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


Down The Rabbit Holes …

So we’ve recently had some interns join the Deutsch planning mob.

They’re smart, passionate and enthusiastic as hell.

Far smarter than I was at their age. Arguably, smarter than I am now.

So I met up with them to see how they were going and they told me how they were getting to grips with things because initially, it was so overwhelming that they found themselves going down a lot of rabbit holes.

I get it, it was super daunting to me when I started too but the one thing that concerned me was their belief that rabbit holes were a negative.

As I pointed out to them, if they don’t go down rabbit holes, then they’re no use to me.

Rabbit holes are an essential part of the planning process.

Not just in terms of exploring possibilities to tackle the problem you have been given … nor to pressure test the strategy you have identified … but to also reveal if there is are more interesting ways to tackle the problem than you may have originally considered or identified.

Rabbit holes are as much about opening possibilities as they are closing them which is why if you don’t embrace them, all you’re doing is screwing yourself – and the client – over.

Sure, focusing on what you think the client will buy may get you quicker approvals and client compliments, but allowing your brain the space and time to wander can help you get to somewhere new … somewhere exciting … somewhere that allows creativity to take you to places no one saw coming … places that will attract rather than chase … and even if you don’t end up somewhere more interesting than where you started, at least you can be sure the strategy you’re recommending has been pushed and prodded, which is why I passionately believe rabbit holes aren’t a waste of time, but a key deliverable of what we do and have to do.

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Illusion Cocks …

So recently I was in Berlin and had one of the most underwhelming dinners of my life at Soho House.

For those of you who don’t know Soho House, they describe themselves as a ‘private members’ club for people in the creative industries’.

Maybe that’s true, but having gone to the bathroom and seen their urinals, I think Soho House Berlin is actually a private members club for men who like to think they’re big swinging dicks so will happily pay their $2000 annual membership fee just so they can keep using their toilets that have been designed to reaffirm their delusions.

Or something.

Regardless, it’s evil genius – because to paraphrase Bernie Madoff, when you offer people something they want, they never want to look too hard into it because they don’t want their fantasy to be shown for its reality.



The NHS Put The Great In Great Britain …

The NHS is 70 years old this year.

While that is a remarkable age, it blows my mind there was a time when it didn’t exist.

The story of its foundation is a remarkable one … one filled with foresight, fight and a governments desire to raise the standards, dreams and potential of an entire nation.

Whether we will ever see something of such audacious good from a government anywhere in the World is debatable.

Obamacare may have come close, but thanks to America’s blinkered fear of socialism [despite having one FBI for example], it means its potential has been destroyed by that criminal, also known as The President of the United States of America.

And all the Republican sheep.

But back to the NHS.

Despite having not lived in England for 24+ years, it’s been a quiet partner throughout my life.

Helping me deal with some of the best and worst times of my life.

And even though there was a time I grew to despise walking along the corridors of the QMC hospital in Nottingham, I was always grateful for it … because it ensured the people I loved weren’t allowed to fall through the cracks at their greatest hour of need.

The NHS has saved my parents life, saved my sight, looked after my dear Paul when he’s undertaken acts of complete stupidity, taken care of my son when he came down with an illness [despite not yet having a British passport] and ensured my parents were given dignity in their final days … it is the single most important and valuable institution the UK has.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have lived all around the World and while there have been a number of occasions where I have needed the urgent and serious attention of Nurses and Doctors, I’ve paid heavily for that service.

Of course I’m grateful for all they did for me – they were excellent – but I was also in a privileged position where I could afford to pay for it which is why the NHS is so important because the reality is, everyone deserves the right to being looked after, not just those with a healthy bank balance.

Countless UK governments have tried to undermine or strip away the NHS … seemingly ignorant to the fact it’s one of the few things that is the envy of the World and should be treasured, not pillaged.

So to everyone who has ever worked for or fought for the NHS, thank you.

You deserve so much more than just a nations gratitude.



That Friday Feeling That Lasts A Whole Week …

So next week, I’ll be in Hong Kong.

For the whole week.

Yes, that means absolutely no posts whatsoever for the next week.

But to make sure you don’t get too happy, I’m going to leave you with one final post.

This is about the importance of mistakes.

Now I appreciate the word ‘mistake’ is often viewed as a negative, but I have a very different perspective on them.

Mistakes create standards.

Mistakes open opportunities.

Mistakes reveal who we can be.

OK, so depending on the mistake, some people may feel very differently about the positive effects of them, but in my experience big, small, life-changing or just momentarily ridiculous … they all have a benefit as long as you go into them and come out of them with the right attitude.

In short, if you’re making mistakes for any other reason than trying to do something great, you’re wasting everyones time and effort.

Making mistakes out of laziness or stupidity doesn’t help anybody, especially yourself. But doing it because you went for awesome … had a desire to push boundaries … wanted to see what other possibilities are possible … then each one of those mistakes should be celebrated and embraced by all.

Unless, of course, you’re just doing things for personal and selfish reasons then you’re a bit of a dick.

But that aside, this attitude is especially important in relation to being able to come out of your mistake with dignity and sanity intact.

Dignity and sanity are big words.

You can’t bullshit those.

For me, the only way you can walk out with either is if you went go your mistake with a clear reason for doing it and come out with a real learning from having done it.

That’s it.

And while others may never understand your reasoning, if you are clear on your motivations going in and your learnings coming out, then what others may call a ‘mistake’ may be one of the most important and valuable things you can ever do … something that has the power and potential to change, shape, reveal and create every new path you take from here on in.

Dan Wieden used to call this ‘fail harder’, he was right because whatever anyone says, mistakes matter.

See you in a week …



Progress Is Never Easy, But It’s Worth It …

Many years ago, I spoke at a conference in Australia called, Circus.

At the end of my presentation, I made a point that the things I’d talked about weren’t new and weren’t even from Wieden+Kennedy, but views I had held for many years.

I did this because when people from Wieden speak at conferences, audiences tend to think anything said is gold and I wanted to ensure they knew the presentation had come from my mind, not Dan and Dave’s.

I didn’t do this – as you may think – because I’m an egomaniac [OK, I am an egomaniac, but on this occasion, this wasn’t the motivation] but because my presentation had gone down a storm and I wanted to highlight that 7 years earlier, despite saying pretty much the exact same things that got me a job at Wieden – and had got a rousing applause – no agency in Australia would hire me.

Not one.

I was regarded as idealistic.

Or daft.

But whatever it was, no one was hiring me and in the end, I left Australia.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying Australia is bad – far from it, there’s a whole host of amazingly talented people there – but at the time I was looking for a job, they seemed to only want people who followed their rules not someone who wanted to challenge them.

At the end of my speech, I said to the audience that if there was anyone out there who had thoughts/ideas that had been knocked or mocked, to either find someone who will listen to them or try it on their own.

Now I know not every idea is a good idea … but I get very frustrated when something that someone has obviously put a huge amount of objective thought into, is immediately met with distain, for no other reason than people don’t actually like new as much as they claim.

Especially in adland.

The reason I say this is that I recently came across a clip I wrote about years ago.

It’s about a scientist who – after 30 years – was finally proved right.

Of course science and advertising is about as different as Birkenstocks and fashion, but the point is he persisted because he believed. Not because he was a fool. Not because he was blind to the facts. But because he saw something others didn’t and just kept looking to find ways to prove his theory.

Fortunately, he was backed in his belief by an amazing University, but you can tell by the look on his wife’s face when she realises her husbands 30 years of work was not in vain, that proving this was more important than just having people support your theory.

Watch it and remember we’re all just winging it until we’re not.



The Value Of Being Lateral, Rather Than Literal …

Yes I’m back.

If anything will help you be excited about the oncoming weekend, it will be that.

So the picture above is from a presentation I give to planners.

The reason for it is because I find it fascinating when ad folk try to be like their client.

Exactly like their client.

The way they speak. The way they dress. The way they think.

Of course, I understand the importance of knowing your client, their business and their challenges, but the problem with mirroring your client is that you end up looking at the World in the same way as them … and as much as some people may think that’s a good thing, it’s not.

You see when you focus on being like an insider, you ignore the benefits of thinking like an [informed] outsider. You know, the perspective the client actually hired you for in the first place.

As one of my old senior Nike clients once said to me …

“Senior management need and want to be challenged because that’s how we keep things moving forward. If you’re not doing that, then you’re not doing anything for us”.

Now I appreciate not every client thinks this way, but this shift to client mirroring is – in my opinion – another thing that has undermined our industry.

I swear the reason for it is an attempt to be taken seriously as a client partner when the easiest way to achieve that is to do work that shows we are a serious client partner.

Do the people who say, “we’ve lost our seat at the boardroom table” seriously think this approach will change that?

Maybe … but then they will be wrong because there’s only 3 things that will do that.

1. Talk about the things that are important to the client rather than important to us.

2. Know their audience/culture better than they know their audience/culture.

3. Solve their business challenges in creatively imaginative, distinctive, culturally resonant and sustainable ways.

Oh, and there’s a 4th point … prove it.

Not just in the short-term, but in the long … where client can see the economic value of investing in their brand voice. Not just through ‘brand campaigns’, but in how they approach everything they do.

Now I know some of you may think this whole post is my attempt to justify wearing shit t-shirts and birkenstocks to client meetings for the last 25+ years – and maybe it is – but if we are to get back to where we belong, I passionately believe it’s not going to happen by behaving more like clients, but by getting back to the things they need and no one else can do.



Rob Channels Jerry Maguire …

So a while back, someone asked me what I thought made a ‘good planner’.

To be honest, all I really remember is that they caught me on a bad day and so I kind of went on an all-out rant.

By pure chance I recently came across my reply and while I definitely sound a bit of a mentalist – not to mention I miss out talking about a whole bunch of stuff I believe is super-important, like empathy – there was a lot in there that I felt had some value, if only to open a debate about what our discipline is supposed to do and what it can be.

So with that in mind, here I rant …

__________________________________________________________________________

Planning is one of the most overused terms in the industry these days.

Everyone is now a planner … except in truth, many are either ‘packagers’ – taking the clients info and packing it into easily digestible chunks – or media people who tell you where to put your work based entirely on numbers rather than any true audience understanding.

Now I am not saying those folks aren’t important, of course they are, but for me planning is about ignition to bigger opportunities and possibilities.

For me, a planner understands 3 fundamental things:

+ What the real business problem is.
+ Who the core audience is.
+ What the creative opportunity is.

Those 3 things form the foundation of making things … things that don’t just solve the problem, but help the client have a sustainable position in culture that ultimately makes their marketing work harder for them.

Great planners care about creativity rather than advertising.

Care more about authenticity of a brand rather than marketing of a brand.

Want to uncover why people do stuff rather than just what they do.

It’s not about convenient answers, but ones that really understand the madness of how we all think and do and what we value and believe.

Of course when you’re spending billions of someone else’s money, the temptation to choose convenient, mass-acceptance answers is high and while that can get you results, breakthrough only comes when you resonate with culture rather than just try to be relevant to it.

The un-said.
The hard to explain.
The not easy to hear but it’s true.

It’s for this reason I always tell clients they shouldn’t focus purely on the methodology being used to uncover this stuff … but the person leading it, the people they’re talking to and the questions they are asking.

There’s a reason why a brand like NIKE is still at the top of its game after so long.

Sure, they have ups and downs along the way, but to still have that energy and pull 54 years after they were founded is remarkable.

Of course the biggest part of this is they make great products, have a focus on innovation, have incredible distribution and enjoy the benefits of their market power. But arguably, other companies can lay claim to doing this which is why I believe their ‘secret sauce’ is their commitment to the culture they believe in and are a part of. The culture of the athlete.

Everything they do goes through this lens.

Everything.

And that’s why their marketing doesn’t follow the usual strategic approaches of looking for ‘white space’ or ‘getting to as broad an audience as possible’, but to have a deep connection to the lives and minds of the athlete so they can bring the lessons to life in the most inspirational, yet deeply authentic way possible.

This approach dictates everything, including how they choose and use their agency partners.

From a planning perspective, I know I placed far more value on someone who has a deep love of sport and creativity than anyone who could talk process or methodologies because for me – and NIKE and Wieden and every other agency on their roster – their job was to inspire great creatives to do something audacious for a client who fundamentally believes in the power of their brand voice and sport.

All this highlights 3 things.

1. Great planning comes from truly understanding the core audience.

2. Great work comes from knowing how to be useful to the creative team.

3. Great brands differentiate themselves by their authenticity and distinctiveness.

I’ve written a lot about differentiation.

While the goal should always be to ensure your clients stands out from their competitors, if the approach is to ‘own’ a position that hasn’t been taken, then ultimately you’re letting your competitors dictate your future rather than deciding it for yourself.

For me, great brands embrace their truth in fresh and exciting ways.

They attract culture rather than chase it because they are the culture, not observers of it.

It means they are always moving forward rather than remaining stagnant.

It means they’re always relevant rather than fighting for it.

Planners play an important part in this.

But only if they remember the work is the key, not the ego.