Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Reflections on the Oscars and truth.

The Academy Awards--the Oscars--are just about upon us with nearly, it seems, every movie trumpeting its
nominations and hailing itself as one of the decade's best (even though we are but two years into this decade.) With this spate of awards shows looming, I got to wondering what were 'best pictures' like through the ages? What, if anything do they have in common with the best of today? And finally, would they, given our current mania for "cuttiness" be watchable today?

I decided to order from Amazon the first Oscar winner for Best Picture, "Wings" which was directed by William Wellman in 1927. (Wellman went on to direct the original "A Star is Born," "Beau Geste" and one of my childhood favorites, "The Oxbow Incident," featuring evil incarnate, Jane Darwell, a compellingly laconic Anthony Quinn, not to mention young Henry Fonda and his sidekick, the somewhat dim Harry Morgan.)

"Wings" arrived on Friday and I watched it last weekend, all 139 minutes of it.

There is a tendency in our business to think that the present has no precedents and the past has no value. That we cannot learn, admire, marvel over things that went before. "Wings" belies those notions.

First off, it is a simple, seminal story of two boys and one girl (Clara Bow--the "It" girl.) Second, the action takes place in the heightened intensity of wartime. A good portion of the movie are some pretty stunning bi-plane dogfights (a bi-plane is an aircraft that has sex with both male and female planes) replete with color special effects enhancing the action.

Finally, there is love, laughter, the death of a hero. All the requisites that are resonant today.

I'll admit, I approach a movie like "Wings" with more than a little trepidation. I warn my wife away from the TV. "You probably won't like this," I tell her. I understand the pacing of movies from eight decades ago doesn't jibe with today's tastes. And all that.

That said, "Wings" was great. It was a little gung-ho about the glory of war for my tastes, but it was a good story, well told. And if you can imagine your father or grandfather who had probably rarely even seen a plane 85 years ago, watching aerial battles up close, you realize the movie was really onto something.

All this to say, as Sam sang in "Casablanca,"

"You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss,
A sigh is just a sigh...
The fundamental things apply,
As time goes by...

"Moonlight and love songs, never out of date
Hearts full of passion, jealousy and hate
Woman needs man, and man must have his maid
That no one can deny...

"It's the same old story,
A fight for love and glory,
a case of do or die...
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by."

Monday, January 30, 2012


Gershwin and DuBose Heyward's opera "Porgy and Bess" is slated to open soon on Broadway and accordingly, it's received a lot of coverage from "The New York Times."

Joe Nocera, a Times financial writer and op-editorialist wrote about it in his blog today, a follow-up from a piece he'd written a couple of weeks earlier. http://nocera.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/30/summertime-rendered-25000-ways/?hp

Nocera writes, "no song has been recorded more than “Summertime,” which has been covered more than 25,000 times – by rockers, country singers, jazz musicians and blues artists."

He then gives us about 10 versions to sample.

I haven't been able to hear them all, but the three I did hear--Miles, Billie, and Ella and Louis represent the high-water mark of something.

If you want something you have to pay something.

One of the universal truths of our species is that, since the beginning of time, we have always tried to get something for nothing.

Humanity has utilized slave labor since our beginnings.

Similarly, we have engaged in extractive activities since the beginning of time. Taking from the earth, consequences be damned.

I've often thought that the explosive growth of online advertising, syndicated content and the like was contingent of media metric magic. We've all sat in those meetings. Trillions of eyeballs promised to the advertiser for next to nothing.

Today in the world there is a hue and cry about Google and Facebook and the like taking our data and using it nefariously to sell us, track us and whatever else us.

There is also a mini-outrage over Apple products being made in China by labor that often works literally around the clock, or at least in 12 hour shifts, for $17/day. You know, roughly what the people who are outraged spend per diem on Starbucks.

Again, there is a similar tsimmes over oil and chemical companies who are using hydraulic fracturing in areas populated by people's country homes. People are protesting "fracking" (what could go wrong when you high-pressure pump toxic chemicals into the ground water) as they fill up their SUVs with cheap gas. God forbid they take the train.

The point is that few people, businesses, religions, or governments do anything for purely benevolent reasons.

The world hasn't really changed since we became erect.

It's pay as you go.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

More New York memories.

When I was a kid growing up in the 60s, the wheels had really fallen off the societal bus. If you look at world violence rates graphically, there is a fairly steady decline from World War II to present, except, of course, for bursts of violence like the explosions which began during our "Peace and Love" era of the 60s (through the 80s) when murder rates and other violent crime rates jumped through the roof.

I was mugged twice as a pre-teen or early teenager. Once two kids caught me on my bike as I rode through a rough neighborhood. I was able to startle one of them with a "karate chop" to the back of the neck and get away. The second time I took a shortcut on the way home from a friend's house, I cut through a Gristede's parking lot and a kid named Glen Hall came after me and any money I might have had on my person. Glen Hall was one of our neighborhood's few "negroes" and, as such, was considered bad and dangerous. I was able to commandeer a shopping cart and chase after him using it like a jousting lance and I got away from Glen with whatever change I carried. Later on when I was a 7th-grader Glen and I got into a fight--he pulled a knife on me--but I was able, somehow, to pin him to the ground before things were broken up. I think the fight, really, was over a nickel, or maybe a quarter.

We used to listen to the radio a lot in those days, primarily because we watched less television. After school we often went to Wilson's field, a large open lot covered in rocks and struggling grass where we would play whatever "ball" was in season--football when it was cold (we still had cold weather in those days) and baseball when it was warm. Usually one kid or another would bring a $3.99 transistor radio that you could buy at Korvette's, a discount store that was the Walmart of its day.

We would listen to music when we played, or the Yankees or Mets if they were playing a day game, which they did more often in those days.

There was a local manufacturer that made noodles called "Country Kitchen" that had a beautiful jingle that sounded like it might have been written and recorded by Harry Nilsson.
It went like this and was accompanied by a really wistful and beautiful melody:

"I was looking for a noodle
A different kind of noodle
That was golden right
Tastes so nice.
Then I found what I was after
With the taste as light as laughter…
Country Kitchen, pure egg noodle."

Despite the scrapes and bruises we got from playing ball, and the scrapes and bruises we got from neighborhood toughs, the world seemed an easier place than it seems now. We could get an ice cream cone for 17-cents and see a movie matinee for 50-cents.

Last night my wife and I treated ourselves to some frozen yogurt. Some teenagers came into the store after we did. One, with an ass as wide as the M-15 bus, ordered a banana split. She was charged $8.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Stop it.

Below is an 145-word sentence from "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman" by Laurence Sterne. Many people, and I am among them, consider the novel (which was one of the first ever written in English) to be one of the greatest novels ever.

"I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly consider'd how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost;—Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,—I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that in which the reader is likely to see me."

I'm not sure if people today can fathom a sentence of this length. If, in the "Interruption Era" we can unravel its meandering complexity.

One thing I am sure about, utterly and completely positive about is this: No one, no one, no one gains even a scintilla of value from a brand positioning statement that is 56 words long.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I've been a bit under the weather of late. Fighting both a stomach virus and some long-running fatigue. I haven't been, as I usually am, bursting with energy. Perhaps the world is too much with me. Maybe I'm worried about my wife who has been afflicted with a bit of hearing loss. Or maybe the actual prospect of Newt Gingrich as president has so frightened me that I've crawled under a metaphorical rock.

But yesterday, I had a good day.

I was rejected three times.

Once, a short story I had written was turned down from a prestigious small press. That was followed by two other exogenous rejections.

Rejection, no matter how used to it you are, no matter how 'long the shot,' no matter how
trivial is never easy to take. It's no fun.

However, there is something reassuringly life-affirming about it.

It means you have tried something.

It means you put your ass out there.

It means you're challenging yourself.

That's only my point of view, of course.

You can reject it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I have often thought that my generation was the last where you could get rapped in the knuckles by your teacher (or your parents) for being a lousy speller. While I in no way condone corporal punishment--except between two consenting adults, of course--the state of our language is severely under duress.

I've just run across three indiscretions in short order on Linked In. All from people for whom communication, clear, cogent, intelligible communication is part of their job description.

I've been asked to accept an invitation from "an intergraded copywriter."

I've been told a friend is looking for "recommendations from her piers."

And the apotheosis from a young copywriter looking for a job: "____is a strategicly fun thinker with outstanding will power... Young and eager, ____ is climbing up the todum pole to a successful career in the ad world and strives to work with a team of intellegent left-brain thinkers..."

Showing up.

As I've written about over the past few weeks, just about everyone in my agency is burrowed deep inside a World War I style trench, cowering for protection, covered in mud and filth, keeping their heads down and writing reviews.

Like most things in our technocratic age, questions are asked and answered in reviews so that they are as abstruse, obtuse, diffuse and confuse as possible. When I read reviews they make me think of my new "least favorite" politician, Newt Gingrich who calls, for example, Barack Obama the "food stamp president" because you can no longer call someone a nigger. Though the effect and purpose is the same.

In any event, having nearly finished writing my reviews, I am now reading reviews others have written. In other words, reviewing reviewers. Which, of course, begs the old Roman question "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" Who will guard the guards?

It occurs to me that maybe the best review you can possibly give is a version of the old Woody Allen line: "80 percent of success is just showing up."

Today, we are infected with choice and many people simply choose not to show up.

They turn up missing by attending and scheduling meetings that produce nothing but wind. They are absent when the phone rings and someone is looking for help. They are present when sweeping and grandiose proclamations are made but they're missing when the campaign needs to sold by dint of the small, but important pieces that bring it to life for the client.

Thomas Paine, the great essayist (today we would call him a motivational speaker) called such people "summer soldier(s) and ...sunshine patriot(s)..."

An ex-boss of mine called them--in a phrase I'll never forget--people with "Titanic attitudes and minnows in the engine room."

Woody Allen called them people who don't show up.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Spoken by a planner.

"We need to do some talking where we just listen."

Sometimes you need a kayak.

I just read a memoir by Roger Rosenblatt, "Kayak Morning." It's a rumination about the death of his 38-year-old daughter and the nature of grief.

We read and use phrases like "getting over grief," "coming to terms with grief," "making peace with grief," "learning to live with grief." Such phrases are well and good--they seem to make sense. That is, until you're actually grieving. Then, they have the emotional perspicacity of a Hallmark greeting card.

In "Kayak Morning," Rosenblatt introduced me to George Hitchcock, the editor of a small but prestigious poetry magazine called, as you might expect "Kayak." The journal was published for 20-years, 64 issues. At which point Hitchcock shut it down. "Any more," Hitchcock said "and it would risk seeming an institution. After that, ossification and rigor mortis.”

There was a motto that was printed with each issue of "Kayak." “A kayak is not a galleon, ark, coracle or speedboat. It is a small watertight vessel operated by a single oarsman. It is submersible, has sharply pointed ends, and is constructed of light poles and the skins of furry animals. It has never yet been successfully employed as a means of mass transport.”

In this era of fascist collaborationists, of insistent know-nothingisms, of pompous
pontificators, it's nice, for me anyway, to think of someone who did something by himself. The world is too much with us, and all that.

What no one talks about or laments in our open-work-plan, interruption-phreno-genic offices is the power of setting out on a spiritual kayak. Where nothing but heaven is above you and nothing but water below.

That might be when peace occurs and good work happens.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Career advice from Freeman Dyson (still working at 88.)

Ever since I was a teenager and came across Freeman Dyson's long essays in "The New Yorker" on the horrible perils of nuclear holocaust, I have been a fan of his. When the reactionary Reaganites were telling us "everyone would survive if they had a shovel and enough dirt, I would always shake my head and say, first, did you read John Hersey's "Hiroshima"? and second, "Have you read Freeman Dyson?"

Dyson was everything I respected in a thinker. He stuck to no ideology. And he was unafraid (and still is) to take controversial positions. He's the rare scientist who thinks global warming isn't something we need worry about. You don't always have to agree with someone in order to admire and respect him. He also believes in the efficacy of nuclear energy and backs up his position with what seem to me to be fairly valid facts.

In any event, I've just come across a short piece about Dyson in "More Intelligent Life," the "life, style and culture" adjunct to "The Economist." In it, the 88-year-old Dyson is asked three questions:

(1) why he remained hard at work;

(2) what were his strengths and weaknesses now compared with earlier in his career; and

(3) what advice would he give to those who have been working for
(a) one year,
and (b) 30 years?

Here's the reply received by email the next day:

1. I continue working because I agree with Sigmund Freud’s definition of mental health. To be healthy means to love and to work. Both activities are good for the soul, and one of them also helps to pay for the groceries.

2. In my younger days my work as a scientist was deep and narrow. Now, as I grow old, my work grows broader and shallower. As a young man, I solved technical problems of interest only to a few specialists. As an old man, I write books about human affairs of interest to a broad public. In both halves of my life, I tried to make the best use of my limited abilities.

(a). Advice to people at the beginning of their careers: do not imagine that you have to know everything before you can do anything. My own best work was done when I was most ignorant. Grab every opportunity to take responsibility and do things for which you are unqualified.

(b). Advice to people at the middle of their careers: do not be afraid to switch careers and try something new. As my friend the physicist Leo Szilard said (number nine in his list of ten commandments): “Do your work for six years; but in the seventh, go into solitude or among strangers, so that the memory of your friends does not hinder you from being what you have become.”

Friday, January 20, 2012

Something I've never been able to do.

It's a new feature of Ad Aged, "Poetry Corner" where we lay down with iambs and meter not just our electricity but our feet. This is by e.e. cummings

let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to

let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go

so comes love

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Berlitz Advertising.

I had a nice conversation with my eldest daughter this morning. It's always nice to witness cogency and intelligence before 8AM.

Sarah is 24 and a first-year Doctoral student going for her degree in Clinical Psychology. Her university adeptly seems to mix course work (theory) with clinical placement internships (practice.) Accordingly, Sarah is challenged with, say, learning something in a classroom on a Monday and then bringing that learning to bear with a client on a Tuesday.

It's a pretty grueling regimen. And Sarah, who is what some might regard as a 'Drama Mama' often feels the effects of her 70-hour work weeks.

There's not much I can say to her when she's feeling downtrodden. I usually just try to get her to take a step away from the ledge.

What I said to her this morning though seemed to work. It made me think, too.

"Essentially, you're learning a new language every term and forced to speak that language in your clinical placements."

She sighed heavily and (for once) agreed with me.

Then she asked, "How do you do it at work when you pitch a new piece of business? How do you know what makes a bank or a car or an air-conditioning unit 'different and better?' How do you know about the 'style' of the companies you're pitching? Do you hire category experts? I guess what I'm asking is, 'how do you learn their language?'

I took a deep breath.

"Well," I answered, "everybody wants everything in a rush. So, often, especially on pitches, we don't learn the culture of a company, their language. We speak in broken phrases. We emulate patterns we learned from other clients. Or we seek a universal language, an advertising 'Esperanto" I call 'Cooleranto.' We just try not to do something true, but something cool. We take a Berlitz course in our clients. We can find our way to a hospital or a toilet, but not much more. I think that's why most advertising sounds so phoney."

Thoroughly depressed at that point, I told Sarah I loved her and was proud she was pursuing her dream.

Thank god.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A first.

Ever since I was a little boy and would go to 247 Park Avenue to visit my father at work, I've always wondered what it was like to operate one of the old timey elevators run, usually, by a dark man expertly handling a lever to make the elevator stop and go.

There are still a few buildings in New York that haven't been scraped and modernized and which haven't had their old elevators replaced by high-speed machines. I marvel at the men who run these boxes. They start and stop their car exactly on the floor requested. They seem to know exactly where they are in the building. They hardly have to look at the floor numbers as they chug by. They do it by feel.

The building I work in was never nice and by now it's probably 80 or 90 years old. It has three elevators. Two, the ones for passengers, are of the push button variety. There is nothing spectacular to report about these.

However, there's a third elevator, the freight, that is run by the Puerto Rican porter who keeps the building in its present state of architectural deshabille. Over the 27 months I've worked in this building I've come to know the porter. If I'm waiting in the lobby for a passenger elevator, he will often give me a "lift" in the freight.

He did today and I asked him if I could run the machine.

"No,"he said shaking his head.

But then as he shut the gate, he relented.

The lever is of the "dead man's brake" variety, like on the subway. If you stop holding the lever over to the left, the lever will spring to the center and the elevator will stop.

I pushed the lever over and counted up the floors, paying careful attention once I got to 10. (I work on 14 and there's no 13th floor.) I released the lever but was off by a couple of feet. I tried it a smidge. Again I was short.

"Line it up with this bar," he instructed.

I did and fairly well hit the mark.

I thanked him and got off on 14, having to step up only a couple of inches.

Running the elevator was a lot more interesting than the media meeting I was late to.

I can't write any more.

OVER the past few weeks, as my wonderful younger daughter admonished, I've really been slacking on my blog. While I try to write every day, of late, I haven't felt like I have much to say. Usually, ideas find me when I think but lately if they've been knocking on more door, no one has been home.

Of course, my lack of ideas troubles me. Maybe it's a function (or lack of function) of my aging brain. Maybe its crenellations have smoothed. Maybe my synapses have withered. Maybe, thanks to the insistent dings, bings, bongs and pings that come from the various devices that I'm surrounded by have mitigated my brain function, have deteriorated my focus, have destroyed my whatchamacallit to such a degree that I can no longer write.

I'm sorry if I've been missing of late. I'm sorry if recent posts have sucked.

Let's just hope it's a slump. Not that I'm turning into a cretin.

Monday, January 16, 2012


I just heard a report on the radio about a test given to four-year-olds here in New York City for entry into "Gifted and Talented" programs. Only children who score at or above the 90th percentile gain admission to such programs. The moderator asked why. The interviewee answered "Because they're gifted and talented programs."

What's happened in the world is that today everyone is "gifted and talented."

The media team, who can barely show up for meetings much less contribute original thinking, are told they're the agency equivalent of "gifted and talented." They're told they're "creative."


Everyone is not gifted and talented.

Everyone is not a genius.

Everyone is not creative.

The new group think.

One of the greatest frauds perpetrated by HR-"professionals" or Organizational Architects, or, simply the quacks and charlatans who issue proclamations from on-high is the notion of collaboration. You know, if we all sit together in a room, we'll get to a better place creatively than if we toil alone. If we work in a noisy, cluttered, chaotic workspace, a free-exchange of ideas will result, bettering our creative output. If no single person has responsibility, we all win.

Yesterday's "New York Times" has a long and important article that deflates these myths. It's called "The Rise of the New Group Think" and it's written by Susan Cain. You can read it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html?pagewanted=1&sq=brainstorming&st=cse&scp=1

Cain writes, "Solitude is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

"But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature."

That just about sums it up for me.

Don't make me sit in meetings which take away the time I need to actually think and, instead, demand that I think (for all) on demand. Don't make me sit out in the open where focus is often beaten by distraction. Don't tell me to collaborate when what you're really doing is watching.

This open plan, "let's all work together," bs is yet one more example of modern myopia. Let's do something completely different from how it's been done through all of recorded history--that'll work.

Leave me alone.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


On Tuesday I had a fight with a cab driver. It doesn't happen often that I blow my stack but I did in cab 1 B 44. The fare was $10.40, I tossed him $11 and got out of his car and into another open cab I saw across the street.

Karma bit me in the ass.

I had left my iPhone in his cab.

Mutha fucker.

I did what I was supposed to do. With my near-photographic memory I had his medallion number and I called 311. They gave me the number of the garage he rented from. I reported the loss there.

Of course, I never heard back from the garage.

Instead the driver of 1 B 44 found my office number (I had a business card in my phone case) and called me.

Just now I ran out to 39th and 8th and met him. Of course it occurred to me that he was going to shoot me at close range in the face.

But instead, he handed me my phone.

I handed him $80.

Karma's a bitch.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Steve Hayden.

I've been lucky in my career to have been close to some of the greatest creatives in the business.

I worked for Hall of Famers Ron Rosenfeld and Len Sirowitz. I worked for Amil Gargano and Mike Tesch. And while not Hall of Famers, I had my copy picked over and parsed by Harold Karp and Ed Butler. I worked for too short a time for Kirk Souder. And I partnered with the mercurial and brilliant Jeroen Boers and the simply brilliant and the brilliantly simple Tore Claesson.

But most of all, I got to sit with and talk to and love Steve Hayden.

Steve retired yesterday, after 18 years, from Ogilvy & Mather.

There's not enough I can say about the man.

Most of what he did, it seems to me, is believe in you.

I was new at Ogilvy and in a van with Steve heading out to location early one morning. He got a call on his cell phone from the client. Two hours before the shoot, they killed one of the spots we were supposed to be shooting.

He turned around to me and handed me his IBM Think Pad.

"Write a new spot," he said.

I did.

And 30 or 45 minutes later and with great trepidation I handed him his computer back with my script.

"Good. That's great." He laughed at my last line.

He got on the phone and read it to the client.

We shot the spot.

I've been a copywriter since 1982.

Thirty years.

I was never as good as I was when I worked for Steve.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

'Tis the season.

It's review season at my agency. And I have in my inbox requests for about 168 reviews, roughly half of them about account people.

I hate writing reviews. Usually because the "form" you're meant to complete was created by someone (or some committee) that has no understanding of how to do a job well. They essentially ask you to review a house painter based on his cooking ability.

In any event, I give you this, which I've been carting around for parts of four decades.

1. Be smart about everything. Be an expert in your client’s business. Be an expert in “agency mechanics”…Learn to listen.

2. Be 100% buttoned up. Get inside and control the “boiler room”…Plan for disasters…Proofread as if typos could cost you your job.

3. Be curious. Question everything and everyone. Get out of the office and look around. Learn from others.

4. Commit yourself to “original thinking.” Be more than an advertising mechanic. Set aside a part of every day to “blue sky” big thoughts. Be seen as one who can serve up fresh ideas.

5. Create your own opportunities. Don’t just look for “handouts.” Constantly do the little extras. Deliver products that are consistently excellent.

6. Gain respect of everyone around you. Expect that you will need to “win” support from everyone. Always recognize others when they do good work for you.

7. Learn to express yourself effectively. You will go nowhere if you can’t advocate ideas. Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse. Learn how to talk to different audiences. Always be enthusiastic.

8. Build a broad foundation early. In the beginning be a jack-of-all-trades. Get involved with everything. Go back to school. Never stop exploring.

9. Wash windows—willingly. Face it, every job comes with drudgery. Always volunteer to pitch in when asked. But, always look for ways to do dirty laundry as efficiently as possible.

10. Learn to manage your business well. Get early agreements on assignments. Always be realistic, honest. If you disagree, say so. Make clients a legitimate part of the team.

11. Smother your clients with care. Be in constant touch. Make them feel that you think of them often. Dream up reasons to gain broad access to key client contacts. Never neglect clients at lower echelons. Know the “big issues” on your clients’ minds at all times. Lead.

12. Treat your clients’ money as if it were your own. Show them that you are both fussy about quality and frugal. Don’t simply accept the cavalier attitudes of others. Give appropriate direction on cost parameters. Make people meet expectations.

13. Don’t be meek and nervous. If you do your homework you will succeed. Act with confidence. But if you don’t have answers don’t fake them. Remember, most people want you to succeed.

14. Develop your own ideas about how to be a good manager. Watch your supervisor and others. Prepare now to take on more responsibilities.

15. Constantly build trust. Be 100% reliable. Be 100% honest. Do what you commit to do 100% of the time. Be respected by 100% of the people with whom you work. Be nothing less than 100% professional.

Monday, January 9, 2012

We made the next round.

On a new business pitch I helped out on.

We are speaking to the prospective client now, who began our conversation with this loaded phrase: "Thank you for your submission."

Agency leaders.

The genesis of this blog was my constant rumination over the ossification of the American advertising industry. Having worked in traditional advertising, in direct and in digital, I thought, perhaps somewhat arrogantly, that I had a unique perspective on the failings, the group think, the myopia of Madison Avenue. The industry as a whole seemed to be an industry as a hole.

As this blog enters its fifth year, I still think about the parallels between Madison Avenue and the decrepitude of Detroit. But today I'll spend a few moments thinking about how, as an industry, we pick our leaders. For that, I think, we can learn something by looking at the Republican presidential candidates and their endless debating and posturing and mud-slinging as Republicans throughout America select a "winner" to face Obama.

There are some agency leaders we pick because they're like Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry. They look good on paper and we overlook their obvious shortcomings and wallow in with rose-colored infatuation and say "he's the one. He did such and such campaign for Pigeon Rights that won Gold at Cannes. He can help resurrect us from our current malaise."

Infatuation leaders
usually last one to two years and then leave to pursue other opportunities or to spend more time with their families.

Then there are the agency leaders we pick because they're like Newt Gingrich. They sound smart. They are supremely sure of themselves and speak as if they have all the answers. They understand new media modalities and shifting paradigms. When we pick them we say, "He must be very smart because I don't understand a thing he says."

Blather leaders usually prosper. They're considered too smart to fire. They're too lofty to do any work. Blame, therefore, never attaches to them. So they usually hang on like a barnacle until they get a higher holding company job and sow confusion globally.

Third, there are the candidates who are like Santorum. They appeal to a small group of core agency leadership and reinforce that core's eccentric world view. They are hired because they have a transformational system that will roll back the clock to a time when agencies were profitable and could actually afford the rent on Madison Avenue offices. These candidates will "bring us back" to a time when agencies mattered.

I call these leaders "Cleaverites." After the Cleaver family in "Leave it to Beaver." They promise a technicolor black and white future. When they don't deliver, they rise. Because we like their vision so much.

Then there are agency leaders who are like Ron Paul. They are close to Cleaverites in that they've constructed an alternate reality for the world, but whereas Cleaverites are pinned to the past, these leaders appeal to the zany. Their world-system has no sense of history, its apocalyptic and evangelical. Agencies buy this sort of leader when they are so desperate they need to believe in an unhinged reality.

These are the Zanies. They usually last about a year then go to work for small media companies. They then declare that all that went before is dead and then they promote a new sort of channel that "will change everything." Not only do these people have no sense of history, they have little sense of reality.

Finally, for today, there are candidates like Mitt Romney. They are Zelig-like. Saying exactly what needs to be said at exactly the right moment. There is a subject-object split between their words and their deeds. But their malleability is their most persuasive selling-point. They are easy to buy.

I call these leaders the Blands. They are most successful agency heads. They take credit for the success of others and excoriate failures as not their fault.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


My exquisite younger daughter just admonished me, once again, not to be so "judgey." Oh, OK. I'll try not to be, but since it's the start of the new year, let me state some things I regard as truths, or facts, or common sense.

Shirt tails have been tucked in for almost as long as people have been wearing shirts. I am not being a hater. I don't understand what's wrong with tucking in.

Backs, arms, vaginas, necks, knuckles, forearms, thighs, abdomens, bosoms and their like are not meant to be tattooed. There's a fat man where we are staying who has tattoed across his back "The truth is the only way." I'm incapable of understanding this.

It reminds me of some graffiti found in Long Island scrawled presumably by a coven of middle-class teenage wikkan wannabees. "Satin Lives." It's just dumb.

Hats. Hats are to be worn outdoors in the winter. Your mother probably told you that you lose 40% of your body heat through your head. Don't wear wool pullovers in the summer. And don't pay more than $12 for one. If you do, you're a fool.

Finally, pants. They are to be worn above the buttocks. Not below. Buttocks were invented by Samuel Buttock in Lancastshire in 1754 for the sole purpose of holding up pants. Further, underwear, butt cracks, incipient pudendal regions are for the sanctity of your bedroom. Cover them.

The above is not be being judgey. It's me being sensible.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ronald Searle, 1920-2011.

When I was a kid there was nothing I wanted to do more in my life than be a cartoonist. One of the cartoonists I admired most was Ronald Searle, who died last Friday in France.

Searle did the opening credits of a movie I liked, "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" and occasionally my father would bring home a copy of the English magazine "Punch" where I could also see Searle's work.

Years later, when I was close to 30, Searle published a book "To the Kwai — and Back: War Drawings 1939-1945." And "The New York Times" wrote a story of a reunion Searle had with a Japanese captor--a captain who allowed him to sketch clandestinely while he was a POW.

Searle's obituary is worth reading. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/04/arts/design/ronald-searle-british-cartoonist-dies-at-91.html?pagewanted=1&hpw

I particularly liked this part:

Mr. Searle became a satirist, he once said, because “in the late ’30s, things in general and politics in particular were no longer neatly divided into things black and white.”

“On top of this,” he added, “there was the irresistible impulse to draw. I cannot remember wanting to be anything else other than an artist.”

I reckon most people in advertising can relate to that--or some other--irresistible impulse to create.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Four Questions.

I'm on vacation and don't really have the time to "write." But yesterday's "Times" had a great article called "Even a Giant Can Learn to Run." http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/01/business/how-samuel-palmisano-of-ibm-stayed-a-step-ahead-unboxed.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Palmisano&st=cse

The article tells of IBM's continued resurgence under the leadership of Sam Palmisano, their CEO.

I haven't time to go into depth, but it seems Palmisano boiled his guidance down to four questions. They're probably four questions that everyone should ask themselves everyday. And agencies too.

• “Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?”

• “Why would somebody work for you?”

• “Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?”

• “And why would somebody invest their money with you?”