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


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.

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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.



Best Of The Best Or The Least Bad?

Today I’m judging the Effies.

Oh awards …

I’ve written so, so much about them in the past.

Like here. And here. And here. And here.

I must admit, I am intrigued to see what they are going to be like in the UK.

Will they be a celebration of insightful efficiency or will they be like I experienced too many times in Asia, a stream of consciousness that just rumbles along till they think they have explained how they got to their idea and how they have proved it worked.

I guess we shall see later today.

I really, really hope they are good.

Not just because the Effies have always had a standard they’ve lived up to, but because it will give me faith the industry still has fight in it to do things right.

In my time in the UK, I’ve read a bunch of planning documents/portfolios/resumes that have been more about packaging.

Repeating a client brief in a way that has been ‘sexed up’.

Superficial.

Executional.

Literal.

There are a bunch of reasons for this.

Part of it is the lack of training agencies give their strategiests.

[Hence why we started the School of Strategic Arts]

Part of it is the huge amount of freelance planners out there who are doing exactly what they are asked because they are fighting for their livelihood.

And part of it is because of the client/agency remuneration deals which means planners are giving too little time to explore the best outcome to the problem they face.

Planning has a valuable role to play in effectiveness.

Planning has a valuable role to play in creativity.

But it needs to be allowed to do it to make it happen … so here’s hoping we see the best of what it can do today, because the Effies is not just important for the people who win, but for what the industry needs to get back to being.



Make Space Or We Die Alone …

One of the best things I’ve done [so far] in the UK is see my R/GA planning mob work with the brilliant Brixton Finishing School.

They all graduate today so this post not only makes me – for once – super timely, but also super proud of them all.

Anyway, over the past few weeks they’ve been working with the students on the importance of putting creativity at the heart of strategy.

Well a couple of weeks ago it was my turn and it was massively emotional for me.

Not just because of their passion for creativity.

Not just because they embraced an old fucker with open arms.

But because of the openness of the conversation we had that touched on issues often swept under the carpet but are raw and real … especially if you’re a person of colour.

I was honoured to be there, we should be honoured they still want to work in adland given we – as an industry – are doing our level best to make them feel alienated, isolated or a token gesture.

It’s not hard to change this.

As I wrote about the need to embrace more female leadership, it’s just about making space.

The great irony is that the industry loves to talk about diversity, but not only do they fail to realise it’s about background not just heritage, it’s about how you let them behave. Basically if you make anyone feel penalised or negatively judged for simply being their authentic self, then you are acting in a way that is literally the opposite of diversity.

Sadly, many companies still don’t get this.

They better start or the people who are the one chance we have left to make this industry have a decent future, will finally have enough and take their potential and talent elsewhere.

Frankly, I would not blame them.

[Thanks Maya, Bree, Chelsea and Lani for the impact you still make on me]



Could Everyone Associated With This Please Punch Yourself In The Face …

Have a look at this …

I’ve got to be honest, I think it’s one of the most amazing ads I’ve ever seen.

Not – of course – because it’s good, but because there’s so many things in it to hate, I don’t know which one I loathe more.

From the cliched photograph that is obviously trying to associate with street culture through to the absolutely fucking awful oxymoron/pun of ‘Future Retro’ and ‘Deja New’ … there is an endless amount of hate inducing triggers in this ad.

But even those things don’t come close to releasing my inner rage as ‘Time Tracker’.

TIME TRACKER!!!

It’s a watch. A bloody watch. Yes, they ‘track time’ but they’re attempt to make it sound like the future of watches makes me literally want to kill.

Oh I am thinking about how I’d do it.

Maybe a wooden post so I can smack them around the head.

Or maybe a canon, so I can shoot them far, far away.

Or maybe … oh hang on, I know what I’ll do … I’ll make them wear that ‘time tracker’ and refer to it in the same way, so their shame will be all encompassing and complete.

Time Tracker is a perfect example of something I’ve been seeing more and more of … repositioning that isn’t repositioning.

Repositioning is about helping culture look at your brand in a totally different way.

When Wrigley’s chewing gum moved from being a sweet to a dental care product … that is repositioning.

When Poloroid cameras shifted from photography to being a social lubricant … that is a repositioning.

When Old Spice moved from being used by men to being valued by women … that is repositioning.

A watch going from telling the time to tracking the time is not.

And yet I am seeing more and more work that is trying to position themselves as a catalyst for change when they’re doing nothing but re-articulating the category expression.

One of the categories doing this the most is the financial sector.

There are more new ‘banks’ than at any point in my life.

All with quirky names.

All claiming to be revolutionizing the industry.

All stating they are being developed around the needs of their customers.

And yet not one of them seems to realize that as much as they’re trying to be seen as disrupting the banking industry, they’re doing it in exactly the same way as everyone else.

Disruption but without distinction.

But here’s the thing, are they even disrupting … because so many of them are trying to communicate you can ‘trust’ them. I get trust is important wherever money is concerned, but it is also the backbone of the industry … so in essence, they’re saying ‘we’re different’ and yet they are communicating in exactly the same way as the establishment.

In essence, they’ve become the beast they claim they were created to slay …

But they’re actually worse, because not building any distinction into their offering or behaviour except their name and choice of pastel ‘brand’ colour means all they are really building is commodotisation.

Of course that’s probably because their business plan is to be bought by the establishment and so they don’t care about long term thinking, but this – just like the idiots behind that Nixon watch – is the new ‘best practice’ for brand and business strategy.

And we wonder why the business community questions our ability to talk business.



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.



Careful, Your Manipulation Is Showing …

So a few weeks ago, I received this email …

As soon as I read that first line, I just switched off.

Not because I’m not interested in new business, but because it’s so obvious anyone in business is.

I also don’t like the tone …

As if they just care about my best interests.

Everything about this email pissed me off which – as introductory emails go – is the opposite effect they should have.

I get it’s hard to cold call someone.

I get it’s difficult to grab their attention.

But maybe someone should tell them the secret to making anyone care is getting them to buy rather than just trying to sell.

Or said another way, finding out what your audience need rather than selling them what you want them to want.