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John Davenport: Tips from the trenches of advertising

by John Davenport (@johndavenport72) Extreme Advertising 101. Here’s some advice from someone who’s been in advertising a while.

1. Have your client’s back

This one is first, as I think it’s the most important: have your client’s back. I think this is the most-vital piece of advice I can give you. Really. Really really.

Advertising is (much as certain people pretend that it isn’t) a business. You can’t (unless you want to Spend the rest of your life doing pro-active work for the Society for the Protection of Blind Dogs with Diabetes) make work without a client.

Your clients work under intense pressure. Their jobs are tough. I couldn’t do them. I’d end up crying under my steel-and-chrome desk for 5–6 hours a day. At least. So, make their lives easier, not harder. They won’t forget that, when they were in a corner and under pressure, you were there to help.

If you have your client’s back, they will have yours. And everyone’s life will be better.

2. Don’t chase the money

Don’t ever chase the money. This is equally true for someone like me, who’s been doing this for quite some time, as it is for you.

We all want to have long careers. Whenever we make a decision based on money (and we all do this sometimes and are tempted to do it a LOT of the time, because money is really, really lovely) we in some way damage our long-term career.

This is because we are getting paid more because the job is an unpleasant job, where you end up producing bad work. Life just works this way. We PAY to go to the movies or to go on holiday because it is FUN. We GET paid to give a hairy person a massage or to empty bedpans, because doing so is unpleasant.

So, chasing the money means that we end up doing bad work, and that’s bad. Trust me, I’ve done it (although not until I was 35) and it’s a bad Idea.

3. Don’t be a dick

This is easy to say and much harder to do. But the reality is that we work long hours in advertising and working long hours with dickheads is unpleasant; trust me, I’ve checked.

So, try to be nice. Which is hard. We are all secretly prima donnas.

4. Benefit of the doubt

Give each other the benefit of the doubt. Everyone you’ll work with is an ordinary human being (except for the three or four who are clearly lizard-aliens) and thus inherently a bit insecure. It’s VERY easy to imagine that the reason someone didn’t say hello or didn’t like your idea or didn’t sell your work is because they are a) evil b) hate you c) are one of the lizard-aliens mentioned earlier.

We tend to immediately leap to the most fear-based explanation for what happened. However, the reality is that there’s probably a perfectly simple explanation for what happened, and that explanation is unlikely to be that they hold a deep-seated personal grudge against us. They probably didn’t say hello because they’re shy, didn’t like our idea because it isn’t a very good idea and didn’t sell the work because, no matter how hard they tried, the client just wouldn’t buy it.

5. The smartest person you can find

When you are choosing a job (should you be lucky enough to have a choice), always take the one that you think will give you the most opportunity to spend time with the smartest person you can find. Try and find a job where you will be reporting to, and overseen by, someone who you respect and admire.

We can’t learn things from people unless they’re smarter than us. I was lucky enough to spend a ton of time with people like John Hunt, Mike Schalit and Mark Fisher. I learned more during every minute I spent with them than I did studying.

And, once you’ve got that job, fight for their time. Bash down the door. Stay late so that you can grab them before they go home. Trust me, they’ll be happy to share what they know. They’ll be happy to help you craft your proactive ideas. Happy to make your work better.

You can help them, too. As we get more senior in agencies, we spend less and less time involved in interesting creative work and more time in meetings. By staying late or getting in early so you can grab 10 minutes of their time, you are helping them spend time doing the fun stuff. They’ll be grateful. I promise. They really will. Although, occasionally, they’ll mask that gratitude by telling you to f*ck off and leave them alone.

6. Choose your battles

We need to fight to make good work. All of us, account management and creative. But it’s stupidity to pretend that EVERY brief is an opportunity to win the shiniest shiny. Lion Pencil. Some jobs just need to done quickly and neatly. If you fight too much, either a) you will lose your job b) the agency will lose the client. The opportunities for great work often lurk in the corners, under the stairs or in the cupboard where the stationery is kept and the weird person in production lives during the week.

FIND those opportunities. When it is a small project that isn’t under the intense scrutiny of the all-seeing exco, your client is far more likely to be courageous and back a brave idea. Plus they’ll be grateful that you’ve put in the time.

And this sort of project tends to have a lot more time available than the brochure that needs to be printed by Wednesday morning. Client will NOT appreciate you trying to turn that brochure into a virtual reality web-streamed interactive award-winning thingy.

7. Technology is not an idea

No matter what new tech the clever tech people come up with, our industry will always need ideas. It’s ideas that capture people’s imaginations. Technology will never replace ideas, just like a fish will never replace a bicycle.

I admit that last sentence is a bit odd. But I quite like it for some reason.

8. Have your client’s back

The one is so important that I am repeating it — have your client’s back. I think this is the most-vital piece of advice I can give you. Really. Really really.

Advertising is (much as certain people pretend that it isn’t) a business. You can’t (unless you want to spend the rest of your life doing pro-active work for the Society for the Protection of Blind Dogs with Diabetes) make work without a client.

Your clients work under intense pressure. Their jobs are tough. I couldn’t do them. I’d end up crying under my steel-and-chrome desk for 5–6 hours a day. At least. So, make their lives easier, not harder. They won’t forget that, when they were in a corner and under pressure, you were there to help.

If you have your client’s back, they will have yours. And everyone’s life will be better.

John DavenportJohn Davenport (@johndavenport72) is CCO at Havas after starting and spending 14 years at Ireland / Davenport. In his spare time he is attempting to finish a Masters Degree and writes for the Huffington Post, the Mail & Guardian and (very occasionally) Time Magazine. He also runs the Instagram account for a 1000 year old Ethiopian Coptic church built in a cave.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on MarkLives.com. Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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John Davenport: Tips from the trenches of advertising

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