Lately I’ve been handed something complicated to uncomplicate.
The briefs I’ve been given are long, repetitious and badly organized.
They are written in the excruciating jargon of a field I know nothing about.
And they are all written differently, with no uniformity of approach.
So, I have three things to do at once:
1. I have to learn the language of the field. Understand.
2. I have to organize the material in a way that could help a reader. Organize.
3. I have to simplify things so they can be useful. Simplify.
It’s a thankless task, really. About as far from a glamor assignment as you can get. A long way, in short, from the beach and the cocktails at Cannes.
It seems to me I often get assignments like this.
Due in a short amount of time.
Maybe because I get these assignments I often find myself saying ‘most clients don’t know what they sell or make.’ That’s my spin on the Henry Ford line, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”
You have to take assignments like this seriously. They’re very important to clients, because I believe explaining their fundamentals makes you critical to their success. It builds client relationships. I actually think doing them allows you to, eventually, do the sort of work most people fight to do. The kind that could get you to Cannes.
But more often than not, I don’t get those assignments.
I get the uncool “fix-the-boiler-type” jobs.
There the jobs that no one wants to do. The ones that bring in revenue, and in many cases make up probably 80% or more of the work load in a typical agency.
That's the stuff that isn't lauded and celebrated at Cannes.
I'm told that in a corner of the San Antonio Spurs' locker room, there's a small framed sign with a quotation on it from the great social reformer Jacob Riis. The Spurs, without a high-flying superstar player may well be regarded as the greatest sports franchise of our present generation. They've won five National Basketball Association championships in the last 16 years--none of them consecutively. They've been the best, or close to it for a long time.
The sign reads:
“When nothing seems to help, I go back and look at the stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it — but all that had gone before.”
Somebody has to do the work I do.
Someone has to hammer at the rock.