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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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Creator for hire…

That’s right, to prove my chops as elegant persuader I’m going to sell you on the idea that God exists using intuitive and rational arguments. No new age mumbo-jumbo. No beatific platitudes. No doctrine. I won’t apply one single faith-based point in my brief. When I’m done you may still not believe in a higher power but you may well be closer to Him (and hopefully me) than you were before.

First a proposition: If anyone can definitively prove God does or does not exist I will give him all that’s left in my bank account. Non-believers and agnostics crave proof of God’s existence and, of course, it never comes. But why is it we rarely flip the question and demand proof that some Higher Power doesn’t exist? It’s just as impossible.

Let’s go totally left-brain and talk percentages. Applying common sense, one must conclude there is at least a 50% chance that God does exist. However, that also means there is a 50% chance that God does not. “God is everything or nothing.” It’s 50/50. If you had those odds on the lottery –or anything really- you’d take that bet. You’d be a fool not to.

Yet, so many of us are ambivalent about God or even the idea of God. Why is that? Because we can’t see him? Well, you can’t see gravity either. “That’s different,” the unbeliever claims. You can prove gravity. There are equations.

Do you believe in love? For your children? For your wife? Of course you do. But one cannot prove that love definitively exists. You feel love or you don’t depending on your circumstances but you can never see “love.” So, if one can believe in love then why not God? They are both faith-based concepts with no rational foundation. Why is one different from the other?

Do you covet money, prestige or status? Are you addicted to drugs or alcohol? Have you ever been? What about chocolate or coffee? Or your boyfriend? We often make higher powers out of people, places and things. The alcoholic knows this all to well. When she wakes it’s all she can think of. The addict’s drug of choice brings him to his knees every night. They will put spirits ahead of everything else, including jobs, loved ones and personal health. Even the sanctity of human life will not deter the devoted from blindly worshiping their drug of choice. In 12 step recovery it is suggested that the addict replace one higher power for another. When he or she is able to do so the results are demonstrable, even astounding. A freaking miracle.

I’m a cynic and a realist. But I’ve come to believe, even know, God is as likely to exist as not. Such circumstantial evidence may not hold up in court (which ironically trusts in God) but public opinion is all that matters here. Persuasion is an art that uses facts, not the other way around. Have I moved you even five percent closer to believing in a higher power? Or in me?

So, how about that freelance? Let’s do some creation together: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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Police and fire engine sirens cut through the howling wind. Rain lashes onto the windows of my house, torrents of water falling from the sky. A blessing for drought stricken California but eerie in the moment. Especially when the moment lasts for two days and counting. This afternoon we lost power. Most everyone around here did. A tree fell taking power lines with it. Then another. And another.

And then mine. It toppled over at the root line. The saturated earth could no longer bear the weight. Horizontal became vertical.

My daughter saw it first. Or rather the absence of it. My wife asked me to stake the tree back up. Like I said shorn from the roots. Staking it would be like trying to plant a telephone pole. And so I dragged it off to the gravel pit beside the trampoline. What else could I do? It left a wake of pink and purple petals in the grass.

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As the rain poured down upon me I gazed at the fallen tree. It had been here almost as long as I had, first barely flirting with the lone window of my office, then towering above it. I can recall looking up from my desk on sunny days and seeing hummingbirds zipping among its colorful blooms. At night hawk moths, their curly tongues (proboscis) drawing nectar from the flowers in moon glow. I’m not going to say it was my muse. Writing advertising copy doesn’t require such things. But it was beside me when I wrote everything I wrote.

Bigger trees fell during this storm, causing much chaos. Crew filled yellow trucks. Soggy, irritable claims adjusters taking notes in the rain. Blaring car alarms. This tree did none of that. It just fell. When nobody was looking. But make no mistake: it was there.

On Tuesday the same gardeners who planted it will saw it up and take it away. Come spring, we will likely put in another. But for now this one is lying on the gravel, probably not even fully aware it’s dead. Or that it will be missed.

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The “Ghost Writer” at your service…

No secret I’ve been looking for a creative leadership position in the advertising industry. But securing full time employment has proven to be daunting, even for a lesser title and reduced pay.

No secret either that Adland has a fixation on youth, especially when it comes to creative. Too bad since most under-thirties are best at creating “ideas” that amuse and delight their peers but sell nothing to no one. However, rather than piss and moan about it (Plenty of that being done already), I have a plan…

I’ll need an accomplice. Perhaps as many as three. Specifically: You’re a Creative Director or an Associate CD. Maybe they dropped the VP title on you as well. Congratulations! Still, it’s been a while since you’ve sold anything. Your stuff is no longer on the agency site. There are junior writers nipping at your heels. They work for you…for now.

Frankly, your team is bereft. Their silly social and gamification ideas raise eyebrows but you can’t sell them through. Why? Because they’re strategically incoherent and the account supervisor vetoed showing them to her client. You’ve already fallen on a couple swords and your reputation for being “difficult” is growing. You’ve also heard rumors about holiday layoffs. You go home at night to try and crack the strategy but you invariably find yourself distracted. After three PBR’s and the West World finale you’re just too tired to write. And why do you have to write anyway? Everything’s video now. Nobody reads copy. Advertising sucks.

Here’s where I come in. You forward me the brief. I’ll come up with a legit organizing principle (aka Big Selling Idea) and write copy for all the necessary touch points, curate it for your presentation and voila! Tomorrow when you wake up it’ll be in your inbox. All yours. It’ll be just like that time in college. Wink, Wink. This I will do for a modest bit of your paycheck, which I dare say will only get bigger after you begin demonstrating your remarkable turnaround. You can call me “The Ghost Writer.” Badass, right?

So, let’s collude on some copy! I know how to do this job better than most and you have better things to do. Ski season, brah! You think I’m joking? Try me:
https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

Author’s note: This post was originally intended as satire but the more I think about it the more I’m willing to break bad. Anyone have the stones to hit me up?

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Freelancing be dancing…

Forgive the delayed post.

In absence of full time employment, I’ve been working my ass 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 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 dutifully searching for full time work (there are many birds in my nest!), 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 I turn to it. Lowering my bait. Jigging for a nibble.

The writing part I know well. Am good at it. Adore it. But after composing a manifesto for this client and writing content for that website, I’m just too fatigued to tend to my blog.

I trust you understand. And if you’re so inclined, hit me up. I will most certainly deliver. Spoken like a true hustler, right?

My portfolio: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/