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


Full Service History, A Few Semi-Careful Previous Owners, Needs A Bit Of Body Work But The Engine Is Tuned To Put A Smile On Your Face As You Hold On To The Edge Of Your Seat …

So if the title of the post didn’t give you a clue.

And if the photo above didn’t make what this post is about, obvious.

Today is my last day at R/GA.

Sadly my role has been made redundant. Thanks a lot COVID!!

And while it’s sad, I am glad it’s a senior, white, male who is being impacted rather than someone young or female or a person of colour who are often the ones who get hit first across the industry.

But while there will plenty of things I’ll miss, the biggest will be my team.

I’ve always been so lucky with the planners I’ve worked with and this lot are no exception.

They’re great. A talented bunch of creative fools who made me laugh, debate and rethink stuff every single day.

They were an honour to work with and they will continue to be epic in all they do.

They better be, because I’ll be watching them. Closely.

So thank you Lachlan, Nic, Rach, Anna, Joel, Amar, Erika, Laureen, Bassot, Ed, Megan, Nicole, Divya, Arda, Amelia, Severine, Marissa, Insa, Toby, Ben … and the others who helped make my time – and the gang – so much fun, including Anne, Valia, Eduardo and Michael.

So what next?

Well there’s a bunch of things.

We bought a house which we still need to move into.

I have my projects with the Metal Masters I need to deal with.

And I recently got an assignment with the Chilli’s, by which I mean the band rather than the food – which will be fascinating. Or headache inducing. I’ll let you know which, later.

Then I’ve registered a company I now need to work out what the hell I’m going to do with. I’ve got some ideas and I’ve even got some backers, but I owe it to my family to give it a bit more thought rather than just run full-speed to wherever my excitement orders me to go.

But for right now, all I’m going to do is take a couple of weeks off to enjoy being with the family and no zoom calls – which means you also get a week or two off – so all that leaves me to say is thank you to R/GA for the adventure and the airmiles … my team for their brilliance and their trouble making and … my wife, son, cat, clients and mates for their love, support and sarcasm.

Last thing.

Let’s be honest, these situations suck.

If people had the choice between having a job and not, the job is pretty much always going to win, especially at my age.

However not only am I absolutely fine, I’m strangely optimistic.

There are many reasons for this, but the main one is the last time this happened to me, it resulted in some of the best times of my career.

From starting and selling cynic and Sunshine to then working at Wieden+Kennedy and R/GA through to living, exploring and working all around the World.

Or said another way … when my role was made redundant, it was instrumental in helping me do stuff at the highest levels of creativity, culture and client all around the World.

From helping launch brands like Spotify in Japan to partnering with NIKE to create sport culture in China to inspiring Virgin Atlantic to build an airport lounge that people want to miss their plane to stay in to finding ways to redefine the rules of luxury which led to SKP-S building an experience specifically designed to look/feel like life on Mars to helping Metallica do all manner of weird and wonderful stuff from connecting deeper with fans to opening new ways to connect with the band. And a bunch of other stuff, from the small to the huge to the ridiculous.

I absolutely, unapologetically, love this stuff with all I’ve got.

Now whether any of this can happen again is anyone’s guess, but it is possible … and given the challenges and competitive nature of the world today, I feel my history of provocative and intriguing creativity to help brands around the world define their position in culture – and business – still gives me a strong and valuable role to play.

I guess this is all my convoluted way of saying if you’re an agency or a company – anywhere in the World – who is ambitious to grow or change or reimagine who you are or considering new markets [ie: Asia/China] or stuck on a mindfuck of a problem or want advice on building a cohesive, potent strategy gang or just want to win better … then give me a shout, because whether it’s about leading something, collaborating on something or just chatting about something … I’m going to be officially available for all of this very soon and I’d bloody love it.

Right, now my Gwyneth Paltrow Oscar speech is out the way, see you in a few weeks.

Comments Off on Full Service History, A Few Semi-Careful Previous Owners, Needs A Bit Of Body Work But The Engine Is Tuned To Put A Smile On Your Face As You Hold On To The Edge Of Your Seat …


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.



Till Next Year …

So this is the final post of the year.

It’s been a big year for me and the family.

Then again, it was a big year for the family last year too.

However, whereas 2017 saw us leave Shanghai and Wieden+Kennedy – something that was truly emotional for all of us – 2018 has seen us go from sunny LA, working at Deutsch, living in a house by the beach and driving a custom made Audi to being citizens of cold and rainy London, living in a much smaller house in Fulham, working at R/GA [with some sprinkles of Metallica madness in-between] and traveling by tube to and from everywhere.

And we haven’t been this happy in ages.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things we definitely miss from our life in the US – people, the weather, Otis’ school, free soda refills and bacon mainly – but this move was right for us for a whole host of reasons, personal and professional, and we enter 2019 with the full expectation we’ll still be here when 2020 comes around.

I hope.

It’s funny, when I read the final post I wrote for last year, it is apparent that change was in our minds. We didn’t think that openly, but it seems it was there.

Of course, moving to a country and then leaving in just over a year is not the best thing.

It’s financial stupidity for one.

But these things happen and we are very happy for the amazing experience, though I must admit I’m even happier my wife, son and cat are still talking to me.

Fools.

But while our environment has changed, some things have stayed exactly the same.

Your ability to trash everything I write on here, for one.

And to you all, I say a huge thank you.

Sure, being told I’m a bad dressing, musically ignorant, gadget tosser every-single-day can get a bit tiring, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Because amongst the insults, there’s often pearls of gold in there.

Stuff that makes me think about things a different way.

Stuff that influences how I think about things I never thought about.

Stuff that just keeps me on my toes and interested about stuff.

And I love it.

I love that people come here and share a bit of their time and opinion with me.

Yes, I appreciate moving to the UK and still posting at 6am is screwing up the flow of the comments given the East Coast of America is asleep and can’t insult/join-in until much later … but the fact so many people still write makes me feel very fortunate.

While I have loved the ability to move countries and cultures so many times – and hope to continue doing it, just not for a bit – the reality is that is makes your friendship network difficult.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fortunate we have technology to keep me in touch with the wonderful people I’ve met in every country we’ve lived [whether they like it or not] and this year I got to catch up with people I’ve not seen in years – from Freddie to Paula – but there is something about having a level of constancy that makes you feel settled.

Bizarrely, this blog has provided me with a bit of that.

Even with people I have still yet to meet.

[Though I met Marcus and Neil Perkin this year and that made me so happy]

While I would never suggest I am your friend, you have been to me – in many ways and at many times, both at moments of darkness and happiness – and I want to take this opportunity to say thank you.

To all of you.

Even you Andy.

When I started this blog way back in May 2006, I never expected anyone to read it, let alone comment so the fact some of you still are – regardless that many Police officers would call it abuse – I’m grateful.

I’m excited about next year.

It will be big.

Not because we’ll be moving … or I’ll changing job … but new things will be entering my life.

From my beloved Otis starting proper school – which literally is screwing with my head – to the much-talked-about-but-not-much-actually-done Weigel/Campbell officially doing its thing in addition to the exciting adventures and exploits my wonderfully beautiful family, my bloody amazing friends and fantastic new planning team will get up to that will make me feel even luckier than I do already.

Being back in England has had a much bigger effect on me than I ever imagined it would.

I am grateful for it.

I am grateful for all I have.

I hope this holiday season and 2019 is one that is wonderful for you all too.

See you in a few weeks. [Yeah, don’t think you get so lucky to not have me come back]



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.



Forewarned Is Forearmed…

Just before we started cynic, we got our hands on as many agencies creds decks as we could get. The point was we wanted to see how our ‘competition’ were positioning themselves so we could both learn about who they were and ensure what we did was not going to mimic anything that had already said or done.

We needn’t of worried.

The reality was the vast majority of agency creds all said the same thing.

Literally … the same thing.

Bar the logo in the bottom left/right hand corner and the case studies they showed, they all talked about how many offices they had, how many people they employed, their propriety tools, their effectiveness [which often was very questionable] and their management team.

And it went on.

And on and on and on …

Excessively long, contrived, mundane, corporate monotone, egotism aside … what shocked us most was how few talked about the value they placed on the quality of the work and their philosophy behind what made good work happen.

So when we came to creating our creds, the first page anyone saw was the image at the top of this post.

[For the record, it wasn’t that exact image, that’s my instagram ‘square’ pic of the 9 individual pieces of artwork that we had around the office that I only recently got my hands back on. Thanks Billy]

Now I am not denying it was a bit confronting.

And now – with experienced eyes – it smacks of trying a too hard to be noticed and different.

But the purpose of it was three-fold.

1 We wanted to ensure no one could mistake us for anyone else.

2 We wanted to make sure our work always represented our beliefs.

[Because we had read too many creds where the words didn’t match the output – indicating they were either delusionists or illusionists]

3 We wanted clients to know the majority of people they wanted to engage with, wanted them to leave them alone.

Part of that was because they had a ‘blanket’ approach to targeting – despite claiming otherwise.

Part of that was because they had a superficial/egotistical attitude towards why people would care.

Part of that was because they saw work simply as communication rather than building something bigger.

And while cynic has been dead for 8 years, I look at that image and think it’s still pretty relevant, which is pretty tragic, especially when you think about all the research, processes and tools adland likes to ‘big itself’ up about.

And that’s why I suggest to anyone looking to change agencies that before you make any decision – you should ask to see their creds.

Of course that shouldn’t be the only reason you choose a job, but seeing how they present themselves to others is possibly the quickest way to see what reality is truly like … especially when you filter it through the body of work they actually ended up putting out into the World.