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

Rules Of Rubin …

A while back, I wrote a post about Rick Rubin and his brilliance at making the complex, simple.

I talked about how this was in diametrically opposed to the way many agencies and consultancies operate.

But – to really ram home the difference – Rick isn’t simply a master of simplification, he uses it to unlock the creative potential and authenticity of the people he works with.

He has helped more artists attain a highly desirable, distinctive and definitive role in culture than probably all the agencies and consultancies put together.

That’s not to say agencies and consultancies can’t do that or haven’t done that, but the ones who have done it well … the ones who have ignited fandom rather than just participation … is very, very small.

Anyway, that post – and a subsequent project with the Chili’s – took me down a Rick Rubin rabbit hole and over the weeks, I’ve posted his quotes with what my interpretation of what it means for the ad industry.

The work.
The environment.
The clients.

The more I spend going down the Rick rabbit hole, the more it feels his viewpoint encapsulates all the different things I’ve learnt, seen or experienced from others. Where every single element is built around one, simple goal.

To make the best work you could imagine.

We all have a role to play in achieving this.

It’s more than just down to the talent who actually creates the final work. It’s the people, the environment and the paymasters who all play an integral role to achieving that goal.

So for the next couple of weeks, I’m just going to talk about some of the Rules Of Rick … because if you’re going to learn the rules of creativity from anyone, then the person who has helped the most diverse group of artists and musicians become culturally and commercially successful is probably the one you want to hear it from.

They start tomorrow.

Peak Career …

I know I’ve only been at Colenso a few days.

I know I’ve had a career full of a variety of highs.

But recently, I achieved something that will never be surpassed.

You see I was asked by a music management team to put a ‘credentials’ together for another band they may want me to work with.

To help with that, I asked if they would be able to send me something that described how working with me was.

I got this.

Not just a brilliant statement. [Ignoring it’s an insult]

But signed.



Best credentials slide. Ever. Fact.

Though what is slightly worrying is I’ve been called an “asshole” by Richard Branson and Dan Wieden. Mind you, if I can get them to do the same thing for me, I will probably win – or be banned – from every piece of business forever.

Happy weekend … it’s been a hell of a great week.

Codify Is The Posh Word For Copying …

There are some marketing terminologies that make my blood pressure pop.

One of them is ‘codify’.


A word that implies we’ve used cutting edge science, space-age technology and Einstein intellect to explore, understand and articulate the rules of the impossible and the unexplained.

But actually all we’re talking about is looking at how some pretty blatantly obvious stuff has worked.

Hell, if you spend 2 minutes online, you’ll find most of it explained by the very people who did it in the first place.

But there we go, throwing out ego-enhancing words with our smug smiles as if we are the masters of the universe … a bastard love child of Steve Jobs and Elon Musk … when really we’re a bunch of human photocopiers who go into meltdown when the Wi-Fi goes down.

I get we’re in marketing.

I get we need to show our value to business.

But apart from the fact that means pushing brands forwards rather than copying what others are doing, the only people we end up fooling with this sort of bullshit are the sort of people we shouldn’t want to be working with in the first place.

Seriously, codify is as much as a cry for validation and acceptance as when WeWork kept claiming they were a tech company.

I get from a marketing perspective that there can occasionally be some real value in this, but as one of my mentors recently said to me – who is an individual with an incredible track record in business – if you want to make a difference to a company, make a difference to them.

Having An Opinion Doesn’t Make You An Expert …

So I survived and no one died. Yet.

Yesterday was wonderful.

Everyone was so nice to me, which means they don’t really know me.

Anyway, while I’ll be talking a lot about Colenso and New Zealand in the future, today I want to talk about something else.

A while back, the amazing Martin Weigel wrote an absolutely brilliant post about the importance of language in strategy.

Except it wasn’t just about the language you use in your work, but how you use it.

How you ensure you are writing a strategy that has colour, movement, clarity and provocation.

I’m doing it a disservice as it is basically a masterclass – as all Mr Martin’s brilliant posts are – on how to write strategy, with the end result being you not only have a greater understanding for how to do it, but a greater respect for doing it.

The craft.

The consideration.

The way to take people to a place they can see and feel and want to fuck with.

However, as brilliant as it is, I’ve heard some say, “it’s all obvious”.

And while there is an argument for that – because what Martin says isn’t a revolution on how to approach strategy, simply a focus on how to do it well – the reality is there’s a big difference between knowing the theory and actually doing it.

Which leads to my issue.

Our industry is filled with planners who talk about how to make world class creativity, but have never made any.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to talk about it, but it does mean they don’t have a right to act like experts about it.

But they do.

And while I am not suggesting these people aren’t good at many other things and ‘world class creativity’ is about as subjective as you can get … in the area of actual making work that has defined brands in culture, I think if you looked at the reel Mr Weigel can put forward, it would be better than most agencies could present.

But here’s the thing …

World Class creativity isn’t specifically about work that has run across the globe.

Nor is it about work that is for a global brand … though, it should be noted, he has done this and done it brilliantly which is often far harder to achieve than work for a smaller client with far less politics.

It is simply about the actual work.

Not the theory of it.

The actual work and how it changed the way culture looked at the brand and how the brands fortune changed because of it.

Not one or the other.


That he has done this at the highest level and – arguably – on the most consistent level of any planner on the planet, means people who are looking to belittle it because ‘it’s obvious’ or because ‘he works at Wieden+Kennedy’ are idiots.

Maybe you can get to this level because of luck – especially if you’re male and white – but you definitely can’t stay there because of it.

Especially at Wieden.

What this piece of brilliance Martin gave us was an act of generosity.

Something designed to help the individual be better so that the overall work can be better.

Making work that fights indifference.

Making work that has a point of view.

Making work that we can all be proud of making.

So to all those who truly care about the work, follow the people who actually make it at the highest standards, because anything is easy for the person who never has done it.

Hello Colenso …

So this is it.

First day at school. Again.

In another new country. Again.

It’s always a weird feeling starting a new job. A mixture of excitement and nerves.

Excitement for the possibilities that lie ahead and nerves that you don’t really know what the hell actually lies ahead.

Most of this is because you are not you when you begin a new job.

You’re in this weird place where you want to throw yourself in the mix as quickly as possible – both to start feeling settled and to show your value to your new colleagues – while at the same time, knowing you have to learn a whole new set of people, protocols and situations while navigating the judging eyes that are going to follow you around for weeks.

But I have to say I am particularly excited about this.

I’ve loved Colenso from afar for a long time.

And as I wrote a while back, I almost joined them 6 years ago and always regretted it didn’t work out [simply because my head was not in the right place after Mum died] … so to be given this chance again is something else.

But the main thing is how they have acted towards me before I joined.

Lots of companies talk a good game when they’re trying to hire you and then – the moment it’s all signed and sealed – turn into demanding, inconsiderate pricks.

While it has only happened to me once, it fucks with your mind.

You doubt your judgement.

You question your decisions.

It’s pretty debilitating.

And yet, while it has been almost 8 months since we agreed to get married, Colenso have been amazing in how they have dealt with me.

One of the big things is how steadfast they’ve been not involving me in stuff till I’m here.

Of course they checked in … but they never gave me work to do, because they didn’t want our first experience working together to be one where I’m the only person on Zoom and 13 hours behind the rest of the team.

And while I would not have minded, I totally get why they wanted that to be the way.

That said, I did want to use the time to get to know the team and I basically had to beg to get that to happen.

Of course it’s not the best way to build any sort of understanding, rapport and relationship with people – so rather than talk about work, we tended to chat about what’s happening in our lives and how we feel about it – which took away any formality and allowed us to start revealing the different sides of each other.

And while I can’t wait to get to know them properly from here on in, I’m happy we have got to a stage where they feel comfortable enough to already call me a range of ‘choice’ names … which means I’ve just saved a week on my typical timings, ha.

While the past 13 months have been a very special time for me both personally [spending so much time with my wonderful family in our new home] and professionally [working with amazing people doing work I never dreamed I would be a part of] I am utterly thrilled to be starting here today.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it won’t all be rainbows and unicorns.

I’m old enough to know there will be plenty of times full of pain, drama, arguing and asshole challenges … but when you work for a place that only has its eye on the work they create, it means everything works out in the end.

For all the tension, scars, arguments and bloody hard fucking work it takes for creativity to be at its sharpest and most dangerous – at least a lot of the time, but not all of the time – once you’ve got it there and let it out into the world, it’s amazing how all the tension, scars and arguing fade away.

Better yet, it’s replaced with excitement, energy and possibility.

OK, and nerves, but even that is in an excited way.

Now I accept this might all sound like bullshit, but it isn’t

I lived it at HHCL, Cynic and Wieden.

It’s why it’s the founding principal behind Uncorporated.

It’s why places like Uncommon, are attracting the biggest names rather than chasing them.

And it’s why a small agency on the other side of the World has consistently played against the very best in the World.

The key word here is consistently.

Not one offs.

Not once upon a time, a long time ago.

I mean doing it day in and day out.

Finding new ways to do old things.

Looking for opportunities where creativity can change outcomes.

Embracing technology to expand the possibilities of creativity rather than just efficiency.

Staying on the path even when you could take short-cuts or potentially crash and burn.

Because in an industry that is increasingly defining success outside of the work they make and the cultural impact it creates, it’s those who let the creativity do the talking who create and attract the most interesting futures.

Not just for themselves. But for clients and culture alike.

So thank you to everyone who helped me get to this place in my career.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me actually get to New Zealand.

And thank you to Colenso for your stupidity in giving me this opportunity.

I will be eternally grateful, even if my new planning gang won’t be.

Right, time for the oldest ‘new boy’ to go cause some chaos.

Have a great day, I know I will.