After much consideration and a few delays I am back on track with the Ice Cream for Everyone audio podcast!
New episodes will be published three times per month on the 10th, 20th, and 30th.
For our second episode I interview one of my favourite game designers, John Wick, and I am joined by my friend Julien with whom I participate in his audio podcast about roleplaying games Les Voix d’Altaride.
In this episode we talk about John Wick the movie, John’s inspiration and creative process, roleplaying games, principles of game design, cooperative board games, examples of subversive storytelling, live-action roleplaying games (LARPs), the best movie ever made, and the best book ever written.
I had great pleasure interviewing John and I hope you enjoy listening!
Links and information mentioned, for reference:
I just had a fantastic week attending the 2nd edition of the European Planning Conference in Prague this week. I was able to arrive a couple of days early and enjoy walking around and soaking in the atmosphere of old Prague earlier this week. The morning I arrived was bright blue skies and cold crisp weather, perfect for wandering and appreciating the architecture. As it started clouding over in the afternoon, I settled in a coffee shop to get some work done, particularly to write my conference talk. I had a few notes and generally knew what I wanted to talk about, but hadn’t properly prepared the work and the presentation just yet.
I met Kristijan who organizes the EPC a couple of years ago while we both worked for Saatchi & Saatchi in Asia. He was based in Vietnam, and I was on a business trip to Ho Chi Minh City, talking to wealthy car enthusiasts for market research purposes. A colleagues told me to get in touch with Kris, who was nice enough to take some time to show me around and sit down for dinner and a few beers while we talked shop. We kept in touch after that, he was about to move back to Macedonia where he’s from and told me at the time that he had a few ideas about organizing an event for planners in Europe. It was brilliant to have that perspective, given I often think of the centre of Europe in London or maybe Paris, and forget about the whole of central and eastern Europe that I don’t know well at all.
I was happy Kris invited me to speak at the conference, it was an enriching and fun two day event, I met fantastic people from all over the old continent: France, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Macedonia, etc. Kris told me the event was only one day long last year; he felt it was very rushed so he thought he’d try spreading it over two days this year. It was brilliant to also meet Jane (pronounced Y-a-nee or something I can’t actually write phonetically), Kris’ new business partner, they are in the process of creating a new agency, we talked about their new plans and I wish them the best in their new venture.
Tom Theys of FCB Global opened the conference with a talk he is testing and preparing for the upcoming Eurobest festival. I’m not going to give too many details before Eurobest, but it’s all about providing experiences and thinking ways to creative advertising and promotional pieces that will have an effect on changing people’s behaviours. This Nivea case study that I hadn’t seen is a great example of the kind of things he talked about:
Varia from Sid Lee in Amsterdam talked next, about the kind immersive and meaningful brand experiences they work on in the agency famously (at least partially) funded by Cirque du Soleil, who know a thing or two about creating memorable shows and experiences, like the Absolut Nights series of branded events for the famous vodka.
We ended the first morning with one of the two more academically inclined talks of the conference, Michael is working on a Phd, had recently interviews international diplomats to learn about their jobs, and studied the origins and principles of diplomacy. He told us of the lessons he drew from the world of international diplomacy and strategic planners could learn from it.
We had two energetic and brilliant talks in the afternoon from Achim Shauerte of BBH London and then Boris Nihom of Achtung! Amsterdam, both with interesting approaches and case studies from their respective agencies with slick, smart and fun presentations. Achim is really sharp, and Boris infectiously passionate. Boris shows us several interesting and practical case studies, like this stroller video. Before that Achim had told us of the process they went through at BBH to create this pretty bold (and possibly kind of disturbing) advert for Audi:
I’m adding these videos to illustrate a few case studies and ads, though they don’t do justice to the talks of course, there was more to it than that.
We all went for a nice dinner and beers to a nearby bar and restaurant in the evening to pursue geeky talks about advertising, marketing, branding, and more.
Friday Katharina started the day with a very interesting talk and an academic history lesson, as in the telling us of the principles of studying and learning history and the ways in which the discipline can be applied to develop foresight.
Robert who co-founded the idea crowd sourcing platform Future Bakery followed to tell us about his burgeoning nw business. He used to work for traditional advertising agencies in Prague for a long time before creative this new online platform a year ago. I wasn’t sure I understood what it was at first, and the more he told us about it, the more interested I was. It’s an online community – I guess à la Quora where he poses relatively simple questions to the audience of participants related to client briefs in order to crowdsource ideas and possible solutions to their business problems from a wide variety of locations and experiences. They’re not solutions or any replacement for the work of an agency or a creative professional, but they’re potentially ideas and perspectives you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. I was definitely left wanting to find out more about it.
It was a privilege to have Richard join us for a talk about whether it is more important for planners to be interesting or right. He lighted the room up with his enthusiastic energy and it was brilliant to have his perspective about planning and strategy today, as well as his comments on several pieces of great strategic work out of the APG awards case studies this year.
Tom and Richard both talked about the campaign to encourage women to practice sports in the UK from FCB, and, it’s worth checking out if you haven’t come across it:
Michail then told us of his original methodologies to create a compelling and original brand value proposition, including ways to cooperate with clients to create stronger value. It was very interesting and his models seem rich.
Finally, it was time for my talk closing the conference. I’d prepared a talk about what strategic planners can learn from tabletop games, one of my passions. I’ve actually recorded myself, hopefully I will be able to soon publish this as an episode to my podcast so in the meantime I’ll keep the details quiet.
I learned a lot and got time to meet and talk shop with amazing professionals in their fields. The European Planning Conference is really one of those where I’m not sure if I should just keep a secret because it was great to be with a relatively small committee and spend more time getting to know people properly as well as explore planning & strategy topics in depth, but at the same time it is a brilliant event and definitely deserves to have more European planners join for the conference next year! I hope I can go next year, I loved Prague and would happily go back. Look out for next year, I recommend it!
I’ve spent the past two evenings at the now familiar Google UK large meeting room for planning & strategy focused evenings of talks. That plus several brilliant interview recordings for the podcast and my brain is buzzing somewhere between wired and fried right now.
On Tuesday was the Account Planning Group’s Noisy Thinking event with the theme of “Planning in a Post-Capitalist World”. I attended the APG “Think like a CSO” event last week with Matt Willifer, CSO of the Engine group advertising agency WCRS, and that was great. Matt showed the us real working pitch decks and took us through the process of developing the strategy and creative for real client projects. It was a great morning event and enriching to see other people’s work. It’s quite rare for agencies and clients to be ready to share this kind of work to an audience, even when agreed to be confidential as it was for this event.
Back to Noisy Thinking this week, it was a pretty lofty theme so I wasn’t sure what to expect or if I’d understand much of it. I wasn’t even sure what post-capitalism meant, even though I’d vaguely heard the word. Even now I’d probably try to nod sagely if I heard someone say it and pretend something like being so torn on the topic that words couldn’t even properly express my opinion. I would generously let said person express their opinion on the matter, listen attentively and do my best to get what they’re talking about.
Apparently the term was coined (or popularised perhaps?) by author and journalist Paul Mason with a book published this year and titled Post-Capitalism: A Guide to our Future.
The first person speaking was Kirsty Fuller, the co-founder and co-CEO of Flamingo, who also sponsor the Noisy Thinking series of events. Flamingo is a insight and strategy consultancy, as I understand it they run large consumer research projects and advise businesses about people and culture to help them build better brands. Kirsty talked about social change becoming of increasing importance for businesses and brands, more than lip-service or greenwashing. She cited examples like Unilever and their Sustainable Living Plan. They are considered leaders in declaring and implementing significant plans towards reducing environmental footprint throughout their business and many brands.
The second speaker was Fern Miller, Chief Strategy and Insight Officer for DigitasLBi, a large digital agency and part of the Publicis Groupe. Fern told us of a really interesting piece of research they conducted with young people in several parts of the world and the influence social media and trends such as taking selfies was having on their behaviour, their self-image, confidence, and the way they see the world through the lenses of selfies and social networks.
The last speaker was Tracey Follows, APG Chair and Futurist at AnyDayNow – not the 2012 homonymic movie, but a consultancy she founded. They are a futures company specialising in the future of communications, media, and brands. Tracey started with the Paul Mason book reference, which most of the audience hadn’t read. It was an interesting theory talk about an idea that society is moving from being consumer-led to being user-led, and society perhaps moving to what Tracey called a ‘Capitalist +” model rather than “Post-Capitalist”.
I’m not too sure what the combination of talks really means for planners and the discipline in this “post-capitalist” world but it was certainly interesting. The more experienced I become in my job as a strategist, the more I think that while many elements of society are becoming complex, as long as businesses and organisations want to sell their stuff / ideas / services to people then there will be a role for me and other planners / strategists to help them understand how best to do that.
I caught up with John Griffiths at the end of the evening, and talked about some of the latest interviews of some of the first advertising account planners in preparation for the book he is working on with Tracey and that I’m really looking forward to, 98% Pure Potato.
Yesterday was the popular series curated by Neil Perkin of Only Dead Fish, Google Firestarters. I couldn’t help but notice that the room was full for this event compared to about half full the day before. The theme was “Mobile UX is eating the world” and again with three speakers, interestingly an all male panel compared to an all-female panel the previous day. I don’t mean any conclusions by the observations, I’m not sure if it had to do with the event organisers, themes, or more likely there was no particular reason for the observations.
The first speaker was Daniel O’Connell, Digital Experience Director at Barclays Bank. It was an inspired and excellent talk, brilliant to have the perspective of someone who used to work for an agency, now works on the client side, and telling us of the way large brands function that is so different from agencies. They have one of the best mobile banking apps around, and he explained some of the difficulties involved in getting new digital products through extensive cycles of testing and quality assurance, that represent magnitutes of time, effort and budget larger than the design side that – at least more traditional agencies (and maybe all of them) focus on.
Second we had Kartik, User experience architect and mobile specialist at DigitasLBi – interestingly the agency that had representatives at both evenings. Kartik had to take over from a colleague at the last minute. They had selected what they believed to be some of the best mobile user experience applications available at the moment, including favourites such as Citymapper, the game Monument Valley (Download it now, it’s beautiful!), Uber and Airbnb.
Last and definitely not least, my friend and ex-colleague Ume gave the best talk of both evenings – particularly because he shared an amazing project with us, including the process they have been going through at Us Two where he works. He works at a studio called Us Two, that interestingly designed the Barclays mobile application mentioned earlier, as well as the Monument Valley game. In a way they were the star of this mobile UX evening, which I think is entirely deserved. I also consider them friends given I’ve met them when they were only four or five people and starting to hire more people at the time. Ume had just started working on this project a year ago when I caught up with him last, and it was awesome to hear of the progress. He has been working on creating an open technology standard for the visually impaired to independently navigate their way through public spaces, in particular public transport. It’s a new non-profit organisation created in partnership with Us Two and the RLSB (Royal London Society for Blind People), called Wayfindr.
They have been conducting extensive research and testing with visually impaired and blind people to find a way to use technology in a consistent way and that can be used and repeated as an open standard, so that wayfinding applications like Google Maps or Citymapper can one day include audio instructions combined with beacons set in train stations that signal to the app to give audio navigation instructions to the person listening. Finding out about the research process and the current results was fascinating. They are looking for more sponsors as well as organisations that work with visually impaired and blind people to support their project, so if you know anyone that can help tell them to get in touch.
The project is visionary because it is exploring user experience and interfaces beyond the screens most of us are locked to with audio, working to include people rather than design exclusive products (that’s from Ume) and it’s solving a real user problem, empowering people to be more confident and independent in their use of public transports.
Image Credit: Afu007
After a hiatus for a couple of years, the Strategist Survey (formerly Planner Survey) is back! If you’re a strategist, whatever the industry you’re working in we’d love to hear from you! The more strategists complete it, the better!
I joined Heather‘s team to support with the survey a few years ago, because I always enjoy meeting other strategic planners. Having access to the earlier survey results was very useful. It’s a way of participating in the community and I’m looking forward to the results of this year’s.
Heather has also just published a book, Brain Surfing. I was lucky to get an advance copy and just posted a review on Amazon. I’m copying my review below. Go get your copy now!
Brain Surfing is a fantastic combination of some of my favourite topics: travelling and marketing / advertising strategy. I always enjoy meeting fellow strategists around the world with whom I have interesting and enriching conversations over coffee, so this is like a concentrated expresso drip version of coffee meeting goodness in one book I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.
Heather has gathered and synthesised learnings from nine amazing professionals from different parts of the world, the kind of endeavour that takes, well in this case two weeks per person – 18 weeks – plus travelling and writing time after wards. All the best bits of that in a thoroughly enjoyable read. I just couldn’t put the book after starting and read it in a weekend.
The story flows seamlessly with a chapter per mentor, from Hong Kong to Edinburgh by way of a few other destinations around Europe, Asia, and the US. Each of the nine strategists have different specialisms in fields such as branding, business innovation, social media, advertising, and marketing. Each one of them contributed valuable stories and lessons to end their chapter. The conversations, research (including other must read book references), remarks and insights into the current state and evolution of the role of strategy and strategists in the creative communications industry are fantastic.
I highly recommend reading it, definitely a must for strategists in this field of work! Beyond that, I think it’s definitely relevant to anyone interested in business communications, perhaps for people who are questioning what they’re up to in their careers as well, and finally maybe for people who will enjoy a fun and novel approach to a travel book.
I read this article from Dave Trott in Campaign yesterday. He writes about content and makes excellent points about the advertising & marketing’s current obsession with this fabulous buzzword. It seems here to stay and agencies have built specialisms; based on it, so I’m not even sure it still qualifies as a buzz actually.
I’m also reading Bob Hoffman’s Men are from Mars, Consumers are from New Jersey at the moment and catching up on some of his blog posts I hadn’t read yet. I really like the Ad Contrarian. He really loves content too, so much so he publishes content on his blog for free first and then sells the same content in a book later. Genius. A virtuous circle I’m happy to participate in.
Dave’s article reminded me of a couple of Bob’s posts, where he dubbed “content” just the same old stuff we already had on the internet, only rebranded. Dave goes for a lorry (truck) metaphor that works really well too.
Both pretty much come to the same conclusion: it’s ultimately just stuff.
I agree it seems to be one of those buzzwords used to generalise and obfuscate advertising and marketing activities. Like we’re trying to disguise the fact we’re here to sell stuff, first and foremost. I’m not even pointing fingers, I’ve used the word in meetings many times, because it’s part of the jargon now. Even when I make a conscious effort to avoid it, it may well come into the conversation sooner than I think, and sometimes I feel like I almost need to use the buzzwords sometimes to be taken seriously.
I don’t have anything against content at all. How could I if it’s just stuff? It’s too wide a topic to even have an opinion about. Thinking about it, things I love could be categorised in two broad categories: people and content. I thought maybe weather might be another category but then realised the weather could perhaps be considered the content of the atmosphere or immediate environment. And even people start as the content of a womb and finish as the content of some urn or box. Someone with more scientific knowledge can correct me or add more accurate information.
I enjoyed Dave’s description of the creative industry’s fascination with ever improving delivery systems that become more important than what is being delivered. Similarly many catch-all words like content, used to simplify an increasingly complex communication and media landscape, are practical shorthands but it’s important to remember they often come at the price of clarity.
This is also making me think of Pepsico’s president of global beverages Brad Jakeman recent rant at a conference where he mostly berated agencies in the advertising and marketing industry for interrupting his Youtube videos. He also doesn’t like the word advertising. As if advertising wasn’t built on interruptions in the first place. Nobody ever wants the interruptions, nor do they want to be sold to. Yet people generally understand that they’re getting something for free or at a low cost in exchange for the course of activities to be interrupted for advertising and promotional messages. That’s the deal. It works for pre-rolls online, for ads on TV, or for interrupting your usual shopping experience with a 2 for 1 promotion. At the same time he’s saying the industry should be disruptive. Isn’t it the same thing?
PepsiCo have already spent considerable money on cause related and social media focused marketing with the Pepsi Refresh Project a few years ago, which was a fascinating exercise. They apparently spent about $20 million on it and the main Pepsi-Cola and Diet Pepsi brands each lost 5% market share in the same year. By all means, I would love for Pepsi to stop advertising with 30 second TV ads long enough for the rest of us to observe the consequences on their sales and share value. We’d finally get a chance to see how valuable television advertising really is (I suspect it’s still extremely valuable).
Brands are competing for people’s attention to sell stuff and can make videos, images, or anything as interesting and compelling as they want, if there’s no media for people too see it, the likelihood of the stuff being seen (or I guess consumed) is close to null. I don’t know the number of Youtube videos siting there with 0 views but I bet there’s quite a few of them hanging around. And ultimately if you really want people to be interested go and focus on what your product or service is first.
This is where Dave’s truck / lorry analogy is key, there’s nothing wrong with being in the shipping business, it’s just that I think he’s right in pointing out that we might be losing view of what it’s in it. Amazon’s delivery services could be fast as lightning or dropped by a drone, but if they don’t deliver what I ordered I’ll definitely be disappointed. To bring this to a real world example, I used to work on the Subway (sandwiches) account while at Saatchi & Saatchi in Singapore. Whatever you might think of the product, it’s an interesting business because it’s entirely made of franchises, and a board of elected franchisees works alongside the brand marketing team. They have final say over what they do with their marketing budget. They are most often small to medium business owners with little time for nonsense, and it kept our work very grounded in their sales realities. When we pitched a creative idea for a campaign or worked on the annual planning, we had to show them a+b how much they stood to gain or loose with the promotions in a store, in addition to why the concept would be a good idea for the brand. I really enjoyed it. It was challenging but also offered interesting opportunities to produce measurable and effective marketing activities.
We concerned ourselves with what was carried in the lorry, how well the lorry worked, what it looked like, where it was going, and even who the stuff on board was for.
One thing is sure, if we’re really in the shipping business now it’s a good thing I’m finally bothering to learn to drive and pass my license this year.