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


Some Kind Of Motivation …

On the 10th September, Metallica launched their Blacklist album – a reissue of their iconic ‘Black album’ from 1991.

It’s a very special album because not only is reissuing a 30 year old classic something to be handled with great care … it also features their songs being sung by a greater assortment of artists than you’d find in a packet of Bertie Basset’s Liquorice Allsorts.

From Elton John and Miley Cyrus through to Depeche Mode and Yo-yo Ma.

Add to it that each track sold goes to a specific charity of the artists choice, and you can imagine it was quite a complex beast to make sure it all ran smoothly.

I had a small part in that.

Specifically the charity management and distribution for the artists.

Getting closer to the launch date, the amount of details that needed to be finalised was pretty intense. What made it even more complicated – at least for me – was that by being based in NZ, I’m a full 16 hours ahead of NYC, so trying to co-ordinate timings with HQ became a bit of a logistical nightmare.

Or should I say, a mathematical one.

The night before, things were particularly tense so to make sure we stayed motivated and focused for literally the final hurdle, the band and record company management sent out some individual emails to various members of the team to inspire them to the finish line.

When JFK was in this situation, he asked America to think about what they could do to help the nation change and progress.

When Al Pacino’s character in the movie ‘Any Given Sunday’ needed to motivate his team to glory, he unleashed his iconic “inches” speech and watched them dig deep to record an unlikely win.

This is what I got.

While it may look like they’re taking the piss, I think there’s a really valuable lesson to learn from their approach.

Motivation isn’t just about what you say – or even how you say it – it’s knowing the people you are trying to motivate so well, that you know exactly what will connect with them.

Not many leaders do that.

Hell, not many leaders even understand that.

But those who do – whether its rock band management or the iconic Brian Clough – achieve loyalty and incredible performance out of all who work with them and for them. Though I appreciate I could be saying all this to ignore the other possibility of why they chose to send this meme to me. Hahaha.

You can buy something very special – that will literally and directly help tens of thousands of people around the World – here and learn more about the project and artists involved below



Entitled To Nothing …

Once upon a time, I was invited to a meeting that frankly, I should not have been invited to.

Admittedly I was told I was only there so I could witness the behaviour of the most senior people in the company and I absolutely was not allowed to say a word … but it still was an absolutely ridiculous decision by the company.

Anyway, so I go in and I sit quietly at the back.

After about an hour, a new member of the board started speaking.

To be honest, I was quite taken aback at the tone they were using.

It wasn’t confident, it was down right arrogant … a unique ability to sound condescending, belittling and entitled all at the same time.

It was at this point, the CEO and founder of the company stepped in with words that shut things down in an absolute second.

He looked right at the individual flexing their metaphorical muscles and said:

“You haven’t earned the right to be arrogant and when you have, you will know that’s not the way to behave”.

It was brilliant and embarrassing in equal measure and I had to do all I could not to break out into wild applause.

I say this because a couple of weeks ago, I kind of had another experience like this.

A complete stranger on LinkedIn reached out to me to ask if I worked with Metallica.

When I told them I did, they said – and I quote – “How do I talk to them about my new business idea?

To which I replied:

“You have to find an old lamp & rub it. If a genie comes out, ask them to sort it for you.”

Unsurprisingly they called me a prick, but apart from the fact I am not the bands gatekeeper – I’m much more the bands cat litter tray – why does he think I would respond positively to his unsolicited email?

I’m not asking for subserviency.

I’m not asking for fawning.

But a little politeness would be nice.

Not that it would have changed anything, but I may have actually had a desire to hear what they were thinking and then see if there is someone else they should be talking to.

But no … they went right in as if I owed them something because they were brilliant and that entitled them to my desire to help unconditionally.

If that attitude wouldn’t work on Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank … it sure as shit won’t work via an unsolicited email on LinkedIn to a petty bastard from Nottingham.

I know if you don’t ask, you don’t get, but what some people don’t seem to grasp is asking is very different to demanding.

Seriously, if this is what ‘professionalism’ is on LinkedIn, then I may be the most professional person on that platform and as you all know, that is possibly the scariest proposition of all time.

Talking of professionalism, I’m taking tomorrow and Monday off … and while you may think that is the antithesis of professionalism, I can assure you everyone else’s productivity will be up.



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.