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.



Home Away From Home …

So I’m back.

I survived and no one died.

I have to say that while I love China, Beijing is not my favourite place in the World.

It’s also one of the most user-unfriendly … with everything located miles apart and the heat being utterly oppressive.

But that country still has my heart.

Every time I go there, I leave with an ache.

It will forever be a very special place to me.

Not just because Otis was born there.

Or that – in some ways – it changed my career forever.

Or my wife found a group of people that gave her a greater sense of community than she’d had in decades.

Nor even the fact I was there at one of the pivotal times in its modern history.

It’s just because in all the crazy of the country, I felt I found my spiritual home.

I appreciate that sounds mental.

Even my Chinese friends can’t work out why I love it so much.

But I do.

The people are warm, fascinating and interesting.

The culture is rich with history, modernity, complexity and beauty.

The hunger and ambition is unparalleled with anywhere I’ve been to prior or since.

I love the sense of connection and isolation that China makes me feel about myself.

That sense of returning to a place I truly felt was home for 7 wonderful years while also realizing that period might as well have been 10,000 years ago given how quick the country has changed.

And while I acknowledge there are some very questionable decisions being made by the leaders right now – decisions that undermine the potential of millions – the people within the country have been nothing but kind and compassionate to me and my family and for that, they will always have my heart.

Wherever my family are will always be the definition of home for me.

But China is the one place where that rule has some flexibility in it.

Which is the greatest compliment I could ever give a country, though if I still dislike Beijing.



Chapters Help Us Move Forward. Books Change Our Direction.

I left Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai 2 years ago this month.

I have very special memories of my time there and these two people – Leon and Carina [both circled in the photo above, which was a gift from my planning team when I left W+K, even though they forgot to put Debi in there] – played a big part in that.

Sure they were pains in the ass and opinionated as all fuck [though Carina did it in a much nicer way than Leon ever could] but it was – and still is – an honour to be able to say they were on “our team”.

Now – by pure coincidence – they’re both moving onto their next adventure and that will mean there will be no more of my mob infecting the place [though I did find Chris, even if he got away with never having to work with me] so I just want to say thank you to them for all they did for me, the team and – most importantly – the work.

Their loss is a big one for everyone but no one could be anything but excited and happy for the bigger and better things they’re about to do.

So to Leon and Carina, go have a shitload of fun … but please make sure you hide stickers throughout the office before you leave.



The Most Selfish Generation In History …

Hello … I’m back.

It was amazing.

OK, it was more for being with the family than the physical place … but that’s because I’m not a ‘stay-down-on-the-farm’ kind of person, though I appreciate some of you may suggest it’s more because I’m not a ‘pay-for-my-own-holidays’ kind of person.

Pah.

Anyway, I wanted to return with a post that matters a lot to me.

To be honest, all of them matter to me … but as of late, I’ve been writing stuff that matters more than most.

Things like female leadership, prejudice and when work tries to kill you

Well, while this isn’t connected to the industry I work in, it is about an issue very dear to me.

Living overseas is one of the greatest privileges you can have.

Sure, there are things you give up and miss – but what you gain more than compensates for it.

Case in point. I recently had dinner with Rodi and David in San Francisco.

The photo from the evening is at the top of this post.

None of us live here. None of us work here. None of us are from here.

In fact all of us live in totally different countries and come from different parts of the world.

Rodi is Australian/Ukrainian, David is Taiwanese and I’m British/Italian.

To make matters even more random, we all met in China.

Yet despite having all moved on from our time at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai, we remain connected … not because of the company we worked at, but because of the generosity of the country we experienced.

This dinner represents what England has voted entire generations never to have.

It’s an act of utter selfishness.

Utter, utter selfishness.

So many in society like to bestow that label on the youth of the UK, but it’s not them.

It’s the Daily Mail reading, over 55’s who have enjoyed good fortune in their life but don’t want anyone else to have it. Who don’t want anyone else to evolve and grow because they don’t want to be left behind and feel less important.

Selfish, egotistical, bigoted and blinkered pricks.

The reality is my ability to live around the World has made my life unquestionably bigger, better and fuller.

Almost everything I have and treasure is because of my life outside of England.

That is not in any way meant to say life in England is bad – far from it – but anyone who thinks there is greater value staying isolated versus expanding the possibilities of life through adventures, experiences and friends that exist beyond the borders of our shores has either never done it or is frightened of it.

May I have dinners with friends in countries none of us come from for many years to come.



April Fools Day …

Today is a great day.

Not just because it’s a day where mischief is actively celebrated, but because throughout history, there have been a number of great things that happened on this day.

For example today is the day Dan Wieden and David Kennedy officially opened W+K.

Yep, the best communication agency in history opened on this day, which means April 1 should be a day we’re all thankful for.

Then there’s the rumour that BBH started on the same day, but having heard about some Portland ad agency starting on the same day, they decided to say theirs started on the 2nd.

Again, BBH are one of the World’s best which is another reason why we should all be thanking the calendar gods for this day.

And remember, when I say ‘best’ … I don’t mean it in the past tense. Both Wieden and BBH’s brilliance is, as I wrote here, that they have been setting standards for over 30 years. Given we’re an industry that seems to celebrate ‘hype today, gone tomorrow’, that is definitely a reason to celebrate April 1st.

But it’s not all ad agency starting … there’s the fact that today is the day I wrote one of my favourite blog posts.

The one about method planning.

The one lots of planners and industry media seemed to think was real, which not only made me very, very happy … it also proved they don’t read all the way through my posts because I admitted it’s fakeness in the very last line.

So let’s acknowledge that April 1 is epic … but the reason to celebrate it today is because it’s the day the brilliant – but evil – Amelia, launches WorldWideWeird, a compendium of where culture, tech and creativity come together in the most beautifully mad ways.

There’s a bunch of reasons for this.

One is because it’s awesome.

Another is because there’s stuff going on in the shadows that deserves a much bigger audience.

But thirdly, it’s because too many agencies still fail to understand technology is a tool of creativity and in the right hands, it allows creativity to be expressed and wielded in ways traditional creativity could only dream of.

This is certainly not meant to discredit the traditional craft of communication – of course not, that can be utterly amazing in the right hands – but the reality is there are incredible possibilities when creativity is allowed to thrive outside the usual boundaries of adland and we want to celebrate those doing it … regardless of the scale, regardless if it fails and regardless if they’re just doing it for themselves.

WorldWideWeird will come out every month, but there’s an instagram that will be updated more regularly with any weird and wonderful that catches our eye … and as Amelia is the editor of it, rather than me, you can be sure it will actually be worth reading.

I’m excited what this could do … because my hope is it won’t be just be a place where people go for dinner party fodder, but a place that both inspires and scares people to get off their arses and start pushing the boundaries of what creativity can be … because frankly, as much as I love a lot of the stuff we as an industry put out there, I get quite annoyed when agencies are credited for innovation when all they’ve really done is slightly adjust the way they make the thing they’ve always made.

Sure, there is an argument that is innovative but for me, innovation is when you do something fundamentally different … try something utterly new … fail while attempting to do something groundbreaking … and I for one would like the industry to be more associated with that than simply reframing tradition with fancy PR.

That said, today is the end of my probation period at R/GA … so depending on how my review goes, World Wide Weird might be my swansong and Amelia’s platform for even greater glory.

You can subscribe to World Wide Weird here.

Our instagram can be found here.



How America Changed Me For The Better …

While I wasn’t in America for long, 4 female, people of colour changed my life forever.

Given how old I am, that’s a pretty big statement and yet it is entirely true.

Mind you, it’s my age – or more specifically, the fact I’m at a level where I have some sort of influence in the industry – that is driving real change in terms of what I hold up as goals I want to hit in the time I have left in adland.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have a ridiculous level of enthusiasm and excitement for helping make great creative work … and I still want to help my team create one of the most interesting planning departments in the industry [based on what we create and how we did it] but I also want to make time for what I passionately believe will help the industry be better … of which one of those things is driving diversity in leadership.

Look, I know I don’t take too many things seriously, but this podcast interview with an HR organisation [I know, HR, but it is part of Niko’s brilliant Gap Jumpers group!!!] is one of the proudest things I’ve ever done.

Not for what I say, but because who helped me think this way.

Of which those 4 female, people of colour in America that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, are some of the most important ones.

Which is why I hope all the women I refer to in the podcast feel I honour the generosity, compassion, friendship and trust they showed towards me, because I am forever grateful to them for who they helped me become.

You can listen to it here.



Erection By Post …

So I recently saw this ad in the tube.

To be fair, it caught my eye more than most tube ads but there’s something about it that just doesn’t feel right.

To be honest, I’m not really sure what it is.

Maybe it’s that they are advertising viagra on a transportation device that is long and hard?

OK, it’s not that.

Maybe it’s the fact they call it Viagra Connect?

It’s not that, but it doesn’t feel right either.

Oh I know, it’s the fact the company website is GetEddie.com

This bothers me for a bunch of reasons.

One of them is that asking a bloke called Eddie for erection help feels very, very dirty.

Alright, that might just be me, but it just feels very under the counter when the whole premise of the ad is that it’s not something to be shy or scared of.

But more than that, it’s the website that really makes me uncomfortable.

You see while I am sure GetEddie is meant to be a play on ‘Get Ready’, it also feels like it’s trying to imply ‘get head’, which just seems pathetic to the core.

However – and it’s a big however – I appreciate this view may say more about me than the people behind Eddie, because lets not forget the time I thought an Old Spice campaign we did at Wieden – called Smellcome to Manhood – was a play on words about teenage boys experiencing puberty, when in fant it was literally just a pun on the word ‘Welcome’.

The creative team avoided me like the plague after that, which is a shame, as it was one of my favorite Old Spice campaigns.