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.



Independence Vs Ownership Explained …

David Lee Roth once stated “whoever said money doesn’t buy happiness, didn’t know where to shop”.

I get it … money is epic and makes life easier and – superficially – happier.

But what he didn’t say is that “there’s no amount of money that makes being miserable, worthwhile”.

Maybe it’s because he didn’t know it.

Maybe it’s because he didn’t want to admit it.

But given how he has talked about his toxic time in Van Halen, I am pretty sure he’d agree now … because while there are many benefits to independence [and ownership for that matter, but that’s a post for another day], the one that is the most valuable personally, professionally, creatively, commercially and collaboratively is the ability to be honest with your colleagues and clients.

Utterly honest.

It might not always be the most comfortable meeting – especially if you’ve been an asshole and tried to fuck them over and then beg forgiveness later – but it will always get to a stronger outcome.

After all, they say ‘honesty is the best policy’ for a reason.

Happy weekend.



Fail For The Win …

A few weeks ago I woke up to find my instagram followers had gone up over 1500 in a night.

A NIGHT.

Given it had been years for me to break 1000 followers, something seemed up.

I checked this blog to see if this rise was reflected on here?

Nope.

I checked twitter.

Nothing.

I couldn’t explain it so in the end I just accepted it must be a weird event and carried on with my day.

Except it happened the next day and then the next.

When it reached 10,000 – yes, TEN THOUSAND – instagram contacted me to say I now could access their tools to further enhance my influencer status, including adding a descriptor of what I do.

Hahahahahahahahahahaha!

Because their list of options didn’t feature ‘annoying prick’, I decided to screw with their algorithm and describe myself as a fashion model.

But why was this all happening?

Well a few days later I found out which is why I write this …

To the [literally] thousands of people who started following me because a very famous rock band [accidentally/stupidly/mischieviously] featured my instagram in one of their stories … prepare to be massively underwhelmed with countless photos of my cat, kid and colleagues.

But on behalf of said cat, kid and colleagues, may I take this opportunity to thank you for letting us all feel momentarily popular until you come to your senses and unfollow the hell out of us.



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.



Self Awareness Stops You Being Self Stupid …

So I was talking at event recently about ‘loyalty’ and mentioned how when the Amazon Dash button came out, one of my clients was ecstatic.

In their mind, it meant they were going to see sales grow because instead of having to risk a shopper buying a competitive brand, they would press the button and the sale would be there’s guaranteed.

In my talk, I went on to say how I told the client that was great in theory, but there were 3 things they had to think about.

1. The real winner is always going to be Amazon.

2. It was going to be a huge race to see who could get the most ‘buttons’ into homes.

3. The result would be the destruction of their hardly fought – and expensively bought – premium brand value status.

At the end, a gentleman asked me why I thought turning a brand into a commodity was a bad idea as it meant more sales and that meant more money for the brand and the shareholders.

I must admit, I was quite taken aback by this response and pointed out that being a commodity might generate more sales, but it loses profitability and – more scarily – leaves you open to a competitor deciding to either launch a price war or disrupt the market with a new product.

He wasn’t convinced and kept going on about commodity value and how soon all brands will end up following that route.

I must admit I was a bit rude to him so after the event, I sought him out to have a chat.

Turned out he worked for a car insurance company and highlighted his category was driven purely by price.

When I asked him what he meant, he said:

“As long as your company name is generally known in a generally good light, you will get business”.

It took all my strength not to laugh in his face, so instead I simply replied,

“So you do believe in brand value or you wouldn’t care if the company name was generally known in a generally good light”.

You could see him look confused, so I decided to just finish the job off by saying …

“And if you believe everything is a commodity, why are you wearing an expensive watch when a Timex does the same job?”

He smiled a ‘fuck you’ smile at me, said goodbye then left.

It was a good evening.



Mischief Makers …

So last month, it was my birthday.

Because it was my first birthday in the UK for 25 years – not to mention R/GA – I decided to do something a bit special [read: daft] that culminated in me sending this all office email the day before my big day.

Yes, I really did buy that many Monster Munch and so while I thought I was going to have the last laugh on my birthday, my wonderful team decided to trump me by making me this cake.

What you are looking at is a Strawberry Jam Sandwich cake.

Literally layers and layers of jam sandwiches.

Despite having the sugar content that could bring all dinosaurs at once – it was strangely tasty – though I did only manage a slither, which the pricks took great delight in videoing.

And yet this act of evil genius was very moving to me.

While some might think I’m mad because what they did was an act of hatred – an attempt at murder – I see it differently.

Maybe it’s because in addition to the cake, I was given a bunch of cards and presents [Highlights include: Erika’s 1.25 liter of Diet Coke, Severine’s ‘Shut The Fuck Up’ bell, Ed and Rob’s test pressing of their new album and the teams ‘complaint letter’ to HR all about me ] … but even without any of those things, their act of birthday evil [or, as one person called it, the presentation of a white trash cake] was, for me, a demonstration of giving a shit which left me feeling very touched.

I’ve been super fortunate with the teams I’ve worked with.

Almost universally, they have been a bunch of brilliant people blessed with exceptional talent.

OK, not all of them … but overall, they’ve all been amazing even though they have also been mischievous shits. Which is why one day – and I appreciate no one would ever want this to actually happen – I’d love to have a party where everyone who has had the misfortune to work with me, comes along.

Not so they can compare war stories – though there would be a lot of those – but because in the main, they have made me a better person for the experience and I would want to thank them.

Even for Jam Sandwich birthday cakes.

Jesus, who am I?!!!



Premiumness Has Gone Out Of Control …

So recently I was on a Delta flight when I was handed the menu.

I looked at the food choices but there was one thing that caught my eye above everything …

This …

That’s right … a premium heated nut mix.

Yes they were warm.

Yes, they were a variety of nuts in the small dish.

But premium?

Are they referring to the quality of the nut offered or – as I suspect – the ‘status’ that a warm variety of nuts conveys.

Either way, it smacks of utter pretentious rubbish …

Another example of a marketer who wants to appear ‘upmarket’ while actually demonstrating how desperate they are.

What with premium toilet roll, clingfilm and now nuts … maybe we all need a bit of a rest from this status inflation.

I get people like nice things … I get people will pay more for nice things … but the emphasis is on ‘nice’ and if people can’t tell the difference, then you have a problem and I can tell you Delta, I couldn’t tell the difference between your nuts [ahem] and any cheap-ass nuts I can find in a local pub except they were heated and served in a little dish.

Oh hang on, you probably read that ‘experience’ is better than ownership and so the heat and dish of your nuts were your way of offering a premium experience.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha …