Dreaming in long copy…

When addicts stop using drugs and alcohol they are commonly beset by drinking and drugging dreams. Usually occurring within the first year of abstinence these dreams can be strikingly vivid. The addict often wakes up highly agitated, believing completely he or she has fallen off the wagon. Even upon realizing it’s only a dream, the phenomenon can be highly disturbing. Addicts and alcoholics feel as though they have betrayed their sobriety, almost like a relapse.

Not to connect the dots but…

Having left Adland 5 months ago, I had my first (recollected) advertising dream the other night. I was younger (a man can dream!) and working on a luxury car account. The crux of the dream had me pitching concepts to one of my first bosses and mentors, Ted Bell. (Ted is now retired from advertising and a best-selling author of thrillers like Warlord and Assassin.)

If he was my boss that means the place was likely Leo Burnett and the account Oldsmobile… even if the car in my dream was a snazzy convertible, unlike anything Olds used to make.

Regardless, I remember trying to make wordplay about drivers having an “open mind” for the open top vehicle. I can’t recall the exact copy but either way Ted wasn’t buying it. “People don’t need an open mind to want one of these cars,” he kept repeating. Why I kept fighting him on the point I don’t know; but I was. Needless to say, the boss is always right. Even in your dreams. Upon waking, I realized my idea was silly and sophomoric. Very “spec book.”

Yet, what disturbed me most about the dream wasn’t the mediocre concept but rather my dogged determination to prevail. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I kept trying to make a case for my silly open minds concept.

Sound familiar? Who among us doesn’t remember pushing way too hard our first concepts? The relentless young creative is so commonplace it’s basically a cliché. In a recent AdAge interview, famed adman and now teacher, Luke Sullivan stated his biggest regret was “having an insane amount of certainty” as a young copywriter.

And there I was trying to force my boss to have an open mind!


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.

My stuff.


Their stuff.

Everything is illuminated!

Though I’ve never read the critically acclaimed book by Jonathan Safran Foer, nor seen the motion picture based on it, I’m copping to the title. Everything is indeed illuminated.

I follow about 500 people on Twitter. Most of them occupy the world of advertising, new media and popular culture. A distinct minority represents the literary world, readers and writers like me. There are a few sports writers in there. Some fishermen. And lastly, there are the horror fanatics, providing me with links to the most obscure titles in the genre. Nasty!

That’s me.

In turn I am followed by numbers of people who also share my various affinities.

Whether you are on Twitter or not all of you are part of a microcosm as well. You follow your passions and the others that follow them. You belong to an ecosystem comprised of others like you, some very much so some not so much. But somehow you fit.

And that’s a modern miracle. Not too long ago many of us felt, at times, like outsiders. Maybe we were passionate about obscure poetry or intricate Scandinavian woodwork. Perhaps we suffered from a rare and misunderstood disease. We may have wondered why women’s shoes turned us on so much. Whatever the passion, hobby or fetish we often felt alone with it. If not for the occasional story in a magazine or newspaper, or a convention in some remote suburb, we seldom crossed paths with anyone like us. At times this made us feel unique. Mostly it sucked.

But then along came the Internet. I defy you to search a topic and come up empty. It’s not possible. If you’re into it you can find it. Frankly, you can get lost in it. I know I do.

Still, when I consider the alternative, I shudder. I am that boy in grade school who collected butterflies but had no one to share my hobby with. I knew I was different. I also wondered if I was weird. The other kids liked sports and G. I Joes. Yet, I wanted to raise Monarchs. No connection. As you might imagine, I dreaded recess. Had I had the Internet I could have shared my special interest with all kinds of people just…like…me.

Now I do. We all do.

With three little girls of my own, I understand some online communities are undesirable, even quite dangerous. Still, living in one’s head is no picnic either. Frankly, some of the worst neighborhoods I’ve ever visited were between my ears.

Being able to find others just like me is a Godsend. Even the most unusual among us can find community. We belong. Like I said: a modern miracle.

The artist works alone.

I’m not sure if “pleased” is the right word but I share with others a relief of sorts knowing that I’m not the only introvert making a living in the creative ranks of Adland. Since my last post on the subject, a fair number of readers commented or emailed me directly stating that they too are introverts and that it has periodically caused them a fair amount of pain. But mostly they were just relieved to be acknowledged and, in turn, respected.

From Chad:

I’ve been an introvert trying to come off as an extrovert for most of my life. Perhaps this is the source of my internal conflict. Even in the company of my closest friends, sometimes my own head is a more comfortable place to be. Mine, too, can be a bad neighborhood at times. After all, it’s where the selfish and resentful things are. But it’s also where I find most of my inspiration. Like Luke seeking Vader in the dark corners of his mind, I face the demons, learn and emerge stronger in my resolve. As a creative, this is invaluable. Nothing, for me, is scarier than the blank canvas. And no amount of socializing will paint the picture. I have to go “upstairs”. Alone. Shut the door and create.

I can relate, Chad, especially with your last sentence: “I have to go upstairs. Alone. Shut the door and create.”

For years now the talk in our business has been about integration, unification and collaboration. Brought about by new media, we (not just ad people, all people) are connected in ways before unimaginable. Naturally, it was required the creative process follow suit. And so we are. Working in confluence with others, adding digital and new media specialists into our midst, building off each others ideas; these are becoming standard practices at agencies all over the world. At the Hyper Island Master Class (digital training for advertising professionals), we are told that even the writer/art-director dyad is obsolete. Two people are no longer sufficient for creating robust integrated marketing concepts. Hmmm.

These changes are almost certainly for the better but there is a wrinkle: the creative process is, and in certain respects always will be, a solitary one. Individuals conceive the vast majority of all artwork, be it books, paintings, essays, poetry, sculpture, plays, etc. Obviously, producing music, films and other forms requires collaboration but chances are the essence of the product belongs to one creator. And chances are that person was or is an introvert.

Introverted or extroverted, creating concepts has a deeply personal component that cannot be ignored. Even traditional teams worked apart and then “presented” ideas to their partner. As a copywriter I value privacy to “shut the door and create.” As a creative director I must respect the same desires from all who work for me.

One of my favorite pieces of Leo Burnett lore is the famous ad man’s salute to the “lonely man…the man at his typewriter or his drawing board or behind his camera or just scribbling notes with one of our big black pencils – or working all night on a media plan.” Darn near admonishing his troops, Leo tells them if and when “you lose your respect for the lonely man…THAT, boys and girls, is when I shall insist you take my name off the door.” ‘Nuff said.

For those interested, here is the transcript of Mr. Burnett’s speech, from 1967.

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