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


Greater Female Leadership Is About More Than Just About Equality, It’s A Chance For The Industry To Grow And Discover …

When you think of heads of planning, who are the names that come to you first?

Weigel?
Davies?
Kay?
Even – god forbid – Campbell?

I’m pretty sure that whoever you are, the number of male names outstrips the number of female names.

While there’s a number of reasons for this, one of the main ones is the simple fact there’s more men at the top of the planning tree than women.

Of course there’s some female leaders…

The brilliant Sarah Watson at BBH, the wonderful Amanda Feve at Anomaly Amsterdam, the incredible Lucy Jameson at Uncommon London, the fantastic Stephanie Newman at 72&Sunny Amsterdam, the epic Jessica Lovell at Adam & Eve, the awesome Emma Cookson at You & Mr Jones, the irrepressible Jess Greenwood at R/GA and the incredible Heidi Hackemer, now at the Chan Zuckerberg Institute, to name a few.

But it’s very few.

Even with the names I could have added – such as Mollie Hill at 72&Sunny Sydney to Deutsch’s own Lindsey Allison – it’s nowhere near enough … and it only gets worse when you look for people of colour.

What makes this more frustrating is there’s a ton of phenomenal planning talent out there who happen to be female who could/should be running departments but aren’t.

From personal experience, I could quickly throw out names like Paula Bloodworth, Kaichin Chang, Kelsey Hodgkin and Heather LeFevre – who did so much for the planning community with her planner survey and book – and while they are all senior, incredibly well respected individuals in their respective departments [though Kaichin is currently involved in another venture] none are formally leading their departments.

I know there’s probably a bunch of reasons for this.

Some may be valid, most probably not … at least not in terms of giving a clear, none-ambiguous explanation of why the planning community has so few female leadership in comparison to men.

Which can only lead to one reason.

Sexism.

Now I am not suggesting there’s an overt desire to hold women back, but the evidence suggests it’s happening.

I personally think one of the reasons is companies making candidates meet with loads of people throughout the interview process.

Given the law of adland-averages means most of the senior leaders that candidates will meet will be [white] men – and there’s a fair chance that at least one of them will prefer to work with a male rather than a female – that immediately places an additional obstacle for women to overcome compared to male counterparts.

Which becomes a thousand times harder if you’re a person of colour.

And this is where I get especially annoyed because this attitude is screwing over more than just female candidates, but the whole industry.

I’m not just saying this because I think there should be more female leaders – though there should – I’m saying this because I believe female leaders bring something to the table that is different from men.

Note I said ‘different’, not better. Or worse.

And what is this difference?

Well there’s a couple of things …

One is how men and women deal with situations.

While a great planner is a great planner regardless of gender or cultural background … having more women in positions of power will allow their approaches, perspectives and/or habits to come to the fore … approaches, perspectives and/or habits that offer a real alternative to the current, male-dominated and created way of doing things.

This will push us to think in different ways.

Take us to new places.

Encourage us to try new approaches.

For me, that’s very exciting but it can’t happen unless we put – or create additional space – for more female leadership while giving them the authority to make the choices they feel are the right things to do without barriers or hindrance.

And hey, even if their approach remains relatively the same to what’s been there before [though we never know unless we let it] we not only end up with a highly talented planners in leadership position … but ones who will also act as a role-model for young, female talent and that can only be a good thing, especially as, in my experience, women are not self-obsessed [like men] with ‘getting to the top’, but want to find better ways to do things. For everyone. Which is the sort of generosity that creates something special for all involved.

The second is a situation that occurred a few months ago.

Let me backtrack …

This week I will be going to Amsterdam to teach at Hoala.

While that is bad news for the people who have paid the course, it’s good news for you as this is the last blog post for 2 weeks.

TWO!!!

Anyway, a while back I got contacted by a number of women saying it was ridiculous than of all the lectures at HOALA, only one was female.

One.

I agreed but said that given HOALA was founded by a woman, I am sure there is some reason for it even if it felt a bit mad.

They rightfully pushed back on me.

They asked if I’d give my place up for a great female planner to take my place.

This left me in a quandary because I adore teaching this course and feel I have something that can be of real benefit for the attendees and yet their argument was pretty sound.

So I came up with an alternative.

While the course this coming weekend states it’s just going to be me, it’s not.

I’m flying over the brilliant Paula Bloodworth to join me in co-running the course.

For those who don’t know Paula, she is head of planning for NIKE at Wieden London.

She’s one of the people behind this.

Told you she’s ace.

Anyway, I had the great pleasure of working with her at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai so I’ve asked Paula to co-run our session.

I want her to talk about her perspective … her challenges … her thoughts/ideas and approaches to moving the industry – and the women in the industry – forward.

I want her to disagree with me, question the attendees, question the way the industry is moving forward and what we can all do to help change it.

Not because I like conflict [though I kinda do], but because her additional perspective will help the attendees learn far more than if it was just me.

Or another male.

For the record, when I told HOALA, they were nothing but supportive and excited and have gone out of their way to make sure she will feel welcomed and valued.

As I knew they would be.

But my shame is that I needed someone to push me to do this.

Not specifically to get Paula to come with me, but to do something that showed my genuine commitment to improving equality.

There’s 3 reasons for this self-disappointment …

The first is my parents brought me up to see equality, something we’re trying to do with Otis.

The second is I’ve had the privilege of living and working in many countries so experienced first hand the benefits of cultural diversity as well as the dangers of racial/gender stereotyping – something I hope I actively pushed against and continue to push against. [Though you would need to talk to some of my ex-collegaues to find out if I’m full of shit]

But it’s the third reason that really pisses me off because I should have absolutely not needed any encouragement to act given the things I’ve seen, experienced, got very angry about and acted against in my short-time in America.

Watching how so much of white America deals with issues relating to African American and Latino rights – even when they’re in support of racial equality – has shown me that just saying stuff ends up being nothing more than compliance with established rules and behaviors.

I admit it took me some time to realise that, but it’s absolutely true which is why I’m genuinely grateful to the women who [respectfully] called me out and I hope my action shows how seriously I’ve taken your pushback.

It is also why I have full intention to do something like I’ve done with Paula whenever I’m asked to speak/attend a conference … even if that means I eventually don’t get asked to speak/attend a conference.

But let’s be honest, this is a small thing.

A very small thing.

The reality is real change can’t happen if we don’t make it happen or if we put limits on how senior female planning leads are allowed to tackle their job because all that does is create a different set of problems women have to deal with that can hold them back.

I had originally written that because of this situation, I will continue to give preference to hiring senior female leaders however an employment lawyer friend of mine ‘advised’ me to state I believe the industry has to give preference to hiring more senior female planning leaders.

Regardless of which way I say it, this isn’t because I want to stop male talent moving forward – that literally couldn’t be further from the truth – it’s because women are equally as talented and I believe the only way to create greater equality is to [momentarily] skew to increase the odds of change and while that may end up costing me a position in the future, it means I can look my son in the eye and tell him equality is not what you say, but what you do.

No comments on this post [though you can if you have a LinkedIn account] as I want to keep the abuse out. By abuse, I mean the people who will insult me for being away again as no one should argue with my view about more female leadership.

See you back on the 23rd.

Advertisements
Comments Off on Greater Female Leadership Is About More Than Just About Equality, It’s A Chance For The Industry To Grow And Discover …


Photographic Planning: A Picture Tells A Thousand Presentations …

One of the best things about moving to America was that we were able to bring most of the stuff we had in storage around the World back to one place for the first time in over 15 years.

While opening boxes upon boxes of DVD documentaries was a bit heartbreaking given they are now all available online for free, there was some delight and one of those was getting my hands back on this …

Sign of the Times is a brilliant book by photographer Martin Parr.

Martin Parr is one of Britain’s most significant photographers, best known for his sharp eye and cheeky sense of humour.

Over his 30+ career, he has focused on capturing ordinary people doing ordinary things and because of this, he has become known as a social commentator and recorder of Britain’s finely nuanced class system.

In the 90’s, the BBC aired a documentary called Signs of the Times.

In some respects it was an early version of reality television … a fly-on-the-wall documentary that aimed to document the personal tastes of people in their British homes.

50 people were chosen from 2000 applicants with a real focus on capturing a diverse range of ages, races, genders and social backgrounds.

Anyway, from that show came the book and anyone who grew up in the 90’s in the UK who sees it will resonate with so much of it.

Not just in terms of the aesthetic, but the energy, values and priorities of the times.

I’ve long been fascinated with this approach – we even did a similar type of project at Wieden in Shanghai – because for me, it not only helps communicate who we’re talking to in ways others can truly connect to but – because of the contextual lens – it provides additional insight into how the audience lives and what they value.

It’s why it was so important for me to make a coffee table book of photographs from our recent America In The Raw study, because while some probably saw it as an indulgence – especially given you needed to see the accompanying presentation to truly understand what we found and what we think brands can/should do – my view is that without it, you can’t truly connect to the stories that shaped our thinking and then all we’ll end up with is a deck rather than the influence for change.



I Might Be A Bit Tragic …

Remember a while back I wrote about a colleague I work with called Zaid?

Well, a few weeks ago, we were working very late and – because I’m slightly sad – I decided to make, then order these.

Yes, they’re Zaid badges … or as they call them in America, buttons.

He politely laughed at this next-level stalking, but I’m pretty sure he felt very uncomfortable.

Even more so, when they arrived and I started handing them out to relative strangers.

I’m waiting for the call from HR any moment now.



Strategy Is Knowing What Not To Do …

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, when I was in NY, I was invited to speak at design gods … Pentagram.

Whenever I’m asked to speak at something, the first thing I think is ‘why?’

The second thing I think about is ‘what right have I got to talk about this subject?’

And the final thing is ‘what am I going to talk about’.

In the case of Pentagram, I didn’t know what I could say that would be of any interest of them.

Then I remembered the only reason they asked me to come is because of my relationship to a certain, famous rock band so instead of doing a deck – where, let’s be honest, they would be judging the design of each slide rather than listening to what I said – I bought 12 iconic albums on vinyl [they’re the ones in the picture above] and talked about the relationship they had with the music and the fans of the music under the heading, ‘Design is not decoration’.

Now I have no idea if they actually learnt anything from my talk, but it certainly created a bunch of conversation and debate and for me, that’s a big win.

Actually, getting out alive was the big win, but seeing some of the most talented design people in the World talk about the relationship between music, design and fans was something I’d pay for just to witness.

Which is why one of the best lessons I learned about strategy is less about what you are going to do and more about what you’re going to sacrifice.



Fear Stops Action …
March 26, 2018, 6:18 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Agency Culture, America, Comment, Culture, Management

So recently I learnt of a particular aspect of [American] corporate culture that scared the hell out of me. I put America in brackets, because I know it’s not unique to here – but, to be honest – it’s where I’ve seen the worst of it compared to all the other countries I’ve lived in.

The paranoia of performance.

Put simply, some people seem to waste an incredible amount of their energy convincing themselves others are getting the opportunities they want – or feel they deserve – and so spend their time continually looking for signs that say, at least to them, they’re ‘out of the loop’.

These signs could be anything …

The way a boss said hello to a colleague.

The fact a client said hello to someone who is not directly linked to the core team.

An agency colleague sat next to the client at a meeting.

Sure, sometimes that can be true, but unless I’m utterly naive, I’m pretty sure in the main it’s not.

But here’s the thing …

If you’re constantly looking for the hidden meaning behind everything, it means you’re spending all your energy and angst on feeding that negativity rather than doing something that could make a difference and so at some point … the paranoia becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now while that might make these people feel better about what they suspected all along, it’s a hollow victory given they created the situation rather than anyone else.

But what I find even worse is what it say’s about [American] corporate culture.

Or at least some of it.

Where people continually feel frightened.

Threatened.

Unsettled.

Suspicious.

All that does is make these people un-cooprerative, un-collaborative and in-efficient.

That’s not just horrible for them, but it also creates an incredibly toxic environment.

As I wrote a while back, enjoying your work is not just important personally but it’s also commercially advantageous as a whole and while I appreciate not everyone will achieve what they want to achieve, creating an environment where everyone thinks someone is out to get you rather than encouraging them to show what they are capable of is an outcome where everyone loses.



It’s Only A Mistake If You Don’t Learn From It …

One of the things I find amazing about adland is their inability to review what they just did … whether that was a pitch, a big meeting or just a campaign.

Basically, it things have gone well, they act like they are invincible.

And if things have gone less well, they either ignore it or blame it all on the client.

Look, I get that we have too many meetings.

I get no one wants to be the person who brings the energy of positivity down or make a bad situation worse, but reviews are super useful.

Not just for what you did wrong, but what you did right.

And yet so few agencies seem to do it …

Maybe part of it is that it can quickly turn into a blame game.

Maybe part of it is because people feel they can’t be honest, either for fear or reprisal or fear of hurting egos.

Or maybe it’s just because ‘reviews’ are so closely associated the ‘annual review’, people feel they can’t do it without masses of paperwork and 360 degree feedback.

But in my experience, an honest, objective review can make a huge difference – not just in personal performance but in terms of giving confidence to the team moving forward.

For me, there are a few key rules to do it well.

1. It can not be more than 30 minutes in length.

2. It has to happen within 48 hours of the event that justifies the review.

3. It has to involve all the people involved, not just the key players.

4. No comment can be personal, you win as a team and you fail as a team.

5. Everyone gets to say 1 thing they liked [about the process/pitch/work] 1 thing they’d change [about their approach to the process/pitch/work] and 1 thing they’ve learned [about how to improve the process/pitch/work]

That’s it.

Now I am not denying that a key element to it’s success is the tone of the meeting.

Too serious and it makes people nervous to say anything valuable.

Too light and no one takes it seriously.

But if you ensure there is an air of inclusion, positivity and the sense it’s being done to help everyone become even better, I find it is 30 minutes that people find genuinely valuable.

Of course it’s not just something for show.

All comments must be noted, distributed and then reviewed prior to the next situation where a post-review is likely … but once you get in the habit of it, those 30 minutes can have a lifetime of positive effect.

I wish more people did it … if not for the agencies benefit, but their own.

I promise I won’t write any more serious posts like this in the future. Sorry.



Age Is Attitude …

I’m old.

In fact by adland rules, I’m a bloody dinosaur.

That’s not because I’m switched off to contemporary culture – quite the opposite – but because the industry is ageist to the core.

The reality is anyone at my age tends to face an interesting dilemma in terms of how they are perceived …

Be old but think young and the industry sees you as a try-hard.

Be old and act old and the industry sees you as past-it.

Both things are wrong of course and it’s one of the reasons I always loved Wieden because they valued creativity rather than devaluing age. Of course, you have to keep the flow of new, exciting, dangerous talent coming into the place … but in my experience, when people have an open mind, the young learn from the old and vice versa and the end result is something even more potent than it would have otherwise been.

But maybe that’s just me trying to post rationalise my value.

The thing is, as I get older, I don’t want to subscribe to the ‘life’ I am supposed to have.

That doesn’t mean I aspire to living a long-term midlife crisis any more than I want to spend my time gardening, drinking wine or playing golf … if people want to do that, that’s fine, but I want to indulge in the things that continue to fascinate, intrigue and challenge me.

I wrote about this once before, but the best and worst thing about growing older is that you are continually discovering things you want to explore – in fact, the more you explore, the more you discover additional things you want to explore – but underpinning all this is the unshakable knowledge the time you have to do it is more limited than ever and so there will be paths that will be unexplored.

That’s quite the mindfuck.

Years ago a man I met said, “you know you’re getting old when you can’t feasibly double your age”.

At the time I remember laughing but now I’m in that situation, it’s confronting.

I have so much I want to do. See. Try. Explore.

Then there’s the things like seeing my son forge his own path.

While spending more time with my beloved wife.

More memories. Less dreams.

The idea that time is getting shorter can really fuck you up.

And that’s why for me, it’s about trying to ensure my family life a life of fulfillment.

I don’t want to subscribe to irrelevance.

Sure, one day I might be regarded as that for companies, but this is not about them – but me.

My Mum always had a desire live at the speed of contemporary culture.

She didn’t want to feel she was left behind.

That didn’t mean she did things she didn’t want to do, but she also didn’t want to live in a bubble where her context for life was far removed from the realities of life so she was open to the new and actively explored it … not in the bullshit way advertising portrays it, but in her interest in culture, from comedians and artists to music and politics.

That’s an amazing lesson to be taught – one I wholly subscribe to – which is why I think the industry is missing the point when it labels people over 40 as over-the hill. For me, rather than judge individuals by their physical; age, they should judge them by what they bring … what they challenge … what they change … because it’s the one’s who refuse to be labelled who can make exciting things happen.