Fundamentals: Three Questions to Ask Yourself

I am reminded, almost every day, of one of the first things my mentor told (and gave) me when I started my career.  His name is John Glenn (not the astronaut) and was/still is very much an old-school advertising guy.  I always thought of him like a football coach who coached back in the day – Tom Landry-type (he looks nothing like Tom Landry or a football coach for that matter) – who believed in fundamentals instead of the “hot” new thing, the sizzle, the passing attack and/or the Wildcat if you will.  I’m so glad he was put in my path to teach me because I believe he taught me the “right” way to do things, certainly the right way to look at things.  I often ask myself in various situations, “what would John do here?”  He has made an indelible impact on me. 

Anyway, early on in my career, he gave me a book by Hank Seiden – Advertising Pure and Simple – and said,  “read it.” 

Then, I read it.

It was a hard read.

When he asked me how I liked it, I gave him a blank look, said, “it was good,” and left it at that.

Then, he gave the book to me.  And said, “look, if there’s one thing that you take out of here, take this” (and I will paraphrase):

When thinking about doing anything in this business, ask yourself these questions, in this order, and you’ll be just fine:

1.  Who are we talking to?

2.  What are we trying to say?

3.  How are we going to say it?

At the time, I didn’t have the capacity to really understand the context to put it in or even what it meant.  But I always thought about it and soon enough, I understood exactly what it meant.  This is what I am reminded of, and more importantly, what I try to remind myself of, on an almost-everyday-basis.  In brainstorms.  Strategizing.  Consulting with clients.  In everything, I try to think about these three questions and apply them to my work.

More often than not, I realize how many people don’t think about these questions, much less the particular order.  I’m surprised at how many jump right to the “How are we going to say it?” part without considering the audience (who) and the message (what).   It’s like they’ve lost all sight of the fundamentals.   

Over and over again, I see examples of going straight for the “hot” new thing. 

Sometimes, after answering the who and the what, the solution is a hot, new thing.  Sometimes it’s not.  But most often, it’s the right thing, or a right thing. 

What fundamentals do you fall back on?  I’d love to hear from you.

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