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


Happy At Home …

So it’s 2 months since we’ve been back in England and I have to say it’s been great.

Sure, the weather isn’t like LA.

Sure, finding a home and unpacking was a pain-in-the arse.

Sure, catching the tube is not like driving my beloved Audi to work.

Sure, I’m shocked at how bad the service is in restaurants and how many people smoke.

But all that aside, things are great.

There’s a bunch of reasons for that …

The first is my family are all together and well. Even Rosie, the moaning cat.

Seeing how brilliant Otis has adapted to his new environment [again] is inspiring, even though it has highlighted how much of an American twang he picked up in our time in the US.

To move home is a traumatic experience for anyone.

To move countries is often too much for people to even contemplate.

So to have moved home and country, 3 times when you’re only 3 years of age – and still be happy, positive and curious – is an incredible achievement and one that makes me even prouder of my wonderful little boy.

That said, we’re very mindful he is still trying to find where he belongs … find other kids he can form a connection with … so our job in these early months is to help him feel as settled and secure as we can, but so far, he’s handling it far better than we could ever hope, even though he did exactly the same when we landed in LA after Shanghai.

What a kid.

Another reason we’re enjoying things in England is that there’s an incredible familiarity to how things work.

Sure I’ve not lived here for 24 years and Jill is Australian … but we both have spent a huge amount of time here over the years so there’s a comfort in knowing how to make things happen. It’s allowed us to acclimatise to the new environment far quicker than we have in other nations while still feeling the buzz of excitement of being somewhere new.

Sure, there’s nervousness about some things we’ve never/rarely had to deal with before.

The school system and how insane that is here.

The inability to be confident a tradesman will turn up as promised.

The high price of public transport [which is still low, but comparatively high to say, China]

But all that is offset with the incredible culture that surrounds us, the friendliness of the people we’ve met and just being in a place where we can see ourselves for a good length of time.

Oh, and chips, mushy peas and gravy.

God, that’s magic right there.

But one other thing that has made things so great is work.

I’m really enjoying myself.

I have an incredible team full of smarts and opinions.

I have a huge array of colleagues full of creativity and provocation.

I have a bunch of clients full of fascinating challenges and ambitions.

I’m learning.

I’m being challenged.

I’m [hopefully] contributing.

There were a bunch of reasons why we moved countries – both personal and professional – and while no place will ever be perfect, I’m pretty shocked at how much I am enjoying being back in England given I never thought I’d ever move back.

I still wish I could nip up to Nottingham to see Mum and Dad.

I still wish Paul and Shelly lived down the street not 2 hours away.

But as much as I’ll always be a cynical bastard, I’m pretty happy right now and I’m sure that is as shocking to you as it is to me.

So on this bombshell of positivity, I wish you a good weekend and let you know that the APSOTW results will finally be out next week.

Ta-ra.

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You Know Adland Is In A Hole When A Lord Mayor Has A Better Philosophy Than Us …

Magic Magid is a British-Somali who has served as the Lord Mayor of Sheffield since May ’18.

Yes, the Lord Mayor.

Given he was born in 1989, his appointment has attracted a lot of media attention – not just because of his young age and cultural background – but because he is also the first Green Party councillor to hold the role.

But that’s not why I’m writing about him, I’m writing about him because of the way he connects to culture.

Where most politicians tend to say whatever they think their audience want to hear – and then, once elected, use fear and put-downs to control their audience’s actions – he not only says what he believes [and attracts people on those shared beliefs] but he also shows great belief in the capabilities and possibilities of his constituents.

Have a look at this …

How is that for a set of philosophical beliefs?

Pointed.
Topical.
Cultural.
Humorous.
Positive.

Is it any surprise he has made youth give a damn about politics?

While the opposition are fixated on scoring points against each other, Magic Magid communicates a way of living and behaving that pulls the community together.

A set of standards and rules you can live by.

A set of standards and rules you would be proud of following and representing.

Now of course his actions have to represent his words but just in terms of fresh energy, it sets a direction by which most things can either be filtered through or measured against.

Now look at adland.

What are our beliefs?

What are we saying that is making people want to believe?

Making people want to be a part of us?

Sure there are some agencies that still have them … still live by them … but the thing I find sad is all agencies started with a set of distinct beliefs that differentiated them from the crowd and yet now, the vast majority of the industry tends to behave in the same, blunt and ambigious way.

We say the same things.

We read the same books.

We aspire to the same goals.

Christ, we’ve become more corporate than the clients who used to hire us to stop them being corporate.

The World is changing.

I love that we live in times where the minority – or underdog – can no longer simply be ignored.

Where how you do things is becoming as important as what you do.

And yet despite claiming to know how to move culture better than anyone else, adland continues to stick rigidly with what it knows even though publicly, they’re desperately trying to associate with the latest new, new thing.

Where are the leaders?

The mavericks?

The pioneers?

Oh I know, in the file labelled ‘too much trouble’.

Let’s hope we learn before it’s too late.



Standards Not Speed …

So while I was at Deutsch, the brilliant WARC – for reasons that I don’t quite understand – asked me to contribute to their paper regarding the future of strategy.

To be honest, these sort of things tend to do my head in because ultimately, when you’re talking about the future – you can say anything you like and no one can say you’re wrong until the future is the present.

However as WARC are ace [present contributor excluded] and a bunch of my much smarter friends were also going to be a part of it … I happily agreed, even though my version of ‘the future of strategy’ has ended up being less about what we can be and more about how we should be looking to the past for how we should be doing it.

You see I worry that, as a discipline, we’re working more down to a speed than up to a quality.

I get it … the competitive landscape means clients and agencies want more stuff in less time for cheaper prices … but it’s a false economy because if our job is about opening possibilities for the clients we partner with, the only way we can truly recognize the creative opportunities for them – whatever they may be – is if we really understand culture.

Not just the big or functional things, but the nuances of attitude and behaviour.

And while we now have many ways of doing this, I don’t think many make up for good, old fashioned, rigor.

Not just in what we do, but who we get to do it.

I’ve seen too many people interpret data without truly understanding data.

I’ve seen too many people think they’re the audience when they’re the opposite of it.

I’ve seen too many people think focus groups reflect reality as opposed to exploring reality.

I’ve seen too many people evaluate culture from outsider positions, rather than insider understanding.

I’ve seen too many people think society doesn’t know what they want when most of the time, they just don’t know how to express it.

Rigor changes everything.

The level of understanding. The ability to see what’s possible. The quality of the creative response.

It’s something I worry we are sacrificing in our bid to keep up with what we think clients want.

And while speed is a competitive advantage, quality builds sustainable change and we should never just focus on the quick fixes because that is ultimately running to stand still.

If our industry is to get back to where we deserve, we have to do what’s right and that’s more than just doing the job, it’s doing the job with knowledgable and dangerous minds. It’s why Martin Weigel and I started our school and why I wrote this as my ‘future of strategy’.

PLANNING IS AN OUTDOOR JOB

So WARC asked me to write a piece on the importance of spending time outside the office.

Not in the quest for a decent lunchtime sandwich, but to better understand what’s going on in people’s lives.

In some ways, it’s kind-of horrifying to be asked to do this because it should be bloody obvious. Even the author John Le Carre, understood it with his famous quote, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the World”.

And yet, it seems fewer and fewer planners spend much time in the real World, preferring to observe it from the comfort of a research report and google search.

Look I get we live in times where we can access incredible amounts of data.

And I appreciate in this competitive World, things need to happen quicker than ever before.

But – and it’s a big but – spending time outside the bubble of adland is also a necessity.

Not just for planners … but for the clients you’re working with and the audience you’re unleashing your creativity on.

When I first joined Deutsch, I wanted to understand what the hell was going on with American youth so I sent 3 of my colleagues – Maya, Armando and Leigh [along with Sarah, a photographer and co-supported back at HQ by the wonderful Kelsey] backpacking across the US to spend about a month in some of America’s most opposite cities.

Specifically, the richest/poorest … fastest growing/shrinking … most/least diverse.

The only stipulation I gave them was a bit of advice my Mum once gave me, ‘be interested in what others are interested in’.

And so off they went.

A month later and they were back with experiences that had challenged them on deeply personal levels. Stuff that was incredibly uncomfortable to witness and experience.

But they also came back with stories that changed the way they looked at what was going on in America. Stories that added colour and context to how people live… stories that filled the gaps between data and research reports … stories that made them laugh, cry, despair and feel excited with what’s going on in the shadows of society.

No nice hotel rooms. No fancy travel. Just a month listening and learning straight from the mouths, lives and streets of youth. No wonder we called it America in The Raw.

We are all better for the experience.

Better planners, better department, better agency.

Better at helping our clients understand their audiences more intimately.

Better at identifying creative opportunities that would otherwise not reveal themselves.

Better at making work that stops telling people what to think and starts resonating with how people are thinking.

Of course, nothing in this approach is new.

Nor is necessary to go to such extremes to get cultural understanding and nuance.

But given how few planners seem to get the time – or have the inclination to get out into the real World – I hope this serves as a gentle reminder that planning is an outside job, because in a World while clients want agencies to help them stand out from the competition, the real opportunity is to help brands truly resonate with their audience… and as great as sitting in a nice office can be, you’ll never achieve that – or the creativity that can come from it – if you’re sat behind a desk.

You may wonder how you get your agency or client to pay for you to do this?

Well – apart from the fact it doesn’t cost anywhere near what they may think – you just need to point out the commercial value of having a level of intimacy with culture that few others will ever have. Plus there’s the fact this understanding leads to more interesting creativity with more powerful results.

But as I said, it doesn’t have to be this huge, formal thing, it should just be a natural part of how you do your job which is why if you’re a planning head, you should push your team to get out the door and if you’re a junior planner, you should push your boss to let you out the door.

It will change your life. And career.



Still Annoying People …

So it’s nice to know that despite starting my second new job – in my second country – the stickers I left around Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai are still being discovered.

I’ve been told there’s a couple of people there who think it’s a joke that has gone too far, but apart from the fact Mr Wieden himself has done far, far worst [delivering the post on a horse, for example] and the whole premise of W+K is creative [I know, that’s a pretty big call to justify them] they’re going to get really frustrated when they realise there’s still hundreds of the bloody things still to be found.

This makes me so happy.

So very, very happy.

Cue: Evil Laugh.



Every Detail Matters …

So I’ve not been sacked – yet – which means I feel confident enough to write another post for the week.

About a month ago, as I was flying to LA from Hong Kong, I re-watched the Michael Mann classic, Heat.

Making a movie – like making communication – consists of many elements.

Sure, you need a great story and you need great actors who can bring that story to life … but what really elevates the work to something special is a passion for the details.

Or said another way, the craft of craft.

In simple terms, this means the person heading the project doesn’t just appreciate what they don’t know, but they trust the people around them, who do.

They create the time and space for the broader team to do their best work on their areas of expertise. Encouraging debate and discussion to explore how each member of the team believe they can enhance the goal of the project to even bigger and more exciting places.

I think Heat is an example of this.

While Michael Mann wrote and directed the film, he allowed his expert team to be experts … ensuring every scene was as powerful or as believable as it can be.

There are many things I could highlight …

From allowing De Niro and Pacino to ad-lib their cafe scene because he trusted their talent to make the moment something unique right through to making sure the way the actors left the bank [after they robbed it] mirrored how trained soldiers would leave such a building.

[Apparently that scene is still used by many military organizations as a way to train their soldiers on how to leave a building]

But while those things are good, if you really want to see craft in action – and understand the impact it can have on the final product – then rewatch HEAT and marvel at the sound design of the main gun fight … because despite the movie being over TWENTY THREE YEARS OLD, it still stands out for all its majestic power and still continues to make the viewer feel like they’re actually in the scene.

Details matter.

Talent matters.

Craft matters.



Back Where It All Began …

So today I start my new job.

In England.

The last time this happened was in 1989 which blows my mind.

Of course, this situation is quite different to the last situation.

I’ve had a family.

I’ve lived around the World.

I’ve worked – and started – a bunch of companies.

I’m slightly better off than I was back in the late 80’s.

And while I enjoyed my time in the US, I’m very excited about what I’m going to be doing because whereas previously the big opportunity for me was more around understanding different cultures, this new role gives me that while also challenging and teaching me about possibilities that go beyond my areas of experience, because today I start as the head of strategy for R/GA for EMEA.

There were a bunch of reasons for leaving America, but one thing we knew was that there was no point if I wasn’t going to be enjoying myself.

For enjoying myself, I mean pushing me, challenging me, educating me and helping me make a bigger difference than I thought I could make.

I’ve long admired R/GA – especially R/GA London – so when we started chatting, I was fascinated about the opportunity and was incredibly happy/surprised, to learn they seemed to feel the same way.

Quite frankly, while all agencies talk about ‘creating cultural change’, R/GA seem to be the only one trying to make it happen on an ongoing basis. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some agencies out there who definitely help shape cultural behavior and attitudes – like my beloved W+K – but R/GA want to create the ideas, systems and communication that can encourage longer term cultural change rather than momentary effect.

At the end of the day, the idea of working with smart people who want to use creativity to impact the future and smart clients who want to walk towards the future was hugely infectious for me, especially at my age.

What makes it even better is that my remit means I’ll still get to work and discover different cultures, which is something I’ve done for the past 20 years all around the World … though given it’s been 24 years since I’ve lived in the UK, I’m pretty sure I’m going to find it fascinating understanding what is making this country tick.

All in all, I’m super excited.

At the interview I was asked why I wanted the job and I told them about a friend of mine who works for architect extroidinaire, Sir Norman Foster.

My mate is disgustingly epic … smart, charming and as handsome as hell … but despite all those enviable attributes, the thing I’ve always been jealous of is that his job requires him to create stuff that will outlive him.

I love advertising.

I think it is massively undervalued.

But the way the industry is going – focusing on the present, not building for the future – is scary as hell.

Not just in terms of the longevity of adland, but the ambitions of brands.

So to have a chance to work for a place that attracts clients who want to build rather than just plunder is very exciting for me.

Especially if there’s a shot of creating something that could outlive me.

Let’s just hope I can fool them into thinking I’m worth keeping around for more than a week …

Given my love of chaos, that might be over-ambitious.



Another Chapter Ends, Another Chapter Begins …

So today is going to be my last post for a while.

As you know, I’m leaving America and moving to the UK … and that all happens over the next 12 days.

Next week I say my goodbyes to Deutsch and then, 6 days after that, we move to the UK.

Because we have a bunch to do – from packing up to finding a new place to live – I need to focus on my family more than writing rubbish blog posts, hence while I endure a momentary period of maturity pain, you get to experience a momentary period of peaceful gain.

But don’t get too comfortable … it’s definitely going to be momentary as I’ll be back up and running on October 1.

Oh yes. Be afraid, be very afraid.

That aside, I have to say the last few weeks have been pretty hard.

Not in the sense of getting everything together for the move – though that is still an utter pain in the ass, despite the fact we have done it so many time – it’s just that the life in LA is pretty spectacular.

As I wrote once before, I’ve had better weekends in America than I may have had pretty much anywhere in the World and to say goodbye to that is hard.

Of course a big part of it is the amazing weather and that we had cars for the first time in 15 years [and trust me, after all I went through to get my car, saying goodbye to that has been a pain too] but the other key element is that LA is an outdoor city and to be able to spend so much time with my family in the fresh air has been an amazing gift.

Of course London will offer us alternative wonderful experiences, but that sunshine is a pretty addictive thing.

The other hard part is saying goodbye to people.

OK, not goodbye for ever – technology ensures that doesn’t have to happen – but goodbye in terms of seeing you each day.

All of my family have met people here who have become incredibly important to us.

Jill has made friends here that have become incredibly important to her. Friends that will stand the test of time and distance. Friends that have made my wife truly happy and supported … and for that, I send a personal big thanks to Emma, Zoe and Amber to name a few.

Otis is inundated with them – thanks to his magnificent school – but no one will be missed as much as his beloved Elodie.

To be honest, we’re not sure if he truly understands what moving to London means in terms of implications. While technology means he will be able to still see and talk to Elodie, it will obviously be very different. I have to say we’ve handled this move with him very gently. Even though he’s already moved from China, he’s only 3 years old so his World is both huge and small. To try and make him feel as comfortable as he can be, we’ve made sure his feelings have been taken into account at every stage of the process – from creating a book of all the things he has seen and done in LA to showing him pictures of the things he will see in London to asking him to help us decide where our new family home will be.

Despite having moved countries more times than I care to remember, the fact is I never left home until I was 25 and I remember how traumatic that was for me. For a kid of 3, it must be insane … which is why he needs to feel his family unit is stronger than superglue while everything around him is changing.

I wish I didn’t have to put him through this, but apart from it being linked to work [more of that at a later date], part of this move is because Jill and I [and even the cat, probably] want him to be somewhere he can build real, longer-term roots.

As much as we loved LA, it was never going to be our long term home.

It was/is great, but we just didn’t really have an emotional connection to the place because we came here for work more than anything else.

Sure, if we had stayed longer, that might have changed – but England offers us roots. A place with some deep connections thanks to my background and – to a certain degree – Jill’s.

We have old friends there. People Otis knows and loves. And while I don’t think England will be our last stop on our journey, I do think it will be a significant one … a place where my family can build real roots and my son can find someone who becomes as important in his life and history as my beloved Paul is to me.

That is our goal. That is what my family needs. That is something we’re excited about.

But moving on means leaving things behind and for me, I am going to be saying bye to a bunch of people that have become very important to me.

The weird thing about LA is that by the time we moved here, an incredible amount of old friends and colleagues had also moved here. In fact, it meant LA was the place where I knew more people than anywhere else in the World.

Madness.

And as much as I’ll miss those guys, I’ve gone through this with them before so they don’t get to fuck with my heart that badly a second time. However there are a bunch of new people who I am going to hate to say bye too.

From our wonderful neighbours Kim and Dave to the lovely Elena – who Otis adored and trusted in no time at all – to the people at Noah’s Bagel’s who kept giving me free coffee because they found my t-shirts ‘amusing’.

But in particular I want to say a big thank you to some folks who made my weekdays better than I deserved.

There’s a bunch of them, but in particular I need to single out the amazingly talented and beautiful Jorge, the always happy [despite my shit] Zaid, the ‘Bake Queen’ Dana, the brilliant, patient, supportive and precious BCG [you know who you are, what you did for me and how much you mean to me] and – of course – my planning team.

Having spent 7 years with an incredible group at Wieden Shanghai, I didn’t know how I’d feel working with a totally different bunch, in a totally different country with a totally different context in terms of planning and creativity … but I can honestly say, it’s been an absolute pleasure working with them.

They’ve been incredibly good to me.

Putting up with my ‘ways’ and embracing my approaches.

And while all of them have played an important role in pushing the department forward, I have to give a special thanks to Kelsey, Rachael, Maya, Leigh, Heide, Lani, Ben, Mitch and Armando [and Donn, who fucked off for a pot of gold and a Lexus] for simply putting up with me on more projects than anyone else without – as far as I know – reporting me to HR.

There’s a lot of talent in this team, talent that can push them – and the agency – a long way, so I hope they continue being mouthy, opinionated, curious fucks … because as we saw in our brilliant America In The Raw study/book … when you stand for something, it stops the masses falling for anything.

I hope they feel I made a difference.

I hope they feel they’re in a better place than before I arrived.

I hope they can see bigger possibilities for who they are and what they can achieve.

For me, that’s the most important thing, even though I wish I could have achieved more.

For them. For me. For the agency.

[Though I have to say, I’m particularly proud that I got the office billboard changed, hahaha]

In all seriousness, I feel I’m leaving America a better person than when I arrived – which is the best way to leave any place – and that’s why I’m so grateful to all my planning team for what they did for me and helped me do.

Honestly, there’s a bunch of people here I’ve enjoyed working with, but this is already getting into Oscar speech territory, so in the interests of boredom, I’ll end this post with this.

Thank you LA.

Thank you for giving my family an experience we will always remember and treasure.

Thank you for the friendships, the memories and the opportunities we got to explore and enjoy.

I will always be grateful for the time I spent here, however short.

I hope America sorts itself out.

It’s an amazing country that deserves better. Needs to be better.

To do that, it needs to stop fighting as enemies and start talking as friends.

I don’t know if that will ever happen, especially under the current regime, but a united America is a good America and I want everyone I’ve met here to have the opportunities they deserve.

It’s been an honour and a privlidge and we’ll be back … for a visit, if only to prove to Otis that once upon a time, he really did live in [lifestyle] paradise.

London … here we come.

______________________________________________________________________________

Oh hang on, there’s one last thing before I go.

I know … I know … this post is going on forever.

In the tradition of leaving companies with my indelible mark, the good people of Deutsch LA have received 2 things:

Every member of my wonderful planning department have been given a copy of the highly enlightening Ladybird Book Of Meetings [for future ‘self protection/preservation’ purposes] while the rest of the agency have been left with these highly desirable, culturally bold [Ahem!], future collector item badges/buttons.

I think it’s how they’d like to remember me.

Or should I say, how they will remember me.

Look, I know as horrible as these things are, they’re still less painful than the 600 stickers I hid throughout Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai, but then Deutsch only had to endure a year of my pain where the lovely folks in China suffered for over 7.

I’m so considerate with my nastiness.

Which is probably why that after all this, they still have to put up with me for 4 days next week.

Cue: Evil Laugh.

It’s been a memorable adventure so a big thank you for everything.

See you America. See you soon England.