Thursday, April 22, 2021

I'm having a break-down.

 


I get a lot of notes like the one above. 

They're not all from people as talented and kind and prolific as Dave Dye (if you're not reading his Stuff From the Loft--particularly his series on 'The Women Who Built DDB'--you are depriving yourself of a valuable advertising education. 

I've never been a fan of advertising schools. Partly because I think there's more to be learned--faster and cheaper and better--from people like Dave and Dave Trott and Bob Hoffman and Rich Siegel, but....)

But forgive the meander. 

I get a lot of notes or calls or whatevers from people saying "how do you do it?" And frankly, I don't know.

But often when I am stuck, which is often, whether with work or with this space, I break things down into smaller parts.

Over the years, I've seen many people almost literally paralyzed with performance anxiety. They have some copy due tomorrow--or TV-spots or headlines or a website and they can't budge.

When I am faced with such fears, I turn to the calculator in my head.

A TV spot is really just :27 seconds--you can knock off the last three seconds for the logo and tag. And these days most 30-second spots don't have more than 12-15 seconds of copy in them. At about two-words-a-second, you're worrying about writing between 25 and 30 words.

It's pretty much the same thing with this blog. I've written about 6100 posts since I started this 14 years ago. About 410 posts a year. At about 300 words a post, that's just under two-million words.

That might sound like a lot. But again, if you break it down, it's only 41 words an hour for an eight-hour day. That's two words every three minutes. That's not too hard.

My two cents is that too much anxiety is built up around making something for the ages. When we should just be focused on making something. Eventually, if you're lucky, the ages will come.

My tact with clients is simple. I almost always come back to them with ads or ideas or whatever about 14 times quicker than anyone else can. I say to them, "I don't like theory. I don't like talking about what work should be. I like talking about what work is." 

Actually, that's not 100% true. I usually say something more vulgar, like "we'll all be more productive if we're pissing in the same pool." I hand them the spot and we've got something to work from. It's usually pretty productive. We have the core of the idea settled. Now we work on making it better.

With this blog, it's the same thing. I start with an idea.

One idea.

It doesn't have to be the god equation or a rumination on nature vs. nurture. It just has to be something that caused a synapse. Then I write about that synapse. As quickly as I can. And I put it away.

Usually, I check back with it--like I check back with all my work--ten or twelve times during the day. I suppose bakers do this with dough. Is it rising ok? And fisherpeople do it with chum lines. You don't have to do anything drastic. Just see if there are any adjustments you can make.

I don't work on any grand thesis or theme. I just write about something that hit me.

This morning I saw this ad. It's one of the better ads I've seen in a very long time. 

First of all, it's honest. Which is unusual.

Second, it's full of facts about the shoes--I learned, for instance, that these come in 1/4-sizes for better fit. That makes me think the people who make the shoes are obsessed with the little things that make a difference. All of a sudden I've thought more about a brand of shoes I've never heard of than anything shoe I actually own.

I don't need willowy models draped over each other looking like they're about to fuck their eyeballs out to sell me a shoe. I don't need lines like "We shoe." Or meaningless words like "pamper," and "indulge," or "supple."

Just break things down for me.



Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Modern Advertising. A Jewish perspective.


It occurred to me just now, if there isn't one already, there should be an American-Jewish, or Jewish-America short story titled, "Would You Like Some Fruit?"

The story takes place through the decades and features just two characters, coming together every few years or so, after some days, weeks or months of separation.

"Mom," says the 15-year-old child, looking pimply, haggard and wayward. "I got suspended from high school for smoking dope during band practice."

"It's ok, my boychick. Would you like some fruit?"

Six years go by and we are in the same linoleum kitchen, bursting with cheap dented aluminum pans and ragged books full of S&H Green Stamps.

"Mom," says the man-child dumping his duffle bag on the crooked floor. "I got kicked out of college for cheating on a bio test. Not in school, I'm open to the draft. They'll send me to Vietnam."

"It's ok, my boychick. Would you like some fruit?"

Again, some years elapse, the long-haired boy, strung out and wearing torn fatigues with his rank's insignia ripped off, revealing in darker drab his ex-rank, arrives in the even-more run-down kitchen, "Mom, I've fragged my Looie, and I got hooked on smack in 'Nam."

"It's ok, my boychick. Would you like some fruit?"

And so it goes.

I wonder though, if this post has a point, if "Would you like some fruit?" has become the refrain of the modern ad agency and the world's modern marketing departments.

Some time ago I wrote something about a telco called Sprint. I haven't thought about Sprint since the last time I saw a track-meet on television. I suppose they've been merged out of existence, though their name and logo is probably still emblazoned on half-a-dozen or twenty midwestern football stadia. 

In 2008, Ad Age reported, "Last week, Sprint reported a fourth-quarter loss of 683,000 postpaid customers, those billed monthly for service and who are considered the industry's most valued." 

I wrote: Sprint lost almost 7,500 customers a day--despite having contracts with their customers that are 'Shylock-ian' in their rigidity. No advertising can fill a 'bucket' that leaks that quickly. Mr. Kelly [their CEO] has been canned because he was throwing money at advertising to continue to re-fill Sprint's leaking customer bucket. I've learned over the years that it costs five times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to retain one. Kelly's $1.2 billion of marketing spend should have been focused on treating consumers well.

The unsurpassed Dave Trott, wrote me a note not long ago:

"When AMV had to repitch for Sainsburys, they sat down and discussed the branding issues. How could they change the brand to attract more people into the store?

"It was depressing because the brief from the client was to increase Sainsbury’s turnover by £3 billion over the next 2 years. And however much you change the brand you’re not going to attract £3 billion of business away from your competitors.

"Then a young planner said, 
'Forget the brand for a minute, and look at the numbers. Sainsbury's has 14 million store visits a week. That’s 3/4 billion store visits a year.

'If we can increase the value of each store visit by an average £1.50 we’ll have increased revenue by £3 billion over 2 years, without attracting a single extra customer.'

"So Sainsbury's did a campaign featuring Jamie Oliver who demonstrated a recipe featuring something you probably hadn't tried: nutmeg, or aubergine, or courgette, or cinnamon.

"Each commercial said: 'Try something new today.'

"If they could get housewives to try something new, some would spend £1.00 but, once they were in the store, some would spend £20.00, which would make the average spend well over £1.50

"It worked and they hit their target in 1 year, not 2."

Not long-ago I worked for a brand that had about 24 quarters or more of falling revenue and profits. I'm not a business-person and while I took more than my share of economics courses in college--and read John Maynard Keynes and Kenneth Galbraith for pleasure--quarter after quarter of falling revenue is not generally good for business. Yet 98% of the agency's response to that downward spiral was the equivalent of "Would you like some fruit?"

"We should shoot this with the Mosouffian Brothers. They have a really cool editorial style."

"Yes, our CEO was caught fucking sheep in a Mosque."

"We should shoot this with the Mosouffian Brothers. They have a really cool editorial style."

I'm not 100% sure what ad agencies do anymore. It seems we are selling cotton candy to the nutritionally-deprived, rather than providing real substantive sustenance.

I like commercials and banners and tweets as much as the next carbon-based algorithmic life-form but my sense, or GeorgeCo's sense is that there's more to marketing than making more creative.

That's enough for today.

There's a banana in the kitchen calling me.





Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Thinking about thinking.

My old man grew up poor and fatherless in West Philadelphia. Born just before the depression--the country's, not his, he was too young to be drafted into World War II, and too cowardly to enlist but he did do service during the war--of a sort.

With most men over 18 overseas, my father went down to Philadelphia's giant central Post Office in University City and got a job sorting mail. That was a good job in 1943 and for a 16-year-old.

Like me, my father had a prodigious memory, and according to him, like a London cab-driver, he knew every street and every postal zone in what was then America's third-largest city. 

Some years on, my father who had an advertising man's gift of quip, wrote a be-bop song as a follow-up to Charlie Parker's "Salt Peanuts," called "Two Peanuts." Parker took a pass on the song when my old man somehow got it to Bird's agent. But it was picked up by a local quintet called "Woody and the Termites," and before long "Two Peanuts" was a hit on local stations. All at once, my old man had more money than he ever before had in his life--$2500--roughly a year's postman's salary for an hour's work or two.


My father had a firm idea about what to do with the money. He put it all into a storefront adjacent to his mother's house at 1056 S. 53rd Street, in West Philly. He had a thesis--rare for a 23- year-old--that every neighborhood needed "the last place to go before you go home." 

So, Stan opened up 'The Knight Spot,' a 24-hour sandwich joint that was to be his ticket out of what was then a Jewish ghetto. 

One of the things Stan passed onto me was a fractured relationship with time. My father, for over six months, ran The Knight Spot, an all-night restaurant, all by himself. He saw no reason to ever close--even though he was the only employee, save his mother, Ida who would stop by (she spoke no English) and burn a burger for a disgruntled customer and his best friend, his cousin Herb, who would spell Stan so he could take an occasional nap in a bed, not leaning on a mop.

As GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company enters its second year in business, I notice my father's temporal eccentricities have grafted onto me. While I am very busy with the pushes, pulls, yins and yanks and more and with a growing list of growing clients, I try to go to sleep each night having nothing hanging over my head.

I don't sleep leaning on a mop, as Stan did, but my wheels seldom, if ever, stop turning.

That doesn't mean I do immediately all the work I get. It does mean that I have organized my files, cleaned up my notes and usually written a note or two to myself about what I want to write--whether they're ads, scripts, manifestos, taglines or speeches for the CEO. 

I write up my conversations with clients--the big themes and the incidental anecdotes. Within them, usually lies the spark to advertising tinder.

Doing so means I've set the table or sous-ed the chef or let breathe the wine, before preparing the meal.

A lot of time that means I have what my wife calls George-Focus. It's a mania of sorts, I'll concede. 

She could be clanging on her cast-iron pans with a hammer or the back of my skull, and I will scarce budge from my keyboard. Back in my Ogilvy days, when a big meeting or a pitch loomed, it wasn't unusual for me to plant myself in my cliche'd Aeron, and write until I had written fifty headlines I liked. Not just fifty headlines--fifty I liked--that I knew were good. Sometimes it seemed I had done an entire agency's work before the agency showed up for the day, you know, just before lunch.

Old Iron Ass, some called me. Usually followed by the imprecation/admiration "You're writing things faster than we can read them."

My goal in all this perseverating is something I learned the one time I sat across a pale oak table from Milton Glaser. We were working on a poster together. We started at 7:30AM and I galloped up the stairs two at a time in his brownstone with a headline already formulated.

"That's pretty good," he said when it emerged fully-formed from my noggin like Athena from Zeus' head. And then he began to doodle. 

We talked a bit. And then he pushed away from the table. I took that as my signal to head to my paying job.

"Let's let it marinate a bit," he taught me. "Call me tomorrow."

No use delaying. I want to have my thoughts all thoughterized by the time I get up in the morning. I like to let things marinate while I sleep. I generally walk for two-or-three hours a day, and I like to have something for my brain to chew on while I do. 

I don't listen to music or talk on the phone while I wander. I work out my assignments. I usually, when I get home, run to my Mac and type for 30 minutes. I've trained myself to remember things I think--and generally those things serve me pretty well.

My business partner and general manager said to me the other day, "It's amazing how fast you are."

I haven't tried explaining that I'm not really very fast. 

I just think a lot.

I think.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Early morning Whiskey.

On Sunday mornings, more often than not, my old-man's bladder conspires with my aging puppy, and I am awake at 4:57 for some quiet time with Whiskey.

We refurnished our new house about six-months ago with new, expensive furniture covered in new, expensive fabrics. About two-months ago, the furniture arrived. Three weeks later, a throw from the Orvis catalog showed up, and Whiskey is laying on it now, comfortably at my side, her deep eyes fighting against re-sleep as I type this.

My little horse must think it queer,
To stop without a farmhouse near.

Whiskey must think it queer 
That I type with her tusch so near.

That I wake up before the sun, feed her, and then type one-handed, using my right mitt for petting purposes.

Like the rest of the world, Whiskey has had a helluva year. She was diagnosed with cancer about 12 months ago. But, America is still America when it's science-based--still one of the great countries on earth--and we found a battery of doctors who have treated her with as much acuity and intelligence as love and tenderness.

She's still a puppy--like me, she refuses to give in to being an old dog--but, like me, only for about 45 minutes a day. Those are the minutes she is guided primarily by her enthusiasms and lust for life. When she runs on the beach and through the water after an apple section I've hurled into the distance, torn rotator-cuff be damned.



Whiskey gallops after it, charging like Red Grange, aka the Galloping Ghost, and splashes or swims through the shallows of low-tide for her kill. Or she chases after the duck decoy I have with me always, and hurl with the wind a Clemente, if not clement-like distance.

She returns to the sand, and digs and rolls over, making what my perspicacious spouse calls "sand angels." But it is Whiskey, as well as my wife, who is the angel. Beings filled with joys--not oys--and laughter and smiles.

We walk, when the sea is out, in the sand flats, crossing small rivulets of the receding surf and finding uninhabited islands for Whiskey to claim--with an apple or a duck--with me as her man Friday. She sniffs at a lonely clam or some seaweed or on occasion will beat me to the carcass of a once-was fish and have herself a sushi forschpice, bones and scales and all.

The aging dog in both of us sometimes makes us tired. Yesterday, after we returned from the sea, she lay on our hardwood and barely moved for the rest of the day--and was creaky like Gary Cooper or a mechanical toy when she did.


There are, I'll admit, as the LaGuardia of client jets seeks to land on my tarmac, days when I sit alongside Whiskey--my wife has not yet demanded I too sit on a throw from Orvis--and think about my waning days. My eyes, blue to Whiskey's deep brown, seem to grow weighty and I wonder, "how long?" And "why?" And even, "no more."

The black is lifting now outside my windows. The songbirds are more insistent, and this post is nearly written. 

It's quiet on Sunday mornings. Now, it's just the one-handed clatter of my keyboard, the ticking of an old clock on the mantle, Whiskey's deep breathing and the chirruping of a trillion birds.

No one, except for those birds has much get up and go, right now. They, as the adage goes, are out for their worms. 

But I have things to do. As does Whisk. And in a moment or two, we will grab some sliced apples--Whiskey's favorite treat except for all the others--and we'll take a mile swing through my 1950s neighborhood.

I'll see a house now and again, lit by the glare and blare of a flatscreen. The bright colors of animation filling the set if kids are awake, or the chyron chaos of the 24-hour news cycle surely telling us of another mass-murder or slaying of a Black man by a cop, if a stupid grown-up is up and watching.

Whiskey and I turn our heads from the horror, and look to the sea.

We're happiest still just being still.


Friday, April 16, 2021

Norma Desmond and me.


When I got kicked out of Ogilvy for being too old way back in January, 2020 (they can say it was for other reasons but I was earning the agency more money than I was costing it. And you could argue that my brand was helping theirs more than theirs was helping mine) I decided on the spot I would never work full-time for another agency again.

I have freelanced for half-a-dozen shops but I do so out of a sense of friendship. Agencies can simply no longer pay the money I demand and deserve. How could they? Think about all the hundreds of C's they support. The dozens of C's at the Holding Company. The stupid rents they pay. And their profligate habits. No, unless you're a C, it's a sucker's game.

So that dark, Covid-looming, just-fired January, I set out to start GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware company--I had a simple plan for success. Whatever I had observed agencies doing, I would do the opposite. 

I learned from being raised by Kasper Hauser's parents, that no one is entirely useless. They can always serve as a bad example. That was approximately how I felt when I was severed from my life-long career. I would learn from the bad examples.

So, I decided I wouldn't be cheap. Just the opposite. I was going to charge clients at the top of the market and pay people at the top of the market, too. 

I decided I would move at my speed, which is very fast, not at  agency speed, which is often languid due to its ossified bureaucracy. And over-think. Or under-smart.

I decided that I didn't want to get so big that I couldn't write everything myself. I considered that my obligation, given the name of my agency. I wouldn't employ inexperienced people. Only people I considered the best for the job.

I decided I would be nice--but would be staunch. I would present my point of view to clients and if they didn't like my work or my ideas, I was happy to walk. No sense shacking up with someone you can't stand. It never turns out well.

So far George., LLC, a Delaware Company has exceeded my expectations. I work with a growing list of clients--not a growing bureaucracy of clients. And all the people I've employed are among the best and smartest people I've ever worked with. 

Also.

We haven't missed one deadline.

Also.

We haven't had one shitting meeting.

Also.

I haven't created anything that isn't good..

Last week, though I've resisted infrastructurizing GeorgeCo., I hired a Director of New Business, Herb Provence. Already we are on the shortlist of three or four fairly sizable pieces of business--and that feels good.

I'm not a natural entrepreneur. And the convivial side of the ad business does not appeal to me. I am not given to smiling and feel, at times, that business demands that I do so. 

I don't want to do things I don't want to do, or that I don't believe in. I've earned that right and I have enough money in the bank to allow me to be a bit of a dick. So who knows how long I'll stick to this game.

It's taxing.

I rarely have a night or weekend off. And like much of the rest of the non-Ted-Cruz world, I haven't had a vacation since 2019. 

But I enjoy work.

I enjoy the clients and people I work with.

And I enjoy winning.

I'll especially enjoy, I think, the day, not so far from today, when GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company is bigger than Ogilvy.

Of course, it's not me who got big.

It's them who got small.
--

And, a bonus.
A little Friday utz.

(Utz--Yiddish. To goad or needle.)







Thursday, April 15, 2021

Amateurs.


About 62,000 years ago, I was shooting some spots with the great director, Errol Morris. Errol and I just hit it off. Like go to the movies after a day of shooting hit it off--or have a cuppa coffee and three or five breakfasts one morning in Sao Paolo. 

Further, he didn't care for the art director the agency sent out to the shoot. I had worked alone on the campaign--nobody seemed to mind that--but they made sure I had someone with me on set, just in case.

But like I said, Errol and this art director had a fight. And Errol decided he would talk to no one but me. Which was fine by me.

He was setting up a shot. In just a few frames we were trying to create the effect of a college graduation. The set designers were hanging a green and yellow banner that said something like, "Congratulations, Graduates."

Errol turned to me and said, "that's a little much, isn't it?" I mumbled something like, "well, it will read quickly. You'll get it." He then said something that stuck with me, "You're right. Subtlety is for amateurs."

As I travel in new worlds these days--having aged out of old ones, having lost to the nefarious know-nothings who hate all those with more experience than they, I am seeing a lot.

I'm seeing people who make excuses to delay working. "I don't have a job number," they'll claim. Or, "the brief isn't ready."

I've seen people who kick and bellow like a pig to the slaughter about making a logo bigger.

I've seen people barking about having to write an email, a tweet, a Facebook post. They bark for hours about something that will literally take seconds.

I've seen writers fight, again for hours, against adding something small to their copy, or taking something equally small away. Or simply screaming when a client asks for a rewrite.

I've seen people avoid working because they're not "feeling it. Or they're stressed. Or they have too much to do.

Right now, I am seeing different things as well. I am working with one of the biggest creative names in the business. She's rolling up her sleeves and doing work she wouldn't have done five years ago or three. Because the business is different today--or our jobs are different. And somehow we have to teach ourselves to do more and carp less.

What I've seen is this.

Foolish rules are for amateurs.

Preciousness is for amateurs.

Prima donna-ness is for amateurs.

Estheticism is for amateurs.

Dawdling is for amateurs.

The great Steve Hayden once said something to me that stuck in my brain. It's the kind of thing I've tried to pass down to my own children--who are young and successful in their careers.

"The trick to work," Steve said, "is spending 20% of your time doing the 80% of the shit you have to do that you hate. And 80% of your time doing the 20% of the shit that you have to do that you love."

That's why you get in early.

That's why you practice until you become fast.

That's why you train your mind so that you can concentrate and accomplish things.

Anything else is for amateurs.


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Every day advertising.

Advertising is a funny business.

And by funny, I might just mean stupid.

In days of yore, when our work was big and loud, it was on TV and in magazines and newspapers every day. People saw the work we as an industry did. In short, we SHOWED clients what we did--every day and every night. If those clients liked what you showed them--every day and every night--you got more business, or at least more interest in your agency.

To be very simple about it, you knew what kind of work agencies did. And you knew where to get it. You knew who was who according to the work they did.

Today I'm afraid that system isn't working anymore. Most work--and most agencies--seem to me all but invisible. I'm a student of the business--I assiduously follow the trade magazines. And with the exception of TBWA\Chiat\Day, Wieden, Goodby and maybe a few other agencies--it's really hard to know who does what. 

And a brief look at a dozen or so agency sites doesn't give the reader much information. Many agencies seem more bent on displaying their award-winning work on Lego and Scrabble than on real work for real clients. Some, I presume I know the unmentionable reasons why, show no work at all.

What I do see are agencies that seem to promote themselves via something I call Insta-pablum. They say things like this:




Insta-pablum. Insta-babble. Insta-platitude. Insta-Hallmark.

The opposite of Insta-funny. Insta-wise. Insta-though-provoking.

Their "advertisements for themselves" are a great big Insta-who-cares. Or in the words of the Bard, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Our job isn't producing homilies--like Edgar Guest after a focus group. Or inscrutable "white papers." Or to bang a silent drum announcing the win of a revenueless account.

Our job is to be noticed.

To add value.

To define the amorphous.

To afflict the comfortable. Comfort the afflicted. To get them to act.

Our job is to make a product--good communications--that serves the needs of a client.

And these days--our job is to show that we can do that every day. 

Fussy is dead. Precious is dead. Snobbery is dead.

Doing. Doing. Doing.

In many ways advertising, at least to me, is a lot like playing professional baseball. 

You play every day. Which means you show up every day. And you take your whacks every day. Not just when you feel it. Or are in the mood. Or are limbered up.

Every day.

About 15 years ago, I decided to write a blog. I've written it every day, every day.

In large measure I started this blog as a challenge to myself--could I do it? And in equally large measure as a demonstration to the industry and to clients. It's my way of showing people who I am and what I can do and the intensity at which I do it. Every day.

Advertising is different today. 

It's a small, daily business. It's more like writing a small-town newspaper--getting to know the ins-and-outs of your world.

It's no longer three commercials a year and live off the media dollars.

Every day you have to shit or get off the pot. Fish or cut bait. Come back with your shield, as the Romans said, or on it.

You have to do something good--and put your name on it--for the world to see. Every day.

In fact, when I present to clients now, I don't show three print ads. That's irrelevant. I usually show 30. Something they can do every day.

Client creatives can do three ads. Client MBAs can do powerpoints. Client strategists can write white papers.

But who can do what I do. 

I plan to keep things that way.

I plan to keep working.

Which means I'll keep making work that's built on a platform that can hold--not a few ads--but a few hundred.

Some months ago some friends and I did these ads. I didn't write them all. But you get the idea.

Do something.

Every day.