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


What You Can Learn About The Danger Of Assumption From The Original Woodstock Festival …

One of the things I do when I first get a brief is try to see the creative opportunity.

Where we can make the biggest and most interesting difference.

Changing something.

Pushing something.

Destroying something.

However the reality is that in many briefs, this isn’t always clear – mainly because so many are written from quite a transactional perspective, designed for an agency to ‘answer it’, rather than use it as a springboard for bigger, more powerful and more sustainable impact.

And that’s why the best thing you can do is ask questions.

Explore.

Prod.

Challenge.

Not just in terms of who authored the brief, but the people who are responsible for what comes out of it.

There are some people who think this approach has the potential of alienating clients, but in my experience it has quite the opposite effect. People in power regard this as a demonstration of someone who gives a shit … someone who wants to help them achieve the best outcome in ways that can best serve their business. Ideas they may simply never have seen or considered before.

And that’s exactly why I do it because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t know the level of the clients ambition … their desire for change and impact … and without that you can’t possibly see the creative opportunity you have in front of you and you may go down a path that leads to nowhere because you have made assumptions that simply aren’t true.

Don’t get me wrong, we all need new business to survive – let alone thrive – but my point of view is that if people aren’t excited or clear on what we are looking to do, then it either leads to a painful journey with painful work at the end of it or just mistrust and quite frankly, I haven’t got time for either of those in my life.

So what’s all this got to do with the title of this post?

Because I recently read an article on the famous Woodstock festival and was reminded – from a comment by Tommy James from the band, Tommy James and The Shondells – how dangerous ‘assumption’ can be.

And who is Tommy James from Tommy James and The Shondells?

Well, this might tell you why you haven’t heard of him or them …

Don’t assume the person communicating with you has total clarity on their situation.

Don’t assume the people around you have total clarity on the situation.

Just don’t assume.

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Best Of The Best Or The Least Bad?

Today I’m judging the Effies.

Oh awards …

I’ve written so, so much about them in the past.

Like here. And here. And here. And here.

I must admit, I am intrigued to see what they are going to be like in the UK.

Will they be a celebration of insightful efficiency or will they be like I experienced too many times in Asia, a stream of consciousness that just rumbles along till they think they have explained how they got to their idea and how they have proved it worked.

I guess we shall see later today.

I really, really hope they are good.

Not just because the Effies have always had a standard they’ve lived up to, but because it will give me faith the industry still has fight in it to do things right.

In my time in the UK, I’ve read a bunch of planning documents/portfolios/resumes that have been more about packaging.

Repeating a client brief in a way that has been ‘sexed up’.

Superficial.

Executional.

Literal.

There are a bunch of reasons for this.

Part of it is the lack of training agencies give their strategiests.

[Hence why we started the School of Strategic Arts]

Part of it is the huge amount of freelance planners out there who are doing exactly what they are asked because they are fighting for their livelihood.

And part of it is because of the client/agency remuneration deals which means planners are giving too little time to explore the best outcome to the problem they face.

Planning has a valuable role to play in effectiveness.

Planning has a valuable role to play in creativity.

But it needs to be allowed to do it to make it happen … so here’s hoping we see the best of what it can do today, because the Effies is not just important for the people who win, but for what the industry needs to get back to being.



Make Space Or We Die Alone …

One of the best things I’ve done [so far] in the UK is see my R/GA planning mob work with the brilliant Brixton Finishing School.

They all graduate today so this post not only makes me – for once – super timely, but also super proud of them all.

Anyway, over the past few weeks they’ve been working with the students on the importance of putting creativity at the heart of strategy.

Well a couple of weeks ago it was my turn and it was massively emotional for me.

Not just because of their passion for creativity.

Not just because they embraced an old fucker with open arms.

But because of the openness of the conversation we had that touched on issues often swept under the carpet but are raw and real … especially if you’re a person of colour.

I was honoured to be there, we should be honoured they still want to work in adland given we – as an industry – are doing our level best to make them feel alienated, isolated or a token gesture.

It’s not hard to change this.

As I wrote about the need to embrace more female leadership, it’s just about making space.

The great irony is that the industry loves to talk about diversity, but not only do they fail to realise it’s about background not just heritage, it’s about how you let them behave. Basically if you make anyone feel penalised or negatively judged for simply being their authentic self, then you are acting in a way that is literally the opposite of diversity.

Sadly, many companies still don’t get this.

They better start or the people who are the one chance we have left to make this industry have a decent future, will finally have enough and take their potential and talent elsewhere.

Frankly, I would not blame them.

[Thanks Maya, Bree, Chelsea and Lani for the impact you still make on me]



Bullshit Brand Bingo …

Years ago, there was an email that went around that invited people to play ‘Bullshit Bingo’, the marketing edition.

Included on the paper were words such as ‘synergy’ and ‘optimization’ and the aim of the game was to take this to your next meeting and cross off each word as someone said them.

The person who crossed off all the words first, won.

It was a tongue-in-cheek way to take the piss out of the marketing industry and it’s obsession with using words that are the absolute opposite of the words the audiences we try to have a meaningful connection with, say.

Well it appears there is a new version of this game in town … except some people haven’t realized it’s a game.

Worse, it appears they think it is a brand building bible.

Have a look at this …

I don’t know about you, but nothing says ‘brand transformation’ like bigging-up the fact you have decorated your reception area.

Don’t get me wrong, a brand should infect and influence every aspect of how you behave and express yourself but – and it’s a big but – it should be something that is truly distinctive to your brand, not just a bunch of brand mumbo-jumbo words and corporate colours that end up making you look and sound exactly like everyone else.

I wrote about this a while back when I said the best brief I ever received was from Richard Branson for his now infamous Virgin Atlantic London lounge.

I also talked this with Martin at Cannes.

The reality is too many companies aspire for best practice.

But the reality is best practice means averageness.

Fitting in not standing out.

Differentiation without distinction.

Staying in the middle rather than reaching for the edges.

I am amazed how many companies fear being different and yet claim to be.

I am even more amazed how many companies then shit themselves when someone comes along with a point of view that is genuine and authentically expressed and executed so that it attracts culture rather than tries to chase it.

Apart from being a law firm, I don’t know who Pinsent Masons are, but if they aspire for their new reception to reflect their bland brand value with words like ‘bold, connected and approachable’, I think I’ll survive living in my ignorance.



If You Thought My Love Of Queen Was Waning …

I love Queen.

Or more specifically, I love early Queen.

I can just about stretch to 1984 – after that, I accept their choices and output became rather questionable.

OK, so I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing them with Adam Lambert leading the stage, but from a musical point of view, it’s fair to say their best days are definitely numbered, but then at 70+ years of age, who can blame them.

That said, Brian May is still someone very special to me.

He basically made me pick up the guitar.

He gave me the desire to learn, the hunger to keep practicing and the confidence to play in bands and gigs all around the World.

Since those early days, I have done a lot of playing.

And bought a lot of guitars.

Classics. Custom made. Cheap as chips.

And while the closest I ever got to his handmade Red Special was a pretty dodgy Gordon Smith back in 1984, I’ve always thought about getting a custom made one of his.

I never did it for a few reasons.

I always thought it was a bit sad to have a guitar so synonymous with someone so famous and – frankly, with the amount of guitars I own – I couldn’t justify it.

But a couple of weeks ago, I accepted owning one is not going to make me any sadder than I already am so while my chops are a fraction of what they were when it was my life and my job, I took the plunge and last week, all my Brian May fantasies came true once and for all.

It might not make me play like him.

It might not even make me sound like him.

But it makes me feel insanely happy and has me playing guitar more than I have in years.

Now all I need is a poodle perm. Oh, and some hair.

Thank you Mr May. Again.



There Is No Normal, But There Is A Hell Of A Lot Of Ordinary …

One of the things I hate is when I hear someone say ‘normal’ in relation to people.

What are they going on about?

There is no such thing as normal.

There may be habits or tastes or behaviours that are common, but that doesn’t make the people undertaking them, normal.

Ordinary perhaps … but not normal.

Our industry is obsessed with trying to sell mass.

I get it – clients want to reach as many people as possible – but while it sounds more efficient for a clients marketing investment if you talk about people in terms of ‘normal’, it doesn’t mean it is more effective.

If anything, quite the opposite.

As I have said countless times, we need to stop thinking relevance is the win and start aiming for resonance.

Of course to do that, you have to be comfortable with uncomfortable – and that’s why I think we’ll be seeing terms like ‘normal’ and ‘relevance’ for decades to come.

Until most of us don’t exist anymore.



A Little Bit Of Nice To End The Week …

There are 2 reasons for the title of this post.

The main one is that I’m ending the week on a nice story.

And when I say ‘nice’, I mean it … it’s not me ranting about some revenge I’ve finally unleashed on someone after 30 years.

I know … who the hell am I?!

The other reason is that I’m having a little break so you get a ‘long weekend’ of blog post freedom as I’m not back till Tuesday.

Enjoy it, it might not happen again for a long time.

But back to the main reason for this being nice …

England has a terrible history in terms of inclusion.

Hell, it has a terrible history in a lot of things.

And while the World is a massive, massive shit-show right now, there are moments where faith is restored.

Case in point is what the Bank of England have done with the design of the new £50 note …

For those of you who don’t know who Turing was, read this.

Put simply, he not only was a brilliantly clever man, he played a huge role in the Allies victory in World War 2.

And yet despite all this, he was treated despicably simply for being gay.

And while you could argue this gesture of acknowledgement is too little, too late – and it is – the way they did it is the perfect tribute to the man.

An act that shows how he did things, not just what he did.

A gesture of beautiful nerd resonance.