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These are confusing times for brands, and the people charged with growing them. On the one hand, we need to ensure the ROI of everything, while on the other we must pursue constant innovation. We need to be open to new technologies, platforms and networks, but we can’t spread our investments too thinly. We’ve got to stay on brand and on message, but we also need to go viral.

These competing ambitions make it very difficult for marketers and agencies to make intelligent choices for their brands – but it is largely our own fault. As an industry, marketing is particularly susceptible to ‘the shiny new object’ syndrome and, after attending SXSW interactive in Austin, Texas last month, I’m predicting that we’re about to start chasing after two diametrically-opposed aims yet again.

Plug in to everything.

Many of the presenters and panelists gave compelling testimonial that technology might not quite be everywhere, but it soon will be. More to the point, they believe it should be. Once we work out how the make wearable computing look more like clothes and less like, well, wearable computing, it appears inevitable that we’ll all be individually wired up, all the time. The ‘quantifiable self’ movement was also highly visible, arguing that the responsibility for monitoring health will soon shift to the individual – and the battery of sensors and transmitters embedded in our bodies.

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data, story

Expect data everywhere.

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Our homes, shops, offices, cars and skies will be literally buzzing with input/output devices, WiFied to the max and constantly shipping information to the grid. For marketers, this new tide of data will start to drive the automation of more decisions and more executions – we’re practically already there with automated media buying exchanges and personalised recommendation engines.

Easily half of the conference seemed to be welcoming our new Big Data overlords and the relentless efficiency it will bring to our lives, ready or not.

But stay, y’know, kinda human.

The other half, however, were preoccupied with that most human of endeavours – storytelling. There were panels and presentations and seminars and workshops on Product Storytelling, Immersive Storytelling, Content Storytelling, Transmedia Storytelling and on and on it went. The unified message from this side of the house seemed to be: use your marketing to tell human stories to human customers in a human voice, you’ll be able to make your brand appear more, well, human.

I’m being flippant here but some of the storytelling advice was pretty solid: stick to a linear format, don’t be afraid of offering complexity to your audience and don’t try and chase out all the imperfections, visual or otherwise. Implicit in all this advice was the belief that storytelling is an inherently good way to go about marketing.

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Is it possible to pull together the threads of story and data for an experience that is accurate and human

Is it possible to pull together the threads of story and data for an experience that is accurate and human?

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 Am I the only one who sees a problem here?

Maybe it’s just a re-imagining of the old above-the-line vs below-the-line marketing split for a fully digitized age, but I believe there’s a real schism developing here. The choice appears to be between a marketing philosophy based on ensuring the absolute accuracy of everything (marketing by algorithm, if you will), and one based on overtly accentuating the human element of communication (artisanal marketing, to borrow an adjective from the hipsters).

Perhaps the answer is ‘yes’.

Yes to being both data-informed and also to being story-driven, which is to say human. Just as we have seen the rise of ‘Data Artists’ in the visual arts world, ‘Data Visualisers’ in the statistics world and, more recently ‘Data Journalists’ in the publishing world, perhaps marketing is about to make room for ‘Data Storytellers’.

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Data Storytelling: patterns stay in the background, humans take the stage.

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This industry needs another made-up job title like a brainstorm needs a ninja evangelist – or like we need brainstorms, for that matter. Real creativity, however, often comes from combining two previously unrelated ideas to develop a new approach and I see real potential in combining these two ascendant disciplines.  A mashup of data analysis and storytelling could result in a new type of communication approach, one that is both accurate and human – and creative in a way we’ve not seen before.

 

This post originally 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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This week, I’m handing the w2fm keyboard over to Ogilvy Sydney Art Director Leisa Ilander who won this year’s GROWIE award and, therefore, a week with us in the Singapore office:

“I’m sitting in a small room with Barrie Seppings and two women infinitely smarter than I am. They’re talking about co-collaboration, startups and innovation and I’m quietly thinking to myself “this wasn’t in the brochure”…

singapore, growies, ogilvy

Singapore takes its architecture seriously.

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But come to think of it, I’m not certain what type of brochure I was reading. Winning a chance to work in the Ogilvy Singapore office for a week appeared to be welcome relief to what has been a hectic start to the year in Sydney.However during the week, as I’ve been welcomed into this incredibly (both literally and metaphorically) warm office, I’ve realised I may have to re-write that brochure.

Start by visiting the land of un-paralleled award opportunities

On my first day I wasn’t given one brief. I wasn’t given two. I was given twenty nine. Each, bar one, was from the “wall of opportunity”; a magical place where briefs are given a new chance; and where an IBM creative can have a crack at a brief for Castrol, The Red Cross or Coca-Cola; in the hope of producing an award-winning idea.

At first the competitive part of me stepped into overdrive – where do I begin; which do I tackle first; how many can I do in a week; breathe, Leisa, breathe. By the end of the week I realised how far I travel down this path is up to me, but the fact this path exists; breathing space outside of the routine, makes it a uniquely refreshing place to visit.

Discover innovation

By Wednesday I’d settled into my routine of walking the twenty odd minutes from my hotel to the office (something I’m told Singaporeans do NOT do, due to the heat), and was taken to my next sightseeing destination – the IBM Lab.

And although my imagination was not satisfied aesthetically (no scientists in lab coats doing experiments), our imaginations were ignited by the current projects demonstrated to us. Projects I’m sure the NDA would disapprove of sharing here, suffice to say we walked away with ideas for new campaigns outside of any currently briefed work. A trip I’d definitely be interested to replicate when I get back home. A similar one, I’m told, was where a boy and his atom originated.

singapore, ogilvy

But its not all glass and steel

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Don’t forget to see the outside world

Which brings me to my meeting with Bernice Ang and Grace Clapham. As anyone working on the IBM account would know, you need to have something between your ears to work on this client. In a job where we sell complex software and service solutions every day, you need to be able to comprehend a thing or two.

But as Barrie begins his interview I am completely overwhelmed. By their intelligence. By their ambition. And by their comprehension of something so completely out of our world.

Barrie is preparing his uniquely Asian-centric coverage of SXSW, and these two women are giving us a sneak peak into their talk Co-Creation by Design: Asia, Women & Innovation. And it’s incredibly enlightening. Not only in it’s content; but the action itself. To look outside of our agency and category bubble and to prepare ourselves for the future is not only relevant, but possibly crucial for our survival as thought-leaders and taste-makers.

These three things I’ve learnt from just a week working with Barrie and the IBM team in the Singapore office. I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed re-writing the brochure with you.

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Leisa Ilander is an Art Director in Sydney, who always keeps her heels, head and standards high. You can follow her on twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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+

Startup Accelerator 'Boomtown' Launches in Boulder with Alex Bogusky's Help  

Warning: humblebrag approaching

I’m paid to generate ideas and that’s fun, but it’s becoming clearer that execution is the new black. If that’s true, then I’m here to declare longevity is the new chrome. One of the better ideas I’ve had (okay, stolen) in recent times is an internal program we’ve established at Ogilvy Singapore called the Ogilvy Adventure Squad.

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Know the face, but not the name.

The program was created to help tackle the siloification that invariably happens in organisations as they become larger, both in terms of headcount and areas of specialisation. The mechanics of the idea involves throwing a small group of people from different departments together for a short but reasonably hardcore adventure trip, doing or learning something new and physically demanding.

The Adventure Squad kicked off last year with trips to Malaysia to go rockclimbing, out into the South China Sea to go scuba diving and over to Sri Lanka for a what turned out to be an unbelievably good surf trip (4 to 6ft of swell and glassy conditions, in case you were wondering). All the trips offered something for the enthusiasts as well as professional lessons and gear hires for newbies.

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Shared experiences lead to shared goals

The result was a whole bunch of new informal connections and networks springing up all over the business between people who could probably help each other a lot, but so far have found no real reason to say anything beyond “Hi” in the lunchroom. And here’s the truly heartening result: in 2014, the agency is backing it again.

Not coincidentally, the agency is also restructuring to foster more integration between specialisations (I know: everyone says they are doing it but I’m yet to see it happen, at scale, as a result an intentional). While structure and method and org charts are important, I’m a big believer in getting the bloodware right, which is much more an ongoing management process than a run-and-done engineering task.

snowboard

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to pack my Burton jacket and Anon goggles – the next Ogilvy Adventure Squad mission is our snowboard trip to Hakuba, Japan, where the forecast is for snow, snow and quite possibly more snow.

 

 

 

 

 

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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+

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We’ve been in the business of anthropomorphising Brands for a while now. We talk about expressing the ‘Brand personality’. We ensure our Brand has values. We get very serious about this stuff, we call them ‘core values’. We spend a lot of time asking people to engage with our Brand. We help facilitate relationships with our Brand. But then we get jealous and appoint ourselves Brand Guardians. In short, we’ve been treating Brands as people and making their wellbeing our professional responsibility,

Shouldn’t we stop for a moment and ask our Brands if they’re happy?

I got to thinking about the mental health of Brands while attending a talk by UK psychologist Oliver James, who appeared at the Singapore Writers Festival* earlier this week.

James used his ‘meet the author’ talk to discuss what it might take (assuming it’s remotely possible in the first place) for an individual, family or even a society to be genuinely happy. By way of background, James coined the phrase Affluenza, wrote the parenting guide “How Not to F*** Them Up”, and is now advocating ‘Lovebombing’ – giving your child complete control (and emotional support) for 48 hours as a way of re-setting their emotional thermostat. As a speaker, he’s an acquired taste, but his insights were eminently applicable and grounded in fairly deep science.

brands, mental health, happiness

Not happy.

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While discussing childhood, parenting, materialism and the impending collapse of the economic system, he also offered some insight into the ‘dark triad’ of CEOs and other business leaders. Reassuringly, your boss is composed of equal parts psychopathy, narcissism and machiavellianism (and I imagine a lot of heads are nodding out there while reading along).

After dissecting all the things that make everyone so miserable (parents, work, materialism, Tony Blair), James summed up by offering a really useful and interesting checklist of the traits of mentally healthy people.

Here’s Oliver James’ recipe for happiness:

1. Living in the present

2.  Two-way communication (knowing when to listen and when to assert your voice)

3. Insight (understanding how your childhood affects your adulthood) and empathy (understanding how you are perceived by and affect others)

4. Playfulness (child-like wonder and enthusiasm)

5. Vivacity and vitality (these are not the same as hyperactivity)

6. Authenticity (which, importantly, is not the same as sincerity)

So if we roll with the metaphor of Brand-as-personality for a moment, we could probably take this recipe and use it help us nurture ‘mentally healthy’ or happy Brands. That is, Brands that people want to engage with and form a relationship with.

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brands, people, personality

We demand that almost everything has to have personality.

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The 6 things happy, mentally healthy Brands do:

(with apologies to Oliver James)

1. They live in the here and now: forget globally-centralised, 3-year brand strategies, happy brands live where you do and react to the same environment and times that you and I are living in.

In practice: agencies that are run more like newsrooms, global strategy with local input and real-time marketing.

2. They listen as often as they speak: set and forget broadcast models show brands have a ‘tin ear’. Listening for insights, alert for trends and reactive to change, Happy Brands also know when to assert their voice and have the self-confidence to make their opinions and presence felt.

In practice: social listening, empowered staff and a well-defined scope of expertise that your Brand can offer as a ‘gift of knowledge’.

3. They understand their heritage and their sphere of influence: Nike and athletics, Volvo and safety, IBM and technology. Happy Brands don’t deny they were shaped by their childhood, and they use that to their advantage. Constant, fashion-driven re-invention displays a lack of maturity. In practical terms: operating within a Brand’s wheelhouse and realising when a scenario is not appropriate for them to be present (Kenneth Cole, we’re looking at you). These narcissistic brands believe they are  always the main character in their own story.

In practice: take the time to understand your Brand’s original raison d’être and then update that for the here and now.

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skywhale, playful, happiness.

When playful things happen on a grand scale.

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4. They embrace play as a valid form of expression: Healthy, happy brands have a lot in common with human kids – they regard creative play as their ‘work’. Google’s ever-changing, often playful homepage is a perfect example. Taking yourself too seriously demonstrates a lack of self-awareness in humans and Brands, limiting themselves to only themselves as atopic, often behave the same way.

In practice: loosen up on the ROI metric-a-thon and provide a way for your fans to use your Brand to express something they enjoy. If you are accused of ‘just playing around’ – you may well be doin’ it right.

5. They show vivacity and vitality: Being unafraid to display bursts of unbridled enthusiasm (red bull let a guy fall from space) and also passion is a very appealing trait. When this passion is a passion shared with the audience, the Brand starts to feel like it is part of a tribe – it believes in the same things as we do. Instead, many Brands see themselves as the tribe, which we can only join via purchase.

In practice: create brand experiences and service that contribute in a useful, meaningful and helpful way. Re-consider the hyperactive ‘content factory’ approach that is merely evidence of industry.

6. They value (and practice) authenticity: When Oliver James explained that this was not the same as sincerity he illustrated his point with the example of Tony Blair, who was sincere in his admission that he knew Iraq did not have WMDs when he authorised military action. James believes Blair used his sincerity (“I sincerely believed it was the right thing to do”) as way of apologising for his lack of authenticity (“I knew I didn’t have the proof I needed, so I made it up”).

The practical corollary for bands here is in the field of PR and crisis management, where authenticity is going to be seen as more forgivable for a Brand than manufactured or self-serving sincerity.

The challenge now is for agencies to adapt their structure and their Operating Systems to be more ‘parental’ and less managerial. A happy brand is one that people want to hang out with and that has to be agencies’ number one objective, right kids?

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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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* I really have to take a moment to declare that I found the Singapore Writer’s Festival, on the whole, to be a pretty frustrating experience. It’s not a brand I’m ready to have a relationship with.

Even then, they are still kind of dopey. Ok, dopey is a bit harsh. At best, they are an imprecise measure of a spectacularly subjective quality, which is, ironically, ‘quality’. At worst, they can totally warp an agency’s culture and turn relatively normal people into career dickheads. Irregardless, it was welcome news to learn that both our China team and our Sydney team were handed silver trophies from the DMA Echo Awards last week.

When we’re talking about demand generation in particular, the Echos are the creative awards you want to win, because of the fairly significant and reasonably rigorous effectiveness component of the judging criteria. The work has to be good, it has to be real and it has to have worked.

What was really interesting was that the two pieces of work were for the same client, reaching the same (basic) audience, entered in the same awards category to produce the same awards result: silver. But the 2 pieces are radically different from each other – in form, strategy and tone.

The Ogilvy China team produced a branded content film called Parallel Paths for the Notes productivity suite, which told the story of two young and hungry salesmen climbing the corporate ladder, and let the Lotus information flow naturally throughout the story. This piece picked up a similar coloured trophy from Spikes just a few weeks earlier.

The Sydney team were tasked with convincing CIOs to outsource parts of the workload and resources they would normally consider to be the domain of ‘their department’. The approach here was to appeal to the audience as people, not roles, and draw a parallel (see what I did there?) with their own workloads – in this case, mowing the lawn.

DMA echo, award, Ogilvy Sydney

It’s hard to ignore the fact that someone just sent you a load of grass.

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The “Grass Pack’ as it became known is particularly interesting, as it’s almost retro in execution: a completely analogue, dimensional mailer. It was particularly effective, I believe, because of the contrarian approach the team took to delivery. The average IT manager’s inbox is overflowing with messages, while their in-office pigeon holes would be lucky to see more than the occasional leaflet. If you want to stand out, move away from the crowd, which is part of the reason why a piece of artificial turf outperformed a dozen email campaigns, combined.

I don’t like to say “I told you so”.

I love to say it. Which is why I’m going to point out that I called Direct Mail “The comeback kid” a couple of years ago, and I think the assertion is still valid. There are a lot of fundamental disciplines that classic DM can offer to digital campaign planning (the importance of the list, the creative opportunities of segmentation and personalisation, the advantage of perceived value versus actual cost and so on).

But if you treat the desk space (rather than the desktop) as media space, the reach and frequency of creative mail can be spectacular, especially if you are selling into a ‘buying cell’ of multiple stakeholders and decision-makers.

I don’t think these pieces are good because they won (I think they are good and they won). We’ve had other great pieces struggle in award shows this year, I believe, partly because the complexity of the solution slowed them down. We’ve even had pieces rejected by awards show entry co-ordinators for being in the wrong category, only to be rejected again in the categories suggested to us by those same co-ordinators, again for being in the wrong category. At that point, you know it’s time to walk away from that particular casino.

Again, congrats to our China team for creating entertainment from email software and to our Sydney team for cleverly moving against the herd.

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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+

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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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7 reasons why a surf trip is the fastest route to collaboration

Why is it so hard to ‘do’ integration and collaboration in big agencies? Because, in a big agency, we mainly work with strangers. The size, the layout, the turnover and the turf-wars all conspire against becoming familiar with people you share office-space but not projects.

Ogilvy (where I work) is no different from most other big agencies – our success has bred scale which is now, in some ways, working against us. This is compounded by our ‘screen addiction’ and the belief that everything you need to know is “in the computer”. Something had to be done.

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Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 12.04.37 AM

Who wants to go on a surf trip to Sri Lanka?

 

The idea was, ahem, borrowed from Paul Dunne, a Creative Director formerly of the Sydney office, who organised an informal agency ski trip a few years ago. This one-off trip that started out as a bunch of mates car-pooling for a weekend at Perisher snowballed (see what I did there?) into a hugely-anticipated annual festival: a busload of agency people booking out an entire chalet, having a ball and making a lot of new friends in the process.

Management got behind it, giving everyone Friday off for travel and buying everyone a steak dinner on Saturday night. I loved those trips, so when I moved to Singapore last year, I decided to scale it up and re-mix it for the tropics: Welcome to the Ogilvy Adventure Squad!Screen Shot 2013-08-04 at 12.16.46 AM

There was an entirely selfish reason* I started the Squad, but the official reason, the one I pitched to management during a ‘David’s Den’ internal incubator session was:

1. it’s a great way to bust silos.

I argued that if we could get a bunch of strangers from around the agency and take them away together doing something exciting and slightly dangerous, most of them would come back friends. And an agency where everyone had a friend in every department would be more naturally collaborative, creative and productive. Best of all, I concluded –

2. it doesn’t have to cost the agency a dime.

Ok, I lied about the cost part. Although the individuals pay their own way for each trip, we did spend a little money, buying props for the teaser campaign: a few pieces of obscure sports equipment scattered around the halls, and tiny little signs that suggested if you knew what these objects were for, we needed to talk. We chose the stealth route, because –

3. it attracts curious, passionate individuals

– who, in our case, revealed themselves to us as mad-keen surfers, divers and rock-climbers. We asked them if they were willing to research, design and lead a random collection of their colleagues on the three-day trip of their dreams (it could just as easily  have been of their nightmares), according some fairly simple criteria:

      • Somewhere out of the country
      • But not too far
      • Suitable for beginners, with instruction and equipment provided
      • Insure-able
Dive, buddies.

Dive, buddies.

Once word got out, plenty of people came back to us with trip suggestions, but ultimately only a couple stuck with it long enough to actually manage all the travel logistics and ‘cat-herding’ required to get a trip organised and filled with confirmed participants. We discovered it can be risky to let each leader organise things independently, but it pays off as –

4. it unearths the hidden leaders

– from parts of the agency or roles where you wouldn’t expect (or maybe we’d just never given them the opportunity to lead). The Adventure Squad began to behave like a de facto client, requiring meetings, publicity, project management, stakeholder communications and so on. It had everything except a budget, which can be a pain in the arse, but on the plus side –

5. it shows you who the real resources are

– within your agency, people who know how to get things done and, with the right motivation, actually do it. Management often knows who these people are, but it’s very powerful to watch these people discover, help and respect each other. It generates a series of informal networks and a living ‘favour bank’ with more natural liquidity than the far more common practice of senior people roping more junior talent (and usually the same, small dedicated crew), into unpaid & unbilled work.

Solid, like a rock.

Solid, like a rock.

The reason we set the ‘remote location’ criteria and favoured the more extreme activities to launch the Squad is the belief that once you’ve shared a 5-hour bus ride down the coast of Sri Lanka, a cramped boat cabin for 3 days or wedgies and rope-burn with your colleagues –

6. it stops people acting like dicks

– especially at that crucial moment when you see each other in the staff kitchen on Monday morning and have to make that split-second decision about whether you’ll engage in conversation or just make your tea and head back to your desk. Those are the little moments, multiplied across hundreds of staff and dozens of Monday mornings, that determine what sort of ‘Agency Culture’ you have and whether collaboration becomes a habit or a perpetual to-do item.

Everyone gets a seat at the table.

Everyone gets a seat at the table.

You were looking for seven things, right? Because the name of this story is “7 ways… “. Wow, we’ve all become such suckers for lists on the internet, haven’t we? Okay, because –

7. it makes them feel, just maybe, they’re in an industry that might still be considered cool.

Or at least in an Agency that knows how to have fun. In a high-turnover environment like Asia, attracting and retaining talent can be a full-time job. So being (and being known as) the Agency that lets you go surfing in Sri Lanka, diving in the South China Sea or rock climbing in Malaysia for the weekend with 10 brand new friends, does have it’s advantages. Here’s the video that the crew put together to showcase the adventures.

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Get the teams to document and merchandise their adventures back to the wider agency - video works well.

Get the teams to document and merchandise their adventures back to the wider agency – video works well.

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Ogilvy Adventure Squad is back for 2013, bigger and better. We just launched the end-of season calendar to a packed crowd in the agency arena (yes we’re that big now) and confirmed 8 new adventures:

          • Dirt-biking in Johor Barhu
          • Paddling around Sentosa Island
          • Yoga on the Gili Islands
          • Hiking up Mt Bromo, Java
          • Diving in Cebu
          • Whitewater rafting in Chiang Mai
          • Surfing agin, but this time in Lombok, and the trip that has everyone on this equatorial island very, very excited:
          • Snowboarding in Japan. OMG, right?

What’s particularly satisfying is to see that 1 leader is returning, 2 people who were on last year’s trips have volunteered as leaders and 5 new leaders are stepping up – including one who is doing so expressly to meet new people. Almost all of them are mid to junior level and many are new to the agency. It’s the sort of shot in the arm a big agency needs to continually give itself if it wants to keep producing results like a hot shop.

 

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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+

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* The selfish reason I started the Squad?  My entirely reasonable wife allows me to go on surfing trips pretty much any time i want, provided I go with a surf buddy. The Squad was really just an elaborate way to find some of those, but don’t tell management.

As soon as something goes wrong in an agency (mercifully, not as common as you’d think) everyone starts yelling about process. Who followed it, who didn’t, why it doesn’t work and how it should. That’s the wrong time to be worried about process, frankly. What’s more interesting is how almost no-one, at these critical moments, ever pulls out a piece of paper with ‘The Process” written across the top and holds everyone accountable to it.

And that’s because the piece of paper doesn’t usually exist. ‘The Process’ is a mystical thing in most agencies, something akin to a belief system, that unites individuals of common vintages, departments and roles against pretty much everyone else, particularly when the shit starts meeting the Dyson Air Multiplier.

Why there really is no ‘The Process’.

Image by Martin Ollman

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‘The Process’ is rarely written down, partly because it’s hard, thankless work but mainly because the variables involved in producing (or even not producing) work in an agency have become awesome in scale, and a decision-tree style logic flow is simply unable to cope with reality. This is where software appears to be stepping in.

ERP-style approaches to the production process have been around forever, mainly in the form of print-production workflow management software that have grown over time to encompass digital and screen production. But they just monitor the process – they don’t really help you understand or improve it.

On the other end of the spectrum, big agencies like Ogilvy (the one I work for) have developed a series of tools  for integrated planning, briefing and delivery called Fusion, but these major on the intellectual end of the endeavour. At a more prosaic level, Fusion doesn’t really tell you what was supposed to be done today and whose throat you’ll have to choke to get it.

What both of these approaches have in common is a fairly high level of required investment: either in terms of straight-up dollars for software purchases or the kind of deep-bench global-network intellectual capital that’s required to develop something like Fusion from scratch.

Enter the cloud

Image by Martin Ollman

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Over the last few weeks, Adobe has been roadshowing it’s new Marketing Cloud offering which brings together 5 different analytics dashboards into a single management platform: it’s big on tracking and analytics, offering some Digital Asset Management and predictive capabilities. If they can get it to talk to Creative Cloud, it’s going to be fairly powerful for agencies where creatives and strategist and producers are already talking. (Just cos the software is integrated doesn’t mean the teams using the software are).

Adobe’s move came hot on the heels of SalesForce’s identically-named Marketing Cloud (maybe these guys could use some marketing themselves?) which appears to be social-media monitoring (their recent Radian6 acquisition) layered onto the one-push distribution platform of BuddyMedia. Similarly, the value proposition is insights-from-data, the model is pay-as-you-go and the experience is dashboard-heavy. Initial reviews were mixed for Adobe, slightly more positive for Salesforce.

In a truly software-inspired move, Shift shift.com has also entered the fray as an open-source marketing integration platform at a distinctly lower price point (read: free). This Venturebeat report lays out the basics, but it essentially draws together data from a host of specialist platforms into one uber-dashboard “somewhat analogous to Facebook’s social graph… sort of like Facebook for your marketing campaign.”

‘The Process’ as Operating System

These marketing cloud services seem to be pitched at advertisers – the marketing departments of businesses that actually sell stuff. This is inherently dangerous for agencies: if clients start to confidently handle their own execution, using platforms that automate and automagically improve performance, what the hell do agencies do?

What they should be doing, I believe, is to remain focussed on the strategic and creative thinking that is the heart of every good campaign, while simultaneously getting skilled up on these new ‘tools of execution’.

What does your Agency run on?

Image by Martin Ollman

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Where I think some of these cloud services could ultimately be very useful is as the Operating System of Agencies. I forsee a time where smaller agencies can start approaching larger clients, offering the bespoke thinking that agencies are really good at, with the flawless execution that, quite frankly, they are uniformly not.

For these cloud-based vendors, smaller (and maybe mid-size as well) agencies represent a whole new class of re-seller. An ecosystem of trained, certified and supported agencies, developing creative solutions and executing them via a sophisticated delivery platform could radically re-shape agency-land outside of the holding-company-conglomerate-networks. ‘Powered by SalesForce’ or ‘Adobe Cloud-Certified’ could be the ‘Authorised Dealer’ of the agency world. Any bets on how long it will take Google, Facebook and perhaps Amazon to start building/buying/rolling out their version of an Agency OS?

Interestingly, a few Agency infrastructure items washed up in my feeds while I was writing this: ViaMark in the states has re-launched it’s ‘Agency franchise’ model after mothballing it for a few years during the financial crisis, offering to standardise the back-end functions of billings and media booking for small local agencies; at the other end of the spectrum, this AdExchanger interview with Tim Hanlon suggests that mega Agency groups (like the upcoming Publicis-Omnicom merger) will need to arrange themselves as an ‘Agency Stack’ to remain relevant. If this recent attempt by Publicis to mandate Lotus Notes as their email infrastructure is anything to go by, there’s still work to be done. 

And now I have a question for all the senior-level big-agency dreamers out there: would you be more likely to consider starting your own agency if you had a pay-per-use OS that handled all the ‘busy work’ while you stayed focussed on the thinking and the clients?

Tweet your answer to @barrieseppings using #agencyOS

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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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