Crash. Burn. Adapt.

When I first started as a Creative Director in Pharmaland I had to present some ideas to one particular client. He was new in the role too, just flown in from America, very senior and everyone was in awe of him.

This meeting was a big deal. So I duly gathered my shiniest and cleverest ideas and set off for their shores.

It was not a great success.

Looking back, my first mistake was to treat it like a presentation in consumer, thinking my background in big consumer brands was enough to impress. Back then I hadn’t really learned the different dialect that people speak in these parts, or indeed the correct amount of humility in what was a new advertising territory for me. At the time I thought he was an idiot, (obviously) but now I have a different perspective.

The next round I thought I was closer.

The look of bewilderment grew ever more fixed the more I spoke.

Another round of creative later and it was made clear through the available channels that I was not to come to any more meetings. I just rubbed him up the wrong way and my ideas were awful.

Upon my exit, I was sure he leaned in to an intercom on his desk, pressed a button and and whispered ‘kill him’ in a sinister Russian accent.

Oh crap.

Now, I am not saying that every meeting I ever have is a bed of roses (I wish), but this level of failure was new territory. This was abject, and what made it even more shameful was that, awful as it is to admit, I thought we were getting along fine.

However I was reassured that account people have this kind of thing all the time. I guess they must, I mean you guys get paid to put up with it, but this was me we were talking about!

Oh I know, get over yourself Olly.

But this boycott presented a problem in a small agency.

It’s not always easy to just take the CD out of the picture and replace him/her with a stand in. At the time, I was the creative department, at least in terms of concepting.

The solution was to draft in a senior creative ‘honcho’ from the US to front the agency in creative terms and soon enough they seemed happier. They could talk about baseball and beefburgers and, oh I dunno, American stuff.

I was still going to be doing the work, the USA CD would just present and show up a couple of times a year. All would be happy.

This was not exactly a satisfactory set of circumstances but we needed to keep the business and we felt we could make it work. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, how could I have been so reviled?

Anyway, with me behind the scenes, suddenly the work started to get better reviews.

Now this was the kind of work we like!

Not like that other guy’s stuff…give us more like this!

Except that, obviously, it was still my work. Adjusted somewhat to their tastes, but my work nevertheless.

After a bit of successful research there was a shoot, where a stooge totally unconnected with the account was sent in as an art director, there were all manner of creative things created, all of which were originated and curated by my department and I, all while the client was thinking I had been banished to the hills.

Now, all this may seem like sour grapes and duplicitous agencies – but there is a point of sorts to be made.

We preach the gospel of ‘it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it’ and I had got it wrong on all sorts of levels.

‘My bad’ as us white middle-class, middle-aged, suburbanites now say.

But an agency’s output is as subject to this principle as much as any other product and consumer conversation.

Clients need to hear the message in a voice they recognise, by someone they like, in a way that illuminates the idea.

And even though Creative Directors are now seen as the best way to present creative, sometimes it’s best left to the right person for the right client.

Yes…even (gulps and winces)… account person.

Because it’s the relationship that smooths the way to a creative sale as much as all the other things, if not more.

Not just opinionated creatives trying to prove they are right.

And more importantly everyone got what they wanted, the client was happy and the agency kept the business.

Ah well, you live and learn.



Asking the cows about farming.

I was recently sat in an awards jury, as you do, when a ‘medical person’ insisted that in one category all you really had to do, to launch a new drug, was to announce its arrival.

Drug X does Y.

No selling or creativity was required.

It was a curious, if not uncommon occurrence, to hear that opinion and she was adamant. After all, she had been in the business for many years and she knew what she was talking about.

The medical business, mind you.

No amount of creative advocacy would budge her.

The thing is, yes, she clearly did know her area of medical expertise and to an extent the usual protocols for launching a drug in that category. But (with as much due respect as I can muster) what worth was her opinion from a marketing standpoint?

Do you know anyone who will admit to being persuaded by advertising? yet somehow it works.

So is it fair to assume that because you are an expert in your own field, you also are wise to the clever tricks we adfolk can pull? Or that you know how to market to yourself and your cohorts in the most effective way, better than mere advertising people?

We all use toothpaste regularly. (If my son is reading this, that will seem a bit of a stretch I grant you, but nevertheless…) does that make us experts in oral hygiene marketing?

The amount of times I have heard consumer clients talk about their products, (mostly car clients)  in terms of ‘just put it on the poster and it will sell itself’. I wish it were that simple.

Sometimes, within the B2B world, we don’t have the perspective required from our positions inside the tent to really see the bigger picture.

Look at it from the reverse angle.

The medical world, I am sure, rolls its collective eyes when patients rock up at surgeries with their own ailments pre-diagnosed. (If my daughter is reading this, how is the Denghi fever this week?)

Experience tells them that a runny nose might not be Malaria.

As they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

In a recent piece of research we had been carrying out for a new campaign the creative work was well received, as far as it went, but the doctors were not so keen on the strategy. Instead of them taking it at face value, we were told that other doctors would not believe it.

So what is the role of creative research when you get this reaction?

Do we listen to our experts in the field or do we rely on our knowledge that, actually, people sometimes react differently when they’re not being consulted for their opinion?

Do we trust in creativity?

Like a salesman pitching door to door do you just accept that if the customer initially says they aren’t looking for a new set of dusters you can’t sell them a new set of dusters?

We used to have a saying that research was like ‘asking the cows about farming’. The cows are right at the heart of the process, they live and breathe farming, they experience it everyday.

Just don’t ask them how to run the farm.

A good research company can sort the creative approval and understanding from the amateur strategic advice, but very often we take everything that spouts from a research participant’s gob as if it’s unquestionable pearls of wisdom.

And sometimes it just isn’t.

Sometimes they will tell us they like something because it sits within their comfort zone, not realizing that what is required is actually something outside of that dreaded zone.

Recently another doctor told us that even though he liked an idea we didn’t need the one visual thing that made it different. He didn’t know what it’s role was, so as far as he was concerned it was unnecessary.

Therefore our client felt that research told us we didn’t need it. But just because he didn’t know it’s role didn’t make it unnecessary. Without it, the ad was wallpaper.

The respondent was playing creative director and if anyone is going to be hideously wrong about stuff I insist it should be me.

Because if you need further proof that people, when consulted, often say one thing but do another and therefore can’t always be trusted, take a look at the recent election in the UK.

All the polls said the Tories and Labour were neck and neck and yet somehow we have a Tory Majority government.