In Defense of the Junior Client

One of the favorite pastimes of creatives is bitching about the client. After all, they’re “the man,” and you’re the artistic visionary. You bring them sheer genius, and they have the nerve to crap it up with their logo. Idiots! Idiots!

Even worse are the junior clients, fresh-faced and eager, with their shiny new MBAs, always making the lamest of suggestions. “I like it. Can you dial up the ‘newness?’” “I can’t read your 16-point magazine copy from across the room.” “I think the 20-second product demo is being overwhelmed by the 10-second story.”

We’ve heard it all. And while bitching about clients may be therapeutic, it’s neither helpful nor productive. So I’m going to do something I thought I’d never do. I’m going to defend the client. Even worse, I’m going to defend the junior client.

You’ll often hear from clients that looking at creative is their favorite part of the day. And why shouldn’t it be? Their day is filled with meetings filled with serious people making presentations with charts filled with sales data and awesome stuff like that with even awesomer acronyms. When you come in, they get to sit back and watch a hopefully engaging and entertaining show, then comment on it.

But these clients, the ones who say they love creative reviews, they are usually not the junior clients. Most junior clients loathe creative reviews. They fear them.

To understand why, put yourself in the dress-casual shoes of a junior client for a moment. You have a meeting. Your boss will be there. Your boss’s boss. In some cases, your boss’s boss’s boss. In this meeting, the agency will present work. These self-assured, casually dressed hipsters with more combined ad experience than you have living experience, who have had several weeks to develop the work, will spend a half hour presenting it. Then, after giving you approximately 12 seconds to think about it, they and everyone in the room will look to you, junior client, and say “Well? What do you think?”

Why do they do this? The theory is that if they start with the most senior client, the decision maker, everyone who follows will just nod and say “Exactly. I agree 100%.” So they go the other way. Lucky you.

Now your whole goal with this little exercise is to not look like a complete idiot. You definitely don’t want to say something a more senior person will contradict later. But you have to say something. You have to add value. If you don’t, why the hell are you there in the first place? You know that no matter what you say, the agency folks will look at you like you’re an asshole. That’s a given. The creative director will roll his eyes. The account people will argue with you. The best case scenario, really the best you can hope for, is that everyone will just ignore your comments completely.

It’s a tough spot to be in. I certainly wouldn’t want to do it. But I think it explains a lot. It explains why you get a lot of safe responses from younger clients. Things like “bigger logo,” “more newsy,” and “longer product demo.”

Am I suggesting that these comments are helpful or will lead to better creative? Of course not. What I am saying is that we should cut the junior client some slack. Empathize. At least be courteous. I couldn’t agree more with Greg’s earlier post that we need to look at the account service department as a part of our team. I’d extend that to the client as well. The adversarial client relationship is not healthy for anyone. And if you’ve ever felt that the clients look at creatives like we’re hucksters trying to pull a fast one on them, it’s probably because sometime in the past someone did.

Nothing gets produced, and none of us have jobs without our clients. Junior clients get promoted and become brand managers, VPs, etc. So when you’re on a shoot with a junior client, or before or after meetings, get to know them. Answer their questions. Help them out. They have tough jobs too. And you never know—15 years down the road you may be a big Executive Creative Director, and that junior client you knew way back when may be the VP of Marketing for a client you’re pitching.


I had an interesting conversation with a creative director and an art director from one of our international offices. The debate was:

An art director needs to know how to draw. True or false?

What's your take?

Super Bowl Ads and One-Hit Wonders

The following came from an article in one.a magazine in 2002. But six years later, it's just as applicable:

It was pointed out that what got people talking about everything from E*Trade to “Whassup?” to Mike’s Hard Lemonade, even Apple’s legendary “1984,” wasn’t that it debuted on the Super Bowl but that all were part of comprehensive campaigns built around the brands. (In Apple’s case, while the spot ran once, it was followed by a coordinated onslaught of print inserts, publicity and direct response.)

Too often, says one planner, “the game is used as a blow-the-budget one-off that may introduce an unknown brand, but then fails to convert into any long-standing equity without a decent supporting program,” as happened to many dot-com brands.


"When clients say they want a tagline, I write down half a dozen from large companies. When I ask the clients which companies they apply to, they can never remember. Pick up any magazine on your desk and read out the taglines. They’re a complete waste of time."

-Neil French

Portfolio School Lies to You, Part 2

Here is another lie that’s often perpetuated in portfolio schools:

"Account people are your enemy."

Sometimes they’re called “suits.” Or “account execs.” Or even just “the account side,” like there’s a geopolitical barrier between you.

They usually wear slacks while we wear frayed jeans. They read The Wall Street Journal and Brandweek at their desk while we flip through Wired and Dwell in the a coffee shop around the corner. We’re creative. They’re not. We’re superior. They’re mostly idiots.

Come on. There’s a part of you that believes this, right? That you heroically champion the creative spirit while they couldn’t straighten their spine in a client meeting to save their life?

Stop it. Take the thought, wad it up, flick your Bic and incinerate it. Seriously. No agency needs a creative (especially a young one fresh out of school), who distains someone on the same team.

True, there are a lot of bad account people out there. I’ve had the displeasure to work with a few. And I could tell you some funny stories that would perpetuate a certain stereotype.

But I’ve also worked with a lot of account people who are smarter than me. Who have more patience than me. Who are more adept at seeing a bigger picture than me. Who deservedly make more money than me.

My advice: When you get your first job, cross the tracks and make friends with the account folk. Talk to them about advertising. See what they like about it. Find out what they consider great work. Have the same conversations with them that you do your creative peers.

And I recommend you not refer to them as “suits.”

This is possibly the most important lesson I can give anyone in advertising.

Six months into my first job, I was lucky enough to do an ad that got into the One Show. Here it is:

Bolstered by this confidence, my art director and I were certain the same ad would get into the Communication Arts annual. We submitted it. And months later, we got the call. It wasn’t on the shortlist.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I was supremely bummed. The fact that I was in the One Show annual was no consolation. I spent the day in a funk. I was blue. Cranky even. I remember going to sleep that night resolved to work harder than ever. I would never miss an opportunity like that again. I was going to do whatever it took to make award-winning ads.

That was September 10, 2001. The next day, getting into CA didn't seem so important anymore.

I’ve been fortunate to have great creative directors and great partners and great clients who’ve helped me win awards and appear in annuals and other publications. And I haven’t received a single accolade without reflecting on that experience.

Years before 9-11, Neil French put it another way: “It’s kind of tragic that you can spend an entire lifetime turning out four great pieces of work, and they’re all ads. Nurses and ambulance drivers do something a thousand times as important, five times a day.”

Advertising is a lot of fun. We get paid to think. To come up with ideas. To make people laugh. To change their behavior. We’re very lucky to be in this business. Let’s not be jerks about it. Let’s keep things in perspective. Let’s do good work.

Banksy in the West Bank

I'm a big fan of Banksy. Talk about master of the visual solution.

Here's a great project he did in the West Bank.

Every Day Is Like A Saturday Morning...

Ignore for a moment that this is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time talking about making movies. His advice is about working with clients. There's some good advice in here, if you can get past the overly rosy pictures of puppy dogs.

A Less Creative Solution

I've posted an article on my other blog, Archimedes' Tub, that relates to advertising and award shows. Enjoy.

Aristotle to the Rescue

Again, some really great, interesting comments on the last post. Here’s my take. I’d love to hear what you think of it.

It’s Aristotle who inspired the question of advertising things we don’t really need. And it’s Aristotle who helps me deal with it.

Aristotle’s philosophy held that people can only be happiest when we are doing all we are capable of doing.

We can’t be truly happy knowing we can and should do something, and then not act. We can’t be truly happy lounging around when we know we’re capable of starting a business, organizing a club, or writing a letter to the editor. We can’t be truly happy passing a homeless person on the street when we’ve got a dollar in our pocket we know we don’t really need. And when you’re capable of doing intelligent, creative, brilliant advertising, that’s what you’ve got to do, too.

While some may argue that no one really needs a Porsche, vitamin-enhanced water, or an iPhone, I would also argue that the producers of those goods are probably happy because they’re doing all they’re capable of. They’re trying to engineer a better car, make more interesting water, or make media more accessible by whatever standards they set. They’re innovating. And that’s what we do as a species. And if I really believe that about a product, I’m happy to help advertise that.

So how does this relate to any of you today? The One Show College Competition is currently under way. I understand the deadline is February 21st. You’re all capable of getting in that book. What a great opportunity for you to be happy.

Aristotle in the Market

Imagine you’re one of Aristotle’s disciples. One day, he leads you and several others to the market (that's him on the right). All the merchants have their wares on display – haute couture togas, leather-bound copies of the latest epic poem, designer torches for setting your sacrificial animals on fire. And the masses are lining up to buy these things. Booth after booth, it’s the Times Square of ancient Greece. And this is what Aristotle says to you:

“Look at all of the things I don’t need.”

I was in Baltimore a couple months ago. I stayed right on the Harbor, and as I stepped outside my hotel I could see a Barnes & Noble, Hard Rock Café, ESPN Zone, P.F. Chang’s, Williams Sonoma, and a California Pizza Kitchen. I saw the exact same sight in San Francisco a while ago, and I can look out of my office window and see pretty much the same thing along Michigan Avenue.

“Look at all of the things I don’t need.”
Yet I’m in advertising. I spend my days trying to convince people to go to the market. To drop their drachmas and buy the latest high-end discus. Is there a conflict here? No one really needs a Porsche. Or an iPhone. Or vitamin-infused water. Right?

I’ll tell you how I’ve made my peace with this. But I’d like to hear your ideas first. Any takers?

Great Art Isn’t Subjective

(The following is excerpted from The Week magazine which, by the way, is a great news magazine if you don’t have a ton of time to read the papers. Sort of a print news aggregator, of sorts, and pretty balanced politically.)

Beauty is not strictly in the eye of the beholder, a new study says. Great works of art appear to follow proportion and design that have universal appeal, at least in Western culture.

Italian neuroscientists showed images of Classical and Renaissance sculptures to by the likes of Michelangelo and da Vinci to 14 volunteers with no artistic training—some of whom had never been to a museum. Some of the images were altered so that the original proportions of the sculptures were slightly modified.

When subjects viewed the pictures of the original sculptures, scans of their brains showed a strong emotional response; they were clearly moved. There was much less response to the sculptures with subtle change in proportion.

“We were very surprised that very small modifications to images of the sculptures led to very strong modifications in brain activity,” researcher Giacomo Rizzolatti tells He believes that the human brain may have a special attraction to images that demonstrate the “golden ratio,” an eye-pleasing proportion of 1-to-0.618 that shows up again and again in art and nature. This ratio can be found in a nautilus shell and spiral galaxies, and in Michelangelo’s Pietá and the Pyramids. When the brain sees these magical proportions, Rizzolatti says, it interprets them as evidence of great beauty.

A True Story

This is going to sound either embellished or completely fabricated. I promise you it is not. It’s a little story about advertising that could probably be interpreted any number of ways. I’m trying to figure out what to take away from it myself.

On December 14, I flew home to San Francisco from a client meeting in Omaha and was riding the BART train home from the airport with my suitcase and DDB-logo portfolio case. It was a pretty empty train car when I got on. Just myself and two homeless fellows. One of them sat across the aisle and up a couple rows. Whenever the train stopped, he shouted out the door at people. When it was moving, he talked to himself. I had my headphones on so I don’t know what he was saying, but people talking to themselves is pretty normal here.

Anyway, as the train goes through the city, we pick up more people. Friday night’s always a good scene on the BART. A hooker with makeup-stained tears running down her cheeks gets on and sits across the aisle from me. When the crazy homeless guy tries to comfort her, I turn my music down to listen.

The train keeps filling up until the only open seat is next to the homeless guy. Finally, a well-dressed, nice-looking woman (maybe 45ish) with expensive jewelry and a Macy’s bag gets on. She sits next to the homeless man and starts poking at her PDA.

The guy asks her a question about her PDA, but she ignores him. This goes on for several stops. Then the guy announces to everyone that this lady thinks she’s too good for him. Thinks he’s the scum of the earth, etc. It’s all pretty entertaining.

A few stops later, still peeved, he takes a Swiss army knife from his pocket, opens it to the nail file, and starts filing his nails. Naturally, the site of a knife puts everyone a little on edge. I must have been staring at it, because he looks at me and says, “It’s just a tool. Not a weapon. Just a tool.” Then he puts it away and starts talking to the woman again. He asks her about her wedding ring and tells her that she’ll end up hating her husband. Real nice stuff.

I’m still thinking about the knife, and figure the woman’s probably about peed her nice dress by now, so I walk over and ask if she’d like to switch seats with me. She smiles and thanks me, but declines.

Then the guy, who I’m sure is going to take offense at my offer, sees my DDB bag. As if he’s a four-year-old sounding out a word, he says, “D…D…B…” and thinks about it a moment. Then he says, “Doyle Dane Bernbach. They were a fantastic advertising agency in New York in the 50s and 60s. Bernbach was a genius. Complete revolutionary. Lemon. Plop plop fizz fizz. The commercial with the two Volkswagons in the garage…I love that one…” and he launches into an incredibly informed history of DDB.

He asks me if I work there and what I do for them and I asked him if he worked in the business. To this, he laughs and says, “You’re young. You probably haven’t won any of those golden parachute awards, or whatever they are, but if you do…watch out. Your friends will stab you in the back before you know it.” And he just leaves it at that.

Then he talks awhile about his father’s auto salvage and wishes me a good evening as I get off the train.

Anyway, that’s the story. I still don’t know what to make of it.