Navigate / search

Top 3 Tweets from the Crowd at Inbound Marketing 2015. And the winner is….

This is the runner-up. The 2nd best tweet, the silver award-winner, from the audience of nearly 500 at my presentation to today’s Inbound Marketing 2015.

Screenshot 2015-06-22 18.15.28

“He looks and sounds just like Larry David.”

The panel of judges – me, Luke, plus one other guy, the speaker, I think – told me after the show, this tweet is great because it’s true and truth was one of the tentpoles of my presentation: “What is the truest thing you can say about this brand, product, or category?”

The reason it didn’t win #1? Clients (me, in this case) don’t really want to hear the truest thing about themselves. They want to hear about how they’re perfect. I woulda loved a tweet like, “Looks and sounds like JFK Jr.” Okay, so this next tweet is the third runner-up

“‘Pain-in-the-ass fruits like mangos,’ probably my favorite quote of the day.” The reason this tweet took bronze is the writer liked something the client said. And since I’m the client, of course I think this is brill. Very astute observation by Mr. Rees. I love that line, too. And now, the winning tweet.

“Tension, conflict, energy, not only is @heywhipple talking about it, he is exuding it.”

The judges told me after the show this one rung the bell. Why? Because clients love it when you show their picture. To quote David Ogilvy’s poem about brown-nosing:

“When the client moans and sighs,
Make his logo twice the size.
If he still should prove refractory
Show a picture of the factory.
Only in gravest cases
Should you show the clients’ faces”

Congratulations, Mr. Kevin Mullet. You had the right mix of truth and making nice-nice to the client. Well played, sir. Well played. Send me your mailing address and I’ll pack off a signed copy of Whipple post haste.

Here’s the most important thing I try to teach my ad students.

I’ve been the chair of the ad department here at SCAD for just over three years now, and I’m all totes cray about teaching. (Totes cray – see how hip you get hangin’ with the college crowd?)

Over these last few years I’ve had the privilege of leading a million in-class critiques. And in all that time, there’s one piece of advice I found myself giving more than any other.

“Your idea isn’t fast enough.”

Here’s the thing: The customer has to get what you’re saying instantly, or close to it.  For my money, a quick-get — the Speed of the Get — is the first and the most important thing an idea needs to have. A quick-get matters more than even the creativity of the piece. (I know, heresy.)

For my money, the official order of importance goes

1.) Speed of the Get

2.) Believability

3.) Creativity.

Well, perhaps one could quibble,  “Oh yeah, but if it’s not creative first, then why would readers even look at your stupid idea anyway?” There are probably many erudite rebuttals to this, but mine is just shut up, it’s my blog.

I liken the Speed of the Get to the length of a fuse on a stick of dynamite. You don’t want the fuse to be too short or too long. If the fuse is too short, it probably means your idea is too simple or too stripped-down. It may read quickly but it’ll have little effect on the viewer. Sort of like a STOP sign; obviously an instant read but not something I’m likely to post on Facebook.

Few students however err on the side of too-short fuses. In an effort to create an intriguing idea that requires a little bit of the viewer – which is a good thing – students tend to encode their ideas. But if understanding the idea takes one or two beats longer than it should, FAIL. Because nobody has time to wait around for an idea to go off.  The fuse burns, camera follows it around the corner, everybody loses interest, a minute later somebody hears a distant… pop …  says, “Wait, did you hear somethin’?”

Now that I’ve finally plowed my analogy deep into the ground, I think I’ll spade dirt over it by providing free-of-charge the handy image you see below.

Peace out. (Like I said, I’m very hip now, what with these whacky college kids.)

Screenshot 2015-06-06 09.00.30

A List of Fave Sites for Creative Inspiration.

psychedelics

The other day I asked the tweetverse and my FB Friends, “Please send me links to your favorite sites, the ones you go to for inspiration.” Thanks to all of you who wrote. And below I include the ones most people mentioned.  My faves are marked with asterisks. The first nine are the new ones. Below that are my other faves, from a list I created last year.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

*** theinspiration.com Like it says, this site is for inspiration. Super clean layout with tabs to Advertising, Art, Movies, etc.

*** metalpotential.tumblr.com Perfect for ad junkies. Best advertising out there and curated by Rob Schwartz, CEO TBWA\Chiat\Day New York.

* fromupnorth.com A design blog a bit like theinspiration.com but I always go to GALLERIES and click ADVERTISING. Like the stuff they pick and how they display it on page.

psfk.com  Nice blog with articles taking the pulse of culture, web technology, design and trend development. The psfk name? The initials of the two founders. (I asked.)

thisiscolossal.com Very visual blog that exploring art and visual culture. Ranked by Technorati as one of the top 50 blogs on the web.

visualnews.com  Kinda like thisiscolossal.com. FROM THEIR ABOUT: “Visual content, clean and simple, that gives more meaning to the life you live… the quiet corner booth in a crowded diner and a slice of cherry pie. Take a seat.”

springwise.com Cool site that gathers the latest innovation, start-up and new business ideas from around the world.

hoverstat.es Hover States is a collection of what’s new and interesting in user interface and interaction design. Curated by Animade, a London-based animation and interactive production company.

Vimeo staff picks  Suggested by my student, Stefani G. She says careful, it’s addicting.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

** Brainpickings — Super smart site created by ex-planner from Chiat/Day.  Maria Popova  “I’m a reader, writer, interestingness hunter-gatherer, and curious mind at large.”

** Mashable is required daily viewing of all ad students. “The leading source of new, information, and resources for the Connected Generation.”

* * Creativity Unbound: Insights and Observations on the Current State of Advertising. Required reading from my friend social/digital expert Edward Boches. (And soon to be guest-author of Hey Whipple.)

** Art, Copy & Code — created and curated by Google, features really cool advertising ideas all tech-enabled.

** Really nice collection of recent ad campaigns, spots, sites. Easy to use.  http://www.welovead.com/en/

** AdFreak (from AdWeek) is the best site for keeping up with the current ad world, the agencies, and the bigger campaigns.

* Meaningful Content – Really cool site of all the interesting stuff out there, and you can search through it using tags like “jaw-dropping,” “informative,” “beautiful.”  Very cool.

* Buzzfeed – super fun site about popular culture.

http://www.buzzfeed.com

* Really nice collection of advertising/marketing ideas in form of short case study videos.

http://www.worldsbestcasestudies.com/

* Ads Of The World: Great site to see the latest greatest work out there.

adsoftheworld.com

* Suzanne Pope is a super-smart Canadian ad person and I love her site.

adteachings.com

* The Webby Awards — A must-read for all ad students.

http://www.webbyawards.com

My Top 5 Faves from CA’s Interactive Annual.

I love advertising competitions because they feature work I might not’ve seen but for the shows. The new Communication Arts Interactive Annual 21 just came out and I have done my readers the courtesy of picking out the top five projects featured in the magazine. There is no charge for this service.

This first one reminds me of that great saying they use at RG/A; “Make sure what you’re working on is either beautiful, useful, or entertaining.”

Screenshot 2015-04-18 19.52.34

Well, this first one is beautiful and — if you were thinking of travelling to Maine — also useful. “The Maine Thing Quarterly” site is beautifully art directed and flows along so sweetly I suddenly find myself 20 clicks into it and going deeper. Still, it doesn’t beat my all-time favorite piece for Maine tourism, a bumper sticker that read: “Ah-yuh. Been To Maine.”

Screenshot 2015-04-18 18.32.52

Google Labs had several things in the show. This first one is called “DevArt” and it’s a collection of cool artsy stuff people have made with code. For example, in the “Giant Map” idea, kids can stop through Gotham like they’re Godzilla. Here you can see cool stuff made out of different APIs like flickr, Instagram, tumblr, Twitter, Google Maps. As I tell my students, “Don’t make stuff for the internet. Make stuff out of the internet.”

A similar Google project called “Made With Code” was also featured in CA’s Interactive Annual; similar, but different. Made With Code is all about reaching out to girls to show ‘em how learning to code can help them build the next world and then rule it. Also, it doesn’t hurt that grads who can code start their careers at around $60k; that’s almost $15k more than most grads pull in their first year out there.

images

Also featured in this year’s annual was an app called the John Lennon Bermuda Tapes. It’s available on iTunes and if you’re a Beatles fan, dude, go get it. It’s an interactive app that tells the story of Lennon’s life-changing journey sailing through a mid-Atlantic storm in June 1980. The “interactivity,” while fun, is mostly silly stuff and isn’t technically interesting, but that’s okay — you can hear demos he made for Double Fantasy. Way cool.

coke-zero-sweater-hed-2013

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola has quietly turned into one of the best clients out there and their latest collaboration with Droga5 is also featured in the annual — the Coke Zero Sweater Generator. Me, I’m still partial to what they did for Coke Zero on Mother’s Day.

Those are my favorite top things from the new CA Interactive Annual. Again, there is no charge for this service. You’re welcome.

Your Site VS Your Book.

Your substitute teacher today is Mr. Carroll.
Your substitute teacher today is Mr. Carroll.

Good morning, scribblers. Your substitute teacher this morning is Mr. Carroll again. You remember Mr. Carroll, a CD at Austin’s GSD&M. He’s here to teach us how to get jobs so please give him your full attention.

YOUR SITE VS YOUR BOOK

Yes, there is a difference between the two.

1.) Your site is the thing I look at on my mobile phone when I’m in a meeting, pretending to listen to account people. Your site gives me a sense of who you are as a human being, your creative sensibilities and, of course, your best work.

2.) Your book, on the other hand, is the thing you talk through when we meet in person. Unlike your site, in your book you can show, say, the detailed version of your integrated-digital-social-mobile-experiential-AR-and location-aware campaign for pet food.

I’m not suggesting you have different work on your site and your book; only that you package and display the work differently to best capture the attention of the most ADD people on the planet: CD’s like me. (True story: I checked my email five times before finishing writing that last sentence.)

Let’s start with the site and some tactical considerations.

3.) Make sure your site is responsive. (If you don’t know what responsive is, find out.) Make sure your site works beautifully on mobile. It may be frustrating to hear, but nearly everything I do is on my mobile – including looking at your work. And I’m not alone. My phone is the one thing I always have on me. So if you email me a link to your site, there’s a good chance I’m checking it out on my iPhone. Same thing if our recruiter has a site she wants me to see; I’ll get it via mobile. Now … if I really like your site, I might go to my laptop and check it out in more detail, but I can tell from the mobile site alone if you’re the type of person I wanna call in for an interview. (Also, having a site that’s built for mobile says you get it.)

4.) I always go to the “About Me” section before I check out the work and I’m not alone. Most creative directors do this and nearly all recruiters do. Why? It gives me quick look at who you are, your skill level, and your work experience. It gives me a frame of reference for how to judge your work. This section is almost as important as your work so don’t blow it off or half-ass it. This section (and really your entire site) is your opportunity to make me like you; really like you. If you purport to be a writer and you can’t entertain me or make me like you with words, well, that’s a problem. Give me an insight about you, how you think and how you look at the world. We don’t hire books; we hire the people behind the books. You are the one I have to travel with. You are the one I have to put in front of a client. You are the one I’ll be spending weekends and late nights with. It helps if you’re a likable, interesting person.

One of the best “About Me’s” I’ve seen was for a junior art director who titled his bio section, Ten Things About Me That Might Be the Truth or a Lie. When you rolled over each one of the ten things, it would tell you, true or false. Each of the statements was hilarious and it became a game to determine what was true about this person and the more you learned, the more you wanted to learn. (Dude now works at Wieden.)

5.) Treat your site like a campaign in your book. Every aspect of your site is an opportunity to show off and to impress me — from the design, to how you talk about your work. If it’s a standard Cargo Collective template, part of me calls you out for being lazy. With all the resources out there, you couldn’t customize a site to best reflect you and best showcase your work? You’re trying to land a job that requires you to help brands stand out, breakthrough and connect with their audience. Show me you can do that for yourself.

4) The first campaign in your book needs to floor me. You can’t stumble out of the gate because you’ll never get anyone to check out the second campaign. Put your simplest, most compelling idea first. Simplicity and power is key.

Too often, here’s what I see: the first piece of work on the site is an integrated campaign executed in five different media with a paragraph explanation for each execution. Half-way through, I still can’t figure out the idea and so in an attempt to show me how big their idea is, I’ve lost the idea.

You should be able to explain the problem in a sentence, the strategy in a sentence and the idea in a sentence. Follow that with an image or two (or one-minute video) taking me through the idea. If the sentence describing your idea doesn’t sound interesting, chances are, it isn’t. That’s a problem.

Next, put your second strongest campaign. I know convention is best campaign first, second best campaign last. “Start strong, finish strong,” and all that. I disagree. This is a boxing match. Try to knock me out with each punch; don’t save your best for last. If I love your first three campaigns, you are moving on to an interview.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

I hate it when I have to learn things from people way younger than me. But Ryan’s right about how the “start strong, end strong” thing is bullshit. I used to think so, and so I’m making that correction in the next edition of Whipple. Fact is, I’ll be including a lot of Ryan’s material. Dude’s smart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portfolio Advice From 20 Top Recruiters.

How recruiters felt about videos in student books.

Recently I had the chance to meet with and talk shi…. talk shop with some 20 or so creative recruiters from agencies all over America. It was a great opportunity to ask a bunch of top agency recruiters what they look for (and don’t look for) in student portfolios.

In particular, I wanted to know if recruiters took the time to play those concept videos students sometimes put in their portfolios. You know, videos that show how a campaign unfolds, with voiceover to describe the flow; one of those ideas that’s hard to show off with just a few flat pages, you get me, right?

While the recruiters’ answers weren’t unanimous (this is a creative business), they did agree on a few big things. So let’s start off with the majority opinion (and it isn’t good).

• “I hate every single video I see.”

• “The thing is, nobody wants to watch them because they take three minutes to explain what could’ve been covered in thirty seconds.”

• “I think videos are a catastrophic waste of time.”

Wow, thank you for that constructive crit….

• “My god, those videos, they take way too much time, especially when I have ten books to go through and 20 minutes between meetings to do it.”

• “The videos are all about five minutes too long because students don’t seem able to edit them down.”

Okay, everybody, so what I’m hearing you say is “maybe”…  No, it’s “no.”  A big fat no. Okay. Okay. Still, you gotta agree not every concept can be shown in….

• “Yes, an integrated campaign can be shown in 2-D.”

• “I think having a quick 2-D visual of the main idea of the campaign along with a very short description of how the idea translates across multiple platforms, I think that solves the ‘quick-look’ issue.”

• “And for those students who really want videos? Have ‘em do Vines. They’re just six seconds long and their length might actually inspire our CD to click on ‘em.”

Oooookay then. That went well, … right?

Good talk. Good talk.

So we chatted some more. Turned out not everybody hated videos.

• “Include a video only if you absolutely, totally and completely cannot show your idea on flat paper.”

• “If I see it’s longer than a minute, forget about it. A minute or less, always. We even have that rule for our own case studies.” 

• “It has to be engaging from the very start. Give me a reason to keep watching.”

• “If there has to be a case-study video, put a two-sentence elevator pitch right above or below it. Sell me.”

• “The set-up you put next to the video needs to sell it, needs to make me want to click PLAY. Persuasion is what you’re supposed to be good at, right? Selling? So … show me you can do it. Show me right here, right now.”

• “I’m in the minority, as I honestly enjoy a good case study now and then. (I’ll just watch one though.)  Figuring it’s their prized idea, if they can keep me engaged, I welcome it. I also love the personality that sometimes comes through these videos.” 

• “I’m seeing more people coming into the business being able to shoot and edit their work. These skills are becoming important to demonstrate.”

 • “Once I narrow the books down based on other things, maybe then I’ll start looking at a few videos.”

• “I’m a little more willing to watch a video … if the rest of the book is killer.”

We also had time to talk about other stuff, just some general do’s and don’ts, one of which was, surprisingly, don’t suck. (Nah, I threw that in.)

• “It’s really simple. From writers I wanna see great writing. From art directors I wanna see great design. And from everybody, great thinking. Period.” 

• “I want the creativity to jump out of the book and slap me.”

• “Make it fast. If I can look at it and love it in two seconds, there’s nothing more powerful than that. I want to fall in love in two seconds.”

• “Have a pdf version of your book. It’s faster for us to review pdfs.”

• “I’m tired of ‘fancy’ websites that work only on specific browsers and make me all batshit crazy trying to navigate. I usually just go right to the pdf anyway.”

• “The first thing I assess is how the work looks. I want to see the kind of attention to detail this person puts into the way a thing looks.”

• “At the top of the page, have one single sentence to intro the campaign. No, target audience stuff. Just have… well, here’s a good example in a student book: ‘Citi Bike: How do you take an activity New Yorkers already do and turn it into something that does tangible good?’ See? It’s one sentence.”

• “Don’t do an app. Please, stop with the apps already.” 

• “Here’s what I think a student book ought to have: three or four integrated campaigns, obviously, plus one digital-only campaign, a couple of 2-D campaigns (print/outdoor/etc.), plus a few things that’re just … cool: inventions, evolutions on existing products/services, etc.”

Looking back on all the comments, a theme jumps out – speed.

Obviously, your concepts have to communicate quickly. But so does your whole website. Recruiters should be able to fly through your site, startin’ with your best work upper left (that’s how we read), then click in the center, then click on the right, just barrelling along clickety-split with no videos-as-speed-bumps to slow ‘em down.

My two cents?

Yeah, I think you probably oughta have at least one cool video; one big-ass integrated idea, if only to show your chops in using Adobe programs for visual storytelling. Set the idea up with a one-sentence caption, park it under the PLAY frame, make sure the video starts fast, no set-up, just get right to the coolest part, and be gone in sixty seconds.

Oh, also… it shouldn’t suck. Sucking, apparently, is bad.

 

 

 

Guest post from Ryan Carroll on why you need to be more than just a CW or an AD.

Your substitute teacher today is Mr. Carroll.
Your substitute teacher today is Mr. Carroll.

Okay, class. Today’s substitute teacher is Mr. Carroll. You remember Mr. Carroll. He was here two weeks ago. I expect you to give him the same respect you give me. People? Settle down, people.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

T-shaped skillset. I hate using this term since it’s so overplayed, but the truth behind the word is important. As a CD, I don’t want just a strong writer; I want a writer that can flex other muscles – shoot and edit content, or write code, or who are DJs at night, or write for McSweeney’s. I need to be able to lean on you for other skill sets beyond advertising writing or art direction.

Any given day, we may be building prototypes for clients, shooting and editing stop-motion videos for Instagram; we even develop new products. There isn’t a “Miscellaneous” department at the agency that handles this work. It’s up to our creatives to execute.

And beyond the tactical value of having these skill sets in the building, when you have skills beyond your core craft, it shows me you’re a hard worker. It shows me you’re a well-rounded thinker and you have a curiosity that pushes you to discover new things.

Side Hustle. I love juniors who have entrepreneurial drive or at the very least have built a their own brand. When I see an art director who has 20,000 followers on Instagram, it shows me they understand branding. When I see a junior writer who built an online Queso business, it shows me she thinks like a businessperson.

It’s this kind of junior who intuitively understands the realities our clients live and breathe every day. Combine this side hustle with the other things I [wrote for this blog two posts ago] and you’ll be an unstoppable force. The days of “crazy creatives” with crazy ideas are gone. Budgets are smaller, problems are aplenty and it’s nearly impossible to find a client who will gamble on an idea that isn’t directly tied to solving an actual business problem. That’s not to say audacious ballsy ideas aren’t still needed. But when they’re tied to a solid strategy and solve a business problem, they aren’t audacious anymore. They’re just smart.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Ryan’s bio: Hello. I am a Group Creative Director at GSD&M. My work has been recognized by Cannes, The One Show, Communication Arts, The Webbys, FWA, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Early Show on CBS (which made my Mom proud) and Maxim magazine (which made my Dad proud).  I like tacos. Follow me @digiryan

Examples of Work –

http://www.adforum.com/award/showcase/6650183/2014/ad/34499149

http://www.adforum.com/award/showcase/6650183/2014/ad/34493944

http://www.dailydot.com/technology/avoid-humans-sxsw/

Guest post: Ryan Carroll, GSD&M, on getting hired.

This is Ryan. His partner, Scott Brewer, is much better looking.
This is Ryan. His partner, Scott Brewer, is much better looking.

I met Ryan Carroll when I worked at GSD&M in Austin. He was a young writer then, and now he’s a big shot, group creative director and won’t take my calls. It was his team that came up with last year’s Radio Shack spot on the Super Bowl: “The ’80s Called.”  You can read a bit more about that spot and about his partnership with Scott Brewer on FWA. On a recent phone call he told me he was frustrated, looking through too many junior books to find a good creative hire. I said, dude, write a guest post for me, and he did.

Most student books look/feel/sound alike and most CD’s I’ve talked with agree. This shouldn’t be too surprising. There are really five or six solid portfolio schools out there. Schools teach a method and students apply that method and so perhaps it’s no surprise most books look similar. The gene pool is pretty shallow.

So as you build your book and your site, it’s more important than ever to find your own voice and style. Just like you do for the brands you work on, you need to make your own brand stand out; to take those lessons you’re being taught and make them your own.

Here are some things I look for when reviewing a book:

1.) I want more than just ads. I want to see you solve business problems. Identify a problem for a brand and then show me how your idea can make the client money. How your idea will attract more customers or make people look at the brand in a completely different way.

Here are two great examples from a student book. His name is Maxx Delaney and we just hired him.

Citibank

Netflix

As you can see in the video, for Citibank, he (and his partners) invented a product that would attract an entirely new group of investors. And in the Netflix video, his idea gives millions of users an entirely new reason to use the product. These are the types of problems modern creatives need to be able to solve. This is much more than advertising. It’s about business.

[HeyWhipple’s note: I love Maxx’s About Me paragraph: “Maxx Delaney likes to think about stuff and then write about those thoughts that he thought while he was thinking about things.”]

2.) More than integrated campaigns, I want to see you execute an idea brilliantly with a given technology.

Too often, I see this – an integrated campaign that shows me how your pantyhose idea can work for TV, works on Facebook, works in a bus shelter and then – drum roll – an iPhone app. (Because we all know people can’t wait to download another brand’s app.) The problem is that the extension ideas are rarely as strong as the initial idea.

When I see this, I believe the student is trying to convince me it’s a big idea because, look, it’s in all these places. Instead, just pick a technology (mobile) or platform (Instagram) and show me a brilliant idea that makes the most out of that technology or platform. Make me look at using Instagram in a way no one’s thought of and I will love you forever. Or at least hire you.

[Ryan had lots of other cool stuff to say and we’ll be posting that in a week.]

Don’t Show me Something-About. Show me Something.

This is not an idea yet.
This is not an idea yet.

“So we have this idea, okay?” says the young creative to the creative director.

CD goes, “Great. So what do you have?”

Creative says, “Well, okay, it’s not totally formed yet but it’s something about … “

Let’s hit pause on this scene right here, shall we? Roll the tape back to the part where the guy  …  stop … right there.

“… it’s something about.

Today’s lesson is about that. Don’t ever present somethin’ about. Present something.

See, the thing is this. Your creative director?  He or she can’t do anything with your somethin’ about. Because it’s not an idea yet. An idea fits in a sentence; an idea can be written on a Post-It note. But a somethin’ about takes a whole bunch of explaining.

And please, never defend your somethin’ about with, “Hey-I’m-just-an-idea-guy.” Unless, I get to be an idea guy too. In which case my idea is, “Go away. And don’t come back until you have something to show me.”

See, the main problem with somethin’ about is you’ve left your audience to figure out the problem for you.

Don’t get me wrong, somethin’ abouts can be an important part of problem solving. Because problems are rarely solved in one flash. Good ideas come after a lot of digging around. Used this way, somethin’ about is a fine way to suggest, “Let’s dig around in this area for awhile.” It’s what you say to your partner, not your boss.

And definitely not to your client.

Can you imagine if your doctor said the cure for your illness was “Ohhh I can’t say exactly how to keep you alive but I have this kinda idea, it’s somethin’ about ….” No.

Or if the guy at the garage thinks your car needs somethin’ about a….

Somethin’ about is soft thinking. If an idea is a bullet, a somethin’ about is a cotton ball. Only one of them can make it into somebody’s head.

Dang. Sorry for the harsh image. Let’s end with a laugh. Like this cartoon from The New Yorker. It never fails to make me laugh.

miracle

 

How Not To Suck as a Creative Director.

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 11.01.12 PM

I think it’s a shame that so many people, when they become creative directors, forget what it was like being a creative. Most of them seem to forget what it was they themselves most needed, back when they were a workin’ creative. They forget what it was like. They forget what they were like.

Me? When I was a young copywriter, I was (among other things) insecure, arrogant, clueless, impatient, and always cynical. Always cynical. And cynics are hard to lead because they don’t believe a thing most managers have to say. And the thing managers do that cynics find most grating?

Cheerleading.

“Hey, it’s not so bad we have to re-pitch this client! I just know you can come up with something better!”

Cynics hate cheerleading. Cynics don’t want account people to beat around the bush saying, “It’s okay, your ads are with Jesus now.” Just say “Dude, your campaign died because the client didn’t get it. And yeah, it sucks.” I’d counsel managers to share the creatives’ pain, to share their frustration. They don’t need you to come in and plop some whipped cream on the shit sandwich.  In fact, when one of my teams was told they had to do something that was stupid or just kinda sucked, I said, “Hey, when you have to eat a turd, don’t nibble.”

Cynics hate cheerleading. They also hate pretty much everything about corporate structure: memos, meetings, time sheets, expense reports, all that H.R. stuff. It bores them or irritates them. The smart creative manager will do everything he or she can can to streamline the corporate red-tape and act as a buffer against agency bureaucracy.

Cynics also hate meetings. They’re a huge time-suck. Cynics think, “Why did we even have that meeting? You coulda just leaned into my office and said it.” My suggestion: fewer meetings, more conversations.

Here’s another interesting thing about creatives. You’d be surprised how much torture we can take if you just tell us why we’re being tortured. Creatives like transparency. They wanna know what they’re part of. They wanna know why they’re being asked to do something, even if it’s a dumb reason; and in this business, it usually is a dumb reason.  Smart creative managers don’t try to “protect” creatives from the bad news; and in this business, it usually is bad news.

It’s bad news, so just say it. If you try to tiptoe around it, you’ll end up sounding like that guy in Office Space who was always goin’, “Uh, yeeeeaaahh, if you could just go ahead and come in this weekend.”

Another thing I wish I’d heard less of when I was a young creative?

It usually comes during a creative meeting. Someone in the back of room puts down their donut and says, “Well, if I could just be the devil’s advocate here for a sec….”

Dude, shut up.

Ideas are fragile. The bubble can pop so easily. Instead of being the devil’s advocate, why not be the angel’s advocate? Don’t just blurt out what you hate about something. Not liking stuff is easy. Anyone can do it. It’s harder to find out what’s good about the idea. The trick is finding that little coal and then blowin’ on it till it’s flame.

I forget where I read this quotation from writing coach Jay O’Callahan, but it went like this: “It is strange that, in our culture, we are trained to look for weaknesses. When I work with people, they are often surprised when I point out the wonderful crucial details – the parts that are alive.” He went on to suggest, “If our eyes are always looking for weakness, we begin to lose our intuition to notice beauty.”

I found this very same advice from a venture capitalist, David Sze of Greylock Partners: “Anyone can tell you why something’s going to fail. The real trick is to find out why something will succeed.”

Before I wear out my welcome here, I’ll just close with one last piece of advice, this one from my old boss, the late Mike Hughes of The Martin Agency.

Mike said that rejection is such a daily part of this business, and so it’s important to remember creatives need to score a victory every once in a while. It doesn’t have to be a huge win; just a little victory at the right time can keep creatives very motivated. He said:

“[A creative director should help find] relief for the people with thankless jobs – the copywriter on the account that has a new direction every week, the account person who deals with the especially difficult client, the project manager on the project that can’t be managed, the planner who’s partnered with a not-very-good creative team.

“Sometimes that relief means the top people at the agency need to get involved with a problem client or account. Sometimes it means moving people into different positions – even if it makes everyone involved feel a little uncomfortable. Sometimes it means creating or investing in projects that have a high likelihood of meaningful success, even if that success isn’t a financial one.”

Oh, how I miss Mike.

–Luke Sullivan

[Full disclosure: I didn’t plan for the essay to stop this abruptly, but the fall quarter is ending and I gotta run.]