Friday, February 28, 2014

Be selfish.

There's a lot of crap in our industry, a lot of crap meetings, a lot of crap people, a lot of crap protocol, rules and process. Worst of all, there is a lot of crap work.

I don't think, really, our industry is unusual in its amount of crap. My guess would be that even if you're short-stop for the New York Yankees, or a power-forward for the Miami Heat, 85% of what you do is crap.

There are games you don't feel like playing, opponents who don't challenge you, plays that are so routine they become stultifying.

I think the trick in this business is the recognize that even its kingpins are hit with a lot of crap. There's a lot of crap that just sucks. I think maybe at the best agencies the crap to good ratio is 75:25; at the worst it's probably 90:10.

Every once in a while you get an assignment that isn't crap.

Protect this like you'd protect your brother if you were both in a foxhole in a Normandy trench.

Don't let anyone sully the bit of good you got.

Don't go to meetings about it.

Don't share.

Don't talk about it.

To coin a phrase, just do it.

There aren't many times I advocate complete and utter selfishness.

But this is one.

Protect yourself.

Be selfish.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nature vs. nurture.

Just a couple hours ago I wrote a post asserting that writers are made, not born. Of course, there are two sides to every story and the 'nature vs. nurture' debate will never truly be settled.

Perhaps, writing ability, like the ability to run a four-minute-mile is somewhat in-born. Maybe if your mother listened to Mozart or Beethoven while you were in utero, maybe if you were exposed to books early, if your parents' were well-read and well-spoken, you have some natural advantages.

Who knows.

Like most things, it's probably a little bit of a combo platter.

You need the genes and you need the gusto.

One thing I will tell you, is that good writers often train themselves in the process to speak articulately and argue persuasively.

Just now I overheard two people talking about the state of our planet.

"What's happening in Venezuela is cray cray," won't cut it.

Nor will the response "Totes McGoats."

Not sure about the spelling of that last one.

Writing tips.

It seems odd, but against the powerful tide of our oppressively vulgar, vapid and banal cultural obsession with youth, some higher-ups in my agency are beginning to treat me as the wise old owl of advertising.

I'm not sure I completely like this role. I don't look old, feel old, act old or think old, but I do, I admit have a compendious knowledge of the history of advertising, from I think both the UK and the US, of the last 75 years or so.

Not only did I grow up in the business, having had an Uncle who rose to the top of Philadelphia's largest agency, Weightman Advertising, in just over two decades my father rose from an in-house copywriter at RCA's advertising department in Camden, New Jersey, to Chairman of the Board of Kenyon & Eckhardt, a top 20 agency later merged into Bozell, later merged into Lintas, later merged into Lowe. My father also wrote "the book" on advertising after he left the business and turned to teaching it at Northwestern University in Chicagoland. You can find the book he co-authored here.

Additionally, and I've written about this before, I have always been a denizen of dusty used bookstores, in particular The Strand. There, I picked up every D&AD, One Show and Art Directors annuals I could get my hands on, as well as dozens of Communication Arts Advertising issues. I've studied them like Rabbinic scholars study the Torah. What's more, I practically memorized every ad and every bit of copy in "Remember Those Great Vokswagen Ads?" A book that is hard today to find but well worth the investment.

So today, as I said, higher ups say to me, "George, can you teach young writers to write." They expect that writing skill can be transfused like blood.

I happen to believe writers are made, not born.

You make yourself through study, practice and patience.

I can help.

I can cross out a long word and substitute a short one. I can point out a horrid piece of jargon or a faulty instance of logic. I can excise superfluity and help hone and sharpen. I can even loan people my books.

But if you want to learn to write, there's no shortcut. This isn't Hollywood where a surgeon can perfect in minutes the lifelong work of the gods.

Read everything David Altschiller wrote and Marty Puris and Ed McCabe and Ed Butler and Bob Levenson and David Abbot and Tom Messner and Curvin O'Reilly.

Read Rich Siegel's blog. And Dave Trott's. And Bob Hoffman's.

Read "The New York Times."

Read my writing gods, Joseph Mitchell, AJ Liebling, John O'Hara. Even JD Salinger, for crisssakes.

Find someone whose writing you like, whose style suits you. And copy.

And write every day.

Every fucking day.

Don't get all persnickety about it and make every word perfect. Just write like you're a journalist and the paper's about to go to bed.

Tell a story in 55 words. (That's about the length of a :30.)

Tell a longer one in 80 words. (That seems the acceptable length of copy today.)

But try writing 1000 words on oatmeal and make it interesting.

Read.

And write.

The Old Man and the turkey burger.

I had dinner last night with my cousin, Howard. I don't know exactly how Howard and I are related, it's some complex arrangement on my father's side, but we've known each other since we were in diapers, and through the years have grown closer and closer. Blood, as they say, is thicker than water.

The bar was too crowded and too noisy, but somehow, I guess the privilege of age, we got a small table in the back. We each got a beer, the special of the night. Howard ordered a grilled chicken sandwich with extra crispy bacon and fries. I opted for a lighter repast, a turkey burger with a side salad.

Both Howard and I followed in our father's footsteps. Howard is an executive for a luggage company as was his dad and I am a copywriter, as was mine. We each have been married a long time, Howard 31 years, me, nearing 30 and we each have two kids. Howard has boys. Me, girls.

We talked, mostly, about the kids, of course. Their emergent independence and their struggles with pursuing their callings and finding a mate. All four of our kids are doing quite well (with periodic upsets of course) thank you very much.

Then, as you might expect, our conversation turned to our careers.

We talked of the increasing lack of civility at work, how it's almost a badge of honor to treat people like crap. We are expected to do more, for less money, no appreciation and with fewer amenities. I told Howard I call this era "the low-bid economy." Everyone tries to do everything as cheaply as possible, then we all bark when it turns out like shit.

We stared into our sandwiches. We traded war stories. We laughed the laughter of two men who had seen a lot.

Howard summed it up best:

I tell my kids, "Save your money."

"Don't buy $129 sneakers, $49 knit caps, and $200 sunglasses," I added.

"Save your money," he repeated. "You know what job security is? It's having money in the bank so you know you can go in in the morning and say 'fuck you and your fucking job.'" He flipped his imaginary boss the double bird.

"That's right," I agreed.

"You might never do it," he continued. "But it's nice to think you could."

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Print.

When I started in the advertising business, I think the greatest praise you could give a creative was to call him "a print guy." Many of the best agencies of the 60s, 70s and 80s had made their reputations via print ads. These agencies include DDB (VW and Avis) Ally & Gargano (Saab, Travelers Insurance, IBM) Scali (Volvo, Nikon, Perdue) Ammirati (BMW) Needham Harper & Steers (Xerox).

Print was prized because it is a great coalescer. There are no special effects. It's just you and your rectangle. A simple expression.

I knew from an early age that there was more money to be made if you worked primarily in TV, but the art and craft of advertising was most purely expressed (this may be snobby) via print.

Along the way, between the literally thousands of print ads I created for Montgomery Ward and Bloomingdale's, and the work I started doing when I got my first job in a traditional agency, I think I got pretty good at print.

In fact, one year when I was in my early 30s, I wrote virtually every print ad the agency produced. The TV guys couldn't be bothered and no one else was willing to stay late.

Today, of course, every one and his cousin has declared that "print is dead."

That is, however, until you're searching for the simplest way to communicate an idea.

Often I feel, as the oldest creative in my agency, like others have found myriad ways to cast me aside. They tell me I don't do the things that are so important and gain such buzz for a brand. Like...

Then, every once in a while something happens.

There's a crisis.

A client meeting and there's no formative idea, nothing that pins anything down.

That's when they call me.

Gurus.

Decades ago during the waning and pathetic demise of the once-great agency Ally & Gargano, the CEO (who knew nothing about advertising) went out and hired a new chief creative officer who was meant to help revitalize the place.

This new CCO was called Tony Fisher and he immediately rubbed me the wrong way by taking a run at the account I was running. In any event, Tony right away acquired a couple of nicknames. I dubbed him Phony Pischer (pischer is Yiddish for prick or small fry) but the nickname that stuck was "One Trick Tony." Needless to say, as a creative, Tony didn't have a lot of range.

I remember all of us were called into a conference room and the CEO introduced Tony by showing his reel. One old-timer summed it up this way, "Don't worry that his reel sucks, none of that work is his anyway."

Our worst fears about Tony all came true. In short order he revealed himself as a sham and Ally & Gargano, the once greatest agency in America, shut its doors after three decades.

I bring this up because phonyism and cronyism is still rampant in our industry.

In fact, if you grow your scruff just right and know how to artfully sprinkle banal adjectives mixed with buzzwords capped off with incomplete sentences together, it's almost a sure thing that you'll rise to the top.

I suppose just about every agency at one time or another is afflicted by Guruitis. People who, in the words of my ex-boss Chris Wall "have a titanic attitude and a minnow in the engine room."

The good agencies eventually catch on and axe these poseurs and pompous putzes.

The bad ones?

Monday, February 24, 2014

All my life's a phone tree.

Press one if you want to continue reading this post.

Para espanol la prensa numero dos.

Phone trees are one of the many banes of the modern world. If you have a complaint, a question, a return, or simply want to spend your money, you have to deal with a phone tree. And thence wait and wait and wait. And listen to banal blathering. And ultimately come away less-than-satisfied.

One thing I've noticed of late is that the modern ad agency functions in a way that resembles a phone tree.

If you have an issue, or a request, or a complaint, or even (perish the thought) a point of view, you get shuttled between people with lofty titles, none of whom can address your concern.

"I think there's too much work being shown in this pitch."

"Well, talk to Bobby."

"Bobby, I think Ron and Raoul's campaign is off strategy and shouldn't be shown."

"Well Elbert likes it and he's running this. Talk to Elbert."

"Elbert..."

"Yeah, Bobby mentioned that to me, but it's Pam's favorite. Besides the work is already in the deck."

No conclusion.

No accountability.

No satisfaction.

The same run-around is in effect no matter what your issue.

We have meted out giant titles.

But not balls.

We live in a growing chasm of irresponsibility.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Money.

Of late, there's this weird notion being propagated by "Human" Resources and Upper Management that money, in the form of salaries, bonuses, etc., is not important.

I think this started about two decades ago when we started hearing bushwa like "salaries are being frozen," or "there are no bonuses this year."

The trend accelerated when they started hiring interns at either no salary whatsoever or for minimum wage.

Almost every day you hear crap like people don't leave their jobs because of money, that other things, like compatibility with one's boss and satisfaction with one's accomplishments are more important.

In fact, the nation-wide trend against unions (which basically functioned to get their workers more money) baffles me.

I'll be blunt.

Money is fucking important.

I have kids in college and grad school.

A mortgage.

A retirement to fund.

And then there's everything else I like to do.

They all take money.

If you think you can gull me with the promise of awards and satisfying assignments to accept starvation wages, you're wrong.

You've already stripped away office amenities.

You've nixed all perks.

You seat us like veal in a pen or sardines in a can (though you're too cheap to pack us in oil.)

And now you expect us to think money doesn't matter.

Sorry.

It does to me.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A somber night in the Tempus Fugit.

My heart, that organ some people believe I don't possess, has been bothering me of late. It's all owing to this summer's cataclysmic car crash and subsequent pericarditis. I will get better, my gaggle of doctors assures me, but for the last few weeks I have been in no little amount of pain.

In addition to pain, I have experienced a disconcerting shortness of breath. If I'm walking with someone, particularly going up a hill or flight of steps, I suppress my panting. I certainly don't want word of my illness and weakness getting around at work. They already treat me as if I'm as old as Methusalah. And once they think you're old, unemployment is only a question of time. You've got a target on your back the size of the Colossus of Rhodes.

A final effect of summer's miasma is that by the time I hit the hay in the evening, I'm as tired as a polyester leisure suit at New York fashion week. That said, there's many a night when sleep just will not come. And when it doesn't, like last night, I was off, with Whiskey, to the Tempus Fugit.

We walk slowly tonight, Whiskey and I. Slowly because, see above, I am tired and winded and my legs are heavy. Slowly also because for the last 24 hours or so, the melt has descended upon New York. The accumulation of snow, which is now hard, grey and rock-like, is slowly, slowly disintegrating. At every cross-walk, or nearly every one, there are puddles that could swamp a Fiat 500.

So Whiskey and I walk slowly. That's one thing we've both learned about the Tempus Fugit. It's like the North Star or graffiti in a public bathroom. It will always be there.

There is no tinkle of bells when we arrive, there are no such amenities at the bar. Instead you lean your shoulder into a steel reinforced door and push. Depending on the weather you push accordingly. In the summer's humidity when the door has swelled it helps to have played some high-school football. But last night, in the warming cold, all it took to enter was an "I'm getting on this train" kind of nudge.

I assumed my usual stool, one in from the end, and Whiskey found her place by my feet. The bartender accorded us with his usual ministrations--a small wooden bowl of ice cold water for Whiskey and a juice-glass of Pike's Ale (the ALE the won for YALE!) for me. I had thought about skipping the Pike's this evening, another side-effect of my lingering illness. I am on twelve or fourteen different medications including a steroid called Prednisone, and I was thinking perhaps I'd be better off eschewing the cerveza, but as it was so deftly swept in front of me, I felt obliged to play my role.

"You are looking, once again," the bartender began, "more than a little bit ashen."

"Yes. As they say, I am worse for wear. I still, after seven months, cannot fully lick what's been plaguing me."

He looked into his massive hands and into the white terry cloth with which he keeps the bar-top immaculate.

"Some times," he began "time doesn't heel all wounds."

"Don't jinx me. My doctor has said that recovery might take a year."

"Your problem, I believe, lies not in your heart. But in your shoulders. You carry the weight of the world with you."

He filled me again, before I could stop him. I rotated the glass around and stared deep into the amber.

"I suppose I am the Ur-Father."

He laughed.

"And I am the Ur-Bartender. And the Tempus Fugit, the Ur-Bar."

"Yes."

"No profundity tonight," he continued. "But stop acting like the Ur-Caveman. Where you hunt the mammoth, kill the mammoth, drag the mammoth back to the cave, skin the mammoth, make the fire and cook the mammoth, then make the clothing from the mammoth skin. Let others share in the toil."

I agreed in silence and I thought, one-by-one, of the 28 pills I am taking every day to regulate and normalize that which has grown irregular and abnormal.

"All Ur and no play makes Jack a dead boy," I said.

He filled me again. And I pushed it away.

"I'm ready to sleep I said," getting up to leave.

"On me," he said before I could even pay. "On me."




Friday, February 21, 2014

Catch.

After literally months of what used to be normal winter weather that we now regard as the coming of the apocalypse, things have at last, or at least for the time-being, warmed up in New York.

The soot and carbon monoxide crusted snow has all but melted, except for some still persistent neolithic-looking mounds that rise dark and mysterious like ancient burial sites.

Warmer temperatures came yesterday and are meant to come again this weekend (that is, if this weekend ever does arise.) The streets are dotted with puddles of deep grey slurry, obscuring the potholes beneath that further bang the crap out of 300,000-mile taxi cabs.

Yesterday, however, the sun shown. The temp nudged into the 40s and you could almost feel baseball in the air. I know we might be in for more winter weather, and this glimpse of spring might be passing, but the fact that it was there at all was enough to give you hope.

Over the past few years, dozens of new forms of exercise have sprung up. Women who prize the porcelain delicacy of their well-pedicured feet talk unashamedly of going to boot-camp. Others who have never even made tea with a kettle grunt over a heavy apparatus called a kettleball. Still others talk about strengthening their core, while I worry about the weakness of their souls.

For me, still fighting a losing battle with my summer's travails, (my heart still palpitates with almost any exertions--a lingering effect of my lingering pericarditis) I too want to get back in the exercise swing of things.

But I don't want to ride a stationary bike in the gym, or sweat on what my Uncle Slappy calls the "epileptical." Nor do I want to lift weights or deal, like Rich Siegel, with the tedium of water and chlorine.

Instead I want to buy ten beautiful white baseballs and hire a kid from Collegiate or Dalton and play catch.

Catch, if you've never played it, is a beautiful thing. An hour or so of loose throwing, chatting, transferring your weight and loosely flapping your right arm. Slap, whoosh, slap, whoosh.

I think about hiring a junior varsity player from some prep school for $20 an hour. But of course, it's something you can't do today. Have catch with a young man. Someone would suspect I was a incipient pederast or that I had some sort of prurient interest in something other than just having a catch.

Having had daughters I never had a catch companion. They weren't interested in baseball no matter how I tried and, in fact, they never really understood the delightful monotony of an hour of catch. I guess it's not that different from an hour of hitting a tennis ball back and forth, or driving golf balls. But somehow the to-ing and fro-ing is easier with catch, more methodical.

Donald Hall, the great poet, wrote a book of essays that's one of my favorites. I recommend it and no one reads it. Such is my life. It's called "Fathers Playing Catch with Sons." You can find it here. It's a soft and gentle book about softer and gentler times.

That's all for now.

I have to field some client problems.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Etiam si omnes--ego non.

There was a book review in Tuesday's "New York Times," that I think is worth reflecting on. The book is called "Not I. Memoirs of a German Childhood" and it was written by the great historian Joachim Fest. Fest is best-known for his ground-breaking biography of Adolph Hitler, but this book "shrinks the Wagnerian scale of German history in the 1930s and 1940s to chamber music dimensions." You can read the review here.

Fest's story starts in 1936 when his father summons he and his brother into the study of their house in Berlin for a heart-to-heart talk. Fest's father, Johannes, had already lost his job as a Headmaster at an elementary school owing to his opposition to Hitler.

Johannes explained his position to his sons this way. He instructed them to write down a Latin phrase. I happen to think they are words that more of us might live by. "Etiam si omnes--ego non." "Even if all the others do--I will not."

I think about these words in light of Rich Siegel's screed on the purported virtues of the Barbarian Group's one long desk. Etiam si omnes--ego non.

The modern notion of blissful collaboration, of group groping, of the democratization of the creative process and the "all men are created equal" style of creative critiquing completely misses the soul of creative people and in fact the creative processes.

We do not like to be lumped together as a mass.

We are iconoclasts.

Or misanthropes.

We don't like being surrounded by banal chatter.

Mostly, we don't being told what to do, what to think, how to act, where to sit.

There are two other things that the senior Fest taught his sons.

"Don't forget irony," he said. "It's the entry ticket to humanity."

And perhaps Fest's most advertising-relevant advice: "Endure the clowns!"

 But most of all, Etiam si omnes--ego non.

Even if all others do--I will not.


Know thyself.

When I turned 35, I got promoted to Vice President/Creative Group Head at Ally & Gargano. I was their youngest VP and most of my fellow VPs were 15 to 20 years older than I.

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The first thing I realized is that I had to start acting my age.

I had to shelve my usual tentativeness and be more assertive.

I had to, I figured, be as smart and experienced as my peers, even though they had been in the game longer than I had.

That meant, I had to work a little harder than they and measure things a little more carefully.

In other words, I had work to do if I were to live up to my title. I had to prove, every day and in every way, that I deserved it.

Too often we deal with brands who boast how big and important they are, yet when it comes to marketing communications, they act small and pusillanimous. They say they want to come across as sophisticated and up-market, and yet they either do something themselves that looks like it was done by a teenager with a Flip camera, or they give you a budget that is depressingly picayune.

I've said this before and I'm sure I'll say it again.

Important companies do important ads.

Big companies do big ads.

Don't mix metaphors.

If you're competing with, say, Goldman-Sachs, you can't come across like "the Money Store."

Cheap is cheap.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tomatoes.

Yesterday the inimitable Rich Siegel of Round Seventeen renown wrote a post called "I am not Veal." You can read Rich's wonderful post here.

Specifically the post was about a giant desk at the Barbarian Group which allocates each of their 100+ workers little more than that allotted to a baby calf.

Rich, I think you're right.

We are not veal.

We are supermarket tomatoes.

We are so processed, so genetically modified, so mutated that we have lost all our flavor, our looks, our texture.

We are bland.

Packaged for the utmost efficiency.

Injected with chemicals and sprayed to be just the right hue.

And no one really likes us.

This might be apocryphal but I remember hearing that fruit scientists were trying to develop square tomatoes so they could be packaged and shipped more efficiently.

I think most agencies would be happy with human stumps.

They could stuff a couple dozen of us where now only a couple can fit.



Advertising thoughts from Erwin Rommel.

One of the basic principles of military strategy is the idea of concentrating your forces. That is, if you are spread thinly everywhere, you can advance nowhere or hold nothing.

Wellington believed this and accordingly won the Peninsula Campaign against superior Napoleonic forces. Rommel certainly believed it and until the war turned and the Allies learned, he had his way in North Africa.

Monty defeated Rommel by using his own thinking. He concentrated massive amounts of his forces at the decisive point in battle.

Where we don't stick to this idea, of course, is advertising. Agencies and clients would rather be mediocre at many things (for fear of missing out on something) than strong on a few things.

Apple, whom we spend so much time wishing we were like, does things the right way. They concentrate their forces on great TV commercials and great print ads.

In the 30 or so years they've been in business, I doubt that Apple marketing people have ever sat in a boardroom and gone over 72 Facebook posts that no one will ever read chasing the spurious dream of engagement.

I've never gotten an Apple tweet. Or heard an Apple radio commercial.

Again, this is pretty simple.

They concentrate their forces.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A manifesto.


Every day in my agency, there are a few of us who cut against the grain. The world around us is a world where we schedule meetings to talk about work, then schedule meetings to discuss the work, then schedule meetings to discuss the deck that will present the work to the client.

Once the work is presented to the client, there are, quickly, more meetings scheduled.

Meetings are scheduled to discuss the changes the client requested. Then more meetings are scheduled to go over the changes that have been made and still more meetings are scheduled to build a deck that takes the client through the changes that have been made and those that haven’t been made.

This river flows endlessly, through all seven rounds of client changes.

As an industry, we have jumped on a crazy wheel that spins around faster and faster but gets nowhere.

The fact is, whole weeks if not months go by where work doesn’t get done, it only gets re-done. And at no point during this enervating and ridiculous process does anyone ever have the temerity to suggest that this isn’t the way things should be.

The new normal has us not in the advertising industry but in the do-over industry.

About 15 years ago as Nasdaq was running up to 5,000 on its way to its tech-crash, those of us working on start-ups and dot-coms used to say with conviction, “fast beats big.”

In other words, first on the air or first in the market would carry the day. Today most messages spend more time being revised than they spend being run.

I believe in something I call Now-ism.

Now-ism isn’t about meetings or discussions or deliberation.

Now-ism isn’t about complicated charts and research and re-dos.

Now-ism is about going back to you desk and doing shit.

Now-ism is about taking your best shot based on the brain you were given, the skills you’ve developed and the gut you trust.

It’s not about doing things when you’re scoped.

Or after the eleven-teen other meetings you have to attend.

Or when there’s a proper brief.

Or after your time-sheets are done.

Or when you're 'inspired.'

It’s about cutting the crap, cutting the cord, cutting to the chase, cutting out the middleman and maybe cutting out early.

So you can get things done.

Now.

Uncle Slappy saves the day.

Uncle Slappy called late last night, past if you must know, his usual bed time. I picked up the phone and immediately noticed a slight tremolo in his voice.

"Boychick," he said.

"Uncle Slappy. It's late. Is everything ok?"

"Oy, I have to tell you what a night we had. We just got home a few minutes ago."

I took a deep breath. When your surrogate father and surrogate mother are 86, every action that is out of the norm makes you more than a trifle nervous.

"Your Aunt Sylvie and I went out to dinner tonight with Saul and Mindy, the Siegels."

The Siegels live three units down in a two bedroom with a view of the pool. He was an internist in Roslyn until they retired and moved to Boca.

"We went to the early bird," Slappy continued "to my favorite place, "From Schmear to Eternity." On Monday nights they have all-you-can-eat lox and bagel, $14.95."


"That's quite a deal. I imagine Aunt Sylvie took some home for later."

"They expect that," Slappy temporized, "It's built into the price. In any event, you would think Saul Siegel hadn't eaten in a week. He was wolfing down the food like a rabid dog."

"Or a wolf," I amended politely.

"Whatever," Slappy ignored. "In any event he was eating a piece of pickled herring that had to be the size of a whole pickled herring."

"He didn't cut?"

"No, into the mouth like a seal the herring went. And in a minute he's choking like a horse. He's turning red and blue like a bruise."

"Oy," I added sagaciously.

"The man eats like his throat was cut."

"And a cardiologist no less."

"In any event, a burglar, comes into the Schmear and I see he pulls a gun on the cashier. A nice Cuban girl who sits in the front. She freezes like a snow man but meanwhile, Saul Siegel is about to plotz."

"Death by herring," I tsked.

"I get up in a flash, or what passes for a flash when you're 86. The burglar sees me getting up and screams at me pointing his gun. 'Get down,' he says."

"You got down, I assume."

"I did not. I yelled at him, 'He's choking. I'm giving him the Heinrick Manoeuvre. At this, the gunman gets irked with me. 'Get down,' he yells."

"Oy," I added again.

"I yell again," Uncle Slappy says, "I am giving the Heinrick Manoeuvre. And the burglar yells at me. 'Heimlich, you idiot. It's Heimlich, you idiot.' At that point I push in on Siegel's chest and out flies, and I mean flies a giant piece of pickled herring."

"It's said the average piece of food someone chokes on is the size of a cigarette pack. Remember when Mama Cass died?"

"Ach. Ham sandwich," he said. "The herring flies out like a rocket and hits the gunman in the eye, stinging and startling him. The kitchen guy sees this and at that point jumps on the burglar and knocks him to the ground. Aunt Sylvie was the hero. She picked up his gun."

"That's quite a story." I was breathing again.

"The police quickly arrived and we all had to go to the precinct to tell what happened. We just now got home."

"Well, thank god everyone's ok."

"Actually," Slappy paused, "Actually, I'm a little hurt."

"You're hurt?" I asked.

"He shouldn't have called me an idiot."

And with that the old man hung up the blower.

I'm sure he was asleep in minutes. Me, an idiot, couldn't sleep all night.


Monday, February 17, 2014

A failed comeback.


Back in 2008, Mark Mulder was one of the top pitchers in the Major Leagues. He had won, in his 20s, more than 100 games and in 2001, finished second in Cy Young voting.

And then he blew out his shoulder and retired at the age of 30.

Last fall, he got bit by a bug. He was watching a ball game on TV and started mimicking a pitcher's motion. He realized he could throw once again without pain.

Mulder kept throwing.

His fastball hit speeds of 92 miles per hour.

Gaining confidence, he signed with the Anaheim Angels and decided to make, at age 36, a comeback.

Then, working through a "routine agility drill," Mulder heard a loud pop. He thought maybe the heel had ripped off his shoe.

Instead, he had ruptured his left Achilles tendon.

His comeback was over.

In advertising we don't need to throw a ball 92 miles per hour. We don't need finely-hewn abdominal muscles. About our only overlap with ball players is we need to look good in a baseball cap.

Mulder's kids never got to see him pitch. They all cried when their dad threw in the towel.

Comebacks are hard.

Failed comebacks are harder.

Nevertheless, Mulder had a lesson we, in advertising, could learn from.

He said: "I tell a lot of young guys to take advantage of these opportunities, because you can throw one pitch and be done. That's part of the sport, any sport. It can be taken away from you in a heartbeat."

It's true of advertising too.

So keep working. Keep learning. Fight for your portfolio. Fight for your integrity. Try not to burn bridges. And try to have fun.

"It can be taken away from you in a heartbeat."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A reunion.

Until last night, I hadn't seen my freshman-year college room-mate, Jeff, and his wife, Pat for about 20 years. We didn't have a falling out. Nobody insulted anyone's wife or lied or owed anyone money. It was nothing like that.

Truth be told, we were busy. Each in our own way, busy.

We were busy doing things that men do. Trying to make a living. Raising our children. Growing up. And old. We were busy dealing with life and the vagaries thereof, including aging and dying parents, mishigoss with our kids, and our own mortality.

Last night, we covered it all.

We covered it with the memories of being 17 not too far-away.

And now 39 years have passed and we are each 56.

Being 56 is not easy.

All those up-and-comers, the 30s and 40s, look at you as if you are as old as Moses. I have to say it wears on you. My brain hasn't slowed. I'm a better writer than I was just a few years ago, faster, sharper, funnier. But because Botox is calling, you're a candidate for pasturization. That is, being sent out to pasture.

Last night, we went through a lot of that.

We talked about long-ago friends who had risen fast and flamed out, a few who had struck it rich and a few who had fucked up along the way.

Jeff and I, room-mates in 1975, followed different paths. We were always very different people.

But we have some things in common.

We are like diesel engines.

We might not accelerate as quickly as others, but we keep going.

Neither of us is showing signs of wearing out.

We keep on going.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Nancy, 1960-2007.

It's Valentine's Day today.

For me, it's one of the saddest days of the year.

It's not the saccharin bullshit of a phony holiday that gets me.
Or the passing of a group of hoods killed by Capone and Bugs Moran.

It's because today is my sister Nancy's birthday.

She would have been 54 today.

Instead she's dead.

She died almost seven years ago in a motorcycle accident.

Nancy was always kind of a fuck up by conventional standards. She didn't excel in school, got messed up with drugs and decided she wanted to make it as a musician.

So, she lived a hand-to-mouth existence. Never sure what she wanted to do. Though I tried to help her, as did to a lesser degree, my older brother.

In any event, she had a lot of friends. And had some love and some joy in her life.

Though she probably had more depression, sadness and pain.

In any event, she's dead now.

Dead on 12th Avenue, crushed by her brand-new Ducati.

There are plenty of people who say that the death of a loved one is "something you have to come to terms with." Something "you have to get over." Something "you have to put behind you."

These people are full of shit.

They're spouters of pyscho-babble who have never experienced anything in the form of anything other than a pixel.

In real life, you don't put the death of your sister behind you. You don't get over it. It doesn't sit in a bottom drawer with your old tax statements and your kids' fourth grade reportcards.

I don't let my sister's death paralyze or debilitate me.

But I don't let it go, either.

She's my sister.

Born on Valentine's Day.

Dead.

A day after the snow.

Yesterday I walked to work in the snow.

It was a wet, heavy snow, with flakes large and slow and it was accompanied by a howling gusty wind that sped frozen rain against your face and stung. I pulled my Asktrakhan hat low over my ears and pulled up the collar of my oilskin. Not much of me was exposed to the elements, but what was exposed was taking it hard.

I bent my head down and walked through the accumulating, across the Upper East Side, across a blanketed and nearly empty Central Park.

The city was quiet, the snow kept people away in droves. I heard a faraway whistle of a train crossing over the Hells Gate four miles away. I heard another train whistle moments later from about a mile away--a Metro North train emerging from the Park Avenue Tunnel at 97th Street.

Central Park which usually bustles with runners and people like me crossing it to get to work, was very nearly empty. The dog walkers had stayed home, and of course, the school groups were missing. Either classes were cancelled or gym was being held indoors.

I saw one other walker when I was out and two runners keeping their footing and making a trail of their steps. I also saw three sleek cross-country skiers with their awkward spasticated gaits gliding across the white.

I thought about taking the day off, about not going in, because, I suspected, attendance in my office would be light. But, my Puritan side prevailed. I have miles to go.

It's good to walk across a park at least once a week and unplug. It's good to mark the change in seasons not merely by the changes of sports teams. It's good to see snow one week and the little pixels of purple crocuses the next, and then the forsythia, and then the dogwoods and then red buds, then green.

It's good to know that time is marching on and that seasons are passing. It helps you question your progress, your drive and your goals.

There were all sorts of apocalyptic predictions about the snow yesterday. People forget that snow, like trends, fads, "new" new things and the flavor of the week, is not permanent. And if New York had been covered by 14-inches as some were predicting, or if New York had been sheathed in a thick veil of ice, ok. We'd survive.

Our feet might get cold and our cheeks might burn and we might fall on our well-padded keisters, but this is life. We go on.

We put one foot in front of the other and so and so.

We get to work.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

The consumer is not in control.

Next time you hear some fucktard say "the consumer is in control," please ask him to consider this: The first largest cable company and the second largest company are proposing to merge. So, now two virtual monopolies that people absolutely despise will now be able to deliver their terrible service and extortionate pricing presumably with more efficiency.

On a snowy Thursday.

Earlier this week I wrote about a small horde of people from agencies around New York who had previously only known success in their careers. It seems that all of a sudden and without notice, this small horde has had adversity visited upon them.

Maybe that summary is not entirely accurate, because, to be frank, a lot of these people seemed to be the type who have, or who have had, that near miraculous ability to fail upward. I don't know how people acquire this attribute, but some do. However last week, it seemed to finally catch up to a bunch of them. After a decade or two of upward climb, these people were shoved off a ledge.

By Grand Central Station, I sat down and cried. I cried once on the steps leading up to the running track on the reservoir. And many's the time I've wept to myself, worried about my future, worried if I'd ever be able to support my family, send my daughters to college, buy them nice things. I worried about my worth as a man, my very ability to earn a living.

I think there are a lot of people in our business who by virtue of something or other, think the path of their life will be cushioned with rose petals. They believe that all the lights will magically turn green on their way to the airport. They believe that their looks, and the health, and their whatever else will never wane or waver.

The only reason I don't feel bad about these people who have now gotten a small dose of comeuppance is that many of them, as you might have guessed, were infected with the greatest of all sins, that of Hubris. They truly believed their shit didn't stink and their sheen would never be seen through.

And, now what?

How do you rally yourself?

How do you keep going?

Most important, how do you learn to be a better, kinder human being?

Here's a thought.

Spend ten minutes in a quiet room and focus, really focus on the Giorgione's painting above, "La Vecchia," "The Old Woman."

Giorgione died at just 30, so he never reached the heights of other more-famous Renaissance painters, but I love this piece. I love her face. It seems to have everything in it that happens to you over time. I see pain, and age, and maybe a little anger in it. But I also see humor, and lightness, and 'I told you so.'

Of course, this is just what I see. You might see nothing more than an old hag.

But I suggest you spend time with this painting.

You might also consider the little piece of cloth she is holding with the words "Col Tempo" written upon it. It's simple to translate.

It means "With Time."




Obituaries.

I don't know when I started reading obituaries, but I do. My practice is not motivated by the macabre or some morbid fascination with death. In fact, obituaries are more often than not celebrations of interesting lives great and small. I find there's almost always something I learn from reading them. And after checking to see that the Knicks lost once again, reading the op-eds and the advertising column, obituaries are most often the next thing I read.

I've even read a few entire books of obituaries. One, a collection from "The Times" of London. Reading Churchill's obit was an entire education. Another, a collection from "The Economist," was similarly edifying. But the best of all were from a collection called "52 McGs," crazy, quirky, thought-provoking obituaries written by "New York Times'" writer Robert McG Thomas. You can order the book here. I promise you you will enjoy it.






I bring up all this death and dying because there was a seminal obituary in yesterday's "New York Times," that of the great comedian Sid Caesar. His was a life worth admiring and worth learning from. You can read it here.

Caesar rose to dizzying heights at an early age and was hailed as a comic genius, as the American Chaplin. He kept a live TV show going every week for the better part of ten years and along the way nurtured writers and performers like Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, Mel Tonkin and more.

Week after week he made America laugh. And laugh at things I think are funnier than a kick in the balls which seems the root of so much humor today.

I discovered Caesar for myself in 1973, when I was 15. Ten of the best skits from his 1950s TV show were assembled into a full-length theatrical release called "Ten From Your Show of Shows." I saw it twice in the span of about three days, fairly unable to stay out of the theatre. I laughed so hard at his "Uncle Goopy" episode I still have muscle memory of splitting my sides.

Caesar had a long hard fall. His dizzy heights were met by self-hate and self-doubt and he all but disappeared into drugs and drinks. The coterie of people who loved him tried to help but his bent toward self-destruction was almost too strong.

He reinvented himself in the 1980s, kicked his addictions and seemed to flourish.

Here's the part from the end of Caesar's obituary that I read to my older daughter last night. I think it has relevance to all of us workaholic strivers. Even if you're a lazy slug-a-bed, it should give you pause.

“Everybody wants to have a goal: I gotta get to that goal, I gotta get to that goal, I gotta get to that goal,” he said. “Then you get to that goal, and then you gotta get to another goal. But in between goals is a thing called life that has to be lived and enjoyed — and if you don’t, you’re a fool.”


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Indians and Chiefs.

It's a product, I'm sure, of the disgustingly democratic every-one-gets-a-vote, I-don't-want-to-hurt-anyone's-feelings we live in. And it's the exact opposite of the way things used to be.

We no longer live in a world where the problem is: "too many chiefs, not enough Indians."

We live in a world where there are too many Indians and not enough chiefs.

In other words, there's no one to make a decision.

No one who kills work that needs to be killed.

No one who decisively thumbs up or thumbs down anything.

No one that anyone listens to.

No one who speaks last.

So while most meetings discussing work are attended by a chief creative officer (global), a chief creative officer (North America), a chief creative officer (New York), as well as a chief strategy officer, a chief content officer, a chief production officer, a chief something else officer, none of those chiefs make a stand.

They're chiefs but they act like Indians.

They don't embrace their power.

Say yes or no.

Commit.




The worst assignment I ever got.

Sorry if I've told you this one before. I'm nearing 4,000 posts, and I might be repeating myself. Of course, this could also be an affect of my ever-advancing age. But in any event, here goes.

Some years ago I was in a very senior position at a very large agency that was consistently doing very good work. Despite all that, I felt that the assignments I was getting weren't good enough. I wanted bigger, more important assignments. I felt I had earned them and I went to my boss to ask for them.

Before I had even arrived back in my office, my phone was ringing. It was the leading account guy on the account who was calling to give me a new assignment.

That was fast, I thought, and I ran over to his office to get briefed.

The assignment was to create a whole raft of "deliverables" for Lou Gerstner's going-away party. (Gerstner was the CEO of IBM and widely credited for the giant company's turn-around.) I had to create posters, sing-along goodbye songs, ads and videos.

You're kidding me, I thought. An assignment really can't get any lower than this. Choreographing and decorating a party.

Except the CEO of the agency regarded it as important.

As did my boss and the head account guy.

As did the CMO at the client.

And just about everyone else that mattered at my agency.

And when all the bullshit work was done, and done well I might add, all those people were impressed.

Because I had taken something really lousy and come through.

I got nothing for my book.

I produced a lot of work I could never use.

But I had done things--taken the assignment seriously--that mattered to people.

And after it all was over, I started getting better assignments.

Which just goes to show you. Take every assignment, no matter how trivial and dumb, and take it seriously. Approach it like you mean it.

Because the worst assignments can lead to the best.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Investment advice.

There's some old investing wisdom I think about now and again primarily because it is pertinent to our industry. The fact is, I guess it's germane to any industry.

The investment wisdom says this: "It's not timing the market, it's time in the market."

I take this to mean the following.

Don't try to get rich quick.

Don't try to work the angles.

Don't try to make a killing.

Don't try to conquer the world.

Instead, work.

Do you work.

Thoroughly, carefully, considerately.

Be in it for the long-haul.

And be in it every day.

Work hard every day.

Don't take shortcuts.

Do things the right way.

It's a more arduous path--time in the market.

And there are times when you'll look with jealousy at those who have been able to time the market. Who have made it big while you're plodding along. But stick to your guns.

Work hard on the assignments you get and do good work. Win clients over. Produce. Produce a lot. A lot of good work. And always give your assignments, your clients and your bosses more than they expect.

In short, be steady.

It's how you last.


Shirley Temple, 1928-2014.

Years ago, or rather decades, I worked for a mid-sized agency that had some small portions of Coca-Cola business.

They didn't have any of the big brands, rather we labored endlessly on tiny sodas that Coke wanted to test to see if they had national or even international viability. Working on such sodas meant that day in and day out we churned out storyboard after storyboard, literally hundreds of boards in the hopes that one would make it to the client, make it through focus groups and somehow get produced.

I think it was my partner Craig who had the idea originally.

He came in one morning into the small office we worked in and he threw down the gauntlet.

"Shirley Temple in a can," he said.

"Explain," I said laconically.

"Everyone loves a Shirley Temple. That Sprite, orange-juice and grenadine concoction. Coke should can it and sell it."

In two shakes of a lamb's tail we were on the blower to Ghana where Ms. Shirley Temple Black was ambassador. We ran the idea by the Honorable.

Needless to say, the old girl loved it.

Quickly we drew up a storyboard. Through the magic of computer generated art, we would have the child Shirley Temple tap-dancing up a flight of steps not with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, but with a can of "Shirley!" This sort of computer-generation animation was just coming into vogue. It was the right technique at the right time.

We ran the board down the hall to our Creative Director. Next thing we knew we were on a private jet to Atlanta to present to Coke's brass.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Shirley! became the soft-drink industry's biggest hit of 1984. Demand hugely outstripped supply. But before long, its popularity began to plummet. It seemed Shirley! was just too sweet for an adult palate and people stayed away in droves.

For Shirley!, Craig and I, it was back to the drawing board.

I'll miss ya, keed.

I'll miss ya.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A comeuppance.

Being 56 at an agency these days, it's as if you were born in the Pleistocene epoch. Not only do you know things that other people simply don't, you've been through things, as well, that they haven't yet experienced.

Foremost among those things are the inevitable career setbacks you've reckoned with during your 30+ year career.

Of late, a horde of 40 somethings I know who have had good, steady upward climbs have suddenly been shit-canned. Tossed to the curb. Axed. They've been crumpled up like an old sheet of paper and tossed into the ashcan.

In other words, they've gotten their comeuppance. They've been riding high in their careers, haven't faced real setbacks and now, all of a sudden, they're on the beach.

Over the last decade or so--and it's been a decade since I left Ogilvy--I've been through a lot career-wise. I've been brought in to help try to resuscitate a dying agency. I've been brought in to try to help make an agency more creative. And I've been brought in to try to help stabilize an account.

Along the way, of course, I too have earned my comeuppance.

People used to hang on my every word.

I used to be treated well.

Praised.

Bonused.

No more.

It's tough when it happens to you. Because until it does happen you never think it will.

You walk around thinking your career is a bowl of cherries.

Comeuppancing is damn hard. It's no fun dealing with the slights, over-sights, put downs and more that you have to accept. There's a lot of shit that all of a sudden you're forced to eat. And there's nothing, really, you can do about it.

Except this.

You can show up every day. Be yourself. Double down on what made you successful in the first place. Work hard. Try harder.

You might still have a lot of shit to eat.

But at least you're trying, fighting, and working toward something better.


Lying to the world.

A lot of the commercials that seem to be running during the coverage of the Olympic games from Sochi seem to be predicated on ridiculous, stupefying and tremendous lies.

There's the one from Tyson poultry that hopes you forget the vivid imagery of thousands of chickens being factory-raised, factory-abused and factory-slaughtered. Nope, we're the friendly chicken people.

There's the one from United Airlines that shows Olympians in their skin-tight armor gliding effortlessly into their comfortable seats, all to the glorious strains of Gershwin. There's nothing about having your gonads crushed in about as much space as the aforementioned poultry is allotted.

Perhaps worst of all is the Citibank story of some skier who decides, for whatever inexplicable reason, to pay his bills via smart phone just as he's about to descend thousands of feet at 70 miles per hour. This is about as realistic, once again, as  the happy chickens above.

I guess these three ads all come from the same place and the same thinking. That is, if you paste enough smiles on people and lie persistently enough and with enough money behind your asinine blandishments, people will come to believe them. Dumbing down is in fine-fettle in all three of these ads. Smiles have replaced facts and, as in monkey see, monkey do, if we see someone on TV smiling, why there's nothing else for us to do but smile ourselves.

According to these three spots and dozens and dozens like them, the consumer is a moron and therefore is treated as such. It's all part of yet another pernicious advertising trend--likeability. That is, if our brand is happy and smiley, people will like us and if they like us, they'll buy us.

Personally, I am more than a little sick of likeability. I'd rather a dose or two of brainability.

I'd like to hear that Tyson chickens aren't conduits for e-coli, that they've been raised and slaughtered as humanely as you can do such things. I'd like to hear that their workers make a living wage.

I'd like to hear from United that their seats aren't busted, that their planes are staffed by people who aren't disciples of Adolph Eichmann and maybe that they have more than one toilet per 300 passengers.

And I'd like to hear from Citibank that they're sorry for destroying the US economy and they won't do it again, or at least until the next time.

As an industry, we are like fast-food restaurants. The crap we produced is fortified with the pink slime of likeability.

It tastes bad.

It's bad for you.

And it's killing us all.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Uncle Slappy has root canal.

Uncle Slappy just called and it worried me. He was slurring his words, never a good sign from an 86-year-old.

"I had to have," he told me "emergency root canal. It hurt worse than child birth."

"Uncle Slappy," I admonished, "you and Aunt Sylvie have no children. How can you compare anything to the pain of child birth?"

The old man got defensive.

"Believe me," he answered "I know pain. You don't get to be 86-years-old without becoming an expert in pain. I know all sorts of pain. Heart ache, and headache, and stomach ache, and back ache, and front ache, and foot ache, and knee ache, and shoulder ache, and elbow ache, and pupik ache. I have aches in places I don't even have places--psychic aches. If child birth felt like my mouth, there wouldn't be seven-billion people in the world."

The old man had a point. People willingly have children but nobody opts in to a root canal.

"So how are you feeling now? Are you better?"

"My mouth you could poke with a shish-kebob skewer and I wouldn't feel a thing. I'm as numb as a statue. Vicodin they gave me and some anti-ballistics. So alright I'll be in a bit."

"Well thank god you found a dentist working on a Saturday."

"Not a dentist," he corrected, "a fancy-schmancy endodentist."

"Endodontist," I said.

"When I was a boy, now then did we have a dentist. The worst dentist in all of Philadelphia was what we could afford since two dimes we didn't have to rub together."

"The worst dentist?"

"Thumbs Salzman. We called him Thumbs because dropping things he always was in your mouth. Once on the little pointy poker I almost choked to death. He speared my uvula like Moby Dick."

"That sounds absolutely horrific."

"Well, it was no picnic. But today with Dentist Mort Gershman, he was like a Maestro in my mouth, the Maven of the molar."

"I thought you said the ordeal was painful."

"The endodentisting, that hurt," the old man said. "But the real pain came later."

"When the novocaine wore off?" I asked.

"No," he said, pausing for the punchline. "When I got the bill."

And with that, he hung up the Ameche.





Friday, February 7, 2014

Ralph Kiner, 1922-2014.



A piece of my childhood died yesterday in the form of a strapping home-run-hitter and baseball raconteur Ralph Kiner.

Kiner, who played for the perennially horrible Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs, began his baseball playing career in the late 40s and ended it only ten years later when chronic back pain disabled him. Though he played only a short time, he led the National League in home runs seven times and was seventh on the all-time list (ahead of the great DiMaggio) when he retired with 369 round-trippers. Mays never hit as many home runs in a season, neither did Aaron, or Banks, or Musial or Matthews.

That said, as a child of the 60s and 70s, I was introduced to Kiner when he was an announcer for the Mets--a job he held from their inception in 1962 and continued at least sporadically through last season. He also hosted a cheesy post-game show where he'd talk about the game with a notable Met (there's an oxymoron) called Kiner's Korner.
video

I never liked Kiner as an announcer. He was, in the parlance of baseball journalism, a "homer," meaning that he rooted for, while he was announcing, the Mets. I guess I always believed an announcer should behave more like a journalist and be impartial. My point of view, of course, was a minority one. People loved hearing from Kiner and his "kolleagues," that the Mets could claw back an win a game where they trailed by six runs in the eighth with Felix Milan coming to the plate.

Kiner also rubbed me the wrong way because he often seemed to be drunk while announcing games and while hosting Kiner's Korner. He slurred his words and slaughtered the English language. Some baseball announcers (and players, and managers) do this in an endearing way. For instance, I was cool with Dizzy Dean saying something like "He slud into second," but I always looked at Kiner, perhaps uncharitably, as a sloppy sot.

In any event, Kiner being something of a New York fixture, his obituary quickly made the rounds in New York's three major daily newspapers. All the obits I've read, and I've read many, remarked on Kiner's gift of malaprop.

Whether these malaprops were the product of a naturally addlepated brain, or one muddled by drink, I don't know. But my policy has always been, never look a gift malaprop in the moth.

  • All of his saves have come in relief appearances.
  • All of the Mets road wins against the Dodgers this year occurred at Dodger Stadium.
  • Darryl Strawberry has been voted to the Hall of Fame five years in a row.
  • Hello, everybody. Welcome to Kiner's Korner. This is....uh. I'm...uh.
  • He's going to be out of action the rest of his career." 
  • If Casey Stengel were alive today, he'd be spinning in his grave."
  • I think one of the most difficult things for anyone who's played baseball is to accept the fact that maybe the players today are playing just as well as ever."
  • Jose DeLeon on his career has seventy-three wins and one-hundred and five rbi's.
  • Kevin McReynolds stops at third and he scores
  • On Fathers Day, we again wish you all happy birthday.
  • Solo homers usually come with no one on base.
  • Sutton lost thirteen games in a row without winning a ballgame.
  • The hall of fame ceremonies are on the thirty-first and thirty-second of July.
  • The Mets have gotten their leadoff batter on only once this inning.
  • The reason the Mets have played so well at Shea this year is they have the best home record in baseball.
  • There's a lot of heredity in that family.
  • Tony Gwynn was named player of the year for April.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Shaw in the Tempus Fugit.

The New Year has hardly begun yet already this winter we have had three or five “storms of the century.” Last night we had another one and its freezing rain against my bedroom window wrest me from my slumber.

Whiskey, my 22-month-old golden retriever was similarly disturbed, and before long, the two of us, like Damon and Pythias were heading up town, through the slush, sleet and ice, to the Tempus Fugit.


I had once heard somewhere that the iceberg that damaged the Titanic, causing it to sink is still floating around the Arctic. I think of the Tempus Fugit in a similar vein. It has and it will survive the passage of time, the assaults of winds, seas and storms as well as the calumny of man. I’m sure, and I’m not being particularly lugubrious here, that the Tempus Fugit will long outlast me.

The fact is, the Tempus Fugit, in our increasingly ephemeral world, has survived longer than is its right. It opened first in 1924--90 years ago, and has had a light on in its proverbial window since that time, never closing its doors, not for holidays, nor tragedies like the death of FDR or JFK and not even during the Biblical power-outages New York sustained in 1965 and 1977. 

This stalwart demeanor is one reason I keep coming back to the place. It's nice to know that in a world where businesses, restaurants and bars come and go with the frequency of a firefly's light, the Tempus Fugit is something you can count on. No matter what my mood, no matter what's happened during the day, no matter what sturm und drang I am going through, I will be greeted by the bartender with a warm hello and a cold Pike's Ale.

Whiskey and I arrived at the Tempus Fugit more than a little worse for wear. Though I had on my three-quarter-length oilskin, welted boots and my grey Russian Astrakhan hat, and though Whiskey, being a golden retriever, is all but impervious to the elements, we each looked like a survivor of the aforementioned Titanic. We were fairly soaked through.

"You look like a man in need of a Pike's," the bartender offered, pulling a glass for me.

"A Pike's and maybe a towel." 

He reached beneath the bar and gave me a small white terry. I dried my face and hands and, too, gave Whiskey a once over with the towel, drying particularly her head and snout. She showed her appreciation by licking my hand graciously and laying down once again at my feet to sleep.

"How are things with your heart?" he began.

I answered as I usually do. "I had been getting better. But I am once again feeling the affects or incipient pericarditis. Not enough for me to call my cardiologist. But enough to foul up my mood."

He polished the shiny teak of the bar. He thought about presenting me with a small wooden bowl of Spanish peanuts, but hearing of my pain, he demurred.

"You don't need heart pain to put you in a mood," he surmised. "What's called a foul mood by some, I happen to call realism."

"As in," I answered, "the power of accurate observation is often called cynicism by those who haven't got it."

"Shaw, I suppose."

"Who else?"

"Speaking of Shaw, I think you should try to be more like Man, and less like Superman."

"Relax is what you're saying. And this from a man whose bar never closes."

He laughed at that.

"Like you, I too am an unreasonable man."

"A man upon whom all progress depends."

He laughed again at that and for the third time pulled me another Pike's. He slid it over to me but kept his catcher's mitt gripping the glass.

"What you have to do," he whispered, "is let go. The stupidities, the pomposities, the bluster, the bullshit, the slights, the morons, the thieves, the poseurs, the do-nothings, the no-shows, the advice-givers, the takers. Let go of the liars, the half-truthers, the know-nothings, the politicians, the glad-handers, the self-promoters, the tearer-downers, the short-cutters, the glib, the dishonest, the reprobates, the scoundrels, the weasels, the rogues and the rascals. You have to let go," he said, letting go of the glass.

"Let go," I echoed.

"Otherwise." He paused the length of an elevator ride. "Otherwise. Heart ache."

I drained my Pike's and let two twenties go across the bar. He rang open the ancient cash register, making a show of accepting my bills, but then shoved shut the cash drawer and pushed them back my way.

"On me."

Whiskey and I walked home, once again, through the slush.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

An Empire of Illusion.

The world of advertising has turned into an Empire of Illusion, where nothing makes sense.
  • People who create work get paid less than people who pontificate about the work.
  • People who create work are out-numbered by people who monitor the work, measure the work and monkey around with the work.
  • Work that doesn't run wins more awards than work that does.
  • Showing product benefits or prices is beneath us.
  • We spend more time meeting than creating.
  • It takes more work/hours to create a social media campaign than a television campaign.
  • Our only contact with upper-management usually is prompted by missing timesheets.
  • Agencies stop getting paid when they produce actual work. They continue to get paid while creating decks.
  • Most agencies have gone open-plan, though it's been shown to decrease productivity.
  • We spend more time on decks than on creative.
  • We spend more time in meetings than on creative.
  • Type breaks, leading and kerning no longer matter. Our "design" is responsive.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

90% owned.

My account guy stopped by my table last night. (I call them tables, because frankly, they're too cheap to be considered desks. There's not a single drawer for your valuables, nothing but a $29 file cabinet underneath so you have something to bang your knee on.)

Anyway, I digress.

My account guy stopped by last night, glowing. He had bull-dogged his way through our client and gotten our 2014 scope of work signed. This is a bigger accomplishment than producing a spot and winning a gold pencil for it. It's more important, too. Because it means we will be paid.

Speaking of paid, he told me, and I quote "I'm 90% owned by the client."

To which I declared, "I thought slavery was abolished in 1863 by the Emancipation Proclamation." But apparently it wasn't. Because I am 90% owned.

I understand the employment security that comes from being 90% owned. I am not vulnerable to the caprices and the aggressive ageism of my agency. To them I might be one of the last old guys standing, but my salary and mark up are paid for, so, chances are, they'll leave me be until I'm not 90% owned.

Still, I don't like the concept of being owned.

The slavery-esq nomenclature.

I don't like being bought.

At the very least, tell me they bought not me, but my work time.

That takes the sting off it a bit.


State of the industry.

Something has gone terribly wrong in our business. And by "our business," I am not discriminating between those of us who create TV commercials and those of us who create sponsored tweets.

We no longer make a product people want.

We interrupt--but we don't delight, inform, entertain. We take, but we don't give anything in return. We are the assault and battery of communications, we are the abusive husband of marketing. We are brutal and demanding, always asking for more and returning less.

First, I think, is the notion that copy is an anathema. Frankly, my mind wandered during those :60 second spots that told you nothing, including who's paying for them, for :50 seconds. Believe it or not, though we are crushed daily by thousands of pieces of marketing shit, none of them provide anything useful. We hope our likeability is enough to make us attractive. I happen to think people want information and reasons why.

Second, we appeal only to the lowest common denominator. Surely, much of the world has gone dumb. But there are some people who haven't. Yet, we forget about them. We assume that meaningless tidbits of bullshit, that is, "engagement," is what people want. I think people hunger for something more. But we have USA Today'd communications. We have reduced everything to the equivalent of a puerile info-graphic.

Third, we are like over-eaters at the Golden Corral's endless buffet. We routinely have commercial pods with a dozen or more :30s in it. It's too much. The value of programming isn't worth the cost you have to pay in the commercials watched. The networks and channels are killing themselves as well as agencies with their greed.

In short, we have dumbed down and over-retouched our work so it's beautiful to look at but nutritionally empty. Then we air it amid dozens of other similar spots. Then we wonder why none of it is effective.

We need to go back to Bill Bernbach or Carl Ally.

We need to impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way.

We need to inform. Not just entertain.

And we need to be judicious.

Does a bank really need to send out a post on lemonade?

Something has gone terribly wrong in our business.

We are building Edsels.

And then wondering why no one values us.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Four minutes and 19 seconds of your time.

video
I came upon this today. Way more important than anything else I did.

Thoughts on XLVII or something like that.

As far as football itself goes, Super Bowl XLVII or whatever Roman numeral it was, was a bust. I'd say the same for the commercials too.

I'll admit, I dislike football. I also disliked watching on Fox. If any company was ever deserving of being boycotted, Fox is at the top of the list. Their lies, their smearing, their deceptions, their denial of two of the central facts of our time--evolution and climate change--make them eminently shunnable. But this is America. We stick to our principles as long as no inconvenience is involved.

In any event, against my better angels, I turned the game on about a minute after the opening kickoff, just in time to see the Seahawks score a safety. But I was there primarily for the commercials and the community. This is one thing, it seems, that all Americans were tuned into--a shared event in our atomized world.

I'll also admit, I could bear the game no more and turned off, commercials or not, at the end of the third quarter and I went to read the 600 page biography I am slogging through on the Duke of Wellington. No commercials allowed.

One thing I noticed about the spots is how YouTube has changed our attention spans. There were plenty of commercials that were beautiful pastiches for 45-55 seconds, only to reveal a logo at the conclusion. This is supposed to make a spot a brand spot, when it is lofty, beautiful and non-selly. But such spots bored me. Tell me what you're about and tell me about your product.

Even Chrysler's Dylan spot bored me. It was ok and certainly grand, but man, you sullied Bob Dylan with your axe-grinding Americanism, and I don't really appreciate that. The Bud spot with returning vets made me sick. More false patriotism. I'd rather hear that a dime from every Bud sold went to find a cure for PTSD than more tear-jerking American-ness.

Virtually nothing else got me. Somethings, like Oikos and Butterfinger and I suppose if I plumbed my memory made me hate the brands more than I already do.

I also think that, hopefully, this year is the last year that commercials are released before the game. This is like having sex before the first date. Nothing to look forward to. An otherwise decent effort by VW (decent, not great, not particularly funny) had the air let out of it because I knew what was coming. Their spot was a one liner. It only works once. Take my spot, please.

That's it for me.

A lousy game. Mostly mediocre spots.