Career suicide.

A couple of apparently unconnected things happened in the last few months, out there in media land, that have a hit a chord if you happen to be a seasoned creative of the ‘pale and male’ persuasion.

Firstly in June, at Cannes Lions, the wonderful ‘Project 84’ scooped a gazillion Lions for the Campaign Against Living Miserably. A haunting and yet beautiful depiction of suicide rates in the UK, showing 84 men perched on the side of a sky scraper in central London.

The idea, in case you missed it, helped raise the profile of the epidemic in male suicide, 84 men between under the age of 40 kill themselves every week.

Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under forty. Not Cancer, not Diabetes, not car crashes.

I know a bit about the senseless waste, the inner trauma that nobody spots when its shrouded in a happy go lucky outer shell

My best friend, when I was thirty two and he was thirty four, with four sons and a wife, took his own life with some rope and a beam in his garden shed. I also know a little about the mess that’s left behind.

What leads these men to opt out? it varies. Clinical depression, broken marriages a general sense of hopelessness.

Maybe even losing a job.

On a completely different and far more ‘woke’ topic there was the news that Jo Wallace, A Creative Director at JWT London had declared¬† war on the white middle aged heterosexual man. What she called the ‘Knightsbridge boys club’.

Enough of this MadMen culture! We need more diversity!

Watch out chaps!

Next thing we know, a bunch of them are being made um…well…let’s call it ‘redundant‘.

(I know a little about this predicament, as it’s ten years since I left Havas in what one might call ‘a hurry’.)

And now guess what, these same creatives (all older and white and heterosexual of course) have mounted a discrimination law suit against JWT.

Oh dear, poor old JWT can’t seem to get it right. One minute their CEO is being ousted for inappropriate behaviour and the next they’re being too zealous with the whole ‘woke’ strategy.

To be fair JWT refute the allegations of discrimination. They maintain that there had been a spate of redundancies and it made sense that if the majority of the department are pale and male, let alone stale, then there would be a bias towards them. Ok, I get that.

But you have to admit, the timing of Jo Wallace’s speech could have been a lot less Gerald Ratnery.

Positive discrimination is all well and good but can be done without a callous attitude to other people, people with children, homes and mortgages.

These are the same people who have spent a lifetime hawking their student book around town, carving out a career and working their buts off, with weekends and public holidays spent in the office not seeing their families just to do some nice work and keep their jobs.

If Jo Wallace should be anti anything she should be anti-notalent.

Now, granted, we have had a good run, us white middle aged heterosexual men. It cannot be denied.

I just wonder if this is the way to change things.

In a world where talent should be the defining factor in job retention, or indeed progression, being discriminated against because of colour, age or gender is unacceptable.

Shouldn’t that include the pale and male? Even if that’s only what it looks like.

When JWT start hiring again this might severely limit the number of rocks she can look under for talent.

I started googling and found this article in Campaign magazine from 2016 by Rooney Carruthers who asked the question ‘what next for the over 45 year old creative?’

He writes of an older creative who had recently been made ‘redundant’ and taken his own life.

Now, I don’t want to be over dramatic. Lots of these so called stale creatives will find work and not just in top twenty agencies.

But this is serious shit. It’s not a game you should be able to play just to meet diversity quotas, no matter how important diversity is.

And the truth is, the advertising industry has its own natural attrition. (Many of us get fed up with the level of idiot bellends and selling sugar to kids.)

True diversity can and should be fed from the bottom up, filtering people in to the industry through talent first.

Yet minorities of all descriptions very often don’t see adland as a realistic career choice.

That’s why schemes like the Creative Floor are so important, they do incredible work to encourage people who wouldn’t otherwise consider it, or otherwise struggle to find a way in, through their talent and diversity fund.

That’s where the answer lies and when they have gained the knowledge and honed their talents, and creative people from all walks of life see adland as an option the shape of agencies will be truly diverse and packed full of talent.

Happy International Men’s day everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

The Bieber guide to pitching.

The approach is this:

You simply do whatever you need to, present the kind of work you suspect they will like and then get the client round to an idea you like once they are through the door and you are fully appointed.

So why Justin Bieber?

Think of it like dating.

If you want to woo a girl (for the sake of this blog) and she likes Justin Bieber you say you love JB too – how amazing! and you buy two tickets for his next show because, you know, you are sooo all about the Biebs.

You go to the concert, put up with the music and the screaming girls, but woo her with the whole ‘we have so much in common’ pitch, and as she gazes in to your eyes longingly, you kiss her to the sound of ‘As long as you love me’ in the background and then, theoretically, you live happily ever after.

Simples.

Until the next time she suggests Justin is in town and she has got some tickets.

Aaahh crap.

Greeeeaaaat. Can’t wait.

You can’t now say you actually can’t stand him, she would consider you a complete fraud, so you go and keep going and buying the albums and listening to him on long car journeys and then one day it all gets unbearable and you get very drunk and admit, in a slurred yet frenzied mental breakdown, that you always HATED him and if you have to go to another concert of his or listen to one more bar of his you will literally cut off your own ears and stuff the remaining ear-hole with parts of disused flip flops!

In floods of tears she can’t believe she has been so stupid as to fall for this sham of a relationship and she storms out leaving you heartbroken.

That’s one way to pitch.

So it might have just been better in the first place if you’d just explained that actually Ed Sheeran is more your cup of tea and risked not winning her over.

Or maybe she actually had never heard Ed Sheeran and actually quite likes him now that you made her a playlist.

So, fellow pitch losers, when you receive that ‘you came a close second’ call or email, maybe it’s ok.

Maybe you just dodged a bullet.

Sooner or later you would have cut your own ears off and had no flip flops.

Real success, both creatively and financially, comes when both parties like Ed Sheeran or led Zep, or Beyonce or whoever.

If you think what you are presenting is right – whatever the outcome, then losing a pitch is actually winning if you look at it the right way.

And when you actually win that pitch, well, it’s all the more sweeter.

Plus, as the Biebster would say, there’s one less lonely girl.

 

 

 

 

You take the high-brow I’ll take the low.

Before Easter I took a trip to the US and Canada to visit our agencies in my new capacity as Le Grand Fromage Creative de la CDM.

My ‘talk to the troops’, or as our CEO Kyle Barich described it, my ‘Stump’ speech was a way of introducing myself to those who had no idea who I was or how I got the job or what the job was. It was also a chance to share some of my thinking about creativity and pharma and whatnot.

I hadn’t reckoned on the North American weather though and so the trip was somewhat compromised by a shit ton of snow which decided to disrupt a promising spring in New York, so sadly I never made it to Montreal. It was like the scene in Home Alone when the mum tries to get back to save Kevin and due to no flights has to share a bus with a Polka band, lead by John Candy.

Well, there was no touring Polka band but the frustration was similar.

I managed a quick visit to our Princeton agency but these were guys who’ve become extreme weather experts and weren’t dumb enough to attempt to make it in to the agency with two feet of snow forecast, so a small band of hardened professionals were left holding the fort, while the others worked remotely.

Nevertheless as a small part of my ‘stump speech’ I started to grow more fond of this notion of where ideas come from and how it needn’t be the high brow visits to art galleries and French independent films that supply all the ideas to steal, I mean..ahem..be inspired by.

As you know, if you are looking for inspiration, by the time you come to sit down with a pencil and paper and try and think of something it’s already too late if there’s nothing in the idea bank. You need to be making deposits all the time.

For a creative you never know when the visual or intellectual stimuli will resurface. Even a night in the Hyatt in a business park in New Jersey can provide fodder at some point.

(Right now I can’t think what, but the 1970’s decor and cold scrambled egg was a delight and may pay dividends some day!)

But I digress.

This idea for a flexible fabric Bandaid would only have come from someone who’d skipped the Rauschenburg retrospective at the Tate Modern and gone to watch a Marvel movie instead. I love this idea, yes I know it’s just a print ad, but the thinking is so pure no copy, beyond what the product does, is necessary.

Similarly this idea for Wonderbra swimwear has a delightful simplicity that can only have come from a few viewings of Finding Nemo.

But it’s also not about just watching films, arty or otherwise. (although I highly recommend it)

I was reminded of this when I read about how Dan Weiden (founder of Weiden and Kennedy) who among other things wrote the famous Nike line ‘Just do it’.

Who would have though that his inspiration would have come from the last words of the famous American killer Gary Gilmore.

As the firing squad lined up and he was strapped in to his chair he just said ‘Let’s do it’.

Dan wanted something that would inspire professionals and amateurs alike, an attitude he could apply to the brand and this somehow popped in to his head.

He didn’t like ‘let’s’ in copy, so he changed it to ‘Just’.

And the rest is adland history.

We can get so tied up in our heads that we disregard the everyday creativity and attitudes that surround us. The conversations on the bus, the random acts of graffiti wit on walls. If we want to relate to people on a people basis the more ways we can find to repackage the familiar in unfamiliar ways the easier our job will be.

And so little of it comes from staring at our phones while life goes on around us.

Our clients and customers aren’t art critics or film buffs. They like populist work, they like pop tunes and they like best selling novels about crime and love (okay and maybe science).

So by all means check out the Turner prize winners, go to the opera but also next Sunday when you’re lazily skimming through Netflix in a fug of hangover, take a look at that Pixar movie and well …

… Just do it.

 

Why you must learn to hate your own ideas.

Of course most people like their own ideas, sometimes none more so than creative people themselves.

I’m sure the person who came up with the term ideation was delighted with it.

But what a lot of people, and by that I mean the idea-toting non-creative wing of adland, may struggle with (only because it takes time and experience to learn), is knowing how an idea will actually work or how to make it work, or what it will look like when you’ve done it and how it will be perceived once you’ve had it.

Add to that whether the idea is doable in the time, within budget, and won’t simply look stupid or in poor taste.

People tend to think in terms of scenarios. ‘How about a woman who is having trouble reading the small print on a menu while on a first date.’ is a perfectly reasonable scenario in film, but almost impossible in a still. It’s probably just a woman squinting at a menu.

It’s as hard as knowing if you’ve just had a good idea or not. In fact, arguably that’s what a good idea is.

It’s why we still have creatives, and we still have creative directors (for the moment) and it’s why a creative person’s idea is often – not always – been through their own internal creative director’s office, before it even makes it to a ‘what do you think of this?’ in the open air.

Because an instant love for our own ideas has been tempered by the crushing disappointment of other people’s opinions and a desire to do the kind of work that gets them their next job.

As a creative you start out with a raw talent, ideally, if it hasn’t been beaten out of you by your education system, parental pressure for you to find a proper job or the desire for qualifications in History and Maths.

You take this raw talent, tout your book of ideas around town and after about a year of people hating your ideas, eventually you start doing better ones, then quite good ones and then hopefully a few stonking ones and then, if you are in the right place at the right time, someone will recognise talent it in you and give you a job.

You then spend those first ten or twenty difficult years learning what those ideas that pop in to your head actually mean and how you can turn them in to something. But with practice you get really good at deciphering the bad ideas from good, the practical from the impossible and so on, almost instantly. You don’t always get it right, but it’s a process that takes time to learn.

That experience is hard won, but that expertise is what clients pay for without even really considering it, not just the talent of coming up with them.

It comes with the daily agonising process of coming up with ideas and seeing most of them dismissed.

The problem is, none of that is on show when you present work. It appears that you are just showing a bunch of random ideas that you just whipped up in a couple of days.

Sure looks easy. Let’s all have a go, it’s fun.

But all the years of internal deciphering wheat from chaff is what has led you to this point, not a couple of hours in a brainstorm or scribbling on a pad.

There’s probably a sperm and egg analogy here but I’ll leave it at that.

The famous photographer David Bailey, when asked how he could charge 20k for a day’s shoot when he completed the shoot in a couple of hours, allegedly replied “this didn’t take me two hours it took me twenty years”.

I am not sure if he stole this reply from Picasso who was said to have offered to sign a napkin for 20k on the basis that it wasn’t the minute it took to sign it, it was about the fifty years he had spent making it worth signing.

Experience matters in creativity, almost as much as no experience.

So now if you are a ‘non-creative’ and you think your idea is a way better than what you’ve seen, just ask yourself whether you like it because it’s yours or because it’s actually better.

Because judging your own ideas is different to judging someone elses work. Objectivity is a huge factor in judging others’ ideas.

Judging your own ideas is really hard. And it’s important to judge them as if your career were to be judged on it.

That’s not to say your idea isn’t any good, by the way. But you owe that CD a listen as to why it may not be.

I’ve found the best clients or ‘non-creatives’ can offer ideas and lines but are usually also pretty good at taking push back if the CD (in a sudden role reversal) doesn’t think it’s right. As are the best kind of creatives.

The worst kind of client just want you to do it their way.

Mutual respect is important in a client agency relationship and that includes ideas.

What is usually more helpful to hear from the client side is ‘I think your idea is wrong or not doing enough of this or that. How can the agency solve it?’

The more prescriptive you are the harder it is for agencies to crack the problem.

So it doesn’t mean your ‘I’m not a copywriter but…’ idea isn’t any good. It just depends on how you regard it. Does your idea have some kind of special golden ticket as it’s yours? do you have so few ideas that when you come up with one it needs to be curated like an ancient artifact?

Or is it an idea that deserves the same scrutiny that all ideas, from whatever source they derive from, should expect to receive.

So, let’s assume IT IS a great idea.

Has it been done before? Will it look different and stand out. Will it fit brand guidelines? Is too complicated?

Making sense is only the first step.

Because you may be a CEO or a CMO or even a brand manager or planner or agency suit and your idea may be fantastic. But creatively speaking, if you haven’t spent some time learning these creative ropes, it’s an idea from a junior creative.

In other words, someone who hasn’t learned to reject their own ideas yet.

If you can accept that, then ideate away my friends.

Christmas comes to Pharmaland.

Think about it. They call it the greatest story ever told.

Actually it’s the greatest healthcare ad campaign that ever ran. It’s text book marketing.

Firstly, you have a blockbuster product that can solve all ills.

Then you have 12 KOLs ready to advocate.

You have a wonderfully written idetail, (previously in hard back.)

You have patient stories inside that make the whole thing come alive.

You have ten important guidelines for prescribing.

You have conference centres designed entirely for the symposiums dedicated to your product, all over the world. (Every Sunday)

You even have jingles that everyone knows.

You have salesmen (and now women) who go in to the community and spread the word.

And you have the promise of ever-lasting life.

And no medics to say you can’t say that.

And it’s available everywhere.

All you need is three wise men and some cattle.

Now that’s a case history.

Merry Christmas one and all.

 

Starting out as a creative? Get Creative.

When I started out, after a period traveling around the USA with a backpack, I decided to give this lark a proper go.

I found myself a writer out of Watford Copywriting school to partner with (I was very much an art director then) and Rob and I started to get a book together.

We had a rather short list, like many ambitious creatives, of where we wanted to work.

In the 80s GGT was the agency every young creative wanted to work at, the Droga 5, Adama & Eve DDB or Mother of its day. We even turned our nose up at JWT…JWT? who did we think we were!

What we never considered was going the Pharma route.

Not glam enough. No TV. Maybe that was it, but also we just never knew about it or saw anything it produced.

But what we needed were placements at agencies, a short internship that could get us some experience and a foot in the door.

Even today most agencies, consumer agencies at least, still get requests for placements from young teams and some agencies even have to put you on a waiting list, to work for them for free.

This was before minimum wage laws. We had to finance the placement ourselves and make up the shortfall by nicking all the markers and layout pads we could get our hands on. (Apologies to Y&R circa 1986)

But placements were also a way of networking, getting some briefs under our belt.

Rob and I did a hundred and ten ‘book crits’ with every hack in town and ten months trudging the streets before we got offered a job, I dare say it would take more these days.

But today when it’s harder than ever to get a foothold, why do creatives still avoid placements in pharma agencies?

Take a look at the work that’s happening in Cannes, Clios and the Creative Floor awards. Anyone involved in that kind of work would sail in to a decent consumer agency surely?

And yet, I’ve not really heard of any student teams looking in Pharma for a month’s placement.

Not one. Never even been asked.

Okay, the briefs are sometimes more tricky but the opportunities are there.

The way I see it (with hindsight) is that 90% of the placements creatives do in any agency, do not end up in a job anyway so what have you got to lose?

Everyone has the dream of being plucked by a top agency but like footballers if you stay too choosy you can miss out on some great football matches in the lower league and in doing so, improve your skills.

There’s a reason why the top clubs loan out their players to the lower leagues; to get experience.

So, if you are a young creative team looking for placements, would you rather be on that waiting list at BBH or AMV that might get bumped to next year or get a foot in the creative door and start making stuff?

If I had my time again, I might have at least taken a look.

But where to start?

Try doing what we did, scour the award websites, see which work you like and give them a call. ( ok, these days its an email or tweet!)

You never know, you might even like it.

 

 

The LIA awards get Healthy.

Back in May I received one of those emails you cannot ignore. “Dear Olly, we would like you to be a judge in the inaugural Health and Wellness category at the LIA (London International) awards in Las Vegas in October.”

Hotels and flights paid for.

Hmm, let me think for a moment.

To be honest, the LIA awards could have been judging the Lactose-free Inkjet Awards or the Lazy Imbecile Awards and I would still have signed up.

Leaving aside, for the moment, why an awards show that has resided in the middle of a Nevada desert for the last ten years is called the London International Awards, it did seem like an opportunity too good to miss.

Pharma and Health and Wellness continues to come of age, thanks in no small part to the likes of our Jury President – Jeremy Perrott, Global Chief Creative Officer at McCann Health, pushing our often reluctant industry in to the limelight where it belongs. The LIA awards are another step to being part of the genuine adland gang.

Indeed Healthcare is where the action is these days.

The glee of this invitation lasted right up until this week when the tragic shooting took place and turned the town known for its partying and freedom of spirit in to a bloodbath.

I cannot write about the relatively frivolous activity of judging creative work without mentioning it, because as these events often do, it puts everything momentarily in to perspective.

Anyway, let’s hope America gets a short break before the next NRA funded terror attack happens.

And so it is I found myself last Wednesday in a cab driving past the shimmering Mandalay Bay hotel travelling through a town with 30 degree heat, to sit in a darkened room for three days looking at some of the best work in health and wellness over the last 18 months.

So why do we need another awards show?

Well, what the LIAs isn’t about is huge cabannas on the beach with tech company logos dominating the skyline. It’s not a trade show, indeed it’s not even an awards show in the traditional sense.

The LIAs is palpably about creative awards, celebrating ideas and new innovative thinking ( they dropped the ‘advertising’ from the awards title in 2004 to recognise how the business had changed).¬† Set up by the founder of the Clios, Barbara Levy, the money from your entries goes in to funding young creatives and account people to come to Las Vegas and learn from the big names across the industry. It’s putting something back, which has to be admired.

Isn’t that better than an international show where no international people show up to collect their award and everyone just gets wasted?

Ok don’t answer that.

It’s aim is to be a genuine rival to Cannes (in terms of kudos at least) and if the level of judging is anything to go by, it already is.

Our first day was pretty brutal. I’ll take you through the deal.

Seven judges from around the world, including Japan, Sydney, Sau Paulo and Toronto with around 240 Health and Wellness entries to separate, the first task was to sort the wheat from the chaff. A large screen displays the entries and we are furnished with a small ipod with an in, out or abstain choice for each hopeful. First day is no talking, just watching.

After ten hours of tinkling piano and ernest voice overs you emerge in to the desert twilight suffering from compassion fatigue. What might have seemed an appropriate peice of music for a heart wrenching story when you were editing your case film a few weeks ago now seemlessly joins up with the next case film and the next heart wrenching story producing an end result that is like watching a sort of eight hour long, disjointed Swedish Independent film.

Day two comes and some discussion creeps in. The ipods now have a numbered scoring system which you mark from 1 to 10 depending on your affection for the concept.

The cut off point is arbitrary to an extent but we began by looking at everything that got above 60% with the ability to ‘rescue’ any forgotten or overlooked soldiers.

It then becomes clear who has a passion for what. I’d say generally most people agree on the big stuff, the zingers. It gets harder to agree when the work is just really good. Is that animation good but the idea a bit unoriginal? Does that campaign belong in the same gang as the others in its category? Does that endline let it down? Is this just a cool looking film but with a flimsy idea at its heart?

At some award shows you are desperately looking for something half decent to award, here – as in Cannes, the half decent doesnt get a look in.

By the end of day two we managed to get a good shortlist narrowed down. Then the next task was to choose what would medal and what wouldn’t.

It’s amazing how long this stuff takes. Personally, when I judge I want to be my own devils advocate and ask the questions that might expose a leak where other campaigns are watertight.

These tiny flaws are what make the difference between Gold Silver or Bronze. Sometimes it might be whether the intent of a great film is actually met. For instance it might be a stunning commercial but does it work as a fund raising machine as intended? It might be an incredible peice of innovation but does it have a legitimate role. Conversely, does it matter if the idea is hard to detect but the work moves me anyway?

Day three was a totally new experience.

The organisers wanted the aforementioned junior creatives and account handlers ( aged between 21 and 30) to sit in on the session when we chose the medal winners.

So about 30 fresh faced young’uns shuffled in and sat quietly (almost) for the whole day as we debated and voted.

I’ll admit that this was a bit weird for probably all of us. But after a while it became a bit like a viewing gallery in a surgical theatre, you just got on with the work and the debating.

It’s also fair to say that at first these whippersnappers also were not that keen on observing a health and wellness jury. I mean, who on earth wants to join a healthcare agency right?

Who wants healthcare briefs when they could be selling sugar to children?

Well, if nothing else I can honestly say that the work selected as winners in our category proved to be as stunning and inspiring as any consumer category at any show anywhere in the world.

One kiddiwink even admitted at the end of the question and answer section that she felt so impressed at the kind of work that’s possible that she had to apologise to us for her initial, albeit silent, prejudice.

But then that’s how we all feel isn’t it?

From the outside our business just looks like a bunch of press ads with headlines about tolerability and efficacy doesn’t it?

Ok, don’t answer that.

But from the inside the jury room at the LIAs, Health is looking more and more like the most exciting gig in town.

Check out the winners in November and the shortlist published here, and start thinking about getting involved for next year.

Because the LIAs have arrived and for the first time, what happens in Vegas, isn’t staying there.