Mel Sokotch

1. Introduction, or why Shortcuts is right for these times.

The pioneer broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow once said, "The obscure takes time to see, the obvious takes longer."  Murrow was not talking about advertising; he was talking about geo-political events and why the perspective of time is required to understand why they take place.  His high hope that once the obvious is seen, it gets recorded and remembered, and then informs a better outcome the next time similar forces are gathering.

It's an important lesson with wide application, but in the advertising business, it's regularly ignored. A former client of mine, Irwin Kadaner, an executive at Colgate-Palmolive, put it this way: "I've worked with ad agencies for twenty years and it baffles me that agency people never seem to learn from their mistakes or, for that matter, their successes." He'd then rail about how we were wasting our time, and his money.
Kadaner was right then. He's even more right today. There are two fundamental reasons why.

First, an ad agency's most important asset is undeniably its creative staff--its copywriters, art directors, and producers. What drives the best of them is the opportunity to do original work that breaks through the clutter and inspires action. This is as it should be. But the mission has a downside. Most creative people consider advertising's rules, conventions, "lessons learned" the enemy of originality. It's this tension that's arguably an agency's greatest challenge: How to increase the odds of success without decreasing the drive to be inventive.

Second, the dilemma is getting worse. The last two decades of mergers, acquisitions and bursting bubbles have left the agency business in a lean, hurting, reactionary state. Twenty, thirty years ago big agencies made enough money to invest the time and effort it takes to understand what works and what doesn't. The resulting lessons were then taught in formal, structured training programs. Graduates of these programs were heavily recruited. But that was long ago. Today, there's very little training taking place at advertising agencies. It's mostly about getting the ad out on time.

That brings us to the basic reason for this work.  With so little advertising education taking place, and with the business becoming more complex, it seemed to me that a short volume on the best couple of lessons, and the most common mistakes, is needed and timely. 

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