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Email Etiquette for Creative Directors

Posted on July 9, 2009 and read 4,549 times

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ignaciocreditpic Email Etiquette for Creative DirectorsIgnacio Oreamuno
President
ihaveanidea

This is not a rant, but simply a polite observation.

For some reason creative directors have a habit, a bad habit, of not responding to emails. I’m not a creative director but I do run a company and I know tons of creative directors, many of them which run worldwide shops and I can vouch for them in the fact that they get many emails, too many emails, including hundreds from everything from photographers, filmmakers, producers, and stock photo suppliers trying to sell them stuff, to juniors trying to break the inbox barrier with a 30 mb pdf portfolio, to their CD friends sending forwards of cool ads and jokes, to the actual work from clients, account directors (BCC, CC, FYI) and the creative teams.

Nothing drives me madder than not getting a reply from a creative director. At the office we actually devised a term for it, it’s called “golfing”.

“Hey did Johnny Doe from DDB get back to you?”

“Negative, he’s at the course…golfing.”

Golfing means he’s in a faraway land we’ll never reach and that he’ll never get back to us. Ever. No ‘I got your email’, no ‘we’ll talk soon’. Sending an email to them is just like penning a note in a paper plane and whisking it off in deep space towards a black hole that will suck in everything, including light-rays and any hope you had of them replying to your queries.

This year for some reason I think that many people joined the PGA tour so I decided one night to write this bit of advice to help solve the problem for golfers (email ignorers) and caddies (email reply hopefuls).

When somebody writes to try to promote their company, sell you on their portfolio or to pitch an idea to you, they actually are (in their mind) waiting for your answer for days, sometimes weeks. A junior might actually be trying to deduce your schedule (“Hmmm, let me see, he must be in Cannes, therefore they’ll reply to my email when they get back, or maybe he’s at a shoot, or maybe…”).

Remember, people are waiting for a response, just like they do when they send a fax, call or send a letter. We’ve made a habit of thinking email is impersonal, but just because it’s email it doesn’t mean it didn’t take some time in a person’s life to write to you.

If you decide to not answer that email you will turn a follower into a hater. Email is just another method of communication and like the phone, or snail mail, it comes with protocol. So let’s be honest about it and talk about what happens you ignore those unmarked bits and bites in your inbox;

Ignore = I don’t give a flying !#@ about your email. Ignore = you are lower than me and as such I do not need to answer this email. Ignore = this won’t make money so why answer it? Ok, I’m grossly exaggerating to make a point. That’s not what you’re thinking when you can’t or don’t reply, but it is what a lot of people actually end up thinking when they get ignored.

People NEVER forget CD’s that never got back to them. Not even if it was 2 years down the road. You will be forever in their minds as the one who ignored them and your name is tied to the agency, so whatever negative feeling they have for you they’ll harbor for the agency too. It’s happened several times that I’ve been sipping a drink at an award show or a conference with someone and they tell me as someone passes behind me, “Such and such CD is a total asshole,” and when I ask why they say, “The guy never replied to my email, thinks he’s some kind of prima donna!”

Let’s not be so quick to blame CDs. I asked Nancy Vonk, Chief Creative Officer at Ogilvy Toronto and winner of two Grand Prixs at Cannes to give me her take on the matter:

“So what’s the deal with creative directors and email? Or, lack of response to said email? I can’t speak for everyone, but I think my reality is typical of many. I get dozens and often hundreds of emails a day. Some creative directors have their assistants go through them to assure the important ones aren’t left behind. I’m not one of those—my assistant has way too much on her plate to cope with that duty.

So the starting point is holy crap that’s a lot of email, and some falls right through the cracks. Others, more organized than I am, wouldn’t appear to be as rude as I can. But if I didn’t get back to you, it’s highly likely that I missed your email to start with, or I made it low priority (the only ones that get immediate attention are urgent on some level, or from VIPS (clients, media, senior people in the business, etc.) and then—gasp—could have forgotten about it. It happens.

Often. I do weekend duty maybe monthly where I’ll troll through the backlog and catch up. Even then, things can fall through the cracks. Then there are other possibilities. If I don’t know who you are, you’re further down the list. If you’re looking for a job and your subject line says anything like “resume” in it, I know you aren’t creative enough to hire and you’re further down the list. I will open emails from people who flag they’ve been sent by someone I respect. I will open emails with subject lines that are for some reason irresistible (however, anything that’s a misdirect—like, suggesting a big award has been won, only to find that was a ploy to get me to open it, lands you on my shit list and I will never go further than the gotcha explanation. Been done, plenty.)

Sadly enough, I even manage to miss the emails of good friends. I might be sending a groveling email two months later to someone I really like and know well, having just found their message buried in the pile. So, take from this confession what you will. It may be just me (certainly true of half of this). But know that mostly, CD’s are extremely busy people and there aren’t enough hours in the day. Write to us knowing your email needs to be noticed, just like a good ad, to be acted upon. And, please believe we aren’t all just ignorant jerks for not replying. Not all the time, anyway.”

So obviously the problem is that CD’s actually have way too much email. But does that mean that they have to all go golfing? That us mortals will never have a chance for a reply? Here’s what I think should be the solution to this problem Mr/Mrs/Ms Creative Director: Learn to say no. Make time to say no. Say you don’t have time. Say you don’t like the portfolio. Say you are busy. Say you can’t get back to the person until tomorrow or in this lifetime. Whatever you do, remember, saying no gives closure and it will make you a person that respects other people.

When I lived and worked in Holland I learnt something really valuable from them, which is the importance of being blunt and saving time by learning to say no. Dutchmen will have no problem in cutting a meeting short and land you with an apologetic “no”. It might appear harsh, but you know deep inside that it’s better to know where you stand than to daydream about the possibilities of a yes. In Canada people love doing meetings and saying “we’ll get back to you!” only to never ever get back to you. I find that to be much much worse. So don’t be afraid, click reply and say NO. You’ll save time for both you and them, and what’s even best is that you WILL be able to open the door again in the future with that person, whereas if you ignore them, it will be likely closed forever.

I know that you will argument that it’s impossible to have a 100% reply rate let alone an 80% one, but if you have an assistant, help him/her draft up polite answers. Just tell them to say X answer to X type of email. And if you don’t have an assistant, just remember that part of your job is maintaining the reputation of the agency. Each email you don’t reply to takes a karma point away from you and the name of the agency you represent. And ironically, each email you reply to, even with a brief polite no, is going to be a positive karma point because the other person will say “hey this CD actually wrote back to me!” Remember that golden opportunities sometimes don’t say “hey Golden opportunity for you if click me” in the subject line.

Don’t be a golfer!






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