July 29, 2009

It's the busy season!

I miss writing all my myriad complaints here and hearing all your feedback--but these last few weeks have been absolute mayhem in every way. Good mayhem, but mayhem nonetheless. So a quick hello and how are you and I promise to get something a little more substantial out in the next few days. All this work has got to be good fodder for a post or two!

So I'll leave you with this bit of insight on communication--and non-verbal communication, at that:

Mommy rolls over onto her side.
Baby isn't happy.
Baby kicks Mommy a good one in the ribs.
Mommy rolls back over the other way.
Baby flutters feet in happiness.

Lasts all of 5 seconds and gets the message across crystal clear. And for free! Maybe we can learn something from the utter simplicity and straightforwardness of a tiny (well, Bump's predicted at 8 pounds, so let's say "smallish") unborn with no vocabulary to form thought, but all the capacity to get their point across.

July 23, 2009

I'll be brief

I'm an avid note taker. I have a drawer-full of copybooks here, each one interspersed with meeting notes, doodles, word associations, concepts, scribbles, ideas, and unintelligible babble.

And briefs.

As in notes I took while being briefed. Out loud. By paperless people.

When did briefs become an oral tradition?

Agencies have always been busy places. People have always been swamped. Yet the brief remained the guiding light on every project--the common thread that tied client services, creative, production, and studio together. The rule book getting us from strategy to execution. The brief was brief yet full--inspiring, concise and, most importantly, a reference to return to when you needed to ensure you were still on the right track.

These days, every second brief is a chat. I pull out my pen, scribble some notes, ask for clarification, write down what I understand. Only to discover, nine times out of ten, that the Art Director understood something else. Or there's a chunk of meat missing. Or there's nowhere to turn for key words and insights. It's frustrating. And it's an illusion that it saves time--because the time saved not writing the dang thing is time wasted trying to get everyone on the same page again.

Case in point: I just spent half the afternoon coming up with new themes for a project, only to learn I was supposed to develop theme names for existing ideas. Subtle difference--two-hour waste of time. Not a single slip of paper exists to outline the requirements. All I have are scribbles in a copybook--my misunderstanding of what needed to get done.

And I've doubled my time on the project because no one invested their time up front.

I'm not asking for a novel. I don't need a 10-page dossier (lord knows long-winded briefs are just as bad). Just a single piece of paper that states the case, outlines the objectives, notes the next steps, and tells me when it's all due.

It's advertising. It's not the telephone game.

July 21, 2009


... just not mine! The writer at our sister agency is off and I've got a bit of a balancing act to do this week. Not that I'm complaining--a lot of the projects coming in are pretty fun and really varied.

It's just, you know... I haven't a minute to blog about anything. Gak!

Although how's this for odd: A client of ours insists on NOT putting a logo on a piece. First time in my career I found myself on the pro-logo side of the fence. Wonders never cease!

July 16, 2009

I wonder what they were hoping for?

Someone's search of the following keywords led to my blog:

free teenie in knickers pics

I don't know if they wanted to free me from my preggie knickers or if they want pics of me liberated from my...


July 15, 2009

This is why I do what I do

Just came out of a meeting with a newish client. We've presented to one of the clients before, some years ago, and now that the account is back there's someone new on the client team.

After some pleasantries and an intro by our lovely CD, I was all alone to present the creative, since the AD is swamped today. So I present the list of headlines, explain the pros of each, show the mock up, help the CD explain the layout, and sit back to see the clients' reactions.

They were smiling.

And the new client looked up at me, a little incredulous, and said:

"You wrote these?"

"Um, yes."

"These are... wow, these are great."

And for all the bitching I do, all the frustrations we live through, all the last-minute changes and debates and misplaced commas and missing hyphens and glitches and agency angst, this makes it all worthwhile. A happy client with an honest compliment. With a smile and an understanding that I pleasantly surprised them with something they weren't expecting.

"Ah, I love my job," I told her.

And it's true. It's true.

July 13, 2009

Unfocused groups.

This morning we were briefed on a new client. We're kind of coming into the picture in the middle of a campaign, where look and feel and media and approach have already been decided, and we're here to tweak and tease the message so that it hits home with impact.

One of the items we have to use in all our executions is a weird little logo. It contains a positive message--a reminder to follow procedure, to do the right thing, to keep a rule in mind. It's giving the green light to an important behaviour.

And the dang thing was designed in red.

I'm talking about a big red circle with a red icon in the middle and a two-word message in blaring red letters. And everyone at the agency who's seen it--and I mean everyone--asks the same thing:

Erm, shouldn't that be in green?

And the client service person rolls her eyes for the umpteenth time and repeats what the client told her when she asked the same question:

We tested this in focus groups across the country. That's what people picked.

Which brings up two points, at least as far as I can see:

1) Passing the buck off to Joe public for a decision that--according to your job title--is essentially yours is a big cop out. Not to mention a colossal waste of money (in this case, the Government's--aka yours and mine). And resources. Unless your title is "Focus-Group Manager", you kind of have to make the final decision yourself--and stand up for it.

2) Focus groups are very often a great, big, stinking waste of time and money.

Now, sometimes a focus group is a great way to collect insight and feedback. Say, if you're testing a new product flavour. Or changing the name of a well-known product. Or collecting feedback on people who live in a certain area, or have certain behaviours, or exhibit similar interests. A focus group can give you some pretty keen insights about where to focus your message, and how to target your audience. Focus groups work wonders IF you're using them for the talents they possess: namely, speaking about themselves and their experience.

Where it all goes horridly, flamingly wrong is when focus groups are used to test creative. Gather a group of rather haphazard people together and ask them to give their opinion on an ad, a logo, a TV commercial, anything at all, and you're going to get exactly what you ask for: an opinion. Based on personal taste. Influenced by the people sitting around them. And, worst of all, over-thought to death.

You're asking Mr. and Mrs. Sample to look at an ad, analyze it, talk about it, compare it with other ads, debate it with the people around the table, and score it on a scale of good to bad (and, in one horrific fiasco earlier this year, 1 to 10). I've seen people start with one opinion and change their minds completely in 10 minutes. Which opinion should we go with? What's their true gut feeling? How much is this forced focus-group atmosphere influencing what they say?

And moreover, what do non-advertising people know about advertising? I don't mean to sound pompous or elitist--I simply mean that agencies have an expertise in advertising. We've honed our communication skills. We've broken the data down into a brief. We've fleshed out the message. We've kept the target in mind. We know the project, inside and out. Yet these 10 strangers, sitting around a table for an hour, suddenly have more say than the experts that the client hired in the first place.

Focus groups have become career padding--a buffer between the client and their boss, between results and responsibility. How can 10 people off the street have a say powerful enough to derail an entire campaign? How can a client--being paid ample money to turn out a campaign that works--put their trust in those 10 people to get his or her job done?

It's baffling. And it's happening more and more. The anonymity of focus groups makes for the perfect scapegoat when it comes to taking the blame.

And advertising is suffering for it.

July 7, 2009

Client conundrum, agency angst

Over the last year, our agency has had no fewer than 3 newbie clients--clients who've never worked with an agency before. All 3 did the entire bulk of their advertising (mostly DM, with a few exceptions) in house, until volume, restructuring, the economy, the alignment of the stars, and so forth called for agency input.

We pitched and won for each, with presentations that detailed how we work, what we do, the process each project entails, costs, a portfolio--you name it. Basically a typical agency pitch, with a little more detail to help the uninitiated understand the inner workings of our little world.

Theory, however, is a far cry from practice.

Without fail, all 3 clients have had a rough time of it. From time constraints (you can't have that in an hour?), to creative confusion (that's not how we've always done it!), to process (can't I just talk to the Art Director myself?), to timelines (we're only mailing in 2 weeks--there's plenty of time for changes), these clients confront and balk every step of the way. It makes for some very heated debates (hats off to the Account Director for the verbal beating she endured) and bizarre meetings (the art director and I once sat across from 2 clients--another art director and copywriter--to be told how to make things more like they used to be).

It's eternally frustrating.

On the other hand, I get it. When you've been working one way for so long, who's an agency to say you're doing it the wrong way? What's a copywriter know about your product that you haven't written ad nauseam for years? How can an art director rejig a look you've whittled to perfection? After all, these clients know their product inside out, so just who are these people who want them to change, expand, try new things? Why would anyone want to rock a leakless boat?

Most of the time, I think, the clients who vote to go the agency route aren't the same clients who engage with the agency day-to-day. The people at the top may want change, but the people in the trenches know the one way of working--the process that's made them successful enough to be needing an agency in the first place.

So what to do?

On our end, we spend hours and waste money creating strategies, writing briefs and delivering concepts and creative arguments that take in a bigger picture--only to be resoundly rejected. On their end, they see strangers to the business who don't understand, change the rules and question their marketing input--then charge them for it.

It isn't enough to want an agency. It isn't productive to make the switch before everyone is ready. It's a waste of resources all around to head out in new directions only to be pulled back to old ones. Going the agency way is a big decision--and an uncomfortable one. And well it should be. Discomfort, and not the status quo, prompts change.

So don't stuff an agency down your workers' throats. And don't pick an agency only to reject what you'd initially agreed to.

It really isn't profitable for anybody.

July 6, 2009

Random words that should never be used in advertising... Part 3


I'll also accept: Things.

Unless dialogue calls for "The thing is" or "Here's the thing," I'd stay away from this big, bad empty word. My favourite example--courtesy of a lazy, profiteering pseudo-book writer from my days way back at a correspondence school (don't ever take correspondence classes unless offered by a reputable institution!)--is the following, for an Introduction to Computers manual:

A computer is a thing...

Jebus, you don't say.

July 2, 2009

Butt out?

I've been trying to decide whether or not to post about this for awhile--in part because I don't want this poor blog to sound like a whiny ol' tirade, and in part because I don't really have an answer. But it's bothered me again today, so I might as well open up the topic and see what people think...

I'm taking about public smoking. As in smoking on the sidewalk.

Here in Quebec, smoking in restaurants, bars and indoor public places has been banned for a good few years. It's nice to sit and eat without smoke billowing across your penne arrabiata, and it looks like many smokers are OK with stretching their legs between courses for a puff. I'd guess many even enjoy a smoke-free meal themselves.

But now smokers pool on the sidewalks. Or they simply light up on the sidewalks, walking around, blowing smoke behind them.

Except for one summer where I snuck puffs of my Aunt's discarded butts while baby-sitting my cousins, I've never been a smoker. Cigarettes send my allergies into haywire--just a step below cats and shaggy dogs. So I've never been one to hang around smoke.

With baby Bump on the way, my tolerance for smoke is at an all-time low. Walking down a busy shopping street today, in 30C heat, my slow self was stuck behind wave after wave of summer smoke--truly awful, nauseating stuff. Every time I hit a wave, I'd cough, then preggie gag, then stop to catch my breath (which I seem to have less and less of these days).

By the end of an hour's stroll, I'd had it. I wanted to knock the cigarette out of every last person's hand, wanted to blow something unpleasant into their faces--a whiff of our 2-week-old garbage bin, perhaps. A little bit of armpit.

Who are these people to invade my lungs? To invade Bump's tiny lungs? To walk around like the smoke goes nowhere? I don't see them blowing smoke into their companion's face, or covering their faces to exhale a second-hand wave of eye-watering exhaust into their own eyes. Even our new upstairs neighbour smokes out on the balcony, drifting whiffs of smoke through our open window and scattering ash all over our patio.

It's gross. It's invasive. And unless I lock myself indoors, it's getting into me--and into baby.

But what's left for smokers? What are these people, seduced by cigarette's allure, supposed to do? They're addicted. They're caught. They're running out of places to hide. Is the sidewalk equally theirs? Can we, as a society, ban smoking from every place but smokers' homes? Like any addict, they would barely be able to cope--to get through a day. Do we have the right to take the last smokable public place away?

I don't know.

All I know is that I'm addicted to chocolate. And I've yet to shove a Mars bar up some stranger's unsuspecting nose.

July 1, 2009

Navel gazing

Having totally given up on Geek Squad's ability to fix my defunct router, I went to Future Shop last night after work to get an ethernet cable that would stretch into the kitchen. I'm sitting amongst a mass of wires, but no matter. At least I have a working connection and some sort of idea on how to get everything humming along nicely.


Future Shop is a place that seems to pride itself on technology, service and know-how. Their commercials--although pretty lame--show employees pointing out great deals on new trends. The store is filled with long, white shelves loaded with every gadget imaginable. The prices are relatively competitive. The commission-driven salespeople juggle client after client, a bit rushed but always pretty well informed.

Plus Future Shop was the first place to pop into mind when I decided to kick the router out and bit the cable bullet.

So I was pretty surprised when I got to the cash to discover the direct-debit machine from hell.

I mean, this thing was big--a Motorola touch-screen Behemoth that stood upright on the counter... a counter that's inconveniently placed at the end of a very busy aisle.

The employee swiped my card and moved to the side. So I prompted the screen.

Price? OK.

Account? OK.

PIN. Er...

Try to hide a screen as big as your hand while attempting to hit the right numbers in sequence. The screen is flat. It's waiting for the right touch at the right place. And it's hidden behind my hovering hand.

I missed the first attempt.

I missed the second.

I tried peering over my hand, through my hand. I tried to stand in front of the thing. But there were people everywhere--even an employee typing away on the computer next to me, looking up stock. Not a lick of privacy and no way to feel around for the numbers I know the touch of by heart.

So I gave up, stood back and punched the things in full sight of whoever happened to be looking. I felt vulnerable and exposed, me who is so careful about keeping my money matters in check.

I assume some Future Shop big shot saw these direct-debit machines and drooled. Had visions of being technologically advanced at every touch point, offering a nifty new gadget that people would remember--hopefully even talk about. Wanted a fabulous Future-Shop experience for customers to get all excited over.

They should have tried the dang things first.

Innovative doesn't get to replace practical. And standing out certainly shouldn't come at the expense of ease, simplicity and comfort. You want to impress customers? Deliver great customer service. Make your store appealing. Be helpful. Take the time.

Get back to basics.

And get your heads out of your navels.