Advertising: Putting The "Dis" Into "Function"

Over the past 16+ years I've been in and out of more ad agencies than I would like to remember. I've been called a "job hopper, optimistic, Mr. BBD, he who lacks contentment, and asshole" all of which have been true, and all most of which are in the past. I'm sure there's plenty of people that still call me asshole however. I've been fired once, laid-off, let-go and gracefully released several times. I've freelanced, done project work, spec work, real work, spec work and actively consulted in this industry.

A few things happen when you've walked this path:

  • You grow tough skin, both from a internal and external perspective.
  • You don't get married to any ideas, concepts, campaigns, executions or technologies.
  • You learn that if you can charge for it – you should. Don't be afraid to get paid.
  • You don't burn bridges – neither with clients, vendors or agencies.
  • When you don't get paid you let it go. Bad debt is simply bad karma.
  • No job should be beneath you should someone want to pay you for what you do best.
  • You give back. You give back to charities, you give back to students and to your fellow man. Then give back some more.
  • You need to touch and try everything – technology, foods, colors, fonts, styles, techniques, gadgets and media.
  • Watch and listen to children, their voice is 10x more creative and not hindered by 'what ifs'.
  • Learn to listen to your staff, your clients and everyone around you.
  • Great ideas come from living life, not watching TV.


With that said here's a few things that for those of you who choose to be in the advertising, interactive and design space need to know. Why? Because you all do it and no one is getting it right.

Circle the wagons – Creatives, get everyone in the same room before you have to explain your ideas. Stop thinking that you're the only one's that can come up with a funny tag line, choose photography or think progressively. Get interactive, PR, Media and everyone else together (at least one representative) so you all can torture one another with your nonsense that you know you have no budget for.

Friendly fire – AE's stop killing great creative before the client gets a chance to tell you they don't have the budget for it. Funny things happens when clients love something, they find the money for it or at the very least think you're way smarter than they are. Also, just because 'that's the way we've always done it' doesn't make it a standard – that mentality in this economy is a death sentence. Clients want "smart."

Fly fishing for bids – Everyone in new business development stop quoting projects because you think the client [might] sign that day. You're going to be fat and bloated outside in six months after that 50k website you quoted runs you 150k. Don't fail because you never took the time to find out what it would really take to do. Good clients know it takes time and money, and more of one or the other usually offsets itself.

My Dad can beat up your Dad – There's no model. There's no formula. Just because it cost "X" last year doesn't make it and "cut and paste" RFP today (see above). Furthermore, as the project evolves be very mindful of scope creep. The client doesn't wake up every morning wondering what they can ask to get you to do for free, but they're not going to tell you to reassess the parameters of the project each week either. Campaigns change everyday, they are living and breathing, so pay attention to your new pet or it will run away long enough to come back with rabies and bite you.

They want it to walk like a duck – Clients always have ideas, and it's your creative duty to execute those ideas to their fullest potential. It's also your duty to tell the client why something will and will not work. And it's lastly your duty to show them what you think would be the best solution. Sometimes those ideas have a very happy middle ground. Oh and did I mention that your creative team will thank you by working tirelessly on something they want to do?

Tandem bicycles – This goes out to my interactive shops. The world is more than projects. This is where you can learn from traditional agencies. You need to create, develop and nurture long term relationships. You've spent years telling everyone why you should be in the room, now you're here, don't get scared and run out. Unlike your traditional counterparts you have the ability to control and optimize the success of the campaigns you sell. You have the power to prove you effectiveness and in that maintain that client loyalty based on those results. So assign goals and be aggressive. With that said adapt and learn about performance bonus criteria, retainer fees and AOR agreements. You're tomorrow's agency, someone is going to get it right and it might as well be you.

Stop being Kinkos – When things get tough every shop seems to do the same thing – become a production shop. Larger agencies typically withstanding but let's be realistic, when things get hard you toss your gravitas out the window and replace it with the "you betcha" smile and spine strength. Unless you want to do Yellow-page ads keep pushing as hard as you can to make great work.

Less Chiefs, more Indians – It seems in the past five years or so that most agencies that I've been associated with have become executively top-heavy. There's all these people sitting in their glass corner offices yelling about how things are not getting done while the few people actually doing the work are burning out rapidly. At the cost of my own job (though I actually open Photoshop and create everyday, unlike most, you know who you are prima donnas) you can get a lot more doers and get work out the door with more efficiency. Pay the right people to "do" the work.