April 1, 2013
Last week, a team from my agency was talking with a new client in the technology space. “Onboarding,” if you’ll pardon the trendy expression. While speaking to us about her company’s robust software solutions, she confessed that her company had only adopted some of them and, in fact, in terms of reconciling her own firm’s internal IT had “a long way to go.” Among other things, she pointed to various schisms in the company, suggesting that some of her colleagues were holding on to old ideas –about IT management, transparency and corporate philosophy.
After some nervous laughter, I offered that it was much the same in Adland. We also brag about our robust solutions (boy, do we ever!) but in terms of adopting our own wisdom we, too, have a long way to go. But there is hope! In my own inimitable way I called it the “insane shrink” phenomenon. A shrink may be a total whack job but that doesn’t preclude him or her from helping other whack jobs. No offence to the psychiatric profession but I’m guessing it happens all the time.
Lord knows it’s common in our profession. It’s easy to get cynical. We talk about having an intricate process for helping clients create integrated marketing campaigns but not so deep down we all know its guesswork and hypothesis. For every case study we (or you) have proving out our process (for developing strategy and creative) another one exists that didn’t work at all. Obviously, we don’t talk about those. Moreover, our agency is likely dysfunctional around the corners. We bicker. We politicize decisions. We hold on to old ideas.
But just like our clients, we evangelize our process and tools. Unlike the client above, however, we don’t make hardware or software. We create ideas and campaigns without any possibility of a guarantee. When they fail we are removed from our duties. When they succeed we are hopefully not removed from our duties. Such is life in Adland.
However, I’m not being cynical when I call what we do “mythmaking” or “propaganda.” Creating an aspirational myth for our above client’s suite of software is the job. By her own admission her brief is aspirational as well. It’s about tomorrow not today. And I know damn well we can help.
I also think it madness to think our method is infallible.
An off kilter comparison but sick people are often the most capable of providing aid to others in need. Look at any 12-step program. Dysfunction exists. We have it in spades. But as I live and breathe so does every other group of people on earth. Trying to align groups –be it via manifesto or merely an ad campaign- takes counseling. Of course clients want guarantees. Unable to provide that we offer assurances. We provide methodology. Then, if the Gods of Advertising are willing, the magic happens.
The other day we were preparing for a new client presentation and one of my colleagues suggested we abandon the PowerPoint format we were working on and go with something more organic and less formal, to “stimulate conversation” and “meeting flow.” He thought maybe just a handful of title cards. Someone suggested Prezi. This is not the first time I’ve heard such remarks. Frankly, I hear them all the time. Hating on PowerPoint is commonplace in Adland. We are in the image business and God forbid we come across as process driven or, worse yet, old fashioned.
Being a creative, you’d think I would have wholeheartedly agreed with my colleague. After all, nothing symbolizes corporation and process like rusty, old PowerPoint.
I did not.
I softly suggested that this particular client (and perhaps quite a few others) might actually prefer PPT versus something more organic, artsy or minimalistic. We deal with technology companies. Many are engineers cum marketers. They are comfortable with linear process. They appreciate eye charts. They might actually like PowerPoint. Frankly, most clients are MBA’s. They are left brain thinkers and they might want a beacon to guide them.
Either side. Either way. Used properly and with prudence PPT does the job exceedingly well. Besides, if our content is good, no one will deduct points from us for using it. I wonder if hating on PPT is based on insecurities deeper than a screen? Maybe some of us wonder if our process and methods are old fashioned and thus take it out on the presentation format.
Furthermore, I submit, choosing the new, new thing over PPT (presumably to come off as hip or modern) is a bit like chasing fool’s gold. The latest presentation tool might be attractive but it could also be a glitch-filled nightmare. I recall being trapped by a Prezi that had a mind of its own. The motion graphics took over rendering us powerless to stop it. Not good.
Finally, I also wonder if most people secretly appreciate having something to look at in front of the room. Being an audience is easy. Engaging in meaningful business conversation is not. For one thing, who’s leading the meeting? Get a few Type A’s in the room and control goes to the Alpha. Even more common is the likelihood of someone getting off point. Tangents are great at a dinner party. Less so when you have a hard stop in an hour.
In general, PowerPoint gets a bad rap. It is like a clock face. Old fashioned, sure. Yet utterly and completely functional.
October 6, 2010
I’m sorry, folks but I need to go on a rant. Worse, it’s a vaguely political rant. Worse yet, it’s right winged! So bear with me and please DO let me know what you think.
Without going into specifics, I attend a meeting after work that has one primary purpose: helping afflicted people find a solution to a vexing and dangerous problem in their lives. It’s a good thing and I’m proud and privileged to be a member. So much so, I volunteered to be a part of the group’s governance; it’s secretary to be exact. This job requires I take meeting notes, update the phone list and other housekeeping tasks. Fine. I’m happy to do it. Service work is good for the soul. For me it’s necessary.
But then it got weird. At last week’s business meeting we bogged down in our own bureaucracy. One member wanted detailed records from previous meetings. Why? I don’t know. Not much had happened but he said it was “important that we maintain good governance.” Another member wanted one of us to call every single name on the meeting list to codify it. That’s a big homework assignment. I’m thinking why not just pass a pen and paper next meeting and get a short list of current members? “Not acceptable,” replied a meeting journeyman. “We have a process.” Yes we do. Unfortunately.
Needless to say, as secretary for this meeting I began to feel guilty for not doing my job. And something else: I got pissed off. It’s a neighborhood meeting for Christ’s sake. What the hell do we need all this government for? We collect a few bucks. We pay rent. We show up. In my view having precise and meticulous records has nothing to do with helping the sick people who come in. Frankly, it gets in the way. It makes helping feel like a tax instead of a blessing.
And thus I realized the part of me that is and always will be (gasp!) a Republican. In general, I don’t like big government because it consumes time and resources. Specifically, I don’t like big government because it hides its unctuous righteousness behind a screen of altruism: We “care” therefore we’re right. But not once during our 45-minute business meeting did anyone talk about how we were going to improve care to those in need. Instead it was all about finding busywork for an overabundance of dubious jobs.
After all that, I come home to a letter from the IRS requesting documentation on some aspect of my 2008 tax return. Argh! I wonder what bureaucrat was fulfilling his or her quota by sending me this intimidating letter. I pay my considerable taxes promptly and with precious few deductions. Now some drone in sector G wants more…
A lot of people might generalize that creative folks are democratic because they’re more soulful and artsy. Lord knows Democrats are friendlier to the arts than their Republican counterparts. Maybe so, but the creative process itself favors a more solitary existence. Less is more. One artist creates novels and paintings not several. Likewise ads made by committee are bound to mediocrity.
I don’t know where this is going. It’s a rant, right? Yet, with a number of big elections in November, I just might be annoyed enough to vote against type…against candidates who mistake process for progress.
September 17, 2010
It’s 4 PM on Friday. I’m in my office immersed in a project for one of our clients. I was about to write it’s an important assignment but aren’t they all? What’s cool about this particular brief –for me anyway- is how much of a pure-play creative assignment it is: new line, new mantra, TV, print, web, experiential. And it’s for a well-known and beloved product.
No, I can’t tell you what it is. Sorry… you know it’s not my M.O. to be a tease. But you probably also know that non-disclosure agreements permeate our industry.
Besides, the subject of the brief is not the topic I want to write about. Hell, I’ve been doing that all week! It’s the sheer joy of writing and creating that I want to discuss. Working on this brief has given me some of the highest highs I’ve had in some time. That’s because, in addition to being creative director, I chose to put on my copywriter’s hat.
Boys and girls, nothing feels as good as coming up with ideas and fleshing them out. Fumbling in the dark for the light switch in the middle of the night so I can write down a headline. Holing up in my office to odd hours writing and rewriting and writing some more. Building a wall of scrap art, copy nuggets and ad-like objects. These things and more have all been my life the last week. I didn’t know how much I missed it. Gods of Advertising, Sweet by Design and The Rogue’s Gallery regularly feed my writing jones but there’s something unique to blank page copy writing. It’s exhilarating…
And, obviously, it’s also what I’ve been doing in lieu of writing a post!
I’m not sure if “pleased” is the right word but I share with others a relief of sorts knowing that I’m not the only introvert making a living in the creative ranks of Adland. Since my last post on the subject, a fair number of readers commented or emailed me directly stating that they too are introverts and that it has periodically caused them a fair amount of pain. But mostly they were just relieved to be acknowledged and, in turn, respected.
I’ve been an introvert trying to come off as an extrovert for most of my life. Perhaps this is the source of my internal conflict. Even in the company of my closest friends, sometimes my own head is a more comfortable place to be. Mine, too, can be a bad neighborhood at times. After all, it’s where the selfish and resentful things are. But it’s also where I find most of my inspiration. Like Luke seeking Vader in the dark corners of his mind, I face the demons, learn and emerge stronger in my resolve. As a creative, this is invaluable. Nothing, for me, is scarier than the blank canvas. And no amount of socializing will paint the picture. I have to go “upstairs”. Alone. Shut the door and create.
I can relate, Chad, especially with your last sentence: “I have to go upstairs. Alone. Shut the door and create.”
For years now the talk in our business has been about integration, unification and collaboration. Brought about by new media, we (not just ad people, all people) are connected in ways before unimaginable. Naturally, it was required the creative process follow suit. And so we are. Working in confluence with others, adding digital and new media specialists into our midst, building off each others ideas; these are becoming standard practices at agencies all over the world. At the Hyper Island Master Class (digital training for advertising professionals), we are told that even the writer/art-director dyad is obsolete. Two people are no longer sufficient for creating robust integrated marketing concepts. Hmmm.
These changes are almost certainly for the better but there is a wrinkle: the creative process is, and in certain respects always will be, a solitary one. Individuals conceive the vast majority of all artwork, be it books, paintings, essays, poetry, sculpture, plays, etc. Obviously, producing music, films and other forms requires collaboration but chances are the essence of the product belongs to one creator. And chances are that person was or is an introvert.
Introverted or extroverted, creating concepts has a deeply personal component that cannot be ignored. Even traditional teams worked apart and then “presented” ideas to their partner. As a copywriter I value privacy to “shut the door and create.” As a creative director I must respect the same desires from all who work for me.
One of my favorite pieces of Leo Burnett lore is the famous ad man’s salute to the “lonely man…the man at his typewriter or his drawing board or behind his camera or just scribbling notes with one of our big black pencils – or working all night on a media plan.” Darn near admonishing his troops, Leo tells them if and when “you lose your respect for the lonely man…THAT, boys and girls, is when I shall insist you take my name off the door.” ‘Nuff said.
For those interested, here is the transcript of Mr. Burnett’s speech, from 1967.