About 15 years ago, I reached the high-point of my career.
I was co-head of the thousand-person flagship office of a big agency.
I noticed something back then that's stayed with me for the last few decades. I noticed that by the time a client need made it to the creative department, that very need had been folded, spindled and mutilated.
The need was no longer expressed in macro terms.
You never heard things like "73-percent of the market is dominated by three players and our client--despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars, has just a 1.58-percent share."
You never heard things like "our client's product and service was so bad for so long, they've almost completely lost two generations of customers."
You never heard stories like that.
Instead you got reams of paper and then got told to do a TV spot, yet another banner ad, or to create a booth at the US Open Tennis Tournament.
The ad was an ad was an ad.
The problem was a problem.
And never the twain shall meet.
Someone in HQ will tell you what to do based on something some probably low-level client said needed doing.
I took to saying something to the few people who would listen to me. "There's a difference between doing the assignment and doing the job."
There's a difference between answering the small "b" brief and trying to answer the big "B" brief. Usually starting around six on Sunday night, I get about seven or four pings requesting my presence in meetings for the following week. I don't curse the people requesting my presence--I curse Microsoft. They've created software that is so ubiquitous that blocking someone's calendar is as easy as stealing ketchup packets from a hamburger joint.
I wonder if the layers of time-management, staff-management and project-managements that today runs just about every ad agency large or small or in-between has had a similar effect.
We are so focused on doing what we're told to do--"the banner has to be 728x90"--that most times we don't think about what we might be doing. We put out the fire. We don't seal the gas leak.
In other words, are agencies in their modern form--where mistakes and wasted movement are hardly allowed--places of prescription as opposed to places of inception?
Perhaps the creative department is the crate department?
Is the very structure and population of the modern holding company agency antithetical to its reason for being? Are they now places ruled by accountancy rather than creativity?
Is coloring-in the pre-determined lines more important than making something that could change minds and behaviors?
Ten days ago, my wife and I drive up to Cape Cod to see her best friend. On Saturday night, a soft, purple cool July evening, we drove to Veteran's Field in Chatham to see a Cape Cod League baseball game between the Chatham Anglers and the Orleans Firebirds.
This is a pretty high-level of low-level baseball. The boys playing are from the big baseball universities: Clemson, Rice, University of Texas, USC and so on. The players are thick-muscled and unshaven and probably one-in-four will have at least a cup of coffee in the Bigs.
All kinds of analytics and strategy and numerology are applied in major league baseball now. And all that crap has, for me, taken all the fun out of the game. The game is more about math than sport. And I had enough of math in high school, Mr. Nelson, my algebra teacher and friend not-withstanding.
I feel the 'more about math than sport' applied to advertising, too. We put such rules and restrictions on every assignment we get, that we've boundaried our way away from creativity. We have transformed our business from what can we do to what are we being told to do.
I'm sure that's not the way advertising, or baseball, is supposed to be.
BTW, this is a job description for a job in a "creative" agency. It could, I exaggerate, be a job description of a Cagney-era prison guard in "White Heat."