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


Down The Rabbit Holes …

So we’ve recently had some interns join the Deutsch planning mob.

They’re smart, passionate and enthusiastic as hell.

Far smarter than I was at their age. Arguably, smarter than I am now.

So I met up with them to see how they were going and they told me how they were getting to grips with things because initially, it was so overwhelming that they found themselves going down a lot of rabbit holes.

I get it, it was super daunting to me when I started too but the one thing that concerned me was their belief that rabbit holes were a negative.

As I pointed out to them, if they don’t go down rabbit holes, then they’re no use to me.

Rabbit holes are an essential part of the planning process.

Not just in terms of exploring possibilities to tackle the problem you have been given … nor to pressure test the strategy you have identified … but to also reveal if there is are more interesting ways to tackle the problem than you may have originally considered or identified.

Rabbit holes are as much about opening possibilities as they are closing them which is why if you don’t embrace them, all you’re doing is screwing yourself – and the client – over.

Sure, focusing on what you think the client will buy may get you quicker approvals and client compliments, but allowing your brain the space and time to wander can help you get to somewhere new … somewhere exciting … somewhere that allows creativity to take you to places no one saw coming … places that will attract rather than chase … and even if you don’t end up somewhere more interesting than where you started, at least you can be sure the strategy you’re recommending has been pushed and prodded, which is why I passionately believe rabbit holes aren’t a waste of time, but a key deliverable of what we do and have to do.

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Rob Channels Jerry Maguire …

So a while back, someone asked me what I thought made a ‘good planner’.

To be honest, all I really remember is that they caught me on a bad day and so I kind of went on an all-out rant.

By pure chance I recently came across my reply and while I definitely sound a bit of a mentalist – not to mention I miss out talking about a whole bunch of stuff I believe is super-important, like empathy – there was a lot in there that I felt had some value, if only to open a debate about what our discipline is supposed to do and what it can be.

So with that in mind, here I rant …

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Planning is one of the most overused terms in the industry these days.

Everyone is now a planner … except in truth, many are either ‘packagers’ – taking the clients info and packing it into easily digestible chunks – or media people who tell you where to put your work based entirely on numbers rather than any true audience understanding.

Now I am not saying those folks aren’t important, of course they are, but for me planning is about ignition to bigger opportunities and possibilities.

For me, a planner understands 3 fundamental things:

+ What the real business problem is.
+ Who the core audience is.
+ What the creative opportunity is.

Those 3 things form the foundation of making things … things that don’t just solve the problem, but help the client have a sustainable position in culture that ultimately makes their marketing work harder for them.

Great planners care about creativity rather than advertising.

Care more about authenticity of a brand rather than marketing of a brand.

Want to uncover why people do stuff rather than just what they do.

It’s not about convenient answers, but ones that really understand the madness of how we all think and do and what we value and believe.

Of course when you’re spending billions of someone else’s money, the temptation to choose convenient, mass-acceptance answers is high and while that can get you results, breakthrough only comes when you resonate with culture rather than just try to be relevant to it.

The un-said.
The hard to explain.
The not easy to hear but it’s true.

It’s for this reason I always tell clients they shouldn’t focus purely on the methodology being used to uncover this stuff … but the person leading it, the people they’re talking to and the questions they are asking.

There’s a reason why a brand like NIKE is still at the top of its game after so long.

Sure, they have ups and downs along the way, but to still have that energy and pull 54 years after they were founded is remarkable.

Of course the biggest part of this is they make great products, have a focus on innovation, have incredible distribution and enjoy the benefits of their market power. But arguably, other companies can lay claim to doing this which is why I believe their ‘secret sauce’ is their commitment to the culture they believe in and are a part of. The culture of the athlete.

Everything they do goes through this lens.

Everything.

And that’s why their marketing doesn’t follow the usual strategic approaches of looking for ‘white space’ or ‘getting to as broad an audience as possible’, but to have a deep connection to the lives and minds of the athlete so they can bring the lessons to life in the most inspirational, yet deeply authentic way possible.

This approach dictates everything, including how they choose and use their agency partners.

From a planning perspective, I know I placed far more value on someone who has a deep love of sport and creativity than anyone who could talk process or methodologies because for me – and NIKE and Wieden and every other agency on their roster – their job was to inspire great creatives to do something audacious for a client who fundamentally believes in the power of their brand voice and sport.

All this highlights 3 things.

1. Great planning comes from truly understanding the core audience.

2. Great work comes from knowing how to be useful to the creative team.

3. Great brands differentiate themselves by their authenticity and distinctiveness.

I’ve written a lot about differentiation.

While the goal should always be to ensure your clients stands out from their competitors, if the approach is to ‘own’ a position that hasn’t been taken, then ultimately you’re letting your competitors dictate your future rather than deciding it for yourself.

For me, great brands embrace their truth in fresh and exciting ways.

They attract culture rather than chase it because they are the culture, not observers of it.

It means they are always moving forward rather than remaining stagnant.

It means they’re always relevant rather than fighting for it.

Planners play an important part in this.

But only if they remember the work is the key, not the ego.



Forget Taking A Position, Give Me A Point Of View …

One of adlands favourite things is the ‘positioning statement’.

A statement that informs where a brand fits within its category.

It’s been a successful way to do things for decades and many brands continue to embrace to this day.

But it’s limiting.

It stops a brand from having a bigger role in culture.

It leads to those painful annual ‘brand relaunch’ campaigns.

It can become out-of-date in the blink of an eye.

It is for this reason I’ve always believed in the importance of a brand ‘point of view’.

A point of view transcends the category rules.

A point of view can adapt and flow with the times.

A point of view lets creativity flow, not be stifled.

Of course, to do this, you have to start with knowing who you are, who you want to be and what you stand for … but in my experience, expressing this as a point of view means you can make work that resonates with culture rather than tries to be relevant to it.

For those who don’t think resonance vs relevance is a big difference, I would say you’re missing a valuable shift in culture.

With so many brands talking at culture or making innovation that they want them to like rather than what they want, a brand that shows it truly gets it’s audience is more differentiated than any amount of brands who spend all their time trying to create a widget no other brand has, but no person actually wants.



Weigel And Me …

As some of you know, I trained to be a teacher.

Admittedly it took me 5 years to qualify instead of 2, but my plan was that I would eventually leave this industry and become a teacher in the areas of creativity and innovation.

Then I started, and ran, The Kennedy’s, Wieden’s creative talent incubator and it all changed.

Not because I discovered I didn’t love teaching – quite the opposite – but that I love doing it through chaos, not order.

Now given most teaching jobs prefer the latter more than the former, that put me in a bit of a predicament … carry on with my plan and risk not enjoying myself or find another outlet.

Well, the reality is I’m a long way off leaving this industry, but if I am going to teach, I need to do it on my terms, not an education boards … especially as more and more teachers are being graded by their students which has to be one of the most stupid things I’ve ever heard.

So why am I writing this?

Well I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while and thanks to the experience I’ve had with the Advertising Planning School on the Web [APSOTW] and HOALA, I realized one area I like helping people learn, is advertising strategy.

Now I know what some of you are thinking, “the last thing Campbell needs to teach is ad strategy” and you’re right, that’s why I’ve somehow managed to convince the best advertising strategist in the World to do it with me.

Yes, that’s right … the majestical Professor, Mr Martin Weigel.

Now Mr Weigel’s brilliance is well documented – hell, I even wrote a love letter post about him not that long ago – which is why even if you ignore everything I say [which, let’s face it, we all know you will] you’ll still learn really valuable stuff from it.

I should point out, we’re not leaving our jobs* – this is a little side hustle business, where a couple of times a year, we’ll turn up in a country to see who is interested in doing a couple of days planning workshop – but it is something we both are very passionate about doing because we both feel there is not enough training going on in the industry these days.

Yes, there are schools of planning and yes, there might be the odd training workshop at an agency, but at a time where more and more brands seem to favour efficiencies and process over creativity and possibilities, we believe strategic radicalism is needed more than ever which is why we want to offer something that will help planners reveal, release and exercise their most dangerous mind.

We’re still finalising our first session, but if you want to know more [if only to start pre-seeding it with your bosses, hahaha] then visit here and put your name down so we can send you information when things are finalized or if you want to talk about your organisation’s training needs [whether you’re on the agency or client side] drop us a note at info@weigelcampbell.com

I’m super excited to be doing this, especially with a man who I bloody love to death, so I hope people/agencies will see the worth in it or our egos are about to get deflated quicker more than one of Jordan’s implants.

All this leaves me to say is a big thanks to the wonderful Mercedes – Martin’s much, much better half – who ordered us to do this because she thought we’d be good at it, though I have a feeling she talked to Jill and decided this was their way to get us out of their homes.

Now that’s the sort of strategy we could all learn from.



You Either Are Building Or Destroying. Building Is Better …

One of the things I’ve found interesting over the years is how planners deal with creative reviews.

In the main, they fall into 2 groups.

1. The ones that tear things down.

2. The ones who lift things up.

What makes #1 worse is that in many cases, what drives their destruction isn’t the work doesn’t answer the brief, but doesn’t answer it in the way they imagined.

In other words, they’re acting like a Creative Director.

Don’t get me wrong, a brief is important – it’s something that not only gives direction and lets ideas be pressure tested, but serves as a historical document so people can see where things came from at some point in the future.

But – and it’s an important but – a brief is not law.

It is not something that can’t be changed, enhanced or thrown out and re-done.

The goal has to be the work and while briefs can work ‘in theory’, if the creative teams aren’t getting to ideas that ignite energy in people, then it’s time to look at where the brief is stopping creativity to flow.

That does not mean you post-ratrionalise whatever is produced, but by the same token, you don’t expect a brief to be answered to the letter, which is why I stand by the belief a brief should act as a direction rather than a destination.

And that’s why I like planners who ‘lift things up’.

Who look for the good in the work rather than the bad.

Not in a Paula Abdul ‘everything is good even when it’s not’ kind-of-way, but recognise the threads that could lead to something exciting and new … threads that encourage rather than dictate … threads that lets everyone feel you’re on the same team and want the same thing.

The reason I say this is because I recently saw a quote that I loved.

It comes from US politician, John A Morrison and he say’s …

“Knowledge may come from taking things apart but wisdom only comes from putting things together”.

I love this.

I love what it means and represents.

And that’s why I think planners need to spend more time on wisdom than knowledge, because while a major part of our job is finding out the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, if we don’t think of how those things can come together in interesting ways, then we’re not only limiting our own potential, we’re doing a disservice to where creativity can go and what it can achieve.



How To Know You’re Improving …

A few weeks ago, I ran a planner training session – with the amazing Paula Bloodworth – in Amsterdam.

The theme of it the session was this …

When we first presented the image, you could tell a few people were wondering what the hell I was going on about.

It was a training session … designed to help planners make less mistakes, not more … but they were missing the point.

Planning isn’t about perfecting.

It’s not even about differentiating

It’s about making things happen … moving things forward … opening new possibilities … increasing value [copyright Weigel] and you don’t get to that if you just stick with the traditional approaches, practices and goals.

Of course this doesn’t mean you get to be an irresponsible dick with someone else’s money, but it does mean you have to look at problems in ways that normal approaches may not get – or even appreciate – and to do that, you need confidence.

Confidence in your abilities.

Confidence in feeling uncomfortable.

Confidence in making others feel uncomfortable.

Of course, at the end, you have to pull it all together because not only are you not going to get a client to try something without the chance of great reward, they need to know there’s method behind your madness … and while you might not always achieve the result you all wanted, ‘failing’ because you were pushing for something great is rarely failure, because not only do you all get a shitload of learnings from the exercise [learnings that can get you over the line next time] but you often end up opening a door to a World the whole industry never imagined and now wants to run full-pelt through.

In other words, you are pushing things forward not keeping things the same.

Which all helps explain why I believe planners should aspire to make better mistakes rather than succeed at average levels … because while consistency may get you the promotion, confidence creates the possibilities.



Freddie And Friends …

Many years ago I worked with a Swedish planner called Fredrik Sarnblad.

I loved him.

I loved him for many reasons …

His brain.

His humour.

His creativity.

His friendship.

His unsatisfiable appetite.

We went through all manner of trials and tribulations together … from highs of convincing work to send us to Bali for a week so we could work on the SONY pitch strategy in peace [which, thank god, we won] to lows of being in Thailand with a client who spent all their time trying to undermine us in front of their colleagues. [which we, read: me, didn’t react to very well]

And while we’ve not worked together for over 11 years, Freddie was always more than an ex-colleague, but a real friend … exemplified by the fact that when we saw each other in Boston a few weeks ago – after almost 6 years apart – it was like nothing had changed.

My relationship with Freddie is different to that of many of my other friends.

One of those reasons is I’ve never made a highly inappropriate blog about the way they dress.

The other is that I can have really personal and emotional conversations about life with him.

That’s not to say I can’t with my other mates, it’s just I rarely do … but with Freddie, we always did and do. Talking about subject many people find uncomfortable but are true for all of us.

The reason this can happen is that Freddie is both self aware and in touch with who he is.

He doesn’t shy away from the big conversations because he knows that’s where life resides … the real stuff, not the things we use to distract us from dealing with the real stuff.

One of the things we talked about recently was happiness.

Initially it was in the context of family but it quickly evolved to the job we are paid to do.

Creativity.

We talked about what makes us happy, what frustrates us and what we can do to make things better … more fun … more interesting and exciting. We even talked about how we can work together again.

Well that conversation must have had a real impact on Freddie because weeks later, he quit his job and started his own agency.

To be honest, I think that’s a bit extreme … all he had to do was say he didn’t want to work with me again … but I’m super happy and excited for him.

I’ve written many times why everyone should experience starting their own business, but in Freddie’s case it’s a little different.

Don’t get me wrong, it will be amazing for him – but the real value will come from the companies that use him because he’ll not only make them better, he’ll make them discover what they are capable of being.

So congratulations my dear Freddie, I look forward to one day being one of your shitkickers …

Knock them dead …

You can find out what he’s doing and how he’s doing it here.