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


Oh China …

I am spending a lot of time in China at the moment for work.

I won’t lie, this makes me very, very happy.

And while it is in Beijing more than my ‘home’ of Shanghai, it still gives me a very warm feeling.

That said, on a recent trip to Beijing, I had a classic #OhChina moment that made me smile.

#OhChina moments are – for people who have ever lived there – an experience where you cannot imagine it happening anywhere else in the World.

It is almost without question something slightly frustrating … created either because of cultural differences, a loss in translation or someone being a bit cheeky, lazy or shit.

In our time there, we had it all …

From hiring a painter who turned up with no paint or brushes because he said he was there to paint [and nothing else] to my mate discovering his cleaner was earning some money on the side by letting workmen cool off in the summer sun, by either sitting in his air conditioned apartment or – for a bigger fee – have a shower.

As I said, it’s frustrating and sometimes even annoying, but within an hour, you find yourself smiling and muttering, “Oh China”.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I was in my hotel and went to get my laptop and passport that I had left in the room safe.

China has low crime – especially towards foreigners – but I put them in there as I was out most of the day and didn’t have a bag with me to keep them in.

So I go to the safe and the passcode doesn’t work.

Nothing.

I knew it was the right code and it registered as the right code but it did nothing.

So I rang down to reception to ask them to come check it out.

To be honest, this thing has happened to me before.

Once in Shanghai, the safe failed and they opened it by welding the doors off.

I still remember the feeling of confusion as I saw them come in and cover the smoke alarms … but they did it and I made my flight.

So back to Beijing …

The hotel sent up 3 people.

An engineer, a duty manager and some other person.

They kept trying to reprogram the safe but it wasn’t working.

Worse, the safe was built into the wardrobe and it was a ‘top-down’ model, so it was much harder to get to it.

So what were they going to do?

This …

Yes, that is the sound of them drilling.

Not the hinges, I should add … the bloody middle of the safe.

With a long drill bit.

So long it could go through the safe and my passport and laptop.

I asked them what would happen if they damaged my goods and they said, “we don’t know”.

Hahahahahaha.

But despite the potential for absolute tragedy, they not only succeeded, they did it with no damage whatsoever.

OK, so the safe was fucked …

… but my stuff was fine.

My favourite bit was when the manager worriedly asked if I’d taken any photos because he didn’t want anyone to think this was normal. Of course, the fact this has happened to me before meant it is pretty normal but the reality is the staff were very nice and apologetic and – frankly – it made me miss this country even more because it’s this sort of ridiculous that makes this country so infectious. At least for me.

Oh China …



Professional To The Core …

For reasons I don’t understand – but I do like – I occasionally get asked for my opinion in industry magazines.

While I absolutely take what I do seriously, I have realized that if I was to compile all that I’ve said that has been printed, I would look a bit of a maniac.

For example, there’s this. Or this. Or even this.

And just recently I was asked ‘what Star Wars character would I be’ and this was my answer …

But here is the thing …

While many may think I do this because I need psychiatric help or have a career death wish, there’s another reason behind it and it’s about comfortableness.

You see when I was a youngster in the industry, I was surrounded by super-smart, super-senior people who were full of opinion, personality and provocation.

While I didn’t agree with everything they said, they helped me realise that ‘just because you take your job seriously, doesn’t mean you have to take yourself seriously’.

What this did was let me feel comfortable in taking to any of them about any madcap idea I had … let me talk to clients about subjects that may otherwise seem ‘off limits’ and let me work with colleagues without thinking it made me look weak or incapable.

In essence, cheekiness has enabled me to do – or be part of – things that I may not otherwise never have been able to do.

From work I’ve been a part of … clients I’ve worked with … agencies I’ve worked at and countries I’ve lived in.

Now of course, mischief is in my bones so it wasn’t exactly hard … but being encouraged to embrace my truth rather than oppress it had a huge benefit to my career and so while a bunch of what I say and do is because I’m a bloody idiot, there is a part of it that is intended to create the space and atmosphere to enable my colleagues and clients feel comfortable with being vulnerable … whether that’s expressing their ideas, their fears and ambitions or simply realizing that if I can have a career while still being a sweary fool, then they – with all their talent – surely can.

You might think this is a load of bollocks – and I totally understand get why – but it’s true.

The future of adland is not going to come from more processes, it’s going to come from more people being able to express or explore their ideas without fearing they will be judged, shot down or ridiculed.

And if you think that’s a dramatic statement, just go on twitter and see how the masses react to any idea that challenges the belief system they have bought into, even though they know for a fact that the very small amount of people who succeed – which are mainly white men – are generally the ones who reinforce the cliche rather than push or break them.

Happy Monday.



Laugh In The Face Of Authority …

Redundancy is horrible.

It happens but that doesn’t stop it being horrible.

You feel discarded, worthless, devalued.

Even if you know it is absolutely none of those things and you’re just a victim of circumstance you can’t escape the feeling you have been singled out.

It’s even worse when companies approach it as “business, not personal”.

I appreciate that there are countless legalities that you have to jump through but while it might be business for the company, it is always personal for the individual being let go.

That doesn’t mean you want to receive any sense of contrived compassion but you do want to feel respected as an individual.

I remember being let go once and then told that because they knew my visa would mean I’d have to leave the country in 28 days – they would happily delay telling the authorities for a month [to allow me more time to find a new job] but – and it’s quite a big but – if I sacrificed the residency payment I was legally obliged to have been given.

Pricks!

[Though it gave me the resolve to start cynic so it wasn’t all bad – but absolutely no thanks to them]

Anyway, the reason I am writing all this is because I read a story of someone in NZ who was being made redundant who dealt with the situation in a unique way.

Not only did they ensure they owned the situation but they also ensured it was the company letting them go who felt the awkward ones.

It all started when the individual was told they were being let go and informed they could bring someone to the meeting for support.

Who did they bring?

A partner?

A parent?

A colleague?

A lawyer?

Nope … a clown.

A bloody clown.

You can read the story of my newfound hero here … even though when I first heard the story I thought it was the agency who brought in the clown to try and make the mood lighter.



Trumps Tax Plan Is Genius …

When Trump came to power he made a big deal of lowering tax for everyone.

Of course, what he really was doing was lowering tax for himself – which is weird, given he doesn’t pay any.

Anyway, when I left the country I was still waiting for my tax return to be processed.

A couple of weeks ago, I received this …

Yes, that’s a cheque for $1.

A cheque that probably costs more than $1 to produce.

But better yet, the bloody cheque is void because you only have a year to cash it and that passed on January the bloody 1st.

Given I have another US tax return in the system, I guess I should prepare to live groundhog day in about 12 months time.

You’ve got to admire Trump … he makes big promises that catch the headlines then makes sure they can’t actually happen to which he then blames the people in charge of the operation. The people that he forgets, he is the boss of. Tosser.



Mischief Makers …

So last month, it was my birthday.

Because it was my first birthday in the UK for 25 years – not to mention R/GA – I decided to do something a bit special [read: daft] that culminated in me sending this all office email the day before my big day.

Yes, I really did buy that many Monster Munch and so while I thought I was going to have the last laugh on my birthday, my wonderful team decided to trump me by making me this cake.

What you are looking at is a Strawberry Jam Sandwich cake.

Literally layers and layers of jam sandwiches.

Despite having the sugar content that could bring all dinosaurs at once – it was strangely tasty – though I did only manage a slither, which the pricks took great delight in videoing.

And yet this act of evil genius was very moving to me.

While some might think I’m mad because what they did was an act of hatred – an attempt at murder – I see it differently.

Maybe it’s because in addition to the cake, I was given a bunch of cards and presents [Highlights include: Erika’s 1.25 liter of Diet Coke, Severine’s ‘Shut The Fuck Up’ bell, Ed and Rob’s test pressing of their new album and the teams ‘complaint letter’ to HR all about me ] … but even without any of those things, their act of birthday evil [or, as one person called it, the presentation of a white trash cake] was, for me, a demonstration of giving a shit which left me feeling very touched.

I’ve been super fortunate with the teams I’ve worked with.

Almost universally, they have been a bunch of brilliant people blessed with exceptional talent.

OK, not all of them … but overall, they’ve all been amazing even though they have also been mischievous shits. Which is why one day – and I appreciate no one would ever want this to actually happen – I’d love to have a party where everyone who has had the misfortune to work with me, comes along.

Not so they can compare war stories – though there would be a lot of those – but because in the main, they have made me a better person for the experience and I would want to thank them.

Even for Jam Sandwich birthday cakes.

Jesus, who am I?!!!



A Love Letter To China’s Wonderful, Beautiful, Brilliant Chaos …

Of all the places I’ve lived, China is the one that has left the strongest mark.

Frankly I absolutely and utterly loved my time there.

Sure part of that was because of Wieden – I loved and will always love them – but it was more than just that.

It was the people, the madness, the history, the chaos, the energy, the values …

Yes there were some things that bothered me immensely, but overall, I was intoxicated with the place and will always be that way.

I believe you can tell how much a place gets into your soul by how you react when it’s under attack. Not by guns, but by media and politicians.

If I look back on my 7 years there, I was very quick to jump to its defense when Western media decided to take an isolated incident and claim it represented the beliefs, behaviors and values of over a billion people.

Were there some shit things that happened there when I was there?

Absolutely.

Were there moments of madness and sadness that will never leave my memory?

100%

Are there some terrible restrictions on people lives and opinions there?

Sure.

But these are not isolated to China … every country has bad people doing horrific things, every country is creating an increasing division between rich and poor and in terms of government, countries either are doing their own version of ‘inflicting their will on the people’ or wishing they could get away with the stuff the Chinese government get away with.

I’m looking at you UK, Australia and the land of ‘the free’.

And that’s why I can still truly love the place and feel privileged for the experience it gave me.

I have absolute pride my son was born there.

Whatever happens in his life, he was born in China and for me, that means our links to the country will always be strong.

And while I will always be passionate in the pursuit of changing Westerners perceptions about the Middle Kingdom, there are some things that I just stand back and accept will just reinforce certain prejudices.

Some – like Uncle Martian – are terrible, especially as it was a conscious decision.

Some – like this, below – are perfection, especially as they were done in innocence.

[And if not, that’s even more genius]

China, I love you.

Lose the bullshit but please never lose your beautiful madness.



Appetite For Destruction … The Advertising Edition

So I had a lovely time in Spain and now I’m ready to go hit Cannes.

I haven’t been there for over 12 years and I have to be honest, I’ve been very very OK with that.

While I have always enjoyed the talks they have, the other stuff has driven me nuts.

Pretending to be rockstars. Acting like animals. Just demonstrating a total lack of self-awareness.

Of course not everyone is like that and it’s always nice to catch up with old friends from around the World, but in my experience, I saw far too many people who were cliches of the industry so I am hoping with all my heart that has disappeared in my time away.

What I am looking forward to is the presentation we are giving on behalf of WARC.

As you know, the wonderful Mr Weigel and I started a planning school about a year ago.

While not a huge amount has happened, it is happening and the lovely/stupid [delete as appropriate] people at WARC invited us to give a talk about dangerous strategy.

To be honest, it’s quite a big subject to cover in 45 minutes so we’re going to focus on why every strategy needs more chaos in it.

Within this subject there will be all manner of unpacking. From the need to spend time in the real world, to the ridiculousness of what brand owners think passes for insight to why being interesting is literally the new right.

I hope it will be enjoyable for the people attending – I know Martin won’t disappoint – but it’s a great honour for me to be doing a project with probably the best planner in the biz right now … at the most prestigious event in the ad calendar …. with an organization dedicated to helping make smarter work rather than just smarter decks.

Then again, if they all agreed to be publicly associated with me, maybe they’re not as smart as we all think they are.

That, or Martin is doing it to use me as the physical manifestation of chaos.

Devious sod.

Come and say hi if you’re there or avoid me like the plague.

Back posting rubbish on Friday.