Monday, February 28, 2022

For some friends I don't even know.

For about ten years, I've asked some of my clients to do something I think is very simple and very telling. They just about all of them light up when I mention it. They nod their heads. They might stick to it for a day or a week. But then it falls by the wayside.

I ask clients--especially clients who claim to be innovative or who are building new products or fixing some old ones--to mark down with a time-stamp a tweet-length statement of everything they're doing.

We do a surprising amount of this in some bits of our lives. For instance, sports. 
  • Fernando winds and delivers a 92-mph fastball up and in.
  • Leonard leads off of first two steps.
  • Heinrick, takes the pitch.
  • Called strike, count 0 and 1.
The Wall Street Journal is doing something of the same in its reporting of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

When I worked for a brief time on a major aircraft manufacturer whose dereliction and dishonesty caused planes to crash, I wanted them to annotate everything--everything--they were doing to fix the situation. I didn't want them to run asinine ads that said, "We're making things better." I wanted them to show how they were making things better. 

An ad, at least as I conceived it, might have read "Fixing the Max. 98 things we did yesterday, including 14 torture tests."

In my current role as the ad industry's resident Rabbi, I get a lot of calls from a lot of people who spend a lot of their days and a lot of their nights fighting back either tears, temper tantrums, or the urge to pour themselves three too-many drinks.

I say, "I want you to create a chronology of your day--a minute-by-minute account of your feelings from the moment you get up to the moment you fall asleep, including your dreams, if possible."

I suggest people do this because I think so many people in the industry have gotten used to the industry's mind-fucking that we accept it as ok. I think we have to become more mindful of what the ad business is doing to us. How it's insulting our souls, misusing our brains, and tearing apart our egos and our confidence.

I have no data to support this and the advertising trade press no longer engages in investigation, or even reporting, but I would guess that most agencies are seeing attrition rates of around  20 percent. That means that an entire agency, in effect, turns over every five years. That makes it nearly impossible to have either a "culture," knowledge of a client's business or any institutional wisdom.

I would imagine that most people's days are comprised of something like my scenario above. They're a combination of having your time wasted, fulfilling demands you don't agree with, being demeaned, and being misled.

As a relatively successful and high-profile freelancer, a lot of people come to me for advice. "Should I stay in the business or go freelance like you did?" They ask.

Keep a diary of your days, I say.

Freelance is far from perfect.

There's no sure thing, you have to hustle every minute and who knows when the work will dry up.

But if you consider for a moment that the Four Horsemen of the Advertising Apocalypse are these 

1. Tedium.
2. Banality.
3. Mean-ness.
4. Insecurity

And during how much of your day you hear the galloping of those hooves, it gives you a perspective and maybe some pause.

It's sad to me that I think most agency people would agree with what I've written here. And that most agency Chief People Officers wouldn't--wouldn't even recognize it.

The disconnect between the people doing the work and the people profiting from the work has never been greater. 

Friday, February 25, 2022

A journey home from the gods.

It was the end of the long season down in Saltillo, Mexico, where I played my one year for the Seraperos and where I became mi hijo Americano of Hector Quetzacoatl Padilla, whom my tongue, unable to wrap its American-backwardness around the melody of those words, renamed Hector Quesadilla.

Hector was a Hall-of-Fame outfielder in the Mexican Leagues. He began his professional career early, playing in the Mexican scrubs at the age of 14 and worked his way up to Mexico's highest level (AA at the time) in just two years. From 1941 to 1972, Hector smashed lined drives, broke up double-plays, snared dying quails and, generally won more than he lost. He won one batting crown, led the league in triples three times and in doubles four more times, and even in the short Mexican League season of just 140 games, at the end of his 32 years of playing a boy's game, he had amassed almost 3,300 hits.

Hector was dark, not Indio dark, even darker. He might have had the sinew to go to El Norte and play like other Mexican Leaguers were doing. But major league baseball wasn't open to dark people like Hector until 1947 and by that time--though only twenty years old--he had settled into the league and his place in the world he had created for himself.

Like me, and maybe that's why Hector had all-but adopted me, Hector wasn't born into this world. He wasn't born into a home or a town or a state or an anything where he was wanted. He was born into a world where he was of no more significance than a straw that fell out of a roughly-made broom. To find his place, he had to find it, and build it, and fight for it every day.

When you're born, as Hector was born, and I was born, as an accident, more a cosmic collection of dust mites than a human, your nothingness, no matter how well you can smite a ball with a bat, never disappears. Once a galactic orphan, always a super-dense mistake, with--even in an ever-expanding or ever-collapsing universe, no place called home and no place that's safe.

No wonder when Hector saw me that day I arrived at Estadio de Beisbol de Francesco I. Maduro, all lanky and American, with a note from my baseball coach, Babich, translated by my Spanish teacher, Senor Cowan, into proper Castillian Spanish, he gave me a chance to appear. 

So many people who were born like us, falling through the skies into an endless, bottomless, eternal tumble, never appear. They're invisible through life and the world as a pixeled hologram of nothingness. No one sees them, no one hears them, no one spells their name right, or laughs at their jokes or can hear their songs. They were born as dust and to dust they shall return. So many people were born like us.

But now the season was over and though I was, almost every game, the first to arrive in the dripping-pipe locker room, this afternoon I was about the last to clear my belongings from my cubby and leave the environs.  Green-painted like a medical clinic, dusty and spider-webbed and stinking of 25-men's worth of sweat and tears and blood and scabs and farts and sadness for the last time.

Andrade, a speedy backup outfielder was combing his long black hair across the room from me. 

"You come for a cerveza?" he asked, knowing I would shake my head but not enough to rattle my diffidence. "You come for a cerveza? All of the fellows will be there." 

I remember thinking how strange the word fellows was, as if we were mortar-boarded scholars at Oxford--fellows all--and having something mulled and effete.

The fellows had packed before me. Loaded up their rusty station wagons with their gear and their blue-smoke exhausts. They  would return to their small villages where they were heroes among the men and boys. They would spend the off-season looking for a way to make some extra money or for a way to find some extra girls, until they would load their rusty station wagons again and head out to play another season of sprained-ankle baseball.

Before I had to answer, Hector called out to me from his cinder-blocked office. His posters and charts and announcements from management were taken down from the walls and his bulletin board. You could see the darker outline behind where the posters had been. Extra baseball equipment was piled near his one filing cabinet where he kept a book on every player he ever saw to help him the next season. Who could hit a curve. Who hated fastballs in.

I had been living with Hector and his wife Teresa, me and my love, Karmen, since early in the season. Hector had stopped me just a few games in from the call of my father, telling me he was sick and he needed me home.

"You no go," he said to me. "You no go."

As words happen, they weren't much. But somehow they were the right words at the right time said with the right conviction, and I understood they had the depth of the oceans in them and were woven with a love I had never before felt.

Again, he said to me, "Jorge. You no go. You stay with Karmen, with Teresa and me. You play next season."

But this time, I could not stay.

I knew it was time to go. It was time to put away childish things and to outdemon a world of demons.

I thought about the brutality I would be returning to. Not a brutality of smacks and ugly put-downs, though there were those. But, worse, a world of cosmic meanness, where the universe as it was defined by the universe itself had accorded me a worth of worthlessness.

"You no go," he said again.

We were not people who hugged.

But we hugged. We stayed hugged. And then the hug broke.

We left the locker room together and walked beyond his green Datsun. We walked through the empty parking lot, down the broad monoxide choked avenues against the anger of a trillion broken car horns. We walked down the too straight asphalt until the stores lining the streets grew sparser and the street became more pothole than street.

We walked without speaking, seeing, though saying nothing, the first star in the wispy pink clouds of night. We walked through the desert. First into the scrub of dried grass near suburbia, and then into the cattle-skulled terrain and the sky closed further its eyes against the dark of night.

We walked in the endless walk of prisoners. A dull shuffling walk where the only movement from our mouths was to moisten our lips cracked by the dry air.

We walked into the deep deepness until we heard the roar of bickering cicadas in the dark, like the screams of Scylla and Charybdis.

We walked past the entrance to the cities of sacred caves we could not see, past entrances to Xibalba--the place of fear. We walked to ancient underworld cities, cities deep below the surface mere humans inhabit, places of fear ruled by those who rule us all, even if we do not know they do--the lords of death. The lords of death, as we were told in the Popol Vuh, the words from the unwritten book older than time itself. The book of the ancient people desert people who still live and breathe both here and after, both never and forever. Words from a land, like our lands, a land crowded with trials where there is no acquittal, but all is indictment and doom and sadness and gloom.

We stopped. There was no reason to go on.

"You no go," Hector said again.

But I went. 

Sometimes you have to.

Xibalba be damned.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Writing made Georgish.

Since I was fired from an agency I loved, a client I loved and an industry I loved, I had to concoct a way to keep doing what I loved. 

Like an ant at a picnic, if you shoo me away from your ham sandwich, I'll travel over hill and dale, through grasses fifty times my height, through the terrors of giant pedal extremities looking to stomp me, until I find another tartan blanket and another set of crumbs to feast upon.

We are wired, all of us to do what we love. We'll go through hell and hot water to keep doing it.

For the same reason sea turtles or salmon swim thousands of miles to lay their eggs where they were birthed, we pursue our essence. That's why we lesser creatures, humans, come back to doing what we love. It's in our veins and there's nothing much we can do about it.

Since my forced exile from Madison Avenue, I've had to find my bearings all over again. Virtually everything changed after I was deemed too costly to work on a big agency's biggest account. But the one thing that didn't change was this space.

This blog became my hallowed ground.

This blog became the one thing I could count on.

This blog became who I am and what I do, regardless if anyone reads it or likes it or even knows it exists.

This blog became me being me.

These days, running GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company is like having four jobs or six. I am part planner. Part account guy. Part project manager. Part consultant. Part writer and re-writer. Part talent coordinator. Part producer. Part billing coordinator. Part collection agent. And part new business lead.

But no matter how weary my soul has grown, no matter if my mood is deep like the river, I return to my blog.

And return and return and return.

When I was fired the time before this, in 2013, I stared down the barrel of never working again. I said to myself, "what can I do to get myself a good job?" I answered that simply: Make myself the best writer I can possibly be. Work at my writing every day, getting sharper, faster, a better listener and funnier.

I do a lot of that work here. Sometimes I feel like my mother back in black and white shtetl days, darning socks. It takes a lot of work just to keep from falling behind.

I darn my socks publicly. This is a little, I guess, like lifting weights with my shirt off at Venice Beach. There's a little exhibitionism involved..

But a lot of what I do and how I wrote is unseen. 

Between the time I dope a post out and the time I press the grandiosely-titled "publish" button, I return to my posts ten times or twenty. I snip and nip and re-write and hone. I try to make what I put out there as good as I can given my time and schedule and considering I'm on deadline every day.

That's how we do it.

We work at it.

Not some of the time but all of the time.

And then we hope.

Hope what we wrote doesn't suck.

But even if it does, we're back the next day.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Humans. Truth. Breaking News.

When I was growing up in the advertising business, there was an unwritten, unspoken rule. It was never carved in marble or engraved in bronze. It just was. It just was based on the thousands of great ads we'd read and studied by the people who made the modern ad business the modern ad business.

The writers of DDB, PKL, Carl Ally and more. When you read their ads in the awards annuals (ads that actually ran, by the way) their last lines always contained a smile or a poke. They were always warm and surprising and often funny or witty. 

We labored over last lines. The saying went, "last lines are a reward for the reader for reading your ad." 

It was a pretty good way of thinking about what we do.

In today's industry--and by today, I really mean most of the last thirty years, we've forgotten this. 

I am not just being semantic.

But in my lifetime, we've gone from calling people people, or readers, or viewers, or customers, or audiences to calling them targets. Targets we put in buckets.

Calling someone a target is no way to engender trust. 

The very basis of humanity--this is going back to the Torah, which is just about the first foundational text ever written--is treating people as you wish to be treated. 

Not as a target.

This is something we need to think about as an industry. 

Are our ads to besiege people or are they to serve people?

Are our ads to pound away at people until we wear them down, or are we to soothe, comfort and support them?

Are our ads to insult people with bait and switch tactics or are our ads showing them honesty and respect?

Are we verizoning people to mince meat, or are we showing kindness?

If you take a moment a read a novel from the early days of the English novel, say something by Laurence Sterne or Henry Fielding, they often talk directly to their readers and use the phrase "dear reader." 

In the great Bob Levenson's obituary in The New York Times, when he was asked how he wrote copy for so many Volkswagen ads, Levenson said: "I always started by writing Dear Charlie, like writing to a friend. And then I would say what I had to say, and at the end I would cross out Dear Charlie, and I was all right.”

Let me underscore something for you: like writing to a friend.

The highly-controversial sociologist, Charles Murray, wrote a book a few years back called "Coming Apart." The Times' op-ed columnist David Brooks wrote about it here, in a column called "The Great Divorce." Let me pick out a piece or two of Brooks' column for you to think about--not toss aside.

His story starts in 1963. There was a gap between rich and poor then, but it wasn’t that big. A house in an upper-crust suburb cost only twice as much as the average new American home.

Today, Murray demonstrates, there is an archipelago of affluent enclaves clustered around the coastal cities, Chicago, Dallas and so on. If you’re born into one of them, you will probably go to college with people from one of the enclaves; you’ll marry someone from one of the enclaves; you’ll go off and live in one of the enclaves.

Ah, I'm being abstruse again. 

Here's some clarity: 

I think the advertising industry has forgotten about the humanity of humans. I think we are guilty of not getting out of our enclaves. We think the world ends in Williamsburg and anyone outside of our little circle is less than human.

So we treat people like cattle. I think we think that if we show people dancing because they have a new Swiffer dry mop, or gushing over their unreliable-and-extortionate cable service, or being impressed by the balloons in a Hyundai showroom, sooner or later people will believe it. Because deep-down we don't know our "target" and/or we believe they're dumb. Or at least easily gulled.

It might be worse than that. We might just be creating those images because they make our clients feel good as they rip people off.

Back to Murray, we in advertising, it sadly seems to me, are living in a world largely estranged from the reality of everyday life. The vectors of DEI efforts have not dented this hermetically-sealed cocoon. We've just brought more diversity to our industry-wide estrangement and myopia.

We don't know real people. We know archetypes, targets and victims of powerpoint.

The question is, are we bringing understanding, kindness, warmth and empathy to our work? Or are we making expensive films of models and gleaming smiles that are as human as a manikin? 

When we, as an industry, create a thousand messages a day with which to assault our target like Gulliver stung by ten-thousand Lilliputian arrows--are we treating people as people or as targets?

We used to talk about issues like this in advertising. How we're treating people. What we're doing for people. How we're making them feel. How we're comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

But now our conversations are on tracking people like escaped convicts except we use data and cookies and technology rather than feral bloodhounds. Now our conversations are about our $4000/night Cannescommodations and who's won 700 awards when there haven't been seven good commercials done in the last seven years. Now we talk about NFTs and metaverses and which celebrities' artificial ass implants look the most genuine.

To paraphrase David Ogilvy, we are once again treating the consumer like morons. 

We are forgetting that ever since time began--when the first hominids took their first step into bi-pedalism--humans are humans.

We like to laugh, love, learn, lust, labor.

We don't like to be yelled at and demeaned.


About four times a week, I get a message from someone I don't know asking me to mentor them or, at least, to teach an advertising class. 

With some wise friends, we are planning in the fall to launch a school called "Working Class." It will aim not to teach the "how" of advertising--it ain't about last year's awards or some photoshop technique or how to tik a tok. 

It will be about some things that are much more important: the "whys" of advertising.

Why do we advertise? Why is it important? Why does our work matter? Why has advertising created more wealth than perhaps any industry other than prostitution?

It will be, as it should be, expensive. But you can save yourself a boat-load of money on the course. Just read the Volvo ad above by Ed McCabe. 

Think about how we don't talk about payment books today. Or how long cars last. Or how people drive. Think about how that Volvo ad is about real people who live with sweat and who work hard and who have hopes and dreams. Think about ads written by humans for humans.

That's the course.

Right there.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Wilbur Wood and Honore de Balzac.

To steal and rewrite a phrase from a turgid 1970s best-seller (if that's not redundant) being a freelancer is never having to say you're busy.


When I was a kid, there was a great pitcher for the Chicago White Sox called Wilbur Wood. Wood was one of the best pitchers in the league and one of the busiest. Pitchers pitched more games and more innings in those days but Wood was way off the bell curve.

In an era when a great pitcher would toss 250 innings, Wood threw half again as many--throwing almost 1400 innings in just four seasons.

I have a feeling I'm wired--and so are a lot of other creatives--a lot like Wood. We might know we don't have the greatest stuff in the league. Consequently, we're afraid if we turn down a start, that might be the beginning of our end.*

There's something of an oxymoron that goes along with Wood, I think, and freelancers like myself. While we're disparaging our own abilities, we also have an aggrieved sense of our own importance. Often I believe that when the game's on the line--when there's a big ugly project, there's no one who can handle it better than I. 

A lot of clients feel that way, too. I get a lot of "oh, shit" calls. "George, we need you." 

When someone says they need you, I think a lot of old-fashioned people like me hearken back to the Middle Ages, specifically the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The medieval knight is somewhat of an archetype in Western culture and that's when Knights were in ascendance. I think a lot of freelancers and workhorse pitchers understand the Knightly code at a limbic level.

When we're given the ball or the lance, we come through. Or die trying.

I think the best agencies and the best agency CEOs are like that, too. As I so often say, a lot of us were bred that way. We'll run through hell in a gasoline suit to get the job done.

There was a C-suiter at Ogilvy I met during my first stint there. It must have been around 2001. In those days we still had big meetings with creative people invited and we'd all fly to Paris for them. 

This guy said a dozen or so words the entire meeting and they're all I remember from that time in Paris. His words and seeing a statue of Honore de Balzac and thinking how hard it must have been to go through life with that last name. This Chief said, "Clients don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Most successful lefties, CEOs and freelancers get this.

They know that their success doesn't stem from being tanned and fit and rested. They know that coming through regardless of the situation, regardless of the unreasonableness of the assignment, regardless of its inconvenience is a big part of the job. And, if it's a big part of the job, it's a big part of your reputation. And a big part of why you get the next job. The next ten jobs.

That's why, often "We Try Harder."

It's Friday afternoon as I write this--Monday's post, or Tuesday's, depending on whether or not I decide to post on the American holiday honoring the three-day mattress sale, President's Day. I just came back from a mile-long restorative walk along the seaside. After a week of about 37 meetings. Like Wilbur Wood about half again as many meetings as I should allow myself. I must have written ten-thousand words this week.

There's nothing I'd like to do more than lay down for half an hour. Talk to my wife. Read about the Middle Ages. Or hold Whiskey's paw and listen to something by Bruckner, Billie, or Mahler.

But I know my weekend will be filled with work. Writing more words. And creating proposals. And writing some more.

As Malcolm Cowley once wrote, "I worked at the writer's trade."

It is a trade. We measure twice and cut once. We throw out a lot of false starts. We get a lot of advice and have to empty our trash bins often. We work at it.

So I'm writing my Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday post now. Watching the sunset as I do it. Re-submitting bills for the ninety-first time because of some asinine stipulation the client's accounts un-payable person is demanding.

That's life.

That said:

Give me the ball, coach.


*There's an esoteric baseball verb: "to be Pipped." Back in 1925, Wally Pipp, the New York Yankees regular first-baseman had a headache. He asked for the day off and Miller Huggins, his manager, said fine. Huggins put 22-year-old Lou Gehrig in at first for Pipp. Gehrig went on to play 2,130 straight games--nearly 14 seasons, from 1925 to 1939 without taking a rest. We're all a bit afraid of being Pipped.

Monday, February 21, 2022

A Presidents' Day ramble with Mark Twain.

Since my wife and I Covided out of Manhattan nearly two years ago and bought our broken-down little cottage on the sea in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, we have taken to spending about two weekends in three exploring what there is to see in our transplanted environs.

If the New York metro area were an independent country (and with the state of America today, I wish it were) it would be about number 60 by population of the 237 countries counted by the Central Intelligence Agency's World Fact Book. Putting greater- New York's population at an even 20 million, it would be just behind Mali and just atop Kazakstan.

That's a round-about way of saying there was so much to see and do when we were living in New York, we seldom took day trips out of our immediate area. Why would we?

We could take a four-mile walk to the Bronx and see Edgar Allen Poe's cottage or a forty-minute drive to White Plains and see old anti-Soviet surface-to-air missile sites when we were staring eyeball-to-eyeball with Russia, like we still are.

In any event, on Saturday, I filled my 1966 Simca 1500 up with a precise mixture of aviation fuel, kerosene and leaded gasoline and we drove north about an hour to the capital of Connecticut, a benighted small city called Hartford.

In my long lifetime, Hartford has tumbled from the richest city in the United States (it's still, somewhat, the seat of the American insurance industry) to the absolute poorest. Today, a full one in three of its residents lives under the poverty line. Hartford is a near-perfect example of discriminatory policies that have wreaked havoc on so many people of color.

With neighborhoods redlined by color, no mass transit, schools supported by plummeting property valuations and jobs fleeing the once-industrialized northeast, Hartford's crime rate is nearly sixty-percent higher than the US average and fewer than seven kids in ten graduate from high school.

140 years ago, Twain and Stowe were next-door neighbors.
Today much of the surrounding neighborhood is abandoned.

However, the Hartford my wife and I drove to was the Hartford of about 130 years ago. On one block, currently surrounded by moderate blight, are the well-preserved homes of America's two most-popular and acclaimed authors: Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin (19th Century America's second best-selling book, after the Bible) and Mark Twain.

Twain was of more interest to me--mostly because despite being, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, the "woman whose book started the Civil War," Stowe and her writing haven't aged well. The less said here, the better. 

While in Hartford, and surrounded by his wife and three daughters, the peripatetic Twain settled down and wrote. Really wrote. 

He lived there for 17 years, between 1874 and 1891 and wrote in 1876, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," in 1881, "The Prince and the Pauper, followed "Life on the Mississippi," in 1883, culminating in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," in 1884. That's four major novels in eight years. While having children running around. All while Twain himself toured the nation imitating Hal Holbrooke.

Twice while touring Twain's house I thought of advertising. Both times involved the lock-step adoption of open-plan workspaces by nearly every agency in the space of just three or four years. If agencies brought as much action and unanimity to their DEI efforts as they had to cutting their rent, our business might be today in a different place.

Twain's first office was adjacent to the nursery where his daughters played, were schooled and slept. Twain wanted to see them--he had traveled so widely and adored them so much. But he couldn't focus with that sort of open plan. Too much distraction.

Twain's billiards' room. 

So, Twain moved up to the third floor, to his billiards room. Again Twain tried to write, but snooker was too great a distraction. Finally, against the tumult of that open plan, he wedged his desk into a tight corner and got down to business.

Twain's desk was a mess. A good sign of a fertile mind.

The quiet he found worked.

As I said, four major works in just eight years.

Quiet work works.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Are you worth it?

This, dear readers, will likely be a rabbit hole, and if it’s  not redundant (I've never been in a rabbit hole) a thoroughly meandering one. (As an aside, our word meander comes from the river Menderes in the land that we call Turkey today. I think the river took 20 miles to flow one mile to the sea. You can read about it here.)

It occurred to me as I was reading about trump's finances in The New York Times how the modern world--or maybe the ever-lasting world, has devalued the value of value.

Here's the passage that got me thinking:

It seems to me that trump's "net worth" is based more on fantasy than the accumulation of what he owns and has on deposit. To use a today metaphor, it's more digital than bricks and mortar. This variability is, I suppose, the way of the world. If you we're in my Econ 101 class, which I teach entirely in Latin, I would proclaim "O tempore, O mores!" At which point you'd drop the class and I'd soon be unemployed. Which is to be expected for an over-educated economist who speaks Latin.

A similar denigration of the notion of value can be found by looking at the company formerly known as Facebook which has lost one-third of its "value" since the New Year. Of course, the notion of value has always been a shaky one. If you have a moment, read about the rise and collapse of value in the Credit Mobiler speculation around the American railroad industry. It makes Meta's throes look par for the course, and maybe they are.

The ad industry has played along--fulsomely--with the devaluing of value. Think of how many agencies have been named agency of the [time-unit] or have won a Grand Lion of the Titanium Pupik at Cannes while they're hemorrhaging people, business, shareholder value and their very reason for being. 

In fact, Linked In has brought the ad industry a predictability that reminds me of the changing of the seasons. 

First comes the spate of faux humble announcements that you're on a jury, or fourteen. Then comes the faux humble announcements that you've been short-listed for an award or fourteen. Then comes the faux humble proclamation that you've won a bronze ocelot or fourteen. Finally comes the faux humble clarion that you've been named agency of the year or fourteen.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, you turn on the TV--like we all did during the Stupor Bowl, and all the work sucks. And not in a good way.

What value is the industry creating outside that isn't fake?

Here's a bit of an email I got from a boss 25 years ago. I've carried it around for all that time. I think about it a lot. He was scratching at the notion of real value--and doing it while looking at a fraud neither of us could stand. 

"After a year of walking around with a big fucking deal attitude, it's put up or shut up time.  Where are the awards? Where are the case studies that bring in new business?  Where are the clients who've ascended to power on the backs of [agency's] success - of those things are careers and reputations made.  And if he keeps posturing and not delivering, he'll wind up being thought of as just another asshole with a Titanic attitude and a Minnow in the engine room."

That's the problem of inflated value. Value untethered from support.

For value to be worth something it has to be tied to something. Something more than bombast.

Show me what you've done.
Not what you've won.
Introduce me to the teams you've grown,
Not the trophies you own.
Show me the businesses you built
Not bombast spilt.

That's how you prove value.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Questioning god.

This isn't exactly a continuation of yesterday's post. Partly because I wouldn't expect anyone to read anything here two days in a row. Even I wouldn't if I didn't have to. But I noticed something else when my wife and I were at the Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday night. Ergo, an ersatz Part II.

There's a way of looking at a show like the Late Show, imagining yourself in it and finding yourself filled with fear, tension and a sense of peril.

You're about to go live in front of between three and four million people. Unscripted. And relatively unrehearsed. 

Though you and your crew are a well-lubricated machine--I think Jon Batiste said he had done over one-thousand shows with Colbert--doing anything, no matter how practiced you are at it, especially relatively live, is a leap into the unfathomable.

Anything can happen. And usually does.

Mostly, you can suck. In public. People could ridicule you. Think you're dumb or a hack. In my case, both. It reminds me of an aspiring standup comedian telling his mother how scared he is to perform. She replies, "don't worry, no one will laugh at you."

Failure. Like shit, happens.

We've all been in the situation. In some jobs, at some times almost every day.

Many people, it seems to me, respond to pressure in a way that builds pressure. They massage their temples, stare into their hands and perseverate over things that are relatively insignificant. Like should the word be "but" or "yet." Things like that. And they do it into the wee hours. It somehow feels right to them.

What I notice, so often, is that people in agencies act like they're the captain of the Titanic and they're taking on water. They act as if they're going to die. To burst into flames. To be consumed by the Incubus. And then succumb to a burning lake as if an IPG or WPP agency is a scene out of Hieronymous Bosch in a pissy mood.

Most agencies, under pressure, are as funny as a crutch. They expect you--nominally a creative person--to clench your teeth and tighten your sphincter and somehow be creative. They expect to loosen screws by turning them tighter.

Life doesn't work like that.

Laughter begets laughter begets freedom begets bravery begets laughter begets good work.

But most at agencies laughter begets scowls begets bad moods begets a bad 360 review begets bad work begets bad client relationships begets a bad career. And then things go downhill.

I just read a short piece from a LinkedIn connection about liberality in the office. Creating an atmosphere of freedom, not tension. It comes from a connection of mine called Mike Nicholson, who's spent 14 years at Abbott Mead Vickers. I don't know Mike. I couldn't pick him out of a solo lineup. But I think he's giving us something to think about

I think as serious as work is--and personally, I work like a dog, we should never be too busy to tell a joke, have a laugh, take a walk down the hall and chatter or help the person sitting next to you. We should never be too busy to smile. To crack a joke. 

I call this being a human. And being a human is part of being good at your job.

Mike's taking over from here. With something he calls
"The Let Your People Play Snooker Technique." He writes:

David Abbott left his office and wandered over to the full-size snooker table on the creative floor at 151 Marylebone Road.

The Guinness team were reviewing posters for the Good Things Come To Those Who Wait campaign which they’d spread out over the snooker table.

David studied them and there was a long silence.

Finally, he folded his arms and sighed ‘Oh dear. This is terrible.’

The team gulped.

Heads dropped.

I’m pretty sure one junior planner nearly fainted.

Then a grin gradually appeared and he asked ‘How can we play snooker if this great work is on the felt? Would you mind moving to the boardroom? Richard and Arg normally have a rack about now.’

Laughter erupted.

Proofs were relocated.

David returned to his office.

Feet on the desk.

Pen to pad.

David always defended our space to play and our time to think. 

(In the 14 years I was at AMV BBDO I never worked a weekend and left most days at 17.30.)

Dave Buchanan later advised me one day when we were waiting for the kettle to boil ‘Time. Money. Space. Talent. You need all four to do great work, Mike. If you can fight for all of those things the agency will fly.’

Creating and defending a process ensures great work.

Time. Money. Space. Talent. 

Absent today in most places.

As absent as snooker.