Monday, May 23, 2005

Holy Cow

Spanky's Bar Stools, originally uploaded by Jill.y.

It takes someone who's driven the herd to market to know how to deliver the beef

The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Big agencies are going the way of the dinosaur and it isn't pretty. Lots of good people are out on the street with nothing more than a book and a big mortgage to keep them company.

But why are these behemoths dying so rapidly? They may well have outlived their usefulness. Part of it has to be karma coming back to bite them in the butt. Huge agecies used cutthroat HR practices that discriminated against seasoned pros in favor of $30K kids loaded with ambition and potential. Don't get me wrong, We need these kids like fresh air, but the lack of loyalty to more senior employees* is coming back like Marley's ghost. Frankly, it takes someone who's driven the herd to market to know how to deliver the beef. Experienced matters. It just does and that is fact.

The very people they "right-sized," ahem, have gone out on their own. Because it doesn't take $150 or $200 an hour if you don't have marble lobbies and Serra sculptures, clients get top-drawer creative thinking without the big agency runaround. They like it. It works for them.

Small outfits can be nimble in ways a behemoth never could. We can beat the clock and beat the competition, and tailor the message like a glove, because we know what we're about. In brain chemistry, neural pathways are developed that create a kind of shorthand that takes years to acquire. By the same token, if a project needs entirely new ground, we plumb those depths without breaking a sweat. (Okay, that's a lie. We do sweat. It's hard work to do it well..)

The term "relationship marketing" has become a tired old warhorse, bandied about cynically until it's become meaningless and hackneyed . But that's what we do. We nurture relationships between companies and users, with open dialogue, and interesting personalities at every turn.

It's the only way to do business, or life, for that matter.

*The pall of seniority can descend even in the mid-thirties, and is firmly in place after 40. At 50 and 60 and 70? I've witnessed the subtle lack of visibility that comes with age, and have seen some very intelligent people be patronized like team mascots..

Tone it up

The most stifling voice against creativity can be your own. How many times have you censored yourself, talked yourself out of taking a risk, gone the safe way?

P.S. Remember, every time I say you, I mean me, too, probably loudest of all.

Hugh Macleod tells a wonderful story:

One fine day a Creative Director kindly agreed for me to come show him my portfolio. Hooray!

So I came to his office and showed him my work. My work was bloody awful. All of it.

Imagine the worst, cheesiest "I used to wash with Sudso but now I wash with Lemon-Fresh Rinso Extreme" vapid housewife crap. Only far worse than that.

The CD was a nice guy. You could tell he didn't think much of my work, though he was far too polite to blurt it out. Finally he quietly confessed that it wasn't doing much for him.

"Well, the target market are middle class houswives," I rambled. "They're quite conservative, so I thought I'd better tone it down..."

"You can tone it down once you've gotten the job and once the client comes after your ass with a red hot poker and tells you to tone it down," he laughed. "Till then, show me the toned-up version."

This story doesn't just happen in advertising. It happens everywhere.