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


Don’t Want Something So Much That You Do Something You Don’t Want …

When I was at cynic, I wasn’t allowed to talk money with clients.

The main reason for this is that while I like money, I like doing weird and wonderful things more … so I used to agree to terrible terms just because I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss out on doing something we were really excited by.

Now I get we like to think there’s some sort of logic to this approach, but as George kindly told me – while punching me in the head – what I was doing was undermining our position.

For a start, your relationship with the client is impacted. That doesn’t mean they don’t value you, but it means they don’t value you as much as they should. They see you as a ‘cheap problem solver’ rather than a valuable problem solver.

Then there’s the fact all your additional time and passion will never be rewarded to the level it deserves. The worst part is this is your own fault as you already set the precedent for how much you are worth by lowering your fee to such a great degree.

And then there’s the dilution of the projects importance.

In essence, when something is made much cheaper, the effect is its value goes the same way. Going from something significant to just another thing being done. From having a strong focus within the company management to being delegated to people who don’t really have the same decision making power.

Before you know it, clients start questioning other things you’re doing.

Asking why certain things need to be done. Challenging the time or expense on the elements that show the real craft.

Leaving the end result a lesser version of what it should have been.

Now this doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens a lot.

And while I get we are in a highly competitive time, where everyone is looking to save cash – the ease in which we undermine our own value is both astonishing and debilitating.

George’s brilliance was his ability to have us walk away.

I have to be honest, we had many arguments about this over the years … but in the main, he was right.

His point was ‘why would someone value us if we’re not valuing us?’.

It’s a pretty compelling argument.

This doesn’t mean we weren’t open to negotiation, but George’s position was ‘never forget we have something they want because we’ve shown them something they need’.

Another pretty compelling argument.

And while this approach helped us not only win all manner of great creative projects – but helped us be a profitable, sustainable company – I still found it hard to deal with.

Hell, on the occasion we didn’t win a project because somebody said they could do it for cheaper, I was a bloody nightmare. George used to say it was because I am an only child – which may be right – because I hated not getting what I really, really wanted.

And even then, George was the voice of reason.

“Why are you upset about losing a project with a client who wants to go down to a price point rather than up to a standard?”

ARGHHHHH!

What makes it worse is he meant it.

He, more than any of us, knew our value and wasn’t going to let us let go of something we had worked so hard to earn.

He’s right of course.

It’s the reason the best work comes from people who share the same goal.

To aim high, not cheap.

Sure, money comes into it … but the focus is always the quality of the output not just the price.

It’s why Cynic was so exciting.
It’s why Wieden+Kennedy are so special.
It’s why Metallica’s management are so influential.
It’s why all the work I’m doing right now is so fascinating.

George taught me so much.

While I appreciate I’m in a much more privileged position than many, nowadays I am totally comfortable with walking away from a project if I feel the vision, ambition and value for a project is not shared.

And what’s weird is that while that approach has resulted in me walking away from a lot of potentially interesting projects that were worth a lot of money to me – especially over the last 6 months – it has brought me a range of fascinating clients and projects [and cash] that most agencies would kill to have a chance to work on.

I’ve written about knowing the value of your value in the past.

I’ve talked about how that lets you play procurement at their own game.

And while it feels scary to stick to your standards when someone is threatening to take away something you really want, it also makes you feel alive.

Butterflies of excitement. A taste of power and control. Nervousness of being in the game.

And while it might not always come off and while you may be able to justify why it would be easier to just take whatever they want to give you … it’s a beautiful feeling to feel you matter. That your work matters. That the way you look at the world matters. That what you want to create matters. That you won’t allow yourself to do something simply because you’re the cheapest. Or allow a bad process to force a diluted version of what you were hired to do. Or let yourself be evaluated by someone who doesn’t care about what you’re creating, just that it’s done. That you matter enough to not allow others to negatively judge you for terrible conditions they put you in.

It can take time to come to terms with this.

It took me almost 20 years to really get it.

And while some may call you a pretentious or stubborn or commercially ignorant, the reality is dismissing the value of your value simply to make things commercially viable for everyone else is simply the most stupid thing you can do.

Because to paraphrase something Harrison Ford once said, when you devalue the value of something you’ve spent your whole life working at, you’re not just being irresponsible, you’re not valuing the value of the time, experience and expertise it has taken to get you to that point.

George knew this.

George helped me benefit from this.

George eventually got me to understand this.

And I’ll always be grateful for that gift.

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I’ve removed comments. Not just because I’m scared of the mountain of abuse the ex-cynic alumni who comment on here may/will give me. But because I’m even more frightened they may bathe George in even more praise and that would be too much for me to deal with.

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A Year Like No Other …

So this is it. The final post of 2020.

Congratulations on making it to here. Especially after a year like this one.

I have to say it feels kind-of bitter sweet for me, because as I’ve written before – this year has been pretty special for me and my family.

Sure I turned 50.

Sure, Forest still fucked up the promotion hopes they’d held onto all season in the last 15 minutes of the last game of the whole season.

And sure I lost my job

But even though they’re all pains in the arse, compared to what others have – and are – suffering, it was nothing. Hell, even turning 50 gave me the chance to do this.

When I originally wrote this post, I’d listed all the things that had happened to me this year.

It was a very, very long list.

And while I am super grateful for each and every one of those things – from new jobs to new houses to family happiness to Paul doing Frothy Coffee full time – it just felt wrong.

Not just because there’s a whole host of people going through a terribly shit time right now. Nor the fact I’m a over the self-promoting, self-congratulatory, soapbox shouting by people on social media. Or even because the brilliant Mr Weigel wrote it better than I ever could achieve [as usual] … but because of something I read in The Guardian Newspaper a few weeks ago.

Specifically the very first sentence.

Which was – utterly bizarrely – about me.

No seriously, and it went like this.

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in July, Rob Campbell, 50, received a Zoom call from his boss at the advertising firm where he worked as a head of strategy.

When I read it, the number 50 stood out.

Like it was 50 stories high.

It confused and confronted me.

Part of it was because I don’t think I am that age.

Part of it is knowing I am.

And maybe it was at that point I realised just how lucky I am.

Not that I was naive to it before, but it became more apparent.

Because losing your job at 50 is shit.

It doesn’t mean it’s all over, but it’s unusual to have so many good things happen and frankly, it all made me feel a bit embarrassed which is why I deleted the list of stuff.

It happened. I just don’t need to share it because I lived it.

And while it would only have been there to act as a reminder of all that happened should I – or Otis, later in his life – wanted to jog our memory about it, the spirit of this post and those before it say all that needs to be said.

So instead, I want to use the rest of this post to say thank you.

There’s so many people I am grateful to have in my life.

So many people who made the worst year, in many respects, one of my best.

People on here.
People in the industry – some I knew, some I didn’t.
People who just read my instagram and got in touch.

You may not realise it, but it made a huge difference to how I saw the future.

Then there is my amazing family. Their unconditional belief and support meant I never had to panic. I never had to worry. I mean, I did have moments of it – but that was all because of me, never them. Jill never expressed concern. She gave me confidence by simply being confident in me so the whole experience never felt scary – which is incredible when you think about it. Then there’s Otis. God, I love that kid. Seeing him come home from his new teeny-tiny school in the country filled with stories and giggles meant the house never had a chance to feel bad.

My mates were ace. A check-in here, a word of advice there, a dollop of pisstaking and a whole lot of love. They ensured I never felt alone, and while I was perfectly fine with the situation I found myself in, they made sure I stayed perfectly fine with the situation I found myself in.

Of course I can’t forget my old colleagues. Not just from R/GA … but also Deutsch, Wieden+Kennedy and Cynic. So many got in touch. Offered to help. Made me laugh. They didn’t have to do that – especially the way I had treated them when we worked together, hahaha – but they did and it meant more to me than they may ever know.

I want to give a particular shout out to Blake Harrop.

Not only is he the most handsome, clever man in the whole universe but he is also the MD of Wieden Amsterdam.

When he heard what had happened, he sent me an absolutely epic note. I’ve always regarded him as a special man, but this just took it to another level and I will keep that note forever.

And then my clients.

Past. Sort-of present. And now, future.

Fuck me … what an impact they had on my confidence.

Not just in their kind words, but in their actions. Signing long-term contracts, introducing me to others and – in the case of two in particular – collaborating with me to start Uncorporated. As I’ve noted in other posts, the work it has let me be a part of is unprecedented and I cannot say thank you to them enough.

Finally to the wonderful folk at Colenso.

To have one of the agencies I’ave always loved reach out and ask me to join them was simply the icing on the cake. They were open, warm, encouraging and honest throughout the process before topping it off with most well written job offer letter I’ve received in my life. Seriously, it was a work of art and if there was an award show for this sort of thing, it would be a Black Pencil winner for sure. I can’t thank Scott and the team enough for the opportunity to play with them and I can’t wait to be there in March and cause some trouble.

What all this means is that I have been surrounded by wonderful people.

Not just the ones I know, but people who just reached out to see if they could help.

I don’t know what I have done to deserve it all to be honest [it must be Jill and Otis] but I totally get why people say it’s better to be lucky than rich.

So to each and every one of you, I want to say thank you.

Jill, Otis, Paul, Michelle, Mr Weigel, Mercedes, Paula Bloodworth, David Lin, Carina, Winson and Wanshi, Nils, my wonderful old planning team at R/GA London, Lesley Cheng, Ryan and Sam, Mike and Sam, Trudie, Matt Tanter, Group Think, Scott and Levi and all at Colenso, Blake Harrop, Karrelle Dixon, John Rowe, Mr Ji, Richard Green, everyone at Q-Prime, Metallica, RHCP, Richard David James, Paul Colman, Flash, Rodion, Charinee, Debbie, Leon, Jorge Calleja, George, Andy, Baz, Lee Hill, Simon Pestridge, Steve Tsoi and PT Black, Patrick the Dirty Ram fan, Michael Roberts, Ben Major, Holly Day, Lindsey Evans, Dan Hill, Rach Mercer, Donn the grandpa jumper wearer, Ben Perreira, Maya, Chelsea, Bree, James Thorpe, Lani, Tarik at Onroad, Leigh, Nic Owen, Bassot, Judd Caraway, Gareth Kay, Pickens, Wes, Hoala, Brixton Finishing School, Mark Lester, Ros and Hiro, Lea Walker, Phil Jacobson, Maria Correa, Sam Clohesy, Ian Preston, Doddsy, Lee Hill, the inspirational Murray Calder, Wendy Clark and every single person who has insulted, laughed or ridiculed me on here.

While I am sure I’ve forgotten some names, I assure you I haven’t forgotten your kindness.

To be able to have all this at 50, in one of the worst years the World has seen is insane. I definitely feel some guilt over it so I hope that in 2021, everyone out there gets lucky … and if I can do anything to help that, give me a shout – because it COVID has reminded me of one thing, we’re better together than separate.

May you all have an amazing holiday season. Or as amazing as it can be.

I send you thanks, love and best wishes.

And I leave you with the 3 ads that gave me hope that creativity still is a more powerful and deadly weapon than all the frameworks, funnels and optimisation put together.

See you on the other side. Specifically on the 11th.



Christmas Countdown …

Contrary to retailers attempts, the official Christmas countdown starts now.

Of course, for some of you out there – including my wife and I – a loved one may also be having a birthday during this month as well, which just adds to the stress of what to get them.

Well I am here to help with a handy Christmas/Birthday guide …

Now just ‘any guide’ but something that will ensure you can give a gift that is tailor made for whoever you are buying it for.

All you have to do, is invest the time in knowing who they are, what they’re really interested in or what they wish eo explore.

Here it is.

You’re welcome.



Challenger Brands That Challenge …

I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work with challenger brands.

Some were overtly challenger … some were more in terms of their internal attitude and approach … but in all cases, they were up for a fight and were happy to take it straight to the competitor they wanted to play against.

Now forcing people to pick a side is not a new strategy … it’s been around for ages.

From religions to rock bands to sport to almost everything in-between.

And while some of the challenger brands I’ve worked with over the years became the beast they were created to slay, what united them all wasn’t just their ambition, but their dedication to doing something that fundamentally challenged the convention.

I’m not talking about an ad that said they were different.

Or a single product ingredient that claimed they were different but were still exactly the same.

I’m talking about a fundamental, distinctive alternative to what has been there before.

From features, to behaviours, to values to standards to design.

All in commitment.

Shit or bust.

Now we have a lot of brands today that claim to do that and be that.

Brands that go direct to the customer.

Brands that offer their services on the internet.

In the majority of cases, they’re not real challengers.

They might like to think they are.

The people who led the change probably are.

But having an internet bank that claims to be different but offers exactly the same products and services – albeit with a ‘cool name and choice of ATM card design’ – is not challenging much.

Nor is the 15th razor/toothbrush/haircare company who go direct to their customers.

They’re definitely an alternative, but they’re not a challenger.

In fact, given in many cases, they offer no distinctive element to their product or service to build something bigger than simply supplying razor blades/toothbrushes/haircare products to people at the lowest rate possible, all they’re doing is commoditising themselves to oblivion.

No, challenger brands don’t enter the market with an attitude of ‘minimal viable product’ – which basically translates to “we’re interested to see if it works, but if it doesn’t – no biggie”, they enter it with fully focused, fully engaged commitment.

You can read a lot about these in Adam Morgan’s brilliant book Eating The Big Fish … though, because of when it came out, it only refers to a challenger brands from a certain period of time rather than the ones of the modern era … whether that’s Tony’s Chocolonely, Fenty, Fortnite or even Greta.

But the reason I’m talking about this is because of that picture at the top of the post.

The iconic ‘we try harder’ announcement by Avis.

Maybe the first example where marketing embraced being a challenger.

We forget how impactful this campaign was when it came out in the 60’s.

Back then, the industry was all about superlatives … the biggest, the most successful, the most loved etc etc.

For a brand to come out and say, “we’re not the first choice”, was a big thing.

But this was not a mere marketing trick, Avis did indeed have big ambitions and knew that the only way they stood any chance of making it was if they indeed, ‘try harder’.

From making sure every car was washed before it went out.

Checking that the glove boxes and – because this was the 60’s – ashtrays were emptied.

Customer service people trained to help, not just take your money.

Not having to wait for ages to get given your rental.

All sounds the standard now, but back then? No way.

And on top of that, they then ran ads telling people to complain if they found the experience didn’t match the promise … because they never wanted to be seen as having the passive attitude of a number 1 brand – where their goal is to protect their revenue rather than reward their customers.

Which leads to the point of this post.

This.

Yep, it’s a continuation of the We Try Harder campaign.

Though, calling it a ‘campaign’ cheapens it, because it was their purpose. I don’t mean that in the wank way it is being used today. At no point were Avis saying. ‘We Try Harder To Make The World Better’. No, this was all about them trying harder for them. Which is not only more believable, it had a genuine benefit to the people who used them.

Which leads back to the ad.

Specially, the ad that features the President of Avis’ phone number.

So you can complain.

Directly to them.

Imagine that today?

You can’t can you, because not only do companies – including Avis – give customers who wish to complain the absolute runaround with endless email forms, faceless processes and protocols – all while claiming this is a more ‘helpful and efficient’ process for their customers – but because you don’t feel many companies are really trying harder at all.

Now it’s all about efficiency.

Removal of friction.

Basically making you do it all yourself but charging you as if you weren’t.

Now I have to admit, I don’t know if this ended up being the real President of Avis’ phone number … even though I really hope it was … but I know this ethos drove that brand to continued growth for decades.

Sadly, at some point, it went from purpose to a tagline and then Avis as a cultural force was done.

Which is the big lesson for us all.

Because while few would ever start a company to be like everyone else, the reality is many end up doing just that.

And while we hear people all talking about being the next Apple or Nike, they have to understand you don’t get there with a playbook, you get there with a singular focus on what you believe, what you value and what you are going to destroy to create.



A Conversation About Living. And Failing.

A few weeks ago, my friend – Philippa White, the founder of TIE – spoke to me about my life.

While many would say that is the single worst idea anyone could have, Philippa – for reasons that still escape me – thought differently.

TIE – or The International Exchange – is an amazing thing.

They link people from the commercial world [from big organisations to people from BBH and W+K] with social initiatives around the world, providing unique opportunities that will transform the lives of both parties.

It’s an absolutely amazing organisation and the people who have done it talk about how it has had a profound affect on their lives – for the experience they had, the realisation that their skills can benefit people in different ways that they ever imagined and the lessons they learnt about what they’re good at, what they want to be good at and the future they can now envision for themselves.

I have not done TIE, but Philippa and I bonded when we met over the power of overseas experiences and learning and for some reason she wanted to talk about my journey.

We cover a whole lot of topics, from family to friendship to failure and while it may only be interesting to those looking for a cure for insomnia, if you’re looking for development, growth and having more meaning and value from your life … I can assure you TIE is definitely going to be of interest to you.

Thank you Philippa. Thank you TIE.

You can be disappointed by it here.