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


It’s Never A Good Idea To Advertise How Disconnected You Are …

Obviously I have a soft spot for Google.

From cynic to Colenso, they’ve been a constant in my professional as well as personal life.

They are intimately involved in so much of what I do every single day and I appreciate the possibilities they have enabled me to embrace because of them existing.

I know … that sounds unbelievably gushing doesn’t it.

That doesn’t mean there’s not stuff that drives me nuts …

From the way some of their products work [Google Slides, I’m looking at you] through to the passive behaviour they are increasingly showing in the face of challenges that their smarts/money/tech could fundamentally change for the benefit of millions – if not billions – of people. However even with all that, it pales into comparison to this:

What. The. Hell?

Not only is it an absolutely terrible attempt to make a terrible pun, I still don’t know what ‘the new way to cloud’ is. Or means. Or why I should give a second of attention to it.

For a company so full of smart people, how can this happen?

Seriously, this sort of work does the absolute opposite of what Google want.

It makes people question how smart the company is.
It makes people ask if Google know how to talk to people.
It makes people wonder if Google know how to make tech that understands our needs.
It makes people ask if this is the sort of organisation we should trust to shape our future.

Sure, it’s just a random billboard … but for a brand that once represented humanities hope for ensuring technology enabled and empowered a better, brighter, more equal future for all, this work feels more like a politician pretending to smile while they’re busy oppressing us.

I know this isn’t the case, but bloody hell, it’s rubbish.

Which leads me to this.

I don’t know who is behind it. I don’t know if it’s an agency or an internal group. But I have to believe this was made because senior people mandated it or influenced it. Either directly, or indirectly. Which serves as a really good reminder about the dangers of corporate structures.

As Martin, Paula and I said in our Cannes talk, toxic positivity is ruining brands and people.

The idea that ‘team’ is now interpreted as blind complicity and conformity is insane.

But it’s happening. We all see it or have experienced it.

Worse, there’s an underlying attitude that the only way to get ahead is manage up. What I mean is that rather than do the right thing for your audience, you do the right thing by your boss. Doesn’t matter if it makes no sense. Doesn’t matter if it actively confuses the people it is actually designed to communicate to. As long as it hits the ‘cues’ your boss likes, you’re good.

As I wrote recently, toxic positivity is leading to the systematic destruction of knowledge and experience. Great ideas and people are literally being moved out of organisations to be replaced by conformists and pleasers.

Yes, company culture is important.

It has an incredible power to achieve great things.

But here’s the thing too many companies just don’t seem to get.

If you’re mandating it, you don’t have it.

Because real company culture is born from the people within the company. Yes, the people at the top shape and influence it – often through beliefs and a way to look at the world – but the moment you try to dictate or define it, you lose it.

But here’s the thing …

Even when a company gives you something to believe in, they know the real key is to give every employee the power to feel they can be themselves. That they trust them to want to make things better, rather than break things apart.

Which is why they encourage debate.

They value different opinions and ideas.

Because as long as it’s not in a self-serving, divisive manner … it’s almost the ultimate demonstration you want to help make things better.

There are a lot of companies who get this.

There’s sadly far more who don’t.

And everyone loses because of it. Because if companies stopped thinking of company culture in-terms of efficiency and optimisation – and more about standards and quality control – we would all get to better places faster.

Or at the very least, less ads that say everything by saying absolutely nothing.

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What Marketing, Advertising, Strategists And Brand Managers Need To Learn From Hostage Negotiators …

Back in 2021 – on April 1 no less, even though it was not a joke – I wrote how I had spoken to a hostage negotiator.

Among the many things he said to me, one that stood out most was this:

“If you have clients that think words – and how you say them – don’t matter, bring them to me. After all, my job is marketing too”.

Of course, the idea hostage negotiating is similar to marketing is absurd … but what I guess they were trying to say is that by understanding the needs, triggers and context of your ‘audience’, you increase the odds of being successful.

Please note the words ‘increasing the odds’.

I say that because the way our industry talks about ‘certainty’ is disturbing.

That doesn’t mean we’re a stupid risk.

Nor does it mean we can’t be more successful than anyone hoped.

But if you’re working with someone ‘guaranteeing’ the outcome, then they’re either downgrading the metrics and criteria for what they classify as success. Messing with the numbers to suit their own needs. Or just bullshiting.

And there’s a lot of bullshitting out there …

Because so much of what we do is only notionally focused on the needs of the audience.

The reality is the vast amount of attention is directed on the wants of our clients.

On one level, I get it. Our job is to help our clients be more successful than they dared imagine. But often we’re not given the chance to do that, because context and criteria has been set. Using data that is has been focused only on the point of purchase … as if there is absolutely no interest whatsoever in who they are, how they feel, the tensions they face and the situations they deal with.

Said another way … how they live, not just how they buy.

And that’s why the comment from the hostage negotiator was really what they thought marketing should be, rather what it often ends up being.

Which is why the real opportunity for us is to learn from them, not the other way around.

Because they’re proof the more you understand your audience – rather than just what you want your audience to do – the more you can make a difference, rather than just make a sale.

To prove that, I encourage you to watch this.

It’s long. But – as is the case with anything you emotionally engage with – it’s worth it.

Especially when you see how much it means to the negotiators. Let alone the hostages.

Which challenges you to think when was the last time you worked with someone who cared so much about who they served, rather than what they could sell them.

Who knows, it might just change your life or career. Or even save it.

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Growth Comes From Challenges, Not Just Lecturing …

Hello. I’m back.

And because you’ve had no posts for basically 2 weeks, this is going to be a long one.

Yes, I know my posts are already waaaaaaay to long. Sorry, but deal with it.

I had a great time in LA and before that Australia.

Well, I say Australia – but it was in Perth which is closer to Singapore than Sydney.

Met lots of people.
Had good conversation.

It was fun … so thank you State of Social, for inviting me to come over.

I have always loved to go to talks. The stress of putting it together isn’t fun … but for me it’s also about visiting new places, hearing new perspectives and just generally chatting to new people.

And on the rare occasion I get to do a talk with people I know and love, then I get the added benefit – as screenwriter/director Nora Ephron once said was one of the happiest feelings on earth – of enjoying dinner with friends in a city or country none of you live in.

It’s one of my favourite feelings too.

And that’s why Cannes was so special to me.

The event – if I’m being honest – wasn’t that great. Certainly compared to previous times I’d been … and I’ve never really liked it in the first place. But this time it felt the whole industry was in full-on heads-in-the-sand mode.

Nothing highlighted this more to me than the relief/confidence the industry media reported a comment made by Torr – from Apple – in his speech when he said Apple will always need and use agencies. That may be true, but it doesn’t take a data scientist to realise Apple are doing more and more creative work in-house and even their specialist agency – MAL – is seemingly doing less for them.

But I digress …

Because my favourite thing of doing a talk at Cannes was this …

I love these two.

And I love this photo … me, Paula and Martin.

I didn’t exactly have to bully them to do the talk, but I knew I only wanted to do it if they said yes. And the reason for that was we would get to hang out properly for the first time ever.

By that I mean, physically be in the same place … because throughout our time together, we’ve either only met on Zoom or been in situations where just 2 of us would ever be in the same place/country.

So it was special. It was also different.

Because being in the same place – away from the responsibilities of time/life – meant we could properly connect. A deeper way to interact … argue … debate. I totally get why some people prefer working from home. I appreciate the financial impact of travel and time – but you get something more out of being with others ‘in the flesh’, so to speak.

Just like you can learn about other countries from the internet … it’s not the same as actually going there or working there.

But many are discounting this. Claiming they can do their job perfectly well from the comfort of their home. And they probably can … but the question is whether they’re growing and evolving doing it that way. OK, so many will think they are … and many may not care … but there’s a massive difference being immersed in an environment rather than sitting on the outside of it.

I still remember trying to hire someone for W+K Tokyo. They were keen but it was their first overseas move so were rightfully apprehensive. They eventually turned it down and when I asked why, they said they had spoken to someone they knew and they’d advised against it. So I asked if that person had ever lived overseas and they said no – but they’d ‘visited a ton of countries’.

And I am sure they had, but just like looking up a place on the internet doesn’t give you a full understanding about the culture or nuances of a country, either does ‘visiting’ one for a week or two on holiday.

Of course there’s huge amounts you can learn from wherever you are. And there will be stuff that is amazing, important and unique to your situation and nation. But to think there is nothing to learn from outside experiences, perspectives and interactions, is crazy.

And that’s why being with Paula and Martin was so wonderful.

Because we’re bonded by what isn’t common.

We come from different countries.
We all live in different countries from where we were born.
We have all lived in multiple different countries – in my case, double figures.
We [now] all work at different companies and on different clients.
We all have different experiences that has led to different viewpoints.

And while by today’s nationalistic philosophies, it shouldn’t work – in fact we shouldn’t even want to interact – it does. Because perspective and growth comes from the environments, interactions and challenges we embrace … even the stuff that isn’t comfortable.

Sure, it’s all about how you do it – and we do it with respect for the global experiences, exposure and standards we all bring to the table and the knowledge no one is doing it to hurt the other, but to expand perspectives and considerations – but it still can be challenging and we may still may not agree.

Then there’s the fact that we are three, white, privileged adults … so despite having lived in multiple countries and worked with brands on a whole range of challenges and audiences … there’s still huge amounts we want to learn from others outside our frames of reference or understanding.

And while I totally appreciate some don’t want to – or can’t do that – to discount its value says more about the people putting up the barriers and blinkers than it does about the value of the alternative.

And that’s why things like Cannes is important.

The engagements and lessons and interactions.

I wish it wasn’t so expensive so more people could immerse themselves in it rather than just play on the outskirts of it … but wanting to be grow is a noble thing.

And while we were talking at Cannes and had an opinion we wanted to share … we went there wanting to grow too.

And that’s why it was so good to be there. With them.

To listen. To learn. To debate. To argue.

But most of all, to want to be challenged, so we can grow.

I’m lucky to have them in my life. I’m even luckier I got to spend time with them in person.

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Why Words Unlock The Secrets We Hold Deep Inside …

I’m back.

Kinda.

Hang in there, because this is going to be a longish post.

I should say the length is not just because I want to make up for the fact you had a whole week without being subjected to my rubbish … but because you’re getting another week.

No really.

You see by the time you read this, I’ll be in LA.

I know … I know … but it’s for work, honest.

OK, I admit I am looking forward to it because I not only get to see a bunch of mates, I get to do something with Mr Weigel as well. Which means it will be fun, regardless what happens. Certainly fun enough to miss my 16th Wedding anniversary on Friday, which – let’s be honest – is possibly the best present I could ever give Jill.

[Sorry my love, but we both know you will have forgotten, ha]

So as you get another week of peace, I thought I’d leave you with a big post.

But unlike my usual rubbish … this isn’t about strategy, Birkenstocks or Queen.

But it is about sentimentality and love. But not mine – for once.

You see a few weeks ago, I read an article in The Guardian by the author Katherine Heiny.

I don’t know why I read it.

I didn’t know Katherine or any of her work and the article was about her hard-of-hearing Dad … but despite all that, I did.

And I’m so glad.

It was wonderful.

A longish train ride that made stops at laughter, smiles and – at the very end – tears.

Because what Katherine had done so perfectly was capture the increasingly complex relationship we all have with our parents while also realising – hopefully before it’s too late – that for all their sometimes stubborn, stuck-in-their-way views and ways, we love them, admire them and respect them.

Maybe it was because I was reading it at 2 in the morning, but at the end, the tears flowed.

Great big dollops of them.

Not just because she’d captured the love she had for him in such a beautifully raw – yet gentle – way, but because it triggered how I hope Otis will one day think of me. Preferably without the frustrating bits in-between.

Anyway, the impact of the story compelled me to write to her.

I knew there was the risk I’d sound like a stalker … not to mention the high chance my email would be consigned to the junkmail bin either inadvertently or deliberately … but I wanted to let her know how much her writing meant to me.

Yes, I know she’s an author – an accomplished one as it turned out – but how she writes just connected with me more than many other authors I’ve read.

Which is why I was thrilled when, a few days later, I received this from Katherine:

Dear Rob,

Your email made my day (as did the fact that you think I have staff, or at least an assistant). It was the exact opposite of pointless and silly. It really touched me. I miss my parents too. My mother told me once that even after her mother died, my mother thought of things daily that she wanted to tell her. Now I do the same and it seems to me like a way to say “I hold you always in my thoughts.” Please friend me on FB if FB is something you do and thank you (x a million!) for writing.

Katherine x

That she wrote back at all was wonderful.

That she wrote such a lovely message and asked me to FB ‘friend’ her is unparalleled.

Don’t worry though. Because in an act I assume was designed to continue to help Mark Zuckerberg win back public sentiment – boosted massively by the stupidity of Elon Musk – Facebook stopped me ‘friending’ Katherine, as they correctly pointed out I did not know her.

My loss was surely her – and Mr Zuckerberg’s – gain.

Or it was, until Katherine persisted and found a way for us to connect.

What a brilliantly generous human with such an alarming lack of judgement.

Which leaves me to say this …

Thank you so much Katherine.

Not for writing back – though I’m grateful for that – but for celebrating the emotion that comes from honesty, even when it can be the most uncomfortable journey of all.

You can read the story that started this journey, by clicking here.

I’m back next Monday. That should be enough time to have stopped laughing, crying and telling your parents you love them …

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Why Leading A Department Is Part-Time Guard Dog, Part Cat Time Litter Tray …

I hope I’m a decent leader.

While I know there will be some people I’ve worked with, who definitely won’t hold that view … I hope the majority do.

Because – believe it or not – I try hard to be.

Sure, I make some mistakes.
And I can definitely be a pain in the ass.
But I am committed and invested in being the best boss I can be.

I consider myself fortunate because over the years, I’ve had incredible ‘teachers’.

From my parents to mentors to some old bosses … and of course, a few who were so shite, they taught me what not to do, haha.

And while there are many things I believe, adopt and hold dear, one of the most important is: always back your team in public and resolve disputes in private.

It sounds obvious … and it is … but it’s not always followed.

I’ve heard some shocking examples on Corporate Gaslighting … stuff that doesn’t just sound vicious, but the act of megalomaniacs.

But in terms of backing the team, there were few better than football manager legends, Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson.

Yes, I accept they may have had some usual ways of doing this – and demonstrating this – but players knew that unless something exceptionally terrible had happened, their managers would always back them should they face public or managerial scrutiny.

Of course, there was a cost for this …

A cost that was simple but exhaustive.

And it was that the gift of being backed was reciprocated with dedication, focus and effort.

And that – to me – is key.

It’s OK to make mistakes.
It’s alright to sometimes mess things up.
But it can’t be because you were lazy or distracted.

I’ve said it many times, but I believe my job is to ensure that when someone in my team leaves, as they all will at some point, they go because they have a better job than they ever could have imagined.

Chosen for who they are, not just what they do.
Known for what they’ve created, not how well they’re known.
Chased for what they’ve changed, not what they maintained.

OK, there are some exceptions to that – mainly personal reasons, like love or a chance to chase something they’ve always wanted – but I believe I have a responsibility to them to help develop their natural talent, find and release their distinct strategic voice and move things out the way so they can create the most interesting shit of their lives.

It’s why my absolute worst scenario is someone leaving for a sideways move.

Oh my god, I would honestly feel I’d failed them.

And that’s why I place so much importance in backing them and showing my belief in them.

That doesn’t mean it’s blind faith.

We have very honest conversations a lot.

From gentle chats to bi-annual check-in/reviews … but they’re in private and focused on being through the lens of me wanting them to win.

Whether I achieve this is something only they can say. I hope most would agree with it [even those when we’ve parted ways] but if not, then I can assure them I’m working harder to be better.

The reason I say all this is because I saw something recently that I thought was a perfect example of backing the team.

It’s from the British Police.

Now they are getting a lot of stick at the moment. A lot totally deserved.

But this time it’s not them trying to justify an indefensible act … it’s something that resonated with me, because of Otis’ dysgraphia.

It was this.

The British Police – or maybe it’s all Police these days – have a bad reputation.

It’s manifested in mistrust and a lack of people wanting to sign up.

And while I fully appreciate they have a tough job and want to get better [as we saw with West Midland’s Police hiring my mate, Kay, to be their ‘artist in residence’ to better understand and connect to youth culture] … it’s acts like this that are more likely to help the public see the human side of the force as well as the compassionate side.

Anyone who runs a team knows it can be a painful job.

Some days it can feel more like being a cat-litter tray.

But when they know you’ll back them, they’ll back you with their talent, focus and commitment.

Well done Carlisle Police … we need more backing of people with neuro-diversity. Because the more we back those who are different, the more they will show the difference they can make.

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