Writer and creative consultant
Writer and creative consultant
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50 things Tom Callard learned in ad agencies

On the eve of leaving BBH USA as Chief Strategy Officer, Tom Callard decides to share 50 things he learned over his career.

1. Great arguments have great beginnings.

2. We’re standing on the shoulders of giants - don’t forget wisdom from your forebears in our obsession with running towards the future.

3. Stupid ideas need protecting not killing.

4. Hunt for revelations, not insights.

5. Leadership is amplifying yourself.

6. Good things come in threes, or fives, not twos or fours.

7. The consumer might not give you the answer but spend a day talking to them and you’ll probably figure it out.

8. Simple beats smart every time.

9. There’s no work stress so large that an after-work drink won’t solve.

10. When the founders leave, you no longer have adults who raise the bar for you - every individual needs to raise the bar themselves.

11. The job is subjective but we’re paid to sound objective - don’t forget it really isn’t.

12. High performers need carrots not sticks (they wield a stick larger than you could carry and hit themselves with it).

13. Puns aren’t the lowest form of wit, they’re a useful lateral thinking tool.

14. Saying you don’t know the answer can earn you more respect than always seeming to know it.

15. Hire people who will tell you you’re wrong.

16. Hierarchy stops people from saying what they mean - do whatever you can to reduce it.

17. There is such a thing as too much strategy - don’t rewrite the client strategy if it’s already great.

18. The four Cs aren’t equal - and you can often guess which one may hold the answer.

19. Creatives are better at judging if your brief is interesting than you are, so let them.

20. Growth isn’t a strategy, it’s an objective. We know this is true for our clients, yet we often forget it when thinking about our own agency.

21. Come up with ideas and let them be killed, so you know how it feels.

22. Don’t elevate out of the product too far - some (most?) brands don’t need to save the world.

23. Say one thing well (in meetings and in ads).

24. There are a million reasons not to do a brave idea. Find the one reason to do it.

25. Stop obsessing over the brief format.

26. Being good and nice is easy when things are going well - the challenge is to do it when things are rough.

27. Professionalism isn’t helpful to creativity - be irreverent instead.

28. There are no highs without lows - agencies are so amazing because sometimes they are so shit.

29. When you leave part of yourself at home you tell everyone they should do the same. Bring your whole self to work.

30. Be generous with your ideas - you will get more back.

31. Be generous with your time.

32. Be generous in general.

33. Better isn’t a strategy.

34. Brands are more nuanced than a sentence or an onion.

35. Awards papers are a bad model for how the process actually works. Abandon linear and embrace messy.

36. Trust your gut, but also try to prove it wrong.

37. Protect the grey area, even if black and white feels safer.

38. You’re not a storyteller, that undersells it. Be proud of being able to turn the rational and logical into the lateral and unexpected.

39. Advertising is a team sport, so be a good teammate.

40. Write for your audience, not for yourself.

41. You’re not the first person to ask this question, find out what smarter people than yourself thought.

42. Know where you’re in the process - convergent or divergent. Are you adding or honing - they’re different skills.

43. Agency life gets more fun when you erase department boundaries - you’re not just a strategist, you’re a creative with a strategy superpower.

44. Briefs should be brief.

45. Creative reviews should be fun.

46. Weekends aren’t for working.

47. Do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you.

48. Interesting beats right every time.

49. It’s a small world - be kind to everyone.

50. Great arguments remind you of the start at the end.


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