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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning judgemental.

It’s been an interesting year for judging awards shows, from my perspective.

Two down, one to go.

Last November I joined a small band of creatives and clients in judging the PM Society awards. As you may know, these awards guarantee a winner in all categories. Some people find that against the principle of an award, but like sport you can only beat who they put in front of you and I think a show that celebrates the best of the year in the UK still has a valid role.

The only problem is, it isn’t the best, it’s just the best of what was entered because some agencies don’t see their worth.  And for 2018 it appears print categories will be judges by HCPs as well as Creative Directors and we all know where that could lead! so reintroduce graphs in to your ads and up those call to actions and its a shoe in.

For me, this is a slight step backwards and will only discourage the more creative agencies to stay away. Then again, who actually does print ads any more?

Nevertheless here are the other new categories that are helping the show up their game.

A new Disease Awareness category for HCPs, alongside the existing one for patients.
A new category for Film & Animation aimed at patients, alongside one for HCPs.
A new category for the Best Use of Insight in campaign development
Direct Mail material should now be entered into the Interactive Communications category.

The work that wins at the PMs generally, with some exceptions (ahem), is not the kind of work that does particularly well at other more prestigious shows like Cannes or the Clios. But what I like about the PM awards is that they feel honest and reflective of the work we do every day. Plus they’re not cluttered by international agencies muscleing in.

And clients like them and frankly an old fashioned piss up with a client and a chunk of perspex to lose in the taxi on the way home, takes me back to the old days when D&AD was hosted at the Grosvenor house and advertising was still a hoot (and for some a toot).

I recently was asked to join the London Chapter of THE GLOBALS by the one time Bruce Springsteen lookalikey and all round creative superstar Dick Dunford, a partner at Loooped, who had volunteered his services. A little higher percentage of creative top brass here but given that these entries were from a worldwide market, I must say the quality wasn’t that different. Just a little bustier in the budget department and a little gooeyer in the sacarin department.

Hours went by without sight of a decent idea. There were also three campaigns that were so similar, being for a similar type of client, no matter how respectable or worthy they were they managed to cancel each other out by the fact that we couldn’t remember if we’d seen it already and if we had, which client it was for.

All that separated them was a typeface.

When that happens you’ve already lost the room.

The golden rule of being prudent with the number of entries you submit for fear of ‘death by entry’ was totally ignored by one particular agency. Mentioning no names, but by the ninth time it came up we were all ready to confess to anything.

Another entrant added a 70 page PDF complete with the brief and disease background etc. We have five minutes to judge your entry, that document was longer than some pitch decks.

Another hopeful had the client in the case-video saying how great they thought their entry was.

Sorry, but we’ll be the judge of that.

Thankfully a few gems rose to the top and made it worthwhile. It’s funny how just being different in the category can give you a massive head start. An idea is like a gasp of fresh air.

And so to my trip next week to Las Vegas and the inaugural ‘Pharma and Health and Wellness’ categories at the LIA awards.

The cast list looks impressive and I am honoured to be asked, obviously.

I mean, who could turn down a trip to Las Vegas and a chance to hang out with some top creative brass?

As I mentioned this to the chums at the Global judging day, we realised that probably some of these very same entries would be raising their head again. I mean, if you enter a campaign that many times you have to be pretty damn sure it’s wonderful.

How we laughed.

So if you are about to start work on your entries for an awards show remember a couple of things.

I’ve said them before but it’s worth repeating.

Don’t hide your light under a bushel! Jurors won’t sit through a voiceoverless video of someone scrolling through a website if it’s not immediately apparent what makes it great.

Please be prudent with your entries. Unless they are all the standard of the early VW ads by DDB, repeat viewing can strip a half decent idea down to its naked, brutal mediocrity.

Just ask yourself; does this break the category norms? If it doesn’t and is just a decent job, then its probably likely someone else has a similar campaign and all that hard work will be dismissed in a heartbeat.

All juries get excited by ideas, not just execution. And vice versa.

Finally, one of my favourite ads of the day – because it made me laugh – was a short little radio ad. If it’s good it doesn’t matter what the medium, or how tiny the budget, it will shine.

To me at least.

Happy award hunting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When political parties forget they’re a brand

There will be many observations made about this election in June 2017, but here’s mine.

There’s a very simple set of principles in advertising.

Over the years, if you watch closely, you can see them played out in various campaigns to great effect. You can also see when those principles are ignored and disasters ensue.

Principles like how a brand leader behaves and how a challenger brand behaves.

There is one area where the two major brands constantly swop roles and can behave differently depending on their position at any given time. Indeed how they behave can define their role.

One could argue that, going in to the election, the Conservatives were the brand leader in this case with the polls predicting a landslide and labour was the challenger.

If you are a brand leader you don’t concern yourself with your challenger brands.

You don’t find Coke talking about Pepsi. You don’t see Apple talking about Samsung. If you are a brand leader you set out your stall with confidence in the knowledge your offering is superior.

Samsung talks about Apple though. That’s the challenger’s role. What’s so great about Apple phones anyway? we have this that and the other and they don’t.

The challenger needs to disrupt, bite at the heels of the brand leader. We’re number 2, so we try harder.

So here’s my theory.

Over the course of the election Labour adopted the brand leader positioning and Conservatives were adopting a challenger role.

Nobody had told them they didn’t need to challenge labour.

The Conservative’s approach was a ‘strong and stable’ leadership. No solid policies, no clear manifesto. Their strategy was ‘we’re not that bunch of deadbeats’.

‘Not being something else’ is never great when its said from a superior position. It just sounds smug.

The Left went for a clear and honest manifesto. They didn’t try and slag off Theresa May, they left that to the electorate.

This somehow put the Labour party in to a positioning of brand leader. They were looking straight ahead, this is what we are going to do. Make your choice.

While the Tories insisted they were the only choice, without giving us much of a reason.

And lo and behold the Labour vote surged.

Sometimes the only thing holding a brand back is the way it talks and behaves. Alpha people behave like alpha people, they don’t need permission.

The Tories campaign came from what research must have told them. People want a strong and stable leadership, so they kept saying ‘we’re strong and stable’. It was the political equivalent of a 1950’s ad campaign with an annoying slogan that just gets repeated over and over.

‘You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent”

People often confuse what they say with how they want to be perceived.

Labour behaved strong and stable and won the argument.

They came across as honest, earnest and thought through, a few minor Dianne Abbot interviews notwithstanding.

Maybe it wasn’t quite enough, but in terms of brands Labour went from no hopers to contenders in a very short space of time.

Now somehow we’re in a world where May won but lost and Corbyn lost but won.

But I know who’ll be keeping their job.

 

 

Throwing money at a problem

Everyone has a story they tell when they dine out or meet new people. Mine is about the time I found myself in the lift with all of the members of U2 and was greeted by Elton John.

But that’s for another time.

My brother-in-law Dermot has a story that he used to tell a lot, but these days he will only bring out if you insist. So I tell it here instead, with his kind permission, mainly because it illustrates a reasonable point about creativity but it’s also a pretty good tale in itself.

It happened back when Mullets ruled the hairdressers and band names sounded like the ramblings of an eight month old baby (Kajagoogoo? no? oh please yourselves) and the internet was just a twinkle in Tim Berners-lee’s eye.

Our story starts on a fine spring day in a ski resort somewhere in the Alps when Dermot and two friends, Henric and Mike went off for an afternoon’s skiing. Such a fine day in fact that he decided, as people often do, that a jacket was surplus to requirements.

It was one of those afternoons where the sun reflects off the slopes and turns the whole mountain in to a giant reflector, the sky was a pastel blue and the snow was powdery and perfect. Bliss.

The other two cursed him as they sweated in their jackets and the three friends, all pretty good skiers, decided to take a detour and go ‘off piste’.

It must have been an hour or so later when they realised they had taken a wrong turn, missed a marker or sign and now were completely lost.

It was getting darker, but they carried on down the mountain anyway, thinking they were sure to find a route somewhere.

They chopped through the trees, weaving their way down when they abruptly came to a cliff and all three narrowly avoided going over the edge. That was close, they thought, but things were about to get a lot worse.

By now it was now almost totally dark and now it was getting freezing. They were properly in the shit.

And Dermot only had a sweater on.

They couldn’t risk walking in the dark and going over another ledge, so they reasoned they would have to make a camp there and spend the night on the mountain.

This was before mobile phones, and they hadn’t thought to tell anyone of their plans. Nobody would miss three guys in their twenties who didn’t come home all night.

They tried to make a fire. They had a cigarette lighter, no cigarettes of course, but nothing would burn.

They destroyed their skiis trying to use them as axes on the pine tree branches but no luck.

They would have to survive with no fire and no food.

If only they had some paper!

They dug a hole out of the snow with what was left of their skiis and cuddled up.

Stupidly they tried to sleep, which you shouldn’t do if you are in sub zero temperatures as you can quickly sink in to a coma.

Nevertheless Henric and Mike sandwiched Dermot between them to share body heat.

Dermot usually says at this point ‘I told them that if one of them needed to pee to just do it on me’ because the cold was so intense.

It was a long night, during which they all genuinely thought that they were done for.

As the first light appeared around 4am they were relieved to discover that they were still alive, if a little urine sodden. Slowly they made their way back up the mountain, (in 1980’s ski boots) trying to find a route down.

By 3pm that afternoon they eventually made it back to some kind of civilisation. A town that wasn’t where they were staying but had a taxi that would take them back to their village.

Exhausted, hungry and grateful for their lives they arrived back at their hotel.

Now, you may be wondering what all this has to do with finding a simple obvious answer.

The story would have ended there, a lucky escape and cautionary tale about the perils of mountain conditions. But as they entered the chalet, Henric, nonchalantly produced some money to pay the cab.

He has been sitting on a thick wedge of cash.

Paper.

Paper that they could have burned to start a fire.

But it never crossed his mind. Money wasn’t paper to him. It was money.

Sometimes the best ideas aren’t that hard to find, you just need to know where to look. You just need to think a bit differently about the familiar. What good creatives are able to do, rather like good comedians, is take the ordinary and twist it in to new shapes and present it back to you in new ways.

So it’s not always about new media, or new techniques.

Sometimes it’s just about looking afresh at something you’ve seen a million times before.

And setting light to it.

 

 

 

 

 

When you avoid offending anyone, you offend everyone.

One of the things that separates creatives from mere mortals, (I jest) is the ability to finally accept that your idea didn’t fly with good grace and resilience.

Nobody understood it.

Nobody liked it.

You could never afford to do it.

It had been done before.

”Don’t worry I’ll think of something else.”

All those things are hard to accept but they pale in comparison to having got your idea through and produced and then hating it.

The worst disappointment is having spent a year on a project, done three rounds of pitching, two rounds of research, fought tooth and nail for the right budget and director, photographer or animator – tried to accommodate everyone’s opinions and then when you see it you just go, ‘oh crap’.

Your heart sinks, maybe not because its awful, maybe just because it’s okay. But mostly because it really wasn’t what you started out believing it could be.

You thought it would be funnier, you thought it would be cooler. You thought, you thought, you thought.

You just hope no one notices it and it passes without incident or damage to your career.

That’s why I just feel rather sorry for the makers of the now infamous Pepsi ad. Most of us in advertising have made a turkey, myself more than most but this one was the ‘Heavens gate’ of cock-ups.

This Saturday Night Live skit, summed it up perfectly. The initial enthusiasm of the creative ( here they lump the director and creatives in to one easy to digest character) being thumped down to earth when the reality of the purile concept and all the compromises he’s allowed to happen hits him.

Because making a good commercial is hard.  That’s why agencies fight to get the best talent. It’s why good creatives can be seemingly unreasonable. Contrary to popular sentiment that ‘everyone is a creative’  making a spot that captures the imagination of the public is about more than just heaping a bunch of lame socially current imagery in to a nicely shot film and hoping for the best.

I’m not really sure in this day and age of multiple research rounds etc how no one commented that this was a pile of shit?

Maybe in the concept stage it was easier to fudge and promise this arguably noble ambition of ‘bringing together of cultures and world peace’ in a storyboard.

A bit like when you have a really funny story in your head and when you start to tell it out loud to your friends they stare at you non plussed and all you have to offer is a meek ‘well…er…you had to be there’.

Being unreasonable stops this kind of disaster.

Maybe it even started out as a black lives matter script.

Maybe it featured a black woman, perhaps the real Leisha Evans from the Jonathan Bachman photo taken at the Baton Rouge protest, maybe they envisioned it as gritty and urban but also simple and genuine.

It would still have been on dodgy ground because appropriation of serious issues by a soft drink (and not even the one that is best placed to make this kind of ad) is a minefield, obviously.

Then, after the first presentation, all sorts of people from clients to consumers to consultants started commenting:

Does it have to be an angry march?

We think it’s too much black lives matter? 

Can’t we have smiley faces? make it about ‘the conversation’?

What about some cool dancers to appeal to the kids?

And we want to be inclusive, one of the heroins should be a muslim girl.

I think a Cello could add some class, it’s all rather street isn’t it?

Just so many deaths by a thousand cuts that it ended up being a long way from that first idea.

And no amount of money or celebrities could save it.

But the final film was just so fake, so contrived and emasculated to avoid offending anyone, it offended everyone.

In my experience being polarising can be a good thing, if you aren’t upsetting the applecart a little then you’re doing something wrong.

Just don’t destroy the whole orchard.

I’m being generous of course, it could have just been this God-awful crap from start to finish.

The only consolation is that there’s always another brief and a chance to redeem yourself.

You hope.

 

The old egg and lightbulb rule.

In research it’s always nice to hear that respondents ‘liked’ your idea.

But so what?

The problem is people like a lot of things, pictures of puppies, pretty colours, the way the model looks strong, the happy setting of a family on holiday because it reminds them of that time in Corfu.

It doesn’t really mean they’ll remember it though, at least not just for that reason alone.

I always love that question when you hear it in a research one to one. “Which one of these concepts would you remember most?”

As if they know!

Not to say it isn’t a valid expectation, fixing a permanent spot in the HCP’s mind is kind of what we should be aiming for, obviously.

Derren Brown, the famous er…magician doesn’t really cut it…illusionist possibly? Anyway, ‘Wizard’ is probably closest, knows a thing or two about how the mind works.

If you have ever had the pleasure of seeing one of his shows it is literally a marvel.

If you didn’t know better and if he didn’t admit he isn’t one, you’d swear he was a genuine psychic.

It appears he can read minds and predict the future.

And his ability to memorise things is incredible.

But it’s based on simple techniques that he writes about in his book A trick of the mind.

One of them is this:

If you want to remember a list of random items, it helps if you visualise them meshed together to create a strong visual image in your head.

To demonstrate the difference try these two techniques. First, give yourself one minute to learn this list of ten things in this exact order:

A kettle

A red shoe

A giraffe

A cloud

A banana

A clam

A urinal

A guitar

A country lane

A grey carpet

Got it?

Okay, go away and try writing them down in that order and see how far you get.

Now try the same list but this time link the two images together in a visual picture.

A kettle

A kettle shaped like a red shoe

A pair of red shoes on a giraffe

A giraffe shaped cloud

A cloud emanating from a banana

A banana inside a clam

A clam peeing in a urinal

A urinal shaped guitar

A guitar in the middle of a country lane

A country lane made of grey carpet

Now try the same exercise and write them down again. A bit easier to remember isn’t it?

That’s because memory is linked closely to the visual side of the brain. If we can visualise it, we remember it better.

That’s why so many of the great ad campaigns have strong visual elements.

It’s also why concepts with people on the beach or at the park and a line about their data are likeable but forgettable.

It’s why you forget most of the advertising messages you are bombarded with every day.

It’s why even strong headlines are often visual too and paint a picture.

So what can we learn from this little trick of the mind?

Well it might help agencies and clients take a different view of that part of the research debrief that says the respondents ‘like’ an idea.

As I said, people like a lot of things.

But the things they remember are the ones that are a square peg in a round hole. The ideas that subvert, twist, shock or surprise.

It’s why a picture of a lightbulb or an egg may be likeable but isn’t memorable, but a lightbulb, cracked like an egg somehow is.