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


Don’t Want Something So Much That You Do Something You Don’t Want …

When I was at cynic, I wasn’t allowed to talk money with clients.

The main reason for this is that while I like money, I like doing weird and wonderful things more … so I used to agree to terrible terms just because I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss out on doing something we were really excited by.

Now I get we like to think there’s some sort of logic to this approach, but as George kindly told me – while punching me in the head – what I was doing was undermining our position.

For a start, your relationship with the client is impacted. That doesn’t mean they don’t value you, but it means they don’t value you as much as they should. They see you as a ‘cheap problem solver’ rather than a valuable problem solver.

Then there’s the fact all your additional time and passion will never be rewarded to the level it deserves. The worst part is this is your own fault as you already set the precedent for how much you are worth by lowering your fee to such a great degree.

And then there’s the dilution of the projects importance.

In essence, when something is made much cheaper, the effect is its value goes the same way. Going from something significant to just another thing being done. From having a strong focus within the company management to being delegated to people who don’t really have the same decision making power.

Before you know it, clients start questioning other things you’re doing.

Asking why certain things need to be done. Challenging the time or expense on the elements that show the real craft.

Leaving the end result a lesser version of what it should have been.

Now this doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens a lot.

And while I get we are in a highly competitive time, where everyone is looking to save cash – the ease in which we undermine our own value is both astonishing and debilitating.

George’s brilliance was his ability to have us walk away.

I have to be honest, we had many arguments about this over the years … but in the main, he was right.

His point was ‘why would someone value us if we’re not valuing us?’.

It’s a pretty compelling argument.

This doesn’t mean we weren’t open to negotiation, but George’s position was ‘never forget we have something they want because we’ve shown them something they need’.

Another pretty compelling argument.

And while this approach helped us not only win all manner of great creative projects – but helped us be a profitable, sustainable company – I still found it hard to deal with.

Hell, on the occasion we didn’t win a project because somebody said they could do it for cheaper, I was a bloody nightmare. George used to say it was because I am an only child – which may be right – because I hated not getting what I really, really wanted.

And even then, George was the voice of reason.

“Why are you upset about losing a project with a client who wants to go down to a price point rather than up to a standard?”

ARGHHHHH!

What makes it worse is he meant it.

He, more than any of us, knew our value and wasn’t going to let us let go of something we had worked so hard to earn.

He’s right of course.

It’s the reason the best work comes from people who share the same goal.

To aim high, not cheap.

Sure, money comes into it … but the focus is always the quality of the output not just the price.

It’s why Cynic was so exciting.
It’s why Wieden+Kennedy are so special.
It’s why Metallica’s management are so influential.
It’s why all the work I’m doing right now is so fascinating.

George taught me so much.

While I appreciate I’m in a much more privileged position than many, nowadays I am totally comfortable with walking away from a project if I feel the vision, ambition and value for a project is not shared.

And what’s weird is that while that approach has resulted in me walking away from a lot of potentially interesting projects that were worth a lot of money to me – especially over the last 6 months – it has brought me a range of fascinating clients and projects [and cash] that most agencies would kill to have a chance to work on.

I’ve written about knowing the value of your value in the past.

I’ve talked about how that lets you play procurement at their own game.

And while it feels scary to stick to your standards when someone is threatening to take away something you really want, it also makes you feel alive.

Butterflies of excitement. A taste of power and control. Nervousness of being in the game.

And while it might not always come off and while you may be able to justify why it would be easier to just take whatever they want to give you … it’s a beautiful feeling to feel you matter. That your work matters. That the way you look at the world matters. That what you want to create matters. That you won’t allow yourself to do something simply because you’re the cheapest. Or allow a bad process to force a diluted version of what you were hired to do. Or let yourself be evaluated by someone who doesn’t care about what you’re creating, just that it’s done. That you matter enough to not allow others to negatively judge you for terrible conditions they put you in.

It can take time to come to terms with this.

It took me almost 20 years to really get it.

And while some may call you a pretentious or stubborn or commercially ignorant, the reality is dismissing the value of your value simply to make things commercially viable for everyone else is simply the most stupid thing you can do.

Because to paraphrase something Harrison Ford once said, when you devalue the value of something you’ve spent your whole life working at, you’re not just being irresponsible, you’re not valuing the value of the time, experience and expertise it has taken to get you to that point.

George knew this.

George helped me benefit from this.

George eventually got me to understand this.

And I’ll always be grateful for that gift.

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I’ve removed comments. Not just because I’m scared of the mountain of abuse the ex-cynic alumni who comment on here may/will give me. But because I’m even more frightened they may bathe George in even more praise and that would be too much for me to deal with.

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Take Their Breath Away …

So as last week was all about Otis – who had an amazing birthday – I thought I’d get back to normal by writing my usual shit this week.

The good news is it’s the last week of me writing posts for this year, so you only have 5 days to go before one of the horrors of 2020 disappears.

Only for it to start in the early weeks of 2021.

Cue: Evil Laugh.

Anyway, this post is about luck.

That thing where great outcomes seemingly appear from nowhere.

And while that is true for some … like lottery winners … the reality is there’s something very few people seem to talk about, and that is our own role in increasing the odds of it happening.

The golfer Gary Player once said, “The more I practice, the luckier I get”.

That’s a nice line, but he is also saying something important, and that is ‘what are you doing to make it happen?’

I think I have written about how I met Baz – who comments on here – but just in case, let me say it again.

We were interviewing for an entry level job at Cynic.

Andy comes out to find me, tells me I have to meet this kid and ask him about his references.

So in I go and ask him who his references are, to which he replies:

“Kofi Annan, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Steve Jobs”

My favourite bit is his reaction when I asked if they were real.

The disgust on his face at being asked such a thing will live with me forever.

The reality is, they were his references. Over the years he had written to them – and others – to say he wanted to meet them to see if they had his generations best interests at heart.

And while that’s ballsy, he wasn’t doing it in some precocious, self-serving way.

He cared and had concern for his generation.

He wanted to know if these people who were very influential in culture at various moments in his early years, viewed his generation as friends or foe.

And maybe it’s this earnestness that led to those 4 agreeing to meet him at various periods of his life … but I bet they weren’t prepared for what he did next, which was ask them to then write him a reference. Hahaha.

Of course we hired him. Then he got hired by Steve Jobs. Then he went on to do a bunch of wonderfully entrepreneurial things while acting as a consultant for a bunch of companies from Apple to Zuji.

Literally the A to Z of creative tech.

Now, as much as it pains me, I have to admit Baz is incredibly sharp and smart … but the reality is there’s a lot of people like that who haven’t had the breaks Baz has enjoyed.

But was it all down to luck or was it down to him helping increase the odds of it?

I say this because I recently read an interview with the music producer Giorgio Moroder.

In the interview, he reveals how one person created their own piece of luck that changed their life forever.

Moroder had just been hired to write a love song for a movie coming out.

He knew exactly what sort of thing he wanted to create so he got on with it.

However the dirty little secret about Moroder is that while an amazing musician, he was a terrible lyricist.

Anyway, Moroder owned a Ferrari that he parked at the studio.

It was a beautiful car except it suffered from brake trouble.

One day a guy called Tom Whitlock came by and said he was a mechanic and could fix it.

So he did.

When it was all fixed, Tom told Moroder, “Oh and, by the way, I’m also a lyricist. If you ever need some words …”

Now it’s fair to say, Moroder probably had some of the best song writers at his fingertips, but he decided to give Tom a shot for no other reason than he asked.

He handed over the demos and Tom came back writing the lyrics for this.

Not a bad way to legitimise your ‘musical lyric’ career.

Interestingly, as much as it was ‘luck’ that got Tom the chance to write the lyrics for one of the most well known songs in music, it was also ‘luck’ that Berlin got to perform it.

You can read why, here … however while putting yourself out there is no guarantee of success, there’s a lot more chance of it happening than if you don’t.

Yes, it requires confidence, stupidity or delusion.

Yes, it’s as much about why and how you ask as what you want.

Yes, if things work out, you’ll be labelled ‘lucky’ rather than talented.

And all those together can act as pretty big barriers to wanting to put yourself out there.

But there’s a hell of a lot of people in our industry who have done more than they imagined or [maybe] deserve, simply because they spoke up or acted at the very moment most would quiet down.

I’m one of them.

Not to the extent of Baz or Tom or a whole host of others … but I’ve definitely gone after things that were important to me that I didn’t think I’d stand a chance of having if I didn’t speak up.

Sure, they all were things I felt I had something valuable to offer as opposed to just wanting to take … but I’ve gone for it.

And while a bunch of these acts never worked out for me – including the time I was about 10 and saw my first ever really fancy car in the flesh so I cycled up to the driver to ask they did for a living because I couldn’t believe anyone in Nottingham could ever have a job that would allow them to own such a wonderful thing – I look at my career and realise a bunch has.

Maybe they’re not big or shiny things, but they’ve all contributed to the luck I’ve enjoyed.

Hell, the reason I am going to get to work at wonderful Colenso is because they saw my ‘I’ve been made redundant’ post on the very day they were looking for a new CSO.

It happens.

It’s not always obvious.

It’s not always going to work out.

But it happens … especially if you find ways to encourage it, conscious or not.

Which is why I hope 2021 is the year people fight for their luck rather than just hope for it.

Because after the year we’ve had, we all deserve a bit more of it.



Eurphoria In Disappointment …

My last day at R/GA was great.

That might sound weird, but it was.

Part of it was because I started the morning with the brilliant Brixton Finishing School listening to a bunch of students answering a brief I gave them with passion, mischief and possibility and part of it was because I got to spend significant time with my brilliant planning gang to say goodbye.

But there was another reason, which is that the first thing I did when my life at R/GA was over – literally within 30 minutes of being officially made unemployed – I was doing an interview with Faisal Ahmend about diversity and inclusion in adland.

And while it is an issue I am very, very passionate about …

And while I continue to feel the industry only gives a superficial response to it …

And while my headphones and wifi makes me sound like I’m Darth Vader speaking from a tin box with intermittent wifi …

…. even I’m slightly suprised how upbeat I sound on such a significant day in my career.

But then, as I said in the post that announced it, not only was I glad this happened to me rather than a person of colour, a woman or a youngster starting out in their career – who are often the first victims in these situations – the reality is the last time this happened to me, it led to the most exciting and creative time of my career and so I felt no reason to feel anything other than optimistic about the future.

Now I admit with hindsight, that may have been naive of me – especially with all the shit going on in the World with pandemics and political fighting, not to mention my old, old, old, old, age – however based on all that has happened to me since that I announced I’d been made redundant, my hunch has been proved to be right.

So far. Hahahaha

Normally I hate listening or reading things I say.

I spend the whole time slapping my head either muttering, “why did I say that?” … “why didn’t I say that?” … or “why am I jumping about and rambling like I’m a loon?”

However this one is a bit different.

Sure there’s things I wish I rephrased.

Sure there’s things that I might have got slightly wrong.

But at the end of the day, I say the one thing that I feel had to be said … the one thing to counter the excuse I continually hear why there is not more diversity in adland today.

When asked how do I find the people to add diversity to my team, I respond …

“You don’t have to ‘find them’, they’re everywhere … you just have to want them.”

You can listen to it here.

You can listen to far more intelligent and articulate people here.

And, as usual, I huge thank you to all the people who have – and continue to – help me on my journey to being a much, much better human. Especially Maya, Breanna, Chelsea, Lani, Hannah, Amar, Omar, Erika, David, Sue, Jorge, Karrelle, Jason, Tahaab, Charinee, Leon, Debi, Tina, Kate, PQ, Rodi, Jay, Akua, Yaya and Bayyina.



Full Service History, A Few Semi-Careful Previous Owners, Needs A Bit Of Body Work But The Engine Is Tuned To Put A Smile On Your Face As You Hold On To The Edge Of Your Seat …

So if the title of the post didn’t give you a clue.

And if the photo above didn’t make what this post is about, obvious.

Today is my last day at R/GA.

Sadly my role has been made redundant. Thanks a lot COVID!!

And while it’s sad, I am glad it’s a senior, white, male who is being impacted rather than someone young or female or a person of colour who are often the ones who get hit first across the industry.

But while there will plenty of things I’ll miss, the biggest will be my team.

I’ve always been so lucky with the planners I’ve worked with and this lot are no exception.

They’re great. A talented bunch of creative fools who made me laugh, debate and rethink stuff every single day.

They were an honour to work with and they will continue to be epic in all they do.

They better be, because I’ll be watching them. Closely.

So thank you Lachlan, Nic, Rach, Anna, Joel, Amar, Erika, Laureen, Bassot, Ed, Megan, Nicole, Divya, Arda, Amelia, Severine, Marissa, Insa, Toby, Ben … and the others who helped make my time – and the gang – so much fun, including Anne, Valia, Eduardo and Michael.

So what next?

Well there’s a bunch of things.

We bought a house which we still need to move into.

I have my projects with the Metal Masters I need to deal with.

And I recently got an assignment with the Chilli’s, by which I mean the band rather than the food – which will be fascinating. Or headache inducing. I’ll let you know which, later.

Then I’ve registered a company I now need to work out what the hell I’m going to do with. I’ve got some ideas and I’ve even got some backers, but I owe it to my family to give it a bit more thought rather than just run full-speed to wherever my excitement orders me to go.

But for right now, all I’m going to do is take a couple of weeks off to enjoy being with the family and no zoom calls – which means you also get a week or two off – so all that leaves me to say is thank you to R/GA for the adventure and the airmiles … my team for their brilliance and their trouble making and … my wife, son, cat, clients and mates for their love, support and sarcasm.

Last thing.

Let’s be honest, these situations suck.

If people had the choice between having a job and not, the job is pretty much always going to win, especially at my age.

However not only am I absolutely fine, I’m strangely optimistic.

There are many reasons for this, but the main one is the last time this happened to me, it resulted in some of the best times of my career.

From starting and selling cynic and Sunshine to then working at Wieden+Kennedy and R/GA through to living, exploring and working all around the World.

Or said another way … when my role was made redundant, it was instrumental in helping me do stuff at the highest levels of creativity, culture and client all around the World.

From helping launch brands like Spotify in Japan to partnering with NIKE to create sport culture in China to inspiring Virgin Atlantic to build an airport lounge that people want to miss their plane to stay in to finding ways to redefine the rules of luxury which led to SKP-S building an experience specifically designed to look/feel like life on Mars to helping Metallica do all manner of weird and wonderful stuff from connecting deeper with fans to opening new ways to connect with the band. And a bunch of other stuff, from the small to the huge to the ridiculous.

I absolutely, unapologetically, love this stuff with all I’ve got.

Now whether any of this can happen again is anyone’s guess, but it is possible … and given the challenges and competitive nature of the world today, I feel my history of provocative and intriguing creativity to help brands around the world define their position in culture – and business – still gives me a strong and valuable role to play.

I guess this is all my convoluted way of saying if you’re an agency or a company – anywhere in the World – who is ambitious to grow or change or reimagine who you are or considering new markets [ie: Asia/China] or stuck on a mindfuck of a problem or want advice on building a cohesive, potent strategy gang or just want to win better … then give me a shout, because whether it’s about leading something, collaborating on something or just chatting about something … I’m going to be officially available for all of this very soon and I’d bloody love it.

Right, now my Gwyneth Paltrow Oscar speech is out the way, see you in a few weeks.

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The Problem Vs The Real Problem …

A while back I wrote a post about the best bit of advice I’d ever had regarding solving problems.

Or should I say, on how to present how you are going to solve a problem.

But this is dependent on knowing what is the right problem to solve … and quite often, it ends up being the problem we want to solve versus the problem that needs solving.

Now of course, we can only solve the problem that relates to our particular discipline.

For example, as much as adland likes to claim it can solve everything, we can’t build a car.

[Trust me, I’ve tried]

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

Too often, when there is a huge piece of business on the table, our goal is to get all of it.

Every last piece.

Doesn’t matter if it’s not our core expertise.

Doesn’t matter if the work won’t be interesting.

We. Want. It. All.

Now there’s many reasons for this – mostly around money – but what it often ends up doing is destroying everything we’ve spent decades trying to build up.

It burns out staff.
It undermines the creativity of the agency.
It forces quick fix solutions rather than ideas that create sustainable change.
It creates a relationship based on money. rather than creativity.
It positions the agency more as a supplier than a partner.

Now don’t get me wrong, money is important, but when you let that be the only focus – it is the beginning of the end.

Before you know it, the money becomes the driving factor of all decisions and – because you have had to scale-up to manage the huge business you’ve just won – you end up looking for similar sized clients to ensure the whole agency is being utilised rather than chase the business that can elevate your creative reputation.

Oh agency heads will deny this.

They’ll say they still value creative, regardless of the size of client they work on.

And maybe I’m utterly wrong.

But as I wrote a while back, we had a [small scale version] of this situation when we had cynic … and while we were making more money than we had ever earned, it had made us more miserable than we’d ever been.

Thank god we noticed in time, because we were in danger of seeing more economic value in the processes we were creating for the client than the work and then that would be it.

People would leave.
Our reputation would be damaged.
We’d have to pay more to bring people in to deal with the situation.
The profit margin money we were making from the client would be impacted.
Soon we would be doing work we didn’t like without even the excuse of making tons of cash.
The client would call a pitch.
We would have to do it because we were so dependent on them financially.
They’d pick someone who would do things cheaper.
We’d crash and burn.
We would hate ourselves.

OK … OK … that is a particularly bleak possible version of events and I know there’s a lot of big agencies that have found a way to manage doing work for big clients while marrying it with maintaining their creative credentials [but not as many as they would like to admit] but I am surprised how few agencies say which part of a big job they want to do.

I get why, because there’s fear the client will write you off because they want a simple solution rather than a complex.

But if you’re really good at something, then you have the power to change that mindset from complexity to effectiveness.

Of course, to pull that off, you have to be exceptional.

A proven track record of being brilliant at something few others can pull off.

Which means I’m not talking about process or procedures … but work.

Actual, creativity.

In my entire career, there’s only been 3 agencies I’ve worked at – and one of those I started – who have told clients they only want a slice of the pie rather than the whole thing.

More than that, they also told the client how they believed the problem should be handled rather than simply agreeing to whatever the client wanted in a bid to ‘win favour’. Of course, the slice they focused on was not only their core area of brilliance, but also the most influential in terms of positioning the entirety of the brand – the strategic positioning and the voice of the brand – so what it led to was a situation where the benefits for the agency far exceeded just an increase in revenue.

They had the relationship with the c-suite.
They set the agenda everyone else had to follow.
They were paid for quality rather than volume.
They made work that enhanced their reputation rather than drag them down.
They were more immune from the procurement departments actions.

All in all, they ended up having a positive relationship rather than a destructive one.

Now, I am not denying that in all 3 cases, the relationship lasted less time than those who were willing to take everything on. In many cases, once the initial strategy and voice work was done, many companies felt we were no longer needed. Not all, but a few.

And while many will read this and say my suggestion to choose the part of the work you want rather than take it all on is flawed … my counter is not only did all 3 agencies enjoy a reputation, relationship and remuneration level that was in excess of all the other agencies they worked with – and often delivered in a fraction of the time – but they ended up in a position where they attracted new business rather than had to constantly chase it.

In all business, reputation is everything.

Don’t make yours simply about the blinkered pursuit of money.