Creatives don’t understand selling

Mike Greenlees used to tell me he hated presenting ads with
creatives in the room.

He said one of the worst to present ads with was David

I asked him why.

David Abbott was one of the best creatives there’s been:
intelligent, rational, charming, and fast.

Mike said, exactly, that was the problem.

The better the creative in fact, the worse it was to have
them in the room.

Because they were good at doing ads.

So they thought the answer to everything was to do an ad.

Mike said he’d go to present some ads with David Abbott.

The client would naturally have some comments.

He’d be asking why the ad was a certain way and why couldn’t
it be slightly different.

Mike would be in the middle of explaining why it had to be
that way it was.

Then, behind him, he’d hear SQUEAKY SQUEAKY SQUEAK.

And, just as Mike had finished his argument about why the ad
they’d presented was absolutely right, David Abbott would hold up a new ad he’d
just drawn on a layout pad.

And he’d say, “How about
this? This could work.”

And David had actually done a better ad, right there in
front of the client.

Now from a creative’s view I’m thinking “Result”.

But Mike Greenlees said they could have sold the original ad
if he’d waited.

And worse, from an account man’s view, it undermined
anything Mike would tell the client about ads in the future.

So, when Mike would subsequently be arguing why the ad had
to be the way it was, the client could say, “But David Abbott rewrites ads really fast, and they often turn out

Mike said creatives knew a lot about making ads.

But they didn’t understand selling ads.

They thought everything could be solved by doing a new ad.

Because what creatives did was solve problems.

And that the best people were the fastest people.

That’s not surprising really.

In football, boxing, war, business, speed of response is
often what wins.

The counter-attack, counter-punch, counter offer.

Turning the situation quickly to an advantage.

Nip any problems in the bud, before it can develop.

Or respond with a better answer to the new problem.

See that’s what good creatives do, solve problems.

The better the creative the quicker they solve it.

Spotting a creative way to solve a problem is nearly

Solving a problem more creatively, and faster than anyone

Well that’s what we’re paid for isn’t it?

And, inside the creative department, that’s true.

But there’s another kind of creativity.

Account handling.

It’s not necessarily about winning an argument.

It’s about getting the result you want.

And that’s a lot more to do with feeling a situation than
winning an argument.

That’s to do with empathy rather than logic.

Mike used to depend on what he called his “account man’s

Being a creative and a bloke, I didn’t have this empathy.

All I had was straight logic, reasoning.

All I understood was words.

What someone said,
not how they said it.

So, when I’d ask a client “Do you like this ad?”

And they’d say, “Well,
ye-ee-es, sort of, I suppose.”

What I heard was “Yes”
they like the ad.


But what Mike Greenlees heard was “No, not really” they didn’t like the ad.

Similarly, when selling an ad, a client might say “I’ve got a problem with this particular part

So I’d say “We can
fix that, how about if we did this….”

Whereas Mike would listen, empathise, let it sink in, talk
about it, and see if that really was the problem.

Feel what the client actually meant instead of just what
they said.

Maybe the bit I was responding to wasn’t even the real
problem at all.

Maybe the client had another worry that they weren’t

Or maybe there wasn’t really a problem at all, and the
client was just gradually talking themself into the ad.

Either way, what the account man didn’t need at that point
was a creative constantly changing the ad.

This could distract the client.

It might make them feel we had no confidence in the ad.

It might make the creative process seem really easy and

See, as creatives, we see our audience as the people who are
going to buy the product.

That’s all we care about.

We don’t see our audience as the client.

The person who’s got to buy the ad, and find the money to
run it.

The person whose job may be riding on that ad.

But that’s the account man’s audience.

And that’s why Mike Greenlees didn’t like creatives in the
room when he was doing his job.

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    I’ve yet to meet the Homosap who didn’t experience profound joy by having me in the room – Grilla has lain by the door and draft-excluded for the best.

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    David Abbott conversing in rodent at the same time as knocking out an award-winner… Whatta guy!

    + having the cajones to lay beneath a two-ton Volvo to back up his copy claims about the car’s welding, pure class.

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    The role of an account man is redundant, perhaps the recession will force agencies and clients to look more closely at this. The entire project management process can be done by the project managers who are comfortable dealing with clients. This is being reflected by the number of agencies integrating Accout Management and Project Management departments. Selling work should be done by creatives who are given additional training in how to sell – i.e. knowing when to push back on client comments and how to build an argument. They are always going to do a better job of selling something they themselves crafted than a 3rd party account person…as long as they taught how to.

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    Get the creatives to do everything!

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    John W, getting the customer to do it for you is the new game in town.

    Andy, how does one Headhunt the general public?

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    The attitude creatives wanna have is ‘Telling’s not selling’.
    Either you sell them what you are selling or they sell you an excuse.

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    i think a lot of creatives are more than capable of selling work, tho it’s useful to be briefed about ‘the clients’ before we meet them. tho i think it’s more about finding a common ground and building a dialogue on that, rather than ‘telling’. the ‘art of listening then selling’ is one of the most useful things a person can learn in their life. Mr Eskimo, now i know you’ve already got a lot of snow, but hey, with global warming and all that, you can’t be too careful now can you?

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    Leeds United 1 Man Distributed 0
    Forget size.
    It’s all about teamwork.

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    Jane, I’m not sure I am agree regarding finding common ground. I believe its should be a case of clients respecting the experts (the agency) and their opinions. In the 70s/80s (so i am told) agencies would put up and clients would shut up and listen because we were treated as experts that might know a little more about producing effective communication than the client who is often too close to the product / service to see the wood for the trees.

    As for headhunting the general public Grilla…hmm…I am a specialist not a generalist! But in any case, haven’t we been doing that in the form of providing ‘every(wo)man’ brand spokespeople representing brands on behalf of the general public for quite some time?

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    I’m with Dave and Mike on this one. I’ve just seen a creative try to create and sell because logic told him it can’t be that hard and all the client wants is great ads. So, like David he produced great ads in a flash. In front of the client too. Now he’s an ad monkey churning out ads, making no money, being squeezed on price and getting very tired. Horses for courses, I say.

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    An ad monkey?!

  • We all sell ads. We sell ads that sell stuff. It’s worrying if a creative doesn’t understand the process that is selling, whether its creating an ad, or in a room holding an ad.

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    Saman and Kevin you’re right. Grilla, you’re very cute when you’re angry.

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    I can understand why Mike Greenlees didn’t like having creatives in the room when he was selling. Many creatives don’t like account handlers leaning over their shoulders as they put ads together. You know, the voice from behind…

    ‘ A little to the left, a little to the right, that’s too much, no, oh it’s all a mess now.”

    ‘So what do you suggest?’

    $64,000,000 answer: “I don’t know…. you’re the creative,… not me.”

    People need space.
    Grillas need mist.
    We all need space.

  • Hi Dave,
    I can sympathise with Mike Greenlees.
    If you’re as good, as I’m sure he is, maybe a creative in the room won’t help.
    But what if you’re in an agency where the account handlers aren’t as good as Mike?

    When Rob and I first started at Leo Burnett we struggled to get any work out.
    We certainly put the hours in, we were happy with the work and it all seemed to be on brief.
    Our Creative Director (Nick Bell) also liked the work.
    The problem seemed to be at the point where the work was being presented to the client.
    In fact, we reckoned that only 20% of the ideas that were making it to client were going into production.
    That seemed a bit too low for us.
    So we asked Nick if he minded us going along to the meetings.
    He was fine with it, and along we went.
    Over the next four years we saw our strike rate improve to about 75%.
    I haven’t got any revealing insights as to why this happened.

    Maybe we presented the ideas better because we had written them?
    Maybe we fought that little bit harder?
    Maybe, because the account handlers knew that we were going to be in the meeting, made them try a bit harder?
    Or maybe, just the act of a creative team turning up to a meeting in the first place says something about their belief in the idea?

    I’m really not sure but I’m glad that we went.

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    I agree Jack.
    You have to do what works.
    If you have a great account man, it makes sense to get out of his way.
    But if you get a better result selling your own work, you’d be nuts not to.

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    I believe creatives are all too often wheeled in for the client to meet the ‘arty’ person! If a creative has a true passion for his/her idea, then I believe the power of the sell, and the potential running of a great idea, is greatly increased. I must confess, I am all for sending our creatives with the account team.

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    Hi Mip,
    I know creatives always think they can sell their own ads better.
    That’s why I’ve always had the rule that if any work goes to the client the person that did it is entitled to be there.
    That way they don’t get to grumble if it can’t be sold.
    My personal view is that I like to watch the account man in action, to see if I trust him or her to do it better than me.
    If I trust them I don’t need to go along, if I don’t trust them then I have to.

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    I never saw you as Jack Charlton, Dave.

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    Pitching is a massive investment of people’s time and money.
    If a pitch goes wrong, nobody is grateful.
    There is only one goal.
    TO WIN.

    Football’s a lovely analogy for Advertising because you get the teams that win by kicking opponents and you get the teams that win by skill. But there’s also the snooker team as Dave mentioned before. The team that unhinges the biggest and the best by creating chaos for the opposition.

    Skill or no skill, that’s usually the team that wins because they create the unexpected from nothing in the closing seconds of the game.

    Great account men have brilliant timing.
    They know when and how to close the deal completely.
    They act ahead of the client’s thoughts.

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    My point exactly Kevin.
    Creatives sell in mass media.
    Account men sell one-to-one.
    That’s not my skill.

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    I’ve often been in situations when creatives are constantly “depended” on to sell ads. In fact, account teams actually Think that that’s THE CREATIVES’ job. And all the suit is required to do is take notes (and they sometimes don’t even do that! Go figure!).

    Fortunately, I’ve also been in presentations when the account handlers (too few and far between) and creatives work so good as a team, we kicked balls of “doubts and concerns” like tag-team soccer players, kicked ass (as some would say) and SCORE!

    So, I won’t go so far to say that creatives don’t understand selling. I do agree that some creatives believe that that’s not even their job, nor their advertisings’ responsibility to do so in the first place! (Show me a creative that’s hired for his/her selling instead of the amount of awards they have (real or not…))

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    I find the stereotyping and general pigeonholing of a ‘creative’ slightly insulting. There is a mis-conception that those who work with creative don’t understand business.

    In your example what Dave Abbot did was unprofessional, not all creatives react that way and a lot understand the subtle art of selling a design, an integral to being a succesful creative is the ability to ‘sell’ an idea.

    You get better results when designers are allowed face time with clients to present their ideas. They get a feel for the client, can nail down specifics, and ask questions that an account handler may not. This cuts down on the number of amends, saving time (and money). If only an account handler is present then a game of chinese whispers can ensue