My apologies for the long delay since the last post. Life has been very busy. I’m planning to be more consistent again now…
Few legends of advertising are quoted as often as David Ogilvy. How many of us, moving at Internet-speed do what David Ogilvy supposedly did in pursuit of big ideas? Let’s go line by line through his best practices: (Click here and open Mr. Ogilvy’s “Letter Of Note” in another tab for side-by-side reference).
1. Many of us work late. In fact most of us do. Probably more than is healthy, honestly. But despite flex time and easy telecommuting many of us clock hours in noisy offices, full of distractions with lots of additional things vying for our attention on our numerous internet feeds.
2. Background research. Man, I can’t tell you the last time I had the opportunity to really dig into competitive work in a category I was working on. How about you?
3. Research material? Not when the brief is Monday (assuming the client signs off by then) and the ‘big ideas’ are due for a conference call on Wednesday. Not when you need a couple days to comp it up on a computer to make it ‘presentation ready’. Good ideas were supposed to come through on a cocktail napkin sketch. Haven’t seen one sold that way in my entire career.
4. Client buy off on the brief. This one is sticky. Even when we get it, the age of digital development has trained us all that changes are possible wherever and whenever. They are, of course – but at a cost that no one ever seems to want acknowledge let alone bill for.
5. You might find time for a brain dump, sure, but with little to no research to map it to, choosing the best ideas from the batch becomes fairly subjective and nearly impossible to measure beyond office politics (what does the senior most person like) and entertainment factor.
6. Brainstorming. We all do this. How many of us get to go deep though? The pressure, under timelines and tight budgets, is to make a choice early. The choices are usually from a pool of thoughts that come ‘top of mind’ – you know, the same concepts everyone has in a single, one-hour brainstorm.
7. Hitting the wall. I remember being terrified the first time this happened to me. Then I read about ideation and learned its usually in the moments after purging all the top of mind thoughts – when you think you’ve run dry – that the real creativity starts. That’s usually right around the time the brainstorm ends (because the conference room is booked and we’ve successfully convinced ourselves we can’t think productively for more than an hour).
8. Heavy self editing. Again, how often do we get the time to think broad (#6), think deep (#7) and then go back and edit it all down?
9. Walking away. Forget the substance abuse and gramophone mentioned. A lot of ideation happens subconsciously. Read up on it and you’ll learn the best ideas come from brains that like crock pots, slowly cook ideas rather than trying to call them forth like an on/off faucet of brilliance.
10. More editing. Man, this guy lived in a golden age! You and I would be two weeks late and possibly have lost the account by this point.
11. Secretarial work. Today we all do it ourselves. We can type our own words, comp our own ideas. This is generally a good thing, though I wonder how much time we spend formatting text that could be spent improving ideas.
12. The idea of being a lousy writer but good editor gets to something critically important that I’ll be hitting in my next post – on reduction. Ideas are messy, sometimes they feel random and out of nowhere. Editing turns 24 hours of footage into a great half-hour film. It turns a rambling novel into an intriguing short-story. And it can take the hodge-podge of notions, blurbs, bits and pieces and craft them into a cohesive story. But it takes time.
I’ve often thought our industry has been shooting itself in the foot by accepting tighter timelines, cheapening the value of our concepts in favor of the slickness of our executions, and willfully giving up our seat at the strategic table in favor of focusing on finding cheaper (read less manpower, with less experience) ways to crank out more work is less time. Clients won’t stop us from doing this. They’ve got shareholders with quarterly earnings on their minds. (Curse you Wall St.)
But in the recesses of our minds I think we all know we’re moving so fast that we don’t have the time we’d like to learn our clients’ businesses better, to research their competitors more, to think broader, look deeper, and to throw away the first 20 ideas we have (because we know everyone has those same ideas).
Our client’s don’t have enough time to do this either I’m betting.
I wish we all did though.