More of the 5 songs in 5 days thingy
I am ashamed to admit the first record I ever bought was Queen single.
To be fair, it's still a classic and was more about liking the film than Queen.
Princess Aura, I certainly would. In the real world, Flash would have dropped Dale Arden without a second thought.
More 5 songs in 5 days. Today it's The Beatles, Here There and Everywhere. The first track we played at our wedding. Matters more more now, ten and a half years later 'Here making each day of the year'. That's her. I bloody love Revolver too. Balls to Sgt Pepper or the White Album.
I might ride the bike more these days, but swimming was my first love and will always have the most enduring place in my heart. If I had the time as a working parent, I would still in the pool everyday.
I used to compete as a youngster. The kind of competition that required six hours training a day. You don't come out of stuff like that unscathed.
Below is the Leeds swim team on tour in Chicago in 1988. Bet you can't spot where I am in the line up.
1. Accept the simple truth, you are alone in this
You will tailgate others in training to pull you along. You can banter with your team mates. You can lean on the coach for advice and a kick up the arse. You can turn to family and friends for support. But eventually, there will always come a time when you are utterly alone. It will happen in the training pool when your body cries for mercy and you have to go on. You have to try and lock away the negative thoughts in your brain and pretend the agony in your muscles is not there.
This is doubly so in a race of any notable distance.
But the real loneliness is when you're on the starting blocks.
It's just you, your nerves, your courage and the clock. Waiting for the starting gun. The other other people on the blocks hardly matter. You'll hardly see them in the race. You won't hear the crowds cheering. It's just you.
It's ultimately the same as a planner. You work in a team, a team where most, at best, tolerate you getting in the way.
Nevertheless, while you rely on the creatives to execute something in a way that can't be missed, you have suits and production folks to make sure stuff gets made, if your in media there's a whole host of specialists and buyers to flesh out the plan and get a decent rate (and media owners to add loads of value) there are suits to get things through Clearcast and make sure there is a vet for a mouse on the shoot (legal requirement in the UK) - you can't get away from having having to do a clear strategy you can express in a sentence.
You. No one else. A sentence others will question, pull apart and try and ignore. It's lonely.
There will be moments, with a first stage internal meeting, a pitch date getting closer and closer when you feel you have nothing.
All you can do is grit your teeth, keep working, keep looking at as much stimulus as you can and keep writing things down.
Flashes on strategic insight rarely come on their own in the shower. Nice when it happens but you can't plan for it. They come from hard work. The pressure to get there can be immense and no one is going to do it for you.
Assess and listen to your body, always be patient
In training, you have to listen to your muscles as they flush out any stiffness or residual lactic acid. Don't go too hard at first. At the end, your body will acquiesce to your determination and begin to respond to more challenging demands. They will collaborate more willingly on some occasions than they will on others, but eventually they will play ball.
It's the same with your mind. Many don't appreciate the challenge of having to think for a living. Most days, there are big chunks that require concentration. Some days, you're tired.
The brain is a muscle too.
But deadlines and general workload, like essential training days in sport, will not go away.
You have to get on with it - and get into that prized 'flow state' when everything gets fluid and easy.
Which, like with sport, means starting gently, stirring the soup a little, but generally keep going. Eventually the brain will play ball like the other muscles do.
Find a rhythm
When you're training and doing long distances, you need to find the right cadence that suits your lung capacity and strength. Start too hard, and you crack and the rest of the distance you have to swim is murder.
You've lost a race or wasted a training session.
Leave too much until to late and you won't make up the time distance with the leaders, or you won't have put your body through enough in a training session to build your body up.
In planning, it's hard work. The days can be long, the work intense.
Find out how you work best and stick to it.
Some folks are on it in the morning and come in early. Some work late and do naff all in the morning.
If you're like me, and find it's amazing what you can achieve between 9 and 5.30 if you don't prevaricate, as long as the tea is good, you'll go full pelt from the get-go.
Of course, with practice you can change your ways, but, like making your weak legs get stronger, it won't happen overnight.
I also know that, as a shy person in meetings, it takes a while to get going. I start off quiet and build confidence as the small talk stops and the work talk begins.
Even then, I let others talk and weigh in when others have exhausted their vocal cords. I make sure what I say is short and to the point, i may not get another chance. Then, as I relax, my cadence builds and I get more chatty. Eventually, I need to make myself shut up.
But that's just me.
But change it up when you can
In our training schedule, there was always planned shocks to the system.We used to do hell weeks, where over seven days you would be close to tears, throwing up or both. The only objective was survival.
Because of the law of diminishing returns. The more the body gets used to a routine, the less it benefits. You need to introduce surprises and variation to keep in on its toes.
That's why every training session has a variety of strokes, distances, rest periods etc. And why we never did the same session in a fortnight.
It's also why interval training is so good. Not only does it raise the metabolism for hours after the session, it makes you train way beyond your threshold for limited periods - and as you do more and more, you find you can go for longer and longer.
If you only train at a 'training pace' you only get good at swimming at a training pace.
Variation is essential as a planner.
Media, creative, whatever -if you go through each project in the same proprietary process, you'll always do similar work. Innovation comes from doing something different.
By all means, create a benign conspiracy where you sell your thinking conforming to a the stages of a process, post rationalise it I mean, but if you want new stuff, do new stuff.
But don't forget the basics. That's where processes and agree standards are good, just as with swimming, where there is a basic correlation with the amount of training kilometres you've done and how race fit you are.
That goes for reading. If you just read marketing, planning and reading books, you'll just do the same as everyone else who reads the same stuff.
Soak up as much interesting stuff from as many sources as you can.
And for God's sake. Don't just be a planner 24 seven. Don't live at the office. The more real life you live, the more you can draw on.
There's a trick of psychology too, where couples that do new things together tend to be happier. So do new things as a team, try new stuff. It just makes it more fun.
Just as there is nothing more monotonous as swimming up and down a pool if you can't find a way to make it more interesting. Like I said, you're on your own in the pool, it's boring unless you jazz it up.
I'm sure you have lots of stuff to draw on from your own interests, this is just some stuff which is of relevant to and how I have gone about stuff in a variety of species of agency.
Rob Campbell has helpfully got me to do this 5 songs in 5 days thing. Rob has decided his 5 will be songs to be played at his funeral. Despite the fact I'm getting spammed on my email by 'plan by funeral' at the moment I won't be entirely following suit.
However, the first one is a funeral song, partly because of the neatness of the title- it's 'Goodbye Andy' by Lou reed and John Cale.
Now, The Velvet Underground are not too everyone's taste, but along with some of Lou Reed and John Cale's respective solo efforts, some of their stuff, especially songs not on the album everyone knows (with the banana on the front) are among the stuff I've always come back to for most of my life.
Songs for Drella the album this song was from, was a joint effort Reed and Cale did, burying the hatchet after years of the usual music partnership falling out. It was a tribute to the Andy Warhol after his shooting. The whole album is moving, utterly original and communicated the regret of too, now mature men, who wished they hadn't wasted some of their best years on spite and pride.
This song perhaps captures that the best
I used to work in creative type agencies, now I work in media type places.
The things I tend to miss about creative places:
1. Unlimited big pads and sharpie pens for scrawling notes and thoughts etc.
2. Creatives that liked solving problems
3. Experienced planning directors who wanted you to get to some great thinking
4. Working a planning department
5. Suits who loved working in partnership
6. Creative reviews that took your breath away with inspiration
7. Working in an agency run by people with the kind of experience you'd kill for and were incredibly generous at sharing that experience
8. Jonathan Fletcher
9. People who cared and understood about the craft of making ads and content
10. Seeing the ad you worked on appear on telly (come on, we all did)
11. The endearing passion to debate how advertising works and break new ground
The things I don't miss:
2. Planning directors who wanted you to write up their great thinking
3. Creatives who wanted to talk about if the work was a gold
4. Arguing about brand theory and how advertising works to justify okay work
5. Working out what the hell Media Arts was
6. Spending a week getting a proposition signed off by various stakeholders so the creatives could ignore it
7. Discussing the creative brief format
8. The minority of the people
9. Creative reviews where you're scratching your head trying to find something positive to say.
11. Working in an agency run by people who had only ever done CRM for tiny, tiny clients who knew no better
12. Reporting to a Head of Client services who's response on most things was 'When I worked at Little Chef'
13. Obsessing about the size of the logo
It was the first of our children's swimming lessons after the Easter break.
I love these Sunday mornings. Will and Evie have their separate lessons - make me nervous about their growing aptitude and the 6am morning training sessions that might entail when they're older - and we all have a play. Good family time.
Anyway, this was the first time I got in the pool after I broke my wrist.
First time proper swimming for about eight weeks.
I only did a couple of laps, I wanted to watch Evie with her new teacher.
But, boom. It felt great.
You lose your feel for the water really quickly, but for whatever reason it was all there.
It reminded me that I ride every day, but I'm not any good.
Swimming is what I was made to do and I do miss it.
Just like I do sometimes miss getting deep into creative development, which I don't really do any more.
(If I was ever any good is a completely different question).
I had a sports massage towards the end of last year (that's not a euphemism).
Because I do a LOT of cycling these days, I haven't the time for swimming I would like.
It's all or nothing with me, I have to do it right, so it's daily torment.
There isn't a day when my legs don't hurt to a certain degree.
So sometimes they need help.
It was agony on my legs this time. Sports massages do hurt a bit, but this was like some mythical 8th circle of hell.
My tormentor was clear on the reasons.
The first was that I didn't massage my legs enough.
The second was that I was over-training.
I had forgotten the basic principles I was taught when I used to swim.
It's a daily grind close to the edge of your limits and beyond.
But for that training to really work, you need to give your body time to heal.
Because training is really controlled damage to your body.
If you want it to benefit, to get stronger, it needs time to heal itself, for the work to bed in and your body develop.
Rest days and even rest weeks.
It's the same with the job.
You need to work hard.
You need to do lots of reading, lots of thinking.
You also need to have lots of patience.
You can't be the one to lose your temper. You need to convince everyone about everything.
Planners are the only ones in any agency who can't say, "I think we should do this, end of discussion".
All this makes you hard, it makes you tough.
But it's exhausting.
But if you don't take time off to recharge, you'll just end up tired and stupid.
Even in the thick of things, going home on time should be a must when you can.
If you can take a day to kick back a bit in the office and potter, do it.
But it's more than that.
There is no point banging your head against a brick wall when you're on a project.
There is no point spending all your waking hours thinking about planning and brands and stuff.
There isn't any point reading all the stuff planners need to read in you spare time - culture etc.
For all that reading and work to have it's real benefit, you need to shut your mind off, to do something else.
That's when new neuron pathways get bedded in and new connections form.
Your subconscious is thinking when you're not.
That's when ideas pop out.
That's when the memory is encoded for later use.
So take lots of breaks.
I don't believe in those flashed of Damascene insight that much either.
They happen of course, but not all the time.
The only way to be consistent is to work hard.
Start with something a bit rubbish, edit, talk it around, read some more and gradually end up with good and hopefully great.
But done is better than perfect.
That level of work isn't sustainable forever.
Take a lunch break, go look at an art gallery, go to the gym or just take a walk.
Take time to make tea or coffee.
Go to another department to chat.
But also, in general, do absorbing stuff outside of work.
Have a hobby you give yourself utterly to, so when you're mind is focused on it, you're cleverer subconsciousness is sorting all all the memories and problem solving for you.
Cycling and swimming work for me.
But so does having kids and spending proper time with them.
I'm not saying don't work hard.
I'm saying work really, really hard, at your threshold as much as you can.
But no your limits.
Then take a break for that work to properly pay off.
Just like my legs, your brain is muscle.
It needs time to recover to get more intelligent.
Otherwise, you'll end up a very busy, very tired fool.
Picasso once said that art is a lie that tells the truth.
He has a lot to tell agency folks.
Because great advertising doesn't just sell the product, it becomes the product.
It makes Coke taste better, as makes the fit of your jeans feel better.
It makes a car that isn't really that different to the legion of others more reliable, sexy, faster..or even make you feel like the rebel/success or whatever you probably are not.
I liked much of what Paul Feldwick said about the value of 'Showmanship', but I don't really think this is as different to the dark arts of psychology and subtlety as he claims.
I totally buy the Byron Sharpe 'fame' and 'distinctiveness' argument. You need to reach as many people as possible and make the advertising gets noticed...because when it comes to buying stuff, folks buy the ones they remember.
But the quant research that dismisses 'differentiation' and noticeable brand preference forgets a truth most of us conveniently forget.
Research is rubbish at getting people to describe how they feel about stuff. Verbal communication in general is rubbish at describing the intangible.
I really would struggle to tell you why I love my wife, I just do. I could tell you some core facts if pushed of course, but there is a warm fuzzy 'Julietteness' I can't really put into words.
Just as I can't really tell you why I tend to prefer Nike. Apart from the fact it just feels better. I can't tell you why it's different, there is just a feeling of 'Nikeness' built up from years of advertising.
To be honest, I didn't understand 'Just Do It' when it first launched, but I remember how the ads made me feel. I suspect most folks didn't get it, or cared. They probably remembered it because it was different.
I don't feel intangible stuff based just on emotional content or tone of voice.
The 'Nikeness' is also built out of the intangible value of the showmanship advertising, the great, powerful advertising that magically inserts itself into the product.
Yes, great ads and stuff are essential to get noticed, as Byron Sharp says, but they do much more than that.
It's no accident that 'Fame' campaigns, the one that folks talk about are the most effective, according to the IPA Databank. We just naturally feel that the products are better if the ads are good and create natural PR. It's not just about being seen to lead in my view, it's as simple as really liking the ads means really liking the product.
These ads are as generic as could be in terms of messaging.
"We'll find you the right glasses, so you'll see properly".
There might be a subtle emotional wrapping about 'the need not to look daft' (which I can imagine some brand consultant saying is the main fear of folks buying glasses).
But to be honest, the ads are very funny, very consistent and entertaining.
I'm not sure they would work without the single minded message - relevance still matters in my view (even if there isn't any real 'differentiation') but what really works is the fact you like the advertising and therefore like Specsavers.
No 'consumer' could really tell you why Specsavers is different. They won't tell you 'I just like the ads' in any quant research either.
So when the brand comes to the front mind in buying situations, which Sharp tells us is the main role of advertising, it's not just that it's remembered, there is an emotional smudge we can't describe, that makes it feel good...not must from a tone of voice, but from great ads.
The 'lie' has become the reality.
That's why you can buy success by outspending your market share, but aware winning advertising increases the effectiveness 11 times (Source IPA).
The ad has become as much part of the product experience as the sugar content, the engineering story or whatever.
How you build a 'showmanship' ad campaign is up to you.
A great source can be a cultural flashpoint...
The battle of the sexes and young men's search for identity in a contradictory world for example.
It can be taking a simple category generic, for example, the main buying need and ramping it up to hell.
It can be, and perhaps should be more often, a brand or product truth delivered in a devastating way.
It can even address a negative about the brand in a way people will just love.
Or make a spurious, but confident claim about quality. This campaign has been resurrected.
And let's face it, most of the above fit into one category, in fact, if they do, you know you're onto a winner.
So yes, there is a treasure box of source material to create ads like these.
The magic ingredient thought, is, well, magic.
I love these new Curry's ads. There's that universal in here that everyone has dreams of another life, of what might have been, no matter how happy they might with the one they're living.
And even more fundamental, people are perfectly capable of having two opposing principles, or points of view at the same.
Just as I move heaven and earth to get home in time to see the kids during the week.
Then plot and negotiate to leave them for two hours on a weekend to indulge in mid-life crisis bike riding.
But let's forget all the planner speak, they're just funny.
Where as this, which again shows the pain and joy of parenthood, is so charming.....
I've worked on one or two supermarkets. Hard work, but then again. that level of intensity means you work fast.
It struck me then, as it does now, how contradictory people are about these kinds of places.
On one hand, we think they're the devil, ruining independent high street folks, making us fat and unhealthy while shafting their suppliers.
On the other, people still tend to agree that 'their supermarket offers value for money' and, let's face it, most people have spent and still spend most of their grocery money in these places, even if they shop around more.
Just like, if you read the papers, everyone thinks Amazon is evil (they don't) but everyone shops there (they mostly do).
What does this mean?
Firstly, don't assume what you read in the papers is what people really think. It usually isn't.
Secondly, don't assume people will put their money where their mouth is. We all go down the path of least resistance, it's just we try and feel a bit better about it.
Thirdly, it's pointless listening to what people claim to think or do, we are all liars in research. In fact, we all do contradictory things too. Most people that shop in farmers markets also go to a supermarket every week.
Finally, no one has a God given right to survive.
Back in the days of the independent high street, most of the shops were overpriced, gave bad service and didn't sell good stuff (and they also shut on Wednesday afternoons).
But it's true too, that many good businesses went under when the big boys came along. When markets move on, when culture does, those that haven't stayed ahead get crushed.
There are still some ace local retailers though, because, well they are ace and give people a reason to bother.
My local butcher has more business than he can handle because his stuff is better quality, keenly priced and his knowledge of his product is second to none.
In other words, if you want to survive as a business, don't ask people what they want or what they'll do.
If people will have a choice, they'll go with the easy option, not always the best - unless you're exceptional.
And finally, don't stand still. If you're not ahead of the market, eventually it will crush you.
Those creative agencies still churning out 30 second ads as 'the idea'? Yes, there are still some. It's not business as usual, it really isn't.
Those media folks only talking in terms of reach and frequency, you need a new act.
Digital agencies that don't get brands and how communications works? You won't get away with it for long.
Social media folks still talking about 'likes' and 'retweets' as valuable business metrics? Enough said.
Don't stand still, the market will always move on and crush
(Excuse the typing I've broken my wrist)
I hate this quote, really hate it. I loathe the way it shifts responsibility away from agency folk.
I hate the disrespect, you know, "Clients just don't get it, if only they would let me do what I wanted we would be so much more successful".
Yes, you know advertising, but they know their business, they know the board that signs stuff off. There is a reason people work in most types of agencies, they haven't the personality or skills to do a real job. Respect the people that do.
We're supposed to produce compelling work, that supposedly doesn't need a clear selling message. If you can't make your client sell compelling, you're in the wrong job.
Now I've been fortunate to have some lovely clients in my time. Some really good relationships.
Good enough to have me sat on their side while they were pitched to.
Even good enough with another client to sit with them while they talked colleagues through the process they'd just gone through in hiring another agency.
I suspect much of that is down to the fact I love the job, therefore love working on their stuff. Genuine enthusiasm gets you a long way, even more so when you're senior.
I also think it's because I'm very honest, trust me, I'm a useless liar.
It's not the looks, charm or talent mark my words.
I also got to hear Sara Leach of Coca Cola talking through the client perspective recently.
Distilling much of this, here's some stuff to think about.
1. When you're presenting, especially in pitches, just like advertising should leave some space for the consumer, leave some space for the client. In major presentations, clients are faced with well honed arguments, great theatre, charm, wit and the sheer force of slide after slide of crafted persuasion. It can be quite intimidating, especially if you can't get a word in. Find a way to draw them into a conversation. Because when we feel fear, or uncomfortable it's fight or flight. You don't want that.
2. In reviews of work, I usually find a way to give feedback last, or not even give it. Because I need to entertain an idea a bit before I decide what my view is. With clients, agencies push for immediate feedback on the work they have just shared, right at the point they are struggling to process what their opinion is. Push them to share and they'll share something they might not mean and then stick to it. And the default reaction is to add some builds, builds that turn into issues that kill your entire project. Don't push for immediate feedback unless they really want to give it.
3. Listen to feedback. Clients do want to be challenged, but they don't want to be ignored. Try and discern what is up for debate and what is not. You MUST actually listen to feedback and show you've taken it on board. In between tissue meetings and final presentation, the number one loser of pitches or work getting rejected, is that agencies haven't listened to clear feedback- or even worse, they've ignored it.
4. Be likeable. My favourite client ever once told me,"You can be great at strategy, wonderful at execution, you can be the cheapest, but if we don't like you, forget it". Of course, some agencies ARE successful with the whole arrogance thing, but being cool and mistakenly thinking you work at CDP and it's 1976 only gets you so far. Some agencies get hired for being totally brilliant, but I know of one hot agency where the client hated their guts and kept with them as long as they delivered the goods. But as soon as they cocked up-and you always do- they were toast. No one perfect, good will and trust gets you past the moment you make a pigs ear of it.
5. Keep things clear. There is more jargon than ever. Clients can't be arsed to de-code your work, and they usually have to present it on, make it easy for them.
6. Stop working so hard. Done is better than perfect. Good clients pay you to be on time. They also pay you for what you think. Spend a little less crafting the powerpoint and more time getting a tight argument - in fact, a little imperfection is good, is gives clients the chance to correct you and feel they are playing a part.
7. Clients are human too. There are wankers who enjoy making you work weekends, but most are uncomfortable working with pale faced ghosts who look exhausted. See point 4.
8. Get the bloody set up over as soon as you can. They're sitting there waiting to see the ads, the plan, or whatever the main output is supposed to be. Get out of the bloody way. Most strategy bits of decks tend to be about looking clever, rather than helping. And be brave, show them the ads first, show them the proposition, then tell them how you got there. Surprise the poor bastards instead of showing basically the same deck over and over again. It's boring, and bored clients fire you.
9. Their hours are shorter than yours. But don't mistake that for an easy life. It's a cultural thing that they leave on time, but that puts them under pressure to cram more into the day - and only 10% of what they do is advertising and brand stuff. They don't get to lounge around and have the banter that we do, it's serious and intense. And their offices are usually grim, grey affairs with no decent tea or coffee. So no wonder they like their agencies to be fun. But also, respect their time, give them plenty of notice if you need stuff approving, their days are choc full in ways we are less used to.
10. Would they like to spend a couple of hours on a train with you? Boil it all down, especially for planning folk and they want smart intelligent folks they could have a chat with. The smart and intelligent bit is about being interesting, especially if you're shy and introverted like me, read lots of stuff, know a little about a lot of things. As for the having a chat bit, find out what they care about and know something about it, even better, just listen! Ask questions, lots of them and you'll find out what you might have in common. So, if you found yourself on a train with a client, what would you both do? Have an easy, natural chat, know each other well enough to even read in silence? Or would you pretend not to notice each other. If it's the last, you're fucked (see point 4)
Obviously I've read Paul Feldwick's book about how advertising works. I'm sure you have too.
I don't there is any point a monkey like me offering any kind of review, except that you should read it and form your own view. I certainly enjoyed it and appreciated the reasoned approach, as opposed to the self importance or 'this is the new that' conceit of other authors and industry voices.
What I did want to meekly point out was the fact this was a book about advertising. Not Growth Hacking, not brand communication or any other of the stupid phrases folks bandy about.
Advertising.No bothering with above the line, online v offline. Advertising.
Perhaps we should call it this more often and not pretend we're in another business. It might be harder then to dismiss the work and ideas of those that came before us, by kidding ourselves stuff is that different.
I'm not saying it's business as usual with digital and stuff.
It wasn't business as usual when TV came along either.
I went to see Ryan Adams (NOT, I repeat NOT Byan) the other night at the O2 Academy in Leeds.
Rather good in case you're interested. I like gigs like this, nice to be surrounded by my own people or so to speak.
But that's not the point I want to make.
You see, leaving the venue, we walked past a nondescript pub.
Except it's not for me.
Over 13 years ago, I didn't have a full time job and the money was running out.
So I was temping in a call centre, selling plumbing and drainage insurance.
Soul destroying, which is why I'm always nice to cold callers. I've been there.
We worked from 12pm until 8. Lunch was 5. But it wasn't lunch, everybody went to this pub to drink their way into a state to get through the rest of the shift.
The spoiled, ex-student, recently ex-ad agency me met all sorts of people there.
And I learned how lucky I was, because I knew this employment arrangement was only temporary.
For others, this wasn't a stop gap. Just part of an endless cycle of undertainty.
Sometimes it's worth being reminded you could roll the dice a thousand times and never be as lucky as you are.
So I went to see Queen last night.
It wasn't totally hateful.
I took my sister and it made her happy. If anything made it worthwhile, it was that.
But it's hard to not to appreciate 10,000 happy people singing their hearts out. It even made me smile.
The songs, and yes I do unfortunately know most of them, do work in a live setting.
Adam Lambert confounded my expectations. Once he forget to try and impersonate Freddie Mercury and just perform, he's a very good singer, he won the crowd over, not least because he could see they were enjoying themselves.
But Brian May was the real star of the show. It's uncool to play a guitar that looks like he crafted in a school woodwork class and he always has this squinty frown. But he's a very good guitar player.
Someone apart from Freddie Mercury was missing. They played Under Pressure, a David Bowie song Queen got involved that in that I do love - and it missed Bowie.
Overall, I wouldn't go again. The songs just aren't that interesting. Eventually, like listening on record, it just became slightly camp power rock played with a very similar guitar style. It was a bit boring.
Meatloaf does this kind of thing a lot better in my inconsequential view.
The one surprise was when they forget to be 'Queen' there were some good bits. They played a very earnest and affecting Days of Our Lives for example. That was OK.
So I maybe hate Queen a little less. They make a lot of people happy and you can't argue with that.
It's just not for me.
But at least I gave it a go.
Thankfully I'm seeing Ryan Adams in February and Morrisey in March to cleanse myself.
“Who will be my primary contact to interface with?”
“We’re way off the point of actual ideation”
“I like recessions, the fear means we can squeeze far more out of our people”
“I agree with you completely. However….” (every single meeting)
“Put that hardhat on. No really put it on. Now take this celery and hit yourself on the head again and again, because it’s more likely you’ll eventually knock yourself out than me paying this fucking bigger fee”
To a creative team:
Day one: “This is the last change the client is going to make”
Day Two: “Just a couple of final tweaks before it can be signed off”
Day Three: “Has the print run started yet?”
“These are not the fucking changes I briefed, what sort of a twat do you take me for? How fucking simple is it to get a fucking wine leaflet right? Oh bollocks! This is the chicken leaflet isn’t it? Fuck me, I’m sorry, mind you why the fuck didn’t you say I was talking about the wrong bastard leaflet?
“The secret to marketing? I’ll tell you the secret to marketing, it’s selling a loaf of bread to poor simpletons for 10p less than the other bastards”
“We just don’t go for this emotional stuff”
“This is a professional organization, put some bloody shoes on”
“I haven’t got my credit card, can you get the bill?” (said the Head of Client Services to the account exec when the £2,000 bill came in for the client lunch”
“I can’t make my mind up with these scripts, can we have an animatronic please”
“Fucking salience? What’s salty water got to do with my fucking brand?”
“Just letting you know you replied to my email. I’m assuming you wanted to forward it?”
Ring ring….“I know it’s two in the fucking morning, but I’ve just had a thought”
“Do they still bother with suits Up North”
“Can you give us a worse proposition?”
“We’re going to make a cartoon panda sponsor a racehorse”
“Get out of my broom cupboard”
"No one leaves this bar until dawn. 6 more black russians on the way"
"Look, the trick of a contact report is not to report what happened and what was said. It's a second chance to get we wanted out of the meeting. No one reads them anyway"
"When you sign on the teleconference, everyone can hear you mate"
"You forgot to press mute"
(Okay I lied, a couple of extra posts before a long departure)
There have been many examples in history of famous quotes, pieces of work or leaps forward in technology that have been mis-interpreted on purpose, or through lazy thinking.
For example, Einstein once said, “God does not play dice”.
This was in relation to being uncomfortable with the random nature of quantum mechanics.
But plenty have taken it as proof that once of physics’ greatest minds was religious.
He was borderline atheist. He just believed nature would be a little neater.
In fact, many have taken the weird nature of quantum mechanics too far.
They think it means you can’t measure what is happening.
That physics is bollocks.
When quantum theory has been measured to ridiculous lengths. Because of quantum theory, we know what is happening in stars billions of miles away, we can predict what will happen to them too.
Perhaps ‘survival of the fittest’ is the most terrible.
Darwin didn’t actually write that in ‘Origin of the Species’ and it doesn’t mean the strongest.
It doesn’t even mean individuals or species.
It means genes that produce traits and qualities that are best suited to their environment.
Homo sapiens are far weaker than previous species of hominid.
Homo Erectus would destroy you in a fight.
And it’s more genes that survive an environment as much as accidentally making you better.
The appendix is fairly useless but doesn’t get in the way for example.
Which brings us to developments in brand and marketing theory.
Which does get in the way, as all sorts of people use to sell all sorts of weird and wonderful things.
Now most theory in brands and marketing are bollocks anyway.
Opinion dressed up as science based work.
But even some stuff that is good if often not understood and applied wrongly.
To show you what I mean, let’s rewind a few years, to when I once worked on a global client coming to grips with digital.
They still held on tightly to the comfort of the Millward Brown brand pyramid.
The brand teams worked in isolation of marketing and sales teams.
Both has separate measures of success.
They could spend millions on brand stuff and be happy with shifts in brand tracking.
Sales didn’t matter, that was marketing’s problem.
Distribution was a discussion for a totally separate department. Despite the fact it was a low interest purchase you had to make the effort to buy.
Now because of the famous Millward Brown pyramid, ‘awareness’ was a credible measure.
Which meant most digital stuff was measured on pure reach.
The game became how little you could spend on production and media to get the logo in front of as many people as possible.
It didn’t matter if they cared, it didn’t matter how relevant the stuff was.
Just that it reached a decent number of people.
So the PR charlatans has a field day. The social media folks thought it was Christmas.
Because they knew how to get stuff out there.
But they didn’t know how get people to buy anything. They didn’t have to.
Since then, Saint Byron Sharp has given us all some evidence based ways of thinking afresh how brands work.
And the same organisations that were able to peddle paid/owned/earned reach as brand metric are newly empowered.
Because the central argument of ‘How Brands Grow’ is that the most efficient role of advertising in all its guises is to reach as much of the market as you can.
In the wrong hands, this information can be really unhelpful.
Confirmation bias means many of the awareness peddlers have leaped on it as proof of the ‘reach’ approach.
For some it’s a genuine mistake.
While the more devious have blatantly post rationalized it, to suit their argument that reach is all that matters.
But, to quote Rob Campbell (I admit I’ve passed this off as my own how and again), most people are aware of Hitler. I don’t many who are particularly fans.
Even worse for the digital reach brigade, simply getting stuff into people’s timelines or clicks on YouTube Trueview or whatever doesn’t mean people have taken anything out of the communication at all.
Even worse, many display ads are really cunning at making us click by accident, but that click gets recorded as a score.
The real argument that came from Byron Sharp was ‘salience’- Mental Availability. Making sure the brand gets front of mind in buying situations.
That means you have land something distinctive with people. They need to remember.
Which is why ‘Fame’ campaigns that get people talking work so well.
They stir the emotions that generate longer term memory, they make the brand feel it’s on the up – while being seen to lead creates a feeling of quality.
Because people can’t be bothered to think about buying most things.
(which is also why my old client was daft not making everyone think about distribution – physical availability. In the case of some categories, especially FMCG, shoppers, even allegedly loyal ones, will simply buy what’s there. If your product isn’t you’ve lost the sale and given your customers the chance to build up a new habit).
So, when it comes to digital brand communications, we need to apply exactly the same rigour that’s applied to TV and other channels.
In fact, scratch that. I bring you back to my old client again. The entire brand tracking system needs an overhaul.
Of course, knowing how many people saw and recall something about the advertising is fundamental.
But understanding if it drove salience with those people is the measure that really matters.
And the contribution both short and long term sales, or whatever the hard business measures are.
Econometrics, real time reporting, control groups, whatever.
Of course if you have a ‘response’ led client, you can measure the journey to sales online, but even in these cases, there will be plenty of people who didn’t convert right then who did later – or even bought offline.
By the way, short term measures do matter, namely removing reasons not to buy, but overall, there’s enough evidence out there to show that the real contribution to profit is building long term brand salience over time.
Any great piece of writing or thinking can be used for evil in the wrong hands.
It’s a real danger in marketing.
With all those received wisdoms.
All the different disciplines and agencies competing for, the increasingly squeezed budgets.
The temptation digital presents to measure all sorts of vanity metrics that have nothing to do with growing a business.
Back to Einstein. He also said we shouldn’t strive to be successful people. We should strive to be people of value.
Whatever the latest theory, that should never change.
You can be successful getting loads of reach and totally fail in creating any value whatsoever.
I refuse to call them audience.
'Audience' suggests people sitting and waiting for our stuff.
It suggests arrogance, that we don't need to impress them.
We just need to fire things at them.
When we need to get noticed and earn space in their heads.
Now, nearly every strategy presentation should have some observations about your target customer.
Planning has evolved into all sorts of stuff, but at it's heart, it's our job to make sure the work does the right job with the right people.
That means understanding what we need them to think/feel/do in the first place.
But it also means a deep understanding of their lives. Not just some dry data on TGI -questionable personality traits or motivations and the like.
They're more likely to notice and maybe feel something about brand communication if it has some relation to their lives.
What they care about, what keeps them awake at night. What suprises them, what excites them.
I have one golden rule that helps me do things quicker, get a true perspective and, ultimately, help doing stuff that works.
Find something to admire in your audience.
From defining a brand new customer group for the brand, to a specific quarterly comms brief, you'll get to something strategically useful quicker if you're able to edit out the extraneous rubbish in service of something that makes you admire them.
Something that makes you care.
Because great brands talk about what they love and that should include what they love about their customers.
But mostly because too many people in this business don't know their customers well enough and, worse, in some cases are quite sneery about them.
They do work for themselves, not the customers.
That won't be enjoyable, want capture the imagination. Won't get talked about.
More than the 'voice of the consumer' I think we need to be the champion of the customer.
One way at looking at this work is admiring the work ethic of potential Chrysler customers and America at large..
This largely came from admiring the growing independence of modern UK women.
This came from the admiring the determination of the young Scottish people in adversity..
While this admired the unquenchable hope and enthusiasm of Scottish sports supporters no matter.
Even publicly thanking them...
You get the picture I hope.
I'm convinced that the secret to great presentations, and meetings too, is two fold.
But mostly it's about love.
1. Hard work and preparation.
If you know you're stuff inside out, if you have rehearsed, if the slides are engaging and more of a support to you than 'the show',if you've prepared for any difficult questions, you'll be fine.
People will see the hard work, appreciate it and immediately warm to you. Even the most shy person can perform if they've done the work.
2. But the real secret is being able to connect to people.
I don't think that has to be finding a link to what your audience deeply cares about, although that helps. I think it's more about getting folks to identify with YOU.
Which means linking your presentation, or your part of the meeting to something you deeply care about. Link a personal story or passion to the theme of your stuff and you won't go wrong.
Firstly because when people see you the human, rather than the professional, they'll connect to you more. If they can see your enthusiasm, if they can see what brings you joy, pain or whatever, the mirror neurons will fire and they'll feel it too.
Secondly, by channeling what matters to you, you'll care more, so you'll perform better. Not least because, again, if people see your enthusiasm, if they know you care and they'll care too.
The best feedback I ever got from a client, apart from how I made things simple and clear, was how they loved I was enthusiastic about their brands.
Which is why nearly every presentation I do nearly always has a Star Wars slide (in fact, clients that know me well are usually wondering when the slide with a crow-barred Star Wars bit will arrive), a slide with the kids in, with guest appearances from swimming and cycling.
In other words, like the key to advertising communication itself, rather than talking about yourself, talk about what you love - and make people feel something.
Seriously, naked emotion and humanity trumps slickness and 'performance' any day.
I got knocked off my bike the other day.
I've never understood how clothing can remain un-ripped yet the skin can be stripped from your flesh, yet that's what happened to my leg.
Then there's my ribs that are either bruised or broken.
Still on the bike though, a few pain killers etc and it's OK.
Get back on the horse.
Now it wasn't my fault, but it doesn't matter.
It doesn't make my ribs any less damaged, it doesn't put the skin back on my leg.
If I didn't know how to fall, it wouldn't change more broken more bones or a mangled bike.
That's the problem with getting all self righteous about blame and fairness.
It rarely changes your current predicament.
In fact it usually makes things worse.
It's the same with the job.
It's not fair that strategy types have to earn the right to have any sort of point of view -and are expected to back it up with evidence.
While others can say what they bloody well like and it's taken as gospel.
It's not fair that brief has largely been ignored by the folks working on it.
It's not fair that your carefully crafted, well researched thinking has been torpedoed by a client, creative director, media partner or whoever without any evidence or logic whatsoever.
It is the job. Change what you can, deal with what you can't.
Treat rejection of your work as a chance to do something even better. Work even harder. Learn dirty rules to politely destabilise the thinking of louder mouthed people. Learn how to push emotional buttons when you share your work, no one gets excited by logic.
And if it's a lost cause, start the long term plotting to change your job, client or even department. But do make sure the problem isn't really you that's the problem.
Back to that bike incident.
I got up, ready to blister the offending driver with white hot rage.
Only to see a mother and her little girl behind the dashboard, on their way to school.
No way am I going to upset a little girl.
I prepare for a withering look before I stuggle onto my bike and ride off.
But she opens her door, rushes out and gives me hug.
My ribs are agony, but I let pass because she's in tears.
She's actually in shock. She says she's so sorry, she's full of concern, she offers to drive me to work, pay for a new bike and God knows what else.
I end up calming HER down and making sure she's OK, before I eventually pedal away.
Why am I telling you this?
Because no one has the right to be self-righteous if someone else feels bad and didn't mean it.
But more because, getting back to the job, it's worth making sure you know how someone else feels before they wade in. They may well surprise you - and head confrontation rarely works.
The person who blanks you because they're actually painfully shy.
The client who won't even discuss why you're work won't get any further because they're inexperienced and they make you feel stupid.
The creatives shouting at you for work bombing in research, when they're actually terrified of a creative director.
The TV planner who's only way of dealing with stuff is 100% aggression, because that's what he's got from everyone else. If you give it back, you've only managed to cease to amaze him like everyone else.
Remember, I missed acting looking a total idiot on that road, by a matter of seconds, only because I happened to look through the windshield at the person.
I've learned the hard way about rising to unfairness and being shafted at work. It never works. Pause, look behind the windshield instead.
On the other hand, she might have been using emotional blackmail on me, but that's OK, we've already covered how playing dirty can get you out of dodge. Being moral and fair and considered is all good of course, sometimes, you just need to be a little bit cunning too.
'Corporations don't own modern brands, consumers do' - try telling that to shareholders or venture capitalists. Consumers- let's call them customers or people - decide your fate, they don't reap the profits, and don't think about brands enough to even merit the word 'relationship'.
'Brands today are conversations' - true in the sense that a minority of strange people might spend time talking about a brand/with a brand, but they make up a tiny fraction of commercial sales, while the people that growth and the big numbers come from, they indifferently get on with their lives. Just maybe, a decent amount of might notice the brand more, thanks to this minority doing stuff.
‘It’s all about content’ – well this is actually true, it always was. If you have nothing of value to add to what people are already doing, or your stuff isn’t good enough to merit your interruption, there’s little point. That’s not the same as the modern way of thinking though - the current fixation with the ‘build and they will come’ content model, or really entertaining stuff that’s not relevant to what the brand makes or does. Even worse if it’s nothing to do with any hard commercial objectives. That said, relevance can be overrated. People don’t need to rationally accept whatever you’re doing/saying/demonstrating, because they don’t buy that way. But if it feels intuitively wrong, or it doesn’t make sense somehow, if they can’t see the point, you have wasted your time.
‘Modern brand storytelling needs to leave lots of space for people to put the story together themselves in their own way’ – now, as Gossage said, “If you’re going to lay a mousetrap, leave some room for the mouse’. That was always true. In terms of culture, even more so these days. The entertainment we all enjoy has become more complex, less linear and asks more of us in terms of filling gaps in plots etc.
Now there are limits even in popular culture. I give you exhibit A, the initially brilliant Lost. At first most loved the big questions, they loved debating what was going on. It was good. But then it got so complicated it seemed that not even the writers knew what was going on – and the ratings plummeted to the point only the die-hards stayed until the end.
There are limits to the complexity we will accept in culture, even in a world where The Dark Knight and Interstellar can succeed as blockbusters.
Which brings us to brands and back to that point about conversations.
Most people cannot be bothered to work it out, let alone talk to anyone about it. Of course, any modern campaign needs to be respectful to the grammar of the media it’s in. Your creative really shouldn’t be the same everywhere. For example, you need to front load your message and brand attributes on a YouTube pre-roll before folks click away, while you can still afford the big reveal in a linear TV ad. But that’s about people noticing and accepting your stuff.
‘The agency model is dead’- which agency model?
If you mean the one where shops that operate in different disciplines try and charge a fortune for selling a process that has a very obvious end, and the output is judges as effective because if the way it’s measured, there are still global corporations making a lot of money with big clients doing exactly this. Their shareholders are not complaining. Even if this might not be the way stuff should be done today, tomorrow or ever.
If you mean the one where clients will pay a hefty fee for genuine creativity and ideas – again in all sorts of agencies, there are still clients that are more than happy to do this, but the thing about the successful agencies, is that there is a lot of hard work and thinking behind the great work. To quote John Hegarty, there is still money there for ‘Intelligence turned into magic’.
If there are fewer who will pay for this kind of work, it’s probably because they’ve invested in agencies that are all for doing the crazy stuff, but not the hard work of understanding what the crazy stuff is supposed to be doing, or if it’s right for the people it’s aimed at.
If you mean the kind who are willing to pay for fantastic service, a groovy reception and being made to feel special, it’s fair to say that world is gone.
The people who say the ‘agency’ model is dead are usually people who are peddling something else. It probably works really well for them, but there are other ways.
Ultimately the agency model is a place where you do stuff for clients they cannot do themselves. I’m not sure this will ever go away.
I was brought up in creative agencies.
They had good points. They had bad points.
I now work with the media folks. They have good and bad too.
I really never thought I’d end up in a media agency though.
Then again, there was a time I was sure I’d never get married, be a parent or go to a Queen concert.
Now, beware of post rationalization, confirmation bias and the general way the brain makes you feel good about yourself, but I’m becoming more of the opinion that, maybe, media agencies are set fairer for today’s world than the various guises of today’s creative agencies.
Here’s some reasons why. Based purely of my experience of working for some from both sides and working with even more.
Let’s get one thing clear though, we’re all in marketing which means for the average person, we’re about as respected as estate agents. Still, if you work in this industry, may as well work on the side of the least evil.
Media agencies are much nicer to their staff. While there one or two creative or digital agencies that don’t work mental hours, have a culture that nurtures and invests in their people, encourages staff to respect each other and is grounded in the reality of the people their work, is aimed at, creative agencies work much, much longer hours, tend to make their people redundant more quickly, celebrate loud mouth extroverts rather than talent and thoughtfulness, don’t train staff, expecting them to sink or swim, and generally chew their people up and spit them out.
And they use creativity as an excuse for leaving things until the last minute and being disorganized as hell.
Media does have its share of extroverts, there is still the odd late night and any service business is only one phone call away from having to shed staff, but they are much nicer places to work. Hours are more regular, yet all the work gets done. They manage to be much more flexible around the lives of their people. They invest a lot more in training and staff development. There are whole search departments full of shy science types who would melt in front of clients. And people do seem to have a life.
This matters, because tired is stupid. Knackered, irritable people who never actually get out and experience the lives of the people they are selling to will simply not perform.
And no amount of concrete hot desk tables, bean bags and ironic t-shirts will make up for it.
Because media agencies respect their people, they also respect experience. So you’ll find far more mature people in media agencies than creative and digital species. Creative agencies, in general, seem to value the young and, even in a world where they’re competing against other professions that are now seen as more lucrative and even cooler for the newer generations– tech companies, The City to name but two, they don’t hold on to experience. Now a variety of studies have shown that you can’t fake experience, you need 10,000 hours of practice to be great a something. Moreover, in a little bubble forever pronouncing the death of this and the death of that year in year old, the more sane voices who see through the bullshit and have seen it all before are very valuable indeed.
The number of older folks with kids and stuff in media agencies means their employers just can’t get away with working their staff to death and sane, humane culture built on respect, temperance and thoughtfulness just naturally bubbles up.
You need your young blood to shake things up and inject fresh energy in an organization. But that constant renewal needs to be balances by experience.
I’m sure the love of rash youth is why creative and digital agencies get all excited about the latest wheeze- they don’t have the frame of reference. Like the social media gurus who have never heard of Gossage, the Behavioural Economics proponents, the folks who suddenly discover co-creation and God know what else.
Everyone in media is a doer. Creative agencies have departments. Account folks ‘handle the client’ with varying appreciation for planning, creative, developing or whatever. Creatives are probably as far away from pure craft as they have ever been. With art directors who cannot draw and writers who cannot write copy. It’s for the studio to visualize stuff and the suits to check copy. While the planners have stopped getting their hands dirty with research and don’t know how telly ads get made, the nuances of casting and many don’t go to client meetings that often. Digital folks of course, just sit in dark corners coding. I stereotype a bit, but you get the gist and probably recognize it.
Now media organisations of course have their departments. But in each one, there is no client handler who can get away without knowing the minute details of their chosen field, and actually doing an element of the planning or buying themselves, based on good evidence based consumer insight. In a world where innovation and content ideas don’t just come from creative agencies, they also need to have ideas too.
If anything, as the media landscape has become more complex, the craft skills have gone up. I’m still intimidated by the complexity and hard work that goes into good TV buying, it’s every bit as skillful and demanding as the shoot for the stuff that will fill the space bought.
But putting together an integrated plan across channels, that will achieve cut through and makes the most of a list of available channels, innovations and prototypes that grows daily, that takes mix of deep knowledge, insight, imagination, rigour and hard work. And then the same people who have done the thinking need to sell it in and make it all happen.
And when you’re at the sharp end of what’s going in your field, when you have to do so much yourself, rather than hand it all over to another department and forget about it..it keeps you at the top of the game, forces you to evolve, which in turn means the organization is always moving forward.
Media is where the innovation happens as the great work by Steven Johnson shows,
great leaps forward come from people building on others’ work. It comes from good people being around lots of other good people. Now some creative agencies are pretty good at bringing in other talents. Film makers, tech geniuses etc. But mostly, they jealously guard the creative project.
My little three year old girl is very independent and insists on doing everything ‘all by myself’. It’s only when she gets in a terrible mess that she asks for help. It can be very entertaining, but watching her nearly strangling herself with her vest before finally holding it out and saying’ fink Daddy should do it’ doesn’t get us to swimming lessons on time now does it?
Media agencies HAVE to work with media owners. We have no choice but to work with the very, very best in their field. Who knows social media better than Twitter? Exactly. Working in TV, especially on a sponsorship or partnership thingy, well, you’re working with people who know how to entertain people and make content people want to experience.
So not only do you get the very best advice and stuff to play with, all that cleverness and expertise constantly challenges and rubs off on you.
If you want to be good, hang around good people. Media agencies have that in the job description
Media agencies have no choice but to constantly evolve. When you strip away the hype media agencies still think hard about where to buy space, and then buy it. They get paid for leading overall strategy a little more, they brief content more, they even make some of it, but it comes down to planning and buying media. That media is changing every day. The pace is only getting faster. Which means that evolution is built into a media agency’s business model. We’re automatically at the cutting edge and we know what is useful and what it Emperor’s New Clothes because we have to constantly talk to, collaborate and negotiate with the people who at right at the very sharp end of it all. We still sell TV plans of course, we still recommend 30 second commercials as the most efficient buy, because they are. But we know everything about sky Adsmart, we know that Programmatic TV is a possibility and that it’s likely TV might be bought on impressions, like digital, in the near future. Just as Twitter works directly with us on our briefs and tells us all about what they have in BETA
Media agencies are not blinded by the word ‘brand’. At some point, creative agencies began to talk about ads that disrupted the category, that build brand values as credible objectives themselves. They justified ads that didn’t necessarily result in hard business effects by pointing to results in brand tracking studies. They began doing ‘brand planning’ and messing around with brand essences and such. Media agencies have bought brand ads of course, but as they’ve been charged more and more with taking responsibility for strategy on some level, because they don’t get to do brand planning, they don’t make brand ads and don’t create brand onions, they naturally look for real problems to solve, rather than brand problems, and then use their powers to solve them in the most efficient and effective way they can. The problem with being the custodian of the brand, is that you tend to think ‘brand’ is the problem, solution and Holy Grail all in one.
So there you have it. Maybe I’m showing a new bias based on my new circumstances.
Don’t get me wrong. There are fantastic creative and digital agencies that are just brilliant to work with and ace to be employed by. Just as there are terrible media agencies, some which are relics from the ‘luvvie age’ some that are blatantly steal partner agency turf. Many that don’t plan, they simply justify the biggest media budget they can get away with.
But I am beginning to think as a general rule, they are increasingly where it’s at.
And so we have a new Star Wars trailer.
No point telling you I’m looking forward to a new Star Wars film.
Since I was born in 1974 and I’m male, it’s sort of inevitable.
Because the Star Wars world is divided between those too scarred by the prequel trilogy and those that insist on living in hope.
Anyway, the prequels were not as bad as received wisdom likes to claim.
It’s just that die hard original fans saw the first film as little boy and nothing can ever match how it felt to watch those films for the first time.
When I listen to my five year old begging for a Darth Maul lightsabre you know those films had something good about them.
From time to time, we all need to feel like little boys and little girls again.
It’s why I just read the Hobbit again. When I was eight it was magical. It still is, not because I haven’t grown up, it’s just that the wonder of being that age comes flooding back.
The feeling that everything was amazing and special.
That Mummy and Daddy were much loved constants that knew everything and would always be there.
Where December seemed to take forever and ever.
That nothing mattered more than if Vader really was Luke’s father, except, perhaps, the Raleigh Chopper you were hoping against hope would appear on Christmas morning.
How lucky I am to have grown in a little world where I never had to worry about real things, apart from the odd bully and relentless teasing from my elder sisters.
How fortunate (for now, you never know what’s around the corner) my children are able to grow up in a similar way.
That's why some folks can't get over Star Wars and similar things. It's what their childhood was made of and who doesn't want to feel like that again every now and then?
One of my many failings is my useless sense of direction. SATNAV and Google Maps are a godsend for a numpty like me.
Blatant excuse to show this..........
I was lucky though to have grown up in a time when there were not the tools to do it for you. The AA Route planner and real maps became my friends.
And I got very used to being lost. Got used to not panicking, leaving enough time in the first place and getting there.
Which means when the tools let you down (and they frequently do) you actually want me in the car with you.
When it comes to the tools for our job, media agencies tend to be amazed how loads of creative agencies you will have heard of don’t have some of the basic planning tools.
I don’t mean the sexy stuff like TGI Worldpanel, NVision or the latest YouGov Profiles doo dah (you can get a watered down version of Profiles here).
Stuff like basic TGI, Mintel, Touchpoints or access to WARC.
Now these tools are bloody useful of course, but they have problems.
TGI is based on claimed behavior and as has been said ad nauseum, people rarely say what they do.
Touchpoints is more diarised of course, and real time reporting means you get a decent idea of what people do. But no clue about how they feel about it, or why they do what they do.
Mintel is really someone else’s opinion on market share and TGI. And don’t believe their observed trends – it usually means it has been observed twice.
WARC case studies are really helpful for all sorts of industry stuff, case studies and awards papers are great for inspiration but every single one is a representation of a perfect world, where everything works like clockwork, where there has been an ‘invented crisis’ and some earth shattering insight to overcome it. When of course, every agency process is a variation of chaos, post rationalization and gut feel.
The tools are great for the ‘sell’ – case studies and data that justifies the thinking are great.
But the problems with tools is they’re too easy.
They keep you at your desk, settling for easy answers that at best tell you ‘what’ rather than ‘why’.
They allow you to have an opinion and then justify it.
Rather than finding a fresh perspective.
They allow you to have a point of view on your target customer without ever having met them.
They are Trojan Horses of the obvious.
Now, of course, creative folks without the tools can be VERY guilty of assertion without making any effort to prove it.
And some quotes from Trendwatching or NVision loosely linked to your ‘insight’ don’t count.
But the good organizations are great at having an informed opinion by constantly going out and meeting their customers, reading what they read and doing what they do.
I think a great example was when AMV wanted to prove that Sainsbury’s customers sleep shopped, so they filmed a Gorilla roaming about instore, being mostly ignored by customers and showed it to the client.
Deep insight you won’t get from TGI.
Aligned with the fact that most bought cookbooks are left unread you have a lovely tension between the pressure of habit and routine and the pressure to be a ‘foodie’ you get ‘Try something new today’.
By all means use the tools, but only as a starting point and by way of the final ‘sell’.
Please do the desk research, all the crumbly stuff out there on the web.
By you can’t beat leaving your desk and actually being your audience.
Because the problem with relying on Satnav, and planning tools, is that you don’t know you’re lost.
Just following on from this post about doing as much stuff as you can, in the hope something unexpected and good will come of it..
The evil genius Rob Campbell somehow goaded me into accepting a challenge to see Queen live in January.
For the record, I hate Queen. Really hate them. Maybe irrationally so.
Maybe the pain will mitigated by the lack of Freddie Bloody Mercury.
Yet I will be going, posting a selfie and blogging an honest report.
With an open mind.
I doubt anything good will come from this new experience.
But you never know.
If that's not putting my money where my mouth is, I truly do not know what is.
I had some pretty good training on digital stuff recently.
Some of the specifics - you know, programmatic buying, blind networks etc.
This stuff is important as I’m getting more convinced that, whatever kind of agency you are in, you need to get to grips with the nuts of bolts of the technology that’s out there and how content and stuff tends to actually get in front of people.
I suppose it’s like great Formula One Driver know their cars inside out and work with the engineers as much as possible.
This matter firstly because of first mover advantage. If you’re first to take advantage of new technology or media stuff, you get the chance to do something really special.
Subservient Chicken springs to mind.
As does this Honda video – a genuinely ‘interactive’ video that integrates with the story.
It also matters because it’s how you put things together that matters. Which means a fundamental grip of what works and what works together.
This great Yeo Valley case study wouldn’t have got so much traction on the back of one hero spot without working so well with social media.
Broadcast working with Facebook was fundamental to this Yorkshire Tea campaign.
What is also true of the last two examples, is how they are still TV campaigns.
Not TV as we use to know it, but television still.
Because, despite the emerging tradition to kill off telly, it’s still the most efficient channel for building business profit, against a whole range of secondary objectives.
It’s just that it’s role, and how it works with other channels and assets HAS changed.
Funnily enough, there’s evidence it’s also the most efficient and driving genuine widespread word of mouth.
Which brings me back to that training.
They made a fair point, that we have to assume that whatever content you put out there can be played with by people on all sorts of networks. There is little you can do about it, so you may as well embrace it.
But what they didn’t say was that you will be very, very lucky if anyone can be bothered, if you intend it or not.
And you have to assume they won’t, which is the most commercial way of looking at things.
Since, as has been discussed by cleverer people than me, it’s the light buyers that notice a brands stuff the least that matter for growth the most. The people the least likely to engage.
The only point of people getting involved with your stuff is how it will extend your reach, to infiltrate the barrier of indifference most of us have for most of the things we buy with some sort of social proof or whatever.
They used these examples to show the power of people playing with your content and getting involved.
But nothing would have happened without, of all things, a finely crafted ad that, yes, was really cool and funny, but also dealt with a specific truth about how shower gel gets bought (by women for men) and a bigger truth the brand could play with –what it means to be a man in our porous, ironic culture.
So don’t forget, be a digital engineer, its essential these days, but don’t forget to understand some older fundamentals too.
Basically, few people care, and the role of people that do is to make them notice.
I was reminded last week that the internet grew out a US military drive to increase security.
That’s right. It’s not up there with moveable type of course, but the internet has still created a seismic shift in freedom of information and control of content.
Out of a drive to limit it.
Whereas the World Wide Web was one the unexpected by-products of setting CERN to send atoms whizzing around and smashing into each other.
Which goes to show that when you set out to do stuff, not only do you not know where it all may end.
If you open your mind to the possibility, all sorts of wonderful things can tumble out along the way.
It can be the exact opposite of what you intended in the first place.
I guess that’s why science funding is so important. Just by trying to do all sorts of improbable stuff, we often get far more unexpected value.
Perhaps that’s an argument for more learning for learning’s sake and a subtle swipe at those who see education only in terms of economic ROI. But let’s not go there.
Looking at the day job, it’s why I think pitching is healthy, even if you don’t win.
The tight deadlines, adrenalin and the way they bring teams together can bring other benefits.
Great ideas can develop along the way to save for later, along with the main crux of your pitch.
Moreover, if you put together a pitch team of folks that don’t usually work together, it’s great for creating an even closer knit agency, while the getting used to other views and frames of reference develops everyone’s world view and skill set.
It’s also why planners should be as interested in as much non-work stuff as possible.
Great ideas are as much about drawing new connections between things as ‘bolts from the blue’. The more fodder you have, the more likely you’ll produce the goods.
Put another way, read, watch and experience as much as you can, you never know when it might come in handy.
My little boy has recently turned 5 and started school.
If that wasn't enough, he has his own football team kit and happily chases the ball with his little friends every Saturday morning.
I wasn't ready for this picture. He's all grown up.
I still remember the first time we brought him home like it was yesterday.
Of course, to be honest, there were times in the last five years when I wanted some time alone. Or just a sleep in.
But these moments when he's suddenly all grown up make me want to re-tread every single moment with an even greater awareness and attention. Now he plays by himself more. Now, when his friends are around he sometimes forgets we're there.
I’ve worked in quite a few different agencies.
Each has been very different, starting with a creative agency getting to grips having to do more than traditional ads, right at the start of the original ‘What do about the internet?” question, when agencies began to think being able to design and build websites.
Blogs were a long way off, let alone anything that looked like social media.
This contrasts sharply with my experience these days in media agencies.
They’re absolutely on top of their game dealing with the continuous upheaval and change their industry faces.
Communications strategy is no longer owned by the creative (or digital) agency and, to some degree, nor is core brand strategy. How can it when a huge proportion is what gets planned, across paid and earned I hasten to add, doesn’t actually need much stuff created for the client by an external agency?
(Can I just say I bloody hate the term ‘brand planning’ or ‘brand strategy’. Yes, I’ve seen the same numbers as you, that show the payback from great campaigns that build and refresh memory structures etc.
But this is merely a constant need over time to reach as many buyers as possible with stuff that is consistent with, and develops, core associations in the mind.
Rarely is the immediate PROBLEM the brand. The problem is nearly always about removing specific reasons not to buy. Defining the issue, then going about the job of solving it.
So many modern campaigns include content created in partnership - with the people that own the media, or folks at an even sharper end of creativity – film makers, writers, technology outfits and whatever else – ‘strategy’ no longer means what you fill the ads with.
Now, as a strategy type in a media agency, you’d expect me to say that.
But the reason I jumped ship from the creative outfit a worked with wasn’t just down to the creative director with the ego dwarfing his skills, or head of new business that thought he was a planner, not even the general complacency of the place.
It was simply that I was getting concerned at the amount of ‘ad tweaking’ briefs I was working on.
After getting used to, in many cases, developing digital stuff around the work other creative agencies were doing, it was a little too much to find in latter years, I was mostly being given some core thinking from the media folks.
And lots of it was pretty good too.
In fact, it seemed that much of the innovations and drive to solve business problems rather than just ‘marketing’ or even ‘creative’ problems was coming from the media folks.
So here I am. Probably quite well qualified to comment on what’s different between creative/digital/media agencies and what is the same.
5 things that are the same
The other agencies are charlatans. They don’t work as hard, they get paid more, they’re not held to the same high standards as you are. It’s so easy on the other side, you’ve often thought of jumping ship for an easier life, to make a bigger impact and get paid more.
Clients just don’t get how hard you work, how you’re always juggling, how their briefs are never clear enough. They always brief you at the last minute and expect a response now. But when it comes to invoices, they pay as late as possible and query everything.
Suppliers to agency folk, researchers, media owners, production companies, tech companies, printers etc think agency folk don’t get how hard they work, how they’re always juggling, how their briefs are never clear enough. They always brief you at the last minute and expect a response now.
Many agency folk jump ship and work on the client side, only to get a nasty shock at the stuff they have to deal with, things well outside their experience or skills. Like dealing with a supermarket buyer if you’re in FMCG. Like dealing with sales team. Like being actually responsible for sales. Like working in a normal office without a groovy coffee machine. Like having to spend 90% of your time having to deal with stuff that is nothing to do with ‘campaigns’ or ‘communications’/ They miss the good old days.
They wish they were paid more, they hate the new world of procurement and know for certain the other agencies get paid more than they do.
5 Things that are different
Creative agencies secretly wish it was 1995 again, they could just make ads and bamboozle clients. Media agencies are torn between the simplicity of the old days where you could just negotiate the right amount of TVR’s – vs the brilliance of the new world where they can be lead agency all of a sudden. Digital agencies wish it was 2003 again when no one understood what they did, including themselves, but they could charge the earth for it. PR agencies don’t care when it is, as long as no one asks them to report ROI in the detail everyone else does.
Creative and digital agencies rarely have lunch breaks. Media agencies nearly always have lunch breaks and will not answer the phone to anyone between 1 and 2 pm. PR agencies are out to lunch all day.
Creative agencies spend ages on two IPA Awards year to prove the stuff they do works. Media agencies report on everything they do, reach is actually a serious measure. Digital agencies can prove everything they do, clicks are a serious metric. PR agencies have got to grips with the new world of accountability and do far more than equivalent media value and share insightful stuff like ‘likes’.
Media agencies have ‘invention’ or ‘content’ departments to disguise the fact they’re doing more creative and want to do even more. Creative and digital agencies have ‘creative departments’ (so little imagination) and planners that innocently trot out media recommendations in the guise of ‘brand behaviour. PR agencies do PR.
Creative agencies make their money charging a lot of time for a make-believe process. Media agencies make their money on commissions and charging time for a make believe process. Digital agencies charge for what they can get the client to understand. PR agencies are lovely.
I’m back in the pool again.
One of the benefits of the new job is that only two minutes’ walk from a decent pool.
The other is that it’s the kind of place where people actually take a lunch break.
So it transpires that a few days a week, I’m in the pool for a go half hour.
Now half an hour for swimmer isn’t much.
When I was training as a boy, we did about four to six hours a day. There wasn’t a day when my body didn’t hurt. I don’t mean the actual training, I mean the ache in my muscle after. The only thing that would stop it is more training.
It’s not even much next to what I was doing a few years ago to train for the Great North Swim – about a solid hour a day.
But now I’m riding around 20 miles a day, it’s not about the fitness and stuff, it’s about just doing it.
My obsession with getting on the road bike is all consuming, but my first love with always be swimming.
Because I will always be a clumsy fool on land, but when I get in the pool, suddenly my body assumes an air of grace. It knows this is something it likes to do well.
Also, cycling is freedom but riding is solitude and for an introvert like me, being alone with your thoughts is a rare pleasure. When I used to train properly, it was far from lonely, with all my team mates, united in agony and loving what they did. But now, there isn’t a silence quite like being underwater.
So how is it going?
At first, muscles I forgot I had woke up in flaming torture.
Then they calmed down.
My feel in the water was dreadful. That’s the thing swimmers need the most, and what disappears the most quickly if you stay out of the pool.
But it’s coming back.
While all the hours on the bike mean stamina isn’t a problem, as far as the lungs are concerned anyway.
What still hurts are the arms and shoulders.
Anyway, as embracing my long lost lover has been great, especially as it coexists with my new flame, my beloved cycling.
Well it’s a sad day today as Rob Campbell shuts down his blog indefinitely.
It's not because of this video........
It’s not because his employer has told him to.
It’s not because the odd bunch that comment have finally got to him.
It’s not because his best friend has asked him to cease and desist publicly admiring his genitals.
It’s not even down to his considerable holiday time being cut back.
It’s because Rob is expecting his first child very, very soon. A lucky little boy to have a Daddy like Rob.
And not just because he will be the first in school to get whatever sad gadget is out this week.
Once his Dad has had a play.
As much as Rob tries to hide his kind generous spirit, that’s the man that comes out over years and years of posting every day.
He is one of the most thoughtful people I’ve never met.
Rob is also evil, somehow I’ve been maneuvered into seeing Queen live in January, all at the hands of this evil genius. I hate Queen, white hot hate and yet I live in fear of actually liking it and having to admit this publicly –along with the obligatory selfie.
In fact, the only good thing to come out of the death of another planning blog is that I can’t be publicly ridiculed there.
Any more than I have already anyway.
So good luck Rob, all the best to you and your family.
If you can get hold of The Big Lie, by the Future Foundation, it's well worth a look.
It's a nice little window into what people in the UK care about right now, but more than that, it's a study into how research makes people tell lies.
It's evidence based, full of real data from real base sizes.
It shows how the same group of people can claim to 'think/feel/do' one thing.
Then claim to 'think/feel/do' something totally opposite.
Even in the same questionnaire.
Everyone is usually at least two people - how they see themselves and how others see them.
This get's resolved a little as people get older.
But this has only been complicated by two develops in recent times.
First, the porous nature of modern culture. There is so much choice of what to experience and 'how to be' that people genuinely are different versions of themselves in different situations and different groups.
Second, the way today's thirty and forty somethings are much 'younger' than generation before and actively try to avoid growing up.
Then there's social media, where we're seeing folks projecting a more 'perfect' social self, an idea of who they would like to be,rather than who they are.
For example, it's quite cool (people say) in the UK to have a work ethic and look disciplined, so loads of folks are exaggerating how much they go to the gym and what they do there.
Just the data tends to show people claim to dismiss 'celebrity' yet the Daily Mail website is one of the most popular sites in the world.
So it's totally authentic for me to moan about work commitments getting in the way of time with the kids.
Then moan about time with the kids getting in the way of cycling in other company.
Both statements are true and authentic.
Which makes research and 'insight' bloody hard.
It means that if you come across a neat little insight, it's probably only half the story.
It means we should look for tensions and contradictions more. It means we're on to something.
It means we should avoid asking people direct questions, or at least, look for connections, patterns and tensions in their answers.
The tensions are the insights!
It means that 80% of market research findings are, at best, questionable.
More likely, they are a pack of true lies.
I like wine.
No I love wine.
So when Naked Wines started emailing me, and offered a ridiculously good trial, naturally I had a go.
Now, the wine of great, the business model of supporting independent growers, so you pay more for the wine and less for the supply chain, and know the people that matter get paid is all ace.
But that's not the good bit. The clever bit is how you get put on the waiting list to be a fully fledged member -and when you can you have real influence.
Because we live in an instant gratification culture today, where we can have it now at the click of a button culture where more is better.
Creating scarcity, earned membership of a hard to enter club where you're treated as a connoisseur (even if you're not like me).
That's really special these days and is commercial catnip if you can get it right.
Even in the mass market. If you can create perceived scarcity or exclusivity, you're on to something.
Because perversely,in today's have it all world, the thing we want the most is what we can't have.
I'm guessing that I come into Sainsbury's target market.
I know that I think about ads and stuff too much.
I know that tapping into all that WW1 stuff around at the moment should create some natural traction.
But I do wonder if this..
Will be seen as a tune free version of this..
Not to mention, I wonder if people who think about things a little less, might react a little adversely to something as serious as millions of men giving up their lives, in service of selling turkey and tinsel.
Winning Christmas is really important commercially and much of that can come from making people feel something profound, but I question the relevance here, the 'sharing' present element feels too bolted on.
Borrowed interest can be really powerful, but you need to get the relevance. I wonder if folks might like the ad (if they can't remember Macca) but not attribute it to Sainsburys.
Anyway, my favourite Christmas commercial is this...
I read something or other from the APG, a summary of one of their speakers events.
Someone made the point that while there is an established link between creativity and effectiveness, there is less of a link between 'strategy' and effectiveness.
The evidence of creative payback comes from linking performers in the IPA Databank to creatively awarded campaigns.
The evidence of lack of strategic payback comes from the lack of APG Award winners in the IPA's.
But this is highly flawed..............
First, the IPA Databank is made of those who had the data that proved effectiveness. Mostly, those that could pay for, or had econometrics in house.
This is a very small sample of ALL communications campaigns.
Moreover, they tend to conform to what the IPA is looking for - prove traditional media is alive and well.
Which brings me to creatively awarded campaigns. Most creatively awarded campaigns are not 'effective'- let alone have won an IPA. And what drives creative awards is rarely stuff that would excite the non-creative community.
This is a little like the APG Awards. They are not really about effectiveness, they're about showing how clever you are. Hugely post rationalised case studies built on what other planners might like to hear.
You could say that creative awards and APG Awards are specialists talking to themselves, basically showing off to each other.
One final point, coming back to the IPA Awards. I'd argue that this is the best we have at showing strategy, only in that they tend to outline a clear problem, strategy and then claimed effect.
At their best, they define a clear problem and role for comms to judge results against. Which is really the basis of good strategy.
But proving the benefits of having people who's primary role is strategy? That goes well beyond a final sales affect or whatever the payback measure is.
From internal perspective, there is the role as buffer between suit, creative, client, media buyer, digital strategist and whoever else. By defining a clear jumping off point for everyone.
There is the role of non-threatening sounding board for everyone.
For clients, there is the role of someone who cares about the business. Not the work, not the plan and not the agency profit.
There is help with the 'sell'. Most agencies talk bollocks, I've often thought that planners make the right thing easy to buy and easy to sell on to the board for clients and such. They make it simple, understandable and compelling.
The (much hated by planners) but much appreciated role by everyone else of workshop facilitator.
I'm saying that much of the value of a strategy person isn't just in formal ROI. It's making life easy for everyone else.
I sort of know the stuff I've done that has 'worked'. I know the stuff that hasn't. You just know, so do clients.
Evaluation is critical and should never, ever be dismissed, but I'd argue the value of a strategist is been dismissed because they do less strategy and more 'ad tweaking' or they focus on communications problems rather than how comms can solve BUSINESS problems.
Or they are hidden away from the client, or don't want to meet the client that often. Or hide in their ivory tower until it's time to push out the brief.
Or they think they're the only one who can do 'strategy' v liberating the thinking of everyone around them.
I guess I'm saying it's the intangible as well as the tangible benefits of a planning type that need to be taken into account.
And it's down to planners to get their hands dirty, be generous, ego free and do what's needed to be wanted in the room.
I love this insight into what makes relationships last.
Basically, never failing to make the effort to be kind and generous everyday.
Always looking for positives in the other and opportunities to show the other you care and are interested.
That's not really an insight though is it? It's bloody common sense.
Especially when it comes to agencies and their clients.
Some agencies have it in their DNA to be aloof and difficult to work with. They believe it makes them cool.
Even fewer get away with it because they are very, very good.
So clients stick with them because, we'll, they provide ace value.
Until something goes wrong.
And it always does.
The edgy work that was sold in this time, it just doesn't connect with the customer and all measures, hard and soft, are awful.
Somone has got the numbers wrong and the agency has to fall on the generosity of the client to pay more than was quoted - even though they're not obligated to.
A new CEO takes over the client company with a favourite agency and no one in the marketing team LIKES their agency partners enough to stick their neck out.
Everyone gets caught out in the end.
I'm not saying you have to constantly over deliver.
I'm not saying you can get away with second rate work. You can't, being nice only gets you so far.
But actually making people feel appreciated goes a very long way.
Now the problem with any relationship is that the novelty wears off. What was once fresh and wonderful becomes expected and even unnoticed.
Even supermodels get cheated on.
The trick is to always suprise others with the unexpected. 'I saw this a thought of you'. Doesn't cost much, just a little bit of effort every now and then.
A little extra in the response to brief.
Noticing they've taken up running and paying a few quid for Strava premium.
Being brilliant gets you far. Being brilliant, thoughtful and kind gets you a lot, lot further.
So it's the first week in the new job.
Important findings so far...
Everyone is lovely.
No one makes tea in the pot, time for another revolution.
It doesn't matter how many times you change jobs, the first two weeks are all about mouth shut, ears open, working out who can sort IT for you, remembering names, making friends with reception and office managers and nodding a lot while you work out what on earth everyone is talking about.
I really like Tales of Things. Basically, digitally tag an object and add people's stories behind it .
It's not incredible digital tomfoolery, it's bloody simple. Most things are.
I first came across it reading case studies about the Scottish National Museum and Oxfam. Now you can pretty much tag anything.
I feel I want to attach memories to the stuff we keep in a couple of little boxes for the kids- one or two artifacts from their childhood that were important to us.
Let's face it, few objects are valuable for their qualities, it's what we believe about them and the stories behind them.
Imagine how you could transform those plaques in cities that tell you where a famous person used to live.
This plaque could be tagged with recollections from people who were alive when he first exploded onto the scene, YouTube videos of his best moments, who knows.
Of course there is History Tag that makes this kind of stuff dead easy.
I'd love to tag my record collection and books. The kids might never read them or listen, but I'd love them to know what some of it meant to me.
Imagine getting a brand new, overly priced racing bike with stories from the folks who made it about the materials, craft and artistry that went into making it.
Why on earth has Patek Phillippe with it's 'You don't own a Patek Phillippe, you look after it for the next generation done something with this other than a hateful 'image' press campaign?
I'd love to see static outdoor posters that share the stories and dreams of other people. I had hoped that this wonderful Art Everywhere campaign could have gone one stage further.
Most recieved wisdom about society in England (and the UK to some extent) describes a nation that finds it hard to express emotions.
It drives our obesession with owning a home (to shut out other people) and our distaste for public transpot (being thrown together with strangers).
But that doesn't mean we are devoid of emotion. Humans need to feel, they need to express themselves, it's part of who we are.
It's just that we used to express this in what we believed in, what gave us ballast and comfort, by way of our institutions.
The Empire, The Church, the monarchy, our constitution and democratic tradition, our industry, our education system, even The Unions.
In short, we expressed our emotions through symbols of what we believed in.
But for a variety of very complex reasons, this stuff doesn't have the role it once did.
We're a mostly secular nation, without an Empire, with an uncertain sense of our place in the world, where the monarchy isn't revered like it was, where teachers, politicians, the judiciary, the police and other cornerstones of our old beliefs are, at best mistrusted and at worse treated with disdain.
So it's little wonder we have found new ways to come together, new hooks to hang our feelings on. Football is the perennial expression of this, something to belong to, somewhere to feel.
But then there is the resurgence of big Saturday night TV (X Factor etc), the very un-British national grief at the death of Diana, the way we grasp at social media to belong, the way we use music and musical tribes to express ourselves and, unfortunately, our obsession with materialism. Many people believe in the awesome power of the Mulberry bag lot more than they should.
There's the middle class obsession with cycling, the love of driving, the way certain people born in th 1970's still love Star Wars. Lots of ways to try and feel and express emotions, now the big instutions and sense of shared beliefs has dissapated.
Which brings me to work, specifically working in agencies and such.
Work has the potential to matter more. I enjoyed Alain De Botton's The Pleasure and Sorrows of Work and the idea that, despite the fact that our daily toils matter little in the grand scheme of things, but the illusion that they might can deliver great comfort and meaning in our lives.
But the problem with many agencies is that they can be pretty good at creating meaning for their clients (if only to get them noticed in a sea of indifference), in some cases giving a sense of purpose to the staff there - but pretty useless at doing this for themselves.
There are exceptions of course, you know quite clearly what some outfits believe in and there is a real sense of everyone grafting towards a clear purpose.
But the majority can seem like it's a perennial treadmill in service of profit margins, status reports and even worse, simply not getting made redundant if you lose some clients.
Or who can work the hardest and stay the latest.
For a sector that is now competing with tech industries, the city, gaming companies and everything else that is probably seen as more rewarding and certainly better paid, you'd think we would be better at creating organisations that feel greater than the sum of their parts.
I'm lucky to have a great relationship with my father.
It wasn't always thus, we had the familiar late teens rocky patch when we struggled with re-adjusting to 'he's not quite man, he's certainly not a boy anymore' thing.
What really frustrates me is how I didn't respect him as much as he deserved until I was going through some of the stuff he did.
Working for a living.
Thinking for two instead of one when you get married.
The terrifying responsibility of looking after the wellbeing of your children and the sacrifice and joy that brings.
Every decision suddenly loaded with implications, the way work can never be about ego or personal growth in the same way, it's about buying shoes and food.
You cannot know what you're Dad is going through until you experience it yourself.
I only know now how much he loved me, what he did (and does) for me now I feel the same way about my own children.
And you realise they were winging it, as uncertain and basically using The Force as much you.
It's the same in the office. There were some people in high places when I was younger that I'll never forgive. There are others I'll never be able to thank enough.
I understand them all better now. And respect them a lot more.
Because we're all winging it at work too. Anybody who claims to 100% know what they're doing is a charlatan, or at least self-deluded.
The salary gets bigger, the responsibilties and stakes grow perhaps, especially when the salary pays for shoes and school books, not just rent and beer, but the general Making Things Up as You Go Along persists.
When I was a lot younger, I wanted to leave something behind.
After agencies and marketing in general consigned me to the scrapheap.
No prizes for guessing that was a body of good work.
I still want to leave something, but it's nothing to do with the vain pretensions above.
I still believe in doing great work, because I know it has a greater effect, but as I increasingly find myself tasked with guiding more junior people, I find what excites me is leaving behind some great people.
As some of the interesting people that have worked for me or been daft enough to listen to my advice become great senior planners and beyond.
I want to generate people who are great, and nice at the same time.
I have worked for, and with some exeptional people. To tell you the truth, many of them were not that great to be around.
Many of the heroes I got to meet in the flesh were disappointing people.
But just as many were super generous, super nice and great to be around.
Despite his protestations to the contrary,his taste sartorial leanings, preference for Queen and taste in football teams one the best planners on the planet is also the kindest.
I know the argument that great talent tends to be difficult, but I just don't buy it.
I do believe we should expect the best from each other. We should expect each other to try hard, to never accept OK, to be honest even when the truth hurts. I believe in mutual tough love.
I don't believe anyone has a right to be arrogant, to bully people, to not take the time to care about how people feel, to kidnap their entire life by making them work 12 hour shifts every day and generally make people's lives hell.
I certainly don't believe people should be dismissed becasue of where they might have/not have worked and what they worked on.
Most of Weiden and Kennedy Portland's original staff, the founders of maybe the best agency - whatever discipline you choose - came together because no one else would hire them.
AMV/BBDO, arguably the most enduringly successful UK creative agency has a reputation for being non-ruthless.
PHD where I am now is full of people who are noticably nice to be around.This is a place that cares .
And where I'm going was chosen, amongst other things, simply by the fact that the people I've met look like okay people I actually would want to spend time with.
So what I try to instill people is threefold.
If I leave a few people that are great on both counts, I might feel I've done something that matters slightly.
Certainly more than a few IPA's or Mediaweek Awards or even D&AD's.
If you haven’t read Steven Johnson’s book, ‘Where Ideas Come from’ you should. It might challenge some of your long held beliefs about where great ideas really come from.
A ‘slow hunch’ is much more valuable than a Eureka moment. Flashes of insight rarely happen, most great innovations are the result of graft.
Of edit, précis and distillation.
A connected, open and collaborative group is always smarter than a lone thinker.
The best ideas come from building on the inventions of others.
Peer behind a Darwin, Einstein or even Google and you’ll find a great body of thoughts and ideas from other people they recombined into something greater, over period of time where, along with talent and genius, there was a lot of hard work and patience.
Which also means that where you work and think is just as important as HOW you work and think. Environments that naturally throw a lot of people together, with a strong culture that encourages them to share ideas and collaborate, these are the hotbeds of the great leaps forward.
Which is why Manchester is such a great place to work if you’re in media and marketing. Because good ideas pay back.
We know from all sorts of sources that innovations and creativity pays back disproportionately – the IPA Databank for a start - and the city I work has long been an engine of ideas and innovation.
Going back to Johnson’s book, cities has always been hotbeds of ideas and innovation. The sheer density of people and the buzz this creates simply makes things happen.
Communities of skilled and like-minded people spark each other and create a critical mass.
It’s just as true of San Francisco and digital innovation today, as it was Florence and the birth of the Renaissance in the 14th Century, or philosophy in BC Athens.
And it has certainly been true of Manchester. This dense city with its open, cheerful and generous culture was where John Dalton’s theories paved the way for modern chemistry. It was at Manchester University that Rutherford discovered how to split the atom. More recently, graphene was discovered here.
In the Midland Hotel, just around the corner from where I work, Rolls first met Royce.
We have seen the snowballing of communities and movements here too.
Manchester was the cradle of the world-wide Co-operative movement, feminism, the first professional football league and the Guardian.
Culturally, Manchester birthed Coronation Street, and, at the other end of the spectrum, it was where Charlotte Bronte sat down to write Jane Eyre.
While Joy Division and their later incarnation, New Order, along with my beloved Smiths, sparked a movement of Manchester music that created The Stone Roses the Charlatans and later Oasis I don't like Oasis but you can't deny their impact).
It feels like the Manchester media and creative scene has its own special community today. The BBC produces much of its output in Salford, next door to ITV, and with all the important media owners here too, we have a thriving, collaborative culture where we can bounce off some of the best innovators in the business.
I think what makes Manchester special is our tight knit media community, constantly feeding of the cultural buzz of the city. This is a city that has always driven things forward and right now, it feels like we’re doing this more than ever.
Someone once told me that everyone at Microsoft in Seattle used to be ace at crisply describing their what they were working on - in about 30 seconds.
Reason was simple.
The office only had two floors, consequently, the lift took about 30 seconds at most.
Bill Gates was socially inept and was even worse than the rest of us at lift small talk.
So he only said one thing. "What are you working on".
Everybody got extremely good at distilling their current project down to its bare essentials.
Something planning folk should practise more.
What is the one thing you're presentation is really about?
What is the core jumping off point of your brief?
If you can't desribe it in a few words, there are holes in it.
I don't mean leaving out complexity, intelligence or anything like that.
But if you can't compress stuff down, like chinese whispers, the more it gets passed on an talked about, the more it will change.
Think about your client presenting on to the board.
Think about the creatives discussing the brief.
Think about partner agencies.
That's a lot of potential for stuff to get fiddled with.
Like an machine with lots of parts, the more knobs and whistles you add, the more opportunties for it to break.
I was asked by someone recently what planning was like in the North of England.
Someone from a very good London agency, good clients etc, looking for a better quality of life.
Here's what I said...
What you need to prepared for, in general, in the creative side of things at least, is that you just won't get the same kind of clients and do the same kind of work.
You'll find though, that while there are less big TV campaigns, there are lots of really interesting, more integrated projects. You'll need to be good at getting how channels fit together and creating strategic platforms for IDEAS, rather than advertising ideas.
That can be really interesting. Especially when the silos between discipines are not like they are in a London outfit. Or between outfits even .
But prepare for a certain lack of sophistication. Not much, but you might find that a few folks are a bit complacent and don't have a big enough frame of reference of what good looks like these days. But that's ace, it's a chance for you to have some impact.
But then again, you'll need to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in.
While suits will be suspicious of you and creative types will see you as an unnecessary evil at first, if you can help suits with the client relationship in non-threatening way, while helping creatives get their head around the complex media choices - and give them a great springboard -generally mucking in and being generous with your ideas and freeing up the skills of others, it can be really rewarding.
But you'll have to prove yourself. More than someone from around here. No one will take your word for it about anything. But good places will give the chance.
So choose your agency wisely.
There are less of them and much less planner roles.
Good planners are always sought after, but perversely, the good jobs don't come up much. So make sure you've found out what the culture is like, if it fits your general world view and you like the people.
Because you might end up there for a while.
And some places ARE horribly 'regional'. The kind of places with the creative director dressed head to toe in All Saints, who thinks he can do the strategy, not to mention the writing and art direction, when really, he's an okay designer. The kind of place with the head of clients services or MD who has only ever worked on small regional clients and don't really get it either. This is fine of course, it works for them. It won't for you!
Coming back to that 'blur' between disciplines. Even at a big London place like yours, you'll have found the media folks trying, and doing, more of the core comms planning and even content. It's really happening out here.
That's why I've ended up in a media agancy and have found it really enjoyable. Planning folks are naturally curious and get bored quickly. Grappling daily with the sharp end of new media innovations and the realities of the modern media landscape is tremendously interesting. And working directly with Google or another media owner, the real experts at communications that captures the imaginations of people.
Nothing is more stimulating than that. You get to brief creatives, but the creatives are real content experts!
So, if you want to move up North, the place with a real COMMUNITY, is Manchester. There are great places elsewhere, but less concentration of organisations.
And if it's on the cards, if you want to muck in, if you're prepared to take people with you, if you choose your employer carefully (watch out for the complacent lot) and might even consider a different species of agency...
You'll find that job satisfaction and quality of life are not mutually exlusive.
See you soon maybe!
Evie, my lovely little daughter is a bit of a Daddy's girl.
I won't pretend not to like this.
But not even Daddy escapes the darker elements of her current stage of development.
Namely, the power of repetition.
When it's time to brush her teeth, Evie miraculously loses the power of hearing.
Ask her ten times and nothing. Diddly squat.
Until she get's bored not hearing you and just leaves the room.
When the tables are turned, when she wants TV on, despite knowing full well it has been switched off until after tea time, she'll ask over and over until you are trembling with the need to give in.
Or when she wants to know what's for tea, and doesn't want it to to be boring chicken, she asks for pizza over and over, even while she shovels forkfuls of the fown passed her - butter wouldn't melt - lips.
Most of advertisers are like Evie when she wants something. Over and over, no let up in stalking you, even with hateful re-targeting these days until you can take no more.
But so are most consumers when the roles for Evie are reversed, evolving a fantastic ability to filter out unwanted rubbish, even when it's right in your face. If it's a mobile display ad that freezes the site, like Evie leaving the room, we'll just leave.
Impacts/impessions/reach figures are not a measure of efficiency or value. They're usually a sign of inneficiency.
There is a calm fury to a true craftsman. The restless perfectionist who's work is never done, it just that time has run out.
I used to love John McEnroe, all waspy wayward genius and volcanic rage for perfection. But he couldn't control his passions - blowing up in his face as much as carrying him to even greater feats.
Compare that to the steely grace of a Federer, or the relentless intensity of a Nadal. Not an ounce of energy wasted, eveything in service of the next shot being even more perfectly weighted and judged than the last.
Or the solitary sculpter chipping away as his work slowly reveals itself.
Talent is common, the years of practise and dedication in the pursuit of the the perfection that will never be reached, that is rare. And it doesn't come cheap. Even rarer is the ability to keep that unrelenting focus. To never stop trying until the job is done, in fact, never finishing it, just having to let it go.
Planning is like sculpture. From the chaos of information, you're trying to cut out the rubbish, chipping away bit by but until you get something that looks usable. Then the real work begins. Edit, precis, distil, re-write, sometimes re-start, until you go from good to great and sometimes, even moderately happy with it.
It takes focus. The anwers don't just magically appear. It takes a calm fury. Hating obvious, rejecting easy.
You can't get away from doing the work.