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 

“Like, I know I sound like a teen-aged girl but, like, I totally can’t stop…”

For years I have observed the way people talk in meetings. Even the smartest among us have certain tics and/or catch phrases we employ, often subconsciously, because we are nervous. Some are subtler than others. I sometimes think these quirks hurt a team’s performance, as if points are being deducted. In my vain attempt to wean myself of such behavior I pay extra attention to it in others.

The most obvious example is when a person overuses a word or phrase such as “like” or “basically.” We all know teen-agers who overuse the word “like.” Like, every sentence they utter begins or ends with it. Thankfully, most kids outgrow it. When adults overuse the word it’s painful. Particularly in a business meeting, where, unfortunately, it happens way too often.

There are many less broad examples. I worked with a man who always said “fundamentally” when he was speaking to a group. The more important the group the more he leaned on the word. “Fundamentally,” he would say, “the sky is blue.” Another colleague liked to sprinkle “if you will” into every presentation. “The sky, if you will, is blue.” I don’t even know what that means!

Both these men are smart. They seemingly can’t help themselves. They have mild cases of “Phraseitis.” Meetings are petri dishes for “Phraseitis.” It occurs there like colds in a child’s classroom.


Perhaps a more virulent strain is the unmitigated use of jargon. Here the afflicted person employs words never used in polite conversation, peppering his or her speech with industry lingo and corporate axioms. Like the onerous word “scalable.” I believe they make a cream for that. My current favorite is “onboarding.” Is that like wakeboarding? Torture. Yet, I’ve been in meetings where jargon is as common as dust.

Lots of discourse online regarding these topics, I know. I even saw a Twitter contest whereby people were asked to hash tag their favorite corporate clichés for fun and prizes.

When I was in college a bunch of us played a drinking game called “Bob.” While watching reruns of the old Bob Newhart Show, everyone had to imbibe alcohol whenever a character on the show said “Bob,” which was alarmingly often. Beyond the game’s silliness, it’s based on an interesting insight: that in real life people seldom use first names during conversation.

They say his name, you get hammered…

Imagine doing shots every time someone said “basically” or “real time” in a business meeting. We’d be drunk by noon. Dead by five.