AI couldn’t match Don Draper

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Jason Patterson has been resisting the pull of half-assed marketing content since the golden days of advertorials. He is the founder of Jewel Content Marketing Agency, where he blogs about content, social media, B2B marketing, and other related topics. He also shares hard-hitting and often humorous takes on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Biggest fuckup

My biggest career fuckup was believing when I was younger that being great at my craft was the same as being great at my job.

As a raging introvert, office politics, ass-kissing, and other soft skills were a struggle for me. I felt them unfair and beyond me.

So I ignored them, feeling the best way to move up was to double-down on seriousness in terms of my craft and the quality of the content we put out.

I was demanding of myself and demanding of those whose duties overlapped with mine.
I thought if the output was great, that would be enough for colleagues and, most importantly to me, for management.

Boy, was I fucking naïve. My demanding attitude annoyed co-workers, who in turn annoyed management with complaints about me being an obtuse jerk.I resented my co-workers for that. I thought they were slackers and mediocrities, undermining me because I was making them look bad.

But in most cases they were right. I was obtuse. In fact, my head was completely up my own ass.
Because a corporate environment is a big machine. And big machines need the cogs working in harmony.
And when one cog goes rogue because it has goals the others don’t share, it causes friction, causing the machine to sputter.

Looking back, I should have listened more. I should have respected the soft skills and spent more effort trying to develop them. I should have respected my co-workers more and tried to understand why they did things the way they did.

Because they were the ones playing their roles on the team, I wasn’t.

Just like the old proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” And I never got as far as I wanted because I wanted the team to be together with me, not vice versa.

A job is a set of tasks and functions, including the ones you don’t like or aren’t inclined to do. It’s not just about your craft or art. It’s all the things around it, especially the people.

Even now, I’m still learning this lesson. When I launched my agency, I thought being great at my craft would be enough. Again, my head was up my own ass.

There’s a shitload of things involved in running a business. A lot of it is people skills.

You know how business gurus say, “Stick to what you’re good at and outsource the rest?” That advice is privileged.

Maybe if you’re some rich startup founder flush with VC money, you can get away with being that narrow. But not in the real world.

No matter what kind of work you do, you have to do a lot of shit you don’t like. Well, suck it up, buttercup. Because you can’t succeed without the shit.,

Rant

Nothing pisses me off more right now than the fact Sam Altman is right. AI can do most of what advertising and marketing does today.

Not because AI is brilliant. But because marketing is mechanical.

AI is the next logical step of a mechanization process that’s been happening to marketing for most of this young century that has seen it transformed into factory work.

We’ve gone from the art of persuasion to the grind of automation.

AI would be useless back in the “Mad Men” era. It couldn’t do what Don Draper did. No AI could pull off “It’s toasted.”

But today, marketing departments are data-driven factories, mass-producing pegs to fill channel-shaped holes. Investing more in tools than people.

And there are no generalists anymore. We’re largely specialists and operators of machine tools, carrying out endless repetitive tasks, with our utility determined by our understanding of the tools, not the humans those tools are meant to influence.

Templates are now valued more than brilliance.

And there are no big ideas in marketing anymore. No big picture. Just banality at scale. Quotas. Endless widgets that take up space yet feel small.

Optimized for screens and search engines instead of people.
And no time for vision, only revision.
Busy, busy, busy. More, more, more.
AI is the endgame for this inhuman rat race because it’s always on and never tires.
So the peggings will continue, faster and harder.
Customers and marketers be damned.

Useful advice

As I mentioned earlier, I was a real clenched sphincter when I was younger. And most of that effort wasn’t even asked for. It was me trying to be a hero to management, trying to prove my worth, trying to prove my vision for how things should be done.

None of it did me a damn bit of good. Because worth to your employers isn’t decided by you, it’s decided by them. And usually, it ain’t much.

And you’re let go just as you’re starting to get good at your job. This was before AI. Now, things are even more tenuous.

In such an environment, my advice would be to never give more of yourself to an employer than you’re asked to give. Because it just isn’t worth it.

Management decides who the company’s heroes will be, usually in advance. So save as much of yourself as possible for working on you.

Learning new skills. Planning your next steps. Building your reputation. Building your portfolio. Shameless self-promotion. All seeds you’ll eventually harvest when you become too old to be employable.

When you’re a marketer employed by someone else, no act of unsolicited heroism will earn you a juicy promotion or save your job in the end.

So save your heroic quests and Herculean feats for yourself. For your own clients. For your own business.
Be a hero on your own dime.

My second piece of advice is for content people. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, if you’re a content marketer, strategist, or writer, you’re in deep shit.

The standard advice for dealing with AI is “be great at your craft.” While that certainly doesn’t hurt, alone, it isn’t enough. I know great content people who are barely making ends meet right now, and I know mediocrities doing great. If you want to remain gainfully employed, you should:

1. Get Famous
Fame is the easiest way to justify hiring a human over an AI. And there are many paths to fame, but they all essentially boil down to “be special in front of people.”

I’m connected to thousands of marketers and content people on LinkedIn. I can count the number who offer something special in what they post with my hands.

Some are actually interesting. Some are just good looking.

If you have an employer, figure out something special about yourself and start regularly offering it to the world. If you’re out on your own, start offering it aggressively.

On as many channels that reach your audience as possible. And not just your own channels. Be a podcast guest. Give speeches or teach courses if you can. Write guest posts and bylines. Try to get interviewed.
Make it seem like what you think is in demand. Why do you think I’m here?

The people at the top of our profession get there thanks to committed self-promotion, not because they’re great writers or otherwise great at their jobs (though they may be).

2. Work On Your People Skills
As mentioned earlier, people skills are so important to success, whether you’re employed or out on your own.

People extend opportunities to people they like, and employees and clients have to like working with you (they’ll tire and get rid of you eventually if they don’t).

You can survive winning clients solely online, but it’s very hard to thrive if you can’t win business face-to-face.

3. Pick a Topical Niche
Now that they’re competing against a weighted average of the Internet that spits out text in real time, general purpose content writers who write competent but shallow listicles and other such filler are done.

If you want to make a living as a content writer now, you need to be an expert in some topic or domain or at least fluent in some topic or domain. Insight is the name of the game now, not output.

4. Become a Tactical Generalist
A single type of written content output, like social media copy or press releases, is no longer a viable career option. Be a generalist who can play an AI orchestra to create whatever content outputs are needed for employers or clients. If you can do that, you’re a one-person agency. But it takes something else to get there as well.

5. Master Marketing and Strategy
You’re going to hear “become a media company” a lot over the next few years. Ignore that advice. With generative AI, a trained monkey can launch a media company and will.

In a marketing industry obsessed with pegs and holes, competitive advantage won’t be found in offering just another low-quality peg, but in knowing what you’re doing.

In understanding what prospects will be receptive to and when, and doing things in the right order, so the results both sides want are achieved.

When everyone has content, merely having it will no longer be a competitive advantage.

In other words, the days of content for content’s sake are over.

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