download.png

Recently, I read an essay from an anonymous copywriter that struck a chord. I did not save the link (my bad) but the gist of his/her argument was that within marketing services companies far too many big talkers are achieving way more success than they deserve and, moreover, they are effectively degrading the profession (even more so). The author observed how smooth talking, jargon-dropping, critical thinkers have become so prevalent and dominant in our industry that we’ve become a business of talkers not doers, endlessly revising briefs and tweaking PPT’s instead of producing actual work. We are making many meetings but few campaigns. This, of course, suits the talkers who, by endlessly analyzing and criticizing, continue to bake in 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, it was the evil account guy. Only interested in pleasing clients, he made lives miserable for countless sensitive creatives. “It ain’t right yet. We need another round.”

That said, 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 a producer on payroll, let alone a department, opting instead to bring in the occasional freelancer for the role or, more typically, relegating the job to hardscrabble project managers. So much is hypothetical. Recycling stock. Fodder.

According to Anonymous 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, the talking will only get louder.

Sadly, it seems many clients would rather pay for barbless strategery versus actually fishing. And so we keep tying and retying flies. Red feather. Yellow feather. No feathers. Two. Maybe try spinning gear? For Christ’s sake put a line in the water! This vicious cycle hurts everyone caught in its sucking funnel. Except for the big talkers. Under guise of “getting it right” they have become manifest, perpetuating their self-made roles as agency gatekeepers.

This piece originally ran week prior in Reel Chicago I am available for writing projects 

Advertisements

ROMPER01-01-768x553.jpg

A while back a guest writer on AdAge, Lauren Warner took some heat for an essay she wrote about the briefing process. Among other things, she claimed one should address “creatives on your shop’s team like they’re in kindergarten.”

Others may have been offended but the story made me smile. I recall an evening spent at my children’s school, meeting their teachers, discussing the upcoming year. During this visit, I became aware of how “creative” so much of my daughters’ curriculum really was. Colette’s science teacher explained how “experimenting and taking chances” shapes her powers of intuition. Lily’s drama teacher rhapsodized about “connecting to the inner fantastic.” She used the word “connecting” over and over again. “At this age,” she said, “the creative gene is ready to explode!”

I couldn’t help but think of all the “connecting” strategies I’ve puzzled over as a copywriter and creative director. “Connecting people” is the default strategy for all telecommunications, personal technology, and, frankly, just about everything people use in their waking lives. Connecting folks is Coca Cola’s uber-strategy. “I’d like to buy the world a coke.”

Even more interesting was this business about creativity “exploding.” I believe the teacher was saying that our creative muse is born in these opening years of life. That stimulated and nurtured, we begin to understand and respect our intuitions. Kindergarten is a creative department. Experimenting with ideas on the stage, colors on paper, sounds in music class… That’s what I do!

Or that’s what I prefer doing. Much of my day, however, is spent lawyering on behalf of ideas. Defending them. Subjecting them to all manner of worries and concerns, making them more appropriate, more coherent, more on strategy. It’s inevitable. It’s my job. But it’s also like killing the butterfly in order to appreciate it.

The older I get the more I realize how important it is to stay “connected” to my “inner child.” The best creative people do not grow out of it when they grow up. We remain inquisitive like children. Lovers of fun. You see it in our bicycles in the hallway. Our dubious wardrobes. Our playlists. Our silly photos online. Alas, you also see it in meetings, where we become pouting and defensive, wilting under criticism, frustrated by the grown-ups ruining our fun. I know we can be insufferable. Imposing MBA logic in Romper Room is bound to create problems.

But our muses shouldn’t be stymied: the ability to ideate, to find that “inner fantastic” is necessarily petulant. What’s regrettable is marketing’s obsession with guaranteeing results…or else! Research. Testing. Groups. I say Bleh! There are no guarantees. Never were. Never will be. Intuition, if cultivated and nurtured, is the most important tool the creative department has. The old saw is wrong. Ideas are not our “babies.” That job belongs to us.

Author’s note: This post originally ran as guest commentary on Reel Chicago

I am available for copywriting and creative direction and I will behave like an adult: Steffanwork/CV

th-2.jpg

Last week the acclaimed actress, Emma Stone made headlines with her revelation that certain male co-stars had taken significant pay cuts in order to achieve parity with her own salary. It’s a nice story. And one that readily feeds into the red-hot narrative regarding “fearless” women “leaning in” and breaking barriers into male-dominated fields. While the feminist aspect is important, the idea of taking a pay cut for the greater good is also a trending topic. Witness what NBA Finals MVP, Kevin Durant did in order for his championship Warriors to stay intact.

th-3.jpg

Specifically, a thread on Linkedin caught my eye. Above a link to the Emma Stone story a female advertising executive commented, “I wonder how many of my male peers would do the same?” The implication was not many. My guess is few women would either.

But guess what? I did, willingly and without hesitation. hell, it was my idea! And that’s what I thought about when I’d first read the Stone story. Without getting into names and places, a few years back I took approximately 25% off my compensation in order to significantly bump the salaries of two of my top lieutenants. I had reason to believe one was being courted by another agency. Moreover, I also felt strongly that both individuals deserved bigger raises than the company was budgeted to give. For me, reducing my bottom line to increase theirs felt like a no-brainer. In a weird way I was almost happy to do it. It felt like right sizing. Though he later came around, I recall the CEO first balking at my suggestion. “Nice gesture, Steffan but business just doesn’t work that way.”

Why is that, I wonder? Seems to me such redistribution and/or diminution would help remedy the need for layoffs during hard times as well as mitigate the blade being used on older more expensive workers. My guess is that self-induced pay cuts somehow feel communistic and is antithetical to capitalism. This is bullshit of course. But then why is retrenchment so rare?

I’ll work for numbers that work for you: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

sonogram.jpg

I can’t see the logo…

We were previewing numerous campaign ideas today, tacked up in the wall, comprising the usual bits: potential tag lines, assorted copy, found images and various “ad-like objects.” Being the first internal round of discussion the work was still quite primitive. This meant the usual caveats had to be given to those seeing the work for the very first time: it’s not ready yet… it’s not right yet… etc. God forbid anyone judge our earliest efforts as finished products. Alas, God has little interest in creative presentations. Regardless of set up, someone invariably criticizes ad like objects as if they were completed ads.

Inevitable as it is painful.

A while back I prefaced a creative presentation by telling my audience that the work was in its first trimester, barely more than a nucleus of an idea. I figured someone viewing an early sonogram wasn’t going to comment on how handsome or ugly it was. At this time we should only be concerned about the embryo’s validity. Is it legitimate? Is it growing properly?

The second view of a sonogram is when we see the child for what it will become, it’s vital organs, the sex, and perhaps certain features. The same applies for the second round of creative. This is when we can see if there are any abnormalities that require serious intervention or, forgive my frankness, termination.

images4.jpg

But does it have legs?

If we are fortunate enough to have a third internal viewing, this is where our babies better be in good shape and ready for delivery. Like prepping a child’s room, now is when we begin building the presentation in earnest. More pain. Preparing the “deliverables” is always stressful for the expecting.

Finally, The delivery day is upon us! Hopefully, the client (our adoptive parents) adores the baby as much as we do. Yet, even then we caveat our creation. Or worse manufacture a Frankenstein right before their eyes.

Still, it beats digging ditches.

For the delivery of excellent copy and ad like objects, I’m your daddy: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

p1123608148-3.jpg

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/