Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tomatoes and advertising.

I'm in St. Martin for a couple weeks visiting my younger daughter, Hannah, who is teaching scuba diving at a kids' camp down here. We arrived around 1, finally got settled in our rental then drove off to the supermarket to pick up some supplies.

Living in New York, we don't get to barbecue, so when we go away in the summer, that's what we find ourselves doing.

In any event, one thing struck me when we were buying fruit and vegetables down here: the look bad but they taste good.

In America, just the opposite holds true. Food looks good but tastes bad.

There's a lot to think about in this dichotomy. In America, there is uniformity. There is a moderation of mood. You're suspect if you're too sad or too happy. Anomalies are frowned upon.

In small backwater islands like St. Martin, life is more of a crap shoot. Fruits and vegetables, and life itself, is not standardized. The unexpected is to be expected. A tomato, for instance, might be either very good or very bad. It's not likely just to be bland.

I think advertising in America has become like our fruits and vegetables. We have processed, tested and homogenized work so that it is 100% guaranteed inoffensive. Everyone looks the same, acts the same, and smiles the same. It is neither very good nor very bad.

The main thing it has going for it is it's bland.

Running on empty.


I heard a rather longish report on the BBC this morning on the great Picasso, a man who stayed "creative" into his 90s, a man who wasn't "thrown out" (as they do in agencies) simply because of his advancement in years.

In any event, the BBC reporter knew someone who was close to Picasso in the artist's last years. He said that after Picasso had finished a body of work, he had "emptied himself out," and he would often take a month off.

The phrase "emptied himself out" really struck me.

How many of us--nominally in a creative business, or as creative people--put so much of ourselves into our work, so much blood, sweat, toil and tears that we can say we were all in, that we had given ourselves over to creativity.

Maybe we can't do that in our business.

Unlike Picasso we have to sit through too many meetings.

We have too many rounds of reviews.

Too many layers of approvals.

But how much of the lack of creativity in our work
comes from our unwillingness or inability to
empty ourselves out?

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Ninny-i-zation of everything.

We have become a nation of ninnies.

Half our politicians are science deniers.
Not believing in Darwin.
Or the evidence of global warming.

We blurt with diarrhetic regularity.
People go on a hiking vacation to Yellowstone
then tweet to tell you where they are.

We are fighting wars in three nations,
four if you count Mexico.
Yet we hear no news.

We are about to go bankrupt
in the face of political gamesmanship.

Our economy isn't growing and no one will say it structurally can't
because the top 1% has more wealth than the bottom 90%. An economy
can't be vibrant without a middle class.

I could give a rat's ass about Amy Winehouse.

Or Kim Kardashian.

Or Snookie.

We have become a stupocracy.
A rule of dumbness.

I'm checking out now for two weeks in the Caribbean.

I need it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Joseph Heller.

"The New York Times" has a book review today about two biographies of the great writer, Joseph Heller. The review is certainly worth reading and you can read it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/28/books/books-about-joseph-heller-by-erica-heller-and-tracy-daugherty-review.html?hpw

As you'd expect from a review on Joseph Heller, there were some funny verbal hijinx in the review.

Here's one: "He became celebrated for humor and prescience that began to show up in the real world during the Vietnam War, which “Catch-22” was widely thought to anticipate. Mr. Daugherty quotes Ronald L. Ziegler, President Richard M. Nixon’s press secretary, as having once said, in pure Heller-ese: “The president is fully aware of what is going on in Southeast Asia. That is not to say that anything is going on in Southeast Asia.”

And finally, this from Heller's friend, Kinky Friedman, from when Heller was hospitalized with Guillain-Barré syndrome, "a paralyzing and potentially fatal disorder."

During the long recovery process, Friedman remarked that Heller had “taken a turn for the nurse.”

Patience.

One of the many things that has afflicted our industry over the years is the diminishment of response or reaction time. We have trained ourselves, in this "visual" era, to respond almost instantaneously to the messages we see. Visuals, after all, evoke reactions. Immediate and visceral.

In times of yore, which were more word driven, reaction time was a bit slower. We had to read the eight, 10 or 15 words in a headline. Reading demanded thought. Thinking was more important than reaction.

So what has been lost along the way is patience and the appreciation of the way the mind works.

What I've noticed over the course of my last ten commercial shoots is that many people--art directors, mostly--want to jump on the director and make comments within the first few moments of a shot. They want everything immediately. They don't give things time to develop. They don't think, they react.

Patience, consideration, mulling are all necessary components of thought.

Reaction is just reaction.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A malady.

One thing I've noticed over the last couple decades in the business is that some people--in fact, some entire organizations, aren't wired the same way I am. When I have an idea or make a suggestion, these entities immediately say no. They don't even hear or consider what it is I've proposed.

Then after 48 or 72 hours or even a full week later, through some set of circumstances, the idea is played back to me--most often as if that idea was someone else's thought to begin with.

These people aren't evil, dumb or anything else.

They're just slow listeners.

It takes them a long time to hear.

A joke repurposed.

Three old ad executives are sitting alongside each other on a park bench. After a few minutes, the first one says "Oy." A couple minutes later another one speaks, "Oy vey," he says. Finally, the third exec speaks up, "I thought we agreed not to talk about the business."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

King Mithradates and advertising.


King Mithradates was a Pontic king who lived from 134 BC-63 BC, at which point he was killed by the Romans. Mithradates was a pretty crafty guy. It wasn't unusual for his fellow kings, in those days, to be poisoned. By their rivals, by enemies, by their kids, wives or concubines. Poisoning was all the rage and because of it, Kings did not generally live very long.

Mithradates hit upon the notion early on of taking a bit of a variety of poisons everyday. Before people understood toxicities and vaccinations and modern medicine, Mithradates was inuring himself from poisoning. He was building up his ability to withstand the real stuff in real doses when his number was called.

I think about Mithradates a lot.

Maybe if I watch five seconds of a shitty commercial everyday, if I sit through three minutes of fuck-stupid meetings, when my day of reckoning comes I will be able to withstand it.

Social media explained.

Joe Nocera has a valuable op-ed in today's "New York Times," about the Fed's unwillingness to punish the banks that raped and pillaged our economy. (How do the super wealthy accumulate great wealth? They steal it--bit by bit--from millions of ordinary people.) Well Fargo, which tries to look friendly and human via the smiling people in its commercials and the homey stagecoach of its logo, is charged with paying about $105 million in fines for the frauds and deceptions they've perpetrated. In the last quarter alone, their revenues were over $20 billion. That's a fine equally 1/800th of their annual revenue. A fine of $100 on a salary of $80,000.

But my point today isn't about the "malefactors of great wealth," it's about the very real feeling of powerlessness that exists in our society. Because we are, in fact, powerless, we have created and fallen for allusions that empower us.

We vote for pinheads on TV shows. We tweet and 'like' things on Facebook. We rate everything from grocery stores to the guy selling hotdogs on the corner.

All these activities make us feel like the world is not out of our control. That we have a voice. That we matter.

Of course, we don't.

Our political parties exist for the enrichment of the few. Corporations pay little tax and destroy the planet while enriching a few more. The so-called news exists of coverage of the trivial and promotion of other programs. (It seems like 1/3rd of the time I spend listening to NPR is reporters saying their names.)

I'm sorry if my hopelessness is a bit much this morning.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Advertising quotation of the day.

"When all is said and done, more will be said than done."

I just choked on a beautiful woman.



Everywhere you go in America people are grotesquely fat and grotesquely tattooed. They wear grotesque clothing that more often than not reveals some grotesque nether region of their body that you wish you hadn't seen.

But all over adville, people are thin, beautiful and well-dressed. They are adorned with megawatt smiles that helped fuel the wealth and well-being of thousands of orthodontists and botox provisioners.

All over the world, oil companies have fouled the air, land and sea. They have anointed tyrants to lead millions for billions of profits for the few.

Yet all over adville, oil companies are building greener futures. They are supporting the arts and education. They are helping shrimp fishermen and electrifying backwards third-world communities.

There are days when I see something so heinous, so embarrassingly bad (like the Sheraton shit above, or a Shell ad I saw in today's "New York Times") that I am ashamed to be in the business.

There are days when I feel like throwing bricks.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Going both ways.

Not too long ago I was employed as the head of the creative departments at two fairly sizable agencies. My days then were basically filled with a 30-minute meeting every 30 minutes: HR stuff, financial numbers, finding talent, and new business.

I was good at this kind of thing. My days went by in a busy blur. And I like to think I improved the places at which I worked and helped the careers of some of the people who worked for me.

Today, once again, I am a copywriter. Completely hands on. With no task too small or unimportant. On the shoot I've been on for the last week, it's my spots that are being produced. They're not sullied by supervision or too sullied by the vicissitudes of client mishigoss.

I think this might be the key to longevity. Work big. Work small. Work.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What price glory?

There's news in the trade press this morning about a Cannes-winning ad for KIA, the South Korean auto-maker, being stripped of its award on a mere technicality. That is, it never ran. You can read about it here, on AdFreak: http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/brazilian-shop-loses-cannes-lion-won-bogus-kia-pedophilia-ad-133576

The offenders here are not just the people who created and entered the bogus ad. The offenders include the administrators at Cannes who don't demand proof. They include the judges who obviously over-looked the phoniness of the effort. But most of all, the awards mania of our industry must be blamed.

We make "commercials," whether they're tv or print. That is, by definition, they should have commercial intent. There's nothing wrong with doing something artful, or highly creative in the pursuit of that intent.

But fake is fake.

It disgusts me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Small talk

I've always castigated myself for being a little socially awkward. I'm not much of a schmoozer. I'm not one who hangs out after work or goes out for beers. When I'm with clients, I'm not a big fan of chit-chat.

Now, I'm on the third day of a five-day shoot and a host of people are here from the agency and the client, and their all on a full-fledged gallop into small-talk-ville. I notice when this happens I am almost invariably off to one side. And like I said, I beat myself for lacking the requisite people skills.

But today I realized something, it's not that I suck at chatting people up. Or even that I don't give a damn. Which I don't. But the fact is, I am old-fashioned. I believe that work, well thought-out, and well-sold is what really matters.

I am focused on other things. I'll leave the tummling to others.

Alex Steinweiss, 1917-2011.







Alex Steinweiss, a guy I had never heard of died on Sunday, you can read his "New York Times" obituary here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/20/business/media/alex-steinweiss-originator-of-artistic-album-covers-dies-at-94.html?hpw

Steinweiss, according to the Times, invented the album cover. When the record industry made the transition from 78s to LPs, Steinweiss pleaded with his bosses at Columbia Records to do something with the covers. Before that “The covers were brown, tan or green paper. They were not attractive, and lacked sales appeal.”

Steinweiss designed covers for all sorts of records, and the label saw sales increase on some albums ninefold. According to Paula Scher: “It was such a simple idea, really, that an image would become attached to a piece of music. When you look at your music collection today on your iPod, you are looking at Alex Steinweiss’s big idea.”

Here's the part of the obit that really struck me: "Mr. Steinweiss left the music business at 55, when he realized his design ideas were out of step with the rock era."

Somewhere out there there's probably a hipster who's mocked the "coolness" of Steinweiss' designs. He's way uncool.

But he invented a form.

And that's pretty cool.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The past 14 months.

I am off this evening for a week on the left coast, shooting a campaign for my client with Errol Morris.

I've been working on the campaign for well over a year. I've lasted through three group account directors and a series of creative people who, once they saw the vicissitudes of this particular piece of business, packed their bags for purportedly sunnier, more ambient climes.

I've written, over the course of this year, something on the order of 200 scripts on this campaign. Probably half of those I showed the client. After all these months and scripts and meetings and disappointments, back in mid-May, they finally bought three. Those three, somehow survived the self-fulfilling prophecy we call testing and after some more sturm und drang around directors, casting and, mostly, budget, I'm on the way to shooting something.

I've learned a lot running through this client gauntlet. Or, better, I should say a lot of what I know and have always known has been confirmed over the past year.

1. Until someone can do things better than you can, you should do them yourself.
2. It's not dead if you keep fighting for life.
3. Keep coming back with something better. The best revenge is a better ad.
4. Know what you want and keep demanding it until you either a) get it or b) get fired. This is better than compromise.
5. Always do more than you're asked to do. Always try to sell more to your client than they've asked for.
6. Around everything you try to do there is a chorus of chatter that "wouldn't do it that way." It's best to ignore that chatter.
7. Hard work and persistence can overcome nearly anything.
8. It doesn't hurt to thank the client at the end of every meeting and phone call.
9. The people who have never done it before always say they know a better way to do it.
10. Stay away from breakfast burritos. You're way better off with a simple bowl of cornflakes and a banana.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The killer app.

Agencies from traditional to non-traditional are all trumpeting their up-to-dateness. They're built for the digital age. They understand the synchronization of media. The power of social. And so on.

In fact, agencies are getting stupider and stupider because they're looking at the wrong measure of what it takes to succeed today.

But first a true story, that happens to me about four times a year, if not more. I order something from Amazon. Two days later I get an email that tells me they're crediting my account 17-cents because the price of the items I bought decreased after I bought it.

Amazon is successful not because of interface design, creative, strategy or digital acumen. They're successful because they service the shit out of their customers, when and where it matters. You feel like they care.

Agencies do just the opposite.

They shortsightedly charge for every hour, regardless of the size of the retainer. There are no freebees, no experiments on the agency's dime that could help the client. We treat our clients as if we're postal employees. We keep them waiting. We're rude. We never go the extra mile.

The killer app isn't fucking Angry Birds, a mobile app, Web 9.7.

The killer app is caring.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thoughts from Comrade Lenin.

I happened upon a quotation the other day by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin that made me think of advertising and design. So much design influence now, so much of what we see online is clean and stark and spare. So much, to my content-hungry mind, appears free of depth and heft because it is so clean and stark and spare. So much looks the same because so few (especially those hungry for the glory of spurious award recognition) want to swim against the prevailing tide.

Now, to the quote. "Quantity has a quality of its own."

There are, in our business, products and services that have a lot to say, products that are involved and complex. Visually, a thousand words of copy says that you have something to say. It says, in many ways, you are experienced, expert, that you have a story to tell.

The shibboleth within agencies today is, as it has always been, that no one reads copy.

I think that's wrong.

You read this.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The sounds of morning.

I am in early this morning. I expect to see no "colleagues" for two hours. That's ok. I like the quietude and concentration the morning brings. I like getting in and doing the things I have to do, that, I believe, only I can do. I like the sounds of an empty office.

This morning I am in early to do a bit of freelance that's been uncharacteristically hanging over my head. I've been doing something I seldom do, procrastinating.

I pictured on my way in the blank piece of digital paper I will fill, with I hope, the right thoughts, words and emotions. I remembered back 20 years when we would clackety clack roll in a sheet of white paper into our Selectrics. I remember the reassuring whirr of the machine's motor and the rapid imprint from its type-ball. The ding at the end of a line of words and back again filling in another row.

Those sounds are gone now. My MacBook doesn't whisper me company. But that's ok. I have copy to write.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Electrical supply truck, NY, NY.

Are you still in Ad School?

When I was a kid in the business, there were basically two or three advertising schools where you could put your book together under the aegis or tutelage of someone actually working in the business. If you lived around New York, you went to the School of Visual Arts. If you lived on the west coast, you went to Art Center. Today, of course, there are dozens of schools where you can put your book together.

But to my mind, school doesn't matter, schooling does.

Over the past few months I've been involved in a variety of projects with a variety of notable creative people. What I've found, and this is obvious, is that it pays to shut the fuck up and see how they work.

None of the creative luminaries I've been working with are young. One has probably 60 years in the business, the other has probably around 40. Another also has been working 40 years or more. How do they approach things, how do they stay sane, how do they stay insane? What keeps them going? What keeps them fresh.

What I've found is watching these guys is an education, a symposium of sorts. They are my ad school.

My best friend's father, when asked how his day was always replied "Still laughing, still learning."

If you're not, something's wrong.

Monday, July 11, 2011

On Account of a Hat.

There’s a Yiddish short story by the brilliant Sholem Aleichim called “On Account of a Hat.” I thought about Aleichim’s story this morning when I sent out scripts with the word “final” attached to them. How stupid, arrogant, fantastic and un-godly it is to use that word in advertising.

In “On Account of a Hat,” a poor traveling salesman, Sholem Shachnah, in Tsarist Russia, telegrams his wife that he “will be home on Passover without fail.” Then, trouble begins. He loses his hat and mistakenly takes the hat of an important official. Suddenly, Sholem is treated by everyone with enormous respect, he’s called “Your Excellency,” seated in First Class accommodations. Finally, Sholem realizes his error, takes the train back to replace the official’s hat and in so doing, misses the train that would have got him home in time for Passover.

Eventually, the story of Sholem’s ordeal gets back to his hometown, and his wife gives him a very hard time. Not about his being away for the holiday or wearing the official’s hat. But about having sent a telegraph in which he promised to be home without fail. The adding of two unnecessary words was outrageous in her view, and besides, how could any human being claim to do anything without fail?

How can any human being in advertising use the unnecessary and outrageous word ‘final’?

Doing your job.

Too many people don't do their jobs because they do the job.

They do only what is asked of them or what is scoped or what the time allotted (by people who have never created an ad) allows. More often than not, there are branches that grow off the original assignment, there are ways to make the original task larger, broader, better for the client, the agency, your portfolio.

The client asks for one commercial, your job is to show them how they can shoot a campaign. Or the original commercial and some web content.

This is how good sales-people work. If I go to Barney's to buy some pants, a good salesman will show me shirts, belts, shoes and more. He's not being a goniff or a handler, he's being smart, helpful and ambitious. (goniff--Yiddish for thief; handler--Yiddish for peddler.) That is our job too.

Years ago an ECD I worked for berated a group of his creative directors this way. "I'm not mad that the worked sucks, I'm mad that our level of ambition has started to drop."

Our real job--whether you're a "creative" or in account, media, project management or make coffee in the coffee bar, is to keep your level of ambition high. To keep trying, keep pushing, keep selling.

That's the only way to succeed.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A light.

Last night we landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico at about two in the morning, picked up our rental car and began our hour long drive north to Santa Fe. We were weary, my producer and I, having been casting for two straight days under the intense view of our intense director, with not a moment's downtime or to ourselves.

We were driving north on interstate 25 when through the front windshield we saw an incredibly bright green light. Then a fire ball glowing greenish-orange with a long flamed tail streaked past us and hit the desert ground. We had seen a meteorite fly by up close.

There is a lot of bullshit in the world. You're not mad if your world view is pessimistic. So much seems wrong. Our problems as a species, and a nation seem, at times insurmountable. A meteorite glowing, pulsating and trailing flame, obviously, does not change any of that.

But it does remind you, forcibly, of the splendor and beauty of the world. That despite the greed and small mindedness of so many, despite rampant ugliness and cruelty, there is the incalculable and fascinating. There are pure occurrences where your imagination isn't hamstrung.

I am 53 years old and have never seen anything remotely like I saw last night. I may never see anything like it again. But let's not stop looking.

Thoughts from some casting sessions.

I've been all over hither and yon of late, casting for a bunch of commercials I am shooting. These spots will have fairly large casts--about 15 principals in each of the three spots, so we've seen, over the last couple of days literally hundreds and hundreds of actors.

If you're an actor, I imagine, casting is no picnic. You have about four seconds to make an impression. You stand on a strip of masking tape, you're asked your name, and you have to stand out. You have to get noticed. Be interesting. Intriguing. Funny. Or shocking.

In short, you have to do something.

Of course, this is precisely what we have to do with our work and in our jobs. There are a thousand other people competing for like assignments, or for the attention of viewers. To get noticed, it's simple, you have to do something.

There are a lot of people in our business who don't do. They are waiting for the perfect brief. They are waiting for ideal conditions. They are waiting for the planets to align.

I'm sorry.

You have to do something.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Myth.


There's a falsehood running through our industry that says that everyone is creative and collaboration amongst many people is how to arrive at an answer that is original, relevant and interesting. This falsehood, as near as I can determine, is propagated by the same people who give trophies to every little league participant, who festoon their home with their children's "art work," and who believe that everyone is above average.

The simple fact of the matter is that some people--a few--don't fit neatly onto bell curves. You find them way off to the right, the top 10% of the top 1%.

These people mitigate the notion that because everyone at all times carries with them digital image capturing tools, everyone is a photographer or a director. They're not.

Just as everyone cannot write.
Or even spell.

Frankly, I'm tired of this plasticized egalitarianism. It's saccharin sweet. It turns a lot of mediocrities into pontificators and participators when they should be in a back-office somewhere filing.

Anyone can take a picture of a fork.

There was only one man, Andre Kertesz, who could turn a fork into a sculpture.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Are we not tomatoes?

There's a book review in today's "New York Times" that is about tomatoes but is really about creativity. You can read it here. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/06/books/tomatoland-barry-estabrooks-expose-review.html?hpw The meat of the matter is that the tomato-industrial complex through its size, strength and dominant market position has changed the tomato fundamentally and for the worst.

Winter tomatoes, almost all those sold in America, come from the nutrient-free sandy soil of southern Florida. There, to compensate for the lack of sustenance they get naturally, these hard greenish-pink balls--uniformly sized for efficient packing--are grown in soil pumped full of chemical fertilizers... [they] can blast the plants with more than 100 different herbicides and pesticides, including some of the most toxic in agribusiness’s arsenal.

"...It’s no wonder generations of Americans have grown up thinking tomatoes were a fraud perpetrated by God, their parents or Taco Bell. I remember biting into one of these objects in a salad and thinking: Now there’s a supposedly tasty thing I’ll never eat again."

Much of the work we create in our industry is similarly synthetic, artificial and tasteless. But it will last long on a shelf. It is infused with dumbness like "rule the air," or "I like it in the can." It is offensive in its lack of taste. It reflects poorly on all associated with it.

(99% of Hollywood is no different. Advertising and other "creative" pursuits are industrialized. Humanity with all its quirks and nuance has been removed as thoroughly as a less than round aberrant tomato.)

Rage against the tomato. Rage against airlines calling certain seats "comfort plus," (what are their other seats? Comfort minus?) Rage against the dumb, prescribed and tepid.

Have we, thanks to HR and their proscriptions, thanks to our worries about staying employed become like industrial tomatoes? We're uniform. We don't dent. We are artificial. And tasteless.

It's time to fall off the truck and seek to ripen in the sun.

Parallel universes.

In the United States yesterday, an alleged murderess was acquitted of killing her child. That opened up the floodgates on Facebook and other "tabloids." It was all people are talking about. Last week I saw Errol Morris' new movie "Tabloid," which documented the "stranger than fiction" doings of alleged kidnapper Joyce McKinney and the attendant media frenzy.

What struck me about both of these cases is that I had heard not a thing about them. I suppose because I regarded them as tabloid gossip, side-shows that crowd out real news, neither case made it onto my radar screen.

It occurred to me watching a bit of television last night that in advertising we have a similar situation. The airwaves are clogged with women singing to Swiffer mops or rubbing their wrists with arthritis pain. What appears on TV--real advertising--has little to do with that strange parallel universe that appears in awards shows.

What we've constructed in life and in our industry is an Empire of Illusion. This is a state where an elite few govern. These elites don't work on things like mops or sale ads. They work on things you never see. Then they fly to conferences where they speak to other members in their closed circle. Then they judge their own work in awards shows.

When I was a kid I had some friends who would play wiffle ball in a park around my house with an oversized bat that looked like a caveman's club. They could swat the ball a mile with that mallet. But there was no correlation to hitting with that bat and hitting with a real bat.

I suppose it made them feel good and powerful.

But it was fundamentally meaningless.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

One minute of joy.

video
Kino, the film archivists are releasing some early Buster Keaton shorts. If your Tuesday is feeling like a Monday, as mine is, this minute-long clip might perk you up again. As Preston Sturges once famously said, "a pratfall is better than anything."

John Coltrane on advertising.


There was an article and a wonderful slide show in Sunday's "New York Times," on the house in which jazz great John Coltrane wrote "A Love Supreme." You can read, and see the whole thing here, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/03/opinion/sunday/03sun4.html?scp=2&sq=john%20coltrane&st=cse but I thought I'd pick out a few sentences from a particularly well-written article.

"There is a ranch house out in the middle of Long Island, just south of the expressway in Dix Hills, where the saxophonist John Coltrane lived, started a family and composed “A Love Supreme” in the spare bedroom. The album is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving by a man who found peace and God after alcohol and heroin. It is the work that helped make Coltrane a jazz immortal.

"While it will live on, the house is another story. It has been empty about seven years. The bricks are crumbling. The raccoons have been evicted, but not the termites. Lexan panels cover the windows; a fan blows futilely to keep down the mold. That’s about as far as the restoration goes."

As our industry spends its energy chasing awards, it's worth thinking about the mutability and transitory-ness of what we do.

Our work, with one or two exceptions that perhaps break in to popular culture, will not last. Our houses will not turn into shrines.

The best we can do is do our best. Comport ourselves with integrity. Listen well and try to do well for our clients, our agencies and ourselves. Also, we can try to be mensches. Help young people. Help them get jobs. Help them learn.

A friend of mine wrote me about a year ago. She knew I had worked for Hall of Famer Ron Rosenfeld. She was in a second-hand store in Williamsburg and stumbled upon an old corrugated box full of his ancient awards. Did I want them?

They were being sold for a dollar each.

Monday, July 4, 2011

One word.

Dave Trott has a post today about shooting, early in his career, with the great director Alan Parker. http://www.cstthegate.com/davetrott/2011/07/do-it-then-fix-it-2/

It made me think back about a decade ago, when I had the great good fortune of shooting a television campaign for IBM personal computers with the director Tony Kaye.

There wasn't much of an idea behind our spots. We were trying to capture that moment when people actually hold a ThinkPad and see how wonderful it is. Accordingly, our spots were unscripted, though my partner and I had formed a list of a couple dozen questions to elicit reactions from "real" people.

Tony and I, for whatever reason, hit it off. He would barely talk to anyone else on location but he kept me literally by his side for 12 hours a day.

We were shooting film in those days and you had to change the film magazine about every seven minutes. That meant Tony would talk to me every seven minutes. "What do you want them to say," he would press me.

"The machine is beautiful," I would answer, "it feels more solid, more elegantly put together than I expected."

"One thing," he would reply, his nose just inches from mine, his eyes staring unblinkingly.

I would again attempt to answer in a sentence.

He would cut me off.

"One thing."

As the four days of shooting wore on, I began to get the hang of answering him. I would answer in one word.

There's nothing that forces you to reduce and eliminate the extraneous like having to coalesce it into a single word.

When we were done shooting, Tony thanked me for my one-word answers.

I thanked him for making me work harder and think better than I ever had before in my life.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Empty office, 9:07 AM.

As I have written many times, I cannot for the life of me figure out why people—and it’s not just creative people either, can’t get in by 9 in the morning.

But punctuality isn’t the point I’m going to try to make today.

Today’s post is about having a plan.
It’s about showing up for work with an idea of what you want to accomplish that day.
About how you’re going to do something that’s good for your client.
Or good for your agency.
Or good for you.
Or, best yet, good for all three.

Too many people, most people that is, come into work and let work come to them.
They wait for assignments.
They wait to be told what to do.
Instead of figuring out what needs to be done.

You’ll never get if you don’t ask.
Ask for more.
Ask for smarter.
Ask for better.
Or better yet, as they say, just do it.
Figure out why it’s needed.
How to sell it.
Why the client can’t live without it.
Think it.
Do it.
Sell it.
Succeed.

Sound like a plan?