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

We Are All Hiding Something …

So much for not posting for 3 weeks eh?

For what it’s worth, I officially start writing my rubbish again on Monday.

What’s the difference between the posts I’ve been writing and the posts I will be writing?

Apart from the fact I’ll allow you all to insult me in the comments?

Errrrrm, that’s it.

But this one is quite important because it’s something I hear talked about a lot.

Imposter syndrome.

Every industry has people who suffer for it, but right now, I’m hearing a lot of planners talk about it. Doesn’t matter if they are top of their profession or new into it, somewhere along the line they feel it.

I know I do.

And while I know it can be massively destructive – undermining your confidence and self belief – it isn’t all bad.

I know, that sounds mad … but hang in there.

Recently I was talking to one of the best planners in the world. Yes, I appreciate that’s a subjective comment, but if you knew who I was talking about – saw the work they have consistently been a part of – you’d probably agree they’re in the top 5 globally.

Anyway they were telling me how they felt imposter syndrome. That they were going to get ‘found out’ any day soon and then their career would be over. Cast aside by an industry who would point at them and laugh and then use their name as a warning to any new entrant into the industry of what not to do.

And then I said, “maybe that’s what makes you so good”.

That shut them up.

And when they asked me what the fuck I was talking about, I said that maybe that was part of the reason they were so brilliant. That they were never so comfortable with their abilities and title that they would ever take their foot off the gas … that they would ever stop exploring every possibility … that they would ever not write a million different versions of the same brief until they found the one they thought had the most creative potential.


Then they said, “but it can hurt so much”.

And I acknowledged it can. But I then added that I imagine being as good as them does not come without pain, sacrifice, tension, scars and sheer utter graft … so while they experience times where they wish they didn’t have to feel that way, the thing they should really worry about is if they didn’t.

Now please don’t think I am advocating pain and suffering. I appreciate how demoralising and destructive it can be. I also think it’s a subject that should be talked about more to both destroy the stigma and help people feel they are not alone.

I can tell you for a fact it is something I have – and continue to – suffer a lot.

However, until you feel confident to speak about it or get help for it – and you can get help for it, because it’s a real situation with many different expressions – maybe you can reframe what it is doing to you.

Not bringing you down, but possibly pushing you further.

I’m here to chat should anyone wish to.


There’s a big difference between imposter syndrome and gaslighting.

One is where you are involuntarily undermining your own self-confidence, whereas the other is driven by others doing it to you.

Both are debilitating, so ensure you know which one you are dealing with to get the appropriate help.

For those experiencing the latter, there is Corporate Gaslighting … a place where you can see you are not alone and start taking steps to changing your situation. I am also here for that should you need or wish to talk.

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Martin Scorsese Explains Why Holding Companies Can Be Bad For Creativity …

This post kind of carries on from two I have previously written.

1. The benefit of independence.

2. You can tell a company by how many slices of pizza they want to eat.

I should point out I’ve worked for holding companies in the past.

I may well work for one in the future …

And while my experience with them has been generally good, my experience at independent companies was better.

More emphasis on the work.
More emphasis on the culture of work.
Less fear that you are going to be fired to hit a shareholder dividend.

Now this doesn’t mean holding company agencies can’t make great work or be great places to work.

There’s some amazing examples around the World of just that.

Agencies that I genuinely regard as some of the best in the business.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with the usual suspects [read: Wieden] with a history that is equally as long.

If not longer.

But it’s fair to say, they tend to be the exception rather than the rule … often used as the shiny ‘jewel in the network’ crown to attract big business, rather than a role-model for how the rest of the network should behave.

Again, being part of a network does not immediately mean it’s bad.

There’s a hell of a lot of brilliant people I know who are working in them for a start, which means they have a level of talent in the organisation that would be the envy of any agency.

Plus there’s a whole host of different types of network, so to tar them all with the same brush would be wrong.

But the reality is there’s some who just don’t give a fuck about the industry they’re in.

Of course, they will never admit that, but for all their claims about caring about creativity, they care far more about profit.

I get it.

Money is important.

It keeps tens of thousands of people employed.

But the reality is if they could make more money selling carpet cleaner, they would.

Which explains why they sold the value of creativity down the river in favour of process, scale, convenience and whatever buzz-term is fashionable with the big corporations they covet at any given time.

And this is where the title of this post comes in.

Recently Martin Scorsese was asked about his film making.

Change the word ‘films’ for ‘advertising’ and you have a pretty good overview of how a lot of modern adland operates.

You can make great work.

But it’s way, way harder than it should be.

Because too often, the focus isn’t on the quality of creativity, but the quantity of cash.

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Bosses. Remember Your Behaviour Teaches Your Team How To Behave …

Next week I start blogging properly again.

I know, you can’t wait can you. Ahem.

However last night I spoke to a friend of mine who had just been majorly fucked over at work.

Not by a client. Not by a colleague. But by her boss.

That’s right, the person who is supposed to both develop their career and be a role model for how to approach work had just undermined them in the worst possible way.

Hence this post … which I’m not letting any comments on, because I’m still on ‘holiday’. Even if I’m seemingly working harder than I have in ages. [No sarcastic comments please!]

So let’s get on with this shall we?

I have a very simple rule.

The person who writes a deck, gets to decide what’s in the deck.

Sure, there will be discussions and debate amongst the team.

Yes, the goal is always to make it as concise, sharp, provocative and interesting as can be.

And without doubt, the journey to finish line will pass through a huge amount of quality-control along the way.

But fundamentally, the person who writes it – or will be presenting it – is the person who has the final say of what’s in it.

I was trained this way.

I have lives this way.

I practice this way.

But I’m seeing – and hearing – a lot of managers who have a very different approach.

Sure, they get their teams to write a deck … but the difference is, they don’t engage in that part of the process, they just come in at the last minute and change the deck as they see fit.

Without consultation.

Without negotiation.

Without explanation.

And what makes this worse is that in many cases, these managers only have a small perspective of what is going on and so often their views are inherently flawed.

But I’m not going to talk about that, I’m going to ask one question.


Nothing undermines a team like the public destruction of all they’ve been working on.

Nothing causes a team to lose respect for a boss more than an act that shows zero respect towards them.

Nothing demonstrates delusion than believing your knowledge and abilities are better than those working on the business 24/7.

Of course a managers job is to stand for standards and quality.

Of course their job is to ensure the company always presents itself in the best possible light.

But this isn’t how you do it …

In fact this is literally the worst way to do it … even if you have a successful meeting.

Because the role of a manager is to elevate your people, not undermine them.

Guide them. Develop them. But do it in a way where they feel backed and protected … which ultimately means being honest with them, letting them solve the problems you have with their work – rather than just doing it yourself – and making sure any arguments are done behind closed doors, rather than publicly or launched on them with utter surprise.

Hell, I’m working with the most successful music management duo in music history – working with some of the biggest rock stars in the World – and they manage to do it, so why the opposite of this is happening in adland again and again is beyond me.

Please don’t think what I’m saying is managers must just stand on the sidelines, blindly and wildly clapping whatever their team produces, like some management version of Paula Abdul.

As I said, you can disagree with them.

Argue with them.

Even change stuff with them.

But you shouldn’t do it like some tin-pot dictator who feels you automatically know better than them and have no one to answer to, fear or consider.

Unless you’re a total prick.

Once upon a time, I had a manager – but not my manager – totally fuck with my work without telling me.

When I asked why they did it, they said, “I don’t have to explain my actions to you”.

I literally laughed in their face before saying, “good luck with your manager of the year application”.

Let me be clear, for all the talk we hear in companies that state ‘our people are our greatest asset’, the reality is you’re not a team when you expect everyone to serve you or think you can ignore everyone around you.

Every team may need a manager. But every manager needs to remember, they need a team.

Treat them with respect or find yourself on your own.

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When You Promise More To Still Be Poor …
July 23, 2020, 9:30 am
Filed under: Advertising, Attitude & Aptitude, Corporate Evil, Money

As I wrote last night, Nottingham Forest just lost their chance to be in the premiership playoffs.

They fucked up the best chance they’ve had in a decade.

On the last day.

In the last 20 minutes of the last day. Though the damage was done a few games ago when we let Derby County – our fiercest rivals – get a drawer in the last minute with a needless foul.

I’m devastated so to mitigate the pain I’m going to post this and hope it is useful to someone.

Given the impact COVID has had on adland, there’s a lot of us freelancing right now.

Of course, when there is a glut of talent available, many companies use this as an opportunity to lower your price.

I get the temptation to accept this. Some money in is better than no money in … but it’s also a slippery slope for you and all those around you.

So I thought I’d just write my thoughts on how to maybe handle it.

Not because I’m an expert, but because it will serve as a good reminder for me moving forward.

First thing you should do is check out the freelance rate spreadsheet the brilliant Alex Holder has been pulling together.

There is another alternative to this, which you can contribute to here.

The second thing you should do is to know your value.

This is not what you want it to be, but actually identifying and articulating your experience, your contribution to the work you were a part-of and the distinctive value you brought – and will bring – to every project you work on.

I appreciate this can be difficult, but it’s an investment – and a responsibility – to both your past and your future.

For more understanding on it, here’s a post I wrote about how Harrison Ford appreciates the value of his value.

Another thing to do is to remember you’re a small business, not just an individual looking for revenue.

While the two are closely entangled, thinking like you are a small business can actually help you when making decisions or when being asked to lower your rates.

Again, I wrote about a Hollywood star – this time Michael Keaton – who thinks this way.

It’s important … because you’re not actually negotiating for the job you have, but the next one you could have.

I say all this because recently I was asked by a great global brand if I could help them with their strategy.

I have always respected them and the challenge they faced was tailor-made for me given my global experience.

While I have no intention of doing ‘real’ work for a few months, I submitted my cost proposal and a few minutes later, their procurement department contacted me saying this:

“Your fee is higher than other partners we use, please lower it”.

At this point I could have just said agreed.

Afterall, I found the project fascinating, I think it could lead to interesting work and money is always useful to have coming in.

But I didn’t.

I knew my experience in this situation was better than most.

I knew they had recently spent millions with McKinsey, so what I was actually asking for was nothing.

I knew I didn’t want to start a relationship based on working down to a price, rather than up to a quality.

So instead I responded with this.

“You products are higher priced than other brands I could choose, please lower it”.





But the reality is I have 30+ years of experience at the highest levels of creativity, client and culture so if a company doesn’t value that, why would I value them.

But here’s the thing … it wasn’t really their fault.

Procurement departments are literally paid to lower prices.

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are or what you do, they’re evaluated and compensated for lowering costs.

It’s not personal … it’s just their job.

So while I appreciate their request was just part of their process, defending my value was also part of mine.

My attitude was if they want to treat it like a game, then so would I.

Which means I am cool with them asking what they like, but I don’t have to agree.

To any of it.

So that’s what I did … and you know what happened?

They wrote back saying,

“We accept your rate and look forward to working with you”.

Now I know it won’t work every time.

But the attitude is what I’m going to do every time.

Because if someone only values one part of a relationship, then it’s not a relationship.

Some companies or freelancers will be OK with that.

Good on them. But I’m not.

Not just because of the reasons I’ve written about above, but because I’ve found – over the years – the best clients aren’t OK with this attitude and approach either.

As one of the most senior clients at NIKE once said to me, “I value people who can make me better not just keep things flowing the same”.

And if this approach ends up backfiring and I need to earn money, then I’m going to start my own procurement company and just approach as many companies as possible and ask to pitch my procurement department against theirs. I won’t even really care if we can do things cheaper or not, I’ll just enjoy watching how they like having their experience, reputation and value being dismissed and disregarded in favour of finding someone – anyone – who will do more, for less.

I’m nice like that.

Especially when Forest throw it all away.

Literally chuck it and give up. Fuckers.

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As If 2020 Couldn’t Be Any More Bollocks …
July 22, 2020, 9:48 pm
Filed under: Comment

I shouldn’t be angry.

I can be upset but I shouldn’t be angry.

In reality, what we’ve achieved this season is more than we have achieved in years.

Only a few years ago we were constantly teetering on the edge of relegation … so the fact we were so close to making the playoffs is worthy of celebration.

Except …

This was the season.

This was where destiny was in our hands over and over again.

This was where we were battling for an automatic promotion place.

But we just threw things away, like we had a death wish.

Going from winning positions with a few minutes left of the game to somehow conspiring to drawing or losing.

It happens. But it’s happened way too much.

Hell, it even happened in this match. Upto the last 20 minutes of the last game of the whole season, we were in a playoff position.

Then we hit the self-destruct button.


And so here we are.

A season that promised so much but ended up delivering what we all feared or expected.

And while the highs were euphoria highs of possibilities and excitement, the lows are like being dragged through a gravel drive.

We should have known.

We should have expected it.

It’s not like we’ve been here before.

Like every year for the past 20+ years.

And while the painful realisation came much later than it has in all the times previously – and I still think our manager is the best we’ve had in an age – the reality is the old cliche remains true.

It’s the hope that kills you.

And I’ve just been murdered. Again.

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