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“Keep the layouts rough and the ideas fancy…”

by | May 29, 2014 | The 24 Hour Brand

That’s one of my favorite Ad Guy Quotes. And to be honest, I’ve had that quote in my head for…

That’s one of my favorite Ad Guy Quotes. And to be honest, I’ve had that quote in my head for years but only recently figured out it was Stavros Cosmopulos that said it first.

Here’s to you Stavros. You nailed it. Thank you.

I started in this business back in the 80’s working for various LA agencies, freelancing, working full time, working directly with clients and every weird manifestation in between.

This was back before we could whip up a layout on a Mac while sipping a latte at Starbucks.

We drew ideas. With felt pens. On paper.

I know that’s dating myself, but hang in there, there’s a point to this.

We had to communicate ideas with simple visuals, which meant the ideas had to be that much bigger. You couldn’t cover up vacant ideas with great graphics.

So I’m working for a big international direct response agency and our biggest client was a pain in the ass (and unless you’re buying VERY good Scotch, I’m not saying who…)

The account people would go take the client out to an expensive lunch and write lousy notes. They’d bring their notes back to the creative team and we’d do three tight comps that would get us a better job in another agency and then a week later, the client would pick the one with the prettiest colors.


What happened to the big ideas? What happened to the agency really getting their heads wrapped around the audience and the problem and unforgettable, effective concepts?

I kept seeing this over and over and over so I threw out an idea. What if I went to the client meetings to hear first hand what the problem was, then maybe, just maybe, we could come up with better solutions.

It also meant I got to go to an expensive LA restaurant and see movie stars.

So the first time I go, I realize I’m on to something. We go back to the office and I start sketching furiously. I draw up fifty ideas on big sheets of cheap paper. The account manager likes then and calls the client. We go back the next day and I cover the windows with ideas, drawn out with a cheap felt pen. No color. No “design elements.” No distractions. Just the headlines, visual suggestions and subheads.

The client was able to fill in the blanks and see the value of the ideas. It worked. It was fantastic. We narrowed down it down to the best couple ideas comped them up and we were done.

The client was there from the beginning. They visualized with me what these ideas could do and we got to tight layout and production much faster.

The Wallpaper Sessions were born.

From that point on, that’s how we did everything with this client and that’s how I’ve worked since then.

And it’s become the basis for The 24 Hour Brand.

Keep the layouts rough and the ideas fancy…

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Does it work for everyone? No. I’ve worked with clients that couldn’t visualize. They didn’t have that third eye that could see a great concept in it’s rawest form and see that it could be refined into something grand. To me, it’s hard to understand how people like that can be in the ad biz. It’s a business of people who can see more with their eyes closed than open.

But for some, this process doesn’t work and there are plenty of agencies that will cater to them. Ideas will cost more and take longer though.

But for the clients I’ve enjoyed all these years that love this process, thank you!

The Wallpaper Session process has saved my clients a lot of money over the years. Money that would have been burned up early in the creative process. Instead, we were able to put that money towards moving those ideas out to the public. And it’s kept the business process much more fun and expedient. Creative people have short attention spans and get pretty bored if a project drags out for too long.

So bring this idea up with your agency. See if they’re willing to start speeding up the process and showing you  the roughs. See if it works for both you AND them. If so, you’ll probably get better work faster and everyone will enjoy the process more.

Fancy ideas really can come from lousy sketches. How many big ideas were born on bar napkins?



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Written By Chris Greta