“With great passion comes great responsibility.”

Recently, I was asked about my creative philosophy. Namely, do I have one? Seems like a reasonable question. Seems like something an Executive Creative Director ought to have.

Well, I’ve had many. Which, if you think about it, is as it should be. As creative professionals, we must remain open-minded and forever teachable. For us, one-way streets are typically dead ends.

Look at the term, “creative professional.” It’s almost an oxymoron, isn’t it? There’s tension there. The right brain (creativity) and the left brain (professional). But that’s the gig. That’s what we do. Therefore, any philosophy we have must strike a balance between passion and responsibility. Said another way, we are both craftsmen and salesmen. We’ve gotta do both.

Both ends burning…

Your exact philosophy will be a function of percentages. I’d say my current philosophy is 60% passion to 40% responsibility. Those numbers change over time. Back in the day, I’m sure my split was more like 80/20. But then I started facing clients. I had to mitigate my obsession with winning awards and other personal achievements. I had to compromise. I had to listen. I became responsible-ish.

It is important to note that while passion is the fun part -and closer to what people think about when they think about creativity- it is often destructive in too large a dose. Without empathy for the business, even the most brilliant creative person will be stifled… often by his own hubris. Obviously, I don’t need to discuss the unduly “responsible” creative. They are hacks. To me, mortgaging one’s passion to the hilt is both sad and unmanageable.

While percentages vary, I’m a big believer in “responsible passion.”

In my next post, I’m going to talk about staying creatively fit and remaining relevant, which, in my view, is a critical precursor to any creative philosophy.

“I will protect the creative with my life!”

We’ve been very busy at the agency, developing campaigns for a diverse and interesting array of fabulous clients. (Dear clients, note I said “fabulous” and that I lead with it.) That said, our ideas are now being “socialized,” a lengthy and treacherous path in which all work must pass. Few make it. We will do everything in our power to see that ours do…

In Adland, guiding a truly great idea through to completion is not unlike facing the many hardships Sinbad endured during his seventh treachery-laden voyage in 1958. (Not really, but humor me.) In that quintessential B-movie, the legendary special effects genius, Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013) pitted the seafaring swashbuckler against an armada of spectacular pre-CGI creatures that not only took Sinbad to the brink but also changed Hollywood forever.

But I digress.

My point is that it’s soooo difficult producing excellent work in a business built by process and mired in fear. Whether it’s a quick and certain death by the brutish Cyclops or killing by a thousand cuts from the many-armed Serpent Queen, getting our best work in market (unmolested) is, alas, damn near impossible. It can be done, obviously. But you can only lead the horse to water.

“I will defeat your idea!”

Notice I wrote “produce” and not “create.” Contrary to popular hater belief, I don’t think most agencies are shit when it comes to creating excellent work. I’ve been doing this a long time and worked in just enough places to know that the ‘most agencies suck’ criticism just isn’t true. Most of us know what we are doing and generally get it up creatively for every brief.

I see spectacular work all the time. Hell, sometimes I even create it myself. But hard as that is, that is the easy part. Because for every hundred truly special campaigns generated inside a given agency perhaps five make it into the culture; and of those five only one gets out with all its feathers intact.

Experience the journey in terrifying Dynarama! See…

The vulnerable idea face its first hurdle of potential despair: The slew of the Internal. Hopefully, the idea’s champion (it’s Sinbad!) can protect it. For while the internal meeting starts with best intentions it may quickly devolve into chaos. (Fortunately, that never happens at your agency.)

And then, if we are lucky, the idea sails on to the client. Sinbad or not, these rocky shores have claimed many an agency’s idea. For it is here the Beasts of Doubt are unleashed. Up the organization it goes, suffering withering scrutiny. The Medusa of Research can and does turn our ideas into stone. That or something unrecognizable: a creature that is neither fish nor fowl. Pig Man!

The many daggers of research!

During the lengthy ordeal a new King or Queen of Marketing may take the throne. Happens all the time. This ruler often has other ideas. Back you go! If an idea moves forward slashed budgets may take their toll, rendering your concept ill equipped to take on its daunting task of myth making and persuading certain masses.

In the end it is usually time that defeats an idea. Even Sinbad cannot battle time. A few months into the process of creating/selling/producing an idea and folks begin to second-guess it. If it was so good, comes the question, then why is it taking so goddam long to make?

“By the Gods, will this ever end?”

So, here’s to the one in a hundred. The great idea that somehow grows stronger as it moves through its voyage. The concept that won’t die no matter what anyone throws at it. The great irony is these precious ideas are so rare they don’t even need a Sinbad to protect them. For they are legendary.

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad

We’re all a little batty…

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.

Sound familiar?

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.

Hell’s clicker…

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.

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.


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