I have been freelancing full time for over a year now. It has proven a boon to my mental health. I make less than I did working for the man, but after a while money is just table stakes in the game of life. And since going out on my own, I have enough to both play and pay. The pay part is the mortgage and groceries and utilities and health care. The play part shows up during lulls of work. And even when busy, I can decide, what the hell, it’s awfully warm for February, so I am going to get some miles in on my bike. I can set aside time for staring out the window, reading, and feeling bad (but not too bad) for unhappy souls working for the man. Of course, I work for the man, too. Everyone has a boss of one kind or another. Mine are my clients who pay me to do what they can’t, either for lack of staff or time or both.
But one thing I don’t have to do is fill out Annual Reviews, a truly senseless exercise in keeping the HR department staffed and humming. This is especially true for anyone in the creative side of the ad business. Reviews typically ask for your successes and failures over the last year. The failures politely worded as challenges or through questions like, Where did you fall short? Of course if your boss didn’t already know this, he’d have to be a pretty awful boss. (And I say him because most of the senior creatives are guys.) But remember, it’s not for him or you. It’s for the HR gang and their Permanent Records. Reviews often include sections devoted to Your Goals for Next Year. What can this possibly mean? What, for example, would be a copywriter’s or art director’s goals for next year? Write great copy? Make exquisite layouts? Come up with interesting ideas to get people to part with their money? But only do it better than last year? Or do it faster (which is what the bean counters are always on the lookout for since they don’t understand why creatives aren’t interchangeable FTEs on an assembly line).
Maybe art directors could be directed to pay more attention to kerning. Writers might reconsider how often they start sentences with and. And then there’s the corporate mission, often grouped into tiresome clusters about Client Satisfaction, Category Innovation, Career Development, you can fill in the rest. Of course, this doesn’t even skim the awful nonsense that includes Team Work, Collaboration, Fiscal Responsibility, Leadership Potential, and a host of categories designed to drive advertising creatives to blow their brains out. Our account brethren probably find all this just as onerous. If they didn’t, I can’t imagine how long they’d last at an ad agency.
Having spent a career in marketing and advertising, mostly at agencies, I was exposed to all sorts of fads. Management by walking around. Management by objectives. Management by scaring the crap out of people. And then there was the Jack Welsh love cycle that gave us Six Sigma and Black Belt Training something or other. Oh, I’m sure for some enterprises, such stuff makes incredible sense. But for commercial art, that being what advertising actually is, it’s a pretty big fucking waste of time. It’s the art part of commercial art that clients pay for. And that’s not something that Annual Reviews, Management By Objectives, or whatever dreadful box-checking nonsense the HR kids dump on you can operationalize. Because operationalizing creativity is akin to asking children why they like snow.
© 2017 John Hofmeister
When I'm not writing for clients, I write about things that interest me. Quite of bit of satire, a genre that has become increasingly difficult to work in since reality has become such a farce.