Monday, May 23, 2016

Feel The Bird


Last week I declared my candidacy to replace Martin Sorrell as Chairman of the WPP organization, one of the world's largest advertising holding companies.

Many of you mistakenly read the piece as nothing more than Swiftian delight, an exercise in hyperbole and inside-the-park trade satire.

Wrong.

So very wrong.

You see, on this matter, I'm as serious as a missing page in a PowerPoint deck. I really should be the next WPP Chairman. For the reasons I spelled out earlier last week. And for many more, which I will put forth today.

First, let's talk about the criteria that guides all decisions in the advertising world -- the creative quality of the work. (Cupping ear with left hand) Oh, I'm being told that is no longer the case and the number one criteria governing decision making is now, wait for it...Money.

Fair enough.

As has been reported in the trades, Sir Martin Sorrell's compensation package including stocks, options and "performance" bonuses over a 5 year period was approximately $120 million USD.

You can be sure other potential candidates will be swinging for the same fence. But this 44 year old freelance copywriter will not.

I'm gonna do the gig for less. Substantially less.

I'm a man of modest needs. I don't like wearing suits. Or hard leather shoes. I don't need $100 haircuts. I trim my own mustache. I like Knob Creek and Maker's Mark, but have no problem drinking Jack Daniels. Get me near a pool, some free weights and a hiking trail and I won't need any expensive gym memberships. Plus, I like driving my 2007 Lexus LS 460, so I don't need any new fancy wheels.

And because I like round numbers, WPP, I'm in for an easy $10 million a year. Easy.

I haven't even talked about the money spent on traveling. I don't like flying. I don't like the food in London. Paris makes me feel claustrophobic. And a $5 million Brownstone in New York? Won't be necessary.

I'm prepared to perform all my duties as Chairman of WPP from the comfort of my home in Culver City. I would however put in for a new Herman Miller chair as the mesh netting on my current model is beginning to yield to the constant pressure of my 200+ lbs. butt.

I understand as the titular head of such a large organization that I will need to make some appearances east of La Cienega Blvd., and here again my modest nature will pay handsome dividends to the WPP organization.

You see I am more than willing to fly Business Class. I don't need the exorbitant and wasteful niceties found beyond the faux crushed blue velvet curtain. Give me a wide seat and promise I'll never have to eat the Beef Stroganoff they serve in Coach and I'm good.

Special Note: I get to fly Business Class even if travel time is less than 6 hours. I know HR and Finance people get sticky on this but on this point there can be no negotiation.

I'm running out of room and I haven't even discussed my platform or policy changes, which I think many women, brown people and Fucking Jews will appreciate. In the next few weeks I shall continue to use this digital soapbox to lay out my qualifications for the job as your new chairman of WPP, which originally stood for Wire and Plastic Products.

Here too, we see how life has come full circle. My first job, other than running two newspaper delivery routes, was working in my father's office in downtown Manhattan at the Brownell Electro Company, the nation's 138th leading distributor of industrial electrical wiring spools.

And my intimate knowledge of wire products did not end there. Upon landing in California after college, I also drove a forklift at the Brownell Electro warehouse in Compton. And stood shoulder to shoulder with many Crips, Bloods and former residents of the Department of Corrections.

In other words, I'm a man of the people.

And I will be a man of your WPP people.


Rich Siegel 
#FeelTheBird















Thursday, May 19, 2016

It's a Dog's life


If you're like most dog owners -- maybe "owners" isn't the right terminology, god knows I don't want to offend anybody -- you pick up food for your dog at the supermarket. Or at the PetCo. The PetSmart. The PetBox, whatever. And if your dog has special needs, maybe you go to one of Los Angeles' many doggie boutiques.

In any case, you slap your money on the counter and they fork over the food.

What a lucky bunch you are.
You see, apparently I'm not like other dog owners, again I apologize.

A couple of years ago, Nelly, pictured above, had her gall bladder removed. Her liver was malfunctioning and her enzyme count was too low. Or too high, I don't remember. I do remember shelling out a semester's worth of college tuition money to remedy it all.

And as you can tell from the smile on her face, it was well worth it. I'm no poet and don't have the faculties to put into words what it is we get from dogs, I only know that we do. And knock on wood that the 14 years we have enjoyed with Nelly will go another 14.

My wife says I'm being stupid and unrealistic.
But it's not the first time I've heard that.

Since the surgery, Nelly has been on Prescription Dog Food.

Prior to all this, I had no know idea there even was prescription dog food. I suspect you hadn't as well.

I grew up in a middle class suburban neighborhood that still bore it blue class roots. When dogs or cats got sick, or caught a cold or broke a leg, they simply put 'em down. There were no veterinary hospitals or 100,000 square foot warehouses filled with automatic water dispensers, electronic fences and lambskin doggie beds.

There was Ralph on the corner, selling replacement puppies.

But times are different. And since switching over to the prescription dog food there has been a remarkable improvement. So much so that we decided to keep Nelly on these low fat, gastrointestinal FDA-approved nuggets of protein, protein and more protein.

On my last visit to the one store in Los Angeles that carries these foul smelling, fishy meat pellets, I was told my prescription card had expired. Meaning, if I didn't get it renewed I would no longer be able to get Nelly's fix.

All of which has me wondering, is there some kind of Prescription Dog Food Black Market that I'm unaware of? A Mexican Cartel of K9 Nutrition Profiteers?

"Yo homie, check it out. I got ten kilos of free range chicken. This is the good stuff man."

I'm not one of those people who prattle on about the Nanny State. I understand the need for limited regulation. But doesn't the government have better things to be doing?

Like monitoring public restrooms.




Wednesday, May 18, 2016

May I present your next WPP Chairman...


Last week it was announced that Sir Martin Sorrell, Chairman of WPP, one of the world's largest advertising holding companies, has begun the search for a replacement.

I know this is normally not done, but I'd like to throw my proverbial 'hat in the ring.'

Let's start where all good arguments start, with Maurice Levy, Chairman of rival Publicis, another one of the world's largest advertising companies. Who said, quite publicly...

"Whoever succeeds Sorrell needs to be a good human being -- not wicked and nasty, generous and not greedy, sharing and not selfish or egotistical."

With the exception of egotistical, I believe I measure up to all those criteria.

Despite my gruff writings, I am a good human being. I put the seat down. I pet puppies. I give dollar bills to people standing at the end of freeway exit ramps, unless I judge from their appearance that they are going to spend the money on drugs or airplane glue.

And I am in possession of a good working moral compass. That alone separates me from 75% of the potential field.

I'm not wicked and nasty, though I have been known to exhibit a short fuse with people in the office who are: a.) stupid, b.) incompetent, c.) drunk, or d.) all of the above. This, I would contend, is an indicator of leadership.

And to Mr. Levy's last point, I believe I am generous and share easily. On more than one occasion I have used this blog to take a stand on greater profit sharing for all agency employees. I've railed against C-Suite money grabbing. And have always gone out of my way, in presentations and/or interviews to use the "we" word and acknowledge the contributions of my partners, even if they wasted countless hours watching Internet porn.

My fabricated endorsements don't stop there.

At the recent International Andy Awards Festival, my former boss and advertising icon Lee Clow said:

"Every ad agency should be led by a creative person."

Some might argue that Clow was referring to a thoroughbred recognized creative with a closet full of awards and odd-sharped acrylic trophies.

I never picked up a Cannes Lion, mostly because the one agency coordinator "accidentally" omitted our ABC submission, two years in a row, but I am in possession of a 1997 LuLu Silver and a 2004 Telly Award, ok, it was Merit of Excellence.

You might be thinking, "Rich, you're a 44 year old freelance copywriter, what do you know about business, real business?"

I'll grant you I'd need some boning up on the bean counting. But my father was CPA. My uncle is a CPA. And my brother is a CPA. Plus, I'm Jewish. I don't know if you've heard, but we're good with money.

Last week I bought chlorine for the backyard jacuzzi. I found an online source that sells the 5 lbs. jug for the same price as the 3 lbs. jug found at the brick and mortar store. Saved 42%.

Booya!

I don't know how this is all going to go down. But for all my friends at Team Detroit, JWT, Y&R, Possible, etc., you need to stuff those ballot boxes, lobby hard for me, and sign all your time sheets with: Siegel for WPP Chairman.

Do that, and I promise:

-- More free Bagels

-- Offices for everyone

-- The abolishment and/or reduction of Frivolous Fuckwadian Digital Knick Knacks™











Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Not So Urgent Care



Let's say you're on your way to work.

Maybe your day started a bit earlier than normal. Maybe the neighbor's dog managed to sneak through the gate and get out before the sun has risen. And maybe, for no apparent reason started barking, loudly, at the cinder block wall.

On your way to work and the never-ending slog up Stinking' Lincoln Blvd. you spot this young lass twirling a sign like a veteran Chinese Plate Spinner. And you think to yourself, "Yes, bacon and eggs does sound good." And, "Yes, I happen to have two dollars and ninety nine cents in my possession."

So you "treat" yourself to a spontaneous breakfast at Norms.

That's how these sign spinning things work.

And as you've probably noticed, it's not just apropos of greasy spoon diners.




Apparently, this ubiquitous marketing can induce a spur of the moment car washing, the preparation of one's income tax returns or even the purchase of a new home.

I get it.

But imagine my surprise, when leaving the gym the other day, I spotted this fellow.

(Note: I literally drove past him, then a mile and half later decided it would be worth a trip to circle back and get his picture. Ironically, the guy holding and spinning the sign was so stoned he didn't mind posing for me.)



Let that sink in for a second.

It's a man holding a sign (though they really should have sprung for the giant arrow shaped model) coaxing drivers into the Playa Medical Urgent Care Center.

I'm trying to picture how that works.

"Mmmm, I've had this open sore on my forehead. And now it's starting to ooze. And oh, damnit some of that pus just got in my mocha frappaccino. But wait, there's an Urgent Care Medical Center that can tend to the gaping hole in my skull and guarantee future specialized coffee drinks will not be besmirched by my unwanted and unsavory bodily fluids. Ooo, and they offer validated parking."

Since I was up close and personal with the sign spinner, who honestly did a lot more shimmying and shaking than spinning, I asked him up why they had him out there on the corner.

"I don't know, man. I guess they just trying drum up some business. They need the the money. Something about a lawsuit."

Wow.

Dirty (I've been inside there once before), desperate and currently under litigation, everything I'm looking for in a health care facility.





Monday, May 16, 2016

Planners may want to plan to look the other way


If you find yourself getting excited and want to board the bus for the 2016 Planning-Ness Conference --Oh yeah that's a real thing -- well, don't.

The magic markers have been put away. The whiteboards have been scrubbed clean. And the assemblage of our industry's best and brightest thinkers/makers/linguistic gymnasts have already disassembled, returning to their respective agencies, ready to semantically torture any junior copywriter or art director within earshot.

The 2016 Planning-Ness Conference, God, I love saying that, was last week.

I could not attend as I was actively engaged in real advertising -- writing BOGO ads for a leading maker of eyewear, building traffic for a software distributor and crafting a Summer Sales Event for one of America's leading automakers.

"Hurry in now cause Summer's going fast and so are these deals."

You know, the stuff that keeps the lights on and pays the salary of account coordinators and holding company officers alike.

Selling shit.
Moving merchandise.
Making Skip ads.

I didn't have time or the inclination to make it to some of the rigorous, informative sessions:


How to Have a Good Day.

How to Design for Happiness.


How to Find your Yoga 

(no touching your toes or yoga pants required)


By the way, if you were to check the link, you'd see those were actual forum titles. I'd like to say that I made them up, but I didn't.

I take a lot of guff for the way I manhandle planners and poke fun at whatever it is they do or purport to do, but the truth is I could never out-mock the self-mockery found within the hallowed halls of the 2016 Planning-Ness Conference -- did I mention how much I love saying that?

Lest you think I am alone in my open contempt, you should know, I am not.

I receive emails and texts, almost on a daily basis, from fellow writers and art directors who thank me for my tireless battle with those who would enslave us with their 9 page briefs, indecipherable trapezoids and parallelograms and jargon-fested word salads.

In fact, a hat tip goes out to one of these unnamed copywriters for alerting me to the 2016 Planning-Ness Conference. As well as an equally-amusing Tumblr called Planners Talking Planning.

From there, I give you this amazing navel-gazing video which manages to illustrate everything I've been saying for the last 8 years of blogging in just the first minute and 37 seconds.

To be honest I couldn't, like, you know, like, get past that, you know, like, point:



Perhaps as a counterweight to all this I should reserve a bus and a hold my own seminar next year:

Bullshitting-Ness 2017







Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Week's Top Pix


I have always wondered how good photographers are able to snap pictures worth looking at. How hard can it be? You point the camera and click the button. It's something any idiot can do.

Except this idiot.

I had an uncle, or a cousin, my father was never good with keeping track of family, who was a professional photographer. He must have been good. He had a house on Long Island. And he drove a Cadillac.

In those simpler times you could always tell who was successful. They drove Cadillacs. Either they were very good at their job. Or they were mobbed up.

My oldest daughter has a good eye for photography. Her art teachers always told us she was uniquely talented in this arena. But she has decided to forego that interest in Photography for the more lucrative field of Public Health Administration.

In any case, the writing muscle needs a little R&R today, so I've decided to share some photos I found on my iPhone.


Spotted at a welding shop on Jefferson Blvd. on my near daily walks to the Baldwin Hills Overlook.




 Taken at the Baldwin Hills Overlook.


Last week we hiked Fryman Canyon, where an old VW Thing had fallen over the crest and been buried in the ground. I convinced my reluctant wife to sit in the car.




For no apparent reason.

And finally, to end on a laugh...



Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Formerly Empty Nest


I was told by those who know, that when both my daughters left the house last September, my wife and I would find unexpected pleasure in the Empty Nest.

I wrote these people off as kooks.

Possibly misanthropes who did not love or enjoy their children as much as we did. There was no way I could take joy in my girls being away. A thousand miles to the north and the east.

I had the hardest time with the beginning of their college adventures.

But now one of the messy birds has returned to the nest. And with the completion of coursework in Early 17th Century Russian Furniture Upholstery and Organic Chemistry 101, the other one will not be far behind.

Oh shit.

The second bathroom upstairs already looks like a landfill of make up, and wet brassieres and other mysterious feminine toiletries I know nothing about.

The kitchen sink is full of dishes that can't go in the dishwasher, because last night's load has not yet been emptied.

And the neighbors have once again begun shooting me dirty looks for taking up valuable parking space on the street with our three vehicles.

Oh and the good sharp Irish cheddar cheese I like to treat myself to, is all but gone. There's not enough to make one nacho.

It's still mid-Spring and I have a whole Summer of this mishegas to look forward to.

Perhaps this bout of grumpiness has also been compounded by the fact that I am dealing with a Strep Throat. Infected by a germ that was no doubt living peacefully in Boulder, CO but managed to attach itself to my daughter's 113 lbs. of luggage, board a Southwest Airlines 737 and take up residence in my previously unswollen salivary glands.

Oh well, I always have that prescription cough medicine. Mmmmm, sweet nectar of relief and possible dizziness and euphoria.

Also, by the end of August, when it's time for them to go back to school, I'll be singing a different tune.






Tuesday, May 10, 2016

An evening of high culture


As the tagline, which I haven't changed in more than two years, of this blog indicates, I never sugarcoat. Telling the brutal honest truth may not be the most brilliant strategy. But it's the only one I've got. And it's a little late in the game to change the filter. Or buy a new one.

Part of the "all truth, all the time" philosophy means coming clean with myself. And so I am here to confess I am the world's worst reader.

My wife, who at times is a voracious reader, will often point that out. Sometimes to perfect strangers.

We could be at a party.

"Hi, I'm Debbie, a sales rep for Harvard Business Review. This is my husband Rich. He's a writer. But he doesn't read any books."

She takes great pleasure with my incongruous illiteracy.

It's painful. And I'm trying to remedy the situation. Scattered among my files, mostly TV commercial scripts and screen grabs of Kim Jung Un, I have lists --100 Books You Must Read Before You Die.
Suggestions by Ernest Hemingway, top English professors, even BuzzFeed.

I'll buy the books, but never get around to reading them. It's hard to commit time to reading when LeBron James is running up and down the hardwood or when the Internet is teasing me with can't miss videos. Did you see the one of the bear eating a handful of habanero peppers?

But I have made more of an effort, and succeeded, with a few books written by David Sedaris. He's dark. He's twisted. And he writes in a style that is conducive to reading, in that I can pick up one of his books and find myself thoroughly entertained for 3 hours at a clip.

And so a few months ago, I suggested my wife and I attend a book reading he was doing at Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA. The same building where my synagogue, overflowing with congregants, holds it High Holy Day services.

In fact, the seats we had to listen to Sedaris were just a few rows in back of the seats we normally sit in to listen to God. I'll tell you right now. Sedaris is funnier and more compelling than the Host of Hosts, Our Almighty Father.

I, for one, would much rather hear about Sedaris buying culottes, an interesting sartorial choice that enables optimal scrotal ventilation, than King Solomon slaughtering lambs and taking on the Babylonians.

Prior to this evening, I hadn't been to too many book readings and did not know what to expect. I'm here to tell you I may be going to many more. I can't remember when I laughed so hard.

In between the hilarious stories, David would litter the evening with tiny anecdotes, how he goes about writing, and a tiny glimpse into the life of a celebrated author. He tells of one fan who purchased two books, one for himself and for his estranged mother.

"Mr. Sedaris, this book is for my hateful mother. Can you inscribe it with something incredibly disturbing?"

Dear Miriam,

Your son left terrible teeth marks on my cock.

Best,

David Sedaris


Like the title says, An evening of high culture.



Monday, May 9, 2016

A Bite at the Apple


Oh no, I can hear you muttering, we've reached that point in the RoundSeventeen Self Promotionpolluzza where Siegel whips out old ads in a desperate attempt to remain relevant and contemporary.

Yeah, that's why I posted an old full page newspaper ad. Because nothing says contemporary and ready to tackle the new media landscape like 400 square inches of pulp-based antiquity.

The truth is, I was nosing around my garage, weeping over old photo's of the kids -- photos you could actually hold in your hand, by the way -- and came across across this classic from 1994.

For those of you keeping track, I was 22.

Also, perhaps by fate, I came across an interview with my former boss Steve Hayden, the original copywriter on the classic 1984 Super Bowl commercial.

Steve was one of my favorite bosses. He's a tall silver-haired man with the kind of upper crust whiteness you'd expect to find in a restricted Connecticut golf club. He's also incredibly smart, professorial PhD smart.

But his appearance is completely deceiving.

Because not far below that intimidating surface is a self-deprecating, prank-loving, mischief maker who could hold his own with any 14 year old. Sometimes I can tell a story and make people laugh. Steve can tell a story and make people snort all manner of liquids through their nose.

He was also my mentor during those turbulent days at BBDO, working with the Apple client. As I describe on my resume, these were the dark, rudder-less, Steve Jobs-less days in Cupertino and the company was literally circling the drain.

My partner and I had the good fortune to draw this assignment -- celebrate and thank the makers of the original Mac computer. And rereading the body copy, I like to think I was able to mimic the distinctive Apple voice.




If memory serves, there was a follow up on the very next page that read, "And Why 2001 will not be like 2001." (I can't find that ad) But I do remember we had to secure permission from the author of 2001, A Space Odyssey book, Arthur Clark, who was living in the swampy suburbs of Mumbai.

It isn't often that advertising facilitates such close contact with the iconic forces that have shaped our culture.

Pretty...pretty... heady... stuff.

And I consider myself very lucky.

Had it not been Apple and had it been 2016, a thank you sentiment from a client would have merited nothing more than a 1/4 page ad in the back of the program at the San Luis Obispo Dinner Theater presentation of Guys and Dolls.

Parking validated with a stamped admission ticket.






Thursday, May 5, 2016

Honey Badger Do Care



In my early days as a staff copywriter I was told -- on many occasions -- that I cared too much.

I was raised to believe that if I was going to do a job I might as well do it right. So caring too much never made any sense. There were other cliches as well. All equally baffling.

"You need to learn to pick your battles."

"Don't fall on your sword so often."

"I think your works sucks, but don't take it personally."

As I've mentioned on this blog before, that led to a great many heated confrontations. Rightly or wrongly, in hindsight mostly wrongly, I took great pride in my work and what I put on the table.

Eventually the hairs on my head stopped growing. The hair in my ears started. And my skin got thicker. Meaning I became more immune to the slings and arrows aimed squarely at my ideas.

I'm 44 now.
No longer a staffer, but a sniper.
Just a paid mercenary to come in, take the shot, and collect a check.

The wisdom that was wasted on my youth is finally sinking in. I think I've finally kicked this annoying caring habit.

Well, almost.

Last week I was hired to do a job, remotely. I was dealing directly with the Chief Creative Officer. Who was looking for platforms, TV scripts and digital engagement ideas. In other words, my perfect working conditions.

At the end of each day, I would send my progress to the remote location. And at the beginning of the next day I would receive feedback. This is where it gets tricky, because it's hard not to care when the reactions goes something like this (not to violate any NDA's but these are verbatim):

"Great stuff."

"LOL, Love you, Rich."

"Awesome."

"FUUUUKKKKKK, these are perfect."

Each of these appreciative quips were followed by a detailed lengthy directive on what was expected next. Orderly, concise, and to the point because it came directly from the top. For one brief week I actually enjoyed what I was doing and had some fun at this advertising business.

I hope that's not going to be a problem.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Playing with Fire.


It has now become a weekly occurrence.

One of the trade magazines, Adweek, AdAge or AgencySpy, will announce the hiring or promotion of one or several executives to high level positions. With it, comes the obligatory, carefully-styled press photo.

If in that photo, there is not one woman, one African American, or one member from the LGBT community (though I don't know how he or she would be possible to identify) the social justice warriors kick it into high gear.

It is as automatic as the folks at WingStop getting my order all wrong.

This is not to say that I don't understand.
I do.

I agree that the business is dominated by young, soft handed, white dudes with an overabundance of lumberjack shirts and stupid over-manicured beard cuts. And I fully concur that the industry would be much improved with a heaping helping of diversity -- including some more old people in the Creative Department, I never hear that from the outraged keyboard clackers.

Once more, I also understand that even going near this topic is opening myself up to a torrent of criticism. Thankfully, I'm getting to a point in my career where I can speak my mind, because frankly I don't give a shit what people want to believe about me.

Truth is, I hear and read a lot of complaining about this scenario, but very little in the way of concrete solutions. Allow me to suggest that the answer may be in gardening.

Gardening?
Yup.

You see an ad agency is like a tree. For it to grow and bear sweet, juicy fruit, it needs pruning.

First, let's get rid of C-Suite Ass Nuggets -- People who make rape jokes. Bosses who manage up and never see the people beneath them. Drunks, drug users and anyone, particularly CEO's, who operate with a broken moral compass. Or, more precisely, no moral compass at all. That's a good place to start.

Second, let's identify the redundancies -- An account, even a difficult account, does not require a legion of Planners. We already have too many cooks in the kitchen. Do we need too many recipes as well? One planner, on one account, should suffice. And if you've been reading RoundSeventeen for any length of time you know that even one, may be one too many.

Third, let's keep identifying the redundancies -- Sorry to get repetitive, but the planning department is by no means the only culprit. How many times have you walked into a meeting to discuss a banner or a down and dirty 15 second spot and been confronted with an army of attendees? What the hell do all these people do? Making Skip Ads is just not that complicated. It's not.

Fourth, let's put the management in Management -- How is it that an assignment can change 5 times in the course of two days? Why are the people with MBA's and supposed logistical expertise not able, or willing, to steer a client? And guide them along a well-thought out path towards an agreed-upon goal? I suspect there's more order and efficiency in the governmental offices of Mogadishu in Somalia.

And finally, let's respect our elders -- This one is self-explanatory. And if it's not, consider the fact that a tree's growth and sustainability are a largely function of a quality root system.

If we took any or all of these suggestions and pruned wisely, there'd be more room at the top, and everywhere in between for women, African Americans, Asians, Latinos and gay people.

Oh and old guys.

Did I mention old guys?



Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Can you keep it down?


If you know me at all -- I've only given you 1439 posts on this blog to manage that meaningless feat -- you know there is nothing I treasure more than peace and quiet.

If you've seen me in my natural environment, sitting in my Herman Miller chair, hands on the keyboard, and littering the Internet with random snarky comments, there's a better than 95% chance I'll be wearing my Bose Quite Comfort 15 over-the-ear-headphones.

I've now owned two pair in the course of 6 years and gone through enough AAA batteries to power a a jerry-rigged, broke-down Polish submarine around the world.

I'll watch sporting events on TV while wearing them.

I'll occasionally nap wearing them.

I've even worn them through a meal with my wife. She's fine with that and doesn't want to listen to me drone on anymore than you do.

Now, as you can see from the picture above, I have a new weapon in my arsenal to wage in the never-ending battle against unwanted noise -- whether it be barking dogs, my neighbor's annoying 6000 horsepower Ford Mustang or the 5 AM reverse beeping alarm of a garbage truck at nearby Sony Studios.

(Editorial Note: If you're standing behind a garbage truck at 5 AM in the pitch darkness of early morning and you don't have the good sense to get out of the way of a 10 ton vehicle, precipitating the need for a high pitched alarm that travels miles in all directions, you deserve to be run over and crushed like a worthless penny at a carnival midway.)

These new HUSH earplugs just arrived this morning. I'm tempted to spit out my coffee, shed my cargo shorts and climb back into bed just to try them out. I'm so excited I'm like a kid on Christmas morning, only without all that screaming and jumping up and down and excitement.

OK, bad metaphor. I'm more like an old Jew on the morning of Yom Kippur. Wake me up when I can eat.

I discovered these newfangled earplugs online and gladly signed on during their Kickstarter campaign.

Were they expensive? You're damn right they were expensive. But I've decided my daughters need to start dating men of wealth so I can spend some of their inheritance money on Me.

I'm pretty sure these new French made gadgets are going to do the trick.

After all, anytime an enemy has come knocking on their borders or threatened the sovereignty of the French nation, they've been pretty good at ignoring it and sleeping through the whole affair.

I know, a cheap joke, but I'm already getting sleepy.






Monday, May 2, 2016

The Lost Art of Storytelling


Know the difference between a 44 year old copywriter and a 24 year old copywriter?

About 30 seconds.

Allow me to rant, because if I don't get this out of my system my intestines will start a mutiny, half the house will come uninhabitable and my wife, generally of pleasant disposition, will hound me about the placement of my running and hiking shoes in every room but the closet.

As it has been pointed out to me in many private emails and direct messages, I go to great lengths (and possibly take too much pleasure) in pointing out the vocational flaws of my younger colleagues.

I'd love to stop.
Really, I would.
But this one particular pet peeve happens with such regularity, I dare say it's like clockwork.

I'll be summoned to a creative check in. For you laymen, that's when copywriters and art directors are called upon to genuflect before their superiors -- the Planners and the Account Executives -- and present the work they have developed, you know, since the last creative check in, 5 hours ago.

It is a fascinating study in agency dynamics, where one can witness career jockeying, pointless posturing and the full range of modern day office backstabbing techniques. It's also where I get to see the next generation of creatives present their hastily-assembled ideas.

And when I say "ideas", of course I mean their regurgitated drivel that manages to click off every box, tonal instruction, support point and mandatory found on the planning brief.

This is where the inexperience shows. Because the reading of a typical 30 second TV script can often last 7-8 minutes.

You know you're in trouble when you hear the rustling of the paper and the young copywriter takes a breather, a sip of water from his or her  plastic water module, and turns to Page Two of the script.

Here's a hint young people. A TV script for a 30 second spot is like a resume, even an over-enhanced resume. It all needs to fit on one page.

Similarly, a 15 second spot should not include more than three "Cut To's". Too many scenes equals too many reasons to Skip Ad or change the channel.

I'm well aware of how this comes off. So let me just say that I, and my many various art director partners, have stepped in the same piles of shit. Our spots were too wordy. Too complicated. And too labored. It's all part of learning the craft.

It's what you do when clients keep adding messages to the messaging.

The 10 lbs. -- now 11 lbs. -- must fit in the 5 lbs. bag.

I get it.

It's hard to navigate all the various agendas.

It's not easy to say No. And it's even more difficult not to be labeled, "difficult."

Perhaps that's why so many 24 year old staff copywriters become mercenary 44 year old freelance copywriters.




Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Hunter of Invisible Game


I've been busy this week.

I was busy last week as well.

This might not seem unusual to you but it is to the battalions of freelance writers and art directors who are out there right now complaining about how slow it is. They have no doubt stumbled across my WorkingNotWorking page, realized that I was booked and thought to themselves...

"Damnit, how does that fat 44 year old hack keep getting work?"

Well, I'll tell you.

For one thing and this is not fake modesty, there are better freelance copywriters out there. I could rattle off a few names, Kathy Hepinstall, comes to mind, but I don't want to start getting emails from colleagues.

Suffice to say they're better. They have work that's on the air. They have shiny new case studies in their portfolios. And they're hip to some of the newfangled social media platforms like Pizzle™, JamMonkey™ and FlapWap™.

I stay busy, because I stay busy at staying busy.

In the 12 self-taught years of being a freelancer, I'm not ashamed to say I've become an OK copywriter, but a really good hunter. I've learned how to read the terrain, locate turmoil, exploit opportunity and find which rocks to kick over.

It's a matter of resourcefulness -- a rare commodity in this industry.

Quick aside, not long ago we had presented a campaign that employed a certain type of literary trope. Two (2!) junior assistants were asked to research this classical motif in order to fortify our presentation with the client. While I was waiting for their finely-honed study piece and deep-dive analysis, I went online, dug around and put together my own research-backed treatment. A day later, I was emailed a document from the two (2!) assistants. They had cut and paste the first three paragraphs from a Wiki page. This is what passes for doing your job these days.

If I'm lying, I'm dying.

Is it any wonder why clients laugh when agencies claim to be "true marketing partners" worthy of significantly higher compensation?

In addition to being resourceful, I am obnoxiously vigilant. I have friends who operate a different way.

"I just let the work come to me."

Yeah well, I have two daughters attending expensive out of state colleges, I don't have that luxury. I am always on the hunt for the next gig. It's why you'll find me trolling Linkedin or Facebook. Tweeting and Retweeting. Hopefully in an amusing way, but always in a purposeful one.

Because if I can stay on the radar I can stay busy as a freelancer.

And that beats the hell out any regular staff job. Even if there are free bagels.










Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A shitload of jellybeans


Today I started this post with the intention of sharing some new work we had done about 6 months ago. We, and by that I mean a gaggle of freelancers, were brought in to develop a campaign for Subaru in Southeast Asia.

It was typical creative gang bang, pitting teams against each other in the hopes of getting a wide variety of executions. I'm happy to say that in the end, we prevailed and our campaign was selected by the client.

A trip to Singapore. Some exotic, possibly poisonous, sushi. And even perhaps a surreptitious visit to a late night bath house (with permission from my wife of course) were all in the cards.

And then they weren't.
Sadly, we were not retained for the production end of the commercial.

Consequently, the spot didn't turn out exactly the way I had seen it my head. And discretion being the better part of valor, I have decided to go off in a different, though somewhat similar direction.

You see, last year I was brought in for the same type of assignment, for a different type of vehicle -- the Kia Soul.

And once again, one of our ideas prevailed.

And once again, I was absent for the production. Though to be honest a couple of 14 hour days on a soundstage in Pacoima is a lot less enticing than a TransPacific boondoggle replete with sake and the promise of deep tissue Thai Massages.

The directive was to pit the Kia Soul against the Honda Fit and show its superior cargo space.

And using an old school, Lexus-type demonstration spot, that's exactly what we did.




Like I said, I wasn't involved in the crafting of the commercial. And I probably would have made some different copywriting/music choices.

But by and large, it's simple, it's effective and it looks surprisingly the way I pictured it to look when I put the words on the blank sheet of paper.

And there's something satisfying to that.

Especially for a seasoned 44 year old freelancer.






Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Your Shot at Fame


As many of you might recall, last September I published a new book, Round Seventeen &1/2, The Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Inefficient.

Though I did very little in the way of promotion, this collection of short stories skyrocketed to the top of the NY Times Bestseller List, earned lavish literary praise and even convinced Oprah to do one last encore of her nationally televised book club show.

I'm happy to report that the instant fame, adulation and incredible remuneration including the new vacation home in Vail and the canary-yellow Lamborghini, have not changed me one bit. I'm still the cargo-shorts wearing, grumpy 44 year old freelance copywriter determined to steer the Exxon Valdez (the Ad Industry) away from the jagged rocky shore and hull-eating sandbars.

To that end, I am once again answering the siren call of publication.

A longwinded and delusional way of announcing, "I have a new book."

Of course when I say I have a new book it's not really new, new. I mean come on, it took me three years to assemble my last opus. And I've been a little busy over the last six months; writing banner ads for local mattress stores, email blasts for the Daihatsu dealership and late night TV spots for the Culver City Hi-Colonics Clinic.

The "new" book is a hand-selected, artisanally-curated compilation of the best --and I use that word with all the modesty I can muster -- and sharpest rants that you have found here on RoundSeventeen over the course of the past 7 & 1/2 years.

I'm still in the process of sifting through all the material, close to 1500 posts, to find the rants that still resonate. This is not exceedingly difficult because, though the advertising pundits declare our business is changing at space travel speed, not much has changed at all.

The cretinous fixation on technology, shitty creative briefs and myopic agency leadership that plagued our business in 2009 are still zealously decimating our business in 2016.

As far as titles, I am tentatively going with:

The Big Book of Rants,
A Gentlemen's Guide to a Life in Advertising.

This was actually suggested by my wife, who years ago picked me as her lifemate, so I don't have much faith in her decision making.

Since it's still relatively early in the process, a friend of mine suggested I call upon the wisdom of the masses. And pointed me in the direction of a contest run by the British government to crowdsource the new name for their latest research vessel:


Wow, if I could come up something that genius, I might be able to convince Ms. Winfrey to stop calculating the Weight Watchers points in a Taco Bell Cheesalupa and get me back on the show.

So there it is, readers.
An open call for creativity.

Send me your suggestion for the title of my new book. If yours is selected, I'll make sure Oprah puts out an extra seat on the set when we do the national book tour.


Monday, April 25, 2016

It's a Passover Miracle


"Why is this year different than any other year?"

Asked the Melancholy Son.

Because this year, unlike all the others, my wife and I were not preparing a huge Seder dinner to mark the holiday of Passover.

With the passing of Deb's mom, a year and a half ago, and the departure of both our daughters off to college, we decided to take a friend up on a Seder invite. And sadly, dispensed with the annual arrangement of the fish from a jar, bread from a box and cow liver that had been chopped, seasoned and pureed until it was no longer recognizable as cow liver.

That is until, as if by divine providence, a miracle arrived on our doorstep.

Just as we were heading out, the doorbell rang. Another solicitor trying to strong arm me into putting solar panels on the roof, I thought.

But no. It was Elijah. Seen here standing next to my thoroughly-amused wife.


My former Chiat/Day partner, John Shirley, who had always been given a standing invitation to come for a Seder dinner, picked this year, of all years, to show up at my house.

Baring a name tag, in case the joke was lost on anyone, a bottle of Manisehewitz "wine" and a speech no less.


It was quite the surprise. Had the house been full of half-hearted, atheist Jews, as it usually is on this festive holiday, John's (Elijah) arrival would have been met with a loud roar of laughter. Well deserved laughter.

He even broke out his all-purpose go-to-funeral/wedding/graduation/odd Jewish bondage fetish festival suit.

To celebrate, we unscrewed the cap and poured ourselves a ceremonial glass of "wine." But before we drank it, I whipped out my iPhone and used my new Vivino app. that identifies wine by the label and offers instantaneous reviews -- a must for any ill-informed wine shopper.

Once again, we were surprised. The reviews, perhaps written in the font of sarcasm, were astonishingly good.

"A sweet, not unpleasant floral aroma."

"Definitive notes of blackberry, with a strong finish."

"Lashings of concord and very subtle hints of...oppression."

We tasted the Manischewitz "wine", a bold 2016 blend direct from the vineyards of Canadaiugua, New York and by consensus, decided that had the Lord really wanted to punish the Egyptians, he could have skipped the theatrics of 10 plagues and made them drink this swill.




Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Sadland Adventures


I had the pleasure of starting my advertising career at Rubin Postaer & Associates.

I learned the business from a very unique vantage point, behind the wheels of a mailroom cart. As such, I had contact with every department of this booming and very successful agency: Traffic, Print Production, Broadcast, Account Services and of course, Creative.

(There was no Planning Department; I don't know how they managed to conduct any business.)

I also picked up on the benign dictatorship of the Creative Director, Larry Postaer.

The art directors and copywriters on the 8th floor loved Larry, even though he was merciless on the work. Killing concepts, round after round after round after round.

Why? Because they knew, and the account people certainly knew, that once "The Work" had Larry's blessing, it would be sold to the client.

Unchanged.
Unrevised.
Untainted by those of lesser minds.

It was a testament to Larry's leadership. A respect for the purity of the creative product. And an unmistakable indication of the rock solid trust the client had in the agency's ability. And worth.

My good fortune continued when, years later, I found myself at Chiat/Day, where Lee Clow commanded the similar powers of persuasion.

Now, maybe that's not the way it was, but that's the way it seemed. Suffice to say, those days are long gone. Loooooong gone.

Like horse-and-buggy, churn-your-own-butter, 15% commission gone.

Which is why I found this recent effort by The Variable, an agency in North Carolina, so amusing.

Amusing for all the wrong reasons.

I'll give them points for production value and the Richard Attenborough-like VO. But one of their YouTube videos, episode 6.7 is all backwards.




It's so backwards it's comical.

Because in today's advertising world, the omnipotent Assistant Account Executive would summon the GCD (seated uncomfortably at the noisy long table) to his or her office with a text or an email.

And the GCD, Group Creative Director, expertly trained in the Deferential Arts,  would immediately drop everything. Because, I think we can all agree, if revisions aren't made toot sweet...

"We're going to lose the account!"

Furthermore, far from being skittish like the hyena, today's young AAE is more like the King of the Jungle. Emboldened with a Powerpoint deck, Big Data and the impenetrable logic of:

"The client said so."

"It has to ship tomorrow."

or

"I can take this to the ECD if you'd like."

In fact, and I'm sorry to say this, the supposed uneven distribution of power suggested by this 15 second video is so misconstrued that in the real world, the mighty AAE's request for revisions from the GCD is likely to be followed by...

"Hey, can you grab me a cup of coffee? Cream and sugar. But not that Hazelnut crap."












Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Greetings from the Rhineland



Today 4/20/16 is a special day.

Those of you with legitimate medical conditions requiring a California state issued card for the purchase and use of medicinal "herbal" remedies know exactly what I'm talking about. And even though I'm 44 years old, I'm hip to your jive.

But, and many of you probably did not know this, today is also Adolf Hitler's Birthday. The world's number one smiter of Jews would have been 127 years old, you know had he not mistakenly launched Operation Barbarossa and awakened the large Russian Grizzly bear who was sleeping off another night of vodka-infused sweet potatoes.

I take no small amount of pride in my steeped knowledge of Nazis, Aryan culture and the Holocaust.

"I'll take Concentration Camps Beginning with the letter B for 800, Alex."

To celebrate this perverse obsession, I'm going to share some screen grabs with you.

You see I am currently locked in an online chess battle with a gentlemen from der Fatherland. This is not to suggest he is a Nazi. Or is in any way antisemitic. I hope he is not.

But just a few moves into our game my German opponent came at me with a full blitzkrieg of unprovoked attacks.


First, you should know that most online chess games are played in silence. I have rarely chatted with any of my competitors. It's just not done.  More, importantly, I love how he refers to himself in the third person as a "world ranked chess player". For the record he does have about 100 more points than my respectable 1427.

I'm sure somebody has given the Big Mac a rating, but that doesn't make it a "world ranked" burger.

Then, my friend from Munich goes on to accuse me of cheating!



I have no idea what a cheater ticket is. Nor would I know how to cheat at online chess. Also, this chat exchange happened in the very early stages of the game. He had a few pawns on me. That's all. I'm not giving up. Particularly when he is going to grace me with all this comedy gold.


Now he is cursing at me in his mother language. I'm sensing his frustration. And so I reply with a favorite Yiddish expression that my father used on a daily basis, "gyn drew in deyn hut." Or, Go Shit in Your Hat.


We are now in the endgame. And much the way the Soviets surrounded Berlin in May of 1945, the outcome has been decided. But the slog is slow. And I intend to make it even slower.

He will win the chess game but he will do it on my terms. With some purposeful procrastination carefully seasoned with ample taunting and some well-chosen passive/aggressive verbal maneuvers.

Consider it one last personal payment in the reparations package, Heinrich.




Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Can't get no respect


I want to make an apology.

I don't know who I'm apologizing to, but I want to go on record with my contrition.

Allow me to explain.

I like to think I live by a certain code. I hold others up to a similar set of standards (blog posts # 78, 121, 138, 286, 293, 383, etc., etc.) so it's only natural those standards apply to me. Otherwise, I could be accused of being the world's biggest asshole, a charge I am familiar with.

Part of that code is responding to email, phone calls or any other gestures for my attention.

And so, if I haven't gotten back to you, it isn't because I haven't tried. Maybe it fell through the cracks. Went to my junk folder. Or simply slipped my quickly degenerating mind. It certainly was not meant as a measure of disrespect.

But let's face it.
We love in highly disrespectful times.
And this shit has become endemic.

This is not a thinly-veiled missive towards anyone in particular, this is a double-barreled full blast of rock salt at the entire industry. And humanity in general. Common courtesy has become singularly uncommon.

It takes all of 13 seconds to hit the reply button on an email, write "thank you but we're not interested" and click the mouse to send the minutest measure of collegial respect.

I know, I timed it.
But apparently that's too much.

As I mentioned not too long ago, I've been doing a lot of Smiling and Dialing lately in order to stay ahead of the freelance glut on the market. And I am flabbergasted by the soaring level of apathy and disrespect.

Last week a recruiter was looking for a Creative Director/Freelance Copywriter for a juicy three month gig here in Los Angeles. Naturally, I inquired. Shockingly, I was told I lacked the qualifications for the assignment. With the possible exception of feminine hygiene products or video gaming software, I like to think there's very little this 44 year old copywriter can't handle.

It wasn't the response I expected but at least it was a response. She was dead wrong in her assessment but at least she showed some measure of respect.

I wish that were true of Agencies and clients who demand impossible turnarounds, lower day rates, extended hours and last minute requests to completely re-haul, re-tool and rebrand a Fortune 100 Global Company over the course of a weekend.

Is it too much to ask for a little professional respect?

And how 'bout getting some air conditioning up in this bitch?