Emerging from the Maze

“My words are my pearls!” -Steffan Postaer
It’s refreshing to see a well known Executive Creative Director speak freely about the creative process and how fraught with humanity it is.

Coming up in the creative ranks at Leo Burnett my partner(s) and I had to compete with any number of teams looking for the same outcome: the agency’s recommendation. And then it was the client’s turn to debate and decide. This process was and is a brutal tournament. The odds are almost always against you. Even the best of us lose more than we win.
It’s a humbling journey necessarily fraught with politics.
Maybe the creative director has somehow seen his work rise to the top…again…at the expense of your work…again. It’s called cherry picking.
Maybe the client is predisposed to buying junk work and the agency, craving revenue, is obliged to give it to them. The cheesy “B” team is more than happy to provide. The copywriter has his eye on a new bass boat. The art director wants her kids in the British school. They know pleasing the client equals pleasing bonuses. Your brilliant work is left to rot behind the dead plant in your office.
My favorite culprit: the brilliant presenter who gets the nod even though her work is undeserving. Your campaign is superior but Kimmy is a better dancer. I’ve been on both sides of this one.

I’m not sure why creating ads is “necessarily fraught with politics.”
One thing I say on the job a lot is “Let’s not make this difficult.”
At its purest, making ads is hard but it never needs to be difficult. That is, it’s hard to find the perfect expression of a brand’s best attributes. But it’s difficult to put up with all the internal and client-side bullshit. The more you can quiet the noise, the better you can concentrate and consistently deliver your best work. As a creative director, I feel like it’s my job to quiet the bullshit (to the best of my ability) for the benefit of my team.



About David Burn

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. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.