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.



Spare A Thought For R/GA …

That’s quite the post title isn’t it?

Well it’s for a simple reasons because a year ago today, I joined them.

Poor fools.

What’s worse for them is that I don’t intend on going anywhere – which means I’m going to be here longer than the last gig I had.

There’s a bunch of reasons for that …

I am learning.

I am being challenged.

I am doing things I find interesting and exciting.

I am doing things I have literally never done before.

From the future of reading to the future of fashion to the future of the future. Kinda.

I am dealing with people who see the World completely differently.

I am working with a bunch of wonderful people from a huge range of disciplines.

I am – as usual – working with an incredibly brilliant gang of talented planners.

[They can be a bunch of dicks, but nothing the threat of lunch with me can’t sort out]

But even more than all those wonderful things is one stands out the most …

Everyone has been nothing but kind and generous to me and ‘my ways’.

From messing with the planning approach to adding some chaos to the creative process to letting me give a talk at Cannes with Martin Weigel for our little hobby company, every single person – from the very, very top – has been incredibly supportive.

Now I know that being yourself shouldn’t be a big thing, but after some recent experiences – and hearing so many terrible stories on Corporate Gaslighting – I realise it’s not something everyone gets to enjoy and so to be supported and encouraged despite my “unorthodox, immature and annoying ways”* means I am incredible grateful to everyone for giving me the space and environment to be who I am.

So despite putting me on planes so often I can only presume they’re trying to give me DVT, I want to say thank you R/GA … I just really, really hope you don’t fire me this afternoon because not only will Jill, Otis, Rosie and our bank manager [rightfully] beat the crap out of me, this post will have been a massive waste of corporate toadiness.

Till next year …

____________________________________________________________________

* A genuine quote from Mr Nice Guy, George Byrant from many years ago.



Professional To The Core …

For reasons I don’t understand – but I do like – I occasionally get asked for my opinion in industry magazines.

While I absolutely take what I do seriously, I have realized that if I was to compile all that I’ve said that has been printed, I would look a bit of a maniac.

For example, there’s this. Or this. Or even this.

And just recently I was asked ‘what Star Wars character would I be’ and this was my answer …

But here is the thing …

While many may think I do this because I need psychiatric help or have a career death wish, there’s another reason behind it and it’s about comfortableness.

You see when I was a youngster in the industry, I was surrounded by super-smart, super-senior people who were full of opinion, personality and provocation.

While I didn’t agree with everything they said, they helped me realise that ‘just because you take your job seriously, doesn’t mean you have to take yourself seriously’.

What this did was let me feel comfortable in taking to any of them about any madcap idea I had … let me talk to clients about subjects that may otherwise seem ‘off limits’ and let me work with colleagues without thinking it made me look weak or incapable.

In essence, cheekiness has enabled me to do – or be part of – things that I may not otherwise never have been able to do.

From work I’ve been a part of … clients I’ve worked with … agencies I’ve worked at and countries I’ve lived in.

Now of course, mischief is in my bones so it wasn’t exactly hard … but being encouraged to embrace my truth rather than oppress it had a huge benefit to my career and so while a bunch of what I say and do is because I’m a bloody idiot, there is a part of it that is intended to create the space and atmosphere to enable my colleagues and clients feel comfortable with being vulnerable … whether that’s expressing their ideas, their fears and ambitions or simply realizing that if I can have a career while still being a sweary fool, then they – with all their talent – surely can.

You might think this is a load of bollocks – and I totally understand get why – but it’s true.

The future of adland is not going to come from more processes, it’s going to come from more people being able to express or explore their ideas without fearing they will be judged, shot down or ridiculed.

And if you think that’s a dramatic statement, just go on twitter and see how the masses react to any idea that challenges the belief system they have bought into, even though they know for a fact that the very small amount of people who succeed – which are mainly white men – are generally the ones who reinforce the cliche rather than push or break them.

Happy Monday.



Laugh In The Face Of Authority …

Redundancy is horrible.

It happens but that doesn’t stop it being horrible.

You feel discarded, worthless, devalued.

Even if you know it is absolutely none of those things and you’re just a victim of circumstance you can’t escape the feeling you have been singled out.

It’s even worse when companies approach it as “business, not personal”.

I appreciate that there are countless legalities that you have to jump through but while it might be business for the company, it is always personal for the individual being let go.

That doesn’t mean you want to receive any sense of contrived compassion but you do want to feel respected as an individual.

I remember being let go once and then told that because they knew my visa would mean I’d have to leave the country in 28 days – they would happily delay telling the authorities for a month [to allow me more time to find a new job] but – and it’s quite a big but – if I sacrificed the residency payment I was legally obliged to have been given.

Pricks!

[Though it gave me the resolve to start cynic so it wasn’t all bad – but absolutely no thanks to them]

Anyway, the reason I am writing all this is because I read a story of someone in NZ who was being made redundant who dealt with the situation in a unique way.

Not only did they ensure they owned the situation but they also ensured it was the company letting them go who felt the awkward ones.

It all started when the individual was told they were being let go and informed they could bring someone to the meeting for support.

Who did they bring?

A partner?

A parent?

A colleague?

A lawyer?

Nope … a clown.

A bloody clown.

You can read the story of my newfound hero here … even though when I first heard the story I thought it was the agency who brought in the clown to try and make the mood lighter.



What You Can Learn About The Danger Of Assumption From The Original Woodstock Festival …

One of the things I do when I first get a brief is try to see the creative opportunity.

Where we can make the biggest and most interesting difference.

Changing something.

Pushing something.

Destroying something.

However the reality is that in many briefs, this isn’t always clear – mainly because so many are written from quite a transactional perspective, designed for an agency to ‘answer it’, rather than use it as a springboard for bigger, more powerful and more sustainable impact.

And that’s why the best thing you can do is ask questions.

Explore.

Prod.

Challenge.

Not just in terms of who authored the brief, but the people who are responsible for what comes out of it.

There are some people who think this approach has the potential of alienating clients, but in my experience it has quite the opposite effect. People in power regard this as a demonstration of someone who gives a shit … someone who wants to help them achieve the best outcome in ways that can best serve their business. Ideas they may simply never have seen or considered before.

And that’s exactly why I do it because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t know the level of the clients ambition … their desire for change and impact … and without that you can’t possibly see the creative opportunity you have in front of you and you may go down a path that leads to nowhere because you have made assumptions that simply aren’t true.

Don’t get me wrong, we all need new business to survive – let alone thrive – but my point of view is that if people aren’t excited or clear on what we are looking to do, then it either leads to a painful journey with painful work at the end of it or just mistrust and quite frankly, I haven’t got time for either of those in my life.

So what’s all this got to do with the title of this post?

Because I recently read an article on the famous Woodstock festival and was reminded – from a comment by Tommy James from the band, Tommy James and The Shondells – how dangerous ‘assumption’ can be.

And who is Tommy James from Tommy James and The Shondells?

Well, this might tell you why you haven’t heard of him or them …

Don’t assume the person communicating with you has total clarity on their situation.

Don’t assume the people around you have total clarity on the situation.

Just don’t assume.



A Glimpse Into Past Normality …

Following on from yesterday’s post about Concorde I thought I’d post a sign I saw hanging in the ‘food preparation area’ of an old British Airways plane …

The fact smoking was once allowed on planes is amazing.

The fact they had to remind staff not to smoke while preparing food is mind-blowing.

But they did … because back then, having staff not smoke while preparing food was classed as ‘hygienic’, regardless of the fact being stuck on a plane with cigarette smoke working its way through the cabin at 30,000 feet was not.

Thank god those days have changed …

And that’s the thing with history, you often look at it and wonder, ‘what the hell were people thinking?’ but then you look around at the state of the World today and you realise we’re still making stupid decisions.

Whether it’s brexit or the rise of nationalism, millions of people are making decisions as stupid as allowing smoking on a plane.

Or smoking in general.

Of course, this is ultimately fueled by individuals who claim to be acting in societies best interests but are really getting the masses to act in ways that suit their own personal agenda … be it for money, fame or ego.

There’s an old proverb that says ‘those who forget history are destined to make the same mistake again’. Personally I think that needs updating to “those who only remember the bits of history that suit them are destined to lead us all into the shit”.

People will claim this is democracy, but it’s not really.

Apart from the fact anyone can win anything if you lie through your teeth, true democracy requires EVERYONE’S opinion to be heard. Maybe it’s time we follow Australia’s lead and say it is a requirement that everyone votes on issues of national importance. Maybe if that happened and people still voted for Brexit [albeit with issues that were true rather than fear mongering] the country would be less broken apart.

It won’t happen. Too many people with power and money will make sure that’s the case … and that is why anyone who still thinks we live in a democracy better not complain when decisions go against them.

Sorry, I got ranty there, I’m just so angry someone like Boris Johnson has got what he wanted regardless of the cost to everyone else. He and his cronies should be charged as enemies of the country … which may happen once everyone see’s the damage a No Deal Brexit has on their everyday life.

Oh, before I go and have a lie down … a little message to Dave.

Mate, I know today is a hard day for you. As usual, we are all thinking of you and will give you a call later.

Big hugs.



Bullshit Brand Bingo …

Years ago, there was an email that went around that invited people to play ‘Bullshit Bingo’, the marketing edition.

Included on the paper were words such as ‘synergy’ and ‘optimization’ and the aim of the game was to take this to your next meeting and cross off each word as someone said them.

The person who crossed off all the words first, won.

It was a tongue-in-cheek way to take the piss out of the marketing industry and it’s obsession with using words that are the absolute opposite of the words the audiences we try to have a meaningful connection with, say.

Well it appears there is a new version of this game in town … except some people haven’t realized it’s a game.

Worse, it appears they think it is a brand building bible.

Have a look at this …

I don’t know about you, but nothing says ‘brand transformation’ like bigging-up the fact you have decorated your reception area.

Don’t get me wrong, a brand should infect and influence every aspect of how you behave and express yourself but – and it’s a big but – it should be something that is truly distinctive to your brand, not just a bunch of brand mumbo-jumbo words and corporate colours that end up making you look and sound exactly like everyone else.

I wrote about this a while back when I said the best brief I ever received was from Richard Branson for his now infamous Virgin Atlantic London lounge.

I also talked this with Martin at Cannes.

The reality is too many companies aspire for best practice.

But the reality is best practice means averageness.

Fitting in not standing out.

Differentiation without distinction.

Staying in the middle rather than reaching for the edges.

I am amazed how many companies fear being different and yet claim to be.

I am even more amazed how many companies then shit themselves when someone comes along with a point of view that is genuine and authentically expressed and executed so that it attracts culture rather than tries to chase it.

Apart from being a law firm, I don’t know who Pinsent Masons are, but if they aspire for their new reception to reflect their bland brand value with words like ‘bold, connected and approachable’, I think I’ll survive living in my ignorance.