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


So Much For Planners Having All The Smart Thinking …

One of the things that has always bugged me about planners is that some think they’re the only ones who are curious enough to see the World in interesting ways.

I’ve written about how much bollocks it is – not to mention how much it pisses me off – but in this world of social, it feels we are seeing more and more of the interesting points of view coming from outside the discipline than in it.

More than that, it feels we’re even seeing more and more of the interesting ideas coming from outside the industry than in it too.

From Rihanna creating make-up foundation that is suited to African American skin as well as white through to meme creators – such as Unchisenpai – questioning what is considered cheating in a world of global competition.

[Though their observation on how we came up with the word ‘boob’ is genius]

Now I appreciate that some of this is less to do with the talent in the industry and more the limitations placed on us by clients – though how that came about is another discussion for another day – but in an industry that is seemingly talking to itself more and more [see: planner twitter] the rule to creative inspiration remains the same:

Look for those who are doing or thinking interesting things rather than those who just know interesting things.

The things I’ve learnt from my time with China, Metallica and The Kennedys have been monumental in terms of seeing what creativity truly is, what it can do and what it can be.

It’s also helped me have a deeper understanding of how to nurture it, protect it, encourage it and liberate it.

This is not meant as a diss to adland.

I love the industry and accept it has been amazing to me.

I’ve learnt – and continue to learn – so much from the many amazingly talented and generous people who work, or have worked, within it. I detest how much the industry has been undermined and undervalued by so many when – given the freedom to do what it does best – it is capable of achieving equally incredible things.

This is simply a reminder that some of the most interesting expressions of creativity – and commerciality – exist outside of our bubble and if we continue to close ourselves off to it, or think we’re superior to it, then we’re literally limiting ourselves in terms of seeing and understanding what creativity can help us create, build and change.



Sacrifice Is Love …

Before I start, I need to warn you this post is long.

It may be the longest post I’ve ever written, so there’s a TL;DR at the very end.

Anyway, this post is about my Mum. And my wife.

Two amazing people who provided the foundation that allowed their husbands to go all over the place.

I’ve written about how my Dad had a bunch of radically different careers.

Not degrees of change, whole fucking protractors worth.

And while my career has been more ‘stable’, in so much it has pretty much revolved around the same industry … the fact I’ve been able to live and work literally all around the World is as much down to my wife as it is to any opportunity I have been given.

Put simply, none of what Dad or I have done could happen if Mum or Jill hadn’t enabled it.

And enabled is the perfect word … because this is more than just ‘supporting’ someone’s quest for adventure.

They actively enabled it to happen by choosing a path that offered them – and the family – a greater level of stability and consistency so their partner could follow the path of curiosity.

What an amazing act of generosity and love.

It is something I have been aware of for a long time …

And while Jill has loved the adventure we have been on, it has come at some personal sacrifice.

She is far from her family.

She built her career as much around the environment she was in as the interest she had in a particular area.

And while she did brilliantly with all of it – especially with her cake design business in Shanghai – I am perfectly aware she could well have gone on to even more amazing things if we had just stayed in one place rather than moved all around the World.

She has never complained about this.

She has always embraced the journey and the countries we have lived in.

But the reality is I took her away from her family supposedly for a year, which turned into 16.

Or said another way, she has shown me a level of love and support that I find hard to fathom.

So now it’s time to pay things back a little. Kinda.

You see when I got made redundant, I was inundated with generosity.

Some of it was words of support.

Some of it was offers of projects.

Some of it was even offers of jobs – albeit all overseas in America, Europe, Asia and Australasia.

Frankly, it was overwhelming and wonderful.

And while all the gigs were amazing opportunities, our first reaction was to say no.

Part of it was because of the wonderful family home we had just bought. Part of it was our desire to set down real roots for the first time. And part of it was because two famous rock bands, a wonderfully eccentric Chinese billionaire, an amazing German home appliances brand and the World’s most notorious/desired video game company stupidly asked me to work with them on long-term creative projects, meaning I could continue to earn a good living in the country my family now considered home.

Hell, in the last 9 weeks I’ve done presentations to the boards of TikTok, Rockstar, a fashion superstar and a Silicon Valley VC while also helping some mates on 2 pitches … one in Australia, one in Italy … and we won both of them!!!

As weird as it is to say, unemployment – for me – has been amazing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know what I’m saying is the definition of privileged-as-fuck.

I absolutely acknowledge I’m in an extremely fortunate position and, if I’m being honest, I’ve found that hard to reconcile with, given how many people – many my mates – are having a hard time right now. To help deal with that, I’ve been finding ways to bring some of them into the projects I’m on because not only do I want to share the good fortune I’m experiencing, they all make me – and the work I do – so much better.

But it also revealed something I had forgotten.

As much as I love the work I’m doing and who I’m doing it for, I love it more when I’m doing it with a team. If I’m being honest, I suck when I’m on my own and given the personal projects I’m doing will never demand 8 hours a day – let alone 5 days a week – there’s a lot of ‘on my own’ time, I have to deal with.

I know, that sounds like the dream doesn’t it?

And it is. But while I absolutely love spending so much time with my family and adore working with Rock Stars and eccentric billionaires, I also love – and probably need – to collaborate with other creative people on other creative things … which led us back to the ‘real’ jobs people were talking to me about.

Frankly they all offered something unique, interesting and valuable to my career, my family and our overall future.

And, importantly, they all involved working with interesting, passionate, creative people.

Plus – in theory – I could still deal with the crazy ideas and needs of rock stars and billionaires.

So Jill and I discussed them again.

Some were pretty easy to decide …

Not because the job or the companies were bad – they were all wonderful – but they were based in the US and frankly, given all that’s going on there right now, that’s not somewhere we wanted to go back to at this time.

But there was one opportunity that caught Jill’s attention.

Not just because of the job, but because of the place.

Jill knew I was already excited by it because the company involved was one I had revered and raved about for years. In fact I had almost joined them a few years ago, but Mum had just died so I was in the wrong frame of mind to make any big changes in my life.

So why did this place catch Jill’s attention?

Because, in simple terms, it was nearer to her Mum, who lives in Australia.

You see while she talks to her daily, it’s obviously not nearly the same as seeing her a bunch of times a year.

I totally understood this, not just because I had been in a similar situation with my parents … but because now we were so close to my beloved best mate Paul and his epic wife Shelly, I felt an even deeper connection with them, simply because we got to hang out a shit load more than we had for the past 25 years.

And so this got us talking.

As I said, I absolutely adored the company. And I loved Jill could be closer to her Mum. And we loved the idea Otis could spend his primary school years in an environment that is safe, natural, liberal, creative and culturally diverse. Plus I loved I could do something that would – in a super small way – repay Jill for all the love, consideration and sacrifice she had given to allow me to keep us moving forward … not to mention I loved that I would have a whole new list of people I could make Facebook friends.

[OK, not that last bit, more like a whole new list of people I could be an instagram terrorist to]

Are you wondering what the fuck I’m going on about?

Well this is my very convoluted way of saying Jill, Otis, Rosie and I are all moving to Auckland in New Zealand, and I‘m pathetically happy to announce I’ll be the head of strategy for one of the most wonderful agencies in the World – in fact, one of the Cannes agencies of the decade – the utterly brilliant, beautifully ridiculous, infectiously creative … Colenso.

I have loved this agency for so long.

They’ve consistently made work that I’ve not just been insanely jealous of, but I’ve not seen anywhere else.

From creating a radio station for dogs … to stopping speeding by letting kids design the speed dial in the family car … to making drinking a beer the most romantic thing you can do on Valentine’s Day – or an alternative fuel for cars – they’re imaginative, audacious and wonderfully bonkers.

While saying ‘no’ to them 5 years ago was the right decision because of my state of mind after Mum died, I always felt I’d missed out on an opportunity that could be very special for me, so to be offered a second chance is … well, put it this way, it’s something I’ll always be eternally grateful to their idiocy for making happen.

Frankly, when I got made redundant, I never imagined something like this could happen … but, as I said at the time, the last time this happened to me, it led to one of the most creatively rewarding times of my life and in my post, I wondered out loud if lightning could strike twice.

Amazingly, it seems it can … but that’s the best thing about life, because if you’re open to everything, anything can happen.

That said, being in England has been amazing, far more than I imagined or hoped.

I don’t mind admitting when we came back I had a sense of trepidation.

Part of it was because I never thought we’d live in England again, part of it was because I didn’t want it to signify ‘the end’ of the adventure [and yet so many people thought it did] and part of it was that I felt guilt coming home after Mum and Dad died … because if I was going to do that, what didn’t I do it when they were both still here.

But as we spent more and more time in England, those concerns were replaced by feelings of belonging and connection that I thought I’d lost the ability to feel or experience, regardless where we lived … so while the UK may a complete basket-case of a nation, it’s my basket-case and I can take that newly formed sense of connection with me wherever we go.

But what about our new home?

The one I’d written so much about when we got it?

The one we moved into SEVENTEEN DAYS AGO!

Well, the fact of the matter is we’re in it and we love it and we don’t want to lose it … so while we will taking a detour via a wonderful adventure in New Zealand, I can categorically say we will be back living in it at some point. Don’t know when – we never make plans about timing – but we just know we will one day.

You see the reality is the house was always more to us than just an asset.

We wanted somewhere where we could settle … a place where our roots could grow and become established and entwined. It’s why I took the decision to sell Mum’s home, not just because it helped us be able to afford it, but because it was the sort of place Mum would want for us.

A family home rather than a house my family lived in.

I look forward to continuing to enjoy that until we go.

I look forward to continuing to enjoy that when we eventually come back.

But when do we go?

Well, that’s an interesting question with COVID … but hopefully in the first part of 2021.

If you asked me if we would ever live in New Zealand in the first half of 2020, I would have laughed and said no … and then added., “not unless Colenso offer me a job again”. But here we are, about to do just that … and I have to admit we are all hugely excited about it.

Not just for the reasons I’ve mentioned, but because living in another country and culture is an amazing privilege and we’re excited that the journey we’ve been on for the last 25+ years, still has a few more chapters to be written.

[That said, our cat is not happy as this this will be her SIXTH country in 13 years]

I’m so grateful to Colenso for giving me – and my family – this opportunity.

I’m so grateful to Jill for thinking of me even when this is supposed to be more about her.

I’m so grateful to R/GA for giving me – and my family – this experience in England and, by making me redundant, opening the door to exciting and rewarding things I never imagined could happen.

I’m also so grateful to all the people who have been so kind with their generosity and support while I’ve been in England, especially when I was made redundant. There’s loads and I’ll write a post about them when we leave but quickly, a massive thanks to …

My old planning gang at R/GA. Nils, Lucy and the incredible team at Uncommon. Matt Tanter. The Brixton Finishing School. John Dodds. Joel Keene. Emma Clark. Jonathan Nwauzu. Phil Jacobson. Judd Caraway. Caroline Seifert. The delightful nightmares Mike and Sam. Claire Pickens. David Tiltman. Munraj Singh. Kay and the team at SMILE-ing Boys Project. Michael Roberts. Karrelle. Louise Jack. Nick Ellis. Paul C. Nick Hirst. Richard Greene. Jed Hallam. Ms Bloodworth [although technically she is now in PDX]. Trudie McNicholl. Omar at The London Business School. Larissa. Sam Clohesy. Hanan. Giles Edwards. Asher. Tom Roach. Tarik at On Road. Sara Tate. Stefano. My beloved Mr Weigel. Ally McKenzi. Vince Aidoo. Neil Perkin. Graeme Douglas. Nick Owen. Nic Owen. Sam Brookes. Dave Alberts. Ayo and Group Think.

There’s tons I’ve missed but as I said, I’ll write a proper thing about them closer to the time we go [even though I appreciate this is turning into a Ms World acceptance speech] but I would be wrong if I didn’t give a mention to my oldest, dearest friend – Paul – and his wonderful wife Shelly, who made – and are making – this chapter better than I dared imagine.

I can’t really put into words how wonderful it has been being close to them again. While it had been 25 years since we were in the same country, it never felt like it – though being so close definitely made things even better. [The photo above, taken in our new garden when they came to visit, is one I’ll always treasure]

The one really sad thing about going is not seeing them as much as we have been able to over the past 2 years … but I keep reminding myself we’ll be back and I know when that happens, it will be exactly like it has been – wonderful and silly – because that’s exactly what happened when we came back after a quarter of a bloody century.

I know this has been a super long post. Like, Gwyneth Paltrow Oscar-speech long.

And I know most of you won’t have read most of it.

Or you just skipped to the TL;DR at the bottom.

But that’s OK, because it’s not for you, it’s for me.

And for Otis. For when he’s older. So he can properly understand the reasons behind his childhood, family adventures.

However even I’m getting over it so with that I’ll leave you with this …

Once upon a time, Dan Wieden asked me if I would ever live in Portland.

My response resulted in him saying, “I should fire your ass” and repeating it every single time he saw me from there on in.

I never had anything against Portland.

It’s an absolutely lovely place, but for me – especially as I was living in Shanghai at the time – I felt it was too small, too quiet, too natural and just too nice.

Well, we’re going to find out who was right.

I’m pretty sure we’ll find Dan was. As usual.

TL;DR

Bought a house in England but moving to NZ.
Off to play at the wonderful Colenso and let my wife be closer to her Mum.



Creativity Creates The Impossible …

I saw an article [the one above] recently that reinforced the importance of creativity and culture in building brands and business.

Of course I’m preaching to the choir, but I get very frustrated hearing companies – and even people who claim they’re in the business of creativity – act as if they’re ‘lesser’ tools to data.

Now don’t get me wrong, data is important and can be used very creatively – and I’m very fortunate to have worked with a few people who have proved this day after day after day – but so few companies talk about it in these terms, instead celebrating data in terms of its rational certainty which, as we all know, is total bollocks because it’s dependent on where the data has come from, who is interpreting it and whether they see it as giving solutions or understanding.

In the context of the article above, data would have probably have said Americans won’t eat sushi.

There would be a huge amount of evidence to reinforce that and many companies would have simply walked away.

But where you would think big business has the brains and tools to find ways around obstacles, the reality is often they’re paralysed by structure, politics and blinkers – not to mention, have the scale to mean they can just move on to the next thing without really having to think about it.

Until someone else does it.

And often, that someone else is someone smaller.

Someone without the structure, politics, blinkers or scale to just accept impossible.

Someone who embraces culture and creativity because they need to survive.

Someone open enough to create rules rather than just follow tradition.

Data didn’t create NIKE.

Data didn’t create Tesla.

Data didn’t create the California roll.

Somewhere along the line they played an important part, but that’s all they did – a part.

Yes, it’s important.

Yes, it can make a huge difference.

But thinking it can do it all on its own is the biggest lie being sold in the industry right now.

Culture and creativity are incredibly powerful forces.

They’re not just checkboxes of a process.

They’re not just a process.

They are living, breathing entities with the ability to change expected outcomes and create new ways of looking at the world.

In these speed-obsessed times, too many view understanding culture and exploring creativity as commercially ineffective because they require nurturing, love and space … however when done right, they can combine in such a way to redefine the rules everyone plays by and make the big players – who think they have all the answers – desperately trying to play catch up.

More than that, it can create the foundation where your business attracts audiences rather than has to continually chase them because you’re building a brand of distinction rather than another commoditised company of alleged disruption.

Again, none of this is meant to be anti-data just a reminder culture and creativity are – at the very least – equal forces of commercial power and should be respected that way, because a year on from the talk Martin and I gave at Cannes for WARC, it is obvious there is still an inherent need to remember chaos creates what order can’t.



The Past Is An Indicator, Not A Fact …

Have a look at that article.

It’s not that long ago really is it, and yet the fortunes of Apple are beyond comprehension.

Probably even beyond what Steve Jobs imagined … though I doubt, if he was alive, he would admit that.

But while the iMac was much more successful than the journalist suggested it would be … its greatest achievements were re-introducing Apple to the world, positioning them as a real alternative to Microsoft and creating a platform for the brand and products to keep rising.

Now it would be easy to laugh at how wrong the journalist was with their article, but the reality is most people in the industry at that time thought that about Apple.

However the reason had less to do with the launch of the iMac and more about the recent history of the brand.

The choices.
The decisions.
The products.

But in doing that, they highlighted four of the great mistakes so many still make:

1. Immediately skeptical of anyone trying to do something new.
2. Believed the standard for success had been set by the market leader.
3. Evaluated products against current audience needs, not future audience needs.
4. Forgot how much truly great marketing can make people give a shit.

I say this because our industry often operates like this journalist.

Basing our point of view on ‘facts’ that reflect what has happened rather than what is going to happen.

Now I get why … what we do costs a lot of money and has a lot of implications and so clients rightfully want to minimise their exposure to risk as much as they can.

But despite this focus on certainty, we still see missteps and failures every single day, largely down to us – and clients – evaluating everything by the same 3 mistakes the journalist did towards iMac back in 1998.

This is not to suggest we should ignore what clients need.

Nor is it that we should disregard costs.

It is simply a reminder that if we only judge/plan/justify/execute through the lens of the rear-view mirror, the only thing we can be certain of is we will be going in the opposite direction to culture and success.



Just Because You’re Talking Doesn’t Mean You’re Communicating …

I’m writing this post on the 28th May, so who the hell knows what’s happening a month from now. Actually I’m lying, as I have a pretty good suspicion about a few things, at least to do with me, so it will be interesting to see how wrong or right I am.

But I digress.

This is about the British Government’s communication strategy, specifically when they went to phase 2 of their COVID-19 strategy and launched these guidelines to help the British public deal with the pandemic.

As we all know by now, there was a lot of debate.

Some said they were clear.

Some said they were ambiguous.

And so rather than help the nation as a whole understand their situation and what was needed to help us move forward, they ended up igniting the nation in debate about wording, leaving people to interpret what the hell they wanted.

A conspiracy theorist may suggest this was done to stop people looking at the huge death toll that had happened due to Boris Johnson’s shambolic handling of COVID. A theory only made compelling by the way Johnson suddenly announced the UK was ‘re-opening’ mere hours after he had publicly backed his advisor, Dominic Cummings, for breaking the rules he had helped force upon the entire British public in an obvious attempt to distract the public’s attention. Made even worse by the fact Johnson had apparently almost died with COVID, so he knew first hand how dangerous it was and as such, should not back anyone who had the symptoms and then knowingly broke the rules. And as a final insult, the way he backed Cummings – suggesting it was what ‘all parents would do’ literally pissed on the faces of the parents and children who went through incredible hardship [from not seeing loved ones, to not attending loved ones funerals] to obey what was asked of them. An utter, disgusting way to behave.

But I digress. Again.

The point I want to make is that while all this argument was going on – specially around what ‘Stay Alert’ meant in practical terms, Vic Polkinghorne, @vicpolky on twitter, wrote a tweet that put the debate to rest.

They wrote:
____________________________________________________________________________________

Note on clear/unclear communication (one area I do have some experience)

If some people find it unclear, it’s unclear.

If you find it clear and some people find it unclear, it’s unclear.

The responsibility for clarity of comms is with the communicator, not the recipient.
____________________________________________________________________________________

That’s a good lesson for anyone in the communication industry.

An even better one for the British Government.

Now if only they were open to constructive criticism or gave a shit about anyone outside of their chummy little privileged gang.