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


We’ll Meet Again …

So even though we are not leaving for NZ for a month, this is my last post for at least a month.

Moving countries always requires a bunch of things to be done, and despite us being old hands at it, doing it during a pandemic means we have a bunch more stuff to do – hence the blog post rest.

Being back in England has been a special time.

Part of it is because I never thought I would have lived here again.

Part of it is because I have been able to catch up with old friends once more.

Part of it is because I love big cities and always wanted to live in London.

Part of it is because despite its bullshit, it’s still my home and I’ve loved being in a place where so much of it just felt natural.

And part of it is because of the new friends I have met along the way.

To think I didn’t know people like Tanter, Nils, the beautifully irresponsible – in the most responsible way – Mike and Sam, the entire planning gang at R/GA [though Lachlan did remind me when I started that we had once met in Australia … when he was a student, hahahaha], Michael Roberts, Ben Major, Tarik at Onroad, Sam Clohesy, Ian Preston, Trudie, the inspirational [whether he accepts that or not] Murray Calder, Keerti, Munraj, Larissa Vince – who is a better Nottingham Forest than I could ever be, John, Nana at POCC, Asheru, Louise Jack, Eduardo, Sara Tate, Holly Day, Ally and everyone at Brixton Finishing School, Dorcas, Abi, the incredible Kay Adekunle Rufai from the S-M-I-L-E-ing Boys project, Nick Hirst, Tom Roach and countless other people from work or – shock, horror – Twitter [including one of my ad-icons, Trevor Beattie] … is astounding.

And while I am thrilled to be going to New Zealand for our next adventure, leaving England is much harder than I thought it would.

Without doubt, a big part of that is because as much as I’ve been away, it still feels like home.

Not just because we bought our beautiful house here, but because my beloved Paul and Shelly are here.

And while the pandemic meant we didn’t see each other as much as we would have liked, it’s more than I’d had in quarter of a century and I will treasure that as much as I treasure the fact Paul and I are still as stupid together, as we were when we were kids.

England is where I was raised.

And while I have sold the family home to buy our new family home … it doesn’t take away from the fact, so many of the things that made me who I am, were made here.

Of course I wish my Mum and Dad were still alive.

How I would have loved to have made them happy to be ‘home again’.

How I would have loved to have spent so much time chatting and remembering together.

But maybe it they were still alive we wouldn’t have gone to NZ and so it appears they are still encouraging me to explore, even without them here anymore.

Though I would happily swap it all for another day together, even though I am also happy they have not had to endure the hardship that COVID has placed on the country. I can’t imagine what it would be like for them to have to deal with it and I have nothing but admiration for any person trying to manage/balance that situation with their own family.

But we’re off … and frankly, the idea of going to New Zealand feels like one of the greatest gift in the World.

That we will soon be in a country where WE CAN GO OUT TO DINNER IN A RESTAURANT seems almost impossible.

That we will soon be in a country where Otis CAN PLAY OUTSIDE WITH HIS [NEW] FRIENDS WHENEVER HE WANTS is a dream.

That we will soon be able to go visit Jill’s Mum IN A MATTER OF HOURS is madness, given it’s been 17 years since she could do that.

And that I get to do this while working at one of my favourite companies in the World – the brilliant Colenso – is, frankly, insane.

I’m so excited for the adventures we’ll have.
The experiences we will discover and learn from.
Not to mention the work I will able to be a part of creating.

That said, I cannot thank all the brilliant people who have made my return to England so special, enough.

I will miss so much about here, but the memories will also last me through till our return.

And we will be back.

Don’t know where. Don’t know when.

But – not wishing to make it sound like a threat – I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.

Take care of yourselves. Thank you for everything.

See you on the other side. Literally and metaphorically.



Here’s To Those Comfortable With Uncomfortable …

I recently saw the above quote in The Athletic magazine.

The idea that Manchester City – albeit during their less successful period – had to provide ‘rain charts’ to show potential signings that their city was not wetter than London surprised me.

Then I came to my senses.

Society has an incredible knack of trying to lift themselves up by putting others down.

Obviously racism is the work example of this, but we do it everyday in lots of little ways.

From blanket attitudes such as …

“People from the North are backwards”.

To city affirmations such as …

“Manchester is the musical capital of England”.

To hierarchy comparison such as …

“I may be from Nottingham but at least I’m not from Derby”.

It’s not only bollocks, it’s also often stated by people who have never gone anywhere near the cities/countries they are negatively judging. Now I know people will say it’s all a bit of a joke – and I appreciate between mates, it can be – but there’s a lot of perceived truth in those sorts of statements, which has been exploited by all manner of organisations, especially politics.

When I lived in China, I was shocked how hard it was to recruit people from outside of Asia to come and work at Wieden+Kennedy.

OK, it may have been because they didn’t want to work with me … but even then, the amount of people who started off claiming to be interested and then said ‘it wasn’t for them’, was incredible. [Though maybe you will still find it understandable. Bastards. Ha]

There was a time where I almost gave up wanting to hire people from outside the region due to it being so much hassle. But the reality was I always felt it important to have a real mix in the gang. Sure, the vast majority of them had to be from the country/region – but by incorporating people from outside of it, I felt it created a tension that led to better and more provocative thinking. In addition, it could also help stop the blind and blinkered views we kept seeing and hearing from the West … because the more Westerners we got to experience the crazy, infectious magic of the nation, the more positive voices we would infect the rest of the world with.

But many people we talked to weren’t interested in changing their blinkered opinion.

So many didn’t even bother to investigate more about China, they were just happy to keep making their false judgements.

Oh they were all very happy to work for Wieden+Kennedy, they just didn’t want it to be in China and would often say, “but if you could connect me to people in London/Portland/NY/Amsterdam” etc.

And if they were really interesting and had a valid reason to not leave their country, I would.

Didn’t happen often.

I find it amazing that people – especially planners – don’t want to explore the World.

Planners go on about curiosity but what they mean is they are curious under certain conditions of personal comfort.

Behind a desk.
Surrounded by people and things they know.
Never venturing outside of the bubble they’ve created.

Of course not everyone is like this, but there’s a lot who are. Viewing the world and passing judgement on it via Twitter rather than experience.

In the case of China – as with anywhere I’ve lived – if the issue became about the country we were in, it probably wasn’t going to work. Of course it was OK to have concerns and questions, but if I sensed you saw it as a hardship rather than an opportunity or you thought you knew everything when you would have to relearn everything, you were not going to be someone I wanted on the team.

I was, and still am, eternally grateful to everyone I’ve had the honour to work with – and I’ve been incredibly fortunate with the incredible and diverse talent I’ve inherited and nurtured – however those in China will always have a unique place in my heart.

Because whether they were from China, Asia or further afield, all of them knew what they were taking on with the job. Not just in terms of the standards and expectations of Wieden+Kennedy, but the inherent perceptions, prejudices and lies that existed in society – and the ad industry as a whole – towards China and Asia.

And it’s for this reason that I fucking loved seeing them do work others could only dream about, especially when the industries perception was ‘China doesn’t do great work’ or ‘there’s no good planning in Asia’ … often muttered by people who have neither been to China or done great work.

But even that doesn’t make me as happy as seeing where they have all ended up …

Not just in terms of the level they’re at – from running departments, big pieces of business or companies – but the actual organisations they work with or have worked with.

Nike. Ideo. Tik-Tok. Wieden. Mother. 72. Anomoly. Supreme. Playstation. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Facebook. Google. Net-A-Porter. Instagram.

Not just in China but in countries that include America, Taiwan, Holland, UK, Singapore and Australia. Not forgetting the mob who decided to start their own thing and are now working on a bunch of fascinating projects from gaming to research.

I’m not just proud of them, I’m excited for them … because I truly believe they will do stuff that is interesting, intriguing and valuable for the rest of us.

And while most of their achievements are down to their talent and graft, another part is because of what China gave them.

Unique knowledge, experience and understanding of people and situations.

Some will never understand that.

Some will never value that.

But for those who were there – and the companies who hired them – they absolutely do.

Because while some make choices based on not wanting to leave things behind, this group of wonderful fools made their decisions based on what they could gain … and they didn’t need a rain comparison chart to convince them.

Thank you to all of them.

Thank you to anyone who runs towards the challenge not the comfortable.



You’re Not Fooling Us …


Just before Christmas, I was asked to help a company understand what they were doing to stop attracting talent.

While I must admit I found this request a bit bizarre – especially as they have a huge HR division – I knew it would be fun.

The good news for them is they do a lot of things right.

However there were a few things that were fucking them up and one of the biggest was their inability to understand why any employee may be cynical to their actions and claims.

As I said to them, their surprise indicates either naivety, arrogance or utter privilege.

Probably a bit of all three.

Of course this situation is not unique to them, I wrote about it here … however there was one point that really shocked them and it was their unlimited vacation days policy.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know when they instigated this a few years ago, it was for all the right reasons.

As a company, their original vacation policy was not the best and this was an attempt to put things right.

However, like many good intentions, the implications of that were either not considered or disregarded.

Because unlimited vacation is not an act of corporate generosity.

They may say it is.

They may have wanted it to be.

But right now, in most places offering it, it’s anything but.

Unlimited vacations benefit companies far more than employees.

There, I’ve said it.

There’s many reasons for this.

First is no one actually means ‘unlimited time off’.

If they did, you could take a year off and still get paid.

We all know that wouldn’t happen, just like we know if a company thinks we are taking too much time off – they’ll question if the role is still needed.

So the first issue is there’s no such thing as unlimited days … it just sounds good, especially when accompanied with some contrived public statement claiming to ‘our staff are our our greatest asset’.

Then there’s the fact that too many companies still think vacation days are a gift not a right.

So it doesn’t matter how many days you can take off in theory … if they don’t want you to have them, you’re buggered.

But what is the really devious thing about unlimited leave is employees end up being their own worst enemy.

You see when you’re told you can have any amount of days off, the value of taking them gets diluted. Of course you still want them, but you become more open with when you take them.

The urgency just isn’t there so we end up being more focused on ‘what is coming up’ versus ‘when will I go’ … and before you know it, we have taken even less vacation days than the times we had a limited number of fixed days.

Now you could argue this is our own fault – and it is – but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest this is a common, negative occurrence of unlimited leave … and yet even armed with this information, many companies stick with it.

And this is why so many employees don’t trust the companies they work for.

Because unlimited leave has a number of great commercial benefits for the company.

The first, as I just wrote, is the amount of people who take LESS time off rather than more.

The second is vacation times no longer have a commercial value attached to them.

If there is no limit to the number of days you take, there is no need to carry an value of them on your balance sheet.

No value on the balance sheet means no payout when you leave the company.

No value on the balance sheet means no payout if you are made redundant.

No value on the balance sheet boosts the value of the balance sheet – helping companies achieve greater profit without having to lift a finger, while being able to smile at their employees and claim ‘your wellbeing is our priority’.

And if you need more proof of this, then you just have to look at how many companies messed with their employees vacation days over COVID, trying to force them to use them up … even though they couldn’t go anywhere. While the good organisations were doing it for mental health reasons, a bunch were doing it because they didn’t want to carry that amount of ‘value’ into next years liabilities and then still had the nerve to dictate when – and how long – it could be used for.

Look I get it, money matters – especially in a pandemic – but it doesn’t feel right when you are bullied into doing something on someone else’s terms rather than your own … especially when it revolves around something that is your right to decide.

Now I am not suggesting this is why unlimited days were created.

Nor am I saying all companies who offer it, do it for bad reasons.

But what was originally claimed as empowering employees to have more time out of work has resulted in the absolute opposite.

There are alternatives.

Maybe the best is a minimum leave policy … where you HAVE TO take a certain amount of time off each year.

But even this has issues, given there are people who rely on the ‘value’ of their vacation days as a way to save [and if a company is paying you so little you need to use your holidays as savings, then there are bigger issues with that company] … but what is clear is companies can’t do something for good reasons and then stick their head in the sand when problems reveal themselves.

I know that’s the way many companies operate these days – exemplified by Boris Johnson and his inept government – but it is hardly surprising there is so much skepticism from employees when they see policies change without consultation and then enforced in a way where all the rhetoric of it being ‘a better way’ proves not to be.

Now of course companies don’t want to piss off their employees. Many try really hard to make them feel valued and secure. And I genuinely don’t believe any company sets out to be bad.

But distrust occurs when decisions are made – often without warning – that feel more for corporate PR than employee value.

Unlimited vacation days is a perfect example of this because whatever way you look at it, it’s simply not true.

If you want to build trust, practice honesty.

No hype. No populism. No contrived rhetoric. Honesty.

Listen to your people.
Communicate with your people.
Consult your ideas with your people.
And finally, do things with transparency, openness and a willingness to change if it doesn’t turn out as you hoped.

It’s not hard – especially that’s how you build all relationships – but it is seemingly rare.



Losing Friends And Alienating People …

Many years ago, Toby Young wrote a book by the name of this post.

It was a journey through his bad decisions, bad timing and bad acts.

And while there was a lot of genuinely funny moments in it, you couldn’t help think he was a bit of a twat – which was confirmed with many of his later actions, decisions and behaviour.

I say this because recently I had a dalliance with someone who could best be described as Toby Young, without the humour.

Look, I work in advertising so I’m used to working with twats.

There’s actually a lot less of them than people like to think, but the ones who are there are generally stupendous at twatdom.

But this interaction was not someone I work with … it was someone on Linkedin.

Yes … Linkedin. The platform that is to community what Boris Johnson is to leadership.

Now even though this person and I are not ‘connected’, I do kind-of know him.

He was in Asia when I was there and had a reputation for grandiose statements that rarely could be backed up.

Anyway, I hadn’t heard about him or seen him for literally years, so I was surprised when a few weeks ago, he suddenly came into my life.

He did this by writing a comment under a Linkedin post I’d put up about one of the biggest mistakes a planner can make.

He asked:

What’s the difference between thinking and planning according to you? And is there a difference? And how do you see modern day account planning influencing business and corporate strategy which is really what CEO’s want to see – they’re not interested in ads or creativity unless its making them money?

I answered as best I could … saying I felt he was implying some planners didn’t care about the impact creativity had on the clients business, just their ego and if that’s the case, maybe he’s spending time with the wrong planners, clients and creatives.

In the blink of an eye, he responded with these 2 gems:

First this …

“I’m not implying anything- I’m asking a question. I be;lieve that’s valid on a social media platform. What I’ve foudn theough Experience s that sometimes it’s better to just answer instead of reading too much into it.”

[Spelling mistakes were his, not mine]

And then this …

“You really don’t get social, do you? You can’t be focused and social at the same time. I’ve been studying clinical psychology and the mind for 7 years. It’s two ends of the same frequency . Planners are focused (head) creatives are social (HEART). Open your heart my friend before a surgeon does the job for you. Good luck. You’re mucking around with someone with a lot of medical knowledge and experience.”

That second comment was bizarre.

Judgemental. Condescending. Patronising. Almost threatening.

I have to be honest, I was quite impressed. It’s been a long time since I’ve come across such a prick who can get so personal and so insulting so quickly.

But then it got weirder, because he then sent this:

Seriously, what the fuck?

From slagging me off to interrogating the most stupid shit [like my bloody camouflage background????] to then asking me to give him free information and advice so he can win a client and charge them money for his ‘help’.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because Linkedin is full of people who think they can just ask or say whatever they want as long as it benefits them. I’m sure we’ve all had headhunters contact us for names of people they should talk to – when they’re literally being paid by clients to know people who they should talk to.

But there’s something about this persons manner that pisses me off.

Maybe it’s the contradiction between acting superior but still wanting stuff.

I can’t help but feel he is someone who read Neil Strauss’, ‘The Game‘ [who also wrote Motley Crue’s, admittedly great, The Dirt … which tells you a lot] and saw it as a philosophy for how to live rather than the exploitative, manipulative and destructive book it actually was.

Part of me really wants to name and shame him.

If he’s doing that to me, what is he like to others.

Women. Or juniors. Or anyone to be honest.

But I won’t because who knows what he’s going through however – as I mentioned in my final response to him – for all his alleged expertise in clinical psychology and social platforms, he sure hasn’t got the faintest idea how to communicate with people.

So I’ll leave him be but if he does comes back [again] I’ll simply point him to this post and hope he understands the responsibility for clarity of communication is with the communicator, not the recipient. Something tells me, he wouldn’t.

But what all this shows is a mistake that companies, platforms and agencies continually make with the idea of community.

I get why it’s so interesting to them, but the problem is – what they think is a community, isn’t.

A community isn’t where you go to continually satisfy your own needs.

In essence, that’s the total opposite of a community.

What a real community is something built on shared beliefs and values … where you want to work together to help push or achieve a common goal. It absolutely isn’t about personal benefit at others expense, it’s about something much, much bigger.

And while it’s power and influence can be enormous …

Linkedin doesn’t get this.

Agencies flogging membership and community doesn’t get this.

And this ‘competitive strategist’ doesn’t get this.

Because the key rule for a real community is about adding to it, not just taking.



Stock Shot Schlock …

When Phil Spector died, I went down a rabbit hole of his life.

On that journey, I spent some time looking into the life of Lana Clarkson, the woman he murdered.

Which led me to this …

Find the perfect Lana Clarkson death photos!!!???

Seriously, what the fuck?!

I know they don’t mean to be so disrespectful.

I know it’s a standard Getty Image response to any image search – except I was looking for Lana Clarkson, not Lana Clarkson death photos – but this is what happens when you automate a process to maximise your profit potential.

And while I get Lana’s photos were topical given the death of Spector so many media outlets may be looking for them … it doesn’t make them look good. And god knows how it would make Lana’s family feel, if they saw it.

For all the talk about brand experience, it’s amazing how much bullshit is said.

Do I think experience is important? Absolutely.

Do I think experience is done well? Not that often.

For me, there is one overarching problem.

Brands would rather be OK at a lot of things than stellar at a couple.

Before people have a meltdown, let me just say this.

I am not questioning the value of experience.

Believe it or not, it is not a new concept … it has been practiced by great brands and strategists for decades.

However experience loses its impact when the goal is to be OK at everything rather than amazing at some things.

Oh I know what people are going to say …

“But every interaction should be an experience of the values of the brand”.

Yeah … maybe.

It’s great in theory but doesn’t seem to be realistic in practice.

I mean, how many brands really have achieved that?

Let me rephrase that.

How many brands that have a clear, desirable position in culture have really achieved that?

I would say it is a handful at most.

Now compare that to the brands who have focused on doing some things in a way that is exceptional and memorable?

I’ve written about the Virgin Atlantic Lounge before.

Imagine if Branson had said, “Create an experience that is commensurate with the values of the brand for the business class customer” versus, “Create a lounge people will want to miss their plane to stay in”.

Do you think they would have got to the same place?

Do you think the former would have helped drive the brands economic and repetitional success as well as the latter?

Don’t get me wrong, Virgin Atlantic have a lot to do to improve their experience.

Their booking and loyalty schemes are a fucking mess for a start. But while I appreciate I am biased, I would gladly sacrifice that for the lounge experience that makes me look forward to every trip.

An experience that is distinctively memorable, not just corporately comfortable.

The reality is there are more highly profitable, highly desirable brands who offer an inconsistent brand experience than those who offer a consistent one.

More than that, brands that offer a consistent brand experience across all touch points do not automatically become a brand people want to have in their lives.

Part of this is because their version of consistent tends to be using their name or colours or slogan everywhere.

Part of this is their version of ‘brand experience’ is the absolute opposite of what the word experience is supposed to mean.

[Seriously, can you imagine the sort of parties they would have?]

And part of this is because they want to talk to everyone which means their experience appeals to no one.

Because while it might not be fashionable, great brands are built on an idea.

Something they believe, stand for, fight for.

This is very different to ‘purpose’.

Purpose – at best – is why you do something.

Belief is how you do it.

The sacrifices you make. The choices you make. The people you focus on.

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean great brands shouldn’t want to ‘fill the gaps’ that reside in their experience eco-system, but it does mean it should only be done if each element can be done brilliantly and distinctively.

Anyone who has read the book ‘Why I Hate Flying’ will know the vast majority of brand values are basically the same – which means the vast majority of brand experience strategy ends up being predominantly the same.

However the brands who command the most consistently vibrant cultural interest and intrigue are the one’s who have a point of view on what they do and what they believe. They have a real understanding of who they’re talking to rather than a generalised view of them. They have values that step out of the convenient blandification that so many companies love to hide behind – where the goal is to look like you care without actually doing something that shows you care. And they absolutely know it’s better to do some things that will mean everything to someone rather than lots of things that mean little to everyone.

The obsession with 360 brand experience is as flawed as the 360 media approach from a while back.

Frankly conveying the same message everywhere felt more like brainwashing than engaging.

Experience is a very important part of the strategic and creative process.

Always has and always will be.

It can make a major difference to how people feel about a brand and interact with a brand.

But like anything strategic, sacrifice is a vital part of the process.

While in theory it is nice to think every interaction will be something special and valuable, the reality is that is almost an impossible goal.

Different audiences.
Different cultures.
Different needs.
Different times.
Different budgets.
Different technologies.
Different interactions.

So anyone who thinks experience should be executed ‘down to a level that allows for mass consistency’ rather than ‘up to a standard that allows key moments to be exceptional’ are creating another layer to get in the way of making their audience give a shit.

Or said another way, you’re adding to apathy rather than taking it away.

OK, I accept that for some categories unspectacular consistency can be valuable – hospitals for example – but the reality is in the main, audiences care less about consistent brand experience than brands and their agencies do.

That doesn’t mean you can’t make them care by doing something great – like Tesla did with their ‘dog and insane’ modes for example – but you need to understand you’re playing as much to your audience standards, as yours.

Now I appreciate I’ve gone off on one, given this post was originally about a search engine response to a murdered woman’s photograph rather than brand experience … but while they’re very different in many ways, there is one thing that is the same.

They’re all focused on satisfying an audience need … and while standardised processes can help ensure we are ‘dumbing up’ with our approaches to the challenge, when that manifests into a standardised experience, then you are dumbing down the value of who you are and who you can be.

For the record Getty, this is what Lana Clarkson looked like.

There’s no ‘perfect’ photos of her death.

But there’s plenty to signify the person she was.