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


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.

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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’ …



Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

So a few weeks ago, in a Starbucks in Epping, I saw this man …

For those who don’t know who he is, it’s music icon Rod Stewart.

I appreciate his best days as a singer are over but the fact he’s 74, still has hit albums and sold out concerts and looks pretty much like he did 40 years ago, means he can look back on his life as pretty bloody successful.

There’s lots of stories about Mr Stewart.

His love life.

His happy feud/rivalry with Elton John.

His tightness.

But what isn’t talked about much is his love of his family.

I saw it when he walked into Starbucks.

In came his wife and a bunch of his kids – young and old – and they all sat together, chatting … laughing and sharing coffee and croissants.

I know this is something we see everyday, all around the World, but there was something lovely in seeing an international Rock Star act like the doting father and husband he obviously is.

I’m not denying he has made some pretty shit mistakes in the past … but without wishing to defend that … sometimes good people make bad mistakes and whatever happened in the past, at least he seems to remember what is truly important.

Nothing says this more than an interview he gave this year …

I don’t know about you, but I think this is wonderful.

It’s also weird his brothers and sisters are NINETY YEARS OLD.

But what I love most is that it is apparent for all his wealth, he feels his family is what truly makes him rich.

Even his ex-wife, Rachel Hunter, doesn’t really have a bad word to say about him.

Their divorce wasn’t because of infidelity, it was because she was young and after 13 years of him being a doting husband, she felt she wanted to go out and live more.

And even then, she – and he – made sure everything was both amicable and respectful.

The reason I’m saying this is because work/life balance is under greater pressure than ever.

Sure companies are talking about it more than ever before, but in the main, what they really mean is ‘it’s important to have a home life but make sure you do your work first’.

I also accept, it’s much easier to have work/life balance when you’re a multi, multi millionaire because when Mr Stewart was starting out, he was so in debt, his manager and record company pushed him to go out on tour so he missed a lot of his oldest kids early years.

But here’s the thing.

If we all appreciate that work/life balance is important [even if that is simply because it makes you more effective at work] and mental health has become an issue that has been accepted as a real issue, how come this isn’t included in any procurement demands from clients or agencies?

Maybe it is, but I haven’t heard about any.

I have heard of contracts that demand female representation.

And I have heard of contracts that demand people of color inclusion.

But nothing on mental health or work/life balance.

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy that issues of gender and background are being forced into contracts [but I’m so sad this is what it took to have it happen] but what about making sure these people are looked after once they are there?

Why isn’t that part of the deal?

Why is that not a key criteria of what we are all talking about?

Why is that something shareholders don’t demand of the companies they invest in?

I think we can all guess, but if you’re still not sure, head over to Corporate Gaslighting and read what some people have discovered are some of the reasons why.



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.



The Best Part Of Me Isn’t Me …

A few weeks ago, Otis – my son – graduated from preschool.

I’ve got to be honest, I don’t quite get the preschool graduation thing.

Yes it’s a sort-of school, but it’s basically long playtime where you get to piss about with your mates – which is a bit like working in adland, but with less alcohol. Hopefully.

Anyway, whatever it is, Otis graduated which means the next stage is him embarking on his journey of real education.

I can’t believe it.

It seems only 5 minutes ago he was born.

But there he was … graduating for the first time in his life.

I don’t mind telling you I look at my little boy with such pride and love.

He has gone through a lot …

Living in 3 radically different countries – exemplified by the above photo shows him born in Shanghai, starting preschool in LA and finishing it all in London – saying goodbye to people of huge significance in his life, having to start things over again and again, watching his Dad crumble after seeing his beloved mum die, going through an operation … and yet through it all, he has approached life with a sense of optimism, mischief, happiness and curiosity that would put many older people to shame.

Part of this is because he’s just a loving and compassionate kid. Part of this is because he has family who bloody adore him. But part of this is the insane kindness and generosity that people around the world have shown him simply because they have watched him grow through my billions of social media pics.

The reality is Otis has brought more to my life than I could ever have imagined.

Not just in terms of love and happiness … but also in terms of lessons for life.

He has made everything unquestionably richer for both his amazing Mum and me and so as I tried not to cry as I watched him get his significant – but utterly pointless – certificate, I felt insanely proud of him.

Not for what he has achieved, but for who he is.

Congratulations Otis, you’re an epic little boy.



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.



Variety Is The Spice Of Life …

I saw this person on the tube recently.

I don’t know who they are.

I accept I have no right to talk about fashion or shoes.

But a pair of brown crocs with some glittered-up stones glued to them feels the sort of things by a Blue Peter host would have come up with circa 1982.

What makes it even more confusing is they were carrying an LV bag.

And while I haven’t seen such an odd pairing since I saw Cate Blanchett and her husband, I have to say I loved it.

It was quirky.

It was individual.

It was the sort of thing that pushes ‘fashion’ and could either crash and burn or open up a new chapter of it. And given we live in a world that tends to play safely in the middle, the people on the edges are the ones we should be looking at and celebrating.

When Martin and I did our Cannes talk for Warc, we talked about ‘the edge effect’.

It’s a genuine term – associated more with nature than planning – but the point is still valid. If you want to move brands forward, play to where culture is heading not where it is and to do that, seek out the people on the edges not smack bang in the centre.

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UPDATE:

Since I wrote this post, I discovered these shoes weren’t the work of a children’s TV presenter, some Pritt Stick glue, some stones from the garden and a couple of tubes of glitter but a real live bloody shoe designer.

Christopher Kane to be precise.

And what’s more, they cost £325.

THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE POUNDS.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Suddenly my wifi cup, remote control ball and basically 99% of everything I’ve ever bought looks a wise investment in comparison.

So to Mr Kane, your career might be done but you made me feel better about myself.Ta.