The winning creative team at the MPA Kelly Awards, 2005: Rob Strasberg, Andrew Keller, Alex Bogusky and Rob Reilly
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Alex Bogusky leaving his company and advertising is news. The fact that he’s leaving while at the top of his game makes it even more intriguing.

Everyone aspires going out on top. Yet it hardly ever happens. First of all, you have to get there. No easy feat in this business, or any other. Then walking away that hard-earned spot right when it’s most lucrative? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of many people who’ve done either, let alone both. (I believe my father did, albeit quietly.)

Ego often gets in the way. Recall Michael Jordan’s inability to retire, when he should have, after his last championship. Unlike Michael (or Alex), most of us work past our prime because we have to. There are bills to pay, families to support. Plus, we likely don’t see the top when we’re on it. Still, the fantasy of going out that way burns in our hearts.

Whether Alex returns to Ad Land or figures out a way to end world hunger (both?) is anyone’s guess. Likely, he doesn’t know his next move either. And that’s the thing about him I bet most folks don’t realize: for all his credentials, he’s not driven by ego. Even a funky new job and promises of yet more cash did nothing to hold him. (In my opinion, Mr. Nadal made up the fun-sounding title, Chief Insurgent Officer purely to keep Alex in the network. That lasted two or three months. And with serious coin already in his pocket, even the promise of more money held no sway.)

Telltale signs of Bogusky’s inevitable departure began appearing last year, when he handed over the reigns of his creative department to Rob Reilly and Andrew Keller, along with Jeff Benjamin. (By any measure they’ve done a stupendous job.) In addition, Alex began pursuing personal projects like writing books and various social media experiments. His tweets became more about the stuff of life than work related. All evidence of a man preparing for what’s next.

A few 24 hours ago, I had the pleasure of conversing with Alex Bogusky before he became Alex. I kid you not we were at a pool party in Cannes. Both of us, however, were not really digging it. He seemed to prefer talking about life versus living it up in the pool or, for that matter, the festival itself, in which he would ultimately win a pride of Lions, including a Grand Prix, I believe for Ikea “Lamp.” But at that moment he wasn’t interested in prizes. Like a lot of us, he’d come to Cannes because he could. However, he admitted to now being unsettled by the attention he and his agency were getting. He then confessed that this would likely being his last time at Cannes. “Steff,” he said, “we’ve got plenty of swimming pools in Miami. Besides,” he added, “I like doing the work more than celebrating it.”

I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist of it. Ironic commentary coming from the man whom would later write “Hoopla” not to mention win more Lions than probably any other person or agency in the United States. Yet, to me, it seemed indicative of some higher power working in his life, or trying to, the idea that achieving goals was more important to him than drinking champagne at the end. The conflict with hedonism is worth noting as well.

For another even more telling exchange, read this paragraph from a very recent interview with Chuck Porter in AdAge:

He (Alex) sent me a blog post he wrote about advertising to children and asked me what I thought. I said it was well-written and made some great points, but I also said he needs to make a choice because it’s not [compatible with the business we’re in]. And the next morning he resigned and sent me a note saying, “I resigned like you recommended” and I was like, “I didn’t tell you to do that!

Without probing deeper, it seems Alex began applying his focus on other things besides selling. Perhaps even to the consternation of his peers. Maybe his Higher Power got the better of him. That and a sizable earn-out check from MDC.

The only other time I engaged with Alex was during a pitch. It was down to two agencies: his and mine. We would win that day but, obviously, Alex and CP&B would win a hell of a lot more times than I, or anyone, in the years that followed. CP&B became unstoppable, to the point where they could turn down clients. Regularly. They still do. That’s not arrogance, folks. That’s a blessing.

Alex and his partners built a juggernaut, a magical place. Some call it a sweatshop. But whatever it is it can never be captured in a power point presentation. There are no “proprietary tools” at CP&B. Just like-minded people busting their ass to do great work. And since the beginning, the mind they were aspiring to be like belonged to Alex Bogusky. So powerful is the zeitgeist he established that his predecessors haven’t missed a beat. Indeed, Keller and Reilly are as skilled as they come.

In the end, I applaud Alex for doing his thing: in this business, to this business and now going out of it. He’s done more with and for advertising than almost anyone alive. And so maybe he’s just done. For now, anyway…

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Alex Bogusky: “That’s all folks!”

For the better part of our new century, one “ad” agency has dominated the media landscape, transcending advertising and changing marketing forever. This same agency not only managed to thrive during economic turmoil but continuously spat in the face of industry naysayers and doom and gloom mongers, all the while making game changing, firestorm igniting, award winning, fame inducing, I-wish-I’d-done-that, kind of work.

Of course I’m talking about Crispin Porter & Bogusky. I once called them the Doyle Dane Bernbach of our time. A huge compliment, I know. Yet, I agree with the comparison now more than ever. CP&B has done to our business (and popular culture) exactly the same thing DDB did almost fifty years ago: Changed it. 4EVR.

Crispin’s version of Bill Bernbach? Alex Bogusky. And now, at the relatively young age of 47, Bogusky is resigning from the agency that bears his name, presumably to write books, ride bikes, stop the BP oil leak, and then some. Having received considerable earn out from MDC’s purchase of the agency, Alex can do whatever the hell he wants. Apparently, that includes bidding adieu (at least temporarily) to Ad Land.

For those living in a trailer down by the river, Alex Bogusky has been the agency’s creative leader since its inauspicious beginning some 25 years ago in Miami. His creative philosophy likely began the same way yours and mine did, to do persuasive communication that is smart, beautiful and entertaining. But it rapidly evolved into something unique and, at times polarizing. Pre-supposing social media and all that it entails, Alex wanted a Fame Factory for his clients, an agency that created conversations not just ads. It’s motto: “Don’t show me a script, show me the press release.”

CP&B’s anti-smoking “Truth” campaigns put the agency on the map. Launching the Mini-Cooper in America didn’t hurt. Then Burger King, Ikea, VW and more. CP&B was off to the races and just as quickly “off the chain.” Like it or not, no other agency generates heat –for their clients and for themselves- like Crispin Porter & Bogusky.

And so his resignation has caused a furor. Fast Company printed this story, painting a snarky picture, especially as it related to MDC Chairman & CEO, Miles Nadal. The piece made Alex out to be an “existential, rock star” (cool!) and Miles some sort of jilted “life partner.”

On their own blogs, Nadal and Bogusky quickly came out in refutation of the Fast Company story. Their passionate yet professional replies likely tell a far more truthful rendition of the story than the one posited by Fast Company. I’ve posted them here:

Alex\'s blog reply

Miles\' blog reply

Yet, these are more refutations than explanations…

Why did Alex Bogusky resign? I’m not a journalist and I’m not looking for angles. But I am deeply curious. Here’s a man at the top of his game, doing a job most of us can only dream of doing, and he just walks away. Why? I’m certain it wasn’t a business decision. Far from it. Next post, I’ll share comments made by one of his partners and bits from a conversation I had with him as well. Who knows; maybe resigning was a hoax. Just more hoopla. And I mean that in a good way.

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Tuneage!

I’ve gone on record stating my almost complete disdain for radio as an advertising medium. I’m not changing my tune. Unlike other mass media, for some reason the intrusion of commercials just bothers me more. Always has. Always will.

That said I admire well-written radio when I hear it, especially given how rare. Kudos then to my agency brothers in New York, Euro RSCG in winning several Gold Lions on radio for Dos Equis, “Most Interesting Man in the World.” Last year The Most Interesting Man barely eked out a bronze in TV but since then has become one of the more beloved characters in advertising, winning prizes here, there and everywhere. Not to mention actually selling mucho Dos Equis.

Good for him. He and the agency deserve all the credit in the world. If for nothing else creating (and selling through) the counter-intuitive copy line, “I don’t always drink beer but when I do I drink Dos Equis.” Anyone in this business knows how risk adverse clients are, especially when it comes to dissing their own categories! That Euro RSCG and Dos Equis (Heineken) put forth a hero who doesn’t “always drink beer” shows creative moxie. The fact that he’s an older man is also refreshing in the youth-obsessed spirits business. The campaign rocks. ‘Nuff said.

Back to radio as a medium. When I was a boy there were no Ipods and MP3s. (Fuck you, it wasn’t that long ago!). People, especially young people, listened to music on radios. Sure, the Sony Walkman would usher in portable, private listening but for a brief period of time, maybe thirty years, from 1955 to 1985, every teen-ager in America owned a radio. Many of these contraptions were souped up multi-platform music machines also known as “boom boxes.”

In the summer one couldn’t go anywhere, really, without hearing them. When my amigos and I headed to Montrose Harbor or, as we called it, “the Lake,” it was always someone’s job to bring the “tunes.” Not that we needed our own as just about every car and beach towel had music blasting from it. The sounds of summer were a cacophony of Top 40, Disco and Heavy Metal. Occasionally, we’d here a Cub’s game but it wasn’t long before our Zeppelin and Judas Priest blew the old dude right out of his green and white lawn chair.

If we weren’t playing cassettes, the station to listen to was WLUP, otherwise known as “the Loop.” Guys like Steve Dahl and Johnny B were hugely popular in the morning (both of these jocks remain relevant today, though barely). Yet, it was the tunes that mattered and few stations played our heavier brand of music more readily than the Loop: Van Halen, AC/DC, Rush, Aerosmith; funny how these bands still play and record. Back then they were Gods.

If I go back even further (before pot…before girls…before even puberty) I remember sleeping over at my best friend’s house, staying up super late, listening to weekend countdowns on WLS Music Radio. We lived for the call-in contests, where if you were such and such numbered caller you’d win a lame tee shirt. The prize wasn’t really the point, however. It was about hearing your self on the radio. If you were lucky they’d let you choose and dedicate the next song. The one time I got through I chose “Slow Ride” by Foghat. Dedicated it to Becky at Mather High.

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David Jones, Kate Robertson, Oscar Morales for One Young World

At the Havas Café, adjacent the famous Carlton Hotel in Cannes, World Wide CEO of Havas Worldwide, David Jones and Euro RSCG’s U.K. Chairman, Kate Robertson took the stage to announce the location city for next year’s One Young World summit in Zurich.

For those unawares, One Young World is an initiative started by David, Kate and Euro RSCG to bring together the young people of the world in hopes of creating and securing a better future for it. Last year’s inaugural event in London had over one thousand young delegates from over one hundred countries. In fact, our agency in Chicago sent two. Featured “older” guests included Bob Geldoff, Desmond Tutu and Kofi Annan.

One Young World is a terrific example of a company proactively embracing social responsibility, which, in case you’ve been living under a rock, is one of the biggest trends in modern business. As David Jones pointed out (paraphrase), “It’s becoming more and more about what company’s are giving back to the world as opposed to taking from it.”

Marketing plays a key part. In fact, many of our clients (and yours too) are now spending time and money working on initiatives that add value to society and then talking about it. Besides being good corporate citizens, this is also a necessary business move. With the advent of social media and Internet connectivity, human beings no longer tolerate companies and brands that are not embracing values of some kind. Furthermore, when companies are seen as doing harm they are hammered for it, and not just by the press but also by everyone with a Facebook and Twitter account. Are you listening, British Petroleum? The message: Do good or else!

It’s easy to be cynical when big business and especially advertising agencies start talking about doing good works. Such entities are not known for altruism but for making money. Needless to say, they’d better walk the talk.

After the Havas Café event I spoke with my colleagues, Bill Mericle (CCO, Palm + Havas) and Blake Ebel (Co-CCO Euro RSCG Chicago) about this slippery slope. Was the spectacle of One Young World created more to look good than to be good?

“What’s wrong with doing both?” was their unanimous reply. They’re right of course. While creating One Young World clearly puts the agency in a broad spot light it is a deserved one. One Young world is an ambitious, complicated and costly affair. Procuring travel documents alone would tax most agencies beyond their patience. We should be proud that our firm is driving such a massive initiative. As Mericle pointed out, at the least, there is potential for “countless connections made on behalf of the greater good.”

The upside is considerably better than that. After all, these are the people who will be leading our world tomorrow. Presumably, after attending the One Young World conference in Zurich they will return to their home countries fired up to do some good. How could they not?

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Scene and be seen: Une soiree Majestik Hotel

So, I was heading to the Palais des Festivals for the awards ceremony honoring radio, media and outdoor Lions, when I noticed a cocktail party taking place on the swank, poolside terrace beside my hotel. Not being a drinker, I could care less about the open bar; it’s the people that make these things work.

And man, did I see people. Kraft Foods was hosting a gathering to honor one of their guests, who was featured at one of the better-attended events at the Palais, none other than the famed auteur, Spike Jonze.

For those unawares, Jonze directed Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and more recently, Where the Wild Things Are. Two of these films are in my top twenty of all time and all three are universally regarded as brilliant. In addition to revolutionizing music videos, he’s also made numerous groundbreaking films for our industry, including one of the best commercials ever created, Ikea Lamp, which garnered every award possible the year it came out, not the least of which a Grand Prix at Cannes. This year he has a 30-minute film in the show about robot love. The piece can be viewed here: Spike Jonze Film \"I\'mheremovie\"

Confession: Hours ago I played courier in a futile attempt to deliver my novel, The Happy Soul Industry and screenplay to his hotel. Yeah, I know, a total mook move. But a guy can dream…

Along with Mr. Jonze, attending the party were Bob Jeffries, Howard Draft, Dana Anderson, Ron Bess, Jonathan Harries, David Jones, Mark Figliulo, Abbey Klaassen, Diane Jackson, Lisa Wells, Tony Weisman, Edie Weiss and leadership personnel from USA Today, Hyper Island, MJZ films and countless other Ad Land movers and shakers. To appropriate a phrase from high school: it was like the C-Suite “on acid.”

Needless to say, I missed the awards ceremony. But that’s the thing with Cannes. Everywhere you turn is an existing/potential boss, partner, competitor, or client and, most importantly, mentor. To meet some of these people, however briefly, is a privilege. And besides, even if Spike Jonze has little interest in my book, I can now say I had a meeting with him!

To view a wide selection of Jonze’s work: Spike\'s ouevre.

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