7th October 10
I know that I’m late to the game on this ‘five things I’m thinking about’ meme and very new to the game in this advertising business, so here’s hoping that the two things balance out here, in my first nervy post.
1) Where is knowledge stored?
OK – so just a week ago I was posting farewell on The Penguin Blog, trying to distill a few years of digital publishing thinking into a couple of hundred words and now I am in a new office with new people doing a completely different thing in a new industry. So my short term goal is to find the well(s) of knowledge and drink deeply.
In preparation for this transition I’ve read a couple of books and redirected my RSS and twitter streams adwards. But already in 4 days I’ve learned more from a few concentrated conversations than from hours of reading. So maybe I’ve been reading the wrong books and blogs, or reading them badly.
But perhaps it’s a very analogue notion that knowledge is stored on paper and a digital notion that knowledge is amalgamated in crowds. Everyone is an expert in something, everyone has a specialist subject or a unique take on an issue – the challenge is finding them and unlocking their knowledge. And face-to-face beats distance learning every time.
2) Is there still an edge?
The publication of any new William Gibson book is always a good opportunity to think about the edges of things and, of course, the places in between, which in our upside down topsy turvy existence must be edges of a sort. My favourite Gibson passage is from All Tomorrow’s Parties where the disappearance of bohemia is explained thus: “We started picking them before they could ripen. A certain crucial growing period was lost, as marketing evolved and the mechanisms of recommodification became quicker, more rapacious.”
Of course, as a new entrant to the world of advertising I need to start rapaciously appropriating the edge as swiftly as possible, which is why I should start finding out where it is.
(Actually, specifically, the sound of resin on concrete, or even more specifically the difficulty in finding good skateboard sound effects)
Don’t get me wrong I am not and have never been a skater but I have always loved skate videos and watching this yesterday (via Ruby Pseudo) it struck me that it is the sound that I love especially. I was born in a city and have lived most of my life in the same city and can’t really imagine not living in a city. Cities, as far as I’m concerned, are where stuff happens, and I am a huge fan of stuff happening. And, since skating demands ‘crete perhaps there is no soundtrack more urban than the sound of skating. If there are other, even more urban soundscapes I should be tuning into, let me know.
4) Flickr and careful curation
Every now and again it’s worth remembering what a lovely and valuable discovery engine flickr really is. Of course for simple image search it’s great but there is also the joy-inducing serendipity of discovering that there are others who share the same interests as you, whether these interests are craneporn, control panels or failure. A friend of mine describes internet pornography as having the same serendipitous effect – all of a sudden you discovers kinks that you didn’t know you had. But with flickr the quality of a group is in the care of the curation. A good group will have clearly communicated criteria for submissions and submissions that fall outside certain boundaries will be rejected, so preserving a curatorial, yet crowdsourced, integrity. It strikes me that there are all sorts of lessons to be learned from flickr and curation and community are good places to start.
5) The Idea Thing
A change in profession is a good opportunity for some good old fashioned introspection and navel gazing. So, is there a difference between what I did (getting things made and selling them) and what I now do (communicating ideas about things other people have made and want to sell)? Who is the customer for an idea, the client or the audience or both?
When ‘things’ encapsulate ‘ideas’ do they stop being purely things or purely ideas? I am less interested in *the social object* than I am in *the idea thing*, a digital or physical object that captures and communicates an idea about the world. Can idea things sell stuff, or are they the stuff that sells?
I guess I’m about to find out.
7th October 10
Author: Emma Cookson, Chairman BBH New York
This bunch of charts comes from a BBH session at a recent conference organized by The Bellwether Group in New York. The subject of the day was ‘Creativity and content creation in a digital age”. So something of a wide canvas….
My start point was the realization of how intimidated I felt speaking on the topic – and the further realization that this intimidation stemmed not just from personal neurosis or the breadth/complexity of the subject (although all that applied), but that I was also intimidated because there’s already so much great comment and advice in this area available. It’s one of the interesting by-products of an age of such extraordinary pace of change that we’re all frantically trying to keep learning, keep up to date, keep pace – and as a result there’s a whole slew of people working to satisfy that desire with tips and advice. Every day brings a deluge of advice and input on digital marketing/comms/business-building.
My observation is that although so much of this advice and comment is truly fantastic, the flip-side is that within all the rush and deluge we are sometimes accepting and sharing – at speed and at face-value – assertions that maybe should bear closer examination and qualification. Perhaps all these assertions we read in the latest expert tweet or in the headline of that skimmed article are all broadly right – but maybe not in all circumstances, not right for all brands, not right in every dimension. Perhaps there’s a slightly more precise story to tell (see our recent post on a similar theme examining participation).
So that’s where this presentation came from. And why it’s called ‘Yes. But…’ I note a number widely accepted truths about creative best practice in a digital age – and, without disagreeing with any of them, suggest that they might benefit from a little qualification. My contention is that – for example – escalating consumer control of brands is of course a real phenomenon, but it doesn’t absolve brand owners of deep responsibility for brand leadership and, yes, still a degree of brand control. Or that ’360 degree marketing’ is a good clarion call, until you start wondering if it really is right that the most powerful communication solutions really do always have to be deployable in every single channel, with every weapon available in our communication arsenal.
Any comment or argument is greatly appreciated.
6th October 10
Author: Charles Wigley, Chairman, BBH Asia Pacific
Following our series of Labs posts tackling the issue of “Wind Tunnel” marketing, the natural next step was to put the thinking out into the wild and see what we could learn… I recently ran a workshop at the SPIKES creative festival in Singapore, where solutions were brainstormed by the 100 + attendees.
I began with a run-through of the issue as we see it:
And the workshop attendees responded. Below are just some of the ideas that came out, we’d love to hear any you have to add.
Some of the most popular practical solutions to the key areas discussed (measured by that highly accurate methodology of level of cheers and clapping at the end of the session) were as follows :
The Overall Strategic Process
- Twin team it on major projects – one that the client sees that follows the set process, the other that just has a blank canvas and no set rules
- Follow your gut irrespective of set process – and get more skilled at post rationalisation
- Scrap it ! – well, it was a predominantly creative audience
- Aim off – always ensure you also talk to people intentionally outside of the core target that everyone else is talking to. There maybe unearthed gems there
- Ask ‘why’ more often than ‘what’ – reportage is useless, the reasons behind the actions are what people a looking for
- Creatives more involved in client management – clearly there’s a lot of folk who want to come out of the back room
- Stop hiring ourselves again and again – how can we build difference into our hiring policies?
- Forced job swaps – agency people should work as clients for a while and vice – versa
- Earlier and deeper – agencies arrive too late too often. What can they do to swim upstream in the client briefing process?
- Creative speed dating – too much time working opposite the same person. Time for some new inspiration from different people in the building. Quickly. And ones with different skill sets – eg tech.
- Stop looking at advertising – too much cannibalism. If our only influence is advertising…..then our output will be more…er…….advertising.
- Move the office to the beach – well, that’s the audience again for you (when they get there they’ll probably discover management has been there for a while).
Again, these are just a starter for ten. We’d love to know your thoughts.
Also check out Jim Carroll’s Manifesto here.
30th September 10
Posted in Uncategorized
THE START BIT
I stumbled through the door of BBH London on March 29 2005. I was terrified. Despite coming from arguably the best & most famous planning agency of all time (BMP in London), I was (as we say in the UK) ‘sh*tting my pants’. Everything that felt charming yet amateur about BMP had been brutally and suddenly replaced by a new world of complete professionalism, extraordinary process and unrelenting focus. It was, quite literally, Day 1 at the Big School. Even Lotus Notes felt awesome.
Three moments defined my first few months there. I thought I might share them, as I disappear, because I think they’re still relevant.
Like every new hire I had a brief meet & greet with Nigel Bogle in week one. Of course, he was scary and brilliant in equal measure, but what he said to me in our first meeting stayed with me. Perhaps, looking back now, it was the one moment that defined my time at BBH more than anything else. While welcoming me, he heavily stressed the importance of not fitting in, of not becoming a BBHer, of not doing things the ‘BBH way’, but instead, of being the disruptor, the challenger, the thorn. For better or for worse, I took him at his word; if nothing else, it’s true to say I’ve never really fitted in at BBH.
Anyway, in week one (literally Day 2, if I recall correctly) I found myself pitching for Google. An extraordinary experience, partly because of the ace people I was pitching with (Robson, Exon, Stainer) and partly because of the crazy clients. They had no idea what they wanted, but they didn’t want an ad agency. And so we didn’t give them one (the title slide of our pitch said simply ‘WE DON’T WANT TO BE YOUR AD AGENCY’). We gave them an ideas engine that was an extension of their own company, but which operated outside the (even back then) stifling constraints of their own insane business. We didn’t make much money for the agency but we made important contacts (our client back then is now the global CMO of Google) which we’ve nurtured over that five-year period, and we developed a way of approaching creativity that was quite different to anything any of us had experienced before. No hierarchy, no titles, no departments, no egos, virtually no rules. Fun, frantic, fruitful. Three things stuck: I knew that was the model for me going forward, that Google was the most extraordinary company I’d come near, and that the Internet was the most disruptive & magical thing ever.
Third, just weeks after BBH won the Google pitch, I was on the British Airways pitch. I had no idea at the time just how much baggage (no pun intended) this pitch would arrive with. Having been narrowly beaten to the business by M&C Saatchi ten years before, for Nigel & John in particular, but for BBH more widely, this was an opportunity to right the wrongs of a decade previously. In addition it was a huge and highly prestigious piece of global business. I worked with some phenomenal people – my future BBH Labs partner in crime, Mel Exon, Derek Robson (who also pitched Google with me), Guy Murphy, and I had my first taste of the overwhelming firepower of the fully operational battle station that is BBH at it’s best. We worked with Gwyn Jones & team in NYC, and with Ben Fennell & team in Singapore; pure BBH. Together, these people re-calibrated my benchmark for what an agency could do, and how it might do it. It was the best pitch experience I’ve ever had; it was also the hardest three months of my life. But I took away from it an utter conviction around two beliefs; that (a) literally nothing was impossible at BBH, and (b) there was probably no better agency on the planet at that time.
Anyway, all rather dull historical context. It’s five-and-a-half years later. Here I am about to leave. I’ve learned a ridiculous amount at BBH. Perhaps more than anything, if I learned how to not be an academic at my first agency (Duckworth Finn), and I learned how to be an ok account planner at BMP, at BBH I learned how to apply strategic thinking to a much broader canvas. I was liberated by BBH; the disciplinary shackles were removed. Much of this learning was beaten into me by truly world-class people, at all levels, not just the scary senior legends you might imagine. And a tiny proportion of it was the product of my own stumbling invention and experimentation (a fair chunk of that with Mel Exon, to whom I owe particular thanks).
THE MIDDLE BIT
In any case, here are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way, from BBH London days (Google & BA), through Head of Account Planning & ZAG leadership in NY, BBH Labs start-up and (once again) to Google days over here in NYC, & my most recent Innovation role. As ever, many people will disagree with some of them; some people will disagree with all of them. They’re in no way intended to be definitive. But they are what I think is the right approach.
Only people matter
They matter more than clients, more than teams, more than fancy buildings, smart suits or posh titles; they matter even more than the ideas. Great ideas are just what happen when the right people are put together and organized (or not) in the right way. The only role of agency management is to find, retain, organize and inspire others. If management is not doing this, they’re part of the problem.
None of us is as good as all of us
This is a classic Bogle-ism, one of his very best, and it’s never been more true than today. Avoid the Prima donna at all costs; as Calle Sjoenell (our ECD on Google at BBH) notes, ‘no egos, no drama’.
Ask forgiveness, not permission
The people that make a difference tend to be the ones that don’t seek approval first. They are often not the most popular. They’re rarely the most rewarded. But they’re the most valuable. If you can bring yourself to put up with them, they will be your secret weapon. And they’re way better on your team than on someone else’s.
Awesome is always scary
The vast chasm between really good and extraordinary is filled with fear. If you push yourself to the extent that you’re deeply uncomfortable, you’ll be fine; if you’re comfortable, you’re not pushing hard enough.
Give *everything* away
Be generous with ideas, with credit, with opportunities, and most important of all, with time. Although it’s not the real point, be reassured that this generosity *always* comes back.
Do less, but do it better
We try and do too much because we’re not honest with ourselves about what we’re best at and we’re not honest with our clients about what we’re really capable of. One of the unheralded roles of planning is to distill, simplify and encourage focus; to eliminate nonsense, or the chance that nonsense might occur. Strategy is, indeed, the art of sacrifice.
We can’t be friends *all* the time
If we’re not passionate about what we do, we should pack up and leave. If you’re not upsetting someone, somewhere, most of the time, you’ll end up with ‘average’. This includes clients, but perhaps more importantly applies internally.
Build & love your network
You don’t have to share an office with the best people around to work with them, or learn from them. If you’re lucky, you’ll share an office with some of them (I’ve been lucky many times over). When Mel & I launched Labs we had no idea we’d develop such a strong group of supporters and advisors. We still have no idea how we have. But they – not us – have built Labs.
PowerPoint is the enemy of awesome
There’s an inverse relationship between the quantity of PowerPoint produced by a team and both the quality of work produced by that team, and their level of happiness.
Make sure it’s fun
It’s all just a gigantic game.
So, summing up this already tediously over-long account, this is the deal:
THE END BIT
I was lucky enough to snowboard with John Winsor (@jtwinsor) this March, in Vail. As you might guess, he literally left me standing, and in some cases, climbing out. But we caught up on life on the ski lifts back to the top and talked about a lot of stuff. The next day he sent me this (below). It’s by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. It blew me away.
Only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will himself sound the depths of his own being. For if we imagine this being of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth. In this way they have a certain security.
And yet how much more human is the dangerous insecurity that drives those prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their cells. We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares have been set around us, and there is nothing that should frighten or upset us. We have been put into life as into the element we most accord with, and we have, moreover, through thousands of years of adaptation, come to resemble this life so greatly that when we hold still, through a fortunate mimicry we can hardly be differentiated from everything around us. We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience.
How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence something helpless that needs our love.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, 1904
Massive thanks to all the completely ace BBH-ers I’ve worked with since 2005. You will continue to make BBH a magic place to be & to learn.
24th September 10
Posted in media
The second and final part of a pair of posts (read the first here). Today’s includes an interview with Darren Garrett at Littleloud.
Author: James Mitchell (@jamescmitchell), Strategist, BBH London
There is such a thing as an Art Gallery. If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you’ve been to one before. An art gallery’s purpose is to house paintings and art so that they can be viewed… and yet today, it’s entirely possible for me that selfsame content – say, Guernica – for free, in a heartbeat. Indeed, thanks to the power of the internets, I could do what was previously impossible and view an annotated version which explains what on earth is going on in that painting. And yet millions of people choose to take the time to visit the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid. Or the National Portrait Gallery. Or the MoMA. And if you asked many of them what specifically they had come to visit, they wouldn’t be able to tell you. They’re not there specifically to clap eyes on one item. They are, in the old terminology, browsing.
So how have Art Galleries – or Museums, or certain kinds of shops, managed to retain a sense of identity independent from their content? I believe the answer lies in a sense of purpose. Purpose is when you take a long, hard look at what you deliver, identify the root cause behind all that delivery, what you were trying to do in the first place, and actually make something out of that cause, and try to satisfy that, rather than just letting the momentum of “same method, same content” pull you along until you become like everyone else.
So if we were to apply this thought process to a channel, what would we find? Channels talk to people en masse. They impart information. They excite the emotions to get their point across. They tell stories with the aim of making us feel something, and through the aggregation of their content they build up a certain vision of the world we live in. All the same essential qualities of Public Service. Public Service activities try and impart thoughts and feelings with people, that ideally lead to action. And they do so to people en masse, in a way that tries to galvanise people together. And And if it happens to entertain, all the better for perceptions of the TV channel. This was the thinking behind Channel 4’s new interactive adventure game blockbuster, The Curfew.
23rd September 10
Posted in media
This is Part I of a two-parter. In tomorrow’s post, James takes a look at what’s already being done to address the provocation he makes here – with an interview with one of the men who’s behind the TV turnaround.
Author: James Mitchell, Planner, BBH London (@jamescmitchell)
Imagine a bath with four very discrete taps: each tap is your access to a very particular supply of water; they cannot be mixed, and you may only turn one tap at a time. This was TV in the twentieth century. In this situation, the pipe and what it carries are basically interchangeable, and your view of a TV channel could be largely made up of the programmes it transmitted. And so, people watched channels – but this idea is crumbling. The perfect storm of several forces is occurring: the multiplication of channels (and the resultant drop in general programming standards), on-demand media via the net, time-shifting and recorded viewing.. they all mean when I go home tonight I’ll be watching nothing but Channel James. If you’re interested, tonight Channel James is probably showing a marathon of streamed Peep Show, a Radio 4 documentary on Russian spying, and my housemate’s bootleg of The Human Centipede. And if any of these things bore me at any point, I can sack the station’s controller and rewrite the schedule. I’m not watching channels, I’m watching programmes.
20th September 10
This is great. Almost too great to be true. But take a look and see what you think. Hot on the heels of Dentsu London’s clever use of the iPad to paint pictures, something altogether more lofi but equally excellent.
Stop motion form and colour, using light painting techniques.
Lighting: Kim Pimmel
Sound: Tron Legacy trailers
From Kim Pimmel’s Vimeo site, more detail:
I’ve been interested in taking my Light Study photo series and evolving them into motion pieces. I shot a lot of footage for a VJ gig for FITC San Francisco. So I edited together those stop motion sequences, mashed up some audio from the Tron Legacy trailers, and out came Light Drive.
The video is stop motion, so every frame is an individually shot photograph. Each photograph is a long exposure photo, with exposures reaching up to 20 seconds in some cases.
To control the lights, I used an Arduino controlled via bluetooth to drive a stepper motor. The stepper motor controls the movements of the lights remotely from Processing.
The light sources include cold cathode case lights, EL wire, lasers and more.
via @finnbarrw (the constant source of the most magical films and special effects)