Good boy!

Sigh. One of the tough things about working at a relatively young agency with a B2B/technology pedigree is the persistent opinion that such a group is not capable of creating big ideas at the brand level. It has been a fairly high hurdle in our quest for new business. Recently we did not make the cut with a client we coveted because they felt we were experts in a different part of the “funnel.”

We are that… but we are so much more. My company is filled with expert thinkers and creators from the general side who’ve migrated into B2B precisely because we know businesses (big and small) need and want to communicate and sell to each other as human beings. Our mission is not only accommodating them, by creating “humanly relevant” work, but to excel at it.

Once the big idea is hatched we know how to deliver campaigns up and down the funnel, including digital and demand gen. I think that makes us, and other like-minded agencies, perfectly poised to address the needs of any and all comers in the modern world.

Thar she blows…

Like many of you reading this, and certainly the majority of my colleagues, I was trained to find the “organizing principle” or “creative business idea” for each and every entity clamoring for one. Not only is our process for doing so honed in best practices I believe it to be as good as any I’ve ever divined upon. Most who experience it come away with the same opinion.

If only we are given the chance.

I “grew up” at Leo Burnett as well as worked at DDB and Havas. In my long career I’ve been a part of creating countless ‘big’ ideas for many clients, including Altoids, Heinz, McDonalds and Anheuser Busch, to name a few. I had two spots run on the Superbowl. Won four Lions at Cannes, two of them Gold. I learned from the best. For my second act I began developing campaigns for ecommerce, software manufacturers, electronics and data driven organizations. In fact, I helped Leo Burnett develop its B2B/Technology capability, co-founding an agency within that venerable agency, called LBWorks.

At gyro, many clients appreciate our hybrid approach and other agencies are definitely on to it. They know the future is more about software and data than, say, selling canned peaches on television. That is one reason why holding companies have been buying and merging with digital agencies, social media specialists and, yes, hybrid shops like ours. But teaching old dogs new tricks is tough. Holding company agencies hold on to old ideas.

Be careful what you wish for…

Though few big agencies will admit it, even today they struggle. Caste systems form internally, struggling for ownership of the client relationship as well as where the ideas come from. Sometimes even what those ideas look like are a puzzle. I’ve seen it. And so have many of you.

My agency began in the new economy. Many of us acclimated to this new way of thinking along with it. The only old idea I/we hold onto is that the big idea is paramount. That we have a history of executing tactics in tricky spaces should be seen as a bonus.

Time will tell, right? But it can be frustrating when you fervently believe, as I do, that now is our time!

culture needs something to grow on…

I’ve been thinking about agency culture or the lack of it. By definition, a “culture” forms in/on something that has permanence to it, like mold on a piece of leftover bread. I know that’s a gross analogy but it’s not inappropriate.

In Adland, we like to talk about our respective agency cultures. It seems vitally important to everyone, old and young. The CEO makes impassioned pleas about it, resurrecting old ideas from old dudes. Yawn. Even more insufferable, the under-30’s rhapsodize about culture’s importance and how f—king awesome it is at that other agency, you know, the one over there, the one with the culture. News flash, kids! Culture is an old-fashioned idea. It ain’t trending…

I can relate to culture. After all, I “grew up” at Leo Burnett in Chicago and was part of its second golden age (88-98); I swear on some days it seemed even the sewage spewing out of 35 Wacker smelled like Pillsbury biscuits baking in the oven. Back then Leo Burnett had one hell of a culture. From a work perspective, it was all about rolling up your sleeves and telling a good story. It was also about long-term relationships and big ideas. And not just with clients but with each other. People stayed at Leo Burnett -for the above reasons and an Xmas bonus that would take your breath away like a fishbowl martini at the Drake. I was there 18 years! I made a lot of ads, a lot of friends and a lot of money.

Needless to say, that culture is long gone. Like a vampire sprouting new flesh after its silvered, LBCO endlessly reinvents itself. Or tries to. And I’ll wager a lot less people are getting a lot less bonus. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a big, important shop (certainly among the best in Chicago) but its culture has been greatly and necessarily diminished.

Remember culture?

I say, “necessarily diminished” because, honestly, all agency cultures have suffered greatly or gone extinct. Why? It goes back to my gross analogy about mold growing on stuff. For better or worse, advertising (or whatever you call it) is simply not a permanent enterprise anymore. Not for anyone. For myriad reasons (most of them shitty) clients and employees don’t have loyalty to a company or its people. Everyone leaves.

And what about you, Gentle Reader? How long have you been at your present job? Thought so. When did we start counting in months? That’s life in Adland. Commercials are now 6-second Vines. Work is all project based.

Therefore, why should one’s career be any more permanent? Maybe it shouldn’t. But don’t talk to me about culture. How does anyone expect a culture to grow if no one sticks around long enough to cultivate one?

In my second novel, The Happy Soul Industry God hires an ad agency to market “goodness in all its forms.” Alas, advertising is the devil’s playground and all hell breaks loose. I’m not writing this piece to sell my book, though I’d be honored if you read it. The paperback is on Amazon. However, I couldn’t help but think about my story when I discovered the above commercial on You Tube. It’s from Thailand. And it has well over 7 million views. Not bad for a film ostensibly about goodness. Not bad at all.

Make no mistake. This is an ad. For what exactly I had to use Google. Apparently, True Move is a mobile phone network. This is far from obvious. There is only one bit of copy. A super: Giving is the best communication. The story, which I urge you to watch, is about a man who gave selflessly and is rewarded for it at the end of his life. It’s a simple piece of melodrama, executed flawlessly.

In many respects the commercial reminds me of all those famous Hallmark commercials my old agency, Leo Burnett produced in the 80’s and 90’s. They were sappy, expensive to produce and some of the finest commercials ever made. In their longest form (120 seconds), they may have run only once, in tandem with another, usually during a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation. Later in the campaign, I believe they also ran during marquee television events, like the Academy Awards. I don’t remember all the details but you get the idea. These were special commercials and they got special treatment. Deservedly so. Here’s a couple of them.

And so we see the genre again, emulated. Haters gotta hate (always have, always will) and I didn’t have to scroll far down You Tube to find this ditty:

“I’m so overcome with emotion, I have an urge to spend everything I have on whatever is being advertised here. Is it soup? I’m sure whatever company it is, they are brimming with the kindness and virtue they are so eager to promote.”

Yes, he has a point: if you can’t tell what is being advertised is it even a commercial, let alone a good one? With Hallmark you knew. Still, one cannot help but admire this film’s heart. It’s bursting. And yes, it is almost impossible to believe a story like this could ever happen. But we believe, I think –I hope, because we want to.

Back in the day, I recall making fun of my precious Burnett colleagues’ precious Hallmark films but deep down, below all the firewalls of youth, I adored them. And while I never got to write one of these lovely films (no surprise given my attitude), I’m grateful to see someone else has… and always will.

I’m not the only one beating this drum. Adfreak

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Chicago from my hotel, a visitor now.

How are you with personal nostalgia? I’m definitely Love/Hate. For reasons I can’t quite articulate, I’m not always a fan of tripping down memory lane. Some people dig visiting their old haunts, getting misty eyed at the sight of myriad firsts (kiss, drink, apartment, job, etc) but I’m not one of them. I usually experience the passage of time as melancholy. The good parts are gone forever and the bad parts linger like ghosts. Either way, it’s kind of funky.

As many of you know, I left Chicago last year to be ECD of gyro, San Francisco. Save for one hotel-bound visit last summer, I have not been back to Chicago at all: not for business and certainly not for pleasure.

Until now…

A global meeting and the Business Marketing Association (for which gyro is a huge supporter) delivered me back to my Sweet Home Chicago. As a matter of fact, I’m writing this post from the fabulous 14th floor of gyro’s Chicago office.

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“Selfie” at gyro, Chicago. All smiles.

From my perch before its many windows I can see both my former companies, Leo Burnett and Euro RSCG (now Havas). I also see parts of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where I was born as well as my daughters. Ah, and there’s the ugly, iconic Marina City Towers. I recall a blowout party…

Shit. I’m waxing nostalgia.

Or it’s waxing me? That’s the thing about returning to one’s hometown. Everywhere I’m bombarded by memories. Yet, maybe they aren’t all misty and sad. Maybe I do enjoy the echoes. It’s kind of like a time machine. My brain processes familiar images as icons. Those “firsts” I made fun of in the first paragraph are unavoidable and indelible.

I’m reminded of Don Draper’s now famous “carousel speech” from an early episode of Mad Men. In it, he exploits the profound human desire to recreate the past based on romantic memories. If you’ve not seen this bit, watch it. The writing and execution are flawless.

Don tells his clients nostalgia literally means “the pain from an old wound.” I won’t deny seeing my last former workplace didn’t dredge up some crap. That of a mission not wholly accomplished. The guilt. My anger. A person or two I did not punch in the mouth (but maybe should have). On the other hand no one punched me…

Euro RSCG… Havas… fading fast

But then I see Michigan Avenue, what tourists call the Magnificent Mile! I’m instantly transported back 25 years heading south from Oak Street to my first big day of job interviews. There’s J. Walter Thompson in the John Hancock building no less! Then Foote, Cone and Belding. Followed at last by the most famous Chicago agency of all, Leo Burnett…where I would ultimately work for the next 18 years!

Clearly, I chose wisely. The other two firms aren’t even here anymore. Not really. And let me tell you back then NOTHING compared to having an LBCO business card in your wallet. It made my brother envious. My mother proud. And the chicks dug it.

Today, I’m a proud and happy card-carrying member of gyro –an agency built for the 21st century. All told, I’ve been and continue to be a very fortunate man. Gratitude. That’s a good lens for viewing the past as well as the present.

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Or as my kids call it, a “flat bowling ball.”

Feeling blue (in a good way) w/ local LA choir performing in background…

Thought I’d reflect on my 15 minutes of fame hosting the Obie awards Tuesday night in Los Angeles. For those unawares, the Obie’s are the oldest advertising awards show in the world (seriously!), representing the best work in out-of-home media. The Obie’s are a big part of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America’s (OAAA) annual convention.

I have been a friend of the Obie’s & OAAA for many years and am a proud member of its Hall of Fame, for my “Curiously Strong” Altoids campaign. At the Obie’s in 1996, Altoids won its first of many creative prizes in our industry, thus beginning my long relationship with the show. That was a long time ago. Unfortunately, I recall being pie-eyed at the ceremony and little else. I gave a horrifying acceptance speech. Thank God You Tube was not invented yet.

Fortunately, I was clear-eyed and present this time around. Good thing as I had a job to do. While my primary purpose was to help steer the show along I was also given ten minutes to talk about some of my favorites subjects: signs, propaganda and their many roles in popular culture. I’ll likely post that content soon enough so I won’t go into it now. I will say that unlike any other media, outdoor advertising transcends time, technology and culture. ‘Signs’ are innately human and part of our collected DNA. Since early man first scribbled on cave walls several thousand years ago we have been using signage to communicate and advertise. By comparison broadcast is a moment in time and digital a blip.

Some highlights from the event are as follows:

Best of Show went to Droga5’s touching work for Prudential Financial, celebrating retirement on a very personal level. Part of an integrated campaign, billboards elegantly used quotes from various retirees.


This year’s Hall of Fame award went to ESPN for its long history of creating amazing advertising. No question ESPN deserves the award. Frankly, for creating great advertising in general. However, I have to say it was awkward reading about massive layoffs at the network on the very same day.

A personal highlight was witnessing art director Ed Odyniec, receiving a Gold Obie for his terrific OOH execution of the Allstate’s “Mayhem” campaign from Leo Burnett. Ed worked for me at LBWorks. Heartfelt congratulations to both he and his creative partner, Christopher Warmenen. Below is a video they created especially for the show. That’s Ed brilliantly cast as a nerdy lab scientist.

The day before the Obie awards Governor Jerry Brown made an impromptu visit to the convention. He gave a short but entertaining speech, where he extolled the virtues of outdoor advertising. His one piece of advice: Keep it simple. “Vote Jerry Brown… It worked for me.”

Governor Brown heading for the stage…

It must be gratifying to the OAAA and all the outdoor media purveyors, suppliers and vendor just how healthy their coral reef actually is. One need only look at the Obie winner’s list to see the robust mix of big brands and edgy new comers from both the client and agency side.

The Obie’s may not be in the same league as Cannes or The One Show in terms of prestige but no other medium is as exciting, versatile and vigorous as OOH. Period. And few awards shows are as meticulously planned and plain fun.

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Shocker: creative director in a tie!


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