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


Excuses For Complicity …

Adland – and most companies for that matter – love to talk about their commitment to diversity and inclusion.

And while they tend to be most vocal about it when there is a global news story that highlights the racism and oppression People of Colour experience EVERY SINGLE DAY, I do believe it is something many companies care about.

The problem is, very few seem to be doing anything other than caring about it.

No change.

No new decisions.

No policy shifts.

Recently I saw a poster advertising a conference in Australia about Africa.

This was it …

Notice anything?

Yep … a conference in Australia about Africa without a single Person of Colour being represented. Not one.

A conference in Australia about MINING in Africa without a single Person of Colour being represented.

[Though someone who saw it suggested the conference organisers may try and suggest the blank speaker space could classify as a Person of Colour]

Now I appreciate mining is hardly the most ethical industry, but even then the lack of representation shocked me so I tweeted about it saying this was a perfect demonstration of how much companies still had to learn about D&I.

“Surely no one could disagree” I thought …

Oh yes they could.

Rather than just go, “that’s bollocks”, some people tried to defend it … accusing me of having no context.

My 2 favourite comments were this:

“Let’s not jump to conclusions. I personally feel after a 2-second Google they have their intentions in the right place – well apart from the plundering of natural resources, but that’s a different outrage post. If anything they are guilty of crappy comms and maybe BBDO in Oz (or Africa) might like to say G’day?

“As organisers of Africa Down Under (ADU), Paydirt Media acknowledges the comments on social media and the interpretations which may be drawn by the advertised preliminary line-up for the in-person element of this year’s ADU,” the organisers said in a Twitter thread.

“As the premier forum for Australia-Africa business relations, ADU has always strived to ensure its programme is truly reflective of the diversity of African mining. In 2019, the last event before the pandemic, the programme featured 24 African presenters and 15 female presenters. “Ongoing travel restrictions mean we will be unable to welcome our African-based colleagues in person this year but once the full programme – including virtual participants – is released we are confident balance will return.

“We look forward to announcing participants from the African continent – including Australian-based African diplomats – in the coming weeks.”

And then this one …

Are these specific companies spouting anything about diversity and inclusion though?”

Right there is the typical corporate response to these things.

Protecting the company behind it.

Suggesting you are jumping to conclusions.

Saying that they’re good and this is a misunderstanding.

Yeah … yeah … if I’ve heard it all before, imagine how People of Colour must feel.

Which is why my responses were as follows:

“This is the sort of excuse churned out year after year to justify acts like this. A conference about Africa without a single Person of Colour as a speaker is not about difficulty, it’s about complicity, so maybe you’re looking at it from totally the wrong perspective.”

and for the second comment …

“Ahhhhh, so you’re saying companies that don’t talk about D&I don’t have to care about it which is why it’s fine to have an all white speaker group for a conference on Africa. Is that your point?”

I know people make mistakes … but this is not one of those, this is a deliberate act. There is no excuse for this. They can say they asked hundreds of People of Colour to be a part of the even and they said no – it still won’t wash. Because even if that was true, it would surely suggest there was something wrong with the whole premise of the conference if people from Africa didn’t want to be part of a conference in Africa.

“But maybe there aren’t many People of Colour working in the mining industry based in Australia, Rob?” I hear a prejudiced, white privileged individual ask.

And while I don’t know the answer to that, I do know if that’s the case, why are there so many bloody white people working in the African mining industry based in Australia?

It’s all bollocks.

And what is worse is the justification some people try and give this shit – with special focus on the organisers and their desperate attempt to look like they have tried really, really hard to make it more inclusive. Despite NOT ONE Person of Colour being included as a headline speaker.

As I wrote a while back about female leadership, change doesn’t even require white people/men to give up their seat … they could just make room for someone else to join them, but apparently even that is too much to ask.

We all are complicit..

We can all do more.

We all need to do more.

Hell, when white supermodels can use their privilege to create space for People of Colour to win [not just be seen, but win] the least we can do is exactly the same.

So to the people who will claim what I’m doing is promoting ‘woke cancel culture’, I would respond with this:

1. Yes I am.
2. Being referred to as woke is not bad as it means you have compassion for others.
3. You are the problem and you’d better be prepared for me to push back with the same energy you have adopted over years to maintain your privilege and power.

Anyone who defends this sort of shit is insane.

There is no excuse for it.

Ever.

Even having 5 People of Colour on that huge poster of faces would be too few, so to take the side of the organisers for NOT HAVING A SINGLE PERSON OF COLOUR is an act of prejudice.

You may not relate to being called that.

You may not accept being called that.

But your actions reveal it … because nothing says privilege than thinking your experience is everyone’s experience.



Nothing Shows Respect Like Letting Someone Argue With You …

A career is a funny thing.

I mean literally, as a concept – it’s quite bizarre.

The idea of working in one industry and hoping to move up a fictional ladder and somehow hope that by the time you’re pushed off it – and we’ll all be pushed off it at some time – you’ve built up enough reputation or cash to keep you going through till the bitter end.

Hahahaha … Mr Positive eh!?

Anyway, by hook or by crook I’ve somehow managed to have what I’d call a career.

Admittedly, I fell into it – but overall, I’ve had a pretty good one.

I’ve worked at some amazing places.
I’ve got to live literally all around the World.
I’ve met people who have literally changed my life.
I’ve been part of work that still excites me years later.
And somehow, I’m still doing all those things, which is insane.

But as wonderful as all that is, one thing I am particularly proud of is how many of my old team mates are now at some of the most highly regarded creative companies in the World doing all manner of interesting things.

Of course, I had little to do with it – it’s all their talent – but the bit that makes me proud is that they are forging their own careers based on their own ideas and their own opinions and their own voice.

About 2005, I realised how lucky I had been with previous bosses.

All of them encouraged me to find my own voice rather than duplicate someone else’s … and while that often got me in trouble, they never strayed from their path of encouraging independent thought.

Now I appreciate a lot of companies say this, but this wasn’t some PR bullshit they could spout in a magazine, they lived it – openly and actively welcoming, encouraging and igniting debate.

And they never ‘pulled rank’.

It was always a discussion of equals – which was one of the most empowering and liberating professional feelings I ever had.

It showed trust. It showed respect. It showed value.

And even though I’m an old fuck who has done OK in my career, I still get that same feeling when I am working with others who embrace the same value.

As much as rockstars and billionaires may have a reputation for demanding diva’s, I can honestly say the ones I’ve been working with have been amazing in welcoming opinion. They may not always like what is said, but they always value why it has.

And that’s why, when I saw a shift in planning from rigour to replication … challenge to complicity … and individuality to impotency [driven by the global financial crisis of 2008] I realised the best thing I could do is encourage my team to be independent in thought, voice and behaviour.

I should point out this was not selfless. By having great creative and cultural thinkers in my team, they would help make even better work and that would have a positive effect on me too.

I know, what a prick eh.

And of course, I acknowledge not every planner was following the replication path. Nor was every agency. But it was definitely happening and arguably, this is why Australian planners have risen in position more than those from other nations [ie: Tobey head of planning at Uncommon, Paula global head of Nike planning at Wieden, Andy head of planning at Wieden Portland, Rodi, head of strategy at Apple South East Asia and Aisea MD at Anomaly LA to name but 5] because – as much as the Aussie government may like to say they suffered – the country was largely unaffected, which meant training continued, standards continued, creativity continued.

So while there was a bunch of other values we continually encouraged and practiced, the desire to develop independent thinking, openness and debate were a real focus of mine and have continued to be.

Whether I was successful is up to the people who had the awkwardness of dealing with me, but I distinctly remembering being in a meeting at Wieden in Shanghai after Sue, Leon and Charinee had just challenged a bunch of things we had just talked to the agency about.

One of the global team was there and said, “they’re very outspoken”.

And while normally that could be read as a diss, it wasn’t … it was more of a surprise because many people in China – especially the young – tend to keep very quiet, especially in front of people who are at a more senior level to them and this mob had gone to town.

To which I replied, “I know. It’s a wonderful headache to have”.

And it was.

And it is.

Which is why I will continue to believe the best thing any head of planning can do is encourage independent thought and respect for debate and rigour … because while it can creates moments where it’s a right pain in the arse, the alternative is far more disagreeable.

Have a great weekend.



There’s Three Types Of Old Person …

Contrary to the quote of Oscar Wilde above, I don’t think the young think they know everything.

Sure there’s some … but the vast majority seem to simply be curious to explore and learn. It’s why I have far more faith in the future of the planet in their hands than my peers.

In fact, I meet far more older people – normally white men – who have the attitude of being the font of all knowledge.

In fact, they all fall into one of 3 distinct groups …

Those who think they know everything.

Those who know they don’t know everything,

And those who do know everything.

Given the last group consists of one person – Mr Martin Weigel – that means the vast majority fall into one of the first 2 camps.

The scary thing is that there seems to be far more who think they know everything versus those who are open to keep learning. I do sort-of understand. A life lived is a life experienced. Except it isn’t … plus life is constantly moving and evolving so to come in with some condescending, self-important. “I know it all” attitude is literally the worst thing you could do.

And yet so many still do it.

The funny thing is, because they come in with an attitude of forcefulness, they rarely have people speak up against them so they go off thinking they’re right while everyone around them whispers how stupid they are.

My Mum – as usual – had it right.

She was always open to the new.

It didn’t mean she liked it.

It didn’t mean she understood it.

But she felt if it mattered to them, it should matter to her.

And that’s why she went out of her way to watch, listen and learn.

What’s even more wonderful is that people who saw her being interested in them were then interested in her.

She loved the idea that she could mess with the expectations people had of an elderly Italian woman.

Not so she could pretend she was young, but so she could feel she still was an active member of society. Someone who still had something to offer, even if that was to stop older people blindly discounting what was emerging in culture.

God I miss her.

Which is why her, “be interested in what others are interested in” should be something we all follow. Young, old, rich, poor … because the more we understand, the more we can actually create change rather than conflict.



Let Them Be Fragile Around You, Not Defining You …

Once upon a time I worked with a male creative who was one of the most sexist pricks I’ve ever met. He was condescending, patronising and – even worse – did all they could to stand in the way of female talent.

There was one situation where he actively tried to stop me from hiring one of the best planners in the World simply because she was a woman … knew more about sport than him and was much better at it as well.

He tried so hard to find fault with her, when all the time he was revealing his fragile ego.

And while I dealt with him – resulting in us hiring this brilliant planner who has gone on to have the sort of career most people could only ever dream of having – the fact is, her career could have been severely undermined if he had got his way.

What makes it worse is he is a loving father of daughters.

If anyone should be treating female talent with respect and encouragement – surely it should be someone with 2 daughters of their own. But then I remembered watching the ex-Prime Minister of Iceland – Vigdís Finnbogadottir – in Michael Moore’s documentary, ‘Where To Invade Next’ who explained things perfectly.

“While men would never want another man standing in the way of their daughters career potential, that attitude only extends to their daughter … not women in general”.

Of course she’s right.

That’s what’s so fucked up. Especially about men.

As is the vernacular they use to describe female colleagues.

Calling them emotional.

Fragile.

Weak.

And while I would rather work with an emotional, sensitive and compassionate person any day of the weak, the fact is women are way stronger than the vast majority of men I know.

Fuck, my wife has shown more courage than I could ever hope to muster.

From saying yes to moving countries with a man she had only known for 6 weeks to carrying our kid for 9 months and then PUSHING HIM OUT to just embracing every challenge that has been put in her way … everything about her is stronger than Superman and more inspiring than any Nike spot. [Sorry Swoosh, you know I still love you]

Then there’s the fact the vast majority of female leaders [of which there’s still too few] actively bring their whole team along with them versus a lot of men, who just want to take themselves forward.

And yet, despite all this, women continually face gender devaluation by many men – specifically white men – which is why I bloody love the poster at the top of this post designed by the brilliant Kat at Colenso designed from this amazing quote by Rahul Singh Rathour.

Which is why I hope women embrace being fragile like a bomb … because it means those around them will fear them rather than them having to fear those around them.



Creativity Vs Complicity …

So many ads today end up just being fancy sales brochures.

A nondescript, stylish image that either has some meaningless line thrust upon it or a literal lift of the proposition from the brief to become the headline.

Clients love it because they think there’s no wastage.

That there’s no ‘thinking’ that the audience has to do to ‘get the message’.

I remember years ago – when I was working on SONY – the client kept referencing Mr Bean.

No, I’m not joking.

They kept saying Mr Bean is understood by all. Loved by all. Communicates a message without saying a word. They were really trying to push this until I pointed out that while that’s the case, no one would spend thousands buying a TV made by Mr Bean.

Then Balls got made and undermined my argument for years. Hahahaha.

And while I hate looking backwards, I can’t help but think the past was far more interesting creatively than where we’re at today.

These days Audi talk about ‘Future is an attitude‘ when once they talked about Vorsprung Durch Technik.

We have Chivas Regal going on about ‘every taste is an experience’ when once they talked about ‘giving Dad an expensive belt‘.

Heineken now ‘open your world‘ when they once ‘refreshed the parts other beers can’t reach‘.

We have countless other brands who were once so powerful with their brand voice who have now become bland.

[Nothing sums it up like this Audi ad for the same car with pretty much the same line]

What really gets me, is we have the talent in the industry to change this.

We have the hunger as well.

But while there are exceptions – and I mean it in terms of agencies who consistently bring the work rather than the odd bit of work getting through – somewhere along the line, we seem to have chosen a path of complicity.

Without doubt the research techniques becoming more and more favoured by companies plays a part in this. As our clients who are more focused on not making a mistake than making an impact. But it cannot be ignored that agencies have a lack of desire to stand up for what they believe is right. Preferring to be complicit rather than respected.

Which may explain why so few of them believe it is worth investing in finding out what is really going on in culture – preferring instead, to either outsource it or just accept the viewpoint of whichever ‘paid for’ 3rd party the client has hired to do the work for them.

What brought this all up was seeing an old Honda ad from the late 70’s/early 80’s.

OK, so Honda have a long history of doing great work – especially from Wieden London – but it’s always been a brand that has run to its own rhythm with its own idiosyncrasies. But even they – these days – are falling into the trap of rubbing off the edges that defines who they are to become like everyone else.

This ad – like so many of the truly great early 80’s ads – came from Chiat/Day.

My god, what an agency they were.

Sadly I say ‘were’ because as much as they still have great people in there and pull off the occasional truly interesting bit of work, when you compare them to what they were like decades ago, there is no comparison.

Brave. Honest. Distinctive. Creative as hell.

Hell, even when they lost, they did it in a way where they would win.

Every single person in adland – especially at C-Suite level – should read this brilliant article by Cameron Day, son of Guy Day … one of the founders of Chiat.

‘How Big Till We Go Bad’ is a fantastic guide on how to build a truly great agency. And then destroy it.

Anyway, I digress.

The Honda ad I saw of theirs was this …

No, your eyes are not deceiving you.

Once upon a time, car manufacturers – or at least some of them – understood equality.

No cliches.

No pandering.

Just treating their audience as adults and equals.

It’s not really that hard is is, but if you compare it to what we see today, it feels we’ve regressed. [Read more about car ad devolution – with a few exceptions – here]

I do not want to look in the past.

I believe my best creative work is ahead of me.

Or at least the potential of it.

To paraphrase Death of a Salesman – or the equally brilliant Nils of Uncommon – we shouldn’t be interested in stories about the past or any crap of that kind because the woods are burning, you understand? There’s a big blaze going on all around.

But the problem is, people have to see the woods are burning and I worry a bunch of the fuckers think it’s a sunset. Then again, it will be … because if we don’t push forwards, it will be the sunset on our industry and that will be the ultimate insult, because the past should never be more exciting and interesting than the future.