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


That Was The Year That Was …

So this is it, the last post of 2019.

Congratulations, you made it.

Yes, I know it’s early given there is still a couple of weeks to go in the year – including the inaugural R/GA London Planner Pie-Off – but despite what you may all think, I’ve had a big year and quite frankly, I need a rest from here as much as you do.

When I look at 2019, it’s been pretty good.

Of course there have been a few sad events – my dear Aunt Silvana dying and Justin’s wonderful wife, Ella – but overall, things have been positive.

Even the Beijing Hotel incident was amusing.

But most of all, the fact my family are good, healthy and happy makes it a good year, especially when you think of all the changes that have happened in our lives.

For Otis in particular, he has embraced all of it like a champion and watching him have his first day at ‘proper school’ made me feel incredibly emotional and very, very proud.

Quite frankly, the fact we have managed to stay in the same country for over 12 months is something we feel like celebrating – but not as much as my bank managers is doing – and we’re super excited that we have bought our first family home, even if we’ve not yet moved into it and it meant saying goodbye to the home I spent the first 25 years of my life in.

In fact ‘settling in’ has been a great plus of 2019.

We have a house, cars, some friends and finally feel part of a community … I’ve got to be honest, it’s a lovely feeling … and while I know there will be other changes in our life at some point in the future, this is a time I’m eternally grateful for.

There’s other stuff I’m grateful for too …

Without doubt, doing the Warc talk at Cannes with Martin was a wonderful highlight.

We were quite nervous about it but it seemed to have gone down well and I will always remember it and for that, we owe a debt to the wonderful Mercedes – Martin’s fiancé – who told us to get on with doing our school because she was sick to death of hearing us talk about doing more things together.

Love you Mercedes! And Martin. But more Mercedes.

Another thing – which is a bit weird, but seems to have helped some people – is when I wrote my post about being bullied at work. The response was phenomenal which led to Corporate Gaslighting. And while the amount of stories people are sending in – or agreeing to have published – on there has reduced, I know it has helped some people and I am happy I did it and will continue to do it.

Then there’s the fact I’ve been able to spend a bunch of time visiting China.

I love that place. In fact I would regard it as my ‘home’, despite having left there over 2 years ago.

To be able to spend so much time there and be energized by the city while connecting to new – and old – clients, has been magnificent.

Talking of returning to old things, having Otis’ beloved Elodie visit from LA was awesome.

Seeing them fall into their old, caring friendship was wonderful.

As I have said previously, taking him away from her was one of the hardest things about leaving LA – and while I know distance makes things harder, technology has obviously allowed their friendship to continue, which is the best ad for tech I can think of.

While I understand being emotional about Otis and Elodie being back together, I was surprised how emotional I felt when I went back to LA – especially when I visited Otis’ old kindergarten – but I suppose even the shortest time living in a place, leaves its mark on you.

There’s a bunch of other stuff I’m grateful for this year …

Nottingham Forest … for actually making me start to believe again.

I know it will end in tears, but it’s a nice feeling all the same.

There there’s the Brian May Guitar I bought after only 35 years of waiting.

Seeing Rod Stewart and Concorde were nice, as was getting a comment from Queen producer, Mack, and his son on the post I wrote about Freddie Mercury going to a birthday party dressed in the outfit he wore for the ‘It’s A Hard Life’ video.

That the gods of metal, Metallica, decided to extend the project that I’m doing for them for another THREE YEARS was a major plus. To be honest, I’m still not sure what I’m doing for them or if they like what I’m doing for them, but it keeps Otis in free Metallica t-shirts, so it’s worth doing.

I also got a bunch of new people in my life that I did not know previously.

From the brilliant students at the Brixton Finishing School, to the talented – but totally bonkers – creatives of Dayoung, Mike and Sam and not forgetting the wonderful Joel, Erika, Amar, Megan, Ed and Hannah who all stupidly decided to become members of the delightfully talented gang of planners at R/GA.

Before I end this utterly boring – but important [for me] post, I just want to say thank you to 3 more people.

First is the wonderful Paula Bloodworth not only got engaged – to a man from Nottingham no less [hahahaha] but she got asked to move to Portland to run strategy for NIKE globally at Wieden.

She will be brilliant.

More than people know – and they already know she will be brilliant.

I have had – and have – the great privilege of being able to call Paula a friend. I’ve worked with her, argued with her, laughed with her and caused havoc with her and through it all, her talent and humanity has shone through.

Wieden are very lucky to have her. Nike are very lucky to have her. I am very lucky to be able to call her a friend.

Second is the brilliant Severine Bavon.

Sev has been a part of my team from the beginning and this month she leaves us to strike out on her own.

Not as a freelancer … but to start a company that offers a new model for creativity and strategy for agencies and clients.

I’ve said many times that everyone should start their own company at some point and I am incredibly thrilled and proud that she is going to do just that.

Of course I’m going to miss her.

She’s brilliant, tenacious, smart and a million things I am not.

But I believe a bosses job is to help their people go on to bigger and better things. Bigger and better things they may never have imagined. Bigger and better things where they are chosen for who they are not just what they do.

And while I don’t think I did anything specific to help Sev make this decision, I have a vested interest in watching her do her thing and cheering her as she does it.

Which she will.

Sev, thank you for everything … believe in your talent, follow your gut, burn everything down that stands in your way.

So that leaves the final person … and as usual, it’s anyone and everyone who has written or visited this blog.

Ranting. Arguing. Swearing. Complaining. Caring. Debating.

It’s all meant a lot to me and after this length of time of writing basically the same 5 posts over and over again, I don’t take it for granted that you pop by and pass on your wisdom/insults.

I hope you all have a great festive season and may 2020 be epic.

Hopefully not as epic as I hope mine will be, but epic all the same.

I’m off to Australia for some sun and warmth and I’ll see you on Jan 6th cold, miserable and wondering how the holiday season passed by so fast.

Ta-ra.



Brighton Is Rubbish. Kinda …

I went to Brighton recently and I have to say, I quite liked it in a try-hard-to-be-cool kind of way.

And while there was a bunch of things to see and explore, one thing stood out from all of them.

This …

I have to be honest, while I am all for sorting out your rubbish, a public bin just for BBQ food is pretty spectacular.

Especially as I didn’t spot a single place selling BBQ food anywhere near it.

But as I wrote about the bins in LAX airport, by not labeling it simply as ‘rubbish’, it did stop me in my tracks.

Made me look more closely.

Made me think.

Which begs the question, for all the logic we are approaching the challenges of the environment – maybe the best way to get people to actually think and reconsider is not to bathe them in facts about our self-created, impending apocalypse, but to use language and imagery that cracks the firewalls we have put up around ourselves to manage this sort of information on our own terms.

It might be counter-intuitive, but as the Ice Bucket Challenge and the Doncaster County Council grit machine campaign showed, sometimes the most sensible thing we can do to create change is to embark on utter madness.

Just like my Boaty McBoatface argument that I am absolutely not bitter about in any way, even thought they completely ignored it and dismissed it out of hand.

Oh no.

When will authorities appreciate that humans are hypocritical.

That common sense is often in the eye of the beholder rather than their being some uniform fire of how everything should be.

This is why we have rubbish ads, rubbish politicians and rubbish products … because while I appreciate we need certain benchmarks to move forward, so many of the things we rely on are as fake as the Emperors New Clothes.

Designed to hide our truth rather than to reveal it.

That doesn’t mean you should stop talking to people, far from it, it actually means you need to spend even more time with them so you can get even closer to them. Understand their realities, their contexts, their truths and dramas and all the nuances and personal rabbit holes they go down to manage what they think and decide to do.

People are fascinating, but it needs more than a fucking focus group or poll to discover it.

As I’ve said before, if you want them to respect your clients brand, start respecting them~.



You Never Forget Those Who Never Let You Be Forgotten …

Many years ago I wrote a post called pivotal people.

It was about those individuals who have an incredible impact on how your life turns out.

I’m not talking about family or friends.

I’m not even talking about relationships that last years.

I’m talking about interactions – whether for 10 minutes or a decade – that changes the course of how you live.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had quite a few of these people come into my life – most recently Maya, Bree and Chelsea – and it is important to me they all know the impact they have had – and continue to have – on who I am and what I do.

A long time ago, I decided the best way to show this was to write to them all and say thank you.

Weeks passed without a word from anyone so I emailed one of the recipients to check they had received the letter.

He responded saying he had and wanted to know if I was dying.

Yep … my heartfelt gratitude was met with the general consensus that I must have a terminal illness.

Thankfully I nipped that misconception in the bud, and while the people I wrote to still didn’t really know how to react [to the words in my letter, not the fact I wasn’t dying] the reality is I wasn’t looking for any sort of response or gratitude, I just wanted them to know.

Why?

Because in my experience, the people who go out of their way to help you in this way, do it because they see something in you that maybe you don’t even see.

They want to see you grow because they give a shit about your wellbeing.

But better yet, they do it for no self-serving reason, they just believe in you and who you can be.

It is – in my opinion – one of the most beautiful acts someone can do for another person and yet, in many cases, the people helping don’t even realize the impact they’ve had on you.

I’m writing this because I recently read an interview with the footballer Ian Wright.

He was asked ‘what did he owe his parents’ and he said he owed them nothing as he had done everything for them. He said the person he owed the most was his old school teacher, Mr Pigden.

Looking into it, I learned a story of love, belief and standards.

A story that celebrates teaching in its most powerful form.

Not for grades. But for preparing someone for a fuller life.

You can read the article here, but watch the video, it’s incredibly moving.

You don’t have to be a teacher to be Mr Pigden to someone.

I hope you have recognized yours and act in the same way to someone else.



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.



Careful. Your Data Is Showing …

The big conversation in marketing right now is around data.

So it should be, it’s insanely valuable and important.

But the irony is, while it can absolutely help us have deeper understanding about our audiences behaviour and habits – information that can lead to more powerful and valuable creativity – it’s alarming how many companies who claim to be experts in this field express themselves in ways that are the opposite of it.

Here are 2 ads I saw in Cannes …

Really?

You think that is going to convince people the data and technology you have is going to lead to better work?

You think that represents the language of your audience?

Sure, I know it’s Cannes and so there is a certain sort of person who is attending there at that moment – but they’re still bloody human.

Quite frankly, this is more an ad for celebrating ‘the old way’ rather than the new.

As Martin and I said in our presentation – if companies think creativity can be reduced to an engineering problem, then they don’t understand how society actually works.

Sure … you want consistency if you’re doing surgery.

Or making rockets.

Or producing food.

But society as a whole, is a mish-mash of complications and hypocrisy.

A group where their passions extend to far more than what they transact with … but how it integrates with their life.

Their fashion. Their music. Their games. Their language and imagery. Their context.

If you remove this from the process, you are simply creating the answer you want, not the answer that actually stands a chance of moving cultural behavior and attitudes for the long term, not just the short.

Or said another way, making brands successful in ways culture wants to stick with.

As I said, data has a huge and valuable role to play in all this.

I’m fortunate to have an extremely good data partner at R/GA … someone who not only knows what she’s doing, but appreciates it means nothing if it doesn’t help create better work.

And that’s the thing … great data doesn’t want the spotlight.

I see too much work where the brief seems to have been ‘show this data point’.

Or worse, too many briefs where it is the data point.

Great data – like great PR – is, in a lot of ways, invisible.

It liberates creativity rather than dictates it.

Revealing opportunities to think laterally not literally.

Helps you make work that reaches audience in more powerful ways.

Whether that’s where you play or how you play.

Put simply, data is an incredibly important part of modern marketing but – and this is where many people fall down – it can’t do it all.

It needs help to help make great work.

It can guide … it can reveal … it can lead … it can do so much, but it can’t do everything.

For data to truly show its full potential, it needs the nuances of culture added to it. Not purely for scalability, but for resonance.

As I’ve said many times, we need to stop looking to be relevant and start wanting to be resonant.

Making work that feels it was born from inside the culture, not from an observer.

Or said another way, work that doesn’t patronise, condescend or bore people.

Are you listening IBM and Neilsen?

Data with culture opens up more possibilities for creativity.

Allowing ideas to grow and go in places we might never have imagined.

Ideas that feel so right to the audience rather than explain why they should feel that way.



We’re All Going On A [Almost] Summer Holiday …

Well this is the last post for another week except this time I’m not going away for business, I’m going away with the family for a holiday.

Believe it or not, this is the first family holiday we’ve had in almost 3 years.

Part of that is because we have moved countries twice in the last 3 years … the other part is that when we lived in Manhattan Beach, it felt like we were on holiday whenever we were together.

So this weekend we all go – including Rosie the cat – to a farm for a week.

If I’m honest, I never ever dreamed of going to stay at a farm for a holiday.

Only staying in a tent would be worse.

But whether it’s because I’ve been on a plane so much over the past 6 months or whether it’s because I’m a Dad to a kid who absolutely loves animals … I’m genuinely looking forward to it.

Evolving opinions are a wonderful thing.

While we might think our points of view on life remain fairly static, I love that they can grow or shift.

One of the reasons I’ve kept this blog up for so long is that it’s a reference point for how I have looked at the World over time. Looking back at some old posts reveal how much my opinion on certain subjects has changed.

I love that.

It means an old dog can be taught some new tricks.

Maybe this is because having lived in so many different countries, I’ve always had to be open to how things work … but whatever the reason, I’m happy I’m going to be spending a week feeding cows even if a version of me from the past would rather be a Derby County supporter.

See you in a week.



Metal Mischief …

So a few weeks ago, I came home to find a Metallica album.

Not just a Metallica album, but a special edition – box set album.

And not just a special edition, box set Metallica album … but one personally signed by each member of the masters of metal themselves.

Now while that would be nice to think this was an act of love and generosity, the reality is it was an act of cheeky bastardness because for reasons I don’t understand, the band and their management have decided to bestow the nickname ‘St Anger’ on me and by sending me an album of the same name, this was their way of rubbing it in.

I admire their evil genius.