PMs Question time.

Here in London the PM awards are almost upon us and people are frantically dry-cleaning their shiny suits and their not-too-glam-for-lunchtime-frocks and preparing to cut short, by a day, Dry January.


This won’t come as that much of a shock but these annual awards have rather a low level of credibility within the creative cognoscenti, but like all creative shows they maintain a distinct brand and that, if nothing else, is important to acknowledge.

Charlize Theron

A guest arriving at the PM Society awards luncheon at the Grosvenor house

A few months back a group of Creative Directors from every county of Pharmaland were all invited to the IPA to discuss, over some wine and good food, how the Best of Health awards could maintain it’s integrity and raison d’etre now that Cannes had loomed in to frame as the benchmark for excellence and international debauchery.

Did the Best of Health still have a role?

This displayed at least an understanding of the fragile credibility that all award shows have.

Almost unanimously the feeling was that it did still have a place, but that the dynamic had to change a little. The end result of much Merlot fueled (by the end of the evening) debating was several good ideas, (some terrible ones too) one of which was to move the date of the event so as not to compete with Cannes head on.

While we were chewing over the general status of the awards spectrum the subject turned to our old friend the PMs.


The same guest four hours later

As I said, within the creative community they are almost universally regarded with a degree of disdain. (creatives are such tarts)

But there it is.

Creatives generally prefer a system whereby if the standard of work isn’t good enough, no award is given. This has to be coupled with judges that have credibility too, otherwise all is lost. Together this makes an award all the more coveted and it has worked well for D&AD and the other top shows.

Because if you have to vote a winner then potentially you have to pick the best of a bad bunch. But the PMs are alone in standing by the ethos of awarding the best of what was entered that year and having a mix of client and creatives as judges.

And you must award a gold, silver and bronze for each category. Because people pay a lot of money to enter and there’s nothing worse than an awards ceremony with no winners. From an awards show point of view I have some sympathy with that, I must say.

Imagine if you showed up to the Oscars and they just agreed that no one made the mark that year. Rather stuffs the after show parties doesn’t it?

And there you have it. To me, the PM’s focus is almost entirely around the event itself. You could pretty much have a luncheon at the Grosvenor House and have no awards at all and a couple of comics with much the same result, albeit with less of a budget for the organisers and not as much gnashing of teeth from the disgruntelcenti.

The point is not whether the PMs serve creative director egos or reward creativity but whether they have a business value or not.

And undeniably, for most agencies, and especially the ones aiming to get a foothold, they do. They still get you noticed within our overall client base.

Creatively excellent or not.

So, like it or not, most agencies still want to win one. With some notable exceptions.

By now it is no secret that Langland have withdrawn from entering this year.

There are several, understandable, possible reasons.

1. It could be that the PMs have just become too small and that their individual worth to the most awarded Healthcare agency in the world just isn’t worth enough. Cannes is now quite a glittering bauble and by comparison the PMs are like a parochial non league football trophy.

2. It could also be because if you are the most awarded healthcare agency in the world that takes a lot of cash to spend every year entering every show going and sometimes you have to prioritize.

Fair enough.

3. They’re simply letting someone else have a go.

But whatever the reason, the PM awards are poorer for Langland’s absence.

And they’re not alone, Frontera also choose to exclude themselves from the PMs.

Only the awards themselves will prove whether the standard has slipped dramatically with the top teams absent.

So the PMs tread a fine line.

On one hand they need an element of creative credibility, to keep the entries coming. On the other hand, they need to not be so up themselves that smaller less creative agencies and bigger less creative clients think it’s still worth entering work and showing up for the lunch.

But the question remains: No matter how good your work, who wants to win Wimbledon in the year that¬†Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal didn’t bother entering?

So, will Langland continue it’s success without the PMs? undoubtedly.

The bigger question might be what is the PMs without Langland, Frontera et al?

Back at the IPA dinner we all agreed on one thing.

The PMs don’t care about newcomers like Cannes, they’ll carry on regardless because what they offer is popular and has a clear role within the business – and like those comb-over comics from the 70’s, doing gags about mother-in-laws, they couldn’t give a flying fuck what the trendy alternative comics are up to in that there London.

And we all know what happened to them.

See you all on Friday. Chin Chin!




Why agencies fight for creative work

Okay, let’s get the obvious reasons out the way.

Yes it’s because creative work builds client business.

Yes it’s because agencies want to have good work on their reels and to win awards and, in turn, win more business.

Yes, even for professional pride and job satisfaction.

But there is a less obvious reason.

But let’s back up a little.

You know those people on the house makeover and property ladder type shows who stubbornly ignore the experts and go with the lime wallpaper and avocado bathrooms and are then proven to manifestly not be the design geniuses they imagined they were?

Are you ever truly surprised?

Or those restauranteurs who, despite the advice of Gordon Ramsey insist that 102 starters on the menu is precisely the way to a successful restaurant and can’t understand why their only customer is their mum.

The list is never ending: female fashion disasters who, while comfy in their football shirt and trainers, wonder why men ignore them. Hoteliers who believe people love greasy food and dirty bathrooms.

How we snigger at them and their ignorance.

Of course, week after week the subjects finally see the importance of a good story arc and listen to their professional’s advice.

But imagine if they didn’t.

Imagine if Gordon Ramsey just said, ok, whatever you think is best, we can serve that Dover Sole with chocolate sauce and a diet Coke in a can, no problem. He wouldn’t be Gordon Ramsey would he?

If a client decides they know what they want, that is all well and good.

But usually (there are always exceptions) they have no discernible skills for design or creativity. I don’t mean that as an insult, it’s just the way things are. If they had they might have found themselves on the other side of the fence, doing our jobs. Imagine if your creative department all became marketing clients what a disaster that would be?

And I must also concede that not everything presented by every agency is wobbly-kneed genius.

But if you work for an agency, have you experienced this little vicious cycle of events?

Step 1: The client decides what they want and briefs the agency. with specific design requests. The agency agrees to their demands. They are a tricky client and frankly it will be easier all round if we just do what he/she wants.

Step 2: The work is done up and presented and the client invariably doesn’t like their own design. Well why would they? They have no discernible skills at this sort of thing.

Step 3: But now it’s too late. Now the client can’t back out now or risk seeming stupid in front of the agency….so…

Step 4: They make changes to the design..

Step 5: They make some more changes, completely contradicting their last edict.

Step 6: hmm…this isn’t working, why can’t the agency make this work for God’s sake!?

Step 7: They make some more changes until they truly hate the design. But they say they like it because, well, they wanted it that way.

Step 8: The agency is so relieved that the client likes the sodding thing that they truly don’t care anymore. The account person has taken over briefing the studio directly because the designers have all resorted to inserting red hot pokers in to their orifices as a relaxing alternative to working on this piece of shite. It’s approved!

Step 9: Then the client’s boss sees it.

Step 10: She hates it. Who did this abomination? It looks like some marketing manager designed it.

Answer: The agency. yep, definitely. Aaaaagency. Oh yes.

Step 11: The boss thinks it might be time to review ‘our agency arrangements’.

That’s the other reason why agencies fight for creative work.

To keep clients.



28.5 things creatives should know before moving to Pharmaland.

And a Happy New Year to you dear reader, thanks for returning.

Recently I have had some furrow-browed chats with old creative chums from the consumer world, who have been curious as to what it’s like across the channel in Pharmaland.

Might it be a good career move?

Much of it is the same as consumer, yet so much is not (rather like that other place across the channel) So I thought I’d compile a list, which is by no means exhaustive, of some of the things that have stood out for me in the last few years. If like me, you have made the ferry crossing and not capsized, or even if you are a native of these shores, feel free to add to the list via the comments section.

In no particular order.

1. Clients are just like clients in consumer but they are usually scientists or doctors by trade so they like to play the ‘what is wrong with this ad’ game. If you’ve been trained to diagnose it’s hard to get out of the habit. The same goes for your target markets.

2. Everything is taken literally. Irony does not exist here.

3. Whatever budget you are used to in consumer, remove a zero.

4. You are not just dealing with clients, you are dealing with their medics (in-house medical advisers who make sure you can say what you say you can say) and their lawyers, who redefine the word cautious because someone somewhere might think that child in the picture means your drug makes you more fertile.(see point 2)

5. Good clients will make a calculated risk on point 4.

6. It’s not about ads anymore, you need to come up with a ‘tool’.

7. When you present to the affiliates from all the countries, who will have to agree to take your concept to use locally, there will always be someone who doesn’t agree with the strategy or creative because in their country your image is associated with dog poo.

8. If you work on a veterinary brand never anthropomorphize the animal. Vets hate it.

9. Research is often done online, not in groups. And you have to choose one execution to sum up an entire campaign.

10. Some really good photographers (the best) love working on Pharma as the visuals tend to be more interesting.

11. Most of the agencies aren’t based in the sexy west end of London, they are somewhere off the M4 or in villages scattered about Berkshire.

12. At Awards ceremonies Langland and McCann Health win everything. (Yes McCann)

13. If you are an advertising copywriter by trade this is no place for you. This is technical stuff. But there may be a bit of freelance when it’s time for ideas.

14. Most* of the medical writers worth their salt are freelance.

15. Most of the medical writers not worth their salt are also freelance. The only way to discover who is who is to use them all and wait.

16. One miss-spelt word in the legal copy can bring down an agency. Make sure you have a copy editor.

17. Sometimes a client will like your idea but get another agency to make it cheaper and badly. (Don’t ask)

18. Even though it’s been approved, coded and everyone knows it’s too late to change it. You will still have to change it.

19. Nobody cares if it’s been done before.

20. You get amazing creative briefs with potential like you have never seen in twenty years.

21. The ‘wanker quota’ per agency is considerably lower.

22. The IQ level of your fellow workers is considerably higher.

23. A few grey hairs are appreciated (or at least tolerated), and not seen as the beginning of the end.

24. Every country has different regulations, the UK is one of the strictest, but does some of the best work. Brazil don’t seem to have any.

25. A single page ad is actually a third of a page due to PI (prescribing information) taking up most of the page.

26. Nobody reads the PI.

27. Nobody (bar the target market) will ever see any of your work.

28. Remember, you know nothing about this sector of advertising even though you know heaps about advertising.

28.5. The food is much worse here. (see No.11)


* probably more accurate to say ‘some’, obviously there are great writers in full time positions. Not least here at CDM!