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"Look at the big words I can use!"

By Chris Adams, Founder/ECD adams&partners on Dec 13, 2014

The day had started off so well. Up at dawn, excited about my first Apple Marcom meeting, a flight to San Jose with Lee Clow and the rest of the team, followed by a gourmet pizza at Caffe Macs. This was supposed to be the most exciting day of my career.

But now, it was all going to hell. Quickly.

Steve was reading, out loud, some copy that I, and another writer, had written for an insert to announce the new 2002 iMac.

He began in a sarcastic tone right off the bat, and escalated his volume, disgust and spite with every syllable. Somewhere in the middle of the second page, he’d had all he could take.

That’s when he leaned back in his chair and thumped his chest like a pissed-off gorilla as he shouted, “Oooooh, I’m a copywriterrrr—Look at the big words I can use!!! Come on!!” (Slamming his hand on the conference table for emphasis.) “It’s gotta be simpler than this.”

Lesson #1: Keep it simple, stupid.

I learned this lesson the hard way, but now that I have my own agency, I use it every single day. The simplest, most elegant solutions are always the best.

But, going back to that day in 2001, what do you do when the most important innovator since Thomas Edison is tearing you a new one?

Lesson #2: Listen.

As creatives, our first instinct is usually to bristle at criticism, defend our work, to push back and explain why our ideas are so freaking good. This rarely works with any client. And when it does, it’s usually at the expense of a client relationship. Ideas are almost never sold in just one meeting anyway. Listening to feedback and then incorporating at least some elements of it in your next presentation is without a doubt the best way to sell creative work while actually building a better relationship with clients in the process. Also, you just might learn something.

Try this trick. The next time a client is telling you what’s wrong with an ad or campaign, instead of immediately defending it, ask them to elaborate. To tell you more about what they’re feeling and why. If they feel heard, you’ll have a much better chance the next time you present to them. And if you are going to push back, at least it won’t be in the heat of the moment, so you’ll have a much better chance of changing their mind.

Remember, no one likes to be told they’re wrong, but everyone likes to be heard.

Lesson #3: The best revenge is a better ad.

This is Lee’s answer to just about everything. Bad client meeting: do better work. Didn’t get a promotion: do better work. Steve Jobs has you questioning your decision to go into this business: do better work. It’s advertising kung-fu. Take any negative energy that’s thrown your way and channel it back into doing better work.

It works no matter whether you’re running into resistance with a cranky car dealer (of which I’ve seen my share) or the greatest innovator of the last 100 years.

Here, in no particular order are few of the other things I’ve learned from mentors and clients over the years

Lesson #4: Love what you’re doing and be 100% committed to it. If you don’t love what you’re doing, how can you expect anyone else to love it?

Lesson #5: Surround yourself with people that get it. People that share your vision, even if they might challenge you with a different view on how to get there. Debating the best way to get somewhere is much more productive than debating where you should be going.

Lesson #6 When you see an opportunity, go for it. Dig your claws in and don’t let go. The most pivotal moments in my career came from sheer, bulldogged determination. Including the decision to start my own shop.

Postscript. I was eventually able to win Steve over with better, sharper writing. He even called me one Sunday morning to ask for advice on what to name his private airline. But that’s a story for another time.

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