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


Something We Should All Remember …

I saw this quote by David Thoreau recently …

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

I have to say I love it because in some ways, it’s the best definition of creativity – and, to a certain extent, strategy – I’ve seen in ages.

Of course our job is to help clients achieve their goals.

Help them succeed in ways that are better than they imagined.

But too much of what we are doing is solving problems laterally rather than literally.

Or worse, simply executing what the client wants.

For me, the best creativity makes people think, feel, question … and to do that, you need people who see the World differently so that they can see what everyone else is just looking at.

Revealing possibility rather than reproducing what everyone already knows.

And doesn’t care about.



Creativity Is About Lateral Leaps, Not Literal Execution …

So while going through my photos, I found this screen grab from Dave Trott …

To be honest, I wrote about this a couple of years ago but if it was relevant then, it seems even more relevant now.

There is more and more work that just seems to be a literal execution of the client brief.

Not even the agency brief … but the clients.

Literal.

Contrived.

Feature focused.

I can’t help but feel their strategy is to bore people into submission, and while it may be argued this approach is working – probably because all the competition are following the same thing – the reality is the value of the brand gets diluted and so the long term success of the brand ends up being based on factors like price or distribution.

Of course, price and distribution always have and always will play a critical role in a brands success, but the inherent value of it is elevated hugely when you are in a position that people actively want it and seek it out. Yet, as I wrote a while back, it appears many brand managers are only focused on sales today without any consideration for the sustainable value of the brand tomorrow and if you are constantly harvesting your good will, eventually it will run out.

The big issue is so many marketers still think people are waiting for them to advertise.

That they are sat on the edge of their seat waiting to hear from them and buy from them.

That they have nothing better to do and all that they do do, is based on rational logic.

This approach says far more about the people behind the brands than the people they hope will buy from them and while I appreciate creativity requires a leap of faith – something some marketing folk weirdly feel is an act of corporate irresponsibility – the fact is society respond to [authentic] emotion far more than rational argument, at least in terms of communication, and so if they want their brand to move forward, the only thing that can counter spend, heritage and distribution is to embrace creativity and to do that properly, it means being Lateral, not literal.



New Year. New Hopes. Old Realities …

Welcome back.

How was it?

Full of festive cheer or headaches and disappointment.

Bet you’d swap it all again for today wouldn’t you.

Even when you like your job, coming back to work after the holidays is hard.

Getting up early.

Transport hell.

Going through the same conversations with everyone at work.

Thinking about what you were doing at that time just a few days before.

Why do we do it to ourselves? Oh I know … to pay the bills.

Well fortunately not only did I have a lovely time in Australia, I ended 2019 winning the inaugural R/GA London Planner Pie-Off competition with my [surprisingly] delicious Great British Bake Off Fry-Up Pie, so you’ll understand why I have high hopes for this year – with one of the biggest hopes being we might actually move into our new home after 6+ months of legal nightmares. We shall see.

But as we are back at work and no one wants to be here, I thought I’d start by writing a post that captures a sense of optimism for the new year.

It’s 2020.

TWENTY TWENTY!!!

That means we are post Blade Runner times … which has to be cool, doesn’t it?

No.

Don’t blame you … just typing that is enough to give me heart palpitations and it’s only Monday. So to calm us down and to get back to an issue I’m passionate about – especially in these client optimization obsessed times – here is why brand building is not a luxury, but a critical investment in building a sustainable future, especially in these highly competitive, increasingly turbulent times.

Or to quote a Chinese proverb, “a successful farmer plants their seeds and nurtures them in the knowledge that when it comes time to harvest, their crop is bigger and healthier. It takes time, but it is always worth it.”

Said another way … if you’re always trying to harvest, there won’t be anything left to grow.

Given the amount of brands who are openly admitting their focus on short-term sales has hurt their long term business, there may be hope for us all to get back to making work that builds rather than just takes.

See, 2020 isn’t so bad so far after all …



That Was The Year That Was …

So this is it, the last post of 2019.

Congratulations, you made it.

Yes, I know it’s early given there is still a couple of weeks to go in the year – including the inaugural R/GA London Planner Pie-Off – but despite what you may all think, I’ve had a big year and quite frankly, I need a rest from here as much as you do.

When I look at 2019, it’s been pretty good.

Of course there have been a few sad events – my dear Aunt Silvana dying and Justin’s wonderful wife, Ella – but overall, things have been positive.

Even the Beijing Hotel incident was amusing.

But most of all, the fact my family are good, healthy and happy makes it a good year, especially when you think of all the changes that have happened in our lives.

For Otis in particular, he has embraced all of it like a champion and watching him have his first day at ‘proper school’ made me feel incredibly emotional and very, very proud.

Quite frankly, the fact we have managed to stay in the same country for over 12 months is something we feel like celebrating – but not as much as my bank managers is doing – and we’re super excited that we have bought our first family home, even if we’ve not yet moved into it and it meant saying goodbye to the home I spent the first 25 years of my life in.

In fact ‘settling in’ has been a great plus of 2019.

We have a house, cars, some friends and finally feel part of a community … I’ve got to be honest, it’s a lovely feeling … and while I know there will be other changes in our life at some point in the future, this is a time I’m eternally grateful for.

There’s other stuff I’m grateful for too …

Without doubt, doing the Warc talk at Cannes with Martin was a wonderful highlight.

We were quite nervous about it but it seemed to have gone down well and I will always remember it and for that, we owe a debt to the wonderful Mercedes – Martin’s fiancé – who told us to get on with doing our school because she was sick to death of hearing us talk about doing more things together.

Love you Mercedes! And Martin. But more Mercedes.

Another thing – which is a bit weird, but seems to have helped some people – is when I wrote my post about being bullied at work. The response was phenomenal which led to Corporate Gaslighting. And while the amount of stories people are sending in – or agreeing to have published – on there has reduced, I know it has helped some people and I am happy I did it and will continue to do it.

Then there’s the fact I’ve been able to spend a bunch of time visiting China.

I love that place. In fact I would regard it as my ‘home’, despite having left there over 2 years ago.

To be able to spend so much time there and be energized by the city while connecting to new – and old – clients, has been magnificent.

Talking of returning to old things, having Otis’ beloved Elodie visit from LA was awesome.

Seeing them fall into their old, caring friendship was wonderful.

As I have said previously, taking him away from her was one of the hardest things about leaving LA – and while I know distance makes things harder, technology has obviously allowed their friendship to continue, which is the best ad for tech I can think of.

While I understand being emotional about Otis and Elodie being back together, I was surprised how emotional I felt when I went back to LA – especially when I visited Otis’ old kindergarten – but I suppose even the shortest time living in a place, leaves its mark on you.

There’s a bunch of other stuff I’m grateful for this year …

Nottingham Forest … for actually making me start to believe again.

I know it will end in tears, but it’s a nice feeling all the same.

There there’s the Brian May Guitar I bought after only 35 years of waiting.

Seeing Rod Stewart and Concorde were nice, as was getting a comment from Queen producer, Mack, and his son on the post I wrote about Freddie Mercury going to a birthday party dressed in the outfit he wore for the ‘It’s A Hard Life’ video.

That the gods of metal, Metallica, decided to extend the project that I’m doing for them for another THREE YEARS was a major plus. To be honest, I’m still not sure what I’m doing for them or if they like what I’m doing for them, but it keeps Otis in free Metallica t-shirts, so it’s worth doing.

I also got a bunch of new people in my life that I did not know previously.

From the brilliant students at the Brixton Finishing School, to the talented – but totally bonkers – creatives of Dayoung, Mike and Sam and not forgetting the wonderful Joel, Erika, Amar, Megan, Ed and Hannah who all stupidly decided to become members of the delightfully talented gang of planners at R/GA.

Before I end this utterly boring – but important [for me] post, I just want to say thank you to 3 more people.

First is the wonderful Paula Bloodworth not only got engaged – to a man from Nottingham no less [hahahaha] but she got asked to move to Portland to run strategy for NIKE globally at Wieden.

She will be brilliant.

More than people know – and they already know she will be brilliant.

I have had – and have – the great privilege of being able to call Paula a friend. I’ve worked with her, argued with her, laughed with her and caused havoc with her and through it all, her talent and humanity has shone through.

Wieden are very lucky to have her. Nike are very lucky to have her. I am very lucky to be able to call her a friend.

Second is the brilliant Severine Bavon.

Sev has been a part of my team from the beginning and this month she leaves us to strike out on her own.

Not as a freelancer … but to start a company that offers a new model for creativity and strategy for agencies and clients.

I’ve said many times that everyone should start their own company at some point and I am incredibly thrilled and proud that she is going to do just that.

Of course I’m going to miss her.

She’s brilliant, tenacious, smart and a million things I am not.

But I believe a bosses job is to help their people go on to bigger and better things. Bigger and better things they may never have imagined. Bigger and better things where they are chosen for who they are not just what they do.

And while I don’t think I did anything specific to help Sev make this decision, I have a vested interest in watching her do her thing and cheering her as she does it.

Which she will.

Sev, thank you for everything … believe in your talent, follow your gut, burn everything down that stands in your way.

So that leaves the final person … and as usual, it’s anyone and everyone who has written or visited this blog.

Ranting. Arguing. Swearing. Complaining. Caring. Debating.

It’s all meant a lot to me and after this length of time of writing basically the same 5 posts over and over again, I don’t take it for granted that you pop by and pass on your wisdom/insults.

I hope you all have a great festive season and may 2020 be epic.

Hopefully not as epic as I hope mine will be, but epic all the same.

I’m off to Australia for some sun and warmth and I’ll see you on Jan 6th cold, miserable and wondering how the holiday season passed by so fast.

Ta-ra.



There’s Models And Then There’s Models …

I consider what I’m about to tell you an early Christmas present.

Not for you, but for me.

You see a few weeks ago, one of the creatives at R/GA was walking down the road when he was stopped in his tracks as he saw this …

Now you may be wondering what is so shocking about a back of a van featuring 2 weird looking men starring into space with a lilting triffid like plant behind them?

Well I agree with you, except those 2 weird looking men starring into space with a triffid like plant behind them are my colleagues – Eduardo and Ed.

As you can tell from the absolutely horrific photo and pose, neither knew this photo was being taken – nor did they give their permission for the image to be taken, used or plastered on the back of a corporate horticultural company van – but I am so glad it happened … and while they are trying to get some sort of response from the company who did this, I keep telling them that on the positive, they can say now say they’re models, which is a damn sight better than saying they work for a creative company in creative company cliche, Shoreditch.

Sometimes, accidents are the best thing that can happen to you.



Strategy Is A Direction, Not A Shopping List …

I am getting fed up of hearing strategy talked about in terms of a process.

Of course, there is one, but it seems people seem to value the process more than what it is supposed to deliver.

Which is clarity and direction.

Something that will change the behaviour of the brand/business from the very next day.

Something that will help create a clear position in culture, not just in the category.

Something that will contribute value, loyalty and appeal to the audience that will move them forward.

Something that is focused on the long-term, not just the next quarter.

That’s it.

That’s all strategy is.

And yet, I am meeting so many people who are getting lost in the process or worse, getting lost in the word ‘strategy’ … saying nothing can be done without it being deeply involved at every step – and I mean ‘every’ step – of the process.

Now don’t get me wrong, thinking and expertise is important – but to imply that only someone with the word ‘strategy’ in their title can do it, is wrong.

Actually, it’s insulting … especially when you consider that so much of the magic happens when you invite people who see the World differently to the party.

But it’s happening.

I’m seeing it everywhere.

And what it’s doing is creating so many strands to the strategy discipline, they’re getting in the way of each other.

That might be good for the agency fee, but not great for the work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these strands of strategy don’t have value – of course they do – but in many areas, it’s not actually strategy … it’s not delivering on any of the 4 areas listed above … it’s simply helping push along the process of the output to get to a [allegedly] more effective result.

In other words, it’s short-term tuning rather than long term creating.

Adding obstacles rather than taking them away.

Or said more cynically, it’s more tactics than strategy.

Doesn’t have to be.

Not everyone is doing that.

Not everyone thinks like that.

But my god, it seems there is a lot of it about … and when you look at the amount of work that is being produced because of it, you have to admit that while there’s a lot of optimization, there’s not a lot of distinctive, magnetic energy.



Technology Can Make Us More Human …

Technology gets a hard wrap.

It is blamed for all manner of wrongs, when we conveniently forget we are the ones programming it and using it.

Of course, they’re not totally blameless – but like powerpoint – we have to accept that the ‘badness’ that comes from it is, at the very least, equally our own fault.

But sometimes you see something that reminds you of what power technology has.

How is can change how someone looks at the World … feels about that World … thinks about the World.

No where is this more apparent in the area of medicine, where AR is being used in ways that few ever originally considered.

Not just to make people heal, but to make people feel better.

There’s a big difference between those 2, and if you are not sure what they are, then look at this wonderful clip of an elderly, Liverpool football fan, who is suffering from demetia.

Like most things, the role of technology is in our hands. We either use it for good or for evil and the scary thing is – as we’ve found out from countless platform ‘owners’ – the line between them is very thin indeed.