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


Another Chapter Ends, Another Chapter Begins …

So today is going to be my last post for a while.

As you know, I’m leaving America and moving to the UK … and that all happens over the next 12 days.

Next week I say my goodbyes to Deutsch and then, 6 days after that, we move to the UK.

Because we have a bunch to do – from packing up to finding a new place to live – I need to focus on my family more than writing rubbish blog posts, hence while I endure a momentary period of maturity pain, you get to experience a momentary period of peaceful gain.

But don’t get too comfortable … it’s definitely going to be momentary as I’ll be back up and running on October 1.

Oh yes. Be afraid, be very afraid.

That aside, I have to say the last few weeks have been pretty hard.

Not in the sense of getting everything together for the move – though that is still an utter pain in the ass, despite the fact we have done it so many time – it’s just that the life in LA is pretty spectacular.

As I wrote once before, I’ve had better weekends in America than I may have had pretty much anywhere in the World and to say goodbye to that is hard.

Of course a big part of it is the amazing weather and that we had cars for the first time in 15 years [and trust me, after all I went through to get my car, saying goodbye to that has been a pain too] but the other key element is that LA is an outdoor city and to be able to spend so much time with my family in the fresh air has been an amazing gift.

Of course London will offer us alternative wonderful experiences, but that sunshine is a pretty addictive thing.

The other hard part is saying goodbye to people.

OK, not goodbye for ever – technology ensures that doesn’t have to happen – but goodbye in terms of seeing you each day.

All of my family have met people here who have become incredibly important to us.

Jill has made friends here that have become incredibly important to her. Friends that will stand the test of time and distance. Friends that have made my wife truly happy and supported … and for that, I send a personal big thanks to Emma, Zoe and Amber to name a few.

Otis is inundated with them – thanks to his magnificent school – but no one will be missed as much as his beloved Elodie.

To be honest, we’re not sure if he truly understands what moving to London means in terms of implications. While technology means he will be able to still see and talk to Elodie, it will obviously be very different. I have to say we’ve handled this move with him very gently. Even though he’s already moved from China, he’s only 3 years old so his World is both huge and small. To try and make him feel as comfortable as he can be, we’ve made sure his feelings have been taken into account at every stage of the process – from creating a book of all the things he has seen and done in LA to showing him pictures of the things he will see in London to asking him to help us decide where our new family home will be.

Despite having moved countries more times than I care to remember, the fact is I never left home until I was 25 and I remember how traumatic that was for me. For a kid of 3, it must be insane … which is why he needs to feel his family unit is stronger than superglue while everything around him is changing.

I wish I didn’t have to put him through this, but apart from it being linked to work [more of that at a later date], part of this move is because Jill and I [and even the cat, probably] want him to be somewhere he can build real, longer-term roots.

As much as we loved LA, it was never going to be our long term home.

It was/is great, but we just didn’t really have an emotional connection to the place because we came here for work more than anything else.

Sure, if we had stayed longer, that might have changed – but England offers us roots. A place with some deep connections thanks to my background and – to a certain degree – Jill’s.

We have old friends there. People Otis knows and loves. And while I don’t think England will be our last stop on our journey, I do think it will be a significant one … a place where my family can build real roots and my son can find someone who becomes as important in his life and history as my beloved Paul is to me.

That is our goal. That is what my family needs. That is something we’re excited about.

But moving on means leaving things behind and for me, I am going to be saying bye to a bunch of people that have become very important to me.

The weird thing about LA is that by the time we moved here, an incredible amount of old friends and colleagues had also moved here. In fact, it meant LA was the place where I knew more people than anywhere else in the World.

Madness.

And as much as I’ll miss those guys, I’ve gone through this with them before so they don’t get to fuck with my heart that badly a second time. However there are a bunch of new people who I am going to hate to say bye too.

From our wonderful neighbours Kim and Dave to the lovely Elena – who Otis adored and trusted in no time at all – to the people at Noah’s Bagel’s who kept giving me free coffee because they found my t-shirts ‘amusing’.

But in particular I want to say a big thank you to some folks who made my weekdays better than I deserved.

There’s a bunch of them, but in particular I need to single out the amazingly talented and beautiful Jorge, the always happy [despite my shit] Zaid, the ‘Bake Queen’ Dana, the brilliant, patient, supportive and precious BCG [you know who you are, what you did for me and how much you mean to me] and – of course – my planning team.

Having spent 7 years with an incredible group at Wieden Shanghai, I didn’t know how I’d feel working with a totally different bunch, in a totally different country with a totally different context in terms of planning and creativity … but I can honestly say, it’s been an absolute pleasure working with them.

They’ve been incredibly good to me.

Putting up with my ‘ways’ and embracing my approaches.

And while all of them have played an important role in pushing the department forward, I have to give a special thanks to Kelsey, Rachael, Maya, Leigh, Heide, Lani, Ben, Mitch and Armando [and Donn, who fucked off for a pot of gold and a Lexus] for simply putting up with me on more projects than anyone else without – as far as I know – reporting me to HR.

There’s a lot of talent in this team, talent that can push them – and the agency – a long way, so I hope they continue being mouthy, opinionated, curious fucks … because as we saw in our brilliant America In The Raw study/book … when you stand for something, it stops the masses falling for anything.

I hope they feel I made a difference.

I hope they feel they’re in a better place than before I arrived.

I hope they can see bigger possibilities for who they are and what they can achieve.

For me, that’s the most important thing, even though I wish I could have achieved more.

For them. For me. For the agency.

[Though I have to say, I’m particularly proud that I got the office billboard changed, hahaha]

In all seriousness, I feel I’m leaving America a better person than when I arrived – which is the best way to leave any place – and that’s why I’m so grateful to all my planning team for what they did for me and helped me do.

Honestly, there’s a bunch of people here I’ve enjoyed working with, but this is already getting into Oscar speech territory, so in the interests of boredom, I’ll end this post with this.

Thank you LA.

Thank you for giving my family an experience we will always remember and treasure.

Thank you for the friendships, the memories and the opportunities we got to explore and enjoy.

I will always be grateful for the time I spent here, however short.

I hope America sorts itself out.

It’s an amazing country that deserves better. Needs to be better.

To do that, it needs to stop fighting as enemies and start talking as friends.

I don’t know if that will ever happen, especially under the current regime, but a united America is a good America and I want everyone I’ve met here to have the opportunities they deserve.

It’s been an honour and a privlidge and we’ll be back … for a visit, if only to prove to Otis that once upon a time, he really did live in [lifestyle] paradise.

London … here we come.

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Oh hang on, there’s one last thing before I go.

I know … I know … this post is going on forever.

In the tradition of leaving companies with my indelible mark, the good people of Deutsch LA have received 2 things:

Every member of my wonderful planning department have been given a copy of the highly enlightening Ladybird Book Of Meetings [for future ‘self protection/preservation’ purposes] while the rest of the agency have been left with these highly desirable, culturally bold [Ahem!], future collector item badges/buttons.

I think it’s how they’d like to remember me.

Or should I say, how they will remember me.

Look, I know as horrible as these things are, they’re still less painful than the 600 stickers I hid throughout Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai, but then Deutsch only had to endure a year of my pain where the lovely folks in China suffered for over 7.

I’m so considerate with my nastiness.

Which is probably why that after all this, they still have to put up with me for 4 days next week.

Cue: Evil Laugh.

It’s been a memorable adventure so a big thank you for everything.

See you America. See you soon England.

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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.



A Year Is A Long Time In America …

So today marks a year of being in America.

Or said another way, a year away from China.

It’s been a very interesting time for me … with a bunch of ups and downs.

Ups … in terms of the lifestyle my family get to enjoy and the people I now get to call colleagues and friends.

Downs … in terms of the state America is in and the way America is behaving.

Not just as a nation, but in the beliefs and habits that have infiltrated the working environment for so many people.

But all that aside, I still feel a deep sense of privilege that I get to have this experience.

The fact I’ve been able to live in different countries, experience different cultures and make a decent living out of it is something I will always be massively grateful for.

Of course part of this is because I’m white and male … and while I can’t change that, I can try and make sure those opportunities are available to those who aren’t either of those things.

Which has been one of the best things about being in America.

The massive wake-up call I had to the realities other people face.

Of course I wasn’t blind to it, I have seen it – and reacted against it – in every country I’ve lived, but the things I’ve seen and experienced in my short-time in America has been both confronting and enlightening.

Seeing how so much of white America deals with issues relating to African American and Latino rights – even when they’re in support of racial equality – proved to me that just saying stuff ends up being nothing more than compliance with established rules and behaviors.

It shames me to admit that it took me some time to realise that, but it’s absolutely true which is why I’ll always be grateful to colleagues like Maya, Chelsea and Bree for taking me to this point and place.

In all honesty, I don’t know how long we will be in the US.

It could be a year, it could be years … I’ve never gone to countries with a ‘time plan’ … but what I can say is the experience has been quite profound for me. OK, not in the way China was – in fact I still feel more Chinese than Western in many ways – but in terms of helping remind me who I am, what I value and what I am capable of doing or being.

You see, when I was in China, I heard murmurings that some people only saw me as someone for the Asia market.

While I absolutely love/d that part of the World and enjoyed having to relearn everything I thought I knew, I found that rumour annoying given I’d worked in a bunch of markets prior to China and in my role at Wieden, had worked with global clients for global markets all the time.

But rumours have a way of slowly getting into your head and while I do not deny there has been a bunch of stuff I’ve found weird/strange/annoying and plain fucked-up about working in America, seeing my department embrace their voice, their opinions and their beliefs and turn that into ideas, points of view and creativity that has made some people feel very uncomfortable has truly put a smile on my face.

That doesn’t mean I feel we are anyway done – far from it – but seeing change and, from my perspective, growth has been hugely rewarding.

Of course there’s no magic formula to it …

From a personal perspective it’s about being open to what you don’t know and having the willingness and curiosity to keep learning and improving. From the departments perspective, it’s just setting a direction, defining the standards we are all going to live up to and then giving everyone the time, space and backing to explore, fuck up and be vulnerable, which is why in the journey to this point – which includes the choices and decisions I’ve had to make to deal with the situations and circumstances I’ve come to face – it’s acted as a really valuable reminder of who I am, what I believe and what I still want to achieve.

So thank you America.

For what you have done for me and what you have done for my family.

I don’t know if I’ll ever love you like I love some of the other countries I’ve lived in, but if you sort out the shit you don’t want to talk about, then you’ll truly be an incredibly special place. And even though I don’t think that can ever happen – at least to the extent it needs to happen – I’ll forever be grateful for the experience you’ve given us living here … even if you’re giving my son an American twang.



A Year In A Blink …

So today is a year since I left Wieden and – in 6 days – Shanghai.

That’s incredible.

In some ways it seems it was just a few weeks and in other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago.

While it was absolutely time to start a new adventure – something LA and Deutsch have kindly given me – I still miss China and Wieden very much because I had 7 years of brilliant things happen in my life [such as this] and career [such as this and this] there … though I have it on good authority this sentimentality is only one way, mainly because those stickers I left behind are still being discovered.

And they will for many more years to come.

Cue: Evil laugh.



Donn. Rohn. Is. Gone …

When you start a new adventure – be it a new country or company – it can be daunting.

Of course no one starts a new adventure without there being a reason for it, but that still doesn’t mean you don’t find yourself being pulled into looking at what you are losing rather than what you could gain.

But good things can – and do – happen, of which one of them is meeting new people who make your new adventure more fulfilling and exciting.

One of those people is a guy called Donn Rohn.

I never knew Donn before I started at Deutsch. In fact on my first day at work, when I saw him, I thought he looked a bit of a dick, despite the fact a guy who used to work with him told me he was good.

But once I got talking to him, I realised almost immediately that it was only his walk that made him look an asshole [I’m serious, his walk is a cross between Dirty Harry and John Wayne] because the truth is, he’s as honourable a man as I have ever met in my life.

Smart.
Defender of his team.
A leader not a manager.
Committed to doing the right thing.
Empathetic, passionate, a dry sense of humour that drives brilliantly evil turns of phrase … he’s just a great human being and that’s before I mention how great a colleague, friend, husband and father he is.

I say all this because he leaves us today.

As sad as that is – and it really is – he’s off to do something that will change the path of his life so I’m genuinely happy and excited for him and his family because they deserve nothing but good things.

While I would have loved our time together to be longer, I’m grateful I met him and even more that I get to call him a mate so while he leaves a huge hole behind – especially in his ability to rock ‘grandpa sweaters’ that take no prisoners [his leaving present is the picture accompanying this post] – he also leaves a legacy of how to be a good human in a business that often tries its best to destroy that in all of us.

Thank you for everything Donn, never change.



It Seems I Am The Fine Line Between Famous And Infamous …

How is your 2018 going so far?

I know it’s still early days – but is it looking good or bad?

Well, if it’s looking positive, I’m about to ruin it for you and if it is looking dodgy, I’m going to help you solidify your opinion.

Why?

Well, a few weeks ago, a nice guy called Paul McEnany asked if he could interview me about my career.

While I’m sure his reasoning for his request was to help planners learn what not to do, my ego said yes even before my mouth did … and while the end result is the bastard love child of rambling randomness and base-level swearing, it’s the perfect way to justify your pessimism for 2018 or to ensure your optimism for the new year doesn’t get too high.

So go here and errrrrm, enjoy [if that’s the right word for it, which it isn’t] and after you’ve heard my crap, listen to the brilliant interviews with people like Gareth Kay, Russell Davies, Richard Huntingdon, Martin Weigel and the amazing Chris Riley because apart from being hugely interesting and inspiring, you’ll get the added bonus of [1] undeniable proof I’m a massive imposter and [2] the knowledge that if I can have some sort of semi-successful career in advertising, you certainly can.

You’re welcome.



When It’s Unfiltered, It Might Leave A Nasty Taste In Your Mouth But It’s At It’s Most Authentic …

When I first joined Deutsch, I wanted to understand what the hell was really going on with American youth so I sent 3 of my team – Maya, Armando and Leigh [along with Sarah, a photographer and co-supported back at HQ by the wonderful Kelsey] – backpacking across the US to spend about a month in some of America’s most opposite cities.

Specifically the richest/poorest … fastest growing/shrinking … most/least diverse.

No nice hotel rooms.

No fancy travel.

Just a month hearing and learning from America in The Raw.

As you can see from this little text exchange below, it left a mark on the guys …

In all seriousness, while they loved it, there were some things they saw and went through that challenged them deeply on a personal level. So deeply, that I honestly believe they have all come back changed for the experience.

And yet overall, what they found was a nation full of young people who wanted their country to be the one they had been brought up to believe in.

A country that lets anyone succeed.

A country that cared for their own equally.

A country where it led by taking on the big challenges and issues and crushing them.

Now of course, you could argue America was never really any of these things – just a master of PR – but that aside, the country they have found is not the country they want and so the way they are approaching their life is basically one of survival.

And what do I mean by survival?

Well in essence, it’s how they can cope with what’s going on until it stops.

Their overall view is “I can’t control the future, but I can control the present”.

And while their behaviour is expressed in multiple ways, we believe they fall into 4 distinct territories …

Protect: Keep safe what you have and don’t risk anything to get what you want.
Disguise: Define your relevance by the topical things you want to associate with.
Escape: Physically create a [momentary] world you want to live in.
Fight: Push against the unfairness you face.

Of course it’s way more complex and complicated than that – and we have spent a lot of time exploring and uncovering the influences, attitudes and behaviours that drive it and define it – but it does seem those 4 lenses are consciously and subconsciously influencing how people are starting to behave.

In all honesty, this adventure has been fascinating – not just in terms of understanding what is starting to happen, but how the issues of race or equality are reaching points where you can feel major change is on the way. Whether that change is instigated by government or the people is still anyones guess, but what we know is that it won’t be able to be swept under the carpet as easily as it has in previous years.

They won’t let it, especially with the current administration doing all it can to prod and provoke them.

The implications for society and business are huge – both in terms of positive change and negative potential – which is why we have created a [coffee-table] book and a presentation and – when we get some breathing space – a short film to truly define and explain what we heard and discovered. But as much as all those things are exciting, the bit I love the most is my team have given a voice to those who are rarely heard in the purest and most unfiltered way you can get.

There’s a lot of things I’ve done in my career that has made me proud.

This is most definitely one of them.

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If you’re interested in seeing/having a copy of the ‘America In The Raw’ book, let me know. I can’t guarantee we can accommodate everyone, but we’ll try.