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


We’ll Meet Again …

So even though we are not leaving for NZ for a month, this is my last post for at least a month.

Moving countries always requires a bunch of things to be done, and despite us being old hands at it, doing it during a pandemic means we have a bunch more stuff to do – hence the blog post rest.

Being back in England has been a special time.

Part of it is because I never thought I would have lived here again.

Part of it is because I have been able to catch up with old friends once more.

Part of it is because I love big cities and always wanted to live in London.

Part of it is because despite its bullshit, it’s still my home and I’ve loved being in a place where so much of it just felt natural.

And part of it is because of the new friends I have met along the way.

To think I didn’t know people like Tanter, Nils, the beautifully irresponsible – in the most responsible way – Mike and Sam, the entire planning gang at R/GA [though Lachlan did remind me when I started that we had once met in Australia … when he was a student, hahahaha], Michael Roberts, Ben Major, Tarik at Onroad, Sam Clohesy, Ian Preston, Trudie, the inspirational [whether he accepts that or not] Murray Calder, Keerti, Munraj, Larissa Vince – who is a better Nottingham Forest than I could ever be, John, Nana at POCC, Asheru, Louise Jack, Eduardo, Sara Tate, Holly Day, Ally and everyone at Brixton Finishing School, Dorcas, Abi, the incredible Kay Adekunle Rufai from the S-M-I-L-E-ing Boys project, Nick Hirst, Tom Roach and countless other people from work or – shock, horror – Twitter [including one of my ad-icons, Trevor Beattie] … is astounding.

And while I am thrilled to be going to New Zealand for our next adventure, leaving England is much harder than I thought it would.

Without doubt, a big part of that is because as much as I’ve been away, it still feels like home.

Not just because we bought our beautiful house here, but because my beloved Paul and Shelly are here.

And while the pandemic meant we didn’t see each other as much as we would have liked, it’s more than I’d had in quarter of a century and I will treasure that as much as I treasure the fact Paul and I are still as stupid together, as we were when we were kids.

England is where I was raised.

And while I have sold the family home to buy our new family home … it doesn’t take away from the fact, so many of the things that made me who I am, were made here.

Of course I wish my Mum and Dad were still alive.

How I would have loved to have made them happy to be ‘home again’.

How I would have loved to have spent so much time chatting and remembering together.

But maybe it they were still alive we wouldn’t have gone to NZ and so it appears they are still encouraging me to explore, even without them here anymore.

Though I would happily swap it all for another day together, even though I am also happy they have not had to endure the hardship that COVID has placed on the country. I can’t imagine what it would be like for them to have to deal with it and I have nothing but admiration for any person trying to manage/balance that situation with their own family.

But we’re off … and frankly, the idea of going to New Zealand feels like one of the greatest gift in the World.

That we will soon be in a country where WE CAN GO OUT TO DINNER IN A RESTAURANT seems almost impossible.

That we will soon be in a country where Otis CAN PLAY OUTSIDE WITH HIS [NEW] FRIENDS WHENEVER HE WANTS is a dream.

That we will soon be able to go visit Jill’s Mum IN A MATTER OF HOURS is madness, given it’s been 17 years since she could do that.

And that I get to do this while working at one of my favourite companies in the World – the brilliant Colenso – is, frankly, insane.

I’m so excited for the adventures we’ll have.
The experiences we will discover and learn from.
Not to mention the work I will able to be a part of creating.

That said, I cannot thank all the brilliant people who have made my return to England so special, enough.

I will miss so much about here, but the memories will also last me through till our return.

And we will be back.

Don’t know where. Don’t know when.

But – not wishing to make it sound like a threat – I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.

Take care of yourselves. Thank you for everything.

See you on the other side. Literally and metaphorically.



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.



Welcome To The Era Of The Mundane …

The quote at the top of this page is what Frank Sinatra said about Elvis Presley.

If anything was going to turn youth towards the new musical force of the King, it was going to be comments like that.

But what I find interesting is the ad industry should understand this point more than most … however, I’m not sure we do anymore.

We appear to take more delight in being accurate than being exciting.

Now I appreciate this makes me sound like an old bastard but hang on for a second …

What I find interesting – at least where music is concerned – is that in the past, it was ‘the establishment’ who were frightened of the new and misunderstood, but that seems much less the case these days.

If anything, the establishment are bored nothing is scaring them.

Now there are some explanations for this …

Some of it is because of how the music industry has changed …

Rather than breaking new talent, they’re much more interested betting on certainties, because there goal is for lowering risk not pushing things forward. [Hence their appropriation of TikTok to flog back-catalogue tracks]

Some of it is because technology has allowed music to get ultra niche …

Thanks to music streaming platforms, people can now choose the genres they like and pretty much filter out everything else. What this means is we can kid ourselves into believing there’s less new dangerous music being created when the reality is we’re keeping it out rather than welcoming it in. Add to that the decline of radio – which was a central and universal place where a lot of music discovery took place – and we are actively cutting ourselves off from the new and uncomfortable.

Finally, some of it is because the power of music is not the cultural force it once was …

Don’t get me wrong, music is still ultra powerful, but in some ways, it seems to have gone from being at the forefront of culture to the background of it. Some will say that has always been the case – the ‘soundtrack to your life’ – but for people who have always lived for music, it was rarely just an accompaniment to whatever you were doing.

For me, a lot of the ‘danger’ that used to be synonymous with music has gone into gaming.

When Grand Theft Auto came out, it was almost like punk in the 70’s.

A game both universally loved and hated for what it represented.

Rather than trying to be something for everyone, it shamelessly wanted to be everything to someone … and because of the shifts in culture, technology, media, business model and price points, it meant it could be a very lucrative business to be in .

Of course, like all industries, too many companies simply try to jump on whatever bandwagon is cool in that moment … but for me, if you’re looking for the new rock n’ roll, it’s in gaming.

That does not mean dangerous music doesn’t exist.

But it’s power to change culture is not what it once was.

It’s more likely to be found in a game rather than us discovering a new artist.

Which reveals the dirty little secret about people.

The real reason people this there is a ‘lack of danger’ in music is because we’re lazy.

In the past, we would crash into it thanks to mass radio and media – but now, with everything at our command – it requires us to actively put ourselves out there to find it and frankly, we don’t want to.

For all the brilliant things technology can do for us, it has made us lethargically comfy.

We want everything on a plate.

We don’t want to lift a finger.

And while tech could also help overcome this, it’s been designed to satisfy not aggravate … which is why the only way you’ll find the dangerous edges is if you walk towards it rather than expect it to come to you.

It’s something adland needs to remember, because while some may say ‘exciting is indulgence’, it’s got more economic and cultural power than being ‘accurate’.



The Final Countdown … Again.

So today is the 1st Feb.

That means today is the first day of our final month living in England.

Or at least living in England for a period of time.

We will be back for a whole host of reasons, we just don’t know when.

And while I’ll be writing another long, drawn out post listing all the things I’ll miss and all the things I’m grateful for … the reality is there’s a chance COVID will fuck our plans and instead of boarding a plane to New Zealand on the 3rd March, we’ll be in our beautiful home, trying to work out how to get our furniture off a boat and our cat out of quarantine.

It’s a strange feeling to think you have a time limit on what you have come to consider ‘home’.

A mixture of fear and excitement.

Of course we have done it a ton of times – and we’re really thrilled to be off on another adventure – but there’s a bunch of things that have got their teeth into us.

Being near Paul and Shelly after 25 years is a huge one.
Our beautiful new home with our beautiful garden is another.
Not to mention the wonderful new friends we’ve made in the time we’ve been back.

But as I say to many people who ask me about moving overseas, while it is easy to focus on the things you’ll miss, you need to focus on the things you’ll gain.

And we can’t wait for that.

The things we know, the things we hope for and the things that will just crash into our life.

I owe so much of my life to having lived around the World and I’m very excited to discover what new chapters this adventure will write.

So as this is a month where a lot will be going on, this blog will end on Friday till we are either in NZ or being told we have to wait longer to get into NZ.

Though whatever is the outcome, while not hearing my rubbish on here for a few weeks sounds like a delight, let me remind you – when I’m in quarantine in NZ with literally nothing to do, there’s a good chance I may be writing 100 blog posts a day.

So be careful what you wish for.