#255 In which our hero discusses what was said to him by a coworker recently causing flames to shoot out of his eyes (our hero, not the coworker)
nIf you follow my Twitter account, you already know that a coworker called me an “asshole” last week. And I mean really called me an asshole, in anger, with malice. I have to make that distinction because when creative people in the advertising industry get together the conversation often quickly drops to the level of 8-year-olds on the playground.
I’m not going to get into the particulars of the project because a.) it wouldn’t be wise for me to discuss actual client work on my dumb blog and b.) it’s irrelevant to the story. What this really is about (other than the account executive (or AE) in question being an arrogant knob who’s pretty piss-poor at his job) is the constant and universal struggle between AEs and the creative staff.
I’ve worked at several agencies, and it’s always like this. The reality is that the system we all labor under is really set up to fail. It works like this: the client gives some sort of direction about what s/he wants in the latest print ad/radio spot/brochure/whatever. The AE in turn takes that information and relays it to the creative staff, usually in the form of a written document (generally called a “brief.”) The problem should already be obvious: the creative staff, ie., the people who will actually write and design the end result, are getting the information from the client second-hand. To make matters worse, we’re getting the information in a written document, usually well after the actual meeting between AE and client. So we don’t have the opportunity to ask question as the information is being relayed to us, then, if we do go back to the AE and ask questions, the information is no longer fresh in his/her mind.
So every project generally starts at a deficient.
But that’s just a little background, and not really important to what the AE called me (which, you’ll remember, is “asshole.”)
So we have a industrial parts manufacturer with a new product. They are very excited about this new product, so they’re pulling out all the stops to tell the world about it: brochures, trade show panels, email alerts, new mini-website and more. So we, the creative staff, get all this crap thrown at us and we start digging through it, producing the most important bits first. The website, which this tale hinges on, is pushed to the bottom of the pile, because it’s not a critical element and is quick and easy to turn around.
So early last week the AE suddenly sends out an email saying, “Hey, what’s up with the website? I want to show the client something on Friday.” He hadn’t indicated that there was any urgency with this part of the project up until this part. And honestly, it wasn’t a big deal, because the art director and I had been working on it, off and on, all along, and we had finished stuff to show.
Then it got interesting.
The AE looks at our work, then sends out an email the next day. It’s a three page mini-site and he has commentary about each page. And this next part is the problem.
Account executives aren’t writers. They aren’t designers. The best of them have insights into what the client likes and dislikes, what hot buttons set them off or make them fall in love with projects, and can share this insight with you to make the project better. But this guy isn’t the best of the best. And in his commentary, he wasn’t providing any insight anyway, he was art directing the project. And more to the point, it wasn’t really about his comments, it was about the way he delivered them. He was arrogant and condescending, and gave himself a lot more credit then he was due. “This layout is too busy,” he wrote in his email, “and where are the bullets that were outlined on the brief?”
So, hackles up, I write an email in response, saying that the creative team doesn’t think the layout is too busy, and that all the information from the brief is in there, if he would look for it (I said this in a more polite way). The emails keep going back and forth, and get a little heated. His attitude is clearly: I TOLD you want to do, why aren’t you art monkeys following orders?
My attitude is “fuck that guy.” Because he’s trying to act as a creative director, and he has neither the experience or aptitude to do it. My email responses are getting shorter, but haven’t crossed the line to insulting yet.
Finally, the associate creative director and I end up in the art director’s office. The AE storms in all in a huff. The ACD says “Okay, what’s the problem with this layout?”
The AE says, as closely as I can remember it: “ALL I need to know is how this animation is going to work. THAT’S ALL. You just have to give me the information. There’s no need”--and here he looks directly at me--“to be an ASSHOLE in emails!”
Yeah, I know, a little anticlimactic. He didn’t say, “Hey, you’re an asshole!” but it was clear from his body language that he was saying exactly that.
Anyway, I am FURIOUS. And, I’ve been known to fly off the handle once or twice, especially when needlessly confronted by incompetents, so I immediately get up and square off with the guy and say, “Look! I’m not the one being an asshole here!”
The ACD intercedes and brings things back down to a reasonable level--which is nothing short of miraculous being that this ACD is an angry little man--and we hash things out reasonably. I think some of it was miscommunication, but more of it was this AE needed a dumb amount of hand-holding because he can’t properly do the job on his own. All the information he needed really was right there, if he took a moment to think about the project and look at the supporting materials.
So now the guy is all fakey nice-nice with me, as usual. Maybe he’s already moved past it. But I have been known to keep grudges FOREVER and can’t imagine I’m going to forget this any time soon.
But that’s just me being an asshole.