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


The Rise Of Keep The Problem Alive …

So I know I said last week was the last of the Rules By Rubin … but then I did also say there may be some more in the future.

Well consider this the future.

Shit isn’t it?

Don’t worry, it’s just for today and tomorrow then we go back to normal.

So just as shit. Sorry.

Anyway this is about the state of the creative industry.

Whereas once, it was filled with companies all wanting to create wonderful things to put into the world – regardless of their individual discipline or expertise – the emergence of consultancies has led to the industry now falling into 2 groups

Those who can’t help finding ways to put creativity out into the world in interesting ways and those who seemingly do all they can to never put anything out whatsoever.

While I sort-of understand the theory why agencies would like the idea of being like a consultancy, what I’ve found especially bizarre is that in doing that, they’re seemingly happy to dismiss making any actual creativity at all.

At first I was really confused how they thought they’d stay in business.

I mean, there are as many competitors as there are in adland.

Their entire model is designed around making actual creative work.

The lack of C-Suite engagement is more individual than entire industry.

Then I thought maybe I was completely wrong.

That they did want to make work.

After all, why else would their excellent strategists continually write 100 page decks filled with charts, ecosystems, frameworks and playbooks to every single client meeting?

Surely that is a sign of a company actually wanting to make something.

But then on closer inspection, I saw a lot of those decks had no creativity mentioned in them whatsoever.

And the conversation around audience was simplistic, generalist and utterly contrived.

In essence, they talked a hell of a lot but actually said very little.

“What the hell was going on?” I would ask myself.

And then on a cold night one Wednesday, I worked it out.

Those planners aren’t writing strategic decks, they’re creating remuneration landfill.

Thank fuck for the others.

The ones who know who they are.

The ones who push rather than pander.

The ones who create opportunities not wait for them.

The ones who run to the edge rather than run on the spot.

The ones who finish interesting things to start making more interesting things.



The Middle Is A Dangerous Place …

So this is the end of the week so this is the final Rules of Rubin.

To be honest, I’ve got at least another 3 weeks worth of posts I could do, but I want to write about some other stuff.

Yes, less valuable, less relevant, less interesting stuff.

Hey, this blog hasn’t got to where it is by writing stuff that is good. That’s why where this blog is, is at the bottom of everything.

But in all seriousness, maybe I’ll write more about the lessons from Rick later – I’ve certainly enjoyed it – but if you are interested, below is the list of quotes I’ve used and if you click here, you can read my write-ups on all of them.






However this last one is one of the most important.

One of the things I’ve never understood are brands consistently playing to the middle.

I get their thinking.

It’s a mass audience.

It’s a relatively safe audience.

It increases the odds of scalable success rather than risk.

But the thing is, playing to the middle is just the illusion of safety.

Apart from the fact lots and lots of brands are all playing there, all you’re actually doing is – at best – staying where you are, but more likely going backwards.

You might not notice it at first.

You may think everything is fine and dandy and slap yourself on the back for being so brilliant and successful.

But what starts off slow eventually turns in the blink of an eye as the brands or people who play and push to the edge take away all the safety you thought you had.

And what’s worse is because you’re high and dry and left far behind, your legacy and capabilities are impacted.

You’re tainted with being part of the past rather than the present, but even worse than that, your operational capabilities have been built around optimising rather than advancing so the best you can achieve is to play catch up.

This is a nightmare situation, based on one simple reality.

When you are playing catch up, your starting point is where everyone else is. But the problem is that by the time you get there, everyone is even further ahead and you’re back where you started.

A bit like Kyle in this episode of South Park

Of course it doesn’t have to be that way.

Some get that the only way to truly catch up is to leap frog current standards to set the next standard, but few companies have the courage to do that, let alone the money.

Oh they’ll suggest they can.

They’ll make all the right noises.

They’ll invest in some new technology, research or corporate ‘tagline’

They’ll even hire the odd new person from a new discipline with new ideas [though in many cases, they’ll then get moved on with the excuse ‘they weren’t the right cultural fit’] … but the reality is they’ll remain in this endless cycle of catch up.

I’ve seen it.

Hell, I’ve worked in some companies that have practiced it.

Because for all the desire to not get left behind, nothing feels as good as feeling in control.

Even if that’s just an illusion.

Because doing this means their position is protected.

It means they don’t have to look at their entire business model.

But more importantly, it means they don’t have to take a long hard look at their contribution for being in this situation.

So while I totally get why choosing to stand still may sound like the wisest option for so many, the problem with it is that it ignores one pretty vital consideration.

Culture never stops moving.

If you don’t want to get left behind, always play to the edge.



Remember What You’re Paying For …

When I read that Rubin quote, it reinforced why I hate when companies devalue creativity.

Focused on working down to a price rather than up to a quality ..

An expense, rather than an investment.

Even though they then expect it to work it’s socks off for them.

And while it would be easy to throw all this blame at the organisations who hide behind their procurement departments, the reality is – as I mentioned in an earlier post – the ad industry are equally complicit in this downturn.

Look, I get it … we’re fighting for our lives.

But selling the value of creativity down the river in favour of process and hourly rates seems to be an act of self sabotage. An act that has ended up handing power to a group of people who ignore context and quality and just evaluate on the comparison of unit prices. Who then demand agencies to accept work based on a price/output ratio not on quality/value.

And what this means is talent – real talent – gets pushed out for being too expensive.

Or too demanding.

Or too stubborn.

Adland has always had an issue with ‘experience’, but this approach is also affecting the new and the different.

The people with different backgrounds, new ways of doing things, looking at the world in unique ways.

And all because the price/output ratio the agency agreed to, won’t allow for any exploring.

Any anything.

Instead, they need to execute exactly what is wanted, efficiently. precisely and repeatedly.

And what is wanted?

Well, whatever the producer has determined can be done in the time/budget allowed … using previous work as the blueprint even though [1] the context is different [2] they don’t know whether that previous work, worked and [3] reducing creative minds to simply executional monkeys is the quickest way to destroy confidence, character and creativity.

Because what everyone seems to be forgetting is what it takes to make great work.

It’s not just about putting a brief in front of someone and – voila – it’s done.

Creativity is born from years of experiences, adventures, wins and losses, stories and songs, failures and fuck-ups.

Where every step of the journey has played a role in crafting that thing that will make so many people feel, think and do so much.

Ignoring that … devaluing that … not catering for that … doesn’t just mean you’re working against your own best interests, it means you’ve have failed to realise what you’re really paying an agency for.

It’s not simply to make an ad, it’s so they can hire the people who have the most interesting ways of looking at the world because of the experiences, ideas and imagination from the life you never had.



Don’t Add To The Pain It Takes To Get To Something Great.

I love this quote by Rick.

I love it because it’s basically shining a light on how creative people think.

Or at least, conceptual creative people.

And yet so many don’t know how to get the best out of them.

Judging them by the standards, criteria and logic they live by when the whole point of working with them is because they aren’t like them.

What’s worse is that it is not just clients who often fall into this type of behaviour … but people in the agency as well.

Planners.

Suits.

C-Suite.

You see, when creative people show their ideas – especially in the early stages of development – they’re not just responding to the brief, they’re literally revealing their vulnerability.

Showing how they think.

Expressing how they feel.

Exploring where their imagination is taking them.

Putting themselves on the line to be judged, evaluated and questioned.

Imagine if you had that?

Oh you probably think you do … but it’s very different.

In more traditional functions, you are being evaluated but you’re being evaluated by a set of relatively determined logical constructs.

But creative people think differently.

They get to ideas in different ways.

It’s literally why they can create what others can’t.

The twisted, ridiculous, addictive logic that solves problems in a way that draws people in rather than pushes them away.

Which is why from the moment these 2 different mindsets meet up, there’s a palpable tension between structure and chaos.

Which means anyone who don’t appreciate the creative journey can fuck everything up without much effort.

Killing ideas rather than encouraging.

Evaluating for perfection not potential.

Dictating rather than understanding.

Being more a foe than a friend.

And while everyone may want to make something great, they have to remember greatness never happens instantly.

It takes time and space to grow, evolve and emerge.

Which requires encouragement, excitement, confidence and respect.

And while I get we live in highly competitive, demanding times … rushing the process doesn’t really help.

Either does writing something off before it’s even had a chance to find out what it is.

In fact, both are literally counterproductive in the most damaging ways.

Which is why if you want to increase the chances of getting to something amazing – whether client or colleague – respect the possibilities, nourish the vulnerabilities and don’t let your ego trample on the people putting their creativity on the line.



The Easiest Way To Get To Great Work …

Great work. It’s a term used by so many but – let’s be honest – there’s not huge amounts of it about.

Of course there’s some … work that literally takes your breath away … but in the main, it’s all a bit beige and blah.

But what’s interesting is who people are blaming for this situation.

Often it’s the ad agencies who cop all the abuse.

Claims of being … out of touch, selfish and arrogant, more focused on what they want than their client needs.

But frankly, all this feels a bit too convenient because the people and organisations shouting the abuse the loudest happen to be the people and organisations who are directly competing for the same budgets.

Hmmmmn, I wonder if that undermines their credibility a little?

Throw in they’re often more focused on optimising than progressing and make work that either says whatever the client wants to say – regardless of how tone deaf that may be in culture – or just talk at people with buzzwords and data points that have no value, resonance or humanity towards the audience they are trying to engage … then you start to realise this is more a shitty strategy, than a future of marketing play.

Don’t get me wrong, I think agencies have to take a significant amount of the blame for the situation they find themselves in …

Too many have sold creativity down the river.
Charge for the process they undertake rather than work.
Seek to beliked by clients rather than respected.
Focus on creating generalised answers not unique problems.
Underpay, undervalue and under-appeal to the best of the best – existing or new.

… but even then, it’s only some of the blame, not all.

And the reason for this is great work is a team sport.

Everyone plays a part.

Not everyone – to use a football analogy – will be the striker, but they’re all necessary to score the goal.

But too often, we’re in situations where it’s not played that way.

Where too many wanting the authority but none of the responsibility.

Taking the credit but rejecting the blame.

Handing out dour instruction but expecting amazing results. Even though they don’t even know what amazing is, because either they’re context is small or they simply think everything they do is great so it doesn’t matter what they say.

Hence they’re the ones who criticise the agency for not delivering.

They’re the one’s questioning their commitment and passion.

They’re the ones running to data and management consultants to subject society to communication that in cultural landfill, not cultural stimulus.

And that’s why Rick’s quote is so good.

Because it acknowledges the inclusive responsibility to making something great.

From literally how you deliver the brief – let alone the actual brief – to how you support, encourage and give feedback to the people you want to do the best work of their life to help you have the best time of your life.

Because the reality is, if you’re not excited about doing something great, why the fuck do you think anyone else will be?