Friday, July 1, 2022

Tikkun Olam.


Sequoia Roots, Mariposa Grove by Ansel Adams


I'm not trying to go all Jewish on you. 

I am not a religious person.

But just as a TV show must have something going for it if it lasts ten seasons, Judaism must have something going for it since it's lasted 6,000 years. Through the Crusades, the Holocaust and, today, Marjorie Taylor Greene and the likes who believe that the United States is a "Christian" country. (You can always spot a Christian country. It's the one that acts un-Christian.)

Tikkun Olam means "repair of the world."

It's a foundational thought in Judaism. 

One person alone can't do much. But one person alone helping one person is the moral equivalent of saving the world. If we all said, "we'll do one thing, brook one kindness, raise one person up," well, that's how we repair.

About a year ago, I had an idea.

I saw a friend, a CMO at a multi-billion dollar company, was looking for creatives for his in-house creative department.

I called him. "I know a lot of people. I just taught a couple of classes. Can I help?"

Then, the idea.

What if we started a school, paid for by a brand, taught under my aegis, to help people get starter jobs and to help companies build marketing departments? A dirt under-the-fingernails way of learning the business. Where the students would get real briefs, get paid by the client and be taught by me and friends.

The students would present to the client, get feedback from the client, and make real work that runs in the real world.

I got a client to gamble on the idea.

I reached out to Tom Christmann and Paul Fix at AdHouse. They came up with a name: AdHouse/InHouse.

I wrote some ads looking for students and posted them on LinkedIn. We got 3300 responses from five continents.

I partnered with Steph Cajucom, a friend and Creative Director who's now at Translation. She and I went through those responses. Picked eight students. Then we taught alongside each other.

I enlisted the help of Kerry Feuerman who taught a session on presentation skills.

Rob Schwartz came in and talked about having a thousand ideas.

The class had the ideas.

They presented the ideas to a dozen people from the Client. Including their North American CMO.

Smiles. (Was that applause I heard, or just my heart fluttering?)

Last week, Steph was in Cannes. As was the NA CMO, the Global Chief Brand Officer, the COO and one of the Founders. They asked Steph to present the students' work.

The. Client. Bought. Work.

Now we're working on how to produce work. Real work. In the field, measurable work. Work expected to influence minds and hearts. 

Now we're working on next time. Our next Tikkun Olam.

As Rob said to Steph and me, "I think the Tikkun Olam strategy is really working here. There is so much to repair on Madison Avenue. But it happens one ad at a time. One class at a time. One client at a time."

Thanks, Client.

Thanks, Students.

Thanks Tom and Paul.

Thanks, Kerry.

Thanks, Rob.

Thanks, Client (They deserve a lot of thanks.)

Thanks, Tikkun Olam.

Thanks, World.



Thursday, June 30, 2022

The fight.


Since I left the Holding Company Hegemony of Advertising, the DMV-ing of creativity, where waiting in line to face petty bureaucrats who don't care, is more important than you, or irreverence, or a joke, I have, in the patois of the fight game, moved up a weight class. Or two weight classes. Or started my own weight class.

That is not to say I've put on "the Covid 19," or gained any avoirdupois at all. What I mean is I've found new ways to challenge myself.

Yes, it's tautological. 

But challenging yourself is challenging.

And I was already in a big arena when I was at Ogilvy on IBM.

But now, that looks puny. Withered. Flaccid. Like a piece of scrap paper blowing in the wind.

See the insistent scrap paper, here.

One of the best things I learned at Ogilvy about life and advertising and exertion was a mantra I believe created by Ogilvy's long-time CEO, Shelly Lazarus.

She used to say our mission was "To be most valued by those who most value brands." 

I am part philologist. I don't just read words. I think about their meaning. How those words of Shelly's were a call to action--an exemplar for me. 

They pushed me.

How can I be "most-valued"?

Two decades ago, while at Ogilvy I was moved into a smaller office after smaller even though I was doing a great job. However, I was threatening to someone who couldn't do what I did and my lack of deference angered him. Ergo, broom closet.

Chris Wall wrote me when that happened.

A coda to Shelly's mantra.

"George, there will always be annoyances and distractions in large organizations - keep your eyes on the prize, make the work great, and the world will be your oyster. If we don't right the problems here one day, we'll all go elsewhere and be successful for somebody else. That's the ultimate power of knowing how to make things happen."

Right now I'm working with more high-powered C's on a more fundamental level than virtually anyone I know. I'm dealing with more C's than volume three of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Whatever that is.

Working with a mere President seems like kickball as opposed to the World Series.

And those C's and I aren't talking not about procurement or the metaverse or borderless creativity--terms that have virtually no meaning. We're talking about and doing the work to make their brands most valued.

A lot of this sucks, I have to tell you.

I live in a beach community most of the time. I'd gladly trade in my blue mood for a blue drink. 

Of our human parts, our muscles, our heart, even our brains, grow stronger the more we use them.

So, the fight goes on.





Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Mike Tesch.

Mike Tesch was my boss at Ally & Gargano in the early 90s. He was once one of the biggest names in all of advertising. At the time. At any time. 

A creative in advertising not knowing Tesch is like an Art Historian not knowing Caravaggio. A playwright not knowing Shakespeare. A cineaste not knowing Citizen Kane.

That's the way the world is now.  We have an entire political party that knows neither the Constitution and the Bill of Rights nor the golden rule. Right and wrong is flexible. Fair is foul and foul is fair. The battle's lost and won. 

But, lest I get accused of being polemical--back to Tesch.

When Mike hired me I sat in the darkest corner office I had ever sat in. It was like being in the presence of a god. He said to me, "I want this to be the agency where you can be as good as you think you are." 

That's the second-best thing any boss ever said to me about a job. (The best came from Marshall Karp, ECD at Marschalk. "I want you to go home at night and tell your spouse what you did at work."

Mike was just about the most-famous person in advertising then. All those FEDEX and Dunkin spots and Hertz ads. And Pan Am. Advertisements with soul, truth, meaning.

Here's one of my favorites:



And another:

No one knows his name anymore.

Mike's widow Billie befriended me on Thursday. I went through her feed and pulled the pictures below.  I didn't put them in any sort of order because a creative mind like Mike's or a creative career like Mike's is most-often not linear. It's a chrysanthemum of exploding ideas like a misbehaving Fourth of July firework.


It makes me sad. Especially on the heels of the Cannes self-congratula-ton. And the presenter at Cannes who stole one of my ads and used it as the cover slide to a presentation of his. On creativity. Of all things.

Mike was mean at times. Hard. Threatening, though only 5'3".  Temperamental. Unpredictable even.

He burst into my office once. 

I was 30. 

I started sweating.

He showed me a marker comp he just did. A marker comp. McCabe had worked at Carl Ally and everyone had a love/hate with him because of his success at Scali/McCabe. 

Mike showed me his comp and said, neurotically, looking for affirmation from me. "I'm as good as McCabe." 

Borscht Belt beat. 

"And taller."




















Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Scorpions.

I have an ailment the ancient Greeks were said to have called "Scorpions in the Mind."

That was their 3,000-year-old description of having so much going on above the shoulders that you can't sleep at night. Thoughts spark like fireworks on July 4th. Troubles rattle their cages and all but wake the dead. Past mistakes loom large and taunt me. Missed opportunities, they might be the most aggressive of the scorpions. Milton called it Paradise Lost.

Last night was another of those nights where the scorpions rode roughshod like Genghis Khan or the great Tamar, five horses to a man, with a million nomads and five million steeds shooting arrows from composite bows (the AR-15s of their day) and conquering people like you and me, who were living sedentary lives behind the walls of great cities.

It was three in the morning and I was turning more than a dripping Gyro in a cheap restaurant in the East Village.  I decided to heed the scorpions--to not ignore but to instead harness the synapses those scorpions were inciting.

I said to myself, "I will write down one-hundred ideas. Ideas for movies that haven't been written. Ideas for products that haven't been built. Ideas for jokes, or stories that have never been told." And so I did. 

I got to eight.

The first was noiseless sheets. If you battle Dame Insomnia as I do, you know that the sound of your body against Egyptian 800-count cotton can be as loud as the four linen-closets of the Apocalypse. Noiseless sheets I could sell. And who's going to sue me if they make noise? Could I be the Mike Lindell of bed-linens?


I could find no pictures of Vanessa Velcro.
So two pictures of Van Lingle Mungo.

Next came a character, like Benjamin Button, who aged backwards. But that tale was writ by Scott Fitzgerald. Could I update it to today and reap mammon on the basis of another person's idea? So I derived Vanessa Velcro. Unfastened by chronology, order or age.


Third came a new legal system. Where the greatest crimes by the biggest names and giantest corporations were assigned the most Dante-esque punishments. Scoundrels who make billions and don't pay taxes might have to spend a lifetime arguing with my mother. Drivers of giant pickup trucks, nine feet off the ground with tires as big as one of Saturn's moons, who change lanes without signaling, who consume fossil fuel as if none of this mattered and then complain about gas prices, their brains would be placed in the old bowl my wife's grandmother chopped liver in and would be minced for an eternity by her veiny hands and her ancient curved hochmesser.

Fourth comes retribution. And in my warped mind, it's not too much to ask, or even demand. Simple. A hand-written apology from everyone I've ever met. Detailed. All the ways you wronged me, ignored me, hurt me, talked over me, didn't consider my needs, feelings or fears. That's all, simple.

Fifth, a permanent geo-located heatwave. To sit right over my seaside neighbor's unairconditioned cottage and bake and torture their anti-Semitic souls till they're withered as a potato stick.

Sixth, a class-action lawsuit against every automaker in the world for getting away with bumpers you can't bump without scratching them. Those aren't bumpers, they are oxymorons. Functionless slabs of plastic frauds that show every nick from every old Oldsmobile on a car you're trying to keep pristine.

Seventh, an intrusive god. One who shames miscreants publicly. Who says things for all to hear, "dumold trump is a rapist and a criminal," or, say, "pete petterson stole george's headline as his own in a Cannes-talk about creativity. What pete petterson knows about creativity, genuine creativity, couldn't fill a doll house thimble."


Eighth. A medical procedure I've nicknamed TBR. Total Bone Replacement. Where the good doctors of the Mayo Clinic or a CVS Minute Clinic, check me into their sanitaria for a month--like an old German spa like those at Bad Essen. They shroud me in luxury, steam baths, thick soup and even thicker terry robes, and methodically remove each one of my 206 aching bones and replace my old with their new--probably 3D-printed.  For the first time since my pre-natal days, I am pain-free.

That's it for last night's scorpion battle.

Yes, there's anger there.

If you're not angry, you're not paying attention.

Maybe that's number nine.


Monday, June 27, 2022

Dinosaur Thinking.

I finished reading a strange book late last week, just a day or two before the Supreme Court decided that domain over a person's body doesn't belong to that person if that person is a woman. 

The book was called The Monster's Bones and you can order it here.

While the book was interesting on many levels, most interesting--and most high-level--from my point of view was its look at a world when major new evidence emerges that upsets how the mass of people have thought of that world and what they believed for millennia.

That may encapsulate the period we're living through now. New learning, new evidence, new conclusions have been revealed. That newness upsets the dominant complacency. Therefore a good portion of our planet rebels against it.

I'll try to clarify that.

Strange as it seems to us now, there was no conception in the world of dinosaurs until about the early 19th Century. The world as we westerners knew it was a world defined by a book of myths and legends and propaganda we call the Bible.

That Bible said, man (not hu-man) had dominion over Earth. That man was created in god's image. And that man, therefore was perfect. God, being perfect made man perfect. God wouldn't have made creatures before man and they wouldn't have died out, because as Einstein said, and I misuse it here, "God does not play dice with the universe." That is, why would god create something, only to kill it off?"

Around 1830, miners in the United Kingdom and farmers in the peat bogs began uncovering giant bones of never-before-seen creatures. Were they dragons? Giant forerunners of the ox? What were the skeletons of sea creatures doing hundreds of miles from the sea?

A reappraisal was coming.

We knew nothing, 200 years ago, about plate tectonics, continental drift, and we determined the age of our planet (to the exact day) by following hints in the Bible. The best thinkers believed our planet was about 10,000 years old. They were off by a factor of 4.5 million.

In fact, the very word dinosaur wasn't coined more than 175 years ago. Because they simply didn't exist.

Soon, finding those bones, led to more bones. And those led to more bones. Paleo-paleontologists reconstructed the bones. Giant statuary made it to the Crystal Pavillion in London. Natural History museums in the great cities of the western world were on an arms race--or a femur's race--competing for bones that would attract viewers to their exhibits.

Along the way, Darwin raised his hand. We weren't divinely created, he showed. We evolved.

As seminal as Copernicus supplanting the thinking of Ptolemy, mankind's place in the universe had the rug pulled out from it. We were no longer First, Only, Best. We were just next.

That's mind-blowing.

Much of our world still hasn't adjusted to all this non-bible, science stuff. They want their orderly universe back. White European men on top. Everyone else making those men rich.

The point for me and you to think about is how as a species we react to new ideas.

Imagine if you were digging in your garden one morning and found a basketball-sized glowing orb. You take it to a university. There, scientists discern that it's made of elements they've never seen before and they date it to ten-billion years ago. How would you take the un-trueing of everything you've ever known? How would you take finding out humans are just one more set of sentient beings in the universe? 

That's what we're dealing with now. 

Much of our world doesn't accept that they are no longer preeminent.

A giant swath of the world who believes, still, that most of the world was ordained by god, according to press-releases written by agents of god (the apostles.) They set things up millennia ago as TRUE. And the final and irrevocable word.

For many in the United States, that final and irrevocable word comes from the Bible or the Constitution. Nothing we've learned in the intervening years can undo the wisdom of those texts. To not abide by god's word is the devil's work. 

That's what we're dealing with now.

People who want the comfort of old absolutes against the frenzy of modern, and constant, discovery.

There are many today who regard The Flintstones as historically accurate. There were many, not long ago, who ratiocinated the death of the dinosaurs by saying 'they were so large, Noah couldn't get them on the Ark.'

The great scientist, university professor and writer Vaclav Smil wrote something I read the other day. I have the intellectual hubris to expand upon it.

I'm not an optimist or a pessimist. I'm a scientist.

I'm not a conservative or a liberal. I'm fact-based.

I'm not set. I am fluid. I decided based on science and facts.

That, I think, is enlightenment thinking.

Not theocratic thought, based on the illusion of a deity.

It's I think, therefore I am.

Not, I'm told, therefore I believe.

 

Friday, June 24, 2022

Copywriters in the Machine Age.


Not too many years ago when the agency called Ogilvy was still in business, there was a corps of writers who worked under the aegis of Chief Creative Officer, Steve Simpson, on IBM.

I say corps, but it was really just me and another writer, a friend, called Tom Bagot. Tom died from pancreatic cancer a few years back, leaving a wife and three kids behind. In so many ways the world is poorer for that loss.

Tom and I and Steve, too, were writers of the very old school. While the rest of the agency was as empty as herschel walker's head, we were at our desks, usually by 7:30 AM, and either talking about the work we were doing, or more often doing it. You could hear the clack of our keyboards like the sound of a hundred lab rats gobbling down their kibble.

In the best of relationships, whether they're professional or amorous, a certain kind of competition exists. You know the person sitting or lying alongside you is superior in some manner and you, therefore, redouble your efforts just to keep from sinking.

Tom and I were often charged by Simpson "to figure things out." Doe-eyed planners or account people would sneak up to us and tell us about some problem the client was having that no one could figure out. They would usually email us terabytes--or even yottabytes--of nearly cuneiform deckage--with no commentary whatsoever and then back slowly away from us like a 1950s vacuum-cleaner salesman who's poured soot on your white living room carpet.

That was the copywriter equivalent of the gun going off at one of those late 19th Century eight-day-bicycle races. Tom and I were friends. We helped each other. We answered questions for each other. We'd even run out and pick up breakfast for each other.

But we were also two gold miners in 1850s California. We were both looking for a vein and we knew that our finding it meant we could only be so amenable to the other guy. 

That's not macho posturing or male-meanness. I know the current of today preaches collaboration--many times, collaboration above unique quality. But, as the Soviets may or may not have learned as they tried to propagate the millenarian idea of reconstructing human motivation for the betterment of all, from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs, legislating kindness or amity is often a race to a dark-pool of lassitude.

Tom would often say to me, after three of four hours of cranking when we'd emerge for air--each of us with 50 headlines and one-thousand words of copy, "You are a machine."

I get that a lot today. I whirr and grind and keep on ticking.

But I never considered myself a machine, or in any way unusual. 

I considered agency work much as my scraggly-bearded forerunners considered work in the sweatshops.

We get paid by the piece, don't we? Next!

If I can't outthink you, I'm going to outwork you. 

Or sweat while trying.

The thing I've learned to do to survive in business is, I suppose, machine-like. You get paid to work, so work. Write a lot of stuff. Draw a lot of doodles. Think a lot of thoughts. 

That is, produce. You know, like a machine.

Editing can come later.

But it's better to edit from a lot than a little.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Cutting Cookies.

A lot of the work I do these days, as the almost-sole-proprietor of GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company is not the work I thought I would be doing when I entered the business, way back when the earth was more than a few degrees cooler.

And a lot of that work reminds me of when my daughters were living at home and would ask me to read one of their essays on the French Revolution or The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.

I'd read their essays and I almost always have the same response. "You are smart. You don't have to try to sound smart."

But today, when I get documents prepared by either other agencies or client marketing people, I often feel the same way. 

It seems to me that people are writing according to a non-existent set-of-rules that they believe will impress people. They are writing to sound a certain way and appear a certain way, not to communicate in an impactful way.

I am forced to make shit unshitty.

It's 81-percent of my job now.

Even many of the manifestos I am forced to watch--the ones I see from Agency Spy or on people's Linked In (they're seldom, if ever, on TV) fall prey to this ossified rule-following. Worse, the "about" sections of from just about every agency website seem to be more cookie-cutter than even cookie cutters. (Hey, agency leaders--I'll rewrite your website. Call me. And pay me upfront.)


I am all for rules, semantic or otherwise. 

But I'm only for them when they help you, not when they limit or hurt us.

I reject writing that says things like:

"We solve problems that create value for our clients."

Or,

"We believe in action-oriented individuals who help our measured attainment of our goals."

Or,

"We need curious and humble people who embrace the challenge to continually improve themselves and our clients. We need to continually remeasure, reassess and reset our objects in an intellectually honest discussion."

It happens fairly often that I get a note or a phone call from someone who remarks about how prolific I am. They ask if I have some sort of secret, or if I have a cast of small chimps banging away at the dozen or so Smith-Corona typewriters I keep in my basement for the day when we are struck down by Russian/Chinese/Iranian/North Korean/Israeli/ or NSA-derived Cybergeddon.

I've thought about it, too.

And I have a simple answer.

I am almost 65 years old. At last, I have confidence in who I am, in how I think, and how I speak. At last, I have the confidence to write as me. Not someone else.

Not too many years ago, I wrote to a friend who had just lost her job. She was dealing with about 71 crises of confidence at once. I have the note somewhere. It was good.

I wrote:

Don't be afraid to be you.

No one is more you than you.

Be you.

It's what you're best at.

This is my post for today.








Wednesday, June 22, 2022

A Missive from Cannes.

Writing has helped me and pushed my career forward. So far forward that about twice a week or more, someone calls me or sends me a note. They either call me 'the biggest name in advertising,' or 'a legend,' or something else mildly ageist or refractory.

Those epithets may or may not be true. But I think I'm working way too hard. 

It occurred to me just now that wisdom or punditry is as watered-down as the Kool-Aid at a budget summer camp. In fact, I just stumbled upon the wisdom below from a luminary at Cannes.

I realized something looking at that. There are people like myself who write about advertising. We use our writing and our thinking to express complex thoughts.

But why bother? We can just do this:

So, Jeff Eaker, stop working at it. Rich Siegel, stop working at it. Dave Trott, stop working at it. Debra Fried, stop working at it. Bob Hoffman, stop working at it. Dave Dye, stop working at it. John Long, stop working at it.

We're doing it wrong.

We're working too hard.

To rise into the thermosphere or the exosphere of punditry we shouldn't write more, we should write less. Write with less precision, less insight. 

To that end, I hereby present, the deepest thoughts of George Tannenbaum, Creative Personchair.






















Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Semiotics and Agencies.


The journalist and political analyst Mark Shields died the other day and as he was a part of my life for so many election cycles, I read his New York Times' obituary with some froth. You can read it here. (And btw, if you don't sent the Times money for a subscription, you're pissing me off. The $100 or $200 they ask for is the least you can do to protect the remaining cat-hairs of our democracy.)

Shields was not a hoity-toity analyst. I liked him because he was down-to-(scorched)-earth and spoke a language that was colorful, full of allusions and descriptive. It was from him that I learned the longshoreman's phrase for a brouhaha, melee or imbroglio. Shields likened knives-out political infighting as "a Pier Six brawl." The etymology doesn't matter. The vividness of the language does. You understand it--it's evocative--whether or not you know its derivation.

Shields was graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1959. And rather than being drafted (no foot-pain would excuse him) he enlisted as a Marine, emerging two years later as a Lance Corporal. That sound like a non-commissioned officer in charge of boils. But I think, even at the age of 23 or 24, he was probably leading boys and preparing them to combat America's foes, real or imagined.

The obituary states, "He learned a lot in those two years ...including concepts of leadership encapsulated in a Marine tradition of officers not being fed until their subordinates were." 

He went on and asked,"'Would not our country be a more just and human place, if the brass of Wall Street and Washington and executive suites believed that ‘officers eat last’?”

On shoots, agencies--and even clients--have always been trained to let crews eat first. After all, crews are working while we're eating yet another handful of Raisinettes. But I wonder how many agency and holding company heads would, at least semiotically, adopt the notion of not being fed until their staffs are.

The world, and agencies and holding companies are just a microcosm, have become every man for himself, widows and children be damned. Sure a few $22 million per annum executives suspended their salaries during the depths of the trumpian covid calamity. But they paid themselves back, often times, in spades.

But I wonder if setting up a code of behaviors where employee welfare superseded executive largess would begin to change the prevailing dynamic of an industry which is having a terrible time attracting and retaining talent. We are more populated by cake-eaters like Marie Antoinette than people who put their people first.

"Women and children first," has been replaced by first-class lifeboats replete with French champagne, lie-flat life-preservers and "warmed nuts." The hell with those making the moghuls of the business rich.

As Emma Lazurus wrote, you and I, friends, are just "the wretched refuse on these teeming shores." While the big brass collects lifetime sinecures and $50 million pay packages, you have to fight for an extra-week of severance when they fire you after 26 years, for having aged.

So much of life is ruled by semiotics. The language of signs. 

When John Thain, the trillion-dollar banker bought for his office a $61,000 wastebasket, you knew Merrill Lynch was in trouble. A friend of mine, a writer was at Ogilvy for 25 years or so. Often you'd see him in the mens' room, antiseptically picking up old newspapers people left behind. Semiotically, he showed his care and love for the place. They fired him. No one else saw it.

Uriah Heep and his Mother.

The Greeks believed that the greatest sin, hubris was quickly followed by the greatest torment, nemesis. In Hogarth's time, or Dickens' we might have called the notion, "getting your comeuppance."

Maybe comeuppance or nemesis or even quid quo pro are old-fashioned, even obsolete notions. I'm not a Christian but I had always heard how hard it was for a rich man to get to heaven. I'm not sure anyone hears about camels or needles or even kindness and caring today. 

I also don't know what the corporate equivalent would be of allowing enlisted personnel to eat first. Would it mean giving the rank-and-file compensation before shareholders? Or is the way to improve shareholder value really to undervalue the people doing the work?


Monday, June 20, 2022

Juneteenth holiday.

Ad Aged will not publish today.

Respect.