Thursday, April 24, 2008

I Like A Challenge

When I tell people I work in marketing, it probably conjures up images in their minds of exposed brickwork and glamorous product launches and handsome men in black polo-necks designing impossibly cool viral campaigns on their Macbook Airs.

In reality, I spend most of my time writing the blurb for those bits of paper that fall out of magazines, and which you immediately curse and throw in the bin without ever looking at them.

And as I work in B2B, rather than consumer, it's likely that you don't even look at the magazine itself, which is probably called something like Purchasing Manager Monthly, and you get sent eighteen shrink-wrapped copies of it every month despite the fact that you never asked for it and you don't even work in purchasing.

(I'm not bitter: I reconciled myself long ago to the profound and fundamental pointlessness of my chosen career. The money helps.)

Today, though, there must be something in the air, because two separate clients seem simultaneously to have decided that it's time to be a bit more 'creative'. The resulting tidal wave of conceptual free-association washed into my world as follows:

Phone rings.

Me: Hello?

Client: Ooh hello Patroclus, I need you to do this thing, it's urgent.

Me: No problem. What is it?

Client: We're doing a postcard, an invitation to [some government computing show]. We're giving away free smoothies on the stand. I need you to come up with a headline that ties in the concept of a smoothie with the concept of government departments moving to a shared service operating model.

Me (trying not to giggle): Central or local government?

Client: Doesn't matter.

Me: Can I use the brand name of the smoothie?

Client: No.


An email arrives. It reads:


I have found a picture of some peas. Can you come up with a tagline that ties it in with the need to upgrade your call center infrastructure to include multimedia contact channels? This is urgent.



(He did sign off in capitals, as well. I suspect he accidentally hit caps lock in a frenzy of unadulterated creative excitement.)


Annie said...

the need to upgrade your call center infrastructure to include multimedia contact channels... I don't even understand this sentence, let alone can relate it to an image of peas with a pithy, witty phrase. It makes me stressed just thinking about it, no wonder I ended up working with 5 year olds. I salute your creativity.

rach said...

If it makes you feel any better, I've spent a great deal of the day attempting to find exciting things to say about wrought iron gates...

BiB said...

I didn't understand the 'concept of government departments moving to a shared service operating model' bit either. I too salute your creativity and say you deserve every penny.

patroclus said...

Sadly those are the sorts of phrases I have to work with every day, whereas things like smoothies and peas are quite alien to my working life.

Please don't salute me - I haven't actually done anything about these requests yet. Unless you count writing this blog post.

Rach: Ooh, now, I'd quite enjoy that. I love wrought iron.

Billy said...

We had three shrink-wrapped magazines arrive the other day, one to the manager, one to the assistant manager and one to someone who doesn't work here anymore.

Then about 10.30 the PA to one of the Directors came in, brandishing a fourth copy and asking if we wanted it.

Everything I know about advertising and marketing I learnt from this book

Annie Rhiannon said...

Hahaha. Great post. And then, however the postcard is designed, their reaction is always the same:

"Great. But can you make the headline bigger? Or put it in red, maybe?"

patroclus said...

Billy: The sad thing is, that's how they count their circulation, so they can tell the advertisers. I'm convinced there are hundreds of magazines that no one reads, in which none of the adverts are ever seen by anyone, and from which no one ever picks up or reads the 'inserts' that people like me spend their days writing. An entire cycle of writing and printing and collating and wrapping and distributing, all to no purpose whatsoever.

Annie: When I worked with my brother, who's a designer, he would always tease me for saying things like 'can you just make it a bit more blue'?

Sarah said...

I feel mildly embarrassed to have a rough idea of what those things probably mean.

But I don't have to link them to smoothies or peas, so I'm ok.

Occasional Poster of Comments said...

When I think about that smoothie thing all I can imagine is a really abstract Will It Blend? experiement.

Maybe there's a headline in "Yes, it blends"?

Or something about blending synergies, probably...

Tim Footman said...

Smooth transition?


Urgh, I'm having nightmares about when I used to write advertorials for clients who didn't speak English...

miss-cellany said...

Smooth Operators?

Peas Hold The Line?

Perhaps you could could market this side of your work as a sort of parlour game in a nice box full of shiny cards?

Perhaps it's time I went to sleep...

Boz said...

I spend a lot of my day translating HR jargon into English. I sympathise deeply.

nuttycow said...

So... did you come up with something?

devolutionary said...

Thank you for reminding me why I left advertising. Sometimes I... oh, what's the word?

GreatSheElephant said...

peas in a pod
all channels receive the same level of care just like so many peas in a pod


your customers are more than so many peas in a pod - which ever their preferred channel yada yada

GreatSheElephant said...

shared service model - well blended.

Yeah - invoice is in the post.

patroclus said...

These are fantastic suggestions, thanks everyone. Naturally I've just heard that the client has decided the peas are too racy, so they've decided to have a picture of some businessmen looking at a laptop instead. As usual.

Boz - it strikes me that it's highly possible we know each other in 'real life', whatever that is.

Oli said...

At some point, it's going to strike the general public that the same group of models appears to work for every IT, accountancy, and consultancy business in Britain.

Working for such a business, I can confirm that the stock photos are in fact used to shield human eyes from our sheer beauty.

patroclus said...

Oli: I don't know what you mean.

One Fine Weasel said...

peas, yeah, way too racy.

thanks for the link :) i like the way you've put 'new!!', like it's really exciting!

patroclus said...

Well it *is* really exciting, OFW (that's you, btw) - I like your blog very much, and your description of the ear candle escapade the other day really made me laugh.

Jonners said...

I totally sympathise. Although I am on the face of it running a web design business, a lot of the time I'm more or less doing branding/marketing consulting for clients. So, I can completely empathise with the sometimes dull nature of the raw materials one has to work with. But, every once in while a creative opportunity does come along and that's fun. I did a site last year where I went off on a huskies theme which was pure delight to do, and it worked.. which was nice ;)

Argh. Stock photos. The bane of my life!

Best of luck!

Occasional Poster of Comments said...

I love web addresses like that -

I wonder what insurance risks there are for beans?

I saw another one like that recently:

Bookstore ad was closer to the truth.

Marsha said...

Have you ever written an insert which might have fallen out of New Civil Engineer or Local Transport Today (yes, really)?

If so, I may have to start paying them more attention.

Christopher Campbell-Howes said...

Please excuse me while I take OPC aside for a moment into a quiet corner...

Some lewd fellow of the baser sort sent me these once. I understand they're bona fide; certainly the ones I tried were.

Occasional Poster of Comments said...

Brilliant - I'd forgotten about that powergen one :)

One Fine Weasel said...

thank you... and i like yours! and that of Le Chat Bleu, natch. the invisible bathroom door thing had me howling.

last year i worked at the dirty end of the writing-to-distributing cycle you mention. our mailhouse was used as the 'return to sender' address for many of the publications we sent out. we'd get gazillions of the buggers back, and they'd all get bunged in a big box in the corner doomed to sit there for all eternity because the data programmer couldn't be arsed (ahem *was too busy*) to data cleanse. just so you know :) yes!

Oli said...

A picture that we used to illustrate how good our financial services were was also used to illustrate the agony of knee pain. It worked better in the latter.

patroclus said...

Jonners: I like the sound of that. Did you have to associate the huskies with service-oriented architectures or something equally arcane?

Marsha: Not to my knowledge, although I never usually see the finished article or find out where it ends up. In fact there have been times when I've known I can invoice something simply because I happen to have received the finished article as spam in my junk mail box. I think that's when the sense of futility is at its most exquisite. Still, it's nice to know there are people out there who are at least familiar with the names of these publications... perhaps all is not lost.

OPC: I was going to (ahem) bring up the legendary - and possibly apocryphal -, but I see Dad got there first.

Dad: I'm heartened to see that actually exists.

OFW: It's like Bagpuss's chocolate bscuit factory (my favourite metaphor) all over again - only with tremendous environmental damage thrown in for extra pointlessness.

Oli: Ha, that made me laugh.

DavetheF said...

I quote:

" Be an actuary -- a career without boundaries"

I don't want to be an accountant! I want to be an actuary, out on the new frontier, roaming the prairie!"

Boz said...

Ahhh stock images. Making even accountancy seem a bit sexy and daring.

Actually that's unfair. I know some great accountants.

Jonners said...

Re: Huskies
I just liked them, really, and I got away with it ;) The icy colours fitted the overall theme and they were just something a bit different from the stock photo norm. None of the huskies wore headsets. They weren't tapping away on keyboards. Any they were not jumping in the air like they'd clinched a deal. There wasn't a grouping of huskies which reflected market ethnicity and demographics. They were just doing what huskies do, basically. Result, I reckon ;)

In the development site, my job title was indicated as "Huskie Training" - we almost left it on there when the site launched!

(by some strange twist of fate, the verification code looks for all the world like the word huskie in Croatian or some such language - which I will take as a sign of something)

patroclus said...

Boz: Are they sexy and daring, though? To DaveF's point, do they have no boundaries? Do they sometimes go to work just in their pants, because they can? Would they kill a man just to watch him die, etc.?

Incidentally I am heartened to see that Stock Photo Girl has her own blog: The Everywhere Girl.

Jonners: Perhaps Everywhere Girl should be carted off into the sunset by a team of huskies, thus ending the long and ignominious reign of the Stock Photo Dynasty.

La Bête said...

Oh, that's all so wonderful, and it is great to know that there is a community of wasted writers out there all blogging their thwarted lives.

I'd definitely go with Smoothie Operator.