“C’mon angel, that leaked memo was pretty sweet.”

My last post on advertising agency, Cramer-Krasselt parting ways with client, Panera Bread garnered more views in one day than any other in this blog’s history. On June 13, several thousand of you read my story about a frustrated agency CEO having reached his wit’s end with a client. He’d written a memo to his staff, which had been “leaked.” For the record, the story wasn’t my “get.” I’d learned about it from a piece in AdAge. I know from experience agencies seldom let go clients let alone provide messy details. The fact that I once had unpleasant dealings with this client made writing about it impossible to resist.

Given the boffo amount of readers the post attracted I guess I am glad I wrote my story. I “guess” because although I am grateful to anyone who reads my blog, I wish I received those numbers for my other less sensational stories. I get it though. There was more than a hint of gossipy revelation (leaked memo!) in the reporting and we all know that chum attracts fish.

Controversy sells. Duh.

Not surprisingly, the second most-read story I’ve ever written was on the controversial closing of the Chicago office of J Walter Thompson. This was big news in Adland, especially in my hometown Chicago. I knew a lot of the people involved and had almost worked there myself. It too was a tale soaked in chum.

Interestingly, the third most viewed piece was nothing like the first two; it was an essay I’d written on our tendency to “front” on Facebook. I’d been seeing a lot of shiny, happy faces on the platform and was curious to explore why. I loved that story but I know the reason why it got so many hits was only because WordPress chose to “freshly press” it, for which I am grateful.

“Let me tell you about last night…”

There’s a brilliant episode of the Simpson’s where, in typically surreal fashion, Homer finds himself teaching a self-help class on marriage. He quickly learns in order to keep his class interested he must reveal intimate details about his love life. Much to his wife’s dismay the class quickly becomes the talk of the town. Things escalate. Despite Marge’s pleas, Homer finds it nearly impossible to stop gossiping about his marriage. The rush he gets from all the attention is too intoxicating. That is until everything blows up in his face.

Because I am mostly not a cartoon I cannot allow things to blow up in my face. Unlike Homer, I like my job. Therefore, I’m afraid most of my posts will continue to be about ad campaigns, consumerism and popular culture. But I am an addict and I did like seeing that massive spike in my dashboard. So you never know…

Getting treated like shit gets old…

I got an inordinate amount of traction from a link I shared on Facebook about a leaked memo from Cramer-Krasselt’s Chief Executive, Peter Krivkovich, regarding his agency’s resignation of the Panera Bread account. Claiming the client was “much too much even in this crazy business” what with “the constant last-minute shifts in direction, the behind-the-scenes politics, the enormous level of subjectivity that disregards proof of performance…” Well, it got to the point where “enough was enough.” Here is the story:


Inside an agency comments like these are often voiced but they are seldom put on paper and distributed. Even rarer is resigning an account. Here we are privy to both events. And while the matter is basically none of our business, it hits home. Why? Well, first off agencies don’t resign business because for most of us winning it is so damn hard. That’s an obvious thing. A money thing. Providing reasons for firing a client in a memo is virtually unheard of because bad clients do not get outed in Adland. Period. Sometimes for legal reasons (fear of reprisals, etc) but mostly because we are scared other clients might think ill of us for doing so. The reasoning, I suppose, is that we do not want to be perceived as weak under pressure. Deeper down we do not want to be associated with failure, even when it most definitely isn’t. Our insecurities (financial as well as psychological) are profound. It’s kind of like admitting divorce in the 1950’s. A stigma.

That said, I would bet the ranch not a soul reading Krivkovich’s memo, or the news about it, feels anything untoward about CK. On the contrary. Thank God, we think, someone finally put principles before business!

But you know what? A despicable client is bad business. Peter’s memo provides ample proof. And while none of us were there, I know for a fact that this particular client is not nearly as delightful as the wholesome products they sell.

At my previous agency we pitched Panera. During a critical conference call the client neglected to press the mute button. My team was subjected to a litany of mockery and abuse from them. Ouch. Awkward but shit like that happens, right? Thinking we are in confidence people say mean things. Make bad jokes. Et-cetera. I don’t necessarily begrudge Panera that. The thing I’ll never forget was hearing the pitch leader, a punk consultant they’d hired, tell his colleagues that my agency stood no chance of winning, and never had; when just moments ago he’d outlined expectations for all this work he demanded we do. That is unconscionable. We work too f*cking hard, almost always on spec, to be treated so shabbily. Like tokens.

Of course, we abdicated from the pitch. Yet, bitter as we were we didn’t go public about it. We never even told the client what we’d heard. We did what most every other agency in our unfortunate position would do: Nothing. But like a dead rat caught behind the drywall the stink lasted a long, long time.

And so I’ve no doubt my peers at CK came to the same conclusions about this client and resigned the business, albeit after servicing them for nearly two years. By the way, the agency before CK (Mullen, the one we’d lost to) also parted with them in similar circumstances.

And so whether Krivkovich intended his memo to get out or not, I’m glad it did. Maybe the next group of agencies who go after this client –perhaps yours- will think twice. I doubt it. But consider yourself warned!

Finally, I had to roll my eyes at Peter’s closing lines in the memo, the part where he claims Panera’s food is so good “that many of us will continue to eat there.” I know he was trying to be gracious but trust me, no one from that agency who worked on this account will ever eat there again.

Everyday Magic…For 100K.


Quick, what’s your first thought? Fast? Expensive? Douche bag?

I guarantee it’s not “everyday magic.” But that’s Porsche’s new handle, courtesy of CK in Chicago. Specifically, the tag is “Engineered for Magic. Everyday.” But even adding the performance word doesn’t change the fact that this is very new territory for Porsche.

Is it a good place to park such a famous racing car? One thing is certain: I love that Porsche’s new campaign isn’t yet another car on a road with a pithy headline about RPM’s stirring your soul.

I chose the word “park” because just about every shot in the anthem commercial shows the car not moving. Rather, the sporty vehicles sit there, waiting for their owners to fire them up. This I like. We all know how fast these cars can go. It’s nice to see them idle, kind of like a beautiful woman not revealing too much skin. Such sleek, unmistakable design. Those liquid lines. Fact is Porshes look fast standing still.

As for the ‘everyday’ bit, this likely is a nod to research suggesting Porsche needs to lighten up in the market place. Performance has gotten them as far as they can go. And now they want more. Just as SUVs went from off road to the shopping mall Porshe now wants off the autobahn and into the carpool lane.

As I think about it, the strategy seems sound, even obvious. As it is, Porsche is just too racy for Dick and Jane. We want the middle class, this commercial is saying, and not just when they’re having a mid life crisis. But everyday, be that going to work or picking up the kids at school.

One has to admit there’s something delightful about seeing regular folks doing regular things behind the wheel of these pretty cars. Maybe not to car nuts but that’s a risk Porsche appears willing to take.

Thank you, Chicago Egoist

Ralph and the kids at Off The Street Club

Ralph and the kids at Off The Street Club

I usually refrain from writing about my agency’s work but in this case I feel it is entirely appropriate… even necessary!

For more than 100 years, Off The Street Club has been a haven for kids in one of the toughest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Chicago. Providing a safe, supportive, loving environment for hundreds of 4 to 18 year old kids, OTSC offers a number of programs designed to help kids develop into upstanding adults.

Those are words on a new website we built on behalf of Off The Street Club. Yet mere text doesn’t do the site or the club justice. You need to hear these children talk about their “safe place” in the city. You need to look into the eyes of OTSC’s tireless and fearless leader, Ralph Campagna.

And you can, if you go to Videos of these delightful kids and staff as well as other surprises await you. You can actually pull children off the street and put them into the club! Poignant, hopeful and utterly human, it’s a gorgeous piece of interactive. Begging your pardon, but we are very proud to be behind it. Thank you Blake Ebel, Briar Waterman, Rob Starkey, Doug Gipson, Gosia Zawislak and all the other Euros who made this site soar.

For those unawares, each year a different Chicago advertising agency gets behind OTSC, creating marketing, fund raising materials, and doing whatever it can to further the club’s most worthwhile agenda. This was our year, the website our opening salvo.

Visit the site. That’s a composite of the real building and its blighted surroundings. In one image you see the challenges and the hope. Go now and you’ll be rewarded by a terrific online experience. If you’re kind enough to make a small donation to the club, you’ll be rewarded by something more valuable: grace.

Steff\'s Twitter


Most people got that my last post was more of a thought starter than a fire starter. In it I “accused” art directors of being more culpable than anyone for the rise in scam-ads. Most of your comments were insightful but I still like my case!

One of the reasons I called out art directors for shunning copy in their ads is based on the old saw: “nobody reads body copy anyway.” You know I heard that line my first year on the job. Didn’t believe it then. Don’t believe it now.

Fact is many people don’t pay attention to ads at all. For them, it’s not a matter of how long or short the copy is; they’re just not interested in being sold something at that particular time. Doubtful any amount of art direction would make much of a difference. A fun concept might grab them but a targeted virgin usually flees the aggressor.

It’s the people who value advertising (be it for emotional or pragmatic reasons) I’m looking for. Even if capturing new users is the brief I still like writing for an audience. Whatever the media (I always think of print first, but that’s me), I imagine I’m writing for someone who is interested in what I have to say. Doing otherwise does you, your client and the consumer a disservice. That’s my opinion. Assuming advertising must be intrusive in order to succeed is, most of the time, a bad call. Ads need to be relevant to an audience. Then they’ll read them, talk about them and even tear them out of a magazine.

I found a piece of copy in Vanity Fair that kicked my ass, for the new model year of Porsche 911. Understand something: I was on my own time, not playing creative director. I was enjoying a magazine that, by the way, has no equal. (For that matter, neither does Porsche.) I am pretty damn sure I am just the audience the copywriter envisioned when he or she sat down to write. It was my pleasure copying the text word for word:

The first time you experience a Porsche 911, you notice a degree of purpose to the car you may not have anticipated. Every component, every technical advancement is there to advance one cause: the drive. You notice the key is on the left; it was put there originally so a racer could start with one hand, shift with the other and hit the track faster. You, car and road bond like brothers. You suddenly remember that driving can be a thrill. Is a thrill. You feel alive every time you get behind the wheel. You note, amazed, that a 385-horsepower car returns 27 miles per gallon. You appreciate its founding belief of getting more from less. You strain to think of something else that has stayed this true to its ideals for 46 years. And you come to the realization that, in the age of the superfluous and superficial, the unrooted and the unserious, the 911 is necessary. Very necessary. The Porsche 911. There is no substitute.

I particularly like the way the writer turned a luxury item into a necessity, making a solid case for Porsche, even in this economy. In other words, he sold me the car. And he did it with words not pictures. I already know how badass the 911 is yet I am not willing to buy one. Seeing another photo of it would do nothing to change my mind. Reading these words could. Indeed, I am considering Porsche’s new sedan, The Panamera next go around.

Kudos to CK, an agency in my backyard, for making copy as deft and beautiful as the cars they’re selling.