Thursday, April 28, 2016
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
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
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
"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
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.
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."
"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
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
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?
Monday, April 18, 2016
I know I said I would refrain from any political posts here on RoundSeventeen, and if you've noticed the incredible spate of recent articles on advertising, by and large I have.
But things are heating up. And occasionally a candidate -- from either party by the way -- will say or do something that demands my immediate attention.
I know a great many of my colleagues are not fond of the Republican candidates. Guess what? Neither am I. A bunch of bombastic blowhards with a penchant for bullying and an unexplainable compulsion to thump the Bible on every issue.
I also know a great many of my colleagues find it hard to swallow the incredible liberties these GOP candidates take with the truth. Not long ago, the media had a field day when the orange-haired One claimed tens of thousands of Muslims in this country were celebrating in the streets on the day of 9/11.
They weren't. And responsible journalists rightly held his feet to the fire.
However, and this is addressed to my left leaning friends as well as the bozos with press passes, where's the outrage regarding Bernie Sander's distortion of the truth?
Just last week, the silver haired Senator claimed that Israel killed 10,000 innocent people in Gaza and showed a blatant disproportionate response to the daily rocket attacks coming from the Strip.
This, we know, is not true. It's not even close to true.
The most anti-Israel groups from the UN put the number of casualties at close to one tenth that number. Moreover, they point out that many of those were a result of Hamas using civilians as human shields. Bernie might have glossed over that while wildly gesturing with his hands or working himself into a lather with his apparent Jewish self-loathing.
Might I also point out, that nobody in Gaza would have died had the Neanderthals of Hamas not launched rocket attacks on another sovereign nation. None. Not one.
Let's examine Bernie's faulty fuzzy logic even further.
Where did this notion of "disproportionate" military response come from? Call me crazy, or a paranoid Jew, but I have only heard it applied to the nation of Israel.
For instance, when ISIS burned a Jordanian soldier alive, in another one of its brutal displays of inhumanity, the Jordanians responded with three days of airstrikes, 56 in total. With the promise of many more.
Similarly, after the savage attacks in Paris, the French government unleashed its fury on targets in Syria, more than 2000 miles from French territory.
They're not alone. The Russians, the Turks, and the US government have all responded similarly in the past. I don't remember hearing a peep from the frothy Vermont Senator. Not a peep.
Perhaps you'd like to engage in some semantic gymnastics and point out that those were attacks from ISIS. While the rockets were launched by Hamas.
In which case I would respond by saying if you can't see that ISIS is the same as Hamas is the same as Boko Haram is the same as Al Qeada is the same as Al Nusra is the same as the Taliban is the same as Lashkar-e-Taiba is the same as Hezbollah, well then you have not been paying attention.
And neither has Bernie.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
It's been brought to my attention, by several faithful readers, and I use that term sparingly, that through my daily blogging activity it is possible to gauge my mood and more specifically my work status.
For instance, my uncle, baking in the relentless heat of the Palm Springs sun recently asked if I had been working. Why, I queried? Because, he, as well as a few others, had noted a more fatalistic tone in my writing lately.
I found this quite shocking.
I didn't think it possible for my already fatalistic style to get any more fatalistic. In fact, I would invite you to pick any random blog posting, even those written while I was double and triple booked, and point out any quantitive differences in nihilistic content.
But then again, I'm on this side of the keyboard and you dear reader, are on the other. So my perspective is a bit warped.
And yes, truth be told, it has been slow lately. Slower than I and the bursars at the University of Washington and the University of Colorado would like it. But, if you know me, and clearly from reading beneath the lines, some of you think you do, you know I am a tireless 44 year old Dialer and Smiler.
As a result, assignments are now trickling in. Enough in fact, that I can end this week on a less fatalistic tone and a photo (see above) of a unique house I spotted in Mar Vista recently. A small California bungalow festooned with nothing but teapots.
Lots and lots of teapots.
Here's another shot for your amusement.
That's either my thumb on the left side of the shot.
Or my damn oversized Jew hook nose.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
There was a time in advertising --uh-oh, old man on warpath again -- when the goal was to move the merchandise. If we can help the client raise sales figures 3%, 7.1% or 9.4%, we were doing our job. And doing it well.
And barring the hiring of a new Chief Marketing Officer, we could expect to be retained for another torturous year.
Then, someone got it in their head that we needed to "engage" the consumer.
Through the magic of social media we could have ongoing "dialog" with the people buying our enamel-strengthening toothpaste or twice-baked wheat crackers.
If we reached them with enough touchpoints, the thinking goes, we could actually have a long-lasting, meaningful "conversation" with the folks who wipe their asses with our 4-ply quilted toilet paper.
But that was not sufficient.
Soon, we were asked to go "viral".
Write, craft, design and cobble together a long form video -- with $80,000 -- that once uploaded onto a free YouTube channel, will spread like wildfire and threaten to dethrone Justin Bieber or that cello-playing cat.
A tall order.
But not the tallest.
Because now there is rarely a brief that crosses my desk, and when I say desk I mean picnic table set up for the freelancers, or pops up in a pdf via email, when I'm lucky and get to work at home, that does not include the delusional instructive to "create a worldwide movement."
You see it's not enough that we sell more Craftsmen Staple Guns or Toyota Scions or Arby's French Dip Manwiches, now it's our responsibility to turn those converted sales into brand evangelists.
To get them off their duffs and into the streets. Marching with uncontainable enthusiasm and nothing more important to do with their time than to get others onboard and spread the love of their new Hefty Stretchable Trash Bags.
It simply defies all manner of logic and common sense.
It has taken me 20 years and I still can't convince my daughters to make their beds or put the dishes in the dishwasher. But now, and for no apparent reason, you want me to persuade people that your new Parkay Butter is so good and clings to bread so well, they should eat their toast upside down?
And you want me to do it with a 76X128 banner ad?
I'll show you where I'm at in 6 hours.
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Before I get to today's useless rant, let me just go on record and say I love stock photography. Particularly overstaged, schlocky, poorly lit business-type stock photography.
I love it in the same way I love Russian dating sites. They're so bad, they're good. Mostly because the way these under talented photographers have the models pose is so broad and so overdone it resembles nothing like the real world.
In the real world for instance, if I walked into a conference room and were greeted by these two lanyard-wearing clowns I'd need to summon all my powers of self restraint not to throat punch them. Settle down there, Winkyboys.
But I have digressed.
Today's topic: Recruiters.
Why the fuck are there so many recruiters?
Have you been on linkedin.com lately?
Sandwiched between newsfeed items asking me to name a city without the letter A -- how about Asshattery, Arkansas, or to solve some inane mathematical equation -- again I'm going with Asshattery, Arkansas, there's a new announcement from someone entering the new lucrative field of recruiting.
I'm not here to disparage recruiters.
I've been known to bite the hand that feeds me but I'm not into full self-destruction mode (yet) and I still get the occasional booking through friends who are recruiters -- you long-timers in Los Angeles know who you are. And that I love you dearly.
I'm simply questioning the sudden explosion. It's like the 17 year cycle of the cicada. Only now the woodworks are clogged up with recruiters. It seems like everyone and their pilates instructor is in the game.
Moment of serendipity, and this is the absolute truth, as I am writing this and planning the next paragraph in my head, I received an email informing me of my newest linked connection -- a recruiter.
All of which begs the question.
Why are organizations having such a difficult time getting people to come through the front door? And more importantly, what specific jobs are these communication pros recruiting for? Is there a boom coming to the marketing world that will propel the industry forward and bring about a new golden age of advertising?
Oh... silly me, I just answered my question. Planners.
An agency can never have enough Planners.
Monday, April 11, 2016
"I'm going to make him a movie, he cannot sit through."
That would be the logline on the recently released Godfather, The Epic. This 7 &1/2 hour long movie -- the Shoah of gangster cinema -- is a re-edited compilation of both the Godfather and Godfather, Part II.
Instead of the flashbacks and lyrical deconstruction of time in the originals, it serves up a pedantic chronologically correct tracking of Vito Corleone as he escapes from Sicily, makes his way to America, learns how to shake down street peddlers, raises a family and then passes the torch onto Michael Corleone, who dutifully follows in his father's noble blood-stained footsteps.
I've plowed through 5 hours of this gargantuan mess and will probably skip the remaining 150 minutes.
Not because I already know what happens. And I do.
Or that I find Lee Strassberg's portrayal of "That Jew" Hyman Roth to be one dimensional, leaving a bad taste in my mouth like his wife's tuna fish sandwich.
Or even because I've got something else cued up on the DVR that requires my immediate attention -- I'm caught up on Better Call Saul and dread the thought of the series going on hiatus.
It's just that I love Godfather movies so much. And now upon rewatching them in this format I'm finding plot holes and directorial mistakes that frankly tarnish my admiration for this masterpiece.
For instance, in this new version, which features unseen, unused footage, Michael gets his revenge on Fabrizio, the bodyguard who blew up the car Apolonia was driving in the town of Corleone. But the staging, effects and corny over-acting are dreadful at best. I can see why this hundred feet of celluloid was originally left on the cutting room floor.
And Al Neri, Michael's stone-faced, right-hand man who never said a word in the original cuts, now makes the unfortunate mistake of taking on a speaking role.
Finally, there's the assassination attempt on Michael Corleone at his Lake Tahoe home.
The two killers are found in a swampy ditch, their bodies riddled with bullets, despite Michael's command to catch them alive. We are led to suspect they were cut down after the failed attempt by someone on the inside. Was it Freddo? Was it someone from Pantangeli's family?
It's a question that never is answered.
Maybe it is answered in the last twenty minutes of this cinematic goulash that looks less like the work of Francis Ford Coppola and more like the half-hearted artistry of a disgruntled Pizza Hut employee.
But I'll never know, cause I can't sit through this thing.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
I don't know about you, but I hate my yearly trips to the accountant's office.
It has nothing to do with my accountant -- the rockstar CPA to the entire southern California ad community -- who is one of the nicest men on the planet. He also knows more about what's going on in the business than I do.
Who is going where.
What accounts are up for review.
And which sloppy CD will drink the most rose wine at Cannes this year.
I always leave his office with a good lead on my next freelance gig. But sitting in that chair as he enters the numbers from my various 1099's, W2's, K1's and 850TRP/a-3's always gives me the Willies.
It's not unlike that uneasy feeling you get when you're waiting for the dentist to interpret the X-rays.
"You're either gonna need a very painful Crown."
"Or an even more painful Root Canal."
This year I was particularly fearful, as 2015 was quite busy. This, despite the self-imposed three month sabbatical I took in order to complete publishing my book. Now, despite's Lee Clow's ringing endorsement, only sadly sagging in sales behind 1, 852,347 other books available on Amazon.
The year was also surprisingly fruitful despite my advancing age. You simply don't find many 44 year old freelance copywriters roaming the halls of today's ad agencies.
It's not as if with every rotation of the earth around the sun I have lost my ability to string words together and write a compelling TV spot or snappy headline. I can. Nor does my ever enlarging prostate inhibit my ability to litter the table with ideas for Frivolous Fuckwadian Digital Knick Knacks™. I have.
It's just that the youngsters who revel in their all night work sessions and their new inky sleeves are not accustomed to, nor appreciate, dinosaurs who dare question their post-it note strategies and their cringeworthy pedestrian insights.
Nevertheless the numbers added up. And with it, the growing feeling that I was going to owe Uncle Sam a shitload of money.
But, my accountant, the man who puts the deductible in my every waking moment, sprung some good news on me. It seems, after totaling up the laundry list of "work-related" expenses, including everything from my orthotic insoles to my electric ear hair remover, I've got some refund checks coming my way.
From the state. And from the Feds.
So this trip my dentist...er, CPA, wasn't so bad after all.
"Yeah, I looked at the X-ray again. Turns out you don't need a Crown or a Root Canal. It was just a piece of lamb schwarma wedged between your molars."
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Unlike some of my more demure colleagues, I have no problem questioning the wisdom of a strategic brief, or of its author, the Planner. And why should I? After all, they question the validity of our work on a weekly basis.
Did I say weekly? I meant daily.
Because God knows creatives, even seasoned 44 year olds like myself, don't have the wherewithal to move forward and develop an advertising campaign without the daily watchful guidance and skilled expertise of a professional Planner with degrees in...what is it they have degrees in?
Point being, I've heard some awful stupid stuff from the Planning department.
Years ago, we were pitching Sparkletts water and to the credit of the crack research team and the careful analysis of all the big data, the Planner had successfully reduced the strategy down to its barest minimum. Not one page mind you, one word.
That's right, we, the cynics and jaded artisans in the creative department, were told to vigorously pursue and make hay out of the word BLUE.
Years later, I was working at a different agency, and I use the word different hesitantly because they're different in name only, and I balked at a different brief. I don't even remember what it was for, nor is that important. The sheer fact that I dared to question the logic of the brief brought about a completely unexpected response...
"Well Rich, I'll grant you that it's not the most insightful brief in the world, but they all can't be Got Milk? you know. It just doesn't work that way."
There's a new benchmark for underachievement. They all can't be Apple's 1984 or VW's Darth Vader, I thought, but that doesn't mean we don't try.
Recently I sat in on a meeting and heard the latest nugget for my collection. And this one my fellow copywriters can savor for years. A planner was heard to say...
"If we get this brief just right, the spots will literally write themselves."
Good thing this happened early in the morning and I was on an empty stomach, because had it transpired a few hours later in the day, I would have seen my lunch for the second time.
Spots do not write themselves. Nor do they rewrite themselves after the brief has changed. Nor do they rewrite the rewrites because someone in upper management doesn't like dogs. Or umbrellas. Or ketchup. Or seven. Or tweed. Or convertibles. Or love seats. Or oranges.
If it ever gets to a point where spots do write themselves, I'll be out of a job.
Of course, I could go into Planning, how hard can that be?
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
One of the things I enjoy about being a freelance copywriter is the variety of assignments. This is especially important to someone like me who is afflicted with ADD, Additional Dollars Desired.
One week, I can be writing about batter-dipped, deep-fried fish sticks and the next I can be doing a white paper on the wisdom of diversified asset management. Last week, I was thrust back into the world of recruitment advertising.
Not exactly the same Help Wanted ads that launched my career at the humble Encino offices of Bernard Hodes Advertising, but not far from it either.
Permit me to take a nostalgic walk into the past to these not-so gloried days.
The mailroom at an ad agency is no place to be. Especially if you have just graduated from college and your parents are hocking you about giving up on this fakakta dream about being a writer. So when I saw that a recruitment ad agency was looking for a junior writer I sprung into action.
I knew there would be a hundred other applicants for the job. So I told the Creative Director I would do anything for the gig. She gave me a spec assignment and asked what I would do get Integrated Systems Engineers in the door at Northrop Aircraft, one of their clients.
I had no idea what Integrated Systems were. Or who Northrop Aircraft was. Or even what a Help Wanted ad for an Engineer looked like. This was pre-Internet, so I spent half the weekend at the library. And the other half writing and coming up spec ads.
"Tomorrow's challenges, today. At Northrop."
"Join us at our environment for innovation."
"We're engineered for Engineers."
Nothing inspirational. In fact it was all crap.
But the Creative Director was impressed that I had it on her desk at 8:30 Monday morning before anyone had even arrived at the office. I beat out a hundred, maybe two hundred, other applicants, not because I was better but because I wanted it more.
Little did I know I'd spend the next two years of my life cranking out one shit recruitment ad after another. Sometimes twenty a day. Dreadful long copy ads about opportunity, imagination, competitive salaries and comprehensive dental care.
And now some .....(cough) years later, I am writing recruitment ads again.
As a friend of mine put it, I have come full circle. I can, with a clear conscience and boatload of debt, go into the light.
Monday, April 4, 2016
Upon completion of my book, my friend Robert, and fellow author, said, "Congratulations, you are now the owner of the world's most expensive business card."
If I torture myself and look at the cumulative sales chart, I'd have to agree.
Additionally, if I'm being honest with myself, that also makes this long running (7 years plus) blog, the world's most long-winded self-promo.
But in the advertising world, if you're not promoting yourself no one is paying you a day rate to promote their dog food, their anti-perspirants, their SUV's or their inedible fast food offerings.
That's just the way it is.
Particularly now when the market is seeing a flood of new freelancers, who, tired of the sweatshop conditions imposed upon them by their new media overlords, have now decided to go it on their own. Sadly, that can mean only one thing for you 13 regular readers of this blog -- more self promotion.
Those of you who know me are familiar with my shaky Photoshop skills. I can cut and paste a picture of my book and put it in the hands of Donald Trump or Beyonce, but that's about the extent of it.
So when I spring this on you, you must know there is no way in the world I could have manufactured or faked it.
But I do know the magic of Command Shift 4 -- the Screen Grab.
With that, I invite you to read this totally unsolicited linked.com exchange I had about a month ago with a recruiter in the business:
There you have it. My new self promo.
Call now, and don't forget to inquire about my Gustavo Martinez "Fucking Jews" Discount. A limited time offer that is not valid in Tennessee.
Thursday, March 31, 2016
Last Sunday was Easter.
I know from early brainwashing...er, religious school training, that Passover is right on its heels. I'm a little hazy on how the two holidays were related.
I think Jesus, a rabbi, and his disciples were having a Last Supper, which was actually a Passover Seder.
In remembrance of the 400 years of Hebrew bondage under the iron-fist of the Egyptians, Jesus ate matzo, bitter herbs and brisket. When the boredom of the Hagaddah and the overcooked meat didn't kill him, the Romans crucified him the very next morning.
Then, to sooth all the mourning people, God sent a large rabbit with an even larger wicker basket throughout the land, distributing multicolored marshmallow treats and foil-wrapped chocolate eggs.
I may be wrong on that.
In the past I've taken many potshots at the Abrahamic religions. Particularly my own. You may remember last year's recipe for home-made matzo, including the gentile blood of neighborhood children.
And, though I've been mute recently (so that no one will mistakenly take me for a Trump supporter), I've slung a few pointed arrows at the silliness found in the Holy Quran.
So it seems only fitting that I take a good hard look at Easter. Of course this is where it gets difficult. Because who can argue and contest the logic of the Resurrection story.
A political opponent of the Roman regime is executed. His lifeless body is brought to a cave. His followers enter the cave 3 days later, because who wouldn't want to check up on a corpse. And he is gone. So they conclude he is the One.
Not a story I subscribe to, but hey anything's possible.
Including the likelihood that very small children would not throw a tantrum when seated next to a 6 foot man dressed as a deranged Bunny from a Wes Craven movie.
Take it away, Internet.
I had never heard of an Easter Penguin. Must be something new. Maybe it's a Lutheran thing.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
I've often said, "it's harder to do bad advertising than it is to do good." And I don't know if you've noticed lately, but there is a lot of bad advertising out there. I've been watching the NCAA basketball tournament, so I know.
There's a couple who are so averse to talking about their retirement plans they go to extreme lengths not to talk about it. The wife purposely messes up the windows. The man busts the gutter and throws his car keys over the fence. Oh the hilarity.
There's another cloying version of the McPick Two jingle.
And there's car porn. Lots of car porn. On beautiful, dimly lit urban streets. On windy mountain roads. And streaking across desert flats. All accompanied with the worst voiceover copy that seems to have been written by a brain dead committee of twelve.
I don't have anything on the air, but I'm just as guilty for polluting corporate boardrooms as anyone else. It's how I put food on my family's diner table.
Decks and Checks.
What makes bad advertising so difficult is that it starts out bad --mostly because the client has asked for something bad -- trying to cram 10 lbs. of horseshit into a bag clearly designed for only 5lbs. of horseshit.
And then it only gets worse. There are meetings. Revisions. More meetings. More horseshit.
And then, when the turd has been finely polished, it is offered up before the Media Department, the new overlords of the advertising kingdom.
"These are great, but we only bought 15 second spots. Can you make these work in 15 seconds?"
Of course we can. Because we are professionals. We see problems as opportunities. And we relish a good challenge.
I'd like a different kind of challenge.
For once I'd like a Creative Director to look over the work, turn to me and say, "Can you push it even further? Can you give it more edge? Can you increase the tension and make this thing -- could be a spot, a print piece, or even a digital idea -- more impactful? Can you do that Mr. Creative Guy?"
But, as a fellow trench-dweller, you know that's not what happens. The changes we're asked to make are of a more mundane nature.
The client doesn't like the word, tangy. Or, plus. Or, affordable.
We don't have the budget for an elephant, can it be a very large dog?
Can you say the name of the product in the first 6 seconds?
When I started writing this blog, I jokingly named it RoundSeventeen as a hat tip to the ridiculous number of changes we need to make in order to get a Skip Ad on the air or on a YouTube preroll. Seventeen seemed excessive. And properly connoted the dysfunctional nature of the creative process.
That was way back in 2009.
Today, a piece of work can go through 17 rounds of revisions before I take my noontime swim.
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Today's post comes to you complements of new technology and the advertising industry's inclination to replace insight with gadgetry, representational thinking and the exuberant rectal abuse of the English language.
Put a different way...
Monday, March 28, 2016
You might be wondering what all the excitement is about. Or, you might have clicked away to Adweek to read another one of their crack journalistic pieces: 27 under 27, The 27 Media Associates Under 27 Years Old Who Took Home the Most Logo-Emblazoned Oven Mitts.
But if you have stuck around, I finally figured it out. You know it. The Exit Plan. The seismic career move that will see me through to retirement and keep me out of a dirty nursing home.
Every copywriter and art director I know is looking for the Exit Plan.
Some will open up a frozen yogurt shop. Some will turn to real estate and sink their money into useless plots of desert land hoping the government will want to lease it for a solar panel farm -- that's not gonna happen. And some seasoned veterans will find relief in the chaotic up and down world of freelancing.
They will discover, as I have, that uncomfortable feeling walking into a new shop and the staffers glaring, contesting their very presence...
"Why is Grandpa in the office?"
Well, those days are numbered for this 44 year old.
You see, I'm transitioning out of copywriting into the new lucrative world of Human Resources. I'm going to create my own job title and offer my services to ad agencies throughout the land as their new Chief Retainment Officer.
You might read this as some harebrained idea from a guy with no head for business. Or simply another comedic vehicle to pad the blog on a slow news day, but I'm completely serious.
Agencies spend a shitload of money trying to attract talent. With the recent Gustavo Martinez debacle at JWT, they're sure to spend even more recruiting women and minorities. Though not "Fucking Jews", there are enough of those.
It's a sizable investment.
But they might as well be tossing that money in the toilet. Or the Rich Siegel College Tuition Relief Fund.
Because, let's face it, after 2 years of servitude or the 78th unpaid weekend of pad thai noodles and deck-building, whichever comes first, that "talent" bolts. With it goes all the money the agency has sunk into them: training, relocation fees, and the priceless ability to make sense out of the strategic briefs coming out of the Planning department.
Agencies need to find a way to retain what they have worked so hard to recruit.
That's where I come in. Because, perhaps better than most, I know why they are leaving.
As the Chief Retainment Officer, I'm going to fix all that. I'll be the bull in the china shop. Re-aligning briefs. Canceling meetings. And telling clients, "No."
I'll reverse the flow. Instead of creatives leaving to go elsewhere, they'll be lining up at the door, camped out in the parking lot, just hoping to get in.
I'll help create the kind of environment that is conducive to great work and pays untold dividends in employee loyalty. My exorbitant salary will be redeemed within months. And agency brass will be kicking themselves wondering why they hadn't contacted me earlier, before their A-list Norwegian rockstar creatives packed their bags and herring mason jars and went back to Oslo.
And if all doesn't go according to plan, I can always crank out some banner ads.