5 Bits of Wisdom for Young Creatives

What do I wish I knew when I started in my career that I do now? Plenty. But here are 5 things that might help you sidestep a bit of stress:

People who have no writing talent not only think they can write, they think they can do it better than you. Thanks,

People who have no design abilities will think they know how to make what you’ve created a little better.

Account people that think hard about strategy and give you what you need to creatively solve the client’s problem are few and far between. When you meet one, stay in touch. For life.

Your job is to seek out everything you need (e.g., strategy, background) so you can do the job. If the account person doesn’t give it to you, go find it yourself.

You’ll never be 100% satisfied with your work. If you are, you’re a narcissist and should transfer to PR. Kidding.

What is “Enough?”

The word “enough,” it’s been said, holds a different meaning for everyone. Enough food to eat. Enough money to pay your bills. Enough coats for the kids when it turns cold.

“Enough” applies to business too — and everyone has their own idea of what it is. Enough new business in the hopper. Enough referrals coming in. Enough attention. Enough attraction.

That got me to thinking about acquiring new clients. How many constitutes “enough?” Is it a magical number to attain a financial goal? To get it, would you keep a client whom you couldn’t serve well, and vise versa, just to keep them? Or would you let them go, trust the flow and open yourself up to more business from your best clients?

The way I look at it, tempting as it is to say “yes,” when business knocks at your door, if you free the clients you know in your heart are not the best fit, they’ll find their way to a company who is. And that in turn will open you up to getting more from your best clients, or perhaps to discovering a new “best” client. It may even free you up to help a nonprofit, or take a seat on the board of some organization that matters to you.

Either way, it opens the door to something more. A new “best.” And that’s enough for me.

The Conglomerization of Creativity (and Why it Scares Me).

I live in Kansas City, and we boast a wonderful marquee destination called The Country Club Plaza. It’s said to be the nation’s first outdoor shopping area, and so beautiful that it’s a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Thousands come to see it decked in festive lights at Christmastime, while in warmer months, its restaurants are brimming with diners and sidewalks jammed with shoppers. Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?

Well, yes. And no. To those of us who remember the Plaza as it used to be — before it was “conglomerized,” it’s lost some edge. Prior to that, our beloved Plaza was home to mostly local and regional shops, scores of incredible independent restaurants, and a prestige department store or two. But a sale by family ownership to an out of town management group took care of that. Today, it’s pretty much like Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, or even more sad, New York’s once Bohemian SoHo. Like these, our Plaza has become one of those generic “destinations.”

This formulated experience has been researched and relaunched to appeal to as many folks as possible. Young, old, hip, not, gay, straight, hey, there’s something for you. Now, no matter what city you visit, you can have pretty much the same shopping and dining experience in one city as another. Want to buy a piece of clothing that isn’t sold in 100 other shops across the country? Want to sample daily repast from a local restaurant? Happy hunting. Welcome to BlandLandia.

The same kind of conglomerization is happening in America’s advertising arena. What was once a creative sandbox of an industry where bright thinkers, imaginative creatives and aggressive sales people ruled has become the playground of the highest bidder.

Why should you care? Because conglomerization just may spell Blandlandia for your Brand. One thing that could happen once all the independents have been gobbled up by a few big firms is that all the originality that made them appealing in the first place could get lost in the chewing. Will the similar processes, similar philosophies and similar approaches yield similar solutions? One approach fits all?

Sounds about as appealing as dinner from a chain restaurant while wearing the same skinny jeans as everyone else. Me, I vote for the originals, the independents, the pioneers who dare to think for themselves and offer up fresh solutions, tailor made for each individual client.

Your brand deserves it. As does your stomach. And your backside.

Prime the Pump & Trust the Flow

As a small business owner, I know what it takes to keep the new business pump primed. It’s an ongoing process — you can’t afford to let up for even one day. Do it right, and chances are you’ll have enough work to keep you and your team busy, or at least working at an even pace.

So what happens when you find yourself in the enviable position of having a new business pipeline that’s overflowing? You could panic. Or rejoice. Or, like most entrepreneurs, a mix of both. Or, you could relax and execute your plan for peak season. It all boils down to that old Scouting credo: Be prepared. If you’re in the creative business, here are a few things to consider:

1. Work your resources. Whether it’s employees, part-time or freelance professionals, have your bench stocked with talent. Let employees know in advance that a busy few days (or weeks) are coming. Let them know you’re counting on them to help you meet the client’s needs, but …

2. Don’t work your staff to a frazzle. Asking them to work extra hard to meet an occasional tough deadline is one thing. Doing so on a regular basis is another — and bad — thing. Know what your staff can do, when they are likely to hit a wall, and be prepared to share the load with freelance or part-time talent. Fresh eyes and attitudes not only help the work get done, it motivates your team to do even more.

3. Dig in yourself and supervise the work. You can’t expect your staff to handle the heavy lifting and manage extra resources too. That’s your job. Make sure the work being done is to your high standards. Pitch in and do some of it yourself. After all, it’s your name on the door.

4. Praise your team for a job well done. A few words of gratitude go a very long way.

5. Accept that against all odds, deadlines will often just get met. I don’t know why this is, but somehow the work just seems to get done. A hot project suddenly isn’t, or the scope changes, or someone goes out of town and it buys you a few days. Whatever the situation, serendipity often takes a hand in making schedules work out. I don’t know how or why it works. I only know that it does.

So when the pump has been well primed and business is overflowing, don’t freak out. Just execute your plan, pull in your talent, and trust the flow. It’s a good thing.

Independence Day (for your brand)

“We want our voice to be like Apple’s.”
O. M. G.

Please, please whatever you do – if you’re working with a firm to reload your brand, do NOT tell them this.

Frankly … you cannot be Apple. There is already an Apple and they do really well at being Apple. In fact they are the masters of Planet Apple.

OK but … you admire them. Envy them. Would love to have some of that magic. But you can’t be Apple. But you can think like Apple.

Start by considering how they became Apple. They thought about the audience they wanted to attract – and only them. They focused on the kind of product they wanted to make. Then they told this audience about it, in a way they could relate to. Apple didn’t compromise their message to be safe or secure. And they sure didn’t “borrow” it from any other brand. They decided to declare their independence from the status quo and do their own thing.

So when it’s time to create or refine your brand voice, proclaim your independence from what other brands are doing. Be original. It’s the best possible way to declare your brand’s relevance.