Damon Stapleton: Advertising. The thing that is more important than a hundred answers.

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Damon Stapleton: Advertising. The thing that is more important than a hundred answers.

A blog by Damon Stapleton, chief creative officer, The Monkeys New Zealand.


“When things go wrong, don’t go with them.” – Elvis Presley

What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
Maori proverb

Recently, I was asked to be a coach by the LIA Awards. It got me thinking about my own career and the mentors I have had over the years. In true impostor syndrome, I started to think if I could teach another creative anything. What have I learnt? And this made me think about what my mentors had taught me over the years.

When I started, learning from somebody was important. You learnt a craft. As a copywriter I watched how it was done. I saw the standard that had to be reached. I worked with people that had more experience and this stretched my potential. In essence, my mentors got me fit. Creatively speaking.

This is all very valuable. However, it is not the most valuable thing they taught me. And this is where the past intersects with the future. My mentors taught me two things which are priceless and changed my career. They taught me about people and what to do when things go wrong.

It is the most valuable lesson of all. If there is anything you learn in this business over time it is that if you think a meeting is going badly, the next one could be far worse. It is these situations rather than the days where everything is going well that makes a career.

Let’s fast forward into the future. Over the last couple of years there has been an unwritten desire to turn advertising into a foolproof process. Streamlined, effective, beautifully perfect answers. In this process, people are not spoken about very much.

So I thought I would ask some creative and marketing friends from around the world to give me a few scenarios from the present and probably the future. This is what they said:

“Mid-journey or the next iteration spits out 100 options. The client thinks they are bland. What do you do?”

“Creatives just want to win awards. What do you do?”

“My agency has no idea what I am going through and definitely doesn’t understand my business. How do I get them to help me?”

“The recommendation looks a lot like the competitor after six rounds. What do you do?”

“There are massive politics or layers inside an organisation. I was once in a board meeting for a very large client where the chairman and the CEO were furiously shouting at each other for 10 minutes. Eventually, they looked at me sheepishly standing there and said right let’s look at the ads. How do you sell in that environment?”

“The brief is not really the brief.”

“If the input is not accurate will a machine be helpful with output? Or, the person you are dealing with gives you very subjective input (they don’t like a colour or a type of dog). What do you do? How do you sell?”

I don’t think these situations are going to go away. In fact, I would venture they will be around for quite a while yet. And with more options and choices in the future they may get far more complicated. And each one of these scenarios has one thing in common. People.

I would say to the creatives, find somebody who has been there. Find a mentor. It might seem like an old fashioned idea but its a good one. Not for the job but everything around it. Or should I say, everybody around it.

The truth is, the more options you have, the more curation is required. You might have all the answers in front of you. But in the end, you are going to have to make a choice. You will have to pick one. And that requires another very important human word that starts with c.

Confidence. More answers don’t always give you confidence. It is the most important and at times the most elusive quality in advertising. And you have to have confidence to do anything.

And for that, you need people.

At times, they can be a problem.

But, they are always the answer.