Sunday, January 26, 2014

Is Comfort Overrated?

I was once having a discussion with a head of planning. I was arguing that we shouldn't put Creatives in brainstorms (or 'workshops', as they're now called), because Creatives hate them. We just find the whole experience supremely uncomfortable.

"Comfort," he replied, "is overrated."

And at the time, I couldn't see how to refute this.

After all, the main purpose of our job is to come up with great ideas, not to have fun. Often we'll have fun, for sure, but you couldn't say that fun is the primary goal.

And thinking about the times I've done good work, I realised that it wasn't always in a comfortable environment.

Sometimes, it's been under pressure. (I've worked at agencies where it felt like you were under pressure the whole time). I've worked at agencies where people were aggressive. I've worked at agencies with crazy deadlines or crazy colleagues; in atmospheres that were intense, political, or fearful. But where great work still happened.

But recently, I thought back to the time when I felt I was doing my very best work. At that time, and in that place, none of the above applied.

That's not to say that we Creatives spent the whole day sitting in the bath, eating popcorn. We were working hard. But there was no aggression. No crazy deadlines. No crazy colleagues. No politics, and no fear. (And no brainstorms). There was only the expectation that you would do great work.

And that's the kind of pressure I want.

Mark Manson, in this insightful post, argues that the most interesting question in life is "What pain do you want?"

He argues that anything worthwhile in life, costs pain. If an athlete wants to win, she is going to have to train hard. If you want a great relationship, you may have to go through the pain of tough communication. If you want to write a novel, you are going to have to suffer the discipline of regular writing.

The trick is, to choose the type of pain that - to you - feels challenging rather than soul-sapping, that feels rewarding, even nourishing. This is what will give you the greatest chance of success.

So - a long time later - I have the answer for that head of planning. By all means let's put Creatives under pressure.

But let's make it the kind of pressure that they thrive under.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Never Put An Art Director With A Stuntman

Darren Bailes, ECD of British ad agency VCCP, has written an article for the UK's Campaign magazine in which he proposes that "This year should be the year of 'hiring the random'. How great would it be to hire a scientist and put them with a copywriter?" he says, adding "Or a stuntman."

I'll tell you how great it would be, Darren. Not great at all. In fact it would be shite.

But I'm pretty sure Darren knows this. He's just led VCCP to the UK 'Agency of the Year' title, and produced a slew of good work; he undoubtedly knows what he's doing.

The real reason he has made this suggestion is purely for perception-management. He wants to portray his creative department as open, and the opposite of old-fashioned. Fair play to him; he's fighting our corner... fighting the tide of people who accuse us of being rigid and protectionist.

But of course, it will never happen.

I worked at one big agency where a new ECD took over and made the same announcement. Copywriters would be working with psychologists, art directors with comedians, etc.

Never happened.

But it sounded great. 

In a way, it's quite sad that we have to go to these lengths to convince people we are open-minded. Quite demeaning, really. An orchestra would never announce they were going to have a scientist play the cello, or ask a stuntman to play the flute. There's a perception that 'everyone is creative' whereas no one goes around saying that 'everyone can play the trumpet.'

Actually I don't think that old cliche is the point here. I don't think Darren Bailes is saying that stuntmen could do a better job than art directors, as individuals. But he is saying - must be - that a creative/stuntman duo would outperform two creatives. He's saying that creative duos are so lacking in fresh thinking, we could benefit from teaming up with someone from completely outside the industry. Do you think he's right? 


Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Metric That Is Great News For Creatives

Creatives were always against any measuring of our work (except by awards juries).

We scoffed at brand tracking studies, despised research, and when told that our ad had failed to achieve certain metrics would protest, citing Albert Einstein, that "Not everything that counts can be counted."

But this attitude has now changed dramatically.

A new metric has arrived, which has become almost a new form of currency in advertising - YouTube views.

I've known Creatives to check their YouTube view-count up to three times daily, following the release of a new viral ad.

Okay, that was me.

But I bet you've done it too.

Interestingly, the interests of Creatives and Clients are now (perhaps for the first time) aligned. We both want exactly the same thing: lots of views.

The result is work - brilliant work - like this:

7 million views so far. And it's for P&G.


The company that is also still capable of putting out work like this:

This one has only 2,000 views.

And that gives me tremendous hope.

Clients have always cared about what can be measured. And now that the boredom of a boring ad is so acutely measurable, they'll view that as a failure. To put it another way, since only cool stuff gets lots of YouTube views, hopefully all clients will now want only cool stuff.

Am I being too simplistic?

I don't think so. History provides many examples of new measurement techniques prompting significant behavioural change. Advanced analysis of baseball stats led to different types of players being hired. Advanced political polling led to different types of policies being adopted.

So surely the coalescing of interest around this new metric... will lead to a different and better type of ad being made?

Monday, January 06, 2014

New Year's Resolutions - All Time Top Five

I've been making New Year's Resolutions every year for the past 12 years or so.

Some of them are work-related, and some I think could apply to any Creative, any year.

Here are my Top 5:

1.  More coffee

Part of the Creative's job is to let your mind wander. As the tagline of this blog used to read: "When you see me staring into space, that's when I'm working." However, it needs to be productive staring. Productive staring is when your mind is wandering over the brief, and the random associations it throws up. But if you are sitting there monged-out, mind blank... that's unproductive staring.

Resolution: when mind has gone blank, drink coffee.

2.  More craziness

We're all under pressure, there's less time, clients are jumpy, yada yada. A lot of forces are pushing us towards safe solutions. At times, it's easy to forget that the truly breakthrough answers don't just 'solve the problem'. It's amazing how often they also have a spark of stupidity or craziness. As someone once said, "If an idea does not at first appear insane, it has no value."

Resolution: leave room for the crazy.

3.  More conversations

Innumerable times, over the years, my partner and I would be discussing a brief, and wonder "What does this bit mean?" Solution: ask the Planner. We'd also wonder if the CD had something particular in mind for the type of answer. Solution: ask him. As a CD or ECD myself, I've found the more conversations I have with the Client about what they want, the better things tend to go. As Creatives, especially in a large agency, you can be a bit removed from everyone else. And of course, at times you need to be, to have quiet space to create in.

Resolution: never wonder, or assume - keep having conversations with everyone, all the time.

4.  More caring

As mentioned, we're all under pressure. Clients perhaps even more than Agencies. We are there to help them achieve their commercial goals, and there's nothing wrong with that. But there is also more to life than commercial goals. Are you involved in a pro bono project at the moment? And if yes, are you doing it purely to win awards?

Resolution: do some stuff that is good for the soul, not just for the bottom line or the trophy shelf.

5.  More concentration

The empty mind is a problem (see Resolution #1) but an equal but opposite problem is the busy mind. It's so easy to find mental stimulation nowadays - there are a thousand cool and interesting articles and videos just waiting for you on the internet. But sometimes inputs are the enemy of output. Thinking is hard work and it's very tempting to just look at the internet instead. Not only is it instant entertainment, but you can also kinda kid yourself that it's useful because it might become an idea one day. And that's true. But it also might be work-avoidance.

Resolution: switch the computer off sometimes. Hey, and the phone too, buddy. Just

Have a great year!