Life lessons from a frozen chicken

life lessons for a frozen chicken - image for article by Greg Alder

Some of you might know that I spent a chunk of my life in advertising. Advertising is an industry that likes to pay itself well. I liked being well paid. I enjoyed the comfortable lifestyle. But money doesn’t last.

Advertising is an industry that likes to give itself awards. I really enjoyed going to awards ceremonies. I am proud of the 200 or so awards I picked up around the globe. But the pride of winning awards is fleeting.

So what motivates me?

Well, the first is recognition from people outside your industry.

Many years ago, I wrote six or seven radio commercials for a client who sells frozen chickens. I thought it’d be great to ask John Cleese to record my radio commercials. The budget didn’t stretch to me flying to the UK to record the commercials. I wasn’t even sure the budget would stretch to John Cleese.

Anyway, we sent the scripts to John Cleese’s agent, with a note to John Cleese to change the scripts as he felt fit (but keeping a few basics intact – such as the product name).

The agent told us that he was away on holidays, but he could possibly record the scripts in 3 weeks time. The cost would be £1,200 (I was shocked at how little it was going to cost). And, it would all depend on John Cleese agreeing to record my scripts.

The scripts were nonsense. They must have appealed to John Cleese’s sense of humour because two weeks later, the agent called to say that John Cleese would record the commercials. And the cost would be £1,000.

A week after that, the recorded commercials arrived. They were everything I had hoped they would be. He changed one word. From library to haberdashery. (What have a library or haberdashery got to do with frozen chickens? I told you the scripts were nonsense.)

About 2 years after this, I was at an advertising awards event in Sydney at which John Cleese was the guest speaker. I was on my way to the loo. John Cleese was standing alone near the door (probably musing on how the advertising industry seemed to like giving itself awards).

I introduced myself and reminded him of the frozen chicken commercials he had recorded for me.

His eyes lit up.

“I remember those well. I really enjoyed recording them. You have no idea the dross I get sent. If you want to make more in the future, I’d be happy to record them.”

That meant more to me than any amount of money.

On another occasion, I wrote scripts for 3 anti domestic violence commercials. When we (three men) went to be briefed by the women from the government department sponsoring the campaign, the mood was a little awkward. (The women confessed later that they doubted that 3 men could create a campaign to empower women to leave violent relationships.

We made the commercials. They resulted in a 500% increase in calls to a domestic violence help line.

That meant more to me than any amount of money or awards.

A couple of years ago, I wrote the script for a recording that was to be played at a fund-raising event my client, a charity, held each year.

At the event, business leaders paid $1,000 to attend a dinner prepared by 5 of the world’s top chefs. The idea was that my recording would be played to a darkened room to get them thinking about the dreams of seriously ill children.

Australian actress Claudia Karvan recorded the script. When she was in the recording studio, she confessed she had tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat as she read the script.

At the dinner, 500 people sat in silence listening to Claudia’s voice. And then gave generously to the cause.

These are the things that move me.

For most of us, recognition is always more valued than money. Recognition from people outside our industry is the most valued of all.

The ability to move people with words is the holy grail for writers. For me, moving an actor to tears will always be more cherished than moving a consumer to purchase a snack.

What is it that moves you? What do you want more than money? If you’re not getting it in your current job, move where you will.

Money is soon gone.

Awards collect dust.

An emotional connection lasts forever.

Making a difference in someone else’s life makes a difference in your own.

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