Save Your Ideas

Research shows that an average advertising creative generates 735,017 ideas in the course of a career.* That's a lot of ideas. Maybe 25% of those will be more than a sentence uttered between partners, or a doodle on a page. Maybe 5% will be fleshed out into executions, 2% presented in meetings, and something like .01% actually created into spots, or print ads, or whatever.

So what happens to the other 99.99% of those ideas?

There's a rumor that the Bud frogs idea was something that Goodby found in a box of old scripts and boards that they'd inherited from Bud's former agency. I don't really believe this (I've never heard of an agency passing on their old scripts and boards to the agency that just took their business), but there's a truth in the story. Things change, and an idea that wasn't right, or wasn't sellable, or didn't even make it to the client one year, might be just what's needed a few years later.

I can be a little anal when it comes to organization. I keep all my notes in little sketchbooks on a bookshelf in my office. It's not that I think every thought is worth keeping, but I can't tell you how many times I've been doing my second tour of duty on a piece of business and find a nugget by looking through the old ideas. Or a creative director has called and said "Hey, you remember that campaign you guys had that was off strategy a few years ago? Well, the strategy's changed, and I'd like to take another look at that campaign." Some executions might even solve some completely different assignment down the road.

It baffles me when I see people jotting stuff down and then leaving their notes behind, or throwing them away at the end of a project. Yes, most of those ideas probably belong in the garbage, but there's always a chance that some of those hours of thinking will come in handy later in your career. So keep them somewhere you can find them later.**

Also, after a project is finished, if we had a concept I really believe in but didn't sell for whatever reason, I file that away separately. You never know when a director or photographer will be looking for something to shoot, or a little extra money will show up.

Some might say I'm advocating lazy recycling of ideas. Hardly. (And I would caution against ever trying to "put one over" on a client or creative director; be upfront with the fact that the idea was presented before, but you think it still has merit.) All I'm saying is that you put a lot of time into generating ideas. It just takes a little organization to give them a chance at a second life.

*This is based on my research, using numbers I made up.
**When I retire I plan to sell all of my notebooks on eBay for $3. Or I'll sell them to you now for $10 (shipping not included).