Thursday, February 28, 2019

Some thoughts from the world's 7,459,204th most-popular blogger.

Besides the celebrity, the money, the travel on private jets and super-models fawning all over me, my favorite part of blogging is blogging.

By that I mean, I have to do something every day. I have to try to write something entertaining, pointed, thoughtful or smart. That's my job as a blogger.

I'll admit, after nearly 12 years and just under 5,000 posts--I'd estimate one-million words--writing in the space has become a compulsion.

But a good compulsion.

Because once a day, no matter how invidious, insidious and just plain stupid work can seem at times, I've got a leg up on a lot of people. I've found a way to write and to be read and to be known (and respected) that goes beyond what I do for a living.

No matter what happens during the sturm und drang of a time-sheeted day, I've carved a few moments out for myself where I do something mostly for me. Something I like, that I'm relatively proud of.

Sure, it's not much. It ain't literature. There's nothing lasting here.

But still, in this space, I've found something special. Psychiatrists might call it a "restorative niche." That is, a place or a time where, for a short while, I take care of myself. I can use my brain and my writing skill and my verbal acuity and sometimes my sense of humor and throw something out to the world that I like.

I can even be loud and angry if I choose. And no one seems to get loud and angry back. At least not to my face.

The one time people did accuse me of being things I'm not and never was, well even that blew over after a fraught week or so.

And every so often, I send out something that people seem to like. For instance, a post last week's already received something like 20,000 views and hundreds of likes. Another one got 15,000 views. It's nice when that happens. But it's nice also when I write something that I like and no one else seems to respond. That's ok, too. 

Because while popularity is nice, doing something you like is even nicer.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

I don't understand.

About 39-million years ago, when I was a pup in the business, things seem to make a little more sense to me.

For instance, I worked for five years at a storied place called Ally & Gargano. When you went into production, every day you would get a blue piece of paper with type-writing on it.

It would tell you where you had to be, when you had to be there, and where you had to go next.

I know that sounds infantile, like a kid coming home from school with a note pinned to his parka, but it helped. Normal agency life sometimes feels like you're at the wrong end of a shooting gallery. Things come at you fast and furious. And if you're in production--you're thinking about what you're creating. It's hard to also worry about logistics while you're at it.

Today when you have something to do, something detailed and precise, nobody tells you anything.

So while you're trying to decipher your (lack-of) brief, you might be told to go to a website to find out the mandatories of what you're making. How long it needs to be, how much this, how much that. 

You might be told one thing in the morning, and something completely different in the afternoon. Then something different again the next morning.

And each of those "tellings" is accompanied by a tone that seems to accuse, "you idiot. Why didn't you know that?"

Or an impromptu client meeting might show up highlighted in yellow at the end of a 1,200-word email.

Has anyone in the history of the human race ever read a 1,200-word email to the end?  

What doesn't happen anymore, and what I do not understand, is that nothing is written down anymore in a simple way so that necessary information is telegraphically communicated.

So, to anyone who has to deal with me at work, here's a small suggestion that will fly out of your head the minute you read it.

Go to Amazon and order some 3x5" index cards. You can get 1,000 for $11.99. That's a little more than a penny a card.

Here's an example:
An example of how to give succinct instructions.

Then, on the card write:


*The piece needs to be 4-minutes long. There can be a 10% (24-second variation.)
*It needs to contain two complete spots.
*Each spot needs to have a date preceding it.
*We need to ship on Tuesday.

Then, if you want to work with me in a comradely fashion, you can even write: "Thank you." 

I appreciate little courtesies like that. (Call me old school.)

The above should take about eleven minutes to write,

It would probably save about eleven hours of bullshit. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A humble resignation.

Dear Friends,

After six grueling, exciting, exasperating and wonderful weeks at _________, it’s time for me to blaze new trails and chase new dreams.

It’s hard to believe how much we’ve all accomplished in our time together. The pitches, the late nights and the creativity we’ve let loose, freeing it from the depths of client restraints, shrinking budgets, crazy timelines and even Melissa’s o’erweening super-ego. (hahaha, sorry MelissašŸ˜ƒ.)

It’s all led to some incredible work that I’m incredibly humbled to be humbled being humbled about. I’m not just humbled. I’m humbled by the humility of my humbleness. And your humbleness, too. For that, I humbly thank you.

We’ve started movements, ended movements, we’ve even had movements. All in the interest of doing great things for great clients that have never been done before and will likely never be done again. It’s taken sweat, toil and, yes, tears. But I wouldn’t trade these last six weeks for anything.

I’m not sure where I’m going or what I’ll be doing, but like you, I’ll be smashing the status quo, reimagining paradigms and changing the nature interruption in today’s permission economy while having branded conversations about it.

This is my moment to leave the nest, my moment to soar. It's my time to leave the nurturing confines of __________. Like you, this is the time to be me. Creative, humble and movement-making.

I thank you for all the time we’ve spent together. And all you’ve taught me.



Monday, February 25, 2019

A friend from long ago, Sol Liebowitz.

Way back in the very early 80s when the subway fare was 60-cents and you could rent a nice one-bedroom in Manhattan for well-under $1000/month, I got a job as a copywriter at the in-house ad agency housed on the 11th floor of Bloomingdale's department store at 1000 Third Avenue at 60th Street.

These were the glory days of Bloomingdale's. The retail impresario Marvin Traub was in charge and he hired John Jay as creative director. John was my boss before he went onto big things at Wieden & Kennedy in Portland.

Bloomingdale's was a great training ground for a young person in the business. I literally had to write dozens of ads a week. There was no time to be precious or a dilettante. You had to come in, sit down, and do your job.

The guy who made the advertising group run was an odd, slightly autistic older man named Sol Liebowitz. His official title was Traffic Manager. Unofficially, he ran the place.

Bloomingdale's in those days might have run 20 ads a day in 15 different papers in 12 different sizes. Sol made sure the right ad got to the right paper right on time. In those days of course, they had to be hand-delivered or flown to the papers. There was no electronic delivery.

Every successful business, or organization for that matter, has someone like a Sol Liebowitz. You know, the kind of person that without whom the place would fall apart.

It's a little indescribable what they do. Mostly because they do whatever needs to be done. 

Often they're quiet people, or like Sol, slightly autistic, or misaligned or just plain odd. They're almost always on the edge of the place and most often they're ignored. No one in management can quite understand how they do what they do but so long as they do it, they're pretty much left alone.

The funny thing about people like Sol is that as much as they are vital, they are usually taken for granted. They do their difficult jobs without a sneeze. No one seems to notice that they're often the first one in the agency, and the last one to leave and they seldom take a day off.

After two-years at Bloomingdale's, I finally got hired as a copywriter at an agency called Lowe. I remember I took a $1000 pay cut to go there. But agency life is what I wanted, and I deemed the cut worth it.

I kept up with people for a while, and would even check in with Sol, who was good to me. But in a year's time, or two, the tectonic plates of work relationships had shifted. You are further away from some people, closer to others.

I don't know what happened to Sol. It was a long time ago and there were no social networks, and he just fell out of my world.

I will say this though.

It people like Sol who make business' run.

They should be treated better than they are. And I can definitely relate.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Give yourself a deadline.

If I were asked to speak to a group of young people about some of what I've learned during my 35 years in advertising, I'd start with a really simple thought.

Give yourself a deadline.

Not the deadline your boss gives you, or a project manager, or account.

A deadline you give yourself.

If you're a writer and your ads are due for internal review on Wednesday, give yourself a deadline. Say to yourself, "By Monday, I will have nine ads written, some body copy and a be able to, according to the brief, make a strategic recommendation.

Having done that, having pushed yourself extra hard, you can take a walk around the block, get home in time for Jeopardy! Or read the newspaper.

Then, get in early the next day. Before other people are around to distract you, you can look at your work again. Cross some things out, rewrite others, add a few ideas and so on. You're still ahead of schedule, and you're making your work better.

Better still, you might want to befriend your planner, or an account partner and show them what you're working on. It doesn't have to be formal, just a chat. 

Do they like anything? Is there anything that sucks? Is there anything that's missing? This might take an hour or two, you're still ahead of schedule, and you're sharpening your work. You're finding out what people respond to and what sounds sour or off.

Finally, on the day your work is due to your boss, or to another boss, or to another boss, why not get in early again? Come at your work cold and cynically and fresh. Read your brief over again, then look at your work again.

Have you done what you've been asked to do? Have you made the brief better? Most important, did you make something good?

In the day-to-day sturm and drang of agency life, I see too many people who work up to the absolute last minute. Who spend all their time creating and none of their time improving. They do their work, they don't necessarily think about what they have done. They rush up to the very last minute, without ever taking a pause.

My two cents is it's what you do after you're done that really matters. That requires distance, looking at things upside-down, and a different perspective.

I realize, of course, that the pace of agency life has been so accelerated that often getting something done early seems all-but-impossible. 

And maybe I'm able to do it because I'm old and I've written literally thousands of ads (I worked in-house at Bloomingdale's and wrote 500 ads/year for three years.) 

But what working this way usually comes down to is trusting yourself. Trusting that you've worked hard. Trusting that you've listened. Trusting that you're asking for help when you need it. Trusting the input of others. And trusting that you're good.

Many years ago I was brand new at an agency and working directly for Steve Hayden, the copywriter who wrote Apple's 1984 commercial--the most famous commercial ever.

Scripts were due on Monday. So I came into the office, and worked all weekend, and wrote about 50 I was happy with.

Of course, I was nervous. I was intimidated. I felt very alone (Then as now, I had no work partner.)

On Sunday night, I walked around the block a couple times. I might have cried by myself while my office door was closed. I read the scripts again and trashed a few.

Then, I pressed the 'send' button.

Sometimes that's the hardest thing to do. And so, the most important.

Giving yourself a deadline.

And trusting yourself.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

An open letter (which won't be read by those who should read it.)

Many years ago, I worked at an agency where attrition was high and morale was low. (Who hasn't?)

I was high enough up in the company that senior management came to me and asked me what I would do to improve things.

I should clarify. They wanted to know how would I improve things without really changing things--without giving people more money. 

I thought about this quandary for a few minutes and said, "I think Bill, the CEO, should walk around on pay-day with peoples' pay envelopes, hand them out personally, and personally thank people for their hard work.

Naturally, everybody looked at me like I was crazy. Even though we in advertising are at some ostensible level in a relationship business, upper management is terrible at having relationships with people who work so hard (and enjoy so few of the benefits from their hard work.)

Just now, in the wake of Lee Clow's retirement from TBWA\Chiat\Day after decades of amazing work and amazing leadership, I stumbled upon this in my LinkedIn feed.

I think anyone who asks others to do things, bosses, spouses, parents, etc., could learn from it.

Here's the story that showed up in my feed:

                        Over a couple of non-stop, no-sleep days in 2005, I was fortunate enough to support Lee Clow and Chuck McBride in prepping a pitch for Diet Pepsi at TBWA\Chiat\Day New York. Lee spent a LOT of time in the production studio. Supervising mostly--but also making comps, trimming down boards, tidying up scraps off the floor, etc. I was gobsmacked. This guy is famous--he created Apple's "Think Different" campaign, for fuck's sake--yet he was down-to-earth, and working in the trenches (happily) with we lowly grunts. The morning that we had completed our work, this 24 x 36 sheet was pinned up on our studio wall. I exited the lobby of 488 Madison, to see the silhouettes of Lee and Chuck on the street, waiting for cabs--as the sun was rising in front of them. It couldn't have been any more majestic/super-heroic if they'd planned it. Enjoy your well-earned time off, good sir.

And here is a copy of the 24 x36 sheet pinned to the studio wall.

These days, everyone in our business is so smart, so sophisticated, so busy and so very important, that we forget many of the things that go into making people human. We forget the little things that motivate people to work hard. The things, beyond money, that make people feel valued, rewarded and recognized. I'm not talking about an agency t-shirt at the holidays, or a logo'd mug with 32 M&Ms inside.

No, I'm talking about a basic human need. The need to feel appreciated, valued and rewarded. You know, liked.
Maybe our technocratic society, our inequality of wealth and the hectic pace of the business today has made humanity, humor, sharing and kindness relics of a different era, like the horse-and-buggy or toaster-pizzas.

I know my values are old-fashioned--believing in manners and their value is as passe as a pair of bloomers. I suppose if there's an MBA reading this or an aforementioned technocrat, they'd say, "You get paid. And you're lucky to have a job. You're dry when it rains. You get four weeks vacation and so forth."

That's fine.

If that's the way you want to be.

It's not the way I want to be.

Thank you.
PS  I don't know Lee. Never had the chance to work for him. So maybe I'm being naive. Maybe he's a jerk. But given the discussion around his retirement and some anecdotes from friends who have worked with him, I don't think so.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A dark dream. Very dark.

I think if you asked most people still working in this industry (on a good day, you might be able to pull together a minyan) most of them would say that they're doing more and more and getting less and less out of it.

There's more work to be done, simply because there are more channels that we have to keep filling with "content," or "messaging." More channels more channels more channels. More crap that the machine has to churn out. Forget considering whether or not anybody sees it, or if it's doing any good. 

There's more work to be done, simply because the $10 million paychecks have cut staffing to the bone. There are fewer and fewer people to do stuff. That's just the way it is. You can't fight City Hall. Or holding companies. Or even project managers.

Whole floors are empty, with Aeron chairs piled up like ancient Druid monoliths. Future generations will wonder, 'what's with all the chairs.' Only us old people will know. There used to be people for all those chairs. But it turned out that the people were easier to get rid of than the furniture.

Ha ha ha. Someone will laugh.

Maybe someone who never read "The Death of a Salesman." Someone who thinks a man is a piece of fruit. That you can just eat the orange and throw away the peel. And, what the heck, call it recycling.

Then an email will come out, usually from someone with a title as long as your arm, or both arms. A title who has nothing to do with creating ads.

They'll tell you that your agency has just been voted a "Best Place to Work." 

You feel like riding the elevators all day hoping you'll bump into them. You have a dialogue all planned.

"A best place to work?," you'll say.

"Yes," they'll smile while looking right through you. You are someone who bangs their fingers to the bone on a barely functioning keyboard, someone who makes ad after ad after ad. That is, you are someone barely worth talking to. You are the lowest of the lowly--someone who works, not someone who administrates work, or administrates someone who administrates work.

"A best place to work?," you'll repeat. 

You escort them to the third floor, where Aeron chairs and used file cabinets are stacked on top of each other like discarded Christmas trees in January. A fluorescent light cackles. The floor creaks like an old whaling ship.

"What about these people," you'll ask.

While looking through you, they'll glance down at their phone, look worried and mumble, "I have a four." And away they'll go.

It's only two-fifteen.