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


Nothing is As Sharp As Simple …

I used to think it took a lot of hard work to be simple.

A lot of thinking.

Evaluating.

Sharpening.

Changing.

But maybe I was wrong because I literally cannot imagine how much time it took to create this:

It’s a masterclass in nonsensical.

A blueprint for showing a company who doesn’t know what they actually do.

A celebration of the buzzword bingo bullshit that permeates so many organisations.

Basically, imposters talking to imposters with words they’ve so bastardised the meaning of, that you’d be hard pressed to recognise their original definition if you were left alone with them in a bar overnight with only a dictionary for company.

The verbal equivalent of Mickey Rourke.

Or Lara Flynn Boyle.

Hence now …

Innovation means ‘we’ve made something average a little bit better’.

Revolution means ‘we’ve never done this before though others have’.

Experience means ‘we offer our customers boring and average’.

Transformation means ‘we’ve caught up to everyone else’.

[hence ‘digital transformation’ is simply code for, ‘not being left so far behind’ as opposed – as many in the industry also like to position it – as reinventing the whole category]

And while adland is the cause of a lot of this bullshit, the consultancies – or worse, the wannabe-consultancies – are taking it to a whole new level. Continually creating nonsensical language and definitions in an attempt to feel intellectually superior to those around them. Believing this sort of language acts as a sort-of ‘code’ that helps identify other delusionists, wannabe’s and/or victims … so they can revel and reward themselves with their Emperors New Clothes bullshit.

Until they can’t.

What is particularly amusing is these companies still celebrate the old adage of ‘quality over quantity’ … even though they show up with a level of excessive vulgarity that would put Donald Trump to shame.

Talking in plain English – or plain any language – is not a bad thing.

If anything, it is the most powerful.

Not just because it is easier to communicate and relate to.

Nor because it shows you can identify the core problem that needs addressing.

But because it captures something my old man used to say to all his young lawyers:

“If you want to show how intelligent you are, you’re not that intelligent”.



After Winter, Life Grows Again. ( ‘A Year After Redundancy’)

A year ago tomorrow, I was made redundant.

Well, I was told the week before, but tomorrow marks a year since my last day at R/GA.

While I wrote a long post at the time about how positive I was about the whole thing – especially that it was happening to me rather than a junior or a woman or a Person of Colour who normally get impacted by these sorts of decisions – it still blows my mind how well things have turned out for me and my family.

Part of the reason I was so optimistic was because I knew I was going to shout about my redundancy from the rooftops. Hell, even the Guardian wrote about me doing it.

Despite what some on here may think, this was not because I wanted to appear in a national newspaper … oh no, it was for far more practical reasons.

The first was that the more people knew I was available, the more chances I’d have of being considered for work. I mean … come on. I work in advertising, what else was I going to do?

However the second – and possibly more important reason – was I hated how many people felt some sort of shame for finding themselves in this situation.

Shit happens – especially during a global pandemic – so to carry that burden in addition to all the other stuff they have to deal with must make the pressure they’re dealing with unbelievably destructive. I would not wish that on anyone … no one at all. And while I was treated fairly, what makes these situations even worse is that some companies actively encourage people they’ve let go to feel this way … simply because it encourages them to stay silent about what’s happened which lets the company act to clients and the market that everything is fine and dandy when it obviously isn’t.

So my thinking was that by owning my situation publicly, it may help burst this corporately induced shame and reinforce there is nothing to be embarrassed about … especially as the situation ultimately has nothing to do with you – and everything to do with them – even if some companies try to suggest otherwise.

But there was also another reason for my optimism.

Potentially a stupid one.

And that was the last time this situation happened to me, it led to one of the most fruitful and creative periods of my career and I wondered/hoped/mused if lighting could strike twice.

Despite turning 50 [rather than the last time, where I was 35] it amazingly did.

Now I absolutely appreciate how lucky I am.

I also appreciate there are a lot of factors that contributed to this luck.

From the openness of my family to move countries for the 4th time in 4 years … to the wide range of contacts I’d gained thanks to having lived all around the World … to the fact I’m a white male so ‘unfair advantage’ was baked into my career DNA from the very beginning.

But even with all that, the life I now live is in many ways – or at least in many parts – unrecognisable to the one I had when I was let go from R/GA a year ago

From the work I’ve done and do.
To the clients/bands/billionaires I’ve done it for and do it for.
To the immensely talented people I’ve worked with and work with.
To the country I now call home.

Hell, I even managed to get hired and fired by the Red Hot Chili Peppers in that time.

It’s bonkers.

And while I enjoyed my time at R/GA and am grateful for the experience, I’m happier now.

They probably are too … hahaha.

That said, I miss my gang.

Lachlan, Nic, Rach, Anna, Joel, Amar, Erika, Laureen, Bassot, Ed, Hannah, Megan, Nicole, Divya, Arda, Amelia, Severine, Marissa, Insa, Toby, Ben … and the others who helped make my time – and the gang – so much fun, including Anne, Valia, Eduardo and Michael.

What a wonderful bunch of beautifully talented misfits they were/are.

Always demanding … debating … provoking … and making me smarter because of it.

Then again … given all but a couple of them have moved to do other interesting, weird, infamous and famous things, it means that even if I was still there, they wouldn’t be.

Or maybe they would. [Cue mischievous laugh. Hahahaha]

But the point of this post is not just to celebrate a year since a weird day in July … it’s a reminder that life is always changing, moving, evolving and progressing.

However bad a situation may be, it does not mean it will always be that way … even if it feels like it is.

And if anyone worries they are the exception, I want you to know I am here to chat.

Not to convince you you’re wrong.

Or try to solve your problems.

But to listen.

Because not everyone has that and not only is that important … sometimes that’s the first step to getting stronger.

Not to self-reflect or gain enlightenment … but to vent, bitch, moan, complain.

The things some people try to make you feel guilty for wanting to express or think, even though the real reason is because it makes them feel uncomfortable rather than it being bad for you.

And it absolutely is not bad for you.

At least in small doses.

Because as we all know, the first thing you do to treat a scrape is to cleanse the wound … so if anyone thinks this would be useful to you, please know I would be happy to give you a safe space to be your worst without judgement or expectation.

Because the worst times don’t last.

They just feel they do.

So thank you R/GA, I will always be grateful for what you did for me.

Especially on July 10th 2020.

You can reach me here.



A Reminder About Humans To Everyone Dealing With Humans …

No matter how well planned you think you are.

How detailed you’ve been.

How many case studies you’ve watched.

How many focus groups you’ve sat in.

How logical your argument is.

People will always do what works for them, not works for you.

So think about that next time you try and claim your comms plan/user journey is a true reflection of how all people engage with brands and make purchase decisions.

For the record …

I get the role and value of comms plans/user journeys.

I have no issue with them. In fact they can make a real difference to the work.

Where I get pissy is when they’re presented as ‘fact’ rather than a guide. Acting like they represent how ALL people behave – while ignoring factors like personal situation and circumstance as well as competitive activity.

Of course this attitude of ‘unquestionable, unbendable, superior intelligence and logic’ is prevalent in many planners … probably driven more by clients wanting certainty and consistency than personal ego … however by refusing to acknowledge we’re dealing more in frameworks than blueprints, we’re not just undermining our discipline and inadvertently placing barriers on new approaches and experiments, but ultimately selling generalised convenience rather than personal intimacy which means it’s set up to be average from the outset.

Madness.

As I said to a client recently about insights …

They’re not perfect.

They’re not infallible.

They’re not all encompassing.

But when done right, they increase the odds of good things happening because they reveal the ridiculous truth behind people’s beliefs and behaviours … and I swear if we all adopted this attitude towards what we do, we may just end up making things that are more interesting and more effective as well.

We won’t. But I just like to think we might.



The Pointless Reveals The Most Important Things …

This is a plant in our office.

I have no idea who owns it.

I must admit I don’t even really like it.

But that sticker …

Oh I like that.

I like it a lot.

Sure, to some it may be stupid.

Or even disrespectful.

But to me, it shows a company where the people within it have a mischievously creative spirit. The sort who spot creative opportunities to do something people will notice, or relate to or just feel for a whole host of reasons.

In just a single word, they found a way to make anyone who sees that little sticker not just see a plant, but a hard-to-please, always demanding, never content, forever dissatisfied pain-in-the-ass plant diva.

In short, they gave a plant a personality.

In one word.

Yes I know I have a ‘history’ with dodgy stickers – and I also loved the time someone at Wieden Shanghai put the sticker ‘freedom’ next to the ground floor button in the lift [which was promptly taken down, probably by the same person who still goes mental when they discover another of my Wieden leaving stickers hidden somewhere in the building despite me having left years ago, hahahaha] … but I particularly love this one.

I love someone thought it was worth doing.

I don’t care they may have given it no thought whatsoever – in fact that makes me like it more – because it’s those little, pointless things that reveals the most important thing you could ever want to know about an agency.

Are you entering a place that has a culture of creativity or a business that sells efficiency processes under the label of creativity?



Nothing Shows Respect Like Letting Someone Argue With You …

A career is a funny thing.

I mean literally, as a concept – it’s quite bizarre.

The idea of working in one industry and hoping to move up a fictional ladder and somehow hope that by the time you’re pushed off it – and we’ll all be pushed off it at some time – you’ve built up enough reputation or cash to keep you going through till the bitter end.

Hahahaha … Mr Positive eh!?

Anyway, by hook or by crook I’ve somehow managed to have what I’d call a career.

Admittedly, I fell into it – but overall, I’ve had a pretty good one.

I’ve worked at some amazing places.
I’ve got to live literally all around the World.
I’ve met people who have literally changed my life.
I’ve been part of work that still excites me years later.
And somehow, I’m still doing all those things, which is insane.

But as wonderful as all that is, one thing I am particularly proud of is how many of my old team mates are now at some of the most highly regarded creative companies in the World doing all manner of interesting things.

Of course, I had little to do with it – it’s all their talent – but the bit that makes me proud is that they are forging their own careers based on their own ideas and their own opinions and their own voice.

About 2005, I realised how lucky I had been with previous bosses.

All of them encouraged me to find my own voice rather than duplicate someone else’s … and while that often got me in trouble, they never strayed from their path of encouraging independent thought.

Now I appreciate a lot of companies say this, but this wasn’t some PR bullshit they could spout in a magazine, they lived it – openly and actively welcoming, encouraging and igniting debate.

And they never ‘pulled rank’.

It was always a discussion of equals – which was one of the most empowering and liberating professional feelings I ever had.

It showed trust. It showed respect. It showed value.

And even though I’m an old fuck who has done OK in my career, I still get that same feeling when I am working with others who embrace the same value.

As much as rockstars and billionaires may have a reputation for demanding diva’s, I can honestly say the ones I’ve been working with have been amazing in welcoming opinion. They may not always like what is said, but they always value why it has.

And that’s why, when I saw a shift in planning from rigour to replication … challenge to complicity … and individuality to impotency [driven by the global financial crisis of 2008] I realised the best thing I could do is encourage my team to be independent in thought, voice and behaviour.

I should point out this was not selfless. By having great creative and cultural thinkers in my team, they would help make even better work and that would have a positive effect on me too.

I know, what a prick eh.

And of course, I acknowledge not every planner was following the replication path. Nor was every agency. But it was definitely happening and arguably, this is why Australian planners have risen in position more than those from other nations [ie: Tobey head of planning at Uncommon, Paula global head of Nike planning at Wieden, Andy head of planning at Wieden Portland, Rodi, head of strategy at Apple South East Asia and Aisea MD at Anomaly LA to name but 5] because – as much as the Aussie government may like to say they suffered – the country was largely unaffected, which meant training continued, standards continued, creativity continued.

So while there was a bunch of other values we continually encouraged and practiced, the desire to develop independent thinking, openness and debate were a real focus of mine and have continued to be.

Whether I was successful is up to the people who had the awkwardness of dealing with me, but I distinctly remembering being in a meeting at Wieden in Shanghai after Sue, Leon and Charinee had just challenged a bunch of things we had just talked to the agency about.

One of the global team was there and said, “they’re very outspoken”.

And while normally that could be read as a diss, it wasn’t … it was more of a surprise because many people in China – especially the young – tend to keep very quiet, especially in front of people who are at a more senior level to them and this mob had gone to town.

To which I replied, “I know. It’s a wonderful headache to have”.

And it was.

And it is.

Which is why I will continue to believe the best thing any head of planning can do is encourage independent thought and respect for debate and rigour … because while it can creates moments where it’s a right pain in the arse, the alternative is far more disagreeable.

Have a great weekend.