Leveling Up

Pavones Yoga Center, photo credit: Michelle DeMarziani

Pavones Yoga Center, photo credit: Michelle DeMarziani

A few months ago, I decided I wanted to attend a month of yoga teacher training in the beautiful surf village of Pavones, Costa Rica. Who wouldn’t want to eat delicious vegetarian food and practice yoga in a studio overlooking the sea?

Well, my husband for one.

Maybe it’s because he had never done yoga before? He had zero interest in even trying it and a month away from work would be a big inconvenience for him. But he saw how important it was to me, so he agreed.

That is, with a few stipulations. One of them being I had to learn how to play video games.

Now, I haven’t played a consol game since high school. My interest in learning to game mirrored my husband’s interest in yoga. Zip. Zero. Nada.

The controllers I could recall were far simpler than they are now. Just looking at the PS4 controller gave me anxiety. And who has time to game? We already watch our fair share of TV shows and movies; we don’t need any other forms of entertainment in our lives.

Yet with some encouragement from the husband and some trial and error to find a game I could connect with, I have beat the game The Witcher 3. I even downloaded the expansion pack because I miss my life-sucking friend, Geralt.

What did I learn from giving gaming a chance?

A good game can tell a story better than a movie, series, or book.

While I always knew games require a user’s participation, I didn’t expect the connection I would feel to the characters and the world as a result.

And I think that connection comes from a well-designed experience that is just challenging enough for the user. It can’t be too hard as to frustrate and annoy. But conversely, it’s no fun if it’s too easy. As Geralt went on quests and gained experience, his level increased giving me a sense of pride.

I realized: Isn’t this what we wish we had at work?

Less emperor’s new clothes where we pretend that customers care about our products as much as we do (that’s always frustrating and annoying). The joy of finding a smart answer (because it’s just challenging enough). More clarity about what it is we need to learn (quests). Proof that we’ve mastered skills (experience level).

These are the very same work desires that sent me on a quest of my own. After working in advertising as a strategist for 14 years, I wondered ‘What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I feel like an expert yet?’ I wanted the experience of leveling up that I’d had at the beginning of my career.
So I created a quest of my own. I sought out mages in far away lands.
Well, not really.

Instead of mages, they were marketing people. And while the lands were far, the real exploring was of the edges of what is possible in digital, social, innovation, brand storytelling, and ideation. Oh, and I asked these people if addition to letting me work with them for a couple of weeks each, could I, uh, stay with you at your house?

I still can’t believe that nine people agreed to this scheme. But I’m so glad they did. They invested their scarce time in me. Which made me want to repay them in some way and make sure it wasn’t only me that got something out of the experience.

So I wrote about what I learned: In Hong Kong, I picked up the methods Jason Oke employs to get started on a new project when panic sets in. Phil Adams in Scotland taught me how he explores the edge of what is possible in digital. And I explored why the business of innovation is stealing some of marketing’s brightest minds while working side-by-side with Brian Millar in London. And much much more.

At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with Phil Adams and a few of Blonde's finest.

At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with Phil Adams and a few of Blonde’s finest.

rOobin Golestan DJing in Bejing on the night of my arrival

rOobin Golestan DJing in Bejing on the night of my arrival

Leveling up in our jobs may be a lot more like gaming than I ever realized.
We have to lean into the discomfort of what we don’t know. By taking on quests of our own design, we expose ourselves to radically new ways of working, to great ideas that can be applied in fresh new ways (because nothing is truly original), to people who like us and will be there to help us in the future.

Now, more than ever before, nobody knows it all.

Now, more than ever before, we all need to learn how to brain surf.

My new book Brain Surfing the Top Marketing Strategy Minds in the World is now available for pre-order and ships on November 11, 2015. For a limited time, order the paperback on Amazon and receive the Kindle version free.

It’s Survey Time!

Hello fellow strategists:

We are pleased to open the new and improved Strategist Survey. It’s short and sweet, so open that tab and make it all the way through in one go.

Since we last surveyed you, we’ve thought a lot about the changing strategy landscape. We’ve been hit up for jobs at Twitter, Apple, BuzzFeed, start ups, research firms, PR firms, and physical tech companies. This shift from planner to strategist is one small outward change that is indicative of our community’s ever expanding relevance.

Please share the survey far and wide. Track down old colleagues who are strategizing on the client-side, at innovation consultancies, for media properties, or as technologists. Please spread the word over email AND social media. So many people don’t have time for social, so let’s make sure to get our friends’ attention.

Your privacy is our religion. We will only share aggregate salary information.

Are you ready? Here’s the link. Take it now.

Planning OG’s and Where we’re heading next

Oh, hello.

It’s been a while.

Three things.

1. What was it really like in the early days of agency account planning? Tracey Follows and John Griffiths have tackled this question by interviewing 20 of planning’s original gangsters. They’ve compiled these stories into a book and the are crowd-funding the publishing. The book is called 98% Pure Potato (an iconic English ad claim from long ago) and you can get your name in the book as a founding supporter by buying your copy now. Better to chart where we’re going when we know where we’ve been, right?

2. The Planning Survey wants to come back. It’s been programmed and we are polishing the final questions. There will be different question paths for people working in communication services, business growth services, as well as brand marketing on the client side in an attempt to look at our discipline no matter where we work.

Building a new survey has raised a couple of questions and we want to hear from you: Are we planners or are we strategists? Does it matter? The survey team has mulled this over. We believe that if a few people could go to an off-site meeting and invent the name “account planning” in the 60s, we as a larger collective can decide if it still works for us. So we ask you: please post your thoughts (Medium, LinkedIn, your blog) and send me the link. We’re hoping a larger discourse will help us all sharpen our thinking and make the survey more useful. I kicked it off with this post here.

Sam Joseph has weighed in here.

Russell Davies recently wrote this.

3. While I have you, Faris Yakob just published his book Paid Attention and it’s worth an extra helping of your future attention. He discusses his views on the strategy/planning debate, but more importantly he effortlessly synthesizes models of communication, idea generation, and brand building given today’s opportunities and constraints.

That’s all for now.  I am still writing my book. I promise I will finish someday.

On a mission

all done ~ bird by bird

I’ve never tackled anything as hard as writing this book.

Probably like most of you, I did pretty well in school. Papers and tests came easy for me.

With the book, on the other hand, I’ve been plugging away on weekends, holidays and vacations. For a long time, I couldn’t do anything that wasn’t work or the book without feeling guilty. I’ve written about 40K words at this point and I expect the final product to be about 75K. And through this process, I’ve isolated myself a lot. I don’t blog and I don’t talk to as many people as I used to. Part of that I like. I can sense that I’m becoming a better writer and it’s seeping into my day job. Part of it I don’t like. I feel lonely sometimes. I’ve shared what I’ve written with several people. I’ve read passages at work and to some students at Academy of Art and I’ve had encouraging feedback. I just know it’s not as good as it could be.

So I hired a professional editor. My plan has been to self-publish, but the downside with that is you don’t have a team in place to help you birth the book. You have to build your own team and it’s taken me some time, along with trial and error, to find mine.

Today I got her first feedback which can be boiled down to this line:

It feels like three or maybe four books in one.

Oy. Vey.

But it’s also encouraging to read her thoughts. Now I have something new to push against.

I’ve kept John Cleese’s talk on creativity in mind.

I’m back in the open mode of creativity where I’m pondering possible solutions to the structure of this book. Then I can get back into the closed mode where I realize it won’t please everyone and I make the most original, clever and inspirational piece I can make at this point in my life.

Forge, The Future Factory and Saher Sidhom

Earlier this year, I spent two weeks working with Saher Sidhom, Head of IP and Innovation at AMV BBDO in London. Saher is living what we all talk about doing: experimenting and innovating for brands. This means technology, yes. And Saher is getting elbow deep in Arduino components on a daily basis. But this also means new business models, contracts, and working with brands that are expansive, that want you to have an experience that is “on-brand” and share in that experience, not just listen to them bark a message through their megaphone.

I’m in Miami Bitch!


I haven’t made time to blog in quite some time. I’ve been putting all of my energy into my new role at CP+B Miami, getting married to my Dutch guy (in the office over Google Hangout no less), getting him a greencard, finding a place to live and oh, yeah, working on my book.

wedding at work

wedding at work2 Kiss





A lot of people I’ve spoken with were surprised I came back to the US. I was too to be honest. This has been a year of doing things I have once said I’d never do again: getting married, moving back to the US, buying Crocks… Ok, there’s no excuse for that last one. But in my defense, they aren’t the clogs and they’re really comfortable. Yes I hear myself. Moving on.

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I came back for several reasons and I thought you might be interested to know about them.

The Creatives are back in Miami

Lots of people don’t know that CPB has 34 creatives and 4 COGS (strategists) in the Miami office. And we are lead by Bob Winter, our ECD, one of the nicest, cleverest bastards I’ve ever worked with.  My interview with Bob sealed the deal for sure because there is so much potential in this office and I want to be a part of it.

It’s CP+B

There is a little magic in these halls. CP+B has won the most Grand Prix at Cannes since 2001.

Cannes Poster CPB And that’s because this place evolves and moves on and doesn’t rest on laurels. The talent is broad and deep: I get to work with top UX, creative tech, and product innovation people. And when the people who do that invite you into their club it feels pretty fucking awesome and makes you feel like you can do anything. The Miami office is our Graceland where it all began.

There are advantages to working in the US

If you didn’t know, I spent a year researching a book. I lived in the homes of and went to work with 9 incredible strategists across Asia, Europe and the US. Plus I interviewed a number of other folks in Austrailia, South America and South Africa. I’m confident in saying the bigger budgets and faster production timelines happen in the US compared to the rest of the world. And I enjoy that combination. Sure, “We need you to go to Milan on Tuesday” has been replaced with “We need you to go to Milwaukee on Tuesday.” But the tradeoff is I am working with the largest, smartest collective of people in this business moving at a pace I find stimulating.


If I’m going to live in a country that’s familiar, I’d rather be in the capital of South America where I can have sand between my toes on demand and direct flights to every SCUBA destination on my wish list. I’d rather be eating empanadas, sipping cortaditos (Cuban coffee + milk), and perfecting my Spanish while I strategize. And I love how bike friendly South Beach is. My time in Holland taught me I can cycle in heels. Come down and we’ll pop from one place to the next on bikes with the moon peering out from palm fronds.

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If this sounds good to you, we’re growing and hiring like mad. Feel free to email me your resume if you’re already legally able to work in the US (not the right time of year for new visas, I’m afraid.) We have an Associate Director and and a Senior Cog (posting soon) gigs we are looking to fill.

The Planner Survey 2012/2013

Thanks for your patience. A lot of interesting things to share in this year’s report.

If you’re new to these, this is the 8th installment of the survey. The intent is to get a read on what is on our mind and how much money we are making to keep things transparent. If you’re not being paid fairly, these are the pages you take to your boss and ask “Don’t you think I’m at least average?”

But money isn’t everything. I hope it’s only an annual consideration and that the rest of the year we are all growing and learning. After meeting more planners around the world myself, I realized this survey can do a lot more to build a global planning community. So this year we tried to do just that.

Connecting with other planners around the world has proven to be a rewarding and enriching experience for many of you. I hope you’ll continue to connect and learn from each other.

Participation did go down for the first time. So we’re asking you – has the survey served it’s purpose? Is it time to move on? Or are biannual reports the way to go?

One other thing – take note that this year’s salary info is MONTHLY and after taxes and deductions. Makes for very interesting comparisons given the vastly different costs of living around the world. Australia also makes an appearance for the first time, getting over 50 respondents. Well done, Oz.

I’ll get out of the way and let you dig in. It’s never been more beautifully designed. Much love and adoration for Paul Savaiano.

You can download the pdf here: The Planner Survey 2012/2013

How to attract the creatively challenged

If I was looking to fill my creative arts academy, I think I might try this approach too. Instead of vying for the “low hanging fruit” – you know, the students who are already somewhat creative, remixing memes on 4chan and scrapbooking in their spare time – I might make my school more appealing for those people who know nothing about fonts, colors and composition and give them hope that my school is a safe haven for them to become creative. As the University for the Creative Arts have done in posters all across London’s underground.University for the Creative Arts

The House of Genius opens its doors in Amsterdam

One of the interesting things I stumbled upon along my ’round the world journey was an evening called House of Genius. It’s essentially three hours where anonymity and diversity of perspectives converge all in the service of fostering start-ups.

I found it fascinating.

So I’m bringing the concept to Amsterdam.

Our first session will be held on Monday, February 11, at the Pakhuis de Zwijger (very generous of them to host us!) Have a look of this video from New York to get a taste of what it’s like. Then visit the site to see if there’s a House of Genius in your city and apply to attend. (You must apply and have a ticket to attend.)

Our first session is also being sponsored by Petminds.


Kevin May breaks the mold – Episode 11

Have a peak into the time I spent in Seattle working at a very different little consultancy called Sticks with Kevin May. I love how he has collected smart people with a breadth of expertise and pulls together small salons of 4 or 5 to push a problem forward in a couple of hours. I had the chance to participate in 5 or 6 and we got to new questions and ideas far faster than we ever would have staring at our screens for days. Plus it was a real pleasure to work this way.