Let’s face it: fame (for lack of a better word) is important in advertising. From the people to the work itself, it’s good to be known, to be noticed. It can happen at any time, even overnight. Fame is part of what makes advertising glamorous and cool. And if you can acquire a small bit for yourself within the industry or even outside it (without letting it go to your head of course), so much the cooler.
The trouble comes in though, when our industry’s fame obsession becomes so important to you personally that —despite being the sincere, honest, hard-working, non-douchebag you are—you actually begin to think you must not be very talented simply because you aren’t famous. Well, if you can relate to that, then I’m here to say, fear not. Because the longer I work in this business, and the more extremely talented people I meet—people I’d never heard of until meeting them—the more I believe the following to be true: the only difference between famous creatives and you is that more of their best ideas have been produced.
That may sound beyond obvious, like saying the only difference between you and rich people is that they have more money, but stick with me for a minute. And no, I don’t mean we’re all equally talented in some lame, “we’re all winners”, New-Agey kind of way. Nor is this meant as a cop out or an excuse for being lazy when things don’t go your way.
What it does mean though, for the vast majority of us, is this:
From project to project, everyone has their share of bad ideas, good ideas and great ones. Which means that (assuming you have enough talent to be remotely respected by your peers) at one point or another you yourself have had more than a few ideas that are exactly the kind of award-winning, attention-getting, career catapulting ads every creative dreams of. Exactly the same as the famous folks.
The only difference? Theirs actually happened. And yours didn’t.
And yes, while a TV spot (or digital idea, or radio spot) NOT happening is technically bad news, the realization that production is really the only difference between you and someone else whose career is going gangbusters is very good news indeed.
Because it points out the role that luck plays once all the hard work is done. Even if you work at Awesomeness Inc. and your boss is Wacky McWackypants: Ad Genius and you’re his star underling, you still need the planets to line up a bit for your idea to happen. Budgets shrink or disappear. Celebrity endorsers get arrested. Hurricanes cancel shoots. Trust me, luck matters, no matter who you are. I love The Fountainhead as much as the next self-centered capitalist, but anyone who denies the powerful role that being in the right place at the right time can play in our lives is living in a dream world and probably reads way too much of their own press.
This realization should also remind you how important perseverance is in the grand scheme of things. And that to survive in this business, you must learn to enjoy playing the game as much as winning the game, for the attempt itself is the only part that is truly guaranteed. Lastly, it should remove self-doubt, or at least minimize it a bit during those times when you feel like you just can’t catch a break.
Also, notice I said “BEST ideas produced” not “MOST ideas produced”. If quantity were all that mattered, the lead creatives on every laundry detergent account in the land would be household names. (Yes, some creatives do ascribe to the “produce at all costs” theory on every assignment they work on, the assumption being that shooting a crappy spot is better than shooting no spot at all, I guess. Or that being out on production as often as possible will somehow eventually result in a great spot by sheer frequency of attempts, the blind pig finding a truffle theory, etc. And I guess maybe it’s happened once or twice, but is that really how you want to spend your time? Besides, no one really looks up to the one-hit-wonder guys anyway.)
So chin up, non-famous-yet-still-talented friends. Your time will come. Until then, don’t let the next profile you read in the trades about some hot creative team get you down. Assuming you’ve got the right attitude, the only difference between them and you is a signed production estimate.