Archive for the ‘creative direction toronto’ Category




Sometimes, ya know, ya have to go backwards to move forwards. You know I’ve been writing ads since before I got paid to write ads.

Sure it may sound silly, but the use of celebrities as paid endorsers has been a tried and true method of gaining market share since Moses pitched the burning bush idea. Today, as our gen “X” and “Y” consumers continue to throw their weight around celebrity endorsements have to be handled differently. Take the new Lincoln campaign. No real pitch copy here, just a bunch of random thoughts from a handsome Hollywood hunk. Shouldn’t work right? Well guess again, Lincoln sales have shot up 35% since Mat got behind their wheel. Even South Park took notice, putting Mat behind the wheel of a Zip Car in a hilarious spoof. What ever the reason, celebrity and market share have always been partners in an imperfect marriage.

After many years in the advertising industry, I decided that enough was enough. So I thought that I would take some time off and perhaps write the next great novel. After about three months of sitting in front of the computer screen, I realized that I was bored. So I made the decision that every creative fights with: to work, or not to work.

My quest for employment found me on Craig’s List and I guess I should have known, you don’t find a new career on Craig’s List, or as my daughter would say: “Duh”.

But that’s just how it began, my introduction to the bright and glamorous life of a Hollywood Casting Agent. The cars, the luxuries, the bling…it was about to be all mine.

But when I showed up the first day at Hollywood Entertainment, there were no studios, no limos not even a sign on the front door above the Tamil grocery store in Scarborough. My office became a four by four desk containing a telephone and a computer that looked like it was bought some time ago from Goodwill.

For the first few days I just listened while the sales manager “pitched the list”.

“Hi this is David calling from Hollywood about the information you filled in on our website. I’m a senior casting agent here in Hollywood and one of my assistants just handed me your file and we think you are perfect. You do know that just for being a contestant you receive thirty to fifty thousand dollars?”

From under his headset, David winked and then hooked his finger inserting it in his mouth as if to indicate he had just caught a fish.

“Now I’m just looking at your pictures, and they’re great. The next thing I want to do with you is put you under contract. The only way I make any money is if you make money and we get a standard industry commission of fifteen percent. That’s cool right?”

Suddenly David looked at me and put his call on hold.

“Sometimes” he said with a grin “ it’s good to just put them on hold and let them think about it”

Clicking on the headset, David continued “So as I said, we are casting over three hundred reality tv shows, we’re the largest reality tv agents in the world so you can just pick the shows you want. All we need to do now is get your contract signed and get you some talent cards. You know what talent cards are, don’t you. They’re the currency we use in Hollywood to get you front and centre in front of the producers ..the directors… the decision makers. So how do you want to take care of getting your cards? They’re just $275 for five hundred cards. I can have them done and shipped out to my desk in California in just twenty four hours and I can start sending you to castings next week. Was that Visa or Mastercard?”

Ah, I thought the life of a Hollywood Agent. Then he handed me my script containing my phone pitch and a long empty numbered list that I was to fill in to keep track of my calls.

“This is a contact sport” said David “ the more you contact, the more dough you make, it’s simple. A blind monkey can close at least two deals a day and we pay you fifty bucks for every deal you close. Once the credit card clears of course.”

Although my background was never really centred on mathematics, I soon realized that my take out of the two hundred and seventy-five dollars was a measly fifty bucks. Isn’t that about what a real Hollywood agent spends for a latte?

By the third day I was given my own list. A computer generated roll call of the needy, the starstruck and the desperate. Each list contained fifty names, information and sometimes pictures of the registrants from the Hollywood Entertainment Website. Most of the people were from the US, so all of the computers were hooked up to a Magic Jack that plugged into the phone and the computer allowing your out going calls to show up as a California phone exchange. As far as my clients were concerned they were getting their chance in a lifetime telephone call directly from Hollywood.

I must say I had mixed emotions as I dialed my first call. I read her profile several times. She was twenty-two years old and lived in Alabama. In her bio she told a story of woe. He husband had left her and she found herself raising three kids on her own before her twenty-first birthday. Her hobbies included playstation three and watching movies on TV. She was five foot four and weighed 321 pounds. Her desired shows were: Deal or No Deal, The Biggest Looser and Friends. Friends, I thought..that’s not a reality tv show. Her profession was sadly listed as: unemployed.

Before I dialed I had a look at her pictures. She was obese and sent in a picture that showed her at Wend’s eating with her kids, each of whom had inherited their mother’s genes. Obviously perfect fodder for the Hollywood grist mill. I wondered if the local paparazzi had snapped the photo.

I still hadn’t dialed. I looked at the clock, I looked at my empty call sheet and Dave looked at me. Then I picked up the headset and started to dial.

After about five rings a man answered. “Hi is Marrie there?” I forced out in my very best Southern California drawl. “Thiis is Steve calling from Hollywood, does she still want to be on tv?” it even sounded lame to me, but I pressed on. “Is Marrie there?”.  I could hear babies crying in the background and the television was blaring and my headset made a weird purring sound in my ear. “Marrie…this is Steve calling from Hollywood Entertainment, my assistants…” I read the script, stumbling a couple of times by she just listened.

“Does this mean I can get on Deal or no Deal ?” she asked.

“Well we are the biggest agents in Hollywood, with your demographics I think you might be perfect”. The words stuck in my throat.

I continued to try to explain things to Marrie and eventually we reached the conversation about a credit card.

“Credit card?” she said “we ain’t go no credit card, we on food stamps”.

Ouch. My sale was turning in dust before my eyes.

“Well Marrie, that’s too bad. Maybe this isn’t the right time in your life to pursue reality TV, so have a good day”.

As I clicked off the headset and leaned back in my chair I scrolled down on my computer screen and saw Marrie’s picure again. Right there at the McDonald’s with the three overweight kids. I felt I’d done the right thing by letting her off the hook. But David had different ideas.

“How’d that call go?”

“She doesn’t have a credit card.”

“So tell her to go to Rite Aid or Wallgreens and get a pre-paid Mastercard. Have her load it with three hundred bucks and call you back. If that’s no good tell her to get a money order and have it shipped to us . Make sure to get the fuckin weigh bill number too”

Was he kidding? Did he really want me to get poor Marrie back on the phone. What about her kids, and her food stamps. What about the fact she was obese, with no one to help her?

Dave gave me a starry glaze. Then put his headset back on and got back on the phone.

I started to glance through the other poor sods in my list. A quick calculation showed out of fifty names a third were overweight men and women desperate to get onto the Biggest Looser.

Another third were young urban women who sent racy pictures and called themselves “bad”.

The last third were semi-normal people. Some kids had registered using their parents’ information, some were country singers and semi professional models. A true goldmine of leads I thought.

I called hour after hour always mindful that I would not lie. I’d tell the people the truth. I’d send them emails of the new shows that were casting and I did my best to honestly answer their questions.

Perhaps that was the reason I made absolutely no sales for the first week.

They kept track of the deals they made on a large whiteboard. Dave’s name was always at the top of the list and by Friday of my first week, he had 10 little sticks on the board. I had none.

The following Monday a new face arrived in the office. He wore a wool watch cap pulled down to the top of his dark wrap-around sunglasses. He introduced himself as Sean, although the name he used on the phones was Mick.

He rarely spoke to anyone in the office and he never took off the cap and glasses.

I couldn’t help but overhear his pitch.

“Hi this is Mick at Hollywood North. My assistant just gave me your file and I am about to go into a casting session for Deal or No Deal.. I’m taking your file with me, I need you to send me pictures right away, so I can take them into the Deal People. Great, send them right now. If I they choose you in the casting, I’ll call you back at three o’clock, did you hear me three o’clock.”

At around three, he would call them back.

“Hey it’s Mick at Hollywood North. Good news they chose you for the show. So I’m sending you a contract and I need to get your talent cards so I can send them over to the show. Visa or Mastercard?”

My assumption was there were a number of reasons for “Mick’s” success. Firstly, he talked fast, the entire call never lasted more than two or three minutes.
The second reason he was so successful was he downright lied. There were no meetings, no assistants, no playing golf with the producers of Wheel of Fortune. There was just Sean, his cap and sunglasses and of course the phone.

At the end of my week I sent Dave an email. I essentially warned him about what was going on. He didn’t even blink. He said that telephone sales is really not for me and that he needed more guys like Sean who can do ten deals a week. I had become the blind monkey in his eyes.

I went back to my computer to clean up any personal emails I might have left on the hard drive when I got a message from Hollywood Entertainment. One of Sean’s clients had just been selected as a contestant on Survivor.

Who wodda thunk?

I’ve been in the advertising business for a long time. Heck, long enough to remember the Mad Men era. I was just a kid in the creative department but the suits were the focus of the agency. They wore the expensive clothes, had the three hour martini lunches and provided extra special services to their clients on demand. The creative department was squeezed into tiny closets. Each had suffered from the constant turnover of people. It seemed when someone brought something into their office they never had any interest in taking it with them when they left.

Flash forward. Today the creative department is the engine of the agency. Creatives can be treated like gods. The paradigm has shifted. The other thing that has shifted is the fun side of the business. Suits now spend time on their computers reviewing stats instead of drinking manhattans. Creatives seem to have more interest in facebook and twitter than drawing and thinking.

It all makes me wonder how Ted Bates would feel about this transition.

As a freelance Creative Director, I get to see my share of creative solutions. Over the past few years I have noticed that the single most important component to great creative is Courage. At many agencies I have encountered the “it’s only a good ad if the client buys it” attitude. Although that may feed the bottom line, it will never take your agency to the next level.

Recently, at one agency I took the client brief and re-wrote it. I actually wrote 2 creative briefs. In the first, I treated it like the agency normally did. It wasn’t really a creative brief as much as it was a production brief. With the other creative brief I treated it like is was a new client. My briefs were then distributed to the 2 creative teams at the agency.

The results: group one working as they always did, produced a campaign on target with the client brief.

The other group pushed themselves (thinking it was a new business pitch for a client with very high creative standards). They created a new campaign that provided a completely new creative stance and executions. The result: the client was suffering from shock and awe after the presentation.

The lesson learned : agencies need to develop a more courageous response to client demands. Don’t just give the same solutions over and over. Be brave, try something “out of left field”. It will say something special about your agency and it will give your creatives the chance to demonstrate their Courage.