Dear Advertising Professional: Don’t Become Toast

David Burn
4 min readOct 29, 2018

There are few ad blogs left standing today. Most of them are toast.

One ad blog that curious minds like to visit is The Agency Review by Martin Bihl, a site full of excellent book reviews and more. I was reading Bihl’s interview with Luke Sullivan, a.k.a. Saint Luke and this one passage stood out, among many fine passages.

Here’s the thing about our business. Unlike other industries like, say, grocery stores or fast food or construction….I mean how many other industries had their entire business structure disrupted by digital. Everything changed. How we MAKE stuff, how we DISTRIBUTE it, HOW clients pay us and WHAT they pay us for. Boom, all up in smoke. So yes, this is a very hard business to keep up with. And coasting? Forget about coasting. If you aren’t out there INVENTING stuff, dude, you’re gonna be toast.


It’s not exactly how writers see our work. Or is it? We do invent stories, but is that what Saint Luke is asking for? More and better stories? Given the context, I’d say no, he’s saying that the creative people who hitch their wagons to the ad business need to get busy making things, or “stuff.”

He could have said better ads, but he did not. He said “stuff.”

One way to interpret what “stuff” means is to realize that intellectual property is stuff and that products are stuff. Adpulp, for instance, is invented stuff. I created the narrative framework — that we would work together to make better ads and a better ad industry — and I populate this framework with more stuff on an almost-daily basis.

Built to Sell

I wonder is your agency, or are you personally, inventing stuff? Also, do you sell products or only services?

I recently read a book that you might find interesting. It’s called Built To Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You by John Warrillow. The protagonist of Warrilow’s fictional narrative is an agency owner who is frayed by over-servicing bad accounts. His hero’s way out of the madness has everything to do with narrowing his firm’s focus and creating standardized systems that deliver a uniform product.

It may sound like the death of creative, but that would be a surface misreading. Warrilow’s book and the course that he teaches based on the book shows agency owners a new way to think about what business we’re in, and whether we want longterm clients or short-term customers.

It’s a short read and one that I highly recommend for any agency executive who is looking to make more interesting stuff and find more profitable means to an end while doing so.

Righting the Writing Ship

Here’s another fascinating passage from Bihl’s interview with Sullivan, who teaches advertising at Savannah Colleg of Art & Design.

The ability to write a clear sentence is probably the most important single ability we can learn. The ability to come up with a decent thought and then be able to express it in an interesting and succinct way, what’s more relevant to the communication business than that?

I don’t want to sound like the old professor that I am, but I lament the state of education today. The ability to write a decent sentence is an art on the brink of extinction.

If you take a distinct lack of writing skills and marry that sad trend to the fact that conceptual thinking is like ancient Greek to many of today’s copywriters and designers, the problem becomes more than plainly evident. The pain of it is literally throbbing.

Here’s some more evidence of the pain from my friend John January…

John January@americopywriter

If it’s old school to expect a copywriter’s portfolio to showcase, you know, killer copy and ideas then I make no apologies for being old school. #dontbevapid

8:40 AM — Oct 20, 2018

If you are like me and you want to address these problems and work together to make our industry stronger, let’s help each other out. Let’s share ideas and find ways to support one another’s bold moves.

I created a “closed” Facebook Group called “The Internal Creative Review” to serve this need. If you’d like to join and participate in the group, request to join here. I also recently launched a “closed” Facebook Group called “Better Copy By Design,” specifically for designers and art directors who are working to strengthen their copy muscles.