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Recently, I read an essay from an anonymous copywriter that struck a chord. I did not save the link (my bad) but the gist of his/her argument was that within marketing services companies far too many big talkers are achieving way more success than they deserve and, moreover, they are effectively degrading the profession (even more so). The author observed how smooth talking, jargon-dropping, critical thinkers have become so prevalent and dominant in our industry that we’ve become a business of talkers not doers, endlessly revising briefs and tweaking PPT’s instead of producing actual work. We are making many meetings but few campaigns. This, of course, suits the talkers who, by endlessly analyzing and criticizing, continue to bake in more process.

Are we having fun yet?

It goes without saying that these machinations are antithetical to the flow of any decent agency and the creative department in particular. Yet, before we go off and blame the strategists for all this hot air, it’s only fair to point out slick talkers and their myriad sins have plagued Adland since before the Mad Men era. Then, it was the evil account guy. Only interested in pleasing clients, he made lives miserable for countless sensitive creatives. “It ain’t right yet. We need another round.”

That said, at least back then agencies produced work. And lots of it. So much so there were actual production departments. Now many agencies don’t even have a producer on payroll, let alone a department, opting instead to bring in the occasional freelancer for the role or, more typically, relegating the job to hardscrabble project managers. So much is hypothetical. Recycling stock. Fodder.

According to Anonymous it is indeed “strategy gone wild.” The pandemic of verbal diarrhea is especially acute in the technology and B2B arenas, where strategists often define the marketing department. As new platforms and complicated algorithms take over Adland, the talking will only get louder.

Sadly, it seems many clients would rather pay for barbless strategery versus actually fishing. And so we keep tying and retying flies. Red feather. Yellow feather. No feathers. Two. Maybe try spinning gear? For Christ’s sake put a line in the water! This vicious cycle hurts everyone caught in its sucking funnel. Except for the big talkers. Under guise of “getting it right” they have become manifest, perpetuating their self-made roles as agency gatekeepers.

This piece originally ran week prior in Reel Chicago I am available for writing projects 

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“I don’t know.” It’s a simple comment and usually the truth, yet we don’t like admitting it and when we do it’s often a last resort. God forbid we actually don’t know something!

By now you’ve seen the video of Herman Cain trying to fake his way through a question about Libya. Afraid of appearing ignorant he ends up looking like an idiot. He should have said, ‘I can’t answer that right now.’ Or, ‘I’ll get back to you.’ Or, simply, ‘I don’t know.’ At minimum, he chould have asked the reporter to be more specific. Eventually he does push the reporter…sort of…but the damage was done.

Before most Q & A’s politicians are given talking points to myriad issues (irritating in their own right) but often those are still not enough. Sometimes they just don’t know. But instead of saying so they feign knowledge, hoping to muddle through. It’s not just politicians who bullshit their way through answers; it’s all of us. Why are we so afraid of saying we don’t know something when, in fact, we don’t?

We in Adland are no exception. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in client meetings and listened to colleagues’ bullshit their way through a specific question. It’s painful to watch. Especially when the person won’t shut the hell up. He or she keeps digging and digging. The hole grows. Sometimes we all fall in. By the end of the meeting there is often a vague stench in the air, of bullshit. No wonder we are labeled talk artists and confidence men.

Is there a latent gene in people, especially (and ironically) in the smart ones, to constantly have an answer? The answer. Why do we process every interrogative as if it’s a college essay question, whereby saying “I don’t know” is unacceptable? Not knowing something is acceptable and reasonable. We are not gods. Yet, we are hell bent on making a statement, especially in groups. Eagerly, we often jump on questions clamoring to answer them. Frankly, it’s rude. I’d like to think I’ve outgrown my fear of ignorance but it can rear its ugly head at anytime. Why? I don’t know.