The Bully of Adland.

March 21, 2011

We were a small community, vibrant and strong, though not without hardships. Times were tough and our benefactors were cutting back. And while we sometimes competed against each another, for the most part we got along. Many of us had friends on other teams.

Then a bully came along. For some reason, he disliked us on principle. He made fun of the stuff we made, kicking over our sand castles and spitting on our pictures.

In the beginning, we all tried to make peace with the bully. That failed. Then we merely tried to appease him. But that failed, too.

The bully acted with impunity, because he knew we wouldn’t strike back. He knew our guardians told us to ignore him, that discretion was critical. As his attacks grew evermore personal, this became harder and harder to do. Yet, we never fought back. We became weak.

The bully became a tyrant. He belittled our capabilities and integrity as if he were the only one possessing any of either. From the top of his mountain he took to calling us names, hurtful and extreme. Few were spared his wrath.

Some of us took to viewing his acts of carnage with fearful glee, not unlike staring at a car wreck. When it was over we rushed away to our forts, glad it hadn’t been us but full of shame. We tried to remember what it was like before the bully, but we could not.

Oh, the bully had his pets. But those he nurtured only felt pitiful for being spared. They knew it was only a matter of time before the bully turned on them. In the end some of us tried becoming his allies, giving him information he could use against others in our community. Thus we became accomplices.

And then one day the bully was gone, disappearing like dirty snow in spring. Maybe his protectors had had enough. Or perhaps the difficult times that had befallen us had gotten to him as well. We only knew the bully’s reign over our tiny community was over.

We rejoiced. But at the same time we were a little sad. From the bully, we’d learned how to point fingers and criticize one another. Often from behind hiding places. Our sense of community was damaged.

Shrugging, we continued making things for our benefactors, not really sure if it would ever go back to way it was before the bully. For there were other bullies lurking beyond the fence and we knew it.

Damned if you do; Damned if you don’t…

Of the many people I follow on Twitter and befriend on Facebook a noticeable percentage are members of the advertising trade press and various PR companies. All of them were atwitter over the “Mad Men” premier last Sunday, because so much of the story had to do with moody Don Draper’s bungled interview with Advertising Age.

“Who is Don Draper?” the reporter asks him, opening the show. “What kind of question is that?” responds Draper. And it’s downhill after that. When the story comes out, it is, by all accounts, an ambiguous portrait of a dark and mysterious man. “A missed opportunity,” grumbles “Sterling Cooper’s” aged founder. And indeed it was. For there would be no ballyhoo for the new agency and its fledgling staff, when they needed it most. Frustrated, Don kicks a garbage can across the room. It is a rare demonstration of emotion from the show’s enigmatic anti-hero.

I feel your pain, Don. In all the times I’ve been interviewed by the trade press the story has never come out right. Reading them has always –and I mean always- been like discovering photographs of myself that I despise. Those you can tear up, showing no one. Unfortunately, this is not the case with articles written about you or your agency. For a week, a month or even longer, the artifact haunts me, especially if it has drawn the ire of my colleagues or, worse yet, a client. Both have happened. A lot.

Thing is, save for writing the piece myself, I don’t think there is anything anyone or I could have done to change the outcome. It is damn near destined that these bits of vainglory will bite you in the ass as much as pat you on the back. And it is as much the interviewee’s fault as it is the interviewer. For the reporter wants an angle and you want publicity. Motives are at odds. It is like trying to stick two magnets together; they are repelled. Often, the best one can hope for is a canceling out. We take the good with the bad. Thus the old saw, “any ink is good ink.”

Despite a seemingly predetermined bad outcome, we try and try again; the allure of a fresh story is just too tempting. Our PR folks provide us with talking points in order that we stay on message. This, in turn, frustrates the reporter, who may or may not take them at face value, which, in his view, is limited at best. On the other hand, if the interviewee deviates from said talking points, who the hell knows what will happen? “I was taken out of context,” is not a cliché without reason.

I’m surprised we are surprised when the tainted document appears. And when I say “we” I mean everyone: colleagues, clients, us, me.

Alas, we never learn. Just as the male Black Widow spider mates only to be eaten alive by the namesake female, so to do we engage with the press. Like the spider, we are compelled to meet our maker, for publicity is our agency’s lifeblood. The reporter is equally compelled to get his piece. One reputation up against another.

In the show’s closing scene, we watch with relish Don Draper go at it again, with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. This time Don plays the creative star of his agency. He is their dream weaver. He is the centerpiece. Like a devil, Don spins gold for the journalist. But the Black Widow merely bides time, knowing wherein the real web lies.

Most of us agree that nowadays social media has made scripting messages all but impossible. Judging from the grimly accurate storyline on Mad Men, maybe it never was.

* * *

Rance Crain wrote about the same scenes from “Mad Men” in AdAge. Good perspective on the trade press during that era: Rance Crain, in AdAge

Proving my point, a story came out today in the marketing blog of the Chicago Sun Times. It was ostensibly about my new novel slash social media project, Sweet by Design. But of course it was about so much more:http: Marketing & Media Mix, Chicago Sun Times

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Sweet by Design (novel, synopsis and contest)

The Rogues Gallery.

OTSC Logo-thumb-300x422-11715
For those unawares, each year a different Chicago advertising agency gets behind Off The Street Club, creating marketing, fund raising materials, and doing whatever it can to further the club’s most worthwhile agenda. This was Euro RSCG’s year.

Last week I told you about our opening salvo on behalf of the club, a website, we built in conjunction with It’s pretty sweet. If you haven’t done so already have a look. By the way, the logo we created is featured above. Our theme: Get a kid off the street and on to so much more.

And Friday, September 25th that’s exactly what we’re going to do! Our agency will be at Pioneer Court in front of the Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue hosting a barnburner of a fundraising event. We had dozens of life-size cardboard cutouts made of some of the 400 children at OTSC. They will be set up on a makeshift street representing the hardscrabble west side of Chicago. We’re going to beseech pedestrians to literally remove a child from the street and bring him or her to safety, after which the good citizen can make a donation.

Between the website and events like this, our fantasy is to raise $1 million dollars ten bucks at a time. While that’s not likely going to happen, to paraphrase Leo Burnett: “we won’t come up with a handful of mud either.”

To that end, for anyone who donates $100 dollars or more I’ll happily provide a signed copy of my novel, The Happy Soul Industry.. If he or she doesn’t want that, I’ll give ‘em a hug!

Either way, come on out and help us get kids off the street and on to so much more.

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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

Another brick toward building Chicago’s creative reputation.

Bringing the Chicago Creative Club back into the limelight continues to be a priority for me and should be for anyone else who derives a living in our local industry: creatives, account persons, planners, clients, press, students, artists reps and vendors.

Last year we made great strides in turning around the much-maligned advertising awards show. Even the inimitable Lewis Lazare acknowledged the event to be a success…if also a work in progress.

The CCC took place at the Stadium Club in Soldier’s Field and was attended by several hundred people. Good work was heralded and the right stuff won.

But the main intent was, and continues to be, fostering community within our ranks. We are stronger together than we are apart. The CCC is now locking and loading for this year’s event in September. Below is an email that went out to agency leadership in the greater Chicago Community. Instead of hundreds of attendees they are looking for over a thousand. My agency will be there in force, with both people and submissions. Will you?

In recent weeks, several of you have asked for an update, regarding this year’s CCC Chicago ‘No Show’ and so, without further adieu, here is your update.

Though there seems to have been some mild confusion surrounding the goal of this year’s show, let us say emphatically that our goal is to honor this city’s best creative work, Period. We just happen to think that the best way to do this is to do so in the context of the biggest and best ad party this city has ever seen.

To hand out awards is simply not enough and so, we’ve decided to take this opportunity to develop a greater sense of pride, as well as, community, amongst this city’s creative masses.

In the words of our very own Otis Gibson, proprietor of Gertrude, ‘This is a killer party, where an award show just happens to break out’.

We are set for Thursday night, September 10th, at the Riviera Theater. The nights’ festivities will feature a cocktail reception, and a fully interactive award ceremony and a kick ass party, featuring big name musical entertainment.

Now, this is where you all come in. We need your agency’s support. We need your creative support in the form of work submissions. And we need pounds of flesh. We want your people to show up September 10th. We want to fill the Riv and we want people to know that this town is wide awake and still dreaming very big dreams, on behalf of ourselves, and yes, our clients as well.

-Co Chairs: Matt Brennok/Liz Ross/Katie Juras

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