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Some Creative Musings On The Eve Of Cannes

I just had this published in Media Post, captures my thoughts on being a former CD.

With the Cannes Lions festival fast upon us, my thoughts have turned to the creative side of the advertising business, which is supposed to be what Cannes celebrates and is the part of the industry I’ve been toiling in for almost 40 years.

I won’t be in Cannes this year, but I have learned a few things about how to produce good work, how to spot good ideas, how to shoot down bad ones, and how to keep clients happy. Another thing I’ve learned is that virtually nothing is certain in this business except change. Even so, here are a half-dozen thoughts on creative advertising that have served me well over the years.

It’s senseless to argue pre-production. Let’s say you have a great idea for a killer TV spot or video that you’re trying to get produced. When selling the idea, don’t argue with your client or your team about something that hasn’t even been shot yet. Remember that the goal is to get produced first. Save the arguing for the editing process. The first step is to film what you think is best and then edit it, taking everyone’s ideas into account as best you can.

The team is the boss of the idea. Surround yourself with people who are smarter and more talented than you are because when one of them adds something to an idea that makes it better, not worse. That seems like an often repeated, simple, and time-tested concept, but it’s very hard to do. You have to let your ego go. The team gets the credit, and you get the blame.

Never totally dismiss an idea. NEVER. If you do, you’ll get branded as a negative pessimist and good people won’t want to work with you. I’ve found time and again that one idea leads to another, and more often than not what initially seemed like a terrible notion became a catalyst to genius. Like love and hate, it’s a fine line. Tread carefully.

Combine the client’s ideas with your own. Cooperate with clients. Listen to them and try your best to do what they ask. But at the same time, maintain your own point of view and stand up for your ideas. The trick is to create work that combines your own ideas with substantive client input. In my experience, that approach has not only produced great work, but also happy, appreciative clients who respect you for sticking to your guns while remaining flexible to their suggestions. When I was at Chiat/Day we had a big photo featuring a slew of our award-winning ads with a caption that read: “The Client Made Us Do It.” I stand by that sentiment.

Quit. Yes, I mean it. Maybe the job you’re in isn’t for you. Stop being a pain in the ass, and stop hating your client and team members. Either get out of the business or go someplace where everyone is like you and you can all be miserable together. Just get out of the way of people who are trying to do the best with what they’ve got.

Be kind, helpful and respectful. If you’re a creative director, remember to have a heart. Treat bad work with kindness and offer to help. Sit with the team and banter to try and improve it. Never simply proclaim, “I just don’t like it.” That will leave your team bitter and resentful, not productive and inspired. Your role as a CD or ECD is to nurture talent and help ideas grow — and to do it professionally and respectfully. Again, when I was at Chiat/Day I remember that Lee Clow could say one sentence and make work better. That’s my test.