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


Brand In 10 Words.

I am a massive fan of Rick Rubin.

Actually that’s not quite right.

I am a massive disciple of Rick Rubin.

I think he is incredible. His ability to help others express their most powerful creative voice is amazing.

So much of this is down to how he see’s his role.

Not as a music producer, but as a sophisticated fan.

Someone who wants the band he loves to be their shameless best.

Protecting them from ever feeling they have to compromise on who they are or what they want to say because he fiercely believes the greatest return comes when you express your honesty and authenticity rather than play to be liked.

It’s why the artists he’s worked with reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the most culturally significant artists of their time.

Those who either defined a genre or validated it.

LL Cool J
Run DMC
The Beastie Boys
Slayer
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Rage Against The Machine
The Black Crowes
The Dixie Chicks
Johnny Cash

Look at that list. Look at it.

Hip Hop. Rap. Rock. Metal. Thrash. Blues. Country. Funk.

No one should be able to be so successful with that range of genre and artist.

It’s hilarious and yet there are so many more artists I could mention because for almost 4 decades, Rubin has helped artists not only express their truth but recognise the economic power from doing so.

He has created icons.
He has revived icons.
He has shaped, pushed and provoked culture.
He has influenced, shaped and changed music forever.

When we hear agencies talk about ‘creating culture’, most haven’t come anywhere close to what he has helped create.

But what I love the most about Rubin is how he decides who he is going to work with.

Basically his entire decision making process is based on one simple process.

Taste.

If Rubin likes what he hears, then he’s up for it.

It doesn’t matter whether it has any connection to anything he’d done before, he see’s it less about the music and more about the artist needing help to express … find … or rediscover their voice.

Not their singing voice. Their soul.

It’s not that far off what we as an industry say we do for brands.

Except we’re increasingly forgetting what brand is because we sacrifice it time and time again for the quick win.

I get it, we’re fighting for our lives … but in our quest to show we have value, we’re destroying what makes us valuable.

Oh I know we won’t admit that.

We’ll point to words like purpose, experience and membership as proof ‘we get it’.

We’ll say they’re representative of modern brand building and all else is old.

We’ll show 1000 page decks that show how our unique processes ‘guarantee’ success.

And some clients will buy this, which means we can go away thinking we’ve got it all sorted out and we’re legends.

Except we haven’t and we aren’t.

Yes, all those elements play an important role in building a modern brand … however they’re never the lead, always a supporting actor because …

Sales without distinction doesn’t build a brand.

Purpose without sacrifice doesn’t build a brand.

Data without understanding doesn’t build a brand.

User journeys without nuance doesn’t build a brand.

Eco-systems without an idea doesn’t build a brand.

Personalisation without being personal doesn’t build a brand.

Wanting to be something to everyone rather than everything to someone doesn’t build a brand.

The harsh reality is we’re dangerously close to confusing commoditisation with brand building. Of course this is not all our fault, but continuing to perpetrate it, most definitely is.

While I appreciate Rick Rubin didn’t mean the photo/quote that appears at the top of this page to be interpreted this way … he pretty much sums up how to build truly distinctive and definitive, culturally resonant brands.

And he does it in 10 words.

TEN!!!

And that’s part of Rubin’s magic.

He understands how to get to the simplest expression of his viewpoint, because he knows the simpler it is, the less obstacles to deal with.

Simple lets truth speak and rise.

Simple lets possibilities flourish.

Simple lets distinctiveness be expressed.

Simple is unbelievable power.

Now the irony of simple is it’s not easy to pull off.

Simple is definitely not simplistic. To be simple requires a hard work, experience and confidence … and while as an industry we have known this and advocated this for decades, we seem to have recently decided the opposite – where we celebrate complexity.

What the hell?!

Maybe it’s because we’re making more money from this approach. Or just feel more important. But the endless playbooks, frameworks, processes, tools and strategies we’re producing aren’t building better brands, just bigger obstacles.

Again, there’s a place for them. But the way they’re being used – they’re more like hammers than brushes – forcing them into the process, competing with all around them and ultimately leaving people lost with what they’re following, what they’re building and what they’re actually doing this all for.

As someone recently said to me – someone hugely successful in business – when companies make the solution more complex than the problem, they’re just creating another problem.

Please don’t think this means you skimp on standards or rigour.

If anything, it’s the exact opposite … but because everyone knows what they’re working towards [rather than doing their version of what they think everyone should be working towards], it means they can be sharp and focused and that means your work can be expressed in ways that lift things up rather than bogs them down.

I get some people won’t like this.

I get some people won’t agree with this.

I get some clients would never sign off on this.

But apart from the fact I doubt any of them will have come close to influencing, shaping or creating culture in the same commercially infectious way Rubin has, if they really believe selling the complexity of intelligence is a smarter way to operate, I’ll leave you with something my dad – who was pretty good on this whole intelligence thing – used to say to his lawyers:

“If you have to show how clever you are, you aren’t that smart”.



Charging For Your Creativity Doesn’t Make You Evil …

Of all the blog posts I’ve written over the years – and let’s face it. there’s been loads – there’s been a few I have constantly referred to.

One is Harrison Ford’s the value of value.

The other is Michael Keaton’s if you’re an employee, you’re still a business owner.

If you hadn’t worked it out by now, both are about ensuring you are not just paid for your creativity, but paid fairly.

You’d think that was obvious, but so many people seem to have forgotten that … including the creative industry, who have decided their value is better placed on the process of what they do rather than what they actually create and change.

Insanity.

But underpinning this is the creative person’s insecurity.

Somewhere in our psyche is the belief that if we charge money for what we create, we’re not being truly creative.

That we’ve sold out.

That we are imposters … capitalists in creative clothing.

Now there is an element of truth in all of this – because the moment you are working for someone else’s dollar, that someone has some influence over what you create. But that’s not unique to the creative industry. Nor does it mean you are selling out on your creative integrity by accepting payment for what you do.

Please note I said ‘payment for what you do’.

That does not mean we should be ignoring the needs, ambitions and goals that our clients want us to help them achieve, but it is acknowledging we should also be paid well for the creativity, craft, experience – and unique way of looking at the World – that goes into creating the work that allows us to achieve their needs in ways others can’t.

The reality is as much as many – especially in the creative industry – like to suggest money is the enemy of creativity, it’s not.

It can allow us to do amazing things.

Break new ground.

Explore new possibilities.

But more than that, while it may be differing amounts, we all need money.

And – to a certain extent – we all want money.

There is nothing wrong with that, just like there’s nothing wrong with being paid for what we do.

The real question should be how did we earn it and what did we do with it when we got it.

That’s how you can judge a persons integrity, not the fact you got paid for what you did and the talent you invested in it.

Sure, struggling may sound romantic in a Hollywood movie, but few of us want a lifetime of that and who can blame them!?

I still remember when Lars Ulrich of Metallica copped all manner of shit because he was the face for recording artists fighting against the role of Napster on the recording industry.

The insults he copped.

The distain he was thrown.

And all he was doing was trying to protect the value of his – and millions of other bands – creativity.

Why was that wrong?

Was it because, at that stage, he was already wealthy?

Is there some sort of rule to say that there is only so much you’re allowed to make before creative people need to shut up and be grateful for what they’ve got?

And what is that amount? No doubt, somewhere between ‘enough to live but not more than the rest of us’.

However somewhere along the line, society has decided to reposition creatively minded people as idealists … naive or even weak. Ignoring reality so they can wank-off on some self indulgent project that only interests them.

Which is total bollocks.

Apart from the fact I’ve never met a creative who isn’t insanely focused on the challenge they’ve been given – even if they have a very different opinion on how to get there to the client or the rest of the agency – the fact is we’ve now surrounded them with 10,000 different types of ‘strategist’, with 10,000 different opinions and agendas … which forces the conversations to be more about the importance of a discipline than the actual potential of the work.

And don’t get me even started on the fact a lot of these new forms of strategy are either [1] not really new or [2] not doing actual strategy, but executional management!

However all that aside, the reality is in all this, creative people have to take a responsibility for the situation they find themselves in.

Or, potentially even more specifically, the people who are training and developing them.

Because they are complicit in maintaining the belief your creative value and integrity is somehow linked to not being ‘diluted’ by payment. Which, when you think of it, is utterly ridiculous given value is created by what others will pay for it.

Schools … universities … agencies … everyone has an obligation to change this.

Not just for the future of their students or employees, but also for their own value.

Appreciating the economic value of what you create and what that creates is not dirty … it is the opposite of that.

It’s purity.

It means you have power in the conversation.

A right to fight for what you believe rather than what is convenient.

Creativity comes in many forms but right now, the form of ‘engineering’ is winning.

Where it’s less about what could be created and more about how you create something that has already been defined. Worse, something that has already been done.

So if you’re in the creative industry or thinking about it or know someone already in it.

Or, alternately, if you’re a teacher involved in the arts – or any subject for that matter – or careers advisor or a parent of someone who is in, or wanting to be in, the creative industry … then please read this article by Alec Dudson [the founder of Intern] because in it, he explains why ‘the economic value of creativity’ skill still remains largely absent from creative education … the impacts of that omission and, most usefully, how you can change it.

Creativity can change outcomes, possibilities and culture.

It has played a pivotal role in every great brand, product, idea and invention.

To devalue that is insane.

But not as insane as the people capable of creating it, also being complicit in it.

Know your worth. Charge your worth. Build your worth.



When You Promise More To Still Be Poor …
July 23, 2020, 9:30 am
Filed under: Advertising, Attitude & Aptitude, Corporate Evil, Money

As I wrote last night, Nottingham Forest just lost their chance to be in the premiership playoffs.

They fucked up the best chance they’ve had in a decade.

On the last day.

In the last 20 minutes of the last day. Though the damage was done a few games ago when we let Derby County – our fiercest rivals – get a drawer in the last minute with a needless foul.

I’m devastated so to mitigate the pain I’m going to post this and hope it is useful to someone.

Given the impact COVID has had on adland, there’s a lot of us freelancing right now.

Of course, when there is a glut of talent available, many companies use this as an opportunity to lower your price.

I get the temptation to accept this. Some money in is better than no money in … but it’s also a slippery slope for you and all those around you.

So I thought I’d just write my thoughts on how to maybe handle it.

Not because I’m an expert, but because it will serve as a good reminder for me moving forward.

First thing you should do is check out the freelance rate spreadsheet the brilliant Alex Holder has been pulling together.

There is another alternative to this, which you can contribute to here.

The second thing you should do is to know your value.

This is not what you want it to be, but actually identifying and articulating your experience, your contribution to the work you were a part-of and the distinctive value you brought – and will bring – to every project you work on.

I appreciate this can be difficult, but it’s an investment – and a responsibility – to both your past and your future.

For more understanding on it, here’s a post I wrote about how Harrison Ford appreciates the value of his value.

Another thing to do is to remember you’re a small business, not just an individual looking for revenue.

While the two are closely entangled, thinking like you are a small business can actually help you when making decisions or when being asked to lower your rates.

Again, I wrote about a Hollywood star – this time Michael Keaton – who thinks this way.

It’s important … because you’re not actually negotiating for the job you have, but the next one you could have.

I say all this because recently I was asked by a great global brand if I could help them with their strategy.

I have always respected them and the challenge they faced was tailor-made for me given my global experience.

While I have no intention of doing ‘real’ work for a few months, I submitted my cost proposal and a few minutes later, their procurement department contacted me saying this:

“Your fee is higher than other partners we use, please lower it”.

At this point I could have just said agreed.

Afterall, I found the project fascinating, I think it could lead to interesting work and money is always useful to have coming in.

But I didn’t.

I knew my experience in this situation was better than most.

I knew they had recently spent millions with McKinsey, so what I was actually asking for was nothing.

I knew I didn’t want to start a relationship based on working down to a price, rather than up to a quality.

So instead I responded with this.

“You products are higher priced than other brands I could choose, please lower it”.

Cheeky?

Yes.

Aggressive?

Possibly.

But the reality is I have 30+ years of experience at the highest levels of creativity, client and culture so if a company doesn’t value that, why would I value them.

But here’s the thing … it wasn’t really their fault.

Procurement departments are literally paid to lower prices.

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are or what you do, they’re evaluated and compensated for lowering costs.

It’s not personal … it’s just their job.

So while I appreciate their request was just part of their process, defending my value was also part of mine.

My attitude was if they want to treat it like a game, then so would I.

Which means I am cool with them asking what they like, but I don’t have to agree.

To any of it.

So that’s what I did … and you know what happened?

They wrote back saying,

“We accept your rate and look forward to working with you”.

Now I know it won’t work every time.

But the attitude is what I’m going to do every time.

Because if someone only values one part of a relationship, then it’s not a relationship.

Some companies or freelancers will be OK with that.

Good on them. But I’m not.

Not just because of the reasons I’ve written about above, but because I’ve found – over the years – the best clients aren’t OK with this attitude and approach either.

As one of the most senior clients at NIKE once said to me, “I value people who can make me better not just keep things flowing the same”.

And if this approach ends up backfiring and I need to earn money, then I’m going to start my own procurement company and just approach as many companies as possible and ask to pitch my procurement department against theirs. I won’t even really care if we can do things cheaper or not, I’ll just enjoy watching how they like having their experience, reputation and value being dismissed and disregarded in favour of finding someone – anyone – who will do more, for less.

I’m nice like that.

Especially when Forest throw it all away.

Literally chuck it and give up. Fuckers.

Comments Off on When You Promise More To Still Be Poor …


Even Nottingham Forest Are Embarrassed I Support Them …

So with COVID stopping football fans from attending games, my beloved Nottingham Forest thought of a fun way to help the players feel the stadium is full while earning some much-needed revenue at the same time.

The idea was simple.

Sumbit a photo of yourself and they’ll turn it into a life sized cardboard version of you to place on a seat.

Better yet, you can then come and collect it as a souvenir of your support.

Now I don’t need another life-sized cardboard cut out of me because years ago, I gave one to Jill as a wedding anniversary present to remind her who she was married to as I was travelling a lot.

It’s the pic at the top of this page. I know … and they say romance is dead!

However I did like the idea of supporting my team so I had a couple made.

Some of me.

Some of my mate who stupidly supports Derby County.

Anyway. over the weeks, Forest have been posting photos of the cardboard fans and I haven’t seen my face on any of them.

Oh I’ve seen my best mate Paul

… every bloody photo they put out, he’s there – upfront and centre.

But me?

Nope.

At first I reassured myself it was because they hadn’t printed mine yet.

Then I thought maybe they had lost my order.

And then, finally, I found one of them …

Yep, right at the back, carefully hidden behind other cardboard cutouts.

What makes it worse is that Nottingham Forest is not a glamorous club.

Even when we won the European Cup twice in a row, we were never sexy …

Which is my way of saying that for a club who attracts an unfair share of the visually unappealing, they have deemed me the most visually unappealing of them all.

Thanks Forest, thanks a lot.

Now please just get in the bloody playoffs … it’s the least you can do for me now.



Timing Is Everything …

A while back, I wrote about WeWork.

Or more specifically, how the Messiah complex of one of the founders led to him ultimately screwing the company up with an ill-advised planned IPO.

Of course, as is the way with corporate-insanity – especially when you label your company a ‘tech’ company, even if it isn’t – he walked away for failure with a huge pay-cheque, which means being a start-up founder is even more lucrative after the job than it is for a football manager, which blows my mind.

[Though apparently it was not enough, because one of the founders, Adam Neumann, is suing Softbank for ‘abuse of power’ … when in reality, the only case they really have is Softbank giving them so much cash and praise, it led to Adam gaining a Messiah-complex]

Full disclosure, I did some work for WeWork when they first started.

I met Miguel – one of the ‘normal’ founders – and found him, and his ideas for the company both interesting and exciting.

And for a while it was.

They were tapping into a need that wasn’t being met by traditional office lease companies.

They invested in building a WeWork community because they recognised the commercial attraction of it.

They identified ways to profit from giving ‘start ups’ and ‘independent workers’ the sorts of benefits only people in more traditional employment enjoyed.
But then three things happened:

+ They realised the flaw in their business model because they signed long term property leases but had short term tenants.

+ To get long term tenants, they had to appeal to corporates who could screw them down on price, adding further pressure to their position.

+ To counter corporate price negotiation, they re-positioned themselves as ‘masters of igniting corporate culture and efficiency’ – which, at best, was marginally true and at worst, was plainly rubbish … because ultimately they were a contemporary office space leasing company.

Sure they offered more than some of their competitors.

Sure they were incorporating logistics into their offering.

But fundamentally, they sold space in buildings for others to work in.

I’m not knocking that, there’s a lot of very successful businesses who do it.

And I genuinely think the original WeWork idea was a good one – albeit with commercial flaws – but when ego, ambition and cash-flow pressure come together, they can make a pretty deadly combination, which the World – and employees of WeWork – discovered when the IPO forced them to open their books to the World.

However, I can’t help but think if Adam Neumann had waited just 6 months longer before announcing the IPO, he may have discovered WeWork was so in demand by companies wanting to reimagine their office approach post COVID-19, that investors may have overlooked all of his blatant exploitation and delusion.

I’m so glad he didn’t.