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


Something We Should All Remember …

I saw this quote by David Thoreau recently …

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

I have to say I love it because in some ways, it’s the best definition of creativity – and, to a certain extent, strategy – I’ve seen in ages.

Of course our job is to help clients achieve their goals.

Help them succeed in ways that are better than they imagined.

But too much of what we are doing is solving problems laterally rather than literally.

Or worse, simply executing what the client wants.

For me, the best creativity makes people think, feel, question … and to do that, you need people who see the World differently so that they can see what everyone else is just looking at.

Revealing possibility rather than reproducing what everyone already knows.

And doesn’t care about.



Stop Making Excuses …

Two years ago, after a project I started called America In The Raw, I was giving a talk when an attendee – a senior marketing exec – asked how I could help them better understand African American culture.

After pointing out they were asking a WHITE, BRITISH male who had only been living in the country for over a year, I said the best thing he could do was hire some young African Americans and put them in positions of power.

To be fair to him, he was genuinely appreciative and enlightened by my suggestion.

To be unfair to him, it was another example of the oppression people of colour continually face from those who are too blind, ignorant, prejudiced or lazy to stop their ways.

Recently I discovered a friend of mine – who is African American – missed out on a promotion because “there were some concerns over his ability to lead” … despite the fact he has successfully led a team for almost 10 years.

If this industry wants a chance of staying alive then may I suggest we stop obsessively inventing ‘processes, language & proprietary tools’ [that generally ends up making exactly the same work we’ve been making for years or, in some cases, makes it even worse] and start giving talent who doesn’t look, think or act like the incumbent a chance to actually move us forward culturally, creatively and commercially.

Without judgement. Without barriers. Just encouragement and thanks.

Rant over.



Creativity Is About Lateral Leaps, Not Literal Execution …

So while going through my photos, I found this screen grab from Dave Trott …

To be honest, I wrote about this a couple of years ago but if it was relevant then, it seems even more relevant now.

There is more and more work that just seems to be a literal execution of the client brief.

Not even the agency brief … but the clients.

Literal.

Contrived.

Feature focused.

I can’t help but feel their strategy is to bore people into submission, and while it may be argued this approach is working – probably because all the competition are following the same thing – the reality is the value of the brand gets diluted and so the long term success of the brand ends up being based on factors like price or distribution.

Of course, price and distribution always have and always will play a critical role in a brands success, but the inherent value of it is elevated hugely when you are in a position that people actively want it and seek it out. Yet, as I wrote a while back, it appears many brand managers are only focused on sales today without any consideration for the sustainable value of the brand tomorrow and if you are constantly harvesting your good will, eventually it will run out.

The big issue is so many marketers still think people are waiting for them to advertise.

That they are sat on the edge of their seat waiting to hear from them and buy from them.

That they have nothing better to do and all that they do do, is based on rational logic.

This approach says far more about the people behind the brands than the people they hope will buy from them and while I appreciate creativity requires a leap of faith – something some marketing folk weirdly feel is an act of corporate irresponsibility – the fact is society respond to [authentic] emotion far more than rational argument, at least in terms of communication, and so if they want their brand to move forward, the only thing that can counter spend, heritage and distribution is to embrace creativity and to do that properly, it means being Lateral, not literal.



New Year. New Hopes. Old Realities …

Welcome back.

How was it?

Full of festive cheer or headaches and disappointment.

Bet you’d swap it all again for today wouldn’t you.

Even when you like your job, coming back to work after the holidays is hard.

Getting up early.

Transport hell.

Going through the same conversations with everyone at work.

Thinking about what you were doing at that time just a few days before.

Why do we do it to ourselves? Oh I know … to pay the bills.

Well fortunately not only did I have a lovely time in Australia, I ended 2019 winning the inaugural R/GA London Planner Pie-Off competition with my [surprisingly] delicious Great British Bake Off Fry-Up Pie, so you’ll understand why I have high hopes for this year – with one of the biggest hopes being we might actually move into our new home after 6+ months of legal nightmares. We shall see.

But as we are back at work and no one wants to be here, I thought I’d start by writing a post that captures a sense of optimism for the new year.

It’s 2020.

TWENTY TWENTY!!!

That means we are post Blade Runner times … which has to be cool, doesn’t it?

No.

Don’t blame you … just typing that is enough to give me heart palpitations and it’s only Monday. So to calm us down and to get back to an issue I’m passionate about – especially in these client optimization obsessed times – here is why brand building is not a luxury, but a critical investment in building a sustainable future, especially in these highly competitive, increasingly turbulent times.

Or to quote a Chinese proverb, “a successful farmer plants their seeds and nurtures them in the knowledge that when it comes time to harvest, their crop is bigger and healthier. It takes time, but it is always worth it.”

Said another way … if you’re always trying to harvest, there won’t be anything left to grow.

Given the amount of brands who are openly admitting their focus on short-term sales has hurt their long term business, there may be hope for us all to get back to making work that builds rather than just takes.

See, 2020 isn’t so bad so far after all …



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.



Premium Disaster …

So before I begin with my post, I have some good news …

This will be the last post for 13 days.

THIRTEEN!

I’m in China all next week and then when I return, I’m having 3 days off – of which one of them is to celebrate Otis’ 5th birthday!

Five. Can’t believe it.

Anyway, I know I’ve just made your impending weekend more enjoyable so have fun and see you when I’m back on the 12th … though there will be a special birthday post the day before for my little one.

So now back to the post …

One of the things I hate is when a client mistakes being premium priced for meaning they have premium customers.

That just isn’t true, even more so now with the access to finance. Seriously, it’s like banks deny the 2008 crash never happened. Mind you, when you’re bailed out by the public, it didn’t.

Anyway …

Being premium priced – especially when the brand is in a mainstream marketing and comparing themself to mainstream competitors – simply means you cost more.

There may be reasons for that cost premium.

Great and valid reasons … but that doesn’t mean the audience who are buying the products are more sophisticated or educated.

If anything, it might be the opposite.

Some may be doing it to overcome their insecurities.

Some may be doing it to satisfy their delusional ego.

Some may be doing it because it represents something they’ve worked – and work – hard for and want to protect or defend or nurture.

But whatever the reason, the vast majority of people who choose these brands are, in the main, everyday people who justify the price premium because they offer something additionally appealing – be it professional, functional or emotional.

There is nothing wrong with this.

There is nothing unappealing about this.

In fact, it is an amazing, given we are talking about people making decisions that cost them more because something is so important to them.

And yet so many marketers want to feel their customers are the wealthiest and most discerning of all, ignoring the fact that if that were true, then their product wouldn’t be premium priced, because for the wealthy, it would be cheap.

I recently had a meeting with someone from a mainstream, mass market brand who tried to convince me their customers were the 1%, despite all evidence proving otherwise. They also tried to claim their marketing was ‘high-brow’ as it meant only the wealthy would truly ‘grt it’.

That’s right, they were suggesting intelligence was linked to wealth.

I know a lot of people may believe that, but even if it were true – which it isn’t – they are mistaking wealth for opportunity … which I appreciate is becoming more and more influenced more by being able to afford a private education given governments are underfunding state options, ignoring the fact an educated population creates greater possibilities for the entire nation.

I digress.

Again.

Sorry, it’s just these are subjects that make me so angry and upset.

Anyway, I cannot tell you how much fun I had putting them right … how much I enjoyed explaining to them that their audience were far more in line with average household income than the 1% … but at the end of the day, I know it was all in vain because every single day, I look at ads and see ‘premium priced’ brands acting like their customer base are better than everyone else, which ultimately demonstrates marketing is less about understanding your audience and more about comforting the boardroom ego.



The Bigger They Are, The More Fragile Their Ego …

I appreciate I’m the last person to be saying this, but recently I’ve been exposed to some people who can only be described as having a very healthy ego.

You know the types … they say “I” instead of “we”.

They claim sole ownership for everything they’ve been a part of.

They talk about how their way is the way everyone will eventually adopt.

They are very in your face, view anyone who has a different point of view as the enemy and tends to align only with those who are of a similar make-up or are unfiltered in their adoration.

This does not mean these people are not good or clever.

They are.

Whether they are as good or clever as they think they are is another thing altogether.

But here’s the thing, working with them can be a nightmare.

You either play their game or you get discarded and slandered.

The amount of people who have written about these sorts of people on Corporate Gaslighting is incredible … and yet, because of their ego, they see their actions as ‘decisive’ rather than bullying and because they get stuff done, companies often view them as stars rather than grenades.

But here’s the thing …

The bigger the ego, the more they’re hiding.

An insecurity.

A past wrong.

A lack of knowledge in an area they should know.

At this point I should say you shouldn’t try to find what they’re hiding and then exploit it because then all you’re doing is being as bad as them, but there are also times when that is the only alternative.

And here’s how to do it without being a complete dick.

Listen.

Listen very, very carefully to what they’re saying.

Ask for clarification on points that may be ambiguous.

Give examples of situations where a different approach was successfully used to hear their perspective on it.

Don’t attack.

Don’t antagonise.

The point is there are always alternative ways to approach every problem and anyone who suggests otherwise is wrong.

The bully may believe their approach is the best. They may think that what they did had greater effectiveness than all the alternatives. But the reality is so much of that is subjective so if you let your ears do their job, then I guarantee you they’ll hear things that will allow you to offer an alternative that they themselves, will have created.

It’s not easy.

Even done gently and calmly it can be intimidating.

But it can work and the beauty of the egotist is that as much as they want the spotlight, they’re petrified of anyone who has the power to take it away from them, so they ensure that in the future, they’re also given a starring role.

And if none of that works, then you can always try Tom Hanks advice which is pretty good.

Or leave.

Because there’s never going to be enough room in any company for anyone if an individual believes they are the company.