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

Can You Polish A Turd? The Results Of The APSOTW …
May 31, 2017, 9:38 am
Filed under: Advertising [Planning] School On The Web, Comment

So first of all a major apology for the delay in getting back to all of you.

As you know, I have recently moved to the US so my time has been a bit mad over the last few weeks organising things.

I also have to apologise that not all the judges we mentioned when we set this assignment have been able to review the assignments.

They deeply regret that, but it’s been a super-busy time for some of them and they just weren’t able to give it the attention your work deserves.

Oh … last thing.

It’s always useful for anyone reading this to see the work the feedback relates to.

If you are not OK with us putting it up on slideshare in the next week or so, please let us know. Totally cool if you’d prefer not to, but absolutely great if you are good with it.

So with that, let’s get on with the feedback.

This was a much tougher assignment than many may have thought so as usual, if you want to discuss the feedback more specifically – just reach out – but we all think it’s great you took part and hope it helps you move forward with whatever plans and goals you may have.

Ed Watts

First things first, good on you for questioning the brief. There’s not enough of that going on and it’s important – though, of course, how you do it is the key.

It was also good that you highlighted the fact that the issue is the perception against those who have never been versus those who have.

But when you got to the positioning, it felt flat. It’s not that it was wrong, it just didn’t have an edge that we feel would provoke someone who has not been to Skegness to rethink their position.

That said, we all felt there was something more provocative and interesting in the ‘built for hours not days’ [which your live traffic report idea reinforces] … and we would have loved to have seen you push that idea more.
A basic rule of thumb is if your idea doesn’t make someone smile, think or feel a bit uncomfortable … then you’re probably too much in the slow lane.

Sometimes this is simply a matter of rearticulating the language of your idea, sometimes it’s a matter of a better idea … but as it stood, your idea made sense but wouldn’t make people care.

Rob Martyn-Wilde

We all liked the insight and tension you identified. I especially related because many years ago, I was working with Lonely Planet and one of the things I kept hearing was how backpackers hated the fact they kept meeting other backpackers because they were all using the same book.

Only issue we had was that the idea sounded like it suited a longer duration of holiday than 24 hours … but we all liked it, even though it the idea worked [which we all imagined it would] then you are probably likely to not be on your own for very much longer.

Nice idea, simply and engagingly expressed and executed.

Charlie Palmer

So you have covered a lot of information … but there is little distillation which means it feels like you copied a bunch of facts you’d found off the internet.

You also said Leeds was part of the East Midlands … which managed to upset a judge who is from Yorkshire and a judge who is from the East Midlands, but we will ignore that because the other judges found it so amusing.

That said, the ‘breath of fresh air’ is an interesting territory but you haven’t really shown how this will specifically appeal to the audience nor how it specifically answers the brief of driving short-term visitation.

Maybe you think that is implicit, but with so much information in your presentation, it comes across as less of a story a reader will happily follow and more a bunch of facts that the reader has to distill for themselves.

There is something in what you’ve identified, but overall it feels more about what you want to sell rather than what a client would want to buy.

The best advice we can give is that when you’re writing a presentation, remember something Ronald Reagan said, “if you have to explain your idea after you’ve presented your idea, you’ve lost”.

Lukas Quittan

We had read the article ‘Skegness is similar to North Korea and Syria’ in a lot of the submissions, but yours was the only one that built something off it.

“How do you get someone to visit a war zone?” is a lovely ‘attention-grabbing’ headline.

We also like how you highlighted this was more of a perception issue as overall visitation was up which opened up 2 strategic opportunities … which you also covered in terms of which should have focus.

So far so good.

Then you got to your positioning: “So Boring You Have To Visit Twice”.

Hmmmmmmn …




Yep … it’s all those things, it’s just not very good.

The judges comments fell into 2 camps:

It’s just not very true.

It wouldn’t attract people – even those who have been to Skegness already – to visit again.

And there lies the problem.

You see you had us from the beginning … you led us along a journey we found ourselves nodding and smiling at … and then, like discovering Dolly Parton is simply wearing a Wonderbra [or, to avoid sexist claims, George Clooney sports a wig] you left us massively disappointed.

Where Ed didn’t take a creative leap from his strategy to get to an interesting territory, you seem to have just taken a leap to try and be provocative for the sake of provocation.

Maybe with ads it would have been better [and yes, we know we didn’t ask you for that], but while you argue Skegness has less of the distractions that stop people from being able to just ‘relax and recharge’, “so boring” doesn’t capture any of that, it just smacks attempted shock value.

Overall we feel that if you had explored a bit more of the tension of the audience, you may have got to an expression that conveyed what you want to say in a way that would appeal rather than alienate.

Matthew Rose

So while we will always be advocates of authenticity, your idea “For Those Who Already Know What They Want Out Of Life” feels more like it is cementing the perception of Skegness rather than challenging/changing it.

Using ‘the UK population is getting older’ as your main justification is weak, not just because you don’t really explain why being older mean being less interested in life, but because there are countless interesting ways you could have tried to explain why this choice of idea was right.

All in all, top marks for not claiming Skegness is the eye of the cultural storm, black mark for not really solving the brief.

Prof Duncan

Well we liked the fact you decided to look into why people take day-trips in the first place but then you didn’t really go anywhere with it except to decide Blackpool was the enemy and Skegness was less bother than it’s Northern cousin, without really explaining how or why. We all felt there could be something interesting in the “… without the bother” idea, but as you didn’t really expand on it, we will never know if you recognised that as well or you just wrote it without realising it was better than you realised.

If the former that was lazy. If the latter, it’s worth thinking about … though Viz kind-of got there before you.

Jay Caplan

Like some of the other submissions, you have decided the best way to answer the brief is to reinforce the stereotype rather than try and change the perception.

That may be OK, but you never really explain why the OAP/Daily Mail reader wants a day out, preferring to state they want to go back to 1950’s England and Skegness is going to do it for them. We know the UK voted for BREXIT, but this doesn’t justify your idea and arguably, by reinforcing the stereotype [while ignoring there are plenty of other old seaside towns that could do a similar job] would make the situation for Skegness even more bleak moving forward.

John Woods

As an attempt to be the modern day John Betjeman, nice work.

As an attempt to answer the brief, more like William McGonagall [Look it up]

Iona Mihai

So on first impression, this reminded me a little of the campaign we did for Taj about 10 years ago … except when we developed our mobile signal blocking device, it specifically answered a tension that resided within our audience in relation to family dynamics and holidays whereas in your case, it seems like you have decided what is wrong with Millenials and what will fix it, whether they like it or not.

Maybe we’re wrong, but the way it came across was very patronising and/or judgemental and that ‘joy of missing out’ [JOYO] was pretty bad … especially as you had absolutely nothing to back it up.

We think that underpinning your idea is something built around ‘escapism’ but where we get confused is that if that’s the case, then it contradicts your ‘insight’ about this audience revelling in missing out what others crave … so we are a bit confused.

That said, we suspect we are missing something in your thought process so we would genuinely love to hear from you so we could be set right on how you came up with this idea and how you see it working.


So there you go … some interesting responses and some that could do with a bit more work.

A couple of watch outs.

First: Presentation matters.

It’s all very well to think that quality shines through but apart from the fact that’s not always the case, it shouldn’t ever be a case of high quality thinking or high quality presentation.

Second: Clarity is everything.

Remember you are trying to solve a clients business problem. When you’re writing your story, make sure the client will understand what you’re saying and why it is right.

If your focus is more on what you want to do rather than what they need to do, then you are in for a tough time.

With that in mind, a lot of the work we went through came across as very self-serving. We are not suggesting you need to have incredible amounts of data or research to explain/justify your idea – but only a couple of you even explored why a ‘day-trip’ is something people may like. Most jumped straight into why having a day trip at Skegness would be best without linking it to anything that might have either opened up the audience or the role of the seaside town.

Thirdly: Don’t follow the common path.

So many of the presentations ended up in a similar area. While we appreciate the APSOTW is a bit of fun, it was obvious many of you did a cursory google search … picked up on the same article that you found interesting and tried to build an idea around that. Of course that can work, but if you don’t spend much time to really explore where those perceptions come from or how a fresh idea could be pulled out from it, you are in danger of not just losing the pitch, but looking like you lack the creativity to take a client and their business to places they didn’t even imagine.

These are not meant as a ‘slapped wrist’, more a desire to see you improve because by entering the assignment, you are showing you have a desire to be better and that can only ever be applauded.

With that, we have decided Rob is the winner.

While there were some submissions that certainly captivated the judging panel, Rob’s presentation was simple, well expressed and communicated and with a cheeky idea to drive a change in audiences attitude.

Well done Rob, if you could give me your details, we will send a book on Skegness in your direction.

Again, a massive thank you to everyone who took part – we certainly hope you enjoyed it and will do it again – and a final ‘thank you’ to all the judges who find the time to do this, even if on this occasion, they didn’t. Ha.

A Half Brit, Half Italian Who Spent 7 Years Living In China And Now Lives In America Starts Work At An Agency That Sounds Awfully Like A German Bank …

So as you know I have left China and moved to LA.

And, given I’ve written about it, you know the reasons behind the decision.

However I am also conscious I haven’t said where I am going. OK, so I know others have said where I’m going, but I haven’t. At least on here. 

Well today is the day, because today is the day I start my new job.

Actually I should say today is the day I start my main job because I’m also doing an on-going project with a rather famous rock band [ no, it’s not Queen] however I’m super excited to announce that as of this morning, I have become partner, chief strategy officer and official ‘new boy at school’ at American agency, Deutsch.

If you are based in the US, I’m sure you’ve heard of them but if you’re not, you’ll probably know them for this

To say they’re big is an understatement.

They’re huuuuuuuuge.

Massive clients. Massive office. Massive team.

Basically it’s the classic American cliche … everything is bigger in the US.

Now I’ve got to admit, there’s an element of their scale that makes me nervous … but that’s part of the reason I am so excited to be here.

When we were deciding where to go, I was very clear I didn’t want to do something that was similar to what I’ve been doing over the last 7 years. That’s not because I haven’t loved it – I’ve loved it almost too much – but because I couldn’t see the point of leaving a company I love if I was only go to end up at another company that wanted to be like the company I’ve just left.

What Deutsch offers me is the chance to play and learn in new areas.

Sure, it’s still advertising … but there’s a few fundamental differences from what I’ve been doing for the last few years.

1. I’m going to be a partner.

I’ve got to be honest, this was very important to me. I always want to grow and be challenged and one of the things I knew would be good for me was if I was given the additional – and official – responsibility for helping run an office.

Now you may think I had that at Wieden Shanghai – and I did, kinda – however the structure of the company meant that unless I become an MD [something I don’t want to be] I would always be an invited guest, never one of the hosts.

I should point out I knew this when I joined and I was always given the opportunity to speak up and speak out, however I believe there’s a point where responsibility without authority undermines your potential and ambition and ultimately, I wanted to see if I could make a bigger difference to a company or if I’m full of shit.

2. Deutsch are much more into using tech to solve their clients business problems.

This is almost going back to the way cynic approached things and I love that. However, it is not for the reason that I am sure Northern Planner will suggest … which is that I might be able to convince a client to let me make a moped or car for them.

In all seriousness, one of the things I really liked about Deutsch was their desire to forge their own direction rather than replicate someone else’s. That sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many places try and mimic Wieden without seemingly realising there’s only one W+K and they will always be the best in the World at what they do.

Deutsch’s ambitions feel more entrepreneurial and applied and I find that desire, fascinating.

3. I get to set direction for brands rather than translate someone else’s direction.

While I’ve worked around the World and represented massive regions of the globe, the reality is in most cases, I’ve been about translating someone else’s perspective on what the brand does/is. Someone who tends to work and live in America.

If I’m honest, I’ve never really found this a hindrance – especially in China, where the cultures was so different, so it was always fun to try and work out how to make things connect – but it will be nice to be at the real start of the challenge for once.

Of course there’s other reasons …

The partners are all great people who just happen to work in advertising.

I get to infect a new bunch of talented planners and hopefully make them even better than they thought they could be.

I have the opportunity to make my new team one of the most respected/hated/mischievous departments in the whole of North America. I find that idea really exciting and really infectious.

And then there’s the 2 big ones …

I get to give my family an environment that is healthy for them and we get to experience and immerse ourselves in a brand new culture. Again.

Those are worth their weight in gold … especially as we’ve found a Mandarin school for Otis so he can still feel a connection to the country he was born in and the country his father loves and will miss deeply.

[Oh, we also own and get to drive cars again for the first time in 15 years. I am embarrassingly excited about it … though driving on ‘the wrong side of the road’ is interesting … especially for all the other drivers in LA]

In fact the only thing I don’t like about my new job is that I’m called the Chief Strategy Officer.

I’m not that keen on that. It feels so cold. So exclusive. So disconnected to creativity.

But I get America loves its titles so it’s a small price to pay for the adventure.

So we will see what happens.

It could all go down in flames or it could be a fantastic adventure and for me, when those are the possibilities, that makes me massively excited.

So thank you Deutsch for the incredible opportunity, let’s hope you don’t regret it …

More posts in a couple of weeks when I’ve either [1] settled in a bit or [2] been fired.

Hello America …
May 23, 2017, 10:32 pm
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, America, China, Comment, Family, Otis

I have good news and bad news.

The good is this post does not signal the full return of this blog.

The bad is I have still written a post.

Before I begin, to everyone who entered the APSOTW … we’re close to having consolidated feedback and it will [hopefully] be posted in a couple of weeks. Huge apologies for the delay, but with the move – and the usual ‘herding sheep’ – it’s taken longer than I would have liked.

As for the move. Well, after an incredibly emotional goodbye we – Jill, Otis, Rosie the cat and myself – got to America unscathed.

I have to say it was weird having Rosie on board with us – hearing her meow – but given how quickly she acclimatised to her new surroundings, it obviously was a much better experience for her than the other times she has flown in the cargo.

We have been here just under a week and while it’s been rather hectic – organising social security numbers and driving tests and looking for places to live, not to mention enduring some rather extreme jetlag – it has been pretty special.

Not just because we got to spend time together exploring our new surroundings, but because we had family visiting America so we got to hang out with them too.

But more than that, everyone has been super nice to us. Everyone.

Strangers, government officials, [soon-to-be-new] colleagues … people have gone out of their way to make us feel welcomed.

Even the immigration officer was nice when we entered the country and that literally has never happened to me before.

There is a little park near us where we have taken Otis on a number of occasions. Every single time, a different family have come up to us and said hello and offered to help with anything we need. Even if they’re just saying it – and I don’t think they are as they gave us their phone numbers – I’ve got to be honest, it’s pretty lovely.

And don’t get me started on how amazing the community-run, hippy, mandarin-speaking, creative-focused pre-school is …

Of course it’s early days so I know I’ll find stuff that drives me fucking insane [like the whole tipping protocol] but when I see the smile on Otis’ face as he runs along the beach, I know that as much as I love – and miss – China, this was the right thing to do for my little family.

So of course, now I am in a new country, I need a new blog header and as you can see from above, Jill has worked her magic again.

Or should I say, worked her imagination.

Though after 6 days in LA, I must admit I have grown to have a bit more respect for Mr Hulk Hogan, because how anyone can have a body like that when every place serves food in quantities that would be too much for an elephant, is anyone’s guess.

I miss you China but I like you LA.

Zàijiàn My Beloved China …
May 16, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, China, Chinese Culture, Comment, Love

I know I said there’d be no more posts for a month, but I leave China today, so deal with it.

I’ve said all I want to say about how wonderful and magical a time I’ve had here.

If you’re ever given the opportunity to visit or work – do it – it will change your World.

To sign off, I want to leave you with a little film.

Every day – for the past 7 years – as I walked to work, I would stop off at Starbucks at The Centre building in the Former French Concession.

Over the years, most of the time directly outside the window where I would be supping my latte, I would see all manner of people doing all manner of things … from walking dogs to undertaking rather interesting approaches to exercise.

There were a few people in particular that always seemed to be there and I started videoing them and adding music to their routine.

It’s important you know I never did this to mock them – far from it – I did it because they were part of the reason my 7 years in China was utterly wonderful and I will miss them – and the country – more than anyone could ever imagine.

Goodbye Shanghai. Hello LA.

Comments Off on Zàijiàn My Beloved China …

It’s Been An Honour …

After 7 years, today is my last day at Wieden+Kennedy.

Just as traumatic is that in 6 days, it will be my last day in China.

Or said another way, it will be my last day living in Asia-Pacific after 22 amazing years.

There’s honestly too much to say.

Too many memories to write about.

Too many people to thank and talk about.

So instead I’ll just say it has been the time of my life.

An amazing, spectacular, wonderful adventure both personally and professionally.

From marriage and babies to being part of work that defined World Cups and Olympics.


It’s absolutely fair to say I will miss every bit of it but I’ll take the memories because it means I had the experience and for that I am truly grateful.

Now, because we’re in the middle of mad moving mode, this blog will be on a little hiatus for a few weeks.

Probably about a month. [Though we all know there’ll be the odd post here and there]

On the bright side, when it’s back – probably sometime in June, in time for my birthday [ha] – you’ll get to read posts that won’t just be about planning, but how I don’t understand how to make anything in America work.

I honestly think I’m going to find it harder to acclimatise to America than I ever did to China.

Hell, I can’t even order a cup of coffee without getting confused about their cup sizes.

So with that I want to sign off with a few little thank-you’s.

The reality is a huge amount of people made my time here amazing, however there’s some who had an even bigger influence and I want to call them out because the adventure I had – and am about to embark on – literally wouldn’t have been possible without them.

My wonderful planning team. Past and present. Every day was a genuine fucking honour. The awesome Kennedys. It was seriously the professional highlight of my last 12 months. Thank you. And that definitely includes you Juni. Kel Hook. For hiring me. You changed my life and I’ll never be able to thank you enough. Jason White. Thank you for supporting me even when I caused destruction. John Rowe. For being brilliant in every possible way and making my time at W+K Tokyo so good, I never wanted to leave. NIKE. I know that might sound corporate toady, but as I have nothing to gain from saying it, it means it is true. 99.7% of every person I met or worked with at Wieden+Kennedy worldwide … whether they are still here or long gone. Martin Weigel. You’re a cantankerous, warm hearted, brilliant man. Just propose to Mercedes and get on with it. Whiteside. Because you’re awesome and funny and humble and deserve so much and yet are happy with what you have. Clare Pickens. I love you. I literally fucking love you. [But stop cutting your hair because it makes you look shit] Sandi Hildreth. For being awesome and gorgeous and loving the same sort of rubbish music as me. Claudia Valderrama. For looking out for me even though you told me I was a “pain in the ass”. W&W, Azsa, Arlene and Max … for making sure I stay excited – and in awe – about the birth of amazing ideas. Gerber, for somehow – and I’m not sure how – influencing me to get tattoos. I came here with none, I leave with not enough. Simon Pestridge. Thank you for everything. In many ways, you changed my career and opportunities. You’re more than a great client, but a friend. Kim Papworth. For that talk that was totally worth the wait. Luhr. For being Luhr. Stech. For making your 6 months here, the most exciting 6 months for me full stop. David Terry and Paul Colman for trying really hard to be ‘alpha-males’ but actually being fucking sweethearts. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. Joe Staples. He won’t understand why, which is why. MJ. No, not Micheal Jackson or Michal Jordan, but Matthew Jung … for being a phenomenal Nike and Converse client who backed us to do the best work we can do every-single-time. Karrelle. For pretending to still be British when he’s basically American. Steve Tsoi for still welcoming me to the table even though I never made life easy for you or your team. Scott Silverman. You had nothing to do with China, but if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had the chance to be here. Chris Jaques. You also had nothing to do with China, but if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had the platform to show others what I could do. What I could be. Dan Wieden. For not actually firing me even though you said, “You’re fired” every time you saw me. And starting a place that is so special amongst special companies. Xiaoli. For everything you have done for us, but most specifically for the love and care you have shown my son. China … for being so important to global business that you gave me access and exposure to the sort of senior leadership few in the World will ever get to experience. The amazing, warm, slightly crazy people of China. I will absolutely miss everything about your unique ways. Except the spitting and the plane delays. And finally – and most importantly – my beloved Jill, Otis and Rosie. Without you guys, none of this other stuff would have mattered.

OK, the Gwyneth Paltrow bollocks is over … and to prove it, have a look at this.

Do you know what it is?

That’s right, it’s one of the 600 stickers I have had made that I have spent the last 5 weeks hiding throughout the refurbished Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai office. And I mean ‘throughout’ … including various W+K hangouts, like Baker & Spice, Jamaica Blue and Little Catch.

That should make their life a pain in the ass for a few years.

It will be like I’ve never gone.

And with that, it’s time to go.

It’s been a lot of fun. Time for an adventure in LA. God help us all.