Back to School.

February 16, 2020

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You’re studying to be certified as a drug and alcohol counselor. After 30 years, back to school. At Berkeley no less! Is this the end game: parlaying your alleged gifts as an AA speaker into a vocation? You wouldn’t be the first. In every class so far at least half the students are recovering alcoholics and addicts, like you. The others already work in the field, getting certified in order to advance their positions: in treatment facilities, government and social services, caregivers.

Your wife is at school, too, and is nearly finished getting her degree in interior design. For three years, she’s been dutifully driving to the city two nights a week. You believe part of a plan for when you’re out of the picture. A security blanket, if you will, having a job in a world she knows so well. It’s also admirable, her continuing education. That’s what people say about a thing like that; it’s the party line. Finally, you suppose, it is something to do. A learning experience, literally.

Now it’s your turn. Advertising will be what you must now call your “previous life.” After 25 years, the ad game is over, its last cards turned over. You tell yourself that counseling is the door opening and believe it, for the most part. Helping others, you think, will have meaning, and be purposeful. Shame you’ve never been particularly good at it: helping others. There are those who called you a mentor but you can count them on one hand and, being honest, you think they may have been just saying so, for whatever reason. What you hold onto, what you must in order to continue the classes, is that you can and do help people who are addicts and alcoholics. They tell you so all the time, at meetings, after you share, and this was not a place for lying.

Author’s note: Would you like to read more of this? Or maybe there is something I can help you write?

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I’ve parlayed my passion for freshwater and saltwater aquariums into a YouTube channel: Lush & Salty Aquariums The channel is only a few weeks old – a wee fry. But I’ve been going at it pretty hard. Labor of love. Anyway, You Tube says I need at least 100 subscribers before they’ll really lets me use the platform. Will you help a fish nerd out? Just go to the channel and hit subscribe. Lush & Salty Aquariums

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Recently, I had a debate with my teen-aged daughter regarding the concept of a thing being overrated. She’d used the term to describe a TV show that was awful (in her opinion) but very popular, calling it “overrated.” I offered the opinion that something good can also be overrated. I used the movie, Avengers: End Game as an example. Fine movie. Super popular. But an epic? Well, it’s certainly long like one…

My daughter vehemently shook her head. She said all her friends really liked End Game so therefore it couldn’t be overrated. While her definition of the term is certainly valid I believe mine is more accurate. What do you think? Can something good, even very good, be overrated?

Three examples of good but overrated:

In & Out Burgers – This so-called California icon is the textbook example of overrated. No question the burgers are solid. But the fries are plain awful.

Outdoor Music Festivals – People love these things until they actually go. From parking to potty they can be a freaking nightmare.

The Matrix – I love science fiction. I like Keanu Reeves. But I have never understood the adulation heaped upon this interesting but mostly befuddling flick.

Big Bang Theory – This contrived and silly sitcom has some of the highest TV ratings in the 21st century. Yet, the show feels phony as a three-dollar bill.

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Gods of Advertising is on backburner so I can devote more energy to completing a manuscript as well as writing for my clients. Perhaps you? Services include copy writing, brand manifestos and creative direction. I’m passionate about helping clients develop powerful creative business ideas. Consumer or B2B, versatile in the trickiest verticals. This is my portfolio

Do you have a writing project you would like to discuss -professional or personal? I am also available to help other writers with their work, as an advisor, editor or mentor.

Connect here, via Linkedin or Steffan1@rcn.com – Let’s have a conversation!

I look forward to hearing from you!

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The “science” behind the creative.

One of the things I’ve come to disdain about our business is how damn serious we take it. Not the craft itself — creating, curating and choreography — but the extemporaneous crap we built around it. Stuff like process and proprietary tools; the things we fill our slides with to make people think we’re methodical and scientific.

Whether we make ads or websites, we have complicated what we do beyond what is necessary to do it well. That is why briefs are no longer brief. That is why Cannes has become a cluster f—k. That is why I am writing this post.

Planning and strategy are the progenitors of creativity. The agency gets an assignment and we formulate a team. Left-brains give us facts and insights. The right brains turn them into ideas.

In a healthy agency, the two sides work together. Part of this is collaboration. Part of it isn’t. Each assignment predicates a different balance of both. Inviolate in this are the people. The better the people the better the outcomes. Yet, as obvious and true as all this is, agencies insist on codifying every step we take.

We call it ‘our process.’

Process is how agencies mitigate the fear involved with taking risks. We create the illusion of proof to support an idea. This insight divided by that challenge equals a solution. Ta da!

Reverse alchemy occurs when an agency justifies its creative after the fact. So many ideas are the result of divine inspiration yet that’s hard to package and pitch. Cool ideas need to be scientific case studies, for award shows as well as client presentations. Therefore, we manufacture smart sounding bullshit to appease the decision-makers.

Every agency I ever worked at romanticized their data … a lot. It’s just what happens when mythmakers and bean counters work together: Collusion!

Food for thought next time we pray at the altar of agency process. We have made our agencies into churches of organized religions but divine inspiration often has nothing to do with it.

Author’s Note: A version of this story first appeared in Reel Chicago