When I was at art school in New York, I knew a guy who was there on The GI Bill of Rights.
This meant he served his time in the armed forces, so Uncle Sam paid for him to go to college.
This guy had been a lieutenant in Vietnam.
He told me they had a really high mortality rate amongst Lieutenants.
One of the main reasons for this was ‘fragging’.
Fragging wasn’t enemy action.
It was your own troops.
What would happen is this.
A really gung-ho lieutenant would arrive from the States.
He’d be desperate to prove himself and he’d pick all the most dangerous missions for himself and his men.
Obviously the men didn’t like this.
The troops were all enlisted men and only had to survive their two-year stint.
They weren’t going to do this by taking unnecessary risks.
So they gave him a warning.
When he pulled the blankets off his bed that night, there would be a fragmentation grenade lying there.
As this was only a warning, the pin would still be in it.
So it wouldn’t explode.
Of course, if he ignored the warning, the next time it wouldn’t have the pin in.
So the only thing stopping it exploding was the weight of the blanket.
And when he flipped the blanket back he, and the evidence, would disappear.
Of course, that only happened to lieutenants who didn’t listen to the warning.
But it did happen.
I think that’s the most important thing about warnings.
Don’t make any that you aren’t prepared to carry out.
Otherwise, the very first time you make a threat and don’t follow through, everyone knows your threats are always empty.
Far better to think first.
If you threaten something, are you really prepared to carry it out?
I watched one of my son’s friends and his father once.
We were picking the two boys up from a bowling alley.
The boys asked us for some money to play the video games.
Both of us said the same thing.
“Okay, here’s £2 but that’s it.”
Both the boys came back when they’d spent it.
The other son said, “Dad, can I have some more.”
The father said, “Okay, another £2, but that’s it.”
He went away and came back, “Dad, can I have another £2.”
The father said, “You’ve already had £4.”
The son said “Please.”
The father said, “Okay but this is definitely the last.”
The son went away and came back for more.
The father gave him another £2 and said, “This is the last time, I really mean it.”
When my son and I left it was still going on.
What the father had trained the son to do was ignore what he said.
When he said no, it didn’t mean no.
It meant pester me and I’ll give in.
So that was their communication.
That’s why account men think all creatives are drama-queens.
Constantly making threats they don’t mean.
So it just comes across as whining.
Threatening not to work on the account.
Threatening not to make the changes to the script.
Threatening not to go on the shoot.
Threatening to let the account man edit the commercial himself.
Threatening to resign the business.
They aren’t going to do any of those things.
Everyone knows it.
So all they do by saying it, is train the account men to ignore them.
Isn’t it better to only make threats you’re prepared to carry out?
Like calling the client yourself, say.
Think first, would you do it?
If you would then it’s okay to threaten it.
Or leave and get another job?
Do you mean it?
If so it’s okay to threaten it.
That way everyone, including you, knows you mean what you say.
One warning, then you carry out the threat.
Which is why the threat has power.
Imagine if the officer opened the covers on his bed and there was a fragmentation grenade with the pin it.
Then the next night the same thing.
Then the next night the same thing.
After a week or so, it wouldn’t even be a threat.
Just an irritation.
Someone has to know when you say something you mean it.
Otherwise don’t say it.
Think of it as truth in advertising.