Friday, 11 November 2011

Remembering Ron.

Last night my three brothers Joel, Elliott, Daniel and myself held a memorial event for our father Ron, who died earlier this year.

We decided to hold it at the Royal College of Art because the place meant a lot to him. He’d studied there from 1959 to 1961 alongside, amongst others, David Hockney and Ridley Scott. It’s also where he met his first wife; my mother.

It was an emotional day.

It had taken five months to organise.

We’d invited a load of people and had a load of acceptances.

But despite that, aware of Ron’s brutal reputation, I truly was expecting many of those who’d said they’d attend to end up ‘busy’ on the night.

I was honestly astounded at who did turn up.

Alongside many friends and family were his ex boss from both DDB and French Gold Abbott, David Abbott. His ex boss from CDP Sir Frank Lowe. His ex copywriters Tony Brignull and Gray Jolliffe. All three of his ex WCRS business partners Robin Wight, Andrew Rutherford and Peter Scott. Cathy Heng, who without doubt enjoyed the longest and most fruitful working relationship anyone ever had with Ron. Not to mention the likes of luminaries such as Mike Everett, Paul Smith, Brian Watson, Peter Harold, Jerry Hibbert, Dave Trott, Alfredo Marcantonio, John O’Driscoll, John O’Donell, Nigel Rose, Ken Hoggins, Mark Roalfe, Barry Lategan, Paul Weiland and Sir Alan Parker.

These were people who, though pride may have prevented him admitting it while he was alive, really meant a lot to Ron.

A few of the crowd gave speeches, sharing memories, good and bad.

There were a lot of laughs. Many, quite rightly, at Ron’s expense.

And there were a few tears. Us boys managed to keep our composure. But only just. I myself was a hair’s breadth from ending up a blubbing wreck in the corner.

What stopped that was the amazing outpouring of love in the room.

That so many people were there who actually felt so much for the man despite his many and varied faults made our hearts soar.

Ron was a troubled soul.

He’d had a tough childhood. One that left him with heavy baggage that he carried round with him to the day he died.

He desperately needed to be loved.

So I’m convinced he would have really enjoyed last night.

And I’m sure he would have been delighted, if not a little surprised by the turnout too. 

Friday, 21 October 2011

10 sure-fire ways to get your creative department to loathe you.

Running a creative department involves a certain degree of power.

And, as Spiderman’s uncle, not to mention some bloke called Voltaire, warned: ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.

Well every now and then we creative directors have been known not to live up to that responsibility 100%.

And that doesn't exactly endear us to our staff.

I’ve spent some time asking the creative community what behaviours leave them less than enamoured of the guy in the corner office.

These are my findings:

Want to de-motivate, upset and annoy your teams? Read on...

1. On starting a new job fire half your department then restock with your own cronies. 

No one would argue hacking away dead wood is wrong. However there are invariably talented people in every creative department who simply haven’t been given the inspired leadership and encouragement they need to flourish.
Existing staff need at least to be given a chance to show what they’re capable of under someone who might actually make them shine.

There’s another behaviour related to this which is equally offensive:

Hire a new 'star team', telling your existing staff it was something you had to do because they 'just aren’t producing the goods'.

2. Form cliques.

Giving the good briefs to your mates will direct your department’s ire not only on you, but on your, soon to be unpopular chums too.

3. Don’t pay what people are worth.

Good creatives will always be able to get a job elsewhere. The reason they’re with you is because they choose to be. 
They’ll be understanding to an extent regarding things like the economic climate and account losses. But in the long term, if they don’t feel satisfied where they are they won’t stick around.

4. Allow late night and weekend work to go un-thanked.

Showing gratitude is not showing weakness.
A little recognition is the least people deserve for working above and beyond the call of duty.
If your attitude to your people is: “You’re lucky to be here. If you don’t like the way we treat people here you can sod off.” Hey, guess what? At the first opportunity, they will.
Treat them like you’re the lucky one and you’ve got a better chance of them staying.

5. Don’t fight their corner.

Creative directors have to be advocates for their teams. We have to go into battle for them, whether it’s forcing through their ads or forcing through their pay rise.
Having someone’s best interests at heart goes both ways. Don’t expect it from your creatives if they can’t expect it from you.

6. Give feedback via a third party.

Astonishingly, some creative directors apparently review work by getting a traffic man to collate work from teams allowing them to select work from the comfort of their own office.
This is lazy.
And cowardly.
And worse, doesn’t allow the teams to learn from their mistakes. 
Explaining why something isn’t right may not be easy. But it’s a massive part of the job.

7. Only expend your energy on ‘potentially award winning’ briefs.

A guaranteed way to disenfranchise a wide cross-section of your agency’s staff.
Bad for the agency. Worse for its clients.
And the truth is, you never actually know where the next award winner is coming from.
If you give each brief the same attention, you give yourself more chances of producing great work.

8. Ask more of them than you are prepared to give yourself.

If you’re not prepared to work late nights, through lunch, or over weekends or holidays don’t expect your staff to.

9. Take the best briefs for yourself.

This would appear to be the most heinous of crimes. And the worst possible reason for wanting the top job. If you haven’t got making your own ads out of your system it's better not to take it.
And the excuse that you're the only one in the agency who could possibly crack a particular brief is no excuse. If you can’t get award winning work out of your department it’s your fault, not theirs.

10. Leave.

(NB: This behaviour was mentioned well before news of my impending departure from RKCR had broken, so I’m presuming it wasn’t a personal swipe at me...)

There are a various reasons a creative director might up and leave their department: To go to another agency, because they were fired, to leave the business altogether (to retire or become a director), or to start their own business.
Of these, the first could leave a department feeling resentment toward their boss: “You chose them over me?!” 
The second could leave them feeling anger toward the agency.
The last two might elicit sadness, but hopefully not full-on loathing. It’s hard to be angry when someone wants to make a life-choice. That’s just, well, life.
And, that a creative department feels upset when their boss leaves them has to be a good sign.
If they’re all out celebrating your departure you may need to ask yourself a few serious questions.

So, that's 10 less-than-lovely behaviours.

I'd like to think that's the lot. But I suspect there may be many more.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Swedish art of Reflection

A few weeks ago an excited clutch of RKCR-ers attended a three-day course run by Hyperisland, the Swedish digital university.

It’d taken me six months to organise the thing.

And it didn’t disappoint.

They opened our eyes to a load of cool stuff.

Around social media, data, analytics, APIs, hacking, crowd sourcing, Swedish schnapps…

But there was something else they exposed us to that was nothing to do with new technologies.

Or, indeed, digital.

It was something far more profound.

Hyperisland practice an exercise they call ‘reflection’.

And they’re pretty dogmatic about it.

Each morning, before we flung ourselves into the day’s learning, we were asked, or rather forced, to sit and think about the previous day.

About what we found most interesting and useful.

It was a simple, but strictly followed process.

We’d each be given 15 minutes to go over our notes individually.

Then we’d be split into groups of five and we’d be given another 15 minutes to each discuss our learnings amongst ourselves.

Finally the whole room would share their thoughts one by one.

(At this point anyone who’d been anywhere near group therapy found themselves squirming just a little bit.)

The result was astonishing.

We’d start the process each believing that our perspective on what we’d experienced was the only truth.

Believing that, surely, everyone would have taken what we had out of the day.

We’d end the session with 30 different interpretations of the same thing.

Each just as valid as ours.

Group reflection is a type of crowd sourcing.

A fantastic way of generating thoughts, perspectives and insights. 


It's something we could all utilise in many ways. 

If we carved out the time to do so!

The experience also powerfully confirmed something we all know already:

Never ever presume someone else’s perspective is the same as yours.

We so often assume that everyone can see our ideas for the brilliant things we believe them to be.

And we get frustrated when people - agency, client, or punter - can’t see what we see.

Truth is in the eye of the beholder.

And if we want others to understand ours we need to do more than simply presume they already do.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

What makes a bad ad?

It’s widely believed that to be a good creative director you need to know what makes a good ad.

But there’s something far more important you need to know:

What makes a bad one.

The spectre of mediocrity awaits advertising at every turn.

And it falls upon the creative director to ensure their agency’s shit filter remains regularly serviced, in optimum working order and pointed in the right direction.

Many hours of our days are spent preventing disasters happening.

Unforeseen disasters. Unintentional disasters.

They can occur at any time along the production chain.

But the most critical touch-point is always the first one. The first review.

Every day we’re asked to study scraps of paper filled with words and pictures and gaze into the future.

To foretell, in milliseconds, what the finished item will look like in months to come. And whether it’ll work. (Our business cards could read: Company Soothsayer.)

That’s why every time a creative director is presented with a concept a million questions bloom in their head:

Is the work on strategy?

Will it get noticed?

Has it been done before?

Will people like it?

Will it add value to the brand?

Do we have the budget to make it properly?

Do we have to time to make it properly?

Might the client be able to remove the idea and still insist it gets made?

Could research suggest some ‘improvements’ that do anything but?

What client politics would be involved in presenting it?



There’s no end to the possible pitfalls waiting to crucify an idea as it moves from conception to birth.

And the questions we ask on that crucial first glimpse are what dictate whether the world will be exposed to another beauty or another beast.

Approving great ads is one of the easiest and most enjoyable parts of the job.

Stopping bad ones leaving the building is one of the toughest and most important.

But the only way to stop one scuttling out the door is to recognise it for what it is or could become.

So next time your creative director pauses before giving a point of view bare this in mind: he may well be pondering on more than “Did I make that reservation at The Ivy for 1.00, or 1.30?”

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Why Nike just might have the best endline in the world.

The other evening I was fortunate enough to listen to Cindy Gallop speak on The Future of Advertising.

She shared many interesting facts and theories.

One thing she talked about was one of her own start-up ventures:

ifwerantheworld is a digital platform that allows people to do things they really want to do, via the help of others.

The key to the process is something Cindy calls Micro-actions. People do smallish things that are pretty easy to do. Lots of people do smallish things. Lots of big things get done.

But it was the human psychology behind it that I found fascinating.

That doing things has a physiological effect on us.

It makes human beings feel good.

Lack of action is depressing.

It leads to stagnation. In relationships, careers, businesses.

Taking action is intoxicating.

And, because it feels so good, leads to more action.

Setting goals and achieving them is the stuff of life.

That’s what karate is all about.

It's why the system of coloured belts exists.

Challenging yourself to do something you don’t believe you can do, and doing it.

And that’s like a drug.

But to get the same 'high' one's actions don't have to be difficult, scary stuff.

"I’m going to tidy my desk. I’m going to hang that picture. I’m going to walk an extra few minutes today."

Doing anything worthwhile can elicit this kind of positive feeling.

So when Nike tells us to ‘Just do it’ they're saying more than ‘do it because it’s something you want to do, hey why not? Oh and by the way we’ve got some shoes that might help.’

They’re saying ‘do something and you will feel better than you do right now.’

That’s a pretty powerful truth.

Imagine if everyone in the world acted on that endline, how much happier we’d all be?

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Female creatives. Do we really need 'em?

There are two questions that get perennially asked in advertising:

Why aren’t there many women working in creative departments.

And, how can we redress the balance?

At RKCR we seem to have an unfair share of the female advertising workforce, 11 women. But that’s still nowhere near 50/50.

Whilst the, mostly male, creative community bemoans the dearth of female creatives, in truth they’re not doing much to change the situation.

This may be because, in their heart of hearts, they believe you don’t need to be a woman to ‘get’ women?

And it’s true, there are men who are intuitively ‘in touch with their feminine side’ and know women better than they know themselves. The fashion business is stuffed with them.

Less so the ad business.

Conventional wisdom, and the research companies, would have us believe that focus groups can tell us all what we need to know to make us experts in what women want.

If only it really were as simple as just chucking money at the problem.

Personally I love women.

I spent 15 years working with one.

Mary Wear is one of the best writers in the business. And one of the smartest women I’ve met. And she helped me create work I wouldn’t have made had I been working with another man.

We once worked on a campaign for Tampax aimed at teenage girls.

Never having been a teenage girl myself I found this a fascinating learning experience. (I’m afraid my prior knowledge of the target audience had sod all to do with worrying about their ‘emotional needs, wants and desires’.)

Having lived through that maelstrom of a life-stage herself however Mary was the best depth research group you could ask for, there in the room. And at no extra cost to the client. Added value!

During our extensive ‘insight mining’ - chatting - I’d ask her whether a sixteen year old girl would think something-or-other.

Her reply would often be: “Would they bollocks.”


Mary would always say women could tell an ad aimed at them that had been written by men. As an example of what not to do she’d quote the copy of an old Tampax ad she once saw which started: “If you’re a woman or a girl who has periods…”

You don’t need girls to do work aimed at girls. You don’t need to be a woman to get inside the mind of a woman.

But the truth is that work done by the target audience offers a powerful mixture of insight linked to creativity.

And you don’t get that from research groups.

Because of those 15 years working with Mary I have a lot of time for mixed-sex teams.

They add balance.

They prevent blokes from being too blokey. And mitigate against girls being too girly.

But what about the numbers of women wanting to enter the business? Why aren’t they greater?

Though not as tough or sexist as it may have been in the past, the advertising business doesn’t take any prisoners.

And creative departments especially are high-pressure environments: It’s painful having your beautiful ideas smashed to shreds by clients and creative directors.

Then there’s having to deal with competitive colleagues, playing mind games, desperate to out-do each other.

In Dave Trott’s book Creative Mischief, he talks about why women steer clear of creative jobs. He rightly describes creative departments as playgrounds, full of boisterous piss taking and gags.

Playgrounds are fun, but they’re also where bullying happens.

We not only need to entice smart women into the business, it’s imperative we give them a reason to come back from maternity leave when they start a family.

If we’re to do that perhaps we need to look to ourselves to change rather than asking them to.

The answer, soppy though some hardened practitioners may think, is providing a nurturing and caring working environment.

A support culture rather than a blame culture.

Offering encouragement and positive feedback rather than sarcastic sniping.

Baking into the culture the freedom to fail.

I’m not saying treat women differently to men. Why not treat everyone decently?

Yes, it takes more effort. And that might be a stumbling block for some.

But it’s a simple equation:

85% of purchasing decisions are made by women.

We need clever women to help us do our jobs well.

If we don’t treat them with respect they’ll just sod off and go and do something else.

And, gentlemen, that certainly won’t help the end-of-year numbers.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The birth of a Creative Director

This piece first appeared in a book entitled Creative Director: Year Zero, published by

I'm posting it now on the 10th anniversary of my first day as an ECD.

My first job as a Creative Director was at Lowe London.

I’d been Group Head and Deputy Creative Director at other agencies, but Lowe was the first time I’d actually been given the opportunity to lead a department as part of a management line up.

As it happens, it wasn’t a job I went looking for.

Charles Inge hired Tony Barry and myself as a team, then promptly upped and started is own agency.

We were offered his job at that time but declined. We felt too greedy. We were getting plenty of work out and decided we hadn’t got doing our own ads out of our system.

The months went by and, as various names were floated around, we concluded we’d rather do the job ourselves than work for anyone else. So, after a quick lunch with Sir Frank, it was decided.

We were finally prepared, after years of doing our own ads, to help other people do theirs.

A pre-requisite of being a successful creative director is having the respect of your department. And that comes, in the first instance at least, from teams knowing you have plenty of experience and large body of good work behind you.

As with our parents, we need to believe our boss has all the answers. That they’ve been there, solved that problem, and probably won an award for it. Creative directors are paid for their opinion. And that’s only worth anything if it’s backed up by more than mere intuition.

Our first few weeks were a steep learning curve to say the least.

After day one I felt like I’d been run over by a truck. The pressure was relentless. Meeting after meeting in which everyone turns to you for your opinion. The level of concentration was unlike anything I had experienced.

Not only were you dealing with a dozen different projects a day, you also had to make sure the people entering your office left with a clear idea of what to do next and felt motivated to do it. No mean feat if they’d come in with something truly rubbish.

Tony and I weren’t joint CDs for long. He decided after a couple of months that he missed sitting in a quiet room doing his own thing. And there was none of that in our new job, so he left.

But I was loving it.

I was relishing the ability to have a positive influence. On creative work, on people’s careers and on the culture of a business.

My guiding principle has always been ‘treat people as you’d like to be treated yourself’. As a creative director this meant: be friendly, be respectful, expect the best of people and try and solve the problems they present you with.

The direction in which I needed to focus my energies quickly became clear.

The ‘sold first time’ rate at the agency was incredibly low at that point. The creatives were exhausted by re-brief after re-brief. They’d not had anyone fighting their corner for quite some time. (Everyone said Charles was a lovely guy but never really wanted to get his hands dirty.)

I got far more involved in projects from the moment the client brief entered the building all the way to final sign-off. This meant a load of extra meetings woven into the process.

But it worked well. Soon there was far more work being produced. And as a creative so many problems go away when one is making work.

I loved getting closer to clients. If you speak directly to the person whose problem you are trying to solve you solve it quicker. And by avoiding any mix up in communication you avoid internal arguments over any possible misinterpretation of the brief. You also learn far more about business than if you’re stuck in your office reviewing work all day.

A few months into the job Chris Thomas, my CEO, told me something rather scary that changed the way I dealt with people forever: As a member of management, never underestimate the effect you can have on people.

This is really hard to get your head round.

It’s very tempting, once you move into a managerial position, to behave the way you always have behaved. The truth is that everything’s changed. From the second you take up that job people see you differently. Every look, every word, every gesture is analysed for its subtext.

For example, you’re walking down the corridor and a young member of staff smiles brightly and wishes you ‘good morning’. However you’re deep in thought; concerned about the pitch that afternoon, the fact that one of your teams has just resigned and that a client has just shredded what would have been the best piece of work the agency had ever done. You hardly notice their greeting. You ignore it and walk on, furrow on brow, totally unaware of the potential lasting effect on them: “He didn’t even notice me, he must think I’m rubbish, someone’s told him I’m crap at my job, I’m probably about to get fired, I’m worthless.” Sounds melodramatic, but that’s the scary part. It can happen.

Treating people the way you’d like to be treated isn’t easy. It takes real effort.

But I believe it’s a vital part of the job.

And it sure helps me sleep at night.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Are we obsessed by awards?

At RKCR/Y&R we recently launched a web utility called the T Minus awards countdown timer:

It’s website and screen saver which lists every single awards competition in the world, alongside their entry dates and the date the work has to have run by to be eligible for entry.

Did we do it because we’re obsessed with awards? Because we’re desperate to find any possible way of winning as many of the things as possible?


Awards have always been important to the ad industry.

As a benchmark to judge our work by.

A by-product of doing great work that works.

The cherry on the effective advertising cake.

But then a few years ago a man called Donald Gunn did something that changed everything.

He decided he’d make a list of which agencies were winning the most awards. Globally.

This list became, in effect, the mother of all awards schemes.

Agencies and agency networks became focussed on getting as high up his list as possible, believing it to be a way of proving their worth.

In turn, creative people were tasked with helping their agencies get there.

The pressure for individuals to win awards to get themselves noticed and further their own careers, is now joined, palpably, by the pressure to win for ‘the greater good’.

Having to keep track of all the awards schemes that contribute points to the Gunn Report, their deadlines and their entry dates, adds exponentially to that pressure.

Awards are a fact of life.

And T Minus was consciously created to hopefully make more of that life spent doing award winning work and less worrying about when and where to enter it.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The first job justifies the means.

‘The end justifies the means.’

A phrase that’s certainly true when it comes to getting one's first job.

Someone once said to me: “It doesn’t matter what you have to do to get your first job, just get it. After that, it’s up to you. If you can’t hack it you’ll be out before you know it.”

At the beginning of my final year on the Copywriting course at Hounslow College I found myself chatting to Mary Wear.

We had both realised the same thing: Our year had twenty people in it. There were fifteen other advertising courses around the country. That year the ad industry had only about six jobs going, if that. And we wanted two of them.

We realised we had to think strategically.

If we were to beat our peers to a job we had to get out there before them.

And we knew the only way we could do that was to work harder than them.

So we teamed up.

For the next few months were at the doors waiting for the college to be opened in the morning.

And they had to kick us out to lock the place up at night.

We spent the weekends at each other’s homes with layouts covering the floors.

Soon we got a book to what we felt was a place good enough to show creative directors.

One of the reasons students chose Hounslow was its strong links with industry. It had a great placement scheme.

But Mary and I didn’t reap that benefit.

All the other teams consisted of the official art director and copywriter, from the relevant courses. We had bucked the system. We were both writers so didn’t fit into their plan and consequently the college hadn’t tried to get us placements.

So we had to get our own.

Time was running out. The academic year only had four months left to run. Then the industry would be flooded with desperate graduates.

We knew we’d need to do more than just call the Creative directors’ assistants to get in front of the people with the jobs.

So at 5.30 one snowy Sunday morning we drove round London in my old VW Beetle. We erected a tent outside the reception of each of the agencies we wanted to work at, Mary stood inside the tent and stuck our portfolio through the flaps and I took a photo of the whole scene.

We mounted black and white prints (made sneakily in the college’s darkroom) on polyboard, along with the line: ‘We’re waiting to show you our book’.

(Apologies to those who'd heard that we'd actually camped outside an agency until we'd been offered a job! Rest assured if it had come to that we'd would have done so.)

We cycled round to each agency, hand delivering the prints to the creative directors on our list.

Then we waited.

And waited.

Eventually the phone started to ring.

One call was from Barry Smith at Foote, Cone and Belding.

We went in and showed him our book.

He told us he liked our work but couldn’t hire us as they’d just made a load of people redundant.

As he led us to the lift we passed an empty office.

Without thinking we asked if we could sit in it for a while.

He looked at us suspiciously as if trying to work out why not to let us. But clearly couldn’t think of a reason.

So he said "OK". Then: “I’m not going to pay you or anything.”

“That’s fine,” we said. “We’d just be happy to have somewhere to work on our book and a phone to help us find a job elsewhere.”

“Right... Ok then... Well... Fine...” He said. Then “I’ll see if I can get you a brief to work on, but I’m not promising anything.”

We were left in, to this day, the largest office I have ever worked in. It was something you’d find in Mad Men. (We later found out that it was until recently inhabited by a victim of the recent redundancies.)

Within minutes an account man rushed in asking if we could work on a brief that was needed that day. It had been given to another team who had forgotten to work on it. “Absolutely!” we replied.

We did a load of ads and the guy came back at the end of the day, grabbed a sheaf of layouts and was off.

He came back the next morning and told us the ad was sold and we had to make it.

Later that day another account man ran in with a radio brief. We spent a couple of days writing a load of scripts then showed them to the account team.

They said “Great. Now come with us will you?”

We went downstairs to an oak panelled room in which were sitting the whole client team.

“This is Damon and Mary.” The account man said. “They’re going to present their scripts.”

That was our introduction to client presentation.

And the next day we found ourselves at the sound studio making three ads.

We worked seven days a week, even having to ‘borrow’ one of the board directors’ keys to the agency as the place used to be locked up at nine o’clock at night.

The account teams were clamouring for us to work on their projects. Because unlike many other teams we were actually in the building to brief. And sober.

True to his word Barry didn’t pay us.

But three weeks later he did offer us a job.

So we done it. We were in. We’d got our first job.

But what next?

We couldn’t bare the thought of going back to college a few months later to finish the course, tail between our legs, having failed.

There was only one thing we could think of.

Carry on working the way we had been.

And I'm afraid that in the years since then experience has shown that if the end really is worthwhile the means is inevitably going to be bloody hard work!

Friday, 10 June 2011

What do you need for a Happy Birthday?

The other day I celebrated my first ever birthday without my father being around.

Without his inevitable phone call: an hour long ramble covering all manner of issues, from popular TV shows to world politics, usually ending with a dissection of the current state of advertising.

My birthday was always a good excuse for he and I to catch up.

This year, the lack of that important element hit home.

Especially when people asked me what I wanted for my birthday. Plants? Books? An iPad2??

It made me stop and think.

And realise what I'll be asking for each year from now.

(Warning: this gets a bit soppy...)

- To see and hold the people I love.

- To experience the warmth of friendship. (Facebook’s birthday reminders do a great job of helping people feel great.)

- To be pain free. (I know. This seems random. But how many of us ever really appreciate the feeling of feeling 'nothing' I wonder? The definition of bliss.)

That’s it.

It’s the small stuff that’s important.

Only, the small stuff isn’t small at all.

It’s all that really matters.

So. What's your small stuff?

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Just what have I been doing for the past 25 years?

Hard to believe it’s 25 years to the day since I got my first job.



It’s a long time.

And, as always when one reflects on time passing, it went in the blink of an eye.

But it’s not until I started contemplating the places I’ve worked, the people I’ve worked with and the projects I’ve worked on that I realised just what those 25 years actually meant.

Different challenges

Different brands.

Different people.

Different disciplines.

Different pressures.

Different environments.

Different influences.

This job is a great one if you’re in love with curiosity.

If you get excited by learning new stuff.

By experiencing new things.

And boy are there a few of those on offer at the moment.

Steve jobs said creativity is the ability to connect experiences we’ve had and synthesise new things. And that the best creative people have had more experiences or have thought about their experiences more than other people.

But hey, what does he know?

Out of curiosity I made a few ‘25 Years’ lists.

This first one is rather scary.

Things I’ve worked on

London buses
London Underground
The Daily Mail
Zamoyski Vodka
Honeywell Bull
Department of Employment
The Daily Mirror
The Sunday People
Cadbury’s Wispa
Cadbury's Creme Eggs
Post Office Counters
Holsten Pils
Hosten Export
Children’s World
Alex Lawrie
Cancel the Third World Debt
Britains toys
Babyfresh wipes
The Sunday Express
Hi Tec Shoes
British Airways
Club 18-30 Holidays
Visa International
Visa Delta
Burger King
Castlemaine XXXX
The Economist
Capital Radio
Famous Grouse
Carrera Bicycles
Health Education Authority - Anti Smoking
Cow and Gate
Solar Century
Pizza Hut
Scene Magazine
Nestle Double cream
Rowntree’s Fruit pastilles
Quality Street
Stella Artois
Nestle Bacci
Diet Coke
Merrill Lynch HSBC
Amnesty international
The Observer
Coca Cola
Home Office Frank anti-drugs
Boots No7
Boots 17
Lloyds TSB
Bombay Sapphire
Ovarian Cancer Action
Visit London
Honey Waffles
Home Office Anti Knife Crime
Home Office Anti Teen violence
Foods Standards agency
Bank Of Scotland
Tic Tac
Innocent drinks
COI Fire Safety
Ferrero Rocher
Land Rover
Prime Location

This one's a bit shorter.

Creative partners I've worked with.

Mary Wear
Tony Barry

Agencies I've work at

Gold Greenless Trott
Leagas Shafron Davis Chick
Saatchi and Saatchi
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

Creative Directors I've worked for

Barry Smith
Dave Trott
Tim Mellors
Mike Shafron
Paul Arden
Simon Dicketts
Jeremy Sinclair
James Lowther
David Abbott
Peter Souter
Charles Inge
Paul Weinberger

And finally, and most importantly...

Locations I've shot in

Buenos aires
Sao Paolo
Scottish highlands
New York
Los Angeles
Kuala Lumpur

So, a few experiences I guess.

Whether I've thought about them more, or can connect them better than anyone else is another matter.

Right. Now onto the next 25.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Does your business know who it is?

There are two kinds of businesses.

The ones who know who they are.

Who know who their consumers are.

What it is about their offering those consumers like.

Why they like those things.

Where they need to go in the future to succeed.

And how to get there.

They know these things intrinsically. Deeply. Inately.

These are businesses with a clear mission, purpose and values.

Being lead from the top.

By people with a singular vision.

Who are able to communicate in a compelling way, to those who work for them, why they should bother to turn up every day.

Then there’re the other kind of businesses.

The ones who aren’t so sure who they are.

Where different members of the organisation, when asked, offer up different versions of its mission.

Where people aren’t quite sure why they’re all working there, over and above the cash.

And where codes of conduct are murky enough to allow politics to seep into the fabric of the place.

Their lack of a clear, shared vision leads them to look outside their own walls for answers to profound questions.

Like what people think is good about them.

How people think they should behave.

What people think they should believe in.

Why people like their product.

These are the ones who keep the research companies going.

The businesses who don’t know who they are spend time, money and energy searching for solutions to their own problems.

Whilst the ones who do know who they are can focus on searching for problems their customers would love solutions for.

They’re the ones who innovate.

And they’re the ones people love.

Consumers and employees alike.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

SXSW. What the hell was I doing there?

“What the hell are you doing here?”

These were the friendly words uttered by those I met at South by Southwest Interactive on revealing my job title. Ad agency ECD’s are clearly a rare species at the festival.

My answer was always the same: “Trying to keep my job.”

I was drawn to Austin by the certain knowledge of two things:

1. I know how much I don’t know.

2. If I want to continue to put food on the table I need to evolve in same way the way the ad industry is evolving.

And that means immersing myself in the future.

New technologies, new methodologies, new theories. ‘New shit’ generally.

So there I was. Ready. Excited. And two days late because of a pitch I’d had to do in New York.

The geeks had had plenty of time to warm up, so the place was rocking.

On entering the Convention Centre I thought I’d walked into an Apple convention. The iPhone 4 could have been the required admission pass, such was its ubiquity. Macbooks and iPads were strewn on laps, tables and floors, all being tapped earnestly.

Could it possibly have been coincidence that Steve jobs chose Friday the 11th of March, the opening day of the festival, to launch iPad 2? The PR value of having all the world’s geeks in one place was well worth building a temporary Apple Store along Austin’s main drag just for the occasion. And weren't those who’d suffered the queues to nab one were making that fact known? White rimmed iPads were being hoisted as obviously as possibly into the air at the slightest opportunity to take a photo. Such action immediately drawing from the crowd jealous tuts alongside ooohs and ahhhs..

But beyond the tragic realisation that I too was one of those manipulated by the Cupertino Deathstar I was polaxed with the one big issue facing everyone there.

The tyranny of choice.

There were over 50 different things going on at any one time. Over five days. You do the math. (If you can’t be arsed, it’s 1500 hours worth. (If you wanted to see it all, and needed no sleep or food or toilet breaks, it’d take you eight days solid.))

A multitude of venues holding an unending amount of panel discussions, lectures and case studies, not to mention the new-tech demonstrations and various meet-ups.

As Barry Schwartz says 'too much choice can make us feel helpless, mentally paralysed and profoundly dissatisfied and even leave us clinically depressed'.

Clearly I was in for a fun time.

I chucked myslelf in, doing what everyone else seemed to be doing.

I chose something that sounded interesting. Found a seat near the end of a row with easy escape access. Kept scanning the twitter feed to see if anyone was anywhere better, gave it five minutes and if it ended up dull, scuttled out to find a better session.

I received a useful piece of advice from others who had been before. Don’t attend sessions you know too much about. It’ll just frustrate you and you won’t learn much. Choose things that don’t immediately sound like you’ll find them of interest. Like '5 steps to bulletproof UX strategy'. Or 'HTML5. The web’s dead baby'?

Whilst I couldn’t actually bring myself to attend those two, I did see a few interesting things.

A session on the future of augmented reality. Soon, apparently, we’ll be wearing glasses with a built-in heads-up display showing us detail and information on everything around us. Brands will be able to take advantage of this competitively by programming the AR feed into our glasses so ads in real life are changed into virtual ones. Pepsi for example could turn every Coke poster you pass into a Pepsi one. And facial recognition technology will allow us to know everything about the people we see too. The downside of this apparently will be when our political or sexual proclivities are known and we type in ‘show members of the British National Party’ we’ll be able to see them via AR tags as they walk down the street, and beat them up. Hang on. Is that a down-side?

An impressive keynote by Christopher Poole who, seven years ago, when he must have been a foetus, started 4chan, the site responsible for the lion’s share of the entertaining memes flying around the web.

The massive hangar housing the latest in video games. My favourite find being an immersive experieince in which the players have to don gas mask type headgear with screens over the eyes and speakers over the ears and try and escape nasty under-sea creatures.

Guy Kawasaki, one time Apple evangelist, giving an entertaining preview of his latest book ‘Enchantment. The art of changing hearts, Minds and Actions’. My favourite tip: ‘When your boss asks you to do something, drop everything and do it’.

A great panel on the finer points of crowd sourcing with the guys behind Six Items or Less, Victors and Spoils and the 3six5 project. Content management systems, editing and curation being the nut that apparently needs cracking in such endeavours.

Craig Ventor who decoded the human genome and then used that code to create synthetic cells of his own to hopefully eventually help cure disease and feed the world’s hungry. Not a bad use of tech I guess.

Your genetic code. Simples.

A panel of Japanese mobile experts who proceeded to explain to the audience, not only that they are they incredibly rich and, in Japan seen as rock stars, but also why: There are 100 million users of the mobile web in Japan, most of whom seem to spend their time gaming on it. Hence platforms like Gree, the Mixi social phone and the Sekai AR camera app are pissing all over Facebook out there. According to various other speakers at the place, what’s happening in Japan will end up happening everywhere else. The social web? Pah! That’s soooo ‘2.0’. It’s going to be all about ‘gamification’. The friend counts and check-ins we currently tinker around with are just a tantalising glimpse of what’s to come. We play games for three reasons I discovered...: Mastery. De-stress. Socialising. This last one is going to pervade mobile and web usage in the future.

Genevieve Bell, a cultural anthropologist, who talked about smart technology and how smart is too smart. Apparently we’ll shun having our TV or fridge automatically update our status, or our phones automatically check in without asking, telling our friends where we are and what we’re doing. This is because we need ‘layers to our communication’. We 'add a story' to our check-ins. In her words “we lie”. If our TVs told everyone what we were watching and when we were watching it, it would take away our ability to transmit the image of ourselves we really want people to see.

The largest attendance by far, was, interestingly one based around good old ads. The Old Spice case study. Standing room only, people turned away at the door and huge guffaws escaping through the flimsy walls.

That was one of the hundreds and hundreds of things I didn’t see out in Austin.

And the relief of leaving, no longer to be faced with such paralysing choice was bitter sweet.

Some might describe South By Southwest as a “digital wank-fest”.

But I found it fascinating. Mind expanding. Illuminating.

Advertising festivals like Cannes are fine if you want to see what’s already happened.

But they only teach you about the past.

South by Southwest is about the future.

And I for one am more interested in learning what’s going to happen there.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Son of Sooty

This was first published in Campaign magazine on 18th February 2011 a week after my dad passed away. Writing it was quite a moving, but cathartic experience.

When people discover I’m my father’s son the first question they ask is whether he encouraged me to go into the same business as him. I always answer no. Because he didn’t.

However, whilst it is true that at no point did he ever sit me down and say: “You know son, you’d like this advertising malarkey. It’s great fun. You should try it”, looking back on it I’m not really sure I had much of a choice as to what profession to enter at all. As far as the nature/nurture debate goes I reckon I got right-royally nurtured.

My first contact with the business was a frustrating one. At the age of three I’d try and draw with these massive stubby yellow pencils we had lying around the house. After wearing the big black tips away I gave up and moved on to crayons. I say crayons. They were actually Chinagraphs. It was either that or the enormous box of Magic Markers. Ahh, the scent of petrol still reminds me of home.

As soon as I was old enough I was dragged along to TV shoots with him. Inexpensive child-care. I remember being rather nonplussed by these on the whole. I’d have rather been gluing an Airfix model.

The first one I visited, I realised years later, was momentous. It was for Texaco. Together on the same sound stage were Morcambe and Wise, the biggest comedians of the day, James Hunt, the current Formula 1 World Champion, and Alan Parker, the creator of Bugsy Malone, every child’s favourite film at the time.

I saw other ads being made through childhood. Like the one for ITT televisions, starring Spike Milligan, who had to, rather excitingly, crash through a massive sheet of sugar glass. Repeatedly.

And the one for Rawlings Tonic Water with Arthur Lowe (Captain Manwaring in Dad’s Army!) that featured one of my favourite endlines of all time. Rawlings was invented before Schweppes, hence the line: ‘We knew how before you know who.’

Holidays had him lying by the pool, scribbling on sheets and sheets of paper. And on weekends, when Chelsea wasn’t playing at home, he’d hide away in the front room re-writing that week’s scripts.

He regularly used us, his family, as a sounding board. He’d read out scripts and if we laughed he took it as a good sign. My mother was a hard taskmaster. My brother, sister and I were pushovers. We found everything he said funny.

I remember him spending months writing scripts for Cinzano. He wanted a cool James Bond style character together with a glamorous ‘Joan Collins type’ woman. The clearance body of the time kept turning his suggestions for the male lead, Sean Connery etc, down, sighting them as being ‘heroes of the young’. He changed tack, deciding to try the anti-hero approach. He started writing for someone slimy and deliberately un-cool someone like Woody Allen, who I thought was hilarious. One Sunday he read us his latest idea, for the guy to look at his watch and spill the drink on the gorgeous girl as if to accentuate his idiocy. Mum chuckled. (He always loved Marx Brothers style sight gags and she’d heard him use that joke (probably too many times) at parties.) That was good enough for him and thus began one of the most famous campaigns in history.

He loved radio and once read us out a radio script that had me wetting myself with laughter. It was for Bergasol fast acting sun lotion and had a white presenter applying the stuff and while doing so his voice changing gradually to African. He was a great mimic and could have done the voices himself but had it recorded by the Idi Amin impressionist John Bird. It ran. Sold tons of bottles. And had loads of complaints. All from white people.

Throughout my childhood I’d have relatives squeeze my cheek and ask: “So, young man, you going to follow in you father’s footsteps then? Go into the family business?” This left me determined not to.

However, the clincher came one Easter holiday when, as an annoying 13 year old, he took me into work with him to get me out from under my mother’s feet. We drove into Soho, to the fledgling Wight Collins Rutherford Scott offices in Great Pulteney Street. There were only about 25 people working there at the time, all, as Campaign described them, ‘superstars’. I worked as a runner collecting prints from gypsy Joe’s Basement and mechanicals from Studio 10 as well as taking stuff round the creative department to get signed off. The buzz at the place was electric. After two days my mind was made up. This was the business I wanted to spend my life in.

After the holidays I told my parents I was leaving school and going into advertising. My mum rolled her eyes. My dad simply suggested I chat to someone he knew who also worked in advertising. I spent an hour on the phone to a bloke called Dave Trott, who talked cold, logical sense. He persuaded me not to leave school there and then, but to go to college and get a decent job at the end of it.

My parents divorced when I was 16, leaving me resentful and more determined than ever not to ‘follow in my father’s footsteps’. So I decided to rebel. To be my own man. No, not as far as to go into medicine. I decided to become a writer, as opposed to an art director like him. As if that would make all the difference.

Realisation of the extent of my father’s reputation came on my first day on the Hounslow copywriting course. A lecturer told us what we could expect from the cut-throat and uncaring industry we were entering. In hushed tones he relayed the story of a horrific adman who brutally critted a student’s book with a Sooty puppet. I didn’t tell my classmates that the Sooty puppet was mine for fear of being ritually kicked to shit on behalf of students everywhere.

Every now and then Ron would call up and ask what I was up to. One time I made the mistake of actually telling him. I had just finished an entry for the D&AD student awards. I’d photographed it, done the type, got it all looking beautiful. He gently suggested a tweak that might make the headline better. I said I liked it the way it was. After all I’d bloody finished it off! It was about to get sent off. So I didn’t change it. I came nowhere in that competition. He was right. That experience taught me a lesson: never worry about how late you are in the process or how finished up stuff is. There’s always a chance to improve on something.

When my partner Mary Wear and I were looking for our first job out of college I again was determined to keep my lineage a secret. I was paranoid about accusations of nepotism and didn’t want the run the risk of people giving me special treatment because they might be friends of Ron’s. Hah! I needn’t have worried.

The week after we were offered a job at FCB Campaign ran an article headlined: Another Collins joins Dynasty. I was rumbled. We suddenly had a steady stream of visitors to our office, each with their own unique description of him. “I worked with your dad once. He was a complete f*****g b*****d. A total c**t.” Then, as I was reaching for my coat, they would finish by saying “But by Christ did I learn a lot from him.”.

After that I was more relaxed when people asked me about him. I’d proved that I could do it by myself. And there was no denying that whilst Ron was undoubtedly an utter git to many people, he was also, undoubtedly a huge talent. And I was proud of him whatever people’s opinion.

He left advertising a year after I joined it, which I always felt was a shame. However there was an upside. I never had to experience the ignominy of the two of us being nominated for the same award and watching him walk to collect it. Small mercies.

I’m sure if becoming an estate agent would have made me happy, my father would have been too. Whilst I ended up in the same racket as my old man, his lasting advice to me is applicable to any profession: “Just do your best. No one can ever ask for anything more.” To this day that’s all I’ve ever asked of myself. Or anyone else.