Wake Up Stupid and Stay That Way

Some of us may sense that we have no problem doing this; it comes naturally.

But there is a more serious aspect to this cute little title. It goes to one’s frame of mind.

Be open to anything today, any day. Don’t have preconceived notions about what’s going to happen.

I know – that’s easier said than done.

Listen more than you talk. For some of us, this really is a problem.

Observe and absorb.

Ask questions. Get clarity.

Ask more questions. Refine. Reflect. Reshape.

Now, see what you can discover.

Advertisements

The Future of Advertising: Up Close and Personal

2013 AAF Houston Student Conference GraphicWorking and interacting with students, especially those of college age, is always interesting, entertaining and fun. Recently, I had the privilege of volunteering as a portfolio and resume reviewer during the annual American Advertising Federation Houston Student Conference. This is usually the prelude to the AAF District 10 NSAC (National Student Advertising Competition).

As with past years of doing this, my table quickly filled as students wanted me to review, comment and answer questions regarding their portfolios. The scene was the same at other tables set up in our hotel ballroom. This was cool, I thought. Then it hit me, “How in the heck was I going to cater to these students given the one hour allotted?” I told them I would give them all my attention if they were willing to wait for it – even to the end of the conference. And they did!

Like sponges, ready to soak up every last bit of information and critique they could get. Bless their little advertising hearts!

Like with some client presentations, some students (agencies) were better prepared than others. Technology is to blame for some of this. We get so caught up in what we’ll present, that we forget HOW we’re going to present. A “Plan B” didn’t seem to be part of the homework for some of these folks, no matter how well-intentioned. That’s okay. I made it known how they could be better prepared.

One needs to make the presentation as simple and engaging as possible. There’s no time to go searching for that now-illusive mp3 recording of your radio ad. Have them in one file for easy and quick access. And, have the script standing by just in case.

Along these lines, I strongly suggested they have a PRINT portfolio readily available, in addition to their digital files. One never knows when the power will go out or if the person to whom you’re presenting actually wants to touch and feel the work sample in their own hands. I suggest this for both students and non-students (the rest of us) as well. Contrary to popular belief, digital is not the end all.

Some of the young people had better explanations of their work, and why it was included, than others. Most wanted to know if their samples were good enough to be included, and how many samples they should include.

While I shared my observations with them, I also provided a few suggestions as to how to get feedback, but stressed that if they had any doubt about a piece, leave it out (unless feedback suggests otherwise). It might be included for the “interview after next.”

While all seemed to know precisely what they had included in their portfolios, I did not get a sense they knew their work “cold.” I suggested they be prepared to present it upside down while standing up. That’s just impressive when that’s done.

Now, I realize this form may be a little tricky to do when presenting digital samples from an iPad, but one should know about each piece and what’s special about it – why one is presenting it.

All in all, the students were very gracious, respectful, and personable.  We all had a wonderful time. They’re smart enough to realize that no matter one’s age, how one presents one’s creative credentials is just as important, if not more so, than the work itself.

Believe in yourself and convey that. Let your passion show. We should all be involved in this continuing education and refining of not only what goes in our portfolio but how we present it. These students are off to a very good start, which bodes well for the future of advertising.

Creativity Tip #98: Stupidity and Weirdness – Beware

Dealing with clients on all levels can be daunting. Requests made by them can at times make us think twice (if not more) regarding whether or not they’re serious. Alas, more times than not, they are.

The Creativity Tip here is to be on your toes with clients at all times. Keep your guard up, and never underestimate the power of weirdness – especially when it’s down right stupid. There are some “discussions” you’re not going to win.

I am a member of the Creativepool Network on LinkedIn. Below is an excerpt from a recent discussion with various creatives around the land talking about first-hand experiences of weird client requests.

 Warning: While humorous, remember, they are true. Sigh!            

“Could you do an actual LOGO instead of a font?” It was once said to me by a creative director.

“You make the logo as big as you can. (Now then) can you make the logo bigger”?

“They won’t allow us any more space. Can you make it look bigger without increasing the size?”

Client, after being asked for a payment for a month: “I am so sorry you need money so badly. If I can help you in any way, please let me know. I do not want you to go hungry!”

“Why do you want to reverse the type out of the background? Nobody will be able to read it backwards.”

“Why don’t we broadcast this commercial in black and white? That ‘ll save us a lot of money.”

“We want more but sadly the budget has been cut.” This was like going into a car showroom and saying, can I have that R8, but I’ll pay you for a TT. I wonder what the sales person would say?

On set for a TV spot, the client asks, “How come she isn’t wearing a red sweater? In the storyboard, the woman was wearing a red sweater.” 
We eventually lost the “it was an artist’s sketch in the storyboard” conversation, and got the woman a red sweater.

Can you make her younger?”

VP of Marketing demanding that our ad copy go from gutter to the very edge of the pub: “All this blank space! If we’re paying for it, we’re going to damn well use it!” 
 (We say) Then you’re paying for an ad that bleeds. It will cost more. 
”Bleeds? Cost more? You people are all full of BS.” 
And this from a VP of marketing.

An oldie but a goodie: “I’ll know it when I see it.”

A restaurant client would not allow the use of the word “savory” because he said it made him think of “unsavory characters.”

“We need a few more used condoms, I think.”

Blue logo request: “Can it be more blue?”

Anyone who’s ever worked for Coca Cola or Pepsi will have learned that Coke’s ice is ALWAYS grey and Pepsi’s is ALWAYS blue. Chrysler was like that with their Pentastar; it was always a certain shade of blue. “You don’t f#*k with the Pentastar,” I was once informed.

A name-brand winery commenting on a bill for rented ice cubes in an ad for their champagne: “Why should I pay for something I can’t see?”

From a client who didn’t understand why a low res photo would not work at a larger size on a spread: “Can you use the picture now? I opened the picture in Photoshop and made it bigger, so now it is the resolution you need.”

Remember, no matter how weird or stupid, take a breath and live to fight another day.

Creativity Tip #103: Your Creativity Sandbox

Whether or not we create anything for a living, there are times we just don’t feel very creative. Mostly, we create because we have to do so, to earn that paycheck, to satisfy the client. Granted, there’s nothing that says we can’t be happy about it or we can’t enjoy the process.

What do we do, though, when our creative juices start drying up or when we’re in between “have-to projects”?

Have you ever created something or begun a creative project simply for the helluv it, because you just wanted to do it?

little girl playing in sandbox

Thanks to iStockPhoto

There are probably various names or descriptors for this mindset like “unnecessary creative,”   “creative play time,” etc. Whatever you call it is up to you. I refer to mine as my Creativity Sandbox.

The point is to start something that will occupy your mind in a new or different creative endeavor so you can keep your creative juices flowing. Set aside some time (and maybe a special place) and just start.

I started this blog because I wanted an outlet for writing and expressing myself in ways other than what I mainly do for clients. I’m exploring different software packages (Adobe Muse for Web design, and Adobe’s Creative Cloud), listening to online webinars (CreativeLive), reading anything I can get my hands on relative to innovation and creativity as well as totally unrelated topics that simply interest me.

Anything to keep the brain alive and curious. It takes time and diligence, and some weeks I have neither. But I don’t want the juices to stop flowing. And neither should you.

Spend some time in your Creativity Sandbox as often as you can.

Creativity Tip #18: Why not’s and so what’s

Years ago I learned the value of asking “why?” during an interview or conversation with someone from whom I wanted information for an article or ad. The more involved in the subject we dove, the more times I had to think of different ways to say “why?”. “Tell me more,” I’d say or “could you explain that?” — any phrase that would allow me to dive deeper into the subject matter.

Changing things up just a tad, I’d often interject “why not?” when my interviewee would proclaim as fact that something could not be made, redesigned, sold, given away, etc.

Interestingly, it was during some of these times when I’d get an adverse reaction like, “whaddya mean, why not?” It was as if I’d challenged him on his very credentials of smartness.

But none of those times met with as much of a surprise (disdain, maybe) as when I’d ask, as professionally respectful as I could, “so what?” when my subject expert just proclaimed that his or her product or service is “#1” at doing such and such or is the “leader in this and that.”

Usually, I follow up my “so what?” with something like “how is that significant?” or “how will your customer benefit?” That kinda takes some of the sting out of the “so what?” even when you ask it nicely.

Remember, we are the outsider looking into their world, which they hold very dear. In some respects, they view us as challenging them even though our objective is to create a meaningful and interesting story for our readers, and theirs.

Emotions aside, don’t ever be afraid to ask as many “why not’s” and “so what’s” as it takes to get to the bottom of the real, meaningful story. I find it easier to convey interest when either of those phrases are used in conjunction with a statement just uttered by the expert.

It helps both you and your interviewee dive deeper together in discussing information that, quite possibly, hadn’t been thought of before or at least from the perspective you’re providing.

You’re building trust during this dialogue. Both of you are professionals and should respect one another.

Just keep that in mind when you ask your next “so what?”

Creativity Tip #7: Control Freaks Not Welcome!

Creativity. We can play with it. We can enjoy it. We can experience it. We just can’t – and shouldn’t – control it. But we want to!

Individuals love to control things. That’s usually when we get into trouble. Creativity doesn’t respond well to control. In fact, when we try to control everything, we stifle creativity.

Shame on us! We should know better, but some of us don’t.

As noted in a previous Creativity Tip, one doesn’t manage creativity (let alone control it); one manages for creativity.

Creativity, somewhat like a child, flourishes in an environment that encourages innovative thought – and the time in which to do it. Nobody gets ahead in a scenario that screams “I need a creative idea and I need it in five minutes, and, oh yeah, it better be a damn good one!” Sadly, that’s an environment that does exist. It probably hails from a mindset of fast thinking – most of the time.

Men in general, research suggests, tend to have this mindset; they feel they need to make decisions instantly. Women, not so much.

Here’s where we tend to get into trouble. By putting an unrealistic time parameter on devising a “creative” idea (I’m not talking about brainstorming, here), one tries to control the creative process. The opposite is usually the result. Creativity is stifled.

What happened to allotting time for quiet, contemplative thinking? Now, I’m not talking about going into a room, sitting in the corner and contemplating one’s naval for two hours. Sometimes our “quiet time” is no more than 30-minutes (if not less). Still, without this time to gather one’s thoughts and even put them in some sort of context, we’re short circuiting our creative process, and the end result.

Women, in general, are better at this contemplative thinking because they tend to mull things over more than men do. Now, obviously, one size does not fit all. I know several men and women who would turn these findings on their head. I, too, don’t usually make instant decisions, but it depends upon what I’m deciding.

When we slow down the fast thinking and spend more time in the contemplative state, our creativity will flourish and the end results will be much better.

But, do we have the courage to do that?

Creativity Tip # 25: Problems and Puzzles

It could start out looking like a wall. A very tall wall. How do I get over it? Around it? Through it?

Problems are like that, as are various creative challenges that aren’t yet fully explored.

Or that have just been dumped in your lap.

Overcoming them – getting through or around that wall – is where creativity of the mind comes in. Think time. What to do first? How are you sizing up this “behemoth?”

Think of it as a big puzzle but you can’t even begin to solve it – and create something wonderful – until you break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Maybe you start by just jotting down some thoughts and questions in no special order. Don’t try to write the first page, for example, or even the opening paragraph. Don’t try to design the entire project; just play with a couple of images or design elements.

Do whatever you can to trigger your creative juices. They’ll take care of the rest. If you’re lucky, they may lead you to more questions and, subsequently, some refined answers. That’s where your contact on this project comes into play.

Don’t be intimidated by the enormity of the project, aka, puzzle. Concentrate on one piece at a time.

You may not notice it at first but when you do this, your mind begins to relax. You feel less overwhelmed than when you started. Note that I didn’t say “calm.” That will come but you’ll probably feel more invigorated because progress is being made, and your creative juices are flowing.

When this happens, your mind may also take you on a path that “plays with” or addresses other pieces of this puzzle. Go with it.

Before you know it, a clear picture will start to emerge; a composite of all the puzzle pieces.

One piece at a time. Thoughtfully.