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


Professional To The Core …

For reasons I don’t understand – but I do like – I occasionally get asked for my opinion in industry magazines.

While I absolutely take what I do seriously, I have realized that if I was to compile all that I’ve said that has been printed, I would look a bit of a maniac.

For example, there’s this. Or this. Or even this.

And just recently I was asked ‘what Star Wars character would I be’ and this was my answer …

But here is the thing …

While many may think I do this because I need psychiatric help or have a career death wish, there’s another reason behind it and it’s about comfortableness.

You see when I was a youngster in the industry, I was surrounded by super-smart, super-senior people who were full of opinion, personality and provocation.

While I didn’t agree with everything they said, they helped me realise that ‘just because you take your job seriously, doesn’t mean you have to take yourself seriously’.

What this did was let me feel comfortable in taking to any of them about any madcap idea I had … let me talk to clients about subjects that may otherwise seem ‘off limits’ and let me work with colleagues without thinking it made me look weak or incapable.

In essence, cheekiness has enabled me to do – or be part of – things that I may not otherwise never have been able to do.

From work I’ve been a part of … clients I’ve worked with … agencies I’ve worked at and countries I’ve lived in.

Now of course, mischief is in my bones so it wasn’t exactly hard … but being encouraged to embrace my truth rather than oppress it had a huge benefit to my career and so while a bunch of what I say and do is because I’m a bloody idiot, there is a part of it that is intended to create the space and atmosphere to enable my colleagues and clients feel comfortable with being vulnerable … whether that’s expressing their ideas, their fears and ambitions or simply realizing that if I can have a career while still being a sweary fool, then they – with all their talent – surely can.

You might think this is a load of bollocks – and I totally understand get why – but it’s true.

The future of adland is not going to come from more processes, it’s going to come from more people being able to express or explore their ideas without fearing they will be judged, shot down or ridiculed.

And if you think that’s a dramatic statement, just go on twitter and see how the masses react to any idea that challenges the belief system they have bought into, even though they know for a fact that the very small amount of people who succeed – which are mainly white men – are generally the ones who reinforce the cliche rather than push or break them.

Happy Monday.

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Moments To Be Grateful …

As most of you know, a few months ago I wrote a post about how I had experienced the slow, systematic destruction of my confidence by bosses who had an inherent need to feel in control.

Of everything.

The post caused such a stir that it led to me starting the Corporate Gaslighting site.

While the majority of the hundreds of people who wrote to me were to scared to have their story put online, there are countless examples of management bullying that people have experienced and made to feel was their own fault.

Recently I worked on a project with an incredibly talented creative called Alex Holder.

One night, while sitting together trying to work out how to deal with a particularly difficult situation, we started discussing office bullying and bad management and found we had both experienced it in different guises.

While we both got out of our situations and have been able to move forward, we also know that is not the case for everyone and I told her about Corporate Gaslighting.

She was incredibly supportive of my endeavor and said she wanted to help.

To be honest, many people say that – and while I don’t doubt their intention – often things get in the way of them doing that.

But not Alex.

First of all she sent me a bunch of articles she had written linked to the subject.

Then she pointed people she knew in my direction.

But recently, she has written an article on the subject for Grazia magazine and ensured TheyTriedToKillMeButI.Live was name checked. [See Below]

I am insanely grateful for her support and for doing this.

Not because it legitimises what I am trying to do but because it raises awareness of the issue and hopefully will help someone experiencing this treatment to know they’re not alone, it’s not their fault and there are people ready to help.

Huge thank you to Alex – and Grazia Magazine – it means more than you know.

[You can read it more clearly here]



Society Is Growing Kids Faster Than Battery Hens …

One of the things that is a beautiful nightmare for parents is watching the speed of their children grow up.

At each stage of their development, you think they have reached ‘peak perfect’ and you want them to stay that way forever … but you can deal with their growth because they bring an even more delightful element into their behaviour and, as a byproduct, your relationship.

It’s utterly, utterly magical.

That said, it still doesn’t stop the fact it all happens in the blink of an eye, so while you want to always encourage their development, you just wish it would slow down a little.

The reason I say this is that I recently read about a graphic designer was so appalled at the cover of a young girls magazine, that they decided to release what they thought it should be.

Now I must admit, my first impression to this story was that the graphic designer was probably a self-righteous individual who wanted kids to grow up in the same conditions as they did.

That was until I saw this …

The original cover of the magazine is on the left, their version is on the right.

I’m going to ignore their cover – because you can read how it came about and the story behind their idea, here – however the magazine they redesigned is a real magazine and, according to their own website, supposedly stands for:

Girls’ Life (GL) magazine was founded in August 1994 (yes, we’re ancient, we know) by Karen Bokram. Since then, GL has grown from a 23-year-old’s pipe dream project to a best-selling and award-winning platform for tween and teen girls.

Tweens and teens.

An incredibly impressionable age.

Now look at that cover.

Look at those story headlines.

Now I appreciate I am an old, white male … but they seem to place huge subliminal pressure and expectations on young women.

Wake Up Pretty.

Dream Hair.

Fashion you need to own.

Boyfriends.

If young women want to explore any of those things, then that is wonderful, but I wonder how much of it is because they are being made to feel that way rather than being something they are naturally interested in. Of course, there is something wonderful about learning to develop and grow … but this seems less about personal growth and more about playing to stereotypes – and advertising dollars – so that they can then be judged by broader society.

Of course parents have a big role to play in managing the environment their children play in, but at a time where the World is finally waking up to fighting the prejudice, oppression and stereotypes women have had to face for centuries, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve this when the World they are surrounded by continues to push an agenda of compliance … especially when they’re titles supposedly designed for the betterment of young women.

Of course this is not limited to content for young women, young boys also have stereotypes of behaviour and aspiration shoved down their throats that are unrealistic and add incredible pressure to their development.

I get children will always grow up too fast for parents, but it is scary how even that isn’t fast enough for media outlets.

What makes it worse is so many of them say their ‘purpose‘ is to inspire brilliance in their readership.

Girls Life specifically say their role is ‘dedicated to informing, inspiring and entertaining girls around the globe—and that includes everything from starting your business (we LOVE spotlighting smart, successful teens) to putting up with periods to styling a personal look you’ll love’.

Which is why I look at the Graphic Designer who screwed with their cover and say ‘well done’ … because I now realise what they did was not act like a judgmental parent, but simply show Girls Life how their cover should look if they are serious about what they claim they represent.



Laugh In The Face Of Authority …

Redundancy is horrible.

It happens but that doesn’t stop it being horrible.

You feel discarded, worthless, devalued.

Even if you know it is absolutely none of those things and you’re just a victim of circumstance you can’t escape the feeling you have been singled out.

It’s even worse when companies approach it as “business, not personal”.

I appreciate that there are countless legalities that you have to jump through but while it might be business for the company, it is always personal for the individual being let go.

That doesn’t mean you want to receive any sense of contrived compassion but you do want to feel respected as an individual.

I remember being let go once and then told that because they knew my visa would mean I’d have to leave the country in 28 days – they would happily delay telling the authorities for a month [to allow me more time to find a new job] but – and it’s quite a big but – if I sacrificed the residency payment I was legally obliged to have been given.

Pricks!

[Though it gave me the resolve to start cynic so it wasn’t all bad – but absolutely no thanks to them]

Anyway, the reason I am writing all this is because I read a story of someone in NZ who was being made redundant who dealt with the situation in a unique way.

Not only did they ensure they owned the situation but they also ensured it was the company letting them go who felt the awkward ones.

It all started when the individual was told they were being let go and informed they could bring someone to the meeting for support.

Who did they bring?

A partner?

A parent?

A colleague?

A lawyer?

Nope … a clown.

A bloody clown.

You can read the story of my newfound hero here … even though when I first heard the story I thought it was the agency who brought in the clown to try and make the mood lighter.



Best Of The Best Or The Least Bad?

Today I’m judging the Effies.

Oh awards …

I’ve written so, so much about them in the past.

Like here. And here. And here. And here.

I must admit, I am intrigued to see what they are going to be like in the UK.

Will they be a celebration of insightful efficiency or will they be like I experienced too many times in Asia, a stream of consciousness that just rumbles along till they think they have explained how they got to their idea and how they have proved it worked.

I guess we shall see later today.

I really, really hope they are good.

Not just because the Effies have always had a standard they’ve lived up to, but because it will give me faith the industry still has fight in it to do things right.

In my time in the UK, I’ve read a bunch of planning documents/portfolios/resumes that have been more about packaging.

Repeating a client brief in a way that has been ‘sexed up’.

Superficial.

Executional.

Literal.

There are a bunch of reasons for this.

Part of it is the lack of training agencies give their strategiests.

[Hence why we started the School of Strategic Arts]

Part of it is the huge amount of freelance planners out there who are doing exactly what they are asked because they are fighting for their livelihood.

And part of it is because of the client/agency remuneration deals which means planners are giving too little time to explore the best outcome to the problem they face.

Planning has a valuable role to play in effectiveness.

Planning has a valuable role to play in creativity.

But it needs to be allowed to do it to make it happen … so here’s hoping we see the best of what it can do today, because the Effies is not just important for the people who win, but for what the industry needs to get back to being.



Make Space Or We Die Alone …

One of the best things I’ve done [so far] in the UK is see my R/GA planning mob work with the brilliant Brixton Finishing School.

They all graduate today so this post not only makes me – for once – super timely, but also super proud of them all.

Anyway, over the past few weeks they’ve been working with the students on the importance of putting creativity at the heart of strategy.

Well a couple of weeks ago it was my turn and it was massively emotional for me.

Not just because of their passion for creativity.

Not just because they embraced an old fucker with open arms.

But because of the openness of the conversation we had that touched on issues often swept under the carpet but are raw and real … especially if you’re a person of colour.

I was honoured to be there, we should be honoured they still want to work in adland given we – as an industry – are doing our level best to make them feel alienated, isolated or a token gesture.

It’s not hard to change this.

As I wrote about the need to embrace more female leadership, it’s just about making space.

The great irony is that the industry loves to talk about diversity, but not only do they fail to realise it’s about background not just heritage, it’s about how you let them behave. Basically if you make anyone feel penalised or negatively judged for simply being their authentic self, then you are acting in a way that is literally the opposite of diversity.

Sadly, many companies still don’t get this.

They better start or the people who are the one chance we have left to make this industry have a decent future, will finally have enough and take their potential and talent elsewhere.

Frankly, I would not blame them.

[Thanks Maya, Bree, Chelsea and Lani for the impact you still make on me]



Bullshit Brand Bingo …

Years ago, there was an email that went around that invited people to play ‘Bullshit Bingo’, the marketing edition.

Included on the paper were words such as ‘synergy’ and ‘optimization’ and the aim of the game was to take this to your next meeting and cross off each word as someone said them.

The person who crossed off all the words first, won.

It was a tongue-in-cheek way to take the piss out of the marketing industry and it’s obsession with using words that are the absolute opposite of the words the audiences we try to have a meaningful connection with, say.

Well it appears there is a new version of this game in town … except some people haven’t realized it’s a game.

Worse, it appears they think it is a brand building bible.

Have a look at this …

I don’t know about you, but nothing says ‘brand transformation’ like bigging-up the fact you have decorated your reception area.

Don’t get me wrong, a brand should infect and influence every aspect of how you behave and express yourself but – and it’s a big but – it should be something that is truly distinctive to your brand, not just a bunch of brand mumbo-jumbo words and corporate colours that end up making you look and sound exactly like everyone else.

I wrote about this a while back when I said the best brief I ever received was from Richard Branson for his now infamous Virgin Atlantic London lounge.

I also talked this with Martin at Cannes.

The reality is too many companies aspire for best practice.

But the reality is best practice means averageness.

Fitting in not standing out.

Differentiation without distinction.

Staying in the middle rather than reaching for the edges.

I am amazed how many companies fear being different and yet claim to be.

I am even more amazed how many companies then shit themselves when someone comes along with a point of view that is genuine and authentically expressed and executed so that it attracts culture rather than tries to chase it.

Apart from being a law firm, I don’t know who Pinsent Masons are, but if they aspire for their new reception to reflect their bland brand value with words like ‘bold, connected and approachable’, I think I’ll survive living in my ignorance.