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


What You Can Learn About The Danger Of Assumption From The Original Woodstock Festival …

One of the things I do when I first get a brief is try to see the creative opportunity.

Where we can make the biggest and most interesting difference.

Changing something.

Pushing something.

Destroying something.

However the reality is that in many briefs, this isn’t always clear – mainly because so many are written from quite a transactional perspective, designed for an agency to ‘answer it’, rather than use it as a springboard for bigger, more powerful and more sustainable impact.

And that’s why the best thing you can do is ask questions.

Explore.

Prod.

Challenge.

Not just in terms of who authored the brief, but the people who are responsible for what comes out of it.

There are some people who think this approach has the potential of alienating clients, but in my experience it has quite the opposite effect. People in power regard this as a demonstration of someone who gives a shit … someone who wants to help them achieve the best outcome in ways that can best serve their business. Ideas they may simply never have seen or considered before.

And that’s exactly why I do it because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t know the level of the clients ambition … their desire for change and impact … and without that you can’t possibly see the creative opportunity you have in front of you and you may go down a path that leads to nowhere because you have made assumptions that simply aren’t true.

Don’t get me wrong, we all need new business to survive – let alone thrive – but my point of view is that if people aren’t excited or clear on what we are looking to do, then it either leads to a painful journey with painful work at the end of it or just mistrust and quite frankly, I haven’t got time for either of those in my life.

So what’s all this got to do with the title of this post?

Because I recently read an article on the famous Woodstock festival and was reminded – from a comment by Tommy James from the band, Tommy James and The Shondells – how dangerous ‘assumption’ can be.

And who is Tommy James from Tommy James and The Shondells?

Well, this might tell you why you haven’t heard of him or them …

Don’t assume the person communicating with you has total clarity on their situation.

Don’t assume the people around you have total clarity on the situation.

Just don’t assume.



How To Get Ahead In Your Career Without Being A Corporate Toady …

I’ve always found management an interesting concept or – more specifically – how people become managers.

Most of the time, it seems someone who is good at their job gets promoted and told “… there you go, manage the department”.

Little support. Little guidance. Masses of responsibility.

Now having done this for a long time, I realize the folly of this approach.

Sure, it’s nice to feel you’re being recognized, have a bit more responsibility and power and get more cash … but it also is the fast-track to bad habits, bad practices and bad career decisions.

You see management is complicated.

On one hand you have to lead your department … set a direction, instill standards and beliefs and develop a gang.

On the other, you have to put yourself second to enable your team – and the people within that team – to grow and develop and ultimately, take your job.

Few have the skills to work this out on their own – let alone execute it – which is why the older I get, the more grateful I am that I was given such great help from my amazing mentors and certain bosses.

You see in the early days, I saw career development as simply going from employee to boss to big boss.

In my mind, if you were a good employee you might get to be a boss and if you were a good boss, you might get to be a big boss.

That was it.

But my mentors – and some good bosses – made sure I understood that career progression wasn’t just about how good you were in your day-to-day job, but in your ability to develop additional skills.

Sure, some of these were operational skills – really important operational skills – but the advice that made the biggest difference to me was when they told me how I’d need to understand the difference between good management and good leadership.

To be honest, previous to this I never really saw a difference between the two but this quote by Peter Drucker sums up what they told me perfectly …

Now I appreciate anyone who has worked with me in the past might think I am terrible at what I do – and I accept my approach is often unorthodox and filled with dollop-loads of chaos – but understanding how the development of skills and outlook was better for your long-term career than consistency and capability made a real difference to me and that’s why I am such a big believer in feedback and goals.

I should point out this does not mean the ‘annual reviews’.

Sure, they have their use, but if you’re only having these conversations once a year, you’re really not helping anyone that much.

But constantly having conversations – where you discuss where people are and what they’re working towards – makes a difference.

It lets you know where everyone is.

It lets you know where everyone is heading.

It gives you the opportunity to offer the right advice at the right time.

Which enables them to develop the skills that will help them grow not drown.

Which lets them develop their own voice and approach to the challenges they face.

Which lets them work out where they are heading and want to head.

Which lets them get hired for who they are not just what they do.

Which means, ultimately, you’ve done what I believe a boss is supposed to do … which is help your people get opportunities they never thought they could have.

This all may seem so obvious to you all, but I still meet people who think being good at their job means being good enough for career progression and while many companies may agree with that, I am so grateful to my mentors and certain bosses for putting me straight.

May this year be your year.



Is Marcus A Devious Bastard?
September 14, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Brand Suicide, Comment, Marketing Fail, Standards, Talent

A few weeks ago I wrote about a Facebook ad Marcus sent me.

It was for some tech support social platform and – alarmingly – featured an illustration that looked very much like me.

As in, it looked EXACTLY like me.

Well either Marcus was behind it or he’s frequenting some very weird places on the net, because he just sent me another one.

Yes, another!

Same company.

Same social platform.

Same – but in a different pose – illustration of me.

WHAT. THE. FUCK?

I know we keep talking about the personalisation of ads, but this is ridiculous.

It also shows an alarming lack of strategy, because anyone worth their salt would know I wouldn’t want to be part of something I’m part of.



I Am A Muse …
August 9, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: Brand Suicide, Comment, Marketing Fail, Standards, Talent

So a while back, Marcus [remember him?] sent me this …

Like him, I immediately thought it looked like me.

Then I looked again and I am convinced it’s me.

Sure, the glasses are wrong, but the rest is scarily right … so scarily right, I swear it has been taken from this video.

Now of course, there is a chance this is all one massive coincidence which would mean one of two things.

1. There is someone very, very unlucky out there.

2. If this ad career goes to shit, my calling appears to be in Tech Support.



It’s Been An Honour …

After 7 years, today is my last day at Wieden+Kennedy.

Just as traumatic is that in 6 days, it will be my last day in China.

Or said another way, it will be my last day living in Asia-Pacific after 22 amazing years.

There’s honestly too much to say.

Too many memories to write about.

Too many people to thank and talk about.

So instead I’ll just say it has been the time of my life.

An amazing, spectacular, wonderful adventure both personally and professionally.

From marriage and babies to being part of work that defined World Cups and Olympics.

Wow.

It’s absolutely fair to say I will miss every bit of it but I’ll take the memories because it means I had the experience and for that I am truly grateful.

Now, because we’re in the middle of mad moving mode, this blog will be on a little hiatus for a few weeks.

Probably about a month. [Though we all know there’ll be the odd post here and there]

On the bright side, when it’s back – probably sometime in June, in time for my birthday [ha] – you’ll get to read posts that won’t just be about planning, but how I don’t understand how to make anything in America work.

I honestly think I’m going to find it harder to acclimatise to America than I ever did to China.

Hell, I can’t even order a cup of coffee without getting confused about their cup sizes.

So with that I want to sign off with a few little thank-you’s.

The reality is a huge amount of people made my time here amazing, however there’s some who had an even bigger influence and I want to call them out because the adventure I had – and am about to embark on – literally wouldn’t have been possible without them.

My wonderful planning team. Past and present. Every day was a genuine fucking honour. The awesome Kennedys. It was seriously the professional highlight of my last 12 months. Thank you. And that definitely includes you Juni. Kel Hook. For hiring me. You changed my life and I’ll never be able to thank you enough. Jason White. Thank you for supporting me even when I caused destruction. John Rowe. For being brilliant in every possible way and making my time at W+K Tokyo so good, I never wanted to leave. NIKE. I know that might sound corporate toady, but as I have nothing to gain from saying it, it means it is true. 99.7% of every person I met or worked with at Wieden+Kennedy worldwide … whether they are still here or long gone. Martin Weigel. You’re a cantankerous, warm hearted, brilliant man. Just propose to Mercedes and get on with it. Whiteside. Because you’re awesome and funny and humble and deserve so much and yet are happy with what you have. Clare Pickens. I love you. I literally fucking love you. [But stop cutting your hair because it makes you look shit] Sandi Hildreth. For being awesome and gorgeous and loving the same sort of rubbish music as me. Claudia Valderrama. For looking out for me even though you told me I was a “pain in the ass”. W&W, Azsa, Arlene and Max … for making sure I stay excited – and in awe – about the birth of amazing ideas. Gerber, for somehow – and I’m not sure how – influencing me to get tattoos. I came here with none, I leave with not enough. Simon Pestridge. Thank you for everything. In many ways, you changed my career and opportunities. You’re more than a great client, but a friend. Kim Papworth. For that talk that was totally worth the wait. Luhr. For being Luhr. Stech. For making your 6 months here, the most exciting 6 months for me full stop. David Terry and Paul Colman for trying really hard to be ‘alpha-males’ but actually being fucking sweethearts. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. Joe Staples. He won’t understand why, which is why. MJ. No, not Micheal Jackson or Michal Jordan, but Matthew Jung … for being a phenomenal Nike and Converse client who backed us to do the best work we can do every-single-time. Karrelle. For pretending to still be British when he’s basically American. Steve Tsoi for still welcoming me to the table even though I never made life easy for you or your team. Scott Silverman. You had nothing to do with China, but if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had the chance to be here. Chris Jaques. You also had nothing to do with China, but if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had the platform to show others what I could do. What I could be. Dan Wieden. For not actually firing me even though you said, “You’re fired” every time you saw me. And starting a place that is so special amongst special companies. Xiaoli. For everything you have done for us, but most specifically for the love and care you have shown my son. China … for being so important to global business that you gave me access and exposure to the sort of senior leadership few in the World will ever get to experience. The amazing, warm, slightly crazy people of China. I will absolutely miss everything about your unique ways. Except the spitting and the plane delays. And finally – and most importantly – my beloved Jill, Otis and Rosie. Without you guys, none of this other stuff would have mattered.

OK, the Gwyneth Paltrow bollocks is over … and to prove it, have a look at this.

Do you know what it is?

That’s right, it’s one of the 600 stickers I have had made that I have spent the last 5 weeks hiding throughout the refurbished Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai office. And I mean ‘throughout’ … including various W+K hangouts, like Baker & Spice, Jamaica Blue and Little Catch.

That should make their life a pain in the ass for a few years.

It will be like I’ve never gone.

And with that, it’s time to go.

It’s been a lot of fun. Time for an adventure in LA. God help us all.



If You Think People In Advertising Get Paid For Nothing, You Should See Headhunters …

OK, so before I begin, not all headhunters are lazy fucks.

I have met a few who take a genuine interest in your career and offer advice – as well as guidance – in how you can, and should, move forward.

This involves taking a real interest in what makes you tick … some tough love … and a real desire to match your talents and quirks with an organisation who values the person as much as the job role.

But there’s not many of them.

Sadly, there are far more who are like this …

This is how I responded …

Then – realising their mistake – they tried to make amends, except they showed they completely missed the point …

To which I ended the conversation with this …

Seriously, what the fuck is going on with the recruitment industry.

Yes, I know this is the worst of it, but sadly there are far more of these lazy bastards than there are truly professional headhunters.

Why on earth would a company use them if they know they are paying for someone to randomly email folk on Linkedin.

Of course, the reason is because a lot of companies don’t really care about who they hire for their organisation as long as they sit down, shut up, do the job and can be replaced quickly.

There are some headhunters I would help.

Headhunters who I have got to know – and been helped by – for years.

Headhunters who see the person before the commission.

But to some random person from the internet who is too lazy to actually do their job properly … well, they can fuck off.

For all the talk of ‘talent being a companies most important asset’, it is increasingly obvious that speed is much more highly regarded, which is why I decided not to name and shame the person who sent me this, because ultimately they are simply a pawn in the whole seedy industry … an industry that seems to be doing an even better job than adland at turning itself into a commodity.



Part 2: You Can’t Move Forward When You’re Looking Through The Rear View Mirror …

NOTE: As you know, I tend to pre-write my posts quite a bit in advance. I say this because when I wrote this, I was told the article I am basing my perspective on, would have come out. It hasn’t.


With that in mind, I’ve had to make a few changes to how this post was originally written by removing the name of the person I am responding to because I do not believe it is fair to quote them when their words have not yet gone into the public domain. Sorry.
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So yesterday I talked about how a global CCO of a global network agency and I were asked to write about how the advertising industry can attract creative talent.

You can read their perspective here.

Anyway, after they wrote his response, I was asked for mine.

I must admit, I found it hard because ‘response’ means you should directly respond to the point of view of the person before you and I felt that was unfair because regardless what I think they are doing – or his agency as a whole – I have to say it’s good they’re doing something.

However – and, as usual, it’s a big however – I do think they are putting a plaster on the issue rather than dealing with the issue directly.

This is not meant as a criticism of their work or their actions, but more a counter way of how we should be looking at dealing with the situation if we are serious about maintaining our relevance in both attracting creative talent and offering something clients can’t get elsewhere.

Anyway, this is what my response was …

________________________________________________________________________

Before I begin, I should point out there are still agencies and individuals who act as an inspiration for young creative talent to join our industry … however, it has been widely acknowledged that this is becoming harder to do, so this is my response to that challenge.

Advertising is the only industry that gives people business cards that labels the holder as ‘creative’. Musicians don’t call themselves that. Neither do authors. Or games designers. Why does adland feel it is necessary to say what someone is, rather than show what they do? Hell, why does adland think creativity only lives in those who work – or want to work – in the field of art and copy?

Of course there are many reasons for this – from remuneration to routine – however I also believe it’s because we’ve been slowly moving away from creativity to focusing on execution.

In other words, from thinking broadly to thinking narrow.

If people don’t fit into our tight definition of ‘what creativity is’, then we tend to view them as misfits … obstacles… people who block creative potential rather than have the skills to maybe bring original ways to solving clients problems.

Of course it’s not entirely adlands fault, clients have also contributed to this situation by placing ‘KPI’s’ on agencies that basically pushes them to hire people who will deliver exactly what they want, but the fact is that while I praise the CCO for what he is doing at his network – and acknowledge everything has to start somewhere – agency ‘programs’ will not fundamentally change the business until we do 2 things.

1. Change how we structure our remuneration because without that, the status quo will always beat committing to the new and different.

2. Change our attitude towards what ‘creativity’ actually is.

Is it any wonder young creative talent are questioning a career in advertising when the work they see us put out to the world hasn’t really evolved over the past 50 years?

That doesn’t mean the work we are doing is wrong – nor does it mean there has not been immense creativity, craft and purpose that has gone into it – but given so much of it doesn’t reflect the world young creative talent live and operate in, it’s hardly a surprise they aren’t inspired by it, compared to industries, like tech, fashion, music or a billion start-ups. [Who are perceived, probably rightly, to offer better money, potential, hours and glamour]

The fact is, creativity is not this narrow space we have pulled ourselves into and the fact we hold on to it so doggedly – both because a lot of clients ask for it and because it gives us a sense of control and security – is contributing to young creative talent turning their backs on a career in advertising.

So how do we change it?

Well, it’s easier said than done and – as I said – I applaud the CCO for what they are doing, but we need to change how we do what we do and how we charge for it.

In other words, blow the whole fucking thing up.

Sure, the industry can continue to make money doing what it’s doing, but whether it will be able to claim it is ‘creative’ is another thing altogether … and then we’ll be in an even worse situation.

I hate to say it, but we talk big but the reality is we often think quite small.

Worse, when we talk big, it’s often in terms of ‘ad’ ideas rather than ideas.

I still passionately believe ‘Square’ should have come from an agency. Or a bank.

Let’s face it, the situation it was addressing – small business finds cash flow difficult – was hardly some astounding revelation. But we didn’t, because it’s easier – and cheaper – to say we care rather than develop stuff that shows it … and then use communication to amplify our solution to the masses.

[I also acknowledge it could be because clients often don’t give us the chance to explore these possibilities, so it ends up being a chicken and egg situation]

For me, a great start for change would be if we got back to embracing broad, rather than narrow.

Open ourselves up to new thinking … change how we work … question our processes and systems … give people the time, support and encouragement to try stuff. Really try stuff. Not send them to some 2-day workshop but push them to push themselves. Help them invest in their own development and let them know they have a place where they are allowed to really try stuff. And fail.

I would personally stop our obsession with award entries and allocate some of that time – and resources – to developing mini businesses. Or new [commercially minded] products. Or anything that shows the best of our creative thinking, rather than the laziest.

Stuff that could generate awareness and prestige because they’re not focused just on the bubble of advertising, but culture.

I’ve always said that our biggest problem is thinking other agencies are our competitor.

They’re not.

We might not like to admit it, but Google, HBO and Facebook [to name a few] have impacted and influenced culture far more than we have.

We’ve absolutely helped with their success, but they’ve been the instigators of it … but it doesn’t have to be that way. Hell, it wasn’t always that way.

“But Rob …”, I hear you say, “… we’ve lost our seat at the boardroom table”.

Yes … but that’s not just because of clients, it’s also because of us.

The fact is we’ve often been more interested in talking about what we’re interested in doing, rather than what the client is interested in achieving – and while we’ve all started talking more openly about the need to impact business – this has seemingly resulted in some agencies behaving in a way that’s made them indistinguishable from the clients they represent.

Some think this is a good idea – that it helps clients take us seriously – but for me, I’ve always found the best clients like ‘intelligent outsiders’, because we offer them something they don’t already know, something they don’t already have, something that can fundamentally help their business in ways they never imagined.

As the CCO said, things won’t change overnight and I am certainly not suggesting the industry should blindly try and attract ‘young creatives’ to like us – there’s a lot of stuff we’re great at that people will find important and valuable to know and learn – however I feel if we change our attitude and process towards what creativity is, it will start to point our industry us in a new direction … a place where the sun hasn’t already set … a place that young creative talent [in the broad sense of the word] will want to explore and learn from.

A place that is infectious again.

Then it’s up to us.

Just like changing the remuneration system.

_________________________________________________________________________________

I know … I know … but I told you yesterday these were going to be long posts.

Now I am in no way suggesting I have all the answers and I know the CCO isn’t either.

I also know there’s issues, as I touched on, like pay and working conditions that are also having a negative influence on attracting talent.

But what do you think?

What could work? What are we doing wrong?

Do you feel their view is more on the money or mine. Or neither of us.

Is anyone getting it right?

I don’t just mean attracting young talent, but actually doing something interesting and commercially valuable with them?

I’d love to hear your point of view, especially if you’re young and in advertising or young and anti-advertising, though I accept you probably haven’t even got to this point of the post because you fell asleep ages ago.

Bugger.