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


Your Past Never Hides …

So after the rather big news for me and my family on Friday, I thought I’d write a post that gives my new gang at Colenso an idea of what they have got to look forward to.

A few weeks ago, I was messing around on YouTube when – by utter chance – I came across a video of one of my old planning gang from R/GA.

It was unbelievable.

In fact, I had to watch it twice as I couldn’t believe I had been so lucky … I mean, fortunate.

Not only were they young.

Not only were they smartly dressed.

But they were in full-on corporate toady mode.

Fortunately for them, I am a kind, caring and considerate person … so rather than let this piece of video suicide hide in plain sight for any innocent person – or client – to stumble across, I decided to take the selfless path and notify them of what I had found.

Sure, I might have done it with a bit too much glee.

Sure, I might have milked it a little too much.

But it’s the thought that counts.

Or at least I thought it was, until I got their reply …

Oh I can’t tell you how much I loved this reply.

It literally made me spit out the drink I was having at the time.

It’s not just that he thinks I was doing some z-grade CIA check on him in an attempt to get material to humiliate and Ambar as him, it’s the fact that while I haven’t shown the celluloid car crash to anyone else [which even I’m surprised about], he knows that I know it exists.

I believe it’s called, ‘leverage’ … though I think they would refer to it as blackmail.



Which Came First: The Dumbing Down Of Marketing Or Creativity?

Above is a point of sale sign from a local supermarket.

Look at it.

LOOK AT IT!!!

What a pile of utter shite.

Noticeable for it’s stupidity rather than it’s inspiration.

The sort of stuff you would expect from a 5 year old writing jokes for a Christmas Cracker, than a company with well paid staff, responsible for the commercial growth of an organisation.

So who is to blame?

Well there are many who should feel a sense of shame – from ad agencies to research companies to clients – however when I think of who started this horribleness to begin, I can’t help but feel it was at the hands of the marketing department.

Of course even they are not totally to blame.

The C-Suite, with their demands and expectations have a lot to answer for … almost as much as the investors, who say they want the companies they invest in to be good companies but they better make increasing profits every quarter.

But what I found fascinating coming back to Western markets from Asian – specifically China – was how little ambition there really was.

Oh companies would talk about it – wax lyrical about it – but when you delved a little deeper, you saw there wasn’t much there.

Instead the focus was far more about defending rather than growing, corporate convenience rather than customer understanding, explaining rather than communicating and short-term conformity rather than long term change.

But of course, ad agencies need to take their blame for this situation as well.

Too many doing whatever clients want rather than what they need.

Profiting from process over creativity.

Celebrating speed over substance.

What makes it worse is some think this leads to good work.

Effective work. Using ‘proof’ that ignores the myriad of small, separate elements that combine to drive success so they can place themselves on a self-appointed pedestal.

But there are some who have a bit more self-awareness.

Who know what they’re doing is not as good as it could be.

Or should be.

But rather than face their responsibility in all of this, they blame others for how this came about … turning to questionable research that is based on a few tweets, a couple of chats around the agency or claims every single person on the planet can have their attitudes and behaviours characterised by a singular colour or some other bollocks.

And from this, they will claim the public don’t care about smart stuff.

That they ‘don’t understand’ good ideas and writing.

They they’re simply not interested in creativity and ideas.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

I’ve got to tell you, I’m absolutely over it.

I’m over the focus on the lowest common denominator.

Let’s face it, life would be pretty horrible and boring if that is how we really operated … and contrary to popular belief, we don’t.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t elements of predictability in what we do, but to ignore the nuance … to suggest everything we aspire to is exactly the same, delivered via an identical approach … is just plain bullshit.

But here’s the kicker, because more clients and agencies seems to be adopting this approach.

White labelling, phoned-in solutions with a cool sounding names that actively destroys any sense of differentiation and distinctiveness of their brand from countless competitors while also directly insulting the intelligence of the customers they rely on to survive.

I get it’s less hassle to just agree with clients.

I get that having income coming in right now is very important.

I get that a single point-of-sale sign is not going to change the world.

But when we are willing to allow our standards to be determined by how quick we can make money, then all we’re doing is ensuring the long-term value of our industry – and the talented people in it or wanting to be in it – dies even more quickly.

And that’s why I am also over people being quick to piss on anyone trying to do something different.

Claiming it’s self indulgent.

Labelling it a failure before it’s even run.

Saying it won’t appeal to the audience … despite not knowing the brand, the brief, the audience or how people actually think or act outside of some hypothetical customer journey / strategic framework of convenience.

And yet, when you look at the brands, the work and the agencies who consistently resonate deeply and authentically with culture and drive long-term loyalty, growth and profit – it’s the usual suspects and a few newbies, like Nils and the fabulous folks at Uncommon.

Yes our job is to help our clients achieve more than they hoped. Yes our job is to attract rather than repel. But our job is also to help build the future for our clients … influencing, shaping and – sometimes – forcing dramatic change even before the masses are quite ready for it, which means doing work that challenges and provokes for all the right reasons … sometimes asking questions of the audience rather than boring them into beige submission.

And while I acknowledge there are risks in all of that, I personally believe it is far riskier to dumb everything down to it’s lowest common denominator, because every single thing we love, respect and covet has come from someone or something doing something different.

Whether that’s an idea, a product, a story or a new way of looking at the World … it has come from people who understood who we are but take us further than we imagined, pushing the journey and the story with every new chapter of what they create.

They could have taken the easy route.
They could have focused on optimising the rewards.
They could have spent their time ‘removing friction from the transactional process’.

But they didn’t. Or at least, they didn’t just focus on that.

They embraced the risk to create something bigger and more unexpectedly resonant.

Or should I say unexpectedly resonant by those judging them, because they knew exactly where they were going.

And this is why the people who are so quick to dismiss anyone trying to do something new need to understand their actions say far more about who they are and what they value than anything else. And in an industry that is fighting for its life, I put my faith in those using creativity to change the game rather than those who just talk about violation of some old rules.



There’s Confidence, And There’s Drug Dealer Confidence …

One of the questions I’ve been asked more than any other is how do I tell clients what is wrong with their brand.

The first time this happened, I kept asking for clarification because I couldn’t work out what they were asking.

But over the years, it has become apparent that to some, offering clients honesty and transparency is seen as potential threat to the business rather than creating the foundation to answer what is needed.

For me, giving clients honesty and transparency is a demonstration of how much you want them to win.

How much you want them to win, better.

That doesn’t mean you have to be a dick about it, but it does mean you have to be open about how you see it … and in my experience, if you do it in a way where they understand your reasoning and your ambition for them, then more times than not, it’s welcomed.

That doesn’t mean they will agree with you, but it’s amazing how much respect they’ll have for you … because frankly, they’re surrounded by people who tell them what they want to hear and so someone coming in and saying, “actually, we have a different view on this situation to you” is a breath of fresh air.

Hell, even if they hate what you say, you’d be amazed how many times they’ll remember you. I can’t tell you the amount of times people I once pitched for and lost have come back to me/us at a later date.

But I get it can be daunting, even more so if your bosses are saying. “just do what they want”, which is why the next time you’re in this situation, I encourage you to look at the photo at the top of this post.

That photo is Pablo Escobar.

Columbian drug-king Pablo Escobar.

And yes, that photo is him with his son outside the White House, taken when he was the US Government’s most wanted criminal.

So if you think telling a client how to be more successful requires confidence, imagine what it takes to have a photo with your son outside the building where the President of an entire country wants you dead?

Not so hard now is it?

Have fun …



When McKinsey Turns You Into An Influencer, You Get To Feel Your Privilege, Not Just Experience It …

So a few weeks ago, I saw a tweet that asked about ‘most awkward’ presentation.

Given I’d just read a terribly superficial [and out-of-touch] document they’d written on China, it reminded me of something that happened with me and McKinsey in China a few years ago.

So I wrote this:

As soon as I posted it, I knew it had hit a nerve as my phone was continually buzzing – but whereas it normally stops after about 4 seconds, this carried on. In fact it got more intense. So intense in fact that within 48 hours, it had achieved this:

22,000 likes.
5,500 retweets
300+ comments

In addition to that, I got contacted by people in the US, Mexico and China who said I had set off a vibrant debate in their respective countries via their respective versions of Linkedin, Instagram and Twitter.

Hell, I even got contacted by Consulting Humour [which is apparently ‘a thing’] who wanted to post it.

MADNESS.

But what’s even more mad is that almost everyone who commented was nice to me.

Even the people who disagreed with what I’d written.

And yet, despite all that, I found it overwhelming … like being in a car that’s on the edge of going out of control.

It got so uncomfortable that I had to delete my Twitter for a few hours so I could catch my breath.

But what was obvious was a lot of people have a lot of issues with McKinsey and consultancies as a whole.

The main issue seemingly being they get paid a fortune for their advice but don’t have to take any responsibility for what they recommend.

This was the message a huge range of people working in a huge range of industries said … from small businesses to multinationals to entrepreneurs to ex-McKinsey consultants.

Now I am under no illusion that McKinsey won’t give a shit about what I said – and I don’t blame them – but I do think they should be a bit nervous that an innocuous tweet could create such a shitstorm of commentary and engagement.

However on the off-chance that last sentence encourages the McKinsey lawyers to come after me, I should point a few things:

1. The talk I referred to in the tweet was not a presentation claiming advertising was better than consultancy. It wasn’t even about advertising … more about how cultural innovation can achieve more distinctive brand growth and business optimisation. I think.

2. And while it looks like I pissing on the value of consultants, I wasn’t. I accept, in the right situation, they offer incredible benefits to business … however, when they have no skin in the game – or are offering analysis on cultural behaviour without ever actually interacting in culture – then the effect of their advice can be called into question.

3. But most of all, while I was a cheeky shit in the presentation I gave in Shanghai all those years ago … I definitely said it with a twinkle I the eye and the audience knew that … rather than looking at me thinking I was purely an antagonistic bastard.

Emphasis on ‘purely’.

So while this viral situation was an interesting adventure, I learnt something even more valuable than ‘consultancies’ are the silver bullet to influencer status.

I’m not talking about the grudging respect I might have gained for social media influencers.

Nor the fact I am worried so many people aspire to be one, without maybe realising the mental anguish they will face and the pressure they will place on themselves to perform even better.

No, it’s this …

There are so many people out there who face abuse, judgement and prejudice just for being who they are.

Not just in social media, but in every aspect of their lives.

I can’t imagine having to deal with that level of scrutiny … hell, I couldn’t even deal with 2 days of it and my experience was good.

This not only highlights their strength, but also my privilege.

Of course I knew I had that – but this situation helped me understand it in a way I could feel rather than just understand.

I honestly think it would be worth every white, middle class person to experience … especially the Karen’s of this World, who have the audacity to claim being in their comfortable homes to protect them from catching a deadly virus is equivalent to slavery.

You think I’m making that last bit up don’t you?

I know, it sounds utterly insane to think that could be true.

But in America, insane is often normal.



If COVID Has Made You Work From Home, You Have Likely Revealed Your True Self …

I’m back.

OK, I know I’ve written a few posts in the 3 weeks I’ve been away, but I’m officially back.

And I want to say a big thank you to everyone who reached out after my news.

I appreciate it very much and can assure you I’m fine.

For now, hahaha.

I was overwhelmed by the generosity I received and I actually have a bunch of news to announce soon, however I need a little longer before I can do that due to the usual dotting i’s and crossing t’s – but, as some of you already know, one of the reasons has to do with this …

More of that soon, so until then, let’s get on with now shall we?

I should point I wrote this post a while ago.

So long ago, I had a full time job.

But it is important I point out the title of this post is not a euphemism for ‘self-love’.

No.

It’s about the feelings many people are going through as they start to realistically think about returning to work.

By which I mean an actual office rather than in their own home.

I don’t know about you, I’m a bit nervous.

As I’ve written before, the situation with COVID has been a very different experience to us than it has to many, many people.

I absolutely recognise my privilege in that statement.

I would happily not have had this time if people had not had to suffer.

I truly mean that.

But working from home has had a profound effect on me.

I sleep longer.

I am not doing 2+ hours of commute a day.

I am here for lunch and dinner with my family.

I am being much, much more effective in what I do.

I love being able to wake up, put on some shorts and a t-shirt and walk into the room that has now become my office.

Seamless.

But the idea of going to an office is making me nervous.

Any office.

Not just because the COVID rates are on the rise again, but for other reasons too …

Will I be able to function once I’ve given up all the lovely things I’ve discovered?

Will wearing long trousers and not eating a packet of Quavers everyday undermine my effectiveness?

Will it affect the energy and fight I have for the work I do?

Then someone sent me the image below and I realised that working from home hasn’t made me a lesser version of myself, it’s revealed how I truly like to work and I feel much better about myself.

And before anyone says it, yes, this is an extremely long post of utter bollocks just so I could use this image.

Sue me.