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


Professional To The Core …

For reasons I don’t understand – but I do like – I occasionally get asked for my opinion in industry magazines.

While I absolutely take what I do seriously, I have realized that if I was to compile all that I’ve said that has been printed, I would look a bit of a maniac.

For example, there’s this. Or this. Or even this.

And just recently I was asked ‘what Star Wars character would I be’ and this was my answer …

But here is the thing …

While many may think I do this because I need psychiatric help or have a career death wish, there’s another reason behind it and it’s about comfortableness.

You see when I was a youngster in the industry, I was surrounded by super-smart, super-senior people who were full of opinion, personality and provocation.

While I didn’t agree with everything they said, they helped me realise that ‘just because you take your job seriously, doesn’t mean you have to take yourself seriously’.

What this did was let me feel comfortable in taking to any of them about any madcap idea I had … let me talk to clients about subjects that may otherwise seem ‘off limits’ and let me work with colleagues without thinking it made me look weak or incapable.

In essence, cheekiness has enabled me to do – or be part of – things that I may not otherwise never have been able to do.

From work I’ve been a part of … clients I’ve worked with … agencies I’ve worked at and countries I’ve lived in.

Now of course, mischief is in my bones so it wasn’t exactly hard … but being encouraged to embrace my truth rather than oppress it had a huge benefit to my career and so while a bunch of what I say and do is because I’m a bloody idiot, there is a part of it that is intended to create the space and atmosphere to enable my colleagues and clients feel comfortable with being vulnerable … whether that’s expressing their ideas, their fears and ambitions or simply realizing that if I can have a career while still being a sweary fool, then they – with all their talent – surely can.

You might think this is a load of bollocks – and I totally understand get why – but it’s true.

The future of adland is not going to come from more processes, it’s going to come from more people being able to express or explore their ideas without fearing they will be judged, shot down or ridiculed.

And if you think that’s a dramatic statement, just go on twitter and see how the masses react to any idea that challenges the belief system they have bought into, even though they know for a fact that the very small amount of people who succeed – which are mainly white men – are generally the ones who reinforce the cliche rather than push or break them.

Happy Monday.

Advertisements


What You Can Learn About The Danger Of Assumption From The Original Woodstock Festival …

One of the things I do when I first get a brief is try to see the creative opportunity.

Where we can make the biggest and most interesting difference.

Changing something.

Pushing something.

Destroying something.

However the reality is that in many briefs, this isn’t always clear – mainly because so many are written from quite a transactional perspective, designed for an agency to ‘answer it’, rather than use it as a springboard for bigger, more powerful and more sustainable impact.

And that’s why the best thing you can do is ask questions.

Explore.

Prod.

Challenge.

Not just in terms of who authored the brief, but the people who are responsible for what comes out of it.

There are some people who think this approach has the potential of alienating clients, but in my experience it has quite the opposite effect. People in power regard this as a demonstration of someone who gives a shit … someone who wants to help them achieve the best outcome in ways that can best serve their business. Ideas they may simply never have seen or considered before.

And that’s exactly why I do it because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t know the level of the clients ambition … their desire for change and impact … and without that you can’t possibly see the creative opportunity you have in front of you and you may go down a path that leads to nowhere because you have made assumptions that simply aren’t true.

Don’t get me wrong, we all need new business to survive – let alone thrive – but my point of view is that if people aren’t excited or clear on what we are looking to do, then it either leads to a painful journey with painful work at the end of it or just mistrust and quite frankly, I haven’t got time for either of those in my life.

So what’s all this got to do with the title of this post?

Because I recently read an article on the famous Woodstock festival and was reminded – from a comment by Tommy James from the band, Tommy James and The Shondells – how dangerous ‘assumption’ can be.

And who is Tommy James from Tommy James and The Shondells?

Well, this might tell you why you haven’t heard of him or them …

Don’t assume the person communicating with you has total clarity on their situation.

Don’t assume the people around you have total clarity on the situation.

Just don’t assume.



Best Of The Best Or The Least Bad?

Today I’m judging the Effies.

Oh awards …

I’ve written so, so much about them in the past.

Like here. And here. And here. And here.

I must admit, I am intrigued to see what they are going to be like in the UK.

Will they be a celebration of insightful efficiency or will they be like I experienced too many times in Asia, a stream of consciousness that just rumbles along till they think they have explained how they got to their idea and how they have proved it worked.

I guess we shall see later today.

I really, really hope they are good.

Not just because the Effies have always had a standard they’ve lived up to, but because it will give me faith the industry still has fight in it to do things right.

In my time in the UK, I’ve read a bunch of planning documents/portfolios/resumes that have been more about packaging.

Repeating a client brief in a way that has been ‘sexed up’.

Superficial.

Executional.

Literal.

There are a bunch of reasons for this.

Part of it is the lack of training agencies give their strategiests.

[Hence why we started the School of Strategic Arts]

Part of it is the huge amount of freelance planners out there who are doing exactly what they are asked because they are fighting for their livelihood.

And part of it is because of the client/agency remuneration deals which means planners are giving too little time to explore the best outcome to the problem they face.

Planning has a valuable role to play in effectiveness.

Planning has a valuable role to play in creativity.

But it needs to be allowed to do it to make it happen … so here’s hoping we see the best of what it can do today, because the Effies is not just important for the people who win, but for what the industry needs to get back to being.



Make Space Or We Die Alone …

One of the best things I’ve done [so far] in the UK is see my R/GA planning mob work with the brilliant Brixton Finishing School.

They all graduate today so this post not only makes me – for once – super timely, but also super proud of them all.

Anyway, over the past few weeks they’ve been working with the students on the importance of putting creativity at the heart of strategy.

Well a couple of weeks ago it was my turn and it was massively emotional for me.

Not just because of their passion for creativity.

Not just because they embraced an old fucker with open arms.

But because of the openness of the conversation we had that touched on issues often swept under the carpet but are raw and real … especially if you’re a person of colour.

I was honoured to be there, we should be honoured they still want to work in adland given we – as an industry – are doing our level best to make them feel alienated, isolated or a token gesture.

It’s not hard to change this.

As I wrote about the need to embrace more female leadership, it’s just about making space.

The great irony is that the industry loves to talk about diversity, but not only do they fail to realise it’s about background not just heritage, it’s about how you let them behave. Basically if you make anyone feel penalised or negatively judged for simply being their authentic self, then you are acting in a way that is literally the opposite of diversity.

Sadly, many companies still don’t get this.

They better start or the people who are the one chance we have left to make this industry have a decent future, will finally have enough and take their potential and talent elsewhere.

Frankly, I would not blame them.

[Thanks Maya, Bree, Chelsea and Lani for the impact you still make on me]



Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

So a few weeks ago, in a Starbucks in Epping, I saw this man …

For those who don’t know who he is, it’s music icon Rod Stewart.

I appreciate his best days as a singer are over but the fact he’s 74, still has hit albums and sold out concerts and looks pretty much like he did 40 years ago, means he can look back on his life as pretty bloody successful.

There’s lots of stories about Mr Stewart.

His love life.

His happy feud/rivalry with Elton John.

His tightness.

But what isn’t talked about much is his love of his family.

I saw it when he walked into Starbucks.

In came his wife and a bunch of his kids – young and old – and they all sat together, chatting … laughing and sharing coffee and croissants.

I know this is something we see everyday, all around the World, but there was something lovely in seeing an international Rock Star act like the doting father and husband he obviously is.

I’m not denying he has made some pretty shit mistakes in the past … but without wishing to defend that … sometimes good people make bad mistakes and whatever happened in the past, at least he seems to remember what is truly important.

Nothing says this more than an interview he gave this year …

I don’t know about you, but I think this is wonderful.

It’s also weird his brothers and sisters are NINETY YEARS OLD.

But what I love most is that it is apparent for all his wealth, he feels his family is what truly makes him rich.

Even his ex-wife, Rachel Hunter, doesn’t really have a bad word to say about him.

Their divorce wasn’t because of infidelity, it was because she was young and after 13 years of him being a doting husband, she felt she wanted to go out and live more.

And even then, she – and he – made sure everything was both amicable and respectful.

The reason I’m saying this is because work/life balance is under greater pressure than ever.

Sure companies are talking about it more than ever before, but in the main, what they really mean is ‘it’s important to have a home life but make sure you do your work first’.

I also accept, it’s much easier to have work/life balance when you’re a multi, multi millionaire because when Mr Stewart was starting out, he was so in debt, his manager and record company pushed him to go out on tour so he missed a lot of his oldest kids early years.

But here’s the thing.

If we all appreciate that work/life balance is important [even if that is simply because it makes you more effective at work] and mental health has become an issue that has been accepted as a real issue, how come this isn’t included in any procurement demands from clients or agencies?

Maybe it is, but I haven’t heard about any.

I have heard of contracts that demand female representation.

And I have heard of contracts that demand people of color inclusion.

But nothing on mental health or work/life balance.

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy that issues of gender and background are being forced into contracts [but I’m so sad this is what it took to have it happen] but what about making sure these people are looked after once they are there?

Why isn’t that part of the deal?

Why is that not a key criteria of what we are all talking about?

Why is that something shareholders don’t demand of the companies they invest in?

I think we can all guess, but if you’re still not sure, head over to Corporate Gaslighting and read what some people have discovered are some of the reasons why.



Self Awareness Stops You Being Self Stupid …

So I was talking at event recently about ‘loyalty’ and mentioned how when the Amazon Dash button came out, one of my clients was ecstatic.

In their mind, it meant they were going to see sales grow because instead of having to risk a shopper buying a competitive brand, they would press the button and the sale would be there’s guaranteed.

In my talk, I went on to say how I told the client that was great in theory, but there were 3 things they had to think about.

1. The real winner is always going to be Amazon.

2. It was going to be a huge race to see who could get the most ‘buttons’ into homes.

3. The result would be the destruction of their hardly fought – and expensively bought – premium brand value status.

At the end, a gentleman asked me why I thought turning a brand into a commodity was a bad idea as it meant more sales and that meant more money for the brand and the shareholders.

I must admit, I was quite taken aback by this response and pointed out that being a commodity might generate more sales, but it loses profitability and – more scarily – leaves you open to a competitor deciding to either launch a price war or disrupt the market with a new product.

He wasn’t convinced and kept going on about commodity value and how soon all brands will end up following that route.

I must admit I was a bit rude to him so after the event, I sought him out to have a chat.

Turned out he worked for a car insurance company and highlighted his category was driven purely by price.

When I asked him what he meant, he said:

“As long as your company name is generally known in a generally good light, you will get business”.

It took all my strength not to laugh in his face, so instead I simply replied,

“So you do believe in brand value or you wouldn’t care if the company name was generally known in a generally good light”.

You could see him look confused, so I decided to just finish the job off by saying …

“And if you believe everything is a commodity, why are you wearing an expensive watch when a Timex does the same job?”

He smiled a ‘fuck you’ smile at me, said goodbye then left.

It was a good evening.



Behind Every Clean Process, Is A Mass Of Messy

I love chaos.

Always have.

In fact, my approach to work can be summed up in 3 words.

Culture. Chaos. Creativity.

And yet, I do appreciate the importance of some sort of process … some sort of systematic thinking in terms of approach … because ultimately we are in the commercial creativity business, so we need some guide rails to ensure we’re heading in the right direction, even if I am removing any specific destination.

Where things go wrong is when people care more about the process than what the process is supposed to create.

Where systematic thinking goes from direction to dictation.

That’s when things go wrong.

That’s when potential and ambition are killed in the quest for control.

But here’s the thing …

For all the processes talked about.

For all the proprietary tools hyped.

The system agencies tend to end up adopting – even when they’re hidden inside a beautifully constructed, clearly planned out, client facing framework – is this.

This is not a criticism.

To get to somewhere new … somewhere interesting and intriguing … you have to take a leap of faith at some point, even in the most well-organised, well thought-out of processes.

Some people don’t like admitting that.

Some people don’t want the pragmatism of creativity to overshadow the ego of their process.

Some people don’t even want to accept creativity rarely follows a straight line through the entire process.

And yet it is creativities ability to solve problems in lateral ways that makes it so valuable and powerful, which is why for me, those who are comfortable with uncomfortable are the ones who create the most enduring ideas for brands, business and culture.

And the ones who aren’t?

Well they tend to be the ones who use words like operationalize or optimise or codify or, the old classic, ‘proprietary tools and processes’ a lot … the ones who want to feel in control, despite the fact what they’re actually saying is they want to replicate creativity rather than ignite it.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s always some element of process in any development of creativity – whatever form that manifests – but there’s also messiness and chaos and to remove that, not make room for that or go around that is either a lie or an act against the incredibly infectious possibilities of creativity.

As Martin and I said at Cannes, chaos creates what order can’t.