Walt Whitman

When I was a teenager, I worked one summer at my Grandfather’s can factory on the Southside of Chicago. Dominic was not my biological grand parent but I grew up knowing only him on my mother’s side. Dom was fierce, funny and a very loyal man. He treated me like blood.

His can company, called (for a reason I forget) Wisconsin Can was a line factory. Each person occupied a spot along a conveyor and did one menial but critical job. The end product was an aluminum can, usually for cookies or candy.

A log-haired, pot smoking dreamer, this was not my fantasy gig. I wouldn’t have lasted a week if not for Dom’s patience – if that were the right word. He would call me in to his office constantly to reprimand me for doing a half-ass job. During those sessions he’d also throw in various criticisms toward my liberal upbringing, castigating my parents for divorcing and other bon mots.

Yet, I actually preferred his berating me to working on the line. Partly because it took me off the line but also because it made me feel good –somehow- to be in his presence. In his own way, the man loved me.

Once, when I dared question him on the sanctity of factory work he told me something I’ll never forget, even if I don’t agree with it. He said, “Steffan, work isn’t supposed to be fun. Why do you think they call it work?”

Much later, I got into the advertising business. And I had fun. But I also knew I possessed a skill and that I was getting better at it. Unlike sticking a wrapper on a can, writing was (and still is) something I can sink my teeth into.

Yet, as we all know, this business is not always fun. Pressures mount and fears take hold. Work can become a trying experience, like a factory. Or worse. A factory that doesn’t make anything. I think of my grandfather during those times.

I know he had a point. One must earn a living. So, maybe “fun” isn’t the right word. Let’s try some others. If one feels “useful” and “purpose-driven” then that is better than fun. Wouldn’t you agree? Suffice to say, I wasn’t feeling either on the can line.

Give me this. Working in our business should at least aspire to be fun. Data be damned, creativity will always be more art than science. And art is about passion and, yes, having fun! When a creative is feeling it there is no better feeling. It’s like your Walt Whitman singing the Song of (Your)self. It’s glorious.

So, here’s to feeling it and being of maximum usefulness to your company, your clients and, most of all, yourself. May all of you find that happiness. It does exist.

Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”


“Do not disturb. I’m making Advertising!”

It’s 4 PM on Friday. I’m in my office immersed in a project for one of our clients. I was about to write it’s an important assignment but aren’t they all? What’s cool about this particular brief –for me anyway- is how much of a pure-play creative assignment it is: new line, new mantra, TV, print, web, experiential. And it’s for a well-known and beloved product.

No, I can’t tell you what it is. Sorry… you know it’s not my M.O. to be a tease. But you probably also know that non-disclosure agreements permeate our industry.

Besides, the subject of the brief is not the topic I want to write about. Hell, I’ve been doing that all week! It’s the sheer joy of writing and creating that I want to discuss. Working on this brief has given me some of the highest highs I’ve had in some time. That’s because, in addition to being creative director, I chose to put on my copywriter’s hat.

Boys and girls, nothing feels as good as coming up with ideas and fleshing them out. Fumbling in the dark for the light switch in the middle of the night so I can write down a headline. Holing up in my office to odd hours writing and rewriting and writing some more. Building a wall of scrap art, copy nuggets and ad-like objects. These things and more have all been my life the last week. I didn’t know how much I missed it. Gods of Advertising, Sweet by Design and The Rogue’s Gallery regularly feed my writing jones but there’s something unique to blank page copy writing. It’s exhilarating…

And, obviously, it’s also what I’ve been doing in lieu of writing a post!