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My last post was about “responsible passion” as creative philosophy. I wrote that whatever the philosophy a creative professional has, it must strike a balance between passion and responsibility. We are craftsmen as well as salesmen. To do the job right, “you’ve got to do both.”

Now I’m going to talk about staying creatively fit and remaining relevant, which is a critical part of any creative philosophy.

I believe in what I like to call the “creative athlete.” He or she is creatively fit, physically and mentally. He relentlessly works at his craft. She takes classes and workshops. They are students of the game.

Are you a “creative athlete?”
Are you a “creative athlete?”

They are also switch hitters, in that he or she thinks about their agency from every skill position and can play there if necessary. A good copywriter is a planner. A good art director knows how to interface with clients. All are good salesman, when called upon.

The creative professional may prefer working alone or with a partner, but he or she is also a competent and enthusiastic team player.

When I was coming up at Leo Burnett, I totally related to the founder’s screed regarding the “lonely man” — a romantic figure who wrote into the wee hours. As I grew older, I had to adapt my game to accommodate the many others who ultimately affect a project.

When creative athletes become creative directors, they remain active in their core skill. They get better at the other ones. They remain teachable and open-minded.

I firmly believe in the player-coach. If I were to stop writing I would lose the ability to judge writing. I would also begin the not-very-slow fade into irrelevance.

A writer writes…
A writer writes…

Remaining relevant is, in itself, a creative philosophy.

Honestly, I don’t know how a creative director can do the job well if he or she isn’t banging away on every other brief at the agency. I suppose some do but that’s not how I roll.

A writer writes. Right?

Being fit creatively is both mental and physical. I think a good salesperson looks good doing it. They are pumped to be working one of the coolest jobs in the world. I’m not talking about jackets and skirts. Lord knows I don’t adhere to any dress code. Just don’t skulk.

Finally, I believe in the basic tenants of a liberal arts education; in that a good creative professional is knowledgeable about our culture in all its forms. He or she is a consumer of it as well as a creator.

That means we must have a working knowledge of TV shows we don’t like and music we don’t listen to. For example, I loathe The Bachelor, but I’ve seen it. I cannot stand gossip magazines, but I read my wife’s copies. And so on.
We go to movies. We make videos. We Tweet. We read.

Know your crap
Know your crap

The creative professional who hates pop culture and avoids much of it cannot possibly serve our craft. Losing interest is tantamount to giving up and, as with any good athlete, giving up is unacceptable.

Know your crap.

I hope these last two posts have been helpful. While I am hardly the consummate teacher I have done this job for over 20 years. I know a thing or ten; many of them learned the hard way.

Whether or not one agrees with me on all matters isn’t critical. Your creative philosophy can and should vary. Just as long as you have one and that you are open to changing it.

Author’s Note: A version of this story was published last week on Reel Chicago

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Two peas in a pod?

“Much of the Simpsons’ success can be traced to two main sources: an independence from network interference and a complete dedication to the writing…”

                                       -John Ortved, The Unauthorized History of the Simpsons

 

The Simpsons TV show is the creative standard by which all comedy writing (perhaps all script writing) is measured. Few ever meet those standards. Many duck them all together. The Simpsons is also one of the most successful things ever created. Period. No part of popular culture (ours or anyone’s) is unaffected by this quirky cartoon. How and why can be summed up in the above quote.

As you might imagine, the above quote is sweet music to any creative person’s ears, especially if you’re a copywriter. Unfortunately, it is a song we seldom get to play or hear in the creative department. We get “network interference” all the time, so much so it is considered part of the “process.” And while we may have a complete dedication to the writing, few others in a typical agency do. And why should they? Writing is not their skill set. They are executives, strategists and managers. Their skill set, if you get right down to it, is to affect the writing, generally via “comments.” Comments can be good. Comments can be bad. My point is we don’t work in a vacuum.

The “curiously strong mints” campaign is my Simpsons. In my own unauthorized untold true story of Altoids, I make a similar statement to Ortved’s. A great campaign for many reasons but, in the early going, its meteoric success comes down to the same two things: autonomy and an obsession for writing. I obsessed over those headlines as my partner, Mark Faulkner obsessed over images, color scheme and typography.

In that first year we answered to no one, save for our creative director, who was only appreciative and supportive. Obviously, the client had to sign off (they were a joy by the way) but “network interference” was negligible. Why? No one in the agency cared. The budget was tiny and TV never an option. (Remember this was 1995 and this was Leo Burnett. TV was king.) Anyway, the rest is history: Wrigley bought Altoids and Lifesavers for $1.5 billion dollars.

Ultimately, many would contribute in the case study of Altoids (I’ve named them in previous posts as well as in an Adweek story) but year one it was just a creative team and an assignment.

So, what do we make of “network interference” aka the age-old battle between suit and creative? We are both on the same team, working for the same “network.” But the partnership is strained. Necessarily perhaps. And maybe that’s healthy. But for those once-in-a-lifetime campaigns –“Think Different” “Just do it.” “Curiously Strong Mints”- I’m guessing it’s the creative lonely man who called the tune.

Author’s Notes: This article first ran last week in Reel Chicago – If you would like a creative lonely man as cipher hit me up Portfolio

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Crazy good…

For the past few days, even longer, I have been working on a manifesto for one of our clients. Actually, I’ve been working on two. Even more actually, I’ve been working on manifestos for 25 years, since becoming a copywriter.

Nothing suits me more. Like many a creative soul, I am by nature a show off. And this is the way I can do it. I know I am not alone. Most copywriters get off on writing manifestos. At least they’d better. Writing such documents is at the heart of what we do, and can do, for our clients.

Most of you know what I’m talking about. For those unawares, a manifesto or mantra or anthem is the bringing to life in words the highest and most noble aspirations of its subject matter, aka the brand.

Yes, it is advertising copy but in the best sense of the word. Recall Apple’s great script to the modern world: Think Different. Consider the lines that first and forever defined Nike to a generation: Just Do It. We know these iconic tags because we fell in love with the manifestos. Frankly, neither line would have lasted this long, or even gotten out the door, if not for their beloved manifestos.

The power and glory of a brilliant manifesto cannot be overstated. They raise the hairs on the back of your neck. They make CMO’s smile. They win pitches. Most of all they change things: attitudes, behaviors, even lives.

At least the good ones do.

Alas, we’ve all heard or, God forbid, written our share of shitty ones. They can be purple or redundant or both. They get long pretty damn fast. They turn into cheesy rip-o-matics. Yet, in a weird way, even the bad ones sound pretty good. They are like pizza that way.

Why?

Because we slave over them. Into these haloed paragraphs we put everything we know or think we know about writing, about persuading, about life. Here you won’t find speeds and feeds, racks and stacks or friends and family. None of that. These are the best neighborhoods in Adland. No trespassing!

May I write one for you? https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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Copywriting is not about the print ad anymore and hasn’t been for some time. But that doesn’t make the skill set any less important. You don’t have a website without words; try building a wire without them.

Providing clever, provocative and powerful copy to web designers and the like is critical. For many copywriters, feeding them content that inspires their work is the job. Just as art directors and designers have had to evolve so have writers. When the dust cleared from these early transitions both writers and art directors realized that what they do is essentially the same. New media still uses words and pictures. Creating a “look and feel” for this website or that social campaign has new obligations but the fundamentals are the same.

For example, I’m asked to help create a website for a B2B start up. The first thing we need is an “organizing principle” or key idea that drives the whole thing. This means a strategy line and a creative line – just like it does for any mass media campaign. Without it, you’re flying blind.

In a sense then the landing page functions as your “anthem” or “mantra.” Clients need, want and demand this asset the same as they did 25 years ago. So we write it. I present these to my clients much like I did in the beginning, when I was creating brand campaigns at Leo Burnett. Poetry and power had better be there.

Subsequently, each page of a website operates like a print ad, with a killer headline and precise and compelling copy. Every vertical needs an “ad” that wholly demonstrates its unique offering while at the same time adhering to the covenants of the organizing principle.

The email campaign directing targeted customers to the website is not much different than your classic teaser campaign. When we make advertising it is still advertising, be it online or off. And it damn well better be magical.

The lesson for clients and agencies alike is not to forsake the core skills of writing and designing in a chase for so-called digital natives. If they are mediocre designers or write like they text the output will suck. Don’t go there. Look for brilliant writers and art directors. The modern world is not an excuse for creating superficial tactics.

For magical copywriting and creative direction, no matter what: 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/