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


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.



New Is Easy, Right Is Hard …

I recently read an article on Linkedin about an agency launching a ‘world first’.

Was it something to save humanity?

Nope.

Was it something to help business?

Nope.

Was it something designed to get the agency some PR even though it had no intrinsic value to culture?

Absolutely.

All that aside, I do get the quest for ‘first’ from agencies perspective … they want to look like they’re relevant, creative, interesting and valuable … but the great irony is that all this stuff does the absolute opposite.

So to dear old adland, I ask you this …

Could you please start being as proud about craft as you are about doing something ‘first’.

Craft makes a huge amount of difference.

It turns potential into possible.

It changes how people look at you and what they can do with you.

It creates division between you and your competitors.

Craft might not always get the PR headlines, but it makes people care – and given the alternative is World Firsts like that fucking Peggy Peg from a few years ago – that is a much better position to be in for all of our futures.



Craft Is Not A Cost …

The picture above is a ‘behind the scenes’ photo of Queen preparing for a photoshoot.

Not just any photoshoot … but one that define their immortality.

Now looking at the state of them, you’d not thing that was possible.

John Deacon is wearing a Queen t-shirt for christsake.

But in the hands of the brilliant photographer Mick Rock, he turned these 4 lads into genuine music icons with an image that will outlive the band and define an album, a song and a video for decades ahead.

At a time where more and more people are trying to devalue the value of craft, I hope people see this and remember it’s not a cost, but an investment that pays for itself many times over.



Let Kathleen Turner Start Your Week With A Smile And A Bunch Of Food For Thought …

Kathleen Turner is an actress.In the 80’s, she was hugely successful – but illness, addiction and Hollywood studio’s hatred of women over the age of 30 – all contributed to her falling out of the limelight.

This interview is a few months old, but I recently read it again and I still love it.

Not because she is indiscreet about other actors … though that’s good.

But because of her ability to know who she is that has enabled her to acknowledge her faults, see her strengths and challenge the system.

There’s a bunch of gold in there – from how to deal with others [which is very similar to the advice Tom Hanks gives] through to how to deal with yourself – so whether you know her or not, I am pretty certain you will enjoy the read.

Hey, you might even come away asking yourself some questions about yourself.

It’s a good way to start the week and you can read the interview here.



Every Detail Matters …

So I’ve not been sacked – yet – which means I feel confident enough to write another post for the week.

About a month ago, as I was flying to LA from Hong Kong, I re-watched the Michael Mann classic, Heat.

Making a movie – like making communication – consists of many elements.

Sure, you need a great story and you need great actors who can bring that story to life … but what really elevates the work to something special is a passion for the details.

Or said another way, the craft of craft.

In simple terms, this means the person heading the project doesn’t just appreciate what they don’t know, but they trust the people around them, who do.

They create the time and space for the broader team to do their best work on their areas of expertise. Encouraging debate and discussion to explore how each member of the team believe they can enhance the goal of the project to even bigger and more exciting places.

I think Heat is an example of this.

While Michael Mann wrote and directed the film, he allowed his expert team to be experts … ensuring every scene was as powerful or as believable as it can be.

There are many things I could highlight …

From allowing De Niro and Pacino to ad-lib their cafe scene because he trusted their talent to make the moment something unique right through to making sure the way the actors left the bank [after they robbed it] mirrored how trained soldiers would leave such a building.

[Apparently that scene is still used by many military organizations as a way to train their soldiers on how to leave a building]

But while those things are good, if you really want to see craft in action – and understand the impact it can have on the final product – then rewatch HEAT and marvel at the sound design of the main gun fight … because despite the movie being over TWENTY THREE YEARS OLD, it still stands out for all its majestic power and still continues to make the viewer feel like they’re actually in the scene.

Details matter.

Talent matters.

Craft matters.



Back Where It All Began …

So today I start my new job.

In England.

The last time this happened was in 1989 which blows my mind.

Of course, this situation is quite different to the last situation.

I’ve had a family.

I’ve lived around the World.

I’ve worked – and started – a bunch of companies.

I’m slightly better off than I was back in the late 80’s.

And while I enjoyed my time in the US, I’m very excited about what I’m going to be doing because whereas previously the big opportunity for me was more around understanding different cultures, this new role gives me that while also challenging and teaching me about possibilities that go beyond my areas of experience, because today I start as the head of strategy for R/GA for EMEA.

There were a bunch of reasons for leaving America, but one thing we knew was that there was no point if I wasn’t going to be enjoying myself.

For enjoying myself, I mean pushing me, challenging me, educating me and helping me make a bigger difference than I thought I could make.

I’ve long admired R/GA – especially R/GA London – so when we started chatting, I was fascinated about the opportunity and was incredibly happy/surprised, to learn they seemed to feel the same way.

Quite frankly, while all agencies talk about ‘creating cultural change’, R/GA seem to be the only one trying to make it happen on an ongoing basis. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some agencies out there who definitely help shape cultural behavior and attitudes – like my beloved W+K – but R/GA want to create the ideas, systems and communication that can encourage longer term cultural change rather than momentary effect.

At the end of the day, the idea of working with smart people who want to use creativity to impact the future and smart clients who want to walk towards the future was hugely infectious for me, especially at my age.

What makes it even better is that my remit means I’ll still get to work and discover different cultures, which is something I’ve done for the past 20 years all around the World … though given it’s been 24 years since I’ve lived in the UK, I’m pretty sure I’m going to find it fascinating understanding what is making this country tick.

All in all, I’m super excited.

At the interview I was asked why I wanted the job and I told them about a friend of mine who works for architect extroidinaire, Sir Norman Foster.

My mate is disgustingly epic … smart, charming and as handsome as hell … but despite all those enviable attributes, the thing I’ve always been jealous of is that his job requires him to create stuff that will outlive him.

I love advertising.

I think it is massively undervalued.

But the way the industry is going – focusing on the present, not building for the future – is scary as hell.

Not just in terms of the longevity of adland, but the ambitions of brands.

So to have a chance to work for a place that attracts clients who want to build rather than just plunder is very exciting for me.

Especially if there’s a shot of creating something that could outlive me.

Let’s just hope I can fool them into thinking I’m worth keeping around for more than a week …

Given my love of chaos, that might be over-ambitious.



The Best Monday Of Your Life. Unless You Live In NYC …

So the good news is this is the one and only post of the week.

I know … could today be any better?!

You see as you read this, I’m on a plane zooming my way to NYC.

I must admit I’m super excited about it.

Not just because I miss the rush of an intense city … nor because I will get to see friends who I miss very much … but because I’ll be doing two things that are going to be new to me.

One is I’ll be judging the final round of the North American Effies.

The other is that I’ve been invited to talk to design gods, Pentagram.

OK, so I’ve judged the Effies before and I’ve done more than my fair-share of talks, but what’s exciting to me about this is that it’s a totally new context.

The reality is American advertising is very different to the advertising I am used to, make and – to a certain degree – love.

It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just different.

More bombastic. More spell-everything-out. More leave-nothing-to-chance-or-interpretation.

It’s also much more rational and focused on driving immediate sales than creating a position in culture that builds sustainable brand value.

OK, not every brand is like that – and I also know many other markets are becoming more and more like this – but as someone who passionately believes in setting long-term directions, not to mention true culture driven ideas, it’s going to be interesting how I view the results versus some of my fellow judges.

As for the talk …

Well, we all know I can do that in my sleep, but I must admit I’m super excited to be doing it at Pentagram.

For those of you who don’t know, Pentagram are one of the undisputed gods of design.

Literally, one of the gods.

Given it’s not that long ago I was only using the IMPACT I must admit to being somewhat surprised they asked me to come talk to them about my perspective on design, but then I discovered it was less about me and more about the work I’m doing with a certain famous rock band which is why I felt the best way to handle the challenge is to only have 1 image and make that image truthful to what I am sure they’ll leave thinking about me.

Especially when they see my Birkenstocks.

So while I know it’s Monday and you’re probably not looking forward to the week ahead, I hope this post has helped offer you a glimmer of hope for the next 5 days. Unless – of course – you’re based in NYC, and then your week is even darker than you could ever have imagined.

See you next week …