Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

Looking for inspiration?

In Small Man, Big Ideas on February 25, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Then look no further than the humble teabag. Or coffee bean, if you prefer. David Ogilvy, that advertising industry doyen, once remarked that simply by leaving your desk, you will stimulate your brain. Not with caffeine (though that sometimes helps). It was the act of changing your surroundings that he meant. Making a cup of tea is a perfect example.

It’s a bit like taking your dog for a walk. Notice how Spot gets all waggy, excited and barks. Same with your brain. It doesn’t like to be cooped up in the same place all day. Let it off its leash by getting up and going somewhere, the toilet for instance. Before you pull the flush, the elusive answer to that question that had been bugging you will have arrived in your mental in-box. Try it and you’ll see.

That short walk helps turn a terrifyingly blank sheet of paper into a repository for a big idea. In the Creative Dept with an ad to create? At home with poem to compose? Or on the sun lounger with a blogpost to write? Feeling constipated? Then do as Mr Ogilvy says and go to the toilet. You’ll come back with a great weight removed and a great thought in its place.

This post is coming to you from the cubicle with the red door third down from the souvenir shop with the yellow rubber rings in Las Palmas.


When the cat’s away …

In Small Man, Big Shoes, Wannabe CEO on February 23, 2011 at 9:38 am

I jetted south on Monday for some winter sun. How will the agency fare while I’m away, you may ask? Will there still be an agency there when I get back?

Well I’m a firm believer that much as I need a break from the agency, the agency equally needs a break from me. Although I’m only 5’4″, I am a bit of a colossus in the advertising business. You can’t run an agency the size of ours and not be. (Whether or not I could actually run anything else is another matter. I bet Mozart wouldn’t have made a great footballer.)

Back to me being a colossus: remove me from the office for a week and a huge (but friendly) shadow is lifted from the rest of the agency. Suddenly clear blue sky appears above my senior management team. Room for them to step into my shoes. And of course I encourage this. They need quality time at the helm, because I might meet that bus with Jeremy Parnaby written on it as I cross Kensington High Street one day. Splat! End of.

Once the mess had been cleared up, life at the agency would have to go on. Beans would still have to be promoted, the benefits of laxatives extolled, flea powder advertised. The Chairman would send a shocked workforce a consolatory email on his Blackberry while simultaneously installing my predecessor on his iPhone.

It doesn’t really spook me that morbid preparations for such a Domesday scenario are in play while I’m away. It comes with the role. Some of us are born to carry such a burden. The King is dead. Long live the King!

Meanwhile as I drift lazily on my pedalo, let’s hope this cat has nine lives …

Over here

In God Squad, Objects of Desire, Small Man, Big Shoes on February 16, 2011 at 7:10 am

One of the USA’s greatest sons is artist Jasper Johns, best known for his paintings of flags, like the masterpiece above. Those of you who know me will be aware that 20th century North American art is a passion of mine. I’ve spent many a delightful hour in Tate Modern or MOMA losing myself in Rothkos, Rauschenbergs, Pollocks and Twomblys. They invariably take my mind on an invigorating journey, encapsulating as they do such raw beauty.

But not everything that comes out of the USA has such a refreshing effect on yours truly – a visit from my Chairman being a prime example. Especially if he has his Global CFO in tow. When Helena, my super PA, informs me that the Chairman is gracing us with his presence, I know I’m in for a rollercoaster ride lasting several days. The trick is staying on the coaster without barfing, metaphorically speaking, of course.

The visit usually starts with the delegation marching into reception as if they owned the place (which of course they do). A little humility however wouldn’t go amiss. Next comes the barking of orders. They seem to derive a certain satisfaction from portraying the big boss (me) as being not so big any more. This has got nothing to do with me being 5’4″. (My Chairman’s no bigger, bizarrely). It’s more a belief on their part that the Yanks are God’s chosen people and therefore know best. This brings me nicely (or unnicely) on to the worst part of all. Both Chairman and Global CFO are deeply religious and take their management style straight from the Old Testament. How can you be in advertising and go to church, I hear you ask? With great difficulty, you hear me reply, considering the bare-faced lies our clients insist we broadcast to the public. Back to the Chairman; notice it’s the Old Testament, not the New that he swears by. We’re talking Eye for an Eye here not Turn the other cheek (just in case you were thinking that he and the Global CFO were a pair of marshmallows). When they were last over, they spent most of their time working out how to visit the modern equivalent of the ten plagues of Egypt on our competitors.

They’re flying in today. Pray for me.

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Paprika: a cook’s favourite ingredient

In Chez Jeremy on February 12, 2011 at 11:41 am

It’s the weekend and my thoughts turn from work to home life. Now I know many of you wonder what happens when I close the door of my Kensington flat behind me. What does a small man with such a big salary get up to? Simple pleasures, of course.

I hope you’re not disappointed by that confession. There are many people out there who like to live the high life by proxy. They unfortunately don’t have the means to afford luxury after luxury so they experience it vicariously through people like me and blogs like this. And sometimes I deliver on that front. But today I’m going to discuss basic creativity in the kitchen because in creation there’s satisfaction. And to keep you satisfied, I bring you a wonderful iPad app called Paprika.

Imagine the scene. Close your eyes if it helps. We’re in my pad (not iPad – that comes in a second). In my kitchen to be precise. Down on my knees from the incomparable Ayo is playing. A selection of fresh vegetables, meat and exotic spices from Borough Market is sitting on a chopping board. In one hand I’m holding a rather large Global knife as recommended by bad-boy chef, Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential (As one reviewer of the book so aptly said, ‘It’s not exactly Delia.’). In the other, I’m gently swirling a glass of Viret, Colonnades 2005 from Artisan Wines. My iPad is propped up on the stainless-steel worktop by means of the delightfully simple MoviePeg designed by a creative guru who really is a guru, Brendan Dawes (sorry, Sebastian). A Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir candle is burning out of focus in the background. Can’t you just smell its aroma mixed with the crushed cumin seeds and lime zest? Paprika is loaded on the screen and I’m following instructions. All my recipes are on there, some that I downloaded, some that I invented myself. For the purpose of this post, imagine that I’m rustling up spicy, sticky chicken. Delicious! Back to Paprika. The app looks as gorgeous as my cooking. I use it to make grocery lists for the meals and dinner parties I’ve planned. The damned thing even stays on screen the whole time I’m cooking so that I don’t have to swipe my iPad with a honey-covered finger. How clever is that!

Eyes still closed? Great. I drop the spicy, sticky chicken onto the griddle just as the door buzzer sounds …

Catch you guys later!

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Hello, I’m a Lobster Phone.

In Objects of Desire, Small Man, Big Shoes on February 8, 2011 at 7:48 am

I was asked yesterday by a keen young member of staff what object best sums me up. Bit of a daft question, I thought at the time, but I said I’d blog about it. So Daisy, here’s your answer. If anything were to epitomise me, or I it, it would be the Lobster Phone from that surreal devil, master of the unexpected (and the waxed moustache), Senor Salvador Dali. Why? Well who’d have thought you could connect two such incongruous objects and call it a work of art? Same principle here. Why did a 5’4″ homunculus (I like to pepper my posts with unfamiliar words to keep the education factor high) think he could possibly nail the top job at a top agency? Small men in big jobs are extremely rare. We little ones tend to spend our time down in the shadows, experimenting with shoes with build-me-up soles or large quiffs in an effort to add an inch or two to our manhood. (And no, before you go there, we don’t have small dingle-dangles too, thank God! At least I don’t. Though I suppose it is all a matter of proportion.)

A few small men (and Dolly Parton) have made it. Those of you familiar with my website will see the roll of honour down the right-hand side. You’ll also have noticed my whopping huge salary. That has a surreal quality about it too. You see, here in the UK, one tends not to boast about how much one earns. It’s not the done thing, old chap. It’s a bit vulgar. The fact that a Captain of Industry like myself has bucked the trend poses more questions than it answers (e.g. Does he really get that much? How much is the +? How much does the Creative Director get?)

So, am I as valuable as the Lobster Phone? To Onward I am. Just as Dali’s masterpiece is to Tate. For those of you who wish to see it in its fishy flesh, you’ll have to head to Tate Liverpool where it’s currently on display in their This is Sculpture exhibition.

Sculpture? Hmm, I feel a small marble statue coming on.

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Perception vs Reality

In God Squad, Small Man, Big Ideas, Wannabe CEO on February 7, 2011 at 5:36 pm

My Chairman in NYC always carries a copy of the Old Testament with him and frequently regales me with texts from it, particularly when he thinks we’re not making enough money. Who says you cannot serve God and Mammon? But that’s another story for another post.

I myself am not so religiously inclined and prefer to keep Bertrand Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy in my inside pocket. I didn’t deliberately choose this book to wind up my boss just because Bertie boy was an avowed atheist. No, this particular book is a favourite of mine simply because it deals so eloquently with a subject at the heart of our beloved advertising industry, namely: what is perception and what is reality? I find that re-reading that first chapter in which Russell questions the very existence of the table upon which he’s writing to be a great mental warm-up prior to a brand strategy meeting. Suddenly the humble can of baked beans on the table in front of us seems so much more profound, worthwhile and packed with contradictions. Are they beans or just an idea of beans? (Warning note to wannabe CEOs: if you buy this book, handle it with care. Most clients will fire you if you argue that their factory full of shaving foam doesn’t exist.)

But do go buy it, read it, digest it and embrace Bertrand’s simple truth that nothing is what it seems. What better justification is there for your own existence if not to tell the world what things really are? To most Americans the Beetle was an ugly bug of a car. To Bill Bernbach it was the future of efficient, reliable motoring.

Your turn. What is this book?

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A scary present

In Clients, Creative Directors on February 5, 2011 at 10:45 am

Helena, my super-efficient PA, came into my room yesterday with this on a silver platter. It had arrived by courier and I could tell by her face that she had only just taken off the wrapping paper. Now there are ups and downs to being my PA. And this experience was probably somewhere in the middle for her. I guess it started with a gasp-inducing down when she first clapped eyes on the skull followed by a sniggering up when she touched it and realised that it was made from chocolate, then a sinister down when she discovered that there was no card enclosed to indicate who the sender was followed by an up of solidarity with me when we looked at each other and knew instinctively that it takes more than a spooky skull to spook us two.

So why would someone send me a skull made out of chocolate? Are they saying that this skull is really a metaphor for my own mortality? That my life is all a bit too sweet and soft and could melt at a moment’s notice? Well, I’ve survived this long in the heat of the advertising kitchen, I doubt I’m going to disintegrate now.

Sebastian, our Creative Director, is big into metaphors and most of the time his commercials are as enigmatic as this skull. They leave the viewer perplexed. You need a degree in semiotics to work them out. I doubt that he sent it as he tends to ignore me most of the time.

I’ve told Helena to expect the rest of the skeleton to arrive over the coming weeks and for Detective Parnaby to solve the mystery. Between you and me, I’m betting that it’s from the Marketing Director at Cadbury. That gorilla ad was superb, but the two kids and their silly eyebrows were a complete bore.

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