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

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.

The Value Of Being Lateral, Rather Than Literal …

Yes I’m back.

If anything will help you be excited about the oncoming weekend, it will be that.

So the picture above is from a presentation I give to planners.

The reason for it is because I find it fascinating when ad folk try to be like their client.

Exactly like their client.

The way they speak. The way they dress. The way they think.

Of course, I understand the importance of knowing your client, their business and their challenges, but the problem with mirroring your client is that you end up looking at the World in the same way as them … and as much as some people may think that’s a good thing, it’s not.

You see when you focus on being like an insider, you ignore the benefits of thinking like an [informed] outsider. You know, the perspective the client actually hired you for in the first place.

As one of my old senior Nike clients once said to me …

“Senior management need and want to be challenged because that’s how we keep things moving forward. If you’re not doing that, then you’re not doing anything for us”.

Now I appreciate not every client thinks this way, but this shift to client mirroring is – in my opinion – another thing that has undermined our industry.

I swear the reason for it is an attempt to be taken seriously as a client partner when the easiest way to achieve that is to do work that shows we are a serious client partner.

Do the people who say, “we’ve lost our seat at the boardroom table” seriously think this approach will change that?

Maybe … but then they will be wrong because there’s only 3 things that will do that.

1. Talk about the things that are important to the client rather than important to us.

2. Know their audience/culture better than they know their audience/culture.

3. Solve their business challenges in creatively imaginative, distinctive, culturally resonant and sustainable ways.

Oh, and there’s a 4th point … prove it.

Not just in the short-term, but in the long … where client can see the economic value of investing in their brand voice. Not just through ‘brand campaigns’, but in how they approach everything they do.

Now I know some of you may think this whole post is my attempt to justify wearing shit t-shirts and birkenstocks to client meetings for the last 25+ years – and maybe it is – but if we are to get back to where we belong, I passionately believe it’s not going to happen by behaving more like clients, but by getting back to the things they need and no one else can do.

Strategy Is Knowing What Not To Do …

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, when I was in NY, I was invited to speak at design gods … Pentagram.

Whenever I’m asked to speak at something, the first thing I think is ‘why?’

The second thing I think about is ‘what right have I got to talk about this subject?’

And the final thing is ‘what am I going to talk about’.

In the case of Pentagram, I didn’t know what I could say that would be of any interest of them.

Then I remembered the only reason they asked me to come is because of my relationship to a certain, famous rock band so instead of doing a deck – where, let’s be honest, they would be judging the design of each slide rather than listening to what I said – I bought 12 iconic albums on vinyl [they’re the ones in the picture above] and talked about the relationship they had with the music and the fans of the music under the heading, ‘Design is not decoration’.

Now I have no idea if they actually learnt anything from my talk, but it certainly created a bunch of conversation and debate and for me, that’s a big win.

Actually, getting out alive was the big win, but seeing some of the most talented design people in the World talk about the relationship between music, design and fans was something I’d pay for just to witness.

Which is why one of the best lessons I learned about strategy is less about what you are going to do and more about what you’re going to sacrifice.

If You Look For The Same Answers, You’re Going To Get The Same People …
September 7, 2016, 6:20 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Agency Culture, Creativity, Culture, Emotion, Empathy, Insight, Meetings

For reasons I’m not entirely sure, I am on some planner group on Facebook.

To be honest, I tend to ignore it because the last thing I want to do is cultivate even more of a planner bubble than there already is.

However a few weeks ago, I read something that I couldn’t ignore. It was this:

Anyone have any good interview questions (thought-experiments, creative challenges, brain teasers) that have helped you identify good intern/junior planner candidates?

To be honest, I was kind of alarmed by it.

I was even more freaked out by the responses some people gave.

Of course, everyone is entitled to their own approach – but this person is looking for an intern or, at best, a junior planner – so using some kids quiz to evaluate potential seems a bit harsh when I believe the most important criteria you should be looking for is character and attitude.

For that reason, I responded with this:

Don’t ask questions about planning. Ask them about what their chip on their shoulder is. How long they’ve had their best friend. What have they committed to despite moments of hating it. Don’t ask about planner things, then you just get a planner.

To be honest, I ask these questions to everyone – regardless of their position or seniority – because I value honesty, openness and empathy far more than I do someone being able to solve the planning equivalent of some sudoku puzzle. Besides, if someone is sitting in front of me, they must have done enough to intrigue me or they wouldn’t be there … so at the face-to-face stage, it’s far more about who they are than what they’ve done.

Andy was the one who taught me the ‘how long have you known your best friend’.

At first I thought it was a bit bizarre but then I realised it revealed all manner of things, from loyalty, commitment, understanding and an ability to work through issues … and yet when I tell some people I do this, they look at me as if I’m weird.


Why is it weird to want to find someone who will contribute to the team, the culture and the possibilities of the future rather than someone who will just do their job and shut the hell up.

I appreciate everyone is different, but being smart doesn’t mean you’re always bright.

Meetings Kill More Than Save …
December 7, 2015, 6:10 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Communication Strategy, Meetings

So this is the final week of this blog for this year.

Yes, I know it’s only the 7th of December, but frankly I am over it so god knows how you lot must feel.

Sadly that doesn’t mean the end of this blog, just the end of it for this year, because it will be back in Jan 2016. Oh yes.

[Cue: Evil laugh]

Anyway, as I’ll be writing a big Oscar-speech post on Friday [so make sure you’re washing your hair that day] I thought I’d make today relatively easy for you to take.

Let’s talk about meetings …

Contrary to the cartoon, not all meetings are a waste of time.

At their best, they are where people in various teams come together … explain what they’re doing … explain what they need from others … discuss what they have to do and when they will deliver it and then they go away and get on with it.

They are short, efficient, informative and valuable.

But sadly – as the cartoon captures – those sort of meetings have become the exception.

Many meetings today are a cross between a social gathering and a focus group.

Used more to ‘gauge opinion’ than to make decision.

They are energy and morale sapping … and yet we continue to feed their inefficiency for reasons I cannot fathom.

Well, actually I can fathom the reasons, but they’re not good ones.

Fear of making a decision. The illusion of communication. A false sense of collaboration.

Not great are they?

The amount of meetings I’ve been in, where people whose role had no direct value to the discussion is astounding.

But people now get invited for ‘political reasons’.

Everyone is encouraged to have a say.

There are “no wrong answers”.

But there are. There are a lot of wrong answers.

It’s not their fault, it’s the fault of the person who invited them.

If you’re going to ask someone to attend a meeting with little – or no – relevance to the discussion, they’re not going to say things that have value to the task in hand.

But they will say something simply because they feel they have to justify being there.

Which leads to long meetings that go off in lots of different directions with no clear, tangible outcome.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for bringing in fresh perspectives to a meeting – and I’m all for bringing in people who are relatively new to the industry or office, so they have a chance to listen, learn and convey their viewpoint – but a meeting for me is something that should aid efficiency, not be an obstacle to it.

It’s a bit like brainstorms.

A lot of them are terrible, but in the right hands, they can be liberating.

And similar to brainstorms, the difference between good and bad is down to the organiser.

If they don’t know why they’re having the meeting so they don’t know who should – or shouldn’t – be invited, it’s a disaster.

In my experience, the best way to ensure people attend your meeting is to have a short meeting.

+ Know what the meeting is for.

+ Ensure the right people are in the room.

+ Give the meeting a maximum duration of 20 minutes.

+ Manage the debate to make sure the discussion stays on track.

If you do that, people will come … not just because they know if they miss it, they miss out … but we now live in a World where nothing makes someone want to attend a meeting like knowing they won’t have to attend it for long.