by Dennis Daniel
How much do you love your work? How connected are your feelings to the reactions of others to your work?
It never ceases to amaze me how, after seventeen years, I'm still learning things about this nutty business we're in. Now that I'm the Creative Director of an advertising agency, I've found I have to change my attitude about what my work means to me. I no longer can look at all of my work as my "children." My work is now...God help me..."product." Let me explain.
When I was a radio station Production Director, the control level I had on my work was 99% autonomous. Because the client was receiving his commercial gratis, there was only so much crap I had to put up with. Sure, there were many times I had to re-cut commercials because the client didn't like them or whatever, but that didn't happen too often. Basically, I served as a mini-ad agency for the station providing creative. The station was on my side! If a client started busting chops for what we perceived to be no reason, the sales rep or GM would get on the phone and tell them to tow the line! "Look pal, we're saving you tons of cash by doing this spot for you. Lighten up!" I never took that power for granted. At the same token, it gave me tremendous creative control! Almost any concept under the sun was fair game! This situation provided the building blocks of my reputation and career. I got away with creative murder! The stuff was being heard! It went from my brain to the tape to thousands of people with nary a hitch. Herein lies the beauty and power of the Production Director position. If you love being creative, you've practically got it made! I know this power also comes with its fair share of radio station BS. Goodness knows this column, for the past six years, has talked about all those situations, both managerial and client oriented. But still, that doesn't take away the fact that creativity has a lot of free reign.
At an ad agency, in most cases, you can kiss that freedom goodbye! You're dealt a different deck of cards on this side of the microphone. Whereas most radio station in-house clients are paying to be on one station, ad agency clients are the big buck boys who buy tremendous schedules on a plethora of radio stations (TV too!)! They don't give a damn about creativity folks. They want results! To them, advertising is a necessary evil. They usually hate advertising! It's such an intangible to them. Hell, when you think about it, it's an intangible to all of us! All any of us can do is go with our guts and give it our best shot based on past experience. There are no guarantees! Zero! One hundred percent gambling...without the dancing girls or slots. The odds? Who could say?
How does a creative person survive in such a judgmental world? Simple. Build a wall inside that makes you oblivious to emotions about the work. That's what I've done. Now, I'm not saying you can't love your work. Just don't let a client's lack of love for it affect you. In the eight months that I've been here, I have done some spots that I truly love! Spots I knew in my heart were perfect! Spots that, in a radio station situation, would have aired with no problem! With awesome enthusiasm I presented them to clients who listened to them with stone cold detachment, no facial expression whatsoever, followed by an icy cold "I hate it."
Why do they hate it? Because they are spending thousands of dollars on this gamble, a gamble they are forced into, and they want you to dance for them! It's dog and pony show time, folks! "Why do you hate it, sir?" "What can we do to improve it, sir?" "What ideas would you like to suggest, sir?" And on and on and on. Then, you go back and change what you originally thought was perfect and you make it perfect for them! After God knows how many rewrites and mollycoddles, you end up with a rancid piece of creative muck. This is what eventually airs. It makes you cringe to even think of it. What's worst of all? It works! The client gets amazing results! He sits on his throne and looks down upon you with the knowing glance that he did it his way. It worked, so why do I need you, pee-on?
Meanwhile, you still make money. They retain you as an agency. And you go through the dance again and again because it's just the nature of the business.
Every job has its good and bad sides. As I pointed out before, radio stations are breeding grounds of trouble and problems. No situation is perfect. All I'm saying is, in order to protect my self esteem, I have learned to block out my need to care about a client's reaction. I do what I feel is right and I love every minute of it. I leave the end results and reactions to the gods. This is called survival.