Since I started Ad Aged at the behest of my friend and erstwhile partner, Tore Claesson, I've learned a few things. Most of those things can be applied to advertising. But, actually--and maybe with a small soupcon of arrogance--I think they can also be applied to life.
I began Ad Aged 150 months ago. About 650 weeks ago. About 6000 posts ago. About one-million words ago. Here are some thoughts on what I've learned.
1. There's too much talking and no enough doing. The only way to write a blog is to write a blog. And the only way to write is to write.
Every day, as I'm running from meetings, flagellations, castigations, excoriations and more meetings, I see clumps of people ensconced in conference rooms hour after hour talking talking talking.
Stop talking about what you're going to create. Instead, create it. Then put it aside and create another one. And another. As someone once said somewhere, "Just Do It."
If you're a writer, write write and write some more. Write something funny. Write something sad. Write something long. Write something short. Write something dumb. Write something smart. But write. Use the power of what you can do to help your clients. Do it and do it again. Walk away for a moment or twelve, then do it again.
Same if you're an art director. Do layouts. Fuck with type. Try things upside down.
I read somewhere that novelist Jonathan Franzen spent four years writing blindfolded and with ear plugs in. Don't edit yourself while you're working. Just work. There will never be a shortage of people ready to tell you something sucks. Just work. Worry about judgment later.
2. Develop your peripheral vision. In other words, broaden your ability to see. Read. Watch. Learn.
Talk to cab drivers and strangers. Listen. Walk with your head up, like an old waiter.
Doing this won't necessarily make you the smartest person in the room. But seeing things, knowing things, reading things, hearing things others don't, can't possibly hurt. The more interesting you are as a person, the more interesting your work stands a chance of being.
I'm not sure I'd like to take a 14-hour bus-ride seated next to Franz Kafka--that might be gloomy--but I bet I'd learn something by the time we reached Poughkeepsie.
3. Give yourself a deadline. I write this blog every morning. So I have a built in deadline. Deadlines work.
In the parlance of the soon-to-be-executed, 'nothing focuses your attention like having a gun aimed at you.'
Pressure is a part of this business. For most people in this business, it's a part of our cosmological make up. So, embrace it. Learn to use it to get the job done.
One final thing about deadlines. If account says "I need it by 12 on Tuesday," deliver two hours early, or half a day early. Push yourself to get the job done. And being ready ahead of time says semiotically that you care--about your account partners and your work.
Also, if you're asked for "x," deliver "y" as well. Doing more than you're asked is good for business.
4. There's no phoning it in. This blog is my commitment to myself and my readers. I don't get paid. I don't make any money. And a lot of times it gets me into trouble.
But, it's what I do. People expect it of me. I expect it of myself. So, even when my back hurts or I've been working late at work, my work is my work. It doesn't do to let people or, especially, yourself down.
5. Everything is practice. Every email you write, every post, every post that doesn't work out, every ad, every deck, every vacation memo. Everything matters and everything is a practice at doing something better than you've done before. Do that in everything you do.
6. Ultimately, you have an audience of one. The best way to displease yourself is working to please others. Nothing wrong with pleasing others--as long as you genuinely like what you're doing.
I don't have any secrets, except I try to write--no matter who I'm writing for--like I'm writing to a friend. I don't talk down to my readers. I don't bullshit. I describe the world as I see it. If I like what I write, that's good enough--my friends, real or virtual, met or as yet un-met will like it too.
7. Your audience will find you. Do what you do. People will either find it or they won't. It will either grow or it won't. But eventually you'll find an audience that likes what you do, respects you and wants more.
8. Don't be afraid to be silly. That is, don't be afraid to be yourself, and sometimes yourself is silly. While brands have a "voice," most people I know have many.
9. Be hard on yourself, but go easy on yourself. Don't beat yourself up to the point where you become paralyzed. The main thing I've repeated to myself through these million words and almost 35 years in the ad business is this: my good is other people's great. After one-million words, I earned that.