Thursday, December 24, 2009

Music of 2009...

Most of the music I liked featured guitar in some way. Quelle surprise.

I don't know about you lot, but I fucking hate lists. Lists of banal things which you'd not previously thought about in the year. I really don't even like making lists at work - usually there's one or two things which are actually important to do, and the rest just sorts itself out.

Anyway. With that said, i'm going to turn on my heel and announce the albums which've been doing it for me in 2009. And, y'know, they'll be in reverse order, pop pickers. I've also made a Spotify playlist of some of the tracks I've liked a lot from these albums. Go 'ere to find it (along with some other tracks from the past year which haven't quite made the list).

10) The Leisure Society - The Sleeper

Sleeper/A Product of the Ego Drain

The Leisure Society are one of those bands I'd have never, ever listened to without a friend encouraging me. Garnering critical praise from the likes of Guy Garvey, Chris Martin and others who inch towards bed wetting music, I was a wee bit worried when a mate gave me his copy to listen to.

I needn't have been worried. This is brilliant stuff. A debut album, but you'd never ever know it. Upon hearing Mumford & Sons (who are also a good band, but not in the same class with their album, in my opinion), I had a little smile; if the Leisure Society had half of the commercial backing, they'd be all over the airwaves.

The music itself is sugary sweet, but in a good way, not in a 'I need to abuse several household pets' vein. Ahem. I've not heard better harmonies this year. A sweet folksy indie album. We've had a good year for them, but these guys have been amongst the best.

A note on the album - I bought the original version of the album, which isn't what's linked to - the new (and cheap!) version has a fucking amazing cover of Gary Numan's cars (a live version's also on Youtube). Check it out.

9) Decemberists - The Hazards Of Love

The Hazards of Love

The Leisure Society don't have the monopoly on folksy indie music though. These guys probably have as much of a claim to it as anyone. I was introduced to them by an old girlfriend, and dismissed them as oh-so much folk meandering, designed for people who still loved their very first compass. This was back in 2005, with the release of Picaresque. I liked some of it, but most of it wasn't for me.

Now, I rather liked the album they did before this, The Crane Wife. About half of the songs were tip top, and all told rather bizarre stories about gun fights and mythical cranes (the bird, not the equipment, though that would be brilliant).

Come 2009, and they released The Hazards of Love. It's kind of an odd fusion between folk, prog and indie. The pretentious lyrics are still there, but somehow i've grown to like them. Colin (the lead singer) Meloy's voice is an acquired taste (someone from Oregon singing in what sounds like an affected mid 60's English folk singer), but I think it's gotten better, and sounds less affected. It helps he's singing duets or harmonising a lot of the time.

Anyway, it's easily the best folk/prog/concept album of the year. And, it's worth mentioning - they are fantastic live. I saw them live at the Coronet with Anjali (I believe Neil was in the crowd too, somewhere), and they were cracking. Check them out.

8) Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures

Them Crooked Vultures

Now, this is probably a pretty easy selection. But, in my mind, it's not the best rock album of 2009. Early pretenders to the throne included Jack White's new side project, The Dead Weather. They were cracking at Glastonbury...but the album was slightly disappointing.

Now, Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John-Paul Jones are the Crooked Vultures. I was desperate to listen to this album, ever since I listened to the 15 second leak during the summer. I'm pleased to report that the Amazon reviews on this album (and in various music mags) are spot on; it's a great record. That said, some tracks are obviously better than others - Elephant and Nobody Likes Me (and Neither do I) are the ones to listen to. It's an album to crank up and run with, or to play when everyone else's out of the house.

It's very derivative of Led Zep, but I don't care about that. I like Homme as a vocalist/lead guitarist, love JPJs's basslines and Grohl's powerhouse drumming.

I was gutted I couldn't see them live, but it'll hopefully happen next year. I hope.

7) A Place To Bury Strangers - Exploding Head

Exploding Head

These guys came out of leftfield entirely. I heard reports about a band which were the loudest band in New York City. Bearing in mind the Yeah Yeah Yeahs come from there, it was a bold claim. Then someone on twitter (I forget who - probably Mr Kendrick) linked me to a track from their new album, Exploding Head, telling me to listen to it turned up. That track was Ego Death, and it was LOUD.

To describe their sound, it'd be like combining the Jesus & Mary Chain with shoe gazing bits and pieces. I really like that sound, even though I think I got a bit fed up with over-listening to Glasvegas last year.

It's easily the loudest album in the list, but it's really cracking. Heartily recommended, especially if you like your music loud and raw. I want to see them live in 2010.

6) Gomez - A New Tide

A New Tide

Gomez's debut album in 1998, Bring It On, is one of my favourite albums ever. In the top 5 debut albums ever, in my mind. Now, I love Gomez. Love them to bits. They've always, like the SFA, been able to do slightly odd things with music (though it always trended towards the bluesy side of things, given Ben Ottewell's voice) and make it sound fantastic.

I'd bought every Gomez album up to Split The Difference, which was just...ok. I thought they'd lost it in truth. Not enough long tracks (which the band are famed for), not enough just sounded like a band devoid of ideas. So, I didn't buy the album after. And again, wasn't sure about buying another one...until a friend of mine told me their new album was a cracker. And he was right.

Tracks like 'Mix', 'Airstream Driver' and 'Little Pieces' would all sit very nicely on a Gomez best of. Pop, but not...all with enough quirks to keep me entertained. If you don't know Gomez at all, this is actually quite a good introduction. Then buy Bring It On.

5) Joe Gideon & The Shark - Harum Scarum

Harum Scarum

I first heard these guys live in the basement of a pub in 2008. There was something captivating about a tall, swaying preacherman whose bluesy voice barked tunes over a jangling electric guitar, whilst the drummer and ex-model (his sister) was in command of the sticks. A bit White Stripesy in lineup, but they sounded nothing like them. Actually, I was reminded of Nick Cave tracks (always a good thing) like John Finn's wife or even earlier. A lot of storytelling, which always makes me happy.

So when they released Harum Scarum in 2009, I was dead chuffed. 'Johan Was a Painter & An Arsonist' was better on record, 'Kathy Ray' finally made sense, and 'Civilization' was just as bonkers as I remembered it.

They're starting to get a little bit more mainstream attention these days, but I for one think they wholly deserve it. Have a listen. It won't be to everyone's taste, but if you like bluesy storytelling (some of which is very peculiar), you'll love 'em.

4) Fanfarlo - Reservoir


Another band I saw a year or so earlier - Fanfarlo are an indie band who did the small venue circuit (rather like Florence & The Machine) in London for a year or so. Having heard a few of their tracks - including this one, which for some unknown reason, didn't make the final album - I was hooked. That they had a massive band with a lot of drums and a brass section made me very happy indeed.

So, when they decided to launch their album by effectively giving it away for a pound, I downloaded it and had a listen. By this time, Coldplay (urgh) had decided to give them a support slot with them, and they were beginning to be widely listened to. Tracks like 'Harold T.Wilkins', 'The Walls Are Coming Down' and 'Fire Escape' were absolute corkers.

The sound is...i'll be honest, quite like Arcade Fire. And yet, I didn't really understand what all the fuss was about with Arcade Fire. I really like some of their tracks, but they were a bit..glacial. There's much to admire, but little to enjoy. Whereas these guys are all about crafting really great indie pop songs, and it shows. Go and see them live - the last time I did, they came into the audience with a few instruments during the encore, and did an excellent version of Neutral Milk Hotel's 'In An Aeroplane Over The Sea'.

The album's well measured, has some excellent strings...if I had to criticise, I'd have to say some of their best tracks weren't included on the album. Seek them out, they're on Youtube. Still, a cracking album.

3) The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - Pains of Being Pure At Heart
Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

I have a friend called Ben, who writes some excellent music reviews here. Not a man to get overly enthusiastic about bands for no reason, he trumpeted a band called 'The Pains of Being Pure At Heart' as one of the best he'd heard all year.

And, having downloaded the album over the Summer, I had to agree, he was damn right. There's something about this album which is all about being young, loving the sunshine and just believing there's something vital about a band with guitars and a sense of euphoria which can only be understood when you listen to the tracks for the first time.

'Come Saturday', 'Contender'...they're all quality tracks. It's an album lovingly devoted to the three minute indie pop song. There've been criticisms online that they sound like C86, a band I don't know, but to hell with it - this is music at its most vital. And for the half an hour or so the album rattles through, I bet you'll agree. They are also cracking live - I saw them with a mate at the Scala this month, and was delighted they could pull it off.

2) Biffy Clyro - Only Revolutions

Only Revolutions

I've had a bit of a strange relationship with Biffy. Part of me, when I heard their first few albums, was determined (despite the obvious musicianship) to write them off as another My Chemical Romance, full of pretension and screaming. Yes, screaming. I didn't much like it then, and I don't really like it now.

Now, over the years they've been active (pretty much my University years onwards), I've softened towards them, culminating in seeing them live in Bristol in 2005. They'd just released Infinity Land, and I thought some of the tracks off that - most notably Glitter & Trauma and My Recovery Injection - were excellent.

An album released in 2007, Puzzle, divided fans. More obviously poppy than the earlier stuff, it won them a whole new legion of fans. I sort of ignored it, to be honest, partly because I was more interested in...uhh, moving to London at that point.

So come to 2009. A mate invites me along to see Biffy at Brixton. I thought i'd better check out their new album, 'Only Revolutions'. And bugger me if it isn't the best thing they've released. Obviously poppier than the early recordings, it retains the musical schizophrenia and melodies of the earlier stuff with more grown up (strings! on a Biffy album!) elements. I then buy Puzzle, and understand the shift. The last album was quite a lot poppier, and more of a straight rock album. This is a move back towards the older stuff, but not losing the more refined elements.

Josh Homme, I'm told, was involved with 'Bubbles', and it shows. Tracks like 'The Captain', and 'Golden Rule' are proper slices of rock though. Here's hoping they've influenced him too. And yes, they are quality live; you'll be amazed so much sound can come from three Scotsmen.

1) Idlewild - Post Electric Blues

Post Electric Blues

Idlewild's 'The Remote Part' is probably my album of the decade. It had everything; hard rock, soft acoustic numbers, and brilliantly clever lyrics. And, i'll be honest, I love all of their albums. From the punky start of the Captain EP through to today, they've evolved as i've grown up, which is cracking.

The album before this, 'Make Another World' was a return to the slightly louder Idlewild and had more obvious riffs than the folkier stuff. Roddy Woomble, the band's front man, had begun to pursue solo projects, which were EXTREMELY folk orientated (but still quality albums). I think it was to try and keep the projects separate.

So when the band decided they'd release their latest album, 'Post Electric Blues' by themselves first of all (before the label release), I decided to order a copy. And it really didn't disappoint me. It took elements from Roddy's latest solo project, 'Before the Ruin' (most notably, the backing vocals of Ms Heidi Talbot, who made my favourite track from 2008; the studio track's here) and mix it with the more guitar based sound from the prior album.

And the result's, in my opinion, the album of the year. Tracks like 'City Hall', 'Younger Than America', 'Dreams Of Nothing' and 'To Be Forgotten' are all utterly brilliant. And, naturally, when I saw them in Camden in November, they knocked it out of the park, with a nice mixture of tracks from their whole career. Quality stuff.

Also Recommended:

The Wave Machines self titled debut album is very promising; if one half of the album was like the first four and final track, it'd be top 5 album for sure. Check out 'Punk Spirit' and 'Dead Houses'. Kasabian suffer from their perennial problem - they only make half an album. While that half an album is probably the best thing they've ever done, it's still not worthy of all of the hype. They are quality live though, if you can get by most of their frankly nuts fans. Bat For Lashes' album 'Two Suns' is worthy of a listen, especially if you turn off half way through. It's great going to bed music (and I mean that in the nicest way), but it's not coherent, though I understand that was kind of the intention.

The XX's debut is sort of worthy of its plaudits. They do sound like no-one else, and it's a great sound. The problem? Every song sounds very, very similar. If you can put up with that, then it's an album you should own. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs album 'It's Blitz' is their best yet. It took me a while to get into (being such a fan of their earlier stuff), but 'Zero' is one of the songs of the year, definitely.

The Raveonettes' new album 'In and Out of Control' is an absolute corker, and only isn't in the top 10 because i've only very recently discovered them. Give it another week, and i'd probably have put it in. The Golden Silvers were brilliant live, and I love a couple of their tracks, but the rest of the album is damned patchy. 2009 was also notable, because it was the year I finally saw the point of the Maccabees when I saw them at Glasto. Their new album is a good 'un. I also was introduced to Andrew Bird, and liked him a lot (especially live), but I don't like all of his album, so it's in the top 20, but not the top 10.

Finally, the SFAs. Their album 'Dark Days/Light Years' deserves plaudits. Like most SFA stuff though, I tend to lose interest halfway through; the songs meander a bit too much. I think it's the best album they've released in years, but 3 or 4 tunes stop it from denting the top 10.


The best live gig was probably Neil Young at Glastonbury. I was instantly converted, and now own a lot of his stuff. The second best was Drever, Woomble, McCusker and Talbot all performing folksy stuff in the Union Chapel in Islington - 'Cathedrals' is my most played track on Last.Fm as a result, and I discovered the joys of Kris Drever. I love the venue too.

Fanfarlo at the ICA were great, along with Biffy Clyro at Brixton, Idlewild at Camden, Massive Attack were good at Brixton (I can't wait for the new album), Pains of Being Pure At Heart were cracking at the Scala, Red Snapper were quality at Glastonbury, Blur were good at Glastonbury, Andrew Bird was very very good at Shepherd's Bush Empire, and the Decemberists at the Coronet were cracking too. I also was finally able to see the Secret Machines at the Carling Academy in Islington, and they didn't disappoint; the drummer has the biggest kick drum i've ever seen.

Finally, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds were good at Glasto. I don't know how any band could've followed that. They're consistently the best live band i've ever seen. See the full line up, and witness the genius of Martyn P Casey, Warren Ellis and Nick Cave himself.

Here's hoping 2010 is a good year for music. I enjoyed 2009. You can hear my favourite tracks from 2009 here and here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What's Too Slow?

Yes. This IS too slow. Picture via Al_HikesAZ.

Hello there. I've been a wee bit quiet over the last month and a bit. Sorry about that. Have had some fairly major things to sort out. Moving into a new flat, and oh, getting a new job.

One which makes the title of this blog (already a bit of a lie) seem like a complete nonsense. I'm just about to begin working in PR as a planner, for these guys. I'm not changing my blog's title though. I'll always be WAM. As much for the 1950's style ad man dress as anything else.

And I wanted to write a little bit about why i'm excited to be starting my new gig, and why I think it's interesting from a planning point of view.

First and foremost, it is going to be interesting, seeing the difference between advertising and PR. When I began my career, I was told the best planners were still in ATL agencies, and (based on who i've met since I was told that, think it's right) that PR shops 'didn't understand brands'. That last part was spurious nonsense. The arrogant assumption that a discipline can have an absolute handle on a brand is just madness. If a brand is something that people associate with their own experiences and the experiences of other people, then I can't see how one place can have a monopoly on the thinking. To think anything else is to be unhealthily obsessed with triangles made in PowerPoint.

What really prompted thinking about PR as a discipline was something simple, really. I was thinking about speed. Even the most successful piece of advertising, that nods to/creates culture (at its best) takes a awfully long time to come to market.

Now, I don't necessarily believe that 'Fast Strategy' is the answer. Quality thinking can happen quickly, but the best solutions can't be rushed. But nor do I believe the 'one true insight' thought - that a clever bit of thinking will remain true forever, or that advertising's ability to capture the zeitgeist (or create it) will be able to be bottled for three/six months whilst the campaign is delivered.

In fact, I think it's damned dangerous to think in campaigns. Look at the recent Eurostar furore. All the branding in the world, no matter how APG award winning, won't stop the brand taking a knock in a lot of people's eyes. And while I think 'social media' is a nonsensical term, and that the need for specialist agencies to do it is bloody lazy, I do think crisis management within the clientside and agency side is very important.

But what's perhaps overlooked is the month or three after this. Could a creative solution play on this? I'm not talking about pile it high and sell it cheap 'community management', which social media agencies claim to do - I'm talking about a genuinely thoughtful piece of lateral thinking which acknowledges the crowd, and what's happened in the news. For example, with RATM getting Christmas number 1 - if their record company was wise, it'd produce something a little bit more meaningful than cheaper prices on all of their albums.

Various agencies where I worked would unfairly deride this as 'tactical' or 'promotional' advertising. But it's not, not really. It arguably builds the brand more than those strategies which are incubated for ages and take a long time to come to market. It's only throw away when it's not built upon, and is a one-off thing. But what's to stop a lot of 'tactical' activity being chained together and built upon? I still get drawn to the model of keeping 10% of the marketing budget back to be spent to capitalise on things like this.

It all obviously has some bearing on where research money gets spent both inside and outside of agencies. I'm really not interested in old quant data which purports to tell the future and doesn't seem to be quota-ed properly collected (TGI, i'm looking at you), and would love to try and dissuade clients from spending money on quant like this - which seem to be numbers for the sake of something to cling on to. Map qual/attitudinal data with sales. Don't use a damned crutch. That'll be a big job in my new role, I can already tell. Heh.

Regardless of how the shake down goes in the upcoming years, i'm looking forward to the new challenge and the new discipline. I'm not going to get drawn into a 'PR vs Advertising' debate. Both have their merits. I'll forever be grateful to the people i've worked for in adland - they've taught me a lot. I hope PR can do the same.

Monday, November 09, 2009

When is it right to experiment?

Would you let this man do it? Picture via jbcurio, usual rules apply.

As the last post on anti-social brands alluded to, my position on what brands should and shouldn't do is very much rooted in their history.

Ignoring history is, I think, a problem of the communications industry; it gives what's gone before a short shrift, always trying the newest and most exciting thing, which it claims is going to be the new and revolutionary approach to branding/thinking/marketing/life. This is perhaps unsurprising; agencies are founded and built on their thoughts and approaches - to always be seen to take the lead, so they can 'add value'.

Though it's a bit GCSE Business Studies, what's the damage of doing this? What benefits do you lose when you discard previous thinking? Recently, there's been a raft of new campaigns that fly in the face of the past 10/20 years of advertising. If all you're trying to do with your brand is ensure it's able to be 'remixed', I think you ignore an important point, that brands are founded on points of view - either superior product, or a thought about the world/marketplace they operate in.

That's not to say i'd try to stop brands from innovating, or from agencies from pitching the latest in content, but I would try to stop the relentless need for change that seems to have blighted the marketplace in the last ten years or so. Maybe it's got something to do with the speed of technological change, or the length of time Marketing Directors have in their job, or that agencies have become increasingly like magpies - only interested in the next shiny thing.

In fact, it's a funny thing. In a time where planners are obsessed with the psychology of loss aversion (the fear of losing something, a feeling that's so strong, people go out of their way to avoid having things taken away) it's surprising that we don't apply this thinking to marketing or advertising. Why aren't we more worried about brands trying to do away with our expertise? Agencies like being seen as cutting edge when they suggest it. But why don't they do away with this need? Why don't they man up, and point out the economic danger of playing with the brand, both for the client and the agency.

I think this is also wrapped up in the 'wisdom of crowds' (which, i'd suggest, is used improperly a lot of the time). Often, the masses have a confused opinion when aggregrated - as Jeremy Bullmore highlights. With that in mind, what hope have they of creating a coherent campaign? I'd rather one or two informed people's strong opinion shining through the work, and that opinion disseminated to their respective agency/client sides, so there's a sense that the brand's position doesn't get confused.

Wanting to be the rainmaker in your agency or industry is all well and good, but it's not always the right thing to do. Knowing when experimentation should happen, or how conversation can enable experiments - that's the mark of a top quality comms person.

I'm thinking of brands like Walkers, who took a commonly held truism (that their consumers all would like a specialised version of their products), asked the masses, and then aggregated it themselves. They didn't just blindly turn the brand's point of view and communications over to consumers. That would have flown in the face of their years of building a brand and product that is too good to share.

And, most importantly, I don't think most people can be bothered with it. I'm in complete agreement with Tom Ewing here. Walkers worked because people wanted to get involved, and there was a commonly held thought that people could come up with good flavours.

Participating in conversations about your brand, whether they are about politics, economics or culture is surely a good thing. I worry that the magpie within a lot of comms folk leads to people to getting involved in situations which aren't right for their brand/s.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Anti Social Brands...

Lolcat goodness, via msmail. Usual rules apply.

I'll be honest, I didn't go to IPASocial, despite the ferocious twittering around it. So i'm going to caveat these remarks with that.

I didn't go despite the fact a lot of my friends were speaking. While I like socialising with them, I can be sociable just as easily in the pub, as well as debating the finer points of online and offline behaviour (I'd also forgotten when it was on).

Plus, as Sam rightly pointed out, for an event about social behaviour, it was unusual with its differing charges for members and non members (which I usually don't mind, but it seemed to be against the principles of the evening; especially rule 2 - a social agenda, not a business agenda).

I'll be interested to see whether it goes, and what happens when a brand adopts some of those principles directly from the event; that'd make a case study i'd love to find out more about.

With all of that said, I think there's a point it might all be missing; that being 'social' isn't for every company or brand.

I don't give a stuff what most brands think about things - do I care that my bank thinks about the world differently, or cares that all of its customers are bright, shiny snowflakes? No. I don't. I care that it's able to manage my money, not rip me off, and not go bust any time soon. And, to be honest, i'm more interested in giving to a bank which cares about what I think it should be good at.

In fact, I somewhat admire this close minded stance for brands who offer an emotional or physical experience which is like no other brand's. Making a virtue of sticking to what you know, and what you're good at still creates loyalists.

And it can even live on 'social' networks. Look at Tower Bridge, or Henry Winter (the Telegraph's tip top football writer). People know about them, and them not being social or responding isn't really an issue.

I think getting too wedded to social brand behaviour is bloody dangerous, especially as 10% of twitter users generate most of the content. Yes, we're inherently social creatures, but to our friends and family. Not necessarily to brands.

Brands - I don't want to be your friend, I just want you to do your job, and do it better than your competition. In fact, I rather like it when that's all you focus on. Be useful to me and i'll like you. Don't get hung up on being social for the sake of it.

I hate to use the 'brands like people' thing here, but it's true to some extent; some brands are the life and soul of the party. Some are the socially awkward introverts who have other interests than being loquacious. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Great Integration Myth...?

How it should be?

You hear a lot of chat about the importance of being integrated. About how, when all the bits are working together, communication seems to be a lot better. Reading the IPA DataBank backs this up too - when there are 3 or 4 channels, client money tends to work an awful lot harder.

So really, using a myriad of channels isn't in question. However, what that doesn't tend to address is the overlap. It's tricky, because most agencies believe they can do just as well as the others at brand building, at social media (because, let's be honest, isn't all media social in some way?) and at generating 'buzz'.

And who should lead? The ad agency? The PR agency? The digital agency? Media? Should it be divvied up by the activity the client wants to perform, or should people work together and decide who gets the lion's share of the budget?

The problem comes when one agency is clearly the generator of the idea and strategy, and yet, executionally, won't get monetised for making it. What value an idea, and so on - it seems to me why a lot of bright brand consultancies don't last that long, because billing for an idea is like nailing jelly to a wall. It just won't stick.

It gets even more complicated when there's one holding company, with each agency having its own bottom line. And it got me thinking - why don't clients make it quite clear about what channel/s they want to use, and pay for an overall 'organising' agency - the agency which is going to provide the strategic glue to hold it together?

Without this payment, you just get a boatload of activities which either don't correspond, or don't work as hard as they should, as agencies are fighting for their own slice of the pie. And it tends to be woefully short termist. If it were me, I'd reserve 20/30% of the budget to adapt the thinking as the campaign goes on, to be spent refining after the work has been responded to by your audience. That part of the budget would be left as money for the strategic partner to assign to a channel as the campaign continues on; after six months, say.

This thought isn't perfect, I admit. But it's clear that the one stop shop is yet to wholly bear fruit (although there are examples out there - VCCP's integration of digital/search/PR and ATL work has worked well for several clients, it'd seem), and this 'come up with an idea' approach by some clients leads to a bunfight a lot of the time.

Thoughts, gang?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Why I Play Golf...

The great man, Bobby Jones. Better than Tiger. Honest.

It's the evening of the final major of the year, the USPGA (the red headed stepchild of other majors), and i'm about to settle in and see whether Tiger can win another to close in on Mr Nicklaus.

And, I thought - amidst all the nonsense I wang on about brands, I thought I'd write a piece about just why I like the sport so much.

And God knows, I do. I've played ever since I was 14, when I watched my father get into it around the time of his 50th birthday. That was 11 years ago, and my interest has waxed and waned depending on how well I was playing. But I still return to it. And now, based in London, I feel the need to play more than ever. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.

I've always been moderately competent at sport (or cheerfully mediocre). I've got reasonable hand eye co-ordination, and can usually be relied upon to give someone a game of football, tennis or badminton. But as time goes on, I find all of them lacking a certain something when I play. I mean, I love to watch football in any form, along with tennis - some of the things the pros can do really fascinates me. To watch, football is still my favourite, just because when it's played with any degree of skill, there's a lot more artistry to it than any other sport. The likes of cricket and rugby can be exciting, but there's not the constancy of football.

Now, when it comes to playing, it's got to be golf. I still remember going down to the driving range with my first club (a slightly too small 7 iron, as it turned out), and thwacking balls. It was in no way as intuitive as tennis, where I was able to return without really thinking about it. When it came to golf, you really had to think about your grip, your setup and concentrate on making good contact. And so, with a mixture of tops, thins, slices and hooks and, now and then, missing the ball, I worked my way through 90 balls.

God, that was bloody frustrating. But it was also exhilarating; when I saw my little yellow ball (range balls are frequently scrubbier/yellower/not as good as normal course balls) flying to the 100 yard marker, I felt a sense of achievement I just didn't get outside of scoring a goal in football - and even then, it wasn't quite the same; who knew if you'd do anything like as well with your next swing?

And, looking around, you saw a mixture of ages, sexes and athletic abilities doing exactly the same thing. People who would quite obviously have been bloody fantastic at the usual sports were bloody AWFUL at golf. And this was interesting to me. A chance to be good at a sport which was as much played between the ears as anything else.

So I embarked on a series of lessons. Lessons which taught me how to hit the ball with some degree of competency, and finally prepared me to hit the course with my little half set.

And, as you'd expect, round a proper 18 hole course, with my first go - I worked up a cricket score. I remember most of the shots in that 110. And you'd have been forgiven for thinking I should have thought about giving up; but no - one of the truly wonderful things about golf is that no matter HOW badly you play, there's always one shot to give you hope for next time, to make you think you should be able to play like that all the time. For me, it was a 5 wood to within 10 foot on a par 3, which I parred. I was hooked.

Golf allowed me to meet up with various people, to play lots of different courses - way before advertising was amazed about 'communities', I was part of an online golf messageboard (yes, sad bastard, I know), and met some of the guys and played with them.

As I got better, I became more competitive, but it wasn't with a person. It was me versus the course. Golf is the only sport where one moment can entirely unravel your day; where a duff iron shot can cost you nine shots on a Par 4, where your carefully planned round can fall apart.

And, of course, my patience with it came and went. I have quit, vowing never to play again, several times. I swear, I mentally beat myself up. But I keep coming back. Why?

Well, it's not just the one perfect shot. When i'm out on a golf course, I feel more at peace than anywhere else. I love the countryside, and walking around, soaking up the beautiful scenery whilst playing with some degree of skill, and just talking to my playing partners. More often than not, it's my father, and we swear and moan our way round, as well as chatting about how well things have gone.

Crucially, I think I love it because of the imagination involved. Every shot is completely different. The skills required to hit a 7 iron off a good lie are completely different to hitting a low, hooking chip and run from behind a tree. You have to be able to think and plot your way round. What's the wind doing? How does the lie look? What would make the most sense - should you play out sideways or go for it?

It's why so many of the top players have such complex pre-shot routines. You have to be able to imagine these things coming off, in a way you really don't for tennis or badminton, or rugby and football - it's too quick. Whereas in golf, you have time to assess your lie, to think about all the things that could go wrong in your swing (and believe me, there are a lot), and be put off by things around you.

I also (and this is the middle class Englishman in me) love the etiquette inherent in the game. There's so much respect. You don't stand in your opponent's line of sight, you rake bunkers, you replace your divots/holes in the ground after you've played. You praise good shots. You don't make noise when other people are playing. You attend the flag/pull it out for your playing partners. You show respect for the course and for others. No other sport has such levels of respect, and I'll include cricket in this. It's not so much a part of the fabric of the game, right through to the highest level. In no other sport can you call a penalty on yourself, and the pros do.

Then there's the 19th hole (or pub, to the uninitiated), where your round is endlessly replayed and talked about. Which will, I'll be honest, bore any non golfers - along with watching golf on tv - which, if you've never played, is about as enjoyable as watching grass grow.

Yes, there's a lot wrong with the sport - the sexism at certain clubs, the exorbitant price of playing, the slightly over the top dress code (though any sport which insists on a collared shirt being worn is frankly doing the world a favour - no-one wants to see 40+ year old men in football shirts) and the snobbishness. But that's getting better, in my experience.

The sheer pleasure of walking 18 holes, of all the little dramas that come and go in the course of one hole (never mind 18), the
camaraderie, the continual thought process of each shot, and the beauty of wandering around beautiful countryside is why I play.

Anyway. I'll get back to seeing if Tiger can hold off Paddy. Let's see.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Responsibility & Job Titles..'s all clear. Via T.Young, usual rules apply.

In the hubbub of a summery Friday, two seemingly unconnected things happened. One was this post from Ben, which sparked a lot of anonymous anti-planner chat in the comments. Which is fine. I despair at some of the planning, and some of the briefs i've seen(not mine, obviously - they're always excellent...*cough*) in the time i've been a planner. Some of the worst are those which lift too directly from the client brief, and don't have any hint of a lateral thought, or any kind of springboard. But I digress.

The second was something which happened at my work. I don't tend to write about work, partly because it's pretty standard stuff if you've worked in an ad agency before - making ads/not enough Don Draper esque antics - and partly because detailing the inner workings of an agency often makes said agency look a bit farcical (unless you're W&K, whose blog is excellent). Anyway. We have a brief in the agency which involves writing an awful lot of football orientated headlines. The sort of brief which is a bit like the Economist, in that anyone with a vague knowledge of the topic could write lines for.

And that's what we did. We opened it up, whilst assigning a team to work on it. And you know what? It all went swimmingly. The creative team in question didn't mind us opening it up to other people, and we had a cracking collection of lines to go back with. What was telling was that they were prepared to admit they didn't know it all about the subject, and didn't get defensive when yours truly, a dastardly planner critiqued stuff. It helps that my English degree background (and slightly obsessive football fan nature) means I can have a reasonable stab at what'd work and what wouldn't in this case. I'm not saying it'd work all the time, but in this case, it was the best solution when we didn't have a creative director to hand, and an impending deadline.

And yet, I'm sure a lot of folks reading this have worked in places where people get needlessly defensive if their job feels like it's being done by other people, or 'assisted'. The sort of jobsworthiness that leads to planners getting pissed off if account handlers come up with a better proposition than them, or creatives being able to present ideas better than the account team.

There are many things I can't do. I can't really code HTML at all, create CSS, draw, present without going umm or swearing to break the tension, use photoshop (but i'd like to learn) or write blog posts without using too many ellipses. But there's a host of stuff I'd like to think i'm not bad at - and for this to be shelved because of my job title is frankly, fucking ludicrous.

I mean, why would you want to adhere so religiously to your job title? I may not be the world's best presenter, but for me to put this down to me being a slightly bumbling planner and not attempt to learn how to do it better is a nonsense. To me, it just makes you close your mind, and, in my opinion, ultimately stops you from getting better at your job.

Outside influences are hugely, hugely important to how you think about things. They shouldn't take over - obviously, a well trained copywriter is a much, much better judge of creative work than yours truly - but when your other talents are allowed to come to light now and then, it allows you another perspective, and that surely helps. Think about your favourite musicians, and how they are influenced by other artists/groups. They don't say they haven't had influences, do they?

I think those guys who want to close their minds should watch this video from Google, specifically the piece about Hippos in organisations and how they damage product development and innovation. (NB: A hippo is the highest paid person's opinion, able to kill ideas quickly):

Some of the best people I know are multi-talented ad folk, who've been creatives, planners and account handlers when required. Strategy isn't a department. (Yes, I know that's hugely glib, but it's very true).

Whingers who just want to have their own corner in their agency somewhere, who will take their ball in and not let anyone play with it aren't long for this business. And that can't happen too quickly.

Monday, July 27, 2009

We ALL work in PR.

Looks like a flume, but isn't. Guess. Photo via Whatsername?

It's a little bit of a black hole, isn't it? This being on the internet malarky, creating a digital footprint with every tweet. God knows where it all goes.

I was a touch worried to find out (don't worry, I haven't been googling myself that much...honest) from Priyanka that if you type in my name into google, it begins to auto complete. Fuck me. I'm one of them proper internet people (or tremendous nerds - in fact, almost certainly the latter).

Something, in truth, I never really thought about when I first got into blogging, or writing nonsense on the internet. I wrote to amuse myself. And it got me to thinking. Has this sort of attitude changed?

With the tremendous takeup of twitter by celebrities, do people now primarily use the web as a source of fame, rather than writing to express their opinion? And if so, at what cost? Has 'honesty' been bastardised?

I've always been acutely aware of just what I write online. I don't write anything that I wouldn't say in real life (yes, even taking the piss out of social media, or ranting about how badly put together most organisations seem to be). And I wonder, as people grow up with the technology to say whatever they want, whenever they want to - whether it'll begin to have more negative aspects.

Kids who've never thought about censorship will continue to be positively encouraged to tell brands what they think. With this power, do you honestly think it'll make things better in real life? I don't. I think it'll lead to a lot of people who speak first and ask questions later.

Surely, some of the benefits of being online - being able to enforce change, to speak your mind and improve things - will persist. But I do worry about the other side of things. Is it a job for parents? Part of me shudders at that; no-one had to teach me how to 'be' online. But then, I didn't get online properly until I was about 14 or so, I didn't blog until I was 21.

I'm not suggesting anything so drastic as a code of conduct. That seems like bollocks to me, tremendous overkill.

But, as the title of the post aludes, we are all in PR. All of us have a measure of responsibility of ensuring our online image corresponds to the real thing. I'm not suggesting naming your kids some unique name to ensure you can get the URL (God, that'd be cringey, wouldn't it?), but taking care when you're online is undoubtedly a Very Good Thing.

And this includes those older folk in the communications business. I get hacked off when I get told how to think about twitter by a supposed communications 'guru' who has 34 tweets to his name. Or worse, one with 20,000 followers, who hires people to tweet for him (which he does constantly) - that's not communications, that's the equivalent to pushing 5 yellow pages through the internet's post box daily.

Maybe it comes down to some form of web manners. Which shouldn't mean a stuffy, fastidious code - but more behaviour centred around basic politeness or thoughtfulness.

And to even THINK about this sort of thing boggles my mind. Alongside people needing media training (which is one of the ultimate examples of money for old rope), it's staggering to think people don't interact with media as an everyday thing.

I'm sure the passive massive are out there, but i'm sure their number is dwindling, what with ever increasing opportunities to interact - either to post product reviews or participate in their interests.

And, to me, it's somewhat comforting to know the individuals, not the organisations behind certain things. I like knowing who i'm dealing with, not some faceless agency or business. I can have a relationship with a person. I'm not quite so sure I'd ever value a PR or ad bod's paid opinion in the same way.

In short, it seems honesty's a bit of a two way street online. I'm interested in how it helps (or hurts) people. Especially those who have always had the tools to express it.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Funny old thing, nostalgia...

What a cheeky chappy. Not as good a frontman as Liam, but still.

Like a lot of people, last weekend, I was at Glastonbury. Yes, I'm sure you're sick to the back teeth of hearing about it. Hell, I am, and I was there.

There's a point to this post, rather than shamelessly sticking it to those who weren't there. Chiefly, this; it was the first time in my life that a band (that I can actually remember, and know most of their music) that formed a major part of a musical movement, were reformed. I remember both incarnations.

It's not like the Smashing Pumpkins reforming. In truth, I was too young to properly remember the early Pumpkins - i'd have been about 6 when they first started making music.

No, Blur reforming and headlining on the Sunday was an odd experience for me. I was always more of an Oasis fan (they have two cracking albums, whereas, in my eyes, Blur have none, though they are a great singles band), and in all honesty, was keen to see Blur, but just as excited to have seen the Dead Weather earlier in the weekend, as well as Neil Young (who was the unquestioned highlight of the weekend for me).

And, looking back as the week went on, I failed to understand just what it was that led to such a mass outpouring of nostalgia for Blur. I mean, they've only not been recording for 6 years. Add to that Damon Albarn's faux emotion at Glastonbury; I thought it smacked of a cash in.

I could fully understand the Neil Young fans cheering wildly when he played stuff from Harvest. I mean, imagine finally seeing your hero at Glasto (he'd never played there in his 40+ year career) playing songs from his most successful album. Absolutely brilliant.

But then, I thought about it some more. Do I think that because I wasn't around then? Do my incredibly rose-tinted notions about the 60's and 70's entirely colour my beliefs about Neil Young?

I reckon they do. I lived through Britpop, and to me, Blur were a good band. But then, so were the Bluetones and Supergrass, and they weren't still headlining (though not having split up probably has a large part to do with it) Glastonbury. They also weren't seen to have begun the movement, as Blur were.

But my memories remain - Britpop, for me, doesn't really feature Blur. It's all about Oasis, about Definitely Maybe, about playing and watching football, about What's The Story and knowing all the words to do, about discovering the Stone Roses after, about knowing the day it died (somewhere between Urban Hymns and the Spice Girls, in truth). I dislike what's been seem to be a reframing of a musical movement that I was a part of. Hell, I base getting old on whether people I talk to can remember What's The Story. If they were born late 80s or early 90s, they probably don't, and fuck me, does that make me feel like i'm getting old.

Interestingly though (especially given the ranty nature of the previous post), when you look at the etymology of the word nostalgia, it comes from the combination of two Greek words (nostos a return home and algios pain). It's not necessarily a particularly positive thing.

Listening to Blur DID bring on feelings of nostalgia for me - for what i've just outlined. And (God, I KNEW a smattering of Godin-like tendencies would creep in...sorry) it also made me think about the heavy reliance a lot of brands have on nostalgia.

Why would you willingly induce nostalgia if it can provoke such sadness? I know sadness can sell, but God, it's not a long term position. Memories get fuzzy, worn and replaced (I'm sure in ten or twenty years time, I'll believe Blur were one of the better Britpop bands). So then can the point of certain brands, unless they keep providing me with new experiences to show how they fit into my life now.

Blur stopped being relevant to me after 1997. And so did a lot of brands.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Reason to believe?

Tastes like piss, or so i'm told. Picture from PreciousKitty, usual rules apply.

I'm beginning to think that if any organisation gets to a certain size, it has to invent jobs for the boys. That is, those people who don't really have 'proper' jobs, save producing the rather lovely vintage above.

I'm talking about brewing up a healthy bottle or two of jargon. Needless, pointless, bollocks talk. It'd seem that those who work in communications have come down with a particularly large measure of it. Words and phrases which really mean nothing.

Let's look at that old favourite, 'Reason to believe', or RTB for short. RTB? I mean, come on. It's phrase you'd never even contemplate if you thought about it. It implies that there is one universal reason why people buy a particular product/service or brand. If it's a value brand, the RTB MUST be price. That's horseshit. Sometimes it's because people, shockingly, prefer the taste or convenience.

RTB is a terrible word as well, because it assumes oh so much. It's a lazy shorthand for people who can't be fucked to research things properly, or realise that circumstances and attitudes may have changed. It's a monolithic expression, which should be consigned to the 1950s.

Another wonderful term is 'social media'. I've already ranted about this earlier, so i'll leave it alone, if only to say one thing - all media is social. Yes, even press. It's such a wide ranging term as to be utterly useless.

Let's have a look at another term which needs to be consigned to the dustbin. This one's one of Sam and Eaon's least favourite terms. Yep, it's a 'viral'.

For something to be viral, it has to be spread around. To call something a viral and assume it's going to spread is hugely naive. Until it does, what you want, dear agency or client, is a short film that you hope people will watch. Mostly, these aren't pieces of branded film. Nope, they're things like Keyboard Cat (click the first video, it is a JOY).

Let's have one from Cluetrain (much as I agree with lots of it), shall we? Yes, the prosumer. Like any frankenword (an unholy combination between two words which really shouldn't ever be brought together), it deserves to beaten like the red headed stepchild it is.

Dissecting it (as the wikipedia article does), prosumer could have multiple meanings. However, the one most commonly arrived on by comms folk is to suggest that it's a proactive consumer, who can now self publish, and will change the world. Have these people done any groups with people (you know, those people who you sell, yes SELL stuff to) in the last six months? Or ever been in the pub and talked to their mates?

I'd bet most people who don't live in the comms industry bubble aren't fucked when it comes to self publishing, much less behave like prosumers. Your average punter may take matters into his or her own hands now and then, but that doesn't mean they can operate as a separate segment. People are motivated by their own ends, and more often than not, that has the square root of fuck all to do with publishing stuff on the internet.

Judge people by how they have behaved, but to assume people will become or are prosumers because of past behaviour is a fucking nonsense. Research only tells you what's gone before, after all - people are motivated by a variety of things; by their own situation, by the environment around them - and God knows, most are passive. It's why telly ads won't die off, or the printed word.

There's one underlying theme with all of these words. They are damned assumptive. Lazy shorthand for not putting the hours in. Using them means you can easily dismiss certain options, or suggest things because they ARE the RTB for our prosumers, who are engaged by social media, especially virals (!)

Nonsense. If you work in communications, and pride yourself on the ability to be able to speak directly to your audience (I don't have a problem with the term target audience, but that's another post), why the fuck would you use words like that? If you can't communicate internally or to your clients, what hope do you have of communicating to punters?

The next post will be less ranty. Promise. It may even be about Glastonbury, though i'm sure you're all bored of that by now.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Shapes and Organisation..

That said, the tastiest shape is pear shaped. Via Kaptain Kobold. Usual rules apply.

Hello there.

I've been doing some more dangerous bits and pieces. Yep, i've been thinking again. Mind you, with recent events, I've had a little bit more time to.

One of the topics which keeps cropping up is organisational structure (yes, I go to really, really boring dinner parties in my spare time). Is it better to be a triangle? A circle? A rhombus? A diamond? After a while, it all seems to become as redundant as Terry Venables' famous Christmas tree formation.

You use what suits your organisation, surely? If the founders are still there, and still have a stake, it'll naturally be like a triangle, with a lot of capable wingmen who have to cede to the overall bosses.

However, if you're set up as a co-operative, or something a la John Lewis, you can try and be a circle. Everyone has a stake, and everyone needs to keep things turning. And this works great in the good times; when everyone sees what the end point is, and has a palpable sense of reward and duty.

And given that digital agencies seem to favour a far more freeform and flexible approach (usually practiced by smaller shops, in my limited experience), which leads to favour quicker, more shared meetings with genuine shared agendas to get stuff made, it should perhaps be no surprise that the wider communications industry isn't sure about just what shape'll help it embrace the next ten years.

I think more traditionally minded agencies can learn something from the likes of PR and Digital shops - two models which mean you simply can't have much waste.

PR, with its more legally minded ways of billing, is interesting. Project billings with allotted hours mean you really can't have much time spent dicking around. But it also leads to the assumption that those amount of hours will solve that particular problem - and hell, it can be solved in twenty minutes or a month, if it's a creative problem, and there needs to be some way of recognising this.

Digital, with the amount of technologists and developers involved, also needs very strict timelines and demands a lack of wasted time. There are more, shorter meetings. Not endless hours of umming and aahing over the problem, which can usually be defined quickly.

And traditional creative agencies, where there are lots of meetings which are devoted to strategy, contact reports, tissues and brainstormings, where the clarity of idea is paramount, and there's an unwritten assumption that the organisation should be agreed and then executed. There doesn't tend to be the flexibility to amend it as it goes. TV doesn't tend to lend itself to this.

And what now happens when these three organisations merge together, when you really can't afford to to try and fit in a bastard hybrid, nor have separate bottom lines? (It strikes me as madness, which leads to infighting and politics).

I think that it comes down to how you regard strategy and ideas. Is one fairly fixed, and the other flexible? Are they both? Should one dictate the other?

Personally, I don't believe either is static, nor one leads the other by the hand. Agencies need to get less precious about the 'right' strategy, and allow ideas to shape it as you go. In my experience, the most effective work is based on an original strategy that has the flexibility to be amended as you go.

I'm a fan of having a solid base; a base of web monitoring/real time search/qual research, which feeds into the amount of hours you bill, the amount of strategic and creative time. A certain level of this will be fixed into the overall fee. 'Digital' will be at the heart, though the definition will become increasingly unnecessary.

I'd like to see research feed a LOT more into how agencies bill; if the communications agency is going to be seen as the lead partner and an agent of change, then clients have to accept that they'll bill for different research, research which is more attitudinally focused.

How they react to this will surely have implications on what the agency's shape looks like - if they accept it, then project fees will lead to something like a chinese fingertrap; rigid with research, yet loose with how strategy and ideas are developed and fed in.

If they don't, the agency will have to make allowances, and develop their own research more generally across their client base, at a cost to them. Project by project fees will drive the agency, much like Digital and PR. The shape would be a bit more circular, and I can easily forsee a mixture of the two approaches, depending on client.

What do you think? This is very much a work in progress.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Less Haste, More Speed..

Not me; I drive like a little old lady. Photo via Lazyousuf. Usual rules apply.


I've been to rather a lot of talks in the last week or so, so I thought I should write about all three of them, and the overriding thought that's been left with me. It's about not dicking about with things and, rather, doing them speedily.

Speed has been on the mind of the planning community for a little while - most notably the 'Fast Strategy' conference last year which I went to. I think if I learned anything that day, it was that really good strategy can take a long time to get to, but given enough pressure and a (lack of) time, you can get to a good place. It's how pitches are won, and also - why so few clients have the confidence to go with a pitch strategy.

And, thoughts turned to how to sell quicker strategies. Not hasty, ill-formed strategies - the kind of which are hypothesis which haven't been tested, but instead - well founded thoughts which are arrived at quickly using client data, the t'terwebs and tested against current punters. Often, these come from outside the category.

So it was with some interest I wandered along to meet possibly the father (in my eyes) of Fast Strategy, Mr Adam Morgan. His book, Eating The Big Fish, has been a staple for planners in the last ten years or so.

And he spoke on Tuesday about how he was, frankly, a tad pissed off. A little bit cross about how folk (marketeers, planners, communications bods) misinterpreted his theory about challenger brands. Most people, he proposed, view challenger brands as a David vs Goliath story. You're always the little guy, picking on the big brand, or the big issue. And, frankly, he thought it was toss - there was far more depth to the theory than that.

There's probably not enough space for me to go into a massively detailed look at how he sliced it (13 times, which I, in all honesty, thought was stretching it a little far). I liked the idea of a brand being the people's champion (any excuse to use The Rock in a presentation is something we should all get behind) - to fight for a cause which the public believed in, though the danger is that it becomes a little po-faced and obvious going forward; I wouldn't see it as a long term strategy if the brand hadn't done in the beginning. I also thought the idea of a brand as a visionary was interesting - taking a position which is well above that of a category, and never returning to it. The brand is in the category because it believes it sees further than the rest. Could potentially become very arrogant, but it's still interesting. The next generation was another good one - working in a category you know has to change, and you're the first, trying to get it to realise that things have moved on.

There were ten more, but they were all variations on a theme. Essentially, be provocative, but pick just what it is you're going to be provocative about. What *really* interested me, which wasn't talked about, was how you arrive at that challenger position. How do you pick a fight in the first place? Which is the right one? Do people properly quantify it?

My theory behind all of this was a reasonably simple one. I think people like the theory of challenger brands because it's bloody quick (usually) to find what you want to fight against. What's tricky is not being hasty when you're refining it. What IS it about the company/belief/you're going against? Sure, you want to pick a fight, but have you really considered just why you want to challenge it?

Great strategy is born when the challenge is well nuanced, and shaped to be the right one. Getting there will take some degree of time, unless it's so overwhelmingly obvious everyone has decided to do it.

Anyway, the second talk I went to was another IPA sponsored one, but this time, was by the IPA Strategy Group, who had put on a talk about those cheeky 'game changers', who have flipped how we see comms. Or rather, as I took from it (again, broken record) - how to do innovative things quickly.

We had Dan Hon from Six to Start (the name of which I later discovered is from board games...funny) talk about the project the guys have done with Penguin, Tim Malbon from Made by Many talk about MBM's internal processes, and how successful they've been, and finally Giles Andrews from Zopa, who talked about how it came into being.

And again, the same old horse chestnut kept resonating. Be bloody rigorous with your thinking, but don't be precious about it - that way leads to rigid corporations and hasty, and ill-advised decisions. These companies are doing well because they've worked in a genuinely collaborative way - check out the slideshare presos from the first two.

I did stop and wonder just how hard it'd be to implement some of the processes at work. I wondered whether it'd only work with quite small companies; the more people you get, the more emphasis there is on haste, the more messages fail to get disseminated, and the processes begin to break down.

But then, thinking along those lines, what would happen if you set a limit on the number of permanent staff on board, and kept the processes the same, getting your freelance staff/exterior companies to work to it? I think it'd potentially be very compelling.

It ties in a little with the final talk I went to this week, 'What can Google see?'. In short, don't worry if you missed this. I hadn't read the book, but the talk was spoiled by the amount of people who turned up who were either conspiracy nuts, or didn't really know what Google had done in the last few years - what programs they'd developed.

What was interesting was the topic of the 'numerati', which was term used to describe all of the mathematicians, statisticians and computer scientists who have a access to the digital footprints we leave online. I wanted to know more about these people, rather than the pat explanation of what search terms people look at, and the idea of very basic market segmentation they can do, which was what the talk focused on.

Imagine, if you will, a flexible, but tight process (think Chinese Fingertrap agency), which is run by a combination of creative agency people, and the numerati. That'd be really interesting; staffing it partly with freelance people who buy into the principles of the agency, and full timers who have the ability to work flexibly yet tight when the need dictates. There'd have to be a cap on the amount of people who worked there, to ensure the agency kept its principles and the quality didn't slip.

This would go along with Tim's thought about the first, small strategy, which could be overruled in an environment where you have to rigorous and speedy.

Anyway...those were the three talks. Some randomness; let me know what you think.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Global Shouldn't Mean Good Enough...

It's a cheeky globe. Look at it there.

Hello hello. Not written anything for a little while, but I thought I should.

Working for a very big network agency with quite a lot of worldwide business, I come across all sorts of brands every day, ones i've never heard of, and may never work on ever again, due to some of the obscure markets we work in.

This has some tremendous benefits - you get to work with and observe consumers of nationalities you don't know a great deal about, and deal with markets you really don't know anything about. So it's a great learning experience.

That said, it's also hugely daunting; who am I to say or judge what housewives in Russia will look for in a deodorant or a bleach? And you do begin to realise that no-one really knows much about certain markets and segments - it's amazing really, but there's a damn good reason why they're called emerging markets.

One thing that working here HAS taught me, having worked on the odd global campaign or just how much harder it is to sell really good work globally. Sure, you can sell 'nice' or 'good enough' work. But that's not why I got into the business, and surely not what most people wanted to either; nor work on clients where all you do is adapt, adapt, adapt the work.

And it makes you appreciate things - like just how good an idea has to be to work across each market, and how very good the whole network has to be to get each networked agency (because, God knows, sometimes the biggest problem is making the decision about which agency does what) singing from the same hymn sheet.

No, I wanted to write this post to talk about how, because there is such a fight, and because there are so many more people the work has to be sold to (unlike nice, straightforward domestic work, which basically has a Marketing Director and his or her wishes) - 'good enough' is presented as the right way a lot of the time.

And i'm tired of 'global' being used as an excuse for the work being crap. So that difficult Portugese client won't buy the work? So craft something which'll appeal to him or her. Don't just sit back and let the final hurdle bugger all of the work. Frankly, i'm tired of lowest common denominator work selling.

I'm chuffed that thinking like 'When a baby is born, so is a mother', 'Dirt is good' and 'The world's local bank' survive. But these are too much in the minority. And if advertising's becoming more worldwide, there's never been more of a need to stop thinking of global as another swearword (next to 'client') and as a reason why the work didn't sell. The work didn't sell because the agency didn't do enough.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Attitude Not Audience...

'Tank man' standing up for what he believed in.

I am in the midst of trying to gather information and write an APG paper for work I helped plan in the last year or so. We've got what I think is an interesting angle on the business problem, and how we tried to treat the audience, which is good. It's something which i've tried to do across all of my briefs and any business problem I have looked at in the last year or so.

So, I thought to help better flesh out what I mean, I might as well blog some of the general thinking in my mind before it's submitted. I'm sure a lot of it will seem as obvious to a lot of people, but I wanted to note it down.

After cocking a squint at JWT's Planning Begins at 40, a celebration/look to the future of the discipline (watch the videos, they're good), I was struck by just how many folk called for a fusion between old school data collection - quant, qual and all of the above - and new school, digitally led, adaptable, creatively and intuitively led thinking.

Rather like this word document on what's next for planning, provided by the APG (I think Russell wrote it, but I'm not sure, it's not attributed), it all seemed to call for planning to be more adaptive, to help clients not be so short termist and to not get stuck in the sheet music approach to planning and strategy that many practice - to tick boxes and make things fit at all costs.

And, I'd suggest there's still a problem between the more formulaic approaches of the old (which seem to lead certain clients easily to box ticking) and the new style (which still can't adequately be quantified, or obviously led back to ROI).

I have been told in the past to not get too focused on target audience, for that way leads to generic ads (ads about togetherness for main shopper mums, anyone?). However, what if we went one step further?

In a world where target audience definitions can't really be trusted, regardless of what segmentation data tells you - because things are moving too fast on and offline with the changeable economy, the digitisation of content and the exorable rise and rise of opinion being able to destroy brands and new product launches (witness Stephen Fry and the Blackberry debacle - I'm not sure i've met anyone who owns an iPhone, for example, who wasn't aware of this before they chose it), is it wise to rely on it in any way shape or form?

Yes, your client will tell you (or the media agency's crafted TGI, in my experience) that buyers are ABC1's who live in the South East, are University educated and are 'heavy users' of the internet. But then, next month Hitwise will tell you that your supposed technologically savvy audience are outstripped by a far older demographic than you thought, who upload more and interact more with the brand's channel.

So don't stop at the target audience. Build on it.

I'm suggesting we remove the target audience box, and replace it instead with attitude:

What attitude are we trying to convey?

It's NOT tone of voice, though that is important to the work. Witness APG papers like the Coke Side of Life from 2007 - which worked hard to work to discover an attitude, used research on and offline to establish where that attitude is shared, and targeted those people. It's a long term, targeted approach. Far better to use sniper bullets than tommy gun fire in this instance.

Interestingly, at the planning event, Jon Steel quoted an something that Stephen King said about "the end being a certain state of mind in the potential buyer". I'm suggesting we move straight to the state of mind - we tie ourselves to not just a point of view (which is static), but a attitude, which is fluid, and able to adapt and have a point of view about various news/economic/consumer responses.

I'm hypothesising, but what if, say, Blackberry's attitude was one of convenience - allying itself with those people who wanted the easiest access to email, and didn't want the inconvenience of a battery poor phone, nor the latest bells and whistles? Their PR strategy writes itself from this, and they could have batted off Stephen Fry's assertations - his attitude would never ever have allied with this.

I think it's capable of marrying old and new styles of planning. You have to undertake research to help discover who buys into this attitude, finding out your audience (which may change over time) - but you don't arrive at it, necessarily, from a static process of researching ads. You do hard yards with the consumer, segment, look at historic data and pay a lot more attention to discovering just what attitude the majority of consumers would like your brand to have. It should be the definitive approach to the communication, and work should flow from it. Circumstances may change, but attitudes don't easily.

Crucially, it's not a short termist approach; it doesn't just latch on to what's cool and trendy this week, month or year. I think prevailing brand attitudes are best arrived at through detailed ethanography, from the company itself or a combination of the two - this leads to a fluid, culture centric approach in both cases.

And you could perhaps use the 'attitude' approach when performing NPD - it lends itself to more purposeful thinking than just a straight segmentation, for who knows how they'll react to a new product and a new environment? Importantly, it can bear in mind the cultural mindset, but doesn't kow-tow to it in the same way just using a target audience might.

I'm aware this thinking could come across as a little woolly, but by using something like NPS, by factoring out things like price increases, and using prevailing attitudes that don't tend to change regardless of context, you'd have a way of quantifying just what the work's done. I like to use year on year market share as a first step to answering whether the activity has worked and qualifying its effectiveness.

Anyway, that was my random twaddle for the day. Let me know what you think.
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