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


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.

_________________________________________________________________________________

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.



They Deserve 32 Root Canals …

Toothpaste.

It’s all kind-of the same isn’t it.

OK, so the manufacturers would disagree – which is why they keep launching different variants with all manner of ‘secret ingredients’ – but to the average person on the street, not only is the product pretty much the same, so is the advertising.

I get it, toothpaste ads must be hard … but even that doesn’t justify this shit from Colgate.

Cop a load of this.

Yep … ‘Made for greatness’.

Not made for great teeth, but greatness.

Hmmmmn … that’s not an over-claim whatsoever is it?

It’s a toothpaste.

For teeth.

TEETH.

And while teeth have a big role in our lives – and culture – THEY HAVE FUCK ALL TO DO WITH YOUR ABILITy TO CLIMB A MOUNTAIN.

Or a flight of stairs for that matter.

Now I appreciate I’m biased because in 2012, we did Greatness for the London Olympics … but have a look and tell me which you think is better … more resonant and more appropriate?

Yes, exactly.

And that’s before you have been reminded about the two lead NIKE Olympic ads from 2012.

Find Your Greatness.

Jogger.

God, even now Jogger gives me chills.

As I said, I get how hard toothpaste ads must be, but if Colgate want to do something right and interesting, they should give me a call – as I literally have 3 great ideas they can have. For a price. On the bright side, I promise you that whatever the price we agree on, you wont have to pay with your dignity like you have had to do with this.

Oh god how I’d love it if they did that, even though we all know it’s not going to happen.

So I’ll leave you with this.

Colgate … I am sure this passed all manner of internal research tests.

I am sure you this makes you all feel you’re doing something really important for humanity.

And while healthy, bright, strong, clean teeth are important – and Colgate plays a big role in that – it would be so much better if it helped make the brains of the people who approved this, as bright as their teeth, because maybe they wouldn’t have churned out the advertising equivalent of a root canal without anaesthetic.

Call me Colgate. Seriously. Please call me. I can put a billion dollar smile on your face.



When Nothing Is Something …

Otis LOVES McDonald’s, so before we left the UK, we decided we’d have some for dinner.

He’s a bit particular about how he likes his Happy Meal, so with that – and the social distancing rules – we used their app to order.

As I was customising his burger [no sauce, no pickles] I discovered the option of having no sauce was unavailable.

THat’s right, you couldn’t, couldn’t have sauce.

Of course it was just a glitch in their system but it did remind me of the time I was in Xiamen in China on a NIKE get-together.

It had been a long and challenging day.

Not with work, but because we had stupidly left our bags, computers and passports in the back of the cab and needed all our powers of deduction and negotiation to get them back.

Trust me, in a city of nearly 4 million people and no details of the cab that had our stuff, that was a pretty big task, but thanks to the brilliance of Charinee and Jenny, we achieved it … so after that drama and then running a workshop for the NIKE Running team … we went back to our hotel tired and hungry.

We decided to have a drink in the bar and order some food.

After looking at the menu, we quickly ordered 2 cheese and tomato pizzas.

“Sorry …” they said, “… we only have pepperoni pizza available”.

By that point, we had set our heart on pizza so I looked at the waited and replied,

“Could we order the pepperoni pizza but without the pepperoni?”

They nodded yes and soon we were munching on our pepperoni pizza … without the pepperoni … with smug smiles on our faces.

And now I’ve told that story, it’s reminded me of the time I used the same logic to get one over on IKEA Hong Kong, who were trying to fuck me over with a new sofa we bought.

Which all goes to show, the best way to beat a process is to use the process against itself, because for all the ‘experience design’ processes that is all the range right now, most of them are built to protect the company rather than satisfy the audience.



Happiness Isn’t Perfect …

I recently read an amazing interview with the actor Ethan Hawke.

There’s many reasons he’s a fascinating person, but one of the main ones is that despite being hyped up to be as big as Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, he didn’t get there.

However this is not because he failed or came off the rails … it was because he made an active choice not to go down that path.

There are many reasons for this.

One is because his Mum pushed him “towards a British understanding of acting as a craft and away from American ideas of celebrity” and the other is seeing what happened to his friend, River Phoenix.

And while many would deviate from their resolution the moment they saw the benefits available to them, Hawke has been steadfast in his resolve.

One of the ways this manifested itself was him never moving to LA.

Having lived there, I get it.

On face value, it’s a spectacular town.

A stunningly beautiful place where dreams can literally come true.

And there’s a bunch of truth in that. Kinda.

Because while it makes you feel more welcome than almost any place in the World, it comes at a price. And once it feels it has gotten its value out of you … or had all its fun with you … or simply got all the benefits out from you, then it will spit you out, forget you were there and move on to the next in the blink of an eye.

For me, you go to Las Vegas to gamble with your money to make it big.

But in LA – at least to a certain degree – you go there to gamble with your life.

I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true.

What’s more, it’s all there in plain sight. The issue is people – especially those chasing the Hollywood dream – like to ignore it because, let’s be honest, people like feeling special or lucky or smart enough to not let that shit happen to you.

And that’s why the way Ethan Hawke sums up LA is – as much as I enjoyed my life there – pretty damn perfect.

People think getting what you want will make you happy, but a sense of self, purpose and love don’t come from the outside. You can’t get distracted by this culture that celebrates things that sometimes aren’t what they seem”.

So why am I saying all this.

Well, contrary to how I’ve made it sound, it has nothing to do with my respect for Ethan Hawke. Or my cynicism to Los Angeles. It’s because recently, someone sent me this and said it reminded them of me.

I have to say, when I read it, I felt a bit overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed because it really did capture how I think about things.

Overwhelmed because it meant someone got me, rather than believed I was just a nosy prick.

OK … so there’s a selfish element to why I’m like this.

You see, if my colleagues or team mates have issues or worries, then it means they’re not able to perform as brilliantly as they usually do. Which means the work they do won’t be as brilliant as I want, need and expect from them. So wanting to give them an environment where they can feel safe to be open and vulnerable while also actively wanting to help, listen and change situations for them, has as much to do with my needs as there’s.

I know, what a selfish prick eh?!

But it’s not all for self-serving reasons.

Because ultimately I am a big believer people should be able to express how they feel.

That we all have good and bad days and you should never feel bad for how you are.

I was incredibly fortunate to be brought up in a house that followed this belief and I will continually advocate it.

Even when people think I am being a nosy prick.

But it does have benefits beyond just personal, emotional wellbeing.

It means you can connect better to others.

It means you can be open and honest rather than political and wary.

It means you can disagree in ways that never become personal or destructive.

It creates something special.

A bond where deep trust is formed.

It doesn’t happen every time.

It doesn’t always happen in the same way.

But if you’re lucky, you will meet some people on your professional journey who this approach will end up having a profound affect on both of you.

Not just in terms of how well you click. Or work together. But a deep understanding and acceptance of who you are without criticism or ridicule.

They will make you better and be someone you want to be better for.

United by a deep respect and belief in what each other brings to the table while still allowing you to argue, debate and challenge without it ever being personal or destructive.

When that happens, what you can create together – either in collaboration or just through each others support – is amazing.

You feel a real honour to know them, work with them and understand them.

I’m very fortunate I’ve had a few people in my life, but one of them is the brilliant Paula Bloodworth … who I first had the privilege of working with at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai.

And that’s why receiving that quote from her was so, so special to me.

I hope you all have a Paula in your life.

Someone you deeply connect with and yet disagree with all at the same time.

Because not only does it make your work better, it makes you a better person.



Finally, I Give You A Way To Shut Me Up …

When you’re my age, you get to look at your career and see the different phases that it passes through.

I remember one year at Wieden, we seemed to make more beautiful, highly-crafted physical books on culture than we did ads.

Now I’m a huge fan of these – and still do them – but that year I think we made about 10, which was frankly ridiculous.

Then there was the year I got told I’d spoken at more conferences than anyone at Wieden.

It wasn’t said as a diss, more a fact – though I do remember Luhr looking at me with the face of someone who couldn’t work out why anyone would want me to talk at their event.

He wasn’t wrong.

Then there was the year I seemed to be in every bloody Asian marketing book or article and then of course, The Kennedys.

It happens. It’s rarely an intentional thing, but the nature of the business means it can be like that … and while I’ll always prefer to be involved in creating stuff, it does let you feel things are evolving and that’s a good feeling.

Well this year is another one of those years.

Part of this is because of the situation the World is in and part of it is because of the situation I have found myself in.

However, whereas previous years have seemingly had singular focuses, this year has had two.

Icons of culture and podcasts.

Both have been pretty awesome.

Musicians … Fashion superstars … Gaming Royalty … Billionaires.

Frankly people who should know a lot better than to ever want me to work with them … and yet, for reasons I don’t understand but am utterly grateful for, they have.

It’s certainly very different to the work I’ve done in the past, but it not only is introducing me to a whole new world of creative expression – from developing new concert experiences to video game design to stuff that is genuinely almost impossible for me to describe as it’s just plain beautifully bonkers – it’s letting me work with people who are recognised as being the best in their field so to be in this position … and to have Colenso to look forward to in addition … feels like winning the lottery.

I know this all sounds like humble bragging – but that’s not the intent.

To be honest, it’s more about me writing it down so I never forget this feeling.

This moment.

Because as tough as it is for people all around the World, I am very, very fortunate so many good things have come my way.

But that’s not what this post is about, it’s about the other thing I’ve been doing a lot of.

Podcasts.

I’ve done a ton this year.

[Here and here and here for example]

Why people want to hear from me – especially when I write so much bollocks about my life on here – is another thing I don’t get … but it’s been fun.

Recently the lovely/stupid people at Colenso had chat with me for their Love This podcast …

We cover all manner of subjects … from running a planning gang to developing creativity in a pandemic to how to be a fucking idiot … so if you’re bored, an insomniac or are jealous of Colenso’s brilliance and are looking forward to the pain they’ll experience with me in the building, you can listen to it at one of these places.

Apple.
Spotify.
Soundcloud.