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

Sometimes, What Is Essential Is Invisible To The Eye …
July 20, 2011, 6:18 am
Filed under: Comment

One of the best bosses I had was a guy called Chris Jaques.

He was great for a bunch of reasons – his leadership, the faith he put in his people and his overall inspiration.

However one of the other things he did was cultivate an atmosphere of ‘we’re in it together’.

I’m not talking about senior management towing the line and then demanding everyone follows suit … I’m talking about getting everyone from the receptionist up, knowing what the goal and the plan was, and what role they needed to play to make it happen.

[I’m not saying the receptionist is the lowest rung of an agency, it’s just to demonstrate a point so put your knives away]

And here’s the thing, Chris’ skill was appreciating details made success.

Sure the big things mattered … but how people worked together, interacted together, collaborated together was everything to him.

Don’t get me wrong, he didn’t adopt some crowd source, everyone-can-have-a-good-idea type of bullshit – there was definitely someone driving the overall goal and approach – it’s just he understood that when everyone knew what they were doing, why they were doing it and what it was all leading up to, a more seamless process occurred, exemplified by the fact people were encouraged to make slight tweaks to things if they saw the process/goal was either going off course, or able to be improved.

“If you think you can do it all on your own, you’re either God or an idiot.”
Roger Campbell.


This sort of approach has been well documented in the book ‘Nudge‘ [it’s also one of the key reasons behind Toyota’s meteoric rise, especially given they come from a country whose culture is literally the relentless pursuit of perfection] which is why I am continually surprised when I hear companies mandating a none-negotiable, stringent approach &/or process when there is countless amounts of evidence to suggest effectiveness and efficiency can be dramatically improved when you embrace, inform and empower the actions of the people around the process, not just in it.

Guess what I’m saying is, if you’re in adland and you want to improve your odds of success – you could do a lot worse that just making sure you’re nice to the people throughout the agency – because there’s a shit load of people and steps between writing a great brief and making an awesome ad.

Better Late Than Never. Especially When Everyone Else Is Still Late …
July 19, 2011, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

Remember that post where I said Asian Governments and businesses were more focused on attracting foreign investment and tourism than their Western counterparts?

Well it’s pleasing to see that Starwood and Hilton hotels have finally got off their arses and evolved their offering so that they actively appeal to Asian guests rather than continually expecting them to adapt to Western tastes and habits.

Despite the major step in the right direction, I do find it tragically amusing that Starwood Chief Executive, Frits van Paasschen, said:

“I know how daunting it is to step into a country for the first time so we want to make sure that when Chinese travellers go outside of China for the first time, whether for business of pleasure, that they are as comfortable as possible.”

So I assume for the previous 25 odd years, neither Starwood or Hilton gave a flying fuck about making their Chinese guests feel comfortable when outside of their home country.

There is a major issue they’re missing …

In many cases, Chinese hotel guests – especially those traveling for business – actively choose to not stay in an expensive international hotel.

They may eat or meet people there, but in terms of where they choose to stay, there are some fundamental differences in what they look for.

A while ago, I did some work on the differences between Western and Chinese business travelers and what we found was …

Grandeur Comfort
Social Practical
“Deserve It” “Earn It”
Their Money My Money
Work, Rest & Play Work & Rest
International Food Local Food
Indulgence Purposeful
Rest Stop Pit Stop

Of course, not everyone thinks/acts this way – however there was some data we got our hands on, that showed the average Chinese business traveler valued very different things to the average Western business traveller and almost universally, international hotels were not catered to these requirements.

[International hotels tended to base their ‘Asian credentials’ on an aesthetic or a cuisine choice rather than appreciating what many really valued and were willing to spend their money on]

Saying that, I think it was a smart move for Starwood to temporarily move its headquarters to Shanghai for a month [though if I strip away the PR hype, I assume what they really did was send some of their Head Office people to their Shanghai office for a month] though I still stand by my view that more companies should be globally located in this part of the World because they know way more about the West than the West know about Asia.

Tips From A Fraud …
July 18, 2011, 6:18 am
Filed under: Comment

I have a fancy job title.

Head of planning.

To be honest, just typing it makes me feel weird.

I’m not saying that to be humble, I mean it.

Part of that is because I still think I’m 25 … which is pathetic given I’m 41, but I really do … the other part is that all the heads of planning I know are super smart, unbelievably wise and pretty much all educated to within an inch of their life.

That doesn’t mean I think I’m thick and shit … I think I have some skills … however, compared to the people I look up to and learn from, I feel a total fraud.

But here’s the thing, I think that has helped me be a better planner … not because I’ve learnt to fake it, but because it’s made me think of ways to get around it.

1/ I don’t feel an inherent need to ‘have the answer’ to every question. I probably will have a point of view or a starting point for consideration, but I’m very happy to say “I don’t know, I’ll look into it and get back to you”.

2/ I choose to hear other people’s views before I give my own. Not because I am considerate, but because it helps me define my viewpoint before making a decision.

3/ I actively forge closer relationships with clients – and colleagues – because it helps me understand who they are, what they want and how best to work with them and get the best out of them.

4/ I love to learn from people with different backgrounds. Not because I want to try and look clever, but because I know it might help me in the future.

5/ I look for breadth of information – as well as depth – because I never take it for granted a client will accept my/our viewpoint just because we’re their agency planners.

6/ I read as many ad award books as I can. Not so I can say “that’s been done before”, but so I can use references to help express feelings or moods to my creative colleagues.

7/ I like to hire people who are smarter than me – or with experience, will be smarter than me – because they will teach me stuff and keep me fresh. Or at least fresher.

8/ I started a company. Not just because I needed a job [which I did] but because it helped me understand how to better understand the issues and concerns clients go through when making a decision.

9/ I talk very openly about my fucked-up feelings and thoughts because I know I can never truly capture what I want to say in the written word.

10/ I like to collaborate because – to sort-of quote Nigel Bogle – I know I’m not as good as all of us.

I have no idea if any of these tips will be of any use to you, probably because you’re one of the millions of planners – let alone heads of planning – who are miles better than I could ever hope to be, however if you’re one of those people who live in fear that you might be ‘found out’ for not being as good as you think you should be, then may I suggest you embrace your fears and weaknesses because it will do more for your career than pretending you don’t have them.

Puppet Or Puppet Master?
July 15, 2011, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

When I was young I wanted to be a Policeman.

I wanted to be a policeman more than anything else in the World.

I knew everything about it … from height requirements to standards of pay.

Nothing was going to make me happy unless I became a copper.

And then I got a guitar.

Despite destroying every song I attempted to play, I wanted to be a rock star.

I wanted to be a rockstar more than anything else in the World.

I joined bands. I recorded in studios. I played hundreds of gigs and I blew an obscene amount of cash on more guitars and amps than the average band take on a World tour

And despite all that, my parents supported my ambitions every step of the way.

That doesn’t mean they agreed with all the choices I made – they still would have preferred me to go into law and were very vocal when they felt I was about to do something utterly stupid – but they had the attitude that it was better to live a life rather than a lifestyle and ultimately, they wanted what made me happy rather than them.

Which is handy, as I went into advertising.

The reason I write this is because a couple of weeks ago, the wonderful Lauren sent me a link to something that kind-of reflects the encouragement I received from my parents.

If you can’t read it properly, go here.

The thing I love about it – apart from being brilliantly written and in the perfect tone of the wonderful Viz – is that it’s not about giving people false belief or ridiculous promises … and it’s certainly not about making individuals think they’re destined for success or better than anyone else … it’s simply about encouraging people to not give up on the things that excite them simply because someone else says “it’s difficult” or “stupid”.

Chasing passions plays a significant role in the evolution of society and humanity.

If all we did were the things that were generally deemed ‘sensible’, we’d never grow or develop or try new things … so while I accept [as NP pointed out on an earlier post I wrote] there’s nothing sadder than “smug idiots living in the future, rather than living in the now” and “twentysomethings who have wasted opportunities in the pursuit of big positions and salaries”, it’s also important that we don’t stop people pursuing their curiosity and passions simply because it doesn’t meet with popular consensus … something way too many people in adland like to curb with their fixed processes and propriety tools.

Is Collaboration A Fairy Tale?
July 14, 2011, 6:05 am
Filed under: Comment

For years I’ve heard people and companies talk about the importance and power of collaboration.

And so they should, because when it’s done right, it can be amazingly beneficial … except in my experience, the amount of people and companies who are doing it right is smaller than Ronnie Corbett’s midget twin brother.

[I know many of you won’t know who Ronnie Corbett is, but you’ll just have to accept he is an appropriate metaphor]

What do I mean?

Well there seems to be this attitude that collaboration simply means having people from 2 or more different companies, in the same meeting, working on the same problem.

Now on first impression, that might sound like the perfect example of collaboration, however unless the companies present have an appreciation of what the others can bring to the table – and openly and willingly invite that to happen – its nothing more than a room crammed with a bunch of people.

Too often I’ve seen what has been deemed as collaboration turn into nothing more than a war of pettiness – with companies either [1] trying to fuck over every other company present in the meeting or [2] waiting for one agency to stop talking so they can say whatever they want to rant about, which more often than not, either has sly digs at the other agencies present or nothing to do with what has just been said.

There are many reasons for this – from financial to ego – which is why true collaboration can only occur when the people in involved appreciate a broader spectrum of disciplines than just their own.

In short, only when they know what they can’t do can the whole process move forward with the potential it can offer which is why agencies have an obligation to their staff to teach them breadth as well as depth and clients need to appreciate in the dog-eat-dog environment they’ve actively created, they’re not going to get the best results until they treat all their partners with the respect, openness and remuneration they deserve.