Eleven Ways to Get Your Balls Back

Old-School Tactics to Survive Tough Economic Times

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The last decade has been pretty tough, especially for ad people. From the bursting of the dot-com bubble to the wake of 9/11 to the current credit crunch, again and again we've been told that we should just "be happy we have jobs." Well, that's not good enough. Most of us are damn good at what we do and it's time we got our balls back. For nearly 30 years, Jerry Della Femina has successfully led agencies through difficult times with his gritty, Brooklyn, street-fighter-style. Here are a few of the things I've learned from working with him for the last 13 years.

1. "Nobody knows nothin'." The original quote is "nobody knows anything" and was first coined by screenwriter and two-time Academy Award Winner James Goldman, who used it as a creative rallying cry. If you are confident in your idea, fight for it. I'm not suggesting that you stop listening, but when you know you're right, you probably are. Don't back down.

2. Hit hard. Make every ad sell. Avoid "soft-sell" or "slow-build" campaigns. If your ad doesn't work, right now, you've wasted an opportunity, not to mention everybody's time and money. These days, people are hit with more than 3,000 advertising messages per day. It's important that you communicate something meaningful and relevant.

3. Don't be a slave to your campaign. If you have a good idea for a client that doesn't fit with the current campaign, show it anyway. Good ideas deserve to be seen and heard. No one has ever used a good idea in "the next phase of advertising" as the account team will suggest. Plus, clients love to know you are thinking about them. Never stop thinking.

4. Chuck the brief. Never let a creative brief get in the way of a good idea. Briefs are generally designed for meetings, not for creating. Far too often, creative briefs become too focused and too limiting. Sometimes you've just got to put everything aside and think about the target and the product and nothing else. There'll be plenty of time to rewrite the brief -- don't let it kill your idea.

5. Spend less time sucking up. Understand your personal importance to the bottom line. Advertising is a business. Your contribution to your client's success and your agency's success are the only things that matter (OK, they're not the only things that matter but you get the idea). This may sound harsh, but once you embrace this idea you'll be much better off, and more focused on achieving your own individual success.

6. Know how your client's business is doing. Don't be content with just banging out a media plan or writing a commercial; find out what's really going on in the marketplace. Advertising is about winning and losing. It's important that you know how the battle's going. Your clients expect it.

7. If you want a raise, go and get one. Just make sure you deserve it. The fact that someone else just got one, or that you haven't had one in awhile doesn't matter. Do something great. Something unexpected. Make yourself valuable. Erase any doubt that you deserve more.

8. Don't throw money at lame ideas. Money cannot make a bad idea good. From TV commercials and web banners to magazine ads and billboards, there comes a point in the life of every ad when additional production costs are nothing but waste. Treat your client's money like your own. Decide how to execute your idea responsibly and then go do it.

9. Never, ever rehearse. At least, not as a group. Spend all the time you want standing in your underwear in front of a full-length mirror describing your creative idea or pontificating on why your strategy will change the world, but never, ever, rehearse as a group. Client meetings are about energy, enthusiasm and chemistry. Spontaneity is key. Mistakes are like comic relief.

10. Consider holding a Sex Contest. There was a time, not so long ago, when our agency held an annual (strictly voluntary) Sex Contest. Co-workers received ballots and voted for the person or persons they'd most like to sleep with in the agency, then, over the course of a week we all wrote ads and plastered them on the walls of the agency, vying for your vote. Think what you want, but nothing stokes the creative juices of an ad agency like a Sex Contest.

11. Pitch like you haven't got a shot in hell. A number of years ago, a bunch of us were working late preparing for a new-business pitch that was to take place the next morning. It was my first pitch and I mentioned to Jerry that a few of us were nervous. Jerry responded, "We don't have a chance to win this piece of business anyway, so f–– 'em." His reverse psychology worked. Thinking we had nothing to lose, we were all on our game that day and landed the business.

So there you have it, 11 ways to get your bad ad-self back into fighting shape. It's up to you whether you take them or leave them. But if I were you, I'd take at least some of them.

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Michael "Mac" McLaurin is VP-creative director at Della Femina, Rothschild, Jeary & Partners in New York.
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