Six Lessons from my life in Advertising

6 lessonsDuring the last decade, if there has been any industry which has completely metamorphosed into a new avatar, it’s advertising! The first wave of change saw the 80′s agencies breaking away into specialist agencies – media, creative, design, direct marketing, events, etc. The second wave saw the agencies transforming themselves to adapt for the new media / digital marketing environments. As a result the whole focus, of how an agency operates, how creativity is encouraged, how clients are serviced and how the campaigns are planned, has moved towards a new domain.

However, there has been some agency truths, which still apply in the current state of things. These truths, or personal lessons, are not just silent suggestions, but seem to be as much true and effective today, as it was, during the early 90′s.

Lesson 1 – Hire Skills and Talent; Not People!

Unlike now, advertising profession used to be more mysterious back in the days when I started. Not many people really knew much about the profession, and the people who really understood it well, could be counted throughout the country. So the people who joined advertising, did not do it as their first choice – unless they failed in one or the other profession or vocation, or were perhaps unable to pursue further higher studies, due to multitude of reasons. These people didn’t have a clue on how to make advertising, or the way it was supposed to be made. Hence they self-learned or improvised ways – to communicate, seduce, persuade, engage, to make a stunning piece of film or a compelling copy. The results often didn’t look much like advertising; but they really broke grounds of communication, stretched imaginations and possibilities. Advertising still needs such sets of talents – not some “advertising people” who have loads of case studies to generate off-the-shelf solutions.

Lesson 2 – Great Crops yield by Leveling the Field

It’s very easy and common for any agency, any day, to give more importance to clients who are ready to spend more. Or to teams which draw in more awards. Or to allocate the best teams to work only on a particular type of account. However, experience teaches us that this is just not a good idea most of the time! It creates polarities and unhealthy competition. It encourages people to leave the company early, either because of more opportunities and monies, or because of fear of stagnation. Instead of this rather, rotating teams on accounts increases capabilities, expands horizons, and gives out-of-the-box results to clients. Rotation also levels the playing field for all, including clients – who start respecting agency for quality of the final product, not just for the quality of the teams producing it.

Lesson 3 – Dedication and Diligence defines a Genius

Time and again we have come across so many campaigns which we label as just Great! These campaigns usually are based on such simple insights and ideas that it looks impossible to label them as “Big Ideas”. But I have come to repeatedly see that the real people behind these campaigns are often the most hard-working lot than anyone else! They put in extra hours, go that extra depth, pay more attention and care more than others. They also often work more effectively, in such a way that people around them are unable to see their hard work – till the fruits of their labor are ready to be savored!

Lesson 4 – Medium and Message are like Siamese twins!

Before the arrival of “specialized” agencies, advertising planning had always been “wholistic”. Media and Creative teams worked together in tandem. And often the media insight changed the creative thought processes – leading to innovations of not only what and how to say, but also where to say the message. Arguably, media were one of the smartest of all people around! As a result, ideas were not restricted to a 30 second ad or a full-page print or a giant billboard. And when the medium itself became the message, the results were just disruptive! Therefore, one needs to have the media team closer to create great communication; a comeback we’re experiencing these days, as more digital marketing takes place!

Lesson 5 – Money and Good Work are not complementary

One of the oft-repeated advice from established admen used to be “Do good work; money will follow”. It’s more an attitude! Yet so many promising talents, instead of being impatient to learn or produce good work, are more impatient to bloat their price tags early. Result? Shorter shelf life and their affinity to switch towards client’s side early, adding to the mediocrity of communication. On the other hand, more of client’s money doesn’t necessarily mean great creative delivery! Neither does it mean that a “more than average” paid talent would deliver likewise! When monies decide value of either people or agency, quality of work and innovation suffers. Therefore, first ensure a commitment toward good work; then money will certainly follow in abundance for everyone.

Lesson 6 – Great Work gets recognized by the Spirit it carries

When the work place is bubbling with energy, people are always absorbing it, and as such enjoy their journeys of that extra mile, delivering great work in the process! Advertising is a creative profession, and the last place the client gets value for his bucks is from a place which looks lacklustre, miserable and drowsy. Depressing people and work processes create flat work, while an exuberant team and work area creates work that not only looks good, but connects too! Some young technology companies are perhaps the best examples of this.

The profession of advertising is heavily dependent upon deep introspection, creativity and relationships. Innovation is an area which never was, and never can’t be overlooked by any agency. In retrospect, these 6 lessons seem to have been the philosophy of so many agencies of yesteryear – the agencies which survived the digital wave, are known for their out-of-the-box approach and their ability to gain respect from client as well as their own teams.

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