Podcast: How Ad Creatives Work

by Will Francis

Posted on May 12, 2023

Ever wanted to peek inside the world of advertising creative, and see how Mad Men operates, in the 21st century, in Dublin? Host Will Francis is joined today by John McMahon, one of Ireland's most experienced (and funny) creative directors in advertising and marketing. He tells us about some challenging briefs he's had, like making carbon monoxide poisoning a catchy subject, the dynamics between brand, business and entertainment, and he offers tons of novel advice on how to bring creativity into your work - whatever your job might be.

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Podcast Transcript

Will Francis  00:01
Welcome to Ahead of the Game, a podcast brought to you by The Digital Marketing Institute. I'm your host. Well Francis and today I'll be talking to John McMahon all about creativity, nurturing a creative idea and bringing it to life in advertising and marketing. John has worked as an award winning creative copywriter and creative director at some of Dublin's best agencies, including Chemistry, McCann, Erickson, Dublin, and Rothco, later part of Droga5 for a variety of well known brands. John, welcome to the podcast. It's great to have you on.  Let's start by just getting a handle on what happens in your world and what your job has been. Just tell me, broadly speaking, what does an advertising creative, and also a creative director actually do?

John McMahon  00:45
Yeah, well, there are two different jobs actually. Although, you know, some people would end up doing both jobs. And I have been doing both jobs for the last few years. So on the one hand, a creative is somebody who very simply comes up with ideas for ads. And traditionally, and I think this is still the case in 90% of agencies, creative teams, as they're called, consist of two people, there's the copywriter and then there's the art director. And if copywriter sounds like someone who does just writing, it's not that. And an art director isn't just someone who does the visuals, either. Together the two people, or yeah, they're usually people, I don't know why they wouldn't be - one of them might be a cat, I suppose. But together, the creative team will come up with ideas. And that's very much a collaborative thing usually. And you know, they might come up with, you might come up with 40, or 50, ideas for brief and hone it down to three, or four, or five that get presented internally. And then together with the rest of your colleagues, you might decide to present one of those ideas on to a client, or you might present maybe two or three, it depends on the agency: different agencies have different approaches to these things. So that's what a creative does. And after you've come up with those ideas, then yes, a big part of your job is presenting them to the client. And putting them, you know, giving them the best foot forward so that the client will hopefully buy one of those ideas, you know, and see it through into production, which means making the ads from it, or whether they're ads, or whatever they are, they might be a digital film it might be a documentary series, you never know, these days, the borders of what constitutes content and advertising are so porous, you know. But yeah, at that stage, then, if the client agrees that this is going to get produced, then it goes into a pre production stage, and the creators are still very much involved in things like picking directors, casting and then eventually going into the production itself, which is, you know, which might involve going onto a set and shooting for a few days, or it might involve going into a radio studio and producing radio ads, or it might just involves sourcing a photographer, and then the art director usually takes over that side of it. And the copywriter usually writes the body copy and any headlines that need to be written, that sort of thing. So it kind of depends what media you're working in, then how things pan out. But creatives would generally see the work through from the very beginning, which is the concept stage, all the way through to production. And at that stage then, it gets put into the hands of Media, and they decide where it gets shown and who gets to see it and that kind of thing, you know, and that's very much above my paygrade. So creative director would be more, if you remember, I talked about the development of an idea involves honing down, you might have as many as 30, or 40 or 50 ideas on a page. And I actually recommend that you do start out with as broad a pool as possible. We'll probably get onto some creative tips later on. But I think that's a good approach and then honing down to the ones that feel right for whatever reason, there's a number of of criteria that you'd be applying to them. But when you've got maybe say 10 ideas that you think have potential, you'll probably go and talk to your creative director, and a creative director is usually assigned to the brand as a whole. So for example, if it's, let's pick Heineken, just as a random example, there'd usually be one creative director in the agency who looks after the entire Heineken accounts from a creative perspective. So there might be two or three or four teams, or if it's London, there might be even 10 or 20 teams on an account as big as Heineken. In Dublin, it's not that big an account obviously. So it might be just two teams. And they, the creative director will be looking at all the work coming through the Heineken accounts from the different creative teams. And so their job is as well as helping to pick the best creative ideas in terms of say cut-through which is to say the ones that stand out most when you're sitting down watching TV or looking at your computer or listening to the radio; engagement, which is how people will react to them when they when they do see them. And then the third main criteria, I suppose is probably the brand where is the brand where does the Heineken brand fit in here? Is it appropriate for the Heineken brand in the sense that it doesn't feel, it shouldn't feel like something outrageously different from what they've done in the past. At the same time, a brand has a certain amount of elasticity, you know, brands don't remain rigidly the same throughout the decades or even centuries of their existence. And they do shift, you know, and it's important for creatives to be alert to the possibilities of a brand moving in a slightly different direction from where it's been before. And, and a great client will always be open to that. And of course, you can do that too much. And suddenly Heineken can start behaving like Guinness or something and then it, it breaks a little bit, and you might lose people, and you might lose some engagements.

Will Francis  05:32
That's very interesting point, actually, I've not really thought about so much that. I suppose every new creative campaign in some way does move the brand along. And so as a creative, you know, how would you balance that? Because you want to make your mark, every creative wants to win awards, and be recognized as the person who completely you know, revolutionize that brand. But at the same time, you have to keep, reinforced what the brand already is and reinforced and capitalize on that equity it's built up in the decades leading up to you working on their campaign. How do you balance those two things?

John McMahon  06:06
That's right, Will, it is a balancing act. And, and it can be frustrating at times, because, you know, especially with the pace of change in our society, and if you look at social media, you know, the the rate at which memes are popping up and you know, even just the things that people talk about on social media - that's in such a constant state of flux that you want a brand nowadays to be sort of malleable enough that it can respond to those things and appear relevant in that kind of world. But at the same time, as you say, there's a heritage there that has to be taken account of. But I've often found that this is just a slight, this is a slight tangent here. But I've often found it interesting that if you look up a brand on YouTube, look up Heineken, you know, there's never like a Heineken account that has lists and listsof Heineken ads going back to the 60s or 70s. And brands are often a little bit embarrassed about their past, or at least they're, they have a strange relationship with it, they don't tend to look back on it very much. It's unusual enough for for brands to sort of push their their old advertising. And there's good business reasons for that, you know, because the problems that they were addressing with a campaign in the 70s are probably completely different problems to what they're addressing now. But it's almost as if clients tend to feel that advertising needs to fail of the moment and contemporary and that there's not much to be said for the classics, you know, and you'd be surprised how little brands really celebrate even great ads from the past that they might have made. And I include Guinness in that like, although they do repeat, yeah, Guinness to play the same Christmas ad every year, it is a bit of a classic, but there's plenty of old Guinness adds that they never ever touch. And you won't find them on the Guinness YouTube channel, either, you know, you'll have to, it'll just b some random guy or girl who's uploaded them. And so it's very hard. The relationship between advertising and its history is complex. And it can be hard to sort of, to find old references sometimes when you remember something that you saw years ago, but you can't quite locate it, that can be a bit frustrating.  But that was just to make the general point, though, that, that what's gone before isn't always a thing to be taken into consideration. Or it might be the opposite, it might be a thing that they don't want to ever do again, you know, so. Often then it just comes down to having a discussion with, with the clients and and asking them what their sense is, you know. In any case, it's it's tricky. You know, it is it's definitely tricky, as you said, creatives often want to be seen to be pushing ahead, you know, and, and blazing trails and so on. Although having said that often, the ads that you want to make, you don't necessarily want to make them because it's it's a new thing that Heineken have done or it's a new thing Guinness have done, you do it just because it would be an amazingly entertaining or interesting thing to do just in and of itself. You know, and creatives are often working on that level, trying to imagine what it's like for the public, you know, because the public isn't sitting there thinking, I wonder what Guinness are going to do next. You know, how are Heineken going to respond to Christmas 2023 ?There might be a few brands where there's that question like John Lewis is probably a good example. But that's exceptional, really, you know, most of the time people don't give a flying fuck about advertising. And, and so it is our job to make them care, you know, and I think good creatives are always thinking, they're always imagining the public as yet to be made care, you know, they're not people that automatically care. So that's, that's a really important kind of philosophical position to get yourself into before you're ready to tackle a brief, I think you just have to be, you have to imagine the viewer as basically asleep. And you have to sort of wake them up, you know, and you need to stop them walking out of the room because it's the ad break, you know, this is just TV ads I'm talking about but the same principles apply to to online, and you know, print

Will Francis  09:48
Oh, very much, so you're competing for attention in the most crowded media space there is, in digital. So that's, that's, that's very interesting, isn't it? You talk, you say that the objective is to make people care. And you're right. I think when we work for a brand, we forget just how little people care about that brand has become very important to us because we work there, but no one out there cares. So to think about the actual objectives, what is the needle you're trying to move, when you're coming up with creative ideas is that always made very clear by the brand, like, we want more sales, make an ad that makes more sales? Or are the other metrics that you work to? was that the VanDamme campaign? 

John McMahon  10:31
To be honest with you the whole world of metrics and so on is is kind of remote from your life when you're actually digging into a brief and trying to come up with ideas. But of course, the deliverable and, and the ultimate objective are very important. And, you know, metrics will just be the way of translating that into something that can be measured. But, but like, if the brief is, I remember at one stage, this is probably about 10 years ago, 15 years ago, Coors Light the beer, in Ireland was particularly favored by women, females, it just wasn't drunk by man at all, for some reason. And every year, we got the Coors Light, brief in Chemistry and it was always the same objective. It was make men drink Coors Light, you know. And eventually it worked, you know, because now it's a massive, massively popular among men and women alike. It's not that women have stopped drinking it. They didn't just go into blokeish territory, they had to kind of balance that as well. But, but that was a good example of an objective where you're constantly thinking about that when thinking about the ideas, you know, because No, no, that wasn't an Irish campaign. No, we just we did a lot of other stuff that the VanDamme campaign was actually really very enjoyable, I thought, and I thought that was a really good example of, I'd love to have been in a position to do work like that. But first of all, but Van Damme would have been outside of our budget in Dublin, but also I probably shouldn't maybe I shouldn't say this, but Coors Light is basically owned by Heineken in Ireland. And they brew it under license of Coors. Molson Coors, I think they're called from the States. So it's a lot of people don't realize that but so the brand is under the auspices of Heineken. And I think it's fair to say that Heineken would be a fairly conservative brands, you know, in this country. You know, they've got the whole rugby association. It's quite a middle class drink.

Will Francis  12:21
Yeah, it's not very edgy. It's, it's Well, there's some stuff to unpack there. Right. So I, a lot of my work is running workshops and classes about digital marketing. And what I'm always telling people in that space, is, you must exclude and alienate people, that's part of your job. Because if no one is alienated by your content there's a very good chance that everyone feels nothing about it, right? Meh. And you don't want that, it's better to have 10 people have a very strong, you know, it resonates really strongly with 10% of your audience than just 100% people just meh, because the algorithm sees meh and hides content that makes people feel that way. So that's why it's so crucial in digital. So with, with the more above the line stuff like print, TV, radio, etc., how do you how do you deal with that you're trying to, again, it's a balance between mass appeal, but also trying to resonate really strongly with this very certain audience persona? How does that work when you're coming up with ideas for TV ads and stuff?

John McMahon  12:23
not very edgy. No, no, it has been edgier in the past, but not in recent years. Maybe they're going to try and get some of that back. So Coors Light, I think fell under that a little bit. I can't imagine them producing the van, the Van Damme stuff in Ireland, even if they had the budget. But that was a good example of a campaign that did masculinity in a tongue in cheek way, you know, and had an enjoyable kind of acceptable dimension to it. It wasn't sort of offensively blokey, or whatever. There was just a little bit of gentle piss-taking in it. That was quite a good example of a brand kind of establishing itself as for the lads, but without alienating women, I don't think. ow I'm just talking off the cuff here. I have no idea. So somebody with a lot of qualitative research could probably prove me horribly wrong. But that was my impression anyway. And I mean, you know, the brief even for an above the line campaign, a brief usually comes with a fairly sort of narrow definition of the target audience. So even though it's running on mass media, it might still be targeted us women in their early 30s, or, you know, women in their late 20s to early 40s, something like that. So you're never really, it's very rare that you got a brief that's just everybody is the target. Unless it's, you know, something like carbon monoxide awareness, which may sound like the most random example anyone could have come up with, but it is one that I worked on myself. And yeah, practically every adult in the country was the target of that but, but that's unusual enough because segmentation of audiences is a huge part of a marketeer's job, you know, breaking it down into smaller, more achievable targets that are called segments, you know? And, and where possible kind of tailoring the product to them, I suppose, you know, marketing has become very sophisticated like that, you know. So yeah, so I think that, if that answers your question, it's that it probably isn't that different from, from digital in that respect, you know, in that we do have a clear enough idea who we're talking to most of the time,

Will Francis  15:27
As a creative director, your job is going to be critiquing the work of creatives, and there's going to be a lot of that that comes at you, and you have to sort the wheat from the chaff and help them refine their work. So you both have to be quite critical, but also encouraging. Because you don't want your creatives to get dejected. But you do want to improve their work. How do you go about that?

John McMahon  15:51
And it's, yeah, that's, that's definitely a challenge when you first start being a creative director. And because when you're in a creative team, and you're one half of the creative team, I think the best creative teams are used to sort of giving it to each other pretty straight, "that idea's shit", you know? Yeah, you need to be, but it's, it's not just being thick skinned, it's about trusting the other person enough, you know. You're very much peers, you're on a level there, so it's easier to trust them. Whereas when somebody who's kind of a higher up in the kind of agency hierarchy comes along, you don't necessarily have that trust. And so I think it's, it's a more fragile situation. And I think you have to treat it that way, as a CD. You know, having said that, you know, it's no good treating everybody with kid gloves, because the ultimate test will come when they have to present the work to the clients, you know, and the client, most clients will not beat around the bush, you know, the best clients don't beat around the bush anyway. And even before you get to that stage, there'll be an internal presentation of the work. So you'll have to present the work, even after the creative director or ECD. has seen it, it'll be presented to the strategy departments, and they'll have to... Executive Creative Director, sorry, yeah. So that's usually the creative, the highest creative person who's involved in the day to day work. Now, some big, big, big agencies might have a CCO which is a chief creative officer, but they're not usually involved in the day to day stuff. And ECD is the one who stands over all the CDs and all. And then of course, over all, the, the creative teams as well. So even after the ECD has gone, right here's, here's three ideas that we really like, we're going to present them on internally to the to the rest of the group and within the agency, you're going to have strategists picking it apart, because they're looking at it from a different perspective. They're not looking at it from a creative perspective, necessarily. They're wondering would this work, say the right things? Will it deliver the right messages? Will it target the right people? Is it on brand, you know, which does overlap a little bit, of course, but but they're applying slightly different criteria to it. So creatives have to be ready for that sort of? I wouldn't say onslaught, but you know, there's a scrutiny, scrutiny? That's exactly it yes. Yeah. And then, of course, other people can get stuck in as well. So I can't management may have strong opinions on the work and why not? They absolutely should. And that's one of the great things about, agencies, they often do. Yeah, and they should, because in a way, the people that you show it to within the agency are like the first ever audience that are going to hear us, you know, they're going to hear your ideas cold for the first time. And it's a little bit like somebody sitting on their sofa in the evening, watching your TV out for the first time, they don't know what to expect, you know, and the cold response is often very telling, you know, and very often, you'll find that in the very first presentation of your work within the agency, the idea that, that had a lot of warmth, and had a lot of enthusiasm is the one that the client will go for as well. You know, there's just I don't know why that is, there's just some people, some ideas just seem to resonate with everybody, you know, whereas some ideas get picked up here, but don't get picked up there, you know,

Will Francis  18:59
so embrace that. Don't resist it. Because I found you know, in my my time in agencies, I've resented other people who aren't creatives having an opinion, and the account manager saying, well, I think and it's like, get back in your box, mate, you're an account manager. And that's not a good way to deal with it. I do understand that.

John McMahon  19:19
It's not, it's natural, like, it is natural, because it's easy to see them as blockers, you know, as somebody trying to stop you kind of winning your Cannes Lion, or whatever. But, I mean, I think a good agency will always be one where where the work is everybody's responsibility, you know, and so the business of winning awards, whether it's Cannes or DNAD whatever, will be in everyone's interests, you know, and and account management, not just creative, so strategy and account management will take and get credit for that work as well, you know, and there'll be onstage or Cannes or wherever the award ceremony is sharing in the crowd and I think that's totally fair. there. Now I do think that can go a bit too far. And indeed, I have been in situations before where, where the phrase "everyone's a creative" has had been trotted out. And that's not quite true. It's not that it's not that everybody doesn't have some creative spirit within them. They do, of course, but being a creative and advertising is, is a discipline and you learn certain skills over a period of time and your experience as a creative counts for a lot. And I think that can get forgotten at times alright. But in general, no, I think you have to welcome other opinions with open arms and see them as opportunities to make the work better, you know, because that they very often are that

Will Francis  20:35
I want to ask you about that, those those skills, 

John McMahon  20:38
Good stuff because it is a mystifying world. It's a world that I think is part is shrouded in a little bit of it is shrouded. Yes. It's shrouded in mystery. And part of that is is the industry's ownself mythologization, you know, it helps to recruit people, you know, and it helps, because to be honest, it's an exhausting and can be quite stressful job, you know. So you need to create some kind of mystique around us, I think to get young people interested enough and not terrified of walking in the front door and asking for a job, you know.

Will Francis  21:10
Hello, a quick reminder from me that if you're enjoying our podcast series, why not become a member of the DMI so that you can enjoy loads more content from webinars and case studies to toolkits and more real life insights from the world of digital marketing, head to digitalmarketinginstitute.com/aheadofthegame, sign up for free. Now back to the podcast.  So we've got a really good overview there, I think of the process, you know, what creatives do how they get that work made essentially in a very broad way. So have you got any tips on actually doing it coming up with ideas? And then choosing or refining, and furthering those ideas?

John McMahon  21:55
Yeah, I have a few. Alright, yeah. And these are ones I've gathered over the years. They weren't all things that occurred to me, but I just picked them up from people along the way. And I've always found them useful. So the first one is, when you've got the brief in front of you, and you're just starting to look at it, and this is going to sound counterintuitive, right, and it's going to sound a bit mad. But it's worth doing, honestly, especially if it's a Monday morning. And it's you know, not a very nice day. And nobody's delighted to be in the office, because what it does is it gets the energy going and it gets the creative juices, whatever they are, flowing. And it's basically trying to get 20 ideas down onto the page in about 15 minutes. Right? Which sounds crazy, because how are they going to be good ideas? They're not. But the idea is to get the your first thoughts, your starter thoughts out onto a page and get them out of the way, basically. And you know, that's not to say that they're all going to be shit, you know, there might be some good ones in there. But they'll probably be quite fuzzy, and a bit broad, and you haven't quite honed them down to the specifics of the brief. And it's useful to have them there, you can come back to them later and make them a bit more relevant and a tighter fit for the brief. So I'd say get 20 ideas down in about 15 minutes.

Will Francis  23:05
Do you think that you have to have some bad ideas? Are you saying that your initial ideas will inevitably always be a bit stabs in the dark, not great, and it's good, you just need to get those out

John McMahon  23:15
At the very beginning. Yeah. Now that's not to say that ideas that occur to you out of nowhere aren't often great ideas. They can't No, they're not usually the they're not always sorry, they're 90% of them won't be great. But 10% of them might be the best thing you ever come up with, you know, the ones that just come out of nowhere, like you know, so it's always good to pay attention. Like even if you're coming up with 20 ideas, you will find a lot of them will be expected. You know, how you would expect somebody would respond to this brief and, but you might find there's one or two diamonds in there as well. But the main idea is, as you say, Will, is to get them out there onto the page, get them out of your system in a way, you know. And you could find yourself with something unexpected in that process. But that's not the point of it, the point of it is to get them out. So that's the first thing.  And then I would say as a creative team, and I'm assuming you're working in pairs here as creative teams, but it would still work for yourself if you can apply that discipline. The second one is probably more of a, yah, it would still work even if you're just on your own coming up with ideas, but it's basically have an all ideas welcome session. And that's where an idea where absolutely everything gets written down. No matter how stupid or shit or counterintuitive or just wrong. You write everything down and you keep a completely open mind. And the idea behind this one is everybody has this inner critic, and I find particularly the older people get the louder it shouts you know, and even young people though. It can be it's loudest for the youngest people and probably the oldest people and then those who are a few years into their career. They've probably gotten a handle on this but the idea here is just everything is right. Everything is permitted. Nothing is wrong. And fear is the enemy. So you know, it's really important on any brief to have some time to do this. And if you can do it for a couple of days, I know that sounds like a lot, because these days people get a brief and they're expected to have an answer to it the next morning or even that afternoon, you know, with clients cutting costs. But with a decent brief that has a budget behind us, there's usually a couple of days of just very broad ideation, you know, allowed for in the budget. And if you have that luxury, then I would highly recommend you taking this approach, everything is permitted, write it all down on a flip chart or in post-its, whatever way you want to do it, or just scribble it into Keep, which is a really handy app that I use from Google keep.google.com. It's just a little note taking thing and you'll have it there on your phone, you'll have it in the cloud, you know, so you can access it anywhere. So that's a good one.  Then the third one is just get out of the agency, go for a walk, do some meditation, or you know, go for a drink or something, you know, have a joint. Whatever you do, it just needs to be getting away from the brief and opening your minds to unexpected influences. And that's always good. You know, when you're sitting in front of a brief, it's a bit like, it's a bit like your arm wrestling with it. And your arm gets really stiff after a while and you don't realize it but you've lost all the mobility in your arm then after about a couple of hours. So what you do is by going for a walk or meditating or going for a drink or having a spliff is you're allowing that muscle, that brain muscle, which I described metaphorically as an arm to relax and doors open, then when your brain is relaxed. It's a bit like, if you've ever had the experience of trying to remember an actor's name or a movies name, it's on the tip of your tongue, but you just can't remember it, it's what you'll often find is the minute you think about something else that'll pop into your head, it's like a little trapdoor open somewhere and in it comes, you know. So taking your eye away from the brief and your concentration away from the brief is always a good idea, if you're struggling with it, and you're finding that ideas aren't coming. So the flip side of that is also a good idea.  And that's often the case with creative strategies, you know, opposites can can work equally well, in a strange paradoxical way. And the flip of that is get into the brief in the most microscopic way. So this works, especially if you're a copywriter, and words kind of resonate with you maybe a bit more than they might with an art director. And you might find key phrases in there that will actually open creative territories, it's bizarre how often that can happen, actually. And this in a way can work better when the brief isn't great, because the worse a brief is, the longer it tends to be, you know, and so the longer it is, the more phrases are there, and the more kind of raw material you've got to go through. But even a short brief, that can be a good approach, you know, because you'll find key phrases that the client has said again and again, in meetings withthe account management, and the creation of this brief has been all about these certain key phrases that keep popping up again and again. And there's a reason for that, you know, you know, certain uses of language,

Will Francis  27:51
give me an example, like what kind of like something, not necessarily a key phrase about the idea they want you to have, but just something they're saying about their company, or

John McMahon  28:01
it's an encapsulation of the brief. And that's why I think it does probably work better when the brief isn't great, because ideally, what you want from a good brief is a clear proposition, a single, preferably short sentence that you have to encapsulate in your idea. But very often, the proposition will be two or three sentences long, you know. And what you'll find is that somewhere in the brief is a phrase that probably should have been the proposition in that brief, you know, it was short, it's to the point and it nails something about what the job is to be done, like, you know. Now I know this is very abstract, but but take it from me, if you if you look at the brief, you'll usually find some useful pointers in the language of the brief and very often taking that a phrase like, forget just thinking of one now.

Will Francis  28:44
I know what you mean, just looking at the actual language of the brief and just picking things out that you think look salient. And just meditating on them and thinking on them and expanding them and thinking of synonyms. And yeah, exactly

John McMahon  28:58
like, you know, what's, when you think of the Guinness campaign that ran for years, it might even still be running. I'm not too sure. I've never worked on Guinness, actually. But it's the phrase "made of more", right. That was Guinnesse's tagline for years. And in a way, you could totally imagine that being in a brief somewhere, you know, somebody's struggling a little bit for the words. It's probably not a great brief precisely for that reason. But it's a great phrase, even though it's unclear what's meant it's a little bit grasping for art, for articulacy, or clarity. But that can often be the perfect thing for brands, you know, because then what an ad or an execution can do is flesh out that phrase and explain what's meant by it, you know, and give it meat on the bones. And then the phrase is left as the memorable bit you know, the hook in the song that's, like in many songs, if you take the hooky bit, it might not make much sense on its own, but with all the other stuff around us, it somehow has this incredible power and resonance, you know, so that was just I don't maybe that was never in the brief. I don't know. But it's one you could imagine being in the brief, you know, Guinnes is made from x, y, z, but somehow Guinness is made from more, you know, it's made from but it's you know, it carries with it this historic associations, you know, but then you go back and you go oh, yeah made of more right. That's interesting, right? could look at all the things we could do creatively with that made of more, you know, what's inside the Guinness, you know, what is it that? What are the values that Guinness brings to a situation, a social situation? Or at least what is the what is it that the brand brings people when they get together and drink Guinness? So that kind of thing.

Will Francis  30:27
Yeah, it's, it's true, isn't it? Do you ever do that thing is when you when you just go in about your daily life, and you see ads? Do you ever do that thing of trying to guess what the brief was?

John McMahon  30:39
I'm afraid I do. Yeah. Yeah. When you're working in us, you just automatically go there. Yeah. And,

Will Francis  30:46
and sometimes you can really see it. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing.

John McMahon  30:49
Yes. And it's not usually good. It's because the tagline is usually something like "perfect for your busy lifestyle". You know, you could you could totally imagine, alright, we're aiming this at, you know, women in their 30s just starting their careers haven't yet had children hectic lifestyle, go for it, you know, and when it ends up the tagline, it's, you're right. It's really transparent. And it won't resonate with people I don't think most of the time because it's it's just not the language that ordinary people speak. Not ordinary people, but consumers, you know, it's marketing language and, and that just can feel alien and and not meaning(ful) to people.  So anyway, those are a few types, and a couple of other ones. Yeah, oh, yeah. So these are kind of more like testing the idea, right? When you have a bunch of ideas down already. This is a really good one actually, especially as a copywriter, but art directors can do this too, some art directors would be great copywriters, and vice versa, of course, it's not just an exclusive thing, you know, somebody's good at words, and the other person is, you know, good at pictures. But when you have an idea that you think has potential, write a one or two line summary of it, not an introduction to it now as if you're trying to sell it, but just what is the idea in a nutshell, and try and get it into like, maybe two sentences. And if you can do that, then it tells you that you have an idea. And if you can't do it, then you haven't got an idea yet. you know, you've probably just got some loose notions that might become an idea, but they're not yes, you know.  And then similarly, there's another similar test. If you've got the idea, try and write what's called the "walk up line". So the walk up line is the line that comes just before the title screen, the end screen with the logo and the tagline. And it sort of converts what you've just seen in the ads, it sort of bridges that to the brand itself. So classic, that I always I mentioned the Guinness Christmas out earlier, the Irish one. And the line, the walk up line is, you've seen all these beautiful snow landscapes in Dublin, you know, there's a fox running past the gate of Guinness, everything's really quiet, just snow falling. There's very few people and they're all kind of getting ready to go home on Christmas Eve. It's really nice, really atmospheric. And then a voiceover says, "even at the home of the black stuff, they dream of a white one". And that sort of it makes sense of all this white imagery, all of a sudden in the context of Guinness, you know. And it you know, it doesn't necessarily say anything huge about the brand, it just kind of allows them then to show you the Guinness logo, which is of course black, you know, primarily black, not white. And it's a segue, yeah, it's a it's a logical segue. Yeah, logical segue. And that's always a good test. Because it, it forces you to articulate the relationship between the creative idea and the brand itself. And make sure that there is a relationship, you know, because it's easy to come up with, not easy, but sorry it's fun, to come up with entertaining stuff to look at. But is it entertaining stuff to look at? That's relevant to the brand or that works with the brands? Because that's really

Will Francis  33:46
that we can somehow creatively bridge, because sometimes it might be a bit of a leap, I'm guessing, you know,

John McMahon  33:50
it can be it can be yeah, sometimes that's the brand moving on, like we said earlier on, but sometimes it's you're breaking the brand, you know.  And then finally, just sorry, just two small things. One of them is this is just really procedural and a bit functional, but it's useful. Do a spidergram for your idea. Once you've defined what the idea is, and you have a pretty clear idea of what the idea is, do a spider diagram. So that's where you have the idea in the center in a little circle, or a semicircle, and then you have, you know, lines coming off it and each of those lines is an execution. So here's what the TV ad is maybe just a one line sentence. Here's what print ads could be. Here's what a digital execution would could be. Here's what a activation stunt could be, you know, and you'll find when you've got four or five ideas, then and you've done a spider diagram for all of them, you'll suddenly see which of those ideas has the most legs, for want of a better word, and could potentially run for multiple campaigns, which is absolute gold. If you can find us you know, if that's what a client always wants is the maximum value from their creative team.  And then finally, just I saw a talk with 4Creative who are the in house creative team and Channel Four They were at Offset, which is an Irish festival of creativity. It's ended a few years ago. But they gave a talk, I think it was in 2017. They just had this one piece of advice, which was brilliant. And it was: make it wrong. And everyone was going well, what are they talking about? And they didn't mean like, incorrect for the brief, what they meant was sort of off color or in bad taste, or kind of so inappropriate that you can't but sit up and pay attention to it, you know. And if you look at some campaigns that for creative have done and their website is well worth checking out. They have done they have made it wrong a lot of the time, like they did a really great little campaign called Complaints Welcome. I don't know if you saw that one Will, but it's all about, they've taken complaints from the public, probably in Twitter, where you expect the most kind of enraged content, and they've, they've gotten people on Channel Four, well known people on Channel Four, to voice complaints about them personally, you know, it's a bit like Mean Tweets, if you've ever seen that in Saturday Night Live, but it's done with a flourish of creativity and brilliance. And, and it shouldn't in a way it shouldn't work. Like the logic is kind of inverted, you know, because you normally think of brand ad is about the brand bigging itself up but here it is making public the most critical, hurtful, and sometimes quite poisonous, spiteful remarks, you know. But of course, that's a brilliant strategy, because to get your arms around the critics, as you know, is a brilliant way of, of making your brand appear kind of bulletproof. You know?

Will Francis  36:28
Yeah, that's a really good creative stimulus tactic. I've come across a similar thing in brainstorming sessions, in agencies of being asked the question, "what is the wrongest thing we could do" you know, literally like it's an alcohol brand, showing people drink driving, you know, that think about what would be the worst taste, bad things we can do and get those ideas out as well. So we've kind of got a full, fully kind of, you know, circuit and we'll like have a 360 spread of all the kinds of ideas both good and bad taste, there's something creatively stimulating about that.

John McMahon  37:06
Totally, you're right, that's exactly what it is. It's creatively stimulating. But also, you'll find you'll often find great ideas that way. Like, for example, on that subject there of drink driving, you know, I don't know if you remember, there was a Heineken ad, featuring Jackie Stewart, the racing car driver, and it showed him throughout the 70s and 80s or whatever, and he's drinking Heineken, like. But it's, it's all about Heineken Zero, it turns out to be it's the Heineken for people who do want to drive, you know, but like, at the same time, they have their cake and eat it,

Will Francis  37:37
Right. That is interesting. counterintuitive. Yeah.

John McMahon  37:40
And at the end of it, like, I can't remember what the tagline was, but the walk up line basically explained that, you know, if you're going to be doing a lot of driving now we've got, now we've got Heineken zero, you know, and it was just basically, we're aware that there was a problem here, we're not ignoring it, we're tackling it head on. So we've produced this new drink, you know, and it was kind of brilliant. 

Will Francis  38:03
These are all great tips. These would work for anyone. This is not just about working in above the line advertising, what you've just said, would be fantastic tips for people working in digital marketing on their next TikTok campaign. You know,

John McMahon  38:16
I would imagine so yeah, I would imagine so like, it's the same situation you find yourself in, you've got a brief, you're staring at a brief after half an hour, the words start floating in front of your eyes, and nothing makes sense anymore. And you're thinking about changing career, you know. So you do need stimuli and techniques, creative strategies, Oblique Strategies, did you ever hear of Oblique Strategies. Brian Eno, it was a deck of cards that he created in the 70s.

Will Francis  38:43
Isn't this some cards or sheets or something? 

John McMahon  38:47
Yeah, there's like 50 cards. Yeah. He created them with this artist. And they've they've got just really kind of blunt, done sort of obscure utterances like, if I could think of and stuff like what: is the opposite of the right answer? Something like that. It's a bit like make it wrong again, you know, but it's about breaking down and creative and passes, you know, with by just changing the way you think. 

Will Francis  39:12
Talking to which you came up with a campaign in Ireland, which was a public service message around carbon monoxide poisoning. And you came up with this character who's a canary, a massive, life sized human sized Canary called Tommy MacAnairy. And that did end up being a long running high impact campaign. For what is a pretty dull message that, you know, people aren't really waiting on the edge of their seat to hear. So how did that come about? And just talk us through that your process of coming up with that?

John McMahon  39:48
Yeah. Well, first of all, I should just say that this brief was started on by my creative partner at the time Shay Madden working with Nick Kelly, who was another copywriter. And then Nick, moved on. He was a freelancer, I was away on holiday I think I came back and myself and Shay continued. And so Nick was there at the genesis, as well, but myself and Shay took it in a particular direction. But where where that came from was, like you said, Will, it was the insights that which was on the brief, actually, that this was a very low interest category. And nobody cares about carbon monoxide. And in fact, it's uttered the phrase itself is a bit of a turn off, you know, it sounds scientific: I don't know what that is, you know, I'm not gonna be this isn't for me, it's not of interest. So they were doing a lot of advertising, the client, actually, but it wasn't getting them anywhere, you know, because I think just that phrase was was triggering in the wrong way.  So we just decided, right, this is going to need a creative vehicle that's got cut through. In other words, it wakes people up again, it wakes them out of that torpor, that sort of trance-like state that you can be in when you've decided that something is not for you, it's for somebody else, you know. It's the channel surfing frame of mind, you know, only something that's really kind of aggressively interesting or exciting or entertaining, will grab your attention. And that's kind of what we thought we need somebody that was, we need something that will stop people from flipping the channel, you know, and even somebody who's flipping from somewhere else will stop when they see this. Certainly the first time they see it anyway. And so. So that was the first thing we realized, we need, we need something with great cut through. And then we thought about carbon monoxide. And this is this is where Nick and Shay had come into it already. They remembered that in the past, canaries had been used down the coal mines for detecting carbon monoxide, because they are very sensitive to it. And if the canary dropped dead, I know it's horrible to think of this now. But if the canary dropped dead, then they got the hell out of the mines and, you know, allow it to ventilate, I don't know what they would do. But it would mean that men didn't have to die, I suppose. Which was probably considered a fair process at the time. So anyway, the canary just seemed like a great, a great way into this brief because they were, they're obviously the ultimate experts on carbon monoxide, you know? So yeah, we decided to create a canary character. Initially, he was a guy in a canary suit, going around talking about carbon monoxide. But then myself, and che started thinking, what if he was a singer, like a ballad singer in the style of, say, Ronnie Drew, or someone like that, who was in a band called The Dubliners. And we were just thinking about the way some Irish ballads had a lot of quite dark content in it, you know, there's one song in particular, which is about, like, I think it features the killing of a baby or something like that. It's grim. And it's not that unusual for the songs to feature death and violence, you know, so we just thought, right? Well, that's the genre of music, he's not going to be like a Disco Diva, he's not going to be a junglist He is going to be a ballad singer, you know, of trad ballads. So we, we came up with this idea.  And then we got this illustrator, I can't remember his name, I wish I could. But he brilliantly created a canary character, you know, based on the description we gave him, you know, because in our heads, he did have this strong Dublin accent, he probably had a banjo. He's a bit rough looking. And you know, he's probably in his 50s, or something, a gravelly voice, you know. And this guy, Ian, I just can't remember his surname, came up with a brilliant drawing. And that was the basis then for the production company, who then went off and made the kind of digital popup as they call it. And we wrote lyrics for the songs, we wrote the scripts. And we got in a guy called Paul Woodfull, who's brilliant singer, songwriter, and comedian and he played the voice of Tommy McAnairy. And I suppose that's, that's how it all fell into place.  But that none of that would have happened, had we not had a very amenable client. And it wasn't that they were amenable in the sense that they would buy any old random madness. They just understood, I think, the predicament that they were in, in Gas Networks Ireland, which was that nobody was listening, and they needed something to make them listen, and there was logic to the canary. That was what sold it really was the logic behind us. You know, it, there's a reason we were looking at a canary talking about this, there's a reason he's singing ballads, because ballads allow us to talk about dark things. And it's, and people accept that in Ireland, you know, even if he is a bit scary. But also, there's something scary about carbon monoxide anyway, so it was appropriate, you know. So the logic was all there, you know, and and then creating an animated character was just was almost like the creative flourish, we could have done it in different ways. But we felt that a creative character would have been the best way to do it. Or sorry, an animated character. Did I say that? Yeah. And we worked with Piranha Bar, which is a local production company, and they just did a great job on the animation. So that was that was nice. But yeah, the clients understood the logic, they bought the logic and that's always the key, you know. There's no point in having a wacky idea unless it's got some logic behind it, you know, and I think like, the best way to present and sell in an idea is to is to lead the client by the hand very slowly, very deliberately, and have what one of my former call legs strategists use always say was nodding heads, you want nodding heads in the room, they should almost be kind of impatient to get to the creative idea. It's you're leading them through such baby steps, you know, even risk, even risk driving them a bit mad with the slowness of your pace, like, you know. So that when you do reveal the idea, there's absolutely no way that they can they can say it's wrong. It has to be right, you know, and it's not wacky, it's right. Whereas if you just presented it without the very slow baby steps, then it might look wacky. 

Will Francis  45:29
Here's a canary. Yeah, it's

John McMahon  45:30
A fucking canary, what? That's random. Oh, no. But canaries did blah, blah, blah. But at that stage, you've lost them, you know? So if you if you can't, from the from the logic first, then you can you can show them the creative leap at the end,

Will Francis  45:41
So get them saying yes to stuff. Do you know how in the old days? Yeah, There were canaries down the mines? Yeah, exactly. That get that, that's a very, very nice way to this very good tip. Actually, that's a really good power tip, I think for presenting ideas, but also just to have this really strong scaffolding of logic holding the whole thing up. Makes a lot of sense to me. That's, that's great. Great advice.

John McMahon  46:04
That's it very nicely put, a scaffolding of logic is exactly what it is. Yeah. Yeah.

Will Francis  46:09
Lovely stuff. That's, that's great. I wish I'd have known this stuff. A long time ago, you know, when I started out in my career in marketing,

John McMahon  46:17
I was lucky to work with some very experienced people. I mentioned Shay Madden, he was he's probably, in my experience, the best creative in the country. And he's been doing it a lot longer than I have, you know. So I kind of got to work with him in probably about 2012, I think for the first time, and it was just like such a learning experience. You know, I'd already been in the business for eight years. But suddenly, like I was, I felt like I was in the presence of somebody who's just, he was able to kind of handle every aspect of the business. And he was particularly good with clients, particularly good at selling ideas to clients, not in a kind of a flashy way, but he has just a very disarming personality. You know, when you buy an idea from Shay, you don't feel like you're, you're taking a risk, it feels like this is the right answer. This is the answer to this brief, you know,

Will Francis  47:03
The most obvious thing to do, right? Yeah,

John McMahon  47:05
Yeah, totally. Yeah. Because it shouldn't feel like people say clients should be taking risks, actually, it's the opposite of that. It's that you need to persuade them that whatever you're trying to sell them is, is the least risky thing, and actually doing something else, something boring, and something that everybody else is doing, that's the risky option. Because that's where the brands could could just lose people. 

Will Francis  47:26
Well, that's true. Again, that's something I found myself telling my students and delegates and what have you a lot recently is the idea that doing stuff properly is risky is mad doing this kind of mundane, everyday digital content, that's just keeping feeding the machine without quite knowing why that's actually high risk there, his chances are, he's going to fail

John McMahon  47:49
That is high risk. And also, people get used to then seeing the brand as as, you know, a vehicle for blandness, you know, vehicle for stuff that they don't have to pay any attention to?

Will Francis  48:00
Indeed, indeed, well, you started life as a copywriter. Before we get into how you got into this, I do just want to ask you how, or if you've seen the role of copy, and the way that and just how copywriting in general has changed over the years that you've been in the business?

John McMahon  48:20
Or there's two things really, there's probably been two trends. One is that even when I started and by the way, I haven't been in it my whole career. I was doing other stuff before this, but I came into it in the early 2000s. And at that stage, there was already a major shift going on that had been probably happening for 20 years really. And that was towards very art direction-heavy advertising. So copy was getting reduced, reduced, reduced. And by copy, I just mean words generally, like from voiceovers to dialogue between characters, to headlines to body copy: body copy was disappearing at a rate of knots. If you cast your mind back, I'm sure you've seen examples of advertising from the 60s where there's it's what they call long copy. So it's nearly a page of copy about a lawn mower

Will Francis  49:07
yellow, the classic David Ogilvy pieces and stuff.

John McMahon  49:11
Exactly. All that stuff. Yeah, a song which is brilliant and very amusing and very well written like and God knows people like Salman Rushdie, were probably working on ads like that he was in an agency in London in the 70s, you know, so I'm sure he produced some great long copy. But that's fallen very much out of favor. Now there have been a few reappearances off that style. But generally, it's with a kind of knowing wink to the past, you know. And there was one actually, there was one brilliance campaign done by some former colleagues of mine, Emmett Rice, and Adrian Fitzsimon, they want everything in Cannes, actually, one year for us, and it was a brilliant campaign. This is a bit of an aside, actually, because it's it's about a long copy campaign that actually, you know, was really good. But that was an exception. And it was all about selling print advertising to potential advertisers. And what they did was they ran a series of print ads in different formats. And each format was an ad that had its own different personality. So like the L shaped ads that you'll see in a newspaper, it had a quirky kind of personality. And it explained what you would use an L shaped ad for, you know, in an amusing way. And then the top one was the one that leaps out to, you know, when you turn the page, so it was a kind of more attention seeking kind of personality. It was just all about these different types of ads, you know, understood as if there were personified into kind of human personalities, it was really well done.  Anyway, sorry, that's the exception most the time. You know, if, if a lot of clients like like ads that have little to no copy on them, you know, and you'll see, of course, the whole globalization of advertising as well. You know, there's definitely an emphasis on it's got to

Will Francis  50:46
be translatable into different languages, so the Nescafe Gold Blend out from the 80s just wouldn't work anywhere else, you know, too narrative based,

John McMahon  50:54
Correct. Uh, but, you know, nonetheless, sometimes, a brilliant loan will travel even if it's in English, it will travel to non English speaking countries, like I'm loving it, I'd say I'd say that McDonald's line is probably not translated in Brazil. I don't know that for a fact, I should probably should have looked that up before commenting. But some lines do travel because the English is sort of generally well known. But it probably doesn't happen the other way around. Not Not now, I don't think a Brazilian ad or like a French ad has ever kind of made it into into English, it's still in French, or maybe it has what was that Renault Clio ad?

Will Francis  51:31
So that's one,Yeah, trend is become more visual. What else have you seen change in that regard.

John McMahon  51:36
The other thing is another, this is probably the more this is the more significant one for anyone who's a copywriter now, because like anybody joining advertising, that's just the advertising they've grown up with. So it's nothing that not different. But maybe for someone who's a bit older that's why I mentioned that but but coming into advertising now, the big difference you'll see with ads from this 21st century, and ads of the late 20th, or even the early 21st century, is that the tone of voice from brands has become a lot less corporate and a lot less authoritative. And if I can say so even a lot less male, a lot less sort of patriarchal or paternalistic. And it's become much more friendly and approachable and friendliness and approachability are kind of huge kind of tonal, you know, a holy grail that a lot of brands are seeking, you know, and I think that's, I mean, this is great. And this is all good, you know, because if you look back on some advertising from the 70s, and 80s, there is a real sort of advertising sort of voice, you know, and it's very off putting, and it just feels like it's dated badly. You know, it's like the voice of the BBC. It's like, it's received pronunciation and all that. And it's, it feels like it's got, it's bound up with class war somehow, like, you know, like only the upper class, were in a position to tell you what you should be buying, you know, to wash your dishes with or something like that. And I know an awful lot of creatives in Britain were struggling against that. But still, that was kind of, I think, the default for a long time. And we're totally, not entirely but we're more or less out of that place now. Irish brands are still lagging behind a little bit, I think a lot of them still default to a not, you know, not a kind of upper class voice, but a sort of voice of authority, an Irish version of that, which feels like maybe RTE in the early 80s, or something like that. It's very neutral. And it's sort of like never risking warmth, never risking humor, you know, it's off putting at times. So yeah, that's probably the other big change.

Will Francis  53:31
And do you think social media has played a big role in driving that quest to be more relatable, more friendly, more on the level with the audience? Just, you know, like it like they're equal?

John McMahon  53:43
Yes. 100%. And maybe maybe that's the lesson of that has been misinterpreted in some ways, that's about a tone of voice. It's not to say that creative ideas can't be, can't take flight, you know, and can't be somewhat out of the ordinary and don't, they don't have to be based in , you know, the mundane detail of everyday life. And I think, you know, it would be a shame if creatives of the future kind of mix those two things up, because they're definitely, people still want to see entertaining and surprising stuff, you know, even if they don't want brands to talk down to them, you know, those two things aren't incompatible at all.

Will Francis  54:19
Very true. I mean, we've got you know, as as ad agencies and brands, we've got the resource to create things that other people, like creators in their bedrooms and regular members of the public just don't have. And so it would be a waste of that to just yet like chat with people and that's all it ever is. I mean,

John McMahon  54:38
I'm yet to really see any great campaigns on TikTok. I know there are, there are interesting content providers, or content makers on Tik Tok, but I haven't seen much branded stuff that impressed me on TikTok. Now, it could just be me that I'm not really au fait with TikTok too much. But I'd love to see some counter examples, but at the moments I find it's a it's quite flat, a lot of the branded TikTok contents, you know,

Will Francis  55:03
I think I think brands are still getting their head around that. And as always, they're taking their time in doing that, you know, they're very risk averse. However, it's actually far riskier, playing it safe and not actually just adopting the visual language of that platform and just going for it really, which is mad, really, but anyway.  Tell me a little bit about how you got into advertising because your background was originally quite different, right?

John McMahon  55:31
Yeah, I was. I did postgraduate work in, in a school of English like as in a department of English in the university. But it was actually more in philosophy. Strangely enough, just the way it worked out. My supervisor happened to be in a school of English. So yeah, I did a PhD in Englishwhich took a good few years, about a philosopher, a French philosopher called Jean Francois Liotard. And at the time, I was thinking of going into academia. But as, as I got, towards the end of it, I had started to work then in the, in the, just in the private sector. And I suddenly realized, actually, I don't know if I want this. And also, it's such a kind of disappearing world, you know, unless you're really at the very top of the game, and I didn't think I was, then I just thought it would be an uphill struggle and not worthwhile when you know, so I just decided fuck it, I'll try to do something else. And I'd always been interested in advertising.  So I got a job anyway while I was finishing my thesis, I got a job as a technical writer, which is kind of like a form, it's a form of copywriting, I suppose. But you're not just, it's not that you're selling anything. It's that you're explaining things, you know. So it's, but it's still a brilliant, the language you use is really important. And it's about communication, I suppose you could say. So I did that for about three years, I kind of moved into, I startedout in training software that was teaching people how to do various things to do with computers and networking and stuff. And I didn't know anything about it, I just had to learn as I went along. But it was always about distilling it down into simple language that anybody could understand, you know, which is a great discipline, actually. But um, so I did that for a while, I joined a travel software company, and I was kind of like their in house technical writer, and I started to do a bit more marketing writing, then as well, I wrote their website, and some of their brochures and if ever they needed press releases, and stuff like that, I'd be the guy to do that. So that was kind of halfway towards copywriting then.  And then I just, you know, I got made redundant then in the big sort of IT squeeze in the early 2000s. And decided, right, I'll just do a spec portfolio of ideas, you know, just random stuff. And this is what I would recommend to anybody who's trying to get into advertising. If if you don't do the course, like there are courses you can do, and the course will help you build up your portfolio. But if you don't do a course, then you can totally do it on your own. But I would suggest that you create campaigns rather than just once off ideas. So a campaign might be three TV ads, three TV scripts, maybe there's a radio script as well and a printout, or maybe it's a print campaign. So there's three print ads, and you just, you don't have to, if you're going for a copywriter type job, then they don't need to be finessed, you can actually literally just use stick figures, as long as you're communicating the idea clearly, if you're an art director, then yeah, there needs to be a bit more finish in the work. But yeah, if you have like four or five campaigns in your portfolio, and you can have a few other loose ones offs, if you like, if they're just brilliant, or really funny, or just unusual, you know, maybe it's just an idea for a new product or something like that, you could even throw that in there.  And people want to see that you're able to think differently and creatively. And they also want to want to see that you can work with concepts. So a concept is like something that will run through a campaign. And often multiple campaigns, it it's a really strong concept, brand concepts. And yeah, that's really what the portfolio is there to show that you can work on that level. And that you don't have to learn it from scratch, because that's something that an agency probably won't have time to teach you unless they're taking you in at a very junior level.  So yeah, I just kind of did that and got a basic copywriting job with Dell computers remember them writing press ads, for them, it was very undemanding. But I had to come up with new headlines, sometimes like as many as eight headlines for eight separate ads every single day, as well as writing all the body copy and proofing all of the ads that went out to every market in Europe. So there was a lot of work in it. And it kind of taught me about pressure and just working under pressure, you know, and I did that for about a year and a half. And then a position opened up as a junior copywriter in chemistry, and that was basically just writing basic stuff for banks, like little brochures and little things. Yeah, there are brochures, I suppose by banking products, eventually got into doing some ads. And then you know, gradually you kind of you graduate from print ads, which are, you know, low risk as far as the agency is concerned and they don't by putting a junior on it to like a TV campaign where it is a lot more money riding on us and, you know, they want to be confident that you're going to come up with the goods.  You don't you never go in at the top, you always go in at the bottom. But if you show potential and promise, you can escalate up through the ranks really, really quickly. And it's it's very meritocratic in that respect. I found anyway, of course, when you get up a bit higher than you can get tossed around a bit more, you never know what's going to happen. But certainly in the early stages, it's a nice feeling, you know, if you know what you're doing, and, and you've learned the trade, then you will get rewarded for it. I'm fairly confident about that.

Will Francis  1:00:38
Great, more great advice. Thanks for that, would you be able to off the top of your head give us three three tips for people working with an agency as a client? What would you say to someone if they if they asked you for advice on better working with their agency as a client,

John McMahon  1:00:58
One thing that works very well, a lot of the time is a collaborative sort of workshop with the agency before the actual full creative presentation. So okay, there's a brief. And then in three weeks time, we're expecting a full creative presentation, that's, you know, your scripts, mocked up print ads, any ideas for digital stuff. But maybe halfway through that process. And what I think is works really well is the client comes into the agency for maybe an hour or two, and sit down with the creative team, maybe the account management, maybe the strategist as well. And they look up the all the ideas that are on the table. So it's what we call a tissue meeting. But a tissue meeting is usually just a presentation, I'm talking about something a little bit more collaborative than that. So the client will come along and, and not just go, that looks interesting, but also say, here's what I like about this, what if we tried this instead of that, you know, and just get stuck in a little bit more, and it's really good for, it's really good for an agency to feel that where they're going is kind of not completely wrong. It might be wrong, but it's not completely wrong. And it takes a lot of the pressure off them. But it also guarantees that the work that the client will see will be sort of ballpark, you know, in the right zone to what they're looking for. And what they're hoping for. Yeah, and

Will Francis  1:02:19
It makes them feel more bought in and involved I suppose and invested in it, it does, that's very good tip that I like that. Okay, that's, that's your first tip, what about a couple of others,

John McMahon  1:02:28
if you if you trust the agency, then you have to let them make certain decisions. Now, that's not to say you need to be completely hands off and never have any input. But there are certain points in the process of producing a campaign where it's, it's very easy to get stuck in with your opinion, but that doesn't make it the right thing to do. You know, that doesn't mean that those are the right points to get stuck in. So for example, casting. Now, you'll often find because casting, you know, at the end of a day of casting, you might have 20 names to play a particular role, for example, and the client will then often start to bring very personal opinions into play, you know, for reasons that don't really belong in in that process. So what I would just say is, don't get opinionated just because you can and you have the freedom to do so you know, it's not always the right thing to do. And remember that it's it's not about your opinion, it's about what's the right thing for this job, you know. And I think then everybody comes out of it looking good.  And then the third thing I would say, Sorry, there is a third tip, which some clients might take the wrong way. But remember that the audience most of the time, is actually not the people who work in the same room as you. It's, it's the public, or it's a slice of the public, it's probably not the entire public, but it's the target audience.

Will Francis  1:03:52
It's not you basically, I know, you mean, there's a tendency in marketing for people to just do what appeals to them and start forgetting that this is not for you. This is for a very specific market segment.

John McMahon  1:04:03
I think what happens more often is that they start to try and second guess their boss or other colleagues that they call stakeholders. And, you know, the, the term stakeholders is just such a weighty kind of, it carries a multitude of horribles it's a bit like a one of those bullets that when they explode, they send fragments everywhere. It's just, it's, it's so potentially disruptive. And you can never, you can never find out who the stakeholders are. But there are a mysterious bunch who believe this and not this, you know, they don't really like this type of thing, but they like this type of thing. And don't sort of rest on them. You know, I was thinking more of the internal audience that clients often get a little bit too caught up with, you know, because for the obvious reason that they're, they're looking out for their career, and they're looking at for not putting a foot wrong or whatever, you know, but I would just say always remember that the primary audience is the public and not, the secondary audience might be your own organization, you know?

Will Francis  1:04:55
Yeah. Yeah. Very good advice. John, I feel like I've learned so much In our time together, thank you, thanks a million for all that. Really good really succinctly put you're very good at explaining it in clear terms. And I know our listeners are going to get a lot out of that. Just one last question for you. Where can people find out about you and connect with you online?

John McMahon  1:05:15
Do you know what, the best thing is go to my portfolio site, because that'll bring you directly to my LinkedIn page if you want to make contacts. And my portfolio is www.johnnymcmahon.com. And that's just some recent is five or six, maybe campaigns that I've worked on in the last, actually, a couple of them are quite old, but there's a few from the last year or two there as well. But I put some old ones in because they're, they're still some of my favorites that I've worked on. So I'm not scraping the barrel.

Will Francis  1:05:46
Cool. Yeah, we'll check that out. Well, look, thanks very much, again, really appreciate it.

John McMahon  1:05:51
You're very welcome. It's been very enjoyable and interesting, and I hope people will find it useful.

Will Francis  1:05:55
I'm sure they will. Thanks a lot John.  If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training, head to digitalmarketinginstitute.com Thanks for listening.

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Will Francis
Will Francis

Will Francis is a recognized authority in digital and social media, who has worked with some of the world’s most loved brands. He is the host and technical producer of the DMI podcast, Ahead of the Game and a lecturer and subject matter expert with the DMI. He appears in the media and at conferences whilst offering his own expert-led digital marketing courses where he shares his experience gained working within a social network, a global ad agency, and more recently his own digital agency.

Connect with him on Twitter (X) or LinkedIn.

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