Books I Read – 2013

December 16, 2013

2013 was the year that I rediscovered my joy of reading. A lot of it is due to Apple – first the iPad and now the iPhone encouraged me to to try and buy a tonne of books to read through the iBooks app. Just being able to walk around with 10-20 books in my back pocket or my laptop back has meant I’ve been, relatively speaking, a voracious reader in a way that I just haven’t been able to for a few years.

Here are some of the best books I read this year, and a few thoughts on each:

Wonder – RJ Palacio

As a father, this one had me holding back the tears from the first page. The book focuses on a boy with Treacher-Collins syndrome, a rare craniofacial deformality, and his emotional and educational development – as well as the development of those around him. Well worth reading and learning from.

Eleven Rings – Phil Jackson

I’m a big sports fan but wouldn’t usually have read this if it hadn’t have been in the Tribal library. Besides reading about the pursuit of excellence and domination in any field, I enjoyed learning about the art of zen meditation and the overall zen philosophy: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water”. Don’t let the highs get you too high or the lows too low. Something we can all learn in an industry with so many highs and lows.

How to fail at almost everything and still win big – Scott Adams

The book warns you not to take advice from cartoonists but the sort of stuff that Scott (the creator of Dilbert) recommends is common sense – add as many skills to your repertoire as possible. Focus on your personal energy through diet and physical activity. Keep positive. Hard to not agree with any of that stuff. What I love about this is how simple it is – like Scott’s own thoughts on finance.

The Circle – David Eggers

I crushed this book over a weekend. Originally I had suspected that it would be a dense, heavy read but it was so engrossing and so close to the bone that I literally couldn’t keep it down, stealing a few minutes at a time to get through another couple of pages. Set against a fictional back drop of a young lady starting work at a social network, it looks at the value of information (and privacy), the brain-washing effects of cult-membership and our overwhelming desire to fit in and to aspire to a grander goal.

The Everything Store – Brad Stone | Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson

Is it unfair to lump these two together? Both were fascinating looks at two companies that are almost impossible to separate from their founders. I probably enjoyed the Amazon/Jeff Bezos book more because it brought to the fore of my mind the inner workings of a company I haven’t really thought too much about.

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy – Helen Fielding

When I saw that there was a new Bridget Jones book out, I wondered “why”. I remember reading the original book back in my GAP year half a life time ago (1998/9). It was a surprisingly tender read while retaining some of the laugh-out-loud qualities of the first books.

The Wolf of Wall Street and Catching the Wolf of Wall Street – Jordan Belfort

Both hilarious books that reveal the wonderfully destructive hedonism behind the investment firm that has spawned two movies – Boiler Room and the upcoming The Wolf of Wall Street (starring Leonardo Dicaprio).

All in all, a good year of reading and that’s without the Jack Reacher, Dan Brown and Rick Riordan books I devoured. But I’m hungry for more. Let me know your best reads in the comments.


Agency New Business – Thoughts on the RFP process

October 27, 2013

The job of any agency is to bring in more business through the front door than is leaving (either through attrition, resignation or reduced scope) through the back door. At the start of my career I was once told that the annual attrition rate was somewhere around 20% – with the agency business, there are some magic numbers and this one works for a couple of scenarios.

If you’re a small, $3mm agency, 20% is just $600,000. Fairly manageable to bring that in each year. If you’re a $30mm agency, 20% is $6mm. Not many of those accounts come up for review each year.

All this to say that while current clients pay the bills, new business is the life blood of every agency – it determines how fast your agency will grow or contract – so the new business process is crucial. And, for the most part, new business relies on the dreaded RFP process. I would also add that the best way for an agency to bring in new business is to focus on your existing clients. To do great work for them that earns you more of their trust and that can attract other clients looking for great work.

On AdAge, there are some interesting articles about RFPs – how agencies are declining more and more RFPs from clients, how to fix the RFP process, and how agencies put out such poor RFPs themselves.

One small fix for the RFP process

All I’m asking is this: If an agency doesn’t win, tell them why. If the other agency killed it, great. It’s not easy to hear, but that’s OK. To the victor go the spoils. But generally it’s not that clear cut. And while I know it might be difficult to articulate, you owe it to them to try. An agency puts its heart and soul into a pitch. The least you can do is give something in return.

quite a few years ago, I responded to an RFP for the type of project I was personally interested in and that I had quite a bit of experience in. It was a gruelling process, just to complete the forms and provide the cases, and thinking, that the client required. I had to have certain papers notorised, and pull in the partners who we would use to develop the technology component of the solution. The team and I spent many hours making sure this was the best proposal we could make it because we wanted to do the work. We never heard back. Quite by chance, I met the client who had managed the process at a social event and asked them about it. They were apologetic and told me how many other proposals they had received and who they had ended up choosing. But they could have said that with an email, thanking everyone for the time and effort – even if there wasn’t any feedback per se.

Agencies shun low-margin, high-headache biz

“If we’re going to put a tremendous amount of energy into a pitch, we can’t be in the dark. We have to know the fee potential. Some clients and consultants forget that we’re a business, too.”


…one of the biggest problems is wasted energy and resources as a result of poor pitch processes. “What a lot of marketers don’t realize is that bad search processes can cost them, and what many clients don’t consider is that bad searches cost the industry overall.” For example, a pitch that doesn’t follow best practices might mean a marketer has to review the business again a year or two later — or that top agencies choose not to respond in the first place. “If you’re not running a review that feels transparent, that there’s an opportunity to do good work for a fair fee, a client could lose good potential partners. It’s not a nice-to-have to run a pitch well, it’s an outcome that’s beneficial for everyone.”

Agencies’ requests on media companies are out of control too

In many cases the media RFP is essentially outsourced innovation. It is the equivalent of saying, “Our idea is to use this platform, but we have no idea what to do with it.” In fairness, matching creativity with wide-scale reach for a major brand is a true challenge. But there is a better way.

Seth said it best when he said that “the good stuff is more likely to be sold to people who care“.

So, what to do? How to show that you care about the product an agency could produce for you? Well, this is a good start.

how to conduct a review



How to get me to accept a meeting request

September 12, 2013

Those who know me, know that this is true.

Meeting meme

I won’t get into the details of why I have this picture or how James got a hold of it. Or why he’s no longer with the company.

Some more in the series:



deck review


How I achieved Inbox 36953

August 19, 2013

Before I had a BlackBerry, I had a client in Mississauga who I had to visit a couple of times a month. I would spend the hour or so in a cab (both ways) either preparing for my meeting or filing my inbox. When I worked at com.motion, I got into the habit of using my Friday nights to file my email. Looking back on both exercises, they were a huge waste of time.

I used to have folders and subfolders for everything and as a result everything devolved into a rather arbitrary mess. When I was looking for old emails, I would have to try and decode myself – what was I thinking on that day, that moment when I decided to file the email? What was my raison d’être for that short, fleeting moment that was so clouded to me weeks, months or even days later?

We’ve been through two email systems in my time at Tribal. Lotus Notes was…not my favourite experience and now Outlook. It was sometime before the planned migration that I decided to stop filing everything just in case I lost all my folders and sometime after the migration to Outlook that I decided to stop filing anything again. The truth is, the outlook search function works better than my filing system. I can search by sender, by subject and by keyword. It takes a bit of time to figure out what someone else was thinking when they sent me the email but less time than stalking through my unorganised filing system.

As a result of my non-filing approach and my general suspicion of man’s inhumanity to man that prevents me from deleting emails (although I do slip from time to time and when attachments are more than 5mb, but that’s a different story), three years later, I’ve now achieved what I’m calling “Inbox 36,953”. And climbing.

I do have many emails about how to increase your productivity through Inbox Zero…they’re in my inbox…somewhere.

Ad Land Cartoons

July 24, 2013

I’m not sure how I found these cartoons, by David T Jones on the Yahoo! advertising blog but I’m glad I did. Some of my favourites are below.

How to understand creatives:

The six kinds of advertising:

Presentation tips for everyone:

Follow David on Twitter.

Why are you still here?

May 29, 2013

I’m reading the Steve Jobs biography and one of the stories that really struck me was from Tim Cook.

“[Cook] convened a meeting with his team, and the discussion turned to a particular problem in Asia. ‘This is really bad,’ Cook told the group. ‘Someone should be in China driving this.’ Thirty minutes into that meeting Cook looked at Sabih Khan, a key operations executive, and abruptly asked, with a trace of emotion, ‘Why are you still here?'”

[Fortune Magazine, November, 2008 Via Business Insider]


According to the book, Sabih Khan got into his car, drove to the airport (presumably via home to get luggage and a passport) and got on the next plane for China where he was based for the next little while and was promoted to one of Tim Cook’s most senior deputies. The idea of dropping everything and relocating internationally (did Khan have a family?) based on less than 15 words was so powerful, yet unorthodox, that I had to make a quick graphic.

tim cook.001

When your colleagues and industry lavish praise and accolades on your work

May 5, 2013

You should be like:

Thanks, but no big deal.

Via The White House on Tumblr

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