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He’s making his list…

We read about holiday layoffs in the trades. Perhaps we experience them in our lives. A grim subject, I know. For I have been on both sides of this sad equation. What I’m about to tell you may not be morally right or wrong but it is a matter of fact.

First, a note on the obvious. Nobody likes to fire people. Especially during the holidays. We forget that, in the rush to create demons. Still, firing is better than being fired. Like I said: obvious.

Why now and why always the middle tier that gets it? Well, Virginia…

Since August, the CFO of your agency has been warning the CEO that the numbers are down. Way down. The CEO, being a glass half full guy, advises restraint in pushing the panic button – don’t want to alarm the troops or start any rumors! Besides, he says, the tide will turn. There’s still that pitch. They debate behind closed doors. Alas, come November, the shortfall is now impossible to ignore. Budget reports are due and the agency is, let’s say, $750,000 dollars below its target. And so the CEO calls together his or her management team: Managing Director, ECD, Head of Planning. A dour PPT ensues. New business did not come in. Organic growth was less than expected. Yada, yada, yada. To sum up, the CEO requests that every department cut a portion of overhead, say 250k each.

The Management Team goes off to their respective corners and creates a “list.” Rather than fire 5 junior people to arrive at his number the executive invariably chooses the highest salaried person he can do without. She figures she can pick up the slack or more likely beat it out of the kids. That, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to let go one person versus doing five. A couple ACD’s. An Account Sup. Two Senior Planners. Throw in that loose cannon from the production department. And Boom. A half dozen souls doomed. If the shortfall is bigger then so will the body count. By the time HR has the necessary paperwork completed it’s after Thanksgiving and just before Christmas. The result is another Black Friday.

Here’s the kicker, in case you missed it. Since the senior-most people were asked to create these lists that means neither they nor the askers appear on them. Gadzooks! This is perhaps unfair – it may very well be that one or two of them are the reason the agency is ailing in the first place. Likely even. What is certainly unfair is having now arrived at their targets the senior executives qualify for a bonus. You may ask, could not the bonus pool have filled the shortfall, sparing jobs? Nope. Because that money comes from “separate buckets.” That last piece has been explained to me several times but I still don’t get it.

Economics and ego. The result is not unlike a third world country, or a sweat shop: a minority of leaders bossing a majority of juniors. Of course there are exceptions but not enough and less so every year. Maybe that’s why so many holiday parties get out of hand… because tomorrow we die.

Like many brethren I’m doing freelance and can provide superior content creation as well as creative leadership: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

Normally, I don’t go for hidden camera stuff (in advertising or entertainment) but this provocative campaign for a difficult subject is an exception. What I admire is the light touch it took with such a heavy subject. For example, the main actor is youthful, handsome and charming. In ordinary circumstances any father would be delighted to have his daughter date a fellow like this. Not casting an older, salacious man invites us into the concept. When the girls run up and hug him our first reaction is hardly uncomfortable. It seems normal… until we grasp what’s going on.

The real people are real too. This is not a dumb observation. In my opinion 90% of so-called “real” persons seen on videos today come off as vulgar, coached-up buffoons. It’s all about BIG reactions. But here the unaware parents are more perplexed than SHOCKED!!! These are genuine reactions. The subtle shift into full awareness make the commercial utterly believable and, in a way, transfixing. The light tone is counter-intuitive and utterly effective.  Bravo.

Read more in Adweek.

Client: BØRNEfonden (Child & Youth Foundation.)

Agency: Robert/Boisen & Like Minded

Falling on deaf ears?

Like Hollywood and all its stars, the vast majority of Adland despised the idea of a Donald Trump presidency. Which is why for many months so many of us rallied for a different outcome. The best and brightest from our tribe, hired by the DNC, or of their own volition, created films and microsites and social programs in a righteous effort to see the one time First Lady become the first lady President of theses United States and, with perhaps even more ardor, to make certain one very strange and polarizing man didn’t. Emulating the luminaries in La La Land we had our Goodby and Droga and all their get doing everything imaginable so that America voted one way and not another.

Funny or Die presented an entire movie mocking Donald Trump. Baldwin killed with his impersonation of DT on SNL. Poignant commercials told us “our children are watching” as clips of The Donald ran before their innocent eyes. The Tonite Show. The Daily Show. All the shows – ranted and raved. We made memes and anthems. Jay Z and Beyonce’ stood by Mrs. Clinton swearing a blue streak for blue states. The sitting POTUS boldly stated that Donald Trump was “not fit for the office” and we made endless propaganda to support that claim. Oh, those ripping hashtags. So many followers. So many Likes. So many shares.

And yet.

All the Kings horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Hillary Clinton back together again. Donald Trump won. And he did it with a clown car for support and a fraction of the money.

In Washington the autopsies are well under way. Blaming the FBI. Blaming racist America. Blaming men. And, with eyes to the floor, blaming their candidate as well as themselves. How could we let this happen? They rightfully ask. Were we so wrong? That wildfire will rage for months to come.

And so I must ask the same questions of our industry. Was our strategy and creative so wrong? How did we bungle a pitch we thought so certain we’d won?

I did not create any content for this election but I am available to do so for you: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

Above the fray in every way, comes this gorgeous film celebrating America’s ideals and spirit, words eloquently written by Woody Guthrie expressed through the voice of a Latin American.

Yes, it’s a political message, stoically defending our diverse country of immigrants in the face of fear mongers like Donald Trump. (Building a wall against these people –all people- is indefensible.)

And yes, of course, it’s a commercial for Johnnie Walker Scotch Whiskey. And so what if it is? This does not lesson the “message” in any way. Sharing a well-earned drink among good men is a wonderful thing. A grand film sponsored by a proud spirit is not a sin. Here the advertiser is a patron of the arts and we are better for it.

But it’s more than that. This short film is an anthem for our time – for all time. Indeed, many of the images depict an America we know, remember or, failing that, at least mythologize. Strong men and women moving forward. Persevering. Getting the job done. Celebrating together. That most if not all of the people in the film are Latino changes none of that. As intended, these iconic portrayals of farmers and workers and parents are only intensified emotionally by them all being Latino.

Taking the high road and not stumbling into treacle is no easy feat. Like the characters it portrays this “commercial” never falters. The care put into its production (casting, audio, video, editorial, etc.) is impeccable. His politics aside, if you told me Clint Eastwood directed this piece I would have believed you. Such are the production values.

With stewardship from various agencies (in this case Anomaly), Johnnie Walker has been doing a marvelous job delivering powerful stories toward their longtime theme, “Keep walking.” And this small masterpiece is no exception.

Let me create uplifting content for you: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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“Let’s play two.” -Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks

I grew up in the shadow of Wrigley Field, which, though now hard to believe, was a sketchy neighborhood at the time. It was really only safe during Cub’s games. But on those days it seemed the sun always shone. If you weren’t at the game you could hear it blaring on “Chicago’s own” WGN, from literally every open window and door. Back then kids like us would catch the players after a game walking to their cars. Ron Santo. Don Kessinger. And of course, Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. Even after losing, which was often, he’d smile and sign an autograph. Wish I still had mine.

Ernie Banks died last year. in honor of his team’s first World Series birth since 1945 (an event he sadly cannot see and one in which he never participated) here is a reprisal of some words I put together after his passing. Among other things, it perhaps sheds light on how a team so mediocre for so long retains its loveable mystique.

During his Hall-Of-Fame career in baseball (if not his lifetime) one likes to think Ernie Banks was without sin. He was not only a superior ball player but by all accounts was a superior man as well. Always happy. Always grateful. Always willing to sign an autograph, even after losing, which the Chicago Cubs did often. Granted he played before the prying eyes of social media but Chicago’s sportswriters were not known for their subtlety. If he’d been a cheater or a bad dude chances are we would have heard about it.

Contrast him with what we now have going on in the NFL and professional sports in general. Like night and day, right? Unlike Ray Rice, Barry Bonds or Tom Brady, Ernie Banks played for a perennially losing team. Yet, it seemed, he was always smiling. “Mr. Cub” also was a black man playing in a sport that, when he started, still had a “Negro League.” That could not have been easy. Yet, where was the defiance and even the attitude? Can you imagine Ernie Banks yelling into the cameras like Richard Sherman –a multi-millionaire who had just won the biggest game in sports? No, we cannot.

Before one states that Ernie Banks played in an era when things were proper and pleasant think again. His peak years were during the 60’s. The Viet Nam War could not be more damning and contentious, rivaling and surpassing much of what we’re now experiencing in the Middle East. At home, Civil Rights were being fought over in cruel and bloody fashion. Stuff like Fergeson, Missouri was happening on a daily basis. Ernie played during an equally tumultuous time. Yet, as far as we know, he was a peaceful man who kept his dignity. Like no other man, he truly made Wrigley the “Friendly Confines.”