Friday, September 3, 2021

Advice from Trott, Descartes and me.

Here's some hard-won advice on your career and your life that won't get listened to.

And why should it? Free advice, after all, is worth the price.

If you go to the grocery store, whether it's a big chain-store or a high-end market, you'll see dozens and dozens of products. If you go to the olive oil section or where the laundry detergents sit, you'll see plenty of things competing for your eyeballs. But very few will say--convincingly--what they do differently. Very few will hand you an origin story that makes you like them or care for them.

You're like that, too.

On your site, or in simple conversation, you'll classify yourself like dozens of other people classify themselves. 

You'll say, "I'm an art director." Or, "I'm a copywriter." Or, if you're aggressive, "I'm an award-winning art director." Or, if you're an ass, "I'm a copy Ninja."

You're saying the same things and doing the same things as everyone else. You haven't done what needs to be done to clarify who you are and what you do. If you don't do that, how can anyone "choose" you.

I stole and adapted the diagrams below from Dave Trott who used these schemes to describe commercials in a commercial break.

                             RED ROUND IS 50%                     GREEN FILLED IS 50%

In brief, if you can find a way to position yourself differently--the same way you help major companies position themselves--you can earn more mindshare.

There's a lot of bushwa in our business about "earned media." But you hear very little about what you earn when you behave differently. My guess is, these earnings are much more reliable and accessible than the quest for earned media.

When I rejoined Ogilvy back in 2014, I knew who I had to tailor my sale to. I knew who would be "buying" me, who was making the decision. So I set out to show her that I was the best writer in New York for taking complicated stuff and making it simple. I worked my ass off to do this, reading things and learning things about technology that very few people in the world knew or could explain.

When I was offered the job our conversation went like this:

"I'd like to offer you a job as Executive Creative Director."

"No," I answered. "I don't want that job."

"What? Why not?"

"Well, there are a lot of ECDs here. And I'm not like anyone else. I want to be separated from the others."

"That's right. That makes sense. What do you want?"

"I want to be Executive Creative Director and head of copy."


I had essentially turned myself into a mustard made with white wine. Not an ordinary mustard.

That's why I write every day and put myself out there. Anyone can say they're a writer. I try to be more convincing. I show people that I'm different.


This is not easy. It's work working for yourself (and you're always working for yourself.) And it's work pushing yourself away from the norm.

It's work whether you're a FORTUNE 50 company or a little pisher who's on the wrong side of 60.

Back in the early 17th Century, Rene Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am."

We might do a rewrite for today: "I'm different, therefore I am."

That's how it works, people.


To my non-US and non-Jewish readers:

Monday is an American holiday called Labor Day.  I won't be working. Tuesday, I'll be observing the previously-scheduled Jewish holiday, Rosh Ha Shanah.

This blog will return to the airwaves on Wednesday, September 8.

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