Mother London bags Campaign’s agency of the year in its 21st year.

There’s a lot of reasons to admire Mother.  Here are four of them.

  1.  The management team picture


2.  Helping staff

Free breakfast and lunch are standard but it also offers a £1,000 bonus to people who successfully give up smoking

3. This – my ad of the year


4.  And this.  Laugh out loud funny with a strong communication and a great end line.

Quite nice.




And finally a new order (or is it an old one in disguise) is taking shape. The death of J Walter Thomson.

At no point in my 33 year long career could I have expected to be writing a post about JWT being no more.  (In fact in the early days I didn’t know what a post was.)

In fact in the early days there was no internet to even write a post on.

But today Wire and Plastic Products announced that after a tumultuous year, including the merger of Y&R and VML, with Y&R taking second fiddle in the naming stakes (VMLY&R), JWT is to merge with Wunderman and be called…just Wunderman.  What’s more, this article in today’s Drum also talks of the rise of creative and media agencies joining forces.

What we are actually talking about here is the re-emergence of the ‘Full Service Agency” that typified the landscape upon my entry in 1985.

The fracturing of our industry following the rise of the ‘media independents’ caused major financial ramifications and a loss of credibility for either camp, certainly a loss of income.

But now data (media ) and ‘media independents’ are once again forming a properly integrated alliance.

I’m not one of those Ad Contarians that bemoans the death of the idea, although I still cherish it, but good targeting and good creativity was what worked back in the day and will necessarily work again.

I suppose it’s progress.

New look blog for Think Hard.

It’s pretty much the same content but I’ve applied a new, more open, theme (called Hemingway Rewritten) and added better navigation.  Here’s a couple of pointers.

Firstly you can access content by category a little easier by clicking on the sidebar

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Next, I’ve reconfigured my Blogroll and made it more prominent.  This means you can directly access some of my other blogs should you so wish.  The red dots are my own.

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I’ve also raised the sign up button to the top should you want updates emailed to you.

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Otherwise, it’s the same old opinionated ranting.

The end of my first decade of Thinking Hard? No, the start of my second!

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Ten years ago I sat at my desk looking out onto Ashburnham Loan without a single client.  I’d walked away from my job as CEO of a Stock Market listed communications group.  Just like three years earlier I had walked away from my role as MD of my own advertising agency (50 strong and highly regarded).

Why had I done this?

(After all, to lose one senior level role is unfortunate, to lose two is downright carelessness.)

But I hadn’t lost either of them.

I’d elected to change my viewpoint on work.  To get out of the hamster’s wheel of eternal financial year ends, HR responsibilities, client bum sucking, to keep the corporate machine rolling on when I didn’t always respect all of the clients or all of the work my team was doing for them.

And that’s actually the crux of it. “the work my team was doing for them“.

I, personally, wasn’t actually a net contributor to anything that came out of either of those agencies.

I was simply a manager, albeit a senior one.

I didn’t want to be a manager.

It’s boring.

And so I walked away.


Ten years later I’ve completed 694 creative (mainly) projects for no fewer than 80 different clients.  The vast majority of which I can say I’m proud of.  And have enjoyed the process, liked the people I’ve worked with, and for, and made many new friends along the way.

In fact, it’s the longest I’ve held down a job in my life.

And it’s allowed me to indulge in other things I consider worthwhile; NABS, FCT, The Lyceum, Creative Edinburgh

Thanks guys.

Thanks very, very much.

I hope some of you will stick around for the next ten.

What happens when media buying isn’t important.

One thing I dislike about the creation of ‘content’ for brands instead of ads is this sort of sloppy rubbish.

The lack of discipline that ‘free’ airtime imposes leads to mushy, over-long epics like this.

The central idea is pretty ridiculous and whilst the football footage is credible enough (difficult admittedly) it outstays its welcome by at least 3 minutes.

And returning to the idea…what is it?

What does it say about Nike other than Ronaldo uses their kit?

Gash.  IMHO.

“Apostrophes are wee arseholes.”

That is the single bestest sentence I’ve read in a long while.

It stemmed from a twitter conversation I had with Helen Sell of The Gate Interactive.

She’d posted this, decent, long copy ad for Currys, but my Lynne Truss-like eye spotted that slap dang gosh in the middle of it was an offence to mankind.



Come on Currys.  Come on.

And come on your agency too.

A bloody great retail ad spoiled by a wee arsehole.


How not to kill your clients.


So impressed and inspired was I by Atul Gawande’s astonishing book, The Checklist Manifesto, about how a seemingly mundane tool such as a checklist can reduce deaths on the operating table by half, that I’ve been pondering on how the same could apply to the world of advertising.

His inspiration was the world of airline piloting and he took the principals of this industry and applied them to his own.

I’ve done the same for the advertising industry and will be sharing them with an audience of account handlers at The Leith Agency on May 6th.

My presentation covers all aspects of advertising strategy and how to minimise your chances of getting it all horribly wrong, and contributing to the 89% of advertising that, according to Dave Trott, simply does not get noticed and consequently has no chance of working.

If you’re interested I could potentially be persuaded to share it with you.

(But only after The Leith Agency have had first dibs.)

Google RankBrain. What it means. (I think.)

I was reading a post today about RankBrain, the artificial intelligence (AI) tool that Google engineers have been training since last October to process user-search results in such a way that it makes them more relevant to users.

It’s essentially a new tweak to Google’s already highly complex Hummingbird algorithm to make search (i.e. advertising) more effective/intuitive/human.  (Slightly ironic then that they don’t use humans to actually train the algorithm.)

It’s got the SEO community in a palaver and it’s scaring some SEO practitioners because if it works it will make PageRank, which assesses inbound links, less effective. (Link building is the current top dollar methodology for increasing a website’s prominence and authority on Google.) And that will mean genuinely good websites will beat wolves in sheep’s clothing in site ranking.

That’s good for those of us who value quality over quantity.


Well the boffins can’t really agree on anything in SEO – which suits them.  As the more black magic associated with it the better.

They make it singularly as complex as they can, although five minutes spent perusing this outstanding infographic by Column Five Media might help you get see the full(ish) picture  because it gives an, at-a-glance, perspective on the factors that influence search.

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What’s gratifying about this, from my personal perspective is the things we mere humans can influence, situated prominently and with authority, at the top left of the table are Content, Words, Research and Freshness.  RankBrain is going to like these a lot and further move the dial away from link-building as the most effective means of getting people to read your website.


But if you want a boffin or two’s view; help yourself and maybe you could explain to me what they mean.

…it’s merely a switch from user-intermediated algo-tweaks to mostly automated algo-tweaks to arrive at the same end result

or this

 …also think they will include the fact element they patented – the number of facts a page has about a keyword set – latent semantics meets encyclopedic data.

The ten year project. My voyage of discovery.

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I often help my clients to define their values and positioning but, like the cobbler who neglects his children, it has taken me 10 years to do the same for myself.

Until now.

This is Think Hard

What you’ll get if you engage with Think Hard’s eponymous Head of Thinking is a one-to-one service.

No juniors.

No bag-carrying yes men.

And that’s an important point.

One of my pet hates, when I worked in the advertising industry (specifically), was the account man who held his clients in thrall.

In such a way that their advice was compromised.

‘No’ is a wee word.  (But a big one.)  But too many of my erstwhile colleagues preferred the Y word.

I believe that if my clients engage me they want to hear the truth; not what is convenient.

They want to hear, in the words of Al Gore, Inconvenient Truths because once they know the truth of their brand, their service, their business they can act to enhance it.

Even if they don’t like it.

I recently read an interesting article  that said creativity essentially scares people.  That’s because the vast majority of us are risk averse and don’t want to break out of the mould despite hiring consultants, agencies and so on to be ‘creative’ and find alternatives to their current modus.

We want to conform.

It’s a crazy irony for those of us who are engaged to help our clients non-conform because often their wishes, when dramatised on whichever creative canvas we adopt, scares the bejeezus out of them, and so it plays straight into the hands of those consultants who feed off their clients’ fear of the unknown.

Consultants (account handlers) who prefer to say ‘yes’ when ‘no’ might be the right answer, thrive on this preternatural instinct for taking cover rather than facing up to and conquering inconvenient truths.

I don’t do any of that.

It doesn’t suit me.


I prefer to share with my clients what the truth is: no matter how inconvenient.

The money bit

I consider what I charge to be a fair price.  (I don’t have many disagreements over my fees.)

I could ask for more I suppose.  (I know some of my ‘competitors’ do; but I do OK.)

My office is in my home.  (And anyway, often I work in my clients’ offices.)

My Macbook is robust.  (I don’t need to replace it often.)

I ‘repurpose’ memory sticks, Postit notes and Blutack.

I use a second-hand desk.  (It suits my requirements.)

I cycle to meetings.  (If they are within cycleable distance.)

There is no BMW on my drive.

I don’t speak Drucker

I very rarely read business books because I believe my experience shapes my thinking better than someone else’s jargon. (That said, I wholly recommend The Lean Start Up, Hey Whipple Squeeze This and anything by Paul Arden and Trotty.)

I’m quick

I’ve always been quick.

Why do eight research groups when you know the answer after four?

Why have a full day meeting when all it needs is an hour?

(More to the point; an hour when five minutes will suffice.)

I cannot abide the practice of ‘spinning things out’.

That further cements my ‘value proposition’.

And at the very core of it all is that scary word creativity.

The need for creativity

I can’t paint.

I can barely tap dance.

My ‘White Balance’ is poor when I take photographs.

I’ve never been published as a writer (unless you count my absorbing undergraduate paper: Structure and Biochemistry of Endosperm Breakdown in Date Palm (Phoenix Dactylifera L.) Seeds).

I’m no Dame Kiri.

But I do understand and appreciate the creative process.

Moreover, I have an ability to manage and direct it in such a way that inconvenient truths can be overcome.

Creative people, the ideas people I know and often commission, or am commissioned by, seem to agree.

And it’s they that make my bit of the equation add up so that n + n really does equal 2n+.

I am not averse to a two Martini lunch

Sometimes it’s needed.

So.  Take it or leave it.

That’s me.