A leap into the unknown

A few months ago, I, along with two of my most trusted friends, decided to take a massive leap and set up our own business; Cord.

I say massive leap, because it meant leaving the security of a full-time job; the regular income, the paid holiday, sick pay… all the things that provide some degree of assurance that each month you’re going to have enough money to pay the mortgage, feed your family and, well, live.

It’s a massive leap because, despite what some people seem to profess on LinkedIn, setting up a business is complicated. To begin with, there’s a ton of admin that you have to start doing, and for someone like me, it isn’t something that comes naturally. Not only am I not that good at the financial and operational side of things, I’m not particularly interested in it either — I just want to do good work.

By running your own business, you absolutely have to be interested in the admin and the numbers, because without a strong understanding of what’s going on under the bonnet, you’re doomed.

Thankfully, these days, there are a ton of brilliant tools, apps and solutions that make everything, from accounting to invoicing a doddle. God bless SaaS and the cloud.

Cord is now two weeks old. We decided to set it up because we became disillusioned with the traditional agency model; a model developed a long time ago, when life was simpler and you could count your choice of media on one hand. Whilst this model might have been fine in the 60’s, it isn’t fit for purpose today.

The need for a different way of doing things has never been greater; a new model, better suited to getting to creative solutions for businesses. Solutions that are developed faster, in a more efficient and effective manner.

The three of us all worked together previously, and despite our varied expertise, we saw the power of strategy and creative working as one to solve problems and develop creative solutions.

We believe this is the only way to work when creativity is concerned, and we believe so strongly in it we’ve given it a name; Collective Thinking.

No more production line.

No more planning briefing creative.

No more back and forth.

No more egos protecting their discipline.

No more land grabbing or internal squabbles.

No more departments.

We’ve even done away with job titles.

At Cord, we are all creative and we are all strategic and we all work collectively to solve your biggest marketing and advertising challenges.

We’ve already been working on some brilliant projects; from running a creative comms planning workshop at TBWA, and a brand and creative strategy workshop for Carlsberg in Ukraine.

The work has been exciting, fascinating, challenging, creative and a hell of a lot of fun. It’s a joy to work in this way, and Cord has rekindled my love for the industry – at a time when I was ready to chuck it all in and go and do something completely non–advertising related.

In going through this process, I’ve also learned something about myself; that the thing I thought I’d hate most is actually something I realise I absolutely love; the hustle.

Being able to go in to a prospective client and talk with authority and confidence about what you do, and what you can do for and with them is an amazing thing.

Another platform I’ve only really recently started to see the true potential of is LinkedIn. Since launching Cord, I’ve been consistently surprised at how many people have got in touch to find out more. As a tool for promoting your business and networking it’s really come to life for me.

The first few weeks have surpassed all of my expectations. Whilst I know that it’s not always going to be a series of highs, I will say that if you’re sat at a desk in your day job, feeling bored, unappreciated, disengaged, whilst dreaming of setting up your own business, then do it.

Yes it’s scary.

Yes it can be complicated.

Yes it takes over your life.

Yes you lose any sense of certainty from a financial perspective.

Yes you have to learn a fuck-ton of new things.

But the very fact it’s yours, forces you to embrace it, and dive head first into everything.

This post isn’t about touting for business. It’s about sharing my experience of what it means to set up your own business. However, if you’re reading this and do have a strategic or creative challenge you think we might be able to help with, or you want to find out more about our Collective Thinking model, or you just fancy grabbing a coffee and a chat, feel free to get in touch.

They say you should never meet your heroes

…but I did – and I’m really glad.

Ever since I started out working in planning – about thirteen years ago, I’ve been on a continual drive to learn as much as possible from whomever and wherever I can.

I’ve always said that planning is unlike most other disciplines within an agency, for a variety of reasons. Project management for instance, you’ve got agile and waterfall methodologies to work to. The frameworks are proven and effective.

Whereas, planning is different. Whilst there are a plethora of books you can read, and different frameworks you can use, and courses by the IPA and APG to aid your thinking and your output, the actual way you go about actually doing planning is massively open.

It also doesn’t help that planning isn’t one dimensional, and instead, multi-faceted. It intertwines with and overlaps so many other specialisms in the agency, from analytics and business intelligence, to creative and copy, and even into client service… (hint – if you’re a planner and you’re not presenting your thinking to your clients, do something about it).

So you have to be an expert generalist, and on any day, wear a multitude of different caps to fit the many different contexts and scenarios you’ll end up in.

Planners will often pigeonhole themselves as ‘brand’ or ‘comms’ or ‘data’ or ‘creative’ and whilst I agree there needs to be these sorts of specialisms, I’m convinced most [good] planners – specialist or not, have a bit of everything in them.

With planners who I’ve managed in the past, I’ve always advocated them finding their own individual style for their planning. From how they approach a problem, to how they craft their thinking. I tend to find this is a far more effective way to help people develop that trying to force a one-size-fits-all way of doing their planning upon them.

But like those I’m managing today, I also had to start somewhere and beyond the many business, advertising, strategy and creative books I’ve bought and read, I found the Internet to be the best source for not only developing my craft, but also giving me a level head and keeping me in check.

As with most professions and hobbies, there’s a really strong community that exists for planning. Most planners I’ve ever met are generally quite emotional, deep thinkers who have a high degree of empathy and curiosity. The sort of traits that add a richness to some brilliant discussions you see about life+advertising on blogs and social media.

Over the years I’ve built up a fairly hefty list of planners who blog and planning resources, which I promise I’ll share one I’ve had time to update it as I’m sure by now many of the links no longer work. From the brilliant Nick Emmel’s irreverent guide to writing creative briefs, to Julian Cole’s Planning Dirty newsletter, Martin Weigel’s blog to Mark Pollard’s no-nonsense approach. As a planner today, you’re spoiled for choice.

But there’s one stand-out resource that for me, has been both instrumental in helping me develop my craft and which, has kept me sane. This resource has helped show me the importance of qualities such as integrity and honesty in my work. That it’s OK to say ‘I don’t know’ and ‘I don’t think it’s the right thing to do’. That the obvious route is probably not the right, nor best way to go about something. That there’s always a better answer to a problem. That lateral thinking trumps literal thinking when creativity is concerned. That it’s OK to call bullshit on lazy planning and crappy advertising.

What is this resource I hear you ask?

Rob Campbell’s blog.

In December, I had the pleasure of finally meeting Rob – after a decade of reading his blog. I simply wanted a bit of advice on a number of different planning related things and despite not really knowing me, he offered to meet for a coffee and lend an ear. His advice and kindness was beyond words.

My only disappointment was he wasn’t wearing his trademark Birkenstocks. But it was December so I can probably just about forgive him.

So my advice to you is this; if you’re not learning from the people you work with, move teams. If you can’t move teams, move jobs. If you can’t move jobs, then find someone who can be your source of inspiration and guidance. It’ll do more for both your career and your mental state than any book or course ever will.

Keep hunting. They’ll definitely be out there.

True connection

The biggest challenge every brand faces, is connecting with people. But despite global advertising spend in 2018 being a gargantuan $543.71 billion dollars, very few get it right. For context, 543 billion dollars is roughly the same as the entire GDP of Switzerland as ranked by the IMF. It’s why the majority of advertising, as Dave Trott expressed so eloquently is nothing more than wallpaper.

Ever since I started my career in planning, everywhere I’ve worked, there has been an obsession over ‘the insight’. There’s been so much written about insights by the likes of Rob Campbell, Martin Weigel and Mark Pollard in far better ways than I could ever aspire to. As such, I won’t go into detail, other than to say that the longer I’ve worked in the industry, the more I’ve come to realise that almost every insight isn’t really that insightful, and instead, merely an observation about a group of people.

(I’m getting to the point of this article I promise)

Recently, I’ve had to go through a period of my life of fairly intense self-reflection, and recognise that it’s OK to not be OK all of the time. I think that the nature of the industry I work in has meant that I’ve simply tried to pretend I’m fine, when sometimes I’m not.

My natural reaction is to go online and seek out information and advice – of which, there is plenty. But rarely does it give me the answer I want. Not because it doesn’t say the right things, but because it’s dry, and cold, and only connects with me on a rational level.

Actually, I can probably count on both hands, the number of times something I’ve read has connected with me on a genuinely emotional level, but recently this has changed – a few of the articles I’ve read have smacked me round the face like a ton of bricks. They’ve connected with me on a deep, emotional level. Made me look inwardly. Made me stop, think and reflect.

Triggering that sort of response is nirvana for any brand’s advertising, but if any brand’s survival is predicated on their ability to connect with people, then why does so much of all advertising fail to do this:

Martin Weigel – Escape from Fantasy

As you can see, it’s getting worse. People don’t favour advertising in the same way they used to. Despite having more channels and mediums that we know what to do with, the drive seems to be on creating more and more wallpaper, and that simply doesn’t feel right.

There are however, a few brands who do get it right, almost every single time:

Nike is the brand synonymous for one that gets culture. A brand that has a view on the world, and the eyes and ears of its audience. A brand that understands that to connect with people you need to really understand and empathise with them. You’ll notice that in much of Nike’s above the line advertising, products are rarely featured. They don’t need to be. People get what Nike is about and who they are for.

Perhaps it’s time for more brands to escape the confines of their own echo chambers, and start really focusing on people, see how they can be more relevant in people’s lives, how they can communicate with people in ways that are authentic, and believable – not patronising.

Perhaps it’s time for brands to start seeing the true potential of connecting with people.