Ever seen the Bill Hicks routine where he encourages those members of the audience who work in advertising to kill themselves? It’s been in my mind a lot recently. Don’t worry, by the time you read this I will almost certainly still be alive. But I will have done the next best thing.
You see, a few weeks ago, the ECD was showing me some of his old ads. They were in an awards annual from the 90s alongside beautiful work from BMP, from Leagas, from BBH. We’d been flicking through it for a minute, I’d been doing a lot of nodding, when he sighed and said, “Press ads were just better in those days.” Despite the implied criticism of every press ad I’ve ever made (not to mention the ones I was really hoping he’d sign off once we’d dealt with the awkward nostalgia trip) I found myself agreeing with him.
People can argue about the ways the industry has changed, but one irrefutable difference between then and now is the speed at which we work. The ECD’s stuff had taken him and his partner six months. When I looked at the hand-set metal type, meticulous kerning, and clean, spare layouts what I was seeing was evidence of the time lavished upon their ads. By contrast, the ones that I was feeling increasingly apprehensive about presenting had been briefed that morning and were going to the client in three days’ time.
This truncation of our process has been accompanied by an extra large helping of client involvement. A modern client will often demand to see the work several times before it’s ‘officially’ presented. And they’ll probably get boggle-eyed and shirty with you if you suggest that they don’t push through amendments after the ads have been signed off. It turns out this is one of those shitty things you just have to accept, like back pain, or baldness.
Perhaps, rather than wishing that the industry would go back to how it was, what’s required is a change in attitude. What if we diverted our energy away from craft and insight and into cultivating our acceptance of compromise? Perhaps the truly successful creative is the one who is totally flexible, who can fall back in an instant, with no sense of regret, and start looking for the next opportunity.
Well, yes, that would be fine, if it weren’t for the fact that agencies tend to be run by people like my ECD. And while the conditions in which we make ads have changed, the things that they prize – strong ideas, craft – haven’t. This puts rank and file creatives like me in an impossible position.
Of course, if you find this unbearable, there is another option. It’s been said that suicide is the ultimate uncompromised act. The only one where the outcome (oblivion) matches up exactly with the desire (oblivion). And if you don’t feel it quite warrants that, at least a letter of resignation is one thing that the client won’t be able to rewrite.