Skip to content

The Rules

Here’s another greatest hits compilation of advice. This page will keep growing as I add more stuff. Please use the comments area to add your own tips to this ever-expanding list.

Quirky headline OR quirky visual.

One or the other.

Not both.

You’re judged on your judgement.

What you leave out of your portfolio is as important as what you leave in.

If you don’t enjoy what you’re creating, few people will enjoy what you’ve created.

Doing the same old thing never gets a different result.

Don’t present the client with anything you wouldn’t want them to run.

They’ll probably buy it!

Give your ideas away freely and more will come.

It’s the people with the fewest ideas that defend them most vigorously.

Critisism is more valuable than praise.

Growing your ego is the exact opposite of growing yourself.

Opinions are good.

Just agreeing with other people doesn’t make you valuable.

An idea doesn’t actually exist until it is shared.

The only truly good ideas are ideas that happen.

There’s a fine line between inspiration and plagiarism.

Steer clear of it.

If you want to get good things out of your creative mind, make sure you put good things into it.

Stop feeding it fresh stuff and you’ll only produce stale ideas.

Photoshop visuals are for designs.

Hand-drawn scamps are for concepts.

Show a Photoshop visual for a concept and the client will comment on the design.

If an agency doesn’t respect their creative work, they can’t expect the client to.

If an agency values what they are presenting, they will sell it, defend it and make sure the client understands and believes in it too.

The biggest mistake you can make is assume that your audience gives a shit.

The more clients that are involved in the decision-making,
the weaker the work will be.

If you’re not enjoying your job any more and you don’t look forward to going in – quit.

Bill Bernbach used to carry a reminder card in his pocket that read:

“They might be right”

Come up with an idea you can do for half the budget.

Then spend the other half polishing it.

Using an ellipsis at the end of a headline…

makes you look like an amateur.

Design is about adding things until you’ve produced something aesthetically beautiful.

Art Direction is about removing things until there’s nothing to get in the way of the communication.

Always Never do the edited with red pencil thing.

It’s been done a thousand billion times before by less talented people.

And it sucked every time.

Don’t make enemies on the way up.

You’re bound to meet them again on the way down.

Restrictions are not a bad thing.

It’s easier to focus when the area you have to think within is smaller.

If you want to come up with an idea as good as an award-winning agency ask yourself how that award-winning agency would have answered the brief.

Slip into the role like an actor would.

Think of the first idea that comes into your head.

Then bin it.

Get over yourself.

We’re not saving lives or overthrowing unjust regimes.

We’re just selling stuff.

Buy yourself a pocket-sized Moleskine, carry it everywhere with you and fill it up with ideas.

Start a library of them that you can refer back to when you feel as if your mind’s run dry.

The more people who enjoy working with you,
the better your career prospects are.

The people you’re being paid to impress probably don’t subscribe to Campaign.

Don’t become an industry navel-gazer.

I remember a teacher once telling me that the good Lord gave us two ears and one mouth in that proportion for a reason.

Much as I hate to admit it, they were right.

If you want to get the right answers, you need to ask the right questions.

Question the brief. Question the media. Question everything. Including this.

Enjoy yourself and make wise-cracks. Go off on tangents. Be irreverent.

It’s very often the throw-away remark that leads to a great idea.

Your parents will never understand what you do for a job.

Stop trying to explain it to them.

Imitation is the sincerest form of theft.

Don’t try to make a website into a pastiche of the real world.

Turning pages and other such contrivances have been done. A lot.

People are used to websites now. They don’t need those reference points.

Don’t be a culture snob.

You very rarely have to advertise to art critics and avant-garde aficionados.

If everyone in a company hired people who are better than them, the company’s success would be guaranteed.

Our industry can move pretty fast.

Take time to stop and smell the bullshit.

The standard retirement age is 65.

Creative departments are filled with twenty and thirty-somethings.

Make plans.

Those strangers you meet who seem really interested in your job aren’t really.

They talk to Orthodontists in exactly the same way.

If you write something so that it can be understood by idiots, you’ll succeed in attracting idiots.

There are lies, damned lies, statistics and then everything you read in the trade press.

Don’t be a control freak.

If someone can do a bit of your project better than you could – use them.

If you’re not failing very often, you’re not being brave enough.

Creatives need deadlines.

Occasionally they even stick to them.

Sharing any creative thought runs the risk of you looking like a complete arse.

The more adventurous and original the thought, the higher the risk.

Work with the best people you can.

They’ll inspire you, teach you and make everything you do a whole lot better.

If you’re feeling comfortable in your job, you’re in the wrong job.

Make sure you’re working with good people.

Good people make your ideas bigger, bad ones make them smaller.

Don’t underestimate how long you’ll need to craft your idea.

It’s this crafting part that differentiates the great from the good.

If an agency wants to do work that breaks the traditional advertising mould, they shouldn’t hire traditional advertising people.

If you come up with a great idea and someone tells you they’ve seen it before, be happy as you throw it in the bin. It was clearly good enough to get noticed.

Now you just need to come up with something that good that people haven’t seen before.

Try to anticipate all the client’s comments before you present your work.

There’s nothing worse than coming up with a great response to their objection on your way home from a meeting.

Don’t define yourself by your job.

Many of the best creative people have several extra-curricular projects on the go alongside their 9 to 5.

If an idea scares you, it just might be the right one.

An original idea can come from anywhere.

But preferably yourself.

It’s not just about how you feed your mind.

Too many carbs at lunchtime will slow you down in the afternoon.

Research isn’t evil.You just have to make sure you’re measuring the right thing.

The strength of a reaction is more important than how positive the reaction is.

Past performance is no indication of future success.

Particularly with online ideas.

“The bloke that did the McDonald’s thing with the monkey” won’t look very impressive on your gravestone.

Is advertising what you’d really like to be remembered for?

The teacher who told you never to start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’ was wrong.

And they’d suck at writing copy.

Would you do things differently if your name was attached to everything you produced?

Imagine it is.

Your job is not to get your idea onto a poster, TV ad, mailpiece or banner.

Your job is to get an idea into a customer’s head.

A good press ad in your portfolio remains valid for a couple of decades.

Most digital work is out of date in two years.

There are rules to writing copy. Say one thing in a sentence. Then put a full stop. Then occasionally, to break the tedium, write a longer sentence. Then return to the rule again.

When it comes to using technology you need to be one of two things:

Either be the first. Or be the best.

Anything else is a waste of time.

For traditional advertising, launch day marks the end of the project.

For digital marketing, launch day is just the start of the second half.


Leave a Comment
  1. Damian / Nov 17 2008 12:38 pm

    “You’re judged on your judgement.

    What you leave out of your XXXXXXXXX Rules Page is as important as what you leave in.”

    It’s too long!

  2. davebirss / Nov 17 2008 1:02 pm


    That’s a good point. And here’s me thinking I need to add to it again!

  3. Simon / Feb 14 2009 7:21 pm

    Its criticism not critisism. Otherwise, decent list.

  4. Mark Pollard / Jun 19 2009 11:02 am

    Waa. Long. You should make something for Slideshare… make it easier for me to digest 🙂

  5. Mark Pollard / Jun 19 2009 11:02 am

    Sorry… but what I read was really good!

  6. jan / Nov 11 2011 3:02 pm

    Using a full stop at the end of a headline…

    makes you look like a dictator


  1. The Rules « The Dictionary of Specific Generalities
  2. Made in England by Gentlemen Dictionary of Specific Generalities
  3. Art Direction « Pablo Jeffress Vs Hellomonkeyboy
  4. The Rules #72 « The Dictionary of Specific Generalities

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: