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Scott McKay is a Toronto strategist, writer, creative director, patient manager, half-baked photographer and forcibly retired playwright.

This little site is designed to introduce him and his thoughts to the world. (Whether the world appreciates the intro is another matter.) If you'd like to chat, then you can guess what the boxes below are for.



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    "They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket."

          – George Orwell






    "Advertising – a judicious mix of flattery and threats."

          – Northrop Frye






    "Chess is as an elaborate a waste of time as has ever been devised outside an advertising agency."

          – Raymond Chandler



    if you're a creative, you might not want to read this

    You're a client who has employed an ad agency to build your business. (There's really no other reason to employ one, after all.) You want more sales.

    Now, there are many ways that you and your agency can go about that. You can generate more awareness of your products, which is the traditional "mass" method. You can generate more engagement with your brand, which is what digital can do so well. You can try to acquire more prospects, or retain the loyalty of your existing customers, both of which are direct marketing strengths.

    But what you're not looking for is someone to tell you that your microsite needs to be in flash simply because it's cool, or your TV spot needs to be funny simply because the creative team wants to win awards, or your DM piece needs to have an awesome and complicated format simply, well, because. And unfortunately, too many creatives walk into client presentations believing exactly those kinds of things as their basic reason for being in this business.

    They're wrapped up in their own craft – the words and the pictures. Each is a craft that isn't easy to do well and each requires real focus. Somehow, in all that focus and intensity and passion, it's easy for creatives to get isolated from the client's real purpose. (And come to think of it, from the consumer's reality.)

    Too many creatives don't fundamentally believe it's their job to help you sell your product. Too few think that they will have failed if your sales don't increase.

    Creatives need to understand that they're in business. Your business.

    What can you do as a client to ensure that you're working with folks like that? Before you hire an agency, talk to the creative director and team you'll be working with about your business. They're not going to be experts at what you do, not yet. But are they at least interested in it? Do they ask questions about it? Do they listen to what you're saying and get excited by it?

    And find out about how they work. Will you be seeing the creatives at every concept presentation? (Some agencies tend not to let the creatives out in public, which fosters that isolation.) Do the creatives have input on the strategy? (Some places hand creative teams a brief and expect compliance. Other places give the creatives equal responsibility in the development of strategy, and expect questioning.)

    The more that the creatives are at the table with you, talking about your needs, showing your their work, hearing what you have to say about it in person, and accepting responsibility for the results, the more they'll know your business, and the more you'll be sure you're working with creatives who truly want to build your business.

    I can't imagine a better partnership than that.


    if you're one of my clients, you might not want to read this

    I'm sure they harp on its necessity in marketing courses all the time (I don't know, I've never taken one) but the unique selling proposition is one of those necessities that regularly gets ignored even though everyone espouses its necessity.

    Too many of the briefs that float around the typical agency are full of clichés and "me too" product benefits. If you're a creative reading this, I know that you feel like a voice in the wilderness complaining about this; I know that you've tried to challenge your account team or client to tell you what's different, what actually matters about the product you're advertising, and I know that they've all come back to you and said, well, um, nothing.

    Under these circumstances, if you're lucky the brief you're faced with boils down to, try to make it interesting, but we don't have high hopes. If you're unlucky, it's make it interesting and we have very high hopes.

    The issue seems to be that the world is full of products that are all approximately the same. Clients tend to be bad at thinking about their products with any kind of realistic perspective (i.e., how consumers think about them) but they're also handed products to sell that are basically the same as their competitors. Apart from Steve Jobs and... well, I'm sure there's got to be someone else, no one is thinking about developing unique products that consumers actually want and will line up for. Maybe that's the nature of early 21st century market capitalism. There's a lot of cut and paste from whatever the competition is doing.

    I point all this out selfishly, because it affects what I do. I've been asked too many times to make people "out there" care about products that no one "in here" seems to be terribly passionate about.

    Passion comes from an emotional truth, not a list of bullet points of features written by engineers or accountants or programmers. Maybe it's arrogant, or simply unusual, but passion means standing out, being different, not caring that someone else may disapprove. 

    And if I can feel that passion from you when I'm getting briefed, then my job isn't necessarily any easier, but I know it's going to go in an interesting and above all real direction.

    If I can't feel it at the brief, then it's my job to make up the reason that anyone should care.

    And if I sound cynical about that, it's because I once had an ad killed because one – yes, one – grandmother in rural Saskatchewan wrote a letter of complaint. It was one of those times when I'd found a reason for people to care, found a funny/emotional way of connecting with people, but because it was a purely creative solution, no one internally but me felt the passion. It was easy to kill the ad and replace it with one that wouldn't get complaints, an ad that wouldn't emotionally connect with anyone, an ad that no one would really notice.


    jean-luc godard, direct marketing philosopher

    Just after I started at Wunderman I went through a phase of needing to watch a lot of European and Japanese movies that were as un-mainstream as I could find. Something about revelling in complexity and nuance, after a hard day of learning to simplify my writing and hearing "make the offer stronger."

    That's how one night I stumbled into Godard's Alphaville. I have to admit, it's not my favourite movie, or even my favourite Godard movie. (Okay, so I've only seen four, but it's a wonderfully pompous thing to write.) But at some point, the protagonist, a secret agent named Lemme Caution, stares off into the futuristic shadows of Paris and says something that made me rewind the tape just so I could be sure of what the subtitles said.

    "We have become slaves to probability."

    Well, I thought, that pretty much sums up direct marketing right there. Probability is the business model. I find out something about you – you subscribe to a parent magazine, or bought a bag of grass seed – and I use that information to more cost-effectively sell you something else. I can't know for sure that you'll buy my diaper service or atomic lawnmower, but that information increases my odds that you will. And since this is a world in which only 2% or 3% of people have to respond for me to make money, anything that makes your response more probable has enormous value.

    Your individual response doesn't have to fit the model. The fact that you didn't like the mailing is too bad, but it doesn't mean anything. As long as the clump of probability holds together and I make money, it works.

    The digital age hasn't fundamentally changed this model, not yet. Yes, people can be more finely targeted, but they are still targeted in groups. Businesses still can't afford talk to everyone differently on an individual basis. They still have to play the odds. 

    It's not the happiest thought, obviously, especially not twelve years down the road. But I still can't help but think it's basically true.

    I just wish Godard had managed to wedge the line into Pierrot le Fou. I actually enjoy that movie.


    email is the devil's work

    We had a moment today when there was a lot of back and forth with a client, a lot of typing of obvious frustration on both sides which was growing round after round of terse emails, and I finally went old school and said to the head suit, "Let's call the client."

    The phone. Wow. How innovative. Why not send a telegram?

    And yet, it was all taken care of in 45 seconds. Everyone was happy. You could hear it in the client's' voice, and ours. The attitude in our room was so much lighter. And it made us all think, crap, why didn't we do this sooner?

    Email is great, but it's impersonal and bloodless. It allows you to follow the weird and savage logic of your own head, you know, the logic that suddenly finds you disrespecting people and saying things that you will regret.

    The phone isn't quite face to face, but it's a hell of a lot better than being one of the hundred emails we all get every day. There's still something a little analog about the phone, something a little bit human, that lets us connect.


    don't tug on that

    It's been, um, a busy week. Lots of typing and presentations happening very quickly. Yesterday I got feedback on some copy which was approved except for one word. One little word. Change it and everyone's happy, and we can get on to everything else. No big deal, right?

    Wrong. One wrong word sitting in the middle of a whole bunch of right ones makes all of them wrong. Clients and account people aren't paid to listen for nuance and emotional impact and, well, flow. But we are. Because people out there notice. Sitting in their car listening to the radio, or when they bother to click on the one potentially interesting email in their inbox, people care if what you write feels wrong.

    The fact that the words have to feel right is why not everyone who slings words can actually write. It sounds finicky and stupid but it's true. People read not just the sense but the sound of your language. You have to be aware of the poetry in the language of even the most mundane buckslip. Even if you can't formally scan the metre of what you're writing, you have to hear it. It has to flow. If it sounds wrong, or if it sounds out of place, it probably is.

    It's why I think about writing as composing.

    So when I present a deck to my client, it works. It hangs together seamlessly. (In my mind at least.) You can't just pull out one stitch and think that the whole blanket will hang together.

    Changes are of course fine. But tell me what the issues are, so I can incorporate them and still write something that flows. Don't tell me what the changes must be. Don't try to pull a word out and jam something else in.

    To quote the immortal words of the great scientist and rock star Buckaroo Banzai, "Don't tug on that. You never know what it might be attached to."


    will he succumb to the maddening urge? I think he just did

    Blogs for me have always been a shiny red button. It's never been a matter of "if." It was always about "when."

    I've been reading blogs since the 2000 U.S. election debacle, when I stumbled upon Talking Points Memo, and that led me eventually to Kos and Atrios and Yglesias. Then suddenly all kinds of folks had them for all kinds of fun non-political uses. Lame ones, too. Lots of lameness, from people whose tinfoil hats were clearly getting in the way of their typing. And, hell, if they could do it...

    It's always been tempting. But, like being tempted to write a novel, when I finally sat down to write one, inspiration, focus, purpose and motivation all dried up quickly.

    Not sure why this time is different. Maybe because I didn't promise anything with my first post. And I'm not making any promises now.

    I just hope I don't erase too much history.





    a tentative thought about leadership

    First off, I think it's important that I tell you I hate the word "leadership." It makes me think of MBAs and motivational speakers. It strikes me as being the kind of word that's seemingly only bothered with in its absence.

    That said, one way or the other we working stiffs all deal with leadership. Not the word or concept, but the reality of it. You can't work with or for other humans for any length of time and not have a strong gut feeling about being told what to do, bossed around, shepherded, managed, controlled, guided, mentored or led. 

    Especially when you're a creative.

    You can't really boss a creative around. (Well, you can, but if they're any good, they won't stick around.) Creatives don't take orders. They question. They argue. They complain. They disagree. They have opinions. They tell you how things should be. Because that ornery, anti-authoritarian mindset might just be the reason good creatives can see and fight for what's right. (In other words, it's a feature, not a bug.)

    So you in order to get a creative to do what you want, you have to persuade them. You have to help them believe in it.

    You can't persuade people from a pedestal. You can't email persuasion, or memo it, or decree it from a boardroom table. You have to do it face to face. You have to hear their disagreement, and not only do you have to persuade them through their disagreement but you must also accept that any contrary feelings they have are totally valid. You can't be insulted by their disagreement, or feel that your so-called leadership is being undermined. At a very basic level, you have to respect the people who work for you as equals.

    Even better, put quotes around the word "for," or just replace it with the word "with."   

    And if my leadership can't take your differing opinion, then I'm not a leader – I'm a bully.

    Now, I've worked for a few bullies in my time. It's very educational, in a Dickensian kind of way. It gave me a real appreciation of that Peter Ustinov quote I'm so fond of.

    Psychiatrist (and anti-psychiatrist) David Cooper once wrote, "Perhaps the most central characteristic of authentic leadership is the relinquishing of the impulse to dominate others."

    That strikes me as being about the most true statement about leadership I've ever seen, creative or otherwise.

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