Global Marketing
Management Consultants
Global Marketing
Management Consultants
mobile-logo
Global Marketing
Management Consultants
Top

Managing Marketing: Corporate Gaslighting In Advertising

Rob_Campbell

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Rob Campbell is the Head of Strategy EMEA at RG/A and has had strategy roles in Australia, China, US and the UK. But here Rob shares how a friend’s experience with Corporate Gaslighting made him aware of a time in his own career and being the person he is, he shared this on his personal blog “The Musings of an Opinionated Sod”. The response was overwhelming leading to the creation of this site “They Tried To Kill Me But I Live” where people are able to share their experiences of Corporate Gaslighting to let others know they are not alone and it is not their fault.

You can listen to the podcast here:

Follow Managing Marketing on SoundcloudTuneInStitcher, Spotify and Apple Podcast.

Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing. We’re in London, it’s a cold, wet day but the warmth is radiating here at R/GA as we welcome you to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we talk about all things marketing, media and advertising.

And today I’m catching up with Rob Campbell, the head of strategy at R/GA for EMEA and also the author of a terrific blog, ‘The Musings of an Opinionated Sod’. Welcome, Rob.

Rob:

Thank you very much indeed. Good to see you. It’s been a long, long time.

Darren:

It has been a long time. It was actually in Sydney at one of those Mumbrella 360s.

Rob:

Even before that, in Melbourne, I was at JWT, launching a Ford car.

Darren:

That’s when we met; I think the last time I saw you was in Sydney. How long have you been doing ‘The Musings of an Opinionated Sod’?

Rob:

I think about 12 years. I always joke I’ve won blog survivor because it was such a big thing back then but I’ve just kept going, me and Martin Weigel at Weiden, my love in many respects. It has just been a long, long time.

Darren:

Your other life partner.

Rob:

Yeah, my other life partner; much to my wife’s dismay.

Darren:

She’s sharing you with another love.

Rob:

That’s it.

Darren:

Actually, you two are combined by a love of great strategy and thinking.

Rob:

And great work.

Darren:

I’ve been a reader of your blog and one of the things I find is you are incredibly generous in sharing things that are incredibly personal. Was that what you set out to do or has it just evolved that way?

Rob:

I think I set out to do it. One, everyone was doing it then so I felt I should (if I’m honest) but some of it was I was in a job I didn’t think I deserved and didn’t think I was really good enough for. And I realised that the job required me to do a bunch of stuff where I was using my brain for things that were new but not the things I love, which is creativity and working with humans.

So, I did it more for me and then colleagues started doing it and I’m an addictive personality so it kind of sticks so it just stayed. About the openness; my mum and dad were always very passionate about being honest, authentic, and not being fearful. And one of the things that moved me the most, was my wife said (she can’t read it mainly because so much of it is rubbish) she can’t read it because she hears my voice.

And I like the idea that my son will one day have that but I’ve always been that person who has gone, ‘can we talk about this?’ and it disarms people, not because I’m doing it to be an arsehole but because I care about society and humanity. My dad died in 95 and it basically fucked me up for 10 years. Then when my mum died when my son was 3 months old so I was going through a real aspect.

Darren:

Well becoming a parent at the same time you lose your surviving parent.

Rob:

It was a really helpful aspect. I don’t think people read it so I’m quite surprised when people do. I gripe for me quite a lot of the time. Occasionally I write a post for someone and I’m almost shocked by that.

Darren:

What I get from it, because I know you I also hear your voice, I love the humour. A lot of it’s self-deprecating.

Rob:

Totally.

Darren:

There are not a lot of people who pull of self-deprecating humour. Most people come across as snide or a little sarcastic. So, that humour is incredibly accessible. It’s you having a laugh at yourself and the situations you’ve found yourself in or created. And the other thing is the authenticity.

By sharing your feelings people can relate to that.

Rob:

I have had a lot of people who are a bit familiar with me because they’ve read my blog and they think they know me. It’s a double-edged sword in some respects.

Darren:

I know that feeling.

Rob:

Yeah, I can imagine. A friend of mine said, ‘you don’t get many people who are trolls on there’ and it’s because mates, old colleagues, they troll me every day. It’s a bit like Facebook in the early days; a place where people can stay connected. It’s weird, people have come and gone but because it’s the same people generally for me it’s like a special place.

Not from an ego thing; it’s a special place because I do think about things and I like the fact that I can look back and go ‘wow, my opinion on that has changed so much’. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Darren:

I’ve got an aunt who writes the family letter every Christmas and it’s written for everyone so it doesn’t feel very personal, except you’ve done it almost daily (Monday to Friday) and it’s incredibly personal. It’s not ‘Dear (insert name here), Jeremy had a very good year at school this year’ and you get it every Christmas.

Does it also fulfil a role for you of keeping people abreast of where you are and I don’t just mean geographically, Australia, China, US and now back in the UK but also where you are in your life?

Rob:

That would make it sound as if it were planned. And it hasn’t been. The whole thing has been like a happy accident. For me there are elements where it is like a diary.

Darren:

A very public diary.

Rob:

It’s helped me work things out. I wrote this post years ago about pivotal people—people who have had a huge impact on my life (outside of my family). And they might have met me just for a day or I’ve worked with them. And I want to be that someone else, not for ego, but where I’ve been able to succeed in my life so much of that has been luck and belief that I don’t know if I’ve really been worthy of that but I’ve had it.

And just being able to talk about that and what it means. I do get joy from people being able to talk about stuff they might not have had. There is a month of posts about when my mum died. I wrote about it within 7 hours of her dying. I needed an out.

Darren:

I read that particular section because my mother passed away 14 years ago and dad passed away 2 years ago. For me reading that it was the 1st stage of grief; coming to terms with this has happened. A lot of it was you sharing things that this meant; the immediate impact and what was especially poignant in the context of your son and worrying about him not ever really knowing her.

Rob:

I occasionally go back to read it—can’t read them all. But the next stage of that is I’m selling my family home but I wrote a lot about it there. I believe (without wanting to sound crass) in creativity more than advertising and I believe great creativity is driven by understanding the weird and wonderful emotions, hypocrisies, fears and loves of people.

For me, expressing it; that is what life is. Like when I was in China I found it interesting that nobody ever talked about sex. But there was one thing people in China were doing: having a lot of sex. And people don’t talk about death and all of these things are happening and people don’t talk about fear or hypocrisy, not because people are evil, we all do that.

Part of it is maybe a reminder to myself. Now, it’s become semi-popular for young planners to go don’t forget that bit. But it’s all been a massive accident.

Darren:

I don’t see it because I’m not living your life. I see the person I know you to be in that. There is nothing else you could be, from my perspective, but who you are and what you’re doing because you are so curious and engaged in the people around you.

One of the things I love, especially in China, was the relationships you had with your team and colleagues and the way you grew that team. They were talented people but when you went to China the idea of communication strategists would have been relatively unknown. But you went and found people and nurtured them and encouraged them.

And when you left you’ve still got fantastic friendships with those people.

Rob:

There were a lot of people who allowed that to happen for me and they were super talented. I love that country. Ironically, I feel more at home in China than anywhere else on earth. It fundamentally changed my life. My mum always said, ‘care about what other people care about’.

But I also believe I have a responsibility to make people better than what they thought they could be. When they leave they get a better job than they thought they could. That’s been inbred in me. I love it. The team I’ve got now, they’re a bunch of different people. This is my sentimental side; I dream that everyone I’ve had the privilege of working with will all get together at some point, not around me but more around us.

But yeah, China was amazing. Every where’s been like that but China the most because it’ so different I had to relearn normal whatever normal is and those values have stuck with me now, which drives people nuts.

Darren:

In February 2019 you wrote a post about an experience where your confidence had been undermined, you were questioning your ability and place. This is almost the opposite because a lot of what you write about (apart from the rants) is about the positive nature of the human condition but this was very honest and dark, in a way, an expose of the dark side of working within some agencies.

What got you to that point? You were about to go on a holiday and you announced I’m not going.

Rob:

I was going to China. It goes back a bit. I love my best friend. I’ve known him since the day he was born; he’s like a brother to me. And his wife is utterly amazing and she’d started a new job (this is going back some time). She’d been with a company for a long, long time and it had changed.

We asked them to spend Christmas with us and my best friend said, ‘thank you because she’s been going through a lot’. When we got together she started talking about it; how she felt undermined, questioned herself (a qualified lawyer, incredibly smart, an amazing human). She said all this stuff and I thought I feel like this.

It resonated with me but then I realised why haven’t I said a lot of this. But then I realised you are treated in such a way you feel it’s your fault. This is going back a while. Then I spoke to others and by me bringing it up others could say ‘yes that’s me too’.

There was a lot of ‘oh, they can’t cut it’. These are people I hold in the highest regard. We all have our foibles, I get that. It wasn’t just that it happened to me (that was devastating) but it happened to her so I felt I wanted to write about it.

Darren:

It’s also the damage it does to people. After you wrote that I shared it with a lot of people and almost every person had experienced that in their career at some stage. It’s so widespread and yet, as you say, it’s not something we openly talk about.

Rob:

We are made to feel it’s our fault, which is where it became a form of gas lighting for me. When I posted it I got back over 300 personal stories and it deeply bothered me. And I thought what am I going to do about it? That was the biggest thing; this shit’s happening and nobody is talking about it.

I kind of opened it up and I’m old, this happened a long time ago. I’m known as being quite a bullish, pain in the arse.

Darren:

An opinionated sod—you said it so own it.

Rob:

That’s true but if I admit it maybe it will help other people as well. So I decided to start a website and the goal is to make sure that people suffering will realise they’re not alone and also if any boss is worried they’re a part of it they can read it and see what they can change. It’s not mentioning names.

I believe that good people can do stupid things. I’m not saying that everyone that does that is a prick—some are but if you don’t realise it you can go bad. Going further back, when I lived in America there were three people who changed my life. The biggest way they changed my life is it’s not good enough to not be like that, you have to act. And this is part of it.

When I’ve gone I want my son to look at it and go ‘he did stuff’.

Darren:

Rather than just stand by.

Rob:

Because you’re complicit. It took me a long time to work that out. Of the 300 personal stories I received some 250 said ‘don’t publish it’. I’ve had stories I’ve published and then been asked to take down. It’s always anonymous but there were a lot of people with incredible talents who feel worthless for no other reason that they don’t fit the agenda of someone who is on an ego power trip.

Darren:

It was really confronting for me being labelled a white older male with privilege because my existence in life never felt like it had privilege. I didn’t walk around going ‘I’m privileged’. But clearly I am. And I became aware that if I have that privilege then I should be using it to bring about the change that we want.

Rob:

Yeah, the last few years have been a really interesting journey for me. A while ago I spoke at a conference where they had only invited one woman. And I was told you should pull out and make space for a woman and my first reaction was but I really enjoy what I’m going to do and I feel I can offer value.

But I kept thinking they’re right though. That’s where I learnt I have to make space. I asked an insanely talented colleague of mine to come along and do that. But yes we are incredibly privileged and there are lots of people who feel hard done by that.

When I wrote a post earlier about needing to make space for female leadership I copped a lot of shit from men. I said I’m not anti-men here but we’ve had it pretty good. Then they say well it’s alright for you, you’ve already got that. I get that, but I can’t change that.

Darren:

That’s incredibly unfair because one of the ways I’ve seen you grow your career is by growing the people. And you have grown such diverse groups of people. It’s not like in your career you have just collected groups of white men and grown them into a strategy team. You’ve grown racially, gender, even economically diverse groups of people.

Rob:

I think the issue was that people were saying ‘you’ve achieved a lot in your career’ –it’s a bit like when a multimillionaire says ‘we should stop driving cars’ –well that’s fine for you because you can afford to do all these other aspects of it. I’m not knocking it; I totally hear it but if I thought my best creative days were behind me I would give up because I’m obsessed with doing stuff that’s different and interesting with amazing talented people.

I like having a career and I’ve done O.K but what I’d like to do in addition to helping people focus on the best creativity is to fuck up the system in a positive way because I’ve had the privilege of working around the world with such a diverse group of people.

One thing that really pissed me off; I had an amazing planner in China and who I wanted to explore another country with. My god, it was so hard. There was so much prejudice towards that person simply because of where they came from. He was amazing so I want to change the system to the point where I was asked ‘are you prejudiced against white men?’

So then I said ‘I am’ because I was. And the reason I was was not because I want to upset men but there was incredible talent that just didn’t have a chance. If you’re of a different, heritage, gender or sexual preference they have to work harder to get to the bottom than anyone who is half way up.

This industry survival will be about letting great people get to the top and they can’t because of the barriers.

Darren:

Which you’ve set out to disrupt because it’s the only way you bring about change. Human history shows that all change happens in huge quantum leaps then there are periods of static and everyone adjusts and then there’s another quantum leap.

Rob:

Gas lighting–while there have been many things I have been vehemently opposed to, I deal directly with that by the people I hire, protect and promote because this happened to a very important person in my life and it resonated. ‘Whoa, you are articulating everything that I feel’.

This took a long time because there was a long gap between these incidents but the fact that it resonated so deeply I wanted to see if I could help.

Darren:

It happens in all the industries. Your friend was in the legal profession but I wonder whether adverting/ marketing is particularly toxic. We see the ego maniacs and the narcissists here but it’s also an industry that attracts a lot of very people-focused people. The cliché is it’s all about relationships so it attracts people that like people.

And whether they’re being set up as lambs to the slaughter because if you are focused on wanting to get along with people and collectively work to do the best job you can, then a narcissist can come in like a wolf amongst the sheep.

Rob:

I’ve worked in this industry a long time and there are some astounding people but there are two factors. We are an industry constantly looking for the next thing because we love new so that means people who were part of the last new thing end up being fearful and fear breeds a change of behaviour which can often manifest as dictatorial behaviour rather than encouragement.

Kim Papworth at Wieden, one of the nicest people on the planet, and what I loved about Kim was in the creative process he never wanted ego to get in the way-he just focused on the work. It was about the work not about you. He had an amazing way of doing that and it was a privilege working with him.

Darren:

That’s amazing; it’s basically saying fig jam doesn’t work here.

Rob:

Yes. There are some people who want to make the work work but we’re also in the industry of helping our clients be better than they thought they could be. The Arsène Wenger quote, ‘everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home’ meaning that everyone thinks they can do their thing better than anyone else.

There are some incredibly talented individuals who are freaks of nature but there is another aspect that no one is as good as all of us. I do love R/GA for that sense of collaboration. I used to think collaboration was like smiling when you’re studying something in the dark. It’s been amazing here; people actually want to contribute to help.

Also the word ‘relationships’ often gets mistaken. Dave Lean used to say ‘beware of the client whisperer’—the people who think I know what they want more as opposed to using that ability to help the client get to a better place. One of the best ways to spot gas lighting is when information is being withheld.

Darren:

True. One of the really toxic things about a gas lighter is that they’re not a bully. Bullying is so the antithesis of good corporate culture and they get found out these days. They’re not the misogynist, they blend in really well.

Rob:

And they look like they’re being helpful.

Darren:

But they withhold and twist information, exclude people and diminish contribution.

Rob:

Totally and I experienced all of that. Ultimately it was about control and superiority and it was designed to make them look high and you not in the hierarchy. Some of the stories I received were horrific and even worse sometimes the company would back the person who was doing wrong because of this attitude that they get the results.

But at what price? I wrote a while ago that I think it’s wonderful so many companies now want to make sure the team is diverse. I’d love to see the next generation of that where companies put some mental well-being contracts in there—that no one is going to work more than 40 hours.

There are lots of things we can do. When great people are supported and encouraged, it’s O.K to make mistakes if they’re doing the right thing but when you are basically told that you are not good enough. Some people aren’t good enough’ I get that but how you deal with it is very important.

A lot of people because they’re too frightened to have an honest conversation in a considerate caring way and use the other path which is let’s get them to leave (conscious or unconscious). And that’s where this thing happens.

I wrote a story recently where someone got paid a lot of money and it was the realisation that they weren’t getting paid a lot of money for their talent; it was for their complicity with bad behaviours.

Darren:

This is something I’ve become really aware of, more so in the last 3 to 5 years, is middle management in agencies (a lot of them media agencies) where they start to feel burnt out because they’ve gone into advertising wanting to do the best for the client and they’re feeling the pressure to give advice to the client that’s in the best interest of the agency.

Now, it’s not the most senior people, the CEOs of the agency, because they’re on board and they’re getting paid well to push the company line. This is that next tier down and their integrity just gets eaten away by having to turn up to work and being recruited into this insincere process and working against what they believe is the best interest of all involved.

Rob:

An old colleague of mine once said that a lot of middle management want to be told they’re right but senior management want to know how to be better and that translates into all sorts of expectations. It’s very hard to be transparent, authentic and honest. Honesty is the best way for any company to move forward in that respect.

It is difficult and I’m not saying I have any answers but I’ve been privileged and blessed with my gender, heritage and background. What has become really important to me is I’ve seen too many people who I believe could genuinely add to or change the industry who aren’t in it anymore because they’ve been told you have to do this, follow that and if you don’t you’re going to get kicked out.

Some people are just scared of their situation; some people are just control freaks. It is everywhere but when you receive over 300 horrible stories where people literally think it’s over—that feeling of this is it, it’s done, this is the best and I’m not good enough, it’s one of the most debilitating elements I personally have ever experienced.

And I was very fortunate, for a bunch of reasons, that I was able to change that situation. I did have family relying on me but there are a lot of people who are stuck in it and they take it more and more and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. I just find that fundamentally wrong.

People say they can get out of it but they haven’t experienced it. I know that if I’d stayed in the situation I was in all those years ago I would have gone into a clinical depression. My life would have fundamentally changed; I would not be sitting with you here right now.

Darren:

You do get trapped because the whole process of undermining your self-confidence means that you do cling to what you’ve got. In a way it becomes corporate Stockholm Syndrome—the very abuser that puts you into that situation and you’re scared to let go because out there I may not survive. I have to stay here because at least I’m surviving.

Rob:

Someone I know in that situation—and what really hit me was that it was obvious they were working so hard to get the respect of people, of their leaders—and I asked, ‘why do you want the respect of people you don’t respect?’ Especially when the caveat is that if they do respect you it means you’ve become complicit.

And it took me a long time to work that out. It’s a bit like when George Michael suffered from depression and people said ‘how can you be depressed? You’re a rock star’ but it’s not about your wealth or situation. We’re all fragile people.

Darren:

We can fake it until you make it.

Rob:

Yeah but all I know is that I’ve had a life and career that has been blessed by people believing in me when quite frankly a lot of people didn’t. And when I spoke at Circus in Sydney I found it interesting that everything I said that the audience liked I’d already said 8 years earlier and nobody would give me a job.

I was grateful for some people along the line but not everybody has that. All I want to do is give people somewhere they can go, I’m not alone, I might be able to have some help, and if you’re one of those bosses, I might learn from it. That’s all I can do.

Darren:

The irony is it is a people business and yet the few we’re talking about are actually anti-people. It’s not achieving the best people can be; it’s trying to control people to fit into a certain mould.

Rob:

It’s pro-ego. Maybe it’s my years of living in communist countries but if you’re a leader I believe your job is to help people be better than they thought they could be. That needs an honest and transparent conversation but they know your intent is to help them in that journey.

When they go wrong you deal with it. It doesn’t mean you pander; you’re not Paula Abdul, you deal with it but you want them to win well. But there are a lot of people who want themselves to win at the expense of everyone else. Apart from one is ego versus team but for me the biggest difference is the win well.

I’ve generally had amazing bosses, colleagues and clients and that has been about ‘you will get paid for your point of view as long as you can do it the right way and we will back you. We might not even agree with you, we might ask questions but we will back you.’

There was another situation where I went through some issues (I’m seeing this person in a couple of days) and I was destroyed by these people who just wanted people to do what they wanted because it was about them and eventually I left the company. Then I met this person who asked me to write a presentation. By this time I thought I was worthless.

They said the presentation was great and I asked them if they wanted any changes. And he said ‘nope, you don’t need to do that. I’ve hired you to do this because I trust your point of view’. And it was a revelation. I’ve never forgotten that. I might disagree with my team on a bunch of stuff but if they’ve thought it through and they think it’s right then I back them. My job is to coach them not judge them. I’d like to see more of that.

Darren:

You’re working very closely with creative people throughout your career but some creative directors are incredibly humble but so talented and they bring out the best in their teams. They come to that idea and relationship wanting the best and then there are other creative directors that are basically judging the work not nurturing it.

Rob:

My job is ultimately the standards of strategy for creative expression in products, services, advertising but anyone that is asked to deliver an idea that is incredibly vulnerable. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing them you are incredibly vulnerable.

Darren:

It was once described as standing naked in front of a room full of people because it’s come from you.

Rob:

And they’re looking for the faults. For me it’s about how do you elevate? I use expressions like ‘where’s your energy at’, which has an incredible way of getting around judgement—and there’s an emotional element in that. But ultimately, my job is to create the space and place for people to push themselves. I have no problems if someone fails if they’re trying to be ace; I have problems if they’re lazy.

So, how do you create an environment where they’re allowed to do something great? I hate Tom Hanks but he wrote this article which I’ve sent to a lot of people (in this industry there is a lot of ego bashing). Tom Hanks was asked if he’d ever worked with someone he didn’t like. Tom replied, ‘absolutely. I’m cool if I’m working with someone I don’t like but the moment their method of working affects my method to be the best I can then we’re going to have it out’.

For me it’s about encouraging people to acknowledge that anything that impinges on their ability to be their best is an issue. And their best is what leads to the best possible creativity. And I’m going to fail; we’ll all fail but I get excited when I see people produce something that none of us expected.

I’ve been fortunate to work in a whole bunch of stuff but that moment where it’s on the edge of madness or amazing and then the wheels hit the runway. And my success is when my team is successful. My job is to open the door for them to be epic. It’s not to control it. Some do that; I choose the other path.

Darren:

I’ve just noticed the time; it’s gone really quickly but if there’s someone out there that’s not getting the chance to be the best possible person I’d personally recommend They Tried to Kill Me but I Live and it’s all about corporate gas-lighting. Read the stories and realise you’re not alone.

If you want to go on the emotional ride I’d absolutely recommend the ‘Musings of an Opinionated Sod’. Rob Campbell, this has been an absolute pleasure; great to catch up with you.

Rob:

Wonderful.

Darren:

Last question before we go. You’ve talked a lot about people that have been really pivotal in backing you and giving you a great opportunity but who’s the most important person in your life?

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here

Want more articles like this? Subscribe to our newsletter:

Fill out my online form.

Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

We're Listening

Have something to say about this article?
Share it with us on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn

Tweet
Share
Share
Buffer
Pin