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


A Picture Paints A Thousand Words …

For reasons I am unsure of, I have been asked to do a lot of presentations over the last few weeks.

From the board of directors of the World’s most notorious video game company to Silicon Valley VC’s to the social platform Trump is petrified of and a whole host in-between … I’ve been asked for my POV on all manner of things.

The role of technology in sexual education.

How technology can evolve how we tell stories.

Why the best way to be wanted is to be banned.

How experience design is increasingly built on efficiency not emotion.

How to create the environment where the best creative is allowed to be born.

It’s been so much fun …

Not just because it made me think about things or that I got to meet a bunch of amazing people, but because I could do the presentation entirely as I felt I wanted to.

It’s not that I have felt I couldn’t do what I believe was right, but over the last few years, there’s been a few people who have tried to convey a ‘this is how you should say things’ attitude.

Now don’t get me wrong, it takes an army to make an argument and you should always be open to other people’s thoughts and suggestions … but if you’re made responsible for giving the presentation, then you should get the final call on how you express it.

Having people more obsessed with how you’re saying things rather than what is being said is pretty depressing, but not as depressing when you realise colleagues can be more of an obstacle to great work than your clients.

When that starts happening, you start questioning things.

Often yourself.

Are you good enough?

Are you worthy enough?

And then, before you know it, you’re chipped into complicity by the constant stream of criticism … leaving you with no confidence, no self-belief and not much hope for where you’re heading.

I wrote about this a short while ago which is why I want to just reiterate, when you do the presentation you want, the feeling is infectious.

Not just to you, but to who the audience is.

Here’s some examples of the pages I’ve presented in the last few weeks …

And here’s the thing, they all went down very well.

Sure, some of them made the audience gulp.

But they also loved it because they knew I was saying was to try and help them win better rather than just kick them in the head.

And that’s the key.

Show you really give a shit about them.

However, while some seem to think you do this by pandering to the audience, I believe it is by giving them utter transparency and honesty.

Let’s face it, if you’re willing to do that to a client at a formal presentation – albeit doing it in a way where they understand why you’re doing it – then most of the time they’re going to respect you, even if they don’t agree with you.

I’ve had so many clients come to me/us who initially didn’t.

Because as my old, brilliant head of NIKE marketing said to me once,

“Middle management want to be told they’re right. But senior management want to know how to be better”.



Let’s Have Another Bonfire …

A few weeks ago, the lovely/stupid folks at WARC asked me to be part of a conversation to discuss whether strategists were well equipped to embrace the opportunity that clients valued brand strategy more than any other discipline.

If you’re a WARC member, you can watch the whole discussion here, but all the panelists were asked to give a 5 minute introductory talk about their perspective on the issue.

I used no slides, but if I had, I’d have used the image at the top of this page that comes from a presentation I recently gave to Rockstar Games. Not because it’s arresting, but because if no one paid any attention to what I said, they’d still get a good idea about where I stand on things.

But for those who want to know a bit more detail, this is what I said.

_____________________________________________________________________________

“We are in an interesting situation.

We have more flavours and capabilities in strategy than ever before.
We have more opportunities to learn the craft of strategy than ever before.
And – according to reports – we have more demand from clients for strategy than ever before.

That all sounds fucking fantastic for the strategy discipline, except we continue to see …

+ Strategic thinking being given away or discounted.
+ Tighter and tighter deadlines for strategy to be concluded.
+ The abdication of strategic thought to ‘whatever the data or platform owners say’.
+ More value placed on the process of strategy than the outcome of it.
+ A reduction in strategic training and development from agencies and companies alike.
+ Huge swathes of strategists being made redundant every single day.
+ A continued reluctance to hire people of colour or people born outside of capital cities
[and when we do, we tell them they’ll only be valued if they act exactly like the incumbents]
+ And from my view, less distinctive, disruptive and long-term strategy than we’ve seen before.

So when I compare the claims ‘the strategy future is rosie’ with the reality going down all around us, something doesn’t add up.

Which leads me to think there are 3 possibilities.

1. The strategy clients want is less about strategy and more about repackaging what they’ve already decided or simply don’t want to have to deal with.

2. The strategy companies/agencies want is less about strategy and more about doing whatever will keep the client relationship happy.

3. The strategy strategists do is less about taking lateral leaps forward and more literal shuffles towards the justification of whatever our clients want to have justified.

OK, I’m being a prick … but only partially.

Somewhere along the line we all seem to have forgotten what strategy is and what it is supposed to do.

To quote my planning husband, Mr Weigel, strategy should …

+ Make things happen
+ Move things forward
+ Create new possibilities
+ Create greater value for the audience and the business.

Or said another way, strategy is about movement, momentum and direction. Where the day after a strategy is engaged, the behaviour of the company or brand is fundamentally different to the day before. A distinctive, sustainable difference designed to deliver breakthrough results born from identifying a real business problem, nuanced understanding of the audience [rather than convenient generalisations] and commercial intimacy … by that I mean knowing who the company actually is, how they operate and how they need to in these modern times.

Prof Lawrence Freedman, the author of A History of Strategy … said it best:

“Strategy is about revolution. Anything else is just tactics.”

And we’re seeing a lot of tactics these days.

And while eco-systems, frameworks, brand onions, data, D2C, UX, creative briefs, ads and comms are all parts of the strategic journey, they’re rarely THE strategy.

Nor is creating endless sub-thinking for every decision, implication or possibility because, at best – they can paralyse the potential of the strategy and end up just creating incremental change rather than fundamental or – at worse – just cause mass fucking confusion.

And don’t get me started on optimisation or user journeys or white-label solutions or writing endless decks that go nowhere … because they’re often more about keeping things the same than moving things forward.

This discipline has been my life. I believe in it and I’m employed because of it. It can create incredible opportunity and value and has some incredible talent working in it and – more excitedly – wanting to work in it. But the reality is for all the people who have strategy in their title, few are setting the stage for brilliantly creative, commercially advantageous, progressive revolution … most of us are simply executing a small part of someone else’s thinking and then going off thinking we’re hot shit.

What this means is as a discipline, we’re in danger of becoming like a contestant on Love Island, initially interesting to meet but ultimately blunt, disposable and forgettable.

And while there’s many reasons for this – some beyond our control – we are contributing to it by acting like our own worst enemy. Doing things like arguing about which ‘flavour of strategy’ is the right ‘flavour of strategy’ for the modern age.

Apart from the fact most of the ‘new flavours’ are just re-badged versions of old strategic rigour – albeit with some more consideration and expression in it – this is just an argument of ego that’s distracting us from the real issue …

We can be so much more than we think we are.

We need to be so much more than we think we are.

But to realise this we need to stop thinking of strategy as if it’s engineering or simply the act of being able to think strategically … and get back to objective, distinctive and focused revolution.

I’ll leave you with one more quote from Prof Freedman:

“Strategy is getting more from a situation than the starting balance of power suggests”.

If we’re not doing that, then we’re not just kidding ourselves … but also our entire discipline and our clients trust.

And while they’re many reasons for it – as I have already mentioned – we’re all kidding ourselves a lot these days.

As with everything, what happens next is up to us. But I hope it results in us being strategically dangerous because when we’re in full flight, that’s when we’ll show how much value we can add to commerce, culture and creativity”.



What Adland Needs To Learn From Oprah …

Adland talks a lot about diversity and inclusion.

It talks about wanting to make a difference.

But while I appreciate the intentions are genuine, the actions often aren’t.

Too many superficial acts designed to make us look good without actually doing much good.

Self-indulgent acts that are designed to change nothing but make us feel like heroes.

Pieces of work that tell people what they already know so we can claim we are ‘living our purpose’ at the next global conference get together where the loudest applause is for ourselves.

I wrote about this recently when I found out Cocoa Girl – the magazine for little girls of colour in the UK – was the FIRST magazine for little girls of colour in the UK.

The first!!!

Well here’s another example of how poor we are as an industry following through on what we so loudly and proudly claim.

The top of this post features one of the 26 billboards Oprah has purchased around Louisville, in the US.

For those who don’t know the story of Breanna Taylor, you can read it here … but in simple terms, it’s another case of US Police racism that resulted in another innocent African American being murdered with – initially – no implication on the officers involved.

[And then, after a huge protests, the officers involved were arrested but ended up facing a fraction of the justice they deserved … meaning it was another insult to the Taylor family]

This is a case that has shaken America and beyond.

This is a case that needed pressure putting on the authorities to investigate rather than look in another direction.

This is a case that showed again the deep disadvantage people of colour have in America and all over.

What Oprah did is amazing but I can’t help but think adland could have done this.

Should have done this.

But we didn’t.

And while I am pointing fingers at us, I’m also pointing them at myself … because if we are serious about D&I, it’s about doing things that are in the best interests of the people we want to connect with rather than making it all about what is easiest for us.

Or said another way:

We have to commit … rather than just show interest.

Go out of our way … rather than make others go out of theirs.

What this brilliant act by Oprah reminds me is that creative and cultural inspiration does not come from just looking at ourselves. If we want to survive, we can only do that by letting more diversity in and letting them thrive on their terms rather than ours.



There’s Pretentious. And Then There’s This …

Watch this.

Watch it all the way through.

And if you can genuinely guess who it’s for before the end – or even which category – then you are either an absolutely twisted bastard or … nope, just a twisted bastard.

Did you?

If you didn’t, go back and do it.

EVERY SECOND OF IT.

Seriously, what the fucking fuck eh?

I mean, maybe it could be a contrived bank ad.

Or some bullshit life insurance company.

But Subway.

SUBWAY!!!???

That said, I do admire how they identified and expressed so many of the little things young boys do as they grow up.

Not necessarily the perv stuff, but definitely the hygienically questionable.

Which is appropriate, given this 2016 piece from Brazil, is definitely questionable.

I can’t help but feel the people behind this, should have studied this chart before they went off and made this piece of insanity.

Seriously, this is the sort of stuff that gives advertising people a bad name.

That we’re out of touch and out of our minds.

And not in a good way.

Thank god we have Uncommon’s brilliant B&Q work to remind people we can be good. We can be really, really good.

Or how people of a certain age react to having a £1 Viennetta after 25 years.

But my god, this Subway ‘thing’ is bad.

Like destroy-the-industry bad.

And while I appreciate different cultures have different ways of communicating. And brands can be seen very differently by different cultures … this is Subway.

The 6″/Foot long sandwich makers.

There’s no place in the World where they are considered servants to humanities quest for progress and understanding. Though I must admit I would love to shake the hand of whoever sold this Subway idea to the client – as well as the client who approved it.

Not because I want to congratulate them on pulling off something so stupid, but because I want to wish them luck trying to get their next job.



A Dictatorship Is Not A Community …

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had 2 very unpleasant interactions with LinkedIn.

The first was when I discovered my personal account had been blocked by them.

No warning.
No reason.
Just blocked.

I had to look on Google to find out how I could get in contact with them, and after discovering that I had to submit proof of my ID – they got back to me to say that someone had found a post I’d written offensive due to it’s adult content … and as they felt it contravened some LinkedIn policy I’d never heard of, they needed me to apologise to them before they would reinstate me.

Now I appreciate the image I chose was provocative, however it was not just for shock value … it was part of a presentation/post I was giving about the terrible, sexist, bullying behaviour men subject women to in the work place every single day – so I found it remarkable they ignored the context – which was clear – and just banned me and demanded an apology.

I told them I refused to apologise because it’s a genuine presentation about a genuine issue … however, as they appeared to be OK with that sort of behaviour, I would report them to the workplace commission for equal rights as well as the #MeToo organisation.

Unsuprisingly they reinstated my account saying ‘they appreciate I wasn’t trying to be offensive’, despite having previously said they agreed with whoever complained about my post and – contrary to most legal protocols – regarded me guilty, even though they had not sought any information or context about the post from the person being accused.

But pathetic and annoying but that was nothing compared to what was yet to come.

So a week later – which seems a very strange coincidence – the Corporate Gaslighting LinkedIn account was banned.

Again no warning. No explanation. Just banned.

So I went through the same thing and then they got back to me with this …

Yep, the issue is simply the account is under Corporate Gaslighting’s name rather than my own – despite all contact details are.

But here’s where it gets even more annoying.

“Due to the nature of this account, we won’t be able to remove the restriction and/or merge this account with another one.”

That’s right.

It’s blocked. Forever.

Not because they couldn’t link it to my account but because they didn’t want to. Because of the ‘nature’ of the account.

And this is where I’m confused because surely the nature of the account is perfect for LinkedIn?

In fact, when I read the LinkedIn ‘purpose’, which states:

‘Connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful’

… then I can’t think of a more perfect partner for LinkedIn.

But no. They don’t want it.

It’s fine to have shady recruiters taking money from their clients to spam anyone they can get to. It’s fine to have men use their site to hit on women. It’s fine to pretend you’re a z-grade shrink with a guaranteed answer to everything you could ever wish for. It’s fine to allow ‘members’ to spout blatant lies about their achievements or sales tools. It’s fine to have people use the platform to talk about the conformity of professional appearance … but it’s not OK to have someone who is dedicated to helping professionals being systematically undermined by bad leaders, because the way I filled in their form is a violation of the LinkedIn User Agreement and Professional Community Policies.

I’ll tell you what’s a violation – LinkedIn’s claims they are a community. That they want to help people succeed. That they want to connect people together.

LinkedIn wants everyone to follow their orders. What they have decided is right. What works in their best interests. And if for some reason that doesn’t happen, then they let their god complex run riot – before hiding behind anonymous people and policies that don’t allow for context or conversation … just a brazen and contrived ‘computer says no’ guilty verdict, with all the humanity and consideration of an ATM machine.

Dear LinkedIn. You are in danger of becoming the absolute opposite of what you claim to be about, because if you were, you’d have created your own version of Corporate Gaslighting, but no, you’d rather just ban it. But then, when you’re paying your CEO almost $14,000,000 per year, I appreciate the last thing you’d ever want to do is to take any sort of stand against any sort of professional misconduct, for fear of alienating the companies who allow your CEO to be paid such an obscene amount.

Linkedin has incredible potential to be a real force for good.

Not just for corporations, but employees too.

It could influence real, positive change.
It could drive shifts in values, attitudes and rewards.
It could challenge the rules of what ‘professionalism’ supposedly means and looks like in the modern age.
It could help shape the future of work in ways that benefit all.

And while some could say they are doing this in their own way, the past few weeks have suggested to me their focus is on keeping the C-Suite happy rather than helping people create a new version of the C-Suite.

It’s a shame, because the whole industry is begging for some sort of major change but instead, they not only prefer to keep things exactly the same … they are using their power to ensure it does.

If you – or someone you know – are having your confidence systematically undermined, by colleagues … you are not alone. There is help out there. Not at Linkedin.com but at TheyTriedToKillMeButI.Live