As some of you might have noticed, earlier this week @adlandsuit became @creature_dan – I just wanted to explain why. Obviously enough, this coincided with my arrival at Creature London, and, needless to say, there’s a link.
As a nigh-on-brand-new-agency, we’re dealing with all of those questions that nigh-on-brand-new-agencies deal with (how long should our creds deck be, where’s the best place to get sandwiches round here, why don’t the phones work, why is Shoreditch, that kind of thing). One of the things we’ve talked about is the Agency twitter feed.
It’s tough to be an ad agency on twitter. With the odd honourable exception, there tend to be two approaches: either, ‘Check us out! We’re WACKY’; or, ‘Check us out! We knew about that interesting thing that those other people did BEFORE YOU.’ And that’s not us – the former, because we’re not wacky (for ‘wacky people’ are awful, awful people), and the latter because the internet is not a race.
So what is Creature London? It’s not a tone of voice, it’s not a social-media-guidelines presentation, it’s not gimmicky, and it’s not an intern desperately scouring the web to bring you that new thing before anyone else does. It’s a bunch of smart, creative folk who want to make amazing things for and with amazing people – and that’s what we figured we should be on twitter. So @creaturelondon will go quiet, and from now on you’ll be able to follow @creature_stu, @creature_ed, @creature_ben, @creature_ivan and, well, me*.
We’ll be tweeting as ourselves, with no rules, no guidelines, no editorial calendar and no agenda. Ed will be grumpy. Stu won’t shut up. Ivan might never tweet. I’ll just be adlandsuit with a different name. Some of us will think Transformers 3 is ace, some of us will be wrong about Transformers 3. Either way, Creature London’s twitter will be the people that run the agency, talking about the stuff that interests and infuriates them. Feel free to say hello.
I am very aware that for a lot of people, this will be your first visit to this blog. It may well be the first time that a lot of you have realised there even is a blog that accompanies the sweary sport/reality-TV-obsessed barrage that is the AdLand Suit twitter account. Possibly because I haven’t posted anything on it for a year: social media best practice FTW, and all that.
Anyway, it feels like this might be a good time to get the story of ALS down in writing – those of you who’ve followed it from the beginning can ignore it (but know that I LOVE YOU), and it might be a little bit interesting to those of you who are currently wondering why I haven’t fucking sworn yet.
Ladies and gentlemen of the internet, the story of AdLand Suit.
Hard as it is to believe, the blog came first, back in January (I think) 2009. At the time, the blogosphere had moved on from its ‘planners talking to each other’ phase, and its ‘creatives bitching about other creatives (and planners)’ phase was in full swing. The only constant was a general dismissal of Account Folk’s understanding of the internet – which really hacked me off.
After reading yet another, “I look forward to reading the Suit equivalent on… Oh, wait. THERE AREN’T ANY” comment on Scamp’s blog, I realised why the constant slagging was really pissing me off – it was because it was entirely justified. There weren’t any Suit blogs out there. And so I decided to stop bitching about everyone’s bitching, and do something about it – and so AdLand Suit was born.
It was anonymous at first, though I couldn’t really have told you why. With hindsight, it probably gave the blog a level of authority that it wouldn’t otherwise have enjoyed; it certainly freed me up to talk with more confidence than I might have done. At the time, though, I think I was probably just copying Scamp. I was always as honest as anonymity allowed about who I was – a senior suit at a top ten London agency – which obviously didn’t stop people believing I was Johnny Hornby; but more of that later.
So, the blog started to garner some readers; it was a mixture of Account Man basics, stories from my experience, ranting about advertising, interviews with the great and good of the Suit World… The logical next step was to take it to twitter, which is where it started to get a bit weird.
Initially, I just used the twitter account to let people know when I’d posted something new; but all that changed during the Ashes in 2009: and the credit for that must lie with one Ian Ronald Bell, and his since-laid-to-rest habit of wafting at balls-outside-the-off-stump-that-he-really-should-have-left-alone. (Apologies at this stage to the cricket-illiterates – you really don’t need to worry about the detail.) Following one such waft, I was so angry with Mr Bell that I took to twitter to question his parentage, etc. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t clever, but it seemed quite funny – and, hard as it may be to believe right now, at the time there weren’t that many people who were happy to broadcast their profanity-laden-stream-of-consciousness-sporting-related-meltdowns.
And with that, the crowd of followers started growing, as did the RTs. Esquire Magazine got involved, and the number of followers grew yet further.
The X-Factor happened. In many ways, the less said about that the better. If you were there, you’ll know why. If you weren’t, you’ve probably seen me during the Apprentice more recently, so you can imagine. I sent nearly 50 postcards from Edinburgh to folk in Auckland, Copenhagen, and a bunch of places in between, after idly wondering, bored on a train somewhere near Wakefield, whether anyone would like a postcard from the Fringe. I accidentally upset a lot of Scottish people when I suggested Andy Murray was only British when he was winning. And other things happened. Lots of them. (This was probably my favourite.) The salient facts, though, are that the followers kept growing, and that as we reached the end of 2009, @adlandsuit was being followed by over 3,000 people, and the blog was being read by more people than I ever imagined would be interested in the stuff I was thinking. WOO, etc.
But the life of an anonymous blogger isn’t that straightforward, even if you’re not pretending to be a Middle Eastern lesbian – apart from anything else, it was surprisingly stressful keeping it a secret from the people with whom I worked. So I decided to drop the anonymity; to put a head on the Suit. Which wasn’t, unfortunately, as straightforward as it should have been.
As I said at the start of this post, I’d always been honest about who I was – that hadn’t deterred the folk who were convinced it was an elaborate smokescreen, and that Johnny Hornby, Lord Bell or Andrew McGuinness had in fact spent the previous year swearing at Ian Bell and pointing out that Jedward sang with the enthusiasm of two special kids chasing a biscuit. To ensure that the re-heading wasn’t an immense disappointment to all involved (not least me), I gave it a charitable slant – I asked everyone who was reading the blog and/or following the profanity-fest to donate some cash to Marie Curie Cancer Care. When donations reached £1,000 I’d tell everyone who I was, arrange a night for us all to go to the pub, and take the person behind the biggest individual donation out to Lunch. I’d had to be persuaded to go for £1k, rather than £500 (WHAT IF NOBODY CARED???) – somewhat apprehensively, I hit post, tweeted the link, and nervously left the office. It was a Thursday afternoon.
By Monday morning, three days later, the wonderful, wonderful idiots who follow me had raised nearly £5,000 for Marie Curie.
What’s more, the highest individual donator, who gave an amazing £750, didn’t want to be taken for lunch, and, in fact, didn’t want anyone to know who he or she was, something I’ve respected to this day. Even more amazing, though, was the number of people who’d donated £5, £10, £15 – for the most part, I didn’t know these people, at least not in any sense that my parents would understand. But they were, and are, good people. So, there was no Lunching, but there was pub, and there was drinking, and there was tequila, and there was a shed-load of cash for the good folk at Marie Curie Cancer Care.
So, out of a simple desire to stand up for, and, I guess, try to explain what I do, had sprung something of which I remain resolutely proud, even if it does occasionally appear to be little more than an automated sporting-swear-bot nowadays. (I also do pasta jokes.) And while it’s helped quite a few people out, directly or indirectly, along the way, the person ALS has helped out most is undoubtedly me: it has done more for my career than I ever could have anticipated; it’s brought brilliant people, burgers and bacon sandwiches into my life; and, astonishingly enough, without it I would not have met the woman I’m going to marry in 6 months time.
But that’s a story for another time. Probably over a beer.
Time for the next chapter, and all that.
So, after nearly a year of silence, a post. I know. I’d forgotten this place existed too. Ho hum.
As you may or may not have seen in this morning’s Campaign (along with the obligatory po-faced photo – they don’t let you smile. Seriously.), next week, after a happy and award-winning year, I’ll be leaving Isobar, and heading back to east London, to join the management team at Creature London – reuniting, in doing so, with Ed Warren, an old colleague from DLKW, and more recently a Creative Director at mother. I’ll be working with him, Ivan Purdie (former Corbis bigwig), Ben Middleton, Stu Outhwaite (other mother creative types) and a few other brilliant people. Fuck yeah.
I will write more on Creature, and on why I’m so excited to be making this leap, another time; for now, though, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone at Isobar in general, and glue and White Sheep Isobar in particular, for the last year. I wang on about the internet a lot, but ultimately, they took a chance on a chap from an ATL Agency who’d been quite vocal about his mistrust of all things ‘digital’ (fortunately, they understood what I was getting at), and I’m extremely grateful for that.
It’s been one hell of a year, but I’ve made some award-winning work with some of the best people in the business (a lot of whom I hope I’ll get to work with again), and made some great friends along the way. It always strikes me as disingenuous when people say they’re sad to leave a place (“just don’t fucking go, then”), but in this case I can say it with absolute honesty – I have a fantastic opportunity to make something amazing with brilliant people. That doesn’t happen often, if ever; and not much else would have prized me out of glue towers (particularly now we have lifts that work).
And so, unlike the horse with the broken leg, I’m going from glue to Creature. It’s going to be awesome. See you there.
I am a massive geek. As such, I created my own desktop background, so as (a) to be more organised, and (b) to make it patently clear to my new colleagues just what a massive geek I am. I know I stole the idea from somebody, but it was so long ago I have no idea who it was. It might have been Russell. But it might not have been. Many thanks to whoever it was.
Regardless, I find it extremely useful, and whether or not you like to admit it, you would to. What’s more, stealing this one and using it is slightly less geeky than creating your own. You’re all very welcome.
On Thursday, May 20th, they’re doing something rather good at Edelman, and if you have ever aspired to be a true digital geek, you should definitely come along. Be there, or don’t be square, I suppose.
All the details are in the invite below, or click here if you can’t see the image – first come, first served and all that. Hopefully see you there.
If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably spotted that it’s been a while since I’ve posted on ALS – if you follow me on twitter, you’ll probably have a fair idea as to why.
For those of you that don’t, a quick explanation; after 6 years, I’ve taken the difficult decision to leave DLKW. I’ve worked with some fantastic people, learned an enormous amount, done some great things, and made some fantastic friends – it’s the Agency that made me the Suit I am today, and for that I will always be grateful. They understand that the communication landscape has changed and continues to change, and will continue to do good things.
But I won’t be there. I’m taking a bit of a break, before starting at Isobar to work on Nokia on June 21st – leaving DLKW was extremely difficult, and the reality still hasn’t really hit me, but this is a move I’m extremely excited about. In the meantime, though, I’m going to be decorating my flat, reading the papers and doing a bunch of other things that I haven’t had time to do for the last six years – I won’t be reading blogs, and, while I will be doing a bit of writing, it’s extremely unlikely to have anything to do with advertising. (I’m still tweeting, as you’ve probably noticed.)
So AdLand Suit is going to be quiet for a bit. Come July though, it’ll be back with a vengeance. Have a good summer in the meantime, and thank you for continuing to give a toss what I have to say.
Regular, or rather, long-term readers of this blog will know my views on the word ‘digital’.
It’s a fine word. It means something very specific – it relates to a system of data technology that uses discrete (as opposed to continuous, or analogue) values. And that’s fine; use it for that.
Where I never believe you should see it used is as part of a Suit’s job title. As far as I’m concerned, and as I’ve made clear before, a Suit who describes him or herself as ‘digital’ is missing the point of a Suit’s existence; a Suit who wants to be ‘digital’, doesn’t really want to be a Suit.
My issue, of course, isn’t really with the word ‘digital’. I’d be just as frustrated with an account man who felt the need to describe themselves as ‘TV’, or ‘Press’. Except nobody would ever think of doing that. In fact, the idea of a Suit labelling themselves as TV is as ludicrous as a TV Producer not knowing where the Ivy is.
But I’ve said all of this before: you know how I feel about Suits. We aren’t TV producers, we aren’t digital designers, we aren’t mac-operators; we’re Suits. Mark Lund recently described the Suit’s role as that of the ‘super-generalist’, there to tie it all together for the Client – to simplify and distil the raft of communication options available. And he’s right – it’s our job to understand and to inspire, to break the silos, not to build the website, post-produce the TV ad or develop the app. The problem I have with the Suit who refers to themselves as ‘digital’ is that it feels like they’ve misunderstood the job they’re supposed to be doing; and in doing so have misunderstood what everyone, from the Clients to the Creatives, wants and needs from them.
And I think, to be honest, that the same goes for Agencies that insist on referring to themselves as digital; give it two years, and the idea of anyone selling themselves as a Digital Agency will be as anachronistic as selling yourself as a TV agency would be deemed today. I was discussing this with someone recently, and he used the analogy of two dinosaurs wrestling, which seems pretty much on the money to me.
The breadth of options that digital technologies have opened up when it comes to answering Client briefs is nothing short of phenomenal, and phenomenally exciting at that; but they still remain options – digital in and of itself is not a solution, and should never be thought of as such. And of course thinking digitally is important – but to ONLY think digitally is the sort of thinking that leads to tech-driven responses, rather than idea, or, dare I say it, customer-driven answers that have the capacity to engage, and to drive participation.
To be able to succeed and thrive as a contemporary advertising agency, you need to have the breadth of knowledge to consider all the options, and then the flexibility and adaptability to deliver the right ones as rapidly as is necessary (whether through internal resource, or through a managed network – another post on the horizon…). That’s not going to come from an Agency that doesn’t understand the importance of digital; but nor is it going to come from an Agency that doesn’t see the point in considering anything else.
So, please. If you’re a Suit, or if you’re an Agency, don’t tell me you’re Digital. I’m just going to assume that you don’t get it – and so are your Clients.