We’re paid for our experience, and it’s easy to forget that
I was once in a meeting with a startup company that was filled with entrepreneurs looking to build a brand. They were finance folks, not marketing folks. Our initial creative work was to present a logo based on a brand platform we’d created.
The presentation morphed into a discussion of the work presented, and as so many logo discussions go, it all became very subjective with everyone sharing their differing opinions. Then, towards the end, one of the clients said some things I haven’t heard much throughout my advertising career:
“You guys are the experts. You’ve been doing this for years, and this is all new to us. Our opinion should be, like, at the bottom of the list when it comes to evaluating this stuff. Can you give us a Font 101 overview so we have a better sense of how this logo and that typeface you’ve chosen help represent our brand?”
It was a request that we weren’t completely prepared for. So is it a necessity to back up your work with logic? How do you sell emotionally triggering ideas to rationally minded business people?
I believe it’s one of the hardest things anyone in an ad agency can do, whether it’s a creative or account executive: Give a logical, backed-up-by-rationale reason for a piece of creative work that might have been thought up in the shower. Or on a hike. Or after smoking a joint and noodling on the computer.
Of course, no creative in advertising wants to stand in a corporate boardroom and admit this. So there’s a need to rationally explain the irrational. Because that’s the world we’re living in. Data, research, strategy, testing — all of it plays a role no matter how big or small a client’s project or budget is. And clients often don’t know what they don’t know.
Few people have the vision to see the world the way a creative team at an agency would. Even the most experienced marketing people can’t always visualize the permutations of an idea even if it has lots of merit. Which is why it’s up to someone on the agency side to make the case for the work.
Even if you’re a creative with deep training in advertising, you likely didn’t learn to evaluate work logically. You learned your trade by pouring your heart and soul into something, only to see it ripped off a wall by an instructor or creative director who may or may not have given you any reason why. Or you watched in perplexion as the idea you had the least confidence in turned out to be a hidden gem. There was little rhyme or reason involved.
But a well thought-out presentation goes a long way. There’s a good reason why experts fall back on the method of “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them.” And there’s a reason smart account people always remind clients that the work they’re about to evaluate is based on a previously agreed upon creative brief. That won’t necessarily stop work from dying in a carnage-filled rage, but at least it establishes some grounding.
Besides, some people in advertising are simply great bullshitters. And sometimes, that’s all that is needed. Any explanation that sounds sensible is OK for many clients. They simply just want to hear that you’ve thought about the work from all angles — including the left-brained one. And it’s not their fault: It’s perfectly OK that some people can run multimillion-dollar businesses but look for step-by-step guidance when choosing brand colors or fonts.
This sort of enlightened hand-holding is not an easy skill to learn. I could likely go back and rationalize work I’ve done, but often long after I’ve done it. It’s harder to do it on the spot. While it’d be nice to live in a world where people see ideas through a maker’s eyes, that’s not our world.
So I believe it’s helpful to find the time — and build time in for every project — to step back and understand the rationale for what’s being presented. Remember, we’re being paid for our expertise. Of course, it helps to have an achingly great idea, one that we unashamedly fall in love with. That kind of enthusiasm is contagious.
But it won’t go anywhere unless we can rationally verbalize why we fell in love with it in the first place.
Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
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