The Break up, it’s not them it’s us.

This is evidence of my coolest moment. Global Hypercolor T-shirt, oversized for extra kudos. 

This is evidence of my coolest moment. Global Hypercolor T-shirt, oversized for extra kudos. 

We need to talk. No, don’t worry it isn’t about your overuse of the word ‘game-changing’ or your tendency to equate innovation to what you just read in Wired magazine. We need to talk about us. Not a me and you thing, don’t worry about that – we’re solid.

It’s about the kids.

More to the point it is about the future of our industry, our agencies and the role we play in the creative industry. Look there is no easy way of saying this but I think I need to remind you of something. It’s been said before* and by much better people than me but we’ve forgotten.

Okay, I’ll just say it. We’re not cool. There I said it. Don’t worry I’m one of you too. I work in the industry, an industry I’m proud to call home but I’m just as uncool as you are. You might be sitting there drinking your Soy Chai latte and thinking “whatevs, I’m totes cool #Amazeballs” but it’s an important message, one that I think needs an explanation.

The advertising industry produces amazing, witty, clever and frankly sometimes breath taking communications and ideas. We make things that can be cool but that doesn’t make the industry that puts it out inherently cool itself. In our long relationship with the outside world we’ve gone from Madmen, cheeky heroes through to gurus of Marcoms. We’ve felt powerful, we’ve seen the impact and good our industry can do. We’ve let it wash over us, soak us in our own importance and for a while, that was all that was needed.

The brightest and best, the smart and crafty came flocking to us. Follow us, and be shaped to become the stars and darlings of our industry.

Cool by its very nature is ever changing. Cool ages quickly and is replaced by its younger brother ‘cooler’. Only we didn’t change, we still waited for all the best and brightest to come to us, to bash down our doors and join our great industry.

Only now the diverse, weird and wonderful creators of tomorrow chase a different type of cool. They chase down tech companies, start ups and go it alone. Cool is changing at a pace that even I, a fabled millennial, actually have no idea what’s cool.

So that means we need to change to bring in the type of people that can continue to push this industry forward. Let’s be honest, we’ve been lucky. Damn lucky that all the juniors and young creatives that are with us now are here at all. They’re here not because of what our industry is, they’re here despite it. They’ve pushed past our flaws and seen the good in what we can do together. For that I’m truly and utterly grateful for ever junior that steps through the doors. To every young creative, I can’t thank you enough. You make this industry we share amazing.

As a whole though, this industry needs to stop expected to be chased. We need to do some chasing of our own. No, recruiters chasing for us doesn’t count. The odd chat at a university or creative club doesn’t either. We will have to go out there and start finding the creators where they create. Follow their blogs, read their writing, see their short films, listen to their ideas. Then we need to remind them the power of creative advertising, the good it can do not just for brands but for people too. Finding them will be hard but selling to them what we do, that should be the easy bit. We’re ad folk after all.

Then we can fill our offices with creators, makers and collaborators. The real game-changers and the people not just reading Wired but the people who could very well feature in the pages themselves.

It won’t make us cool, we’ve learnt that lesson but together we’ll make some of the smartest, funniest, clever and beautiful advertising that we’ve ever seen this industry make. It’ll be exciting and some of the best work of your career. I promise.

So start together, go high-five and fist bump** your junior members of staff, rejoice that they’ve accepted our kirks and dad-at-the-disco moves and celebrate what’s coming next.

*“Don’t tell my mother I’m in advertising – she thinks I play the piano in a brothel” - Jacques Seguela

**See told you I’m not cool.


I know, its passed peak buzzword territory and now lapping the old hat shores of blog fodder. There has been a ton of articles written about what exactly is content marketing, what it isn’t and how to do it well. You’ve probably seen them all on sites that claim to specialise in ‘content’, the ones with the weird URLS like ‘*’. This I hope will be a tad more interesting, as at the end of it I’m not planning to sell you my snazzy new content marketing e-book.

You might have noticed how I slyly moved from the title of content into content marketing all in the space of a paragraph. So I guess I owe you to first talk about content itself. Content is, as boring as it sounds, the bits and bobs that fill up the internet. No magical insight there. The interesting bit about all this content is that most of it doesn’t come from agencies, brands or companies. In fact a big chunk of the most successful content out there comes from small bands of creators or individuals. Unlike the old media where you needed media agencies, printing houses and a host of other third parties to get messages out there, now you don’t.

Every tool you need to create content is available to the consumer. From cameras to editing software through to free hosting platforms and open source tools. The creators don’t need us anymore. For a lot of agencies, they’re waking up to the fact that some of the brightest and most creative people are now going it alone. Advertising isn’t the shiny bright start of the creative industry, the lure of having access to audiences has diminished. The smart agencies are working harder than ever to reach out to these new creators, going beyond the classic avenues of university graduates and expecting people to come running to them. But for now that can wait and I’ll pick it up with another post in the future.

So, let’s get back on track. Content. Marketing. So what is different from good ol’ marketing? As simple as I can put it – Content Marketing is playing in the same playground as our audience. We create, communicate, make in the same spaces and in the same ways the very audience does.

We can upload a video, like they do. Host a photo, like they do. Create a page, make a blog, tweet out, email, make sites, bots, conversations, like our audience is capable of.

This means two things for me. One we don’t influence culture as much as we have to be part of the culture we want to play with. We let it influence us, shape us a little and give up a bit of our ego when thinking of ourselves as master communicators. We’re smart but so is our audience. Let them influence us and help redefine what we think a great advert can be.

Secondly it means our life is harder. If we want to go play in that content playground we have to remember we have no right to expect that we’re wanted there. We have to add value to this. The value exchange. What value are we offering to the audience and not only that what are we doing for our brands? If we’re turning up with the weight of a brand and agency behind us, the audience we’re in will have expectations. This is where the power of advertising still lies, still has that sheen. We’re the curators of value between brands and audiences. Brands can speak for themselves and audiences can respond directly but we are the ones that can speak for both sides and craft the value between the two so everyone can benefit.

So next time you think of creating content for brands, stop thinking of how to reach the audience but start thinking of how can you be part of the culture, not starting conversations but curating what’s out there. Not starting with a presentation but beginning by listening.

Then hopefully you’ll not just have good marketing but great content too.

Originally featured on

Have a listen to this.

Take your headphones off but keep listening. 

Music, podcasts and audio books are all fantastic and I enjoy spending time listening to all of them but, there is always a but in these types of posts, I don’t put my headphones on when I’m commuting. 

I travel to work like most Londoners, on an array of public transport. Its stuffy, packed, often noisy and a fantastic place to observe. A huge part of observation is listening. Listening to conversations, hearing people talk about their lives. Even an quiet tube can be revealing. Listen out of the tiny sounds coming from other people’s headphones. 

What are they listening to? Where are they going? Where do they work? It can trigger all sorts of ideas and insights. Working in advertising and marketing, it is easy to think we know an audience just from paper - we don’t. We need to interact and really see people to understand them. 

Whenever you get a brief try to imagine the real end user. Not just a persona but dive deeper than that. Try to get to understand your audience, care about them, respect them. We want to create something that enhances or compliments their day. We can only do this when you spend more time observing and engaging with the world around us. 

Take the time to truly observe a situation, understand someone, train yourself and hone in. There are always chances to practice. Every long queue, every latr train is a chance to really stop. To watch and to listen.

So next time you’re tempted to pop on your favourite soundtrack from a 1980s cringe fest (we all do that right? Not just me?) , stop. Take it all in around you. 

Why every creative needs to think of the pub more.

How long does it take to explain your idea? Do you have to grab several pieces of paper with intricate scamps on them, or play several clips from YouTube to get the idea across? Then stop. I want you to think of the pub.

I have a process at work, one that many of the creatives I’ve worked will have experienced, called ‘The Pub Line’. This isn’t quite as exciting as queuing up several drinks at the bar, it is something much simpler.

It comes down to this. Can you imagine explaining your idea to someone you’ve just met at the local without having to waffle on or pull out examples? Does it still make sense, does it resonate with them? Do they understand?

The Pub Line Creative. Illustration by Daniel Evans 

The Pub Line Creative. Illustration by Daniel Evans 

Many moons ago, long before the rise of wetransfer and dropbox I had the chance to work on FedEx. The agency I was working for came up with the idea of FedEx creating a digital delivery service. Here ‘The Pub Line’ was ‘Fedex can now deliver digital downloads across the web just as safely as they do physical goods around the world’ - this was the whole idea all in one handy sentence. It is one that is easy for anyone to remember and to ponder on.

Another would be when I worked on Skype – ‘To show you can call a land line on Skype I put a guy in the middle of nowhere on camera that anyone can call’

It didn’t require and fancy visual or detailed plan. Those things are there to enhance an idea, not to be the core of one.  

Plus in today’s age of face moving campaigns it means you can include your entire campaign message in that single sentence. In a time hungry, choice rich world, that can do wonders for your brand.

This is nothing new, the ‘idea on the fag packet’ is an industry classic. And of course, the ‘Elevator Pitch’. However I think we’ve mistaken these techniques as being about delivering big ideas. ‘The Pub Line’ could be a big idea but it is more than that. It is grounding the idea, it is making simple, stripping it down to its core.  Big ideas are ones that resonate with people, ones that seem to come from universal human truths. So this, like many other ways is about testing and refining what you’ve created.

Start by asking yourself what is it about the idea that only your brand could do? What element is the most important? What feeling are you aiming to create? Imagine your idea out in the open, picture how others would talk about it. What is the undeniable human truth that connects with people? Use these elements to help you get your 'pub line'. 

If you can build an idea, one that just when explained in its simplest way, that still grabs you then you’ve got a solid, powerful idea.

So this is a call to arms, for creatives to think about the pub. To imagine going up to someone there and telling them the idea that’s bubbling in your brain. To nail that perfect pitch the simplest way... Then, and only then I think a pint or two is called for. 

What are you building that is made to last?

This beautiful watch has just gone on sale at MoMa. It is and I quote "Distinctively Uniform Wares, the 104 Series watch has an uncluttered, straightforward design inspired by the simplicity and utilitarian functionality of mid-century British factory wall clocks". Did the original designer of the wall clock ever imagine he was making an icon? 

No, he was building something that first solved a problem, how to tell the time clearly without clutter. You can't ever truly know what you're making is made to last or stand out for generations but if you design it to solve a problem, to be the efficient and useful to the end user, then you stand a chance. 

Great design starts with cutting away, editing down then building on top. You can end up with the most complex of creations but each step must be simple, useful and serve a purpose. When you follow these rules you won't be designing a trend but a statement that will last. 

There is space of course for all sorts of creative, and I do believe that sometimes the best solution is a non permanent one but everyone should aim for one piece of iconic work in their portfolios. 

Your Oculus Rift idea isn't innovation.

Okay a bit of a clickbait headline, I'll give you that but stick with me. Right now across the globe there will be creatives, technologists and clients all chomping at the bit to use the latest bit of technology. Now while technology is often innovate or exciting it alone will not automatically make your idea itself innovative. 

Sounds simple enough? But so often you'll see people presenting a piece of tech or new platform without a core idea behind it. They just want to be the first, it is a PR race. Which is fine. There is nothing wrong with doing something first as an experiment or PR win. There is room for that in the industry - heck it is some agencies entire business model. The problem is when agencies believe that this alone is what makes them pioneers. It becomes the de facto way for innovation. This is dangerous as it means that agencies could be missing out on some truly fantastic ideas. Too blindsided by one path way to innovation. 

There are some fantastic agencies out there that are building innovative approaches to business models, services, research and tech. From Karmarama's approach business to AKQA's approach to tech - these agencies build out from a core innovation principle of solving a problem or making something better. Then they build on that with technology, infrastructure and whatever else is needed.

So my message is, yes play with technology but treat it as a tool in your kit. Don't start with Instagram, Oculus rift or whatever else comes next but start with your audience and how you can surprise and delight them. Then find a solution to do that, this is where you look at what platform or technology can help you achieve this. 

As always start with a human truth, an idea that you can build on. A platform idea that can help your message go anywhere in any medium. Then you're idea will last far beyond technology. 

Think back to Secondlife if you want a reminder of what happens to brands when they just use technology without an idea. 

This Wolf Mantra

Too often I see fantastic creative people that have let themselves slip into a world where they let others define what is and isn’t creative. Often it is work that seems to define what productive creative is, puts artificial limits on how we express ourselves. Sometimes that is defined by client or by budget but very often it is creative people limiting themselves. 

We should never let our job limit anything we do, our careers should enhance us, make us feel empowered. We work in a fantastic time, the world is bubbling with ideas and now more than ever the ability to make those ideas happen.

So if you fine yourself limited then step back and reconnect with what you define as creative. Then find the role that allows you to be that.