Don’t Buy a Dog and Bark Yourself

Back before I became a creator of advertising, I was the kind of client who was a creative writer’s worst nightmare.

Back then, I didn’t know I wanted to be a creative, but my control freak subconscious did. So I hired a very talented PR writer, and then I would sit next to her, typewriter to typewriter, and rewrite “together” everything she wrote.

Yes, I was the dreaded Creative Wannabe.

My rationale was that I knew more about our business than she did. Of course, I failed to apply the same logic in the opposite direction — that she knew more about writing press releases than I did. Nor did it occur to me that there might be better uses of my time, such as doing the things that only the executive director of a 2,000-person organization could do, like, oh … raise millions of dollars.

Nor did it occur to me that it was impossible for me to be objective about my own writing or my own organization.

Nor did it bother me that she had spent her lifetime writing publicity and I was doing it for the first time.

And so we cranked out press releases side by side on dueling typewriters. Being the client, I always got the winning vote.

I’m surprised Jo Lynn did not stick sharpened blue correction pencils in my eyes. It is an indication of her bigness of heart that we are still friends 27 years later. She even helped me get my first copywriter’s job (probably to get rid of me!).

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear to me that our publicity was effective in spite of my writing efforts, not because of them. I had violated a major rule of marketing communications: Don’t buy a dog and bark yourself.

This means: Don’t hire a creative communications professional or agency and then change everything they bring you. Don’t play creative. Don’t dictate words. Don’t concept visuals. That’s their job.

That’s what you hired them to do. They can do it better than you.

They can do it better than your wife or art-schooled nephew or graphic designer brother-in-law.

You be the expert in your business and let them be the experts in creating your communications. You’ll get much more inspired and effective creative work as a result.

So, besides not barking yourself, what can you do to get the best creative work from your creative team? You can hire a creative team or agency whose work you like. You can have a strong hand in developing and approving the creative brief that defines the creative assignment. You can agree up-front, before concepting begins, on your evaluative criteria and on what will constitute a home run.

You can give clear feedback about what creative elements you like, and don’t, and more importantly, why. You can request changes as long as you don’t dictate changes. You can forbid your colleagues and employees to change words or pictures and play creative. Or if you must, you can require that creative review involve no more than three layers of management and five people total.

You can also learn the art and language of useful creative critique (coming soon!).

Stop barking yourself, and you will howl with pleasure as your creative teams bring you better and better creative work.