The Work World

Watch and Learn from the CEO

#titles — third in a series

Early in my career I worked for an ad agency as a writer. This firm had high expectations from its creative staff because the CEO was a seasoned art director. Mediocre work was not acceptable. My boss would repeatedly hand my copy back to me and tell me, “You can write better than that.” It infuriated me when I had to rewrite the same ad four or five times. But by the fifth time I grudgingly accepted that my boss was right. The rewrites were making me a better writer, but I also learned ads were more than just words.

The process of finalizing an ad — putting words and images together — was equally tough. I worked closely with the art director to craft an ad that would be memorable to whoever saw it. The Creative Director had to give the final stamp of approval before the ad was considered complete. More times than not, we had to go back to the drawing board to improve the ad. It was a brutal process that made us all better at our craft. But there was one final approval that was the toughest of all — the CEO.

In this agency creative was king and the king, the CEO, was a creative at heart. Everything needed his approval before it left the shop to go to the client. He demanded nothing less than our best. You can imagine my fear as I rode the elevator to the top floor with the creative director and art director to review the ad campaign we labored over for days. This was my first CEO review, but not for the other two in the elevator. No one spoke a word on the ride up, which only heightened my fear.

When the elevator doors opened, we were greeted by a receptionist. “He’s waiting for you,” she told us. My heart rate quickened as the three of us walked into the CEO’s office. A sharply dressed man in a deep blue suit with a stylish tie warmly greeted us. He acknowledged my two companions by their first name, then looked at me. “This is our new writer,” my creative director introduced me. I shook his hand. A firm, yet gentle grip that expressed confidence. He had an air of creative style about him, someone who felt details mattered.

“We can spread out the campaign on the table,” the CEO said. My creative director spread out the ad layouts on the table and the CEO instantly began to study each ad. The silence in the room was almost too much for me to handle as I watched him hover over each ad. When he finally spoke, he espoused creative wisdom, showing us ways to enhance each ad.

“The words and picture should work together,” he remarked. “If I put my hand over the picture, the words should become meaningless,” he added as he extended his hand over the photo in one ad layout. The moment he extended his hand, the watch on his wrist emerged from under his suit jacket. I didn’t hear another word he said.

“Oh my,” I said to myself. “That’s a Gucci watch he has on his wrist.” I stared at the watch and marveled at its sleek design — stripes of pearl inlay with small diamonds where the 12, 3, 6 and 9 would be on a watch. I once saw a pictures of this expensive watch and now here was one right in front of me. I became hypnotized as I admired the design of his Gucci watch while he waved his hand back and forth. “That had to cost a small fortune,” I thought as I stared at it, totally distracted.

“Do you see what I’m saying?” The CEO said to me as I watched his Gucci watch disappear under the sleeve of his suit jacket as he stood straight. “Uh, yeah, I do,” I nodded. “The pictures and words must work together,” I repeated the last line I heard. “Exactly,” he said.

A few minutes later we were back in the elevator with our ad layouts. When the doors closed and we started to descend to our floor, I blurted out, “Did you see his Gucci watch?” My creative director looked at me and smiled. “It’s a very stylish watch. It grabs your attention. It’s memorable just like our ads should be.” I smiled and nodded. He had made an excellent point.

To this day I still remember that Gucci watch on his wrist, waving back and forth. The image in my brain is vivid, as if it just happened a minute ago. I can still see the inlaid pearl strips reflecting multiple colors in the light. I wish I could say the same about the ad campaign we presented that day to the CEO. I can’t remember a single thing about those ads.

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