That’s Not a Knife

Last week The Daily Beast featured this multi tool as a useful item you should have in your pocket to address a variety of needs and it made me a bit nostalgic.

My father, like his brothers and their father before them and probably lots of my generation’s fathers and grandfathers, carried a pocketknife with him most every day. It was a small, single-bladed knife that, when folded, was no longer than an index finger. He slipped it into his right front pocket along with his keys whether he was going outside to work in the garage, heading out to the movies, going to church or on his way to work.

So, to be clear, he had a knife on him much of the time, right up to the moment where doing so would have resulted in his arrest and his name being added to a watchlist of some sort.

He didn’t carry it for defense. This isn’t a “good guy with a knife” situation. He just had it for exactly the sorts of things that this new, expensive multi tool and others like it are meant to take care of. The blade was for cutting or opening things. The butt end, when closed, could be used to tap something back into place when it went ajar.

I’m fairly sure many people who knew my father at the time knew he carried a pocketknife with him much of the time. I don’t remember him being shy about pulling it out if it was needed in a situation. The people on the Metra probably didn’t, but that’s fine. It was the 70s and 80s and pragmatic utility was still an understandable rationale. Now, though, if someone saw him pull out a pocketknife in order to open a package on his desk he’d be hauled away, not greeted with admiration for being prepared.

Is that multi tool really any safer, though? It certainly doesn’t seem like it. It’s got a number of points and edges, more so than a simple pocketknife and would actually seem to be a bit more dangerous. But this is held up as some sort of essential item with which to navigate modern urban life, while a single-blade knife identifies you as a potential crazy person.

This seems like a situation where ignorance and branding do more harm in connection with one another than anything else. The knife is branded a “weapon” while the very similar “multi tool” is branded an “accessory” despite having very similar usefulness as well as risk for harm.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Help, Help I’m Being Repressed!

If you want to hear some genuine, high-quality whining about having your voice silenced you can’t do much better than to turn to any given white person in a position of power. Consider some recent examples:

Eccentric billionaire Elon Musk is so used to nothing but fawning media coverage that extols him for how brilliant and wonderful he is that one slightly negative article about his Tesla electric car has him wondering how to “crowdsource the truth” in journalism.

Professional internet racist Tomi Lahren had water thrown at her at brunch and it was the WORST THING EVER, KAREN! The incident has caused her to freak out about being heckled and censored, which is rich coming from the same person who believes that any form of protest by black people in response to unwarranted police killings or other true indignities is invalid. She even got a call of support from the President, who also tweeted out how strong she was in the face of such harsh behavior.

Not, to my knowledge, receiving such support and validation is Milwaukee Bucks rookie Sterling Brown, who was tased by police for a parking violation.

Meanwhile the NFL approved a new policy that would fine players who take a knee while on the field for the National Anthem as well as leverage a penalty against that team when gameplay gets underway. That lead the vice-president to praise the decision and the president to mull whether those taking a knee in protest over police violence should even be allowed to stay in the country.

The NRA, tired of being made to feel as if they have something to do with the endless stream of gun violence in this country, is floating the idea of asking Congress to place restrictions on how the press can cover mass shootings. They do this out of the “we don’t want to glorify the shooter” rationale but it’s really just because they consistently are called on the carpet in the general public as enabling these incidents.

All this comes just a few weeks after the much-derided publication of a New York Times profile of the “intellectual dark web” which, to borrow from Linda Richman, is neither intellectual nor located on the actual dark web. Instead it’s mainly just a bunch of alt-right media millionaires who don’t like being told their ideas are sexist, racist or both.

It’s funny, though, because there are like three NYT op-eds a month that come from columnists espousing deeply conservative beliefs that often dip into terrible depths of racism and sexism – including a recent defense of “incels” as men wrongly denied the sex they so clearly deserve as well as the notion that women should be placed into what amounts to chattel slavery to service them as a way to curb men’s violent tendencies – while just last year the paper issued updated social media guidelines telling staff to not get too political online. It also recently reminded freelancers they would be held to the same standard.

monty python repressed

It’s tough out there for a First Amendment, which is easily cast aside in the name of Second Amendment rights, protecting billionaires from harsh words and making anyone think about systemic racism. All those oppressed alt-right mouthpieces are forced to take to the New York Times or Washington Post to talk about how they can’t have their voices heard and their viewpoints discussed in the mainstream media.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

That Particular Writing Anxiety Isn’t So Hidden

It’s an interesting point being made here about how there’s a definite anxiety that sets in when things are left undone. Particularly what the author is talking about is the anxiety of “unrealized potential,” the feeling that you’re not doing everything you should be doing. He offers there some general advice on how to take that unrealized potential and make things happen, but he frames the issue as one that’s dependent on you having the courage to just go for it, already.

That’s true in some cases, sure. But for others the gap separating “unrealized potential” from “realized action” isn’t desire or intent. It’s not that we’re unaware of what it would take for us to feel fulfilled and free of this anxiety or that we’re held back by voices telling us we’re not capable in some way.

It’s just that we don’t have enough damn time.

Along similar lines, there’s something to be said for the idea that having a day job can actually be good for a writer. It can offer a break from staring into the gaping maw that is the blank page that follows us like ghoul sometimes. Of course that assumes you can *get* a day job, something that shouldn’t be presumed given the troubles facing the labor market as layoffs keep hitting every industry. While there may technically be one job for every unemployed person in the U.S., those jobs and the skills of the searchers don’t always match up.

It also assumes that “fretting about writing” isn’t what you would prefer your day job to be. If it is, that other job isn’t going to do anything but create the kind of anxiety identified in the first post. You’re not going to feel like you’re getting a much-needed bit of relief, you’re going to feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day for you to do everything but you’re so tired when you get home you write 50 words and then spend an hour watching “Kids in the Hall” clips on YouTube.

There’s a real struggle that happens when writing *isn’t* your full-time job but you want it to be. The anxiety and feelings of regret are palpable and overwhelming at times. If you can find a balance or some way to cope with that, you’re doing better than a lot of other people out there.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

AdJab Made Me a Better Writer

Logo - AdJabThere’s that old saying that art is what happens within constraints. Painters have to work within the confines of the canvas, sculptors within the size of the available display space and so on. If we’re given too much space, artists will meander and continue tweaking, adding and removing to the point where nothing is ever truly finished. It’s a symptom of the creative mind that we can sit there and endlessly mull what could be done better – or at least differently – until the end of time. George Lucas summed it up when he said “Films are never finished, they’re abandoned.”

That’s why, to me, my time writing for the Weblogs, Inc. series of blogs, particularly AdJab, was such a valuable experience. The philosophy espoused by founder Jason Calacanis and held by the editors of the various sites was simple: Publish fast, fix later. It’s not that he or anyone else didn’t want to be accurate. It was more meant to encourage you to not endlessly noodle with the phrasing or obsess about other details. Get the facts right, but don’t worry about flowery prose. You could always go back and clean up some copy later if you had the time.

The format on AdJab was simple: Keep it to around 150-200 words, be funny (when appropriate) and get to the point. Don’t get caught up in small details or extensive stage-setting. Assume the reader is there for a reason and treat them intelligently, informing at the same time you’re entertaining.

What I did at AdJab was indicative of where blogging was back in the early- to mid-2000s, when it was just hitting the mainstream culture. We took stories that appeared on Ad Age, Adweek, MediaPost, The New York Times and elsewhere and recapped them and commented on them, calling out some key points and helping to provide the reader with (hopefully) a fresh take on the news. We *always* linked back to original sources because that was the damn point, to serve as a digest for readers, a quick jumping off point where they could see most interesting news in one place and then go read the full story if they wanted more background.

Over the course of my time at WIN I got *really* good at the format. That’s part of what’s served me well for the rest of my career. Things like the “Quick Takes” feature I’ve published here (though that’s currently on hiatus) and the “PNConnect Weekly Reading” overviews I wrote at Voce/Porter Novelli for years are simply new versions of the “Ad Age in 60 Seconds” feature at AdJab, offering a few bulleted sentences on key stories the audience should know about. Even as I read any news story on any given day I’m still writing in my head the 160-word, two paragraph post that calls out the most important elements.

I know this may seem like a strange example to call out given my tendency to go on and on at times, taking advantage of the freedom allowed by online self-publishing to use as many words as I want to explore all sorts of rabbit trails of thought. But having to work within the AdJab/WIN model forced me to focus and, as the headline of this post says, made me a better writer. I had to economize my verbiage. While I didn’t spend hours on the editing process, I often reviewed first drafts that were over-long and found unnecessary sentences that were subsequently cut. Eventually I got to the point where such a review wasn’t needed and Draft 1 was a tight 145.

The point is this: Even if I *don’t* do that currently, I know I *can* do that. It’s a skill set that, as a writer, I have in my back pocket.

If you want to challenge yourself, put some constraints around your writing for a period of time. Sometimes the best way to grow is to work within what may initially seem like daunting limitations.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

WordPress At 15

Up to October, 2005 I had been using Blogger as the platform for my personal blog. It was fine, it was free and it was commonly used at the time for the above reasons. Unless you were savvy enough (which I wasn’t) to hand-code your own blog platform or install Movable Type on your own server, Blogger was pretty much the best game in town.

It was then that I got my “golden ticket” to use, something I was eager to do having heard good things about the nascent software from the techier side of the “new media marketing” world. It was invite-only as the team scaled up, though, so I had to wait until my number was called. As soon as I set it up, I was in love.

The interface was clean and professional, not as bubbly and slightly goofy as Blogger’s was. Writing in it was dead simple and offered much more in the way of categories, tags and other features that weren’t available in Blogger’s shallow end offering. That’s not to knock that platform as Blogger helped many people such as myself develop the online writing habit and begin to build our presence. Getting into WordPress, though, definitely felt like moving into the advanced group.

This weekend marks 15 years since the creators of WordPress first released it to the public and it’s humbling to think I’ve been using it for 13 of those. Over time my appreciation for WordPress has only grown as I’ve used it more and more and in a variety of different ways. It’s been my platform of choice whenever someone asks my opinion on starting their own blog or site, be it in a personal or professional context. My seven years working alongside the Voce Platforms team only deepened that love since they truly showed me the ways this incredibly powerful but also incredibly flexible software could be utilized on countless projects.

As we go deeper and deeper into a world governed by black box social algorithms and corporate platform ownership, WordPress remains that weird cousin who never got a job but who’s now a grown ass adult, unexpectedly thriving because he’s always surrounded by people who owe him favors and are happy to help because he’s helped them. It’s truly powered by the community and remains an open-source platform that, if you’re using the .org version you install on a server yourself, you’re free to modify as you wish as long as you don’t violate that open principal.

Automattic, the organization that manages WordPress, encourages people to pay into the system – contribute to the commons – in whatever way they can. Often that’s through building plugins, designing free themes or some other technical offering. That’s not my area of expertise but I *can* shout from the rooftops about how wonderful the platform is whenever I’m given the opportunity and do so with gusto.

I’ll admit I’ve flirted with Tumblr, Posterous, Medium and others, but I keep bringing it back to WordPress because dammit, it works and this is what I believe in. Don’t show me your curated feed, don’t feed me recommendations and cut off everything else. Just let me do my thing in the way that works for me and offer an RSS feed so I can broadcast to whoever’s interested.

There are things I wish WordPress would do more of, but very few times over the years have I thought it went too far, either in control or features. That, in our current online environment, is the right side of the line to be on.

So, all that being said, happy birthday, WordPress. Here’s to many happy, community-powered returns.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

This Week Elsewhere – Week of 5/25/18

The Hollywood Reporter

How Disney’s ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Marketing Battled Franchise Saturation: With only five months separating the Han Solo film from ‘The Last Jedi,’ the studio faced unique challenges. Although it received mostly favorable reviews and boasts the buzzy presence of Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, the Sabacc deck seems to have been stacked against Solo: A Star Wars Story since the moment the movie was announced by Lucasfilm in July 2015. (Note: You can read even more in my recap post here.)

Cinematic Slant

Cinematic Slant is where I write about movies, including the campaign recaps I’ve been doing since 2004 along with other news and opinions.

How Would The Blues Brothers Fare Today?: Were the movie to come out today – or even if it were to get some sort of substantial theatrical re-release (it will turn 40 in three years) – it would rightly get slammed for its depiction of the white savior who adopts black culture as their own and decide they are the best one to defend it. The way black people are portrayed as secondary participants in their own culture is…not great.

How To Talk To Girls At Parties – Marketing Recap: The right kind of audience, the ones predisposed to like this kind of movie, are going to find it and may latch on to it, turning it into whatever the new term for “cult classic” these days is. There’s also a nice, consistent attitude that pervades the campaign, meaning if someone sees it, they’ll know pretty quickly what kind of movie is being sold and how.

Duping the Moviegoing Public: If I’d paid for Deadpool 2 tickets I’d feel pretty burnt right now. What did I pay for? How was that experience worth the expense?

Mary Shelley – Marketing Recap: It’s a nice, moody campaign IFC put together here but it’s not going to amount to much, I don’t think. There have been a number of these gothic-tinged movies about female writers struggling to overcome the norms of the society they’re shackled to recently but none have caught any fire. Fanning is about the strongest draw in the whole thing.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Writing Lessons from Music Documentaries

In the last couple weeks I’ve watched two music-oriented films on Netflix.

chicago now more than everThe first, Chicago: Now More Than Ever, is a decent overview of the four decades of the band’s history. It’s largely self-promotional piece, produced by the son of the band’s current keyboardist and singer Lou Pardini. As usual with histories of the pop/jazz/rock ensemble it lingers a bit too long on the band’s glory days and therefore isn’t fully satisfying for those of us who came in around “18” and would like to see more of the post-1986 era. There are also moments that are surprising (Ummm…where’s Bill Champlin?) and not so surprising (Dawayne Bailey continues to be unremembered despite his decade as lead guitarist).

mellencamp plain spoken liveThe second is John Mellencamp: Plain Spoken. This is less a documentary and more a new twist on the concert film model. The camera does follow a concert by Mellencamp and his band but a running commentary from Mellencamp himself is laid over the footage, meaning you can’t hear much of the music being played. That’s both slightly disappointing – the band sounds great – and intriguing because it adds to the idea that Mellencamp is at heart a storyteller. So you literally have him here telling stories while he’s telling stories. It’s a bit egotistical, but it would be more frustrating if he weren’t such a continually interesting character.

(side note: I’m a *big* fan of Mellencamp’s last decade of work, when he decided to go all-in on emulating his idol Woody Guthrie. He clearly gives zero cares about being liked and just wants to do work that fulfills him personally. The concert in the film starts off with a bunch of more recent tunes and then shifts to older hits, all of which have been rearranged in minor keys, accentuating the sometimes-unsettlingly dark lyrics. By stripping away the original recordings’ jangly guitars and snappy drums these are laid bare in a way that really hits a nerve. Love it.)

There were moments in both where the subject being interviewed shared a lesson they’d learned that’s applicable not just to music but to writing and most other creative pursuits.

In Now More Than Ever, Chicago trombonist Jimmy Pankow is talking at one point about how hard he and the other members of the band practice. That was true back in the 70s when they were all kids on the road 300 days a year and putting out an album every year. What he says is something like this: You have to practice to the point where you’re able to take the sound you have in your head and be able to express it through the instrument.

In Plain Spoken, Mellencamp toward the end is talking more about how he’s always worked to take his own unconventional path in the music industry, insisting on doing what he wants and not what a bunch of executives who can’t carry a tune feel he *should* do. It’s a theme he hits often in his commentary, but at this point he says something like this: An artist should strive to consistently surprise not just the audience but themselves as well.

Both of those are so important.

Writing isn’t just about putting one word behind another until you reach the end of a sentence and then string a few of those together into a paragraph. It’s about communicating an idea, some idea that’s important to you. Or, failing that, an idea that should be important to the audience. That’s why practicing writing is so vital, whether you wind up publishing it or not. You sit there and you keep writing and erasing and writing again and trashing and writing again until you feel satisfied with how it looks and sounds. The best writers figure out a process for themselves that makes the process easier, but that takes even more practice and self-awareness.

To Mellencamp’s point, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a quarter of the way into a blog post, fiction story or some other project and realized it was going in a whole different direction than I had initially expected it to. The piece has leaked through my fingers in a way I didn’t plan and taken me by surprise. I can’t believe I’m the only one who’s felt that happen and those are some of my favorite pieces, ones I’m even more satisfied with than usual.

There are lots of mediocre writers out there that are hugely successful. You can tell, though, the ones – whether they’ve broken out in some manner or not – that have put in the work and are trying to do their own thing in spite of conventional wisdom trying to pull them in some other direction. That’s true, I think, of any art form.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

The Braspberries Taste Like Brasbarries!

There’s a long history of shaming corporations for how they package fruit. That might seem like a silly statement, but it’s true. Photos of displays of peeled oranges in plastic containers go viral because 1) We can’t believe people are so lazy that peeling an orange is such a struggle and 2) It’s a tremendous waste of material, introducing more plastic into the world that’s already overflowing with it.

The latest example is the braspberry. Not sure what that is? It’s a package full of raspberries stuffed with a blueberry. The concoction is currently being tested by fruit supplier Driscoll’s for eventual rollout.


Let’s quickly cover and then put to the side a few points that play into this conversation but which I don’t want to go into here:

  • You have to wonder what the people whose job it is to carefully place a blueberry inside a raspberry are being paid and what standards they’re being held to. The error rate – instances where the raspberry breaks and is wasted – has to be high.
  • In practice this doesn’t seem all that different from pimento-stuffed olives, which have been around forever and which don’t seem to be causing such societal hand-wringing.
  • More broadly, the idea of altering a whole foods’ natural state isn’t that uncommon. Shelled peanuts or sunflower seeds, anyone?

All of that being stipulated, look again at the picture. Putting aside concerns over labor practices and how consumer desire for convenience is leading to some questionable food decisions, it’s a pretty picture, especially if you were to remove the lid and get rid of the Driscoll’s label that obscures a quarter of the food. In fact, it’s a picture that looks good enough to post on Instagram with a #brasberry hashtag, don’t you think?

And that’s the point. This is an eminently-Instagramable package of food. It’s bright and colorful with a bit of contrast. The product is neatly arranged in nice lines to appear relatively symmetrical. Add a filter to really make it pop and you’re all set to add that photo to your stream of #foodie posts showing just how selective your tastes are. Not only do you have a highly-cultivated palate but a great eye for a catchy image as well.

It’s the latest example of retail brands altering existing products or creating new ones that are meant to be more photo-worthy. Functional isn’t enough, it has to look good, too.

There’s plenty to take issue with here, but remember that retailers and other consumer brands are fighting for their lives as people make starkly different choices than the previous generation did, choices that are largely enabled and expanded by technology. If a brasberry will help a store survive the next quarter then it’s worth embracing.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

I Don’t Understand Needing to Search Out Blog Post Ideas

There’s a significant cottage industry online of people and companies who want to help people come up with ideas of what to write about on their blogs. Search for something like “how to get blog post ideas” and you’ll be confronted with an endless stream of lists as people offer places you can turn to and tactics you can employ to keep your blog active and attractive to readers.

I don’t mean to sound trite about it, but I’ve never really had that problem. There have been times when I haven’t published anything to one or another blog, but that’s usually because of time constraints, not a lack of ideas on what to write about.

The advice offered generally falls into three categories:

  1. External – This is where you go looking for topics and ideas. You’re running searches, you’re looking at industry news and trends and so on. It’s either commenting on some of that news or adding your own point of view to the conversation.
  2. Internal – This is where you basically look at your own audience’s preferences to see what you should be writing about. By analyzing your own metrics and seeing what’s popular with readers you may choose to write more about that to keep the traffic coming and keep them engaged. Corporate or business-related blogs employ this often because there are real goals to achieve.
  3. Self-Generated – This is basically where you make it up as you go along. Advice along these lines generally encourage writers to go for a walk, visit a coffee shop, doodle or engage in some sort of other activity to expose you to new situations and experiences that can be used for blog post fodder.

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog you’ll probably realize I rely heavily on the first and third categories. If I’m not countering or commenting on some recent news story, I’m writing posts like this one, which is a topic that occured to me while I was writing something else. Other times I get an idea while walking down the street or in the middle of a retail shift. There are probably a dozen topics just this week that I’ve had but wasn’t able to jot down quickly enough and so were forgotten.

I fully realize and admit that saying “I don’t need your advice, thank you very much” is a bit of a high-handed stance to take, but it’s more or less true. For myself, the act of writing is akin to breathing: If I’m not doing it often and in bulk, problems are going to develop quickly. Right now I have so many posts I literally don’t know what to do with them all. It’s a good problem to have, I know.

For those who need those kinds of prompts and guidance on where to find ideas for topics to write about, good luck to you. I hope you can eventually find a more sustainable approach than constantly spending cycles determining topics before you even get around to writing. Figure out how to make that process more efficient and do it quickly.

On top of that, don’t be afraid to get weird. The problem with the “actively go look for things” approach is that it inevitably leads to a lot of very similar material because everyone’s taking the same advice. You might be able to stand out a bit more clearly and uniquely if you give yourself a bit of latitude and give public voice to your interior monologue.

It comes down to this: Are you writing for yourself or to be popular? Your approach to establishing what it is you want to write about will be determined by the answer to that *very* important question.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

It’s The Clients’ Data, They Should Have It

One of the frequent points I see offered in the multiple stories over the last year about how more and more companies are taking creative and media-buying responsibilities in-house is that they want to make sure they, not an advertising or public relations agency, own the data. The company wants to make sure it has access to that raw information so they can make decisions both today and tomorrow based on it.

Putting aside how, post-Cambridge Analytica, we now view audience data in a slightly different light, I don’t disagree with the basic premise. In my experience working in PR firms, clients have occasionally requested the data we’ve been collecting and using to help craft and make adjustments to a program we’re running with or for them. This usually comes after someone (often not the people we’re working with regularly) begin to think the reports being provided are insufficient in some manner, or that we’re making the wrong decisions based on the available metrics.

I’ve usually taken the position that such requests are fine. This is data that’s being collected on their behalf, so they can take a look at any time they want. With a few exceptions, very little of the kind of data that’s being collected and used is proprietary to the agency in any way, shape or form, though that may be different at other firms. If we’re just talking about the kinds of numbers that come via monitoring and reporting tools or general audience profiles, I’ll happy send along a spreadsheet or seven for someone to chew on. That’s for two reasons:

First, I’m confident enough in my decisions that I’m not afraid to have them challenged. I’ll defend the calls I and my team have made. If you’d like to offer an idea I’ve already assessed and rejected, I’m happy to tell you why.

Second, I’m (usually) always open to someone catching something I’ve missed. If you can make a reasonable and demonstrable case for me to change my mind and approach on an issue or tactic, let’s have that conversation.

There are, though, a couple points where such conversations don’t always go the way a client thinks they’re going to:

  • Numbers don’t tell the whole story: There’s such a fascination with how almost everything is measurable that people often forget there’s just as many qualitative points to consider as there are quantitative. On a number of occasions, I’ve had someone point at a clear trendline or other statistic and say “Look, people think we should be doing this,” requiring me to point out that while the numbers indicate that being correct, something else that isn’t quite as measurable argues the opposite more strongly.
  • Remember requests don’t always match data: One of the struggles in running a program with inputs from multiple departments is that the direction the numbers would pull us in isn’t always the same direction stakeholders require it moves in. Put a different way, if the metrics show X is the content category the audience most wants to see but corporate priorities dictate Y is the dominant subject, there’s only so much we can do. Numbers and pragmatic reality frequently don’t offer the same guidance.
  • Don’t forget to look at *all* the numbers: Metrics frequently contradict each other. There have been moments where someone has pointed out that because the audience on a particular network is predominantly made up of Group 1 and research shows Group 1 is interested in Topic 2, we should be posting more about Topic 2. That may be true, I say, but have you looked at how the most popular content there is about Topic 3? Or how the demographics are shifting to a point where in six months Group 4 will be the majority and we’re future-proofing the program? No number exists in a vacuum and sometimes you have to consider more than one data set.

I’ve often thought outside firms and agencies were actually better positioned to push back on not only these kinds of points but other opinions and ideas than in-house stakeholders and marketing professionals. A recent op-ed at Entrepreneur throws quite a bit of shade at the idea of working with a PR agency in particular, warning against “vanity metrics” and the “temporary” nature of the success offered by firms. That may be true, but the problem there is you’ve hired a bad firm, not that all firms are going to steer you wrong.

Instead, look at the benefits of working with an agency, particularly when it comes to providing guidance and recommendations on programs. Sure, there are plenty of examples where a firm will just nod along with a client regardless of how bad an idea is because they’re afraid of losing business, but again that’s more indicative of you working with the wrong agency than anything else. A good one that hires smart, critical-thinking individuals and then supports them, will be able to tell you when a bad idea is being considered on any number of fronts.

That’s because they presumably have the freedom to do so. They exist outside the company’s internal power and political structure and so aren’t as susceptible to the kind of groupthink that can result in poor or ill-thought-out decisions being made. Sure, there are still some considerations to be made in where and when to die on a particular hill, but in my experience those are not only different but less frequent when you’re coming at the conversation from the outside.

Not only that, but agencies are going to have the kind of array of perspectives that allow metrics and data to be pondered from a number of points of view, the variety of which aren’t usually found in-house at all but a handful of companies. That can be incredibly valuable as having who’s unafraid to say something is a bad idea but has the resources to call on to explain why that is, that it’s not just them shooting something down because they didn’t think of it, often helps avoid embarrassing situations from the outset instead of trying to minimize the damage after they occur.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.