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


Why Being Dangerous Is A Business Strategy …

There’s a brilliant documentary on the band The KLF.

For those who don’t know who they are/were, they’re a band formed in the late 80’s who wrote some of the early 90’s biggest selling singles.

Except, if truth be told, The KLF were more artists than musicians.

I don’t mean that in terms of them having many different business interests …I mean it in terms of them expressing their creativity in ever-more dramatic, provocative and intriguing ways.

From burning a million pounds to sampling without permission to firing a machine gun full of blanks at an audience live on television to delisting every song they ever made … and a whole lot in-between.

It’s a truly fascinating documentary, where you realise that everything they did – while not planned – was definitely deliberate.

But there’s one quote about them that stood out for me.

Not just because it captured who they were, but because it revealed what is missing for me in so much of the work the industry is producing.

I love that.

I love it so much.

But sadly, many in my discipline of strategy – and all the self-proclaimed marketing gurus – have killed that in the quest to flatter their own ego.

And it gets worse.

No, I’m not talking about the clients who value function, logic and attribution over shaping or changing cultures opinion, attitudes and feelings – though I could definitely talk about that – but the agency creative departments filled with people who want to make ads rather than use creativity to push boundaries.

The KLF may have been seen by the industry as anarchists … but for a band who had a few – albeit massive – hits in the 90’s, their work still is remembered, stands up to scrutiny and can be directly associated with cultural change which is more than pretty much anything our industry, or most industries for that matter, produces these days.

Of course, given the untold billions brands spend to have culture know them, value them and want them … this is pretty ironic.

Oh I get these brands still make a ton of money.

More than even The KLF could burn.

But this isn’t about distribution, habit or media spent, but influence, change and ambition.

This doesn’t mean the talent isn’t there to make something like this happen.

It is.

But it means nothing if the role it’s used for is to give clients what they want rather than what culture can never forget.




How To Bite The Hand That Feeds You …

The management team at Metallica asked me a while back if I’d give a presentation to a bunch of music execs about ‘artist strategy’.

They said they wanted me to explain how I work with them, how I approach my job and what some of the work we have done together has manifested itself into.

So I pulled a presentation together, took them through it – got their nods of approval – and prepared for the talk.

When the time came, I found myself on zoom at 12am Auckland time … presenting to 200 odd record/band executives in London, NY and Nashville.

Despite looking so tired I probably resembled a Zombie, all went very well and I was happy to answer questions.

One of the people in attendance asked how much ‘power’ I have over the artists actions and decisions.

Despite the reality being absolute zero – and, nor should I have any – I replied that I had a hidden slide that could best explain my influence, to which I showed them this …

At least I found it funny.

And – to be fair to me – it’s a fair reflection of the actual power I have over the band.

Though I appreciate I probably have just sent myself to the ‘where are they now’ dungeon … even though I’m going to try and justify it by saying nothing is more rock n’ roll that smashing up your career. Ahem.

Thank you Q and M for not just putting up with me, but still involving me in this stuff.

My wife has ‘had words’ with me regarding my professionalism. Ahem.



Confidence Is Spelt Beverley …

There’s a lot of talk about confidence.

People who have it.
People who think they have it.
People who don’t have it… but think they do.

The reality is confidence ends up being defined in two parts … the person who thinks they have it and the person judging them if they do.

And while there is always that risk that someone could come over as arrogant, there is something glorious when you watch someone with it in full swing.

Someone who you know has sweated for their craft and skill.
Who has the control and power to achieve at a level few will ever reach.
An individual who never phones it in, even if they could and still be exceptional.

I recently saw a video of the singer Beverley Knight perform the Stones classic, Satisfaction.

It is breathtaking.

Truly breathtaking.

The first time I watched it, I actually cried – it’s that powerful and joyous at the same time.

And while Jeff Goldblum is losing his mind as he watches her – which is beautiful to watch – you know she knows exactly what she’s doing … exactly how she’s impressing and exactly where and when she is showing off.

But it’s not an ego-play … this is simply someone who cares about giving their all. That believes they have a responsibility to themselves to never phone it in. Who wants to show just how good she is … and that is exactly how it comes over.

She’s fierce, audacious and talented as hell … backed by a band who create a platform for her that is more like a catwalk of sonic celebration.

Confidence can be misused.
Confidence can be delusional.
But when it’s real, justified and powerful … you just have to sit back and enjoy it, because it’s something special indeed.

Watch this.

More inspirational news …

I go on my first business trip in 2 years so there’s no more blog posts THIS WHOLE WEEK.

It’s a weird feeling knowing I’m getting back on a plane for work. I used to fly over hundred times a year for pretty much the last 20 years, and yet this 2 year gap has left me feeling very comfortable at home. Maybe that’s more because it represented ‘safety’ in a COVID world but the idea of starting again has really conflicted me. Not for you though … you get 4 days of peace … so have fun and see you next Monday.



Musicians Not Marketers …

Recently I saw this photo of Motorhead.

I fucking love it.

Not because I’m a die-hard Motorhead fan [though I’ve always loved Lemmy] but because it captures a time when music and art were interesting and dangerous partners-in-crime, not focus-group designed ‘brand assets’.

Please do not think this is a rant against people like Ed Sheeran or Dua Lipa.

I both respect and appreciate what they do.

They’re very talented and they’re very musical.

However the way they use music is very different to bands of the past.

Back then, artists like Motorhead used music as a form of expression, whereas modern singers/acts use it more like a product.

That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means they’re more marketer than musician.

After all, Ed Sheeran admits to using focus groups.

And Dua Lipa’s team acknowledge they closely follow trends.

For them, music is a ‘brand asset’ designed to help achieve specific business goals and targets.

I’m not knocking it, there’s a lot of money doing that … but what people – and marketers – seem to forget is there’s a whole career to be had choosing the alternative.

Where you focus on the idea not the assets.

Where you lead audiences, rather than chase them.

Where you mean everything to someone not something to everyone.

It’s why I found a recent comment by Lady Gaga interesting.

I love her. I think she’s amazing.

But recently she said “don’t call me a singer, I’m an artist”.

And while that might sound like a pretentious diva who also see’s music as a brand asset in a range of their products – it’s not.

It means she see’s what she does as art, which is far more interesting in terms of the possibilities of creativity … because it not about doing things right for others, it’s about doing things that feel right for her.

We need more artists in the World, not marketers.



Accidental Legacies …

A few weeks ago, I read this:

It was said by Susan Ann Sulley, one of the singers in The Human League about their iconic song, ‘Don’t You Want Me’.

I have to admit, it has absolutely captivated me.

From the acknowledgement there was a real chance they could have put sleigh bells on the song if they thought it would chart over Christmas – which would have immediately made the song a novelty record rather than one of pop’s true classics – to her statement of simply being ‘an ordinary girl, doing her best’.

The level of honesty featured in those few lines is both breath-taking and disarming … especially given it comes from someone from within an industry that loves to big-talk itself, even when they haven’t had a Worldwide hit like Susan has.

To be honest, this openness is reflected in the entire article – which reinforces some ‘no nonsense’ Northern stereotype that adland likes to communicate over and over again.

But there’s something else I like about it …

Because while rigour and planning definitely increase the odds of success, the uncomfortable truth for all those companies, consultancies and self-anointed marketing masters who claim to have proprietary processes that ‘guarantee success’ is the legends, legacies and icons of culture owe far more of their good fortune to the beauty of happy accidents than an obsessive focus on the perfection of a process.

Said another way, they leave space for chaos rather than try to remove it.

I get it may sound counter-productive, but as Martin and I said way back in 2019 … chaos creates what order can’t.