How the Hyphen Is Shaping the Future of Advertising

Ability to do more than one thing is freeing transcreatives

Every month, some conference, roundtable, festival interview or trade column presents another thought leader offering a jargon-infested declaration stating that whatever you currently accept as normal is now dead.

The AOR is dead. The 30-second spot is dead. Creative departments are dead. The commercial production company is dead. Print and radio are dead. Your marketing model is dead. All soon to be replaced by whatever the heck that particular pundit is currently shilling. I know it's a sexy, ballsy way to make your case, but enough already with all the DOA.

Tim Roper Alex Fine

We all know that every executive producer at every production company, agency producer and cost consultant is now muttering the same nervous refrain that clients are expecting $800,000 in production for $200,000. And somebody is going to find a way to give it to them. Yep.

But, rather than an ominous death knell, some very interesting somebodies are being born in the world of content creation. Brands now have a literal Cheesecake Factory-size menu of ways to get stuff made. Which I think is fantastic. The more ways brands have to make things, the less excuse any of us has for turning out crappy content.

The common denominator in all these new models is consolidation. Production companies bringing on creative teams. Agencies bringing directors and editors in-house. Brand consultancies hiring producers. PR firms now producing broadcast content. Strategic consultancies taking on execution. Experiential marketers creating films. Whoever has a storytelling capacity is out there telling them. And, these multiskill sets often reside under one skull. Meaning, specialization has become considerably less special.

I call it The Art of the Hyphen.

The Art of the Hyphen is the ability to do more than one thing—at a high level. And this metamodel is emerging fast. Just look at today's younger agency creatives. They don't sit around waiting for someone to anoint them or hand them new titles. They learn more than one discipline, grab the ball and run. The writer-producer. Planner-art director. Designer-developer. Director-cinematographer. Writer-director. CCO-CEO. The list goes on. This is not where things are going. This is where things are. Don't call it aspirational. It is head-slappingly practical. And it makes me very happy.

I began my career as a copywriter with a film degree in hand. I wanted to write, direct, edit, finish and launch content. This was my training. And the advertising portfolio sequence I completed helped me synthesize brand stewardship into the mix.

But, the second I arrived at an agency, the cubicle walls shot skyward. No copywriter could direct. An art director could not write. No creative below a creative director level could speak to clients. Directors could never engage a client or help in creative development. And cds, gcds and ecds needed to brush their innate talents aside and relegate themselves to oversight. We were expected to be multimedia but never multidisciplinary. Transgenre but never transdiscipline. These were the same years in which Quentin Tarantino wrote-directed-produced-starred in Reservoir Dogs, for crying out loud. I could not understand why so few people in advertising looked at storytelling holistically.

In the entertainment business the writer-director has long been the darling of every Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe and Independent Spirit Award ceremony. From Wes Anderson to Spike Jonze to Nora Ephron to Spike Lee to Alfonso Cuarón to scores of other hyphenates, the evidence clearly indicates that, in the right hands, this model really works.

And, in this new platinum age of television, the showrunner is a Swiss Army knife that can juggle writing, directing, producing, executive producing, story breaking, postproduction supervision and studio relations while being the literal face of his/her show in the trade press.

They're mutants, these people. X Men. X Women. They reconstitute fear into a singular, cohesive vision with a steady pair of hands that does not accept that awkward baton pass between thinker and maker.

The hyphen is not merely a slice of punctuation. It's a powerful demonstration of 21st century badass can-do-ness. It is weapons-grade aptitude. Admittedly, it may not be for everybody, and no one is telling you that you're extinct without two hats. There's great honor in dedicating yourself to refining a singular craft, collaborating with others or inviting a fresh pair of eyes and ears to something. But the hyphen is accountability dialed up to 11. And, in this hypercompetitive, blame-rich industry, it's unquestionably wise to be 200 percent competent. Call it future-proofing if you want.

When you become a hyphenate—and I mean the real deal—you aren't just adding a title. You're eliminating a line item in the budget. The prolonged partner search. The extra week of production. The question mark. The buck to pass. The excuse for failure. And you're adding value. Because, let's face it: Sometimes that baton can become a hand grenade.

In the same way that our brothers and sisters in Hollywood, Burbank, Park City and Tribeca have road-tested this notion, the ad world hyphenate can be that faster-leaner-nimbler-no compromise option as well. And, let's not forget that those YouTube influencers your clients are salivating over are all hyphenates too.

Most importantly, the art of the hyphen isn't about slapping a DOA tag on the toe of the old way. And it's not about self-aggrandizement, seeking extra credit or bragging rights. A truly dedicated and qualified hyphenate is about story, not glory.

Lurking in the shadows of skepticism, these transcreatives are in our midst now, dying to stretch their legs, pull one hand out from behind their backs and fulfill a creative vision.

Let's let them.

A creative agency veteran, Tim Roper is the founder, creative director and lead writer-director at F. Yeah and Associates.

This story first appeared in the October 24, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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