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What’s it like doing strategy in Glasgow?

I’ve been inspired to write about what it’s like to be a planner in Scotland by Northern Planner’s post about being a strategist in the North.  I was also asked to guest blog about it earlier in the year by Simon Hopkins and totally failed to do anything about it.

My excuse?  Well, I have been very busy lately, with work and parenting and house tidying and so on.  But something else was holding me back which I can only really say was a bit of a stubborn chip on my shoulder which I have recently shed and which means I am embracing being a Scottish strategist with gusto.  I might write about that in another post, it’s quite an epiphany.

Anyway, I really enjoyed Northern’s post because it was positive on the whole and I nodded my head vehemently at many of his points, e.g.

While there are less big TV campaigns, there are lots of really interesting, more integrated projects. You’ll need to be good at getting how channels fit together and creating strategic platforms for IDEAS, rather than advertising ideas.

This is totally true.  I moved up here and had to get good at ‘digital’ and then found that digital was actually everything except big TV campaigns, which I’m actually not that bothered about anymore.  Doing content, brand, and UX and comms strategy is very satisfying, particularly when you know it’s being rolled out nationally, internationally.  You also know that at least half of what you do is actually useful to people and you can measure the impact it has on your client’s business.  It means, as Northern says, you don’t think in silos and you get a chance to change how your clients do business and not just think about their communications.

You’ll have to prove yourself. More than someone about from around here. No one will take your word for it about anything. But good places will give the chance.

This is the truest thing. You do have to prove yourself.  I failed to prove the value of strategy at three Scottish agencies before I started work at Equator and by jove I have worked hard to prove it at Equator too.  Still am.  I’m in no danger of getting complacent or too big for my boots.

Northern mentions a ‘lack of sophistication’ which I feel is more a reluctance to intellectualise in the same way as the Oxbridge graduates I felt inferior to back in the Big Smoke, and both Scottish agency people and clients are reluctant to disappear up their own arses when it comes to talking about work – they just want to ‘get it done’ a lot of the time, and they want to know what they are paying for.  Which is fair enough.  I’m working towards a nice balance of thinking and talking more about the important stuff and then getting down to making nice work.

I am sure that in the 7 years I’ve been back up north people have thought I’m a terrible snob about what I do and I’m a right pain in the bum a lot of the time because I keep asking ‘why are we doing this?’ and ‘Why would the target audience care about that?’ and ‘Can we just start using the language of brands for a change?’ but it’s more that I am trying to keep the principles of what I do secure and not waver from what I believe to be the right way to do things.  I’m driven to do things properly.  Because it’s fun and I think it leads to better work.

In 7 years I’ve barely worked with anyone who’s experienced life in a London advertising agency and this means that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince people without this frame of reference that ‘my way’ is the right way.  When what they’d been doing until I came along was working pretty well and all I did was annoy them and criticise them.

4 years ago a ‘good place’ did give me a chance and I’m still there, now with a 5-strong strategy team, which consists of people who weren’t planners when they joined but had the transferable skills to become planners.  In training them Equator now has a lovely diverse group of strategists who want to find out what the client’s objectives are before defining the solution, think deeply about user behaviour and collaborate with our designers, creatives and marketing specialists to develop joined-up routes to transforming our clients’ businesses.

I hope you can tell, I’m very proud of them.

One thing I don’t think I agree with Northern on is this:

What you need to prepared for, in general, in the creative side of things at least, is that you just won’t get the same kind of clients and do the same kind of work.

Now…  This is a really big misconception a lot of London types have.  It depends what agency you work at.  Work is what you make it and we beat big London agencies in pitches quite often, and a lot of our business is outside of Scotland.  Geography is a bit irrelevant.  There are some fantastic creative and strategic minds up here – the fact that we’re fewer in numbers could mean that we’re easier to find.  And we are all seasoned Easyjetters – we see our clients wherever they want to see us.

On the whole, being a strategist in Glasgow is great and I don’t think I’d want to work anywhere else now.  (Never say never obviously.)  Glasgow is known for its cool music and arts scene, it feels like things are happening here.  Being here means you have a 12 minute cycle to work, you can buy a nice flat or house near your friends and the centre of town, mountains and things are about an hour away, you get to work with nice people who want to make good, effective products and content real people want to engage with.

This year there’s been a feeling that it’s the best place to be – the summer was very exciting. And the winter ain’t that bad.  Just take vitamin D supplements and have a nice walk along the Clyde at lunchtime.

If you’re thinking of a move up north, we’d love to have you.  Look! A vacancy with your name on it.


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Book review: Capital by John Lanchester

I read Capital by John Lanchester whilst away on holiday two weeks ago.

It was slightly ironic to be reading about London while lying in bed in a cottage in one of the most remote parts of the UK, but because of the smartphone blackout I was not tempted to check what was happening back home via text or social media, I really got into a book for the first time in ages.

I got into it because it’s very well written and thus easy to read. Lanchester has a simple writing style and the chapters are short. But the ambition of the novel was far from simple – it’s a state of the nation, a picture of the Way We Live Now… At times I was thrilled by how cleverly the characters, who seem different on the surface, are linked – initially it seems that the only thing they have in common is the London street they inhabit, but there are far deeper connections that the author reveals over time, which means that you do think ‘just another chapter…’ until you have to put the book down and sleep.

It’s not perfect. It’s not as clever or powerful as some of the tomes it perhaps aims to emulate, for example Trollope.  At first the characters feel like stereotypes, not very deep, but perhaps this is because they are so familiar. If you’ve lived in any major city in Britain you recognise them instantly. Luckily Lanchester gets right under their skin, and many of them turn from stereotypes into more complex characters, who are flawed but for some reason you will them to prevail as the story unfolds.

About 3-quarters of the way into the book I was thoroughly excited and I thought the ending was going to be amazing, but sadly it made me feel a bit disappointed, it was rather pedestrian compared to the thrilling complexities that the author had woven into the middle of the story. Without wanting to give anything away (because I do recommend this book, for a rattling good read) it felt like a bit of a compromise, the mystery which is the central theme of the book turns out to be more Murder She Wrote than Miss Marple.

Having said that, I really enjoyed this. And writing this review. There’s also a good review in the Guardian, which has interesting things to say about John Lanchester’s ability to get under the skin of his myriad characters and be omniscient.

Next up: Predatory Thinking by Dave Trott

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A big up to the boys at Frame Digital, who recently launched iMapFlickr, which allows you to create a map our of your geotagged Flickr photo sets which you can share in lots of different ways.

Rather than try and explain it, I had a go, and created a mini-tour of London.

Have a go yourself – it’s cool.

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