we want to offer something that will help planners reveal, release and exercise their most dangerous mind.

We’re still finalising our first session, but if you want to know more [if only to start pre-seeding it with your bosses, hahaha] then visit here and put your name down so we can send you information when things are finalized or if you want to talk about your organisation’s training needs [whether you’re on the agency or client side] drop us a note at info@weigelcampbell.com

I’m super excited to be doing this, especially with a man who I bloody love to death, so I hope people/agencies will see the worth in it or our egos are about to get deflated quicker more than one of Jordan’s implants.

All this leaves me to say is a big thanks to the wonderful Mercedes – Martin’s much, much better half – who ordered us to do this because she thought we’d be good at it, though I have a feeling she talked to Jill and decided this was their way to get us out of their homes.

Now that’s the sort of strategy we could all learn from.



Microsoft Are Microgood …

Microsoft used to be the joke of technology.

Or maybe the ‘beige of technology’ is a better description.

Creating products for mainstream mediocrity.

To be fair, that perception was driven more because of their marketing than their technology … but it’s fair to say they were certainly lacking that slick sheen that turned other tech companies into Rock Stars.

But a change has been happening in Seattle over the past few years.

OK, less on the marketing side and more on the tech … but a change all the same.

Where other companies are trying to hype up small degrees of change, Microsoft have been trying to push a genuine innovation agenda. But not innovation just for the sake of innovation, but stuff that has a real purpose as demonstrated by their new controller for X-Box.

Now you may argue making a controller that helps those suffering from physical difficulties is a small market, but on a global scale I would imagine it adds up – especially when there is no real viable alternative out there. [Or one that I know of]

But that’s not the point here … it’s that they did it.

Even more than that, they did it with real understanding of the audience they’re catering to.

They spent time and money on producing a product that offers a genuine solution to people often ignored.

[You can see how this affected their process by going here]

For all the talk tech companies give about wanting to ‘help humanity move forward’, few do.

Or should I say, few do if it requires doing something that has a more ‘niche’ appeal.

Yes, I know some are doing stuff that we don’t know about, but to make a physical product specifically for this audience is a big deal … especially in this commercially obsessed World.

So well done Microsoft, this is brilliant.

Brilliant for millions of people who want to play but have been ignored.

Brilliant for showing the power of design to solve problems … again.

Brilliant at showing you use technology to evolve humans rather than devolve them.

Brilliant at being more innovative than your competitors.

Brilliant at making me feel more towards you than I have in years.

As I’ve said for years, products have done more to grow brand value than advertising.

Don’t get me wrong, advertising is hugely powerful and important, but it all starts from doing something good, not something average.

That used to be obvious. Sadly, I don’t think it is anymore.



You Either Are Building Or Destroying. Building Is Better …

One of the things I’ve found interesting over the years is how planners deal with creative reviews.

In the main, they fall into 2 groups.

1. The ones that tear things down.

2. The ones who lift things up.

What makes #1 worse is that in many cases, what drives their destruction isn’t the work doesn’t answer the brief, but doesn’t answer it in the way they imagined.

In other words, they’re acting like a Creative Director.

Don’t get me wrong, a brief is important – it’s something that not only gives direction and lets ideas be pressure tested, but serves as a historical document so people can see where things came from at some point in the future.

But – and it’s an important but – a brief is not law.

It is not something that can’t be changed, enhanced or thrown out and re-done.

The goal has to be the work and while briefs can work ‘in theory’, if the creative teams aren’t getting to ideas that ignite energy in people, then it’s time to look at where the brief is stopping creativity to flow.

That does not mean you post-ratrionalise whatever is produced, but by the same token, you don’t expect a brief to be answered to the letter, which is why I stand by the belief a brief should act as a direction rather than a destination.

And that’s why I like planners who ‘lift things up’.

Who look for the good in the work rather than the bad.

Not in a Paula Abdul ‘everything is good even when it’s not’ kind-of-way, but recognise the threads that could lead to something exciting and new … threads that encourage rather than dictate … threads that lets everyone feel you’re on the same team and want the same thing.

The reason I say this is because I recently saw a quote that I loved.

It comes from US politician, John A Morrison and he say’s …

“Knowledge may come from taking things apart but wisdom only comes from putting things together”.

I love this.

I love what it means and represents.

And that’s why I think planners need to spend more time on wisdom than knowledge, because while a major part of our job is finding out the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, if we don’t think of how those things can come together in interesting ways, then we’re not only limiting our own potential, we’re doing a disservice to where creativity can go and what it can achieve.