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


Beware Of The Quiet Ones …

Once upon a time, I worked with a guy called Kim Papworth.

He was the co-ECD of Wieden London at the time, with the irrepressible Tony Davidson.

Now I am sure Tony wouldn’t mind me saying this, but he has a reputation as a bit of a madman.

Brilliantly creative.

Deliciously stubborn.

Fiercely challenging.

And slightly bonkers.

OK, so in their early days – when they were at BMP and BBH – this ‘unique’ reputation was allegedly shared … however as time went by, Kim started being seen by many people as ‘the nice one’.

While they are both ace, I get why.

Where Tony is loud, Kim is quiet.

Where Tony is chaos, Kim is clarity.

Where Tony is intense, Kim is calm.

Where Tony is random, Kim is considered.

Let me be clear, Tony was – and is – amazing and has always been so good to me, however many viewed Kim as the more approachable of the two … the one you could reason with … the one you could chat to … the one you could have a debate with and it’s this that was his most powerful move.

You see Kim … wonderful, kind, compassionate Kim … is steely as fuck.

Sure he doesn’t shout or rant or gesticulate or throw tantrums.

Sure he doesn’t swear or throw toys out the pram or act aloof.

But he was stubborn as fuck about letting the work win.

He wouldn’t let ideas be killed on an individuals whim.

He wouldn’t let ideas be changed to satisfy personal ego.

He wouldn’t let ideas be diluted to appease a committee.

He wouldn’t let ideas be burdened by politics or agenda.

He wouldn’t let ideas be sold short by timelines or small mindedness.

He wouldn’t let anything win other than the purity of the idea.

I once watched him keep a campaign on the table after a client had spent 30 minutes saying it was wrong and they hated it. Better yet, he did it in a way where the client was OK with him doing it.

He didn’t bully, lie or manipulate to get his way.

He did it by listening.

Intently.

Then he slowly but methodically went through each of their issues and talked about the options he saw to solve them … always ensuring they elevated the idea he believed in rather than diluting it.

It was – quite simply – one of the most amazing pieces of creative negotiation I’ve ever seen.

Actually, negotiation is the wrong word.

Because it was never about dumbing down the idea to keep a version of it, it was always about solving the problems the clients had but in ways that ensured the idea would be able to shine.

[The photo at the end of this post is from that meeting, where Kim awkwardly humoured me and my demands to commemorate the moment of magic]

While Kim was – and is – a brilliant, brilliant creative, one of his greatest skills was the art of listening, because he always saw it as ammunition that allowed him to keep ideas safe.

While there are others that practice this – including a bunch at Colenso for example – a huge amount of the industry simply hears stuff.

Listening and hearing are very different.

Listening is understanding.

Not just the words, but the context and the details.

But hearing …

Well, hearing is simply about sound and that’s why we often end up with divisions.

A battle between ‘what I want’ and ‘what you want’.

A war between creativity and client.

No one wins.

Sure, someone may in the short-term, but not long.

That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree or debate … nor does it mean you will always succeed in convincing someone to change their mind … but listening increases the odds.

It ensures the other party feels they have been understood.
It ensures your response is efficient and focused on the issue.
It ensures you are keeping the work on the table for as long as possible.

[And if he feels the demands being asked of the work undermine the power of the work, he’d just take it off the table and we would start again. And I believe in that to this day]

I have had the great pleasure of working with a whole host of brilliantly talented creative people.

People in adland, music, fashion, gaming and sport.

But the ones I find the most fascinating are the ones like Kim.

Who have the ability to feel like velvet, even when their focus is forged in iron.

Not because of manipulation, deceit or trickery.

But because they know, nothing is as forceful as the power of listening.



The Fine Line Between Hero And Horrible …

Back from a nice long weekend.

Hey, if this makes you feel bad, imagine how my poor colleagues feel.

Anyway …

I recently read the book Hype, by Gabrielle Bluestone.

It is depressingly brilliant.

While it covers a huge range of topics, it centres on the actions and behaviours of Fyre Festival founder [or should I say, scammer] Billy McFarland.

Now I appreciate with worldwide coverage and 2 documentaries on the subject, you may think you know all that needs to be known, but apart from Gabrielle bringing some new information to the table, what makes it especially interesting is how she compares his actions to others who are regarded as business geniuses.

Like Elon Musk.

Now you might think that sounds like the actions of someone desperate to create hype for their new book. But no. It’s incredibly well written and researched … and as you turn page after page, with hustler/liar story after hustler/liar story, you come away thinking the whole world has fallen for the Emperors New Clothes trick.

Not to mention that either Billy McFarland is unlucky to be sentenced to jail or Elon Musk – and countless other business people and influencers – are lucky not to be.

Society loves its success stories.

It loves trying to ‘codify‘ the system.

But while only a few ever succeed, it doesn’t stop people blindly following some ‘proven’ rules. Often losing themselves in details rather than appreciating context.

All the while making the originator [or person who shouted the loudest, quickest] even more powerful and famous … before they end up a caricature of what they once were.

I’m seeing a lot of this in marketingland at the moment.

Now, I am not suggesting these people are doing it to ‘con’ anyone. Far from it. In fact their intentions are pretty wonderful. But somewhere along the line, their perspective has developed into a ‘system’ and that system now has a number of unquestionable and unshakeable rules attached to it which, ironically, is starting to negatively affect the very industry they want to help.

To be fair, they are not entirely responsible.

They are a bit … because they give their ‘system’ names that suggest intellectual superiority when it’s really ‘an educated beginners guide’, plus they conveniently turn a blind eye to how many of their students are executing what they learnt – without context or real audience understanding – so it ends up just being lowest common denominator thinking. But the real reason this situation is occurring is too many companies aren’t investing enough in talent or training, so they send people off to do courses with fancy names so they can all look and feel like they are.

Putting aside the fact this also highlights how many companies lack a philosophy regarding their approach and value to marketing, what this ‘one size fits all’ approach is doing is educating a whole generation of marketer/advertiser/company that talent, standards and creativity are not nearly as important as having people who can follow – and police – process, formats and parity.

We’re in danger of getting to the point where independent thinking is seen as dangerous.

Or weakness.

Or anything other than strength.

And while understanding how things work is important, creating a singular approach and process where building brands and creativity is approached like an airfix model – where the outcome is always the same, albeit with different brand names/colours attached – seems to be more about undermining the purpose of marketing rather than liberate it.

What makes this even more amusing is the brands who are attracting the greatest cultural momentum, loyalty and brand value right now are not following any of these ‘process rules’. More than that, they’re building their reputation and value through the creation of distinctive brand ideas that talk directly to their audiences rather than focusing on brand attribution that aims to be slightly memorable among their category.

[Please note, I’m talking about brands with a real business behind them, not just social hype]

Now I appreciate the context and circumstances of cultural brands and the brands who are adopting a marketing ‘system’ are very different … but what I’m trying to highlight is that we now find ourselves in this weird situation where the ambition for many brands is to not find ways to get ahead but to not be left behind – all the while bombarding the market with claims of innovation, new thinking, new opportunities.

And that’s why I loved reading Hype so much.

Not just because it pulled back the curtain on the hypocritical bullshit of so many self-appointed ‘business icons’, but it revealed where we’re all heading if we’re not careful … even though I know there will be people out there who read it and see it as their goal rather than their ruin.



The Most Insightful Photo In The World?
August 24, 2021, 8:00 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Creativity, Culture, Honesty, Insight, Truth

Who knows if the photographer saw the irony in this photo.

Or the cutting social commentary.

Or – said another way – the uncomfortable honesty.

But regardless, it proves great humour is based on truth.

PS: If you don’t get what I’m talking about, then piss off you fresh, young, un-sad sods.



More Than The MD, But The Boss …

This is Angela.

Her official title is the Managing Director of Colenso.

But actually she’s the boss.

Not just because of how she is sitting, but because of how she operates.

Leading without dictating.

Encouraging without patronising.

Liberating without restricting.

The great, great thing about Angela is that for all the experience and success she’s gained, she is open and hungry to let the energy, ambition and values of youth to keep shaping and changing where we are going.

Angela’s strength is she wants everyone to win.

She opens the door to opportunities for talent to run in and do their thing rather than closing it behind her so she can have all the power.

But then female leadership has always seen winning differently to a lot of men.

Progress for all rather than power for one.

And before certain men start spouting their sexist shit at me like they did when I wrote about how more female leadership will give the industry a real chance to grow, I appreciate not all male leaders are like this.

But a hell of a lot are.

And – if you look at Corporate Gaslighting and/or read Zoe Scaman’s brilliant, brave but totally unsurprising Mad Men and Furious Women – many of them are doing stuff … and are being allowed to get away with stuff, often by companies that talk about their commitment to their staffs wellbeing and mental health … that is a fuckload worse.



After Winter, Life Grows Again. ( ‘A Year After Redundancy’)

A year ago tomorrow, I was made redundant.

Well, I was told the week before, but tomorrow marks a year since my last day at R/GA.

While I wrote a long post at the time about how positive I was about the whole thing – especially that it was happening to me rather than a junior or a woman or a Person of Colour who normally get impacted by these sorts of decisions – it still blows my mind how well things have turned out for me and my family.

Part of the reason I was so optimistic was because I knew I was going to shout about my redundancy from the rooftops. Hell, even the Guardian wrote about me doing it.

Despite what some on here may think, this was not because I wanted to appear in a national newspaper … oh no, it was for far more practical reasons.

The first was that the more people knew I was available, the more chances I’d have of being considered for work. I mean … come on. I work in advertising, what else was I going to do?

However the second – and possibly more important reason – was I hated how many people felt some sort of shame for finding themselves in this situation.

Shit happens – especially during a global pandemic – so to carry that burden in addition to all the other stuff they have to deal with must make the pressure they’re dealing with unbelievably destructive. I would not wish that on anyone … no one at all. And while I was treated fairly, what makes these situations even worse is that some companies actively encourage people they’ve let go to feel this way … simply because it encourages them to stay silent about what’s happened which lets the company act to clients and the market that everything is fine and dandy when it obviously isn’t.

So my thinking was that by owning my situation publicly, it may help burst this corporately induced shame and reinforce there is nothing to be embarrassed about … especially as the situation ultimately has nothing to do with you – and everything to do with them – even if some companies try to suggest otherwise.

But there was also another reason for my optimism.

Potentially a stupid one.

And that was the last time this situation happened to me, it led to one of the most fruitful and creative periods of my career and I wondered/hoped/mused if lighting could strike twice.

Despite turning 50 [rather than the last time, where I was 35] it amazingly did.

Now I absolutely appreciate how lucky I am.

I also appreciate there are a lot of factors that contributed to this luck.

From the openness of my family to move countries for the 4th time in 4 years … to the wide range of contacts I’d gained thanks to having lived all around the World … to the fact I’m a white male so ‘unfair advantage’ was baked into my career DNA from the very beginning.

But even with all that, the life I now live is in many ways – or at least in many parts – unrecognisable to the one I had when I was let go from R/GA a year ago

From the work I’ve done and do.
To the clients/bands/billionaires I’ve done it for and do it for.
To the immensely talented people I’ve worked with and work with.
To the country I now call home.

Hell, I even managed to get hired and fired by the Red Hot Chili Peppers in that time.

It’s bonkers.

And while I enjoyed my time at R/GA and am grateful for the experience, I’m happier now.

They probably are too … hahaha.

That said, I miss my gang.

Lachlan, Nic, Rach, Anna, Joel, Amar, Erika, Laureen, Bassot, Ed, Hannah, 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.

What a wonderful bunch of beautifully talented misfits they were/are.

Always demanding … debating … provoking … and making me smarter because of it.

Then again … given all but a couple of them have moved to do other interesting, weird, infamous and famous things, it means that even if I was still there, they wouldn’t be.

Or maybe they would. [Cue mischievous laugh. Hahahaha]

But the point of this post is not just to celebrate a year since a weird day in July … it’s a reminder that life is always changing, moving, evolving and progressing.

However bad a situation may be, it does not mean it will always be that way … even if it feels like it is.

And if anyone worries they are the exception, I want you to know I am here to chat.

Not to convince you you’re wrong.

Or try to solve your problems.

But to listen.

Because not everyone has that and not only is that important … sometimes that’s the first step to getting stronger.

Not to self-reflect or gain enlightenment … but to vent, bitch, moan, complain.

The things some people try to make you feel guilty for wanting to express or think, even though the real reason is because it makes them feel uncomfortable rather than it being bad for you.

And it absolutely is not bad for you.

At least in small doses.

Because as we all know, the first thing you do to treat a scrape is to cleanse the wound … so if anyone thinks this would be useful to you, please know I would be happy to give you a safe space to be your worst without judgement or expectation.

Because the worst times don’t last.

They just feel they do.

So thank you R/GA, I will always be grateful for what you did for me.

Especially on July 10th 2020.

You can reach me here.