What’s it all about, Alfie?

Having been away from advertising for several months, now seems like a good time for reflection, about the business and about what it looks like to me from forty thousand feet…

Sans job, I’ve religiously kept up with Adland’s machinations. While some of what I write about is critical most of it isn’t. To this day, I’ve mostly adored every year of 20-plus spent in service to capitalism’s bitch Advertising. And I am unabashed about it. Coming up with ideas, fleshing them out and selling them in is a job I feel blessed to have done. And it’s one I fully intend to keep doing, pending of course, a willing suitor.

So many smart people, characters, and crazy sons of bitches populate Adland it can feel like a Moveable Feast, albeit sometimes a tainted one. Especially when you’re in it, as I was, and as so many of you still are. But trying to keep up with technology. Trying to keep up with the Consumer. Trying to keep accounts. Trying to keep your fucking job…it’s trying.

But you know what? Six months away and it also seems, well, kind of small. A feast? More like a TV dinner. From six months out, I’m afraid the drama of Adland plays like a tinny old rerun of I Love Lucy.

A perfect example of what I mean by “small” can be found in this frothy review of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s recent speech to the Chicago Advertising Federation. I’m not sure what’s more disappointing: the coverage or the event. Were “jaws dropping” in “disbelief and dismay” at Rahm’s “mostly unsuccessful attempt” at rallying Chicago’s “rather beleaguered ad industry?” A better question: Why turn a random business luncheon into Heaven’s Gate? News flash: the new Mayor of Chicago does have better things to do than spend the afternoon with a bunch of advertising executives…no matter how “gussied up” they were.

It’s this melodramatic idea of dashed expectations that belittles our industry. Between the overblown hype bestowed upon mere adverts and the ungodly amount of fear, cynicism and schadenfreude permeating the corridors of Adland it’s a wonder any work gets done at all.

Over the years I’ve lived in the problem, added to it, been small. I’ve had my share of ridiculous expectations and insidious resentments. My blog is called Gods of Advertising but I’m no angel. So here’s my vow. If and when I come back to Adland I promise to do my job as best I can and to be thankful for it on a daily basis.

Ralph and the kids at Off The Street Club

Ralph and the kids at Off The Street Club

I usually refrain from writing about my agency’s work but in this case I feel it is entirely appropriate… even necessary!

For more than 100 years, Off The Street Club has been a haven for kids in one of the toughest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Chicago. Providing a safe, supportive, loving environment for hundreds of 4 to 18 year old kids, OTSC offers a number of programs designed to help kids develop into upstanding adults.

Those are words on a new website we built on behalf of Off The Street Club. Yet mere text doesn’t do the site or the club justice. You need to hear these children talk about their “safe place” in the city. You need to look into the eyes of OTSC’s tireless and fearless leader, Ralph Campagna.

And you can, if you go to offthestreetclub.org Videos of these delightful kids and staff as well as other surprises await you. You can actually pull children off the street and put them into the club! Poignant, hopeful and utterly human, it’s a gorgeous piece of interactive. Begging your pardon, but we are very proud to be behind it. Thank you Blake Ebel, Briar Waterman, Rob Starkey, Doug Gipson, Gosia Zawislak and all the other Euros who made this site soar.

For those unawares, each year a different Chicago advertising agency gets behind OTSC, creating marketing, fund raising materials, and doing whatever it can to further the club’s most worthwhile agenda. This was our year, the website our opening salvo.

Visit the site. That’s a composite of the real building and its blighted surroundings. In one image you see the challenges and the hope. Go now and you’ll be rewarded by a terrific online experience. If you’re kind enough to make a small donation to the club, you’ll be rewarded by something more valuable: grace.

Steff\'s Twitter


I judged the Chicago Creative Club awards show this past Friday. My agency, Euro RSCG hosted the all-day affair, with many of our town’s creative leadership serving as judges. Many other agencies and people are doing their bit as well. Special thanks go to Matt Brennock, Liz Ross and Katie Juras for organizing and administrating…everything! Without these three, I don’t know where we’d be.

I do know where I’ll be on September 10th: the Riviera Theater in Uptown. It’s a grand old movie palace (as a boy, I recall seeing Steve McQueen’s “Bullit” there with my father), and will make an excellent venue for what is affectionately being called the “No Show.”

Rather than stage a typical awards presentation, where winners are paraded up and down and the rest of us stew, the above-mentioned trio has more of a party in mind. A big party. They are hoping for as many as 2,000 local advertising people to attend! And not just the usual suspects. The CCC wants young creatives, students, planners, producers, suits, artist’s reps, vendors…anyone who has a stake in the Chicago advertising community.

In addition to the cool venue, to attract such a massive array of people, ticket prices have been significantly reduced to $50.00 a piece. From what I’m told the indie rock band, Of Montreal will be performing. Supposedly these guys put on quite the show at Lalapalooza. Other surprises include assorted video, of which even the inimitable Chicago Sun Times marketing columnist, Lewis Lazare participated. That could be worth the price of admission!

And, lest anyone forget, there’s the work. Folks, this is our big opportunity to see what of quality is being made in Chicago. I say “our” because this is our stage, our community and our work.

Having just judged all of it, I will tell you winners are not likely more of the same. I’m only guessing, but I think the award-horses of yore will not be as heavily decorated. Rather, we’ll see new campaigns from new agencies receiving accolades. Of course none of the judges know who and what won. We voted via numerical ballots, whose totals we didn’t see. I’m just providing a little color.

Winning is moot if we’re not there to see it. As part of our sponsorship, my agency is in possession of 20 tickets. I hope to procure more. If everyone reading this implores his or her agency, company, etc to pony up for tickets the event will surely be a hit. So send your boss an email. If you’re a boss, beseech management to participate. Point them to the CCC website linked below. The CCC is in everyone’s best interest. It’s also shaping up into a damn fine party. I’ll see you there!

\"No Show\" info & tiks

Steff\'s Twitter

CCC winners, including Best in Show.

After much controversy, criticism and concern, the Chicago Creative Club awards was resurrected last night in the United Club at Soldier Field. While it was by no means a flawless affair, it was a far sight better than the debacle some 15 months ago. Without going into it, the previous show had degraded into a one-sided and ugly contest right before many of our eyes. Participants left drunk and/or dismayed and certainly disenchanted. We woke up to beastly reviews from the local press. Most felt the show had been ruined beyond repair.

We pointed fingers at one another, pissed and moaned about Chicago’s deteriorated creative community, and then, well, went back to our business. There were ads to make. Websites to build. Pitches to win.

Something happened, however, on the way to the funeral. A small group of decent creative persons decided not to let the thing die. Chief among them the Chief Creative Officer of Two by Four, David Stevenson. He came to consultant, Ann Brown’s side when few others would and set up to rebuild our beleaguered award show into something we could all be proud of. Others scoffed. Many more were indifferent. But the coalition of the willing grew. By the time I was asked to help it was “on” again, even if many big questions remained.

We decided to use preeminent local judges, not flown in “stars” from other agencies. The idea here was simple. We made the mess. We had to fix it. Fostering real community was critical. Having a judge from every participating agency meant that participation was certain. Beyond our ads, we now all had skin in the game, literally.

And so, on a Saturday in August two dozen of Chicago’s best creative talents convened at Euro RSCG and made their selections from a previously culled shortlist. My creative partner and ECD of Euro RSCG, Blake Ebel was among them. His quote, caught on camera, summed it up. “This is pretty awesome, guys, all of us together, judging each other’s work.”

Indeed, a jury of our peers. Then and there, Chicago’s creative community was reborn. And from what I could tell, that corp d’esprit carried right over into the show. The best pieces won and, more importantly, we were able to congratulate each other for doing them. Gone was the rude peanut gallery and with it, the copious amounts of Schadenfreud that polluted shows previous. In addition to good ads and good people, the much-maligned venue (too far, no cabs, etc) shined for us that night. After the ceremony, cocktails and light dinner were had out of doors beneath the mighty pillars of Soldier Field. We were even graced by a late evening fireworks show, probably courtesy of some rich couple’s wedding at the Yacht club nearby!

But for me the highpoint came at the end of the awards presentation. Best of show had been given to BBDO, for its ripping Canadian Club campaign: “Damn Right Your Dad Drank It.” Everyone cheered. And cheered. And cheered some more. A deserving campaign, but the applause was bigger. It felt like the biggest winner of all was… us.

A final note: Beware smugness. The CCC may be out of the weeds but hardly in safe harbor. More improvement is necessary. While turnout was a pleasant surprise, there should have been more people, especially newcomers and students. Somehow, ticket prices will have to come down. And where was Cramer Krasselt? As a leading creative agency in town, their seeming boycott was a blot.

A complete list of winners was not available as of this writing. Please check the CCC website for updates. The awards show book comes out this Fall.

“OMG… It’s so not about the awards!”

I’ve been working with a number of my peers on renovating, rejuvenating & re-imagining the Chicago Creative Club awards show slated for Sept 10th.

That’s a lot of “Re” but the show Really needed help. After several years of events marked by drunken heckling, whispers of jury rigging and, worst of all, indifference the CCC had reached its nadir. Last year’s event was so heavy in flaws it went over like the bricks being handed out as awards.

It serves no purpose pointing fingers. Deep down we got what we deserved. What is important is getting this thing back on track. None of us in Chicago (peers, clients, employees) benefit from a crummy show or no show at all. As a creative community it’s high time we acted like one.

After a few spirited sessions of debate, a solution arose: We got ourselves into this mess; we’ll get ourselves out. The creative community needs to participate in every aspect of the CCC and so we will. The team asked me to draft a mantra; it is as follows:

In 2008, the Chicago Show will be just that: a show for Chicago, about Chicago, and uniting Chicago. Our many agencies, big and small, will be brought together in celebration of the great work being done here. Winning awards shall not be our only focus; rather joining together and saluting this fine work will.

Not a divisive awards show, this year we come together as a creative community. We will choose the best work from one another’s agencies, not pointing to our own. We will give and receive awards to one another, not coveting our own. By judging each other’s creativity we will become familiar with each other and our work. When we shake a winner’s hand it might well be a former partner, a past creative director, even a future boss.

This is why this year will be so exciting and different. The cheering will be special, for it’ll come from our peers, who judged our work, and us worthy. The congratulations will be real. When the show is over the goal is for everyone to leave exalted. We want our creative community to be the biggest winner of the night. The Chicago creative community misses that more than anything. We are stronger together than apart. We always have been.


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