Wednesday, March 22, 2017

On dissecting a job application in the advertising world. #flashback

Originally published September 5, 2013:
"El cheghel mich ayb bass quand meme" (working is nothing to be ashamed of, but there are limits)... I was reminded of this joke by the Theatre de Dix Heures (before they became Les Diseurs) when Pierre Chammassian impersonating a politician and was asked why he turned down running for a member of the parliament. He replied that since his brother was a minister in the cabinet, being "just an MP" is kind of embarrassing...
I got reminded by this because someone sent me the position for a very renowned local ad agency. Short of being a nuclear physicist (because they were asking for the moon really!), and having a Ph.D. in conflict resolution (and crowd control to break off fights between creatives and client servicing people), the advertising had all the “reasonable expectations” from the agency point of view.
Interestingly, just to tell you how far off we have gone in the industry, maybe it is time to decode the ad from the point of view of the person about to apply. Or worse, from that of someone who’s already been there and done that (and didn’t get the t-shirt!). This article is punctuated with illustrations which are collaborative works between Fady Chahine and myself and which were previously published in our book “Badna n2awem el me2teye.”

Let’s start off with “them” as the ad agency and “us” the prospective position applicants.
Them: Work in team with an Art Director supervising the team members and taking full charge of the quality of the work
Us: The position is for a copywriter, one of the least respected branches in the local industry. “Min ma ken fi yektob” – “anyone can write a line” (insert stupid hahaha laughter from whomever says this in your face and a big belly rub because usually the person is fat and silly). Oh, and they want the copywriter to work with the art director. The art director smokes like a chimney; they are both stuck in a small cubicle. You see, the office renovation has been going on for two years now, and there were no end of year bonuses because of that, but rest assured, even after said office renovation ends you will still end up in a cramped cubicle with the smoking art director (sadly, you cannot use a gun on the art director and call it “smoking” gun) and there would still be no end of year bonuses.

Them: Lead on brands assigned to him/her
Us: But of course, with the meager salary being paid, it means get to the office at 8 A.M. leave at 11 P.M. (and suffer cynic looks because “he left early before midnight”), have time to land your own clients, do your freelance for them (when?), make sure your own clients do not constitute a conflict of interest with agency clients. Oh, and be available to fill in for the other copywriter who slammed the door and take care fo the other brands which have not been assigned to you.

Them: Develop campaign ideas and integrate idea across contact points that reach and engage people
Us: Integrate and engage… Basically, just plaster the damn thing on facebook and get on with it. Oh, and if you can also tweet it, that would be nice. “Hayda digital habibi” (1) you know… This is digital time now, no more analog. Sorry, I forgot, it also needs to have TV version that would be on youtube stuck on repeat play so that the client would end up thinking that people actually do care about his brand. Let’s see anything else? No, that’s engaging as it is.
Them: Inject wit/ humor / humanity in every piece he (she) writes
Us: Yes of course, because wit/humor/humanity as exactly what using the same proverb for the umpteenth time implies. And because humor is exactly what the hospital brochure requires. And because humanity is the best way to con someone into taking an exorbitant loan from a bank or to persuade him that the insurance policy he is about to buy actually covers his wife’s in-patient treatment (bass monsieur – says the voice of the over-made up woman at the hospital – hayde el assurance ma bitghatiyya (2)).
Of course, if you’re too witty, the client servicing (because he or she was hired due to a wasta as opposed to his or her talents) won’t get it and will tell you – even before getting it to the client (who is also hired due to a wasta so not much smarter) - “el client ma byehama ghayyer el line” (3)

Them: Inspires in identifying and using fresh insight in his (her) work
US: Self-censor, tamper your expectations, hide the scissors or sharp objects from sight (out of fear of using them on 1) the not so bright creative director, 2) the even less bright client servicing or 3) the totally (self-censored word) upper management representative). Do note that if ever such a behavior is displayed (meaning the “using fresh insight”) expect the creative director or whomever is one notch above you in the hierarchy to steal it and take credit for it. After all, the corporate ladder is there for a reason.

Them: Develops TVC concepts, scripts and synopsis with detailed frame-by-frame descriptions
Us: Come up with something interesting, and with a funky twist. Listen to the egomaniac creative director trashing it. Have your moral deflated. Listen to the said creative director come back 15 minutes with a “genius” idea but also take note that he had just, mysteriously, logged into youtube and… he didn’t exactly steal the TVC he saw but somehow “frame-by-frame” the ad ends up… How can one say it? “Inspired”.
Them: Supervise film production from briefing / selection of Director to shoots and on line delivery and add value to acting and delivery
Us: Please, no laughter. If, for any reason, the budget does not cover the 5 star hotel of the client servicing director and regional creative director (mistress included or boyfriend – no matter what the gender of the client servicing director is) then you can kiss your own travel goodbye as copywriters as the most disposable species on set – yes, even if it ends up ruining the ad.

Them: Develop fresh, intrusive creative headlines & body copy and ensure to adapt creative concepts from different languages
Us: Also have these “headlines and body copy” go through the grueling moods of the client’s marketing director, her assistant, the client’s financial manager, the client’s CEO, and the list goes on. Which means that by the time the millionth round of “fresh, intrusive and creative” stuff have landed back in your office they’re already stale, boring and “hmar w rboto” (4).

Them: Develop fresh, intrusive content for corporate brochures or press or editorial material.
Us: In other words, make that very boring press release more palatable, but do so in record time because the genius guy from the booking arm has mistakenly bought a space which closes today. Naturally, all this has to go through the same round of client, client servicing, upper management and you still need to finish it on time (and let’s face it, if you think you are not going to adapt this in two other languages then get yourself a fact-check because you are).
Them: Supervise the correct creative adaptation of own copy in different languages with the help of the concerned copywriter
Us: “Concerned copywriter” is someone who comes from translation school, who would correct the Apple selling line from “think different” to “think differently” (la’anno mich mazbou bil inglizi). So in effect you end up doing your job and the other copywriter’s own. Any questions?

Them: Create interruptive, fresh radio spots. Leads in their development from choice of talent / music to delivery
Us: Sigh… People are stuck in the traffic, there’s no way out. Anything would do at this stage. They massacred your original idea, butchered the print execution, shot the TVC without you in Prague, so frankly giving them a silly uninspired radio spot is the least you can do in return.

Them: Show curiosity in all business related and cultural matters
Us: Yes, there’s a nice animation festival in town, there’s a cool concert, and a professional wine tasting seminar. Tough luck, you’re still in the office, you are not allowed to attend them, so better luck next time.
Them: Knowledgeable in digital tools and how ideas can be implemented on new social platforms
Us: We already used and abused facebook, twitter and youtube as per those “integrate and engage” instructions discussed above. “Chou ba’ad beddo hayda?” (6)

Them: Attend all meetings related to his assigned brands and contribute constructively to those meetings
Us: “Can I be excused? I have a deadline – for you – to catch up with.” Since answer is usually negative, sit back down, pretend to be taking notes. Doodle a little. Smile from time to time when everyone is. Wait for the meeting to end and catch up with deadline.

Them: Understand fully brand strategy and client brief and deliver accordingly
Us: When the client has no strategy, what is there to understand?
Them: Coaches and nurtures the career path of people working under his/her supervision
Us: It has been said, “what a slave desires more than freedom, is his own slave.” So having suffered the abuse of higher ups, do you think anyone is going to skip the opportunity of making those under them suffer? Oh come on, we’re human aren’t we. And by human I mean fallible and vindictive. Bottom line: Let’s harass the juniors the same way we ourselves were harassed.

Them: Compelling presentation skills bringing the idea alive
Us: Yes, do a perfect English presentation, have the higher ups bug you for every silly word. Then go to the presentation to discover that the “beik” doesn’t know how to read or write and that he needs to be spoken in Arabic. So yes, all that work that was done to perfect the “brand muscles” and “lovemarks” and “emotional signifiers” will go to the trash as you try to translate this into Arabic in situ in front of the beik.

Them: Gain full respect of clients as a reference in creative copywriting
Us: To begin with “creative” “copywriting” is a redundant word. By definition copywriting is creative. Now, remember, clients will never be satisfied and you will never get their respect. “Ma ana am bedfa’alak ma’ashak” (7) is the common insult.
Them: Lead on organizing and delivering workload effectively and regularly
Us: When the briefs keep coming throughout the day, when everything is labeled “emergency” and “to be delivered ASAP” when the queue of the work keeps changing depending on who came first from the business lunch with the client, “delivering workload” does not depend on the copywriter. This much I can tell you.

Them: Boost creativity within his team and become an example to follow in the Agency
Us: Yes, right. Then whatsapp a bunch of them to meet at the water cooler to discuss how the creative director is bringing moral down and how narcissistic he or she is.

Them: Contribute to the positive spirit of the Agency
Us; At this stage, get lost sucker
Them: Gain respect of his team and peers for his ability to solve problems quickly and efficiently
Us: Non-violent ways preferred. Verbal is fine as long as no client is in sight.

Them: Nurture his/her sense of initiative by proposing solutions that go beyond briefs
Us: Beyond “briefs”? Yes, boxer shorts are cool too – and they’ don’t itch from too much sitting down on the same desk day after day.

Them: Be as radar in capturing all new trends in advertising, communication and our world at large
Us: Whatever works. I am too tired. And who wrote this lengthy job description anyhow?
(1) This is digital sweetie
(2) But sir, the insurance does not cover this
(3) The client won’t understand it, change the line
(4) A local expression which means “just do what they want and don’t argue”
(5) Because it is not correct in English
(6) What else does he want?
(7) But I am the one paying your salary