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


When It’s Unfiltered, It Might Leave A Nasty Taste In Your Mouth But It’s At It’s Most Authentic …

When I first joined Deutsch, I wanted to understand what the hell was really going on with American youth so I sent 3 of my team – Maya, Armando and Leigh [along with Sarah, a photographer and supported 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.

No nice hotel rooms.

No fancy travel.

Just a month hearing and learning from America in The Raw.

As you can see from this little text exchange below, it left a mark on the guys …

In all seriousness, while they loved there were some things they saw and went through that challenged them deeply on a personal level. So deeply, that I honestly believe they have all come back changed for the experience.

And yet overall, what they found was a nation full of young people who wanted their country to be the one they had been brought up to believe in.

A country that lets anyone succeed.

A country where everyone was equal.

A country where it led by taking on the big challenges and issues and crushing them.

Now of course, you could argue America was never really any of these things – just a master of PR – but that aside, the country they have found is not the country they want and so the way they are approaching their life is basically one of survival.

And what do I mean by survival?

Well in essence, it’s how they can cope with what’s going on until it stops.

Their overall view is “I can’t control the future, but I can control the present”.

And while their behaviour is expressed in multiple ways, we believe they fall into 4 distinct territories …

Protect: Keep safe what you have and don’t risk anything to get what you want.
Disguise: Define your relevance by the topical things you want to associate with.
Escape: Physically create a [momentary] world you want to live in.
Fight: Push against the unfairness you face.

Of course it’s way more complex and complicated than that – and we have spent a lot of time exploring and uncovering the influences, attitudes and behaviours that drive it and define it – but it does seem those 4 lenses are consciously and subconsciously influencing how people are starting to behave.

In all honesty, this adventure has been fascinating – not just in terms of understanding what is starting to happen, but how the issues of race or equality are reaching points where you can feel major change is on the way. Whether that change is instigated by government or the people is still anyones guess, but what we know is that it won’t be able to be swept under the carpet as easily as it has in previous years.

They won’t let it, especially with the current administration doing all it can to prod and provoke them.

The implications for society and business are huge – both in terms of positive change and negative potential – which is why we have created a [coffee-table] book and a presentation and – when we get some breathing space – a short film to truly define and explain what we heard and discovered. But as much as all those things are exciting, the bit I love the most is my team have given a voice to those who are rarely heard in the purest and most unfiltered way you can get.

There’s a lot of things I’ve done in my career that has made me proud.

This is most definitely one of them.

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If you’re interested in seeing/having a copy of the ‘America In The Raw’ book, let me know. I can’t guarantee we can accommodate everyone, but we’ll try.

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If You Give An Inch, They’ll Take A Mile …

I’ve written a lot about clients who go to agencies and then tell them what they need.

Or – as the brilliant George once said – go to the doctors and prescribe their own medicine.

Well recently I saw a photo from the MD of 72 Amsterdam – the brilliant, beardy and cat-loving, Nicolas Owen – that I think deals with the issue in the best way I’ve seen …

Now I appreciate that in the ‘real World’, most companies who offered this sort of pricing structure would cave in to the pressure of a potential paying client but the thing is, the moment they do, they’re not just losing cash, they’re literally devaluing themselves.

That might sound dramatic, but it’s true.

As many of you know, I’m doing some work with a rather famous rock band.

During the conversations, I asked their managers how they made so much money from consulting for other bands.

They said, “They’re not paying us for our time, they’re paying us for our 30 years of experience and knowledge”.

OK, so they truly are pioneers in their field … but that confidence in their abilities and value made such a big impression on me.

It shouldn’t as I’ve written about this a ton of times [like here and here for example] but when you look at how we – in the communication industry – handle ‘negotiations’, it seems our starting point is fear rather than confidence, which puts us behind before we’ve even started.

Of course, part of that might be because we know another agency would sell their grandmother to make a dollar, but then the question is why would we want a client who so obviously devalues what we do?

Now to be fair, our industry is great at undermining ourselves.

From scam at Cannes to charging more for process than creativity … so much of what we do sends a signal to clients that we are a servants rather than experts, which is why I like the image from Nicolas so much, because at least they seem to understand that if they’re going to get dictated to, they’re going to make more money from it. At least in theory.

There’s a reason Wieden, Droga etc charge a higher premium than most agencies, because they value the work.

Maybe it’s time the whole industry did that too …



How To Get Ahead In Your Career Without Being A Corporate Toady …

I’ve always found management an interesting concept or – more specifically – how people become managers.

Most of the time, it seems someone who is good at their job gets promoted and told “… there you go, manage the department”.

Little support. Little guidance. Masses of responsibility.

Now having done this for a long time, I realize the folly of this approach.

Sure, it’s nice to feel you’re being recognized, have a bit more responsibility and power and get more cash … but it also is the fast-track to bad habits, bad practices and bad career decisions.

You see management is complicated.

On one hand you have to lead your department … set a direction, instill standards and beliefs and develop a gang.

On the other, you have to put yourself second to enable your team – and the people within that team – to grow and develop and ultimately, take your job.

Few have the skills to work this out on their own – let alone execute it – which is why the older I get, the more grateful I am that I was given such great help from my amazing mentors and certain bosses.

You see in the early days, I saw career development as simply going from employee to boss to big boss.

In my mind, if you were a good employee you might get to be a boss and if you were a good boss, you might get to be a big boss.

That was it.

But my mentors – and some good bosses – made sure I understood that career progression wasn’t just about how good you were in your day-to-day job, but in your ability to develop additional skills.

Sure, some of these were operational skills – really important operational skills – but the advice that made the biggest difference to me was when they told me how I’d need to understand the difference between good management and good leadership.

To be honest, previous to this I never really saw a difference between the two but this quote by Peter Drucker sums up what they told me perfectly …

Now I appreciate anyone who has worked with me in the past might think I am terrible at what I do – and I accept my approach is often unorthodox and filled with dollop-loads of chaos – but understanding how the development of skills and outlook was better for your long-term career than consistency and capability made a real difference to me and that’s why I am such a big believer in feedback and goals.

I should point out this does not mean the ‘annual reviews’.

Sure, they have their use, but if you’re only having these conversations once a year, you’re really not helping anyone that much.

But constantly having conversations – where you discuss where people are and what they’re working towards – makes a difference.

It lets you know where everyone is.

It lets you know where everyone is heading.

It gives you the opportunity to offer the right advice at the right time.

Which enables them to develop the skills that will help them grow not drown.

Which lets them develop their own voice and approach to the challenges they face.

Which lets them work out where they are heading and want to head.

Which lets them get hired for who they are not just what they do.

Which means, ultimately, you’ve done what I believe a boss is supposed to do … which is help your people get opportunities they never thought they could have.

This all may seem so obvious to you all, but I still meet people who think being good at their job means being good enough for career progression and while many companies may agree with that, I am so grateful to my mentors and certain bosses for putting me straight.

May this year be your year.



Creativity Without Bruises And Scars Is Not Great Creativity …

A while back – when I was running The Kennedys – I told the guys about how hard it is to make great work.

Ironically, the issue was less about the expression of creativity – though there is always difficulties in that – but in actually getting your precious idea through all the gatekeepers/processes/people without it being impeded, diluted or impacted.

Now don’t get me wrong, being pushed to be better is always good, but it appears we now live in times where the goal of others seems to be the reverse.

Sanitization.

Blandness.

Ego/Career management.

Or as my dear friend George once said:

“Creativity today is a client going to the doctor, telling them their expertise is wrong and then prescribing their own medicine.”

Of course people are entitled to their opinion.

Of course ad industry creativity needs to be commercial creativity.

But right now, it appears many clients version of ‘commercial’ is to either communicate what they want people to care about [regardless if they care about it, or believe it] or to say things where absolutely no one can ever be offended because what they want to communicate makes beige look bold.

And because adland – or should I say some within adland – has sold the value of creativity down the river in favour of making fees from process and production, the entire industries ‘creativity’ is being called into question.

What has happened to wanting to make work that makes culture take notice?

What has happened to wanting to making work others wished they had made?

What has happened to wanting to make work that changes entire categories?

Yes, I know there are some that still fly the flag of great work – but not many and not always consistently – and what’s worse is that we, as an industry, have contributed to this situation but what really gets to me … what really pisses me off … is that I feel we are continuing to pander to the wishes and demands of the organisations we are supposed to help, the organisations who – for whatever reason – are undermining our industries value and long-term future.

I’m not saying we should be arrogant.

Or rude.

Or forget why clients hire us.

But come on, why be a doctor when we let the patient diagnose themselves, which is why I absolutely loved this piece by the phenomenal Dave Trott.

At the beginning of this post, I wrote about how I had taught The Kennedy’s that great creativity doesn’t come without bruises and scars … well, if we still want to stand a chance of making the work that shows how brilliant we can be, then we better be prepared to fight harder for it, because being the punching bag is hurting everyone … us, our clients, our audiences.



Inspiration From The Random Post-It Note Writer …

A few weeks ago – after being away on a business trip – I found the above note on my laptop.

I have no idea who wrote it and – to be honest – I’m not sure if it was meant as a reminder of what I should be doing or a report on what I do … but either way, it’s a pretty good standard to live up to.

Many years ago, a magazine asked what my job was. I replied …

“To ensure no one gets complacent, whether that’s the team, the agency or the client”.

I used to think what that meant was to ‘keep pushing, prodding and provoking so we would stay focused on making the biggest difference in the most interesting way rather than settle for good and easy’, but now I know a better interpretation is this.

Be great.
Fuck shit up.
And do it again tomorrow.

We all win if we all want higher standards.



What We Can Learn From Tom Hanks About Working With Others …

OK, full disclosure, I don’t really like Tom Hanks.

Sure, I’ve enjoyed some of his movies but for some reason – maybe due to overexpose of his movies in my early 20’s – I think he has a face I want to smack.

But recently I read an article on him that changed my opinion of him.

To be honest, this ‘change my opinion’ thing is getting annoying.

First is was my ultra-nemesis, Morrissey – though he seems to behaving like a twat again.

Then it was Johnny Marr.

And now Tom Hanks.

Who next … Todd Sampson? That would literally make me want to kill myself.

Good job I know that will never, ever, ever happen.

But back to Hanks.

In the article, Hanks covered a huge range of subjects … the roles he’s taken, his approach to parenthood, the mistakes he’s made – it was all very interesting, vulnerable and honest – but the bit that caught my eye was this:

“I learned a long time ago that you don’t have to like the people you work with. If someone wants to be a dick, it’s OK, but if their dickishness means everybody else doesn’t get to work at their best level – if you being a dick means you’re going to encroach upon my process – there’ll be a slug fest in the parking lot. There will be words exchanged I’ve worked with men and women where I’m like, ‘Are we going to have to go through this again?’ And, well, yes, because that’s what’s called for. On rare occasions, people are insane – but those are really rare.”

The reason I like this is because one of the biggest issues many face in agencies is working with others.

OK, in the majority of cases, as Mr Hanks states, it’s all good – but occasionally you find someone who is especially difficult – not because they are pushing for the best work, but because they think they are the only one’s capable of doing the best work and don’t value anyone else’s contribution or process to get there.

In other words, they’ve become the office egotistical dick.

We’ve all seen them.

Prancing about like they’re gods-gift.

At best they’ve done something genuinely good in their time. At worst, they’ve only done something good in their mind.

What I like about Hanks advice is that it ultimately helps you work out when you should or shouldn’t act.

In other words, if the person isn’t affecting your standards negatively, then let it pass.

Life is too short and ultimately, your engagement with them is not going to achieve anything.

However if their actions are impeding the work you do to the standards you hold, then it’s time to strike.

I should point out that when I say ‘strike’, I don’t mean it literally, but the key point is that the moment you feel your process/standards are being limited because of this other persons actions or behavior, you need to speak up.

To them.

Directly.

I wish I had known this earlier in my career.

When I think of all the energy and time I wasted taking on issues that were just annoying rather than damaging, I want to kick myself. But the good news is that working in advertising means I’ll be able to use this advice properly in the very near future.

And it’s important.

Not just because you should never let someone negatively impact your standards and process, but because – as fellow actor Michael Keaton pointed out – even if you’re just an employee, you’re still in charge of the direction of your career.

So thank you Mr Hanks. Damnit.



Don’t Be Like Them …

One of the problems I have with adland is their belief that they must resemble the client.

Not just in terms of the client’s business, but in how they speak, dress and act.

They’re wrong.

The whole point of an agency is to be objective.

Of course to do that means you have to know the business.

Have to know the agendas and goals of the individuals and the company as a whole.

And have to know the competitive and social landscape.

But our skill – beyond making work that captures the imagination that makes the business work – is to see the World differently to our clients while being totally aligned to the goals we’re all working towards is.

I’m hearing more and more companies forgetting this.

I’m hearing of more and more situations where people are being evaluated less on the work they do and more on how they present themselves.

Literally.

I cannot tell you how angry and upset this makes me.

Putting aside the fact that people should be allowed to be themselves – especially in the creative industry – the fact is, if you only have people who think like you and agree with you, then you end up in a situation where your value is basically diminished and the role of the agency is nothing more than simply an extension of the marketing department.

Contrary to what you think, this is not my attempt to justify how I dress.

I know I have a ‘unique’ approach to fashion, but it’s not because I want to be noticed, it’s because I have a ‘unique’ approach to fashion.

It’s who I am.

It means I am comfortable in my own skin.

It means I will be utterly honest to my clients and colleagues.

That doesn’t mean I’m always right, but it does mean I’ll always be honest.

It also means my clients are judging me on the work I do, not the clothes I wear.

Which is exactly as it should be.

Sure, first impressions count but in my experience, good clients place far more value on first interactions because they understand they’ll never get anywhere great if all they do is surround themselves with people who think, act and see things the same as them.

As one of my old senior Nike clients once said to me …

“Middle management don’t like to be challenged because they want to keep things the same. Senior management want to be challenged because they want to keep things improving”. 

Of course not everyone acts or thinks like that – and often there are reasons for it that are due more to company culture than individual beliefs – but in his particular case, if we weren’t pushing or challenging his beliefs or ideas then he would question why we were there, which is why he was one of the best clients I ever worked with and learnt from.