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


What Adland Needs To Learn From Oprah …

Adland talks a lot about diversity and inclusion.

It talks about wanting to make a difference.

But while I appreciate the intentions are genuine, the actions often aren’t.

Too many superficial acts designed to make us look good without actually doing much good.

Self-indulgent acts that are designed to change nothing but make us feel like heroes.

Pieces of work that tell people what they already know so we can claim we are ‘living our purpose’ at the next global conference get together where the loudest applause is for ourselves.

I wrote about this recently when I found out Cocoa Girl – the magazine for little girls of colour in the UK – was the FIRST magazine for little girls of colour in the UK.

The first!!!

Well here’s another example of how poor we are as an industry following through on what we so loudly and proudly claim.

The top of this post features one of the 26 billboards Oprah has purchased around Louisville, in the US.

For those who don’t know the story of Breanna Taylor, you can read it here … but in simple terms, it’s another case of US Police racism that resulted in another innocent African American being murdered with – initially – no implication on the officers involved.

[And then, after a huge protests, the officers involved were arrested but ended up facing a fraction of the justice they deserved … meaning it was another insult to the Taylor family]

This is a case that has shaken America and beyond.

This is a case that needed pressure putting on the authorities to investigate rather than look in another direction.

This is a case that showed again the deep disadvantage people of colour have in America and all over.

What Oprah did is amazing but I can’t help but think adland could have done this.

Should have done this.

But we didn’t.

And while I am pointing fingers at us, I’m also pointing them at myself … because if we are serious about D&I, it’s about doing things that are in the best interests of the people we want to connect with rather than making it all about what is easiest for us.

Or said another way:

We have to commit … rather than just show interest.

Go out of our way … rather than make others go out of theirs.

What this brilliant act by Oprah reminds me is that creative and cultural inspiration does not come from just looking at ourselves. If we want to survive, we can only do that by letting more diversity in and letting them thrive on their terms rather than ours.



If You Don’t Like The Blues Brothers, Be Like A Supermodel …

So this is a continuation of yesterday’s post.

Specifically in terms of people in a position of power creating the physical and economic conditions for people of colour to prosper.

I don’t just mean giving people of colour a job, I mean fighting for them to have the platform to win in terms of respect, influence and pay.

Yesterday I wrote how Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi ensured the musicians in The Blues Brothers kept their performing rights for all the music they wrote/played, so they – and their families – would continue to profit every time a song or the movie was performed.

Well I recently heard of another example of this.

Naomi Campbell is an icon of the modelling industry.

But it wasn’t always like that.

In fact, if the industry had its way, it would never have happened.

In an interview, she said this …

“I used to have to fight for the same fee as my [white] counterparts doing the same job”.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Still happening each and every day in each and every way.

In fact it’s worse for the average person of colour – or woman – because they don’t have the scale of awareness or influence an international model has. So when they speak up about pay discrepancy, they immediately get labelled a ‘trouble maker’ or a ‘not a team player’ and find themselves either sidelined or, in some situations, fired.

But back to Naomi …

You see after she’d talked about the situation she faced in the early days of the industry, she went on to add …

“Thankfully, my friends Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington called out this treatment and told designers that if they didn’t hire me, they wouldn’t work for them”.

It is important to note this is not white saviour shit.

Or charity.

Linda and Christy never talked about what they did, nor have they ever sought credit or payment. In fact, had Naomi not talked about it, it may never have come out at all. But it is important it did because like yesterday’s post, it’s another example of people in a position of privilege – ie: white people – recognising and valuing the talent of someone they know the industry will chose to ignore and actively using their power to force a situation where they will be treated and paid well for their talent, expertise and influence.

There are some other examples I’ve heard – blues great, B.B. King said Elvis did a similar thing to ensure he cold play in the profitable venues of Las Vegas – but frankly, it’s still the exception rather than the rule and the situation is not getting any better.

In fact I could argue it’s probably getting worse because there is more awareness and supposed openness than ever before and yet things are still not happening.

But here’s the thing, it’s not enough to want to change the situation.

Just like it’s not enough to not be racist.

The reality is you have to hate racism enough to act against it.

Not just with words, but with actionable behaviour … where we use our inherent white privilege to not just talk about diversity and inclusion, but actively fight to create real, sustainable, economically prosperous opportunities for people of colour to win.

Not because we want to look good.

Not because we want people to be in our debt.

Not even because it’s the right thing to do.

But because their talent, their way of looking at the world, their understanding of what culture and creativity is – and can be – and their understanding of others will make us all better.

Literally.

And what’s more, they’re happy to share the benefits of this with all of us.

Maybe giving the industry we all work in a chance to not keel over and die.

Hell, we don’t deserve any of it but they still are willing to do it.

Christ, we don’t even have to give anything up, we just have to make space for them to be respected and rewarded for their talent, expertise and influence.

Which means there’s now only one thing to decide.

Are you going to be a Blues Brother or a Supermodel?



Why We Should Be Like The Blues Brothers …

Yes, this post really is about the movie The Blues Brothers.

The one where paroled convict Jake — and his blood brother Elwood – set out on a mission from God to save the Catholic orphanage in which they were raised, from foreclosure.

Where to achieve their goal, they not only have to reunite their R&B band and organise a concert so they can try to earn the $5,000 needed to pay the orphanage’s tax bill … but also have to navigate around a homicidal mystery woman, a bunch of Neo-Nazis, an entire police department hellbent on stopping them and a Country & Western band.

And yes, I am really saying we should be like them.

However this is not because I am advocating violence against authority [ahem], or even a return to the true definition of rhythm and blues [versus the sanitised version being flogged by record companies left, right and centre] but because of how Dan Aykroyd – the writer and actor of the movie – ensured the creative value of the artists appearing in the film was rewarded rather than exploited.

Music has a long history of exploiting artists.

Where their talent is used to fund the lifestyles of everyone other than themselves.

It’s been going on for decades and affected everyone – including those who got to ‘the top’ like The Beatles and Elvis Presley [there’s also a great book on how badly Bros got ripped off, which is worth checking out] … however no group of musicians has been as badly affected as black artists.

From not being paid to not being played … black artists has consistently been exploited and abused by white music industry leaders, from record companies to MTV.

To give you an idea of it, here’s a clip of David Bowie challenging MTV about their lack of black artists on the channel …

Bowie, as usual, was right.

Recently I watched a documentary where legendary musician, Herbie Hancock, talked about his iconic Rockit video and how they purposefully created something that didn’t really show his face to ensure MTV would play it in heavy rotation.

THIS IS NOT A LONG TIME AGO!!!

And while you may think the music business is now dominated with black artists, the reality is they are still getting screwed by organisations who want to profit from their talent.

Which leads me back to the Blues Brothers.

You see this movie was dominated by African American musicians – and while many studios would try and underpay them by saying the worldwide exposure they’d gain is commercially valuable to them, Dan Aykroyd did something else.

That’s right, he let them keep their publishing rights.

Which means every time a song or the movie was played, the artists behind the music would get paid.

Not the studio.

Not the writer.

Not the networks.

But the artists.

What’s sick is that 40 years later, this act by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi is still rare.

Since then, we have consistently seen people of colour have their creativity exploited and profited from by others.

Whether that is through acts of cultural appropriation to corporate intimidation to down right theft.

Frankly, nothing highlights this more than the plight of Dapper Dan and his store in Harlem during the 80’s and 90’s. Here was an individual who created fashion that changed and impacted culture on an almost unprecedented scale … and yet he faced a constant barrage of abuse, exploitation and theft from organisations who appreciated his talent but just didn’t want to pay for it or acknowledge it.

Given black culture is the driving force of almost all youth culture around the World, it is disgusting how little of the money it helps generate ends up in the pockets of the black community … which is why I suggest another way companies can demonstrate their diversity and inclusion ambitions is to follow the approach of the Blues Brothers.

Included.

Represented.

Acknowledged.

Respected.

Paid.

Enabled.

Empowered.



When You Realise You’re The Joke …

Great advertising ideas – like any form of success – tend to have a thousand authors.

Of course, we all play a part in the journey to something being awesome, but it’s fair to say some play a bigger part than others.

What makes me laugh is when people who had nothing to do with the work suddenly – and publicly – start associating with it.

Not just in terms of being employed by the same company, but in having some magical, pivotal role … even though when the spotlight turns off, they’re back to their usual obstacle-creating, idea-destroying self.

But there’s something worse than that …

It’s the people who were pivotal in developing the idea but are not acknowledged for it.

They tend to be young teams …

Too junior to feel they can say something, surrounded by people who think this is just part of the right of passage.

And it is. But it shouldn’t be.

For me, this is where management need to take responsibility.

Ensure their people share the spotlight.

Let them enjoy the feeling of doing something good.

Make sure they understand the responsibility they have, not just the glory.

But too often that is not what happens …

Too often, they see their manager take the credit – and while they definitely played a role in helping their team play to that level – the real rewards should be saved for those who did the work, rather than those who happened to be in the same room when the work was being made.

A friend of mine has recently experienced this.

Ideas dismissed, then slightly rephrased by another, more senior person, to take the praise and credit.

And the people around them all knew it was happening but they let it continue happening.

“It’s just their way” they say.

“They made it better” they claim.

What makes it even worse is the reality of the situation soon gets forgotten and it’s the person who claimed the work who gets placed on a pedestal for all the great things that happened.

Leaving the originator behind.

Wondering what the fuck just happened. Questioning their ability and talent. Losing their confidence to keep going.

I’ve seen it happen.

I’ve seen it not that long ago.

Hell, I’ve had it happen to me … and when I stood up to the person doing it, I got in trouble with my then boss for being a ‘disruptive force’.

This taught me a valuable lesson – reinforced by some of the amazing leaders I’ve had the privilege of working with – and that is the true value of management is ultimately defined by how well the team does.

Not personally.

But collectively.

And by well, I mean in terms of the work that is created, rather than the documents written.

Don’t get me wrong, decks have an important role to play – but I’ve seen far too many managers only care that their ‘bit’ goes down well with the client, forgetting if it doesn’t help those around them get to better, more intriguing or provocative work, it’s nothing more than self-serving vanity.

Which is why I believe a managers role is to create an environment that lets their people be vulnerable, audacious, experimental and exploratory … as well as forging a culture that ensures the team feels backed, supported, acknowledged and pushed – rather than ignored, misled or stolen from.

And if they do that, then they’re doing their job.

Not a great job. Just their job.

Please do not mistake this as condescending compliments at all agency meetings.

Nor patronising pats on the back at team get-togethers.

I mean they actively fight for the career development of their team individually and as a whole.

Not just money or title or promotion …

But exposure, experience, possibilities and opportunities. So when a member of the team leaves – and everyone does at some point – they get a job that is better than they ever imagined they’d get.

One where they’re hired for how they look at the world rather than just filling a position.

Now you don’t get this easy. People have to earn it. They have to graft for it. They have to have awareness about what they’re doing and where they’re at.

But if they do that, the least a manager can do in return is back them, support them and push them on every step of their journey … even when they fuck up.

Which they will do at some point, because we all do.

And frankly, if they don’t … then they’re not trying hard enough.

The young of this industry are often used as cannon fodder.

Run to exhaustion.

Given huge demands.

And while not everyone will be the same in terms of skills, ability or outlook (which is a good thing or you’ve got a department of one dimensional robots) … they all need to be protected, nurtured and supported, because the future of this industry will be built on the standards and experiences we pass on to those we are responsible for, rather than leaving them to fend for themselves with all that they do.



Eurphoria In Disappointment …

My last day at R/GA was great.

That might sound weird, but it was.

Part of it was because I started the morning with the brilliant Brixton Finishing School listening to a bunch of students answering a brief I gave them with passion, mischief and possibility and part of it was because I got to spend significant time with my brilliant planning gang to say goodbye.

But there was another reason, which is that the first thing I did when my life at R/GA was over – literally within 30 minutes of being officially made unemployed – I was doing an interview with Faisal Ahmend about diversity and inclusion in adland.

And while it is an issue I am very, very passionate about …

And while I continue to feel the industry only gives a superficial response to it …

And while my headphones and wifi makes me sound like I’m Darth Vader speaking from a tin box with intermittent wifi …

…. even I’m slightly suprised how upbeat I sound on such a significant day in my career.

But then, as I said in the post that announced it, not only was I glad this happened to me rather than a person of colour, a woman or a youngster starting out in their career – who are often the first victims in these situations – the reality is the last time this happened to me, it led to the most exciting and creative time of my career and so I felt no reason to feel anything other than optimistic about the future.

Now I admit with hindsight, that may have been naive of me – especially with all the shit going on in the World with pandemics and political fighting, not to mention my old, old, old, old, age – however based on all that has happened to me since that I announced I’d been made redundant, my hunch has been proved to be right.

So far. Hahahaha

Normally I hate listening or reading things I say.

I spend the whole time slapping my head either muttering, “why did I say that?” … “why didn’t I say that?” … or “why am I jumping about and rambling like I’m a loon?”

However this one is a bit different.

Sure there’s things I wish I rephrased.

Sure there’s things that I might have got slightly wrong.

But at the end of the day, I say the one thing that I feel had to be said … the one thing to counter the excuse I continually hear why there is not more diversity in adland today.

When asked how do I find the people to add diversity to my team, I respond …

“You don’t have to ‘find them’, they’re everywhere … you just have to want them.”

You can listen to it here.

You can listen to far more intelligent and articulate people here.

And, as usual, I huge thank you to all the people who have – and continue to – help me on my journey to being a much, much better human. Especially Maya, Breanna, Chelsea, Lani, Hannah, Amar, Omar, Erika, David, Sue, Jorge, Karrelle, Jason, Tahaab, Charinee, Leon, Debi, Tina, Kate, PQ, Rodi, Jay, Akua, Yaya and Bayyina.