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.

 

 

 

 

Pharma’s invisibility cloak.

In the Harry Potter books, why we ‘muggles’ don’t see all the weird magical stuff happening around us is explained in one simple line.

‘Muggles see what they want to see.’

A similar myopia seems to pervade consumer advertising and Healthcare advertising.

Maybe I’m being sensitive.

Apparently, there were actually two whole categories at Cannes that happened the same week as the rest of Cannes, had work exhibited in the same basement as the rest of Cannes and actual agencies won golds and silvers and agency of the year awards and……noooooobody noticed.

You had to go through a door in an invisible wall to a strange alleyway, apparently.

How do I know this?

Well, in this month’s Campaign – the leading advertising publication in the UK – an article by the ‘Global editor-in-chief’, no less, Claire Beale, in a piece supposed to soothe our bruised English national pride after the world cup, and get us all fired up about the creative talent on our shores, pretty much confirmed it.

In the article she rightfully championed every achievement by our consumer cousins at Cannes. (It is comforting to know we were still good at something even if the football didn’t work out how we thought.) heaping praise on the awesome achievements of Adam&Eve DDB among other notable agencies.

But somehow we had our invisibility cloaks in full working order and there wasn’t a mention of any successes in the Health and Wellness or Pharma categories for some reason.

I think I’m definitely being sensitive.

But it’s not like she didn’t have her chance at inclusion:

“And UK agencies are strong across the whole bench, not just scoring in the traditional positions, such as Film, but taking gold (and above) Lions in Glass, Sustainable Development Goals, Titanium, Creative Data, Direct, Media, PR, Social and Influencer, Film Craft, Creative Ecommerce and Entertainment.”

Um…not quite the whole bench there Claire is it.

An English agency, Havas Lynx, won Healthcare agency of the year, you might not have noticed.

They even handed out a statue and everything

 

I’m almost certain that I am probably just being a touch sensitive.

It’s weird because a lot of the big agency networks are scrambling to get involved in the healthcare space. It’s where a lot of the exciting work is happening. They even won in some of these categories.

But in some quarters our presence at Cannes is still like we have just been let in the back door to a teenage house party because our older sister was in with the cool older boys and said we could gatecrash if we stayed in the kitchen and didn’t talk to anyone and only drank cider.

We’re the fucking Inbetweeners.

But it’s not just the journos at Campaign. During the Cannes judging I bumped in to a well known advertising Creative Director, with whom I had a passing and tenuous association with, via an old friend, and we work in the same building. She has been in the business a good thirty years.

“Oh, what jury are you on?” she inquired after I introduced myself.

“Pharma”

“Oh? What’s that?” she said.

It wasn’t meant in a mean or derogatory way, I could tell she just had literally no idea. All she heard was “Spells and Potions”.

I am aware this just all sounds like chippy, a little whiny and a little bitchy. Why do I care what Campaign thinks, I ask myself?

I don’t really know, to be honest. It’s this damn over-sensitivity I guess.

But for too long we have been meek and mild about what we do, embarrassed even. Our history of regulations, small budgets and lack of creativity takes a long time to fade and as we know, perception always trails reality.

We are so busy flying around on broomsticks and casting spells on people and talking in backward snakey-talk that the rest of the world is quite happy not being involved.

They see what they want to see.

So whatever Campaign thinks or doesn’t think, it’s time to start being proud of the work, the craft, the ingenuity that we have in Pharmaland and to ditch the sensitivity. Or as Claire puts it “ditch the negativity and self-flagellation…UK Healthcare agencies are creative world champions”.

Ok, I added the healthcare part.

It may be that they just don’t ‘get’ our world, so it’s easier to put us in the cupboard under the stairs and tell us to keep quiet.

Perhaps we should invite them to a big school in a castle in Scotland?

You never know, they might be surprised at what a little magic can do.

The Artificially Intelligent guide to the new Agency model.

Over the last few months we’ve heard a lot of exciting news about agencies and clients reinventing the ‘advertising agency model’.

Not the whole agency, obviously, just the interesting part with all the tattooed beardy men and purple haired women.

Because you see, Creative departments simply weren’t working before.

What? you hadn’t noticed?

That’s why you’re not making the big bucks, buddy.

However, fortunately for us, some of those clever people who are earning the bigly-bucks with bells on – have been thinking about this long and hard and have come up with some cunning new ways to reinvent the whole thing.

There are three main ways this creative reinvention is manifesting itself.

The first is ‘Down with awards, long live Process!’.

The second is the ‘My Ball, My rules’ method.

The third is ‘Committees are the way forward’.

Leading from the front was the much publicised boycott of awards by the Publicis group. “No awards entries for a year, let’s spend it on AI process software!” they declared.

Of course they never reckoned on Creative people’s ability to think creatively. We needn’t have worried, last count Publicis had 398 entries at Cannes and won Gold in Pharma and came third in Healthcare Agency of the year via Langland.

Not bad for a group on a Cannes boycott. Maybe we should all try it.

Plus Publicis saved quite a few bob on air fair. They admit they had 15 people going under their own steam, 12 employees in the young Lions competitions and 12 leaders who were there for jury duty, paid for by Cannes.

Oh but wait, they did pay for the account leaders who needed to attend all the important meetings and the you know, all the important stuff.

Apart from the cost of junior creatives sandwich allowances, they saved themselves a shit ton of cash because all their suppliers or clients had to pay for the entries themselves and even their employees who actually picked up the awards had to pay their own way.

I mean it’s almost as if creative people’s careers depend on awards or something the way they managed to get stuff entered. Who knew?

Second, in the ‘My ball, My rules’ camp is P&G.

Recently they announced that they are forming a new agency called ‘People First’ which plans to cherry pick the best talent from the major networks and corral these lucky souls under one roof to service their North American fabric brands.

Naturally, when one of the world’s most powerful clients has a bright idea, agencies will nod, applaud obsequiously and agree through gritted teeth what a fab idea it is, or miss out on their slice of the world’s biggest pie.

But, you ask, is this just P&G setting up an in-house agency without all the bother of trying to find their own creatives or Creative Director?

Not a bit of it, this is completely different.

You have to concede it’s pretty damn bloody clever to not call it an in-house agency as the minute anyone does, I fear all the top talent at the top agencies might have an identity crisis that somehow they’ve crossed over to the dark side.

Thing is, an ad career can sink or swim on the recognition you get for your work. And by association your agency benefits from the afterglow of your genius, making it easier to hire talent and attract other business. That’s kinda the point.

Are the agencies to just forego this?

Well, luckily we don’t have to wonder. This years ‘It’s a tide ad’ campaign that swept the superbowl and won multiple golds at Cannes was won by the amazing agency Procter & Gamble Cincinatti.

Everyone credited appeared to work for Saatchi and Saatchi NY but you know, who cares if the cash is right.

The third act of reinvention is what Campaign described as the dawn of a new age of Creative power at JWT.

Finally!

It’s what we creatives, who’ve been round the block, recognize as the old ‘we don’t need creatives or Creative Directors because everyone’s a creative’ routine.

Or the ‘WDNCOCDBEAC’ routine for short.

Yes, JWT have decided they don’t need a global CCO.

‘Bloody over paid primadonnas’, someone probably said at some point, my hidden sources can confirm.

Tamara Ingram, the CEO, and her chums have realised that what they need is a group of engineers, architects and musicians from the Latin American agencies – an ‘incubation program’ named JumpStart instead of a global CCO.

They’re going to call it the ‘Inspiration Council’.

The only problem, as I see it, with taking engineers, architects and musicians and asking them to tackle creative problems for brands is that pretty soon – if they’re any good – Gosh, darn and damn it if they don’t go ahead and become creatives. This means then you have to fire them all and get some more engineers, architects and musicians to replace them.

Tamara explains:

“They’ll combine this with a ‘Futures Council’. The mix of talent — from data science and creative technology, to strategy and user experience — will work with universities and technology firms to feed the Inspiration Council with knowledge to find the right solutions to solving clients’ business problems.”

See? easy!

Personally I think committees, sorry –  ‘future councils‘ – are always the best way to provide a strong creative voice. Just think of all the great creative ideas or inventions that have come from committees, oops…sorry, Inspiration programmes that you can think of.

I mean there must be literally dozens.

It’s an exciting time to be a creative in a creative department, no more boring architecture or silly music to worry about for a start. So much change, so much reinvention by the people who know best.

As Tamara Ingram so eloquently put it, using simple plain English to make her point:

“This council is about unleashing the imaginations of these thinkers into our creative world,” she told Campaign US. “It is about encouraging a collision of ideas and inspiring the whole agency. It is about recency, relevancy and driving culture. It is about the application of the triangulation of humanity, creativity and technology that generates stand-out work and experiences.”

I couldn’t have triangulated that better myself.

So, it’s clear folks. The future Advertising agency model is an in-house creative department, run by a committee of engineers and musicians with a focus on AI software process systems.

Who wouldn’t want to work there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.