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.



If A Plane Can Make Me Feel Emotion, Why Can’t Most Brands?

I fly a lot.

I have flown a lot for a very long time.

And still, I am not sick of it.

OK, that period of flying to America every week got to me, but generally, I love the feeling of flying – even though now, as a Dad, it makes me slightly more panicky just in case something happens.

I have to say of all the flights I do, long-haul are my favourite.

Part of this is because I sleep very, very easily on planes and so I get more rest on a plane than I do at home.

Part of this is because I get to watch movies uninterrupted, something that stopped happening when Otis was born.

Part of this is long-haul flights are my ‘normal’, so I don’t see them as long – just flying.

But of all the planes I have flown, I never got to do it on Concorde.

Maybe it’s because my Dad’s dream was to fly on it to NYC.

Maybe it’s because it entered mainstream service when I was at an impressionable age.

Maybe it’s because it flew at twice the speed of sound and so high, that you could see the curvature of the earth.

Regardless of the fact it was – in essence – the first rocket ship for public use, there has always been something about Concorde that was magical to me.

To be honest, I’m not sure why …

It was so quick I wouldn’t be able to enjoy a good sleep.

It was small – only 100 passengers – so I’d feel a bit claustrophobic.

The windows were so minute, you wouldn’t ever get a decent view unless you were next to it.

But regardless of all that, it was a magnificent machine … the likes of which, especially in domestic air travel, may never be seen again.

A few weeks ago, I got to see one.

Not a picture.

Not a model.

A real, refurbished one.

And I have to say, it was pretty emotional.

They had done it very well and in addition to giving you a good history of the rise and fall of the plane, they even included a ‘virtual flying experience’ that was pretty realistic.

However at the end, they showed a video of the last Concorde flight coming into land – Union Jacks flying from the pilots windows – and you felt a real sense of loss.

I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true …

Concorde was different.

Concorde was ahead of its time.

Concorde was the embodiment of the glamour of flying.

And while she was noisy, environmentally unfriendly, hideously expensive and the subject of a terrible crash [which, to be fair, was caused by the fault of another plane rather than herself] there was something magic about that plane and while I didn’t get to fly on her, it means a lot to me that I got to sit in her.

Thanks Concorde, you could teach a lot of companies a thing or two about capturing an audiences imagination.



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.



Victorian England Is Alive And Well …

A few weeks ago, my family went on what we call, ‘a family adventure’.

All that consists of is getting a map, pointing to a place around a couple of hours drive away and heading there to investigate and explore.

It’s nice to discover something new all together and it’s a precious time for us.

If we go on a Sunday, we tend to stop off at a pub for a legendary ‘Sunday Roast’.

After 2 and a half decades away, I have missed them immensely and there’s something heart-warming [literally and metaphorically] shoving some chicken and roast potatoes in your gob.

To be honest, we have had quite a range of quality.

Some of it – I swear – was a microwave version of a roast, given the grey color of the food and weird temperature range.

But some of it has been exquisite … though I appreciate that means nothing from a man who wears Birkenstocks and supports Nottingham Forest.

However what I’ve found even more interesting, is the range of pubs we have gone in.

The UK pub industry is facing incredible headwinds right now.

Huge amounts of them are being closed down – either due to a lack of trade or an increase in rents – so you’d think they’d be working hard to make people feel welcome.

And a lot are.

There’s one in Hitchin where the landlady remembered us and our orders from the second time we went in. Sure, that might have something to do with the fact Otis was wearing a full-on Spiderman costume on our first visit … but it’s still impressive.

However some are quite different.

Like this one near Winchester …

Oh I get a good joke.

I appreciate on face value, it’s funny.

Except it isn’t really is it.

It’s saying ‘kids need to be quiet’.

It’s saying ‘kids need to be controlled’.

It’s saying ‘kids are not welcome’.

It wasn’t just this sign either … there were notices everywhere:

Don’t make loud noises in the garden.

Don’t runaround in the garden.

Respect the pub grounds.

Look, I get it … you want to make sure everyone can enjoy the business you’ve worked hard to build up, but maybe they need to appreciate the difference between welcome consideration and jobsworth dictators.

While social media is awash with amusing pub signs, the landlord of this establishment needs to understand there is a huge difference between celebrating the ‘benefits’ of alcohol in our harsh world and insulting customers who have kids with them.

Or said another way …

Appreciate what you find funny may not be what others find funny.

I get ‘regulars’ may find kids annoying.

I get kids make noise and run around and around.

I get parents sometimes would like a break from it all.

But if you don’t want them coming, don’t advertise yourself as a ‘family pub’ …



You Never Forget Those Who Never Let You Be Forgotten …

Many years ago I wrote a post called pivotal people.

It was about those individuals who have an incredible impact on how your life turns out.

I’m not talking about family or friends.

I’m not even talking about relationships that last years.

I’m talking about interactions – whether for 10 minutes or a decade – that changes the course of how you live.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had quite a few of these people come into my life – most recently Maya, Bree and Chelsea – and it is important to me they all know the impact they have had – and continue to have – on who I am and what I do.

A long time ago, I decided the best way to show this was to write to them all and say thank you.

Weeks passed without a word from anyone so I emailed one of the recipients to check they had received the letter.

He responded saying he had and wanted to know if I was dying.

Yep … my heartfelt gratitude was met with the general consensus that I must have a terminal illness.

Thankfully I nipped that misconception in the bud, and while the people I wrote to still didn’t really know how to react [to the words in my letter, not the fact I wasn’t dying] the reality is I wasn’t looking for any sort of response or gratitude, I just wanted them to know.

Why?

Because in my experience, the people who go out of their way to help you in this way, do it because they see something in you that maybe you don’t even see.

They want to see you grow because they give a shit about your wellbeing.

But better yet, they do it for no self-serving reason, they just believe in you and who you can be.

It is – in my opinion – one of the most beautiful acts someone can do for another person and yet, in many cases, the people helping don’t even realize the impact they’ve had on you.

I’m writing this because I recently read an interview with the footballer Ian Wright.

He was asked ‘what did he owe his parents’ and he said he owed them nothing as he had done everything for them. He said the person he owed the most was his old school teacher, Mr Pigden.

Looking into it, I learned a story of love, belief and standards.

A story that celebrates teaching in its most powerful form.

Not for grades. But for preparing someone for a fuller life.

You can read the article here, but watch the video, it’s incredibly moving.

You don’t have to be a teacher to be Mr Pigden to someone.

I hope you have recognized yours and act in the same way to someone else.



It’s Not Big. It’s Not Clever. But It’s A Bit Funny …

So Cannes sent out a ‘wrap up’ of things learnt from this years festival.

There was a lot of talk about authenticity and audience … great, intelligent speakers with genuinely fascinating perspectives on how we get closer to audiences without them just feeling like ‘the data told us what to say and how to do it’.

Again, this is not an anti-data thing. Far from it.

But for creativity to infiltrate, invigorate and ultimately move culture and business forwards, it needs to be resonant to the audience [and the brand] rather than be some semi-relevant message that has been designed to actively disregard the very things that makes us human.

For that I mean the messiness, hypocrisy, fears, complexity, loves, passions, habits and nuance of how we think, what we think and how we live … the stuff that gives us individuality … the stuff that is very different to just focusing on transactional data points that have ultimately been designed to give specific answers to specific questions that forgets the importance of context.

Great data folks understand the need for this.

Great planning folks understand the need for data.

Sadly, we still treat them as an either/or, which highlights our industry seems to be more focused on the ego of power and control rather than what can liberate the most interesting creativity. Ironically, while I think my attitude shows me in the most professional light that I’ve ever been, I recently got called a ‘corporate anarchist’ – which kind of reinforces my point – however all this is immaterial, because imagine the utter disappointment of the people who spoke their brilliance at Cannes and discovered in the wrap up, almost half the pages dedicated to this subject come from a ranty, sweary Nottingham lad.

Their loss.

The industries shame.

My unbelievable, unashamedly wonderful gain.