What Is The National Interest?

I just read this article on CNN.com that the cute little Chinese girl who sang at the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing was actually lip synching. The actual singer was chosen for her voice, but deemed not cute enough for TV. CNN quotes the ceremony’s musical director saying, “The reason was for the national interest. The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feeling and expression.”

It cracks me up that the Chinese officials (who are used to controlling their media) did this “for the national interest” and may have made the country look like more of a joke. One thing I love about communists: they’re a very consistent brand.
I bring this up because it reminds me of clients who think that they are still in 100% control of what their brand is and how others will interpret it. Jim recently wrote about the knee-jerk reaction some clients have, assuming they’re in complete control of their brands.
It’s easy for creatives to snigger and poke fun of clients like this. And, yeah, maybe they deserve it. But when it’s our own clients, and when they start talking to themselves, and when we start listening, I think the onus is on  us to raise a red flag.


Mike Gorz, the Director of Creative Services at Y&R Chicago used to have this diagram taped to his office wall. There’s a lot of truth to this little sketch, and you’ll find yourself often wishing clients understood it better.
But if this is the triangle clients should understand, here’s another one agencies should have a grasp on.

This represents the reasons you continue to do work for a client. This isn’t a “pick two” scenario. In fact, most client-agency relationships are founded on just one. If you get two, you’re lucky. All three is surprisingly rare, but absolutely possible.

Hopefully, none of us are in this business just for the money. That’s a lousy reason to get into advertising. But sometimes agencies stick with a client that they don’t like and who continually kills good work simply because they pay well. Presidents and managing partners do this do avoid laying off employees. It’s not ideal, and it’s probably not a long term relationship, but it keeps the pink slips away.
A lot of pro bono work is done with the “we like you” and the “you let us do great work” legs. It’s the symbiotic relationship of a pro bono account.
I don’t know if there’s a magic formula for getting all three. If you stumble upon it, please let me know. But I think it’s enough for us to realize that these are the reasons we do work for clients. And if none of them are present in a relationship, there’s really no reason for it to continue.

Charlton Heston Memorial Party

I’ve worked with some tough clients. Some have acted irrationally. Others with distrust and even distain.

But none were as tough as Pope Julius II.

It wasn’t that he was demanding. It was that he kept changing his mind. He had wild, ephemeral expectations, but gave little concrete direction. He probably coined the phrase, “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.”

He considered himself a great patron of the arts. He did much to beautify Rome, laid the foundation of St. Peter’s Basillica, and was a friend of Raphael and Bramante. So even though he wasn’t a craftsman, couldn’t paint, sculpt or design, he thought he knew great art better than those producing it.

To compound the problem, Pope Julius II was more concerned for his own personal fame as a member of the family of della Rovere (i.e., personal glory) than for the advancement of the influence and authority of the Roman Catholic Church (i.e., the brand).

Each of you will probably have a Pope Julius II sometime in your careers. Maybe several of them. Ridiculous. Egotistic. Impossible-to-please.

Here’s the thing. This is what Michaelangelo did for this impossible-to-please client:

This weekend, if you’re planning your Charlton Heston Memorial Bash, I suggest you skip The Ten Commandments and check out The Agony and the Ecstasy, the movie based on Irving Stone’s biography of Michaelangelo.

It will show you that if you’re not doing great work, you shouldn’t blame the client. Michaelangelo didn’t.

My book is my boss.

A couple of posts ago I asked “Who will you work for?” My answer (which most of you hit on in some form or another) is this:

I work for my book.

It sounds selfish. Ego-centric. A little self-absorbed. But it’s the only answer I’ve found that really makes sense to me.

When I work for my book…

I win. Because I know I’m pushing myself creatively, and I’m more likely to end up with a breakthrough idea. If my end result doesn’t garner any awards, I’ll still know that I didn’t phone it in, and I’m that much sharper for the next assignment.

The agency wins. For all the reasons listed above. The agency gets another number by its name in the index of the One Show and/or I’ve become that more valuable to the office as an employee.

My creative director wins. For all the reasons heretofore listed.

The client wins. I can’t do great creative if the client’s not benefiting from the effort. It’s not creative if it doesn’t sell. And it probably won’t sell if it’s not creative. Also, outside the industry, when a great ad appears, it’s the client who becomes famous, not you. Happy to live with that.

Your alma matter wins. No matter what portfolio school you went to, they get to say that you went there as a recruiting device.

The industry wins.
I think we’d all agree at least 90% of the advertising out there is garbage. Work for your book and you’ll automatically be in the top 10%. Better yet, you can be part of the effort to push the percentage of bad advertising down to 89%.

My bank account wins. Keep your eye on the ball. But, yes, this too will be affected.

Work for your book. It’s the only thing guaranteed to follow you to the next gig.

Portfolio School Lies to You, Part 3

In the continuing series of lies that are somehow harbored before you’ve even begun interviewing, I offer yet another lie:

The client is stupid.

It’s easy to believe this one. We continually promulgate stories about boneheaded CMOs who killed a campaign because their spouses didn’t get like the color of the background. Or marketing managers who tested and tested and tested an idea into the ground until it was so devoid of soul it was the commercial equivalent of marshmallow fluff. Or clients who kill work with all the glee of those Muppet hecklers in the balcony. And you’ll all have your own stories within a month or two of your first job.

But the lie you need to uproot from your worldview right now is that the client is stupid.

They’re not. You’ll find that more often than not, they have more education than you. They have more business experience than you. They make more decisions and handle themselves better under pressure. That may be why they make four to ten times more money than you.

I’m not defending poor judgment or playing it safe. You’ll face clients who are inconsistent, timid, egomaniacal, and downright silly.

But the problem with believing the lie (other than it being false) is that it usually prohibits you from communicating with them. Why aruge with an idiot, right?

Dave Lubars has said that his talent is less in creative development (although he certainly has that in spades), and more in being able to listen to people and understand exactly what they need.

I’m sure Dave Lubars could tell more stories than me about clients giving schizophrenic feedback, or being gun-shy on a campaign that could make the company millions. But instead he listens. He knows there’s a reason for their actions. If he can understand their motives, their desires, their modus operandi, he can figure out what to do next.

Whatever his next steps are, I guarantee it’s not mope, complain, or talk about how stupid the client is.

Timeline of a Pitch

June 2007: We begin pitching the National City Bank business.

July 2007: In a preliminary meeting, the client gravitates to the line “Some banks have tellers. We have listeners.”

August 2007: After a couple rounds, the client still really likes the tellers/listeners line.

September 2007: We make our final presentation to National City. The campaign isn’t all about that single line, but it’s included in the work.

October 2007: We’re told that we had the “best strategy” the “best creative” but that the agency is “a little too young, and a little too hip” for them.

November 2007: The business is awarded to Campbell-Mithun.

March 2008: I pass this National City Bank window on my way to work…

I’m not posting to complain. I just want to share a good joke.