Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Are We Losing The Ability To Say 'No'?

One of the best creative directors I ever worked under, Jeremy Craigen of DDB London, has many different talents. For example, he has a sixth sense about directors, is great with music, and has an acute understanding of brand tone of voice.

But his best skill - his superpower, in fact - is his willingness to say 'no'.


The way advertising works, there is actually a constant pressure on the creative director to say 'yes'. The suits want him to say yes because they want to have work to show, and don't want to call the client to put the meeting back. The traffic people want him to say yes because they want briefs to keep moving through the system; time is money. And of course, the creatives want him to say yes, because they want to get their ideas made.

So the CD is sitting there, looking at the work, while the creatives are looking at him, their eyes pleading in the style of the cat voiced by Antonio Banderas in Puss In Boots. It may be that the work isn't bad. It may be on brief, and rather buyable. Everyone in the room may want him to say yes to it, especially if they feel that the client (not yet in the room) would say yes to if if they were.

But Jeremy would still say no. A lot. Nearly all the time, in fact. He would find things wrong with the work that you had never even considered were a problem until he raised them. He would see potential in every brief, and smoke you out straight away if you were trying to sneak something average through, even on an average brief. And if it was a brief that everyone saw had potential, his office would become a killing field of ideas. He was a First World War machine-gunner, mowing concepts down by the dozen. So any idea that did make it through his defences, had to be superhumanly good.

However, I wonder if he can still do that. For Jeremy always seemed to have time.

There were entire months to come up with a new campaign idea. Weeks on a TV brief. Many days for a print ad. And if it hadn't been cracked in that time, more time seemed to magically appear.

Nowadays, we're all being given less and less time. It's often cited as a factor in why "the work isn't as good as it used to be." We all know that less time compromises production quality, means less time for the creatives to think of ideas, less time for the planners to write great briefs… 


But crucially, it's also eroded the creative director's ability to say 'no'.

8 comments:

Charles Frith said...

Maybe clients are looking at their Facebook timelines and seeing better creativity that is more contextual than a three month gestation idea?

Anonymous said...

totally agree.'no' no longer fits in with being a team player. we're now in an era of crowd sourcing and synergistic thought leadership. There is no longer room for ego - just huge brainstorming zones full of deeply talentless people tapping away on their laptops as they facebook their 'friends'. ideas are now born from ideation sessions - big, long meetings called by the frightened and attended by the clueless. it seems to me that everyone in advertising has always resented creative departments and do all they can to diminish their power. they are winning - and the losers are the clients. sorry.

The bleedin obvious said...

No

Old CD Guy said...

So true, so true...

ACF said...

OMG... imagine months, weeks or even many days to generate an idea... I keep telling my clients that you can't just flick a switch and magically generate ideas, that it takes time to distill information and then covert that into meaningful insights that can lead to creative ideas that solve the original problem.
They still insist on seeing ideas early and are easily pleased due to timing which means we all end up 'settling'.
I'd like a few clients to say no here and there too!

Darren said...

I remember John Turnbull at The Campaign Palace telling us at copyschool in Melbourne that if a client wanted to change his copy or his radio or television script he would say No. He would rather go away and come up with a better idea. If they protested, he would say that if they needed to change it then it clearly was not good enough and he would rather come up with a better one than change and compromise the idea as clearly if it needed changes then it was not right. That is how you say No. Without an exclamation mark.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you need to move with the times. A creative growing up today wouldn't say we don't have time - it just becomes the new normal.

Are you having difficulty adjusting to the pace of todays creative environment? it sounds like it?

Anonymous said...

In awe of your creative brilliance and one of your clients, I hope you find it refreshing that I actually like the fact you challenge us and can say no from time to time. It shows you believe in what you do and are passionate about your ideas. Saying no is a two way street, no 'bear' intended but that's what I like about working with you, we both can freely say no! The way I see it is no just means even better, more exciting ideas so when you finally do get the yes, it's all the more satisfying.