Sunday, July 29, 2012

Has Bill's Big Idea Had Its Day?

Advertising agencies may be slow, but at least they're expensive.

That's a Client joke, by the way.

Yes, despite that fact that we're all all working longer hours for less money than ever before… Clients still think we're expensive. And maybe we are - after all, we've recently had to add a whole new raft of roles to service the digital side of the business, such as social media expert, technologist, UX guy… have you noticed there are now about 11 people in the room, where there used to be only 7? And they're all drawing a salary.

So margins are under pressure again.

And the only cost we can cut (since it's the only cost we have, other than the rent, and colour photocopying charges) is people.

This is nothing to be regretful about.

As the world changes, new roles are created (e.g. social media expert) and others (such as the guy who used to walk in front of automobiles waving a flag) disappear.

The last role to go was Traffic. The elimination of the traffic department has been happening gradually over the last five to ten years, and has reached the point where most agencies now seem to employ a single traffic manager, or brief allocation manager, whereas once there was a whole department. And yet life goes on.

So who's next?

We can't get rid of Planners - that's the department that Clients value most highly of all, and are most willing to pay for.

Perhaps we could get rid of Account Handlers?

A mate of mine who has recently launched a start-up has decided he isn't going to employ any Account Handlers. "They're just translators," he told me. "If you don't have them, then the Creatives and the Clients have to figure out how to talk to each other, which - believe it or not - they are perfectly capable of doing."

KesselsKramer, the renowned Dutch agency, has never had Account Handlers. According to their slyly brilliant new book, Advertising For People Who Don't Like Advertising: "KesselsKramer's issue with Account Handlers wasn't that they were bad people, or scary ones, or ruthless… it was simply that the role of account handler can be split over other departments."

Both come down to much the same point - why hire Account Handlers, when Creatives can do that job themselves? My answer to that question is another question - do we want to? I think not.

I challenged a very dear Account Handler of my acquaintance not so long ago to tell me, given that she wasn't coming up with strategies, and wasn't writing ads, exactly what was she doing all day? Her answer was succinct: "Shit you don't want to do."

And I agree with that. While agencies probably could do without Account Handlers, I don't see why we'd want to. It would just mean we spent more time talking to clients and less time being creative.

So my regrettable conclusion is that, if we are to be totally candid about which is the next role we can afford to lose, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves.

And that hallowed team of two.

Do we really need two?

Bill Bernbach's logic in putting a 'words man' and a 'pictures man' together was that we were becoming a visual culture - thanks to the rise of TV and magazines - and so it was necessary to have visual ideas, to make an impact on that culture.

The wannabe poets and novelists who filled the ranks of agency copywriters weren't naturally visual thinkers, so pairing them with the art directors (who at that time were mere visualisers) was a necessary step to create a team that, between them, had both visual and conceptual skills.

Bill's idea worked, but that was nearly 60 years ago.

Times are different today.

Would Bill (pictured, looking mildly cheesed-off) consider that today, the doubling-up may be unnecessary?

Today's copywriters are not pipe-smoking tweed-jacket-wearers who have the visual sense of Blind Lemon Jefferson. They've grown up in the age of Spielberg and Zuckerberg, and while they may not know every typeface known to man, they're accomplished visual thinkers. In short, they don't need art directors. Yes, they'll need designers, directors, or UX guys to bring their ideas to life… as they always have… but they don't need an intermediary between themselves and the execution people.

Now, before anyone thinks I'm going off on a rant against art directors, let me very quickly state that just as I think a copywriter no longer needs an art director… the reverse is also true: art directors no longer need copywriters. Don't forget, the role of art director evolved from the role of visualiser. It was believed that art directors didn't have strong conceptual skills, and so needed to be paired with a copywriter. Today, that no longer holds true. The kind of people who are becoming art directors are coming from the exact same background as the copywriters - ad school - and their conceptual skills are just as strong. They don't need a copywriter to prop them up any more.

Where I'm arguing we should go is nothing more than the way the wind is blowing anyway. I would guess that at least one-third of teams nowadays don't have a rigorous art director/copywriter divide, but define themselves as either or both.

So what we basically have is a duplication of roles. Yes, it's nice to have a mate with you at all times. Someone who's got your back. And it could be argued that a strong team of two can do more and better work than two individuals could, since they develop an understanding over time. However, the opposite could also be true - that their partnership becomes stale and predictable over time.

The other argument for having teams was that it was always said you need 'another person to bounce off' in order to have ideas, and a creative can't work successfully in a vacuum. But there is no vacuum any more. We're not 'left alone' any more, we're surrounded by stimulus, we're constantly working with clients, account handlers, planners, directors, designers, technologists, social media people… no one could seriously argue that the modern creative would be stuck 'on their own' without a partner. You're nearly never on your own, nowadays. Besides, many great writers, artists and musicians work on their own so it's doubtful whether this argument ever had any real validity.

Gentlemen, the bean counters are crawling all over us, like thousands of tiny insects, and the fact that they haven't yet noticed that we are employing two people to do the job of 'concept creator,' when it could be done by one, is a minor miracle.

The change has to be imminent. Already, the 'CD team' is all but non-existent. Yes, it's easier to make creative directing decisions when you're an individual not a team, so it makes sense from that point of view. But CD's have always had to have ideas too, and they're now doing that perfectly well on their own.

So the CD team is all but gone, and it can't be long before the regular creative team has to disappear too.


Don't shoot the messenger.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Portfolio Review – the Psychiatric Method

"So, what do you think of your portfolio?"

When I was a young creative, the portfolio critique was a sometimes inspiring, sometimes intimidating rite-of-passage.

You got to see inside an agency, maybe even try out their toilets.

But nowadays, it seems that portfolio reviews more often take place remotely. Which is a shame in some ways - you don’t get as good a sense of the person behind the book, and it makes the process rather one-directional.

Young creatives often ask me to take a look at their portfolios, but being dissatisfied with how the online crit conventionally works, last week I wanted to try something different.

My mind went back to one of the best pieces of advice I ever got on my book, which was from Richard Myers, former ECD at Saatchi & Saatchi London. He just asked me: “Are you happy with your book? Because that’s all that matters.”

It took me a long time to work out what he meant. But eventually, I decided that he meant you can make your book anything you want. If you think it should have more digital work in it, you can do that. If you think it should be better overall, well then you can just work harder and make it better.

In thinking about how to do a crit differently, I considered Richard’s words, and I realised there was a psychiatric element to his approach. A psychiatrist doesn’t tell you what to do. They ask you to describe where you’re at, and then ask you what you think you should do.

Could a portfolio critique along these lines be effective, the way pyschiatrists can improve a patient’s condition, even though it’s the patient who does all the talking?

I decided to try the experiment, when a young creative called Brad Donovan asked me to critique his portfolio last week.

If you want to take a look, here it is. (Incidentally, Brad was very game in agreeing to the experiment, and having it discussed on Scamp. Three cheers for Brad.)

Here are some edited bits from the crit.

Scamp: “What do you think of your portfolio?”

Brad: “I like it (can I say that?), although it's quite plain, I'm the sort of person who likes to let the work speak for itself. The platform I'm using (cargocollective) has made things pretty simple to upload from the creator’s (my) point of view. What would I want to see if I was a Creative Director? I want to be able to navigate easily. I don't want to read a wall of text. I need the gist, but it has to make sense. At the same time, I don't want you to feel like you're reading a school report, I'm here to entertain you (in a good way). I want you to feel like I'm there in the room chatting away about each project.”

Scamp: “Talk me through some of your favourite stuff in it, and why you like it."

Brad: “Some of the better stuff I think is the personal things that I've added in. Although agencies can hire very talented people, there's a lot to be said about the type of people an agency brings into their culture. You have to be willing to put a bit of that on the line. Also, for me, it's the stuff I can point to and say, I did that, on my own, without an agency’s help. Ultimately, the folio should reflect the kind of place you would want to work next. And everything I put in my folio helps tell the story of who I am, and where I want to be. “

Scamp: “Tell me what you want to replace, when you do the next nice thing, and why.”

Brad: “I didn't go in with a set amount of work that I wanted to show. I want to show that although I can write an ok line, or perhaps come up with a concept or two, I think I just want to show that I get a sense of what the industry is about, but at the same time I'm still learning, I don't want it to look finished, I want it to look like I'm continually trying to improve and update it. If I were to be specific, perhaps I would replace the Charlie's print ads with another - more recent print ad. But then again, everything's on the chopping board if the new work is good enough.

Scamp: “What is it about the Charlie's print ads that makes you want to replace them?”

Brad: “When I refer to the Charlie's ad, it's not that I think it's bad, but perhaps out of all the work on the site, that's probably the one that will be first off the block, because any more of this type of work and I feel that my folio might cover much of the same ground. Plus, I personally think it's the least interesting, it's not pushing the boundaries of print per se - but it serves the purpose of rounding out my folio, so I think it's earned its place there.”

Scamp: “Tell me what you feel your portfolio is lacking.”

Brad: “Hmm, this is a hard one! This may come across as cocky, or whatever, but because I am in this state of constantly trying to get advice, constantly trying to improve, I feel that everything is potentially lacking. But I have to say, well folks, this is where I'm at the moment, here's my full stop - send it off to a few people - get feedback, take in what works, do away with what doesn't. That's my approach. To constantly improve. If I'm completely honest, I don't think my folio will ever be good enough. But that’s what gets me up in the morning.”

Scamp: “And what about the design? What look are you going for? What do you want it to say about you, and your work?”

Brad: “Design should add to the story of who I am, if you look at my site, it's rather plain. There's a reason behind that. I want you to focus on the content of the work, and the words. I'd say that's a good reflection of my personality as well, the design should indicate to you that I have kind of a no-frills sense about me.”

Scamp: “Other than work that reflects ‘the kind of place you would want to work next’ is there anything specific you would like to see go into your book, in terms of media, or product categories?”

Brad: “I definitely feel that as a young creative with not that much experience, I've got a gap in my folio where the personal stuff will have to come in to play. I get the feeling that as the communications industry evolves, we'll be seeing a lot more of the brands we work on becoming living breathing characters with thoughts and opinions of their own. So I think for my book, any product will do, I really have no preference, I just want to create honest useful communication that people can relate to.”

Scamp: “What is the obstacle between you and your dream job? What would you need to do to your folio to get that dream job, whatever it is?”

Brad: “I don't think there is a dream job out there. Every place has its perks. And downside. Of course there are places that I admire, but I think you can learn something from even the worst places in the world. I try to talk to a wide range of people and get their opinions so that I can form a more sound and rounded opinion of my own.”

Scamp: “What else can you think of that you could do, that would improve your folio?”

Brad: “I'd like to see a bit more digital in my folio, I know that's important, but I think if I'm plugging myself as a creative, first and foremost I have to understand how a brand thinks and acts, and talks. But immersing myself in new things such as technology and what the latest trends and vehicles to deliver these messages is also a really important part of being in the industry.”

Scamp: “So, last question. How did you find this crit? Different from a normal one? Useful? Not useful?”

Brad: “I enjoyed this process, it confirmed for me a few thoughts that I already had about the industry and where I'm at, it gave me a chance to reflect on the things I've learned and how far I've come since I began, I suspect this will continue to evolve, perhaps we could do this again every 2 years? I'd be interested in the result personally, anyway. I think this way of critiquing was quite useful as well, like you said, bit like a psychiatrist at work, where you just keep talking till you have the 'aha' moment and go on your way. I didn't have an aha moment, but it definitely solidified a few of my thoughts.”

Thank you, Brad.

So, what did you think of Brad’s answers. Do you think he’s insightful about his own work, and what he needs to do? Do you think he learned anything from this crit?

Would you like to get this kind of crit? Or do you think it’s just incredibly lazy of the critiquer not to give actual feedback, and expect you to do all the work…

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Time - he's waiting in the wings

He speaks of senseless things

His script is you and me, boys

(D. Bowie)

What is the optimum amount of time to give a creative team on a brief?
Well, first let’s look at what actually happens, before we get on to what ought to happen in a perfect world.
In the real world, creatives have been getting less and less time per brief. When I started in advertising, which admittedly was in the previous century, it was common for teams to get two weeks on a brief, before the client presentation.
Gradually, this went down to one week.
Now it has reduced to about four days. And once you factor in the need to schedule reviews with the account team, and the creative director, then the length of time that a creative team has before they need to show their ideas to somebody is probably about two days. And given that they will inevitably have other work on – another brief or two, plus bits of production - the actual thinking time that a creative team is able to put into any one brief is probably, in reality, just a few hours.
This seems bizarre, given that the marketer has probably spent weeks or months preparing the activity, and the agency planners have spent at least a week or two preparing the brief.
Do the client, the planners, and the account team really only want a few hours worth of thinking on the problem?

This short video, found via my friend Dustin’s blog Dingo’s Breakfast (worth a read, incidentally) makes a powerful case for giving creative people more time.
And for years, I stood in the same camp.
But recently, I’ve started going the other way.
And in fact I now believe that less time is better.
Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that time is precious. After all, it’s the only resource we have. (Other than the internet, obvs). But it’s precisely because time is so precious, that I think we should go to client earlier. As early as possible, in fact.
You see, any minute you spend working on something that isn’t what the client wants, is a waste of time. You can’t ‘make’ the client buy an idea, however great it may be, if it isn’t what they want. The first requirement if an idea is to ever see the light of day, is that it has to meet the client’s needs.
On numerous occasions, I’ve spent weeks working on something, or teams working in to me have spent weeks working on something, and we go to client, only to find that it isn’t exactly what they were looking for. Weeks of work, is eliminated in 20 minutes. And that isn’t very efficient.
Like it or not, a client often doesn’t know exactly what they want until they have seen some work. And I don’t blame them for that. Even the most tightly-written brief has nuances, and sometimes it takes actual work to flush those out.
When I was at BBH, the creative managers kept track of the percentage of briefs that were cracked first time, and it was considered important to get that score as high as possible, since having to start again is costly.

But maybe they were measuring the wrong thing. Maybe total number of days worked is more important. What does it matter if you go back three times, if they’re all in the same week? Isn’t that better than cracking something first time, if it takes you two weeks?

If we worked on stuff for less time, maybe each meeting would be lower pressure. Maybe we’d waste fewer hours polishing and crafting scripts that are going to be dead at the end of the three minutes it takes to read them out. And maybe we’d all be less upset when our work got blown out, because we would have put less emotional energy into it.
Anyway, it’s just a theory. What do
you think?

Sunday, July 08, 2012

So, where were we?

Ah yes, I've moved to Australia.

And I like it here - I like it a lot.

You can't beat the weather, and the advertising's not bad either. There may be only 22 million people in the country, and another 4.5 million in New Zealand, compared to hundreds of millions in Europe, hundreds of millions in the US, and bajillions in Asia… but, Australasia punches way above its weight in world advertising (i.e. Cannes) terms.

So I left BBH - after which they've obviously enjoyed their most successful period ever - and came out here to be Deputy ECD at DDB Sydney, but I've now set up my own thing. Yes, Scamp has become an agency. Well, that's putting it rather grandly. At the moment, it's just me and a layout pad. So I'm more of a creative independent than an ad agency at this point, but in the future... who knows? I've registered Scamp Creative Pty Ltd as a company, I have a new logo (see above), I've opened a business bank account… heck, I'm feeling dangerous!

If you want me to work on something, do get in touch. I have two children, and they always need shoes, and food, and stuff like that. My email is simon dot veksner at gmail dot com. If you would like to see my portfolio, it's at

And what else have I been up to? The main thing is, I'm writing another book. It's for Laurence King, the same people who published How To Make It As An Advertising Creative, and this one's going to be called 100 Ideas That Changed Advertising. It'll be another in a very successful series they have which also includes 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design, 100 Ideas That Changed Architecture… you get the picture. Anyway, these books are great. Bite-size chapters (because there are 100 of them!) with lots of pictures. And they're not just sold in boring old bookshops, but also in fun places like Urban Outfitters, where the young people go.

Hopefully there's still a role for advertising books in 2012. Another good one has come out recently, called Advertising For People Who Don't Like Advertising, by the KesselsKramer people. They just contacted me to do an interview, probably in the hope I'd plug their book. Mission accomplished! It's a well-deserved plug though. The book looks great.

As you can see, I am re-starting Scamp. It's not going to be like before, though. I won't be doing a daily post of latest ads, news and gossip. There are others who are doing that extremely well - principally Ben Kay in the UK and Campaign Brief here in Australia. I am going to post once a week, an in-depth piece about some aspect of advertising and creativity, which will hopefully go up every Sunday night.

While I've been away, a lot seems to have changed in the blogosphere. Of the blogs I used to have on my link list, it looks like American Copywriter, Dan Germain, Diablogue, Gwen Yip, Happy Thought, JP and Tem, Minds For Rent, Not Voodoo, The Barry And Troy Show, The Ideas Brothers, 10 Ad, Ad Hunt, Ad Arena, Advertising for Peanuts, DigiCynic, Meme Huffer, Planning For Fun, Punk Planning, The Staufenberger Repository, Client Side, Creative in Kansas City, Digital Stuffing, Experience Curve, FishNChimps, Interactive Marketing Trends, Knitware, Nitmesh, and Room 116 have ceased trading. Maybe they found something better to do with their time. I hope they did.

Then again, Adland, AdScam, Brand DNA, Campaign Brief, Copyranter, Creative in London, Creativity_Unbound, Dave Trott, Hey Whipple, If This Is A Blog Then What's Christmas, Logic + Emotion, Lolly And Nat's Whipple Squeezer, Real Men Write Long Copy, Rubbishcorp, Sell! Sell!, The Toad Stool, Where's My Jetpack, Welcome To Optimism, Ads of the World, Adverbox, Advertising/Design Goodness, Bannerblog, Best Ads On TV, David Reviews, Scary Ideas, The Inspiration Room, ViralBlog, Adliterate, Faris, Hee-Haw Marketing, Jaffe Juice, Life Moves Pretty Fast, Living Brands, Northern Planner, Only Dead Fish, Russell Davies, The Communications Room, Adbusters, B3ta, Bad Banana, It's Nice That, Notcot, PostSecret, VVork, Gapingvoid, Marketing Unleashed, Tom Fishburne, AdForum, AdFreak, AdPulp, AdRants, Adverblog, Agency Spy, Beyond Madison Avenue, Brand Republic, BrandFlakes for Breakfast, Coloribus, Crackunit, Creative Review, Creativity Online, Hidden Persuader, IHaveAnIdea, Joe La Pompe, Spinning Around, The Ad Contrarian, and The Denver Egotist are still going. Hurrah! If you can think of any new ones I should stick up, please let me know.

Meanwhile, it seems everyone has moved to Typepad. Is that good? And what about Twitter? Do I need to announce each Scamp post on Twitter also, or should I reserve that medium for a separate stream of pithy musings? So many questions.

Anyway, that's it for the re-introduction.

It's good to be back.