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


Why Business Needs To Be More Seinfeld …

I was never a fan of Seinfeld.

Then I’ve never been much of a fan of Jerry Seinfeld either.

I always found him a bit of condescending, self-righteous prick.

Oh I get he is smart.

His observational skills are almost unparalleled.

But you can be a genius and still be an asshole. Step on down Elon Musk.

However recently I read something Jerry said that made me dislike him less.

Not simply because he didn’t know who McKinsey were, but because of what he highlighted is the problem with them. Or more specifically, the problem companies who use them, have.

Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate this paints Jerry as a control freak.

And I also acknowledge that many companies hire McKinsey because they think the challenge they face is hard – rather than easy.

But what I do like about what he says is he won’t outsource his responsibility.

Sure, he could trust those around him more … and sure, his words smack of egomaniac … but to be fair to him, the product he sells is himself – his personality, his character, his humour – so it makes perfect sense he is obsessive about what goes out under his name because he cares deeply about his reputation, values and his quality control.

And that’s a major problem these days.

Too many don’t.

Oh they’ll say they do.

They’ll run internal and external communication that reinforce they do.

But then they’ll go and outsource their responsibilities and decisions to ‘for profit’ external organisations. Either because they don’t want the pressure … the issue is beyond their abilities … or they want someone to blame if things go wrong.

And the issue with this is the external organisation who are now responsible for answering this challenge, often do it with little to no consideration of who they’re doing it for.

How their clients look at the world.

The nuances and quirks that define who the company is and how they act.

So they provide a solution that does exactly what has been asked of them and nothing more.

Solutions agnostic of client values, beyond some superficial characteristics.

And this has resulted in a world filled with identikit functional solutions. Solutions that answer the issue, but at the cost of commoditisation. And all because senior people – who are paid handsomely to be responsible for their organisations wellbeing and growth – decided to outsource their responsibility to another organisation, even though they know they will never care as much about them as they should care about themselves.

Of course not everyone is like this.

Some are as committed and obsessive about how they do things as what they do.

But there are far too many who look for quick wins.

Easy answers.

Less pressure or responsibility.

Which is why I have always thought whether you are a shareholder or an employee, knowing how much the most senior people understand, value and protect the standards, nuance and quirks of the company they represent – not simply the balance sheet – acts as a good indicator you’re with a company who respects the value of their own value.

Not simply in terms of profit.

Nor in reputation.

But in the standards and values that drives all they do and create.

Which is my way of saying that while I still think Jerry Seinfeld is a bit of a dick, I now respect him for knowing where his responsibilities lie.

To both himself, his future and his fans.

Now if only there were more companies and brands who lived by the same mantra.

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Big Enough To Matter, But Not Big Enough To Count …

Recently I was reading an article on Brexit when I came across a comment that stopped me in my tracks.

The reason for it is that in a few words – literally a few – it not only highlighted the issue with many of the shortsighted fools who voted for leaving the European Union – and likely voted for the election of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss – but also could be used to explain the decline of so many companies, institutions and individuals.

This is it …

What a perfectly constructed sentence.

A devastating set of words that places you perfectly in a corner you can’t get out of.

It’s almost a Hollywood movie line it’s so crafted in its underlying viciousness.

But of course, the people it challenges won’t accept it.

They will continue to refuse to acknowledge their complicity in the situation millions now face.

Because as I’ve written before, people has difficulty understanding something when their credibility and reputation depends on them not understanding something.

It’s why they will continue to cast blame on everyone else.

Why they will continue to claim the opposition are more dangerous than the government they voted in … the government that has brought an entire nation to its knees.

But let’s be honest, the reason for their attitude is even uglier than not wanting to own up to what they contributed to. Because for all their claims of wanting a ‘better Britain’ … the real reason behind their choice was to create a barrier between them and people they think are beneath them.

A way to feel socially, morally, professionally superior to those around them, while conveniently choosing to ignore they were either given great advantage from birth over the vast majority of people or seek to mitigate their situation by blaming everyone else for what they have not achieved, despite starting from greater advantage.

I get it. It’s kind-of human nature. It’s also the unspoken truth of democracy – where the reality is we tend to vote for what works for you rather than what’s right for the nation.

Of course the unspoken truth is still better than the alternative … however given the way politics and business are increasingly allowing spin, vitriol and lies, it seems we’re seeing ‘post truth’ as an accepted and embraced business strategy.

And that’s why the independent voice has never been so important.

Not just in the public domain, but within organisations, governments and individual groups.

Not to attack, destroy or dethrone – as is the current trend – but to protect.

To ensure the people making decisions – or the people asking to decide on the options – are aware of the range of possibilities and outcomes that could occur rather than just blindly following a blinkered promise of what will happen.

Not delivered with hyperbole or exaggeration, but with quiet, informed context and facts … delivered by an individual or organisation without political affiliation and respected for their independence.

It doesn’t mean it will stop things like Brexit happening, but it will ensure people who knowingly bend the truths to suit their own agenda or were deliberately ignorant to the choices they made are held to account. Because without that, we carry on down this sorry path where governments, organisations or individuals can choose to ignore previous choices they made, ignore the passing of time that changes the context of everything and ignore the realities others may have caught up and left us behind.

I am under no illusion that the truth hurts, but delusion damages us forever.

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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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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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Hello, End Of Days …

Artisan.

A relatively recent addition to the marketing lexicon.

The attempt to make an everyday product sound special.

The goal to appear you are offering individual craft and care.

The ambition to charge a premium for the smallest possible addition.

And that’s why we now have artisan burgers, cakes and now fucking peanuts … even though the reality is one has swapped a bread roll for a [bought] brioche bun, the other has put some hand-piped icing on the top of some cupcake and a packet of peanuts have had some salt and pepper chucked on top of them.

They’ll be claiming the artisan experience extends to the lorry drivers who chuck boxes of nuts in the basement of the local shop. Though they’d describe it as ‘our highly trained delivery operatives gently hand deliver our artisan nuts to establishments of repute, allaround the country, to maximise the taste experience and customer accessibility’.

This sort of shit does my head in.

What’s worse is it works. At least for some people and brands.

Not because people believe it’s really an artisan product, but because they want to believe they’re special and worth the ‘extra’.

Which says as much about the state of humanity as it does the state of marketing.

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