Archives For heroes

Surgery is no joke. I get that. But when I found myself confined to quarters for a couple of weeks last year while recovering from (completely scheduled and non-life-threatening) hip surgery, I couldn’t immediately work out why. After all, I’m just a copywriter. My day job really doesn’t require much action from the waist down. Still, I wasn’t about to look at a few weeks off work, say “No thanks” and hand it back, was I?

Losing interest in your work is the start of a slippery slope.

Losing interest in your work is the start of a slippery slope.

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And that was the problem. Work had become an optional extra for me. I struggled to recall the last time I just couldn’t be bothered going there and doing that. Sure, there are plenty of times when work is really inconvenient (like when the swell is running, or your kids want to go for a ride or the love of your life has plans to take you out to dinner), but that’s different. I had arrived at a place (and it was a new place for me) where work wasn’t holding my attention. Trouble was, I had spent so long giving all my attention to the job that, when it wasn’t reciprocating, I felt a bit lost. I’d forgotten to build something that was, creatively, just for me.

“If you really are a writer, you really should write”

That there was the voice of the love of my life. I was hoping she was going to invite me out for dinner, but she was telling me that while I was on my literal arse, recovering from surgery, it was the perfect time to get off my metaphorical arse and start writing that book. This is not the book that I was always threatening to write. This is the book that I had given up even bothering to threaten to write. It had been so long, I had forgotten it was the thing I really wanted to do all along. Crazy, huh? Truthfully, I hadn’t forgotten, I’d just constructed an elaborate excuse: I’m an advertising copywriter, when you boil it right down and so I had (mistakenly) assumed writing fiction was fundamentally the same as my day job. Why would I want to come home from a day of writing to do more writing? Now that I wasn’t writing all day at work, the excuse didn’t hold much water.

“Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.”

 

Rojak, Singapore, fiction

Looking for more words to read?

That’s one of Zadie Smith’s 10 tips for writing and there are times when it makes sense. For me, however, the internet helped me find The Singapore Writers Group and also online fiction writing courses offered by Gotham Writers Workshop and UCLA Extension writers’ program. All three of these gave me the structure that simply steamrollered any ennui or procrastination or fear that might have been lurking at the heart of my inability to write anything other than marketing copy or powerpoint decks. Once you sign up to come to a meetup or be part of a class, the commitment starts to drive you. It’s a task like any other and, provided laziness is not your issue, you find yourself automatically responding. You do the work.

It’s been about a year since I limped out of hospital and now my side project is starting to bear fruit. The first visible sign is my contribution to a book called Rojak: Short Stories from The Singapore Writers Group. Inspired by a gift given to the group by award-winning New Zealand author Andrew Fiu, we’ve written, edited, designed and now published the group’s first annual short story anthology. My story contribution is titled New Guinea Gold, in which a student lets his ambitious girlfriend talk him into smuggling guns and drugs. Rojak became available this week on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.

Also coming out in a few weeks is another short story, this time in Cuttings, which bills itself as an interactive journal of new Australian writing. Available only on iPad, it takes a more inclusive approach to writing by pairing the words with photography, sound and animation. Issue One was as much fun to navigate as it was to read. My story submission included images and time-lapse film created by friend and amazing photographer Martin Ollman. His side project is now his vocation but, with images this good, you’d have to call it a calling.

 

Martin Ollman has a knack for finding otherwordly images literally beneath your feet.

Martin Ollman has a knack for finding otherworldly images literally beneath your feet.

 

I also dabbled with a startup, inspired by a collaboration that occurred in the UCLA writing class I was taking, that aimed to match genre fiction writers with specific experts from certain technical fields. Crime writers could get anecdotes and procedures from a street cop, for example. Historical fiction writers could find professors, erotic novelists could find BDSM mistresses and so on. The service was slated to be called The Fictional Bureau of Investigation and would begin as a simple matching service, progressing all the way to full-blown for-fee manuscript reviews. In between the difficulties of remote managing web development and the growing importance of my own actual writing, I put this project on hold. Besides, you can probably find what you need on Quora or LinkedIn, if you’re willing to put in the effort.

A novel idea.

My ‘real’ side project is a novel of contemporary literary fiction. The idea for it kind of snuck up on me and tapped me on my shoulder while I was exploring these side projects and looking for ways to bring the energy back to my profession. As of this writing, I am midway through the second draft, having spent a fair bit of time studying the art of story structure. I won’t give you the synopsis just yet, except to say the pitch is “Twighlight Zone for the sharing economy”. I am currently looking for serious beta readers for a round of feedback and constructive criticism. If you’d like to offer your time and energy to help me with this side project, I’d love to hear from you.

 What she said

I came to it late, but I revisited Tina Roth Eisenberg’s talk a couple of years back about “The importance of side projects”. Her advice boils down to: Love what you do. Don’t be a complainer. Trust your intuition. If an opportunity scares you, take it. Find like-minded people. Collaborate. Ignore haters. Inspire others with what you do. I feel reassured that I’m following most of this advice as I pursue writing in a setting outside of advertising.

And it’s working. These various project kept me creatively alive and engaged, driven and interested in the world around me while I walked through a fairly unsatisfying mid-career valley. I realised that I had outsourced ‘creative satisfaction’ to my career for (what is now very clear to me) far too long. I also realised that no one is managing your career except you, so if you aren’t doing it, no-one is. I’ve brought the craft of writing back into the office and am currently working on some new training and facilitation programs that help teams build genuinely engaging Branded Stories and to uncover the possibilities of Data Storytelling.

Which is a roundabout way of saying this post marks my last day with Ogilvy & Mather, my last day working on the IBM account and my last day working in Singapore. All three of these things have been important to me (and they’ve occupied 13, 6 and 2 years of my life respectively), but they are not important enough to allow you to forget what it is that you love doing.

I love writing, communicating and persuading. Now that I’m back in the groove, I’m looking forward to new challenges, in new locations, with new partners.

 

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He was recently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

It’s certainly my lucky year for festivals and conferences. In March I flew to Austin Texas for SXSW14, the world’s largest interactive and tech festival where I was deeply impressed by Chinese maker culture, the old rules for new media storytelling and, of course, Bruce Sterling’s closing keynote. In terms of inspiration and education, Southby is very hard to beat. Oh, and because tacos.

I filed stories and interviews every day from SXSW for Ogilvy’s own thought leadership program ogilvydo.com which is a brilliant example of in-house content marketing that takes advantage of a global network of really talented people while operating on the smell of an oily rag. They must have liked what I wrote, because they’ve asked me to be part of the team covering the world’s largest festival of creativity: Cannes Lions, in the south of France.

Winners, grinners & sinners.

Everyone who works in the biz knows of Cannes and the power of the (really quite ugly) trophies they hand out. But it has become much more than an awards show, with a full week of education sessions, keynotes, seminars and workshops to go along with, apparently, a staggering amount of drinking and handshaking.

Every year, the organisers bring a smattering of hollywood and entertainment types (we have the Hoff and SJP to look forward to this year), but personally, I’m looking forward to hearing from the likes of Jonathan Ives, Spike Jones and (my hero) Aaron Sorkin talk about how creativity works in their particular fields.

Advertising is still all about marketing.

I’m also planning on spending time with the big platforms and publishers – the googles, facebooks, twitters et al – who have really been ramping up their presence at Cannes and are now locked in a kind of beachfront creativity & hospitality deathmatch. Honestly, I can’t wait. The other interesting part for me will be taking our brand new Padcaster video rig for a spin – it’s a really clever piece of kit that turns a regular iPad into a super-portable ENG kit, allowing you to shoot, edit and publish directly on the iPad for near-instantaneous broadcasting. I love how it brings together a few pieces of pre-existing componentry to form a totally new machine.

For some of the most comprehensive coverage and insights, I really recommend ogilvydo.com and for a hilarious (and usually pretty accurate) forecast, you should check Ogilvy SA’s CCO Chris Gotz.

 

No matter how commercial or  ‘mainstream’ people say SXSW has gotten, you can always rely on Bruce Sterling to keep it weird. He used his closing address to quietly scare everyone to death with his prediction for the future (ageing + urbanization + climate change = big problems), before announcing that he was giving up being a ‘science fiction writer’ to become a ‘science fiction maker’.

 

Sterling, SXSW, climate change

 

Along the way, he gave us an insightful, eclectic and rather foreboding list of people he believes should be at SXSW in the very near future:

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet: this French politician is educated, feminist, ambitious, environmental, vocal and extremely adept at turning social media visibility into public influence. Sadly, Sterling thinks these are also the reasons she has ‘almost no chance’ of winning the Parisian Mayoral Race.

Gianroberto Casaleggio: Italian web master for the ‘5 star Movement’ (M5S or MoVimento Cinque Stelle). An entrepreneur turned political activist, Sterling sees here an early prototype of what will happen “when smart, connected people with almost no political experience get into power – it’s not going to end well.”

Bruce Sterling, SXSW, climate change

Bruce Sterling has seen the future. It’s not pretty.

Barrett Brown: political writer and satirist, sometimes referred to as the unofficial spokesperson of hacktivist group ‘Anonymous’ and is currently facing 100 years in prison for sharing a link to document relating to the Stratfor email leak. “At the very least, send the guy some books.”

Cody Wilson: a right-wing and free-market anarchist who created Defense Distributed, an organization that created The Liberator, a fully-functioning 3D printable handgun, which has been downloaded 100,000 times. “Thanks to this guy, Austin now has gun stores that accept bitcoins.” 

Ross William Ulbricht: also known as “Dread Pirate Roberts”, the founder of Silk Road: the world’s largest online drugs market, operating on the deep web. “The dark side of all your 2.0 optimism.”

Texas Cryptologic Center: a wing of the NSA that doctors hardware for surveillance and “Answers, really, to no-one.”

Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG): a British government intelligence group that Sterling describes as secret police, agent provocateurs and disruptors of political discourse. “You may well be offered a job by these guys. Don’t accept it. You will not sleep well after this.”

Californians: in huge numbers, due to irrevocable water shortages caused by climate change. “They’ll be incredibly wealthy and they’ll need somewhere to run their tech businesses from. They’ll just move to established cities that have water and buy everything”. If that sounds far-fetched, Sterling reminded us of how California got started in the first place.

 

I travelled to Austin, Texas to cover SXSW 2014 for Ogilvydo, the digital magazine of thought leadership from Ogilvy & Mather.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: main photograph used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

 

 

Most of the interesting work I’ve been pursuing for brands over the last couple of years was directly influenced by the things I learned at South By Southwest, where nerds are celebrities and everyone is trying to launch the next Twitter.

With over 800 scheduled sessions, there is a hell of a lot you can learn in 5 days, but for the sake of brevity, I boiled the findings from my last trip down to a seminar called 10 Things Agencies Can Learn From SXSW.

For me, the most valuable thing I took away was a framework of authenticity, content, relevance and utility as guiding principles for creative and strategic development.

2014: we’re back, baby.

SXSW, texas, Austin, BBQ, Salt Lick

The Salt Lick: the other reason Austin is famous.

Thanks to my friends over at Ogilvydo (the agency’s online magazine for thought-leadership), I am fortunate enough to be heading to Austin again, as part of a larger Ogilvy team bringing you trends and insights for brands, marketers and innovators. My particular focus will be on storytelling: how stories are originated, structured, produced, managed and distributed for brands and their audiences.

There are well over two dozen individual sessions, including a handful of long-form workshops dedicated just to this area and I’ll be doing my best to learn from them all. I’m also looking at startups and innovation culture, growth hacking and future publishing. Here’s my schedule of sessions I’m planning/hoping to attend – if you’ve got recommendations or suggestion I’d love to hear from you.

South By South East Asia: Is America’s biggest tech festival broadening its outlook?

SXSW tara talk

Living in an Asian Megacity is the mother of this particular invention

I spent yesterday afternoon interviewing regional analyst and trendwatcher Tara Hirebet, who is based here in Singapore and operates out of the local chapter of The HUB, a global network of co-working spaces for entrepreneurs, technologists and creatives.

If you’re looking for evidence that startup culture is alive and kicking in Asia, I recommend you start here: it was virtually standing room only on a Tuesday afternoon. Tara was selected to present at this year’s SXSW and I got a sneak preview of her session,  ‘How Overcrowded Asian Cities Inspire Innovation’, which is one of several this year with a distinctly Asian focus.

Another is ‘Co-Creation by Design: Asia, Women & Innovation’ from Singapore-based entrepreneurs Grace Clapham and Bernice Ang. Look for the interviews and previews on Ogilvydo in the next couple of weeks.

You look taller than your avatar

One of the real joys of these conferences is the chance to meet IRL the people that you’ve been reading, following, retweeting and upvoting. If you’re reading this and you’re heading to SXSW, give me a shout @BarrieSeppings

There will be no shortage of SXSW advice articles in the next few weeks (and they all say: stay hydrated, wear comfortable shoes and A.B.C.*), so I won’t add to the pile except to point to the web services I’m relying on to get me there and get me through it:

– hitting up Airbnb for accommodation (which always scarce)

– grooving to these Spotify playlists

– getting some “I met you at” cards from moo.com

– pre-registering for a bunch of events with rsvpster

– keeping Uber up my phone sleeve (taxis are also scarce)

– finding a few local spots via ATXThrillist, if the lanyard crowd gets all too much

Despite all the planning and preparation, I like to think that the random talks – and people – are often the best. It’s always good to have a plan, as long as you remember to stay open to possibilities.

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* Always Be Charging

SXSW Interactive runs from March 7 to 11.

Tara Hirebet is an Asian Trend & Innovation Consultant & Ex-Head of Asia Pacific, trendwatching.com. She will be delivering “How Overcrowded Asian Cities Inspire Innovation” on Monday March 10 at SXSW, Austin, Texas.

Ogilvydo will be covering SXSW Interactive 2014, focusing on trends and insights for brands, marketers and innovators.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

“We’re not trying to be venture capitalists. We think of this simply as an extension of our educational mission.”

The New Museum in lower Manhattan applies the incubator approach to visual art.

I’m ‘busy as’ right now  – and that’s a good thing.

Everyone’s different when it comes to productivity: some people I know love it when things are calm and they have time to think about those projects they’ve been circling around for a while. But I’m one of those people who struggle to build momentum when there’s not much going on. For me, busy is generally better, provided it is the right kind of busy.

Research is a good kind of busy. Sketching is another good kind. Talking with someone really smart, like a papaya, is also pretty good. Tinkering and building and experimenting are also heaps good, until your ambition outruns your abilities and you feel like the kid who’s too short to be on the rollercoaster. This is something I’m (increasingly) familiar with.

Evidence of industry can reveal a lack of thinking

Busy-work, busy for busy’s sake and making a good show of being busy are all incredibly stupid forms of busy. They suck time, in and of themselves, but I find the mental energy it takes to stop myself from choking the living shit out of whomever is causing this kind of busyness leaves me drained of all motivation, I can’t even be bothered to look at the stuff I want to be busy with.

If I were forced to rank them, the absolute worst kind of busyness is ‘presenteeism‘, where your workload or output is measured by how often, and how long, you are perceived (but not measured) to be physically present in your assigned office chair. The worst manifestation of this, the worst kind of busyness, are the people who make the mock-jovial “Half-day today, is it?” comment as you leave the office at a reasonable time. No matter that you’re leaving to go to a meeting / wedding / funeral / surgery / cage fight / someplace you can actually get some fucking work done.
I’ve had this line recently from a couple of different people who really should know a lot better and I think it betrays a hopelessly outmoded, industrial-era view of productivity. In the absence of an appropriately thought-out measure of creative output (Quantity? Impact? Happiness? Empty Red Bull cans?), the lazy manager falls back to the punch-card and the time clock as a way of estimating value.

In the era of mobiles, laptops and wi-fi balloons over the desert, the notion that you can walk out of your office and simultaneously walk away from ‘work’ is faintly ridiculous.

Smarter people than me

The relationship between time and productivity has always had its critics – in the field of Software Engineering, Fred Brooks famously concluded that “adding manpower to a late software project makes it later”. In the realm of time and creativity, Google built its reputation for relentless innovation on the ’20 per cent time’ policy, an idea it actually borrowed from 3M (and added 5%).

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focus, busy, creativity

Some minds require action to achieve focus.

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Even in the valley, times may be changing, back to the future. As companies mature and the pre-IPO frenzy gives way to shareholder demands, Google appears to have killed its ’20 per cent time’ policy (although some believe it will always live). Less open to interpretation is Yahoo’s ban on working from home as it tries to engineer its way back to internet dominance, a move recently copied by HP, another tech giant looking to recapture former glory.

If you can’t beat them

Realising that the demand for commercial and creative productivity (however you care to measure it) is likely to follow me for the rest of my career, I sought help from the self-help section of the bookshop. Surely someone has worked out how I can spend less time on ‘busy work’ and more time getting busy on the work I want to do?

Turns out, plenty of people have. The two volumes that have proved to be most useful for me, however, are at the opposite ends of the practical / philosophical spectrum.

First up: Practicality

I thought I might benefit from having some sort of day-to-day system. Truth be told, I thought I might benefit if I could convince my wife to adopt a day-to-day system: she has 4 to do lists, 3 calendars (that I know of), several contact books and organisers and a snowdrift’s worth of scraps of paper with important things on them. I know she also operates better when busy, but this is going too far.

From where I sit, most of her busyness is caused by having to look for the right book / list / calendar / organiser / snowdrift and that’s where Dave Allen’s ‘Getting it Done’ really shines. It’s a pretty simple and effective way of building a daily ‘system you can trust’ so you can empty all the busy work out of your brain and onto the right list. Once you stop trying to remember all the things you know you shouldn’t forget, it’s remarkable how less ‘busy’ your brain seems to be. It’s working a treat for her and it’s helping me refine the way I use some of my organising tools, like Evernote and bit.ly

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productivity, tools, technology, coach

If I could pay someone to plug it all in and make it work, I probably would.

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Seeing the proliferation of organisational systems and services and sites, I’m convinced there has to be a business in being a ‘personal productivity coach‘ – someone who helps you select and get set up (who has time to read the manual?) on the tools and systems to organise and streamline your work and life, then makes sure they all talk to each other and that they are working for you, rather than the other way around. If you are already this sort of coach, please call me.

In the meantime, if you feel like you could do with a bit of a system, I recommend Getting Things Done, by David Allen.

Next: thinking about doing

Right now, I’ve got: a couple of major work projects; a constant stream of approvals, advice, collaboration and FYIs from offices as far afield as Bangalore, Mexico City, Dubai and Budapest; we’re assisting on some global briefs; I also have a couple of web-based passion projects, a major writing project and I’m taking a couple of courses that, predictably, overlapped a bit. I’m also taking a cue from my eldest daughter & trying to re-learn the habit long-form fictional reading (yes, books). It’s getting busy, but mostly in a good way.

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busy, creativity, productivity

It’s important to dial in the right level of activity. (see what I did there?)

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What’s helping me stay mentally engaged and productive through all of this is a small, very well-written book I discovered, ironically, a couple of months ago during some very non-busy time (caused by major but planned surgery and the resulting recovery period). Steven Pressfield was, at one point a copywriter, but he’s since gone on to write novels and screenplays and this: Do the Work. It’s published by The Domino Project, a new approach to publishing backed by Seth Godin and Amazon.

Do the work, pressfield

Beautiful book, ugly cover.

I wouldn’t have bought this one on the cover alone (it’s a drawing of some significance to the author, but it is hella fugly) and I won’t try to summarise it except to say it does a great job of explaining to you what is probably going on inside your head during all the major stages of a major project. His advice is to not listen too much to what’s going on inside your head, get out of your own way and start before you are ready.

My advice is: if you want to do the work (not the busy work, the real work), read ‘Do The Work‘.

What’s your advice?

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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Advertising is dead. Messaging is dead. Branding is also dead. Or maybe it just has an inoperable tumor of some sort. At least that’s the ‘story’ according to the content marketing military industrial complex as it rolls out the ‘brand story’ juggernaut.

And I’m not here to argue the imminent resurrection of the 30 second spot as the ultimate form of persuasive creativity. Far from it. You can mark me down as a fan of branded content (when done right) and of brand utility in particular. These were definitely the themes I witnessed in 2010 when I was lucky enough to get to SXSW and saw ‘brands as publishers’ emerge as a dominant ambition amongst marketers and agencies in attendance.

No story, straight to bed.

The more recent shift, however, is from brands as publishers of stories in the journalism sense of the word (an analogy that worked well for the PR/social practitioners in the house) to a place where brands now must cast themselves as authors or narrators of stories in the fictional sense of the word.

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Now we're all publishers, all the time.

Now we’re all publishers, all the time.

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As you’d expect, TED talks (and their audiences) are going apeshit for this kind of metaphor. Which means that agencies and marketing departments are going apeshit for it too.  Every brief is now a challenge to “tell our story”. The objective is now to “get users to engage with our story”. The desired outcome is to get users to “share our story” (more sophisticated than saying “get more ‘likes’ on facebook, but essentially the same). It’s all gone a bit story crazy. I’ve even heard the borrowed-jargon double-whammy of ‘curate our stories‘ more times than I’d care to count. I think brands telling their stories is kinda bullshit.

The medium is the massage parlour.

Sure, it can be seen as a welcome evolution from producing and distributing a broadcast message, but in practice, the current format of brands as storytellers is often just a slightly more complex and technologically driven expression of the old political tactic: stay on message. Generally, we’re  just giving our core brand massage a bit of a social rub n’ tug and calling it transmedia storytelling.

The thing about stories (in the fictional sense of the word) is that they aren’t generally neat or straightforward. Hell, they generally aren’t particularly positive of uplifting. Even the ‘happily ever-after’ variety of story needs to go through a few rough patches if it is to have any dramatic tension or connect with the reader.

The best illustration of this comes from Kurt Vonnegut and his ‘Shape of Stories’ theory, reproduced as an infographic here by visual.ly

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Kurt Vonnegut - The Shapes of Stories

Infographic by mayaeilam.  Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.
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You can’t handle a ‘man in hole’

This is a problem for most brands. In practice, their tolerance for anything that is below the midpoint of the ‘happy’ axis is minimal. Can you imagine receiving a brief that states a brand wants to pursue a “man in hole’ storyline? And their reaction when you present back to them a public fuck-up of epic proportions for the second act (the hole) so that the brand (the man) has something to climb out the other side of and into redemption? No, I can’t either.

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Is that your brand at the bottom of that hole?

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So perhaps the idea of a ‘brand story’ is best taken as a metaphor rather than a set of instructions. To that end, Scott Donaton (global chief content officer of UM) did a solid job of pulling the threads of the ‘story as metaphor’ story together to offer some good advice to brands embarking on content. His point of it being ‘not all about you’ is a particularly good one.

I’m not trying to be a literary purist about the word ‘story’ and reclaim it for novelists and screenwriters everywhere, but I do want to sound a note of caution (and realism) as brands rush to become storytellers:

You are probably not your story.

You are more likely to be a character. Or a location. Or a plot device. Or maybe a chapter. But the real protagonist (the person we care most about in any story) is likely to be the person you’ve spent years describing as your audience. And there’s the problem – the person we’re working so hard to tell the story to, is actually the person we should be telling the story about.

Instead of thinking about controlling your brand narrative (still a useful construct, but much more applicable to the world of PR, particularly in the realm of crisis management), think about defining the hole that your brand is pulling the protagonist out of? What are your brand’s main character traits? What actions are believable? What’s their motivation? And perhaps most importantly, how do we as a brand help the protagonist answer the Major Dramatic Question?

So, should brands be authoring stories? Doesn’t really matter what I think, because it’s happening regardless. I would argue, however, that the bulk of marketing activity happening under this terminology isn’t storytelling at all.

It might be a subtle distinction, but I believe brands would be better served if we worked out creative, relevant ways for them to be in the stories being written every day by the artist formerly known as the audience.

At least that’s how I’d cast it.

This post also appeared on the Firebrand Talent Blog

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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You know? The big, tropical fruit? The one with the yellow-green skin? Bright orange flesh inside? Millions of seeds? Ok, here’s a picture:

Yes, it's a papaya. Actually, two of them. Used under Creative Commons. Image by Guah.

Used under Creative Commons. Image by Guah

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Yes. That’s exactly what an agency planner is like. Sometimes they get called strategists, or strat/planners or even ‘hey, you’, but you know who I’m talking about. As a creative, I find planners to be absolutely fundamental to the creative process. They would be the discipline I’d choose to take to my ‘agency desert island’.

I’ve been lucky to have worked with some great ones. Here’s how to tell if your papaya/planner is one too:

They are a little bit exotic.

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Planners might look different to you and me.
Or they might look normal. Either way is fine.

Papayas are not available everywhere, nor should they be. Unless you are actually standing in Tahiti, papayas always look like they’ve come from somewhere else. When they are growing locally, they’re usually transplanted. Planners, you’ll notice are often imports. Or they’ve been away for a while and now they’re back. At the very least, they’ll be sporting an accent of some description. The important thing here is that their ‘statelessness’ gives them a sense of the wider world, often born of direct experience. This shows in their thinking and their approach. Getting outside of a culture, or country or even demographic gives you a much clearer view of what’s really going on. As a creative, you need to start in this place. Your planner can get you there.

They’re only good when ripe

You can tell by giving them a squeeze – the flesh will have some ‘give’ in it. I’m mainly talking about papayas at this point, but I’ve met planners who were similar in this regard. Whether you measure ripeness in terms of age, tenure, time, immersion or some other metric, the unifying characteristic is direct experience. I’m not maintaining that young planners are not useful. They are, provided they’ve invested quite a bit of their time in a particular game (music, fashion, TV culture, cars, sports). They’ve absorbed a particular culture of genre or ‘scene’. It’s got under their skin. To ripen, both planners and papayas need some exposure to the sun, to ‘get out there’. You don’t ripen by being the guy who reads the internet before everybody else does.

They’re good for you

Here's a taste I'm not a fan of. Bananas. They're uniformly awful.

Here’s a taste I’m not a fan of.
Bananas. They’re uniformly awful.

Okay, so maybe you’re not a fan of the taste (I’m talking Papayas here, people), but it’s hard to argue the health benefits. Similarly, planners make you smarter by photosynthesising life + research + thinking into wisdom and then filling you up with it. Often, when you need it most, sometimes when you just want them to shut the fuck up. Either way, you should listen. You’ll be better for it.

They’re better with lime

Not all papayas are awesome on their own. They often need the tang of lime to make them truly sing. So too, he best planners are generally sunny optimistic souls with an acidic, contrarian streak. So while they are always alive to possibilities and potential, presenting strategic market challenges as opportunities for creative thinking, they also have a healthy sense of scepticism. They are pragmatists & realists, able to separate the technology from the use value, the gadget from the emotion, the fad from the trend. This ‘squeeze of lime’ is there to push your thinking, to ask you to take your idea beyond being merely cool into the realm of the genuinely useful.

A little goes a long way

This very expensive medical image was taken inside an actual planner's brain. While she was still alive.

This very expensive medical image was taken inside
an actual planner’s brain.While she was still alive.

I like papayas, but I couldn’t eat a whole one. I feel the same about planners, in the sense that, while i consider them creative partners, I wouldn’t share a room with them. They need space to roam, otherwise they can start stinkin’ up the place, getting over-ripe, over-thought. The other reason you only need small doses is because many of them are way up the I end of the I-to-E scale on the Myers Briggs spectrum. They do their thinking on the inside of their head. Which means that when they do finally speak, they’ve pretty much got it figured out. That’s the time you need to listen, consider and then see how what they’ve just told you impacts your work and thinking. Usually for the better.

They are polarising

Papayas are binary fruit, in that they are either brilliant, or inedible. There is no in-between, no sliding scale. In this regard, planners are exactly the same. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with some blindingly brilliant ones (and encountered the other kind) but I haven’t actually worked with an okay planner. Or even a mostly good one. The same can’t be said of other disciplines in our industry. There are competent suits, capable production managers, solid leaders. I myself am a highly-regarded not-too-bad copywriter. And all of these people and skills and levels of ability are good and useful.
Planners, however, either need to be fantastic or they need to be doing something else.

Let @barrieseppings know what your favourite planner tastes like.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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