Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tuesday Tip No.38 - Playing To Lose


What should you do when you are given a shit brief that you don't want to work on?

This is a very important question, as your answer to it will define your whole career.

If you are the dutiful type, you will produce the best solution that you can, given the limitations of the brief. This will help your agency, and help the client's business. But it won't help you. All that will happen is that you will soon be given another shit brief. Do a good job on a shit brief for a second or third time, and your career is basically over.

Sure, you may be safe for a while, because you are doing a valuable job. But your book won't move forward. And when the next round of redundancies comes, the fact that you have been doing a valuable job will be completely forgotten. All anyone will notice is that you haven't done a good ad in a long time.

So it's absolutely vital to develop an ability to avoid shit briefs. And you have to do it cleverly. For the good of your reputation, you can't do it in a way that makes you look difficult, arrogant, or primadonnish.

In truth, a desire to avoid shit briefs doesn't mean you are those things. No one wants to work on shit briefs. And the best way to avoid them is what I call Playing To Lose.

Let me illustrate with an example.

Years ago, when I worked at Saatchis, some friends of mine (who were a very good team) got briefed on Oil of Olay.

They came back with a script about a woman who is dead. However, because her friends regularly apply Oil of Olay to her face, no one realises. (The idea was based on the movie "Weekend At Bernie's").

A fun and lateral way to demonstrate what the product does for your skin, but of course, not something that Procter & Gamble could ever buy.

K**** & C***** were never given a P&G brief again.

And yet, no one could say they hadn't tried, or hadn't done a good job.

And that, my friends, is Playing To Lose.

Tip No.37 - How To Write Headlines
Tip No.36 - How To Do Direct
Tip No.35 - How To Do Radio
Tip No.34 - How To Do Press
Tip No.33 - How To Do TV
Tip No.32 - How To Do Digital
Tip No.31 - How To Do Posters
Tip No.30 - Look At Weird Shit
Tip No.29 - Presenting To The Client
Tip No.28 - Presenting To The Team
Tip No.27 - Presenting To The Creative Director
Tip No.26 - How To Deal With Rejection
Tip No.25 - Look Creative
Tip No.24 - Don't Be Afraid To Ask
Tip No.23 - Your Idea Has To Be 120%
Tip No.22 - Read Iain's Tips
Tip No.21 - Don't Behave
Tip No.20 - How To Discuss Ideas
Tip No.19 - Read Hugh's Tips
Tip No.18 - How To Get A Job In Advertising Part IV - How To Turn A Placement Into A Job
Tip No.17 - How To Get A Job In Advertising Part III - How To Approach Agencies (re-print of Tip No. 7)
Tip No.16 - How To Get A Job In Advertising Part II - How To Put A Book Together
Tip No. 15 - How To Get A Job In Advertising Part I - FAQ
Tip No. 14 - Make Friends With Traffic
Tip No. 13 - Get Reference
Tip No. 12 - Don't Stop Too Soon
Tip No.11 - Be Very
Tip No.10 - Breaking Up
Tip No.9 - Working Well With Your Partner
Tip No.8 - Finding The Right Partner
Tip No.7 - How To Approach Agencies
Tip No.6 - Never-Seen-Before Footage
Tip No.5 - Dicketts' Finger
Tip No.4 - Two Blokes In The Pub
Tip No.3 - Play Family Fortunes
Tip No.2 - Should You Take A Bad Job?
Tip No.1 - Don't Overpolish

55 comments:

Scared little boy said...

Could i re-interpret that as 'do work that you think is good' not what the client wants? Even if it's a shit brief...

That way you'll only ever be bought up on good work.

This really is a spooky little post for a starter outer creative like myself.

Scamp said...

Yes, your re-interpretation is pretty sound, I suppose. I once asked Mark Waites (of Mother) how they managed to get good work out, even on their really difficult clients. His succinct answer was "only ever show them things that are good."

Cleaver said...

This is my favourite Tuesday Tip yet.

Borat said...

We’ve just been given the smelliest nastiest brief in the whole agency, intend to follow your advice, let you know how it works out…hopefully won't be filling in a p45 next week...

Pessimistic said...

Crap bags scamp. You're gonna get a whole load of people fired.

Lawsuits here we come

Anonymous said...

Love the strategy.

Depends entirely on you being able to spot the crap briefs.

What seems like a dream brief can turn out to be a nightmare and vice versa.

Scamp said...

You will never get fired for coming up with ideas that are good. The trick in Playing To Lose is to come up with ideas that are 'too good' for that brief/client.

Anonymous said...

You state the real trick of it perfectly: how to avoid looking like a difficult, arrogant primadonna. Because as soon as you think certain briefs are below you, that's pretty much what you are, no matter how you try to fool people.

Wouldn't a better use of arrogance be to take what everyone else thinks are shit briefs and turn them into pencils and lions? Show them that you are in fact better, and not just the person who gets the easy briefs? Therein lies the art. Because there are a lot more shit briefs out there than good ones, and it seems a good creative can find a way to turn them into something special, rather than waiting for something better to come along.

Even Oil of Olay has made its way into the books. Quite a few times.

Anonymous said...

i agree with previous. countless times seemingly boring assignments lead to great opportunities. if you're good, you're good. mark waites had it right. only offer good options.

Toad said...

The problem of course, Scamp, is that if you're being given a shit brief it's often because the powers that be don't think you're particularly capable of doing anything brilliant.

Hence they haven't put you on a really good brief, saving that for the superstars.

A few "Weekend At Bernie's" ideas and the Oil of Olay CD says "You know, I don't think Scamp and Toad are right for this group - they never come up with anything the client might even remotely buy."

At which point you're out of a job.

Oh, and tricks like that are okay if you're a junior. Once you're beyond that, it's assumed that you know better and points are deducted accordingly.

Anonymous said...

I have a team that has employed this strategy. They don't get shit briefs anymore. They don't get good ones, either. They get to look at the clock and wonder when they'll be made redundant.

It's fun for now but I think we'll wrap it up soon.

proxi said...

It's a good strategy. Whenever we get a boring brief we do a bunch of fun stuff and one or two safer routes. Present fun first- if the client doesn't buy it... and let's face it, it hardly ever happens... no matter how good your accounts people are... then you go for your safer route and keep the fun one for your folio. Don't overdo it though. Sometimes it is indeed much better to just show the interesting and nothing else or you'll get stuck working with the same client for ever and your book will be full of stuff that has never seen the light.

Anonymous said...

I think the real insight is we work in an industry where it absolutely doesn't pay to be professional. Because as scamp says, deliver on the shitty briefs and you'll keep the client happy (and make tons of cash for WPP, IPG, Omnipresent or whatever faceless multinational you work for) but get fired the moment a new CD walks in and decides to 'freshen up' the department. He'll then use the money he saved on your salary to bring in a creative superstar who cynically played to lose throughout his career and he's in the Ivy while you're freelancing at some shop in Leeds because you still have to make the crippling mortgage payments. And, yes, while it's true Olay and its type occasionally wins awards it's because the superstars toss in the odd idea (cos its a laugh), the CD puts pressure on the account team to sell it because they don't want said superstar to throw a strop and the ad runs in some obscure free-sheet in North Wales - the guys who handle the account day to day still end up with a reel that's brown and smelly - and ultimately get fired.

Yes kids - be as cynical and selfish as you possibly can - and you'll go far.

rjhayter said...

No matter how shit the brief, if you do your best and don't compromise on coming up with a creative approach, you can't lose. If you get fired when the client doesn't buy your work, then your book's full of creativity that your next CD will love.

Hopefully.

Anonymous said...

Toc Tic

Wrong Side Of The Tracks said...

"i agree with previous. countless times seemingly boring assignments lead to great opportunities. if you're good, you're good. mark waites had it right. only offer good options."

I totally agree with this, too - what this post about is big-corporate-agency politics - if you're passionate about this selling game then the shittiest briefs represent the biggest opportunities. Some people forget that before the great work on famous brands there was, more often than not, pretty average work, or shitty work.

A tactic that has always worked for me is to always do great work on any brief. It's only the awards-chasing 'ad-land' no-marks that don't appreciate that.

Rob Mortimer said...

To me the best route is to do the best you can, with a slightly safer version. That way (as Proxi said) you can sell them something whilst still demonstrating you have ability beyond rubbish clients.

That said, any client with bad ads is an opportunity waiting to be exploited. Surely adland of all industries should recognise the power to make something good for a brand that has wallowed in the bad.

Anonymous said...

re Rob Mortimer @ 10.44am

Mate, that would be the dutiful thing to do, and most people do that. But believe me if you pursue that way of doing things, you' will end up spending a painful 2, maybe 3 month's of the year making what D&AD etc will consider a load of toss.

The other way frees you up to spend time on other opportunities.

As Scamp said, you will not help yourself in the long run.

Stan Lee said...

Presenting ideas the client will never go for?

Hmmm!?

Time for a new CD me thinks.

Lunar BBDO said...

Dear Scamp,

Why are you illustrating this post with a picture of Weekend At Bernie's?

Last year I presented my WAB theory (any creative would rather have written WAB than any ad they have ever done) to various luminaries of advertising and they all agreed with it. Even Eric Silver. Although he was drunk. And in a bar like the one in Coyote Ugly.

But the theory stands.

Illustrate it with a picture of something really bad. Like 'I'm Not There', for example.

x

rjhayter said...

I think some of us have forgotten that our job is to use creativity to sell stuff for our clients, not just impress awards juries.

SJP said...

RjHayter... "Word". Glad someone else is not seeing the industry through a pinhole.

Lunar: Thought you were better than that. Tut tut RE: 'I'm not there'.

Anonymous said...

Ha. What a massively cynical post. But a brilliant one all the same. The more agencies pander to "what the client wants" the shit that fills our world.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, rjhayter - we are here to win awards and that's the point of this whole post.

because of the way our industry is creatively structured in this country teams who do the 'right' work for a client (and by right I don't mean bad I just mean stuff that doesn't meet D&AD's criteria of good) will eventually be rewarded by getting fired. They will - that's what happens. New CD comes in and says, "your shit - don't forget your coat on the way out."

It's not good - it's not professional - it's just the way it is.

So, young creative darlings, remember this. You only ever have a target audience of two. Your CD and D&AD.

Remember that - and you'll be rich, happy and maybe even survive in this industry beyond 40.

Scamp said...

That is well put. If you don't believe me - young creatives out there - believe that last guy.

Anonymous said...

your D&AD obsession is leading to a calcification in the UK ad industry. it's become a sea of sameness. the only agency with any life to it is Mother.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Lunar on I'm Not There.

It collapses under the weight of its own pretension then sinks into its ever-puckered anus.

Wrong Side Of The Tracks said...

""Sorry, rjhayter - we are here to win awards and that's the point of this whole post.

because of the way our industry is creatively structured in this country teams who do the 'right' work for a client (and by right I don't mean bad I just mean stuff that doesn't meet D&AD's criteria of good) will eventually be rewarded by getting fired. They will - that's what happens. New CD comes in and says, "your shit - don't forget your coat on the way out."

It's not good - it's not professional - it's just the way it is.

So, young creative darlings, remember this. You only ever have a target audience of two. Your CD and D&AD.

Remember that - and you'll be rich, happy and maybe even survive in this industry beyond 40."

Man this comment makes me want to tear my hair out and eat it - what a depressing, downbeat, deafeatist view of what our honorable and supposedly fun profession has become. These sort-sighted view of people who just want their awards, porsches and lunches. They're killing the freshness, and maverick side of the business. If you're just here to win awards, why not enter some local amateur art competitions - they're pretty easy to win.

Mr Hmmm said...

Sorry, Wrong Side Of The Tracks,

Advertising is not honourable. That word applies to nursing or building dams in Ethiopia.

This is a business in which people try to have fun and make cash. Sorry if you don't want a Porsche (or a nice house or to send your kids to a good school) but most of us do.

Good work (as D&AD/One Show/Cannes defines it)=Awards=money.

As Anon says, for better or worse, that's just the way it is. There's no need to be ashamed of it. In fact, it's rather nice that one's progression in the industry depends on the appreciation of the excellence of your work.

Plenty of people are grinding out poo. Hooray for the good stuff.

And that includes the 'maverick' stuff that almost always gets awarded, too. The shelves of the creators of Honda Grrr, Subservient Chicken and Nike+ are heaving.

And perhaps one of those creatives owns a Porsche.

Anonymous said...

Awards=money, huh?

not sure that applies as axiomatically as it once did, thanks to the holding company model. this industry simply doesn't pay as well as it once did. regardless of how many awards you have.

Rob Mortimer said...

Does this not say more about the short sighted views of some Creative Directors than the industry as a whole?

Anonymous said...

This is some of the worst career advice I've ever heard. Sad and surprising it's coming from a creative director.

What you have to realize is there's a massive difference between what Scamp is saying and what Mark Waites said (along with most other good creative directors).

Scamp is saying don't bother trying to crack the bad briefs. If you do, more bad briefs will come your way.

Mark is saying work harder to crack the bad briefs, sell your client good work. And then that becomes a good client, not a bad one, and people will want to work on those briefs.

Okay, I'm extrapolating. He may have never said those things. Regardless, one bit of advice is good. The other is bad.

(And a side note: once worked for a guy who did a regional radio ad that everyone passed on. Won $100,000 and every award a radio ad could win. Which is just about all of them. He went on to have all the jobs the sorts of people who come to this blog would want.)

Anonymous said...

The only people I've seen that truly have arm-fulls of D&AD pencils are the ones that get their hands dirty.

Scamp said...

You are quite right that my advice is maybe not what a creative director should be giving- it's not in my interest to have teams play to lose.

But it is in the teams' interest.

Yes, maybe sometimes that bad brief becomes an award-winner, and wins you $100K. But usually it doesn't.

Why be the person who does the hard slog and frustration of a turnaround?

For points in heaven?

If you have an hour to spare, work on the Nike brief, not Oil of Olay.

Anonymous said...

...or work on that impossible tesco brand brief and get yourself equity in a successful start-up and make millions.

Anonymous said...

No, it's not in the teams' best interest. Being an arrogant twat creative team in London is no way to differentiate yourself.

Borat said...

if you want trophies and awards why not open a trophy shop? You can have as many as you like.

fatc said...

I'd remind any Jr's out there reading this to also remember that many here are oversimplifying in order to make a bold-sounding point. (i.e. "Shit briefs are always shit" or "Shit briefs are always opportunities.")

No offense, but nothing about this business is "set it
and forget it."

My feeling is that anyone advocating you adopt an ironclad philosophy to guide you through your career is overcompensating for their own lack of instinct and good judgement. That, or they are protesting way too much. Trying to sound "hard core" for fear that someone might accuse them of being shit because they don't adopt the right posture.

Anyone who can consistently offer up creative ways to communicate can win awards, will always have a job and can even drive their kids to private school in a Porsche. If you feel you're being given only the shit briefs time and time again, by all means find a better gig.

Just don't feel like you need to join the "He-man Shit Ad Haters Club" to prove what a success-in-the-making you are.

That kind of big talk (in addition to being cheap) only makes you sound juvenile and insecure, no matter your age.

Hayes Thompson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hayes Thompson said...

What a small little world some of these comments portray.

Can we really only tell stories of Mark Waites and 'one other guy who won $100,000 for a radio ad'?

If that's true, then that is sad.

But don't you think it's funny how some of the really negative, cynical comments are coming from people who imaginatively call themselves 'anonymous'?

If you're feeling down, go and read some comments left be people who weren't afraid to sign their name to their words.

Read Ogilvy.

Read Caples. Read Bird.

Read about John Webster. Read about Claude C Hopkins. Read about Bill Bernbach.

These people all demonstrated that in advertising there IS room for honesty and integrity right alongside SELLING.

Were they past it when they were 40? Did they die pennliness and unknown?

Scamp, you may be right that given the choice, go for Nike over Oil of Olay.

But wasn't it BMP who used to say 'good advertising doesn't have to be bad'?

They didn't trademark or copyright that idea.

We can all apply this philosophy.

I'll say it again: good advertising doesn't have to be bad.

Come on. There must be some heroes alive in adland today.

Anyone?

(come on, do it for the kids.)

Anyone?

(come on, do it for our future.)

Anyone?

Bueller?

Wrong Side Of The Tracks said...

Spot on Hayes. Well said.

Wrong Side Of The Tracks said...

Oh by the way Hayes, George Lois - in answer to your question.

Snafu said...

Hayes is the dude. Scamp isn't the dude.

Steve H said...

Hayes, what you're talking about is how it should be - and that's great.

But i've been talking about how it is. The reality of the business as it stands in London.

Do shit briefs and end up with mediocrity on your reel = the sack. That's life and I'd rather shiny young creative things went out there with their eyes open.

True, the best agencies have a policy of presenting only good ideas on everything - but notice how those agencies, like Mother, don't seem to work with Olay or Herbal Essences.

And there are only so many places at Mother.

Young creatives who don't have a trust fund but do have ambition need to get themselves through and out of the Grey and McCanns of this world - the smart ones do that by being selfish and cynical and by not 'taking one for the team.'

lets not delude ourselves that it's anything different. And I'm not trying to be 'hard core', just honest.

And just for you Hayes, I'm not anonymous just this once.

Anonymous said...

steve h has a point. london advertising is vicious from what i hear.

the reality of being a creative is that you're essentially self-employed. you are your reel/book. and looking out for #1 is the only way to ensure long-term survival. you have to assume you're going to be fired tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

(from the book "wiseguy" by nicholas pileggi, later adapted into the movie "goodfellas")

The fact that I had never made a deal before, the fact that I had always been
standup, the fact that I had done two years in Nassau and four years in
Lewisburg standing on my head and never gave up a mouse counted for nothing.
What you did yesterday doesn't count. It's what you're doing today and could do
tomorrow that counts. From where my friends stood, from where Jimmy was
standing, I was a liability. I was no longer safe. I didn't need pictures.

Rob Mortimer said...

Regardless of your view I think it's fair to say this has opened a brilliant debate on the state of the industry.

It may be true that doing reasonable work for rubbish clients will get you fired by a new CD; but if no one does the crap accounts the agency doesnt get paid and the fun accounts will go with them.

Surely there is no black and white answer other than try to have a balanced portfolio, and hire CDs that understand both creative and business issues.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

Shit briefs, good briefs. Bollocks.
Don't buy into any assumptions.

Just be honest with yourself.

Being the client's bitch or the creative director's bitch doesn't make any difference. You'd still be a bitch.

Scamp's words are the true words of a Zen Master.
"Always pick the Nike brief"

I heard about this team, D&D who did.
Even when nobody else gave a toss about the Nike brief at McCann's.

Eventually, the client - not their creative director - paid her efforts. I'm not too sure if they made any money or won awards as a result that deal.

Does anyone have any numbers on that?

Anonymous said...

HAven't read everything yet. But I suspect you can only P2W if you are a respected/ top team. If are not you cannot get out of things quite so easily. The Traf Man or CD won't give a monkeys about your plight. And you may unfairly get lumbered. It's a risky strategy that only the priveledged few can get off so lightly with a friendly pat on the back from a CD who doesn't want to lose them.
Not that I don't think it's worth a try.

joker said...

Some people have the luxury to play to lose, or so it seems that way. You can call me a tosser, a hack or what have you, but the reality for some other people in not so luxurious camps, countries, or shops is that we don't have any type of backup from my dear jellyback execs. Hell, sometimes our CD seems to be more prone to bending over than a hungry hooker. That being said, once you get past that localized hump, you need to convince the mongoloid client that what you're doing will work, then they see the bill and ask for something cost efficient yet still memorable. Like an ass, you bite, do a good cost efficient job that's still creative and then some real tosser puts a couple of buts in there and you end up with the de-evolution of a concept to some warbled disgusting heap of slosh that looks more apt for Circa '92 than nearer to 2010. Before you start wondering or saying I should look for a better shop, I am, because I recognize that I could have much better work published at some other place that isn't a total push-over when it comes to company philosophy. That being said, maybe I am guilty of working my ass off on a shitty brief and having been sidetracked in the eyes of some elitist fuckwads I have to call peers since they work in the industry, but I'm a stubborn ass in that I still try and do good work for most jobs I get (sorry but I'm not about to hassle myself for a pencil or a Lion if I'm asked to do product placements for a radio segment, not because I haven't tried, but because I learned a long time ago that you really have to pick your battles or get a heart attack). As for Scamp's take on it, if you have the luxury to play to lose, you really should consider it from time to time to have something good in your book and to simply test an exec's selling skills. We're constantly measured yet those douche bags are never questioned, why not change the came for a bit?

China Blue said...

I'm also a newbie to the creative world, and laughed out loud when I read this in campaign just now - and am in no way experienced enough to judge the efficacy of the strategy.

Like the blog...

Gary Bembridge said...

Great posting and very though provoking. I have added your blog to my blog (Unleashed on Marketing) listing and written a piece about your points - as had linked to my rantings from the client side (I am VP at J&J) about clients that point a finger at agencies for crap work and pointing more fingers at themself!

Gary
http://www.garybembridge.com

reuben said...

After a few years of doing safe work, my partner and I presented an idea for Whiskas which actually made my boss physically gag. I've never been prouder.* And we weren't asked to work on Whiskas for a while.


* It was based on Whiskas' human taste testers taking their work home with them. I no longer work in the commercial sector, so you're free to nick it, and good luck.

Anonymous said...

Don't work at a shit agency and you won't get shit briefs.
If you work at Fallon, Mother, Weiden, all the clients are good enough that even the small briefs are an opportunity.
Trouble is, if you want to get into those places you have to demonstrate a lack of cynicism which seems prevalent to this post.
This tactical brief-avoiding only really happens at the big bad places. And if you employ those tactics then you probably deserve to be there.