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When I was in college, I took a course on rhetoric and debate in 20th century America. In it, we looked at numerous famous speeches made by famous people: Lincoln, Jefferson, King, etc. Learning from great persuaders how to fashion a rational and emotional argument would later become useful as a copywriter and presenter. During that semester, no document we studied was more powerful than Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

I am not being glib when I say Letter from a Birmingham Jail is one of the finest pieces of long copy ever written. No question Equal Rights was and is a big idea. I like LFABJ better than King’s more famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Not because of content (both are awesome) but because of circumstances. King was alone in a jail cell when he wrote it.

On this, the anniversary of what would have been MLK’s 90th birthday; I think it a fine thing to reexamine this seminal document. An excerpt follows. The full text is linked below it.

“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

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Some years ago, I had the pleasure of conversing with Alex Bogusky before he became a demi-God of Advertising.

We were at a vendor-sponsored pool party in Cannes. Unlikely as it seems, both of us were not really digging the scene. He seemed to prefer a quiet discussion versus living it up in the shallow end. I was more torn on the issue but also more than happy to oblige him.

For the record, later that week, Alex and his namesake agency would win handfuls of Lions, including the Grand Prix for a charming spot from Ikea called Lamp. Crispin Porter and Bogusky were in the middle of an epic run making them perhaps the most famous ad agency on earth.

But Alex wasn’t interested in talking about prizes.

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Like a lot of executive creative directors (myself included), he’d come to Cannes simply because he could. However, he now admitted to being unsettled by the attention he and his agency were getting. He confessed that this would likely being his last time at Cannes.

“Steff,” he said, “we’ve got plenty of swimming pools in Miami.” (This was before CP&B moved its main office to Boulder.) Then he added, “I find that I like doing work more than celebrating it.”

I’m paraphrasing from memory, but this was my favorite bit. Ironic commentary coming from the man who would later write Hoopla (a book about fame in marketing), and probably win more Lions than any other person or agency in the United States.

Yet, to me, Bogusky’s ambivalence about all of it seemed indicative of a higher power beginning to work in his life: that making work, really good work, was more important than drinking champagne and toasting about it.

Bigger picture Alex was also discovering the persistent headache and clashes of conscience that hedonism invoked. Lessons I would learn the hard way.

Later that year, Alex resigned from his agency to pursue other interests. Now he’s taking back the creative reigns at his namesake agency. Prodigal son returning or is something else going on? I know I’m not the only one who looks forward to finding out!

Author’s Note: A version of this story appeared previously in ReelChicago

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Still a man’s world… Really?

The Bachelor has always bothered me. But last week’s episode took the cake, especially coming one night after the Academy Awards, which, in a matter of hours, became a tipping point for the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Whereas the Oscars built up female empowerment, leveraging the zeitgeist to considerable acclaim, the very same network brought it all crashing down with a ridiculous and ghoulish season finale of The Bachelor. For those unawares, the bachelor reneges on his proposal of marriage and the shunned woman cries for two hours. It was gross. And he was the least of the reasons why.

 

Here it is. By design, The Bachelor makes women into objects of desire. Nothing more. Yet plenty less. In a very real way, The Bachelor is worse than pornography. At least in porn no one is pretending to a romantic ideal. A show that celebrates romantic love to silly extremes, The Bachelor is as sad an indictment on womanhood as any beauty pageant. Yet women love it. Show me the ratings for The Bachelor and I’ll show you as one-sided a demographic as men and the NFL. The few straight guys that watch The Bachelor vacillate between belittling the women and ogling them. What choice do we have? Without these primitive attractions, the show has no meaning.

 

I tell my daughters that The Bachelor is bad for their soul, that it reinforces ancient stereotypes about women and men. They reply it’s a guilty pleasure, no different than guys watching sports. But it is different. With sports men (and women) do difficult things to achieve valuable things. What exactly do the women on The Bachelor… do? That is besides preening and crying. And to what aim? To be given a freaking rose by some clod! The Bachelor undermines everything women are striving for. Respect. Money. Power. Women deservedly want what men have. But they aren’t going to get there pining over some dude on a reality show.

 

Attracting a man. Fantasizing about true love. Dreaming of their wedding day. White dresses and sugary cakes. Make me a princess! That’s the stereotype our parents grew up with. The Bachelor is a relic from the 1950’s. And it should be treated as such. Yet, it’s a smash hit and primarily with women. Why isn’t its time up?

Author’s Note: Available for copywriting, content creation and creative direction: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

If Silicon Valley is a Game of Thrones (if?) you could make a case for Cisco being its Westeros. After all, the tech giant has been an anchor player in the Valley long before Apple, Facebook and Google. You can also make a good case for Cisco being most responsible for the so-called Internet of Things. Which is exactly what GoT star, Peter Dinklage attempts to do in this latest manifesto from Cisco.

Dinklage was one of the first breakout stars in HBO’s masterpiece and helped GoT become the global phenomena that it is. His amazing portrayal of Tyrion Lannister, the once ‘Lord of Tits and Wine’ to Hand of the Queen of Dragons, has deservedly won him legions of fans as well as two Emmy Awards.

Alas, he cannot save this commercial from its longwinded self. Not by walking and talking. After a minute or so I was done. I knew where the film was going and did not want to tag along. Three minutes is an eternity. Maybe if people started throwing food at him like in the show. Or better yet, if he were joined by the Mountain at film’s end, having a couple pints at the pub.

They say great actors can make reading the phone book sound good. Well, guess what? Phone books were killed by the IoT and technology jargon ain’t Shakespeare. Confession. I’ve written manifestos like these and have worked the same clichés, turned the same phrases. It’s hard not to. There is no “King’s English” for much of this stuff.

Yet, there is one thing that would have improved this film. Simple fix. They should have made it, um, shorter.

For copy cut with Valarian steel and creative direction that will bend your knees: Steffanwork/wordpress

Special note: Looking for a Lit agent or similar to discuss unusual and dynamic project. Message me.

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Last week the acclaimed actress, Emma Stone made headlines with her revelation that certain male co-stars had taken significant pay cuts in order to achieve parity with her own salary. It’s a nice story. And one that readily feeds into the red-hot narrative regarding “fearless” women “leaning in” and breaking barriers into male-dominated fields. While the feminist aspect is important, the idea of taking a pay cut for the greater good is also a trending topic. Witness what NBA Finals MVP, Kevin Durant did in order for his championship Warriors to stay intact.

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Specifically, a thread on Linkedin caught my eye. Above a link to the Emma Stone story a female advertising executive commented, “I wonder how many of my male peers would do the same?” The implication was not many. My guess is few women would either.

But guess what? I did, willingly and without hesitation. hell, it was my idea! And that’s what I thought about when I’d first read the Stone story. Without getting into names and places, a few years back I took approximately 25% off my compensation in order to significantly bump the salaries of two of my top lieutenants. I had reason to believe one was being courted by another agency. Moreover, I also felt strongly that both individuals deserved bigger raises than the company was budgeted to give. For me, reducing my bottom line to increase theirs felt like a no-brainer. In a weird way I was almost happy to do it. It felt like right sizing. Though he later came around, I recall the CEO first balking at my suggestion. “Nice gesture, Steffan but business just doesn’t work that way.”

Why is that, I wonder? Seems to me such redistribution and/or diminution would help remedy the need for layoffs during hard times as well as mitigate the blade being used on older more expensive workers. My guess is that self-induced pay cuts somehow feel communistic and is antithetical to capitalism. This is bullshit of course. But then why is retrenchment so rare?

I’ll work for numbers that work for you: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/