A General Truth About Ad Talent

September 27, 2007 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

One of my favorite college professors once said, “No generalization is worth a damn, including this one.” He made the remark in front of a class of 30 or so students, and I’m sure it sailed right past most of them. But it got lodged in my 19-year-old brain, and it’s been there ever since. I’ve often recalled it over the years as people were making global statements about issues that merited more specific consideration and evaluation.

Case in point, a comment that was relayed to me this very morning by a colleague who told me a large local Dallas advertiser was conducting an agency search but only considering New York shops. His reasoning is that Dallas—and presumably anyplace other than New York—can’t attract the kind of talent that New York does. That’s a generalization I’ve heard before. And it is truly not worth a damn.

Certainly, nobody would dispute Madison Avenue’s rightful position as the ad capital of the free world, but to further generalize that the Big Apple has cornered the market on talent is way off base. That’s like saying Dallas can’t attract high-tech talent because Silicon Valley owns that market, or that you won’t find any excellent musicians or singers in Dallas because they’re all in Nashville or LA. I could go on.

Let’s face it. We need generalizations just to get through the day. Generalizations are first cousins of assumptions. Generally speaking, when I turn the coffee maker on in the morning, I can go back to my office and bang out a few emails safely assuming that when I return to the coffee maker, I’ll find some hot Java. If I had to stand there every morning watching it brew, I’d be less productive.

But generalizations are dangerous when they arrest our desire for further exploration and discovery on important matters. If we’re not careful, defaulting to generalizations serves to facilitate laziness and leads us to miss big opportunities.

When large money is being spent and the outcome is critical, generalizing about solutions and providers of those solutions is perilous at best and downright irresponsible at worst.

So will our friend find the best agency match for his needs in New York? Generally speaking, he has a good shot. But then again, I don’t like to generalize.


Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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