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


Quality Control At A Glance …

Remember, the more confident the marketer the less messages they demand.

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Peak Proud

So in a few weeks I’m doing a presentation on creative relationships.

I’m almost certain I’ve been asked so people can learn what not to do, but despite that, I asked an old client for a quote about what it was like working with me so I could include it in the presentation.

The picture at the top of this post is what he sent me.

I know it could be read as an insult, but either way, it makes me insanely happy … which may say more about me than it does about the quality of our old working relationship.



Life Goals …

I’ve written a lot about getting older because – lets face it – I’m old.

OK, I’m not ancient, but by adland standards, I’m practically a dinosaur.

I’ve talked about how stupid the industry is to look at people like that – but when someone old is ranting, it sounds much more like someone trying to keep his career going than something more objective.

Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent because what this post is actually about is an elderly lady – a truly elderly lady of about 75-80 years old – who I saw walk into Starbuck’s a few weeks ago.

Now I appreciate this may not sound interesting, but as you can tell from the picture above, she was wearing a bright pink beanie with the words ‘thug life’ on it.

I don’t know about you, but when I saw that, I knew there was only one thing I could do which was tell her she looks amazing, pay for her breakfast and walk away with a new hero in my life.

Adland might think anyone over 40 is past it.

Thankfully humanity doesn’t think that way.

Here’s to those who are impervious to conformity.



I Love This Photo …

… not just because I’m with a couple of mates I love and respect.

Nor is it that the angle of the pic means my physical horribleness – especially compared to their disgusting beauty – is partially hidden.

It’s because they’re two super-senior leaders, who got to where they are because of their talent and authenticity.

They also happen to be black.

Karrelle Dixon is the Managing Director of Wieden+Kennedy Portland.

Jason White is the Global CMO of BEATS.

Of course the colour of their skin shouldn’t matter – just like it shouldn’t matter what gender you are or what sexual preference you choose – but tragically it still does.

Especially in America.

To get to the top is an amazing achievement for anyone.

To get to the top while remaining authentic to who you are is something truly special.

To do all that and be a person of colour … well, that’s the highest accolade of all.

Of course I hope for a time where this isn’t news – it is just normal – and while neither of them should have to have the additional burden of being a role model, they are and, if I’m being honest, they should be because if you want to model yourself on anyone – regardless of your heritage or background – it’s them.

Smart as shit.

Charismatic as Clooney.

Total natural born leaders.

Tireless in their passion.

Focused on making the best work of everyone’s lives.

A real and proven desire to help young talent come through.

[In both cases, they have personally helped me help people I thought were bursting with talent but were not getting the breaks I felt they had earned, let alone deserved]

In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact I can consistently beat them at table tennis, they’d be perfect.

But the fact is, Karrelle and Jason are still anomalies in this business – and while that should not underestimate the impact they will have on people of colour who previously had little or no role models for believing they could get to the top – it’s also why I’m a bit conflicted with Adcolor’s Future program.

Let me be clear, this is not about Adcolor specifically.

They are an amazing organisation who have done more to promote diversity in the industry than anyone else, not to mention for longer than everyone else.

Their mission has always been to create a community of diverse professionals who support and celebrate eachhother and they have an incredible track record of doing just that … giving people of colour a real chance in an industry loaded with hurdles.

For hurdles, read ‘senior white men’.

And this is why I’m conflicted.

You see recently a couple of my colleagues applied to get in their Future’s program. They are talented, smart, passionate colleagues… who happen to be people of color, but sadly they didn’t get in.

Let me be clear they were OK with the decision.

Disappointed, but OK.

And I can say the same too.

Despite their talent, maybe they didn’t show how good they are in the way they needed to.

But here’s the bit that bothers me.

You see instead of being told what/where they went wrong … how they could improve … they were just told ‘no’.

Now I’m sure there’s a bunch of reasons for the limited response – for example. maybe they’re inundated with requests – but for an organization committed to helping people of colour move forward, a simple ‘yes or no’ seems counter to that commitment.

It feels like they are judges instead of coaches.

Deciding someone’s fate instead of helping it rise.

Now I fully appreciate I am not aware of all the facts.

I also appreciate that Adcolor as an organization is very open and transparent.

But I would have loved it if the people behind their Future’s program had given my colleagues some advice about what they could have done better with their submission, because the fact they wanted to belong to a group who wants to improve the industry means they’re already showing traits adland badly needs to embrace.

But lets be honest, success for people of colour should not just be down to Adcolor.

Nor the inspirational achievements of Karrelle and Jason.

We all have a role to play.

And that goes beyond just talking about it, but doing things about it.

One of the things America has taught me is that if you don’t act, you’re complicit in keeping things the same.

I’d love to think I have always acted on this issue – not just because I’ve spent so much of my career living in nations where I was a member of the [privileged] minority – but that’s how I was brought up.

By that I don’t mean it in a we need to give everyone a chance sort-of way, but in a ‘everyone is equal even when we’re different’ sort-of way.

And while the only way we’ll find out if I’m full of shit is if we ask the people of colour I’ve worked with – both in America and around the World – if I’ve fought for them and shown my belief and faith in them, there’s one thing that is absolutely not open to interpretation …

Diversity makes everything better.

It allows different experiences, understanding and cultural references to open up possibilities and opportunities for everyone and everything. From creativity to culture. Commerce to the potential of creating real change.

But it does even more than that.

It can take our industry to places we might never see or experience without it.

Let’s be honest, our industry has been predominantly shaped by white males.

Hey, some of them have done a brilliant job. I’m not knocking them – or anyone who is white or male – I also happen to be one.

But imagine the possibilities if we let people who had different backgrounds, different experiences, different frames-of-reference to have a go.

Finally we might get to some genuine new thinking in the industry as opposed to the usual old ideas with a different name.

I know for a fact, all my years living in China/Asia made an astounding difference to how I think and who I am. Differences I still embrace and rely on to this day.

[Here’s a talk I gave in Australia on this: Part 1, 2 and 3 ]

And unlike many of us white guys, people of colour [not to mention members of the LGBT communities] have always been generous with their brilliance, talent and kindness, which given all the shit they have had to – and continue to have to – deal with, that makes them the sort of leader we’d all benefit from working with and for.

Put simply, every single person in adland should be pushing, embracing, celebrating and making room for diversity.

Not because it is ‘the right thing to do’ – even though it is – but it might be the only thing that can save adland and make it truly matter again.



The Value Of Being Lateral, Rather Than Literal …

Yes I’m back.

If anything will help you be excited about the oncoming weekend, it will be that.

So the picture above is from a presentation I give to planners.

The reason for it is because I find it fascinating when ad folk try to be like their client.

Exactly like their client.

The way they speak. The way they dress. The way they think.

Of course, I understand the importance of knowing your client, their business and their challenges, but the problem with mirroring your client is that you end up looking at the World in the same way as them … and as much as some people may think that’s a good thing, it’s not.

You see when you focus on being like an insider, you ignore the benefits of thinking like an [informed] outsider. You know, the perspective the client actually hired you for in the first place.

As one of my old senior Nike clients once said to me …

“Senior management need and want to be challenged because that’s how we keep things moving forward. If you’re not doing that, then you’re not doing anything for us”.

Now I appreciate not every client thinks this way, but this shift to client mirroring is – in my opinion – another thing that has undermined our industry.

I swear the reason for it is an attempt to be taken seriously as a client partner when the easiest way to achieve that is to do work that shows we are a serious client partner.

Do the people who say, “we’ve lost our seat at the boardroom table” seriously think this approach will change that?

Maybe … but then they will be wrong because there’s only 3 things that will do that.

1. Talk about the things that are important to the client rather than important to us.

2. Know their audience/culture better than they know their audience/culture.

3. Solve their business challenges in creatively imaginative, distinctive, culturally resonant and sustainable ways.

Oh, and there’s a 4th point … prove it.

Not just in the short-term, but in the long … where client can see the economic value of investing in their brand voice. Not just through ‘brand campaigns’, but in how they approach everything they do.

Now I know some of you may think this whole post is my attempt to justify wearing shit t-shirts and birkenstocks to client meetings for the last 25+ years – and maybe it is – but if we are to get back to where we belong, I passionately believe it’s not going to happen by behaving more like clients, but by getting back to the things they need and no one else can do.



Rob Channels Jerry Maguire …

So a while back, someone asked me what I thought made a ‘good planner’.

To be honest, all I really remember is that they caught me on a bad day and so I kind of went on an all-out rant.

By pure chance I recently came across my reply and while I definitely sound a bit of a mentalist – not to mention I miss out talking about a whole bunch of stuff I believe is super-important, like empathy – there was a lot in there that I felt had some value, if only to open a debate about what our discipline is supposed to do and what it can be.

So with that in mind, here I rant …

__________________________________________________________________________

Planning is one of the most overused terms in the industry these days.

Everyone is now a planner … except in truth, many are either ‘packagers’ – taking the clients info and packing it into easily digestible chunks – or media people who tell you where to put your work based entirely on numbers rather than any true audience understanding.

Now I am not saying those folks aren’t important, of course they are, but for me planning is about ignition to bigger opportunities and possibilities.

For me, a planner understands 3 fundamental things:

+ What the real business problem is.
+ Who the core audience is.
+ What the creative opportunity is.

Those 3 things form the foundation of making things … things that don’t just solve the problem, but help the client have a sustainable position in culture that ultimately makes their marketing work harder for them.

Great planners care about creativity rather than advertising.

Care more about authenticity of a brand rather than marketing of a brand.

Want to uncover why people do stuff rather than just what they do.

It’s not about convenient answers, but ones that really understand the madness of how we all think and do and what we value and believe.

Of course when you’re spending billions of someone else’s money, the temptation to choose convenient, mass-acceptance answers is high and while that can get you results, breakthrough only comes when you resonate with culture rather than just try to be relevant to it.

The un-said.
The hard to explain.
The not easy to hear but it’s true.

It’s for this reason I always tell clients they shouldn’t focus purely on the methodology being used to uncover this stuff … but the person leading it, the people they’re talking to and the questions they are asking.

There’s a reason why a brand like NIKE is still at the top of its game after so long.

Sure, they have ups and downs along the way, but to still have that energy and pull 54 years after they were founded is remarkable.

Of course the biggest part of this is they make great products, have a focus on innovation, have incredible distribution and enjoy the benefits of their market power. But arguably, other companies can lay claim to doing this which is why I believe their ‘secret sauce’ is their commitment to the culture they believe in and are a part of. The culture of the athlete.

Everything they do goes through this lens.

Everything.

And that’s why their marketing doesn’t follow the usual strategic approaches of looking for ‘white space’ or ‘getting to as broad an audience as possible’, but to have a deep connection to the lives and minds of the athlete so they can bring the lessons to life in the most inspirational, yet deeply authentic way possible.

This approach dictates everything, including how they choose and use their agency partners.

From a planning perspective, I know I placed far more value on someone who has a deep love of sport and creativity than anyone who could talk process or methodologies because for me – and NIKE and Wieden and every other agency on their roster – their job was to inspire great creatives to do something audacious for a client who fundamentally believes in the power of their brand voice and sport.

All this highlights 3 things.

1. Great planning comes from truly understanding the core audience.

2. Great work comes from knowing how to be useful to the creative team.

3. Great brands differentiate themselves by their authenticity and distinctiveness.

I’ve written a lot about differentiation.

While the goal should always be to ensure your clients stands out from their competitors, if the approach is to ‘own’ a position that hasn’t been taken, then ultimately you’re letting your competitors dictate your future rather than deciding it for yourself.

For me, great brands embrace their truth in fresh and exciting ways.

They attract culture rather than chase it because they are the culture, not observers of it.

It means they are always moving forward rather than remaining stagnant.

It means they’re always relevant rather than fighting for it.

Planners play an important part in this.

But only if they remember the work is the key, not the ego.



Resist The Pressure To Reduce Yourself To Others Standards …

Many years ago, I wrote a training guide called, How to ask questions without being a bitch.

It happened because a junior account service colleague at Wieden didn’t know how to get clients to acknowledge her and the questions she had.

This was not because she wasn’t good, but because of gender stereotypes.

Well recently, I had a similar experience, except this time it was a brilliant strategist that a mutual friend of ours had introduced me to.

In my time in LA, I’ve met a whole host of strategists and – as I wrote a while back – many have left me feeling indifferent.

But not this person.

She was more than one of the good ones, she was one of the best.

Sharp as hell.

Unique – yet well thought out – perspectives.

A genuine love of being creative in interesting ways.

Anyway, as we were talking, I said I’d be really interested in hearing – or reading – her perspective on the future of storytelling. For some reason, she said yes and a few weeks I received a great paper with a great perspective.

Except there was one thing I didn’t like.

“The surprising part of this was the fact that my mentor, a white man, erudite and well-known in his profession, cared about my opinion. To give you some background – I’m in my 30s, a mixed bag of races, city kid, raised by a single mom type through and through. I’m a decade into my career and this was the first time I was asked to share my perspective by someone that, for all intents and purposes, matters.”

I hate it.

I hate that this was the first time she felt she was asked for her opinion.

I hate it for the shit she has obviously had to put up with in her life.

I hate the baggage that has weighed her down.

I hate the low expectations she had been forced to endure.

I hate the bosses she’s had that have told her to follow orders rather than encourage her to find her own voice.

And while she finished her paper with a resolve to not let this shit quieten her ever again, I’m still angry that a great talent has had to put up with shit designed to keep her down rather than lift her up, which is why I ask her – and any other planner who relates to this situation – to embrace my paraphrasing of the advice comedian Michelle Wolf received when she was about to take the stage at the White House Correspondence’s dinner, at the top of this page.

Burn it all down.