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.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"I'm pooping here."

Color me confused.

Went to use the bathroom the other day and found this jerry-rigged privacy curtain hung on the stall door.

It never would have occurred to me to construct this 2 ply penumbra.

However, and you can thank me later, it did occur to me to photograph it.

As I sat on the throne going about my business -- no further details on that matter -- I wondered what would drive someone to such engineering feats.

I will grant you the space between the stainless steel partitions is wider than an eyeball. But in all my years in public men's rooms, I've never seen another man peer in through the crack for a better look.

A passing glance perhaps but never a full on peer.

Maybe I'm lucky that way.

I have found a jiggle on the door handle provides all the occupancy information an urgent bathroom goer could possibly need.

That said, if I were in the seated position returning my Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl back to the Pacific and I noticed a more-than-curious eyeball spying on me during a most delicate time with my pants around my ankles, I would have nothing to be embarrassed about.

At least nowhere near as much as the guy who makes it a habit of browsing toilet stalls.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Spread too thin?

Last year's Occupy Movement made all the headlines. The 99% er's brought their beef to the street and everyone was talking about it.

Before that we had the vaunted Arab Spring, where disenfranchised voters in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and now Syria, fought to have a voice in their country's future.

But what happened to Miracle Whip's Sandwich Condiment Revolution?

Perhaps you remember their rousing egg-based call to arms from 2009:

Don't go unnoticed.

Don't blend in.

Don't be ordinary, boring or bland

In other words, don't be so mayo.

We are our own one-of-a-kind unique flavor.

We are Miracle Whip.

And we will not tone it down.

Wow, you must be thinking, "has it really been five years since I felt that stirring in my belly?"

Like you, I want to know where the revolution stands today. Has progress been made? Is egg salad no longer just egg salad? Or is it now the chosen food for those who openly defy convention?

What's next on the Miracle Whip agenda? And more importantly how can I, an individual with strong feelings about mayonnaise and sandwich toppings, get involved and actively engage with the brand?

I feel like maybe I've been left out of the loop.

Maybe they're talking about Miracle Whip on Instagram.
Or Plaxo.
Or Tinder.

Maybe there are underground after hours clubs packed with hipsters planning the next Miracle Whip Rage against the Mayonnaise Machine. Maybe that's why I'm lost out here in no man's condiment land.

I don't know.

What I do know is if Miracle Whip doesn't follow up their original anthem spot with another edge-of-my-seat manifesto my attention will turn elsewhere.

You know after my 10 hour work day, my 90 minutes of exercise, my 35 minute dinner with the family, my 25 minutes of helping my daughters with their homework, my 22 minutes of The Daily Show, and my 15 minutes of online chess, I still have a precious 10 minutes worth of bandwidth to spend with my favorite brands.

If these Miracle Whip people don't step up to the plate, I'll go elsewhere.

I hear they are doing exciting things over at Pepto Bismol.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Goodness gracious

Nancy Grace.
Has there ever been a more inappropriately named woman?

She is to grace as I am to svelte.
Or tall.
Or easy on the eyes.

For the life of me I do not understand why this walking/talking leach/woman has a nationally-syndicated program on HLN.

An even bigger mystery is why I have HLN as one of the presets on my XM radio.

I don't do a lot of driving these days. My commute is mercifully short. And when I am in the car I'm usually tuned in to the Classic Vinyl Station or BB King's Bluesville. You can't beat some of the nicknames that came out of the Memphis music scene: Pine Top Perkins, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Eddie Cleanhead Vinson.

But occasionally I'll need a hit of news, so I scan through to CNN. And when they go to commercial to hawk some hemorrhoid cream or Sizzler Early Bird Specials, I switch over to HLN.

That's when she comes on.

I work in advertising, so it's already a given that I have a sado-masochistic streak. But this woman's voice, her mannerisms, and her proclivity to talk over anyone else in the vicinity can only be described as radio journalism's equivalent of waterboarding.

Twenty years ago when the ATF tried to flush David Koresh and his wacky followers out of the Waco compound, they blasted heavy metal music through industrial-sized speakers. An obvious blunder.

Ten minutes of Nancy Grace badgering a defense attorney or pimping the travails of Tot Mom, and those brainwashed Seventh Sealers would have come screaming out the front gate begging for mercy.

I can listen to Nancy Grace in twenty second intervals. By comparison, I can listen to sharpened finishing nails being dragged across a fresh new blackboard in thirty second intervals.

This is not say that Nancy Grace serves no discernible purpose in this world.

On the rare occasion when I get in a fight with my wife, I will often storm out of the house and try to gather myself with a high speed drive along the uncrowded Marina Freeway. When the speedometer creeps past 70, I'll tune in to The Shrill One and find great comfort there.

Because while marriage can often be difficult and test my patience, thankfully, I do not occupy the painful shoes of mister Nancy Grace.

Actually, no one should.

Monday, March 24, 2014

My Portfolio Sucks

Last week I was going over the collection of work I have amassed over the last 25 years in advertising. I did not walk away from the review a happy man.

Much like the woman pictured above, with the plethora of penises (penii?) tattooed to her skull, the vision in my head did not sync up with the reality on the page.

Please do not read this as some kind of humble brag.
It is not.

I am seriously disillusioned for all that I do NOT have to show for my professional efforts. Yes, I've had the good fortune to produce some good work over the years. But I've had the greater misfortune of watching much, much more good work ---sometime even great work -- die on the vine.

I am by no means alone in this respect. In fact, if you're involved in the creative endeavor and you're reading this, I can already detect your blood pressure beginning to rise.

I can't speak for you and your failures, for that I suggest signing up for Wordpress or Blogger, but I can, and often do, speak on mine.

And after much consideration, I've discovered there's a very good reason why my portfolio sucks. Frankly it has little to do with me.

That's right, it's not my fault.

War Story Time:

Back in 1999, we met with Stuart Wolff, the CEO of This was a man who inhaled his own fumes and often talked of himself in the third person. Comparing his yet-to-be-written legacy to that of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

We had presented many campaigns to Stuart, but one rose above the rest. He was ready to green light the project, but wanted us to "change the paradigm." In the late 90's everything was about paradigm changing.  Stuart challenged us to find a way to make people consider paying to see our commercials.

My partner and I suggested filming an entire movie, which we could distribute and monetize, and extract the commercials from the footage. It had never been done before. And the approach was both ambitious and fraught with risk.

Because it was iffy, agency naysayers on the account and management side cowered in fear.

"You're not making a movie, Rich."

"Learn to compromise. Why do you have to be such a stubborn ass?"

"Give it a rest, Fellini."

I suppose we should have listened and made nice-nice with the agency brass. But we didn't. We stuck to our guns and persisted like an open wound. The battle of wills, which often got ugly, lasted more than a year. In the end, the movie and the commercials got made.

The acrimony earned my partner and I, a severance check and a security-guard escort from the building.

That was a costly victory, in a war that has seen far too many defeats.

The point is this. My portfolio -- and most likely yours -- would be 100 times better if the people who got in the way, got out of the way.

The other point is this. I don't fight anymore. Particularly now that I'm a freelancer. Because many agencies, not all, don't want fighters. They flap their tongues about cultivating rebels, misfits, and passionate artists who have a unique voice and challenge the status quo.

But what they really want are cheap Kool-Aid drinking drones, who can stylishly sport a nose ring or a sleeve of tattoos, and toe the company line 12 hours a day from the comfort of their Aeron chairs at the Creative Department Community Table.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

On the Decline of America

For all its chest-pounding and goose-stepping, the Third Reich only lasted a dozen years.

The sun rose on the British Empire, but then a few hundred years later it set.

The Greeks and Romans had their fair share of success, but they too did not stand the test of time.

Similarly our American experiment will eventually fall. And when it does, historians will look for clues and begin casting blame.

I'd like to short circuit that process and save them the trouble.

Our inevitable descent began the day that kids across the USA stopped delivering the newspaper by hand.

I'm dead serious about this.

As you might have expected, I had one of those character-building paper routes.

I got my first newspaper delivery route when I was 14 years old. Everyday after school, I'd load up my canvas bag with 35 newspapers, strap them to my aging bicycle, and tool around the neighborhood delivering the goods. None of this tossing-the-paper-while-riding crap either. That was some twisted Rockwellian fantasy.

No, I parked the bike, fought off snarling dogs, and responsibly placed each paper under the doormat to protect it from the elements. And in upstate New York, there were plenty of elements: rain, sleet, snow.

Those damn postmen get all the glory, but we newspaper delivery boys walked the same beat.

When the kid in the adjoining neighborhood couldn't take the pressure and abandoned the job, I swooped in and grabbed his territory, effectively doubling my route to 75 houses.

It was hard, tedious work. And the pay was miniscule. The only thing that kept me going was my father's command to keep at it and the pubescent fantasy that one day one of these lonely housewives along the route would come to the door in a negligee, invite me in and slip me a truly memorable Christmas tip.

That never happened.
Nothing even remotely close.

Nevertheless the enterprise taught me some valuable lessons about discipline, adversity and fortitude. The kind of characteristics that are in short supply these days.

If I had my way, I'd make both my teenage daughters secure themselves a job delivering newspapers. Of course either by willful ignorance or the rise of technology, nobody reads newspapers anymore.

Addendum: One day while working my route, I was driven off the side of the road by a passing car. The bike was totaled and I broke my wrist. The doctors said I lost 15% of the turning ability in my radius bone. Weeks later at a workers compensation hearing, the judge asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Though I am inordinately squeamish and have all the musical talent of a leaky faucet, I followed the commands of my father and told him I wanted to be a Brain Surgeon or a Concert Pianist. The judge awarded me $2000 for college funds. That was more money than I had ever earned schlepping the papers. America, what a country!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A dreaded day

This cannot be happening.

The adorable little girl standing in the flower bed with her little summer outfit and the tiny shoes that would fit in my cereal bowl, is turning 18 today.


I know I should be extremely proud of her.

Proud that she's funny, caring, sensible, good-natured and incredibly intelligent. That she's a solid A- student. That she's already been accepted at 8 of the 10 colleges she has applied, and still waiting to hear from 8 more. That she's kind to her mother, her sister, and sometimes her father. That's she's a good driver, a hard worker and a talented photographer.

I should be proud and happy and glowing about all of that.

But the truth is, I want to scream.

I want to make it stop.

I want to come home from work and see her crawling on all fours in the backyard.

I want to read to her about Zundel the Tailor before she nods off to sleep.

I want to see her marvel at the workings of a garden hose.

I want to lather her hair up with shampoo and make a faux hawk.

I want to see her giggling on stage during the first grade production of Guys and Dolls.

I want to lay on the carpet and play Pretty Princess with her and her sister.

I want what I'm finding out every parent wants, a chance to do it over again.

Only smarter, better, kinder.

Less concerned whether a brain-dead client likes a rough cut and more in the moment of being a Dad.

Truth is, I'd empty half the bank account -- not the whole thing cause I don't want to end up in a dirty nursing home -- to relive any part of what is now just a memory.

This magical Sunday morning would be a good place to start.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Today's dirty word: Collaboration.

This will come as no surprise, but I'm an old school guy. I'm not sure when that transition happened, but it did. And as my buddy recently told me, it's best to just own it.

So I do, confident that my first hand memories of printed polyester shirts and the Watergate hearings have nothing to do with my ability to out-think, out-write and out-perform today's crop of copywriters.

However, I cannot hide my disdain for this new term that is creeping into agency life wherever I go.

I'm talking about collaboration.

It's the notion that if two people, an art director and a copywriter, are good at coming up with creative solutions to a challenge, then four people, or six people, or eight people, are even better.

I'm familiar with this approach when it comes to codeine-enhanced cough medicine. And can attest to its euphoric efficacy. Three teaspoons of Promethazine are always better than one. But it doesn't work when it comes to work.

Collaboration simply muddies the water. Even the term bothers me. I can't help think of the Vichy government who collaborated with, and were puppets of, the Nazi regime.

I can't imagine how young people today, who may be drinking the collaboration Kool Aid, can stand out and make a name for themselves and their work if they are content to throw all their ideas into the collective bucket of mediocre groupthink.

You see, when I find myself briefed with other teams on a big project, I don't want to work with them. I want my partner and I to beat the pants off them. I want our ideas to outshine theirs. So that when the next big project comes along the powers that be say, "let's get that old angry fat dude and his partner, they had some killer ideas."

I'll take competition over collaboration any day of the week.

I still have a vivid, photographic memory of a weekend spent at the old Chiat/Day warehouse. We were in the throes of a 100 million dollar pitch. We gathered in The Fish, a Gehry-designed conference room shaped like the inside of a sperm whale, and presented work to Clow and Kuperman.

My partner and I were guppies swimming with sharks. The rock stars of the business: Rabosky, Butler, Feakens, Gentile, Siltanen, Rice, Sweitzer, Hooper, Vincent, Jordan, Curtis, Hughes, Dunkle, et al.

Each team stood up and, hoping not to embarrass themselves, and presented their best thinking. The tension was high. But the desire to best the other teams was even higher.

And guess what? It worked.

Everyone, through the process of competitive humiliation, got better. Not unlike hot steel being forged into a precision sushi knife.

There was a time when I knew all the names of all the people in the ad business who were doing the good work. Now, thanks to collaboration and the demise of the star system, I don't know any.

Or, maybe I do know their names but can't remember them. Hell, I can't remember where I left my reading glasses.

Monday, March 17, 2014

From another lifetime

My friend Jim posted this on Facebook last week. It was quite the blast from the past. The early 80's I believe.

This is one of perhaps a hundred or so cartoon ideas we cranked out at the time.

I like to think it still passes muster.

In another lifetime, Jim and I contemplated a career in cartooning. We dreamed of getting staff jobs with the New Yorker and tickling the intelligentsia with our wry observations on politics, religion and the random often illogical rhythms of life.

Instead, we both ended up as junior writers in advertising.

He, shilling circuit boards and catheters.
And me, writing Help Wanted ads for Northrup and Boeing and TRW.

In addition to being a longtime friend and writing partner, here are two of our collaborations…

…Jim is also my former boss. He gave me my first job in the ad world. As a Mailroom Clerk at Needham Harper & Steers, which is now RPA.

Together we schlepped boxes, moved furniture, delivered mail, restocked the cabinets in the coffee room, and occasionally retrieved dry cleaning and Cuban-made cigars for the company big wigs. You know, the kind of errands two recent college graduates can only dream of.

We bitched and moaned at the time, but the friendship and camaraderie we developed were well worth the price. We were both brought up on National Lampoon. We both shared a passion for writing. And above all, we both yearned to get the hell out of the mailroom.

And so we pushed each other. Honing our portfolios. And knocking our brains together, along with the extremely-talented and curmudgeonly Tom Parker, to find ways of making stuff: ads, cartoons, magazine parodies, even screenplays.

The truth is, I'd have a hard time naming someone who has had a more positive impact on the trajectory of my career and my life.

Fittingly, today Jim chairs the Screenwriting Department at the New York Film Academy as is doing the same for young aspiring writers.

But don't let the high falutin title fool you.
No one appreciates a good fart joke more than Mr. Jim.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Due for Service

Last week I found myself having The Discussion no father ever wants to have with his daughter. Actually the topic was so critical I sat down and hashed it out with both my girls.

"Do you know what to do if the brakes on the car ever give out?"

My youngest, who has only been driving for two or three months was aghast.

"That can happen?"

Indeed it can.
And I know from experience.

When I was their age I was driving the cheapest cheesebox I could afford. That's right, I come from a time when teenage kids worked -- and I worked a lot -- saved their money, bought their own cars, paid for their own gas and covered their own insurance premiums.

The very first car I owned was a $400 Plymouth Valiant. It was built in 1966 and by the time I got the keys, the odometer had already circled past the 100,000 mile mark. Possibly even twice.

But it was built like a tank. And while it wasn't pretty, it did the job of getting me from Point A to Point B. And if the carburetor wasn't flooded or the alternator wasn't a little wonky, sometimes to Point C.

One memorable day, I had three buddies in the Valiant with me. We might have even shared some non-legal, non-medicinal marijuana.

We were heading down a huge hill on Rt. 59 towards Spring Valley when I pressed on the brakes to slow down. The pedal offered no resistance. I pumped it again and now the pedal went straight to the floor.

"Shit!" I said.

To the delight of my fellow passengers who thought I was joking. But I wasn't.

The brakes had failed. I yanked hard on the emergency brake and the Valiant continued to pick speed on the steep decline. Low on options, I threw the transmission into park. And by that I mean I pushed the Park button on the push-button transmission.

There was little grinding noise but hardly enough to break through the blaring of Foghat through the aftermarket 8-track player.

Suddenly I was turned into Mario Andretti. I weaved in and out of cars. Blasted through two red lights and steered the car to a steep uphill grade that siphoned off the speed until we could all stick our feet out the doors and bring the car to a stop, Fred Flintstone style.

A few years later, lightning struck twice. This time in Syracuse. In a 1964 Dodge Coronet. Again I was at the top of a hill and recognized the dilemma as soon as it happened. Unwilling to test my luck for the second time, I found a sturdy maple tree and greeted it with a 20 mph hour kiss.

Most people skate through life never having had this awful experience. I've had it happen to me twice. I'm hoping the folks in the Department of Karma take this into account and spare my daughters the trauma.

In light of this I've rewritten an Old Irish Blessing:

May your Check Engine light never come on prematurely,
May your brake lines be airtight,
May your Master Cylinder be free from leaks
and always, always be filled to the brim.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Clearing the air

In my never-ending battle with bronchitis, I decided to rid my house of all unnecessary dust. If you're like me you've never had the air ducts in your home cleaned. I hadn't until a month ago.

If you're also like me you don't expect a service call with the air duct cleaning guy to be anything more than routine. You go on Yelp. You find a guy with decent reviews. You make the call. They come to your house. They break out the super-duper air duct cleaning machines.

Wham bam purified air, right?


At 11 AM on a clear Saturday morning, two vans showed up. In one van there was a friendly-looking, quiet Hispanic man. In the other van, the one of more interest, out popped a 6'2", 210 lbs. white guy who looked like he just stepped out of an MMA Thunderdome.

Or San Quentin.

Tatted from head-to-toe, he leaped from the van like a man on a mission.

He introduced himself and asked, forcefully but politely, if we could spend a few minutes talking about my particular air cleansing challenges.

He didn't want to know where the vents were located.
Or when the furnaces were installed.
He quizzed me about my allergies.
My medicines.
My past attempts to ameliorate the HVAC situation.

A few minutes turned into two hours. The canals in my ears were gathering dust.

I mistakenly offered him coffee but it was clear he had no need for any further stimulants. While he was explaining how a gas-powered furnace operates, I was watching the inked nerve muscles on his massive forearms twitching.

In fact, as I do whenever I encounter someone with old school tattoos, I instinctively looked for any gang insignia, or worse, Nazi emblems, like 88 or 4R or RAHOWA.

Thankfully, he had none.

But that hardly diminished his booming presence. He came on like a freight train, a derailed freight train. So much so that my family hid upstairs in their rooms. Knowing how torturous this whole pitch/service call was going and how I do not suffer salespeople gladly, my wife was in tears laughing at my dilemma.

Every question turned into a soliloquy.

I not only learned more than I wanted to know about ducts, dust, and microbes, I was an unwilling captive audience for tales about his colorful past, his odd church-going habits and his part time job cleaning the carpets at a strip club owned by his brother-in-law in Long Beach.

It was, as my daughters would say, "very sketch."

He had an animated, larger than life quality to everything he did. The way he walked. The way he talked. You could meet 10,000 strangers in your life, none would be as imposing or as memorable as this guy.

I could, and should, write a book about this unique character.

Maybe it was all part of his selling scam. And I must admit it was good. I opted for the premium clean up service. I bought the lifetime steel air filters. I paid top dollar for the whole kit and caboodle.

Here's what Mr. Throbbing-Tattoo-Musclehead-Air-Cleaner-Upper-Guy didn't know.

He charged me top dollar.
But the truth is, I would have paid him twice as much just to get him the hell out of my house.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Jean Paul Smartre

You may have noticed, or you may have not, but months ago I changed the tagline on RoundSeventeen to L'enfer, c'est les autres.

If I know my audience, and I believe I do, none of you 14 lazy bastards bothered to Google the translation.

Allow me to enable your apathetic nature.

It's taken from the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. I don't quote Sartre often. Mostly because I am not all that familiar with his work. And because I always mispronounce his name, which shouldn't embarrass me, but does.

L'enfer, c'est les autres means "Hell is other people."

And in most cases it is true. Unless the people in question are the performers who work at Cirque de Soleil.

Last week, we ventured into Santa Monica, an undertaking that requires more and more effort due to the overdevelopment and traffic. We entered the Big Top near the pier and for two hours we sat, jaws dropped, and immersed ourselves into this weird and wonderful world.

It's still in town for a few days so I won't do any spoiling, suffice to say the show is an end-to-end display of human beings doing things human beings cannot possibly do.

This is noteworthy.

I can go to Staples Center and watch the now-terrible Lakers and think to myself, "Geez I could have hit that free throw or made that lay up." Or I could walk the grounds at the Riviera Club and watch the Northern Open and think, "I could have birdied that easy Par 3 hole."

These are all within the realm of possibility.

But at Cirque de Soleil, I witnessed what can only be described as the impossible.

Of course that didn't stop me from my occasional flights of delusion. At one point in the show, I leaned over to my wife and whispered, "I could do that."

And then, as she often does, she rolled her eyes as if to say, "L'enfer, c'est assis a cote de mon mari."

Translation: Hell, is sitting next to my husband.

Monday, March 10, 2014

I Ought to be in Austin

Many of my friends and colleagues are in the Lone Star State.

I am not.

In fact, I've only stepped foot in Texas once. San Antonio, to be more specific. For 5 minutes. Possibly the happiest 5 minutes of my life.

You see, three hours earlier my partner and I had stepped onto a miniature Lear Jet in Van Nuys, CA. It was the first time I'd ever flown in a private jet so I was unfamiliar with the accommodations. As we neared our cruising altitude of 47,000 feet I felt the urge to relieve myself. The flight attendant/co-pilot told me I was more than welcome to use the facility.

In order to do my business I would have to get on my knees and crawl into a tiny space outfitted with an even tinier port-a-potty. All next to a paper-thin wall separating me from my boss, Lee Clow.

It was a no-go, no-flow zone as far as I was concerned. Fortunately, we had to touch down in San Antonio to refuel the jet in order to reach our destination, Tampa Bay.

As soon as the ground crew guy unlatched the door I bolted out like an angry bull in a rodeo pen.

I have different memories for different cities. San Antonio will always be about removing the spur in my bladder.

That is not to tar the entire state of Texas.

In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing Austin.

I hear it's pretty cool. Or as the kids like to say "sic" or "tight" or "dope." By the way, if you're over 35 years in age, and I just turned 44 so this applies to me as well, you should never utter the phrase, "that's dope."

If I ever do make it to Austin it most certainly won't be for the SXSW.

As many of you know, I abhor large crowds.
I especially abhor large crowds of affected advertising people.
And finally I have no tolerance for large crowds of affected advertising people sporting knit caps, dreads and friendship bracelets, pontificating about what we can all look forward to in 2015.

Pontification and unfounded opinionating should be conducted by bald, cynical industry veterans, alone in their den, with ample caffeine, vicoden and fading memories of glorious days gone past.

That said, if you are in Austin for the SXSW, here are my top five can't miss panels and discussion groups you won't want to skip:

Media Planning Forum to Synthesize Transparent Infrastructures, 
Tuesday 9:30 AM at the Digital Palapa

Chief Innovation Officers Panel on the Future Incubation of B2B Paradigms, 

Wednesday 11:30 AM at the Westin Kale Bar and Juicing Station

Productizing Dynamic Channels and Best Practice Web Services, Wednesday 1:30 PM in the Pop-Up Parking Lot

Recontextualizing the Scalable Workspace Via The Community Table and Particle Board Extension Leafs, 

Thursday 6:30 AM, hosted by the Barbarian Group

Maximizing Upward Profit Distribution to the C-Suite Through Fear, Merciless Attrition and Next Generation Accounting Principles, 

Friday 10:00 AM at the Ponzi Room
and again Saturday 8:30 PM in the Carlo Gambino Conference Center

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Ballona Creek Museum

A little over a year ago, my wife, myself and my two daughters stepped off a Metro train at the very busy Chatelet station in Paris. From there we walked a very short distance to the Louvre, where my girls were hoping to see the Mona Lisa.

They didn't.

The line to get into the museum snaked through the courtyard and spilled out onto the street. I want to say it was the Champs Elyses, but my Parisiain geographical memory is off and frankly I'm too lazy to look it up.

The point is it would have taken us more than three hours waiting on line just to get in. To see a painting. I didn't travel 8,000 miles to stand in a line next to some chain-smoking, loudmouth Belgian with the kind of body odor that would make a Pakistani day laborer wince.

Art, I told my kids, doesn't reside exclusively in snotty overpriced, over-popular museums.

I spotted this, last week while riding my bike along the scenic concrete sewage ways of Ballona Creek.

Keep scrolling for the full effect.

I don't know what it means. And frankly I don't care.

But it is pretty damn cool.

And there wasn't a line to see it.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Banality TV

Last week, just before I was about to hit the hay, I stumbled across a TV show about Shredding.

Not shredding like snowboarders ripping down a 15,000 foot high mountain and carving up 3 feet of freshly fallen snow. That might seem somewhat interesting.

This was a show about shredding.

As in every year I cart out my decade old files of bills and receipts and feed them into a machine with the delusion this will somehow protect me from identity theft. Though, to be honest if someone were foolish enough to want my identity, they'd be more than welcome to have it.

This was shredding on a larger scale.

I believe the name of the show is Mega-Shredders.

The machine in question, the Mega Shredder 9000, is the size of a tractor trailer. And what goes into the machine is a little weightier than my electricity bill from August 2006, when we ran all the ceiling fans and had to turn on the extra refrigerator in the garage to store the potato salad for my daughter's 9th birthday.

But essentially it's the same thing.

It's a TV show about two burly guys tossing furniture, discarded lawn tools and 5000 old porn VHS tapes left over from the 1990's, into the giant make-dust-out-of-stuff machine.

This is what passes for entertainment these days.

Of course the twaddle doesn't stop there. There are TV shows about pawning crap, fishing for tuna, building tree houses and demented people who like to eat pillow stuffing or lick cats.

The other night I caught myself watching a show about a young couple who wanted to buy a house in the bayou.

In the end, I found myself upset that they didn't pick the $95,000 double-wide on stilts sitting above the murky waters of Lake Cataouatche.

Makes me glad that I stayed in advertising and never ventured too deep into the abyss that is television.

It's also got to break the heart of writers, many of whom are friends, who slaved over well-crafted pitches and multi-page treatments that never saw the light of day.

Network Exec: "Yeah, we're not going to green light your idea, we're moving forward with a show about organic composting."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

I'm Hired

I got a new job.

I didn't bother to list it on but I'm more than happy to tell you about here.

First thing you need to know about this new job is that it isn't exactly new. I've been doing it for a number of years. Mostly on a casual basis. But now it seems my services are in greater demand.

Second thing you need to know about this new job is the pay sucks. In fact, the better I perform at this new job the more money comes OUT of my pocket.

Now, the explanation.

Seems every time a Creative Director, a Copywriter or an Art Director, quits his or her job, or in many cases, "Gets Quit", my phone is the first to ring.

Last week, it happened twice.
On the same day.

The cynical part of me wants to believe these new entries in the freelance pool are simply fishing for information. Hunting down leads so that they may snake a gig away from me, and by consequence, take food off the Siegel family dinner table and land my college-bound daughters at the less-prestigious, less-expensive DeVry Institute.

The better of my angels says no.

They are just unfortunate colleagues who have been victimized by a brutal industry that has been hijacked by greedy, soul-less profit hoarders who have very little need for creativity, imagination, or for that matter, creative people.

Seeing as I've been a mercenary for close to 10 years, they're coming to me for some kind of counsel. Some simple reassurance. They want to know that everything will work out and that there's a way to make a good living as a hired gun. They're looking for a calm island amidst a sea of turbulence.

This amuses my wife to no end, as she will tell you I have the affirmation skills of a snapping tortoise.

But who am I to complain?

I'm flattered by the misguided confidence. And I relish the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and colleagues.

Mostly because it usually results in a free lunch.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Cranky Old Man Alert

I just celebrated my 44th birthday, so it seems only natural that I write about an age related issue.

To be more specific, I feel sorry for the younger generation of ad makers. Mostly because they have so little opportunity to make ads.

To be sure, they make plans. They make decks. They make all the preparations necessary to actually make an ad.

But then, because of bureaucracy or budget cuts or a new social media phenomena that has distracted the entire industry like some shiny fish bait, those ads never get made.

In a simpler, Internet-less time, when I was doing my best to learn the business and build a portfolio, it was all quite different.

In a typical year at Chiat/Day (the preferred nomenclature) I would knock out 2-3 TV spots, 3-4 double page spreads (long copy, no less), a few outdoor boards and maybe a radio campaign.

Not all of them book-worthy mind you. In fact, in retrospect much of it was simply embarrassing. But the experience of being on a set, dealing with directors and cinematographers, navigating the ins and outs of a production, was invaluable.

Moreover, I had great teachers who showed me a little something about the craft; Lee Clow, Steve Hayden, David Lubars, to namedrop a few.

It was only through doing it over and over, that I began to learn the meaning of subtlety, nuance and authenticity.

It's a shame. I could name a hundred art directors and copywriters today who have not produced a single TV spot, viral film, outdoor board or meaningful piece of content, as the kids would say, in the last 5 years.

And because they haven't produced anything, they haven't gotten any better at it.

It's not all a total loss.

Many of them have crafted widget tweeting vines or some other digital nonsense that tells 41 people what some other group of 23 people are doing at the local aquarium store.

Of course my explanation doesn't do their handiwork any justice. But they're more than happy to explain the wizardry on their portfolio links.

In lieu of actual ads they've gotten very good at that.