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October 23, 2002
Sticking to Your Guns

So many times in this business we are asked to do something very personal. Something people in most other "normal" lines of work don't have to do. Something that is as completely common and normal a practice as concepting or producing the work we create. But somehow, much more personal. Sometimes it is masochistic, but is always exhibitionistic. It requires each of us to expose ourselves in front of co-workers, bosses and clients alike. You did it in school, you did it as a junior, and you'll do it as long as you?re in this business. Something each and every one of us takes very, very seriously. Presenting our work.

Heaven forbid that somebody is not paying attention while you're doing it. How dare someone's cell phone ring. And the nerve of anyone to be taking notes while you're in the middle of exposing yourself like this. For this is surely a moment as personal and baring as that first time you undressed in a locker room full of your peers. A moment when you expose one of the most personal and coveted items you could have possibly created. Your baby. Your brethren. Your idea. Not his. Not hers. Not theirs. But your idea. And everyone in the room better be paying damn well, good attention while you're in the middle of presenting it.

But what happens when you expose this prized little gem, that only you could have created, upon unappreciative and dubious ears? To an audience of people who may not notice or even care how much time, thought, or weekends were ruined coming up with this idea that was going propel you into The One Show? That was going to have "Jeff Goodby on line one" and "Lee Clow holding on line two?" Those creative directors, professors or clients who reply so inconsiderately with "seen it", "next," or "what else have you got?" What do you do? Do you bow your head and reach into your presentation case, sacrificing your dignity and self esteem by pulling out that turd you were only going to present under the most dire of circumstances when the rip chord truly had to be ripped? Or do you stick to your guns and stand behind that masterstroke of genius and fight to the death?

I say do the latter. But do so wisely, considerately and do so with conviction.

I say wisely because you have to be aware of the times we're living in. Know that there are a lot of talented people out there looking for work. The economy isn't in the best shape and there are a number of agencies laying people off even as you read this. Consider the fact that you have to buy food, beer, or maybe even pay rent or a mortgage. The last thing you need to be doing is continually pissing off your creative director or your client by constantly fighting them to the death on every assignment. Pick and choose your battles wisely. Figure out what you're going to stick to your guns about. Which brings me to the next point, doing it considerately.

I say considerately because you have to consider what you're presenting. If a creative director, a professor or a client does not like your presentation, there may be a reason for it. Be considerate and listen. Listen to your boss or your client, they may actually be making sense. There may be a reason your idea isn't working. You don't have to fall on the sword right then and there. Go back. Take your idea with you. See if it truly makes sense. Show it to friends, spouses or others you respect that have an objective point of view. This is not the time to show it to your mother, because we all know that she thinks everything you do is genius. Remember, this is the woman who was bragging about your very first bowel movement to her friends. If your idea is truly a good one, bring it back again with some other work. It's not going anywhere; don't kill it by trying to cram it down a throat that isn't going to swallow it today. This will show that you're open and willing to work on other ideas, while also demonstrating the conviction you have for the idea you believe in. Which brings me to the last point, doing it with conviction.

I say do it with conviction because if it is truly a great idea and has passed all the tests, except of course your mother's, then you need to do whatever it takes to sell it. Get as many resources as you can to support your idea. Go overboard. Impress the hell out of them with too much stuff rather than too little. By this I mean go find books, photography, swipe, films, magazines or music that help visualize your idea. Bring it all. They don't have to see it all, just bring it and throw it all at them. They won't look at it all, but they'll get an idea of just how much conviction and passion you have for your idea. And trust me, a lot of times, this type of energy is contagious in a room. Test your idea. I know we all hate to test things, but testing can really help sell an idea. It shows people how outsiders respond to your idea. How it can go much farther than you or even the people in the room with you. That's the time to support your idea with conviction.

When, and only when, you have accomplished these three tasks, is the time to truly stick to your guns. But remember there is risk that goes with this. Yet one that is no different than the one you accepted by getting into this crazy, subjective business. If you're going to stick to those guns, you have to be willing to die by those same guns. But then again, it's an industry full of risks, and that's one of the main reasons why we all get into this business in the first place. Because it's fun. And we realize we can't have fun without some risk. And the fact of the matter is, if you're not willing to take some risks and stick to your guns now and then, the chances are that no one, except of course your mother, will ever truly appreciate how good you are.

Good Luck.

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Affectionately known as one of the "Snickers Boys" by Jeff Goodby, David Gray has won almost every major advertising award available, both domestic and foreign. Having created successful campaigns for Etrade, Nike, Goodyear, FedEx, and of course Snickers, David has produced an impressive body of work. Today, David is Group Creative Director at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, where he believes in sticking to your guns.
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