Who Be You?

by John Pellegrini

What, exactly, is creativity? Why is one commercial or promo more successful than another? What makes commercials and promos memorable? Should you care?

What is the relationship between the imagination and the factors that motivate us? How far can our ability to imagine carry us through our careers? What kinds of opportunities exist for people with tremendous amounts of imagination and creativity? Should you care?

If you make a living in production, you should already know the answers to those questions. And, yes, you should care! Your own future depends on it, and your understanding of what those questions can mean for you, could be worth as much as a six figure income for you inside the next decade, even if, as you read this, you're just getting started in your first job at minimum wage!

Let me back up a bit. Most of what I'm writing about came to me in December of 1996, as I prepared to be a guest at a seminar on career opportunities in Grand Rapids. I was asked by WKLQ's General Manager to participate in a round table called, "The Experience Exchange," which is put together by the Grand Rapids Public School District, for high school students to meet professionals in a variety of industries and businesses and find out how to get work in these areas. I found out later that this was the first session they'd ever done, and all of the students participating wanted to learn about media jobs.

While I started out by talking about radio and production and how I got involved, the course of my contribution evolved into the area of creativity and how many exciting new opportunities are opening for people who know how to make something entertaining, not just in radio, TV, movies, or print, but in the whole new field of the Internet, multimedia, satellite networks, and other areas.

Every day, if you read the Wall Street Journal, you'll discover all kinds of new communications businesses opening up. Every week, if you read Advertising Age, you'll discover many new agencies, public relations firms, marketing reps, and other promotional concerns opening up. Satellite systems, the Internet, global communications, are all coming on line with amazing speed. The question is, what are we going to fill all that space with? The answer is where your six figure income occurs.

A few weeks before I sat in on the round table discussion, I attended a luncheon by the local Advertising Federation chapter that featured one of the top Creative Directors in the world of advertising. Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of the speaker, and I don't remember the name of the agency he's currently working with. (It's a big European agency, although he's an American, and they've got some gigantic accounts.) In fact, over all, I don't remember much of anything about the speaker, because he didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. But, he did give an interesting quote.

This quote, which he attributed to his boss (the owner of the big European advertising agency), really stopped me and made me realize that I need to get my crap together. In fact, it made me realize that we all need to get our crap together. Here's the quote:

"Between two screens, two mobiles, and two satellite dishes, we must fill these channels with the blood of poets."

Let the enormity of that statement make its full impact upon you. After the advertising guy made that statement, I didn't hear a word he said for the remainder of his speech. Do you get what it means?

What is means is this: the key to your economic future lies in your creative ability. The real money in the 21st century will be made by those creative individuals who can fill those spaces with the blood of poets. How many more years can the Internet survive with the crap and garbage that's found in the "Chat Rooms?" How much longer are people going to want to pay the huge service fees for cable TV, satellite dishes, and Internet hookups, when all they get is crap, crap, crap, and crap for their entertainment dollar?

Right now, ninety percent of the people who are placing themselves in positions of entertainers on cable TV, satellite TV, and the Internet have the total creative capacity of a mentally deranged chicken. I've seen program after program featuring performers and hosts whose total vocabulary is less than the average 6th grader. The time is coming when the vast majority of the viewing public is going to react and say, "Enough of this shit! I'm not paying one more dollar for garbage that I can do myself! I want quality entertainment, and this industry better start providing it!"

There is another quote that, while not related to the above, could certainly become a rallying point to it. This quote was made by Mark Twain himself nearly one hundred years ago. I was watching a Sunday morning news program when I saw it. It was being used by a book store in their commercial for Christmas gifts. Here's Mark Twain's quote:

"A man who does not read good books has no advantage over a man who cannot read."

For over ten thousand years, the culture, indeed the very center of humanity's ability to distinguish itself from the other beings on this planet, has been our creative efforts put down in the written word. Now we are faced with thousands of opportunities for new Homers, new Platos, new Miltons, new Shakespeares, new Dafoes, new Votaires, new Gothes, new Hugos, and on and on. What do you want to do about it?

What, exactly, does Microsoft mean when they ask in their commercials, "Where do you want to go today?" Do they mean, where on the Internet do you want to stare like a zombie at the musings of trailer park trash? Or do they mean, what new territories of the universe would you like to explore? Or is it, what new territories of the universe would you like to tell all of our Internet subscribers about, for a profitable salary? What new stories do you have that we can fill our networks of satellites for a tidy sum of money?

Where do you, production person, Creative Director, copy writer, who makes a living imagining ideas that sell products and radio station promotions, fit in to this question? Where do you want to go today?

Put it in terms of money. Can you come up with ideas for programming that can sell? Can you come up with subjects and stories that the great void of media would want to pay for? Of course you can! You do it every day in your current job right now. The means by which you transmit your creative ideas makes no difference. Radio, television, cable, books, magazines, movies, it's all the same. It's merely a tool for you to get your ideas out to the public. Your creative ability is what's important here. A good story or good programming idea is applicable in any situation or medium. You just have to get yourself out there.

Where do you get started? I don't know, but I can make some generalizations. Every cable TV company, and I don't care where you live, has a local access channel or two that needs programming. Got any ideas? Put them down and see if you can work them out to fit on your local cable access. Sure, you may not get paid much, but that's not the point. If it's good, you can use the finished piece as a demo to get more work from bigger sources like HBO and other cable networks that are looking for original programming. But you have to start somewhere.

Another potential source for creative work: find out where your local Internet providers get their creative done. Let's face it, most of the graphics and vocabulary that's on the Internet looks only slightly better than etch-a-sketch and reads with the plot intricacies of the average coloring book. Find out if they're looking for more (and better) ideas. You see, most computer programmers are only technicians. They can set everything up, but they haven't got a clue when it comes to creating something interesting to look at. Get an appointment and in a nice way ask if they'd be interested in someone who can help them with creative. If they have to ask why, be prepared to educate them, again, in a nice way. Then, without question, make sure you've got ideas ready to go! How do you do that? Get your ideas written down. Work them out in advance so that you've got a plan ready to go. Nothing is more silly looking than someone who claims to have all the answers and ideas, but has nothing set down in a rational, comprehensive fashion.

If it seems like too much work to you, then don't worry, you won't make any money either. Not everyone understands that in order to make lots of money you've got to work a lot smarter. Not necessarily harder, mind you, but smarter, by expanding the role you take as a creative person. The opportunities are there, but like any opportunity, it won't happen if you don't do anything about it.

Will it be worth your time? Well, I don't know the answer to that. I do know that there is a great need out there, and there is a lot of money to be made. With the right ideas, the right attitude, and the right amount of persistence, you can make a fortune here. Are others doing it? Yes. Are others succeeding at it? Yes. Can you do it? Yes. Will you do it? I don't know. That's your decision.

This may not suit you. This may not be for everyone in radio production. But, there's a lot more out there than just radio production, and when we remember how low paid we are at what we do, there must be other avenues worth exploring, or at least worth looking into. In this cold, cruel world of business, those who make their own opportunities and take their own chances fair much better than those who wait for something to come to them.

So, where do you want to go today?

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