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


The Problem Vs The Real Problem …

A while back I wrote a post about the best bit of advice I’d ever had regarding solving problems.

Or should I say, on how to present how you are going to solve a problem.

But this is dependent on knowing what is the right problem to solve … and quite often, it ends up being the problem we want to solve versus the problem that needs solving.

Now of course, we can only solve the problem that relates to our particular discipline.

For example, as much as adland likes to claim it can solve everything, we can’t build a car.

[Trust me, I’ve tried]

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

Too often, when there is a huge piece of business on the table, our goal is to get all of it.

Every last piece.

Doesn’t matter if it’s not our core expertise.

Doesn’t matter if the work won’t be interesting.

We. Want. It. All.

Now there’s many reasons for this – mostly around money – but what it often ends up doing is destroying everything we’ve spent decades trying to build up.

It burns out staff.
It undermines the creativity of the agency.
It forces quick fix solutions rather than ideas that create sustainable change.
It creates a relationship based on money. rather than creativity.
It positions the agency more as a supplier than a partner.

Now don’t get me wrong, money is important, but when you let that be the only focus – it is the beginning of the end.

Before you know it, the money becomes the driving factor of all decisions and – because you have had to scale-up to manage the huge business you’ve just won – you end up looking for similar sized clients to ensure the whole agency is being utilised rather than chase the business that can elevate your creative reputation.

Oh agency heads will deny this.

They’ll say they still value creative, regardless of the size of client they work on.

And maybe I’m utterly wrong.

But as I wrote a while back, we had a [small scale version] of this situation when we had cynic … and while we were making more money than we had ever earned, it had made us more miserable than we’d ever been.

Thank god we noticed in time, because we were in danger of seeing more economic value in the processes we were creating for the client than the work and then that would be it.

People would leave.
Our reputation would be damaged.
We’d have to pay more to bring people in to deal with the situation.
The profit margin money we were making from the client would be impacted.
Soon we would be doing work we didn’t like without even the excuse of making tons of cash.
The client would call a pitch.
We would have to do it because we were so dependent on them financially.
They’d pick someone who would do things cheaper.
We’d crash and burn.
We would hate ourselves.

OK … OK … that is a particularly bleak possible version of events and I know there’s a lot of big agencies that have found a way to manage doing work for big clients while marrying it with maintaining their creative credentials [but not as many as they would like to admit] but I am surprised how few agencies say which part of a big job they want to do.

I get why, because there’s fear the client will write you off because they want a simple solution rather than a complex.

But if you’re really good at something, then you have the power to change that mindset from complexity to effectiveness.

Of course, to pull that off, you have to be exceptional.

A proven track record of being brilliant at something few others can pull off.

Which means I’m not talking about process or procedures … but work.

Actual, creativity.

In my entire career, there’s only been 3 agencies I’ve worked at – and one of those I started – who have told clients they only want a slice of the pie rather than the whole thing.

More than that, they also told the client how they believed the problem should be handled rather than simply agreeing to whatever the client wanted in a bid to ‘win favour’. Of course, the slice they focused on was not only their core area of brilliance, but also the most influential in terms of positioning the entirety of the brand – the strategic positioning and the voice of the brand – so what it led to was a situation where the benefits for the agency far exceeded just an increase in revenue.

They had the relationship with the c-suite.
They set the agenda everyone else had to follow.
They were paid for quality rather than volume.
They made work that enhanced their reputation rather than drag them down.
They were more immune from the procurement departments actions.

All in all, they ended up having a positive relationship rather than a destructive one.

Now, I am not denying that in all 3 cases, the relationship lasted less time than those who were willing to take everything on. In many cases, once the initial strategy and voice work was done, many companies felt we were no longer needed. Not all, but a few.

And while many will read this and say my suggestion to choose the part of the work you want rather than take it all on is flawed … my counter is not only did all 3 agencies enjoy a reputation, relationship and remuneration level that was in excess of all the other agencies they worked with – and often delivered in a fraction of the time – but they ended up in a position where they attracted new business rather than had to constantly chase it.

In all business, reputation is everything.

Don’t make yours simply about the blinkered pursuit of money.



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.



Nice Guys Don’t Always Finish Last, But They Always Suffer Pain …

I recently watched the Netflix documentary on Bobby Robson.

While I had followed his career as a manager – especially during Italia ’90 – I didn’t know many of his life’s details.

He had always come across as a kind, considerate man … maybe too kind and too considerate … but given his achievements in the game, it’s fair to say it worked for him.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary, there were two things that really hit me in it.

The first was the people who went on camera to speak about him.

I’m not talking about his lovely wife and son, but football elite like Sir Alex Ferguson, Mourinho, Shearer, Lineker and even Gazza.

All to a man, talked about his character … integrity … compassion and humility.

For that to happen means you had to be something special.

But it’s the second part that led to the title of this post.

You see Bobby Robson went on to manage Barcelona.

Apparently he had previously turned them down twice due to his loyalty to the teams he was managing before, but on the 3rd ask – he said yes, even though it meant he had to follow in the footsteps of the great Johan Cruyff.

To be honest, this added a huge additional amount of pressure on him and fans were initially very skeptical about his tactics and style of play. But he won them, because he showed he loved the club and the region, he desperately wanted them to win and he conducted himself with nothing but compassion and dignity.

And this all turned into some iconic achievements and actions …

He brought Ronaldo to the club and turned him into the most famous player of his generation.

He won the Copa del Rey, Supercopa de España and European Cup Winners’ Cup all in one season.

He offered to pay part of his salary to cover the cost of his assistant manager, Jose Mourinho as he wanted him there so much.

He turned down approaches from other clubs because he loved Barcelona and wanted to honour his contract.

And then, just as he was ready to use that season as a launchpad to achieve even more, he discovered the Barcelona chairman only ever planned for him to be manager for one season.

ONE.

Like a buffer manager between Johan leaving and the next dynasty of Barcelona.

Imagine discovering that.

That you’re only seen as a ‘stop gap’.

To make it worse, they weren’t going to get rid of Bobby, they were going to ‘move him upstairs’.

Oh I am sure they thought that was a sign of respect, but it was anything but … especially with how they did it.

You see the manager they brought in was Louis Van Gaal.

Without doubt, an excellent manager … but not only was it a smack in Bobby’s face, they made Bobby attend his unveiling.

Like attending your own funeral.

And while I accept Van Gaal wanted to assert his arrival to the press, the way he did it was both arrogant and disrespectful … especially given the manager he was taking over – a manger who neither failed or was fired – was sitting to his right.

While Bobby was too nice to say anything, his face said it all.

But here’s the thing, Barcelona – or at least the top management – couldn’t care a less.

They got what they wanted.

And by keeping Robson onboard, they had – in essence – bought his complicity.

Or so they thought.

I’ve experienced these kind-of situations in my time.

Albeit a very loose version of these situations.

Being hired because we thought the client valued what we did and how we did it.

Then discovering it was really about PR because their intention was to make us complicit. That they deemed all the experiences and viewpoints we could bring to them, as unnecessary. Because they just wanted to be seen to be doing something without actually doing anything.

And that reveal was horrific.

Initially written-off as ‘teething problems’ before realising it’s fundamental problems.

And while money can make you temporarily complicit, in the hope you can find a way to make it work, if someone is not transparent from the start, it means you can never get to a better place.

And that’s when you discover that regardless of how much money a client – or a job – is paying you, it’s never enough.

Not because you want to be disgustingly rich, but because you determine your value beyond money, but the work you do and the people you do it with and for.

Some out there will never understand that.

They evaluate success with the money they have. Or the groups they are a part of.

But some will.

The ones who remember that what you have isn’t as important as how you got there.

Anyone can win, but only the best want to win well.



Fifty Not Out …

I know what you’re thinking …

Or should I say, I know what you were hoping.

That hitting 50 and having 10 days off would make me re-evaluate what I’m doing?

That I’d start to value afternoon naps versus writing stupid blog posts.

Well, if I was smart, maybe that would be the case … but I’m not, so here I am.

To show my age has done nothing to extinguish my pain-in-the-ass spirit, I thought I’d post about a little project I have going on.

It kind of comes out of the Corporate Gaslighting work I’ve done and basically relates to what seems to be the skills, modern management values most.

Now there are plenty of very, very good leaders out there …

But, and this is only personal opinion, it seems there are far more bad.

Now I appreciate some will view what I’m doing and say the people I’m describing are not bad, they are simply ‘optimising’ their position. However, managers should achieve their success based on what they enable their people to achieve rather than trying to ensure the spotlight falls just on them … so because of that, I stand by my view.

What’s scary is these attitudes and behaviours are so common that someone thought – when I posted one on social media – that I was celebrating them rather than mocking them.

That scares the crap out of me.

But not as much as the idea employees are being trained – consciously and subconsciously – to do this to further their career.

But I would like your help …

What am I missing?

What are terrible management practices that are being sold as ‘sensible’.

For example, with the blame thrower at the top of this post, I added the following:

If you don’t own your mistakes, let someone else own it. #LessonsFromModernManagement

And for this …

… I added this ‘lesson’:

It’s more effective to manage up than manage your standards. #LessonsFromModernManagement

But what else is there?

I’ve got one regarding the benefits of doing whatever someone wants you to do as well as destroying others careers is it proves you were made for success … but as I really want to turn this into some sort of alternative management book type-of-thing, I need a ton of them.

I know they’re out there.

I know I can come up with a lot myself.

But if you have any suggestions, I would be so grateful.

It may help someone not become the sort of manager that appears on Corporate Gaslighting.

Or allow someone who is suffering from this sort of ‘leader’, to realise they’re not to blame.

So I hope you can help.

Over to you …



The Future Of Adland Is Warm, Fuzzy And Colourful …

And before you think I am taking the piss with that title – which I am, a little bit, especially as with Corona, few people are out on the streets and no one knows what is going to happen with the entire industry, though it’s not looking good – I noticed this more than the majority of ads, even though they have had millions of pounds spent on audience research, concept testing, UX development and communication planning.

That’s not to say that stuff doesn’t matter – it obviously – but when the objective is to ‘fit in’ rather than ‘stand out’, you end up with crafted beige rather than ideas that literally demand to be noticed and explored.

Of course, it’s better if the way you grab people’s attention is with stuff that emotionally intrigues them rather than just makes them snort in derission, but even that is still better than walking past and not even noticing it, let alone not giving a shit.

You can tell it’s going to be a positive week can’t you?

Well don’t be in too much despair as I have 3 bits of good news for you.

1. It’s my FIFTIETH birthday on Friday.

2. There won’t be any posts all of next week as I’m on holiday.

[Though there will be messages of love to Jill and Paul who both have birthdays that week]

3. I am on holiday because Paul and I thought we were going to have a joint 50th involving traveling to different countries, but with Corona, it means I’ll actually be spending it at home … with a cup of tea … watching loads of episodes of Come Dine With Me. Christ Almighty!!!

See … told you I could cheer you up, even if everything is on fire around us.