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 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.

A fitting end to 2015.

I read with interest today the announcement that the ground-breaking crowd sourcing website ‘idea bounty’ is to close its doors.

This was from the email they sent today:

“It was our assumptions about clients where we went wrong. It turns out that no-risk ideas just aren’t that appealing, especially to those spending someone else’s money, as they tend to favour the safety of a big agency brand over the riskiness of an idea borne of an independent thinker. This reality was compounded by the huge amount of effort required to sift through the ideas. The average brief received over 1000 ideas and this was always a herculean task especially as we always wanted to ensure that every idea received its deserved attention.”

In the light of this sad demise of a truly pioneering company, here’s a crazy, half-baked idea.

What if we set up a company that had a professional creative team working full time on a clients business, who really understood their needs and goals and then clients could pay for a sort of I dunno…a creative director let’s call them….to sift through the gazillion crappy ideas so they didn’t have to.

Then clients could show up to a meeting and see the best three or four concepts and choose from one of them.

Then go to lunch.

Of course it would have to be a respected group of ad professionals who they wouldn’t mind spending time with and who they could trust.

That would cut out the hassle and you know what, maybe they wouldn’t mind paying for a service like that?

Let’s call it a…ooh I dunno…an advertising agency perhaps.

Who’s with me?



‘Merry Mythmas’ blaggers, more blags from me in the new year. Thanks for reading, sharing and all the compliments. It really means a lot.

Why agencies fight for creative work

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

Yes it’s because creative work builds client business.

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

Yes, even for professional pride and job satisfaction.

But there is a less obvious reason.

But let’s back up a little.

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

Are you ever truly surprised?

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

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

How we snigger at them and their ignorance.

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

But imagine if they didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 4: They make changes to the design..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To keep clients.