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


Belief Is Shown In The Weirdest Of Ways …

One of the great pleasures of my career has been working with NIKE.

What made it even more memorable is that I got to work with them in China … where the challenge and opportunity to develop sport culture was arguably their number one priority.

What it meant was their best people were there and their most senior global management were constantly there so I got to meet them, work with them, present to them and argue with them on a regular basis.

They were good.

As in proper good.

I still remember the first time I met the most senior of senior management and when back to Wieden and said, “Oh, I totally get why they are who they are”.

And I did.

They were incredible.

Sharp. Focused. Ambitious. Progressive and obsessed with culture, sport and creativity.

Then there was the time I met Rosemary.

She had just come to China from the US and I remember being in a meeting where I saw all the global guys go up to her, when normally you saw people go up to them.

I mentioned this to her when we were having a coffee later that week and she eventually admitted the reason they all knew her was because she had been Phil Kinght’s kids babysitter when he was starting the company and she had actually painted the swoosh on the first shoes they produced.

Amazing.

As was her knowledge of the brand.

The nuance, not the headlines.

Underpinning all of these people was a backbone of belief. A pride of who they are matched with a responsibility for where they were going. They were challenging, demanding and questioning … but you always knew it was to get to great rather than to tear you down.

Frankly I’d not seen anything like that, at that level, before – and being old – I had been exposed to some amazing people within organisations.

I will be eternally grateful to Simon and Steve who both invited me in to meetings and discussions I should never have been in … as well as them not killing me when I turned up in my Birkies.

Now it is fair to say, the brand – for all the success it continues to have – has faced some headwinds. Some are shifts in culture, some are shifts in internal culture.

And while there are many opinions and viewpoints flying about, there are many who say the company they are today is not the same company they once were.

Some of that is good, some … well, probably less so.

Too many amazing people have departed.
Too much focus on sales rather than sport.
Too great an emphasis on optimisation rather than progression.

But the great thing about Nike is they always come back.

Sure, some of the things – and people – that allow that to happen are no longer there, but it will be back because this is not the first time they’ve gone through something like this.

Whatever ‘this’ is.

And recently I saw a clue it was starting, bizarrely from someone at McKinsey of all places.

This:

Cool, isn’t it?

But not because of Adam’s interpretation of why it exists, but because it exists.

Someone did this.

Someone chose to do this.

And while there are a whole host of possible reasons why it happened, to me it’s a sign of a brand that still has people in there – beyond the few left I know/work with – who do what they believe is right rather than what their process now dictates they do.

At its best, Nike was always an infectious culture machine.

Making it. Championing it. Enabling it. Fighting for it.

I’ve not seen that as much as I once did.

Maybe, a txt.file is a sign I will.

I hope so.



A Boy Named Ben …

So I’ve decided to do a little thing every month where I write about a planner I love.

Full disclosure, the vast majority will be people I’ve worked with because I can then say honestly I know all their bad bits as well, hahaha.

Today I’m going to write about Ben Perreira.

I first met Ben when I moved to LA and worked with him at Deutsch.

Or at least I thought I did.

About 6 months in, he told me that he had written to me when on April 11th, 2014 … I put a post up on my blog asking if anyone was interested in working with me on NIKE at Wieden.

Embarrassingly I couldn’t remember him writing to me – though it was well over 3 years later by that point – but fortunately, I had apparently written him a very nice return email saying that while I liked what he was up to, I didn’t think he was quite what we needed at that moment.

As an aside, that is the job that led me to the brilliant Paula Bloodworth and so I don’t think anyone would feel hard done by losing out to her – given she’s one of the top 5 strategists on the planet. Probably higher than that.

But that doesn’t mean Ben isn’t amazing.

He is.

I liked him pretty much as soon as I met him.

And that’s quite amazing given he was a surly, petulant prick for our first few get-togethers.

Arms folded.

One word answers.

A lot of, “why would you ask that?”

But Ben’s problem was I’d seen that behaviour before.

When I joined Wieden, one of the people who would eventually be in my team, Rodi, was a carbon copy.

Same reaction.

Same responses.

And that was in the interviews.

But I soon discovered it wasn’t because they were assholes – well, not real ones – it was because they wanted to see if my standards were going to be high enough. If I was going to fight my corner or try to just be liked. To check if I was worthy of the gig and they may learn something from me or I was just a token figurehead who just wanted an easy life.

So when I saw Ben doing the same thing, I found it amusing rather than disturbing.

Which meant I just kept asking him more and more personal questions. Digging into his character before he could dig into mine.

Oh how awkward he found it. It was wonderful. Hahahaha.

Now you would have to ask him if I ‘passed’ his test, but he certainly passed mine.

Because what I soon learned – and loved – about Ben was he just wanted to do great things.

He didn’t want to take the easy path.
He didn’t want to just be liked for saying yes.
He didn’t want to simply churn out the same thing over and over again.

And I loved that.

I loved the questions and the debates we’d have.

I loved the way he dug into the business details to pull out the possibilities.

I loved the way he was a fundamentally good human, despite his dating escapades.

I miss Ben.

Not just because he’s disgustingly handsome, but because he’s a good human who happens to be smart.

He has high standards and wants people who have the same.

And if he feels he has that, he’ll go into any battle because he wants to make a difference.

Not just to the work, but the people doing it.

Lots of people will say that, but for him, it’s in his DNA.

In some ways, I imagine Ben was a natural leader from the day he was born.

He gives a shit about others.

He wants to see them succeed.

He won’t manage up simply for optics … and in the insanely hierarchal corporate structure of America, that’s not just rare, but beautiful.

Christ, the things I saw …

And yet Ben didn’t fall for that.

One or two others tried to do that shit, but never Ben.

In fact, I remember one day being told by someone my team were out of control.

Too full of opinions with too much desire to debate.

And when I said, “I know … isn’t it great!”, it was made pretty clear to me they didn’t share that perspective.

Hahahahahahahahaha!!!

Normally I wouldn’t feel proud about that.

I shouldn’t, because a planners job is to be a well-intentioned, pain in the ass.

Someone who pushes clients to be great not to be average.

But I found in America that wasn’t always the attitude.

I met far too many people there who told me “saying yes” – regardless of the ask – was far more valued by their managers than saying, “I think we can be better than this”.

I don’t know if Ben likes me.

I hope he does.

And if he does, I know the exact moment it happened.

He’d been in a huge meeting that had gone well.

The ECD sent an all agency email updating everyone on what had gone on and thanked Ben for [I think] ‘preparing the room for the meeting’.

I kid you not.

What was even more pathetic was I knew how much Ben had put into this.

How much blood, sweat and tears he’d poured into the project to give us a chance to make something great.

So I decided to respond with an all agency email reply.

Basically pointing out that as the planning department were apparently ‘so good at setting up rooms for meetings’ … if anyone had anything else they need us to do – from fixing a TV to washing clothes – just drop us an email and we’ll be there in the blink of an eye.

It didn’t go down well with anyone, except Ben.

And that’s all I cared about.

Because he’s smarter than he realises and kinder than he likes to admit.

I’m glad I didn’t miss out working with him when the Wieden gig didn’t work out.

I’m even more happy that he’s still in my life.



You Can Tell A Company By The Inconvenience It Embraces …

Lot’s of companies talk about doing good.

Sadly, of those who do, many have both eyes fixed on what’s in it for them.

A headline.

An award.

A chance to win favour with someone they want to connect with.

An opportunity to distract attention from all the bad stuff they’re doing.

Now there are some companies who mean it.

Who have a set of values that truly is reflected in a set of behaviours.

However, in my experience, I’ve found it’s often more to do with the character of an individual within the organisation rather than the organisation.

Not always, but often.

What I’ve found is the best way to identify the real motivation behind an act of generosity is to see how inconvenient it is for them to execute.

The more inconvenient, the more they care.

I’ve seen some amazing examples of people going out of their way …

There was the time Simon Pestridge – when he was CMO at NIKE – got me a signed Wayne Rooney, Manchester United shirt so I could give it to a random taxi driver I’d met in Atlanta. Or the time San – also from Nike – humoured me by getting me green M&M’s [my attempt at reliving the Van Halen ‘brown M&M trick] when they asked me to pull a global preso together at the last second.

That’s proof of people who give a shit about others.

But I’ve seen the other side.

The food brand who ‘donated’ $100 to a group collecting food for victims of an earthquake.

Or the travel company who gave schools a 3% discount for train tickets so city kids could see a beach.

Or the international conglomerate who talk about purpose and their desire to help humanity but continue to profit from cultural exploitation and acts of prejudice.

But where you would normally expect me to leave the post there – with a bad taste in your mouth – I’m not going to.

I know, who the fuck am I?

You see a while back I got asked by Coca-Cola if I’d give a presentation to their Asia-Pac marketing team.

I decided a while back, that I’m going to start ‘exploiting’ my so-called position by trying to do things that can positively change things for more people.

So I told them I’d do it if they agreed to hire a young woman [full-time or a long-term paid internship] who hadn’t gone to university and came from a more humble background.

Then – proving I’m still a selfish, blagging bastard – I said I’d also like some Coke Zero for me.

Amazingly … brilliantly … awesomely they agreed and were nothing but kind and open about making it happen – which also helps explain the photo at the top of this page showing Otis with an outdoor furniture set made of Coke Zero supplies.

They didn’t have to do it.

They could have just asked someone else to do the talk.

But they did … and while there are many things people could throw stones at them for, this was more than many and more valuable than most.

Which leaves me with this …

If you’re asked to do a presentation or a talk or even a panel for someone, maybe you could consider doing a similar thing to me.

Let’s face it, if they would do it for me, they’ll DEFINITELY do it for you.

And if they say no, then you’ll know exactly what you’re dealing with.

But maybe they’ll say yes.

Maybe it won’t be an internship, but it could be something else.

A partnership with a school.
An introduction to one of their partner companies.
Some mentorship.
A donation.

And while it might not change millions of lives, it could change one.

And that is most definitely better than none.

Just a thought.

Thank you Coca-Cola..



We Live In An Upside Down World …

A while back I was interviewed by Bloomberg Business Week.

I know … what the fuck eh?

And more amazingly, it’s not the first time.

OK, so it has taken them 5 years to forget what a stupid mistake they made the first time, but they asked me what I felt was wrong with modern marketing.

I thought about it for a while.

Let’s be honest, there’s many things I could say … but after a while, I felt I had it worked out.

It’s the image at the top of this post.

Too many clients saying no to good ideas and too many agencies saying yes to bad ones.

There are many reasons for this but underpinning them all is a lack of trust and a blind belief in formats and processes.

Or said another way: Ego and confidence.

Either too much of it or not enough.

Of course, people will say adland have got what they deserved.

That they were indulgent and never cared about their clients business.

Which is – frankly – bullshit.

Not just because that abdicates any responsibility of the clients who hired the agency … gave the brief … and approved the work, but also because I’ve never known an agency who do not give a shit about their clients achieving success.

However somewhere along the line, things have changed 180 degrees and now we’re in this weird situation where everything is upside down … with the great irony being in this new world order of marketing, we’re making less work that is impacting cultures attitudes and behaviour and building fewer brands people give a shit about.

And yet despite this, both parties are carrying on, reframing the situation so they can both feel they’re doing the right thing.

It’s a bit like this scene in Spinal Tap where the bands manager attempts to reframe why they’re playing to 1500 seat theatres when on their previous tour, they were playing to 15,000 people in arenas.

Now please don’t mistake this as a ‘poor agency’ post.

Nor a ‘clients are evil’ bitchfest.

All I am saying is the best work and results always come from parties who trust each other, are open and honest with each other and want/value the same thing.

It’s truly that simple.

It’s why, for example, the Wieden and Nike relationship has not only stood the test of time, but has also consistently made great work.

That doesn’t mean there’s not debate, discussion and, at times, bloody arguments [for example the 3+ years I took the same idea into the same client every month to try and get them to say yes because I thought they were missing a massive opportunity] … but it does mean the conversations are about how to make the best work, not the easiest.

And while that is a rare relationship with a rare body of work, the principles of getting to that position are not that difficult.

However today, we seem to be seeing more and more clients choosing agencies on complicity rather than creativity. Dictating what they want and how they want it rather than identifying problems they want their agency to solve in interesting ways.

They may not realise they’re doing that, they may not want to do that … but they’re doing that, reinforced by countless ‘guru’ dot-to-dot strategies that seem designed to build the guru’s business than the clients who follow it.

What this has resulted in is an attitude where some clients think any agency who has a different – but informed – point of view is out to rip them off, which is hilarious given thinking differently is literally why you hire an agency.

The whole situation is horrible.

No one wins

No relationships gets built.

Instead we have clients using processes and procurement to dictate and control what they want and we get agencies fighting for the chance to do it, because they’ve sold the value of creativity so far down the river, that the only thing they can offer is speed.

What a waste of opportunity, potential and talent on all sides.

Thank god not everyone is like this.

Thank god there’s people, companies and agency relationships who demonstrate what you can achieve together when you trust each other. When you want the best for each other. When you are transparent and honest with each other.

Enough to say yes when it’s easier to say no.

And no, when it’s easier to say yes.



If You Can’t Beat Them, Turn Them …

I have now had time to get over the Euro finals.

While my Italian/English heritage meant I was going to ‘win’ regardless of the result – and while the result, at least to me, was probably fair – I was gutted for the England team.

Ironically, the disgusting behaviour of the fans after the match – fired up by the equally disgusting behaviour of the British government – kind-of made me happy they lost.

It’s at these moments teams – or brands – can fall away and so what happens next becomes unbelievably important.

It reminded me of 2008 when Chinese hurdler – and gold medal contender – Liu Xiang, broke China’s hearts by injuring himself during the race.

Remember, this was the year the Olympics was held in Beijing and in many ways, it was the governments ‘coming out’ party to the rest of the World. A chance to showcase the nations abilities, talent, skills and sophistication. A declaration a new superpower was here.

While that might have been news to the rest of the World, for the people of China, they had known this for a long time which is why when Liu Xiang faltered through injury, people – like in the UK – started to turn on him.

While he did not face the disgusting and disgraceful racist abuse certain members of the England team have encountered, he did face claims that by pulling out mid-race, he had not tried hard enough, had embarrassed China and sold the people false hope.

Because Liu Xiang was a NIKE athlete, overnight W+K Shanghai created an ad that aimed to reframe the loss for the people across China.

To shift emotions from anger to pride, love, support.

The next morning, this ad ran in most of the papers …

It is still widely acknowledged as one of the pivotal pieces of communication.

Not just by the industry.

Not just by NIKE.

Not even by Liu Xiang.

But by people across China who woke up to that ad the next morning.

Turning anger to sympathy.

Turning abuse to respect.

Turning sport into culture.

I say all this because on the day England finished runners-up in the Euro’s, the English FA released – what I consider – the modern version of our Liu Xiang ad.

I hope it works for England and their players.

But mainly the players.

Because they did bring something home …

Every one of them.

Pride. Unity. Hope.

Until those racist fucks robbed it off them … off the rest of us.

And while the media may like to suggest those responsible are a small minority of hooligans, the reality is it’s not a small minority and hooligans are not some cartoon villain.

In fact the problem is these pricks live amongst all of us. They are invisible because they look, live and work like so many of us. They’re fathers. Sons. Brothers. Uncles.

They’re also racist scum.

Exemplified by their hate towards the 3 England players who missed their penalties.

These 3 brilliant and inspiring men are young.

Hell, Bukayo Saka is 19.

NINETEEN.

At that age I couldn’t even ask out a woman who worked on the till at Asda, West Bridgford … so anyone who gives him shit when he’s playing for the England national football team, in the final of the Euro’s, at the most intense and pressured moment of the entire tournament, with billions watching can just fuck off.

Winning FIFA 2014 on Playstation doesn’t make you a winner, it makes you a fantasist.

And to them I am glad football didn’t come home.

I just wish football could take them far away from it.