Archive | September, 2013

Frank Sinatra and content development. I did it my way

29 Sep

APPROVEDI love Frank Sinatra. His phrasing was amazing (sorry about that one!)

One of my favourites is his rendition of ‘My Way.’ Originally a french song and re-written by legend Paul Anka, it’s a testament to uniqueness, bravery. resilience and self belief. Ol’ Blue Eyes put in all the blows, hits and lingering disappointments. This song is about living and by the soaring end, this listener is in no doubt that Frank lived a life.

I’m a my way kind of person. Strong minded and creative. I often run on instinct fuelled by experience > what’s going to work and what’s not.

But here’s the thing: when you’re planning websites; developing content (products, knowledgebases, social platforms etc.,) always communicate with your stakeholders (internal and external) regularly, get approval and formal sign off. 

This is not always easy. You have to pitch it right and differently depending on your audience. The cost/benefit analysis.

Many great ad campaigns have been ruined by ‘the client.’ They just want the logo bigger. They often don’t share your enthusiasm for standing out in a crowded marketplace. But they are the client nevertheless, nervous or not.

Set up a ‘milestone’ approval system so that everyone’s on the same page. I do love cliches.

And stay brave!!

Content design … Don’t put legs on snakes

26 Sep

ImageI learn some amazing things and meet some wise people as I go along. One such person is Albert. A graphic designer I sometimes work with. Originally from Hong Kong. he’s Chinese Australian or the other way around, depending on your point of view. Albert’s been honing his craft for many years, classically training as a graphic designer way before Adobe or Quark were on hand. In other words he’s an old hand.

One day I was sitting next to him, art directing a piece of marketing collateral. Pictures, text, logo etc. He was laying the page out and it looked good. Me being an advertising > marketing > sales kind of guy suggested he make the offer bigger. It didn’t have the prominence that I thought it should. Maybe I was after the butcher shop window look. This weeks special … portuguese sausages.

With glee in his eyes, Albert said ‘That’s right. We put legs on snake!’

An old Chinese proverb, it took me a second to understand what he meant.

Snakes are perfect. Sometimes they are superior.

Why put legs on them.

Designing content, bear this piece of wisdom in mind.

Don’t put legs on snakes.

Leonardo da Vinci and content planning

24 Sep


I have developed content for a number of businesses as well as creating and delivering training programs (aka Instructional Design.)

Content can be for non-static websites; marketing programs or social media.

One thing became clear to me in the process. That is the importance of planning.

Having a series of plans that start with the Big Picture (see above,) is a good way to not only focus on what you are building, but also becoming ready to create and stay on track with projects.

Creativity is pure. We know that. Artists are born that way or are they? Real art is intuitive, it’s just there in moments of genius or is it?

Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo (both successful businessmen) produced ‘rough’ studies before creating their masterpieces.

My friend, famed Australian artist Rodney Pople, executes a number of sketches and daubs before he knows he’s on the track.

Writers plan and signpost using a variety of methods. Chapter headings is one way to write a novel.

Having a ‘helicopter view’ of what you are trying to achieve and then implementing it is a good way to plan and build.

It can be visual or text based. I find that visual is better.

Just get it all down and make your map.

I love it. Take it out! Part 2

22 Sep


What was exciting about working in this environment was the chance to watch the words, art direction, talent and production all culminate in an ad campaign. I watched our agency put in a new government with a real US style campaign and I overheard the Chairman telling the future Prime Minister what he was doing wrong.

During this time I had the chance to pitch myself for a place in a highly thought of creative school. It was simply called The Copy School. I wrote a radio ad featuring myself as an ideas cowboy riding into town. I was good but I was green, ending with a Sam Elliott (Big Lebowski) narrator/Voice Over saying nice colour green. That got me over the edge and I was accepted with 10 others into this elite school. Each week we would attend an agency and be hands on trained by the top CD’s who would give us a practical assignment … an ad to write.

One of them, a man who went on to become a best selling author quoted Dr Samuel Johnson as saying ‘What doth please the mightly, do strike out.’ Dr Johnson or his biographer Boswell. I think he took some paraphrasing liberties there but I got the message.

What we love. What we think is sparkling copy. What we think is clever may not be right for the product or the audience. David Ogilvy was tight on the rules of writing.

It’s good to keep that in mind and not be married to our words.

It’s a lesson I never forgot.

Oscar Wilde famously quipped:

I worked very hard today. This morning I put in a comma and this afternoon I took it out.

I love it. Take it out! Part 1

21 Sep

ImageI got my first job in advertising by showing up at an agency with a two page short story I had written about bikies. I still remember one memorable phrase I concocted. It went something like ‘their jeans were so dirty, they could only be removed with a blow torch.’

The amazing thing was not only did I get in and meet with the Creative Director, but he gave me a job on the very lowest branch of the agency tree: the despatch department, run by a fiery red-faced ex army guy they called Sarge. I wanted to write. To create. I was on cloud 9 or maybe even 10.

For the first few days, the CD would acknowledge me. Smile. Ask how I was doing. That stopped soon after. But it was a great place to work. Big clients, global agency. A bunch of creatives around, artists, writers, producers, editors, designers. I loved it.

Then they promoted me to media accounts. Yike! That wasn’t my bag, so they put me into media planning, under a benevolent media genius who will remain nameless, but let’s call him Daniel Boyce. One day he called me into his office and asked me ‘so how are you liking it here?’ I was momentarily blinded by his striped shirt and the harbour view behind him, and blurted out without thinking ‘I don’t like it.’ Daniel fixed me with a steely glare, just as the phone rang. ‘Daniel Boyce.’ He said into the mouthpiece in a cultured accent, glancing at me with what I perceived as contempt. “I’m going to get fired.’ I thought, but no. Daniel put down the phone and asked me why I wasn’t happy in media planning. I told him that I wanted to write. To be a copywriter. To be a creative. The phone rang again. Same rigmarole. Then, ‘Thanks for being honest. Everybody lies to me around here.’

The next day I was relocated to the TV/Broadcast unit where ads were recorded and edited, pilots were made and new business pitches run.

We had two theatres and a big meeting room. I was able to watch actors, writers, engineers create, edit and senior executives pitch for new business. Something different everyday.

It may have been airlines and soft drinks but it was wondrous to me …

I said just follow the lesson plan

17 Sep


I’ve been a trainer/teacher for quite some time. I’m also an instructional designer which is a fancy, schmancy way of saying I write training courses.

I work online (Learning Management Systems) and in the classroom. I find both interesting and sometimes exciting. Sometimes I leave a training session and I feel alive, electric.

And I must also say that I get great feedback on my training sessions. If I don’t beat my own drum who else is going to?

Now I respect lesson plans and facilitator guides > I write quite a few. But do I follow them? Sometimes yes and sometimes no.

Like everything in life it’s vital to get a message across. How? With humour. Surprise. Coming out of left field (that must be a baseball expression?)

Once I caught myself rambling on … one of the participants eyes blinked too many times. Someone up the back stifled a yawn.

‘Blah, blah, blah, blah.’ I said that out aloud. ‘Blah, blah, blah, blah. Is that what I’m beginning to sound like?’ I already knew the answer.

When your delivering training … keep them interested. In the palm of your hand. Like they don’t know what’s coming next.

But always bring it back to your objective … teaching people.

Working with a genius

15 Sep


I have worked for a couple of people who could be termed geniuses. They are unique in the business world and like fire, often can’t be tamed.

Geniuses are innovators who continually change whatever it is their doing in their business, even when it would appear to us normal people that things were going well.

Geniuses are restless and highly inspiring.

They can also be maddeningly difficult. They do things that drive the process driven among us quite crazy. They can be downright demanding and sometimes over critical. I believe that Picasso wasn’t easy going. Look at his eyes.

But geniuses change things. They also take risks that can be un calculated.

How do we manage a genius (we manage both up and down?)

Can we tailor our personalities and expectations so that the future will come and we won’t go crazy in the process?

In the presence of real genius we do just that. It takes time.

But don’t worry … there’s not many around.


Can you let go of the wheel?

13 Sep

Encourage disobedienceEncourage disobedience and other dangerous concepts

I came across a blog with an ebook attached entitled The Happy Manifesto written by Henry Stewart ( It is about workplaces, people, processes, innovation and creativity. One section is entitled Encouraging disobedience, which got me thinking about a lot of the workplaces I have been and am involved in.  Which ones were ‘open’ and which ones ‘closed.’

In the west (as opposed to the east and eastern philosophy) we have been pre-occupied with HAPPINESS possibly because it is often a fleeting emotion and not at all about possessing ‘stuff,’ or prestige and power. HAPPINESS comes from within. Well that’s what I tell my son when he’s looking at the latest gaming device.

Encouraging disobedience is a powerful concept in workplaces if it’s embraced and understood. Translated into leadership, it’s about encouraging input and innovation, thoughts suggestions ideas. Workers at the coalface know their jobs and know how things can be done better. If they are in a micro-managed environment where things have always been done like this; where it’s silently frowned upon to re-invent the wheel, then it’s disobedience not to blindly obey.

Trusting your people and encouraging thought about new ways of doing business motivates people more than money.

Everyone wants to be loved, appreciated and recognised. That’s at least part of what makes people happy.

Advice to micro-managers: Let go of the wheel sometimes and hop in the backseat.

Then watch your people grow.

Lessons in marketing from a window cleaner

10 Sep


Almost everyday, when I’m driving, I stop at some major traffic lights. At these lights there’s a guy who washes windows for spare change. Half Aboriginal and half Italian, his name is Maurice and he’s a landmark. The first time I saw him I was amazed at his outfit; sometimes a pirate; sometimes a mad hatter … all kinds of get ups.

He decorates the poles the traffic lights are up on with teddy bears and christmas trees, always different depending on the season and what takes his fancy.

I told him that he was the best marketer I’d come across. He even hands out handwritten gift certificates. Maurice takes his business seriously and from the car horns beeping at him and drivers waving he’s very popular and well known. 

He told me once that the boss of a global mall chain said to him ‘If half my tenants were as good at marketing as you are …’

Maurice never stops. His business is micro, micro, but he doesn’t care. He runs it seriously, and he’s seriously good at it.

Running a small business is like riding a quarter horse. You steer them everyday.

What’s Peking Duck got to do with great brands

8 Sep


Many big cities have Chinatowns. City districts built around Chinese immigrants. It’s probably a huge generalisation to say that China and its people are traders. That business is hot wired somehow into the Chinese persona. I think there is some truth in it though.

As Eric Idle sings, “I like Chinese.” Take for example my favourite restaurant, here in Sydney’s Chinatown, BBQ King. It’s been operating ever since I was a kid and it’s hardly changed. It’s very successful with it’s steamy window display of ducks and pork and other things I’m not sure of.

BBQ King is also a late night haunt for chefs all across Sydney. It’s where the best go to eat.

But one thing … it’s never updated it’s look. It has the same vintage Chinese cafe feel with laminex tables and non-descript chairs. The owners haven’t put in any blonde wood (Danish modern) or anything at all chic. Why? It’s an original.

The food is amazing. The service swift (if a little unsmiling at times.) But the food is why I go there. It’s unfailingly good.

Refreshing brands when they need it can be valuable, but be cautious here!

We don’t want to alienate our good customers and we don’t want to lose the tradition and flavour a business has built up over the years just for the sake of change.

By the way, that’s sake not sake (japanese rice wine.)