Sunday, August 26, 2012

Who Fires Who

Does anyone know a CEO who's been fired by an ECD?

There seems to be a rule that the top suit can fire the top creative, but not the other way around.

The situation reminds me of passages from a fantastic book called Guns, Germs, and Steel.

(If you haven't read this book, you need to go out and buy it immediately, if not sooner.)

Among the many brilliant questions that the author Jared Diamond poses, is this one: How come it was the English who sailed to Australia, took over the country, and wiped out most of the Aboriginal inhabitants... why didn't an Aboriginal navy sail up the Thames, and take over England?

Or to put it another way, how come Hernan Cortes arrived in what today we call Mexico, in 1519, and overthrew the Aztec civilisation? How come the Aztecs didn't rock up in Madrid, and overthrow the Spanish civilisation?

The answers, according to Jared Diamond, are that the English (in the conquest of Australia) and the Spanish (in the conquest of Mexico) had the advantages of guns, germs, and steel. Why they had those items and the indigenous inhabitants didn't, is down to geography, according to Jared Diamond.

If you want the full explanation, you can read the book.

But at least he has an explanation.

If anyone knows why it is that suits get to fire creatives, and not the other way around... please tell me.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Does It Help To Be Foreign?

In 2001, Juan Cabral came to London. And he smashed it.

Cadbury's 'Gorilla', and Sony Bravia's 'Balls', 'Paint' and 'Rabbits'. Enough said.

But did it help that he was foreign?

That he maybe approached a brief differently from the typical British creative, overwhelmingly schooled at one of only three ad colleges (Watford, Bucks, and St Martin's)?

Did it help that he was drawing on references broader than just British comedy sketch shows of the 1990s, and children's TV programmes of the 80s?

Of course, it makes sense to source the best talent you can find, irrespective of where it comes from. And London agencies are able to attract talent from everywhere, since they can offer a high standard of work, and an exciting city to live in.

But I suspect that some of the UK's most creative agencies have bought into the theory that foreigners can bring them something that British creatives can't.

There can be no other explanation for why agencies like Mother, Fallon and BBH have hired such large numbers of foreign creatives in recent years, principally South Americans and Swedes.

So are they right?

Personally, I haven't found any advantage to being a foreigner here in Australia. (Yes, I know a Brit in Australia is not really a foreigner... it's the same language, and huge swathes of the culture, from Kylie to the Queen, are shared. But still.)

And at times it's been a disadvantage. I've been asked by a client to prepare a celebrity route, and the creative team working on the brief have presented dozens of different celebrities to me as a solution... and I've no idea who any of them even are. Though admittedly, retired sportsmen do look pretty much the same all over the world.

At other times, I've proposed ideas to people, and they've rejected them by landing the knockout blow of shaking their heads slowly, and regretfully informing me that "in Australia, this concept wouldn't really resonate."

Not quite as bad as the time when a Greek client rejected our casting suggestion for an ad, explaining that "in my country, people believe woman with red hair is... how you say... witch." But still.

And perhaps it's telling that while the 'creative thinking' of foreigners is often welcome, few make it to ECD level. The only non-Brit ECD in a big London agency I can think of is Santiago Lucero at Fallon. Here in Sydney, there are several Brits and Kiwis running creative departments, but only one 'real' foreign power, the husband-and-wife team of Carlos Alija and Laura Sampedro, at BMF - that's them below - who by all accounts are doing great.

But what if we dig a little deeper...

While not exactly foreigners, many top creatives are certainly outsiders.

Charles Saatchi was a Jew. As was Tony Kaye. John Hegarty's parents were Irish and he grew up in an Irish neighbourhood of London. More than a few are gay. And Dave Trott is from a real working-class background - 98% of the account men he's chewed up over the years had probably never met anyone like him before... and probably never saw it coming.


People with cultures and experiences that enable them to look at the world differently.

But you know what? All creatives have that.

I think foreign influences are brilliant. The more the merrier. But I wouldn't say it confers any particular advantage on those individuals. Any benefits Juan Cabral had from being a foreigner were probably balanced out by the disadvantages, language barrier etc. No, what made him great was that he was great. That's all.

The old definition of a creative as someone who's "wired wrong" is normally pretty accurate. Because whether you're from Buenos Aires or Burton-on-Trent, all you really need is an ability to see the world differently.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

How Much Time Are You Spending Doing Stuff That You Want To Do?

I've just read a book called A New Kilo Of KesselsKramer, which is a collection of the brilliant Dutch agency's work from 2005 to 2010.

As well as the usual posters, films, and print advertising - including campaigns for the notorious Hans Brinker Budget Hotel - the book contains examples of brand identities, design solutions, social media, PR, music videos, fashion collections, "and at least one public roundabout."

They self-publish books too, like this one about a rabbit with an unusually flat head.

This is a poster. No idea what's going on, but I like it.

Even their ads for a Dutch telecom brand, called 'Ben', are startlingly fresh. ('Ben' in Dutch also means 'I am' so the headline on this ad translates as "I am welcome").

This one particular ad, for me, seemed to sum up their philosophy. It's for 'Poetry In The Park' and the headline, spelled out on towels, reads: "Do what you love to do."

KesselsKramer truly seem to do more or less whatever the hell they want. When I had this realisation, I became extremely jealous.
I remembered an old quotation - "A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do."
Bob Dylan said that, apparently.
I think his music's bloody awful, but I do like the quote. 
And it set me thinking. How much time on average do we - and by 'we' I mean creatives in ad agencies, though anyone is welcome to think about the question - spend doing stuff that we want to do?
Obviously time spent at the pub, playing ping pong, or just generally hanging out with the other smart and fun people who work in advertising, is fine. As is time spent doing 'research' on the internet. Oh, and thinking of ideas, and making creative work... as long as it's for something that's at least slightly creative. They're all things we want to do.
Working on stuff that's shit, participating in brainstorms, and being in boring meetings, are not things we want to do.
There are a few grey areas. Preparing research stimulus, for example, is not stuff that we want to do... but we may accept it as something that we have to do in order to be able to do something that we do want to do, later. 
I'm lucky in that since I started my little Scamp agency, I do have more autonomy, and definitely spend more time doing stuff that I want to do. And over the course of my so-called career, I think I've been quite fortunate with agencies and briefs... so I don't know if my figures will be out of wack...
But I reckon the answer to 'how much time are creatives spending doing what they want to do' will - in a 'normal' job situation, be around 50-75%. Does that sound right to you? And is it acceptable? 100% would be wonderful but I think it's unrealistic. Not every brief can be a great brief, and not everyone can work in a super-cool shop like KK. So I reckon 50-75% is acceptable.
Of course, if you are in an agency that you absolutely hate, your score could approach 0%. If you are in a good agency but in the wrong job within that agency, it could also be very low. A score consistently less than 50%, and I reckon it's time to look for another job.
What's your percentage right now?

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Sex In Advertising

I was reminiscing the other day, with a charming and highly experienced agency boss, about 'when the industry was fun'. We agreed there were more characters, that it was easier to sell good ideas, and then he asked a rhetorical but extremely simple question:

"What happened to the sex?"

I couldn't answer him.

But I've been thinking about it. There certainly seems to be less of it about nowadays. 

Let's do a quick historical analysis:

1960s and 70s
Mad Women by Jane Maas has an entire chapter called 'Sex In The Office'. Remember where Peggy lost her virginity to Pete Campbell? That's right. On the office sofa.

Quoting from Neil French's hilarious and no doubt only partially-reliable memoirs, Sorry For The Lobsters: "I have to confess that I spent that night with the gloriously, fabulously, crazy girlfriend of a guy from the agency… she was, and probably still is, the sexiest lady I've ever met. And yes I've still got the Polaroids." Not much changed when 'Frenchy' moved to Australia. "I discovered that Aussie girls were a free-thinking, healthy, and energetic bunch who would happily run a chap around, and expect nothing in return but a barely adequate bonk. The demand was so great that I was, in the end forced to take 'em by the pair, and before breakfast."

A director friend of mine who worked at BBDO New York in the 1990s reports couples openly having sex in the creative department during parties.

If two people in an advertising agency have a snog (Aus: pash), it's a major news event. If they have sex, they have to get married afterwards.

Is this accurate, or am I just getting old?

How much sex is there in your agency?