This was actually first written in a conversation I was having with someone in the LinkedIn Sticky Branding group. I love these conversations because they drag knowledge out of your head that you have been carrying around for years, and subconsciously applying to the work you do. These are the rules you live by, for better or worse.
This advice came to me over the course of the two years I spent at Vickers and Benson, which at the time I was there, was the hottest agency in Canada. This philosophy, which a lot of the creative people there bought into, was a big part of the reason why V&B was so successful and such a great place to work.
The best advice about the communications business I ever got from anybody was from Terry O’Malley, who was the Creative Director (and part owner) of Vickers & Benson, the first real agency I ever worked at. Terry was a total jock. In fact, I think he owns a minor league baseball team now. But he always made the metaphor between advertising and and baseball and I think it’s a good one.
First of all. It’s just a game. There’s competition out there but it’s not really as important as the battle that rages inside your head, which is where a game like baseball is mainly played. You can defeat yourself as easily as you can get defeated by your competitors.
Failure is part of the game. A major league player who hits .300 is an all star. So shoot for that. and don’t worry about the .700 that you can’t achieve…just learn from your outs.
Accept that you’re not gonna hit a home run every time up to the plate. The main objective is to get on base and be in a position to score. Not every client is gonna do the right thing. But you just have to keep on swinging.
The team that plays together wins together. Everybody is creative. A smart creative person is someone who recognizes that, and absorbs all the knowledge around him. You can’t do this shit all by yourself, so you need teammates you can trust and who are willing to work as hard as you are.
The work you do is the ball. It gets batted around a lot. Sometimes it goes into left field. Sometimes it’s caught. Sometimes it goes foul and sometimes it goes over the fence. But that doesn’t matter because any advertising or marketing program is a constant work in progress. The ball is always going somewhere and you can’t always control where.
If you play the game well people will tell stories about you. Turning a product or service into a brand is something that the crowd in the stands does for you to reward you for a game well played. Too many people throw the word branding around like it’s something they invented for themselves. But you don’t get to call your client’s product or service a brand until you earn that level of respect from the crowd which is your target audience.
Nothing has really changed about communications over the past 60 years or so, but the tools. I have always believed people respond to advertising in whatever form it comes to them if and only if it’s honest and provocative and they happen to be in the market for whatever product or service is being promoted. I don’t think people care enough about advertising to go any deeper than that, which, in a way, makes the job much easier, if you look at it the right way.
A lot of communications people have embraced the belief that digital communication is all about being subtle and indirect. I think that’s bullshit, designed to prolong the process that digital marketers have created to make more money from clients who drink the Koolaid.
The rules haven’t changed, only the belief that rules are different now. If you want to be successful at any form of communication, go back to the basics. Play the game. Motivate your team. Do the best you can. Learn from failure. But keep plugging away.
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