As told to Marcus Honesta.
In “The Last Chapter” of my sit downs with one of the Advertising Agencies more famous, retired Creative Directors I asked him to share some of the more unusual, sometimes hilarious memories of life in this “Mad Men’s World”. What ensued was a collection of “Gems” of wisdom that are just as relevant then as they are today. I share them with you; our readers may especially enjoy these jaunts down memory lane. He told me:
One place of origin is the start-up. You probably already know the story. Two or three or four guys working for a big multi national decide over lunch that they are really the reason their agency is so successful. Only it’s not their agency. It belongs to the shareholders and is listed on the ASX.
“We can fix that” they say in unison. “We’ll start our own shop”.
Lots of back-slapping then occurs followed by a copious amounts of backslapping, handshakes more wine and a lot of talk about how they could move into some awesome little building just around the corner and produce the kind of work that will have them all up on stage in Cannes next year.
And so it goes.
They resign. They move into the little building around the corner. They attract a lot of trade headlines. Prospective clients put them on their pitch lists and low and behold they win a very respectable amount of business.
And the work they produce attracts the attention of juries around the globe. Their trophy cabinet is soon groaning under the weight of an ever-increasing collection of lions, pencils and statues with enormous wings and the creative elite are falling over themselves to join.
This goes on for around three to four years. Then one day the original partners find themselves sitting in their very nice boardroom when one of them says “well we’ve had a particularly good four years, very profitable, lots of awarded work, so what will we do now?”
They all think for a few minutes until one of them has a brainwave.
“I know”, he says, “we’ll fuck it all up”
“Great idea” his fellow directors all agree, “Let’s do that”.
They all shake hands and the next thing you know their work is crap and their losing clients like they’re going out of business. Which of course they are. And it doesn’t take very long.
Of course this story is fictional. But ask yourself, how many good, young agencies have imploded just when you least expected it?
HOW NOT TO IMPLODE
There was once a very creative agency, housed in a very nice building, owned by the three names that appeared on the agency’s letterhead. We’ll call them ‘Smith, Jones and Brown’
Smith Jones and Brown were the envy of their peers. They collected a lot of trophies and made a lot of money.
One fine day SJ and B were in their boardroom examining the agency’s recent performance. It didn’t take them very long to work out it wasn’t very good. They were losing clients and not winning awards, which was a new experience for them.
What to do?
These guys were pretty seasoned advertising practitioners and were immensely proud of what they had achieved in the industry and were not about to give in easily.
They papered the walls of their boardroom with the most recent work and studiously watched the house reel again and again and again.
One thing struck them. Their work had got too clever by half. Not even they knew what they were trying to communicate.
So they went back to basics.
They made sure every ad they created clearly conveyed the message the client want the target audience to know.
And guess what? Sales of whatever it was they were selling went through the roof, clients were happy and stopped leaving. They even recommended the agency to their friends who were also clients and the agencies new business drive boomed.
And then SJ and B again reviewed their work and decided that they would continue to create ads with a clear message and then redo it in the most creative way possible. But if the creativity got in the way of the message they went with the message.
The agency got right back on track. Not only were they producing work that sold they started winning awards again.
And all because they remembered why they were in business in the first place.