SXSW: Creativity, AI and the robots that are coming

There was a stack of robots at SXSW this year.  Over just four days, I managed to watch robots play drums, print names on table tennis balls (Royals logo looked great btw), hear a debate between two robots on the virtues of Lady Gaga vs. Taylor Swift and even go to an ‘artificial (comedy) improv’ session featuring a cast of robots dressed up in drag!  All these androids ‘taking over the world’ are bound to make some agency folk more than a little paranoid about the future of work.  But others are embracing the fear and running headlong into a cybernetic future where computers understand more of our intuitive human knowledge and – if we’re interested enough – may actually help improve one of the key things that makes us human in the first place:  that is, our ability to emotionally connect with others.

This was the premise behind a session by Jason Robinson, Senior Design Lead at IDEO and Pip Mothersill entitled ‘Humans, Machines, and the future of Industrial Design’.  The pair are best known for their work in the fusion of technology and design, in particular the creation of tools to help people design objects that can express higher-level sentiments and emotions via aesthetic forms.

So how might this work exactly?  Well, whether or not we’re experts in design, people subconsciously perceive meaning in objects through their physical design ‘language’ (their form, colour, materials etc.).  This is well represented by the famous teaching technique used in the Disney studios that uses a simple Flour sack to convey different kinds of emotion, below:   


Designers intuitively understand this language and actively translate it into meaning that’s inherent in physical geometries, often using complex computer aided design tools (CADs) to create 3D models of their designs.  But, what if we could decode the physical design language so that CAD systems could use words instead of numbers to more intuitively create expressive designs? 

At the MIT Media Lab, Pip created an emotive form design taxonomy that broke down people’s emotive perceptions of different shapes into various quantitative design attributes – attributes that were then directly integrated into the design software itself.  When a designer typed a word into the emotive modeler, the system analysed the emotional associations to the word and generated a 3D model who’s forms reflect the emotive character of the words themselves. In theory, the tool’s valuable as a starting point for novices who don’t know where to begin but also for more expert professionals who want to quickly come up with a whole range of emotive designs from which to build and inspire their final creations. 

You can check out the emotive modeler here;

All this got me thinking, if this type of work’s already being done to more effectively communicate a professional’s thoughts through the medium of design, surely it’s only a matter of time until someone figures out how to do the same thing through the medium of advertising?!

Creative search tools such as Yossarian are already being used by the creative community to offer fresh perspectives, provocations and feedback at a global scale.  At the same time, AI powered design platforms such as (while far from perfect) profess to ‘craft beautiful websites driven by human-centered values, constraints and direction’.  I can’t claim to know what the future of the broader communications industry and AI platforms might look like exactly, but one thing’s for sure:  those who embrace, develop and leverage this merger of being and machine to help improve creative product will be the winners in a world that’s barreling towards a cybernetic future.

Also: if you’re heading to Vivid Sydney or are around on June, you might be interested in this event. There are a couple of Royals involved:


I knew diversity was important. After SXSW, I now know (even more about) why.

The importance of diversity in the communications industry has been a much talked about topic for the past several years.  It’s something that The Royals talk a lot about also as part of our mission to be the ‘most interested agency in the world’. You may have already read the press on diversity being one of the key themes at this year’s SXSW.  Those of you who were lucky enough to be there would have noticed the fantastic number of meet-ups geared towards various minority groups across a multitude of industries & skill sets.  But beyond these focused sessions, the value of diversity was an omnipresent theme in several of the keynotes I went to, including:

Carmen Medina:  Diversity as Critical Thinking Tool

62 year-old Peurto Rican, ex CIA agent and author of Rebels at Work stressed that actively encouraging dissonance helps ensure that you have an adequate variation in thinking styles to best solve problems.  Carmen contended that dissenting opinions help free us from conformity and, more importantly, stimulate us to think more creatively. By including dissenting opinions in our collective groups, research has shown that we consider more facts and more possibilities in order to come up with better solutions.

Chris Sacca:  Diversity as Profit Driver

Multi-billionaire investor and slayer of Mark Cuban on Shark Tank, was much more cut & dry in his argument for diversity saying simply “if a company doesn’t promote it, they must hate money”.  A great line and one that prompted me to spend more time reviewing the actual research.  Such as a 2015 McKinsey white paper that reported a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance: for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive teams of US companies, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent.  

Adam Grant:  Diversity as Creative Catalyst 

Wharton’s Top Rated Professor and best-selling author talked about creative intuition being based primarily on sub conscious pattern recognition. Adam reminded us that we’re all wired a certain way based on our experiences, all of which can lead to unproductive “Group Think”. Adams solution was to build teams comprised of a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation to help culturally enrich your organization and enhance creativity.

So, thanks for getting me to think differently again this year, SXSW.  I came to Austin knowing that diversity was a good thing but if I’m really honest, I didn’t know enough about why. Being exposed to such a diverse range of thinkers over the past few days not only made me smarter, it made me more determined than ever for The Royals to use diversity as a way to make our business smarter too.    


Announcing: Small Heroes By The Royals

This morning we kicked off our Small Heroes initiative at Work Club Melbourne with a high spirited breakfast panel discussing the changing face of Australian small business.

Small Heroes is a new Royals program we’ve developed to get under the hood of Australian small business, to better understand their challenges, motivations and incredible diversity. This ongoing project will include one on one interviews, broader qualitative research, trends analysis and a national breakfast panel series.

The breakfast was opened by our guest speaker the Hon. Philip Dalidakis and included an all female panel represented by Fleur Studd – Market Lane Coffee, Founder, Suzana Ristevski, NAB GM Business Bank Marketing, and Christy Karamzalis – Google, Industry Head.

This morning also saw the release of our quarterly trend report, Patterns & Perspectives, which investigates emerging themes associated with the SMB segment, from the rise of women business owners to the increased awareness and impact of cyber security.

Patterns & Perspectives is available for download HERE, with a more detailed presentation available on request.

The next Small Heroes event will be held in Sydney on Wednesday, May 17th. If interested in attending please email for more information.

Meanwhile, take a look below at the first of the Small Heroes Small Business profiles: The Lorne Hotel and Southall Farm. We’re going to be travelling the country telling a bunch of these fascinating, diverse stories about the men and women who keep our economy ticking.

Job Role: Pokemon Go Hunter

UPDATE: This position has been filled. Thanks so much for all the entertaining applications!

I love Pokemon Go but I have a really busy job at The Royals. I’m so busy. We do a lot of strategy and innovation here. Some days I hardly have time to play table tennis or darts at work. So I’m looking for an intern to take out my second phone each day and find me some Pokemon. I don’t want to get left behind. And I really want an Oddish. You’ll get an incredible amount of exercise (cheaper than a gym membership!), see the sights (it’s like a free city tour) and we can talk about Pokemon before and after each of your hunts. That’s probably the bit I’m looking forward to the most. Apply here.

Or, go for one of these other awesome jobs at The Royals:



Here are some of the super applications coming in vying to be my Pokemon Go Hunter:





Job Role: Junior Account Manager

Have your sights set on Account Service superstardom?

We’re on the hunt for an Junior Account Manager (full-time, Sydney-based) who’s destined for BIG things. What’s a day in the life of a Royals look like?

  • You’ll work closely with the Royals teams to deliver well-managed, polished, outstanding work for our clients on time and budget.
  • You’ll manage and nurture client relationships to keep them super happy.
  • You’ll master the skills of all-round project management. At the Royals, a ‘Can Do’ attitude is everything – you need to be super keen in order to learn everything there is to know to become the next agency Account Service All-Star. Ideally, you’ll have 1 – 2 years experience and already have an understanding of general agency processes so you can hit the ground running on an amazing portfolio of clients. What else are we looking for in our new Royal?
  • You’re hungry and cannot learn enough, fast enough…about our industry, our clients and our crazy world.
  • You know how to keep calm and be proactive.
  • You’re inherently curious and not afraid to ask questions.
  • You’re an admin wizard.
  • You hate leaving the office with anything still left on your ‘To Do’ list.
  • You’re passionate about the importance of delivering first class client service.
  • You can juggle multiple things (plates, fire sticks, projects) all at once.
  • You’re organised and an organiser.Interested? Find out more by talking to Kristy at

Job Role: Junior Strategist

Say hello to the Royals planning team.

We’re super friendly and looking for a junior strategist who’s Sydney-based to join us. Is there anything you can help with? Sure. There’s plenty…

  • Category analysis.
  • Desk research.
  • Research summaries.
  • Insight/opportunity hunting.
  • Brief writing.
  • Workshop prep.

But, what exactly are we looking for?

  • You have a year (or two) under your belt in an agency. The good news? It doesn’t have to be in strategy.
  • You’re hungry to become a strategist, not because it’s a cool job title (yeah, we know
  • it is…), but because you’re a naturally curious person who is most happy when you’re getting in under the hood of a brand, behaviours or culture.
  • You’re equal parts creative and logical.
  • You’re collaborative, not a ‘bubble thinker’, but someone who isn’t afraid to share early, ask lots of questions.
  • You know that you don’t know everything and know that you never will – a great
  • strategist is about constantly learning and relearning.
  • You have the kind of attitude that creative and clients alike just dig.
  • You’re ready to try new things and ask for help along the way.

How might you know if you’d make a good Royal?

  • You’re inherently curious.
  • You’re an interesting person.
  • You’re a doer.
  • You’re not afraid to ask how, why, when.
  • You’re Hungry to create better ideas than what is out there at the moment.
  • You’re a bit of a slashy and never afraid to try something new or get your hands dirty.
  • You’re a rockstar to get on with. I.e. We’re just going to love having you around the place.

Interested? Find out more by talking to Kristy via

I spent Friday night with my hands behind my head being interrogated and repenting my sins

I went to Underground Cinema.

The only details we knew about the cinema experience was the name, Hope 2.0 and the dress code, foreign.

Communicating only via Facebook, we were told the location of the event the day before – Coburg, and given the instructions to be on time, we won’t wait!

We arrived to join the line of other foreigners, mainly Mexican’s and the French it appeared. The line snaked along a chain link fence – on the other side of the fence, where guards dressed in army fatigues and swat gear whilst directing large muzzled Alsatians along the line. With the odd gypsy lady walking along and singling out people and placing an orange in their hand… I was “lucky” and received one.

Screeching around the corner, engine revving and slamming on the brakes to come to a sliding stop appears a white battered van. The Guards start shouting and swearing at us to get us running into the back of the van, the van is dark, the windows are blacked out with newspaper. There’s a few a laughs and giggles – these soon vanish as the driver tells us to “shut up, you think this is fun, you won’t for long!” With a heavy right foot we hoon off going who knows where, a couple of handbrake turn’s and never seeming to slow down, people are bounced around the back and laughs are replaced with screams.

We come to abrupt halt and a gun comes through the door and more shouting as we get pulled out of the van and pushed into a large covered processing area, guy’s one side, girls the other side we’re told. I’m holding my orange, not sure what would happen if I dropped it. We all get shouted at, “don’t look at me”, “look at the ground”, “hands on your fucking head!”. Two members of the armed guards see the orange I’m holding and roughly pull a black back over my head and drag me off, making me run with no idea where I’m going.

I get thrown into a seat, and there’s more shouting, this time asking for my name, then I hear a female voice and the bag is removed, bright flood lights are blinding me and the two guys in balaclavas are so close I can smell their breath. The woman is telling me that I’ve betrayed the uprising and I need to get back onto the plan and can I be trusted? My face is marked with charcoal and I’m given a slip of paper. The bag back on my head, I am ran out of the interrogation room and thrown into a chain link fence…

I walk around the corner and things are a little more relaxed. There’s food and a bar. The area looks like a makeshift camp, rooms made from blue draped tarpaulin. There’s guards walking around and hassling people, and odd rooms, with equally oddly dressed people in them – I lost the people I came with long ago.

After grabbing a drink, I pull the note from my pocket “You must find the preacher, repent your sins and find Bruno”.

Around the camp, it feels a uneasy, you’re not sure when the next thing is going to happen, there’s small explosions going off and the guards drag people off with black bags on their head.

Wasn’t too hard finding the preacher – she was walking around waving a bible to the sky and screaming. I talk to her, she demands I get on my knees, she shouts, there’s a lot of shouting tonight, “whats your sin”, “um, I stole an ice cream when I was a kid on the way home from school”, she call’s me a thief, hits my with her bible and makes me to scream to the sky that I repent my sins. She believes that I truely feel sorry and have repented, she gives me a sleeping bag and sends me on my way to find Bruno.

This finding characters and solving missions carries on for another hour – every attendee that night gets missions.

More shouting and we’re given cardboard signs with “freedom” written on them, what appears to the leader of the uprising, gets on a platform and delivers a speech about freedom and a made up government, he marches through the crowd, we follow, whilst banging our signs and shouting freedom – we’re lead into another warehouse – this time there’s a cinema screen and seats.

Guards get on stage and tell us to keep the event a secret until its all over.

I found my friends. We watched Children of Men.

The night was an incredible way to experience cinema. Amongst other things. Sign up to their newsletter and social account ready for when the next one is announced.


The Junkee Junket Unconference

Sometimes, ad strategists get to go on #Junket’s too.

Remember that scene at the end of Mean Girls where everyone is happy and braiding everyone’s hair and there are no cliques, only seamless integration between the freaks, geeks, jocks and the beauty queens? Now, I’m showing my age and my horrendous taste in movies, but that was pretty much what the Junkee Media Junket was like by the end of two days in the bubble of QT hotel Canberra. One big, beautiful, intellectual love fest.

For two days in October, 200 of Australia’s most interesting (and #interested) millenials came together for an unconference.

What is an unconference you ask?

A conference without any of ‘the boring bits’. No panels, no speakers, no agenda and certainly no Powerpoint to speak of. In fact, we barely sat down. The conference room was only used as a break-out space and part of the unique program included a ‘critical run’, a Beyonce dance class and a human library (where I met the American Ambassador while wearing Havianas…I did us proud guys).

Did I mention the all expenses paid accommodation, food and open bar? Telstra, Qantas and Visit Canberra put the junket in #junket.

The attendees were a carefully curated bunch of Australia’s most socialised nerds, the brightest and boldest in their fields, diverse and opinionated, hungry to make an impact on their world any which way they could.

And to be fair, most of them already were doing this long before Junket even began.

At the beginning of the conference anyone who felt the urge was invited to partake in a 60 second pitch to the room, stating what they wanted to run a session on. The best of which included; ‘How can we make aged care more attractive to young people?’, ‘How can we close the gap on Indigenous health and stop the number of indigenous women who still die in childbirth?’, ‘Why don’t more people job share so they can pursue more of their entrepreneurial ideas on the side?’, ‘Who and what is an Australian in 2015?’, ‘Why don’t we talk about sex more?’, ‘What is leadership and why aren’t there more introverted leaders?’ and ‘Have soundbites destroyed what makes science, science, it’s complexity?’.

We had most bases covered, except surprisingly, what to do with the refugees. General consensus was that it was an issue that needed to be solved politically rather than with innovation and fresh thinking. Nonetheless, with some editorial intervention it swiftly found a place on stage.

From here, the Junkee team (probably stayed up all night) and created an agenda that turned these topics into 55 unique sessions, each run by the person who pitched it, and attended by anyone who was interested.

The issues were debated, strategized and ideated on in mini-groups and in most cases were solutions focused. The best came to the party with a distinct problem to be solved (just like a good creative brief), the less wonderful came with a topic to discuss but less of a direction for solving it (just like a crap strategy). All were fascinating and rich conversations.

I think, however, that the most important part of this adventure weren’t the topics we covered, or even the insanely instagrammable mid-afternoon treats (jam injectable donuts anyone?), it was undoubtedly the opportunity to meet and connect with people who we would never normally have anything to do with.

Every introduction started with ‘well I do this, but I’m really interested in this’. No one was scared to put their hand up and say something silly, everyone was ready with a personal anecdote, ideas to share, and the enthusiasm was at full viral load.

One of the coolest sessions was hosted by Visit Canberra. It was a ‘human library’ where we could ‘rent out’ a person to share their story and chat with. These people included the Amercian Ambasssor to Australia, in a gay marriage and ex director of a zoo with a lion named after him (I have a minor crush). We had a great chat about representations of politics in pop culture and he left me with a sense of optimism that eventually Australia will follow the rest of the world footsteps and make his marriage legal here.

But while I was at Junket I also curated my own ‘human library’. Housing some of the more interesting people I connected with. Purely by accident these are all females but I promise the guys were brilliant as well and I’ll tell you about some of them if you ask, though I’ve lost my voice after three days of non-stop chatter.

So let me introduce you to a few of the gorgeous people I’d like to keep in my very own human library and hope that one day you get to meet them too.

Sarah Moran: Despite many of the world’s biggest tech companies, such as Microsoft, Google, Intel, Twitter, being run by women in Australia, there is still a notable gender imbalance in the local tech industry. Sarah started Girl Geek Academy with an audacious goal – to teach one million girls how to build apps and create start-ups by 2025. She runs Girl Geek dinners, ideation sessions and hackathons in Melbourne and Sydney and I’ll be heading along to the next one very soon. We discussed solutions to ‘de-masculainise’ the gaming industry such as moving it from a Tech industry definition to one in The Arts.

Laura Stokes: By day, advancement director of Queensland University’s International House, by night, organiser of Brisbanes TedXWomen. A lady with far too much energy for her own good and general enthusiasm for bringing everyone into the conversation, Laura is currently working on an app to connect women with mentors. She described it to me as LinkedIn meets Tindr and that combination certainly made a lot of sense.

Chanel Costabir: Chanel has been recognised as one of Australia’s top entrepreneurs under 30. She draws on her background in psychology to offer a unique take on the stuff we wear ‘closest to our soul’. She incorporates psychology into the lingerie business, educating women on how to use the right colour lingerie to trigger the right emotions in any situation. And she’s not talking about the partners, she’s talking about the women themselves and how they feel when wear a certain colour.

Andrea Myles: I finally found another China geek! Andrea is ‘Chief Instigator at the China Australia Millennial Project, an organisation designed to bring China and Australia closer together. We discussed how we can use creativity to help Chinese partners overcome their fear of failure and at the same time teach Australians to shut up and listen more. Crucially, we discussed the importance of cultural translators, not just language translators when doing business in China.

Emma Beckett: CSIRO nutritionist by day, volunteer at MPAN, the Missing Persons Advocacy Network by night. We discussed how the biggest problem with missing people isn’t in fact those that are missing, there’s only so much you can do to find them, but the families left behind. Without death certificates they are often unable to access bank accounts to pay the missing persons rent, close down accounts or access phone data. The friends and families left behind are resolved to a miserable limbo and it’s actually them that need our help. We developed a communication strategy to draw attention to the space left when someone disappears and raise awareness for the true tragedy of missing people.

So, that’s just a glimpse of what occurred for a few days in Canberra but as the Sydney team discovered yesterday I can talk for a good while about everything that went on. It was inspiring, invigorating and reminded me once again of the importance of getting away from our desks, off Google and Facebook and spending time in the real world with real, interested people.

The more we can make time to do it, the better our ideas and enthusiasm for what we do will be.