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Be More Pirate

Work / Opinion

Be More Pirate: Sam Conniff Allende on how, by breaking rules, we can rebuild the creative landscape

The founder of Don’t Panic and multi-award-winning youth marketing agency Livity Sam Conniff Allende has always believed in doing business a bit differently. Here, in the run up to his talk at Nicer Tuesdays later this month, he tells us why, as inequality rises, we all need to re-learn how to break the rules.

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a pirate.

A pirate state of mind has been the underlying ethos of the last twenty years of my creative career founding and running Don’t Panic and then Livity. And now it’s informing my message to creatives everywhere. It also partly explains the fact that I’ve just published a book called Be More Pirate.

I believe in pirates, I believe in their principles, I believe in their manifesto, and I believe that now more than ever, you and me both need some new rules when it comes to doing things differently.

Are you, like me, beginning to realise that the idea that Technology Will Save Us is looking like an increasingly undercooked and oversold promise?

As incomes fall and inequality rises. As the march of the machines threatens mass redundancy, and a backdrop of almost guaranteed ecological disaster can’t seem to wean us off our addiction to consumerism, the hard truth is that no one is coming to save you. Except maybe you.

Take one look at our current leadership, and the alternative, and tell me you disagree. The leadership we need now is within. We have to decide whether we’re part of the problem or part of the solution. And when I say we, I mean you. The creative industries, and advertising and marketing in particular has to choose whether it wants to be the signature on humanity’s suicide note, or part of its wake-up call.

That’s why I want to talk about rule-breaking. History tells us time and again that yesterday’s rebels and rule-breakers become today’s heroes and tomorrow’s legends. At the same time, history often judges badly those who followed orders and played by the rules.

So, for people living in historic times, do you feel confident that you will do what’s required when it’s your time right to not do what you’re told? Will you flinch when it’s the responsible thing to break the rules and risk everything?

Be More Pirate is my first book and it was published last week, the same week Livity turned 17, and like Don’t Panic before it, I’ve left the agency in far better hands than mine to manage, as I embark on an even more radical adventure, than those to pretty radical endeavours.

And here I am, back once again (like the reengage master) and one-man-band trying to take on the world, and win. Because after nearly two decades at the helm of two influential youth-led marketing agencies, I am tired of witnessing young people being patronised by creative businesses, brands and society and not offered what they increasingly seem ready for: a more decisive stake in determining their own future.

That’s why I want to talk about pirates. What’s so profound and potent about the 18th Century millennials aka the Golden Age Pirates who outwitted the Navy from approximately 1690 to 1725, is that they didn’t just break rules in purposeless anarchy, they fundamentally rewrote them. They didn’t just reject a society, they re-imagined it; and they didn’t just challenge the status quo, they changed everyfuckingthing.

I know most of us have a mental image of pirates and more often than not it’s informed by Hollywood, but I’d argue that the troublesome true history of pirates, suppressed at the time by the establishment they threatened, puts them alongside the working class heroes like the Levellers or perhaps even pioneers of civil rights like the Suffragettes in their fight for fairness and equality. Bold claims I know, but I think it’s time to look further back for our lessons. We’re increasingly too wedded to unproven short-term models. For all the unicorns galloping out of Silicon Valley, there’s a lot of horse shit behind the scenes. And I for one, think we need more than the uberisation of everything as the proposed future model of anything. Dropping a vowel from your name, doesn’t make you fit for the future, but knowing your history could.

So come on an adventure with me, and 300 years ago you find a a discontented Gen Z of the early 1700’s who were fed up with the inability of a self-serving establishment to provide a decent wage, decent working conditions, or any sense of hope in the future. Their response was to take power into their own hands.

The lessons for everyone facing disruption are pretty profound, but they come into especially sharp focus for our industry, as these were, after all the great-great-grandfathers of global branding. Not Coca-Cola as many think, but the Skull and Crossbones 150 years earlier, a deliberate meme designed go viral and maximise profit and contrary to popular opinion, to reduce violence. There’s much more of Blackbeards rules of branding in the book, but now word counts and deadlines loom.

Talking of deadlines, this piece is due to be published one week on from the books launch and as things stand, the rebellion is in full flight. Be More Pirate launched as a Best Seller on Amazon in multiple business categories and is rising slowly, with no mainstream media recognition but a growing (and humbling) amount of support on social.

But far, far more important than sales, is the rebellion rate. I’ve lost track of the number of the rebellious responses I’ve received so far, from the resignations it’s triggered to a young woman who is using pirate principles to run a massive campaign to get her friend released from illegal detention by the Home Office.

This book has touched a nerve, across all walks of life, but it’s most precise message is for the audience it’s inspiration is drawn from, young creatives with world changing ambitions, so I sincerely hope this has found you. Because deep down I think you know as well as I do the biggest mistake we could both make is assuming that the way things have always been is the way they still have to be.