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


When You Promise More To Still Be Poor …
July 23, 2020, 9:30 am
Filed under: Advertising, Attitude & Aptitude, Corporate Evil, Money

As I wrote last night, Nottingham Forest just lost their chance to be in the premiership playoffs.

They fucked up the best chance they’ve had in a decade.

On the last day.

In the last 20 minutes of the last day. Though the damage was done a few games ago when we let Derby County – our fiercest rivals – get a drawer in the last minute with a needless foul.

I’m devastated so to mitigate the pain I’m going to post this and hope it is useful to someone.

Given the impact COVID has had on adland, there’s a lot of us freelancing right now.

Of course, when there is a glut of talent available, many companies use this as an opportunity to lower your price.

I get the temptation to accept this. Some money in is better than no money in … but it’s also a slippery slope for you and all those around you.

So I thought I’d just write my thoughts on how to maybe handle it.

Not because I’m an expert, but because it will serve as a good reminder for me moving forward.

First thing you should do is check out the freelance rate spreadsheet the brilliant Alex Holder has been pulling together.

There is another alternative to this, which you can contribute to here.

The second thing you should do is to know your value.

This is not what you want it to be, but actually identifying and articulating your experience, your contribution to the work you were a part-of and the distinctive value you brought – and will bring – to every project you work on.

I appreciate this can be difficult, but it’s an investment – and a responsibility – to both your past and your future.

For more understanding on it, here’s a post I wrote about how Harrison Ford appreciates the value of his value.

Another thing to do is to remember you’re a small business, not just an individual looking for revenue.

While the two are closely entangled, thinking like you are a small business can actually help you when making decisions or when being asked to lower your rates.

Again, I wrote about a Hollywood star – this time Michael Keaton – who thinks this way.

It’s important … because you’re not actually negotiating for the job you have, but the next one you could have.

I say all this because recently I was asked by a great global brand if I could help them with their strategy.

I have always respected them and the challenge they faced was tailor-made for me given my global experience.

While I have no intention of doing ‘real’ work for a few months, I submitted my cost proposal and a few minutes later, their procurement department contacted me saying this:

“Your fee is higher than other partners we use, please lower it”.

At this point I could have just said agreed.

Afterall, I found the project fascinating, I think it could lead to interesting work and money is always useful to have coming in.

But I didn’t.

I knew my experience in this situation was better than most.

I knew they had recently spent millions with McKinsey, so what I was actually asking for was nothing.

I knew I didn’t want to start a relationship based on working down to a price, rather than up to a quality.

So instead I responded with this.

“You products are higher priced than other brands I could choose, please lower it”.

Cheeky?

Yes.

Aggressive?

Possibly.

But the reality is I have 30+ years of experience at the highest levels of creativity, client and culture so if a company doesn’t value that, why would I value them.

But here’s the thing … it wasn’t really their fault.

Procurement departments are literally paid to lower prices.

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are or what you do, they’re evaluated and compensated for lowering costs.

It’s not personal … it’s just their job.

So while I appreciate their request was just part of their process, defending my value was also part of mine.

My attitude was if they want to treat it like a game, then so would I.

Which means I am cool with them asking what they like, but I don’t have to agree.

To any of it.

So that’s what I did … and you know what happened?

They wrote back saying,

“We accept your rate and look forward to working with you”.

Now I know it won’t work every time.

But the attitude is what I’m going to do every time.

Because if someone only values one part of a relationship, then it’s not a relationship.

Some companies or freelancers will be OK with that.

Good on them. But I’m not.

Not just because of the reasons I’ve written about above, but because I’ve found – over the years – the best clients aren’t OK with this attitude and approach either.

As one of the most senior clients at NIKE once said to me, “I value people who can make me better not just keep things flowing the same”.

And if this approach ends up backfiring and I need to earn money, then I’m going to start my own procurement company and just approach as many companies as possible and ask to pitch my procurement department against theirs. I won’t even really care if we can do things cheaper or not, I’ll just enjoy watching how they like having their experience, reputation and value being dismissed and disregarded in favour of finding someone – anyone – who will do more, for less.

I’m nice like that.

Especially when Forest throw it all away.

Literally chuck it and give up. Fuckers.

Comments Off on When You Promise More To Still Be Poor …


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.



Timing Is Everything …

A while back, I wrote about WeWork.

Or more specifically, how the Messiah complex of one of the founders led to him ultimately screwing the company up with an ill-advised planned IPO.

Of course, as is the way with corporate-insanity – especially when you label your company a ‘tech’ company, even if it isn’t – he walked away for failure with a huge pay-cheque, which means being a start-up founder is even more lucrative after the job than it is for a football manager, which blows my mind.

[Though apparently it was not enough, because one of the founders, Adam Neumann, is suing Softbank for ‘abuse of power’ … when in reality, the only case they really have is Softbank giving them so much cash and praise, it led to Adam gaining a Messiah-complex]

Full disclosure, I did some work for WeWork when they first started.

I met Miguel – one of the ‘normal’ founders – and found him, and his ideas for the company both interesting and exciting.

And for a while it was.

They were tapping into a need that wasn’t being met by traditional office lease companies.

They invested in building a WeWork community because they recognised the commercial attraction of it.

They identified ways to profit from giving ‘start ups’ and ‘independent workers’ the sorts of benefits only people in more traditional employment enjoyed.
But then three things happened:

+ They realised the flaw in their business model because they signed long term property leases but had short term tenants.

+ To get long term tenants, they had to appeal to corporates who could screw them down on price, adding further pressure to their position.

+ To counter corporate price negotiation, they re-positioned themselves as ‘masters of igniting corporate culture and efficiency’ – which, at best, was marginally true and at worst, was plainly rubbish … because ultimately they were a contemporary office space leasing company.

Sure they offered more than some of their competitors.

Sure they were incorporating logistics into their offering.

But fundamentally, they sold space in buildings for others to work in.

I’m not knocking that, there’s a lot of very successful businesses who do it.

And I genuinely think the original WeWork idea was a good one – albeit with commercial flaws – but when ego, ambition and cash-flow pressure come together, they can make a pretty deadly combination, which the World – and employees of WeWork – discovered when the IPO forced them to open their books to the World.

However, I can’t help but think if Adam Neumann had waited just 6 months longer before announcing the IPO, he may have discovered WeWork was so in demand by companies wanting to reimagine their office approach post COVID-19, that investors may have overlooked all of his blatant exploitation and delusion.

I’m so glad he didn’t.



The Reset Button …

There’s an old saying that where there’s crisis, someone is making a fortune.

But this time, things are different.

Whatever industry – except, perhaps, video-conferencing, pasta-making and loo paper manufacturing – everyone is being challenged.

In fact the impact of COVID-19 has been so fundamental – from how society lives to how business operates – that things may never be the same again.

That sounds terrifying, especially with so many challenges to overcome, but one of societies greatest abilities is their way of adapting to – and creating – the ‘new normal’ which is why [to paraphrase Alvin Toffler] the illiterate of business in a post-COVID-19 era won’t be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Right now, across the World, the everything is being re-written.

What people want …
What people value …
What people expect …
What people aspire to …

And while some will claim that as things become normal, so will habits … it doesn’t take much to realise COVID-19 has already pressed societies reset.

The British government gave data to supermarkets so they could prioritise the elderly.

Companies stepped up for the greater good … from free food for the DR’s and Nurses to manufacturing products needed in the fight against COVID-19.

Communities started forming again. Really forming. Coming together to look after each other with compassion and fairness.

Humanity can work.

Government can care about the masses.

Commerce can balance compassion with profit.

The people who keep the country moving can be more respected than the people who earn the most.

We can’t forget this.

I hope we are not allowed to.



The Daily Mail Is Another Virus We Must Get Rid Of …

Tomorrow I’ve written a positive post about some of the stuff Corona virus has revealed we are capable of being.

Today I’m writing about the worst of it.

Specifically The Daily Mail.

As we all know, they have become one of the most successful newspapers and internet destinations in the World thanks to their fear-mongering, shock-creating, prejudice-encouraging bullshit, all wrapped up in the illusion of being a family newspaper caring about family values.

If Donald Trump was a newspaper, he’d be The Daily Mail.

They have absolutely revelled in the corona virus.

Equally challenging the scientists viewpoints and then the people who don’t follow it.

They play both sides with such obviousness [see photo above] and yet they – like Fox TV – claim to be consistent, fair and balanced.

The fact they get away with it means either no one believes them or – as I fear – their readers don’t question a word they say.

While they like to focus their hate on minority groups, no one is immune from their hate.

Even the middle-England elderly readers – their core audience in the UK – cop it with headlines that suggest ‘they will all be left to die’ or ‘isolation till 2021’.

They are the embodiment of ‘take no prisoners’ …

For me, they are basically a far right political party.

However, unlike the far right, they have found a much more powerful way to operate.

They don’t openly show their hatred … oh no, they slowly and quietly infiltrate mainstream society so they can undermine the minorities, the unemployed and the poor by making prejudice, illness and poverty seem the words and beliefs of the irrational.

To be fair to them, they may not even realise it.

They are so myopic that they fail to appreciate other people have different circumstances.

Which is why they – like that other prick, Piers Morgan – don’t realise their commentary is so harmful because they’ve never experienced any of the issues they are so quick to either claim don’t exist or they would never advocate … like prejudice, racism and poverty.

As you’ll read in tomorrow’s post, corona has revealed the best of many companies and news organisations.

It has changed the dynamic between corporation and society.

It’s why I hope after this, the Daily Mail is seen for what it is, a social manipulator – a company who only acts in the interests of its owner and no one else.

A great villain for a Bond movie, but not a great company for society.