If you feel like reading a book (rather than watching yet another TV show) about life inside an ad agency you might want to pick up a copy of Jay Williams’ Soul for Sale.
It’s the story of a Boston agency creative director responsible for the pitch to defend his agency’s biggest, toughest account. Funny as hell, more true than any agency or advertiser would care to admit, it’s got everything you might expect from the world of advertising: egos, politics, rivalries, new business, pitch dynamics, alcohol, sex, even the clever little button that wraps it all up. But more than anything, it has accurate descriptions of the business.
Here’s an excerpt. This is Terry’s take on the proverbial tissue session.
Very often, part of the protocol of the pitch process, is that at some point, the client offers to conduct a meeting or a conference call with the agency in the hopes of clarifying, re-directing, or otherwise guiding the agency toward the correct answer.
While I have no doubt that this offer is extended with the sincerest and most helpful of motives, I can assure you that all the agency ever gets out of this is either complete confusion or false hope.
This is due to several factors.
First, whatever the agency is sharing isn’t the finished, crafted idea. This is partly because it’s still the middle of the process – and in the advertising world, if it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done – and partly because, as desperately as they want guidance, the agency is even more desperate to protect the ‘wow!’ factor. Advance buy-in on an idea is nice. But presenting is theater – and you never get a standing ovation for a performance the audience has already seen.
The second reason is that the client, as much as they’re trying to help, is also trying to maintain impartiality. There are, after all, other agencies involved, each of whom is going to have their own meeting or call, and the client has to make sure that no one is given an unfair advantage.
So the agency is sharing incomplete information and asking cryptic questions, the client is sharing incomplete impressions and giving cryptic answers. And by the time all the fencing is over, the agency either believes they’ve absolutely cracked it, or that they don’t have a clue and should practically start over.
In both cases, they’re wrong.
Jay’s book is filled with truths like the one above, along with numerous scenes anyone who has worked in the business will find too familiar. And, as an added bonus, if you’ve paid your dues in a Boston shop, you’ll recognize more than a few characters. Ooops. What am I saying? This is a work of fiction.
What do you think? Sound like anything you’ve lived through?