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


Weigel Isn’t Bad …

Martin Weigel.

The professor.

The planners planner.

The miserable bastard that never returns your emails.

Well he might be all of those things, but to me, he’s my mate.

What’s more, I think I’m his mate too – which means he’s not nearly as clever as everyone thinks he is.

But the reality is, he has his place as one of the best because he is. That simple.

Not just because he’s as smart as shit … but underpinning his intellectual ramblings are very simple, but powerful, beliefs that benefit everyone he is interacting with.

I say this because I recently heard his answer to the question, ‘What should a planner do and care about?’ to which he responded with this …

That’s it.

4 lines.

But those 4 lines cover so much.

Vision. Creativity [Not advertising]. Innovation. Cultural Resonance. Ambition. Action. Focus.

In other words, strategy that is designed to liberate rather than play nicely with others.

It’s what makes him so good and the work he does so great.

I should hate him, but I can’t …

And it’s not just because I bloody love his bloody lovely other half.

The reason I say this is that one of the things I’ve been shocked about in America is the standard of planning.

There … I’ve said it.

No, it’s not because I’m a snobby Brit.

No, it’s not because I don’t understand the cultural differences.

It’s because a lot of it is bad.

I’ve spent a lot of time exploring what is out there and in many cases it’s either strategy that the individual has used for pretty much every client they’ve worked on regardless of the situation, or at worst, it’s a snappy worded version of the client brief.

Or just bad taglines that say nothing and mean nothing.

In other words, packaging rather than planning.

Now of course there are some epic planners here – I am fortunate to have a bunch who work with me and there’s a bunch who I wish would work with me – but there has been a bunch who I’ve met/spoken to who have just underwhelmed.

I recently met one who said their main approach to strategy was ‘owning the social platform’.

I had to ask 3 times if I had heard right, and I had.

And when I said they weren’t the sort of planner I wanted in my team, he said I didn’t know what I was doing.

OK, there’s probably more than an element of truth in that, but even my worst planner skills is better than that.

And yet this individual was a senior planner in a good agency.

In other words, he was responsible for helping brands decide the direction they were going to invest millions of dollars in.

MILLIONS!

The World has gone mad.

There is a craft to planning.

You can’t outsource it all to data and media.

Of course those people have a place – and an important one at that – but the hard work is still done by those who realize it’s not about the ad, but the direction, tension and opportunity for the brand and culture.

The one’s who can think of ideas that aren’t really just an executional idea.

Which is why we need more Weigel’s than Gary V’s.

Because flash means nothing if it doesn’t address what I now call, Weigel’s ‘Four Principals Of Worthiness’.

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Donn. Rohn. Is. Gone …

When you start a new adventure – be it a new country or company – it can be daunting.

Of course no one starts a new adventure without there being a reason for it, but that still doesn’t mean you don’t find yourself being pulled into looking at what you are losing rather than what you could gain.

But good things can – and do – happen, of which one of them is meeting new people who make your new adventure more fulfilling and exciting.

One of those people is a guy called Donn Rohn.

I never knew Donn before I started at Deutsch. In fact on my first day at work, when I saw him, I thought he looked a bit of a dick, despite the fact a guy who used to work with him told me he was good.

But once I got talking to him, I realised almost immediately that it was only his walk that made him look an asshole [I’m serious, his walk is a cross between Dirty Harry and John Wayne] because the truth is, he’s as honourable a man as I have ever met in my life.

Smart.
Defender of his team.
A leader not a manager.
Committed to doing the right thing.
Empathetic, passionate, a dry sense of humour that drives brilliantly evil turns of phrase … he’s just a great human being and that’s before I mention how great a colleague, friend, husband and father he is.

I say all this because he leaves us today.

As sad as that is – and it really is – he’s off to do something that will change the path of his life so I’m genuinely happy and excited for him and his family because they deserve nothing but good things.

While I would have loved our time together to be longer, I’m grateful I met him and even more that I get to call him a mate so while he leaves a huge hole behind – especially in his ability to rock ‘grandpa sweaters’ that take no prisoners [his leaving present is the picture accompanying this post] – he also leaves a legacy of how to be a good human in a business that often tries its best to destroy that in all of us.

Thank you for everything Donn, never change.



In The End, The Only Things Worth Doing Are The Things That Might Possibly Break Your Heart …

The title of this post is a quote from the novelist Colum McCann.

And he’s right.

Over the years I’ve received many emails from people wanting to get into planning and asking if getting a job in account service might be the way to do it.

And every single time, I’ve replied with the words, “it might be, but don’t give up on getting a job in planning first”.

I know it’s hard to get into planning without any experience.

And by experience, I mean planning.

I’ve never subscribed to this point of view – in fact I still take great pride in the fact that while I was at Wieden, I only ever hired 3 people who’d been planners before, preferring to fill the department with people I found smart, interesting, mischievous and creative but still living a life rather than embracing the comforts, cliches and limitations of the advertising bubble lifestyle.

Of course not everyone is like that – hence the 3 planners I hired who had been planners previously – but in China, there was definitely a conformity to the discipline that I was desperate to break.

Which is why I was very cool with hiring juniors.

People with no experience in the discipline but a history of doing interesting things.

Now I’m back in the Western World, it seems that people are more reticent to do that.

Not all of course, but many.

Maybe it’s because clients want people who know their industry on their account.

Maybe it’s because agencies want people they can tell clients have experience in their industry.

Maybe it’s because no one has the time to train people anymore.

Whatever it is, it’s not a good thing for the industry – or the discipline – and it’s certainly not a good thing for those who are interested but never get a shot, which is why my advice to them is this …

You may end up discovering you don’t like planning.

You may end up discovering you’re not good at planning.

You may end up discovering your career is nothing like the one you hoped for.

But don’t give up. Not yet.

Don’t take no for an answer too easily.

Or look for short-cuts.

Not just because Colum McCann is right when he says the only things we should chase are the things that may break our heart, but the reality is nothing easy is really worthwhile.

Not in the long-term anyway.

And hey, if I can do it, then there’s more than a good chance you can too.

So keep trying. Keep learning. Keep pushing … because focusing on what you might gain is much more powerful than thinking about what you might lose.

Good luck.



It Seems I Am The Fine Line Between Famous And Infamous …

How is your 2018 going so far?

I know it’s still early days – but is it looking good or bad?

Well, if it’s looking positive, I’m about to ruin it for you and if it is looking dodgy, I’m going to help you solidify your opinion.

Why?

Well, a few weeks ago, a nice guy called Paul McEnany asked if he could interview me about my career.

While I’m sure his reasoning for his request was to help planners learn what not to do, my ego said yes even before my mouth did … and while the end result is the bastard love child of rambling randomness and base-level swearing, it’s the perfect way to justify your pessimism for 2018 or to ensure your optimism for the new year doesn’t get too high.

So go here and errrrrm, enjoy [if that’s the right word for it, which it isn’t] and after you’ve heard my crap, listen to the brilliant interviews with people like Gareth Kay, Russell Davies, Richard Huntingdon, Martin Weigel and the amazing Chris Riley because apart from being hugely interesting and inspiring, you’ll get the added bonus of [1] undeniable proof I’m a massive imposter and [2] the knowledge that if I can have some sort of semi-successful career in advertising, you certainly can.

You’re welcome.



When It’s Unfiltered, It Might Leave A Nasty Taste In Your Mouth But It’s At It’s Most Authentic …

When I first joined Deutsch, I wanted to understand what the hell was really going on with American youth so I sent 3 of my team – Maya, Armando and Leigh [along with Sarah, a photographer and co-supported back at HQ by the wonderful Kelsey] – backpacking across the US to spend about a month in some of America’s most opposite cities.

Specifically the richest/poorest … fastest growing/shrinking … most/least diverse.

No nice hotel rooms.

No fancy travel.

Just a month hearing and learning from America in The Raw.

As you can see from this little text exchange below, it left a mark on the guys …

In all seriousness, while they loved it, there were some things they saw and went through that challenged them deeply on a personal level. So deeply, that I honestly believe they have all come back changed for the experience.

And yet overall, what they found was a nation full of young people who wanted their country to be the one they had been brought up to believe in.

A country that lets anyone succeed.

A country that cared for their own equally.

A country where it led by taking on the big challenges and issues and crushing them.

Now of course, you could argue America was never really any of these things – just a master of PR – but that aside, the country they have found is not the country they want and so the way they are approaching their life is basically one of survival.

And what do I mean by survival?

Well in essence, it’s how they can cope with what’s going on until it stops.

Their overall view is “I can’t control the future, but I can control the present”.

And while their behaviour is expressed in multiple ways, we believe they fall into 4 distinct territories …

Protect: Keep safe what you have and don’t risk anything to get what you want.
Disguise: Define your relevance by the topical things you want to associate with.
Escape: Physically create a [momentary] world you want to live in.
Fight: Push against the unfairness you face.

Of course it’s way more complex and complicated than that – and we have spent a lot of time exploring and uncovering the influences, attitudes and behaviours that drive it and define it – but it does seem those 4 lenses are consciously and subconsciously influencing how people are starting to behave.

In all honesty, this adventure has been fascinating – not just in terms of understanding what is starting to happen, but how the issues of race or equality are reaching points where you can feel major change is on the way. Whether that change is instigated by government or the people is still anyones guess, but what we know is that it won’t be able to be swept under the carpet as easily as it has in previous years.

They won’t let it, especially with the current administration doing all it can to prod and provoke them.

The implications for society and business are huge – both in terms of positive change and negative potential – which is why we have created a [coffee-table] book and a presentation and – when we get some breathing space – a short film to truly define and explain what we heard and discovered. But as much as all those things are exciting, the bit I love the most is my team have given a voice to those who are rarely heard in the purest and most unfiltered way you can get.

There’s a lot of things I’ve done in my career that has made me proud.

This is most definitely one of them.

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If you’re interested in seeing/having a copy of the ‘America In The Raw’ book, let me know. I can’t guarantee we can accommodate everyone, but we’ll try.



Inspiration From The Random Post-It Note Writer …

A few weeks ago – after being away on a business trip – I found the above note on my laptop.

I have no idea who wrote it and – to be honest – I’m not sure if it was meant as a reminder of what I should be doing or a report on what I do … but either way, it’s a pretty good standard to live up to.

Many years ago, a magazine asked what my job was. I replied …

“To ensure no one gets complacent, whether that’s the team, the agency or the client”.

I used to think what that meant was to ‘keep pushing, prodding and provoking so we would stay focused on making the biggest difference in the most interesting way rather than settle for good and easy’, but now I know a better interpretation is this.

Be great.
Fuck shit up.
And do it again tomorrow.

We all win if we all want higher standards.



What We Can Learn From Tom Hanks About Working With Others …

OK, full disclosure, I don’t really like Tom Hanks.

Sure, I’ve enjoyed some of his movies but for some reason – maybe due to overexpose of his movies in my early 20’s – I think he has a face I want to smack.

But recently I read an article on him that changed my opinion of him.

To be honest, this ‘change my opinion’ thing is getting annoying.

First is was my ultra-nemesis, Morrissey – though he seems to behaving like a twat again.

Then it was Johnny Marr.

And now Tom Hanks.

Who next … Todd Sampson? That would literally make me want to kill myself.

Good job I know that will never, ever, ever happen.

But back to Hanks.

In the article, Hanks covered a huge range of subjects … the roles he’s taken, his approach to parenthood, the mistakes he’s made – it was all very interesting, vulnerable and honest – but the bit that caught my eye was this:

“I learned a long time ago that you don’t have to like the people you work with. If someone wants to be a dick, it’s OK, but if their dickishness means everybody else doesn’t get to work at their best level – if you being a dick means you’re going to encroach upon my process – there’ll be a slug fest in the parking lot. There will be words exchanged I’ve worked with men and women where I’m like, ‘Are we going to have to go through this again?’ And, well, yes, because that’s what’s called for. On rare occasions, people are insane – but those are really rare.”

The reason I like this is because one of the biggest issues many face in agencies is working with others.

OK, in the majority of cases, as Mr Hanks states, it’s all good – but occasionally you find someone who is especially difficult – not because they are pushing for the best work, but because they think they are the only one’s capable of doing the best work and don’t value anyone else’s contribution or process to get there.

In other words, they’ve become the office egotistical dick.

We’ve all seen them.

Prancing about like they’re gods-gift.

At best they’ve done something genuinely good in their time. At worst, they’ve only done something good in their mind.

What I like about Hanks advice is that it ultimately helps you work out when you should or shouldn’t act.

In other words, if the person isn’t affecting your standards negatively, then let it pass.

Life is too short and ultimately, your engagement with them is not going to achieve anything.

However if their actions are impeding the work you do to the standards you hold, then it’s time to strike.

I should point out that when I say ‘strike’, I don’t mean it literally, but the key point is that the moment you feel your process/standards are being limited because of this other persons actions or behavior, you need to speak up.

To them.

Directly.

I wish I had known this earlier in my career.

When I think of all the energy and time I wasted taking on issues that were just annoying rather than damaging, I want to kick myself. But the good news is that working in advertising means I’ll be able to use this advice properly in the very near future.

And it’s important.

Not just because you should never let someone negatively impact your standards and process, but because – as fellow actor Michael Keaton pointed out – even if you’re just an employee, you’re still in charge of the direction of your career.

So thank you Mr Hanks. Damnit.