Archive for the ‘Wannabe CEO’ Category

Start as you mean to go on

In Chez Jeremy, Objects of Desire, Small Man, Big Ideas, Wannabe CEO on August 8, 2011 at 4:19 pm

One of my favourite dictums is the more thought you put in at the beginning of something, the more you’ll get out at the end. Take breakfast, for example. Getting your body (however small) off to a good start is critical especially if you run an agency that looks to you for constant inspiration. That’s why I always kickstart the day with a slab of wholegrain bread lightly toasted and smothered in blackcurrant jam. An all-natural piece of utter yummyness!

However, this is not simply a lesson on eating. It goes much deeper than that. I found the delectable cutting board and knife (pictured above) on a recent visit to Paris and I just had to have it. It’s one of the most tactile pieces in my kitchen (if you get one, be careful how you caress that knife as it’s mighty sharp). Each morning, as I stand, pyjamaed, in my Kensington kitchen, I look forward to cutting the bread as much as I do to eating the toast. Running my fingers along the faultless grooves on that objet d’art serves as a daily reminder that the work I do should be equally desirable. It’s an exhortation to me to burst out of my apartment intent on creating mini-masterpieces for my clients.

Wouldn’t you like to sally forth from your abode with the same vigour as I do from mine? Then find something to caress each morning that gets your juices flowing! It’ll change your whole outlook on the day.

There you go. Another few crumbs from my table. Enjoy!


Advertising, it’s a dog’s life.

In Wannabe CEO on July 22, 2011 at 9:29 am

Our family dog used to look just like the picture above. A faithful border collie. My father got it from the farm down the road in leafy Buckinghamshire where I was brought up. He asked us children to come up with a name. I can’t remember what my three older sisters suggested (other than that their efforts were soppy nonsense) but I know I felt very proud when my proposal of Glen won through. It summed up the dog’s natural habitat with a bit of country-and-western singer thrown in.

I’ve never forgotten my Glen experience and I want to share with you now two truths about the advertising business that I can trace back to that dog. First of all, naming Glen (it was sadly one of the few things that I ever did right in the eyes of my father) gave me confidence to pursue my dream from an early age. I used to sit in front of our television set transfixed by the advertisements. I wanted to make those funny commercials. Somebody was doing it. Why couldn’t it be me? I’d named a dog. I could name a dog food. I could write a TV ad to persuade dog owners the length and breadth of the country to eat my dog food. I held onto that dream like Glen used to hold onto my mother’s slipper. Neither of us would let go. And look where that tenacity has got me. Wannabe advertising CEOs, you crave the top job? Have you identified your Glen moment that shows you’ve got what it takes to occupy the big seat? Have you got the drive to see it through? Are you gripping that pink fluffy slipper with tightly clenched teeth? Nothing less will do.

Back to my father and dog insight number two. He always wanted me to become a lawyer and angrily dismissed my assertion that it was him picking Glen that set me off down that slippery slope to Soho. He was no fool though. When I confessed that I was joining an ad agency, he told me that, apart from embarking on a career of utter superfluity, my tenure would be measured in dog years. Whereas a top barrister could continue well into his sixties, perhaps sharpening his technique and persuasive powers as he grew in experience and renown, the showy adman would be burnt out by the time he’s forty, devoid of fresh ideas and wallowing in his new-found sense of purposelessness.

Now that I’m in my forties, I don’t quite cut the forlorn figure described above although the pressure doesn’t get any easier. But who wants to work till they’re sixty anyway? The canine moral of this story is: if you’re going to make it in advertising, make it quick and make it big like I have. Then get out. Early retirement to write one’s memoirs in Provence is a lot better than being shipped off to Battersea Dogs Home.

The Twist is in the Tail

In Lateral Thinkers, Objects of Desire, Wannabe CEO on July 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Look what Monsieur Le Facteur brought yours truly yesterday! Cute, isn’t it. It amazes me how these big companies find me, especially when I’m in my retreat in Provence. I suppose that’s what good PAs are for though. To keep the goodies coming. Helena sifts through the endorsement requests and only lets those which she knows will tickle me filter through. This one did tickle me quite a bit, especially once I’d opened the box and taken all the little mice out and examined their little tails.

Now I have to be careful here. Although they are computer mice, not all of them have a mouse tail. One is a fish, another a piggy, another a pony and so on. Get the picture?

The Japanese company that developed them tells me that, when I want to transport my mouse, I should plug its USB tail back into its body and pop it into my pocket as if I’m taking a pet for a walk. Then when I get to work, I should plug the tail into my computer so that it looks as though there’s a little animal hiding in there. 

The lesson from this post to all you ad folk and wannabe lateral thinkers out there: don’t forget to be playful (a word that has been buzzing in creative circles as long as I can remember). Before you embark on your next project, ask yourself, will it make people smile? There’s no point in dreaming up a world-beater if it’s just going to send people to sleep. Make sure you’ve discovered the curly little tail that’s capable of wagging your big idea. Where would Levis be in a sea of denim without their button-up fly. Or Rice Krispies without their Snap, Crackle and Pop? Because when it comes to creativity, it’s the small things (like me) that make all the difference.

La Maison Jaune

In Chez Jeremy, Wannabe CEO on July 10, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Sometimes I feel that I just have to write. Over a century ago, looking at the same sky that I’m gazing at now, Van Gogh felt he just had to paint. It’s not surprising really. The light in Provence is so clear and the landscape so beautiful that one gets lost dans un petit morceau de paradis. (Now steady on, guys! That’s paradis with a small ‘p’. No one is getting lost in a piece of Vanessa except my good neighbour Johnny Depp. He lives a few kilometres down the road in Plan de la Tour. Quelle coincidence!)

This blogpost is coming to you from the roof terrace of my 1860s Provencal townhouse as I lose myself in the layers of countryside that stretch before me. Up here, Jeremy is in heaven and all is right with the world!

I call my house La Maison Jaune because that is indeed its colour. It’s got green shutters and a big oak front door too. Vince immortalised a different Yellow House down in Arles in the late 19th century by creating some of his most famous paintings there, including Sunflowers and the eponymous masterpiece above. He’d shacked up in south of France for an extended stay and was joined by Paul Gaugin for a couple of months, during which time he cut off his ear. Lesson 1: choose your housemates carefully!

Back to that urge I started this blogpost with. Like Van Gogh, I intend to immortalise Chez Parnaby with a few magna opera (that’s the plural of magnum opus, for those less linguistically gifted than yours truly). You see, Vince and Jeremy are just different sides of the same coin. We’re both prepared to put in the miles in search of perfection. (Although, I actually travelled further. He only came down from Paris. I came all the way from London.) Lesson 2: wannabe CEOs, never settle. Because if you do, you’ll find your competitors have hopped on the nearest plane to some exotic destination where they are dreaming up clever ways of pinching your clients.

So go out and find your Maison Jaune. It may be a mountain, a basement bar or a piece of inner city wasteland. Frequent it and create. Just don’t come down here. The last thing we need is a bunch of tourists.

A restless brain

In Small Man, Big Ideas, Wannabe CEO on April 16, 2011 at 9:03 am

Look what popped out in the post today. A bag of jumping brains. Cute, aren’t they? I’ve ordered these for the agency. Two hundred to be precise. By the time you (and all my staff) read this, these little fellas will be hopping around the office courtesy of my super PA, Helena, and the geeky Welsh intern on work placement. Just wind them up and off they go. Hopping here. Hopping there.

It’ll be obvious to one and all when they arrive at work this morning what’s happening and who’s behind it. People expect this type of behaviour from me. That’s why I’m the boss. I’ve got a little watchword on this subject. Show them once a week why you’re the top banana. That gives my team something to aspire to, but also keeps those nasty pretenders to my throne firmly in their place, looking up at me (metaphorically speaking) in awe.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not disparaging my senior management here. I’m a great believer in David Ogilvy’s dictum that you should surround yourself with people better than yourself. But what happens when you can’t find them?

I’m hopping around on this post myself now! Back to those little brains on legs (all of whom Helena has appositely named Jeremy, by the way). I’m expecting a surge in lateral thinking in Knightsbridge today as a result of my multi-coloured plague. If I could plug Google Analytics into my staff, I’m sure I’d see a huge spike in the number of visits by their Muse. And that’s just what any great advertising agency needs. A restless ferment of ideas that you can charge lots of money for.

So take a lesson from the pond at the bottom of your garden. Put on your best yellow suit and be a sprightly frog. Not a big, moribund toad. Your clients will love you for it.

My client’s a donkey. Or is that an ass?

In Clients, Wannabe CEO on April 6, 2011 at 10:01 am

The book you see above has been in the press a lot recently. It was written by one of the brothers of that annoyingly successful Foer family. Joshua Foer is a researcher and journalist but also US Memory Champion 2006. He and I employ the same remarkable technique. No need to argue here about who got there first. That would be petty. Suffice to say, I’ve been far too busy to write a book.

Back to the technique. What and why? Well, how many times each week are you introduced to a new client? If you run an agency the size of mine, the answer is plenty. They all want to meet the top man. Some of these guys are the salt of the earth, but others are a complete nightmare who swear by the first rule of Account Handling which I’ll summarise for you here. The client pays the bills, you bite the pillow.

They expect you to hang on their every word and remember every snippet that they’ve ever imparted to you. Regular readers of this blog will know by now that I’m a small man who’s been blessed with a big brain. But just because it’s big doesn’t mean it behaves itself. Quite the opposite. Just yesterday I was standing in our boardroom in front of a new Marketing Director who had the air of sadist about him. While I should have been paying attention to polite details such as his name, what he was saying about the cab journey over to Knightsbridge and that his nonogenarian grandmother plays backgammon on the web, my brain was straining at the leash, wanting to jump around like a frog. To keep it under control, I deployed my technique. You should try it too. Joshua’s making a mint out of it.

I gave my client, let’s call him John Smith, a quick once over. He had bushy neck hairs, cavernous nostrils and large ears. So John Smith is a donkey. His company sells body depilation cream. (For the guys out there, that’s hair remover.) The donkey’s got silky-smooth legs. He kept hinting how much he loved lunching at Gordon Ramsay’s Petrus. The silky-smooth-legged donkey speaks with a Scottish accent and has got a nose bag. Would I send an all-staff email out promoting his wife’s interior design business? The silky-smooth-legged donkey with a Scottish accent now has a nosebag in deep fuchsia chenille. Could I have his daughter in on work placement? Her name’s Daisy, she was in a girl band and now wants a real job. The silky-smooth-legged donkey is now singing Tell me what you want, what you really really want in a Scottish accent while eating wild flowers out of a deep fuchsia nosebag.

Get the picture? One day I’ll introduce you to the rest of the menagerie.

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 …

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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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!

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.