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OF MENTORS, MICE AND MEN AND ADVERTISING’S MAD MEN…

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

I was extremely lucky to have at least 3-4 very good mentors in advertising and the music industry.


They were knowledgeable and generous people who made going to work the best marketing and communications school one could hope to attend.


The problem these days is trying to communicate with those who didn’t have the “edutainment” I had and very rarely never being given direction from leaders who could really lead.


This often means quietly watching and listening to absolute incompetence flailing in mediocrity and drowning in a bottomless swamp because there’s a complete disconnect.


This disconnect is affecting everything and not unlike being on the planet of the Dorkians.



Of course, there are some very good mentors, but the question always playing pIng pong in my head is just how good these mentors are, whether they have even heard of The Peter Principle, and then thinking how bloody lucky I was to meet Keith Reinhard. 



Meeting Keith was a watershed moment in my life when pretty much struggling to even understand what being a copywriter in the big, and what was then still the fairly new world of advertising actually meant. 


Keith, with his proven track record of award winning advertising home runs, especially for his creative work for the McDonald’s business when creative director with Needham, Harper and Steers in Chicago which morphed into DDB was someone who was very much in the premier league. 




There wasn’t a better and more giving, knowledgeable and generous mentor than him and who constantly inspired his troops. 


We also learned, sometimes the hard way- that we were being tested- tested to see if we were agreeing for the sake of agreeing with our bosses, and not being honest about our own opinions. 


This lesson came in handy later on in my life when working with or dealing with those who might have been on power trips and needed to be reined in- those talked the talk, but tripped over their vacuous words when having to walk the walk.  


Gawd knows there are a lot of these mindless mind games being played these days in every single industry. 


Looking back from where I came from, no one “taught” anyone how to be “creative”.


It was something that we either fell into by fluke, learned through trial and error and tried to see where we might possibly belong in advertising.  


Sometimes, it was discovering that where we REALLY belonged was actually in an off-shoot of something built around the basics of advertising. 


Keith’s job was pointing us young guns in the right direction. 


He taught us principles and strategies to remind us how to better ourselves as admen- principles like “Break The Pattern”, “The Technique Is Not The Idea”, “Speak To Heart And Head”, “Generate Trust” and “Speak With One Voice”. 


Keith also made our creative conferences more interesting, entertaining, educational and informative. 


He broke the pattern himself by inviting Speakers as diverse as commercials and then film director Joe Pytka, below, life coach Tony Robbins and others. 




At a creative directors conference in Amsterdam, we were so privileged to have Keith invite brilliant musician Wynton Marsalis talk to us about the creativity in Jazz and how much he had learned from listening to the music of Louis Armstrong. 



Again, this was Keith breaking the pattern and re-enforcing his very strong beliefs about the importance of music in all communications and that the technique nor the technology was and is never the idea. 


The idea was and is a standalone and something very much corrupted in the past decade or so largely because of social media and the use of technology.


Reminding myself about the importance of The Idea is something I do regularly by revisiting reruns of the brilliant “Mad Men” television series. 



 

 “Mad Men” was about the earliest days of Madison Avenue, how advertising became big business, and introduced us to the complex character named Don Draper. 



Don Draper basically talked himself into this new world known as advertising. He did this by having a certain je ne sais quoi that made him brilliant for the business by being equal parts charlatan, salesman, ladies man, and a natural wordsmith.


He was also brilliant at reading the room. 


All this made it easy for him to navigate through the roadblocks and get to where he knew he needed to go in order to reach those ambitious goals he had set for himself. 



Advertising was a very good first step in reaching where, by now, I knew I belonged- music, not as a musician, but someone in A&R, marketing and the promotional side of the music industry. 


For example, finding that song one intuitively believes could be a hit for a certain artist is not that different to knowing what a client needed when a creative director in advertising. There is a talent to this.



It is about knowing the audience for the music of the artist and the type of song that has an emotional attachment with the audience. 


It’s something I’m proud to say I made happen when with EMI for Danish group Michael Learns To Rock. 



This was by having the group record an English version of what was a massive hit in China for Hong Kong megastar Jacky Cheung. 



MLTR wrote and recorded “adult contemporary” pop and here was a song I was familiar with and knew would resonate with the group’s existing audience. 


 It was also a song, that when established, could be, and became, a massive crossover hit in the huge karaoke market.


It did all these things plus helping touring and was one of the biggest sellers for MLTR and EMI in the region. 


Could something like this be taught and learned? Can pigs fly?



In any creative business, it’s always about finding some type of emotional attachment, whether in a film, poetry, a piece of art or a song.


These days, where technology has been allowed to be more than it ever should be, the “creative director” is either missing in organisation charts or is as meaningless as many of those who have “marketing” in their titles. 


These titles are usually given out by the head of the company or organisation who, more than likely, had positions to fill and asked his Human Resources Department to find those compliant enough and could be slotted into corporate cubbyholes and be okay at presenting themselves as “experts”. 


Having worked in three very different industries other than advertising including two multinationals, none of their organisation charts really worked because they had been haphazardly put together by largely leaders who didn’t come from the creative sector.


They were “corporate pudding puffs” with buzz words that too often didn’t have anything of substance. 


It was all very vague and often as weird and absurd as one of the great Gary Larson’s cartoons for The Far Side. 



In the end, it was everything that The Peter Principle warned us about and is one of the reasons why we’re where we are today chasing after our own tails and seeing standards of everything fall to such desperately low levels of incompetence.



After twelve years working with the Hong Kong Jockey Club and for who I created the Happy Wednesday brand, frustration and creative fatigue had set in three years before both sides finally parted ways earlier this year.


I wanted to create and produce award winning work- truly breakthrough creative in the multi media world- and needed to work with the right team with strong ideas on how to move forward. 


There had been- and there still are- way too many scattergun approaches to work that despite all the meetings, the end product often looks like a dog’s breakfast that no one wants. 



For the past few years, I especially want to help children who were caught up in the lockdown and masked years find their way through the post pandemic malaise we’re still fighting.  



Friends and former colleagues who have now retired, and, one supposes, are enjoying their new lifestyles ask why I bother. 


Why not just kick back, they ask, and enjoy travelling around the world or take up gardening or fishing or photography?


Well, I can’t. That’s not how the god person arranged my “wellness” programme and chakras.  


There’s also still more than a hint of the Don Draper in me.



What I find disturbing these days is seeing the lack of good creative talent, strategic thinking, and thinking that mediocrity is okay. 


There are then those who pass themselves off as “influencers” and “KOLs” and “social media experts” often hired to gain “views” and “followers” in order to meet various corporate KPIs- Key Performance Indicators. 


It’s all showbiz and it is what it isn’t.



Coming from a strategic driven and focused business as advertising, and learning from a great mentor like Keith Reinhard and an intuitive and streetwise client like the late Daniel Ng, the one-time Chairman of McDonald’s in Hong Kong, I am seeing scattered, confused and knee jerk examples of “leadership” and “content” that’s way too often lacking in substance.



At OneTeamCity, the vision is to focus on the children of Hong Kong and the city that is their home- and mine. 


The problem is finding the right team. 


Maybe it was those Covid-19 years and the protests that led to the Extradition Bill, but many in Hong Kong today “operate” from a base built either on numbing apathy or constant fear of everything.


Fear is rampant and what fear does is create shrinkage and robs everyone of inspiration and hope. 


None of this helps answer questions like these: What came into the minds of children when finally saw people without masks masks? 


 Do children understand who spent their formative years know what life is about and what they’re meant to do next? 


What did children- and adults- get out of all those Zoom meetings? 


How are we going to be truly and honestly happy?


What’s stopping us starting The Happy Revolution?



There are many more questions, but at least to me, it comes down to having mentors with the creativity, generosity and inspirational skills of Keith Reinhard. 


Politicians and Chairmen etc of banks or various institutions are not mentors.


They’re meant to be leaders. But can they lead? 


Do they know how to delegate? Do they even care? 


Think about it. 


Then, think about this.



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