There exists in advertising a convention which, I suspect, no one likes except the creative directors who call it into play: the gangbang.

Or, as some of us like to call it, gladiator combat.

In this practice, multiple teams of writers and art directors are brought into the same room to present their ideas or concepts on the same topic. Sometimes the audience is the entire team of interested parties—account, strategy, leadership, creative principles; other times, it’s just the creative director. Either way, it sucks.

I’m not sure whether it was ever intended to be the competitive dogshow that it has become…I’m not sure it was ever the product of anything but expediency, to get to a “better” idea faster…but a dogshow is exactly what it has become. And, although some places are better than others about how they approach it, it is done pretty much everywhere.

Everybody presents. To the same people. In the same room. At the same time. And the creators who have thought and considered and trialed-and-errored until beads of blood have appeared on their foreheads get the dubious gift of sitting in the room and listening to their betters pick the work apart. Oh goody.

Even the most loving and generous of creatives is suddenly thrown into the arena where their work is battling it out face to face with colleagues they may dearly love. The work becomes a thing of hoarding and guarding and envy, like the Ring in the Hobbit. It becomes a matter of who presents more persuasively…or who can argue it best…or whose style speaks to the preconceived notions in the room…or whose ego is biggest and most overwhelming. Not a healthy thing.

Not sure who came up with the notion that this was a way to honor the creatives who do the work, or whoever it was who decided that a little competition is good for the spirit. I can easily imagine it to be a concept soaked in the testosterone of male-dominated early advertising. Wherever it came from, as I mentioned earlier, it sucks.

The same creative product that is offered in gangbang can just as easily be evaluated by individuals in private, to preserve the dignity and self-respect of every creative person involved. It turns what is, at best, a cohesive and supportive creative team into a group of secretly snarling, jealous and undermining lackeys who exist solely to be trotted up on stage, beauty pageant style before a team of judges with conflicting tastes and beliefs about who the winner should be. Give us your best and shut up: We’ll decide.

Having much responsibility and not authority is one of the most difficult things about writing for Commerce. I’m not sure that the other side of the fence, the creative directorship role, is a much more enviable one—having been on both sides of that particular fence, I can happily live without it.

Creatives all have elements of the hothouse flower in us, as much as we say we don’t. Starved for praise, we exist at the whim of the client and the will of our Betters. Our best is always subject to what somebody else decides is our best…even when that person’s ability to tell gold from straw is questionable. We don’t decide—we execute. And that puts us in the daily position of caring like hell about the craft of each deliverable, knowing that our only grasp on sanity will come from not caring at all. A very strange place to be.

No surprise that so many folks who have done this for years and years don’t love the job any more. Or that so many of us quit. We do it because someone pays us to. Because somebody puts the money on the dresser when they’re done with us. Because somebody flogs us into a sweat, rides us into the ground and puts us up wet.

Welcome to writing for pay. Welcome to Commerce: Now go home.

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