Does this post make me look cranky?
For about a year now, we’ve attempted to keep a monthly “Beers & Blogs” on the calendar. It’s an opportunity for everyone to get together in the conference room, drink some beers, and share “cool stuff.” Sometimes there is a theme, but for the most part, it’s about exploring what’s happening on the web– everything from sexy new interfaces to content that we’re in love with.
About two months ago we decided to take our digital beer time and make it retro. “Beers & Blogs” became “Books & Blogs” and the short-lived, but well-intended, Holland-Mark book club was started. Our inaugural read was the venerable Robert Solomon’s The Art of Client Service. It was chosen by the account folks (obviously), but Mike was quick to add that it was truly a book for all. It would open our eyes to the intricacies of the client side operations, while also giving everyone a basis for expectation. (If Robert says it, you better be doing it…)
For those of you unfamiliar with the book, welcome back from under the rock. In short, it’s a very brief, very manageable manual of fifty-some odd dos for those entering the account management/client services world. (Each chapter is only about a page or two.) It’s accessible, simple, and frankly, quite good. But…
But I had two problems: 1. The implied relationship between creative and account and 2. The manual-like approach to being good at a very complicated job. I eventually chalked my initial concern up to having a creative chip on my shoulder. (Later confirmed by the author. New world marketing (and creative) is about creative and account incest.) As for my second question, there was only one course of action…
So I emailed Robert.
And he emailed me back.
And then we had an appropriately casual and ridiculously delicious sushi lunch in New York.
The agenda was simple. We were two kids from opposite teams (and tribes, as it turns out) working together to clarify my questions, and answer Mr. Solomon’s only question, “what’s wrong with my book?” (Said with confidence and interest, not whiny cowardice.)
From that simple agenda came so many nuggets of truth and wisdom that I’m almost sorry we’re not co-writing a book. It was a partnership not unlike Shaq and Ben Stein– unorthodox, but genius.
My concern was that someone would read the book as a manual. I could see the BU advertising school handing it out freshman year and telling the kids that they had four years to memorize and internalize and then go out and take over the world. But what makes a good account guy or gal is 20% process and 80% being good at their job. Just like being a creative.
The best account people I’ve ever worked with are those who are naturals. They are organized, thoughtful, forward thinking, and able to be at once humble and sternly confidence. They are warm and collaborative, but self assured enough to tell even the most revered creative director to shut up and sit down. They are good with people. They usually actually like people. They believe in creativity as a strategic platform and want to find ideas together. And the processes simply give them a means of matriculating from one shop to the next.
One of my biggest challenges at a creative director is the hiring of new talent. Why? Because I don’t think people learn to write. I think there are those who are incredible writers– who get it– and those who wanted to be in advertising and then learned to write. They have incredible portfolios that boast some of the world’s top brands, but when it comes to sitting in a room and being a writer and thinker, there’s no meat there. I want storytellers and readers. People with experiences that can relate to others with engaging simplicity. A pithy line can be culled from great writing. Always. But how to do find those people? I look for personal blogs, Facebook status updates, interesting Yelp reviews. Anything to give me a sense of the writer, not their ads.
But it was Robert who summed it up best. For many young advertising minds– creative and account– process and gesture are mistaken for passion and sincerity. Going through the motions of anything– strategy, creative, falling in love– will not get you where you want, or need, to be. For that you need heart and a willingness to be truly good at what you do. Not truly competent.
In sum, read the book. Read all the books. But understand that those who rise to the top read everything between the lines.
To follow up on Mr. Solomon’s prospective on the chat, check out his blog post.