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AdMan: Meetings – one of the most pointless things in business

6th Mar 12 5:41 am

Advertising guru Steve Henry lays into that most wearisome trope of the working world: the meeting. Whether you’re a creative or a client, you just can’t help but feel frustrated

I don’t know about you but I’m so busy updating my LinkedIn profile that I don’t have time to go to the meetings that interrupt me from doing any work. 

But tell me – do you like meetings?

Most creative people don’t like them because meetings are where the work gets killed.

They believe that the real work gets done in other places, and then it just evaporates afterwards in every meeting, like Macaulay Culkin’s career disappearing into the mist at about the time he hit adolescence.

And what a teenage boy spends his adolescence doing, is what happens a lot in meetings.

Especially with men in meetings.

Women have a stronger sense of working towards consensus, but men seem inordinately keen to “make points”.

And once you’re into a game of ego-waggling, you might as well kiss goodbye to sanity or creativity or even sensible decision-making.

For me, the worst meetings are creative approval meetings where a committee of people is looking at your idea.

Painful experience has taught me that the only way to get through these meetings is to ignore all the negative stuff coming back from the more junior members of the meeting.  Don’t rise to the bait as they go round the table, one by one pointing out the terrible flaws you haven’t spotted in your own thinking.

Don’t try to answer all their questions – you’ll just go mad and end up rubbing biscuit crumbs into your scalp and talking about snails and razor blades, in a poor imitation of Marlon Brando at the end of Apocalypse Now.

Just wait till the most senior person finally gives their response and then reply to that. In most cases, the most senior person will say something completely contradictory to what everybody else has been saying – just to prove that they are indeed the boss.

But even non-creative people don’t like most meetings.

Asking someone to describe the best meeting they ever had is a bit like asking them to describe the worst sailing holiday they ever had with a bunch of naked supermodels in the Indian Ocean.

Pitches can throw up some spectacularly awful meetings – like the time when an agency founder accidentally set light to the tablecloth while pitching for the Fire Prevention account.

Or the legendary pitch which was interrupted by a jealous boyfriend marching in and punching the agency boss in the face as he was making his concluding remarks.

That’s one meeting I’d really love to have been at.

But let me move on to make a serious point about meetings.

(After all, that’s what men do.)

Whether a meeting is a good meeting or just the usual time-suck, it’s no way to structure your reimbursement model.

However, as it stands, most agencies charge their clients by the number of meetings they have, times the number of people in the meeting.

Which is hardly conducive to solving a client’s problems.

What we should be selling is creativity, and putting some skin in the game.

In the conspicuous absence of that, it can look to clients like agencies are simply trying to squeeze money out of them by having lots of chargeable meetings with lots of chargeable people in them and doing no actual work.

Of course no agency would ever consider doing that.

Would they?

But I wonder if that explains why you often get to the end of a meeting where no creative ideas have been sold and yet everyone shakes hands and says “good meeting”.

And how does that work from the client side?

Well, on average, marketing directors last about two years in their jobs – which makes it a better long-term prospect than being manager of Chelsea or being married to Britney Spears, but only just… for the simple reason that it’s incredibly hard to prove that any advertising actually works.

This isn’t a fault of the metrics – it’s just a fact that most advertising doesn’t work.

Against this background, some marketers sense that the more time they can buy in the “creative development” process, the longer they can postpone masking any decisions, and the later they’ll end up with some work running.

And therefore the later they’re likely to be called into their boss’s office and asked if they’ve met Sue who heads up HR and who has been asked to join the meeting today.

Steve Henry was founder/creative director of Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury, the agency voted Campaign’s Agency of the Year three times and Campaign’s Agency of the Decade in 2000. He has won most of the major creative awards, including the D&AD Gold Pencil, the Grand Prix at Cannes, the Grand Prix at the British Television Awards, and the President’s Award at Creative Circle (twice).

In 2008 he was included in Campaign Magazine’s inaugural Hall of Fame, a collection of the 40 most influential people in British advertising overthe past 50 years. He now works as a creative consultant.

Steve has just launched Decoded, a ground-breaking programme that promises to teach anybody code in one day.


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