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What a f unny ques­tion. Why does any­one write a book? Fame, inf lu­ence, van­ity, money, self­im­por­tance, im­mor­tal­ity, ir­re­sistible urge… I think that’s about it.

But I’m not even sure that you’re right. My in­stinct is that fewer cre­atives write books these days than was the case years ago; or maybe I’m just think­ing about nov­els.

From about 1920, it was com­mon­place for would-be nov­el­ists to join ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies where they would write long, en­gag­ing, metic­u­lous copy. Dorothy L Say­ers is prob­a­bly the best-known, and Mur­der Must Ad­ver­tise was the book she wrote about her time at SH Ben­son.

Af­ter the Sec­ond World War, Bernard Gut­teridge wrote The Agency Game (and sadly never an­other) and later Sal­man Rushdie and Fay Wel­don both spent time at Ogilvy & Mather. Chris Wilkins and Nick Sala­man have both pub­lished el­e­gantly writ­ten books, David Ab­bott wrote The Up­right Pi­ano Player but only Matt Beau­mont, I think, has writ­ten of the so- called dig­i­tal age. ( Martin Amis may have worked for J Wal­ter Thomp­son Lon­don for a week. But, there again, he may not.)

In a cat­e­gory of his own is James Pat­ter­son, one-time cre­ative di­rec­tor at JWT New York, who’s not so much a writer as the sole pro­pri­etor of a sprawl­ing word fac­tory: 150 nov­els to date, with 300 mil­lion sold world­wide.

From about 1960 on­wards, as tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing took over from print as the favoured medium, the art of the word­smith be­came less and less val­ued by ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies. It be­came an un­chal­lenged truth that mod­ern so­phis­ti­cated au­di­ences had tiny at­ten­tion spans (de­spite the huge suc­cess, for ex­am­ple, of Harry Pot­ter) and ev­ery­body knew that no­body read body copy. So no­body took on copy­writ­ers: they just hired 50 per cent of a cre­ative team. With unim­peach­able logic, art di­rec­tors would set words in 8pt sans and re­verse them out of pale yel­low: af­ter all, what’s the point of mak­ing words read­able if no- one’s go­ing to read them?

To­day, how­ever, we have the vo­ra­cious de­mands of some­thing called ‘con­tent’. And to judge by the qual­ity of most of the con­tent that thrusts it­self im­po­litely be­fore our gaze, ex­cel­lent word­smiths are in sadly short sup­ply.

Most com­mer­cial lan­guage to­day is tired, trite, lame and limp. Maybe it’s time for the next gen­er­a­tion of nov­el­ists to let us rent their time and their tal­ent while they’re wait­ing for their first big break. If I knew the an­swer to your ques­tion, I wouldn’t tell you. Some of the most per­ni­cious peo­ple in our trade pride them­selves on be­ing ‘fan­tas­tic pre­sen­ters’. They earn a leg­endary rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing able to sell any­thing to any­body. And I’ve never un­der­stood why such peo­ple should be thought heroic.

We had a cre­ative per­son once who was a fan­tas­tic pre­sen­ter. In the end, a knowl­edge­able, ex­pe­ri­enced client asked that he never again be pre­sented to by this fan­tas­tic pre­sen­ter. But, by that time, the dam­age had been done: the knowl­edge­able, ex­pe­ri­enced client had ac­cepted three pieces of cre­ative work, all of which turned out to be mere­tri­cious. And I sus­pect that, for the rest of his work­ing life, this honourable man nursed a deep sus­pi­cion of cre­ative peo­ple in gen­eral and of any cre­ative work that seemed in any way un­con­ven­tional. As an agency, we’d not only be­haved un­pro­fes­sion­ally; we’d sac­ri­ficed that thing called trust that we all say we value more than any­thing.

All this must sound re­sound­ingly po-faced. But the next time some happy- dippy ac­count han­dler says “Well, that was a good meet­ing!”, ask your­self: was it re­ally a good meet­ing – or did you just get away with some­thing?

If you be­lieve that this idea of yours is a good idea, you should also know why you be­lieve it’s a good idea: how you think it might work and what prin­ci­ples it fol­lows. Try ex­plain­ing all that to your boss and it might just help him un­der­stand what you’re up to. If all you can say is “Trust me, I’m cre­ative”, don’t be sur­prised if he doesn’t.

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