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With Apologies To Baz Luhrmann

Ladies and Gentlemen
Of the Marketing & Advertising Industry of 2015;

Listen to your clients.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future,
Listening to your clients would be it.

The long-term benefits of listening to your clients
Have been proven by accountants;
Whereas the rest of my advice has no basis,
More reliable than my own meandering experience.

I will dispense this advice, now.

Trust your instincts and the common sense
Of your youth.
Oh never mind;
You will not understand the value of your instincts
And the common sense of your youth
Until you have been forced to.

But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back
At the industry bullshit that was being spouted
And recall in a way that
You don’t have the confidence to do now,
How right your instincts were
And how ephemeral that latest
‘This Will Change Everything’ channel really was.

You are not as dumb as your agency
Makes you imagine.
Don’t worry about the future;
Or worry, but know that understanding your clients’
Hopes and dreams will stand you in good stead
Regardless.

The real troubles in your career are apt to be people;
The kind that you just can’t believe
Really exist in the workplace.

Do one thing everyday that puts you
In the shoes of your client.

Network.

Don’t settle for intellectual mediocrity,
Don’t put up with people who are
Intellectually mediocre.

Network.

Don’t waste your time on office politics;
Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind.
But the rest of the world just could not give a shit.

Remember the value you bring,
Forget about when the planner makes you feel small.
If you succeed in doing this,
Tell your Creative Director how.

Keep daily contact with your clients,
Throw away your SoWs.

Network.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know
What you want to do with your career.

The most interesting people that I know now,
Knew at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives;
But they became the 40 year olds who don’t.

Drink plenty of alcohol.

Be kind to receptionists;
They know everything and everyone.

Maybe you’ll win a Lion, maybe you won’t;
Maybe you’ll get a bonus, probably you won’t;
Maybe you’ll leave the industry at 40;
Maybe they’ll put you in the
Advertising Hall of Fame on your 75th birthday.

Whatever you do, always remind yourself to
Walk the floors.
You’ll be amazed at just how much you can learn.
And so will everybody else.

Enjoy your creative mind, use it every way you can.
Don’t be afraid of it,
Or scared off by those who are labelled ‘creative’.
It’s the greatest asset you’ll ever own.

Write… even if you find it hard; it forces you to think.

Break bread, even when you’re not hungry.

Do NOT read industry magazines,
They will only give you FOMO.

Get to know your Chairman,
You never know when he’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your colleagues;
They are the best link to your next job,
And the people most likely to tell stories about you
In the future.

Understand that agencies and accounts come and go,
But for the precious few you should hold on.

Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography,
Invest in your relationships now,
Because the older you get,
The more you’ll be able to help the people you knew when you were young.

Work client-side once,
But leave before it makes you terminally depressed;

Work in an agency once,
But leave before it makes you clinically insane.

Hustle.

Accept certain inalienable truths:
Finance departments will make you fill in forms,
Agencies prefer talking about themselves,
You too will get senior.

And when you do, you’ll fantasise that,
When you were young:
Finance departments were helpful,
Agencies preferred talking about their clients,
And juniors respected their bosses.

Respect your bosses.

Don’t expect anyone else to bring work to you.
Maybe you have a big marketing budget,
Maybe you have a retained account;
But you never know when either one might run out.

You can’t mess enough with the received wisdom
Of an industry that, at 40, already looked 85.

Beware the ‘Next Big Idea’,
And be cautious with those who supply it.
The ‘Next Big Idea’ is often an old, small idea.
Dispensing it is a way of fishing the ‘creative brilliance’
Of the past from the disposal,
Wiping it off,
Photoshopping the other brand’s logos,
And recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me,
On listening to the clients…

Nick Jefferson is a partner with the advisory firm, Monticello LLP.

What Don Draper Knew (or – how history always repeats itself)

Magic Markers, Letraset, razor-sharp scalpels, studios thick with the fug of petrol, tobacco and various dangerous chemicals … In some respects, to anyone who was around at the time, the 1980s don’t actually seem like that long ago.

We remember The A-Team, black forest gateau, TV-AM and red braces. We remember Boy George, the miners’ strike and the Falklands War.

But the day to day working reality of a 1980s design studio, as set out above, feels like an age ago: even to those who were there.

Many years later, in an agency I was running, we set up a weekly series of masterclasses. It happened every Friday, and was aimed at developing a bit more of a Renaissance mindset in our staff.

One Friday, I asked a chap called Stu Turnbull to lead the session – centred around the theme of change, the inevitability of change, and how we all make choices about how we view, and respond to, change.

Experienced, caring and relentlessly upbeat, Stu aced it.

He was effortlessly elegant and generous in his delivery. He talked about the change he had seen. And he poked fun at himself and his erstwhile colleagues. Stu described the laughter that greeted the grandiose claims of a kooky, little-known Californian called Steve Jobs – that someday, the little beige box and its tiny screen that sat untouched in the corner, would take care of pretty much everything that Stu and his colleagues in production spent their time doing.

“But of course,” whispered some of the agency’s fresher faces, “Surely that was all so obvious?”

Not as obvious as the rich irony that was being played out as Stuie spoke.

Because this generation is in danger of exhibiting the very same, very dangerous, very sanctimonious smugness that did for the Magic Markers and the people who used them.

It’s true: right now, we are kings, we rule. This is our time. But, to quote the great Gary Barlow, “someday this will be someone else’s dream.”

And, before too long — and only if we’re exceptionally lucky — we’ll be the ones taking a bunch of giggling kidults through why we thought the iPhone & changed everything. Again.

Because the future doesn’t care about iPhones and iPads, Androids or, dare I say it, Google Glass, just like it didn’t care about Letraset and manual typesetting.

Generation 2015′s ability to describe the studio of 2045? It’s like Tomorrow’s World all over again. And likely to be about as (in)accurate.

Why? Because when human beings think about the future, they tend to focus on what will be different. Almost invariably, therefore, the conversation naturally centres around what is, perhaps counter-intuitively, the lowest common denominator: tools and technology. Hence the predictions of personal jet packs, the ‘pills instead of meals,’ the three hour journey from London to Sydney; or the hover boards that we’d all be riding in 2015.

Futurology in this respect is no more reliable than economics: a black art, and a truly ephemeral one at that. Working out what might be different in the future doesn’t have a great track record.

So as those of us who work in communications look ahead from 2015, instead of trying to explain how our world might look different, perhaps we should think about how it might look the same?

Because it seems to me, to paraphrase a more eloquent Jefferson, there are is a certain self-evident truth at stake here. And that truth is unchanging, holding as good in 2015 as it did in 1985, as it did in 1955, and as it will in 2045.

Like all truths, it is simple. People will always want to communicate, to be understood. And if we accept that corporations have ‘personality’, then they are no different, and they want to communicate, to be understood too.

So to get wound up about whether a Magic Marker can or should be replaced by Apple’s latest ‘Paint’ app is to miss the point. Because neither has ever been, nor ever will be, the star of the show.

That slot always has been, and always will be, reserved for something much more important.

Agencies obsess about channel. But Stu’s presentation set out the folly and futility of such an approach. Channels move on, develop, change, grow, become obsolete. As an agency, competence in different channels is, of course, required but that is not what clients are buying. Not the clients worth having anyway.

Because clients care, have cared, and will always care, about their message, about being understood. The channel is just the vehicle. So the iPads, the HTML5, the Magic Markers, the Letraset, the Apps and the rest, are just part of that vehicle. And, whatever they say, clients really only care about the vehicle to the extent that it gets them to the right destination. Very seldom do they want to look under the hood.

Don Draper and his pals on Madison knew that.

And so does Stu Turnbull.

Decisions, decisions.

I just finished reading Boris’ brilliant biography of Churchill.

One of the (many) striking things about our wartime Prime Minister was the extent to which he was ready to make decisions; especially the hard ones.

The Mayor of London rates this characteristic very highly. Indeed, I remember some years ago, in a wide-ranging interview he gave to the Evening Standard, he himself was quoted as saying:

“People don’t care what decision you make, they just bloody well want a decision”

It’s an unusual – and somewhat risky – thing for someone whose job depends on votes to say, but is he right? And what does this mean for agencies?

A chap called Marcus Buckingham, in his book, The One Thing You Need To Know, argues that the number one priority of leaders should be to offer clarity. Indeed, leaders have a duty, he continues, to set out beyond a shadow of a doubt where they stand, and what they will or will not tolerate.

This duty of clarity is so acute because it is what those being led want. And they want this, says Buckingham, more than anything else at all – including liking or agreeing with whatever is being said.

In my experience, this clarity is in very short supply in agency-land. And the effects are obvious, at every level: from pre-pitch tail-chasing to the juvenile tediousness of agency politics to the continued tolerance of manifestly bad, if not criminal, behaviour.

Take a second to consider the most effective leader you can think of – business, political, even social. Is that person clear? Indeed, would you go so far as to say that being clear – even when that clarity drives you crazy – is one of their defining characteristics?

In making and implementing clear decisions, one way or another, leaders set the agenda. It may not be an agenda that others like, but at least it gives them something to react to. Even die-hard opponents of an idea ultimately tend to want a clear decision: it gives them something tangible to be “against”. Dithering has never had a good press.

Take a decision, good or bad, and one way or another you set the agenda. 



For business leaders, this is a core responsbility – to ourselves if no one else.

Rebooting football

I don’t normally write about Lucky Generals stuff.  But I’m having one of those so-excited-about-work-moments, that I hope you’ll excuse me.  Especially as I could do with your help.

This morning, we helped launch a bid to challenge Sepp Blatter for FIFA’s presidency and “Reboot football” for good.  The bid is headed by the legendary David Ginola, backed by the marketing ninjas of Paddy Power and guided by the legal experts at the reform group Change FIFA.  Lucky Generals and M&C Saatchi PR are handling the communications while Crowdfunder.co.uk is managing the fundraising side of things.

So it’s very much a team effort.  A once-in-a-lifetime chance to bring transparency, democracy and equality to the world’s favourite sport.  An opportunity to return the beautiful game to the fans.  And while Paddy Power has generously kickstarted things, we want this to be a grassroots campaign, with as broad a base as possible.

With this in mind, we’re encouraging anyone in the world who cares about football to visit www.teamginola.com and make a donation, however small.  The idea being that if we raise c£2.3m we will be able to run a comprehensive, global campaign that will help secure an initial 5 FIFA member nominations in January and mount a serious challenge in May.

I really hope some of you might join Team Ginola.  And maybe some of your clients’ brands too (the more the merrier, in our view).  Failing that, a bit of support from the touchline would be appreciated.

In fact, even if you’re not really into football, I’d hope you might see this as a good advert for our industry: a diverse team of people, led by a fearless client, working towards an audacious goal, that will make a positive difference to the world.  There.  Hopefully you can see why I’m excited.

C’mon Team Ginola!

Enter Renaissance Man, Renaissance Woman

‘First catch your pike,’ ran the line.

‘And let it be a large one,’ ran the next. Unhelpfully.

It used to make me and Dad chuckle on our fishing trips. ‘But of course!’ We’d to say to each other, eyes rolling, ‘Why didn’t we think of that?!’

It was the first line in a recipe for pike, and the book was Izaak Walton’s 1653 Compleat Angler. Old Izaak no doubt had mirthful intentions (humor — or irony at least — is a staggering constant in the crossword of literature, across continents and down the ages), but nonetheless, his point is a good one.

There’s no point eating small pike. It simply isn’t worth it.

But even though Dad and I knew this to be true, we carried on ‘letting’ our pike be small ones. We had many theories as to why, but ultimately we were fishing in the wrong pool.

And so it is with talent.

Agency-land is in turmoil. The whole of the marketing services industry has been hit by what is now several years of economic rollercoaster, bank bailouts, corporate budget-slashing and downsizing, and — above all else — commoditization; a commoditization driven by the absence in our world of effective barriers to entry and a gross inequality of supply and demand.

Great news for clients (perhaps). Very, very bad news for agencies.

Not that I have any sympathy for the agencies. I’ve written elsewhere about the importance of developing very sensitive ‘change antennae’: and to extend the insect analogy, those without such antennae will be hurled against the windshield of history.

It really is as simple as that. Darwinian reality at it’s brutal, uncaring — yet magnificently efficient — best.

The good news is that now, in 2015, everyone (well, nearly everyone) recognizes what needs to happen: agencies need to move upstream, away from solely the simple execution of websites, ads and collateral, and into the C-suite, strategy and the territory of the big consultancies. That’s where the action is: a genuinely grown-up strategy offer equals great briefs, and good margin.

‘Downstream’ matters, of course. Hugely. There are very few of us who haven’t heard a pal in a corporate complain about the lack of tangible action resulting from an expensive and time-consuming McKinsey intervention. Strategy alone does not get the baby bathed.

But there is no doubt that the direction of travel has to be upstream. So how you make that happen?

It cannot be an overnight job. Not just because the wheels come off (and they do) but because it goes way beyond a classic repositioning. It is more than a new brand, and it goes even deeper than a new culture.

It’s about hiring a different type of person. It’s about people who can not just outperform the grey, anodyne ‘thought’ that is spouted — at great expense — over and again by the consultant disciples of the big business schools, but people who will also proactively fill a room with the zing and zest of their multifarious knowledge. People who are instinctively, inherently creative, in that word’s truest, broadest sense.

Because what we ultimately sell is ideas; ideas that fuel change in businesses.

And if ideas have a nursery, if they germinate anywhere, it is in the free exchange, the interplay of differing views; the reflections and sparks that diversity causes leading to the sum being not just greater than the parts but also original. It is this, it seems to me, that enables us to novate.

Creativity is an essentially human trait, and humans are essentially social. There is therefore a direct relationship between the more ideas, the more things, the more people that each of us is exposed to, and the richness of our individual store of knowledge. And the more knowledge we have, the more we need; and so it goes on.

Picasso is supposed to have said ‘the best artists steal’, but he was being simultaneously dramatic and humble. The best artists — in the broadest possible sense of the word — are in fact intellectually curious, and intrigued by life; in particular by life beyond the one they already know. They are not just happy to draw on, and be inspired by, the works of others; they see it as essential.

Such folk are restless, natural adventurers, bobbing around in Jefferson’s ‘boisterous sea of liberty’, unsated by the status quo, thirsty for more; each man or woman a latter day Odysseus for whom the journey is at least as important as the destination.

Enter Renaissance Man, Renaissance Woman: these are the people with whom we need to fill our agencies.

It is no accident that the creative greats historically were always impatient towards, frustrated by, perhaps even furious with, artificial barriers or silos that inhibited their learning, their discovery.

Walter Gropius, founder and guru of the Bauhaus movement, whose extraordinary legacy still informs so much of what we see around us today, was seeking ‘A New Unity’ between art and technology back in 1923. And Aldous Huxley, scion of perhaps Britain’s foremost intellectual family, in his final work, Literature and Science, urged a rapprochement between those two disciplines.

No man is an island, as English Renaissance poet John Donne elegantly had it. Quite — or at least no man or woman in a creative agency can these days afford be an island. We require latter day Da Vincis: people with the mental agility to move from chapel to chopper in one fell swoop.

Ambitious, educated, urgent eclecticism. Intellectual curiosity. It’s a tall order, I’ll be the first to admit. But this is what will take our agencies upstream.

And that’s where the really big pike are.

We Are All Superman Now

The Twitter backlash. The low-level, but growing, grumbling about excessive ‘noise’ that is becoming more evident by the day. Know what I mean?

I watched ‘Superman Returns’ at the weekend. It’s a 2006 movie and (even for someone who grew up on Christopher Reeve) it’s really pretty good.

If you know it, you might have an idea of what I’m talking about when I refer to the ‘Twitter scene’. Somewhat frustrated, tired and worn-out from various do-gooding and life-saving, our hero punches the air to begin his ascent up into the sky and then on into space.

There, amongst the stars, arms folded in the way that only he can, Superman serenely takes in the majesty of Planet Earth. No doubt he’s hoping for a bit of superhero R&R; a few moments of quiet reflection.

He gets, of course, the exact opposite.

Because Superman can hear everything; the noise of millions of people’s cries and fears, aware of all the dangers they face. From memory (but don’t quote me on this), there was a similar scene in the 80s Superman movies too.

It all seemed a bit far-fetched then, if I’m honest. Classic, silly Hollywood – one person being able to hear all the noise in the world, pah! It might, to think about it, even have seemed a little unrealistic in 2006.

But in 2015, you don’t have to be a superhero to experience this for yourself. And you certainly don’t need to travel into space to do it. Now we all hear the musings and concerns of billions of people; the darkness of millions of strangers’ lives, and the collective, exhausting tedium of brands tweeting about how ‘FUN!’ they are.

Twitter, Facebook and others have, in one sense at least, made us all Superman. And it doesn’t necessarily feel great.

So go on, bring a bit of creative kryptonite to the party in 2015……….

I’ve got a friend who met his wife in a brothel…….

Oh, don’t worry – it wasn’t his idea. It was his financial adviser’s. (He takes him everywhere.)

Anyway, the financial adviser knew a brothel where the Madam would listen really closely to my friend’s requirements. And she did! Sure enough, a string of specially selected beauties paraded themselves in front of my pal and his financial adviser (I told you he takes him everywhere), each promising ‘a really good time’ with ‘guaranteed results’.

There were one or two who caught my friend’s eye, but neither of them made it to the ‘second round’ that his financial adviser insisted on.  Eventually, worn down and just wanting to get some ‘business’, one of the women in particular slashed her hourly rates.

That woman is now my friend’s wife.

Except she’s not.

Of course she’s not. Because everyone reading this knows that the process described above, as well as being deeply unsavoury in almost every respect, is also exceptionally unlikely to engender the type of long-term relationship that underpins a successful marriage.

Yet the process described above is almost identical to that which many corporations go through, when supposedly looking for a ‘long-term relationship’ with an agency.

The ‘financial adviser’ above is the corporate procurement department, albeit with fewer certificates and even more spreadsheets. Procurement takes every spending decision as an opportunity to muscle in and treat everything as if it were paperclips; a transaction for goods, and nothing more.

And the ‘Madam’ is the intermediaries, wheeling out the agencies to do the business version of ‘tits and teeth’.  Deliciously Orwellian, outwardly they display apparent magnanimity. But the reality, as every ‘working girl’ knows, is a different story. Behind the scenes, fierce control is exercised by their man on the inside; a particular breed of lickspittle ‘New Business Director’ whose very existence (as little more than a – highly opinionated – mailbox) depends on the continued hegemony of his intermediary masters.

This ugly, Faustian symbiosis ensures that the Gollum-like New Business Director jealously guards the ‘preciousssss’ process, whilst mandating that his pitch-weary colleagues line up again to go to ever-greater extremes to win over the prospect.

Corporations are, of course, welcome to seek counsel from whomever they like, when looking for a partner. It’s a free market, they are the clients and can and should enjoy the concomitant privileges. And god only knows that the agencies are their own worse enemies.

But all these layers? All these people? They’re not adding value. In fact, they are destroying value, for both corporation and agency. Their involvement, and the resultant adversarial tone from-the-off, demeans everyone; and inhibits delivery of the results that spell success for both parties.

And so many client-side marketers know this. The overwhelming majority of corporate marketers that I meet are confident, pleasant, and very smart. They know which agencies do what, they know how to get in touch with them and they also know how to extract maximum value from them. So why do they allow these third parties into the mix? Certainly, history does not accept ‘it’s difficult’ as a reason for not doing the right thing.

Corporate marketers – this is your Yazz moment:

Stand up for your love rights.

Because where true mutuality, the cornerstone of all successful relationships, is not allowed to grow, you won’t end up in a long-term relationship.

You’ll end up fucked.

(this piece originally published by The Marketing Society)

My New Year’s Resolution: Eat Octopus for Breakfast

Welcome back.  Hope you had a good break and weren’t laid low by one of those stomach-turning horrors that seemed to be doing the rounds this Christmas (in particular, I’m thinking of episodes of Mrs Brown’s Boys, tweets from Katie Hopkins or the truly revolting idea of Nigel Farage as Man of the Year.)

Now, if your innards are up to it, and one of your New Year’s Resolutions is to change your diet, may I recommend a new dish for 2015, courtesy of a certain Mr J. Bezos of Seattle?

The serving suggestion stems from 2010, when the Amazon boss bought pioneering  e-commerce company Woot, for $110m.  Shortly afterwards, so the story goes, he met the acquired company’s founder for breakfast and ordered an exotic item from the menu: Mediterranean octopus prepared with potatoes, bacon, green garlic yoghurt and a poached egg.  The meeting was somewhat awkward and when the Woot boss asked why Bezos had wanted to buy his company in the first place, there was, apparently, a painful silence.  Then the mogul replied “You’re the octopus that I’m having for breakfast.  When I look at the menu, you’re the thing I don’t understand, the thing I’ve never had. I must have the breakfast octopus.”

What I love about this story (first published in D Magazine) is that one of the most successful businessmen on the planet not only acknowledges gaps in his understanding but positively embraces them: he is actively drawn to the exciting unknown, rather than attracted to the tediously familiar.

This relentless drive to experiment (and, if necessary, fail) is critical to commercial success today.  In fact, the desire is increasingly important to get on in the world more generally (Ian Leslie explains why, in his excellent book, “Curiosity”).  But all too often, our response to life’s menu is to order an old favourite – or, worse, default to what everybody else is having.  Of course we shouldn’t forget the dishes that have worked for us in the past, or order stuff that we will hate, just for the sake of it.  But as our parents chided us when we were little: if we really want to grow, we need to keep trying new things.

So my New Year’s Resolution – and recommendation to you all – is to eat octopus for breakfast, more often in 2015.  My only caution, as with all dietary advice, would be to avoid over-doing things: better to try the unfathomable pleasures of Mrs Brown, Ms Hopkins and Mr Farage one at a time.

Happy New Year – and Bon Appetit.

KEEPING IT UNREAL

I left my gym this week and shortly afterwards, I received an email from them telling me that they’ll miss me. Awwww, that’s nice. Isn’t that nice? I can just picture the manager of Bannatyne’s and the staff looking more and more despondent with each passing week that I don’t turn up. I can see them all looking pathetically at each other and saying things like, “Oh, I really wish Jon hadn’t left. This gym just isn’t the same without him. Why? Oh why did he have to leave? I miss him so…” Read More »

It’s the most emotional..? time of the year

Nothing says Christmas quite like November ad releases. Or is that just me? And of course, anticipation about the John Lewis offering for the season runs high.

So does the emotion run high too? We did some facial coding to find out. Read More »

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