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


Photographic Planning: A Picture Tells A Thousand Presentations …

One of the best things about moving to America was that we were able to bring most of the stuff we had in storage around the World back to one place for the first time in over 15 years.

While opening boxes upon boxes of DVD documentaries was a bit heartbreaking given they are now all available online for free, there was some delight and one of those was getting my hands back on this …

Sign of the Times is a brilliant book by photographer Martin Parr.

Martin Parr is one of Britain’s most significant photographers, best known for his sharp eye and cheeky sense of humour.

Over his 30+ career, he has focused on capturing ordinary people doing ordinary things and because of this, he has become known as a social commentator and recorder of Britain’s finely nuanced class system.

In the 90’s, the BBC aired a documentary called Signs of the Times.

In some respects it was an early version of reality television … a fly-on-the-wall documentary that aimed to document the personal tastes of people in their British homes.

50 people were chosen from 2000 applicants with a real focus on capturing a diverse range of ages, races, genders and social backgrounds.

Anyway, from that show came the book and anyone who grew up in the 90’s in the UK who sees it will resonate with so much of it.

Not just in terms of the aesthetic, but the energy, values and priorities of the times.

I’ve long been fascinated with this approach – we even did a similar type of project at Wieden in Shanghai – because for me, it not only helps communicate who we’re talking to in ways others can truly connect to but – because of the contextual lens – it provides additional insight into how the audience lives and what they value.

It’s why it was so important for me to make a coffee table book of photographs from our recent America In The Raw study, because while some probably saw it as an indulgence – especially given you needed to see the accompanying presentation to truly understand what we found and what we think brands can/should do – my view is that without it, you can’t truly connect to the stories that shaped our thinking and then all we’ll end up with is a deck rather than the influence for change.

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Stop Pushing Percentages And Start Celebrating Possibilities …

One of the things I’ve always hated is reading planning decks filled with charts and graphs.

Don’t get me wrong, it is very important to ensure your strategy is grounded in truth, but pages and pages of data and percentages says you lack confidence in what you’re saying rather than you have a conviction for it.

There are so many tips and tricks to ‘presenting’ strategy – of which I’ll be talking about some of them at the upcoming HOALA conference in Amsterdam – but having a story that takes the audience on the journey of your strategy in a way that both excites and informs is the absolute basic requirement.

Excites … because if the recipient doesn’t see the potential for what’s in it for them, then there’s no point presenting.

Informs … because if they don’t see it baked in reality, then they will regard all you’re doing as trying to sell fantasy.

I’ve seen far too many presentations that only deliver on one of those attributes and the reality is the work either never gets made or you wish it never was made and that’s why getting someone to buy your strategy requires real thought and ‘beating up’ before you commit anything to paper/powerpoint/keynote/film because as Ronald Reagan said, if you’re explaining, you’re losing.



The Best Monday Of Your Life. Unless You Live In NYC …

So the good news is this is the one and only post of the week.

I know … could today be any better?!

You see as you read this, I’m on a plane zooming my way to NYC.

I must admit I’m super excited about it.

Not just because I miss the rush of an intense city … nor because I will get to see friends who I miss very much … but because I’ll be doing two things that are going to be new to me.

One is I’ll be judging the final round of the North American Effies.

The other is that I’ve been invited to talk to design gods, Pentagram.

OK, so I’ve judged the Effies before and I’ve done more than my fair-share of talks, but what’s exciting to me about this is that it’s a totally new context.

The reality is American advertising is very different to the advertising I am used to, make and – to a certain degree – love.

It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just different.

More bombastic. More spell-everything-out. More leave-nothing-to-chance-or-interpretation.

It’s also much more rational and focused on driving immediate sales than creating a position in culture that builds sustainable brand value.

OK, not every brand is like that – and I also know many other markets are becoming more and more like this – but as someone who passionately believes in setting long-term directions, not to mention true culture driven ideas, it’s going to be interesting how I view the results versus some of my fellow judges.

As for the talk …

Well, we all know I can do that in my sleep, but I must admit I’m super excited to be doing it at Pentagram.

For those of you who don’t know, Pentagram are one of the undisputed gods of design.

Literally, one of the gods.

Given it’s not that long ago I was only using the IMPACT I must admit to being somewhat surprised they asked me to come talk to them about my perspective on design, but then I discovered it was less about me and more about the work I’m doing with a certain famous rock band which is why I felt the best way to handle the challenge is to only have 1 image and make that image truthful to what I am sure they’ll leave thinking about me.

Especially when they see my Birkenstocks.

So while I know it’s Monday and you’re probably not looking forward to the week ahead, I hope this post has helped offer you a glimmer of hope for the next 5 days. Unless – of course – you’re based in NYC, and then your week is even darker than you could ever have imagined.

See you next week …



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’.



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.