How to Conquer That Blank Page

Is your baby a monkey?

This and other deep thoughts are at the heart of David Fowler’s The Creative Companion, a booklet that Ogilvy & Mather staffers are now soaking up. Four years ago, in the tradition of Ogilvy on Advertising, Fowler, 46, ecd at Ogilvy New York, began writing down what he’s learned in his 20-year career. Steve Hayden got wind of the project and commissioned the 33-page book, which has been sent to agency outposts worldwide. “It’s very stressful when your livelihood means having ideas on a deadline day after day,” Fowler says. “It’s helpful to have some simple clues.”

Among them: 1) Carry a notebook to jot down ideas or names of people, like cinematographers and potential voiceover talent. Fowler did just that after hearing Tom Bodett on the radio in 1984; two years later, he hired Bodett to be the voice of Motel 6. 2) Hit the streets, and bring a videocamera. When he was at Ammirati & Puris, Fowler headed out to ask people if they recognized Nipper, the RCA dog. They did. Fowler showed the tape to RCA, and Nipper came out of retirement. 3) If someone calls your baby a monkey (i.e., rejects your creative idea), don’t fight for it right away. Solve the problem on your boss’s terms—and your original idea may get a more receptive second hearing.

“The content is kind of a simple statement of the obvious, but these are things I wish I’d known early on,” Fowler says.

Patricia Alvey, director of the Temerlin Advertising Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, calls the handbook “thoughtful, soulful, insightful and true,” and says she has given copies to her students as graduation gifts. And Nancy Vonk, chief creative at Ogilvy Toronto, says the junior creatives there have the booklet “surgically attached to their hands at the moment. His observations and tips and thoughts as you face that blank page can help anybody kind of lunge at that deadly blankness with a little more confidence and creativity.”