I come from media – a blessing, a curse and, well, an amazing experience that offers a peek inside the genesis of the creative industry, the creative economy and the faded glory of Madison Avenue. My life was truly a slice of Mad Men, only it was real. I know this because I lived it. I was a reporter, a writer, a strategist, an editor and a storyteller — and i drank vodka tonics at lunch at Ben Benson’s for proof of concept. It was at a time when advertising was the defacto creative industry — a place of glamor, intrigue, creation and destruction. And one man defined it: David Ogilvy.
Once, I spent three wine-sloshed days and nights with Ogilvy at his French chateau. It was his first interview in years, and the last he would ever give. His narrative opened this way:
“Autumn in the Loire Valley is not David Ogilvy's favorite time of year. Too wet, too cold, too lonely after all of summer's visitors leave Touffou. Storm clouds smudge the November sky, Ogilvy's beloved gardens wilt under the first frost and afternoons are so quiet you can hear leaves drop. Still, on a long twilight walk to show visitors his river views and fiery countryside, he is more puzzled by the passage of time than saddened by it.
“It’s a curious thing about age, something I’m terribly conscious of these days,” says Ogilvy. “Can a man of 81 be good at anything in advertising, or is it ipsofacto that you’re useless at 81? They’re out there saying, for God’s sake, get rid of that old codger. But I’ve had to become outspoken. There is still very much I would like to do and not many years to do it … Don’t laugh off experience.
Someone once said to me advertising has no history, which is a weird statement.”
I learned some things during this Mad Men phase of my life and in particular with regard to David Ogilvy’s wisdom (and my own experiences) – things that apply to startups, entrepreneurs, creatives, CEOS, and everyone. Advertising offers lessons that other industries do not: commerce, creativity, making money, losing it and then starting over – all on a storyboard.
To succeed in the creative industries (or any industry, really), here are some thoughts on what you need:
Lead: Let somebody who can make things happen lead and believe and never waiver from this conviction. This person must inspire greatness and not fear.
Create: Never subordinate creativity.
Find talent: Let talent of all kinds, whether visionary, artist or craftsman, go free and find itself. Diversify your thinking with your talent.
Go clear: Get everything and everyone out of their way.
The results will be mind-blowing once you loosen the rules and set the ideas free. I believe completely that only talent, freed of restraint, can create excellence, and that excellence on a level any genre has known, is the path to sustainable success. I touched and changed everything I could to inspire talent that pressed the boundaries.
I didn’t ask anyone’s permission. And neither should you. Go create greatness.