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November 19, 2010 / davebirss

The start of this journey

I’ve got a terrible admission to make. I’d been working as a creative for several years before it really sunk in that my job was to sell stuff. And here was me trying to do things with some kind of artistic integrity or write Monty Python-inspired radio ads or get knob gags into press ads. It was fun to do – but I’m sure it was pretty ineffective.

The sad thing is that I wasn’t the only creative behaving this way. I’d picked up this attitude from the people around me and thought it was normal.

Over the years I’ve found that most creatives have a resistance to the idea of sales. It feels dirty to them. Lacking in integrity. A bit embarrassing. As if they’re selling out. That’s one of the reasons Direct Marketing has had such a bad rap over the years.

But the truth is that we’re salesmen.

And, to make it even harder, we’re selling without being able to see the whites of the customers’ eyes.

When I came to terms with this, I realised that I didn’t know that much about sales. So I decided to swat up on it. I’d done work experience at a medical sales company many years before and I’d worked in a car showroom. These guys knew about sales. If they didn’t sell, they couldn’t pay for the cheap wine they used to numb the pain of their miserable lives. So they’d go to seminars and read Anthony Robbins books and listen to Zig Ziglar cassettes. They knew the importance of rapport and persuasion and closing a sale. So I decided that if I wanted to be a good salesman as a creative, I could do worse than learn from these Mondeo-driving, M6 warriors. I bought a bunch of books and started reading.

And I spent a year reading sales manuals, listening to motivational speakers and getting to know the techniques. Then I worked out how this knowledge could be applied to my own job writing ads.

At the time I was Head of Copy at part of Crispin Porter. And I wanted the rest of the department to benefit from all of this thinking. So I distilled all the stuff I’d learned and put together a short guide on how to write persuasive copy for my writers. It’s proved to be quite popular over the years – and you can find it here, if you’re interested.

This was probably the start of my interest in improving education within the advertising industry. And my first steps along the road that have led to me starting Additive.

It’s strange where life leads you. Two years ago, I’d never have thought I’d be doing this. But I guess that’s what happens when you see life as a journey. You can’t keep still. And given the choice of two paths, you’re always going to take the more interesting one.

This particular path is turning out to be more interesting, exciting and challenging than I could ever have dreamed.

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