Author Archives: David Fowler

About David Fowler

David Fowler is an Executive Creative Director in advertising in New York City.

Dear Freelancer

For five years, I worked with agencies across the country as a freelance creative director. Along the way, I made a list of survival tips. Here you go.  

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You’re the app for that.

Think of yourself as an app.  An app must furnish information, create entertainment, or have utility.  If  you do all (most) of that then you have created value.  Creating value is what you’re paid to do.  OpenTable is a perfect … Continue reading

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Ready for your moment?

There’s one thing you must always have on hand:  a decent suit or a nice dress.  You’ll get a call to meet with a client.  You’ll need to go to a funeral.  Your company will host a table at a … Continue reading

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The Perfect Job

One of the great advertising bloggers, George Tannenbaum, advises a colleague who dreams of the perfect job:   Note to a disconsolate friend. Getting the ideal job. The perfect job. The job you’ve always wanted. Very few people get that. … Continue reading

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The Creative Companion.

I have harrowing memories of my first years as an advertising writer, filled with ambition and energy but without any framework for efficiently having ideas.   Over time, I compiled a little manual you can haul out in a desperate moment … Continue reading

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Think well, write well

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Be present future.

Making advertising is about having ideas on behalf of others for money on deadline.  But it’s the deadline where most of us go blank in the eyes.  The deadline implies that there’s not enough time, and that idea scares the hell … Continue reading

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Feel the brand.

A brand is the way a person feels about a product or service.  It’s created not by advertising, but by a set of experiences. Think of a brand like an art museum. How you feel about the pictures is what makes them … Continue reading

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Spot the leader.

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Is your bed made?

One of the great commencement speeches of 2014 begins with simple advice.  And sure, the bed is really your bed.  But it’s also a metaphor for how you show up at work and how you go home.  Forever. Click on … Continue reading

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Freelance rules.

There’s an art to being a freelancer.  Talented freelancers often do a better job of navigating your company than many staffers.  Three reasons:  One, they’re happy to be working and it shows.  Two, they know the party can end without warning so … Continue reading

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Your body is showing.

When you’re facing a client, your body language says a lot.  The same applies when you’re in a job interview.  I’m not an expert but here’s what I look for, and avoid.  Crossed arms mean you’re shut down.  Leaning back … Continue reading

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Those creative cliches.

There’s only one thing more cliched than creative people bitching about the account team.  And that’s the creative people bitching about the clients.  But the smart, longterm thinkers amongst the creative intelligentsia play it another way.  They recognize that clients … Continue reading

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Story rules.

If story is what you’re trying to do, Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling is a brilliant road map.

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Real writing.

There’s a classic New Yorker cartoon (Marisa Acocella) showing two singles standing at a bar and the guy saying:  “Copywriting is too ‘writing.’”  That’s the classic dilemma of advertising writers who want to be taken seriously.  The truth is, writing … Continue reading

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The old story.

Storytelling.  This is not a new idea.  Completely inauthentic, manufactured, magical fictions concocted to sell things have long been potent weapons of commerce.  Take a look at this ancient classic from advertising guru Hal Riney.  It’s a story (winter preparations) within … Continue reading

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Meeting of meetings.

You’ve heard it before.  This meeting is going to be the end of all meetings.  The one where the veil will be lifted, the balance swung to either great victory or the abyss of failure.  Right.  This may indeed be … Continue reading

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Good vs. right.

In the rush to create, the pressure often mounts to meet a deadline (right) and follow all the rules and guidelines (right.)  That is not the same thing as creating something wonderful or effective (good.)  Don’t lose the path toward … Continue reading

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Make your art.

Eventually, you and your clients will release the project to a director, photographer, editor, illustrator, etc.  At that point, you must say to that person:  “Go make your art.”  That’s what you’ve hired the person to do.  He’s an expert … Continue reading

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Grope well.

Get this straight.  You are no longer a lone creative genius charged with having a great idea then powering it forward.  You are part of a group of people with different skills around the table, each offering perspective and ideas. … Continue reading

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Parallel push.

You’re waiting on a brief.  Everything is in flux.  Nobody knows nothing and panic runs in the streets.  You know what you do?  Start.  Do not, I repeat, do not, get caught up in the swell of anguish and moaning. … Continue reading

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The perfect brief(s).

You have to check in on this letter every year or two, just to remind yourself that it only takes a couple of paragraphs to make a great brief. Mick Jagger understand how to direct Andy Warhol for the cover … Continue reading

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What does it want to be?

Sometimes you just need to wait.  To watch.  To do nothing.  The art of managing your career sometimes comes down to what you don’t do.  Give the game a little time to come to you.  The true fielder lets the … Continue reading

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Stan’s way.

“We are not gallery painters who paint when the feeling moves us.” That’s from the Inc. Magazine interview with Stan Richards, who runs the tightest independent agency in the U.S.  Here’s the whole story: THE VIEW FROM PLANET STAN

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Abate jargon.

Ours is an advertising era determined to rename simple ideas with mystical names.   Most of this is horseshit intended to intimidate the competition and make clients think you’re smarter than they are.  Nobody buys it.  You just look silly … Continue reading

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Play dirty, but fair.

Your team arrives at the pitch location, and is ushered into the room.   Now what?  First, how is the room arranged?  Where’s the best position to speak from?  If the pitch is on your home turf, use place cards … Continue reading

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The point of a pitch.

A pitch may seem like an exercise to see who can best solve a client’s advertising problem.  It’s not.  It’s about proving that you’re the right partner.  Don’t sell advertising.  Sell your agency. Even if you don’t crack the perfect … Continue reading

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Keep your head.

Emotions within the agency will run high in new business pitches and before key presentations.  The hours are long, uncertainty reigns, mind reading and second guessing drive the machine.  You also find new people around the table, ones who have … Continue reading

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Afford to lose?

Decide how much you’re willing to spend before you ever commit to being in a pitch.  It’s amazing how many agencies blindly jump into reviews with no clue about how much they’re willing to spend to compete.  Can you afford … Continue reading

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The last ditch.

The pre-pro meeting before shooting a commercial is sometimes considered a mundane rite.   Time to flip through the book and pray the client doesn’t ask any pesky questions.  Actually, it’s the most crucial moment of the shoot, your last … Continue reading

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Spoils to the paranoid.

There’s a lot at stake in a pitch.  Not only the upside for the agency, but also the collective efforts that everyone has poured into it.  So if you have a war room, lock it.  Consider a code name for … Continue reading

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Selling it in.

Once more I hasten to add that the work before you is not a personal art project which will live on its creative brilliance.  You have to be able to show the value to the client.  It’s just not apparent … Continue reading

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Acting out.

Do not ever, ever dress up in a costume or act out a role in a presentation.  Putting on costumes will make you look ridiculous.  Acting out a commercial will make you look like a band of idiots.  I know … Continue reading

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Shoot yourself first.

Shooting a commercial for a pitch is not just costly in terms of money, it costs you in terms of people.  You will throw a couple of creative people and several producers against an effort that will ultimately prove futile.  … Continue reading

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In the kitchen

Chef Mario Batali’s advice (Esca, Babbo, Del Posto) for running a kitchen could so apply to a creative department.  No shouting.   Start with order then move to chaos, not the other way around.  He can tell if he wants … Continue reading

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Be present.

All pitches are hard.  But some pitches are nightmares because of bad planning by agency management.  If you run the place, do your people a favor:  jump into the pitch quickly and bang it out.  Focus on it and be … Continue reading

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Like the plague.

Nothing bums people out worse than working on Thanksgiving.  Or July Fourth.  Or, heaven forbid, a religious holiday.   If you must enlist people on such an occasion, make it pleasant, cheerful and quick.  Make it up to them, sometime, … Continue reading

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Get on the script.

An important pitch or presentation is no place to wing it.  Write down your remarks beforehand and insist that everyone else do the same.  Gather to review your spiels, and offer criticism to one another. One wrong answer, one contradictory … Continue reading

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Salvage the dignity.

If you’re the incumbent on a pitch and you’re getting signals that you can’t win, then there’s a good chance that you’re a dead duck.  Resign with dignity.  Then you’ll be free to put your efforts toward another client in … Continue reading

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Shut up and sell.

Remember this old salesman’s adage:  “If you’re talking, you’re selling.  If they’re talking, they’re buying.”   Lay back and let clients verbalize their thoughts after you’ve shown your work.   Let them talk, especially if what they’re saying is positive. Don’t … Continue reading

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Get what you want.

Don’t get mad.  Get what you want.  This is what you call “living in the solution.” Wailing and crying about problems and injustices only makes you look childish. Don’t go off in a snit.  Go off and figure out what … Continue reading

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Fake it like a pro.

Remember, it’s a business.  The creative people who win in the business are ones capable of getting in front of a client, presenting their ideas, then getting permission to move forward based on trust.  Show your craziness in your work, … Continue reading

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The food chain.

For all your desire to “just do the work,” realize that you’re actually managing your career, too.  Advertising is a temporal business.  It relentlessly looks to new people and ideas to feed it.   And you, whether you realize it … Continue reading

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Packing it up.

There’s a lot to be said for finding a stable job at a good place and building a career.  On the other hand, moving around can be a really good strategy.   You will build a network of friends and … Continue reading

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Don’t leave too soon.

Jeff Goodby once told me that “new campaigns get famous in their second year.”  He’s right.  The first year takes fine tuning.  By the second year, you’ve got it and everyone notices including awards show judges. If you’ve got a … Continue reading

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Honestly.

To outsiders, the notion of advertising integrity is an oxymoron.  But creative people know there’s a code of honesty and originality that good creative people honor.  But what qualifies as stealing?  Sometimes it’s hard to know. Hearing a good voiceover … Continue reading

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Be nice to headhunters.

Take calls from recruiters, and always call them back.  Build a rapport with some, and maintain it over the years.  You never know when one of them will have the job of your dreams.  Even more, you never know when … Continue reading

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Meet the press or not.

If a reporter calls you, remember never to say anything you don’t want to see in print or writ large online.  You can look like a fool and ruin your career with just a handful of words, spoken in a … Continue reading

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The happy freelancer.

As a freelancer, you’re not entitled to enjoy the normal grousing and complaining that goes on in the creative department of an advertising agency.  You’re free, so people on staff can’t imagine what you have to complain about. Go about … Continue reading

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Oh. It’s you.

Freelancers get called when there’s a problem; a pitch, or an assignment that can’t be cracked. Realize that some people on staff at the advertising agency may think you’re there to swipe opportunities that otherwise might go to them.  Tread … Continue reading

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No whining.

When you’re interviewing for a job, never find common ground  by carping about difficult clients.  It’s an easy place to go for creative people, a universal subject that seems like it will unite you in a common struggle with the … Continue reading

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Heart the job.

The most important attribute you can exhibit during a job interview is “heart.”  It sounds corny, but the emotional vibe you throw off, the look in your eyes, the depth of your care and interest are palpable to an interviewer.  … Continue reading

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Cut yourself out.

The single most important person on any film or commercial shoot isn’t even at the shoot.  He’s your editor. (Or she.)  Don’t go spend hours looking at dailies and all the selects.  Let the editor do his job.  You hired … Continue reading

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Get a room.

When you’re facing a pitch or big presentation, designate a conference room or empty office as your war room.  That way you’ll have a central, familiar place to gather. You can leave research materials out, and leave work up on … Continue reading

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The endless pitch.

Remember that a pitch can take months.  Remember that there will be torturous twists and turns.  Resolve to roll with it for the duration.  Rarely does a single day, a single action, or a single mistake define the outcome. Much … Continue reading

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Step up to the pitch.

When a new business pitch is announced most creative people run like rats from a burning ship.  Pitches burn weekends and a lot of midnight oil. What most creative people forget is that they will be drafted to work on … Continue reading

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The magic phrase.

Everybody knows the magic word in advertising is “free.”  But the magic phrase is “what if?”  Use it to start your thinking, to set up your work when presenting, and to challenge others who need inspiration.  As an idea nucleus, … Continue reading

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Work the plan.

The trick to successful film and television production (and pretty much everything in life) is planning, then step by step execution. Production, at its best, should be art by the numbers, not a freeform experiment in hoping something good happens … Continue reading

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The long haul.

There is a decent chance that the people you start out with in the advertising business are ones you’ll know all along the way.  For decades, perhaps.  It’s hard to imagine when you’re young, but it’s true.  The way you … Continue reading

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Be in real time.

Your TV spot or online film will exist in a finite length.  It’s not an experimental art project that will just stop when it’s done.  It’s advertising. So come to grips with that fact upfront.   Take a sheet of … Continue reading

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Who’s got your back?

Don’t just pick a director.  Pick a production company. Proven, solid commercial production companies offer advantages.  They have an ongoing relationship with your advertising agency, which they want to protect.  So it’s not just your film or spot on the line, … Continue reading

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Central to casting.

You look at casting tapes or photos until your eyes bleed.  The duds are easy to spot because they look wrong or can’t act.  But how do you choose between the real contenders?  The eyes.  Cover the bottom of the … Continue reading

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Think people.

Don’t think about making an ad.  Think about the people who might be in it.  How would you use people in your ad?  What would they be doing?  What effect would the product have on them?  What’s on their faces? … Continue reading

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Letters never sent.

The ‘draft’ feature is the most important email feature you have.  Harry Truman left 140 letters in his desk on his death.  “The best letters I ever wrote were the ones I never sent.”  He’d dash off an angry, profane … Continue reading

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Focus your group.

You think advertising focus groups are a necessary evil, which you either attend at gunpoint or watch online in a comatose state.  No and no.  The truth is that those people sitting across the glass are writing ads for you … Continue reading

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Are you the game?

Are you waiting on the game to come to you?  Sitting frozen presuming an expert from the “Dept. of Clarity” is heading your way?  You might, in fact, be that expert.  Sure, you don’t want to go off half-cocked and … Continue reading

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To write better, stop writing.

Start reading.  No, not blogs and magazines. Books.  Real books.  See how the greats used words and told stories.  Where to start?  The New York Times Book Review gives you about the best list in the world.  Just go to … Continue reading

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A piece of advice.

There are pieces of bread.  Pieces of eight.  Pieces of meat.  But there are never “pieces of business.”  If you refer to them that way in the halls, you’re sure to repeat it in the presence of a client.  It … Continue reading

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Share the T-shirt.

The most experienced and costly creative people simply cannot do the T-shirt.  That’s like killing a fly with a sledgehammer.  You may eventually kill the fly, but not without putting a lot of costly holes everywhere in the process.  Look … Continue reading

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Factor in fear.

Don’t think about ideas your client might be willing to buy.  Think about what your client is afraid of (their boss, a board meeting, budget pressure). If you can figure out the fear, and creatively solve for that ahead of time, … Continue reading

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Singe the earth. Don’t scorch it.

New business pitches are momentary aberrations that can have long term effects.  You can win a new client and transform the entire advertising agency.  Or, in the emotional rollercoaster of pitch mode, you can wreck your relationships within the agency … Continue reading

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Be heard, for sure.

Overcommunicate.  The most dangerous five words in the business vocabulary are “Did you get my email?”  It presumes that the other person is fully responsible for receiving the information that you’re trying to impart, and that by sending an email … Continue reading

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In the eye.

In truth, you’re not just in charge of having ideas.  You’re in charge of selling them, too.  Sometimes that means you have to be the one to say “No, let’s don’t just email it.”  You might need to get on a … Continue reading

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The weekly ritual.

Every Monday (or Tuesday) first thing, insist that everyone get around the table.  It’s called a status meeting.  I know, you think this is something the account team should do.  You think this is so basic it goes without saying. … Continue reading

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You’re toast, pal.

One day you will get fired.  A round of layoffs.  A client who didn’t fully appreciate you or your staggering genius.  A brawl between you and your boss.  There are a million possibilities and most of them come as no … Continue reading

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