Of mice and mad men: ruthlessness and sensitivity in the creative department.

April 22, 2008

“I do think we are our own worst enemies. Creatives are a cynical lot. Shadenfreud is real in our ranks, and not just in Chicago but everywhere. A byproduct of competition and creative insecurity, it always will be.”

Those are my words from last week’s blog. That is my hypotheses. How else do we explain the sensitivity and ruthlessness we so regularly see in our industry? Often these defects of character are on display simultaneously. I’d argue, when are they not?

While no one took umbrage at my statement, at the same time I counted numerous unhealthy recriminations about ad people, places and things on other blogs. You know what I’m talking about: Accusations that a certain creative team lied about their work. Vicious innuendo linking a creative director and a TV producer. A fallen CMO and that infamous gift of Effen vodka. And so on…

Coming up in the creative ranks at Leo Burnett my partner(s) and I had to compete with any number of teams looking for the same outcome: the agency’s recommendation. And then it was the client’s turn to debate and decide. This process was and is a brutal tournament. The odds are almost always against you. Even the best of us lose more than we win.

It’s a humbling journey necessarily fraught with politics.

Maybe the creative director has somehow seen his work rise to the top…again…at the expense of your work…again. It’s called cherry picking.

Maybe the client is predisposed to buying junk work and the agency, craving revenue, is obliged to give it to them. The cheesy “B” team is more than happy to provide. The copywriter has his eye on a new bass boat. The art director wants her kids in the British school. They know pleasing the client equals pleasing bonuses. Your brilliant work is left to rot behind the dead plant in your office.

My favorite culprit: the brilliant presenter who gets the nod even though her work is undeserving. Your campaign is superior but Kimmy is a better dancer. I’ve been on both sides of this one.

These are a few of the challenges facing us in the creative department. There are more. The result is the same. The winner makes ads. The losers go back to their cubes and pretend to respect what just happened to them.

Any wonder we are insecure and act accordingly?

No agency is immune. And neither are any of us. Who hasn’t purposefully given poor marks to a competitor’s work on Adcritic? Or made a snarky comment about this person or that ad in the blogosphere?

Resentments build. They keep us awake at night. We fantasize and conspire. We remember (sometimes falsely) how the other team won. We forget how to lose properly. Losing with integrity is one of the greatest lessons of our business. Maybe one day I’ll learn how to do it.

What’s the point of this discussion? Like a lot of you I’m passionate about my job. Like you, I think I’m pretty good at it. One blog snark said I once ran up the hallway shouting, “My words are my pearls!”

I’m not denying it. But this discussion is about the slimy mollusk, a far more likely discovery. What do you, Gentle Reader think about all this? One things for sure: If I don’t get comments on this post I’m sure they’ll turn up on someone else’s.


2 Responses to “Of mice and mad men: ruthlessness and sensitivity in the creative department.”

  1. Schrodinger's Copywriter said

    I may be inexperienced, naive, or just lucky, but going on two agencies and five years in this business i’ve never experienced anything you describe other than some cherry-picking. Though i would call that “paying my dues.”

    95% of the time, the campaigns i see going in front of the client are the best ones, overall. Although one time we did show seriously compromised concepts but that was after literally 15 other campaigns had been shot down in months past.

    What happens to the ideas once they go to the client is a whole different ballgame of course.

  2. SRP said

    You’re lucky but you’re also right. The “ruthless” examples are worst case. What I’m trying to get at is the reason(s) behind creative insecurity and egomania, two phenomenon which often occur within us (creatives) at the same time.

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