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


Finally, Something Useful On This Blog …

Yes it’s a national holiday in America and yes, I said there would be no post today … but the thought of you not having your daily dose of my blog joy broke my heart so I am doing this for you.

I know, I should be knighted.

Ahem.

Anyway, the wonderful Mark Sareff has written a book.

I’ve written about Mark before because apart from being whip smart, he’s also one of the nicest people on the planet.

[Though I appreciate being being one of my friends and mentors may undermine that declaration a bit]

Anyway, while Mark may not be the best known names in planning, he is – in my opinion – the best planner in the industry and so anything by him is going to be interesting and useful and that is exactly what his book is.

It’s full of fantastic strategy nuggets of awesomeness based on real-world experiences.

It’s fun and quick to read and best of all, it’s free so if you are at all interested in smart thinking without the intellectual bullshit, then download it here … it just may be the first useful thing I’ve ever done for anyone on here.

Right, back to my holiday.

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Create Ideas Not Advertising …

Remember when I was about to leave Wieden and I wrote a post about some of the work I had loved being a part of over the past 7 years?

Remember how I said there were some other campaigns I was super excited about but couldn’t talk about them because they hadn’t come out?

No, I didn’t think you would [dicks!] … but the point of this post is one of those campaigns has just launched and I love it.

There’s so many reasons why it warms the cockles of my heart.

It’s fun.

It’s insanely diverse in its execution.

But most of all, an idea rather than an ad idea.

I’ve talked about this for years. For me, the best thing we can do is identify the problem, create a solution and then use comms to tell as many people as possible about this ‘new thing’. Sadly, the majority of advertising still is based on identifying the problem then spending millions of dollars telling everyone about the problem.

But what is ‘this’, I hear you cry. This …

What you’re looking at are plasters [or, now I’m in America, bandaids] for kids.

They were developed by us for NIKE to celebrate Children’s Day.

5 years ago the reason parents didn’t want their kids to play sport is because they wanted them to study their school books. Fortunately that is less of an issue now [but still an issue] but what we discovered is there’s a new barrier and that is that parents worry their kids will get hurt. This is more than just a physical element – it’s tied up to a whole host of complex issues parents are going through, from not wanting to give them the pressure they went through to also wanting to prepare them for the insane competition they will face in life – but what we saw was an opportunity to enable kids to show their parents that sports makes them rather than hurts them.

So we made a product.

A plaster/bandaid.

A plaster/bandaid that actually isn’t about protecting the injuries kids get from playing sport but a badge of honor for playing the sport they love. A badge of honor that lets their parents know they are being awesome for letting their kids compete and that what they get out of it are far more than bumps and bruises.

We made this product.

We developed a whole range – with the cultural context and vernacular of each specific sport embedded into the design.

Then we created advertising with them. About them.

Billboards that you can take the product from.

Films that talk about the beauty of pure play.

Posters that you can collect and use.

Comic books where the images on the plasters form the story. 

And best of all, Nike had them in their stores.

Lots of them.

For kids to have, use and show their parents.

And best of all, it was real. They made tens of thousands of packets of them.

It’s not scam. It’s solving a problem in the most creative of ways.

And even though they waited till I’d left to launch it, I still love it.

Hell, even Forbes loves it. [Though the article is a bit pants]

So to everyone at Wieden Shanghai, especially the guys who were the real instigators of it [I know who you are] not to mention Steve, Andy and PT at NIKE, congratulations, it’s brilliant and I’m so happy and proud of you.

Only took 7 years … hahaha.



A Half Brit, Half Italian Who Spent 7 Years Living In China And Now Lives In America Starts Work At An Agency That Sounds Awfully Like A German Bank …

So as you know I have left China and moved to LA.

And, given I’ve written about it, you know the reasons behind the decision.

However I am also conscious I haven’t said where I am going. OK, so I know others have said where I’m going, but I haven’t. At least on here. 

Well today is the day, because today is the day I start my new job.

Actually I should say today is the day I start my main job because I’m also doing an on-going project with a rather famous rock band [ no, it’s not Queen] however I’m super excited to announce that as of this morning, I have become partner, chief strategy officer and official ‘new boy at school’ at American agency, Deutsch.

If you are based in the US, I’m sure you’ve heard of them but if you’re not, you’ll probably know them for this

To say they’re big is an understatement.

They’re huuuuuuuuge.

Massive clients. Massive office. Massive team.

Basically it’s the classic American cliche … everything is bigger in the US.

Now I’ve got to admit, there’s an element of their scale that makes me nervous … but that’s part of the reason I am so excited to be here.

When we were deciding where to go, I was very clear I didn’t want to do something that was similar to what I’ve been doing over the last 7 years. That’s not because I haven’t loved it – I’ve loved it almost too much – but because I couldn’t see the point of leaving a company I love if I was only go to end up at another company that wanted to be like the company I’ve just left.

What Deutsch offers me is the chance to play and learn in new areas.

Sure, it’s still advertising … but there’s a few fundamental differences from what I’ve been doing for the last few years.

1. I’m going to be a partner.

I’ve got to be honest, this was very important to me. I always want to grow and be challenged and one of the things I knew would be good for me was if I was given the additional – and official – responsibility for helping run an office.

Now you may think I had that at Wieden Shanghai – and I did, kinda – however the structure of the company meant that unless I become an MD [something I don’t want to be] I would always be an invited guest, never one of the hosts.

I should point out I knew this when I joined and I was always given the opportunity to speak up and speak out, however I believe there’s a point where responsibility without authority undermines your potential and ambition and ultimately, I wanted to see if I could make a bigger difference to a company or if I’m full of shit.

2. Deutsch are much more into using tech to solve their clients business problems.

This is almost going back to the way cynic approached things and I love that. However, it is not for the reason that I am sure Northern Planner will suggest … which is that I might be able to convince a client to let me make a moped or car for them.

In all seriousness, one of the things I really liked about Deutsch was their desire to forge their own direction rather than replicate someone else’s. That sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many places try and mimic Wieden without seemingly realising there’s only one W+K and they will always be the best in the World at what they do.

Deutsch’s ambitions feel more entrepreneurial and applied and I find that desire, fascinating.

3. I get to set direction for brands rather than translate someone else’s direction.

While I’ve worked around the World and represented massive regions of the globe, the reality is in most cases, I’ve been about translating someone else’s perspective on what the brand does/is. Someone who tends to work and live in America.

If I’m honest, I’ve never really found this a hindrance – especially in China, where the cultures was so different, so it was always fun to try and work out how to make things connect – but it will be nice to be at the real start of the challenge for once.

Of course there’s other reasons …

The partners are all great people who just happen to work in advertising.

I get to infect a new bunch of talented planners and hopefully make them even better than they thought they could be.

I have the opportunity to make my new team one of the most respected/hated/mischievous departments in the whole of North America. I find that idea really exciting and really infectious.

And then there’s the 2 big ones …

I get to give my family an environment that is healthy for them and we get to experience and immerse ourselves in a brand new culture. Again.

Those are worth their weight in gold … especially as we’ve found a Mandarin school for Otis so he can still feel a connection to the country he was born in and the country his father loves and will miss deeply.

[Oh, we also own and get to drive cars again for the first time in 15 years. I am embarrassingly excited about it … though driving on ‘the wrong side of the road’ is interesting … especially for all the other drivers in LA]

In fact the only thing I don’t like about my new job is that I’m called the Chief Strategy Officer.

I’m not that keen on that. It feels so cold. So exclusive. So disconnected to creativity.

But I get America loves its titles so it’s a small price to pay for the adventure.

So we will see what happens.

It could all go down in flames or it could be a fantastic adventure and for me, when those are the possibilities, that makes me massively excited.

So thank you Deutsch for the incredible opportunity, let’s hope you don’t regret it …

More posts in a couple of weeks when I’ve either [1] settled in a bit or [2] been fired.



It’s Been An Honour …

After 7 years, today is my last day at Wieden+Kennedy.

Just as traumatic is that in 6 days, it will be my last day in China.

Or said another way, it will be my last day living in Asia-Pacific after 22 amazing years.

There’s honestly too much to say.

Too many memories to write about.

Too many people to thank and talk about.

So instead I’ll just say it has been the time of my life.

An amazing, spectacular, wonderful adventure both personally and professionally.

From marriage and babies to being part of work that defined World Cups and Olympics.

Wow.

It’s absolutely fair to say I will miss every bit of it but I’ll take the memories because it means I had the experience and for that I am truly grateful.

Now, because we’re in the middle of mad moving mode, this blog will be on a little hiatus for a few weeks.

Probably about a month. [Though we all know there’ll be the odd post here and there]

On the bright side, when it’s back – probably sometime in June, in time for my birthday [ha] – you’ll get to read posts that won’t just be about planning, but how I don’t understand how to make anything in America work.

I honestly think I’m going to find it harder to acclimatise to America than I ever did to China.

Hell, I can’t even order a cup of coffee without getting confused about their cup sizes.

So with that I want to sign off with a few little thank-you’s.

The reality is a huge amount of people made my time here amazing, however there’s some who had an even bigger influence and I want to call them out because the adventure I had – and am about to embark on – literally wouldn’t have been possible without them.

My wonderful planning team. Past and present. Every day was a genuine fucking honour. The awesome Kennedys. It was seriously the professional highlight of my last 12 months. Thank you. And that definitely includes you Juni. Kel Hook. For hiring me. You changed my life and I’ll never be able to thank you enough. Jason White. Thank you for supporting me even when I caused destruction. John Rowe. For being brilliant in every possible way and making my time at W+K Tokyo so good, I never wanted to leave. NIKE. I know that might sound corporate toady, but as I have nothing to gain from saying it, it means it is true. 99.7% of every person I met or worked with at Wieden+Kennedy worldwide … whether they are still here or long gone. Martin Weigel. You’re a cantankerous, warm hearted, brilliant man. Just propose to Mercedes and get on with it. Whiteside. Because you’re awesome and funny and humble and deserve so much and yet are happy with what you have. Clare Pickens. I love you. I literally fucking love you. [But stop cutting your hair because it makes you look shit] Sandi Hildreth. For being awesome and gorgeous and loving the same sort of rubbish music as me. Claudia Valderrama. For looking out for me even though you told me I was a “pain in the ass”. W&W, Azsa, Arlene and Max … for making sure I stay excited – and in awe – about the birth of amazing ideas. Gerber, for somehow – and I’m not sure how – influencing me to get tattoos. I came here with none, I leave with not enough. Simon Pestridge. Thank you for everything. In many ways, you changed my career and opportunities. You’re more than a great client, but a friend. Kim Papworth. For that talk that was totally worth the wait. Luhr. For being Luhr. Stech. For making your 6 months here, the most exciting 6 months for me full stop. David Terry and Paul Colman for trying really hard to be ‘alpha-males’ but actually being fucking sweethearts. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. Joe Staples. He won’t understand why, which is why. MJ. No, not Micheal Jackson or Michal Jordan, but Matthew Jung … for being a phenomenal Nike and Converse client who backed us to do the best work we can do every-single-time. Karrelle. For pretending to still be British when he’s basically American. Steve Tsoi for still welcoming me to the table even though I never made life easy for you or your team. Scott Silverman. You had nothing to do with China, but if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had the chance to be here. Chris Jaques. You also had nothing to do with China, but if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had the platform to show others what I could do. What I could be. Dan Wieden. For not actually firing me even though you said, “You’re fired” every time you saw me. And starting a place that is so special amongst special companies. Xiaoli. For everything you have done for us, but most specifically for the love and care you have shown my son. China … for being so important to global business that you gave me access and exposure to the sort of senior leadership few in the World will ever get to experience. The amazing, warm, slightly crazy people of China. I will absolutely miss everything about your unique ways. Except the spitting and the plane delays. And finally – and most importantly – my beloved Jill, Otis and Rosie. Without you guys, none of this other stuff would have mattered.

OK, the Gwyneth Paltrow bollocks is over … and to prove it, have a look at this.

Do you know what it is?

That’s right, it’s one of the 600 stickers I have had made that I have spent the last 5 weeks hiding throughout the refurbished Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai office. And I mean ‘throughout’ … including various W+K hangouts, like Baker & Spice, Jamaica Blue and Little Catch.

That should make their life a pain in the ass for a few years.

It will be like I’ve never gone.

And with that, it’s time to go.

It’s been a lot of fun. Time for an adventure in LA. God help us all.



Given Brexit, I’m Shipping Australian Crims Back To England …

So today another one of the planning team leave.

Yes, I know, it’s only been a couple in a couple of weeks since the last one … but [I think] that is entirely coincidental.

That said, this one is only semi-leaving … because while she is going from Wieden Shanghai, she is ending up at Wieden London.

And will continue to be working on NIKE.

Yep, I’m talking about the one and only, Paula Bloodworth.

Oh Paula …

Despite being Australian … a wannabe cool kid … incredibly picky about her food and occasionally a princess … I am going to miss her.

To think it’s only been 2 years since this is mindblowing

We have done an incredible amount over that time … stuff we can feel very proud about for many, many years to come.

Not just work, but other stuff too.

In the 2 years of being here, I’ve seen the best and worst of her and she has seen the best and worst of me.

From my son being born to my Mum passing away … and through all of it, she has been kind, considerate, loyal and caring.

For someone who likes to pretend she has a ‘tough exterior’, the reality is she’s a fucking sweetheart and by embracing that, I believe she leaves even better than when she came.

And that’s impressive because she was fucking good when she started.

While I am sure she won’t miss the Australian banter … the oily food … the prying into her personal life … the bad instagram photos that I constantly took of her … I do think she will miss this place.

Maybe not as much as I will when I go, but a little.

[Please note, the photo in this post is not one of the ‘bad ones’ … I felt I owed her a ‘nice one’ as a gesture of goodbye-goodwill. Besides, all the nasty ones appear in the video below]

And she should because in the short time she was here, she achieved an incredible amount and so she can look back on this fascinating time in her life and career as one where she came, she saw and she conquered.

Paula I am going to miss you … especially the bitch and gossip-fests … but I know I cannot stand in the way of an Aussie who needs to make their cultural pilgrimage to London to live in Earls Court.

So now you are Paul Colman’s problem. And I’m very jealous of that fact.

Thank you lovely. Be brilliant.



Waving Goodbye To Singapore’s Most Dangerous Weapon …
October 28, 2016, 6:15 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Culture, Experience, Management, Planners, Planning, Ros, Wieden+Kennedy

So today is a happy/sad day for me because I wave goodbye to my wonderful colleague Ros.

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with Ros for the last 2 years and I can honestly say, every day has been memorable.

OK, so part of the reason for that is that apart from being very talented and passionate, she is one of the most inappropriate people I’ve ever met … and let’s face it, I know a hell of a lot of inappropriate people.

Even more shocking is she is from the land of ‘nice’ … Singapore. What the fuck?!

And yet, despite her incredibly tasteless jokes, her excellent range of swearing and her ability to start a client presentation with the words, “don’t judge us before you’ve heard us” … she is a fantastic human being and a wonderful planner who everyone – even the clients she [cheekily] berates – love.

I’ve adored every moment I’ve either worked with Ros or watched Ros in action and nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing her continue her exploration of what she is capable of doing and being. Even more so that she’s taking her fiancé – and Wieden colleague – Hiro with her.

[The man I saw her sheepishly walk out from behind a bush on Wieden’s rooftop garden with]

So to 72&Sunny Amsterdam, look after her … and by that I mean don’t turn her into a happy, positive person because apart from the fact that would mean you’re into ’brain washing’, it would also mean you’re stopping her be as brilliant as she can be.

Thank you for everything Ros, I’m super proud and excited for you.



Insight Dogs: What Planners & Location Scouts Can Learn From Pooches …
April 1, 2016, 6:25 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Culture, Cunning, Innovation, Insight, Planning

One of the things I love about being a planner is that it allows us to do stuff in the name of ‘investigation’.

Recently we worked with a client in the fast food industry.

They had approached us because in addition to wanting communication, they wanted help with where to locate their stores.

Given the incredible cost of real estate in Shanghai, they didn’t have the funds to support being located in ultra high traffic areas but they obviously didn’t want to be so hidden away that people couldn’t find them.

Retail location is an art.

It may sound easy, but there are so many factors to consider.

In fact, having sat down with our client over a number of weeks, I’d now say ‘the potential for passing trade’ is one of the least important criteria.

Anyway, we were exploring possible locations when someone talked about the importance and influence of scent.

Our clients product emits a very distinctive and appealing smell and it seemed mad to us that we hadn’t thought about how this may help us with our challenge.

Could scent act as ‘directions’ to our store?

Could scent pull people away from our competitors store?

How far could our scent actually travel?

It was this 3rd point that we found the most interesting because it had implications on how far we could be from major traffic areas and yet still attract customers.

But here was the problem …

While the client was pushing us to explore new places for their stores to be located, we would need to do it in a way that justified this new approach to their board of directors.

And this is where the planning madness came in.

To find out the ‘reach’ of our clients product smell, we turned to someone who had the most sensitive nose we knew.

Meet Sam.

Sam is a beautiful 4 year old brown labrador who spends his days walking around Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport checking suitcases for food.

Yep, Sam is a Police pooch.

Sam was hired [we paid him in treats and we paid his handler in cash] to tell us just how far our clients food could be smelt from.

Yes, dogs have far more sensitive noses than humans – and Sam’s was more sensitive than most – but doing this would [hopefully] allow us to identify the ‘peak distance’ we could be from high–traffic areas.

OK, so I know using sniffer dogs for things other than finding food or drugs is not new – and we knew there was a very good chance this could all collapse in a heap – but having seen how prostitutes and priests had helped us solve some very complex client challenges, we were excited about trying out a new hypothesis, not to mention being very relieved we had a client [and a dog handler] who were willing to let us experiment with it, which is why we went at it at full force.

Over 4 weekends, Sam and his handler were taken to different high public traffic areas of Shanghai.

Before he arrived, members of our planning team [Paula and Carina] took samples of our clients products and walked from the initial drop-off, out towards the back streets.

I must admit, things did not go as smoothly as we hoped.

Sam would sometimes get distracted by other smells and people had a nasty habit of wanting to pat him which caused him to lose the scent … however after multiple attempts, we were able to prove that our clients food scent would travel an average of 430 meters.

That might not sound a lot, but that 430 meters meant our clients average retail space costs could go down from 46,000RMB to 27,000RMB per week … a saving of 42%, which over 15 stores would mean an investment saving of over 285,000 RMB [US$43,000] a week.

A WEEK!

Now of course it wasn’t just a case of finding a location 430 meters away from major thoroughfares and opening a store – if only it was that simple – but what it did do was open more possibilities of retail location for our client, which meant their initial capital investment could go significantly down without major implications to their ‘audience attraction’ potential.

Win Win.

All this shows the importance of finding out what your clients real problem is … because when you do that, it not only allows you to be more focused in your solution, it liberates the way you can achieve it.

And when it lets you turn sniffer dogs into ‘planners with retail location capabilities’, how can you not be excited by that.

And if you believe any of this, you need to be bitten in the neck by an Alsation.

Though I doubt you did fall for it because, let’s be honest, it’s not vey good this year is it.

Certainly not as good as Method Planning.

Oh well, there’s always next year.

Happy April 1st.