Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fun and games in the creative department.

       In the post-Mad-Men days, the creative departments of advertising agencies were generally regarded as more like a high school than a business office. "Those creative people---they're always goofing off!" And we were.

       It wasn't like we didn't dress like everybody else, because we did. Ties were a big thing, which is why my art-director friend Bob was so upset when Jane, a writer, cut off his tie. Suits were big, too. Usually too big, in fact, but we weren't so fashion-conscious back then. Mostly, we were fashion unconscious.

       But we were always playing games. Frisbie was popular out in the main hall, and the idea was to keep it from going down the elevators when the doors opened. When someone brought in a miniature pool table, we all wanted to play, and immediately asked management for a regulation-size. We were denied.

       Creative people were always at their most creative at finding things to do. One election year, we decided to create posters as if we were running for president, and within a day everyone had a sign on his or her door. My favorite was my friend Marv's: "Elect a veteran". Another writer's sign said "Vote for Marilyn. A headline in every pot."

       Carol, I think, came up with the game of casting the stars of a hypothetical movie being made about our agency. Since Marv wanted to be played by Cary Grant, I settled for Victor Mature. Everyone said it was type casting.

       That game went on for about a month, until John, a copy supervisor, came up with the notion that our agency was run very much like a suburban high school. That sounded right, and we all decided to assign roles to ourselves. Clark was the rich kid whose dad gave him a Porsche. Gene was the gym teacher. And I was the kid who always went home for lunch.

       You probably wonder why the agency's management put up with this. In retrospect, so do I. Why did they let this go on and on? Didn't it interfere with productivity since it took so much of our time?

       The answer was no, just the opposite. We were happy people having fun, and happy creative people do better work. We knew what we were getting paid for, and we always delivered. I worked at another agency where we took lunch from noon to 2 p.m., because that's how long it took us to go to the hotel next door, swim in the indoor pool, eat, and come back. We voluntarily worked late a couple of nights a week.

       As you can imagine, the rest of the agency thought we were juvenile. There were a lot of advantages to that. Travel plans were always made for us. We didn't have to carry equipment or even the ads for the presentation (we might lose them). And we never had to stay for the whole meeting, just the creative portion.

       These days, in these tough times, a lot less of this is going on, but it does go on. I think even more should be going on. These days it would be yoga, or Pilates. The more stress relievers, the better the commercials.

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