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


Memories As Music …

OK, full disclosure, this is a post about Queen.

It’s also a post about parents, love, death and sentimentality.

So in some ways, it might be ‘peak-Rob blogging’.

But it’s not about me, it’s about a story I read recently that I just thought was beautiful.

OK, so it kind of reminded me of the time my Dad surprised me by buying The Works, Queen’s 1984 album, but most of all it just reminded me how music and memories are so deeply entwined that it has the capacity to act as some sort of temporary time machine.

And that is pretty wonderful.

With that, here’s the story …

For what it’s worth, my dad took me to see Queen at the L.A. Forum in’77.

I was 10.

This band Thin Lizzy opened for them. I remember thinking, “Who is this Lizzy chick?!?”

Then the lights went out, and Jailbreak began. I’ve never been the same …

All this is the introduction to one of the greatest moments of my life.

If ya have a moment, here’s the story …

I was 9 when I saw the full page ad in L.A. Times Calendar.

My parents had just divorced.

The Forum show was on my 10th birthday.

I called Dad …

“Hey Dad, um, Queen is playing on my birthday …”

“Yeah, I know. I tried to get tickets, but they’re sold out.”

[Damn!]

So Dad picks me up on March 3rd, and says “Let’s go to Sizzler for your birthday.”

“Okay, Dad, sounds great.” And it did, because I was thrilled to be with him.

So on the way to Sizzler, we ‘happen’ to pass The Forum.

In HUGE flashing lights: QUEEN TONIGHT!!

I thought ‘Oh man, what a dick! How could he torture me like this?!?’

I said nothing about that and we ate.

Afterwards on the way back home, we pass The Forum AGAIN.

Dad says …

“Oh, can you grab something out of the glove compartment for me?”

“Sure Dad,” I reply.

I open it and there – on top of the papers – is an envelope.

“This, Dad?” I ask.

“Yeah. Open it for me, will ya?” he says.

Guess what.

2 FUCKING TICKETS TO SEE QUEEN TONIGHT!

I will NEVER forget the sheer joy of that moment.

I still have the tour program.

Dad passed away, and at his memorial, I jammed all my brothers and nieces and nephews into my van and BLASTED Bohemian Rhapsody.

When it ended, there was complete silence.

It was freakin beautiful.

Thank you for reading.



A Brand Is Ultimately Defined By Culture, Not Owners …

I have a confusing relationship with Amazon.

I use them a lot.

I admire what they do.

I appreciate how they operate.

But I don’t know if they’re a great brand.

Without doubt they’re a great company and have created a clear role in people’s lives … but in terms of brand, I’m not so sure.

That’s weird, because in many ways, they have achieved all the things a great brand requires, but at the end of the day – I have no emotional relationship with them, it is entirely functional.

Does a brand need to have emotional value to be great?

No. But I think it is the difference between being seen as a great transactional brand and a great brand.

But what surprises me most is Bezos understands business and brands better than many.

Not just CEO’s, but marketing folk … exemplified by this statement he made.

Which leads to the point of this post.

Brands.

As I’ve said a billion times, I’m an unashamedly huge believer in them.

If done well, they enable differentiation, cultural connection and economic power.

But the emphasis is ‘done well’.

And frankly, I don’t see a lot of that.

What I do see is a lot of companies spending of an awful lot of time and money on what they want to talk about.

What they think people should care about.

What audience should buy their product.

What they want their product to be used for.

What they want people to discuss about them.

What words they want people to associate with them.

What they want people to view as a threat or a competitor.

Them. Them. Them. Them. Them.

Now don’t get me wrong, you have to know what you stand for. What your values are. What your role is and why you do what you do, well. Not to mention what your point of view on the World is.

But you don’t just churn them out like some political manifesto brochure. Boring people into submission.

And yet that is the practice of so many … minus the point of view, which would at least make it relevant to culture instead of using a ‘proposition’ that is like a cement block, standing firm regardless what the headwinds that surround it are.

But it gets worse.

Because often what they do is wrapped up in some contrived ‘purpose/manifesto’ message in an attempt to make it look like it’s not all about them, which doesn’t convince anyone because it’s all about them.

Everything.

And it comes across exactly like that.

Self serving. Self indulgent. Self important.

Because the people behind these campaigns live in a bubble of corporate complicity.

Where ‘real life’ is closer to a sitcom sketch than anything resembling reality. Where families are always perfect and together. Where there is no problem that can’t be solved with [insert brand here] and their [insert meaningless ingredient]. Where the undertone of the work is to scare/shame/blame audiences into purchase submission – regardless how happy the soundtrack is or how saturated the images. All backed up and reinforced by a research report that has been specifically designed to fit in with the clients processes than representing truth.

Welcome to the world of marketing truth – a parallel universe to real truth that exists next to the Marketing solar system.

And that’s why, love him or loathe him, you have to respect Bezos.

Yes he has a world of data. Yes he has a universe of information.

But he knows it’s what people say when you’re not watching or listening to them that really reveals what they think of you.

At a time where so much work is done behind the desk, there’s never been as important a time as to get out, talk to real people, understand the texture, nuance, and chaos around the category … so we can help our clients with the most important foundation you can have in getting to great work.

Truth.

Of course, it is not always easy for clients to swallow.

Of course, they may prefer agencies that pander sweet bullshit to them.

But as Mr Bezos knows, you don’t get culture to truly buy into you, if you don’t know what culture really thinks of you.



Full Service History, A Few Semi-Careful Previous Owners, Needs A Bit Of Body Work But The Engine Is Tuned To Put A Smile On Your Face As You Hold On To The Edge Of Your Seat …

So if the title of the post didn’t give you a clue.

And if the photo above didn’t make what this post is about, obvious.

Today is my last day at R/GA.

Sadly my role has been made redundant. Thanks a lot COVID!!

And while it’s sad, I am glad it’s a senior, white, male who is being impacted rather than someone young or female or a person of colour who are often the ones who get hit first across the industry.

But while there will plenty of things I’ll miss, the biggest will be my team.

I’ve always been so lucky with the planners I’ve worked with and this lot are no exception.

They’re great. A talented bunch of creative fools who made me laugh, debate and rethink stuff every single day.

They were an honour to work with and they will continue to be epic in all they do.

They better be, because I’ll be watching them. Closely.

So thank you Lachlan, Nic, Rach, Anna, Joel, Amar, Erika, Laureen, Bassot, Ed, Megan, Nicole, Divya, Arda, Amelia, Severine, Marissa, Insa, Toby, Ben … and the others who helped make my time – and the gang – so much fun, including Anne, Valia, Eduardo and Michael.

So what next?

Well there’s a bunch of things.

We bought a house which we still need to move into.

I have my projects with the Metal Masters I need to deal with.

And I recently got an assignment with the Chilli’s, by which I mean the band rather than the food – which will be fascinating. Or headache inducing. I’ll let you know which, later.

Then I’ve registered a company I now need to work out what the hell I’m going to do with. I’ve got some ideas and I’ve even got some backers, but I owe it to my family to give it a bit more thought rather than just run full-speed to wherever my excitement orders me to go.

But for right now, all I’m going to do is take a couple of weeks off to enjoy being with the family and no zoom calls – which means you also get a week or two off – so all that leaves me to say is thank you to R/GA for the adventure and the airmiles … my team for their brilliance and their trouble making and … my wife, son, cat, clients and mates for their love, support and sarcasm.

Last thing.

Let’s be honest, these situations suck.

If people had the choice between having a job and not, the job is pretty much always going to win, especially at my age.

However not only am I absolutely fine, I’m strangely optimistic.

There are many reasons for this, but the main one is the last time this happened to me, it resulted in some of the best times of my career.

From starting and selling cynic and Sunshine to then working at Wieden+Kennedy and R/GA through to living, exploring and working all around the World.

Or said another way … when my role was made redundant, it was instrumental in helping me do stuff at the highest levels of creativity, culture and client all around the World.

From helping launch brands like Spotify in Japan to partnering with NIKE to create sport culture in China to inspiring Virgin Atlantic to build an airport lounge that people want to miss their plane to stay in to finding ways to redefine the rules of luxury which led to SKP-S building an experience specifically designed to look/feel like life on Mars to helping Metallica do all manner of weird and wonderful stuff from connecting deeper with fans to opening new ways to connect with the band. And a bunch of other stuff, from the small to the huge to the ridiculous.

I absolutely, unapologetically, love this stuff with all I’ve got.

Now whether any of this can happen again is anyone’s guess, but it is possible … and given the challenges and competitive nature of the world today, I feel my history of provocative and intriguing creativity to help brands around the world define their position in culture – and business – still gives me a strong and valuable role to play.

I guess this is all my convoluted way of saying if you’re an agency or a company – anywhere in the World – who is ambitious to grow or change or reimagine who you are or considering new markets [ie: Asia/China] or stuck on a mindfuck of a problem or want advice on building a cohesive, potent strategy gang or just want to win better … then give me a shout, because whether it’s about leading something, collaborating on something or just chatting about something … I’m going to be officially available for all of this very soon and I’d bloody love it.

Right, now my Gwyneth Paltrow Oscar speech is out the way, see you in a few weeks.

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Grow Old Stupid …

So this is it.

Today I’m 50.

I’m also on holiday.

Well, I say holiday, but I’m just going to be hanging out with the family for the next 10 days.

Yep, I’m going to be doing exactly the same as I have for the last couple of months thanks to quarantine.

Christ, this is the weirdest holiday I’ve ever had.

Literally doing more of the same, albeit without the zoom calls.

But I’m happy – as I know you will be given there won’t be any blog posts for all that time.

OK, as I wrote last week, I’m not exactly ecstatic about reaching my half century … but the fact is, I know I have little to complain about.

The life I have is one that is totally different to the one I imagined. Even aspired for.

When I look back at what my ‘goals’ were when I was in my late teens, it’s unbelievable how mundane they were.

How unambitious.

There are some reasons for that which reflect the times my family were going through – but even so, they’re pretty beige.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong for that, but when I compare it to the life I’ve had and the life I intend to have … they’re about as different as you can get.

That’s not meant to sound some ‘bigging up’ of myself, simply a reminder that your ambitions are a reflection of the World you live in which is why I will be forever grateful to my parents that they were so supportive of me going on an adventure when they could have so easily encouraged me to stay … especially as Dad had his stroke just as I was about to leave and basically the entire family was thrown into disarray.

Dad couldn’t talk or walk.

Mum had to leave her job immediately.

She didn’t drive and so for months, she had to catch the bus to the hospital.

And then, when he did come home, she had to do the majority of the care on her own.

In fact, when Dad got ill, I immediately said I was staying but Mum and Dad insisted I go, because as much as they loved me and would miss me, they were worried if I didn’t take this opportunity after months of planning, I may never go.

And they were right. I wouldn’t.

I’d have stayed in England forever.

Possibly never even left Nottingham.

And while there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that, they knew exploring the World would help me discover who I am.

To encourage that at the very worst time of their life is the definition of unconditional love and I hope if I am ever in that situation with Otis, I would do the same.

To be honest, it’s their encouragement to go explore and discover that became my biggest driver in life.

Basically, if I was going to go away – leave my family to deal with the terrible hardship of Dad’s illness – then the least I could do was embrace the opportunity they gave me. To never take it for granted and chase down the things that interested, challenged, intrigued and inspired me.

I’d like to think I did that and do that but I know I went through a lot of soul searching when came I back to England after they had died. I kept asking myself why did I do it then when I could have come back when they were still here.

Of course there’s many reasons for that – and there’s a good chance we won’t be in England forever – but I know for a fact that as proud as Mum was about all the places I lived [Dad only knew I was going to Australia and he would have be blown away if he knew all the places I’d lived and seen] she would be so happy I was back. For however long that may be.

From seeing others turn this age, it appears this is the moment where they tend to evaluate where they’ve been and where they’re going.

And while I’ve done a little bit in this post, the fact is I do it on a daily basis.

It’s as much about what pushes me towards the unknown as it is that keeps me focused on what matters to me.

Hence the title of this post …

Because when you don’t look for security in everything, you remain open to anything.

So now it’s time to wrap this post up.

You will be relieved to hear I am going to resist the urge to be overly nostalgic and sentimental, so will leave with this:

While they will be in my heart and mind throughout the day, I don’t mind admitting that I wish Mum and Dad were here to celebrate with me.

That said, I am so happy my beautiful wife and son are here to share my special day with me.

And I genuinely feel so lucky that the most important person from my earliest days – Paul – is still the most important friend in my life today.

As I said, overall, it’s been a pretty fucking amazing run so far – and while I have worked hard for it [contrary to what many will say] I’ve also been bloody lucky along the way too … and I intend to keep that run going – at least in terms of adventure and exploration. I still owe that to my Mum and Dad.

So happy birthday to me and I’ll see you in 10 days …

Older, but not wiser.

Exactly as I like it.

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Be Your Own Worst Enemy …

There have been times in my career where I’ve chosen the wrong path.

What makes this crazy is that there have been times where I knew I was but still went ahead with it.

Nothing bad.

Nothing illegal.

But, according to others, it was the wrong thing to do.

Now this is not because I have a death wish or want to cause trouble … it’s because a situation or certain circumstances occurred that just triggered something in me.

Good and bad.

And while – with hindsight – I know I could have handled ‘how’ I dealt with some of those situations differently, I absolutely don’t regret ‘why’ I did it … even if that led to some people labelling me as being ‘too emotional’.

Too emotional is a horrible phrase.

It aims to shame people for who they are and what they believe.

What is worse is that it is often expressed by people who have an inability to show any emotion towards anything, so act as if it is some sort of human flaw.

A fundamental weakness.

Let me be very clear, being able to express your emotions is a strength.

It’s healthy.

It’s positive.

It’s also a sign you give a fuck.

Whether that is about work, standards or other people.

Now I appreciate that doesn’t mean you can use it as an excuse to abuse others or act like you’re some sort of megalomaniac diva.

Nor do I think that just because something triggered your emotions, it means your perspective is automatically correct.

And then there’s the fact there will be times or situations where you need to restrain your emotions to a time – or place – where it is more appropriate to let out. Let’s face it, no one wants a surgeon to have an emotional outburst mid-operation just because someone handed them the scalpel in a sloppy way.

But expressing your emotions is important.

It should absolutely never be treated as doing something wrong.

Especially in the creative industry, where our goal is to literally make people feel something.

So if anyone ever say’s, “you’re too emotional”, don’t just take it.

It’s the sort of comment that – if allowed to fester – can chip away at your confidence.

Often uttered by senior figures in a company who want employees to think, act and behave exactly like them rather than embrace differences of opinion or brand new thinking … which is ironic, given that’s the main way companies can evolve and grow.

So if faced with that situation, ask them what they mean by their comment?

Put it back on them to explain.

Half the time you’ll find it is simply because they don’t like conflict.

Or an alternative perspective.

And that’s when you explain why the situation has made you feel the way it has.

Why you believe it shouldn’t just be brushed away.

Not because you’re an egomaniac who wants whatever they choose, but because you see possible implications that could have a terrible effect on the work or the company or the team at large.

Because even the person you’re discussing this with doesn’t feel it or see it as being important, doesn’t mean it isn’t … which at the very least should justify a conversation about it, especially if you feel so strongly about it.

But, as I said, there may be occasions where you will look back on how you reacted and feel you could have done it another way.

Note I said ‘how’ you reacted, not ‘why’ you did.

And that’s why it’s important to always learn from these incidents.

Discover what pushes your buttons.

Understand what you expect from yourself and others.

Reveal what standards you will and will not tolerate.

Not so you can deny or suppress your emotions in the future, but so if another situation arises, you can express your emotions in a way that will change the outcome you are responding to rather than just reacting to it.

And when you get to that point, that’s when you find being ‘too emotional’ is a superpower.

So while the guy in the video is being his own worst enemy for the worst of reasons, expressing your emotions never is.

Because regardless what some may claim, they are a sign of strength, never weakness.

It’s another long weekend here in the UK, I hope you have a good one and a safe one.

See you Tuesday.