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In over ten years of keeping this blog, the last two weeks have been the longest time I’ve gone without writing a post. I am not naïve or prideful enough to think that anyone missed me. But to my loyal readers I offer my apologies. I know how annoying it is to arrive at a bookmark and find stale content. I was working on a freelance project, which deserved and received all my attention. Despite undying passion for Gods of Advertising, I enjoy working on outside creative projects even more. Plus, it keeps my family teetering on the brink of solvency.

At any rate, that project has now concluded, very successfully, and I’m ready for another. So, if you’re reading this and in need of copy writing and/or creative leadership please hit me up. I will deliver on time and above expectation. I have never failed in this regard and do not intend to start with you. As always, I will provide the last job I worked as a reference.

That being said…

Regarding the rash of stories about ageism in Adland, especially as it pertains to creative people. I’ve read we are too expensive. Too out of touch. Too ‘a bunch of things.’ The stigma is real. But it’s not based in reality.

A lot of us know as much about emerging digital platforms as our teen-age children. Certainly, we forgot more about coming up with creative business ideas than most anyone in Adland under thirty. And, last but not least, we know how to write a f–king sentence. Intangibles? Put me in front of a client. I’m a professional, who has a lot of fun being one.

I can’t speak for my peers but regarding money I’m no longer obsessed with it. Materialism is just one of the many sins of youth… like chasing prizes. Been there won that. Bottom line: If you want me for a project we’ll do it on your terms. The same goes for potential full time employment, for which my antennae are up. By the way, I believe the appropriate compensation for talent (me or anyone else) must reside in the range of one’s peer group at his or her particular company. One should never be conspicuous on a spreadsheet! Such wisdom comes from experience. Here’s another “old” idea: Do great work for great value and the rest takes care of itself.

http://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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Back when I first started out as a copywriter for the Leo Burnett Company in Chicago, I had been on the job only a few months when a new copywriter was hired into our creative group. Tom Coleman came to us from a small agency in Washington DC, along with his art director partner Bob Wyatt.

Tom and Bob would go on to create wonderful award-winning work for Dewar’s White Label, among other campaigns. One of my all time favorites from his “oeuvre” was this print ad, convincing young men to try Dewar’s even though research suggested most new drinkers hated the taste of scotch. Freaking genius.

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Tom had a strong personality with a biting wit. He also possessed fashion sense way beyond most young men and, frankly, just about everyone else in Chicago. (Except for maybe our boss, Ted Bell but that’s another story.) Tom regularly came to work in a suit and, if not that, always donning a jacket. Unless he was hung over or ill, he always wore a tie, usually a bow tie, and never a clip on. He cherished his weathered Cordovan loafers from Brooks Brothers. His shirts were monogrammed.

Needless to say, we road him hard for his sartorial streak. But like Dewars, Tom “never varied.” He knew he was ahead of the game and certainly beyond us slobs. Despite our wardrobe differences, Tom and I became good friends. He tried to get me to dress like an adult but unless we were presenting to a client, I dressed for comfort not success. Truth be told, even my “fancy” clothes were pretty lame. Especially compared with Tom’s.

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Tom Coleman, towering over the shallow end…

I’m writing this not to reminisce but because Coleman (as we often called him) has a fabulous and fun new book that just came out, detailing the greatest fashion missteps of otherwise smart and stylish people. It’s called, I Actually Wore This: Clothes We Can’t Believe We Bought. In it a bunch of genuinely cool people (some famous, some not) talk about the single most embarrassing article of clothing in their closet: why and where they acquired the garment and a fun anecdote about it. Each person is marvelously photographed in said item(!) by Jerome Jakubiec. As Tom wrote in his inscription to us: “It won’t change your life but it may liven up your coffee table.”

It’s a hoot, hard to stop reading and gawking at. Obviously, Tom’s “concept” is titillating tapping into our voyeuristic tendencies. But it’s more than that. There’s something intimate and warmly human about the book. With a handful of words and a portrait, you really get to know these people. How they could buy, let alone wear, these things is actually a far bigger question that it first might seem. We discover the ego’s power and the trouble (albeit harmless here) that it can get us into.

Tom once told me he was a “collector of people.” In I Actually Wore This we see the fruits of his labor. Coleman’s book is available on Amazon and likely the chicest coffee tables.

Though my wardrobe is still suspect, I write copy fashionably well: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

Gods of Advertising

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In absence of full time employment, I’ve been working my tail off. If this sounds contradictory it is not. As any freelance writer will tell you, the hustle is as crucial as the creation. Unlike fat and maybe-happy FTE’s the freelancer must work to get work before he can work.

Ah, the hustle. It’s like the fisherman who has to both catch fish and sell them. Two jobs. Both with distinct roles and responsibilities. He rises early to fish. Stays up late to sell.

Same for me. Work the phones in the AM. Write into the wee hours. Get up and do it again. Call it hustle and flow. I’m not complaining. Just saying.

Though I am also primed for full time work, I do find rogue satisfaction in being a grinder. The hustle keeps one alert. My sonar is on. Even the glimpse of silver beneath the waves and…

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“Awesome strategy, Ted! Next week’s meeting is gonna be killer.”

Recently, I read an essay from an anonymous source in our industry that stuck with me. (I did not save the link. My bad.) But the gist of his argument was that within marketing services companies far too many big talkers achieve more success than they deserve and, moreover, are exponentially degrading the profession. Paraphrasing further, the author observed how smooth talking, jargon-dropping, critical thinkers have become so prevalent and dominant that we’ve become a business of talkers not doers, endlessly revising briefs and tweaking PPT’s instead of producing actual work. The front end has become so bogged down by process that we are making lots of meetings and few campaigns. Which of course suits the talkers who, by endlessly analyzing and criticizing, merely create more process.

Are we having fun yet?

It goes without saying that these machinations are antithetical to the flow of any decent agency and the creative department in particular. Yet, before we go off and blame the strategists for all this hot air, it’s only fair to point out slick talkers and their myriad sins have plagued Adland since before the Mad Men era. Then one usually pointed to the evil account guy. He made lives miserable for countless sensitive creatives. “It’s not right yet. We need another round.”

Still, at least back then agencies produced work. And lots of it. So much so there were actual production departments. Now many agencies don’t even have one producer on payroll, let alone a department, opting instead to bring in the occasional freelancer for the role or, more typically, leaving the job to hardscrabble project managers. It’s all hypothetical. Recycling stock. Fodder.

According to the author it is indeed strategy gone wild. The pandemic of verbal diarrhea is especially acute in the technology and B2B arenas, where strategists often define the marketing department. As new platforms and complicated algorithms take over Adland, it seems likely the talking will only get louder.

With less output and more input, the vicious cycle hurts everyone caught in it. Except for big talkers. Under the guise of “getting it right” they have become manifest, perpetuating their roles as agency gate-keepers.

For brilliant copy and adroit creative leadership (even if just for a goddam powerpoint), hit me up: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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Copywriting is not about the print ad anymore and hasn’t been for some time. But that doesn’t make the skill set any less important. You don’t have a website without words; try building a wire without them.

Providing clever, provocative and powerful copy to web designers and the like is critical. For many copywriters, feeding them content that inspires their work is the job. Just as art directors and designers have had to evolve so have writers. When the dust cleared from these early transitions both writers and art directors realized that what they do is essentially the same. New media still uses words and pictures. Creating a “look and feel” for this website or that social campaign has new obligations but the fundamentals are the same.

For example, I’m asked to help create a website for a B2B start up. The first thing we need is an “organizing principle” or key idea that drives the whole thing. This means a strategy line and a creative line – just like it does for any mass media campaign. Without it, you’re flying blind.

In a sense then the landing page functions as your “anthem” or “mantra.” Clients need, want and demand this asset the same as they did 25 years ago. So we write it. I present these to my clients much like I did in the beginning, when I was creating brand campaigns at Leo Burnett. Poetry and power had better be there.

Subsequently, each page of a website operates like a print ad, with a killer headline and precise and compelling copy. Every vertical needs an “ad” that wholly demonstrates its unique offering while at the same time adhering to the covenants of the organizing principle.

The email campaign directing targeted customers to the website is not much different than your classic teaser campaign. When we make advertising it is still advertising, be it online or off. And it damn well better be magical.

The lesson for clients and agencies alike is not to forsake the core skills of writing and designing in a chase for so-called digital natives. If they are mediocre designers or write like they text the output will suck. Don’t go there. Look for brilliant writers and art directors. The modern world is not an excuse for creating superficial tactics.

For magical copywriting and creative direction, no matter what: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/