Which Ideas To Offer, And When To Offer Them.

If you’ve worked in advertising for longer than five minutes, you’ve come across the dilemma of which ideas to present to your partner/CD/Client.

The choice tends to come down to three elements: quality, quantity and time. Do you ever show anything you don’t 100% believe in? Sure, if the audience is your copywriter; not if the audience is your client. Do you offer a pile of ideas? Maybe for a single headline, maybe not for a fully fleshed-out 360-degree campaign. What do you do when the deadline is approaching but the Brilliant Idea Fairy has yet to pay you a visit?

There are many variations on those choices, so let’s check out a few, starting with what you should consider when it comes to sharing ideas with your partner…

  1. Show them everything. Just put your brain on loudspeaker and chuck it all out there under the truism that there are no bad ideas, and that anything, no matter how crappy, might spark off a better thought from your AD or CW. In many ways this is a good path to take, especially in those desperate hours when you’re on the third round of the same brief and the well has run dry. In these situations you should both be at your most charitable/receptive, and be willing to listen to any old shite because it’s probably more useful than silence (although, if memory serves, I have heard and offered some ideas that were actually worse than silence).
  2. Show them the stuff you think has some proper merit. This doesn’t just mean only telling them the ideas you think could end up with a Cannes Grand Prix (or some increased sales. Crazy idea, I know!); it means explaining the idea along with some reasons why it might be good, and some extra ways in which the scope of the concept might expand. If you think an idea is good then you need to present it in such a way that it is both understandable and exciting (just like the final ad), so maybe think it through somewhere quiet first (eg: lav, park, lav in a park), and mention it when your other half is in a receptive frame of mind, and not when they’ve just told you their beloved puppy has been run over.
  3. Show them stuff that you don’t like, but you know others will. Sometimes, when the clock is ticking and you know your CD is a talentless idiot with no taste, you might be tempted to please him or her by offering that crass, dull, unoriginal rip off of an old One Show winner. It’ll make the boss happy, and by extension it might make your partner happy, but then you might have to make it, and watch it go on air, and explain to your disappointed family that you wrote it. When you get through round one, there are many other rounds to follow, and when every good director turns it down, every other team in the agency avoids asking what you’re up to, and everyone in the country hates you for making them watch something awful, you might start to wish you’d kept your mouth shut three months earlier.

For the CD we have another few categories:

  1. Show them loads of ideas. There are pros and cons to this, as it kind of implies that you have no ability to sort your own wheat from your own chaff. Then again, most teams aren’t supposed to have that ability; if they did they’d be the CD. So err on the side of volume, as long as the ads you show are defensible in some way. When your CD says “What do you mean by X?” Or “Isn’t this just like that other thing you did?”, you’ll need a decent answer, one that prevents you looking stupid in front of the person who decides whether or not you should have a raise. In my CDing days I’ve certainly found gems in ideas that teams weren’t particularly proud of, and I’ve failed to see the excellence in ideas they’ve clearly thought were brilliant. Let’s accept that tastes differ and a little wiggle room in the decision-making process can go a long way.
  2. Show them only the best of the best. There are pros and cons to this, as it implies you are the proper arbiter of quality and your boss isn’t. Also, if the great idea you show fails to impress, then you look like a tit who has failed in terms of both quality and quantity. Then again (see above), you don’t want to show things you don’t want to make, so don’t make up the numbers with rubbish. I remember an ECD I used to work for who invented something he called ‘The Wheel’. It was like a Trivial Pursuit pie with eight segments, all of which had to be filled with an idea. Yes – you were supposed to come up with eight good ideas for each brief. Eight! Five properly good ideas for a full-on 360 campaign is hard; eight is/was a bit of a joke. Top tip: coming up with ideas like The Wheel and putting them into practice is a GREAT way to lose the respect of your entire department.
  3. Show them half-formed stuff. There are also pros and cons to this method. Most embryonic ideas could end up being good or bad, so it helps to have a bit of proof to understand how the concept comes to life. If I were to say ‘A guy waits for a wave, and when it arrives it’s pretty amazing’, you might now imagine Guinness Surfer, but if I’d said that in 1998, you’d have no idea how good it could be. Your presentation could therefore benefit from some further explanation, or from you being the best TV creatives in the world. That said, unless you’re super senior, you might want to leave room for the CD to add some thoughts that could make yours better. Don’t make it seem like they should do a lot of the work required to make the improvements, but maybe frame it as more of a conversation than a presentation.

Talking of presentations, next is the client.

  1. Only show them what you want to make. I know I’ve mentioned this above, but it’s different when you show the client. It’s possible they have no creative ability, so if you show them the shit one to make the good one look good YOU WILL DEFINITELY END UP MAKING THE SHIT ONE. And it’s almost impossible to take an ad back, so if you show it, be prepared for them to like it and buy it, at which point you are going to spend a lot of time making it. The only flipside to this is the fact that you have meetings and deadlines, and sometimes you don’t have three insanely good ads at the appointed hour. So do you show that ‘quite good’ third campaign that you don’t really love? There might be pressure from account management to do that because they know the client will adore your less good ad (“It features Ant and Dec riding horses? The client loves Ant, Dec and horses! Nice one”), but you must resist. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone wrongly second-guess a client, so showing only work you want to make is a very good policy, even if it means being one idea light at the meeting.
  2. Show them lots of stuff in the spirit of collaboration. Sure, if you feel confident in the client’s taste, and you can push back against any shitty suggestions they might make. But if you are missing one of those elements, don’t ask the client to join your creative team. That’s not what they’re good at, and they probably don’t like having their ideas rejected by people they think they are in charge of. If you want to collaborate, it helps to set a policy of not trying to solve everything there and then. Take the ‘collaboration’ on board and fix it back at the agency, away from a situation where you have to let them down gently when they suggest building an entire ad campaign around a Diplo remix of Shania Twain’s That Don’t Impress Me Much.
  3. Only show them one idea. Why would you show them anything else? Just look decisive and show, no, tell them what they’re going to be buying. In 2022 that does sound kind of ker-azee because we are now deep into the worlds of multiple routes and the aforementioned ‘collaboration’, but back the day, when agencies had the pimp hand, they would present just one idea, and the client would buy it (or reject it, I guess. Then another one would be written, ruining the whole ‘one idea’ thing, and effectively stretching a three-idea presentation over three separate meetings. Anyway, I never witnessed this, and I digress…). In some ways that makes sense: if you’re buying something from an expert, you probably just want what they think is best, but these days that seems like you’re backing the client into a corner, and making them choose without giving them any choices. In 2022 it would be a bold move, but if you REALLY believe in your one idea then stand behind it, and let me know how it goes.

As you can see from the above, there are different versions of the same practices, and they tend to depend on your audience. The closer you get to the client, the greater the consequences, so make sure you improve your ideas as they continue up the chain.

And don’t forget that the ultimate audience is the actual, y’know, audience, ie: the general public. They only get to see the final version of the concept that made it through all those gatekeepers, and if they like it, everything else is academic.