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


Groundhog Day …

Happy 2019!

I hope you had a fantastic time with loved ones.

I also hope 2019 is a very special year for you all, for all the right reasons.

While I’ve been back at work for 3 days already – which were spent in bloody Miami – I have to say I had a wonderful time, even if I didn’t get as many gadgets as I hoped I would.

That said, I’m not making any plans for the year ahead.

I’ve seen too many best intentions get ruined before the end of the first week of a new year to fall into that trap.

But it’s fair to say I do have some hopes for 2019.

Some are professional, but most are mainly personal.

More than that, they’re personal because it involves people I love rather than for myself.

I know … I know … who the hell am I?

The reality is I’m doing OK.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still have a huge drive to go further, but right now, my hopes are for others for the year ahead.

Of course the main people I’m focused on is Jill and Otis.

In September Otis will start ‘proper school’ and we just hope he gets into one that follows the values his Mum and I believe in. We never realized finding a school for him would be so hard … but when you don’t want to go private, don’t want religious associations and don’t want the focus to be so academic his creativity is impacted, I guess it was never going to be easy.

So we have our fingers crossed and will deal with whatever happens.

Which is why I am also focused on Jill.

As much as Otis has impacted my life in so many wonderful ways, it’s Jill who will experience the biggest change once he goes to school.

It’s Jill who has stayed with him throughout his formative years.

It’s Jill who has spent the days with him every week, playing and educating and just generally looking after him.

Their bond is a beautiful thing to witness and I know she feels being a mother has been the most fulfilling thing she has done in her life.

So now what does she do when she leads him to the next stage of his life?

Of course there will still be loads they do together, but I want to give her the backing to find something that fulfills her, whatever that may be.

I know it won’t be the same as helping raise our bundle of energetic joy 24/7, but I am excited to see what she will do.

She is extremely talented, creative and compassionate – and while I know she doesn’t want to start her amazing cake company again – we have discussed some things that she is excited by and I’ll be backing her all the way for whatever she chooses.

I say this because I recently saw the photo at the top of this post.

It’s a photo of Queen drummer, Roger Taylor, looking at the Freddie Mercury statue he has at the bottom of his garden.

The statue that was on top of the London theatre when their musical, We Will Rock You, was performing.

I have to say, I found the photo very poignant.

Apart from the fact it’s wonderful he wanted to keep the statue of his old friend – I can’t imagine what it must be like to see it every day.

Does he look at it and think about all the amazing things they did together?

Does he look at it and mourn the loss of someone he loved like a brother?

Does he look at it and feel the sadness of memories he will never experience again?

Growing old has many benefits – including not giving a damn what others think of you – but it can also act as a bitter pill when the things around you … the things you brought into this world … start taking on a life of their own.

At these points you can either sit back and focus on the change or lean in and explore the possibilities.

For the past 30 years of my professional life, I’ve been fortunate to always embrace leaning in to the possibilities – possibilities that has seen me live around the World and meet an endless stream of wonderful, creative individuals.

While I have no intention of stopping that approach to living, I do want to make sure that in 2019, Jill gets the drivers seat because apart from her generosity in letting me do so much of the steering, the reality is she was the one who helped us navigate to where we currently are so I know by handing over the driving to her, she will go to somewhere wonderful and fulfilling and no one I know deserves it more.

She’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.

So happy 2019 to all … I’m excited to see where we all end up in the next 12 months, even if my blog posts will continue to bring the excitement of possibility down to a slow, painful crawl.

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Transformer Tech …

When we moved to the US, we bought a new television.

We hadn’t had a new one for 9 years so when we got a ‘smart TV’, it was a revelation.

Sadly, when we were moving to the UK, we had to get rid of it because it wouldn’t work with the UK power grid.

Anyway, we went out and bought the new version of it – and while it is 65″ of OLED, 4K brilliance – the bit I love the most is that it has a feature that disguises itself as a painting.

I know it’s not the first television to do this, but it’s the first one I’ve had that does – and given it’s amazing picture quality – it’s ability to really give the impression it’s art, not tech is amazing.

It also reminds me of the brilliant work the brilliant Red Associates in NYC did for Samsung years ago.

Years ago, Samsung approached them for help on how to sell more televisions.

Rather than respond with solutions relating to branding or distribution, they came back with a more human focused response.

What they had discovered was that men love to show off their tech.

When they buy it – especially if it is for the home – they want to show it off … make it a focus of their World.

But women are different.

They don’t like things that change the focus and flow of the home.

They love technology but don’t want it to overshadow the people and the interactions that go on between the 4 walls. In essence, they want the technology to enhance the family dynamic, not overshadow it.

And so Red Associates told Samsung that they should be looking at changing the frames the TV’s were held in.

Less black and more shades that suit the colour palette of home decor.

Sure the screen would remain dark, but by changing the frame, it would blend in more with the home than stand out.

And you know what … it worked.

Samsung saw a dramatic increase in brand affinity with women.

Which meant when a family wanted to buy a new TV, Samsung increased their odds of being the one chosen because it understood that purchase decisions were based on more than just the tech, but the way it works when it’s off.



How To ‘Content Create’ Without It Being The Stuff Should Be ‘Dustbin Content’ …

A few months ago I wrote a post about the shit that passes for ‘branded content’ these days.

Well after reading it, my friend King Adz [global street art/fashion expert, author, film director] sent me something a friend of his had written about how to make good content.

His friend has a right to do this because he started a YouTube channel last year that has turned him into one of the most interesting and fastest-growing content creators in London.

They’ve done a streetwear show [PAQ] and a food show [Bad Canteen] all aimed and consumed by the youth and from these experiences, he has identified twelve pointers for creating credible and infectious youth content.

To make sure this post isn’t the longest post in the history of this blog, I’m, going to split it into 6 today and 6 tomorrow.

I know, I’m so kind.

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LESSON ONE: Be Transparent

The first thing we learnt when we tried to make money and integrate brands into our content was this audience doesn’t mind being advertised to. They are smart and they enjoy consuming content. They understand that the content doesn’t make itself and it isn’t cheap aden they understand the pay-off.

Because of this, don’t try and fool them. You will get called out.

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LESSON TWO: YouTube is a direct substitute for TV

In the same way I would come home when I was younger and switch on the TV and binge on Nickelodeon or MTV until I got called for dinner, this generation is doing exactly the same thing.

They finish school, college, work … they come home they open their smartphone or laptop and sit in front of it until they are either told to turn it off by their parents or it’s time for bed.

The behaviour is identical.

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LESSON THREE: But the content isn’t the same as TV

Yes, consumers’ behaviour may be the same as TV behaviours, but the content that they’re consuming is completely different.

Content on YouTube doesn’t need to look like TV content to be successful.

In fact, one thing we’ve learnt is that in some cases it’s quite the opposite. Some of the most successful channels are self shot.
Self shot, hand held and more vloggy style content has a feeling of intimacy and authenticity that TV never offered its viewers.

That’s not to say that high production can’t work, we just learnt not to overlook the intimacy that this generation desires from content.

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LESSON FOUR: This audience wants to be entertained

Dude Perfect, The Slo Mo Guys, Lele Pons…

What’s their commonality?

They are all centred around humour and entertainment.

Exactly like TV.

We have to realise, 90% of people are watching it to kill some time, wind down a bit and escape their day-to-day life.

If we are being honest with ourselves, YouTube audiences respond best to lighthearted entertainment. Making meaningful, purpose-led content is great but there’s nothing to be ashamed about in creating content that simply entertains.

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LESSON FIVE: This audience left Facebook ages ago

Look I don’t have anything concrete in terms of statistics to back this up.

And honestly it’s just my experience.

I work with hundreds of young people every single week and I can categorically tell you that I have not spoken to one in the past year that actually uses Facebook.

NOT ONE.

There’s lots of industry speculation right now around this subject and the potential decline. I just want to say from my real world experience, that for this audience Facebook is long gone.

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LESSON SIX: Instagram is LIFE

In the same vein as the last point, this is also my personal experience.

But Instagram is by far the most powerful social media network the world has ever seen.

Speaking to these young people, it is jaw dropping how much weight is put on Instagram by this generation.

The Instagram profile [hard posts] is the definition of a person’s identity.

Instagram stories are an ephemeral window into a person’s life, in a slightly less controlled, more organic way.

Followers and likes are a direct measure of how relevant, popular and important somebody is. And look, I’m not here to pass judgement on if this is good or bad, but I will say to everyone reading this: take note, Instagram is a really, really big deal and it’s so much deeper than just posting photos.

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So there’s the first six …

Some you may know, some you may question but some may give you food for thought.

Remember this is specifically around youth orientated content, but for all the expertise out there, it’s funny how the most popular social content has not come from anyone in our industry.

Maybe this 2011 video from PHD can shed some light on that …



The Coolest Business Card Ever?

So as many of you know, I’ve been doing a long-term, side project with a famous rock band.

Well about 2 months ago, when I was still in the US, I received a box of business cards.

Metallica business cards.

Now as excited as I was about getting them, I was a bit confused for 3 reasons …

1. I’d been working for them for over a year so couldn’t work out why I’d only just got them.

2. The work I do for them has absolutely no reason to ever need a business card.

3. I was about to move to the UK so the phone number on the card would soon be redundent.

I then discovered that I’d been on probation for that whole time [which they had never mentioned to me], I needed a way to gain some speedy respect with some of the people they were connecting me to [because obviously, on my own, it’s impossible] and apparently I’m “an asshole” for not reminding them I moving country [even though I absolutely had told them I was moving country fact] but who cares … I’m now the proud owner of some obsolete business cards with an awesome email address and for that – and, I suppose, the amazing opportunity they’re giving me – I’m eternally grateful.

Christ, first I ended last week on a positive note and now I’m seeing the silver lining in things.

Who am I?

And it’s a Monday.

Seriously, we should all be getting worried around now.



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.



Queen Know Music Is Still A Business …

Yes, this is about my favourite band, Queen.

Yes, I know they aren’t really a band anymore and – to be honest – some of the stuff they’ve done in the last 15 years has made me cringe a little bit, but that aside, their music from Queen to Hot Space [I don’t have as much of an issue with it as most Queen fans do] are still albums I hold dear to my heart.

Anyway, as many of you may know, they’re producing a film about the life of Freddie up until the Live Aid concert.

I get why they decided that was the cut off date, because apart from it being arguably their pinnacle moment, he apparently had not yet discovered he was HIV positive so it allows the film to focus on his glory, not his pain.

Anyway, recently they released the teaser trailer for the movie and I have to say, it’s epic.

Not just because of how good Rami Malik looks in the role of Freddie.

Nor because of the bizarrely accurate voice of Brian May.

And not even because of the spectacular stage sets and fashions.

No … it’s because of the fantastic sound design.

Just like when they performed at Live Aid, the band know the best way to get people interested in the movie beyond sad fucks like me, is to remind them how many songs of Queen they know and like.

By mixing some of their biggest hits seamlessly together, they have increased the odds of making a movie about a man who died 27 years ago interesting to people who were born 27 years ago.

That’s pretty impressive, especially for a band that is almost 50 years old.

A band where the guitarist will be 71 years old in a week and the drummer 69 years old in about a fortnight.

[Not forgetting Mr John Deacon, who will be a young 67 in August. And looks it]

Now I know the trailer doesn’t really say anything and – I am still petrified it’s going to end up feeling more like a ‘Lifetime Movie’ than a Hollywood blockbuster [especially with all the issues the production has faced] – but I have to admit I have watched it so many times and been in awe every time … especially the bit between 11 and 16 seconds, where you see the different ‘looks’ of Freddie in concert, because I remember some of them from when I saw the band live.

Oh god, I’m even more pathetic than I thought.



Conversational Icebergs …

One of the things I am continually amazed at, is how few people know how to listen.

By that I don’t mean they’re not hearing the conversation, they’re just taking it all on face value.

The older I get, the more I have realised professional conversations are like icebergs.

What’s actually being said is often under the surface … clues, hints, admissions.

As someone once told me, people speak in words that are often designed to protect themselves rather than reveal themselves – and yet, if you listen really carefully – you can sense what is trying to be said … what they want you to really ask.

Police interrogators get this more than anyone.

Their ability to listen – and read visual cues – is what helps them solve their cases … whether that’s people who don’t want to be committed of a crime or people who are finding it hard to admit a crime has happened.

Subtext is everywhere.

It’s part of the reason I loved living and working in China, because everything had meaning.

To be quite honest, the easiest way to separate the people who appreciated Chinese culture and those who pretended to was to test their ability to read the invisible conversation that was going on during the conversation.

That or if they continually mentioned Confucius.

The ability to listen – and visually focus – is an incredible skill.

It lets you ask better questions.

It lets you discuss subject matters others may be finding hard to open up about.

It lets you judge situations through the context of the other parties body language.

It’s something rarely talked about in planning when – in many ways – it is the embodiment of planning, however it is also very easy to get trapped into.

Where you think nothing said is the truth.

Because if you think that way you’re doubley doomed – not just because there’s no way you can understand what someone is trying to communicate if you don’t listen to what they’re saying, but because the temptation would be to invent the subtext you want it to be and then you’re going to be in an even worse position than if you just took everything on face value.

As author Margaret Millar once said, “Don’t be one of those people who get so obsessed with what is being said between the lines that you don’t read the lines”.