You might be an advertising industry talent, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a ‘jerk’

A seemingly innocuous Mumbrella story about a recent adland appointment produced a heated debate on the comment thread as to whether being talented was more important than being nice – questioning if the two things could actually co-exist together – Neal Moore investigates

I’ve never met Andrew Hook, Havas’s recently departed chief creative officer, but reading the comments beneath this story on his move to VCCP last month – I want to.

Hook – one of advertising’s nice guys

Of the 24 comments to date 13 actively praise Andrew for being, “one of the nicest creative leaders out there,” a “great personality with a good heart” and a, “great leader and motivator and, ultimately, a wonderful human being.”  

Is this guy the Mother Theresa of advertising or what? Andrew, if you’re reading this, please be my friend.

However, as anyone who has ever spent time in the trenches of Mumbrella’s comments section can attest, this outpouring of agreeability could not last and so it was that commenter #12, Yam Seng, kicked down the door of the Andrew Hook Appreciation Society and started shooting

“I’m not really sure about this agency’s [Edited under Mumbrella’s community guidelines] ….this is kinda confirmed when such a critical make or break hire can only attract comments like ‘nice’ / ‘wonderful human being’ / ‘good heart’ / ‘great personality’ etc.”

Just to clarify, Yam Seng does not believe that being a wonderful human being with a good heart and a great personality is what agencies or clients really want. Good to know.

A couple of Andrew Hook’s biggest fans, let’s call them Hookers, race to their hero’s defence but are swotted aside by commenter #15 – the cheerfully named ‘Race To The Bottom’ who states: “If you care that much about ‘nice’ maybe you should work at a cake shop.”  

As a diligent advertising exec, we must assume ‘Race To The Bottom’ has done his/her research, and has the data and insights to back up this sweeping generalisation about cake shop workers.

But does he/she and the 11 other commenters of comparable persuasion have a point? Is being nice a requirement to work in advertising? Are affability and talent mutually exclusive? Do nice guys finish last and the good die young?

I could, and probably should, now present my research and findings along with some first party quotes that attempt to find a reasoned yet conclusive answer to this conundrum. However, I don’t need to. The answer is ‘no, there is no need or excuse for being a dick’.  

Advertising is a tough enough gig already and it’s not getting any easier. There is pressure coming from management consultancies above and creative apps/platforms below. Clients are more demanding than ever and the consumer more elusive.  

If the ad industry is going to work, it needs to work together because – whether we like it or not – creatives need suits and suits need creatives. And, of course, we all need each other to get through those all-night pitch sessions and early-morning briefings.

That doesn’t mean we can’t keep our oddballs and eccentrics. In fact, they’re essential. What is not essential is for them to be nasty to be visionary. As the Netflix chief executive officer Reed Hastings puts it: “Do not tolerate brilliant jerks. The cost to teamwork is too high.” And, to be fair, he seems to be doing alright doesn’t he?

One of the more intriguing comments under Andrew’s story is from someone called ‘A Sad State Of Affairs’ He/she says: “If I met a rock-star covered in tattoos, that had sold millions of albums and was revered the world over, you can allow a bit of arrogant d@*kishness, but not from someone in advertising.”

I respectfully disagree. If I met a rock star, a musical genius I had revered my whole life and he or she turned out to be a dick, I’d be as disappointed in them as anyone I’d met in advertising. Probably more so.

Angry former Oasis rocker Liam Gallagher gives the two-finger salute

When I worked in publishing, there was always a dividing line between sales and editorial. The journos thought themselves artists whose wondrous prose drove readers to the news stands in anticipation of their latest opus. The sales guys thought themselves benevolent heroes for paying the salaries of these half-boiled hacks.  

Then when the internet came for our display ads and classifieds, we realised that we needed to work together to adapt; and to create new offerings such as native advertising, advertorials and events that were both commercially viable and editorially credible. Those that didn’t, died.

Let’s not go the same way in advertising. Let’s be nice to each other, work together and start honouring our kindest and most generous leaders as well as our most talented. You never know, we might find out they are one and the same.

Moore says you can be a genius in advertising and be nice

Neal Moore is the founder of Moore’s Lore Media, a content strategy and consultancy firm based in Singapore


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