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

Knowledge Through Entertainment …
July 27, 2007, 7:20 am
Filed under: Comment

One of the things that I think is missing from a lot of planning/planners is ‘shock and awe’.

That doesn’t mean going into a load of self-indulgent, over-the-top wank … nor is an excuse to not rigorously follow the fundamentals of good, solid planning … it’s more about their approach, ingenuity and exploration.

As much as it is easy to blame clients for the mediocrity that inhabits our lives, I also think planners in particular, have to shoulder a large part of the responsibility.

Lets face it, our job is to help clients connect with society – so if the end product is a heaving pile of poo, then someone somewhere has to accept they’ve not been able to demonstrate why the more pragmatic approach would have made more business sense.

One of the things I/we do is what we call ‘HIGHER POWER ADVOCACY’ …

What we accept is that some clients don’t trust a bunch of advertising people to know as much about their issues as someone who is an established expert in their particular industry … and while this may or may not be true … it is a situation we decided to accept rather than get continually frustrated by.

So the way we handle these situations is by this ‘Higher Power Advocacy’ thing …

Basically it works in 3 ways …

1 Find an accepted industry expert who is known for sharing the same sort of ‘philosophy/attitude/ideas’ as us

[As we did when we hired Business Guru, Geoff Burch, to pitch for the EGG business years back]

2 Find an accepted expert who works in an area related to the issue our client is facing 

[As we did when we got Lonely Planet involved in a US Government pitch to encourage more Americans to travel]

3 Find an accepted expert who works in an area related to the issue our client is facing 

[As we did when we invited a Mother with 8 children, a Vicar and a Record Company Exec to teach Dreamworks the many sides of ‘Entertainment’]

… and you know what, it works like a dream because not only does it stop the client from saying stuff like “… I just don’t think you really appreciate the intricacies of our issue” … but they walk away feeling impressed, enthralled, interested and assured because the people delivering it are people they respect rather than people they feel are trying to just make a dollar out of them.

Nuclear Explosion!

That’s what I mean about ‘shock and awe’ … taking clients on a journey they didn’t expect … think of … appreciate … and then bring it all back to demonstrate how your strategy IS addressing their fundamental business issue and why they MUST adopt a more pragmatic approach to the challenge.

[It also separates you from the other agencies who normally bang on about their proprietary tool’ – even though the end result tends to be unbelievably similar to every other fucker in the category]

Now I know what some of you are thinking – but how do you find these people and then how do you get them to help?

Well that’s what I am talking about interms of approach, ingenuity and exploration … there’s no standard approach, it’s just a mindset, an attitude, a desire [approach]… because if you look deeper and broader [exploration] at the issues you’re trying to overcome, more often than not the sort of areas or people [ingenuity] you need to help fight your battle will become apparent and then its just a case of ‘getting them on board’.

Now I am not saying this final bit is easy … far from it … but most people love the idea of being able to talk about themselves/ideas/views and more often than not, just asking for their opinion gets you in the door.

Sure, if you want them to pitch/present with you then you’re probably going to pay – but depending on the importance of the meeting, it could be more expensive NOT to do it.

The reason I bring this all up is that at the moment, I’m working on an iconic Aussie Beer Brand who have asked me to help them ‘change’ after almost FORTY YEARS of the same campaign.

Given it’s the most successful beer brand in the country, I’m under no illusion the temptation will be for them to ‘stay with what they know’ which is why I have enlisted the help of Candice Bushell – creator of Sex And The City – to help the ALL MALE board understand what women really think of alcohol swilling Aussie men … whether they’re supping an international label or a true-blue Aussie brew. 

“But hang on …” I hear you cry. ” … what does an American author know about Aussie blokes?

Well not much … but what she has been able to do is articulate the frustrations of the hundreds of Australian women we asked [from singles to mothers to marriage councillors to strippers] in a simple, interesting ‘soundbite’ that the clients will not only remember [which is more than can be said if we went through people’s individual comments] but appreciate comes from a person who can actually speak on behalf of the masses.

And how did we get her involved?

I sent her an email.

That’s it .. no payment … no promises … no lies … just a simple, nicely written email asking what she found frustrating about today’s image-aware guy.

Amazing what you can achieve if you mix politeness with a bit of cheekiness and a desire to ‘have a go’.

[In this example, I talked to the Editor of an Australian gossip mag who then gave me the email for Candice’s production company and the rest – as they say – is history]


Anyway, while I can’t go into how this all leads into our brand idea [but fingers crossed you’ll be able to see it in a few months] the thing I’d like to remind anyone who reads my blog is that you can’t develop an interesting and exciting idea if you only go where everyone else has been you can’t lay claim to having developed an interesting and exciting idea if you never actually got anyone to buy it.


Maybe … but do you want to be known as the person who HAD good ideas or the person who DID good ideas.

However while that demonstrates I have a very healthy ego [infact it’s the healthiest part of me, ha] I also appreciate how important it is to explore, involve and collaborate.

For me, the difference between clever and stupid is recognising how/when others can help you succeed – not in the sense of ‘using them’ – but by appreciating your own shortcomings and weaknesses.

I find it sad that many in advertising are now promoting ‘departmental exclusivity’ rather than encouraging and celebrating collaboration – both interms of how the agency operates and how planners learn about life.

If you take only one thing from this rant, I hope it’s that to make a difference you need to sell rather than just tell.  Good luck and have fun.

43 Comments so far
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This is a fantastic post Robert and I hope people out there who want to be in planning or want to be better a planner take note.

You grabbed the concept of “planning entertainment” (or “shock and awe” – I love that) before anyone and while Crispins use a lot of the techniques you developed, you guys still lead the way in turning the mental into perfectly logical arguments which clients can and do buy. To me the best example is what you did at the adidas pitch, I mean that’s legendary stuff and I don’t know if anyone else would ever of even thought of it, let alone done it.

One thing I feel I have to point out to anyone reading this is that Robert is one of the most diligent and rigorous planners I’ve ever known or worked with. He is not implying you can now let go of your basic planning fundamentals, he is suggesting that you go further than you’ve been before and then take on the responsibility of helping lead everyone by the hand to a more exciting and powerful territory.

As he is so keen to say, he looks like a thug but the bit he forgets to mention is that he thinks like a giant and presents like an entertainer.

Well done Rob, brilliant post and I know I sound like an Oscar winner. 🙂

Comment by Pete

Nice one Rob. I have to say when I read stuff like this, I’m reminded how glad I am that you are on my side.

Comment by George

yeah yeah but without me turning your drivel into magnificence, youre fucking nothing. remember that 🙂

Comment by andy@cynic

Don’t worry Andy we don’t and won’t forget, mainly because you never stop reminding us. 🙂

Comment by George


Comment by andy@cynic

Great post Rob. This post shows the importance of understanding clients just as well as consumers. If not, the “drivel turned into magnificance” will never see the light of day.

Comment by fredrik sarnblad

Rob blew my students away the last time he gave a talk like this in the classroom. He’s going to do an encore.

Comment by Mark

In the big picture, this is one of those landmark posts on this blog, awesome Rob.

ps. And (classicaly) Andy’s first comment was equally as good! haha!

Comment by Age

As much as I hate to say this Andy – but there’s more than a hint of truth in what you say. But then there’s a whole load of truth in what George said too, haha!

You are too kind Mark and I look forward to our next ‘abuse/brainwash/inspire’ the students session, ha! [Don’t worry – Fred and Hari will be with me and they’re much nicer people]

And Age … god bless you.

Comment by Rob

I’ve never written on your blog but have been reading it for a while. I just wanted to say this is one of the most interesting posts I’ve ever read and I do hope to see you present one day as I believe it would be truly inspirational to watch. Good luck with the Australian beer idea, it sounds very interesting and I love the way you get celebrities to endorse your strategies, truly innovative. Please keep up the excellent work.

Comment by Katrina Holmes

Great post!
I hope the idea works!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

One of those posts aspiring planners (and maybe even some planners like me) should read and re-read every now and then to remind us of what makes good planners great.

Oh and Andy, the “drivel turned into magnificence” is an art I am sorely missing recently. Can you please write a post on how to do that so I can get some of people to read it… please. I am sure Rob will be more than happy to host it here.

Comment by Hari

Reading this post, I’m reminded of the Saatchi brothers’ pitch for British Rail, where they turned the entire first floor into a simulated carriage, and kept the client waiting for HOURS, fobbing them off with excuses.

The client, naturally, got pissed off with waiting, was just about to leave, and then one of the brothers walks up, dressed as a conductor, and said ‘that’s what using your trains is like – we think we can help’.

They won the business. 😀

Btw, this is one of the finest blog posts you’ve written Rob. I’d also love to watch you present – hell, if it’s like this all the time, it’d be fantastic.

Comment by Will

This post is FRESH.

Comment by Charles Frith

It’s very nice people like what I have written and it’s very nice to have such nice comments and all that – but the purpose of this is to make things better [for us, clients, adland] not to feel appreciated [I’ve got used to being loathed, ha!]

And Andy, send me an email answering Hari comment and I’ll post it on here – see, you can have a blog where I look after all the passwords and logistics. Perfect for you … 🙂

PS: It wasn’t Saatchi’s who did the British Rail thing, it was an agency called Allen Brady & Marsh – but what you described is bang on.

Crispin’s did something a little similar when pitching for BK by simply making the office filthy with crap lying all over the place [like most agencies] and showed how a mop, bucket and dustbin can immediately turn a place from inhospitable to welcoming.

Not as pragmatic as the BR stunt – but based on addressing a real commercial issue from the consumers perspective.

Comment by Rob

Thats a great story Will, im surprised ive not heard that before!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

There you go Mr M, read it in all it’s 3rd-person-perspective-glory …–jon-steel–pitching-new-business.html

Comment by Rob


Comment by Rob Mortimer

Much better to have celebrities in the pitch than in the advertising.

Comment by John Dodds

Alternatively you could have emailed all your exes.

Comment by John Dodds

When I told Chiat’s I was leaving to join cynic they looked at me like I was a mad woman. I’ve just sent my old boss a link to this post with the heading “this will explain why”. Jemma x

Comment by Jemma King

Thanks Jemma … that means alot and I’m really quite touched. I think you’ll be having a great next review.

And John … yes I could … but given most of them were only in my imagination, I don’t know if the client would have accepted that as a credible view of the masses, ha!

Comment by Rob

These sort of posts get me far too excited about advertising.

Luckily I can try out all these more unusual ideas on briefs at uni, without fearing for my job if no one gets it 🙂

Comment by Dave Mortimer

Aww, thats sweet Jemma. Hope youll let us know what they say!

Oi Dave, you STILL havent told me what you want for your birthday!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Hello Dave, so you are a young student are you? Yum 😉

I don’t want to stop your young, vibrant, hot blooded enthusiasm for advertising, but the number of agencies that even think this way is small and the ones who actually practice it, smaller still.

Send me your details with a photo when you graduate and if you look good, maybe we can do business together. Jemmax

Comment by Jemma King

Happy birthday my dear David Jx

Comment by Jemma King

Jemma … don’t blow all your creeping by seducing the people on this blog. You know how jealous Billy, Bazza and probably Andy will be!

Comment by Rob

She is right, there arent many. Why do you think I keep pointing you to blogs of agencies and people that do!

And jeez, here 5 minutes and you get half a job offer…


Comment by Rob Mortimer

Using the lessons I have learnt from this post, I should probably send you a picture of David Schwimmer (I’ll admit, my knowledge of modern day heart throbs is probably lacking)

Comment by Dave Mortimer

Don’t get too excited about your ‘half job offer’ Dave … Andy would tell you that if I had my way, I’d be offering full job offers to everyone on this blog. Bar one bastard who just annoyed me.

Comment by Robert

The last sentence in my last post isn’t actually true … I just wanted to start some gossiping, ha

Comment by Robert

Its true. Still, if you opened a UK office with Marcus, Will, Dave, Lauren, me(!) etc… how great would that be!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Yes … but the question Ian [our Financial Director] would want to know is how profitable would it be too, haha!

I’m off now for the weekend – hope you all have a great one and speak soon – I have a lovely post for Monday, one that will see me assasinated, ha

Comment by Rob

With our combined talents?!
How could it not be!

Assasinated? Doesnt that imply a large amount of self importance!

As Chris Rock said, “Tupac and Biggie werent assasinated. Martin Luther King was assasinated, JFK was assasinated. Those guys just got shot”

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Good point Mr M.

Scrap assasination … I’m going to punched.


Comment by Rob

Allen Brady and Marsh – shit yeah, you are right. Damn fuzzy memory. I blame the ale.

But still – I like the notion of making pitching a proper event, rather than just a rushed, half arsed ‘presentation’ that would seem to happen often.

Comment by Will

Look at Jemma sucking up to the boss. Bitch! 🙂

Comment by Billy Whizz

Rob, I will be very interested to see the results of your pitch strategy, not because i don’t trust it, but because beer/alcohol brands in australia are some of the worst offenders when it comes to perpetuating the same old awful stereotypes.
and i’m sure you know this rob, but if you’re pitiching for the big F, tell them to stock their export brew at home and they’ll easily get an increase in both sales and loyalty.

Comment by lauren

Hi Lauren … don’t worry, I went into the meeting and said alcohol advertising in Australia is one of the worst culprits of sexist, gender-battling laddism I’ve ever seen – and while that doesn’t mean I’m going to make this brand all metrosexual friendly, it does mean I’m going to be cutting out the men versus women bollocks – especially as this brand [1] was never really about that except in recent years and [2] was an icon of Aussie values, not beer advertising values.

The reason I’ve focused so much of the research on women and the culture shift in society is that most actions by men are subliminally influenced – or to influence – a womans opinions on them … so if I can understand how females look at men who drink [as well as how the brand/occasion/time/location etc influences that opinion] then I can attack the issue head on and not just put this brand back where it deserves, but do it in a way that suddenly stops it being seen as a bogan brand – which will help guys who drink it, get laid [not literally, obviously] because women won’t think they’re the lowest form of scumlife.

I hope all will become clear when/if you see the work [or I can get them to buy the work] but the brand idea is a corker and I’m so hopeful we can do it because like ‘the big ad’, it’s not a typical alcohol advertising concept.

How are you by the way? All good lovely?

Comment by Rob

This post is good. I am back from holiday, which was better than this post.

Comment by Marcus Brown

hi rob, so pleased to read this and i’ll be interested to see how/what you do with this (which makes me slightly weird, given that i don’t drink alcomahol) and i’m so glad you’re encouraging them to step away from the shit positioning they’ve had for years! i’m hoping that includes the fact that loads of aussie girls drink beer too, are surprisingly discenrning and similarly uninterested in that old ad concept directed towards the boys.

and speaking of discerning beer drinkers – hi marcus!! welcome back dear.

[to answer your question rob, I’m OK..spinach install starts tomorrow, which is really exciting – i’ll take pics and post about it, i promise. retail is a pile of poo, but hey, forgeddaboudit..]

Comment by lauren

Your holiday was better than this post was it Brown?

Well good – because if it wasn’t, it would mean the kids walked off, you got arrested and it rained all week – and if anyone deserved that NOT to happen, it would be you.

Welcome back mate – I hope it was everything and more.

Comment by Rob

This is fantastic, btw.

Comment by Aditya

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