Happy handicapper, Cadillac’s Craig Bierley

I’m not sure why newly appointed Cadillac advertising director, Craig Bierley chose to give an interview to Adweek about Cadillac’s agency review, which has been going on since early this year. According to Adweek, he and his cohorts listened to four presentations last week from the contenders, comprised of agency groups from Interpublic, Omnicom and two teams out of Publicis, including the incumbent Fallon.

But interview he did. Bierley merrily goes on the record stating the agencies delivered “really solid work.” He qualifies the remark by saying “some were better than others.”

Doesn’t that go without saying?

Sounding a bit like a sports DJ, he then offers this morsel: “There’s parts of each team we like better than other parts of each team. Strategy over here might work better with this creative but you don’t get to do that [laughs].”

This definitely should have gone without saying. Or laughing.

In my opinion, the whole interview should not have happened. It’s bad form, plain and simple. First of all, if someone from any of those agencies had spoken to the press about the Cadillac pitch they’d have been doomed. Clients loathe when agencies go on record about anything really but especially pitches. For example, if a copywriter were to Tweet “Just finished our Caddy pitch. Killed it!” he’d have been called to a corner office and reprimanded, likely even fired. We are taught to keep our mouths shut… or else. So, yes, I think it’s crappy when a client does so just because he can.

Writing about the interview on Adpulp, Dan Goldgeier weighed in as follows: “There’s a lot of money, pride, prestige, egos, and jobs at stake. Frankly, I feel for anyone laboring in the lower ranks of agencies involved in this pitch.”

Honestly, I feel sorry for the senior pitch teams as well. If I’d put months of time into this pitch I would feel awful reading such an article. Pitch teams go through the wringer getting ready for their presentations. Dozens of brutal meetings. Even more late nights. Enduring withering criticism from your peers and senior management from New York. Making countless changes (some of it against your will). Mortgaging your family life (again). And practicing…all that soul-crushing practice.

Then to go online and see the man you’ve worked months to impress, the penultimate decision maker, glibly calling it all “iterative,” saying the winner “could be Fallon. It could be IPG.” If I’m not part of one of those agencies what am I to think? Or even if I was? Either way, I don’t like being talked about like a racehorse.

In fairness to Bierley, he discusses the painstaking measures his team took to insure the process was “fair” and “transparent.” That may be so but he should have declined giving such an interview until after a verdict was given, if at all. There’s a reason jurors (let alone the Jury Foreman) don’t talk about trials until after they’re done. While a trial isn’t the same as a pitch (necessarily) accounting for human decency is.

Putting my ego in its place…

In preparation for my family’s move from Chicago to San Francisco, I threw out six boxes of advertising awards I’d amassed during my 20+ years in the business. Among the discards were countless certificates of merit and honorable mentions. Basically booby prizes. I was tempted to keep my first place trophies and Best-in-Shows but for the most part even those I chucked. Made of metal, they lasted ten minutes in the alley before the garbage pickers got them. They took the framed certificates, too, no doubt for the generic black frames. Zero chance some local picker will have use for a 1997 merit award from the Chicago Addy’s. On the other hand those bronze and silver One Show Pencils weigh a ton. Scrap prices are sky high these days. I wonder how many cents each of them netted at the smelter, or wherever it is metal gets bought.

A pair of old-school, badass Lions

I did keep my first two Cannes Lions, a gold and bronze awarded for a TV campaign I wrote on behalf of Heinz Ketchup. The gold was for a spot featuring a teen-aged Matt LeBlanc (Joey from Friends). It’s shown from time to time on nostalgic TV specials. A grainy version can be seen HERE. Back then there were far less categories at Cannes. And broadcast was the king. Ergo, I’m keeping my kitties.

I also kept three Andy Awards and two Clio statues, mostly because they look cool, as well as the Kelly Award given to me by the Magazine Publishers of America for best print campaign in North America: for Altoids. With only one winner, the Kelly was once highly coveted. I should mention it came with a check for $100,000 dollars. Ah, the days when magazine publishers were flush! Win a Kelly now you get a handshake and a photo in Adweek.


Advertising awards seemed so important then. I kept every certificate of merit, every clipping in AdAge. Oh, how I coveted those accolades! I was like a Roman conqueror collecting statues. I was a God of Advertising! Now, as I look upon the heap of paper, plastic and metal in my alley I feel anything but.

Author’s note: I realize this post probably qualifies as a humblebrag, which, according to the Urban Dictionary is where “one, usually consciously, tries to get away with bragging by couching it in a phony show of humility.” I’m pleading ‘No Contest.’

The former Pres at the Palais in Cannes…

So, former president Bill Clinton revealed to an audience in Cannes that his favorite TV commercial in America is the DirecTV campaign from Grey New York. Good choice, Mr. President. I like it, too. I even did a post about it.

As reported by Adweek’s Tim Nudd, the President said, “You have a problem. Something disastrous happens. You don’t get along with your daughter. She winds up having an alternative lifestyle, marries a guy with too many tattoos. She ends up having a child who wears a dog collar. Now, you have a granddaughter with a dog collar. Switch to DirecTV. … They’re the most hilarious ads I’ve ever seen.”

Wow. He practically knows the ad verbatim. That’s pretty cool. Score one for the Pres! I’m sure he made a lot of friends on the Croisette that night; or, more likely, some pleasantries at the Hotel Du Cap –a hotel befitting his stature.

Given the campaign he loves is still going strong I can’t help but think he gave the creative at Grey some new fodder for a pool-out. Something like this:

You’re the President. But you don’t get along with the First Lady. She’s never around so you have a tryst with a blousy intern with a funny name. The intern with a funny name ends up with a messy dress. And you have to tell the entire country you did not have intercourse with that woman…

Hey, it’s Friday. Enjoy the weekend. And for all of you creatives returning home Cannes: Welcome back to your full in-boxes and all those nervous account people wanting the revisions you said you’d get to during “down time.”

God forbid, a jingle…

When I first heard the opening strains to the Beatles’ iconic song “Help” coming out of the car radio I thought: Cool, the inane radio station my kids listen to is finally playing something worthwhile. I nearly spit my Rockstar energy drink when a voiceover started babbling about home electronics on sale for Labor Day.

Unbelievably, It was a spot for hhgregg, an appliance and home electronics store. I’ve never even heard of them but apparently they’re a southern retailer making inroads up north. One look at their website and you find a hard core retailer in the realm of Best Buy or the recently defunct Circuit City. Their theme line: “We Help.” Ugh. Ironically, Circuit City had an identical mantra. It didn’t help them any.

Can you say “I buried Paul?”

As I immediately Tweeted and put on Facebook: How in God’s name can a hokey retailer get the rights to the Beatles’ “Help” for their crappy commercial? A first responder adroitly replied: They can’t. A cease and desist is imminent.

Indeed. There is NO WAY this is a legitimate usage of the Beatles catalog. After all, it took iTunes until last year just to get the rights to offer Beatles music for sale to consumers. With all do respect, Apple has a lot more credibility and money than hhgregg. A LOT MORE. But even if it were Apple, I’d be bummed.

I know not much is sacred in Adland, particularly when it comes to using popular music in modern marketing. But the Beatles? I don’t know what to say: Too soon? Not ever. That it was done in such a lame commercial makes the whole thing even more mind-boggling.

So what gives? I agree with my Friend on Facebook. This smacks of a sleazy attempt for some nobody-retailer to suddenly get noticed. By the time the lawyers force them to yank the campaign they will have achieved their awareness strategy. I’ve often wondered if stunts like this were legal. It’s certainly the way popular culture is going. Yet even if somehow the store acquired the rights to this music (naked photos of Paul McCartney?) it was still wrong. Way wrong.

Been there, done that…

My entire career, I’ve been a full time employee of three agencies. Before now, my only work stoppage (six months) was on account of a separation agreement.

This time I have no such covenants. Therefore, in addition to copious amounts of personal writing, I’ve also taken my first foray into freelance copywriting. To my pleasant surprise, I enjoyed it. A lot. Not only did I not miss being the boss I actually relished being inconspicuous. Why? Well, that’s the subject of this post. I think I have a fairly unique perspective. Hopefully, most of you will find it interesting and maybe even enlightening, especially if you’ve got designs on creative leadership.

Freelancing put me back in the creative trenches: conceptualizing and writing. Two things I deeply missed. Fact is, unless a Chief Creative Officer actively fights against it most of us end up being curators and choreographers. Those are important tasks but it’s just not the same as coming up with ideas and writing. Whether my peers admit it or not, the longer they stay out of the trenches the more likely their creative muscles atrophy. It’s the same as anything else: use it or lose it. Remaining a player/coach isn’t easy, especially if various members of the agency are driving you in different directions. In addition, you have to want to do the work. Think about it. If no one at the agency expects you to write copy or compose layouts then would you? Lots of ECD’s and CCO’s (the most famous ones included) don’t create anything anymore. Regarding global creative directors, a colleague once told me the only “books” those guys care about are their passports.

Freelancing, I no longer have to suffer fools the way most creative directors must. A CCO is expected to work with senior people across his or her network as well as for clients. While many in the C-suite are brilliant and pleasant plenty are also tools. Paid only to write they are no longer my concern. A blessing.

Finally, I don’t miss power. As a matter of fact, I’m here to tell you power is overrated. For one thing, it separates you from the people and places and things that make advertising so damn fun. While separation from the troops is endemic to any leadership position I missed the camaraderie. You know who scares me? The ECD or CCO who doesn’t. Those guys are trouble.

As a freelancer, I get to create work with the other people who create work. That “flow” trumps pomp and circumstance. Plus, whether or not I become a CCO again, it’s nice to know I’m comfortable working the skill sets that got me there in the first place.

Full disclosure: As a CCO, I was never a big fan of hiring freelancers. I thought perhaps they wouldn’t try as hard as FTE’s. Or be as vested in outcomes as FTE’s. I was dead wrong on the first point. (Freelancers won’t get hired back if they don’t go full out.) And while the second point is usually true it’s also a moot point. If a company demands loyalty from a freelancer offer him or her a damn job!


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