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


More Proof The World Has Gone Mad …

So recently, for reasons I don’t quite understand, the Screen Writers Guild of America and a division of the US Government asked me to give a presentation on how writers can attract foreign investment.

My entire deck is the picture at the top of this post.

After I explained what I was talking about – which was basically this [especially #8] – we watched the documentary, ‘Exporting Raymond’ which, for me, is still one of the best documentaries anyone looking to work overseas can watch to understand the differences in culture, on both a macro and micro scale.

Actually, it’s worth watching even if you’re not going overseas … or if you’ve been there, done that – especially if it was Russia or China – so to give you a taste, the trailer is below.

Apparently it went down so well they are trying to get the star of the film, Phil Rosenthal, to come to an event where I will interview him.

WTF?!

I was going to write that if this happens, Mr Rosenthal is going to realise working in Russia was no where near as hellish as being interviewed by me and then I discovered he’s worth $200 million, so my concern for his wellbeing kind of went out the window.

That said, as much as I experienced a lot of weird things in China, being asked to do this talk – and the possible subsequent Q&A – is right up there in terms of madness.

Living overseas. The gift that keeps on giving.

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A Year Is A Long Time In America …

So today marks a year of being in America.

Or said another way, a year away from China.

It’s been a very interesting time for me … with a bunch of ups and downs.

Ups … in terms of the lifestyle my family get to enjoy and the people I now get to call colleagues and friends.

Downs … in terms of the state America is in and the way America is behaving.

Not just as a nation, but in the beliefs and habits that have infiltrated the working environment for so many people.

But all that aside, I still feel a deep sense of privilege that I get to have this experience.

The fact I’ve been able to live in different countries, experience different cultures and make a decent living out of it is something I will always be massively grateful for.

Of course part of this is because I’m white and male … and while I can’t change that, I can try and make sure those opportunities are available to those who aren’t either of those things.

Which has been one of the best things about being in America.

The massive wake-up call I had to the realities other people face.

Of course I wasn’t blind to it, I have seen it – and reacted against it – in every country I’ve lived, but the things I’ve seen and experienced in my short-time in America has been both confronting and enlightening.

Seeing 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 – proved to me that just saying stuff ends up being nothing more than compliance with established rules and behaviors.

It shames me to admit that it took me some time to realise that, but it’s absolutely true which is why I’ll always be grateful to colleagues like Maya, Chelsea and Bree for taking me to this point and place.

In all honesty, I don’t know how long we will be in the US.

It could be a year, it could be years … I’ve never gone to countries with a ‘time plan’ … but what I can say is the experience has been quite profound for me. OK, not in the way China was – in fact I still feel more Chinese than Western in many ways – but in terms of helping remind me who I am, what I value and what I am capable of doing or being.

You see, when I was in China, I heard murmurings that some people only saw me as someone for the Asia market.

While I absolutely love/d that part of the World and enjoyed having to relearn everything I thought I knew, I found that rumour annoying given I’d worked in a bunch of markets prior to China and in my role at Wieden, had worked with global clients for global markets all the time.

But rumours have a way of slowly getting into your head and while I do not deny there has been a bunch of stuff I’ve found weird/strange/annoying and plain fucked-up about working in America, seeing my department embrace their voice, their opinions and their beliefs and turn that into ideas, points of view and creativity that has made some people feel very uncomfortable has truly put a smile on my face.

That doesn’t mean I feel we are anyway done – far from it – but seeing change and, from my perspective, growth has been hugely rewarding.

Of course there’s no magic formula to it …

From a personal perspective it’s about being open to what you don’t know and having the willingness and curiosity to keep learning and improving. From the departments perspective, it’s just setting a direction, defining the standards we are all going to live up to and then giving everyone the time, space and backing to explore, fuck up and be vulnerable, which is why in the journey to this point – which includes the choices and decisions I’ve had to make to deal with the situations and circumstances I’ve come to face – it’s acted as a really valuable reminder of who I am, what I believe and what I still want to achieve.

So thank you America.

For what you have done for me and what you have done for my family.

I don’t know if I’ll ever love you like I love some of the other countries I’ve lived in, but if you sort out the shit you don’t want to talk about, then you’ll truly be an incredibly special place. And even though I don’t think that can ever happen – at least to the extent it needs to happen – I’ll forever be grateful for the experience you’ve given us living here … even if you’re giving my son an American twang.



In The End, The Only Things Worth Doing Are The Things That Might Possibly Break Your Heart …

The title of this post is a quote from the novelist Colum McCann.

And he’s right.

Over the years I’ve received many emails from people wanting to get into planning and asking if getting a job in account service might be the way to do it.

And every single time, I’ve replied with the words, “it might be, but don’t give up on getting a job in planning first”.

I know it’s hard to get into planning without any experience.

And by experience, I mean planning.

I’ve never subscribed to this point of view – in fact I still take great pride in the fact that while I was at Wieden, I only ever hired 3 people who’d been planners before, preferring to fill the department with people I found smart, interesting, mischievous and creative but still living a life rather than embracing the comforts, cliches and limitations of the advertising bubble lifestyle.

Of course not everyone is like that – hence the 3 planners I hired who had been planners previously – but in China, there was definitely a conformity to the discipline that I was desperate to break.

Which is why I was very cool with hiring juniors.

People with no experience in the discipline but a history of doing interesting things.

Now I’m back in the Western World, it seems that people are more reticent to do that.

Not all of course, but many.

Maybe it’s because clients want people who know their industry on their account.

Maybe it’s because agencies want people they can tell clients have experience in their industry.

Maybe it’s because no one has the time to train people anymore.

Whatever it is, it’s not a good thing for the industry – or the discipline – and it’s certainly not a good thing for those who are interested but never get a shot, which is why my advice to them is this …

You may end up discovering you don’t like planning.

You may end up discovering you’re not good at planning.

You may end up discovering your career is nothing like the one you hoped for.

But don’t give up. Not yet.

Don’t take no for an answer too easily.

Or look for short-cuts.

Not just because Colum McCann is right when he says the only things we should chase are the things that may break our heart, but the reality is nothing easy is really worthwhile.

Not in the long-term anyway.

And hey, if I can do it, then there’s more than a good chance you can too.

So keep trying. Keep learning. Keep pushing … because focusing on what you might gain is much more powerful than thinking about what you might lose.

Good luck.



It Seems I Am The Fine Line Between Famous And Infamous …

How is your 2018 going so far?

I know it’s still early days – but is it looking good or bad?

Well, if it’s looking positive, I’m about to ruin it for you and if it is looking dodgy, I’m going to help you solidify your opinion.

Why?

Well, a few weeks ago, a nice guy called Paul McEnany asked if he could interview me about my career.

While I’m sure his reasoning for his request was to help planners learn what not to do, my ego said yes even before my mouth did … and while the end result is the bastard love child of rambling randomness and base-level swearing, it’s the perfect way to justify your pessimism for 2018 or to ensure your optimism for the new year doesn’t get too high.

So go here and errrrrm, enjoy [if that’s the right word for it, which it isn’t] and after you’ve heard my crap, listen to the brilliant interviews with people like Gareth Kay, Russell Davies, Richard Huntingdon, Martin Weigel and the amazing Chris Riley because apart from being hugely interesting and inspiring, you’ll get the added bonus of [1] undeniable proof I’m a massive imposter and [2] the knowledge that if I can have some sort of semi-successful career in advertising, you certainly can.

You’re welcome.



What Planners And Police/Military Interrogators Could Have Learned From My Mum …

For a long time, I’ve talked about the importance of empathy.

In fact I regard it as the most important trait I look for in a planner.

That’s right, empathy … not curiosity.

As my Mum used to say, ‘being interested in what others are interested in’ is the foundation of forging real understanding … understanding that lets you gain real insight that leads to work that doesn’t just resonate, but is both authentic and sincere to the core.

I recently took my team through the original ‘Thank You Mom’ work I was involved with at Wieden for P&G.

In essence, there were 2 roles the planning departments of W+K had.

The first was to find a point of view for P&G’s Olympic sponsorship that was authentic rather than falling into that trap of being ‘the proud sponsor of razor blades for athletes’ etc etc.

However, once it had been identified that P&G could genuinely claim to helping the Mum’s of athletic hopefuls in their role of being supportive Mum’s, the rest of our job was to ensure the work we produced was authentic to the regions we were going to cover … the UK, the US, China and Brazil.

It took a long time, a lot of meeting, watching, listening and chatting [in fact the little film I made from it all to help the client and creatives really understand our Mum’s is still one of the best things I made at Wieden] but it made all the difference because while some elements of the film may be lost to viewers of other nations [ie: Westerners thought the Chinese Mum who watched her child win via a TV in her home did it because she couldn’t afford to go to the event, when the reality is we had learned parents wouldn’t attend key events for fear of afraid of adding extra pressure to their beloved child with their presence] the fact is those within each culture we featured connected to the little nuances we were able to reveal which led to work that felt part of the culture rather than just being an observer of it.

The reason I am saying all this is because I recently read an amazing article about interrogation techniques, or more specifically, how the interrogation techniques favoured by the Police and military are wrong.

Now I am not suggesting interrogation techniques are anything similar to how we find out our insights about people … but the learnings are.

You see what a team of scientists discovered is that rather than intimidating individuals in the hope of getting them to reveal their information, the secret was to show genuine empathy towards them.

Not in what they did or tried to do.

Not in their cause or their ideology.

But in why all of it was important to them.

In essence, they discovered empathy – rather than intimidation – was the closest thing we have to a truth serum.

Or said another way, be interested in what others are interested in.

Another reason [for me] to say Thank you Mom.

[Read the article here]



You Can Tell How Much A Restaurant Cares About Their Customers By The Questions They Ask …

Way back in 2014, I wrote a post about my favourite restaurant in Shanghai – Din Tai Fung – and how their ‘comments card’ only had a satisfaction scale that went up to good.

In the post I mused why the company might be so stingy with levels of praise customers could bestow on their excellent staff and suggested it was to ensure the company was always in a position of control.

I loved Din Tai Fung.

In fact it was one of the big reasons I was sad to leave China, so you can imagine my happiness when I discovered they had opened a branch 8 miles from where I live.

Din Tai Fung – the American Edition – is very different to the classic Taiwanese offer I enjoyed over 7 glorious years in the Middle Kingdom.

For a start it is trying to look much trendier.

No Taiwanese/Chinese celebrity cartoons on the walls, instead all earthy tones and oversized lampshades.

Then the choice of food is very different and it doesn’t seem to have as much attention to detail.

The dumplings texture is not as delicate, the soy sauce isn’t as high quality, the ginger looks half dead and the chili sauce is almost sweet.

Then, just as you think they can’t screw things up any more, they serve cocktails. COCKTAILS.

And all for a price that is at least double that of China.

But as much as I can just about cope with that [as it still makes me feel happy] I can’t cope with this …

Yes, I’m talking about their comment card.

Sure, I know that gives the impression they want to improve – but when you read it, you notice a couple of things.

1. The scale of satisfaction is much, much broader.
2. The range of questions is much more general.

In the Asia version of the comments card, there is a huge emphasis on the quality of the food.

The texture. The flavours. The noodle quality.

Each food type is open for critique whereas the US version is simply summed up as ‘food quality’.

Now I get why the US would do that … it’s more concise and doesn’t ask the customer to judge a bunch of criteria … but the Asian version highlights something else.

Food enjoyment is much more than just taste and presentation.

Consciously or not, people constantly and continually are evaluating their experience, so if you want to show you actually care about their perspective – actually care about improving things – then you have to offer them options in the way they will be considering their food.

And they’re right.

I am absolutely the opposite of a foodie snob, but 7 years in China taught me the difference between good dumpling texture and bad.

To simply ask me ‘food quality’ as a blanket question for the overall experience is simplistic to the extreme.

Which is why the US Din Tai Fung will continue to serve me dumplings that are not as delicate as they should be, offer me soy sauce that isn’t as high quality as it should be, ginger that is not as vibrant and fresh as it should be and chili sauce that is far too sweet to complement the food they are serving.

America used to be the blueprint for service.

Asia – or should I say, some elements of Asia – are miles ahead.



Creativity Can Find A Way …

One of the things that bothers me about my industry is how they always talk about creativity when most of what they create is advertising.Of course advertising has creativity within it – sometimes, incredibly creativity – but often, the approach is to communicate the problem rather than solve the problem.

OK, so there are occasions when the biggest problem is a lack of awareness, but that is most definitely the exception rather than the rule.

I’ve written and talked about this so much over the years.

From my PSFK talk back in 2009 to my distain of Cannes scam to my adoration of designers and an absolute shedload in-between … and yet I continue to see briefs where the goal was obviously to ‘make an ad’ rather than ‘create a difference’.

This is not purely the agencies fault, in many cases it comes from the client.

Sometimes it’s because they need to support the retailers.

Sometimes it’s because their KPI’s are based on executional delivery.

Sometimes it’s because it would affect their remuneration structure with their agencies.

Sometimes it’s because they are not empowered to do anything different.

Sometimes it’s because they don’t actually care about solving, just producing.

And yet even in some of those approaches, there’s an opportunity to create a solution rather than make some noise if only they’d asked the right questions.

A while back, I had a client that briefed us on an ad campaign.

Got to admit, as much as I love them, it kind-of annoyed the hell out of me.

For me, that was like going to the doctor and diagnosing your own illness and solution.

So we asked why they wanted the campaign and they said they needed parents to let their kids do sport which was hard as they were worried their precious [only] child may get hurt.

And so we said, “If we can find a way to get parents to feel good about letting their kids do sport, are you open to it?”And when they said ‘yes’, it gave us the right to create bandaids that worked as badges of honor and comic books celebrating the power of sport.

Don’t get me wrong, if we had done a TV campaign it would have been a brilliant TV campaign.

But by asking a simple question, it allowed creativity rather than advertising to be the solution.

Or said another way, it opened possibilities rather than closed them off.

The reason for all this is that I recently saw a brilliant creative solution to slowing traffic down.

This is something that has been done in many ways over the years, including the brilliant Speed Dial by Colenso [video here] … but this was something even simpler.

This.

[Or if you’re too lazy to click on the link, the picture at the top of this post serves as a clue]

Now I know you might argue that once you know it’s not ‘real’ people won’t slow down, but I’d challenge that given the way the brain works.

But regardless, I will be interested to see what the data says after it has been in operation a while, but compared to a multi-million dollar ad campaign, or even the prices of stationing a copper there with a speed gun, I’m guessing it will be more effective.

And that is why our industry has to truly embrace creativity rather than just want to make ads.