There Are No Excuses

Years ago, Jim Mountjoy, Paul Decker, and John Lyons were judges at our local Addy awards. After the judging was completed, Mountjoy and Decker were kind enough to hold a workshop for local ad folks. We had a lot of attendees. Nowadays, I doubt that we would. But that day we did. In fact, I’d wager that most people around here wouldn’t even recognize their names… If you’re a creative and you don’t know who they are, you should. Google them.

I remember the first thing Mountjoy said that day:

“There are no excuses.”

Typically, the first thing a prospect says when looking at their portfolio is an excuse for why it wasn’t the best they could do.

Professionals do the same thing. “We didn’t have the budget to execute this the way we really needed to”… “I didn’t have time to come up with anything better”… “the client didn’t get it…” etc.

Not having a big budget is no excuse. Some of the best advertising I’ve seen was done on a shoestring budget. Early in my career, copywriter Tal McNeill and I figured out a way to put little yellow power ties on white chickens for a banking TV spot. We shot it after hours because the studio was booked during the day. My wife and her mom made the ties, we got the chickens for free. It was a low budget spot that won a Gold Addy.

I once needed a way to increase choir attendance at a small church. So I created a poster and called in a favor from a local printer. The poster was an engraving of Angels casting demons into hell, and the headline was “If God Judged Us For Our Singing, We’d All Be In Trouble.” I had no budget at all. Another Gold Addy.

A coworker was cleaning out her office and ran across an old issue of our local business journal from January 1995. I remember thinking most of the ads were kind of average back then. But compared to the stuff I see now, everything in there was good. A couple of ads were great.

Oh, there’s still great advertising going on. A lot of it is being done in-house by Nike, Apple, Spotify. As long as agencies hire people who are both talented and ambitious, there will be great work: Goody Silverstein, Crispin Porter, Weiden & Kennedy, Publicis, DDB, Ogilvy, JWT, Richards Group, Boone Oakley, Wolff Olins.

BUT there are a lot of agencies or freelancers that you probably never heard of. Adam and Eve DDB, Jung von Matt AG, Duncan Channon, Brand+Aid, Giant Spoon… who ARE these people? For me, it’s like watching the American Music Awards. They’re doing really great work—how come I never heard of ‘em?

To be sure, it’s tougher now, especially for smaller firms. Time was, the main source of revenue was through media buys. Now, media outlets have a staff of creatives who do the work for free just so they can get the media. It takes a savvy advertiser to see the value in choosing an agency. The agency model ain’t what it used to be.

Now when it’s more about Cost Per Clicks, impressions, click-throughs, and how many keywords can we shoehorn into an H1 tag… Seems like clients care more about this than making the cash register ring.

To add insult to injury, sometimes a client will have an agency or design studio build a site for them and train them how to maintain it. A big message nowadays is “you don’t need to hire an expensive advertising agency; we have the software that will enable you to do it yourself.” And then there’s this BLIGHT called “explainer videos”. But they seem to be moving out of vogue. So that’s good.

Yeah, it’s tough. It’s not easy to do good work. Great work takes a herculean effort. But hey, if it were easy, ANYBODY could do it.

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