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December 15, 2010
Change Can Be Good. Kindness, Better.
 
What is it about CDs that makes them change design and copy, even if it doesn’t need changing, or adds nothing new, as in improves marketing?
 
On a Mad Men episode this year, copywriter Peggy confronts boss Don Draper. After he expects her to work late, screwing up her personal plans, Peggy says what so many of us have wanted to say or scream (if only in our heads): 
 
“You’re only going to change it.”

The ongoing “insult to injury” is so endemic in this industry. Bad enough working late, without overtime pay, but to know your work will be re-done anyway is doubly frustrating.
 
Are CDs hard-wired to be critical? Do they think they’re not doing their job if they don’t scrutinize and edit? Or, is it to toughen the creative hide, knowing everyone is going to be riding yours one time or another?
 
Is it to keep you gently under thumb (or not so gently, depending on their delivery)? Or, is it the old frat-house hazing: They had to endure it. Now it’s your turn? Part of your career dues and don’ts...
 
“Never use ellipses. Watch exclamation points!!!! Only use sans serif. Lose the polka dots, they remind her of her childhood. Only use Frutiger. He’s obsessed with kerning. Never use reverse type. Make it pop more. Too cutesy...”
 
Often, there’s a litany of advertising no-no’s, creative peccadilloes particular to each honcho, that must be adhered to, to garner their blessing -- on top of marketing best practices that should be followed. That’s before your creation even sees the lawyer’s light of day.
 
Change is something every adman gets used to quickly, or they find a new career.
 
I welcome change, especially when it strengthens the work and teaches you something (like don’t start a project before anesthetics wear off).
 
Writing is re-writing, and a new, fresh eye often brings something better to the keyboard, particularly after your brain’s fried after cooking up ways to convert cannibals to veganism.
 
But when someone changes something, just to put their whorl on it, that’s a waste of time, often sparking job dissatisfaction by promoting bad morale, petty politics, and low self-esteem.
 
“Literal” changes are worse. I once had a supervisor edit “the” as in “the telephone,” to “a,”“a telephone,” citing that not everyone had their own telephone and “the” implied they did. Were telephones nonexistent in the 1980s? Our target didn’t live in outer Ittoqqortoormiit.  If you cater to every literal interpretation, your advertising is reduced to gobbledegook.
 
Part of being a good manager is knowing when not to touch something. To stop overworking a job, and its creator, and STEP AWAY FROM the drawing board.
 
Likewise, creatives should acknowledge which side of the bread holds the butter. If their work is highly visible and well-received, kudos should be given to their superiors, if for nothing else than keeping their mitts off.
 
Spin it as they gave you “freedom to realize your full potential.” The old saw, “You make me look good, I’ll make you look better.” Of course, a simple pat on the back from both sides goes a long way.
 
Consequently, I applaud the real-life Peggys who confront superiors the way the fictional one did. After Draper callously berates her: “There are no credits...it’s your job! I give you money, you give me ideas,” Peggy snaps back, “You never say thank you.”
 
“That’s what the money is for! You should be thanking me every morning when you wake up, along with Jesus, for giving you another day!,” says Draper. (When did he become a bible thumper, or worse, develop a messianic complex?)  
 
So, to all you Drapers out there: Thanks for whisking us away from blue-collar hell, for throwing us the same bones that the Mr. Sterlings once tossed you.  
 
I guess when Don squeezes Peggy’s hand the morning after yet another inebriated binge, he shows his gratitude for her work and friendship. Today, that might be seen as sexual harassment.  

Still, a little kindness (constructive criticism mixed with pinches of praise) goes a long way. I wager it sparks better creative.


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Mary Alias is a writer who hasn’t won any awards nor worked at any hot NY agencies. Consequently, you probably shouldn’t read what she has to say. She’s just a hard-working creative who doesn’t want to get ahead if it means sticking a stiletto-ed heel (actually, she prefers flats) into a fellow forehead. Mary strives to collaborate, create, write. And get paid for it — because, next to writing, she needs to eat

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