June 26, 2011
Picture perfect day in Chicago but once again I’m at the Admiral’s Club in O’Hare airport. Here the sunshine is more of a nuisance than anything else. Right now it’s pouring in through the windows causing numerous guests to uproot and move. Twenty miles east the city’s annual Gay Pride Parade is probably breaking all records for attendance. It truly is a perfect day for being “out.”
Anyway, once again, I’m flying to Los Angeles. Trust me I’m not complaining. This is exactly what I want and need to be doing. Talking with companies interested in producing my movie scripts is an avocation I will pursue to my grave, and, given my latest script is about the undead , maybe even after that!
Meeting with entities interested in my services as creative director and/or copywriter is even more important. That’s my vocation. My forays into freelancing have been a great experience for me and hopefully to the agencies I’ve helped. I’d like to do more of it. As I wrote on Twitter the other day, “Hire me and you get ECD talent at CD prices!” What’s not to like? Don’t answer that.
By the way, I intend to write about my experience on the other side of the desk from a creative director. It’s been surprisingly fun and satisfying NOT being the boss. Creating and presenting ideas more than makes up for any loss of credentials.
Still, Chief Creative Officer was my last job. This particular trip west has me visiting the CEO of a pretty terrific company who just might be looking for a creative leader. The more I read about his company the more I like the opportunity. I’m thrilled to meet him.
I’m telling you all this because I don’t have another essay prepared. Frankly, if my flight wasn’t delayed for mechanical difficulties I couldn’t have even written this. Who’d ‘a thunk being unemployed would be so damn time consuming?
Too bad I can’t make a living writing Gods of Advertising. But like fishing, it’s a labor of love. Even so, I beg your pardon for its ‘Dear Diary’ like content. I’ll be back at my desk soon enough. And for those of you coming back from the Advertising Festival in Cannes: Welcome back to yours!
January 5, 2011
As a beginning copywriter at Leo Burnett, I had two mentors who helped me immeasurably. The first was Ted Bell, a creative director plucked from Doyle Dane Bernbach in New York. He’d made a name doing some of the later adverts in the famed Chivas Regal campaign. He and his partner, John Eding (both perhaps mentored by the great Helmut Krone) had just been hired by Burnett to bring daring-do and expertise to our agency, specifically on the Schenley (now Guinness) account. Both men did just that, reinvigorating the moribund Dewar’s campaign. Their effort (and ours) would gather many creative awards for the agency. To this day, I hold the craft of print and poster making in the highest regard. And I owe much of that to these two exemplary creative people and, in particular, the writer, Ted Bell.
Wanting to impress my boss and/or emulate him was key to my development as a copywriter. When you watch Mad Men observe how Peggy busts her ass to impress her boss, Don Draper. It was not sort of the same for me. It was exactly the same. Working all night –hell all week- to craft one paragraph and then, heart in my throat, presenting it to Ted was everything. At the time it just seemed normal. I wanted what they had and I was prepared to go to great lengths to achieve it. And Ted and John were almost always there for me. In addition to copywriting, Ted taught me, by example, the fine art of presenting. Watching him sell work was a privilege. He owned the room. Again, I think of Don Draper.
The other mentor I was born into. My father, Larry Postaer was and still is a model creative director and consummate writer. Obviously, I didn’t work for my dad but his influence on my chosen career was critical. Among other things, my father taught me about loyalty to company and client as well as the near-sacred nature in trusting one’s team and partner. While these qualities have lost meaning in today’s creative department that doesn’t make them in any less precious.
I felt if I could bring the best of Larry and Ted to the office each day I would be set. Easier said than done. But that was my aspiration and that is what mentoring is all about.
Now that it is my turn to be a good mentor I know I often fall short. Being an introvert, I am not as inclined to work with others as I should be. However, I do try. My door is always open. In a very real way, I set up this blog to help newbies in advertising get a leg up. Fact is when I write here I imagine my audience as younger than I am. Always have.
So, whatever happened to mentors? My fear is that beginners in our field are less interested in being mentored than I was. There is a Keyshawn Johnson mentality pervading our industry: Just give me the damn brief! I have the know-it-all gene in me but I was smart enough to look up to others and ask for help. Being teachable is a virtue no matter who you are or what you do but it is especially valuable to the young in Adland.
Maybe they think, Hey, I’ve got X followers and Y friends so what do I need U for? By definition, social media breeds narcissism. A less cynical view: the average 25-year-old is afraid of asking for help. Or is the average 40-year-old afraid to give it? Probably some of both. My best response is the only response: Don’t be.
Fantasy & Foreshadowing: Creative director risks all to turn lost account into found business as well as changing the conversation about his agency.
October 13, 2010
The latest episode of Mad Men (Blowing Smoke) had Don Draper taking drastic measures to try and stir up new business. Having lost half their billings with the unfair departure of Lucky Strike cigarettes, Don decides to compose a full-page ad in the New York Times denouncing the cigarette industry and declaring his agency tobacco free from here on in. He cleverly titled it “Why I’m quitting tobacco.”
Was this a noble position against a proven killer? Perhaps, but it’s not why Don wrote the letter. As he freely admitted to his mostly shocked and pissed off agency, he created the provocative ad to provoke new business. Yes, they would be smiting a golden goose but, as Don saw it, the agency “had to do something.” Disowning Big Tobacco gave the agency sudden buzz whereas previously they appeared to be sinking.
Don’s action comprises everything I enjoy about his enigmatic character, not to mention the show. Like a lot of you, my praise of Mad Men runs deep and in many directions but let’s stick with its canny depiction of the advertising business and Don’s vainglorious letter to the Times.
I love –I mean LOVE- that he took this action. The fact that he did so without consulting his partners makes it even more delicious. Of course he knew they would never support his kamikaze tactic. What rational ad executive would? After all, the agency is loaded with tobacco experience. “Quitting cigarettes” totally dumps on all of it.
But he does so anyway.
His intuition told him the agency needed a miracle. And everybody knows where those come from: the creative department and Don Draper. It is a stunning play call, turning a dire situation into, well, something else. But at least no one is talking about lost accounts anymore.
Underlying Don’s letter/ad is also the element of revenge. As his secretary points out, he’s getting back at the one who dumped him. Don’s defects of character are what make him such a compelling anti-hero. When his letter triggers mass layoffs (including a woman he really likes), his reaction is priceless: he hadn’t thought of that. He’s sorry but it does not change the way he feels about what he’s done. Instead of pissing and moaning like everyone else at the agency, at least he “did something.” Don is dirty Harry with a typewriter.
Matthew Weiner’s advisers are doing a brilliant job. The knowledge about our business isn’t more or less correct; it’s spot on. Prescient even. Consider again, Don’s letter to the Times. Public relations have become a huge component and sometimes competitor of advertising. In my opinion, Don’s letter/ad is as brilliant a PR stunt as Crispin Porter’s much-ballyhooed Whopper Sacrifice campaign. It is also the ultimate new business tactic, a shot in the dark only the bravest of agencies would ever take, like CP&B, for example. Not even Don’s own agency would’ve condoned it. Which is why he acts alone.
We will have to wait and see if the scheme works, maybe even as long as next season. Something tells me the risk will pay off for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. And pay off big.
Even if it doesn’t (it will) the “Blowing Smoke” episode still made me giddy. That’s because I’m a creative. And creativity is about risk and reward. It is intuitive. It is inspired. It is the result of one lonely man using his creative chops to save everyone’s ass.
What’s your fantasy?
Here’s the full text of Don Draper’s open letter to the New York Times featured in the Mad Men” episode “Blowing Smoke”:
Why I’m Quitting Tobacco. Recently, my advertising agency ended a long relationship with Lucky Strike Cigarettes – and I’m relieved. For over 25 years, we devoted ourselves to peddling a product for which good work is irrelevant – because people can’t stop themselves from buying it. A product that never improves, causes illness and makes people unhappy. But there was money in it, a lot of money. In fact, our entire business depended on it. We knew it wasn’t good for us, but we couldn’t stop. And then, when Lucky Strike moved their business elsewhere, I realized here was my chance to be someone who could sleep at night – because I know what I’m selling doesn’t kill my customers. So as of today, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce will no longer take tobacco accounts. We know it’s going to be hard. If you’re interested in cigarette work, here’s a list of agencies that do it well: BVDO, Leo Burnett, McCann Erickson, Cutler Gleason and Chaough and Benton & Bowles. As for us, we welcome all other business because we’re certain that our best work is still ahead of us.
Donald F. Draper
Creative Director, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce
I just returned from my stint at Portfolio Night –the 6th annual meet and critique for advertising students set up by IHaveAnIdea. In a format not unlike speed dating, old “pros” like myself review aspiring creative persons and their books, one after another, for about three hours. The event takes place every year in various cities around the world. For the second year in a row DDB served as host in Chicago.
First: Kudos to DDB.
Hosting Portfolio Night is a costly, time-consuming distraction for a busy ad agency -especially one that has weathered such difficult times. As with a lot of Chicago agencies, business has not been booming. More devastatingly, just months ago, DDB’s Chief Creative Officer, Paul Tilley committed suicide. Last year, that same man stood before a similar group welcoming us to Portfolio Night.
How easy it would have been for DDB to beg off. Justifiable too. But the show must go on. In the end it was affirming seeing all these young faces, their lives still in front of them. Yes, one creative light had gone out. But now countless others were looking for a spark.
Unfortunate then, the mean-spiritedness I discovered online. One blogger deemed Portfolio Night an excuse for leering, lechery and drinking. Not true. Not fair. Not good. If any cynics were present, DDB’s Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, Bob Scarpelli offered simple marching orders. In a video address, he asked we professionals to remember who’d helped us when we were green and vulnerable.
On a more professional note, I have to comment on the work. Not so much on the quality (a mixed bag) but on the content itself. Of the eight people I reviewed, I saw virtually no integrated campaigns. Just about every portfolio consisted of posters and print ads. One or two had a banner ad or a piece of guerrilla work. But I saw no DM, promotional work or interactive materials. None. Where were the tricked out microsites and new media? Where was the “branded content” and multimedia designs? Hell, where was the TV?
2008 and these were the newest generation of adults -the so-called “millennials.” Yet, in some cases, I might as well have been looking at turn-of-the-century circus posters! Now I happen to love print and posters. But I’m old school. For me, that’s familiar media. That’s what my spec book looked like. Indeed, I dug into these beginners with gusto: This is a good headline. Did you try putting the product here? And so on…
It wasn’t until the cab ride home I realized how old-fashioned their books were. Made me smile. If, according to just about everyone, the advertising business is in the midst of a sea change then why wasn’t it evident in any of the books I looked at? It’s easy (though often incorrect) to point at big agencies and say we don’t get it. What about the Facebook generation? If they don’t get it, who does?