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


If You Don’t Have Trust You Don’t Have Anything …

Recently there has been a number of cases where we’ve sadly seen companies take creative ideas from one agency and have them made, without acknowledging the original creator, by someone else.

We saw it with the Coinbase Superbowl spot and I saw it with an ex-client of mine.

What is especially amusing is that when these people are called out, their first inclination is to try and bluff it out … despite you being able to prove it was your work thanks to specific dates, presentation materials and information about who was in attendance.

In my case, the individual in question literally asked “what’s your problem?”

With a comment like that, they were either being deliberately ignorant or, well you get it …

So we launched legal action against them.

At the time, some said this was sour grapes.

That we were being petty and alienating future business as it would make companies want to keep away from us.

But they were wrong.

Because this was never about the specific piece of work they took from us had gave to someone else – while not paying or acknowledge us for the origination, it was about respecting relationships and valuing what you do.

It’s fine to have differences of opinion.

It’s fine to realise a relationship – regardless how long and fruitful it has been – should end.

But that doesn’t mean you can act like the relationship never happened and you can do whatever you want with the things you did together.

Creativity is hard enough without all the commercial obstacles it needs us to jump over.

Brand assets.
Processes.
Eco-systems.
Appropriation.
Corporate politics.
Pre-testing.
Post-testing.
Measurement criteria.
Short timelines.

The last thing the industry needs is to have to start worrying about the integrity of the people you’re working with/for … which is why we took legal action, because our view was if we didn’t, we would be complicit to it when it happens again in the future.

Maybe not to us. But to someone.

And for the record, while they didn’t let it go to court, we were recompensed fully and it never did us any harm in winning other business. Quite the opposite in fact.

Now doing this doesn’t mean you have to it with public fanfare and maximum embarrassment, we didn’t – though I should point out I think what Kristen did with CoinBase was both brilliant and utterly justified – but it also doesn’t mean you should just forget about it and put it down to ‘experience’.

Whatever way you look at it, this is NOT how business works and nor should it.

Look, we all make mistakes.

Some can be bloody massive ones.

Hell, I’ve made bloody millions.

But how you deal with those reveals who you really are and sadly, the industry is seeing quite a few people who don’t seem to believe this sort of behaviour is in any way wrong.

Sure this attitude might work for them in the short term.

Sure they can try and deflect and deny blame for as long as they like.

But while I was going to end this post about the more transparent the relationship, the better the work … I decided it would be better to end with two [paraphrased] pieces of advice I got from Dave Luhr, the now retired Chief Operating officer of Wieden+Kennedy.

For those people who know who I’m talking about, you will hopefully hear his voice as you read it … though in conversations with me, he would always start with “Campbell …”

“Anyone who thinks they were successful by themselves is an asshole”.

“No one does their best work for assholes”.



Is This The Ultimate Metaphor For Modern Creativity?

I recently saw this very disturbing video.

When I say ‘disturbing’, it’s not bad … in fact the person in it has CHOSEN to be in this situation … however watching it absolutely freaks me out.

I find it hard to watch.
I find it hard to breath.
I find it hard to comprehend.

In fact, every time I watch it, I start jiggling my arms and neck because I need to feel I am free to move rather than be trapped in the most contrived of spaces.

Have a look at this …

However after forcing myself to watch it a few times, I realised it could be seen as more than just a deranged man wanting to increase the odds of death. It was a perfect metaphor for so much of working in the modern creative industry.

Yes, we could talk about the quest for craft and rigour. The painstaking approach we take to find an idea that will unlock a whole world of change and opportunity. The commitment to doing the right thing rather than the easiest.

I could talk about that, but …

1. I don’t know if that is true for a lot of what goes on these days.

2. It feels far more a reflection of dealing with corporate politics, committees, toxic positivity, arrogance and ego or – worse of all – workshops, specifically those designed to let people ‘feel part of the process’ despite the fact they created the problem you’ve been asked to solve.

I know all this sounds massively arrogant of me.

It’s certainly not the case all the time.

But the fact that when it isn’t, it’s like a revelation means it’s far more present than many like to admit. And that’s horrific. Not just in terms of the wasted energy and time … but in lost opportunities. Which is why the best relationships are built on people who want the same thing.

That doesn’t mean they will always agree on how to achieve it … but it does mean you trust and respect each others opinion, talent and expertise rather than thinking the other party is out to screw you over. Though the way the procurement process is often handled, it’s not hard to see why that happens.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Not if you really want something to be great.

Not if you truly value the work the other party brings to the table.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about costs – of course not – but as I wrote a while back about how Metallica’s management dealt with me when we started working together, their view was when you pay someone well, you’re not just showing respect for what they do, you’re ensuring they want to give you their best in all they do.

Which makes an even more cost effective arrangement.

A more trust-worthy relationship.

A more productive partnership.

Who knew?

Oh yes, the people who understand the value of living up to quality, not purely down to a price.



Cowards Are Oppressors …

Many years ago, I did a campaign for Australian ‘youth’ radio station, Triple J.

Triple J was a government funded radio station, but what set it apart was that it had a mandate to play new artists, preferably Australian, who were definitely not part of the mainstream crowd.

Think John Peel, but Australian.

What I loved about them was how much they divided opinion.

To some they were hope. To others they were noise.

But as we delved deeper, it became apparent the people who thought it was noise were basically proud the followers of the mainstream. The focus-group designed. The beige and the blunted. The average.

Now I appreciate that sounds massively judgemental … but what I found interesting was how companies had basically messed with the meaning of average in a bid to make more cash from customers.

In the old days, average was an achievement.

The meeting point between quality and cost.

Democratisation.

Progression.

Access.

But now average wasn’t that at all.

It was mainstream mediocrity.

Designed for easy, passive appeal. Mindlessness. A strategy of making beige act like gold.

Which led to the point of view of the work: The enemy of average.

Directly targeting anything that had been designed to dumb down rather than lift up.

We got into all sorts of mischief …

From placing warning stickers on all ‘easy listening’ artists in HMV [that saw us being threatened with legal action] … to running ads during mainstream TV to tell viewers they’re being murdered by averageness … to images of mainstream mediocre products being placed in public toilets so you could literally piss on them. [Beige Volvo anyone?]

And while this may all sound madness – and this was the 90’s so tastes were very different – we knew the only way to attract more listeners was to ensure we did it in a way that made our existing fans see we were fighting for what we believe, rather than pandering to popularity.

The old reverse psychology trick.

And it worked because ultimately this was just an extension of who they truly were.

Stubborn, opinionated, mischievous, audacious and uncompromising.

A teen who was very comfortable in playing with the uncomfortable.

And what this did was help build the cult of the brand … helping Triple J enter a new phase of growth while never looking like they were chasing fame.

Of course, they’re not the only ones who have pulled this off.

Playstation did it … NIKE have done it … Supreme do it … but the key to pulling this off successfully is knowing who you are and knowing who you’re for and frankly, not many can brands – or agencies – say that, especially these days.

What makes this even more amazing is how many agencies and companies bang on about their authenticity and purpose … but the problem is they can’t see what they’ve become: a mediocrity pleaser machine.

Of course the signs are there if you just scratch the surface.

Generic, mass audiences.
An aversion for sacrifice.
A desire to remove any sharp edges or opinion.

And while many think making a brand as easy to buy is the greatest way to achieve success, the thing they need to remember is the future goes nowhere in the hands of cowards.



Belief Is Shown In The Weirdest Of Ways …

One of the great pleasures of my career has been working with NIKE.

What made it even more memorable is that I got to work with them in China … where the challenge and opportunity to develop sport culture was arguably their number one priority.

What it meant was their best people were there and their most senior global management were constantly there so I got to meet them, work with them, present to them and argue with them on a regular basis.

They were good.

As in proper good.

I still remember the first time I met the most senior of senior management and when back to Wieden and said, “Oh, I totally get why they are who they are”.

And I did.

They were incredible.

Sharp. Focused. Ambitious. Progressive and obsessed with culture, sport and creativity.

Then there was the time I met Rosemary.

She had just come to China from the US and I remember being in a meeting where I saw all the global guys go up to her, when normally you saw people go up to them.

I mentioned this to her when we were having a coffee later that week and she eventually admitted the reason they all knew her was because she had been Phil Kinght’s kids babysitter when he was starting the company and she had actually painted the swoosh on the first shoes they produced.

Amazing.

As was her knowledge of the brand.

The nuance, not the headlines.

Underpinning all of these people was a backbone of belief. A pride of who they are matched with a responsibility for where they were going. They were challenging, demanding and questioning … but you always knew it was to get to great rather than to tear you down.

Frankly I’d not seen anything like that, at that level, before – and being old – I had been exposed to some amazing people within organisations.

I will be eternally grateful to Simon and Steve who both invited me in to meetings and discussions I should never have been in … as well as them not killing me when I turned up in my Birkies.

Now it is fair to say, the brand – for all the success it continues to have – has faced some headwinds. Some are shifts in culture, some are shifts in internal culture.

And while there are many opinions and viewpoints flying about, there are many who say the company they are today is not the same company they once were.

Some of that is good, some … well, probably less so.

Too many amazing people have departed.
Too much focus on sales rather than sport.
Too great an emphasis on optimisation rather than progression.

But the great thing about Nike is they always come back.

Sure, some of the things – and people – that allow that to happen are no longer there, but it will be back because this is not the first time they’ve gone through something like this.

Whatever ‘this’ is.

And recently I saw a clue it was starting, bizarrely from someone at McKinsey of all places.

This:

Cool, isn’t it?

But not because of Adam’s interpretation of why it exists, but because it exists.

Someone did this.

Someone chose to do this.

And while there are a whole host of possible reasons why it happened, to me it’s a sign of a brand that still has people in there – beyond the few left I know/work with – who do what they believe is right rather than what their process now dictates they do.

At its best, Nike was always an infectious culture machine.

Making it. Championing it. Enabling it. Fighting for it.

I’ve not seen that as much as I once did.

Maybe, a txt.file is a sign I will.

I hope so.



A Boy Named Ben …

So I’ve decided to do a little thing every month where I write about a planner I love.

Full disclosure, the vast majority will be people I’ve worked with because I can then say honestly I know all their bad bits as well, hahaha.

Today I’m going to write about Ben Perreira.

I first met Ben when I moved to LA and worked with him at Deutsch.

Or at least I thought I did.

About 6 months in, he told me that he had written to me when on April 11th, 2014 … I put a post up on my blog asking if anyone was interested in working with me on NIKE at Wieden.

Embarrassingly I couldn’t remember him writing to me – though it was well over 3 years later by that point – but fortunately, I had apparently written him a very nice return email saying that while I liked what he was up to, I didn’t think he was quite what we needed at that moment.

As an aside, that is the job that led me to the brilliant Paula Bloodworth and so I don’t think anyone would feel hard done by losing out to her – given she’s one of the top 5 strategists on the planet. Probably higher than that.

But that doesn’t mean Ben isn’t amazing.

He is.

I liked him pretty much as soon as I met him.

And that’s quite amazing given he was a surly, petulant prick for our first few get-togethers.

Arms folded.

One word answers.

A lot of, “why would you ask that?”

But Ben’s problem was I’d seen that behaviour before.

When I joined Wieden, one of the people who would eventually be in my team, Rodi, was a carbon copy.

Same reaction.

Same responses.

And that was in the interviews.

But I soon discovered it wasn’t because they were assholes – well, not real ones – it was because they wanted to see if my standards were going to be high enough. If I was going to fight my corner or try to just be liked. To check if I was worthy of the gig and they may learn something from me or I was just a token figurehead who just wanted an easy life.

So when I saw Ben doing the same thing, I found it amusing rather than disturbing.

Which meant I just kept asking him more and more personal questions. Digging into his character before he could dig into mine.

Oh how awkward he found it. It was wonderful. Hahahaha.

Now you would have to ask him if I ‘passed’ his test, but he certainly passed mine.

Because what I soon learned – and loved – about Ben was he just wanted to do great things.

He didn’t want to take the easy path.
He didn’t want to just be liked for saying yes.
He didn’t want to simply churn out the same thing over and over again.

And I loved that.

I loved the questions and the debates we’d have.

I loved the way he dug into the business details to pull out the possibilities.

I loved the way he was a fundamentally good human, despite his dating escapades.

I miss Ben.

Not just because he’s disgustingly handsome, but because he’s a good human who happens to be smart.

He has high standards and wants people who have the same.

And if he feels he has that, he’ll go into any battle because he wants to make a difference.

Not just to the work, but the people doing it.

Lots of people will say that, but for him, it’s in his DNA.

In some ways, I imagine Ben was a natural leader from the day he was born.

He gives a shit about others.

He wants to see them succeed.

He won’t manage up simply for optics … and in the insanely hierarchal corporate structure of America, that’s not just rare, but beautiful.

Christ, the things I saw …

And yet Ben didn’t fall for that.

One or two others tried to do that shit, but never Ben.

In fact, I remember one day being told by someone my team were out of control.

Too full of opinions with too much desire to debate.

And when I said, “I know … isn’t it great!”, it was made pretty clear to me they didn’t share that perspective.

Hahahahahahahahaha!!!

Normally I wouldn’t feel proud about that.

I shouldn’t, because a planners job is to be a well-intentioned, pain in the ass.

Someone who pushes clients to be great not to be average.

But I found in America that wasn’t always the attitude.

I met far too many people there who told me “saying yes” – regardless of the ask – was far more valued by their managers than saying, “I think we can be better than this”.

I don’t know if Ben likes me.

I hope he does.

And if he does, I know the exact moment it happened.

He’d been in a huge meeting that had gone well.

The ECD sent an all agency email updating everyone on what had gone on and thanked Ben for [I think] ‘preparing the room for the meeting’.

I kid you not.

What was even more pathetic was I knew how much Ben had put into this.

How much blood, sweat and tears he’d poured into the project to give us a chance to make something great.

So I decided to respond with an all agency email reply.

Basically pointing out that as the planning department were apparently ‘so good at setting up rooms for meetings’ … if anyone had anything else they need us to do – from fixing a TV to washing clothes – just drop us an email and we’ll be there in the blink of an eye.

It didn’t go down well with anyone, except Ben.

And that’s all I cared about.

Because he’s smarter than he realises and kinder than he likes to admit.

I’m glad I didn’t miss out working with him when the Wieden gig didn’t work out.

I’m even more happy that he’s still in my life.