Ad Creatives Should Work in the Entertainment Industry

seinfeld_narrowweb__300x346,0The broadcast industry and ad industry have long driven down parallel roads in the marketing world. To the uninitiated, the two might seem like kissing cousins. But having worked on both sides of the fence, I can tell you they remain distinctly different. Ad agencies work from a base where research and psychographic/demographic information rules. No self-respecting planner would bless a creative brief or Comm Plan without a fistfull of “insights that drive the brand” – consumer “hot buttons” truths about behaviour or belief that are sure to help the creative team’s creative solutions get the audience engaged and onboard. It’s like an engagement insurance policy. And yet in broadcast, research exists as a back-end tool … providing basic demographic information that informs which consumers the uber-network would like to attract, not necessarily who will be predisposed to watch that particular show. I’ve always found this incredibly odd. Very cart before the horse. Our network is very big on testing creative … to avert disaster, based on feedback from maybe 50 people if the research is rushed. Great for the network, bad for creative. Imagine a committee of 50 people, being paid to give an opinion – judging something never before seen? Disaster. But that’s the way we roll and you quickly develop a thick skin and various ways to say “we’ll look it” – the creative’s non-committal way of not agreeing to change a damn thing.

Whole different animal #2 – Agencies would NEVER work without a creative brief – the marketing contract between yourself and your client. Network-side, the creative brief is a relative newcomer to the game, and is often badly written by people who don’t really understand why creatives need one in the first place. Without a brief, subjective feedback will drive every project, so briefs are a part of our daily lives thank god. The flipside of course, because the glass is always half full, or else creatives would be driven mad, is that no one can really tell if creative is on strategy, and sometimes you can drive your creative truck right on through without anyone raising a red flag.

These are just two of the bigger examples of how processes differ between agencies and network marketing creative departments. And there are plenty of other examples, but I don’t want to bore you here because I want to get to the point of this blog post.

So why should ad creatives work in the entertainment industry?
A: Creating content is a collaboration.

When was the last time you groaned with disappointment at a :30 TV spot budget that was under $250K? When was the last time you threw your hands in the air with frustration at a 1 week deadline? When was the last time you demanded a face-to-face creative briefing? Or thought of yourself as a writer, art director or digital programmer/producer? The amazing thing about working in the entertainment industry – at a broadcast network, is the inherent diversity, collaboration and rule breaking that it encourages. While the downside are processes that are enough to make an agency person shudder with horror, the flipside is an open barn door … with green pastures beckoning. Wanna be a TV writer? Think you can write something suitable creepy for “Dexter”? Or a rant for “The Rick Mercer Report”? Yes, very often the budgets are small for TV “promo” shoots. But you have an arsenal of in-house crew available to make your big idea come to life … and very often celebrity talent attached – with an established brand – allowing you to creatively dabble, while selling, with access to content that at an agency would cost big bucks to secure. And guess what? You might be asked to turn your script around in a day … actually a wonderfully liberating experience – if you’re willing to let go of your preconcieved ideas of a real timeline. You will quickly put away your mantra “do you want it good – or do you want it fast” when you realize that pressure actually forces you to avoid the creative roads that include dead ends and circles. You get to the creative point much faster when there’s a gun to you head. Not always, but once in a while it’s a good way to evaluate your creative chops. Thinking fast on your feet these days is something we all need to encourage more of. While I advocate “enough” time for a project, I can remember a standard 3-week timeline for a TV spot agency-side. And I remember equally that the first 2 weeks work were usually a waste.

In an agency, you are what you were hired to do. At the network, you are what you can do – and sometimes can’t. There are so many creative outlets for advertising folks outside of the standard paid media. Several times a year, the networks hold “upfronts” – usually a big media and client event featuring the new shows for that networks upcoming season. It’s part presentation, part award ceremony, part live TV special, part Broadway extravaganza. At our network, we do most of the work in-house. Everyone rolls up their sleeves and pitches in – taking their skill sets and pushing them to a higher level. A copywriter for example, might be asked to write a speech, or write on-camera dialogue for a presenter. What to get back at all those lame jokes you suffered through watching an Academy Awards presentation? Now’s your chance to pitch your own witty banter for the celebs introducing the next show for the assembled press. An art director might get a chance to pitch ideas for sets. Or may be asked to come up with the overall concept for the event. The list goes on and on. Again – not the place for people caught up in process. This is collaboration central. But if you enjoy thinking on your feet and stretching your creative boundaries, it’s a great way to do so.

These are just a few examples, but I’ve saved the best for last. Ever noticed how networks advertising pretty much all looks the same? Other than a few bright lights out there doing really creative stuff, very few actually do. The challenge is to overcome the network exec. who says, “I’m paying millions of bucks for Mr. Famous So-And-So. I wanna see his face in the advertising.” Here is your chance to REALLY prove yourself creatively. It’s one area of marketing that is crying out for a saviour. For someone to change the paradigm. For someone to knock it out of the park. Who knows – that someone could be you.


About Jill Atkinson

From concepts and smart headlines to original content and transmedia storytelling, to television pitch materials, directors treatments, long format writing, blogs and web copy with SEO, I write it all. I'm a writer, copywriter, and a content writer. My job is to help you say it better with ideas and language that get noticed. With copy and content that engages customers and audiences and ideas that make a connection with them. Ideas that generate a response. Materials that can sell a pitch. When you work with me you're working with the big boys: Maclaren, BBDO, Taxi, Sharpe Blackmore and also a great bunch of mid-sized agencies, b2b shops, a national television network (CBC), 15 specialty channels (History Channel, National Geographic, Showcase, Action, IFC, BBC Canada, + many more) and start ups who have taught me everything I know about how to get you noticed, remembered and sold. Or clicked. Or talked about. There are lots of ways to try to sell your products or to sell people on your offer or to engage them in your content and your show. But there is only one way to get it done right and on strategy. My experience is a foot in the door for your brand or your television idea . And no matter the size of your project, my commitment and attention to detail remain the same, big or small and always on deadline. Great conversations have to start somewhere. Give me a call or shoot me an email Check out my work at
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3 Responses to Ad Creatives Should Work in the Entertainment Industry

  1. Ian David says:

    Many thanks for providing fascinating insight into the nature of TV programming and promo production. As an ACD in ad agency, I’d naturally suspected that our two industries had as many points of similarity as they had difference. What I lacked was specifics and your piece made abundantly clear the differing mentalities and methodologies at work. It would seem that TV allows for a broader concept of roles and responsibilities. Personally, I love the idea that a writer with a passion for expanding his or her skills set is free to on the task of writing, say, a piece of on-camera dialogue. Very a liberating and literally invites talent to rise up . In the ad world, variety of opportunity exists to a far lesser degree.
    Totally agree that pressure concentrates the mind wonderfully, and I for one wouldn’t want it any other way – the adrenalin rush of a cool concept coming together at lightening fast speed is one the things that makes our respective fields so attractive in the first place.
    One last point regarding network advertising. As you well know, us ad folks have briefs that come with “set in stone” mandatories all the time, so one that stipulated “Must See Mr Famous’s Face” would not be entirely surprising. The real challenge would be to add the twist that makes the old new and the ordinary extraordinary – a game changing idea that redefines the nature of the beast.
    I for one would be up for it.
    Thanks again for a great article.

  2. blokewriter says:

    Hey Jill,
    Thanks for a great post of the nature of the television and promo production. As a ACD in an ad agency, I’d long suspected that the worlds of advertising and TV shared as many similarities as they did differences. I found the specifics of the differing mentalities and methodologies fascinating. It would appear that TV’s apparently looser structure makes for a greater variety of opportunity, simply requiring personalities that are bold, talented and ambitious enough to take advantage of them. A barn door to greener pastures indeed.
    I agree with you on the ability of pressure to focus thinking too – the adrenalin rush of seeing and feeling a concept come together at lightening fast speed is one of the joys of working in our respective industries.
    Finally, as you well know, most ad briefs more often that not comes with some mandatory or other, so a stipulation that “Mr Famous’s Face Must Be The Star of The Promo” wouldn’t necessarily be too much of a head-scratcher. What it would need, of course, is the twist, that flash of brilliance that makes the old new, the ordinary extraordinary and the stale fresh.
    I for one would be up for that kind of challenge.
    Thanks again for sharing your insight.

  3. Hayes says:

    OK, you’ve convinced me. Got any jobs?

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