Great ideas: the be and end all of success in the creative industries.
When I used to take my portfolio around with my partner, the creative directors of Auckland would put forward comments and questions of a suspiciously similar nature:
“What’s the idea?”
“I like ads that show a big idea.”
“I can see some good ideas.”
“I need to be able to see the idea.”
Ok, yeah. Idea is king.
Especially when you’re out and about showing off your portfolio of creative work to masters of the industry; the gatekeepers to jobs and sweet, sweet salaries.
But what about once you’re in? Things operate in a totally different way.
It reminds me of when I worked as a supermarket promoter. I used to love getting assigned to the popular products like biscuits, chocolates, chicken tenders; basically anything that was tempting to munch on inconspicuously when no one was looking.
The thing I loved most about these products is you didn’t really have to do much to sell them. People would see from the grocery aisle, come over, sample, buy on impulse and I’d make my quota.
One day in particular, I was sampling a product just like this (a new flavour by a particular chocolate brand), which I expected to fly off the shelves and completely sell out regardless of my presence.
So I got lazy and let the product do the talking.
The product didn’t sell out.
In fact, the product hardly sold at all despite the samples, the posters showing an airbrushed chocolate bar with ‘NEW’ in big, red letters and the fact that this was CHOCOLATE; a food product that people buy copious amounts of whether it’s on special or marked up.
The people still needed to be told about what was going on.
Which brings me back to my point.
You could be sitting there, in your office at that agency you’ve always wanted to work at with an awesome idea; your work’s done for the day.
You have to be able to sell your idea.
If you’re going to make this thing happen, you’ve got to be able to talk about your idea in such a way that gets the movers and shakers on board and as keen as you to turn this into reality.
And you have to sell hard.
In order for your idea to avoid being reluctantly banished to the bottom drawer, you have to first get it past your own self doubt, then your partner, then your creative director (or perhaps some senior creatives first, depending on the hierarchy of your workplace). If it hasn’t been shot down yet, you’ve made it through the easy part.
The idea then has to travel to the land of logical thinkers (that area in the agency where all that phone-ringing and keyboard-tapping comes from) for the suits to look at it. An account executive will pass it on to an account manager, who may pass it on again to an account director, who may have a meeting with a strategist. All the while, dissecting the logistics, possibility and effectiveness of your idea.
It’s an advertising agency edition of Chinese Whispers. If somebody along the way screws up the message, you’re kinda screwed.
Three tips I learnt from various creative directors to at least give your idea a chance:
1. Simplicity. Get the crux of your idea down to a sentence so it’s easy to remember and takes a minimal amount of connecting brain cells to understand.
2. Evidence or Imagery. Hard evidence to support your insight goes down well or, a nicely presented argument or scenario.
3. Finished Form. If need be, mock up a semi-finished version of how the print/ambient/commercial will look like or play out. If they can picture it like you can, chances are they’ll be on board.
And once you’ve sweet-talked your way around the agency you can relax because you’re home free.
The client will probably nuke your idea, watch it burn and piss on the ashes. But more often than not, that’s a situation that you’ll have no control over, especially as a junior.
After failing miserably at first, the next day I decided to change my chocolate-selling game up.
“Hello sir, You having a good day? Have you tried X Chocolate’s new X flavour? It tastes great! Have a try!”
“Sorry, mate. I don’t eat anything other than dark chocolate. Always have, alway will. You know it’s got antioxidants in it? S’posed to be good for you.”
“Yeah, I know. Ah, well. You have a good day then, sir.”
“Sure will, matey. Looks good, though.”
Like I said, out for your control. Sometimes they just want to do things the way they always have.
Should this happen, don’t panic.
There’s always next time. Just keep wearing them down.