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


If Everything Is An Experience, You Better Make Yours Great …

I’ve written a lot about experience in the past.

How important it is.

How it can drive brand value and growth.

How it can create distinction and differentiation in crowded categories.

I’ve also talked about how badly so much of it is done.

That it’s more about consistency than excellence.

That it isn’t a new approach, just a new profit centre.

That many aspire to everything average than some things spectacular.

It blows my mind what some agencies and companies think is ‘an experience’.

Especially when you compare it to people who genuinely ‘get it’.

Whether it’s certain luxury brands or my client, SKP-S in Beijing.

Which is why I love the picture at the top of this page.

At the time, the person on the runway was 62 years old.

SIXTY TWO.

This was taken on the first of 3 nights of performing to 68,000 paying people.

So over 200,000 in total.

In South America.

Think about that for a second.

OK, so the person in question is Brian Johnson … lead singer of rock band AC/DC.

But let’s also remember we’re talking about a group of pensioners.

Literally.

Yes, I appreciate there are all-sorts of factors/considerations/contexts/excuses you could use to explain why they can achieve that sort of response when brands – with all their experience models and big budgets – can’t.

But the one thing AC/DC understand is if you want to keep people coming back, you need to focus on creating a seminal moment for your audience not average consistency.

It’s why I always ask ‘experience strategists’ about their life rather than just their work. I want to know what their frame of references are for experience. Because frankly – and I appreciate I’m being a massive snob here – if it doesn’t include festivals, theatre, art, music, retail, museums … then I don’t know if we’re ever going to share the same ambitions.

Because while I appreciate ‘average but consistent’ has value to some organisations, I would rather drink bleach than advocate that as a brand goal.

Not simply because I have an aversion to average.

But because when you do experience right – which means knowing who you are and who your customers are – the profits extrapolate. See, I’m not totally selfish.



If You Don’t Know The Nuance, You Only Know The Cliche’s.


A client recently told me a story of a very successful client he worked with.

Apparently this person was a lover of cars and owned Ferrari’s and Rolls Royce’s.

My client asked him what the difference was between them.

Expecting some conversation about performance or comfort, he was surprised when he heard:

“When I pull into a hotel in my Ferrari, I’m treated like I’ve booked the Penthouse Suite. But when I pull up in my Rolls, I’m treated like I own the hotel”.

I really like that.

I like it for a whole host of reasons.

But the main one is the clarity in differentiating ‘success’.

So often, as an industry, we define things in absolute terms.

Good. Bad. Rich. Poor. Success, Failure.

But as with all things in life, there’s nuance and texture in there if you look closer.

Which is why planning – despite all the information that is now available to us – is still an outdoor job.

Going out to talk to people.
Listening to different viewpoints.
Watching how different groups react to different situations.

It’s not a ‘day out’. It’s not ‘superficial fluff’.

It’s the difference between doing work for people or about people.

I’ve banged on about the importance of resonance over relevance for years, but it’s never been so important … because with so much choice of who we can give our attention to, if we want to stand any chance of having people give a modicum of a shit about us and what we do/think, then we better be speaking their language and context rather than the language and context we think – or want – them to speak.

[A classic of utter bollocks is still the Gerard Butler, ‘Man of Today’ ad for BOSS. You can read the post I wrote here and see the ad it is referring to, here]

If the people behind the brilliant TV show, Succession, can talk to billionaires to ensure everything on the show reflects how the super rich spend their money – and how they act because of it, ie: they never bend their head down when entering or existing a helicopter because they travel by them so much, they know exactly where the propeller is in relation to their height – then surely we can go and spend some time with people to see what they do and hear how they think about brushing their bloody teeth or something equally inane.

If we want to get back to being valuable to clients, we’d go a long way towards that by stopping with audience generalisations – of which I am absolutely including broad – or even narrow – Lifestage segmentation – and knowing the real nuances.



We Live In An Upside Down World …

A while back I was interviewed by Bloomberg Business Week.

I know … what the fuck eh?

And more amazingly, it’s not the first time.

OK, so it has taken them 5 years to forget what a stupid mistake they made the first time, but they asked me what I felt was wrong with modern marketing.

I thought about it for a while.

Let’s be honest, there’s many things I could say … but after a while, I felt I had it worked out.

It’s the image at the top of this post.

Too many clients saying no to good ideas and too many agencies saying yes to bad ones.

There are many reasons for this but underpinning them all is a lack of trust and a blind belief in formats and processes.

Or said another way: Ego and confidence.

Either too much of it or not enough.

Of course, people will say adland have got what they deserved.

That they were indulgent and never cared about their clients business.

Which is – frankly – bullshit.

Not just because that abdicates any responsibility of the clients who hired the agency … gave the brief … and approved the work, but also because I’ve never known an agency who do not give a shit about their clients achieving success.

However somewhere along the line, things have changed 180 degrees and now we’re in this weird situation where everything is upside down … with the great irony being in this new world order of marketing, we’re making less work that is impacting cultures attitudes and behaviour and building fewer brands people give a shit about.

And yet despite this, both parties are carrying on, reframing the situation so they can both feel they’re doing the right thing.

It’s a bit like this scene in Spinal Tap where the bands manager attempts to reframe why they’re playing to 1500 seat theatres when on their previous tour, they were playing to 15,000 people in arenas.

Now please don’t mistake this as a ‘poor agency’ post.

Nor a ‘clients are evil’ bitchfest.

All I am saying is the best work and results always come from parties who trust each other, are open and honest with each other and want/value the same thing.

It’s truly that simple.

It’s why, for example, the Wieden and Nike relationship has not only stood the test of time, but has also consistently made great work.

That doesn’t mean there’s not debate, discussion and, at times, bloody arguments [for example the 3+ years I took the same idea into the same client every month to try and get them to say yes because I thought they were missing a massive opportunity] … but it does mean the conversations are about how to make the best work, not the easiest.

And while that is a rare relationship with a rare body of work, the principles of getting to that position are not that difficult.

However today, we seem to be seeing more and more clients choosing agencies on complicity rather than creativity. Dictating what they want and how they want it rather than identifying problems they want their agency to solve in interesting ways.

They may not realise they’re doing that, they may not want to do that … but they’re doing that, reinforced by countless ‘guru’ dot-to-dot strategies that seem designed to build the guru’s business than the clients who follow it.

What this has resulted in is an attitude where some clients think any agency who has a different – but informed – point of view is out to rip them off, which is hilarious given thinking differently is literally why you hire an agency.

The whole situation is horrible.

No one wins

No relationships gets built.

Instead we have clients using processes and procurement to dictate and control what they want and we get agencies fighting for the chance to do it, because they’ve sold the value of creativity so far down the river, that the only thing they can offer is speed.

What a waste of opportunity, potential and talent on all sides.

Thank god not everyone is like this.

Thank god there’s people, companies and agency relationships who demonstrate what you can achieve together when you trust each other. When you want the best for each other. When you are transparent and honest with each other.

Enough to say yes when it’s easier to say no.

And no, when it’s easier to say yes.



Listen To Yoda …

while back I read an interview with film director, voice of Yoda and countless muppets and expert puppeteer – Frank Oz.

It was a beautiful interview … a story of friendship, loyalty, creativity and compassion, so I urge you to read it … but there was one thing that really stood out to me and it was this:

Now it’s fair to say it’s no longer just corporate America who don’t understand the value of the things they’ve just bought. In some respects, we see it every day from clients who dictate and demand changes to a piece of creativity that an experienced professional has custom made for their specific situation … right through to companies who blame talent for circumstances and situations that they were directly complicit in creating and encouraging.

As I see it, the problem is three fold.

1. People judge output without any appreciation of how it happened.
2. People wildly overestimate their own talent.
3. It’s easier to look like you’re doing things than doing things.

None of these should be a surprise.

It’s why we tend to lavish our attention on individuals who are associated with ‘results’ rather than recognize the people around them who made it possible. It’s why we talk about wanting to follow similar paths to others but dismiss the pain, hardship and conflicts they endured to get there. It’s why companies build in-house creative departments without understanding the importance of objective viewpoints that lead to the work they want to replicate. It’s why people dismiss what others have done despite never having done anything of note themselves. It’s why companies talk about the importance of experience but see them as an expense. It’s why industries talk about D&I but don’t change the situations and contexts that make it an issue. It’s why companies talk about teams but have departments of exactly the same sort of people. It’s why companies become obsessed with proprietary processes even though the work and results it produces is nothing special. It’s why many consultants tell you what is wrong but never take responsibility for making it right. It’s why someone I once worked with on an airport project said – no word of a lie – “why don’t we push out the architects, because we could do a much better job”, despite the fact he wasn’t an architect and our role had little to do with it.

I could go on.

And on and on and on.

The reality is we’re all complicit in some way.

And the irony is if we learn to value what it takes to get the results we want – rather than simply focusing on the speed, power and control of ownership – then we’d all stand a much greater chance of achieving the things we want.

Or said as the wonderful Lee Hill once said to me …

Hire well.
Pay well.
Brief well.
Value well.
Trust well.

Have a good weekend.



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.