Archive for February, 2011

For Damon

Stardate February 13th 2554


Damon, I just heard.

Of course, condolences, and I just want to give you a personal anecdote:

Back when I was teenager looking for a job with those old magic marker scribbles, our dear mentor Dave Trott had just started GGT and had no money to hire anyone, so he picked up the phone, had a chat with your dad and ten minutes later I was round the corner in Ron’s office.

Now WCRS was flying at the time, and Ron had a reputation as a fearful and brutal critic of student work. So I was nervous to say the least, especially since he’d been coerced by Trotty into seeing me at a time when he most definitely had better things to do.

He couldn’t have been (to me anyway) more different from his reputation.

He was delightful, incredibly helpful, kept me there about an hour and a half, giving invaluable advice and opinions (the legendary Sooty was not present that day so I’m never sure if that was apocryphal). He then brought in Andrew Rutherford to go through my work and then Robin, then showed me round his amazing agency and introduced me to Peter Scott.

I left, as inspired as I’d ever been in my life, thinking THIS is the business I want to be in, and he called Trotty, and the following day Dave hired me as the first GGT creative, even though he couldn’t afford my measly tuppence a week. Ron called him back and said “Tuppence?!?! You could have got him for a farthing!!!”.

And work-wise he was one of the true talents – his simple radio commercial for Bergasol taught me (and many others) how visual a medium radio can be. To this day I cannot think of a better spot.

I suppose the best we can all hope for is to leave some kind of legacy behind.

Your Dad, Ron, created one of the most dynamic and successful agencies of the era, during THE most creative period in advertising.

Best wishes Damon.

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Stardate February 12th 2554

Advertising Age

Let’s be absolutely clear from the off – I’m the wrong side of 20.

Therefore you might say my views are biased (but surely if a point of view is not biased, it’s not a point of view).

Why are there so few experienced people in creative departments?

Agencies love to been seen as cool and trendy so let’s hire some far-out digital dude who rolls with the kids.

Not CEOs mind, oh no, because THEY need to be responsible. For example Michael Roth was almost 60 when he GOT the top job at IPG. Was there no 25-year-old financial whizz-kid that could’ve done Roth’s job?

Can you imagine an agency hiring a 60-year-old ECD?

I think there’s a sense that in order to be creative in advertising you need to be childishly irresponsible, but personally, I’ve never met a client that would happily put his or her millions in the hands of someone they thought irresponsible.
And I always thought it was smart to listen to and learn from people who had more experience than me.

I’m not entirely alone – I recall a rumour that Mother, one of London’s best agencies hardly in need of help, put in an audacious bid to hire the late great John Webster, at the time in his 60s. They obviously recognized that, if you retain your enthusiasm for the business, experience only adds to it.

But by and large, advertising is one of the few creative industries I can think of that doesn’t always respect experience, at least in the creative department.

Looking at other creative businesses, the current biggest grossing music act is not this year’s Jimmy Osmond, Justin Bieber (thank God) but The Rolling Stones, and Madonna is the biggest female still.

I recently read a great response to a reader’s whingeing letter about Sir Paul McCartney in Q magazine. It said, “he wrote Paperback Writer, he made St Pepper and The White Album. He was in the chuffing Beatles! He can look as foolish as he damn well pleases.” Lovely.

But gosh, I still read…magazines???  How passé…

Don’t get me wrong – I love my i-pad. But I love magazines too (and I’d think twice before swatting the bloody mosquitoes here with my i-pad)

Ricky Gervais has become a global *fill in adjective here* in his mid-40s and said recently on CNN “why didn’t I do this when I was younger?” To which his missus Jane replied, “Because you wouldn’t have been any good at it”. It takes a good deal of experience to insult everyone in Hollywood in 3 hrs.

In publishing: apart from the short brat-pack period where it seemed the only people getting book deals were people who’d never written a book before, the best selling authors continue to be the ones with a proven track record.

Scorsese, Pacino and DeNiro et al still seem to be doing ok in the movies too.

So it’s clear creativity is not the preserve of youth.

I may be wrong, but from the outside, age doesn’t seem to be such an issue in those creative industries.

My dear ex once said to me “age is a privilege not everyone is fortunate enough to attain” (I wasn’t sure whether it was a threat but it sounded profound, so I assume she stole it!).

But, the very few obvious exceptions aside, where do the experienced and talented creatives in advertising go to?

Be careful before you disagree – you’ll be posting your own sell-by date.

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Stardate February 7th 2554 *

Year Of The Frightened Rabbit

“People might call themselves perfectionists, but at the bottom of pedantry is an abiding laziness. Raise enough objections and you never have to accomplish anything.”

A beautiful phrase from Paul Theroux’s Blinding Light. But doesn’t it sound familiar?

It reminds me of a client who could talk me out of the room with dazzling marketing wisdom. He’s a delightful guy, incredibly bright, and has never made a bad decision in his life.

Unfortunately he’s never made a good one either.

It’s all too easy to use the excuse of “it’s not quite there yet” to postpone the most important thing – The Decision.

Somebody clever called it ‘analysis paralysis’. So much information you freeze like a rabbit in the headlights, and do nothing.

For the first 18 months of dfgw, we did a simple tracking chart: We plotted every time we DID something (mail outs, cold-calls etc), and every time something HAPPENED (invitation to pitch etc…). The resulting chart was emphatic – every time something happened correlated perfectly with every time we did something.

Except for one small detail…the things we actually did never seemed to have any obvious relation to what actually happened.

So we simply deduced that Do Something And Something Will Happen.

Don’t obfuscate, ruminate, cogitate or any other kind of ‘ate, just do stuff. Make decisions, and even if you only get 80% of them right you’ll be going in the right direction.

We’re not deciding which slimy wiggly bit to remove in surgery, it’s just advertising. And most of us are good enough to intuitively know when to get it out there. You can always do Version 2.1.1 later.

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Stardate February 5th 2554

The new N-DUBZ album is wkd

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Stardate February 5th 2554



Brilliant isn’t it? Almost every time you ask for something now, the response is “can”.


We’ve become a generation of positive thinkers; nothing can get in the way of our gung-ho mentality.


Of course. Everybody likes to hear “can”, nobody wants to hear “can’t”. You don’t win business by saying “can’t”. You don’t get a job by saying “can’t”. So the automatic response has become “can”.


Like the Hollywood actors at auditions way back who quickly learned to say “can” when asked if they could ride a horse, knowing full well they’d have time to get a few lessons in before rehearsals.


There’s just one slight problem: not everyone can.


If you ask me if I can run the 100 meters in 9.57 seconds to beat Usain Bolt, yes, absolutely I can. There, I said it – I can! Sadly the reality is I’d struggle to run it in 40 seconds.


For quite a few years, our agency dfgw handled the BBC account, a brilliant client.

I recall being in 150-strong BBC workshops, where everyone in the room CAN be creative (and remember BBC has more genuine creative people than most corps cos it’s their product). But not everyone IS creative. Work out what you is.


The truth is, there are some things you can do and some things you can’t. And my question is: Is it better to under-promise and over-deliver? Or is it better to over-promise and under-deliver? (Yes technically that’s two questions, but you get the point.)


I’m not advocating laziness – absolutely aim high. Set tough but realistically achievable goals – how many times have I read “set unrealistic goals”?. Why? Why would you want to do that? So you can fail? Push yourself to your limits, and do the best you possibly can.


Because, bottom line, under-delivery will piss off clients, annoy your bosses, and ultimately lose business. Have you ever heard anyone complain that you over-delivered?


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