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

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.

Beyonce Makes Everything Better …
March 30, 2018, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Comment, Creativity, Culture, Music

So one of the things I love watching is artists performing other artists songs.

Even better, watching artists performing other artists songs in front of those artists.

It’s a big deal to do that.

A song is so much more than just music and words, it’s about connecting to the story behind the song – often a personal situation the writer experienced or faced – so to just ‘play the notes’ does everyone a disservice.

A while back, I wrote about how the band Heart played ‘Stairway To Heaven’ infant of Page, Plant and Jones and how it obviously deeply affected them because they didn’t just capture the magic of the song, but elevated the drama of it all.

In the post I asked, what must be going through their heads while watching it.

Was it the amazement that a song they wrote in early ’70, was still being played – and loved by people of all generations?

Was it that the shock that a song they wrote in early ’70, could still have so much energy?

Or was it that a song they wrote back in early ’70, was being played for the President of the United States?

The emotion of knowing it literally couldn’t get ‘bigger than this’ or the simple realisation his impact on World history was assured?

Well I recently saw another video of an artist performing another artists song in front of them and this had a totally different energy to the Heart/Led Zep one.

This was pure extravaganza.

A mixture of energy, entertainment and sheer-bloody-power.

Unsurprisingly, it features two of the World’s most incredible performers … Beyonce and Tina Turner.

To be honest, while I’ve always admired Beyonce., I probably haven’t recognized just how great she is.

That changed with this performance.

Don’t get me wrong, I always knew she was an amazing talent, but it’s the way she delivers her performance that really got me.

Somehow, she has managed to recreate the force of Tina Turner.

It smacks you in the eyes.

You feel it inside your bones.

Part of it is because it feels the music is always about to run faster than the lyrics … the other is the backing singers routine is short, sharp and precise, keeping the energy of the music alive visually as well as sonically.

For me, Beyonce’s performance of Tina Turner’s classic ‘Proud Mary’ is a revelation and by the look on Tina’s face, it’s both a recognition of the impact she has made on culture and the realisation that the door she opened – at great personal sacrifice – was worth it.

Watch it, it guarantees you will enter the weekend with a huge smile on your face.

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.

Fear Stops Action …
March 26, 2018, 6:18 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Agency Culture, America, Comment, Culture, Management

So recently I learnt of a particular aspect of [American] corporate culture that scared the hell out of me. I put America in brackets, because I know it’s not unique to here – but, to be honest – it’s where I’ve seen the worst of it compared to all the other countries I’ve lived in.

The paranoia of performance.

Put simply, some people seem to waste an incredible amount of their energy convincing themselves others are getting the opportunities they want – or feel they deserve – and so spend their time continually looking for signs that say, at least to them, they’re ‘out of the loop’.

These signs could be anything …

The way a boss said hello to a colleague.

The fact a client said hello to someone who is not directly linked to the core team.

An agency colleague sat next to the client at a meeting.

Sure, sometimes that can be true, but unless I’m utterly naive, I’m pretty sure in the main it’s not.

But here’s the thing …

If you’re constantly looking for the hidden meaning behind everything, it means you’re spending all your energy and angst on feeding that negativity rather than doing something that could make a difference and so at some point … the paranoia becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now while that might make these people feel better about what they suspected all along, it’s a hollow victory given they created the situation rather than anyone else.

But what I find even worse is what it say’s about [American] corporate culture.

Or at least some of it.

Where people continually feel frightened.




All that does is make these people un-cooprerative, un-collaborative and in-efficient.

That’s not just horrible for them, but it also creates an incredibly toxic environment.

As I wrote a while back, enjoying your work is not just important personally but it’s also commercially advantageous as a whole and while I appreciate not everyone will achieve what they want to achieve, creating an environment where everyone thinks someone is out to get you rather than encouraging them to show what they are capable of is an outcome where everyone loses.

Only Music Can Make You Feel This …
March 22, 2018, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Comment, Confidence, Creativity

So Jill’s parents are visiting from Sydney and because of that, I’m having a long weekend starting from errrrrrm, now.

Just to clarify, I’m having a long weekend with them, not because of them.

As you may have guessed/hoped, this means this is the last post of the week … but wait, there’s more.

You see while I’m off to enjoy 4 days of family time, I thought I’d give you an additional gift on top of blog quietness.

Well, I say ‘I’, but it’s really Hiromi Uehara.

“And who is Hiromi Uehara?”, I hear you ask.

Well she is someone who – in 6 minutes – is going to inject you with a sense of pure joy.

Someone you’ll be in utter awe of for their talent, dexterity, showmanship and audacious, musical cheekiness.

Someone you’ll watch with liberal doses of wonder, amazement, fascination and smiles.

I know that sounds like overkill, but Hiromi Uehara pulls off some of the most amazing and emotional musicianship I’ve witnessed in my – and judging by the mile-wide-smiles of the musicians watching her – life.

It’s breathtaking.

Please watch it.

You won’t regret it.

In fact I’ll say it will make your weekend. Even if yours doesn’t start for 2 more days.