GOODBYE STORYTELLING… HELLO STORYDOING.

Storydoing. There’s a word your spell check won’t recognise… yet. But think, what is your brand doing? ‘Storydoing’ is the latest buzzword I’ve unleashed on my director’s treatments. Agency creatives love it, It has a calming effect on account service and sends clients into paroxysms of pleasure normally associated with unfeasibly high focus group scores. As the zeitmeisters of real admen stopped using ‘storytelling’ since the guy who fixed the park benches started calling himself a post urban storyteller to impress the hot girl in digital. The fact of the matter is that the real storytellers, the people who write books and make films, do not go around calling themselves storytellers. It’s everyone who isn’t a storyteller goes around leaving the labelling themselves as such. If all is exactly the same kind of logic as; I have a pen, so I am a writer. I have a phone, so I am a photographer. I have an iPhone, so now I’m a filmmaker. Sound like a rant… it nothing compared to my dear old friend from HK, Stefan Sagmeister.

Now I first heard “storydoing” at Cannes last year amid exhortations of the death of the brand narrative and the birth of brand drama. The thinking is: the most important question for the 2lst century communication isn’t “what is our brand saying?” over “what is our brand doing?” Now whilst a company without a story is a company without a strategy, how you articulate that story with active engagement is changing fast. There’s a distinction to be made between broadcasting your story in traditional storytelling and living your story, or storydoing. Understanding the difference between the two and making that shift toward the latter is fundamental to building a business. We got a shock on 9/11 and another on 11/9. We are living in exponential times Look at where Trump was a year ago. Doofus to POTUS in under 12 months. What changes will there be in a year’s time? We are living in a world turned upside down. Resources once relatively scarce have become abundant. In the last decade, the number of brands (and stories) has quadrupled. Mostly thanks to the internet, the number of channels in which brands can share and tell those stories has also exploded. Less than a decade ago YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram didn’t exist and Facebook was in beta.

This exponential digital abundance and fragmentation has put a real strain on probably the two most important resources of all: time and money. Broadcasting your brand’s story in today’s networked world is complicated, challenging, expensive, and increasingly inefficient. Finding and aggregating a sizable audience is hard. Numerous agencies and partners are needed to create the myriad of right content for the right medium. Not surprisingly, breaking through the ensuing noise and clutter with a coherent story is even harder.

The genesis goes back a couple of years. To get really up to speed on where this is going pick up True Story by clever Ty Montague. It’s a fascinating read on how to combine story and action to transform your business. It’s part of the reason I write these blogs and that my website looks the way it does. It says “Hey!!! There’s a real person here! This is what I think! This is what I believe! This is what I look like!” On a grander scale, these new companies storydoing companies win because they advance their narrative through action, not communication. Storydoing companies like Red Bull, TOMS shoes, Warby Parker and Tory Burch, for example emphasize the creation of compelling and useful experiences: new products, new services, and new tools that advance their narrative by lighting up the medium of people. What I mean by this is that when people encounter a storydoing company they often want to tell all their friends about it. Storydoing companies create fierce loyalty and evangelism in their customers. Their stories are told primarily via word of mouth, and are amplified by social media tools.

Sounds breakthrough doesn’t it. Yet it’s what the grand old man of digital Seth Godin has been saying since forever. But that’s another story.

BERLIN PITCH KREIG … SOLVE PROBLEMS, BE HAPPY

Late summer means it’s time for my annual pilgrimage to one of my favourite towns where 50% of the population’s single, you can drink in the street 24 hours a day and it’s so safe you can get gold out of the ATMs.

Apart from London, more than any other European city, Berlin is in constant flux. Arguably the hipster capital of Planet Earth, I’m amazed by the pace of gentrification. A mecca of artists, bohemians and Europe’s creative class, Berlin is an old, historic city made new again thanks to a torn-down wall, a reunified country, and an influx of young, pathologically cool individuals from around the world. Whether for world-class nightlife, new tech start-ups, funky fashion, cutting-edge art, or culinary diversity, millions fall in love with Berlin’s gritty vibe, staying longer than expected and returning frequently. I’m always surprised how places in the city one never considered sexy or interesting are now centres of its creative life (think: Kreuzberg). Berlin is exciting because it’s both edgy and glam. How long will it be before that edgy evaporates anyone’s guess. I’m tipping  on at least a decade before that happens––but with this city you never know. More than ever, Berlin, the capital of Europe’s biggest economy, feels like a powerhouse… especially in the kind and supportive world of advertising.

According to the German version of Campaign, spend on brand films generated sales of around €360 million in the 2016, an increase of just under 4 percent compared to 2015. Huzzah! Moderate growth = more work but margins are not keeping pace. Seems like the increased demand for different moving image formats not only brings full order books, but also new problems.

This is particularly intense at the sharp pointy end of the business, the pitch. Here things have got so wretched that it’s now the norm to invite between six and eight production houses for TVC/content jobs. That means the bigger players are burning up to € 40,000 a month in pitches. Very ironic since agencies have always bitched about how client do this to them and now are guilty of the exact same sin.

So now the good burghers of the moving image are agitating to change this by making a stand against such corporate treachery. Risky game – if you don’t play ball, there’s the risk of getting blacklisted. According to some producers, a defined industry pitch best practice could help companies in the future by inviting only three to four participants to the rodeo instead of six to eight. Senior producers are also demanding that pitches be more transparent so that the opponents are known and that production concepts and research will be kept confidential and will not be passed on to competing production houses.

A client recently sent an an open letter to the members of the German Producers’ Association, requesting an market assessment of how much the creative services of the productions and their directors are worth.
Another constant bugbear is that greenlight decisions are often made by the purchasing department. Cost-cutting has always existed. But now what is new is that even creative projects are decided on a purely commercial basis even when there’s very little difference in the quotes. Rather, it’s assumed that an agency can provide at least three completely comparable directors and approaches which is bollocks, since there are never three really equivalent approaches. Such practices devalue the work of the directors in the treatments. And since German production houses are in competition with the USA, the UK, France and other countries, there is a risk that the German market will lose out. Depressed? Don’t be… advertising is still the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Time for a peek one of the most awarded spots of the past award season is “Laughing Horses” by VW  produced by Czar Film in Berlin.

If adland seems righteously indignant, the rest of Berlin seems indifferent as always. The huge ex-pat (notice how they are immigrants, we are ex-pats) community, seems to have a touch of Never Never Land about it. Not everyone for sure but spend time here and you’ll see why in LA and NY, Berlin’s referred to as the ‘City of Lost Children’. It’s a paradise for party people and society dropouts. Professionally Berlin was a blast. I caught up with some old clients and met some new design partners. I was busy with jobs coming in from India, Sydney, NY and Indonesia. I love the thrill of writing under a tight deadline. It just comes down to scheduling, discipline and great coffee. My working haunt of choice became the ridiculously hip Hallesches Haus –  a winning combination of vintage store and coffee shop, lunch bar and event space. It is a fine place for a late breakfast (only opens at 10am) or lunchI also caught up with a bunch of friends at Werkstatt der Kulturen including my gorgeous friend from HK (and Bali, Atlanta and London) Jenny who’s back to her fighting weight and unleashing herself on an unsuspecting Europe.

The lawyers are on standby.

SECRETS TO WRITING CLEAN

clean and mean
6 years drug, alcohol and nicotine free

Six years ago today, I felt worse than I’ve ever done. Stuck in a second rate production house, in a third world market, I felt like a first class fuck up. I knew drugs and alcohol were ruining my life. All the Singapore glory, HK glitz and Bangkok glamour had got up and gone. I hit bottom. Suddenly the pain of making a change was greater than staying where I was. I stopped drinking. And went to a meeting. And guess what? I haven’t had a drink since.

It’s was rough at first but worth it. So worth it. Now my ego would love to take some credit for this but I can’t. I could not have managed it without a tremendous amount of help, supernatural and human. And yes… I do go to those clandestine meetings with strangers in church basements. They work. I enjoy them… talk about material for writing. But the best thing about it is that I don’t want to drink. Or do a quick line. Or bum a sneaky fag. Work your program by the book and the urge disappears. Real Harry Potter stuff.

I thought long and hard about whether to write this. I get rather irritated by people who identify themselves as sober. But I wanted to mark this anniversary and put it out there in case anyone else is struggling and needs some help or encouragement. Getting sober is transformational.
 
Recovery is wonderful. It’s like a parallel universe. I can slip into it through spiritual practice, reaching out to other addicts, going to meetings or through our literature. I’m known and loved in meetings from LA to London, Berlin to Moscow and from Bangkok to Bali, NY and HK. 
 
My routine is whack but it works for me. Iphone’s bedtime goes off at 0430. I’d love to say I always bound out of bed at that time but ocassionally I fall into weakness, complacency and general mingebagginess. I’m suffering right now with the summer heat. I avoid London in the summer but this year stayed. I prefer some where hot but with an aircon option like Bali or LA. Once up, my morning kicks off with a glass of water, freshly squeezed lemon, a shot of Bragg’s apple cider vinegar with a dash of ginger for extra poke.
 
This sets my brain chemistry for peak performance. Biochemically speaking, every good thing in my life is the result of a righteous balance of serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and norepinephrine. My ability to release these chemicals, means control of my mental state in my hands rather than being subject to external influences. It’s an inside job. Here are three biochemical “hacks” that help my brain chemistry to improve performance, happiness and self-esteem.
 
More Warrior Than Worrier
 
A warrior can ‘enjoy less’ where a worrier ‘enjoys less.’ As Socrates quipped, “the secret of happiness is not in seeking more, but in the capacity to enjoy less.
 
Thanks to program and the Jocko Willink School of Mind Control, I can practice mental self-defense against external messages which trigger worry. Instead I practice ‘mental martial arts’ by disciplining myself through repetition of gratitude. Yes… much as I wanted to shank the first person to suggest an “attitude of gratitude”, I’ve found that gratefulness is a major cure of my perceived misfortune. It boosts serotonin and forces me to focus on the positive.
 
Practice Not Perfection.
 
The magic of imperfect action. Or “perfect your practice; don’t try to practice perfectly’ as flow coach Scott Sonnon suggests.
 
No practice will ever be perfect because by the time I finish, I’ll have been able to practice better. Attempting to practice perfectly is madness, whether it’s meditation, writing or pilates. Better I focus on improving how I practice, rather than merely trying to perform my skills better. The neuroscience says that trying to practice perfectly, rather than perfecting my practice brings too much emotional baggage into the decision-making process. Perfecting my practice helps me feel more in control … increasing dopamine, Mother Nature’s tequila shot
 
Learning from failure not success.
 
One of my biggest teachers, Richard Rohr says men don’t learn anything at all from success after the age of thirty… it just feels good. I agree. I’ve discovered that being error-focused and micro-progressive… to drop into MBA speak… means that I learn and improve much quicker. If I only focus on my successes, I improve slowly or not at all. I find that with each little improvement that I make, if I celebrate that progress, I’m happier thanks to a spurt of dopamine. That’s why I always attack my most difficult tasks earliest in the morning when I have the greatest cognitive advantages and can remain dispassionately focussed. This means that I’ve found over the last six years, of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during my day, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently I experience that sense of progress, the more creatively productive I feel in the long run.
And now, I’m off for a silent retreat at Worth Abbey to contemplate a life I never dreamed possible… happy and sober.

CONFESSIONS OF AN ADVERTSING HITMAN

UPCOMING SHOTS INTERVIEW: HOT SEAT WITH TV COMMERCIAL TREATMENT WRITER PAUL REGAN

SHOTS: What are your thoughts on writing a winning a TV commercial treatment?

Writing is telepathy: I’m sending my thoughts into your mind. 

I know exactly what I wanted to see in a treatment when I was a creative director and how I could spin it to clients. So I write for myself. Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money. 

SHOTS: On ideas?

We live in an idea economy. It’s one thing to birth them and another to get them to the point where you can send them into the wild. Ideas are my stock in trade. I create, refine then pitch them. I make them sexy. 

SHOTS: How long have you been a TV commercial treatment ghostwriter?

Close to thirty years in one form or another. As a copywriter, you’re always trying to pitch, persuade and cajole in a way that comes in hard, fast and below the radar.

SHOTS: Where did you learn your trade?

As regional and executive creative director with JWT and BBDO. As an agency creative, I know how agencies think and talk. I speak their language. I know their hope and fears.

SHOTS: What’s the trick?

To win a pitch, you need a Jedi mind trick. It’s an unconscious process. You need to produce something that jacks into the wet ware that controls their brain and makes them think, “WOW… this guy’s a genius, give him the job!”

SHOTS: How do you pitch ideas?

Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings. A mentor told me to find my niche then scratch it. I have: ghostwriting treatments for directors who demand comprehensive and compelling notes that sell their creative vision. I’ve done my 50,000 plus hours as a writer, picked up an MBA and had the big jobs at the big agencies: ECD at BBDO and JWT. This is what I love doing the most.  

TV commercial treatment writer to the stars
Get the VIP Treatment

SHOTS: What’s the process in writing a TV commercial treatment?

You know that feeling when a board lands on your desk… super urgent, needed yesterday, producer melting in the background. Send me the board or script and any notes you may have. Or give me a call. Or just leave it to me and within 24 hours… BOOM! You’ve got your first draft.

SHOTS: What do you sell?

I sell confidence. The director has to assure the agency/client that they’re the best person for the job… the only person for the job… that they’re courting disaster by giving it to anyone else. In this industry, you have to say that. Lots of directors struggle with saying that. But I’m here to say it for them. Many of my clients are extremely talented but they are either too humble or they just cannot comes across as confident enough. I have self esteem to spare. And skills. I deliver image research, design, art direction shooting script, storyboards and a full layout. Now your vision is in pole position to nail the pitch.

SHOTS: What’s the secret?

Every pitch has to deliver big on intrigue and emotion. It’s all about creating hot cognition: deciding that you like something before you fully understand it. Decisions are not post conscious. We like or dislike things before we know much about them. Then we make a choice and use logic to justify the decision after the fact. Agencies and client organisations run on fear and ego, I know which buttons to press. 

SHOTS: What’s your edge?

I make ideas sexy. Thirty years expertise in selling ideas and winning pitches in 10 international markets across 4 continents. Pitching isn’t selling. Selling’s about building a long term relationship. A pitch isn’t, you’ve got one shot, one bullet. You’ve got to knock them out in one. 

SHOTS: What’s your competitive advantage?

I’ve been in the business for almost 30 years. I’ve earned my expertise… developed my artistry… honed my craft. I’ve written and produced over 5,000 commercials, treatments and creative rationales over a 30 year career in advertising starting as a copywriter and ending as regional executive creative director. No other commercially available TV commercial treatment writer can match that level of experience.

SHOTS: What’s the secret to writing winning TV commercial treatments?

My secret sauce is simple. I deliver excitement, enthusiasm and expertise. 

When it comes to writing a winning TV commercial treatment, there’s no one answer. Occasionally it’s showcasing a bold new idea, other times it’s expertly amplifying exactly what was in the boards. It’s always about adding magic and taking the idea into the next dimension… or adding an idea if there wasn’t one there to start with.  Enthusiasm and energy are contagious, the writing has to crackle and pop. 

SHOTS: What do your clients think?

One client put it like this… “for busy directors and producers who want the highest quality of treatment, who need it written quickly and efficiently. Paul is your best option. Coming from an ECD level at agencies like BBDO and JWT, with 25 years of being the agency client; this man knows what agencies want to see and he delivers just that. Impeccable in his research, writing and design, Paul is first class. If you want to win a job, don’t risk your reputation with anyone else.

SHOTS: Why you?

I am your competitive advantage. I give you the edge. On top of that, I’m fast and very easy to work with. Some directors want to work through the whole process together while others just leave it 100% up to me. Either way, I’m comfortable. My priority is to make life easy for my clients and deliver a killer TV commercial treatment that will win the day. 

I’ll murder your competition.

How to write a killer director’s treatment – here’s the secret sauce

What does a director’s treatment writer do? I MAKE IDEAS SEXY. Advertising ideas are my stock in trade. I’ve created, written and sold hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising ideas. Ideas expressed in TVC’s, print and digital media. Ideas that build brands. Ideas that drive sales.

After graduating in my home town of London, I headed to the mystic east starting as a copywriter in 1988 at Ogilvy Singapore. Working across Asia Pacific, often as the only native English speaker in the creative department, I have been developing ideas that went on to become commercials, creative rationales and director’s treatments for thousands of multinational clients. In 2001, I picked up an MBA in Australia that proved to be a real shot in the arm for my strategic, creative management and consulting skills. My last advertising jobs were Executive Creative Director of BBDO Malaysia and Regional Creative Director for JWT/River Orchid across Indochina. In 2008, I opened the Gallery of European Art in Bangkok but kept my hand in advertising by writing director’s treatments for directors and production houses to build my consultancy business. The perfect background for a treatment writer.

How To Be A Treatment Writer

A good director’s treatment writer understands the value of pre pro. Probably the most critical step in pre-production is the writing of a director’s  treatment. A treatment is the director’s vision: a summary of the work that is going to be shot. A good treatment is not simply a sales tool… it’s your pitch. It must convince your client that you’re absolutely the best person for the job. That’s where the director’s treatment writer comes in. Agency people and clients are extremely busy and have notoriously short attention spans. They don’t have the time to meet and discuss projects but they’re happy to browse through a 4 to 12 page treatment about the commercial you plan to shoot for them. This is their first glimpse at the material. You’ve got one chance to nail it. If they’re excited by the few pages of the director’s treatment then they’ll be willing to award you the job. If they’re not excited, you’re out of the picture. There’s no standard form to writing a treatment. Every treatment writer has their own style. You just need to make it dynamic enough to pitch your vision, ideas and approach.

Life’s a pitch

Directing is highly competitive. One of the majors factors that determines if you’re going to get the job, is writing a treatment about how you plan to shoot the material you’re pitching for. Whether it’s a feature film, TV pilot, commercial or a music video, the process is very similar. Whoever is paying for the work to be produced goes through a pile of directors reels to arrive at a shortlist. These directors then have to write a treatment about how they plan to shoot the material. The director is the central decision maker in a production and the treatment covers what they plan to do. It goes into detail of the look they’re going for, branding, product use, how the sound design will play out, what kind of music they envisage, which actors they want to cast, wardrobe, locations and post … the list goes on. Everything that is part of the director’s vision should be included in the treatment.

Pitch perfect 

There is no set format for a director’s treatment other than the director should do the very best they can to get the job. Some treatments are a couple of pages, others include photos and still others are all singing and dancing digital extravaganzas chock full with images, visual and mood reels. Anything goes as long as it leads to winning the job. If you’re the producer or the director, it’s a good idea to write a treatment as a way of developing the idea in your head. The more you think and prepare then the more successful you will be. The secret is to treat it as if you’re writing it for someone else. And if you’re in a hurry or need some help, well… now you know who to call.

As a treatment writer, my job is to win your next job.

There I’ve learned three things in this business. People want what they can’t have. They chase what moves away from them. And they only value what they pay for. My role is to make you shine in three areas; expertise, enthusiasm and excitement. You could say that I sell self-esteem. I work for the best directors on the planet. I help them refine their creative vision, visual aesthetic and storytelling craft. I love to collaborate and my clients treat me as a creative partner. Having worked in 10 markets across four continents, I can get on with most types of creative and when the vibe clicks, it’s a match made in heaven. One happy director recently put it like this on Linkedin, “for busy directors and producers who want the highest quality of treatment, who need it written quickly and efficiently. Paul is your best option. Coming from an ECD level at agencies like BBDO and JWT, with 25 years of being the agency client; this man knows what agencies want to see and he delivers just that. Impeccable in his research, writing and design, Paul is first class. If you want to win a job, don’t risk your reputation with anyone else.” So… is using me is cheating? YES! Get that edge working for you now. Think of it like this. Just as a good director will use an editor, DOP or VFX artist, who get’s all the credit. Film is a collaborative medium. I work with A list directors for the best possible end result. They get the win. They get the glory, I’m happy with the cold hard cash and the satisfaction of a job well done. One client refers to me as his secret weapon, a kind of creative ronin, ready to slice and dice his competition at a moment’s notice. Don’t take my word on it. See for yourself. Click on PORTFOLIO and take a look at pitch winning treatments. And take a look at this film to see how I can help you. Like to see what all the fuss is about? Take your pick these recent examples for MACLipton,  GarnierNissan , Persil Godiva … and not forgetting Mini.

Plus here’s a full web series treatment for DANONE.

Directors’ names and production house details have been removed.

Follow me on Facebook and Instagram or let’s connect on Linkedin

And there are more at SAMPLES. Or email me at paul@ghosttreatments.com and we can get cracking….

Follow me on Facebook and Instagram or let’s connect on Linkedin

Now having established myself as the go to guy for A list directors, I spend at least half the year travelling and building those relationships. Earlier this year I was in LA for LA Film Festival and I’ve just got back from Cannes for the Lions which was blast! For example, I’ll be hitting the London Film Festival before heading off to the frosty Berlinale in February and then my first time at SXSW in Austin, Texas which I enjoyed enormously and you can read about here.  Remember, my job’s to win your next job!

Find me on Facebook, follow me on Instagram, let’s connect on Linkedin, email me on paul@ghosttreatments.com or call me on +44 7512 904586. And let’s crush that next job.

WORLDS BEST WRITER,
TVC TREATMENT WRITER

HIT AND MYTH – ART OF THE TREATMENT WRITER

“I make ideas sexy”

Try that over drinks as see how far you get. Whilst that’s exactly what I do, it’s rarely how I explain it in person. As an ex-Mad Man working across Asia, I’ve always relished the international man of mystery aura. Being a ghostwriter to the advertising gentry does that reputation no harm whatsoever. Mostly when I asked what I do, I say I work in film. If pressed, I say short films…very short… like 30 seconds short. But at industry flesh fests in Cannes and LA, questions are usually more pointed. Directors ask me about my work process and how the actual treatment gets written. They’re really asking is how their vision will flow into the directors notes via the treatment writer’s mind and keyboard. Well… the first thing I do is to put them at ease. I ask if they want to work collaboratively. Or I’m perfectly happy to start and write the whole thing from start to finish. Then they can browse through the first draft and add or subtract as they see fit. This relaxes clients enormously. It takes the pressure off them. With three decades of experience of writing, pitching, producing and shooting commercials, I know what I’m doing. It’s my job to make life easy for my clients. A couple of pointed questions at the start give me a good indication of where the director’s head is at. This is the communication and information gathering phase: talking by phone, over video or via email. The best tool in this process is the concall, preferably with a transcription, between agency and director. That’s always gold but I can easily manage without. A fresh perspective is very useful. It helps me find my mojo and jettison myself into a trance of positivity about whatever I sit down to write. My job is to make shit cool. That’s the essence of virtually every brief every I’ve ever had – a heartrending pleas from the marketing director… “please, please, please Mr Adverting Man, PLEASE make me cool”. Then I kickstart my own internal process, summon the muses and unleash the creative kraken.

WORLDS BEST WRITER,
TVC TREATMENT WRITER

 

 

If the director wants image research and design, that’s when I’ll start sharing pix, mood boards, graphic styles, typography and vid ref. Their choices at this stage are always a strong indicator of what they’re after. If they have a preferred treatment format, I use that to create an outline. Usually the director leaves it to me. The first draft is ready within 24-48 hours – that’s when I get feedback. As an agency veteran and ex ECD at BBDO and JWT, directors trust me to know how to couch an idea. Mostly the revisions are generally a couple of design and image tweaks. Throughout the process I’m available 24/7 and happy to respond quickly to director calls and emails. The whole job rarely takes more than a couple of days after the first draft. The final stage is to deliver the full INDESIGN file. The question that directors ask most often is how I can match their voice. Ironically, I’m not sure I know the answer to that one… I just can. Decades of copywriting for thousands of different brands, individuals and organisations have meant I have stacked up 10,000 plus hours of ghostwriting mastery. Now that I think about it, starting at Leo Burnett in ’88, I have over 30,000 hours invested in the advertising   craft. That’s why it’s second nature. Nailing style comes from intuition plus a nuanced understanding of how agency people talk and think. Having worked across the Asia, Europe, US and the Middle East, I have an intuitive understanding of how creatives from different regions communicate and an ear for industry vernacular. After managing departments from Melbourne to Malaysia, I know how creative people articulate and can confidently hit the right tone for the treatment. Having delivered hundreds of treatments and pitches for clients in over 75 countries, I’ve learnt that creatives speak the same language… albeit with a few regional differences. Film jargon is another matter. I’ve been tripping over cables on shoots since the late eighties. Tech is always changing so it’s vital to stay current with trends in film and post production. I’m based in London with arguably has the finest production facilities on the planet. Aside from clients, I have lots of friends in the industry who keep me completely up to date. Regular travel to LA, NY, Europe and Asia means I also stay current on the best work being produced internationally. The original Mad Man Bill Bernbach said, “live in the current idiom and you will create it”. He was right. Mostly…

Advertising’s best kept secret…

That would be me. Like anyone who provides a clandestine service (escorts, hitmen, shrinks), I understand the need for discretion. And while advertising may not be the world’s oldest profession… it certainly comes close. Happily, I don’t feel old. But with 25+ years in advertising, I’ve certainly learnt a trick or two. That’s why I’ve decided to specialise in ghostwriting commercial treatments for A list directors and production houses around the world. Moving from agency to production has deepened my love for the craft.

On a long overnight from LA, I worked out that I have written, created and shot over 3,600 commercials and treatments over a thirty year career in advertising starting as a copywriter and ending as regional creative director for agencies like Ogilvy, BBDO and JWT. I have got pretty good. And fast.

I also appreciate the need for absolute confidentiality. You may use my services in complete confidence safe in the knowledge that I never disclose who I have worked for.

After all, we’re all entitled to our secrets 😉

treatment writer, tvc treatment, worlds best writer
working on a killer treatment

BETTER TO TRAVEL WELL THAN ARRIVE

It’s official. Vogue informs me that transformative travel will be the travel trend for 2017. A nice snappy marketing moniker for what I’ve been doing for decades. As dear old Keith Reinhard quipped “live in the current idiom and one day you will create it”. As a creative director and treatment writer that’s become a way of life.

I’ve spent my life surfing the edge. Travel has always been transformative for me. I’ve lived and worked in many many places staring in ’88 in Singapore (Leo B and Ogilvy) Hong Kong, Indonesia and Thailand for the mighty JWT the off to Australia in 2000 with Lowe‘s and an MBA then back to Malaysia in 2002 for BBDO before doing a grand tour of Indochina by way of Cambodia and Saigon for River Orchid Group. “Beat that for a geographic,” I told my psych. And here’s a visual jaunt through the last 12 months…

Now that “experiential travel” is so 2016, let’s see how the new and fabulous trend has evolved. There have always been rapacious vacationers looking for ways to tap into native cultures, meaningfully interact with locals and feel like far more than a tourist. So where does the intrepid traveler go from there? Luxury safaris? Apache sweat lodges?  North Korea on £10 a day?

For me, the biggest evolution in my travel life, and I travel a lot, has been Airbnb. Currently I’m in Paulie HQ, my base for the Cannes Film Festival. I booked through  Airbnb – now valued at $10 billion and with more than 500,000 hosts around the world for me to choose from. I love them because have access to neighborhoods where hotels often aren’t an option like in the vielle ville here in Cannes, 10 minutes from the action and yet away from the Euro trash festival riff raff. It’s such a game changer that hotels are beginning to recognize that customers value these uniquely local experiences. For instance fave boutique chain Hotel Indigo caught onto the demand for local experiences earlier this year by rolling out touchscreens that list the staff’s favorite neighborhood attractions and restaurants. Individual hotels also host local events where they invite neighbours to catch up at the hotel over a cocktail. But they’re booking system is not a match for Airbnb. I fucking LOVE their site and gorgeously immersive user experience. It’s super high on visual content, encouraging hosts to upload quality photos of their properties to listings. And if you’re a spastic with a camera – no worries – you can request that one of Airbnb’s 3,000 freelance photographers take pictures of their housing for free. Most cleverly it has social elements that add trust. And if ever I need a boost, I read the utterly charming things former hosts have said about me as a guest.

The cream is that Airbnb integrates Facebook data, meaning users can view a visitor or owner’s profile. The feature also lets me see if we share common friends. Finally for me the most important seductive feature is personalization. Airbnb lets me coordinate incredibly customised experiences. If my plane lands at 0600 I can ask the host to have the apartment available an hour later. While it’s up to the owner to respond, the capability shows that there doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits all approach for travel. All in all, that makes for a completely custom transformative travel experience for me.

Tailor made travel solutions are critical to the new transformational travel evolution. While it has similar elements of experiential travel, it’s travel motivated and defined by a shift in perspective, self-reflection and development and a deeper communion with nature and culture. A perfect example is Miracles Phuket – the treatment centre for tomorrow in God’s own personal paradise. The brainchild of two good friends Bill O’Leary and Mark Heather, who pooled their expertise in five star hospitality and luxury yachts, Miracles basks in the riviera of Asia. An outcrop of luxury villas, it specialises in the treatment for alcohol and substance addiction by offering tools to encourage personal and professional growth in a private sanctuary away from today’s is device and pace driven culture.

As we’re increasingly disconnecting from ourselves, our relationships, nature, and culture, Miracles offers elements of luxury/adventure travel that lead to deeper transformations. It’s almost as if each stay becomes a three-phase process consisting of the departure, the initiation, and the return. A typical stay becomes a “hero’s journey” where travellers venture into the unknown to learn wisdom from recovery science, cultures and practices before returning home refreshed and rejuvinated by this new way of being. It’s this post-travel action that separates Miracles from other traditional rehabs.  So if you want to kick the rock n’ roll lifestyle in style, email here for an excellent rate.

As a plutonium class traveller on Expedia, I spend at least 150+ nights away annually. Always looking for an immersive, perspective-shifting environment that challenges and inspires me on a deeply personal level, I look for places that act as a muses for my powerful medium of advertsing storytelling and to transform my life for the better. LA, Bali, Hong Kong and Bangkok do that for me big time. Transformational travel is what lies on the other side of authenticity and experiential travel, and it’s what happens when people are pushed out of their comfort zones and find the courage and strength to overcome challenges—physical, psychological, or emotional. I live to travel and plan my life accordingly. But not everyone’s so blessed. Perhaps instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.

CANNES LIONS – THE ORGY OF EGOS

JEEEESUZ! They said Cannes was expensive and they’re fricking right. My Amex bill and it looks like Johnny Depp’s bar tab for Pirates.

At least I’m in good company. My old boss the Dark Lord (aka Sir Martin Sorrell) said that the jury is out on whether WPP will attend next year following Publicis’ decision to pull out. He moaned about the ‘gouging that goes on and there is peak time pricing. Cannes in June is not the cheapest place in the world to be”. I’ll say: £12 for a coke, £20 for a slice of pizza and don’t get me started on the line into Bâoli.

It was great to catch up with friend and Cannes vet Andy Carroll big shout out to Soundfly and the Elements crew from LA. We hit the right parties and relaxed on his yacht.
I had fun. As the sun sank on La Croisette, the bottles of Dom Pérignon grew from magnums to methuselahs. Sparkly fireworks accompanied the opening of each new bottle. More and more Russian girls arrived. Then after the usual trawl of beach parties, it was pole position at the Carlton Bar.
It ended up being a very fun trip. I had a dozen or so clients that wanted to catch up. For the rest I loaded up on business cards and hung out at the Carlton Beach and the usual parties. I wanted to give the schmoozing a rest so I could spend more time on the work. So it wasn’t all sunshine and rosé.

My fav campaigns to get metal were:
Channel 4 – We’re the Superhumans
Tough call changing people’s attitudes to disability. This campaign for the 2016 Paralympic Games wasn’t just an ad campaign. C4 ran a competition for a brand featuring people with disabilities to win £1 million of airtime. Mars won it with an ad for Maltesers.
Amnesty International – The Refugee Nation
A new team entered the Olympic Games in Rio last year. Refugee Nation was made up of 10 displaced people from around the world. It attracted global media coverage. The buzz led to stores and restaurants using stickers to show that they welcome refugees.
Burger King – Google Home of the Whopper
Burger King decided to use Google’s voice technology to its own advantage. It showed a guy holding a burger and saying: “You’re watching a 15-second Burger King ad, which is unfortunately not enough time to explain all the fresh ingredients in the Whopper sandwich, but I got an idea. Okay Google, what is the Whopper burger?” The result? Google Home reacted by reading out the Whopper’s Wikipedia entry. It got media coverage way beyond BK’s initial media outlay.
Naturally there was more than the usual level of scamminess. While this isn’t the first time there’s been some controversy over work that won an award, and every year someone gripes about ads that only ran once in Uzbekistan in Boy Scout Weekly just so it could be submitted. This year was no exception, but two entries found themselves in the merde.
I was in Cannes for the film festival and back for the Lions. Now I have total withdrawals from the Riviera. And that ginormous amex bill to settle. Plus some time on my hands as a big project just cancelled.

Happily I’m thoroughly inspired and my muses are arriving in limos. So if you need a hand on a pitch or a treatment, give me a call on +44 7512 904586.

Let’s get busy!

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL – A MASTERCLASS IN SEDUCTION

I’m so proud to be French… half French anyway. Ancient Mother hails from Bordeaux – the greatest wine region on the planet and famous for dessert, decadence and political treachery. My first holidays were on my uncle’s farm and seventies Côte d’Azur. That might have set the bar for all future travel: glamour, hedonism and alarmingly long lunches. Even though I started living and working in Asia in ’88, I’ve always felt more Euro than Brit and still do even when told that I present like a Yank. I take that as a compliment. Recently I’ve been asked to put together more feature film treatments and investor decks so it’s seemed the perfect excuse to head off to the Cannes Film Festival. Resort gear packed, I Ubered off to the London City airport which has a rich clubby feel and less than two hours later British Airways dropped me in Nice in Cannesin time for lunch at the splendid Gaston et Gastounette. Order the whitebait!

Actually this whole Master Class In Seduction angle is a polite way of saying that Cannes is really about screwing someone important. It all starts with the hunt. For the average huckster, Cannes is 10 days of Friday nights and Monday mornings. Buggered, dazzled and bewitched, your average producer rarely gets to bed before the witching hour but still has to be bright eyed and bushy tailed by eight the next morning. Days are spent schlepping up and down La Croisetteschmoosing with sales agents, scouring the trades, queuing for screenings, watching a plethora of either barely watchable films or films that they love but ‘aren’t commercial enough’, elbowing their way into the Palais, arguing with officials, dodging Chinese tourists and all the while hoping they’ll find that one gem that will make the insane expense of attending the festival worthwhile. Days generally end with a bucket of rosé on the beach comparing notes with colleagues and full contact fibbing sun goes down. There are more stressful jobs, sure, but most of those involve blood and bullets. And none quite as nepotistically cut throat as  the busy, boozy, sleep-deprived business of film.

And then there’s the risk of getting bombed…  yes, proper bombed, suicide style. I like guns so seeing heavily armed anti terror squads roaming around winking at the pretty girls made me feel quite warm and fuzzy but I suspect I’m in the minority. Security gates are a new addition, springing up overnight outside the doors to the Palais, the vast brutalist conference centre on the Croisette. Security has ramped up in the wake of the Nice terror attack. Airspace and road space have been restricted and the  local cops are sporting new semi-automatics. Only last year the place still felt like a playground. You could largely come and go as you please. Now you have to stand in line, loading your belongings into plastic trays before being herded one by one through the trauma of TSA security hell.

Fuck that. Way too much grief for this working boy. On the first day it was raining, the stars were hiding, the hacks and paparazzi were waterlogged and frustrated, and the shimmering images of the beautiful people walking up the red carpet were pale reflections of glories long gone. An alternative plan was needed. One that included exotica, elitism and ease. The film festival used to be a truly glamorous affair in days gone by. Cannes has changed dramatically since I first visited the Riviera. Tennis courts have disappeared and are now ugly apartment houses for the blue rinse brigade, shops hawking tourist crap and glitzy, expensive restaurants that serve so-so food line the shore. Sex has no meaning in Cannes, especially during the festival, unless some sweaty producer gets it up without aid of the blue diamonds. What Dante called ‘the intelligence of love’ works inversely to what he meant. In Cannes, you love who you screw, mainly financially but seldom sexually. The old eighties ethos of, “screw them before they screw you” seems to still hold sway. The uncontrollable urge that must be satisfied at all costs is what makes you want pull a fast one on others. As Gore Vidal famously remarked about a starlet who never made it, ‘she’s so dumb, she slept with the writer.’ Perhaps that’s what the Cannes festival is all about: screwing someone important. But enough worldliness worthy of Taki, let’s move into the action.

In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is a failure. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible. As I didn’t really want to lock horns with the hoi polloi so I set up my base of operations at Nikki Beach opposite the Carlton. I prefer beach clubs to nightclubs these days. I must be getting old but I enjoy a space where you can dine, relax and party without having to stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning. It’s comfortable and genial as the French say genial. Come noon the sun shines, the Med sparkles and the delegates frolic like kids on Christmas morn. They come pouring out of the hotels and apartments and into the bar with a spring in their step and a song in their hearts, eager to throw themselves headlong into a working lunch. The world is their oyster; nothing’s going to stop them. Everyone seems to be a better version of themselves at Nikki Beach. I met a host of charming current and prospective clients and caught up with old friend Michael Cook who really is the man to call if you want tickets for anything… and I do mean ANYTHING. Last time we spoke he could get you into the Oscars for $80K a pop.

Getting into a few of the better parties is still quite easy if you have self esteem to spare. The French still have class systems ingrained in their culture so act and look like you belong. And in three weeks, I’ll be doing it all over again as I’m back for the Lions – advertising’s orgy of egos. Must not complain, 2017 has been shaping up rather well. Thus far I’ve been in Thailand, Austin for SXSW, LA and now I’m in Nice recovering from Cannes… next trip is a silent retreat at Worth Abbey in August then Berlin for a week or so and hopefully Nov/Dec back in the US for duck hunting in Arkansas, gun play in Fort Bragg, boot scootin’ in Nashville and some end of year R&R at the Cosmo in Vegas. Next stop, London in time for tea!

 

LOSING THE ‘C’ WORD

CRAFT.

Now that’s a word you don’t hear too often in agencies. (Unless you’re talking about craft beer.)

While everyone’s getting artisanal about everything from ice cubes to vinyl to goat milk “bean to bar” chocolate,  there seems to be a complete lack of it in advertising.

Specifically, the lost craft of copywriting.

We live in very strange times. As well as alternative facts, we now have alternative advertising. There are seismic changes in how people consume information, especially advertising. This radically affects the way the industry trains itself to make ads.

So what are the implications of hiring an entire generation of thinkers who can’t do? Most of the copy I see is cliched and predictable, a mimicking of the drivel absorbed from years of sitting in front of screens large and small. Nowadays it’s assumed  that copywriting is a skill you can pick up as you go along. Wrong. Beware the hacks, hucksters and SEO cowboys who claims to be self taught. It generally means they could never get hired anywhere good or were too lacking in testicular fortitude to even try. Not only is the actual quality of their writing is poor, it reflects little passion or interest on the part of the writer. Reason? This isn’t the writing of writers. It’s the writing of advertisers. I thank my lucky stars that I was taught how to write bu writers. Wise old whiskey soaked curmudgeons to whom I’d offer my copy only to watch them tear it to shreds. Mostly.

It’s common to hear the industry intelligentsia wax lyrical on how the nature of advertising is changing; how the fourth, fifth and sixth screens are revolutionizing the way we communicate. But no one talks about how that change in ad consumption is altering the way we train ourselves to make ads.

At JWT where I spent most of my career and later as an executive creative director at BBDO, creative is considered an end-to-end service. We come up with the big idea, then execute it down to every last detail. That means the creative department needs to be in possession of both skill sets: the ability to dream up the revolutionary award-winning concept, then to scrutinize every line, space and comma that comes with it.

But the times they-are-a-changing. It used to be that junior creatives learned craft first, then spent years gaining the experience necessary to think like a creative director. When you ask most creatives in my generation how they found their way into advertising, the answer is generally the same: as kids, we found we had a talent for writing, drawing, or some other largely impractical skill, but no interest in starving for our art. Back then, advertising felt like an oasis; a place to write, draw, and have fun within the confines of a secure job.

Industry watcher Sanan Petri’s view W+K London hold’s the view that today’s advertising world is largely driven by accolades and awards. Most communication schools are churning out kids who think like creative directors rather than kids who just love to write. Interns are coming into the agency with their sights trained on one thing: being the one to come up with the one game-changing idea that puts them on the map. But what are the implications of hiring an entire generation of thinkers who can’t do? What happens to the young design genius who spends his work day designing, rather than dreaming? What happens to the quality of the work we put out into the world?

For me, the most successful agencies are always the ones with the most diverse set of weird and wonderful people. The web designer who moonlights as a furniture maker. The copywriter who started life as a children’s book author. Musicians, craftsman, game designers, the passionate and the obsessive … these are the people we want filling our creative departments. People for whom “concepting” is a constant state of mind. Kids who grew up studying comic books and albums sleeves, not award annuals.

I’m really very happy to have come into this industry when all the hardware you needed to create advertising was markers, paper and if you were really lucky, an art director. The internet has not improved the quality of the craft of advertising. It’s made it worse… overall. Sure they are still wonderful examples but all too rare as looking at any awards reel will testify to.

If we prize craft above all else, we can continue to be proud of the quality of work we put out into the world. And if we focus on developing our young talent once they’re in, there’s no doubt they’ll shoulder in the next generation of great ideas, big and small.  

LE SECRET DE COOL

How much cooler does that read in French.

The business of cool is serious business but nobody ever says so. Because it’s just not cool to talk about cool. And yet…
Please, please Mr Advertising Man,

please make ME look cool!

That’s the unspoken plea in virtually every creative brief since my first copywriting job for Leo Burnett in 1988 for Shangri La Hotels. (My other two clients were Gucci and Carlsberg – I knew I’d arrived) In business, cool is an unspoken taboo. It’s like disclosing how much you earn, your deleted browser history and the fact that you actually do like country and western.

For instance, New York City isn’t cool anymore.  A packed city full of empty luxury towersPoor doors. Entire blocks owned by Russian oligarchsSteampunk condos. Bad Mexican food. Taking pictures of celebrities riding the subway. Kudos to Adrian Kudler for saying it first. Whilst that’s a shank in the kidney for anyone cool left in NYC, Beyoncé and Jay-Z are off to LA. Perhaps the gravitational pull of their enormous reserves of cool definitely could singlehandedly throw the entire cool balance of the US out of whack. Yet while New York isn’t cool anymore, LA is still pretty cool. Amazing weather is cool, lower rents are cool, good burritos everywhere is cool, being the creative capital of planet earth is cool… and being totally laidback and chill as the world makes the same hacky jokes about you over and over for decades is extremely cool. But what does cool actually mean? In principle, to be cool means to remain calm even under stress. Yet this doesn’t explain why there is now a global culture of cool. What is cool, and why is it so cool to be cool?

Well… Thorsten Botz-Bornstein posits that aesthetics of cool developed mainly as a behavioral attitude practiced by black men in the United States at the time of slavery. Slavery made necessary the cultivation of special defense mechanisms which employed emotional detachment and irony. A cool attitude helped slaves and former slaves to cope with exploitation or simply made it possible to walk the streets at night. During slavery, and long afterwards, overt aggression by blacks was punishable by death. Provocation had to remain relatively inoffensive, and any level of serious intent had to be disguised or suppressed. So cool represents a paradoxical fusion of submission and subversion. It’s a classic case of resistance to authority through creativity and innovation. Think about that next time you’re doing an eye roll.

 

Today the aesthetics of cool represents the most important phenomenon in youth culture. The aesthetic is spread by hip hop for example, which seems to have become the epicenter of a global mega music and fashion industry. Black aesthetics, whose stylistic, cognitive, and behavioural tropes are largely based on cool-mindedness, has arguably become the most visible manifestation of mainstream cool. Cool is also like porn. I can’t describe it but I know it when I see it. Yet in spite of the ambiguity, we are capable of distinguishing cool attitudes from uncool ones. Cool is not linear. Thus a straightforward, linear search for power is not cool. Constant loss of power is not cool either. Winning is cool; but being ready to do anything to win is not. Both moralists and totally immoral people are uncool, while people who maintain moral standards in straightforwardly immoral environments are most likely to be cool.

Stoicism is cool right now, perhaps for good reason. In ancient Greece, the Stoic philosophers supported a vision of coolness in a turbulent world. Stoic indifference to fate can be interpreted as the supreme principle of coolness, and has even been been viewed as such in the context of African American culture. For me it’s much simpler. Having spent 30 years getting paid heaps to make shit cool, I’ve discovered there’s a very big difference between looking cool and being cool. It’s like the difference between fashion and style. Most people thinking that just buying branded clothing will make them look cool. Newscheck! Real cool is a revelation of a deep personal truth. A personal cache of cool is an incredibly valuable asset: people hire you because of it, will sleep with you for it and trust you because of it. There’s no faking it. For me, the secret is simple. It comes from self work and self worth. I firmly believe that self esteem is the emotional immune system. It comes from a true realisation of your assets and defects. Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are. No one on this planet can be better at being you, than you. Isn’t that cool?

 

 

VIP TREATMENT IN VIRGIN FIRST

2017 has been a highly satisfactory year travelwise… thus far I’ve spent a glorious month in Thailand, 12 glam weeks in Cali for the LA Film Festival and I’m just back from Cannes and three weeks in the Riviera making business a pleasure. Such is the life of the treatment writer. For someone who’s lived and worked in London, Singapore, HK, Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and the US that’s a good but not untypical year… see for yourself on Facebook or Instagram. But now for a wholly new travel experience: I’m settling into the scenery with a bacon sandwich in Virgin Trains First Class and trundling into deepest barbarian country (as we call it in London) or bonnie Scotland as the locals adoringly refer to the homeland. Yes, I’m heading up to the land of kilts, clans and claymores for a wee bit of schmoozing and carousing with the production community that’s rubbing its hands with glee as there’s a pretty parcel o’ groats up for grabs… a cool £1,000,000 in the shape of a Production Growth Fund available to qualifying productions in the form of a nice fat non-recoupable grant. Free money! Are there any sweeter words to stir the larceny a Scotsman’s heart? And I’m quietly confident that no small portion of that will end up the in the Paulie warchest. Like the daring and dashing gentlemen adventurer of old, I shall be hawking my arsenal of treatment writing and design services to the assembled clans. Currently I’m heading to nearby BBC Scotland to meet a couple of production houses with their eyes on the prize, ears open to ideas and a nose for a keenly motivated creative mercenary to add the armour piercing warhead to their pitch.

Rest and respite from this feeding frenzy is to be provided at the luxurious Malmaison Glasgow highly reccommened by an all wise producer from Scotland’s top agency Leith. A fav with local production houses and Scottish-based crew, the M is a great base for the Scottish-based production facilities, lavish restaurants and unbearably hip bars that nourish the local industry (or so I heard from the buzz at the Glasgow Film Festival).

I’m a bit embarrassed to never have been here before. The highlands are a director’s wet dream with stunning mountains, rugged landscapes, gothic castles and unspoilt wilderness. Little wonder the Scottish film industry attracts some of the world’s leading filmmakers and television producers. Few places are as photogenic as Scotland – it’s home to the UK’s highest mountains, deepest lochs, largest tracts of forest and, of course, buzzing cosmopolitan cities like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Fife. So no surprise that Scotland’s film industry has evolved dramatically over the last decade and now boasts a cinematic repertoire which attracts some of the biggest names in the business including recent productions featuring Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johansson and Daniel Craig. While I’m here, I’m planning to take in some urban grit à la Trainspotting, a couple of anciently ruinous castles and a good dollop of untouched wilderness. The best discovery is learning that it has the longest daylight hours in the UK which means 18 hours of daylight – pure joy for a morning person like me and of course some of the longest shoot days in Europe. Out of my window, I have to say the settings for filming in Scotland are undeniably breathtakingly beautiful: from the haunting beauty of the glens and dales. Stay tuned for your treatment writer’s adventures… more to follow soon.

WHORES, HITMEN + HYPE: combat leadership for the creative mercenary

Prostitutes claim the oldest profession. Maybe they are, but mercenaries can certainly argue a case. From the ravaging Hun tribes whose chieftains hired out murderous hordes to anyone with sufficient coin to expand their empire to the dapper gentleman adventurers of yesteryear to the corporate wet workers of BlackwaterTriple Canopy and dear old Executive Outcomes. I’ve always felt an affinity with Goths, Vandals and ronin. I also relate to whores – perhaps because I’m a bit of one at heart. I’ll work for anyone, anytime, anywhere if the money’s right. I use the hitman business model: 50% up front and 50% when the jobs done… and back in the day, you’d better not drag your feet paying me unless you want to see me go full Tony WHERE’S MY FUCKING MONEY Soprano. But now when the shit hits the proverbial, I try to go the full Jocko Willink on its ass.  I first heard Jocko on the Tim Ferris podcast, the first interview he ever did, and was immediately struck by the subtle reverence Tim had for his guest. He described him as the scariest Navy Seal imaginable who would tap out 20 grunts per workout and Tim’s no pussycat. Sitting in a beach bar in Thailand way past the witching hour,  I was mighty impressed. I found the Jocko podcast and began binge listening. I read the book and was immediately gripped by the simplicity and practicality of the Extreme Ownership credo and Jocko’s special brand of clarity, professionalism and humility. I listen to a lot of spiritual/high performance speakers and one of the aspects that impressed me most about Jocko was that whilst I’ve never heard him discuss either subject, he constantly talks about what’s going on in his head. “FREE YOUR MIND” is the podcast tagline and mind control, mental discipline, testicular fortitude along with the counter-insurgency war in his head are common themes. Jocko’s become quite the mentor to me over the last year and we have a mighty thought-provoking project in the pipeline- watch this space.  The premise of his book is simple. A fundamental guide of leadership principles that contains no theories, only battle-tested lessons that have proven to be the most effective method to lead teams at an elite level in a high-stakes environment. The book explores the fundamental flaws of human psychology and how emotions and ego are often the culprits of poor leadership decisions. Ego? Moi? The fundamental principle of this book that has the potential to be life changing for those who can leave their ego at the door. Leaders must own everything in their world, there is truly no one else to blame when things go wrong except for yourself. Humans inherently are creatures of self-preservation and the concept of owning failure is naturally going to be counter-intuitive for most.

 

This book challenges me to dismiss this way of thinking, and be the person who owns the failure of a task while ensuring it never happens again. Even for those of you who find yourselves powerless and near the bottom of a bureaucratic leadership structure, this book offers functional advice to lead from beneath and up the chain of command. This refreshing approach aims to cut directly into the blame culture that is so prevalent today by removing the predictable excuses and justifications so often used to justify poor performance and bad decision making. Here’s a blast…

Any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.

I’ve always been quite skeptical of warfare literature that makes an attempt to transition their applications to the civilian environment. How many versions of the Art of War have been developed for the corporate boardroom through a metaphorical and emblematic approach? Extreme Ownership had no issues for me in this regard as its core principles ultimately apply to the human condition and don’t demand the particulars of a specific environment. Undoubtedly the most enjoyable book I’ve read this year so far (And appropriately the first book I’ve reviewed on our review service) You’ll be amazed at how effectively you’ll be able to highlight leadership problems from afar once you have digested the concepts of this book. I’ve already passed copies to some good friends suspect it may be my Christmas gift of choice for many years to come. But now it’s coming up to Friday night in LA….

… Time to GET AFTER IT!

What SXSW taught me about pitching.

Yee haa! I’m in the great state of Texas and just popped my cherry on my first SXSW. Thank God I found this hack before I went.  There’s just so much on it is virtually unfathomable, even with its amazing app. If Cannes is Davos then SXSW is the Burning Man of commercial creative. Not because of the music, comedy, and other interesting creative doings (though there are multiple offerings on at all times) but because there is so much going on simultaneously. It’s a colossal tapas of brain food, and there’s no way you can much through it all. However, through a combination of luck and some last-minute planning in the taxi (there’s no Uber in Austin – don’t get me started), I did get to fill up on delicious dose of creative chaos.  Happily in the elitist 1%, I decided up for the Platinum Badge as this year that badge gets more SXSW programming than ever before in the history of mankind. Pro tip: it’s very useful to take full advantage of the cross-industry opportunities by jumping hedging attendance last minute to see where the numbers are. Eject an intern and make way for His Ghostliness!!!

The kick off was pretty excellent, what with Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling gracing the Paramount for the Film Festival’s opening night world premiere and Senator Cory Booker lighting up Twitter with his quotable self. He was way inspirational. Day 2 turned out to be consistently spectacular as well, with a mind boggling breadth and depth of offerings on the schedule. I left a session early and came across a line for Gary Vaynerchuk  which was insane and immediately the platinum push past power came in super handy. Then I dropped into the Dell house where they were doing mimosas and VR but I ended up hitting the Fast Company grill for lunch. They know how put the V into VIP treatment.

If I could, I’d book for next year now. If you’re in the creative industries, there’s sure to be something to spark your imagination and set you down the path to new discovery. I schmoosed hard around the VIP areas and took in a pretty wonderful lineup at the Facebook Live studio and love love loved the Film Keynote, Jill Soloway and autonomous car expert Padmasree Warrior but missed the live broadcast from the red carpet at the Baby Driver world premiere. (Edgar Wright’s new movie folks!) 

 Next I hit a panel on ‘The Future of Intelligence’ which posits that the big issue on the horizon (big like racial discrimination, gender equality, reproductive health rights) is ‘evolution rights’. There was a lot of high minded stuff on neural interfaces and other ways to make your brain faster and smarter. But not everyone will think ‘upgrading’ is a good thing. Thanks goodness, I’m already running Paulie version 10.7 so I’m sweet. Back to the el ranch, a nice little gated community in South Austin but who needs sleep, though, when you can take a meditation walk through the Austin Convention Center at 11am with the monastics of Walk With Me. 

Next on the menu was some high grade inspiration from designer Marc Jacobs and WWE star, actor, and philanthropist John Cena, who really is a top shelf human being (though someone needs to shoot his tailor – navy and yellow window pane suit!?!)


 Then the Music Festival  got underway and all hope of sleep was vanquished. That meant well over 500 international artists arrived to perform. Not all not made it into the country. One South Korean act who was detained, but ultimately made it through. After showing their documentation and playing the band’s record for the agent, they were cleared. They texted SXSW saying, “The music saved us.”

Probably one of the highlights of the festival was  Buzz Aldrin who delivered the arguably best sound bite thus far: “We explore or we expire. That’s about it.” #truthbomb. From exploration of future worlds and back to earth, what will I discover today? One big takeaway I got from SXSW is that we all experience some real moments of interconnectedness. Humans are not so different from one another, living disparate lives while dreaming different dreams. People want to create, give back, find happiness, and find love. If we can all just stop for a minute and remember that we’re not separate at all, we can do amazing things. We are doing amazing things. And absolutely amazing was the ‘Intelligent Machines Will Eat Their Young and Then Us’ panel which was way more light-hearted than expected. It turns out AI (maybe the festival’s single most popular topic) is way, way off being able to send androids back in time to kill the mother of the human resistance leader. The more immediate danger comes from AI exhibiting phenomena like ‘reward hacking’. This happens when instrumental goals are set for machines without consideration of human values (e.g. Self-driving car is tasked to find quickest route to destination. Self-driving car works out that it can take a shortcut through a shopping mall). A quote from machine learning expert Andrew Ng neatly summed it up, ‘There could be a race of killer robots in the far future, but I don’t work on not turning AI evil today for the same reason I don’t worry about the problem of overpopulation on the planet Mars.’ 


Then from tech to art and everything in between. Rolling along the weekend saw the thrilling denouement of the year’s event with a big, stellar, amazing day full of programming, including the final opportunities to check out the Art Program, conference programming, and Film Festival. The Closing Night Film, Life, brings some out-of-this-world talent to the ATX. (Out of this world… get it? Ha.) 

I was too shagged to see Garth Brooks perform and frankly I regret it! Gonna catch some action at the Continental Club and C-boys tonight to make up for it.

Being an acolyte of the dark arts, I was amped to see Dr Robert Cialdini talk on his new book, PRESUASION and the practice of arranging for recipients to be sympathetic to a message before hearing it. I’ve always called that framing but essentially it means to focus on an image or a word consisting of the elemental message – we channel the intention. It’s really the cherry on the top as persuasion is more important but PRESUASION is an accelerator. (You see what I did there Robert?) He was compelling and convincing, though I spent the whole time thinking I may have been presuaded into believing him.

Those were just a few of the big thinkers that I spent time with in Austin. Just being in the presence of these great minds is massively stimulating. We might not be designing Mars robots, building neural interfaces or creating new philosophies, but knowing that there is this huge intellectual space to stretch into, between the everyday and the genius, it’s inspiring. It makes me braver, more ambitious, and yes… more creative. The other two big lessons that it confirmed is that networking is day drinking and that ultimately, we respond more to energy than to peoples words or actions.

Anyways, must go. I’m off to write an investor deck that will RESHAPE HISTORY.

THE YEAR OF THE COCK

Time to go big! After all that monkey business in 2016, I decided to kick 2017 off by leaving the fog of London for Thailand’s warm and tender embrace. Then having established myself in the horribly hip haven of Soi 11, I made my annual pilgrimage to see the little old lady in Chinatown where I buy my ginseng. She informed me that the 4714th year in the Chinese calendar is considered the Year of the Cockerel is metal in essence and relates to gold, gems and jewelry.

A Year of Bling no less… a time that beckons luxurybeautyprosperity and abundance.  Now I’m up  for some of that! My intuition says that 2017 will be a year to crow about with SxSW, Cannes and my new VR projects all lined up (and who couldn’t use an alternate reality right now). Bangkok aka the Big Mango got off to a splendid start with some quality face time with a favourite client: a hot shot producer and all round class act. As a TVC treatment ghostwriter, the only drawback of having A list clientele is that I can’t name drop but if I did, you’d be impressed. He gave me his macro view of how the industry is migrating from 30′ to two minute web films and his approach on the secrets of viral. Stay tuned for all that in another post. We talked over some TVC treatment super hacks that build hot cognition fast and the difference pitching and selling. Pro tip: in a pitch, you don’t need to worry about the long term relationship. You’ve got one shot so don’t waste time trying to ingratiate yourself to the client. Rather hit them repeatedly with why they’ll be in a world of pain if they don’t pick you for the job… confidence creates confidence. I always make the effort to meet my clients face to face as the vast majority are very charming, talented and delightful people. About once a year I run into one that I’d happily send on a package tour to Syria but they’re rare as hens’ teeth. Working with production houses is so much more civilised than the ferocious ego battle fear fests of adland. Now, no one ever dies in advertising we use to say (except in Japan but let’s not go there)  but not so in other professions. One of the first people on my catch up list was the formidable Colonel Mike, former USAF fighter pilots who flew with the Ravens ‘Fly ’til you Die’ squadron during the secret US war in Laos. He was shot down, captured and tortured for two years before he made it back to the US. He’s one tough old bastard and a great friend. Whenever I find myself referring to lengthy pre pros as ‘sheer torture’ or client’s talking about ‘pain points’, I’m reminded of the Colonel and thank my lucky stars I’ve never had to actually fight for the freedom that we all take for granted.  Next up, another old chum,  conflict photographer par extraordiare, the once and only Mr Roger Arnold. I lived in Bangkok for 5 years, 1997 – 2000 as creative director at JWT on Thai International and Sunsilk and from 2007 – 2009 in a new incarnation as an international art dealer and owner of the Gallery of European Art. That was a time when I did a lot of business with Russians (and still do though now in a very different capacity). Roger’s super well connected. He was one of the only Western jounalists to interview Viktor Bout, the guy who Nick Cage played in LORD OF WAR with one of most explosive opening title sequences ever. We traded war stories, his far better than mine as he does actually go to war. Anyways as I was regaling him about my last month in Moscow in September 2015 he asked me if I’d seen the Stop a Douchebag guys. They’re a Russian youth movement that attempts to enforce the traffic regulations in Russia. A splinter group of Vlad Putin’s youth movement, they do not fight for the law. They delight in asking people to think about the rights and convenience of others regardless of whether there is a police officer near them or not. Powerful viral political action – judge for yourself. It all made me miss Moscow and I’m planning a trip back in Q3. Kudos to BBDO Moscow who have kept me in business throughout the crash of the rouble.  Unlike most agencies 90% of all their TVC’s are made by them instead of foreign adaptions so commonplace with the other shops. So when I see Nikolay, Vladlena and Natalia at Cannes, expect the VIP treatment – the Tsarskaya is on me. Арте́льный горшо́к гу́ще кипи́т!

Time to say something nice about 2016…

… as it was very kind to me. After a pleasing Christmas at the ancestral hall, bolstered in no small measure by Ancient Mother’s culinary prowess, I headed back to the Mystic East and to my old stomping grounds in Bangkok for a month. Having lived in Asia since ’88, I try to get there every year but I didn’t manage it in 2015 which made my return all the sweeter. Wonderful to catch up with old friends, haunts and habits. A top chum flew in from HK for some intensive taste testing at Artur Restaurant and a surprise visit to see my gorgeous friend Charlotte at her restaurant,  Bangkok’s finest Italian, the luxurious Sensi. Then we kicked off on a search for the best brunch in Bangkok which I can now confidently assert goes to the Four Seasons. (Get there early or book). Suitably chilled and tanned, I shot back to London to put together a film establishing myself as ghostwriter to the gentry. Thank God the talented Marcus Boyle was there to direct and to stop me acting the prick. Big kudos to Catherine for making sure the whole shebang ran wonderfully and with no fatalities. While we were cutting, I shot off to Birmingham for a jaunt to the northern badlands. Much fun! Then with the edit approved, I jumped aboard NZ1 for the big trip of the year – a couple of months in Lala Land for the LA Film Festival. That was the excuse but basically coz I just love LA and the feeling seems to be reciprocal. Caught up with heaps of clients and with my tribe to get my mojo recalibrated at Joshua Tree with a bit of desert magick. I also discovered the healing balm that is green juice. It was then that I first caught a glimpse of the first spot of 2016 to really send me into a tizzy. Behold the brilliantly, breath-taking Kenzo spot, My Mutant Brain from Spike Jonze 
with a dazzling Margaret Qualley spasming amongst the glitterati and firing laserbeams out of her fingerstips. An homage to his former “Weapon of Choice” video for Fatboy Slim, it is defo in a category all its own. I arrived back to London for a couple of weeks in early June and then it was time to dig out the resort gear which seems to have been discovered by every single Essex boy now – I see them mincing down to the pub in pink pastel shorts and Gucci espadrilles. I had a blast at the Lions in Cannesand you can read all about it here. Post Cannes recovery was spent in the Riviera: mostly in Vieux Nice with jaunts to Monaco and Antibes. It was there that I was blown away by Nike’s Da Da Ding from the superfabulous François Rousselet. Powerful game-changing stuff as girls in India are not encouraged to do any kind of sports but rather concentrate on school and marrying a nice Indian boy from a good family. The brief set out to give this notion a complete makeover by making it cool, accessible and fun and starred the supreme squad of Indian women athletes and celebs in a freewheeling, joyous rebuke to that thinking. A marvellous debut for Nike from W+K’s Delhi office. Back from a week in Berlin and that’s when I started my blog, and occasional vlog.  That’s when I first I caught a glimpse of Audi, Duel from arguably the best director on the planet right now, Ringan Ledwidge. I’ve watched it again and again, right way and reversed to enjoy the spectacularly staged and gleefully fun extravaganza as hotel valets do battle, entirely in reverse, for the right to park an RS 7. Great choreography, eye-popping stunts, perfect payoff—and a genius media buy around the three presidential debates.  And now before you know it, it’s Christmas time again. For me, the clear winner of the crop of Yuletide brand comms is Marks & Spencer nailing the feminist zeitgeist and winning back its core customers by casting Mrs Claus as a stylish, festive, 55-year-old woman in its latest lavish Christmas campaign. Shot by King’s Speech director, Tom Hooper features a young boy, Jake, writing to Mrs Claus on Christmas Eve for urgent help to make peace with his sister, Anna, by replacing some dog-eaten trainers. Glorious stuff and a graceful end to a rambunctious year.

May 2107 be awesome!