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


It’s Time …

When Mum died, I inherited the family home.

Despite having not lived there for 20 years, it was still very important place to me.

Not just because Mum left it to me.

Not because my Mum still lived there.

But because it’s where I lived for all of my life – until I moved to Australia – and so the memories in those 4 walls were full of everything important to me from my first 25 years of life.

I have to be honest, the first reaction I had was to hire a security guard and keep things exactly as they were because the thought of selling it was just not going to happen.

Slowly I came round to the idea that a security guard was a bit extreme so I started – slowly – thinking about renting it out.

The thing was, when we had estate agents come check it out, they highlighted that having not been renovated for over 40 years, it needed some major work.

This was really hard for me because by saying it needed renovating, I heard it as ‘the house is not good enough’ … which I then interpreted as ‘the house my Mum loved and lived in, wasn’t good enough for others’.

Of course that’s not what they meant, but my emotions – and need to protect my Mum’s legacy – were very high at that point..

And if that was challenging for me, it got even harder when it got to clearing the house.

We spent a couple of weeks going through photos and possessions so we could identify everything we wanted to give to charity.

While Mum didn’t have expensive things, there were some lovely items which is why the worst thing – almost as bad as losing my Mum – was when I saw the charity people come by with bins and throw everything into them … no care, no consideration, no nothing.

And when I heard them literally smash my Mum and Dad’s wardrobes to smithereens – the things that had held their cliothes for 40 years – I had to leave the house as it was all too much.

But out of this darkness came an idea … an idea that I felt would honour my Mum in terms of the life she lived and the values she believed in.

We found a fantastic set of builders and had the house refurbished from top to bottom.

Removed all the wallpaper.
Plastering all the walls.
New paint everywhere.
New Kitchen.
New Bathroom.
New flooring.
New carpets.
New front door.
Some structural change in the house.

At the end, it was basically a new house and yet with the warmth and love of the old, as exemplified by this note that I wrote in the garage …

But that was only part of paying homage to Mum…

The next step was to find a young family who would love to live there, but couldn’t afford it.

You see our plan was to subsidize the rent – and maintain the gardens my parents loved so much – so a young family would have a chance to raise their kids in the beautiful environment my family gave me.

Of course, when my family bought the house – back in 1970 – the area was very different to what it is today, but zoom forward 40 years and it’s seen as very desirable. Not because it’s posh, but because it’s safe, has a strong community and great schools for all.

To this day, I’m so grateful my Mum and Dad were able to find £100 more than the other buyer or who knows where I would have ended up.

Anyway, by pure chance, we found a family who were sort-of connected to someone Mum once worked with. That was perfect, as it felt even more connected to her.

But what was even better was the mother of this family was Italian, like my Mum.

For the past 4 years we have had this arrangement and everyone has been happy.

But now it is time for a bit of a change.

Not because I want to become a bastard landlord, but because I’m now living in the UK and things are different.

You see part of the reason I wanted to keep the house – apart from the obvious – was that it gave me roots here. It meant I was still connected to where I grew up. That I mattered.

It’s kind-of similar to why we bought a bench for Otis at his school in LA.

Having spent the last 24 years out of England, the house represented a connection to my heritage and that was important.

But now I’m back … and while I don’t know how long for, I see it in terms of long-term rather than short.

On the day before Mum died, she told me she was sorry she wasn’t going to be able to leave me much.

I told her not to think like that and reminded her the love she and Dad gave me made me rich beyond my dreams.

But on top of that, I reminded her she was generously going to leave me her house … a house in a wonderful area … so she could relax knowing she had given her son more than he could ever have imagined.

And that’s why I am ready to let the house go.

Not – as you may think – because I am ready to move forward.

The truth is, I will always miss her and want her in my life.

The reason is because I see a way to use the house to reinforce the role my parents had – and have – in my life.

You see the one thing my parents would have loved to do is help me have a home of my own.

While I have been incredibly fortunate to do this without their assistance, I know that their dream would have been to contribute to that.

Of course they did with the love and support they gave me in life, but to them, providing some cash to do it would have made them feel so happy.

So that’s what they are going to do.

While we are happy in London, the truth is my wife and son need to be surrounded by nature.

Nothing reinforced this than our trip to the farm recently.

So we want to find a home a bit outside of London.

A home Otis can truly settle in.

A home that is our home.

Of course we don’t want to unsettle the tenants and will do all I can to help them – as well as give them as much time as they need to work out what’s next – but selling the house allows us to use that money to help my parents fulfill their dream.

We are incredibly fortunate to be in this position.

We are incredibly grateful to be in this position.

But the idea to have a place that is – for want of a better phrase – our forever home, is hugely enticing.

It will let us put down roots.

Connect to the community in ways we have never done previously.

Build rather than live.

This might sound dramatic and I am not saying we have had it tough in any of the other places we’ve lived or houses we’ve had … but we have also never been in a place where we saw ourselves for the long-term.

Because of that, we have always been looking to what’s next rather than maybe enjoying the moment as much as we could or should.

Of course this isn’t going to happen overnight, but to come to this point of decision represents a landmark for my family and for my grief which is why I am so happy to be home and so happy to look forwards with more security, regardless what the future may bring.

Given my birthday is tomorrow, that’s possibly the best present anyone could have.

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Post Office Windows …

When I was a kid, I would love to look at the post office notice board.

Every week it would be filled with different items for sale – from bikes to beds – with maybe the odd babysitter or gardener ad thrown in-between.

Decades later – literally – I pass the local post office in Fulham and now have Roxy and her massage centre stage.

I’m not judging, I just find it interesting … though I have to admit, I don’t find it nearly as interesting as the massage ad that appears bottom left.

Therapeutic or not … a ‘pay as much as you want’, female only massage, feels dodgier than a night out with Billy in the Bronx … and that’s VERY dodgy.



Speed Is Status …

Just before Christmas, an engineer put out a Youtube video of his brilliant payback on people who stole Amazon packages from his doorstep.

It’s funny, evil-genius and a celebration of the creativity in engineering.

Anyway, I woke up about 7 hours after he had put it out and said how this was now a creative goal for me at R/GA.

Unsurprisingly I got a lot of positive comments on the film, but there were more than a few that talked about how they loved it when they had seen it earlier.

While it might seen an innocuous comment, saying ‘they’d seen it earlier’ feels like an attempt to suggest they are ‘better’ than me … more in tune than me … more connected than me.

Now the reality is they probably are better than me on all those things, but given the video came out only a few hours after I woke up, it’s not like I am years out-the-loop, despite what this blog may suggest.

I find it interesting because whereas once status was measured in terms of how much money someone had … now it seems to be about how fast we know or have seen things. It’s probably always been that way given I remember how we used to talk about bands in terms of how long we had liked them before they had got popular, but watching people try to elevate their status [in a way that lowers someone else’s] based on seeing a Youtube video 2 hours before someone else feels like social currency is now more valuable to people than actual currency.

Mind you, given the impending disaster that is BREXIT, that is probably the only way we will be able to pay for our groceries soon.



Groundhog Day …

Happy 2019!

I hope you had a fantastic time with loved ones.

I also hope 2019 is a very special year for you all, for all the right reasons.

While I’ve been back at work for 3 days already – which were spent in bloody Miami – I have to say I had a wonderful time, even if I didn’t get as many gadgets as I hoped I would.

That said, I’m not making any plans for the year ahead.

I’ve seen too many best intentions get ruined before the end of the first week of a new year to fall into that trap.

But it’s fair to say I do have some hopes for 2019.

Some are professional, but most are mainly personal.

More than that, they’re personal because it involves people I love rather than for myself.

I know … I know … who the hell am I?

The reality is I’m doing OK.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still have a huge drive to go further, but right now, my hopes are for others for the year ahead.

Of course the main people I’m focused on is Jill and Otis.

In September Otis will start ‘proper school’ and we just hope he gets into one that follows the values his Mum and I believe in. We never realized finding a school for him would be so hard … but when you don’t want to go private, don’t want religious associations and don’t want the focus to be so academic his creativity is impacted, I guess it was never going to be easy.

So we have our fingers crossed and will deal with whatever happens.

Which is why I am also focused on Jill.

As much as Otis has impacted my life in so many wonderful ways, it’s Jill who will experience the biggest change once he goes to school.

It’s Jill who has stayed with him throughout his formative years.

It’s Jill who has spent the days with him every week, playing and educating and just generally looking after him.

Their bond is a beautiful thing to witness and I know she feels being a mother has been the most fulfilling thing she has done in her life.

So now what does she do when she leads him to the next stage of his life?

Of course there will still be loads they do together, but I want to give her the backing to find something that fulfills her, whatever that may be.

I know it won’t be the same as helping raise our bundle of energetic joy 24/7, but I am excited to see what she will do.

She is extremely talented, creative and compassionate – and while I know she doesn’t want to start her amazing cake company again – we have discussed some things that she is excited by and I’ll be backing her all the way for whatever she chooses.

I say this because I recently saw the photo at the top of this post.

It’s a photo of Queen drummer, Roger Taylor, looking at the Freddie Mercury statue he has at the bottom of his garden.

The statue that was on top of the London theatre when their musical, We Will Rock You, was performing.

I have to say, I found the photo very poignant.

Apart from the fact it’s wonderful he wanted to keep the statue of his old friend – I can’t imagine what it must be like to see it every day.

Does he look at it and think about all the amazing things they did together?

Does he look at it and mourn the loss of someone he loved like a brother?

Does he look at it and feel the sadness of memories he will never experience again?

Growing old has many benefits – including not giving a damn what others think of you – but it can also act as a bitter pill when the things around you … the things you brought into this world … start taking on a life of their own.

At these points you can either sit back and focus on the change or lean in and explore the possibilities.

For the past 30 years of my professional life, I’ve been fortunate to always embrace leaning in to the possibilities – possibilities that has seen me live around the World and meet an endless stream of wonderful, creative individuals.

While I have no intention of stopping that approach to living, I do want to make sure that in 2019, Jill gets the drivers seat because apart from her generosity in letting me do so much of the steering, the reality is she was the one who helped us navigate to where we currently are so I know by handing over the driving to her, she will go to somewhere wonderful and fulfilling and no one I know deserves it more.

She’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.

So happy 2019 to all … I’m excited to see where we all end up in the next 12 months, even if my blog posts will continue to bring the excitement of possibility down to a slow, painful crawl.



Why Facebook Are Acting More Like A Dictator Than A Friend …

Recently my wife found the following picture on her Facebook stream …

Because she’s hardass, she wanted to know what the hell the picture could be, so she clicked on it to discover it was this …

That’s right, a woman breastfeeding.

A woman giving life to a new life.

Literally one of the most wonderful things a mother can do for her child.

And Facebook thought it was potentially offensive.

I’ll tell you what I find offensive Facebook … you allowing a company to steal our data and then act slowly to stop it. Or how about allowing fake accounts to try and influence public opinion. Or then there’s letting groups who openly promote hate use your site to ‘rally members’.

I tell you what I don’t find offensive.

A picture of a woman feeding her child.

For all the talk you give about wanting to help society connect to each other and encourage a better life, I have to say you absolutely suck at it.

This was a chance for you to show what you stand for.

Take a stand for what is absolutely, unquestionably right.

But instead you bottled it – fearful of offending people who make a career out of being offended.

How you can be OK with issues of privacy but not about feeding a child is beyond me … which is why you might need to get out of your Silicon Valley bubble because your values are more in tune with Wall Street than the average High Street.



6 More Steps To Content Creation, Not Garbage Collection …

So following on from yesterday’s post about how to create content that people actually want to watch rather than run away from, here are the remaining 6 lessons.Remember, they’re not from me, but from a friend of a friend who started a YouTube channel [Kyra.TV] last year that has turned them into one of the most interesting and fastest-growing content creators in London.

Be grateful for that, because this is my version of good content.

Here.

Here.

And Here.

Exactly. Now settle down for the remaining 6 points.

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LESSON SEVEN: This audience loves ‘YouTubers’

When we first started making content for Youtube, I confess we used to turn our noses up at the “YouTubers”.

We learnt that made us idiots.

We couldn’t understand why young people loved them so much and just put it down to one of the mysteries of the internet.

Your Jake Pauls

Your PewdiPies

Your David Dobriks

Your Zoellas

We had watched some of their content, we thought we understood it and we made our minds up. We assumed their audiences came from getting to the platform first and I can’t tell you how wrong we were and how much respect I have for them and their teams now.

What we’ve come to understand over the past year is that some of these creators are nothing shy of complete genius. They are media powerhouses with intricate and refined strategies that are driving levels of engagement never seen before in our industry.

Take Logan Paul.

Say you what you want about the controversy, let’s look at the facts.

In December he generated 320 million video views.

He creates a 15 minute TV Show every single day.

Even his dog has 3.4m Instagram followers and generates 500,000 likes per post …

Let’s take another example.

KSI gained more subscribers than Complex, Vice, Buzzfeed and Vox COMBINED in the last 30 days.

These are some of the most innovative people in the media industry and unlike the past, they’re beginning to realise it as well and are now beginning to seriously monetise it. Every media house in the world right now should be paying attention to them, watching and learning from them every single day.

I know we are.

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LESSON EIGHT: This audience listens to and values people over brands

Leading on from that point …

Since the dawn of media, individuals and influencers have always been at the forefront of entertainment.

Think David Beckham, the Spice Girls, Gordon Ramsay …

Beforehand these figures needed media owners to reach their audiences but today that is definitely not the case.

The Kardashians … the Paul brothers… these are people and media giants rolled into one.

Just two months ago Will Smith started vlogging and has already amassed a huge audience of close to 1 million subscribers on his channel.

I’ve learnt that this generation expects to connect with influencers directly, and if you can facilitate that connection, you will win.

A lot of our business strategy at Kyra is centred around putting people at the forefront of our content proposition.

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LESSON NINE: Your audience is a manifestation of the content you produce

This one is glaringly obvious, but I find it pretty interesting.

If the content you publish is negative, you will breed an audience fuelled by negativity. Haters in the comments. Low sentiment ratios.

If your content is positive, uplifting, inspirational, aspirational, you’re likely to receive the same response from the audience.

If your audience is intelligent and thoughtful, you will see intelligent, thoughtful people gravitating towards it.

And so on, and so on…

It sounds obvious, but for me it was somewhat of a revelation.

In a world where so much is reliant on the kind of audience you attract, this has been a key factor to our success with advertisers and has a huge impact on the kind of content we produce every day.

The proof is out there, go and have a look at video publishers and their comments, I think you’ll agree that their audiences are a direct mirror of what they put out into the world.

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LESSON TEN: Long term value comes from consistent and regular programming

When we first started, we were constantly hunting for a viral hit … the mythical unicorn of the internet that everyone strives for.

But after creating and publishing hundreds of pieces of content consistently for a year, the question I am still asking myself is “does it really build long term value?”

I’m unconvinced.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that what will ultimately win, is creating quality content CONSISTENTLY and incrementally building a passionate army of fans that are unwavering in their loyalty and affinity to your brand, channel or content.

I’d take 200 videos with positive, steady growth over one big Gangnam Style hit any day.

What I’ve basically learnt is: viral hits do not build community and that is essentially all that matters.

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LESSON ELEVEN: This audience has REAL spending power

So many Brand Managers ask me ‘but how much money do these young people really have?’

For PAQ, we set up a Pop Up shop in London and put out some posts online the day before inviting them to come down and check out the shop.

Now to put this in perspective… I had no fucking idea what was going to happen. Up until this point, everything … the followers, the comments, the engagements were just pixels on a screen, ones and zeros.

So I was 100% ready to turn up the next day and find a ghost town.

Well at 7am we had 100 people already queuing outside the shop.

At 9am when we opened it was up to around 500, lines of people queuing around the corner to meet the people they watch every week on our show.

People flew in from Germany, Sweden and even Malaysia just to come to the shop.

My learnings from this were so valuable:

This audience has access to money and they are very much REAL.

I learnt that digital audiences can transcend into real world purchases very easily.

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LESSON TWELVE: Length doesn’t matter to the audience, it matters to the advertiser

I remember when we started producing content, speaking to dozens of people to try and understand what length our videos should be.

So many people told me so many different things.

But here is what I’ve worked out myself over the past 6 months:

It doesn’t matter if your video is 30 seconds, 5 minutes or half an hour.

If the content is good, the audience will watch it.

We have the same view through rates across our content, no matter what the length.

However, the length of the content is very, very important when it comes to making effective branded or sponsored content.

The bottom line is this: The longer you can engage an audience, the more right you have to show them an advertiser’s message.

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Again, there may be stuff in here you knew and stuff you disagree with … but I personally found all this stuff interesting.

The key – as is the case for all successful communication – is know your audience.

Not in terms of just what they do, or where they do it … but why.

That little thing that seems to have fallen out of vogue and yet in the right hands, can still make the difference between good and great.

Of course, the ‘why’ – or the other name for it, insight – isn’t good enough on its own.

For it to really unleash its power you need creative people who are given the time and space to explore, experiment and just be creative … and yet it appears to me that the approach favored by most people in addend – and their clients – is to only make content they want their audience to like rather than what their audience actually wants to watch.

As I wrote ages ago, engagement is not about relevance, but resonance.

Of course, it always used to be that way.

It’s why kids loved Beavis and Butthead but adults hated it … to name one out of a thousand possible examples.

But somewhere along the line, the networks started to focus on scale – meaning they made shows designed to appeal to as many people as possible. Hence we got juggernauts like Friends – shows that were kind-of relevant to everyone without being specific to someone.

This was fine until the internet came.

Then choice was handed back to us.

No longer did we have to put up with the general interest, mainstream TV … suddenly we could choose the things that reflected us.

Our individual tastes, interests, viewpoints.

The content creators who are making things that are changing things get this.

They know their audience and they double down on it.

The content creators who are making rubbish like that Nescafe ‘thing’ that caused this whole stream of posts, don’t.

If adland and clients really want to have a position in culture, then the thing they need to get back to doing is knowing their audience … not in terms of a demographic or even a psychographic … but really know who they are, what they do, what they hate etc etc, because while ‘appealing to everyone’ may sound good to the board of directors, it doesn’t really work then that means you mean nothing to no one.



How To ‘Content Create’ Without It Being The Stuff Should Be ‘Dustbin Content’ …

A few months ago I wrote a post about the shit that passes for ‘branded content’ these days.

Well after reading it, my friend King Adz [global street art/fashion expert, author, film director] sent me something a friend of his had written about how to make good content.

His friend has a right to do this because he started a YouTube channel last year that has turned him into one of the most interesting and fastest-growing content creators in London.

They’ve done a streetwear show [PAQ] and a food show [Bad Canteen] all aimed and consumed by the youth and from these experiences, he has identified twelve pointers for creating credible and infectious youth content.

To make sure this post isn’t the longest post in the history of this blog, I’m, going to split it into 6 today and 6 tomorrow.

I know, I’m so kind.

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LESSON ONE: Be Transparent

The first thing we learnt when we tried to make money and integrate brands into our content was this audience doesn’t mind being advertised to. They are smart and they enjoy consuming content. They understand that the content doesn’t make itself and it isn’t cheap aden they understand the pay-off.

Because of this, don’t try and fool them. You will get called out.

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LESSON TWO: YouTube is a direct substitute for TV

In the same way I would come home when I was younger and switch on the TV and binge on Nickelodeon or MTV until I got called for dinner, this generation is doing exactly the same thing.

They finish school, college, work … they come home they open their smartphone or laptop and sit in front of it until they are either told to turn it off by their parents or it’s time for bed.

The behaviour is identical.

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LESSON THREE: But the content isn’t the same as TV

Yes, consumers’ behaviour may be the same as TV behaviours, but the content that they’re consuming is completely different.

Content on YouTube doesn’t need to look like TV content to be successful.

In fact, one thing we’ve learnt is that in some cases it’s quite the opposite. Some of the most successful channels are self shot.
Self shot, hand held and more vloggy style content has a feeling of intimacy and authenticity that TV never offered its viewers.

That’s not to say that high production can’t work, we just learnt not to overlook the intimacy that this generation desires from content.

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LESSON FOUR: This audience wants to be entertained

Dude Perfect, The Slo Mo Guys, Lele Pons…

What’s their commonality?

They are all centred around humour and entertainment.

Exactly like TV.

We have to realise, 90% of people are watching it to kill some time, wind down a bit and escape their day-to-day life.

If we are being honest with ourselves, YouTube audiences respond best to lighthearted entertainment. Making meaningful, purpose-led content is great but there’s nothing to be ashamed about in creating content that simply entertains.

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LESSON FIVE: This audience left Facebook ages ago

Look I don’t have anything concrete in terms of statistics to back this up.

And honestly it’s just my experience.

I work with hundreds of young people every single week and I can categorically tell you that I have not spoken to one in the past year that actually uses Facebook.

NOT ONE.

There’s lots of industry speculation right now around this subject and the potential decline. I just want to say from my real world experience, that for this audience Facebook is long gone.

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LESSON SIX: Instagram is LIFE

In the same vein as the last point, this is also my personal experience.

But Instagram is by far the most powerful social media network the world has ever seen.

Speaking to these young people, it is jaw dropping how much weight is put on Instagram by this generation.

The Instagram profile [hard posts] is the definition of a person’s identity.

Instagram stories are an ephemeral window into a person’s life, in a slightly less controlled, more organic way.

Followers and likes are a direct measure of how relevant, popular and important somebody is. And look, I’m not here to pass judgement on if this is good or bad, but I will say to everyone reading this: take note, Instagram is a really, really big deal and it’s so much deeper than just posting photos.

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So there’s the first six …

Some you may know, some you may question but some may give you food for thought.

Remember this is specifically around youth orientated content, but for all the expertise out there, it’s funny how the most popular social content has not come from anyone in our industry.

Maybe this 2011 video from PHD can shed some light on that …