What Arguing Gets You

I have argued with clients before. I have seen other creatives argue with the client. I have even seen account people and agency presidents argue with the client. And here’s what I have learned:
You cannot win an argument with the client.
Why? Because it is the client’s money that’s been spent. It’s the client’s job and reputation that are being put on the line. So no matter how idiotic their rationale may seem to you, you can’t really win an argument with the client.
That doesn’t mean roll over. I’m not saying be the artless hands of an irrational mind. But don’t argue.
If you argue enough, the client will ask to have someone else put on the account.
Or you will lose the business entirely.
It’s hard to do great work when you don’t have an account to do great work for.
If their reasoning really is stupid and you combatively point out the gaping flaws in their logic, they may yield to you, and you’ll end up getting your way. But they’ll resent you for it. And it will affect your next project, or whether you work on the account again.
Communicating takes more effort than arguing. Helping the client see your point of view takes more effort than trying to put the client in their place. Understanding the client’s point of view takes more effort than being unyielding on your own.
I’m not saying compromise your creative integrity. Just don’t think you’re above the client just because you’re an artist.
You have to be 100% willing to yield to the client. That doesn’t mean yield to them 100% of the time. It means you have to understand that it’s their money, their decision to work with you, and their campaign. Being open to compromise doesn’t always mean letting the work become terrible. It can mean that. But it doesn’t always have to. Occasionally, it can mean making the work even better.
Sometimes you’ll want the client to fire you. That’s okay. Sometimes you’ll actually fire the client. That’s okay, too.
The goal is to do great work for people you like. And you can’t do either if you’re arguing.

A CASE STUDY VIDEO SHOULD BE A LAST RESORT

If your campaign is clear without a case study video, please, for the love of all that is good, do not make a case study video. If you absolutely, positively, without a doubt cannot sum up your campaign in a short paragraph or a few bullet points, then and only then should you make me/us sit through a 2-minute case study video. 
P.S. It goes without saying that you will spread your campaign message through twitter and allow people to share it via social media channels. That is not a concept in itself and does not warrant a case study video. 
P.P.S. We have made this post into a handy jpg. Please feel free to blow it up, print it out and post it at your school/agency/barn. Godspeed. 

Jumping to Execution


In the last year or so, I’ve seen a major increase in the polished case study videos that students do. Pretty professional case studies, for events and programs and guerilla stunts that never happened (though you wouldn’t know it from the slick comps and videos). I do plenty of these in my job. They’re a pain in the ass to do. So when I see students who can crank them out, part of me thinks “Yes! We should hire this person so I don’t have to make these damn things anymore.” But usually I think “Nice case study. Too bad the idea’s not that good.”

This past quarter, after a student presented his first round ideas with full-on comps in a seven-page deck, I asked him, “How long did it take you to build that deck?” Thinking I was complimenting his skills, he smiled and said, “Not very long. Like an hour and a half.” To which I said, “That’s an hour and a half you could have spent coming up with better ideas.”

I have given this advice over and over, and each year I feel like I’m shouting it into a stronger, louder wind of technology and “paperless” schools: DO NOT CONCEPT ON A COMPUTER.

If you don’t want to kill trees, awesome. Reuse the back sides of paper. One of my former instructors, a creative Jedi who really loves trees, Jelly Helm, suggests cutting your reused sheets of paper into quarters. However you do it, write your ideas down. Headlines too. Write them. With a pen or pencil or marker. On paper. Your brain works differently when you do this. You’re less likely to edit your ideas when you have to turn the pencil around and actually erase something. And that’s good–you shouldn’t be editing at the beginning. Just coming up with ideas, writing them down, and sticking them up on the wall. Lots of them. Like 100 or more. Then, and only then, pick your best and refine them. Make them better. Generate more.

When you jump to the computer, you’re skipping to execution. You’re cheating yourself out of the most important part of the project. You’re skimping on the idea. And you might end up with a nice looking video or well-executed comp, but if the idea’s not awesome, it doesn’t matter.

Dear Sir: How Not To Approach Me



About once a week, I get an email from someone asking about job openings or looking for feedback on their portfolio. And back in the spring, I sifted through over 170 applications for our internship program. Through all of this, I’ve made a short list of ways not to approach someone when you’re looking for a job. Check that–ways not to approach a creative kind of person. This probably doesn’t apply if you’re looking for a job at a bank.

1) The overly formal approach. “Dear Mr. Bosilajjajemcinavac, I am writing to request an informational interview with your firm. I believe I have the necessary skillset and experience to benefit your creative department blah blah blah.” Yeah, this isn’t a bank. Your job here will be to relate to normal people. Talk to me like I’m normal and you’re normal.

2) The artist statement approach. “I burn with an passion for self-expression. Since my mother first handed me a box of crayons, I have never ceased to explore new avenues of art, performance, and creative thinking. I believe that we can touch souls with blah blah blah.” To be honest, this person kind of scares me a little. Passion is good. Put it in a portfolio.

3) The crazy-ass weirdo approach. “I collect marmot figurines. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can never have enough marmots around. I will tell you this, though, do not feed them peanut butter. blah blah blah” I don’t like weird for the sake of weird. Not in ads, not in introductions.

4) The overly egotistical approach. “My creativity is off the charts. If you’re looking for a real go-getter who’s ready to turn the ad industry on its head, you’ve found him. I was born for advertising. I lust after gold lions. blah blah.” It should go without saying, but apparently it doesn’t: Don’t tell me how awesome you are. Let me see it in your book.

5) The blatant kiss-ass approach. Listing every ad my agency has done and then telling me that they’re all tied as your favorite ads seems, well, like a big steamy pile of bullshit.

I’m not saying this to be a dick. Even when someone sends me an email that takes one of these approaches, I’ll usually give them the benefit of the doubt. When I was in college, I submitted a short story to a magazine along with a letter telling them why it was perfect for their publication. The editor wrote a letter back that started something like: “Because you seem sincere, I’ll give you this constructive criticism.” He then went on to tell me the many ways my letter made me sound amateurish. That’s all I mean here. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot before you’ve stepped through the door.

So what do I like?

Again, an email that talks to me like a normal person. Tell me who you are or how you found me and a little about yourself. You can mention some of my/the agency’s work if you truly do like it. It’s nice to hear, but I don’t give points for it. And then tell me what you’re looking for–a job, feedback on work, whatever. If I was writing to Greg, I might say something like this:

Hi Greg-

I hope you don’t mind me contacting you. I’m a regular reader of your blog and thought I’d reach out and see if you had a moment to take a look at my portfolio. I’ve just graduated from the copywriting track at VCU Brandcenter and am starting my job search. If you have a moment, I’d appreciate any feedback you can give. And if you like the work, I’d love to talk further about any openings at The Richards Group. Here’s my link: mylink.com

Thanks for your time.

Best,

jim

Interview Questions to Ask

Yesterday, Ad Age reported that BBDO Detroit will be closing in January, and is laying off 485 employees. Yikes. I don’t know any of them. But I feel for them.

Yes, the economy’s bad. But here’s the thing: BBDO Detroit is closing because is lost Chrysler. And that was its sole account. 485 jobs. Poof.
So when you start interviewing, remember: make sure you ask about the agency’s current, paying clients. Not just the fun pro-bono accounts and side projects they use to enter award shows. Ask everyone who the most important clients are and why.
Even if you’re winning Gold Lions, anyone who feels comfortable in a one-client shop is delusional. Even Wieden has lost part of Nike on more than one occasion.

How Multi-Media Campaigns Fit in Your Student Book

This guest post comes from our friend Peter Carnevale, at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners:

I love multi-media campaigns.


There are few things as inspiring when looking through the awards shows than amazing ideas executed in ways you’ve never seen before. The Mini launch is a great example of creative media executions. There are countless others that are newer.


These campaigns often include complex installations and things that have never been done before, so a lot of explanation is often required. Fortunately for agencies, they have the means to produce submission videos to award shows to demonstrate the breadth, creativity and sound business results to accompany these innovative campaigns in a clear, comprehensive manner. My agency actually has several people dedicated to this job.


You don’t.


You have your book. 


The target audience for your book is a busy group of people. Campaign after campaign of lengthy description multi-media onslaughts may not always be the best approach.


To be clear, I think it’s fantastic to see blown-out campaigns. Assuming they’re great campaigns and blowing them out makes sense. (Times Square installations and transit dominations probably don’t make sense for small start-up companies. Keep the realities of a brand’s budget somewhat based in reality. Somewhat.)


But sometimes, I just want to know you can knock out some killer print ads or OOH or posters or something I can look at for 10 seconds and think, “That’s cool,” and doesn’t have a gazillion moving parts.


And please know that blowing out your campaign doesn’t make it good. As a recruiter at my agency recently said to me, “Just because you’ve done an  iPhone app for your idea doesn’t make it a good idea.”


So what’s the solution?


Before you blow out every single campaign in your book, make sure it calls for it. Make sure your book needs another blown out campaign. (I’d say two is the maximum amount I have the ability to fully take in.) Above all, make sure the ideas are great. 


Show you can do something with legs. Show you can do things no one’s ever seen before. Show you’ll bring something invaluable to an agency.


But make sure you also, in easily digestible format, show that you can make a traditional ad campaign. Because once you start working, you’ll have to make good old fashioned ads.


Give Peter some love (or disagree with him) in the comments section. You can also get in touch with him at peter_carnevale@gspsf.com.

Your Career in a Pontiac Aztek

In 2001, Pontiac introduced the Pontiac Aztek – an SUV crossover with a built-in tent that would later become one of Time‘s 50 Worst Cars of All Time. The article claims, “This car could not have been more instantly hated if it had a Swastika tattoo on its forehead.”



It continues, “The Aztek design had been fiddled with, fussed over, cost-shaved and otherwise compromised until the tough, cool-looking concept had been reduced to a bulky, plastic-clad mess. A classic case of losing the plot…The shame is, under all that ugliness, there was a useful competent crossover.”

Sound familiar?

But the fact that the original Aztek design was pecked to death by ducks isn’t the only parallel to advertising. The pits the Aztek designers fell into are still out there.

Danger 1: Accepting too many compromises

Did the Aztek’s designers fight to keep their original idea? My guess was they were so happy to actually be producing something they justified a few compromises. David Droga has said, “It’s a weird thing – sometimes you start out with something that you love, but when it does get compromised along the way, you’re so in love with it you’re blinded to how much it’s been compromised, and you just want to see it through. You have to have the courage as an agency to say, we understand your issues and we’ll take this off the table and come back with something new.”

Danger 2: Believing creativity is gravy
The fact that “under all that ugliness, there was a useful competent crossover” makes me think that Pontiac justified messing with the design because it was still a crossover and fit the parameters of what Pontiac wanted to launch. That’s like saying, “It answers the brief, so it must be a great ad.” A great campaign does more than give the client what they asked for in the briefing meeting. Great design, great art direction, great writing aren’t just artsy-fartsy bells and whistles.

Danger 3: Staying in the wrong culture
I may be going out on a limb, but I don’t think Pontiac had a culture that championed truly great, innovative ideas. Toyota? Sure. Honda? You bet. But Pontiac? And yet, they must have had some talented and ambitious designers there. Ron Mather has said, “You are more likely to come up with a great idea in a great agency than in a mediocre agency. I think it’s the atmosphere. Being around very good people in an environment that promotes great creative thinking.”

And if you realize you’re working for a Pontiac-style ad agency, have the courage to follow Ernie Schenck’s advice: “If things are working out and you’re getting your needs met, and you know what those are at this point, then great. If not, though, don’t wait to jump ship. Trust me on this inertia thing. The longer people stay in one place the harder it is for them to leave.”

Danger 4: Lowering the bar
Despite all the time and money Pontiac put into developing the Aztek, they failed to realize that people were going to hate it. My guess is they were talking to themselves. Groupthink and high standards rarely co-exist. If you lower the bar of your own creative integrity because you think it will help you get something produced, make your CD happy, enter an award show, or simply because it’s your duty and you need to be a good solider, watch out. There will be times in your career when, for various reasons, you will be required to deliver work that is below your standards. Just don’t make them too frequent. And never kid yourself that meeting such low expectations is an accomplishment to celebrate.