Years back at BMP I was interviewing an art director.

It started badly.

She pulled six ads out of her book for Stanley tools.

They were beautifully shot by David Thorpe, high contrast, the tools looked great.

I said, “That’s one ad, where’s the rest.”

She said, “That’s not one ad, that’s six ads.”

I said, “It’s six photographs, but they’ve all got the same headline on: so that’s one ad.”

She said, “Don’t be ridiculous, how can that be one ad?”

I said, “The same headline done six times doesn’t make it six different ads.”

The interview started badly and went downhill from there.

I said, “What are you earning?”

She told me.

I said, “Well we can only pay half of that.”

She said, “Half, why?”

I said, “Well, for an art director that does the same headline on six different photographs.”

She walked out, and that was that.

Except about six months later John Webster saw some of her work and asked her to come in for an interview.

But by now she already had a job, working for David Abbott.

So she said, “No thank you. I don’t want to work at BMP if everyone’s as rude as Dave Trott.”

So that was that.

Except we met again, socially, about a year later.

Outside work we got on really well.

In fact we’ve been married thirty years now.


How does that work?

Inside work: a huge argument, outside work: a lifetime relationship?

The answer is, it’s a different brief.

For me, the requirements for an art director are different to the requirements for a wife.

The brief for an art director is someone who’s going to help me do better ads.

That’s it.

We don’t have to hold hands, or be friends, we don’t have to socialise, we don’t even have to like each other.

None of those things are wrong, they’re just not the brief.

The brief isn’t about looking for someone you like.

The brief is all about the work.

But when I’m looking for a life partner, that’s not the brief at all.

In fact it’s the exact opposite.

Here the brief is all about everything that the other brief wasn’t about.

Someone who’s going to make me happy, someone who I do want to spend all my time outside work with.

Someone I find attractive and exciting.

Totally different brief.

And that’s the way it is in real life.

All the time we have totally different briefs that require totally different solutions.

And yet, in advertising, we think every single problem can only ever have one type of brief.

That’s why every agency has one type of briefing form.

And every problem gets shoe-horned into that template.

And every answer looks the same.

As they say, “When the only tool you’ve got is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.”