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From my morning run in Berlin…

I’m not going to lie to you. This post is likely to be scraggly. That’s because I’m in the 11th hour of a painfully long journey home from Europe and my mind is running on reserve power. I believe I’m over Colorado now. California is but two states away. I think. My biological clock tells me it’s 4:30 AM.

Focus, Steffan! The people don’t give a shit about your high-class travel problems. They’re not interested in the fact that you can’t sleep on planes and no longer even try. They don’t want to hear about all the movies you watched. (Believe it or not, Bad Grandpa is not so bad.) They most certainly don’t want to hear about the old German crone sitting behind you wet coughing like a turning zombie. (I swear to God I almost shoved my little white airplane pillow in her festering mouth. Sick bitch.)

Anyhoo…

I was in Berlin for a 2-day conference of Executive Creative Directors from all the offices in the gyro network. We call it the Creative Front. Dubai was there. London. Singapore. Madrid. Chicago. New York. Several others. And me: San Francisco.

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Aren’t we a cliched bunch? Night of the Living ECD’s.

Without getting into particulars, the theme for our gathering was transformation, specifically as it pertains to our creative product. Relative to the holding company behemoths, gyro is young and growing and has something to prove. We talked about doing just that. Creating more and ever-better proof of our philosophy and positioning.

But, like I said, that’s proprietary information.

The big reason we chose Berlin to have this meeting was because of the seismic transformation that took place there 25 years ago, when the wall separating East and West finally came down. I think that synergy is pretty cool. And since I’d never been to Berlin I was pretty keen on being there.

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Like a little New York!

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Hip but sweet, hotel coffee shop

Though we all were sequestered in our hotel’s meeting space from morning to night I was able to run every morning and see this funky, ersatz city in a way that only pedestrians can. Berlin is like a non-pretentious hipster. There is a genuine sweetness to its creative vibe. Like New York without the assholes and scariness. A bit messy and unkempt, Berlin grew on me. It was and is a great metaphor for the creative department.

I don’t have a clean ending. My hands are trembling from fatigue. My brain is a caffeinated jellyfish pulsing in my skull. Time to watch Thor: The Dark World.


Admiral’s Club, O’Hare Field, Chicago

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.”


“Admiral’s Club” Halsted Street, Chicago

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!


“You want a sign-on bonus and 6 months severance?
How ’bout I get drunk instead?”

A lot of you seemed to appreciate my last post about creative people and ignorance when it comes to employment contracts. I’m grateful my advice was helpful. I sympathize if it came too late. I’m also appreciative for the smart discussion that followed in the comments section. Veteran creative bigwig, Tom Messner and executive recruiter, Anne Ross covered territory I had neglected…

For instance, there is help for us. But we often avoid it. Leery creatives tend to view lawyers and headhunters with trepidation, thinking them an unnecessary expense or worse, sharks. That is not a prudent valuation of their worth. A good go-between allows you, the prospective employee, to remain clear of potentially difficult conversations that need to take place in order for you to get the best possible deal. For mid-level or senior creatives such advocacy can be a huge advantage. Actually, it helps both parties. You get an aggressive negotiator. They get a learned one. It’s fallacy to perceive them as costly distraction. They are often the opposite. Sure, in a perfect world the company comes at you with all the goodies but this is an imperfect world, especially in Adland, especially now.

A second matter I washed over is severance. In our ignorance (or is it arrogance?), creatives like to think they are incapable of failure. “Just give me the damn brief!” But bad things happen to good people. More likely the agency simply changes from the one that hired you. Your boss quits or gets axed; where does that leave you? If it happens higher up it might be a “change of control.” In either event protective measures may exist for you…

Reality check: I know many jobs posted on Linkedin and Monster are “as is.” But if you’re talking to a company about a leadership position in their creative department, it probably wasn’t from a job posting.

This brings me to my final point: we must be deserving of attention in order to receive it. You need to be good and able to prove it. If there isn’t evidence on the table, or enough of it, then you’ll need to demonstrate your potential upside to the company. How one does this is topic for another post. Suffice to say, none of the information above is relevant for amateurs, journeymen or sons-of-bitches. Well, maybe the last group gets lucky once in a while.


Mentor, from Greek Mythology

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.


The Commodore, 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.


Father knows best…

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.

Don and his muse

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.

Sincerely,
Donald F. Draper
Creative Director, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce

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