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.




Link courtesy of Bart Smith…

Bart Smith is an old friend from back in my Chicago days. Well before I moved west Bart trekked to Seattle, where he continued his audio production company, Bart Radio. (now bartplus) Anyway, he and I collaborated on some radio scripts I wrote for Art.com, including the one linked here about Vincent Van Gogh. Inspired by a popular biography series on TV, the spots featured the indelible voice of the now departed, Peter Graves.

I’m on the record as saying 90% of all radio sucks. But of that rarefied 10% Bart produced a great many. In 25 years in this business, so far I have written only a handful of radio commercials. The Art.com stuff was a highlight. Not only did I get to tell true stories about interesting people I got to tell them in a way that was uninhibited and fun, inviting people “to bring the art world into their world.”

They say radio is the true test of a copywriter and hopefully I aced it. I’m currently doing various freelance projects (content creation and creative leadership) and would love to hear from you. This is my portfolio. And if you’re looking for great audio production and a truly supreme collaborator, look up Bart. He’ll take good care of you.


Freelancing be dancing…

Forgive the delayed post.

In absence of full time employment, I’ve been working my ass off. If this sounds contradictory it is not. As any freelance writer will tell you, the hustle is as crucial as the creation. Unlike fat and happy FTE’s the freelancer must work to get work before he can work.

Ah, the hustle. It’s like the fisherman who has to both catch fish and sell them. Two jobs. Both with distinct roles and responsibilities. He rises early to fish. Stays up late to sell.

Same for me. Work the phones in the AM. Write into the wee hours. Get up and do it again. Call it hustle and flow. I’m not complaining. Just saying.

Though I am also dutifully searching for full time work (there are many birds in my nest!), I do find rogue satisfaction in being a grinder. The hustle keeps one alert. My sonar is on. Even the glimpse of silver beneath the waves and I turn to it. Lowering my bait. Jigging for a nibble.

The writing part I know well. Am good at it. Adore it. But after composing a manifesto for this client and writing content for that website, I’m just too fatigued to tend to my blog.

I trust you understand. And if you’re so inclined, hit me up. I will most certainly deliver. Spoken like a true hustler, right?

My portfolio: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

Been there, done that…

My entire career, I’ve been a full time employee of three agencies. Before now, my only work stoppage (six months) was on account of a separation agreement.

This time I have no such covenants. Therefore, in addition to copious amounts of personal writing, I’ve also taken my first foray into freelance copywriting. To my pleasant surprise, I enjoyed it. A lot. Not only did I not miss being the boss I actually relished being inconspicuous. Why? Well, that’s the subject of this post. I think I have a fairly unique perspective. Hopefully, most of you will find it interesting and maybe even enlightening, especially if you’ve got designs on creative leadership.

Freelancing put me back in the creative trenches: conceptualizing and writing. Two things I deeply missed. Fact is, unless a Chief Creative Officer actively fights against it most of us end up being curators and choreographers. Those are important tasks but it’s just not the same as coming up with ideas and writing. Whether my peers admit it or not, the longer they stay out of the trenches the more likely their creative muscles atrophy. It’s the same as anything else: use it or lose it. Remaining a player/coach isn’t easy, especially if various members of the agency are driving you in different directions. In addition, you have to want to do the work. Think about it. If no one at the agency expects you to write copy or compose layouts then would you? Lots of ECD’s and CCO’s (the most famous ones included) don’t create anything anymore. Regarding global creative directors, a colleague once told me the only “books” those guys care about are their passports.

Freelancing, I no longer have to suffer fools the way most creative directors must. A CCO is expected to work with senior people across his or her network as well as for clients. While many in the C-suite are brilliant and pleasant plenty are also tools. Paid only to write they are no longer my concern. A blessing.

Finally, I don’t miss power. As a matter of fact, I’m here to tell you power is overrated. For one thing, it separates you from the people and places and things that make advertising so damn fun. While separation from the troops is endemic to any leadership position I missed the camaraderie. You know who scares me? The ECD or CCO who doesn’t. Those guys are trouble.

As a freelancer, I get to create work with the other people who create work. That “flow” trumps pomp and circumstance. Plus, whether or not I become a CCO again, it’s nice to know I’m comfortable working the skill sets that got me there in the first place.

Full disclosure: As a CCO, I was never a big fan of hiring freelancers. I thought perhaps they wouldn’t try as hard as FTE’s. Or be as vested in outcomes as FTE’s. I was dead wrong on the first point. (Freelancers won’t get hired back if they don’t go full out.) And while the second point is usually true it’s also a moot point. If a company demands loyalty from a freelancer offer him or her a damn job!

A blogger and freelance copywriter I follow on Twitter sent me the following question:

This is such an exciting time to be in advertising and I love all the opportunities we have to craft messages that reach consumers in new/personal ways. With the new emphasis on technology and strategy, how do you think copywriters have to adapt in order to further their careers in the industry? Obviously words will always be necessary, but do you think (our) new digital colleagues are going to see earlier and faster success and development (than us)?

What follows are my best answers to that question. Some of them are trend-based and others ideas I believe will never change. I don’t profess to know more or less than any given copywriter but, hey, I was asked…

First off, let’s explore what the asker means by “new digital colleagues.” I think she’s referring to designers with a visual acumen for mining the digital space. In other words: the modern art director. The evolution from general AD to digital AD is relatively easy to chart (though certainly not easy to do). One either learns how to create in this space or enters the business doing so already. Understanding modern tools like flash, Photoshop and the like comes…or it doesn’t.

Maybe the path for copywriters is more ambiguous. We scribes are understandably insecure. After all, we put words together. Words don’t change. They stay the same forever. So old-fashioned. Recently, a well-regarded media blogger suggested copywriting soon wouldn’t even be a profession. As I was saying, we get nervous. What’s a girl to do?

From a copywriter’s POV, mastering new technology is not critical but having an intuitive sense of what it can do is. With agencies and clients clamoring to figure social media out, let alone exploit it, the pressure inevitably falls on copywriters and art directors. The brief screams: Make it happen! The woman who sent me the above question uses social media in her daily life. She has a great blog and website. Clearly, her question is more than just about “getting digital.” She wants to know how to make a living.

We all do. Having a grip on the digital landscape is merely the price of entry. Relevancy is mandatory for anyone in our industry.

“Okay, I’m relevant. Now what?”

Start with your “book.” (Should we even call it that anymore?) Evolve your best existing work from traditional mass media to newer forms. Instead of press and television, think holistically -about screens, about walls, about spaces. Obvious? You’d be surprised. A majority of portfolios I see are still comprised primarily with TV, print and outdoor, sometimes a few banners thrown in. Where is the new thinking? And that, of course, means integration.

As discussed in an earlier post, social and outdoor media have much in common. They both go where people work and play. They both instigate conversations. My advise: Start thinking of your ‘book’ as a ‘virulent’ combination of out-of-home, social, and other guerilla-like components. Do this well and you will have a modern portfolio. Do it really well and you will always have work.

A word about talent. One either has talent or they don’t. Unfortunately, talent cannot be calibrated. There is no SAT. Therefore, we rely on portfolios, award counts and other dubious barometers. If you are lacking in talent you will have to rely on your wits, which, to be fair, has gotten some of us very, very far.

I’ve saved my best advice for last. It was given to me and, with some modifications; I’m giving it to you:

1) A writer writes. Keep a journal. Start a blog. Tweet. And when you are not writing…

2) Read. Be it ads, novels, screenplays, the back of a cereal box. Read voraciously.

3) Learn how to edit your work. Banish every unnecessary word. Write sparingly. Hemingway spent hours crafting perfect sentences, mostly by cutting. A master of the short story, he would have appreciated Twitter. He would have been an excellent copywriter.

4) Finally, Smile. Regardless of all the gloom and doom, this is still one of the best jobs on earth.

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