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


Add To Society, Don’t Just Take …

That quote is from my Dad.

I love it.

Not just because it’s from him, but because what it means.

You see he taught me – through his actions and behaviour – that the key to pretty much everything and anything is spending time really getting to know people rather than just focusing your attention on chasing the answers you want from them.

Given my Mum had a similar view means I guess I was always destined to place greater value in the authenticity of subculture than the simplistic, convenience of a focus group.

The reason I’m saying this is that everyone is banging on about the importance of speed, efficiency and optimisation, but are forgetting there’s a huge difference between information and insight … which may explain why society has so much but values so little.

What makes this even more frustrating is companies spend billions each year attempting to ‘earn loyalty’ from customers by trying to do things that they think are more personal to them … which is why I would suggest that if they’re serious about resonating with their audience [rather than just being mildly relevent] they could do with being more like my Dad. And Mum.



Valentine’s Day Is A Moment, But The Future Is Forever …

One of the things that frustrates me is when companies talk loudly and proudly about their ambition but then follow it up with, “but we have to take baby steps to get there”.

The only thing that annoys me more is when agency folk say the work they’ve made isn’t great, but it does, “push the client a bit further than they were before”.

Look, I get it … there are many implications to what we do, but as much as this ‘softly, softly’ approach may sound like it makes sense, it often ends up being counter-productive.

Being slightly better than where you were means nothing if everyone around you is taking huge strides forward.

But of course, just blindly rushing ahead often ends up with people getting burnt … just like planning your progress while constantly looking through the rear-view mirror.

At some point, you have to take a leap.

A step-change from what is known and established to something that changes how you, your audience and your competitors look at what is possible.

For me, this is what innovation truly is about, not micro-improvements designed to keep a company or product up to date with what the category and their competitors are doing.

I get for the company involved, that may feel like a big step – and for them, maybe it is – but it’s not really moving them ahead, it’s just keeping them closer behind the people leading – and owning – change.

To make it worse, culture don’t really care how big a step it was for you, they care about what’s in it for them – so if it’s not done to move them forward, you’re basically putting the ‘no’ in innovation.

So how do you leap forward without falling?

Well, on one level, you can’t.

Innovation of any kind runs the risk of failure … that is inherent to anything that is trying to dramatically move forward.

However you can improve the odds of success.

I’m not just talking about having an open attitude towards failure … where you look at it as a way to learn and progress rather than to lose due to unnecessary risk.

I’m talking about the power of insight.

Insight gets a bad rap these days.

Some of it is because a lot of things people claim are insight are anything but.

However I have been noticing an increase in the number of people using the Henry Ford quote of, “If I asked people what they wanted, they’d say a faster horse” … to basically try and undermine the value of insight.

But as I’ve talked about for years, if someone couldn’t tell from that quote that people wanted to get from A-to-B faster than they currently are able to do, then they’re a fucking idiot.

Sure, there is a lot of work to do to get from ‘speed of mobility’ to the creation of the motor vehicle, but the foundation of what people are looking for is right there for all to see.

Or hear.

Contrary to what many say, I personally believe people do know what they want … they just don’t know how to express it.

It might be said in hidden ways.

Or through actions written off as stupidity.

Or via behaviours that push against tradition.

Or with associations that feel random or misunderstood.

Or simply the core of a subculture inventing their own approaches.

It could be anything.

Which is why I believe our job is to listen, explore and investigate … recognize the clues culture expresses through their secret codes so you can work with your creative friends to translate this into something that defines something new.

Creates step change not a degree of change.

Reveals a new possibility rather than remakes something old.

Basically resonates with the speed and direction of culture, rather than tries to be relevant to the present rules.

And while that may indeed still fail or just require a shitload of hard work to evolve the idea into something infectious or – eventually – inevitable, it means you are leading change rather than being shaped because of it, which has the potential to change your future in ways no one could ever imagine.

Of course, the problem is not just that many people claim to want pragmatism but insist on micro-progress based on established behaviours, rules and habits … there’s the issue that some people evaluate something that challenges convention by the standards of what is already in place – ignoring the fact the idea they are evaluating it against has been given literally decades to hone their offering and establish their role.

Or said another way, some people happily kill something before it has been given the chance to be something, because they’re basing it on what they think rather than translating the codes of what culture want.

Like Blockbusters, who passed on Netflix.

Or Nokia who dismissed the threat of the Apple iPhone.

Or VW who basically laughed at Tesla and their electric car.

And while I accept anyone who wants create the future – rather than have it created for them – has a lot of obstacles to jump, there is good news.

Because for those who have competitors who believe progress only comes through refining and optimizing what they already have, they have been given the gift of time to create something that redefines the rules.

Leapfrogs established behaviours.

Create a new set of standards and expectations.

Because the only way to counter money, heritage and distribution is to innovate past it, in the knowledge that you know you’ve found something interesting when everyone feels the impact of your pragmatism …

Like a lightbulb compared to an optimised candle.
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Before I go, to ensure I leave you in the Valentine’s Day spirit, here’s what love is in the modern age – as described by the wonderful Amelia – who DID give me permission to post this, so keep your insults to yourself.

Got to be honest, I’m glad I am married because if I wasn’t, I’d either end up single or in jail.

And yes John, I did say prosperity instead of posterity. Deal with it!



Something We Should All Remember …

I saw this quote by David Thoreau recently …

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

I have to say I love it because in some ways, it’s the best definition of creativity – and, to a certain extent, strategy – I’ve seen in ages.

Of course our job is to help clients achieve their goals.

Help them succeed in ways that are better than they imagined.

But too much of what we are doing is solving problems laterally rather than literally.

Or worse, simply executing what the client wants.

For me, the best creativity makes people think, feel, question … and to do that, you need people who see the World differently so that they can see what everyone else is just looking at.

Revealing possibility rather than reproducing what everyone already knows.

And doesn’t care about.



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.