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


The Problem Vs The Real Problem …

A while back I wrote a post about the best bit of advice I’d ever had regarding solving problems.

Or should I say, on how to present how you are going to solve a problem.

But this is dependent on knowing what is the right problem to solve … and quite often, it ends up being the problem we want to solve versus the problem that needs solving.

Now of course, we can only solve the problem that relates to our particular discipline.

For example, as much as adland likes to claim it can solve everything, we can’t build a car.

[Trust me, I’ve tried]

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

Too often, when there is a huge piece of business on the table, our goal is to get all of it.

Every last piece.

Doesn’t matter if it’s not our core expertise.

Doesn’t matter if the work won’t be interesting.

We. Want. It. All.

Now there’s many reasons for this – mostly around money – but what it often ends up doing is destroying everything we’ve spent decades trying to build up.

It burns out staff.
It undermines the creativity of the agency.
It forces quick fix solutions rather than ideas that create sustainable change.
It creates a relationship based on money. rather than creativity.
It positions the agency more as a supplier than a partner.

Now don’t get me wrong, money is important, but when you let that be the only focus – it is the beginning of the end.

Before you know it, the money becomes the driving factor of all decisions and – because you have had to scale-up to manage the huge business you’ve just won – you end up looking for similar sized clients to ensure the whole agency is being utilised rather than chase the business that can elevate your creative reputation.

Oh agency heads will deny this.

They’ll say they still value creative, regardless of the size of client they work on.

And maybe I’m utterly wrong.

But as I wrote a while back, we had a [small scale version] of this situation when we had cynic … and while we were making more money than we had ever earned, it had made us more miserable than we’d ever been.

Thank god we noticed in time, because we were in danger of seeing more economic value in the processes we were creating for the client than the work and then that would be it.

People would leave.
Our reputation would be damaged.
We’d have to pay more to bring people in to deal with the situation.
The profit margin money we were making from the client would be impacted.
Soon we would be doing work we didn’t like without even the excuse of making tons of cash.
The client would call a pitch.
We would have to do it because we were so dependent on them financially.
They’d pick someone who would do things cheaper.
We’d crash and burn.
We would hate ourselves.

OK … OK … that is a particularly bleak possible version of events and I know there’s a lot of big agencies that have found a way to manage doing work for big clients while marrying it with maintaining their creative credentials [but not as many as they would like to admit] but I am surprised how few agencies say which part of a big job they want to do.

I get why, because there’s fear the client will write you off because they want a simple solution rather than a complex.

But if you’re really good at something, then you have the power to change that mindset from complexity to effectiveness.

Of course, to pull that off, you have to be exceptional.

A proven track record of being brilliant at something few others can pull off.

Which means I’m not talking about process or procedures … but work.

Actual, creativity.

In my entire career, there’s only been 3 agencies I’ve worked at – and one of those I started – who have told clients they only want a slice of the pie rather than the whole thing.

More than that, they also told the client how they believed the problem should be handled rather than simply agreeing to whatever the client wanted in a bid to ‘win favour’. Of course, the slice they focused on was not only their core area of brilliance, but also the most influential in terms of positioning the entirety of the brand – the strategic positioning and the voice of the brand – so what it led to was a situation where the benefits for the agency far exceeded just an increase in revenue.

They had the relationship with the c-suite.
They set the agenda everyone else had to follow.
They were paid for quality rather than volume.
They made work that enhanced their reputation rather than drag them down.
They were more immune from the procurement departments actions.

All in all, they ended up having a positive relationship rather than a destructive one.

Now, I am not denying that in all 3 cases, the relationship lasted less time than those who were willing to take everything on. In many cases, once the initial strategy and voice work was done, many companies felt we were no longer needed. Not all, but a few.

And while many will read this and say my suggestion to choose the part of the work you want rather than take it all on is flawed … my counter is not only did all 3 agencies enjoy a reputation, relationship and remuneration level that was in excess of all the other agencies they worked with – and often delivered in a fraction of the time – but they ended up in a position where they attracted new business rather than had to constantly chase it.

In all business, reputation is everything.

Don’t make yours simply about the blinkered pursuit of money.



Unperfectly Perfect …

So last week, the disgustingly talented Nils Leonard posted this on his instagram.

I have to say, I love it.

Sure, it’s for Mothers Day that affords more creative licence in terms of how a brand expresses themselves, but given Chanel has only celebrated elegance and perfection for years, it’s a huge leap.

Apparently it was drawn by a Chanel employees daughter on a ‘bring your kids to work’ day.

I can’t imagine how much money this saved them in terms of ad agency costs.

Though of course, this is less about being cheapskates and more the changing face of luxury.

For too long the category has been a closed shop.

It dictated terms, rejected new entrants and ruled by an iron fist.

Cold. Clinical. Aloof. Exclusive.

But the shift has been happening.

The rules of luxury are changing.

And while the establishment may look down at brands like Supreme as nothing more than expensive hype, the reality is the new generation of luxury buyers feel differently.

They don’t want to be part of the old rules, they want luxury to reflect them and how they live.

Personal. Emotional. Ridiculous and audacious. Human. Fun. A new definition of perfection.

And with brands like Mr Ji and Gucci both embracing this change and driving it … it will be interesting to see how many other luxury brands start stretching the boundaries of who they are and who they associate with moving forward.

Though I accept there’s a good chance they’ll just do what they’ve always done – especially with designers – and just try and buy the brands/people who are making waves.

Then assimilate them into their system.

Wow, look at me talking about fashion. And luxury. Who Am I?



There’s A Reason There’s Called Unicorns …

So did you get over your first day back at work?

What was worse … that, or this blog restarting.

Yeah … thought so.

Well I have some good news, because as you read this, I’m on my way to Shanghai.

And there’s better news … this means there won’t be any posts till Friday.

How good is that, 2 days into 2020 blogging and already you’re having a break.

But don’t get too happy, remember I said I would be back on Friday.

So back to those unicorns.

And more specifically, why Wall Street investors like to label certain dot.com companies with that moniker.

Well the answer is easy, because they don’t exist … at least not in the way they claim.

Especially when held under a microscope.

Think about it …

Evernote.

Theranos.

And then WeWork.

Mind you, given how much one of the founders walked away with – despite highly questionable practices, including copyrighting then selling to the company the word ‘we’ – there is definitely a reason why some people are called white collar criminals.

And they say crime doesn’t pay …

See you Friday.

Enjoy the early days of peace.



Self Awareness Stops You Being Self Stupid …

So I was talking at event recently about ‘loyalty’ and mentioned how when the Amazon Dash button came out, one of my clients was ecstatic.

In their mind, it meant they were going to see sales grow because instead of having to risk a shopper buying a competitive brand, they would press the button and the sale would be there’s guaranteed.

In my talk, I went on to say how I told the client that was great in theory, but there were 3 things they had to think about.

1. The real winner is always going to be Amazon.

2. It was going to be a huge race to see who could get the most ‘buttons’ into homes.

3. The result would be the destruction of their hardly fought – and expensively bought – premium brand value status.

At the end, a gentleman asked me why I thought turning a brand into a commodity was a bad idea as it meant more sales and that meant more money for the brand and the shareholders.

I must admit, I was quite taken aback by this response and pointed out that being a commodity might generate more sales, but it loses profitability and – more scarily – leaves you open to a competitor deciding to either launch a price war or disrupt the market with a new product.

He wasn’t convinced and kept going on about commodity value and how soon all brands will end up following that route.

I must admit I was a bit rude to him so after the event, I sought him out to have a chat.

Turned out he worked for a car insurance company and highlighted his category was driven purely by price.

When I asked him what he meant, he said:

“As long as your company name is generally known in a generally good light, you will get business”.

It took all my strength not to laugh in his face, so instead I simply replied,

“So you do believe in brand value or you wouldn’t care if the company name was generally known in a generally good light”.

You could see him look confused, so I decided to just finish the job off by saying …

“And if you believe everything is a commodity, why are you wearing an expensive watch when a Timex does the same job?”

He smiled a ‘fuck you’ smile at me, said goodbye then left.

It was a good evening.



Premiumness Has Gone Out Of Control …

So recently I was on a Delta flight when I was handed the menu.

I looked at the food choices but there was one thing that caught my eye above everything …

This …

That’s right … a premium heated nut mix.

Yes they were warm.

Yes, they were a variety of nuts in the small dish.

But premium?

Are they referring to the quality of the nut offered or – as I suspect – the ‘status’ that a warm variety of nuts conveys.

Either way, it smacks of utter pretentious rubbish …

Another example of a marketer who wants to appear ‘upmarket’ while actually demonstrating how desperate they are.

What with premium toilet roll, clingfilm and now nuts … maybe we all need a bit of a rest from this status inflation.

I get people like nice things … I get people will pay more for nice things … but the emphasis is on ‘nice’ and if people can’t tell the difference, then you have a problem and I can tell you Delta, I couldn’t tell the difference between your nuts [ahem] and any cheap-ass nuts I can find in a local pub except they were heated and served in a little dish.

Oh hang on, you probably read that ‘experience’ is better than ownership and so the heat and dish of your nuts were your way of offering a premium experience.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha …