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


Hello Colenso …

So this is it.

First day at school. Again.

In another new country. Again.

It’s always a weird feeling starting a new job. A mixture of excitement and nerves.

Excitement for the possibilities that lie ahead and nerves that you don’t really know what the hell actually lies ahead.

Most of this is because you are not you when you begin a new job.

You’re in this weird place where you want to throw yourself in the mix as quickly as possible – both to start feeling settled and to show your value to your new colleagues – while at the same time, knowing you have to learn a whole new set of people, protocols and situations while navigating the judging eyes that are going to follow you around for weeks.

But I have to say I am particularly excited about this.

I’ve loved Colenso from afar for a long time.

And as I wrote a while back, I almost joined them 6 years ago and always regretted it didn’t work out [simply because my head was not in the right place after Mum died] … so to be given this chance again is something else.

But the main thing is how they have acted towards me before I joined.

Lots of companies talk a good game when they’re trying to hire you and then – the moment it’s all signed and sealed – turn into demanding, inconsiderate pricks.

While it has only happened to me once, it fucks with your mind.

You doubt your judgement.

You question your decisions.

It’s pretty debilitating.

And yet, while it has been almost 8 months since we agreed to get married, Colenso have been amazing in how they have dealt with me.

One of the big things is how steadfast they’ve been not involving me in stuff till I’m here.

Of course they checked in … but they never gave me work to do, because they didn’t want our first experience working together to be one where I’m the only person on Zoom and 13 hours behind the rest of the team.

And while I would not have minded, I totally get why they wanted that to be the way.

That said, I did want to use the time to get to know the team and I basically had to beg to get that to happen.

Of course it’s not the best way to build any sort of understanding, rapport and relationship with people – so rather than talk about work, we tended to chat about what’s happening in our lives and how we feel about it – which took away any formality and allowed us to start revealing the different sides of each other.

And while I can’t wait to get to know them properly from here on in, I’m happy we have got to a stage where they feel comfortable enough to already call me a range of ‘choice’ names … which means I’ve just saved a week on my typical timings, ha.

While the past 13 months have been a very special time for me both personally [spending so much time with my wonderful family in our new home] and professionally [working with amazing people doing work I never dreamed I would be a part of] I am utterly thrilled to be starting here today.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it won’t all be rainbows and unicorns.

I’m old enough to know there will be plenty of times full of pain, drama, arguing and asshole challenges … but when you work for a place that only has its eye on the work they create, it means everything works out in the end.

For all the tension, scars, arguments and bloody hard fucking work it takes for creativity to be at its sharpest and most dangerous – at least a lot of the time, but not all of the time – once you’ve got it there and let it out into the world, it’s amazing how all the tension, scars and arguing fade away.

Better yet, it’s replaced with excitement, energy and possibility.

OK, and nerves, but even that is in an excited way.

Now I accept this might all sound like bullshit, but it isn’t

I lived it at HHCL, Cynic and Wieden.

It’s why it’s the founding principal behind Uncorporated.

It’s why places like Uncommon, are attracting the biggest names rather than chasing them.

And it’s why a small agency on the other side of the World has consistently played against the very best in the World.

The key word here is consistently.

Not one offs.

Not once upon a time, a long time ago.

I mean doing it day in and day out.

Finding new ways to do old things.

Looking for opportunities where creativity can change outcomes.

Embracing technology to expand the possibilities of creativity rather than just efficiency.

Staying on the path even when you could take short-cuts or potentially crash and burn.

Because in an industry that is increasingly defining success outside of the work they make and the cultural impact it creates, it’s those who let the creativity do the talking who create and attract the most interesting futures.

Not just for themselves. But for clients and culture alike.

So thank you to everyone who helped me get to this place in my career.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me actually get to New Zealand.

And thank you to Colenso for your stupidity in giving me this opportunity.

I will be eternally grateful, even if my new planning gang won’t be.

Right, time for the oldest ‘new boy’ to go cause some chaos.

Have a great day, I know I will.



Brand In 10 Words.

I am a massive fan of Rick Rubin.

Actually that’s not quite right.

I am a massive disciple of Rick Rubin.

I think he is incredible. His ability to help others express their most powerful creative voice is amazing.

So much of this is down to how he see’s his role.

Not as a music producer, but as a sophisticated fan.

Someone who wants the band he loves to be their shameless best.

Protecting them from ever feeling they have to compromise on who they are or what they want to say because he fiercely believes the greatest return comes when you express your honesty and authenticity rather than play to be liked.

It’s why the artists he’s worked with reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the most culturally significant artists of their time.

Those who either defined a genre or validated it.

LL Cool J
Run DMC
The Beastie Boys
Slayer
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Rage Against The Machine
The Black Crowes
The Dixie Chicks
Johnny Cash

Look at that list. Look at it.

Hip Hop. Rap. Rock. Metal. Thrash. Blues. Country. Funk.

No one should be able to be so successful with that range of genre and artist.

It’s hilarious and yet there are so many more artists I could mention because for almost 4 decades, Rubin has helped artists not only express their truth but recognise the economic power from doing so.

He has created icons.
He has revived icons.
He has shaped, pushed and provoked culture.
He has influenced, shaped and changed music forever.

When we hear agencies talk about ‘creating culture’, most haven’t come anywhere close to what he has helped create.

But what I love the most about Rubin is how he decides who he is going to work with.

Basically his entire decision making process is based on one simple process.

Taste.

If Rubin likes what he hears, then he’s up for it.

It doesn’t matter whether it has any connection to anything he’d done before, he see’s it less about the music and more about the artist needing help to express … find … or rediscover their voice.

Not their singing voice. Their soul.

It’s not that far off what we as an industry say we do for brands.

Except we’re increasingly forgetting what brand is because we sacrifice it time and time again for the quick win.

I get it, we’re fighting for our lives … but in our quest to show we have value, we’re destroying what makes us valuable.

Oh I know we won’t admit that.

We’ll point to words like purpose, experience and membership as proof ‘we get it’.

We’ll say they’re representative of modern brand building and all else is old.

We’ll show 1000 page decks that show how our unique processes ‘guarantee’ success.

And some clients will buy this, which means we can go away thinking we’ve got it all sorted out and we’re legends.

Except we haven’t and we aren’t.

Yes, all those elements play an important role in building a modern brand … however they’re never the lead, always a supporting actor because …

Sales without distinction doesn’t build a brand.

Purpose without sacrifice doesn’t build a brand.

Data without understanding doesn’t build a brand.

User journeys without nuance doesn’t build a brand.

Eco-systems without an idea doesn’t build a brand.

Personalisation without being personal doesn’t build a brand.

Wanting to be something to everyone rather than everything to someone doesn’t build a brand.

The harsh reality is we’re dangerously close to confusing commoditisation with brand building. Of course this is not all our fault, but continuing to perpetrate it, most definitely is.

While I appreciate Rick Rubin didn’t mean the photo/quote that appears at the top of this page to be interpreted this way … he pretty much sums up how to build truly distinctive and definitive, culturally resonant brands.

And he does it in 10 words.

TEN!!!

And that’s part of Rubin’s magic.

He understands how to get to the simplest expression of his viewpoint, because he knows the simpler it is, the less obstacles to deal with.

Simple lets truth speak and rise.

Simple lets possibilities flourish.

Simple lets distinctiveness be expressed.

Simple is unbelievable power.

Now the irony of simple is it’s not easy to pull off.

Simple is definitely not simplistic. To be simple requires a hard work, experience and confidence … and while as an industry we have known this and advocated this for decades, we seem to have recently decided the opposite – where we celebrate complexity.

What the hell?!

Maybe it’s because we’re making more money from this approach. Or just feel more important. But the endless playbooks, frameworks, processes, tools and strategies we’re producing aren’t building better brands, just bigger obstacles.

Again, there’s a place for them. But the way they’re being used – they’re more like hammers than brushes – forcing them into the process, competing with all around them and ultimately leaving people lost with what they’re following, what they’re building and what they’re actually doing this all for.

As someone recently said to me – someone hugely successful in business – when companies make the solution more complex than the problem, they’re just creating another problem.

Please don’t think this means you skimp on standards or rigour.

If anything, it’s the exact opposite … but because everyone knows what they’re working towards [rather than doing their version of what they think everyone should be working towards], it means they can be sharp and focused and that means your work can be expressed in ways that lift things up rather than bogs them down.

I get some people won’t like this.

I get some people won’t agree with this.

I get some clients would never sign off on this.

But apart from the fact I doubt any of them will have come close to influencing, shaping or creating culture in the same commercially infectious way Rubin has, if they really believe selling the complexity of intelligence is a smarter way to operate, I’ll leave you with something my dad – who was pretty good on this whole intelligence thing – used to say to his lawyers:

“If you have to show how clever you are, you aren’t that smart”.



Loyalty Is Demonstrated By Time, Not Just By Actions …

Over the past 9 months, we’ve heard a lot from companies talking about loyalty.

Whether that’s loyalty to their staff, loyalty to their shareholders or loyalty to their values and commitments.

Sadly, in a lot of cases, this has been nothing more than a PR statement.

Something that looks good and makes the C-Suite feel good, without having to actually be good.

Of course there have been the exceptions, but in many cases, that’s all there is.

Now I am not naive.

I know in a commercial organisation, tough decisions need to be made every day … but the reality is, in many cases, it’s not that tough for them. Or it shouldn’t be given how often they do it. Though I do find it surprising how many companies are OK with letting people go but don’t like it when their employees let their employer go. Funny how they see that as an act of betrayal.

But that’s by-the-by, because this is about what real loyalty means and it revolves around Metallica.

So when the band started, there were 4 members.

James Hetfield
Lars Ulrich
Kirk Hammett
Cliff Burton

On September 27th, 1986, the band were in their coach travelling through a rural part of Sweden. They were there as part of their tour supporting their ‘Master of Puppets’ album.

It was a long and gruelling tour and sleep was in short reply. The band members had been complaining the sleeping arrangements on their bus were unsatisfactory so to decide who received the pick of the bunks, Hammett and Burton played cards.

Burton won and said to Hammett he wanted his bunk … leaving Kirk to sleep up front near the driver.

Around 7am, the bus flipped over onto the grass in Kronoberg County.

Cliff Burton was thrown through the window of the bus, which then fell on top of him, killing him instantly.

While there is debate on whether the accident was the result of black ice or the driver sleeping at the wheel, the reality is Burton – a much loved, highly talented musician – was dead.

So where’s the loyalty?

Well it’s true the band decided to continue rather than split up – like some other bands who had suffered the loss of a member.

And it’s true the bassist chosen to replace Cliff, Jason Newsted, faced a lot of tension from a band still grieving for the loss of their friend.

However, it’s the connection the band maintained with Cliff’s father – and the support Cliff’s father gave to the band – that is something to celebrate.

From the moment Cliff died, his Dad – Ray Burton – encouraged the band to continue.

Despite being in unbelievable grief, he was adamant the best way he could honour his son was having the band go on.

To play the music he helped create.

To let his name, talent and spirit continue even though he is no longer here.

And while the band probably didn’t need that endorsement to make their decision, they treasured it.

But more than that, they treasured Ray Burton.

In their mind, he was a part of the band because he had fathered the guy who helped father the band.

It was a mutual love … based on respect, compassion and a love of Cliff.

I know that sounds like the sort of cliched ‘bro’ statement you would hear from a band or brand in a desperate attempt for a PR headline, but in Metallica’s case, it’s true.

Demonstrated and proven by the duration this relationship has been celebrated, nurtured and expressed.

What’s wonderful is they always managed to do it in a way that was respectful yet positive.

Whether that’s having Ray join the band on stage to be conducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of fame, or just having him come to whichever band gig he chooses.

And then celebrating his attendance on stage.

But Ray also plays a big part in keeping this relationship healthy.

Because while he loves the acknowledgement the band and the fans give his beloved son, he also wants to ensure the memory of Cliff doesn’t overshadow or become a burden to his replacement. Or the band.

He loves the music and wants that to be the focus.

And that gives the band the freedom to keep moving forward.

Which, of course, makes them love and support him more.

Which is maybe why their loyalty is so strong and positive.

Because where many [read: companies] believe loyalty is about compliance regardless of situation, Metallica and Ray see it as being founded on openness, honesty and positivity.

They can’t change what has happened.
They can’t live in the past.
But they can celebrate where something they created is going.

Sadly, Ray died recently, aged 94.

The band’s loyalty to him still lives.



A Year Like No Other …

So this is it. The final post of 2020.

Congratulations on making it to here. Especially after a year like this one.

I have to say it feels kind-of bitter sweet for me, because as I’ve written before – this year has been pretty special for me and my family.

Sure I turned 50.

Sure, Forest still fucked up the promotion hopes they’d held onto all season in the last 15 minutes of the last game of the whole season.

And sure I lost my job

But even though they’re all pains in the arse, compared to what others have – and are – suffering, it was nothing. Hell, even turning 50 gave me the chance to do this.

When I originally wrote this post, I’d listed all the things that had happened to me this year.

It was a very, very long list.

And while I am super grateful for each and every one of those things – from new jobs to new houses to family happiness to Paul doing Frothy Coffee full time – it just felt wrong.

Not just because there’s a whole host of people going through a terribly shit time right now. Nor the fact I’m a over the self-promoting, self-congratulatory, soapbox shouting by people on social media. Or even because the brilliant Mr Weigel wrote it better than I ever could achieve [as usual] … but because of something I read in The Guardian Newspaper a few weeks ago.

Specifically the very first sentence.

Which was – utterly bizarrely – about me.

No seriously, and it went like this.

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in July, Rob Campbell, 50, received a Zoom call from his boss at the advertising firm where he worked as a head of strategy.

When I read it, the number 50 stood out.

Like it was 50 stories high.

It confused and confronted me.

Part of it was because I don’t think I am that age.

Part of it is knowing I am.

And maybe it was at that point I realised just how lucky I am.

Not that I was naive to it before, but it became more apparent.

Because losing your job at 50 is shit.

It doesn’t mean it’s all over, but it’s unusual to have so many good things happen and frankly, it all made me feel a bit embarrassed which is why I deleted the list of stuff.

It happened. I just don’t need to share it because I lived it.

And while it would only have been there to act as a reminder of all that happened should I – or Otis, later in his life – wanted to jog our memory about it, the spirit of this post and those before it say all that needs to be said.

So instead, I want to use the rest of this post to say thank you.

There’s so many people I am grateful to have in my life.

So many people who made the worst year, in many respects, one of my best.

People on here.
People in the industry – some I knew, some I didn’t.
People who just read my instagram and got in touch.

You may not realise it, but it made a huge difference to how I saw the future.

Then there is my amazing family. Their unconditional belief and support meant I never had to panic. I never had to worry. I mean, I did have moments of it – but that was all because of me, never them. Jill never expressed concern. She gave me confidence by simply being confident in me so the whole experience never felt scary – which is incredible when you think about it. Then there’s Otis. God, I love that kid. Seeing him come home from his new teeny-tiny school in the country filled with stories and giggles meant the house never had a chance to feel bad.

My mates were ace. A check-in here, a word of advice there, a dollop of pisstaking and a whole lot of love. They ensured I never felt alone, and while I was perfectly fine with the situation I found myself in, they made sure I stayed perfectly fine with the situation I found myself in.

Of course I can’t forget my old colleagues. Not just from R/GA … but also Deutsch, Wieden+Kennedy and Cynic. So many got in touch. Offered to help. Made me laugh. They didn’t have to do that – especially the way I had treated them when we worked together, hahaha – but they did and it meant more to me than they may ever know.

I want to give a particular shout out to Blake Harrop.

Not only is he the most handsome, clever man in the whole universe but he is also the MD of Wieden Amsterdam.

When he heard what had happened, he sent me an absolutely epic note. I’ve always regarded him as a special man, but this just took it to another level and I will keep that note forever.

And then my clients.

Past. Sort-of present. And now, future.

Fuck me … what an impact they had on my confidence.

Not just in their kind words, but in their actions. Signing long-term contracts, introducing me to others and – in the case of two in particular – collaborating with me to start Uncorporated. As I’ve noted in other posts, the work it has let me be a part of is unprecedented and I cannot say thank you to them enough.

Finally to the wonderful folk at Colenso.

To have one of the agencies I’ave always loved reach out and ask me to join them was simply the icing on the cake. They were open, warm, encouraging and honest throughout the process before topping it off with most well written job offer letter I’ve received in my life. Seriously, it was a work of art and if there was an award show for this sort of thing, it would be a Black Pencil winner for sure. I can’t thank Scott and the team enough for the opportunity to play with them and I can’t wait to be there in March and cause some trouble.

What all this means is that I have been surrounded by wonderful people.

Not just the ones I know, but people who just reached out to see if they could help.

I don’t know what I have done to deserve it all to be honest [it must be Jill and Otis] but I totally get why people say it’s better to be lucky than rich.

So to each and every one of you, I want to say thank you.

Jill, Otis, Paul, Michelle, Mr Weigel, Mercedes, Paula Bloodworth, David Lin, Carina, Winson and Wanshi, Nils, my wonderful old planning team at R/GA London, Lesley Cheng, Ryan and Sam, Mike and Sam, Trudie, Matt Tanter, Group Think, Scott and Levi and all at Colenso, Blake Harrop, Karrelle Dixon, John Rowe, Mr Ji, Richard Green, everyone at Q-Prime, Metallica, RHCP, Richard David James, Paul Colman, Flash, Rodion, Charinee, Debbie, Leon, Jorge Calleja, George, Andy, Baz, Lee Hill, Simon Pestridge, Steve Tsoi and PT Black, Patrick the Dirty Ram fan, Michael Roberts, Ben Major, Holly Day, Lindsey Evans, Dan Hill, Rach Mercer, Donn the grandpa jumper wearer, Ben Perreira, Maya, Chelsea, Bree, James Thorpe, Lani, Tarik at Onroad, Leigh, Nic Owen, Bassot, Judd Caraway, Gareth Kay, Pickens, Wes, Hoala, Brixton Finishing School, Mark Lester, Ros and Hiro, Lea Walker, Phil Jacobson, Maria Correa, Sam Clohesy, Ian Preston, Doddsy, Lee Hill, the inspirational Murray Calder, Wendy Clark and every single person who has insulted, laughed or ridiculed me on here.

While I am sure I’ve forgotten some names, I assure you I haven’t forgotten your kindness.

To be able to have all this at 50, in one of the worst years the World has seen is insane. I definitely feel some guilt over it so I hope that in 2021, everyone out there gets lucky … and if I can do anything to help that, give me a shout – because it COVID has reminded me of one thing, we’re better together than separate.

May you all have an amazing holiday season. Or as amazing as it can be.

I send you thanks, love and best wishes.

And I leave you with the 3 ads that gave me hope that creativity still is a more powerful and deadly weapon than all the frameworks, funnels and optimisation put together.

See you on the other side. Specifically on the 11th.



Driving With The Brakes On …

When I first started working in London – just as I was starting out in this industry – I commuted about 5 hours a day.

A DAY!

To be fair, that was of my own making because the company thought I lived in London because I’d given them my aunts address when I applied and got hird.

When they eventually found out I lived with my parents in Nottingham, they were livid.

And they had every right to be.

But as they were giving me the first of my long history of written warnings, I asked the question: “would you have hired me if you knew I lived in Nottingham?” … and didn’t hear a word back.

And while I knew I deserved it, what pissed me off was that I generally was always the first person in and last out. Driving up and down the M1 in my shitty Ford Fiesta with one wing mirror and a radio that couldn’t drown out the sound of my engine. But the fact was, I was a bloody idiot and as much as they probably wouldn’t have hired me if I’d be honest with them from the start, I was fortunate not to be kicked out of an industry I still love.

Well. Most of the time.

And while I was young and having a car felt amazing … even then I knew 5 hours a day – 25 hours a week on a good week – was too much.

Winter was the worst.

Bad weather meant it could take almost double the time to get there and back and many a time I slept on a friends couch or a motorway service station, in my car under a mountain of coats and blankets I kept in the boot ‘just in case’.

My parents were not happy about it, but I think because my Dad’s brother-in-law was travelling 8 hours per day [he was head of traffic control at Gatwick airport] it somehow made them feel a bit better about it.

What’s interesting is that after that job, I vowed never to be more than 30 minutes from work.

And I wasn’t.

Until, of course, I came back to London.

Even though I was in a much better position personally and professionally than I was the last time I worked – and eventually lived there – no one drives into Central London anymore. And while I genuinely enjoyed catching the tube or the bus – helped by the fact that the stations I got on at meant I generally always got a seat – it still was a 80+ minute journey each way, each day.

Given our house was only 7 miles from work, that made my old 2+ hour journey over 120 miles, look positively effective.

And this was life for me.

Out the house before the family woke up.

Back at home as the family – or at least Otis – was going to bed.

And while we made it work and weekends were sacrosanct, the fact I was spending a minimum of 13+ hours a week going to and from work was – and is – ridiculous.

So when COVID started and we all started working from home, I was – for the first time in my life – able to have breakfasts, lunches and dinners every day with my family and I can honestly say I found it pretty confronting.

You see I loved it.

Absolutely loved it.

It was – and still is – one of the most wonderful times of my life.

And while I enjoy working, I started to question what the hell I was doing spending so much time away from them just to get to and from work.

Then R/GA did the nicest thing they could do for me.

They made me redundant.

And while there are things I could say about how they did it and why they did it, the fact is, I’ll always be grateful to them for the opportunity they gave me to come back to England, develop the team I got to work with and then – at the end – hand me my redundancy so I could rediscover and reclaim my priorities, passion and creativity.

Right now, I feel more fulfilled and excited than I have in a long time.

I’m spending more time with my family than ever before while working on a range of global projects that are some of the most creative I’ve ever been involved with.

Mad, mental stuff – from ads to products to art installations – which involve some of the most talented creative people in their field … from an icon of dance/electronic music to the most notorious developers in the gaming category and a bunch in-between.

Then, of course, I have the brilliant excitement of NZ and Colenso to look forward to, too.

It’s all simply amazing.

While I appreciate I am in an exceptionally lucky and privileged position, I can’t help thinking about this quote:

“The problem with life is we sacrifice what we really want to do with what is available right now.”

We all do it.

We might have different reasons causing it, but we all do it.

And while there are many considerations, situations and expectations that push us down these paths, I hope if anything comes out of the craziness of 2020, it’s that we think why we’re doing it rather than just blindly following it.

Because it’s only when we question our choices can we start seeing where we’re going.

And then we have a little more control. Or choice. Or even peace. We all deserve that.