Fortnotes 10

[Being the tenth in a fortnightly series of brain dumps: what I’m working on, wondering and worrying about.]

A big refurb of the agency is nearly complete, which means we’re no longer squashed together like sardines and the office is once more pleasant place to be.

Being briefed on a couple of interesting new campaigns to see if there are any ways I can be useful. Sometimes it’s as straightforward as asking some questions and making some introductions. I’m trying to keep the number of projects I’m actually working on (as in, getting properly stuck in to and spending serious time on) down to just two or three at once. Trying not to spread myself too thin.

Some time working with creatives on some work for Honda, as well as working on a longer term bit of strategy stuff. Honda continues to take a large chunk of my time.

The other one I’m spending a lot of time on at the moment is a super secret project which I’d love to talk about, but really can’t. Sorry. It’s going to be awesome though. Some people are going to be working pretty much through the Easter holidays on it. I’m not doing that, and I definitely need to take some time off, but am actually a bit sad to be missing out on the next stage of seeing the current creative chaos come together into a real plan. It was good to spend a full day on it though. Spending a whole day thinking about one project felt like a real luxury.

Helping gather metrics and evaluate the performance of a couple of recent campaigns.

The agency celebrates ‘Founders Day’, the anniversary of the founding of the company (April 1st 1982), usually with a day of creative activities and a big party. It’s a bit of a highlight in the social calendar at W+K. Having now experienced my first one, I can say it definitely lives up to its reputation. Great fun, but also a wonderful way to meet people I’d not yet worked with (remember W+K London has more than 200 employees). Oh, and two people got tattoos.

Watched The Great Kevin Chesters give his condensed one-and-a-bit-hours version of everything he saw at TED 2011. Personal highlights from his highlights included:

After presenting ‘some of my collections in roughly chronological order‘ recently, I’ve been continuing to think about collection and curation. A couple more examples I’ve only recently discovered: STFU Parents and the Museum of Online Museums (see more about it here). It’s the mother lode!

The sun has got his hat on and the UK is very hot. And now, some time off. Perfect.

Buying: A new BBQ, plus garden table and chairs so we can enjoy the back garden. Portal 2 to bend my brain.
Watching: Submarine, Source Code, Twenty Twelve, Friday Night Dinner.

Fortnotes 9

[The ninth in a fortnightly series of brain dumps: what I’m working on, wondering and worrying about.]

Shoreditch! Holborn! Piccadilly! Farringdon! Regent Street! Slough!

Lots of bits and pieces. Still mainly Honda, but also meeting a few other teams (some for the first time) to discuss ideas and chip in with thoughts, suggestions and questions.

Spent a day at the D-Media conference and spoke on a panel with Tom Armitage, Matt Sheret which was chaired by Max Gadney. I wish I’d recorded it and I wonder if anyone else did. It was fun. We talked about data and storytelling, sharing examples of how we ask questions of data and how we tell stories with it. Matt talked about being a Data Griot at, Tom talked about Schooloscope. I talked a bit about Nike Grid.

Sad to be losing Dan Hon, who is leaving London and moving to Portland.

Spring is sprung. The sun is out. London is lovely.

Some of my collections

I was invited to give a short lunchtime talk for a team in BBC Audio and Music (radio, to you and me) by the lovely Hugh Garry.

In a gloriously open brief, he asked me whether I’d prefer to talk about things I make or things I collect. For some reason I thought sharing a collection of my collections would be the most interesting option, and soon started putting together some examples. This morning, in a last-minute moment of self doubt, I realised how much cooler I’d have looked if I’d shared some of the hacks and tinkering projects I’ve worked on over the years. Like this and this and this and this. Not that much cooler, you say? Oh well.

Geeky things I obsessively collect and curate it is then…

I asked my wife what she thought, but she just laughed and pointed out a few extra collections I’d forgotten about and she’d never understood. How is it even possible for someone to throw away empty Altoids tins? They’re so keepable.

Just before the talk, anticipating there would be time for questions, I added a blank slide followed by a secret extra slide with my prediction of the first question that would be asked: “Where do you find the time?”. It turns out I guessed right, which got a big laugh. I’m sure the person who asked it didn’t mean it in a negative way, but it’s easily interpreted as “why do you waste your time with something I wouldn’t bother with?” and is not that different from claiming someone has too much time on their hands. So I blushingly pointed out that the question could be seen as slightly rude, and went on (hopefully not too defensively) to say that this was a very condensed view of many years of collections, very few of which have lasted very long or required very much time. Each one has taught me something and been valuable in its own way, and been more than worth the amount of time I’ve invested in it. Hard not to sound defensive though, so I also acknowledged that obviously I’m a bit of a geek, some of these things have been (sometimes short-lived) obsessions, and I wouldn’t expect other people to enjoy or value everything which I do in the same way.

We went on to discuss how the internet is a million niches, something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past few years.

Thanks to Huey for the invite. I really enjoyed it.

Fortnotes 8

[Number eight in a fortnightly series of brain dumps: what I’m working on, wondering and worrying about.]

I spent some time out of the office at a shoot for Cravendale. We were there to help Bertrum Thumbcat (the ringleader of the polydactyl cats in the current Cravendale campaign) make some YouTube videos in which he assesses the capabilities of the recently evolving race of cats with thumbs, putting them to to test for his own satisfaction and to prove a point to humans who might question their abilities. Examples included Can a Thumbcat Blend (which was perhaps the question asked most frequently), Can a Thumbcat play checkers and many more.

Since then, I’ve been working fairly solidly on Honda. Lots going on, some really interesting work coming together. I’m writing strategy stuff and trying to be helpful.

I have been at W+K London for over three months now, which is long enough that various employee benefits kick in including a pension, health & dental, etc. I’m finding it hard to believe that more than a quarter of a year has passed since I joined. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m really enjoying it. It’s hard, chaotic and can be stressful, but people talk about coming to W+K to do the best work of their lives, and I hope that will be true for me too.

I visited the Artfinder team with Dan Hon. They’re a nice bunch and they’re working on some very interesting stuff.

Introducing interesting people to each other remains one of the nicest bits of my new job. Avoiding spreading myself too thin, and making sure that when I get involved with something I’ve got the time to see it through properly, is the hardest. Mainly because I want to say ‘yes’ to absolutely everything.

New starter: Matt Simpson (previously Lead Community Manager at Face). He’ll initially be spending most of his time on Honda and Nestea, but will be getting stuck in to all sorts of other projects too. He was even prepared, on his very first day, to give a presentation to the rest of the Honda Europe team at W+K, researching and preparing examples of community activity around Honda online. As though we’ve just thrown him out of some sort of moving vehicle, he “hit the ground running” and stayed upright very impressively.

In other news, I (still) have a cold. I’ve had it for a couple of months and I’m very bored of it. Spring is springing, it’s lighter in the mornings. I didn’t miss not being at SXSW one bit.

Fortnotes the seventh

[Being the seventh in a fortnightly series of brain dumps: what I’m working on, wondering and worrying about.]

The past couple of weeks have largely been about cats with thumbs for me. If you’ve bumped into me and I’ve appeared a bit distracted, it’s probably because I’ve been thinking about polydactyl cats taking over the internet.

It started with a tense weekend. A certain video started to “go viral” on the “interwebs” quite a big way; the whole team were keeping a close eye on the tone of the comments and the inbound links over the weekend. Then, just as that was calming down, the Cravendale ‘cats with thumbs’ TV campaign launched. I think it’s fair to say that people seem to like it. They’re talking about it too. Weekly mentions of Cravendale on Twitter increased 2226% (21st – 27th Feb vs 28th Feb – 6th March), within a week the ad was viewed over a million times on YouTube. It’s now up to 1.6M views and that video has already been shared on Facebook over 211,000 times. Oh yes.

Bertrum Thumbcat, the ringleader of the polydactyl cats (you can see him picking up a rubber ball in the ad) has used his dextrousness to access Facebook and Twitter and is attracting exactly the sort of passionate involvement from a lot of fans, and making even more people laugh. I was going to write some more about the campaign, but ‘What Katie Does’ has described it so well that I’ll just link to that for now.

As you can imagine, I’m really excited to be involved with such a fun project; I get to work with some properly amazing people. I’m heading to Worthing for a couple of days next week to join the team as the next stage of Bertum’s master plan becomes a reality.

Aside from cats with thumbs, I’ve been spending time working on stuff for Honda, a bit of Fairtrade (what with it being Fairtrade Fortnight and everything), some early work for P&G and not nearly enough to be helpful on Nokia. Plus the usual collection of secret projects, recruitment, longer term projects and meeting nice people.

In fact, a bunch of really interesting and nice people started in the past fortnight, including: Kirsten Rutherford and Lisa Jelliffe lovely antipodean creatives whose collaboration with Mentalgassi you might recognise; Romans Dobzanskis is our new senior creative technologist (he’s a semantic web guru and was previously head of creative tech at Saatchi & Saatchi London); Gavin Gordon-Rogers (previously Executive Creative Director at Glue) joins as Andy Cameron’s ‘lieutenant’ as well as being the Interactive Creative Director for Nokia. They’re all lovely and I’m looking forward to working with them all.


New terminology: NPD = new product development. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m partly writing these down so I can track my understanding of the weird industry lexicon, and partly so I have somewhere to look them up when I forget them again. :-)

Fortnotes 6

[Being the sixth in a fortnightly series of brain dumps: what I’m working on, wondering and worrying about.]

Mostly working on Cravendale, Honda and Lurpak and at the moment. One full day in Leeds with Cravendale clients, showing them our plans for the next few weeks and getting excited with them. Great meeting, and nice to bond with the team over hummus, wine and crisps on the train home. Yay for team picnics.

Also working a bit on Fairtrade, Nestea, P&G, Nokia, and more.

Helping one team put together a community management proposal for a client, and rolling up my sleeves and writing another one myself.

Some time talking with Katie and Will (not the royal couple, though these two are every bit as lovely) about extending some Twitter monitoring and stats gathering work I’ve been doing since I joined. Keen to get their help and involvement. Already gathering some really interesting Twitter data for a bunch of clients now, some fairly useful tools for teams to start playing with and there’s lots more fun to be had in this area.

As ever, some time spent interviewing and recruitment. Expecting to have the first creative community manager start next month, and hoping to offer a second role fairly soon. Helping interviewing for various other creative roles too.

Explaining my job to some friends at another agency, I realise again how good my role is and how much I enjoy it.

Trying to work at home one day per week. Not easy to keep the time free, but the difference it makes is enormous. Some time away from the office every week is really helpful for getting things done.

Reading: ‘What Technology Wants’ by Kevin Kelly, plus a bunch of fiction. Remembering that I used to take photos of the books I’d been reading every month, and wondering why I stopped.

Watching: a recording of Merlin Mann’s talk at Twitter HQ about meetings: “Broken Meetings (and how you’ll fix them)”. There are a lot of meetings at work and when I was managing my own diary I too often allowed it to fill up with back-to-back meetings, leaving me feeling rushed and unproductive. My PA is already amazing at helping me organise my week and protecting my time, and Merlin’s talk reminded me that I can be even braver about setting expectations about what we’ll get out of meetings, not defaulting to 60 minute meetings and not accepting meeting requests which don’t come with an agenda.

Fortnotes 5

[Being the fifth in a fortnightly series of brain dumps: what I’m working on, wondering and worrying about.]

An exciting new project for Cravendale, plus a digital pitch for another client (which involved a bit of research and presenting some feedback and ideas). Lots of work on Honda and Lurpak.

Thursday was Make Good Music day, in which a bunch of us broke into teams and each met one of a handful of up-and-coming bands, with a view to giving them some help/pointers/ideas/etc. Sadly I had to leave before the gig + drinks in the evening, but the few hours I joined in were really fun.

Minor helping out on Fairtrade, which seems to have come together very nicely in the past couple of weeks.

Quite a bit of time on recruitment in the past couple of months; both making introductions and interviewing people.

Shockingly, had to submit my first ever DMCA takedown request on YouTube. I won’t say much about it, but rest assured the infringement was egregious and harmful rather than something we or the client could overlook.

I’ve had a nasty cold (sore throat, blocked nose, cough, etc) for this entire fortnight. Feeling a tiny bit grumpy and more stressed than usual as a result. Finally getting over it now and getting back to my normal self, and starting to go back to the gym/pool a bit more. I’d forgotten how nice it is just to feel normal.

Leila and I have taken a few weeks off Shift Run Stop since Christmas. Leila explains it well here. I’d like to start again though I have no idea when or how or when we’ll manage that. Soon, I hope.

Thinking about: targets and client expectations, conversations, ‘engagement’ vs interactions, reach, interactive video.

Watching: How to Play the Harmonica (the Blues), Stuart Lee on Top Gear, Everything is a Remix, the Float Documentary trailer, lots of cute cat videos (for research purposes, honestly), W+K’s superbowl ad for Chrysler, An Open Letter to Stephen Fry.

Looking at: Twazzup (via Rowan), Facebook’s new page layout, Tiny Geocoder, burning platforms, ‘deep media’ and ‘transmedia’.

Fortnotes 4 – end of January

Trying to begin every week by making a list of all the projects/areas I’ve got some involvement with (about a dozen of them at the moment) and writing down what I need to do next for each of them. Getting Things Done. Oh yes.

I have a PA now, to wrestle my diary into submission. Nina is great, and her help is already allowing me to spend less time worrying about finding time for doing things and more time actually, you know, doing things.

A small team of us began to get our heads around how to approach a pitch, for which I’ve been doing some research and sharing some notes. Early stages so far. Initially felt a lot like staring a huge blank sheet of paper. Paul shared some thoughts about the business challenges, which helped remind us what it’s all about. The problem felt a lot more real after that.

Thinking about Honda recently. Two big projects (plus a small one, in which I’m less involved). I’m trying to maintain balance with mostly-strategic input in one project, and mostly-creative input (working directly with the creatives) on the other.

A day trip to Geneva to speak at a marketing team away day for P&G. A long day, but worth it. I managed to say some interesting things about three different projects from the past couple of years, (since I wasn’t at W+K at the time so it was made possible by my colleagues spending some time filling me in). Focusing my mind by agreeing to speak about things has always been a great way for me to think it through in much more detail than I’d usually need to. Said yes to another speaking engagement, and hoping to do no more than one per month.

Struggling to spend time on all the projects I want to.

Some time getting the ‘Radar’ Dashboard we built into a state where we can deploy it for other clients. Worked with Dan (who is a bit of a whizz with Amazon Web Services) to create and configure a new instance (EC2, RDS and Git are a good combination).

A little bit of peripheral help on the Fairtrade campaign. Mainly making introductions and staying out of the way.

Milestone event: had my first massage in the office. A fortnightly visit from a visiting masseur, with 20 minute slots which fill up fast. Entirely wonderful. I felt taller afterwards.

Spent a bit of time coming up with ideas with Dan H in order to get a self-initiated agency project back on track creatively. That was fun (and surprisingly easy once we left the office and sat in a quiet cafe).

Another day out of the office, this time to judge the Media Guardian Innovation Awards. Really enjoyed this, especially the debate lunch about the Innovator of the Year award.

Dan H is going to Portland for a month, in preparation for moving there properly. I will miss him a lot.

Thinking about: measurement (engagement, interactions, mentions & conversations), consumer decision journey, word of mouth, things real people don’t say about advertising, pink ponies.

New terminology: FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods).

Books I should probably read: ‘Soft’ (Rupert Thomson) via Kevin C, Confessions of an Advertising Man (David Ogilvy) – via everyone.

Culture Hack Day 2011: Lightning talks

An exciting blend of arts, culture and tech; the lightning talks session at the Culture Hack Day mounted at W+K today were interesting and inspirational.


Tom Uglow, (Creative Director, Google and YouTube, Europe) talked about “What if the Web is a Fad?”. He’s pretty sure the internet isn’t going away, but thinks the web as we know it could be on shaky ground. He also pointed out that people don’t want to interact with cultural institutions online. They want to interact with the content.

Clare Reddington (Director, iShed and Pervasive Media Studio) asked “What if We Forget about Screens and Make Real Things?” asking what if all objects had their stories attached to it? She also showed, and sat next to, Tweeture.

Leila Johnston (author, blogger & comedy writer) asked “What if We Have Fun?”, and said ‘If you’re looking for inspiration, everything is fun; toys are all around you, even if they don’t seem like toys’. [update: more notes and links from Leila]

Tom Armitage (Creative Technologist, BERG @infovore) challenged: “Sod big data and mashups: why not hack on making art?” and referenced about several of the works of Tom Philips, plus Caleb Larsen’s ‘A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter‘ (an installation that continually tries to sell itself to the highest bidder)

Tom Dunbar (Producer, Hut V) asked “What if the audience had access to metadata embedded in visual media?”” and imagined

Matthew Somerville (developer, Theatricalia @dracos) asked “What if You Never Needed to Miss a Show?” and showed us his lovely Theatricalia project.

Nick Harkaway (author and blogger for FutureBook @harkaway) asked “What if you need IP?” – and made the point that privacy protection often goes hand-in-hand with IP protection. [Update: Nick shared his own notes here.]

Chris Thorpe (ArtFinder @jaggeree) asked “What if you could see through the walls of every museum and something could tell you if you’d like it?” and imagined the ‘angel’ character in Disclosure walking around galleries; wants people to look at the art, not screens. ‘technology should get out of the way’.

Update: more, and better, writeups of the talks from Chris Unitt, Mia Ridge, Erin Jo Richey, Pervasive Media Studio and Simon Hopkins. Many of the talks were also recorded as videos, here.