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What inspires successful women?

It’s always nice watching successful people on stage. You get to sit back, relax and wallow in their glory as if it were your own, laugh knowingly at anecdotes and congratulate yourself on being impressive enough to be in such a select audience. 

But last night’s WACL gathering of suitably impressive women (more MBEs and CBEs in one place than anyone can cope with – I can barely manage my ABC) was actually more about us than about them. Through life stories intertwined with tips on where to find inspiration and how to follow your passion, we were asked to consider an uncomfortable question: are we doing what we love?

Merry Baskin, chair, kicked things off by asking us to take a deep breath, push our shoulders back and stick our, er, assets out, doing nothing to assuage the male fantasy of the sort of thing that goes on at these women-only events. I believe there was a point to this exercise, but I’ve forgotten it.

Camilla Batmanghelidjh, CBE, the vibrant founder of Kids Company, campaigned for the crucible of LOVE and EFFECTIVENESS as the ultimate recipe for success. Audiences, when presented with someone who has dedicated her life to making other people’s lives better, never know quite what to feel – a simultaneous guilt and respect manifesting in seat-shuffling and plenty of applause.

Cilla Snowball, CBE (and AMV frontman) proclaimed her inspiration as her love for work and family – kind of essential, since, from the sound of things, she doesn’t have much time for anything else – and the joy of developing other people.

Jo Kenrick, an ex-RAF fighter pilot (what was I saying about being suitably impressive?) reeled off a list of to-the-point pointers, two of which particularly resonated: ‘It’s ok to change your mind’, and ‘avoid performance management programmes’. Why? They make you miserable. Focus on what you’re good at, instead.

And Annabel Karmel, MBE, spoke about overcoming trauma and how necessity (and opportunism) were the mother of invention for her baby nutrition business.

Part executive inspiration, part group therapy, my first WACL Gathering left me slightly more convinced about my own direction, relieved that it’s ok to learn what you love, and accepting of the fact that misery may be part of the journey, but, as pat as it sounds, doing what you love truly is what makes the journey worthwhile.

Aggressive nostalgia

Two words with lots of the same letters in them. But if that were all that mattered I could have called this pooper scooper. And I nearly did. Anyway I’m talking about the kind of people who see TECHNOLOGY as a sign and symptom that all is not right with the world, who look at tape players and Commodore 64s through a permanent Valencia filter and believe that the WORST thing to happen to humanity is MODERNITY.


Look, I’m a nature lover. I’ve lived on a farm, and get so anxious when I’m trapped indoors for long periods that I’m liable to throw things. Sharp things. But it doesn’t bother me ON AN INTRINSIC LEVEL to see other people cooing into their cracked smart screen disciplining rows of sweets or firing aggravated birds like chemical warfare. Sorry about the casual allusion to chemical warfare. What really bothers me is the EASE with which so-and-so-know-it-alls castrate these poor lambs with pointed patronism as if this intense connection with the screen was DISCONNECTION to everything else.

You see, in a funny way, all our clicks and swipes and checking and double-checking is in fact our modern-day homing mechanism. Globalisation, immigration, cultural disassociation (and other ‘ations) mean ‘home’ is no longer a place (was it ever?) but a connection – and it is that connection we seek through our plastic portals into the social methersphere.

And the disconnection thus arises not out of a lustful obsession with technology (like men who fuck bicycles) but from way before when cavemen (probably) reprimanded cavewomen for spending too long perfecting that last hieroglyph and missing out on the beautiful sunset. We’re human. We like to be enthralled by things, to lose ourselves in something, anything, and this is no less real than “being present” in any other moment. Unless you happen to be enthralled by your iPrick whilst walking in a malformed zigzag with the pace and grace of a dying sealion and thus WALKING INTO ME which is fucking irritating, you prick, get off your phone and look where you’re going. Prick.

Anyway. Aggressive nostalgia (I am hoping this term will catch on) is lazy and boring and I look back fondly at the time when we didn’t have so many ready-made heuristics to substitute proper thinking. Those were the days.

Why do birds bother walking?


Just because you can fly, doesn’t mean you have to.

Sometimes a stroll on the grass is just the ticket. 

Might even spot a worm.


We make our own news

We like to think of ‘news’ as being something isolated, objective. It happens and we report on it. It exists over there, somewhere. We are mere observers.

Well, not quite. These days, we make our own news. A rumour starts – on Twitter, let’s say. A reader, curious, searches official news sites. Nothing. Questions it, out loud. The rumour circulates. Develops. Mutates. Suddenly the rumour itself is news.

It’s the old ‘tree falling in a forest’ argument. Does it make a sound if no-one is there to hear it?

The answer is: it doesn’t matter. Whether or not the tree makes a sound – or falls in the first place – is secondary to what kind of story we can create from a simple question. From uncertainty. From fear.

Are we falling out of love with fame?

We love famous. Our clandestine community of look-but-don’t-touch hegemonic heroes. Human achievement blown out of all proportion, by pure scale of influence.

Since the original Hollywood stars (Monroe, Dean, Brando) enjoyed the effects of big screens and bigger distribution networks, we have looked up at bright lights and hoped that one day, it might be us.

Slide forward half a century or so and it could be. Reality TV gave everyday Joe’s a chance to feel the warm glow (and wet knickers) of being a Brad or a Jude. Suddenly ‘fame’ became an end in itself – and an achievable one – albeit, all too often, rather short-lived.

Today, every social platform is but a stage for fame. Twitter followers. Facebook fans. Audiences poised to lap up opinions, hilarious cat images, thoughtful fit-for-blog sentiments. QED.

But there’s one difference. The untouchables have come tantalisingly within our reach. Fame can be achieved through sharing and openness. Sometimes our heroes even reply to our tweets (although, despite my best efforts, Ashton Kutcher – @aplusk – is yet to find my incredibly witty offerings reason enough to take me home and make funky shapes all night).

So. The nature of small-looks-up-at-big is changing. Small is becoming, well, medium-sized. And big is being brought down to size. Less David and Goliath, more David and David’s slightly burlier older brother.

Where does that leave fame? Surely it lives and breathes through the lungs of detachment. Separation. Surely once our heroes live alongside us, they can no longer assert such a degree of dominance, aspiration or influence?

Or does it work the other way around?

How to handle difficult creatives

First in an irregular series entitled ‘How to handle…’ (future topics may include unwanted stalkers, not getting any Facebook likes, ugly penises) I would like to share some tips that have helped me when trapped in the inexhaustibly petulant company of a Difficult Creative. Use at your own risk.

1. The Creative is not really a Creative
They might look, dress and taste like a Creative, but don’t be deceived. The Converse-clad hipster in front of you is, in fact, a BAFTA-winning movie director. Just not yet. Address them with appropriate awe and you will be rewarded.

2. There is no such thing as a ‘production budget’
As all creative people know, the person in the room with a clipboard and calculator is a figment of their imagination. Sometimes they sense that someone is talking but it sounds a bit like a cat scratching a post. You’ll do best to remember that.

3. It’s hard to find an example of unnecessary innuendo but I’ll give you one
The standard ratio of creative seniority to innuendo is 1:6. Understand that all creative impulses are valid and need a suitable outlet. Enable this by ensuring junior members of the opposite sex are present at every meeting. They don’t even need to work for your agency, so long as they sit quietly and don’t sue.

4. Everyone is the enemy
Your agency creds may stink of the spirit of collaboration, but below the surface is a dense fog of passive-aggression. The only way to pierce through it is to use something shiny, like an award (gold is good, glass is better). Sometimes it is enough to wave one in the Creative’s direction. If this proves ineffective, you should to hit them over the head with it, from behind.

5. Work does not need to be ‘sold’
When a gleaming diamond emerges unspoilt from the depths of a Creative’s blossoming intellect, it does not require ‘shaping’, ‘refining’ or ‘positioning’. It exists in perfect equilibrium and any meddling will only reduce its impact. There are no exceptions, so do not attempt to explain this to the Creative. Instead, coerce the client into pretending they require ‘essential amends’ so the Creative can’t argue with them.

6. Always sleep with the creative director. It’s the only way to guarantee a smooth ride.

7. Don’t write briefs
Briefs are like punches to the soft, bulbous gut of a Creative. They are viewed with great suspicion and when they think no-one’s looking, Creatives can be found pacing around them (at a safe distance) muttering expletives. If you must ‘brief’ a Creative, carve it on a gigantic slab of Dairy Milk and let them eat it afterwards.

8. Arguments are not for you to win
Like a cheetah toys with a wildebeest, occasionally a Creative may invite you to ‘discuss’ their latest campaign ideas. To an amateur, this may look like an open invitation to proffer insightful points of view and constructive criticism. This is a trap. The Creative has already considered any argument you can muster and has a winning comeback. Try to accept that you are mere cannon fodder and retreat as soon as possible.

9. Always, always suggest that ‘we do this over lunch’

10. All is fair in love and advertising
Creatives have an inbuilt radar to detect unfair treatment. The other team got to go on the Barbados shoot? Oh dear. They will not let you forget this until you furnish them with a new office, sexy intern or feature spread in Campaign. Better yet, sleep with them. In their new office. With the sexy intern.

I hope these tips help ease your tumultuous journey through agency land. Feel free to submit tips of your own.

The future of TV – Same as it ever was?

Straight to it with no foreplay, Krishnan Guru Murphy kicks off BAFTA TV Question Time with dour debate on whether we can still trust the BBC post-Savile scandal. 4 to 1 say we can. Auntie is too important an institution to let fall to the gutter because of one incident that was (while inexcusable) a symptom of the times.

Content is next. Why don’t British broadcasters make great drama, like the US? Stuart Murphy alludes to a ‘minimum level’ of programming to secure a subscription – who cares if people actually watch it? (Only 10% of Sky’s revenues come from advertising.) And as to whether the nation’s ADD (multi-screen, multi-channel) is affecting the prevalence of quality, long-form narrative, Peter Kosminsky argues that a strong story will always hold your attention, and the temptation to incorporate transmedia storytelling will only prove effective if the story is, well, effective. Naturally. Concludes with a defence of new commissions like Girls and C4′s Utopia as proof that broadcasters are risk-takers and just as good as the US. Ok then.

On to diversity. Why do all gameshow panels, continuity announcers and comedians have the same tone of voice? Because they all come from the same place, argues Grace Dent (mostly white, confident, middle class backgrounds). What are broadcasters doing to break free of this? Not enough, agrees the panel. Stuart Murphy shifts a little in his seat as he jokes that white, confident, middle class men aren’t all bad – after all, he is one. Titter.

As to the future of TV? Great content that challenges those in power and speaks to all audiences, not just those who produce it. Less lazy thinking. More risk-taking. Sounds good to me.

Walk on by

Looks at me
from darkness
to hope
a girl
a guy
no time for who, if, why

I cut past him
slice and shatter
possibility into

Danny’s inside joke

I am the world
And I’m watching you, London

What is there to see I haven’t already seen
Don’t tell me, you’re gonna wheel out the Queen?

Sex Pistols, dancing nurses, Roger Waters?
This was a story for your sons and daughters
Lit by a burning empire and the rest of us

A house made of movies and a dance of true love
007 falling from above
Grime and punk and a world wide web of confusion
5 gold rings ring out industrial revolution
(Liberal shit, an angry Tory tweets his resignation)
NHS, CND, what does it mean to me?
Mary effing Poppinses

The world is your stage London and you’ve certainly set it
But I’m not British and I’m not sure I get it.

The same, but different





Now this is interesting.

After last week’s disastrous O2 network issue, hoards of angry customers reacted negatively against the brand.

Compare this to giffgaff: a smaller, community-owned and operated network (currently asking for consumer’s suggestions on their The Big Bang Theory sponsor ads).

giffgaff piggyback on the O2 network, so they were equally affected by the issue, and yesterday announced that all customers would be compensated with an extra 10% on top-up credits.

Not only are hoards of calm and reasonable-sounding giffgaff users not complaining, they are going after those customers who do complain: “Members do not deserve anything more than what we get, so I will not be topping up … as I feel I get a good enough deal already” (You can read some of the comments here.)

In some ways the two companies are the same. Both are owned by the same network and both suffered a significant blip in service.

But the relationship they have with their customers couldn’t be more different.


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