Tag Archives: advertising agency

‘Where did the creatives go?’ (Part 2)

In this article, I continue to find answers to the question, ‘Where do all the art directors and copywriters go when they get older?’

If you’d like to read from the start, see Part 1: Matt Cumming

Part 2: Adam Hunt
Saturday, 30 August 2014
I’d been trying to catch up with Adam for a while. After a few emails back and forth, we found a time that suited us both. So, one Sunday morning I wandered into his restaurant, “Mamasan” (with his ensuite bar “Bad Mama” next door), in Sydney’s beachside suburb of Bondi.
It was mid-morning, and there was a slight lull between the breakfast crowd and the lunchtime diners. Adam took me on a tour of his restaurant, proudly showing the surroundings he designed and built with his partner Gemma, and explained how the business had tripled in size since opening just over 4 years ago.
And while it may sometimes be an industry joke to refer to advertising awards as ‘door stops’, during the tour I couldn’t help but notice a Cannes Gold Lion sitting on the floor to keep the bi-folding doors open.
Perhaps it was some sort of subconscious statement on where Adam sees his former advertising success – was it simply to hold the door open towards something else? I sit down to find out:

creative director dingo's breakfast

Adam Hunt

I didn’t always plan on a career in advertising. Who does?
Instead, I studied law. However, it soon became clear that I would spend a large amount of my career living in the shadow of my father, who was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Australia (a bit of a hard act to follow).

Although I got good grades in my first year of study, I often heard the remark, ‘Oh, you’re Hunt’s son’. I also decided that I didn’t really love it. It didn’t provide the spark I was looking for.

On the other hand, my girlfriend at the time was doing graphic design. That looked far more interesting. So I decided to do a graphic design course too.

From that, I end up with a job in a publishing company, working for a magazine called Pol International. I quite enjoyed the work, but got frustrated when I spent so much time making the magazine look beautiful, and then saw the ugly ads that were inserted into it. Plus, someone told me I could triple my salary by working in advertising.

Then I met Siimon Reynolds at a party. At the time, Siimon was a bit of an advertising god. Siimon told me that to get into advertising, I should do a course known as ‘EST’ or ‘The Forum’.

The Forum was the biggest thing in advertising circles during the late 80s and everybody was doing it. I went along to The Forum’s introductory lecture and quickly made the decision that if I needed to do that to work in advertising, then maybe I was better off doing something else. I thought The Forum was ‘psycho-babble, pyramid selling of the mind type stuff’.

So subsequently, I stayed another year in publishing before landing a job at a small agency called United Notions. I liked United Notions and learnt a lot, but one day managed to get an appointment with David Bourne. David was the coolest creative director around at that time. I had never shown my portfolio to anyone before that.

I walked into David Bourne’s office. Everything was black. Black carpet. Black walls. Black leather desk. David was even wearing black leather like a character out of The Matrix (but it was years before that film had been made).
A small light glowed on the desk. David quickly flicked through each page of my portfolio, turning each one over with a slam of conviction. Then he looked up at me and told me that all the work in my book was shit, I would never get a job in advertising and that I should give up.

After that meeting I cried. I sat in a nearby park and thought about what David Bourne had said. I then realised that he was right – my work was shit. So I threw my portfolio in the bin and decided to start again.

Starting again meant doing Australian Writers & Art Directors (AWARD) School. It was a short, but intense course that had been set up by the industry to foster new people who aspired to be advertising creatives.

My tutors for the course were Tom Moult and Simon Collins, who were the gun team at Sydney’s Saatchi & Saatchi office during that time. They were very good and they had lots of fun, which is something the industry seems to have lost these days.

Interestingly, another AWARD student in my class was Paul Hankinson. As the course neared completion, I asked Paul if he was ready to hand in his portfolio (which was soon due). Paul replied that he wasn’t actually submitting his portfolio at the end of the course because he wasn’t ‘officially’ an AWARD student. It turns out that Paul simply met Tom Moult and Simon Collins at the pub and they invited him to come along to their tutorials. It worked out well because Paul has since had a successful career as a copywriter.

That year, Oliver Devaris was judged as AWARD School’s top student. As is tradition at AWARD School, a selection of the best work was exhibited on the walls at graduation night. I didn’t get anything selected for the wall, but found the course very inspiring.

Following AWARD School, I met with a recruiter named Esther Clerehan.

She teamed me with a young copywriter named Russell Smyth. Russell was a former science high school teacher. He also dabbled in stand-up comedy and penned gags for Doug Mulray (an Australian Radio and TV personality).

Russell and I began work as a team at an agency called Kazoo, under creative director Fred Madderom. Kazoo was based in Balmain, on a wharf over Sydney Harbour. To this day, I still consider that office as the best one I worked in. It taught me that ‘environment is creativity’. I could hear the water lapping beneath my desk, and could quite literally cast a fishing line without even leaving my seat.

I enjoyed a three-year stint at Kazoo. A chap by the name of Steve Gray was my mentor there. Steve was a bit of a legendary figure, having achieved a lot of success previously at Sydney’s Mojo agency.

While at Kazoo, I won a few awards – my very first being a 3D bus-side promoting SBS’s television coverage of the Italian World Cup.

From Kazoo, I was headhunted to be teamed alongside Ben Nott at DDB’s Sydney office, working under creative director Paul Jones.
Ben Nott is a genius. He’s highly motivated, driven and focused. He can talk the talk, but walk it also.
Ben had a career plan and had carefully thought about where he was headed and how he was going to get there. I reflect on Ben’s outlook as a huge, defining moment in my own career.

After 18 months at DDB and some more awards success, Ben and I decided it was time to make our way to Europe. We had seen an article in Lürzer’s Archive magazine featuring an interview with Paul Meijer of Young & Rubicam, Amsterdam.

At that time, Paul Meijer was the creative director behind a lot of award-winning work at Cannes. We decided to send him something to introduce ourselves. So we sent him a pizza box. Inside the box, we put one of our best print ads, a photo of ourselves dressed as a married couple, and a 3D rolling bloodshot eyeball with a note to ‘Keep an eye out for us’ (a shocking pun, really!).

Dingos breakfast advertising

Ben Nott and Adam Hunt

When we departed for Europe we didn’t have visas or work permits or anything organised. Pretty much all we had was our surfboards and our portfolio. The plan was to buy a Kombi van and do a surfing tour of Europe.

After a stay in Greece, enjoying the sun and holidaying with David Droga (who was good friends with Ben), we found ourselves in Amsterdam.

One day I was looking for a Kombi to buy and I needed to refer to my map for directions. I didn’t want to look like a tourist by pulling a map out in the street, so I walked into a nearby bar and sat at a table to read it.

I then looked up and realised that there was a person sitting across from me and, in a masterstroke of fate, it was Paul Meijer. As it turned out, the Young & Rubicam office was next door and that bar was a favourite of the Y&R staff.

I said, ‘Excuse me, are you Paul Meijer?’

He was an imposing figure and looked back at me, slightly puzzled, before replying, ‘Yes.’

I then explained I had sent him a pizza box from Australia, about a month earlier. He studied me for a moment, before he exclaimed, ‘You’re the one in the dress!’ He obviously remembered the wedding photo.

That chance meeting ultimately saw Ben and I offered a job at Young & Rubicam, Amsterdam. So after a 6-month tour of Europe, that’s where we began working.

After 18 enjoyable months working at Young & Rubicam in Amsterdam, we were headhunted to join London’s Saatchi & Saatchi office.

I reflect on my time in London as ‘magic’. It was London in the mid-90s, we were winning lots of awards and stuff. Charles Saatchi held up our Silk Cut ad and said one word: ”Brilliant”.

It was at the dawn of the internet, so there were still big-budget TV ads – we once went to Nepal on a 6-week shoot for BT. That was a £1 million budget, in 1996!

However, after almost 5 years there, it was time for a change. Ben had been directing some of our TV commercials and wanted to focus more on directing. And I wanted to give New York a try.

So I moved to New York’s Saatchi office, where I was teamed with a great Australian copywriter, Tim Brown.

I loved New York, but found the advertising scene there over-burdened with politics and agendas. After being there for 6 months and not getting a single ad produced, I reluctantly decided to leave Saatchi’s. That’s one of the few career decisions I really regret.

I began work at another agency in New York, but it’s here that my story turns a little dark. Friends noticed that I was losing my sense of humour and that I was often angry. I look back and laugh when I think about the different cultural approach Australians and Americans took when offering me ‘an intervention’.

My Australian friends who were based in New York took me to a bar. They sat me down at a table, plonked a beer in front of me and said, ‘Adam, why are you being such a c*nt?’

On the other hand, my American friends who were also concerned about my behaviour, called me into an office and asked me if I had heard of Prozac!

After a series of dizzy spells, forgetfulness, and mood swings, I was convinced that I had a brain tumour so I saw a doctor. The doctor thought the problem was something else, but I insisted on a scan. A few days later, I received a phone call confirming that, unfortunately, I was correct.

The tumour was the size of a scorched almond, located on the frontal lobe of my brain – close to my optic nerve and main blood supply to the brain. They said it was inoperable; no doctor wanted to touch it. Even if I survived an operation, there was a good chance I would wake up blind or a quadriplegic. I asked how long I would live without an operation. They said that I probably had until the end of the year. They gave me that news on December 10th.

So given the news that I had about 20 days to live, I told them I wanted the operation. It was a success. Afterwards, I spent a few months in hospital, learning to use my body again – an operation like that can mess you up a bit.

Then I returned to work to save some money, and I resigned 4 months later.

After the tumour, I re-evaluated a lot of things in life. I bought a van and spent 12 months travelling around the United States. Hang-gliding was one of my passions so I spent more time pursuing that.

Eventually, I returned to Australia, and was hired as Associate Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson in Sydney. However, the CEO who hired me, Wayne Kingston, left the company 2 weeks later.

As is often the case with senior management changes, a hire made by someone who is no longer with the company can be seen in a negative light. It carries the stigma of being ‘the previous guy’s hire’. This came to fruition when the new MD took it upon himself to write some TV scripts one day. He wanted me to present them to the client but I felt that they were off-brief and, quite frankly, just weren’t good enough. I was fired that same day.

Then came a stint at another agency called Fame, and various freelance gigs. I knew Mike Boswell from my time working in London and ran into him at a pub in the inner-Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst. I was looking to team up with a writer. Mike was looking to team up with an art director. So we started freelancing together as a team. An agency called Host was just starting up and we stayed there for 3 years. Through that period, Host grew considerably.

Mike and I then ended up taking the role of Co-Creative Directors at an agency in Sydney called Belgiovane Williams Mackay (BWM). It was a good era for that agency, with a strong record of new business wins and some nice work. We hired the young team responsible for writing the much-loved ‘Rabbits’ TV commercial for Telstra BigPond.

The Telstra 'Rabbits' TVC

The Telstra ‘Rabbits’ TVC

During that time, I learnt to be a creative director and that the key to that role was being a nurturer and defender of ideas. Great ideas are easily killed, so it’s the CD’s job to help them survive and thrive.

However, after 4 and a half years at BWM I got the tap on the shoulder that most creative directors get at some stage during their career. Mike had already left on his own accord 12 months earlier, and I was happy to follow.

Then came some more freelance work before I took a job as the Creative Director of a small agency called The Foundry. They lost their largest client within a month but the pivotal point for me was when the agency was approached to appear on the TV program, The Gruen Transfer.

The Gruen Transfer is a show on the ABC (Australia’s national, non-commercial broadcaster) that takes a look at advertising. Within that show is a segment called ‘The Pitch’ where two agencies are given a brief to respond to. The brief we were given was to take a stand against shape discrimination.

It was the day before I had to send our response in, and we hadn’t really cracked it. I was at a pub with a mate, relaxing over a game of pool. Anyway, I was taking a sip of my beer as a large woman walked by. My mate quietly uttered a fat chick joke and I laughed into my beer, spraying it all over my face.

Then it hit me. That was shape discrimination. I had just partaken in it.

So that was the idea. Shape discrimination was no less offensive than other types of discrimination. It wasn’t a joke. It was offensive. Plain and simple.

So the ad I submitted to The Gruen Transfer brought that idea to life. It compared shape discrimination with other types of discrimination. The execution was to show different people speaking directly to camera. The first person tells an offensive racial joke. The second person tells an offensive homophobic joke. The third person tells an offensive anti-semitic joke. Then, the fourth person tells a fat chick joke.

I wanted to show that the fourth joke was just as offensive and socially unacceptable as the other three.

The ABC had the ad banned, however Andrew Denton (the show’s Executive Producer and popular Australian media identity) liked the ad. He saw that it took the brief seriously, unlike some of the other ads in The Pitch segment. The show’s host, Wil Anderson, is an Australian comedian and he said that the ad certainly made him reconsider telling another fat chick joke.

Although the ad was banned from being broadcast on TV, Denton called me in and we did an interview about it. That was hosted online.

Adam on The Gruen Transfer

Adam on The Gruen Transfer

After that, I was labelled by many in the industry as too much of a wildcard.
I was 44 years old and the way I saw it, I had two choices: I could tone things down and do less impactful work and please clients with ‘trash for cash’, or I could do something different.
I thought there was enough boring work already out there so, after a career encouraging clients to take risks, I took one myself.

My Taiwanese/Japanese partner already owned a restaurant and, after spending so much time in bars myself, I chose to jump sides and start a business with her. It was to be an experiential idea for customers.

We opened a small place with a Japanese-influence and we wanted to focus on the locals of Bondi rather than the tourists. Somewhat ironically, we’ve never run an ad and we’ve more than tripled in size.

Dingos breakfast

Adam’s bar and restaurant in Bondi

I still do a little bit of freelance and consultancy work, either through agencies or working directly with clients. I don’t miss the full-time stuff – the politics and people pretending that advertising is a science.

It’s bullshit that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
When we started building the restaurant, I didn’t know which end of a hammer to hold. Now I own an angle grinder & I’m not afraid to use it!

I loved my time in advertising, but a good life involves risk. Fate is great mate.

The 4 most common mistakes in creative briefs

I’m not the first person to write about creative briefs. Nor will I be the last.
But I still find it astounding how many bad creative briefs are written.
And briefs are important. They’re a linchpin for the work an agency does.
The brief largely dictates if the creative work that follows is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

I’ve seen planning departments and suits fall in love with briefs and celebrate them, almost as if they themselves are the final product or output of the agency. They’re not. I’ve never seen a brief appear on a billboard or a TV screen or any other medium. The brief isn’t the thing that’s seen by the consumer; it’s simply a map to help get there. It’s best thought of as a quasi-contract stating what we need to achieve, and what we need to say in order to achieve it.

Many times, a bad brief is put into the creative department in the hope that it will be sorted out there. And that’s fine, if the timelines and assignment of resources reflect that (they rarely do). Putting a problematic or unresolved brief into the creative department can be a bit like jumping into a taxi without knowing where you’re going – you just drive around aimlessly, hoping you arrive at a suitable destination. It can be highly inefficient and expensive.
More often than not, the quality of the creative work reflects the quality of the brief (or what some people may crudely refer to as ‘shit in = shit out’).

Here are the 4 most common mistakes I see on creative briefs:

1. They’re not ‘brief’.
A creative brief should be short and to the point. It isn’t a process of adding stuff; it’s a process of elimination. If the brief is long, you haven’t done enough work to remove stuff and distill it into a single thought or message. Longer briefs indicate that you’re trying to do too much, and you lack focus. Do one job. Do it well.

As the great Twitter feed @leeclowsbeard says, “‘Well, we got it all in’ should always be said with a great deal of sadness.”
Einstein simple

2. The Single-minded Proposition isn’t one.
I’ve written about propositions before. So has my friend, Simon Veksner.
The proposition is the most important part of the brief. It clarifies the message that you’re being asked to convey.
That communication is never going to be more clear and concise than when it sits within the ‘proposition’ section of a creative brief. It’s here that it’s most pure. It’s naked. It’s not dressed up with creativity. It’s plain. It’s simple. It’s as straight as it possibly can be.
The proposition isn’t a quasi-headline.
It’s not meant to be tricksy or clever (that’s the job of the creative work). It’s not meant to inspire; it’s meant to inform. Far too often, I see propositions that are trying to be headlines.
It needs to be single-minded.
Here’s a tip: if your proposition contains the word ‘and’ or a comma, it’s a good indication that it’s probably not single-minded.
Quite often you see people try and use weasel words to sneak extra stuff into a proposition.
For example, I once was given the following proposition for a tourism destination: “Adventure beyond your ordinary”.
I asked the planners and suits if they wrote ‘adventure’ as a verb or a noun. They replied, ‘That’s the beauty – you can interpret it both ways’.
Well done, you’ve just diluted your message by 50% and made it open to interpretation. Not the kind of foundation you want for great work.
A proposition is no place for double entendres.

3. The Support that doesn’t support anything.
The support points are the reasons to believe the proposition. You’re justifying the proposition by backing it up with facts.
However, I’ve often seen the ‘support’ section of a brief filled with stuff about the client that has nothing to do with the proposition – it’s irrelevant.
If you can’t back up your proposition with hard, believable facts, then the proposition is going to fall over.
Fix it now, rather than throw squillions of dollars and resource at it.

 4. Counter-claims.
When you write an ad, the legal department will be very quick to tell you if you’ve written something you can’t actually say. Sadly, it still happens in creative briefs.

For example, the proposition might say something like “we’re the fastest”, and somewhere else (support points, mandatories, considerations), the brief will say “we can’t actually say we’re the fastest”.
I’m not sure what the author of such a brief is expecting.
If you’re not allowed to say something, why is it in the brief as the very thing you should be saying?

Overall, briefs should be given a little more respect rather than seen as something that is churned out hastily in order to get the wheels turning.
They’re the foundation of ideas, and ideas are the foundation of our business.

Do brainstorming sessions really achieve anything?

6a00e54ee2334e8834013485dfaefd970cThere are plenty of people who are fans of brainstorming sessions, but I have to say I’m not one of them. Further to this, I suspect most people in the creative department don’t  like them.

Why? Well, I reckon it’s a bit like putting a comedian on the spot by asking him to ‘say something funny’. Sure, he might manage to get a smile, but it will hardly be his greatest work.

In my experience, the ones who most like brainstorm sessions are those who don’t have to do ‘the heavy lifting’, so to speak. Their theory is you get a whole heap of people in a room and bash out some stuff on a given topic or task. You usually end up with a variety of stuff scribbled on sheets of paper.
Then most people walk away from the job, and some poor bastard has the task of converting those pieces of paper into a working solution.
It’s important to note here that this is a generalisation – some brainstorm sessions do provide fruitful solutions and ideas, however many merely give the appearance that work has been done.
The real problem is that all too often, the person who called the meeting treats the end of that meeting with a ‘Job done. Tick’ mentality rather than a ‘Okay, this is an interesting starting point. Now the real work begins by exploring if any of these ideas have legs’.

Great creative work is very rarely ‘bashed out’ by a group of people. Sure, two heads are often better than one, but too many chefs and too little time just makes a mess.
The brainstorm workshop never allows for any depth of thinking. It’s like the fast-food equivalent of idea generation – it might suffice momentarily, but it’s not really a healthy way of living.
What’s your opinion of brainstorm sessions?

One brief. Two approaches.

I recently attended a talk given by James Hutchin on the subject of funding new innovations and start-ups. He was assisted by a guest panel of Venture Investment and Private Equity specialists.
While it was a great talk, the subject of this article is in reference to a slide Jim put up during the lecture (see below).
It’s a simple chart illustrating the different approach of how academics usually digest information, compared to how investors absorb it .

So what’s this got to do with advertising? Well, I think it also clearly illustrates how different disciplines and departments within an ad agency approach a brief.

A creative briefing is an interesting thing to observe in an ad agency.
The account management people and/or planners will sit down with the creative team. They’ll have the intention of following a particular order: perhaps a little background of the business, the business challenge or opportunity, then the proposition (main point), followed by some support points, deliverables, mandatories, timings and budget. (This closely resembles the left side of Jim’s chart)
However, watch the creative team if they’re handed the brief to read (sometimes the account person or planner will withhold it until the end because they know how it usually plays out).
The creative team will go straight to the proposition, then the proof points, then the other stuff (i.e. the right side of Jim’s chart)

Why do they do this? Well, that’s because the creative team is digesting it in the same way a customer would (the customer can be thought of as an ‘investor’ because we’re going to be asking them to invest money or time, or both).
When a customer sees an ad,  they quickly assess:
What are you telling me ? (main point / proposition)
Why should I care? (details / support points)

It seems obvious, but when writing a brief or planning any sort of brand communications, sometimes we need to be reminded of this.
If our ads resemble the left-hand side of the chart, we end up talking to ourselves rather than our customers, or we have to spend so much time getting to the point, we’ve lost them before we get there.

Advertising – there’s no magic formula

Here’s the trailer for a great documentary I first saw at The Sydney Film Festival  back in 2009.

I’ve posted it here because I’d like to talk about the opening lines delivered by the gravelly-voiced Hal Riney:

“The frightening and most difficult thing about being what somebody calls ‘a creative person’ is that you have absolutely no idea where any of your thoughts come from really. And, especially, you don’t have any idea about where they’re going to come from tomorrow.”

But hey, hang on a minute! That’s not what most agencies would have you believe. Just look at any agency credentials document, presentation, or  website. They nearly always put up some sort of diagram or chart and proclaim it to be their ‘magic formula’ for producing great ideas.

Well, as a person who has spent plenty of years in the creative department tasked with coming up with those ideas, I can say that there is no magic formula.

A few years ago at Cannes, John Hegarty broached  the subject while on stage. He said that he understood there were a lot of marketers in the audience who were desperately seeking a formula for creating great advertising. He then told them there wasn’t one.

So why do so many agencies pretend there is?
Well, I reckon there are a few reasons. First, many clients have an easier time buying an idea if there’s the perception of science behind it, rather than art. That’s because science is predictable – two plus two will always equal four.

Second, the process and operations of an agency may help facilitate an environment for ideas but if you’ve ever been an art director or copywriter, you’ll know that the real process actually happens inside a person’s head. And if agencies were to admit that, they would be putting the equity of their business in the hands (or in this case, heads) of individuals. Instead, their ‘magic formula’ is something they can own regardless of staff turnover. Sure, some agencies do have a certain style of work. But that’s usually influenced by the Creative Director (again, an individual).

Whichever way you look at it, pretending there’s a 100% fool-proof recipe for creating successful advertising is a bit like measuring poetry.

Words of wisdom

Whether the outcome of a situation is positive, negative, or neutral, I believe there is always a lesson to be learned in everything we do in life. Sometimes, we simply don’t look for it. And, while I believe in learning from my mistakes, I think it’s even better if I can learn from the mistakes of others.

So about two and half years ago, I began meeting with highly successful people in the advertising industry from around the world. So far they have ranged from Executive Creative Directors, Chief Executive Officers, people who are (or have been) on the Board at large multi-nationals, people who have built their own agencies, people who have been nominated into advertising ‘hall of fames’, and so forth.

Put simply, I just wanted to pick their brains and ask them about their experiences and what they’d do differently if they had the opportunity. So after many chats over coffees, beers and even Skype, here are just a few words of wisdom from those who have been there…

“The biggest realisation that you make is that it’s relatively easy to make the same salary on your own as you do when you’re employed by an agency.”

“Just make the work brilliant. If the work’s consistently good, it’s what gets you on lists, it’s what gets noticed, it’s makes the place fun to work at.”

“As you grow and get more people around you, you feel safer.”

“None of us had much business nous. We didn’t have a solid business model or anything to begin with – it just kind of evolved as we went. The only thing we did know was the kind of work we wanted to be doing and the kind of work we didn’t. You just have to jump in and do it. You learn so much from actually doing it.”

“You need to devote yourself to new business, and make it an ongoing thing. You can get caught in the trap of just servicing existing clients, and when one of them walks, you’re left living hand-to-mouth for six months until you can win something else.”

“Learn about business. Understand how it works, and how they make money. Once you understand business, you have remarkably different conversations with clients. They no longer treat you as the ‘weird creative people’ who just make funny ads (that makes them a bit nervous). If you illustrate an understanding of their business, they treat you differently.”

“It’s better for business if you fire a bad client rather than keep them.”

“As a creative, you’re a problem-solver. If you can keep that in mind, and run a business as one that solves a client’s problems, there really is no difference between being a ‘suit’ and being a ‘creative’. But avoid becoming a ‘client’s studio’ – there is not a lot of long-term value in that.”

“It’s easier to run a business on a retainer because you know what’s coming in and you can staff up accordingly. Also, it’s psychologically easier for a client to pay $10k per month rather than sign a cheque for $120k at the end of the year, even though they’re the same amount.”

“Lease everything. And if you get a place, put all your money into the boardroom. Make it big and make it good.”

“There are enough ‘good’ clients around. It is a balancing act, but if a client is not aligned with you, get rid of them.”

“At the time, I enjoyed the comfort of selling half my business to a holding company, but now I see little value in continuing to give them half the profits of all my hard work.”

“Regardless of the scope of our ideas, I found that unless we actually called ourselves an ‘ad agency’, clients didn’t really know how to deal with us, or which pigeon hole to put us in.”

“For some people, ‘freedom’ is having a place with their name on the door. For me, ‘freedom’ is not having my name on the door and knowing I can walk away tomorrow if I choose to.”

“Decide early on if you’re building a business to sell or a business to allow you to do the kind of work you want to do. That decision will play an important role in some of the choices you have to make down the track.”

“Stay true to the reasons why you started.”


Most questions are good. Aren’t they?

Have you ever been in one of those meetings where people don’t really like questions being asked? Or what about those scenarios where some items simply aren’t up for discussion?

Every now and then you run into them – a client who doesn’t want to be challenged, a planner who doesn’t like you to interrogate a creative brief, a suit who doesn’t like you asking why the creative work needs to be amended as requested, a creative who doesn’t want to answer why they’ve done something a certain way.

Well, I think there’s a lot to like about questions, and I’m not the only one. Voltaire (1694 – 1778), the French author and philosopher, said this: ‘Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers’. So why my love of questions? Well, I have a few reasons.

Firstly, questions help to clearly define the objectives. They put things into context and force people to focus on what the actual problem is. It’s amazing how many times people can get caught up trying to devise a solution that won’t solve the real problem that’s at hand. And, to put it simply, it’s a waste of effort (and money) when people do this – they’re mistaking momentum for progress. It’s no good doing something if it’s not the right thing to be doing.

Secondly, asking questions helps identify if there are mixed agendas and motives on the table. When things aren’t all pulling in the same direction, you’re not going to achieve as much because there are different factions at work.

Another reason is that it’s a very rare occasion where solutions are found without asking questions. Even when things are discovered by serendipity (like penicillin), it’s because questions are being asked.

I once worked for a Creative Director who said that questions should never be seen as a sign of weakness or lack of knowledge. Instead, they show that you’re eager to learn and want a more thorough understanding of a subject.

In my experience, when people don’t like questions being asked it’s usually because: 1) they don’t know the subject well enough to answer them; or 2) they’re trying to cover up something they know defies logic or is fundamentally flawed.

Sure, there are times when people ask questions just for the sake of saying something in a meeting. And there are times when people ask questions to try and develop problems where there are none. But if you’re being deterred from asking valid questions, well, surely questions need to be asked. Don’t they?

Look at Columbo. He just loved questions…

Always ask ‘why?’

Last week a colleague left the agency to travel overseas. She was a very good Account Manager and has a very bright future ahead.

She had come to the ad agency as a university graduate three years ago and this had been her first advertising job. As part of the graduate induction program, she started her career here by spending a couple of weeks in each department to learn how an agency worked.

In her two weeks sitting in the Creative Department alongside my Art Director and I, we offered her lots of tips and advice, but this I consider amongst the most important: Always ask ‘why?’

It seems simple but often this small question is overlooked. It’s imperative that you know the reason why you’re doing something. Not only does it make you aware of any other agendas that are at play, it helps your understanding and makes sure the solution provided actually fits the problem.

If you’re simply relaying a message from the client (or anybody else), you are effectively reducing your role to that of an expensive answering machine.

Put simply, if you’re unaware of the motive, don’t carry out the action.  Doing so just makes you look like one of these monkeys.

Don’t be a monkey

Here’s an oldie, but a goldie:

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result; all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it. Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they are not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey every again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been done around here. And that, my friends, is how a company policy begins.

Loading up the camel

A couple of years ago, we were working on a particular brand. It was quite an established player in other markets around the globe but was yet to make any real impact in Australia.

At one stage, the local client had his overseas colleagues visiting. These were people who were in charge of the brand in places like France and Japan. Anyway, the local client took the opportunity to bring his colleagues into the advertising agency to show them around and see how things were going.

After a bit of an office tour, everyone took a seat in the boardroom. Of course, the agency took the opportunity to show their wares by showing their reel and case studies of the great work they had produced for a range of different clients. Then, the client from Japan asked a very good question: ‘Okay, these are great examples of when your advertising has worked. What is the problem when it doesn’t work?’

Warren Brown, co-founder and Executive Creative Director of BMF, gave this great response:

‘Usually, when a campaign doesn’t work, it’s because there’s been a loss of focus. You move away from your single, clear objective. For example, let’s just say that the objective is to get from one side of a desert to the other. So, to meet that objective, we get ourselves a camel that’s perfect for the trip. The camel’s been trained to make that distance and he’ll do that particular job very well. But then, what often happens, is we start giving the camel other jobs to do as well. We give him extra things to carry, we change his route, etc. So while we started with a clear objective (to cross the desert) and had a fitting solution (a camel to do it), we lost focus and altered the objective. So, now that the camel has to carry extra weight and travel a different route, chances are he’s not going to make it.’

In marketing, we see this all the time. Ad agencies are often asked to alter a solution so it includes extra messaging, or appeals to extra target markets, or can be used in different media channels, or do something else entirely.

By doing this, you’re slowing down the camel so he won’t be able to meet the original objective. But worse still, in many cases you’ll even break his back.

Someone else has created this humorous video to highlight the problem…