The Creative Athlete winning at any age.

March 31, 2008

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Last week my piece on ageism created a small furor in Ad Land. It was not unexpected. I knew the topic was radioactive and, therefore, the perfect subject for Gods of Advertising. When Talent Zoo picked up the story the message boards lit up.

Fact. We are all going to die. And before that we will get old. What’s contentious for many is the idea that getting old precludes getting ahead in advertising.

I wrote that I fight the ageing process, in part, because I don’t want to “lose” my job. I’d like to amend that comment: I fight the aging process because I “love” my job. Maybe love is the better “L” word; it removes the unhealthy fear from our discourse. Fear is a cancer in any creative department.

Let me introduce a phrase I’ve had in my head for years but seldom articulate at work. It is not a part of our agency’s credentials or rhetoric. But maybe it should be.

I give you the “Creative Athlete.” A bit of an eye-roller, I know. But before the haters crawl out from under their Macs, here me out…

The Creative Athlete gets her best ideas not in the shower but in the gym. She likens nailing a tag line to hitting a three-pointer. The Creative Athlete wants to score points. She is part of a team that plays to win. She gets off on winning. And the quickest way for the Creative Athlete to become successful is by helping her clients become successful. She is excited by ideas that sell. They are plays that work.

Do we not regularly compete for business? It’s called a “pitch” for a reason. These are tournaments. Each agency fields a “team” and goes up against their competitive set. Recall the storied rivalry of DDB and Leo Burnett. A true cross-town classic. More recent has been the domination of CP&B. Are they not like a Florida farm team that came out of nowhere, stunning the pride of New York and schooling the best in the west?

And what about “underdogs” and “dark horses?” My agency was one. When we got here, the local press called Euro RSCG Chicago a corpse. Now not so much. The boo-birds gave us fire, something to prove. We came back from extinction by competing and losing and eventually winning -first in the minor leagues (with small projects) and then in the bigs, adding Anheuser Busch, Barton Brands, Circuit City, and Valspar to our roster.

I like to ask prospective clients to imagine their brands as football teams. Are you the Fighting Irish or Fresno State? What are your colors? What is your mascot? Do you even have one? Questions like that. As creative partners we can help them field a better team. By improving their jerseys, giving them a fight song, creating a fan base. When we kick off a new campaign the game begins. By the 4th quarter we better have results.

As I said in the previous post, I’m a big believer in the axiom: ‘Use it or lose it.’ Working out our creative muscles is key to staying healthy. A writer writes. Books, scripts, poems, blogs. Not just copy. I also recommend every copywriter read as much as she can, and not just copy. Books, scripts, poems, blogs. Take part in your culture’s conversation. It never stops. And neither should you. Art directors pick up a paintbrush or camera. And you’d better know your way around photo shop.

Sports metaphors are nothing new. But keeping the head and body in shape in order to excel in the ad game is. It’s a youthful approach to our business that diffuses political correctness, allowing talent to shine no matter its color or sex. But creative athleticism is no panacea for age. Quite the contrary. After years in our “league” the creative person either becomes coach or manager or is cut.

Wins. Losses. Ads sold. Awards. The Creative Athlete has nowhere to hide if he’s under-performing. Of course, as in sports, a lot of over-rated managers keep landing jobs no matter their records…another reason for aspiring to management.

Spring is in the air. Is it in your step? Play ball!

 

 

3 Responses to “The Creative Athlete winning at any age.”

  1. Stephan, Great article.Dead on!

    You may or may not remember me. I worked on Kellogg’s at Burnett
    ( Mara Fizdales’s Group). After 7 incredible years there I was recruited to Grey Worldwide where I became a GCD, heading up creative with my partner Rob Baiocco on 6 flags, Crown Royal, and Starburst.

    Great article.Dead on! Use it or lose it! An object at rest tends to stay at rest an object in motion tends to stay in motion. It’s why professional athletes practice.

    While many of my peers are waxing poetic about the good old days, at 47 (the new 27) I’m still living them.

    Stay strong, keep working out.

  2. Stephan, Great article. Dead on!

    You may or may not remember me. I worked on Kellogg’s at Burnett
    ( Mara Fizdales’s Group ). After 7 incredible years there I was recruited to Grey Worldwide where I became a GCD, heading up creative with my partner Rob Baiocco on 6 flags, Crown Royal, and Starburst.

    Great article. Dead on! Use it or lose it! An object at rest tends to stay at rest. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. It’s why professional athletes practice.

    While many of my peers are waxing poetic about the good old days, at 47 (the new 27) I’m still living them.

    Stay strong, keep working out.

  3. I agree. Age is in the mind. Like you say, you can shrivel up or continue grow wiser! Look at Sal DeVito…Lee Clow…and tons of others of the last generation.

    But I would even take it one step further. I think AD s should be writing and writers should be painting. In the strongest teams, there is no dividing line. If you both do everything well, there is never a weak link. You always deliver.

    And, especially in spots and new media, the lines blur more and more. You’d better do both really well to stay fresh.

    And, when you are freelance like me, you’d better be ready to write if you get paired with a less than ideal writer talent. You never know. There are plenty of them out there hiding behind other peoples’ work. And since when can’t an AD come up with spots?

    Meanwhile, I’ve sat in innumerable meetings with young creatives proudly presenting campaigns that ran 20 years ago as if they were the newest, most cutting edge idea in the room. If they are only surrounded by their peers, there’s no one to tell them it’s been done.

    I honestly think the stereotype is perpetuated by big agencies to justify keeping their payroll down. It certainly doesn’t help their clients get the strongest spectrum of work.

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