Don Draper. Good in bed; bad on the job.


Every time someone finds out I ran an advertising agency they ask the same question.

“Ever watch 'Mad Men'?"

I did watch it. Now, let me ask you a question. Did you ever watch "Mad Men"? If so, what do you think about that creative director, Don Draper?

Ever watch the way he treats his people? Think disdain, abuse and fear. They present their ideas; he trashes them, and then creates the thing himself. I don’t know what he needs them for, except to execute his ideas.

Draper is an interesting character, but a crappy creative director.

Sure, when I work as a creative consultant, my clients expect me to come up with ideas. They also expect me to give their people tools and processes that help them create their own ideas and make them work – ideas that will get attention, differentiate, persuade and move people.


One tool writers and art directors need is a message focus, but it better be a focus they believe in, and it better ignite creative ideas. Contrary to what I believed when I started in this business, focus does not restrict people creatively. A focus they believe in frees them to be more creative because they don’t waste creative energy second-guessing what they're doing.

Sometimes my biggest job is to ask the right questions. That can lead to focus, a galvanized creative team, an unheard-of creative approach and exceptional results.

That’s what caused the Catholic Church to do something nobody ever thought they would do.

Here’s what I mean.

So, there you have it. The Catholic Church admitted that if you left them, it was their fault not yours. That’s how confession became a creative strategy.

And that's how our campaign led the country in results.

With all the talk about branding and strategic thinking, hardly anybody ever talks about creative strategy. They don’t now; they never did.

That’s too bad.

Creative strategy is one of the all-time greatest persuasion and focusing tools.

Creative strategies do wondrous things, like get people to believe what they don’t want to believe. The confession strategy did just that. Hey, the Church could have said, “Come on back we’re nice now.” But nobody would have bought it. Some examples of creative strategies are: demonstrate, document, compare, shock, create dissatisfaction. Or combine them. The Catholic Church admitting they were wrong was a demonstration. It also had shock value. And it got fallen-away Catholics to pay attention, open their minds and come back to church.

That’s the power of creative strategy.

Input. Not a data dump.

You must have the right information to create successful marketing communications. And, you must not have loads of irrelevant information. Often creative input looks like a book with everything you need to know except what you need to write the ad. I’ve seen creative people get mentally exhausted searching through pages of useless information.

It goes something like this. Read the 50-page research report. And, don’t forget the brand plan, and the 10 emails, and the conference call, and weren’t there some memos? Oh, yeah they’re in the black binder. Now where’s the black binder?

Focused input and a smart creative strategy are two of the most important and most overlooked tools of our trade.

They work, though. That’s why the Catholic Church campaign achieved what many people thought couldn’t happen: got angry dissolutioned Catholics to come back.

My clients want tools that enable their people to be their best creative selves, not an extension of me. They don’t want a creative consultant who has all the ideas.

They don’t want the creative director from "Mad Men."