8 And Rising - A good Way To Start Saving Ad Agencies

I read a good piece today by Indy Selvarajah on the Drum website. Have a read here. He's talking about how to get more people of colour (his words) into advertising agencies. I think this is a great subject.

This is kind of intertwined with something that we've being going on about for ages on this blog and in our book – which is that advertising has become far too populated for its own good by the same kind of polite middle-class people with university degrees.

These issues are intertwined because they all link back to the kind of people who are ending up in advertising. The same goes for the people who are calling for a more fair representation of women in the business, especially creative departments, especially at the top. There are other dynamics at play for certain, but part of it is definitely to do with the people who are trying to get into the business in the first place.

I think advertising would hugely benefit from being more representative of the world outside its glass staircases and foosball tables. More people of colour, as Indy says, more women in creative departments and in senior positions, more people from working class and lower middle class backgrounds, and more people who aren't graduates.

We've talked before about the demise of the Post Room as a way for people from different backgrounds to find their way into the industry.

I think Indy has a good take on what would help, and it's pretty simple...
I have set up an initiative called 8 (currently only 8 per cent of senior positions in ad land are held by those from minority backgrounds) and I invite all creatives, creative directors and executive creative directors to give up an hour of your time, twice a year to visit a school or college and talk about what you do. Show the ads you’ve made. Talk about a shoot. Where you’ve travelled to. The amazing, and not so amazing, directors you’ve worked with. If you’re over 50 tell them about the long lunches and short working hours you used to enjoy. And if you’re feeling brave, answer some of their questions. That’s it. It doesn’t seem like much, but I’m certain this is the most effective starting point in creating a more balanced, diverse, interesting and fun industry.
I think this is spot-on. I grew up in a normal, working-class family, and had no idea that advertising was something I could do as a job. I got (very) lucky because I somehow got myself into art school after a series of failed other directions and just happened to see that there were people doing advertising there – bloody hell, you can get paid for doing that kind of thing!

I think if we want to improve the business (and the output of the the business) we have to start here - attracting a wider range of people into the business in the first place. And of course (as if we need to say it) all jobs should be absolutely on merit, but if the pool of people better represents the population, we have a much better chance of getting both great talent and a diverse range of people in agencies.

This is the website for Indy's initiative: http://www.8andrising.com/

Is it Time for a New Creative Revolution? Sell! Sell! Speaking at Zee Melt 2016...

This weekend Vic will be in New Delhi, India, speaking at the Zee Melt Festival, India's biggest festival of creativity and innovation in marketing and communications.

As you might know, we're not usually big on these kind of festivals, but these guys seem like a smart bunch and have asked us to speak on a subject we feel strongly about - how to refocus this business properly back on to creativity.

And also there are some people speaking there we're interesting in seeing, including Dave Trott and Forsman & Bodenfors.

Vic will be covering some of the points we talk about in our book How To Make Better Advertising and Advertising Better –The Manifesto for a New Creative Revolution. Hope to see you there if you're going, and come and say hello.

There's more info at Readytomelt.com or follow @kyoorius or us @wearesellsell on the Twitter...

Goodby Silverstein Anti-Trump Mount Rushmore Commercial

Every now and again it's good to remind ourselves just how powerful commercials can be.

Strong work...

A Short Note On Enduring Ideas

Advertising agencies need to break their habit of creating ephemeral, one-off ads.

Instead, the focus should be on creating big, enduring ideas and long-term campaigns that build value and help brands to grow consistently over time.

People in advertising are often seduced by fleeting popularity as a measure of success. Everyone feels good for a couple of weeks, but the viewer isn’t moved any closer to becoming a customer.

There is sometimes a very real need to refresh or renew. But marketing directors and advertising folk need to be aware that it is sometimes simply ego that leads to ‘not invented here’ syndrome, and contributes to the lack of consistency.

The most successful brands have been built and grown with consistent advertising.

Make it your ambition.

For more pithy challenging of received wisdom, our new book ‘How To Make Better Advertising and Advertising Better – The Manifesto for a New Creative Revolution’ – is available exclusively at the Design Museum.

"Remember those great Volkswagen ads?" The Film...

Need some start of the week inspiration? Have a watch of this lovely film The story of the charming, honest ad campaign DDB created for VW... universally acknowledged to be the greatest and most influential of all time. Directed by Joe Marcantonio...

Also, if you don't already own a copy, it's well worth getting hold of the great book here: www.greatvwads.com

Have a great week.

10 Things Clients Can Do To Get Better Advertising

There’s no denying that there’s currently a lot of gnashing of teeth about the parlous and desperate state of creativity in advertising right now.

It’s fair to say that there is awful lot of rubbish work being produced.  And an awful lot of “meh” work and an awful lot of wallpaper work that just goes unnoticed. 

All in all, a pretty depressing state of affairs, I’m sure you’ll agree.

There is a myriad of reasons why this might be the case.

It’s hard to do great work and make it see the light of day. Bloody hard.

However, it ain’t impossible.

Rummaging around in the advertising blogosphere and speaking to mates in other agencies, I sometimes get the sense that a sort of fatalism has crept into the business and that some people have almost given up trying to do great work so convinced are they that it has almost zero chance of it happening.

I appreciate that quite often there are some substantial barriers that get in the way of great creative work. Some might be cultural, some might be personal, some might be financial.  All could be deeply ingrained.

It’s really easy to lay the blame at a client’s door.  After all, they’re the ones that ultimately have to approve and pay for the advertising.

But agencies are also equally culpable.  They’re the ones actually doing the bloody work in the first place. It’s their responsibility to ensure it’s as good as it possibly can be, whatever barriers might stand in the way.

Now, there’s no magic wand that can be picked up and waved by clients to ensure that the Holy Grail of great creative work is found when answering every brief. 

But I believe that there are some fundamental principles that, if followed and adhered to by the big client cheeses commissioning the work, then this will significantly increase the prospect and likelihood of them being rewarded with great creative work....

1.     More time.

Within reason, the more time you have to create and produce advertising, the better that advertising will be.

The less time there is, the greater the possibility that the advertising will be poorly conceived and poorly executed.

Yes, everybody is under pressure to move quicker and deliver things faster. Yes, there’s a constant demand to turn things around at the drop of a hat.

“You need this by yesterday? No problem.”  

That’s the attitude that needs to change.

Clients need to give agencies proper, decent time to come up with great ideas.

And agencies need to try to buy, safeguard and protect this time if they want to do great work.

2.     Only work with the best possible people

The better and more talented people there are involved in the creation and approval of the advertising, the greater the likelihood it is that good work will be the result.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Probably because it’s true.

The quality of people makes a massive difference to the quality of the advertising.

Not all creative teams, planners, account handlers are created equal.

Very few agencies are blessed with a high density of talent across the board. And even so-called “creative” agencies can turn out absolute stinkers.

Quite often, there can be a systemised streaming approach to who works on what.  The “jewel in the crown”, shop window accounts can often be staffed by the cream of the crop and heavy hitters, leaving the less glamorous or smaller clients with the runts of the litter.

If I was a client, I’d demand to know the track record of everyone working on my piece of business. That’s a sure-fire way of finding out from the start whether great advertising was a probability or a pipe dream.

3.     Involve as few people as possible in the development and approval process

It’s a truism that too many cooks spoil the broth.  Quite often, they’ll end up all pissing in the broth and suggesting individual recipes for a new broth that nobody will ever agree on.

Streamlined teams with direct and immediate access to key decision-makers will always produce better work than legions of minions and middle-men scurrying back and forth trying to accommodate the world and his wife’s point of view.

Beware of dealing with people who only have the power to say no. For they are often the time-wasting devil.

4.     Don’t “test” creative work with research.

Research can be a very useful tool early in any process to help understand strategy and audiences better.

However, put creative work in front of the general public as research stimulus and see how quickly it all turns to shit.

Steve Jobs famously said customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.

And Henry Ford is supposed to have said  “If I’d have asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me they wanted a faster horse”.

This might be a sweeping generalisation but I remain convinced that the same holds true of asking people what they think about an advertising idea before it’s actually been made.

Instinct and judgement from advertising experts is going to beat the views of eight disinterested people in a windowless room every time.

5.     Let the agency creative director be the creative director.

Why keep a dog and bark yourself?

Most clients clearly recognise that agencies have a specialism and that they provide them with something that they can’t do themselves, otherwise they wouldn’t hire them in the first place.

However, there’s an unfortunate and distressing trend for a certain breed of client to spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy fannying around endlessly challenging the content and detail of agency creative recommendations whilst making half-baked creative suggestions themselves in an attempt to make the advertising better.

I’d politely suggest that these kind of clients should worry less about the colour of trousers that somebody might wear in their commercial and defer to people with greater expertise and experience who may know a thing or two and may be able to help them.

It’s amazing what a bit of trust and mutual respect can do for a relationship. 

The clients that give their agencies the space, freedom and encouragement to do great work are the ones that usually get great work.

6.     Make sure agencies are properly and fairly remunerated.

Pay peanuts and you’ll get monkeys.

With agency profit margins increasingly being squeezed, you can bet your bottom dollar [or bet your only dollar if you’re a tight bastard] that agencies will find a way to get by on doing the bare minimum rather than going above and beyond.

Cut corners on fees, production costs, resource and it’ll end up showing in the work that comes back.

7.     Grow some balls.

It’s easy to say and harder to do but clients should take more risks.  Too many people are covering their arse and not sticking their head above the parapet right now.

Sure, there’s no end of marketing career politicians climbing up the greasy corporate ladder but it’s often the brave, pioneering clients that don’t play it safe who end up making a name for themselves in the long run.

8.     Focus on quality rather than quantity.

Agencies aren’t at their best when they’re behaving like an advertising factory, churning out multiple routes upon multiple routes until a client happens to pick one they like.

And what clients say what they want isn’t necessarily always what they need.

Passion, enthusiasm and conviction goes a long way in this business. The best work often comes when an agency believes it’s doing the right thing for a brand.

There’s an immediate conflict of interest with that viewpoint and a defeatist, conformist approach that offers up a basket of lots of different ideas in the hope that a client will pick one they like.

9.     Don’t jump on the bandwagon.

The sheer act of doing something different to everybody else in your category will get you noticed.

Despite this rather unspectacular observation, it’s staggering to see how much samey samey bollocks is going on. It’s almost as if people are actually frightened of standing out from the pack.

Having a herd mentality rarely produces great creative work.

Don’t worry about what everybody else is doing. Just worry about doing something that's right for you and is distinctive from your competitors.

10.  Fun not fear.

Agencies should be business partners with their clients, not cowering, servile, obsequious suppliers.

Relationships characterised by fear rarely end up consistently producing great creative work.

If your agency and the people who work on your business feel valued and are having fun rather than feeling stressed and shit-scared then chances are you’ll end up getting much better work.


These thoughts by no means provide a universal panacea.  But they’re solid building blocks for anybody genuinely interested in getting better creative work from their agency.

The Value of Craft

Let's talk about craft.

Not all advertising is created equal.

The quality of creative craft makes a huge difference to the effectiveness of advertising. The valuable skills of great writing, art direction, design, typography and film direction are the things that can turn the mundane into the fascinating, or turn the ordinary into the unmissable.

They can be the difference between the unsuccessful and the successful – between a campaign that fails to reach its targets, and one that adds real long-term value to a client’s business.

That’s why you can have two campaigns with the same strategy, where one fails and one succeeds.

The difference is how well that strategy is brought to life.

The same thing can be written blandly, or it can be written in a way that connects with you or moves you on a human level.

The same thought can be communicated in a way that’s easy to miss, or put forward in such a powerful way that it will stay with you long after you see it.

And that’s why, even in this era of meticulously planned and heavily scrutinised marketing, creativity and creative craft are still the skills most valuable to business when it comes to advertising.

Make sure that you have skilled and talented writers, art directors, typographers, photographers, directors, editors and sound designers working on your advertising – and allow them to use
those talents. 

Because even if what you are doing is right, it will live or die, fail or succeed, by the way that you do it.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call craft.

For more pithy challenging of received wisdom, our new book ‘How To Make Better Advertising and Advertising Better – The Manifesto for a New Creative Revolution’ – is available exclusively at the Design Museum.