Home > AWARDS, SUITS, THE WORK > It’s Not All About The Work

It’s Not All About The Work

So, here’s the thing: it’s not all about the work. Not for Suits. It really isn’t.

If somebody had told be that during my first six months in advertising, I’d have slapped them. Well… No, actually, that’s not true. If somebody had told me that during my first six months in advertising, I’d probably have looked a little confused, nodded, and then wandered off to find somebody sympathetic to explain what ‘the work’ meant. (I wasn’t particularly well-prepared when I started in advertising – it was a good couple of years before I caught up on the lingo.) Anyway, once I’d found a sympathetic person who’d explained that ‘the work’ referred to the creative work, or, put even more simply, the ads, then I’d have found the individual who’d expressed the opinion originally, and slapped them.
And if somebody had told me that two years in, or three years in, or even five years in, I’d have slapped them too. And assumed they worked for Grey, or JWT.
But they’d have been right And I’d have been a dick. Not for the first (or last) time.
I’m not trying to suggest for a second that the work doesn’t matter – of course it does, and anyone who’s worked with me will tell you how much it matters to me. Agencies can’t become great without making SOME great work (although it’s always an interesting exercise to work out what Agencies are leaving off their reel, as well as enjoying what they’ve chosen to put on it), but I’m not talking about Agencies here – I’m talking about Suits.
See, when I or anyone else interviews you, I’m not that interested in your portfolio. Fact is, you’re a Suit – you don’t have a portfolio. Or if you do, it’ll be for your own personal use – a scrapbook of things you’ve worked on that you’re proud of. It’s not your CV. Seriously, it’s not. Don’t bring it to an interview. You’ll look stupid.
Because you didn’t do that. You didn’t come up with that. You didn’t make that. You helped make it happen, and if you’re worth your salt it’ll be better than it would have been had you not been there (and you can feel free to tell the person who’s interviewing you exactly why and how that is the case), but you didn’t write it. You’re a Suit. Not a Creative.
It’s obviously great to be involved with great creative – with a campaign that your Adland peers and your real-world mates think is brilliant, or, even more importantly, cool – and I’m certainly not suggesting you shouldn’t care about it. Of COURSE you should care about it. But – and here’s the deal – I’m much more interested in how you managed to get the campaign on air than I am in how many awards it won. Because (and forgive me if I’m repeating myself here) you’re a Suit. Not a Creative. See?
To take an example: the Corsa ‘C.M.O.N’ campaign. Now, this was undoubtedly a great campaign – a campaign that I worked on, almost obsessively, for two and a half years from before the pitch and I unashamedly loved the work. The campaign sold a huge amount of cars across Europe and an even larger number of pieces of merchandise, some genius, some less so. It did not, however, trouble the jurors at Cannes, D&AD or the BTAAs. But I’d argue that the experience of working on that campaign as a Suit is worth so much more than working on an award-winning ad in an already established campaign.
I know the pain involved in getting that campaign to air. I know how many rounds of pan-Euro research it had to go through. I know how many safer campaigns from competing Agencies it had to beat. I know how many different stakeholders had to entrust the most important car launch of the decade to a bunch of woolen dolls with little (or not so little) cloth penises. I know how many hours, days and months were spent discussing those very penises. And, once the campaign was sold, I know how astonishing it was discovering that the BVP (the French regulators) made the BACC look like pussy-cats. And once that campaign was made, I know how many different markets the campaign had to be adapted for, and how many different endframes had to be created to sit on the end of each TVC. And I know, through bitter experience, the importance of shooting cars with number plates made up entirely of symmetrical letters and numbers. (Don’t ask. Seriously, don’t. And, while we’re at it, make sure, if you’re shooting an ad that’s going to run in France that you don’t accidentally include in shot something that might look a bit like a bottle of wine. They hate that. In France. I KNOW.)
Anyway – you get my point. It’s great that you worked on ‘Gorilla’ or ‘Balls’ or ‘Cog’ or ‘Surfer’ or ‘Grr’ or whatever – you (and your mum) must be very proud. But you’re a Suit – there’s a reason your name’s not on the award. Or even in the new work bit of Campaign. Because when you’re a Suit, the work and experience involved in seeing the campaign through is worth so much more than the awards that campaign garners.
  1. January 4, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Indeed, unless you have a magnificent story about how your persistence and bond with the client sold a great ad that they weren’t sure they could sell.

    Oh and as part of JWT I should add: Oi!! (I know what you mean but the group is definitely getting better creatively)

  2. January 4, 2010 at 11:19 am

    What makes anyone, the suits (and the Grey and JWT blokes) included join this business? It is ‘Work’. To focus only on the operational, relationship (the schmoozing) and the business aspect whilst ignoring the magic of ‘the work’ is suicidal and will send the suit to a room with padded walls faster that you can say ‘work’. Nobody joins this business saying to himself that I will deliver artworks on time or that I will keep the client smiling or that I will ensure that the plane tickets for the creative team is arranged. Yes, what you are suggesting is what the role of ‘suit’ has become. It is unfortunate and not a healthy trend for the industry.

    • January 4, 2010 at 12:25 pm

      Subbu – hi. I think you’ve missed my point slightly, so apologies if I haven’t been clear. Of course the work matters – as I’ve said elsewhere, it’s the work that makes this job worth doing, and it’s the work that you show your mum when it breaks, and it’s the work that will create the intangible value, or perception of value that Rory S talked about at TED. Without it, we’re nothing. But, whether you like it or not, and as fantastic (and important) as being a part of its creation undoubtedly is, it’s not a Suit’s job to create it. It’s a Suit’s job to make sure it gets made, and to make sure that it’s as brilliant as it could possibly be, and that comes partly from enthusiasm for the creative, but predominantly from enthusiasm for every other part of the job – and whilst it might behove some people to pretend that a Suit’s job is all about scripts, scamps and Danny Kleinman, I’m not going to be doing it here, because it simply isn’t true.

      I haven’t even touched on the importance of business-awareness (which warrants, I think, a post of its own) because that’s not what this post is about – it’s about recognising that a Suit’s job is so much more than just worrying about whether or not the ads they’re working on win any awards.

      (Incidentally, my comments about Grey and JWT should be taken with a rather large pinch of salt – I was, after all, working at O&M at the time.)

  3. January 4, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Haha..the only agencies I have worked are JWT and Ogilvy. So I am shooting in the foot when I take a dig at JWT.

    Coming back to your post and the subsequent comments. You have hit on an important issue that is hurting the industry. Yes, getting the job done constitutes the most tangible aspect as well as substantial part of the suits work. Unfortunately, the KPI’s as well as impressions about the suit is based only on this aspect. Therefore, the kind of suits we get in the business these days are Managers. I am not deriding them and nor am I saying that it is a bad trait. It has made this interesting (and at times wonderful) business very ‘corporate-ish’ as regards the suit side of the business is concerned. This has put-off lot of talent from the industry and preventing lot more from the industry. The fact remains that a suit can help in both the cerebral side as well as in ‘the work’ side. I will explain this with an analogy. To me the role of a suit is like that of a Conductor of a symphony orchestra or a Choreographer. Does that strike a chord?

    • January 4, 2010 at 10:16 pm

      Ah, now see I don’t necessarily think that’s true – though it would obviously vary from Agency to Agency. What I see as a much bigger problem is people coming into the industry with a massively romanticised view of what we as Suits do, and then facing a disheartening reality pretty quickly when they realise that they very rarely (if at all) get to play with the crayons.

      What I’m saying is this:

      – Of course it’s important that a Suit cares about the work. Nobody else in the Agency is involved with it for as long as the Suit, and nobody else in the Agency has to care about making it as good as it can possibly be for as long – you can’t keep that up without having an enormous amount of passion for the end product, and that passion is something that all the best Suits have in common.

      – However, that is absolutely not enough. It’s the responsibility of a Suit to care about everything, and to be good at everything – that includes (amongst a million other things) management.

      I think you’re probably right to say that the default mode for Suits is more conservative nowadays than it might have been in the past, but I don’t think that’s just because of an increased focus on process. I think there’s a bunch of reasons for that – and it’s something I’ll talk about in a forthcoming post soon.

      Thanks for the challenges today – I’ve enjoyed it! Where are you based now, if you don’t mind me asking?

      • January 5, 2010 at 5:01 am

        Thanks Dan for a wonderful post that got me thinking. I also like yr blog (and tweets). I moved out of Ogilvy where I was..er..a Suit from April of last year. I am experimenting with an idea to engage clients. It basically flows from my passion for both strategy and creative (with technology thrown in now) I have managed to do a few projects so far. Learnt helluva lot more than when I was a Suit…You can check my blog thefreeunion.blogpspot.com when you have the time.

  4. theadtheist
    January 4, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    ^frightening. really fuckin frightening…

    • January 4, 2010 at 10:17 pm

      I’m not quite sure what you mean. But I hope you’re not too scared.

  5. January 7, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Great post, thank you. I’m a Suit of sorts, and I’ve always struggled to explain why I can get just as much satisfaction out of the work I do on a campaign as any of the people who actually created the work. I think your post does it perfectly.

  6. February 2, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    Only just read this post, so glad I didn’t miss it altogether. A great summary and point well made… I did have to laugh about the Suit taking a portfolio into an interview – guilty!!! And I soon realised the same thing, that employers were not looking for what work I had other people do, but what qualities it was I bought to the table to deliver the projects on time, on brief and where it needed to be when it needed to be there.

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