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At a recent all-hands meeting, I was asked about my “creative vision” for the company. I’m not sure I provided a good answer. Not a concise one anyway. Big picture my vision is the same as any sane employee: to grow, to succeed, to become prosperous -as an agency, as individuals.

This is not the first time I’ve been asked about creative vision and philosophy. Typically, my answer lined up with whatever mantra the agency I worked for was advocating. For example, at Leo Burnett it was to create brand believers with big ideas. At Euro RSCG (now Havas), it was to make creative business ideas (not just ads). At Gyro, it was to create humanly relevant ideas for B2B and technology clients. At R2I, it’s to help accelerate connections.

Whatever the hoo-ha, the common denominator is always ideas. Specifically, I want to divine the organizing principle out of every legitimate creative opportunity we have. If/when a client comes to our doorstep with inherent gravitas, social currency or the ambition to achieve those things I would expect our creative solutions rise to that potential. Put another way: Wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually talk to our friends and family about what we made at work without their eyes glazing over?! Creative that makes a statement and leaves a footprint. I want us to do that. I want us to be seen.

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One develops habits as a copywriter. For instance, I need to see what words look like in a layout to truly assess them properly. The art directors were right: a block of copy is a visual. It needs to look right. Losing a word or two in order to accommodate the visual is not compromise; it’s part of creating good copy. Seeing your words in a layout provides concrete proof that what you’ve written is right. The perfect paragraph on Word is almost never correct in situation.

This habit did not change with new technology. If anything it became more pronounced. Now I can see finished looking ads before they are produced. Ancient history, I know. It’s been years since anyone relied on marker comps to sell an ad. We all want to see the baby before its born.

Where it gets interesting for me is in other forms of writing, like this blog. While I write these words in Word, and edit the hell out of them in Word, I’ve really only created a first draft. The true test comes when I create a “new post.” Then I see the paragraphs as you would see them. Suddenly their flaws become manifest, almost like an allergic reaction. Lose this sentence. Change that word. Move the photograph down a peg. Why these things were never apparent on a white screen is a mystery to me.

Perhaps it is also a curse. Many bloggers crank out content because new content is the key to new readers. Like in a MASH unit, they sow up stories and send them to the front. The sentences bleed adverbs and are pockmarked with dot-dot-dots, suggesting the writer had no time to tie up the paragraph or suture a proper segue.

I can’t work that way. Whether it reflects in my writing or not (and it may not), I treat each story as if it will be graded by a writing professor. It’s a habit I got into a long time ago.

See what my writing can do for you: 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/

First, let me say Happy 100th birthday to the National Parks of these great United States. It seems like only yesterday I was hiking through Muir Woods gazing up at the towering redwoods. Actually, it was only yesterday. I’m privileged in that they are only a few miles from my house.

We are all privileged to gaze upon this new campaign from Grey New York, celebrating our National Parks’ milestone. It’s a glorious body of work, befitting the subject matter. And so simple too. A tall tree creating the numeral “1.” An reptile’s eye depicting a zero. And so on.

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Using Mother Nature’s own perfect graphic design insures everyone will appreciate our precious natural resources as well as the campaign. The elegance in which the images are put together make us smile and think (not too hard) about our National Parks and what they mean: not only to us but to the inhabitants of the parks. Rare is a poster or a billboard that no one –not even an advertising hater- could take umbrage with.

The campaign has legs. Literally. It must have been a “hoot” to create. Like putting a puzzle together each time: which animal should we use, which iconic feature? Triptychs have always intrigued me. And these are great examples of why.

Rather than replicate the concept in TV, which certainly would have worked, the creative team went even further, utilizing sound and visuals wishing these parks a happy birthday. It works seamlessly with the static pieces but stands alone.

As an aside, I’d like to commend the continued renaissance of Grey, New York. When I was starting out in this business, and for years after, Grey, true to its name, was considered by all to be conservative and bland. No creative wanted to work there. But then some new people came in (Jim, Tor, others) and it got great. Their E-trade babies took over America and all the award shows. This delightful campaign continues that trajectory.

Bravo all!

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Van Gogh’s newest bedroom

There is so much I like about this concept I don’t know where to begin.

The idea: To celebrate the Art Institute of Chicago’s new exhibition bringing together all three of artist, Vincent Van Gogh’s iconic “Bedroom” paintings, the museum has joined forces with Airbnb to create a stunning real application of Van Gogh’s evocative boudoir, which people soon can actually stay in for ten dollars a night plus the price of exhibit tickets. Good luck with avails. Thankfully, a detailed display marking the renovation is currently available for viewing and is blowing up social media.

Rightly it should. Look at what they’ve done. Inspired by an idea from Chicago advertising agency, Leo Burnett (my alma mater!) and the media agency Spark, brought to life via the uncanny efforts of Ravenswood Studios, the result speaks for itself. We can’t believe our eyes.

This is truly a multi-dimensional “campaign,” employing so many weapons in the modern marketing arsenal: advertising, promotion, PR, experiential and social. They all come together here -flawlessly. So much so, I wouldn’t know which category to enter this in at Cannes. Doesn’t matter. It could and should win in all of them. The idea has an “it” factor we rarely see in any category, let alone all of them. Honestly, in concept and execution, I think this idea blows every ad on the SuperBowl out the proverbial (albeit slanted) door.

What I also love is its timelessness. The 21st Century evoking the 19th. Technology made something so very analog: a celebration of an oil painting and a bedroom! From oldsters to hipsters, who won’t dig this? Who wouldn’t want to experience it?

From the Chicago Tribune article: “It’s sort of crazy how excited people are over the project,” said Glenn Ragaishis, who oversaw the room’s fabrication at Ravenswood Studio, the Lincolnwood firm that, more typically, builds sets for Lyric Opera and other theater companies.

Yes, crazy. Crazy as the artist himself. Crazy good.

The Chicago Tribune article linked above has a photo gallery. Here is another story from Adfreak.