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Walt Whitman

When I was a teenager, I worked one summer at my Grandfather’s can factory on the Southside of Chicago. Dominic was not my biological grand parent but I grew up knowing only him on my mother’s side. Dom was fierce, funny and a very loyal man. He treated me like blood.

His can company, called (for a reason I forget) Wisconsin Can was a line factory. Each person occupied a spot along a conveyor and did one menial but critical job. The end product was an aluminum can, usually for cookies or candy.

A log-haired, pot smoking dreamer, this was not my fantasy gig. I wouldn’t have lasted a week if not for Dom’s patience – if that were the right word. He would call me in to his office constantly to reprimand me for doing a half-ass job. During those sessions he’d also throw in various criticisms toward my liberal upbringing, castigating my parents for divorcing and other bon mots.

Yet, I actually preferred his berating me to working on the line. Partly because it took me off the line but also because it made me feel good –somehow- to be in his presence. In his own way, the man loved me.

Once, when I dared question him on the sanctity of factory work he told me something I’ll never forget, even if I don’t agree with it. He said, “Steffan, work isn’t supposed to be fun. Why do you think they call it work?”

Much later, I got into the advertising business. And I had fun. But I also knew I possessed a skill and that I was getting better at it. Unlike sticking a wrapper on a can, writing was (and still is) something I can sink my teeth into.

Yet, as we all know, this business is not always fun. Pressures mount and fears take hold. Work can become a trying experience, like a factory. Or worse. A factory that doesn’t make anything. I think of my grandfather during those times.

I know he had a point. One must earn a living. So, maybe “fun” isn’t the right word. Let’s try some others. If one feels “useful” and “purpose-driven” then that is better than fun. Wouldn’t you agree? Suffice to say, I wasn’t feeling either on the can line.

Give me this. Working in our business should at least aspire to be fun. Data be damned, creativity will always be more art than science. And art is about passion and, yes, having fun! When a creative is feeling it there is no better feeling. It’s like your Walt Whitman singing the Song of (Your)self. It’s glorious.

So, here’s to feeling it and being of maximum usefulness to your company, your clients and, most of all, yourself. May all of you find that happiness. It does exist.

Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

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From a business perspective, “creative process” is an oxymoron. Yet, every agency has one. In the age of projects (vs. client relationships) the process looks like hours worked. PM’s and AE’s must estimate how many people to put on a creative project and how many hours they will spend doing it.

With clients choosing agencies like restaurants and ordering a la carte off our menus, a neophyte might think it would be easy calculating the bill. Unfortunately, it is harder than ever.

From a creative perspective, the process defies analytics. The time frame for making creative was, is and always will be a guessing game, fraught with variables. How long does it take to come up with an idea – Two hours? Two days? Two weeks? And how long does it take to flesh out the idea? And how many ideas do you require?

When guessing how long a project will take to complete the guessers would ideally need to calibrate how different individuals create, which is unique. For example, Sally likes to work alone. Jack and Jill work best as a team and Bill, Fred and Mary love collaborating. And what about nights, when I like to write? If one calculated how many hours I play with a paragraph of body copy we’d be over budget on everything.

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In the good old days, an agency had a relationship with a client (with a yearly nut augmented by media commissions), which allowed for expanding and contracting creative resources, contingent upon the growing or shrinking demands of each assignment. Therefore, creative directors could deal in real time, adjusting resources based on immediate needs, wants and capability variables. In a fire drill, we called in resources with impunity. On a pitch, we might give a bunch of newbies a crack. And so on. Though still a process, it was far more fluid and organic than what we have now. The creative department did not have finite budgetary limits.

As a manager, I’m all for tightening the screws and figuring shit out. As a creative director, I know it seldom works that way.

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Lion gets drunk jumps shark…

In a funky, charmingly meandering essay for the Wall Street Journal, the legendary San Francisco adman, Jeff Goodby takes the Cannes Advertising Festival to the woodshed, albeit the long way, calling it more of a “plumber’s or industrial roofing convention” than a celebration of the “big and famous and mind blowing.” He acknowledges that he is a “willing junkie for ingenious content delivery systems” (really, Jeff?) but clearly misses the good old days when ‘everyone knew who was doing the greatest shit in the world.’

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Ad Lion, Jeff Goodby rattles his cage…

His point is a valid one, which can be gotten to through many doors. Let me take a crack at a few. First off, about 10 or 15 years ago, in a vainglorious attempt to be modern (aka digital & social) and (obviously) to make tons more money, Cannes began adding myriad technical categories some so intricate they defy explanation. Applications. Emojis. Banners. Widgets. Tools. The kitchen sink. All of it, said Cannes, has the possibility of winning a Lion –be it bronze, silver, gold, glass or titanium. In addition, the festival created massive new groups, including public relations, healthcare and social causes. The advertising categories were still there, of course, and you could enter them six ways to Sunday, depending on budgets and other criteria.

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Your Titanium Grand Prix winner at Cannes: an emoji

For agencies and the like, entries became an advanced class in spending money. Take a look at these numbers, made even more conspicuous because they were tallied during the recession.

While this was going on the typically blatant corruption bloomed like algae. After all, all these new categories required evermore judges. Most if not every judge also has stuff in the show. So many shoulders rubbing together is bound to create mutual back scratching. And stabbing. It got so bad a couple years ago the creative leader of one holding company accused another holding company of “killing” the competition, among other voter schemes.

In the end, you get a bouillabaisse so big, deep and full of oddities one wonders if it means anything to anyone. Anyway, Jeff wonders. How can you not? Let’s look at some of the biggest prizes awarded in 2015. A fish-shaped lead sinker is deemed the greatest design in the world. A slew of iPhone pictures garner the Lion for best outdoor advertising in the world. A pizza-shaped emoji wins for best whatever-it-is in the world.

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The winner for best design: a lead fish

Funny. Folks used to joke that WPP’s big boss, Martin Sorrell got his start, not making ads, but selling widgets. Well, he gets the last laugh. Because it now appears that’s what this festival is all about.

(Full disclosure: Every agency I’ve ever worked at has participated in Cannes. I’ve been to Cannes seven times, four drunk, three sober. I’ve entered a bunch of work at Cannes. I’ve even won a few Lions. Twice, I’ve given speeches at Cannes. So, yes, I’ve bowed before the Golden Lion. I’ve played his Game of Thrones.)

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When I was coming up at Leo Burnett, promotions were celebrated via “pink” memos, written by one’s supervisor, which would appear on the desks of everyone at the agency. These notes were pretty special, something to show your parents and put in the scrapbook. While memos and scrapbooks have gone the way of the dodo bird I still think there’s something powerful about “seeing it in writing.”

Therefore, I am going to share the “memo” I wrote on behalf of three people, who were promoted at my agency. At first I wondered if this was too private information to post here, but that’s silly: It’s good news for all involved. Besides now these men have a link they can send to their kin!

(For the record, mentions of clients and projects have been redacted.)

It has been years since anyone in the creative department has been promoted. To my knowledge none in our department, past or present, has ever been made an Associate Creative Director. Well, that is about to change. As part of our “intensification” plans for gyro SF we are asking three individuals to step up in their role and responsibility to the agency.

During his time here and over the last couple years in particular, Toby Petersen has elevated his game to heights even I hadn’t thought possible. Happily, I was wrong. His efforts have brought gyro some of our finest work to date. His skills as an editor and with motion graphics are well known to us. More recently, he’s demonstrated a keen understanding of art-direction and become a valuable asset in that regard. For these and other reasons, please welcome and support Toby as Associate Creative Director. In addition to helping Steve with overall art direction, Toby will oversee our burgeoning adventures into film and video production.

No employee at gyro exemplifies deeper loyalty to his fellows, a passion for creative excellence and sheer hard work than Eric Flynn. Often first in and last out, Eric demonstrates a work ethic we all learn from and benefit from. Perhaps more importantly, Eric is a fountain of good ideas that never seem to run out. Basically, he has contributed critical and even brilliant ideas on every project he’s worked on. He gets social. He gets mobile. And he knows how to write well and fast. Therefore, Eric Flynn is now Associate Creative Director, overseeing copy for the agency.

Jonathan Kochan walks softly but carries a big stick. His ability to create and produce work is well known to all of us. How many times have I heard and said, “Where would we be without him?” I don’t want to know. Jon produces digital assets for our clients with quiet calm and unparalleled grace. More than a showman, Jon is a craftsman. I want him to keep doing what he’s doing and to be recognized for doing it. Therefore, Jon is now Associate Creative Director, specializing in Digital.

On a personal note, we also realize that these individuals will need to make personal and professional adjustments as well. Instead of pointing out problems and issues, they will be required to help solve them. Walk the talk if you will. More than a two-way street, this is a busy intersection and everyone has a right of way. We do not want or need traffic cops. I’m beseeching our new ACD’s to humbly collaborate with everyone here so that we may achieve new heights together. Maturing gracefully into positions of true leadership will take extra effort from them and all of us. To be effective, they will need your support as much as we need theirs.

We want everyone here to feel their efforts and achievements mean something. Your careers matter and therefore so do promotions. I have no doubt in time more will come – in all of our departments, for all of our people. Building a great creative culture and an agency culture in general depends on it.

And here they are, in pics I snagged from the fellas’ Interwebs…

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Jonathan Kochan

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Toby Petersen

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Eric Flynn

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Integrated shop. Unified model. Gyro refers to it as “Uno.” Call your agency (its culture, its model) what you will. And on some days those terms can be pretty brutal. As some of you know I’ve likened working in an agency to being on a submarine: We’re at sea. We’re at battle. We’re in this thing together. Because, after doing good work, that’s what it’s all about: working together. That’s what the word “integration” originally meant before all these holding companies got a hold of it.

But today the glass is half full. If I think about it it’s more than half full. Our cup runneth over. Therefore, in this good mood, I’d like to give you my spin on integration, paraphrasing a parable I heard some time ago. I’m sure you’ll agree, it applies now more than ever…

On the outskirts of a small village, the farmers, loggers and hunters would gather under a lone, ancient and leafless tree, everyday at noon, when the sun was most high and the heat was too unbearable for working.

The farmers threw down their bags of apples, giving a snort to the fruitless limbs towering over their heads. “Without any fruit, what good is this tree, anyway?” The loggers shook their heads in agreement. “The old wood from this tree isn’t fit to burn.” The hunters among them also agreed. “Without fruit or places to nest, there are no birds to kill.” They were all unanimous: the tree was worthless. And so it went, for days upon years, hundreds of hunters and farmers and loggers, bitching about this lifeless, barren tree.

It never dawned on them that without this great tree they would have had no place to rest their feet or shade their heads. And without this great tree they would never have formed a community, and been able to share their experience, strength and hope…or find out where the fruits were…and the firewood for winter…to learn the tricks of their various trades…

And so here we are, art directors, writers, planners and suits. Working more and more together, more and more everyday. Sharing our experience, strength and hope. And while I’m sure we’re too busy to sit around and complain, do any of us realize how rare community like this is? And how blessed we all are to have it? I know I’m blessed.

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