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.



Class creates change. Hype creates headlines.

I work in an industry that loves to make big deals out of everything.

Literally everything.

And yet, how many of those things were still being talked about a month later?

Or maybe a week?

Or even the next day?

The reality is that for all the work that claims to be revolutionary in its thinking/execution, the reality is few seem to be.

And the same is with agencies.

While it is difficult, the reality is any agency can hit the ad jackpot at least once in their life.

Maybe it’s a Super Bowl spot … or a Cannes award … or just something utterly, utterly brilliant/fun/funny/emotional … but for me, the true test of greatness is not about having done it once, but having done it on a consistent basis.

I don’t mean in terms of getting a headline in the industry press – however nice that is – I’m talking about capturing the mood and imagination of a nation.

Years ago I met someone who kept telling me about the time they ‘achieved something big’ in their career.

What they were talking about was admirable and certainly worthy of feeling proud about, however this thing was 15 years in the past.

Fifteen.

Don’t get me wrong, the person in question should absolutely feel they achieved something few do because they did … but if you are living 15 years in the past, you’ll never be able to move on into the future.

And that’s why one of the best bits of advice I ever got was to always be known for something in every job you have.

It doesn’t matter if you did something amazing over a decade ago, be known for having done something good things in the present.

Whether I have done that is questionable, but that advice has meant I have always gone into new adventures with the desire to make a difference. That should sound obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people try and live off their past.

So for me, it’s always about trying to find something I can improve, impact or instill … something that will last longer than my time there.

Now I appreciate you can easily fall into some post-rationalisation of achievement, because – let’s face it – when you’re judging yourself you’re rarely hard on yourself, but most people accept nothing worth doing comes easy so if they see you as having consistently done positive things wherever you have worked, it not only separates you from the lucky ‘one-off’s’, it lets you look at your career in terms of what it can still be, not just what it was.



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.



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.



James Blunt Might Be Becoming My New Hero …

I know … I know … I really did write that blog post header.

And yes, I really am talking about James Blunt, the man that can make a choir on Songs Of Praise [is that still going] look like Black Sabbath in their prime.

But don’t forget, this is a guy who is disarmingly self aware.

A guy who uses his self-depreciation to turn you from a hater into a fan.

OK, not a fan of his music but – as I wrote here – a fan of who he is.

And recently I saw something that just makes me like him more …

Yep, that’s James Blunt on Tinder.

A man who people think has got laid more than a $2 crack whore in a room of drunk and horny jocks.

OK, so getting laid a lot is part of the ‘rock star’ cliche, but I still find this move to be brilliant.

Not just because he has found a way to make money from his perception.

Not just because he partnered with platform that is the epitome of his perception.

But because he has shown that when you deal with the commentary others have about you directly, you don’t just rob them of their ammunition, you give yourself a chance to change that perception.

I’ve talked about this a lot – I called it the 8-Mile strategy, after the Eminem movie, specifically the end rap battle at 6 minutes 40 seconds – but it’s also something else I wrote about.

The power of unplanned planning.

Unplanned is where a brand speaks in seemingly obvious terms.

Not in terms of what they do, but in terms of what people think you do.

For example, when Scalextric – the model car racing brand – embraced the perception the only reason men want their little boys playing with Scalextric is because it gives them an excuse to play it for themselves.

Did you click on the link?

Seriously, you should – it not only demonstrates what I’m blathering on about, it’s a great ad.

Great because it’s funny. Great because it’s relatable. Great because it doesn’t fall into marketing bullshit.

Can you tell I really, really like it?

So why do I think this approach works when the industry is seemingly so obsessed with talking about bigger purpose stuff?

Because in my opinion, it’s easier to nudge people’s perception of you if you talk in the context of how they already view you rather than spending millions trying to convince them that who you are is totally different to what they believe or are willing to accept.

It is, in some ways, the ultimate demonstration of honesty.

A lot of brands could learn from that.