Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How does one tell a company that their ads are horrible?

Here’s an interesting question for all the advertising professionals out there.

But first, an introductory story.

Every morning, I read the Newspaper. I have been doing this since I started carrying two paper routes for the Toronto Sunday Sun at the age of 11.

The Sunday Sun is a heavy paper. It comes in two thick pieces that had to be assembled before I began delivery. Having two routes (including an entire building), there were a ton of papers to assemble. This meant papers flying around and pages opening to stories that would instantly grab my attention. Hijacked airliners, killer Kool Aid in Jonestown, and an assortment of serial killers roaming the city had me stopping constantly to read the details. Needless to say, I got very interested in World events at a very young age. I had to eventually give up the paper route when I decided it wasn’t really fair to the customers that were constantly complaining that their paper was late. To this day, I can’t start the morning without at least reading the front section of a newspaper containing the World’s headlines and the Letters to the Editor.

So, to make a long story short, here I am at 8:30 am this week, in my regular routine of eating breakfast and reading my newspaper when I discovered on page A3 (that’s the immediate page on the left after turning the cover) the most horribly created ad in the history of the last 10 years. It practically made my eyes bleed.

Not only was it beyond ugly, there were typos, alignment issues, bitmapped images, triple spacing between some words, even the company logo was a disaster.

I flipped some more pages and two more ads immediately stuck out thanks to their poorly designed concepts and layouts.

It appears that some small businesses are still placing large scale ads in the newspaper. But they seem to be creating them themselves.

And business owners wonder why they fail?

Of course, the first thought that goes through my mind is “I really need to contact them to offer my creative services”.

Now, here’s where my question to you comes in…

How do you politely and professionally call up a company and say “Hi, your ad in the newspaper today looked like my cat threw up in its mouth?

Do you tone it down and simply make the offer of “I’d like to come in and show you how I can help improve your advertising”?

Here’s something else to consider, is it even worth it? Would a company willing to place an ad like that on page 3 even consider paying a decent wage to have it done properly?

If you have ever made a cold call like this and it’s been a positive or negative experience, I for one would love to hear it.

Please discuss.

Monday, March 01, 2010

NEVER give up.

It is the first day of March and this is technically my first real blog post of 2010.

I have just had the busiest 2 months of my freelance career.

Like many in this industry, 2009 was a waiting game. It was the equivalent of fishing on a lake with a million other fishermen and no fish to be found.

For over 6 months I pushed, and schmoozed, and made endless phone calls, and typed hundreds of emails, and sent out dozens upon dozens of proposals, the entire time waiting for something to come through. I would have killed for just one bite. I had a lot of bait out there, and it was a waiting game for a strike on one of my lines.

In the meantime, I wrote for creative outlet. I complained about the state of the industry, crowdsourcing sites, stock photography sites selling logos, cheap designers, and everything else that was disgusting me in relation to what was horribly altering this great profession. I got contacted and gave interviews based on these posts, I kept busy, and no matter what, I always kept at it. I constantly threw out new bait and wondered when and if it would eventually pay off?

At the beginning of January, I decided to join my family in Florida for a week on the beach. After all, nobody was signing any of my proposals and nothing was lined up. I had nothing but free time. I was exhausted from plugging. I needed a bit of R&R.

Miraculously, the second my airline tickets were bought and confirmed, every fishing line started screaming.

Everything I was waiting for, everything I had put in motion over 6 months in 2009, hit at once.

I marveled at all the retainers and signed proposals coming in and left for Florida that week with nothing but a sketchbook in my carry-on luggage. I had that sketchbook with me throughout the trip. Scribbling ideas and concepts on the beach, at the pool, at breakfast, and even once while deep-sea fishing.

Unlike any other point in my career, I had to create a work calendar and schedule all the projects into hours for the month.

There were some late nights. There was some head spinning. But I managed to get it all completed to the required deadlines.

This is what I have worked on in the last 6 weeks…

Ad concepts (and much more) for a software client in New York city.

Advertising (and re-branding) for a national bank (working as a senior Art Director through an ad agency).

A logo for an online music store.

A logo for an online music forum.

A logo and business cards for an interior design company.

A complete company identity/branding for another.

Ad concepts for a large consulting firm.

A direct mail piece for a Podiatrist.

A direct mail piece for a high-end fashion client.

A brochure for a security company.

A website for a poker tournament.

B2B ads/spec sheets (for new products) for a leading worldwide electronics company.


I also got called into interviews for several full-time and freelance senior positions during this period. I had to turn down several other projects that didn’t match my skill set. One of which was lead programmer for the world’s most popular online poker site. That contract would have been very lucrative.

The highlight of the entire scope of work was when I was contacted and hired by a company based on my online rants against Crowdsourcing sites.

This company originally had an online contest and received hundreds of submissions resulting in nothing that was good enough to be used. In fact, the submissions were absolute dreck. I was hired to give them an identity they could be proud of. I came through (they liked all 3 concepts) and it will be launched in the near future. There is now one company out there that understands that if you think it is expensive to hire a professional, wait until you give your project to an amateur (or in this case, hundreds of them). You WILL most often get what you pay for.

My point to this post is not to boast but to inspire. To be honest, I am right back to square one. All of the projects are practically completed and I am now back to throwing baited lines into the water.

The point is to keep plugging. Keep fishing. Don’t give up. EVER. It may seem like nothing is happening but all of your hard work is setting the wheels in motion. It may seem like everything is hopeless and redundant but eventually, you WILL get a strike on one of your lines. So keep throwing out lines.

And of course, when all else fails, book a much-needed vacation.