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


It’s Not A Revelation When You’re Late To The Party …

I’m back.

And I had a great, great birthday.

Hopefully, so did Jill and Paul.

And to make sure you don’t feel left out, you also get a present – and that’s the present of only having 2 blog posts this week.

You’re welcome.

That said, my great birthday was ruined when someone sent me this …

What the absolute fuck.

I mean … come on.

H2H.

H 2 bloody H.

It’s a bit like when Mondelez announced they were all about humaning or something.

Why is this a big thing to them?

Who the fuck did they think they were talking to before?

What makes it even funnier is that it appears they don’t seem to realise what this announcement says about who they really are.

Imagine what clients or staff think?

“Hey, we have gone from looking at you as emotionless, automated, programmable bots to now valuing your emotional needs. Which we have created a framework, playbook and eco-system to manage seamlessly and profitably”.

And yet I bet they still call their customers, ‘consumers’.

While I’m happy that big brands are starting to understand that people are not simply walking wallets to bestow even more ‘bonus bucks’ on their senior management, I don’t hold out much hope their work will get much better given it’s 2021 and they’ve just worked this out.

Seriously, for all the knowledge, research and information so many big companies have at their disposal, it’s frightening how much of the basics they simply don’t even understand.



Layer Cake …

I was talking to a couple of mates recently.

Both of them are a couple of incredibly talented, highly regarded, multi-award winning creatives and they were asking me what it was like working in NZ.

As we were chatting we came to a revelation about what was causing the decline in advertising standards.

This is a topic that has been debated a lot over the years with a myriad of possible causes. But with the experience I have seen in NZ – plus the experience I have working directly with a number of famous bands and billionaires – we realised there was actually an underlying cause that trumped all other considerations.

It’s not digital.
It’s not consultants.
It’s not holding companies.
It’s not eco-systems or playbooks.
It’s not the wild inflation of strategists.
It’s not cost.
It’s not effectiveness.
It’s not in-house alternatives.
It’s not direct-to-consumers.
It’s not data.
It’s not rational messaging.

It’s the layers within companies.

The multitude of people everything has to go through and be approved by.

Might be on the client side.
Might be on the agency side.
Might be on both sides … but each layer is like a mini-focus group where ‘success’ is when the representative of that particular layer feels something can then be passed on to the next person in their group without it making them look foolish for their decision or choice.

And as the work passes each layer, the work gets diluted or chipped away until the ultimate decision maker gets to see something that is a pale shadow of what was originally intended.

An object that is a trophy to self preservation rather than potency and truth.

And as companies and agencies have grown in their complexity, the work has faced more layers and opinions. Doesn’t matter if you’re independent or part of the most networked agency/company in the history of networked agency/companies … the decline of creative standards is down to the number of organisational layers that now exists within companies.

And why has this happened?

Well, part of it is because of complexity, but the main part is because companies have got into this mad position where the only way they can grant a significant payrise is if the person is promoted.

So we’re in this mad situation where we have increased layers, headcount and complexity simply because we have viewed money as something commensurate with promotion rather than quality.

Now I appreciate you could argue promotion is a sign of quality – but I don’t think that’s right.

Being good at something doesn’t automatically mean you will be good at something more senior. Hell, there’s a lot of people who don’t even want to do something else. They just want to do what they love and they’re happy at.

I remember at Wieden where – for one mad minute – they thought I’d make a good MD.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

They didn’t come to their senses even when I told them I wasn’t even the MD of cynic … and that was a company I actually founded.

I didn’t want to be an MD.
I wasn’t interested in being an MD.
I just wanted to do what I loved and was good at.

And while they finally came to their senses [good call, Luhr, as usual] the reality is a lot of companies have a bunch of layers simply because they needed to promote someone to justify a payrise.

And before you know it, every task has to go through multitudes of layers … where most are designed to dull an idea rather than sharpen it.

While I don’t know this for a fact, I would guess the companies or agencies who are doing the most interesting work … the stuff that attracts culture rather than chases them down then beats them into submission … are the ones where they deal with the ultimate decision maker.

We get to do a lot of that in NZ.

I definitely get to do that with Metallica, Gentle Monster and the GTA team.

And the difference is huge.

Because while some of these clients are genuinely exceptional – especially when I’m talking to the founders of the organisations because that gives them a level of power and authority most other clients could never hope to get – I imagine a lot of the others are no different to the clients everyone who reads this blog deals with in London or New York or Tokyo everyday.

It’s just the big difference is instead of work having to appease the comments and judgement of 20 different people, it only has to agree with 4 … so the idea that gets made resembles the idea on the table to a much greater extent.

So next time you have a client that talks about wanting great work, don’t talk to them in terms of what processes, systems or people you can add to the mix, talk about what both parties need to take away.

Because if you want the work to be potent, kill the layers of filtration.



Value What You Do …

A few months ago – before moving to NZ – I did a presentation on behalf of my Metal Masters for some record company bigwigs.

It was going to be quite a contentious presentation so I asked my wife to read it to make sure I was on the right side of the ‘asshole’ line.

Maybe it’s because she’s had to put up with me for 17 years, but she said I wasn’t “too bad” with my kicking, but she did say one thing about one slide she had noticed.

It was this one.

She said to me:

“Don’t call it a slide, call it a page. People value books more than presentations”.

She was – as usual – right.

And while it made me wonder how the hell I had managed to convince someone so smart to marry me, it also made me wonder why I had made such a rookie mistake.

If you don’t value you what you do, why should someone else?

And while you may think using the word ‘slide’ for ‘page’ is very small … it’s what it signifies and conveys.

Rather than communicate something personal, it comes across as something ‘production line’.

An ability to easily ‘write it off’ from their memory.

When the point I was making was very important.

Once upon a time I worked with a creative who insisted all his creative work was covered in trace paper. When I first saw him do it, I thought, ‘what a pretentious tosser’.

But then I saw the reaction from the clients when he showed it to them.

It was treated a bit more nicely. A bit more preciously.

It wasn’t for theatre, it was because he wanted his work to be valued like he valued it and he found a way to create an environment that made that happen without having to say it.

Like calling a slide a page.

Details matter.

Not just for craft, but for your own reputation.



The Condiments Versus The Food …

I don’t understand what some people are thinking.

We have got to a point where ‘the idea’ is seemingly regarded as a superficial bit of nonsense.

A wrapper for marketing.

Something as interchangeable as a phone cover.

For some utterly imbecilic reason, ‘the idea’ is now seen as optional – a potential distraction to purpose, eco-systems, frameworks and anything else designed to elevate an idea rather than be the idea.

No wonder our industry is in such a state.

Not only have we sold the value of creativity down the river, we now have a business model based on selling condiments rather than meals.

This post isn’t about dismissing the different and the new.

There’s value in a lot of them – despite the fact most of them aren’t new, just in possession of a new name.

This is actually about being stubborn with the priorities …

Because an idea isn’t wrapping, it’s the fucking present.

Have a good weekend … we have Monday off here, so see you Tuesday.



If Timing Is Everything, Planning Timing Is Nothing …

Despite being in this industry for 7,000 years, I still seem to get a couple of things wrong on a pretty consistent basis.

+ Creative briefs.

+ Estimating the time needed to do things.

OK, with the creative briefs, it’s less that I get them wrong … it’s just I end up writing so many different versions of them in an attempt to find the one that I think is the , most intriguing, infectious, provocative and sharp, that I end up feeling like I’ve just gone 12 rounds with a 50 foot robot octopus by the time I’ve finally finished them.

But in terms of estimating time … I remain, utterly rubbish.

I’m not saying I think something will take a day and it takes a year [though this one wasn’t that far off], it just means that I under-estimate the time needed for stuff by a day or two.

Is this because I over-estimate my capabilities?

Possibly.

But the real reason is that I tend to either find myself tumbling down rabbit holes that I find interesting or simply thinking there’s a better way to approach things and need to explore it rather than let it go.

While I appreciate this can be fucking annoying to my colleagues, I am a firm believer that rabbit holes have real value and nothing should be so set in stone that if something better comes along, you just dismiss it out-of-hand.

But all that said, it continually surprises me that I fall into this trap over and over again which is why I loved reading this:

66 years late!!!

SIXTY SIX!!!

When I read that, I immediately felt I had the precision of a German engineering company.

The efficiency of the Singaporean government.

And if I really wanted to feel better about myself, I could blame that 66 year delay on the creative team because the brief was written and accepted without hassle.

The thing is, while timing is vital, doing something well is even more important.

And while the evaluation of ‘well’ can be very subjective, I always feel that has to be judged by the person doing their work, the person they work into and the people who need to do something with it – ie: the creatives.

It’s not the client.
It’s not the producers.
It’s not the managing director.

That doesn’t mean you can take the piss or just blindly ignore their needs and wants, it just means the people who are doing the work need to feel the work they’re doing is the work they want to do.

And while they may never be 100% happy … and while they may face all manner of frustration from the people around them … the one thing I learnt from Dan Wieden, is when the work is great, all problems disappear..