Emmerling Communications Home

The Thinker-Writer puts ideas to work
A guide to identifying these valuable hybrid workers

By John Emmerling
Advertising Age
February 24, 1997

In the ad agency business, there have always been some people who can think. They absorb the client briefings, evaluate the research, ponder their own feel of the marketplace—and then conjure up useful marketing strategies or creative executions. Unfortunately, too many of these "thinkers" cannot take the next step. They cannot sit down at the computer—and produce a concise two-pager that pulls it all together with power and persuasion.

Just down the hall from these thinkers, are the people who can write. They may have been English or Journalism majors—and, boy, can they put it down!

Sadly, however, their documents are often bereft of the writer’s own original thoughts. These word-organizers are too busy recycling the thinking of others into documents or copy to come up with their own innovations.

Finally—if you look hard around the agency—you will find the hybrid. A hyphenate who does it all: the Thinker-Writer. This individual can assimilate information, conceive strategy, create innovative solutions, form a recommendation, and then put the whole plan on paper in a way that nails it. The thinking and the words crackle with energy.
There have always been Thinker-Writers in our business; people like David Ogilvy, Leo Burnett and Bill Bernbach. To survive and thrive today, every agency needs Thinker-Writers. Happily, the T-W can be found in almost any department—even the art department (Ask an art director to write a rationale for the ad she‘s working on. You might discover a stealth T-W.)

Here are some guidelines for identifying the T-Ws in your office. This may also serve as a checklist for "aspiring" T-Ws.

Listen to the questions:

In a client brief, a T-W will often ask the unexpected question. ("Do grandmothers buy your oil filters?") Their queries may come from outside-of-the-box, but these lateral-think questions can open fertile new ground to exploration.

Watch the hands

Who in the room is taking notes? As the briefing or research session begins, the T-W always reaches for a yellow pad. Their scribbles and notations continue unabated, filling several pages in an hour. And—at the follow-up meeting—you might see those earlier notes re-surface, helping to generate more questions, more innovation.

Count the pro-active suggestions

T-Ws constantly seek new information to build their own mental database. They take initiative and speak up with pointed suggestions that make things happen: "Let’s visit the factory." "Do we have a product we can take apart?" "Can we meet some of your consumers?" "I just heard about a new type of research... "

Never stops collecting—yet meets the deadline

The T-W radar continually scans the horizon—searching for the blip that may become tomorrow’s new product, new market, new industry. They are voracious readers. When starting a project, as original thoughts percolate, the T-W simultaneously begins writing them down. Never satisfied with a first or second draft—the T-W adds new information as it becomes available—the final result is a polished example of persuasive writing.

Wow! What a presentation!

"If you can write it—you can speak it." As an agency team leader, you will find yourself instinctively relaxing as one of your T-Ws rises to speak. There is enthusiasm and conviction as the data is summarized, the strategy outlined, the executions presented, and the recommendation forwarded. You can physically feel the momentum build in the room.

Two additional facets of the bona fide Thinker-Writer:

1) They share their good stuff. If they find something of interest, they quickly copy the item and circulate it, or zap it around the office via e-mail. Weak thinkers hoard information; strong thinkers share.

2) They are having fun. These happy warriors relish the process of pushing, pulling, and grappling with information and concepts. They understand that the most exciting thing in the business is to conceive, write about, and sell an original idea.

Thinker-Writer is not a "flavor of the month," faddish Madison Avenue job description. Many decades ago, it was Thinker-Writers who put the advertising business on its brilliantly fast track. Today the names at the successful agencies have changed. But this two-word job description hasn’t.


back to top  |  more columns »