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


I Love This Photo …

… not just because I’m with a couple of mates I love and respect.

Nor is it that the angle of the pic means my physical horribleness – especially compared to their disgusting beauty – is partially hidden.

It’s because they’re two super-senior leaders, who got to where they are because of their talent and authenticity.

They also happen to be black.

Karrelle Dixon is the Managing Director of Wieden+Kennedy Portland.

Jason White is the Global CMO of BEATS.

Of course the colour of their skin shouldn’t matter – just like it shouldn’t matter what gender you are or what sexual preference you choose – but tragically it still does.

Especially in America.

To get to the top is an amazing achievement for anyone.

To get to the top while remaining authentic to who you are is something truly special.

To do all that and be a person of colour … well, that’s the highest accolade of all.

Of course I hope for a time where this isn’t news – it is just normal – and while neither of them should have to have the additional burden of being a role model, they are and, if I’m being honest, they should be because if you want to model yourself on anyone – regardless of your heritage or background – it’s them.

Smart as shit.

Charismatic as Clooney.

Total natural born leaders.

Tireless in their passion.

Focused on making the best work of everyone’s lives.

A real and proven desire to help young talent come through.

[In both cases, they have personally helped me help people I thought were bursting with talent but were not getting the breaks I felt they had earned, let alone deserved]

In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact I can consistently beat them at table tennis, they’d be perfect.

But the fact is, Karrelle and Jason are still anomalies in this business – and while that should not underestimate the impact they will have on people of colour who previously had little or no role models for believing they could get to the top – it’s also why I’m a bit conflicted with Adcolor’s Future program.

Let me be clear, this is not about Adcolor specifically.

They are an amazing organisation who have done more to promote diversity in the industry than anyone else, not to mention for longer than everyone else.

Their mission has always been to create a community of diverse professionals who support and celebrate eachhother and they have an incredible track record of doing just that … giving people of colour a real chance in an industry loaded with hurdles.

For hurdles, read ‘senior white men’.

And this is why I’m conflicted.

You see recently a couple of my colleagues applied to get in their Future’s program. They are talented, smart, passionate colleagues… who happen to be people of color, but sadly they didn’t get in.

Let me be clear they were OK with the decision.

Disappointed, but OK.

And I can say the same too.

Despite their talent, maybe they didn’t show how good they are in the way they needed to.

But here’s the bit that bothers me.

You see instead of being told what/where they went wrong … how they could improve … they were just told ‘no’.

Now I’m sure there’s a bunch of reasons for the limited response – for example. maybe they’re inundated with requests – but for an organization committed to helping people of colour move forward, a simple ‘yes or no’ seems counter to that commitment.

It feels like they are judges instead of coaches.

Deciding someone’s fate instead of helping it rise.

Now I fully appreciate I am not aware of all the facts.

I also appreciate that Adcolor as an organization is very open and transparent.

But I would have loved it if the people behind their Future’s program had given my colleagues some advice about what they could have done better with their submission, because the fact they wanted to belong to a group who wants to improve the industry means they’re already showing traits adland badly needs to embrace.

But lets be honest, success for people of colour should not just be down to Adcolor.

Nor the inspirational achievements of Karrelle and Jason.

We all have a role to play.

And that goes beyond just talking about it, but doing things about it.

One of the things America has taught me is that if you don’t act, you’re complicit in keeping things the same.

I’d love to think I have always acted on this issue – not just because I’ve spent so much of my career living in nations where I was a member of the [privileged] minority – but that’s how I was brought up.

By that I don’t mean it in a we need to give everyone a chance sort-of way, but in a ‘everyone is equal even when we’re different’ sort-of way.

And while the only way we’ll find out if I’m full of shit is if we ask the people of colour I’ve worked with – both in America and around the World – if I’ve fought for them and shown my belief and faith in them, there’s one thing that is absolutely not open to interpretation …

Diversity makes everything better.

It allows different experiences, understanding and cultural references to open up possibilities and opportunities for everyone and everything. From creativity to culture. Commerce to the potential of creating real change.

But it does even more than that.

It can take our industry to places we might never see or experience without it.

Let’s be honest, our industry has been predominantly shaped by white males.

Hey, some of them have done a brilliant job. I’m not knocking them – or anyone who is white or male – I also happen to be one.

But imagine the possibilities if we let people who had different backgrounds, different experiences, different frames-of-reference to have a go.

Finally we might get to some genuine new thinking in the industry as opposed to the usual old ideas with a different name.

I know for a fact, all my years living in China/Asia made an astounding difference to how I think and who I am. Differences I still embrace and rely on to this day.

[Here’s a talk I gave in Australia on this: Part 1, 2 and 3 ]

And unlike many of us white guys, people of colour [not to mention members of the LGBT communities] have always been generous with their brilliance, talent and kindness, which given all the shit they have had to – and continue to have to – deal with, that makes them the sort of leader we’d all benefit from working with and for.

Put simply, every single person in adland should be pushing, embracing, celebrating and making room for diversity.

Not because it is ‘the right thing to do’ – even though it is – but it might be the only thing that can save adland and make it truly matter again.

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Sometimes Good Service Is About Everyone, Not Just Someone …

Following on from yesterday’s post this is about the return trip from London to Amsterdam.

This has nothing to do with British Airways [though I was very politely asked if I could put my hand luggage in the hold as the plane was full and I was happy to help] and everything to do with London City Airport.

Look, I fly a lot.

I have flown a lot for at least 20 years.

And one of the things I absolutely loathe is the X-Ray machine.

Shoes off. Belts off. All electronic items separated into a different tray.

It’s a pain. It’s even more of a pain than the treatment you get at the hands of American and Australian immigration.

But I get it.

It’s for our own safety.

It’s to keep everyone protected.

And while some airports have systems that seem to be designed for inefficiency rather than traffic flow, we always get there in the end – even if you get stopped to have your bag more thoroughly checked.

So on the day I was flying back to Amsterdam, the airport was pretty busy.

Because of that, the X-Ray machine was working overtime and there ended up being quite a lot of bags that needed an additional check.

The 2 people in charge of this were kind, courteous and – from my perspective – quick.

However it seems there a bunch of people who had a different view to mine because I saw this …

Now I get companies wanting to get a gauge on their audiences experience.

I even get companies being interested in their audiences specific commentary.

But to offer a presentation pad for people to write their comments on, in clear view of the actual staff, is either motivational evil, or team building ignorance.

Personally I thought putting a digital ‘rate your experience’ board there for people to press, was good enough … but that extra mile actually ended up being more about the impatience of some passengers than the quality of airport security.

I get us Brits like to complain, but this presentation pad is like the definition of passive aggressiveness and yet it appears people have forgotten WHY we have these things in place.

It’s for everyone’s safety.

It’s for everyone’s wellbeing.

It’s for everyone to be able to look forward to where they’re going.

Quite frankly, that pad really pissed me off … so I daren’t imagine how it must have affected the staff.

Should there have been more than 2 people allocated to double check baggage?

Maybe … but what pisses me off is the commentary isn’t about how they did, but how much the passenger felt put out.

Were any planes hijacked that day? Nope.

Were any planes blown up that day? Nope.

That means the people did their job well and so maybe next time people go to the airport, they remember ‘good service’ isn’t always about your individual expectations being met, but whether you can board your next flight with a greater degree of confidence you’ll get to your destination than if there wasn’t anyone looking out for you.



Connections From History …

I first started being conscious of Brian Clough in 1978 when he took my beloved Nottingham Forest on a magical journey, the likes had never been seen before or since.

While I never spent any time with him, I can honestly say he contributed to a childhood that is bursting with memories and wonder which is why when I saw a letter he wrote from the year my adoration began, I had to get it.

I totally appreciate some might think this is stupid, but to me it’s a connection to my history.

A connection to where I grew up.

A connection to a place that still means so much to me.

When you’re just 8 years old, what Nottingham Forest did was make my formative football-fan years the most exciting, unifying and pride-filled years you could ever hope to have, and while the last 20+ years have been a total nightmare, no one can ever take those amazing memories from me because, as John McGovern, the Forest captain of the time, said …

“We were like one of those comets you see flying across the night sky. We burned brightly, but it was all too brief. But, boy, did we burn brightly for a while.”

So thank you Mr Clough, you were always with me but now you will always be near me.



No Wonder American’s Love Their Teeth, Their Dentists Are Like A Holiday Camp …

When I was a kid, a visit to the dentist was a thing to be scared of.

To be honest, it shouldn’t have because I had great teeth … but there was always that chance something might happen and that scared the hell out of me.

If further evidence of my dental naivety/good teeth was needed, when I finally did have to have some treatment – a wisdom tooth removal, when I was 14 – I was in utter shock that they were literally pulling the tooth out of my gob as I assumed they’d give my gums an injection and it would fall out.

The weirdest bit of all is that when you left the dentist, they gave you a sweet.

A SWEET!

Though now I think of it, it probably was their way of guaranteeing further business from you down the line.

And given how bad my teeth are these days, it seems that was a brilliant strategy.

Evil. Geniuses.

Now I appreciate when I was a kid, the World was a very different – and younger – place, but having just taken Otis to the dentist, I’m jealous how ace his experience is.

For a start the interior has been decked out in different animal themes.

From Giraffe’s to Panda’s … each room has a different theme to help kids feel they’re somewhere special and different.

Then there’s the video games for them to play in reception or – if they’re too young – a huge aquarium for them to look at.

But it’s when they are having treatment the real difference happens.

Not because there’s a video screen showing cartoons.

Or wireless headphones so you can hear the movie not the drill.

Or even the sunglasses so you don’t let the brightness of the dentist light affect you.

Or even the balloon [not sweets] they give you as you leave the building.

It’s the way they make sure they spend time explaining what each instrument is and what it does. Letting the kid hold it, hear it … get an understanding of what it does so it stops being a fearsome object of pain and simply a instrument of health.

Whatever stress they have is reduced.

They feel they’re in a safe environment.

A special environment.

With people who you won’t fuck you over but actually want you to have an exciting experience with a great result.

It turns a visit to the dentist from a scary experience to a positive one.

Even an awaited one.

All because they give the time and space for patients emotions and fears to be calmed, which gives them – and their parents – the confidence to let the dentist do their thing. That doesn’t just result in more efficient treatment but makes the parent feel OK about being charged an arm and a leg because their precious child had an experience that is the absolute opposite of what they feared they’d have.

Now I know creativity needs a place where chaos and curiosity is allowed to explore and wander – something we don’t get enough of at the best of times – but in terms of getting clients into the right frame of mind to allow agencies to do their thing without skeptical, questioning and damning eyes, adland could learn a lot from American Dentists.



Variety Is Not The Spice Of Life, But The Essence Of It …

As I’ve written many times, my parents drilled into me that a life of fulfillment is much more valuable than a life of contentment.

As I’ve also written many times, I didn’t realise what this really meant until I hit my late 30’s.

And yet, despite that, I seemed to have embraced their philosophy in how I was living my life, including who I hired.

Put simply, I gave always valued someone who lived an interesting life more than someone who lived an interesting advertising life.

You’d think the two are connected, but that’s not always the case.

And that’s why I liked – and still like – people who have tried stuff.

It almost doesn’t matter if it worked out or not, the key is they’ve tried things and can recognise why it all turned out as it did.

Even if that’s about acknowledging the importance of luck.

So people who have travelled, worked in different industries, toured in a band, studied contemporary art, been arrested, written a fanzine, graffiti’d the hell out of things, created stuff – even if that’s kids beds – will always be initially more attractive to me than someone who studied advertising, worked in advertising and made advertising.

That doesn’t mean people who live an ‘ad-life’ aren’t good or valuable – of course they are – but I genuinely believe the more experiences you have, the more you will contribute to ideas that don’t just differentiate themselves from the usual ad noise, but offer a point of view that is undeniably infectious creatively and culturally.

Because as Peter Ustinov, the great actor, once said …

“People who reach the top of the tree are those who haven’t got the qualifications to detain them at the bottom”.

But here’s the thing …

While I am celebrating ‘generalists’, this is more than just someone who flitters from one thing to another.

I’m talking about those who commit to something. Throw themselves into what they do. Are seriously wounded when it goes wrong but have it open doors to something new they may never have considered without.

And while outsiders may see all this as random acts of experimentation, is actually a continuous stream of fulfillment because the people who do this stuff know the more they live, the more they have to offer.

Or to paraphrase Mr Ustinov, the more you explore, the more see what’s possible.



Who Knew George W Bush Was So Insightful?
August 11, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Context, Insight

Remember when George W was elected?

The World’s opinion was a mixture of fear and ridicule and yet I bet we’d all have him back in a heartbeat compared to the mess that is Trump.

But that isn’t what this post is about, it’s about an article I read on Bush and Bill Clinton and the close friendship they have developed between each other. [No seriously, check this out]

Before I go on, this is the article.

To be honest, I found it enlightening.

Not just because you learnt the foundation of their friendship was based on how they respectfully handled each others victory and defeat, but because Bush brilliantly explains how a professional reputation can be forged and destroyed.

“The Presidency is often defined by the unexpected. It makes the job interesting.”.

I love that.

It’s a great lesson to us all.

Sure, there are more eyes on the President’s actions than a planner in LA [or NYC, Shanghai and London] but the principal is the same, how you are viewed by others is by how you deal with the unexpected.

And if that scared you to death, here’s the good news.

Given the majority of us are exposed to unexpected events on a fairly regular basis, you have the chance to redefine or cement your reputation on a continual basis … which might be a useful thing to remember next time a crisis hits your plate.

Wow, I’ve just been nice about George W but then, as I wrote before, it appears the Bush family become far more human with age.



A Half Brit, Half Italian Who Spent 7 Years Living In China And Now Lives In America Starts Work At An Agency That Sounds Awfully Like A German Bank …

So as you know I have left China and moved to LA.

And, given I’ve written about it, you know the reasons behind the decision.

However I am also conscious I haven’t said where I am going. OK, so I know others have said where I’m going, but I haven’t. At least on here. 

Well today is the day, because today is the day I start my new job.

Actually I should say today is the day I start my main job because I’m also doing an on-going project with a rather famous rock band [ no, it’s not Queen] however I’m super excited to announce that as of this morning, I have become partner, chief strategy officer and official ‘new boy at school’ at American agency, Deutsch.

If you are based in the US, I’m sure you’ve heard of them but if you’re not, you’ll probably know them for this

To say they’re big is an understatement.

They’re huuuuuuuuge.

Massive clients. Massive office. Massive team.

Basically it’s the classic American cliche … everything is bigger in the US.

Now I’ve got to admit, there’s an element of their scale that makes me nervous … but that’s part of the reason I am so excited to be here.

When we were deciding where to go, I was very clear I didn’t want to do something that was similar to what I’ve been doing over the last 7 years. That’s not because I haven’t loved it – I’ve loved it almost too much – but because I couldn’t see the point of leaving a company I love if I was only go to end up at another company that wanted to be like the company I’ve just left.

What Deutsch offers me is the chance to play and learn in new areas.

Sure, it’s still advertising … but there’s a few fundamental differences from what I’ve been doing for the last few years.

1. I’m going to be a partner.

I’ve got to be honest, this was very important to me. I always want to grow and be challenged and one of the things I knew would be good for me was if I was given the additional – and official – responsibility for helping run an office.

Now you may think I had that at Wieden Shanghai – and I did, kinda – however the structure of the company meant that unless I become an MD [something I don’t want to be] I would always be an invited guest, never one of the hosts.

I should point out I knew this when I joined and I was always given the opportunity to speak up and speak out, however I believe there’s a point where responsibility without authority undermines your potential and ambition and ultimately, I wanted to see if I could make a bigger difference to a company or if I’m full of shit.

2. Deutsch are much more into using tech to solve their clients business problems.

This is almost going back to the way cynic approached things and I love that. However, it is not for the reason that I am sure Northern Planner will suggest … which is that I might be able to convince a client to let me make a moped or car for them.

In all seriousness, one of the things I really liked about Deutsch was their desire to forge their own direction rather than replicate someone else’s. That sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many places try and mimic Wieden without seemingly realising there’s only one W+K and they will always be the best in the World at what they do.

Deutsch’s ambitions feel more entrepreneurial and applied and I find that desire, fascinating.

3. I get to set direction for brands rather than translate someone else’s direction.

While I’ve worked around the World and represented massive regions of the globe, the reality is in most cases, I’ve been about translating someone else’s perspective on what the brand does/is. Someone who tends to work and live in America.

If I’m honest, I’ve never really found this a hindrance – especially in China, where the cultures was so different, so it was always fun to try and work out how to make things connect – but it will be nice to be at the real start of the challenge for once.

Of course there’s other reasons …

The partners are all great people who just happen to work in advertising.

I get to infect a new bunch of talented planners and hopefully make them even better than they thought they could be.

I have the opportunity to make my new team one of the most respected/hated/mischievous departments in the whole of North America. I find that idea really exciting and really infectious.

And then there’s the 2 big ones …

I get to give my family an environment that is healthy for them and we get to experience and immerse ourselves in a brand new culture. Again.

Those are worth their weight in gold … especially as we’ve found a Mandarin school for Otis so he can still feel a connection to the country he was born in and the country his father loves and will miss deeply.

[Oh, we also own and get to drive cars again for the first time in 15 years. I am embarrassingly excited about it … though driving on ‘the wrong side of the road’ is interesting … especially for all the other drivers in LA]

In fact the only thing I don’t like about my new job is that I’m called the Chief Strategy Officer.

I’m not that keen on that. It feels so cold. So exclusive. So disconnected to creativity.

But I get America loves its titles so it’s a small price to pay for the adventure.

So we will see what happens.

It could all go down in flames or it could be a fantastic adventure and for me, when those are the possibilities, that makes me massively excited.

So thank you Deutsch for the incredible opportunity, let’s hope you don’t regret it …

More posts in a couple of weeks when I’ve either [1] settled in a bit or [2] been fired.