Friday, June 4, 2010


Yesterday and the day before there were, at least for Ad Aged, quite a lot of comment activity on a particular post of mine. Much of that commentary centered around the notion of fear. As in, you should be afraid of speaking your mind to superiors because you'll be crushed like a gnat if you do.

Though I have as many if not more neuroses than most people, I am blessed (and cursed) with a big mouth and, I think a concomitant lack of fear. Sure I get nervous that my work isn't good enough and at times am timorous to show my work. But somewhere along the way I overcame my fear of "superiors." I've always reckoned that they paid me for my mind and my insouciance. Though it troubles agency organizations at times, I have pretty much always been somewhat fearless.

Steve Hayden, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy has always said, "All power comes from the barrel of a client's gun." So perhaps the key to fearlessness is forming the sorts of relationships--relationships based on trust that allow you a certain amount of internal impunity. I have always served, not catered to, clients. Fought with them over the course of their business. Been blunt and at times caustic when I think they're doing something boneheaded. This course has always served me and serves me today.

Fear is a cancer. And if you live with fear, like a cancer, it will kill you. It's that simple. I've been at 10 agencies over the last 26 years. Only a couple were "Fearocracies." Those two places I left as soon as I was able (FCB and Momentum.) I wish the denizens of those Houses of Usher the worst of every Yiddish curse ever, delivered by my mother without makeup.

So to those people who live their careers afraid to argue or challenge creative directors, upper management or client, I suggest you find a different profession. Accountancy. Sales at Saks. Teaching middle school.

My biggest successes, such as they are, have always come from speaking my mind. What's the worse that can happen? If I get fired, I didn't belong there anyway. I've been fired twice in my life. Sure there were moments when I cried into my hands--but more moments where I got introspective, figured out a plan and moved on.

And living as a coward (because if you live in fear, you are a coward) is not at all living.


Anonymous said...

It seems you had a very lively debate on your blog yesterday.

If I remember correctly, the topic was 1960s advertising vs the advertising of today. That is certainly a topic worthy of debate. I believe it should be debated more often and in as many places as possible.

But calling people cowards simply because they choose to remain anonymous seems a bit low.

Speaking out openly may have served you well your career, but others may have suffered greatly for it. You may have just been lucky. Or others may have been unlucky. Or it may be that people who speak out and don’t suffer repercussion from it may not have said anything too contentious in the first place.

Debate is always a healthy thing, whether we know the names of the debaters or not. Anonymity is not bad. Remember that Homer is a name assigned to an anonymous Greek writer. We will never know who he really was, but we are better for his having chosen to write.

Also, blogs are certainly good places for people to share opinions. Thank you for the forum.

I for one would love to see the debate about advertising go on. It is however, your blog.

One final thought. It’s also possible that a bunch of bored creative people stumbled across your blog and decided to bust your balls one day just to pass some time. So don’t take things so seriously.

geo said...

Thanks, anonymous.
Good points, all.

I think the debate however was less about 60s advertising and more about taking personal swipes at someone anonymously.

That, in my mind, is cowardly.

But that's what makes horse-races.

And, I guess, hoarse throats.

Tore Claesson said...

Agree. It doesn't matter who Homer was in person.
His real name is not important. Homer was a poet however. He is not a living and breathing NY copy writer. This is a blog by George on the state of "our" industry. If Homer posted a well thought out response he would be more than welcome I'd imagine. Even if we didn't know who he is. What George does is to try to encourage us to be a little more open about what goes on in our industry.
I think we, and our clients, would be well served if more of us were more honest openly.
Staying anonymous just prove we don't really care as long as we get paid. However, I respect the fact that writing under a false name can expose truths many are afraid to mention openly. We have summer camps to pay for, now when school is out.

geo said...

I understand fear. I understand biting the inside of your mouth so as not to say something. I understand the Faustian quality of trying to balance integrity with a mortgage. But for god's sake, this is a freaking blog with about 100 readers a day.

And if I do something or say something that offends, have the balls to confront me, either here or by email.

I might think you're a fuck face but I have no power to blackball anyone.

Anonymous said...

GT, you're misapplying the role that fear plays in the advertising industry. The problem isn't so much that the average worker is fearful for her survival. That's only understandable. She's simply responding to the way she is being led--which is by fear.

Instilling fear is the hallmark of most creative directors. And that's the real problem. Senior creative management constantly threaten employees with termination. That's how they go about motivating people in this business. Other industries might use a stick and a carrot. Creative directors use just the stick. And a boot out the door.

In general, our "leaders" are egomanical jerks who are themselves threatened by anyone who might have a better idea--although you'll never hear any of them admit that. It's actually this hidden insecurity on the part of so many of our creative directors that leads them to become the kind of autocratic pricks most of them are. They can't allow the possibility that someone else might come up with a more compelling solution, because that would threaten their hold on power. And losing power is THEIR great fear.

What advertising is suffering from is what most of this society is suffering from---really, really, really bad leadership. It's not the lack of creative that is killing this industry. There are plenty of people with great ideas. It's assholes in positions of power who are destroying everything for everyone except themselves.

geo said...

Anonymous, I've worked for four Hall-of-Famers and a couple of future HOF-ers, and Chris Wall. I was never afraid of any of them.

Never thought their egos over-powered good ideas. Never felt it was their way or the high-way.

Only people who suck at what they do lead by fear.