Jon Farley – 12th July 2011

Before I came to the School of Communication Arts I used to work on a national newspaper as a designer. For a while I worked on advertorials – those articles that you see in magazines that look like real editorial but are actually selling a product and have a logo in the corner. All work would have to go through countless amends before the client would sign it off. And even then they’d come back with changes. And these changes made the ad safer and blander and more and more meaningless.

This is what brand’s websites used to be like. You couldn’t interact with them, they hardly ever changed and they were totally bombproof.

So, when brands first started doing things like tweeting and responding to consumers online my first reaction was – they’re going to get into trouble. How could someone representing the company in real time not drop the odd clanger? Politicians are well trained in these situations and they screw up all the time.

And brands did get it wrong. There have been countless tweets and posts that have sparked PR disasters for companies. However, consumers have come to demand this kind of live feedback from brands and it’s a much more interesting world to inhabit.

A couple of years ago, Elvis did a campaign for Virgin trains in Liverpool. They set up an electronic billboard that displayed messages written by a comedian who was hidden about hundred yards away.  The idea was that as people walked underneath the billboard, the comedian would type a message that related to them and how they might use the Virgin services to London.  Naturally, being a comedian he took the mickey and was very funny. Some of the stuff he came up with on the spot was brilliant but he was there all day and I bet there was a lot of stuff  he did that wasn’t brilliant, just OK. But it didn’t matter – it was live, personal, risky and most of all exciting.

When I used to show ideas to people I respected I would feel nervous. I’d worry that they’d look at an idea and think I was an idiot and never talk to me again.  I used to think I should have waited, made the idea better first, then shown them.
But you don’t always get that second chance to show people your work.
You can’t progress like that, you only learn by failure. You have to say ‘I’m doing this to the best of my ability right now and I’ll get better as I go along’. Otherwise you never learn. As it turned out some of them did think I was an idiot but they told me why they thought I was an idiot and I learned a lot from it.

Dave Birss, of Additive, does a brilliant podcast called The Future of Advertising, in which he interviews massive names from the industry. It’s great. But I remember on the very first one he explained that he was new to podcasts and that the production values and might not be the best. It was honest thing to say, so he got you onside. The second one was a bit more professional and by the third it sounded really slick. He could have spent weeks learning about it in theory first and practising but he learnt much quicker by getting on with it and doing it.

It’s feels so counter-intuitive sometimes. It’s hard to ignore the voice that says ‘Don’t put it out till it’s perfect’. But you have to. Do it, muck it up and learn. It’s the quickest way to progress.

So what if there’s stuff on my website that’s not great yet. One day it will be, but only if I keep putting it out there, getting feedback and doing it again and again.

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