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


That Was The Year That Was …

So this is it, the last post of 2019.

Congratulations, you made it.

Yes, I know it’s early given there is still a couple of weeks to go in the year – including the inaugural R/GA London Planner Pie-Off – but despite what you may all think, I’ve had a big year and quite frankly, I need a rest from here as much as you do.

When I look at 2019, it’s been pretty good.

Of course there have been a few sad events – my dear Aunt Silvana dying and Justin’s wonderful wife, Ella – but overall, things have been positive.

Even the Beijing Hotel incident was amusing.

But most of all, the fact my family are good, healthy and happy makes it a good year, especially when you think of all the changes that have happened in our lives.

For Otis in particular, he has embraced all of it like a champion and watching him have his first day at ‘proper school’ made me feel incredibly emotional and very, very proud.

Quite frankly, the fact we have managed to stay in the same country for over 12 months is something we feel like celebrating – but not as much as my bank managers is doing – and we’re super excited that we have bought our first family home, even if we’ve not yet moved into it and it meant saying goodbye to the home I spent the first 25 years of my life in.

In fact ‘settling in’ has been a great plus of 2019.

We have a house, cars, some friends and finally feel part of a community … I’ve got to be honest, it’s a lovely feeling … and while I know there will be other changes in our life at some point in the future, this is a time I’m eternally grateful for.

There’s other stuff I’m grateful for too …

Without doubt, doing the Warc talk at Cannes with Martin was a wonderful highlight.

We were quite nervous about it but it seemed to have gone down well and I will always remember it and for that, we owe a debt to the wonderful Mercedes – Martin’s fiancé – who told us to get on with doing our school because she was sick to death of hearing us talk about doing more things together.

Love you Mercedes! And Martin. But more Mercedes.

Another thing – which is a bit weird, but seems to have helped some people – is when I wrote my post about being bullied at work. The response was phenomenal which led to Corporate Gaslighting. And while the amount of stories people are sending in – or agreeing to have published – on there has reduced, I know it has helped some people and I am happy I did it and will continue to do it.

Then there’s the fact I’ve been able to spend a bunch of time visiting China.

I love that place. In fact I would regard it as my ‘home’, despite having left there over 2 years ago.

To be able to spend so much time there and be energized by the city while connecting to new – and old – clients, has been magnificent.

Talking of returning to old things, having Otis’ beloved Elodie visit from LA was awesome.

Seeing them fall into their old, caring friendship was wonderful.

As I have said previously, taking him away from her was one of the hardest things about leaving LA – and while I know distance makes things harder, technology has obviously allowed their friendship to continue, which is the best ad for tech I can think of.

While I understand being emotional about Otis and Elodie being back together, I was surprised how emotional I felt when I went back to LA – especially when I visited Otis’ old kindergarten – but I suppose even the shortest time living in a place, leaves its mark on you.

There’s a bunch of other stuff I’m grateful for this year …

Nottingham Forest … for actually making me start to believe again.

I know it will end in tears, but it’s a nice feeling all the same.

There there’s the Brian May Guitar I bought after only 35 years of waiting.

Seeing Rod Stewart and Concorde were nice, as was getting a comment from Queen producer, Mack, and his son on the post I wrote about Freddie Mercury going to a birthday party dressed in the outfit he wore for the ‘It’s A Hard Life’ video.

That the gods of metal, Metallica, decided to extend the project that I’m doing for them for another THREE YEARS was a major plus. To be honest, I’m still not sure what I’m doing for them or if they like what I’m doing for them, but it keeps Otis in free Metallica t-shirts, so it’s worth doing.

I also got a bunch of new people in my life that I did not know previously.

From the brilliant students at the Brixton Finishing School, to the talented – but totally bonkers – creatives of Dayoung, Mike and Sam and not forgetting the wonderful Joel, Erika, Amar, Megan, Ed and Hannah who all stupidly decided to become members of the delightfully talented gang of planners at R/GA.

Before I end this utterly boring – but important [for me] post, I just want to say thank you to 3 more people.

First is the wonderful Paula Bloodworth not only got engaged – to a man from Nottingham no less [hahahaha] but she got asked to move to Portland to run strategy for NIKE globally at Wieden.

She will be brilliant.

More than people know – and they already know she will be brilliant.

I have had – and have – the great privilege of being able to call Paula a friend. I’ve worked with her, argued with her, laughed with her and caused havoc with her and through it all, her talent and humanity has shone through.

Wieden are very lucky to have her. Nike are very lucky to have her. I am very lucky to be able to call her a friend.

Second is the brilliant Severine Bavon.

Sev has been a part of my team from the beginning and this month she leaves us to strike out on her own.

Not as a freelancer … but to start a company that offers a new model for creativity and strategy for agencies and clients.

I’ve said many times that everyone should start their own company at some point and I am incredibly thrilled and proud that she is going to do just that.

Of course I’m going to miss her.

She’s brilliant, tenacious, smart and a million things I am not.

But I believe a bosses job is to help their people go on to bigger and better things. Bigger and better things they may never have imagined. Bigger and better things where they are chosen for who they are not just what they do.

And while I don’t think I did anything specific to help Sev make this decision, I have a vested interest in watching her do her thing and cheering her as she does it.

Which she will.

Sev, thank you for everything … believe in your talent, follow your gut, burn everything down that stands in your way.

So that leaves the final person … and as usual, it’s anyone and everyone who has written or visited this blog.

Ranting. Arguing. Swearing. Complaining. Caring. Debating.

It’s all meant a lot to me and after this length of time of writing basically the same 5 posts over and over again, I don’t take it for granted that you pop by and pass on your wisdom/insults.

I hope you all have a great festive season and may 2020 be epic.

Hopefully not as epic as I hope mine will be, but epic all the same.

I’m off to Australia for some sun and warmth and I’ll see you on Jan 6th cold, miserable and wondering how the holiday season passed by so fast.

Ta-ra.



There’s Models And Then There’s Models …

I consider what I’m about to tell you an early Christmas present.

Not for you, but for me.

You see a few weeks ago, one of the creatives at R/GA was walking down the road when he was stopped in his tracks as he saw this …

Now you may be wondering what is so shocking about a back of a van featuring 2 weird looking men starring into space with a lilting triffid like plant behind them?

Well I agree with you, except those 2 weird looking men starring into space with a triffid like plant behind them are my colleagues – Eduardo and Ed.

As you can tell from the absolutely horrific photo and pose, neither knew this photo was being taken – nor did they give their permission for the image to be taken, used or plastered on the back of a corporate horticultural company van – but I am so glad it happened … and while they are trying to get some sort of response from the company who did this, I keep telling them that on the positive, they can say now say they’re models, which is a damn sight better than saying they work for a creative company in creative company cliche, Shoreditch.

Sometimes, accidents are the best thing that can happen to you.



Strategy Is A Direction, Not A Shopping List …

I am getting fed up of hearing strategy talked about in terms of a process.

Of course, there is one, but it seems people seem to value the process more than what it is supposed to deliver.

Which is clarity and direction.

Something that will change the behaviour of the brand/business from the very next day.

Something that will help create a clear position in culture, not just in the category.

Something that will contribute value, loyalty and appeal to the audience that will move them forward.

Something that is focused on the long-term, not just the next quarter.

That’s it.

That’s all strategy is.

And yet, I am meeting so many people who are getting lost in the process or worse, getting lost in the word ‘strategy’ … saying nothing can be done without it being deeply involved at every step – and I mean ‘every’ step – of the process.

Now don’t get me wrong, thinking and expertise is important – but to imply that only someone with the word ‘strategy’ in their title can do it, is wrong.

Actually, it’s insulting … especially when you consider that so much of the magic happens when you invite people who see the World differently to the party.

But it’s happening.

I’m seeing it everywhere.

And what it’s doing is creating so many strands to the strategy discipline, they’re getting in the way of each other.

That might be good for the agency fee, but not great for the work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these strands of strategy don’t have value – of course they do – but in many areas, it’s not actually strategy … it’s not delivering on any of the 4 areas listed above … it’s simply helping push along the process of the output to get to a [allegedly] more effective result.

In other words, it’s short-term tuning rather than long term creating.

Adding obstacles rather than taking them away.

Or said more cynically, it’s more tactics than strategy.

Doesn’t have to be.

Not everyone is doing that.

Not everyone thinks like that.

But my god, it seems there is a lot of it about … and when you look at the amount of work that is being produced because of it, you have to admit that while there’s a lot of optimization, there’s not a lot of distinctive, magnetic energy.



Anything Is Easy If You Don’t Want It To Last

I am unashamedly a believer in brand.

I know there is a huge amount of talk about its commercial value, but – like the talk about whether we need ‘insights’ – there is plenty of evidence to suggest it continues to drive companies growth and revenue.

And while there are accademics, like Byron Sharp, who have proven people are far less loyal than they claim, the fact remains that loyalty – whether emotional or transactional – has significant value in building sustainable success for a brand.

But here’s the thing many brand owners forget.

To stand any chance of loyalty from your audience you need to be loyal to them.

Continuously.

It’s not good enough to simply offer discounts and early access.

Sure, that can help, but audiences know exactly why you’re doing it.

Real loyalty – by which I mean there is an almost irrational connection to a brand – is born from brands acting in ways that prove why people should care and keep believing in you.

Behaviour not just words.

Progress over the comfort of repetition.

Authenticity not just chasing popularity.

Telling beautiful stories not just spouting facts or contrived ‘ads’.

As I said, there are some marketers who say none of this matters in a world where digital enables them to have ‘direct to consumer’ relationships at a fraction of the cost of brand building.

I get it. It’s quick and it can be powerful which explains why every day there seems to be a new company claiming it will disrupt the category.

But where they go wrong is not realising disruption without distinction [ie: brand building] doesn’t create long term sustainable value, it just creates new commoditization.

In such an extremely competitive, highly-pressured, fast moving world, I would argue that brand has never been so important to stand a chance of having a stronger future.

And while this might all sound hypocritical given I work for a company who is trying to invent the future of marketing – which includes building new ways to have D2C relationships for clients, finding new ways to interact with subcultures through digital and passionately believes in disrupting categories – the fact is we never do this without an obsessive focus on the authenticity of the brand and how we can help it create the future culture wants to follow rather than just exploiting the offers of the present.

For me, the real issue is we are seeing is companies wanting all the good bits of brand loyalty without much of the effort, for which I leave them with this story I heard when living in China.

The successful farmer plants their seeds and nurtures them in the knowledge that when it comes time to harvest, their crop is bigger and healthier. It takes time, but it is always worth it.



Brighton Is Rubbish. Kinda …

I went to Brighton recently and I have to say, I quite liked it in a try-hard-to-be-cool kind of way.

And while there was a bunch of things to see and explore, one thing stood out from all of them.

This …

I have to be honest, while I am all for sorting out your rubbish, a public bin just for BBQ food is pretty spectacular.

Especially as I didn’t spot a single place selling BBQ food anywhere near it.

But as I wrote about the bins in LAX airport, by not labeling it simply as ‘rubbish’, it did stop me in my tracks.

Made me look more closely.

Made me think.

Which begs the question, for all the logic we are approaching the challenges of the environment – maybe the best way to get people to actually think and reconsider is not to bathe them in facts about our self-created, impending apocalypse, but to use language and imagery that cracks the firewalls we have put up around ourselves to manage this sort of information on our own terms.

It might be counter-intuitive, but as the Ice Bucket Challenge and the Doncaster County Council grit machine campaign showed, sometimes the most sensible thing we can do to create change is to embark on utter madness.

Just like my Boaty McBoatface argument that I am absolutely not bitter about in any way, even thought they completely ignored it and dismissed it out of hand.

Oh no.

When will authorities appreciate that humans are hypocritical.

That common sense is often in the eye of the beholder rather than their being some uniform fire of how everything should be.

This is why we have rubbish ads, rubbish politicians and rubbish products … because while I appreciate we need certain benchmarks to move forward, so many of the things we rely on are as fake as the Emperors New Clothes.

Designed to hide our truth rather than to reveal it.

That doesn’t mean you should stop talking to people, far from it, it actually means you need to spend even more time with them so you can get even closer to them. Understand their realities, their contexts, their truths and dramas and all the nuances and personal rabbit holes they go down to manage what they think and decide to do.

People are fascinating, but it needs more than a fucking focus group or poll to discover it.

As I’ve said before, if you want them to respect your clients brand, start respecting them~.



Society Is Growing Kids Faster Than Battery Hens …

One of the things that is a beautiful nightmare for parents is watching the speed of their children grow up.

At each stage of their development, you think they have reached ‘peak perfect’ and you want them to stay that way forever … but you can deal with their growth because they bring an even more delightful element into their behaviour and, as a byproduct, your relationship.

It’s utterly, utterly magical.

That said, it still doesn’t stop the fact it all happens in the blink of an eye, so while you want to always encourage their development, you just wish it would slow down a little.

The reason I say this is that I recently read about a graphic designer was so appalled at the cover of a young girls magazine, that they decided to release what they thought it should be.

Now I must admit, my first impression to this story was that the graphic designer was probably a self-righteous individual who wanted kids to grow up in the same conditions as they did.

That was until I saw this …

The original cover of the magazine is on the left, their version is on the right.

I’m going to ignore their cover – because you can read how it came about and the story behind their idea, here – however the magazine they redesigned is a real magazine and, according to their own website, supposedly stands for:

Girls’ Life (GL) magazine was founded in August 1994 (yes, we’re ancient, we know) by Karen Bokram. Since then, GL has grown from a 23-year-old’s pipe dream project to a best-selling and award-winning platform for tween and teen girls.

Tweens and teens.

An incredibly impressionable age.

Now look at that cover.

Look at those story headlines.

Now I appreciate I am an old, white male … but they seem to place huge subliminal pressure and expectations on young women.

Wake Up Pretty.

Dream Hair.

Fashion you need to own.

Boyfriends.

If young women want to explore any of those things, then that is wonderful, but I wonder how much of it is because they are being made to feel that way rather than being something they are naturally interested in. Of course, there is something wonderful about learning to develop and grow … but this seems less about personal growth and more about playing to stereotypes – and advertising dollars – so that they can then be judged by broader society.

Of course parents have a big role to play in managing the environment their children play in, but at a time where the World is finally waking up to fighting the prejudice, oppression and stereotypes women have had to face for centuries, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve this when the World they are surrounded by continues to push an agenda of compliance … especially when they’re titles supposedly designed for the betterment of young women.

Of course this is not limited to content for young women, young boys also have stereotypes of behaviour and aspiration shoved down their throats that are unrealistic and add incredible pressure to their development.

I get children will always grow up too fast for parents, but it is scary how even that isn’t fast enough for media outlets.

What makes it worse is so many of them say their ‘purpose‘ is to inspire brilliance in their readership.

Girls Life specifically say their role is ‘dedicated to informing, inspiring and entertaining girls around the globe—and that includes everything from starting your business (we LOVE spotlighting smart, successful teens) to putting up with periods to styling a personal look you’ll love’.

Which is why I look at the Graphic Designer who screwed with their cover and say ‘well done’ … because I now realise what they did was not act like a judgmental parent, but simply show Girls Life how their cover should look if they are serious about what they claim they represent.



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.