Blogging about one’s industry is fun but we do so at our own peril.

April 21, 2010

The info superhighway meets reality!

Sometimes I wonder if I can keep operating this blog in the manner I’m accustomed to… or even at all. I ask because recently I wrote something that created unpleasant exposure for a colleague and/or client. I won’t get into specifics (No –it wasn’t Newport essay.) but it amounts to my words pissing somebody off. When that somebody is a colleague or client (or connected to one), well, you can guess the rest. Steffan gets sent to the principal’s office.

Honestly, I don’t wake up in the morning wishing to piss anyone off, least of all colleagues and clients. But it happens. The crux of the problem is that I am gainfully employed by the industry I write about. I don’t want to be a shill. Nor a whistleblower. Yet conflicts of interest are inevitable. And while I think building a credible blog is helpful to my company and myself I doubt creating angst with key players is.

What to do? I created Gods of Advertising to be an emotionally honest, credible exploration of our industry. Gods of Advertising is a spiritual hall monitor for the people, places and things comprising (and sometimes compromising) the advertising industry, a discussion between the commercial (and sometimes capricious) world of advertising and the spiritual side of its human contributors. My opinion is that makers of ads often play fast and loose with the seven deadly sins (lust, greed, envy, sloth, etc). I speculate what that means for the advertising community…and for all of us in it.

Yet however righteous, these opinions get me in hot water. And what’s even more troubling, I hurt people.

Ironically, my company has been urging everyone in its employ to “get social” (as in social media) and to otherwise “put digital at the core” of everything we do. It’s our top management’s top priority. In that regard, I’m ahead of the curve. The problem comes with reconciling my blog with my company’s agenda.

In order to build a credible blog, I cannot shill for my agency, much less my own work. I have done it and paid a price. Readers pummel me for being a pimp. Worse yet, they stop reading me at all. On the other hand, I can’t criticize my agency’s work, even if it is my own, as this infuriates colleagues and clients. In many respects the same applies to me commenting on other agencies, their work or any number of industry related matters. Commentary from me is liable to incite someone somewhere. I know that. That’s true of almost any blog. The good ones anyway.

If I only wrote about our industry (let alone my agency) in a positive light none of you would read it. And I wouldn’t blame you. Ask anyone who blogs for of their company. Very few people come to read press releases.

So, I’m at a crossroads. I love Gods of Advertising. The conversation. The debate. The attention. But I also love my job. A lot. And unlike blogging, it pays. Moving forward is tricky. Any thoughts from readers would be much appreciated.

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25 Responses to “Blogging about one’s industry is fun but we do so at our own peril.”

  1. Mmmm said

    I don’t see Euro’s name on here. Everyone has a right to state their opinion. I wouldn’t tame yourself or you’ll be irrelevant. I wish you were more aggressive. Not less.

  2. We are all human beings trying to make the best of ourselves. I am a writer and some people have sworn I was writing about them. One person became emotionally hurt, but it only lasted for a short while. Our society’s global networking is growing faster than anyone could have anticipated. With our current means of communication, I believe information reaches people differently and offends in ways which were never intended. In the past, only a few people may have been privy to a gripe or concern, but now a simple click of a button can easily spread information to thousands of people. For a man who makes a living and has a profession in advertising, it is a good thing. I don’t like or appreciate every ad or commercial I’m forced to see. However, I am made aware of the product. Don’t you know there is no such thing as “bad” advertising. Any brand has its consumers, but it should never be taken personally. In the advertising industry, it is the bottom line and sales that matter. Create another signature ad (Altoids) and all of your trangression will be quickly and quietly forgotten. If an “offended” person is still harping on an unintentional act, then it may be best for them to stay off the internet. There is always something that will annoy someone and it doesn’t matter who wrote it. You are good at the thing you do. Don’t let hurt feeling get in the way of artistic expression. It is what we artist know how to do best and we do it so well. Just check the sales and messages. Aren’t we still reading Gods of Advertising. I am reading it and I am not an advertising person. However, I expect to one day seek the services of the advertising industry. Blog on, blog well!

  3. Tad DeWree said

    In the past few months, I have had the privilege of gaining perspective and insight from a clear leader in our business.

    You, Steffan.

    Should your agency or it’s executives be concerned, let me state categorically that this blog is one of the few I regularly read. It’s credible, merchandises the brainpower accessible to your firm’s clients and clearly demonstrates you are a rare breed: a senior executive who maintains a realistic understanding of your industry, significant trends effecting your clients and fine example of a truth broker in a business drowning in self-congratulation and hype.

    The invaluable art and science of advertising is in desperate need of qualified practitioners and not simply politicians or sycophants. Guys like you fix it and give it back the credibility it desperately needs. I hope your clients and cohorts appreciate the opportunity they have to work with the real deal.

    If you ever need a wingman, Maverick, I’ll fly with you.


  4. I don’t know about your particular situation, but I think there is a pretty apparent line between appropriate and inappropriate blogging about one’s line of work.
    Being that you seem to have wisdom about people and the world (though I don’t know you personally) I suspect other
    involved parties need to take a chill pill. As long as you use good judgement and a balanced approach, then there’s no need to apologise.

    It is a little unreasonable for a business to expect employees to embrace social media and then read them the riot act because someone got offended. From a personal blog, mind you.

    Of course, one should not use their blog to say things like “client/co-workers wouldn’t know a concept if it bought them Sunday dinner” but I doubt you said anything like that. There again, is the line I mentioned.

    It’s your personal blog. I wouldn’t even know who you work for if I hadn’t read it elsewhere in industry press.

  5. Madison said

    That’s a tough one, but illustrating the problem with any online ‘conversations’ or ‘building relationships via social media platforms’.

    Ad experts assure us e.g. via the multitude of conferences that web IS NOT like traditional channels (quote of the day from one of those conferences: ‘Twitter is not an ATM’). At the same time, the expectation is that without becoming social, your brand will die OR god forbid, never become anything close to the paragon of all things pure and good – Zappos.

    I bet the Leo Burnett Sydney was encouraged to go viral the same way Nestle was told to get on Facebook asap.

    I remember a discussion on the relative lack of humor on Tweeter (it was in the context of #thug hashtags: among the creative crowd.

    As someone who works in a career development field AND someone who wants to break into the the adland I WOULD NEVER EVER post something that could my jeopardize my chances and my brand no matter what someone tells me to do to make it more ‘real-life’ experience. I look around and I do not see many people in social media having those honest ‘out of the silo’ connections.

    Your blog can definitely be a platform for a discussion and I love how open you are for commentators to come out of nowhere and share. I am not sure if it is a place to shout ‘The Emperor has not clothes’ while staying in the business. It reminds me of those new Kotex commercials…’Look how honest and self-depreciating we are UNLIKE those other companies that try to shove their product down your throat. So please trust us and BUY OUR product.’ You are a part of it OR not. There is no grey area where you can be exempt from the rules of the industry YET reap the benefits of working in it.

    As a matter of fact, again as someone who would ‘kill’ to work in adland, I would find too much deliberations about how hard it is to be very disheartening.

    • Madison-

      I’m a copywriter and also very active on Twitter. I generally don’t censor my ideas, and more than a few people within the ad industry have told me they appreciate the humor, authenticity, and no BS approach.

      As long as I am not being purposefully racist or sexist etc (which I wouldn’t be anyway) I tweet and let the chips fall where they may.

      If someone decides not to hire me because of an opinion I express or a joke I tell, then I wouldn’t want to work with them anyway.

      As an aside, there are some ad peeps I follow on Twitter who do a very nice job. But Ad Agencies, by far, are the most boring and uncreative Twitterers I follow. Very sad.

  6. SRP said

    All so far-
    Thank you for the thoughtful words of encouragement and discouragement. What I asked for. I might know more than some about social media. I certainly know less than a vast majority of others. But I think it’s also fair to say -as I have said numerous times- we are all pioneers.

  7. As someone who has stepped over the “imaginary line” more times than one should admit I will say keep blogging.

    In your position you do need to tread lightly in some areas, but as long as you’re honest with yourself, as you seem to be, I think your clients and colleagues will appreciate it more than they will be offended by it. I don’t see malice in your viewpoints just honesty and that is something we all could use a little more of.

    To paraphrase an old carpenter read twice, print once, but make sure you cut straight.

    Take care.

  8. David Burn said

    I think the key is to match the blog to the real person with real opinions who daily operates in the real world. In other words, don’t say something here you wouldn’t say to someone’s face or in front of other people.

    Having said that, I sometimes struggle to find the balance needed to work in the industry and report on it. Right now, I have friends that abusing privileges with their constant stream of self-promo garbage on twitter, grinding axes on their blog that are sharp enough already and, worst of all, doing bad work for clients. I don’t want to name them and use AdPulp to bash them. At the same time, I feel some sense of responsibility to address the problems I see when they are near to me, as they are in these cases. It’s easy to point a finger at someone far away. Not so easy when you know the person, like the person and/or work with them.

  9. At all,

    Kotex: Who in the hell came up with “Have A Happy Period”? I’ve been a woman for quite some time and I have yet to experience the bliss of a happy period. As a matter of fact, I am waiting for just one woman to stand up and be counted in those numbers. However, I think many women remember that ridiculous hook line. So, it could be when we are shopping for woman only products that a subliminal message leads us straight to Kotex hoping for the fabled “Happy Period”. I am sorry if any of you found this comment offensive as we are clearly in a time of social media sensitivity.

    • Madison said

      Have a Happy Period tagline is for Always. Kotex was trying to make fun of the industry that created this ‘You can have a happy period approach’ but YET they ARE a part of the machine that those ads seem to criticize..below is the link to those videos:

      My point is that you have to be careful with honesty in advertising context (look back at a great ‘frank’ exchange of ideas between Tylenol and mommies)

      On the other hand, I ABSOLUTELY love the candor of Ad Contrarian who basically says how it is. I think he shies away from focusing on clients and bashes mostly the fellow ad men (most importantly he stays firm in his position). The key to his approach is that he takes pretty general topics that relate to ad land making them attractive to a large group of people ( even laymen like me can relate/comment.)

  10. For the sake of all my womanhood, I don’t use Kotex or Always feminine hygiene products, but many women do. An advertising person has to cause the consumer to believe a product is desired and needed. The consumer has to feel it will make a difference. So many men and women saw Tiger Woods in a very positive light; therefore, it was desired to wear or use the product he endorsed. Well, it is quite possible that Mr. Woods only committment was to get paid as much as possible for the use of his name and likeness. Advertising is not truth. It is the thing that is used to make us believe in the product. I agree that candor is a good thing. However, I have come to expect to be mislead. Ibuprofen is a pain reliever and any brand is probably just as good as any other. The advertising separates the two by making on brand appear more attractive than the other. That is the brilliance of what advertising professionals do. They help us to believe the hype.

  11. Steffan,

    we don’t know each other except what I read from you on this blog and twitter, and maybe what you can read from me on Twitter.

    This is one of the rare blog I read daily, since I have the feeling that a real (and clever) person is writing it, thinking about what’s going on, and not one of these numerous blogs that just posts Youtube Viral Video and Ads of the World campains one after an other (I of course visit some of them too, they’re useful tools). To say it in a clearer way, you didn’t lose what makes for me a good creative at the beginning: curiosity. This added to a will of sharing with others shows that you’re always opened and respectful to other point of views than yours.

    What you write here is relevant, wether we’re agree with you or not, and added to what I’ve just wrote makes me think you’re a great manager. To be honnest I seriously and strongly wish I’ll one day know you for real and work with you (geez, why do I tell you that… it looks kind of Childish… Anyway, I assume!).

    I’m strongly against you stopping Gods of Advertising as well as your job (at least until I’ve worked with you)!

    More seriously, you told it yourself, we’re living in the “Hyper Present”. Then everything’s going faster and makes us worry about things we wouldn’t if we just took some times to think about it. That’s why I hope and mostly believe the questions you have right now will make you laugh in some weeks or months, as you already know how to deal with this conflict of interests.


  12. Jason Fox said

    You’re in a more precarious position than most of us ad bloggers given your status both within the industry as a whole at your agency in particular. However, as others have said, this is your personal blog. And if that remains an obvious distinction, I say blog away. But, if you do feel pangs of trepidation or remorse about certain topics, well, skip ’em. There’s never a shortage of topics to weigh in on in this industry, so if you think a topic might come back to bite you in the arse, punt. Your duty is to yourself and your family first and, frankly, to the blogosphere last.

    I tend to write whatever I feel like. Since I rarely write about my own work — even when I was freelance — people came to love me or hate me based purely on my opinions, writing style and crazed right wingery. Now that I’m back in the agency world, I still do my own thing on my site and, if something fits on the agency blog, I post it there, too.

    Of course, you could always take the pseudonymous route via Twitter and amass an army of semi-ardent followers. Worked for me.

  13. Tad DeWree said

    I’ve found Gods of advertising a great jumping off point for several of my blog posts. I’ve chosen to express m position in greater detail there. Love to get feedback.

  14. Jeff Louis said

    There’s a great quote in “Almost Famous” where a kid journalist and his mentor converse about being a real friend;

    “The only true currency in this bankrupt world… is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool. You wanna be a real friend? Be Honest. Unmerciful.”

    Although they were referencing magazine journalism, the conflict is the same; stay true to your honest beliefs, or sacrifice your voice.
    The best you can do is remain committed to yourself and patch the holes caused by mis-steps. Like Michael Franzese, I’ve over-stepped boundaries and paid dearly. Yet, my views remain the same…

    I’ve just gotten better at couching them in sarcasm. I’d keep blogging. At times, warily.

    (I don’t envy your position, but apologies do go a long way…)

  15. Patrick Scullin said

    I feel your pain, which is why I set up my blog to be about much more than just advertising. Frankly, too many in this industry spend waaaay too much time gazing inward, while the world spins. You have a great voice, Steffan, use it to speak on other subjects. It will free you.

  16. CynDAles said

    I too was encouraged by my agency to “become social.” And I did. At first I found Facebook and Twitter ridiculous; then I loved it. The agency would pitch social media to clients. The number one criteria was that they would need to be completely transparent, to understand that some may be upset, but that the “core” would love them and become brand evangelists. I embraced it myself. Then one day I got slammed for commenting that “account management is often like herding chickens.” I was told to “take it down.” Well that was the end of that. Transparency is a HUGE issue. I’m not sure how you can really do it and still be a good corporate citizen. The problem is that in advertising (and any other service business) “corporate citizen” means you do what the client wants when they want it and be damn sure to look happy the whole time.
    Check out Michael Gates Gill’s books and Douce — both refugees from the ad world who found happiness in new, transparent lives. (You’ll really like Mike’s work; it’s very spiritual.)

  17. I think you’ve gotten into a groove with your blog. Interesting topics of discussion and always a good take on things. You’re a high profile person in the industry so yes, there’s a need to be careful, particularly if you’re critical of something. But you seem to do a good job with that.

    As for me, with 8 years of writing columns on Talent Zoo and contributing to AdPulp for 5, the best advice I’d give is not to deal in absolutes like “all pharma ads are this” or “all jingles are that.” Have strong opinions, but give yourself a little wiggle room and be humble enough admit you don’t have all the answers. (Unless of course you think you do!) You can provoke great discussion without having it turn into pissing matches or dumping on people/agencies whose circumstances you may not entirely know.

    Keep it going. You’ve become a daily read for me and a lot of others.

  18. SRP said

    Been a long time since I’ve gotten praise… God bless all of you for your counsel and good words, and for reading Gods of Advertising.

  19. tracy said

    If worse comes to worst, you could always get a secret identity/ alter ego. Though I admit, when I tried this, mainly to complain about the lack of heat in the office last winter, I found maintaining the extra accounts to be a serious hassle.

    *cough* Kidding. Anyway. The exchange of ideas and opinions and connections on the internet is being choked, or at least obscured by so much content that’s staged and groomed and slipcovered. I’ve really been rebelling against this lately.

    So, please keep doing what you’re doing and writing what you write.

  20. troy hayes said

    Great ideas always scare somebody. Or piss them off. The truth is the truth.

  21. […] story led me to think again about a topic Steffan Postaer recently took up an on his personal blog, Gods of Advertising. In order to build a credible blog, I cannot shill for my agency, much less my own work. I have […]

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