While we like to think that in some ancient time our feet did walk in a Jerusalem of appreciation for the value of higher education, that idea, like most things, is simply the cudgel that one generation uses to bludgeon the next into believing that the present is a poor substitute for a more glorious, albeit mythical, past.
Education around advertising is no different. And as someone who has spent countless hours explaining the philosophies of Rosser Reeves, Claude C. Hopkins, Bill Bernbach and Mary Wells to future creatives, account people and clients, I have therefore found myself a target of invective. “You can’t teach this stuff” I have been told. ”We never needed classes on it – we just did it.” they have shrieked. And “You’re making all this way more complicated than it needs to be!”
All of which may be true. Or maybe it’s why so much advertising sucks.
One of the people trying to change that, is Gary Goldsmith No, not Kate Middleton’s drunk uncle. Gary Goldsmith, the advertising legend. The guy who made award-winning work for VW, ESPN, Heineken and more. Who founded Goldsmith/Jeffrey with Bob Jeffrey. Who has been on the awards panel of every major competition in the business. Who founded Adhouse. Who is Chair of Advertising at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. That Gary Goldsmith.
And it is in that last capacity that prompted him to craft Work Wise, a terrific little book of advice which he hands out to every one of his graduates, and which every one of you should hand out to everyone you know who is starting out in this business. And even to quite few of those who aren’t.
It is terrific for at least three reasons.
First, it tells you things that no one ever tells you in this business, or frankly, in any business.It steps into the vacuum created by our industry’s twin evils of age-ism and jealousy that preclude the passing of valuable insight and information from one generation of adworkers to the next. Advertising has always dismissed the old (that is, any one over 40), just as it dismissed anyone who did not look like Jon Hamm (no, not that one, this one), and with the same woeful results: valuable information has been lost, stupid mistakes have been repeated, and the business has gotten weaker, paler, and more inbred than a character in a Faulkner novel.
And jealousy. We can waste weeks and gallons of alcohol arguing over why, but the fact is that few in this business have the simple confidence to pass along the kinds of things that make the work work, so terrified are they of being outsmarted, out gunned, and, of course, out of a job. So they keep simple truths to themselves, truths that would save agencies, clients and adworkers acres of heartache, mountains of time, and rivers of money.
So the fact that Mr. Goldsmith has taken the time to pass this information along to another generation alone makes it worth purchasing
Second, it tells you how and why to succeed in advertising. Take what it says about “luck” for example. Luck, Mr. Goldsmith concedes does exist in this business. As it does in every business. “But from my experience” he writes, “95% of what appears to be luck is actually the result of someone making conscious choice that led to an opportunity that they were then able to take advantage of”. And he’s right, of course.
He also advises on telling truth to power (you should, just don’t be a dick about it). And mentors (find one. NOW). And what to do when you just can’t go on (go on). And even about whether creatives need to be savvy about business (they do).
And sure, maybe you’re reading this and thinking “duh”. Good. But how many meetings do you endure each day with people who don’t? I thought so.
And lastly, it is short. Do you understand how hard it is to write a short book on this? Talk too briefly, and you run the risk of filling the pages with the kinds of platitudes that will bounce off the brainpans of even the most dedicated student. Dive too deeply, and your detail makes you maddeningly obscure to precisely the people you are trying to help. Mr. Goldsmith, however, has managed to walk that infinitely fine line, dodging both the banality of generalization and the tedium of longwindedness.
The result is a book that is invaluable to newcomers and veterans alike. If this is your first rodeo, then you get the perspective of a career’s worth of insight with which to start your career. And if you’ve been around the block a couple times, then it reminds you both that you’re not the only one beating your head against these damn walls and what the rewards are that lured you here in the first place.
And while the book was written by an ad guy for ad grads as they entered advertising, its not exclusively, as I said above, an ad book. It is for anyone pursuing a career in their passion. Because that is the thing that really distinguishes us. As my old boss Jack Thorwegen explained to me, most people find passion away from work. But some of us live different lives. “They love what they do and view it as an integral part of their life,” Goldsmith writes, “not a sacrifice that takes them away from their life.”
For them, Work Wise has wise words indeed.