“Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon.”
There is a great contradiction in the communications business. It can be found in two words. Communications business. Communications are by their very purpose designed to be clear and simple. Free from jargon and cloudiness. They cut to the heart of the matter. There is no confusion. We know what to do. We have clarity and understanding. In essence, we are talking about what needs to be done simply and with focus. We know what the problem is, which is half the problem.
The world of business though is anything but clear. This is because business is often about the future. And there is often very little clarity about the future. It is where logic meets vision.There is insufficient data. There is fear and ego. Which in my experience are the two biggest reasons for confusion. And this often leads to jargon. Which in our business both on agency and client side is an attempt to give the impression of certainty. You are now only mere moments away from doing shit work.
Whether you are a client or an agency there is a simple truth that we should all remember. When you care more about using the right words in your world as opposed to how you communicate with the rest of the world you are going to reach a very small audience.
I have met a man who had future expert on his business card. I imagine his job is pretty safe. In meetings over the years I have heard words like transclusion, pivot, paradigm shift, optimisation, sense check and snackable content thrown into sentences like shiny confetti in a ticker tape parade where the cavalcade takes a horrible wrong turn.
Now, I know what some of those words mean. The problem is when you put them all together. I like this example from Ollie Latham. I’m going to have to circle back synergistically to cascade a holistic response to this pain point. Translation. I am going to find an answer to the problem.
This is happening in millions of meetings across the world every day. And, the problem is our business is becoming more complex every day. Jargon use to be funny. It is now a problem. And not just because it creates confusion, which it does. Not speaking plainly does something far worse. Simple words have clarity. Simple words have another quality. Power. Jargon is a sickness that is very capable of making what we produce confusing. However, what’s far worse is that it can also create a process that is designed to create products that are bland and boring.
This for me is the real problem with jargon. It is a masquerade of vague, vanilla politeness. It is accuracy without a target. It is a cancer that kills perspective. And without perspective, you are not interesting. The one thing a brand has to be to survive.
So, I thought I would give you two examples of plain speaking that have clarity and power. One happened this week. And one is personal.
This week Kim Kardashian was put on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. This is what Sinead O’Connor said.
“What is this c**t doing on the cover of Rolling Stone? Music has officially died. Who knew it would be Rolling Stone that murdered it?”
Clarity. Honesty. Passion. Perspective. Interesting. Simplicity. It is a lesson. Imagine if conversations and communications where this simple and precise in our business. You might not like what she is saying but you sure as hell understand it. And more importantly, you feel something. Also, you instantly have a point of view.
Here is one more. My grandfather’s name was Gerald Basil Stapleton DFC, DFC. He was a Squadron Leader in the Battle of Britain. He was shot down twice and shot down thirteen enemy planes. He was tough as nails and a little crazy.
He only ever phoned me once. Strangely, I was in Cannes. He was in England. I had had a shit week and the agency I was running hadn’t done that well. I was sitting at the end of a pier feeling sorry for myself. The phone rang. I answered. Slightly startled, I told him about my week and the pressure I was feeling.
And then he said just three things.
I was seventeen when I went to war.
Most of my squadron died in the Battle of Britain but we had a saying.
Keep pulling the trigger until you see the fuckers smoke.
And then he said goodbye. I understood. And I have never felt more pathetic or more grateful to be alive on a pier in the South of France.
Simple, honest words can change everything. At best, complicated, unclear words normally keep things the way they are.
I am not sure we as industry have that option open to us anymore.
It is a strange thing flying 30 hours to France to be welcomed by a thick Russian accent. My driver, Ivan, was a tour guide originally from Vladivostok now living in Nice. I am not sure Russians make great tour guides. Even when they say have a nice day, it sounds vaguely threatening and sinister.
This is the strangeness of Cannes. Russian tour guides, hustlers, believers, charlatans and sometimes you occasionally meet a genius who may or may not be a hustler.
My Russian tour guide was originally an electrical engineer but could not get qualifications in France. I asked why he stayed. He replied, the weather, the woman and the fact that he could say whatever he wanted. He could have an opinion. And Cannes is certainly the right place for that.
As I have said in a previous blog, Cannes is like a beautiful picture frame but every week the picture changes. One week it is film, the next week porn, the week after that advertising. And so it goes on.
This is the great contradiction of Cannes. The place, the old stone buildings and eternal landscape have a feeling of having been there forever. Yet the conversations are always about the future, where things are going. Yesterday’s buildings remain but the billions of words will be gone in the morning.
And the thing about the future is nobody knows. We can pretend we know, we can guess and some of us might think we are certain. But nobody really knows. Some just believe more than others.
This week I listened to a lot of opinions. A lot. Cannes seems to be this strange place where ideas go to be believed in. All these ideas, navigating their way through waves of opinions to try and reach the shore. For me, Cannes is an attempt at navigating when you have no stars. In a world made of opinions, we do this pilgrimage to find some confidence for our journey. Simply put, we want to believe we are moving in the right direction.
I listened to ECD’s, CCO’s, CEO’s, clients, media people and a variety of others from Pharrell Williams to drunk Italian waiters. And, amongst the wine, finger food and salesmanship, if you listen closely, they all have a theory about where things are going. What they don’t have is confirmation and never really will. This is why they come to Cannes. They are looking for confidence. Or trying to give some to others.
Confidence is almost everything. Ideas need confidence to survive. And when it comes to the business of the future, confidence and belief is just as important as fact. And, our business, from winning a pitch to making a great idea happen is all about confidence. Now, I don’t know if getting any kind of confidence from Cannes is a moderate form of insanity. Actually, I am pretty sure it is. In fact, I know it is. However, year after year, in a business of endless opinions, we use this little French sea-side town to tell us what this years facts are going to be. It might be crazy but confidence is a fuel our business desperately needs. Now, more than ever.
I don’t say this as some sort of Cannes zealot. I have been a creative for 20 years and know better than most what a cruel mistress Cannes can be. There is so much bullshit. One year you are a genius because you won the Grand Prix, the next year you are average because you didn’t make a shortlist. And you are still the same person. One year, everybody talks to you, the following year, they are looking over your shoulder through their mirrored Ray-Bans to see who else is in the room. I have been elated there and I have been depressed there. I have loved those quaint shutters and rude waiters and I have also hated every inch of the place. Either way, it has moved me forward. Sometimes through happiness, sometimes through anger and determination. Creating momentum is the hardest thing to do in this business, so however it happens, be grateful for it.
Our business is an ocean of opinions and to conquer that ocean you need two things. You need an engine and a compass. Strangely, in its own way, Cannes can be both for you. It can give you the confidence or sometimes the anger to try and move forward. And, in our business, momentum and finding almost any direction will always help you far more than standing still.
That is what I saw this year. An industry full of brilliant people and ideas looking for the confidence to move forward in a rapidly changing world.
And what if you take the wrong direction?
Don’t worry. Next year’s pilgrimage awaits, where you can once again look for that next unreachable, imaginary North Star.
Illustration Minky Stapleton
“There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.”
What is a creative department? It is kind of a stupid name. A bit like art regiment or idea navy. Actually, I quite like idea navy.
It is an amazing place to work. In a split second, somebody can put two and two together and all of a sudden you are staring at a beautiful idea. To get paid to come up with ideas is a great way to make a living. And there are days, that are so special, they stay with you for life. Those are the days when the invisible becomes visible. When the idea in your head is standing in front of you.
A great creative department doesn’t happen by accident. And they don’t happen easily. They are far more liquid than solid. Forever changing, moving in and out of greatness. What will the Lego people build today? Some days things that are magic and impossible, some days things that are shit. And the next day, the shit has become magic. That is the weird world of a creative department.
The reason I mention this wonderful place is that I have noticed these days literally everybody is starting a creative department. In essence, an ad agency. Tech companies, production companies, entertainment companies, media companies, clients. I keep hearing these two words. Creative capability.
So I thought I might give you a few thoughts about what you should and shouldn’t do.
Unfortunately, I think a lot of people think creating a successful creative department is purely a numbers game. If you have enough people you will be able to do what everybody else can do. You just need the factory that makes that invisible idea stuff. That’s not how this factory works. Ideas are invisible and so are the qualities and conditions that create them.
Let’s use a restaurant as an example. You have a favourite restaurant. A beautiful bistro. You decide you are going to make one just like it. You get another chef and get him the exact same outfit. You can’t get the same building, so you use the cafeteria at work which has a very modern kitchen. The brilliant French maitre’d doesn’t want to work there, so you get someone who also speaks french. On top of this, you decide what’s on the menu. How do you think that’s going to work out?
Yet, this is the approach for many in our business.
Creativity and ideas are not only about having enough people. They are also about environment and inspiration. The very fact that some agencies do work that is so much better than others proves this. Despite what self-help books say, talent is not equally distributed. There will be many cynics rolling their eyes. They will say these are soft issues. Well, if you have ever been through turning an agency around you will know these are the first things you try and get right. Without it, the place has no gravity. And ultimately without gravity, or belief, creativity becomes average and eventually dies. The sad part is it doesn’t die in a spectacular way. So nobody sees it happening. It dies imperceptibly, so very slowly, and then it is too late. You looked away for a second and the sun has dipped behind the horizon.
So, if you believe you can get a whole lot of creatives types and stick them in a room and get brilliant ideas think again. If you don’t believe me go and read some of the comments on a blog like agency spy. It doesn’t make pleasant reading. You will see what a messy business creativity can be. Ego, insecurity, loyalty, anger and fear all on display. Yet, what it also shows is what a human business the ideas business is.
The truth is, great work comes from getting the blend of people right. This is the trick. It is how they work together. A creative department is never a single malt, it is a blend. And a blend, is not copied, it is created. A creative department is no different. You need the right ingredients and conditions. You need time. You need conviction.You need madness and some luck. You need talent. And, you need bravery because you hardly ever have all the things I have just said, at the same time.
In the next couple of years, we will see some massive creative department car crashes. This is because many believe creating a creative department requires no skill, just the correct amount of people to do the work.
Be very careful if you think it is that easy. It is not.