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Managing Marketing: Being a Creative in Network, Indie and In-house Agencies

Stanley_Johnson

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.

Stanley Johnson is a Creative Director, Brand Transformer, Copywriter and one half of the creative consultancy StanLee with his creative collaborator, Lee Callister. Stan discusses his career and contrasts his experience as a creative leader in the various roles in network agencies, independent agencies, creative consultancies and an in-house agency. He reflects on the lessons of his creative career and his social media moniker – BrandDNA.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today, I’m sitting down with a colleague of many years, Stanley Johnson — Creative Director, brand transformer, and copywriter, and currently one half of Stan/Lee. Welcome, Stan.

Stanley:

Well, thank you, Darren, how are you?

Darren:

I’m very well. And look, thanks for making time to catch up while I’m down in Melbourne. I know you’re not originally a Melbourne boy, are you?

Stanley:

This could take up your entire podcast, my travelling story. But no, I had parents who moved a lot and they still do. They’ve moved up to Queensland about three months ago.

So, yeah, my parents are English. We came to Australia as Ten Pound Poms. A couple of years later, like all Ten Pound Poms who didn’t like it, they went back. Didn’t like that, went to South Africa. Didn’t like that, went back — went back to South Africa and we ended up here many years later just before my 21st birthday. But I’ve been a Melbourne boy pretty much ever since.

Darren:

And I have to say you are, from my perspective, a quintessential Melbourne boy. You are someone that is interested in everything from popular culture to classics, you comment a lot on Twitter about the things you observe. You share a lot on social media, but it’s not banal, it’s actually quite insightful.

What is it about sharing your thoughts and insights on social media that really, clearly engages you and your audience?

Stanley:

That’s a question that no one’s ever asked me and I’ve never really thought about it. So, I joined a conversation on Twitter the other day about the Sydney NYE fireworks, and how Melbourne had decided to have no fireworks.

But in Sydney, they simply had to go ahead because it’s kind of like an advertising thing for Sydney. You know, “it’s on the world news” in Sydney.

Interestingly, years ago, I went to a conference talk by … I’ve forgotten the man’s name, but his story was about the creative class. And he was looking at creative cities-

Darren:

Richard Florida.

Stanley:

Yes! So Richard Florida’s theory of creative centres is they were always second cities, not main cities. So London is the home of the music business in the UK, but all of the great bands come out of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, they’re regional.

And so, when I arrived in Melbourne, there was very much a Melbourne-Sydney kind of rivalry.

And I think that with the arrival of John Cain into the government, and then the changes that evolved in Melbourne, where they opened up liquor licensing and discovered the laneways; Melbourne as a city decided, you know what, let’s stop trying to be Sydney and just be Melbourne. And Melbourne has never looked back.

I love the way that Russel Howcroft is a big promoter not just for creativity, but also for Melbourne as a creative centre as well. And so, Melbourne became comfortable with itself and it grew and prospered because of that.

So while Sydney is trying to be a world city, Melbourne doesn’t really have that worry.

Darren:

So, what you’re saying is in some ways, you’ve just settled into the Zeitgeist of Melbourne, the sort of culture of Melbourne, of just being engaged and involved in the things that are happening?

Stanley:

Yeah. And I think also, I arrived … because it’s a while ago now, but I arrived at a time when Melbourne culturally was really an interesting kind of place.

I’ve just finished reading over the holidays a book called Sweet Dreams by Dylan Jones (who’s the editor of GQ in the UK) which looks at the music industry or music and its impact on popular culture in the UK.

It starts in ‘75 with the birth of punk or the stirrings of punk, and it ends with Live Aid at the end of 1985. It documents how the kids who saw David Bowie and Roxy Music on top of the pops, became the first punks. And those punk kids became the new romantics, and they basically gave birth to much of the pop culture we see today.

There’s a lot about the way these kids were at the time. They were all about self-expression, sexual identity — all the sorts of stuff that you see covered in popular culture now, except they were kind of moving on that back in the seventies.

Melbourne, when I got here, was in that same kind of phase. It had a really interesting kind of independent electronic music scene. There was stuff going on that there wasn’t in Sydney. Sydney was very much a rock and roll town. So, as I always say, my apologies to Sydney, because I do love it. It’s a great place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

Darren:

So, it’s interesting because also that was at a stage of your life where you’re no longer the awkward teenager, you’re actually starting out life really as an adult, and defining what that’s actually going to look like. Because that would be in your sort of early to mid-twenties, wasn’t it?

Stanley:

Yeah. And in actual fact, my family, as I said, they moved a lot. So, we came here to Melbourne and my dad … my dad was a loom tuner. And for those who don’t know what that is, which is pretty much all your listeners; he used to repair weaving looms.

Today all kinds of fabrics and manufacturing, most of it is done in China. And so, that’s another job that we’ve seen lost through globalisation.

My dad worked for Johnson & Johnson in South Africa. They brought our family out lock, stock and barrel to Melbourne. I remember at the time, the letter they sent that said that he would be working in a place called Wonthaggi, which was, and I quote, “an outer suburb of Melbourne.”

So of course, when we arrive here we go out to visit the Johnson & Johnson factory in Wonthaggi and discovered that in actual fact, Wonthaggi is in Gippsland, not Melbourne. And so, there is no way that I, as a young man of almost 21 could contemplate any kind of existence in this little lost mining town in Gippsland.

Darren:

Well, especially having travelled/moved so much and experienced so many different cultures, this-

Stanley:

But what that meant Darren, was that then my parents went and I stayed in Melbourne on my own. So I’m probably one of the few kids who didn’t leave home, home left him.

I’ve lived in Melbourne pretty much on my own from the day I got here. Whereas my parents moved to Wonthaggi, three months later they didn’t like Wonthaggi, my old man bought himself out of the contract, and then they moved to Adelaide. So, yeah.

Darren:

Now, we worked together last century or some might say last millennium. We were both Creative Directors at an agency that doesn’t exist anymore called J. Walter Thompson. But there’s something else we have in common; we both got into advertising through a thing called CopySchool, run by Marcus Tarrant.

Stanley:

Yeah. And it’s interesting today because everybody says to young kids who want to get into the business, “You’ve got to do Award School, you need to do Award School.” But back then, Award School was very much a Sydney-centric thing. And so here in Melbourne, we had CopySchool, which was started by Marcus, as you said.

And I think I’m going to be brutal and say, it was a harder thing to get into than Award School is. They took a strict 12 people and no more.

Darren:

Yeah, I remember at the time, the first night that we all gathered together at one of the agencies and they said we had over 500 applications that they went through to pick the 12. And it was interesting because it was such an eclectic group of people. There was a woman there that was very good at writing in 25 words or less. And all her friends said, “You should become a copywriter,” which is why she applied.

Whereas there were also people there that had family or some sort of connection and they always wanted to be in “advertising.” So, was your experience the same? Quite an eclectic group and the opportunity to work with some terrific advertising creatives?

Stanley:

Yeah, it was an interesting collection of people. One, I was probably the oldest in our class. I was probably knocking on the door of 30 then. And most of them were a little bit younger. I was already a qualified tradesman and I had already moved into a second career.

But I’d met my wife at a party. She’d worked at Clems. Her best friend worked at Clems and then JWT. And they saw in me the latent creativity that I never actually knew I had. I used to write occasional reviews and stuff for music mags because that was my thing. I was a volunteer program coordinator at PBS public radio.

But advertising as a skillset, I didn’t really even know that I had that. It’s thanks to my wife and her late friend Mary, who pushed me, that I applied for the CopySchool and the rest is history. So I owe it all to my wife really!

Darren:

And one of the good things about CopySchool from my experience was, first of all, getting feedback from lots of different Creative Directors. Because like every two or three weeks, you’d be in a new agency, you were showing your work. They’d give you feedback on it, they’d give you briefs to work on and things like that.

This meant at the end of it, not only did you have this sort of wealth of exposure to lots of different sort of approaches and philosophies, you also had what started as a folio. The start of that that you could take around.

Stanley:

Yeah, which is very much the same as what would happen with Award School, where kids come out with a folio. But if there was one piece of advice that I was given during those CopySchool sessions, it was once you come out the end of it, you’re coming out with a folio, but that’s only the beginning, not the end.

Because what you’ve got to realise is that those 12 briefs that you’ve now put into your folio, all these other 11 people around the table have got that same work.

And so, if you’re then hustling to show your folio to people: “Oh, you’ve got the KFC ad, oh, you’ve got the Coles Supermarket ad, oh, I see, you’ve got that one as well.”

You may not have the same ideas, but you have the same brands as everybody else, and you really need to stand out. So the first thing you should do when you finish is throw that folio away and do a whole new one, which is the best advice I ever got.

Darren:

Well, the word “folio” should always be a work in progress, shouldn’t it? I remember Claire Worthington who was a renowned headhunter-

Stanley:

The grand dame of headhunters really.

Darren:

Yeah, said to me, the first ad should be your best, the last ad should be your best. And the one in the middle should be the best and there should be nothing in between that’s anything worse than the first and the last. I’m going, “Okay, didn’t really help Claire, but I’ll work on it.”

Stanley:

And she was right. And the other thing that she said is that it’s better to have six great ads than 12 okay ones.

And I always remember after I’d done a little bit of early work — so, I worked for a while at an agency called Thompson White, which was quite a well-known agency back then.

Darren:

Tony White-

Stanley:

Yeah. And then Tony White’s son, Ant, of course, went on to be Creative Director or Chief Creative Officer or whatever of CHE Proximity here. I think he’s just left recently as well. So, there’s a generational shift there.

But I remember going in there in those early days and showing my folio. And Stephen Fisher said to me, he just asked me a question; he said, “Listen, I love the way you think. There’s some good work in here, but why have you got that one?”

And I said to him, “Oh, that was the first real ad I did.” And he just looked at me and he said, “Just because it ran, it doesn’t mean it’s folio-worthy.” And that was really great advice. Because back then, when you’ve just got a bunch of homemade ads in your book (and they were books back then), to have a real actual thing that’s actually appeared on the radio or whatever, you think it’s gotta be amazing. But in actual fact, it was nowhere near the quality of the work that got me in there in the first place.

Darren:

Now, I want to talk a bit about your career because you have had experience in a number of different creative opportunities. And what I mean by that is you’ve got extensive work in agencies, advertising agencies, both big network agencies, as I mentioned, JWT. What else was there? Proximity and Wunderman? Is that also in the mix? You’ve also worked and even been part of an agency startup with Faith. So, you’ve got that body of work.

Then you’ve also, over your career, you’ve started your own creative consultancy. And in fact, Stan/Lee now is you and Lee Callister-

Stanley:

That’s correct, yeah.

Darren:

Yeah, doing consultancy work now, working directly with clients without account management and the like in the way, some would say. And then you’ve also worked in-house for a client, actually building and running a creative department in-house.

There wouldn’t be a lot of people that have got that breadth of experience. I’d just really like to get your observations about it.

Stanley:

Yeah, it’s interesting because I never really kind of think about it that way. I remember Chris Ellis who was at Cummins&Partners at the time. So Chris is someone who I mentored when he was much younger and I’ve mentored a lot of young creative people in Melbourne.

Chris said to me that what he most admired about me was the way I’d been able to continually reinvent myself and stay relevant. And it’s an odd thing. I love that he said it, but I found it difficult to come to terms with it because as I like to proudly say, as the working-class son of factory workers, I never really considered myself as having a career. To me, it was always a job. So, I was never looking to reach that next level and do that next thing, I was just evolving as time went by.

Darren:

What’s that term? You were a jobbing writer.

Stanley:

Yeah, and proud of it. But yeah, I just evolved more through situation and osmosis than anything else. But if I think back on it now, when I came into JWT, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe it was you that recommended me to somebody else there. And that was a guy called Steve Meltzer, who was the Creative Director of what was the direct marketing part of JWT.

Darren:

JWT Dialog.

Stanley:

And he was quite keen on my book and blah, blah, blah, and it went really well. But I said to him, “I’ve got to be honest with you, Steve; I don’t really picture myself years from now cutting out coupons and doing envelopes. The direct marketing world doesn’t really appeal to me.” This was the mid-nineties.

And Steve said, “I’m just going to stop you there, and we’re going to talk about what we do here.” He was this weird Californian guy, looked a bit like Jackson Browne, probably smoked as much dope as Jackson Browne as well.

But he said to me, “You look around this building here, here at JWT, we’re about 150 people and there’s about seven or eight of us in this little group that I run. 10 years from now, we’ll probably have this entire floor. 20 years from now, there’ll be a special group that make TV ads.”

And he started to talk about the arrival of the internet or as they called it back then “the information superhighway,” and how that was the sort of work that they were doing and how were they were taking the techniques and, I guess what you’d call today the data, and applying that to creativity.

My eyes lit up at that idea. So I thought this is actually a way to future-proof myself and coming into advertising, I swallowed it all hook line and sinker. And truth be told, it didn’t make for an easy career because I was always, I think, a little bit ahead of where the traditional advertising world was.

Fast forward a few years, my wife and I went to live and work in London. So after three years in the UK, we come back to Melbourne. The job that I left in London, I was the European Creative Director of the integrated part of FCB. I came back to Melbourne and-

Darren:

What was the job you left?

Stanley:

I was the European Creative Director-

Darren:

No, in Melbourne, when you went to London.

Stanley:

Oh, I was a Creative Director at JWT. When I came back, I went and saw a few agencies because I was in no hurry, just wanted to kind of settle back in. I went and saw direct marketing agencies. I was just looking for work for the time being, not really a job. I wasn’t ready for that.

I saw direct agencies and the Creative Director said to me, “Great book mate, great book, amazing work. Do you have any long copy you could show us?” I’m like, “I’m a Creative Director, I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t write.” A bit embarrassing.

Went in to see a few, I guess what we’ll call traditional creative agencies: “Yeah, mate, you do that kind of digital stuff, we don’t do that here.”

Darren:

Yet.

Stanley:

And then went and saw a couple of digital places or new media as we called them back then, who said, “What’s that? You were a Creative Director, but you’re a copywriter? How does that work? That’s a designer’s job.”

And so, each part of the advertising ecosystem had a different viewpoint. And I never really fitted in anywhere.

Darren:

So, in some ways, yeah, you became like this … they saw you as a different shaped peg and they didn’t have a hole that you could fit in? You were square, triangular, star-shaped and round, and no one had space for you?

Stanley:

Yeah, it was very odd because the guy where I worked before I went to CopySchool, there was an older guy there who pulled me aside one day and he said, “Mate, it’s not really for you this job. You’re a round hole in a square peg here.” And that still seemed to be the case in Melbourne when I came back many years later.

Darren:

Look, I think compared to especially Europe and the US, that the Australian market/and even compared to Asia, the Australian market was particularly slow in evolving. And it took that first 10 years of the 21st century, I think advertising was sort of clinging on to what it had always known rather than embracing it.

I remember even in the late nineties having similar types of conversations before I started TrinityP3. Similar types of conversations about the early days of what does the internet mean and how does it fit in with traditional … yeah, like then, and I don’t think anyone answered it.

I think it was not until the last 10 years, post the global financial crisis that suddenly it took on a life of its own. And then wasn’t integrated in the opportunities of the past. It almost became, “Oh, well, everything’s digital now, and so we don’t need to think about any of those other things.”

Do you think that’s fair or am I being harsh?

Stanley:

No, I think you’re probably pretty right. I’ve always argued that everything is digital today. From the music that we listen to, to the thing that we watch stuff on. Everything today is digital.

But I think back to … I guess, well, I don’t know if “seminal” is the word, but there was a kind of a key book from the late 2000s by Joseph Jaffe about the end of the 30 second TV ad. And I look at that now and yeah, he was onto something there, but at the same time, he was so wrong because YouTube came along and suddenly, after that came, Facebook and then Instagram, and then Snapchat and now TikTok and everything else.

And so the video has become the preeminent format. It may well be that the 30-second ad as a concept has died, but the idea of a visual kind of storytelling and…

Darren:

And brand storytelling.

Stanley:

Sight, sound, and movement as they called it at Saatchi’s many years ago, is bigger than ever.

Darren:

And without the constraints that television brings. This idea of 15 seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 45. Now, you can make the story as long as it needs to be to tell the story, as long as you engage the audience.

Stanley:

Yeah. Like if you do a little bit of work in kind of content stuff (and I’ve done a fair bit of that) and people always want to cram too much in, and I’m like yeah, but people are going to lose interest.

So the question is always, what’s the optimum time? How long should it be? And my answer is it should be as long as it is interesting. Because once it stops being interesting, then people stop watching.

Darren:

Yeah. Now, up to that point, you’re largely in major agencies, like network agencies. When was it that you went into the independent agencies, the Cummins and Faith? And what’s the difference from being the Creative Director in a department in a major agency, even a major creative leader as you were in London — to come back to here’s an agency and pretty much the creative lead, and being answerable for the creative in that department? Is it different?

Stanley:

I think the role changes slightly in that when you’re in a smaller agency, you’re still very hands-on. You’re still kind of doing work. Not sitting there generating all the ideas, but being involved closely in the work.

Whereas in the bigger, higher up roles — and it’s interesting, all of those job titles have all kind of gone up the ladder now from what was a Creative Director 20 years ago is now an ECD and the ECD has become a CCO and all that sort of stuff.

Darren:

Yes, the Chief Creative Officer, I always think is a good one.

Stanley:

Yeah, I’m never a fan of military terminology in advertising and marketing, but that’s just me. But in those bigger agencies, you spend a lot more time with clients, spend a lot more with account service people. As for the creatives, you just encourage them and kind of help them to fly.

Whereas in the smaller agencies where you’re probably working with slightly more junior talent as well, it’s much more of a mentoring and growing role. And then you’re working with the clients as well. So that’s probably the difference. It’s very similar but different at the same time.

Darren:

Do you think it’s also, you’re more aware of your place in a smaller agency? Like in a big agency, yes, you’ve got a title and you’ve got a department that you fit in, but you’re more aware of your function in that if you’re not there, who else is going to do it?

Stanley:

Well, if you think back (and I know it’s a long time ago now), but when we worked at JWT, what? I think there were five directors-

Darren:

Creative Directors.

Stanley:

And then an Executive Creative Director above that. And we would have a Monday morning Creative Directors meeting. And so there you’ve got a network of peers that you can share your problems with, you can seek help from. You’ve got someone above you that you kind of answer to, purely on the work and creativity, and nothing else.

Whereas when you’re in a smaller agency, then you’ve got a bit of skin in the game, depending on who it is that you’re working with. But those relationships need to be really tight with the other partners or the key people in the business. Because if they’re not, then it becomes very difficult.

Darren:

Now, you started your own creative consultancy, is that right? And I’m not sure how you pronounce … Otaku?

Stanley:

Oh, geez, that’s so long ago, yeah.

Darren:

But you’ve also had Work with Stan which has been ongoing, and now Stan Lee. How’s that different again? I’m interested in when you strip away all of the support that you have even in an independent agency, and it’s basically, you may be a creative partner and the client — what’s that like?

Stanley:

Well, I think there’s one thing that you learn pretty quickly, is that it’s very easy to take account-service people for granted. And I think when I was much younger I was a bit of a firebrand creative, butted heads with a lot of people. But once I was made a Creative Director, I wasn’t sure if I should actually take it. This was at J. Walter Thompson.

Because unbeknownst to Michel Lawrence (the ECD), I’d only been a full-time copywriter for two years. But because I was older than everybody else, and I had a natural maturity and I guess an innate leadership that I never knew was there, he thought that I’d been doing it for 10 years. So, it was the right thing to do, but I wasn’t really sure.

So I said to him, “I’ve worked with Creative Directors before who were terrible managers, and I don’t want to be one of those. So can you send me on a management training course?” Being J. Walter Thompson, there was always money for training because it was the golden age of the so-called university of advertising.

And off I went on my five-day management training course and came back and then really started to blossom because what I realised was that it was about building relationships; great work doesn’t happen without great relationships.

And I use that way of working even to this day. There’s still a couple of young people that I mentor that are having a few issues at work. I say to them, “What you’ve got to do is you got to get in, have a coffee, talk to people, build those relationships. So if you can build that trust, that’s how great work happens. It doesn’t happen because you think you’re awesome,” which is what most young creative people think.

Darren:

Do you think some of your reticence or hesitancy was you know, you described yourself as coming from working-class English, factory workers? It wasn’t a bit of the working class can kiss my ass, I’ve got the foreman’s job at last. Was it the sense of, yeah, perhaps stepping up out of being one of the workers to one of the bosses?

Stanley:

Yeah, not so much, but I have to say though, it’s not easy when you are one of the workers and they make you one of the bosses. That’s very difficult because then you’ve got … if I knew then what I know now, that would have been one hell of a help, where you learn the difference between being a manager and being a leader.

And just because you’re a manager, it doesn’t mean you’re a leader. And just because you’re a leader, you don’t need to be a manager. That’s sort of stuff that I learned later in life, I didn’t have back then. So, I was kind of unprepared for that.

We did amazing things at JWT when I was in charge of the group that I ran. So there was no problem there. But it was a little bit difficult working with someone I’d worked side-by-side with. We were partners and suddenly we weren’t, and that was hard.

Darren:

Yeah, I remember one of the hardest things was being told I had to lay off a team and those are people that you work with, you’ve employed them, you brought them into the agency. It’s a very hard thing to do, but it’s expected that you’ll do it.

Hey, just to move on Stan, so in-house agencies are something that’s only rarely happening in this country. They’re very big in the US. The in-house agencies, even have their own conference in the US run by the ANA.

But in Australia, it’s still relatively rare. But you managed to actually be inside a major advertiser running their in-house agency. How does that compare to both being in an agency and being in a creative consultancy?

Stanley:

So I was working at Cummins&Partners, actually, it was still CumminsRoss then. It had just evolved into Cummins&Partners. Loved that agency, got a lot of time for Sean and Chris Jeffares and the people involved there. I really loved that agency.

But at the same time, I was comfy there, I knew what I was doing, I was much loved, I was doing great things. And an opportunity came knocking for a Creative Director’s job with a tech company, an Australian tech company, but the headhunter wouldn’t tell me who it was.

What he said was, “I reckon there are only two or three people in the country who could do this job, and you’re one of them.” And I thought, “Yeah, you’re just blowing smoke up my bum now, but I will entertain it anyway. Can you tell me who it is?”

And he said, “Oh, I need to get a yay or a nay before I can do that.” So, I said, “Okay, let me have a think about it and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”

So I had a chat to Zac Martin, who was then a young up-and-coming planner. He’s now doing very nicely at Ogilvy. And I told Zach the story and he said, “Oh, who do you think it is?” And we were trying to guess who it was, and we couldn’t. Because we couldn’t think of an Australian tech company that would have a Creative Director.

Anyway, to cut the long story short, that opportunity was more than just running an internal agency. It was a tech company in transition that had started off in the early days of software. And now, the cloud had come along, it had been disrupted to a certain extent, so it needed to reinvent itself. And that was the opportunity.

They were looking for someone, it was a newly created position. They already had a little internal agency, but they called it creative services, but they wanted it to run like a proper agency. So, they were looking for a Creative Director.

Darren:

So, that meant to drive the sort of creative thinking and strategy from inside/for the company rather than just doing the advertisement with the promotion bit.

Stanley:

Yeah, very much so. So the role that I had kind of became two roles. There was the rebuilding, skilling up and transforming of the internal agency. But at the same time, working across the business as a Creative Director, so lateral thinking, questioning decisions. I also worked a lot with the people team on cultural initiatives. I worked with the executive team on things like brand values, mission strategy and stuff like that.

So, it was without a doubt, I think an incredible opportunity that I never would have got working at an agency.

Darren:

Well, an amazing opportunity. But also, I think you were a little bit humble in that there are not many creative people that have such a strong legacy of B2B. And part of this is early days of working in direct marketing and direct response, and understanding … because there is a difference.

People say, “B2B, B2C, same thing.” Same/similar, but there’s actually quite a different mindset, isn’t there? In B2B as opposed to sort of mass consumer or do you disagree?

Stanley:

I don’t agree or disagree. I like to call it people-to-people. Because if you’re talking to the head of IT in a company or you’re talking to the guy in charge of customer service, it’s still a person that you’re talking to and you’re not talking to their ego, you’re talking to them, helping then look successful in front of the person who sits above them in the feeding chain.

So it is still very much personal and one-to-one, but it’s in the nuances in the way things are delivered that it changes.

Darren:

Well, and especially creatively, because that is where you define the conversation. You choose the words and the images that are going to-

Stanley:

I think the other thing as well, Darren, is that in big agencies where they’ve got great strategy planning people, is that what we’ll call classic consumer advertising has got so much strategic input in it that you generally get a great brief and you can make great ads.

But when you’re working in that B2B space, that kind of level, that high-level kind of strategic thinking, is often not there. The five star talent that’s working on amazing TV ads is not there. You’re working with sometimes second division talent. And so, it’s about how can you make the most of those opportunities? How can you take an ordinary brief or a poorly written brief and do something with it?

So, Lee Callister often says to me, because I grumble about briefs all the time — Lee always says to me, “If these guys could write a great brief, they wouldn’t be talking to us.”

But someone said to me many, many years ago, that in this business there’s only a handful of people that get truly great creative briefs, and the rest of us, we all work on shit. So what you’ve got to do is find yourself a place where you can do the best shit anyone’s ever seen, and you’ll be happy and you’ll be prosperous.

And it was so true because that is what happened to me when I went to JWT. I got briefs that were not great, but the clients were lower down the pecking order, so the guys at the top weren’t looking at it.

And so we got JWT Melbourne’s first piece of work into Cannes. We did that. It was an ad for Coles Supermarkets and it was a store refurbishment. So not even a big thing, but we got away with that sort of work and we were getting away with it because the people that we worked with were not the heads of marketing, they were not CMOs. They were like younger junior marketers who had the freedom to approve work.

Darren:

It is the truth, isn’t it? That the larger the organisation, the more important the piece of work, the more the committee effect kicks in, everyone has an opinion. And if they’re not the ultimate decision-maker, they’re second-guessing the ultimate decision-maker. I call it the “Doctor No effect.” Everyone can say no, but only one person in the organisation can actually say yes.

Stanley:

And that really is the lesson for every creative person in advertising today – When you’re dealing with the clients, if the people who you’re dealing with are not the ultimate decision-maker – when you come back from the presentation and they’ve bought it, it doesn’t mean what they’ve bought is what you’re going to make. Because only one person has the power to say yes at the end, and that’s the person right at the top. Everybody else has the power to say, “Yeah, I love it, but …”

Darren:

But I also like the fact that you’ve highlighted the distinction that on some briefs, the ultimate decision-maker could be someone that you’re actually working with because it’s deemed corporately not to be that important.

So, you can actually work directly with that decision-maker. I mean, of course, someone could come in later and say, “Oh, you shouldn’t have done that.” But in some ways, the opportunities can be in all sorts of places. The idea of waiting for the big brief because that’ll be the big opportunity is not true. That sometimes the smaller briefs, the smaller projects are the opportunities to do amazing work.

Stanley:

Yeah. And also, you can get great self-fulfilment in those jobs because people often don’t look at stuff. I remember when I worked at Wunderman, where Ford was our primary client, and doing some stuff on Ford and there was a paragraph of terms and conditions that needed to go with whatever was going through the mail.

I wrote those terms and conditions and I put a smile into every line. And I got an email from one of the guys in the Ford legal team to say, “Mate, we love what you’re doing with this stuff, change a word here or there, but overall, keep it up because you’re making us look good.”

So, the opportunity to even make your terms and conditions interesting is important. And I got that idea from buying a Ben Sherman shirt many years ago and the washing instructions, care instructions, it said –

Darren:

Had a smile.

Stanley:

Just give it to your mum, tell her to put it in the wash. And that was the care instructions. And I thought that was so kind of … is that you don’t have to always do what you’re told.

Darren:

I also like the fact that what you’re saying there is that today, terms and conditions and technology, are just getting stamped into ads.

Stanley:

Yeah. Well, they’re becoming the headlines a lot of the time, exactly.

Darren:

Well, it’s because it’s also on the brief. But anyway, look, back to … I want to pick up on something you said about when you were working in-house, you were working on the brand vision and the brand statements. You were working with the people area. What did that look like, and what did you learn, and what did you bring to that function?

Stanley:

I was very lucky when I went in there because even though I was headhunted for the job, I still went through more interviews and psych tests than was imaginable. And at the end of it all, because it was a new position, the CEO had said to the CMO who was the person bringing me in, “Before I finally sign off on this, I’d really like to meet this guy.”

And so I went for a coffee with the CEO and I’ll be honest, I’d never met a CEO before. Actually, I had, but they were guys in startups. So they were just guys in hoodies who called themselves a CEO. But this was a real CEO of a top 100 Australian company with 2,000 employees – never met one of those before!

And there was just something about him and the questions that he asked and I gave as good as I got, because to be honest, as much as I was keen on the job, I wanted them to be just as keen on me. So, I was kind of, I wouldn’t say lippy, but I definitely gave back as good as I was given.

But what that meant was when I came in, I felt that I was emboldened because I had the CEO’s seal of approval to go in and make a change. I didn’t have to pussyfoot around. I didn’t have to ask permission. I probably should have, but I’m always a “do it and then apologise later” person.

So when we did a large brand transformation, I would show stuff to the CEO and he’d be kind of like, “Yeah, I love that. Oh, that’s great.” And that was it. It was just a scribble on a bit of paper. You didn’t have to do a big presentation because there was trust there. Again, it always comes down to trust.

Darren:

Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it? If only marketers were more open to bringing their creative people or their agency into those conversations. Because I think the more we can eliminate the second-guessing, ultimately, the CEO is the chief brand officer. They are ultimately responsible for the brand.

So, if we could open those channels more … it used to happen in the old days. Even before you and I were in advertising, you’d hear about the CEOs or managing directors of agencies having lunch with the CEO, not just the CMO. And they would have these conversations. And that’s something that got lost along the way.

Stanley:

Yeah, I think the agency relationship has gone from partners to service providers which I think is a bit of a shame because it should be very much working together. And that was the great thing about working in-house was the ability to kind of impact and make a change that maybe you couldn’t have done from the outside-in.

Still came with the same problems, came with different types of problems really. It was also where I learned the difference between a client brief and an agency brief. Again, the people that you take for granted when you were a young creative person are the people that you miss when you don’t have them.

Darren:

I’m sitting here, thinking I should write letters or emails and apologise to every account management person I’ve ever worked with, having talked with you, Stan.

Look, Stan, unfortunately, time’s got away from us. It’s been terrific to catch up. It’s a unique (from my perspective) perspective that you’ve brought to this conversation. We’ve known each other for many decades, but I’ve never really appreciated until this conversation, the sort of breadth of experience that you’ve had, and the insights that you bring from that. So, I really appreciate it. Thank you for making the time.

Stanley:

It was a very unexpected conversation to be honest because I think we had a couple of topics in mind and we’ve kind of touched on a million. But never really got to what I came for. But if you’re happy, I’m happy.

Darren:

Look, just one question before you go; looking back on your career, what’s the one thing you would do differently if you could do it all again?

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

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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

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