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


Never Phone It In …

Yes, it’s a photo of Freddie.

But this is not just a tribute to him … well, not really.

The reason I love that photo is the intensity of performance.

The bulging vein. The closed eyes. The focused frown.

This photo was taken from their concert in Montreal, on their 1980/81 ‘The Game’ World Tour.

In fact, it was taken 10 years to the day before Freddie died.

But what I love about the photo is that despite Queen having been touring for years – and that concert coming at the end of an 18 month tour – he’s still bringing everything to the moment.

No short-cuts.

No lacklustre performance.

Just a show designed to leave an audience blown away.

I say this because one of the easiest mistakes agencies make is getting bored of their work before an audience is bored of it. A tiredness of going through the slow process of client acceptance. A hunger to move on to the next thing. Excitement of other opportunities that allow a fresh start.

And I get it. I get it A LOT.

But while playing a concert to 50,000 adoring fans and selling a campaign to a bunch of people in suits is pretty different … passion goes a long way in winning both parties over.

So while things should not take as long as they often do to get over the line … making sure you bring your commitment, focus and passion to meetings can go a long way at winning the audience over to your way of thinking.

And if that doesn’t change things – or worse, you see no desire from your audience to be part of something great – then maybe that’s when you need to adopt another Rockstar trait … which is get on the tour bus, speed out of town, never look back and go find an audience who value you – and will reward you – for being at your best.



And They Say Planners Aren’t Smart …

Some people say planners are a waste of space.

That they don’t know what they’re doing.

That they have egos is writing cheques, their talent can’t cash.

To be fair, there’s a lot of truth in all of that.

But recently I came across a bit of planner genius that deserves applause.

Have a look at this …

The handsome bastard in the photo is Henry.

Henry is one of the brilliant planners in my gang.

And while his brain can take you to places normal minds can’t see, let alone reach, I can’t help but think that as subliminal cues go … showing a client your thinking while standing under a light bulb – to reinforce “this is a brilliant idea, you must approve it immediately” – is next level impressive.

Well done Henry, you have single handedly make planners ask their agencies for lightbulbs to be hung down in meeting rooms all over the world.



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.



Give Me Something To Believe In …

One of the things I’ve found fascinating over the years is how many companies think all they need to do to keep employees happy is cash and perks.

Don’t get me wrong, cash and perks are very nice – and for some people, that’s all they need – however for a certain type of employee, there is another attribute that has equal, if not even greater, appeal.

Pride.

Pride in what they do.
Pride in how they do it.
Pride in who they do it for.
Pride in who they work with.
Pride in the actions of the past.
Pride in the ambitions for the future.
Pride in the standards the company lives by.
Pride in the companies standing in their field.

Now I get the C-Suite may like to think their employees are proud working for them – probably reinforced by countless questionable ‘monkey surveys’ sent by HR – however more often than not, they are confusing ‘having a job’ with ‘being proud of the job they have’.

Nothing highlights this more than when a company feels morale is down, because that’s the moment the spot-bonuses and/or impromptu office parties begin.

Does it work?

Sure. For a period of time.

However employees are no fools, they know the real reason for these ‘additional benefits’ is to keep them quiet rather than force the C-Suite to open up a set of issues they absolutely don’t want to have to deal with.

Why?

Because in the main, the issues are about them.

Specially the work they aspire for the company to make.

Look I get it … no one likes to face their potential failings, so if they can avoid it with spending a bit of cash, why wouldn’t they?

Well I’ll tell you why, because money can’t buy pride.

I say this because I recently saw a video of Steve Jobs talking about standards.

He’s made similar speeches over the years – with his ‘paint behind the fence’ being one of my favourites.

However I love this one because there’s a bit of bite in it.

A clear perspective on what standards he holds Apple too, rather than what the competition hold themselves too.

Sure, to some it could come across as arrogant, but I imagine to the people at Apple at that time, it induced the same feelings I have when I work for a company whose standards and ambitions were at least the same as mine or – hopefully – even higher.

Pride.
Confident.
Togetherness.
A sense of ‘us against them’.
That feeling you’re part of a place playing a totally different game to the competition. A special place. A place that does things right, even if people don’t quite get it yet. A place that attracts the best to do their best … but not in a way where you then feel ‘you’ve made it’ for being there. Instead, it’s a feeling of responsibility to keep the standards of name moving forwards. An intoxicating mix of expectation, judgement and encouragement all at the same time.

You can’t fake that.

You can’t buy it either.

So when the C-suite hand out promotions, payrises and parties in a bid to boost morale because the claims of doing great work are not convincing anyone … my advice is to save their cash.

Not just because the employees know exactly what they’re doing.

Nor because whatever they end up receiving, it still won’t buy their pride.

But because they could save a ton of cash by simply committing to doing things to the highest standards rather than the lowest … because at the end of the day, these people don’t need certainty, they just want possible and if they have that, morale will fix itself all by itself.




A Picture Paints A Thousand Words …

For reasons I am unsure of, I have been asked to do a lot of presentations over the last few weeks.

From the board of directors of the World’s most notorious video game company to Silicon Valley VC’s to the social platform Trump is petrified of and a whole host in-between … I’ve been asked for my POV on all manner of things.

The role of technology in sexual education.

How technology can evolve how we tell stories.

Why the best way to be wanted is to be banned.

How experience design is increasingly built on efficiency not emotion.

How to create the environment where the best creative is allowed to be born.

It’s been so much fun …

Not just because it made me think about things or that I got to meet a bunch of amazing people, but because I could do the presentation entirely as I felt I wanted to.

It’s not that I have felt I couldn’t do what I believe was right, but over the last few years, there’s been a few people who have tried to convey a ‘this is how you should say things’ attitude.

Now don’t get me wrong, it takes an army to make an argument and you should always be open to other people’s thoughts and suggestions … but if you’re made responsible for giving the presentation, then you should get the final call on how you express it.

Having people more obsessed with how you’re saying things rather than what is being said is pretty depressing, but not as depressing when you realise colleagues can be more of an obstacle to great work than your clients.

When that starts happening, you start questioning things.

Often yourself.

Are you good enough?

Are you worthy enough?

And then, before you know it, you’re chipped into complicity by the constant stream of criticism … leaving you with no confidence, no self-belief and not much hope for where you’re heading.

I wrote about this a short while ago which is why I want to just reiterate, when you do the presentation you want, the feeling is infectious.

Not just to you, but to who the audience is.

Here’s some examples of the pages I’ve presented in the last few weeks …

And here’s the thing, they all went down very well.

Sure, some of them made the audience gulp.

But they also loved it because they knew I was saying was to try and help them win better rather than just kick them in the head.

And that’s the key.

Show you really give a shit about them.

However, while some seem to think you do this by pandering to the audience, I believe it is by giving them utter transparency and honesty.

Let’s face it, if you’re willing to do that to a client at a formal presentation – albeit doing it in a way where they understand why you’re doing it – then most of the time they’re going to respect you, even if they don’t agree with you.

I’ve had so many clients come to me/us who initially didn’t.

Because as my old, brilliant head of NIKE marketing said to me once,

“Middle management want to be told they’re right. But senior management want to know how to be better”.