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


More Than The MD, But The Boss …

This is Angela.

Her official title is the Managing Director of Colenso.

But actually she’s the boss.

Not just because of how she is sitting, but because of how she operates.

Leading without dictating.

Encouraging without patronising.

Liberating without restricting.

The great, great thing about Angela is that for all the experience and success she’s gained, she is open and hungry to let the energy, ambition and values of youth to keep shaping and changing where we are going.

Angela’s strength is she wants everyone to win.

She opens the door to opportunities for talent to run in and do their thing rather than closing it behind her so she can have all the power.

But then female leadership has always seen winning differently to a lot of men.

Progress for all rather than power for one.

And before certain men start spouting their sexist shit at me like they did when I wrote about how more female leadership will give the industry a real chance to grow, I appreciate not all male leaders are like this.

But a hell of a lot are.

And – if you look at Corporate Gaslighting and/or read Zoe Scaman’s brilliant, brave but totally unsurprising Mad Men and Furious Women – many of them are doing stuff … and are being allowed to get away with stuff, often by companies that talk about their commitment to their staffs wellbeing and mental health … that is a fuckload worse.



Niche Business Is Still A Business …

Recently I did a talk with a client of mine, the brilliant Hankook Kim – founder of the brilliant Gentle Monster.

For those who don’t know who Gentle Monster is … in simple terms they’re a street culture, luxury eyewear brand who do some of the most brilliant – and crazy – collaborations you’ve ever seen. From World of Warcraft to their own brand of cake shops to pretty much everything in-between.

Anyway, we gave a presentation to a bunch of venture capitalists called Mosquitos Annoy The Fuck Out Of Giants and it highlighted the short-sightedness of their scalability investment model.

For example, Gentle Monster were initially turned down by a lot of VC’s because they saw them as only ever having a small retail presence, literally ignoring the fact he started the company with the goal of having an outsized cultural impact … whether that was through the design of his stores, the collabs he would do or the focus on making eyewear for Asian facial structures – when most other manufacturers based their product on larger Western physical features.

Obviously in all of this, Mr Kim brought the credibility whereas I just brought the punches … but it was a huge amount of fun, regardless if we convinced the VC’s or conflicted them.

The reason I say this is because I recently got sent the ad above about the beatboxing funeral musician.

On first glance you may wonder how many people would want that, but then you think about it and you realise that maybe quite a few do.

Not just because they like beatboxing, but because they want to go out with fanfare.

A few years ago I wrote about the songs I want played at my funeral, and while most remain the same [though I’ll be adding Myles Kennedy’s Love Can Only Heal, to it] … I’ll still have Europe’s classic ‘The Final Countdown’ to end proceedings.

Now I appreciate some will see that as a highly inappropriate song choice, but that’s kind of the reason for it.

To make sure whoever bothers to turn up is sent off with a smile.

To ensure my last ever act one has a glint of cheekiness and mischief.

To say thank you to everyone who made my life better than I ever imagined it could be.

And while this may all sound like I’m a delusional fool, the reality is it is important to me and I would be willing to pay a premium for it – especially if it’s the last thing I’ll ever pay for – which is why this is a reminder that before you judge, [1] remember it’s not whether you like it, but whether others do and [2] your definition of success may not be the same as theirs.



The Power Of Presence …

So recently a friend of mine sent me this video of Prince performing at the Brit awards in 2006.

I don’t just love it because I miss his talent.

Nor do I just love it because it reminds me of what a phenomenal musician he was – with his guitar playing in particular being of Rock God standard.

And I don’t just love it for the beautiful moment he and Darling Nisi sing the chorus of Purple Rain – even though her smile shows how joyful she feels at the moment.

No, the main reason I love it is because of his stage presence. The sheer commitment to performance. The spectacle that is impossible to ignore.

This is more than just being a famous musician performing in front of others – I’ve seen many do that and bore everyone to tears – no, this is about his magnetism.

All eyes are on him. Despite a stage of dazzling talent and dance, you never move your gaze off him. You end up feeling all your emotions have been given a thorough workout despite him being on stage just 12 minutes. I haven’t seen anything like that since Queen’s iconic performance at Live Aid … where in just 20 minutes, they secured their place as music icons.

There are actually less people who have this talent than you think, but one who had it in ‘the real world’ for me was a guy called Chris Jaques.

Years ago I wrote how I had to hold my hands together under the table at our first pitch presentation together because he was so amazing, I just wanted to clap.

I also wrote how anyone who ever worked with Chris who saw the carousel scene in the TV show, Mad Men, thought it could have been him.

He was that good.

But it wasn’t just because he was exceptionally smart.
Nor because he was also exceptionally talented.
But because he had an energy around him that you could not ignore.

He had the incredible ability to make you think he was only talking to you, even in a crowded room. He was clear, open and pragmatic with his opinions. He would go out of his way to ensure everyone felt included and involved. But there was never any doubt he was the leader. You wanted to work for him. Be better for him. When he walked in a room you felt his presence before he said a word. Not because of his power or wealth or standing … but because you felt it was going to be a valuable moment.

But what was even more special about Chris is that he never let this adulation go to his head. OK, not much anyway … certainly less than the people who think they have this impact … which meant he was always approachable but always valuable.

While there are some amazing people out in adland, there’s less Chris’ these days. Whether that’s because they have chosen different industries or this industry hounds people like Chris out is up for debate … but I do feel it’s a great loss.

Many like to refer to them as dinosaurs … people of another time who are no longer relevant. But people who say that have never worked with people like that. They probably wouldn’t want to as they would be challenged and questioned.

But what they don’t understand is their comments wouldn’t be about them.

They would just be talking about the work.

Wanting to help them be better by pushing their own boundaries.

And that’s why everyone should listen to this interview by the irrepressible Tony Davidson of Wieden London.

Tony – along with Kim – basically made that office and his interview is special.

He reminds me a lot of Chris.

Sure, their methods and approaches were very different, but the impact he had on me was very similar.

But after 20 years, Tony is leaving Wieden. While I am in no doubt that he will go on to do other amazing things, the reality is another person who made this industry interesting is going.

And while there are still some out there – Nils Leonard at Uncommon, Angela Watson at Colenso, Jorge Calleja at CPB, Ellie Norman at F1, Susan Hoffman at Wieden and Ryan Fisher at Wieden London to name a few – the industry still seemingly likes to give more face-time to the faceless and beige than the people who make things wonderful and weird.

Maybe that’s the industries insecurity showing [again] but as much as we are talking about mental health and work/life balance in a bid to lure people back to us [which is important and well over due]… maybe another way would be putting the weird, interesting and intriguing in the spotlight again.

Because you don’t attract the creative with even more logic, you attract them with people who have made ridiculous powerful and effective.



Here’s To Those Comfortable With Uncomfortable …

I recently saw the above quote in The Athletic magazine.

The idea that Manchester City – albeit during their less successful period – had to provide ‘rain charts’ to show potential signings that their city was not wetter than London surprised me.

Then I came to my senses.

Society has an incredible knack of trying to lift themselves up by putting others down.

Obviously racism is the work example of this, but we do it everyday in lots of little ways.

From blanket attitudes such as …

“People from the North are backwards”.

To city affirmations such as …

“Manchester is the musical capital of England”.

To hierarchy comparison such as …

“I may be from Nottingham but at least I’m not from Derby”.

It’s not only bollocks, it’s also often stated by people who have never gone anywhere near the cities/countries they are negatively judging. Now I know people will say it’s all a bit of a joke – and I appreciate between mates, it can be – but there’s a lot of perceived truth in those sorts of statements, which has been exploited by all manner of organisations, especially politics.

When I lived in China, I was shocked how hard it was to recruit people from outside of Asia to come and work at Wieden+Kennedy.

OK, it may have been because they didn’t want to work with me … but even then, the amount of people who started off claiming to be interested and then said ‘it wasn’t for them’, was incredible. [Though maybe you will still find it understandable. Bastards. Ha]

There was a time where I almost gave up wanting to hire people from outside the region due to it being so much hassle. But the reality was I always felt it important to have a real mix in the gang. Sure, the vast majority of them had to be from the country/region – but by incorporating people from outside of it, I felt it created a tension that led to better and more provocative thinking. In addition, it could also help stop the blind and blinkered views we kept seeing and hearing from the West … because the more Westerners we got to experience the crazy, infectious magic of the nation, the more positive voices we would infect the rest of the world with.

But many people we talked to weren’t interested in changing their blinkered opinion.

So many didn’t even bother to investigate more about China, they were just happy to keep making their false judgements.

Oh they were all very happy to work for Wieden+Kennedy, they just didn’t want it to be in China and would often say, “but if you could connect me to people in London/Portland/NY/Amsterdam” etc.

And if they were really interesting and had a valid reason to not leave their country, I would.

Didn’t happen often.

I find it amazing that people – especially planners – don’t want to explore the World.

Planners go on about curiosity but what they mean is they are curious under certain conditions of personal comfort.

Behind a desk.
Surrounded by people and things they know.
Never venturing outside of the bubble they’ve created.

Of course not everyone is like this, but there’s a lot who are. Viewing the world and passing judgement on it via Twitter rather than experience.

In the case of China – as with anywhere I’ve lived – if the issue became about the country we were in, it probably wasn’t going to work. Of course it was OK to have concerns and questions, but if I sensed you saw it as a hardship rather than an opportunity or you thought you knew everything when you would have to relearn everything, you were not going to be someone I wanted on the team.

I was, and still am, eternally grateful to everyone I’ve had the honour to work with – and I’ve been incredibly fortunate with the incredible and diverse talent I’ve inherited and nurtured – however those in China will always have a unique place in my heart.

Because whether they were from China, Asia or further afield, all of them knew what they were taking on with the job. Not just in terms of the standards and expectations of Wieden+Kennedy, but the inherent perceptions, prejudices and lies that existed in society – and the ad industry as a whole – towards China and Asia.

And it’s for this reason that I fucking loved seeing them do work others could only dream about, especially when the industries perception was ‘China doesn’t do great work’ or ‘there’s no good planning in Asia’ … often muttered by people who have neither been to China or done great work.

But even that doesn’t make me as happy as seeing where they have all ended up …

Not just in terms of the level they’re at – from running departments, big pieces of business or companies – but the actual organisations they work with or have worked with.

Nike. Ideo. Tik-Tok. Wieden. Mother. 72. Anomoly. Supreme. Playstation. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Facebook. Google. Net-A-Porter. Instagram.

Not just in China but in countries that include America, Taiwan, Holland, UK, Singapore and Australia. Not forgetting the mob who decided to start their own thing and are now working on a bunch of fascinating projects from gaming to research.

I’m not just proud of them, I’m excited for them … because I truly believe they will do stuff that is interesting, intriguing and valuable for the rest of us.

And while most of their achievements are down to their talent and graft, another part is because of what China gave them.

Unique knowledge, experience and understanding of people and situations.

Some will never understand that.

Some will never value that.

But for those who were there – and the companies who hired them – they absolutely do.

Because while some make choices based on not wanting to leave things behind, this group of wonderful fools made their decisions based on what they could gain … and they didn’t need a rain comparison chart to convince them.

Thank you to all of them.

Thank you to anyone who runs towards the challenge not the comfortable.



Subscribing To Foolishness …

Our industry loves to follow trends.

Storytelling.

Programatic.

Digital transformation.

DTC.

And the current fave – subscription services.

Each one promising better results than what went before – and yet they often leave a trail of destruction in its wake.

Part of this is because some companies do it simply to look like they are not being left behind, regardless of the fact the business situation they are in means it is either inaaprioate or irrelevant. And part of it is because the impact being promised by the agencies and consultancies is more fiction than a career write-up on Linkedin.

Subscription models are just another example in a long line of examples.

We are seeing companies jump on the subscription model as if it’s a guarantee of unbelievable success.

That by simply offering your product or service at a small monthly fee, untold riches will be raining down on you.

It isn’t.

For a start you need a quality product that fulfils a continuous need – real or perceived.

NIKE’s brilliant Adventure Club is a brilliant example of this.

It satisfies a real need with a quality product that makes sense to parents and appeals to kids.

Disney+ is another.

Both of those are examples of companies who know their audience, know their business and know how to offer a service that has real value to their customers emotionally and culturally.

Then there’s companies like Prisma.

Remember them?

They’re the company who was momentarily popular with it’s smartphone photo filtering app.

Well today, they’re trying to charge £65 a year to use their ‘service’.

SIXTY FIVE POUNDS!!!!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Now I appreciate that works out to be only £1+ a week … people are taking endless amounts of photos each and every day … but while that might all sound a perfect justification for a consultant to sell a subscription service, it fails on so many of the basics.

Their plan shows no understanding of who they are talking to.

Nor any understanding of the actual business they are in.

And don’t get me started on the lack of understanding what problem they’re solving or the lack of evolution their product offers.

It is a perfect example of bandwagon jumping.

A desperate, last-chance-saloon act to try and stay alive.

A business model based on hope rather than actual strategy.

Someone sold them this.

I don’t know if it was someone internally or external, but this one-size-fits all, white label productising approach to business is killing business.

Yes there may be common issues.

Yes there may be common considerations.

But thinking you can just plug and play a solution because it may have worked for someone else is almost criminal.

And yet many companies don’t want to hear truth.

They don’t want to listen to what their real problem is.

They don’t want to accept people only have a limited amount of cash to spend on these things.

Instead, they happily pay exorbitant amounts to outsource their responsibility for a solution that looks like everyone else’s solution.

As with so many of these ‘business approach trends’, the real winners are those who are the most adept at selling the problem rather than the solution. The organisations who ‘package approaches’ that allow the C-Suite to feel they’re doing something, even though they have been designed to substantially drive the ‘sellers’ growth. ‘Approaches’ that will be sold almost identically to the next client, regardless of their industry or situation.

And the market thinks this is a good thing.

Selling bandaids at ridiculously high prices.

And while PRISMA may have had no other option left to them than to jump on the subscription model bandwagon, you can almost guarantee this approach won’t work for them … because their problem isn’t really price, their problem is they’re not a business.