Sunday, September 30, 2012

We did it to ourselves, Part II.

You can't really have a conversation these days about publishing, newspapers, advertising and a host of other industries without hearing that those industries are dead.

Let's start with a quotation from Mitt Romney from back in 1985. A quotation that will provide a bit of context: "Bain Capital’s mission was to 'invest in start-up companies and ongoing companies, then to take an active hand in managing them and, hopefully, five to eight years later, to harvest them at a significant profit.'”

That's a fancy way of saying, we'll come in, cut costs, take huge fees, have the company ship huge amounts of cash to headquarters, and then when they are skeletal, we'll sell them again or let them go belly up. In the meantime, the money people (private equity, holding companies) have gotten huge amounts of money out of the muscle and sinew of the company they own. They are not about long-term value. They are about taking cash out of a cash cow--picking at it until it's nothing more than a dessicated carcass.

This, in a nutshell, is how our economy (indeed, our financial system) finds itself in $1.6 trillion of debt. Giant, politically-connected companies--Halliburton, General Electric, Raytheon--take trillions out. The carcass is picked clean.

I'm not convinced there's anything wrong with the advertising industry--fundamentally wrong. The money it makes is still there. It's just made by people not from the industry.

If you think about the great fortunes made by the wealthy since the beginning of time, they are almost always made from "extractive" industries. Mining and drilling, primarily. Their technique is take everything out at the lowest cost possible and when nothing is left, move on.

It's happening to us.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

We did it to ourselves.

About 20 years ago, I guess, advertising took a dramatic turn for the worse.

We stopped doing comps, tissues and storyboards.

And started setting type, finding stock and making rips.

We sold our clients, en masse, that re-hashed, re-used and re-heated was creative. The idea no longer mattered. What mattered was not what was presented but how it was presented.

This is now accepted as the norm.

But wait.

Things have gotten even worse.  And again, we've done it to ourselves.

Now, when we show work internally, we need to make sure it looks beautiful. We forget, once again about what we're communicating. We care only about what it's wrapped in.

We spend more time working on an internal presentation deck than we do on the idea. We have scores of art-directors combing stock sites.

We drop shadows. We retouch. We create effects and make type move.

We trained first our clients and then ourselves to value form over function.

None of this has produced better work.

Just tighter comps.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Age and fertility.

Yesterday my friend Tom pointed me in the direction of this site http://www.nfb.ca/film/buster_keaton_rides_again which plays a 1965 documentary called "Buster Keaton Rides Again."

Keaton has always been my favorite silent star. Moreso than Chaplin, Lloyd, Chase and even Laurel and Hardy. Maybe it's that my younger daughter was born on his birthday. Maybe its his pratfalls and physical comedy mixed with his essential sadness.

I found the documentary interesting because of Keaton's fervor. In it he is 66 years old. And he's outraged that his director isn't listening to his ideas for the right gag.

Keaton is old.

But he has lost none of his fire.

Like Alain Resnais, the great French Director who was nominated for the Palme d'Or this year at the age of 91. 57 years after his seminal "Night and Fog."

Age has no meaning to the fertile mind.

Fertile agencies should take note.

--
The picture above is of Anna Magnani, the great Italian actress who famously said:
“Please don't retouch my wrinkles. It took me so long to earn them.”

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The replacement refs and us.

I am not, thank god, a football fan.

I find nothing interesting about hormone and steroid juiced thyroid cases trying to kill each other. The game is lawless, violent and cruel. And, to my mind, places a premium on those attributes.

Nevertheless, the recent imbroglio between the National Football League owners (billionaires) and   referees (who max out making just under $140K) can be looked upon as a metaphor for what's happened to business in general and advertising in particular.

Here are some things to consider.

The NFL generated nine-billion-dollars of revenue last year.

The refs wanted an extra three million in pay and benefits.

1/3 of 1%.

The NFL acted as if all its workers are merely interchangeable parts. If they could have out-sourced refereeing to a clan of Bengalis, they would have.

That's much the same way the mega-rich in general see the world.

Last year the cumulative net worth of the 400 richest people in America rose by $200 billion. $500 million/person.

While the Census Bureau reports that median household income fell by 4%.

In advertising we are the working dopes, the "referees."

The owners (we know who they are) think the people who have made them rich are interchangeable parts. They don't understand what we do. How the talent, industry and brains we have add to the integrity of the advertising game. Like real refs add integrity to their game.

So our salaries go down instead of up.

Our job security is non-existent.

We are treated less-well than farm animals. Crammed into cattle pens. Berated by HR. And so on.

The game degrades.

But with ours, no one cares.



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yom Kippur.

Today is the Holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur.

And while I don't believe in any supreme being or the hoary ritual of the liturgy, I have always regarded this day as special.

It's a day where you're meant to reflect. To atone for the myriad sins, slights, miscreances and stupidities you have committed over the last 12 months.

Jews have been doing this for over 5,000 years.

Since the Earth was created, pretty much, if you're a creationist. Or a Republican presidential candidate.

We reflect.

This year, as in some other years, I have had to work.

I am shooting for the next two weeks, and to paraphrase a Con Ed slogan from the 60s, "Shoot We Must."

As for reflection, we should reflect everyday.

Not be so fast.

Not be so smart.

Think about what we do.

Think about how we act.

How we treat people.

Think about how to be a better person. More fulfilled. Richer, and not just in a monetary sense.

To paraphrase another line from the '60s, "You don't have to be Jewish."

I feel bad about working this day.

It's a day when Jews should, even if they're atheists like I am--anti-religion, actually, assert their rights to be Jewish. To take a day off. A day of rest and reflection.

But this year, I'm working.

And what's more Jewish than that?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A night in California.

Tonight I am taking Metrolink train 318 from the California ex-urb of Claremont, the town in which my younger daughter Hannah goes to college, to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. The train is sounding its whistle every 45 seconds or so, because the trains run through various towns at street level.

I remember a great bit of dialogue from Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," a conversation between George Bailey and his Uncle Billy.

GEORGE:  You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?
BILLY:  Uh huh. Breakfast us served, lunch is served, dinner...
GEORGE: No, no, no, no! Anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.


Tonight, it's constant train whistles and, as we pull into a dirty California town, the hollow clanging of bells warning off cars and that almost extinct California species, pedestrians.

We are speeding past West Covina, past neon towns and waving fields of asphalt. A Toyota dealership the size of Rhode Island. The landscape is a cyclotron of fast food joints accelerating into each other like something out of particle physics. 

The whistle blasts a sound from the 19th Century. 

But there is no going back.

Making sense of email.

In ancient times, papyrus, the preferred surface for writing was expensive. Even the alternative to papyrus, a clay tablet was costly. As a consequence, for financial reasons people were compelled to think before they sent someone a note.

Today, sending a note is, by all ostensible measures free. You no longer need paper, pen, an envelope and a stamp. You just dash it off (why even bother with proofreading--that's so archaic.) Therefore all of us get hundreds and hundreds of emails a day. Most of which we can't be bothered with because they impart no useful information.

As the "brand steward" of the client I work on, I am supposed to see everything that goes out that could impact the brand. i.e. I'm meant to make sure everything that goes to a network, even if it is as inconsequential as a video billboard doesn't look like shit.

So, the network people send me all the crap their creative departments create. Today I was cc'd on 42 separate emails. Including a few that read like this: "FYI, that code in the attachment, ALFI0043000 is actually already attached to a logo we already have on file, so it would probably be best to just create a new code and start fresh. Again, it can definitely start with ALFI, I think that makes perfect sense, as far as the numbers that come after, if you want to come up with something that’s fine, or I can definitely come up with something if you need. Let me know what you’d like to do, thanks."

If I ever start my own agency, or ever run one again, I will likely institute an hour or two of mandatory training on how to use email. The training will consist of just a few questions:

1. Is everything spelled correctly?
2. Will the content matter to the reader?
3. If action is required, have you stated so clearly with timing?
4. Do all the people receiving your email need to receive your email?

I think if people asked themselves these questions we could probably all leave work about two hours early.

Tannenbaum's Adjunct.

Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian, had a typically wonderful post yesterday about, among other things, clarity of language--both written and verbal.

Hoffman's Law, if I may call it that, was simple. "If someone is saying something you don't understand...chances are he's full of shit."

You can read the Ad Contrarian's full post here: http://adcontrarian.blogspot.com/2012/09/speaking-so-as-not-to-be-understood.html

Despite the Ad Contrarian's thoroughness, however, it occurred to me that there's a corollary to Hoffman's Law that he might have missed. I'll call it Tannenbaum's Adjunct. 

It goes like this: "If someone is promulgating a media you've never used, chances are he's full of shit."

We have heard over the years about all kinds of things that will change everything. I can't keep track of them anymore. Wasn't it just a year ago Google+ was going to clean Facebook's clock? How many hours have been squandered over "syndicated content" no one sees, Facebook ads, the monetization of fucking Twitter.

It's all turned out to be, paraphrasing former Vice President Alben Barkley, a bucket of warm piss.
--
On my flight out to LA I got upgraded to Business Class and had a nice chat with the winsome young ad rep sitting next to me. She worked, she was quick to tell me, for a start-up (highly capitalized) called "Bubbletising." They can imprint in a carbonated bubble two syllables of sound. 

So when you drink a Pepsi, every carbonated bubble as it bursts can chime "Pepsi." Likewise "Drink Coke." "Bud Light," and so on.

"Why," I asked "would this be effective? It would annoy the crap out of me."

She assured me that "this will change everything."

Monday, September 24, 2012

A breathtakingly self-effacing post all about me.

As I have written in this space many times before, I started Ad Aged during a bout of unemployment as a way to keep my name in front of prospective employers and also as a way of asserting that I was a "voice" in the industry.

It never occurred to me, really, that I was "branding" myself. Or creating "George, the brand."

About a year ago, almost to the day, I posted a bit of a talk by then-CEO of IBM, Sam Palmisano. In it he remarked that too many people (he specifically mentioned CEOs) are more interested in cultivating their personal brands than in doing really important work. His criterion for success, by contrast, was leaving the company a better place than he found it, which he clearly did.

I think, over the course of the last fifteen or twenty years where I was senior enough to make a difference, I have left everywhere I've worked a better place than when I started. And I've done the same for clients.

That's been the extent of my "personal branding." Doing work that's good for the agency and the client. Speaking directly to both clients and agency management. And along the way helping young people who work for me.

I've never taken to signing my emails with something like this: ::, or writing in all lower case, or cultivating three-days-growth and saying "spot on" and "brilliant" to people. As Popeye said, "I yam what I yam." And that's about all I can do.

That said, I was recognized over the weekend as an "Online Allstar." http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/183483/online-all-star-creative-george-tannenbaum.html And it would be even too self-effacing for me, a self-effacing Jew, not to mention it. (BTW, Jews have turned self-effacement into high art and I could probably teach a course in it at the New School--except it would be non-self-effacing to.)


Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Senate and advertising.

In 1951, the most popular man in America was relieved of his command of US forces in Korea by one of the least popular Presidents in American history. Truman fired MacArthur for disobeying orders from his Commander-in-Chief, for forgetting that in the United States, the military is meant to be under civilian control.

For some long, perilous periods it looked like America was teetering on the brink of becoming a South American banana republic. It looked like there was the potential, literally, for a military coup. There was a mass outpouring that MacArthur should usurp the President and take the presidency and that Truman was a traitor and should be impeached.

Telegrams to the US Senate were running over 100-1 in favor of MacArthur. Old Washington hands were truly worried about the future of our American democracy. (BTW, if you're interested in a Hollywood version of this story, get your hands on the John Frankenheimer movie "Seven Days in May," which stars the great Burt Lancaster as the usurping general James Mattoon Scott and Kirk Douglass as his adversary Jiggs Casey. If that isn't enough star-power for you, Ava Gardner plays the love interest, Fredrick March plays the President and Martin Balsam plays the President's "fixer.")

In any event, MacArthur was given the floor of the US Senate to promulgate his message. That he should have had his way, invaded China, taken on the Russians, used nuclear weapons, to finish the "police action" in Korea. And that Truman and the State Department (in particular Secretary of State Dean Acheson) were in the thrall of communists.

The Senate heard and cross-examined MacArthur. It cross-examined each member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And in so doing the bloom fell off MacArthur's rose. He was widely discredited as a fanatical kook.

Here's my point. The Senate, as conceived by Alexander Hamilton, was meant to be a deliberative body. It was meant to be a group of people who pushed themselves away from the dinner table and gave themselves time to digest the issues of the day. It was meant to be a counter-balance to the whims and caprices of popular sentiments and notions. It was meant to balance out the House which is more susceptible to the mood of the nation. In other words, the Senate was meant to provide distance. A long view.

I often wonder who in agencies today has a long view. Who does not fall prey to the trend-du-jour. Who can measure, weigh and really think through an issue.

At the highest order of what agencies can do--when they are truly partnered with a client who wants a partnership--is provide guidance to a client to help them define their place in our market and our minds.

Brands should not chase trends like a hyper-active puppy chasing its tail. They should have principles and stand by them.

A real true "agent" of a client will help secure that.

There's too little of that in advertising today.

From clients and from agencies.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Thank you.

In my five years of writing Ad Aged I have always tried to express myself with utter honesty. I've tried to pull no punches. Outside of never flat-out mentioning where I work or what clients I work on, I try my best to "call 'em as I see 'em."

Over the years I've removed a total of two posts. One because someone was afraid a client would recognize themselves and one because I acted stupidly and disparaged someone in a way I shouldn't have.

At times I realize my posts can be abrasive. Damning both the industry and by application the agency where I am working.

For all that, and perhaps due to Ad Aged's resolute unpopularity my agency doesn't try to either stifle or silence me. In their wisdom they recognize that one can both complain and be positive about work. I know it's hard, sometimes, to hold such contradictory positions at once.

I appreciate it.

And thank you.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jack Nicholson and creatives.

As a child of the '60s and '70s and a natural-born contrarian, I grew up "questioning authority." Especially fauxthority, of the clipboard toting, watch-checking, penny ante martinet sort.

A generation and a half ago this scene spoke to us--a depiction of rules and petty bullshit gone mad.

Today, real creatives are Jack.

video
We all know too many waitresses.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Here's to the...

I've been angry of late.

Hardly, coming from me, a newsworthy statement.

I've been angry that the ratio between the doers and the meeting makers, the blowhards, second-guessers, the theorists, the prescription writers and more, has fundamentally changed.

In other words there are about six people around each assignment that don't do anything but "manage" the assignment.

They don't advance the ball.

They dont't add value.

They don't make my life easier.

They certainly don't make the agency more profitable...there are too many of them for that.

Remember this:  "Here's To The Crazy Ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world - are the ones who DO !"

Today it could be written like this: "Here's to the Serious Ones. The conformists. The rules-followers. The rules-makers. The timesheet police. The ones who see things as best practices. They love rules and they punish violations of the status-quo. You can salute them, grovel to them, kiss the hems of their garments. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they're the people who run agencies. Because they approve your billability. They get you canned for being "difficult." They push creative work backward. And while some may see them as the solution, we see a problem. Because the people officious enough to rule agencies are the ones who do."

A 10-second video billboard.

I've been asked by one of my account people (whom I hereby dub 'the princess of pain') to look at some "video billboards" that come to us from the networks as "value add" for having spent media dollars.

"What do these need to say?" I asked her.

She replied, "Ron and I are developing a creative POV."

Writing these 10-second static billboards is not way up in the pantheon of challenges. Almost 30 years ago, before I had any experience in the business, I had to do a bunch of these. That was a good thing. It helped me learn to time words.

Today, of course, there are no juniors left. And people who make good money come up with things called "creative POVs."

Back to the 10-second billboard.

We don't need a POV.

We need some actual words.

They took about 10 seconds to write.



Election commentary from Randy Newman.

video

Is there hope for the world?

Much of what we see and read--about violence, intolerance, the spectre of an environmental holocaust, the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots and so much more could lead us all to conclude that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket and if we're not facing global annihilation, well then, we're pretty damn close to it.

We can also look at our own industry and see horrors. We can bemoan the lack of jobs and the lack of job security. We can rue the decline in creative quality. We can go on about the general stupidity and cupidity of our business.

We can do all that and spend a lot of time doing so.

I suppose doing so is our right and our prerogative.

But, of course, there are other ways of looking at things. Here are two for instances.

60 years ago for all intents and purposes black people couldn't vote in our country. They couldn't live where they chose and go to school where they wanted to. In many precincts they couldn't check into a hotel, eat in a restaurant, go see a movie, or use a toilet.

Today, things are by no means perfect, and there are legions of people who would like to take us back, but things have--for all the problems that still remain--undeniably improved.

40 years ago we had lead in our gasoline and tons of PCBs were being dumped into our waters. The air isn't clean today and neither is the water. But it is better. Positive people have been a positive force for positive change.

Even in advertising, an industry beset by seismic changes, people are eager, people are working hard, people are trying new things.

Tonight I am in LA on business and I took a long cab ride to see my daughter who is in college out here--in an idyllic town about an hour east of LA. My cabdriver was a 24-year-old Moroccan who was working his way through college on his way to getting a degree in computer engineering. He studies all day and drives all night.

My daughter is similarly hard-working and ambitious. And she's willing to face down all sorts of obstacles on her way to becoming a marine biologist. Or a scuba teacher. Or something.

My two cents says that the world sucks in many horrific ways.

But as long as people like tonight's cabdriver and my daughter and...you...keep trying to do something good with your life, there's hope.




Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Aunt Louise.

I suppose every family has at least one, a family member who, like Lenny in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" was kicked in the head by a horse when he or she was young. In my family, I guess it was my cousin Marc, who was a suicide about 30 years ago, slitting his wrists in a bathtub and letting his blood mix slowing, inexorably with the warm bath water.

In my wife's family, it is Aunt Louise, who lives alone in a now Puerto Rican neighborhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Aunt Louise isn't a bad woman, she's harmless, actually, but now that she's pushing 80, she pretty much helpless too. Most people in the family can't take too much of Aunt Louise but my wife has a heart of gold and she had the old lady is over last night for Rosh Hashana dinner.

Mostly when Louise is over I let her talk without me saying too much. She's a woman without a great deal of intellectual resources and spends much of her time alone, so when she's out, you're bound to get a few hours of stream of consciousness. Enough to make you wish you were unconscious.

Nevertheless, regardless of how insipid and painful the evening, there are things we as humans must do for other humans. So we have Aunt Louise over. We show her pictures of the kids. We take her for a walk in the park near our apartment that overlooks the river. We even put together a care package so she has something home-cooked once in a while.

Even Uncle Slappy, who likes to be the center of attention when he is up from Boca, willingly played second fiddle last night. He's no fan of Aunt Louise, but like my wife, he's a warm, compassionate person. As important he understands that warmth and compassion make us more, not less, human.

Most people don't watch old movies like I do. And if they do, maybe they regard a great director like Frank Capra as saccharine and sentimental. I think in "The New Yorker's" review of "It's a Wonderful Life," they said the movie had a "cast-iron charm."

Nevertheless there's a bit from Capra's highly-relevant 1939 classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," in which Jimmy Stewart excoriates the Senate for being callous and greedy. He says, "I wouldn't give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn't have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a little looking out for the other fella, too."

Today, I'm sorry, we seem all about rules and nothing about kindness. And looking out for the other fella? Well, in the words of Budd Schulberg's Sammy Glick, "going through life with a conscience is like driving with your brake on."

Morale II.

I've been steadily employed in the advertising business since the early years of the Reagan administration and since that time have worked, not counting freelance, at a dozen agencies. Over the years I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about what makes some agencies successful and other agencies simply suc.

Some anonymous dickweed posted a comment on my post yesterday entitled "Morale." He seems to think that the only alternative to being treated like shit at an agency is--his words-- to "quit."

This notion--which affects all of America, not just the advertising industry is rampant today. It's the idea that little things that show people they matter are not cost-effective. That showing people consideration for the hard-work they do is somehow a sign of corporate weakness. That treating people with dignity and respect is anti-competitive.

Experience tells me the opposite is true. Agencies that call someone personally when they're instrumental in winning a piece of business tend to be agencies that produce great work and retain great people. Agencies that show that they care, which can be reflected in hundreds of different ways, are often agencies that do the best work.

In short, penny-pinching is costly.

Most agencies and the holding companies that rule them with an iron spreadsheet, don't realize this truest of truisms.

They think you can bludgeon people into some sort of anesthetized morale.

They think morale is when everyone believes "they're just lucky to have a job."


Monday, September 17, 2012

Morale.

I've been at or near the top of enough agencies to have been made to sit in countless meetings where stuffed shirts of various sorts (and the creatives they summon to their side, especially when they themselves don't have a clue) discuss things like agency culture, morale and retention rates.

I've heard all sorts of proposals to accomplish said tasks, but all I've ever said in response to such ideas is this: you're pissing into the wind. What you're proposing, beer on Thursdays, comp-time for weekend work, etc. doesn't amount to a hill of beans. They might make you feel better. You can report to whomever you report to that you've put together a 10-point plan. But in the real world of despairing agency morale, they'll work as well as a Senegalese state internet provider.

Here's the thing. Simple and to the point.

If you want to improve morale in your agency, it costs some money.

You don't put senior creative people in "economy" seats on the red-eye and expect them to go to client meetings within hours of the time they land.

If you want to squeeze everything out of them like a Polish washerwoman wringing the water out of a hand-towel, all your "morale" initiatives aren't worth a bucket of warm piss.

If you want me to work at near coronary levels, at least have the decency to pony up a couple hundred bucks and put me in business class.

As you would if you really gave a rat's sphincter about morale.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Uncle Slappy goes across town.

Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie are up for the High Holy Days. They arrived yesterday from Boca and won't be leaving until the day after Yom Kippur, so in total they'll be with us for a dozen days. I won't complain, after all, there's never a dull moment when they are here.

Tonight for the celebratory meal for once my wife didn't cook. Her brother had invited us over to his apartment on the west side and he and his girlfriend handled the culinary chores. As Yogi Berra may or may not have said, we should have stood in bed.

Uncle Slappy was polite throughout the meal, but once we got into the cab to go home, he was non-stop.

He started as he usually does with a loaded question.

"They have some ordinance on the west side against serving food hot?" he began. "And the brisket looked like it was cut with a hatchet, not a knife."

I tried to temper the old man's anger. "They tried, Uncle Slappy."

Slappy returned my attempt with the fury of a Serena Williams forehand.

"Try, try. The food tasted like what they serve in the basement of a synagogue. When the schvartzes cook for the entire congregation."

I admitted it left something to be desired.

"You remember the Galloping Gourmet?" Slappy asked. "Well they have something in common with him. The food tasted like it was made by a horse."

At this point the cab was nearing my apartment. I looked over to Slappy and thought I saw a tear, an actual tear in his eye.

"A piece of cake, they could have served. I diet all year so I can have a piece of cake on Rosh Hashanah. Strawberries, feh."

We entered my apartment. I immediately brewed Slappy and Sylvie coffee the way they like it, strong like Turkish coffee.

"We have some cake, Uncle Slappy. Seven-layer or cinnamon babka."

Again I thought I saw a tear.

I gave the old man a small schtickel of each. And then seconds.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Last night on the water.

For the last 67 years people on Martha's Vineyard, an island off the coast of Cape Cod a little more than double the size of Manhattan Island--the 58th largest island in the US and the third largest in the east, have held an annual Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. 3,000 people are expected to participate over the five weeks of the Derby and more than 100 prizes are awarded to fishers everyday.

The Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby which began at 12:01 AM on September 9th, has been called one of the great saltwater fishing tournaments in the northeast, attracting people from all over the country, swelling the population of the island still in the midst of its recovery from the summer tourist highs.

Whiskey, my five-month old golden retriever and I couldn't make the Derby. Whiskey has dreams of ducks and rabbits to attend to and I, sadly, have the daily crush of work and responsibility. There's no time for me to pack a satchel with my clothes and a bag of Whiskey's kibble and head north to ply the chilling waters off the Cape.

Instead last evening, Whiskey and I headed down to the East River and take a long, calming walk along the short, turbulent waters. The East River is not really a river at all. It's a tidal estuary that connects the waters of the Long Island Sound to the more open waters of the New York bay and the Atlantic beyond.  By some predetermined twist of instinctual fate, some percentage of blues and stripers head south, east of Long Island, past Montauk and others, presumably in lesser numbers, head south, west of Long Island, down through the East River on their way down to Florida after a summer up north.

The stripers and blues migrate by night, spending their days feeding on anything they can get their maws on, including themselves. Blue fish in particular are fierce fish, and fiercely cannibalistic. When they are feeding, which is often, they will sometimes create a "bluefish blitz" in which thousands of them will churn up the water as they go after menhaden and other unfortunate bait fish.

Last night, down by the river, on the lower portions of the East River park which is just a yard or two at high tide above the turbid waters, the promenade was lined with burly Puerto Ricans with beaten old rods, hoping to catch the migrating fish. The Puerto Ricans usually bring out two or three rods which, once they cast their bait into the river, they bungee cord to the wrought iron lest they get a bite that hauls their untended tackle into the drink.

Then, their rods secured, they gather in small groups and smoke cigarettes and reefers or drink beer and gab animatedly through the night. There are some solitary Puerto Ricans who swim away from the larger schools. They sit on either emptied cat-litter buckets or on the wooden-slatted benches that line the sea wall.

I stopped by one of the lone fisherman and decided to have a chat if he would have me. He was a short man, Pete his name, and he was wearing an old grey sweatshirt against the early autumn night and a black baseball cap with large gold type on it which read in all caps, "Vietnam Veteran." I recognized him as one of the quiet men who live in the basement apartments in the tenement buildings on my block. He started the conversation.

"Whiskey," he said, "she has gotten big."

"She's almost 30 pounds now," I replied. "She's a good dog." I shifted gears. "Have you caught anything."

"Yes, I have gotten two little ones. But I have thrown them back. I want mas grande. Last night the big fish came in around four or five. One man caught a 14-pound fish."

"That's a big one," I responded.

"I am done for the night," he said. "I am old and cannot stay all night like the young ones."

"Me, I cannot sleep. And Whiskey likes the walk."

Pete un-bungeed his rods from the cast-iron, he broke them into sections, emptied sea-water from his cat litter bucket and we walked home together, the three of us.

When we got to the front of his building we stopped and said goodnight.

"Will you be out tomorrow night," I asked.

"Like you," he said, "I must."

He descended his steps, unbolted his door and went, I suppose, to sleep in his apartment below the street.

Friday, September 14, 2012

People for whom the deepest ring of hell is reserved.

You bust your ass doing the work.
Actually doing it.
Preparing the deck.
Presenting the work in the meeting.
Selling the work.
Selling the work again.
Selling the work again again.

They say nothing.
Nothing.
Nothing.
Nothing through the whole meeting.

They do nothing.
Until they get back in the office and send out a note to the "powers,"
that reads, "We did great!"

--
For whatever reason, the photo above seemed appropriate to this post.


Freelance smilers.

Because of my ineffable ineffableness, I was recently asked to help out a strategic-planning friend on a launch she was working on. Friendships are friendships, but money is honey, and once I got my terms, I was happy to lend all ten digits.

Maybe some of the worst freelance you can accept is when you partner with someone from a client's in-house "creative" department. Often these people are prisoners of knowing too well the tastes, proclivities, likes and dislikes of the "client."

No matter what you say or do, the work you strive for winds up looking like an in-flight video. That is, smiling people, happy faces.

Having been burned in the past, I have a couple of rules about accepting freelance.

I have high "start-up" costs. That is, I won't do something unless it can make a material difference in my life or my daughters'.

And I insist on getting half my money up-front.

Even so, it's hardly ever worth it.

Especially when everyone's smiling.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

How to present.

I've told this story before but I believe it bears repeating. Because our industry is over-run by people who can't take yes for an answer.

Years ago I went to a parents' open house at my daughters' pre-school. There was a question and answer period with the head of the school presiding.

One woman got up and said words to this effect:

"Before my kid got here her art work sucked.

"After she left here, her art work sucked.

"But while she was here, her art work was great. What's your secret?"

The head of school replied sharply, "Oh, we know when to take the paper away."

The key to successful client meetings is taking the paper away. Present your work. Say your piece. Hear the response. Then fold up your bag and leave.

Nothing good will ever come from what account dweebs call "the discussion."

Shut the fuck up and take the paper away.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

For the sin I have sinned.

We are moving into that time of the year when what's left of the Jewish people after two-millennia of exile and persecution takes time to reflect upon the sins they've committed over the past 12 months. Many of the 13 million Jews left in the world engage in the Holy-Day ritual of Taschlich. This involves throwing bread into a flowing body of water, a symbolic throwing away of sins.

I didn't grow up with any religious training at all, but my wife observes and I've been Taschliching with her and our kids for nearly 30 years. There is something refreshing and liberating about the ritual. I think even non-Jews can enjoy a symbolic casting off.

One of the primary prayers during the High Holy days is "Avinu Malkeinu," which means "Our Father, Our King" and is then followed by a supplication--a request for forgiveness for a sin.

I thought maybe it would make sense to create a few Avinus for our industry and ourselves. You can add to it if you like.

Our Father, Our King, for the sin we have sinned when I declared something is "dead" without evidence.

For the sin I have sinned when I said "this will change everything."

For the sin I have sinned when I scheduled a meeting rather than thinking myself.

For the sin I have sinned when I scheduled a lunch meeting without providing lunch.

For the sin I have sinned for making employees front the agency for travel and food.

For the sin I have sinned when I let HR browbeat people over timesheets and compliance videos.

For the sin I have sinned when I talked over people.

For the sin I have sinned when I rushed to judgment.

For the sin I have sinned when I let politics take precedence over work.

For the sin I have sinned when I accepted ass-kissers.

For the sin I have sinned when I fail to say thank you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tannenbaums I have known.

Oh, Tannenbaum.

Not the most mellifluous of last names.

And hardly as popular as Smith, Jones, Chin or Mohammed.

Yet, through the course of my life, I've run into my share of Tannenbaums, often in strange places and under odd circumstances.

The most famous, of course, was "Tick Tock" Tannenbaum, illustrated below by my friend Patrick Hamou.

Tick Tock (my older daughter has assumed his moniker) was a notorious hit man for the Mob. He was in the original cast of Murder Inc. Not what you'd call a nice guy. He was always nice to me, however. Though since he spent most of his life in "the Big House" or on the lam, I didn't have that much to do with Tick Tock. You can read about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Tannenbaum

Years ago, I ran into a Peter Tannenbaum, who I believe is a high-flying denizen of BBDO. I had checked into L'Ermitage in Beverly Hills and they were convinced I was not George, but their frequent guest Peter. Since I was being treated like a king, I did little to disabuse the staff of their notion.

Just now, I got an e-card from a Steve Tannenbaum, who is a fund-raiser for my younger daughter's college. He wished me a Shana Tova and hoped my daughter was enjoying New Zealand. Which is fine. Except she's not in New Zealand.

Of course, there was the Wes Anderson movie "The Royal Tenenbaums." It was a run in with near-namesakes I enjoyed--though not enough to compensate for all the wags who called me "Royal" as if I hadn't heard that before.

 

Some times it gets me into trouble.

I've always been a hammer, not a nail.

A straight up-the-middle runner. Not one who dances the end-around.

I've always been a bulldog, not a whippet.

This gets me into trouble.

My skills lay in places other than politesse and diplomacy.

Right now I am reading the third volume of Robert Caro's four-volume masterpiece on Lyndon Johnson. I couldn't recommend books more highly. Caro's portrait is of a man of Shakespearean complexity. It is operatic in its sweep. And its sense of history is broad and magnificent.

The third volume is called "Master of the Senate" and it begins with a hundreds-of-pages-long treatment of the history and the manners of the institution. Including its ossification in the 1940s when its racist and reactionary Southern bloc made sure positive Civil Rights legislation would not pass.

Despite the calcification and institutionalized lethargy of Southern Senators (then and now) there's much someone like me (a filthy Jew) can learn from their decorum. Here's what I mean.

70 years ago, Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky (who, as Truman's Vice President once said the Vice Presidency "isn't worth a bucket of warm piss") said this to a freshman Senator.

"If you think a colleague is stupid, refer to him as 'the able, learned and distinguished Senator,' but if you know he is stupid, refer to him as 'the very able, learned and distinguished Senator.'"


Monday, September 10, 2012

Simple and complicated.

It's a beautiful pre-Autumn night in New York, the end of one of those rare, perfect, beautiful pre-Autumn days. I got home relatively late, around nine, and immediately took my puppy out for a walk.

There, in the sky four or five miles away was what appeared to be a shaft of light shooting up to infinity. New York's annual tribute to the Twin Towers and the over 3,000 people who died on that terrible day.

There's a lot of art and creativity we run across in the course of our lives. But rarely will you see something with the stunning and meaningful simplicity of this tribute. It's mournful yet inspiring. Somber but uplifting.

When I returned home, my wife had our local PBS station on. They were running a two-hour long special on the Metropolitan Opera's most recent staging of Wagner's 16-hour "Ring Cycle." The set itself weighed in at 90,000 lbs. and was made up of 30 or so giant projection panels that could rotate 360-degrees. The complicatedness of Wagner's work and the Met's staging is something to behold.

Over the course of about six months my wife and I saw all 16 hours of the "Ring." I guarantee, it's like nothing you've ever seen. And never will see.

These are two works of art.

One utterly simple.

One enormously complex.

Both stunning and yes, awe-inspiring.

Creativity isn't any one thing.

It isn't merely simple.

Or merely complicated.

It can be anything.

It just has to take your breath away.


Fucking up.

Some time late last week, I wrote my 3,000 post on Ad Aged. Not a milestone like the four-minute mile or surviving Niagara Falls in a barrel, but to my small mind, something notable nonetheless.

Along the way over these past five years, Ad Aged has brought me a handful of friends and on average a couple hundred daily readers, give or take a few dozen. It's hardly the sort of blog that sets the world on fire. I am no Seth Godin or Perez Hilton. But I am pleased overall with my level of readership. It's way more than I ever imagined.

Also along the way, I've done some stupid things in this space. Most recently I insulted someone I admire. Not his work or his logic--that's fair game. But I insulted him personally and in a unnecessary and mean-spirited way. I've apologized and taken the offending post down, but that doesn't take away the hurt I caused. A hurt I am truly sorry for.

Mark Harris is a little-known writer I greatly admire. His baseball novels are among the best American fiction of the late 20th Century. He closes his most famous book, "Bang the Drum Slowly," with these words--the lesson the hero of the novel, Henry Wiggen, learned. "From now on, I rag no one."

I've always known the wisdom of these words. And have tried to abide by them. But recently I slipped. And therefore fucked up.

I know better. And will try to be better in the future.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Tornado warnings.

The big news in New York and its suburbs right now is that there are tornado warnings in the area. I am 54 years old and I lived the first 45 years of my life believing that New York and its environs are not subject to tornadoes but in the era of Global Warming, we seem to get tornadoes now once or twice a summer. One has apparently touched down in Queens and there's an eerie pall over the city, the sky in some places dark as night, and in other places a luminous and foreboding grey-yellow.

Tornado warnings or not, my young dog Whiskey needs her exercise as do I, so we headed down to the water for a two-mile walk.

The first sign of life we saw was a large Department of Environmental Protection sludge boat. New York City has three of these vessels. The smallest is 280-feet long and displaces just over 1,600 tons. The larger two--built on the same plan back in 1967 and 1974 are 323-feet ten-inches long and displace 2,557 tons. These hard-working ships run up and down the rivers day and night, taking sludge from urban waters and depositing it out to sea, 4.5-miles past Ambrose Lighthouse--12-miles away from the aqua-boundary of the City.

They are hardy ships and the one we saw, the larger model, the "Newton Creek," was showing no ill-affects from the oncoming storm. It was steaming up-river through a light chop. Whiskey and I watched as it made its way away from the sea.

These ships are the biggest ships that ply the East River, though the Hudson gets ocean liners which sometimes moor as far north as the piers in the low 60s and large container ships that on occasion make their way 100-miles upriver to Albany. They are even bigger than the "General Slocum," a 235-foot steamboat built in Brooklyn in 1891 that crashed and burned above 90th Street on North Brother Island, not far from where Whiskey and I were now, killing 1,021 of the 1,342 people aboard. It was New York's greatest single day of death until September 11, 2001.

As we watched the big ship make its way home, Whiskey strained at her leash. The increasingly darkening sky was making her nervous and the leaves that were falling from the London Planes and Sycamores in nearby Carl Schurz Park were proving a distraction. Whiskey wanted to chase each one like it was a small animal.

So, too, Whiskey and I headed up-river, making fewer knots than the burly Newton Creek, but moving steadily, as well. Parents and children began streaming home now. The temperature was dropping rapidly and large beads of rain were beginning to fall. Even the black kids playing basketball called it quits and ran north to home and Harlem, their t-shirts loose and wet, their expensive basketball sneakers untied.

Whiskey and I continued our trudge, perhaps carelessly. I couldn't really believe New York could be hit by a tornado, so while everyone else was headed in, I was determined to keep walking at least until I reached my usual turn-around point, the high-masted flagpole that sits along side Gracie Mansion, the 1799 farmhouse turned "official residence" of New York's mayor.

We hit the flagpole and now most of the people still in the park were running south and west. It was time to seek cover and concrete. I too heeded the call of reason and turned tail with Whiskey, reckoning the shortest, most-scaffolding-covered route home.

The sky now, in the words of Rodgers and Hammerstein was a "bright canary yellow." And Whiskey and I made it into the clean, well-air-conditioned lobby of our building. Jimmy, the doorman, closed the door against the wind and rain.

When the skies are brighter canary yellow
I forget ev'ry cloud I've ever seen,
So they called me a cockeyed optimist
Immature and incurably green.

I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we're done and we might as well be dead,
But I'm only a cockeyed optimist
And I can't get it into my head.

I hear the human race
Is fallin' on its face
And hasn't very far to go,
But ev'ry whippoorwill
Is sellin' me a bill,
And tellin' me it just ain't so.
 
We had made it home.

We had beaten, for now, the storm.

Bogart and our business.

"The Maltese Falcon" directed by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Ward Bond and the great character actor Elisha Cook, Jr. (look Cook up on IMDB and you'll see what I mean) reminds me a lot of the advertising industry in the second decade of the 21st Century.

More accurately, one scene does. It's a bit of foreplay between Bogart and Cook.

In the movie Cook plays Wilmer, a young "gunsel," the henchman of Greenstreet, "the Fatman." Cook is "all hat, no cattle." All attitude, no substance.

Bogart, of course, is Sam Spade. Wise, wizened, dark and experienced. He's seen it all, done it all, and somehow, against all odds, he keeps moving forward, keeps living by his code.

In this scene, Cook trains a gun on Bogart. Bogart is not fazed and "rides" the young tough. Then, this dialogue ensues:

Cook: Keep on riding me and they're gonna be picking iron out of your liver.
Spade: The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.

Yesterday I came across a couple thousand words of blather by one of the newspeak marketing technologist engagementpreneurs from a prominent west coast agency. I read his pomposity through from top to bottom two times.

I didn't understand any of it.

Occasionally I saw a word or two I recognized but those words were surrounded by other words that I didn't have the foggiest notion of.

I was left saying to myself, "yeah, but what do you do? What do you make that consumers see? What do you create that influences minds or hearts?"

Then, I remembered Spade's great line: "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter."

It explains so much of what we deal with today.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Communication.

In yesterday's "New York Times" Nicolas Kristof wrote an op-ed pieve called "Obama's First-Term Report Card." All the grades Kristof gave the President were in the "B" to "A" range.

Except for one.

One of President's grades was an "F." Failure.

And that was on "Communication."

This post is not about whether or not I agree with Kristof.

Or what I think or he thinks of the job the President is doing.

I'm not afraid to discuss politics here.

They're just not my point today.

My point today is on something simpler.

The necessity for brands and people to tell their story.

With warmth, honesty, passion and emotion.

To "sell" who they are and the reason for their actions and behaviors.

There are all sorts and manner of egg-headed blowhards who have constructed a line of blather that we live in a post-messaging age.

That no one believes.

That no one hears.

That no one cares.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

We in the communications industry have taken our eyes off the ball.

In our relentless and reckless pursuit of technology we have forgotten humanity.

We have forgotten that people need leaders. They need to be told. They need to have their world defined. Clarified. Simplified.

By politicians.

By brands.






Client service.

One of the great felicities of modern life happened to me this morning. I put on a pair of freshly laundered jeans and reached into my right front pocket. There I found a freshly-laundered $20 bill.

There's nothing quite like finding money you didn't know you had. Even a relatively nominal sum like a $20. I guess that it's what it feel like if you work for Wall Street and pocket a $17 million bonus.

You feel good all day.

It occurred to me finding the $20 that that was a good way to think about how you perform in an agency.

People you work for, whether they are internal or clients, should always feel like they've found a $20 after you present to them. They should always feel surprised and pleased by something they weren't expecting. They should always feel like they've found a gift.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

All those dead things? They're not dead after all.

Last night President Bill Clinton spoke to some millions of Americans and in so doing threw sand in the face of every advertising pundit who's pontificated in the last 30 years.

His speech was long, 48-minutes, thus deflating over-blown notion that only sound-bites are important and the much-repeated bromide that no one has anything resembling an attention span.

The speech was as stripped down as that of an ancient Roman Senator. There was no banal powerpoint accompaniment. There was no "type crawl" and bullet points. It was just a man talking.

It was a man delivering a message.

In an era in which we've been told messaging is dead.

It was a man using an artful combination of intelligence, logic, emotion and empathy.  All those things made obsolete by data visualization.

No. Last night defied all the so-called media fads that have infected our business and have become our mania du jour.

Instead, last night we saw a man who took complex ideas and made them simple and meaningful.

Last night's speech had no electronics.

No glitz.

Not even a laser-pointer.

Just motivation. Meaning. Warmth. Humanity.

It turns out those things aren't dead after all.

--
As an illustration, I've pasted Clinton's speech here. All 3,178 words of it.

Yeah, all those words.

They'll never work.

We’re here to nominate a President, and I’ve got one in mind.
I want to nominate a man whose own life has known its fair share of adversity and uncertainty. A man who ran for President to change the course of an already weak economy and then just six weeks before the election, saw it suffer the biggest collapse since the Great Depression. A man who stopped the slide into depression and put us on the long road to recovery, knowing all the while that no matter how many jobs were created and saved, there were still millions more waiting, trying to feed their children and keep their hopes alive.
I want to nominate a man cool on the outside but burning for America on the inside.  A man who believes we can build a new American Dream economy driven by innovation and creativity, education and cooperation. A man who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama.

I want Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States and I proudly nominate him as the standard bearer of the Democratic Party.
In Tampa, we heard a lot of talk about how the President and the Democrats don’t believe in free enterprise and individual initiative, how we want everyone to be dependent on the government, how bad we are for the economy.
The Republican narrative is that all of us who amount to anything are completely self-made.  One of our greatest Democratic Chairmen, Bob Strauss, used to say that every politician wants you to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself, but it ain’t so.
We Democrats think the country works better with a strong middle class, real opportunities for poor people to work their way into it and a relentless focus on the future, with business and government working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity.  We think “we’re all in this together” is a better philosophy than “you’re on your own.”
Who’s right?  Well since 1961, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24.  In those 52 years, our economy produced 66 million private sector jobs.  What’s the jobs score?  Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42 million!
It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics, because discrimination, poverty and ignorance restrict growth, while investments in education, infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase it, creating more good jobs and new wealth for all of us.
Though I often disagree with Republicans, I never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate President Obama and the Democrats.  After all, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to my home state to integrate Little Rock Central High and built the interstate highway system. And as governor, I worked with President Reagan on welfare reform and with President George H.W. Bush on national education goals. I am grateful to President George W. Bush for PEPFAR, which is saving the lives of millions of people in poor countries and to both Presidents Bush for the work we’ve done together after the South Asia tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake.
Through my foundation, in America and around the world, I work with Democrats, Republicans and Independents who are focused on solving problems and seizing opportunities, not fighting each other.
When times are tough, constant conflict may be good politics but in the real world, cooperation works better.  After all, nobody’s right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day.  All of us are destined to live our lives between those two extremes.  Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn’t see it that way.  They think government is the enemy, and compromise is weakness.
One of the main reasons America should re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to cooperation.  He appointed Republican Secretaries of Defense, the Army and Transportation.  He appointed a Vice President who ran against him in 2008, and trusted him to oversee the successful end of the war in Iraq and the implementation of the recovery act.  And Joe Biden did a great job with both.  He appointed Cabinet members who supported Hillary in the primaries.  Heck, he even appointed Hillary! I’m so proud of her and grateful to our entire national security team for all they’ve done to make us safer and stronger and to build a world with more partners and fewer enemies. I’m also grateful to the young men and women who serve our country in the military and to Michelle Obama and Jill Biden for supporting military families when their loved ones are overseas and for helping our veterans, when they come home bearing the wounds of war, or needing help with education, housing, and jobs.
President Obama’s record on national security is a tribute to his strength, and judgment, and to his preference for inclusion and partnership over partisanship.
He also tried to work with Congressional Republicans on Health Care, debt reduction, and jobs, but that didn’t work out so well.  Probably because, as the Senate Republican leader, in a remarkable moment of candor, said two years before the election, their number one priority was not to put America back to work, but to put President Obama out of work.
Senator, I hate to break it to you, but we’re going to keep President Obama on the job!
In Tampa, the Republican argument against the President’s re-election was pretty simple: we left him a total mess, he hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.
In order to look like an acceptable alternative to President Obama, they couldn’t say much about the ideas they have offered over the last two years.  You see they want to go back to the same old policies that got us into trouble in the first place: to cut taxes for high income Americans even more than President Bush did; to get rid of those pesky financial regulations designed to prevent another crash and prohibit future bailouts; to increase defense spending two trillion dollars more than the Pentagon has requested without saying what they’ll spend the money on; to make enormous cuts in the rest of the budget, especially programs that help the middle class and poor kids.  As another President once said – there they go again.
I like the argument for President Obama’s re-election a lot better. He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long hard road to recovery, and laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators.
Are we where we want to be? No. Is the President satisfied? No. Are we better off than we were when he took office, with an economy in free fall, losing 750,000 jobs a month.  The answer is YES.
I understand the challenge we face.  I know many Americans are still angry and frustrated with the economy.  Though employment is growing, banks are beginning to lend and even housing prices are picking up a bit, too many people don’t feel it.
I experienced the same thing in 1994 and early 1995.  Our policies were working and the economy was growing but most people didn’t feel it yet.  By 1996, the economy was roaring, halfway through the longest peacetime expansion in American history.
President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did.  No President – not me or any of my predecessors could have repaired all the damage in just four years.  But conditions are improving and if you’ll renew the President’s contract you will feel it.
I believe that with all my heart.
President Obama’s approach embodies the values, the ideas, and the direction America must take to build a 21st century version of the American Dream in a nation of shared opportunities, shared prosperity and shared responsibilities.
So back to the story.  In 2010, as the President’s recovery program kicked in, the job losses stopped and things began to turn around.
The Recovery Act saved and created millions of jobs and cut taxes for 95% of the American people. In the last 29 months the economy has produced about 4.5 million private sector jobs.  But last year, the Republicans blocked the President’s jobs plan costing the economy more than a million new jobs. So here’s another jobs score: President Obama plus 4.5 million, Congressional Republicans zero.
Over that same period, more than more than 500,000 manufacturing jobs have been created under President Obama – the first time manufacturing jobs have increased since the 1990s.
The auto industry restructuring worked.  It saved more than a million jobs, not just at GM, Chrysler and their dealerships, but in auto parts manufacturing all over the country.  That’s why even auto-makers that weren’t part of the deal supported it.  They needed to save the suppliers too. Like I said, we’re all in this together.
Now there are 250,000 more people working in the auto industry than the day the companies were restructured.  Governor Romney opposed the plan to save GM and Chrysler. So here’s another jobs score: Obama two hundred and fifty thousand, Romney, zero.
The agreement the administration made with management, labor and environmental groups to double car mileage over the next few years is another good deal: it will cut your gas bill in half, make us more energy independent, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and add another 500,000 good jobs.
President Obama’s “all of the above” energy plan is helping too – the boom in oil and gas production combined with greater energy efficiency has driven oil imports to a near 20 year low and natural gas production to an all time high.  Renewable energy production has also doubled.
We do need more new jobs, lots of them, but there are already more than three million jobs open and unfilled in America today, mostly because the applicants don’t have the required skills.  We have to prepare more Americans for the new jobs that are being created in a world fueled by new technology.  That’s why investments in our people are more important than ever. The President has supported community colleges and employers in working together to train people for open jobs in their communities. And, after a decade in which exploding college costs have increased the drop-out rate so much that we’ve fallen to 16th in the world in the percentage of our young adults with college degrees, his student loan reform lowers the cost of federal student loans and even more important, gives students the right to repay the loans as a fixed percentage of their incomes for up to 20 years.  That means no one will have to drop-out of college for fear they can’t repay their debt, and no one will have to turn down a job, as a teacher, a police officer or a small town doctor because it doesn’t pay enough to make the debt payments.  This will change the future for young Americans.
I know we’re better off because President Obama made these decisions.
That brings me to health care.
The Republicans call it Obamacare and say it’s a government takeover of health care that they’ll repeal.  Are they right? Let’s look at what’s happened so far. Individuals and businesses have secured more than a billion dollars in refunds from their insurance premiums because the new law requires 80% to 85% of your premiums to be spent on health care, not profits or promotion.  Other insurance companies have lowered their rates to meet the requirement.  More than 3 million young people between 19 and 25 are insured for the first time because their parents can now carry them on family policies.  Millions of seniors are receiving preventive care including breast cancer screenings and tests for heart problems.  Soon the insurance companies, not the government, will have millions of new customers many of them middle class people with pre-existing conditions.  And for the last two years, health care spending has grown under 4%, for the first time in 50 years.
So are we all better off because President Obama fought for it and passed it? You bet we are.
There were two other attacks on the President in Tampa that deserve an answer. Both Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan attacked the President for allegedly robbing Medicare of 716 billion dollars. Here’s what really happened. There were no cuts to benefits. None. What the President did was save money by cutting unwarranted subsidies to providers and insurance companies that weren’t making people any healthier. He used the saving to close the donut hole in the Medicare drug program, and to add eight years to the life of the Medicare Trust Fund.  It’s now solvent until 2024. So President Obama and the Democrats didn’t weaken Medicare, they strengthened it.
When Congressman Ryan looked into the TV camera and attacked President Obama’s “biggest coldest power play” in raiding Medicare, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  You see, that 716 billion dollars is exactly the same amount of Medicare savings Congressman Ryan had in his own budget.
At least on this one, Governor Romney’s been consistent.  He wants to repeal the savings and give the money back to the insurance companies, re-open the donut hole and force seniors to pay more for drugs, and reduce the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by eight years. So now if he’s elected and does what he promised Medicare will go broke by 2016.  If that happens, you won’t have to wait until their voucher program to begins in 2023 to see the end Medicare as we know it.
But it gets worse.  They also want to block grant Medicaid and cut it by a third over the coming decade.  Of course, that will hurt poor kids, but that’s not all.  Almost two-thirds of Medicaid is spent on nursing home care for seniors and on people with disabilities, including kids from middle class families, with special needs like, Downs syndrome or Autism.  I don’t know how those families are going to deal with it. We can’t let it happen
Now let’s look at the Republican charge that President Obama wants to weaken the work requirements in the welfare reform bill I signed that moved millions of people from welfare to work.
Here’s what happened.  When some Republican governors asked to try new ways to put people on welfare back to work, the Obama Administration said they would only do it if they had a credible plan to increase employment by 20%.  You hear that? More work.  So the claim that President Obama weakened welfare reform’s work requirement is just not true. But they keep running ads on it. As their campaign pollster said “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.” Now that is true. I couldn’t have said it better myself – I just hope you remember that every time you see the ad.
Let’s talk about the debt. We have to deal with it or it will deal with us.  President Obama has offered a plan with 4 trillion dollars in debt reduction over a decade, with two and a half dollars of spending reductions for every one dollar of revenue increases, and tight controls on future spending. It’s the kind of balanced approach proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.
I think the President’s plan is better than the Romney plan, because the Romney plan fails the first test of fiscal responsibility: The numbers don’t add up.
It’s supposed to be a debt reduction plan but it begins with five trillion dollars in tax cuts over a ten-year period. That makes the debt hole bigger before they even start to dig out.  They say they’ll make it up by eliminating loopholes in the tax code.  When you ask “which loopholes and how much?,” they say “See me after the election on that.”
People ask me all the time how we delivered four surplus budgets.  What new ideas did we bring? I always give a one-word answer: arithmetic.  If they stay with a 5 trillion dollar tax cut in a debt reduction plan – the – arithmetic tells us that one of three things will happen: 1) they’ll have to eliminate so many deductions like the ones for home mortgages and charitable giving that middle class families will see their tax bill go up two thousand dollars year while people making over 3 million dollars a year get will still get a 250,000 dollar tax cut; or 2) they’ll have to cut so much spending that they’ll obliterate the budget for our national parks, for ensuring clean air, clean water, safe food, safe air travel; or they’ll cut way back on Pell Grants, college loans, early childhood education and other programs that help middle class families and poor children, not to mention cutting investments in roads, bridges, science, technology and medical research; or 3) they’ll do what they’ve been doing for thirty plus years now – cut taxes more than they cut spending, explode the debt, and weaken the economy.  Remember, Republican economic policies quadrupled the debt before I took office and doubled it after I left.  We simply can’t afford to double-down on trickle-down.
President Obama’s plan cuts the debt, honors our values, and brightens the future for our children, our families and our nation.
My fellow Americans, you have to decide what kind of country you want to live in.  If you want a you’re on your own, winner take all society you should support the Republican ticket.  If you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities – a “we’re all in it together” society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. If you want every American to vote and you think its wrong to change voting procedures just to reduce the turnout of younger, poorer, minority and disabled voters, you should support Barack Obama.  If you think the President was right to open the doors of American opportunity to young immigrants brought here as children who want to go to college or serve in the military, you should vote for Barack Obama.  If you want a future of shared prosperity, where the middle class is growing and poverty is declining, where the American Dream is alive and well, and where the United States remains the leading force for peace and prosperity in a highly competitive world, you should vote for Barack Obama.
I love our country – and I know we’re coming back. For more than 200 years, through every crisis, we’ve always come out stronger than we went in.  And we will again as long as we do it together. We champion the cause for which our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor – to form a more perfect union.
If that’s what you believe, if that’s what you want, we have to re-elect President Barack Obama.
God Bless You – God Bless America.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Be less smart, II.

You can, whether you're writing a novel, a screen play, a love letter, a vacation memo or a :30-second spot, bury your meaning in a sinkhole of vowels and consonants. You can pile on so assiduously that by saying more, you're saying nothing.

I've just read in "The New York Times" that the Democratic Party's platform is 26,500 words long. That's 106 double-spaced typewritten pages.

It's written by and for wonks.

Not to communicate.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Advertising advice from Bill Clinton.

When you love advertising as I do, when you live it and breathe it, you find it all around you. Over the last week or so, I've been watching the party conventions, reading, of course, op-eds in the "Times" about those conventions and seeing advertising lessons everywhere.

Both of today's lessons come from Bill Clinton by way of Roger Cohen. You can read Cohen's full column here: Cohen.

Clinton's first dicta is simple, and its impetus was the lack of "how," of explanation in Governor Romney's acceptance speech. “When people are afraid, explanation beats eloquence any day.”

In other words, cut the crap and tell us what you're going to do. We don't need fancy. We need smart. We need action. We need doing. Not just saying.

Clinton's second phrase was directed at President Obama. What Obama must do, according to Clinton is something he's not very good at. He must "explain in plain language how the United States came to its present pass and how he plans to set the country on a path to growth and jobs again. That in turn will explain why a second term would differ from the first."

In short, he has to (in Clinton's words) "put the corn where the hogs can get to it.” 

In other words, communicate simply, honestly and clearly.
 
 

The United States of Focus Groups.

Joe Nocera, the financial writer turned op-ed columnist for "The New York Times" has a sentence in his column today which underscores much of what is wrong in our world and in our business. In an article about the Democratic and Republican conventions called "They're Not What They Used to Be," http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/04/opinion/political-conventions-are-not-what-they-used-to-be.html?hp he remarks: "I wound up thinking, do we really need three days and nights (and it would have been four if not for the hurricane threat) for the Republicans to “frame” their “narrative” and “humanize” their candidate?"

How many times, in how many meetings a day do we hear such marketing drivel? Framing a narrative? Humanizing a brand?

The Republicants (and the Dimmycrats will be no better) aren't saddled like we are in advertising, with humanizing a brand, however. They can't even humanize a person.

Mitt is still an amorphous lump of Mormonism who walks as if he's wearing an adult diaper. His running mate seems similarly unable to have a conviction or to tell the truth. It's one thing to lie about tax cuts, or vouchers for Medicare--but to lie about your marathon time is beyond the pale. No one who's ever run a marathon (and I've run 12) has ever forgotten their best time. And no one who is not a dyed in the wool cheater, liar and fraud would lie publicly about their time. No decent person would claim to run a sub-three when they in fact ran a four plus.

The Repugnants also seemed to trot out a different tagline every night. "We Built It," being just one.
"We Legitimized It" being another and "Masturbation is Murder," being a third.

It remains to be seen if the Dumbocrats will have one theme or many. And if they can frame a narrative that excuses the mediocrity of the current administration. Supposedly, this year's "hope" and "change" will be "forward," which sounds to me like a slogan maybe the Post Office can adopt if the Obamaites have any signs left over.

It is indeed a sad state of affairs when neither candidate or neither party--each of which has access to the best communication minds in the country--can come up with a compelling narrative, much less a vision of the future. I can conclude only that each candidate tested his messaging and everything performed slightly above "norms." That is, every message is so boring it neither offends or inspires, just like 99% of all advertising.

That's enough for right now. I'll just leave you with this.

Back in 1964, reactionary Republican (who would be a mainstream Republican today) Barry Goldwater had a slogan: "In your heart you know he's right."

The Lyndon Johnson campaign countered with something that at least had balls: "In your guts you know he's nuts."





Monday, September 3, 2012

Some thoughts of yore.



I was born in the waning days of 1957--about ten decades ago it seems, or ten millennium if you think about all the ways in which the world has changed.

We were armed and aimed at the Russians, and they against us. World War III was being fought in Korea, Vietnam and outer space. There were Nike missile installations just a few miles from the house my parents bought in White Plains, to escape the sturm und drang of New York.

In much of the country, black people still couldn't vote. They went to schools that were separate and unequal and they had only just been able to play major league baseball. Pumpsie Green, the Red Sox first black player, was still more than a full-season away from playing in the big leagues.


This was a world without computers, without cellphones, without color televisions. This was a world of elevator operators, segregationist senators and cold-war cataclysms hanging like a specter over everything.

Still, it was, in many ways, a simpler time. Today, because they are today's problems, the issues of the world seem more intractable. You could find a way to negotiate peace with the Soviets. You can't negotiate with global warming. Or with the anti-fact-ers who wish to deny its presence. Likewise, though we were armed to the teeth against Krushchev, at least we knew who our enemies were. We knew how to track them. Today, if Israel attempts to destroy Iran due to Iran's looming nuclear capability and its promise to obliterate Israel, mass destruction could come from anywhere. A frightening prospect.

Even as a young boy, I grew up old. My father had a 1949 Studebaker, my mother a 1951 Plymouth. Old cars in the days when cars didn't last more than four years. What's more, at an early age I was exposed to "old" movies. Jimmy Cagney in "Public Enemy," Edward G. Robinson in "Little Caesar," Humphrey Bogart in "The Roaring Twenties." Even as a ten year old I was on a different plane than my friends. I had different reference points and I admired different people.

The suburbs of New York, back in the 50s and 60s, still had milkmen, still had vestiges of trolley tracks that would appear whenever the asphalt thinned. There were street sweepers with their rubbish bins mounted between over-sized wheels. There was a hurdy-gurdy beggar who plied the downtown streets of my home town.

Today, everything, or nearly everything seems gone. We still pantomime dialing a telephone. But we haven't actually dialed one since the 70s. We still remember subway tokens. The 10-cent toll over the Henry Hudson Bridge ($4 today or $2.20 with EZ-pass.)

My wife and I get seltzer delivered to our apartment, ten 26-oz. siphon bottles to the case once a week. The bottles, clear or blue or sometimes green, are etched with the names of old seltzer bottlers.  Today at lunch we had a bottle marked "Louis Sisskin Good Health Seltzer." Bottles of Sisskin's are available on e-bay, but I can find no other evidence of who he was or where he carbonated. It's just possible that the gleaming new high-rises that have replaced the dilapidated old tenements of old New York sit on the site of Sisskin's old plant. But I'll never know.

 It is possible that we are living in the best of all possible worlds in the best of all possible times. Scholars like Stephen Pinker point out that this is--despite all the wars and skirmishes and the tarnish of Arab Spring--one of the most peaceful times in the history of the world. Further, despite the troglodyte impulses of the Republican party, more people have more wealth than virtually any time ever. Even poor people have electricity, indoor plumbing and luxuries virtually unthinkable just a few short decades ago.

That said, there are times when I siphon myself a cold glass of seltzer and I wish Louis Sisskin were around. Just so I could thank him.


The "Lost Art of Drawing."

The famous architect, Michael Graves, had a brilliant op-ed in Sunday's "Times," called "Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawing." You can read it here: Michael Graves article

I think Graves' article can be extrapolated to our industry, to advertising. First, Graves laments how it has become fashionable in his industry to declare "the death of drawing." He wonders: "Are our hands becoming obsolete as creative tools? Are they being replaced by machines? And where does that leave the architectural creative process?"

But Graves believes that architecture should not divorce itself from drawing. He says that drawing is part of the thought process.  Drawings, he says "express the interaction of our minds, eyes and hands."

Again, and I think this is germane to advertising, Graves divides drawings into three types.
1. The referential sketch
2. The preparatory study
3. The definitive drawing

Graves calls the referential sketch the "record of the architect's discovery....it is not likely to represent reality but likely to capture an idea." Graves says, "These sketches are thus inherently fragmentary and selective. When I draw something, I remember it. The drawing is a reminder of the idea that caused me to record it in the first place. That visceral connection, that thought process, cannot be replicated by a computer."

The preparatory study is "part of a progression of drawings that elaborate a design."

Here are the parts I really liked: "With both of these types of drawings, there is a certain joy in their creation, which comes from the interaction between the mind and the hand. Our physical and mental interactions with drawings are formative acts. In a handmade drawing, whether on an electronic tablet or on paper, there are intonations, traces of intentions and speculation. This is not unlike the way a musician might intone a note or how a riff in jazz would be understood subliminally and put a smile on your face."








And "As I work with my computer-savvy students and staff today, I notice that something is lost when they draw only on the computer. It is analogous to hearing the words of a novel read aloud, when reading them on paper allows us to daydream a little, to make associations beyond the literal sentences on the page. Similarly, drawing by hand stimulates the imagination and allows us to speculate about ideas, a good sign that we’re truly alive."