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


Meetings Of Death …

Meetings.

They seem to be happening more and more.

Meetings for meetings.
Meetings to discuss meetings.
Meetings to plan if there is a meeting.

And what is amazing is that anyone can call one of these.

Anyone.

And given most companies place a limit on the amount an employee can spend without prior approval – I find it hilarious anyone can commandeer thousands of dollars/pounds of employee time on a whim.

What makes it even more laughable is often these meetings are no more than a simple question that could have been handled by just going up to a colleagues desk.

But it’s not entirely the fault of the person who calls meetings …

We now live in times where looking busy is a key requisite – more than even being productive – and nothing makes you look busy than calling and attending a meeting.

Of at least an hour, of which 47 minutes is made up of waiting for everyone to turn up, small talk and then going off on tangents at least 7 times.

What I find funny is companies continue to say they want to help employees with their work life balance …

They talk about reducing emails while pushing things like slack … that are far more demanding for immediacy of response.

They talk about wanting everyone to take their holidays … and then dictate when they can/can’t be taken.

Ans they talk about wanting to aid productivity then allow so many meetings to happen that you end up starting your real work towards the end of the day.

With that in mind, here are the 4 questions to ask when you are asked to attend a meeting that you are not sure should be a meeting. Or at least a meeting you’re not sure you should be attending.

1. What is this meeting trying to change?
2. Will the people who can make decisions be there?
3. Will they have all the information they need to make a decision there and then?
4. Why do you think I am one of these people?

Yes it’s a pain.

Yes, they will think you’re a pain.

But I guarantee you, it won’t be as painful as another day of sitting in a vast majority of inane meetings that are designed to make the organiser feel important – or able to share the blame of the situation they are in/caused – while also ensuring you end up having to work late.

Again.

You’re welcome.



It’s Not Cool To Say, But Nothing Comes Without Graft* …

As you know, I love the band Queen.

Yes, spare me the insults, I’ve heard them all before.

Anyway, I was recently reading an interview with Roger Taylor about his 50 years in the band and there was a response to one question that caught my eye. It was this:

The bit that specifically stood out was when he says:

“But when you’re young, you’d better be arrogant and have big dreams, because it’s not going to happen by accident”.

I found that sentence interesting for a number of reasons.

One is that Queen were always criticised by the music press as being ‘too ambitious’.

As if they had a a masterplan for World domination that they were executing bit by bit.

Now they definitely wanted to be huge – Roger says that in the interview – but apart from the fact, pretty much every band wants to be successful to a degree, these accusations neatly side step some key things.

First is, there isn’t a masterplan.

A guarantee of success.

Yes, there’s some elements that increase the odds of it, but nothing certain.

Second, if you were aiming for World domination, writing songs like Bohemian Rhapsody would literally not be part of the plan.

Of course, ironically this helped them get there, but even their record company didn’t want to release that song because it was so against the approach the music industry tended to follow.

If you want to talk about a band that was designed for World domination, you can throw that far more at melodic mainstream masters, Abba, more than Queen.

But even if Queen did have some fictional blueprint to guarantee the future success, all the barbs thrown at them ignore some of the critical elements they would have needed to stand any chance of achieving it.

Talent.
Songs.
Luck.

Whether you like Queen or not, you’d be hard pressed to say they didn’t have that.

You might not like the songs. You may not like their musicianship. You might not like their performances.

But you have to admit they had that.

Which leads to the point of this post.

Underpinning those critical attributes the band hand …
Underpinning the ambition to be a hugely successful rock band …
Underpinning the “when you’d better have big dreams” attitude.

… is something we don’t seem to want to talk about any more.

Graft.

Putting in the effort. The commitment. Trying and learning.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting people should put themselves in a position where their mental health is impacted.

And I absolutely accept companies have exploited people’s ambition to serve their own purposes.

But treating ‘graft’ as if it is the enemy is wrong.

A quick look at Corporate Gaslighting tells you that where mental health is concerned, it’s not simply about the volume of work you are expected to do, but what the work is and how the people around you, treat you and it.

Yet that contextual part is rarely talked about …

Many companies talk about mental health through the singular lens of volume … and while a more cynical person could suggest that is so they can remove all other elements of the job – like training etc – to ensure every second available is spent on paid work, I would never suggest such a thing.

Which is why I’m bothered the word ‘graft’ has been seemingly removed from our lexicon.

Tainted when the reality is, it’s important.

Because graft is about learning, exploring, growing.

It’s personal. An act designed to help you improve rather than just make you do more.

That’s very different to the term agencies and companies seem perfectly OK with …

Hustle.

Hustle is far more damaging in my mind.

Hustle is about speed. Additional workloads. Never stopping.

Hustle is the opposite of graft.

An activity designed to fulfil the needs of others [read: managers], not yours.

I think in our quest to deal with mental health, companies have got everything the wrong way around.

Mental health is not about relinquishing ambition.

Mental health is not about abdicating hunger.

Mental health is about feeling you are growing, encouraged, supported and heard rather than just continually giving your energy, taking orders, listening to demands, being offered zero flexibility and being expected to do whatever is asked in increasingly shorter timeframes.

I passionately believe people don’t mind grafting.

I passionately believe people don’t mind working hard for something they care about.

I passionately believe people don’t even mind if their graft doesn’t always result in the perfect outcome. Disappointment maybe but not devastation … at least not if it’s something they still found fulfilling.

What they are sick of is having their progress defined by how much they hustle.
What they are sick of is having their career measured in energy rather than value.
What they are sick of is having their development dictated by workload not training.
What they are sick of is having their needs ignored in favour endless client demands.

If we want our industry to offers dynamic careers rather than repetitive jobs, we better understand people need to feel they can progress and grow through other means than mindless mental, physical and emotional exhaustion.

Roger Taylor is right things don’t happen by accident.

You rarely get to great without pushing yourself.

Athletes don’t just wake up and can run personal bests.

Chefs don’t just wake up and can cook the finest cuisine.

Drummers don’t just wake up and write a number one song.

But by the same token …

Athletes don’t run personal bests writing endless presentations no one reads. Chefs don’t cook the finest cuisine just because they work 12 hour shifts everyday and weekend. And drummers don’t just wake up and write a number one songs because they wait for hours on end for their boss to come out the office ‘just in case’ they need them to do something before they go home.

Yes, progress takes hard fucking work, but when you’re doing it in ways – and with people – who share your goal, rather than just want to exploit it, it has a very different impact on you and your wellbeing.

I believe this is possible to do in this industry. I believe we have people who want to work fucking hard to grow and develop. I even believe progress does not have to come with the devastating cost it has in the past.

Some sacrifices, maybe. But not mental destruction.

However, as long as we continue signing contracts that allow our people to be at the whim of clients regardless of what they need … and then promote people based on volume of work rather than quality of it, then all we’re doing is fucking everybody over.

[There’s going to be a post in a few weeks about career plans and how companies make a big deal of them but few actually live up to them. In other words, they sell the illusion of structure but it’s generally made of sand. And then they wonder why employees are disillusioned]

So while I believe one thing we should do is place mental health protection guideline in all contracts – as clients rightfully do with diversity demands – I think another major step is having adland kill the hustle and start valuing the graft.

_________________________________________________________________________

* Unless you’re from a rich family and can have whatever you want without effort.

Or you’re white …

Where you still have to work but you have a bunch of immediate advantages.

And if you’re a white male, you have hit the jackpot in terms of getting a leg-up.



There’s Confidence, And There’s Drug Dealer Confidence …

One of the questions I’ve been asked more than any other is how do I tell clients what is wrong with their brand.

The first time this happened, I kept asking for clarification because I couldn’t work out what they were asking.

But over the years, it has become apparent that to some, offering clients honesty and transparency is seen as potential threat to the business rather than creating the foundation to answer what is needed.

For me, giving clients honesty and transparency is a demonstration of how much you want them to win.

How much you want them to win, better.

That doesn’t mean you have to be a dick about it, but it does mean you have to be open about how you see it … and in my experience, if you do it in a way where they understand your reasoning and your ambition for them, then more times than not, it’s welcomed.

That doesn’t mean they will agree with you, but it’s amazing how much respect they’ll have for you … because frankly, they’re surrounded by people who tell them what they want to hear and so someone coming in and saying, “actually, we have a different view on this situation to you” is a breath of fresh air.

Hell, even if they hate what you say, you’d be amazed how many times they’ll remember you. I can’t tell you the amount of times people I once pitched for and lost have come back to me/us at a later date.

But I get it can be daunting, even more so if your bosses are saying. “just do what they want”, which is why the next time you’re in this situation, I encourage you to look at the photo at the top of this post.

That photo is Pablo Escobar.

Columbian drug-king Pablo Escobar.

And yes, that photo is him with his son outside the White House, taken when he was the US Government’s most wanted criminal.

So if you think telling a client how to be more successful requires confidence, imagine what it takes to have a photo with your son outside the building where the President of an entire country wants you dead?

Not so hard now is it?

Have fun …



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.



Passive Aggressive Professionalism …

I know I am the last person in the World who should talk about professionalism – and I appreciate what I’m about to write about highlights my absolute lack of it – but there’s one thing I hate and it’s meetings.

More specifically, meetings about meetings.

For reasons I won’t bore you with, I’ve found myself increasingly getting into these positions over the past few years and while I quickly extract myself from them, I have got myself some notepads that ensure – in the short time I am there to ascertain if I should be there – I can feel some sense of quiet retaliation for being in the position in the first place.

It’s not big. It’s not clever. But it’s a nice feeling.