Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

I’ll tell you where to stick your poster!

In Planners, Small Man, Big Ideas on January 31, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Billboards, 48-sheets, Trivisions. Whatever you call them, we don’t need any more of them. I’m an advertising top banana but even I’m fed up with how these back-lit monstrosities are sprouting up, larger and more intrusive than ever, in every empty space in our towns and cities. I don’t mind my smartphone becoming the latest medium for companies to advertise their wares to me. At least I’m in control of that little device since I can always leave it in my pocket, turned to silent, if i want. But now I’m feeling personally guilty that some vacant urban space has been given over to a huge piece of steel by the industry I work in when a beautiful, life-enhancing tree could have been planted there instead. I dread to think at how many dinner parties advertising CEOs like me are being slated for inflicting promotional overload on the Great British Public.

Of course I’m not to blame. It’s those guys in media shops who we should be pointing the finger at. They’re the ones who’ve promised poster contractors that they’ll sell space on these skyline wreckers. And boy do they get a kick out of it! I’ve sat in client meetings when they’ve positively salivated over the latest piece of street furniture. The fact that the media owners frequently fly them round the globe from one junket to the next might have something to do with their perverse infatuation with the medium.

It’s time now to take a stand. Planners, do your duty by your industry! Take posters off your advertising briefs. Insist on multiple messages than can only be fulfilled in press. Start a movement. A facebook group. Form a collective that blogs against this intrusion (you’re good at that sort of thing). Tweet #plannersagainstpostercreep.

Together, but mainly on your own, we can stop this menace!

Let me know how you get on.

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Where to get protection in Paris

In Objects of Desire, Small Man, Big Ideas on January 29, 2011 at 11:55 am

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I spent the last few days in Paris. You’ll frequently find me in the French capital imbibing a dose of much-needed inspiration. Sometimes I’m visiting my colleagues in the Onward office there, sometimes it’s a solo trip. There are even some mornings when I leave my flat in Kensington and just turn left instead of right and jump on the Eurostar. (Actually I pop back in and grab my overnight bag which I have on standby in the hallway and then turn left instead of right.) My PA Helena is used to this sort of activity. In fact she encourages it. There’d be nothing worse than hearing ‘tut tuts’ down the phone when I tell her yet again that I’ve gone a bit lateral and changed the day’s plans. It keeps her on her toes and me refreshed.

On discovering that I’m en route to St Pancras station, Helena phones those good folk at my favourite hotel, Mama Shelter, in the 20th arrondissement and gets me booked in. They know me well there. The hotel was designed by Philippe Starck and oozes cool. Old Phil must have had us advertising guys in mind when he kitted it out. Each room has the latest Mac in it instead of a TV. And check out its groovy logo. It’s a chicken! ‘Come to Paris and Mama will shelter you like a hen does her chicks.’ That’s what it’s saying. And on these occasions, I don’t mind being thought of as a chick.

Like all great design, there’s more to this logo than first meets the eye. Look closely and you’ll see that the void between the hen’s legs is actually perfectly egg-shaped, begging the question whether Mama Shelter is the hen or the egg. I’ve deliberated on this and have concluded that Mama’s the hen, the shelter’s the egg and I’m the chick being doubly protected by hen and egg. (Though if you’re the claustrophobic type, you may prefer the free-range feeling of being a chick in an airy egg-shaped space (minus shell) where you could look up to Mama.)

Bet most of you didn’t spot the egg in the first place anyway. But don’t worry, if you hang out on this blog, you’ll see these things with time.

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I do stuff that most people don’t

In Small Man, Big Ideas, Wannabe CEO on January 25, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Look what I got sent anonymously in the post today. Was it from a grateful client, an envious competitor, an ex-girlfriend maybe? Whoever it was, it was very generous and perceptive of them. They know what makes me tick. The past tense of this quote would serve well as the epitaph on my gravestone. Wannabe CEOs, it could be yours too. As I keep telling you, be predictably unpredictable. Otherwise, why do your clients need you?

I’m going to pop off to the little boys’ room now, pull it on and wear it around the agency. I know that’ll piss off Sebastian, our Creative Director, because he thinks he’s the only one who’s lateral. Too bad. I’ll be a walking billboard (A-board more like at 5’4″!) exhorting the team here to explore at the outer edges of what’s possible. I might even do a couple of extra laps of the Creative Department just to make sure they get the message. Whoever shows me the most astronautical tendencies over the rest of the week can star in our next pitch. Now you don’t get many CEOs doing that!

I’m reading a book

In Creative Directors, Julian Smith on January 22, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Time once more to bow at the altar of the inimitable Julian Smith. His latest video reinforces what a genius that man is. I’ve suggested to Sebastian, our Creative Director, that we use Julian in some (if not all) of our forthcoming commercials, but because he didn’t think of it himself, he pooh-poohed the idea and refused. He’s currently in a sulk, I guess because he realises what a find Julian is. What is it with some people that they can’t accept that others can be creative too? Maybe Sebastian feels threatened that we’ll just bypass him altogether and send our briefs straight to Julian. Now there’s an idea …

Guess who’s found their inner geek.

In Couture, Planners on January 21, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Who’d have thought! Back when I was a kid growing up in rural Buckinghamshire, wearing a cardigan was something that Uncle Walter did. He had a white-hair comb-over, a big pimple on his chin and sported crimpelene trousers and slip-ons. His cardigan was burgundy with brown leathery buttons. I recoiled each time I saw it.  Nothing signified more a descent into senility than the willingness to wear such a garment. Now fast forward to the 21st century and cardigans are the height of cool. My big-cheese friend-in-high-places toppish-banana (but not right to the top because Sir Philip’s in the way) top man at Top Man tells me that the cardigan is one of their biggest sellers to teenagers. All hail the cardigan!

I’m not going to digress and speculate about what the Earl of Cardigan (he of Charge of the Light Brigade fame at the Battle of Balaclava) might have thought of this because then I’d have to stray into woolly headwear too. No, I’m going to focus on why the advertising industry has clasped this garment to its bosom and appropriated it as its own. Today, no self-respecting adman dares be seen without one. They’ve all jumped at the chance to say rebelliously to the world, ‘I’m a nerd who’s proud to display his inner Uncle Walter.’ The same has happened with dorky black-rimmed glasses. I walk into a room of fellow CEOs and they’re all wearing them. Some of whom I suspect aren’t even short-sighted. Why this sudden infatuation with geekiness? Is it that they’ve finally woken up to the fact that the centre of gravity has swung from Madison Avenue to Silicon Valley? That the nerd who invented the Apple Mac is now far cooler than the designer it’s aimed at? Can’t admen simply be happy in their own uniforms of black suits and black polo necks, like me? It would seem not. Advertising has always been a derivative business. We take a bit of this, add a bit of that, find some inspiration somewhere else, mix it together and bingo we’ve got an advertising campaign. Who cares if it’s not original and a bit of a mish-mash.

So, next time you’re out and about and you see a forty-something guy wearing a cardigan or a pair of geek’s glasses, chances are he works in advertising. If he’s wearing both, he’s a planner.

The Art of the Pitch. Lesson 1

In Clients, Pitching on January 20, 2011 at 11:40 am

I don’t suspect that many guys who eat marketing textbooks for breakfast also read this blog. It’s a bit too lateral for them. The few who do however are probably thinking, ‘Hey he’s started to speak our language. He’s called this post ‘The Art of the Pitch’ because he’s going to serve up some nuggets in the vein of Sun Tzu or Machiavelli.’ They’re thinking, ‘this is a post I want to read’ because they’ve sworn allegiance to those two authors, believing that taking their management philosophy from the works of a 6th century BC Chinaman or a 15th century Italian political philosopher is cool and nobody will notice that’s it’s really a substitute for having no worthwhile personal insights of their own.

Such marketeers are kings of jargon and herd thinking. They pepper their conversations with the latest buzz phrases such as ‘joined-up thinking’. They talk about competitors who also work in their ‘space’. Some even call themselves ‘Corpreneurs’ which apparently is a ‘Corporate Entrepreneur’ – a clear confession that they never had the courage to take that leap into the unknown themselves, but prefer to gamble with someone else’s money.

Back to my subject. These guys also make the worst clients. And you really don’t want to end up pitching to them. They’re just the type to look at a piece of creative work and mark it out of ten on five different key measures. This is marketing by formula. Instinct has no place in their armoury. So if you care about building a client list that will bring you happiness and satisfaction, avoid such people. When you go to the chemistry meeting (another classic!), ask to meet them in their office. Tell them it’s a huddle. They’ll love that. Once in, check out those bookshelves. Then their desk. Beware a Newton’s Cradle. Flinch at the ubiquitous Mont Blanc pen and pencil set in a leather case. Recoil at the cartoon of them on the wall that they got some poor sod at their last agency to draw.  But most of all listen to what they say. If they mention exploring the pitch brief at a more ‘granular level in a tissue meeting in two weeks time’, run straight out of the door.

Every Adman needs a cool pad

In Objects of Desire, Planners on January 16, 2011 at 4:08 pm

We all could do with a little more cool in our lives. With this blog I bring you an abundance. Today’s gem comes from the USA and is a collaboration between the Draplin Design Co of Portland, Oregon and Coudal Partners in Chicago. Inspired by the vanishing subgenre of agricultural memo books, ornate pocket ledgers and the simple, unassuming beauty of a well-crafted grocery list, these guys describe Field Notes as “an honest memo book, worth fillin’ up with GOOD INFORMATION.” Yeeha!

I love these little books. They’re so much more understated and authentic than the ubiquitous Moleskin, the favourite of advertising planners the world over. Herd instinct or what!

You can buy Field Notes in happening stores in a city near you – The Shop at Bluebird on London’s King’s Road, for example, where skinny black-dude sales assistants wander around singing rap to themselves, wearing cardigans, cigarette-leg jeans, tartan bow-ties and nerdy glasses. But I digress. The best way to own Field Notes is to have a subscription like me. Then you’re guaranteed to receive the Limited Editions (in different colours, papers and packaging) that are released each quarter and which sell out almost immediately. See what I’ve done there? I’ve given you a double dose of cool.

Sign up today and annoy a planner near you.

CEO vs Creative Director

In Creative Directors, Wannabe CEO on January 16, 2011 at 10:51 am

In a game of advertising Top Trumps, who’d win – CEO or Creative Director? Who would score the more points (notice how, as literate CEO, I use the comparative ‘more’ because I’m comparing two things rather than the superlative ‘most’ which refers to more than two). But enough of early point-scoring. This will be an unbiased analysis. And of course, you’re all welcome to express your views in the Comments section below. I’ve selected four categories, so lets get going.


Who is the more influential? Outsiders would invariably say, ‘the CEO, of course’. And they may well be right. But it is more complicated than that otherwise we wouldn’t be having this debate. Although I lead our whole agency and my name is at the top of the organogram, (1.5cm above that of Sebastian, our Creative Director, – more if you use the enlarging tool), I have to admit that he does have a platoon of fiercely loyal troops in his department. Why is a little beyond me. Others in the agency have described their creative colleagues variously as pig-headed, unkempt, surly and arrogant, but there is a bond between those creatives that can’t simply be traced back to a jelly mould. They do hang on his every word and brook no criticism of him. So for the level of devotion that Sebastian inspires in his underlings, I’m declaring this section a draw. 1-1.


This is quite difficult for me to stomach, but I have a fear that Sebastian is actually paid more than I am. Shocking, I know, but I inherited him when I joined and the Chairman keeps such details to himself and his beancounters in NYC. I’ve also seen salary surveys in Campaign Magazine that suggest this might not be unique to our agency. It’s seemingly rife throughout the industry. No wonder Sebastian and his peers act like Real Madrid Galacticos if they’re having money flung at their feet. It only serves to make my job more difficult when I have to put him in his place and tell him why fish dressed as monks in an underwater monastery won’t sell more tuna. However, money talks and much as I disagree with this tawdry state of affairs, it’s 2-1 Sebastian.

Lateral Thinking

A shoo-in for the Creative Director. No contest. A sine qua non of any advertising agency. The Creative Director must be most lateral man in the room. Surely? Well, prepare to have your preconceptions brutally challenged! I suggest that any good CEO needs to shape-shift like old Proteus. The ability to switch between counting beans, acquiring competitors, cajoling clients, marshalling pitch teams, deciphering creative work and selling it with the panache of a market-stall trader requires a lateral mind like no other. Creative Directors just swan into the agency mid-morning and rarely surface from their den before home time. What’s creative about doing the one thing every day, over and over and over again in the same untidy, uninspiring office? Nothing. Exactly. Unanimous win for the CEO. 2-2.

Online Cred

We all live in a digital world. I’m no exception. I tweet, RT, DM, #ff, update status, link in, check in, google goggle and blog. Sebastian does none of these willingly. But this so isn’t a contest between him and me. No. For every CEO in adland, there’s a Creative Director. This is about a rivalry being played out in every advertising agency across the globe: a rivalry to match the Capulets vs the Montagues, the Blues vs the Reds, the bulls vs the bears. And to settle this last category of who’s at the vanguard of the digital revolution that’s sweeping our planet, I’m going to let the medium proclaim the winner. Type #ceo and #creativedirector into Twitter and check out which topic is trending more. See for yourself the jaw-dropping difference. Gape when you discover which is winning by a factor of over 100. Marvel at who is leading the advertising industry fearlessly forward into the unknown of the 21st century. All it remains for me to say, with the greatest humility, is: CEO 3 Creative Director 2.

The ticking clock …

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 9:00 am

In my last post, I mentioned the possibility of yours truly retiring. Now don’t worry, it’s not going to happen just yet. But the long walk to the exit clutching cardboard box to chest is drawing inexorably closer. I could, of course, die on the job, in which case it would be me being carried out in a slightly bigger box. Actually if I had to kick the bucket in service, there would be something rather poetic about expiring noisily in the boardroom of a particularly difficult client, leaving them to clear up the mess.

But back to my point: I’m sure you’ve asked yourself the question, ‘How do I know when it’s time to go?’ It’s not when you look so haggard that your kids don’t want to be seen in your company any more. Grey hair, grey skin, bags under eyes, a tyre around the waist and a generally dishevelled appearance come with the job. They’re the hallmark of most senior advertising executives who spend all their time moving multi-national accounts around a giant global chessboard to avoid client conflicts. The spring has gone from their step because they don’t do any actual advertising any more. But, because they’ve got themselves so in hock to their expensive lifestyle, to quit pounding the treadmill now would spell disaster. Much as they’d love to retire, they absolutely cannot afford to.

No, the time to hang up your boots is the day when you sit in your first meeting and realise that you’ve spent so much time at 43,000 feet that a generation on earth below has passed you by and you no longer recognise the clothing, hairstyles, technology or even the lingo of the people in the room. That’s when you should place your filofax in the cardboard box …

Best things come in 100s

In Bikes, Future, Small Man, Big Ideas on January 8, 2011 at 2:55 pm

I have two lessons for you today.

Above is the book of that wonderful series broadcast recently on BBC Radio 4. I listened to some of the podcasts while exercising on my Ciclotte, but now that I have the book, I can look at the pictures too. It was a brave of both the BBC and Sir Neil MacGregor to attempt a series that focussed on objects using a medium that is aural only. But it was a huge success. Therein lies lesson one. Be brave. Do what’s different and you’ll be richly rewarded. That’s always been my motto. Perhaps a role as museum curator awaits when I start exhibiting fossil-like tendencies in my job here. That shouldn’t happen for a while, but advertising is a young man’s job. Being old as well as small probably will be too much even for me and I’ll bow out gracefully and dedicate my life to public service.

Back to the book. Start at the beginning and read each chapter in turn and marvel as an enthralling history lesson unfolds. If you just dip in and out, you’ll lose the sense of the human journey. It’ll be a story interrupted.

Now to my other 100. This is much shorter, but no less fascinating, and has been compiled by the granddaddy of ad agencies, JWT.


This too was consumed by yours truly, and yours truly by it, on my iPad on my Ciclotte. Never before has an hour passed so quickly or painlessly on that machine. I would have been happy to pedal for another hour had JWT decided to extend their list to 200. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of newness in fashion, technology, style, music, social media, beer even. Never before have I so looked forward to entering a new decade.  The only problem is that their study has been retweeted so many times that it itself has lost its newness. So why recycle it here? Well, no one has had the nous to link it to Sir Neil (or they better not have!) and that is lesson number two. Make the connection. That’s a golden rule of creativity. Join two disparate concepts and create a thought-storm in the reader. Does the 2011 list actually contain concepts that can be traced back to the dawn of time? How many of those trends are already in Sir Neil’s book? Does it only serve to confirm that old creative conundrum, first posited in Ecclesiastes, that there’s nothing new under the sun? Immerse yourself in both and resurface a wiser creature.