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


Insights And Sinsights …

Insights.

That single word that causes so much debate.

What they are.

How you get them.

When you know you have a good one.

It may not be fashionable, but I’m still a big believer in them.

Sure, there’s rarely one single silver bullet insight that stands the test of time, but they still have a valuable role to play for effectiveness, creativity and possibility.

Or they do if they’re done right. And used right.
And not made to say stuff that they’re not saying.

I say this because I saw this brilliant tweet recently …

I have to be honest, I laughed and laughed.

Until I remember a long time ago, reading an award submission that said something like that.

Except they were serious.

Something that tried to connect Facebook likes with human motivation.

No … I’m not joking.

And what was scary was people didn’t call it out. They didn’t even question it.

Which explains why some people may read the tweet above and want to enter it into an Effie whereas others will want to enter their face with a fist.

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Peak Customer Service From Uber …

When COVID was in full swing, Boris Johnson was called out for his mixed messaging.

One of his great moments was when he said this ridiculousness:

“Anyone who can’t work from home should go to work. But if you can’t observe social distancing, you should stay at home. But if you are at work and you feel ill, you should stay from home. But if you’re well and can’t stay at home, go to work.”

Well, I can only assume he has gone from Number 10, Downing Street to Uber HQ because recently I received a message that could only come from the BoJo school of confusion.

Now I know Uber have a lot to be desired in terms of looking after anyone but themselves, but trying to make me an ‘Uber Member’ with the promise I may … or may not … save some money is blatant to the extreme.

They don’t even bother explaining what I’d be a member of.

So while Uber and BoJo seem made for each other, a little reminder about the rules of communication.

It is not on the receiver to translate what you’re saying, it’s up to the communicator to make it understandable. Though I also appreciate in Uber and BoJo’s case, confusion is part of their business strategy.

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Planets And Suns …

Running a company is hard.

There’s so many things that influence and shape how it runs, it’s no surprise they end up being such complicated beasts.

Different departments.

Different responsibilities.

Different requirements and budgets.

A bunch of different planets all operating by their own gravitational pull.

But here’s the thing … they shouldn’t be.

Because while each of those planets needs to circle the sun.

To be part of something bigger than themselves.

In our industry, the sun would be the creative work.

Or said another way … each and every department in an agency is there to enable the best creative product to be consistently created.

That’s it.

Doesn’t matter if you’re in Finance, HR, IT, Production, Planning or Creative … your purpose is to assist the creation of great work.

And while there are people who are more directly involved in the creation of that work, I don’t mean them …

I mean the end result.

The thing all that energy, tension, time, thinking, travelling, hiring, accounting, system managing, fee negotiating and creative developing has produced and will be judged by.

But sadly that is happening less and less … because on top of there often being a lack of clarity on what ‘great work’ is, as infrastructures grow, different departments end up believing they’re the sun.

The most important ingredient.

The element that decides failure or success.

And while we cannot deny each discipline plays an important role in the operational ability of an organisation … when they think – or are allowed to think – they’re the single most critical part in the whole process, that’s when it all goes to shit.

Which is another reason why independent agencies have a huge advantage over corporations.

Because they have the power to ensure their business is designed to specifically serve the work … ultimately driven by the belief great work delivers great profit whereas a focus on profit diminishes the value of the work.

And it’s true … though that doesn’t mean all independent agencies live up to that – just like not all corporations are ignorant to it – however in the main, that’s generally how it turns out.

Which is why I keep going back to what the film director Michael Mann told me about producing excellence.

He said that when he starts a movie, he talks to everyone in the production team.

Everyone.

He explains his vision for the story … his goal for it … what will be really important to him.

Then he tells them he needs them.

That they all play a critical part in the fulfilment of quality.

That he wants them to help make his vision even better than he could imagine.

But – and it’s a huge but – its about what HIS vision for the movie is, not theirs.

And that’s the key.

Freedom within a vision.

Planets going around the same sun … not going in whatever direction they want.

Remembering your role is to help make something bigger than you better, rather than just caring about how you look.

Working to enable your colleagues to succeed rather than get in the way with needless process or ego.

Making decisions based on what helps serve the ultimate goal, not just your personal preference.

And while I accept protocol and policy will impact our lives and jobs, that’s where leadership comes in.

Ensuring the things that are adopted – or have to adopted – don’t get in the way of what you’re all there to create.

Or said another way, it’s asking one simple question: Will it make the work better?

And that’s why who you hire is so important.

Not just in terms of ability … but in terms of their standards, values, vision and focus.

Because your goal is to build potency not simply capability.

Because the reason a focused company is often a better company is simply because people don’t waste so much of their energy dealing with the internal bullshit of departments who have been allowed to believe they’re the sun, rather than a planet.

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People Who Think They’re Genius, Probably Don’t Know Their History …

A company in the UK was recently invited to be part of a big pitch in China.

A very big pitch.

Because I know the founder of the company – and she knows my history with China – she asked if I could cast my eye over what they were proposing.

She’s a good friend so I said yes.

So over a few hours on zoom, they took me through all their work.

They’d been very busy …

Huge amounts of research.
Huge amounts of analysis.
Huge amounts of thinking.

It was really good, there was just one problem.

It was all wrong.

Not because what they’d discovered wasn’t true or accurate, but simply because they’d fallen for what I call, the planners achilles heel: What you think is interesting and new, isn’t interesting or new for the audience you want to engage’.

Look around and you see it happening everywhere.

From people who think they’ve discovered a new brand that’s been around for years, to consultants who proclaim they’ve invented a new business model that other industries have been using for decades to adfolk spouting theories their predecessors were applying before they were even born.

And while I get there can be innocent reasons for this happening, the inconvenient truth is it’s driven by a pinch of arrogance here … a sliver of laziness there … and a big dollop of the issues that continue to undermine the value and potency of the discipline of strategy within business and agencies.

There is craft in what we do.

A set of practices, standards and values that are designed to help us do better and be better.

Practices, standards and values that were developed over time by brilliant women and men.

Now that doesn’t mean we can’t add to it … play with it … challenge it or reinvent it …but it seems the goal for many is less about what is created and more about how they appear.

Hey, I get it …

We all like recognition and right now, the industry rewards that more than it rewards those who create the work that gets the recognition. Which is utterly terrifying.

But while I would never want to stand in the way of people making a truckload of cash, the desire to satisfy our ego is having an adverse, negative effect on the work we make and the audiences we serve.

Put simply, we’re boring them to death.

Because what we think is cutting edge innovation – whether in creativity or consideration – has been seen before, done before, known before and replaced before.

Or said another way …

Regardless what we want to believe, dDuplication is not innovation and degrees of change is not revolution.

I genuinely believe this industry can be great, innovative and valuable.

But it won’t happen if we continue to ignore rigour and reality in favour of believing if it’s new to us, it must be new to everyone.

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Don’t Let Their Lack Of Achievement Undermine Yours …

A few weeks ago I did a presentation to a bunch of advertising students in London.

While I enjoy this sort of thing, I also appreciate I’m a ‘senior’ old white man … so I’m very conscious of the privilege I have – and had – throughout my career.

With that in mind, I wanted to ensure whatever I said was about as usable as it could get … regardless of where you come from, what you do or whether you lived in London, Liverpool or Lima.

Note I said ‘usable’, because sadly – for all the talk the industry goes on about with D&I policies – there still remains prejudice, whether conscious or not.

So in the end, my talk consisted of 3 slides … of which the one below was not only the most well received, but probably the most important.

Despite the headwinds it faces, this industry can be great.

It has a wide range of brilliant, talented, creative people.

Unfortunately it also has a bunch of bitter and jaded, self-appointed ‘gods’.

People who have achieved a level of ‘industry fame’ based on what they say, rather than what they’ve done. And by that, I mean what they’ve said on Twitter. Yet despite this, they seem to believe it has elevated them to a level of ‘sage’, that means the entire industry exists to impress them.

Of course everyone is entitled to an opinion.

And all experience is experience.

But if you’re starting out, you’re incredibly vulnerable to ‘experienced people’s’ judgement and that can have the effect of either conforming you to doing what they like or undermining your belief in relation to what you like.

Now don’t get me wrong, having your work – and eyes – opened to the views of people who have achieved at the highest level, is incredibly valuable to your growth and development.

But the emphasis is on highest level.

That’s not about someone’s job title.

Not the length of their employment.

But what they have created.

That’s literally it.

And while everyone thinks they have done stuff of note – and in their own way, they likely have – the reality is standards are a bit like Twitter. Your view of the world is in direct proportion to the people you follow … so while there are people on social media and industry blogs who have genuinely learned from the best and created the best, there’s a whole lot more people who have not. They just don’t realise it. Or their ego won’t accept it.

Again, that doesn’t mean they won’t offer some value, but it does mean their view is tainted by the limitation of the work they’ve actually created.

Which is why the best advice for anyone starting out in the industry is to do your homework.

Don’t like an agency or an individual for what they say or how popular they are.

Explore what they’ve actually done.

Was it a one off or has it been consistent?

Have they set standards or just followed others?

Do they push boundaries or just talk about doing it?

Have they done interesting stuff or just know interesting stuff?

This is an amazing industry. It can offer a huge amount. But if you want a career – a good career – you need to find and forge your own voice and you can’t do that if you let popularity silence your individuality or force their words into your mouth.

And that’s why if you face that, especially from people who have never done stuff that is creatively interesting – regardless of their title or experience – then there’s only one course of action to take.

Fuck ’em.

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