This is the funniest set of agency people biogs EVER. I hope it's ironic, I'm not so sure though.
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.
So, I'm off to work here in a month after a year at PHD.
It's with a heavy heart in many ways, I get attached to places and people quickly, but I was covering maternity leave and my brief sojourn is coming to an end.
I don't think I'd cover maternity leave again. The uncertainty is one thing, but leaving people you like is difficult.
That said, I'm bloody excited about where I'm going. The people I've met are ace and I'm going to be doing some interesting stuff. I'm very lucky to be honest.
Like most times I've moved, it's going to be a challenge, but I do think careers are like sharks, you need to keep moving forward or you die.
Adjusting to working in a media led agency was one of the hardest things I've ever done. But this year has been one of the most rewarding after the initial pain of getting to know what on earth I was talking about.
I've only just found out what a TVR is (only kidding).
This feels like another terrifying leap forward but, in many ways it was the easiest series of job interviews ever as two out of three were really chats about road biking punctured with the odd bit about the work.
So here we go, Head down, ears open, mouth shut.
I have seen and done sone stupid things in my time.
I have seen Mission Impossible 2.
I bought a Mel and Kim single when I was very, very young.
I tried to boil an egg in the microwave.
More recently, I have been seriously riding a road bike for around two years, but only commuting for one. Riding in the city is tricky, but the problem with fast bikes is you don't want to slow down, you weave in and out of traffic, you jump red lights.
You are not brave. You are stupid.
So I'm glad I got knocked off my bike in February. It wasn't my fault, but twinges I get from my poor neck even now tell me to not be an arse on the road, not when I'm surrounded by tons of very hard metal.
Painful experience in the job is so invaluable too. You need some planning scars to remind you not to be so daft. You might well be brilliant and a veritable genius, but if you haven't failed miserably, or felt like a complete numpty any number of times, you're not ready.
The scars from creatives who found out the clients' feedback was really your feedback.
The data you conveniently left out that contradicted your argument. Then you got found out.
The strategy you wanted to do because it was cool, rather than right. That got through and bombed.
The clever digital stunt thing that no one actually saw.
The time you tried to shaft the partner agency.
The time you trusted the partner agency.
The best work you've ever seen being eviscerated by bad research.
The bad work that got through because of research.
The idea you wouldn't change, but were then too proud to alter when you thought about it.
Get some scars. Get some wisdom.
But don't let it stop you trying new things and moving forward.
It's just a lot easier to move forward when you've been knocked back a few times.
This post about 'Would You' reminded me of one my favourite campaigns for police recruitment.
Simple insight, we respect the hell out people who do what we cannot, in service of a simple problem - quality recruits, not quantity.
Great media thinking. Get to the chosen few by making them feel great in front of everyone else and putting off the undesirables at the same time.
Which brings me to a point about the merits of positioning the audience, rather than positioning the customer.
Now I don't do much 'brand positioning' stuff these days, now that most of what I do is comms planning. Which suits me fine as I don't really believe brand positioning is that useful externally.
Sure, internally for tone of voice consistency, media behaviour and all that jazz, but people really don't care how a brand is positioned and according to most of the data from Byron Sharp, they couldn't tell you what it's position is anyway, not even how the brand is different.
The only ones that can are the ones that matter little to growth, the wierdos that are loyal beyond reason. Not the lighter buyers who bring growth.
I don't believe most folks ever understood 'Just Do It'. The tag was so distinctive, it lodged in the brain. No one got what the hell 'The Future's Bright' meant, it just stood out.
As did '1984'. But in this case, just like Crazy Ones, in fact, just like 'Could You', it did the neat trick of not positioning the brand, but the kind of people who bought it.
No one got the sub-text of 'tools for creative minds' it just felt like it was the brand for people who didn't want to conform to the directives of 'the man'. We're back to the man-of-action archetype v the other directed man I guess.
Some of the most succesful campaigns ever focus more on behavioural reinforcement.
Not some trite mirroring of an insight or any of that rubbish, they play back an aspirational image of who their audience would like to believe they are, or could be. Usually resolving some deep tension in their lives.
Like Herbal Essences today, affirming a modern woman's right to choose her identity rather than conform to the expecations from all sides.
I reckon this approach unlocks a more integrated approach, by focusing on some shared attitude or behaviour with the customer (or something the customer would like to believe), lending itself to more social media and ideas customers can play a part in - the loyalists that might add some amplication I mean of course.
It's certainly less arrogant and self-absorbed than the usual 'tell people about yourself' approach to brand marketing.
Let's face it, who would you rather want to spend time with? Someone who talks about themself or someone who is more interested in you and what you care about?
Don't get me wrong, a brand needs a strong point of view (much more useful as distilation than an 'essence' or 'proposition') but it's so much more powerful if it's articulated- and the media is then targeted- as collusion with the hopes, dreams, issues and fears of your customers.
The ultimate reinforcement campaign in my view is Lurpak. It's only butter, but it's the butter for foodies.
And look at the Economist, who neatly position their customers as more informed and therefore more succesful. But the creative us only half the story. David Abbot's writing was without peer of course, but the media buy was genius. A niche audience targeted through outdoor was horribly inneficient, but not when the small audience was celebrated in front of the great unwashed and it became 'self selection'.
While this great stuff from Chrysler neatly positions their luxury car drivers as hard workers, not pampered banker types - and taps into the unspoken American belief in grit and hard work.
So next time you get a brand position to work with, ask yourself WHO is the customer, why does the brand admire them? What could that mean and how could it get people talking?
The interwebs, it could be argued, are like a big purgatory.
An 'in between' worlds for thousand upon thousands of interactive this and social media stuff, that no one ever bothered with.
Digital tumbleweeds doomed to spend eternity in limbo where no one can be fagged to do interact with them, yet no one can be bothered to put them out of their misery.
But it's not just digital. There are thousands of integrated campaigns out there that were crushed underfoot by tracking studies, much-too-late rushes of common sense and, more importantly, no shifts in sales or behaviour.
Spoof campaigns that folks didn't really were spoofs. 'Cultural strategies' that never inspected the culture properly and a general shower of work that just didn't connect.
All these doomed souls, that somehow got through approval processes and even pre-testing. Made and signed off by perfectly normal human beings that forgot to ask themselves the simplest of questions. "Would I..?"
Would I take this campaign seriously?
Would I really give up enough attention to understand this spoof was ironic?
Would I really upload a video of myself?
Would I really share that with my peers?
Would I take a fizzy drink seriously as route to eternal happiness?
For some reason, when most of us walk though the doors of out places of work, we forget how much we hated our commute, how much we don't pay attention to marketing, how important our time, family and friends are, how much we hate Truview ads and re-targeting.
We think people will do the strangest things, stuff we never do ourselves.
Because we fall for the myth that people care about brands.
We believe the trend guys telling us that people want to co-create with brands.
We believe that young people want brands to be authentic, when really, as ever, they just notice the ones that are cool. Look at the queues in Primark. Does any of this lot care about authentic Primark is? Nope,just that they can get high fashion for buttons.
We believe the lies of segmentation studies that artificially make people who are very similar very different.
We believe it's all about earned media and that no one cares about telly anymore. Even though telly is more efficient that ever.
Layers of self-delusion, or even worse, disrespect to people out there.
Resulting in a shadow world of spectres unable to find peace.
The ghosts of our hubris.
Who's fate could have been avoided, if we could all just say, "What would I really think/feel/do?"
The most important question in strategy and idea development.
Really, would you?
A few years ago I attended the APG Planning Network.
It was a great experience where I went to different agencies to hear different points of view on various bits of the job. Every talk was by a celebrated planning director, but I got a lot out of being around other inexperienced planners on our project task.
None of us has a clue, even though some thought they did.
Which is why the best piece of advice on the whole course came from George Bryant.
"It takes seven years to get the experience you'll really need, but then you'll found your voice".
Seven years. A bloody long time before you can really fly solo.
But think about what you need to survive in the job...
A working knowledge of research, what is can achieve, the strengths and weaknesses of methodologies. The ability to do some of your own moderation.
A deep knowledge of how brand communciations work. Not just what you have read, what you have been involved in. Accross as many clients and media you possibly can.
Lots of practise at handling all kinds of individuals in other agencies.
Even more at building relationships with clients.
A working knowledge of psychology and behind that, all sorts of broad knowledge about popular culture, and general wierd stuff.
Knowing how to build a trusting relationship with creative folk, media folk and digital folk.
Knowing instinctively how agencies tick, how traffic works, how things get commisioned, bought and made. How investment teams work in media agencies, what developers do in digital areas.
The stress of a pitch.
Handling campaigns that fail.
The big make or break presentations.
Dealing with new brooms in clients companies.
The new boss you can't stand.
The juniors you find impossible to manage.
And then of course, instictive knowledge of the basics in the job. Various models of brand positioning (really sorry), writing a strategy, comms planning, knowing how media works, evaluating creative work, assessing content plans getting stuff through research..and on it goes.
To be honest, seven years is only the start, because you never stop learning. The industry changes, culture changes, media changes.
This kind of experience does not come cheap.
I'm not a believer in long hours for the sake of it. But this is not a desk job and it's not 9-5. The best people I've worked with simply work harder than other people.
They have standards and stick to them.
Their work is never finished, deadlines just mean they have no more time to improve it.
They take the time to actually go out and meet the people they are selling clients stuff to.
They know how to switch off, but allow themselves the chance to notice stuff that might spark new thinking all the time.
They keep up with the latest thinking in the industy.
But they read everything and and anything, in the hope that 1% might end up useful - and nearly always more powerful than the industry stuff everyone reads.
Talent helps, but it's the application that matters. Anyone who believes otherwise of themselves are kidding themselves, or hanging around the wrong people.
So I spent the day with my little girl yesterday. Evie is nearly three and not ready for nursery, while our eldest has just started school.
It was a lovely day. We only went to look at the fish and the parrots at the garden centre, saw the farm and bounced like loons on the trampoline. QWe read books and painted, along with some hardcore chasing of course.
And just chatting.
The kind of stuff we do most summer weekends, but this time, no older brother just her.
So it means the world.
Because it can be difficult with two, you need to divide your attention equally. No need to divide the love of course, but we're learning both need time on their own with one or both of us. Evie came second but will never be made to feel second.
And I want to hold on to every single memory of her before she goes to nursery and loses every last trace of being a toddler. It goes so quickly, with her even quicker.
Looking at some of the old pictures of Will at her age, it's painful sometimes. He's started school and the slow decay of his innocence has begun.
He's more fun than ever, and I'm enjoying seeing his mind unfold.Will has a great imagination and is proving to be really creative, like Daddy was actually. At the same time, it's difficult to see the beginnings of introversion, which will be great for hime in some ways, but I know how difficult that will be and want t help him in every way I can.
We have a great time though.
But it's hard to look at the pictures of that chubby little mass of chestnut hair and planet sized grin, from a couple of years ago,and not miss it sometimes.
There's no dodgy 'what this means for brands or planning' I'm afraid, it's just on my mind. All I might say is that you'll never be able to comprehend the waves of joy and sorrow that assault people with children until you have them yourself. Another reason why the worship of youth in this industry can be a bit daft.
You can't move for storytelling in the corridors of communications agencies. We don't make ads, we don't market at folk, we tell stories.
This is nothing new. I give you exhibit A.......
Exhibit B, a little vignette...
But it's fair to say that 'storytelling' has become a little more complex of late.
Linear stories are out of fashion, with the end at the start, parallel story lines and God knows what else.
Memento was a pioneer...
But it's all variations on the simple fact that you need to leave space for the viewer to feel involved, it just depends on how much effort you believe they want to make.
With advertising, that's not much!
One the most succesful stories in recent years was actually quite simple, with a clear hero and villain..
Because some things are constant.
One of them is that we all like heroes.
We also love to hate villains.
It's why comic book films are so successful in my view. Apart from escapism, I don't know of a genre that more clearly plays the hero v villain card.
That's something worth thinking about when you tell your own story.
I mean key presentations and pitches.
Tell a story.
A big inciting incident at the start.
Make the client/brand/product the hero.
And create a villain for it to struggle and ultimately win against (usually that's not another brand).
And leave stuff out you don't need. As Howard Gossage said, "If you're going to build a mousetrap, leave room for the mouse".
Don't put in the thousands of stats and bits of analysis. Just what they're telling you and what it means.
So you won't bore the pants of everyone.
And more importantly, there's always a clever dick who is sitting, waiting to ask you difficult questions.
The more you get them to ask the easy ones, about what you've left out, that you're in total command of, the less chance they'll ask stuff you DON'T know.
And the more you'll develop your meeting into a conversation, the more they'll feel part of the story.
And more they feel they're part of it, the more they'll want to make it happen.
Let's face it. No one needed t know Darth Vader's background in the first film. In fact, I wager he was more scary when you DIDN'T know his Anakin Skywalker background.
Just as the Joker's total lack of background was what made him so powerful.
I bloody love Haruki Murukami.
To the point when I usually get his new book as soon as it is published. Forget paperbacks, I want it now.
Over a number of years, he's built up quite a following for largely writing variations on the same them.
A lonely man with unrealised ambitions, who cooks a lot of spaghetti, has a lost love and a past he cannot reconcile, with a new, enigmatic girl in his life, meanwhile a parallel world full of possibility begins to bleed into this one. There is a lingering sense of sadness and loss of what could have been, with a coming to terms of what is and what could be.
It's never boring because there is so much invention in every page. Every book is a surprise and delight, yet it always feels like coming home.
I think brands have something to learn from this.
I've often found that 'brands as people' is too artificial, not to mention that a rigid 'essence and values' model is just too limiting, especially for a fast moving media landscape like we have today.
But I've never bought 'brands as conversations' and 'relationships', which all the data tells us is, as far as generating business growth, hogwash.
I do like the idea of brands thinking of themselves more as content creators and less as advertisers. This shouldn't be news to anyone - the best advertising has never felt like an 'ad' it has always rewarded the viewer - but it's fair to say that more and more of what we do needs to add value where it shows up and what people are looking for.
But of course, we also know that brands need to build consistent, yet distinctive. Continously interesting, yet familiar.
I venture being more like a Murukami, with a big flexible theme, rather than a tight, never to be messed with brand triangle/onion/key.
I reckon brands should think of themselves more like authors than advertisers.
You know what you'll be getting from Murukami, a Phillip Roth or even a Stephen King or Hillary Mantel.
You will be entering a familiar world in which you'll be entertained and surprised .
In fact, you enter a particular world when you're listening to Radio 4 or watching HBO.
Maybe that's what we should start asking if we were an author, what are the constants in how we tell our story. Or what is the equivalent to 'Radio 4-ness' or 'HBO-ness'.
I'm not saying that people are sitting and waiting for our stuff (and I'm a heavy Murukami buyer, most folks will have read two of his books bet). But when we do stuff that hopefully get's us noticed by folks that don't care, it needs to build up a picture, a world, over time.
If you like, boil down any Lego construction, no matter how amazing, it's made of the same simple collection of bricks.
I feel very lucky to be a planner/strategist or whatever you fancy calling it these days. I find it continually interesting and challenging and have come across some lovely, talented people.
But there are some things about the job that drive me up the wall. Tiny next to upsides of the job - anyone doing this job is incredibly fortunate to be doing this rather than real work.
Bu just like the only who can moan about my mother in law is my wife, I reserve the right to good naturedly point out the increbibly daft.
1. The tried and tested methodology of using human relationships as a metaphor for how people buy brands. You know, stuff like 'creating brand love'. 'Like marriage the secret is to show you care'. When the most appropriate human relationship for how most people buy brands is the annoying stalker who won't leave you alone no matter how much you try and ignore him.
In fact it's not even that. It's that person in meeting you know you've met, you recognise the face but can't remember much about.
2. The habit of talking about brands like they're people. It's OK up to point of course, but like any 'model' it's only there as a representation, not fact. Loads of scientists have models of how stuff works, but when new evidence or insight comes to light, they develop the model.
A rigid brand onion no one can mess with, based on a tenuous comparison between an intangible impression in folks' heads and real, capricious human behaviour seems plain daft.
3. The worship of the brand per se. Too many planning folks seem to hide under the comforting blanket of brand scores, rather than actual business performance.
It's lovely not actually having to prove you sold anything, but eventually just shifting salience etc will get you fired, even the biggest, dumbest client companies.
4. Intelligent fools. You know, the poor sods who have been taught that complex language and even more complex powerpoints gives them gravitas and makes them look clever. It really doesn't .
5. The over-use of culture. It's quite right when planning folk bring cultural insight to the table. You know, what matters in real lives rather than fake focus groups. But while the context of real lives to frame a task is a must, there's lots of over-use of how 'were going to change/influence/make culture'.
You're really not.
With very, very few exceptions, you're going to create stuff that might actually get noticed because it has some relevance and adds some value - a few people might interact with it to amplify your reach, but it's rare you have an Old Spice Guy on your hands.
Even for the people who made the Old Spice Guy.
6. Mistaking what interesting to planners for what is interesting to real people. Thinkbox did some usueful research on the difference between media folk and the public at large, in terms of media habits and consumption.
It's pretty big.
So it the gulf between what media folks think people do and what they actually do. No wonder we see lots of obscure ads with clever references, genius apps no one uses and lots of augmented reality and such left untouched.
Not enough planning folk get the bus, read the Sun or watch Corrie or Keeping with the Kardashians. Our job is not suprise and delight other agency folks, it's to get noticed by people who think Mrs Browns Boys is funny and have never watched Game of Thrones.
7. Seeing the brief and the strategy as the idea. I remember being taught at an APG thingy that a brief is 'your ad to the creative department'.
I dislike this sentiment as it suggests a brief is a piece of craft that should be worshiped all of itself. Most creatives barely read it to be honest. They remember the briefing. It should feel a great start and juicy challenge - the more it feels like a problem to be solved rather than an unchangeable solution, the more folks will want to work on it.
In later years, I've found that a broad direction to talk to media owners is far better than 'give us a price for this'. I'm not as clever as YouTube or the Guardian. Like with creatives, you would be stupid not to take advantage of the brains of some really clever people who REALLY DO influence culture.
I'm talking about good creatives of course. I can't help you with the useless ones who ignore briefs AND can't get any good ideas - yet they are celebrated as untouchable Gods.
Just as there are media owners who come in an bombard you with chart after chart of the bleeding obvious.
8. Competitive planners. Many of us have been brought up to own the thinking. That doesn't work in real practise. Generosity does. That means sharing your thoughts, but also spotting someone else's greatness, using it and fully giving them credit.
That goes for agencies working together. It's tough of course, you want the client to value your input, and it's really annoying when you've had an idea and credit gets lost on the chaos of getting an intregrated campaign out the door. But it's not as frustrating as getting fired when you're seen as not being able to get on with your clients' other partners.
I'm sure folks I've worked with would accuse me of much of the above too, we're all guilty I suppose. I wonder what I've missed (the habit making lists, planners who blog?).
It's no secret that I'm not too fond of brainstorms.
They are mostly a waste of time. Unless you want to get buy in from members of an external or external team by making feel part of the idea creation. But that, of course, takes very careful meeting design and a masterclass in moderation.
There's simply too much evidence from all sorts of psychology that they don't work.
I won't bore you with the evidence, but read it here if you're interested. Take it from years of the collective experience of great folks I've worked with - brainstorms should be avoided by the plague.
There is a school of creativity that's about the solid, hard graft of the individual. Start with stuff that that isn't much good, then continuously work out what's wrong with it until you get something ace. Work that emerges, evolves through sheer patience and determination.
But there is an easier way.
If you're in a hurry, take a small amount of people, I mean no more than four, away from the usual office environment for an hour. Clever people who trust each other, with slightly different skills. Present a clear problem and just talk. That's right, a simple conversation.
Because if you trust each other, you don't have to bother with that, 'any idea is a good idea'. You can be honest about what is ace and what is dreadful - and take rejection on board.
Because small teams bounce off each other while big groups stifle.
Because a change of scenery immediately invigorates the brain.
Because it's the sparks that come from people who fill each others gaps that matter.
And in the longer term, talk about the project all the time with the team. It's the conversations that generate ideas. You just need to the awareness and humility to spot when someone else has a great idea, and the generosity to acknowledge it.
And, from a personal perspective, I'm rubbish at thinking in my head, but okay at thinking out loud. The act of writing things down too early destroys my thought process, but talking it through seems to when ideas finally come out of my tiny brain. I literally talk ideas into coming out of their hiding places. I suspect I'm not the only one.
You just need to THEN write them down before they disappear like a puff of smoke.
It's good to talk as the saying goes.
Apparently psychologists have found that the key to a happy marriage isn't the grand gestures and lavish gifts. It's little daily selfless acts, that's what makes up the fabric of good relationships. Which is music to the ears of a tight wad like me.
Obviously, my relationship with my kids is different. You don't have to work at it (but it is work!). It just is. But then again, my little boy is old enough to remember little things and he's a caring little soul.
Hence his insistence that he got to pick blackberries at Grandma's because he knows Daddy loves blackberries on his porridge. He was so pleased with himself when he gave me these, and I just melted.
Happiness isn't free of course, but some things that make you happy certainly are.
So I got the news about Ian Thorpe coming out with zero interest.
Really? Does it really matter (apart of course from the fact he had to keep it quiet, now that certainly does matter)?
But some of the footage made me extremely whistful for the pool. Because I don't go swimming that much any more.
I just don't have the time. Because of these two beautiful monsters.
Which means my once a week thrash on a Sunday morning, while the kids have their lessons is that much more precious.
And after watching Thorpe's freestyle stroke, in the recent 'revelation', and realising my arm was coming in the water too low, the last time felt sublime. Even once a week, the simple joy of doing something well, for no reason apart from that, is so precious.
But that's not the end of it. Roughly 33 years of addiction to pain, suffering and the sheer endorphin rush of doing sport to the point where your muscles are running with molten lava and your heart might burst demands to fed.
It's not a recommendation, it's quite the opposite, but by the time you get to forty you realise what is a part of you, like it or not and what is not.
And this obsession is as much part of who I am as Star Wars, tea or and constant fear of not being good enough at my job, or the ever deepening joy of my children.
Enter cycling stage right.
What began as an experiment in grasping at something I liked doing as a teenager, has become an obsession.
To the point where I ride around 20 miles a day as a minumum.
To the point where I can see a justification for my bike costing more than my car.
Much of this is simply the joy finding out I'm sort of okay at it.
A lot is to do with doing something completely knew.
Mostly it's about convenience. Excruciating fitness stuff built into the commute or a Saturday 2 hour blast before family breakfast time.
But it's more than that. It being allowed into a new world.
So much history, legends, myths.
So much of brand stuff is about pretending. You wear an Omega watch and pretend to be Bond. You wear handmade selvedge jeans to feel a bit artisan and bohemian. You buy Chanel to get as scrap of what it must feel like to be Linda Evangalista.
When I get on the bike, it doesn't matter if I'm only doing 40 miles in Yorkshire. I'm in a black and white grainy shot somewhere in the Alps. .
It's no accident that road biking has eclipsed mountain biking by the way.
The archetype of the 'the man of action' in response to the 'other directed man' is one of the constants of marketing to men (and let's get with the 21st century, to women, it should be the 'other directed person') and meant towards the end of the last decade the non-conformist bourgous bohemian to acres of middle class folks. On the mountain bike in slouchy gear.
But with austerity etc, I'm convinced road biking with it's graft and sufferng is to do with the reaction against complacency and relative coolness of discpline and hard work.
And road biking has a timeless 'nobility'.
Me? Swimming gave me a hateful work ethic. I like it hurting and those feel like the clothes road biking gives me out of the pool.
It's hilarious discovering some of the 'rules' and distasteful elitism that come with the territory. But the generosity of most people on the road to help with a spare inner tube or a breakdown, the sense that 'we might be different but we're the same' is ace.
And how you get up a hill is a bloody great leveller.
So swimming will always be a part of me, but now so is cycling.
What does this mean for brands? Not much you'll be pleased to know.
But I do think it's worth thinking about the 'other directed man' in his current incarnation. And what needs are driving big shifts in culture like cycling. Marlboro has a solitary cowboy on his horse. Now he's wearing a helmet a lycra, on a carbon steed.
I also think it's shows how you shouldn't take any buyer for granted. Few love swimming more than me, but things change in customers lives. Culture moves forward too. You need to plan for it.
One of the great joys if riding is that a shy awkward man like me has something to talk about with so many strangers. Men's relationship is side by side, they need an activity to talk about or do. Worth thinking about.
I love that I could chat to so many strangers at the Tour De France. And that our socially stunted Country (or at least Yorkshire) could be happy together for one weekend withour a drop of irony or cynicism. The British are always looking for social ice breakers, especially the blokes.
So I guess cycling and swimming tell you something about me, but also where British culture is at and certainly what glues men together.
I did read David Meerman Scott's Newsjacking, I admit it.
Maybe because I just love anyone who has Meerman in their name, imagine sounding like a mythical half man/half fish everytime you introduce yourself.
Anyway, I did like the collection of case studies of tactical ads and ideas.
But let's be clear, Newsjacking is not some crossing of the Rubicon for brands, it's not even a bad attempt at it like, say Lovemarks. It's just using current events in the news to do tactical ads.
"The rules have changed. The traditional PR model—sticking closely to a preset script and campaign timeline—no longer works the way it used to. Public discourse now moves so fast and so dynamically that all it takes is a single afternoon to blast the wheels off someone’s laboriously crafted narrative.
Enter newsjacking: the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business"
This has been around for ages, as long as advertising itself. It's just that the best brands do the long term and short term very well - and build a constistent story over time with a big idea with 'width' as well as 'legs'
However, perhaps it's more of use since it's fair to say it's harder to cut through than used to be.
Correction. It's harder to interrupt folks with banal, over focused grouped dross.
So it makes sense to start in life, culture, or work back.
But then again, the best examples of this stuff are when a great brand idea is applied to a timely event.
Perhaps this poster is one of the best examples. It was the World Cup, Rooney was the great hope for England and all the talk was over if he would be able to play after a broken foot.
The biggest risk with this stuff is that people don't remember the brand. Let us not forget the work of Byron Sharp around memory structures -be distinctive AND consistent.
An even bigger risk of Newsjacking in general is mistaking the latest wheeze for something groundbreaking. Especially when it's really a clever (ish) name for a tried and tested tactic.
I found myself loving the new Silicon Valley comedy. While the satire was a little obtuse, it already feels funny and warm and neatly skewers the hubris of digital folks who claims to saving the world, making it a better or whatever. They're not. Obviously.
It also made me want an advertising version. Mad Men is one of the best, most human dramas of our times, but it's not satire, it's a story about people set in advertising. Of course, no one would care, advertising hasn't a big cultural frame of reference, but thinking about what one would look like would be a useful reality check.
You know, the claims about being curious, wanting to be a creative company rather than an advertising company, claiming to be able to make lots of lots of people care and generally trying to pretend we're not here to make them want to buy stuff they don't really need.
Just me probably
I get really uncomfortable if soneone introduces a planner as 'the brains'.
Especially if I'm that planner.
First because of the obvious, I'm not very clever, I just read more and then pass off other people's brilliance as my own.
Second, I get all nervous about the pressure to say something remotely interesting and intelligent, since any colleague who has worked with me will tell you that has rarely, if ever happened.
Third, I just don't believe in putting strategy folks on a pedestal. Just as I don't believe in putting creative folks, digital folks, suits or even (especially) social media gurus on a pedestal. It's about the magic that happens when collaboration happens.
Especially strategy folks actually, as the best thing planners can do is surrender their ego, get involved and liberate other's work, rather than be a barrier.
People don't like planners because they're too clever by half, over complicate things and get in the way of getting great stuff out as efficiently possible.
That means NOT being the brains of the operation or having great, clever ideas, it's about helping others to have them, having the ears and eyes to spot them and the generosity to help them come to life and develop in a way that will work and can be bought by the client.
So I don't think the role of the planner is just to be the voice of the consumer or make sure the work works, it's to make sure great work works. We know the basics by now, reach lots of people, build distinctive memory structures, build fame.
In other words, suprise and delight people. Get great work made that is also right.
1. The silky skills of the best suits mean they can deliver negative feedback or outright criticism and make you feel like you just won the lottery. A common trick is taken straight from marriage guidance counselling - deliver five complements in relation to one piece of negative feedback.
2. If someone delivers some great news, some wonderful complements or even heated agreement and then says 'but' we all know they didn't mean a word they just said. I has a junior suit who used to say, "I agree completely, but....". He was a bit of a joke. The cunning suit will say, "I agree with you AND...." Hoodwinking the less subtle of us into thinking they're building on your argument rather than destroying it.
3. They will never speak negatively of anyone behind their back, as they know there is a wierd quirk of psychology that when we do this, the traits we asign to the people we're talking about are actually asigned to us! So what they do instead is pretend to be enthusiastic about the person and find away to be enthusiastic about their deepest flaws. For example, "I love our creative director, it;'s amazing how he managed to overcome that untrue scandal about the scam work". "Oh yes, Jenny, isn't it great how she's managed to not be judged just on the fact her Dad is one a shareholder".
4. They never rise to conflict. No matter how much someone winds them up or tries to shaft them, they kill them with kindness. They evil bastards know that nothing winds an aggressor looking for a fight more than you not wanting them. They know that no one looks more like bigger person in the eyes of others than the one who happily lets others vent spleen and use underhans tactics - they're just extremely cunning in makin sure others know about it (see above).
5. They never win arguments. They always find a way to con you into thinking you got more out of it than you did, or making think you won, when you lost horribly. And they behave in victory in manner more akin to a loser.
6. They let everyone else speak first. They know that excitable creatives, planners and clients can't wait to get their word in. They'll let a discussion run it's course and then insert their point like a rapier precisely when it will the most effect, mostly when everyone is exhausted and can't remember what they were talking about.
7. There are interested. Suits are great at making you feel like the most special people in the world, simply by making you believe they care about what you care about. They can, of course, talk about all sorts of stuff, but they're great at listening a lot, especially when you're talking about things close to your heart. They'll have learned that you love obscure Brazilan cinema and will have developed a working knowledge of it, or got you to teach them.
8. They never flap. Inside. they might be burning and ready to get a McJob rather than deal with the fact Clearcast have just put a big no on the script it took months to develop, or the fact the client won't pay because they hate the work, but they know they need to lead by example and project an aura of calm and optimism which is infectious enough to pull everyone together to solve the task in hand.
9. Suits are devious. They always make sure they know the people that really make agencies tick. That means in creative agencies traffic, and in all places the PA's who are the gatekeepers to directors and such, internally and externally.
10. They dress better than you.
1. The training scenario. You know, where new employees are schooled in the world of excellent service and unparalled dedication.
2. The manifesto -once the springboard for 1984 and Crazy ones, now the lazy method for laying out a brand purpose. I'm talking to you TBWA/Chiat Day.
3. The 'look at us laughing at how silly advertisig is' route. Once proudly owned in the UK by Ronseal (It does what it says on the tin has become a cultural reference).
Now all too common...
I'm an idiot, but you knew that.
In this case, it's because a couple of entries slipped through the cracks.
So below is the feedback to Tiffany, who is now joint winner with Samara......
So that's it. I'm going to upload all submissions at some point so everybody can have a look and be intimidated by all hard work and pieces of great thinking. I'll let you know when it's up.
I'm married. I've learned the hard way that winning arguments is pointless. It's a very hollow victory you can only enjoy yourself why someone else sulks.
All you get is a brief sense of victory followed by a very empty feeling. I don't want to feel like that. I want my wife to feel like that. Which is why one of the core skills of not being a terrible husband is learning how to be wrong.
It's also a core skill for the planner, especially the grown up one who has realised the purist quest for the truth is very lonely journey, for the kind of planner who doesn't care who 'has the thought' as long as the thought is good .
Put another way, no one likes a smart arse, and let's face it, if there's one thing that prejudices folks against planners, it's that. And if you can makes someone feel bad about winning on something you don't care about enough, you've more chance of winning something that matters.
Here are some ways to not only be wrong and use it to your advantage...
Write a bad proposition and know there's a much better one. Dig your heels in a little with the creatives and help them think of the better one for themselves. Worship them for their genuis.
You know that bit of the data you left out to make your argument better? When you realise this is a battle you would better losing, casually bring it into the conversation and let yourself be taken apart and be pleased the argument was solved with evidence because next time you'll use evidence to win.
When you know you are losing the argument, admit you forgot what your actual point was. Let your antagonist put your argument back to together in way that is far kinder than you probably deserve. When they put it back together for you, they might even buy into it.
Never give a ultimatum, just in case someone calls your bluff. For a example, if a planner leaves a meeting, everyone will probably decide stuff quite happily without you complicating stuff.
Pretend you missed what the antagonists have actually said, and you only now fully understand their point. It's likely you were not listening anyway and you can now reframe their point to actually be your point.
You know that think about oversimplifying someone else's argument than destroying it? Like when someone is in favour of national service, "So you're in favour of young men having guns". Over simplify your own and let someone else destroy it. Then overcomplicate theirs, so they don't know what they were talking about, then help them see they were actually all for your original point.
Don't get into debates at all, that what suits or for, let them do it for you. If the problem is the suit, agitate the creatives folks, they hate suits. If it's the creative agency you're working with, never argue over the Polish Cinema reference, just gush how stupid you were to not have thought of that them damn it with faint praise. "Blimey, that's ace, just like Shindler's list but not as depressing, marvellous". Or, "Really great idea, I loved it when you presented it last year too!" Or the media agency, "So great to see that partership with Empire Magazine in the plan again, so consistent".
So, yes, revel in your wrongness. And remember, if you have to win, no one likes a self-righteous prick. Make sure there's a concession in their somewhere. Put another way, smile in someone's face while you stab them in the back.
Okay, so on with the individual feedback. Once again, I won't apologise for typos, I need to get this out.
This was interesting. Great that you had insights that were simple and supported. Great you challenged the convention of this all being about just health, perhaps too many entries were like kids playing soccer, just all chasing the same ball. I liked that you had a clear strategy.
Great that you built your planning from a product truth, without it being dull, that you gave it context. And while trial is not exactly a new task for a drinks communications campaign, I'm glad it was clear.
I engaged with the pen portrait and really got the insight. It's dead simple but also true that the story of an object directly dictates our experience of it.
Perhaps the idea went a little far, perhaps it's a little conventional to have 'from deepest Peru or whatever' but it was still a plan I think that would get people to appraise/re-appraise the brand and product.
I thought you did a great job of creating a plan that addressed specific tasks. I just wish you hadn't made changing the packaging part of it. It costs the earth, probably the entire budget. I thought you missed a trick with the daily routines thing, that might have been a bigger thought. And maybe it's a little bitty, for a penetration job, I wondered if you needed something simpler and more scaleable.
Rob said, "I like that they went beyond ‘health’ and into taste. That’s interesting.
Once again, thanks for framing the goal using data. Great it was boiled down to a clear consumption task. Perhaps you could have surprised a bit, but it's solid!
I got really interested in the performative/not being the best stuff - that felt like some sort of attitudinal tension to play with. While before as well as after seemed like a rock hard opportunity to grow consumption.
And I really liked the light buyers strategy which seemed realistic. Then the implementation feels solid, but I wanted you to give me it in a simpler manner. As it happens, 'be a counseller, not personal trainer' felt like a springboard for the whole strategy. This all felt good, but after establishing the principles, I wanted to see some thinking on implentation. As a client or creative agency, I kind of need to know if you're saying this is TV, all digital or whatever.
Rob said, "I was hoping they would have taken that on more directly – just to see someone come up with a new business plan – but instead they decided to go into the areas that were expected.
Ending with your summary is great. This should have been done more. It's critical in a world where we seem to write documents for folks to read, rather than get to talk to them, so having the one pager is really important.
Great naming of a clear audience and articulation of the issue.
I really love the tension you uncover in their lives- being seen to be something they're actually not. So much to play with, do you target the image or the reality? How do play with the tension or even help resolve it?
So I'm excited for commnications role to hit it out of the park and for me, instead it seems you recommend something that doesn't live up to your great insight work and is something any brand could do.
Your framework is solid and well thought out, but I was left disappointed at what might have been!
Right here we go, the feedback.
(I'm not going to apologise for typos and stuff, I'm want to get this feedback out and for it to be comprehensive)
First, thanks to everyone who entered. This was a hardcore task. Because comms planning IS hardcore. You can't hide behind soft brand buffoonery, you have to roll up your sleeves and deal with some fundamental stuff.
As Rob mentioned, "there are too many people out there who forget our is to drive our clients' business, not just make nice ads"
Some general feedback:
There's nothing wrong with resisting a framework or strategy template, in fact, there's too much process in this business, allowing too many to hide from proper thinking. However, I was surprised at how little folks overtly followed the "issue, insight, idea, implementation' structure. I was looking for strong arguments and support of course, but even where people followed the stucture, there wasn't enough boiling down into a few rich hooks to hang your thinking.
A piece of advice. Right the last slide first, then the first one and finally, THE key slide in the middle that captures the moment of revelation in your presentation. Then populate the links as succinctly as possible.
Also, there was some great thinking and some good points of view, but there seemed to be lots of subjectivity and less simple factual support. It's hard of course doing this for a UK brand if you're not from here, but nevertheless.
Rob said,"a client isn’t going to necessarily respond favourably to (a point of view)if you haven’t got a broader understanding of both the market, the competition and the audience … otherwise they just think you’re either kissing their ass or kicking it.
In addition Rob said,"I did like her ‘diabetes’ comment. I was disappointed she reduced it to an ‘ad placement’ because there is something interesting and different in it. Whether it’s interesting or different enough to grow the brand in the way they want it is open for debate … but saying ‘a drink so good for you, even diabetics drink it for energy’ could be very interesting indeed"
Jane and Mike
Great you boil it all down to a clear set of goals. I wanted to show me where the leap from business to marketing objectives had come from though. Clean living is interesting, but I wanted more justification ,especially for a new brand position. Really great you look at what is already working/available, this isn't done enough by very experienced people even, and the four insight buckets work really well. And purity is interesting, as is the insight about not suffereing for health. Something rub against there, a tension to play with.
But then you're proposition loses to opportunity to play with this. Guilt free pleasure feels like a rich toy for comms to play with, I can see all sorts of shapes for creative to become, and media can really go wild with context and need states.
Rob said, "It just doesn’t push against anything. It ends up making the brand seem bland and given their product insight is basically saying ‘this is the brand that stops scaring people into feeling bad about themselves"
There was something far more interesting and pragmatic in there, just waiting to come out.n fact, a task, or statement of intent would have worked a lot better than a proposition, as single minded messaging propositions only really work for the advertising creatives (if then!), this is about a comms task for an interactive team. I thought the customer journey slide and principle of meeting them in their world was helpful, but I wasn't sure you followed the thought through. Adsmart TV for example would be efficient, but it still felt a little like 'talking at people' unless you have a bigger idea for the role of TV -perhaps adding scale to the activation or co-creation pieces?
Pierce and Jeanie
At times I felt there was a lot of opinion, great to have a point of view, but it needed more support.
Great you turned the business task into a human task, but then the task was a bit, "this and this' rather than a fundamental challenge to mobilise on. Now I loved the 'it's water duh!" thought but questiond if folks really are skeptical about miracle products. In the UK, Boots No 7 position is based on miracle products, "Ta Dah".
Great you have a SIMPLE idea, but it felt a little like a TV ad proposition and 'nature is best' doesn't feel that new.
The plan was nice and simple with clear tasks, it made a lot of sense ,but I thought your idea of 'the brand with nothing to hide was interesting' and could have sprinkled more magic dust and innovation. Also, I wasn't sure if their was any media to add sufficient scale or at least more emotive heavy lifting, perhaps a partnership with the Guardian? Brands need a wider enthusiasm and perhaps a genuine conversation around the work/.life balance thing in the 21st century hosted by the Guardian could have been interesting - I'm not saying work life balance is original, but I for one am finding that collaborating with media owners on something simple, but that matters to their readers/viewers can generate great stuff .
Rob said, "They had something in their presentation that I felt could have provided the tension to build brand distinction ["There’s heavy skepticism around miracle products …”], but instead of exploring that further, they decided to say “ … and water remains the purest beverage available” which may be true but:
I'm really sorry, but feedback will be late. It makes a mockery of the hard work folks have put in, not ti mention the work Rob has put into his judging feedback.
But a perfect storm of unexpected work and personal bits mean it's going to be Monday. I'm really sorry.
I'm really sorry, but feedback will be late. It makes a mockery of the hard work folks have put in, not ti mention the work Rob has put into his judging feedback.
But a perfect storm of unexpected work and personal bits mean it's going to be Monday. I'm really sorry.
I went to see Prince on Friday. Utter genius, over two hours of a blistering tour de force. Even if you can't stand him, you couldn't help but admire the talent and showmanship.
Here is a man famous for self indulgence, almost willfuly pissing off his fans at every turn. Yet when gets on stage, none of that matters. Especially when, as was the case this time, he obviously had designed a show meant to be a crowdpleaser. The best loved songs, played in full, without the odd jazz noodlings and frustrating snippets of the past.
Because he seems to have finally understood that enduring success comes down to knowing why people loved you in the first place, and why they might love you now.
That's shouldn't be news to brand owners and creative types, but it kind of is.
If people care at all, it's on their terms, and the reasons they enjoy your product and, if you're lucky, enjoy your advertising or even just recall it for something, won't be anything to do with what's in a brand onion or hidden reference in your 60 second extravanganza.
Which is why it's always more sensible to start with what people care about and work back.
Just as I saw people dancing to 1999 and the more clued up few in raptures over a Sign 0 The Times with real menace, while no one seemed to bother about a very, very small number of newer songs....what is about what you're working that will strike a real cord with people, and what will be over-indulgent, self referential irrelevance?
Once upon a time I thought that George Michael was quite a ladies man. I once believed Jimmy Saville was a lovable 'character'. Once upon a time, I thought I would never ever countenance the idea of having children.
I even liked a Queen song once.
So it's sensible to assume that everything you know might be wrong. That was is certain is just your current frame of reference.
It's no different for strategy folks, where it's easy to get taken in by the received wisdom, or what just scratching the surface seems to tell you.
Here's some other stuff I've had to unlearn that's a bit more work related:
1. TV ads don't work anymore. I can't believe I'm still feeling the need to say this, but the effectiveness of TV is going up and the average under 25 year in the UK still watches about 2 hours a night. There are more options these days, but discounting mass broadcast is just dumb, like any other media.
2. But what is even dumber is assuming the answer is any form of advertising anyway. The issue with being paid by project is that you get paid for an output. Being paid a fee for advice means you can advise on the right thing to do, rather than what you've already sold.
3. Digital folks don't get how brands work. Now it's still widely true that if you give a digital agency a hammer, they only see nails, but much of the same can be levelled at ad agencies and such, who think shifting brand metrics is all that matters. The IPA databank tells us that hard business objectives tend to drive success, which is why digital folks with the skills to make people do stuff, rather than make small shifts on Millward Brown perhaps know more about how brands work. Or business, which maybe matters more.
4. Brands are about rational benefits wrapped in intangible meaning. We still want novelty and shortcuts, but digital doo dahs and sheer choice mean we're into tangible difference in brand meaning these days too- added value service and actions over image (Lynx helps actually pull women now, rather than just playing with ironic references to confidence).
5.Creatives are spoiled children. The bad ones are. The great ones are better planners, suits etc than everyone else too, they just get there without the bollocks, and work harder on what real people care about - something that might surprise and delight in the 95% of crap.
6. The mature creative markets like London and New York can teach Asia and co loads. From what I've seen, Asia isn't bogged down by received wisdom and just does stuff like social media much, much better.
7. It's ace working on big brands and famous clients. Many big clients are so process driven it's a nightmare. While the coolest clients are also the most demanding, you do great stuff, but you bleed for it.
8. Blogs are the future. All planners were saying this 10 years ago, then along came Facebook. Which is why assuming you know what media will be like in 1 years from now is ridiculous.
9. One day they'll stop with the 'this will be the year of xxx and the death of xxx' (insert self serving media or latest brand model). It will always be thus- perhaps the only safe prediction!
10. I would never work for a media agency. I am now and increasingly, I'm seeing that's where the innovation is. Great agencies I venerated 10 years ago are looking very, very creaky these days and seem to be fiddling while Rome burns.
What have you unlearned?
Someone asked me what a reading list for a new planner would be, how to engage with creatives and how to get a job in the UK when you live in Australia.
This is what I said. Any other thoughts?
I love food. If truth be told, after my children and wife, I probably love it more that anything, even swimming, cycling and Star Wars.
It's probably neck and neck with tea and way, way ahead of anything to do with work.
I relish the feeling of hollowness after a long bike ride, because I know I can stuff my face with impunity.
After I finish any meal, I'm already looking forward to the next.
I am greedy, so greedy I'm one of those rare cooks who just don't understand people who say they can't be bothered to eat after slaving over a stove. I can't bloody wait and you can sure anything I cook for you will be ten percent less than its original quantity because I've already eaten in.
So it's obvious I would enjoy books like this, by Jay Rayner.
As it happens, everyone should read it, because it makes really well argued points about the accepted wisdom about food.
That farmers markers make a difference to our overall industry.
That supermarkerts are evil.
That GM crops are always bad.
That buying local is the right thing to do.
That eating seasonally is the moral way forward.
Read it and make your own mind up of course, but logical argument bursting received wisdom, is probably something needed in our industry too..
TV is dead.
TV is the most effective, shut up.
Everybody wants a conversation with a brand.
Loyalty is commercially viable as a strategy.
Byron Sharp is the only argument in town.
The Ansoff's Matrix.
No one cares about brands anymore.
Marketing is dead, long live growth hacking.
You can't spend your way to growth.
Innovation is only vanity and commercially wasteful.
And so on.
Anyway, I'm being taken out for a juicy steak for lunch. I rode 20 miles this morning, I've earned it.
(this will be full of typos, I don't have time to check stuff these days, not that it was ever perfect)
I been in this industry for more than five minutes and most of that is working in creative agencies of one type or another.
Working in a media agency still means working with creatives, those in other agencies, not to mention the very understandable defensive stance of the suits and planners.
I used to hate media folks trying to own all elements of strategy, how that's come about is a whole post and a half.
Here's some stuff I picked up along the way. It's a little revealing I think, like a detective archetype who sometimes doesn't play by the book, you learn some dark, cunning arts along the way.
In my defense, the end justifies the means.
1. Don't bother writing pithy, well written propositions, the first thing a creative team will do is challenge it. The more like a 'line' it is, the more they'll ignore it. Hide your best thinking in the brief and let them find it for themselves and let them call you a douchebag for not knowing a great proposition when you see it.
2. In fact, don't sweat propositions at all, look for great tasks and problems and insights. As long as you've got good creatives that is. Great creatives want to be given a great problem to solve, bad creatives want a simple proposition that doesn't challenge them too much.
3. Planners are either a necessary evil, or a pointless evil. That is your lot with creatives. Always be looking to liberate others' work, if you're getting the way, you'll get ignored.
4. My best briefs were already half written thanks to an off record chat with the creatives that would be getting it. Not only will creatives work from a brief more if they think they wrote it, the good ones are better planners than the planners, so you might as well steal their cleverness.
5. But be generous with your own ideas. No creative will use your stimulus, creative starters or general opinion on an idea if they think for one minute you'll take credit for anything. They're sociopaths, but I would be too if nearly all my work ended up in the bin.
6. Never be the first to speak in a creative review, in fact, try and get away with saying nothing. New ideas take a little time to get your head around, your first response will usually be wrong. Give yourself time to think about it.
7. If you're a junior planner, or to be honest, a senior one in a new place, the ability to make good tea or coffee will get you a long way with creatives.
8. Don't leave knowledge about execution and craft to suits. Learn about the nightmare that is TV production, casting and going on a shoot. Real people don't care what your brief was, they only care about the fact you've interrupted Game of Thrones and will ignore rubbish. Execution is everything. And the way to make friends is to share interests with people. Creatives care deeply about their craft.
9. Don't tell creatives if a route isn't any good, just don't talk about it, they'll soon get the message.
10. Designers are not creatives, they are brilliant an making stuff look good and perfect. Creatives know how to make people react. If you're in an agency that claims to do creative work, staffed by designers, run a mile. There is no hope.
11. Every creative team is different. Tailor your brief, briefing and entire relationship on what excites them.
12. Creatives hate suits more than planners. Make them think you're on their side (while simultaneously making the suits think you're on their side).
13. Creatives hate workshops. Don't waste your time.
14. You don't have to make the briefing a piece of theatre. Many creative teams simply like a decent, grown up conversation where they're not presented a signed off strategy that can't be changed.
15. Some creatives are ace in front of clients. Some are, erm, not. Get the good ones in meetings, no one sells work like the people who made it.
16. Never lose your temper. The unwritten rule is that creatives can say what they like, you need to keep calm. Angry planners get ignored.
17. They will try do stuff they've see in D&AD. Never call them out on it, just give better stimulus.
18. They're terrified of the blank page at the beginning of a project, they just don't admit it.
19. Creatives directors haven't had a great idea in years. Their job is get others to have them. If you see a creative director with a layout pad, you are in trouble, big trouble.
20. Share great work from other places with creatives, see what they like about and frame your conversations based on this is future. If they say stupid stuff like 'that was great because they didn't show the product' your are fucked.
So, the entries are in.
Thanks everyone for your hard work .
To make sure we give them the attention they deserve, myself, Rob and Gareth will give ourselves until June 9th to share feedback.
One final thing. This isn't about winning. Someone will be judged to have answered the brief in the best manner, but it's about trying and learning. It's about putting yourself out there. Well played to everyone for having a go.
I'm away now until May 28th, on the annual Easter pilgrimage to Mum and Dad's in St Ives. My children have been there for a week now, on the beach all day, I miss them very much. The internet is bitter sweet, my wife sends me pictures of what I've been missing, great to see them happy, painful I'm not there.
Hopefully you're working on your APSOTW project. Don't forget the deadline is 2nd May.
If you have any questions, I'm afraid they'll have to wait until I get back.
See you later.
I was lucky enough to be invited to a client conference last week.
I'll admit it was fun, late night drinking, bungee jumping, shooting and so on.
But there was some serious business too. Seriously great performance to share, even more serious objectives and challenges.
Most of that came from, and would continue to come from a stroke of luck with in-costs, brilliant productivity and canny distribution and innovative NPD.
Not brand equity, not advertising. Hard business.
I'm not devaluing what we do by the way, but it's very sobering to be reminded of the real role of 'brand' and 'advertising'. It's one of many, many fundamental pillars of business growth.
I was humbly reminded what we do is about 10% of what clients actually do. No wonder they don't always answer the phone, get excited about the Polish cinema reference in the TV ad or go bananas on making that nice to have Snapchat thingy go live. They've other stuff on.
That's right, our stuff is not the be all and end all, it's a tenth of it at best. Clients do all sorts of stuff I can't do and don't want to do.
If you've ever had to deal with a supermarket buyer, you'd be thankful it's a regular feature of your day job for example.
A trick of getting insight into customers is to find something to admire in them. I venture that's at least as important with clients. People who actually make and sell stuff, people who get complex things to market, not just words, pictures and the odd event.
And as the performance of this client shows, they're at least as good, if not better at their 90% than I am at my 10%.
The greatest enemy of brands is consumer indifference, they've got stuff on.
The greatest enemy of agencies who love solving advertising, digital or even brand brand problems is the indifference of the clients who actually care about business issues.
Or clients who would rather solve ad issues and then fire you when nothing good happens to the business.
We are the ten percenters. Worth remembering now and again.
This is my little boy and his Mummy being taken up to the ward for his (thankfully successful) operation. His little hand gripping hers with all his strength.
He went to the anaesthetic room already in his bed, little determined face set firm, apart from one little tear from eye, betraying the fear.
Arguments over the what is an idea or an execution, the minor victories, the constanr disappointments. It doesn't really matter.
Today's project will be forgotten tomorrow. It's only a job. It doesn't win wars, it doesn't save lives. It doesn't even get noticed most of the time.
This is what matters, this. The little hand in his Mother's, that one tear.
I hated being made to do presentations when I was younger. I still do to be honest. Because I'm shy, dislike big crowds and am not a natural orator.
I also share a personal truth, I moved from being a suit to planner and always have this nagging doubt I'll get found out as not a real strategist. Despite many years doing the job and not doing too bad overall.
But that's actually quite a good place to be. Because confidence is massively over-rated.
The human brain is a sneaky little bastard and cons us into all sorts of un-truths about how we percieve ourselves and our skills. It also helps us make mistakes about others.
Con-trick number one is that human beings are chronicly guilty of over-stating their aptitude and skills. Most people would agree they are above average in attractiveness, when of course, most people statistically cannot be. Experiments run with chess players have shown most believe their actual skill is better than the ranking they have.
Even scarier, the LESS experienced and accomplished you are, the more likely you are to over-estimate your brilliance. In other words, that Arthur Conan Doyle quote was spot on "Mediocrity knows no higher than itself, but talent instantly recognises genius" .
That's a problem in this industry that tends to celebrate the young and new. Of course, young turks shake everything up and challenge the complacent out of their comfort zone, but we shouldn't forget that it's axiomatic for novices to think they're better than they are. They need help for reality to bite.
It's also a problem for regional agencies in the UK and people that have never worked anywhere really good (I don't mean a the right name over the door, just, well good).
The new business director who got the job through politics and thinks they are a strategist.
The creative director who has only worked on logos and has landed the job in an integrated agency.
The small agency that has only worked with small clients and think they can take over the world.
But also the agencies with the Shoreditch address, who mistake post code for greatness.
And if you believe you're ace, you won't take constructive feedback too well, you'll take on too much, you might even suffer from a dose of arrogance. You won't learn. But if you have the fear, you'll be great because you'll never allow yourself to mistake good for great, or make an avoidable error.
What's worse, is that we naturally believe in confident people too. It's not what people say, it's how they say it. In an industry full of self-confident showmen, you can imagine the amount of bad advice that get's through because of how it's delivered. I personally get through the confidence barrier by making people see I care, and because of endemic self doubt, preparing more and working harder.
And then there is the danger of confidence in information. Confirmation bias. We tend to make the information fit our point of view. We see patterns in things that are mere coincidence. Which is slightly scary when interpreting research. It's why religious folks see the Virgin Mary in a slice of toast, and people with arthritis think their dodgy hip hurts more when it's going to rain, when they only remember the times it rained and their hip hurt, rather than the occasions it didn't.
But confirmation bias can be used for your own ends of course, if you give into the temptation of dirty planning.
When you know what the suit, creative or client tends to like, their values and belief system, you can hone the argument for your thinking and how it's delivered to make them see what they want to see.
Anyway, I'm saying that confidence is a false God.
Not believing in youself too much will make you more effective.
Getting out of your comfortable little frame of reference is a must.
Don't look for people who will agree will you. Look for the awkward folks who will challenge everything.
Not falling for over-confident colleagues will stop the team selling over-polished, badly thought out work.
And being hard on yourself will help you avoid confirmation bias and stop seeing the Virgin Mary in research data that means nothing - but it can also help you sneakilly get stuff through.
Trust no one. Least of all yourself.
Not this kind of hard.
Not this kind of hard.
This kind of hardness.
Patience, forgiveness and turning the other cheek to win in the long run.
Let me explain.
If you believed the way some of the case studies and awards entries were written, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was a lovely little industry where you had bags of times to find an issue, change your mind a few times, hit a few false starts and then have a damascene revelation that everyone will agree with straight away.
Of course, we wear t-shirts more than average people, get to work with colourful people and so on. But underneath all that, it's a hard life. And like most things you need to try on, it's worth it if you love it enough.
The secret to succeeding in agency land isn't being clever, it's not being cool, or imaginative or anything like that, although all of those, of course help greatly (you can learn creativity) .
It's determination and grit. It's hard work. It's being hard. The people I've seen succeed tend to work harder than others. I don't mean hours, they're just more focused, resilient and take the path of least resilience the least.
As a starting point......
If you're a creative, you get used to rejection as most of your work ends in the bin.
if you're a suit, it's dealing with the resulting sociapath tendencies of creatives defending their work and clients defending the bottom line.
If you're a planner, with no power, you're constantly in the line of fire of all of the above who don't want to overthink stuff, they want it off their desks. Constantly persuading and being a good natured liberator of others' stuff and giving away your best ideas for now credit makes you weary.
if you're not a 'lead agency' you're always beaten up by the lead for not staying in line.
If you are lead agency, you're knackered trying to defend your patch and guiding unruly partners who don't like your idea because they didn't think of it.
If you're traffic you're managing the epic struggle between demanding suits and creatives who want more time.
If you're in production, TV, print, digital, you're under fire from the ideas folks who want their idea preserved, who gave you it too late, and the suppliers on the other side.
If you're the client, you're always selling mad agency ideas to stony faced boards, managing squabbly cross relationships and partners who tell you your brief is wrong and badger you for more money you don't have, all the while Tesco are pushing you on margins and the government are beating you up about sugar etc,
And so on.
Yes, you need to be hard. I don't mean a hard faced, aggressive person by the way, quite the opposite.
(I also don't mean someone who wants to be seen to be working. Presenteeism is a disease in some agencies that harms performance, where the numbers of hours becomes the criteria for success, rather than would you do in them!).
Agency life is not short of the aggressive types, the ones who will fight partners agencies over a single word in a powerpoint deck, or 1% of budget. The managers who (this is real quote) "love recessions as a chance to squeeze more work out of staff fearing for their jobs", or the creatives who enjoy torturing account execs.
But I've found few of these endure. Because the thing about this business is that we all need each other. I've made major cock ups, we all have, I've needed help and I'm proud that, by and large, there have always been people to turn to internally and externally to help because I've done stuff for them and I've made a point of being nice and decent. I've also been hung out to dry when I've forgotten thos.
Bastards always get found out in the end.
One of the best lessons anyone taught me was to kill with kindness. The bastards enjoy it when you react. If you smile, endure and just crack on, they respect you a hell of a lot and let up the next time around. It's harder, it requires patience, but turning the other cheek always works in the long term. Bullies give up if they're not seeing you respond.
As does patience in general (I've learned this the hard way). Rejection hurts, of that creative brief you've been really excited about (especially a great proposition, I have tended to write bad ones and let creatives, clients and partners improve them themselves), the presentation you know is great, or even something that dies in procurement. Then there's the moment the client fires you.
As bald,funny looking bloke I lost me ego a long time ago. Thankfully. Rejection is a way of life for me.
I've learned that great ideas are only half of it. If someone doesn't accept what you're selling, you've failed to convince them. Either it wasn't that good, you didn't make it risk free to buy or you didn't sell it properly.
Getting angry is a waste of energy, channelling that frustration in doing it even better next time is productive.
Don't forget, creatives can be quite conservative really, they're still used to messaging briefs. Clients take a while to get where your head is at. Right now, I'm finding it hard to develop comms plans that are not 'get the TV cracked and see what we have left'.
Great ideas are new, they make you uncomfortable at first. They take time.
Change and innovation takes a while to bed in, to quote Alan Partridge, most people don't 'Evolve, they revolve'. You need to play the long game.
Just as it is with job progression.
You don't make much money before 30, it's a slog. While you see other people your age doing easier jobs for more money (but probably a lot more bored). Then it comes in a bit.
And good managers will wait until you're doing the job already before they promote you, because what you think is your job by right, is actually a leap you don't know you'll be able to handle.
So I'm saying you need to be hard and doggedly determined. You need to work at being nice and unflappable, which is much harder than being nasty and reacting to everything.
There's a great quote in Boardwalk Empire about rage. it's about nurturing and channeling that rage to propel you forward, but never let anyone know it's there.
Planners have to fight in any city or region they work in. No one thinks they need them, they need to justify their existence every day. In the North of England, where I work, it's even more so. I've been fighting all my career, against complacency, mediocrity knowing no higher than itself, the politicians and the small mindedness from people who don't know what great looks like and don't care. The suits (even Heads of Client Services) who think they're planners, the creatives in the latest All Saints Gear who just noodle on art directing obvious ideas and so on.
I've many times learned the hard way, but believe me, patience and good manners always win. And every knock back and challenge is just an opportunity to get better and stronger.
Oh, and have an outlet. One to channel pent up frustration and another to relax. There are few problems that cannot be improved by an hour on the bike, messing around cooking or painting with my beloved kids.
Invitably, on the rage thing, Nike said it better..
Right, sorry this is later than previously billed, work stuff and a son with broken arms has to take priority.
Hopefully you will have absorbed the launch post and subsequent case studies and you're raring to go.
So here's you're challenge.
SoBe V Water is a zero sugar, high vitamin drink with natural sweeteners. It's only 10 calories per bottle.The sweetness comes from Stevia leaves, a totally natural source, that isn't well known in the UK.
It comes in a range of flavours you can explore here. The product comes in clear bottles, and it looks like coloured water. SoBE know this is important, because the clearer the drink, the better people think it is for them.
They have great distribution in two major UK supermarkets, where you'll find it in the aisle between energy drinks and juice cordials. These are in six-packs. You can also find it in the chiller, in single bottles, in the fresh sandwich section. SoBe Water is also stocked in the chiller in major service stations on busy UK motorways -in chillers again.
They are not in gyms or anything like that, which are mostly sown up by Vitamin Water already, the undispited leader of healthy flavoured water.
They have invested little in the brand in the UK, sales have mostly come from distribution.
Those sales need to build rapidly, or the brand will be de-listed by the retailers and probably pulled out of the UK all together.
They are selling two million units a year and they need to double those sales in the period June 2014 to June 2015.
90% of those sales are coming from the supermarkets, 10% from the service stations. What is interesting is that those sales are coming from people who have tried the brand and seem to quite like it. SoBE always wins hands down in taste tests against Vitamin Water.
According to their panel data, the top 20% of buyers purchase SoBe Water drink it 20 times a year, while the rest drink it on average 5 times a year.
They did a sampling exercise with Hot Yoga, as they suspect there's something in natural, active health. It went quite well, in that those that trialled claimed they'd buy it themselves.
While that core 20% of heavy buyers over index on being interested in Yoga and pilates .
This was done because, while there has been little investment in the brand, and there is no clear brand essence or anything like that, the brand comes from South Beach, an upscale part of Miami, all sunshine, outdoors and perfect bodies. They were scared that in modern, austerity Britiain, the luxury US health image wouldn't play and wanted to give natural health a different role in the UK.
The rest of the buyers do not, but they do ALL agree with statements like, "I believe you get out of life exactly what you put it". "I prefer to be active but I don't have the time" "I like to choose products that feel more natural" and "I want to look my best whenever I can" "I would consider holistic medicine".
And they're 80% women.
The product is 10% less expensive that Vitamin Water, the main rival in the market.The marketing team believe this has driven sales performance, such as it is. So price cutting isn't really an option.
Whatever is done, the retailers are demanding a national campaign that shows SoBe is prepared to invest in the UK market.
So your brief is, present to the client, in more that 20 slides, sift through that very wide brief with a very specific business task to show how communications can help with the problem.
I want you to:
Define the issue at the heart of business problem. What does that sales target look like in human terms? What do you need people to DO?
What is the core insight that will unlock the problem? It might be a consumer insight, it might be cultural, it might be about how people shop
So what is your core idea? What is the fundamental task communications will address?
And what does that look like as a plan? I'm not expecting a detailed media plan, I am expecting you to define the two to three pillars of your plan and the role for media within this.
Add some value with what communications cannot do but they should consider.
This is not about creative exectution, it's about a core task for creative, media, experiential (or whoever needs to be involved with where you're getting to) to work from. This is everyone's jumping off point.
Your budget is £1million pounds. That's not enough to a do a big national campaign. It's enough do something integrated including TV with a VERY defined national.
Finally, the brand is owned by a US company. They don't care too much about what you do in communications, brand is VERY loose, as long as you make sure the brand comes accross as natural and healthy.
You have until Friday 2nd May to deliver a (no more than) twenty side powerpoint by email (link on this blog). It will be judged by myself,Gareth and Rob. Be aware that your submission will be published unless you tell me your prefer otherwise. I'll edit the collective feedback into one document.