Tell me, in one sentence, what the idea is

As a freelance copywriter I am now faced with my biggest challenge. Retro-fitting ideas into work other people have come up with.

Invariably, I marvel at the bit of tech and the functions that the ‘wizard’ has created and tell them so. Then I am asked to ‘populate’ it with words.

“Love to. So what do you want to say?”  I ask.

“I don’t know, can’t you just put some words to it?” They reply.

“I’d be delighted to put some words to it, but you have to tell me how this fits into the client’s marketing strategy, or I’m flying blind.”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

“I have a good idea, but I would really like to hear your thinking before I commit keyboard to word document. You know, a brief?”

“Err, we haven’t really got one. We just thought it would be really cool to do this.”

“What do the account people say about it?”

“They think it’s awesome.”


“They want some words in it.”

“Again, what kind of words?”

“You’re the copywriter, you tell me.”

There then follows a strange back and forth where I put my thoughts forward to try and sell in an idea that doesn’t really have an idea.

When they finally settle on something that fits with their vision I am asked to write the creative part of the presentation.

“Why?” I ask.

“Because you seem to have a handle on it.” They reply.

“Well, yes, because I had to come up with an idea that fastens this in reality.”

“But they came up with the idea.”

“No, that’s a ‘technique’. What are you trying to convey to the customer?”

More often than not, they have no clue what they are trying to say except ‘look how clever this technology is’.

What people have forgotten is that the first rule of advertising is ‘sell’. If you’re not selling for your client, they will walk off into the sunset with their money, and you won’t get the chance to do any more ‘whizzy’ things

An old graphic designer friend of mine always says, ‘you may design the most fantastic thing in the world but if there isn’t a reason for it, you’re just wanking’.

I must attend his ‘Ted’ talk sometime.




“What do I need an advertising agency for?”

If you have to ask the question then you are not using your advertising agency properly. You’ve probably brow-beaten the poor account executive into submission and given them so many ‘just fucking do it’ statements that they feel you are a lost cause.

On the whole, advertising agencies are full of very creative people. So creative that if you ask them to do something creative, they will and you will be astounded.

The problem today is that clients want things templated. Everything has to adhere rigidly to ‘guidelines’. What they forget is the meaning of the word. These are guidelines not hard and fast rules.

The next problem is that agencies have to deal with so many layers of hierarchy these days it’s like playing Chinese Whispers from one level to the next. A brave idea will face the death of a thousand cuts before it reaches someone who really makes the decisions.

All the people watching the idea go up the ladder have removed anything which they think the great boss may not like. Without really knowing what they like.

The idea has been watered down so much at this stage that it bears no resemblance to the initial thought that came kicking and screaming into life at the hands of the creatives.

Want good ideas? Get the creatives to present their initial ideas to the top client without all the second guessing that comes at every stage.

When the top client likes an idea then all the minions below can start nodding about how fantastic it is without having to go through the mind-reading phase.

The companies who let their advertising be watered down internally don’t deserve advertising agencies. They should have an internal group of writers and designers who will just do what they are told.

The problem with this is they have no one to blame but themselves when things go wrong or the work they produce is too wishy-washy.

At least when they have an advertising agency they can shout their ideas down, and ask “What do I need an advertising agency for?”

The answer is; to take the blame for your lack of imagination.


“Do you know why I’m shouting? Because I’m wrong, that’s why I’m shouting”

It doesn’t matter if you are talking about politics, religion, football, music, Brexit or Gwyneth Paltrow. Start shouting and you’ve lost.

The one who stays in control of the argument is usually calm, collected, and quietly confident, because they know they are right. And if they are not right, they are usually so misguided it is usually best to walk away from them because no one is going to win.

Or they are the ones who instigated the argument and are being contrary just to watch you explode into a million pieces of infuriation.

The anger that arises in such confrontations is usually your brain telling you you’re not on solid ground here and the best way to get your irrational thoughts across is to put some power behind them so they stick in.

It’s the same thing English people do when we are talking to someone who doesn’t understand our language. We shout hoping the increase in volume will shatter the language barrier.

Talk to a Creationist and it is a lost cause however. Bring out examples of how a bone has evolved over millions of millions of years and despite the evidence of their own eyes they will say that dinosaurs didn’t exist and fossils were put here to test our faith in God.

They will smile at you sweetly as if you are some poor child who hasn’t quite got the grasp of riding a bike yet and one day you will understand.

The trick with all these people is to remain calm. Never get angry. Remember, anger means you’ve lost.

With Jehovah’s Witnesses, tell them you are a blood donor. With Jewish people tell them you believe in Jesus Christ. With Catholics tell them you don’t believe in kiddy-fiddling. Everyone has a weakness that will send them to the land of the screaming fit.

Above all else, don’t get angry. It’s much more fun to light the blue touch paper, stand back and watch the fireworks, than to be the firework yourself.


Sugar isn’t all that sweet

For 50 years we’ve been told that saturated fats are evil. Causing heart disease, ill-health, weight gain, you’ve heard all the stories til you’re blue in the face.

Turns out the sugar industry paid 3 Harvard scientists $50,000 for a review that took the heat off sugar and plonked it squarely on the shoulders of saturated fats

The paper was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, swayed government health policy and launched the low-fat foods industry.

Documents found by a researcher at the University of California have revealed the main author, D Mark Hegsted lied.

Hegsted went on to become head of nutrition at the United States Department of Agriculture, and drafted the dietary guidelines in 1977.

(If he was willing to lie about research, what was he willing to do in a position of power?)

The paper was ‘invented’ by John Hickson, a prominent sugar industry executive. He recruited researchers, paid them off, gave them the papers to review, and told them he wanted to portray sugar in a good light.

This one major lie inspired the launch of low-fat foods and drinks, which also happened to be high in sugars. The main cause of obesity

Even today, warnings about eating saturated fats are still part of general health advice, although sugars are slowly being recognised as a bigger evil.

With all these companies with their agendas and disregard for human health you sort of wonder what other lies will surface as we discover more about the foods we shovel into our mouths.

We may be digging our own graves with our teeth but governments and the food industry have been helping us.

Who is going to be the first to sue them?

Keenleyside’s Acton Tours. Drink it all in

Yesterday I met up with me old mucker Ross Keenleyside. Both finding we had an afternoon free from computers, paintbrushes, and talking sense we decided to try a bit of nonsense.

With this in mind I took my circuitous route up to Acton and met the man himself in his local The Red Lion and Pineapple. A Weatherspoons pub but a damn fine one.

After the obligatory bear hug greeting and a few “Well, if it isn’t the biggest gay in the village and I’m talking London here” comments we settled into a few fermented beverages and the business of the day. I wanted to pick his brains about self-publishing.

It took two minutes for Ross to convince me that traditional publishing was ok for a big name but for a first-time author it was a rip-off. One contract I received from a publisher wanted me to pay £3,500 up front and give them 20% of any profit I made. If any. Obviously not the route for me.

I decided it would be quicker, easier and less harmful to my pocket to go and publish online with an ebook company. Lulu is looking very promising.

Business over Ross asked me if I had ever been to Acton? Which I replied ‘no’.  Ross then decided he would be my tour guide. He had already explained that the Red Lion and Pineapple was a conglomeration of two pubs. Both frequented by tram drivers back in the day.

Sadly the tram building with its classic ‘flamboyant’ architecture had been demolished and a red brick and glass gymnasium stood sweatily in its place.

Ross then took me around the centre of Acton with its eclectic collection of boutique and antique shops and beauty and specialist hair stylists standing shoulder to shoulder with pound shops, kebab shops and pubs Ross explained were not to be frequented if one liked their lungs unperforated.

Acton like many places is striving to better itslef and you can see glimmers of what it could be beginning to shine through. He alos showed me the excavation where they are hoping to unearth a brand new Marks & Spencers

Ross played the perfect host and we dipped into a few hostelries. It was a bit of a walk and we needed to slake out thirsts a few times. But we circled the place and Ross had a little anecdote or two for each area. A local knowledge you couldn’t find in the guide books.

My favourite piece of information was about ‘The Aeronaut’.

The Aeronaut is a pub named after Aviation pioneer George Lee Temple, the first man to fly a plane upside down. Turns out he’s buried in the local cemetary upside down.

After a few more beers, a few hearty laughs and proposing a new business idea of Keenleyside’s Acton Tours – an afternoon you’ll barely remember – we went our separate ways and I tried to negotiate two blurred tubes and two hazy bus journeys on my way back home.

A great afternoon with a great man. I must bring him down to Colliers Wood and repay the favour.



Don’t read this on a Monday

It’s been nearly a year since I started this little experiment of mine and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

Since I love writing it’s been a joy to bash down a few words and express a few opinions. It’s also been a great joy to toss in a few verbal hand grenades and watch Dave Parsons go off the deep end. If he has a heart attack it will be my fault and I will be very sorry.

I say it’s been an experiment because every article I publish I get a list of facts and figures that show where the readership is coming from and how different practices work.

First of all, mentioning your subject in the headline and repeating it in the first paragraphs and tags to get search engine optimisation is baloney.

Done it a few times on a few different subjects and the readership hasn’t even blipped. It’s just the same as if I was writing a blog about my great love of conspiracy theories. Nobody cares except Alex Jones and the Bilderberg Group – look them up if you’re interested.

Twitter has proven to be disappointing too. I may get a few readers from posting there but not many. Same with Google.

What I have found gets the most hits – and strengthens my argument for the creative process – is a clever headline. ‘You Brexit, you bought it’ and ‘I hate my new boss.’ Were both clear winners pulling in the most readers in one day and having repeat viewings for over a week.

I was disappointed by the bee stories though. It seems no one gives a toss about the plight of the bumble bee. Even though their demise could have catastrophic consequences for both agricultural and food industries.

Topical stories get the most hits and especially those expressing a contrary view.

Another interesting fact to me is watching how readership changes over the course of a week. No one likes Mondays. But Thursdays and Saturdays you can’t fight people off the site with a shitty stick.

Also, don’t post something every day – even if you have a story to tell. People just roll their eyes and say ‘it’s that cunt again’ – I imagine.

All this has given me great insight into the behaviours of people and what they open.

As I said this started as an experiment and I will be interested to see the figures for this article bearing in mind I’m posting on a Monday afternoon, with a headline that tells you not to read.

And if you’ve got this far, you are already a statistic on my blog dashboard.

Thank you.



Direct Mail isn’t dead. My inbox told me so

Within advertising circles I keep hearing the usual rubbish. Direct Mail is dead. TV has tuned out. Radio has waved goodbye.

It is all tosh. Direct Mail continues to infuriate me. Television adverts interrupt my anger with poor programmes. And sound effects laden sound panoramas muddy my ear canals.

If it’s dead why does it continue to assault my senses and my poor letterbox?

It’s not dead and probably never will be. The online aficionados would have you believe it’s dead so they can grab more clients’ cash.

For now the technology rich and extreme versatility of online media grabs attention but like every media before it, it will find its level and just become another advertising channel.

The clients are currently clawing to be an online presence but what they don’t understand is why the average person uses the t’internet.

People use it to promote themselves. They aggregate content. Create their own videos. Pass on their own musings. People are becoming their own brands.

While they are doing this clients are trying to advertise to them. But they’re doing it by telling everyone how great they are.

What the clever ones are doing is mirroring people’s attitudes. By creating this reflection they’re encouraging people to share their message.

Which relies on the traditional data gathering methods of Direct Mail.

Personally, I’m all for every media. We just have to recognise when to use them to the best effect.

At the moment, most online advertising companies have a hammer and every problem looks like a nail to them.

Continue reading Direct Mail isn’t dead. My inbox told me so

How can I escape the USA?

My new passport arrived today and I am at a loss. I finally renewed it because every recruiter and headhunter wants to see a valid passport.

It didn’t matter that I have a birth certificate showing I was born in this country and therefore legally entitled to work here. People want to see a passport or a driving license. Something with a picture, because people don’t understand words any more.

I wondered if the passport option would open the Brexit sealed borders for me and satisfy the idiots who won’t accept a British Birth Certificate.

For the last 10 years I’ve avoided renewing my passport for two reasons:

I wanted to see more of this country, I would set off on the bike and pedal around. Stop in strange towns and rest in bed & breakfasts.

I also wouldn’t trust myself with a passport; my wanderlust is something that if I left the confines of my country I would want to see what was over the next hill, the next border, the next sea – I may just wander the world busking for sheckels.

There is always one thing keeping me from a-wandering – the USA. It’s everywhere.

Decades ago, my love of architecture and ancient cultures had me checking out ancient monoliths and monuments around the world.

My first stop was the Acropolis, home to the Parthenon. I was amazed by these magnificent structures. I sat and sketched their majestic lines. I had sketch pads full of drawings and details I had only seen before in books and I was in awe.

That is until I left and was surrounded by McDonald’s restaurants, Pizza Huts and no end of fast food joints designed to make fat Americans even fatter.

Years later I travelled to Egypt and sat before the might and magnificence of the Great Pyramids at Giza and felt my heart sink as I caught a glimpse of a Dominos sign out of the corner of my eye.

It seemed everywhere I went, there was America, a blot on the landscape. Slithering into every country with the tendrils of its franchises.

Even Paris with Notre Dame, its Le Corbusier and Montmartre was tainted by the golden arches of Ronald McDonald’s. There is no escaping its slimy clutches or its curtain walled outlets.

Maybe my next journey ought to be to some Arab country where I won’t be surrounded by Americans.

Sorry, no that’s out as well. Those countries have US military bases filled with ‘peace-keeping’ forces.

Looks like I’m back on my bike cycling around the English countryside again.





Ads. What the money men have taken away.

Imagine an industry that’s product can be created out of thin air. Where ideas become a currency and can be exchanged for cold hard cash.

Written down like that it sounds like science fiction but it’s what creative people do every day. Painters, writers, designers, they’re all at it. Creating something out of what appears to be nothing.

What do these people need to keep them coming up with the goods? Coffee mainly, alcohol sometimes and the freedom to realise their ‘vision’.

I saw it a million times. For days these creatives appeared to be motionless with their feet on tables. Their only conversations seemed to be what films they watched at the weekend. Then something magical happened. Pens appeared and wrote on paper and ‘voila’ or ‘eureka’, ideas made flesh.

Somewhere down the line, someone saw these ‘creatives’ apparently doing nothing and decided to impose tighter deadlines. Faster turnaround = more cash.

Creatives responded by sitting around with their feet on tables and talking about films for less time before the pens came out.

The money men came up with timesheets in an attempt to quantify what these creatives did – because for the life of them they couldn’t figure it out.

Then they imposed working rules. Made these creatives sit in meetings and talk to clients. Slowly the powers that be turned creatives into people who dealt with finance. They became account men. Their days became filled with duties that took them away from the thinking process.

To add insult to injury when creatives come up with a fantastic idea it was destroyed because the money men say ‘it can’t be done’.

Yes it can, it just costs a bit more. Clients contribute to this too. They want something fantastic but they want it for nothing. And they want it now.

Creatives are amazing beasts. Most of the time they are miracle workers who can pull something out of the hat the second it’s dropped.

But that doesn’t mean they can do it all the time. Give them time and give them space. And watch them piece together a little bit of genius.

Stop sending them to meetings to do a job that account men should be doing. Creative meetings fine. Just not every meeting.

Stop creatives chasing up financial issues. It’s not what they are good at. Their brains aren’t wired for that.

Give them a problem and give them time to think it through. Then give them the freedom to bring it to life.

I’ve never walked out of a finance director’s office and thought ‘wow he really made those numbers sing and dance’.

I have walked out a creative meeting and thought ‘what a fantastic idea. That could really be something.’







“Stop me if you’ve heard this one before”

What do you do if someone says that to you? After they have the first sentence out do you stop them and say ‘yes you told me in 1997, 1998, skipped a few years then told me again every week between 2004-2016?

Or do you let them warble on, even though you have heard the story many times and have even featured in it a couple of times?

The polite thing to do is let them tell you again and laugh or groan in the right places all over again.

I prefer to stop them and say ‘yes. Tell me something different’. Or, ‘I remember you when you were interesting’.

I find it the height of bad manners to repeat a story that your audience has already heard. ‘You forgot you told me! How memorable must I be? Or ‘how stupid do you think I am to listen to this drivel again without saying something?’

It’s the same with the films we watch. Time and again I see the same story line unfolding and I feel insulted that the the makers of the film think it’s ok to regurgitate stuff. It’s lazy.

They have highly paid writers and producers all churning out ideas. Surely they must have an original thought between them. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe we are consigned to watch and hear the same trite storylines until the end of time.

I’m a big fan of the comic book heroes of old. But watching them on film now I see plots from old comics being plundered and loosely stitched together to create 2 hours worth of film.

There is a logic to some of this. Something entirely original confuses people. Without recognisable points of reference they don’t know how to feel about a book, a film or a story.

In advertising, if you do something entirely original the client is confused. They don’t know if they like something or not. It’s new territory. They feel uncomfortable, so their gut reaction is to not like it.

Give them something that’s based on an idea they’ve seen before and they feel happy. Confident that this idea has worked before so will probably do so again. It’s safe.

But how do you progress if everything is safe? Where’s the excitement? Where is the experimentation that creates something new and fresh?

If you ask me – and I know you didn’t but I’m going to tell you anyway – we should be a lot braver with our stories, our advertising, our paintings, our technology. Do something that no one else can imagine and then do something better than that.

We’re standing on the shoulders of giants right now. But we’re just standing still. We’re not moving forward.