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“Behold, my creation!”

Lately, ny agency has made a slew of creative presentations. Two or three a week. Likely your agency is experiencing something similar. It’d better be. Like sharks, creative agencies don’t do well sitting still. We must hunt as vociferously as we farm, if not more so. The days of long-term relationships are so damn over I feel like it almost goes without saying.

Create. Present. Repeat.

For obvious reasons, most creative departments are built focusing on the talent piece, finding the right people, nurturing them and tweaking when necessary.

Typically, we hire folks based on their credentials. That and a couple of meetings. Barring a disastrous interview, if the copywriter or art director or designer, et cetera has a good book and solid references we hire ‘em.

Alas, the presentation aspect of the candidate’s game is almost always underestimated. What choice do we have? Other than first impressions how can one really know if a creative person is tight when it comes to facing a client? I ask a guy if he’s good at presenting and 8 times out of 10 he’ll answer affirmatively, claiming he likes the adrenaline rush, and is a pretty decent closer. “I can always get better,” she might say, earnestly. “But, you know, my main focus is on the work.”

The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

Well, forgive my frankness, but most creative people aren’t very good at presenting their work, let alone someone else’s. Often a man might think he is; after all, who wants to believe otherwise? Being a charismatic and articulate advocate is so tied with self-esteem. It takes a very honest soul to admit mediocrity. Most of us end up fronting. Unfortunately, cocksureness is no substitute for a compelling presentation. Often it is detrimental. Few things gall as much as the defensive and preening creative. Even a kiss-ass fares better.

Because most agencies can’t afford to treat a single presentation as ‘practice’ a vicious cycle develops. ‘Show talent’ does not get properly developed. While the same two people end up presenting over and over again. Couple that with the fact that by definition people are crummy at public speaking until they’ve done it dozens of times and we end up with creative departments long on craftsmen and short on showmen.

The straight dope is one must really pay attention to his or her presentation skills, either making it a point to demonstrate improvement or be resigned to letting your hopefully more capable boss or partner do it. This is not unwise strategy. At first. But eventually you’re going to want to speak up, especially if you have designs on becoming a creative director.

Rest assured. The cycle can be broken! What does success look like and how do you get there? That’s the subject of my next post. (Hint: you won’t have to go to Toast Masters or take some weird class in a strip mall.) Until then, here’s a fairly recent piece I wrote on the very same subject.

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Forgive me for I have hated…

Since I began Gods of Advertising almost a decade ago (!), I’ve carefully avoided demonstrating hatred of any kind to persons, places or things. When I was critical, say of an ad campaign, I tried to look at it from all angles, positing why, perhaps, an advertiser or agency would put something so questionable into the cosmos. Most of the time I have succeeded in being personally true to my feelings while maintaining respect for other points-of-view. (My last post bemoaning Selfies is a good example.)

When I’ve (perhaps) crossed a line you let me know. And I’ve published virtually every comment to that effect, unless they were patently offensive or obscene. Take a look at a piece I wrote about an ad campaign for Walgreens, featuring the cloying (in my opinion) voice-over talents of John Corbett. 62 people came to John’s defense, condemning me for being rude, cynical and worse. Precious few take my side. Either way, a new comment to this post shows up in my inbox every month or so. I publish all of them.

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I’m just not that into you…

While I seldom defend myself I don’t freak out either. We have a conversation. I’ve written far more interesting pieces. Yet precious few engender as much feedback as the Corbett story. Proving, yet again, everyone loves or hates a critic.

As an experiment, I tried come up with three things I hate unequivocally. My one criterion (or do you say “criteria?”) was to limit selections to only matters germane to advertising and popular culture. God forbid, I drift into politics or anything particularly important.

As cynical as I am it was harder than I thought. I came up with three.

1. Laugh tracks. Oh my God, how I loathe laugh tracks. A remnant of the Golden Age of Television, the laugh track is, for me, an utter and complete turnoff. Now mainly a staple of kid’s TV, they elicit the exact opposite effect in me: one of utter and complete revulsion. I find all programs that use them guilty by association. A pass is given to the many inane sitcoms of ancient times, like Green Acres or Gilligan’s Island. That shit’s funny.

2. Auto Tune is to popular music what the laugh track is to TV. Why this dopey audio implant isn’t as reviled as lip-synching I’ll never know. A million years ago Peter Frampton Comes Alive came out to boffo reviews and went mega-platinum, largely because of his “Wa-Wa” infused number, Do You Feel Like I Do. I hated it then and make-out nostalgia aside I still do now.

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Is Auto Tune his fault?

3. My most controversial and final selection is the current spate of faux premium lagers, like Bud Light Platinum or Miller Fortune. Who’s kidding whom? These variations on a theme are nothing more than marketing ploys to upsell customers, who are dumb enough to fall for them. Like the so-called Ice beers of yore, they come in gaudy bottles that supposedly evoke class and distinction. They are anything but. I consider these brand extensions the Ed Hardy of beers. A badge for douche bags.

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#douche-y

4. Honorable mention goes to Reality TV. This much-reviled yet inexplicably popular genre is far too low hanging fruit to make my list. None of these shows are real. They’re just shitty.

So, that’s my hater blog for 2014. I hope you liked it, or hated it, as the case may be. If you have something to add, this is the time and this is the place.

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“Two Miller Fortunes…and a f–king lime.”

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The shot heard ’round the world.

Sometimes I take pictures of myself post them online. I know a lot of other people do, too. Selfies. We all do it. So much so it has become a phenomenon. In 2013, Selfie was deemed word of the year. Ahead of “Twerk.”

Sigh.

Since the beginning of photography –hell, painting…even cave painting- we have all been interested in how we look in pictures. Very interested. That is why when you view a group photo and you are in it you always check yourself out first. “I look like crap,” you sometimes say. Or, “I hate when I make that face.” If you think you look good –a win- then and only then you might say something about someone else in the photograph. “You look hot, Katie!” Then Katie will say, “I think I look like crap.”

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Et tu, Obama?

And so it goes. We are all narcissists. We want to be awesome looking. We obsess over it. Even people who say they don’t do. Pictures don’t lie (not counting Photoshop). They are worth a thousand words. Or were. When photos themselves were relatively rare they had a certain value. Now they are as common as words and far more popular. Thank you digital photography. And Snapchat. And Instagram. Millions of photos are taken every day. Every hour. Perhaps billions. Frankly, one does not have to ever take a photo of anything in order to find visual documentation of it. Just ask Google. Boom. There it is.

We are the one exception. We are evergreen. The advent of the Selfie was inevitable. For we never get tired of seeing pictures of ourselves. Better said we have become addicted to them. In our desire to feed our narcissism, in a world of digital photography, it has become pure mania. Quantity has trumped quality. More me, we clamor. From the endless updates we post on Facebook to the galleries we create, we have become a Selfie society!

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The Royal Selfie…

Guess what? the more we create the weaker it gets and the more we need. And so the Selfie has become the ditch weed of popular culture. We are like the junkie chasing a high and never quite getting there.

The ultimate narcissists, celebrities have latched onto the mania, taking Selfie after Selfie knowing they will go viral. Viral equals popularity equals giving a damn. Ellen at the Oscars. Kanye everywhere. Even the President of the United States!

Marketers falsely assume that a Selfies’ social currency equals sales. They mistake the image as saying something about them. A Kardashian is wearing a dress. Therefore it an ad for the dress. Free advertising! Samsung thought Ellen’s much-shared Oscar Selfie was an ad for the camera. Insanity. For that is like saying the addict values his needle.

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The Devil made me do it…

Will it end? No. But the insane value placed upon the Selfie will. In particular the value placed upon the Selfies taken by others. We will revert back to our narcissism and only care about Selfies of ourselves. Knowing deep down no one else will and not much giving a shit one way or the other. Advertisers will chase the high longer than most, clamoring for the buzz, sucking on ditch weed and wondering why they aren’t getting high. Vines and the like will suffer a similar fate, if they haven’t already. Of course these marketers will first blame their dealers: the experts and gurus (internal and external) that fed their mania. Then they will clean house, “rethinking marketing strategy.”

Alas, the rehab won’t last. Some idiot will sprout two heads and take a picture of it. The “Freakie” will be born and we will chase after it. And in turn the marketers will chase after us. The circle of life, such as it it.

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The Selfie portrait is nothing new…

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I am Legend!

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Good boy!

Sigh. One of the tough things about working at a relatively young agency with a B2B/technology pedigree is the persistent opinion that such a group is not capable of creating big ideas at the brand level. It has been a fairly high hurdle in our quest for new business. Recently we did not make the cut with a client we coveted because they felt we were experts in a different part of the “funnel.”

We are that… but we are so much more. My company is filled with expert thinkers and creators from the general side who’ve migrated into B2B precisely because we know businesses (big and small) need and want to communicate and sell to each other as human beings. Our mission is not only accommodating them, by creating “humanly relevant” work, but to excel at it.

Once the big idea is hatched we know how to deliver campaigns up and down the funnel, including digital and demand gen. I think that makes us, and other like-minded agencies, perfectly poised to address the needs of any and all comers in the modern world.

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Thar she blows…

Like many of you reading this, and certainly the majority of my colleagues, I was trained to find the “organizing principle” or “creative business idea” for each and every entity clamoring for one. Not only is our process for doing so honed in best practices I believe it to be as good as any I’ve ever divined upon. Most who experience it come away with the same opinion.

If only we are given the chance.

I “grew up” at Leo Burnett as well as worked at DDB and Havas. In my long career I’ve been a part of creating countless ‘big’ ideas for many clients, including Altoids, Heinz, McDonalds and Anheuser Busch, to name a few. I had two spots run on the Superbowl. Won four Lions at Cannes, two of them Gold. I learned from the best. For my second act I began developing campaigns for ecommerce, software manufacturers, electronics and data driven organizations. In fact, I helped Leo Burnett develop its B2B/Technology capability, co-founding an agency within that venerable agency, called LBWorks.

At gyro, many clients appreciate our hybrid approach and other agencies are definitely on to it. They know the future is more about software and data than, say, selling canned peaches on television. That is one reason why holding companies have been buying and merging with digital agencies, social media specialists and, yes, hybrid shops like ours. But teaching old dogs new tricks is tough. Holding company agencies hold on to old ideas.

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Be careful what you wish for…

Though few big agencies will admit it, even today they struggle. Caste systems form internally, struggling for ownership of the client relationship as well as where the ideas come from. Sometimes even what those ideas look like are a puzzle. I’ve seen it. And so have many of you.

My agency began in the new economy. Many of us acclimated to this new way of thinking along with it. The only old idea I/we hold onto is that the big idea is paramount. That we have a history of executing tactics in tricky spaces should be seen as a bonus.

Time will tell, right? But it can be frustrating when you fervently believe, as I do, that now is our time!

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A stranger yelled at my wife the other day in the park. She’d taken our terriers off leash and a pedestrian took offense. Apparently, this other woman didn’t just get mad, she was irate, letting loose a torrent of expletives. My poor wife said she was too dumbfounded to respond, she just stared at this strange adult who was screaming at her.

Of course I felt bad for my spouse. On the other hand I’m pretty sure there’s a law against dogs being off their leashes. Even cute little buggers like ours. Regardless, that’s not what I want to discuss. What stood out for me about my wife’s tale: how rare situations like hers actually are. As mad as we might be personally, professionally, societally, we don’t yell at each other that much. Remarkable when you think about it. So let’s.

When was the last time someone not related to you yelled at you? For me, I can’t even remember. Maybe someone gave me the bird a few weeks ago from his car. But that’s about it. I’m guessing the road is where most verbal outbursts occur, yet people are generally moving and not in each other’s grill so to speak. I’m talking about screaming in your face. Like what happened to my wife. It’s pretty rare.

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Not a good look…

Turning the tables when was the last time you yelled at someone not related to you? Even more rare, isn’t it? Civilized people like us just don’t go off on each other.

Expressing anger, even righteous anger, is fairly uncommon. We may get or be pissed off on a daily basis but we seldom, if ever, express ourselves that way. It’s just not in our nature. Or it has been mightily repressed. Either way, when someone does go nuclear we not only notice we are also genuinely shocked by it. It’s ghoulishly fascinating. Which is why Reality TV is so full of drama queens and douche bags: folks wouldn’t watch otherwise. It’s also why these shows are so un-real in the first place. The characters are coached into tantrums. Really real adults seldom yell at one another, let alone five times a day.

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Reality TV people get angry to get filmed…

Unless of course they’re mentally unhinged, intoxicated or, as I implied earlier, related. Sad but true. If you add your children or spouse or a parent into the mix suddenly the outbursts aren’t so infrequent, are they? Admit it. I am. In some ways I think our inability to lose it with strangers fuels are propensity for grousing with our kin. There’s definitely wisdom to that lyric, “you always hurt the one you love.”

My wife’s experience prompted me to think about yelling and screaming… again. Many years ago I learned that I couldn’t handle anger very well. I seethed. My IQ dropped. Upon outburst I was an incoherent buffoon. Kind of like Homer Simpson strangling his boy. As Doctor Bruce Banner (aka The Incredible Hulk) put it, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

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Don’t let this happen to you!

I still get angry, yes. But I try very hard not to lose it. What’s the point? I’ve discovered that even when I “win” an argument I still feel like crap. Probably why I drank too much. And I had to stop that, too. For me “emotional sobriety” is damn near as precious.

Anger is a gateway emotion to hell. When one opens his or her trap in response to it, we get a glimpse into that hell. Thank God, then, it’s infrequently we do.

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