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


The Music Industry Lifts Me Up By Putting Me Down …

A few weeks ago – thanks to Metallica’s managers – I was asked to give a presentation to another of the bands in their roster.

They’re not as big or as successful as their management mates, but they are definitely a name and had a lot of ideas about the future.

I was asked to give my perspective on what they were thinking so wrote a presentation called, ‘How to stop you becoming twats’.

To be honest, it wasn’t going to be called that, it was just an internal working title – designed to scare their management team more than anything – so you can imagine my surprise when they just laughed and said I should keep it.

I must admit, I was very, very suspicious about why they were OK with it but decided to go with it because at the very least, I could blame them, haha.

Anyway, despite the very curious faces on zoom as I presented to them at 4am New Zealand time, it seemed to have gone down well … which is why I was somewhat surprised when the day after I received this email from one of the team.

Putting aside the worry they may have actually told me to present that title because they thought I would get murdered for it, it’s quite nice to have delivered a presentation of blunt truth [albeit, well intentioned] and been thanked for it.

It’s not as good as the insult I got from Lars – which was part of this preso – but it’s still good.

Now you may wonder how I got away with it?

Well I don’t really know …

However I do have a long career of being able to be very blunt with clients in a way where they continually invite me back.

I don’t think it’s because they’re masochists.

And I certainly don’t do it because I am a prick.

It’s purely because my sole focus is to help them win better.

It’s amazing what you can get away with when the person knows your ambition is for them, not for you.

Or as one of my best ever clients said to me – the NIKE CMO, Simon Pestridge – “middle management want to be right, senior management want to know how to be better”.

I may not suggest doing it in the way I do it, but truth should never be hidden or sugarcoated to the point where no one can actually taste anything you’re saying.

And if anyone pushes back on you for wanting to do this, just point them to this post … because if senior figures in global brands and members of global rockbands can take it, anyone can.

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It’s a long weekend here for the Queen’s birthday, so enjoy the weekend and the exert day off free from my rubbish next week.



A Year On From A Half Century …

This time last year, I was writing about how I only had 11 days left of my 40’s.

That I would soon be reaching my ‘half century of age‘.

To say a lot has happened since then is an understatement.

A year ago, I was living in Fulham, working with R/GA and stuck in the first lockdown.

Since then, I have gone through redundancy, bought a beautiful family home in the countryside, watched Forest fuck up the best chance for promotion that they’ve had in 20 years, been in The Guardian newspaper, got ‘The Hoff’ to make a video for my beloved Paul’s big 5-0 birthday, started Uncorporated with Metallica’s management … worked with even more rockstars and billionaires … as well as some fashion icons, music producer legends and the most anticipated video game in history … bought a house in New Zealand that we never saw, moved to New Zealand in the middle of a pandemic, started working at the wonderful Colenso and got to see my family start living a ‘normal’ life again.

And that’s just the big bits.

So here we are again.

The beginning of the month of my birthday.

I hope to fuck this year is not as traumatic.

I’m fine with the variety, but please, not as traumatic.



Layer Cake …

I was talking to a couple of mates recently.

Both of them are a couple of incredibly talented, highly regarded, multi-award winning creatives and they were asking me what it was like working in NZ.

As we were chatting we came to a revelation about what was causing the decline in advertising standards.

This is a topic that has been debated a lot over the years with a myriad of possible causes. But with the experience I have seen in NZ – plus the experience I have working directly with a number of famous bands and billionaires – we realised there was actually an underlying cause that trumped all other considerations.

It’s not digital.
It’s not consultants.
It’s not holding companies.
It’s not eco-systems or playbooks.
It’s not the wild inflation of strategists.
It’s not cost.
It’s not effectiveness.
It’s not in-house alternatives.
It’s not direct-to-consumers.
It’s not data.
It’s not rational messaging.

It’s the layers within companies.

The multitude of people everything has to go through and be approved by.

Might be on the client side.
Might be on the agency side.
Might be on both sides … but each layer is like a mini-focus group where ‘success’ is when the representative of that particular layer feels something can then be passed on to the next person in their group without it making them look foolish for their decision or choice.

And as the work passes each layer, the work gets diluted or chipped away until the ultimate decision maker gets to see something that is a pale shadow of what was originally intended.

An object that is a trophy to self preservation rather than potency and truth.

And as companies and agencies have grown in their complexity, the work has faced more layers and opinions. Doesn’t matter if you’re independent or part of the most networked agency/company in the history of networked agency/companies … the decline of creative standards is down to the number of organisational layers that now exists within companies.

And why has this happened?

Well, part of it is because of complexity, but the main part is because companies have got into this mad position where the only way they can grant a significant payrise is if the person is promoted.

So we’re in this mad situation where we have increased layers, headcount and complexity simply because we have viewed money as something commensurate with promotion rather than quality.

Now I appreciate you could argue promotion is a sign of quality – but I don’t think that’s right.

Being good at something doesn’t automatically mean you will be good at something more senior. Hell, there’s a lot of people who don’t even want to do something else. They just want to do what they love and they’re happy at.

I remember at Wieden where – for one mad minute – they thought I’d make a good MD.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

They didn’t come to their senses even when I told them I wasn’t even the MD of cynic … and that was a company I actually founded.

I didn’t want to be an MD.
I wasn’t interested in being an MD.
I just wanted to do what I loved and was good at.

And while they finally came to their senses [good call, Luhr, as usual] the reality is a lot of companies have a bunch of layers simply because they needed to promote someone to justify a payrise.

And before you know it, every task has to go through multitudes of layers … where most are designed to dull an idea rather than sharpen it.

While I don’t know this for a fact, I would guess the companies or agencies who are doing the most interesting work … the stuff that attracts culture rather than chases them down then beats them into submission … are the ones where they deal with the ultimate decision maker.

We get to do a lot of that in NZ.

I definitely get to do that with Metallica, Gentle Monster and the GTA team.

And the difference is huge.

Because while some of these clients are genuinely exceptional – especially when I’m talking to the founders of the organisations because that gives them a level of power and authority most other clients could never hope to get – I imagine a lot of the others are no different to the clients everyone who reads this blog deals with in London or New York or Tokyo everyday.

It’s just the big difference is instead of work having to appease the comments and judgement of 20 different people, it only has to agree with 4 … so the idea that gets made resembles the idea on the table to a much greater extent.

So next time you have a client that talks about wanting great work, don’t talk to them in terms of what processes, systems or people you can add to the mix, talk about what both parties need to take away.

Because if you want the work to be potent, kill the layers of filtration.



The Rise Of Keep The Problem Alive …

So I know I said last week was the last of the Rules By Rubin … but then I did also say there may be some more in the future.

Well consider this the future.

Shit isn’t it?

Don’t worry, it’s just for today and tomorrow then we go back to normal.

So just as shit. Sorry.

Anyway this is about the state of the creative industry.

Whereas once, it was filled with companies all wanting to create wonderful things to put into the world – regardless of their individual discipline or expertise – the emergence of consultancies has led to the industry now falling into 2 groups

Those who can’t help finding ways to put creativity out into the world in interesting ways and those who seemingly do all they can to never put anything out whatsoever.

While I sort-of understand the theory why agencies would like the idea of being like a consultancy, what I’ve found especially bizarre is that in doing that, they’re seemingly happy to dismiss making any actual creativity at all.

At first I was really confused how they thought they’d stay in business.

I mean, there are as many competitors as there are in adland.

Their entire model is designed around making actual creative work.

The lack of C-Suite engagement is more individual than entire industry.

Then I thought maybe I was completely wrong.

That they did want to make work.

After all, why else would their excellent strategists continually write 100 page decks filled with charts, ecosystems, frameworks and playbooks to every single client meeting?

Surely that is a sign of a company actually wanting to make something.

But then on closer inspection, I saw a lot of those decks had no creativity mentioned in them whatsoever.

And the conversation around audience was simplistic, generalist and utterly contrived.

In essence, they talked a hell of a lot but actually said very little.

“What the hell was going on?” I would ask myself.

And then on a cold night one Wednesday, I worked it out.

Those planners aren’t writing strategic decks, they’re creating remuneration landfill.

Thank fuck for the others.

The ones who know who they are.

The ones who push rather than pander.

The ones who create opportunities not wait for them.

The ones who run to the edge rather than run on the spot.

The ones who finish interesting things to start making more interesting things.



Peak Career …

I know I’ve only been at Colenso a few days.

I know I’ve had a career full of a variety of highs.

But recently, I achieved something that will never be surpassed.

You see I was asked by a music management team to put a ‘credentials’ together for another band they may want me to work with.

To help with that, I asked if they would be able to send me something that described how working with me was.

I got this.

Not just a brilliant statement. [Ignoring it’s an insult]

But signed.

SIGNED!!!

Hahahahahaha.

Best credentials slide. Ever. Fact.

Though what is slightly worrying is I’ve been called an “asshole” by Richard Branson and Dan Wieden. Mind you, if I can get them to do the same thing for me, I will probably win – or be banned – from every piece of business forever.

Happy weekend … it’s been a hell of a great week.