Be careful what you wish for

You remember those first couple of years when Health and Wellness and Pharma were finally at Cannes?

Anyone who was anyone flew in and there was an air of optimism for the future.

And yet, how some of us lamented the fact that we seemed divorced from the main show, how we felt like second class citizens. Why were we on the preceding weekend and not part of the main week?

‘We want to be part of the main week’ they said.

Not me. I liked it that way.

(Not least because you could get a hotel room near Le Croisette and one that wasn’t something out of a tired nineteen seventies polyester nightmare.)

However, that first year I remember a lot of the talks were in the main Lumiere theatre, it really felt like this was pharma’s time.

The next year we were shunted round the back. What? not in the main theatre? oh right, round the back you say?

But that was okay, we got our own slightly ssmaller space, somewhere to see innovations and specific talks all in one arena.

In fact this was better in some ways, round the back, out of the way.

We even still got our own gala ball on the roof top. Yay!

But still, here we are on the weekend and we don’t feel like part of the adland gang, we moaned.

Last year we got included in the main week, no healthcare gala ball, but we go to go to the opening night party with everyone else.

Cool!

And we still had our own awards night! A lot of the work was celebrated and silver winners took to the stage to get their moment in the limelight they deserved.

The winning work was from healthcare agencies and actual pharma clients.

This year, we’re still round the back, no healthcare gala ball and the awards night consisted of our categories being squeezed in with a couple of other categories nobody gets excited about any more.

Like ‘print’.

No silver winners on stage and the whole thing, two whole categories mind you, is over in 30 mins.

Won a silver? well done, give yourself a round of applause.

Next category please.

Congratulations everyone, we’re part of the main show! We’ve arrived!

 

 

 

 

Forget about awards and the awards will come.

Do you see yourself as a creative person?

Try this test.

Take a brick and list three things you can do with it.

Some people will say 1. Build a house 2. Build a road 3. Build a bridge.

If your top three ideas were 1. Throw through a jeweller’s window, 2. Squash flies 3. Paint white and use as a creative award – you may be destined for a career in the creative industries.

So does something more fundamental separate creatives from people who might class themselves as ‘non-creative’?

My wife and I were watching one of those programmes, of the ‘Escape to’ variety.

Yes, it’s a high-octane life I lead.

This one was about a couple who have bought a château in France and are renovating it beautifully and creatively.

It might even be called ‘Escape to the Château’.

The wife, (his not mine) had bought a new light for one of the bedrooms – off the internet, as you do, and opened up the box upon receiving it with a squeal of delight.

It was a wonderfully decorative flower arrangement style set in brass.

Her husband, a practical man and extremely handy with a jigsaw and a plank of wood, looked on with a look of amused despair, and immediately pointed out that it was a candle holder with no electrical aspect whatsoever.

Not what they needed at all.

My wife ‘tutted’ and remarked ‘that’s such a creative person thing to do’.

(I couldn’t really argue as I had done something similar myself recently with a picture light.)

Because creative people’s brains do work differently to a degree.

But creative or non-creative, we all can tap in to a higher level of creativity if we put our minds to it.

Or rather if we don’t.

A study in the 1970’s at Stanford in California by an academic called Mark Lepper (now a professor of Psychology) took a group of children from the Bing Nursery school located on the Stanford campus, divided them in to three groups and gave all three a set of markers, crayons and paper.

The first group was told there would be a reward for the best picture. An award with their name on it, no less.

The second group was not told anything, but the best picture did receive an ‘unexpected reward’ once they had completed the task.

The third groups were neither promised nor received any award for their work.

The results were astounding. The first group’s work – the one with a clear reward – was considerably worse than the other two.

The findings, at least among these children, clearly showed that reward is not necessarily the best way to increase creativity.

A subsequent experiment divided children in to two groups and again asked them to create a collage – one with no promise of anything and the other with the promise of a prize: An Etcher-sketch!

They then asked judges to come in from the art department and randomly asked them to judge the work.

All of the work from the group with no intrinsic incentive was judged to be significantly poorer.

Weird huh?

So what is your approach to awards and how does this square with those agencies who clearly load the dice with work let’s say…..that is specifically designed to clean up at Cannes etc?

Well, it would at least seem to contradict Lepper’s work at Stanford.

But I suspect the creative motivation for those who produce those winning concepts is less about winning the awards and more about doing something cool.

In fact for anyone who produces great work, it’s never about the awards as a starting point. Not really.

Maybe it just happens that if your approach is to go for cool and interesting first, rather than be fixated on what will win at an awards show, the awards start flowing.

So that brief that’s sitting on your desk? what could you do to give yourself the most fun on a job that you’ve ever had?

What would you like to spend the next three months producing, assuming it works for the brand?

Do that, not that thing you think might delight the judges.

You never know, you might win a brick all of your own.

 

 

*With special thanks to the freakonomics.com podcast for the inspiration for this blog.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of an awards tart.

I’ve been honoured and lucky enough to have been asked to sit on three awards juries this year. Cannes Pharma, LIAs Health and I’ll be attending Clio Health in November. I was asked to be on the Globals but although … Continue reading

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?