Friday, May 20, 2022

Six Accountability Questions.

There was an article in yesterday's failing--nine million digital subscribers--New York Times about one of the world's most corrupt institutions outside of Matt Gaetz's office and Marjorie Taylor Greene's orthodontist.

It was about Wells Fargo bank--the loser of hundreds of legal decisions over the last few years. This article told that Wells Fardo interviews Black people and women for jobs when there was no job available to them and when they have no intention of hiring them. Here.

I realize believing in accountability in a world that accepts linguistic pablum like "transparency," marks me today as an anomaly. We seem to inhabit a world where very few people question anymore the bullshit they're force-fed. 

I'm a problem in that world because I have an eidetic memory. Once I read something, I don't forget it. (With the exception of names. I can't remember names for shit.) 

So it wasn't that long ago, I remembered, that the older white men who run the advertising industry as an oligopoly all pledged that they would make strides toward genuine "diversity" and combat "Systemic Racism."

It's been about two years since these articles were published. It strikes me as odd--corrupt even--that no one is saying, "hey, how ya doin'?" If I told my internist in January that I intend to lose 25 pounds, he'd check to see how I was doing by my next appointment. You owe it to those you make promises to to tell them how you're doing.

I'm doubtful about promises from agencies because I remember diversity headlines like this one, from a mere 624 months ago. 

Assuming you believe, as Shakespeare said in "The Tempest,"
"what's past is prologue," what have agency Holding Companies done to address "Systemic Racism"?

How about giving us a diversity progress report--since it's been two years and lack of diversity has been an endemic problem?

How about starting with these questions?

1. How much are you spending on diversity recruitment, training and retention?

2. How does that expenditure compare to what you spend on awards entries?

3. What do you mean by diversity? Who does the term apply to and who does it include and who does it omit--for instance, though age is a "protected" group, fewer than 2% of WPP employees are over 60 as compared to 20% of the US population.

4. Outside of people in "Diversity" roles, how much of your senior leadership is BIPOC?

5. Are you resigning clients who advertise on Fox and other propagators of the virulently racist "Replacement Theory"? 

6. Are your media arms refusing to buy time on Fox, Sinclair, OAN and other racist channels?

Recently someone in leadership at WPP accused me of having an anti-Holding Company ax to grind.

I said, "I'm not anti-Holding Company, I'm anti-unaccountability." If you're making progress, why not tell people. As to question 3 above, everyone I know who was 50+ and at a WPP shop has been fired. 

I'd like some evidence of "further actions," some "accountability," some sense that efforts have been "refocused." 

I'm a stockholder in three of the five holding companies. Don't I deserve an answer?

Oh, and to whichever Holding Company has the multi-million dollar Wells Fargo account--are you resigning it, or has money trumped principles?

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Hearkening Back to the 1590s.

Friends, Borderlessites, Creativeators, lend me your timesheets;
I come to praise the Agency, not to bury it.

The evil of accounts ere lost live after us,
The wins are oft interred with our bonuses.

So let it be with all those we have fired,
While we proclaim to the world how much we care.
The noble Holding Company hath told you,
That they are focused on Diversity.

They hireth Chief People People, Chief Diversity People,
Chief Diversity People People. Chief Diversity
Diversity People People But alas,
That Diversity doth not extend to all People.
Not to People over 50. Nay. Lo, those we Dis and Dain.
The Holders hath told you we are Diverseth!
Yet they employ just twenty in one thousand over 50.

Is such contradiction a Grievous fault,
Aye, and grievously hath we Answered it.
For Holding Companies Are Honourable men.

So they are all Honourable men.
They fire all, yes. When the poor have cried,
They have wept. They praise the old they have buried.
For Holding Companies Are Honourable men.

They will Hail their Victory of Nettworke of the Year,
Alas, they show no good work. Or real work.
And, lo, their revenue withers and their coffers empty.

I speak here not to disprove what they have
Borderlessly spoke. For they have said they love the old.
And though they employ not diversity,
Holding Companies Are Honourable men.

You all did love it once, not without cause:
For work, for clients, for raises and growth.
But judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And they have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Holders,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

For Holding Companies Are Honourable men.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Say No to Customer Centricity.


Friends, Sychophants, Members of the Ad Press Who Do Nothing But Reprint Press Releases and Cannes Judges,

For some time now--for years, if not decades, every agency and every process designed to produce award-winning work, you know, the kind of work that, by definition never runs and has no commercial impact, has been dutifully proclaiming itself to be Customer-Centric.

"We put the customer at the center of everything we do," declares one.

"We specialize in customer-centricity," says another.

"We look to be people-focused and focused on the focus of people," says yet a third.

"While everyone is zigging, and some are zagging, our agency, YROMPQSRTEFFDIJK & P, a subsidiary of almost everyone, have a brand-new agency dedicated to zogging. In time pulling together, we will advance to zugging, and eventually scale the heights of zegging.

"So, while everyone else is zigging, we'll be zegging. While other agencies are Human Centric, we will be Human Oblique™. We will put humans off to one side of all our communication."

YROMPQSRTEFFDIJK & P brand planner and Executive Director of Executive Directors, Tiffany Firepit, said, "the core of our philosophy at YROMPQSRTEFFDIJK & P is to do something different. It's to zog, zug, zeg and sometimes zyg while the rest of the industry zigs and zags. 

By doing that, we will be fulfilling the highest mission of YROMPQSRTEFFDIJK & P. We put the customer off to one-side in our advertising. That's why we believe in Human Obliquity."

YROMPQSRTEFFDIJK & P client Miles Togo said "The agency does a great job aligning with our belief in the customer not mattering at all. YROMPQSRTEFFDIJK & P shoves the customer off to one side and doesn't consider them or their needs at all. We'll tell them what we think and we don't really care about them or their desires."

Firepit continued, "Nothing makes us feel more important than making the customer feel unimportant. Other agencies can pretend they follow the notion of customer-centricity. We say, the hell with pretense. We're proud to shit on our customers. Customer-obliquity is ouobloquy and we embrace it.

"That's why at YROMPQSRTEFFDIJK & P, we're proud to not give a shit about anyone."

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Go fractal yourself.

Part of our job as creative people--and all people should strive to be creative, regardless of their job or title--is we have to train ourselves to look at things in at least two ways.

Let me explain what I mean by way of the important scientist Benoit Mandelbrot. Mandelbrot is credited with helping to develop the idea of fractals.

Fractal theory, as my feeble mind understands it, holds that any object, from the seacoast to a piece of string is immeasurably complex. A piece of string might be four-inches long, but when you zoom in ten times, or a thousand times, or a millions times and start to see indentations and outcroppings, there are before long, so many that that string becomes almost infinitely long.

A shoreline or the surface of a tree is built of infinite regressions and outcroppings. There's no way to really calculate its length. In fact, fractal theory is counterintuitive. It suggests that closer you look at something, the more it remains unknown.

So if one way of looking at something is with a super-close up view--whether it's the candy bar you're advertising or a cloud storage service, getting into the weeds--while it explains a lot, can lead to more complexity than understanding.

That's why good creative people also look at things from a distance. They see its simplicity, while also seeing its complexity. They see its uniqueness, while also being able to explain what it does in relatable human terms.

Creative people need two forms of vision. Up-close-and-deep so we understand the heartbeat. And from a human distance so we can explain why a heartbeat is important.

Once, many eons ago, I had to write a two-minute commercial for AT&T. I was asked to explain a typically complicated phone company offering and the thought was it would take me two minutes to do it.

Basically at the time--during the land line era, there were two types of calls. Long-distance and local. There was a third type that the phone company wanted to sell. They called it "interlata." Like when you're in 212 and you want to call 516, ie. from Manhattan to Manhasset. It's not local. It's not long. It's in between.

Here's the sort of definition we got from the client.

What is a LATA?

LATA stands for Local Transport and Access Area. A LATA is a contiguous geographic area. LATA is your local calling area.

Therefore intraLATA means the same thing - your local calling area (inside a particular LATA). A LATA can cover an entire state so all the state will be considered intraLATA, and all calls within that state will be considered local calls (usually for small states). Most states have several LATAs.

InterLATA refers to calls between 2 LATAs. These can be 2 LATAs located in the same state, or 2 LATAs located in 2 different states. Therefore long distance calls.

My partner figured out how to explain it in two words. He called it "Middle-distance." You know, in between local and long-distance.

We didn't need two-minutes to explain the idea. We needed two-seconds.

Because we zoomed in and we pulled back.

Often the trick of creating work that carries the day is to create a lot of work. The best way to do that is not just to shift words around, it's to shift your perspective.

The Museum of Modern Art currently has Matisse's Red Studio on display. They've recreated in a single room all the extant pieces depicted in Matisse's painting. They've also employed a battery of forensic art historians and the most-sophisticated scientific tools to look "inside" the Red Studio. They see colors--vestiges of earlier thoughts, stray brush strokes, a huge mind and a mind that's always changing, that you and I cannot see. They see more than a painting, they see a genius' work style--his creative process.

This is where our business and the work of science come together. Creativity and science are the disciplines of looking so intensely at a subject you can see that subject in a new and interesting way. We can learn, as creatives, from awards' annuals. We can also learn from the $10 Billion Webb Space Telescope.

What if we looked at it close?

What if we looked at it from far away?

What if it disappeared?

What if we talked about the founder?

What if we admit we have nothing to say?

How many points of view can you assume? How many ways can you skin a cat?

That's the trick sometimes.

To keep thinking and rethinking.

Write it long.

Write it short.

Write it in rhyme.

Write it in 1000 words.

Just knock yourself in the head.

Focus. Unfocus. Refocus.





Monday, May 16, 2022

Some Thoughts on Pasta.

Iphigenia in Tauris
 (1893) by Valentin Serove 

I got a note the other morning. 

A plaintive note.

It was from a young man I don't really know but we've had some correspondence in today's prevailing fashion, what the French or the hoity-toity would call a la mode.

My incipient friend has started his own advertising business and has sailed into--as explorers have since the Phoenicians--a sea devoid of wind. The world has turned still. He is becalmed.

He wrote "I am staring out my window and wondering. Does George ever feel this way?"

Oh boy.

Not too many months ago I had a big client presentation. A client who found me out of the blue and whom I couldn't pick out of a line-up. 

I work alone--and rarely show my work to anyone outside of the people paying for it. I hardly even show my wife, who also has 40 years in the business and is most-often breathtakingly level-headed. I work in my head, and always have. Old habits die hard.

For this presentation, for whatever reason, I was especially shaky. I knew the work was good. And I've trained myself to repeat to myself that "my good is other people's great," but I was wracked.

Finally, I called a long-time friend.

"Do you ever get nervous?" I asked.

I got in return a Shakespearean soliloquy on anxiety, lack of confidence, fear and very high stakes.

I thought about all that when I got the note from my young friend about his business slowing down.

I thought about the tortures I put myself through when I have a slow day, or a slow afternoon, or even a slow hour. I thought about all the hall-of-fame people I have known and worked with and still work with, and how the phone not ringing is the same as the bell tolling. Each non-ring is a chime at midnight portending doom, hunger, a life under a highway overpass pushing a shopping cart filled with old styrofoam and discarded rope.

There aren't many people on god's no-longer-green earth who don't have fettuccine issues, except for the 5-percent of us who are psychopaths. The rest of us have I'm Pasta Syndrome--which has been Americanized as Imposter Syndrome.

I call it, rightfully, I'm Pasta Syndrome because I'm a purist by nature--and that was the original etymology. I'm Pasta because my backbone--my spine--which has helped me through so many hardships, challenges and travails, is limp and weak. It is not holding up. 

My muscles, which have always been bursting with sinew, have turned glutinous, flaccid and sad.

My brain, which has always been to the teeth--al dente--strong enough to make others feel something has, at times, the constitution of Spaghetti-O's. Soggy like a worm after a teeming jungle downpour.

I'm Pasta Syndrome, whether it's about running your own business, presenting work, finding clients, entering a room where you know no one else, is part of being a human.

For whatever reason, most people pretend it doesn't happen to them, or they have some sort of godly confidence that shields them from the farinaceous plagues.

Do not go quiet into that good gnocchi. 

Rage rage against the dying of the linguini.

Posit I'm Pasta-ness.

Then use your noodle and move ever forward.

Friday, May 13, 2022

A New York Haircut.

For a little more than 50 years--since I stopped getting my hair cut because I was ordered to by my mother, in those long-haired days of the early 1970s, I've abided by a simple rule. I always switch barbers about every six haircuts or so.

I started this dictum for a very simple reason. I'm not the best garrulous type, I suck at small talk and I never wanted to go to the same barber often enough so that I felt compelled to find things to talk about. Much less have a relationship with.

I never took much interest in the girlie magazines that used to dot the barbershops of my boyhood--and continued to up until about ten years ago when it became virtually prohibited to look at "Gents" magazine or some glossy display of fecundity. I never wanted to have to chat about anyone's bosoms and have to engage in manly bluster about banging anyone, especially anyone I'd never even met.

I'm not much better talking about sports, not really caring about the muscle-bound Yankees or New York's woeful assortment of other teams like the Mets, the Knicks, and our woebegone football squads. 

Take away sex and sports, and there's not much left of barbershop conversation. So rather than feign interest or find some topic like the weather or whether or not the "fish are running," I took what was for me the easy way out, and found a new barber before my previous one could pick me out of a line-up. Frankly, I treated agencies much the same way. I wanted to get in and out of them before things got personal. 

About ten years ago, however, things changed. Maybe I've grown into that old-Jewish-man-thing and have developed a kibitzy gift of gab. Or maybe, like Odysseus, I just got tired of wandering and found my way to my tonsorial Ithaka.

My barber now is a Ukrainian Jew whose shop is named after an Italian opera character. So far, that's about as New York as you can get. A gorgeous mixing of ethnic and religious strains that make our compressed world frenetically peaceful while the rest of America seems to be coming apart like a hairball in a Cuisinart.

Boris speaks a good but heavenly accented Henglish, with a thick, almost comical Boris Badenov accent. His co-worker and wife, Oksana, mumbles in the chair next to him, sounding like the Volga boatmen as she sweeps the accumulated fallen follicles into the trash. They curse each other back and forth in sotto voce Ukrainian.

"Putin," Boris begins, shearing me like a New Zealand sheep. "Fucking Putin," he continued. "He is a madman."

"I heard he has cancer."

"The next one will be worse," Boris assured me. "The next one is always worse. I am glad I got out." Boris drives to his shop in the rarefied Upper East Side from Brooklyn's Brighton Beach, known today as Little Odessa.

"My family doesn't even know where we were from," I said. "My parents never talked about it and their parents didn't either. They were hellbent on becoming Americans."

He sheared some more fuzz off my noggin, paying special attention to the greys.

"You don't know where you're from? Your brother, your sister?"

"Minsky-Pinsky," I answered. "But that's all we know."

"Byelorussia. White Russia. Fucking Putin."

Boris slathered some warm shaving cream on the back of my neck and at my sideburns. He took an old straight-razor and went at my accumulation of stubble. Next he covered my face with a warm washcloth only ten-degrees hotter than I could bear. He made no concession for me having to breathe and covered my mouth and nose as well.

In a short while my heart was beating again and he straightened out what was left of my hair with an assortment of brushes and combs that flew around my head like wild birds.

"You want to schmutz?" he asked holding up a small tube of what generations after mine have taken to calling "product."

I always say "no" when he asks. But this time, for whatever reason, I said yes.

"Chicken fat," I said, "Schmaltz. I could use a dab."

That doubled him over with laughter and he rubbed the goop through my hair.

I paid, left a nice tip and said something banal like, "I'll see you in a few weeks."

He was still laughing.

"Chicken fat," he said. As I walked out the door he added, "Make sure no one throws matzo balls at you."

“Of course not,” I said. “This is New York, not heaven.”

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Bad words.

I was downtown yesterday, below 14th Street, believe it or not, because my wife had gotten tickets to a new play at the Public Theatre. 

The village has never been a place I'm entirely comfortable. It's always been a little too ostentatiously weird for my taste. Today the 
outrĂ© ersatz hippies live side-by-side with young investment bankers and their spouses pushing $2200 strollers seemingly with seven or nine kids orbiting around them. The juxtaposition of great wealth and Bohemia endears to me neither extreme. But this being New York, we are fueled by equal parts differences, eccentricity and mammon.

Before the show, my wife and I stopped into a little Ukrainian coffee shop called Vaselka. Second Avenue and 9th Street used to be the heart of Little Ukrainia and Veselka--with its goulashes, potato pancakes and pierogi is one of the last remnants of the old days. Today with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Veselka has attracted hordes of diners who wait outside to show their support for that besieged country and to clog their arteries to the point of near infarction.

Somehow we got in without a wait and said outdoors in a little booth enjoying a nice spring night. The waitrons were attentive and, it seemed, born with the gift of laughter. I quickly ordered a potato pancake and a small cup of chicken paprikash. It was delivered to our table with a small serving of matzo ball soup and a slice of slightly stale bread. My wife got the pierogi special: one cheese, one potato, one meat and one onion. We each got an old-fashioned egg cream--mine vanilla, hers chocolate.


As you might have guessed, Vaselka was adorned with yellow and blue Ukrainian insignia and the wait staff was wearing t-shirts that read "Ukraine can't be beet." A tribute to Ukraine and borscht.

What struck me, of course, from a communications point of view is how Vaselka had found a true voice. And how they are true to who they are. They aren't pandering to people and following the upswelling of faux customer solicitude that afflicts so much marketing today.

They aren't doing shit like "We're Strong Because of You." Or, "We Stand Together for Freedom." Nothing wrong with those sentiments--but nothing real, unique or ownable either.

Leaving Veselka we walked west to the Public. I saw this abomination in the window of something called a Citizen's Bank.

It struck me as everything thing that's wrong with marketing today. And empty as a promise from a holding company. Frankly, I don't even know what that agglomeration of words means. Or why I would tell a bank--of all entities--what I'm made of. You're a bank. You will never be my buddy. (As the joke goes, we're the friendly bank who forecloses on your mortgage.)

Seeing that Citizen's crap makes me mad. I can hear the brief that encouraged it. The planning that rationalized it. The creative people who fought for it. And the clients gushing about how they're part of the community. I can't imagine a single person seeing that 'message,' feels like Citizen understands them, helps them or really can't wait to hear what they're made of. 

I think it would be good if most clients and most agencies went back to those 1960s platitudes I grew up with. "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything." Really. Not every bank window has to have an ad. Nor does every receipt, taxi top, and every square inch of every surface.

To wash the bad taste of bad thinking out of my head we took a detour and walked up to the Strand bookstore on 12th and Broadway--18 miles of books.

There, I saw this sign. This playful, horrible, true and real reminder of the pernicious spread of pernicious thinking. 

None of us in the world can eradicate pandering. Evil, like Russia's invasion. Or the evil of banning books.

We can, however, fight back. With all we have.

Two powerful weapons: wit and words.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

A case for advertising.

For a few decades now some of the loudest voices in advertising (a community marked by no shortage of loud voices) have landed on a mantra that good advertising should "show, not tell."

People promulgate this dictum as if they themselves thought it up. As if it weren't always true. They look at something obvious as if it's a stroke of genius. Then, since advertising is seldom about original ideas, those words are repeated ad nauseam--or advertising nauseam.

The phrase story-telling went through the same faux discovery and wear-out cycle. Everyone discovered storytelling as if it hadn't been around for six-thousand or ten-thousand years. As if it were new. Ask Homer if it's new.

Oh, come on. As was writ in the Old Testament, in Ecclesiastes 1:4-11--"There is nothing new under the sun." Not to mention the daughter

In any event, around the time I hit 58, I knew that I would soon 
be fired from Ogilvy. It's not that I wasn't busy, or well-liked,
or an asset, it's just that I was 58. The agency itself was doing
some showing not telling. There was no one about who was 
within 10 years of my age.

I thought about showing versus telling when I realized I had a 
target on my back. I leaped to a few conclusions that I'll share

1. While you need a good portfolio site, even the most up-to-the
minute portfolio site is work you've done in your past. And 
there's a difference between what you've done and what you're

I decided it was much more important to make my work
I didn't want my employment to rest on things I had
done in the past. I wanted it to be more reliant on who I was in
the moment.

2. I also realized that in life--inside or outside of an agency--
showing your speed and showing a lot of ideas matters. 
Againthat gave me something to think about. A portfolio site is 
"finished." It's not alive and breathing. It’s work of your past.

My job, I realized was to show my present. Both my skill and 
my ability to grind.

3. I also discovered something very sobering. Since there are
only about twelve agencies left in New York that will pay an
old-time salary, I had to come up with a "touch strategy,"
without calling agency recruiters to the point of being a
(they usually have a low-tolerance threshold for phone
I needed to let those recruiters know that I was alive.

I took all that, and I worried the shit out of myself.

Then I realized something.

I had 15,000 LinkedIn followers. That's a media channel, I 
figured. I could do for myself what I spent four decades
clients to do for themselves: Advertise.

And I could do it in a way that answers my needs as
enumerated above, ie. I'd do them often. And I'd try to make
them stand out. 

You know.

What we tell brands to do.

I can't find the first ad I did for me. But I've recreated it above.   
might be exaggerating like an old war-hero, but I think I got
50,000 views and a few calls about work.

In other words, it worked. 

So, again, I did what we tell our clients to do. 

If something's working, if you're spending X and making 
10X, why wouldn't you do more?

I don't need some asinine term like "borderless creativity"
to ill-define what I do. I guess if I were smarter or if I were
partnered with an MBA, I'd be out on the speaking circuit
wearing a black t-shirt and haranguing you daily about the virtues of Georgevertising.™

But that's not me. I'm painfully shy and prefer life behind the
keyboard, not up on a stage.

So, friends, consider yourself harangued. That's the worst
I can do.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

A Rainy Day in Old New and New Old New York.

I remember reading, many years ago, about a battle fought by Napoleon at the start of the 19th Century, when things seemed to be going Napoleon's way. (Though they had not yet named a pastry after him.)

The part that stuck with me was a simple--maybe too simple--statement. That war in Napoleon's time was more like war in Caesar's time--1800 years earlier--than it was during World War I, just 100 years later. Life and human development is like that sometimes. As Comrade Lenin once said, "There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen."

In a nutshell, it doesn't matter whether the nut is genetically-modified or not--that's why it pays to study history. It's hard to know what things mean unless you know what they meant. Living only in the here and now with no wider context means lurching from high to low with very little terra firma to balance on. Everything is a paroxysm. Everything is a "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

I returned to my abnormally civilized precinct of the Upper East Side last Friday--and amid all the too-stupid encroachments of the modern non-thinking world--there are still vestiges of intelligent life about.

Someone in city government has--before we get to the intelligent part--decided that too many people were throwing their trash and used heroin needles down into the sewer grates that dot city streets, two sewers every thirty feet or so. They've decided that since much of this detritus ends up in the East River (it's not a river actually, it's a tidal estuary) they would stencil in large white letters on either side of every sewer grating, "THIS IS NOT A TRASH CAN. DO NOT DUMP TRASH."

There's nothing wrong with that sentiment. It's just that they've made the sign about trash uglier even than the trash itself. The city has enough noise and noisome pollution that it doesn't need more. But it seems it's de rigueur to clean up a mess by adding a mess. 

Perhaps the sanitation people have taken a cue from the highway people. In order to unsnarl traffic snarls that last two hours a day, the highway people re-build, widen and re-route roadways and take about two decades to do it. From a rise-over-run point of view, I'm 97-percent sure they cause more mishegas than they unravel. But think of all the people they've employed. Good union jobs.

The other more recent blights upon my quiet little neighborhood
--an area dotted with actual farms two centuries ago, where you will occasionally still see a wooden house pre-dating the 1845 great New York fire. After that time, wooden houses were banned in New York below 155th Street. In their stead and with the legalization of marijuana, vape shops are now as plentiful on New York's residential streets as used-condoms off the shores of Coney Island. 

I live in a neighborhood bordered by public schools, parochial schools, pre-schools and two prestigious all-girls private schools. There are more vape shops per-capita than there are hotdog stands at Yankee Stadium.

Of course, along with new, irksome New York, there are still a few places that remind me of the New York I knew, the New York that once was.

I ran over to Madison Avenue early Saturday morning, in the rain, gripped with fear that I had failed, once-again, to get my wife a mother's day gift. Of course, I had rationalized, she's my wife, not my mother. But I didn't want Phyllis Schalfaly and the CEO of Hallmark cards coming down on my ignoring-mandated-traditions ass.

So, in the rain I walked to a high-end "drug store," named after a Ukrainian city, Zhytomyr, that was founded by the Rus, I suppose, in 814--around the time my cable went out and I'm still waiting for "Spectrum" to fix it.

Zhytomyr, Anglicized to Zitomir, started as a normal drug store, probably by Ukrainian immigrant Jews. As the neighborhood got more and more rarefied--so did the store. Now their entire first floor is filled with potions and unguents in small fancy bottles, thousands of them, each retailing for about $100. 

The ladies who wait on you have thick Bronx accents from days of yore--like when Toody and Muldoon protected the borough in car 54. They are decked out in expensive casual clothing from more recent days--probably bought steeply discounted, because who pays retail, unless it's unguents you're after.

They commute in by express bus from Staten Island, 90-minutes each way, and they are accessorized by large pieces of jewelry their husbands bought them from Fortunoff's--a long-gone Fifth Avenue jewelry store for the working class--whose spokeswoman was the Bronx-born Betty Joan Perske, who later became Lauren Bacall.

These ancient ingenues wait on you--especially if you present as a well-heeled local (which I guess I am) with the deference of a Vizier in ancient Arabia. No question is too dumb, no need is too esoteric.

I finally bought enough of the aforementioned lotions to have paid my rent not long ago and then was sent up to the mezzanine where another Miss Havisham acolyte would engage in the hour-long task of removing the tags with her gel-manicured nails, and wrapping my gifts with an assortment of Fontainbleu-style wrapping paper that went out of form when Jimmy Carter left office.

Finally, my job done, I returned to the rain and headed uptown, also on Madison, to one of New York's last neighborhood bookstores: The Corner Book Shop.

They only have a couple hundred adult books there. But I was being sent to pick up a children's book my wife had ordered for our incipient grandchild.

This is a bookstore of the old sort. Where the great books of our day are placed out on large tables. Many of the books have heavy paper inserts jutting out from between their pages. "Signed Copy," they read. Because half The New York Times' best-seller list is written by authors who live within a cherry-pit-spit of the joint.

The staff, of course, is better read than the doctoral class up at Columbia University. But they only show it by their complete diffidence while you are waiting and their judgments when you buy something not originally written in Latin. 

Beyond the books, the most delightful part of the store, is the little girls in tall rubber boots with duck or frog faces on them against the rain, and polka-dot rain slickers with matching bucket hats. They're invariably being read to by well-accoutered grandmothers in their old-world finery, as their yoga-panted daughters take a moment to find something that will look impressive on the bookshelves in their expansive foyers.

I picked up the book for my un-arrived grandchild and headed the mile to my cinnamon-toast warm apartment to let myself and my erudite packages dry out.

New New York and Old New York.

The old doesn't get old. 

And the new doesn't stay new.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Coming Apart and Two Acronyms.

Some years ago, the controversial anthropologist Charles Murray wrote an important book called "Coming Apart." It's about the bifurcation of America. As two societies, one rich and educated. One poor and left out. 

The two, essentially, never mix. They might be situated near to each other but they don't interact. They shop in different places. Go to different schools and churches. Play in different parks. Enjoy different downtowns. The kids play on different Little League teams. 

If you buy Murray's well-documented observations, as I do, you begin to see it everywhere. Especially in the workplace. For example, at Amazon. Where Jeff Bezos has $150 billion dollars, he fights unions who want to get their member $5 more an hour.  (Bezos, btw, would have to spend $28 million a day just to keep from accumulating more wealth--that's what? $2000/minute.)

In advertising, Coming-Apart-Ism is almost as virulent.

Not only does the Holding Company brass sit in entirely different offices than the agencies they own--their salaries, bonuses, parachutes, benefits and who knows what else allow to live lives that are completely unlike the people who work for them, the people who enrich them. Before Ogilvy's New York collapse forced them from their own office building, there was a section of the Eighth Floor I called "Overhead Alley." It was where the exalted executives sat in lavish be-doored offices while proclaiming the efficacy of open-plan for everyone else. 

It was an entirely separate world. They hardly left their rarefied precincts--in the same way it was unusual for potentates of yore to see life among the wretched refuse on their teeming shores. They rarely left the castle grounds.

It's required now for publicly traded companies listed on the S&P 500 to publish the ratio of executive pay to median pay. WPP and Publicis--two of the big four--are based, respectively in the UK and France. I could find no information about them. But here's the information I found on IPG and Omnicom.

                                company                                                     median pay         ratio to CEO

For people who have a hard time with numbers, that data shows--comparatively speaking, if you're making $100,000, the moguls are making around $26 million. You don't expect to interact with people making $26 million do you? I don't suppose they're standing behind you at the Shop-Rite taking advantage of their annual Can-Can sale. (Two cans of petite peas only $1.29.) And again, looking at the numbers from a different point of view, it's unlikely if you're making $100,000 that you'll interact with people making 1/260th of that income--$3900/year.

Is there any wonder agency attrition rates--forced or voluntary--are likely running at forty-percent? That staffing is made up more and more of freelance? And that it's nearly impossible to attract and retain people? The basic promise of any relationship (presumably even employee-employer relationships) has collapsed. Your loyalty to us will not be reciprocated by our loyalty to you. 

That brings me to two acronyms that help clarify the state of our world today.

1. YOYO. 
You're Own Your Own.
No raises. No benefits. No health-care. No security. No support. No bonuses. No training. No full-time job, even.

2. WITT. 
We're In This Together.
As we grow, you grow. We help each other. We care. We reward hard work with rewards. We respect and reciprocate loyalty with loyalty.

Of late, I've noticed a bit of what I'm (perhaps cynically) calling a propaganda surge among holding company leaders who follow me on Linked In. With incomplete data and non-existent facts, they seem to be press-releasing their way to presenting themselves as companies that cherish their people. 

With no investigative press--other than this blog--they're probably getting away with it. They're telling the world--and easily-gulled investors--that they’re WITTs when they're really YOYOs. 

You don't celebrate your people, or thank them, with a dopey posting on LinkedIn. Just as you wouldn't qualify for a bank-loan by posting something like, "I love the daffodils in front of my Citibank branch. They do so much for my community."

You treat people well by treating people well.

Not just when they're young and "on brand." Not when they suit some particular jaded narrative.


You pay them. 

You reward them.

You train them.

You bonus them.

You promote them.

You help them grow and achieve.

That's what WITT relationships do.

That's what the non-Coming Apart world did.

If I were ever going to return to the ad industry, as a worker or a leader--or if I were to try to steer one of my accounts to an old-line agency, during my interview process, I'd ask three things.

1. What's your executive to median employee pay ratio?
2. What's your corporate attrition rate?
3. What percentage of your employees are over 50?

One more thing.

It's very au courant for these agency entities to trumpet how open and transparent they are.

And they are.

Until you ask them questions like the ones above.