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


A Brand Is Ultimately Defined By Culture, Not Owners …

I have a confusing relationship with Amazon.

I use them a lot.

I admire what they do.

I appreciate how they operate.

But I don’t know if they’re a great brand.

Without doubt they’re a great company and have created a clear role in people’s lives … but in terms of brand, I’m not so sure.

That’s weird, because in many ways, they have achieved all the things a great brand requires, but at the end of the day – I have no emotional relationship with them, it is entirely functional.

Does a brand need to have emotional value to be great?

No. But I think it is the difference between being seen as a great transactional brand and a great brand.

But what surprises me most is Bezos understands business and brands better than many.

Not just CEO’s, but marketing folk … exemplified by this statement he made.

Which leads to the point of this post.

Brands.

As I’ve said a billion times, I’m an unashamedly huge believer in them.

If done well, they enable differentiation, cultural connection and economic power.

But the emphasis is ‘done well’.

And frankly, I don’t see a lot of that.

What I do see is a lot of companies spending of an awful lot of time and money on what they want to talk about.

What they think people should care about.

What audience should buy their product.

What they want their product to be used for.

What they want people to discuss about them.

What words they want people to associate with them.

What they want people to view as a threat or a competitor.

Them. Them. Them. Them. Them.

Now don’t get me wrong, you have to know what you stand for. What your values are. What your role is and why you do what you do, well. Not to mention what your point of view on the World is.

But you don’t just churn them out like some political manifesto brochure. Boring people into submission.

And yet that is the practice of so many … minus the point of view, which would at least make it relevant to culture instead of using a ‘proposition’ that is like a cement block, standing firm regardless what the headwinds that surround it are.

But it gets worse.

Because often what they do is wrapped up in some contrived ‘purpose/manifesto’ message in an attempt to make it look like it’s not all about them, which doesn’t convince anyone because it’s all about them.

Everything.

And it comes across exactly like that.

Self serving. Self indulgent. Self important.

Because the people behind these campaigns live in a bubble of corporate complicity.

Where ‘real life’ is closer to a sitcom sketch than anything resembling reality. Where families are always perfect and together. Where there is no problem that can’t be solved with [insert brand here] and their [insert meaningless ingredient]. Where the undertone of the work is to scare/shame/blame audiences into purchase submission – regardless how happy the soundtrack is or how saturated the images. All backed up and reinforced by a research report that has been specifically designed to fit in with the clients processes than representing truth.

Welcome to the world of marketing truth – a parallel universe to real truth that exists next to the Marketing solar system.

And that’s why, love him or loathe him, you have to respect Bezos.

Yes he has a world of data. Yes he has a universe of information.

But he knows it’s what people say when you’re not watching or listening to them that really reveals what they think of you.

At a time where so much work is done behind the desk, there’s never been as important a time as to get out, talk to real people, understand the texture, nuance, and chaos around the category … so we can help our clients with the most important foundation you can have in getting to great work.

Truth.

Of course, it is not always easy for clients to swallow.

Of course, they may prefer agencies that pander sweet bullshit to them.

But as Mr Bezos knows, you don’t get culture to truly buy into you, if you don’t know what culture really thinks of you.



If COVID Has Made You Work From Home, You Have Likely Revealed Your True Self …

I’m back.

OK, I know I’ve written a few posts in the 3 weeks I’ve been away, but I’m officially back.

And I want to say a big thank you to everyone who reached out after my news.

I appreciate it very much and can assure you I’m fine.

For now, hahaha.

I was overwhelmed by the generosity I received and I actually have a bunch of news to announce soon, however I need a little longer before I can do that due to the usual dotting i’s and crossing t’s – but, as some of you already know, one of the reasons has to do with this …

More of that soon, so until then, let’s get on with now shall we?

I should point I wrote this post a while ago.

So long ago, I had a full time job.

But it is important I point out the title of this post is not a euphemism for ‘self-love’.

No.

It’s about the feelings many people are going through as they start to realistically think about returning to work.

By which I mean an actual office rather than in their own home.

I don’t know about you, I’m a bit nervous.

As I’ve written before, the situation with COVID has been a very different experience to us than it has to many, many people.

I absolutely recognise my privilege in that statement.

I would happily not have had this time if people had not had to suffer.

I truly mean that.

But working from home has had a profound effect on me.

I sleep longer.

I am not doing 2+ hours of commute a day.

I am here for lunch and dinner with my family.

I am being much, much more effective in what I do.

I love being able to wake up, put on some shorts and a t-shirt and walk into the room that has now become my office.

Seamless.

But the idea of going to an office is making me nervous.

Any office.

Not just because the COVID rates are on the rise again, but for other reasons too …

Will I be able to function once I’ve given up all the lovely things I’ve discovered?

Will wearing long trousers and not eating a packet of Quavers everyday undermine my effectiveness?

Will it affect the energy and fight I have for the work I do?

Then someone sent me the image below and I realised that working from home hasn’t made me a lesser version of myself, it’s revealed how I truly like to work and I feel much better about myself.

And before anyone says it, yes, this is an extremely long post of utter bollocks just so I could use this image.

Sue me.




Martin Scorsese Explains Why Holding Companies Can Be Bad For Creativity …

This post kind of carries on from two I have previously written.

1. The benefit of independence.

2. You can tell a company by how many slices of pizza they want to eat.

I should point out I’ve worked for holding companies in the past.

I may well work for one in the future …

And while my experience with them has been generally good, my experience at independent companies was better.

More emphasis on the work.
More emphasis on the culture of work.
Less fear that you are going to be fired to hit a shareholder dividend.

Now this doesn’t mean holding company agencies can’t make great work or be great places to work.

There’s some amazing examples around the World of just that.

Agencies that I genuinely regard as some of the best in the business.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with the usual suspects [read: Wieden] with a history that is equally as long.

If not longer.

But it’s fair to say, they tend to be the exception rather than the rule … often used as the shiny ‘jewel in the network’ crown to attract big business, rather than a role-model for how the rest of the network should behave.

Again, being part of a network does not immediately mean it’s bad.

There’s a hell of a lot of brilliant people I know who are working in them for a start, which means they have a level of talent in the organisation that would be the envy of any agency.

Plus there’s a whole host of different types of network, so to tar them all with the same brush would be wrong.

But the reality is there’s some who just don’t give a fuck about the industry they’re in.

Of course, they will never admit that, but for all their claims about caring about creativity, they care far more about profit.

I get it.

Money is important.

It keeps tens of thousands of people employed.

But the reality is if they could make more money selling carpet cleaner, they would.

Which explains why they sold the value of creativity down the river in favour of process, scale, convenience and whatever buzz-term is fashionable with the big corporations they covet at any given time.

And this is where the title of this post comes in.

Recently Martin Scorsese was asked about his film making.

Change the word ‘films’ for ‘advertising’ and you have a pretty good overview of how a lot of modern adland operates.

You can make great work.

But it’s way, way harder than it should be.

Because too often, the focus isn’t on the quality of creativity, but the quantity of cash.


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Bosses. Remember Your Behaviour Teaches Your Team How To Behave …

Next week I start blogging properly again.

I know, you can’t wait can you. Ahem.

However last night I spoke to a friend of mine who had just been majorly fucked over at work.

Not by a client. Not by a colleague. But by her boss.

That’s right, the person who is supposed to both develop their career and be a role model for how to approach work had just undermined them in the worst possible way.

Hence this post … which I’m not letting any comments on, because I’m still on ‘holiday’. Even if I’m seemingly working harder than I have in ages. [No sarcastic comments please!]

So let’s get on with this shall we?

I have a very simple rule.

The person who writes a deck, gets to decide what’s in the deck.

Sure, there will be discussions and debate amongst the team.

Yes, the goal is always to make it as concise, sharp, provocative and interesting as can be.

And without doubt, the journey to finish line will pass through a huge amount of quality-control along the way.

But fundamentally, the person who writes it – or will be presenting it – is the person who has the final say of what’s in it.

I was trained this way.

I have lives this way.

I practice this way.

But I’m seeing – and hearing – a lot of managers who have a very different approach.

Sure, they get their teams to write a deck … but the difference is, they don’t engage in that part of the process, they just come in at the last minute and change the deck as they see fit.

Without consultation.

Without negotiation.

Without explanation.

And what makes this worse is that in many cases, these managers only have a small perspective of what is going on and so often their views are inherently flawed.

But I’m not going to talk about that, I’m going to ask one question.

WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?

Nothing undermines a team like the public destruction of all they’ve been working on.

Nothing causes a team to lose respect for a boss more than an act that shows zero respect towards them.

Nothing demonstrates delusion than believing your knowledge and abilities are better than those working on the business 24/7.

Of course a managers job is to stand for standards and quality.

Of course their job is to ensure the company always presents itself in the best possible light.

But this isn’t how you do it …

In fact this is literally the worst way to do it … even if you have a successful meeting.

Because the role of a manager is to elevate your people, not undermine them.

Guide them. Develop them. But do it in a way where they feel backed and protected … which ultimately means being honest with them, letting them solve the problems you have with their work – rather than just doing it yourself – and making sure any arguments are done behind closed doors, rather than publicly or launched on them with utter surprise.

Hell, I’m working with the most successful music management duo in music history – working with some of the biggest rock stars in the World – and they manage to do it, so why the opposite of this is happening in adland again and again is beyond me.

Please don’t think what I’m saying is managers must just stand on the sidelines, blindly and wildly clapping whatever their team produces, like some management version of Paula Abdul.

As I said, you can disagree with them.

Argue with them.

Even change stuff with them.

But you shouldn’t do it like some tin-pot dictator who feels you automatically know better than them and have no one to answer to, fear or consider.

Unless you’re a total prick.

Once upon a time, I had a manager – but not my manager – totally fuck with my work without telling me.

When I asked why they did it, they said, “I don’t have to explain my actions to you”.

I literally laughed in their face before saying, “good luck with your manager of the year application”.

Let me be clear, for all the talk we hear in companies that state ‘our people are our greatest asset’, the reality is you’re not a team when you expect everyone to serve you or think you can ignore everyone around you.

Every team may need a manager. But every manager needs to remember, they need a team.

Treat them with respect or find yourself on your own.

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Full Service History, A Few Semi-Careful Previous Owners, Needs A Bit Of Body Work But The Engine Is Tuned To Put A Smile On Your Face As You Hold On To The Edge Of Your Seat …

So if the title of the post didn’t give you a clue.

And if the photo above didn’t make what this post is about, obvious.

Today is my last day at R/GA.

Sadly my role has been made redundant. Thanks a lot COVID!!

And while it’s sad, I am glad it’s a senior, white, male who is being impacted rather than someone young or female or a person of colour who are often the ones who get hit first across the industry.

But while there will plenty of things I’ll miss, the biggest will be my team.

I’ve always been so lucky with the planners I’ve worked with and this lot are no exception.

They’re great. A talented bunch of creative fools who made me laugh, debate and rethink stuff every single day.

They were an honour to work with and they will continue to be epic in all they do.

They better be, because I’ll be watching them. Closely.

So thank you Lachlan, Nic, Rach, Anna, Joel, Amar, Erika, Laureen, Bassot, Ed, Megan, Nicole, Divya, Arda, Amelia, Severine, Marissa, Insa, Toby, Ben … and the others who helped make my time – and the gang – so much fun, including Anne, Valia, Eduardo and Michael.

So what next?

Well there’s a bunch of things.

We bought a house which we still need to move into.

I have my projects with the Metal Masters I need to deal with.

And I recently got an assignment with the Chilli’s, by which I mean the band rather than the food – which will be fascinating. Or headache inducing. I’ll let you know which, later.

Then I’ve registered a company I now need to work out what the hell I’m going to do with. I’ve got some ideas and I’ve even got some backers, but I owe it to my family to give it a bit more thought rather than just run full-speed to wherever my excitement orders me to go.

But for right now, all I’m going to do is take a couple of weeks off to enjoy being with the family and no zoom calls – which means you also get a week or two off – so all that leaves me to say is thank you to R/GA for the adventure and the airmiles … my team for their brilliance and their trouble making and … my wife, son, cat, clients and mates for their love, support and sarcasm.

Last thing.

Let’s be honest, these situations suck.

If people had the choice between having a job and not, the job is pretty much always going to win, especially at my age.

However not only am I absolutely fine, I’m strangely optimistic.

There are many reasons for this, but the main one is the last time this happened to me, it resulted in some of the best times of my career.

From starting and selling cynic and Sunshine to then working at Wieden+Kennedy and R/GA through to living, exploring and working all around the World.

Or said another way … when my role was made redundant, it was instrumental in helping me do stuff at the highest levels of creativity, culture and client all around the World.

From helping launch brands like Spotify in Japan to partnering with NIKE to create sport culture in China to inspiring Virgin Atlantic to build an airport lounge that people want to miss their plane to stay in to finding ways to redefine the rules of luxury which led to SKP-S building an experience specifically designed to look/feel like life on Mars to helping Metallica do all manner of weird and wonderful stuff from connecting deeper with fans to opening new ways to connect with the band. And a bunch of other stuff, from the small to the huge to the ridiculous.

I absolutely, unapologetically, love this stuff with all I’ve got.

Now whether any of this can happen again is anyone’s guess, but it is possible … and given the challenges and competitive nature of the world today, I feel my history of provocative and intriguing creativity to help brands around the world define their position in culture – and business – still gives me a strong and valuable role to play.

I guess this is all my convoluted way of saying if you’re an agency or a company – anywhere in the World – who is ambitious to grow or change or reimagine who you are or considering new markets [ie: Asia/China] or stuck on a mindfuck of a problem or want advice on building a cohesive, potent strategy gang or just want to win better … then give me a shout, because whether it’s about leading something, collaborating on something or just chatting about something … I’m going to be officially available for all of this very soon and I’d bloody love it.

Right, now my Gwyneth Paltrow Oscar speech is out the way, see you in a few weeks.

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