Hello, I'm Dave.

I work in advertising. Before that, I was a full-time triathlete.

A week in my life making great campaigns come to life, keeping my clients happy, keeping my accounts running smoothly, turning profit, solving problems, all whilst keeping myself running fast & injured-free can be best summed up as:

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Now you've found your way here, you might as well have a look around. Click around the tabs for agency work I've been involved with over the past 5 or so years, and scroll down to read some of my thoughts.

From Athlete to Account Director: my job hasn't changed

Bardolino Italy, June 17, 2010. It feels like yesterday. 

I remember packing the car in Davos, Switzerland at 4:00am, embarking down to Italy on a 4 hour road trip with passport, bike, race suit, race flats, sponsored clothing, and having one and only one focus: process.

It was my first European race of the 2010 triathlon season - my third European race season- which meant it was my first chance to lay the foundation of my training into place. And that focus was technique, technique, technique. The pain, the hype, the race atmosphere, the competition, the weather, the €50,000 prize pool were all merely distractions from this focus that I wasn’t to waste energy contemplating.

The race begun and all I thought for the entire 1,500m swim was keep core stable. Higher stroke turnover due to chop. Don’t get caught up in fighting round the can. Breathing 1 in 3 strokes. Sight buoy every 6th stroke. Early hand entry. No dropped elbows. And breathe early, bubble late. I exited the water mid front pack in an almost distractingly beautiful Italian mountain town as a storm rolled in, but the final two points were practically irrelevant.

I got on the bike and embarked on the 40km circuit through the Italian mountains, in the torrential rain, and I remember all I thought the whole ride was keep core stable. No pressure on handlebars, just light touching. Good posture. Straight back. React to rider attacks with delay to avoid sudden lactic acid bursts. keep knees aligned on mountain climbs. Slide to back of saddle and engage glutes on climbs. Stay in saddle for climbs until I hit the summit, then rock the bike side to side and work the top of the mountain.

With 5km to go we arrived at the 4km final descent, and hitting speeds over 70km/h in the rain two riders crashed in front of me that I managed to avoid, and I lost contact with the group. But it was again, irrelevant. My technique was good, my core stayed switched on.

Onto the run, I was not in the lead, but I was also not completely out of touch. As I racked my bike and put my run shoes on, it was the same story: core engaged. Back straight. Stay tall. Engage the glutes. No heel strike. Toes touch the ground with the forefoot first. Elbows bent. No shoulder rotation. Hands punching up close to chin. Those thoughts were all I needed to think about for 10km.

But I didn’t. At 8km I got distracted with the fact I was now winning. The closest guy behind me had been getting further behind me, and I have a crack at the biggest prize purse I’d ever won in my life. I thought about how much I wanted, needed, this win. What I would do with the money. The messages I’d write home with, what I'd update my Facebook status to, and how much pain I was in. Uh-oh. I was in pain. It hadn’t occurred to me until that point.

I ended up hanging on for the win, getting a good payday, and probably posting something on Facebook that no one except for me actually cared about (nothing’s changed). But that drop of attention toward the end was legitimately disappointing. Why? Because I hadn’t followed my process, stuck to my plan, or from that point on, raced my own race.

Ok, this photo is actually from Milan, but Italy's Italy, and a triathlon is a triathlon so you get the point.

Ok, this photo is actually from Milan, but Italy's Italy, and a triathlon is a triathlon so you get the point.

So this experience was an almost one off, freak experience for me. Not only because I won something, but because for the usual me, for most people, hell probably for almost all people - apart from the best - I let me brain focus on the process, not the big emotional glossy moments that people like to think about.

In sport, the dream is those magic moments you envision a few days out from a race, or when you’re tired and looking for motivation to train harder: crossing the finish line in first place to a crowd of people who you think love you (but in reality, just want to be entertained). Or breaking away from the pack on the run with ease because you’re just the best. Or mounting an attack on a mountain climb just when the perfect photo of you is taken, so you have something to put up on your wall (literal or social media related) and be proud of.

In advertising, it’s the exact same thing. Maybe without the whole ‘exact’ part. The dream is that epic campaign going live and going viral almost at the same time. It’s sales going through the roof for your brand and seeing it was you, your campaign, your agency, and ultimately your impact that was responsible. It’s going to the industry awards and winning gold for your work, winning industry respect, more recognition, and even a better salary.

But these events you’re setting out to achieve, these moments you dream of, they’re not what you need to love. They can’t be what gets you out of bed in the morning.

It’s got to be the process. 

The technique. The skills. The bread and butter of your job. When I was a full time athlete, I got the perspective that I was in an industry where ‘implementation’ and ‘paid time’ was probably close to 0.00001% of my job. There were no billable time sheets. My time was spent training training training training training training training training two to three times a day 48-50 weeks a year for 10-15 years of my life. 

Racing was such a ridiculously small percent of that time, and earning money from those races even less. So if I didn’t love the process, I had no chance. And to this day I can say I didn’t love the process enough. If I had of, I would have trained harder, been injured less, focussed more on it in races and not got distracted by emotion, and would have been more successful.

So in account service, in the advertising industry, I’ve got to ‘go back to Bardolino’ (at least the first 1.5km swim / 40km bike / first 8km of run) more often and focus on learning to love the bread and butter - project timelines, campaign management, client management, foreseeing campaign problems, prioritising actions, understanding technical aspects of platforms, understanding client needs and brand strategies, liaising with suppliers and media - and think less about all the flashy things that come with the industry.

Because ironically, I believe the less thinking about what could be, and the more focus on the process here and now to achieve it always leads to getting there sooner.

The cons of creating a pros & cons list

You know how successful people always go on about how they got where they are today by being bogged down by fear and never taking any risks?

Me neither.

Yet despite knowing that the most rewarding decisions come from trusting our gut, taking the plunge into the unknown, or creating something original by having no safety net of reference, we train our brains into categorising any big decision into risk buckets.

Not risk buckets, I just made that up. I don’t think it actually makes sense.

We call it something more harrowing. The spoiler is in the title.

Pros & cons lists.

This convention of decisions making has haunted us all for years, and will for many years to come.

It’s disguised as a helpful tool, to standardise the measurement of risk vs gain for any decision you make. 

It seems like it should work. It’s a logical system, allowing us to assess all the good associated with it, measure it in a nice column next to the bad. Then we make a very rational decision based on the number of bullet points in each column, each with an inherent weighting attached to it that makes sense to no one but yourself.

But once you’ve made that list - physically or mentally - you kind of know it doesn’t mean anything. You already had the answer before you started making it, and everything you then wrote was just to convince yourself. Or your client. Or your boss.

So what is the purpose of the pros & cons list? Really it’s just to to post-rationalise what you’ve already decided, or to try to sell a decision to someone else that really you just needed to convince with words, not charts. It’s essentially where creativity goes to die.

But if no pros & cons lists existed, what would happen? Would the world implode? Maybe. But fear not, the world has survived worse. 

Do we need a new list or way of articulating the value of an idea? Again - maybe.

Here’s one you can try. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now and my productivity and decision making skills have increased by precisely 1 million percent. And it’s just three words.

Once you have your vision // what you want to achieve // ‘the why’… whatever you want to call it. Just organise your thoughts into these and go nuts (you can even create a chart if you feel so inclined).

WHAT. BY WHEN.

That’s it. Some could even argue you could remove ‘by’ and get it to 2 words, but geez that’s a bit aggressive.

This works either for yourself, or with your clients, because it requires you to change the conversation from one of fear and acknowledgement of all the things that could possibly go wrong, and frame it into positive action.

It means you mentally position things in a way in which fear of failure is removed. It’s not about what could go wrong. It’s simply about what you’re going to do to achieve your dream / goal / business target / KPI / misc. marketing term you feel the desire to insert into this sequence of slashes.

And if you frame conversations like this with your clients, it means they’re acknowledging that they’re on the ride with you. They’re not pointing out a list of ‘cons’ that you’re responsible for avoiding, instead they’re on board with you, together, to hit all the whats by the whens.

What I’ve learnt about creativity after 12 weeks of AWARD school.

I sit here a broken man, days after my AWARD (Australian Writers and Art Directors) portfolio of 10 ideas on 10 briefs has been submitted, tired. Just tired.

Whilst I went through the entire process as an imposter - seeing that I have no intention of becoming a creative - I feel so thankful to the opportunity to undergo the whole process, and so pleased that I had a real crack at it… late nights, early mornings, weird dreams, ridiculous insights, and so so many pages ripped out of scrap books and started again. Week after week after week . I apologies to trees.

In the process of absorbing myself in “the program”, here are some of the things I learnt along the way. Some about creativity, some about the 12 weeks in general, and some not actually things I’ve learnt but mere observations that someone thinking of doing the course in 2018 may find helpful.

The ON Button

Working on ideas that rely on wicked insights and original thinking, there’s no off button. From the moment I’d receive a brief every Thursday night, I would hone in on that product / audience / category relentlessly. This meant becoming absent in most social, sleeping and professional scenarios to think about something differently or to write something down. 

Thinking is more consuming than doing.

Question Everything

We were told on day one that cultural programming is the program we live our lives in, and that we only see our true selves when we step outside that program. At the time it seemed like a fancy, well articulated sentence about how to get than interesting thought. But as time went on, I noticed this was the core of every great insight. 

Once I started thinking like this I’d notice every time someone gave me an automated, culturally programmed response. When I asked ‘how are you’, people always answered ‘good’. Why? When I’d see work colleagues on a Monday, the first sentence was always about my weekend. Did they actually care? 

The deeper I got into AWARD school, the more I realised I was questioning why we’ve all become programmable zombies, and how good ideas can help expose that. 

Discovering New Angles

I’ve never thought about so many (well, ten) different products or services from such different angles. By this I mean anything from literally angles (looking at a product upside down) to how it differs depending on who the audience is, the context it’s viewed in, even to what it would look like to an alien. 

Only when I got into that line of thinking and questioning would I arrive at any half decent insights. Why is the water in abathroom tap perceived as dirtier than a kitchen tap? (we had a tap water brief) If tissues could fear death, are there many products that would live with higher anxiety levels? (we had a Kleenex brief). If the internet ended, would a looping gif still have an infinite life span? (we had an ‘unlimited internet’ brief). The list goes on.

Finding Bad Ideas

This was my particular skill. I would come up with not just a few, but I’d say a hundred bad ideas for every brief. The worst thing about my hundred bad ideas is that they weren’t bad straight away, they were just hidden in one of these categories:

  1. 33 would be unoriginal (but I wouldn’t realise as they were still creative and answered the brief)
  2. 33 were off-brief (but I wouldn’t realise as they were original & creative)
  3. 33 were clever, but not simple (but I wouldn’t realise as they made sense in my head)

One of them (usually the 100th) maybe had something in it (I’d submit that one).

In-head vs On-paper

I won approximately 15-20 Cannes Gold lions over the course of the 12 weeks. But then I took those award winning ideas out of my head, put them on paper, and looked at them the next day.

They sucked.

The Best Bit

It got easier.

And by ‘it’, I don’t mean coming up with fresh and unique ideas got easier. 

But filtering our the crap ones did. And that saved time on those ones to get to the good ones.

Which was still really hard.

Life Admin

Is now in a 12-week deficit.

If there’s on shout out to end this article with, it’s the the tutors from 12 or so different (Sydney) agencies (then add Vic, QLD and WA to the mix). They sacrificed so many countless hours (most nights til 10:00pm, submission week for my group went to 2:00am), and gave so much of their brain power and knowledge to us crazy kids, all for the love of helping the industry generate better creative talent.

You’re heroes - I would literally never be that selfless. 

The words of some really smart people

I am currently 8 weeks into the 12 week course that is AWARD School (aka creative ad school).

Despite being sleep deprived and somewhat over working through every weekend, this is far outweighed by being inspired by some pretty kick ass lecturers on a weekly basis.

Instead of trying to ramble on about all the things I've learnt so far, I thought it would be easier to have a look at what they've said, thanks to my incredible Powerpoint design skills.

I was planning to finish there, but here's a few more from the same peeps for good measure!

Aaaaand, that's enough for now. If you don't know who these people are then you should leave my site and google them, as you'll learn a lot more.

PSA - If you didn't find any of those sound bites interesting then do blame me for re-wording their wisdom, and don't let it be a reflection on the people in this industry who are far wiser than I am.

How I’ve saved an hour of every (work) day

Hi. I’m Dave. I work in account management. And I’m an addict. For as long as I can remember working with clients, I have developed an unhealthy habit.

My addiction is…

… saying it out loud is always the hardest part…

Checking emails.

There. It’s out. 

I check my emails all the time. It started at my desk, on my work computer, during work hours, but at some point - I can’t remember when - it took over all parts of my life. At work, at home, on my way to work, on my way home from work, on my phone on my way from level at 3 at work where I had a meeting to level 1 where I was going to my computer that had my emails on it.

I never actually realised I was an addict until I was too late. I told myself ‘it’s normal’ and ‘it’s part of the job’, and ‘how else do I stay on top of things?’. That’s right, I was in stage 1. Denial.

Then one day, about 2 weeks ago, I had a revelation.

I was going through an intense phase at work where I had a higher workload than usual. I noticed that although I had a plan at the start of each day, I would very rarely get through my planned list. I couldn’t figure out why.

It hit me. 

Email.

I would spend my entire day with the email screen open and notifications turned on. I would be working on an urgent task, but then I’d get instantaneously sidetracked.

The problem was that when email was on, I wouldn’t determine what I’d get done that day. 

Others would.

So I toyed with a crazy idea. 

What if I turned my email notifications off, and only ever opened my email at the following times:

9:00am.

1:00pm.

5:00pm..?

I gave myself one week to commit to the experiment, and there were four problems I faced immediately:

  1. My clients freaked out. I wasn’t responding to their requests as quickly as I once had, and they worried I was not actioning their requests as urgently as I should have. 
  2. My (internal) producers freaked out. They wouldn’t get constant updates on where projects were at.
  3. I got a sever case of FOMO. I knew things were happening on my projects that I wasn’t witnessing in real time, because there was as much as a 3.5 hour lag from my side.
  4. I didn’t get to procrastinate on the tasks I was subconsciously avoiding. Because I would actually work through my to do list without distraction, the important / not urgent tasks I didn’t actually want to do would have to get done to best use my time.

I didn’t like the feeling of any of the above at all, and I was only half a day in. I considered…

… sorry it’s hard to say…

…I actually considered relapsing.

That was tough.

But I didn’t, and within another few days I had made some observations about account service life in an ad agency.

Observation #1: When a client writes in an email ‘this is urgent’ with no follow up. It’s usually not urgent. If a client calls your desk phone leaving a voicemail because you haven’t responded to their email within an hour, it might be urgent, but also maybe not. When a client writes an urgent email, follows up with a desk phone call, and follows up 2-6 times immediately on your mobile saying something’s urgent, then yes this is probably urgent.

Observation #2: If you tell internal departments that you’re not on emails, they still email you. If you don’t reply within 3.5 hours and they rely on you for information they will either call you or come find you. Same goes the other way around. If you need to inform someone of an urgent change or brief, you’re far more likely to get the immediate action by finding them in human form rather than sending an email and hoping it will get read.

Observation #3: When you spend your day cracking on with tasks that need to be done - rather than reacting to emails - you produce work that is more considered, more intelligent, less rushed, and that you’re prouder of. 

These were three observations I was able to make from just a few days on my new email schedule.

Now, two weeks in, I’ve noticed two things that I honestly never expected.

First thing: When I’m not dragged into urgent emergencies immediately, I react to them faster and smarter. It’s amazing how knowing that I’m a few hours behind a crisis makes a difference to the approach of a situation. I know I’m always too late offer an immediate solve. So instead, I stop, consider, create a plan, then execute with a clearer mindset.

Second thing: I’ve created less work for myself. If I answer an email immediately with a question, that leads to another questions, that leads to a discussion, that can create a day of work in itself. Whereas if I don’t react for half a day, that person who sent the email (and didn’t require an immediate phone call to follow up) may be half a day through solving the problem already, and I can come in to the picture to help them once I have the time and headspace.

Thanks for bearing with me through this. This has been great therapy, and I feel my addiction may be close to over.

You may agree with this way of working, you may hate it. But as a final thought to leave you on (potential current addict), ask yourself how many times you’ve been asked in a job interview “how many emails are you able to respond to in a day?”. 

If you’re not getting hired for that skill, then why would it be something you’re working so hard for?

Where loyalty lies

As an individual, working for an agency, helping clients to communicate their brands in the most effective way for the outcome of profit/good/sustainability, there are four categories (already mentioned in that sentence) that every Suit must be loyal to.

They are:

  • Your agency
  • Your clients
  • Your client’s brand
  • Yourself

I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule of which of the above out-rank each other, and I think the reasonable grown up thing to say is that they’re all important.

But there are two things about the above mix I will say for certain (and then I’ll ramble on about each for a bit):

  1. You owe more loyalty to the client’s brand than to your clients themselves.
  2. Most people put the ‘yourself’ category lower than they should, and need to elevate it higher for the good of the other three categories.

The first of those two sentences in pretty straight forward. To best explain it, I think it’s best to switch it around by imagining if it wasn’t true.

If you were entirely loyal to the needs, wants and demands of your clients as individuals, then you’d put them above all else. That means that the most important outcome of any meeting, response to any brief, or output of any work is to keep them - personally - happy.

I’ll say I’ve been guilty of getting the mix horribly wrong many moons ago. I once had a client who was never wrong. Ever. What she would say would certainly go. Any insight offered by her on any brief was gospel, and if questioned was met with the harshest criticism.

So working on her briefs became solely about keeping her happy, and being loyal to her happiness above all else.

And what happened once this was the core focus of any response, meeting, or piece of creative? Doing right for her that day became more important than doing what was right - or to clarify what I thought was right - for the brand. Over the course of 9-12 months, the quality of the work was affected, the ability of my agency questioned, and my loyalty to myself in doing strong, meaningful, purposeful and ground-breaking work: diminished.

And it wasn’t her fault. 

It was mine. 

I let myself become loyal to her being the most important thing because I thought that would maintain a good client / agency relationship. I thought that keeping her happy and her prescriptive feedback exactly matched would be the best thing for me that day, and for her that day, dismissing whether it would be the best thing for the brand that day.

And it rarely was.

I’m going to jump to the second point from above - that Most people put the ‘yourself’ category lower than they should - because it is closely linked to this story.

I recently looked at the portfolio of work I’m proud enough of to put on my website, and I noticed that the one client I spend 90% of my time working on only has to show about 10% of the campaigns I’ve influenced.

It made me ask myself the very honest question of why do I work so hard and so much on a client for which I’m not all that proud of the work? And my answer is that I genuinely believe in the brand, that what it’s advertising are important products that fulfil a very real need for people.

So if I believe in the brand so much, and choose to work on it so hard, am I not yet creating ground breaking work I’m truly proud of? And I think the answer lies in the fact that I’m not being loyal enough to myself.

I’m not fighting hard enough to get great work in my portfolio. Not fighting hard enough for amazing case study videos of campaigns that I’ve worked so hard to influence. In doing so I’m also not being loyal to my agency, who are going to be reviewed by people who represent the big picture of the brand and not the day-to-day operations of my clients. People who want to see amazing work.

I’m writing this purposefully at a time when one huge campaign that I do truly believe in and have pushed so hard to go ahead (and at this point I should specify that when I say “I”, I really mean my agency in which I play one of many parts made up by many people who are just as instrumental as I am), that has had the concept killed 4 times as it’s so risky and requires so much bravery from the client… has just had the final go-ahead. 

So I stand here at the brink of great work about to be created for a previously risk-adverse client, feeling as though I am getting the mix of loyalty right, and for once including myself.

Back to ‘point 2’, and why selfishness is actually helping your loyalty across all the three other categories. When you create work that you can see will elevate your pride, your job satisfaction, and even your career, your doing your client a massive favour. You’re doing them a favour because you are so committed to making the work great, that you don’t care if they are personally uncomfortable with it, or get upset by it, because you’re doing the best thing for the brand - which is how their performance will be measured.

Back to the lady from story #1 - what happened when she would get reviewed internally for the work on her jobs not being particularly inspiring? She threw me (& the agency) under the bus for not pushing her for strong enough work. 

It was enough to make me realise that whilst working in the relationship side of advertising, the clients worth working for are happiest when they can see your loyalty is to something bigger than themselves.

Avoiding the addiction that is unproductivity

At the end of 2016 I realised I’d developed minor addictions to:

  1. the belief that I am time-poor
  2. my phone
  3. believing I could dance the worm after 11pm at weddings

With the exception of the third, I came to conclude that these habits were not enhancing my life, nor were they traits I wanted to let become well-developed addictions in 2017.

I don’t think any of the above traits are terrible things to do or make my existence less enjoyable, but like any (in my case - borderline) addiction, the problem is when you don’t control how often you want to do it, but when it controls you.

Over the course of a few months I realised that whenever I turned down doing something that I consciously or unconsciously didn’t want to do I’d use the phrase “I don’t have time for that”, until I actually convinced myself that I was truly more time poor than most other people.

That one doubled up with a contradictory realisation - I was constantly wasting that time I claimed was so precious by being on my phone. I don’t mean this in the sense of being the guy sitting at the big dinner with his mates glued to my phone (I don’t have a big group of mates so this is impossible), but I mean it in the way that when I do get my down time - whether commuting, work lunch breaks, sitting on the couch, or about to go to sleep - I would choose those moments to check my phone with the rationale of ‘keeping up to date’, whether it be emails, social media, texts or what not.

I’m not saying keeping up to date is a bad thing, but when it gets to the point when you feel anxious when you haven’t seen your phone for a few hours - or god forbid a whole day - it’s a dangerous mindset that’s fuelling an addiction. When I started thinking I needed my phone face up, with notifications beyond the phone call function on my work desk below my computer, it finally hit me how much this piece of technology was distracting me from what I actually wanted to do.

There is so much modern commentary on our addiction to technology and how there is no hope for a society with shortened attention spans who have fallen victim to so much media designed to reward our time spent on their platforms and game-ifying our digital experiences. Well, I’m not here to re-hash all those findings in yet another article about the same thing. 

But now you’re here, I'll tell you about some ‘bad habit hacks’ that I’m experimenting with to avoid falling into the traps of ending up in the wasteland of unproductive time.  

Time

Before I tried to figure out how much time I had to spare and how much time I wanted to utilise productively, the most important thing I needed to figure out is what I actually wanted to do with my time. This is simply getting the priority list in order of what I actually wanted to spend my time on and placing a time-value per week to each of those priorities. 

Then anything that’s not on that list? I have re-articulated in my head to never say “I don’t have time for that”, but say “It’s not a priority to me”… I figured out quickly what actually matters to me. For week one, I made a conscious effort to not change anything, but only log the time I spent on things. 

Unsurprisingly, there were things on that list that did not match up with the ‘what I want to spend my time doing list’. Without all the details they were things like checking emails, checking social media, getting take-away coffees, watching crap TV, and commuting on public transport when I could have been running or cycling to work.

So once I had the list of things I wanted to do more of, I did a time audit, and it looks like this:

  • There’s 168 hours per week
  • 50 hours of work (5x 10 hours days) leaves 118 hours per week
  • 56 hours of sleep (8 hours per night) leaves 62 hours
  • Commuting to and from work is 8hrs p/w, leaving 54 hrs
  • Breakfast, lunch & dinner equate to around14 hrs p/w, leaving 40hrs
  • Hygiene + housework are around 5 hrs p/w, leaving 35 hours per week

Some of that commuting time doubles up as exercise and food time doubles up as social, so even in a tough week of longer work hours or home admin that leaves over 30 hours to fill with what I’ve identified as actually important.

That’s a lot of time!

The point to this is not to schedule my life and become super efficient necessarily, but to identify what I actually want to spend my time doing, even if that is watching crap TV or checking Facebook… I just want to know that’s a conscious decision.

 

Phone

For this experiment I did a version of ‘going back to the 90s’ (you know, that time when your phone literally took phone calls and text messages?) but with a minimalist modern twist. I deleted or hid all the apps with exception to: 

  • Phone
  • Messages
  • Notes
  • Calendar
  • Podcasts
  • Music
  • Clock
  • Photos 

Basically the additions to a 90’s phone that you used to use anyway via a walkman or camera or notepad or my your family animal themed calendar of some sort.

I also turned off all notifications except for phone calls, which was the most rewarding part.

What this made me do was only look at my phone when I had the time for it, as opposed to being distracted by it. It also meant that if I wanted to go onto social media, or check emails, or check bank accounts, or talk to someone overseas, I’d put time aside for those things and jump on the computer and focus on it as opposed to multi-tasking when I had consciously decided to devote my time to something else.

After trying that for a month, I slowly added productive apps such as Uber, Chrome, Google Maps and News apps. It’s helped me realise how useful it is having these things and not taking them for granted, but also trained myself into not falling into the hole of time-wasting apps such as social media and games.

 

So three months into 2017 and into these experiments, I don’t know if I can conclusively say that life is better than before. More productive - yes. More in control - yes. Eyes feeling better from less straining at a screen - yes. But am I experiencing an entirely transformed with a new outlook on the world? Not yet.

That will come down to what I want to do with all the new time I’ve discovered, but with peter habits and less addictive qualities I’m feeling better about this. Who knows, I might even make more time for my blog **he writes to the excitement of no one**.

THE DANGER OF ADVERTISING MULTIPLE PROPOSITIONS

* agency asks*

What’s the one thing we want to communicate in this campaign?

*client answers*

That we offer 5 types of health services plus we have one more coming soon and our staff are real people who are friendly but not as good as Mike from Corporate who we want to hero and that we offer organic fruit & veg and also we are really good at what we do more so than before with 3x proof points that backs that up which leads to the rational consumer benefit of better results.

*agency responds*

Ok, that information is great, but how about we land one message only for the bus version of the ad?

*client says agency is being difficult and briefs in-house designer*

Note the above is a fictional exchange of events and I don’t even imagine Pinnacle Health Clinic has an agency… but maybe they should.

Imagining the troubles of client-side marketing

Statistically speaking, 100% of anyone who has ever worked in any organisation with any clients ever has complained about those clients. It’s just maths.

And if you work in account service in an advertising agency, the likelihood of your chances of being part of that 100% doubles. Maths.

I’m going to expose a shocking revelation about myself - I have, from time to time, been known to be part of that 100% statistic. Or is it 200% with the whole double rule? I don’t like maths.

It seems to come with the territory of being a Suit that it’s normal to complain about things such as lack of details in client briefs, or getting told to drop everything for urgent tasks with unrealistic timeframes and for a budget of $72.50, a peanut and a second hand button. 

We complain as if, were the tables turned, we would be capable of withstanding the pressures of our internal structure and always be timely and reasonable when briefing in an agency, asking for outputs aligned with the budget we know is available, and having the time to think about the golden insight to put into the brief that can help them on their way. 

Or more realistically, we don’t consider the pressure clients are under and we just jump to default complain mode.

This is where you think I’d say ‘but just try to consider it from their point of view’.

Don’t.

Instead, look at what you’re already doing as a client to some of your suppliers.

Actually, only one.

Your IT department (or more likely ‘the IT guy’).

Here’s how I work with my IT department:

Scenario 1:

IT: Here’s a company wide email with ample lead time warning you of some upcoming changes that will impact your life.

Dave: That’s something for next Monday. It’s still Thursday.**Deletes email**

IT: Here’s further warning of that change that is going to impact your life, and we’re giving you warning for your own good.

Dave: It’s Friday and I’m busy, go away IT. **Deletes email**

IT: That change we’ve told you was going to happen, it’s happening today, here are the simple steps you need to follow:

Dave: Eh, Monday admin. **Deletes email** 

1 hour later - I’m locked out of the server or my email or something that’s now inconvenient.

Dave: (calling IT) can you come to my desk and do that thing for me?

Moral of scenario 1: I’m just the worst guy ever. And so is everyone else considering the answer to the final question is ‘sorry Dave but you’re in a queue of 150 people’. Just because you’ve told someone something, it doesn’t mean it’s been, or going to be actioned. If it effects their life right now, they may jump on it if it’s more important than everything else… but you often have no control over, or foresight into other people's priority list at any given time.

Scenario 2:

In the first week of your job, you get an IT induction. They explain how your computer works, where everything is stored, and how to make technology work in every meeting room.

Every week since that induction:

Dave: (calling from a meeting room at 10:59 for an 11:00am client presentation) IT, I need you to come to talk me through how to turn the projector screen on.

IT: I can be up in 5mins, I’m just on another call.

Dave: It’s for an important meeting, I literally need you to drop everything and help me.

IT: You’re the worst person ever.

Moral of scenario 2: I actually am the worst person ever. Again. Flipping this one back to clients, how many times I’ve received ‘drop everything’ calls and rolled my eyes. I had a nice priority list for the day that I was working through, and this ruins everything. I don’t actually know the solution to this apart from - as Nike would say - just do it. It’s the joy of account service and it will never go away.

Scenario 3:

Dave: (calling IT) Hi, I’m going to a meeting for 45 mins, in that time can you fix my computer? It’s that problem I mentioned to you in the kitchen whilst we were waiting for our meals to heat up and I forced you to engage in work chat. Gotta run bye!

IT: Wait, what’s the problem? Who is this? Where do you sit? Do you even know my name?

**Dave has already left**

Moral of scenario 3: Get used to writing a reverse briefs! Because a client thinks they’ve told you some info in passing, it’s up to you as a suit to be attentive, create a point of view on the problem they’re trying to solve, and articulate it.

So if there’s one thing you take out of this, please choose the take out that you should be better to your IT department, rather than the whole ‘Dave is a massive spanner’ interpretation.

Failed. Failed again. Failed once more… then ready to go, probably to fail again.

I just had some recent, rare success.

You can look at this article where I feature in a wannabe-hipster-but-just-daggy-red-jumper-with-shoulder-pads, or you can take my word for it in the TLDR version right now: I won a scholarship to AWARD School based on a creative idea I submitted for a Toyota campaign.

<Link to Campaign Brief>

My idea was for a billboard that paved the way for a content campaign. Essentially it was that Toyota showcase the stories of real ‘Unbreakable Girls’ to personify the values and reason-for-being of the unbreakable Toyota Hilux.

What was more interesting for me than the creative itself was how I got there. As you can guess from the title, it starts with a (lot of) failure.

Since starting in advertising, I’ve always wanted to complete AWARD School. It is essentially a must-do for anyone who wants to work in a creative department, and also a must-do for anyone who wants to really understand the creative process and be really good at their job in any field of the ad industry.

But to get in, you’ve got to qualify. You need to respond to 5 briefs in your submission that you have 3 weeks to create, and about 15% of people who apply actually get in. It also costs a decent amount of cash and only runs once a year.

I applied in 2014 and didn’t get in. Fail #1.

I applied in 2015 and didn’t get in. Fail #2.

I didn’t apply in 2016 because I thought I just wasn’t a creative person and would most likely fail. Fail #3, and by far the biggest fail of all.

To think I wouldn’t try again due to fear of failure, and even worse, to think I’d labelled myself as ‘not being creative’ because I’d failed twice is something I’m legitimately embarrassed about.

I’m not going to give some inspirational monologue about ‘never give up’ because it’s been done a million times, but here are some reasons on why I eventually got in on my recent attempt.

What happened the first two times I applied, is I answered the briefs as I saw them. They said ‘make a billboard’, so I made a billboard. Actually, I made about 50 billboards for each brief, then showed them off to a bunch of different friends, and chose the one that most people thought was good.

There are two mistakes with that approach: (1) I made billboards that were ‘just billboards’ and (2) I asked for too many opinions and ended up with an idea by democratic process.

So this time, with only one person’s help, I eventually got to a point where I was able to think outside the (billboard shaped) box. When I got the brief for the most recent task, within 48 hours I’d created 50 billboards. I showed them to one person who is smarter than me, I trust the opinion of, and happen to be marrying in a few months.

She thought about 5 of them made great billboards, but none of them made great campaigns. The advice I got was “Think of the campaign idea that the brief hasn’t asked for, make the campaign awesome, and then make a billboard that would come out of that campaign. But first put the kettle on.

This wasn’t what the brief asked for. But it was the basis on which the client would judge me on. After some initial thinking, I also found out that this approach was so much harder to do.

From that point, I stalled for a week, telling myself I was too busy writing a LinkedIn article about emails in my spare time and that it was too much work to take on. But mores than anything, I was just scared that I would just fail again. 

But wiht this approach in the back of my mind, I started to realise that the bigger ideas were just happening in the background each day.

Once I had a structure to work to, and essentially a process to idea creation, the bigger ideas came a lot easier.

The idea I finally used hit me at a very precise point in time that I believe is in no way a coincidence.

It was the 14 kilometre mark of the Sydney Half Marathon. 

I was in so much pain, and for some reason, my mind went to developing the idea. By the time I’d made the 21.1km distance, the idea was completely fleshed out and I only had to sketch it onto one billboard.

I say it was not a coincidence because one thing I have learned about the creative process in all of this is getting to that idea really hurts

I needed to give it some love & attention, needed to hate it and fail a few times, and only then did I find something I thought was worth presenting.

The 47 simple steps to the perfect handshake

I’m going to ask you to use your imagination.

I want you to list out the steps to the perfect handshake.

Got them?

Now you’ve thought about what they are for approx 1.5 seconds, I now want you to go one step further.

How would you demonstrate the perfect handshake in the most interesting, compelling and entertaining way to make someone care about what those steps were?

You could use any medium you want. Create a sculpture, make a film, bust out a rap - whatever.

Spend double the time thinking about that part of the process (3 seconds).

Now that you’ve spent 4.5 seconds on not only your idea but also the execution, you probably have landed on something that’s straight to the point, simple, and, well, good (if I may say so myself!).

But now I’m going to stuff up your idea.

This time, pretend that I’m giving you $500,000 to produce your idea, and $2,500,000 to broadcast your idea. You also need to choose all the channels you think will get your awesome idea of the perfect handshake out to the world in the most effective way.

To make this scenario even harder for you, it’s no longer ‘your’ idea. It’s the idea you’re creating on behalf of Massive Corporation X that’s willing to put $3M toward advertising that they are the one company that know the perfect handshake better than any other company.

Now that you have so much money to create such a simple idea you previously thought of in 4.5 seconds, what do you do?

You’d probably second guess your idea. For that much money, it must take more thought than you previously given it.

Well it doesn’t matter anymore, because your employer at Massive Corporation X would never trust you with that money anyway so now you’re working with an agency for the idea and production of it, plus another agency for the media channel planning and distribution. Oh, and if you hadn’t noticed, you’ve been demoted to one of a few project managers on this (and have been moved to the basement).

So take a second to pick yourself up. You can still do this.

It’s a demonstration of a handshake. How hard can it be.

So you’ll brief the job into your agencies, see the ideas come back and pick the coolest. Shouldn’t be too hard.

But have you considered that with 10,000 people employed by Massive Corporation X, you now have about a hundred different bosses on this project all offering you opinions on every piece of creative, building their personal ideas into them and ensuring to mitigate risk at every stage of feedback?

Now you’re here, are you any longer even capable of producing a simple idea?

Richard from upstairs insists that every handshake begins by putting on the perfect suit, so including that is non-negotiable. Stephanie from risk (also upstairs - remember you’re still in the basement, now further away from the window and closer to the bathroom door) points out that there’s a concurrent campaign about ethnic diversity within your company in market, so you’re handshake must include a person from every race on the planet and equal gender weighting. Obviously non-negotiable.

By now, you may have an idea you love that has come back from your agency. You probably also have one that will be easier to get approved by the Richard’s and Stephanie’s of your organisation.

So are you prepared to fight for your idea? That as we’ve established isn’t actually your idea anymore..? Or do you take the path of least resistance?

You know, if you want to go head to head with Rich & Steph (you’re trying to establish a good rapport with them now so you’re shortening their names when you greet them in the hall. It’s not working.), it probably takes more late nights of work rationalising what you believe in. But your badminton team has just made the quarter finals of the competition you care about so don’t want to miss training this week.

Wait - how did this ever become so complicated? Aren’t we just communicating the simplest of human greetings? Why is badminton now involved?

Don’t look at me - you’re the one using your imagination here.

But now that we’re talking about me, have a look at this campaign I worked on with one brilliant creative team of two, and one awesome client (4 people total) with two weeks to produce and despatch. It’s called Veet Hairy Questions Kit and it was a great demonstration of the above process not derailing a simple idea.

These campaigns are rare. 

The Advertising Shop

So I have three friends in total.

Two of them know what they’re doing with their life, and the other one has no idea.

I find him to be the most interesting.

Over the past 5-7 years, he’s worked on and off as a chef in a string of reputable restaurants and is actually surprisingly successful for someone who (a) claims to not enjoying being in the kitchen, and (b) would want to be one of my (three) friends.

In what I assume to be a state of panic, he asked me what an advertising agency is like because working in one is possibly something that interests him.

What I found interesting about his line of question was that he kept telling me he had no idea how an agency operated, and whether that would be a problem.

Playing to my strengths of not speaking, it hit me that he probably knew more than I did about the subject so he should actually tell me about it.

Why?

The more I thought about it, an advertising agency runs the exact same as a restaurant.

So instead of telling him anything about an agency, I just got him to tell me about a restaurant (I was quite hungover at the time and didn’t feel like talking so this was easier anyway), and how he understood them to work.

Here’s what he taught me.

People choose their favourite restaurants for two primary reasons:

  1. They like the food.
  2. They like the atmosphere.

OK, so that’s why clients choose the agencies they want to work with so we were off to a good start:

  1. They like their ideas.
  2. They like working with those people.

I got him to take me on the ideal experience for any customer from start to finish, and I just woke up at key moments and added some advertising buzzwords into the mix.

It would start with a customer walking into the restaurant.

*That’s a client*

They’d come into the restaurant and be greeted by their waiter, who is ideally is a friendly person who can cater to their specific needs, give them the information they need to get exactly what they want and build a good rapport with them to ensure they’re happy and will continue to come back to that restaurant.

*That’s account service*

Once seated, the customer is given the chance to choose what they want to best suit their needs based on the time of day, style of food they feel like, and any other considerations that may impact their decision. They then call their waiter to place their order.

*That’s a brief*

The customer is then assured that their requests are well understood, and the waiter disappears back to the kitchen to relay the order.

*That’s briefing the agency*

In an ideal world, the exact order comes out swiftly to the customers request. However, if there is something wrong with the request that the chef needs to tell the waiter to tell the customer, the waiter will have to return to the customer with bad news.

*That’s a crap situation. aka a daily occurrence.*

But if the rapport between waiter and customer is good enough, it will be understood and forgiven. If the rapport is bad or the customer is just a jerk, it’s not going to go down well. Adversely, this situation could have been avoided if that waiter and chef were working closer together so that the information was provided previously.

*That’s good working relationships, regardless of industry.*

Anyway, by now the order is clarified and food being created. 

*Idea generation*

But the customer is left waiting. Always waiting 10-30% longer than they’d hoped to wait.

*Production time. Or as I call it - reality.*

Once the meal arrives, it’s presented by the waiter. The waiter should have checked the order matches exactly what the customer asked for, and if for some reason it doesn’t they need to do a great job of selling in why they should be over-the-moon happy with whatever it is they’re receiving.

*That’s selling in creative*

The customer enjoys their meal, pays the agreed sum of money and leaves. 

*Closing a job*

If they were happy, they’ll be back the next night, if not they’ll look for an excuse to find a new restaurant. And every customer is different, so you need to figure out what’s most important to them, what motivates them, and how you adjust your ways of operating to keep them coming back.

*That’s called why you should have them on retainer so they can’t leave you without a decent amount of effort*

So that’s the customer journey, but what my friend #3 asked was what it’s like inside an agency.

I told him to list out what happened from his point of view as a chef to put that food on the plate. 

Here’s how that went.


Well, before I even take a job I need to decide what kind of restaurant I want to work in… big, small, Aussie food, ethnic cuisine, gourmet, cheap & nasty.

*Same goes for agencies. You can usually pick them by their client base of big clients vs small, corporate or not, do they make big TV ads or specialise in promotions, etc.*

Once I’m in with a restaurant I need to know not only what they want me to cook but how they want me to cook and what the plan is for the restaurant.

*Management decisions*

Before I can start a shift, everything needs to be working in the kitchen and we need to be staffed to cater for the night’s expected volume of customers.

*Operations*

I also need all the materials and ingredients on hand so there is nothing slowing me down once the craziness begins.

*Production*

The menu needs to have been decided with a considered approach so that what I’m about to start cooking is actually what people want to receive.

*Strategy*

Then once I get underway, it’s just about being left to do my thing without any distractions for the task at hand and not being interrupted constantly with customer questions via the waiters.

*The creative process*

One thing that pisses me off about the job of being a chef though, is that I’m essentially creating the same thing with slight variations over and over again and if I ever suggest how it could be improved if only we could make a slight difference, it gets shuts down because customers only ever want safe and simple dishes. Why can’t people just be braver and trust my killer creative skills?

*This is just how the bulk of humans operate and it’s not going to change if you switch careers*

I’ll admit it wasn’t the best banter I’ve ever had on a Sunday morning, but he ended up saying it was somewhat helpful and paid for breakfast so that’s a win in my book.

Idea heaven - a wasteland of opportunity

Did you know that since the time you started reading this article, approximately 175 ideas have been executed?

Some of them were born and raised with such hope, such prosperity, by parents who had such grand plans for them. And others sucked and deserved to die. 

But nonetheless, there are people out there, people you and I see everyday, similar to you and I in physical appearance, who kill ideas for a living.

It’s scary I know. But it’s real.

What’s scarier is that those idea killers are not actually professionally trained in how to test the validity of the life they exert so much power over. They just go off a ‘gut feeling’ of what gets to live, and what gets to die.

By now, the massacre has increased into the thousands.

OK I’m going to snap out of the dramatic setup.

Some ideas are great and see the light of day. Some ideas are great and get shut down. Some ideas suck and somehow get a lot of money thrown at them, and some ideas suck and get shut down deservingly. And then there’s everything in between.

But is there an objective science to good ideas? 

Of course there is. I’m just not a pro at it so not going to try writing about that.

I’m just going to tell you a tale of two ideas that are somehow linked in my mind.

I’ll start with a massive fail, because who doesn’t love a fail story.

Sociabl. Heard of it? Probably not.

It was (actually still technically ‘is’) an app that planned to connect anyone with money to A-grade celebrities to engage in (awkward) Skype style video calls. It had a incredible million dollar launch in mid January followed by an equally incredible fail. At this point you should hit the link to the story here or for the fun part go straight to the awkward interview that bought the whole thing down here if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Entertaining fail content for all.

Ok, you're back? Or if you never left, the point is they never had any of these ‘A-Grade’ celebrities lined up at all and just claimed they did in the hope that the hype around it would convince them to join (spoiler alert: it didn’t).

Before I get to the punchline of why this idea is worth the time of day (it isn’t), I want to get us away from the cringe content and offer you a far happier 'idea' story.

It’s a campaign from Brazil in 2014 called ‘Bentley Burial’ and you can check out the 3min case study here. I'm loving the hyperlinks today.

The beauty of the idea with the Bentley Burial campaign was that it hooked people in with a villain, got people emotionally engaged, executed a good ol’ switcheroo to perfection and made him the hero.

What a rollercoaster of emotion.

But it was more than that, it was a truly well executed piece of art that relied on predictable reactions of the public. Without that, the ‘idea’ wouldn’t have worked.

So what do these two lessons in media / PR / marketing / communications, whatever you label it as (a) teach us and (b) have to do with each other at all?

I’ll start with (b).

Nothing. Except in my mind.

When I saw Sociabl’s launch fail and all the PR it got, my mind went to one thing and one thing only: Media Stunt.

Surely, this was a really really clever way to get people talking about the app. To make people think ‘you two 20 year old's could never get all those names on that app’, see it fail, but then reveal that the celebs were in on it all along.

People like me so ready to slag it off (who held off writing this article for 3 weeks in case it actually happened) would have eaten their words, then considered downloading the thing if for nothing more than to see which celebrities actually signed up.

Just like Bentley Burial.

What an ‘idea’ that would have been.

Which now leads me to point (a) - what do these pretty much unrelated case studies teach us.

Well the most obvious is that even if an idea is good, poor execution will kill it.

I still don’t think Sociabl’s idea was that good, but it definitely wasn't that bad.

But I think the bigger lesson is in risk and bravery. I’m only really talking about the Bentley Burial now, but my heart goes out to those in idea heaven when I think how many ideas I’ve seen murdered in the womb because a client has 3 ideas on the table and they easily kill one because it contains any risk.

The irony with the risky options, is that the risk levels are extremely easy to calculate, as humans in the masses act in very predictable ways.

The Bentley Burial campaign simply capitalised on this predictability, and the Sociabl company launch execution failed to account for it.

No one cares about your breakthrough oscillating toothbrush technology

There’s a horrible myth in the world of product development that assumes 3 steps to success. They are:

  1. Create a new product (making sure it’s awesome)
  2. Tell people about the new product (and how awesome it is)
  3. Wait for people to come buy new product (because rationally, they should. Refer to proof points in steps 1 & 2 that confirm it is, indeed, awesome.)

Sounds simple. So why 99% of the time it doesn’t work?

Well the obvious point that I’ll glance over is that the product may actually not be awesome, it might suck. But I work in advertising, so to suggest that is the problem is not only cynical but also does not go far to rationalise my existence.

So let’s focus on point 2:

"Tell people about the new product (and how awesome it is).”

With an awesome ad agency on standby and a budget to support your NEW product launch, nothing can go wrong. Right?

Well, have you ever considered that nobody cares abut your new product? And telling them about it in an interesting or entertaining way is great, because they’ll like your entertainment ad / message, but they still won’t care?

The first problem is that unless your product actually changes the world (or at least your target consumer’s world), it’s not going to getting very far down the ‘purchase funnel' beyond awareness. 

The second problem is that people do not buy ‘products’ as much as they buy ‘brands’. Products alone do not make people feel warm and fuzzy inside upon making a purchase or feed someone's ego. When Arthur’s talking to his upper class acquaintances at the golf club he doesn’t say “I bought a car’, he says “I bought a Lamborghini’’. When you realise you’re due for a new phone you don’t think ‘I need a new telephone to assist me in communicating to friends, family and colleagues’, you think ‘should I get an Apple or Android? Stay iOS or try Android’. When one of your friends asks you to look something up they don’t ask ‘can you put this fact into a search engine’ they demand you ‘Google it’.

So when a new product comes onto market, the hype for it by the media and desire for it by you (often an outcome of the hype) isn’t because of the product. It’s because of the brand.

This brings me to the third, probably not final, but in my mind biggest problem with new product news is the people who work for the actual brand. They assume people will care, because they care. And they think like people who care, so they want to communicate in a way that assumes other people will care if only they could communicate in a way that would make them care.

What adds to this problem is that new = exciting. And exciting means a lot of people from within the organisation are watching what’s happening. But they don’t just watch, they get involved. And that means lots of opinions. And more people, more opinions, means not only more time inefficiencies, but more people to make happy, more compromises of an idea, and less good, clear, simple communications.

The best ads out there aren’t new product ads, think Old Spice ‘the man your man could smell like’, or Betty White (then been redone a million times) 'you’re not you when you’re hungry’, any John Lewis epic ('Monty the Penguin' etc.), or Apple’s ‘Apple vs Mac’, they’re not selling something ‘new’, they’re just selling their brand through a simple piece of communication based on an incredible insight.

So next time you walk into a client briefing and they say in a sad tone that there’s nothing new to say about their brand, see the opportunity to get creative! 

Or think whatever you want, I’m just rambling on the fly.

Beware! of the happy client.

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
— Mike Tyson

 

If I could start every one of my blogs with a Mike Tyson quote I honestly would.

We’ve all been there: you have a goal, a task, a project, anything really that involves you achieving any result of any sort. To best achieve that goal, you need a plan. It can be as simple as ‘get out of bed and make my way to the toaster’, and as complex as ‘devote my life to cancer research through a systematic approach to analysis of the disease and action to lay foundations that one day may lead to a cure’.

The bigger the task, the more likely you’re not going to face it alone. Also the more likely the plan will evolve as it’s set in motion. Also the more likely something will go wrong along the way, to the point it often changes the outcome. Or even makes it unachievable. 

In my case of working in account management, my day job always involves a very necessary additional element to this planning process: a client. 

And they need to be happy.

Seems simple enough? Well, sometimes that is the problem. I recently worked on the major campaign of the year for a client, and like most projects that involve different parties for video production, tech, talent, digital production and social, it was near impossible to keep everyone on the same page, same timeline, with the same goal, and on track at all times.

Long story short, things just kept going wrong. And I was the person to continually break it to the client.

What I found the scariest of the whole process was their reaction every time I had to break the news.

 

“The website needs an additional week to develop.” 

“No worries.”

“We’ve gone live but there’s multiple bugs that tech are working through.” 

“I understand.”

“One of the talent isn’t happy with their representation and we may need to pull them from the campaign.” 

“Go ahead.”

“Unforeseen circumstances have led production to come in over budget.” 

“Just let me know the cost.”

 

Shouldn’t they be freaking out? Shouldn’t they be dragging me over the coals for why this is happening and demanding hard answers? Yes they could see the reason for each problem, and understood the solutions I was presenting, but at least be pissed off about it.

My fear is that if my direct contact is allowing all these small issues to mount up without ever seeming to escalate it to the business on their side, then they are not preparing themselves for the hard questions that they are about to face internally. Even more worrying, is that they’re notthat worried about it because they know there’s an easy out: blame the agency.

In a strange occurrence that I assume never happens ever, none of the problems we faced along the way ever seemed to come back to bite us. And the client has been extremely happy with the results of the campaign. 

However, that’s because the results have been legitimately impressive. I often wonder if the results on audience uptake and engagement had been sub-par, whether all of those problems in the setup of the campaign would have come back to bite us.

I believe ultimately, it depends on the client and your relationship with them. But I’ll say that the better the relationship with the client, the harder you want to push them to challenge you at every stage. It not only makes sure you’re staying on your toes, but gets you ready for the other type who will challenge you on every detail even when things are going smoothly.

If only a middle ground existed.

I’m sure Mike Tyson has a quote about that too.

When to learn what from who and how

Whoa, that title. Please bear with me.

Since making the move from full-time-athlete to full-time-guy-with-regualr-job-that-happens-to-be-in-advertising it’s struck me how many similarities there are in professional life that transcend industry. And in discovering that, realising how useful it is having a tool kit of transferrable skills I never thought would be relevant to anything but winning races.

One thing that’s struck me is how much of a difference it makes to your own career to have an effective manager, or leader, or mentor, whatever you call it. And in turn, how the advertising industry does not seem to really hammer skills of leadership and nurturing into mid level managers. Rather, it rewards people who work hard as executional account people, then hopes that success will translate into growing a team of junior members.

I have had good managers, and I have had crap ones, and I am sure I will continue to have good and crap ones for the rest of my career. Luckily, I have a great one at the moment. But as I’ve come to realise, it’s not just luck that determines whether you’ll learn from your line manager or not, it comes down to recognising how you can best work with that person and ensure you’re getting the most out of them. Ideally without them knowing.

 

To make sense of this, I’ll use a sporting analogy.

From when I was 13 through to 25 years old I had three amazing coaches, all with very different styles and I believe are representative of most leadership styles. For the sake of this blog let’s call them ‘Coach 1’, ‘Coach 2’ and ‘Coach 3’… original I know.

 

Coach 1

From 13 to 22 years of age, this coach gave me the tools to learn, let me made mistakes, but did not let me forget them. Everything was about being tough, about learning, about making sure I was working ‘harder’ than anyone else was. This was truly character building, especially having the kind of influence at such a formative part of life in my teenage years.

 

Coach 2

After making junior and under 23 world championship teams, the approach of ‘working hard / being tough’ was not enough to get me to the world elite stage, so I moved to the ultimate micro manager style coach. This was the type of coach who wanted to know what I was doing at all times, what I’d eaten, what my heart rate was every morning for the past 14 days, and wanted to have ultimate say over every aspect of my racing schedule and whereabouts (ie life) all year round.

 

Coach 3

Withstanding that approach for 1.5 years, I moved to the chilled out self empowering style of coach. The coach recognised I was clearly committed and had over 10 years of experience so in most instances left me to my own devices. His primary role was to oversee the big picture, set up a good training environment for me, and advise me where necessary.

 

All the above coaches have positive and negatives to their styles, just as any leader has. But all had to be managed very differently to get the most out of them.

I can relate Coach 1 to the managers I’ve had that I’d classify as ‘caring’. He legitimately cared about my development as an athlete but also as a person. I’ve had this kind of leader in the world of business only once, and even then it wasn’t by a direct manager. For this kind of person, you want to keep them close because you have so much to learn from them, and they’re willing to teach you. But you’ve also go to always know to put business first and that any wellbeing for your development as a person must coincide with the good of the company you work for, and be willing to take it on the chin and be objective when they tell you that you’ve stuffed up. Ultimately, they’ve told you out of respect for you.

I think we’ve all had a few Coach 2’s before, and to be honest I think they can be really useful to developing and creating good work. You just need to know when to leave them before they rule all your decision making for you and turn you into a robot. Under my Coach 2, my results in triathlon immediately improved. I’d found someone who knew more about what I needed to do to succeed than I knew, they told me exactly how to do it and what I needed to sacrifice, and it led to great (short term) results. The trick to maintaining this before it wears you out is compartmentalising their advice into things you listen to them about, and other things you decide to take with a grain of salt.

As for Coach 3, the laissez-faire attitude totally depends on how self motivated you are. I think the truer comparison to the business manager / team leader / account director is the one who is so overworked and caught up in their own projects they don’t make the time to attend to the day-to-day of their team, and only notice how their junior staff are going when a problem arises. For this style, you need to make sure you have your own plan for your day, your account, your career, and feed in to them what you’re doing, dressed up in how it makes their life easier.

So there it is! Three styles of coaching, three styles of management, and how I approach working with each one. If there was a moral (which there isn’t), it would be something along the lines of ‘there are mixes of all the above styles in everyone you work with and will work with, forever’, so don’t get too precious about only wanting to work with one style of person.

Sports brands are not health brands

I had that weird experience of watching "The Checkout" ripping apart the credentials of my client, Gatorade, on campaigns I am currently directly working on. All I could think was what they were saying about sports drinks being bad for your teeth was not only funny and well written, but also absolutely correct. However, as a minor side note, the whole segment was entirely off point and have very close to nothing to do with the brand’s marketing that it was making fun of.

So with that, I grabbed a 600mL Orange Ice, set up at my computer, consumed the whole bottle for energy purposes, then proceeded to spit out the 4 teeth that rotted on the spot and started writing.

For those of you who missed it, there’s an article that nicely sums it up HERE

My first takeout from the segment was not even to do with Gatorade or Powerade, but how is it that sport and sporting brands somehow been mistaken for ‘health’ brands. For this I dwell more on my own experience of my life in a land that existed a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away where I was a young and naive professional athlete who was sponsored by a less prestigious, but equally sugary sports drink.

At that stage of my life, things important to me were words like fast, fit, strong. Not ‘healthy’, ‘balanced’ or ‘care about how my body will be functioning by the time I’m 40' (if that’s a word). So was sports drink good for me? Yes. Is it scientifically proven to work? Yes. Is it bad for my teeth? Why is that even the question.

There seems to be an expectation that people have when it comes to sporting brands. It’s as if because they’re promoting fitness and endurance, they should by association be trying to save the world. Ok maybe not that far, but there’s an expectation that an output of being sporty is being healthy, and this casts this shadow of responsibility for them. Then any unhealthy attributes are interpreted as deceiving.

It’s equivalent of asking someone who has a passion for gambling whether their sex life is suffering as a side effect. Sure, there may be other facets of their life that lead to an increase or decrease in sexual performance that can be vaguely traced back to gambling - maybe they are addicted to the point of not being able to hold conversation anymore and this is driving a wedge between them and their partner. But why should the only fix to the problem be removing the cause? 

Ok so that was a bit of a tangent, but the fact is sports drinks don’t advertise to everyday, dull activities. They only set out to appeal to people about to engage in intense exercise, which is what they’re used for. If they’re Gatorade, they use professional AFL & cricket players to advertise their products, if Powerade they use professional runners like Sally Pearson running, or everyday people ‘ditching work drinks’ to engage in endurance exercise. 

So if they’re marketing to people to train harder, longer, faster, be stronger, etc. then why should the attack on them be for rotting teeth? Is there truly a concern that people might start replacing water with Gatorade as a standard substitute? The chance of that is as high as people replacing soft drinks with double the sugar, or energy drinks with double the sugar + caffeine, with Gatorade as a healthy alternative substitute. It’s not going to happen.

To end my ramble, let’s look at a make believe ‘fitness scale’. And at one end of this scale you have Lance Armstrong at the height of his career to embody the absolute limits of athletic endurance & performance. Then all the way at the other end of it, you have anyone who works in a good ad agency at 2:00pm on a Friday afternoon to embody ‘I could not be thinking about anything less than going for a run right now’. I would say the measure of ‘health’ would be somewhere somewhere in the middle, not the ‘Lance Armstrong drugged up to his eyeballs’ end. But in this scenario, I’d ask who is more in need of a sports drink? And who do sports drink companies try to tell they need a sports drink more?

I’m going to do that thing where I don’t actually tell you but assume you’ve figured it out.

So back to slamming Gatorade or any other sports drink brands. I’d say that referring to them as being ‘unhealthy’ or ‘sugary’ as opposed to ‘replenishing’ or ‘endurance fuelling’ is pretty much the same as referring to a show like The Checkout as being ‘hard-hitting investigatory journalism’ as opposed to ‘passive entertainment’. Let’s just call them what they are.