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Don’t put an ad on your tombstone. And other lessons from the One Club’s Creative Leaders Retreat.

By: Amy Markley

Advertising is an industry that’s in love with itself. What other occupation has so many award shows? (Okay, yes, sure, the movie industry does. But when was the last time you heard of someone who stayed up late to see who won Best Campaign from the One Show – someone who isn’t an ad person?) What other industry has its own celebrities that nobody else has ever hear of? (I mean, seriously, how many people outside advertising know who Alex Bogusky is? Or Bill Bernbach? Or Joe Pytka?) What other industry’s leaders – at least their creative leaders – often act and dress more like bike messengers or pop stars than business executives?

So admittedly I headed off to the One Club’s Creative Leaders Retreat in Tucson last month with more than a little apprehension. Flattered to have been invited at all, yes. But less than eager to spend three whole days with a bunch of tattooed Peter Pans who think clients are the devil. What I got instead – at sessions titled things like How to be a Good Example Instead of a Horrible Warning and The Art of Juggling Flaming Kittens – was a reminder of what I love about this business and the wise, quirky people of all stripes who work in it.

And where else would I get to hear advice like this?

Showmanship matters. Great work, poorly presented, often dies, while poor work, extremely well-presented, wins.

Creative technologists are unicorns. (Thank you, 72 and Sunny’s Glenn Cole, for that one. And yes, I just name dropped.)

Ask yourself this: “If your boss could start his own agency and take only five people . . . would he or she take you?”

Farm system beats imported.

The best bands don’t always sound the same. (With the exception of Bon Iver. And U2.) So don’t impose your own style on everything.

It’s better to be respected than loved.

The best creatives are the most self-disciplined. This reminds me of an interview I once saw with the Dalai Lama in which he said the most important thing to cultivate in yourself is self-discipline. Except when he said it, he sounded like Yoda.

Look at your team members’ overall batting average, not just how they performed on the last project.

Get comfortable with failing. Failing fast. Failing forward.

Better to have one season with Babe Ruth than a thousand with Mario Mendoza. “Mario who?” you ask. Exactly. In other words, hire crazy talented people without worrying about whether they’ll “stick around.”

Generous creative directors don’t work for clients. They work with partners.

Finally, Jim Riswold (advertising insider name-drop no. 5) spoke about how, in the end, you don’t want an ad on your tombstone. And Riswold can say this seeing as how he’s come painfully close to dying of cancer several times in the last decade. But, according to Riswold, when you realize advertising isn’t that important, you actually do better work.

So thank you, Jim. Thank you, Carolyn (for inviting me in the first place). Thank you, One Club. Thank you, Tom, Dick & Harry. Thank you, colleagues past, present and future. How’d I get so lucky as to call this my career?

04.30.14   The Biz, The Words

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