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My first big ad & the lost art of 'Fake it til you Make It'
My first big ad & the lost art of 'Fake it til you Make It'

By James Di Fiore

“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you don’t know how to do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.” – Richard Branson In a freelance career, you sometimes have to be careful what you wish for. Other times, your wishes turn into to grit and you get everything you’ve ever wanted.

I had been floating around in a freelance career, mostly as a writer, but I had a couple of interesting projects under my belt. Of course, most of these projects went nowhere, but the experience it gave me, combined with a flare for feeling like I could do anything if I tried hard enough, ended up serving me well.

I had a neighbour, a fairly successful serial entrepreneur, who I congratulated one morning when I ran into her on the sidewalk after seeing her the night before on the television program Dragon’s Den. She said thanks and told me that her other company, an online dating service, was really starting to make gains. On a whim, I asked her to keep me in mind if she ever needed a television ad, even though I had never really produced an ad in my life. But I was surrounded by people who had successful careers in advertising, and as a writer I always felt as though I could have had a fruitful career in anything involving production and creative work.

A few days later she told me she ran the idea of a television ad by her board and that they were open to hearing my pitch. I told her I would need a week to put together my ideas and immediately started brainstorming possible concepts. I drafted three ideas, worked out the kinks, put a team on paper and arrived at her office 10 days later.

My on-paper team had a ton of experience writing, directing and shooting award winning videos. I combined their portfolios into one, offering their vast, collective experience and placing myself as the team leader. The board was impressed, and a week later they chose one of the concepts and asked me to get to work.

So there I was, an obscure writer who had never produced an actual ad in my modest career, tasked with creating a TV commercial from scratch. I also oversold how cost effective I could be, and when I asked a friend for an estimate on the concept they had accepted, he told me his agency would charge between $100,000 - $125,000. I told the company I could get it done for less than $50,000.

I had only one choice; instead of hiring a casting director, another writer, a director, and a music supervisor, I would handle all of those roles personally.

And so I did.

Surprisingly, the most challenging aspect was finding the right music. Music for commercials can be daunting, and I knew I did not have enough money to purchase the rights to a well-known song or to hire a professional music composer. My concept required a few different styles rather than just one overriding theme song, so I found a production music company, negotiated a blanket deal for 5 different songs, had my editor chop up the tracks and managed all the other roles without any real problems.

Like Richard Branson advised, I learned on the job. I learned how to write a proper script, how to cast actors, how to direct those actors, how to organize and hire a competent sound and lighting crew, and how to find the right combination of quality produced music. I even found a suitable shooting location for a mere $500.

And guess what? The final result was amazing. A few months later I won the online dating industry award for best marketing, proving that it isn’t what you know, but what you think you can do that will inevitably become your most triumphant successes.


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