The Expendables?

Interesting article in the Harvard Business Review (thanks, J).

It says that the executives who do the most damage when they leave are the internally-facing ones, such as the heads of HR, Finance and Production. Those who are externally-facing, such as Account Directors and and ECDs, are easier to replace without doing significant damage to the running of the agency.

This is because the former group knows the firm-specific structures that can keep an agency operating in an effective way. But does it also suggest that the days where an account would follow a CD or suit out of the door are long gone? With corporate takeovers and international realignments it must be harder for any one person to hold the key to an agency account these days and perhaps that, as much as anything else, has reduced the importance of the CD or account man.

I recall those days (all 500 or so of them) where JWT London ‘managed’ without an ECD. It seemed crazy at the time, but the truth was they kept on trucking (and presumably saved themselves several hundred grand in wages in the process). It used to be true that an agency could not exist without creative work, but anyone who’s worked in a big shop in the last ten years must have noticed that clients now spend plenty of cash on brand audits and the like, pushing planning up the totem pole to further reduce the importance of creativity to the bottom line. Many big clients also seem able to last a ridiculously long time without actually producing any actual ads.

When I was at university I did a month’s work experience at a now-defunct agency off Soho Square. At some point one of the most senior account directors explained to me that the creative department was the only one without which an agency could not function, and must therefore be serviced and protected for the good of the company.

Perhaps that’s no longer quite so true.

What makes a woman talk shite?

Here’s an ad that is such a colossal puddle of fucked-up nonsense that it made me stop in my tracks:

(That’s obviously the Japanese Chinese version. Here’s the English VO.)

What makes a woman beautiful? Happiness and energy.

Come on? Who among you guessed those two traits? Happiness, maybe, but energy? Energy is what makes a woman beautiful? They couldn’t think of an abstract noun that trumped energy? How drunk were they?

Happiness is the most attractive form of beauty; the one that comes from deep within.

But how does that then relate to Lancôme Rénegerie? I appreciate that it ‘visibly tightens all facial zones’, but will the happiness you get from that benefit really overcome the misery you feel inside when you realise you’ve just succumbed to the tissue-thin wankerama of a multinational cosmetics company?

This is what makes people remember you.

…said the Oscar-winning actress who starred in the second-biggest film of all time and married someone called Ned Rocknroll.

I know that taking the piss out of cosmetics ads is too much like shooting a whale in a teacup, but this one seems particularly odd/lazy/bollocksy.

Backing singers/starting an agency

Last week I watched the documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom:

It’s about all the great backing singers who supported the biggest acts of the last fifty years. Some were famous for taking on that role, while others were unknown despite being the real (but uncredited) singers on lots of big hits.

It was interesting for lots of reasons but for me the point that stood out concerned the balance between having a lot of talent and remaining in the background. There was a constant tussle for some of them about why they weren’t fronting the bands they were singing in. They were often better singers, but they had to stay at the back while someone with less ability got all the glory. Several tried to break out as a solo artist, but none seemed to make much of a success of it. (Obviously there’s more to being a star than just a good singing voice, and that’s what many of them discovered.)

That got me thinking about the mentality it takes to start your own agency. What mindset is required to give up the steady pay cheque and perhaps remortgage your home for a chance at running your own place?

When I was part of the team that started Lunar BBDO in 2005 we still had our salaries coming in from AMV, so the situation was never under the same risk as a real start up, but what I got was the invigoration and excitement of having the buck stop (to some degree) with me. Being somewhat in charge, deciding what accounts to take on, who to hire, what work to present etc. was really enjoyable, and if you haven’t experienced that I recommend moving things in that direction until you do.

But I never had the inclination to create a proper start up. I get the impression that those people are driven by something else, at the core of which must be the feeling that you can do it better that the rest. In many ways it’s the next logical step after proving yourself in some kind of high level position, but many people can simply keep going within their current agency or network. To feel like you need to step outside those strictures must take a different perspective entirely.

From the outside, the benefits appear to be: not having a boss; the possibility of making the kind of money you just can’t make as an employee; the chance to learn from a fascinating life experience; the opportunity to see if your suspicions about how the agency set up can be improved are correct; possible fame; freedom (of one kind); and a bigger sense of satisfaction in the successes that have been won with more risk and effort.

The downsides appear to be: lack of security; all-consuming hours (at the start, at least); and the ball-ache of running a company (regulations etc.).

So the good bits seem to outweigh the bad, but if that’s the case then why don’t more people do it? I suppose one significant stumbling block is having to find a bunch of people with whom you’d be happy to step off a cliff, and that’s not always easy.

Have you started an agency? Have I missed out the real reason you decided to go it alone? How has it worked out? Do you regret it? And if you haven’t done it, would you like to? What’s stopping you?

Hey Joe, I got the news tonight well, should I laugh or should I cry or should I stay and fight? It’s the weekend.

Bogie and Bacall show Edward R. Murrow round their home.

Russian wedding photos (thanks, J).

And some depressing home offices (thanks again, J).

Mesmeric stupidity (thanks, T).

Great site (thanks, T).

Outtakes from Abbey Road cover shoot (thanks, J).

Doc on the Despecialised Edition of Star Wars:

Scorsese’s 39 foreign language films to see before you die:

That looks like a dick (thanks, D).

25th anniversary of Do The Right Thing (thanks, A):

Charles and Ray Eames debut their lounge chair:

Hey Now Hank Kingsley’s Larry Sanders stories.

How music formats changed over the last 30 years (thanks, M).

Some very good writing in this very funny Botham pisstake (thanks, M).

Ten films that can teach you everything you need to know about cinematography.

Magician ‘sells’ cop weed (although I think this is set up; thanks, J):

Herzog on creativity

Here’s an excellent article on Werner Herzog and his approach to creativity.

Some highlights:

The bad films have taught me most about filmmaking. Seek out the negative definition. Sit in front of a film and ask yourself, “Given the chance, is this how I would do it?” It’s a never-ending educational experience, a way of discovering in which direction you need to take your own work and ideas.

I find that quite interesting because I often wonder about the effect ‘good’ or ‘bad’ influences can have on your work. Should you only experience excellence so that the best ingredients are going into your cake, or, as Werner suggests, is there something beneficial about watching crap because it helps you work out what mistakes to avoid? In addition, the very best work can leave one intimidated and disheartened, while watching/reading rubbish can make you think ‘I can do better than that’ or ‘If shit like that can get made I should really finish my book as it’s much better’.

Prepare yourself: there is never a day without a sucker punch. At the same time, be pragmatic and learn how to develop an understanding of when to abandon an idea. Follow your dreams no matter what, but reconsider if they can’t be realized in certain situations. A project can become a cul-de-sac and your life might slip through your fingers in pursuit of something that can never be realized. Know when to walk away.

To what extent should you follow your dreams? At what point does a compromise become the straw that breaks the camel’s back, where your ‘dream’ has become something else? So if you want a number one single is it OK that it happens by dressing up as a cabbage and singing the Tweenies theme song? Is a number two single OK? What if your dream changes along the way? Is that compromise or a realistic reappraisal of the situation?

What makes me rich is that I am welcomed almost everywhere. I can show up with my films and am offered hospitality, something you could never achieve with money alone… For years I have struggled harder than you can imagine for true liberty, and today am privileged in the way the boss of a huge corporation never will be.

So what is the definition of success? I look at the recent example of Jose Mourinho calling Arsene Wenger a ‘specialist in failure’: by one definition Mourinho is right because he defines success as the winning of trophies. But someone else might say that the building of an entire club and culture, moving into a massive new stadium in financial health and playing attractive football might be another definition of success. Equally, one might say that joining a rich excellent club and spending many millions making it even better, then winning tournaments against much poorer clubs would not come under many people’s definitions of success; whereas taking a poor, unfancied club to a trophy against a very rich one (Wigan v Man City in last year’s FA Cup, for example) might be a proper definition of success. Set your own goalposts.

The problem isn’t coming up with ideas, it is how to contain the invasion. My ideas are like uninvited guests. They don’t knock on the door; they climb in through the windows like burglars who show up in the middle of the night and make a racket in the kitchen as they raid the fridge. I don’t sit and ponder which one I should deal with first. The one to be wrestled to the floor before all others is the one coming at me with the most vehemence. I have, over the years, developed methods to deal with the invaders as quickly and efficiently as possible, though the burglars never stop coming. You invite a handful of friends for dinner, but the door bursts open and a hundred people are pushing in. You might manage to get rid of them, but from around the corner another fifty appear almost immediately… Finishing a film is like having a great weight lifted from my shoulders. It’s relief, not necessarily happiness. But you relish dealing with these “burglars.” I am glad to be rid of them after making a film or writing a book. The ideas are uninvited guests, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t welcome.

The first point, about the onslaught of ideas, is a great one. Someone once said to me, ‘A lot of trains come into the station. You don’t have to get on all of them’. But how do you decide which ones are worthy of your attention? And what happens if you get it wrong? I love Werner’s analogy of wrestling them all to the ground so they become manageable, but that can be a different and difficult process every time. The other point, that the end of this process is a relief rather than a cause for celebration, was echoed by Alphoso Cuaron when I asked him what it was like to finish making Gravity. To me this backs up the idea that it’s not the end of the rainbow that’s the cause for happiness, it’s the beginning. Then again, anything can be a cause for happiness if you choose to look at it in the right way.

When I write, I sit in front of the computer and pound the keys. I start at the beginning and write fast, leaving out anything that isn’t necessary, aiming at all times for the hard core of the narrative. I can’t write without that urgency. Something is wrong if it takes more than five days to finish a screenplay. A story created this way will always be full of life.

That reminds me of a quote I heard about writing: if your first draft isn’t shit you’re not writing fast enough.

It would never occur to me… I work steadily and methodically, with great focus. There is never anything frantic about how I do my job; I’m no workaholic. A holiday is a necessity for someone whose work is an unchanged daily routine, but for me everything is constantly fresh and always new. I love what I do, and my life feels like one long vacation.

Confucius: ‘Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’.

Media Arts Lab Takes the emmy


An Emmy in the office about ten minutes ago.

Last year it was a Cannes Grand Prix, this year we won an award that I think trumps that.

Yes, the Emmy is only open to American ads, but they give out around 20 CGPs a year these days, so they’re kind of losing their lustre. And besides, an Emmy is a proper award people outside of the industry have heard of. Big stars and big shows win Emmys, and if you want to win this one you need to make a big ad. Try to sneak round the side by running something at 3am on the US equivalent of Dave +1 and it will have no chance.

I remember one of the times I was working over at BBDO NY for a bit. Phil Dusenberry was showing me and my AD around when we came to Michael Patti’s office. He had a built-in shelving unit that seemed to have been custom made to accommodate the fifteen Gold Lions he’d won, but I was far more impressed with another trophy that stood just to the side of the Cannes metal:

‘Is that an Emmy?’


‘Fucking hell. How did you win an Emmy?’

(Stupid question, but I didn’t know they gave Emmys for advertising. Mark Denton will happily tell you they used to give BAFTAs for ads, or at least they did once. I think he won the only one they ever gave out.)

Anyway, I’d go so far as to say the one advertising award I’d like to win above all the others is this one. It’s still rare, and over here it’s massive. The win and speech (yes, you get to make a speech) will be televised nationwide on Sunday. After they won the team went backstage and were congratulated by Morgan Freeman. And then Fortune wrote an article about the whole thing.

Congrats to everyone involved. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of guys and girls.

Here’s the winning ad (it’s refusing to embed).

Hey Whipple, Watch This!

Here’s Luke Sullivan, author of Hey Whipple, Squeeze This!, on why we need conflict in advertising.

And here’s his new site with many great posts.

Billboard watch:


The poignancy of the California Bear hiding his head in shame at the high placing of California in the syphilis charts is brilliantly counterpointed by the stark fact below.

I for one was unaware that syphilis was still a ‘thing’. I would also bet a lot of money that a combination of a large population and a free love ‘vibe’ has placed California near the top of the AIDS and herpes charts.

I await the billboards, possibly with the bear hanging itself in shame.


Did you get my best side?

The other day a friend of mine posted the Facebook status update: ‘Wedding Today. Hope I haven’t forgotten anything important…’

Of course, what she meant was, ‘I’m going to tell you all I’m getting married today, but I’d better shroud something so self-congratulatory in a self-deprecation’. On the surface the possibility of forgetting something important (which I have no doubt existed and were quite genuine) was a reason for us to feel sorry for her, while we simultaneously logged the information that she’s getting married, and therefore found someone who loves her enough to agree to that, and almost certainly has organised a large and expensive party for the day that will be centred around her.

This, which is a subtle version of the humblebrag, is how many of us now present ourselves on social media; not always in self-deprecation, but always showing our best side, even if that is created with subtle nuances of negativity etc.


‘Fucking jetlag again’ (I’ve flown a long way again. Ask me where I am.)

‘Bloody Reggie Watts tickets sold out’ (I’m cool enough to both like Reggie Watts and know that he’s playing a gig soon. But this is an opportunity for one of you to post a YT link to ‘Fuck Shit Stack’ to show you’re as cool as me.)

‘Does anyone know a good sports massage place in Hackney?’ (I work out enough to need a sports massage, and I can afford one.)

I’ll reiterate here that I’m not having a pop at anyone who does this, mainly because we all do it in one way or another, and I certainly fall into that category. By way of illustration (and this was in no way deliberate) I present my last Facebook Status:

Bought a crappy record player, now I need some vinyl to complete the Laurel Canyon hippy vibe. Got Sgt Pepper, Abbey Road, Dark Side Of The Moon, CSN and Rumours (Joni Mitchell on the way). Any other suggestions?

Look at the boasting that runs through that like a stick of rock! I’m into vinyl; I have ‘good’ taste but self-deprecatingly it’s a bit mainstream, so I’m asking for help; I live in Laurel Canyon, but I puncture that by suggesting I’m some kind of ‘hippy’… Subtle nuances all the way. And then it all opens up a thread where other people can help, but if they also want to show off a bit under the guise of helping then that works too (by the way, I fully believe that the people who made suggestions did it out of the altruistic kindness of their hearts; thanks, friends).

But I rarely see tweets about people unable to pay their credit card bill (unless it’s because they just bought a brilliant new coffee table), or waking up feeling like shit (unless they were out clubbing till 5am). Why would we tell anyone something about ourselves that would really give a negative impression? Having said that, going public about something bad you’ve done is another way to look good: it was very brave and honest to admit hitting that car last night, or finishing your flatmate’s much-prized cheesecake because you were stoned (and weren’t you cool, getting stoned?).

Some status updates and tweets are obviously straightforwardly positive – not everything needs self-deprecation to stop it seeming self-aggrandising – but I love decoding (correctly or otherwise) the messages within the messages.

We’re through the looking glass, people, and this is the new normal.

Medical update, Dr. McCoy. It’s worse than that, he’s dead, Jim, dead, Jim, dead, Jim; it’s worse than that, he’s the weekend.

Scorsese on story vs plot (thanks, J):

Chinese photoshop lolz (thanks, T).

The craziest record collector on Earth (thanks, J).

David Foster Wallace on what makes a leader:


More excellent DFW on writing and life here (thanks, T).

Gay men draw vaginas.

The ten best tracking shots of all time (thanks, J).

He was only in five films; they were all nominated for Best Picture:

The Matrix with 8-bit sound is fun:

Freaks (thanks, J):

The science in your favourite sci-fi themes (thanks, H).