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August 25, 2004
Justifying Your Livelihood - Part 2 of 2

Last week we started surrounding the question: how do you defend a livelihood making ads that, even if they're good, are interrupting football games, sitcoms or reality divorce shows? Go to Part 1.

Well, you really only have two basic ways. You do great advertising. Or, you become a force for greatness in the industry.

Let's take your work first. When you do great work you simply don't have to justify "advertising" the industry, you only have to proudly proclaim your accomplishments in advertising. And the more great work you do the less you'll have to justify the entire industry. Do you think Bob Barrie has to justify the masses of hack work out there? Maybe some. But not as much as the hacks themselves do.

Then there's this whole notion of becoming a force for greatness. The good news here is that it's not just doing great work day in and day out, which we all know is a lot easier said than done. But by becoming a force for greatness you help all the work around you to become great. You educate suits and clients on greatness. You teach the kids how to achieve it. You don't just mold ads, you mold the ad industry.

Of course, this all does come back to you doing pretty decent work. Because when you make industry improvement your crusade you put yourself squarely on the hot seat. When you stand up for it, you gotta live it. You can't hide. You can't get away with being ordinary.

Yeah , sure, you say, just like that, I go for greatness and I take away all the reasons people hate advertising. Well, no. It's not that easy. For one thing, the greatness is a career long pursuit. And, besides, the critics are never going to embrace advertising with open minds as long as we put ad content in the way of their news and entertainment. No, you don't stop the detractors from speaking up. You stop them from accusing you. Because if you are putting all of your energy into making better ads and making the industry better, then when these detractors call you on it you look them in the eye and say two little words, "not me."

Conviction, people. Conviction is one of the mightiest forces on this planet. It builds empires. It crumbles empires. I think it can silence your uncle, at least by a few decibels.

And if you want to pull the plug entirely on these disparagers, agree with them. Boom! Silence.

That's right, agree with the belittling of your livelihood. Hell, don't just agree, lay it on thick about the overall poor quality of advertising, do it in detail—cite this company, that ad—and tell them that's why you're in the business: to make better ads and to make advertising better. But this can't just be lip service. Because if you're not really in the business to make it better, then you're probably one of the majority who are making it badder, or these days, making it only gooder, which is really no better than badder.

The first step toward making great advertising is changing your base line assumptions on consumer sophistication. They are not idiots. Don't treat them so. All the great film and sound design in the world won't make a concept with an inane premise palatable to today's savvy media consumer.

Don't do ads that are misleading, stupid or sophomoric (unless you're doing beer advertising, that is). Don't do ads that make empty promises. Don't do ads that twist facts or just plain lie. But, know this, even through you've challenged yourself to drag up this industry and it's reputation, you can't be all high and mighty defending it, even if your you're one of the really, really good guys. I mean, it is after all advertising. Not science. Not medicine. Not academia. You made a career choice to make ads for a living. You're not going to cure cancer with a USP. And you're not going to discover the next renewable energy supply in an editing suit.

It may have been a life defining decision when you elected to go into this business, but, remember, it's still only advertising... So go do the only thing you can do to truly justify that big choice. Go make some great ads and do your share to consciously, concertedly make the whole ad industry better. And when you do that, then the only person you'll truly have to justify your livelihood to is yourself.

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Tom Monahan is the man many people turn to for a creativity booster shot. He's the author of "The Do-It-Yourself Lobotomy" which he preaches at seminars conducted for ad clubs, agencies, and marketers. He founded the award-winning shop Leonard/Monahan in Providence and has written for Communication Arts since 1990.

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