Flat White

Is Kevin putting his book together? Some clairvoyance from the editor

1 August 2016

4:07 AM

1 August 2016

4:07 AM

You can always tell when someone has finally had enough of their job and is desperate to get the hell out. It’s called “putting your book together.” As the creative director of an ad agency, you learn to spot the signs pretty quickly. Suddenly, the art director – let’s call him, say, Kevin – becomes feverishly active. Out of the blue, he starts popping up all over the place. Weekend work? No probs. Late night meetings? Too easy, count me in. Treading on toes and butting in on other people’s business becomes the order of the day. You see, Kevin will do literally anything to get some more ads out. He’s putting his book together.

It all began a few weeks earlier. Kevin had been miserable in his job for quite a few months. Sure, he got to travel a lot and go on all the overseas shoots. The expense account was good, too. But creatively, well, Kevin felt stifled. And under-appreciated. Nobody asked for his opinion anymore. And worse, that back-stabbing red-headed bitch was definitely getting on his nerves big time. That voice! Aaarrrrgggh. So one lunchtime Kevin snuck out to see a Headhunter. Furtively smuggling his “book” – the shiny black portfolio containing his very best work – out of the office, he hopped in a cab for his secret rendezvous in a cafe on the other side of town. Headhunters don’t do much, apart from make tons of money and the odd phone call. But you can rest assured they will immediately tell you one thing; that your book isn’t up to scratch. Kevin sits there, stunned. Spread out across the table is his most famous campaign. As everyone knows, it won every top award in town; Best Ad Campaign of the Year, Most Effective Campaign of the Year, Most Memorable Slogan, Best Use of a Number. How much more up-to-scratch can you get, he protests, his voice rising unnaturally. The Headhunter casually lights up another cigarette, flicks the ash over her shoulder, and shrugs dismissively. Yes, but that was way back in 2007, she says. This is 2011. That’s a lifetime ago in this game. What stuff have you done recently? What on earth have you been doing with yourself all this time?

Kevin frowns pensively, and pushes his glasses up his nose. Of course, how could he forget? Eagerly, he starts describing the massive anti-carbon campaign he spent so long conceptualizing. It was brilliant! Ahead of its time, unbelievably creative, dynamic… But the Headhunter cuts him off. So what? she says, dismissively – that campaign never ran. Nobody cares how good it could have been, she snarls, cruelly emphasizing the “could”. If it didn’t even get up, it counts for jack-shit. Kevin starts to sweat. It’s true, he thinks to himself. Nor did the Mining campaign. Nor the… He stops himself. So many great campaigns he’d had in his head. Yet none of them had actually seen the light of day. Just loose ideas. Doodles and scribbles on the back of his pads.

He starts to stammer. The Grocery thing, that was really interactive, he says, trying to sound enthusiastic. And the, um… the Pink Batts was kind of an interesting approach to…

You can’t put that crap in your book! snaps the Headhunter. Those ads bombed. Bigtime. They were a disaster.

Kevin gulps, lost for words. The reality is, says the Headhunter, ordering dessert, you can’t put any of that stuff in your book. You got nothin’. What the top agencies are looking for these days are the big visual campaigns. Lots of dramatic footage. Raw emotion. Passion. That’s what turns them on. And forget Australia. The really cool jobs are overseas.

Kevin nods, taking it all in. London, Geneva. Or even the really big one, New York. Forget piddly old Canberra. It was a crap joint anyway. Way too political, for starters. And they’d never appreciated him here, not really. Let’s face it, he tells himself, you’re far too good for this lot!

So what do I have to do, Kevin pleads, as the bill arrives and they agree to split it. The Headhunter looks thoughtful, then decides there’s no need to tip. Get a few new ads out there, she says. Visibility is everything. They’ve got to be topical, you know, current. Relevant! And noisy. Make people sit up and take notice. Find some controversial campaigns you can get involved in. Natural disasters are good. War’s even better. Nuclear’s best! Scare people. Lots of graphic pictures. Get them talking about you again. Write a few opinion pieces in the trade rags, just for good measure. Can’t hurt.

Kevin nods, taking it all in. And then, says the Headhunter, as soon as you’ve got your book together, give me a shout. In the meantime, I’ll start lining up a few interviews. She smiles. There’s a really tasty position coming up in New York pretty soon. Korean bloke. Completely useless. You’d be perfect for it.

Kevin grins, and thanks her profusely. Then he rushes back to the agency as fast as he can. There’s no time to waste when you’re putting your book together.

This is an extract from Rowan Dean’s ‘Beyond Satire’ (Connor Court). It first ran on ‘The Drum’ website in March 2011 and is one of the author’s first published pieces.

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