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


There’s Tributes And There’s Tributes …

So a little while ago, the wonderful human that was Dan Wieden sadly passed away.

A lot of amazing things were written about this amazing man.

And I added my own little story to the compendium as well.

But there was one that was not published.

Mainly because it was a conversation between some people who worked at Wieden about how sad we were that Dan had passed..

It’s possibly the weirdest tribute written.

Not specific to Dan, I mean ever … and yet, it is a tribute that was expressed with as much love and respect to the man and the legacy he built, as any of the others.

I should point out Dan – and I – are not guilty as charged. The person in question is simply referencing the fact that I sent them to Portland for a W+K meeting and Dan happened to have started W+K in a city where this particular form of ‘entertainment’ was everywhere.

Don’t be hard on the person who wrote it.

They were young.
They were from China.
This was their first overseas trip.
And he was given these experiences by people who wanted to ‘introduce them to the West’.

I personally would have chosen a different approach, but each to their own and I know the intent was to explode this visitors mind in good ways, not damaging.

Given he still remembers his trip so vividly – maybe 10 years+ after it happens – I guess this means they succeeded.

Which results in Dan getting the most unique, but well intentioned tribute ever written.

I think he may have liked it.

Or the sentiment of it at least.

Miss you Mr W.

And you LL.

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Stealing Doesn’t Make You A Genius. It Makes You An Imposter …

I once interviewed a young planner who spent the whole time confidently telling me how ambitious they were.

The whole conversation was literally about how far they were going to go.

And that’s admiral … except they never once talked about their rise in relation to the work they would do, but simply the objective they had.

I told them that while I love their ambition, I felt their priorities were different to what I valued.

They seemed to be focused on speed of progress whereas I cared about standards.

Of course they argued that’s what they wanted to, but by then we were done.

I’m not doubting they were good, but the quality of work was secondary to the speed of promotion and in my experience, that is never a good scenario.

I say this because I recently saw this:

I’ve got to admit, this triggered me.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone is a ‘magpie’ to a certain degree.

Taking things they’ve learned and heard and incorporating it into their thinking.

But this is not that. This is laziness.

Oh I know some will call it ‘smart’.

Or an example of hustle culture or some other bollocks.

And maybe the person in question just said it to be provocative.

But whatever the reason, it’s parasitic behaviour. Literally feeding off the talent of others.

It’s why I always favour people who have done interesting stuff rather than just know interesting stuff. It means they have skin in the game. It means they were willing to explore and experiment. It means they were willing to fail in the quest to do something good. It means they’ve learned stuff.

It’s a major reason why I believe in going down rabbit holes rather than playing to be precise.

It’s why I believe in graft not hustle.

It’s why I believe in standards, not just speed.

Don’t get me wrong, I apperacite we all want to progress.

I totally accept there are massive benefits gained from promotion and I don’t want to stop anyone from achieving that. I also think it’s outdated thinking to only give substantial payrises when attached to promotion. I understand why companies do it, but it means people often get promoted before they’re ready, and then aren’t even helped in learning how to be good at it.

But while speed of progress may appear attractive from the outside, it can be limiting on the inside.

Because promotion can get you many things, but it doesn’t automatically get you respect.

Oh you may think it does.

Or you may not give a shit either way.

But if you want a career or the ability to use your talent in other ways you find interesting … then at some point, you’ve got to have done stuff that goes beyond simple career progression. Stuff that is known and noticed for what it did and how it did it. Stuff that is for people and brands of repute, not just people or brands who pay your invoice.

Because without that … well, you may find your career starts like an Olympic sprinter but ends like the slowest of tortoises.

And as I said, maybe some are fine with that.

Or maybe some – as I’ve met a few times – are genuine freaks of brilliance who were seemingly born to go to the very, very top.

But the thing to remember is the latter is both rare and defined by what others think your capabilities are, rather than what you think about yourself.

Which may explain why the planner I interviewed all those years ago has not achieved their goal of being the King of the Universe.

On the positive they are a head of planning.

But it’s for a small agency in Seattle.

A sales promotion agency.

Where there appears to be only one other planner in the place.

And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of that – I did it for a short time, and learnt a ton of stuff I still use now – it’s quite different from what they told me their ambition was. Maybe their circumstances changed. Or their ambitions changed. And maybe they’re happy as can be. But I can’t help but feel they could have fulfilled their aspirations if they’d just valued standards a bit more than they valued speed.

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The Difference Between Brand And Band Strategy …

I was recently interviewed by a music company about the work I do for artists.

They – quite rightly – wanted to know what I did and how it was different to what I normally did.

And I explained the difference was made clear pretty much in my very first meeting.

Because I was told this …

Now I can’t be sure they used those exact words, but that was the general premise.

And that was what was amazing.

Because when working with brands, they want you to use creativity to engage audiences, but with bands – at least the ones I’ve been exposed to – it’s the opposite.

I don’t mean they want to alienate people – though they understand the importance of sacrifice better than almost any brand marketer I’ve ever met – it’s just they are the creativity … they are the product … and so the last thing they want is some fucker placing a layer of ‘marketing’ on top of their artistic expression which can be twisted, diluted or fucked with so what they want to say and what it means to them, has no consideration whatsoever.

Now I admit I’m very fortunate the artists I’m working for are of a scale where they have the power to not just consider this issue but do something about it.

Many don’t.

However by the same token, when you’re of that scale, the potential for things to get messed up in some way is much greater.

Which is why they ensured I knew my role was not to market them, but to protect their truth.

Do and explore things that amplify who they are not just flog more product.

And because what they create is an expression who they are … they can express their truth without falling into endless streams of cliched brand consultant speak.

+ So no buzz words.
+ No ambiguous terms.
+ Just stories, experiences and considerations that have defined all they do.

And that’s why they don’t really care if you like their music. Sure, it helps, but they don’t want fawning fandom, they want people who understand what they value, believe and give a fuck about so everything associated with what they do expresses it.

Or said another way, they want people who can ‘speak their tongue’.

Now I am the first to admit there have been some mistakes.

Some things you go, “why did you do that?”

But in the main, I’ve not seen much of it and even when I have called stuff out, they have [generally] appreciated it, because – as I was also told on my first day – I’m being paid to give them truth not comfort.

I’ve always said people should not aspire to be a planner, but get away with the things a planner can get away with. And I’ve got away with a lot as a planner. Done all manner of weird and wonderful.

While I’d like to think that’s what helped me get this gig … the reality is I got it because of an introduction from someone I know.

And while in theory any strategist could do what I’m doing, how I do strategy and how I have been asked to view what it’s role is, has highlighted that’s not the case.

Not because of capability, but what the industry currently wants and expects.

And this is manifested in increasingly not being given the time, support or standards to do things right.

Where speed is more important than substance.

Process more valuable than output.

I wrote about this and more, here.

But it’s more than that, it’s also what clients think strategy is for …

Packaging rather than changing.

Wanting quick wins rather than long term value.

Targeting needs, not a point of view in the world.

Chasing convenience not authenticity.

If anything, doing this work has made me even more grateful to the bosses, agencies and clients I’ve worked with over my career.

Because when I look back, the truly great ones were basically like a band.

Born of belief. Defined by a point of view. Wanting to attract not chase anything popular.

And that’s a big part of why they have been able to remain at the forefront of their individual discipline, category and/or sub-culture.

Because they never saw strategy as a tool for marketing, but to amplify their truth.

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Peak Planner Cat Lady Who Is A Bloke …

As you know, I love my cat Rosie.

I have written A LOT about her over the years.

Like this.

And this.

Or this.

And this.

To name but a very, very few.

But recently, I got the opportunity to give a presentation about her to senior members of our clients.

Better yet, it was about what they could learn from her.

Yep … an entire presentation about my cats superior brand building capabilities.

Of course it went down well …

By ‘well’, I mean they didn’t report me to my bosses or the Police.

Which is why I am of the opinion I’ve achieved all there is to achieve and can now bask in the glow of having just achieved the top level of the classic planner game ‘things you can learn about brands from _________’.

And I can tell you, that is better than winning any Cannes, Effies or WARC Grand Prix.

Oh, have to go, there’s a knock on the door and I can Doctors and Nurses outside holding a jacket that has no arms in just my size …

Have a great day.

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If You Want Sustainable Success, Don’t Hold On Too Tightly …

Brands love to say they know their customers.

They love to go on about the research they do to ‘get’ the needs of the people who use them.

And some genuinely do. Looking to understand how people live not just how they use, choose or buy their brand or a competitive product.

But sadly this group seem far more in the minority these days … with the preference being to outsource research needs to a ‘for profit’ external partner, who are asked to provide answers to drive immediate sales rather than to build long-term understanding.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a massive fan of research, but I’m reading far too much that seems to be about telling the client what they want to hear rather than what they need to understand.

To be fair, that is also true of agencies as well, and so much of that is because a lot of companies have already decided what they want to do and say and they expect everyone else to fall in line with it. And I get it, in a quest to streamline process and maximise productivity, that makes perfect sense.

Except it doesn’t.

Because as George used to say ALL THE TIME, it’s like going to the doctor and prescribing your own medicine. And as much as people/brands may think they know what’s wrong, that doesn’t mean they know how to fix it …

Agencies and research companies should be paid for their independent thinking and approach to solving problems NOT paid to execute what someone else wants the solution to be. The great tragedy of brand communication these days is that somehow, independent thinking has been labelled as dangerous when the real danger is when there isn’t any.

When solutions are decided by financial hierarchy rather than expertise – and by expertise, I mean that in terms of what an organisation is actually an expert on, rather than what they think they are – you tend to end up with a pile of shit that then ignites a game of blame storming.

Here’s a perfect example of it …

Now I appreciate printer, photocopier, fax [?!!!] sales must be very difficult.

I get companies may only give them a second thought when they go wrong or run out of ink.

But … but … who the fuck approved this shit?

I mean, it’s bad enough they say they know what we need – which makes them sound like some sleazy office colleague – but then they come out with this gem of bollocks.

“Like twins who understand each other completely”.

What??? WHAT???

Apart from the fact it’s utterly, utterly pants. if they really had a telepathic understanding of ‘what we need’, surely they wouldn’t have to pay to have this shit printed in a magazine and they’d just turn up at their customers office with the requirements of their machine – even before their customer knew they needed it.

But that’s not the case because they don’t know their customers, they don’t know what they need and they sure as shit don’t know how to communicate to them.

I get people think communication and creativity is easy.

I get people think they know their customers better than anyone else.

I get they want everything to be as efficient as is physically possible.

But if anything should tell them what they think and what is true are very different, it’s rubbish ads like this. And while I appreciate this is especially bad, there’s a whole lot more expensive versions of this wherever you look.

Great creativity and research is born from independent thinking.

A desire to create value by giving you what you need not what you want.

Which is why companies who place greater value on what they can make their agency partners do – including how they do the job, how many people can do involved in job and how long they’re allowed to do if for – the more complicit they are when things are less effective than they could be.

I’m not saying agencies and research companies are perfect.

And they sure-as-hell aren’t all the same standard and quality.

But they’re much better when they can give you truth and possibilities than blind complicity.

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