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


Unmotivation …

A while back I wrote about how some companies offer incentives and bonuses to their staff to try and boost morale when the reality is all the employees actually want is the company to act in ways they can be proud of and believe in.

Values.
Standards.
Behaviours.
Ambitions.

The most depressing part of this is that in many cases, the companies know this but just think it’s easier to try and ‘buy staff off’, than to change how they act.

But if you think that’s bad, there’s some who are even worse.

The ones who believe their staff will be inspired and impressed by any gesture the companies shows towards them … even if it is an act that shows how little they really think of them.

Acts like this …

Or this …

Seriously, what on earth were they thinking???

Even if they were giving away a bunch of bananas rather than a single one, it would still be bad … but a postage paid envelope, that reiterates this is a ONE TIME act of generosity.

Either the people behind these ‘gifts’ are evil or utterly delusional … which is why the best leaders I’ve ever worked for have been the ones who are transparent and honest, whether for good news or bad.

There’s something really reassuring of knowing where you stand. Where there is constant dialogue with where you’re at and where things are. That even in bad times, you know what is going on, what needs to change and some suggestions how to do it … because the person telling you genuinely wants you to succeed. Not simply to make their life easier, but to help make yours bigger.

While there are a lot of benefits to management, it can’t be denied it’s a tough gig.

You’re dealing with a bunch of moving parts all at the same time.

Egos.
Colleagues.
Team development.
Individual growth.
Client satisfaction.
New business requirements.
Company reputation and profit.
And then your own, personal satisfaction and growth.

In some ways, each of these moving parts can act as a barrier to the other being successful … and that’s when a manager can get into real trouble, because pressure means they can end up choosing what ultimately makes their life easier rather than what makes everything better.

Now I am not saying I am a great manager.

While I think I am OK, I definitely have my failings.

However over the years – and with some excellent mentors and role models – I’ve definitely learnt there are some ‘rules’ that I believe can help companies ensure managers create an environment where good things happen can happen, for the work … the clients … the individuals … the team … and the company as a whole.

1. Stop promoting people simply because that’s the only way to give them a pay rise.

This is more than just about managing staff cost ratios – or keeping salary bands in line – it’s the reality that some people are just much better at doing their specific job than managing other people doing their specific jobs. Often they know this, but feel they have to accept the promotion ‘opportunity’ to get the money they want. The great irony of this approach is it ends up costing everyone more in the long term. Because the promoted person ends up stopping doing the work that made them – and the company – stand out and other talented people leave, because they are being badly managed. Until the day the company realises their mistake and lets the person go who didn’t really want the job in the first place, but did it as it was the only way to get fairly valued for their talent and experience.

2. Stop thinking being good at the job means you are naturally good at managing

Being good at a job doesn’t automatically mean you are going to be good at managing others doing it. Not only that, being good at your job doesn’t mean your approach will – or should – translate to how the entire department operates. Sadly, too many companies don’t think this way. Instead they promote without consideration to the ways of the individual or the needs of the department and company. Of course, sometimes the reason for that is because it’s a way to ‘keep’ talent from going to another company or because doing it makes things more ‘convenient’ for the company when someone has resigned. What makes that approach even worse is they then place huge expectations and judgement on people so that when things don’t go exactly as planned, they start adding additional stress and barriers. The reality is you don’t make good managers through a title, you do it by giving them training and time.

3. Every level needs training

It doesn’t have to be formal. It doesn’t have to be academic. But it does have to happen.
Not just in terms of learning the company processes and org charts … but in terms of learning how to actually manage. What to look out for … how to engage … how to encourage and motivate. Not from a book. Not from an online course. But proper training with people who have done it very well rather than people who just hold the title. There are so many great managers who never got to realise that simply because they were thrown in the deep end and then kicked out because they weren’t given the support and time to train for their new position.

However I know the things I’ve suggested won’t be common, because too many companies see personal training as an expense and judge success as getting stuff done, regardless of the cost. Which is why after all the years I’ve had doing it, I still rely on 4 huge lessons I learnt from Dan Wieden and Chris Jaques.

+ When your focus is the work, every decision becomes easier.

+ Brilliant work sorts out almost every problem,.

+ Honesty and transparency is the greatest gift you can give someone.

+ The best way to stop complicity is to create an environment of openness and debate.

Sure, none of these are as easy as giving a banana or even a paid-return envelope … but I guarantee the positive effect will last a hell of a lot longer.



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.



Finally A Brand Experience That Stands Out From The Crowd …

As funny as the photo above is, the reality is it’s still a better brand experience than much of what passes for good brand experience these days.

Hell, if I was shopping there and saw that sign, it would make me smile, which is more than a lot of brands and their experience strategies achieve.

I’ve said it before but too many companies mistake basic interaction as brand experience. Or worse, think that by simply removing friction from the purchase process, they’re building a good brand experience.

Seriously, how boring and self-centred must their lives be to think that?

If done well, brand experience can be a huge thing.

And by well, I don’t mean making bad, average – or creating a consistent base-line standard across the company – I mean making the things that actually matter to audiences, personal and valuable … or focusing on the key things audiences think you actually do well and pushing that so the experience can become something that is almost seminal so people want to share, repeat and shout about.

I wrote about this a while ago [here and here, for example] … but it still blows my mind how many companies and agencies approach experience in terms of not getting left behind when they should be seeing it as an opportunity to move ahead … a chance to leave their competition looking slow, rather than themselves.

And before people say this approach would cost more money, it doesn’t. Or it doesn’t have to. It’s all about defining the experience you want to create.

Given a badly placed store sign next to some condoms gave me a better brand experience than so many of the systems, processes and strategies brand experience promotes, it’s safe to say the discipline may need to start understanding what people give a shit about rather than what they wish they did.



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.