I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

by James Crawley on Thursday, March 10, 2016

Big. Important. Meetings.

The advertising and marketing industry is full of them.

They’re great, aren’t they? There are whiteboards. There are lots of nodding heads and affirmative smiles. Sometimes there are sandwiches.

Everyone leaves Big Important Meetings with a feeling of accomplishment. But when the corporate snacks have digested and the impressive diagrams long since wiped away — what’s left? Was that Big Important Meeting about as useful as a firm kick to the shins?

When is the last time you were in a meeting where you had the sinking realisation that you actually had no idea what was going on? Did a barrage of acronyms get the better of you? Perhaps a particularly crunchy mouthful of chips obscured a key point?

Or, did someone with a laser pointer and a $300 haircut say something so overtly ridiculous that you thought it was part of some genius that was completely beyond you?

Did you ask the gesticulating presenter to explain? Or, did you sit quietly in the corner, picking shards of Light & Tangy Thins from between your teeth? We should stop confusing confident talkers with people who know what they’re talking about.

I was once part of a Big Important Creative Brief for a beverage brand. A senior strategist with jeans tight enough to end his lineage had taken the floor. He launched into an extremely complicated overview of the challenges faced by the brand — I was instantly in over my head. Looking around the room I saw a number of sharply dressed creatives nodding along — scribbling notes and leaning forward attentively. Clearly I was the only one in the room without a clue. Fearing a severe case of egg-on-face I kept my mouth shut, and my hand down.
Over lunch, I asked one of the other creatives for the layman’s version of the brief. I was surprised when no answer was forthcoming. A beer later and my constant nagging won through — he’d completely lost track about 5 minutes in, and was too embarrassed to admit it.

Speaking to everyone individually, I heard similar stories — not a single one of my peers got anything out of the brief — except for the guy furiously scribbling ‘notes’. He had used his award-winning creative mind to draw an exceptionally lifelike unicorn with a particularly phallic magical horn.
And you know what? We all do it.

In an industry that prides itself on staying ‘current’ — it seems we’re all petrified of admitting ignorance. It’s this kind of inaction, this passive dishonesty that makes advertising agencies look disorganised — and it kills clients. After all, how can you possibly give your client great work — when you can’t make sense of your own Big Important Meetings?

Imagine paying an agency thousands of dollars to generate creative and strategy, and realising that all the work is based on an incorrect interpretation of the brief. Imagine wasting weeks of work because the simple questions were never asked — Is this actually the right audience? Is a Saint Bernard in leggings really representative of middle Australia? Is this really going to fix a problem?
People in the advertising and marketing industry must stop blindly assuming that everyone knows what they’re doing. Next time you’re faced with a table-full of snacks and a Big Important Meeting — suck it up and stop finding reasons to stay quiet. Ask the blatantly obvious. Ask the presenter to explain it with single syllable words. Ask them to talk to you as if you were the work experience kid or a Labrador. Force the important people in the room to stop hiding behind their acronyms and their expensive glasses. Stop assuming the basic stuff has been taken care of. Question the basic bits and interrogate everything else. Be honest with yourself and ask some questions.

If you don’t — your client will.

About the Author

James Crawley is a creative and Co-Founder of Common Ventures — a full-service strategic and creative agency.