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


Some Weeks Last A Lifetime …

So I was supposed to be back today, but the gods had other plans.

I got covid.

After avoiding it for 2 years.

After moving to the other side of the planet in the middle of the pandemic.

They decided now was the optimum time to give it to me.

And maybe they were right.

Because this trip has – so far – been filled with nothing but miracles and love.

I got to see the wonderful Martin and Mercedes get married in Portugal, surrounded by old friends who I’d not seen in an age.

Including the brilliant Clare Pickens who I love enormously.

Not to mention Nusara and her husband … who I discovered actually exists.

Now it’s fare to say all weddings are special, but this was magnificent.

There’s many reasons for that – from the people, the venue, the moment – but it was something more than that. As I said on the speech I was asked to give at the last minute, we needed this. All of us. Not just Martin and Mercedes … but every person who was – and continues to be – affected by the devastation of COVID. Which means every person in the World because whether it has been small or big challenges, we’ve all had to deal with them.

And from there, I then got to see my beloved Nottingham Forest pull off the miracle.

From bottom of the league with the worst start in 108 years to playing at Wembley after 30 years and getting promoted to the Premiership after 23 years away.

And to be able to do that with my beloved Paul – who I’d not seen for almost 2 years – by my side, was just even more special.

I don’t mind telling you I cried when I saw him.

When he got out his car and gave me one of his massive hugs hello, I clung on and cried. God I’ve missed him.

Don’t get me wrong, I love NZ, but it is the first place I’ve ever lived that genuinely feels ‘far from everything’ … so with that and all that has gone on in the past 2 years – not to mention the fact this is the longest I’ve not seen him in my entire life – I realised how much I’ve missed and needed him around in my life.

So to have that and then watch our beloved Forest get back into the promise land together was – well, just unbelievably special.

Now if you remember the post I wrote when I was setting off on this adventure, you will note I have not mentioned seeing Paula and her baby yet and that’s because of the COVID gods. But they’re still being nice to me …

Because not only has COVID not been too bad for me – especially compared to what some people have suffered – it meant I had to move my flights as NZ travel rules meant they wouldn’t let me catch my plane. And even this set back has a silver lining.

Because of the demand on airlines – and the time it takes for RAT tests to show a negative reading – the earliest flight I could get was next Tuesday. So not only will I have the time to see her before I go, but I also get to see Paul again when we go to the Queen concert we booked back in 2019 that they had to cancel because of COVID.

Seeing Queen with my best friend and his wonderful wife Shelly is like the ultimate gift to end this incredible visit to Europe.

But there’s more …

You see the Queen concert is on the day the UK celebrates the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

I mean the royal one, not the musical one.

The reason this is significant is way back in 1977, my Mum and Dad brought me to London to watch the crowds celebrate her Silver Jubilee. I remember it well, despite being so long ago. So to be back in London – albeit by pure coincidence – on a day where England yet again is celebrating a landmark moment in the Queen’s reign takes me back to that day with my parents and that is a feeling I will really treasure.

What this all means is not only has this trip been more wonderful than I ever imagined, it’s ended up giving me more miracles and love than I ever expected. Miracles and love that I needed more than I ever imagined.

So while I can’t wait to get back to my family – and my team – I can honestly say this has been a couple of weeks that are one of the most important and memorable weeks of my life and for that, I thank everyone who made it possible … from Martin and Mercedes, Paul, Nottingham Forest, Colenso, Q-Prime, NIKE, Paula, Queen, Lee Hill and Virgin Atlantic and my brilliant supportive wife and son right through to, bizarrely, covid.

I don’t know how you did it Mum and Dad, but thank you.

So till next week.

R



Audience Is Someone, Not Everyone …

A few weeks ago someone sent me this picture …

Yes, it’s funny, but it’s also right.

At least to a certain audience group.

Which seems to be a thing we’re increasingly forgetting.

Quite a lot of the time, it feels like we experience some sort of group deliberate ignorance. Preferring to suggest ideas will appeal to everyone because we live in a world where the slightest whiff of ‘niche’ is immediately dismissed by clients.

It’s why we have target audiences that are 25-54.

It’s why we have ads that are about people rather than for people.

It’s why we pretend entire generations THINK AND ACT EXACTLY THE SAME.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. Especially when think about the huge amounts of money being spent on research to ‘know our audience better’.

Great brands sacrifice.

They want to mean everything to someone rather than be something for everyone.

Which is why they know who they are. Know who they matter to. And know what to focus on.

That doesn’t mean they are limiting their success … they’re growing it.

Valuing who they are as much as what they earn and building scale from leading change rather than blindly chasing popularity.

It’s the foundation of why they charge more, sell more and are desired more. Especially compared to the product amoebas who spend their millions communicating to anyone about absolutely nothing..

So while people in our industry may smugly question the intelligence of the people who wrote that sign on the back of the ute … if we were to invite them to look at what our industry says and does, I’m pretty sure they’d think we’re the bigger joke.



A Boy Named Ben …

So I’ve decided to do a little thing every month where I write about a planner I love.

Full disclosure, the vast majority will be people I’ve worked with because I can then say honestly I know all their bad bits as well, hahaha.

Today I’m going to write about Ben Perreira.

I first met Ben when I moved to LA and worked with him at Deutsch.

Or at least I thought I did.

About 6 months in, he told me that he had written to me when on April 11th, 2014 … I put a post up on my blog asking if anyone was interested in working with me on NIKE at Wieden.

Embarrassingly I couldn’t remember him writing to me – though it was well over 3 years later by that point – but fortunately, I had apparently written him a very nice return email saying that while I liked what he was up to, I didn’t think he was quite what we needed at that moment.

As an aside, that is the job that led me to the brilliant Paula Bloodworth and so I don’t think anyone would feel hard done by losing out to her – given she’s one of the top 5 strategists on the planet. Probably higher than that.

But that doesn’t mean Ben isn’t amazing.

He is.

I liked him pretty much as soon as I met him.

And that’s quite amazing given he was a surly, petulant prick for our first few get-togethers.

Arms folded.

One word answers.

A lot of, “why would you ask that?”

But Ben’s problem was I’d seen that behaviour before.

When I joined Wieden, one of the people who would eventually be in my team, Rodi, was a carbon copy.

Same reaction.

Same responses.

And that was in the interviews.

But I soon discovered it wasn’t because they were assholes – well, not real ones – it was because they wanted to see if my standards were going to be high enough. If I was going to fight my corner or try to just be liked. To check if I was worthy of the gig and they may learn something from me or I was just a token figurehead who just wanted an easy life.

So when I saw Ben doing the same thing, I found it amusing rather than disturbing.

Which meant I just kept asking him more and more personal questions. Digging into his character before he could dig into mine.

Oh how awkward he found it. It was wonderful. Hahahaha.

Now you would have to ask him if I ‘passed’ his test, but he certainly passed mine.

Because what I soon learned – and loved – about Ben was he just wanted to do great things.

He didn’t want to take the easy path.
He didn’t want to just be liked for saying yes.
He didn’t want to simply churn out the same thing over and over again.

And I loved that.

I loved the questions and the debates we’d have.

I loved the way he dug into the business details to pull out the possibilities.

I loved the way he was a fundamentally good human, despite his dating escapades.

I miss Ben.

Not just because he’s disgustingly handsome, but because he’s a good human who happens to be smart.

He has high standards and wants people who have the same.

And if he feels he has that, he’ll go into any battle because he wants to make a difference.

Not just to the work, but the people doing it.

Lots of people will say that, but for him, it’s in his DNA.

In some ways, I imagine Ben was a natural leader from the day he was born.

He gives a shit about others.

He wants to see them succeed.

He won’t manage up simply for optics … and in the insanely hierarchal corporate structure of America, that’s not just rare, but beautiful.

Christ, the things I saw …

And yet Ben didn’t fall for that.

One or two others tried to do that shit, but never Ben.

In fact, I remember one day being told by someone my team were out of control.

Too full of opinions with too much desire to debate.

And when I said, “I know … isn’t it great!”, it was made pretty clear to me they didn’t share that perspective.

Hahahahahahahahaha!!!

Normally I wouldn’t feel proud about that.

I shouldn’t, because a planners job is to be a well-intentioned, pain in the ass.

Someone who pushes clients to be great not to be average.

But I found in America that wasn’t always the attitude.

I met far too many people there who told me “saying yes” – regardless of the ask – was far more valued by their managers than saying, “I think we can be better than this”.

I don’t know if Ben likes me.

I hope he does.

And if he does, I know the exact moment it happened.

He’d been in a huge meeting that had gone well.

The ECD sent an all agency email updating everyone on what had gone on and thanked Ben for [I think] ‘preparing the room for the meeting’.

I kid you not.

What was even more pathetic was I knew how much Ben had put into this.

How much blood, sweat and tears he’d poured into the project to give us a chance to make something great.

So I decided to respond with an all agency email reply.

Basically pointing out that as the planning department were apparently ‘so good at setting up rooms for meetings’ … if anyone had anything else they need us to do – from fixing a TV to washing clothes – just drop us an email and we’ll be there in the blink of an eye.

It didn’t go down well with anyone, except Ben.

And that’s all I cared about.

Because he’s smarter than he realises and kinder than he likes to admit.

I’m glad I didn’t miss out working with him when the Wieden gig didn’t work out.

I’m even more happy that he’s still in my life.



Money Can Buy Tickets, But It Can’t Buy Respect …

Like most things in life, there tends to be 2 sorts of people.

Those who chase the cash.
Those who chase their passion.

Or said another way, the business folks and the creative folks.

But one thing I’ve learned from working with a number of highly successful bands over the last few years is this.

Those who chase cash can be hugely financially successful, but they’ll never achieve the level of creative respect those who chase their passion will receive.

Now you may go, “who cares, they’re rich”.

But here’s the thing …

People who chase their passion can end up being even more financially successful than those who simply chase the cash.

Sure, it doesn’t happen often, but it also happens more than you may imagine. And when it does, that’s when things get really interesting.

I’m working on a project for a band [not Metallica] that is – quite simply – bonkers.

Not just bonkers in terms of what they want to do, but why they want to do it.

And why do they want to do it?

Because they their die-hard fans to be properly rewarded for their die-hard loyalty.

I don’t mean that in terms of getting early access to something they have to pay for – which is the way many companies think loyalty works. I mean rewarding them with something that has real – and long term – economic and emotional value to them.

Obviously I can’t go into specifics … both for the fact I’d be murdered and there’s still a fuck-ton of hurdles to be dealt if we stand any chance of pulling this off … but what I’ve loved seeing is how artists who have built their fortune as a byproduct of their passion [rather than just a focus on the cash] seem to reach a point where they kinda turn into a musical version of Robin Hood.

I should point out this does not mean they suddenly start doing things for free.

Nor do I mean they start giving all their money away.

There may do some of that but by then, they’ve finally learnt the value of their value.

No, what I mean is they put a lot of effort into ensuring their long-term fans feel the respect the artist has for them and all they’ve done for them … and one way they are increasingly doing this is by finding ways to ‘steal’ from the rich, so they can reward the loyal.

Case in point.

Billy Joel.

In 2014 he started a residency at Madison Square Gardens and vowed to keep playing there once a month until his concerts stop selling out.

Well, he’s still playing … and given he allegedly makes US$3-4 million per show, it’s proven to be an incredible relationship.

But this is where it gets fun …

You see Billy Joel no longer allows the first row of the venue to have people sitting in it.

There are 2 main reasons for this.

1. It stops scalpers from making huge money off him.

2. He hated looking down and seeing rich people looking back at him. Not really into the evening, just there because they could afford the seats and could brag about it to their friends.

So instead, every time he plays, he gets his crew to find fans who are sitting in the worst seats in the venue and gets them to bring them down and give them the best seats in the front row. People who are really happy to be there – not for the bragging rights – but for the chance to get the best view of an artists they love, singing the songs they adore.

In essence, he uses the wealth of the uber-rich to pay for the seats for the real fans.

Giving them the night of their life and letting Billy show that money can buy lots of things, but it can’t buy the respect he has for his true fans.

Now before anyone slags this post … or Billy off.

While I appreciate what he’s doing is not perfect … it’s more considerate, respectful and loyal than 95% of companies who talk a great game in terms of their customers/employees being their greatest asset right until the point it actually might result in costing them more than they want to spend.

Which is why I’d rather be loyal to a kinda musical version of Robin Hood than a smiling snake.

And before I go, I just want to leave you with my favourite little film about Metallica.

Unlike the Billy Joel story, this is not about repaying fan loyalty – at least not in the way I’ve just described how Billy Joel has. This is more about the sentimentality the band has for people and places that they believe has had a significant impact on the life of the band.

I’ve written about this before, but whereas that was about their ongoing relationship with Cliff Burton’s father … this is about one of James’ guitars.

That might not sound enticing, but I assure you it is.

Because while this film talks about where this guitar came from … what it represents and how it was crafted to have even greater meaning and significance to James and the band … it’s really a story of loyalty, legacy and love.

Enjoy. They’ve come a loooooooong way since Some Kind Of Monster, ha.




Just Bung It In The Oven …

Hello there.

I hope you all had a wonderful festive season.

I hope 2022 rewards us with all the opportunities and possibilities that the past 2 years took away.

I hope we can see our friends.

See our families.

Be healthy.

Be happy.

Live with hope and optimism.

Now I said this blog wasn’t going to be back until Jan 31st … and it isn’t.

And frankly, after the December I had – which included the death of a dear friend, an unexpected hospital visit for me and an emergency operation for Otis [who is fully recovered, thank god] – I need all the time I can get to recuperate.

However on Sunday, it is 23 years since my Dad died.

In just 6 years time, he will be gone as long as he was in my life.

And in 9 years time, I will be the age he was when he died.

They will be two very significant moments in my life and – if I’m being honest – I’m nervous of one and scared of the other.

Nervous because it just seems impossible he will have been out of my life more than he was in it.

Of course he is still in my life, but you know what I mean.

Scared because the reality of death comes ever nearer.

Now I know no one knows when someone is going to die – but the idea that it could be when I’m 60 – like he was – is an irrational thought that just sits there. Coming out when I least expect it.

And when it’s quiet, another ridiculous idea enters my mind.

Because Mum died at 83 and Dad died at 60 … I can also convince myself I’ll die between those 2 ages.

So 72.

Now I get 72 is quite a way a way, but it feels a fuckload closer when you’re 51 and your son is only 7.

But all this could be the melancholy of this being Dad’s anniversary, because the reality is I’m happier in my life than I’ve been for a long time.

Not that I was unhappy, but there were moments … but right now, I am in a truly good place and my parents would be so happy to know that.

Which is why I want this post to be about something that would make Dad smile.

A few weeks ago, Jill and I were talking about books that made us laugh to the point of pain.

While we both had a few, her major one was Catch 22 and mine was the first Adrian Mole book – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾.

Adrian Mole’s ‘diary’ came out in 1982 but I got it in the summer of 1983 … which means I read it at the same age as Adrian was.

I loved it. It was hilarious, poignant, tragic and uplifting.

It covered so many issues so many kids were going through.

Family. Friendship, Girls. Sex. Arguments. Parent and Grandparent arguments.

It was, in some ways, the diary of every kids aged 13.

I loved it and still love it when I revisit it every 5 years or so.

But the reason I’m telling you this is because of when my Dad read it.

I think Mum had told him how much I enjoyed it so he decided to check it out.

Anyway, one morning I came downstairs and Mum asked me to ask Dad about what happened in the night.

She said it with a smile, so I knew it wasn’t bad.

I went in the lounge and he was there in his favourite rocking chair.

“Mum told me to ask you what happened last night”

As soon as I said it, he looked at me. His face lit up, a big smile came on his face that allowed his gorgeous dimples to come into the spotlight.

“Oh Robert …” he said, “I was reading your book last night and the bit about the Christmas turkey not being defrosted made me howl with laughter.”

“It was 2am and I had to come downstairs to try and calm down”.

“The bit where they’re trying to thaw the turkey under the hot tap in the bath …” to which he he burst out laughing again with tears in his eyes.

Of course, seeing my Dad like this made me laugh too and then I heard Mum laughing from the kitchen at the state of both of us.

While I never really understood why that bit tickled him so much, I have an idea.

Whether it was the time Mum invited a really miserable elderly couple to our Christmas dinner but only announced it a few days before Christmas and we already had a house full booked … to Dad’s terrible first ever experience with a microwave that literally carbonised sausages … to drunk family members causing scenes … to buying a turkey so big it didn’t even fit in our over … to a not-very-funny-but-very-funny episode with a glass of water when his Mum came to visit.

Who knows. Maybe it was some of that, maybe it was none of it.

But regardless of the reason, I will always remember how that paragraph revealed the child in my Dad and that is why I will always love that book.

It might also explain why I love the Plenty Christmas ad from a couple of years ago. Because watching it again, it’s basically that scene made as a commercial.

I miss my Dad.

I miss him so much.

I would give anything to be able to talk to him and discuss what I’ve done in the last 23 years.

Introduce him to his daughter in law and grandson.

Tell him that Paul and I are still inseparable and mischievous.

Show him all the places I’ve visited and lived and then tell him about all the things I’ve done and still want to do and try.

Watch him try to take it all in and then hear all his questions.

But as I can’t, I’ll honour him by sharing the paragraph that made him roar [which is at the very bottom of this post] and say this:

Dad. I love you.

I think about you all the time.

I am almost overwhelmed with the things I want to say and share.

I hope you’d like [most] of the decisions I’ve made. I know a few would raise eyebrows, but hopefully not too many.

All I’ve ever wanted to do is make you and Mum proud.

I hope I’m doing that overall.

A kiss to you and Mum.

And a lifetime of my love.

To the rest of you, give your loved ones a hug and see you on the 31st.

_________________________________________________________________

The Secret Life Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend

Friday December 25th (1981)

I went up to the bathroom and found my mother crying and running the turkey under the hot tap.

She said, “The bloody thing won’t thaw out, Adrian. What am I going to do?”

I said, “Just bung it in the oven.” So she did.

‘We went down to eat Christmas dinner four hours late. By then my father was too drunk to eat anything.’