Copyranter: Deep inside an agency all-nighter

Mark Duffy has written the Copyranter blog for 10 years and is a freelancing copywriter with 20-plus years of experience. His hockey wrist shot is better than yours.

As the day progressed, the two creative teams on the account had hoped against hope that their creative director would be cool with their two campaigns he had loved and approved when they presented to him that morning.

He said: “Great. Love it. We’re set.” He even meant it, at the time.

Cut to 6 p.m., and boss man has had the work spread out on his $10,000 conference table for seven hours, looking at the campaigns, and re-looking at them, all damn day. He no longer loves them.

He now tells the four of you — you haven’t quite nailed the brief (oh but you have, though). He has written down a couple of lines that are, not headlines, but “direction” lines, half-thoughts, scribbles and rough layouts that don’t make sense. You take the scribbles without saying a word, retreat to your desk and stare at your computer screen, paralyzed, debilitated.

You’ve been here, with this exact problem, feeling this exact feeling too many times to count. Physically, you’re nauseous and on the verge of a panic attack. Emotionally, you’re a mix of pissed, scared, and hopeless. You have about 12 hours to come up with and execute a complete new campaign, with video, print, and digital components — after already putting in a 10 hour day. Your brain feels like it couldn’t come up with who’s buried in Grant’s tomb.

It’s Tuesday, 7:45 p.m. Your Chinese dinner of alleged chicken has arrived.

You pop open a Coke, and pop an Adderall and a Klonopin — thank Christ and Roche Pharmaceuticals for Klonopin. This is the effect the combo has on your brain.

After dinner, the CD retires to his office couch. On the wall above the couch is a hideous abstract painting by some artist with one name you’ve never heard of. His office is a soundproofed glass cube, so you can all see him in there sleeping soundly with his hand down his unzipped pants.

It’s 8:45 p.m. The hovering account executive, free dinner in belly, smiling that smarmy smile all good AEs have perfected, gives you a “shot in the arm” saying something like “I know you guys got it, see you tomorrow” and slinks out to the elevator bank.

But you don’t “got it.” You hope the other team’s got it. They don’t. They’ve been killing each other repeatedly playing Call Of Duty because they’re the junior team and they know it’s ultimately up to you guys. Damn kids.

At 1 a.m., the CD wakes up, opens his door and screams, “Bodega run!” Your art director volunteers to go just to get out the testosterone body-odor stench. She brings back the mandatory two bags of Doritos, several candy bars, a box of Honey Nut Cheerios and cans of disgusting sweetened Starbucks double espresso.

An hour later, you have a raging headache, acid reflux and rancid silent farts. What you don’t have is one good idea. You do have a senseless one that involves Russian matryoshka dolls, as has every other lazy creative in the world at one time or another.

At about 3:30 a.m., you and your AD finally stumble upon something, yet again performing the impossible mental gymnastics feat of cobbling together the CD’s scribbles into a somewhat coherent, mildly interesting video concept.

The CD likes it, of course. You then spend the next three hours fleshing it out. Hello morning sun—it’s gonna be a golden day! You proofread all the comps, stagger outside and get on the subway home for a couple hours of sleep before you head back in to work on the stuff you put off for the pitch.

You’ve worked 50? 100? — you have no idea — all-nighters. There is nothing Mad Men-ish about them anymore. They just hurt more, and recovery takes several days. You again consider getting your drum set out of storage and starting that bad punk cover band.

Of course, the client buys the CD’s half-ass off-brief idea because the CD is a much better salesman than he is a creative director.

DISCLAIMER: None the characters portrayed here are based on real people (except the bit about the punk cover band); they are based on 25+ years of industry experience and war stories via friends and colleagues. However, the scenarios and feelings are accurate.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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