Monday, February 23, 2009

Doing Your Job

Today I did something that scared the living daylights out of me.

I disagreed with a client to the Account VP.

The client is obsessed with a piece of copy I wrote. 

Every time we start on a new tactic in the campaign, they ask for us to use the original piece of copy.

Account side has fought a valiant fight for me and my Art Director.

But the client is persistent. They want the original copy.

This isn't the best solution but it works and it can at least be justified because not everyone is going to see every tactic.

But today the client wanted to use the original copy paragraph twice, in the same direct mail piece. 

One right after another. The same paragraph twice in a row.

One right after another. The same paragraph twice in a row.

Get my point?

Understandably the Account Team was tired of arguing with the client.

They apologized profusely to me that the client wasn't even looking at new copy for any of the tactics.

I didn't like it, but I understood. 

But when I read their changes, I said no.

The client had given us a short version of what they hoped I would elaborate on. All of the touch points were the exact same touch points from the previous paragraphs.

I pointed this out. 

I said, "If the client wants new copy or to cut this copy entirely you won't hear a peep out of me. I'll do my job. But my job is to make sure the client doesn't look ridiculous to their customers and if they repeat the same paragraph, immediately prior and after the offer line, they will look foolish, and I won't be doing my job to make sure their communications are well-written and effective."

The Account VP looked at me. Then looked at the copy that I had highlighted, then looked at the copy I was referring to, then looked back at me.

"I hadn't even noticed that. Thank you."

I nodded. "What would you like me to do about it."

"Make the other changes, and tweak the original copy to at least incorporate the tone of their changes into your copy."

I did as she asked and sent it off to her and the rest of the account team.

If I hadn't spoke up, the client would have been angry when they realized that they had the same copy in every paragraph of the direct mail and taken it out on my account team. By speaking up, I was able to make my boss look good, give them leverage on the client when they insist on all the copy being verbatim from the original piece, and I made myself look good for being attentive to feedback, I could have arguably mindlessly followed and embarrassed the client, my agency and myself.

Keeping your cool

I got angry at the new job on Thursday night. 

I probably had every right to be pissed off. 

2 month long project I've been working on was coming to what had seemed to be an end.

But the legal department at the client couldn't stop changing the legal guidelines for compliance.

I'm not a lawyer, I don't even pretend to play one. But I've read enough advertising and know enough about advertising law that I know these guys are just out of control.

I started making some snarky remarks. To my team, not the client. I'm not nearly that insane or good.

People got a good laugh at them. I felt better.

Then the client gave me an assignment to write a few headlines for a small retail sign they were putting up. I spent an hour cranking out lines, we settled on one, only to hear that the client had really wanted us to just use the provided information and not write any lines or copy.

That's when I complained about a client for the first time at the new job.

"Wasting my fucking time," I growled. I stopped making snarky comments and started using invectives.

I was pissed off.

But I did my work, I kept my bitching to a minimal and I moved on.

Fortunately, no one seemed to think I was out of line. Again, I didn't say these things to the client, I just said them to the person who happened to be talking to me at the time.

When I calmed down, I realized: They're paying me to waste my time. And that in the future I should just keep my mouth shut.

And in today's economy, I'm more than ok with that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Find ways to be relevant

Obviously I'm posting this at work.

It's ok. I didn't take lunch today, so this is my compensation.

Now to my point.

We are in a terrible economic crisis (this is no Great Depression, unemployment isn't even as high as it was in 90/91 let alone the recession of the 70s), it's hard to get a job in this economy and hard to keep a job.

This advice is for people in both situations.

Find a way to be relevant.

Maintain a blog, make sure it's funny, its poignant, and it has a raison d'etre (cultivate yourself and look that phrase up). Be sure to post on it regularly. Include it in your book.  It will show ways you think creatively outside of just advertising.

Not the writing type. Maintain a photojournal, same rules apply. Start a web comic, do something that shows your creativity and shows that you have stick-to-itiveness. 

I write a weekly report on my major client and send it to the entire team, from the GCD to the Account VP. I gleam message board threads that mention campaigns we're working on, things the client is doing that pisses off or pleases their customers, and their customers wish list of things.

I use the stuff I learn to write copy. When the client pushes back, my account people have research that proves why the copy will be effective. Account loves me, my CD respects me, and I amuse my team. It also gives me something to do other than surf the web when I'm between products.

One of my former instructors at CPS, serves as his agency's Creative Town Crier. He finds cool work being produced and shows it to the creative team, creating bulletin board material for his team to beat when they go into a pitch. This guys an award winning senior writer who probably skips his lunch hour to do this work, but guess what: everybody in his shop knows his name for a good reason.

Start a freelance business.

I've got a friend who's running a Freelance shop, while hunting for a job. It may turn into  something huge, it may be something to do until a job comes along. But there's always new work to show that's being paid for by an actual client.

Show that you've got the ambition to do this whether they hire you or not. Show that you know what its like to deal with clients, even if its on a much smaller scale. 

Those who can be trusted to put hard work into little things, will be trusted to put hard work into big things.

No one's going to hand you a job right now.


But if you find a way to show that you're harder working, more ambitions, and a creative thinker, someone will take a chance on you.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Juniors: Make friends with the account people.

I'm serious.

The better your relationship with the account managers/executives/supervisors whatever your agency calls them, the harder they work for you.

The less you bitch about the client and the more you listen to them bitch about the client, the harder they work for you.

The more you show a willingness to honestly listen to their feedback and make client changes without complain, the harder they work for you.

It's about building trust.  You show that you trust them and they'll trust you.

Because nothing helps sell good work like having an account VP trust that your idea is the best idea, and going to bat with the client for it.

But like I said earlier. Be worthy of that trust, because nothing kills good work as quickly as an aggravated account executive who thinks you're a lazy diva/divo.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

When Do I Get to Do a Shoot with Brett Favre?

I love my job.

I'm at such an advantage over anyone who doesn't have a job right now.

But I want to know when I get to do a shoot with Brett Favre.

I mean that's what advertising is about isn't it?

Doing shoots with celebrities. Striking up an engaging conversation with them. Finding out that they used to play Rainbow 6 on their computer too.

I bet Brett and I would become fast friends. He'd invite me down to Louisiana for a crawfish fry and to go toss the pigskin around with some High Schoolers. He'd probably even let me where his Super Bowl ring.

If only they'd let me go on a shoot with him.

What's that, none of our clients have deals with Brett Favre.

Well that sucks.

So what's the point.

In my one short month in advertising, I've learned isn't as glamorous as TV and movies may have you believe.  I'm not sitting in the cigar shop pecking away on my company laptop while I smoke Cubans with Mayor Daley.

You will sit in a cubicle. In fact, my creative director sits in a cubicle. You will go to status meetings, self-improvement seminars, you will listen to clients try to dictate copy to you.

There will be times when this job is mind-numbingly boring.

But for every 5 minutes of boredom at an agency, there are 25 minutes of pure joy (if you enjoy actually doing advertising.)

You'll get to come up with great ideas and really bad ideas and excitedly pitch them to your partners and work to make them better.

You'll pitch to a client and here the dawn of realization when they get it, and love the great idea.

You'll get to go out to lunch with your boss on occasion and have him/her buy you a beer.

You'll get to play Wii Tennis at 5 o'clock.

And you'll get to wear t-shirts and flip-flops in the summer.

Which is pretty cool.

And occasionally you'll work with the odd celebrity, if your client insists.

But for the most part you probably won't meet Brett Favre.

Which sucks, cause I could have totally caught one of his 90 mph 5 and outs.

Filter Yourself but Don't Filter Yourself

Do or do not there is no try.

Sorry for the Star Wars reference, but my little green Hero's message is incredibly true for us in Advertising.

You need to learn how to filter out the mediocre without actually filtering your ideas.

Make sense?

Advertising is about confusingly awkward success and completely beautiful, utter failure.

What it shouldn't be about is safety.

Example from portfolio school.

I did an ad for Tropicana. It was extremely well-written. A clever headline, nice friendly art direction, incredibly safe concept: All Natural. 

For the most part everyone liked the ad, they didn't have any complaints about it. Then one day a teacher of mine looked at it and said; "Yeah, so?"

And that's when I realized it was mediocre. It was a safe idea. It didn't change anyone's mind, it didn't make anyone think differently. No one was going to see that ad and say, "Hey, I'm going to buy more orange juice from Tropicana." Because the only thing it did was confirm what everyone already new about Tropicana, that it's all natural. And that's when I realized I should have immediately filtered this out.

On the flip side, I did a campaign for Wii Fit. It was funny, everyone laughed, but for the most part I looked at it and saw the two big rules I was breaking: I was a student doing a Parody of another products campaign and my headlines were puns.

You know what though? Every creative director who saw my portfolio said this Ad was the reason he/she wanted to interview me. Yes I wrote puns, yes I parodied another campaign, but I went all out with it. I didn't just tiptoe up to the line. I dashed across it and kept running until I was out of breath.

And that campaign was a mystifying, completely unexpected success.

You see the things you need to do in portfolio school, is learn how to filter out the safe idea without filtering out the really bad ideas or the really good ideas. Because the two extremes are where good advertising lives. 

If you can understand that.