FORUM: THE THINKER- WRITER PUTS IDEAS TO WORK: A GUIDE TO IDENTIFYING THESE VALUABLE HYBRID WORKERS

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In the ad agency business, there have always been some people who can think. They absorb client briefings, evaluate the research, ponder their own feel of the marketplace-and then conjure up insightful marketing strategies or creative executions.

Unfortunately, too many of these "thinkers" cannot take the next step. They cannot sit down at the computer and produce a concise two-pager that pulls it all together with power and persuasion.

Just down the hall are the people who can write. They may have been English or journalism majors-and boy can they put it down!

Sadly, however, their documents are often bereft of the writer's own original thoughts. These word-organizers are too busy recycling the thinking of others into documents or copy to come up with their own innovations.

Finally-if you look hard around an agency-you will find the hybrid: the Thinker-Writer. This individual can assimilate information, conceive strategy, create surprising solutions, form a recommendation and then put the whole plan on paper in a way that nails it. The thinking and the words crackle with energy.

There have always been Thinker-Writers in our business: people like David Ogilvy, Leo Burnett and Bill Bernbach. To survive and thrive today, every agency needs Thinker-Writers. Happily, the T-W can be found in almost any department-even the art department. (Ask an art director to write a rationale for the ad she's working on. You might discover a stealth T-W.)

Here are some guidelines for identifying the T-Ws in your office. This may also serve as a checklist for "aspiring" T-Ws.

Listen to the questions: In a client brief, a T-W will often ask the unexpected. ("Do grandmothers buy your oil filters?") Their queries may come from outside of the box, but these lateral-think questions can open fertile new ground to exploration.

Watch the hands: Who in the room is taking notes? As the briefing or research session begins, the T-W always reaches for a yellow pad. Their scribbles and notations continue unabated, filling several pages in an hour. And-at the follow-up meeting-you might see those earlier notes resurface, helping to generate more questions, more innovation.

Count the proactive suggestions: T-Ws constantly seek new information to build their mental data base. They take initiative and speak up with pointed suggestions that make things happen: "Let's visit the factory." "Do we have a product we can take apart?" "Can we meet some of your consumers?" "I just heard about a new type of research .. ."

Never stops collecting data-yet meets the deadline: The T-W radar continually scans the horizon-searching for the blip that may become tomorrow's new product, new market, new industry. They are voracious readers. When starting a project, as original thoughts percolate, the T-W simultaneously begins writing them down. Never satisfied with a first or second draft-the T-W adds new information as it becomes available-the final result is a polished example of persuasive writing.

Wow! What a presentation!-"If you can write it-you can speak it." As an agency team leader, you will find yourself instinctively relaxing as one of your T-W's rises to speak. There is enthusiasm and conviction as the data is summarized, the strategy outlined, the executions presented and the recommendation forwarded. You can physically feel the momentum build in the room.

Two additional characteristics of the bona fide Thinker-Writer: 1) They share their good stuff. If they find something of interest, they quickly copy the item and circulate it, or zap it around the office via e-mail. Weak thinkers hoard information; strong thinkers share. 2) They are having fun. These happy warriors relish the process of pushing, pulling and grappling with information and concept. They understand that the most exciting thing in the business is to conceive, write about and sell an original idea.

Thinker-Writer is not a "flavor of the month," faddish Madison Avenue job description. Many decades ago, it was Thinker-Writers who put the advertising business on its brilliant fast track. Today the names at the successful agencies have changed. But this two-word job description hasn't.

Mr. Emmerling is chairman and chief creative officer of the Emmerling Post

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