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


Is Adland Turning Into Liz Hurley. Or Dan Bilzerian?

As many of you know, I HATE the band, ‘The Smiths’.

Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate.

However, I recently saw an old article from their guitarist – Johnny Marr – that I really like.

I should say that I’m not saying this because he also now hates the racist prick that is Mr Miserable Morrissey … or that he lives in Portland and has been known to play with some old W+K’ers … but because I absolutely love the last line of this quote:

Maybe I like it because I’m reacting to the many people in the industry who are achieving acclaim for not actually doing anything other than repeatedly spouting very deliberate, very self-serving soundbites … or said another way, for being famous for being famous … but the idea of someone working hard at something for the sheer desire to be good at something seems a relic of the past.

I know, I sound the grumpiest of grumpy old men.

The reality is I don’t begrudge anyone who is doing what they can to make a living.

Even if it’s utterly strategic and contrived in its motivation.

And I also know there’s people out there who do have a ‘work hard to just be better at something I want to be better at’ work ethic … people like Maya Thompson and Joel Goodall to name but 2.

But the bit that bothers me is the industry is placing so much value on people who shout stuff rather than do stuff that it is actively encouraging more people to behave this way.

Being good at something – just because it feels good to be good at something – seems to becoming more and more of an outdated concept.

In some ways I get it.

Just because you enjoy something doesn’t mean you’ll be good at it. Or good to the level that it could serve you well. So why would you put in all that effort when it may not move you forward?

I also appreciate I am the last person who should be talking about this.

When I learnt the guitar, I did it because I wanted to be a rockstar.

Sure, I also wanted to write songs and play them with my bandmates, because I loved doing that … but the ‘benefits’ of stardom were definitely a major influence in my decision to pick up the 6 string.

I used to look at old guys playing in bands [ie: people who are my current age] as pathetic.

I used to think they were hanging on to dreams they’d never achieve and it was all a bit sad.

But now I’m at their age, I realise it’s no longer about that, it’s about pure enjoyment.

That regardless of what might – or probably might not – happen, the joy of doing something you love, like and are quite good at, is fulfilling enough.

Sure, there are better guitarists out there than me.

Guitarists who will achieve success, money and fame … but that’s OK, because just being able to play to a good standard is OK with me.

It’s a demonstration that I committed myself to something.

Didn’t take the easy option.

Didn’t give up.

It’s the fact I can play the guitar that makes me happy.

Of course it’s nice if others recognise that, but that isn’t important.

Neither is the case that a long time ago, I played guitar for a few semi-famous people.

In fact, given I no longer play for any semi-famous people, you could argue I’ve got worse … except I don’t think that way. Not just because so much of that is down to luck, but because I am happy that I found something that gave me – and gives me – pleasure through a constant feeling of challenge and achievement and that is not to be underestimated.

A gift that has lasted 38 years and counting.

Throughout my life I have met people who have planned their life so well.

They knew their next step … they knew the skills they needed to acquire to get where they wanted to go … they worked everything out in excruciating detail.

I used to sort-of envy these people.

I used to wonder what was wrong with me because I sort of bumbled along, choosing things that interested me rather than necessarily rewarded me.

Please don’t think I am claiming to be a saint, but I can say that money was never the driving factor in my choices – except once, which led to one of the most soul destroying periods of my life which reinforced that my way of making decisions – however stupid – was perfect for me.

In fact, I realise more and more that what works for me is less about efficiency of progress and more about emotional satisfaction.

And that’s why I love that Johnny Marr quote, because he captured that while people who have gained the highest job title or have been put on the highest hype pedestal are good … the real stars are the folk who simply get on with what they do.

Who take pride in a job well done because that’s the standards they operate by.

Not for progress or cash incentives, but because they believe that’s what’s right.

They view it as a testimony to their hard work and experience.

That being good at something is – to a large extent – good enough.

Sure, some of these people also sit at the top tables of companies … but most tend to be people who let other people shine through their abilities at doing something well.

I am not one of these people.

I want to be.

I try to be.

But I’m not.

I write a blog and court attention.

I try to do it for the right reasons – I genuinely do – but, let’s be honest, I also do it because for some mad fucking reason, it’s also become quite good for my career.

To be honest, that’s pretty sad and pathetic.

And that’s why I am so glad I play the guitar.

Because while my reasons to pick it up may have been flawed, it was the sheer joy of wanting to get better at something that gave me sheer joy that kept me going with it.

I hope everyone finds that thing.

We will all be better for it.

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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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We Need More Bob. [Hoskins, Not Campbell’s]

First of all, as today is 11.11, I want to acknowledge all the people who paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the world had peace.

Given the state of where we’re all at, there is the potential it was all in vain, so I hope sanity prevails and tyrants are dealt with.

OK, now I’ve done the mature bit, I want to talk about Bob Hoskins.

No … not because I have more than a passing resemblance to him … but because I read something recently that reinforced why I liked him so much.

For those who don’t know who he is, he’s the now deceased British actor famous for his roles in movies such as, The Long Good Friday, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, TwentyFourSeven [by my mate Midlands mate, Shane Meadows] and errrrrm, the iconic tragedy that was Super Mario Bros … the first ever movie based on a video game and notorious for how terrible the filming was, let alone the final product.

[More on that last one in a minute]

However where my appreciation of Bob started was not in a movie but in an interview.

He was on a chat show and they asked him …

“How hard is it to film back to back movies?”

He could have gone on a rant about the demands it takes out on him.

Not seeing his family.

Not being home.

The physical and mental exhaustion.

But he didn’t, he said this:

“I’ll tell you what’s hard. Nurses jobs are hard. Single parents lives are hard. Working in a factory is hard. I’m well looked after and well paid for pretending to be someone else on a screen, My life isn’t hard compared to those people. They’re the one’s who deserve the adulation, not me”.

And he meant every word, because not only was Hoskins notoriously self aware, he also found the Hollywood machine very uncomfortable. He loved acting but he hated the fawning.

Nothing sums this up more than his involvement with the movie Super Mario Bros.

The full disaster of the filming can be read here or here … but this quote by Hoskins probably sums it up best:

“The worst thing I ever did? Super Mario Bros. It was a fucking nightmare. The whole experience was a nightmare. It had a husband-and-wife team directing, whose arrogance had been mistaken for talent. After so many weeks, their own agent told them to get off the set! Fucking nightmare. Fucking idiots.”

However after the movie he said something that not only summed up his love of his children and his chosen career, but captured why the advertising industry – for all its faults – can still hold magic.

Sure, not what it once was.

Sure, with it having huge implications on its future.

But something that I can’t imagine many other industries having.

And while we strive to be taken seriously as a discipline in the world of commerce, it might be with worth us remembering its the ridiculousness that made/makes us special. For the work it lets us create. For the influence on culture we can shape. For the way we can make brands something people want to know more about rather than just ignore.

It may be stupid.

It may not always make sense.

But at our best, it’s the ridiculous ways we see and operate in the world that can help business achieve – and mean more – than they ever imagined.

It’s time we remembered that.

It’s time companies remembered that.

Because when you see the vast majority of work put out at enormous expense – researched to within an inch of its life and judged by ‘gurus’ who generally have never actually created anything in their life [other than their own sense of self-importance] and have a limited view of what creativity is and can do, you can’t help but wonder if it is there to push us away rather than pull us in.

Have a great weekend.

Make it a ridiculous one.

Be more like Bob. Hoskins, not Campbell.

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Why Commitment Beats Interested …

I recently saw the above photo and immediately fell in love with it.

Not because it’s slightly bonkers – but it helps – but because I love the commitment of them.

Now I have no idea if they were booked to appear with that look.

I have no idea if they’re a real band, though I know ‘rock bands that play kids parties’ exist because the wonderful show Z Rock was based on one. [In fact the actors in the show, were the actual band]

And I don’t know if the music they play reflects how they look.

But I love it.

I love every bit of it.

Because rather than pander, they’ve committed.

Committed to who they are.

Committed to what they believe.

Committed to what they want to do.

There’s not enough of that. Oh we hear so many brands – and bands – talk about their ‘purpose’, but that’s just a PR headline because their actions often demonstrate the only thing they are committed to is whatever is needed to make money.

There is more authenticity in this trio of rock crazies than 99% of the companies who profess to be driven by their purpose.

But here’s the thing, commitment is about inconvenience.

Doing – or not doing – the things that reflect your belief.

Of course there are implications to that …

But while others may be more successful or richer, there is one thing you’ll have they won’t …

The ability to sleep at night.

And given we are also seeing more and more people choosing those who are committed to their belief, regardless of inconvenience, there’s a chance you could be more successful and richer too.

You can’t fake commitment.

You can’t be temporarily interested in it.

You can’t use it as a marketing platform.

Because commitment shows up in what you say, what you do and how you do it ALL THE TIME IN EVERY WAY.

Commitment achieves things interested can’t.

Commitment gives you standards, interested can’t even see.

Commitment pushes possibilities, interested will never understand.

Commitment wants you to succeed in ways interested will never get close to.

That’s the difference between the imposter purpose pedlars and the real deal.

It’s not something different every 12 months.

It’s not simply expressed through their marketing.

It’s not only doing things if you can make money from it.

It’s not changing direction when things don’t go exactly as planned.

Of course, that doesn’t mean people will only choose the committed. The fact is humans are all hypocritical beasts who like their moments of easy and cheap. However, in this superficial, short-cut, high-cost, hype world … commitment has a way of standing out in ways they will never even understand.

Which is why I love the people in this photo more than I do other kids entertainers.

Not because those other entertainers don’t have talent or a right to make a living … but because this trio of rock band musicians know who they are rather than are selling themselves as whoever others want them to be.

In a world where you don’t know who you can rely on, I say choose those who are committed, not interested.

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Another Day, Another Postbox Post …

No, I don’t know what’s with all the postbox posts [even though in reality, there’s only been 2 in 16 years] but just like that old adage of ‘you wait for a bus and then 2 come at once’ … here is a second post about postboxes in a week.

First of all, DO NOT PANIC.

It is not as sentimental as yesterday’s.

Probably.

But recently someone sent me a photo of this …

Yes, that’s a sticker rather than a real ‘blue plaque’.

Yes, it’s about Danger Mouse rather than a real* historical figure.

But it’s still absolutely fucking awesome.

For those who don’t know what a blue plaque is a permanent sign installed in public places that commemorate a link between that specific location and a famous person, event, or a former building that serves as a historical marker.

[Yes, I did get that from Wikipedia]

For those who don’t know who Danger Mouse is … then I just feel sorry for you, because he’s the best. At least the 80’s version of him … not to mention his sidekick, Penfold – who a certain past commentator on this blog once said I had an alarming resemblance to.

Though he also once said that about the comedian Harry Hill … all because that I once turned up at a Coca-Cola event in a suit.

That said, when I look at a photo of that event – from 1996 – even I have to admit there is more than a passing resemblance to both of them. Though as tragic as that is, I ended up winning ‘best dressed’ for simply not wearing shit jeans and an ironic t-shirt, which pleased me no end but pissed off all the very glamorous female guests who were in attendance.

Anyway, if you need more info on Danger Mouse, please go here.

And to see me – I mean Penfold – please go here.

Or just look at this …

But the real reason I love this letterbox with the Danger Mouse blue circle as a sticker is that someone did it.

They decided it would be worth while doing.

Which means having the idea.
Designing it.
Getting it made.
Then going to the postbox on Baker Street in London – where Danger Mouse lives – and sticking it there.
And not just anywhere on the postbox, but low – where DM enters and leaves his place.

Some may say that’s madness.

Some may say that’s a waste of time and money.

But to me, that’s an act of wonderfulness.

A true commitment to craft, creativity and authenticity.

And what’s better is that while many may miss it, those who see it not only love it … but tell people about it. Which is a lot more than many of the multi-million, 48 sheet billboard, TV ads and digital DTC campaigns ever achieve.

So to whoever did this. Thank you.

You restored my faith in craft, commitment and ridiculousness.

And reignited my love of Danger Mouse. [But not Penfold]

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* Even though Danger Mouse was a fictional character, he lives in my memories and heart and that’s more than some living, breathing people … which means Danger Mouse is real to me. Deal with it.