Creative + Content

Being Defensive Can Be Offensive

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Lee Schmidt

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“There’s no need to be defensive.”

Maybe you’ve heard these words from your spouse. Your roommate. Your mom. Or the guy working the checkout at the liquor store.

No matter where they come from, those words sting like a bee that’s stinging you in the exact same spot where another bee just stung you.

Agency creatives hear those words constantly. Even when we don’t actually hear them, we hear them between the lines.

Sometimes they come from a co-worker. Other times from a client.

Should we take their advice?

Maybe not.

After all, creative ideas often stem from personal experience. So when someone tells us our newborn baby is ugly, our instincts kick in. And we agency creatives live by our instincts.

What’s more, good writers, art directors and designers think through their ideas. So the work deserves to be defended.

On top of that, we’ve been encouraged by creative directors throughout our careers that when you believe in the work, we defend it. That holds true no matter who you’re talking to. No art director, designer or writer wants to gain a reputation as a pushover.

Then again, maybe we should take the advice of co-workers and clients and not be so defensive.

After all, we’re in the ad biz. Rejection is chronic. We’re supposed to have armadillo skin. Suck it up and move on, pal. We can always come up with another great idea.

It’s now time to define our terms.

It seems to me, defending our ideas is a good thing. Being defensive, however, is not.

The difference? It’s really a matter of tone. If you’re whiny or come off like a prima donna, you sound defensive. And as John Lennon famously put it, “you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.”

On the other hand, if you’re diplomatic, if you show conviction rather than belligerence, you’re defending your ideas. And that’s fair. And it’s admired by decent people everywhere.

Of course, in the heat of the moment, when someone’s being unkind, unreasonable, unfair, unfiltered and is undermining the work, it’s hard not to be defensive.

But that is the challenge. And when we succeed at defending good work and avoid being defensive, something happens.

We give ourselves a better chance at getting the best work produced.

Lee Schmidt

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