Monday, March 31, 2014

I did that

Here in Southern California, birthplace to many of the nation's fast food titans, there has been a little brouhaha in the advertising community.

In keeping with Round Seventeen policy I'm not going to name names. At this point I don't have to.

Nor will I weigh in on the matter as I don't want to rub any noses the wrong way and I'd like to keep putting food on the Siegel dinner table.

However, when it comes to the issue of plagiarism, I will not waffle. I am against it.

Let's go to the Time Machine and step back twenty years, when I was gainfully employed at Team One  Advertising.

The agency was growing fast. And I had the unique privilege to work in one of the most talented Creative Departments. Many of those art directors and copywriters have become ECDs or CCO's. Moreover there was a great camaraderie. We often went to lunch in groups of 10 or more. And we laughed. Often 'til our cheeks and necks were hurting.

We ate together.
Laughed together.
Even reviewed portfolios together.

And it was during one of these sessions that an art director pulled a laminated two page spread from a black case, turned to me and said, "Hey Siegel, I thought you did this ad at Chiat/Day."

And indeed I did, though I can't stand to look at it now, I will offer it up for your amusement.

As you can imagine I almost popped a carotid artery.

What the fuck was this clown doing with my Nissan ad in his portfolio, I thought.

And then I turned to the group and said, "What the fuck is this clown doing with my Nissan ad in his portfolio?"

Well, if you know me or if you've been reading this blog for any time now, you know that this simply would not stand.

The following day, we, the creative department commandeered a conference room and called the offending aspiring writer. We told him his portfolio showed potential and prodded him with questions about relocating to El Segundo where Team One was headquartered. We told him about the affordable houses. The excellent schools. Even some of the fine dining choices on Sepulveda Blvd., like the Stick and Stein.

In other words, we got him all worked up about joining the Team One team. And then…

"Tell us about this long copy Pathfinder ad. That's some old time craftsmanship. Did you write this?"

"Sure did," he replied.

"Ehhhh (imitating the sound of a game show buzzer). Wrong answer, douchebag. I wrote this ad last year." 

Even though we were separated by a thousand miles or so, you could literally hear his heart sink, smashing into his kidneys.

A long silent pause was broken by a mea culpa.

The kid explained that he was working at a Chiat/Day satellite office and had to resize the ad for a different publication. Meaning, the copy was tweaked. Two prepositions and a pronoun were added to the 864-word ad. That hardly gave him the right to put my work in his portfolio.

We told him the book would be returned. Minus the Pathfinder ad.

That laminated copy is somewhere out in my garage. It's attached to something else. A hand-written letter from the offending party. He Fed-exed me a heartfelt apology as well as a thank you. For teaching him a critical lesson about integrity; a character trait that is highly undervalued and in very short supply, particularly in our industry.

In retrospect, I like to think I would have handled the situation with a different approach.

Perhaps a little more maturely. But it was 1994, I was only 24 years old and had full head of hair as well as a full head of energy. Plus, there was no such thing as the Internet.

Or Agencyspy.


George Tannenbaum said...

A similar thing happened to me. A guy was stealing my blog posts and posting them as his own.

I confronted him via e and he apologized.

The thing is, he's a pretty good writer on his own. He just didn't have the spine and energy to do his own work.

But at least he had taste.

Folino said...

I can proudly say I was there when you called him. And the silence was indeed palpable.