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

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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


    Entries in account management (3)


    concentrated evil

    As a creative, you have to know what you need. You have to be sure about how you work. And you have to be ready to call bullshit on those who do not respect that process.

    The most basic of those needs is the brief. However, this need is not always recognized.

    I was once in a somewhat charged meeting with an account director, debating perceived flaws in some work.

    I asserted that good work didn't happen without a good brief. This account director disagreed loudly, saying pretty much literally that "you don't need a good brief to do good work." There were, um, some heated words on my part, because that was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard.

    Her attitude manifested itself in every job on her account. Projects would get briefed in, concepted, then presented internally, where it turned out that the creative was all wrong, because the brief was all wrong. And the brief was all wrong because none of the information in her head had been communicated to her team, and she hadn't really looked at the brief before allowing her team to present it to the creatives.

    Oddly enough, we were told that the clients were frustrated with the work. But it wasn't the work the clients were having trouble with.

    Needless to say, her and I didn't work together that well. Frankly, I can't name a single creative who has worked with her that well.

    And I don't know many clients who have, either.


    a short note about the firing of an account person

    A long time ago in a galaxy that I happened to be working in...

    The account supervisor on a major retailer's loyalty account was new to the suit business. She'd been a strategist or data analyst or something at another agency – some sort of clever job that didn't actually involve client interaction. But she had a good résumé and references, I guess, because there she was, heading up day to day business with the client.

    It was a busy account, pumping out lots of card-related DM, a monthly newsletter and a pantload more. Somewhat logically, this mean lots of client interaction every day, both face to face and, because the client was a long drive out of town, more usually by phone.

    On the creative side we didn't realize that anything was wrong; this new suit had some good moments, some bad ones, but in her first couple of months this was expected. There was also a strong account exec working with her, a woman who was junior but smart and learned quickly, so things seemed normal.

    One week, we started sensing some tension from this junior account exec; she wasn't getting answers from the new supervisor, and the clients were acting weird, she said. A couple of our ongoing projects stalled, pending feedback or approvals that weren't coming. She hinted at other weirdness, odd moments with her new boss that did not bode well.

    The next week, the word went out in hushed, furtive doorway conversations – the new supervisor was gone. (Along with her boss, sadly.)

    We found out why a few hours later. She had simply stopped returning client phone calls, stopped having any interaction at all with the people paying the bills, and her salary. With no explanations pending, and no informaton, the clients had quickly gone from concern, to irritation, to truculence, and had called the powers-that-be to demand their kilo of flesh.

    Never found out why she did what she did, and I've never seen her since; speculation naturally ran to her cracking under pressure, which is of course only a euphemism for anxiety or depression or something else that was the real problem, and which her high-pressure job only exacerbated.

    Advertising is not a career that grants you space or time to get over things, or allows you to hide from yourself.


    in short

    By way of the alternately hemisphered Mr. Gillespie and his new Tumblr extravaganza, I pass along this presentation by a smart chap named Nick Emmel about writing the second most important thing that we do inside agencies: the brief.

    It's hard to face an empty brief template and think about it as a manifesto with which you will charge up the creative and production teams (and yourself!) and get them excited about the possibilities of the project.

    It's hard to not fill out the blank boxes, or cut and paste the client's words into them, or leave generic template information behind. (I know it's hard because I've seen it happen for as long as I've been working at agencies.)

    It's hard to carve out the time in your stupidly busy schedule to actually think about what you need to write, because you know you can't just slap down any old thing if you're trying to inspire people, or yourself.

    It's hard to give the process enough time to write it, struggle with it, and get input from an account director or creative director – especially when you're the one who's "responsible" for writing it.

    It's hard to have people nitpick at something you've written for weeks after you've done the first draft, telling you what you did wrong, and "advising" you how it could be written better.

    But that's what it takes. Because you don't get great creative without a great brief. It's really that simple. 

    NOTE: My aim is NOT to belittle account people here. Whenever I'm asked to help out on briefs, I rediscover how brutally hard they are to write, even for someone who thinks he knows what they should say. But it is essential to understand how critical, how urgent, that little piece of paper is to the entire process.