You Birth It, You Raise It

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Anyone who reads my posts knows a few things about me. First, and foremost, I’m an annoying cunt (and I don’t use that word lightly) who has his fair share of lovers and haters. Mostly haters, but as regular readers also know, I don’t really give a shit.

Second, I have this tendency to swear too much. God knows I’m trying to hold back these days, but sometimes only a fuck will do. Third, I am extremely passionate about a lot of subjects related to advertising (and some that aren’t…guns, for instance). And fourth, I am (for the most part) a copywriter by trade.

So, now that’s all out of the way, what’s this about?

Well, it all comes down to something that has grown from a small problem into an epidemic. It happens when money is tight, but that’s generally not much of an excuse. It also happens when certain people within agencies are shortsighted, which is way more prevalent. And it usually happens when those with power abuse it for their own gain.

As I elucidate, copywriters will no doubt be nodding their heads along with this most of the time. Art directors and designers, hopefully you’re nodding in solidarity. Everyone else, who the hell knows.

What I’m talking about is a simple premise. Those who create the ideas, or give birth to them, should be instrumental in their development. Or, to put it another way, the copywriters have just as much right to develop their ideas as the art directors and designers do.

Easy enough to grasp, I think. But it doesn’t happen as often as it should.

The problem is one of perception and reality. A lot of people wrongly think that copywriters do the words and art directors do the pretty pictures. That’s a complete fallacy, as you savvy Egotist readers already know. In fact, it often happens in reverse.

Usually it's a collaborative effort of some kind. Sometimes the writer takes it from inception to sketches to presentation, without the help of an art director or designer. I know. I do it often.

Copywriters, in my humble experience, dig a little deeper when researching most projects — and with good reason. If you’re about to write an ad about investment funds, or a TV or radio script about the benefits of a certain medicine, you’d better know your shit.

I remember sitting in the office at 11pm one night writing copy for a 48-page brochure on savings accounts. The art director had left at 5pm to get drunk. But it all balanced out when he disappeared on a four-day shoot across the country for the brochure, and I got to sit in the office and write radio scripts until midnight. Awesome.

If this had only happened to me, it would be a case of pissy sour grapes. And I’m sure some of you will point that out. But I have many copywriter friends, in many countries, and they all have the same stories. When it’s time to think, writers are flavor of the month. Everyone depends on them and their ideas. When it’s time to execute the ideas, writers get the big veiny shaft.

Now, if a copywriter works his or her ass off on a TV script, should that writer be at the shoot to ensure their vision comes to fruition? I would say so. Look at the number of screenwriters who are right there alongside the directors making sure the scene is just what they had planned. And there are business reasons and advantages in having a writer on set. Any last minute changes can be penned on the spot, instead of going back and forth through emails (and faxes…yes, faxes) and phone calls.

If the agency can trust the copywriters to create these ideas, why can’t it trust them to be there when it’s time to execute them? Does a copywriter know as much about production as an art director? Maybe. Maybe not. But the biggest catch-22 every copywriter faces is this one:

You can’t go on the shoot because you don’t have enough experience.
You can’t get good experience until you go on the goddamned shoot.

This one is a real mindfuck for most of us.

“Hey, my workload’s not too bad today. I’d love to come along and help direct the shoot that’s for my (fucking) idea.”

“Yeah, sorry, we really can’t spend extra money sending you there, especially as you have so little experience on shoots. Why not stay here and rattle off this shit brief for the client everyone hates working on? We’ll be unreachable after four unless you call the local titty bar. See ya, buttmunch.”

See, going on shoots is not just about gaining work experience, it’s a perk of the job. All creatives got into advertising to create. To sketch an idea and see it come to life. And that exciting part – the part that goes from sketch to reality – happens outside of the office on sets, locations, model making workshops and recording studios. We, ask copywriters, have every right to be there. And yet we account managers and their fucking fiancés will get an invite before we do.

Am I pissed off? Yep. Do I have a right? I think so, you may not. But here’s the truth of the matter. The agency will not grow if you don’t let the employees grow. Keeping some of them chained to the desk day and night will only help them grow more and more annoyed about a system that rewards only a select few.

Felix is a site contributor, ranter and curmudgeon for The Denver Egotist. He’s been in the ad game a long time, but he’s still young enough to know he doesn’t know everything. If he uses the f-bomb from time-to-time, forgive him. Sometimes, when you're ranting, no other word will do. In his spare time, he does not torture small animals. He's been known, on occasion, to drink alcohol by the gallon. Do as he says, not as he does.

Comments

I'm totally with you.
I have one request though.
If I'm leaving for a 5-day shoot in Cancún, don't say:

"Have fun in Mexico!"

I may reply with one of your colorful phrases.
"Argo"

And all across Denver, copywriters are standing up in revolution. Here here.

Felix!

Glad to have you back man. I missed these.

Also, I couldn't agree more. I've been lucky. I worked at firms hat valued creative development. But you know what? Now that I'm running a department, I think I might be neglecting my content creators. Sometimes it's easy to forget the people who create the ideas when you get lost in endless meetings and productivity reports.

Thank you for bringing this topic up. It's time I get my copy team more involved.

actually one of the first times I agree with you. concept = execution (if it is to be done well) it's best to have the original creative's idea involved rather than play a version of whisper down the lane that dulls the concept in the long run. IMO having the original creatives on set for a shoot is just as important as having a director that knows the limitations in which they are working.

dont give directors so much credit
there are some great ones but there are just as many bad ones who hide behind and ride the dp, editor, and of course your brilliant idea. The bad ones -
Who dont have an inkling of what they are doing when they step onto a location, who havent done their research, and are hired to put their greasy fingers on something that has been carefully crafted.
Who overshoot to compensate for their lack of prep/confidence in what they need to come back with and go way over in post because they still dont know wtf they are doing and then the irony is the editor helps clean up this type of director's mess, and somehow they get away with it. Being able to actually visualize wtf's been written is more valuable than some douche bag calling action. Agencies could save a lot of time and money if some of you copywriters rebranded yourselves as writer/directors and they hired you as such. Its the same old pigeonhole syndrome - you say you are a copywriter then that is the only thing youre going to be trusted to do.
Give me a conscientious production team and i'll bet you the spot will turn out just as well as it would with one of these no nothin' director types.

Viva the Copywriter! Some of my favorite shoots have been when a copywriter is on set. I couldn't agree more.

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