Uncovering Human Kindness

My last day in Beijing there were severe thunderstorms that began in the afternoon. I managed to get a taxi over to rOobin’s apartment and he, his girlfriend Katrin and I spent the evening having great conversation and trying to get his very cute two year old son to go to sleep.

At 11 I was ready to get going. I was staying in an apartment near DMG on this leg. So rOobin and I go to the lobby of his building and ask for a taxi. We take a seat and start t0 chat. The rain has finally slowed after about 9 hours but no taxis are turning up. We sort of lose track of time and an hour passed. We decide perhaps we should walk to a busier intersection to have better luck. Another hour passes. Beijing taxis have clearly given up and gone home and when you read the articles after the fact, that was a wise move.

But what’s a girl to do when her train is leaving town in 9 hours? Walking isn’t a viable option unless rOobin goes with me and then walks himself home – which would likely take 2 hours. His scooter isn’t an option either as the roads could be too deeply flooded. As the pickle I’m in begins to set in, a chinese family of six in a Honda minivan pulls over and offers me a ride. A 24 year old girl is a student at USC and speaks english. I manage to get home via the kindness of strangers and witness that the plausible but improbable sometimes does just go ahead and happen.

The Birth of the Project 2 Years Ago

It all started with an email sent on May 19, 2010. I wrote:

I think I’ve finally thought of a way to turn my planner survey network into a book idea. I’d love to know what you think and if you might be willing to participate.

Essentially, I want to spend a few weeks or a month in several countries to experience planning/advertising/culture in those places first hand. I’d offer my services in exchange for a place to crash. I’ve been thinking about how there hasn’t really been a “planner” book since Truth,Lies, and it’s got the travel angle and the advertising in general angle. I can already cover the US and Amsterdam, so I’m thinking a few Asia spots, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, South Africa and maybe India and the Middle East if I’m brave.

I was hoping my scheme would help me avoid visa issues as we could call it an externship or an extended job interview. Also hoping agencies would see this as a good opportunity to raise their global profile and want to play along.

Am I dreaming/crazy? Can I bring a bottle of Zyrtec and stay with you??

And the response that catalyzed me into (eventual) action:

Hello there, how bloody tops to hear from you.

I absolutely, unconditionally, passionately love it.

Actually ‘love it’ doesn’t do it justice, it’s “leave my wife for it” adoration.

(I won’t tell Jill that, she might not be that happy to hear she’s lost out to an idea from someone I’ve never met)

Seriously, it’s great – especially as there are fundamental differences of approach, role and potential for planning and yet only those fortunate to live/work in other markets actually ‘get it’. Ironically I’ve written a post about this next week, but to actually follow/read the exploits of someone literally having the ‘change’ thrust upon them is incredibly exciting – though I would add it would transcend just ‘planning’ and probably end up being a guide on how to survive or thrive the World of adland, a Lonely Planet for the comms industry if you will.

Would love to help and get involved. Don’t quite know how yet but very happy to talk about that and kick some people’s butts where possible/necessary.

The only thing I’d say is that on top of different cultures having different approaches, so do different agencies … so would you like to try multiple agencies in each land, or just try a different agency on each trip?

I love this … so exciting … and way better working at DDB Amsterdam, ha.

Seriously count me in but let me know when this is all happening because (1) I’m basically inbetween homes right now and (2) if its too far away, I might of been sacked by Wieden by then, ha.

This is awesome, won’t breathe a word to anyone but if you want me to do any background scheming, shout – especially in Asia where for some reason – I actually know a few people.

Great to hear from you, but this idea made it even better.


So Rob managed to keep his job at W+K for more than 2 years and wait for me to get around to visiting. The project has morphed a bit since as he rightly says I can’t possibly see but a glimpse of what any city or agency culture has to offer. It’s more about what I learn as I go. The working title is “Shop the World, Steal from the Best.”

I wasn’t able to get online much in the past two weeks so I’ll be catching up now that I have full access to the inter webs again and chronicle some bits from my trips to Singapore, Tokyo (for freelance on Uniqlo!), and Beijing.

KLM Lies

And then blows you off! Here’s the story. As most of you know, I’m writing a book. I’ve quit the cushy, regular paycheck job to do this. I spent 1100 euros on a ticket to China for my next trip to work on it.

Then something awesome happened. A wonderful Japanese brand asked me over to Tokyo to do a week of freelance. So I call KLM to try to change the flight. They won’t do it. I had to go ahead and book another flight to get to Tokyo in time. A flight to Tokyo, then Beijing, then Shanghai and finally Amsterdam. MY WHOLE TRIP. Nearly 5ooo euros because I flew business over to be able to go straight into meetings.

But I simply do not believe that something you spend 1100 euros on and haven’t used yet can’t be changed with a fee. So I start tweeting.

This is the moronic conversation that ensued.

Clearly calling KLM is a bad idea and goes no where. It only took 6 hours after I tweeted instead for them to say, oh wait a second, this policy that we are so sure about holding everyone to is actually not true. Pay a fee and change your ticket. Oh and have some business class on a flight you’re not taking anymore because we’re not really reading your tweets. Hope you understand!

If “Hope you understand!” is in their social media guidelines, they need a serious overhaul.

KLM – please fix this. Let me change the 1100 euro ticket to something I can use as a thank you for buying a new 5000 euro ticket!

Update: after some back and forth DM’img and even a phone call they made to my hotel in Tokyo (so much for their claim that they will only communicate with you via social media), my China ticket has magically transformed into a round trip to South Africa. If you want something done at KLM, get to tweeting.

Me + Asia = Karaoke

I have a karaoke set up at home so I’m a bit addicted to the sport. The planners from Y&R and MEC all went out one night where I saw mic covers for the first time. I’ve been singing unprotected and never realized. I (foolishly) promised I wouldn’t publish pics and video from that night.

Later in the week, I found myself out with Argha Sen. I met Argha last year at the Festival of Media where we were both on the judges panel for their awards. He is the head of marketing in Asia for Toys ‘R Us as well as a passionate foodie. He’s also a generous spirit and planned three different evenings in Hong Kong at hidden kitchens and various other places off of the tourist track. Plus he has a wonderfully diverse group of friends who joined each evening and gave me multiple perspectives on the city. We drank whiskey in a speakeasy. We danced to live African music. We ate a special Thai meal prepared by the chef of Bo.lan who had been brought over from Bangkok to delight our palates with jungle curry, oysters and slow cooked pork.

My last night in Hong Kong was Jason’s wife’s birthday so Argha got a few people together and we started with a drink on the 118th floor of the Ritz Carlton to say good bye to the city. Then we went to a little Japan type area and ate the most massive boat of sushi. His friend Thomas has this gem of an apartment in a seedy neighborhood so we went there for a drink. Argha knows I have no problem singing at any time, so I became the entertainment. For one night only, I got to hog the pretend mic and sing my heart’s content. Thanks to all my new friends for making Hong Kong such a wonderful experience.

What’s happening with the planner survey?

Greetings from Hong Kong. I wanted to let you know what I have in mind for the planning survey this year. Because of my current project, now is not the ideal time for me to do the survey. And really, I’ve been a bit stupid about the timing for a while. I always find myself working on it in the summer. That wasn’t such a big deal when I lived in Miami – you want to be inside in the summer – but now going into my fourth year in Europe I want to shift the analysis to the fall/winter when I plan to enjoy snuggling up to my laptop over warm drinks.

I’m also starting to view the survey and it’s purpose more broadly. Simon Sinek has had a profound impact on me in how I view brands as well as personal meaning making. And I find myself wishing that planners were more connected. (I use the term “planner” as a catch-all term for the mixed group of lateral thinkers with many titles so don’t get bunched up about it.)  I know I benefit tremendously from having a broad, global network of helpful intelligent people I can turn to who are outside of my day to day work.

That being said, my plan for the survey this year is to change it quite a bit. I’d like to keep the core questions in order to get the salary info we all find so useful, but then stop with the questions. Instead, if you so choose, you can participate in a couple of projects/platforms.

One will be Skype related. You put in your Skype ID and country and we match you with someone in a different country. We can provide some starter questions to get the conversation going. You agree to have one Skype and then answer a few questions about the conversation. Maybe something as simple as “what did you learn?” These responses become the content for the survey in addition to the numbers. Some people I’ve shared the idea with have called it Planner Roulette. Anybody got a better name? Anybody got some basic coding experience so we don’t have to do the matching manually?

The second is something you can start dabbling with now. We thought it would be cool if there were a Couch Surfing just for planners. Imagine going on a business trip to a new city or country and staying over the weekend to learn more about it. Or just finding a local to meet for a coffee while you’re on holiday. Couch Surfing is about both types of experiences. You can participate and never stay over with a person. You can stay in a guest room if they have one. So Willem van der Horst and I are currently moderating a group called Planners Everywhere within the Couchsurfing site. You can create your profile with Facebook connect but the site leaves a lot to be desired in terms of UX. Be patient. We figured it was better to have something than to pass on the idea. And we don’t have the desire to build it from scratch. We will be policing the group by checking members profiles on LinkedIn. Making it private makes it impossible to find. Give it a try and leave messages on the group message board to share your experiences. If anyone fancies a few days in Amsterdam, I am willing to be the first host. I don’t have a guest room, but I do have a couch and I have karaoke at home. Don’t all request at once.

You’re worth writing about

Rob Campbell was the first person I told about my project a year and a half ago and it was his positive energy toward the idea and his willingness to participate that catalyzed it into existence. I mentioned it vaguely at the very back of the planning survey report last year and Simon Kemp wrote to me saying he’d love to have me come to Singapore. I already knew and admired Jason Oke and Saher Sidhom plus we had casual emails from time to time so it was easy to ask them.

Once I announced the idea on my blog, Phil Adams in Edinburgh at Blonde raised his hand. Then I read an article about Brian Millar (Sense Worldwide in London) that made me contact him to see if he’d be interested. Fortunately he was.

If you’re keeping count, that’s six people who have agreed to this scheme. There’s a seventh but I’m not ready to announce him until we’ve had the opportunity to Skype and not just email. I’m thinking I will work with about 12 people, so I’m already halfway through the finding people part, the part I thought might be the most difficult. What you might also have noticed is that none of these early adopters has two X chromosomes. And it’s got me wondering why haven’t any women raised their hands? Why don’t I know more senior women out there who I could work with? I’ve spoken with Heidi Hackemer about tagging along with her project. She has bought a big black truck and is dipping in and out of agency life making expeditions into American culture and then freelancing as a planner. Depending on her schedule, I do hope to jump in with her and get back in touch with the US.

At this point, as I ask my contacts who else I should work with – remember I’d also like to spend time with clients and creative directors – I’m also specifically probing, do you know any women? One female planner I spoke with thought maybe women don’t imagine they are special enough to be written about. But I think that the low numbers of senior women make finding the few that would go for this project quite difficult. I’m still looking to go to Cape Town, India, Australia, Japan and Buenos Aires and I’m open to working with more than 12 people to get a few women involved. So if you are a smart woman thinking, hmmm, maybe I could do that, or you know one who might be up for it, please leave a comment here or write to me at hklefevre at gmail. I’m very helpful with children if that’s a selling point.

Finally, here’s a must see video on the subject.