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


When You Realise You’re The Joke …

Great advertising ideas – like any form of success – tend to have a thousand authors.

Of course, we all play a part in the journey to something being awesome, but it’s fair to say some play a bigger part than others.

What makes me laugh is when people who had nothing to do with the work suddenly – and publicly – start associating with it.

Not just in terms of being employed by the same company, but in having some magical, pivotal role … even though when the spotlight turns off, they’re back to their usual obstacle-creating, idea-destroying self.

But there’s something worse than that …

It’s the people who were pivotal in developing the idea but are not acknowledged for it.

They tend to be young teams …

Too junior to feel they can say something, surrounded by people who think this is just part of the right of passage.

And it is. But it shouldn’t be.

For me, this is where management need to take responsibility.

Ensure their people share the spotlight.

Let them enjoy the feeling of doing something good.

Make sure they understand the responsibility they have, not just the glory.

But too often that is not what happens …

Too often, they see their manager take the credit – and while they definitely played a role in helping their team play to that level – the real rewards should be saved for those who did the work, rather than those who happened to be in the same room when the work was being made.

A friend of mine has recently experienced this.

Ideas dismissed, then slightly rephrased by another, more senior person, to take the praise and credit.

And the people around them all knew it was happening but they let it continue happening.

“It’s just their way” they say.

“They made it better” they claim.

What makes it even worse is the reality of the situation soon gets forgotten and it’s the person who claimed the work who gets placed on a pedestal for all the great things that happened.

Leaving the originator behind.

Wondering what the fuck just happened. Questioning their ability and talent. Losing their confidence to keep going.

I’ve seen it happen.

I’ve seen it not that long ago.

Hell, I’ve had it happen to me … and when I stood up to the person doing it, I got in trouble with my then boss for being a ‘disruptive force’.

This taught me a valuable lesson – reinforced by some of the amazing leaders I’ve had the privilege of working with – and that is the true value of management is ultimately defined by how well the team does.

Not personally.

But collectively.

And by well, I mean in terms of the work that is created, rather than the documents written.

Don’t get me wrong, decks have an important role to play – but I’ve seen far too many managers only care that their ‘bit’ goes down well with the client, forgetting if it doesn’t help those around them get to better, more intriguing or provocative work, it’s nothing more than self-serving vanity.

Which is why I believe a managers role is to create an environment that lets their people be vulnerable, audacious, experimental and exploratory … as well as forging a culture that ensures the team feels backed, supported, acknowledged and pushed – rather than ignored, misled or stolen from.

And if they do that, then they’re doing their job.

Not a great job. Just their job.

Please do not mistake this as condescending compliments at all agency meetings.

Nor patronising pats on the back at team get-togethers.

I mean they actively fight for the career development of their team individually and as a whole.

Not just money or title or promotion …

But exposure, experience, possibilities and opportunities. So when a member of the team leaves – and everyone does at some point – they get a job that is better than they ever imagined they’d get.

One where they’re hired for how they look at the world rather than just filling a position.

Now you don’t get this easy. People have to earn it. They have to graft for it. They have to have awareness about what they’re doing and where they’re at.

But if they do that, the least a manager can do in return is back them, support them and push them on every step of their journey … even when they fuck up.

Which they will do at some point, because we all do.

And frankly, if they don’t … then they’re not trying hard enough.

The young of this industry are often used as cannon fodder.

Run to exhaustion.

Given huge demands.

And while not everyone will be the same in terms of skills, ability or outlook (which is a good thing or you’ve got a department of one dimensional robots) … they all need to be protected, nurtured and supported, because the future of this industry will be built on the standards and experiences we pass on to those we are responsible for, rather than leaving them to fend for themselves with all that they do.



Which Came First: The Dumbing Down Of Marketing Or Creativity?

Above is a point of sale sign from a local supermarket.

Look at it.

LOOK AT IT!!!

What a pile of utter shite.

Noticeable for it’s stupidity rather than it’s inspiration.

The sort of stuff you would expect from a 5 year old writing jokes for a Christmas Cracker, than a company with well paid staff, responsible for the commercial growth of an organisation.

So who is to blame?

Well there are many who should feel a sense of shame – from ad agencies to research companies to clients – however when I think of who started this horribleness to begin, I can’t help but feel it was at the hands of the marketing department.

Of course even they are not totally to blame.

The C-Suite, with their demands and expectations have a lot to answer for … almost as much as the investors, who say they want the companies they invest in to be good companies but they better make increasing profits every quarter.

But what I found fascinating coming back to Western markets from Asian – specifically China – was how little ambition there really was.

Oh companies would talk about it – wax lyrical about it – but when you delved a little deeper, you saw there wasn’t much there.

Instead the focus was far more about defending rather than growing, corporate convenience rather than customer understanding, explaining rather than communicating and short-term conformity rather than long term change.

But of course, ad agencies need to take their blame for this situation as well.

Too many doing whatever clients want rather than what they need.

Profiting from process over creativity.

Celebrating speed over substance.

What makes it worse is some think this leads to good work.

Effective work. Using ‘proof’ that ignores the myriad of small, separate elements that combine to drive success so they can place themselves on a self-appointed pedestal.

But there are some who have a bit more self-awareness.

Who know what they’re doing is not as good as it could be.

Or should be.

But rather than face their responsibility in all of this, they blame others for how this came about … turning to questionable research that is based on a few tweets, a couple of chats around the agency or claims every single person on the planet can have their attitudes and behaviours characterised by a singular colour or some other bollocks.

And from this, they will claim the public don’t care about smart stuff.

That they ‘don’t understand’ good ideas and writing.

They they’re simply not interested in creativity and ideas.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

I’ve got to tell you, I’m absolutely over it.

I’m over the focus on the lowest common denominator.

Let’s face it, life would be pretty horrible and boring if that is how we really operated … and contrary to popular belief, we don’t.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t elements of predictability in what we do, but to ignore the nuance … to suggest everything we aspire to is exactly the same, delivered via an identical approach … is just plain bullshit.

But here’s the kicker, because more clients and agencies seems to be adopting this approach.

White labelling, phoned-in solutions with a cool sounding names that actively destroys any sense of differentiation and distinctiveness of their brand from countless competitors while also directly insulting the intelligence of the customers they rely on to survive.

I get it’s less hassle to just agree with clients.

I get that having income coming in right now is very important.

I get that a single point-of-sale sign is not going to change the world.

But when we are willing to allow our standards to be determined by how quick we can make money, then all we’re doing is ensuring the long-term value of our industry – and the talented people in it or wanting to be in it – dies even more quickly.

And that’s why I am also over people being quick to piss on anyone trying to do something different.

Claiming it’s self indulgent.

Labelling it a failure before it’s even run.

Saying it won’t appeal to the audience … despite not knowing the brand, the brief, the audience or how people actually think or act outside of some hypothetical customer journey / strategic framework of convenience.

And yet, when you look at the brands, the work and the agencies who consistently resonate deeply and authentically with culture and drive long-term loyalty, growth and profit – it’s the usual suspects and a few newbies, like Nils and the fabulous folks at Uncommon.

Yes our job is to help our clients achieve more than they hoped. Yes our job is to attract rather than repel. But our job is also to help build the future for our clients … influencing, shaping and – sometimes – forcing dramatic change even before the masses are quite ready for it, which means doing work that challenges and provokes for all the right reasons … sometimes asking questions of the audience rather than boring them into beige submission.

And while I acknowledge there are risks in all of that, I personally believe it is far riskier to dumb everything down to it’s lowest common denominator, because every single thing we love, respect and covet has come from someone or something doing something different.

Whether that’s an idea, a product, a story or a new way of looking at the World … it has come from people who understood who we are but take us further than we imagined, pushing the journey and the story with every new chapter of what they create.

They could have taken the easy route.
They could have focused on optimising the rewards.
They could have spent their time ‘removing friction from the transactional process’.

But they didn’t. Or at least, they didn’t just focus on that.

They embraced the risk to create something bigger and more unexpectedly resonant.

Or should I say unexpectedly resonant by those judging them, because they knew exactly where they were going.

And this is why the people who are so quick to dismiss anyone trying to do something new need to understand their actions say far more about who they are and what they value than anything else. And in an industry that is fighting for its life, I put my faith in those using creativity to change the game rather than those who just talk about violation of some old rules.



If You Want To Know How Crap Adland Is At D&I, Look At This …

Adland goes on a lot about diversity and inclusion.

They write about it.

They talk about it.

They even have people who have job titles about it.

But is anything changing? Really, properly, truly changing?

Is the ad industry a more open place for people who come from different backgrounds?

Is the ad industry giving more positions of authority and power to people of colour?

Or women?

Is the ad industry paying the same base salaries to people from different backgrounds?

Don’t know … but I doubt it.

Now this is not an anti-adland rant, I love this industry and still believe it can do a lot. However it is an anti-superficial claim rant that, sadly, adland still seems to love doing.

I am sure there are people who can inundate me with facts about how things are improving.

Well there’s 2 answers to that.

1. It’s not hard when it’s from a low-base.

2. It’s not happening quick enough.

And one thing really highlighted this fact to me and it’s this …

Cocoa Girl is THE FIRST magazine in the UK specifically for little girls of colour.

The first!!!

Think about that for a second??

Prior to this, little girls of colour had NOTHING to represent them, reflect them or inspire them in a way where they could feel they are already good enough.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Cocoa Girl wasn’t created by a publisher or a research company or an ad agency that talks up their D&I policies in the media every second of the day … but a Mum, Serlina, and her 6 year old daughter, Faith.

It’s absolutely brilliant – they also do one for little boys of colour as well – but that is not the only reasons we should all support it and champion it.

You see apart from the fact Serlina and Faith have just shamed our whole industry in terms of spotting D&I issues and doing something about them … they’ve also reminded us WHY D&I is one of the only things that might be able to save our industry from disaster.

Too many people in adland still think their reality reflects everyone’s else’s reality.

Of course it’s bollocks … and yet we keep on doing the same thing over and over again.

Hiring the same people.
Putting the same types of people in power.
Acting like everything is fine when everything isn’t.

What Serlina and Faith have done with Cocoa Girl is show our blinkered blindness.

Our inability to see what is not in our bubbles.

The act of being deliberately blind and ignorant.

We – as an industry – should have done this.

We – as an industry – should have supported this.

We – as an industry – didn’t.

If you have any desire to make any difference, you then can start by signing up for a subscription to Cocoa Girl.

Then you can help get clients to sponsor the amazing Boys Smile project.

Then you can show this post to your colleagues and discuss how this is what really adding to culture means.

Thank you Serlina. Thank you Faith.



The Same People Take You To The Same Place …

Yesterday I wrote a post about the 4 mistakes we make when evaluating new ideas.

As you can see from the photo above, I am doubling down on that … except instead of talking about new ideas, I’m talking about leadership.

Well, I say talking about it … but what with Bill Gates quote and the post I wrote a few weeks ago that details what I think Bill is talking about, I think it says all I need to say.

But I will leave you with this.

There are some incredible leaders out there.

I’ve been lucky to work for and with a bunch of them.

But I guarantee you the ones who think they are, generally aren’t.

Not because they’re not clever.

Not because they’re not successful.

But because they place greater importance on how they look than those around them.

They believe only they have the answers.

They believe only they know how to write the deck.

They believe only they have the client relationship and trust.

And while that be true in the short term, that approach rarely lasts the distance.

Not just because clients change and business changes … but because you simply can’t keep moving forward if you don’t let new ideas come to the fore.

To push you. To challenge you. To excite you.

But generally these leaders won’t and don’t allow that.

In fact, they will actively reject and eject other views.

Because they think they know it all.

And know it better.

And did it first.

And while many may interpret this as the behaviour of someone fearful of their future – desperately trying to prove some sort of relevance to those around them – they’re wrong.

Because the leader Bill Gates describes in his quote is someone who thinks they’re a master of the Universe. Someone who is always right. Someone who is better than those around them. Someone who is the only one who can make things happen. Someone who holds the keys to everyone’s success.

And maybe for a time they are.

Until that stops.

And that’s when things get really scary.

Which reminds me of something my Dad use to say about how he chose which lawyers to hire:

“The people who need to show how intelligent they are, aren’t.”

Or said another way, the moment you think you can’t lose. You’ve lost.



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.