AdLand Suit is Dan Shute, a Board Account Director at Delaney Lund Knox Warren, a top ten London Advertising Agency. This is where I write about the life of a Suit - which can include pretty much anything. Delaney's didn't know I was doing this, but they do now. They still don't agree with everything I say though. They'd also probably rather I swore less.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Why The Great Suit Debate Matters

I'm happy to announce, dear readers, that we are officially 'in exciting times'. For whatever reason, the Suit is slowly making its way back towards the front pages, along with masses of healthy debate about the exact nature of the role, its future and its importance.

First of all, back in January, Haymarket ran a debate asking "Is Traditional Account Management Dead?", with DLKW's Jamie Elliott fighting what the biased might term 'the good fight'. (To demonstrate my absolute impartiality, I'll only mention in parenthesis that the motion was dismissed.)

Then, a few weeks back, Andrew McGuinness wrote a sterling piece for the IPA (which I blogged about at the time) in which he quietly and eloquently dismantles the 'Suits Are Dead' theory, before laying out a pretty good template for the Modern Suit.

Next up, this morning's Campaign carried two viewpoints on one question: "Is The Account Man Really King?" Ed Morris, former ECD of Lowe, and Robert Senior, Fallon/M&C Kingpin and UK Chief Executive of the SSF Group, shared their views, and whilst they differed in their conclusion (Ed said yes, Robert offered a self-effacing no) both arguments were thought-provoking and, in the case of Mr Morris, downright inspiring to read.

(I should apologise at this point for being unable to link to the articles in question - I realise how unhelpful that is for anyone reading this overseas or who simply hasn't seen Campaign, but I just can't find them on-line. If anybody comes across them, let me know and I'll update the post.)

Finally, and perhaps most enjoyably, in that same issue of Campaign, the great Jeremy Bullmore was asked about WCRS and Mother's use of "non-productive middle-men". I won't reproduce his response in full here - suffice to say, he's wontedly eloquent in his defence of the Account Handler.

I would love to claim that I'm in some way responsible for all of these discussions - it's much more likely that I'm reflecting a growing restlessness. Because the important thing here is not that people are saying good things about Suits, but that people are saying things full-stop. For too long now, Planners, Creatives and anyone with the word 'digital' in their job title has been hogging the limelight, while we Suits, perhaps overly polite, perhaps overly complacent in our necessity and importance, stepped back. And that can't go on.

There's no place for the smug Suit in modern AdLand (if there ever was). We need to be continually analysing ourselves and our role, continually questioning, continually thinking, continually challenging ourselves, continually striving to improve what we do and continually searching for new opportunities to demonstrate our skills. And that's only going to happen through discussion, through debate and through deconstructing ourselves every day - that's how we'll make ourselves better.

And the industry will benefit as a result. Great Suits will lead to great work, to great Client relationships, to great bottom lines and to a whole load of other great things - forget campaigns, they can make an Agency.

And that's why this blog exists. So if you're a Suit, use the comments to tell me and everyone else what you think we do well, and how you think we could be improving. If you're a Creative, a TV Producer, a Designer or anything else, use them to tell me and everyone else what we do that really hacks you off, and what we do that makes your lives and your work better. And if you're on the outside of the industry trying to get in, use them to ask me what the point in Suits really is, why the Industry needs them and why it's a job you should want to do.

Bring on the questions and bring on the arguments - bring on the debate. We have nothing to lose but our mystique, and everything else to gain.

Suits Laid Bare - Jamie Elliott

And so - to the first of my posts giving you all a glimpse into the inner-workings of the minds of AdLand's finest Suits. First up, we have Jamie Elliott, erstwhile Head of Client Service and now Deputy Managing Director of Delaney Lund Knox Warren, the London-based shop renowned for the quality of its Suits. Over to him.

1. So - who are you?

I’m Jamie Elliott, presently Deputy MD at DLKW.  I was a grad trainee at Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper in 1998, when Euro was hot (hard to believe now).  I made the board 5 years in, met my wife there, moved to DLKW in 2005 (where I was Head of Client Service for a couple of years) and completed a part-time MBA last year. 

When I started, Peugeot, my main client, didn’t have email, so we did everything by fax and courier.  As an exec this meant that you had thousands of u-matic tapes and wads of fax confirmation papers stacked up on your desk and spent most of your time checking endless tapes.  Everyone smoked like chimneys, by about 10am there was a heavy smog across our floor. And at 6 o'clock, religiously, the booze fridge was opened up.

It sounds fun but it was all a bit 80s, the dying embers of another generation’s fire.  Technological advance makes now much, much more exciting.

2. Single best experience as a Suit? And your worst horror story?

Waking up on 1st December 2000 to find an image from our Commission for Racial Equality ad hogging the front page of The Mirror, was the beginning of my single best day in advertising.

The launch party for the campaign was hosted by Gordon Brown at No.11 that evening. I was 2 years in working directly with Mark Wnek and Brett Gosper on the project.  Being at the heart of what was going on in the national news was an incredible buzz.

My first awkward moment: In a room with two Haagen-Dazs clients and a slightly sweaty account director (Christian Hinchcliffe, now at CHI) pressing play on VHS of a first cut, to find that the tape, that I was supposed to have checked, was completely blank.  There have been other genuine horrors involving nice clients, antsy creatives, ill-chosen words and too much premium continental lager, but let’s not go there.

3. What work have you been involved in that you are most proud of?

Our recent campaign outlining the signs of a Stroke because of this message, “Thanks to this advert being on TV, it has saved my husbands life. We were able to spot the signs of a stroke and dialled 999. Thank you.”

And this Double Decker campaign, which we made without the Client knowing and persuaded them to run.

4. The Inevitable Lunch Questions: (a) Tell me about the best Lunch you've ever had? (b) Who would be present at your dream Lunch, and where would it be?
The best have been on shoots in either Cape Town or Sydney, overlooking the sea.  Great food and everyone feeling relaxed.

It would involve the bone marrow at St John.  With some industry greats:  Nigel Bogle, Lord Bell, Bill Bernbach and Sir Frank Lowe.  Am sure I would learn something.

5. With the rise of Digital and all that it allows, and the arrival of the Global Recession, what does the future hold for Suits (are we as dead as some would have us believe?), and why is it a job that people should want to do?

The latest IPA survey shows that numbers in account management haven’t  really changed for the past 5 years.  So we’re not dying.

But, with fewer (and these are trends) account people as CEOs, in Campaign’s ‘Faces to watch’ and as key industry commentators our influence is definitely waning.  We need to make ourselves over or risk irrelevance.  Look at how the planning star has ascended through appropriation of the blogosphere.

So Mr Adland Suit, I applaud what you are doing.  Because we do need to scrutinise what we do, be more scientific to create some theories regarding what makes us good and raise the general level of debate.  It’s that or the slide towards being no more than a well-spoken, pimped Addison Lee service, ferrying information around, but adding no value to it.

The major areas where we can add value where no other individual/ department can are:

1.  As truffle pigs: in an increasingly project-based world people who can snuffle out income opportunities will be invaluable, we are best-placed to do this

2.  As conductors:  as the orchestra expands to include data analysts, IA, tech, etc etc there is an even greater need for someone to ensure the everyone is playing the same piece and playing in time.  We, present from start to finish of every project, are best-placed to do this

3.  As lovers:  Each individual part of (and person within) the process needs to be loved as well as its glorious sum. We are uniquely place to give this love and it is this galvanising love that puts us at the heart of the client/ agency relationship and which makes the collective heart beat stronger

4.  As climate controllers: someone needs to be ensuring the environment (Client/ Agency relationship) is conducive to the best possible ideas blooming.  We are, still, best placed to do this

6. If you could travel back in time and give one piece of advice to yourself as a Junior Suit, what would it be?

Smile more, son.  Being a ray of sunshine is a massively important part of what you do.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Here's To The Dilution Of Skill-Sets

Don't tell anyone this, but a Suit is often surprised. Beneath the calm, unflappable, pin-stripe (or, increasingly, corduroy) exterior there sits an ever-shifting, ever-reacting mind that deals with each unexpected obstacle or support it comes across. We just don't let it show.

I'm in no way ashamed to admit that it's happened to me on a number of occasions during my career. There was the occasion, early on, when I was a mildly surprised to discover that it wasn't acceptable to wear shorts and flip-flops to work (I've mentioned elsewhere that I arrived in the industry woefully under-educated on the true nature of a Suit). I'll leave you to imagine my reaction when, a couple of years ago, a Creative Director with whom I used to work uttered the immortal line, "D'you know, I sometimes wish this f*cking internet thing had never been invented."

(And breathe.)

More recently still, I was engaged in conversation with another former colleague - this time, a fellow Suit. His background was digital, as they say, having come from a pure-play digital agency (that I won't name) to join my team. On our first day working together, I explained that I would be looking to give him opportunities to do some work in other media - our clients didn't (and don't) delineate themselves in terms of on and off-line, and as such neither would we. More fool me, I expected this to be a positive thing.

But no. This Account Manager looked me in the eye (more or less) and explained that, if I didn't mind, he'd rather not get involved in any non-digital work (be it TV, press, poster, experiential, DM or whatever) - he rather liked being a 'Digital Account Manager' and was worried that working in any other media would "dilute his skill-set".

We'll leave him there - as it turned out, neither he nor his undiluted skill-set were around for much longer.

It is, of course, his turn of phrase that has stuck with me. Just ponder it for a minute, roll it round in your mouth - "diluting my skill-set". Now think of all that time you've wasted at school, at art college, in meetings, on courses, in life. All that time you thought you were 'learning stuff', when you were in fact 'diluting your skill-set' and making yourself slightly 'worse' in the process. Every moment you've spent since birth has been a gradual degradation of that key breathing/shitting/crying skill-set with which we are all naturally endowed. In fact, taken to its logical conclusion, evolution (with, to name but one, its dastardly introduction of opposable thumbs - don't you find they're always getting caught on stuff?) is the greatest skill-set dilution of them all.

And I'll stop the rant there - sarcasm is most unbecoming in a Suit. But once I'd got past the surprise, the phrase, and the attitude it embodies, really angered me - for me, it represents a fundamental misunderstanding both of digital and of the role of a Suit.

Here's a quick newsflash for you, chaps - digital is a channel, not a solution.

I'm sorry if that hurts, but you're going to have to deal with it at some point, and it'll make you better at your job the sooner you start. I'm not talking about Flash designers, QAs or html programmers here - they clearly need to be specialists, in the same way that a Flame operator, a retoucher or a director does. But the job of a Suit is not to be a specialist, it's to provide the best solutions to our Clients' business problems, and then to work with specialists to implement them. That means seeing at least a million and one possible options when a challenge is presented, and knowing enough about each of them to establish the best way to proceed.

Of course the digital possibilities are exciting, and we should all be extremely excited - but not to the point where we dismiss other, more viable, perhaps better options of getting our ideas out there, simply because they're not digital. Because that would just be stupid. I hate to be the one to say it, kids, but there was a time when people were as excited about TV as we all are now about social media, iPod apps and Twitter clients - and trust me, there will come a time when a specialist digital agency is as anachronistic as a specialist TV agency would be today. You can quote me on that.

If you want to be a Suit, you need to understand that you need to know more, and you need to want to experience everything. If you want to be a specialist, then you don't want to be a Suit.

So is learning about new things diluting an existing skill-set? I guess so. But only in the same way that you dilute tonic by adding gin to it.

Bring on the dilution, kids - it's what we're here for, and it's what makes things exciting.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Quick Tuesday Tip

Keep a shoe polish kit in or around your desk. The shoe polish kit is your best friend, because if you turn up at my meetings with scuffed shoes, I will judge you, and you will be found wanting.

In all seriousness, the last minute meeting is in many ways the ultimate test for a Suit, and you need to be ready for anything. It's not quite the same, but quite recently one of my Account Managers turned up for a client meeting in jeans (leaving aside any debate as to whether or not Suits should always be suited, this was definitely inappropriate). Rather than sulk because he wasn't allowed to come to the meeting, he went out and bought a new suit, shirt and shoes. And was judged, and applauded, accordingly.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Because Size Matters

And we'll end the week with some work. I'm not a BMW fan particularly, but this is bloody good.

Paying Them To Leave

The more erudite amongst you (or the Hot Shots! fans, at least) will recognise the Charlie Sheen reference in the title of this post. The great man was asked by a judge at one of his many court appearances (this was either a divorce hearing, or, quite possibly, the Heidi Fleiss trial - it's hard to keep track when it comes to Charlie Sheen, court hearings and prostitutes) why a man of his stature would need to pay women to have sex with him. He famously (and possibly apocryphally) explained that he didn't pay them to have sex, he paid them to leave afterwards.

I see two points coming out of this story, one industry-wide, and one Suit-specific. I'll deal with the Suit-specific element here, and leave the wider point for a later post.

Sheen's point was, of course, that his use of prostitutes differed from the traditional, or the expected. Other men might consider consulting a professional because they were otherwise unable to persuade women to sleep with them. Sheen, by contrast, suffered with women who wanted a post-coital relationship, when he wanted to, well, carry on being Charlie Sheen. The judge, focusing on the superficial issue, got the situation completely wrong.

And that's the point for Suits - don't rush your judgments. If a Client is making a massive fuss about a seemingly minor point in a meeting, don't just charge headfirst into a battle, but try and consider the wider view. Whilst he or she may be ranting about the size of a logo, is it possible that they feel they've been backed into a corner on other, more important points? Are there concerns about the strategy? Or is it something else entirely?

A good Suit not only picks his or her battles, but recognises when there's a battle to pick. It stems from a genuine desire to understand where the Client is coming from, and adapting your approach and offering accordingly. It's hard to learn how to be more understanding, just as it's hard to become more sensitive, more intuitive or more intelligent, but it's very easy to take a breath and not rush in. A little bit of perspective, a little bit of breathing time taken to look at something differently, and you might realise that the Client's (or indeed anybody else's) problem is something quite different from what's being expressed. And then you might even get to keep the logo as it is*.

*There's obviously a cheap joke to be made here about Suits being little more than smartly dressed pros, but here at ALS we're above stuff like that. That's part of the reason why I've never really liked the phrase 'Client Service'. It just sounds dirty.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Real Men Wear Suits

This is just a quick post to point you in the direction of the dry, understated, insightful, amusing and bearded world of Real Men Write Long Copy(I don't know if he actually has a beard, but I sincerely hope so.) The reasons for the post are threefold: first off, his blog is ace; secondly, he said some very nice things about me; and thirdly, with that last link, I hope to create a kind of Mobius blog post, whereby you good people spend the rest of eternity travelling between my blog and his. I shall be interested to know how it works out.

Real Men Write Long Copy - a good thing.

Give Me A Female Account Man Any Day

Prompted by the quite wonderful AdContrarian, I've decided that it's time to touch on a subject that's been on my mind for a while, but which I've steered clear of posting for fear of being taken the wrong way - it is now time. So, dear readers, answer me this - why are female account managers so much better than their male counterparts?

I'm not referring to senior Suits here. Advertising, for all its faults, does tend to be very good at sorting the wheat from the chaff: if you can't cut it, you don't tend to last, so seniority is, as a general rule (with some dishonourable exceptions), a fairly good guide for quality in both men and women.

No, I'm talking about Account Managers and Account Executives - an area in which women excell and men flounder. For every male Suit who's walked into an Agency on his first day convinced that he's ready to run the place, that status reports are somebody else's problem, that his AD/AM doesn't know what he/she is talking about, that leaving early twice a week for football training won't be a problem, and that life's too short to proof-read emails, competitive reviews or ads before they go out, I'll show you three female Suits who will work all the hours God sends, who believe that if a job's worth doing, it's worth checking (twice), and who understand instinctively how important (and defining) the detail is in any given project.

When I was in that position (and if we're talking about the position of 'Thinking You Know Everything When You Don't', then I'll tell you now, I owned that position), then I had a very simple excuse - I didn't really know what I was doing. Making ads seemed fairly straightforward, but the world of job numbers, P6s and status reports seemed utterly alien. I wasn't prepared for the job I was being asked to do, and my line managers didn't really help with that. Now, don't get me wrong - I was still a bit of a tool. But it wasn't entirely my fault - I had no real way of knowing what was expected of me.

Even if that was still the case (which, to be clear, it isn't - whether it's the IPA, the AdGrads chaps or some tired old hack, there's no shortage of information on what the role of a junior suit will entail), then it wouldn't hold any water as a defence, because it only seems to be a problem for men - women just get it. They get that you have to learn the basics before you can do the big stuff - that without the basics, the big stuff doesn't happen, something that seems to have bypassed the majority of Junior Male Suits. 

There is a school of thought that says these guys should be indulged - that they're hardwired to be ADs and higher, and that the lower ranks are some kind of holding pen in which all must sit until we are released to do the 'proper' job. To that, I'd say that anyone who doesn't understand how important an Account Manager's job is will never make a decent Account Director. And then I'd be sorely tempted to give them a slap.

The take-out from this post shouldn't be, incidentally, 'women for detail, men for ideas' - that's palpable nonsense. As I've said elsewhere, some of the best and brightest Suits I've ever worked with have been women. The point is that women seem to get what matters most at the more junior levels, and that doing it well will prepare them for their later career - most men don't seem to have picked up on that.

I should say here that this isn't just my view. I've had many conversations with many colleagues and contemporaries about this phenomenon, and its reason for being. And as I look around my Account Management department, I see roughly twice as many women as men, and it's a scene that's replicated across the industry - and for a reason. Put simply, there aren't enough Junior Account Men out there that are any good, while the sisters are doin' it for themselves. (Sorry.)

There are of course exceptions to the rule, a couple of which I'm lucky enough to work with, but by and large, it's true. The role of a Junior Suit is enormously important, and that's something that, for the most part, only the girls seem to get.

So am I wrong? Is this just a UK phenomenon, or is it happening across the world? Are you a Junior Male Suit who doesn't just think that you're bloody good at your job, but can actually prove that you are? All these questions and more should be argued about in the comments.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Hot Cross Buns & Whitstable

And so to Easter - the next few days will, for me, involve a lot of sleeping, a fair few hot cross buns, seaside walks and perfectly roasted potatoes. And no advertising - sometimes, that's important. I will, of course, be wearing a Suit as I promenade - if you see me, do say hello.

Have lovely breaks, one and all - and be back at your work stations by Tuesday.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Forthcoming Features

Afternoon, dear readers. This is a quick post to advise you all of an upcoming feature for ALS - Suits Laid Bare*.

Basically, I will be asking a number of Adland's finest and best-loved Suits to answer a standard list of questions, in a format stolen quite shamelessly from various publications, and publishing the results here, for you all to admire and, hopefully, enjoy.

What I would very much appreciate is thoughts on what you'd like to me to ask - if you had Johnny Hornby, Andrew McGuinness or Tom Knox sitting in a hot seat, what would you want to know? (NB None of these people have yet agreed to be interviewed...)

So, use the comments, and let me know what you'd like to know, and I'll do the rest.

*I've come up with this name off the top of my head for the purposes of this post. I'm not going to deny it, I like it - but sugggestions on that are also welcomed.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The Craft Of Writing

One of the most important skills of a Suit is communication. There are others (ordering cabs, carrying bags, paying for Lunch, Lunching in general, etc.) but communication is right up there - and rightly so.

From the day a Suit begins his career, he or she is (if the AD responsible is worth their salt) told quite clearly that every single item they send to the Client, or elsewhere, reflects upon them. Whether it's a status report, a piece of copy that they're sending on, an agenda, a timing plan or an ad, if it comes from your email address, it has your signature at the bottom of it, and as such its content reflects upon you.

Now, whilst there's an obvious point to be made here about checking everything before you send it out, that would make this more of a Junior Suit point, which it isn't intended to be at all. (But do check everything before you send it, please.)

No, this is a post about one of the things that separates us as Advertisers from our Clients, and that separates us as Suits from the rest of the Agency - our ability to write, and to write well.

In short, my question is this - why is so much of what we produce written so very badly? I'm talking about emails, I'm talking about blog posts, I'm talking about presentations, and yes, I'm talking about text messages. It drives me (and I think this is the first time this word has appeard on ALS) fucking crazy.

A couple of myths I'd like to debunk:

Myth No. 1: Emails are informal pieces of communication - as such, typos don't matter.
No, I'm afraid they're not - and they really do. Emails are now accepted as the standard means of formal, written communication between Agency, Clients, Production Companies, Procurement Companies and anyone else involved in the process. They are, as such, the formal written record, and should be treated as such - that means getting rid of the typos. Typos, spelling mistakes and poorly structured sentences make you look slapdash and unprofessional, two things no Suit should ever appear to be.

Myth No. 2: It's ok to make mistakes if you're writing from a Blackberry, iPhone or similar.
It's not 'ok' - it's lazy. There's a whole post (if not a whole book) to be written on Blackberry abuse, but for now suffice to say that if you're making typos on a Blackberry, it's because you can't be bothered to check what you've written, and that's not down to technology, it's down to apathy - sort it out.

I'm not insisting that everyone becomes Henry James, nor am I having a pop at people who genuinely have issues with written English, be they dyslexics, non-Native speakers, or whatever. But Christ, people - there is such a thing as acceptable mistakes, and then there's just laziness and bad writing. The craft of language is one of the most important skills we have in our arsenal, and treating it with disrespect reflects badly on us, and everything that we do. You doing it will make me angry, and I will think less of you as a result - as will everyone else who reads what you've written.

You can spend two hours writing an email to a Client explaining exactly why the artwork you've presented would absolutely not be improved by introducing a lurid flash across the top that will 'bring the rate out a bit more'; but why should he take your arguments about the craft of advertising seriously, if you can't even structure an email correctly, or spell a word how it's supposed to be spelled? I don't care how passionate you are, if you express yourself like an over-excited teenager, you will not be taken seriously. And that's a damn shame.

Postscript: Whilst writing this, I've received an email from a client that used 'your' when it meant 'you're' in the first line and 'you're' when it meant 'your' in the fifth line. By the time we reached the seventh line, said Client had clearly given up, and settled for 'ur'. We, as Suits, owe it to ourselves to be better than this. If you're not sure, ask. And once you've asked, then check. It's absolutely fine not to know whether you should be using 'practice' or 'practise', or not to know the difference between 'uninterested' and 'disinterested' - it's absolutely unacceptable however, whether you're an Account Exec or a CEO, to just pick one and go with it - it matters. Deal with that.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Kicking The Brain Crack

Well, hello! How've you been? I've been off for ages (a week) and have returned to find a maelstrom of fun and excitement (shitstorm) waiting for me. So, just to keep things ticking over until I have time to post something of my own, I thought I'd steal and share something from the wonderful Ze Frank. It's very definitely old, and people may well have seen it before, but it's just as relevant now as it was when it first appeared. (Apologies for the Portuguese sub-titles - unless you're Portuguese or Brazilian, in which case you're very welcome.)