As I do so often, as I am blessed to do so often, I had a Zooffee™, a Zoom + Coffee, with a rising star in the industry. This particular young lady grew up about six blocks from me in Manhattan and was Hebrew school friends with my younger daughter, Hannah. (Call that Six Degrees of Not Eating Bacon.)
I became reacquainted with Sara when she was interning from Miami Ad School at Ogilvy. Shortly thereafter, Sara relocated to San Francisco and is now back in the City. For about the past 15 months or so, she's been a copywriter at Droga5. We've kept in touch in a desultory manner--sharing the occasional note, wave, spot or joke.
I had no expectations from this meeting. Other than I think it's important for us old guys to talk to young people. To hear what they're thinking, what scares them, what they feel they're getting or not getting at wherever they're working. And how they're dealing with all the many issues of building a career in an industry that is beginning to resemble a tapped-out coal seam. It would probably be good for the big machers in the industry to have friendships like these. It might teach them something. Maybe empathy.
However, being New Yorkers, before we talked advertising, we talked about real estate. Living in Manhattan is a little like living on a Monopoly board. You're almost always looking to move to a better property.
Sara was gushing over a great apartment she and her husband bought at Covid panic-prices. Via Zoom I could see the leafy balcony that ran along the entire length of her coop.
I replied that I got a Covid-bargain up here in Connecticut as well. We escaped New York before the rush, found an eddy of a town and put a bid in on waterfront property while half of America was still calling a virus that as of yesterday has killed over 600,000 Americans (more than the number of people who live in Milwaukee or Baltimore) "little more than a cold."
"The guy who sold us the place," I said, "really fucked up. He had crammed twice as much furniture into the house as it could hold, had broken vertical blinds from 1977 on the windows, and it was hot as Hades when we saw the place."
Sara replied, "he didn't stage it."
"That's funny," I said. "And it probably cost him a couple hundred thousand."
The conversation then turned to advertising. Working in a office while never going to an office. And presenting to clients over Zoom.
As I do so often, I made a leap.
"I think most agency creatives do a lousy job 'staging' their work. My wife and I are thinking of building an addition to this house. Before we spend the money, we brought in a realtor--one of those savvy ones who calls a run-down hovel 'cozy.' We wanted her to look at the plans for our addition through a buyer's eyes. 'Is it worth the money,' we asked. In other words, 'will it show well?'"
"Yes," Sara said. "Creatives usually talk about why the work is great from their point of view--that it's cool. That they're using this director, and so on."
"Back when I was at Ogilvy the first time," I replied, "I had written about a dozen spots. Brand spots and direct-response television spots for IBM.
"At the time, the rap against Ogilvy was that we couldn't sell anything. We did nice image spots. But couldn't 'get the phone to ring.' It's not easy on a high-ticket price brand like IBM.
"When I presented, I threw out the meeting agenda. I said to the client, we always present the brand spots first. But you need to sell things. So I'm showing you the 'phone number' spots first."
You could have knocked my client over with a feather. That "staging" showed her I was thinking of her. Her business. Her ass in a sling. Not my reel, reputation or preciousness.
All 12 spots were sold--I'm not exaggerating--before I even read a single script.
I read somewhere that 80 million photos are uploaded on Instagram every day. That's about one-thousand pictures a second. To my eyes, it seems like 700 of that thousand per second are of people's dinner. And the photo is staged--perseverated over. The sprig of whatever is just so. So's the lemon peel in the highball glass. We stage the shit out of stuff all the time.
But when it comes to our own work, we forget.
Sure we do decks.
But we don't make sure they're short, sharp, funny, memorable. And most important that they're about solving the client's problems. Most clients, I've found, care very little about this director or that director. They want a spot that works--that breaks through and informs.
As an industry we've forgotten that we're "agents." We're not supposed to be in this for our aggrandizement and fame. We're in it to create that for our clients. We're supposed to put their brands in the spotlight. Not ours.
You ought to remember that next time you're showing things to a client:
All the world's a stage.