Caring About the Work

In the old full-service days, people never used to go into ‘media’. They went into advertising and specialised in media. Or they went into sales, and specialised in selling ad space or time.

When media agencies started, one obvious impact was the split with creative. Mind you it had always been there even inside the full-service agencies, simply as a function of human nature and practicality. For practical reasons, departments were physically silo-ed. Human nature determined that many media individuals simply didn’t understand and found it hard to mix with their creative counterparts (and vice-versa). Naturally there were exceptions; the true integrators were the ones who did well.

Specialisation and financial independence meant that over time the media-creative divide got worse rather than better.

Never mind, divide or no divide today it seems everyone is in ‘advertising’. Not just those involved in its creation, but those who sell it, who buy it, who plan it, even those who manage the technology that allows those buying it to buy it.

Many are too far removed from the creation of the advertising even to know what they’re placing, let alone how it came into existence.

Those involved (in the broadest sense) in the creative process understand their role in the team. A media professional’s part is about understanding where, when, how and to whom the message can most effectively be aimed.

I would say that’s pretty key, and should happen early on and as a major contributor to the creative process but I would also say that the form and content of the message trumps all. After all, the best media plan, the cheapest buy, the cleverest algorithm, the most amazing technology all count for nothing if the message is crap.

Ad agency people have to care about the message. It’s their product. Media people need to understand everything about the message in order to do their jobs well. Sales people should at the very least care sufficiently to know what the message is.

You may be brilliant at technology or understand all there is to know about attribution and click-through rates. But these are a means to an end; the end is about making the message work as hard as possible.

In May 1947 Bill Bernbach wrote a letter to all staff at his agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach. Here’s part of what he wrote:

“There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately, they talk the best game. They know all the rules…They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion, and persuasion happens not to be a science, but an art.”

70 years later there may be more science than there used to be in advertising but it’s still more art than anything else.

Many years ago I led the team responsible for this ad for ‘The Observer’. I remember the media director at the agency (also my boss) telling me I had to produce a 30-second cut-down. I refused. We won awards (part of the strategy was to influence the agencies; having our ad played for free at award ceremonies was an efficient way to do that) and the whole campaign was a commercial success. No doubt if I had listened the media reach would have been higher.

Look at this ad for Audi. Exactly the same points about the car’s attributes could have been communicated by a guy standing in a room with a flip-board. Sadly I bet someone’s reading this and thinking about 2 second ads for FB featuring just that on the basis that 2 seconds is all you need. Believe me it wouldn’t work as well.

As a media guy you simply can’t become as good as you could be in an organisation focussed more on delivering margins, or science over great advertising. And yes, I know someone will say those things aren’t incompatible and in theory they’re right, but in practice the evidence is that they’re wrong.

Care about ‘the work’. If you don’t, can’t or couldn’t care less then you’re in something other than advertising.

  1. Well put, Brian. But I would push the “care”to passion. If you are not excited, turned on, stimulated by the message, you’re in the wrong business. If you don’t talk about it, argue about it and quietly wish you had done it, you’re in the wrong business. We are all in the same business, or should be.

  2. Very well said.
    I am so grateful to have been around when I was and not now for this very reason.

  3. Saturday morning and you almost make me cry! Too bloody true: “After all, the best media plan, the cheapest buy, the cleverest algorithm, the most amazing technology all count for nothing if the message is crap.” As I once presented to global clients: “the medium is the message. Bollocks! The message is the message”. We need true care and understanding of the whole picture. Fabulous article, Brian, I coudn’t agree more

  4. Brilliant article. I have just extracts the heart of this and put it into my media planning lecture for my BA Advertising students tomorrow (with proper Harvard Ref of course :-). They think I am bonkers because I am passionate and energised when I discuss media & advertising stories.

    Looking forward, I do worry that they are so ambivalent and passive; but I suppose they are happy, they will, after all, be going into ‘advertising’, along with everyone else 🙁

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