When I was at BMP, I used to play snooker in the pub at lunchtime with my art director Dave Christensen.
Dave wasn’t a very spectacular snooker player.
He mainly played safe shots.
But he usually beat me.
In fact he beat me because he wasn’t spectacular.
See, I always wanted to play like ‘Hurricane’ Higgins.
Walking around the table potting the longest, most difficult shots.
Whacking the ball so hard there was a really satisfying thump when it went in.
But the more difficult shots are more difficult for a reason.
They’re more difficult.
So I didn’t get so many.
Dave took his time, went for the easy shots.
Lined them up carefully and hit the ball just hard enough to plop gently into the pocket.
So Dave won more often than I did.
Dave said, “Your problem is you’re not really playing to win. You just enjoy sinking the balls.”
When my shots came off they were great.
But you don’t get extra point for great shots.
A red is still just one point, whether it’s spectacular or easy.
The difference was, Dave was playing like a creative director and I was just playing like a creative.
He was seeing the big picture: winning the game.
All I was looking at was the individual shot.
I’d rather risk a spectacular shot and fail, than win by taking dull shots.
That’s a great attitude when you’re a copywriter or an art director.
It may not be the right attitude when you’re a creative director.
For a creative, the individual shot is the ad.
For a creative director, the game is the account.
And if you lose the account, no one gets paid.
In fact, lose enough accounts and you don’t have an agency.
So it comes down to priorities.
For a writer or art director the priority is always to do good ads.
That’s their job that’s what they’re paid for.
They don’t want to do a bad ad just to hold an account.
They’re not management.
They’re not paid to make decisions like that.
And they can’t put a bad ad in their portfolio.
The creative director on the other hand, is part of management.
That is his job.
And sometimes that might mean doing a dull, unspectacular ad.
Something that will keep the account.
In the old days, Saatchi always had a principle.
“We’ve either got to be making money on an account or doing great work on it. If we’re not doing either, we don’t want it.”
So there it is.
Some accounts you do great work on.
Some accounts you make money on.
But a lot of creatives don’t see it that way.
They think they should only ever be doing great work on everything, all the time.
But what if you can’t?
Those same creatives still want paying.
And the agency can’t pay the creatives if the client won’t pay the agency.
And the client won’t pay the agency if they don’t run the ads.
And they won’t run the ads if they don’t like the ads.
And that’s the truth.
The job isn’t always just about doing great ads.
It isn’t even always about doing ads that you believe will sell product.
Sometimes, sadly, we have to accept it’s about doing ads that the client likes.
Because, sometimes, that’s what keeps the account at the agency.
And that keeps the agency in the game.
And you can’t do great ads if you’re not in the game.
John Webster once explained it to me as the difference between a gifted amateur and a professional.
He said, “At the end of the day the gifted amateur comes out of their office with something great, or nothing.
The professional comes out of their office with something great, or something.”
Sometimes you get a chance to sink a spectacular shot.
But sometimes you have to win by playing a safety shot.