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Trying to find Jesus through advertising

The team started to explain their idea to the Group Account Director. He wasn’t having the best of days. I was watching his face as he listened. It began to change with a small laugh. Then he started laughing uncontrollably until he was crying.Tears were rolling down his cheeks. Laughter is a very powerful thing. It creates unity. When he walked out, there was absolute certainty that this was the idea to present.

It was one of the moments creatives all crave. When you go from an ordinary day to a moment that you are not observing but are actually in. These moments give you the energy to go on for months.

I sat in my chair and started thinking about the moments I have craved through my career. And they seem to be split between recognition and authenticity.

Many years ago in the 90’s before Google, I would laugh at people who thought that if they won an award everything would be OK. Their skin would clear up, beautiful women would want to go out with them and eventually they would get a wine farm. They believed a moment of recognition would fix everything.I called this trying to find Jesus through advertising.

And then about 15 years ago I won a bronze at Cannes.From this small moment of recognition, my life changed. I became obsessed with winning. And I did. 

And in the beginning it was a lot of fun. I have had some of the best moments you could have in advertising with some awesome people. And then one night, on Long Street, I heard a creative bitching about a bronze that should have been a silver. 

I found myself saying, does it really matter. And the creative memorably said, fuck you, you would cut your own balls off for a finalist. Sadly, he was right. What had changed was it was not fun anymore. Winning in my head, had become about the wrong moment.

It had become some kind of endless arms race. It had become about points and lists instead of ideas and people.

And let me tell you winning without any enjoyment is a very strange place to be.

Winning, however, is very addictive. Creatives in some form or another are always the fat kid with asthma at the back of the class. We want affirmation and adulation no matter how much we pretend we don’t.

So, this is not some parable about winning being bad or wrong. I don’t think that. Winning has helped my career and pushed me to do better work. Work, I didn’t know I was capable of. Winning is great for morale and creates a benchmark for everybody in an agency.

That is the positive side. The other side, for me at least, is that it has the power to make you chase the wrong moment. This is the second moment. A moment of recognition. The right moment is in an office with a few people where you are laughing your ass off. You have an idea and it’s awesome. This is the first moment. A moment of authenticity. And it is the only moment that matters.

So, here is something that I have learnt many times in the last twenty years.

If you want to experience a true advertising miracle stay in the first moment. If you can do this, the second moment happens all by itself. Or not.

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