Early on in my career I had a bit of an epiphany.
Call it an epiphanette.
Often, I realized, advertising is like a kids' party game.
You, or a group of kids, are given a bunch of fragments and you have to make something palatable out of all the ingredients.
My kids used to watch Project Runway and Top Chef on television. Usually the contestants were given a string of beads, some sequins and a small bit of velvet and they had to make a pair of jodhpurs with it. Or a can of sardines and two cloves of nutmeg and they have to make a dinner for six.
In other words, in advertising as in life, you get dealt a bunch of cards, and you have to learn to work with the hand you're holding.
Sometimes--often--in advertising you get a bunch of strange buts.
"We need something about our new _____ but we have no shots, no samples and we can't talk about its features."
Or "we already have music and on-camera talent locked-in, but we don't have an idea or a script or a director and we have an air-date in two weeks."
There might be a few of you reading this and smiling. Or at least smirking. As Hank Williams used to yodel, "You've been down that road before." And, likely, you'll be down that road again.
As I near my fourth year running GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, assignments haven't grown any easier or less encumbered with cosmic, industry-wide mishigoss. In fact, many assignments that come to me seem like they were invented by Alan Funt in the old Candid Camera tv show.
There, Funt would set up a situation and keep building it to the point of baffling hilarity.
That's what seems to happen when clients call me.
"George, can you write a manifesto in cretic anacrusis?"
"George, the CEO's wife wants to use Nipsey Russell as a spokesperson."
"George, is it possible to do an ad on the GoodYear blimp, but long copy?"
I've gotten four decades of requests like these over the last four years. My hair was already fast galloping to grey on its own. These "asks" from clients have turned my greys into Secretariat.
A lot of requests, in fact, from a lot of people are a lot like those above. Someone wants the cucumber salad without cucumbers. Or wants to know if the fish is fishy. Or wants to make it to work in twenty minutes when its a 40-minute drive and they're leaving at the height of rush hour. Sometimes if you still go to the movies, you'll see someone walk into a packed theater four minutes before the movie is meant to begin, and they spend their time looking for seats that are seventh row, center.
Wanting unreasonable things is part of the human condition.
It'll be Christmas in a couple months. Listen to all the people singing about peace on earth, for instance.
There's only one way to deal with unreasonable requests from clients.
Say, yes. Ok. I'm on it.
Then work your ass off.
Though clients often want you to make base metal into gold, and that's impossible, say "sure" anyway.
What they're really requesting is that you hear them. That you understand them. That you'd run through hell in a gasoline suit for them.
Then it's up to you to figure something out. My usual response is, "I'll work something out." Then I get to it.
It's really the same with creative partners. Someone has a thought, a feeling, a silliness. Your approach should be to work something out. To try to make it work.
For a long time, I would berate people who worked for me and remind them that there's a difference between doing an assignment and doing the job. Most people and agencies focus on small assignments when there's a bigger job to be done.
Usually that bigger job involves listening and caring.
It seldom involves yet another tranche of bland banner ads.