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


Matt Tanter. Not A Dick.

OK, I should start this post by saying I have only physically been in the company of Matt Tanter twice in my life, so I appreciate there is a chance I may be bombarded by people writing in and saying, “you’re wrong Rob, he’s a massive dick”.

But I doubt it.

Not because I think how people behave with me represents how they behave with everyone – and even if that was the case, they’d be likely act with me much worse than they would act with anyone else – but because of what he hasn’t done.

He has a big job at Mother.

He’s part of big campaigns for big clients.

He used to be the chair of the UK Account Planning Group.

And yet, while many would may let these achievement go to their head and act like they’re hot shit, Matt doesn’t. Quite the opposite in fact.

He doesn’t big himself up.

He doesn’t enter mindless twitter spats.

He doesn’t act like he has intellectual superiority.

He doesn’t do any of those things, instead he just gives a shit .. for his family … his team … and people in general.

Now I appreciate some may read this and think “what a wimp” … because for the industry likes to paint anyone who doesn’t spend every waking minute thinking about making ads as possessing some fatal flaw.

Obviously this is utterly stupid.

Not just because the standard of work out there means anyone spending every waking minute thinking about making ads is not making the work culture wanst to spend every waking minute watching, reading or tapping … but also because in my experience, the very best in the biz all seem to share one particular trait.

A love of seeking, understanding and learning from what’s going on outside the small bubble of adland.

Doesn’t matter what it is.
Doesn’t matter where it is.
Doesn’t matter who it involves.

They understand all of it contributes to their ability to make work that can shape culture rather than just adds to the cultural landfill so many brands are intent on polluting the World with.

Which leads to another trait the best in the biz all seem to have.

Being great people who are also very talented.

I cannot emphasise how important this is.

Because while these people are fierce about the standards of the work being made and hungry to push and provoke boundaries and limitations – rather than just wanting to be ‘liked’ by clients and colleagues alike – they find a way to bring people on the journey with them rather than just make it all about them.

Oh there’s loads of those others types too, but people like Matt help you grow rather than just be used up and for that, we should be celebrating them.

I have seen this first hand throughout my career.

Matt could talk himself up.

Matt should celebrate what he has done for the Mother planning team – because it’s ace.

But he doesn’t and he won’t.

Because Matt is a much better human than me.

God, what a prick, hahaha.



Simple. Wins.

For all the money companies and agencies spend on trying to know their audiences better.

For all the systems and processes companies and agencies put in place to be reduce the friction of purchase for customers.

For all the data companies and agencies invest in and rely on to identify market opportunities they can leverage.

For all the investment in experience to drive brand consistency.

It’s amazing how simple it is for a brand to differentiate themselves from the competition … resonate with a specific audience … encourage emotional loyalty and build commercial value by simply having a point of view that is expressed by doing what people find important rather than what you want them to find important.

This brilliance is from Tesco in association with St John’s Ambulance.

Clothes that your baby will look good in and could – if the worst happens – help save their life.

No eco-systems.
No data analysis.
No additional experience layers.
No focus group idea blandification.

Just an idea where the value is undeniable to all.

A real idea. Not an ad idea.

A real idea where communication amplifies the solution rather than is the solution.

Done for real, not for ad award submissions.

Some agencies [and brands, like Timpson’s] do this sort of thing properly – for example the brilliant Tontine pillow [by the brilliant Mark Sareff] and H&M’s One Second Suit, not to mention the fact Colenso has consistently been doing this sort of stuff for decades – however if clients let their agencies partners solve problems without their dictatorial interference or obstacles … and if agencies listened to what their clients need rather than what they want them to want … we’d not only have more interesting, valuable, creative and effective agencies and brands, we’d be making more of a difference than all the pointless purpose statements put together.

I can but hope.

We all should, because it’s down to us.



Life In A Lyric …

For years I have used song lyrics for creative brief inspiration.

Specifically, the Point Of View.

It’s been hugely useful to me because lyrics don’t just convey a story, they ignite emotion … which is especially useful when you want to capture the creatives imagination.

Mind you, I once used whole sections of lyrics from Bon Jovi’s Blood On Blood as my entire strategy presentation for Jeep and that didn’t go down so well.

Heathens … hahaha.

What’s interesting – at least to me – is when I was younger, I never really cared about lyrics. For me, it was always the guitar and the melody. Hell, I didn’t even know the lyrics to music I wrote myself … which, on hindsight, is probably a good thing, to be honest.

But since I hung up the guitar – or at least hung up playing it 8 hours every day – I have been captivated by lyrics. The stories and opinions they hold … and recently, while working on a project, I got reacquainted with the song Town Called Malice, by The Jam, which is above.

I remember when this song came out and I didn’t like it much.

Well, I loved the title – which I still do – but the rest was, blah.

I was into metal back then so I saw it as soft, sell-out, fancy suit shit.

Hahahahahahaha.

But 40 years later – fuck – I have learnt to love this song, especially for the lyrics.

Specifically, “stop apologising for the things you haven’t done”.

That’s a powerful line.

One that is even more pertinent today than it probably was in 1981.

I have to say, I am over people feeling they have to apologise for stuff they haven’t done.

OK, if they promised to take the rubbish out, I get it. But the rest can fuck off.

Life seems to be a continuous cycle of things we are supposed to have done … a slow force into complicity and parity.

Planning is particularly bad for this …

The books we should have read.

The people we should be following.

The methodologies we should all use.

Yes, there is a lot of good stuff you can get from the names constantly being suggested, but they are not a mandate. They certainly shouldn’t be the people or processes we have to apologise for having not followed.

Our job is to be interested in what others are interested in, not just what other planners are interested in. The naval gazing of the industry is insane.

On one level I do understand it.

Many planners feel they are imposters and so knowing what people they think are ‘real planners’ like, lets them feel a bit more validated to do what they are paid to do.

But here’s the thing, the people who think are ‘real strategists’ also feel like imposters.

Truly.

So what this means is the people who question their credentials are following the words and actions of people who also question their credentials. Which means the whole ‘things you should follow’ ends up being even more ridiculous.

While we should all be investing in our knowledge and awareness – and giving respect to those who keep doing work that tries to push things forward – that does not mean we should all be blindly doing the same thing as everyone else. If anything it means we need to be doing a whole bunch of different things from everyone else.

For example …

Read different books/magazine in different categories from different countries.

Follow people doing interesting things from different categories and cultures.

Be curious about people who make interesting things, not just talk about interesting things.

Learn from people who approach creativity in different ways to your own industry.

[Though I appreciate the irony of me telling people to follow what I do, haha]

All this is another reason why the industry needs to be hiring different sorts of people from different sorts of places and backgrounds … even though I’ve heard on the rare occasions that they do, they then tell them they need to be like the establishment to ‘be taken seriously’.

FFS!!!

While we all need to develop our craft, experience and knowledge … rather than apologising for having not done/read/followed the exact same person/process/book as every other planner – however good they may be – how about celebrating whatever it is you are doing, exploring and learning … because trying to find your own voice is a far more noble act than simply trying to replicate someone else’s.



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.



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.