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


Here’s To Those Comfortable With Uncomfortable …

I recently saw the above quote in The Athletic magazine.

The idea that Manchester City – albeit during their less successful period – had to provide ‘rain charts’ to show potential signings that their city was not wetter than London surprised me.

Then I came to my senses.

Society has an incredible knack of trying to lift themselves up by putting others down.

Obviously racism is the work example of this, but we do it everyday in lots of little ways.

From blanket attitudes such as …

“People from the North are backwards”.

To city affirmations such as …

“Manchester is the musical capital of England”.

To hierarchy comparison such as …

“I may be from Nottingham but at least I’m not from Derby”.

It’s not only bollocks, it’s also often stated by people who have never gone anywhere near the cities/countries they are negatively judging. Now I know people will say it’s all a bit of a joke – and I appreciate between mates, it can be – but there’s a lot of perceived truth in those sorts of statements, which has been exploited by all manner of organisations, especially politics.

When I lived in China, I was shocked how hard it was to recruit people from outside of Asia to come and work at Wieden+Kennedy.

OK, it may have been because they didn’t want to work with me … but even then, the amount of people who started off claiming to be interested and then said ‘it wasn’t for them’, was incredible. [Though maybe you will still find it understandable. Bastards. Ha]

There was a time where I almost gave up wanting to hire people from outside the region due to it being so much hassle. But the reality was I always felt it important to have a real mix in the gang. Sure, the vast majority of them had to be from the country/region – but by incorporating people from outside of it, I felt it created a tension that led to better and more provocative thinking. In addition, it could also help stop the blind and blinkered views we kept seeing and hearing from the West … because the more Westerners we got to experience the crazy, infectious magic of the nation, the more positive voices we would infect the rest of the world with.

But many people we talked to weren’t interested in changing their blinkered opinion.

So many didn’t even bother to investigate more about China, they were just happy to keep making their false judgements.

Oh they were all very happy to work for Wieden+Kennedy, they just didn’t want it to be in China and would often say, “but if you could connect me to people in London/Portland/NY/Amsterdam” etc.

And if they were really interesting and had a valid reason to not leave their country, I would.

Didn’t happen often.

I find it amazing that people – especially planners – don’t want to explore the World.

Planners go on about curiosity but what they mean is they are curious under certain conditions of personal comfort.

Behind a desk.
Surrounded by people and things they know.
Never venturing outside of the bubble they’ve created.

Of course not everyone is like this, but there’s a lot who are. Viewing the world and passing judgement on it via Twitter rather than experience.

In the case of China – as with anywhere I’ve lived – if the issue became about the country we were in, it probably wasn’t going to work. Of course it was OK to have concerns and questions, but if I sensed you saw it as a hardship rather than an opportunity or you thought you knew everything when you would have to relearn everything, you were not going to be someone I wanted on the team.

I was, and still am, eternally grateful to everyone I’ve had the honour to work with – and I’ve been incredibly fortunate with the incredible and diverse talent I’ve inherited and nurtured – however those in China will always have a unique place in my heart.

Because whether they were from China, Asia or further afield, all of them knew what they were taking on with the job. Not just in terms of the standards and expectations of Wieden+Kennedy, but the inherent perceptions, prejudices and lies that existed in society – and the ad industry as a whole – towards China and Asia.

And it’s for this reason that I fucking loved seeing them do work others could only dream about, especially when the industries perception was ‘China doesn’t do great work’ or ‘there’s no good planning in Asia’ … often muttered by people who have neither been to China or done great work.

But even that doesn’t make me as happy as seeing where they have all ended up …

Not just in terms of the level they’re at – from running departments, big pieces of business or companies – but the actual organisations they work with or have worked with.

Nike. Ideo. Tik-Tok. Wieden. Mother. 72. Anomoly. Supreme. Playstation. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Facebook. Google. Net-A-Porter. Instagram.

Not just in China but in countries that include America, Taiwan, Holland, UK, Singapore and Australia. Not forgetting the mob who decided to start their own thing and are now working on a bunch of fascinating projects from gaming to research.

I’m not just proud of them, I’m excited for them … because I truly believe they will do stuff that is interesting, intriguing and valuable for the rest of us.

And while most of their achievements are down to their talent and graft, another part is because of what China gave them.

Unique knowledge, experience and understanding of people and situations.

Some will never understand that.

Some will never value that.

But for those who were there – and the companies who hired them – they absolutely do.

Because while some make choices based on not wanting to leave things behind, this group of wonderful fools made their decisions based on what they could gain … and they didn’t need a rain comparison chart to convince them.

Thank you to all of them.

Thank you to anyone who runs towards the challenge not the comfortable.



Subscribing To Foolishness …

Our industry loves to follow trends.

Storytelling.

Programatic.

Digital transformation.

DTC.

And the current fave – subscription services.

Each one promising better results than what went before – and yet they often leave a trail of destruction in its wake.

Part of this is because some companies do it simply to look like they are not being left behind, regardless of the fact the business situation they are in means it is either inaaprioate or irrelevant. And part of it is because the impact being promised by the agencies and consultancies is more fiction than a career write-up on Linkedin.

Subscription models are just another example in a long line of examples.

We are seeing companies jump on the subscription model as if it’s a guarantee of unbelievable success.

That by simply offering your product or service at a small monthly fee, untold riches will be raining down on you.

It isn’t.

For a start you need a quality product that fulfils a continuous need – real or perceived.

NIKE’s brilliant Adventure Club is a brilliant example of this.

It satisfies a real need with a quality product that makes sense to parents and appeals to kids.

Disney+ is another.

Both of those are examples of companies who know their audience, know their business and know how to offer a service that has real value to their customers emotionally and culturally.

Then there’s companies like Prisma.

Remember them?

They’re the company who was momentarily popular with it’s smartphone photo filtering app.

Well today, they’re trying to charge £65 a year to use their ‘service’.

SIXTY FIVE POUNDS!!!!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Now I appreciate that works out to be only £1+ a week … people are taking endless amounts of photos each and every day … but while that might all sound a perfect justification for a consultant to sell a subscription service, it fails on so many of the basics.

Their plan shows no understanding of who they are talking to.

Nor any understanding of the actual business they are in.

And don’t get me started on the lack of understanding what problem they’re solving or the lack of evolution their product offers.

It is a perfect example of bandwagon jumping.

A desperate, last-chance-saloon act to try and stay alive.

A business model based on hope rather than actual strategy.

Someone sold them this.

I don’t know if it was someone internally or external, but this one-size-fits all, white label productising approach to business is killing business.

Yes there may be common issues.

Yes there may be common considerations.

But thinking you can just plug and play a solution because it may have worked for someone else is almost criminal.

And yet many companies don’t want to hear truth.

They don’t want to listen to what their real problem is.

They don’t want to accept people only have a limited amount of cash to spend on these things.

Instead, they happily pay exorbitant amounts to outsource their responsibility for a solution that looks like everyone else’s solution.

As with so many of these ‘business approach trends’, the real winners are those who are the most adept at selling the problem rather than the solution. The organisations who ‘package approaches’ that allow the C-Suite to feel they’re doing something, even though they have been designed to substantially drive the ‘sellers’ growth. ‘Approaches’ that will be sold almost identically to the next client, regardless of their industry or situation.

And the market thinks this is a good thing.

Selling bandaids at ridiculously high prices.

And while PRISMA may have had no other option left to them than to jump on the subscription model bandwagon, you can almost guarantee this approach won’t work for them … because their problem isn’t really price, their problem is they’re not a business.



Don’t Want Something So Much That You Do Something You Don’t Want …

When I was at cynic, I wasn’t allowed to talk money with clients.

The main reason for this is that while I like money, I like doing weird and wonderful things more … so I used to agree to terrible terms just because I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss out on doing something we were really excited by.

Now I get we like to think there’s some sort of logic to this approach, but as George kindly told me – while punching me in the head – what I was doing was undermining our position.

For a start, your relationship with the client is impacted. That doesn’t mean they don’t value you, but it means they don’t value you as much as they should. They see you as a ‘cheap problem solver’ rather than a valuable problem solver.

Then there’s the fact all your additional time and passion will never be rewarded to the level it deserves. The worst part is this is your own fault as you already set the precedent for how much you are worth by lowering your fee to such a great degree.

And then there’s the dilution of the projects importance.

In essence, when something is made much cheaper, the effect is its value goes the same way. Going from something significant to just another thing being done. From having a strong focus within the company management to being delegated to people who don’t really have the same decision making power.

Before you know it, clients start questioning other things you’re doing.

Asking why certain things need to be done. Challenging the time or expense on the elements that show the real craft.

Leaving the end result a lesser version of what it should have been.

Now this doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens a lot.

And while I get we are in a highly competitive time, where everyone is looking to save cash – the ease in which we undermine our own value is both astonishing and debilitating.

George’s brilliance was his ability to have us walk away.

I have to be honest, we had many arguments about this over the years … but in the main, he was right.

His point was ‘why would someone value us if we’re not valuing us?’.

It’s a pretty compelling argument.

This doesn’t mean we weren’t open to negotiation, but George’s position was ‘never forget we have something they want because we’ve shown them something they need’.

Another pretty compelling argument.

And while this approach helped us not only win all manner of great creative projects – but helped us be a profitable, sustainable company – I still found it hard to deal with.

Hell, on the occasion we didn’t win a project because somebody said they could do it for cheaper, I was a bloody nightmare. George used to say it was because I am an only child – which may be right – because I hated not getting what I really, really wanted.

And even then, George was the voice of reason.

“Why are you upset about losing a project with a client who wants to go down to a price point rather than up to a standard?”

ARGHHHHH!

What makes it worse is he meant it.

He, more than any of us, knew our value and wasn’t going to let us let go of something we had worked so hard to earn.

He’s right of course.

It’s the reason the best work comes from people who share the same goal.

To aim high, not cheap.

Sure, money comes into it … but the focus is always the quality of the output not just the price.

It’s why Cynic was so exciting.
It’s why Wieden+Kennedy are so special.
It’s why Metallica’s management are so influential.
It’s why all the work I’m doing right now is so fascinating.

George taught me so much.

While I appreciate I’m in a much more privileged position than many, nowadays I am totally comfortable with walking away from a project if I feel the vision, ambition and value for a project is not shared.

And what’s weird is that while that approach has resulted in me walking away from a lot of potentially interesting projects that were worth a lot of money to me – especially over the last 6 months – it has brought me a range of fascinating clients and projects [and cash] that most agencies would kill to have a chance to work on.

I’ve written about knowing the value of your value in the past.

I’ve talked about how that lets you play procurement at their own game.

And while it feels scary to stick to your standards when someone is threatening to take away something you really want, it also makes you feel alive.

Butterflies of excitement. A taste of power and control. Nervousness of being in the game.

And while it might not always come off and while you may be able to justify why it would be easier to just take whatever they want to give you … it’s a beautiful feeling to feel you matter. That your work matters. That the way you look at the world matters. That what you want to create matters. That you won’t allow yourself to do something simply because you’re the cheapest. Or allow a bad process to force a diluted version of what you were hired to do. Or let yourself be evaluated by someone who doesn’t care about what you’re creating, just that it’s done. That you matter enough to not allow others to negatively judge you for terrible conditions they put you in.

It can take time to come to terms with this.

It took me almost 20 years to really get it.

And while some may call you a pretentious or stubborn or commercially ignorant, the reality is dismissing the value of your value simply to make things commercially viable for everyone else is simply the most stupid thing you can do.

Because to paraphrase something Harrison Ford once said, when you devalue the value of something you’ve spent your whole life working at, you’re not just being irresponsible, you’re not valuing the value of the time, experience and expertise it has taken to get you to that point.

George knew this.

George helped me benefit from this.

George eventually got me to understand this.

And I’ll always be grateful for that gift.

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I’ve removed comments. Not just because I’m scared of the mountain of abuse the ex-cynic alumni who comment on here may/will give me. But because I’m even more frightened they may bathe George in even more praise and that would be too much for me to deal with.

Comments Off on Don’t Want Something So Much That You Do Something You Don’t Want …


If You’re Not Fighting Against Racism, You’re Complicit To Racism …

So I know we’re only in day 2 of this blogs 2021 life … but I gave you a couple of weeks of peace to ease into the year and wrote an exceptional bad post – even by my low standards – to prepare you for the onslaught so I feel I’ve been very respectful.

Talking of respectful, here’s an example of people doing the absolute opposite of it.

OK, this happened last year – the year where everything was shit – but it still blows my mind this shit is still being spouted.

What’s worse is when I first saw it – and tweeted about it – a person I vaguely know stood up for it.

Went on about how it’s hard to hire people of colour people there’s not many out there.

That he – as a small business owner – had to go for the best person who is easiest to get because he can’t spend time searching.

Bizarrely, this was his attempt to show he wasn’t racist – because “he saw no colour, just wanted talent”.

Of course he saw no colour, he was just hiring white people.

But then this is not a new excuse spouted by people being racist – whether conscious or not.

Putting aside the fact people who ‘see no colour’ are basically admitting they define and judge others by their own standards or expectations, which – by the nature of corporate hierarchy – are white standards. And putting aside the fact that maybe their attitude to want ‘easy’ stops any person of colour applying because they think they stand no chance of being given a shot. The reality is this abdication of guilt, blame throwing and deliberate ignorance are classic signs of racism.

Talent is everywhere.

Open the door and you will see them.

If you claim you don’t, it’s either because you’re not looking or they know you won’t let them succeed.

Adland is so guilty of this.

A few months ago – when Black Lives Matter was on the front pages of the World’s newspapers – the industry was screaming about how they wanted to make a difference.

Create huge change.

Well, adland … where’s the fuck is it?

Where’s the leadership changes?
Where’s the over-indexing of people of colour being hired?
Where’s the shifts in pay and promotion structures to create fundamental change?

Recently I wrote a tweet:

“Given adland has stopped being vocal about the need to be better with D&I practices, have we solved it?”

One of the people who responded told me how many agencies had actively changed their policies.

How committed they were to changing things.

And while that was nice to hear, the problem is the person who said this was white.

White people do not get to say if things are changing.

White people do not get to say if things are working.

White people do not get to place the burden of responsibility on others.

The only people who can say things are changing – or working – are people of colour.

That we fail to see this shows how far we have to go.

And the really worrying thing is people of colour may just give up on us.

They may take their talent and just go work in totally different industries.

One that sets them up for success.

Values their authenticity not their complicity.

Respects their talent and remunerates them fairly for it.

I wouldn’t blame them for it.

In some ways, I just wish they all got together and started their own company.

My god how amazing would that be.

It would also be the one thing that almost guarantees change would happen in adland.

Because while agencies may have good intentions, they suck at making things happen.

It seems most of the time the attitude is ‘how do we get all the benefits without the effort?’

If the situation was truly as bleak as they – and bank CEO’s – seem to think, why aren’t they investing in development of talent and operational change to liberate this incredible talent pool? Why do they get to just ‘bemoan’ the lack of talent rather than actually do something to change that situation.

I believe there’s two reasons.

1. They don’t want the hassle – professionally or economically.
2. They know there’s talent out there, they just don’t want to hire it.

Please note I’m not saying investment in education and infrastructure change would be wrong.

We know that people of colour are continually disadvantaged by a system designed by white people, for white people.

By changing that, we would see the potential of millions literally being realised … people who could and would make a difference. Not just for other people of colour, but all people … because while they should be prejudiced to those who have held them back for centuries, they’re not.

We can only dream of being that decent.

But it’s important to note that only embracing that view dismisses the huge number of people of colour who have defied every obstacle placed in their way to be ready to make a difference.

I don’t mean are ready ‘to be trained’ to make a difference, I mean are ready to make a difference.

People already doing amazing things – creatively and commercially.

Who have worked twice as hard to get half the benefits.

Expressing their talent in ways that go far beyond just making ads, but literally adding and creating culture rather than – as many of us white people do – take from it.

If the industry is serious about change, then the best thing we can do is stop spouting shit like ‘we see no colour’ and do the opposite … because one of the best ways to change this situation is to actually start seeing it.

Openning our eyes to the talent that is on our doorstep. In our offices. In our communities.

Because while those who choose to deny their existence may like to think they’re making a statement of fact.

Or expressing some sort of superior standard.

We know the the truth is they’re admitting they don’t look because they don’t care.

Fuck each and everyone of them.



Finally, I Give You A Way To Shut Me Up …

When you’re my age, you get to look at your career and see the different phases that it passes through.

I remember one year at Wieden, we seemed to make more beautiful, highly-crafted physical books on culture than we did ads.

Now I’m a huge fan of these – and still do them – but that year I think we made about 10, which was frankly ridiculous.

Then there was the year I got told I’d spoken at more conferences than anyone at Wieden.

It wasn’t said as a diss, more a fact – though I do remember Luhr looking at me with the face of someone who couldn’t work out why anyone would want me to talk at their event.

He wasn’t wrong.

Then there was the year I seemed to be in every bloody Asian marketing book or article and then of course, The Kennedys.

It happens. It’s rarely an intentional thing, but the nature of the business means it can be like that … and while I’ll always prefer to be involved in creating stuff, it does let you feel things are evolving and that’s a good feeling.

Well this year is another one of those years.

Part of this is because of the situation the World is in and part of it is because of the situation I have found myself in.

However, whereas previous years have seemingly had singular focuses, this year has had two.

Icons of culture and podcasts.

Both have been pretty awesome.

Musicians … Fashion superstars … Gaming Royalty … Billionaires.

Frankly people who should know a lot better than to ever want me to work with them … and yet, for reasons I don’t understand but am utterly grateful for, they have.

It’s certainly very different to the work I’ve done in the past, but it not only is introducing me to a whole new world of creative expression – from developing new concert experiences to video game design to stuff that is genuinely almost impossible for me to describe as it’s just plain beautifully bonkers – it’s letting me work with people who are recognised as being the best in their field so to be in this position … and to have Colenso to look forward to in addition … feels like winning the lottery.

I know this all sounds like humble bragging – but that’s not the intent.

To be honest, it’s more about me writing it down so I never forget this feeling.

This moment.

Because as tough as it is for people all around the World, I am very, very fortunate so many good things have come my way.

But that’s not what this post is about, it’s about the other thing I’ve been doing a lot of.

Podcasts.

I’ve done a ton this year.

[Here and here and here for example]

Why people want to hear from me – especially when I write so much bollocks about my life on here – is another thing I don’t get … but it’s been fun.

Recently the lovely/stupid people at Colenso had chat with me for their Love This podcast …

We cover all manner of subjects … from running a planning gang to developing creativity in a pandemic to how to be a fucking idiot … so if you’re bored, an insomniac or are jealous of Colenso’s brilliance and are looking forward to the pain they’ll experience with me in the building, you can listen to it at one of these places.

Apple.
Spotify.
Soundcloud.