Eminent psychologists agree that to cope with the stress of any kind of death, the mourner must go through a gradual healing process. One can only surmise that this same process would apply also to the creative person suffering the loss of a TV spot, a print ad or an entire campaign.
Having lived quite some time with many an idea, only to have it shot down by an unwitting boss or client, I'm no stranger to the grieving process. With the help of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross-author of "On Death and Dying" and "Death: The Final Stage of Growth"-the original Queen of Darkness, you might say, my six-step program will help you in your time of need.
Step 1: Denial
First, you will find yourself in a state of shock or disbelief as you try to comprehend what has happened and what kind of future you can have without the ad. (For consistency's sake, let's say TV spot. After all, when a print ad dies you can always turn it into a poster, laminate it and enter it in awards shows as is. My apologies to show juries every- where, and, just for the record, I've never done this myself. But when a TV spot dies it's much more difficult to fake, and consequently the loss is much more devastating.)
This stage could continue for two weeks or longer, depending on whether the spot died suddenly, at one presentation, or more slowly as a committee of butchers hacked the life out of it. A rule of thumb: the slower the death, the slower the healing process.
Dealing with denial is different for everyone. Some need to talk to the people that actually witnessed the death, or perhaps even caused it. Others need to talk it out with friends or relatives. Still others may resort to drugs or alcohol to avoid dealing with it entirely. (To witness this response, I suggest a visit to Bar 119 at 119 East 15th St. in Manhattan any weekday after 9 p.m.) Most people I know do all three.
Step 2: Bargaining
As the shock wears off, you'll find yourself asking the eternal question: "If there is a Supreme Being (in this case your boss or client), how could He let this happen? Doesn't He care about my advertising future?" You'll find yourself mentally bargaining with the powers that be: "Maybe they'll do it next year." And the really desperate will appeal to another power entirely: "I could sell it to another client!"
But eventually, as time wears on, and you notice that you're not taking a plane to L.A. and checking in at the Four Seasons Hotel (or for some, Shutters) and ordering poolside room service, the death will begin to sink in. And you'll be faced with a void-especially on your reel.
Step 3: Anger
As you contemplate this void and how it affects your life in advertising, you'll become filled with anger, even rage. These powerful, intimidating emotions are not only a popular motivating tool for the workplace but a common reaction to loss.
Again, the expression of anger is an individual thing. Just remember that anger creates energy that must be dealt with. And in order to effectively deal with this energy you must be able to recognize the early stages of your anger. Ask yourself: Where do I feel it first? Is it a tightness in my neck? Does my head hurt? Do I start perspiring? (If you answered yes to the last one, be sure to stock up on anti-perspirant. Nobody wants to have to deal with anger and embarrassment at the same time.)
Now ask yourself: How did I express my anger in the past? Did I insult friends or co-workers? Slam doors and kick furniture? Drink excessively? Drive recklessly? (The New York equivalent would be taking a cab.) If you answered yes to any or all of the above, congratulations. According to the American Advertising Federation, you are completely normal.
As an alternative to the above, however, Kubler-Ross recommends activities like brisk walking, chopping wood or cross stitching. Unless you happen to be Amish, I personally see no reason to alter your behavior, and if you were Amish you wouldn't have made a spot in the first place, your ad would be a wooden circle nailed to a roadside barn. If wreaking havoc in other people's lives or self-destructive behavior works for you, go with it. The key is to get the anger out. Because, remember, anger turned inward becomes depression and, even worse, irregularity.
Step 4: Guilt
But before we get to the inevitable stage of depression, you'll probably make a quick stop at guilt. As I'm sure you know by now, it's not just for Jews anymore. All kinds of people feel guilt these days. OK, maybe not Heisman trophy-winning, golf-obsessed arthritics, but most of us do. And, like anger, guilt can be a powerful isolating emotion. "Why did this have to happen to me?" will play in your head like the Barney theme song and you'll undoubtedly attempt to assign blame. (I recommend the client, your boss or the account team, depending on where you work.)
Some people go so far as to assume they are being punished for some past impropriety. If you are feeling this way, consult your local rabbi, pastor or bartender. The first two will help relieve your guilt. Or make you feel more guilty for not visiting them sooner. So the bartender's probably your best bet. But a word of caution. Remember, guilt is an isolating emotion. So if you can help it, don't drink alone. If you can't hang out with the Budweiser frogs, at least have a licensed professional bartender standing by. (Again, see Bar 119, 12 p.m. to 4 a.m.)
Eventually, you'll end up blaming yourself. You'll reason: "I should have been at the meeting, I could have saved the spot." Or: "If I had just made that one last client-requested change, it would still be alive today." Or even: "I could've waited another five years for my vacation. Then I would have been around when the strategy changed."
You'll feel overly responsible for an event you most likely had no control over. You may even feel guilty that you're still alive but your spot isn't. Whatever you do, do not take your own life. It won't bring the spot back, it may leave a mess in your bedroom, and somebody else will get your job.
Step 5: Depression
According to Kubler-Ross, the depression you experience after a major loss like this may last an hour, a day, a week or forever. And it may recur during holidays (for advertising people that would be awards show season.) This is normal, and basic symptoms may include: not caring about your appearance; low self-esteem; a lack of energy; sudden weight loss or weight gain; insomnia or excessive sleep; and a general negative attitude about everything. Basically, average behavior for most creative departments.
Again, Kubler-Ross warns about the use of drugs or alcohol during this period. She recommends, rather, finding a support group of people in similar situations. Unfortunately, those in advertising who are in similar situations would most likely be using drugs or alcohol or both in their support group.
If you find you are so depressed that you feel like killing yourself, seek professional help, and I don't mean Dr. Kevorkian. If, however, you feel like taking the life of, say, your boss, that's normal. Go with it. You may get his job, or at the very least you'll be a shoo-in for a managerial position at the post office.
Step 6: Acceptance
After you've bored all your friends who are not in advertising (if you still have any) about your loss and cheered up all those who are in advertising (most creatives will secretly think, Better you than me, or, My job doesn't suck as bad as yours), you will be forced to accept the loss and learn to tolerate it.
If not, you will become a permanent fixture at the local watering hole. (Again I refer you to Bar 119. There aren't many fixtures, it's incredibly dark, and best of all, cheap.) And since your "poor me" attitude will eventually cause you to lose your job or to be promoted, depending on where you work, you will no longer be able to write off all those nights spent drowning your sorrows as "client entertainment." In time, you'll find yourself actually anticipating the next project, and eventually you'll allow yourself to love another idea or at least like one enough to spend the weekend with it.
If you're lucky, you may provide the receptive ear a friend needs when another spot dies. And it will be your turn to say to yourself: "Hey, my job doesn't suck as bad as yours."