Talk About the Work

If you want to get better at recognizing (and ultimately creating) great work, you need to talk about it. With your partners, with your CDs, with your planners and account team. You probably already do this, but let me tell you why it’s a good thing to do. By talking about the work…

  • You internalize why it’s great (or why it sucks). Those values become a part of who you are as a creative.
  • You open your taste to criticism. And education. (Someone at my office thought this was a great “commercial.” Obviously, we need to talk about great work with her more often.)
  • You become more capable of articulating why something works or why it doesn’t. This is an invaluable skill if you want to be a creative director or judge an awards show. (“It just isn’t working for me,” is not helpful direction.)

Seeing the work Fred & Farid did for Wrangler is good.

Understanding why it won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year is better.

Having an opinion on whether or not it deserved such an honor – and being able to articulate it (see Lubars’ comments) – is best.

And you get bonus points for knowing the opinions of your partner, creative director, agency president, and planner. Because that will let you know what kind of agency you work for. Not because they agree or disagree. But because you’ll know that they’re thinking about what’s great, and what it takes to get there.


A Crisis of Credit

Our job is communication. In the communications model that you probably saw in chapter 1 of your advertising class, there are four parts to the communication process. The sender sends. The receiver receives. The receiver decodes (the fourth part is interference, but that doesn’t apply here).

Without all of this happening, communication doesn’t happen. Which is why it’s critical that the receiver not only gets the message, but “gets” it. Can decode it.

A buddy of mine passed this on to me. A really nice way to decode the credit crisis, an incredibly complicated mess, for all of us non-investment-banker-types.
The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

This was created by Jonathan Jarvis, a grad student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. His site for this can be found here.

World’s Best Presentations has announced the winners of their “World’s Best Presentation” contest. You can view the winner and the runners up below.

The first and third presentations are potentially complicated messages that could have harbored a trove of tangents. Instead, they’re clear, simple, and very engaging.
Next time you’re mocking up your ads, ask yourself if they do as good a job as these presentations do at communicating. Don’t confuse that with minimalism. Done correctly, long copy can be crystal clear and very engaging. But if your ad isn’t as lucid and as smart as these presentations, try peeling back a few more layers.

What Is The National Interest?

I just read this article on 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.

Love Is In The Air

This is not an endorsement of either John McCain or Barack Obama. I don’t want to bring politics to this blog. But communication stategy? That’s worth talking about in this forum.
Frustrated with the media attention Obama’s been receiving, the McCain camp created the following ad (I assume as online content as it’s way too long for primetime)…
Does the McCain team have a point that the media is favoring Obama? Sure. Is it fair to say that just because the media prefer one candidate, that’s no reason to vote for them? Again, sure. What the McCain people really want to say is, “Don’t listen to the talking heads. Look at the issues and make your own decision. Ignore the media.” That’s a decent argument. But, at least with this piece, it’s communicated all wrong.
And here’s the problem: When you try attacking emotion, you’re fighting an uphill battle. I wrote about this in an earlier post. Whether you agree with Obama’s politics or not, you can’t attack him by discrediting the way people feel about him. You end up insulting the people you’re trying to communicate with. “That’s how you feel? Well, let me tell you why you’re wrong.” Not the best way to be persuasive.
How does this affect you as a young advertising professional? Understand that facts are good. And you should use them to your client’s advantage. But you can’t build your entire case on them. You need emotion. You need that thrill going up Chris Matthew’s leg.
(As a side note, the original piece featured Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” But since the rights to the song were never cleared, the original was pulled. What you see here is a second generation edit with some elevator music and the “Paid for by John McCain for President” stripped off the back end.) 

Explain Yourself

One of the things you’ll do as a creative is attempt to convey your vision to directors, sound engineers and music houses.

If you’ve got a TV spot and you want the track to sound like a Danny Elfman version of a gospel hymn, or a fully orchestral Buckwheat Zydeco, what words do you use to make sure the music house gets it?

If you’re a copywriter on a radio commercial, quite often you’ll also be the director. How do you tell your voice talent, “Can you make it a little brighter?” or “Let’s really hit the word ‘and’ in this next take,” so they give you exactly what you want?

And when your actors aren’t delivering their lines or facial expressions exactly the way you imagined, how do you explain to the director what you’re hoping to hear and see?

It’s a lot trickier than it sounds. And it takes practice.

Below are two files. The first is an agency creative trying to explain what he wants from the music house. The second clip is not what the music house gave him. It’s just what they did with his direction.

I had to upload them as movie files, but you’re going to want to listen to and learn from both of these. Trust me.




Portfolio Night is almost here. Can you feel the power?

One piece of advice: When you sit down with the person reviewing your book, feel free to exchange pleasantries, but once they open your portfolio and begin perusing the fruits of your labor, resist the urge to speak.

Do not talk. Do not explain. Do not comment.

Enjoy the awkward silence that is the interview process. If the reviewer has questions, by all means, answer them. After they’ve gone through your work, ask them all the questions you want. But during the review, it’s quite time. Don’t even preface a campaign with, “The strategy with this one was…” The strategy should be apparent.

This isn’t protocol. It’s just common sense. When you talk as someone is trying to look at your ads (even the purely visual ones) this is what happens:

Thursday night, let your book speak for you.

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.

Dropped Balls

Something Kevin Lynch of Zig once told me:

“If I throw 5 balls at you at the same time, you probably miss all of them. But when I throw only one ball at you, you catch it.”

Sometimes the balls are headline, body copy, tag line, visual, logo. Sometimes they’re all the product features your client wants you to mention. And sometimes they’re all the things you want to say in a meeting to get your point across.

The sooner you can figure out which ball you need to throw, the better communicator you’re going to be.