When work and fun collide

24 Jul

I’ve recently returned from one of the biggest work weeks of my life… Shooting the latest TV campaign for my brand. TVC shoots are always fairly intense, but this one was especially so. We had an incredibly entertaining, yet difficult to film script, that merged action and product shots in every scene. We also had that other little thing called ‘expectation’ in that my brand has an enviable track record of memorable, award winning creative made by my predecessors, so there is always that desire to make sure the latest work lives up to, or hopefully exceeds, consumers expectations. But enough about the campaign, you’ll be sure to see it from September, and hopefully when you see it not only do you love it, but you can understand my points above.

What really struck me through this shoot was that despite the complexity, and flying half way around the world, dealing with jet lag then jumping in to three 14 hour plus filming days, when I think back about the experience I would describe it as fun.

Now no doubt my poor wife who was looking after our two kids (one teething) plus also managing open houses and ultimately selling our home (thanks toots!), looked at me jetting off to an exotic location, eating out etc and would think ‘you’re damn right it was fun!’ But as anyone who has ever shot any piece of film will attest, these things always sound far more fun when you’re not the one actually there.

Sure there are some good moments (usually involving catering) but on the whole this is an incredibly stressful and often arduous process. Not only are you constantly mindful of how much of the company purse you are spending on this thing (and making sure you balance what the agency, the director and more importantly nowadays the pre research think you need to achieve), but then there is all the time involved in what my old firefighter buddies call the ‘hurry up and wait’ – setting up a shot, multiple takes, packing up and moving to new locations. Yes there are often some exciting takes, but I often leave a shoot having greater appreciation of why actors find solstice in a bottle, pill or just go slightly loopy – we all love watching the finished product, but man they go through a lot of grief getting to this point.

So back to the title of this post. What I found after this shoot, was that despite such a grueling schedule, on the go from pre dawn till late in to the night, whilst there were naturally times where fatigue would set in, I found myself having a lot of fun during the shoot. Granted we did a LOT of pre-production preparation for this shoot, and that will always make the actual shoot a far smoother process, but arguably what is just as important for a great shoot, is having incredibly strong relationships with all those on the shoot. Not just your suit, or the agency producer (this is a given), but ideally the creatives too. By having a greater understanding of who they are, what makes them tick and what’s important to them (and vice versa), not only will you enjoy spending more time with them, but your relationship will rapidly improve to a position where you instinctively know where each other is coming from, and you can cut out all the wasted time in second guessing each other. From what I’ve seen the best work comes from those relationships where both client and agency are truly pulling in the same direction, having the understanding and respect for each others opinion, but more so the confidence to freely speak their mind, and this will only come once you have a strong personal relationship.

It makes sense when you think about it. You often spend more time with your agency than you do your family, or even internal team members, and on a shoot often you will have long stints of time together, waiting for a shot to be lit or in transit from location to location. If you have a transactional relationship with the agency I can imagine the shoot would feel even longer and more arduous than normal, but if you can elevate the relationship to one where you enjoy each others company and have a greater understanding of what drives each other, you’re really starting to get to a powerful position. An old boss once summed it up really well for me, referring those times at school or uni, when even though you may have been under the pump, given you were working together with your best friends, you were inevitably having a lot of fun and as a result it never really felt like hard work. The contrast was those times when you were feeling isolated, or not enjoying the company of team mates, and very quickly it felt like you were swimming through treacle.

As my three year old son is learning, we can’t have fun every second of the day, but by having strong relationships with all of those that we work with, we will be far more likely to laugh at those times when it’s one of those ‘laugh or cry’ moments. And when you think about it, life is short, we spend far too long with our workmates and agencies vs our families, so we may has well and try to have some fun on the way. Hell you might even find, that like in the school example, by having some fun on the way, it starts to feel a little less like work and you’ll see this result in some great world.

Maybe I’m lucky working in beer vs, say toilet paper, but ultimately fun can be found in the most odd places, so seek them out, and reap the rewards…

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Lifting the mysterious ‘client’ veil

29 Jun

Thanks to some recent work I’ve done in the tech sphere I was asked to speak at an AIMIA forum, talking about ‘digital agencies of the future’.

Seeing the room was full of incredibly smart tech heads, whilst I initially felt like an imposter, I soon realized that not being so caught up in the tech world was actually a strength.

The topic of my talk was all based on a brand guys perspective to the process of developing a new app, and thankfully the crowd seemed to enjoy my simplistic approach, but more so I noticed how interested they were to actually see and speak directly to a client.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Actually asking the person you’re developing something for face to face what it is they want. Not second guessing what you think they want, nor having mixed messages from varied conversations from client, to suit, to producer until it finally gets to the person that actually has to do the work.

What struck me in this forum was how rare this is in the tech space. I was surprised to see that the stereotype of tech heads being locked away in a dark room being fed Red Bull and pizza seems pretty much on the money, and the industry as a whole is suffering. And the view that the developers had of us as clients was again pretty stereotypical (latte sipping wankers who want it all and won’t listen to any of the objections from the tech experts) but again, a fairly good assessment.

One of the points I covered in my talk was that the tech world need to stop looking at itself as a unique, new field, and rather look at themselves as just developers of another ‘thing’.

For me as a client, I look at digital development in the same way as any other form of advertising development, be that tv, radio, outdoor or press. Yes there are many differences with digital, but at the end of the day the rules a the same. I will see an opportunity, provide a brief to address this consumer need, and then develop the campaign in line with my required budget & time plan. So to this end the role a digital producer is the same as a traditional ‘old world’ tv producer. Find agencies that can deliver to the brief on time and on budget. The same logic applies to the account service team be that digital or traditional ATL.

As a client what I have found is that this isn’t happening as well as it can at the moment; in fact it’s actually the polar opposite. Digital is being seen as this incredibly scary, complicated, expensive and speculative process and as a result clients are being scared off, and seeking refuge in the safety blanket of traditional ATL areas.

So what do I see the challenges for the digital agency of the future? Below would be my top 3 things to address:

1. Make the clients life easy – realizing that most clients will have a myriad of tasks to get through every day, the best in class digital development would see the clients day not being spent wading through a complex world of wire frames, APIs, sockets and all other things that we don’t actually understand what they are, or what they do. This leads me on to number two…

2. Keep it simple and speak plain English – again as marketeers we love acronyms more than most, however what we don’t love is not having a clue what is actually being said when discussing tech development. I’m not sure if it’s a case of developers being so entrenched in their tech world that they just become blasé with their own language, or worse they are feeling the need to look smart in front of the client, but either way it’s the wrong way to go about things. As a client I’d much per being able to understand exactly what is being talked about, and more so, by both speaking plain English we might actually reduce some of the mixed messages that often occur.

3. Don’t be afraid to say no, and stick to your guns – I’ve found that especially in the ‘agile model’ of development (note I heard that constantly being referred to yesterday but had no idea what it meant so forgive me if I’m off the mark!), where there is a new field or a range of unknowns, developers are too quick to fold to pressure and agree to unrealistic goals, and this is the biggest factor in things going wrong.
As an example, clients will regularly have a totally unrealistic deadline in the developers mind, based on not understanding (or being confused) by the digital development process. Alarmingly, rather than giving the client definitive reasons why it can’t happen (and sticking to it), developers often agree to ‘try’ – whilst knowing full well it will fail down the track. As this repeatedly happens, the client will start to get a feeling that the developer if crying wolf with regards to timings and therefore continue to push and challenge their recommendations in order to hit the timelines.
The end result is the client feeling like the project is on track (but being frustrated the developer made it so hard) and the developer, being burnt out, frustrated and preparing for things to go wrong, almost to prove to the client that they knew best.
Then, as the product is released, as the developer probably expected, there will be issues. And when these issues arise, this is when the real fun starts and the client goes on the rampage to the developer blaming them for all the pain this has caused them. Contrast this to the world of tv production. If I want my ad to be on air by September 1st the producer and production agency will very clearly tell me if this is possible, and more so if it’s unrealistic, what I need to sacrifice to hit the date. By having such a definitive answer, no doubt based on years of past learnings I know that this is the truth., and I won’t challenge their professional recommendation. Contrast this to the earlier example and you’ll see the importance of being clear with expectations and not budging. The worst thing an agency could do, is agree to something they don’t believe in, in order at they keep the contract and make the client happy, only to have things turn pear shaped down the line, and destroy any faith the client originally had in you as a developer.

So as I said, with only a little involvement in this incredibly exciting area, these are the key things I’d focus on if I was a developer and planning on sending my kids to private school in the future.

Hope you can take something from it…

What is it that we do as marketers?

22 Jun

As marketers I’m sure we’ve all been out and had people ask you that question:

So what exactly do you do?

Ok. How long do we have? Will they really understand? Do I want to excite them to pursue their dream of becoming a marketer? How long do I really want to be stuck in this conversation?

Obviously depending on our role in this great area, the answer could be as diverse as the number of misconceptions that exist. Sure I could tell them about being chained to the desk analyzing excel spreadsheets, budgets, sales performance and gate papers, but let’s not put them to sleep, so yeah let’s confirm what they want to hear:

Well you know those ads you see on the tele, or billboards, or maybe even that Facebook thing? Well, that’s what I do

Now let’s not try to justify how stressful and draining it is to make thee ‘sexy’ elements of being a marketer, let’s just see their eyes light up.

Whilst that’s good for social gatherings, what I really struggle with, is answering “what can I bring to the table to help out family and friends?”

I’m sure if you’re like me you have many mates who have a ‘trade’ and in addition to no HECS debt, these people are always in high demand; need a drain looked in to, have some rotting wood, car on the fritz you give these guys a call. Then they pop over, do their magic, you provide them the customary slab of beer, share a few, then go your separate ways, both happy the exchange.

Contrast this situation with most marketers and you realize that applying our craft to help out someone isn’t so easy. More so, especially for those of us who have the good fortune to work on big brands, with big budgets, these often provide a safety blanket for us. Sure we can brief out a cracking advertising idea, or new media solution, or packaging option and the list goes on. However this isn’t so easy when helping out mates for free.

Then yesterday I had a call from my brother, who runs an amazing pool business and he had a few questions for me. Naturally I was chuffed that he wanted my help (and glad it didn’t involve digging a concrete pool shell in the rain as I feared it would be), and whilst I firstly thought that the wasn’t much I could do without my big safe budgets, I had an epiphany.

What we actually do as marketers is to think. That’s right. It’s pretty simple, but isn’t our role really about applying logic to problems, then applying leanings from past projects to come up with solutions to help address the problems. More so it’s about helping to shape the thinking of others. Getting them to change from doing what they were going to, and do what we want them to do. So in this case, help my brother to think about getting people to question their current pool quote and give him their business.

After this realization I felt great in the knowledge that after all these years we do have a lot to add in terms of mates contra. Sure it might not be tangible at first sight, but the gift we provide is helping to shape thinking leading to ongoing success for others. Simple as that.


Footnotes:
1. Luckily I’m pretty handy on the tools so haven’t had to give out too much advice
2. No cash was received from Minke pools for this article (yet!)
3. I wrote this blog in my car whilst waiting for a meeting, stupidly leaving my ignition on causing my battery to go flat, so clearly I still have a lot to learn about thinking!

It’s not fair, but it’s the facts.

18 Jun

So today the press has gone in to a massive, self indulgent tail spin regarding the proposed changes at Fairfax, regarding the future of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. Don’t get me wrong, any industry facing the prospect of 1,900 job losses is never a good thing, and this on top of recent mass job losses doesn’t bode well for the state of the economy.

However… I look at this ‘future of Fairfax’ plan to actually be very logical and a step that should have been made a long time ago. More so the decisions that are being forced to be made now, whilst tough, are the bold, future orientated decisions that will actually give the company a chance of surviving.

Seriously when was the last time any of you brought a newspaper? And when did you ever enjoy the experience of a cumbersome broadsheet, unless it’s a weekend, and you have your whole dining room table to lay out the mess of paper? Or when was the last time you actually had time to read every news item, and when do you want to sit down and read a story that is 12 hours or more old? Not me.

But, when was the last time you turned on your tablet, or clicked on line in your five minutes downtime to find out the latest news? Or the time you read an article that was of specific interest to you that you found when researching it online, then read it when you wanted it? Or joined in to the conversation with others who shared or challenged your opinion.

I know which form of news I prefer.

Obviously the press has a massive vested interest in jumping to the defense of the unfortunate Fairfax staff; ultimately they’re all worried about the writing on the wall (or online) for them. More so, they too know the dire state of traditional, out dated media; continued results such as 20%+ year on year declines, point to one thing – unemployment, and once great companies will join the likes of Kodak, Nokia, Borders and the like as just another name on the list of things my kids will never know about.

Yet the decisions made today by Greg Hywood and the board, whilst no doubt incredibly tough professionally and personally, are purely an example of the evolutionary pain in setting you up to survive the future. I’m sure in the dark ages when advertising alone didn’t cover the costs and people had to pay for news there was outcry, just as there is now, however, like all things, if the product is good enough, people will pay for it.

I think there’s a lot to be excited for at Fairfax. I think their iPad app for The Age is first rate, and if as the company announced today, in future I need to pay for it, I’m happy to do so. Seriously Rupert and co at News have taken the first hard decision erecting the pay wall around The Herald Sun, and if people will pay for a digital pass to see the photos of Grant Hackett smashing up his apartment, or read the latest exclusive about Shane and Liz, then if as they like to think, The Age reader is a smarter, more contemporary reader, then this should not be an issue.

As I’ve heard all day, no doubt reading straight off the release from the union briefing to all the journos “if you want quality news, you’ve got to pay for it”. Yes, you do. And this is exactly what Fairfax are doing.

So whilst there will be some pain in the short term, I think there’s a lot to look forward to, and I hope those in the industry realize that with proliferation of news and media channels, quality will still stand out and command a premium. So keep writing and reporting as you do, but embrace the technology. You’re all standing at a really important junction. Moving from carving in rock, to printing on paper, to .com’s and now apps, we will always seek out quality news, and it’s only a matter of making sure it’s delivered in the most appropriate way for the reader.

As I watch my 3 year old son navigate my iPad with ease, I think that if I was in the news game, I’d sure as hell what to make sure that I’m building something that is going to carry him through his life, vs something designed for my grandmother.

Evolve or die. It’s that simple.

“Sh!t, or get off the pot!”

16 Jun

I was recently in a meeting, where a fairly important decision needed to be made. We had all the right people in the room to make the call; some of the best marketing and advertising minds I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. Together we had more knowledge on the matter than anyone else, and importantly we all knew what we needed to achieve in terms of the end game.

Despite all of this, we couldn’t actually make the decision we needed to; something was holding us back.

Now I’m pretty sure this isn’t just something limited to my workplace, or more so the marketing industry. Rather what we’re seeing is an increasing need to to quantify everything, and prove the future, before a decision can be made.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m totally supportive of consumer research and validation as a process to help make decisions, but to my mind expecting that this research can actually make the decisions is a leap too far.

But more importantly, isn’t the reason we as managers are paid our salaries, is to ultimately take all the available inputs and then most importantly, review this with the benefit of our past experience and professional judgement to actually make the decisions?

What I fear is that big businesses are increasingly slowing down or avoiding decision making, trying to quantify every little decision before making the call to ensure its overall success. In the process we are missing the opportunity to be first to market, or for the campaigns to be as good as they could be, and as such the overall creativity and power of big business is failing.

Contrast this with start ups and more entrepreneurial businesses who have the freedom and confidence to trust their instincts; trial and learn with their initiatives and as a result they are winning.

Take a recent example; look at how Kodak with 8,000 workers and years of trust and equity in their brand dies a rapid death vs Instagram that was started by 3 uni students with a freedom to try, and now not only are they incredibly cashed up thanks to Zuckerberg, but they had one of the most popular apps of 2011 and are now becoming the default for photography.

Yes we have different pressures, big business with share holders seeking to see continued top and bottom line growth and dividends vs start ups operating with lower overheads and no real pressure to succeed over night. But surely this model seems to be broken, or at least slightly cracked. As a share holder I think I’d prefer to be investing in those companies that are going to be around for the long term future (when I plan to be drawing on to my super) vs trying to secure an unsustainable dividend today.

So perhaps it’s about time we all start trusting ourselves to make the call a bit more. Surely the only worse thing than making a bad decision, is not actually making one at all…. As a wise marketing director once told me, “shit or get off the pot!”. Hard to argue with that…

The power of a story

28 May

I’ve recently had the good fortune to spend two weeks with the family in beautiful Bali. I always love being able to take time out like this for two reasons. Firstly and most importantly it gives you unparalleled quality time with the family, and with two kids under 3, I just love being ale to play with them, watching them grow and learn. The second thing I love, but in my day to day life really struggle to do, is sitting down with a good book reading for interest vs necessity, and I used this time to finally finish reading Steve Jobs’ biography.

Being able to indulge in both of these things over the break, I noticed one common theme, all around the idea of story telling.

As most people know, Steve Jobs was a massive believer in the importance of telling a story, vs ‘hiding behind PowerPoint’ and had great success through starting presentations with the simple “let me tell you a story” line to instantly capture the listeners attention. Furthermore the way he summarized PowerPoint really struck a chord for me:

I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking,” Jobs later recalled. “People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.

Clearly we’ve all been in presentation after presentation where our eyelids suddenly feel like they’ve got barbells hanging off them, and usually PowerPoint is the culprit. Contrast this with those really compelling stories you’ve been told; those great orators who more often than not have no words on a slide, but can powerfully get their story across, and you instantly find yourself hanging off every word, ready to act. Clearly if we’re trying to get people to buy in to our plans, there is lot to be said for telling a story.

The second event that connected this for me, was through reading stories to my son every day. Thankfully my little man is an absolute book worm, and it is rare he goes anywhere without a book. Also on this trip we celebrated his 3rd birthday and as a result there were many new books for him to read of an evening before bed.

What really struck me was as I watched him one day sitting down reading one of his new Thomas books, and whilst he can’t read yet, as he flipped through the pages, running his fingers along the words he was telling the story, this after hearing the story only a few times. Again an example of  the power of great story telling  in getting your story to really land with your audience.

So as I sit here on the plane back from sun and family play time, with Hamish peacefully sleeping on my lap (no doubt dreaming of Thomas and co.), and think about my world of presentations, stakeholders, cross functional teams and the occasional SPO’s (Sales Prevention Officers) I must remember to embrace story telling more. Stuff the PowerPoint template, I’m going free form on this one and going to make sure at every opportunity I’m telling a story to get to my desired outcome vs just ‘presenting’ something. Hell I might even bring out my Fat Controller voice when faced with resistance… “really useful engines don’t argue Thomas!”

Long live the story.

Video (not so) Ezy?

30 Apr

So on a cold Saturday night, kids in bed and a few wines in to the system, I looked over and asked wifey if she’d like to get a movie. Sure, why not. About 1 minute later, there we are, having not moved an inch, already watching the film.

I stopped and thought about this for a little bit, reflecting on how crazy the old process was, and how technology, in the form of Apple TV had finally put the last shovel of dirt on the coffin of another business model that didn’t evolve.

Think about the same example of my Saturday night, some 12 months ago. Firstly I decide it’s time for a movie. Then I think ‘can I drive after a beer and a few reds?’ Then if I can, I drive 5-10 minutes to the video store, find a park, check if I’ve got cash, try to find my membership card (or remember my first dogs middle name as a backup password), run through the rain and then finally get in to the store. Then the real fun starts. Having to physically walk through the shop to try to be inspired about what to watch, literally having to judge by the cover, and then if interested flip over and read a tattered old synopsis. Then, just hope like hell that the chosen film is available, and usually post 6pm this is a rarity. So instead you grab the latest Reece Witherspoon romcom and trek home, knowing not only have you wasted $7.50 and about half an hour, but once you’ve watched this drivel, you’ve then got to remember to make sure you get back off you butt the following day to drive back to the store and return it, or risk a fine for the same price as another nights rental.

Seriously, I feel tired just thinking about it now. No wonder Blockbuster, Video Ezy and co are already or will soon join Starbucks, Borders and Kodak as a brand that my kids will never know of. More so they will listen to me recount stories like this in the same way I do when I hear about the milkman and horse and carts!

So happily, still on my couch, a brilliant piece of technology now provides access to all the movies, TV series, Youtube videos, Podcasts and everything else in between that I could ever want. With connected TV’s continuing to increase their household penetration this will only get easier and easier, and hence the old world will disappear without a trace. The only thing that needs to be addressed is eliminating the crazy premium we pay in Australia for Apple digital content, and I’m pleased to read this is currently being investigated (although I’m not holding my breath for a solution with the current federal government issues).

So since my ‘couch epiphany’ I’m looking at all my purchasing through this same lens, and seeing a few more categories and brands that need to wake up and smell the internet. Maybe those text books talking about marketing myopia were actually on to something….