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


It’s Nice To Be Hated …

A few weeks ago, I woke up to the photo above appearing on my phone.

The 2 people are both ex-planners of mine from Wieden and I admit it was nice to see them.

Then I realised they were never at Wieden at the same time – and even though they’re now both bigwigs at Apple – I suspect there reasons for getting together [and making sure I knew about it] was more to talk shit about me than to discuss the launch for the next iPhone.

Eitherway, I’m as proud as fuck about them and for them … and not just because I’m hoping for freebies.

As I’ve said many times before, I believe the role of a boss is to help develop your people so when they leave, they get a better job than they could ever of hoped for.

Of course, they have to do all the hard work.

They have to want to see where their potential could take them.

But by pushing them, developing them, giving them opportunities to grow and just overall helping them believe in their talent and where it could take them beyond where they currently are, you have a chance to play a small role in creating their future.

And that’s why, seeing David and Rodi lead Apple strategically across the entire Asia region [and for some perspective, just the iPhone business in China is bigger than the entire NIKE company worldwide] makes me so happy.

Not for what I did for them.

But what they did for themselves.

Now please give me the new iPhone or I’ll ask Baz to fire you.

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That Friday Feeling That Lasts A Whole Week …

So next week, I’ll be in Hong Kong.

For the whole week.

Yes, that means absolutely no posts whatsoever for the next week.

But to make sure you don’t get too happy, I’m going to leave you with one final post.

This is about the importance of mistakes.

Now I appreciate the word ‘mistake’ is often viewed as a negative, but I have a very different perspective on them.

Mistakes create standards.

Mistakes open opportunities.

Mistakes reveal who we can be.

OK, so depending on the mistake, some people may feel very differently about the positive effects of them, but in my experience big, small, life-changing or just momentarily ridiculous … they all have a benefit as long as you go into them and come out of them with the right attitude.

In short, if you’re making mistakes for any other reason than trying to do something great, you’re wasting everyones time and effort.

Making mistakes out of laziness or stupidity doesn’t help anybody, especially yourself. But doing it because you went for awesome … had a desire to push boundaries … wanted to see what other possibilities are possible … then each one of those mistakes should be celebrated and embraced by all.

Unless, of course, you’re just doing things for personal and selfish reasons then you’re a bit of a dick.

But that aside, this attitude is especially important in relation to being able to come out of your mistake with dignity and sanity intact.

Dignity and sanity are big words.

You can’t bullshit those.

For me, the only way you can walk out with either is if you went go your mistake with a clear reason for doing it and come out with a real learning from having done it.

That’s it.

And while others may never understand your reasoning, if you are clear on your motivations going in and your learnings coming out, then what others may call a ‘mistake’ may be one of the most important and valuable things you can ever do … something that has the power and potential to change, shape, reveal and create every new path you take from here on in.

Dan Wieden used to call this ‘fail harder’, he was right because whatever anyone says, mistakes matter.

See you in a week …



Rob Channels Jerry Maguire …

So a while back, someone asked me what I thought made a ‘good planner’.

To be honest, all I really remember is that they caught me on a bad day and so I kind of went on an all-out rant.

By pure chance I recently came across my reply and while I definitely sound a bit of a mentalist – not to mention I miss out talking about a whole bunch of stuff I believe is super-important, like empathy – there was a lot in there that I felt had some value, if only to open a debate about what our discipline is supposed to do and what it can be.

So with that in mind, here I rant …

__________________________________________________________________________

Planning is one of the most overused terms in the industry these days.

Everyone is now a planner … except in truth, many are either ‘packagers’ – taking the clients info and packing it into easily digestible chunks – or media people who tell you where to put your work based entirely on numbers rather than any true audience understanding.

Now I am not saying those folks aren’t important, of course they are, but for me planning is about ignition to bigger opportunities and possibilities.

For me, a planner understands 3 fundamental things:

+ What the real business problem is.
+ Who the core audience is.
+ What the creative opportunity is.

Those 3 things form the foundation of making things … things that don’t just solve the problem, but help the client have a sustainable position in culture that ultimately makes their marketing work harder for them.

Great planners care about creativity rather than advertising.

Care more about authenticity of a brand rather than marketing of a brand.

Want to uncover why people do stuff rather than just what they do.

It’s not about convenient answers, but ones that really understand the madness of how we all think and do and what we value and believe.

Of course when you’re spending billions of someone else’s money, the temptation to choose convenient, mass-acceptance answers is high and while that can get you results, breakthrough only comes when you resonate with culture rather than just try to be relevant to it.

The un-said.
The hard to explain.
The not easy to hear but it’s true.

It’s for this reason I always tell clients they shouldn’t focus purely on the methodology being used to uncover this stuff … but the person leading it, the people they’re talking to and the questions they are asking.

There’s a reason why a brand like NIKE is still at the top of its game after so long.

Sure, they have ups and downs along the way, but to still have that energy and pull 54 years after they were founded is remarkable.

Of course the biggest part of this is they make great products, have a focus on innovation, have incredible distribution and enjoy the benefits of their market power. But arguably, other companies can lay claim to doing this which is why I believe their ‘secret sauce’ is their commitment to the culture they believe in and are a part of. The culture of the athlete.

Everything they do goes through this lens.

Everything.

And that’s why their marketing doesn’t follow the usual strategic approaches of looking for ‘white space’ or ‘getting to as broad an audience as possible’, but to have a deep connection to the lives and minds of the athlete so they can bring the lessons to life in the most inspirational, yet deeply authentic way possible.

This approach dictates everything, including how they choose and use their agency partners.

From a planning perspective, I know I placed far more value on someone who has a deep love of sport and creativity than anyone who could talk process or methodologies because for me – and NIKE and Wieden and every other agency on their roster – their job was to inspire great creatives to do something audacious for a client who fundamentally believes in the power of their brand voice and sport.

All this highlights 3 things.

1. Great planning comes from truly understanding the core audience.

2. Great work comes from knowing how to be useful to the creative team.

3. Great brands differentiate themselves by their authenticity and distinctiveness.

I’ve written a lot about differentiation.

While the goal should always be to ensure your clients stands out from their competitors, if the approach is to ‘own’ a position that hasn’t been taken, then ultimately you’re letting your competitors dictate your future rather than deciding it for yourself.

For me, great brands embrace their truth in fresh and exciting ways.

They attract culture rather than chase it because they are the culture, not observers of it.

It means they are always moving forward rather than remaining stagnant.

It means they’re always relevant rather than fighting for it.

Planners play an important part in this.

But only if they remember the work is the key, not the ego.



A Year Is A Long Time In America …

So today marks a year of being in America.

Or said another way, a year away from China.

It’s been a very interesting time for me … with a bunch of ups and downs.

Ups … in terms of the lifestyle my family get to enjoy and the people I now get to call colleagues and friends.

Downs … in terms of the state America is in and the way America is behaving.

Not just as a nation, but in the beliefs and habits that have infiltrated the working environment for so many people.

But all that aside, I still feel a deep sense of privilege that I get to have this experience.

The fact I’ve been able to live in different countries, experience different cultures and make a decent living out of it is something I will always be massively grateful for.

Of course part of this is because I’m white and male … and while I can’t change that, I can try and make sure those opportunities are available to those who aren’t either of those things.

Which has been one of the best things about being in America.

The massive wake-up call I had to the realities other people face.

Of course I wasn’t blind to it, I have seen it – and reacted against it – in every country I’ve lived, but the things I’ve seen and experienced in my short-time in America has been both confronting and enlightening.

Seeing how so much of white America deals with issues relating to African American and Latino rights – even when they’re in support of racial equality – proved to me that just saying stuff ends up being nothing more than compliance with established rules and behaviors.

It shames me to admit that it took me some time to realise that, but it’s absolutely true which is why I’ll always be grateful to colleagues like Maya, Chelsea and Bree for taking me to this point and place.

In all honesty, I don’t know how long we will be in the US.

It could be a year, it could be years … I’ve never gone to countries with a ‘time plan’ … but what I can say is the experience has been quite profound for me. OK, not in the way China was – in fact I still feel more Chinese than Western in many ways – but in terms of helping remind me who I am, what I value and what I am capable of doing or being.

You see, when I was in China, I heard murmurings that some people only saw me as someone for the Asia market.

While I absolutely love/d that part of the World and enjoyed having to relearn everything I thought I knew, I found that rumour annoying given I’d worked in a bunch of markets prior to China and in my role at Wieden, had worked with global clients for global markets all the time.

But rumours have a way of slowly getting into your head and while I do not deny there has been a bunch of stuff I’ve found weird/strange/annoying and plain fucked-up about working in America, seeing my department embrace their voice, their opinions and their beliefs and turn that into ideas, points of view and creativity that has made some people feel very uncomfortable has truly put a smile on my face.

That doesn’t mean I feel we are anyway done – far from it – but seeing change and, from my perspective, growth has been hugely rewarding.

Of course there’s no magic formula to it …

From a personal perspective it’s about being open to what you don’t know and having the willingness and curiosity to keep learning and improving. From the departments perspective, it’s just setting a direction, defining the standards we are all going to live up to and then giving everyone the time, space and backing to explore, fuck up and be vulnerable, which is why in the journey to this point – which includes the choices and decisions I’ve had to make to deal with the situations and circumstances I’ve come to face – it’s acted as a really valuable reminder of who I am, what I believe and what I still want to achieve.

So thank you America.

For what you have done for me and what you have done for my family.

I don’t know if I’ll ever love you like I love some of the other countries I’ve lived in, but if you sort out the shit you don’t want to talk about, then you’ll truly be an incredibly special place. And even though I don’t think that can ever happen – at least to the extent it needs to happen – I’ll forever be grateful for the experience you’ve given us living here … even if you’re giving my son an American twang.



A Year In A Blink …

So today is a year since I left Wieden and – in 6 days – Shanghai.

That’s incredible.

In some ways it seems it was just a few weeks and in other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago.

While it was absolutely time to start a new adventure – something LA and Deutsch have kindly given me – I still miss China and Wieden very much because I had 7 years of brilliant things happen in my life [such as this] and career [such as this and this] there … though I have it on good authority this sentimentality is only one way, mainly because those stickers I left behind are still being discovered.

And they will for many more years to come.

Cue: Evil laugh.



Age Is Attitude …

I’m old.

In fact by adland rules, I’m a bloody dinosaur.

That’s not because I’m switched off to contemporary culture – quite the opposite – but because the industry is ageist to the core.

The reality is anyone at my age tends to face an interesting dilemma in terms of how they are perceived …

Be old but think young and the industry sees you as a try-hard.

Be old and act old and the industry sees you as past-it.

Both things are wrong of course and it’s one of the reasons I always loved Wieden because they valued creativity rather than devaluing age. Of course, you have to keep the flow of new, exciting, dangerous talent coming into the place … but in my experience, when people have an open mind, the young learn from the old and vice versa and the end result is something even more potent than it would have otherwise been.

But maybe that’s just me trying to post rationalise my value.

The thing is, as I get older, I don’t want to subscribe to the ‘life’ I am supposed to have.

That doesn’t mean I aspire to living a long-term midlife crisis any more than I want to spend my time gardening, drinking wine or playing golf … if people want to do that, that’s fine, but I want to indulge in the things that continue to fascinate, intrigue and challenge me.

I wrote about this once before, but the best and worst thing about growing older is that you are continually discovering things you want to explore – in fact, the more you explore, the more you discover additional things you want to explore – but underpinning all this is the unshakable knowledge the time you have to do it is more limited than ever and so there will be paths that will be unexplored.

That’s quite the mindfuck.

Years ago a man I met said, “you know you’re getting old when you can’t feasibly double your age”.

At the time I remember laughing but now I’m in that situation, it’s confronting.

I have so much I want to do. See. Try. Explore.

Then there’s the things like seeing my son forge his own path.

While spending more time with my beloved wife.

More memories. Less dreams.

The idea that time is getting shorter can really fuck you up.

And that’s why for me, it’s about trying to ensure my family life a life of fulfillment.

I don’t want to subscribe to irrelevance.

Sure, one day I might be regarded as that for companies, but this is not about them – but me.

My Mum always had a desire live at the speed of contemporary culture.

She didn’t want to feel she was left behind.

That didn’t mean she did things she didn’t want to do, but she also didn’t want to live in a bubble where her context for life was far removed from the realities of life so she was open to the new and actively explored it … not in the bullshit way advertising portrays it, but in her interest in culture, from comedians and artists to music and politics.

That’s an amazing lesson to be taught – one I wholly subscribe to – which is why I think the industry is missing the point when it labels people over 40 as over-the hill. For me, rather than judge individuals by their physical; age, they should judge them by what they bring … what they challenge … what they change … because it’s the one’s who refuse to be labelled who can make exciting things happen.



The Beauty Of Madness …

Last week, Nike dropped an ad.

A 3+ minute ad.

THREE MINUTES, ARE THEY MAD?

Well yes they are because it’s the most magical 3+ minute ad you will see in a long, long time.

I know you might say I’m biased because [1] it’s Nike [2] it’s by Wieden and [3] my beloved ex-collegue, Paula Bloodworth, worked on it … but I’m not saying it for those reasons, I’m saying it because it’s sheer gloriousness.

Sport.
Culture.
Authenticity.
Eccentricity.
London.

You watch it and you are sucked in. You’re smiling, laughing, nodding, relating.

Whether it’s how outsiders see different parts of London to the madness some young athletes have to go through to be noticed.

There’s so much to love about it … though I have to say my favorite parts are definitely the female footballer, the ice-hockey player and the guy at the end on the bike who swipes the ball away.

Brilliant casting, writing, everything.

An ad that shows how great advertising can be when it’s injected with madness, authenticity and originality. Not to mention fun. Not in terms of what the ad is – though it’s full of that – but in terms of feeling how much fun everyone had making it.

An ad that not only shows the elasticity of NIKE’s brand voice, but their ability to be culturally authentic while staying true to who the brand actually is.

Right there is why Wieden is so fucking good.

It’s not just that they’ve made an ad people around the World will love – even if they won’t understand it all – it’s that they’ve made an ad that people in London will truly get.

An ad that is for them.

About them.

Bursting with all the swagger, humour and contrast that makes that city what it is.

I’m sure they knew they had something special at the very beginning but when it started actually coming together, they must have got super excited.

And nervous.

I remember going through all those emotions when we were creating Blackcurrant Tango.

But as I’ve said before, the best feeling in adland is when you think a piece of your work is going to be either amazing or a disaster

Nothing in-between.

Because it means whatever happens, it’s going to make a statement.

And this ad does.

Without doubt it is my favorite NIKE spot in a while [acknowledging a huge amount of them of late have been extra good] and I’m so happy for all my friends who were a part of it.

In fact the only thing wrong is when they say ‘Nothing Beats A Londoner’ when we all know a Nottinghamer can.

Ahem.