Slaughter the Sacred Cows by Sally Hogshead

The struggle between Creativity vs. Revenue is inherently messy. Yet in addition to the healthy struggles, there are darker ones. Ones not talked about. And many of these dysfunctions have gotten worse over the years, not better. I realized this yesterday, when my friend Jim reminded me of this article I wrote over six years ago for Communication Arts, back when I was a full-time creative director in advertising. Today I know: it’s not just advertising. Every company has sacred cows that need to be slaughtered. Which of these do you recognize in your company?

iStock 000011725178Medium 200x300 Slaughter the Sacred Cows

Mmmm, bloody red steak.

Slaughter the Sacred Cows

Somewhere in your company, sacred cows lurk in the hallways. They’re wandering through the HR department, or chewing cud in CEO suite. You might even have one curled up in your own office.

Sacred cows are the unquestioned rules, dogmatic systems, and ways of working that seem off-limits to change.

The problem is, sacred cows block potential. If you blindly accept a pattern, or worse, feel forbidden to challenge it, then you can’t improve it. You become stuck. Only by testing the legitimacy of a sacred cow can you create the best solutions. Here’s an example. In the advertising industry, the following statement is accepted fact:

Ad agencies are creative.

Yet this statement is only partially true. Yes, we are innovative– when it comes to our clients. However when it comes to our own companies, we’re remarkably unimaginative. Rarely do we stop, look around, and reinvent the way we work.

The reality is, certain practices are ineffective, obsolete, or even unfair. Yet they remain standard policy.

I say, we should turn our notorious insight upon our own companies, identify the sacred cows, and usher them out the door.

I say, we accept too much, and question too little. We treat color printers more carefully than employees. Computer viruses are an emergency, but diseased morale is status quo.

We’re communication “experts,” yet often communicate quite poorly among each other. We have miles of marketing spreadsheets analyzing precisely what people want, but often don’t realize how to make employees happy.

We spend so much time putting out fires that we’ve become better firemen, and lesser architects.

We hire individualists who are just conformist enough to be presentable to the client.

We compromise too much on ideas, and too little on the sick day policy.

We water down ideas to avoid conflict, then end up with ideas that lack passion. Our work requires inspiration, but leaves little time to find it.

We always have time for revisions, but never enough time to get it right the first time. We search for fresh options by scrolling down the Fonts menu. We create TV spots for a living, then fast-forward through them on Tivo.

We kill ourselves to get revenue, then miss the good ol’ days when it was all about the work.

We entice new hires with a jump in pay, but reward loyalty with a minimum annual raise.

We promote some of the most talented creatives into positions where they only manage, and no longer actually create work.

We pour our hearts into nurturing young talent, but if we do our job well, they’ll leave the nest for another agency.

We squeeze people out of the business by age 50, then lose our way without mentors.

Do you recognize any of these sacred cows roaming around your office? Stand back, and take a big picture look at the way you do business. Challenge each practice to see whether it’s a smart way of doing business, or a sacred cow. Poke it. Test it. Make it uncomfortable. Make it prove itself.

If a practice still seems right after being challenged, then great. Keep going. But if you find a cow, get right to the core of the problem. Usually it’s benign neglect, but sometimes it’s complacency, or myopic accounting, or ego, or something equally awkward to bring up.

At that point, start talking about it.

Over dinner.

While eating a bloody rare steak.

Which of these sacred cows do you recognize in your company?


I remember this post, manifesto really, when it ran originally. So very glad that it has resurfaced at this time of such massive change in advertising and creative work.

Antonio Ortiz

Antonio Ortiz has always been an autodidact with an eclectic array of interests. Fascinated with technology, advertising and culture he has forged a career that combines them all. In 1991 Antonio developed one of the very first websites to market the arts. It was text based, only available to computer scientists, and increased attendance to the Rutgers Arts Center where he had truly begun his professional career. Since then Antonio has been an early adopter and innovator merging technology and marketing with his passion for art, culture and entertainment. For a more in-depth look at those passions, visit

◉ Permalink