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.

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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.



Stop Pushing Percentages And Start Celebrating Possibilities …

One of the things I’ve always hated is reading planning decks filled with charts and graphs.

Don’t get me wrong, it is very important to ensure your strategy is grounded in truth, but pages and pages of data and percentages says you lack confidence in what you’re saying rather than you have a conviction for it.

There are so many tips and tricks to ‘presenting’ strategy – of which I’ll be talking about some of them at the upcoming HOALA conference in Amsterdam – but having a story that takes the audience on the journey of your strategy in a way that both excites and informs is the absolute basic requirement.

Excites … because if the recipient doesn’t see the potential for what’s in it for them, then there’s no point presenting.

Informs … because if they don’t see it baked in reality, then they will regard all you’re doing as trying to sell fantasy.

I’ve seen far too many presentations that only deliver on one of those attributes and the reality is the work either never gets made or you wish it never was made and that’s why getting someone to buy your strategy requires real thought and ‘beating up’ before you commit anything to paper/powerpoint/keynote/film because as Ronald Reagan said, if you’re explaining, you’re losing.



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.



No Wonder American’s Love Their Teeth, Their Dentists Are Like A Holiday Camp …

When I was a kid, a visit to the dentist was a thing to be scared of.

To be honest, it shouldn’t have because I had great teeth … but there was always that chance something might happen and that scared the hell out of me.

If further evidence of my dental naivety/good teeth was needed, when I finally did have to have some treatment – a wisdom tooth removal, when I was 14 – I was in utter shock that they were literally pulling the tooth out of my gob as I assumed they’d give my gums an injection and it would fall out.

The weirdest bit of all is that when you left the dentist, they gave you a sweet.

A SWEET!

Though now I think of it, it probably was their way of guaranteeing further business from you down the line.

And given how bad my teeth are these days, it seems that was a brilliant strategy.

Evil. Geniuses.

Now I appreciate when I was a kid, the World was a very different – and younger – place, but having just taken Otis to the dentist, I’m jealous how ace his experience is.

For a start the interior has been decked out in different animal themes.

From Giraffe’s to Panda’s … each room has a different theme to help kids feel they’re somewhere special and different.

Then there’s the video games for them to play in reception or – if they’re too young – a huge aquarium for them to look at.

But it’s when they are having treatment the real difference happens.

Not because there’s a video screen showing cartoons.

Or wireless headphones so you can hear the movie not the drill.

Or even the sunglasses so you don’t let the brightness of the dentist light affect you.

Or even the balloon [not sweets] they give you as you leave the building.

It’s the way they make sure they spend time explaining what each instrument is and what it does. Letting the kid hold it, hear it … get an understanding of what it does so it stops being a fearsome object of pain and simply a instrument of health.

Whatever stress they have is reduced.

They feel they’re in a safe environment.

A special environment.

With people who you won’t fuck you over but actually want you to have an exciting experience with a great result.

It turns a visit to the dentist from a scary experience to a positive one.

Even an awaited one.

All because they give the time and space for patients emotions and fears to be calmed, which gives them – and their parents – the confidence to let the dentist do their thing. That doesn’t just result in more efficient treatment but makes the parent feel OK about being charged an arm and a leg because their precious child had an experience that is the absolute opposite of what they feared they’d have.

Now I know creativity needs a place where chaos and curiosity is allowed to explore and wander – something we don’t get enough of at the best of times – but in terms of getting clients into the right frame of mind to allow agencies to do their thing without skeptical, questioning and damning eyes, adland could learn a lot from American Dentists.



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.