By Matt Smith

If you want to find out just how great an agency really is, take a close look at the work they do for themselves.

This is the kind of work produced without any rules, focus groups or bureaucratic committees breathing down their neck and judging the work every step of the way. I think most agency execs are even more demanding of their teams in these circumstances than they are for their clients.

Why?  Because I believe many of them, like me, live by the golden rule of all true creatives: everything you do is an opportunity for good work. And I mean EVERYTHING! Even answering an office phone. I truly believe that, which is why I put pressure on myself and my team and make everyone miserable when I push for a creative SmithGifford matchbook.


I’m pretty sure the talented folks at Wunderman Health in D.C. operate the same way, because their recent work for their own services recently captured three silver ADDY awards from the American Federation of Advertising, and rightly so. Had it been up to me, they would have won gold ADDYs.


The trio of award winners address the delicate and significant issue of mental health in the creative advertising industry and carry the same overall theme: “Not on the Shelf.” The line is a reference to where most agencies place the hardware they take home from the big awards shows like Cannes, the Clios, et al.


Each ad shows a photo of the actual award that is subtly and tastefully doctored to convey anxiety, stress, depression, etc.  The copy very delicately states a statistic about how these conditions impact the creative community. You can check them out here.

The quiet power of these three print ads is overwhelming.  They check all the right boxes and then manage to crawl out of the box and make the viewer think hard about their potent message. This is far, far more than award bait stuff. Here is why:

  • The work targets ad people, all of whom respond to great work.
  • Each execution is blessed with clean and brilliant, and I mean BRILLIANT, art direction.
  • The copy displays remarkable restraint. It doesn’t try to dominate the overarching idea with any lame or funny lines. The ads let the visuals carry the day.
  • Once the message is absorbed, viewers feels a sense of relief; they immediately know that someone cares. That alone carries a healing power in itself.  As such, the ads provide awareness and therapy all in one.

I’ve been in this business a long time and I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who has — from time to time — suffered to some degree from some or perhaps even all of the conditions cited in these ads.  These are serious issues that Wunderman takes on with respect, understatement and remarkable visual acuity. Congratulations to the team responsible for this extraordinarily forceful and important work:

Tuesday Poliak  – EVP/Chief Creative Officer
Trevor Sloan – SVP/Group Creative Director
Taya Subbotnikova – Senior Art Director
Victor Soares – Senior Copywriter
Sahar Sulayman – VP/Director, Creative Services
Peter John Christopher Sullivan – Studio Supervisor

And looking at them again, I want to add another malady—envy. I wish I had done these, and frustrated that I didn’t. UGH.

Matt Smith is founder of SmithGifford, and has close to 40 years’ experience as a creative and agency leader at the nation’s top agencies.  SmithGifford is a Capitol Communicator sponsor.

You can find Matt Smith’s earlier columns at Oh, That’s Good.


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