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


The Birthdays Covid Took Away …
June 10, 2021, 8:00 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Birthday, Jill, New Zealand, Otis, Paul

So I’m not here today.

Or tomorrow.

Or Monday.

Or Tuesday.

Or even Wednesday.

I know … I’ve been at Colenso 5 minutes, and I’m already taking some time off. But you see, it’s my birthday Saturday. Then Jill’s on Tuesday and Paul’s on Wednesday and I want to put in the energy into them that Covid took away.

My birthday last year was a weird one.

The good bit was that I got to be with my beloved family – and Paul and Shelly made a surprise visit [that I know absolutely won’t be happening this year] – and my old, wonderful team at R/GA got me a goat for a present [really!] … but it still was very different to what had been planned.

We were planning on all going to Spain.

Having a party by the sea.

And while what I ended up having was lovely and special … it wasn’t in Spain or by the sea.

What also made my birthday reality even more different to the original plan was when I received an SMS from a couple of the senior management at work asking me to immediately deal with a pretty shitty situation.

Despite knowing I was on holiday and knowing it was my birthday, they still asked me to deal with something of their own making that – to make matters worse – could have been dealt with weeks earlier or days later.

But even that couldn’t ruin the day and given it’s been a year since that happened – and only good has occurred since then – I want to make sure this birthday is one where we celebrate it with all the attention, compassion and focus we wished for that original day.

Of course it won’t be exactly the same – especially as we’re now living in NZ whereas Paul is in the UK – but it is going to be one where we get to celebrate all being in a happier, healthier, more enjoyable and fulfilling place and as birthday presents go, that’s almost as good as getting a video from ‘the Hoff’.

So to me. My wonderful, brilliant, beautiful wife. And my best, best friend in the whole wide world. Happy, happy birthday.

Here’s to us and to you.

You make every moment and every birthday worthwhile.

I hope we will all be together again soon.

Love you all.



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.



Monday Inspiration …

A few months ago, the disgustingly talented Nils Leonard of Uncommon, posted this on his twitter …

Maybe it’s because I’m old, but it stopped me in my tracks.

Of course, the reality is death is coming for all of us the moment we are born, but when you hit my age – it has a more profound impact.

But what’s interesting is that as much as turning 50 brought up a bunch of issues I never knew I had – driven by the fact my dad was only 60 when he died – it’s also given me more energy to chase after the things I’m interested in.

To be honest, I’ve never needed help with going after the interesting, but when you hit my age you come to the realisation the things you find exciting and intriguing can’t be put on a list to check out later, you have to act now because you may run out of time to do them later.

Of course the shit about all this is that the more you go into something new, the more exciting and intriguing things you find – so the concept of ‘running out of time’ is an unnerving inevitability. But it’s also something else. Inspiring.

While I have always prided myself on doing interesting stuff with interesting people, the last 9 months have been some of the most inspiring times I’ve ever had.

From what I’ve helped create to who I’ve helped create it with to what I have learned … I’ve thrown myself into anything that sounded beautifully bonkers and the result is that I feel like I’ve had a 10 years of experiences crammed into less than a year.

And while the pandemic helped make that happen … as did being made redundant from R/GA … so did turning 50 years of age.

That feeling that death is coming so I’d better live more.

Focus on the interesting not the banal.

Creativity not the endless talk of how to do it.

It’s a big part of why we are in New Zealand. At Colenso.

While it would have been easy to stay in England after 25 years away – and I totally acknowledge will be back eventually – the idea of being in an interesting and stimulating environment we had never lived before was pretty hard to resist.

Not just because it was Colenso …

Not just because it was closer to Jill’s Mum …

But because we have always evaluated our life by what we’ve done, not what we have and this allows us to add a shit-ton more weird and interesting experience to our lives.

Which isn’t bad when you’ve turned 50.

So thank you death.

You may be an asshole, but you’re one hell of a motivator.



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.