Honor The Creative Process. Damn The Outcome.

Mark Fenske teaches advertising in the graduate program at VCU in Richmond. He used to keep a sketch book, or what he calls a workbook. Here’s a page from his workbook:
Here’s some text from Fenske’s blog entry about workbooks:

The job of a copywriter or art director isn’t fun and it isn’t easy. Jackasses often get the final say about whether our work runs or is even presented to a small group of people. Genuine hacks often are given free rein to edit our work. There is no honor in the advertising business. Although you cannot create high level work without approaching it as an artist, you will not find yourself treated as an artist. In short, you will not be able to love the job of advertising copywriter or art director as you would like to. Do not fear. Your desire is not muted. Only misdirected.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. The typography speaks volumes.

  2. I don’t get this. I never will get this. I am proud of the fact I don’t get it. Look, advertising is not art. Advertising is weaponry in a battle for market share. If creativity helps me gain more share fine. If not then it is wasted sword motion. If you want to create art, if you want to be an artiste then get out of advertising and go be an artist. Write a screenplay, write a novel, go make another award winning music video but get the fuck out of advertising. God forbid if you work for me and try to create an ad without the strategy or regards for the outcome. More here:

  3. Thanks for the comment Mike and the pointer to your blog.
    I’m a huge fan of working from a strategy, so I differ from Fenske there. As for his point about jackasses and hacks preventing great work from being born, I couldn’t agree more with that particular insight.

  4. Hi David,
    The definition of jackasses and hacks is dependent upon your point of view. Management certainly doesn’t hold a monoply on these folks. I have seen more than a few campaigns derailed because of the jackasses and hacks on the creative side.

  5. Certainly. I don’t know about Fenske, but I’m speaking of the jackasses and hacks on both sides of the conference room table.
    Jackasses are jackasses and there’s really nothing to say about them. Hacks, on the other hand, are often well-intentioned. That’s where it gets tricky.

  6. Good creative companies vs. bad creative companies. Not everyone with bars on their shoulders is a hack, fortunately. 🙂
    That being said, being creative for the sake of being creative doesn’t always serve the client’s needs. Creatives need to understand and work within the context of their client’s brand or intent. (‘Context’, not ‘confines’.)
    I agree that advertising at its best is an artform, but it’s art with a commercial purpose. That can be… limiting, sometimes.
    Good work can also be done in defiance of your competition.
    Great post. 🙂

  7. Shakespeare was art with a commercial purpose.

  8. I wouldn’t characterize Fenske’s comments as being anti-strategic advertising. what i read from his comments is that advertising is an idea business. and often your best, smartest ideas will be diluted, picked at, and trampeled-upon by people who are at best, not understanding their target or at worst, completely unqualified to hold their position.
    secondly, a creative ad that’s not strategic is not a good ad, no matter how fantastically creative it is. but a strategic ad made without creative insights or execution is runs the risk of not being noticed or remembered, and won’t do anything to build relationships between the target and the brand.
    some advertising superstar of times past, whom i’m forgetting the name of, said something like smart creative maximizes your marketing dollar.