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Stealing from the best…

Recently, I was able to use a modest but working knowledge of art history in the formation of a creative marketing idea. How about that? Apparently, those “vanity” classes I took at the University of Wisconsin actually did come in handy. As a matter of fact, we not only used examples from the Renaissance and other important periods to inform the execution of our idea but also to help sell it. It isn’t everyday you see a Raphael or Tintoretto in a PowerPoint presentation. But you did in ours. We even used the word chiaroscuro…correctly!

Saying this was gratifying is an understatement. Especially considering the extent everyone in marketing (including me) obsesses about new media. We get so amped up on chasing or creating the “new new thing” we utterly lose sight on just how vital certain old things can be.

For centuries, paintings and illustrations were humankind’s primary visual media. Instead of clicking through myriad links and cable channels, man sought inspiration or entertainment from still images, the best of which were generally paintings. Earlier generations gazed upon frescoes in their church and if they were lucky got to see masterworks at a salon or museum. Granted, lewd and crude drawing have always pervaded popular culture but the high road was pretty damn high for those electing to take it.

Shifting gears…

What we make is so ephemeral, isn’t it? The best marketing campaigns in the world quickly fade and die, perhaps lingering as a bit of trivia. The winner at Cannes this summer will be entirely forgotten in five years. Probably sooner. Our masterpieces might be game changers within our industry, and even in popular culture, but most have no lasting value or meaning beyond selling. Few things are more irrelevant than last year’s Gunn Report.

Yet, this isn’t about the dumbing down of society. Or a hate on advertising. For one thing I’d be a hypocrite. I haven’t been to an art museum in years and the SFMOMA is ten minutes from my office. I stay up late to watch horror movies. I blog about advertising! In other words, one finds me on the low road often enough.

How fine knowing the old masters could still be relevant to the creative process, especially mine.

“Say hello to my little paint chips!”
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I really dig this tumblr blog by graphic designer Roxy Radulescu, featuring stills from films and their corresponding color palettes. It’s a creative idea that seemingly has everything. Not only is moviesincolor inspiring from an aesthetic point of view but the concept emanates directly from popular culture so it’ll get talked about and shared.

And not just by movie buffs and art directors. There’s potential utility here as well. I totally see homeowners and designers being inspired by the irresistible source material of their favorite movies. I mean who wouldn’t want a man cave designed around the colors of Scarface or Goodfellas? For chicks, how adorkable to have your bedroom done up a la Moonrise Kingdom?

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The possibilities are endless. As are the applications. The only thing missing, frankly, is the big time paint advertiser. Not long ago I worked on the product launch for Valspar paint. We did some pretty cool stuff for them in the digital space. Moviesincolor would have fit perfectly.

Judging from her other blog (RoxyMakesThings), moviesincolor is just one of many concepts percolating in this young designer’s head. Since moving to LA from the “corn field’s of Illinois” Roxy, in her own words, “has managed to be a part of a handful of L.A. bands, work on videos, hold several graphic design jobs, sell my prints, and help friends bring their projects to life.”

Nicely done, Roxy. Here’s hoping moviesincolor brings you some well-deserved attention and many more chances to shine.

Shout out to The Denver Egoist for discovering Roxy’s boss tumblr.

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The call of duty beckons…

In Adland, people come and people go. Turnover happens, now more than ever. Without long term incentives employees are not bound. Upheaval in our industry exasperates an already virulent tendency: to keep moving.

Agencies feel the urge as much as individuals. Like a submarine, new crew is necessary to keep the ship going, to keep up with the other subs, to stay fit. While we may feel distraught to see a beloved crewmember leave, it is part of an agency’s lifecycle, inevitable as the tides.

For a long time I was the anomaly. I spent my first 15 years at the venerable Leo Burnett Company in Chicago. I seriously thought I’d never leave. All my vocational dreams were coming true. I had great partners and bosses. I created lots of work, some of it good, some of it even very good. I felt a part of something bigger than myself. Alas, that strong tie didn’t fray. It was severed. A wave of corporate jive crashed over my head and I swam for the doors. For me wanderlust came late and not without a strong kick in the ass.

For a time I looked back in anger -a pointless endeavor and one I don’t recommend. But then I signed on to another ship. And then another. Like you, I was no longer a “company man.” My updated goal was to be of maximum use. Last year, I took the helm at gyro in San Francisco. She is a relatively small ship but with great ambitions and a stellar crew. Our mission is to create humanly relevant ideas, often for clients unaccustomed to them. Of course it’s hard. But I am loyal to this brief and despite the many challenges feel its potential on a daily basis.

Join me.

I’m looking for good crew: Specifically, an art director with web production capabilities and knowledge of B2B marketing, someone who knows their way around technology-based clients. In addition to, or instead of, we will also consider men and women who create and design content, be it websites or online advertising. Doers in new media are welcome to enlist. Speaking of media, a position also exists for a top strategist. Lead generation. Emerging platforms. You know the drill, call us.

Turnover happens. And we’ve seen our bit. Yet, now it’s time to reload. 2013 started with a new President. Maybe you’re next?

Yes, we will use age-old methods to fill these positions. But I’m trying a newer one. Hell, if I find one great recruit this blog will have been worth it. In the oddly timeless words of Van Halen’s David Lee Roth, “Change, nothin’ stays the same/ Unchained, ya hit the ground running.”

Interested? Hit me up on Linkedin.


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!

An artist staring at the truth...

Johnking1956, The Man who would be King is a new blog worthy of our attention. Without breaking his anonymity, John King is the pseudonym of an AD/Creative Director, who used to work at a big ad agency in Chicago before getting laid off and moving to Reno to ply his trade at a resort casino. That alone makes for an interesting tale, right? I mean the creative department of a casino sounds more like the set a reality TV show than a job.

But then the recession hit, clobbering the real estate and gaming industry, nowhere worse than second tier markets like Reno. King found himself out of work. Again. Adding injury to insult, severe back problems, first encountered while working in Hong Kong, came back with a vengeance, filling King’s days with debilitating pain and copious amounts of morphine. He wears a plastic girdle-like brace to keep his spine true and may have to install a morphine pump into his body.

It’s not pretty or easy being King. However, he is still determined to find work. His blog is about that journey, a journey that begins each morning with more pain than you and I, God forbid, will ever know. What makes the story utterly compelling in the man’s bracing optimism in the face of these hardships.

This is one of those stories that breaks your heart but can lift your spirit as well. King’s tale reminds me of Mickey Rourke’s Oscar winning turn in The Wrestler. It’s that painful. That poignant. That good. You cringe but endlessly root for him.

King is talented and deserves another shot. But he is a hard hit man in a hard hit industry and place. Recovery for him or it is far from certain.

And yet, he’s chosen to blog about it.

Not to sound like a film trailer, but if you need to be reminded of the strength of the human spirit this holiday season, consider The Man who would be King: Johnking1956.tumblr.com

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