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I can’t see the logo…

We were previewing numerous campaign ideas today, tacked up in the wall, comprising the usual bits: potential tag lines, assorted copy, found images and various “ad-like objects.” Being the first internal round of discussion the work was still quite primitive. This meant the usual caveats had to be given to those seeing the work for the very first time: it’s not ready yet… it’s not right yet… etc. God forbid anyone judge our earliest efforts as finished products. Alas, God has little interest in creative presentations. Regardless of set up, someone invariably criticizes ad like objects as if they were completed ads.

Inevitable as it is painful.

A while back I prefaced a creative presentation by telling my audience that the work was in its first trimester, barely more than a nucleus of an idea. I figured someone viewing an early sonogram wasn’t going to comment on how handsome or ugly it was. At this time we should only be concerned about the embryo’s validity. Is it legitimate? Is it growing properly?

The second view of a sonogram is when we see the child for what it will become, it’s vital organs, the sex, and perhaps certain features. The same applies for the second round of creative. This is when we can see if there are any abnormalities that require serious intervention or, forgive my frankness, termination.

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But does it have legs?

If we are fortunate enough to have a third internal viewing, this is where our babies better be in good shape and ready for delivery. Like prepping a child’s room, now is when we begin building the presentation in earnest. More pain. Preparing the “deliverables” is always stressful for the expecting.

Finally, The delivery day is upon us! Hopefully, the client (our adoptive parents) adores the baby as much as we do. Yet, even then we caveat our creation. Or worse manufacture a Frankenstein right before their eyes.

Still, it beats digging ditches.

For the delivery of excellent copy and ad like objects, I’m your daddy: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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“Does anyone remember laughter?” For some reason, Robert Plant ad-libbed the question during Led Zeppelin’s classic rock anthem, Stairway to Heaven. It’s a wincing sort of line, now relegated to music trivia.

I was reminded of Plant’s exhortation, however, during a recent creative presentation to a client. Bit of set up. On WebEx, our audience was an unseen entity. This is seldom a good thing, like talking to a brick wall. Still, my team had done an exemplary job creating and executing campaigns and I had high confidence going in. After the preamble from the account person I launched the artillery. Sometimes it takes me a minute or two to get my mojo but once I’m rolling it’s like dealing cards. Ace. Ace. King. Boom! God, I love that feeling.

When I completed the volley I looked at my colleagues, valuing their reactions in lieu of clients I could not see. (This always makes me feel the way a dog must after doing tricks for his master.) Thankfully, my team nodded in the affirmative. Good boy, Steffan!

But from the dreaded Polycom: Silence.

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Nervously, the account person asked if everyone on the line was still with us. After an interminable silence: “Yes… proceed.”

Okayyyy. I guess that’s a positive reaction. Beats “we’ve heard enough.” And yet, like any creator showing his wares I crave so much more. But like any professional you soldier on. Surely, the next campaign will get a reaction. When the client sees those blessed ad like objects then…

Then they will provide some muted feedback and get back to us. Which is more or less what happened. Which is more or less what always happens. In fact, one of the clients had actually dropped off the call at some unknown point during my presentation.

Sigh.

I ask you: Should not seeing creative be the most exciting part of any marketer’s day? Isn’t that the good part? It is for me, at least I want it to be. Desperately.

Alas, client expectations breed fear and anxiety. Even the most enthusiastic agency executives have built a tolerance for it. Perhaps naively, the best of us hope for the best. But a muted or concern-filled reaction is frankly the norm. Even the greatest ideas are met with frowns or, if we’re lucky, polite consideration. We all know how Chiat Day’s “1984” commercial for Apple was at first poorly received. We all know Van Gogh died poor and insane.

What a freaking shame. I think what we do is magical and fun… That is until I’m brought down to muddy earth by frowns and polite consideration. I guess I am a fool. For I always think next time will be different. Does anyone remember laughter?

For those keeping score, I’m sorry for the delay in posting. I had something prepared but our head of PR asked that I delay putting it out there until certain permissions were granted. My inner child wanted to rebel but respect for my partner’s counsel won out. Discretion was, in this case, the better part of valor. Look for the questionable post soon enough.

Speaking of my inner child, I spent the evening at my children’s school, meeting their teachers, discussing the upcoming year. During this visit, I became aware of how “creative” so much of my girl’s curriculum really is. Colette’s science teacher explained how “experimenting and taking chances” shapes her powers of intuition. Lily’s drama teacher rhapsodized about “connecting to the inner fantastic.” She used the word “connecting” over and over again. “At this age,” she said, “the creative gene is ready to explode!”

I couldn’t help but think of all the “connecting” strategies I’ve puzzled over as a copywriter and creative director. “Connecting people” is the default strategy for all telecommunications, personal technology, and, frankly, just about everything people use in their waking lives. Connecting folks is Coca Cola’s uber-strategy. “I’d like to buy the world a coke.”

Even more interesting was this business about creativity “exploding.” I believe the teacher was saying that our creative muse is born in these opening years of life. That stimulated and nurtured, we begin to understand and respect our intuitions. Kindergarten is a creative department. Experimenting with ideas on the stage, colors on paper, sounds in music class…Christ, that’s what I do!

Or that’s what I prefer doing. Much of my day, however, is spent lawyering on behalf of ideas. Defending them. Subjecting them to all manner of worries and concerns, making them more appropriate, more coherent, more on strategy. It’s inevitable. It’s my job. But it’s also like killing the butterfly in order to appreciate it.

The older I get the more I realize how important it is to stay “connected” to my “inner child.” The best creative people do not grow out of it when they grow up. We remain inquisitive like children. Lovers of fun. You see it in our bicycles in the hallway. Our dubious wardrobes. Our playlists. Our flirty snapshots on Facebook. Alas, you also see it in meetings, where we become pouting and defensive, wilting under criticism, frustrated by the grown-ups ruining our fun. I know we can be insufferable. Imposing MBA logic in Romper Room is bound to create problems.

But our muses shan’t be stymied. The ability to ideate, to find that “inner fantastic” is necessarily petulant. Regrettable, then, is marketing’s obsession with guaranteeing results…or else! Research. Testing. Groups. I say Bleh! Intuition, if cultivated and nurtured, is the most important tool in kindergarten and, in my opinion, the creative department. The old saw is wrong -our ideas are not children. We are.