Years back, when I was a young writer at BMP, John Webster said, “The difference between you and me is that you’re a gifted amateur and I’m a professional.”
I asked him what that meant.
He said, “At the end of the day, you’ll come out of the office with something brilliant or nothing. I’ll come out of the office with something brilliant, or something usable.”
When John said that it was like a light going on in my head.
I got what he meant.
This isn’t art, this is business.
At it’s best it should be a beautiful and inspiring business.
But it is a business.
The previous time I had a light go off in my head was at art school.
I’d moved from Fine Art to Graphic Design because I couldn’t stand the subjectivity of the art establishment.
The only way you knew if anything was any good was if the little clique of art critics said it was good.
Then it was recognised as good by everyone else.
I hated that.
Their guiding principle was Form Follows Function.
Get that: Form Follows Function.
You can tell how good a piece of design is by how well it does the job it’s supposed to do.
It’s not just a subjective collection of pretty shapes to please a bunch of influential critics.
This formula transferred perfectly to the job we do in advertising.
You could bypass the little clique of so-called experts.
You could go straight to the 55 million consumers in the streets and houses of the UK.
Did what we did work for them?
Did they repeat your strapline, tell someone about your joke, sing your song, buy your soundtrack, or use your mnemonic in conversation?
Because if they did, every time they did it was a free OTS.
Media you weren’t paying for.
And all our arguments could be settled objectively, by reason and logic against measurable targets.
Not just by the subjective feelings of a small, vocal, influential group.
Of course, having said that, the criteria differ for some of us.
For a lot of us the target isn’t the 55 million consumers in the street.
It’s the awards juries.
The target isn’t free media, or increased sales, or anything to do with the world outside advertising.
The target is awards.
Because, if you work for an international conglomerate, you have to stand up and present your agency’s work against all the other agencies from all over the world.
And how your performance will be measured is by how many awards you’ve won.
The person who’s won the most awards must be the best ECD, right?
Isn’t that why everyone cares about Cannes?
For me this takes what we do right back to the dictatorship of a critical elite that exists in the fine art world.
But that’s just me.
I don’t have to satisfy the board at an international conglomerate.
For me, I just have to satisfy a milkman in Leeds, a housewife in Newcastle, and a schoolboy in London.
That’s another thing I learnt from John Webster.