Sad Men

February 4, 2013

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Pretentious, Moi?

I’ve been trying to write a new website for myself – and struggling.  It’s not just that writing about your own business is harder than writing about someone else’s.  It’s that writing about  “being creative” is plain awkward.

I should know.  I’ve been doing it long enough.

Over the years (20+) a lot of different ad agencies and design companies (15+?) have asked me to come up with ideas and words  to help them promote themselves.   I’ve created mailers, press ads (remember them?), web pages, emails and posters to generate awareness and win new clients.  They’ve ranged from the sensible and professional to the downright wacky.

I remember one poster in particular.  It was for a design company in Cardiff and they bought a single site directly opposite the Welsh Assembly building.   It showed a Welsh rugby player, arms outstretched as if being crucified, under the words SEX and CHOCOLATE.  It was immediately banned, condemned by prominent members of the Welsh clergy and pilloried in the local press.   Their objective was to get noticed, and it certainly achieved that!   (NB, it was their idea, not mine – honest!)

Mais oui, oui, oui!

The challenge every time is the same – how do you suggest that you are imaginative, talented and creative without coming across as horribly  pretentious, conceited and full of ****?  To make matters worse you have to do it in a way that is so strikingly original that your imagination, talent and creativity speak loudly for themselves.  No pressure then!

It’s  the  ultimate challenge – and plenty of agencies blow it.  If you doubt me go      You’ll discover a string of heroic attempts to achieve fame and glory with a single “knock-em-dead” headline.

(NB, thanks to Mark Mapstone for drawing this site to my attention).   I’m glad to see that none of the agencies I have helped have made it into this Hall of Shame!



Picture credit:  Christina Saint Marche



  1. Ryan James February 11, 2013 Reply

    Hahaha... brilliant! Having helped 3 creative agencies re-brand in the past 2 years, I'm becoming accustomed to this challenge and know exactly the 'wanky' mess that can ensue...!!

    It's like when someone writes on a personal ad 'GSOH'... this tends to mean that they have anything but a good sense of humour and should be avoided like the plague!

    But the answer is relatively simple, albeit, it takes great powers of restraint...

    If you are funny, JUST BE FUNNY (and write a funny personal ad)... don't tell me you're funny.
    If you are creative, JUST BE CREATIVE... don't tell me you're creative
    And if you're good with words, JUST BE GOOD WITH WORDS...

    Your old 'bollocks' business card, Jim, is a perfect example of how to do it well.
    And your Christmas cards are typically ingenious and quick witted.
    Both are evidence that are you good with words... just show case these.

    The key however is knowing who you're directing the message at and what you want to say... they write your website like you're addressing ONE person.

    Creative agencies fall into the trap when they try to attract EVERYONE and prove that they're gods gift to every business with a marketing challenge! They're not and inevitably makes them look wanky!!

    In addition, simply be helpful and provide valuable content. If you know how to help fast growth technology businesses (for instance), then empathise with the typical challenges they face and provide helpful solutions to their challenges. This will demonstrate 'you get it' far more than a wanky creative visual of a rugby player on a crucifix with sex and chocolate written below it!

    Just some thoughts...

    • David April 5, 2013 Reply

      Ryan - I like your point about addressing the individual. You're always gonna come off as a tosser trying to be all things to all people... a "know-all" Generally speaking we all have a good breadth of knowledge (an opinion) but it's depth that people are willing to invest in.

      Jim... a slight aside but maybe something to think about in terms of your proposition is the subject of "content marketing". From my viewpoint, I believe this offers a great opportunity for the storyteller. In my experience there are a lot of CEO/Content Management businesses out there doing an excellent job of highlighting the importance of great content and how it can be used to influence decision making but those businesses are clueless when it comes to creating the most important part of their proposition the"content".

      A thought provoking post


  2. Jim February 12, 2013 Reply

    Thanks Ryan,

    You've helped me get my thinking a bit straighter on how to go with my new website - and I must get more "Bollocks" cards printed!

    Cheers, Jim

  3. Barry Harvey February 18, 2013 Reply

    I got half way through, but too ball-curdlingly awful to carry on. The first ten years of my working life were spent in agencies and the problem is that they think clients want them to be creative in an arty, off-the-wall, award-nomination sense.

    And some of them do! Most, however, just want to sell more products, more often. So, if in doubt, just re-read Hopkins, Ogilvy and Bird and align your creativity with what will work for your clients.

    If you do that successfully, it will create the proof you need to gain more clients.

  4. Jim February 18, 2013 Reply

    Hi Barry,
    I agree. Arty farty look-how-clever-I-am creativity is a liability, regardless of whether it is on the agency side, or the client side. It's an expensive and irritating waste of time and money.

    However, to engage today's information-overloaded consumers, and to actually get them to change their buying habits when you don't have a huge budget, does take creativity - but the applied kind, rather than the self-indulgent variety.

    It's a rare ability, and the people who have it tend to let their work do the talking (unlike those features on agencywank!)

  5. nick April 4, 2013 Reply

    Being asked to do the copy for the agency brochure/website is the pill with the most poison. Not only does everyone but the office cleaner get involved in critiquing the copy, no one can agree what it should be saying anyway.

    We moan about clients who can't make up their minds, but our own ad agency is usually the worst client of all.

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